Reflections From 1 CHRONICLES 16-21 “OF KING’S & WAR: DAVID’S EXPLOITS RETOLD”

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When Israel worshipped the LORD under David’s command, the song of the LORD God of Israel was skillfully sung with instruments, cymbals, trumpets, harps and lyres 16:1-7:

“And they brought in the ark of God and placed it inside the tent which David had pitched for it, and they offered burnt offerings and peace offerings before God. When David had finished offering the burnt offering and the peace offerings, he blessed the people in the name of the Lord. He distributed to everyone of Israel, both man and woman, to everyone a loaf of bread and a portion of meat and a raisin cake.  He appointed some of the Levites as ministers before the ark of the Lord, even to celebrate and to thank and praise the Lord God of Israel:Asaph the chief, and second to him Zechariah, then Jeiel, Shemiramoth, Jehiel, Mattithiah, Eliab, Benaiah, Obed-edom and Jeiel, with musical instruments, harps, lyres; also Asaph played loud-sounding cymbals, and Benaiah and Jahaziel the priests blew trumpets continually before the ark of the covenant of God.  Then on that day David first assigned Asaph and his relatives to give thanks to the Lord

The ark of the presence reminded Israel of their God who acts in space time history and reveals His covenant to the chosen ones.  These revelations are to be in song (16:8-36) so that a telling and remembering of Him could be passed down to the generations.  This is why God raised David up as leader, and it’s also obvious to David that his successes are based on the God who is there (17:16-27) not through the arm of man.

Moreover, this warrior-king David, was God’s chosen to administer justice and righteousness for all His people 18:14-17:

“So David reigned over all Israel; and he administered justice and righteousness for all his people. 15 Joab the son of Zeruiah was over the army, and Jehoshaphat the son of Ahilud was recorder; 16 and Zadok the son of Ahitub and Abimelech the son of Abiathar were priests, and Shavsha was secretary; 17 and Benaiah the son of Jehoiada was over the Cherethites and the Pelethites, and the sons of David were chiefs at the king’s side.

Why do rulers rule?  They should do it so that justice and righteousness reign, not for self-aggrandizement.  Rulers should recognize that they serve those who they rule, but too often, the converse is true.  David as warrior-king was also ruthless when it came to dealing with his enemies and a bloody scene transpired 20:2-8:

David took the crown of their king from his head, and he found it to weigh a talent of gold, and there was a precious stone in it; and it was placed on David’s head. And he brought out the spoil of the city, a very great amount. He brought out the people who were in it, and cut them with saws and with sharp instruments and with axes. And thus David did to all the cities of the sons of Ammon. Then David and all the people returned to Jerusalem.  Now it came about after this, that war broke out at Gezer with the Philistines; then Sibbecai the Hushathite killed Sippai, one of the descendants of the giants, and they were subdued. And there was war with the Philistines again, and Elhanan the son of Jair killed Lahmi the brother of Goliath the Gittite, the shaft of whose spear was like a weaver’s beam. Again there was war at Gath, where there was a man of great stature who had twenty-four fingers and toes, six fingers on each hand and six toes on each foot; and he also was descended from the giants. When he taunted Israel, Jonathan the son of Shimea, David’s brother, killed him. These were descended from the giants in Gath, and they fell by the hand of David and by the hand of his servants.”  

Perhaps the puzzling to me was the numbering of Israel and the severe punishment meted out by God (21:1-17) toward David.  Why did God allow Satan to move David to number Israel?  (See: Gleason Archer: Bible Difficulties).  According to Archer:

“God’s anger was unleashed on Israel because of their pride thinking their numbers are what gave them victory and prominence as a nation, rather than God’s sovereign grace.”

Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we will trust in the name of the LORD our God.  Whenever we as a people move away from the bedrock of the Savior as our protector, deliverer and our Good Shepherd, we inevitably fall into self-reliance and pride swells up the soul.  This ends in judgement always depicted in the Angel of the LORD’s destruction through pestilence.

After the judgment was met out, David was terrified of the Angel’s sword before the altar of God.  It’s as if his pride melted away before the God of creation, the God who redeems Israel (21:18-30).  We must thus tell and remember with thankful hearts the deeds of the LORD God so that we don’t forget the Creator/creature distinction and His good acts toward His people and opposite wrath toward His enemies.  Today this is very instructive.

(SDG)

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Summaries Now Available!

310D727a2fL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Now available in summary form is Politics for Christians.  This is an election year and the candidates for both the Democrats and the Republican parties are less than stellar according to many.  Moreover many people while having opinions on their preferred candidates have no grid from which they clearly decide on a particular person for office.  As Christians, we divide on many things and our preferred political party is certainly one of them.  Whatever party lines believers find themselves coming under, a fundamental question needs to be answered: “what policies come closest to our worldview as ambassadors for Christ?”

Answering that question takes careful thought and humility.  It’s my hope that the summaries of this book will help the Christian in particular be salt and light as they engage to the glory of God, the political process.  Moreover, it’s my desire to see the citizens of heaven consider their temporary earthly citizenship as a means to rule and reign that honors Christ and their fellow man, rather than shaming his name.  Take up and read friends.

Reflections From ROMANS 11:1-12 “THE REMNANT IS ACCORDING TO GOD’S CHOICE, NOT OURS”

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            In this section of Romans we see here that God reveals how people become His precious possession.  Paul writes:

I say then, God has not rejected His people, has He? May it never be! For I too am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not rejected His people whom He foreknew. Or do you not know what the Scripture says in the passage about Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel? “Lord, they have killed Your prophets, they have torn down Your altars, and I alone am left, and they are seeking my life.” But what is the divine response to him? “I have kept for Myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” In the same way then, there has also come to be at the present time a remnant according to God’s gracious choice.”

             Paul here basis his view of God not rejecting His people whom He foreknew first by: pointing to himself, his nation, and his tribe.   Paul’s life is evidence that Jews were, are and will be saved.  They will be loved, not abandoned.  Secondly, Paul points to Elijah’s presupposition and uncloaks its’ deceptiveness.   The reality is that there’s way more children of God than we can fathom.  The main agent in this turn of events is not Elijah or any creature but God.  Finally, Paul assures his readers that this remnant like the former one is according to Gods’ gracious choice, implying not the choice of the creature.

Thus, Gods gracious choice is the centerpiece here, not the false notion that God forsakes His people.  So thus far according to the previous chapters salvation comes to both Jew and Gentile alike, through embracing the proclaimed word of God.  This word is not received by all which is evidenced by Israel’s rejection of it.  Lastly, this rescue results from God’s gracious choice, not ours.

I know this is a tough knot to untie or a hard will to swallow, but I can’t exegetically come to any other conclusion that it is God’s gracious choice by means of the preached word embraced, we come into God’s fold made of Jew and Gentile alike.  Specifically speaking of Israel, God has never removed His love toward them—which seems to be evidenced through the existence of the remnant contextually.  Thus, God has not rejected His people.

Paul continues explaining Israel’s state and says: But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace.  Here I take Paul to affirm what he’s previously argued (chapters 5-8) that becoming acceptable (righteous) before God never entailed doing works of the law.  Instead, righteousness comes only through grace which is through the 2nd Adam Christ Jesus.  Remove God’s gracious choice of rescue from the Messiah, and the result will be death.   Paul ensues:

What then? What Israel is seeking, it has not obtained, but those who were chosen obtained it, and the rest were hardened; just as it is written, “God gave them a spirit of stupor, Eyes to see not and ears to hear not, Down to this very day.”  And David says, “Let their table become a snare and a trap, And a stumbling block and a retribution to them.  10 “Let their eyes be darkened to see not, And bend their backs forever.”     

The text seems to be saying that those who cared about knowing God, did not come to know Him (recall they rejected His word chapter 10), but rather those chosen obtained this knowledge of God which results in salvation.  The reason the former (Israel) did not obtain salvation is because God hardened them, and reason the latter did obtain it is because He chose them.  This reality is difficult to bear (and we must nevertheless remember that there’s no injustice with God), but I can’t make sense out of the passage in any other way.

God however is always working out the counsel of His will and Paul is thus going to explain the reason for why God hardened Israel:

11 I say then, they did not stumble so as to fall, did they? May it never be! But by their transgression salvation has come to the Gentiles, to make them jealous.

             It seems that God’s end in Israel’s stumbling had the purpose of bringing salvation to the Gentile world and as a result would cause Israel to become jealous: jealous of what?  Jealous that now outsiders, foreigners, aliens and those once estranged from Israel’s common wealth are now partakers of it.  That wealth, that treasure is nothing less than being part of God’s redeemed family.  There’s nothing more precious here than to be God’s child, God’s friend.  Paul continues:

12 Now if their transgression is riches for the world and their failure is riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their fulfillment be”  

             Paul seems to be transitioning into a deeper thought concerning Israel and Gentile believers, the goal of which is going from degree of glory to the next level of glory.  I think Paul is arguing that if Israel’s sin is the means through which the riches of heaven have come to earth (i.e., salvation to non-Jews), then Israel’s salvation after their own transgression will be ever more glorious (11:25-27).  The drama of redemption truly is the greatest story ever told.  (SDG)

 

 

   

Summary CHAPTER 8: QUESTIONS ABOUT FAITH—Developing Approaches (Pgs. 157-179)

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McGrath argues that the times in which we live must and will dictate the questions we are asked and the requisite answers we give.  A critical key is to never answer a question that’s not being asked.  This is a pit many have fallen into and must be avoided if we desire to effectively connect with skeptics or seekers.

Whether in an Islamic, rationalist, or postmodern context, the apologist must welcome challenging questions and not see them as threats but as part of the journey the questioner is on.  In other ways, these are doors to “faith” that require a person relative response, rather than a “cookie-cutter” approach.  It is one way we help people on their journey a step at a time.

McGrath thus encourages each apologist to develop their own responses to questions asked.  Under the heading Concerns and Questions he offers the following suggestions when interacting with skeptics or seekers: First, be gracious with people even though they may not be.  How powerful and foundational this is.  People don’t care about what we know, as the saying goes, unless they know how much we care.

Second, get to the real question being asked.  Often the introductory question has a motive or purpose for why it’s being asked.  Get clear on that and you’ll be more of a sniper with your responses instead of a greenhorn.

Third, be humble to learn from others.  You don’t know everything and it’s always easier to interact with one who’s not a “know-it-all”, than one who’s a peer on the learning journey.  This does not mean that what you do know is denied, but what you don’t know is admitted.

Fourth, don’t give ready-made answers.  It’s robotic, sterile, and does not humanly connect.  Instead, be a good listener where clarification of terms and ideas are reiterated to the questioner.

McGrath follows this section by providing a model of questions and answers that can be offered to the skeptics’ challenges (E.g., God’s goodness and suffering, God as a crutch, etc.) by pointing out the origins, presuppositions and problems that obtain with the objection and offers a solution.  With the “crutch” view he explains that the real issue here is truth and the nature of reality, rather than how it makes one look or feel.

He finally ends the chapter by posing several questions and offering the requisite homework for the apologist to form and re-write her own responses.  The goal here is to tighten and shorten responses so that we get to the point without losing the audience.

Mere Apologetics: Chapter 2: APOLOGETICS AND CONTEMPORARY CULTURE (Pgs. 27-40)

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In chapter two, McGrath considers how contemporary culture is to be understood and thus approached.

Our apologetics must be in touch with the culture and audience before us.  While we can and do learn from the past, it’s important to speak in contemporary terms in order to humanly connect with others.

McGrath writes about modernity and post-modernity.  Modernity (M) viewed human reason as universal, available to all, able to unlock the mysteries of life, and argument was reasons tool for the task.  During this era, Christian apologetics mainly focused on reason and rational arguments to commend the faith, but neglected the relational and creative side of being human (pg. 28).  This moreover minimized the mystery of the Faith (E.g., the Trinity was not used as an apologetic) and in order to win arguments some gave over too much real estate and assumed the opponents worldview and ended up losing the heart of the matter.

Post-Modernity (PM) is not easy to define but is easier to describe.  It saw (M) as a failure needing correction.  Of course not all of (M’s) ideas are bad.  Thus (PM) attempted to combine the best of (M’s) and that of Classical Tradition (CT) while removing their undesirable aspects.  Among these undesirable aspects was uniformitarianism—a kind of reductionism that has a “total-scheme” of reality like Marxism.  PM’s see this as a “straight-jacket” that essentially infringes on human freedom.  Now PM’s reject several things.

First, they reject the notion that there’s only one right or wrong way to live.  Second, they see “sameness” as belittling to human freedom, thus diversity is to be celebrated.  Therefore any metanarrative is to be rejected as a way of looking at the world.  Third, they see reason not as universal but rather contextual and relative.  Fourth, they have a suspicious view of truth and hold that it’s used by the powerful to justify their oppression and to maintain their positions of power and authority.  Fifth, they reject the idea that history has some kind of telos (E.g., Jesus of Nazareth).  Sixth, they refuse the view that the “self” has some point of reference, but instead the “self” is a fluid way of seeing ourselves.

PM’s contributes at least two appreciative qualities.  First, it’s a secular worldview that does not define what’s “right/wrong” and is neither pro/con Christianity.  Second, this movement in culture presents an opportunity for a new apologetic approach focused not merely on reason and arguments but also on story, imagination (I.e., the parables of Christ) and an incarnational approach.

How are we to reach our culture and do apologetics in this milieu?  We must first start by knowing the Gospel, secondly understanding our times and thus tailor-make our approach accordingly, third, so that the content of the message remains faithful to the /Master, while the methods adapt to the audience for human connection.

Reflections From 1 SAMUEL 4-8: “GOD DICTATES HOW HE’LL BE WORSHIPPED, NOT US”

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There’s a biblical theme revealed through the Ark of the Covenant being placed in the temple of Dagon in Ashdod as a result of the Philistines defeating  Israel in battle (4:10-11).  The theme, “God is to be worshipped as he demands and those who refuse to comply –die!”  This theme culminates in Paul’s confession of Jesus that, “…every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is LORD to the glory of God the Father” (Phil.2:5-11)

Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.    

The glory of God ultimately tabernacled in the person of his son, the Ark of the Covenant a foreshadowing of such, belonged to Israel and was to be in Israel not in some pagan temple (5:1-8; 4:22).  God is to be worshipped very specifically and never to be treated tritely for he is the Holy One (6:20).  Both the Philistines and the Israelites were dealt the death blow because of their irreverent ways toward the LORD God (5:11-12; 6:19)

11 They sent therefore and gathered all the lords of the Philistines and said, “Send away the ark of the God of Israel, and let it return to its own place, so that it will not kill us and our people.” For there was a deadly confusion throughout the city; the hand of God was very heavy there. 12 And the men who did not die were smitten with tumors and the cry of the city went up to heaven.”

Not only is God to be worshipped in a certain way, he does not play favorites with family members if they are negligent with their duties as was the case with Samuel’s sons Joel and Abijah in Samuel 8:1-3:

And it came about when Samuel was old that he appointed his sons judges over Israel. Now the name of his firstborn was Joel, and the name of his second, Abijah; they were judging in Beersheba. His sons, however, did not walk in his ways, but turned aside after dishonest gain and took bribes and perverted justice.

Their wickedness prodded Israel to ask for a king to be placed in Israel like all the other nations.  Like a polluted stream is a ruler that takes bribes and perverts justice and thus these sons polluted Israel with their wickedness.

Some hold that the God of the Old Testament (more accurately it’s the Law, the Writings, and the Prophets) is unapproachable, angry and not merciful while the God of the New Testament is approachable, calm and full of mercy.  But that notion is false for both “Testaments” unfold the theme of God being very specific in how he is to be worshipped (Jn.4:21-26; Rev.).  Moreover, those who neglect his son will be eternally condemned (Rev.20:11-15; 21:1-8).

In our 21st century pluralistic religious climate God has revealed his word to us but if we twist it to mean something it does not (E.g., all religions are basically teaching the same thing, and all roads lead to heaven) than what awaits is not  total mercy and grace but just wrath.  Why?  Because God has spoken!

(SDG)

Reflections From ACTS 20: “PAUL’S PASSION AND TENDERNESS IS REVEALED IN HIS EXHORTATION TO THE EPHESIAN ELDERS”

 25980b6d3ee8407a75ce76f8a9085b80This chapter follows a tumultuous account of persecution arising from the idol of greed and the idol that is “nothing” which is exposed.  Now, he is seen ministering but with haste.  It’s as if Paul knew time was expiring in his life and those to whom he ministered.  To illustrate the point, he teaches/preaches/talked for so long on one occasion that a young man (Eutychus) fell asleep and plundered to his death three stories down while Paul was ministering in Troas (Vv.7-12).  Nevertheless, Paul raised him from the dead and greatly comforted the boys loved ones.

I must mention that Paul also greatly exhorted the Macedonian disciples and those present in the uproar (Vv.1-2).  He probably reminded them that persecution accompanies the preaching of the gospel word, yet a better reward awaits the faithful in the next life.  I say this because Jesus always reminded his disciples of the reward that awaits those who are persecuted for his name’s sake (Mt.5:10-12).  Again, the plot by the Jews against Paul must have been unnerving to the apostle but this was to fulfill Jesus’ words “He is a chosen vessel of mine to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel, for I will show him how much he must suffer for My name’s sake” (9:15-16).

Paul’s suffering resulted from his obedience to the word of the Lord, not in spite of it.  This grace of God in Paul humbles me because in order to walk in God’s grace it will often be accompanied by opposition—vehement—rivals will arise!

Before the Ephesian elders, Paul now enumerates his many accomplishments that are impressive.  First, Paul faithfully and humbly served Christ with tears and trials from the Jews (Vv.18-19).  His ministry was forged in the crucible of obedience.  His enemies and that of the Gospels (I.e., the religious establishment) were the primary means for said opposition.  This is instructive because often, not always, those who hinder the Gospel ministry from flourishing are not pagan non-believers but religious non-believers.

Second, Paul’s opposition and the “octagons” in which they manifested demonstrate his courage and resolve to speak the truth for his hearers profit even if it cost him dearly.  This speech was done publicly and privately to both Jews and Gentiles whose content was: “repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ”.  The man Christ Jesus and the message of the Gospel were the cause of Paul’s deep pain and sufferings.  Mine tend to be because of my sin and disobedience, but sometimes they are a result of what Paul experienced (I.e., suffered because of the Gospel).

 Third, Paul knew that wherever he went, hardships would meet him because of the Gospel; that is “bonds and afflictions await me” (Vv.22-23).  To know that afflictions await you wherever you go with the message of redemption must have been a badge of honor on the one hand (E.g., martyrs receive a more honorable resurrection), but on the other hand it must have been very difficult psychologically and physically.  What would I do if placed in similar situations?  Short question, multifaceted ways of answering it, but assuredly, without God’s grace I could not do it.

Fourth, Paul’s resolve was so singularly kingdom oriented that hardships did not deter him from that goal:

“But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God.”(V.24)  

 Years ago this was the text I used as a guide when I planted a Hispanic Church.  It’s now a distant memory but to this day I ask myself, “Did you stay the course and complete what Christ put before you Sergio?”  Did I stay my course; perhaps not, perhaps not.  Nevertheless, Paul’s single-mindedness kept him on track in spite of the hardships.

Fifth, Paul not only reminds them they will never see his face again, but he affirms his innocence of any blood shed:

 “Therefore, I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all men. 27 For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God.”   (Vv.26-27)

This is a bold statement considering Acts 7-9 where he’s clearly the cause for putting to death many believers.  Yet, part of God’s purpose is to rescue hell bent sinners and declare them just before the throne of God because of Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross!  This is where God’s mercy and justice kiss and because of this amazing Gospel, Paul can declare his innocence (C.f., 1 Tim:1).  This message was not only intellectually rigorous (See all of Romans) but practically transforming.  That’s robust “religion”!

Sixth, Paul assures them that this Gospel must be protected by faithful men against false teachers that will arise from their ranks.  How?  They must guard their own lives and that of the flocks by shepherding the flock of God which God purchased with his own blood. (V.28, 29-30).  Too many believers (leaders, pastors) naively think this does not include part of what it means to shepherd God’s flock, but it’s an intricate part of love’s demonstration.

Spiritual warfare is fought through argumentation 2 Corinthians 2 and through intercession Ephesians 6.  Jesus, the apostles, and especially Paul knew this, lived it and thus saw much fruit with persecutions.  If Pastoral leadership in the 21st century is to be faithful to the Chief Shepherd, then engaging both fronts of warfare will be the focus of ministry.

Seventh, Paul reminds them of his manner of life and ministry (Vv.31-35).  I think he does this because he is one worthy to be emulated by God’s grace.  This is not boasting in his accomplishments (Read his letters) because Paul knew intellectually and experientially that anything good in him was sourced in God alone ultimately, not in human effort.  He’s boasting in the Lord.  If we were to do that today, we’d probably be called egotistical, arrogant, prideful, but not humble.  Paul is humbly telling the elders to imitate him—because it’s Christ in him doing the work they witnessed.

Eighth, Paul concludes his address with prayer.  As always, his life of word and prayer (modeled by Jesus) can’t be separated from a faithful account of Paul because these two aspects demonstrated his ultimate dependence on God.  This is followed by loud weeping and repeated kissing of Paul to the elders.  They grieved because they knew they’d never see their beloved Paul again (Vv.36-38).  This is very intimate moment and for many westerners too “touchy-feely” but let’s face it, this is genuine love being expressed—very moving.

Conclusion: Paul loved God and others, his is a testament to this fact and said love for God was birthed and continuously stoked by the gospel and prayer which worked itself out in love for others.  What of my life and yours friend?  God helps us be more like Paul in word and deed.  In our brokenness teach us to trust You, in our joy teach us to thank You, and in our calling(s) empower us to follow You wherever Lord you lead us.

(SDG)