God’s Providence in an Historic Moment

Many ask why certain occurrences happen. The Bible doesn’t answer all our questions, but it does teach us what we need to know–that God is in control of the most personal details of human life as well as of the events at the highest levels of nations and empires.

[Note: This post is based on last week’s reading: 1 Samuel 1-20].

A Personal Story and a National Crisis

Two weeks ago, we read the books of Judges and Ruth which prepared us for 1 Samuel and the beginning of the kingdom of Israel.  The book opens with a personal story and a national crisis.  The personal story is that of a childless woman named Hannah whose prayers were heard and answered by the Lord. She bore a boy named Samuel who would play a crucial role in the history of Israel. The national crisis involves the family of the high priest, Eli, his two wicked sons and the loss of the Ark of the Covenant in a battle with the Philistines.

Samuel-an End and a Beginning

The lives of Samuel and Eli intersect as Samuel becomes an assistant to Eli in the tabernacle.  Through Samuel, God tells Eli his lineage is going to end.  After Eli’s death, Samuel emerges as the last of the judges and the first of the prophets.  Not only that, Samuel is the leader who–with God’s direction–guides Israel from a confederation of tribes to a kingdom under Saul.  Later, Samuel anoints a replacement for the unfaithful King Saul in the person of David, the shepherd son of Jesse of Bethlehem.

David is the unlikely king-designate who had to be called in from his shepherding duties to receive Samuel’s anointing.  Soon we come to appreciate the quality of this future king as he defeats Goliath and shows amazing integrity while trying to stay alive under Saul’s paranoid efforts to assassinate him.

People Ask Why

People frequently ask why certain events happen.  Why was Hannah childless for so long? What was God’s purpose for allowing the Ark to be stolen in battle?  Why did God choose an unworthy man like Saul to be king?  Why did David have to spend so many years as a fugitive?  The Bible doesn’t answer all these questions fully, but we do understand that nothing is happening by chance.  God is firmly in control of human history from the big events of nations and wars to the intimate personal issues of an infertile woman and the trajectory of a stone from a shepherd boy’s slingshot.

Hannah prayed and God gave her Samuel.  Samuel heard God’s voice and guided Israel during pivotal times. He pronounced the Lord’s judgment on the high priest, Eli, and on King Saul.  He warned the nation of the downsides of having a king but also committed himself to pray for them.

God providentially directed David’s early life and David was a good learner. As a shepherd, David fought and killed lions and bears so he was confident he could take on the giant Goliath. When Saul needed a musician, David was prepared.  David’s early military victories established his reputation but also created rivalry with Saul resulting in years of life as a fugitive.  Could that have been God’s character-building school for the future king?  Very probably.

God Tells Us What We Need to Know

We aren’t always given an answer as to why events happen.  The Bible shows us that God is always in control and that His purposes are always fulfilled.  So we live by faith in Him who wisely directs all things for His glory.  He will bring His people safely home on schedule.

Much of what David learned and believed about God is reflected in the psalms he wrote.  This week we will follow his life on the run but also sample fifteen of those psalms.

This week’s reading: 1 Samuel 21-31; Psalms 16-30           

 

 

 

Lessons from Two Weddings

The battle between good and evil, the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent, continues to play out in ancient Israel even in the Promised Land.  Two weddings demonstrate the reality of this battle in vivid terms but also remind us of Who ultimately has won this conflict.

[Note: This post is based on last week’s reading: Judges, Ruth].

Trouble in Paradise

After the relatively upbeat book of Joshua, we come to Judges.  The contrast between these books is impossible to miss.  Joshua relates how God has kept His word to Israel and the land has been parceled out to the twelve tribes.  Admittedly, they have not conquered all their enemies, but there is hope that the future will be bright even after Joshua’s death.

But our hopes are dashed when we read Judges.  From the first chapter we see that things are not going to go well.  After some victory and Joshua’s death, we find a summary of the history which is about to unfold (Judges 2:16-23).  There would be repeated cycles of sin, suffering, calling on the Lord, and deliverance by God through judges.

The cycles keep repeating until the author wraps up by focusing on a couple of examples of the kind of evil and chaos that existed when there was no king in Israel and everyone did what was right in his own eyes (17:6;18:1;19:1;21:25).  There was a fight over a Levite who was installed as a private priest for a man named Micah in Ephraim.  Civil war erupted from an incident of a gang rape and murder of a concubine of another Levite in the town of Gibeah in Benjamin.  The story is grotesque but real.  We are meant to be convinced that something had to change.  We find ourselves sympathetic to the idea that Israel must have a king.

Faithfulness in Troubled Times

Next we come to the lovely and idyllic book of Ruth which opens with the words, “in the days when the judges ruled.”  There was apostasy and anarchy in Israel but there were still good and faithful people, like Boaz and Ruth, the Moabite who was a paragon of virtue.  The book which bears her name tells a story of the faithfulness and love of a man and woman and of a God who was unfolding His plan of redemption even in the darkest of times.

Two Very Different Weddings

Nothing more fully epitomizes the contrast between the personal lives of God’s faithful people and those who disregard His law and His wisdom than two weddings which are chronicled here: the one of Boaz and Ruth (Ruth 4) and the other of Samson to the unnamed Timnite woman (Judges 14-15).  In the first case, a godly man obeyed God’s law and married the believing Gentile widow, Ruth.  She conceived Obed the grandfather of King David and ancestor of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Samson despising God’s commands and the wisdom of his parents willfully became engaged to an unbeliever.  His bachelor party turned into a murderous disaster and resulted in war with the Philistines not the marriage Samson had anticipated.

Nevertheless, these stories demonstrate how God uses even the wrath of man to praise Him and He surprises with blessing those who faithfully obey Him during times of famine and trial (Psalm 76:10; Psalm 16).  God works in history, then and now, to bring about His plans to redeem a people for Himself out of a fallen world where the powers of darkness seem unavoidable.  Nothing can thwart Him.  He has won the victory through Jesus our God and Savior.

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 15:56,57 (ESV).

Amen!

More about that in this week’s reading: 1 Corinthians

 

The Power of Song

As Moses neared the time of his death, he prepared Israel for the transition.  One of the things he did was to leave them with a song. God has given His people other songs too because they are powerful tools to shape our souls in truth about ourselves, about life, and especially about the holiness of God.

[Note: This post is based on last week’s reading: Deuteronomy 27-34; Psalms 1-15].

God’s Holiness; Man’s Depravity

It’s hard to read anywhere in the Bible without encountering the reality of the holiness of God.  He is set apart, unique, pure, and perfect.  There is none like Him.  He is infinite, eternal, and unchangeable.  He depends on nothing and no one.

But He chose to create the universe, all animate and inanimate things, culminating with man—male and female—in His image (Genesis 1:27).  In the biblical narrative the fall of man came very quickly.  From then on mankind experienced alienation from God and from others and suffered physical death.

And things got worse, but all the while God was working out a plan whereby the Offspring of the woman would bruise the serpent’s head, that is, He would win a complete victory over the father of lies.  To do that God called Abraham through whom He began to form a people for Himself.  We have seen how that people became a great nation despite being aliens and slaves in Egypt.  God then called Moses who led them out of Egypt and for forty years guided them through a nomadic existence in the wilderness south of the Promised Land.  The Lord made a covenant with Israel at Sinai where He gave them law by which to govern their society, their worship, and their theology.  We will later learn that those legal structures and covenant were not final but would serve Israel until the promised Offspring of the woman, Jesus Christ, established an eternal covenant by His own blood.

Meanwhile, Israel had to prepare to enter the land and take on the enemy inhabitants that God marked for destruction.  Moses prepared them for his death and for their new well-trained and proven leader, Joshua.  In his farewell address Moses gave the nation his wise advice and commands.  He wrote for them a copy of God’s law.  Moses blessed each of the twelve tribes.

A Parting Gift from a Dying Leader

But there is something else Moses did for Israel which might surprise us.  He wrote a song, and he read it to them.  That song told of God’s mighty works.  It reminded them of their past idolatry and immorality and warned them of the judgment of God who alone is worthy of worship.

Israel received the gift of Moses’ song, but in that gift they received truth they would not be able to deny nor to easily forget.  They might disobey (of course, they would), but they would never be free to say “we didn’t know.”

How appropriate that we began reading Psalms this week. In addition to Moses’ song, God gave Israel poetry and music not just for entertainment but for their spiritual understanding.  When we read and sing Psalms, we sense the majesty and holiness of God but also His great compassion for His hurting people who must endure the depravity of fallen bodies in a fallen world.  There is comfort because He knows that we are dust.  He is with us.  He delivers us.

What are you singing?

I am not suggesting that Christians need to be exclusive Psalm-singers, but whatever we sing will grip our souls and mold our minds. What are you singing?  There is power–for good or for evil–in song.  May our song be to the glory of God!

This week’s reading: The Gospel of Mark

 

Are we there yet? Lessons from a forty-year journey

A road trip of many hours frequently elicits the whining question of kids, “Are we there yet?” But what if the trip were not for many hours but for forty years?  Would we whine or would we look for important lessons to learn about God and Mankind?

This blog is based on last week’s reading: Numbers 11-36

Numbers–the story of a forty-year journey

What stands out in the book of Numbers? God is gracious but His people are rebellious.  God provides everything for Israel’s success but they complain and mess up what could have been a good thing.

See what God gives to these descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  After miraculously delivering them from Egypt (Exodus 1-19), He gives them a new beginning with a clear goal to march in and take over the Promised Land.  The Lord specifies several kinds of structures to make sure they could function together as a society.  These structures include division of labor, order for worship, designated places for camping and marching, and recognized leaders for each tribe and clan.  He guides them as to when to go and when to stop.  Through Moses, God brought them to the border of the land and sent spies to search out the land.

Meanwhile, the people complain at every turn.  The food is boring.  Egyptian food was so scrumptious. There’s no water.  They rebel against Moses who they see as a pompous tyrant. They hear that the Promised Land is full of giants heavily armed.  They refuse to go in, but when God tells them all the adults will die in the wilderness they refuse to stay out.

But God…

But God is gracious and faithful to His covenant promises with Abraham and Moses.  He hears Moses’ intercessory prayer for the people (Numbers 14:13-19). He still punishes sin and rebellion but provides a bronze serpent and healing for those snake-bitten complainers. He thwarts the evil plans of Balak who hired Balaam to curse Israel (Numbers 22-24).  The Lord kindly allows the nation to go on through forty years of wandering until all the original rebels died and Moses got them back to the border of the land.

Who’s the hero?

At times we see an admirable spirit in Moses as he pleads with God to spare the nation so the Lord’s name would not be mocked.  But that would-be hero can lose his cool and strike a rock in self-glorifying anger (Numbers 20:10-13). Joshua stood along with Caleb against the other spies declaring that God would give them victory if they would trust Him.  But Joshua was no hero when he jealously wanted to punish a couple of Spirit-filled men who prophesied in the camp (Numbers 11:26-30).

Have you noticed?  The only hero in this story is God.  Indeed, He alone is the only hero of all human history and of all eternity.  To Him alone belongs all glory and honor and praise.

The Westminster Shorter Catechism in question 4 asks, “What is God?” The answer is “God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.”  The book of Numbers is the account of a monotonous forty-year journey of incorrigible people who were graciously allowed to experience that God who alone is glorious.

In your long (possibly) monotonous journey, are you learning lessons about God and Mankind?

This week’s reading:  Romans; Proverbs 1-5

 

 

The Apostles’ Mind-boggling Message

After Jesus rose from the dead and ascended to heaven, the Apostles began to preach a message that defied human reasoning.  But it was good and true news then and it still is.  

Last week’s reading: Leviticus 17-27 & Acts 1-12

This is the eighth week of the year and, if you are following our schedule, you have read six books of the Bible, three in the Old Testament (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus) and three in the New (Matthew, Hebrews and James).  You’ve also begun reading Acts.

Luke, the careful historian

Acts is the sequel to the Gospel of Luke (see Luke 1:1-4; Acts 1:1-2).  There is little dispute that Luke wrote both books and he did so with thorough historical research.  In my reading this past week I was struck by the emphasis in Acts on God’s sovereignty and providence in the events surrounding the arrest, trial, and crucifixion of Jesus Christ.  Peter clearly believed that the Lord’s death was by God’s will but also that those who participated in that travesty of justice were guilty of crime. God’s sovereignty does not diminish human responsibility.

Acts 2:22-23 Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know— this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.

Acts 3:14-15 But you denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you,  and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses.

Bad News; Good News

But the message of the Apostles was not only about human sinfulness.  They proclaimed forgiveness of sin by faith through the very One their hearers had crucified.

Acts 2:37-39  Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”  And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.”

Acts 3:17-21 And now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers.  But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer, he thus fulfilled.  Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out,  that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus,  whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago.

A mind-boggling doctrine

Scripture teaches a doctrine which theologians call “divine concurrence.”  In short, concurrence is the relationship of God to secondary causes.  Secondary causes are any and all actions taken by creatures including sin and evil. What is God’s relationship to these secondary causes? God’s decrees concur with these causes.  In other words, God’s plans come to fruition perfectly as humans act freely whether righteously or sinfully.  Joseph taught this truth to his brothers (Genesis 50:20) and Paul affirmed it in his letter to the Romans (Romans 8:28).

Although this teaching flies in the face of human reasoning, the Bible indisputably teaches and illustrates it.  We find it perplexing, but if it were not true we would have no certainty that God’s plans and purposes would be realized. He does not call on us to explain it but to believe that His will will be done on earth as it is in heaven. He commands us to  let the gospel the Apostles proclaimed comfort and stabilize our hearts and minds as we navigate the storms of life.  May God help us to believe and find peace in His truth–even if it boggles our minds.

This week’s reading: Acts 13-28; Numbers 1-10

 

The Brother Who Suffered

Last week I breezed through Genesis 26-50 in two sittings.  God’s redemptive plan and purposes for the world unfold in the life of Isaac and his descendants—Jacob and Esau and their children.  This quick reading in “chunks” makes certain truths more obvious than would a slower reading.  Here’s what I noticed:

God always watches providentially over human history.

This includes every detail whether large events or very small incidents. Nothing happens apart from His knowledge and supervision.  He is the God of the universe and the God of every person.  Minute and seemingly unimportant details are under His control—worldwide famine or the dreams of a couple of the Pharaoh’s servants in prison with Joseph.  Everything is interconnected and fits into a huge scheme that the Sovereign God is orchestrating. Our discovery of this truth drives us to worship before Him who takes what people mean for evil and turns it into good.

Sin continually ruins lives and relationships.

Jacob tricks his foolish brother, Esau and their father, Isaac. Jacob goes on to suffer from Laban’s trickery and deceit—getting a taste of his own medicine. Upon returning to his homeland, Jacob agonizes over how Esau will receive him.  Pride and lust permeates these conflicts.  Joseph stands out as one of the exceptional people, a type of Christ, who endures great suffering in order to redeem those who hated and abused him.

Mankind is lost apart from God’s merciful and gracious intervention.

What are we to make of this?  Only God intervening by His mercy and grace can deliver lost humanity .  Hostility runs rampant even among the descendants of faithful Abraham.  They jockey for positions and plot against one another.  There is no peace, no goodness, no love, and no kindness.  Yet God works through all kinds of situations to unfold His plan.  He deserves all the glory for His wisdom and power.

Is this not true in your life and mine?  Do you feel overwhelmed by the stresses and rifts you experience among those you hoped would be supportive?  Are your good deeds overlooked and even rejected by those you sought to serve? Take heart in God’s presence and power.  Seek to please Him whether you see results for your efforts or not. Joseph endured years of pain and suffering with little encouragement and affirmation.  We walk by faith and not by sight.

Most of all, take heart that God the Son endured all the just wrath of God for your salvation.  He has secured a place for us in glory.  We are not there yet, but He has won the victory over the serpent.  Our inheritance is secure in heaven.  Jesus is our brother who suffered by us and for us.  Trust Him.  Praise Him.

This week I’ll be reading: Matthew 1-28

His kingdom cannot fail

Our first week of Bible reading took us through Genesis 1-25

The whirlwind tour of early human history moved from the Creation, to the Fall of mankind, to the flood, the tower of Babel and right into the life of Abram and on to his son, Isaac.  These are important chapters which set the stage for a biblical understanding of the world and our place in it.

Here are some observations I made on this first stage of our journey.

  1. God is eternal. Nothing but God existed before creation.  And nothing created exists that is not dependent upon Him.
  2. God appears in the world He created making Himself known through His word and actions. As these chapters unfold, we see Him as a covenant maker who watches over all things seeing that what He plans is completed.  At times it appears that His purposes are hanging by a thread.  But He is not limited to human possibilities.  He enables an elderly couple to conceive a child.
  3. His appearances are timely and strategic. Nothing escapes His gaze and His hand. Faith in Him pleases Him, but unbelief brings pain, grief, regret, and death.
  4. He initiates creation and redemption. He ensures that it will come to pass perfectly.  The seed of the woman will bruise the serpent’s head.  His covenant will come to pass and all the nations of the earth will be blessed through Abraham.

In my life, daily circumstances (this blog post was beset with obstacles including a miserable head cold, a power outage, freezing temperatures and a cross country airline flight) frequently overwhelm me with doubt, impatience, and pessimism about the flow of events personal and global.  A flyover of this biblical terrain brings me much reassurance.  Of course, hindsight is 20-20 so it’s easy to see how everything worked out for Abraham, but I am called to believe God and to trust Him in the midst of circumstances that can seem hopeless and whose outcome is still not revealed.

The old hymn of Charles Wesley (1744), “Rejoice the Lord is King” comes to my mind and heart:

His kingdom cannot fail, He rules o’er earth and Heav’n,

The keys of death and hell are to our Jesus giv’n;

Lift up your heart, lift up your voice;

Rejoice, again I say, rejoice!

Resolved: to honor God by believing Him no matter how doubtful His final victory appears, and to remember that His kingdom cannot fail.

This week’s reading: Genesis 26-50

God’s Perspective

Without God’s Word no one can grasp the importance of believing and serving God.  Only the Bible allows us His perspective.

Today’s Reading

Malachi 1-4; Revelation 22

Selected Verses

Then once more you shall see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve him. Malachi 3:18

Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates.  Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and the sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.  Revelation 22:14-15

Reflections

Malachi, like the other prophets, sees clearly the inward and outward sins of the people he addressed. He goes into detail about their idolatry, their failures in marriage, and their stealing God’s money. The Jews presumed that either their status as descendants of Abraham exempted them from obedience or that the Holy One of Israel was unconcerned about righteousness in His people.

The prophet warns them that the day of the Lord is coming. They would see that there is a distinction between the righteous and the wicked. It does matter how one lives before God.

John points us to Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God. Those who are accepted before God recognize their sinfulness and come to have their robes washed in His blood (Revelation 7:14).   These blessed ones do not presume upon God’s mercy but receive the salvation offered in the gospel. They have access to the tree of life and enter the city by the gates. Meanwhile, those who remain in their sins–such as immorality, murder, idolatry, and falsehood–are outside.

Think about it

Although Malachi wrote around 500 years before John penned his Revelation, these writings converge in a harmonious and glorious view of the final end of all things.

All sin will be punished. Unbelievers remain outside the city where God dwells with His people. Meanwhile, Jesus Christ has paid for the sin of His sheep by His atonement. By His wounds they are healed (1 Peter:2:24). Be sure you know that there is a distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent (Genesis 3:15).

Thank you for walking through the Scriptures with me this year and, if we have not met here, may we meet in glory to worship the Triune God. Our life here matters and it does matter forever.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

God Rules

Both believers and unbelievers alike can lose sight of the fact that God rules over human history and will ultimately conquer all those who oppose Him.

Today’s Reading

Zechariah 1-3; Revelation 17

Selected Verses

Be silent, all flesh, before the Lord, for he has roused himself from his holy dwelling. Zechariah 2:13

And the ten horns that you saw, they and the beast will hate the prostitute. They will make her desolate and naked, and devour her flesh and burn her up with fire,  for God has put it into their hearts to carry out his purpose by being of one mind and handing over their royal power to the beast, until the words of God are fulfilled.

Revelation 17:16-17

Reflections

My seminary professor, Steve Brown, used to quip, “Christians don’t pray because they are afraid God doesn’t exist. Atheists don’t pray because they are afraid He does.”   Certainly, there are times when everyone doubts God’s existence. Our experience can make us question whether our faith is based on reality. Is our experience a reliable basis for faith? The Scriptures tell us to trust what God has said, not what our hunches tell us.

Zechariah delivered messages to Judah assuring them that though their forefathers had brought God’s judgment on themselves, they were not thereby automatically left without hope. Each person is responsible before God to repent of sin and turn to Him in faith. There are times when God may appear to be unengaged or sleeping, but that is an illusion. All the earth owes Him glory and honor. It is wise to keep silence before Him.

In John’s visions, he sees that reality. There is chaos and wickedness in the world, but do not be confused. God is still ruling over all things. He puts His purposes into the hearts of those who hate Him and they do His bidding without intending to.

Think about it

Our observations on the state of the world, if uninformed by Scripture, are not trustworthy.  Let God’s Word give you a solid basis for faith and life. You will know that, indeed, God rules.

God: His wrath and His joy

How accurate is your view of God? Scripture reveals Him as having both wrath and joy.  He is angry with sin but also joyful with His redeemed people.

Today’s Reading

 Zephaniah 1-3; Revelation 15

Selected Verses

On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem:
“Fear not, O Zion;
let not your hands grow weak.
The Lord your God is in your midst,
a mighty one who will save;
he will rejoice over you with gladness;
he will quiet you by his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing. Zephaniah 3:16-17

Then I saw another sign in heaven, great and amazing, seven angels with seven plagues, which are the last, for with them the wrath of God is finished.  Revelation 15:1

Reflections

The prophet Zephaniah described the anger of the Lord against all the sin and corruption of, not only Judah but, all the nations of the world. He warns of the coming of the day of His wrath. That day would come and the judgment would be complete. Is there no escape? Yes, there is a hope for those who humble themselves before the Almighty.

Turning to Revelation, John’s vision confirms that the wrath of God does have an end point. Seven plagues come upon the earth administered by seven angels. After this we learn that these seven plagues, “are the last, for with them the wrath of God is finished.”

Finished.

What a good word to our ears! Zephaniah has given us a beautiful picture of the delight which the Lord has in His own. Several phrases show the completeness of His care and describe His presence (in your midst), His power (mighty one who will save), His joy (He will rejoice over you… exult over you with loud singing).

Think about it

If we are to be biblical in our understanding of God, we must grasp these realities of His being. He is absolutely holy and will not let the wicked go unpunished. He is also full of love and mercy and will save all who come to Him in faith through His Son, the Lamb of God, who took away the sin of the world.

Be sure your understanding of God is accurate. Seek to know Him in truth as He has revealed Himself in His Word because His attributes include His wrath and His joy.