Reflections From ECCLESIASTES 2: THE PREACHERS DOWNWARD MUSINGS—VANITY Part 2

In my struggle and acquaintance with failure concerning every sector of existence (E.g., moral, practical and contemplative) the Preacher’s outlook is not re-assuring but utterly depressing.

Vanity, futility, empty, meaningless are all man’s endeavors under the sun and thus so is his life.   The Preacher indulged himself with pleasure and came up empty whether sexual, intellectual or acquisitional pleasure, it’s all empty:

“I said to myself, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure. So enjoy yourself.” And behold, it too was futility. I said of laughter, “It is madness,” and of pleasure, “What does it accomplish?” I explored with my mind how to stimulate my body with wine while my mind was guiding me wisely, and how to take hold of folly, until I could see what good there is for the sons of men to do under heaven the few years of their lives. I enlarged my works: I built houses for myself, I planted vineyards for myself; I made gardens and parks for myself and I planted in them all kinds of fruit trees; I made ponds of water for myself from which to irrigate a forest of growing trees. I bought male and female slaves and I had home born slaves. Also I possessed flocks and herds larger than all who preceded me in Jerusalem. Also, I collected for myself silver and gold and the treasure of kings and provinces. I provided for myself male and female singers and the pleasures of men—many concubines.(2.1-8)

He became greater than all of his predecessors and still his activities are considered useless (Vv.9-11).  There’s no boasting here but deprecation of all the things worldly men (of which I once numbered) would die for!  Wine, women and song, riches and pleasures galore—empty says the preacher!

He understood that wisdom far excels folly as the light conquers the darkness and yet even this to him is vain because like the fool so the wise man will die and his memorial will be forgotten:

“So I turned to consider wisdom, madness and folly; for what will the man do who will come after the king except what has already been done? 13 And I saw that wisdom excels folly as light excels darkness. 14 The wise man’s eyes are in his head, but the fool walks in darkness. And yet I know that one fate befalls them both. 15 Then I said to myself, “As is the fate of the fool, it will also befall me. Why then have I been extremely wise?” So I said to myself, “This too is vanity.” 16 For there is no lasting remembrance of the wise man as with the fool, inasmuch as in the coming days all will be forgotten. And how the wise man and the fool alike die! 17 So I hated life, for the work which had been done under the sun was grievous to me; because everything is futility and striving after wind.”   (2:12-17)

The herald understanding his plight completely despaired of life, his legacy and his toil, the accumulation of which is vanity (2:18-23).  Yet, he reflects on the good life and considers that its basis is found in God alone and happiness is to be had in Him alone:

“There is nothing better for a man than to eat and drink and tell himself that his labor is good. This also I have seen that it is from the hand of God. 25 For who can eat and who can have enjoyment without Him? 26 For to a person who is good in His sight He has given wisdom and knowledge and joy, while to the sinner He has given the task of gathering and collecting so that he may give to one who is good in God’s sight. This too is vanity and striving after wind.” (2:24-26)

God gives wisdom to the wise and good person but for the sinner (who in this context is the opposite) their task is gathering and collecting for those God sees as good.  The struggle and restlessness this nihilistic Preacher is enduring is horrible to bear.  The Preacher is saying that existence without God is empty, a breath not worth taking, toil that leads to “nowhere” in the blink of the eye.

What a dark hole his soul sank into, what an empty chasm he’s fallen into, what a dingy dungeon is his abode, the abyss has (almost entirely) swallowed him up.

God and the meaning of life is the question for the man who has wandered from the paths of righteousness.  His plight is a warning to all who do shun God, deny his existence and indulge in fleeting pleasures—emptiness is the reward.  Why?  Because all pleasures in life that put God at the periphery are vain being He is the giver and sustainer of life in whom there is no darkness at all.

The Preacher is warning me to flee all pleasures that have not God at the hub, to consider the vanity of life without Him and to pursue Him in my gloomiest hour for He alone will not disappoint.

(SDG)

Reflections from ESTHER: THE PROVIDENCE OF GOD THROUGH A PAGAN RULER

images

            The book of Esther is another marvelous account of the annals in the mosaic of Israel.  The book reads like history, not fantasy where Jewish enemies as in the past sought to destroy them, but God in his providence rescued them through a non-Jewish king named Ahasuerus.

This is a colorful account of a young beauty named Esther who was taken into Mordecai’s home after she became an orphan.  She was left with no kin to care for her, nevertheless God’s sovereign hand was moving behind the scenes.  Today we don’t talk much about God’s providence in the Church and for that matter in the world at large.  We prefer to use words like “chance” or “fate” or “karma” to describe uncanny situations that seem to be going one way, but turn instantly on a dime.

God’s providence among other things concerns the attributes of His power, knowledge, wisdom and goodness that for reasons unknown to creatures He performs for His names sake.  That means that at the center of all divine activity is the renown of the NAME, for unlike the creation which is finite and needy, the God of scripture is infinite and self-existent.  Thus, to attach supreme value to anything other than the ultimate is ultimately irrational and absurd, it is sinful and God is perfectly holy, without any sin.  That is why God does everything for the renown of the NAME.

I’ve read this account several times and peculiar to this book is the mentioning of the Jews but never of God’s name.  It’s as if Israel’s redeemer is preaching to the nations through them with a specific message that needs to be heeded but so often neglected.  The truth is that Israel’s history is the story of God’s dealings in space and time with a particular people to preach a specific message.

This message is one of favor being bestowed on them through a pagan ruler, the king of the land whose heart is like channels of water in the hand of the LORD, for He turns it wherever He wishes.  Among other things, this is a reminder to God’s people that even if rulers despise God, they are not ultimate God is.  This means that God will see to it that His hidden purposes are established while simultaneously working through the creature.  The scriptures teach that when a man’s ways are pleasing to the LORD, He makes even his enemies to be at piece with him.

America needs a move from God in order to deliver us from our own cultural captivity of irrationality grounded in a darkened mind because of our many stony hearts to His law and ways.  God have mercy on your people, including those who have been grafted into the vine by Christ’s great rescue on Calvary’s bloody cross.

(SDG)

Reflections from NEHEMIAH 5-8: THE NEED FOR A RIGHTEOUS GOVERNOR

old stone wall background

         

            In a day when just (righteous) rulers are needed, our land in America is in a deep drought and famine.  The truth of God is twisted, it is suppressed in unrighteousness and the prevailing “wisdom” calls “right” wrong and what’s “wrong” right.  We are at the cliff’s edge and don’t realize the peril that awaits our steps.  This is difficult to bear.

Israel, God’s people who rebelled, went into exile and now returned to their home land, but they needed to get their lives in order.  This occurs by doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly before Almighty God.  To do this, they had to secure their borders first and make sure that they treated their Jewish brothers as covenant people and not strangers of their common wealth (5:1-13)

Now there was a great outcry of the people and of their wives against their Jewish brothers. For there were those who said, “We, our sons and our daughters are many; therefore let us get grain that we may eat and live.” There were others who said, “We are mortgaging our fields, our vineyards and our houses that we might get grain because of the famine.” Also there were those who said, “We have borrowed money for the king’s tax on our fields and our vineyards. Now our flesh is like the flesh of our brothers, our children like their children. Yet behold, we are forcing our sons and our daughters to be slaves, and some of our daughters are forced into bondage already, and we are helpless because our fields and vineyards belong to others.”  Then I was very angry when I had heard their outcry and these words.I consulted with myself and contended with the nobles and the rulers and said to them, “You are exacting usury, each from his brother!” Therefore, I held a great assembly against them. I said to them, “We according to our ability have redeemed our Jewish brothers who were sold to the nations; now would you even sell your brothers that they may be sold to us?” Then they were silent and could not find a word to say. Again I said, “The thing which you are doing is not good; should you not walk in the fear of our God because of the reproach of the nations, our enemies? 10 And likewise I, my brothers and my servants are lending them money and grain. Please, let us leave off this usury.11 Please, give back to them this very day their fields, their vineyards, their olive groves and their houses, also the hundredth part of the money and of the grain, the new wine and the oil that you are exacting from them.” 12 Then they said, “We will give it back and will require nothing from them; we will do exactly as you say.” So I called the priests and took an oath from them that they would do according to this promise. 13 I also shook out the front of my garment and said, “Thus may God shake out every man from his house and from his possessions who does not fulfill this promise; even thus may he be shaken out and emptied.” And all the assembly said, “Amen!” And they praised the Lord. Then the people did according to this promise.

There’s also the need for a governor like Nehemiah whose heart fears God (5:14-19), so that when men threaten the people’s welfare, it is God who these rulers seek for victory, not mere creatures (6:1-14).  This event is not a myth, but written in space time history demonstrated in the census where the names of the sons of men are counted (7:1-73).  Then there’s the need for the Law to be read, explained and understood so that the people may worship the One True God.  This was a radically God centered event in the history of wayward Israel (8:1-12)

And all the people gathered as one man at the square which was in front of the Water Gate, and they asked Ezra the scribe to bring the book of the law of Moses which the Lord had given to Israel. Then Ezra the priest brought the law before the assembly of men, women and all who could listen with understanding, on the first day of the seventh month. He read from it before the square which was in front of the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of men and women, those who could understand; and all the people were attentive to the book of the law. Ezra the scribe stood at a wooden podium which they had made for the purpose. And beside him stood Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Uriah, Hilkiah, and Maaseiah on his right hand; and Pedaiah, Mishael, Malchijah, Hashum, Hashbaddanah, Zechariah and Meshullam on his left hand. Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people for he was standing above all the people; and when he opened it, all the people stood up. Then Ezra blessed the Lord the great God. And all the people answered, “Amen, Amen!” while lifting up their hands; then they bowed low and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground. Also Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaiah, the Levites, explained the law to the people while the people remained in their place.They read from the book, from the law of God, translating to give the sense so that they understood the reading.

Then Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep.” For all the people were weeping when they heard the words of the law. 10 Then he said to them, “Go, eat of the fat, drink of the sweet, and send portions to him who has nothing prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord. Do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” 11 So the Levites calmed all the people, saying, “Be still, for the day is holy; do not be grieved.” 12 All the people went away to eat, to drink, to send portions and to celebrate a great festival, because they understood the words which had been made known to them.

So, what do I perceive?  I perceive that the hearts of men are hopelessly broken and in need of the Great Physician to restore them to health.  I can see that Godly leadership is essential for this healing to occur and that a nation is always better off with these than with self-absorbed rulers.  I also recognize that part of what it means to get our lives in order includes performing our civic and religious duties from a Word, Scripture centered point.  Neglect these and the tapestry begins to come apart at the fray.  God, help us your people be like Nehemiah in word and in deed.  (SDG)

Reflections from NEHEMIAH 1-4: RESTORING WORSHIP IS COSTLY BUSINESS

old stone wall background

Our rebellion results in the desolation of our souls.  Only after contrition and repentance before Yahweh is complete are we His people ready to rebuild that which our sin decimated.

Nehemiah loved God’s people and Jerusalem, for biblically, worship and the land are always closely linked.  The land prospers when the worship of Yahweh obtains but desolation is assured when idolatrous wayward people have their own way.  Nonetheless, God’s promise of returning back to the land from Babylonian captivity after seventy years had come to fruition.

As the kings cupbearer, Nehemiah had favor with Artaxerxes such that he was granted royal support to return to Jerusalem in order to rebuild its walls:

And it came about in the month Nisan, in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, that wine was before him, and I took up the wine and gave it to the king. Now I had not been sad in his presence. So the king said to me, “Why is your face sad though you are not sick? This is nothing but sadness of heart.” Then I was very much afraid. I said to the king, “Let the king live forever. Why should my face not be sad when the city, the place of my fathers’ tombs, lies desolate and its gates have been consumed by fire?” Then the king said to me, “What would you request?” So I prayed to the God of heaven. I said to the king, “If it please the king, and if your servant has found favor before you, send me to Judah, to the city of my fathers’ tombs, that I may rebuild it.” Then the king said to me, the queen sitting beside him, “How long will your journey be, and when will you return?” So it pleased the king to send me, and I gave him a definite time. And I said to the king, “If it please the king, let letters be given me for the governors of the provinces beyond the River, that they may allow me to pass through until I come to Judah, and a letter to Asaph the keeper of the king’s forest, that he may give me timber to make beams for the gates of the fortress which is by the temple, for the wall of the city and for the house to which I will go.” And the king granted them to me because the good hand of my God was on me.

Then I came to the governors of the provinces beyond the River and gave them the king’s letters. Now the king had sent with me officers of the army and horsemen. 10 When Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite official heard about it, it was very displeasing to them that someone had come to seek the welfare of the sons of Israel. (2:1-10)

And yet, Nehemiah had enemies that would linger whose sole purpose was to mock, threaten and discourage the work of rebuilding Jerusalem’s walls and infrastructure:

“Now it came about that when Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall, he became furious and very angry and mocked the Jews. He spoke in the presence of his brothers and the wealthy men of Samaria and said, “What are these feeble Jews doing? Are they going to restore it for themselves? Can they offer sacrifices? Can they finish in a day? Can they revive the stones from the dusty rubble even the burned ones?”Now Tobiah the Ammonite was near him and he said, “Even what they are building—if a fox should jump on it, he would break their stone wall down!” Hear, O our God, how we are despised! Return their reproach on their own heads and give them up for plunder in a land of captivity. Do not forgive their iniquity and let not their sin be blotted out before You, for they have demoralized the builders.” (4:1-5)

 Nehemiah, like a recon man, did not show his hand in the land until after he examined the damage that needed reparation (2:11-18).  Among those involved in repairing the broken down walls were priests, goldsmiths and perfumers yet the nobles did not support the work (chapter 3).

Opposition is often manifested through mockery fueled by anger.  These two go hand in glove by those who hate righteousness and laud wickedness (4:1-3).  The way to combat such spiritual warfare (and it is spiritual wrestling) is sometimes through imprecatory prayer directed to Almighty God.  This type of intercession is pivotal for combating the dangers we His people confront.  When our passion is the renown of God’s Name, He hears our cries evidenced in Nehemiah’s experience (4:7-14).

In order for the work to continue, the laborers needed protection and this through swords, spears and shields.  That is, after the intercession was offered, the people still needed to arm themselves:

“When our enemies heard that it was known to us, and that God had frustrated their plan, then all of us returned to the wall, each one to his work. 16 From that day on, half of my servants carried on the work while half of them held the spears, the shields, the bows and the breastplates; and the captains were behind the whole house of Judah. 17 Those who were rebuilding the wall and those who carried burdens took their load with one hand doing the work and the other holding a weapon. 18 As for the builders, each wore his sword girded at his side as he built, while the trumpeter stood near me. 19 I said to the nobles, the officials and the rest of the people, “The work is great and extensive, and we are separated on the wall far from one another. 20 At whatever place you hear the sound of the trumpet, rally to us there. Our God will fight for us.” 21 So we carried on the work with half of them holding spears from dawn until the stars appeared. 22 At that time I also said to the people, “Let each man with his servant spend the night within Jerusalem so that they may be a guard for us by night and a laborer by day.” 23 So neither I, my brothers, my servants, nor the men of the guard who followed me, none of us removed our clothes, each took his weapon even to the water.”  (4:15-23)       

I have often felt that that the walls have been torn down in the American church because the culture, not the scriptures, are what dictates to many professing Christians what they believe.  Included in the range of issues are: the issue of origins (a-la Darwinism), the status of the unborn (Abortion), the meaning of marriage (a-la same-sex “marriage”), embracing a pluralistic view of salvation (a-la any religion can lead you to Jesus), etc.  It’s only because of His great mercy we’re not wiped off the face of this earth.

Personally, I’m often overwhelmed and burdened with the sin of unbelief that keeps me from pursuing God in the midst of my anxieties, fears and doubts.  Fortunately, God’s word here in Nehemiah reminds me that where God guides He will provide the necessary resources to accomplish the tasks put before us.  So LORD we look to you to be our strength, light, and courage as we your people endeavor to be salt and light in this land.  Help us be faithful stewards of the gifts given to each one of us for the common good of the Church and our Neighbors.  Give us a renewed vision of your Holiness!

(SDG)

WHAT’S SO “GOOD” ABOUT GOOD FRIDAY? Perspectives on the Work of Christ

Good-Friday-Wallpaper-06

What’s so good about Good Friday?  This question deals with what Jesus of Nazareth accomplished over 2000 thousand years ago on Calvary’s bloody cross.  On that hill far away, the Son of righteousness fully satisfied God’s justice and love.  Since its inception, the Church has celebrated the grueling, horrific death of an innocent man who by virtue of his ontological status (His nature as the God/Man) secured rescue from God’s just white hot wrath toward rebels born of Adam.

But how can this be good?  One could argue, and many have, that this act was unjust, cruel, and an act of child abuse (i.e., the heavenly Father sent his one unique Son to die for those who hate God).  Who would ever treat their own sons and daughters in such a way by ordaining them to be brutally murdered by the Jews and the Romans on Calvary’s cross?

God did.  He’s the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob who makes covenant with His chosen ones and does nothing wrong.  He’s the God who sets the standards of what is true, beautiful and good.  He’s the God of creation who spoke the worlds into existence out of nothing, sustains its order, and is taking history into a glorious reality never before known or imagined.  To read the full article, click on What’s so good about Good Friday?

Reflections From 2 CHRON: 35-36 “LAMENTATION IS THE PROPER RESPONSE FROM A PEOPLE THAT REBEL AGAINST YAHWEH”

images

The conclusion of this book is sobering and truly lamentable.  After celebrating the Passover Feast like never before under the kings of Israel’s rule, Josiah when hearing of coming judgment turned to the LORD, was then set on pleasing Him (34:27) but the damage had already been done.  God assured Josiah that because of his humility, he would not see the captivity of Judah in his life time (34:28).

Even though Judah’s captivity loomed on the horizon and the word of the LORD would be fulfilled, Josiah’s heart was nevertheless bent towards God (35:18-19).  The king would die before witnessing the shameful and horrific sight of God’s judgment on the land (35:20-25).  Josiah was so loved by Israel that even Jeremiah the prophet lamented his death (35:25).

Unfortunately, the hearts of Israel had gone past the point of no return as the state of their wickedness demonstrated their embrace of the surrounding Nations abominations (36:14).  This is clear as they; defiled Gods house (36:14), continually mocked God’s messengers (36:16a), despised God’s words (36:16b), and scoffed God’s prophets (36:16c).  This resulted in God’s wrath (specifically the LORD’s wrath) being poured out on His people (36:16d).

This wrath was merciless as the Chaldeans “slew Israel’s young men with the sword”, and no compassion was shown to neither; the sick, the virgin, nor to the elderly.  God had absolutely delivered Israel into the hands of foreign kings (36:17).

We can learn many things here and a few are sobering.  First, it’s madness to rebel against the great I AM, the Self-existent One.  Second, we humans are blind to this doom of madness.  Third, when God’s word comes to us it is His mercy for the good of all. Fourth, those who reject the revelation of God Himself will be crushed.  Lastly, today is the day to submit to His will.

(SDG)

 

 

2 CHRONICLES: 21 “A FOOLISH KING’S REWARD”

images

          The saga of the kings of Israel and Judah continues its’ sad account of the age old truth: before you and I, God has placed both blessing and cursing, life and death, therefore we should choose life.  Yet too often the kings like us, chose death not life.

Jehoshaphat now dead previously appointed his first born son to rule, but he did so wickedly.  He killed all his siblings and many of Israel’s rulers (Vv.1-4), yet God because of His covenant with Davids’ house, did not destroy Jehoram, even though he did evil in the sight of the LORD by causing Israel to play the harlot.

However, God will not be mocked (Vv.14-20) for He promised calamity by His own hand to come upon Jehoram even through a letter delivered by the prophet Elijah came to pass:

14 behold, the Lord is going to strike your people, your sons, your wives and all your possessions with a great calamity; 15 and you will suffer severe sickness, a disease of your bowels, until your bowels come out because of the sickness, day by day.’”

16 Then the Lord stirred up against Jehoram the spirit of the Philistines and the Arabs who bordered the Ethiopians; 17 and they came against Judah and invaded it, and carried away all the possessions found in the king’s house together with his sons and his wives, so that no son was left to him except Jehoahaz, the youngest of his sons.

18 So after all this the Lord smote him in his bowels with an incurable sickness. 19 Now it came about in the course of time, at the end of two years, that his bowels came out because of his sickness and he died in great pain. And his people made no fire for him like the fire for his fathers. 20 He was thirty-two years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem eight years; and he departed with no one’s regret, and they buried him in the city of David, but not in the tombs of the kings.

To trifle with God’s people and His authority is no small matter.  Rulers forget that they are not ultimate, but God who raises them up is.  What God promised to the king came to pass and what He promises to us will also.  Obey Him and blessing will follow, disobey Him and cursing is assured.

(SDG)

Reflections From 1 CHRON: 27-29 “THE ORDER OF THE KINGDOM”     

top-10-jewish-warriors-660x350

Every tribe and part of the land was organized under King David.  The commanders of the army, the chief officers of the tribes and the many overseers made life in Israel ordered and prosperous (27).  Part of human thriving comes from order, not chaos and this too comes from the LORD.  I tremble at the thought of disorder in our country today from the top down.

The temple was also to be built under Solomon’s reign not his father David because of the blood of war on David’s hands:

“Now David assembled at Jerusalem all the officials of Israel, the princes of the tribes, and the commanders of the divisions that served the king, and the commanders of thousands, and the commanders of hundreds, and the overseers of all the property and livestock belonging to the king and his sons, with the officials and the mighty men, even all the valiant men. Then King David rose to his feet and said, “Listen to me, my brethren and my people; I had intended to build a permanent home for the ark of the covenant of the Lord and for the footstool of our God. So I had made preparations to build it. But God said to me, ‘You shall not build a house for My name because you are a man of war and have shed blood.’ Yet, the Lord, the God of Israel, chose me from all the house of my father to be king over Israel forever. For He has chosen Judah to be a leader; and in the house of Judah, my father’s house, and among the sons of my father He took pleasure in me to make me king over all Israel.  (1 Chron.28:1-14)

 As God chose King David so also he chose Solomon to rule over Israel.  However the stipulation for ruling righteously was simple—obey the LORD and you’ll be blessed, reject God and he’ll reject you:

Of all my sons (for the Lord has given me many sons),He has chosen my son Solomon to sit on the throne of the kingdom of the Lord over Israel. He said to me, ‘Your son Solomon is the one who shall build My house and My courts; for I have chosen him to be a son to Me, and I will be a father to him. I will establish his kingdom forever if he resolutely performs My commandments and My ordinances, as is done now.’ So now, in the sight of all Israel, the assembly of the Lord, and in the hearing of our God, observe and seek after all the commandments of the Lord your God so that you may possess the good land and bequeath it to your sons after you forever.  “As for you, my son Solomon, know the God of your father, and serve Him with a whole heart and a willing mind; for the Lord searches all hearts, and understands every intent of the thoughts. If you seek Him, He will let you find Him; but if you forsake Him, He will reject you forever. 10 Consider now, for the Lord has chosen you to build a house for the sanctuary; be courageous and act.” (1 Chron.28:5-9)

 The time to build and move forward with the temple required courage and action and the means for said items were Gods very presence:

“All this,” said David, “the Lord made me understand in writing by His hand upon me, all the details of this pattern.”  20 Then David said to his son Solomon, “Be strong and courageous, and act; do not fear nor be dismayed, for the Lord God, my God, is with you. He will not fail you nor forsake you until all the work for the service of the house of the Lord is finished. (1 Chron.28:19-20)

I often feel timid with life’s challenges and need the reminder to act through with courage God, the LORD has not abandoned me, but is rather graciously ever with me.

LORD, I need a renewal in my soul of the reality of Your presence in my life for I feel bowed low and weary, my sins are ever before me so hear my cry for mercy and lift me up from the miry pit and cleanse me from idolatry and the anxiety it produces in me.  Also help me live in light of life’s brevity before Your face, my LORD and my God:

“But who am I and who are my people that we should be able to offer as generously as this? For all things come from You, and from Your hand we have given You. 15 For we are sojourners before You, and tenants, as all our fathers were; our days on the earth are like a shadow, and there is no hope… 28 Then he died in a ripe old age, full of days, riches and honor; and his son Solomon reigned in his place.(1 Chron.29:14-15, 28)   

Reflections From 2 KINGS 10-13: “OF KINGS AND YAHWEH—IDOLATRY PERSISTS”

crown-8-persian-persep

The history of the kings of Israel is primarily a mixture of a few good ones and the rest abysmal, some righteous but most of them were evil.  The meaning of evil comes to bear through illustration of the people of God abandoning the covenant.  Evil is faithlessness to the God of creation especially from His rescued people Israel.

Often the refrain, “and he did evil in the sight of the LORD” speaking of a kings’ rule because they, “…departed not from the ways of Jeroboam’s sin the son of Nebat…”  The accusation was making Israel worship Baal which is no god at all, and the first commandment was continuously being violated, “You shall have no other gods before me.”

Doing evil in the sight of the LORD is not being careful to walk humbly before Him which is in accordance to the law of the LORD God of Israel (done with all the heart—10: 28-31).  Image bearers are created to worship their Maker, but when He is ignored idolatry is inevitable.  Consider the text;

28 Thus Jehu eradicated Baal out of Israel. 29 However, as for the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, which he made Israel sin, from these Jehu did not depart, even the golden calves that were at Bethel and that were at Dan. 30 The Lord said to Jehu, “Because you have done well in executing what is right in My eyes, and have done to the house of Ahab according to all that was in My heart, your sons of the fourth generation shall sit on the throne of Israel.” 31 But Jehu was not careful to walk in the law of the Lord, the God of Israel, with all his heart; he did not depart from the sins of Jeroboam, which he made Israel sin.

Acute is the sad reality that for most of Hebrew history, the LORD God of Israel is not loved by Israel as a whole.  Instead He is despised seen in the berating, hating, persecution and death of Israel’s prophets which God sent to the people.  This evil resulted because God’s word was rejected.

This theme is increasingly clear to me as I read the Scriptures and I must confess it never ceases to perplex me.  I’m perplexed at the relentless idolatry they fall into and God’s relentless tender mercies in spite of their treason.  This mercy of course is because of the covenant God made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to bless the nations through his seed (13:22-23).  What am I missing here in the text?

22 Now Hazael king of Aram had oppressed Israel all the days of Jehoahaz. 23 But the Lord was gracious to them and had compassion on them and turned to them because of His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and would not destroy them or cast them from His presence until now.

Perhaps it’s the sad reality of our rebellion in the Garden where we are created to rule and reign as God’s vice regents but we’ve treated that glorious mandate like sewage excrement.  What glory has been given to mankind and the tragedy is deeply lamentable.

In Christ the effects of The Fall are being reversed and yet in this present evil age we the covenant people go to our own “high places” of porn sites, work places or play places.  The idolatry is ever lingering and yet Yahweh for His names sake demonstrates mercy toward us.

(SDG)

Reflections From ROMANS 14: “HOW CAN BELIEVERS LIVE IN COMMUNITY WHEN OUR DIFFERENCES ARE SO DEAR TO US?”

ROMANS

For Paul, God’s mercies in the Gospel, is the source of transformation that propels how we live personally and corporately.  Be it before believers, the non-believing world or ruling authorities, the one thread holding righteous action together is our submission to the God of creation, the impetus of which is love for Him and our neighbor.

After addressing the delicate matter of submitting to rulers and what that entails contextually because God is ultimate and they are not, Paul ends chapter 13 with:  14 But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts.”  Immediately Paul follows this command that referred back to what was previously said to what now follows in chapter 14:

Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions.

Paul seems to be addressing Jewish and Gentile relations and how to live within that milieu when disagreements arise as to what is or is not an essential to the Gospel, and how we are to live.  It seems clear that Paul leaves room for some kind of relativism for issues known as adiaphora from the Greek ἀδιάφορα “indifferent things”[1], things of which believers have disputed historically and have tended to make them “deal-breakers” concerning the faith.  This means that believers have broken fellowship over issues not central to the faith.

Now what does Paul mean in verse 1 by: “Now accept… but not for the purpose of passing judgment”?

The NIV reads, “Accept the one… without quarreling over disputable matters”, whereas

The ESV says, “As for the one… welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions.”  Still another rendering[2] says: “Receive the one…not (entering into) the judging of reasoned views”, while still another[3] source reads, “Welcome, but not for the purpose of getting into quarrels about opinions”.

From these renditions of the text, Paul seems to be admonishing believers to accept one another even as God has accepted them (v.3) by not trying to “fix” the others views (i.e., their doctrine) about issues that are dear to them but still not central to the Gospel.  Rather than (i.e., a Gentile) having as a goal, the correction of his brother (i.e., a Jew’s) dietary views, Paul admonishes fellowship.  Instead of having a superiority complex toward those that don’t understand certain freedoms Christ purchased for them, Paul commands tender understanding rooted in love.   Consider the text:

One person has faith that he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats vegetables only. The one who eats is not to regard with contempt the one who does not eat, and the one who does not eat is not to judge the one who eats, for God has accepted him. Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.”   

According to Paul the weak are those who can only eat vegetables because of their conscience, not because God in the Gospel demands it.  What the Gospel does demand however is walking in love with our neighbor, especially other believers.  This issue has to do with foods that are clean or unclean which Jesus declared to be clean (See Mk.7:1-13), for food never makes one clean or polluted before God, sin does, thus the need for the Gospel (Rom.1:18-32).  Note that both the weak and the strong are challenged by love’s demand for acceptance for God has accepted them.

This text among other things does not say that we are never to judge the actions of another to see whether or not they are sinful and thus contra to the Gospel (See: Mt.7; Rom.12), but rather it is pointing out that God accepts His people because of His Son while they still have issues they get wrongly.  Nevertheless, because they are not essential to the Gospel, a sort of relativism is permitted by the all-wise God and believers need to learn to walk wisely in such circumstances.  Paul develops the same argument:

One person regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, and he who eats, does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who eats not, for the Lord he does not eat, and gives thanks to God. For not one of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself; for if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living. 10 But you, why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. 11 For it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to Me, And every tongue shall give praise to God.” 12 So then each one of us will give an account of himself to God. 13 Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this—not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother’s way. 

The following is clear; first, because we are the Lord’s (weak and strong), our motives in how we live are to be God-centered—we are to live in light of His Lordship (vv.5-9); second, the issues at hand are foods and days (non-essentials to the Gospel) not blatant sin which is contradictory living under Christ’s Lordship (e.g., Rom.1:20-30: homosexual activity, greed, evil, envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice, gossips, slander, haters of God, etc.); third, believers are never to separate because of non-essential issues (v.10); fourth, we are reminded that salvation is only found in Christ the Lord (vv.11-12; Phil.2:9-11) who not only rescued believers but will also be their judge.  Thus, because Christ has rescued and accepted every believer (servant), every believer is to do likewise for judgement awaits us all (God will judge His children’s works).  Lastly, an attitude of protection is to depict our interaction within the Christian community.  That is, we should be deeply concerned that our lives and freedoms (we can rightly enjoy in Christ) are not an occasion for hurting another believers’ walk with God. In light of the aforesaid, Paul says:

14 I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean.15 For if because of food your brother is hurt, you are no longer walking according to love. Do not destroy with your food him for whom Christ died. 16 Therefore do not let what is for you a good thing be spoken of as evil; 17 for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. 18 For he who in this way serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. 19 So then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another. 20 Do not tear down the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are clean, but they are evil for the man who eats and gives offense. 21 It is good not to eat meat or to drink wine, or to do anything by which your brother stumbles. 22 The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves. 23 But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and whatever is not from faith is sin.

To remove a stumbling block entails not partaking in what the weaker brother rejects (i.e., eating meat or worshiping on a specific day) and doing so is acceptable before God (v.18).  So God accepts both weak and strong in that which is not essential to the Gospel, believers are likewise to be accepting of one another (both weak and strong), and if the strong are not considerate of their weaker brother, that is unacceptable to God.

Paul’s concern here is the edification of the church rather than its destruction and warns against a cavalier attitude in these matters.  Walking in love with one another means that non-essential issues like diet and Days observed, are never to be the reason why we break fellowship.  Rather, we are called to live for the good of another through the Gospel realities so that Christ may be honored and the nations may be reached with such glorious news.

Are movies, drinking alcohol, dancing, music, home-schooling, political preference (Republican, Democrat, Independent, etc.) or a host of other things non-essential to the Gospel?  Yes, and yet our views concerning such matters often leads to unrighteousness that does not edify the church.  Are there gray areas in life?  Absolutely; so may we as lovers of God and neighbor ask for divine wisdom in these matters in order to live a life that’s honoring to God, the Church and the watching World, for our lives are not our own, Christ has purchased us through His blood which is why exhorts believers in Romans 12:1-2:

“Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”            

 (SDG

[1] https://www.google.com/?ion=1&espv=2#q=adiaphora%20definition (Accessed 6/23/2016)

[2] D.A. Carson, Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, pg. 684

[3] Reinecker, pg.379