2 Chr 30
When the priests in Hezekiah's time blessed the people, " their prayer came up to (God), even unto heaven" (2 Chron. 30:27). But the blessing of the people was not a prayer to God, but words spoken by the priests to the people: " (May) The Lord bless thee, and keep thee: the Lord make his face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee..." (Num. 6:24,25). Yet God saw these words of the priests as a prayer. It's rather like us saying 'God bless you' to a brother as we leave his house; God may read this as a prayer, and do something about it. But this isn't how we conceive of prayer.
Reading through Daniel it is evident that we are being invited to try to enter into the character of Daniel. Our fascination with the prophecies can result in us failing to realize that a lot of information is being given about his character. Daniel always seems to me to be portrayed as actually part of the prophecies he gave; he was no fax machine just relaying God's words. He seems to be presented as representative of all those of later times who would hear the word of prophecy. It is for this reason that we are given so much insight into his character. For example, Daniel's spirit of " How long...?" is so exactly reflective of the attitude of all God's children down the years that it is hard to deny that Daniel is being framed as the representative of all the saints. Indeed, these very words are quoted in Rev. 6:10 concerning the attitude of the slain saints of the last days. Daniel's representative role is most clearly shown in the figurative death, resurrection and judgment which he receives in Dan. 10. In this Daniel is acting out the experience of each of the approved. His refusal to obey the command to worship Babylon's King is alluded to in Rev. 13:5; 14:9, which prophesy how the saints of the last days will be tested just as Daniel was, with a like miraculous deliverance. Thus Daniel seems to especially symbolize the latter day believers. The comforting " Fear not Daniel" (Dan. 10:12,19) slots in to many other instances of Angels saying these words to frightened men. Fear was part of the character of Daniel. This makes it appropriate to speculate that the latter day believers will hear the same words from the Angel who comes to gather them (and cp. Is. 35:4, which gives the same " fear not" message to the generation which sees the second coming). Again, Daniel's relationship with the Angel appears to be representative of that enjoyed by all the saints.
The way Peter prays at 12 noon (Acts 10:9), and how Paul urges us to pray all
the time (Rom. 12:12; Col. 4:2) are therefore radical departures from the
concept of praying at set times, three times / day. How radically different is
our approach to prayer compared to the 'religious' folk around us?
2 Chr 31
Israel were told to " throw down" , " break in pieces" and " utterly destroy" the idols and altars of Canaan. There were times during their history when they obeyed this command by purging themselves from their apostasy in this. The Hebrew words used scarcely occur elsewhere, except very frequently in the context of how God " broke down" , " threw down" and " destroyed" Israel at the hands of their Babylonian and Assyrian invaders as a result of their not 'breaking down' (etc.) the idols. " Throw down" in Ex. 34:13; Dt. 7:5; 12:3; 2 Chron. 31:1 is the same word in 2 Chron. 36:19; Jer. 4:26; 31:28; 33:4; 39:8; 52:14; Ez. 16:39; Nah. 1:6. " Cut down" in Dt. 7:5; 12:3; 2 Chron. 31:1 later occurs in Is. 10:33; Jer. 48;25; Lam. 2:3. So Israel faced the choice: either cut down your idols, or you will be cut down. The stone will either fall on us and destroy us, or we must fall on it and become broken men and women (Mt. 21:44).
Both the prototype in Hezekiah's time and the descriptions in Dan. 11 and Ez. 38 require there to be a personal leader of the northern invasion. Rabshakeh and latter day Sennacherib equate with Daniel's "King (not 'power') of the north", and Ezekiel 38's specific reference to a "rosh" [might one, chief prince] and use of the personal pronoun "thee": "turn thee back. . . thy jaws. . thine army. . be thou prepared. . thy company" etc. All this emphasis needs some explanation. If the prototype of latter day Sennacherib Rabshakeh is to be closely followed, this individual need not be a nation, but a young, headstrong, powerful army commander that mirrors Rabshakeh. To make the clues more exciting, remember that Rabshakeh was probably an apostate Jew (note his references to the covenant name, and evident knowledge of conditions inside Jerusalem). "The man of sin" that is to sit in the temple of God in the last days would seem to have reference back to the "abomination that maketh desolate" and to the planting of the king of the north's tabernacles "between the seas in the glorious holy mountain"- i. e. in the temple area of Jerusalem (Dan. 11:45). This "man of sin" points to an individual. Can you see him developing?
Acts 11, 12
The believers in Acts 12 gathered together to hold a prayer meeting for
Peter’s release. Their prayers were answered; he stood outside, knocking on the
door. But they simply didn’t believe it. They couldn’t conceive their prayer
was answered. They mocked poor Rhoda and told her to go back and watch the door
and not disturb them any more while they prayed for Peter’s release. And having
mocked her, they got back on their knees and asked again for his release. We
can pray, in faith apparently, but with no very deep faith that the answer in
actual reality will happen or may already have been granted. Are our prayer
2 Chr 32
It seems that Hezekiah lived on a high, high spiritual level prior to his illness and the final invasion. He seems to have been single, and then in his illness he wished for a descendant, and subsequently married the Gentile Hephzibah. However, he didn't render again according to the benefit done to him (2 Chron. 32:25), and was therefore threatened with judgment. In response to this he humbled himself, and the judgment was postponed. He commented that it was a good deal for him, because he would have peace for the rest of the days of the 15 years which God had given him (2 Kings 20:19). My feeling is that Hezekiah lived the rest of his days acceptable with God, but on a markedly lower level than he had lived his earlier life. There are some other kings who are recorded as having lived acceptable lives to God, although evidently they lived on a lower level than the likes of David.
Even in the Millennium, the basis of our witness to the world will be that we are in Christ. Thus Micah’s description of how “the remnant of Jacob shall be in the midst of many people as a dew from the Lord, as the showers upon the grass” (Mic. 5:7) is consciously alluding to the then-famous Messianic prophecy of Ps. 72:6: “He shall come down like rain upon the mown grass: as showers that water the earth”. The blessings Messiah brings are to be articulated through the witness of those in Him. Those who have lived in Him will then shine as the brightness of the firmament (Dan. 12:3). But the description of the Lord’s face shining as the sun draws on this; as if to say that our shining in the future Kingdom will be because we were and are in Him. We will shine forth then (Mt. 13:43), as the Sun of righteousness Himself.
As in our own community, this tension between right and left manifested
itself in many ways. There were dirty politics in the church. The Greek
speaking Jews and the Hebrew speaking Jews within the ecclesia started arguing
over welfare payments in Acts 6. It was the old tension- the liberals against
the orthodox, with the orthodox unwilling to give much of the welfare
collection to those they perceived as more liberal. This squabble was tackled
by Stephen, and the record then goes on to describe his murder, almost implying
that it was Judaist Christians within the synagogues who
set him up for this. After all, there was big money involved- Jews were used to
paying 10 or 20% of their wealth to the temple, and if this was now going to
the ecclesia, with thousands baptized, there could well have arisen a power
struggle over who controlled it. It could well be that the division between
Paul and John Mark was over this matter; after they had baptized the first
Gentile in Cyprus, Sergius Paulus,
John Mark went back to the Jerusalem ecclesia (Acts 13:13). Acts 15:38 RV
speaks of how he “withdrew from them from Pamphylia”,
hinting at spiritual reasons for his withdrawal. It must also be remembered
that Christianity was a new, unregistered religion in the Roman empire, increasingly subject to persecution and
discrimination. Judaism was registered and tolerated. It was so much easier to
remain under the synagogue umbrella, to deny the radical demands of the Lord
Jesus, and to accept Him half-heartedly, in Name but not in reality.
2 Chr 33
Manasseh's repentance and forgiveness was associated with his knowing Yahweh. He prayed to Yahweh, but only on experiencing forgiveness did he come to know Him (2 Chron. 33:13). To really know the Name elicits forgiveness, and the experience of that forgiveness leads to knowing the Name yet further. Job went through the same; when he truly saw / perceived God, he repented and 'loathed his words' (Job 42:6 RVmg.).
Time and again we are brought to realize that the same external action can be judged by God quite differently, according to our motives. Uzziah was condemned for acting as a priest; when David did the same, he was reflecting his spirituality. God commanded Jehu to perform the massacre of Ahab's family at Jezreel, and blessed him for it (2 Kings 10:10,29,30); and yet Hos. 1:4 condemns the house of Jehu for doing that. Why? Presumably because their later attitude to that act of obedience was wrong, and the act therefore became judged as God as something which brought just punishment on the house of Jehu many years later. Why? Because even an outward act of obedience, when perceived through wrong motives and feelings, becomes an act of sin and a basis even for condemnation. All our works need careful analysis once we grasp this point.
Acts 14, 15
We have a conscience which in God's eyes is cleansed of sin, knowing that
our sin has been overcome once and for all, and that we have access to this
through baptism. Our hearts were purified by that faith (Acts 15:9); we were
cleansed from the conscience of sins (Heb. 9:14); all things became pure to us
(Tit. 1:15; Rom. 14:20). This is a good conscience, Biblically defined. When
Paul said he had a pure conscience before God, they smote him for blasphemy
(Acts 23:1,2); there is an association between a clear
conscience and perfection (Heb. 9:9; 10:14). A clear conscience therefore means
an awareness that in God's eyes, we have no sin. Thus
Paul's conscience could tell him that he was living a life which was a response
to his experience of God's grace / forgiveness (2 Cor. 1:12). The conscience
works not only negatively; it insists that we do certain things. It
may even be that the goads against which Paul was kicking before his conversion
were not the pricks of bad conscience, but rather the positive directions
from God that he ought to be giving his life to the service of His
Son. Whilst we may still have twinges of guilt, and sins to confess, from God's
viewpoint the slate is clean, and has been since
our baptism. It is impossible to believe this without some kind of response.
2 Chr 34
There is an OT background to the Lord’s invitation to follow Him in the taking up of the cross and following to the place of crucifixion. It is in the frequent references to the faithful following after Yahweh Himself (e.g. Dt. 7:4; 2 Chron. 34:33). It’s as if the Lord was saying that the essence of Yahweh was in the cross He carried. To follow Him to the end, to live the life of cross carrying, leads us to Yahweh Himself.
That the extent of God’s anger arises from the degree of His love is perhaps reflected in the way the Hebrew words for “lover” and “hater” are so closely related- oheb and oyeb. Hos. 2:9 appears to make a word play based around this. The gravity and emotional enormity of each ‘side’ of the total equation, the huge tension of the equilibrium that keeps them in perfect balance in God’s character and words, was reflected in the prophets personally; and it will be in us too. The result of this is that the anger of both God and His prophets becomes understandable as more an expression of His and their sorrow, the hurtness of their love, even their weariness. God says that He has “had enough” of Israel, even saying “I am weary to bear” them (Is. 1:11-15). Is. 43:24 specifically speaks of God’s weariness with His people- and this too was part of the prophets’ spirit. And yet shining through all that is God’s hopefulness for His people, and His grace: “The Lord waits to be gracious to you; therefore will He exalt Himself [in judgment] to show mercy to you” (Is. 30:18). This wasn’t an angry God hitting back at a rebellious people; this is the God of Israel looking at judgment only as a way to reveal His grace and mercy in the longer term.
Acts 16, 17
Appreciating the height of who Jesus was and is,
clearly motivated his preaching. And it should ours too. This is why Paul in
the face of every discouragement could preach that "
there is another king, one Jesus" (Acts 17:7). This was
the core of his message; not only that there will be a coming King in
Jerusalem, but that there is right now a King at God's right hand, who
demands our total allegiance. The Acts record associates the height of Jesus
with a call to repentance too. This is the message of Is. 55:6-9- because
God's thoughts are so far higher than ours, therefore call upon the Lord whilst He is near, and let the wicked
forsake his way. Because the Father and Son who are so high above us morally
and physically are willing to deal with us, therefore we ought to
seize upon their grace and repent.
2 Chr 35
Later references to the Passover show that burnt offerings were offered by the worshippers as well; it seems that the lambs had the skin flayed off them (2 Chron. 35:11), in uncanny prophecy of the Lord's scourging. His sufferings shouldn’t leave us feeling passive; surely we have to respond to Him there, and respond today.
Gomer’s sexual addiction is testified to by the way Hosea orders that even after their re-marriage, she would “wait” for him, and “not belong to a man” (Hos. 3:3), i.e. they would not have intercourse. Hos. 4:18 speaks of how “they have made love continually… her lustful spirit”. The judgment of removing the signs of adultery from Gomer’s face and from between her breasts (Hos. 2:4) also give a window into the level of her sexual addiction. Song 1:13 speaks of myrrh between the breasts being used as an aphrodisiac; and prostitutes paint their faces in Jer. 4:30 and Ez. 23:40. She wore a nose ring and pendant in order to ‘go after’ her lovers (Hos. 2:15). And yet these things would’ve been understood as wedding gifts, akin to a woman today wearing a wedding ring. The awful thing is that she used the very things Hosea had given her as an expression of his unique commitment to her- as a means for adultery. Likewise the silver and gold of her dowry, she used in Baal worship (Hos. 2:10). She wasn’t doing it for money or because she was in need; the implication is that she was using the aphrodisiac to excite and sexually stimulate herself rather than her lovers, and was therefore going in search of them. We have to ask what wilful stimulations to sin, to unfaithfulness to our Master, we allow into our lives.
Acts 18, 19
Paul preached in Ephesus from 11a.m. to 4 p.m. (Acts 19:9 Western text)- the siesta period. Whilst working with his own hands to
support himself, he somehow persuaded men and women to break their usual sleep
pattern to come and hear him. F.F. Bruce has commented that more Ephesians were
awake at 1a.m. than 1 p.m . His zeal is amazing- and is our pattern.
2 Chr 36
The prophets "spoke from the mouth of Yahweh" Himself; and yet the people scoffed at them (2 Chron. 36:12,16 RV). The power of inspiration was and is so great; and to not heed God's word today is therefore a personal affront to Him.
Our part in the promises should enable us to live Godly in this present evil world. Ps. 89:1-3 records David breaking forth into joy simply because of the promises made to him. Although Israel were in covenant relationship with God, there was no " truth nor mercy nor knowledge of God in the land" , but rather the very opposite: swearing, lying etc. (Hos. 4:1,2). If they had truly believed the " mercy and truth" of the promises to Abraham and the covenant based around them, they would have been merciful and truthful. But they knew these promises but didn't believe them.
J.I. Packer has written: “Paul sought to save men; and because he sought to save them, he was not content merely to throw truth at them; but he went out of his way to get alongside them, and to start thinking with them from where they were, and to speak to them in terms that they could understand, and above all to avoid anything that would prejudice them against the Gospel...in his zeal to maintain truth he never lost sight of the needs and claims of people”. A cameo of his attitude is presented when Eutychus falls down from the window; Paul likewise runs down afterwards and falls on him, on the blood and broken bones (Acts 20:9,10). The language of Paul’s descent and falling upon Eutychus and Eutychus’ own fall from the window are so similar. Surely the point is, that Paul had a heart that bled for that man, that led him to identify with him.
Ezra 1, 2
Those who decided to obey God’s command and leave Babylon were confirmed in this by God: He raised up their spirit to want to return and re-build Jerusalem, and He touched the heart of Cyrus to make decrees which greatly helped them to do this (Ezra 1:2-5). And so the same Lord God of Israel is waiting to confirm us in our every act of separation from this world, great or small; and He waits not only to receive us, but to be a Father unto us, and to make us His sons and daughters (2 Cor. 6:18).
Hosea’s reference to daath elohim, the knowledge of God, has been observed as strikingly intimate, hinting as it does of God ‘knowing’ His people and them knowing Him, in the same way as a man ‘knows’ a woman. Hence the utter pain of Hos. 5:4: “The spirit of harlotry is within them, and they know not [i.e. sexually] the Lord”- although they ‘knew’ so many others, they were sexually obsessed. This was God’s pain, lived out by Hosea. It was that very “knowledge of God” which He desired, rather than burnt offerings (Hos. 6:6). And we today have the possibility to hurt God this much, too.
Acts 21, 22
Paul’s progressive appreciation of his own sinfulness is reflected in how he describes what he did in persecuting Christians in ever more terrible terms, the older he gets. He describes his victims as “men and women” whom he ‘arrested’ (Acts 8:3; 22:4), then he admits he threatened and murdered them (Acts 9:3), then he persecuted “the way” unto death (Acts 22:4); then he speaks of them as “those who believe” (Acts 22:19) and finally, in a crescendo of shame with himself, he speaks of how he furiously persecuted, like a wild animal, unto the death, “many of the saints”, not only in Palestine but also “to foreign [Gentile] cities” (Acts 26:10,11). He came to appreciate his brethren the more, as he came to realize the more his own sinfulness. And this is surely a pattern for us all.
Ezra 3, 4
Haggai's prophecy can be dated quite precisely- it was given August-September 520 BC. This was harvest time. And at this very labour intensive season, where all hands had to be on deck out in the fields, the prophet called for a dedication of labour to building up God's house. Yet Judah were too concerned with their own harvests than the harvest of God's glory. They were asked to do something counter-instinctive- to take time out from harvest, and spend that time on building up God's house. And they failed the challenge. But it wasn't that they were simply lazy. Hag. 1:8, a prophecy given 18 years after the decree of Cyrus, orders the people to go up into the hills of Judah and get wood with which to build the temple. And yet according to Ezra 3:7, the decree of Cyrus 18 years earlier had resulted in cedar wood being brought from Tyre and Sidon, enough for the temple to be built. Where had the wood gone? Is the implication not that the leadership had used it for their own "cieled houses" (Hag. 1:4)? It all seems so petty minded. But this is what we are tempted to do, time and again- build up our own house and leave God's house desolate and in a very poor second place.
Israel had come to perceive of Yahweh as a god like the gods of the other nations and tribes around them. The prophets consciously brought home the fact that He is unique, and not at all like any local pagan deity. The pagan gods were thought to punish their people for minor infringements of ritual, or simply because deities were cruel at times. Yahweh wasn’t like that; His judgments came only after passionate pleading, after being deferred time and again, and even then, they came in order to bring about correction, as a purging (Is. 1:25,26 and often), and not as an expression of irritation or mere anger of a capricious, unstable deity. “He has torn, that He may heal us” (Hos. 6:1). Amos speaks of Israel’s final judgment as a day of their meeting their God, and he urges them to prepare to meet Him (Am. 4:12). This was no grim fatalism, an angry final statement. The language is shot through with allusion to how both Israel and Moses were told to prepare to meet Yahweh at Sinai (Ex. 19:11,15; 34:2). But that meeting involved a declaration of God’s Name, the foremost characteristic of which was that God is a God full of mercy and love for His people.
Acts 23, 24
Paul's claim to have a conscience 'void of offence' (24:16) could surely only have been true because he really believed that his sins had been forgiven, to the point that he felt clear in his conscience about them.
Ezra 5, 6
It could be pointed out that the temple which Cyrus commanded the Jews to build in Jerusalem was of different (smaller) dimensions to that of Ezekiel (Ezra 6:3,4). Two possibilities arise here. Either Israel chose to listen to the words of man rather than those of God through Ezekiel; or (more likely) God reduced the dimensions, knowing that this was within the capability of Israel to achieve. In any case, Israel were encouraged by Divine prophesy in the work of building according to the pattern which Cyrus had given (Ezra 6:14). God is so eager to work with men that He will work with us on our lower level, even if it is a level lower than what we are capable of. And so we should treat our weaker brethren.
Our early morning thoughts are fair indicators of how we really are with God. Interestingly, Israel are criticized for their early morning attitudes- in the mornings they fantasized after their neighbours' wives (Jer. 5:8; Hos. 7:6), got up and wanted to get drunk again (Is. 5:11), had unjust thoughts about others (Jer. 21:12; Mic. 2:1). That's quite some emphasis- God was so unhappy with what His people thought about in the mornings. What do we think about in the mornings?
Acts 25, 26
The way Paul begs us to follow him (e.g. " I
beseech you, be as I am" , Gal. 4:12) indicates the degree of confidence
he had in acceptance by his Lord, his certainty that his way to the Kingdom was
valid (Surely he had been told this by some Divine revelation? ). He exhorts us
to speak ‘freely’ in our preaching (2 Cor. 3:12), just as he himself “speak
freely’ in his witness to Agrippa (Acts 26:26).
Separation from Babylon was made the harder by the Babylonian and especially later Persian policies of making subjugated people like the Jews become useful contributors to the empire. They didn't stay long weeping by the rivers of Babylon. Likewise it was Persian policy to allow each nation their own temple, and to even encourage them in this- hence the decree to rebuild Yahweh's temple in Jerusalem. Darius did similar things to areas of Egypt which he conquered. But all this had a price tage attached- people like the Jews were to come to see themselves as essentially Babylonian or Persian, and they were to give up all idea that their god or the culture was the absolute truth. And tragically, the Jews willfully became part of this policy. There were specific commands in Isaiah for the Jews in captivity to leave Babylon and return to the land. God confirmed those who wished to obey in their choice- for Cyrus made a decree commanding them to return! But so many still remained. Significantly, Artaxerxes gave Ezra authority to rule the entire “province Beyond the River” (Ezra 7:25). The boundary of the land promised to Abraham reached to “the river”- and Ezra was being given power over all that area. And yet there is no evidence that Ezra actually did do what Artaxerxes enabled him to do- i.e. to establish rulership under his command over that area. But potentially, the full restoration of the Kingdom promised to Abraham was made possible. The Kingdom is likewise potentially made possible for us today!
Equipped with this understanding, a new window opens upon the "Woe...!" passages in the prophets. The Hebrew word doesn't really imply 'Woe to you, you'd better watch out for what's coming on you!'; rather is it an expression used to express the pain of the speaker over a broken relationship, e.g. at a funeral. And yet the pain of God leads Him to hope, even desperate hope; and again that hope is expressed and felt in terms which are relative to our kind of time. Hence His many questions relating to 'How long?': "How long will this people despise me? And how long will they not believe me?" (Num. 14:11,27); "How long will it be till they are pure?" (Hos. 8:5; Jer. 4:14; 13:27). These aren't merely rhetorical questions. There's an element of literality about God's question- He doesn't know how long it will be, He can only imagine and hope- for Israel has free will, and will not turn to Him just when He says so. For He is in covenant relationship with them, He loves them, and as we've emphasized, that must involve each party allowing the other to function independently and to have their own time and free choice for returning. These questions, and other similar statements from God, are almost God's probing of possible paths into the future- the future which He could, of course, choose to know, but it seems He chooses not to fully know. All the above indicates that God has allowed Himself to be made vulnerable. Love, promises, covenant relationship, feeling for others, revealing yourself to the object of your love- this is all part of what it means for God to enter covenant relationship with us.
The legalists taught that unless believers kept the circumcision laws, “ye
cannot be saved” (Acts 15:1). The very same Greek phrase is used by Paul when
he calls out in urgency during the storm: “Except these abide in the ship, ye
cannot be saved” (Acts 27:31). Surely Luke’s record is making a connection; the
legalists taught that it was time to quit the rest of the community unless they
got their way, for the sake of their eternal future; and Paul responds by
teaching that our salvation depends upon us pulling together against the
desperate situation we find ourselves in. It’s as if the salvation of Christ’s
body depends upon it staying together. As time went on in the first century,
the gap between the Jewish and Gentile elements, the right and the left wing,
the legalists and the libertines, got ever wider. The tension got stronger. But
nobody won. The Jewish element returned to the Law, and forgot all about the
saving grace of Jesus. The Gentile element mixed even more with the world and
its philosophies, and forgot the Jewish roots of
the Christian faith. They ended up formulating blasphemous doctrines like the
trinity, which nobody with any awareness of the Jewish foundation of the Father
and Son could possibly have entertained. And so the faith was lost, until it
was revived again in those groups who again interpreted Christianity in terms
of “the hope of Israel”.
Despite the King’s decree that the Levites should accompany Ezra from Babylon, not one Levite came with Ezra (Ezra 8:15- the references to ‘Levites’ later in the record must refer therefore to Levites that had remained in the land after the deportation of the majority of Judah). Last minute recruiting efforts by Ezra in Casiphia produced only 38 Levites (Ezra 8:31)! They even delayed their departure from Babylon for 12 days in order to desperately try to persuade some Levites to come with them. This was how poor Judah’s response was. Indeed, it appears that only 1,700 men returned to Judah with Ezra. Even generous readings of the text would give only between four and five thousand. And even when some Levites did return under Nehemiah, they weren’t given their tithes and went off to live on farmsteads as subsistence farmers, resulting in the restored temple scarcely operating (Neh. 13:10,11). Despite the repentance for marriage out of the faith in Ezra’s time, Nehemiah closes with the same problem having recurred. Nehemiah had to close the gates of Zion on the Sabbath (Neh. 13:19) to stop Sabbath trading going on- a sad contrast with the command in Is. 60:11 that her gates should be open continually in order that the Gentiles may enter in with their tribute to Yahweh. But now, the Jews were buying from the Gentiles in those very gates, which now had to be closed. So much was possible, and so little achieved… it was and is heartbreaking.
There was a tremendous sensitivity in Hosea to both God and to the sin of His people, honed and developed by his own relationship with Gomer. At the start of Hosea’s prophecy, Israel were prosperous. They worshipped Yahweh, and assumed He was with them. And yet Hosea discounts their worship of Yahweh as being effectively idolatry. Time and again Hosea accuses Israel of idolatry, using words to describe their idolatry which are word plays on language associated with Yahweh. He speaks of their kabod [glory] (Hos. 9:11; 10:5)- a word usually used about the glory of Yahweh. They worshipped lo’al (Hos. 7:16)- and he uses al to refer to Yahweh in Hos. 11:7. They worshipped sor (Hos. 9:13)- the same consonants as sur, the “rock” of Yahweh (Dt. 32:31). He calls Yahweh qados (Hos. 11:9), but they worshipped qedosim (Hos. 12:1). We tend to assume that Hosea’s denunciation of idolatry meant that Israel worshipped both Yahweh and various other images and idols of their pagan gods. But that seems to be an over-simplification. Archaeologists have actually not found much evidence of such gods. Summarizing much research, Cogan concludes: “There is no evidence of Assyrian interference in the Israelite cult prior to the 720 BCE annexation of Samaria [after Hosea’s time]… Israel was free of any cultic obligation”. And yet, Hosea speaks for all the world as if there were shrines etc. to other gods all over the place. My conclusion is that the idols, shrines etc. to which Hosea refers were therefore actually understood by Israel as a form of Yahweh worship. But he points out to them that actually, their worship of Yahweh is a form of idolatry. And all this has relevance to us. For actually things like daily Bible reading, attending church, going through the formalities of a religion, can become a form of fetishism rather than parts of the dynamic, Spirit filled life which they ought to be a vital part of. Worshipping Yahweh in the “high places”, i.e. the pagan shrines, was Israel’s besetting sin. It’s rather like the way they turned the bronze snake of the wilderness into an idol. They, like us, never simply turned their back on the true Way. Rather did they mix it with the way of the flesh, the way of the world, and pronounced that as in fact Yahweh worship. And it was all this which Hosea was so deeply sensitive to, as demonstrated by the careful word plays he made, in order to demonstrate that their worship of Yahweh was in fact idol worship.
Paul wasn’t against using persuasion to bring men unto his Lord, and neither
should we be. He realized the methodology we use with people can affect their
conversion. And he knew that personal contact was by far the best. “For this
cause therefore did I intreat you to see AND
to speak with me” (Acts 28:20 RV). He called men to have a personal meeting
with him, rather than just to hear the theory. Not just to hear him, but to see
him… for we are the essential witnesses.
Jeremiah speaks as if he has committed Israel's sins; Ezra rends his clothes and plucks off his hair, as if he has married out of the Faith (Ezra 9:4 cp. Neh. 13:25; the Lord received the same sinner's treatment, Is. 50:6). Is this how far we go in our feelings for the weak?
Israel had appeared to have fruit, when actually, they didn't have any at all (Hos. 10:1). The man in the parable built his spiritual house, but in fact he didn't get down to the real nitty-gritty of obedience to the Lord's words; and so it miserably, pathetically fell at judgment day. The seriousness of sin becomes de-emphasized in our lives (as it is becoming in our community), until repentance comes to mean a vague twinge of guilt. This, again, was the problem of Old Testament Israel. " They return, but not to the Most High" (Hos. 7:16); they had the sensation of regret, of turning back- but it wasn't real repentance. A few verses earlier God had commented: “They do not return to the Lord their God” (7:10); but they on a surface level did return to Him. Hosea continues his theme: “Israel is an empty vine, he bringeth forth fruit unto himself” (Hos. 10:1). Did they or did they not bring forth fruit? They did- but only in their own eyes. They felt they had repented, and brought forth spiritual fruit. But not in God’s estimation. And we too can have the sensation of spirituality and even spiritual growth, but only in our own eyes. “Though they called them to the Most High, none at all would exalt him” (Hos. 11:7) in the way which true repentance requires. Is our repentance genuine…?
The Lord Jesus through the cross can “present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable”.
Yet by our preaching we “may present every man perfect in Christ” (Col. 1:22,28). The connection is clear: because we are being
presented perfect in Christ through belief and baptism, we preach the
opportunity of this experience to others. Likewise the Law often stressed that
on account of Israel’s experience of being redeemed from Egypt, they were to
witness a similar grace to their neighbours and to
Ezra wept for the sins of his people (Ezra 10:1). Is this attitude seen amongst us? We lament in a gossipy way the weaknesses of the brotherhood; but is there this bleeding heart for the cases we mention? Perhaps we should never think of separating from anybody unless the decision has been come to through a process of such prayerful mourning for them first.
The tension within God is apparent. Hosea’s the clearest on this. God wants nothing more to do with His adulterous people; and then He pleads with them to come back to Him, breaking His own law, that a put away woman can’t return to her first husband. “How shall I give thee up, Ephraim?... mine heart is turned within me, my repentings are kindled together” (Hos. 11:8). And Jeremiah has more of the same: “How can I pardon you… shall I avenge myself on a nation such as this? Shall I not punish them for these things?” (Jer. 5:7-9,28,29). God reveals Himself as oscillating between punishing and redeeming, judging sin and overlooking it. God is open to changing His stated plans (e.g. to destroy Nineveh within forty days, to destroy Israel and make of Moses a new nation). He isn’t like the Allah of Islam, who conducts a monologue with his followers; the one true God of Israel earnestly seeks dialogue with His people, and as such He enters into all the contradictory feelings and internal debates which dialogue involves. ‘God loves the sinner and hates the sin’ has always seemed to me problematic, logically and practically. Love is in the end a personal thing; in the end love and hate are appropriate to persons, not abstractions. And the person can’t so easily be separated from their actions. Ultimately, it is persons who will be saved or condemned. The prophets reveal both the wrath and love of God towards His people, in the same way as a parent or partner can feel both wrath and love towards their beloved.
1 Cor. 3:10-14 speak of us 'building up' God’s house, the believers, on the
foundation of Christ. And we will be judged for the quality of what is built-
our final judgment will be a reflection of the quality of our brethren, in that
their spirituality is partly determined by our efforts for them. But Col. 2:4
uses the same word to say that we are built up “in [Christ]...as [according as]
ye have been taught...beware lest any man spoil you [through false teaching].
The life of fellowship with our brethren in Christ is what builds us up, if we
teach each other the right things. But false teaching means that the house of
believers will not be built up. This would have been especially so in ecclesias of largely illiterate members. The point is, we
are all builders, each part has something to contribute, and the doing of every
ecclesial service must be consciously to the end of building up one another.
Neh 1, 2
Neh. 1:5-10 is an example of how God’s word should form the language and terminology of our prayers; just look up the cross references in most Bibles. Nehemiah's example is clearly based upon Deuteronomy being in his mind. Some of his allusions are conscious, others perhaps unconscious, but reflecting how the words of his prayer were rooted in the presence of the word in his mind:
" The great and terrible God that keepeth covenant and mercy" (v.5)
" If ye transgress I will scatter thee abroad amongst the nations" (v.8)
4:27; Lev.. 26:33
" But if ye turn unto me
though there were cast out of you unto the uttermost parts of heaven yet will I gather them from thence
...the place that I have chosen to put my name there" (v.9)
Appreciating that prayer is so much " in the spirit" , we can better grasp why prayer is portrayed as a struggle. Moab would pray in the time of his judgment; " but he shall not prevail" (Is. 16:12), as if the prayer process was a struggle. Jacob, by contrast, struggled with the Angel in prayer and prevailed (Hos. 12:2-4). The Romans were to strive together with Paul in prayer (Rom. 15:30); the Lord's prayers in Gethsemane were a resisting / struggling unto the point of sweating blood (Heb. 12:2). " I would that ye knew what great conflict I have [RV ‘how greatly I strive / struggle’] for you...that their hearts might be comforted, being knit together in love, and unto all riches of the full assurance of understanding" is parallel to " We do not cease to pray for you... that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding" (Col. 2:1 cp. 1:9,10). Paul's conflict / struggle for them was his prayer for them. Epaphras likewise was “always striving for you in his prayers” (Col. 4:12 RV). Our groanings, our struggling in prayer, is transferred to God by the Lord Jesus groaning also, but with groanings far deeper and more fervently powerful than ours (Rom. 8:22,23 cp. 26). Our prayers are to give the Father no " rest" (Is. 62:7), no cessation from violent warfare (Strong). The widow by her continual coming in prayer 'wearied ' the judge into responding; Strong defines this Greek word as meaning 'to beat and black and blue' (RVmg. gives " bruise" ). It's a strange way of putting it, but this is another reminder of the intense struggle of prayer. Jacob's wrestling with the Angel was really a clinging on to him, pleading with tears for the blessing of forgiveness; and in this he was our example (Hos. 12:4-6). Lk. 21:36 RV speaks of the believer 'prevailing' with God in prayer. The 'struggles' of Moses in prayer are an example of this; through the desperation and spiritual culture of his pleading, he brought about a change even in God's stated purpose.
Col 3, 4
Most of us mix with people at the same shops or services we visit. They know
your face. Give them a leaflet [we can arrange to send you leaflets if you
don’t have any]. There will then be a connection between you and the message
when you see them in future. Col. 4:5 sums it up: “Be wise in the way you act
toward outsiders; make use of every opportunity”. People are not always so
impressed by the story of the drug abuser or murderer who turns to Christ. Far
more arresting will probably be the life of an ordinary person like you,
another ordinary worker, another woman who takes their
child to school each morning…which has been transformed by a personal response
to the truth of God. Someone like you who escaped from mere
religion and found the ultimately true relationship with God.
God uses people at times in ways which are right against the grain of their natural abilities. He asked goldsmiths to do the manual work of building the wall of Jerusalem, bruising their sensitive fingers against lumps of rock (Neh. 3:8,31); and Barak’s victorious warriors were civil servants and writers (Jud. 5:14), not military men. Paul was sent to the Gentiles and Peter to the Jews, when we’d have thought that naturally speaking, they would have been far more comfortable in the reverse roles.
Because there is only one God, there is only one glory, one Name of God, one standard of spirituality, one judge, one justifier. Whilst men seek glory and approbation and acceptance and justification from other men, they are denying the principle of one God. If there is only one God, we should seek His honour and justification, to the total exclusion of that of men. Hosea revealed this truth:" I am the Lord thy God...and thou shalt know no god but me: for there is no saviour beside me...neither will we say any more to the work of our hands, Ye are our gods: for in thee [i.e. thee alone] the fatherless findeth mercy" (Hos. 13:4; 14:3). Because God alone can give salvation and mercy, therefore there is no space for worshipping or seeking for the approbation of anything or anyone else; for the receipt of mercy and salvation are the only ultimate things worth seeking. There is only one God who can give them, who can give imputed righteousness, and therefore we should seek for His acceptance alone.
1 Thes 1, 2
Paul was “well pleased to impart unto you not the gospel of God only, but
also our own souls, because ye were become very dear to us”. So says the RV of
1 Thess. 2:8. It is one thing to impart the Gospel to someone. It is another to
give your soul to them, because you truly love them. I suspect we have all been
guilty of merely imparting the gospel, without the heart that bled within Paul.
They are two quite different things. Imparting knowledge, inviting to meetings,
distributing books…is not the same as giving your soul. The AV of this passage
says that Paul was “willing to have imparted unto you…our own souls”.
There may be a connection back to Rom. 9:3, where in the spirit of Moses, Paul
says that he is theoretically willing to give his eternal place in the Kingdom
for the sake of his hearers’ conversion- even though he had learnt from Moses’
example that God will not accept such a substitutionary
offer. To give your life, to impart a Gospel…is one thing. But to so feel for
others that you would let them go to the Kingdom rather than you… this is love.
No wonder Paul was so compelling a converter. There was such an upwelling of
thankful love and reflected grace behind his words of preaching. Acts 28:20
describes Paul in action: “Therefore did I intreat
you to see and to speak with you”. He wanted personal
contact with them, eyeball to eyeball, to personally intreat.
And in all this, he was motivated by the great paradox- that he, the unworthy,
the condemned and rejected sinner, was going to be in the Kingdom. And it can
be just as real and motivating for us too.
The initiative is with us. This means that how we plan to preach and care for others does need to be considered. Time and again, God works through humanly devised good strategies (Josh. 8:1,2; Neh. 4:9 etc.). But I love the way Derek Kidner puts it: "Scripture approves of strategy when it is a tool rather than a substitute for God"
Hosea’s prophecy ends with God protesting His eternal love for Israel, and a description of them in the Kingdom, when they will have ‘returned’ to Him: “I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely… His beauty shall be as the olive tree… they… shall return… Ephraim shall say, What have I to do any more with idols?” (14:4-7). Remember that the God / Israel relationship was a reflection of the Hosea / Gomer situation. I take this final, majestic section to be a reflection of Hosea’s fantasy, his day dream, that one day Gomer would return to him and blossom as a person. For fantasies are all a part of true love. “From me is thy fruit found [Heb. ‘acquired’]” (14:8) is perhaps his fantasy that somehow, this worn out woman with dry breasts and a miscarrying womb (9:14) would somehow one day still bear him children of their own, and that in him “the fatherless [a reference to Gomer’s illegitimate children] findeth mercy” (14:3). This fantasy of Hosea’s, rooted in his amazing love for Gomer, love that was partly in pure and amazing obedience to God’s command that he love her (3:1), is a reflection of God’s dream for Israel. Hosea died with his dream unfulfilled. We are left with the question as to whether this similar loving intention of God for Israel will in fact be fulfilled, or whether it was what was potentially possible for Israel; or whether His fantasy for them will be fulfilled through a new Israel. If the latter, and we are that new Israel, then we can imagine what passionate joy the Father finds in our bumbling attempts to respond to Him and be His loyal and faithful wife. Whatever, the simple fact is that it all reflects an amazing grace, an ineffable love… and this God is our God, and Hosea who reflected all this is truly a pattern for ourselves in daily life. The very existence of such passionate love for us, love beyond reason, carries with it an inevitable warning as to our responsibilities: “Who is wise, that he may understand these things? prudent, that he may know them? for the ways of the Lord are right, and the just shall walk in them; but transgressors shall fall therein” (Hos. 14:9). Faced as we are by a love like this, we simply can’t be passive to it.
1 Thes 3, 4
he same Greek word translated "meet" in Matt. 25:6 concerning the
wise virgins going out to "meet" Christ occurs also in 1 Thess. 4:17:
"We which are alive and remain shall be caught up...in the clouds to meet
the Lord in the air". The picture is therefore presented of the righteous
obeying the call of their own volition, and then being confirmed in this by
being 'snatched away' to meet Christ in the (literal) air. We will then travel
with Christ "in the clouds" (literally) to judgment in Jerusalem. In
no way, of course, does this suggestion give countenance to the preposterous
Pentecostal doctrine of being 'raptured' into heaven
itself. Every alternative interpretation of 1 Thess. 4:17 seems to run into
trouble with the phrase "meet the Lord in the
air". 1 Thessalonians is not a letter given to figurative language,
but rather to the literal facts of the second coming. it
could be today that we are called away...
Neh 5, 6
Is. 53:2 speaks of Messiah, in a restoration context beginning in Is. 52, as ‘growing up’, the same word used to describe the ‘coming up’ from the dry ground of Babylon. This potential Messiah was Zerubbabel, but one wonders whether when he failed to fulfil the prophecies, there was the possibility that another man could have fulfilled his role. Nehemiah ‘came up’ from Babylon, and was “the servant” who ‘prospered’ Yahweh’s work (Neh. 1:11; 2:20), just as the servant prophecies required (Is. 53:10; 48:15); and he was thereby the redeemer of his brethren (Neh. 5:8). He encouraged the singing of praise on the walls of Zion (Neh. 9:5; 12:46), surely in a conscious effort to fulfil the words of Is. 60:18- that Zion’s gates in Messiah’s Kingdom would be praise. He was “despised” as Messiah would be (Neh. 2:19; Is. 53:3 s.w.). He entered Jerusalem on a donkey, as Messiah would (Neh. 2:12 cp. Zech. 9:9); and Neh. 2:16 sounds very much like “of the people there was none with me” (Is. 63:3). The Gentiles round about came to sit at Nehemiah’s table to eat and drink (Neh. 5:17), just as Isaiah had prophesied could happen on a grander scale at the restoration of the Kingdom. One wonders if the potential fulfilment of the Messianic prophecies was transferred to him? And yet Nehemiah returned to Babylon at least once, and there is no record that on his second visit he stayed on, but rather, the implication seems to be, he returned again to the service of Babylon. The total lack of Biblical information about his later life may reflect this disappointing decision. This train of thought enables us to appreciate the joy and pleasure which the Father had when finally His beloved Son lived up to all that He sought and expected.
Time and again, the Old Testament speaks of the priests ministering in the priest's office. The priests are specifically called God's ministers (Is. 61:6; Jer. 33:21; Ez. 45:4; Joel 1:9,13; 2:17). The early Christians would have heard and read many of the New Testament references to ministers and ministry as invitations to see themselves as a new priesthood. The Lord said that we should aim to be a minister, a priests, to every one of our brethren, not expecting them to minister to us, but concentrating on ministering to them (Mt. 20:26). This is exactly against the grain of our nature, and also of the concept of religion we find in the world. People expect to have others spiritually ministering to them. They expect a priest-figure to do all their thinking for them. But our Lord said that we are each other's priests, we're not here to be ministered ('priest-ed') to, but to minister, and give our lives in service to each other.
1 Thes 5
In 1 Thess. 5:6,7 Paul alludes to Mt. 26:40,41. He
saw that there were all too many similarities between him and the sleepy,
weak-willed disciples in Gethsemane. He was " willing" to preach
(Rom. 1:15), using a word only used elsewhere concerning the disciples then
being willing in spirit but weak in operationalizing
it (Mt. 26:41; Mk. 14:38); and we know that Paul often complained that he
didn't preach in practice as he felt he ought to. Paul describes all of us as
having been saved although we were weak, using the same word used about the
disciples asleep in Gethsemane (Mt. 26:41 = Rom. 5:6). He saw the evident
similarity between them and us, tragically indifferent in practice to the
mental agony of our Lord, failing to share His intensity of striving- although
we are so willing in spirit to do this. And yet, Paul implies, be better than
them. Don't be weak and sleepy as they were when Christ wanted them awake (Mt.
26:40,41 = 1 Thess. 5:6,7). Strive for the imitation
of Christ's attitude in the garden (Mt. 26:41 = Eph. 6:18). And yet in Romans
7, a depressed but realistic Paul laments that he fails in this; his
description of the losing battle he experienced within him between flesh and
spirit is couched in the language of Christ's rebuke to the disciples in
Nehemiah made a special study of the genealogies in order to find an acceptable priesthood (Neh. 7:5,64). So there were Israel returning from captivity, led by a faithful remnant of the priests, looking back through their history, right back to Abraham and beyond, and seeing that their history was shot through with failure. Such self-examination extended even to considering the names parents gave their children. Marriage out of the faith was a problem at the time of the restoration, and therefore the records of the genealogies stress how this had been a problem in the past- and had still not been forgotten by God (Ezra 9:1,2). The prophets foretold that Israel's restoration would only come once they achieved a suitable recognition of their sinfulness. And the Isaiah's prophecies of the restoration from Babylon are without doubt applicable to the establishment of the Kingdom at Christ's return; which means that Israel at the time of the restoration should represent us now, on the brink of the second coming and the full re-establishment of Israel's Kingdom. The coming of that blessed time may well be dependent upon our self-examination, to the point of really taking a breath when we realize the extent of our personal and collective shortcomings all down the years. The priests who wrote those records in Chronicles were writing down the result of their national self-examination. This was the record of their lessons from Chronicles.
They will be sent to a mist of darkness (2 Pet. 2:17), as Paul walked about in a mist and darkness, not knowing where he was going (Acts 13:11). Thick darkness is associated with God's judgment (Is. 8:22; Joel 2:2; Zeph. 1:15)- and recall how the judgment of darkness upon Egypt was so severe that human movement required 'groping' (Ex. 10:21). Perhaps there will be a literal element to this in the experience of the rejected. Be that as it may, the utter pointlessness of life without God will be so bitterly apparent. And yet they would not face up to it in their day of opportunity. The reality of the rejection process that awaits some provides a helpful perspective against which to see the wonder of God’s saving grace to us today.
2 Thes 1,2
Note the speed with which Paul established ecclesias. He stayed a few weeks or months in cities like Lystra and Thessalonica, returning, in the case of Lystra, after 18 months, and then again a few years later. He spent three consecutive sabbaths in Thessalonica (Acts 17:2), baptized the converts, and then didn’t come back to see them for about five and a half years (Acts 20:1,2). How were they kept strong? By the good shepherd, by the grace of God, by the Father and Son working with Paul. He seems to have drilled them with the basics of the Gospel and the life they needed to live, ordained immature elders who were literate and able to teach the word, and then left them what he repeatedly calls “the tradition”, a document or set of teachings relating to practical life in Christ (2 Thess. 2:5; 3:6). It was perhaps the simplicity and brevity of the message that was its strength in the lives of the early converts. Their lives were based directly upon reflection upon the implications of the basic elements of the Gospel. It is today amazing how simple men and women remember and reflect upon the things taught them even verbally, and show an impressive appreciation of them when they are visited again after some months or years. Interestingly, Corinth had the most evident problems and immaturity, even though Paul spent 18 months there, whereas ecclesias like Thessalonica which he established far quicker seem to have been far sounder.
The main priestly duty was to teach God's word to the people. A whole string of texts make this point: Dt. 24:8; 2 Kings 17:27; 2 Chron. 15:3; Neh. 8:9; Mic. 3:11. Note too the common partnership between priests and prophets. Because of their role as teachers, it is understandable that the anger of the first century priesthood was always associated with Christ and the apostles teaching the people: Mt. 21:33; Lk. 19:47; 20:1; Acts 5:21. The priests felt that their role was being challenged. As part of the priesthood, our duty is to all teach or communicate the word of God to each other. It was God's intention that natural Israel should obey the spirit of this, so that they would " teach every man his neighbour and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord" (Heb. 8:11). That was how God intended Israel of old to fulfil this idea of being a priestly nation. The Gentile Israel has been chosen to bring forth fruit where they failed; and so we must ask if this is how we really are as a community. Where is our sense of real responsibility for each other, our sensitivity to the effect we have upon each other? Where is the enthusiasm of communication which Heb. 8:11 implies? Given current communication possibilities, the current plethora of Christian magazines is indeed quite right- so long as they are communicating the real knowledge of the Lord rather than being political flagships. Discussion after Bible class, the posing of profitable questions to each other, lively correspondence columns- these are all part of it. It isn't something just for the academically minded. If we truly " know the Lord" , we will want to communicate that relationship to others, as a Kingdom of priests!
The sequence of events in the last days is impossible to predict in detail, because depending upon human freewill, the fulfilment of the various prophecies may be suspended or be realized in more symbolic ways, as we have already seen God working like this in the past. Thus Joel 3:2 says that God will “plead” with the nations He gathers to Jerusalem, plead with them for His people, plead with them to accept His Son, as outlined in Psalm 2. They may or may not respond, and how they do will doubtless influence the sequence and nature of prophetic fulfilment which then follows.
2 Thes 3
Paul is set before us as " a Christ-appointed
model" of the ideal believer. He himself seems to have sensed this
happening when he so often invites us to follow his example (1 Cor. 4:16; 11:1;
Gal. 4:12; Phil. 3:17; 4:9; 1 Thess. 1:6; 2:10;
2 Thess. 3:7,9). He does this quite self-consciously, for example: “I please
all men in all things, not seeking mine own profit, but the profit of many that
they may be saved...let no man seek his own, but another’s [profit]” (1 Cor.
10:33,24). He even says that he doesn't do things
which he could legitimately allow himself, because he knew he was
being framed as their example (2 Thess. 3:7,9). He saw
in his conversion a pattern for all those who would afterwards believe (1 Tim.
1:16). Having said that he was "chief" of the tribe of sinners, Paul
goes straight on to say that this "was so that in me as chief
might Jesus Christ shew forth all his
longsuffering, for a pattern to them which should later believe on him" (1
Tim. 1:15,16 RV). This sounds as if Paul realized that he was being set up as
the chief, supreme example to us; a template for each of us, of forgiveness and
zealous response to that forgiveness. Will he be our pattern today?
The elohim "found" Abraham's heart to be faithful (Neh. 9:8- a reference to the events of Genesis 18). This was by a process of research and drawing of conclusions. And our Angels are in the process of doing the same with us this very day.
God stated in passages like 2 Kings 8:19 that He would not destroy Judah at the hands of her enemies for the sake of His eternal promise to David; but later, He did bring the destructions which He said He could not bring for the sake of the promises to David. Surely the conclusion is that He reinterpreted and reapplied that promise, in such a way as not to break it, and to uphold His own integrity on all counts; remaining both the faithful covenant God, and the God who judges sin. In this sense, God's word can 'change' or be "revoked". Thus God says that in the case of Damascus, He will not "revoke my word" (Amos 1:3 RVmg.)- implying that He can and will "revoke" His word at times. This is the extent of His sensitivity to our prayers and behaviour today.
1 Tim 1-3
The Bible could not be clearer in it's analysis of
gossip in the church. It is like shooting an arrow from a secret place at a
person (Ps. 64:4 RV). It is no coincidence that the word translated " devil" essentially means a false accuser, a
slanderer (so it is translated in 1 Tim. 3:11; 2 Tim. 3:3). Slandering others
is the very epitome of all that is wrong with the flesh. Strife amongst us
comes from the expression of passive anger and pride (Prov. 28:25; 29:22); and
strife is sown by gossip (Prov. 16:28). Therefore gossip is a way of expressing
our anger and pride, no matter how nicely dressed up we make them. Or to put it
in human terms, we pull a man down to make ourselves look taller. So be aware:
our own frustrations, our passive resentments, the hurt we have experienced
from others, all this if left to itself will result in a critical attitude
towards our brethren, and will be expressed in gossip.
In Nehemiah’s time, the people “separated themselves from the peoples of the lands unto the law of God, their wives, their sons, and their daughters…they clave to their brethren” (Neh. 10:28,29). Close fellowship with one’s brethren arises from having gone out from the surrounding world, unto the things of God’s word. That, at least, was the theory. In reality, those exiles who returned found this separation very difficult. In fact, the account of Judah’s separation from the surrounding peoples reads similar to that of the purges from idolatory during the reign of the kings. They separated / purged, and then, within a few years, we read of them doing so again. Initially, the exiles separated from the peoples of the land (Ezra 6:21); by 9:1 they are in need of separating again; and by 10:11 likewise; then they separate (10:16), only to need another call to separation by the time of Neh. 9:2; 13:3. They obviously found it extremely difficult to be separated from the surrounding world unto God’s law (Neh. 10:28).
We shrug when we see pride and trust in wealth. Rich or poor, we all tend to trust in money. Thinking that that’s life… under the sun. But the prophets went ballistic about this. We’ve developed established patterns of indifference to this kind of thing. But the prophet’s consciences were keenly sensitive to these patterns, and they openly challenged them. They weren’t just empty moralizers, bleating on about the state of the nation; their words are an assault of the mind and conscience. Amos speaks of judgment to come in dramatic terms ‘just’ because creditors sold their debtors into slavery just to recover the cost of a pair of shoes (Am. 2:6,7). Jer. 22:13-19 is a long and passionate condemnation of Jehoiakim for building an extension to his house, using his neighbours as workmen and not giving them the agreed wages. We see this sort of thing all the time. And shrug and think it good fortune it didn’t happen to us. But that’s not the spirit of prophecy. In the midst of Judah’s prosperity, with a land “filled with silver and gold” (Is. 2:7), visions of doom haunted Isaiah’s soul; he couldn’t just go along with the swing of things, knowing that all that wealth was an illusion and being used as an antithesis to faith. Now that’s something we see all the time around us and in the brotherhood; but is our soul touched like his was? Do we know the spirit of the prophets?
1 Tim 4, 5
1 Tim. 5:5 shows that the sign of a true widow was that she continued in
prayers night and day. She was supported materially so that she could keep up
this work of praying for others (abused into the Catholic system of paying for
prayers to be said). There was a specific group of “widows” in the early ecclesias, as in Acts 7. Their duty was to pray for others;
so important was prayer seen. Is prayer so important for us?
When “the time to favour Zion” came, at the end of the 70 years, God’s servants Israel were to “take pleasure in her stones, and favour [even] the dust thereof”; and then, “when the Lord shall build up Zion, he shall appear in his glory” (Ps. 102:13-16). But the few Jews who returned chose not to live in Jerusalem, preferring to carve out for themselves farmsteads in the countryside (Neh. 11:1), and the strength of those that shifted the rubble in Jerusalem decayed…they saw her dust and scattered stones as a nuisance, and didn’t take pleasure in them (Neh. 4:10). And so the Lord could not then appear in glory. Is His second coming likewise dependent upon our attitudes today?
When God revealed His Name to His people, opening up the very essence of His character to them, He was making Himself vulnerable. We reveal ourselves intimately to another because we wish for them to make a response to us, to love us for what we revealed to them. God revealed Himself to Israel, He sought for intimacy in the covenant relationship, and therefore was and is all the more hurt when His people turn away from Him, after having revealed to them all the wonders of His word (Hos. 8:12). God revealed Himself to Israel alone, in all the detail of His law and prophets (Am. 3:2). And they didn't want Him. Hence His very deep hurt; and also, His excited joy that we grasp that same word with eager minds and seek to love, understand and serve Him faithfully to the end. Given the rejection experienced by God, and the genuine and very real nature of His emotional response to it, it's natural that He would earnestly seek another relationship- and this is just the huge emotional energy He puts into searching for His new bride. He so wants intimacy, a relationship of meaning and mutuality. In our efforts to help each other perceive that, in our sharing of His word with the world and with other believers, in our efforts to help people get baptized into covenant with Him... we are working in step with His earnest desire for relationship with people. And He will bless our efforts. And as we seek to root out of our lives and characters those things which come between us and Him, we likewise will enjoy His very special and joyful blessing and empowerment.
1 Tim 6
When Paul exalts that Christ is King of Kings and Lord of Lords, dwelling in light which no man can approach unto, this isn't just some literary flourish. It is embedded within a context of telling the believers to quit materialism, indeed to flee from its snare. 1 Tim. 6:6-14 concern this; and then there is the passage about Christ's exaltation (:15,16), and then a continued plea to share riches rather than build them up (:17-19). Because He is Lord of all, we should quit our materialism and sense of self-ownership. For we are His, and all we have is for His service too. And the principle of His being Lord affects every aspect of our spirituality. Dennis Gillet truly observed: " Mastery is gained by crowning the Master as Lord and King".
The fact they had to seek the Levites and gather them to Jerusalem, presumably off their farmsteads, contrasts with the way that the singers (who historically had been Gentiles faithful to the covenant) gathered themselves to Jerusalem (Neh. 12:27,28). We are a Kingdom of priests- the failures of the Old Testament Levites stand as our warning. Are we today too concerned about our own petty farmsteads, rather than perceiving that we’re in this life to serve others?
On their journey to Canaan, the Israelites worshipped idols. Because of this, "God turned, and gave them up (over) to worship the host of heaven...I gave them up to the hardness of their hearts" (Acts 7:42; Ps. 81:12 AVmg.). God reached a stage where He actually encouraged Israel to worship idols; He confirmed them in their rejection of Him. And throughout their history, He encouraged them in their idolatry (Ez. 20:39; Am. 4:4). God is able to operate with us today in just the same way, if we continually chose the flesh over the spirit.
2 Tim 1
Faith can become just vague hope for something better, rather than a "confident
assurance" , a seeing of the unseen. Paul's
reference to " unfeigned faith" (1 Tim. 1:5;
2 Tim. 1:5) as the goal of personal and ecclesial life would suggest that he
realized the temptation to have a fake, feigned faith. Many of the Jews
believed on Christ (Jn. 8:30)- but He rebukes them for not being His "
disciples indeed" , not really having the freedom which a true acceptance
of the Truth will bring, not really being children of Abraham, still living in
sin, not really hearing His word, and passively wanting to kill Him (Jn.
8:33-44). Yet He spoke all these criticisms to those whom the record itself
describes as believing in Him (Jn. 8:31). It's as if the Spirit wants to show
us that belief in Christ can exist on a completely surface level.
Hearts that bleed will feel not only for the world, but for our brethren too. Think of Nehemiah: " I came to Jerusalem, and understood of the evil that Eliashib did for Tobiah, in preparing him a chamber in the courts of the house of God. And it grieved me sore: therefore I cast forth all the household stuff of Tobiah out of the chamber (Neh. 13:8). His grief led him to discipline Tobiah. Grief should likewise be the motive for ecclesial discipline today (as in 1 Cor. 5:2). The same word is translated " sad" in Neh. 2:3: " why should not my countenance be sad [grieved], when the city, the place of my fathers sepulchres, lieth waste, and the gates thereof are consumed with fire?" . The King observed that his " sorrow of heart" was written all over his face, even though he was trying to conceal it. His sadness for His weak people was engraven in His body language. It could not be hidden, even though he became as it were a fool for Christ’s sake.
The prophets often make absolute statements, which are then qualified by conditions. Take Am. 5:2: “The virgin of Israel is fallen; she shall no more rise...there is none to raise her up”. This sounds final. She shall no more rise up. But Amos continues later in the chapter: “Seek ye me, and ye shall live [be ‘raised up’]”. And he repeats it three times (Am. 5:4,6,14). And so the prophecies of Ezekiel about the temple may seem definite, but this is not to say that conditions are not built in to their fulfilment. The love of God for us is such that He is willing to break as it were His own word, so eager is He for us.
2 Tim 2
Paul had to warn Timothy against the tendency to think that a man can attain the crown of mastery without striving for it according to the laws (2 Tim. 2:5). We can have an appearance of spiritual progress towards the crown, as did the man who quickly built his house on the sand. But it was the man who perhaps didn't finish his house (we are left to imagine) but who had hacked away at the rock of his own heart, striving to seriously obey the essence of his Lord's words, who was accepted in the end.
It's sometimes said that the book of Esther isn't quoted elsewhere in Scripture. There may not be explicit quotation, but there is certainly allusion. Ahasuerus sat on his throne, to tell others of "his glorious Kingdom" (Esther 1:4). The very same two Hebrew words occur again in Ps. 145:11,12, where we read [in a Psalm that may well have been written or used by the righteous remnant in Babylon] that it is Yahweh God of Israel who has a Kingdom of glory, and who ultimately hears the cry of His people in distress, as Ahasuerus did. The Kingdom of Media and Persia had books in which the good and bad deeds of the citizens were written (Esther 10:2); and so in the one true Kingdom, there are ‘books’ from which the ultimate King will judge His people. Clearly, the Kingdom of Ahasuerus is being set up as an anti-Kingdom of God, with an antichrist figure ruling it, faking the Kingdom of God. Note how the Assyrians described their Kingdom as a place where men sat happily under their own vine and fig tree- consciously applying the language of God’s Kingdom to their Kingdom (Is. 36:16 cp. Mic. 4:4). And sadly the majority of God's people preferred the fake Kingdom to the true and ultimate Kingdom of Yahweh, which they had the opportunity to work towards in His land.
Likewise, Ahasuerus is described as reigning over territory from India to Ethiopia (Esther 1:1)- the very land promised to Abraham, the territory of the intended Kingdom of God. The description of his court and the drinking "according to the law" from the Yahweh's own golden temple vessels is all replete with reference to the construction of the tabernacle and Solomon's temple: "There were hangings of white cloth, of green, and of blue, fastened with cords of fine linen and purple to silver rings and pillars of marble: the couches were of gold and silver, upon a pavement of red, and white, and yellow, and black marble" (Esther 1:6,7). And they drunk there "the wine of the Kingdom" (Esther 1:7 Heb.). The seven elders who stood before the King's throne (Esther 1:14) may be reflective of the seven spirits before the throne of the true King (Rev. 1:4; 4:5). And of course the claim in Esther 1:19 that the words of the King could not be altered [s.w. transgressed] uses the same Hebrew words as found in the statements of fact that the words of King Yahweh cannot be altered / transgressed (Jer. 34:18). And the King's decrees had to be published in every language, to every nation (Esther 1:21)- just as the great commission spoke of the Lord's Gospel being likewise distributed. When the Lord spoke of how He as the true King would give the 'place' of the rejected to those better than they- i.e. those more humble (Lk. 14:9)- surely He had in mind how Ahaseureus gave Vashti's "royal estate unto another that is better than she" (Esther 1:19). This connection makes Ahaseuerus to be an anti-Christ figure. We too live in a world which apes the true Kingdom.
We should feel His shame, feel the tragedy of the cross; that Israel slew their Saviour. The memory of His cross cannot be simply a religious ritual. The ecclesia in the time of Amos " chant to the sound of the viol, and invent to themselves instruments of musick, like David; That drink wine in bowls, and anoint themselves with the chief ointments: but they are not grieved for the affliction of Joseph. (Am. 6:5,6). They drunk wine and anointed their faces with oil- rejoicing in Gods blessings. They looked back to the heritage of their spiritual ancestors (David), and on a surface level appeared to follow them. They chanted the temple songs, and yet there was no grief within them for the affliction of Gods people. The archers were to surely grieve Joseph (Gen. 49:23), but they chose to ignore the terrible import of those prophecies of Messiahs suffering. There was the appearance of religion and worship, but no grief nor passion for the tragedy of Messiahs forthcoming death, no grieving for the tragedy of Gods people, who were about to be afflicted for their sins. And in this we must take our warning.
2 Tim 3, 4
There are a number of aspects of Paul's life which clearly demonstrate his spiritual growth; especially if the Acts and epistles are read chronologically. Paul wrote 2 Tim. 4 when news of his imminent death had just been broken to him (2 Tim. 4:6 Gk.). As Paul faced his death, there was a deep self-knowledge within him that he was ready, that he was " there" . As we face the imminent return of the Lord, it should be possible for us to have a similar sense: " I am now ready..." . If we don't know that we are " in the faith" and that " Christ is in you" , then we are " reprobates" (2 Cor. 13:5). All those who will be accepted must, therefore, will, therefore, have a measure of self-knowledge and appreciation of how far they've grown in Christ. Growth is a natural process, it's impossible to feel it happening. But by looking back on our lives and attitudes and comparing them with the experience of successful believers, it is possible to get some idea of our readiness for the judgment.
What she did was brave, but it seems to be more human bravery than an act of spiritual faith. The omission of any mention of prayer seems intentional- to highlight that the Jewish community were simply not prayerful as they should’ve been. The book of Esther was surely to encourage the Jews that despite their weakness, God was prepared to work with them. Esther appears to have slept with [‘went in unto’] the King before he married her; ate unclean food (Esther 2:9; cp. Dan. 1:5, 8), and finally married a Gentile. And she didn’t tell her husband that she was Jewish for the first 5 years of their marriage (Esther 2:16; 3:7). It’s almost certain that she would’ve acted like a Persian woman religiously in order for this to be the case; she certainly wasn’t an observant keeper of the Mosaic law. She’s almost set up in contrast with Daniel, who refused to defile himself in these ways and maintained his conscience in the same environment at whatever cost. But the point of Esther is to show that God was eager to work with such as Esther, He hadn’t quit on His people. And of course if Esther and Mordecai had done the right thing and returned to Judah as commanded, the whole situation would never have arisen, and there would’ve been no Jews left in Babylon to persecute. It seems that the history in the book of Esther is an example of how God sent ‘fishers and hunters’ to encourage the Jews to return as He commanded them (Jer. 16:16)- but even then, they didn’t.
Although the prophets were on God’s side as it were, sharing His spirit, speaking His words, they were also men, and they were largely Jews, members of the nation upon whom He was announcing His wrath. At times, they reason with God. Amos delivered God’s judgment against his people, and then pleaded: “O Lord God, forgive, I beseech thee! How can Jacob stand?... the Lord repented… It shall not be, said the Lord” (Am. 7:2-6- other examples in Is. 6:11; Jer. 4:14; Ps. 74:10). This was how well the prophets knew God; and yet again, it shows that they weren’t merely impersonally reproducing a message from God. They were involved in it and highly sensitive to it. The spirit of the prophets is to be in us- for the testimony of Jesus is to be done in the spirit of the prophets.
The spiritual life renews (Tit. 3:5), giving us that newness of life, that ongoing baptism and resurrection experience, which Rom. 6:4 promises. This way of life, as it develops, creates its own mometum for further change. If we walk in the spirit (another way of describing the spiritual ‘way of life’) we will not fulfil the lust of the flesh (Gal. 5:16).
Esth 3, 4
When we read of the Jews fasting in sackcloth and ashes (Esther 4:3), we almost expect to hear that they also prayed; certainly a later Jewish audience would’ve expected this. For fasting, sackcloth and ashes are elsewhere associated with prayer (Jer. 14:12; Neh. 9:1; Ezra 8:21,23; 1 Sam. 7:6; Joel 2:12; Jonah 3:8). That’s an impressive catena of passages. The lack of mention of prayer stands out in sharp relief. Surely the reason was to develop a theme- of how God works through the unstated, through the unwritten, through the silently implied... And this literary device makes us as readers and hearers imagine more deeply how much the Jews would’ve prayed to their God, the God they’d conveniently forgotten amidst their prosperity and nominal acceptance of the Marduk cult. Likewise we read that Esther fasted before going in to the King- which, it’s been observed, would’ve made her less attractive to the King but more attractive to God. She finally learnt that human advantage and beauty can’t save.
We have an uncanny ability to become numb to sin the more we see or do it. But not so Almighty, all righteous God. This is a feature of His nature that needs meditation. " The Lord hath sworn by the excellency of Jacob [i.e. Himself, so important is this], Surely I will never forget any of their works" (Am. 8:7). " They consider not in their hearts that I remember all their wickedness" (Hos. 7:2). Sin is serious.
Philemon owed his salvation to Paul’s preaching, and was therefore eternally obligated to him (Philemon 19). We too can be a tree of life to those with whom we live; we can win their souls for the Kingdom (Prov. 11:30). The Thessalonians would be accepted in the final glory of judgment day simply “because our testimony among you was believed” (2 Thess. 1:10). Eve, taken out of the wounded side of the first man, was a type of the ecclesia; and her name means ‘source of life’, in anticipation of how the church would bring life to the world. We really can be responsible for others coming to eternity. So let's go and share with them today!
Esth 5, 6
When Esther’s nerve failed [as it seems to me], and she cops out of making her request by asking the King and Haman to come to a banquet, she finds herself saying: “Let the King come with Haman today” (Esther 5:4). The Hebrew text reads: “Ybw’ Hmlk Whmn Hywm”- the first letter of those four Hebrew words spells YHWH, the Name of God which never occurs in the book of Esther. Truly God’s strength is made perfect in human weakness. In that very moment of failure, the cop out, God was revealed in His essence. And He proceeded to work through the element of suspense which her request created… to pique the King’s desire to help, and to raise Haman’s pride at having been invited, so that he would act even more foolishly, leading to his downfall. It could also be noted that Esther’s entire intercession could so easily have been spoilt if Haman had suspected her machinations against him. But he didn’t; he felt very honoured to have been invited by Esther to the banquet, and he boasted about it. In other words, Esther concealed her true feelings towards him. And where did she learn to do that? Surely in a lifetime of concealing her true Jewish identity and religious feelings, when actually she shouldn’t have done so.
Am. 9:11-15 is a prophecy which could have had one fulfillment, but ended up being given another. “I will raise up” uses a Hebrew word very commonly featured in the records of the restoration, when the people were exhorted to “rise up and build” (Ezra 1:5; 3:2; 10:4,15; Neh. 2:18,20). The statement that they would “close up the breaches thereof” is exactly the language of Neh. 6:1, which records that the walls were rebuilt so that there was no breach [s.w.] therein. It was after the Babylonian invasion that Zion was “fallen” and ‘ruined’ (s.w. Jer. 31:18; 45:4; Lam. 2:2,17). “I will build it” is exactly the theme of the records of the return from Babylon (Ezra 1:2,3,5; 3:2,10; 4:1-4; Neh. 2:5,17,18,20; 3:1-3, 13-15; 4:1,3,5,6,10,17,18; 6:1,6; 7:1). Surely Amos 9 is saying that at the rebuilding at the time of the restoration, God’s people could have ushered in the Kingdom age of agricultural plenty and victory over their Arab neighbours. But they intermarried with Edom, and suffered drought because they didn’t fulfil the requirements to rebuild Zion correctly. But the words of Amos were still to come true in some form- they are given an application in Acts 15:17 which may appear to be way out of context, i.e. to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. Thus words which could have had a plain fulfilment at the restoration were given a delayed fulfilment; but they were not fulfilled in a literal sense, but in a spiritual one. And so it is with prophecies like Ezekiel 38, and the temple prophecies of Ezekiel. They will be fulfilled in spiritual essence, but probably not in strict literality, although they could have been had God’s people been more ‘fulfilling’ of them. And so it is true of us today.
Heb 1, 2
A grasp of who the Lord Jesus really is and the height of His present
exaltation will naturally result in a confession of Him to the world, as well
as a deep personal obedience to His word and will (Heb. 2:1).
Esth 7, 8
In the final sealing of Haman’s fate, we again see providence. There are Esther, Haman and the King sitting at a meal. Esther reveals Haman’s evil. And then the King goes out, leaving the two of them alone. He’d been drinking- did he go out to the washroom? Haman approaches Esther’s couch to beg for mercy, perhaps touching her feet, in a typical Persian way of begging for mercy. And then, he faints. The King returns to the room. And there’s Esther lying on the couch with Haman collapsed almost all over her, leading the King to assume Haman was making an advance on the King. As if that wasn’t providential enough, there’s another point of language that might rather fit in here. In Esther 7:6 we read of Esther denouncing Haman to the King as “this wicked Haman”. There’s a very fine difference in Hebrew between hara [“wicked”] and harea [“the lover”- s.w. Jer. 3:1; Hos. 3:1]- so much so that Ehrlich’s commentary suggests that Esther actually accused Haman of being her would-be lover by the word she used. I’m not qualified to comment upon which language Esther would’ve spoken to the King in, and whether the same word play would’ve been possible. But if it was so- and there are to this day certain basic similarities between all the Semitic languages- then we can again see providence. For she’d have set up the thought in the King’s mind, that just possibly Haman was coming on at his wife. And then he goes out to the loo and comes back to the room to find the guy slumped over his wife. Such providence is at work in our lives today, no less dramatically (when we analyze it).
The fact Esau mocked Jacob as he skulked off to Padan Aram is picked up in Obadiah 12 as a ground for Esau's condemnation; and yet, humanly, Jacob was at that time by far the bigger and more responsible sinner. A bit of mocking from Esau was, from a human standpoint, a mild response. And yet the Divine bias for Jacob is a statement to all us weak ones who follow, for whom God is indeed the God of Jacob. His special love is, for some reason, with us; and He sees us so positively.
Heb 3- 5
We must frame and offer our prayers in the full realization of the agonizing effort Jesus is willing to make to intercede. Remember how Stephen saw the Lord Jesus standing at the right hand of the Heavenly throne, whereas many times in Hebrews we read of how He has sat down there, in contrast to Mosaic priests who stand up. Yet such was the Lord's passion in intercession for Stephen that He stood up from His usually seated position. And this is going on right now, and it will do for you, too, next time you give thanks for a meal in His name, and when you pray tonight. The risen and exalted Lord is spoken of as being shamed, being crucified afresh, as agonizing in prayer for us just as He did on the cross (Rom. 8:24 cp. Heb. 5:7-9). On the cross, He made intercession for us (Is. 53:11,12); but now He ever liveth to make such intercession (Heb. 7:25). There He bore our sins; and yet now He still bears our sins (Is. 53:4-6. 11).