Posts Tagged ‘obedience’

Practical Christianity

The Practical Outworking of God’s Word

© C. O. Bishop, 3/1/2020

James 1:21-27

Introduction: Receive the Engrafted Word

21 Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls.

To receive the Word with meekness, implies obedience. The word translated “meekness” carries the idea of “being yielded”…we need to yield to God’s word. We are to adapt our behavior to match what he says: not the other way around. We need to see ourselves and our lives through the filter of God’s Word, and lay aside the things that render us unclean and unable to serve. God uses clean vessels through which to pour his Grace. We want to be those clean vessels.

God’s Word is the only means by which any of us have been born again. His Word is also the only thing that can salvage the wreckage of our sin-riddled lives and allow us to live for His glory. A few weeks ago, we saw in 1st Peter 1:23 that we have been born again by the Word of God. In Psalm 119:9 we see that His word is the way to cleanse our lives. In 2nd Peter 1:4, we see that through the “exceeding great and precious promises” in His Word, we are to be “made partakers of the Divine Nature.” All of these require actually yielding to Him, and obeying His Word…receiving it with meekness.

We try so hard to “do things for God,” but the fact is, he simply wants freedom to use our lives. Remember, now, as we read this passage, that the epistle is clearly addressed to those who are already saved. The letter is to believers! So, how can he say “…the engrafted word which is able to save your souls? We must remember that, according to the promise of Christ in John 5:24, though each of us has been (past tense) saved from hell (the penalty of Sin) and will never (future tense) be condemned, we are each still needing to “be saved (present tense)” from the power of sin in our lives…today! And the day is coming when we will be saved from the presence of Sin, with God, in eternity!.

Salvation has three tenses:

  1. I have been saved from the penalty of Sin, and have crossed over from death into life.
  2. I am being saved from the power of sin in my life, as I daily walk with God in obedience.
  3. I will be saved from the presence of sin, eternally, when I leave this world.

God says that His Word needs to grow in me as a grafted twig or bud. If it cannot bond with my unbelieving heart, then it will not have the intended effect. It will not cleanse me and “save me” from the power of sin in this dark world. I need to receive the Word and allow it to actually change my desires, and my thoughts, so as to change my behavior. This is not “self-help”…we are incapable of helping ourselves in this arena. God has to do the helping—we have to receive the help and allow it to work in us.

Men and Mirrors

22 But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.
23 For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass:
24 For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was.
25 But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed.

Much has been made of the fact that the Greek word here, for Man, is not “anthropos”, simply meaning “a human,” but “andros” meaning specifically a man. I don’t want to wax eloquent about men and mirrors, but I will observe that, in my own life, I am frequently unaware of how I look. More than once I have arrived at work, and someone has smiled and said, “You haven’t looked in a mirror today, have you?” And they were right! I had dressed in the dark, hoping not to awaken my wife, and I had hurried off to work. Did it shame me that my hair was in complete disarray (or whatever else had caused the smiles?) Nope. I was simply amused, just as they were. So maybe, at least in my case, the quips about “men and mirrors” are correct.

If there is a mirror, I will quickly take stock, but, just as the scripture suggests I might do, I walk away and forget about it. Apparently this sort of attitude is more common among men than it is among women, and was common in the first century, as well as today.

So, using this object lesson, God says, “Don’t do that!” Do treat His written Word as a mirror: Look into it to see what God wants changed in your life, but then remember those things when you walk away. Don’t forget what you saw there! Incidentally, though it is true that, in the physical world, mirrors are used for everything from periscopes, to microscopes, telescopes and lasers, not to mention inspection mirrors and rear-view mirrors, the primary use for a mirror, worldwide, among ordinary people, is to examine ourselves; to have a look at how others must see us, or to see something from an angle otherwise impossible. (In fact, missionary friends have told me that in the African country where they worked, that was a peculiar problem on the roads, because all the drivers turned the rear-view mirrors so that they could look at themselves, instead of looking at the road behind them. In that particular case, this was the wrong use of the mirror!)

Keep this idea in mind, as you read God’s Word: aim the mirror at yourself! (That is the correct use of this mirror!) Don’t use it to examine or inspect someone else, as a rule. Let them look into the mirror for themselves. We usually have enough problems of our own to deal with, that we shouldn’t try to correct everyone else.

Watch your Mouth!

26 If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man’s religion is vain.

There are lots of times when a Christian would be better off to keep his or her mouth shut. Perhaps this is just regarding things in general that would be better left unsaid, or things that are matters of idle curiosity, but questions that would not be profitable to ask, possibly because to do so would be meddling in someone else’s private matters. Perhaps it is about speaking unkind words that would cause hurt, or engaging in sly humor which would arouse suspicion of evildoing, where, really, none existed. We easily fall into the trap of “shooting off our mouth.”

It seems, however that this verse is specifically in relation to a person who “puts on a good show of piety,” but ruins it all by what he says. The Greek word translated “religious,” is “threskia” and this is the only place it is used. The Greek word translated “religion” is “threskos”and is only used in four places, one of which is translated “worshipping”…and in that context, it refers to the worshipping of angels…not a Godly worship at all. It was strictly a human (and erroneous) practice. The other three places it is translated “religion,” and it is always in reference to human “practice of worship and/or piety:” not necessarily God-ordained in its entirety, though it may have its roots in God’s Word. And, in this passage, it is clear that it is quite possible for one’s “practice of worship and/or piety” to be erroneous, and empty: fruitless…“vain.”

I knew a fellow, at work, twenty years ago, who was very outspoken about his Christian faith: he wore brightly-colored t-shirts, every day, with intensely evangelical (and very good!) messages emblazoned on their front and back. But he shouted constantly, cursed frequently, and he had a violent temper, to boot. I cautiously tried to warn him about his mouth, on one occasion, and he cut me off, saying, “You can’t judge someone by the things they say!”, so I shut my mouth; but I walked away thinking, “Actually, Yes, you can!” Well, the fact is, the whole crew of fellow-workers around him had already recognized the emptiness or “vanity” of his “religion”. Finally, in the darkness before work, one morning, he attempted to force a situation in the parking lot, arguing over a parking space he considered to be “his” space (it was not.) The conflict erupted into a fist-fight, and he was fired: he lost his job completely…and no one missed him!

He had a terrible testimony. He actually may have been a genuine believer; but he had a bad lifestyle, and a bad mouth, which made everyone around him reject his message.

He deceived himself that his outbursts of anger, and his foul mouth were acceptable…and that no one should “judge” him for such things. But according to the book of James, he definitely should have expected them to judge him by his words and behavior; not just by the message on his nice-looking t-shirt. Despite the fact that he probably was a real believer, the outworking of his faith (whatever it really was) turned out to be unprofitable: fruitless…vain. (Not “non-existent;” just empty and fruitless…vain talk.)

So, what kind of behavior befits a real believer? One thing, according to James, is going out of one’s way at one’s own cost, to meet the needs of those who, through no fault of their own, have deep needs. And another is avoiding doing (or even being involved with) the things that would bring shame to God. Here is how James puts it:

27 
Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.

The result of a genuine relationship with God, then, should play itself out in a changed relationship with those around me. It should result in my meeting the needs of others, and thinking less about my own desires, comfort and convenience. It should also result in my moving away from the World’s way of thinking, and becoming increasingly aligned with God’s way of thinking. The sinful behavior patterns and vices of the world should begin to drop away, if the relationship with God is solid.

(Remember that thing about “the engrafted Word?”) When you graft a rose twig (for example) into a hawthorn rootstock (and yes, that will work) that twig has to take hold and grow with the hawthorn rootstock to survive. But no matter what the rootstock may bear in terms of leaves, fruit or flowers, the rose twig will only bear rose-leaves, rose-blossoms, and rose hips. It can do no other! If the fruit in your life is not in keeping with God’s Word, then His Word is not what is producing the fruit. It is as simple as that! The “engrafted Word” has to produce Godly fruit: the fruit of the Spirit. The fruit of a cleansed life. The fruit of other souls being brought to Christ.

Practical Holiness

Notice, too, that all the issues, here, in the Book of James, have to do with practicality: how does my faith work out in my everyday life? What effect is it having on people around me? What evidence is there from a human perspective, that I am even a believer?

I remember seeing a poster, more than forty-five years ago, asking “If Christianity were suddenly made illegal, would there be enough evidence to convict me?” It is an odd way to present the idea, but it is a good question: “What evidence is there in my life, to show other people the reality of Christ?” God knows the truth of my heart-condition, but the question remains, “Is it evident to anyone else?” This is the repeating theme of the Book of James.

Remember that in Genesis 3:7-21 we saw “two axes” of relationships: the horizontal axis, in which it is possible to simply “look good” to other humans, and the vertical axis, in which God sees us as we really are. (Remember, the sewn-together fig leaves (their own works) covered the nakedness of Adam and Eve from a human perspective, but they were still utterly naked before God: He had to clothe them through the blood of a sacrifice which He himself made. There’s a strong parallel with the Gospel, right there! God gave His Son to save us from our Sins!)

But there is another side to that idea: On the vertical axis, I have been (past tense) declared righteous before God on the strength of that blood sacrifice at the Cross. (Romans 5:1) Now He wants that freely-given imputed righteousness to be (continuously) lived out in a practical form of holiness, so as to be a testimony to other humans, on the horizontal axis. The new life in Christ is supposed to change me, from the inside out, and affect those around me in positive ways, as a result.

Jesus said, “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in Heaven.” (Matthew 5:16) That is how the Christian Life is supposed to work.

Lord Jesus, make the engrafted word a living reality in each of our lives, so that you are free to use our lives daily to glorify yourself, and to reconcile lost souls to yourself through the sharing of the Gospel.


Good News…and Bad News

There’s Good News…and Bad News!

© 2013 C. O. Bishop THCF 9/15/13 Revised 2019

Introduction:

The phrase, “there’s good news…and bad news…” has come to be a frequent joke in our culture. It invites the listener to reply “Ah…give me the bad news first…” (Or, in some cases they want the good news first.)

But the reality of any Good News is that it virtually always implies the possibility of some contrasting Bad news. For example, “Well, the good news is that I found a job…” What’s the bad news? Is it only the fact that the speaker was previously unemployed, or is there some hidden feature of the new job that the listener will not like? Is it a split shift, extremely low pay, long commute, or what?

We mentioned some time ago, as a real-life example, that there was an antivenin developed in Australia that covers about 85 different kinds of venomous snakes. Wow! That’s great! So, what’s the bad news? Obviously, Australia has about 85 different kinds of venomous snakes! (Actually, it turns out there are far more: about 140…so, it was really bad news!)

What’s the Bad News and Good News for Believers?

So, what is the “bad-news/good-news” issue for believers? The good news is that there is lots of it; so much good news that we haven’t even learned it all. The bad news? It is that we have to learn that good news so that we can make use of it. A friend of mine, not a believer, made the comment “You can only connect the dots you have.” That is a fairly profound statement. It really applies to nearly every aspect of life. In 2 Peter 1:4, it says thatGod has given us “exceeding Great and Precious Promises” by which we are told we can “become partakers of the Divine Nature.”  Wow! That is good news! How can there be bad news in that verse?

The bad news is that largely, either we are ignorant of those promises, or, worse, we are ignoring them. You can only connect the dots you have. Jesus said (John 14:26) that when the Holy Spirit came (remember he was speaking to his disciples before his crucifixion) that He (the Holy Spirit) would teach them all things, and “bring to their remembrance” all things whatsoever He (Jesus) had taught them. Can I apply that promise to myself? Yes, in a limited sense: limited only because I do not have to wait to receive the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit indwells every believer at the moment of salvation. But the “catch” is this…if you never allow Jesus to teach you anything, because you are too busy watching TV, working on projects (guilty, Lord!) or socializing, working, whatever…then the Holy Spirit doesn’t have much to work with. He can’t “bring to your remembrance” things you have never learned. There is no promise that God will mystically reveal all things to each of us individually. Quite the opposite: He has revealed himself through the Written Word, for over 3,500 years of history, and commands us to go there to learn from Him.

Notice that when Jesus addressed the issue of spiritual thirst, he did not say, “Thirsty? Just stay right where you are, and I’ll bring you a cold drink!”  No! In John 7:37 he said, “If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink!” If you want wisdom, you go to God and get it. If you want peace, you go to God and get it. In fact, virtually all the “exceeding great and precious promises” alluded to in 2nd Peter 1:4 are such that they require the believer to seek the face of God in order to appropriate those gifts.

Hebrews 11:6 states that “Without Faith, it is impossible to please God, for he that cometh unto God must believe that He is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him.” If you want a relationship with God, it requires some diligence. He requires that you come to Him, personally, to receive his blessing. That is not the same as just attending church, by the way. Any unbeliever can attend church. But only a believer, who has not only been born again, but who has currently confessed his/her sins (1st John 1:9), and is deliberately seeking fellowship with the living God (1st John 1:7; “if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ, his son, cleanseth us from all sin.”) Only that person can enter the Holy Place by way of the Person of Christ (Hebrews 10:19, 20; “having therefore brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh…”), and approach the throne of Grace (Hebrews 4:16; “let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”).

Yes, the privilege is there for each of us who has received the Lord Jesus as our Savior. But it takes work to use it effectively.

The Good news is that we have that privilege of approaching the Throne of Grace. The Bad news is that we don’t use it much. Our relationship with God is supposed to be a very personal thing… and by that I do not mean “private,” so much as underscoring the fact that it is the Person of Christ we are relating to; not just a concept. So, as we are reading His Word, we can talk with him about it, and ask for insight, confessing that we really don’t understand much about it. We can study his Word, knowing that we have an assignment to apply it, as his ambassadors.

If I am assigned a job at work that requires some study, then my reading is not casual, nor is it just “skimming” to get the gist of a story, but it is focused, and intent upon learning my new job. Part of our new relationship with Jesus is the fact that we have a new job. How are you going to respond to the new assignment? Are you taking it seriously, and striving to learn how to faithfully discharge the new responsibilities? Or are you just kicking back, watching the clock, and waiting for the lunch whistle? Do you even have a clear idea of what the job entails, and where to find the instructions as to how to perform your duties?

What is your assignment, anyway?

The New Assignment

When Jesus left this world, his last words, repeated several times in different locations, and different circumstances, were “Ye shall be witnesses unto me…”; “Go ye therefore and teach…”; “Go ye into all the World, and preach…”, “As the Father hath sent Me, even so send I you.” 

When a human supervisor gives an assignment, we take heed—we take steps to get it done, knowing that we will be held accountable for how we spend our time. Usually, too, with human supervisors, we are held accountable for the results. But in the case of our assignment from God, we are only being held accountable for the obedient response, not so much the result. Jesus did say that the Father is glorified when we produce fruit. It is evident that he was speaking of the fruit of saved souls and changed lives, because he specified that the fruit would remain. But Jeremiah, who saw very little fruit in his ministry (possibly only two people), had a much better walk with God than did Jonah, who unwillingly instigated a huge revival in Nineveh.

Consider, too, that when a human loved one, or a close friend, dies and makes a dying request—a “last request”—we consider it a priority to go and complete that request if it is at all possible. Jesus gave His last request about five times. Is that request a priority, to you?

Our instructions regarding that task are fairly simple—go tell people the Good News regarding Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection, and the fact that His blood completely paid for the sins of the human race. The Good News that any person who will place their faith in Him can have the free gift of eternal life now, today, not waiting, while doing religious things until they die, hoping they can be “good enough” to receive eternal life. Eternal life is a gift; not a reward.

You know how you received Jesus as your Savior, or you certainly ought to; and you can tell that much, at least. You can learn a few key scripture verses to show a person, so they can see for themselves, in the Bible, how to be saved. And, the fact is, you can tell them that “there is Good news…and Bad news.” That is a concept they can relate to: they run into it often, in daily life.

Good news and Bad news of the Gospel

The bad news is that the whole human race is guilty before God, and headed for destruction. The Good News is that Jesus has purchased a pardon for the whole human race, with his own blood, at the cross. God’s righteousness is satisfied with the sacrifice Jesus offered. The work is done!

Let’s look at two scripture passages, both spoken by Jesus:

John 3:17, 18 “For God sent not His Son into the World to condemn the World, but that the World through Him might be saved. He that believeth in Him is not condemned; but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”

Can you see some good news in that passage? God did not send Jesus here to condemn us! That is good news! The bad news is that we are already condemned as a race, because of sin, and even though Jesus fully paid for the sins of the whole world, the current condemnation remains because we have not placed our trust in the name of Jesus. So, there is good news and bad news…both very simple and clear.

How about this one: John 5:24 “Verily, verily, I say unto you, he that heareth my words and believeth on Him that sent me hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation, but is passed from death unto life.”

There is a lot of Good news in that one: it says we can have eternal life now (notice the tenses in this verse). It says “has everlasting life,” not “will have”. It also says that the person who has received this promise will never be condemned (that’s future tense.) It also says that the person who has received this promise has passed from death into life (in English that reads as if it were a simple past participle, but it is actually even better—it is “perfect tense”, meaning that it is an event that occurred in the past, and has permanent future results.)

So where is the Bad news in that verse? The only bad news is that if you have either not heard the Gospel, or, having heard it, you have not believed it, then the three “good news clauses” of that promise are not yours. You do not have eternal life, you are still under condemnation, and you have not crossed over from death to life.

Isn’t that a pretty simple concept? Can’t we offer it to those around us? It seems to me that it is so simple we have no excuse not to do so. So: if the message is that simple, why are we given a whole New Testament from which to learn the job?

Laboring to Rest

Remember back in the book of Joshua, when the people were to enter into the land? These folk were the offspring of the ones who had not entered in, because of unbelief, and God had referred to that entering in as “rest”. He said they “could not enter into his Rest, because of unbelief.” The land was the rest, in that context. The land was given to the next generation of the people of Israel, but they had to fight every step of the way to lay hold of it! People frequently misinterpret this “crossing over the Jordan” as being analogous to dying and going to Heaven. It is not at all referring to heaven. Heaven will be the cessation of all strife: the Promised Land had to be fought for, to gain entry at all, and then they had to fight to take possession of every hill and valley, after they entered!

We have been given a whole New Testament because the majority of it is telling us how to live as God’s people. The “job” itself is fairly simple. But how to live in such a way as to consistently honor God, and to walk in constant fellowship with the living Christ, is anything but easy. There is a battle going on, and the enemy does not want us to enjoy our “rest” in Christ.

Ephesians 1:3 says you have already been blessed with all spiritual blessings in Christ. But Ephesians 6:10-18 says if you want to experience those blessings in this life, you have to deliberately engage in the spiritual battle that surrounds the Christian reality. We are to feed on the written Word; feed on fellowship with Jesus the Living Word, and to live by faith, obedient to the indwelling Holy Spirit.

Hebrews 4:11 says that we are to “labor to enter into His rest.” That is the character of the Christian life: laboring to enter into rest. Jesus completed all the work of Salvation at the Cross, and He offers us tremendous blessings. But it will take continuous work to see the full blessing of God in our daily lives. Why continuous work? Because it is an uphill battle. Our old sin nature is still with us, and the World around us is still at odds with the purpose of God, and Satan is still alive and well on planet Earth. The Christian life isn’t difficult; it’s impossible, unless we allow Christ to live through us. And to do that requires a constant struggle against our old sin nature.

But Galatians 5:16, referring to that old sin nature, makes it clear that if we walk in the Spirit, we will not fulfil the desires of the flesh.

Just take it one step at a time. Seek the Face of God, through Bible study and Prayer. Learn the job: read your “Employee’s Manual” (meaning your Bible, of course), and take seriously the living trust that has been given to you, to tell others about Jesus.

Let’s start becoming the Men and Women of God that we are called to be, serving as the ambassadors He has ordained us to be. This is the Call of God for every believer!

Lord Jesus, draw us into a closer, more personal relationship with yourself, and allow us to see the people in the World around us through your eyes: to see all of them as precious souls for whom you died. Fill us with the Love of God, so that we overcome our reluctance to share your gift of eternal life with others. Make us fruitful in your Grace, in Jesus name.


Black and White—or Shades of Gray?

Black and White—or Shades of Gray?

© C. O. Bishop 2012. THCF 11/18/2012 revised 2019

Introduction:

We are presented with so many choices in the world today; some of them clearly good…perhaps some clearly bad, but very few regarding which we can say “This is ultimate Good—there is no evil in it!” When we read the news, we are hard-pressed to tell who are the heroes, and who are the villains. When elections come around, we feel that we are offered only a chance to choose between deeply flawed individuals, neither of whom is clearly a “Good Choice”, but of whom neither is so clearly a bad choice that everyone sees it that way. Few today are even willing to admit there is such a thing as intrinsically “good or bad; right and wrong”. We are expected to see everything through the lens of public opinion, and its collective “morality” or lack of such.

What about History?

In the beginning, God presented things to Adam in a world of living color—thousands of varieties of plants, all of which were edible and healthy; a host of animals, none of which were dangerous; and only one rule; but that one rule was Black and White: obey or don’t. Live or die.

We may scoff at such a story from our “so-sophisticated,” modern point of view, but the fact remains that there are only two possibilities regarding that story: it is either true or it is not. My believing it does not make it true—your disbelieving it does not make it untrue—it is either true or not true, on its own merit. This statement is applicable to every bit of God’s Word, the Bible.

The Creation story is either true or untrue. If we hedge, and say, “Well, it’s partly true…”, then we are really conceding that it is a lie… no better than folklore, or mythology. Or we must declare ourselves wise enough to discern which parts of the Bible are true, and which are not.

When Noah entered the Ark, there were only two locations: inside or outside. All inside the ark were saved by virtue of their position inside the Ark. All outside were doomed by virtue of their position outside the Ark. Nothing else really mattered at that point… the folk aboard the Ark might be seasick, terrified, regretting the choice to go aboard, afraid of the dark, the noise, the movement—but they were safe, whether they felt safe or not. Those outside might be educated or ignorant, noble or base, old or young, sick or healthy, strong or weak—but they were all doomed. The matter was essentially reduced to “Black and White” by their own choices.

The Genesis Flood either covered the whole earth or it did not—the Biblical account is either true or it is false. The continents either broke up after the Flood, with human witnesses, as recorded in Genesis 10, or it did not. The Biblical account is either reliable or it is not. Isn’t it interesting that Moses recorded the fact, after the breakup of the super-continent by about a thousand years; about 1500 years before Christ…and modern science took until the last century or so to even notice it, and until the last fifty years or so, to prove it!  But it was recorded by human witnesses when it happened, according to Genesis 10:25.

Either Moses took the Israelites, 2-1/2 million strong, across the Red Sea, as Exodus 14:29 says, with the waters “a wall to them, on the right and the left”, or he did not. And either the Egyptians were drowned by the returning waters, or they were not. It is a “Black and White” choice.

Either God has shielded Israel during the last 4,000 years of history, or He has not. The attempts by enemies, to wipe them off the face of the earth, have been plentiful…and have failed every single time! These things all can be checked in secular history. Humans like to put a “naturalist” spin on things, and “explain” God out of the picture…but the Bible has an immaculate track-record of historical accuracy—and of prophecies being fulfilled to the letter.

So, What about Prophecy?

The prophets are very clear regarding the nature of God’s Word—it is either true or it is not:

When the prophet Elijah, in 1st Kings 18, gave his challenge to the 450 prophets of Baal, and the 400 prophets of Asherah, he did not offer any middle ground. He said, “…if Baal is God, then let him be God! If Jehovah is God, then let him be God…don’t hesitate between two decisions! Choose a side! Make a choice!”

He gave the 850 men who claimed to be prophets of their Gods the first opportunity to prove their actual status as the mouthpieces of a deity: they ranted and chanted, pranced and danced, cut themselves and howled to their God. But there was no answer! The test had been agreed upon: the real God had to send down fire and burn up the offering. And their Gods didn’t seize the opportunity! There was no answer! When Elijah finally took his turn, he called once, and God answered in a torrent of supernatural flame that burned up the stone altar as well as the offering. There was no middle ground. Either God would respond, or he would not. But He did!

The prophet Micaiah, in 2nd Chronicles 18, effectively gave himself a death-sentence, when he prophesied the death of King Ahab. He was immediately put in prison, to await the return of the angry king. The king disguised himself and went into battle incognito, but was killed in spite of his deception. He never came home to carry out his wrath. There was no “gray area:” either an angry king was coming home for vengeance, or a dead king had fallen under the wrath of God.

When Jehoshaphat was king in Jerusalem, according to 2 Chronicles 20, he was given notice that an invading army (several nations together, actually) was about to attack. He knew he was not able to defend against such a host, and went before God in the temple to ask His protection. He called on all of Judah to fast and pray with him. A prophet (Jehaziel) was sent to tell him the news that God was taking full control of the battle—the king and the people of Judah were not required to fight, but only to watch. Jehoshaphat believed God, and responded by banding the people together, with the temple singers in the lead, praising the beauty of holiness. When they began to sing, God ambushed the invading army, and they began to fight amongst themselves, with the supernaturally-complete result that not a single one of the invading troops survived the melee. Now, if the prophecy had been false, Judah would have been doomed—they had no “plan B”. They were utterly dependent upon the promise of God. Either the promise was true, or it was false. “Black and White!” But, like the God who gave it, the promise was good!

What about other Choices?

Before he died, Joshua told the people to make a choice—to follow the Lord or not—but that he and his household would follow God. There were only those two choices. The decision was Black and White.

In the instances we already listed, the men and women of God chose to trust God’s Word, and obey. They were declared righteous by faith, but their faith resulted in obedience, and, in those particular cases, obedience saved their lives.

We can trace through the Biblical history and see that Israel, as a nation, was constantly faced with Black and White choices which they inevitably blurred into Shades of Gray…and when they did, they eventually were confronted by God with the fact that they had simply chosen to disobey. There were no “Shades of Gray,” except in their own imaginations! They deliberately blurred the truth until it was unrecognizable by reasonable people, and then they loudly advocated a “progressive” path away into darkness, idolatry, rebellion, and spiritual blindness. (Does that sound familiar? Have we seen a nation doing something similar today?)

But think back: who was the first to “blur” the Black and White Truth of God’s Word into a multi-shaded gray mirage that turned out to be a deadly lie? It was Satan, speaking through the serpent in the Garden: He said, “Hath God surely said….?” Then he misquoted the truth so as to “paint it gray.” Eve tried to answer truthfully, but she was not familiar enough with God’s Word to give a clear answer. (We are not told why Adam did not speak up, though he was evidently there, too.)

But, once the doubt had been sown, the Deceiver proceeded to flatly contradict God. The trap was set: the two innocent people must either retreat into God’s Word, and walk away from the temptation, or continue to flirt with death. They did not flee to God: they believed the tempter, and chose to disobey God. And we see the results daily in the news and in our own lives, today.

So, with what choices are we confronted, daily, in our lives today? They really can be just as “Black and White” as the choices we have listed, if we see them in the light of God’s Word. Sometimes they certainly seem to be in various shades of Gray—but are they really?

Some Choices are very clear:

  • Either Jesus’ blood is sufficient payment for my sins or it is not.
  • I will either place my trust in His atoning death, burial and resurrection or I will not.
  • Either God has established one way of salvation through Jesus Christ (as Jesus himself so clearly stated) or He has not.
  • If there truly are “many ways to God,” then Jesus is not even one of the ways, because He himself said that there is only one way, and He himself is it. There is no plan B! So that would make Jesus a terrible liar, and not even “a” way to God.

Isn’t it interesting that Adam and Eve had only one way they could disobey God and be lost… and that ever since that moment, there has only been one way to obey God and be saved?

What about my daily decisions as a believer? Well…I will either love my neighbor as myself, or not. I may choose to see it in a whole spectrum of “Shades of Gray,” but God calls it Black and White: I either commit myself to the good of those around me, or I choose to ignore them, and meet my own needs to the exclusion of theirs. Does that enslave me, then, to the whole of humanity? Are my needs to be completely ignored; never to be considered? The answer to both questions is “No! I am to serve God, and to be available for His use at all times. When he says “go” I must be listening—when he says don’t go, I also must be listening. God does say to feed his sheep. He does not say “break down the fence and invite a herd of wild pigs into the garden.” In fact, he gives certain boundaries to giving, and to service. We might see that as “Shades of Gray”, but the real question is still Black and White: “Will you—or will you not—obey God?”

For example: when God says that you should daily be feeding on His Word, and desiring the sincere milk of his Word, and maturing to feed on the strong meat of His Word…hiding his Word in your heart, that you might not sin against Him…do you choose to daily feed on His Word, and work at memorizing at least some key passages? Regardless of the reason why; if you choose not to do so, you are choosing to not do what He said you needed to do. That is a Black and White decision. One by one, day by day, we set aside the choices God asks us to make, and we use up the time He has given us in which to serve Him.

Sometimes it may be difficult to know exactly what to do. We tend to say, “Well, now, there is a ‘shade of gray’ for you!”—but is it? If both choices are potentially good, then perhaps it really echoes the host of “living-color” choices that were offered to Adam. He had millions of things he could do, and was given a free choice as to what he wanted—except in that one forbidden thing. We are given countless choices, too—and many of them are perfectly acceptable. God does not dictate a single path as “His will for the believer.” He gives a general direction, and, if we are willing, He will frequently lead us step by step—but if we are refusing to do the things he commanded…which are NOT optional, then why should we expect the “direct leading of God” in the comparatively inconsequential things of life…or in anything at all, for that matter?

If you know that God has commanded you

  • to study your Bible,
  • to pray continually,
  • to rejoice evermore,
  • to give thanks in all circumstances, and
  • to offer eternal life to those around you, by sharing the Gospel with others:

and you are not doing those things, then it seems a bit unreasonable to expect God to lead you step by step in the regular and common trials of life. You already demonstrate that you really are not interested in His will. You would like to know it, so that you can consider doing it, but you are not committed to doing it no matter what it may be, because you are not doing the things you already know are his will. You have “painted” them all in Shades of Gray, and are choosing not to see the Black and White issues of God’s authority. I know this, because I have done it too!

What about Repentance?

How can we change our patterns, then? Are we doomed to continue our bad choices? God says that we can start with confession. 1st John 1:9 says, “But if we confess our sins He is faithful and just, to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  That’s pretty Black and White, don’t you think? If you see that God is correct in pointing out the error of your ways, then agree with Him! That is what confession is! Agree with God, concerning your sin, and accept his forgiveness. Then begin again to search his Word daily, to feed your new nature on the sincere milk of God’s Word; to pray continually, and to apply the scripture to your daily life. God is pleased by the mere effort, and will meet you in your attempt, and help you to walk with Him.

Conclusion:

Down through all the ages, God has called for his people to turn to him in prayer, in repentance, in confession, and renewed obedience. He is still calling today: Don’t be distracted by the World around you. In 1st John 2:15-17, God says “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof; but he that doeth the will of God abideth forever.

Whether you know it or not, the world is passing away, and the only thing that will stand is God’s Word, and those who believe it. The only thing that is eternally relevant is his Word. The bottom line in our choices must not be “is it convenient, is it financially or socially profitable, is it popular, etc.”, but “Does it honor God?” And, “Is it in keeping with my God-given job as an ambassador of Christ?”

Please think carefully about the choices you are making. They are not really Shades of Gray. Some choices are “living color”, as God has given you free will to choose most things in life. But the rest of them are Black and White!

Lord Jesus, open our eyes, and allow us to see the clear choices you put before us every day. Help us to choose to serve you with our lives, and not to be deceived by the Enemy.


The Call of God

The Cleansing and Call of the Servant of God

© C. O. Bishop, 6/29/2019

Isaiah 6:1-8

Introduction:

Last time we met, we discussed the coming Judgment, and how it will affect Jerusalem, particularly; but how it will affect the Gentile world as well. The scripture transitions directly from God’s pronouncement of Judgment upon Jerusalem, Judah and Israel, into the cleansing and call of Isaiah the Prophet. We find this passage exciting because it gives a glimpse into the unseen world of angels, and to the throne of God. And we ought to find it so—it is exciting. But there is much to learn here, too.

This is apparently the personal call of Isaiah. It would be nice if everyone got this sort of dramatic call, I suppose…but we shouldn’t get clamoring too much to get what Isaiah got—tradition says he was executed, by being cut in half under a crosscut saw. The prophet’s life was not easy. Most of us have simply the general call of God’s Word (which He says is personal to all those who believe) and we have the Great Commission, which is also to all Church-age believers.  Isaiah did not have those things, so he got what he got. Let us learn from it what we may.

How did Isaiah see the Lord?

1In the year that king Uzziah died I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple.

In verse 1, we get the time-frame—“the year that King Uzziah died” (in some passages he is called King “Azariah,” too, so don’t get confused if you run into that name). So, in the year King Uzziah died (approximately 758 BC), Isaiah saw the Lord. Notice it is NOT all caps—this is the Hebrew word adonai, meaning “master,” or “lord.” It was definitely God he was seeing, as the next verses will make clear (God the Son, in fact, as we learn in John 1:18), but the reference in verse one says that He was the Lord— the Master— and it has not yet mentioned His name. It describes Him as being seated on a throne, high and lifted up, and His train filled the temple. We need to see Him this way! Primarily the fact that He is “High and lifted up!” We have been taught to see Jesus as our “buddy,” or our comforter, and protector, and, He is all of those, but we tend to forget the fact that He is the Almighty God who created us, and the Judge of all the earth, who is above all, and who knows all, and who understands the real thoughts of our hearts, not just the ones we pray. We need to see Jesus in his supremacy!

How do the Angels see Him?

Above it stood the seraphims: each one had six wings; with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly. And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory. And the posts of the door moved at the voice of him that cried, and the house was filled with smoke.

Verses 2 and 3 tell of angelic creatures called seraphim (plural of seraph, which means “burning one.”) This is the only place they are even mentioned, but they are evidently powerful spirit-beings, angels of some sort, worshipping God, and yet unable to look on His face.

They hid their own faces (and feet—what is that about?) and cry out… what? “Love, love, love, God is Love”? No! So powerful are they, that their voice moves the doorposts of the temple, and fills the house with smoke: and, yet, what do these mighty six-winged creatures see as the primary attribute of God? What impresses them so, that they hide their faces and cry out one to another exclaiming about it? His HOLINESS! (“Holy! Holy! Holy, is the LORD of Hosts: the whole earth is filled with His glory!”)

It is interesting that in our culture we have focused on the Love of God to the exclusion of His holiness, His righteousness, and His judgment…which may explain why we do not fear the judgment of God, nor worship Him for His righteousness. We fail to understand the enormity of the Grace of God, because we also fail to understand the Holiness of God, and the depth of our own depravity and sin. How can we see Grace as a marvelous thing, when we take lightly the Holiness which calls for justice, and the sin which calls for judgment? If we take sin lightly, then we must also take Grace lightly.

How can we turn this around?  How can we regain a proper view of the attributes of God, the Creator and Judge of all the earth—The Ruler of the universe, both seen and unseen? The only way I know is to go to God’s Word and continually see Him as the Master, High, and lifted up, then confess our blindness and foolishness, and pray God will open the eyes of our hearts.

Self-Judgment

Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.

What was Isaiah’s response (verse 5) to having seen God? Did he start a televangelism program, and strut around on a stage, telling everyone what a wonderful experience it was, and describe in great familiar detail all that he saw, and all the intimate things God told him? Did he boast of his own special relationship with God, as witnessed by his vision? No! He cried out in fear, knowing that he was a dead man, because he, an unclean sinner, had seen God. This is the true response of those who have seen themselves in the light of who GOD really is…they drop all pretense of personal worthiness, as they are completely overwhelmed by the Holiness of God.

It is interesting too, that what Isaiah was most concerned about at that moment is the fact of his “unclean lips”—now, I don’t know specifically what he was guilty of, but I know that I fall down in that area, too. I frequently say unwise things. And James 3:2-12 tells me that the whole human race has the same problem.

For in many things we offend all. If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body. Behold, we put bits in the horses’ mouths, that they may obey us; and we turn about their whole body. Behold also the ships, which though they be so great, and are driven of fierce winds, yet are they turned about with a very small helm, whithersoever the governor listeth. Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth! And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell. For every kind of beasts, and of birds, and of serpents, and of things in the sea, is tamed, and hath been tamed of mankind: But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God. 10 Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be. 11 Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter? 12 Can the fig tree, my brethren, bear olive berries? either a vine, figs? so can no fountain both yield salt water and fresh.

Evidently it is a more serious matter than we tend to think it is, too—in Proverbs 6:16-19, God lists seven things He hates—and three of them have to do with the mouth.

16 These six things doth the Lord hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto him: 17 A proud look, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, 18 An heart that deviseth wicked imaginations, feet that be swift in running to mischief, 19 A false witness that speaketh lies, and he that soweth discord among brethren.

  • A lying tongue
  • A false witness that speaks lies
  • He that sows discord among brethren

Notice too that it isn’t just what comes out of the mouth, but the root of the matter, which is our corrupt heart: “A heart that devises wicked imaginations…” Give that some thought: What comes out of the mouth reveals that which is in the heart. Jesus said that, too: (Luke 6:43-45)

43 For a good tree bringeth not forth corrupt fruit; neither doth a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. 44 For every tree is known by his own fruit. For of thorns men do not gather figs, nor of a bramble bush gather they grapes. 45 A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil: for of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaketh.

We may make our excuse that “we live in a corrupt world,” and that “we are constantly affected and influenced by what is around us:” Remember that Isaiah lived in a sinful world, too, just like you and I. But God could still cleanse him and use him. He can do the same with you and me!

God’s Cleansing

Then flew one of the seraphims unto me, having a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar: And he laid it upon my mouth, and said, Lo, this hath touched thy lips; and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged.

Remember that Isaiah was already a believer. He had depended upon the blood-sacrifices, as God’s chosen means by which he could be saved. This traces all the way back to Genesis chapter 3, and the covering God provided there, and to the Passover Lamb, under which all of Israel huddled, to be saved from the Judgment of a Holy God. So this passage is not about Salvation: it is about the sanctification of a believer.

Verses 6 and 7 say that an angel flew with a coal from the altar, and laid it on his mouth. Remember that the altar was where God’s chosen sacrifices died. Compare it to the Cross of Christ, where God’s Chosen Sacrifice died, once for all time: Has God been allowed to cleanse your mouth, via the Cross? Is the truth of the Cross having enough effect in your life to transform your speech? To eliminate gossip, foolish talk, coarse jesting (Ephesians 5:4)—and cruel, mocking comments? Perhaps the cutting humor that we call “banter” might be displeasing to God. We certainly don’t see Jesus talking that way.

Consider how a “coal from that altar” might affect you. In Isaiah’s case, it purged his sin; whatever the sin of his mouth was, God said he was cleansed by the coal from that altar. Shouldn’t it do the same for us, who are actually indwelt by the living God? So far as we know, Isaiah did not have that privilege. We need to allow the Cross of Christ to cleanse our hearts, and change what comes out of our mouths. He said He came to save us from our sins; not just from the penalty of our sins. Shouldn’t His blood begin to cleanse our thoughts and words, as well?

God’s Call

Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, Here am I; send me.

Then, Isaiah heard the call of God—not before. If you want the call of God in your life; if you wish to be used of God in a meaningful way, first allow the Cross to cleanse you, transform you, and prepare you for service. Verse 8 says Isaiah heard the voice of the Lord, saying “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?” (A little glimpse of the Trinity there, see it? “Who will go for Us?) Isaiah didn’t wait to ask what the mission was—he wanted to be used by God, and he immediately volunteered.

This is the kind of volunteer God wants and can use: one who has come to the Cross for cleansing, and who does not ask what the task might be before deciding he wants to serve the living God. He chooses service, and then asks “What would you have me to do, Lord?”

How About You?

Is your life something that God can use? And if not, are you willing to confront that fact at the Cross, and repent? Are you willing to drop all reservations and ask God to make you usable? If you are, then the path to fruit-bearing is open to you. If not, then the path to fruit-bearing is filled with obstacles, and you cannot expect to see God use you. God uses those who are willing to be cleansed, even though they live in a sinful world.

God’s service has the reputation of paying low wages. In Hebrews 11, God lists the “heroes of the faith,” but he reserves his highest praise for those who lost everything in His service, and were left destitute. He said “the World was not worthy of them.” It is true that sometimes the “wages” in this world, for serving the Living God, seem paltry. We look at the lives of the various prophets, and see that they were not only not wealthy, they were not even comfortable, as a rule. We have to consider the end of the story, though. In both the case of the “successful” sinner, and the case of the impoverished servant of God, the apparent prosperity or lack thereof is fleeting, when compared to eternity. Think of Lazarus and the rich man, in Luke chapter 16: Which life would you rather have? We want to have it both ways: we want to be prosperous in the World, and prosperous in ministry. It isn’t impossible, of course, but it is truly uncommon; as the World rewards its own, as a rule and we no longer belong to the world. Jesus said “If the world hates you, remember that they hated Me first.”

(John 15:18-27)

18 If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. 19 If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you. 20 Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also. 21 But all these things will they do unto you for my name’s sake, because they know not him that sent me. 22 If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin: but now they have no cloak for their sin. 23 He that hateth me hateth my Father also. 24 If I had not done among them the works which none other man did, they had not had sin: but now have they both seen and hated both me and my Father. 25 But this cometh to pass, that the word might be fulfilled that is written in their law, They hated me without a cause.

So we needn’t expect the world to reward us for behaving like Jesus…they hated Him, and will hate us, too, for belonging to Him. Remember who you belong to; remember who you serve. We are not supposed to be looking to the World for approval, or recompense; nor, especially, for direction, or guidance. Our Master is the Living God, just as Isaiah’s was, and all the prophets. And, no, the “salary” in this world may not seem particularly impressive: But the “retirement” is literally “Out of this World.” We live in hope of eternity, not a comfortable, easy life, here.

There is no question whether you are called to serve God. Every single believer has that calling. How do I know?

Romans 8:28-30 28 And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. 29 For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. 30 Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified.

The only question is whether we will choose to heed that call. What can we do, then, to choose the calling of God?

Choosing the Calling of God

Repentance means to “change one’s mind.” We need to change our minds regarding our life expectations, and what we call our priorities. We need to change our minds about who is really in charge: If Jesus really is your master, then His priorities should be your priorities.

Jesus said, in John 14:21, He that hath my commandments and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him.” So, if you place yourself into that promise, by choosing to live in obedience to Jesus’s commands (love God, love one another, offer that love to those around you…etc.) then Jesus has promised to make Himself known to you on an ongoing basis. If on the other hand, you choose your own priorities over His, then He will seem quite distant, and your vision of His will may become so dim that you no longer are sure of the path before you.

Begin by confessing where you really are, in your life: Go to God’s Word. See His Holiness. Confess your sins, and receive His cleansing. Then; allow Him to make you useable in His service, not holding back for the sake of security and comfort. Truly, the rewards are worth the hardships.

Lord Jesus, give us the Wisdom to understand your word, to confess our sins, recognizing that we have no worthiness in our own flesh, but to hear your call, and respond in faith, saying, “Here am I, Lord, send me!” We desire to walk with you, in fellowship, and in service. Please draw us into that reality, so as to glorify yourself in us.


Making Informed Choices

Making Informed Choices

© C. O. Bishop 3/2019 THCF 3/17/2019

Isaiah 1:27-2:5

Introduction:

We have begun walking through the book of Isaiah, and we have seen the Righteousness of God and the coming Judgment on Sin. We have seen that the book is primarily directed to Jerusalem and Judah, though there is later mention of all of Israel, as well as a number of named Gentile nations, and even the whole world as it will be affected by God.

It is difficult to keep things separate, and to see that the warnings and the promises, here, are not to the Christians in the United States, but to God’s chosen people, the Jews. However, as we read carefully, we can at least see which portions should apply to us, in such a way that we can use God’s written Word to change our lives.

The following three points, though directed to Jerusalem, can be applied to our individual lives, in a limited sense.

  1. The Coming Judgment,
  2. Our Ultimate Exaltation, and
  3. God’s Invitation to Practical Holiness.

Coming Judgment

27 Zion shall be redeemed with judgment, and her converts with righteousness.

Zion (God’s spiritual name for Jerusalem) will be redeemed with Judgment…and her converts with righteousness. This may reflect upon the means by which God will purify Jerusalem during the coming Tribulation. But it could also be a prophecy concerning the Cross: It was through God’s righteous judgment being poured out upon Jesus, at the Cross, that we have been redeemed. And, due to His righteousness being imputed to us by faith (just as it was to Abram, in Genesis 15:6) we believers now have a right standing before God. That is good news for believers. But He goes on to say what will happen to the wicked, in verse 28.

28 And the destruction of the transgressors and of the sinners shall be together, and they that forsake the Lord shall be consumed.

This could have referred either to the coming destruction of Jerusalem, under Nebuchadnezzar, or to the ultimate destruction of the lost at the Great White throne Judgment. In the immediate context, verses 29-31 are definitely addressing the specific sins of Judah, in their idolatry;

29 For they shall be ashamed of the oaks which ye have desired, and ye shall be confounded for the gardens that ye have chosen.

It specifically refers to being ashamed of oak trees in verse 29. The oak groves in Europe were often places of heathen worship in many cultures; and, in the Middle East, the groves were specifically shrines to the goddess Asherah. So the reference is again to their idolatry; the groves and gardens of their shrines… And God says their judgment is definitely coming (verses 30, 31.)

It is interesting, too, to see the change in pronouns, here, where it says that “they” (3rd person plural) will be ashamed of the oaks which “ye” (2nd person plural) have desired. Usually, that is an important thing to notice, as it may indicate to whom a promise or warning is being delivered. If this refers back to the context of verses 27 and 28, then possibly it means that the “redeemed and the converts” of verse 27 will be ashamed of the idolatry of the “transgressors and sinners, and they that forsake the LORD” of verse 28.

I suspect that is the case, here, as the ones against whom he is leveling the charge of idolatry, in this passage, are the ones upon whom the judgment is falling, while the “redeemed and the converts” of verse 27 are evidently a different group, possibly far in the future, as Judah is reclaimed by God. He switches the pronoun back to “ye”, in verses 30 and 31, as he issues a final judgment against the idolaters:

30 For ye shall be as an oak whose leaf fadeth, and as a garden that hath no water.

31 And the strong shall be as tow, and the maker of it as a spark, and they shall both burn together, and none shall quench them.

He uses the image of their idolatrous objects of worship (the oaks and the garden shrines) to predict their demise: he says they will end up like a dead tree, and a dry, shriveled garden. He goes on to say that the best among them will be as weak and combustible as tow—the loose fiber from which cheap rope is made—and that they will burn together with a fire which no one will quench. This does sound more like the Great White Throne judgment, because it ends in unquenchable fire…but the immediate fulfillment was coming soon, in the destruction of Jerusalem. Jerusalem has been destroyed many times in history, but God keeps bringing the city back to life. As we get to the latter part of the Book of Isaiah, we will see just how thoroughly God will ultimately restore Jerusalem.

Ultimate Exaltation

Chapter 2

1The word that Isaiah the son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.

Verse one reminds us (again) who these prophecies are about: Judah and Jerusalem…not the gentile nations.

And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the Lord‘s house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it.

Verse 2 begins with a prophecy of the Last Days. Notice that it speaks of the exaltation of Zion (v.2)—this will only happen during the Millennial kingdom…so when we back up and look again at chapter one, I would say that at least some of the previous verses must be a long-range look at Armageddon, and the whole tribulation, not just the (much sooner) Babylonian captivity which was also coming. The Temple mount, itself, will go through some physical changes, as we shall see, further on. All the nations of the world will come there, in peace. Jerusalem will be literally the capital city of the whole earth.

And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.

And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.

Further, then, we see an international desire to walk with God (verse 3), and God (in the person of the Messiah) will be ruling personally from Jerusalem. The result (verse 4), will be genuine world peace, for the only time in the planet’s history.

There is no question as to when these particular things will happen, given the rest of what God has revealed it the whole of Scripture. Throughout the book of Isaiah, however, there will be short-range and long-range prophecies, intermingled. So we need to keep our eyes open, so to speak, as to when they are to be fulfilled. This one is definitely an end-time prophecy.

We look forward to that time, as well, as the Church, knowing that Israel will be reinstated as the recipients of God’s blessing, and that Jesus, the Messiah, will reign over the Earth, from Jerusalem.

We know that we are not Israel, but rather, are the Church, the Bride of Christ. We do not know what is in store for us; as He said, “…eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man, what the Father hath in store for them that love Him.” So, we wait in hope, knowing our bridegroom is coming soon.

We know that the world faces judgment for sin for rebellion, for cruelty, for hatred…but we also know that our judgment for the same sins was poured out upon Jesus at the Cross. We do not look down our noses at lost sinners, because we know that except for God’s Grace at Calvary, we would be there, too…headed for hell.

So, since we see the coming judgment, and know, at least a little, of our coming exaltation with Christ as His Bride, perhaps we ought to take seriously the invitation which the LORD next offers to Judah: He makes an invitation to Practical Holiness…to walk with God.

Invitation to Practical Holiness

O house of Jacob, come ye, and let us walk in the light of the Lord.

On the basis of this prophecy, (verse 5) the house of Jacob is being invited to join the Lord in His light (cp. 1 John 1:7, Amos 3:3), and to walk with Him. When we read a parallel passage in Amos 3:3, we see that fellowship between any two individuals is only possible through agreement. (“Can two walk together except they be agreed?”) When there is a disagreement between me and God, the fault lies with me, not God. For us to agree, I have to change my mind (Greek, metanoia—change of mind—repentance.) I have to confess, and I have to walk in HIS light…not the other way around. (Notice, again, the change of pronouns: “come ye, and let us walk” the one issuing the invitation intends to walk beside the ones invited.

1st John 1:7 says, “If we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ, His Son, cleanseth us from all sin.” (ALL sin.) What does it mean, then, to “Walk in the Light, as He is in the Light?” Jesus may have given us a hint, in John 14:21He that hath my commandments and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.”

What is the prime commandment from Jesus? “A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” (John 13:34, 35)  So, what might be a good litmus test, for believers? The Agape love is the main test we are given. In fact, it is the test by which the world is to judge us.

Over in Romans 13: 8-10, the apostle Paul confirms this, saying, “Owe no man anything, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the Law. For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet, and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. Love worketh no ill to his neighbor, therefore love is the fulfilling of the Law.”

That is a pretty firm, clear statement! The problem we have as modern Christians, is that we have no idea what that Love entails. We think it has to do with an emotional response, when it is nothing of the kind. When we read 1st Corinthians 13, where the Agape love is defined, we see that every single one of the descriptors has to do with actions…not feelings. It is doing, for the other person, what is truly in their best interest, and the things that most honor God.

The things we read just now in Romans 13 are all things to not do, because they would not be agape love. They all also happened to be things from the Mosaic Law, which Paul chose to illustrate his point that the fulfillment of the commandments is to be carried out by “walking in the light”, and “loving one another.”

This is not a return to legalism, as some would portray holiness: it is an invitation to a life overflowing with the goodness of God. God said “Be ye holy as I am Holy.” If that is a command to be as free from sin as He is, then the only way it could happen was that my sins were purged at the Cross. But if it is a reminder that, when He bought us with His own blood, he bought our entire lives, and that we are now set aside for His purpose and His pleasure, then it stands as a constant call to be alert to God’s direction in our lives, and to respond to Him in Joyful obedience.

I want my life to have eternal value. I am aware that Jesus said “…apart from me ye can do nothing.” So, unless I respond to Him in such a way that He is free to use my life as He wishes, then my efforts will essentially be wasted. Remember, He did not say, “Apart from me you can’t do as much…” He said, “…apart from me ye can do nothing!”

The invitation was to all of Israel, in verse 5, here—that’s who the “house of Jacob includes. But Jesus said “come unto me, ALL ye that are heavily laden.” And the implication, there, is the same as here: we, too, are loaded down with our individual propensities for sin, whether overt or covert, and we also utterly fail to approach the holiness of God. That is why Romans 3:23 says “ALL have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” That is also why Jesus said “and I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw ALL men unto me.” (John 12:32) And the invitation He gives is to “Whosoever will.” “Whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely…” (Revelation 22:17)

Are you willing to take God up on that offer? Do you see the coming judgment and desire to be sheltered in the Grace of God? Then the invitation is to you, just as it was to Israel. We are not promised the land, but, even better: we are promised a place with Jesus, wherever He is.

All He asks us to do, is to confess our sins to Him, and then accept His free forgiveness: then we can choose, moment by moment, to walk with Him. When we fall, we confess, we rise up, and we walk again. He has called us to walk together with Him in the light.

Let’s strive to choose daily to walk in that freedom and holiness.

Lord Jesus, free us from the bondage of our sin and our fleshly desires. Raise us up to walk with you in the light of your Word, by the power of your Holy Spirit. Make us the reflected lights in the World around us, as you have called us to be.


Beginning the Book of Isaiah

Beginning the Book of Isaiah

© C. O. Bishop 2/16/19

Introduction:

Regarding the Prophets:

The prophetic books are usually listed in two divisions; Major and Minor—this has nothing to do with importance or authority, but only volume. Also, the prophets are not in chronological order. So, Isaiah is not the first (Jonah is), nor is it necessarily the most important. (In terms of how it ties the whole Bible timeline together, it might be argued that Daniel is possibly most important.) But in terms of the frequency with which it is quoted by New Testament writers, as well as sheer volume, and how thoroughly it points to the person of Christ and the coming kingdom age, and warns of coming judgment, Isaiah is foremost, in every sense.

Further, remember that, in all ages, a prophet was/is a mouthpiece for God…a spokesman for God. In the Old Testament he was also (frequently) a “seer” or a teller of what was to come. God claims this as His own peculiar credential as bona fide Deity: He is the only one who can tell us precisely how things will turn out. No educated guesses, or vague, smoke-and-mirrors type “prophecies.” He called by name, people who were not to be born for decades to come (Cyrus, in Isaiah 44:28; Josiah in 1st Kings 13:2); and He told in exquisite detail, things that would happen in hours, in a day, or a month, a year, or even thousands of years in the future. (Isaiah 48:5)

A Look at Isaiah

Isaiah was one of the most important prophets, in that: he was quoted by most of the New Testament writers, he was the writer of the most lengthy of the prophetic books, and he ministered to Judah under four kings (though only briefly under Uzziah, also known as Azariah.) The first five chapters are a rather lengthy introduction to the themes of the book, as his apparent call from God occurred in chapter six—at least that is the way it looks…he does not specifically say that this was his first call—he only says what happened—and also says that he served under four kings (verse 1).

Isaiah gives us a great deal of information about the coming Messiah: his virgin birth, his suffering, his resurrection, his return in judgment, his earthly kingdom, and his eternal reign. Another important theme is the remnant of Israel, preserved by God. Yet another is the eventual blessing of the gentile nations (predicted earlier, by Moses, in Genesis 22:18).

As we read the book, it is very important to remember that this book of prophecy is to Israel and Judah (the divided Kingdom), though mostly (verse 1) to Judah (southern portion) and her capital city, Jerusalem; and NOT to us, as Christians, or as Americans (or whomever else). It is for us all, but not to us all…this is an important distinction, in that when God says “Israel”, He means Israel, not the United States, Britain, or some other gentile nation. We are to learn from their experience, and be warned by the consequences of their behavior. But the book is definitely concerning Israel and Judah, not (primarily) any other nation, except as named in the text.

When reading this book, it is nearly impossible to avoid the tendency to try to apply the condemnations and warnings directly to our country(s), because they seem so applicable;  but that is the key—remember that they were directly, literally to Israel; usually Judah in particular, and only by application…careful application…is it for us. The same goes double for the promises: unless it is part of the promised blessings to the gentiles, don’t try to apply any of the promises as a blanket promise to all who believe—it might be (and most probably is) specific to Jerusalem in particular, Judah, Israel, or the combined reunified tribes as a nation.

The book begins with a solemn warning to Judah and Jerusalem.

Chapter 1

1The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.

Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth: for the Lord hath spoken, I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against me.

The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master’s crib: but Israel doth not know, my people doth not consider.

Ah sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a seed of evildoers, children that are corrupters: they have forsaken the Lord, they have provoked the Holy One of Israel unto anger, they are gone away backward.

After addressing the book (verse 1) to Judah and Jerusalem, God begins by calling the whole creation to bear witness (verse 2): He has reared up a people, a privileged people, whom He has nourished and cared for, as if He were rearing children; but that nation has rebelled against Him. He compares them unfavorably (verse 3) to barnyard animals: oxen and asses…pointing out that even lowly, relatively unintelligent animals recognize the one who feeds them (verse 3)…but that Judah has forgotten her God, and deliberately turned her back on Him (verse 4.)

I have observed this behavior among even the lower animals, as well; birds, for example. A flock of chickens will quickly learn to recognize the one who feeds them, and will come running when that person calls. Even fish (sea bass) are currently being experimentally trained to come to a particular sonic signal, in hopes that fish farming and harvesting will become simpler.

But: we humans have a distressing tendency to forget who our sustainer has been. We do this both in human relationships and in our relationship to God. Ingratitude, and a short memory of the benefits we have received, seem to be ingrained into our fallen nature: Even though we usually find it personally offensive if another human fails to recognize a service we have done toward them, we constantly do the same thing, particularly in our relationship with God. And it costs us dearly: In the case of Judah, it brought national chastisement from God.

Notice, too, that he says they are loaded down with sins, and that they are a brood (seed) of evildoers. This is who they are by nature. They did not just “somehow become that way.” Jesus addressed this idea in John 8:44, where he said that the Jews to whom He spoke were the children of the devil…He said “ye are of your father, the devil, and his works will ye do….” It was natural for the people to respond the way they did, because of their pedigree. Judah, in Isaiah’s day, was no different: God said they were not only corrupt, but they were “corrupters.” They influenced others to corruption, as well. Sin is always contagious. When we rebel against God, we influence others to do the same.

As a nation, Judah had forsaken the LORD, and turned away completely. There were still believers around: under Hezekiah there was a great revival, and Judah turned back to God, in a great way. (Read 2nd Chronicles 29-32) But there had already been a terrible apostasy in Judah, which had begun much earlier in Israel, the Northern ten tribes. As a nation, they were in sin; and, God states (in verses 5-8,) that He has punished Judah until there is nothing left to punish.

Why should ye be stricken any more? ye will revolt more and more: the whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint.

From the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness in it; but wounds, and bruises, and putrifying sores: they have not been closed, neither bound up, neither mollified with ointment.

Your country is desolate, your cities are burned with fire: your land, strangers devour it in your presence, and it is desolate, as overthrown by strangers.

And the daughter of Zion (Jerusalem) is left as a cottage in a vineyard, as a lodge in a garden of cucumbers, as a besieged city.

The custom in that day was to erect a small shelter for a night watchman in vineyards and gardens, to keep marauding animals away. But when the season was over, and harvest was past, the shelter was left to fall apart, as it was only a temporary shelter anyway. Far from being the prosperous nation they had once been, Judah was in poverty, now, and Jerusalem was in ruins.

They were a destroyed, desolate nation, cast down by the God they had once claimed to serve. He was now offering to try something else in order to reach Judah. He offered to reason with them. Incidentally, this is nothing new—He has attempted to reason with Man since the very beginning (Genesis 3:9-13, 4:6, 7, etc.). But He is once more attempting to reason with a fallen people. God extends reason to us, as well, via the Gospel. We always consider ourselves to be “reasonable” people, but the historical facts do not support that claim. We rebel as a matter of principle, as if it is somehow a noble cause, and a right thing to do. We forget that a puppet who “cuts his strings” is completely helpless. The strings were what made him seem to be alive and functioning. We are not puppets, in the strictest sense, but we are utterly dependent upon the God who created us and who sustains and defends us…and, whether we believe it or not.

Except the Lord of hosts had left unto us a very small remnant, we should have been as Sodom, and we should have been like unto Gomorrah.

10 Hear the word of the Lord, ye rulers of Sodom; give ear unto the law of our God, ye people of Gomorrah.

Hypocrisy Stinks

Judah was still practicing “religion,” but their hearts have long ago abandoned His worship. (Careful, now…this is Judah, not the USA, or any other modern, post-Christian nation.) He compares them to Sodom, and to Gomorrah (verses 9 and 10.) So, knowing that their hearts are far from Him, he tells them (v. 11-15) to take away their sacrifices, services, incense and prayers. He wants nothing to do with their pretense.

11 To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me? saith the Lord: I am full of the burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he goats.

12 When ye come to appear before me, who hath required this at your hand, to tread my courts?

13 Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto me; the new moons and sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting.

14 Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hateth: they are a trouble unto me; I am weary to bear them.

15 And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood.

God could no longer stand the sight and smell of their offerings: he wanted to hear no more of their prayers. He states that when they lifted their hands to Him in prayer, what He saw was that their hands were red with the blood of the innocents they had killed as a nation.

I don’t know whether He meant criminal attacks, or gross governmental negligence which has cost people their lives, or something else entirely. In our nation, the United States, it might well apply to the huge numbers of abortions every year, or, possibly to our having sold weapons of war all over the planet, or simply to the many who lose their lives every year, to crime in our streets and homes, while our governments are filled with people who claim to be good, and “Champions of Justice,” but adamantly refuse to put away the evil from among us. We parole violent criminals, and allow them to go back and repeat their crimes and worse. We promote the lottery, and then decry the gambling addictions that ruin our people. We glorify violence and immorality in television shows and movies, and then wonder why our people continue to slide into more and more violent crime, and gross immorality. We are reaping what we have sown.

Judah had done the same sorts of things, and was coming to the end of their cycle. Notice that God is not saying that the religion itself had anything wrong with it—the problem was the people. Judaism and the Temple services associated with it, was ordained by God: but, the people repeatedly allowed themselves to first become perfunctory, and then lax, and finally completely false in their response toward God. Their religion had become irrelevant to them, and repugnant to God. What does God say they needed? Repentance and cleansing.

Repentance and Cleansing

16 Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil;

17 Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow.

Verse 16 and 17 describe repentance—the kind of repentance God wants: first, a turning from evil (which first requires recognizing it,) and then a turning to good. Repentance does not simply mean halting—it means reversing direction. They had to return to their relationship to God being central to who they were as a nation, not just a peripheral point of interest, or a national peculiarity, and “trademark” of sorts. It had to be the core of their thinking, not a “veneer” pasted to the outer shell: it must be the structure, not the “paint.”

Social justice was to be the fruit of that change, not the change itself. Attempting to change the results without changing the core issue is akin to hanging fruit on a dead tree. It will only be a temporary change, and impossible to maintain; while a genuine revival of the tree would produce life, and fruit in its season. So, God calls to them to restore their relationship with Himself. The proof of that restoration would be the fruit He describes.

A nation can produce righteous legislation, but it is impossible to “legislate righteousness.” You cannot produce righteousness by laws, or even by external obedience to righteous laws: Paul emphasized this in Galatians 2:21; “I do not frustrate the Grace of God, for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.” David recognized this truth in Psalm 51:17, where he recognized that a broken and contrite heart would not be rejected by God.

Be Reasonable

So, now God attempts to reason with His people:

18 Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.

19 If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land:

This is God’s offer to “settle out of court”, so to speak—a plea for them to be reasonable—to be entreated, and to accept good counsel. Notice the phrase “Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” God is offering cleansing. His command that they wash themselves has become an invitation to be washed. The self-cleansed man is no cleaner than when he began to wash…God points this out in another passage: Jeremiah 2:22 and 4:14 tell the other side of that challenge. (“Though thou wash thee with nitre (washing soda), and take the much soap, yet thine iniquity is marked before me, saith the Lord GOD”, and “O Jerusalem, wash thine heart from wickedness that thou mayest be saved”.) One could find a parallel with John 13:8, where Jesus said to Peter, “If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me.” God has to do the cleansing, or the sinner can never be clean.

Judgment is Coming

20 But if ye refuse and rebel, ye shall be devoured with the sword: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.

This is his warning to Judah of coming Judgment. The whole world has also been warned of coming Judgment. We know that God is righteous, and that He judges sin. How we respond to that knowledge reveals who we are. If we are grieved by our own sins, and throw ourselves on His Mercy, as offered in the person of Christ, then He offers to permanently set our sins aside. But if we ignore His warning, then we stand condemned because of our unbelief. There is no middle ground. Jesus said those who put their faith in Him are not condemned, but that those who reject Him are condemned already, because they do not trust in Him. (John 3:18)

We need to keep these things in mind as we study through the book of Isaiah.

Lord Jesus, help us to look into your Word and see your face as the King of Kings, the immortal eternal and sovereign God of all time and space—and our Savior! Make us able ministers of your Grace to the dying world around us.


Problems (and Answers) in Genesis

Problems (and Answers) in Genesis

© C. O. Bishop 2018

Genesis 7, 8, compared to other passages

Introduction:

People discuss the Genesis Flood in a variety of ways, divided into two main groups: those who believe it is a true account of a worldwide flood which actually occurred in human history, as a judgment upon human sin; and those who reject it as a myth, or a legend, or even a bald-faced lie. There are a few seeming discrepancies here, but I think they are easily reconciled. Some people will always reject anything from the Bible, without further thought, as they have already rejected the God of the Bible. I am not attempting to convince such persons of their error, so much as to confirm to believers that they have made a good choice; that the evidence is clear. But some do see discrepancies in the text.

Problem #1

Some time ago, I had made the statement that Noah entered the Ark a week before the rains came. I was remembering Genesis 7:1-10. The LORD commanded Noah to enter into the Ark, saying that there was only a week left until the flood would begin (1-4). It then says that Noah and his family went in as commanded, and that the animals followed him, and that the rain came seven days later (5-10).

This is the part which I had recalled, and commented on, but someone else pointed out that the passage clearly said the rain started the same day they went in, correctly quoting verses 12 and 13. So I recanted, not having the sense, at the moment, to look a little further back, to see why I had thought that they were in the Ark for a week, waiting for the rain. But now I see that both are clearly stated here: so how can I reconcile the two?

Well, to begin with, there is no evidence, once the procession of the animals had begun, that the people might not have moved in and out of the Ark, as they felt the need. (Or, they may have stayed there nearly exclusively.) And we don’t know how long it took to get the many thousands of animals aboard, and situated in their places, though it does say that the animals went in to Noah in the ark—he did not have to drive them in, lead them in, nor bring them in cages, or whatever. Apparently the LORD brought them to him, and He caused them to enter the Ark. (Getting them there was no big problem, either, as there was only one land mass at the time, according to Genesis 1:9.) Perhaps the humans did not even have to arrange for the other creatures’ places. It very much looks as though God was completely in command, here. (Now, there’s a revolutionary concept!)

But I can easily believe it may have taken a week to get them all aboard, at which time Noah and his family may have hopped down for a last look around, to make sure nothing was forgotten, or something. At any rate, apparently, the day the rain began was the day the procession into the Ark was complete. And God closed the door. And then the flood began to rise: not before.) Keep in mind that the Ark is a fairly detailed picture of our salvation in Christ. The general Judgment which will fall upon the earth, in the coming Tribulation, will not begin until the entire Body of Christ is saved, and taken off the Earth. This is a pre-figuring of the pre-tribulation rapture of the Church!)

Problem #2

Now. Here’s another problem. The earth had only one land-mass, as we said earlier, but that is still a lot of land. And the water had to rise enough to cover all of it. Many people deny the possibility of such a result, “just from 40 days of rain.” And they are right!

Look at Genesis 7:11, 12. The rain was certainly not the only place from which the waters emanated. It calls out three places. The first is that the fountains of the great deep were broken up—I don’t know if that means that water was coming from under the ground, as some teach, or if the ocean itself simply broke out, and overflowed its bounds in a great “tsunami” of sorts. That would certainly be a possibility, as we will see that unimaginably huge forces were about to break the super-continent into various pieces. Either way, it is not talking about rain, but evidently a subterranean or submarine source.

The second source is that the windows of heaven were opened. Now, I’ll admit that this could have been simply be a metaphor for the rain, except for the fact that, in Genesis 1:6, 7, God described two bodies of water: one below the sky, the other above it. Rain is never “above the sky”: in fact, it only exists in the lower strata of the atmosphere. The water “above the sky” had to be in what we would now call “outer space,” and it could only be in the form of ice crystals. The water from above the atmosphere had apparently been suspended there since the creation, and it now was being released to come down.

In recent years, scientists have verified that, to this day, great balls of ice-crystals are entering our atmosphere from space every day—snow-balls the size of a two-story house, thousands of times per day: they are immediately evaporated, due to atmospheric friction, and they add to Earth’s supply of water. So apparently these snow-balls are still left from the water canopy that surrounded us before the flood. It is possible, in fact, that the protection from harmful radiation, originally afforded by that canopy, is partially the reason why the people lived so long up to that time, and began to die sooner and sooner, immediately thereafter. But that is only speculation: we can’t prove it.

Then in verse 12, he says “…AND the rain was upon the earth forty days and forty nights.”  The rain was a third source of water. It is instructive to note that, back in Genesis 2:5, 6, it states that no rain had been there, originally, but that God had caused a mist to come up and water the face of the ground. So, the rain was a new thing. This first rain came as judgment, and a worldwide monsoon. A true, torrential, monsoon downpour is a terrifying thing, even today, as the air is so completely filled with huge raindrops and (usually) a driving wind, so that the drops are hitting with painful force, not a gentle sprinkling of water. If they had never seen rain before, and the first rain was of this sort, it would be devastatingly frightening.

Genesis 7 and 8

Now: notice some other things: the rain was on the earth forty days and nights, and it was possibly toward the end of that time that the Ark was afloat (Genesis 7:17).  But, the waters continued to rise, after the rain had ceased, or at least after that first monsoon had ended. (Genesis 8:2 suggests that more rain came later.) Genesis 7:18-24 say that the waters continued to rise for 150 days—about five months. And at the end of that time, (Genesis 8:2) it says three things stopped:

  1. the fountains of the deep were stopped,
  2. the windows of heaven were stopped, and
  3. the rain from heaven was restrained (not after just 40 days), and

Then the waters began to recede. The abatement of the flood took even longer than the rising of the waters: the waters continued to recede for the rest of the year. After seven months, the Ark came to rest on the mountains (plural) of Ararat (whose elevation, today, is between 12,000 and 16,900 feet: the land was rising, not just the water “drying out.”)

After ten months, the tops of the mountains had become visible (8:5); in the middle of the eleventh month, Noah sent out the raven, which flew around for the remainder of the time. He sent out a dove, too, which is a bird with somewhat cleaner habits than the raven, and, as she could find no suitable roost, or a place to land, she simply came back to the Ark, and Noah took her back in. A week later, he tried it again, and she came back in the evening, with an olive leaf in her beak, which has become a traditional symbol of peace, because of this little piece of history. (Both the dove and the olive branch are used in that way, either separately or together.) A week later, he tried it one more time, and the dove stayed gone, evidently feeling that there was no point in returning.

Look at Genesis 8:13—it gives us the “date” when the waters were sufficiently gone, so that Noah started opening things up: the surface was dry—perhaps it was still hazardous, though, because of mud-holes, quicksand, and the like. According to verse 14, it was still another eight or nine weeks before the Lord told them they could come out. Why would such a “date” be important? Because, if you didn’t notice it when we read it the first time, it was one year and ten days earlier that the flood itself had begun, and they had apparently been aboard the Ark for seven days already. So, either one year and ten days aboard the Ark, or one year and seventeen days…take your pick. It was NOT a “forty day flood”—the heavy rains lasted “only” forty days, and evidently continued intermittently after that. The door to the ark opened over a year later, no matter how you read it.

Problem #3

Let’s notice some other little things—people frequently question the truth of this account, saying “there is simply not enough water in the world, to cover the high mountains.” They are forgetting two things: one is that there are incredibly deep trenches and “deeps” in the oceans of the earth: far deeper than the tallest mountains: If the ground were level, there is more than enough water! The other thing is that those very mountains, the ones they think could not be covered, virtually all have fossil seashells at or near their peaks. (How’d they get up there, hmmm?) We know that today, we can dig fossil seashells near the peak of Mt. McKinley (now called “Denali”), and upon most other such peaks. The forces which heaved those mountains up from the ancient sea-bottoms, or from the plains which had once been inundated by a worldwide flood, are the same forces that eventually tore apart the old “super-continent”, and left the pieces remaining today, as “continents.”

Let’s look back at Genesis 6:19, 20: it says, “…the waters prevailed greatly upon the earth, and the high hills were covered.” That’s pretty impressive sounding, by itself, from my perspective: I live on a 750-foot hill, and it is a very small one compared to the real hills nearby. But read verse 20: it says that the waters prevailed (rose up) fifteen more cubits (that’s less than 30 feet!) and the mountains were covered, and everything died.

So, then… if the difference, at that time, between a “mountain” and a “high hill” was only 30 feet, or so, what does that tell us? That they didn’t know what a mountain was? Or that the mountains they were referring to were just not very big? Or, that what passed for a mountain before the cataclysm that tore apart the antediluvian world, was far different than what we know today? We know there was only one land mass (compare 1:9 with 10:25—the Hebrew word (erets) translated “earth”, in Genesis 10:25, specifically means the ground, not the people.) By the way, modern science has finally conceded that this concept of “one supercontinent” is correct: in fact, they believe they “discovered it,” though ancient man actually watched it happening!

There was one land mass, with no “real mountains,” by today’s standards. The waters of the flood truly covered the entire earth. The earth was completely under water for at least five months; probably more like eight. Then a tiny part was dry, and finally it emerged with all the ground usable. But huge things were still happening—the land did not finish breaking up into separate masses until several generations later, about the time of the Tower of Babel. So when the people dispersed at the time of the Tower of Babel (in Genesis 11), it was easy for them to do so: they just walked away from each other.  And the ground continued to move, and pull, and shake, and tear apart, until the various family groups actually found themselves on diverse bodies of land, rapidly rising, and departing one another. It was rapid enough for Peleg to be named after the event, in commemoration of what happened (Genesis 10:25). In fact, it is still breaking up, today, but at a slower and slower rate of change…inches per year, instead of miles.

The Great Rift Valley, in Africa, is splitting apart the African continent, today, in a slow, but spectacular fashion. Victoria Falls is the result of the entire Zambezi River (over a mile wide) falling off the edge of that chasm, to the rocks, 340 feet below. People come from all over the world to see the spectacle of that waterfall, and that awesome chasm. Furthermore, I have read, this year, that oceanographers have discovered that there are stone ruins of towns beneath the North Sea, in an area which, if it were still above the sea, would connect the British Isles with the mainland of Europe. In other words, Britain was once a peninsula, connected to the mainland…and people lived on all of that land. (I guess “Brexit” really occurred thousands of years before recorded history!)

What can we Conclude?

The two things I especially see here, are that:

  1. God doesn’t exaggerate, and
  2. God keeps his Word.

Incidentally, the fact that He doesn’t exaggerate can also be applied to what He said, back in Genesis 6:5, saying that “the wickedness of Man was great on the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” That was not an exaggeration, either. Which would be easier to exaggerate? The flood, or the condition of the heart of Man? You could say “the whole earth was flooded,” and only mean the part inhabited by man, or most of it, perhaps: many people refuse to believe the account, at all, because of just these sorts of assumptions.  But God did not exaggerate. He meant what He said, and He fulfilled His promise of coming Judgment. The same is true today.

His estimate of the heart of man is entirely accurate: it is not a “metaphor,” or any sort of “philosophical statement;” it is just the fact of the matter. We are a corrupted race, and all of us, to one degree or another, carry the mark of that degeneration in our character. We are taught by secular humanism (and by other religions) that “Man is fundamentally good.” Nothing could be further from the truth! Man is fundamentally flawed, and corrupt, and all one has to do to demonstrate that truth is to read the news on any given day: Read the political news, the crime rates, the various tragic realities in our cities, and those across the world. The whole human race is infected with a fatal disease called “Sin,” and we are getting worse, not better. The only “cure” is the Blood of Jesus!

In Ephesians 2:2, 3 (please read it!) Paul says (speaking to believers) that we (believers) all once walked according to the course of this World, according to the Prince of the Power of the Air (also known as Satan), the spirit that now works in the children of disobedience (meaning all unregenerate humans), among whom, also, we all had our conversation (“way of life, or behavior”: Greek anastrophemen) in times past, in the lusts of the flesh, and of the mind (notice that sin starts in the mind); and that we were by nature (by birth—by genetic predisposition) the children of wrath, even as others. (Just like everyone else.)

The fact is, that, when Adam fell into sin, back in Genesis 3:7, he took the entire race with him, as Paul points out in Romans 5:12 “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned.” Verse 19 confirms this, saying that, “By one man’s sin, many were made sinners.” There is a universal contamination, here. All of us need a Savior: each individually, because we all continue in sin, individually. The Ark provided salvation for those within the Ark. But every single individual in the Ark went in voluntarily, in obedience to the call of God, and in faith, believing the Word of God.

That Ark was a great picture of the Person of Christ, in many ways: all inside the Ark survived the Judgment; all outside perished! The Ark bore the brunt of the judgment, but rose above it, carrying all within it to safety. Jesus bore the judgment for our sin, and died in our place, but rose to eternal life; all who believe in Him, entering in by faith, are born again, sharing in His death, His resurrection and His eternal life.

But, every individual human has to make this choice: will you confess that you are a sinner, in need of a Savior, and recognize Jesus as your personal blood-sacrifice for sin? (In which case He will permanently place you in the Body of Christ.) Or will you deny it all, and remain outside? This is the choice we present to the world around us. We pray for their salvation, praying for open doors before us, and willing hearts, but every single one has to make a personal decision. Our job, as the Ambassadors of Christ, is to persuade them, and to light the way for them.

Jesus said, “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in Heaven.” He also called us to be His witnesses in the World, as lights in a dark place. Let’s not fail at the task He has given us.

Lord Jesus, convict each of our hearts of the enormity of our sin, and the incredible Grace that you offer through the Cross. Help us to take hold of that Grace daily, and to offer it to those around us, as we live in the light of the Cross.


Finding Jesus in Genesis: Lesson 12

Finding Jesus in Genesis: Lesson 12

Faith and the Promise of the Land

© C. O. Bishop 9/17/18

Genesis 23the Death of Sarah.

Introduction:

As we journey through Genesis, watching for pictures of Jesus, the Messiah, we also see some pictures of those who believe in Jesus. Bear in mind that Abraham spoke with God face-to-face on at least one occasion, and was spoken to by him (and had a conversation with Him, not necessarily face-to-face) on several occasions. We saw, by comparing these passages with New Testament passages, that the person with whom Abraham spoke was unquestionably God the Son, in a pre-incarnate appearance called a “Christophany.”

But, in this chapter, there is no such conversation: no such appearance. Instead we see what could be just a quiet, sad story of a very old man purchasing a burial place for his dead wife. But God chose to include that story, in quite a bit of detail, so there must be something here of value. If all He had chosen to say, was “Sarah died at 127 years of age, and was buried in Hebron.” we might pass it by and not worry about missing much. But, if we summarize the 20 verses of chapter 23 to read as a terse, 12-word sentence such as the one above, we run a great risk of missing something of real importance. So, let’s stop and consider what is really there.

Sarah’s Death at Hebron

Sarah died at 127 years of age (thus, Isaac was 37 when she died—remember that Sarah was 90 when Isaac was born—we have no idea how much time had passed between the last chapter and this one). Abraham had been with her most of her life, and most of his, though we don’t know how long—she was 65 when they left Haran, and they already had been married long enough to know, by human standards, they were not going to have any children. They just didn’t know that God was going to change that future.

Sarah died in Kirjath-arba ( meaning “City of Arba”), or Hebron (“alliance.”) The place is about 20 miles due south of Jerusalem, and is still called Hebron by the Jews and the Western nations, but Al Khalil by the Arabs. This place has been purchased by the Jews at least twice—maybe three times, as after World War two, the Jews migrating to Palestine routinely purchased any land they gained, buying it from the Jordanian people who had drifted in from the east.

At the time of Sarah’s death, Abraham was sojourning among the Hittites—the children of Heth. He went to them and asked if he might purchase a piece of land to bury his dead wife. (He had a particular plot of land in mind.) They graciously declined, saying that he was a great man among them and that he could simply bury his dead in any of the existing tombs, there, and that he did not need to make a purchase. This would imply that they considered him (at least at some level) to be one of them: they thought of him as family!

But Abraham had other ideas…he knew that he was not one of them, and he knew that God had called him out from the world. He specifically wanted a piece of land that he owned, there in the land of Canaan. He knew that the land—all of it—had been promised to him and his heirs, but the Hittites did not know that. Abraham wanted a gravesite that could be undisturbed, hopefully, and to which his heirs could come back, generation after generation. So he asked, before all the people, that they sell him a particular field wherein was a cave.

Abraham Purchased Land already Promised to Him by God

The owner of the field (Ephron the Hittite) may just have been grandstanding, or may have truly been generous, but, at first, he offered to simply give Abraham the field. Abraham insisted that the owner actually sell it to him, at the full value, and that he specify as terms of the sale, that the whole field, the cave (Called the Cave of Machpelah, still today), and the trees of that field would be part of the purchase. I don’t know how the Hittites felt about it all, but historians say that the price finally named—four hundred shekels of silver—was quite high, compared to other fields sold in the Bible. I don’t know how much it was, in terms of wages at that time, but it was evidently an extremely high price for such a piece of land. However, I think it is important to notice that Abraham did not dicker, or quibble over the price—he simply paid it, and made sure he had plenty of witnesses to that fact. Genesis records that the field, the cave, the trees in the field, and the trees that made up the border of the field were all included in the bargain.

Abraham believed that the land of Canaan would be the eternal dwelling-place of his people: so he bought a piece of it, up front. This is faith, with shoe-leather on it. The Hittites had no idea of his motives, and undoubtedly thought him a total fool, to pay that sort of price for what had been offered as a gift. They may have also seen that Abraham was quite elderly, and that his only son was still unmarried. They may have reasoned that there was a good chance they would get it all back anyway. (In fact, they actually may have done so: according to the record in Joshua 24:32, regarding Joseph’s burial, Jacob had purchased that land again, from the same tribe of people, many years later, for one hundred pieces of silver…a quarter of the price Abraham had paid.)

Whatever their thoughts, the sale was made, and Abraham buried Sarah there; Abraham himself was later buried there; Isaac and Rebekah were buried there; Jacob and Leah were buried there (Genesis 49:29-32), and Joseph was eventually buried there, among others. It was the family mausoleum for centuries to come. In Acts 7:15, 16, it was mentioned by Stephen in his defense, before he was stoned by the Jews. The people of Israel knew this place, and it is still important: Hebron is a holy city to them, still today, second only to Jerusalem, itself. Nearly four thousand years of promise are marked by that tomb, the Cave of Machpelah, at Hebron.

Can we see any parallels, here?

We already have a promise of eternal life with Christ. All the riches of His kingdom have already been given to us, though we can’t see much of it, really. We know very little: just what He has chosen to tell us, though many books have been written, claiming to tell us “all about heaven.” But God says “…eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him.” (1st Corinthians 2:9)

So, how can we “buy a piece of it” up front? How can we put “shoe-leather on faith,” and claim part of what Jesus says we already own?

  • We have to “buy it” in the face of adversity, while the World thinks us fools, just as Abraham did. (We have been called out from the World, just as he was.)
  • We have to make choices that seem the picture of foolishness to those who are lost, but are ultimately wise, before God.
  • Abraham reached beyond death, to purchase a home beyond death. What choices can we make to accomplish something similar?

Jesus had some things to say about this subject:

Matthew 6:19-21;

19 Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal:
20 But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal:

21 For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

Notice that He did not say, “Where your heart is, there will your treasure be also.” It is the other way around. We have to choose where to lay up treasure, and that will affect where the eyes of our hearts are turning. We read in Daniel 6 that the prophet Daniel habitually prayed toward Jerusalem. Why? Because that is where his treasure was (the city itself, the ruined temple, and the homeland of the Jews), and his response revealed that this is also where his heart was.

As we begin to “lay up treasures in heaven,” our hearts will increasingly turn in that direction, and it will change our perspective on life, and our desires, our ambitions, and, ultimately, every aspect of our lives. So, what indications might I have as to “where my heart is” and what my “treasure” really is? Jesus addressed that, too, in a couple of ways.

Matthew 12:34-36;

34 O generation of vipers, how can ye, being evil, speak good things? for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.
35 A good man out of the good treasure of the heart bringeth forth good things: and an evil man out of the evil treasure bringeth forth evil things.

36 But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment.

The Pharisees had just accused Jesus of being possessed by Satan, and working by the power of Satan. Why? Because he cast out a demon, and healed a blind and mute man, who had been sick because of the demonic possession. So, Jesus did something Very Good, and their response was to accuse Him of being the ultimate evil. They revealed their hearts by their accusations. (Who is the “accuser of the brethren?” According to Revelation 12:9, 10, it is Satan himself!) So the accusers, by their words, revealed whose servants they really were. They revealed what was in their hearts: the “evil treasure” of their hearts, by their words.

Matthew 19:21;

21 Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.
22 But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions.

A young man came to Jesus, asking what he should do, to earn eternal life. (He did not use the word, “earn”, but he implied that he wanted to DO something to have eternal life. Jesus knew his heart, and suggested that the young man should “keep the commandments.” The young man asked “which ones?” (Already “hedging” a little, I think…)

Jesus quoted only six commandments, not all of them even part of the Ten Commandments, and leaving out several of the Ten. The young man confidently claimed that he had kept all of them all his life. Jesus knew that the young fellow was wealthy, and He also knew his heart, so He said, “if you want to be perfect (complete), sell everything you own, and give it to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven…and you can come and follow me.” The young man went away, sorrowing…why? Because he loved his riches! His treasure was very definitely here on earth, and he was not about to give it up. What commandment, of those which Jesus deliberately omitted, was the young man violating? Covetousness, and Idolatry, perhaps? Paul confirms that covetousness is idolatry, in Colossians 3:5. So, this young man revealed where his treasure really was, by his actions.

Hebrews 11:24-26

24 By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter;
25 Choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season;

26 Esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt: for he had respect unto the recompence of the reward.

Moses chose to attach himself to the People of God, rather than continue in the court of Pharaoh. He could easily have been seen as a fool by the World: Pharaoh saw him as a traitorous, murderous turncoat, and would have killed him. But God saw his heart, and took him into a “40-year course in shepherding.” Why? Because, after he graduated, he would spend the next 40 years shepherding the Flock of God! Moses revealed where his treasure really was, by his choices. And there was a Reward coming, as a result of his obedience.

How can we apply this today?

1st Corinthians 3:10-15

10 According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon.
11 For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.

12 Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble;
13 Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is.
14 If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward.
15 If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.

We can see, then, that the foundation laid in our lives is the Person of Christ. What are we to build on that Foundation? Jesus said, (John 15:5) “…apart from Me, ye can do nothing.” Notice that He did not say, “Apart from me you can’t do as much.” The fact is, only the things we allow God to do in us and through us, will have eternal value. The things that we allow Jesus to accomplish in our lives will have eternal value, and He says that there is reward attached to that value. Treasure has been laid up ahead, to our account: a reward, for obedience.

As believers, we can reach beyond death, just as Abraham did, and, by faith, we can claim some of what Jesus already has in store for us. And, by so doing, he says that we will gain reward. Salvation is a gift. Reward is the result of obedience.

The rich young ruler thought that he could purchase eternal life by his works. He did not see himself as a sinner, needing a Savior. Jesus pointed out that he was a sinner, and left him to think it over. I hope that, perhaps later, the young fellow caught on to what Jesus had really been teaching, and received the gift of eternal life, by faith…but we are not told the rest of that story.

Behave like a Child of God, because you are one.

All the teachings regarding the believer’s perfect position, and his perfect standing, in Christ, became completely true of you the moment that you believed the Gospel: the moment that you received Jesus as your own Savior.

Are you living in the reality of those truths? We do not live that way in order to “become a child of God:” it is the other way around! We live that way, because we already are a child of God! Ephesians 5:1 says, “Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear Children.” Why? Because that is who you are, as a believer in Jesus Christ!

Lord Jesus, open our eyes to the reality of our position in Christ: help us to reach into eternity by faith, and lay up our treasures there! Let us see beyond the grave, like Abraham, and claim the promised reward, like Moses. Let us serve as your holy ambassadors, in Jesus’ Name!


Finding Jesus in Genesis—Lesson 5

Finding Jesus in Genesis—Lesson 5

© C. O. Bishop 2012 revised 2018

Genesis 12-17—Abram, Man of God

Introduction:

We have been reading through the book of Genesis, with the specific intent of finding either actual, physical appearances of Christ, there, in the form of “Christophanies”, or finding foreshadowings of His coming, his ministry or his character. Sometimes He actually shows up in person, but frequently it is simply a “footprint or a fingerprint,” so to speak, that we find there. A trace of His presence, through which we can learn something of His character and person.

In chapters ten and eleven we saw the break-up of the super-continent, and the division of the languages. We also saw that Noah lived long enough after the flood, to have personally witnessed the beginning of the continental break-up, and that he was still alive when Abram was born, ten generations removed. That is hard for us to grasp, and some people flatly reject the Biblical history, saying it is impossible, or that people counted time differently, or some such thing. What we can see, is the rapidly diminishing lifespan in the first ten or twelve generations after the flood. The normal lifespans dropped from a peak of over nine hundred years, down to less than two hundred, in ten generations, and continued to drop until they stabilized at about 70 years as a norm. That is historical. God tells us of this, so that it is not just a mystery to us.

Abram: Called by God

Beginning in chapter 12, the narrative begins to center on a single man, and a single family. It is interesting, at least, to note that, back in Genesis 9:28, it says that Noah lived for 350 years after the flood. But, in the genealogies in chapter 11, we can see that Abram was born 328 years after the flood. So, he was 22, or thereabouts, when Noah died. Did Abram actually know the old ark-builder personally? I really don’t know, but it certainly was possible at any rate…if he even still spoke the same language! We don’t know at exactly what point the languages were divided.

So, almost all the things in chapters ten and eleven happened before Noah died. Peleg was born 137 years after the flood, and died 26 years after Noah died. But Genesis 10:25 states that the continental breakup occurred during Peleg’s lifetime. So, Noah saw it all happen, and Peleg died when Abram was 48 years old. Abram saw the immediate aftermath of all these things, at least. We don’t know how much he saw, but his elders literally had “seen it all.”  When I was a child, we travelled on steam-powered trains. At the time I had no idea of their significance, or that it was literally the “ending of an era.” Diesel locomotives were rapidly supplanting all the steam locomotives, so that, by the time I was grown, nearly all the steam-engines had been scrapped, or put in museums. But I only vaguely remember those changes.

The division of the languages may have happened when Abram was quite young, or possibly even before he was born. We know it happened between the end of the flood and the introduction of Abram, but not exactly when. However, it may partly serve to explain why Terah, in Genesis 11:31, took his little “tribe,” and left Ur of the Chaldees, and moved away, toward Canaan, If he was still uncomfortable with his “strange neighbors”, even years later.

But as we will discover, later, that Abram had been told to leave that little “tribe” behind, and that just he and his wife were called to go; not the whole family. But in light of the break-up of the super-tribe at Babel, and the continuing breakup of the super-continent, perhaps Terah just made up his mind that they would all go. Perhaps this fits into the general division that began at Babel—or maybe not: the division of the languages could have happened a generation earlier. But, since the motive for the tower of Babel was to prevent the scattering of the people, it seems that the breakup of the land had already begun, and they were trying to maintain a “reason to be,” in Babel. That would put the time about 100-200 years before Abram was born, at the very most. So, the division of the languages was probably quite recent, when Abram was born…or possibly even after his birth, but that seems less likely. In short, some incredibly important changes had just occurred in the years prior to Genesis 12, and Abram enters the picture just after these break-ups, but evidently long enough that they were no longer on his mind, as he never mentions them, perhaps for the same reason I barely remember the loss of the steam-locomotives.

Abram in introduced in chapter 12, and a “new race” is begun, in rudimentary form. The Jews, proper, did not yet exist, and Abram, though he is the father of the whole race, is not himself a Jew. He is a descendant of Shem, to be sure, but so were many of the folk in that region. Abram was just one of many, and not particularly special, in most respects. He was originally from what we now call Iraq. (That is where Babylon was/is, too: 53 miles straight south of Baghdad, and where the tower of Babel was, just before Abram’s time.) Abram and his father, Terah, and his nephew, Lot, left Ur of the Chaldees (which is also in Iraq, about halfway between Baghdad and the coast of the Persian Gulf…120 miles or so from the gulf coast.) and they traveled to Haran (in the south of modern-day Turkey, 140 miles from the northeast corner of the Mediterranean sea.)

Called: to Leave the Old Life Behind

Evidently God had told Abram to leave his Father’s house (Genesis 12:1) and follow God to a new land. Abram took off, but took his father’s household along with him. We can only assume that he must have told his father of the vision, or dream, or appearance of God. Terah evidently thought that was a great idea, and decided he wanted in on it, because in Genesis 11:31, 32 we see that Terah took Abram and Lot, and their wives and journeyed to Haran. Terah took the lead, and managed the migration. This was a journey of just over 700 miles, depending on which route was travelled (but west by northwest, as a general direction), and probably took nearly six weeks on foot, also depending on what flocks were brought along with them. It could have taken much longer. I don’t know whether Terah named the town “Haran” after his dead son, Haran, or not, but it looks that way. The whole family was held together and managed by Terah, until he died, and then God (The LORD) called Abram again. It is interesting to see that it wasn’t until after the “old man” (Terah) died, that God called Abram again, and said “follow me”. I don’t know how much we should read into that connection, but; it is at least interesting to note that, in Ephesians 4:22, we are told to “put aside” the Old Man, so that God can use us. I don’t know whether there is really a connection there; but it is an interesting parallel, at least.

We attempt to do so much, in the flesh, but, the fact is, when the Old Man (our old sin nature) is in control, even the “good things” we do (or attempt to do) will bear no eternal fruit. So, after Terah died, Abram tried again…he really wanted what God had to offer, but he was still clinging to what the World had taught him to be his responsibility. He was “bringing up his brother’s son”, so to speak. But Lot was a grown man, and Abram really could have left him behind…and he should have. Notice that it does not say “he took Lot with him,”, but that “Lot, his brother’s son went with him.” Both Lot and Abram had a choice, and Abram should have left Lot at Haran. We will see the resulting problems, as they arise. But we are really better off to leave behind our old way of life, and start anew, with God in control.

Called: to be Separate

However, at 75 years of age, Abram still took Lot along with him, which proved problematic, and it got them both in trouble more than once. It wasn’t until Abram separated himself from Lot, in Chapter 13, that God said (Genesis 13:14-18) “Now lift up your eyes to the north, the south, the east and the west. To you I will give this land.” (In other words, not to Terah, and not to Lot.) By the way, the Ammonites and the Moabites, who we will meet later, were all Lot’s offspring. And a good deal of the land that was promised to Abraham’s descendants is still populated by the Ammonites. We call them “Jordanians.” The capitol city of Jordan is still called Amman today. (Do you have any ideas what the fuss over the land might be about, today??)

Looking ahead, just a little, it is interesting to me that, in the latter half of chapter 12 and again in chapter 20, Abram was (correctly, as it turned out) fearful that others would seek to take his wife to be their own. In chapter 17 we find out that Sarai was ten years younger than Abram, and we have seen in chapter 12 that Abram was 75 when he left Haran. So Sarai was at least 65 when Abram headed into Egypt, and he was afraid that he would be killed for Sarai’s sake, as she was such a beautiful woman. That is pretty unusual, by today’s standards, at least. And it happened again when she was 90. Was this some sort of a miraculous rejuvenation brought about by God, so that she could mother a child at 90? I don’t know, but it is certainly unusual that a woman of that age was considered so desirable as a bride. I really don’t know what to make of that.

But, in both cases, Abraham begged Sarah to say that he was her brother (which was a half-truth, as she was his half-sister), so that they would not simply murder him to get his wife.  Also, in both cases, Abram (Abraham, by chapter 20) received material compensation for the error on the part of the men who tried to take Sarah. However, we should recognize that his saying she was his sister was an act of spiritual poverty. He did it out of fear, not faith. Abraham had his weaknesses, as we shall see. But he also had some tremendous strengths. One was a general tendency toward Faith. But he had his failures as well. It is good to remember that “hypocrisy” and “failure” are two different things. Abram was a man of great faith who sometimes stumbled and fell.

He was a man of great faith: He simply believed God! When God made a promise, Abram believed it. When God gave a command, as a rule, Abram obeyed. And He worshipped that one God: Everywhere Abram travelled, with few exceptions, he built an altar specifically for the worship of Jehovah-Yahweh-God: The LORD.

The Name of the LORD

Notice that, in Genesis 12:1, the word “LORD” (all caps) is used. This is the way the Bible translators usually treat the “tetragrammaton”—the YHWH from the Hebrew Scriptures. We do not know how to pronounce this name, because, ironically, the Jews forbade their people to speak that name, lest they inadvertently blaspheme: the result being that they have forgotten how to pronounce the name of their God. (How incredibly sad!) Isaiah 43:11 states that “I, even I, am the LORD, and beside me there is no savior.” They have forgotten the name of their Savior!

Toward the end of the 15th century, a Dutch monk named Erasmus suggested “Jehovah” as a possible pronunciation. (Actually pronounced “Yehovah” in his native Germanic tongue.) The Hebrew pronunciation of the Y and the W, are, respectively, “yuh”, and “vuh”… and the Germans pronounce a “J” the same as we Americans pronounce a “Y”. But, we really don’t know which vowels were associated with those four consonants. Modern scholars have suggested other such variations, such as “Yahweh” (which would still have to be pronounced “Yahveh” to be in keeping with Jewish pronunciation).

But it absolutely delights me to note that, in Acts 4:12, Peter said, “Neither is there salvation in any other, for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” And he was referring to the name of Jesusnot the Old Testament name. So, the only Savior (the LORD) called Abram to leave his old life behind, and follow Him; just as today, the only Savior (Jesus) calls us to abandon our old way of life and learn to walk with Him. And it is the same Savior! This is the God to whom Abram built his altars: it was Jesus the whole time!

Called: to Worship

Abram, the Altar-Builder: 

In Genesis 12:5-7, we see that Abram journeyed (south) into Canaan, to the place of Sichem, and the plain of Moreh (in the north end of what is now Israel.) At that time this was all Canaanite territory. The Canaanites were the offspring of Canaan, the son of Ham. And, in verse seven, The LORD appeared to Abram and said that He was giving the land of the Canaanites to Abram and his offspring (though Abram had no children.) And Abram evidently believed God, because his response was to worship God there. He built an altar, for the worship of the LORD, who would thereafter be the God of Israel.

Then he moved again: I don’t know why. But he moved to a mountain, to the East of what would later be called Bethel (the house of God).  And He built an altar there, as well, and “called upon the name of the LORD.” This is a good pattern in Abram’s life. He was putting his relationship with God first, it seems. He was making a place of worship and a pattern of worship the predominant thing in his life. God took first priority. That is a good choice!

But a test came, and he stumbled: a famine began, and he left the land he had been promised and went to Egypt. Is it possible God sent him? Yes, but it doesn’t say that He did, and Abram also apparently did not build an altar there. My guess would be that this was a fleshly response, and he was responding in fear, not faith. All we know for sure is what is written: He left the Promised Land and went to Egypt, because of the Famine. (Not because God sent him.)

Just as he feared, Pharaoh did take Sarah, and gave him lots of money, slaves and herds, etc…. (We don’t like it, but, yes, Abram was a slave-owner, like many others.) But God plagued Pharaoh and his household, because of Sarah, and Pharaoh knew he had been deceived. He confronted Abram, and rebuked him for not telling him that Sarah was actually his wife. Then he sent him packing, but allowed Abram to keep all the gifts, so that he went away a very wealthy man. Sometimes we may profit, in temporal ways, by our actions, even when those actions are not pleasing to God. Wealth is not a good measure of God’s blessing or approval of our behavior. I have known a Christian man who profited by tax-evasion…temporarily…but it caught up to him later, and it shamed him for the rest of his life. Evidently God graciously allowed Abram to prosper, in spite of the lapse in faith, but God never approves unbelief. I would imagine that every time Abram remembered how he had risked Sarah to save himself, he probably was ashamed, and grieved for his failure, in spite of the wealth that resulted.

Final Separation: and Service

Genesis 13—Separating Abram from Lot

Ultimately, Abram and Lot were both too prosperous to live together, as their huge flocks and herds were competing for forage; their herdsmen were beginning to quarrel, on top of the fact that the land was still inhabited by the Canaanites and the Perizzites. So, Abram suggested a peaceful separation: he gave Lot first choice of territory, and said that he, Abram, would move away from wherever Lot chose. And Lot chose the valley of the Jordan, richly watered and verdant at that time. Lot left, and headed straight for Sodom. We will see the result of that, later.

Remember that God had told Abram to leave his old life behind. Up until this point, the baggage of his old life and family ties had weighed him down and kept God’s full blessings from him. How do I know? Look what happened next: (Genesis 13:14-18)

Then the LORD said to Abram, after Lot was gone, NOW lift up your eyes…look North, South, East and West…to YOU and your offspring I will give this land.” God had to wait until Abram set aside everything else, before He could bless Him as He intended. And God told him (this time) to get up and walk through the land. Then Abram moved to Mamre, lived there, and built an altar to His God. Later, God met with him there, in Person. Later, too, we will see God’s description of the land set apart for the offspring of Abraham, and it is a very large piece of territory, many times the size of what Israel now holds.

Conclusion

How can we lay hold of the inheritance of God? I think we can emulate Abram, and separate ourselves from our old patterns, our old passions, and learn to walk with Jesus, so that He can reveal to us what He has in store.

Wherever God has called us to live, and feed, and work, we need to leave behind our old thought-patterns, and fears, and “build an altar,” at least in our own mind and life, at which we will worship, and bring the sacrifices of Praises, Thanksgiving, and Obedience. And there at that altar, we need to realize that our relationship with God is personal. We are to deal with Him personally, not theoretically. There is where He holds out His Grace and His blessing to us, not in some dream-place where we think we want to go. Not based upon a creed, or a ritual, or even a personal routine of piety, but on a personal relationship with the Savior.

Lord Jesus draw us to yourself, in a personal, obedient, faith-relationship that carries and supports us above the fears and turmoil of this world. Allow us to worship you there, and serve you in the world around us. Make us emissaries of your Grace and Love; ambassadors of the Cross.


Closing Notes from Hebrews

Closing Notes from Hebrews

© C. O. Bishop

Hebrews 13:17-25

Introduction:

We are at the end of the Epistle to the Hebrews, and there are just a few, seemingly unrelated verses, left, as the writer gives his closing thoughts. He gives final instructions as to their response to church leadership, and then makes a personal request for prayer, as well as giving a closing prayer for his readers. Lastly, it is his greeting to the believers, and his benediction to all.

What about Church Leadership?

17 Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.

This is specifically in reference to the leadership of the church. We could apply it to civil government, as we are also commanded to be in subjection to the civil authorities, but this specifically says “they watch for your souls”…and that is simply not true of the civil authorities. An unbelieving governor, if called to accounts by God, could not give account with joy, no matter what he had done, as he is still an enemy of God, just as we were, before we were saved.

Civil leaders have been chosen by a variety of means, down through history. Some simply seized power, and ruled by force. Some were chosen by popular acclaim, either by an organized election, or by mob popularity. (You may recall that the crowd tried that with Jesus, once…they wanted to take him by force and make him king. What an odd idea!) Some simply accepted the burden of government because it had to be done, and there was no one else available who was qualified. I believe that a few of our early American statesmen were possibly in that category.

Regardless of how a civil leader is chosen, as an unbeliever, they would not fit this verse. This is talking about church leaders. Church leaders, too, have been chosen by a wide range of means, and, sadly, pretty much exactly the same means by which civil leaders have come into power. Some wanted the job because of ambition: they enjoyed being the center of attention, or wanted to wield authority over others in some way. Jesus described those, in the Sermon on the Mount, and elsewhere. Some were simply lazy, and they chose it as a “clean” profession, where they could earn a living without doing much work. God describes bad shepherds of another sort, in Ezekiel 34, saying that they used the flock to feed themselves, but did not feed the flock as they were sent to do. This actually covers a lot of the different “bad shepherd” types.

Qualifications for Church Leadership:

I’m not going to go into the qualifications of Elders and Deacons in any depth, this morning, as we have taught them before, not too long ago, but God clearly gives us the qualifications of church leadership in 1st Timothy 3:1-8; Titus 1:5-9, 1st Peter 5:1-5, and other passages. You can read those on your own. They all have to do with proven character, demonstrated maturity and, in one case, (teaching) recognizable gifting.

God describes the job itself, with its responsibilities, in Ezekiel 34, as well as in Acts 20:28. If a church ignores any of this, and either appoints leaders who are not qualified, or those who will not carry out the responsibilities, then disaster surely awaits. Actually, if a man is not willing to carry out the responsibilities of leadership, then he also is not qualified, as that is the first qualification, in 1st Timothy 3:1. So, what is the job description for elders?

Job Description for Church Leaders:

What does the Scripture say about Shepherds? Looking at the whole of God’s word, regarding shepherding, at least six things become clear:

1. Sheep need a Shepherd. Sheep without a Shepherd are in immediate and deadly danger, even if no predator is around—and the greatest, deadliest predator in the world is around, according to 1st Pet 5:8. Even apart from the issue of predators, we often don’t know the difference between good pasture and bad, still waters and treacherous, safe paths and dangerous ones, apart from our Shepherd leading us—(Psalm 23:2, 3).

This is a direct reflection on God’s determination to be the Shepherd of His Flock Genesis 49:24, Ezekiel 34). We need the Shepherd.

2. God has assigned human shepherds. These shepherds are “sheep”, themselves, as well. But they have been assigned the task of performing the work of shepherds. And they cannot do a faithful job apart from the direct leading and control of Jesus Christ, the true Shepherd. (John 15:5; Psalm 127:1) God holds them accountable for his flock. (Ezekiel 34, James 3:1; Hebrews 13:17) This is a huge responsibility.

3. The Work of the Shepherd has clear definition:

  • Ezekiel 34:1-16 says the shepherds are to:
    • Feed the sheep: (This means a steady provision of nourishment from God’s Word.)
    • Strengthen those who are diseased: (This may imply corrective teaching, or encouragement to change self-destructive patterns.)
    • Heal those who are sick: (very similar: promoting spiritual healing through Godly counsel.)
    • Bind up those who are broken: (This may mean promoting Forgiveness for past injuries by other believers, or acceptance of God’s Grace to heal those wounds.)
    • Seek out and bring back those who have been driven away: (Sometimes the wounded ones flee the flock, unable to bear the stress of being around the one who hurt them. Or, sometimes they simply were angry, and need to deal with the anger.)
    • Seek the lost: (refers to both evangelism and reconciliation of the backslidden)
    • Prevent them from becoming prey to predators: (Guarding is implied, but not stated in this passage; clearly stated in Acts 20:28-30.)
  • Acts 20:17, 28-30: the elders (17; also identified as shepherds and overseers) are to:
    • Guard themselves—recognize that they themselves are also in danger from the Enemy,
    • Guard the whole flock against predators (sometimes coming from among the leaders),
    • ‘Feed’ the flock (KJV), (actually, ‘shepherd’ the flock: the Greek word is poimainein)
    • Be overseers. (Greek episkopos)
  • 1 Peter 5:1-4 says that elders (Greek presbuteros) (who are also shepherds and overseers) are to:
    • Feed the flock (KJV): (here again, the Greek word is the verb poimanate—“shepherd”)
    • Take the oversight thereof (be an overseer)
    • Do so willingly, not grudgingly
    • Not for the sake of money
    • Not lording it over the flock, but
    • Leading by example,
    • Expect a reward from Christ, (the “arch-shepherd”) at His coming, for faithful service.

4. Shepherds face Judgment: Apart from faithful attention to God’s assignment, Judgment is coming, in one form or another…The Lord’s flock is precious to Him: He defends it against all enemies, even the enemies from within the flock. Ezekiel 34 is a discourse on this very issue: God is rebuking the shepherds of Israel for malfeasance and nonfeasance of their duties. He says he is going to take them off the job and do the job himself. James 3:1 and Hebrews 13:17 both address this issue as well. Revelation 3:14-16 tells the long range result of failure in this area: the local church can die or become so infected with spiritual disease that God closes it down.

5.  Clear guidelines are given, as to the Qualifications of the Human Shepherds: These are given in order to protect the flock from unstable, immature, or otherwise flawed leadership. We will discuss these again at a later date. If you want to read them ahead of time, they are found in 1st Timothy 3:1-8, Titus 1:5-9 and 1st Peter 5:1-3.

6. Jesus Christ is the Good Shepherd, the Great Shepherd, the Chief Shepherd—perhaps one could say, the only true shepherd (John 10:11-15, Hebrews 13:20, 1st Peter 5:4), and He is, by necessity, our example in all things: apart from Him, we truly have nothing to offer.

Hudson Taylor used to say “God’s work, done in God’s way, will never lack God’s provision.”  I believe that is a scriptural viewpoint. I also believe that unless we truly strive to adhere to the job description, and the instructions that come along with it, we are doomed to failure.

Following Church Leaders:

On the other hand, having good leadership and following those leaders are clearly separate concepts. In this passage, the writer assumes that the recipients of the letter do have good leaders, and he is exhorting them to respond to those leaders appropriately. The word translated “obey” is the Greek word, “Peithesthe”, from “Peitho”, meaning “to be persuaded”. We are always to search the scriptures, and to be sure that we are being led appropriately, but the ultimate question will be regarding our response to  appropriate leadership, not whether we “like” the leader.

Any elder of a church, who has faithfully labored in the Word, and poured himself out in teaching, and has consistently offered good counsel from God’s Word, would be grieved to see a flock behaving badly. He takes personal responsibility for their waywardness, though he has tried to turn them from it. Jeremiah wept over Israel, though he had faithfully warned them against their rebellion. It is instructive to note that, when the chips were down, so to speak, and he had the opportunity to leave them behind, with the blessing and support of the conquerors, he chose to stay with Israel and to continue his ministry, as frustrating and unfruitful as it had been. I think of Jeremiah a lot, whenever I feel discouraged. He was utterly faithful and had the least “fruitful” ministry of any of the Major Prophets. But he stayed on the job!

The writer is here asking us to not respond to God’s leading through the elders, in the same manner as Israel did to God’s Word through Jeremiah. They told him they wanted to hear what God had to say to them. He warned that they would not like what he had to say, and that they would not obey God, in any case. They protested that they would obey, and insisted that he speak what God told him. So he did…and they immediately rebelled, and did the opposite of what God commanded. God is asking us to not respond in that way.

We can see in Acts 17:11 that God approves a response that includes “searching the scriptures to see if the teaching is accurate and appropriate.” But in all the scriptures, we see that the response God ultimately expects is that we allow Him to change our hearts, as we submit ourselves to His Word and His Will. Did it come through someone you don’t really like to listen to? Too bad! Paul was repugnant to many who heard him, but God definitely sent him to preach and teach, and to lay the foundation for faith. Those who responded well, eventually learned to appreciate him for who he was. I have had teachers who, initially, I found hard to listen to. But they were completely faithful to God’s Word, and I grew to appreciate them for their faithfulness and the blessing they were to the church.

Knowing that the elders will be held accountable, and that we are also held accountable for our response, we need to pray for the leaders, and respond well to them, too.

Closing Requests and Blessings

18 Pray for us: for we trust we have a good conscience, in all things willing to live honestly.
19 But I beseech you the rather to do this, that I may be restored to you the sooner.

I don’t know what was going on in the writer’s life that he should write such words…if it really was Paul (and I think it was), then it seems to make a kind of sense, as, several times, during his ministry, he was in bonds, one way or another, accused of things he had not done. Perhaps this was one of those times: it sounds as though it might have been. But he asked for prayer that he might be released sooner, as be able to rejoin the other believers.

20 Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant,
21 Make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is wellpleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

The writer’s prayer for the recipients, is that God would continue to perfect them so that their lives would be a continual honor to God. He reminds them of the source of their blessing, and the fact that Jesus himself is our great shepherd, as well as the fact that he has been physically, literally raised from the dead. But the bottom line is that our lives should be to his glory as well.

22 And I beseech you, brethren, suffer the word of exhortation: for I have written a letter unto you in few words.

The Writer begs them to receive this letter of encouragement properly. (It seems an odd thing, however, to see that the Writer considered this to be a short letter.)

23 Know ye that our brother Timothy is set at liberty; with whom, if he come shortly, I will see you.

Timothy was one of Paul’s close companions…which also gives me to believe that Paul was the writer. Evidently Timothy had also been held, somewhere, but was set free already, and the writer hoped to meet with them all and with Timothy too.

24 Salute all them that have the rule over you, and all the saints. They of Italy salute you.
25 Grace be with you all. Amen.

This closing is typical Pauline benediction. Notice that, whoever the recipients were, they were told to greet the leadership, as well as the other believers. All the letters to the church are just that: Letters to the Church! They are not, as a rule, to some sort of hierarchy of leaders, but to the believers themselves. This letter is to us. If you are a believer, it is to you.

Learn from it! Believe it! Study it! Make use of it in your life. Don’t just let it gather dust.

Allow God’s Grace to rule in your life.

Lord Jesus, make us able ministers of your Word, and faithful ambassadors of your Love and Grace. Help us to both lead and respond to leadership. To tach and be teachable. Make us the Men and Women of God that you have called us to be.