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Stiffnecked

And the LORD said unto Moses, I have seen this people, and, behold, it is a stiffnecked people: (Exodus 32:9)

Stiffnecked—now there’s a word seldom heard today outside of careful Bible study. The English word, which should be hyphenated in modern English, appears only eight times in the Old Testament of the King James Bible and is really a translation of two Hebrew words: qâsheh and ‛ôreph (the nape of the neck). The first word, qâsheh, means “churlish, cruel, severe, obstinate, or stubborn.” This goes beyond simple hard-headedness. It characterizes an incorrigible, rebellious person, and it is not an attribute one would desire. Yet, in God’s evaluation of His Chosen People, He defined them as “stiffnecked.”

This assessment was not a rush to judgment on God’s part. These people earned the moniker. Consider how God acted on their behalf to free them from Egyptian bondage. God sent ten plagues against the Egyptians that effected only the Egyptians and spared the Israelites.[1] The final plague brought death upon every firstborn of every Egyptian household including their livestock. At the end of that plague, the Egyptians were only too happy to get rid of the Israelites and even sent them off with rich booty.[2] “And the Egyptians were urgent upon the people, that they might send them out of the land in haste; for they said, We be all dead men” (Exodus 12:33). Not long after they departed, Pharaoh changed his mind and followed in pursuit to bring them back to Egypt. Penned between mountains on one side and the Red Sea on the other, the Israelites witnessed God part the waters so they could cross over on dry ground. Then He closed the waters behind them and drowned the pursuing Egyptian chariots.[3] “And Israel saw that great work which the LORD did upon the Egyptians: and the people feared the LORD, and believed the LORD, and his servant Moses” (Exodus 14:31).

Not long after this miraculous deliverance, the Israelites arrived at a watering hole with bitter water and immediately started complaining.[4] God had Moses cast a tree into the watering hole and the waters became sweet. Then God made a conditional promise. “If thou wilt diligently hearken to the voice of the LORD thy God, and wilt do that which is right in his sight, and wilt give ear to his commandments, and keep all his statutes, I will put none of these diseases upon thee, which I have brought upon the Egyptians: for I am the LORD that healeth thee” (Exodus 15:26, emphasis mine).

Further down the road, they came to Elim and began complaining about their perceived lack of food. So God sent them manna (what is it? bread from heaven) and quail to eat.[5] Further along the way, they once again complained about the lack of water, so God provided water out of a rock.[6] God then defeated Amalek, the first enemy they encountered.

Then they arrived at Sinai, the Mountain of God. There, in the hearing of all the people, God gave them the Ten Commandments. They all heard the voice of God and were terrified. “And they said unto Moses, Speak thou with us, and we will hear: but let not God speak with us, lest we die” (Exodus 20:19). Moses ascended the mountain and wrote down the rest of the Law.[7] (At this point one should note that this occurred prior to Moses’ first 40-day stent on the mountain.) “And Moses wrote all the words of the LORD, and rose up early in the morning, and builded an altar under the hill, and twelve pillars, according to the twelve tribes of Israel … And he took the book of the covenant, and read in the audience of the people: and they said, All that the LORD hath said will we do, and be obedient” (Exodus 24:4,7 emphasis mine).

Hollywood movies have a way of distorting biblical accounts in ways that make them so memorable to the viewers that the Hollywood version supersedes the biblical narrative. In the movie, The Ten Commandments, Charlton Heston goes up the mountain to receive the Ten Commandments for the first time and returns to find the Children of Israel worshipping the golden calf. The movie plot kind of takes them off the hook a bit, because they did not know better; they did not have the Law. However, the biblical record shows that they were given the Law, written down by Moses, long before the golden calf incident, and they all agreed, “All that the LORD hath said will we do, and be obedient” (Exodus 24:7).

After all of Israel affirmed that they would abide by God’s Law, Moses ascended the mountain once more and received the Law written on stone tablets and was there 40 days and 40 nights.[8] “And he gave unto Moses, when he had made an end of communing with him upon mount Sinai, two tables of testimony, tables of stone, written with the finger of God” (Exodus 31:18, emphasis mine). These tables not only contained the Ten Commandments. They contained all the Law that the Children of Israel heard directly from God to which they agreed to obey. In addition, God gave Moses instructions for the construction of the Tabernacle and all of its furnishings. Great detail was given for consecrating the priests and the apparel they would wear, especially that of the high priest.

While Moses delayed, the people got antsy and went to Aaron, Moses’ brother and second in command, and asked Aaron, “make us gods, which shall go before us; for as for this Moses, the man that brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we wot [know] not what is become of him” (Exodus 32:1). As one reads the account, it becomes apparent that Aaron felt no coercion to comply with the request, nor did he hesitate. “And Aaron said unto them, Break off the golden earrings, which are in the ears of your wives, of your sons, and of your daughters, and bring them unto me” (Exodus 32:2). Aaron, who was intimately involved in the liberation of the Children of Israel, and heard the Ten Commandments directly from the voice of God, soon forgot the first two. “Thou shalt have no other gods before me. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth” (Exodus 20:3-4).

Before Moses learned of the idolatrous act, God already knew. “And the LORD said unto Moses, I have seen this people, and, behold, it is a stiffnecked people” (Exodus 32:9). God threatened to destroy them all and start over with Moses, but Moses interceded on their behalf and the Lord relented from His anger.[9]

Moses descended the mountain and found a wild party going on around the golden calf. When Moses confronted Aaron about the idol, his answer was hilarious. “And I said unto them [the Israelites], Whosoever hath any gold, let them break it off. So they gave it me: then I cast it into the fire, and there came out this calf” (Exodus 32:24, emphasis mine). Imagine that!

This would not be the first exhibition of Israel’s stiffnecked behavior. Throughout their history, Israel chased after false gods. God would punish, Israel would repent, God would forgive, and Israel would sin again. This happened over and over. Once God banished them from the land for 70 years, and for a time, they appeared to learn their lesson. Then God sent their promised Messiah, and they rejected Him and nailed Him to a cross. Again, God banished them from the land for over 2000 years now. However, as God promised, He has restored them to the land; but the saga is not over. God is not finished with Israel.

The lesson we can learn from God’s dealings with Israel is that God is faithful. We can count on Him to do exactly what He says He will do. He keeps His promises. Before entering the Promised Land, Moses reminded the people, “The LORD did not set his love upon you, nor choose you, because ye were more in number than any people; for ye were the fewest of all people: But because the LORD loved you, and because he would keep the oath which he had sworn unto your fathers, hath the LORD brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you out of the house of bondmen, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Know therefore that the LORD thy God, he is God, the faithful God, which keepeth covenant and mercy with them that love him and keep his commandments to a thousand generations” (Deuteronomy 7:7-9, emphasis mine). Regardless of their stiffnecked character, God has kept and will keep His covenant with Israel. Knowing that gives us the assurance that God will be faithful in keeping His promise to us, “that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). “For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39). God is faithful even to the stiffnecked.

Notes:


[1]  Exodus 7-12

[2]  Exodus 12:36

[3]  Exodus 14:10-31

[4]  Exodus 15:22-27

[5]  Exodus 16

[6]  Exodus 17:1-7

[7]  Exodus 20:22-23:33

[8]  Exodus 24:12-18

[9]  Exodus 32:10-14

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Imminent

He which testifieth these things saith, Surely I come quickly. Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus. (Revelation 22:20)

Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, and Secretary of the Treasury, Steve Mnuchin, gave a press briefing on Friday, January 10, 2020,[1] concerning increased sanctions for Iran following Iran’s rocket attacks on US bases in Iraq. At the end of the briefing, they opened the floor for questions from the press corps. As has become common practice these days, the questions coming from the Press avoided the topic at hand, and rather addressed the irrelevant question of the killing of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani. Someone questioned the targeting of a “foreign diplomat,” and Pompeo pointed out that our intelligence found that Soleimani planned to strike our embassies in the area and that the threats were imminent. One genius fake news reporter challenged the Secretary, “What is your definition of ‘imminent’?” I had to laugh!

It comes as no surprise that the request for a definition of the word “imminent” should arise. The “left” in this country, and around the world, has become proficient in distorting the language so that words become whatever the user wants them to be. For example, “hate” means “to dislike intensely or passionately; feel extreme aversion for or extreme hostility toward [something or someone]; detest [something or someone].”[2] However, for the left, “hate” means opposition to anything they favor. The practice of redefining terms probably started much earlier than this, but my first vivid recollection of this practice came at the impeachment of William Jefferson Clinton. Remember his now infamous line? “It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.”

Words used to have meaning. However, in a day when biology no longer determines the sex of a person, words can take on whatever meaning the user wants them to mean. Not so with God. He emphatically states, “For I am the LORD, I change not…” (Malachi 3:6). The writer to the Hebrews says of God the Son, “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever” (Hebrews 13:8). Of His Word, Jesus said, “For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled” (Matthew 5:18).

The word “imminent” does not appear in the King James Bible; however, the concept is there. The word “imminent” means that something is “likely to occur at any moment.”[3] The precise moment of such an event cannot be known or determined. It could happen at any time. If one can know or determine the time of a future event, it is no longer “imminent” because it is now “expected.” The two words are synonymous, however with expectation comes the connotation of the precise timing and location of a future event. The expectation of an impending event allows for ample preparation. Jesus said, “But know this, that if the goodman of the house had known in what watch the thief would come, he would have watched, and would not have suffered his house to be broken up” (Matthew 24:43). If the man of the house had “known” when the thief would come, he would have been “expecting” him and made preparations. The implication here is that the coming of the thief was “imminent,” not “expected.”

The fake news reporter exhibited her ignorance by asking Pompeo what he meant by “imminent.” Our military intelligence could not predict where or when Soleimani would strike, only that his intention was to strike soon. That made it imminent.

Christ’s return for His Bride, the Church, is imminent. It has been imminent for over 2000 years. Before His crucifixion, Jesus promised, “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also” (John 14:3). Paul taught the imminency of the Lord’s return at “the last trump” when we would “not all sleep, but we will all be changed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye,”[4] but he did not say when. It’s imminent. It could happen at any time. To the Thessalonians, Paul wrote, “But of the times and the seasons, brethren, ye have no need that I write unto you. For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night” (1 Thessalonians 5:1-2). His coming is imminent, like “a thief in the night.”

Unlike the “goodman of the house” in Jesus’ example who was unprepared for the imminency of the thief’s arrival, we have good reason to be expectant of the Lord’s imminent return. We cannot know the day nor the hour when the Lord will return.[5] It could be at any time. It is imminent. Therefore, we must watch expectantly, and make preparations.

We have waited for over 2000 years. How imminent can His return be? Many become discouraged at the delay, like the five virgins without extra oil for their lamps.[6] Such attitudes are to be expected. The Apostle Peter predicted, “Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts, And saying, Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation” (2 Peter 3:3-4).

Many prophecies concerning “the last days” address Jesus’ return to set up His thousand-year reign on earth. The Old Testament contains most of these prophecies. Jesus spoke of these times in His Olivet Discourse,[7] and most of the Book of Revelation focuses on the time of Great Tribulation just before He returns. These prophecies provide great detail of the events that will transpire in “the last days” during the seven years[8] before the Lord’s return. However, no signs detail the “Rapture”[9] of the Church. We are told that it will happen, but we are not told when or how; it’s imminent. The Rapture[10] must take place before the time of Tribulation “For God hath not appointed us [His Church] to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 5:9).

So, although we have waited more than 2000 years for the Bridegroom[11] to come for His Bride (the Church), we can know the time is near. How? We can know because of the convergence of the end-time signs. Israel, because it is the focus of all end-time prophecy, and the events surrounding Israel, is our primary sign. None of the end-time prophecies can come to pass without Israel being in her place. Of the rebirth of Israel, God’s “fig tree,” Jesus said, “Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled” (Matthew 24:34). We are that generation. It has been almost 72 years since Israel’s rebirth, and according to the psalmist, a man’s life is between 70 and 80 years (Psalm 90:10). There are too many signs to include in this article, but the fact that Israel is in place makes all the other signs that much more relevant. The signs tell us the end is near, so the Rapture of the Church is more imminent now than ever before. It could happen anytime now.

Notes:


[1]  Press Briefing with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of the Treasury Steve Mnuchin: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lTCErLFbu4Q

[2]  Hate: https://www.dictionary.com/browse/hate?s=t

[3]  Imminent: https://www.dictionary.com/browse/imminent?s=t

[4]  1 Corinthians 15:50-53

[5]  Matthew 25:13

[6]  Matthew 25:1-13

[7]  Matthew 24-25; Mark 13; Luke 21

[8]  Daniel 9:24-27

[9]  End-Times 101 – https://erniecarrasco.com/2018/06/10/end-times-101/

[10]  End-Times 102 – https://erniecarrasco.com/2018/06/17/end-times-102/

[11]  Matthew 25:1-13

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Christmas Excitement

Behold, the former things are come to pass, and new things do I declare: before they spring forth I tell you of them. (Isaiah 42:9)

It’s that time of year once more. The places I work and worship sparkle with bright red, green, and gold decorations consistent with the colors of the Christmas season. Long before Thanksgiving Day, merchants displayed all their Christmas wares enticing shoppers to covet without first giving thanks. Television commercials attempt to instill a sense of privation so the viewer feels the need for what they are selling.

GMC™ produces two commercials that really stand out to me. They show a young couple, probably in their late twenties or early thirties, with no children, and a big fancy house. In one of the commercials, the husband buys GMC ™ vehicles for both of them. In the other, the husband gets the wife a puppy, and the wife gets him a big crew-cab pickup. Seriously, how many young people, on the average, have that kind of cash? Most young people that age, if they graduated from a college or university, are saddled with enormous school debt and are doing well to afford payments on a Honda Civic™ much less a $60,000 fully decked out pickup truck!

Regardless of how we feel about the materialism associated with the Christmas season, we cannot get away from the sense of expectation. At church, our choir and orchestra are working hard a polishing up the music for our Christmas concert. It will be wonderful, and we are excited about presenting it. Our church looks forward to our Christmas Eve services and our sharing of the Lord’s Supper, aka communion.

We celebrate the birth of our Savior. Think about what that means. The same God that created heaven and earth and all things, the same God that created human beings in His very image, is the same God that implanted Himself in the womb of a virgin girl to be born like any other human baby, live a sinless life among His creation, and give Himself as a sacrifice for humanity’s sin. That is awesome! That boggles the mind!

We anticipate with excitement the celebration of Christmas, the First Advent, but our celebration should look forward to the Second Advent yet to come. The prophets of old foretold of Jesus’ first coming. Beginning in Genesis, the Bible promises that the “seed of the woman” would crush the head of the serpent, i.e., Satan.[1] Isaiah tells us that the woman would be a virgin.[2] In Genesis, we also learn that He would come from the line of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Judah.[3] Isaiah foretold that Jesus would be in the line of King David[4] and the psalmist concurred.[5] The conniving Balaam unwittingly predicted that a star would announce His coming.[6] Micah pointed to Bethlehem as the place of His birth,[7] and Hosea said He would come up from Egypt.[8] These are just some of the prophecies of His First Advent. Many more prophecies foretold of His life, ministry, death, burial, and resurrection – all with 100% accuracy.

Christmastime should cause excitement as we anticipate His Second Advent. There are more prophecies concerning His second coming than there are for His first coming. Since all prophecies of His first coming came true as predicted, should we not expect the same accuracy of the prophecies predicting His second coming? Celebrating Christmas should excite us knowing that the Baby Jesus is the soon-coming King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

One of the carols we sing at Christmastime is not really a Christmas carol. In fact, “Joy to the World”[9] reminds us that Christ will return to rule the world as king.

Joy to the world the Savior reigns; let men their songs employ; while fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains repeat their sounding joy.

No more let sins and sorrows grow, nor thorns infest the ground; He comes to make His blessings flow far as the curse is found.

He rules the world with truth and grace, and makes the nations prove the glories of His righteousness, and wonders of His love.

We know historically that did not happen at His first coming. We might spiritualize those sentiments. Certainly, the Savior reigns within the hearts of all believers, albeit not perfectly. Sin and sorrow continue as always and “the curse” goes on unabated. He does not rule the world, and “the nations” care nothing about His glories or righteousness. All of these are attributes of His yet-to-come millennial reign.[10] The prophet Isaiah provides some insight into Jesus’ millennial reign on earth. That will be a time when even the animal kingdom will be at peace.[11] Knowing what is coming should make Christmas even more exciting than all the GMC™ pickups the world can afford!

Notes:


[1]  Genesis 3:15

[2]  Isaiah 7:14

[3]  Genesis 12:3; 26:4; 28:14; 49:10-11

[4]  Isaiah 11:1

[5]  Psalm 132:11

[6]  Numbers 24:17

[7]  Micah 5:2

[8]  Hosea 11:1

[9]  Carol by Isaac Watts, 1718

[10]  Revelation 20:1-7

[11]  Isaiah 11

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White As Snow

White As Snow – by Henry M. Morris, Ph.D.*

 

“I beheld till the thrones were cast down, and the Ancient of days did sit, whose garment was white as snow, and the hair of his head like the pure wool: his throne was like the fiery flame, and his wheels as burning fire.” (Daniel 7:9)

In this amazing vision of the everlasting God on His fiery judgment throne, we find one of the six occurrences in the Bible of the fascinating phrase “white as snow.” As the symbol of holiness, pure white finds its clearest natural expression in the beautiful snow when it has freshly covered the ground.

Twice the phrase is used to describe the cleansing of a guilty sinner by the grace of God. David, after confessing his own sin, prayed: “Have mercy upon me, O God. . . . Wash me throughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. . . . wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow” (Psalm 51:1-2, 7). Then, God promises through His prophet: “Come now, and let us reason together, . . . though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow” (Isaiah 1:18). The cleansing blood of Christ, the Lamb of God, is the only substance that can turn blood-red scarlet into snowy white.

When Christ ascended the Mount of Transfiguration, “his raiment became shining, exceeding white as snow” (Mark 9:3), which confirmed to the three disciples that He was the Son of God, even as the voice from heaven had said (Matthew 17:5). At the empty tomb following His resurrection, “the angel of the Lord” also had “raiment white as snow” (Matthew 28:3). Finally, when John saw Christ in His glorified body, he testified that “his head and his hairs were white like wool, as white as snow” (Revelation 1:14).

It is marvelous that the raiment of the angel of God, the transfigured Christ, and the Ancient of days, as well as the head of Christ in His glory, are all described with the same phrase as the soul of one whose sins are forgiven!

*From Days of Praise, December 1, 2019

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What the Law Does

Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin. (Romans 3:20)

Many Christians today adopt the attitude that the Old Testament Law no longer applies because we are not under the Law but under Grace. That is certainly true. However, the fact that we are under Grace does in no way render the Law irrelevant or make it of no effect.

The Law given in the Old Testament accomplished two things. It codified what God expected of His people, Israel, and it provided specific practices for God’s people to follow that set them apart from the pagan nations among whom they lived. They were to be “holy” as their God in heaven is holy, i.e., set apart, consecrated, distinct.

The Law provided a third way for the people to relate to God through the sacrificial system which provided a way to atone for or “cover” the sins of the people. However, the sacrificial system did not provide a permanent solution to the sin problem. Sacrifices were made for all kinds of infractions of the Law, and like sin, they were a perpetual practice. The continual offering of sacrifices illustrated the insufficiency of sacrifices to fully atone for the sin of the people. Even so, the sacrifices required faith in the offering otherwise they became a ritual practice akin to pagan practices. God rejected such sacrifices.

To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me? saith the LORD: I am full of the burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he goats. (Isaiah 1:11)

To what purpose cometh there to me incense from Sheba, and the sweet cane from a far country? your burnt offerings are not acceptable, nor your sacrifices sweet unto me. (Jeremiah 6:20)

For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins. (Hebrews 10:4)

One thing we learn from the Old Testament is that it is impossible to keep the Law, and that it is insufficient to atone for sin. Our opening verse makes it clear, “by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight” (Romans 3:20). The only sacrifice sufficient to atone for sin is the one offered by God Himself in the person of Jesus Christ and the blood He shed on the cross. Sin – all sin, for all time – was paid in full when Jesus exclaimed, “It is finished: and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost” (John 19:30). However, Jesus did not remain dead. On the third day, He rose from the dead and conquered the “last enemy”[1] giving us access to eternal life by the simple act of believing. “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:14-15).

Romans 3:23 says that “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” The Old Testament teaches us that we are incapable of keeping God’s Law, therefore we are doomed by that standard. “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23, emphasis mine). Grace is God’s gift to us. Grace is “unmerited favor.” Grace cannot be earned through any human effort because “by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight” (Romans 3:20). Grace is a gift, bought and paid for by Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). As with any gift, it must be accepted before it becomes one’s own possession.

What good, then, is the Old Testament Law, if one cannot gain salvation, i.e., eternal life, by keeping it (not that you could if you tried)? Paul provides the following affirmation: “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law” (Romans 3:28). We are declared “just” when we place our “faith” in what Jesus did for us on the cross. That is a “done deal” outside the keeping (“the deeds”) of the law. Then Paul poses and responds to our question. “Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law” (Romans 3:31). The Greek word translated “establish” is histēmi, and it means “to cause to stand.”

The Law still stands. It is not required to gain eternal life nor is it needed to maintain our salvation. However, it does serve as our guide to holy living which God still requires of His children. “But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:15-16). Jesus tied our love for Him to the keeping of His commandments.[2] Jesus spoke these words 25-30 years before the first Gospel was written, so His commandments were the same commandments He gave to Moses, which are summarized in two great commandments: love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind (your whole being), and love your neighbor as yourself.[3]

But what does that look like? Our opening verse tells us: “for by the law is the knowledge of sin” (Romans 3:20). Granted, much of the Mosaic Law had direct application to the culture of that time, however, the principles therein apply to our modern time. Take for instance the laws given to dress. The reason for those laws served to make the children of Israel distinct from the people among whom they lived. God still wants the same for us today. We shouldn’t dress and look like the lost world around us. We should be distinct. We should be holy as our Father in heaven is holy – set apart from the world. Speaking of us, Jesus said, “They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world” (John 17:16). What the law does is show us how not to live like the world.

Notes:


[1]  1 Corinthians 15:26

[2]  John 14:15, 21; 15:10

[3]  Matthew 22:36-40

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Ye of Little Faith

By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, Of whom it was said, That in Isaac shall thy seed be called: Accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure. (Hebrews 11:17-19)

The African impala can jump to a height of over ten feet and cover a distance of more than thirty feet (in the jump).  Yet these magnificent creatures can be securely contained in zoos with no more than a three-foot wall.  You see the animals will not jump unless they can see where their feet will fall.  Far too often, we are rendered useless to God because we are unwilling to trust Him with what is unknown (to us).  When He calls on us to take a leap of faith, we are unwilling to obey because we cannot see where our feet will fall.  In his many years of walking with God, Abraham had come to a place in his life where he could absolutely trust God no matter what God might ask of him — including sacrificing his only son.

Genesis 22 opens with the phrase “Now it came about after these things,” (v. 1).  After what things?  Beginning in Chapter 12 of Genesis, the story of Abraham unfolds.  At the age of 75, after being well established in the city of Ur, God told Abraham (Abram at that time) to pack up his belongings, leave his home and family and go to some undisclosed land with the promise that God would make of him a great nation.  So Abram trusted and obeyed God even though he had no idea where his feet would fall.  For ten more years Abram wandered the deserts of Canaan without ever finding a place that he could call his own, but he believed God would keep His word.  Then at the age of 85, God once again paid Abram a visit to reconfirm His promise to make of him a great nation.  This time, Abram just had to ask, “O Lord GOD, what wilt Thou give me, since I am childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” (Genesis 15:2).  Again, God assured him that he would indeed procreate and be the father of many nations. Then, in order to help God out with His plan a bit (and how many of us have ever been guilty of that?), Sarai (Sarah) considering the fact that she was no spring chicken and had been barren all these many years, proposed a solution.[1]  She offered her handmaid to Abram so that he might sire a child through her.  That makes sense, humanly speaking. We might have suggested the same thing today along with fertility drugs or in vitro fertilization.  We might even justify it by saying that we are putting “feet to our prayers.”  At any rate, it was a feeble attempt to help God out with His plan, but a surrogate mother was not what God had in mind.  So Abram waited another fourteen years and again God paid him a personal visit to reconfirm His promise.  By now, Abram is 99 years old and Sarai is 89.  God had promised, and Abram had waited.  He still had no homeland that he could call his own, no child “of promise” that would engender a nation, and he was getting really old!  Yet Abram believed God, and at the ripe old age of 100, God granted the old couple a son, Isaac – “laughter”!

“And it came to pass after these things, that God did tempt Abraham …” (Genesis 22:1).  Now, before we accuse God of child abuse or bloodthirstiness, please notice that this was a “test.”  It was only a test, but Abraham did not know that.  “A and said unto him, Abraham: and he said, Behold, here I am.”  (Don’t you just love it when you call your son or your daughter by name and they answer immediately, “Yes, Dad!” or “Yes, Mom!”  Of course, just the opposite is true when you call them and there is a deliberate silence.)  “Here I am.”  Whatever God wanted, Abraham was ready.

Then God said, And he said, Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of” (Genesis 22:2). Wow!  Can you imagine!  By now Isaac was between 16 and 22 years old, and Abraham was between 116 and 122, and Sarah between 106 and 112.  And God had not missed the fact that Isaac was Abraham’s “only son” – the son whom he loved.  Oh, the pain that must have pierced the heart of Abraham!  In the movie, The Bible (1966), Abraham is portrayed as rebellious at first.  “No!  No!” he growls at God as he beats his fists into a desert rock, but ultimately he complies.  That is not how the Bible portrays Abraham.  Yes, his heart must have ached, but look at how he responds.  “And Abraham rose up early in the morning, and saddled his ass, and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son, and clave the wood for the burnt offering, and rose up, and went unto the place of which God had told him” (Genesis 22:3).  Abraham did not hesitate.  He did not question.  He just obeyed.  Again, at least for the second time in his life, Abraham was going to some undisclosed location – in the “land of Moriah … on one of the mountains of which I will tell you” – not knowing where his feet would fall – just because God told him to do it.

After a three-day’s journey, they arrived at the general vicinity of the sacrifice.  Abraham instructed his two servants to remain with the donkey and says, “I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again to you” (Genesis 22:5, emphasis mine).  What could Abraham have been thinking?  “We will come again to you?”  Was he forgetting something here?  Did God not tell him to offer Isaac up as a burnt offering?  Some have suggested that Abraham said this in order to conceal what he was about to do from his servants.  That makes sense.  Isaac, being the only son of Abraham, was probably the darling of the whole household.  Surely if Abraham had divulged his plans to his servants, he would have met with opposition.  But I think there is more to it than that.  The writer of the book of Hebrews says that Abraham “Accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure.” (Hebrews 11:19).  “For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness” (Romans 4:3). He could not see where his feet would fall, but he knew God was well in control.

As they traveled up the mountain, Isaac asked the obvious question, “And Isaac spake unto Abraham his father, and said, My father: and he said, Here am I, my son. And he said, Behold the fire and the wood: but where is the lamb for a burnt offering? And Abraham said, My son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering: so they went both of them together” (Genesis 22:7-8). Can you picture the scene?  There, Abraham leads the way with calm assurance and determination on his face, fully trusting his heavenly Father.  There, Isaac follows not knowing what lies ahead, but he too trusts his earthly father.  What a pair those two must have made!  “God will provide for Himself the lamb!”

Finally, they came to the place that God had designated, Mount Moriah.  The Bible tells us that this very place was the site upon which the Temple would be built.[2]  Oblivious to God’s plan and going only on what God had instructed him to do, Abraham built the altar, prepared the wood, bound his son, his only son, Isaac, and placed him on the altar.  Imagine this! Here was a strong young man who by now knew exactly what was about to happen, and yet he complied with his father’s will. Isaac could have very easily overpowered the 116-plus-year old Abraham and said, “No, sir!  I will not be roasted!”  This was a test of Abraham’s faith, but Isaac’s faith should not be discounted.  He willingly complied with his father’s wishes.  There he lay, on the stack of wood that he had carried up the mountain on his back, looking full into his father’s face as Abraham, knife in hand, raises his hand to strike the lethal blow.  Abraham, his eyes raised toward heaven, unable to look into his beloved son’s eyes, not knowing where his feet would fall, was fully committed to God and to His will.  In Abraham’s mind, the sacrifice was completed.  Isaac was God’s!

Two thousand years later on the same hill, another Father and another Son would replay the same scene, but this time, God intervened.  “And the angel of the LORD called unto him out of heaven, and said, Abraham, Abraham: and he said, Here am I” (Genesis 22:11).  Once again, Abraham was ready to obey his Lord’s command.  And Jesus said, “Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him: for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me” (Genesis 22:12).

Why do I say that this was Jesus speaking to Abraham?  For one thing, Abraham had received his orders directly from God, and no subordinate angel could have made him deviate from what God had told him to do directly; only God Himself could have changed Abraham’s orders.  Secondly, how could an ordinary angel say, “You have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me?”  Abraham was not offering Isaac up to an angel but to God.  And finally, Jesus would later remind the Jews, “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad” (John 8:56).

So Jesus prevents Abraham from completing the physical act of sacrifice. Isaac was now fully offered both by his father and by himself.  The father yielded up his son, the son gave up his life; from both parties, as far as will and purpose could go, the sacrifice was complete.  There was no need for Abraham to endure the torture of running the knife through his son.  In his mind and in his heart, he had made the sacrifice.  And God said, “for now I know that thou fearest God” (Genesis 22:12).  Is it possible that God did not know that prior to the test?  Could the omniscient, the all-knowing, God, the God that searches the hearts and minds of men, have been ignorant of Abraham’s faith and devotion to Him?  Impossible!  God knew exactly what Abraham would do.  He knew that Abraham would do just as He commanded even to the point of giving up his only son.  God did not need any proof for Himself.  The test was for Abraham.  Abraham is the one that needed to know just how far he was willing to go for God.  Abraham was the one that needed to know that he could implicitly trust God to provide all of his needs “according to his riches in glory” (Philippians 4:19).  And Isaac, the heir to God’s promises needed to know that too, because neither Abraham nor Isaac would ever see the day when Abraham would become a great nation.  Neither one of them would ever see the fruit of the “seed” in which “all the nations of the earth” would be blessed (Genesis 22:18).  Neither one of them would ever see where their feet would fall, but they needed to know that God would keep His promises and that He would always provide.

So God provided a substitute. “And Abraham lifted up his eyes, and looked, and behold behind him a ram caught in a thicket by his horns: and Abraham went and took the ram, and offered him up for a burnt offering in the stead of his son. And Abraham called the name of that place Jehovahjireh: as it is said to this day, In the mount of the LORD it shall be seen” (Genesis 22:13-14).

Abraham learned that in all things God will provide.  Even when things are unclear, God will provide.  Even when the outcome is unsure, God will provide.  Even when we cannot understand, God will provide.  Even when we cannot see where our feet will fall, God will provide.

Then Jesus came to him again to reconfirm the promise. “And the angel of the LORD called unto Abraham out of heaven the second time, And said, By myself have I sworn, saith the LORD, for because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son: That in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies; And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice” (Genesis 22:15-18).

“By Myself I have sworn, saith the LORD” (v. 16) because the writer of Hebrews tells us, “he could swear by no greater, he sware by himself” (Hebrews 6:13).  God’s promises are true.  God is faithful and He will do what He says.  Did Abraham ever see God’s promise fulfilled in his lifetime? Only in his dreams! Did God keep His promise to Abraham?  Absolutely! Why? “Because thou hast obeyed my voice” (v. 18).  Abraham did not know where his feet would fall, but he obeyed God anyway. “So Abraham returned unto his young men, and they rose up and went together to Beersheba; and Abraham dwelt at Beersheba” (Genesis 22:19).

Two thousand years later, the drama was replayed.  Only this time, the Son, the only Son, the beloved Son, and His Father were the players.  Once again, the Father and the Son walked up together to the summit of Mount Moriah, and there the Father offered up His Son.  The Son, knowing full well what was about to transpire, willingly carried on his back the wood upon which He would be offered.  Together, He and the Father walked up the lonely hill, both determined that this offering would take place.  This time, there was no “Angel of the Lord” to stay the hand of the Father because it was the “Angel of the Lord” that laid upon the wood.  And the Father strikes and the nails were driven into the hands and feet of the Son, and the spear pierced His side.  The Son dies, and the Father weeps.  This time there is no substitute.  This is the way it had to be.  The only Son of God the Father was offered up for your sins and mine.  Why?  So that you and I might have eternal life by taking a leap of faith and trusting in the sacrifice made on our behalf.  The Bible says, “But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him” (Hebrews 11:6, emphasis mine).

God gave His one and only Son for you and for me. He has the absolute right to expect your obedience by trusting in the sacrifice of His Son. Are you unsure because you cannot see where your feet will fall? You may hesitate because you do not know how your friends or your spouse or your family will react if you give your life to Christ.  You may hesitate because you fear that you will have to give up a lifestyle of sin with which you have grown comfortable.  You may feel that you are doing alright on your own, and that you have no need for God in your life because you have everything under your control.  Besides all of that, you don’t know if your decision to trust Christ will ever pay off.  You cannot see where your feet will fall, so you would rather remain confined in a world that you can see rather than to obey God and trust Him with what you cannot see.  Let me assure you, you are not as safe and secure as you think you are.  Why not take that leap in faith by trusting Jesus as your personal Savior and Lord.  He alone holds the future and in Him you can find true security.

Perhaps you already know the Savior. You possess the assurance of an eternal future with Him in heaven, but you haven’t learned to trust Him with your present life.  Perhaps you are not serving Him as you should because you have too many other things that occupy your time.  Maybe you are not the witness for Him at school, at work, or at home that you ought to be because you worry that you might offend someone, or you may lose your job or your credibility or your relationships.  Jesus said, “Whosoever therefore shall be ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation; of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he cometh in the glory of his Father with the holy angels” (Mark 8:38).  Perhaps you haven’t trusted God with the giving of your tithe because you worry that you won’t have enough month left over at the end of your paycheck. Remember the words of Jesus: “Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?” (Matthew 6:25).  He went on to say, “Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matthew 6:31-33).

God knows all of your needs, and He will meet them.  He doesn’t need your help to take care of you.  He can do just fine without you, if you will only trust Him to care for you as He promised.  Do not stay trapped by what you cannot see; “If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed” (John 8:36).

Abraham could not see where his feet would fall, but he trusted God, and he obeyed.  “For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness” (Romans 4:3).  Do not allow the cares of this world hold you captive like a three-foot wall keeps the African impala imprisoned. “Trust and obey for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.”[3]

Notes:


[1]  Genesis 16

[2]   2 Samuel 24:10-25; 2 Chronicles 3:1)

[3]  From the hymn, “Trust And Obey,”

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Missed One!

And there came two angels to Sodom at even; and Lot sat in the gate of Sodom: and Lot seeing them rose up to meet them; and he bowed himself with his face toward the ground; (Genesis 19:1)

Anyone who has spent any time in the Bible has experienced reading a familiar passage and all of a sudden, something new appears in the text. Well, it is not really new; it has been there all along, but for the first time, the Spirit gives new insight into that familiar passage.

Recently I started reading the Book of Genesis for the nth time and came to Chapter 19 where two angels come to drag Lot out of Sodom before God destroyed it. Lot ranks at the bottom of my list of Bible characters. Lot was the son of Abram’s brother, Haran,[1] making him Abram’s (Abraham) nephew. Haran died, and when God called Abram to “Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will shew thee” (Genesis 12:1), Lot followed his uncle.[2] Later on, as their wealth increased, Abram’s and Lot’s shepherds started quarreling over grazing land for their sheep.[3] So Abram decided that they should split up in order to avoid further conflict. Abram gave Lot the choice of grazing land,[4] and Lot chose what he thought was the best grazing land.[5] The Bible describes the land Lot chose as “well watered every where … as the garden of the LORD” (Genesis 13:10). The land he selected lies in a valley on the east shore of the Dead Sea, so it strikes me odd that the Bible says that “Lot lifted up his eyes and beheld all the plain of Jordan” (v. 10). Why would one “lift up his eyes” to see a valley that is below. That makes no sense to me unless his eyes were “lifted up” in pride. After all, he chose the best for himself leaving the least desirable land for his uncle.

Then Lot moved near the “cities of the plain,” two of which were Sodom and Gomorrah, but he “pitched his tent toward Sodom.”[6] “But the men of Sodom were wicked and sinners before the LORD exceedingly” (Genesis 13:13). Scripture clearly indicates the direction Lot was headed, and it was not a good place. Later we learn that Lot left his tent and moved into Sodom[7] and even became a city leader sitting “in the gate of Sodom”[8] – the place of judgment.

Lot does not make it into the “Faith Hall of Fame” (Hebrews 11), but the Apostle Peter calls Lot “just.” “[God] turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrha into ashes condemned them with an overthrow, making them an ensample unto those that after should live ungodly; And delivered just Lot, vexed with the filthy conversation [i.e., lifestyle] of the wicked” (2 Peter 2:6-7, emphasis mine). Except for the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, I fail to see how Peter arrives at that conclusion. However, the Greek word translated “just” is dikaios and it means “equitable,” so perhaps as a judge, Lot dealt fairly with all.

Yet, had he faced his tent a different direction and stayed out there with his sheep, he may have averted the troubles that came with living in Sodom. He was kidnapped by marauding kings and his uncle had to rescue him,[9] and then God sent fire and brimstone to destroy all the cities of the plain for their wickedness.

I may be wrong (it would not be the first time), but it seems to me that Lot got sucked into the “city life,” perhaps not all the way, but just on the edge – at the gate. We do that too. We want Jesus, but we want to have a little of what the world offers too. I see Lot this way. Peter says that Lot was “vexed with the filthy conversation” of the city, but when the men of the city came to his house demanding that Lot give over his two male guests so they could have sex with them, Lot offered them his virgin daughters to do with them as they pleased.[10] What kind of “righteous” man does that! Later, as the angels tried to get Lot to leave the city before they destroyed it, “he lingered” and “the men laid hold upon his hand, and upon the hand of his wife, and upon the hand of his two daughters; the LORD being merciful unto him: and they brought him forth, and set him without the city” (Genesis 19:16). Lot had to be dragged out of the city for his own good!

We might think this story ends happily. No, it gets worse. After being saved from destruction, Lot’s daughters, who had been raised in the “conversation” of Sodom, became concerned that they had no man to get them pregnant, so they get their father drunk and have sex with him and have sons that become enemy nations of Israel – Moab (the Moabites) and Ammon (the Ammonites).[11]

Perhaps you can see why Lot is at the bottom of my Bible hero list, and I am disgusted every time I read this account. However, here is what I have missed all these times I’ve read this passage. It really begins in Chapter 18 when three angels come and speak to Abraham. After the angels finish the meal Abraham prepared for them, they get up to leave in the direction of Sodom, but one stays behind to inform Abraham of what He is going to do. We learn throughout the passage that this “angel” is actually the LORD. Theologically, this is known as a “theophany,” or better yet, a “Christophany” because these are appearances of the pre-incarnate Christ in the Old Testament. Jesus said, “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad” (John 8:56).

So Abraham intercedes on behalf of Sodom with the LORD. “That be far from thee to do after this manner, to slay the righteous with the wicked: and that the righteous should be as the wicked, that be far from thee: Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Genesis 18:25). What if there are 50 righteous in the city? What if there are 45, 40, 30, 20, 10? The LORD agrees that for 10 righteous, He will spare the city. Then in Chapter 19, we see two angels enter the city. I always assumed these where the two angels that went ahead while the LORD stayed behind to speak with Abraham, but I saw something different this time.

Eight years ago, I wrote a thesis entitled Images of Christ in Genesis where I discuss ways in which Christ appears in the Book of Genesis. These include typology and theophany, but the one I missed was the one that appears in this encounter with Lot. One way to recognize a theophany is when the angel is referred to as “the angel of the LORD.” However, the best way to recognize that the angel is actually “the LORD” is that He takes credit for what the LORD does or will do. Rather than say, “the LORD will …” the angel says, “I will …”

So we have two angels enter the city (we know the account), and they try to evacuate Lot, his wife, and two daughters. The first hint that this is “the LORD” appears in Verse 16 where it says that the angels took them by the hands to drag them out of the city, and it makes this comment: “the LORD being merciful unto them.” Then, once they are out of the city one of the angels commands Lot to escape for his life and not look back. Lot protests and addresses Him as “my Lord” (‘ădônây) and pleads, “Behold now, thy servant hath found grace in thy sight, and thou hast magnified thy mercy, which thou hast shewed unto me in saving my life; and I cannot escape to the mountain, lest some evil take me, and I die” (Genesis 19:19). Lot pleads to be allowed to go to Zoar, and the angel says, “See, I have accepted thee concerning this thing also, that I will not overthrow this city, for the which thou hast spoken” (Genesis 19:21).

Zoar was one of the cities of the plain, and the angel unilaterally granted Lot’s request and spared the city. Matters of life and death belong to God alone. Angels cannot act in opposition to God’s directive. Even Satan is subject to God’s authority. Because this angel acted in response to Lot’s request, we know that either he acted against God’s wishes (to destroy Zoar) or He indeed is God and within His rights to grant the request. “Then the LORD rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the LORD out of heaven … And it came to pass, when God destroyed the cities of the plain, that God remembered Abraham, and sent Lot out of the midst of the overthrow, when he overthrew the cities in the which Lot dwelt” (Genesis 19:24, 29).

All the times I read this passage and I missed it. However, it shows how God cares for His own, and that He will protect them even when they are not living according to His will. I know it to be true in my life. But just because God protects His children when they are outside His will, there are often consequences to pay. Consider Lot’s incestuous daughters. Life is so much better if we stick close to Him. I speak from experience.

Notes:


[1]  Genesis 11:27

[2]  Genesis 12:4

[3]  Genesis 13:7

[4]  Genesis 13:8-9

[5]  Genesis 13:10-11

[6]  Genesis 13:12

[7]  Genesis 14:12

[8]  Genesis 19:1

[9]  Genesis 14:12, 14-16

[10]  Genesis 19:4-8

[11]  Genesis 19:30-38

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