Category Archives: Old Testament

God’s Regret 

In the adult sunday school class at church we are working through the book of 1 Samuel. As we got into chapter 15 there was discussion of two statements that God regretted having made Saul king (15:11, 35), but also a statement in verse 29 that God is not a man that he should have regrets. This post is some of my thoughts on reconciling the two points. 
For me the key is to differentiate emotional terms as applied to a holy God, as opposed to how fallen humanity uses the term. I hold God’s regrets to be as like feelings, not that a poor choice was made but that the choice was necessary, yet grievous to watch play out (Luke 22:41-44). God’s providence is not detached from his character. He may have created the wicked for judgement (Prov. 16:4), and yet he can say this is not pleasing to his character (Ezekiel. 18:23). Although providential, He is not enjoying the judgement of Saul, in the same way Jesus/God can ordain Lazarus’ death, and fully know His intent to raise him from the dead, but be greatly grieved in seeing the death come to pass (John 11:5-42). 

In the case of Saul, the people demanded a king, so God gives them one knowing what the out come will be. Yet the giving of Saul and now his removal is not pleasing to Him. He must teach his people a lesson, yet it is still grievous to have to do so and watch it unfold. Scripture is full of the Roman 1:26 judgements of God giving people what they want, in opposition to wanting him. God installed Saul, to teach a point that hurt Saul, the people, and God himself (taking our iniquities on Himself). He does not sit back, like us, waiting for the “ah-ha” moment so He can yell, “I told you so”! Instead He is a God that knows perfectly what is necessary and can sympathize with us, not withholding from us, or Himself, any pain that must come to pass as part of His design. 

I think this teaches us to withhold judgment as long as possible, praying for the best in others, and not their swift destruction. Also we should be warned that what we demand of God, He may possibly give us in judgement. God is surely the great potter, making some vessels for honor and some for dishonor, but I believe the vessels of dishonor are wept over in their destruction. 
One anticipated question is that, couldn’t God have made the people wait for David, or appointed someone else, instead of suffering through all this and making David’s rise to power so hard? The simple answer is, No. As this is what happened, it must have happened as God’s perfect unfolding of His plan. Just the same we could ask if God could have destroyed the classes of Scribes and Pharisees prior to Jesus, so to make His days less confrontational. But He didn’t, and it served its grievous and glorious purpose. 

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Visual Catechism 

Table Based on the ocular Catechism of Puritan, William Perkins, modified by myself.

Click link above: sample screenshot below

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Apply the Word

Scripture regularly admonishes us to be not only hearers, but doers of the Word (James 1:22), just as some, maybe few sermons admonish us with notions of application, or how to work out in our lives a piece of what we just heard. Application in sermons is a dying art, yet its something crucial to the Christian walk. Many Christians are well aware of being delivered from sin, justice and wrath, but know little about how the rest of life is to now work. In the absence of true application the culture is ready to fill the gap with its practices and reasonings. Most sermon application seems like moral/ethical standards or doctrines to just be understood. Denominations push these extremes but rarely provide a healthy balance or more. 

Application should be like going to the store and actually buying something that you take home and make yours, as the possession of the product adds to your life. This illustrates the three levels of learning (I’ll call them facts, others and experience). In facts, you learn the details and doctrines of God. In others, you see how people work out those facts in their life. Then in experience, you take both of the above and incorporate them into YOUR life. You have in effect not just read about a product, window shopped, or merely watched an infomercial, but you see such a need for it that you invest in it and take it home with you. Now all three elements are key, because left to themselves or only two of the three, will create problems. For example to just learn facts and doctrine, without any change in heart or life may just make you an Athenian, just liking to know and hear some new thing. 

My application in this post is for you to focus on the next sermon you hear, and whether an application is given or not, ask yourself what will you take home from the sermon that you will seek to incorporate into your life, and make yours, and thus be a doer of what you hear. 

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The lies of the midwives

The story goes something like this:

A new Pharaoh did not appreciate the Hebrew people Joseph led into their land a generation earlier. They were so numerous that their king/pharaoh thought it best to oppress and dwindle them down by hard labor and bitter bondage. This backfires and the Hebrews grow more numerous. Thus Pharaoh decrees two midwives to kill the Hebrew male children as they are born. The  midwives fear God more than Pharaoh and let the children live. The ruler hears of the lack of deaths, and calls the two to answer for this:

 “The midwives said to Pharaoh, “Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women, for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife comes to them.” So God dealt well with the midwives. And the people multiplied and grew very strong. And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families.” – Exodus 1:19-21 (ESV)

Basically our hang up with this passage is that it appears that lying is sanctioned and rewarded by God. How do you reconcile this? 

One way is a saying “the end justifies the means”. So if a great righteousness is the result, the means are not counted against you. This cannot be the case, because you could then justify just about anything. Even Judas would be off the hook because his betrayal of Christ brought about the highest good. Scripture tells us that although Judas was to betray, he is held guilty for it. 

Another attempt to reconcile this is to say that in a morally Greek tragedy kind of way, the lesser of two evils were brought to bear, so although they had to lie, they are guilty for it and must repent and asks God’s mercy, although lives were spared in the end. Yet again the lesser of two evils could be used to justify about anything to say that you stabbed someone in the leg, whereas you didn’t stab them in the heart, because it was a lesser, yet warranted evil. Also I don’t believe God puts us in situations were we are required to sin. After all they are rewarded for their actions, and there is no mention of repentance. 

Another option is to say that God must have a hierarchy to the commandments, so to defend a higher moral at the expense of a lesser is excusable. Yet God never pretends to wink at or cover over sins. Truth is a defining characteristic of God, and is everywhere encouraged. But here?

The reconciliation I’d suggest is that we step back and do three things. First determine what are the real motivations being described. Is someone really seeking the honor of God, or just moral wiggle room to justify their own actions? Second, review the whole counsel of God. What does all of the Bible have to say on the topic? Lastly, what are all the circumstances? When this is applied to our story, we see midwives who fear God more than a tyrant who thinks he is a god. Scripture describes in several places how it is lawful to resist the unholy, perverse and ungodly laws of a ruler or government. The midwives considered God their authority and so Pharaoh’s demand was unjust. So they were right to rebel and resist even to the point of refusing to give him the truth. Could they have withheld the truth without lying? I think that’s splitting hairs. God rewards them not for being crafty and subversive, but because these two simple women denied the laws of a hateful ruler when they came in conflict with the authority of God (a huge theme in the book of Exodus).

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Name in vain

In the same way that the second commandment is more about the worship of God, and not just an artistic limit on depicting Him, is the same way that the third commandment is more than just a prohibition of using God’s names and titles in irreverent ways. 

The command states:

 “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.” – Exodus 20:7 (ESV)

We usually take this from our context and assume it means to not use the name “Jesus” or God in cursing, or flippantly. This will click in your mind once I say it, but in addition to that, think of “taking God’s name” in a marriage and/or covenantal sense. In a way the deeper meaning point not just to our speech, but our entire way of life, because we (Christians) take on the name of God. We are His people, as were the Israelites hearing this from Moses. To bear the name of God is a serious reference point for one’s identity and way of life. Because of our actions the name of God can be either glorified or dragged through the mud.

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Lifted up, Numbers 21:9

Numbers 21:9 So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live. (ESV). 

I’ve read a few places where the perception of this bronze or fiery brass serpent on a pole was something raised up as something to be semi-worshiped or believed in to attain healing. Context tells us otherwise. Key to the interpretation is its use by Jesus in John’s gospel: 

John 3:14-15 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. 

John 12:32-33 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die. 

The gist is to signify a type and manner of death. The snake on a pole was not something glorious and magical to look at, but was more like that the snake was dead and even impaled by Moses upon his staff. This would indicate that God had power over and conquered the serpent and its sting, to the point that faith in Him rendered the snakes venom ineffective. So too is Christ on the cross a vision of the death of sin and that God has conquered even the power of sin to eternally kill. God in Christ is our object of worship, not only because of what we see accomplished as He was raised up on the cross, but that He transcends that moment to ascend to Heaven itself. 

My point is this, don’t imagine the serpent on a pole story as something israel was instructed to worship separate from God. Although they do this later on so the staff must be put away, there is nothing to indicate that this was a form of worship at its instillation, but that it’s was an emblem of an enemy God had conquered, that people then and now can be grateful God has overcome. 

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Christ Centered Listening / Reading

Do you read your Bible in a Christ centered manner? I ask because pastors are “usually” taught to preach in a Christ centered way. So Christians should be following along looking for and hearing about Christ.

How do you do it? Well, frankly it is quite simple.

Types: if there is a figure, usually one in authority, ask how is this person a type or foreshadowing of Christ. What does this person accomplish that only Jesus could accomplish in the ultimate sense? In what way did the person falter in life, showing that someone better is required?

Anti-types: maybe the figure in the narrative is evil, or just a really bad king or person. You still then have a shadow of what Christ is not, what we are in sin, and so what Christ came to restore and redeem. In an ultimate sense you have those who are enemies of Christ who are either saved by grace, or who will one day be crushed by Him.

Themes are another way to see Christ in all of Scripture. There are themes that run throughout the scriptures from Hebrew texts to Greek, that escalate and only find resolution in Jesus. Here are few prominent themes to watch for.

•Sabbath rest
•Need for a king and kingdom
•Holiness and Mercy of God contrast
•The restoration and increase of God’s presence
•Righteousness vs. nakedness
•Image and likeness
•Judgment and judge
•Word and wisdom
•Law and fulfillment

In each case it’s not a stretch at all to move from one of these themes found in a story, psalm, or wisdom passage, to Christ and the resolution He alone brings to these tensions.

If all you heard on Sunday was Christian jargon, history, background, Hebrew and Greek word etymologies, you likely got a doctrinal sermon. If you mostly heard personal stories about the pastor, and how you are to “use” the passage as motivation to live a certain way, you got a devotional sermon. If you mostly heard about how bad the world is, and something about the current sociological, economic, or political situations, you got a cultural transformation sermon.

Now I’m not saying that any of these are bad, but they MUST have Christ as their center, because He is at the center of whatever passage was used for the sermon given. Doctrinally all teaching is about who Christ is and what He’s done, and your knowledge of facts is nice, but are grounded in a real live person, who happens to be the only begotten Son of God. Devotionally you are never going to live the way the Bible prescribes unless you know and trust the only one who lived totally devoted to God to the point of a death He didn’t deserve. Culturally, the world will not change just because you tell them how bad they are, but that you first come to the one who died that the world might be redeemed person by person.

Find Christ in the passage and you’ve found the sermon. If you’ve found Christ as the focus of the passage you’ve also found your application as well.

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