God’s Glory Revealed to an Idolatrous Nation

It seems odd that God chose the Jews and that He showed them mercy again and again. But do we have room for pride? Are we any different?

Note: Last week’s reading was Exodus 21-40.

In reading through Exodus we see the truth of that statement.: “How odd of God to choose the Jews.” They grumbled about water and food after crossing the Red Sea on dry land.  They became impatient with Moses and asked for an idol to worship.  Aaron produced a golden calf which they worshipped. God would have destroyed them and started over with Moses had he not pleaded with the Lord to spare them.

And God heard Moses.  The book ends with the glory of the Lord filling the tabernacle which was completed down to the last detail that God commanded (Exodus 40).

Yes, it seems odd that God chose the Jews and that He showed them mercy again and again. But are we any different?  Are we any less prone to fashion idols and trust in them over our God?  John Calvin wrote “The human mind is, so to speak, a perpetual forge of idols” (Institutes 1.11.8).  God’s mercy and grace was great to the Old Covenant Jews and also to us who come to Him only by the atoning work of His Son and our Savior Jesus Christ.

Reading or Skimming?

If you are like me, you find these long chapters with details about the tabernacle and its furnishings to be hard reading.  This week I was asked, “Is it disrespectful of God’s Word to skim through chapters 25-31 and 35-39 of Exodus?”  That is a question for which we will each have to seek God’s wisdom.  I do know God inspired the sixty-six books of the Bible.  He revealed them to us for our salvation and sanctification. We may not disregard them.  We are not being commanded to make a tabernacle or a temple in order to worship God today.  That was for Moses and ancient Israel.  Jesus Christ is our temple and we have come not to Mount Sinai but to Mount Zion and to Him who is our mediator (John 2:18-22; Hebrews 12:18-24).

This week our schedule takes us to the Epistle to the Hebrews which sheds much light on the purpose of the Old Testament priesthood and temple.  Meanwhile, when reading Exodus 25-31 and 35-39, we can get help from a good study Bible (like the ESV Study Bible) with illustrations of the tabernacle, the furnishings, and the priestly garments.  You might find yourself reading more than skimming. And you might find yourself saying, “how odd of God to choose me.”

This week’s reading: Hebrews and James.

 

God Remembers

God remembers His people and He purposefully fulfills His covenant with them. Through Jesus Christ He has secured our inheritance.

Note: Last week’s reading was Exodus 1-20.

Do you know anything about your ancestors, say, from the seventeenth century?  Genealogy research has become popular today, but I dare say most of us know almost nothing about our forefathers.  I know only three or four things about my paternal grandfather.  My father told me his dad, John Michael Carroll, was born on a ship traveling on the St. Lawrence River from Canada to the United States in 1875.  When they docked in NY his birth was registered there.  So he was legally born in the USA.  Though a Roman Catholic, he married my grandmother who never professed any faith.  He learned the trade of bookbinding and had the honor of binding the books (official documents, I suppose) for the opening of the Empire State Building on May 1, 1931.  When my father (John Michael Carroll, Jr.) professed faith in Christ as an evangelical during his college years, my grandfather said to him, “Son, I want you to know that I love the Lord.”  My dad took that to be a genuine profession of faith on the part of his father. Grandpa Carroll died in 1940, five years before I was born.

That’s all I know about my father’s father.

The voice from the burning bush

But in the Old Testament times, family histories seem to have been kept better and for longer periods of time.  Over four hundred years had passed since Jacob died, but Moses knew his family history.  He belonged to the Hebrew people who migrated to Egypt during the world wide famine when his ancestor Joseph had managed the stockpiles that saved the Egyptians and the family of Jacob.  When God spoke to Moses in the burning bush, the Lord presented Himself as the “God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” (Exodus 3:4). Moses recognized who it was addressing him—the God of his fathers.

God remembered His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Exodus 2:24).  He then commissioned Moses to deliver His people from slavery in Egypt and made Himself known to Moses as “I AM WHO I AM” (3:14).  Moses went on to obey God and deliver the Israelites from slavery through many setbacks and discouragements. God made a way through the demonstration of His power to send plagues, open and close the Red Sea, lead them by fire and cloud, and miraculously provide them with food and water.

The inheritance in heaven for God’s covenant people

I don’t remember my grandfather, but God remembers His people and He purposefully fulfills His covenant with them.  Maybe I will meet my grandpa in glory as one of those God chose as His own.  Meanwhile may we trust the God who remembers and who through Jesus Christ has secured for us an inheritance in heaven ready to be revealed at the last day (First Peter1:3-5).

This week I’ll be reading Exodus 21-40.

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’s Sovereignty: The Key and the Book

Scholars disagree over the interpretation of certain prophecies. But none can deny that Scripture affirms God’s sovereignty over everything in the cosmos.

Zechariah 10-12; Revelation 20

Selected Verses

For behold, I am raising up in the land a shepherd who does not care for those being destroyed, or seek the young or heal the maimed or nourish the healthy, but devours the flesh of the fat ones, tearing off even their hoofs.

Woe to my worthless shepherd,
who deserts the flock!
May the sword strike his arm
and his right eye!
Let his arm be wholly withered,
his right eye utterly blinded!—Zechariah 11:16-17

Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain.—Revelation 20:1

Reflections

When the Bible addresses the final events of time, not every detail is clear, but what is clear is that God reigns over all and that every person will stand in judgment before Him. 

Zechariah shows us that God is the One raising up leaders, even evil ones. He is the One who is also judging them and putting them down. God doesn’t merely permit some wicked to gain power. He actually controls their ascendance and uses it for His purposes, in some cases to discipline His own people. In the end, He brings judgment on these ungodly powers.

In Revelation 20, the key and the book depict God’s control of the cosmos. The key, entrusted to an angel, opens the bottomless pit where the Lord holds Satan confined and impotent. Although he is completely wicked, he is not in control, not even of his own actions and destiny. We also see a book of life with the names of those chosen to live and not suffer the lake of fire.

Think about it

We can have only one of two possible responses to these passages: belief or unbelief.  For believers in the Triune God, there is great reassurance that, for us, all will be well.

Unbelievers may dismiss the assertions with ridicule or ponder with terror the possibility that they may be true. Without a Holy God who rules absolutely over all things and Who will judge us in the end, the universe is out of control and life is meaningless. This alternative is unacceptable. 

But praise God! He reigns in sovereignty and wisdom. He holds the key and the book. Let us believe Him. 

Final Victory

God will bring final victory over all the forces of evil, therefore He calls His people to separate themselves from those who are doomed.

Today’s Reading

Zechariah 4-6; Revelation 18

Selected Verses

Then he said to me, “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts. Who are you, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel you shall become a plain. And he shall bring forward the top stone amid shouts of ‘Grace, grace to it!’” —Zechariah 4:6-7

Then I heard another voice from heaven saying,

“Come out of her, my people,
lest you take part in her sins,
lest you share in her plagues;
for her sins are heaped high as heaven,
and God has remembered her iniquities.”—Revelation 18:4-5

Reflections

There have been many moments in history when it appeared that God’s people had no hope of final victory. The Lord always sent messengers to reassure the Church that she would not be ultimately defeated.

In Zechariah’s day, the temple was in ruins and God commanded its rebuilding. It seemed impossible and, in fact, it was. But it did not depend on the strength or might of human beings, even of those who loved the Lord and longed to see worship restored. Through the vision, the prophet understood that it would be successful through the Spirit of the Lord of hosts. God commands all the armies of angels and He does His will which no one can thwart.

John was permitted to see the fall of Babylon. She had commanded the world, economically and culturally, and seemed invincible. All who dealt with her enjoyed wealth and pleasure. But her end is assured. She will be brought down to nothing. Her ruin will be mourned by those who depended on her. God called His people to come out and not to go down with her in judgment.

Think about it

What is your view of the dominant culture of our day? Are you optimistic that God’s truth will ultimately triumph? If you are one who has been bought by the blood of the Lamb, flee both pessimism and compromise. Final victory is assured.

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.

Judgment: Does God Delay?

Beware of confusing God’s apparent slowness to anger with any weakness or ambivalence. He will bring judgment sure and final in His time. [1]

Today’s Reading

Nahum 1-3; Revelation 13

Selected Verses

The Lord is a jealous and avenging God; the Lord is avenging and wrathful; the Lord takes vengeance on his adversaries and keeps wrath for his enemies. The Lord is slow to anger and great in power, and the Lord will by no means clear the guilty. His way is in whirlwind and storm, and the clouds are the dust of his feet.  Nahum 1:2, 3

Also [the beast] was allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them. And authority was given it over every tribe and people and language and nation, and all who dwell on earth will worship it, everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain. Revelation 13:7-8

Reflections

The Bible from start to finish shows us that God is firmly in control of  human history.  Nothing escapes His knowledge, His presence, or His power.  That does not mean that He watches human history as a disinterested bystander.  He will act in His time to reward faithfulness and punish evil.

In Nahum’s day, the nation of Assyria was imposing her power on the surrounding nations.  Israel had already fallen to her and Judah, under King Manasseh, was a vassal state. Nahum proclaimed the power of God in the midst of this difficult situation.   Assyria would fall, he assured them.  God is slow to anger but not weak in power.  He would pour out His wrath.  Meanwhile, Nahum, whose name means comfort, reminded Judah that “The Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; he knows those who take refuge in him” (1:7).

John sees two beasts, one from the sea and one from the earth.  These united with the dragon wreak havoc on God’s people, who do not take the mark of the beast which gives access to commerce.  It seems like a hopeless situation, yet God limits the time allotted to these beasts.  God reassures all who refuse to worship the beast–their names were recorded before time in the Lamb’s book of life.

Think about it

Let this bring comfort to us who believe but warning to all who confuse God’s patience with any kind of weakness.  His judgment will come in His time, not ours.

[1] The Reformation Study Bible, introductory notes to Nahum, p. 1587