God is Sovereign Despite Our Faults

The account of Isaac and his family found in Genesis 25-27 is very interesting when discussing the importance of God’s sovereignty, man’s free will, and man’s sinfulness.

We read very little about Isaac in the Genesis account of the Hebrew patriarchs. We know he is the promise given by God to Abraham (Genesis 21). We see that God tests Abraham by requiring that he sacrifice Isaac , and how God provides a substitute when Abraham is faithful (Genesis 22). We read the account of Abraham sending his servant to find Isaac a bride (Genesis 24), we read about his dysfunctional family, and some of his poor decisions in Genesis 25-27.

In the account of the birth of Isaac’s sons, we briefly see that Rebekah has been without child and Isaac is petitioning God to bless them with a child (Genesis 25:21). This seems like a common occurrence with the early patriarchs. God wanted them to understand that he was building this family and the future nation of Israel was by his work.

God is faithful to his promise, and Rebekah becomes pregnant with twins! I am sure Isaac and Rebekah felt like they may have prayed a little too hard. Of course this was before ultra sound and I am uncertain if they were able to distinguish two heart beats, but the twins movements alarm Rebekah. And God comforts them with the news of twins (Genesis 25:22).

With this news there is also revelation of what will take place in the boys future. God actually chooses one of the boys, before birth, to continue his covenant with and also shares his plans with the expecting couple. No mystery here, God’s sovereign plan is clear, the second born will be used by God to bring about his promises to mankind (Genesis 25:23).

We often discuss (and sometimes argue) the roles of God’s sovereignty and our own free will. I think this account is an excellent example of how God’s sovereignty is supreme despite the fact we have free will.

The author of Genesis wrote that Isaac favors Esau (the first born) over God’s chosen twin, Jacob. We also see that Rebekah favors Jacob (Genesis 25:28). This favoritism creates a lot of resentment within the home and should be a warning to all parents on the impact we can make on our children’s futures both positive and negative.

It is apparent that Isaac attempts to give Esau the eldest son’s birth right despite God’s revelation. However, Jacob manages to swindle the birth right from his brother with what must have been the best bowl of soup, ever (Genesis 25:34). Then, Jacob tricks his father, with his mothers insistence, to giving him Esau’s blessing as well (Genesis 27).

From the account in Genesis it is clear that Isaac favored Esau so greatly that he was willing to defy God’s will. Twice Jacob manages to secure what was ordained by God as his, through deception. Despite Isaac’s unfaithfulness in this matter, God was faithful to his promise and again we are left in awe of his ability to orchestrate the outcomes of history.

 

Summary of the Book of Ruth

The book of Ruth is one of the greatest ancient narratives known today, and focuses much of the story on one Jewish family during Israel‘s time of the judges. This is after the Joshua’s conquest of God‘s promised land, and before the nation demanded a king. When The nation would begin to fall away from God’s desire for them, He would send a judge to put them back on course. Important themes and events of The Book of Ruth include God’s sovereignty over Israel and the Messiah’s ancestry, application of God’s commands in the Law and how they can positively impact lives and the nation, and that God’s redemptive plan includes the Gentiles as well as the Jews (Harbin 209).

The Book of Ruth begins with the family of Elimelek, Naomi, and their two sons leaving Bethlehem in Judah to live in Moab during a famine. After Elimelek dies in Moab, their two sons marry Moabite women. One of the brides is named Ruth. After they had lived together for about ten years both of the sons die, leaving Naomi and her two daughter-in-laws. Naomi hears the Lord has provided food for her home and plans to leave Moab. She offers for her daughters-in-law to return to their families, but Ruth chooses to stay with Naomi and states she has accepted Naomi’s God as her own. Ruth and Naomi arrive in Bethlehem at the time of the harvest and Ruth proposes she will pick through the leftover grains in a nearby field. This was in accordance with the Law given by the Jewish prophet Moses as a means to feed the poor and starving. The field belongs to a relative of Elimelech, Boaz. He notices Ruth and her to dedication to her mother-in-law and makes sure she is able to collect all that she is capable of carrying. When Ruth tells Naomi where she acquired all the grain Naomi realizes Boaz is an eligible kinsman redeemer, and plots a plan for Naomi to ask Boaz to marry her. God’s Law to the Jews included a means to keep family land from changing hands to a new owner. A close relative was allowed to take the land for the deceased. The Law also allowed for a close relative who is not married to take as his wife the widow of his relative in order to provide children for the deceased lineage. There was one redeemer, who was more closely related to Elimelech, but he refused to take Ruth because she was a Moabite, and Boaz redeems both the property and Ruth. Ruth and Boaz have a child named Obed who is the grandfather of Israel’s King David. This means Ruth, a Moabite, is an ancestor to Jesus the Messiah (Harbin 210).

We should not confuse the Book of Ruth to be an allegory of God’s love for Israel or the Church. The events in the Book of Ruth took place, and they are recorded so that we may better understand God’s ability to create an outcome. Make no mistake, God would fulfill his promise of a Messiah and he would orchestrate history to provide a lineage for mankind’s savior. This Old Testament gem has been preserved so that we might marvel at God’s faithfulness through history.

 

Interpreting the Epistles

The New Testament epistles provide much of our understanding of new covenant living. They were written by early church leaders to believers around the world as Christianity spread. The epistles seem easy to read, but can be difficult to interpret without a good contextual understanding of the writing. It is important to interpret the epistles within their historical context. “The first thing one must try to do with any of the epistles is to form a tentative but informed reconstruction of the situation that the author is speaking to.” (Fee & Stuart p.59) For this, a Bible dictionary or commentary would be beneficial to learn as much of the setting of the epistle as possible. You are not looking to learn every little detail, but you must grasp the big picture to understand what was being said.

The next principle involved in interpreting the epistles is reading the work within its literary context. Where the historical context wanted to know who the writing was from, who it was to, and what was going on; the literary context is concerned with what is said and why it was said (Fee p.65). Literary context allows us to trace the arguments being presented to understand the answer (Fee p. 64). An important technique to remember when looking at the literary context is to read and think about the writings in paragraphs. This will more easily allow you to break down the context and understand the flow of the writing (Fee p.64).

The third principle of our study consists of the hermeneutical principles of the epistles. Hermeneutics is the understanding of what is important to the reader. We all exercise hermeneutic reasoning even though we may not recognize that we are. “Very simply, we bring our enlightened common sense to the text and apply what we can to our own situation. What does not seem to apply is simply left in the first century” (Fee p.72). This principle causes many of or disagreements on scripture, and we must choose to be consistent in our interpretation if we are to properly understand what was being said. There are two rules when it comes to hermeneutics. The first rule, referred to as the basic rule, is that the text can never mean what it could not have meant to its authors or readers (Fee p.74). This rule does not add a great deal of insight into what a passage does mean for us, but it should prevent us from imposing a thought process that was never intended. The Second Rule supports our understanding of scripture that speaks to all believers. “Whenever we share comparable particulars (i.e., similar specific life situations) with the first-century hearers, God’s Word to us is the same as His Word to them.” (Fee p.75) When we properly understand our situation to match the situation written about in the epistle we have clear and definitive instruction from the text.

 

A Summary of the OT Book of Leviticus

The Old Testament book of Leviticus has been a pain in my daily devotions for years. I struggled through its pages many times trying to understand all the rules and why they were important to me to no avail. Leviticus has honestly been the butt to more than one of my sermon jokes about struggling with the Old Testament as a Christian. 

I am very thankful that as my Bible course is wrapping up I took the time to read through Leviticus with a new understanding of the OT book of Law. I was tremendously blessed through its pages as I saw more clearly what God was orchestrating by giving these precepts to His people. I hope you enjoy, and I pray this summary encourages you to take a closer look at some of the more difficult texts of the OT.

Leviticus

The book of Leviticus is one of the five Jewish books known as the Pentateuch and is mostly a book of law. The writer is not named, but most believe the author to be Moses. The instructions contained in Leviticus were given to the writer directly from God with instructions to be given to His people. Since Moses was established as God’s voice to the people at this time, Moses is the most plausible author.

Leviticus begins one month after the instructions for the Tabernacle in Exodus. By now the Hebrew have completed the holy place where God will dwell among them, and they will be required to keep themselves holy for God to remain in their presence.  Leviticus provides the priests with instructions for the five major offerings, it establishes the priesthood, instructs rules of cleanness and uncleanness, details rituals for the Day of Atonement, instructs how Hebrews are to handle blood and why it is important, contains a call to holiness by the people, establishes holy holidays and festivals, explains blessings for obedience and punishments for disobedience, and instructs the proper way to offer vows and dedications to God.

Leviticus contains mostly instructions for the Tabernacle priests, but also includes commands for the people. Leviticus begins by explaining God’s requirements for offerings. Then the writer tells of the ordination of Aaron (Moses brother) and his sons as the priests of Israel. A couple of chapters are dedicated to narratives about a pleasing offering to God by Aaron and the time his sons’, Nadab and Abihu, carelessly offered an unauthorized burnt offering and were instantly killed. Next the book establishes the notion of ritual uncleanness, cleanness, and holiness. It is important to note, ritual states are for ritual purposes and do not indict moral holiness. The priests were required to remain ceremonially holy to perform their duties, the people were expected to strive for ritual cleanness, but God provides provisions for uncleanness. No doubt the ritual states served the purpose to guide Israel to moral holiness, but these must not be confused. Next God instructs the priests on how to perform the Day of Atonement Ritual. This is the most important of all offerings and is to be performed once a year for all of Israel’s sins. After instructions for the Atonement Ritual, God explains the necessity and significance of blood in the offerings. There are guidelines for both priests and the people on how to handle sacrifices for offerings. Proceeding God’s instructions on the handling of blood, God calls all of Israel’s camp to pursue holiness. To remind the people, God creates the Hebrew calendar around harvest times. He presents holy celebrations and ceremonies to remind His people of their history and of His presence. As the book is beginning to wrap up, God offers conditions of blessings for compliance to the Law and punishments for disobedience. The book of Leviticus ends instructing the people how they should offer vows and dedications to God and emphasize the significance of funding the tabernacle and priests.

The book of Leviticus is important to the Christian because of its emphasis on God’s demands for wholehearted devotion. The people could not keep the laws found in Leviticus without the desire to keep God in their presence. Leviticus also underscores the fact that spiritual leaders have a greater responsibility to striving for inner holiness than do laypeople. The most important section of Leviticus for the Christian can be found in God’s instructions for the Day of Atonement ritual. The ritual requires the complete cleansing of sins and uncleanness by purifying the innermost part of the tent of meeting. The significance for the Christian is that atonement is impossible without the God’s gracious atonement that cleanses us of our sin.

Reading The Prophets

To the average Bible reader, reading the prophetic books can become a challenging task. Many find it difficult to comprehend them because of an inaccurate understanding of the word “prophecy”, an inadequate awareness regarding the purpose of the prophets, and a large disconnect created by the historical distance of ancient Israel. The prophetic books require a degree of previous knowledge to fully appreciate what God has protected.

The very word “prophecy” can be a hurdle for contemporary readers of the Bible. We often think of prophecies as being events that will unfold in the future, and then assume they are future still. However, most of the Old Testament prophecies were fulfilled in Israel’s past, and many within a short period of time of their expression. We must not lose sight of God’s message to the people of that day, or try to create a new meaning in our own lives.

Another difficult aspect of the prophetic books can be found in their spoken nature. The prophets functioned as God’s representatives and served as enforcers of the His Law that had originally been given through Moses. “To see the prophets as primarily predicators of future events is to miss their primary function, which was to speak for God to their own contemporaries.” (Fee p.182) These writings are the chronicles of ancient “street preachers” whose message of God’s blessings and curses were intended for an audience including the rulers and inhabitants of Israel and Judah.

A third characteristic of the prophetic books that often creates problems for contemporary readers can be summed up in the term “context.” When reading the prophetic books, it is imperative that we have a solid understanding of the historical, religious, political, and cultural life of ancient Israel. When we read these passages from the context of their historical events we are able to better understand what was going wrong and how God was attempting to direct Israel back on course. “The prophets can serve constantly as reminders to us of God’s determination to enforce his covenant” (Fee p.204). In that sense, the prophetic books offer contemporary readers a picture into the importance of obedience to God’s commands.

Bible Essay: The Biblical Narrative

A narrative is a historical story that provides an account of events that took place in the past so that the reader may gain knowledge and direction in the present. Much of the Bible is composed of narratives accurately depicting events in the history of God’s chosen people. Narratives serve a very distinct purpose in Christianity. “If you are a Christian, the Old Testament is your spiritual history. The promises and calling of God to Israel are your historical promises and calling (Fee, 89).”

The narratives contained in the Bible were written to teach the readers about events in the past, and it is important to realize we should never allegorize the OT narratives looking for hidden meanings. These events took place in history just as they are recorded. The OT narratives are not stories to better illustrate something about Jesus (Fee, 92), and neither should they be viewed as fables that teach moral lessons. The characters are real historical figures with many flaws and they sometimes make poor decisions. The description of their life events are what actually happened and not necessarily what should have happened (Fee, 92). The narratives purpose is to inform the reader of how God has orchestrated events throughout history to achieve his desired outcome. Sometimes the OT narratives illustrate what is taught clearly and firmly elsewhere in scripture. A truth is not taught in the narrative, but the narrative may be used to further support or illustrate a truth from another section of scripture (Fee, 106).

The OT narratives are a vital resource for Christians. We may easily read how God, the biblical hero, has orchestrated events through history, independent of those who follow him, to guide history to where we are today. “Narratives are precious to us because they so vividly demonstrate God’s involvement in the world and illustrate his principles and calling (Fee, 105).” The narratives offer great insight into the past, but we should never abuse them to try and teach directives they do not contain.

Great Is His Faithfulness

"Jeremiah Lamenting the Destruction of Je...

“Jeremiah Lamenting the Destruction of Jerusalem” by Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But this I call to mind,
and therefore I have hope:
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
“therefore I will hope in him.”
The Lord is good to those who wait for him,
to the soul who seeks him.
It is good that one should wait quietly
for the salvation of the Lord.
Lamentations 3:21-26
Recently our student ministry held our annual discipleship weekend. We had an amazing time worshiping together, but it our time together in small groups always leave the greatest impact. Our speaker taught about our place in the world, and our influence on those around us. During one of our services he taught from the book of Jeremiah (Chapter 29, check it out!). In chapter 29 of Jeremiah’s writings we learn that God informs the people they will spend 70 years of bondage in Babylon. He is going to leave them there and they are to continue their lives. Jeremiah writes that it is God’s will that they people live among the Babylonians.

This news was no doubt devastating to the children of Israel, who believed God would save them from such a fate. The prophet’s message was most assuredly one that was not well received. In fact, the Lord instructed Jeremiah to assure them there would be false prophets who would try to tell them differently. But it was God’s will they live in bondage because of their rebellion. This is a lesson for the believer to take to heart. When we choose to rebel against God, his response is to give us over to what we want. He allows us to run away. We have moral free will. If I chose to follow the temptations of this world instead of the promises of God, he will allow me to live in the world and face the world’s consequences.

In our small group that evening, I shared from the book of Lamentations. This is another writing of Jeremiah’s… I remember the first time I read the book of Lamentations to a group of believers. I did not tell them it was from the Bible, only that it was a writing about God. When you read Jeremiah’s frustration and anger toward what God has allowed… well, let’s just say the group I read it to were not happy with the writer. They felt he must have been an atheist who was mocking God. They were all very surprised when I had them turn to the book of Lamentations and asked one of them to read the scripture I had just read.
Jeremiah had witnessed the sacking of Jerusalem and the fall of his beloved nation. He was left in total despair and his feelings of anguish are apparent in his writing.
But in the writing of Lamentations we can find great assurance of God’s mercy and faithfulness! The world would say Jeremiah had been abandoned by God, but he realized Israel had long abandoned God. God was working these terrible circumstances to bring Israel back to him. It was not that God had abandoned them. God was showing them what life without him would be like. God was providing them the opportunity to experience life separate from him. Jeremiah’s words in the scripture I quoted above are words to keep close to our hearts in our trials and difficult times. When we feel that God has abandoned us we should remind ourselves, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”

You Can Call Upon The Lord

 

I love you, O Lord , my strength. The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. I call upon the Lord , who is worthy to be praised, and I am saved from my enemies.

Psalms 18:1-3

 

 

What a great excerpt of scripture to keep in our hearts. Can you imagine how differently we would perceive our daily lives if we viewed them through the lens of these verses? How might our attitudes change? How might we appear to the world around us? What would they think? Would it draw them to us? Would it draw them to Christ?

 

This is believed to have been written by David at the time the Lord rescued him from Saul and all of David’s enemies. It is the beginning of an ancient song David penned as a result of God’s grace on his life.

 

I believe we can all look back over our lives at the most difficult times, the times God has brought us through, and praise him for his faithfulness as our strength, as our deliverer, our fortress, our refuge, our shield, and our place of safety. To those who acknowledge the Lord’s involvement in our lives… he is overwhelming! He strengthens us through our weakness, he give us sound footing when our world crumbles, he protects us when the enemy is at the door, he whisks us away from danger, he is constant when everything else is changing, he is our shelter from the storms, his defenses are impenetrable, and for all of this he is more than worthy of our praise.

 

I pray your days have been blessed by this wisdom from God’s Word.

 

Who Wants To Watch Sheep?

who let you in?

who let you in? (Photo credit: van Ort)

So I know it has been a while since my last blog update. In fact, my last post was on December 27th! That was almost a month away. My last semester at my local community college ended for me just before Christmas, and because all of the programs I am considering for my bachelor’s degree are cohorts they do not begin until next fall. For the past month, I have had a lot of free time on my hands.

I say that kind of tongue-in-cheek. With a full-time job, a family of four and everything else I keep myself busy with my life has continued to be full of activity through my break. I have been able to enjoy some time with my wife and girls. I have done some reading, and my pursuit of knowing God through his word has not slowed. I just haven’t shared anything with you.

And now we get on with it.

 

Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!

Psalms 27:14

 

 I have spent much time lately thinking about what I feel God is calling me to do with my life. I accepted his call into ministry many years ago, but have struggled to “break” my way in. I work with students at my church, and I believe they are not only my passion but my calling. I love spending time with middle school age students (yes, God has blessed me with the ability to over look the smell). I remember middle school being a tough time in my childhood, and I desperately wanted someone to give me the attention acceptance I was looking for. I hate to hear stories about students who feel alone and are falling way, and I can not help but find that kid sitting by himself and introduce him to my pose’ of boys.

Every week I look forward to spending time with these young men and women. Aside from time with my family, it is one of the highlights of my week. But I often struggle with my desires to be involved in their lives and my responsibilities at home and at work. It often seems there are not enough hours in my day to do all that I want to accomplish. I know… you have never felt like that. Maybe not the middle school part (I do understand they smell, it just doesn’t bother me), but you struggle to find time to be a good husband/wife, father/mother, employee, mentor, or student. It is tough. This struggle has often brought me to a place of brokenness.

I have had one of those times lately, and my reading of God’s word led me to Moses.

 

The Book of the Exodus tells about the Hebrew children after they find themselves enslaved by the Egyptians. If you read your Bible regularly you might be familiar of the story of Moses. But in the small chance that you stumbled upon this blog and are unfamiliar, allow me to give you the short version. The Hebrew grew in number and the Egyptians became fearful of a revolt. So the Pharaoh (king) restricted the number of children the Hebrew families could have (not unlike China is doing today). Only the Pharaoh wanted all newborn boys to be slain. Many families attempted to hid their children. One such family was the family of Moses.

However the risk became grave and his mother decided to place him in a basket and let it flow down the river. She prayed that the child would find a safe home. The little guy drifted right to the Pharaoh’s daughter’s bathing area. She took him into her home and allowed his birth mother to nurse him. Moses, as she named him, grew in the Pharaoh’s palace.

After Moses had grown, he felt compassion for his people. He hated to see them mistreated by the Egyptians. And one day he saw an Egyptian going too far, and Moses in his anger killed the Egyptian. Moses knew that his high stature would not spare him from his fate, so he fled Egypt.

Moses came to a family of shepherds and they accepted him into their family. He would go on to marry a woman from the shepherd family. So Moses found himself not in the palace of Pharaoh, but in the fields of Reuel.

 

This week I was thinking about Moses time as a shepherd of Reuel’s flock. How meaningless his life must have seemed. Moses did not know that God had called him to free the Egyptians. He was not in the desert waiting further instruction. As he stared over the fields and watched the animals graze, he must have been very, very bored. I can not imagine spending four years as a shepherd… And Moses spent forty! I wonder how much patience he gained while herding the sheep of Reuel? I wonder if that is why God directed his life in that direction…

Of course I realize I am projecting my emotions on the matter on to Moses. Moses may have been perfectly at peace in the fields with the sheep. We of course know this prepared him for his time in the wilderness with the Israelites. I pray that I can stay positive about my little time in the desert as I wait on the Lord’s calling to be made known.

I mean, it could be worse… He could have me in a field watching sheep.

Christmas, Powered by the Holy Spirit

dove-object-black2

dove-object-black2 (Photo credit: knowhimonline)

This is how Jesus the Messiah was born. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. But before the marriage took place, while she was still a virgin, she became pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit. Matthew 1:18

We are considering taking down our Christmas decorations today or tomorrow, all of the gifts are open and lying around the house, and leftovers are chilling in the fridge. Today is December 27th and Christmas is over. It is always a whirl wind, that began in November. Every year we try to keep the meaning of the celebration in our hearts, but our attention is often loss to our societies Christmas traditions.

The opening to Matthew’s Gospel gets to the point quickly. Jesus was not just another teacher of the law, he wasn’t a charismatic speaker (in fact, many of his sermons ran people off), nor was he just a prophet who performed many miracles. Matthew informs us that Jesus came to earth not by the consummation of Mary and Joseph’s marriage, but by the work of the Holy Spirit

Christmas lights 2010

Christmas lights 2010 Source wikipedia.org

This may have seemed odd to those around Mary and Joseph. I would imagine few believed them; after all, it took a visit from an angel for Joseph to believe. But Jesus’ miraculous conception is just as important to his ministry’s work as his eventual death on the cross. Had Jesus been born the son of Joseph and not of God, his death would not have been the sacrifice that redeemed mankind from our rebellion. Jesus’ conception MUST be the direct work of God or he would have been born into the same debt if rebellion we all are. His very flesh would have been tainted by the blemishes caused by sin.

Jesus’ carnal body was the result of God’s work. In fact, the entire process of salvation has and must be orchestrated by God. We in our sinful state are so far from God that without his intervention we would stay lost in our sins. But God’s love for us is so great he sent his Son to earth by the consummation of humanity and the Holy Spirit to be light in the darkness. Jesus came to light the way for mankind’s hearts to God. He came so that we might know God as our father.

Christmas may be over, but for those of us who are disciples of Jesus celebrate God’s plan of salvation all year. Without the miracle of his birth his death on the cross would not have resulted in his resurrection, and without the resurrection of Jesus we would still be lost in our sins.

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