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Agony

“Trembling seized them;

labor pains like giving birth.”

(Psalm 48:7 {verse 6 in English})

In our society today, how rarely we take seriously the idea of being under God’s judgment. We make jokes about it, there are movies that celebrate it, and people write books suggesting that if anything, Hell would be more fun than heaven. Yet, beloved, how evil such sentiments are and how deceived we have allowed ourselves to be in these matters.

The Bible paints another picture for us — that of being struck with fear and trembling at the notion of God’s wrath. Here the psalmist speaks of the trembling of abject terror seizing ahold of him so much so that he cannot move and then the torment that comes from facing the wrath of God being like that of a woman in labor, giving birth…and the psalmist is actually just getting started.

Loved ones, take these words seriously for God’s wrath is against his enemies…all of them. Do not envy the wicked, for while their revelries may seem to fill their days with laughter, those days are fleeting and the end result is suffering greater than our human imagination is capable of relating. The psalmist here is paralleling the experience of the enemies of God in history to what is to come so that we turn from our wickedness and repent of our ways, pursuing the God of glory rather than the glory of the flesh. May indeed all of us heed his warning.

In the Far North

“Fair of height is the joy of all the earth — Mount Zion in the far north;

the city of the great King.”

(Psalm 48:3 [verse 2 in English])

What does the psalmist mean when he speaks of Jerusalem as “in the far north”? Surely, Mount Zion is not in the far north, nor is it even in the northern portion of Israel. One could perhaps assert that Mount Zion is in the northern portion of the region of Judah, though that still does not seem to fit the reading of the text. Some commentators have suggested that this is a reference to the Temple being in the north-eastern corner of the city of Jerusalem, but again, such a reading seems out of place with the lofty language of the text.

The phrase, “the far north” is used 5 times in the Old Testament. Three of those cases are found in Ezekiel (38:6,15; 39:2) and seem to be used in a literal sense, speaking of the tribes from the far north that God would bring down and use to judge Judah for its sin. The fourth use of this phrase, though, is found in Isaiah 12:13. Here we find a more figurative use of the language. In this passage, God is speaking judgment upon the “son of Dawn,” or, in Latin: Lucifer. It speaks of how he is fallen from heaven (verse 12) because he set in his heart to ascend to heaven, above the stars of God, to set his throne on high — “in the far north.”

Thus, in Isaiah we find the phrase speaking not of the earthly mountain of God, but of the heavenly reality that the earthly mountain is meant to reflect. Again, that fits the context with the verse that has gone before, speaking of the glory of God’s dwelling place — a spiritual dwelling place represented on earth in the Tabernacle and then in the Temple located on Mount Zion.

This phrase, then, sets the context for that which is around it. “Fair of Height,” or perhaps we might say, “Majestic,” is the joy of all the earth. Why is God’s eternal throne room the joy of all the earth? To quote from Psalm 117 — because God has been faithful to us — God’s own. The pagan idols cannot bring blessings to the pagan peoples and thus the pagan peoples can never be a source of joy and blessing to the world. But God’s people can be and in fact, that is part of the promise that God makes to Abraham — that the world will find their blessings in his seed. Why, because the God of Abraham is not an idol made by human hands — he is the one who made human hands in the first place. He is the God who sees, who hears our prayers, and who acts in the world of men. Thus, part of our message to the unbelieving world around us is and must be, “if you seek joy in your life, come to my God and find it.”

Who then is the Great King? It is God himself. Psalm 47:2 speaks of Yahweh as the Great King over all creation and similarly, Psalm 95:3 speaks of God as the Great King over all the Gods! God is enthroned in Zion (Psalm 9:11), above the cherubim (1 Chronicles 13:6), and he does so forever (Psalm 9:7). Thus, even when the Temple was torn down, God remained enthroned…why? It is because the throne in the Temple is nothing but the shadow of the eternal realms on high — in the far north (figuratively at least).

To God be the Glory!

“And my God will fill your every need according to his abundance in glory in Christ Jesus. And to our God and Father be glory from the ages to the ages, amen!”

(Philippians 4:19-20)

Amen. May God get the glory for all things, may he reveal his glory in all things, and may he be glorified for all things as they honor his name, now and forevermore, amen. Loved ones, this is what it is all about; here is the meaning in life. God is to be glorified and the glory of the things of this world pale in comparison to the glory of the risen Christ. What more can you desire? What more can you need? Nothing.

Paul also assures the church that God will provide for their every need. Not necessarily for their every want, but God will provide for their every need. So, too, he does the same with us. Why do we worry and fret about the things of this life? Our heavenly Father knows our needs and will provide them out of his grace. Instead of worrying, pursue God’s calling on your life and his Kingdom, trust the details to him. The pagans have the right to worry but the Christian (though we often worry) does not have that right for we have a God who knows our needs and who is capable of filling them.

Paul is wrapping up his letter to the church and what better way could there be to end? To God be the glory, great things he has done!

That Which is Worthy of Praise

“The last thing, brothers, is that whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is upright, whatever is holy, whatever is lovely, whatever is praiseworthy, if there is virtue and if there is praise, think on these things.”

(Philippians 4:8)

Whatever is worthy of praise…it is upon this that we should set our minds. Indeed, there are many things in this world of which are worthy of our honor and praise (though not worship). The beauty found within a sunset or the majesty of a bright, starry night; the eagle as it soars through the heights yet plummets to the ground with precision to grasp its prey; the complexity of the human body or the art with which one uses that body for dance, making music, or athletics are all examples of things that are genuinely worthy of praise. We give honor to a chef for an exquisite meal, we give honor to a painter for a lovely painting, and we give honor to an author who has written a book that has influenced the way we live. Again, all these things are worthy of praise…even to the extent that it would be dishonorable and disrespectful to deny such praise where that praise due.

Yet, while humans are indeed worthy of praise, it is God who excels the praiseworthiness of humans on an infinite level. We may revel in art or music but God is the one who gives art and music and who defines that which is lovely within art and music. He is the chiefest of all who are praiseworthy. Yet, how often it is that we are quicker to set our minds on the praiseworthy things of humanity and fail to give the infinitely more praiseworthy God his due. How often we will rearrange our entire schedule to attend a sporting event or a community engagement yet we fail to arrange our schedules around the worship of the Living God? If it is dishonorable and disrespectful to neglect giving honor where honor is due when it comes to humans, is it not infinitely more dishonorable and disrespectful to not give praise and honor where praise and honor are due for God? If we want to set our minds on that which is praiseworthy, we must begin by setting our minds on God and his praiseworthiness lest our perception of the praiseworthy things in the world become overinflated.

Anxiety is not Good for the Believer

“Do not be anxious, but in everything, with prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.”

(Philippians 4:6)

Are we to suggest that God does not know our needs before we “make them known”? Certainly not! Jesus says that our Father in heaven knows our needs even before we ask him (Matthew 6:8). No, the emphasis on the making our needs known to God is not on informing the omniscient one, the emphasis is on how we present ourselves before the King of the Universe.

Paul writes that we first must not be anxious in our manner. Why not anxious? Why shouldn’t we be worriers over every little thing? The answer is that we are adopted by the God of the universe who knows our needs and has the power to see those needs met. It is the pagan who has the right to worry, for their gods cannot act or move or hear their prayers.

Thus, we take our prayers to God in a way that is not anxious, but trusting in his divine hand, his divine character, and his divine goodness and we lift them before the Lord of heaven. Paul uses the phrase, “prayer and supplication,” which is a common phrase for the Apostle (see Ephesians 6:18;1 Timothy 5:5). Supplication speaks of specific entreaties or pleas for help before God and prayers speaks in a more broad and general way. The key is, that with this humble reliance upon our God, we are to lift our cares before him.

The thing, of course, that many struggle with is the anxiety part. How we often ask God for things in such a way that we would not want our children asking us for a need or a concern that they might have. How often we come across (if we look at our prayers objectively) as if we are doubting God’s goodness or power or both. How often we try and make demands rather than being still and having confidence that God is, well, that he is who he says he is (Psalm 46:10). Beloved, do not worry or be anxious and do not allow that anxiety to become part of your prayer life…instead, let your prayer life be such that it takes away your anxiety because you are assured of the one to whom you speak.

Finding Joy

“Rejoice in the Lord at all times; again I say, rejoice!”
(Philippians 4:4)

Here we have one of the most quoted verses from this letter. And there is no surprise as to why this is such a beloved statement. Yet how often we find ourselves deserting these words and pursuing our own sources of joy. But notice, that these words are not only valuable for our personal worship and demeanor…they are the solution for the quarrel between Euodia and Syntyche. For the reality is, if you focus your mind on finding joy in Christ it is a corrective for all of the areas of your life because it puts them into perspective.

It has become my conviction that many of our psychological and relational problems can be traced back to a wrong view of worship. We come for many reasons: fellowship, instruction, to be encouraged, etc… But if any one of these reasons is the primary reason you come to worship on Sunday, your motives are lacking. The primary reason must be because you are seeking God and his glory. If your aim is to know God and him alone, all these other things will come into place…but it does not work if we come looking for human things first.

Like children, we often think we know what we want but we are so wrong. Often children will say, “if I just had this toy or that toy I would be happy.” Yet they find that even with those toys they are unsatisfied. Are the toys bad? No. Not in and of themselves at least. But the toys cannot satisfy apart from the love of the parent. As adults, we often tell God what we think we need. But what we most need is to be close to the Father. And if we are close to the Father, finding our joy in Him through the Son, then the other things will fall into their proper perspective. Otherwise, they just aren’t that satisfying.

C.S. Lewis used to argue that there were “First Things” and “Second Things.” First Things are the things of God; Second Things the things of this world. Lewis’ point is that if we pursue Second Things alone, not only will we lose the First Things, but the Second Things will never satisfy. Yet, if we pursue First Things alone, God will also give us the Second Things that we need.

So, beloved, find your joy in the Lord Jesus Christ…and in nothing else in this world. Pursue Him. Adore Him. And allow Him to define your perspective of all of life.

Surpassing Value

“I rather count all things as forfeit because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus, my Lord. Because of him, I count all things as waste in order that I might gain Christ.”

(Philippians 3:8)

Often, when reading comments that people make on this verse, they begin with the notion of sku/balon (skubalon), which refers to rubbish, waste, or even to human excrement…something that has no place in the presence of the people of God — its only value is to be taken out and burned. And that is a powerful image, but as I reflect on this verse, I would prefer to start with the notion of counting all things as forfeit in exchange for Christ. For, whether your works are of any measurable value or not, the heart of the matter is that you count the relationship you have with Christ as more valuable.

Of course, that is a notion that is far easier said than done. We like to hold on to the trappings and comforts of this life. We like to hold on to the notion that we are doing things our way. We like to hold onto the notion of “our accomplishments” and contributions. We like to think more highly of ourselves than we ought. Such is our fallen state and such is our stumbling block. We might give lip service to the notion that our works are rubbish but rarely do we give heart-service to them. We like the acknowledgement of men no matter how that acknowledgement pales in comparison to the acknowledgement of the Lord.

That is perhaps why I think it valuable to begin with whether we are willing to count all things as loss for Christ. Because if we are not willing to lose all things for Him, we will not be willing to count all things as waste, rubbish, or dung.

And how great is the value of knowing Christ? Is it not everything? Without the knowledge of Christ there is no hope for life beyond the grave. Without the knowledge of Christ, there is no hope of knowing true joy, peace, and happiness. Without the knowledge of Christ, there is no hope in finding meaning in the suffering we experience in this world. Without the knowledge of Christ, there is no hope in truly appreciating the beauty of the world around us — for to fully appreciate the beauty of something, you must also appreciate the skill and mastery of the creator. When you see a piece of artwork, is it not more meaningful when you know the life of the artist behind the piece of art? When you read a novel, does it not become deeper and more meaningful when you have engaged with the life of the author? When you hear a piece of music, does not the composer’s life add depth to what you hear? And the better you know and understand the author’s person, do we not more carefully appreciate the work they have created? If we say this of the works of men, shall we not also say this of God’s works? And since the created order is far surpassing in majesty and beauty anything that man might create, is not the knowledge of God far more surpassing than any human knowledge we might encounter?

Oh loved ones, how often we choose the poorer and shallower thing to pursue. Pursue Christ and do so through his Word and you cannot help to see the surpassing beauty of our redeemer and the surpassing greatness of his person. And you will see that knowledge of him is infinitely more valuable than knowledge of any other thing we might encounter in life.

Can I Grumble About It?

“Do all this without grumbling or debate,”

(Philippians 2:14)

Oh my. This is where we so often get ourselves in trouble. We know what the right thing is, we know we ought to do it, we don’t want to do it, but since it is the right thing we do it anyway — grumbling the whole time (at least to ourselves!). And here we go, we have the Apostle Paul telling us that we need to count one another’s needs as greater than our own and that we are to be obedient to Christ’s commands in all ways…but also that we are to do so without griping about it. Oh my. For some, I think that griping is a favorite hobby even, but no, not in the life of the Christian.

God’s interest is not just in our right actions. Were that the case, he would never have rebuked the wayward Israelites regarding their sacrifices…even to the point of saying that he hated and detested them. Why? Because their hearts weren’t in the right place. They believed that if they just performed the ritual in the proper way, then God would be pleased with them. God was not. And Paul echoes to us as well, in the Christian church, that God likewise will not be pleased by our service or by our offering of praise if our heart is in the right place.

Note that this also means that Christians don’t have carte blanche in their worship even if their heart is in the right place. for the Christian, the spirit of obedience must be joined with actions of obedience. Both go rightly together and cannot be separated in a life of faith.

And just in case you are wondering, the words that Paul uses here carry exactly the same connotations in English as they do in Greek. The word goggusmo/ß (gongusmos) means to talk about things in a low voice behind people’s backs or behind the scenes, typically in a way that voices a complaint. The word dialogismo/ß (dialogismos) means to debate or dispute someone’s reasoning…to argue about the conclusions of others. As fond of grumbling about our obedience as we might be, this too needs to be put to death in our lives.

True obedience follows a heart that is committed to Christ in all things and no matter the cost. That kind of heart does not typically develop overnight, but happens through training and conscious decisions to honor Christ in all things. It is a reflection of our love to God and his Son, Jesus. And a heart like this is equipped and empowered by the Holy Spirit. Loved ones, embrace it…oh, and embrace it without grumbling or arguing about it…

Remembering You

“I give thanks to my God for every remembrance of you.”

(Philippians 1:3)

Our experience, C.S. Lewis wrote, does not end with the event that causes the experience, but the experience works on us, matures within us, and grows into something beautiful as we reflect on and remember the original event. Biblically, remembrance of the works of God is seen as something that helps keep us living faithfully when tempted to go astray. Our lives are filled with experiences and interactions with people and ideas, but it is our remembrance that ties all of these experiences together into a unified story…it provides cohesion and continuity and of course, is one of the reason that diseases like Alzheimer’s Disease is so devastating…for it robs a person not only of individual memories, but also of the continuity that binds these memories together in a unified way.

Thus Paul, as he remembers back to the people that form the church in Philippi, rejoices, for their kindness and grace stirs in him good memories and a greater reminder of God’s own grace. This, of course, is especially important, for Paul is in jail as he writes this letter. Thus, these memories must also provide a piton of hope upon the mountain of trial that he sees before him. How, indeed, we all need such reminders of God’s grace to us through others to remind us why we press onward in the calling to which our Lord has called us.

It is my prayer that remembrance of God’s people that have influenced your life in the past would also bring you thanksgiving and that the faithfulness that such people demonstrated would spur you on to faithfulness. It is my prayer that you would rejoice in the God that has given you such people in the past, no matter how dark or difficult your life may seem at the present. It is my prayer that the memory of God’s hand in your life directly and through others may also remind you that you have a God that will never leave nor forsake you. And it is my prayer that these memories will serve as the unifying theme of your life, helping us to rejoice in the successes and learn from the failures, that we might grow more faithful as we mature in faith. Friends, may we rejoice in the memory of one another and give our God thanks that he has seen fit to bring us together in the way he has so done.

Grace and Peace to you…

“Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

(Philippians 1:2)

When you greet others who are Christians, how do you greet them? Do you have a sincere wish for them that God would give them grace and peace or do you greet them begrudgingly, perhaps because of something that has happened between the two of you in the past? Or, do you even think about these things at all? Do you just say, “Hello, how are you?” and then just keep on walking satisfied in the pleasantries but not really caring about the answer to your question. Isn’t it interesting, so often, that we want people to be genuinely concerned about our welfare or about what we happen to be doing but don’t have the same concern about our neighbor…even that neighbor who happens to be a believer in Jesus Christ.

Paul sets for us a model that would serve us well to follow. May God give you grace and peace. The idea expressed by Grace as Paul presents it is that of God having a disposition of goodwill toward you, that he might bless your steps and your actions and that the world indeed would see God’s hand in your life. This is not a health-wealth or prosperity Gospel, though. For the evidence of God’s grace is not seen in money or physical well-being, Paul presents the evidence of God’s grace as peace in your life. Peace denotes a resting in God’s hand of mercy. It is a deliverance from the Evil One and his power. And later in this letter, Paul will refer to this peace as that which “passes all understanding” (Philippians 4:7), because it is a peace that can be had despite the fact that you are facing trials in this life. Such peace, such resting in God’s mercy, is the result of God’s gracious hand upon your life (and while not always, often abundant wealth is a sign of God’s judgment…).

Yet, Paul also makes it clear where this grace and peace come from…God. Grace and peace are not found in wealth, careers, politics, sports teams, fancy cars, electronics, entertainment, computers, movies, status, fame, or anything else we might think of that captures our attention (and sadly also, our hearts). True grace and peace come from the hand of God and thus we should seek it in no other place but in God alone. How often we fall into the trap of looking elsewhere. John the Apostle closed his first letter with the words, “protect yourself from idols.” Indeed, how we need to here those words over and over again. And while we do that, may we train ourselves to take a genuine interest in one another’s welfare and the condition of their soul. Such is the heart behind the command to love your neighbor as yourself.

Rejoicing in Yahweh’s Divine Actions

“For you make me rejoice constantly, Yahweh, in your divine action; in the works of your hands, I continually exult.”

(Psalm 92:5 [verse 4 in English])

 

The question that we must raise is whether or not we can really say, with the psalmist that we rejoice and exult in the works of God. On the surface level, our first response is probably to say that we do rejoice in God’s works, but in saying that we need to take a closer look at what we are suggesting. Indeed, it is easy to rejoice in the blessings that God brings into our lives, but what of the trials? What of those times when everything is falling apart and we just cannot figure out which end is up in life? Is it not harder to rejoice in God and exult in his works when such things take place? Yet this, too, is in sight of what the Psalmist is saying.

Sometimes the hardest thing to do, when things fall apart in our lives, is to praise God in the midst of such things. Yet, in times of distress like this, such is what our soul most needs. We need that communion and worship and we need to affirm that God’s work is continually a good thing in my life because it is used to conform me into the image of his Son, Jesus.

One of the great reminders of this principle is the setting aside of the Sabbath day. A day where we join with the body of Christ and worship together — where we even lift one another up in worship, standing in the gap for the brother and sister who is broken and cannot stand (spiritually) on their own feet to do so. That joined with the promise that if we count the Sabbath a delight, God will raise us up from our depths and give us a taste of his glory (Isaiah 58:13-14).

God Gets the Glory…Great Things He Has Done

“And Abram and Nachor took to themselves wives. The name of the wife of Abram was Saray and the name of the wife of Nachor was Milkah — the daughter of Haran who was the father of both Milkah and Yiskah. And it came to pass that Saray was infertile and had no child of her own.”

(Genesis 11:29-30)

 

I suppose that there are no great surprises in the various spellings of familiar names — again, transliteration is not a precise science and there are many agreed upon spellings of these names that do not reflect the literal transliteration from the Hebrew into English. Saray, is better known to us as Sarai, whose name means, “My princess.” Milkah is the daughter of Haran, which makes her the sister of Lot. Milkah (or Milcah) means “Queen.” It is interesting that, based on names, both Abraham and Milkah marry women whose names denote royalty. Milkah has a sister named Yiskah, or Iscah in our English Bibles, whose name probably is derived from the word for “to look” or “to look at.”

And now we have the family line laid out before us as well as another tidbit — Sarai was barren and could bear no child. Perhaps that is the reason for Abram taking in Lot, his nephew, when his brother dies. We do not know the answer to that particular question. What we do know is that God is waiting until Abram’s father dies (and thus Abram becomes the covenant head of his home) and then is going to begin doing mighty things in this man’s life. The wait is for another purpose as well — so that the only explanation for this man’s success could be attributed to God.

How we like to have our successes attributed to our persons. Yet, how much better it is when our successes are attributed to the one from whom the success originated! For any good success that I might have is only because of the grace of God and the hand of God working in my life. It is all about God and his work from beginning to end — I am not my own. How often we fall on our faces because we do not recognize that truth and how often we allow our bloated egos to become so puffed up with pride that we become a blight even to ourselves and need be laid low all over again. Oh how the “mighty” have so often fallen. Loved ones, cling to God, trust his leading, but also ensure that you understand that any good credit belongs to God alone. We are but tools in his hand — may we be always sharp and ready for use.

Serug

“And it came to pass that Reu lived thirty-two years and he begat Serug. Reu lived two-hundred and seven years after he begat Serug. And he begat sons and daughters.”

(Genesis 11:20-21)

 

And the pattern continues. Sometimes we can get a little weighed down by lists of genealogies like this, but do remember always that these are real people in time and space that are striving to live faithfully before the Lord and to teach their sons and daughters the ways of God. More importantly, they are the line from whom God would raise up Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David, and eventually Jesus. It is important to be able to trace these roots — a reminder to all of the sovereign hand of God upon his elect through the ages.

The name Serug is typically understood to be an adaptation of Sarugi, an Akkadian place name marking a region about 35 miles from Haran. Perhaps this is where he lived and settled or perhaps his name is somewhat prophetic of the travels that his grandson, Terah would make when he left Ur and settled in Haran. This we do not know. Perhaps his name is simply a reminder that they were not a people to be settled in Ur, but meant for a place distant from there in the direction of Sarugi and Haran.

It is interesting to me how our nature can often be so radically distinct from God’s call. Abraham was to be a wanderer — a traveler — in a land promised to him and to his children, but not his own. I wonder how many of us would accept a call like that in our lives today. How often we choose comfort and security over the call that God places upon us. Yet God’s call and God’s way is always better than our own. Loved ones, do not despair, God is sovereign over all things — big and small! — and he has your life in his hand. When he calls you to step out in faith, do not hesitate to do so. Be messengers of his grace in all you do and trust the bigger plan to God’s hand.

The Noblemen Gather the People to God

“The noblemen of the people gather the people of the God of Abraham for to God are the shields of the earth. He is to be greatly exalted!”

(Psalm 47:10 {verse 9 in English translations})

 

The close of this psalm begins with an interesting visual picture. First of all, the term that we render as “noblemen” is the word byIdÎn (nadib) speaks of one who distributes or provides for those in his care. Thus, the idea conveyed by the term is not so much one of rank, but of activity. Similarly, the language of gathering is a farming analogy — the psalmist speaks one of gathering together the people like one would harvest grain or corn. Essentially what is being conveyed is that those who are leaders of men — responsible for providing for those under them — have a spiritual obligation to gather their people together — not just with a common vision or for work, but to exalt the God of creation.

How the nobles of our world have fallen short in their tasks. How often even those who are tasked with leadership in the church fall short of their task. So much time gets spent on managing money and wealth that often the point behind the wealth is missed entirely. For even the wealth with which we have been entrusted is to be used to the glory of God. If, once everything has been said and done, people are not gathered to worship our risen King, then leadership has missed its greatest aim and purpose. Paul writes to Timothy telling him that the people are to be in prayer for their civil leaders…why? So that they may live peaceful and godly lives (1 Timothy 2:1-2) — a life that can only be had when worship is your first and highest goal.

What follows the phrase about the people being gathered to God is the language of shields. What does it mean that the shields of the earth are to God? There are several ways in which this phrase could be understood. The word N´gDm (magen), or “shield,” can be understood literally as a piece of armor that would be used in warfare. Indeed, the armies of the earth — even the pagan armies — belong to God and will be used and disposed of to bring about his good and sovereign will. Yet, this term can also be used figuratively, which seems a better interpretation in the context of this psalm. Princes over the people provide protection for their charges — in fact, on an earthly level, that is one of the most significant tasks a prince must do. Thus, in a couplet, we find the Prince’s duties joined together in one — in terms of eternal priorities, he must bring his people to God and in terms of earthly priorities, he must protect them — something that can only be done effectively when the people find their refuge in the God of Israel.

And thus people from, all across the earth — Jew and Gentile — are brought before the throne of God — brought together as one flock. Indeed, that is something that is promised to take place fully and completely at one time — some to glory and some to eternal judgment. And God is to be greatly exalted for his work. May we all be found as wheat in the great mill press of God.

Therefore, God has exalted him and has graciously given him the name that is above all names, in order that in the name of Jesus every knee should bend in heavenly places, earthly places, and places under the earth, and that every tongue would admit that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.

(Philippians 2:9-11)

The Seed and the God of the Millennia

“And they blessed Rebekah, and said to her, ‘Our sister, you shall become like countless thousands and may your seed inhabit the gates of those who hate him.’”

(Genesis 24:60)

 

“I will surely bless you and your seed will surely be great as the stars of the heavens and as the sand which is on the lip of the sea. And your seed will take possession of the gates of his enemies.”

(Genesis 22:17)

 

“Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed — it does not say, ‘To the seeds…’ as if to many, but as if to one. ‘And to your seed,’ which is Christ.”

(Galatians 3:16)

 

It is hard not to make a connection between this blessing and to the Messianic promises that are to come. It could be legitimately pointed out that the term oår‰z (zera), or “seed,” is a collective singular (a singular term that refers to a group or a set of like things or persons) and thus nothing of great significance should be made of the language here. At the same time, given the covenantal significance of this event, a second look should be taken at what is being pronounced for even Nahor’s line understands that Abraham and his line has been singled out by God for a special purpose and, just as God did through the lips of Balaam, God sometimes speaks great truths through the lips even of non-believers.

It will be through Rebekah that the promised seed of Abraham will continue to descend that will ultimately culminate in the Great and true Seed: Jesus Christ. Note too, the similarity of this language to the language that God speaks to Abraham in Genesis 22. In part, of course, this will be fulfilled as the nation of Israel grows and then conquers Canaan. In full, this promise will find its completion in Jesus Christ — for it is in the church that True Israel will find its fullness, that the children of Abraham will be numbered like the sands of the sea, and that the gates of hell will find their demise (Matthew 16:18). Surely this promise, whether the family of Rebekah recognized it in full or not, is a promise that speaks of the coming of the Messiah through the line of Rebekah and Isaac.

How wonderful is the scope and plan of God. How puny our plans quickly become when placed alongside of God’s design. Isn’t if fascinating that we get so caught up in the moment — our successes and failures — our plans — our particular church’s rises and falls in attendance or fiscal numbers when God’s sovereign plan covers the scope of millennia. And why do we worry and fret? Why do we lose sleep over things that are meaningless in the scope of eternity? Friends, God is sovereign and he is the ruler of all of his creation. And he has a plan and a design for his church and kingdom of which he has graciously made us a part. Rejoice! Revel in that truth! And when faced with difficulties and opposition, trust in the wisdom and grace of God. Though men are not; God is good … and he is good all of the time — even in the midst of our trials and difficulties. What is it that God would lead you into doing and what is holding you back?

 

WIll You be Faithful to My Lord?

“Now, if it is in you to show steadfast love and truth to my lord, declare it to me; if not, declare it to me so that I may turn to the right or to the left.”

(Genesis 24:49)

 

It is interesting to me how Eliezer couches his request for Rebekah to return with him. He does not say here, “Are you willing to wed your daughter to Isaac, son of Abraham?” What he says is, “Are you willing to be faithful to Abraham.” The first would simply be a yes or no question based on the wishes and preferences of the family. This way of asking bases the question on the relationship that Bethuel has with his Uncle Abraham. If Bethuel rejects this requests, it is no longer a matter of preference, but it is a rejection of the relationship that is had between these two men. Indeed, it is a rejecting of Abraham’s family line and right to find a wife for his son within his extended covenant family.

The idiom of the right hand and the left hand is often one that expresses a lack of knowing where else one should turn even to find what is true. God has led Eliezer here and Eliezer is basing his actions upon the principle that what God directs is true and right. If he is rejected, then where can he go? Can one hope to honor God by looking for a spouse in a place other than where God has led him? Abraham and Sarah know the difficulties that come as a result of trying to circumvent God’s design, for that is how Ishmael came into the world. How often we pursue our own ends rather than submitting to God’s and found we have embarked on that which will bring disappointment and failure?

Loved ones, it is God’s plan and design we are to follow. Indeed, discerning that design is the trick at times, though the principle that Eliezer is following is sound. Ask God to open the doors through which you are to go and wait on him to do just that in His timing. God is about to work in Rebekah’s life in a visible and magnificent way; he does that in our lives as well. May we be faithful to that call.

Hope in the Name of God

“I will praise you forever, because of your work;

I will hope in your name, because it is good in the presence of your saints.”

(Psalm 52:11 [verse 9 in English translations])

 

And here, David, in the midst of the grief and sorrow of loss turns his heart to praise. What a remarkable statement and model for our lives we have in the character in this great king over Israel. How often we find ourselves stuck or absorbed by our grief that we can never find ourselves being pulled out of it; David says that even in the midst of this sorrow, he will give God praise because God has preserved his life and has promised to judge the wicked who have done these horrible things. Loved ones, God will avenge and will make right every wicked act that is done against the lives of his people; may we always follow David’s example and model that in our lives as we praise God in the midst of our crises.

A note should be made here in terms of the word “saints” in translation. Literally, the word that David uses is dyIsDj (chasiyd), which is derived from the word, dRsRj (chesed). The word dRsRj (chesed), as we have discussed above, refers to God’s covenant faithfulness to us despite our lack of faithfulness in return. Similarly, then dyIsDj (chasiyd) refers to those who are the object or recipients of God’s dRsRj (chesed). In the New Testament, the term a¡gioß (hagios —  literally, “holy ones”) is rendered as “saints,” yet it seems that the sentiment being communicated is rather similar, for indeed, just as there are none of us who are deserving of God’s faithfulness apart from His divine grace, so too, there are none of us who are holy, but instead we are made holy by God’s divine grace through the completed work of his Son, Jesus Christ.

And it is we, the saints, who have faith in the name of God almighty. Notice that the language referring to “the name” of God is singular. God has many names that are applied to him in scripture, but in a very real sense, these names are just aspects of his one true and Triune name: Yahweh — “I am.” When Jesus gives the disciples what we now know as the “Great Commission,” we find him using the same language once again in the context of baptism: “you shall baptize them in the Name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19b). Notice that it does not say, “in the names” (plural), but “in the name” (singular). God may be three persons, but he is one in name. And hope is one of those funny little things. It does not exist in and of its own right, but hope must rest on something (a promise, a coming reality, the character of another, etc…). For the believer, we hope in the name of God for we know that he will not forsake his character or his promises to those who are his holy ones.

Beloved, it is in that hope that we can draw confidence and know that God is our fortress and our protector. He will allow us to grow up strong within his gates. He will defend us against our foes. And he will be the one who will avenge us of the wickedness that the ungodly do against us because of His name. Trust Him to that end.

Submission

“And Abraham said to the young men, ‘Keep yourselves here with the donkey and I and the boy will go up there. We will worship then we will return to you.”

(Genesis 22:5)

 

At times, we are tempted to gloss over the language of this passage, but it is crucial to understanding the faith of Abraham as he is going up to the place of sacrifice with Isaac. After commanding the servants to stay with the donkey, he tells them that “we will go to worship” and “we will return.” In both cases, Abraham uses the plural form of the verb. It is clear that Abraham has every expectation that it will be both he and Isaac that come down from the mountain. Either God will provide a substitute or God will raise Isaac from the dead — either way, both will return down from the place of sacrifice. He has confidence in the fulfillment of God’s promises even if he does not fully understand how that promise will be fulfilled.

The confidence in God’s provision is a lesson that each of us could stand to be reminded up and learn from. How often do we take things into our own hands and seek our own ways and means of providing for our needs. God is gracious and he is gracious all of the time, yet somehow we forget and we worry and we wonder whether God will provide for our needs and preserve us in a given event even when God has been faithful in the past. How short our memories are when it comes to God’s grace. How often we are more like the unthankful steward who, having been forgiven 10,000 talents, neglects to forgive 100 denarii. How shameful we can be as those who carry the greatest treasure the world has ever known in our lives and who hold the key of truth in our arms.

Abraham and Isaac thus part company with the young men and head to worship God. An interesting point to note is the language for worship that is chosen here. The Hebrew word in question is the verb hÎwDj (chawah), which in itself is not overly remarkable. What is remarkable is that it is found in a rare verbal stem known as Hishtaphel. Technically, this stem is reflexive (the action is directed back at the one performing the action) and in the middle tense (the actor is performing the action upon himself). On the surface, that also may seem unremarkable. We might also add that in Hebrew, this is the only verb found in the Hishtafel construct, which in itself again is not overly remarkable given ancient verbal forms in the Old Testament.

What is remarkable is when you put all of these pieces together in the context of the event that we have before us. How can an act of worship be reflexive — that is turned back at oneself? How also can this verb be used in blessings over God’s people, suggesting that the nations will “worship” or “prostrate themselves” before God’s own (see Genesis 27:29)? The answer is found in the realization that the Hebrew language contains numerous words to communicate the idea of worship and that in this case, the aspect of worship that is in sight is that of one’s submission to another who is greater (as is the case with the nations to Jacob’s line in Genesis 27:29). Abraham understands that the act of worship he will be performing is one that is primarily focused on his own submission to God.

Our submission to God, though an act that honors our creator, is an act that we predominantly apply to ourselves (reflexive and middle). Our nature is to do our own thing; God’s demand on us is that we submit our will to his divine will. And in our submission we worship. How often we come into worship with no submission whatsoever. We say the words and go through the actions, but we withhold the one element that God yet demands from our being: our whole person. Believer, do not hold back from God, but give yourself in faith to His call and to His demand on your life. We may mouth the words of truth, but until our life is submitted to that truth, our worship is shallow at best. Abraham’s worship on this mountain will be far from perfect (for he is fallen), but he is offering everything he has in submission to God’s call; will you offer the same?

We have a Stronghold in the God of Jacob

“Yaheweh Tsabaoth is with us;

A high stronghold for us is the God of Jacob. Selah!”

(Psalm 46:8 {verse 7 in English})

 

What a wonderful statement the psalmist makes. This is the kind of statement that ought to be set in stone on our patios and stenciled on our walls. It should be the words we are reminded of when we wake up and engage the day and that give us comfort when we lie down to sleep. Our God is a refuge that will keep us and preserve us and in his hands we have no need to fear.

This verse is begun with a fairly common title of God: tØwaDbVx hÎwh◊y (Yahweh Tsabaoth) — literally, “Yahweh of Armies” or “LORD of Hosts.” Hosts, in this context, are not those people that wait tables, but are the hosts of soldiers at the beck and call of a general. In this case, it is the Heavenly Host that is spoken of, the hosts of angels that serve at the word and command of God on high. As Christians, we often only think of God in terms of “Jesus meek and mild” and forget that after the resurrection the language we find describing our Lord is of a mighty warrior coming on a horse to destroy his enemies and to liberate his people from the effects of sin in the world around us. This is the mighty God we serve and this is the reason we should have no fear — for Yahweh of Armies is with us!

And not only that, but our God provides for us a stronghold in which to dwell. The word for stronghold, used 11 times in the Book of Psalms (twice in this psalm!) is derived from the Hebrew word bÅgDc (sagab), which refers to something that is inaccessible to the reach of human hands. Thus the idea of a stronghold is not simply marked by strong walls of defense, but it is marked by a high elevation where none but the eagles will roost. And it is from that vantage point that the psalmist describes those who trust in Yahweh as their God. Though the enemy may roar like a lion, the stronghold is quite secure.

So, beloved, why do you fear from within such a stronghold? Do you not trust your God to protect you from slander and from sword? Do you fear the enemy who would malign your name when you are safely behind the walls of our God? Do you fear harm when the mighty hosts of heaven are unleashed in our defense? Loved ones, why do we go about our lives acting with such fear when it comes to sharing what is true with those around us. Do we love those around us so little that we will not show them the pathway to safety in God’s arms — a pathway that leads through the gate of Jesus alone — that we are unwilling to show them the way? How often we act as if we are safe it does not matter what happens to others around us. Is that love? We call it courage when someone runs into a burning building to save someone who is trapped inside; why do we Christians exhibit such cowardice when it comes to the many people trapped in their sin that dwell around us? Loved ones, we have a mighty God to protect us, let us cast fear to the side and boldly share the truth about life in the confidence of the stronghold we have.

The Sleep of the Beloved

 

“It is vain for you to get up early and go late to your dwelling,

Eating the bread of toil;

For he gives to his beloved sleep.”

(Psalm 127:2)

 

It may be granted up front that there is some discussion as to how to interpret the last line of this verse. Commonly it is rendered as I have done so here, but some would argue that it ought to be rendered, “for he provides for his beloved during their sleep.” Though the nuances of the psalm are changed within that translation, the essential meaning of the text remains the same. God provides for the needs of his beloved — and he does so in an abundantly wonderful way.

In the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), Jesus speaks in much the same way. It is expected that the pagans will lay awake worrying all night, working long and thankless hours to provide bread for their families. Their idols are false creations of their own hands and imaginations. What benefit can a chunk of wood give me apart from helping to heat the house when I burn it in the fireplace? If I create something with my own hands, it contains no power to do anything but sit there. It has no life. One can draw no hope or assurance from such things.

But we worship a true and living God — one from whom we can draw assurances. He lives and is the God of the living (Matthew 22:32; Luke 20:38) and not of the dead; he gives us new life (1 Peter 1:3) and he gives us that life abundantly (John 10:10). And thus Jesus says to us, “why do you sit home and worry about what may or may not happen this week or even tomorrow?” Do we forget whom we serve? Our worry seems to betray that we do, yet to the beloved, God gives rest and peaceful dreams at night.

How often my dreams have been haunted by the cares of countless anxieties—anxieties that are projected in nightmarish ways. Yet, in prayer, there is rest for the soul. How often there has been tossing and turning rather than restful slumber; again, trust in God’s provision, believer, and you will find that rest will come. There is no need to fear what may transpire; our God is sovereign over all events (Ephesians 1:11) and has promised to work them all out for our good (Romans 8:28). What comfort there is in those divine promises to us! What rest we can find in that context!

For the believer, rest means more than sleep during the evening hours. Rest also includes rest from one’s enemies—the greatest of which are the spiritual powers of wickedness that roam this world like a roaring lion. They may roar, but we are held secure in the hands of our loving Savior (John 10:28-29); of what shall we fear? No, we are loved of God and true love casts out all fear (1 John 4:18).

Loved ones, sleep well and dream well of the glory of our God. He will provide for your needs because he loves you (Matthew 6:31-34); the pagans eat the bread of their sweat and toil—enjoy the restful sleep that your Father provides.

God, My Rock

“I shall say to God, my Rock, ‘Why have you forgotten me?’

Why do I go about darkened with respect to the torment of the enemy?”

(Psalm 42:10 [Psalm 42:9 in English translations])

 

The term “rock” is one that is often attributed to God. Why is that? Is God cold and unmoving? No, of course not! God is described as a rock in terms of his safety and security as well as his strength. In the torrents of trouble that flood our lives in this world (remember verse 7), God provides the strength and stability that we so desperately need. He gives us shelter in times of trial and persecution and herein the psalmist takes comfort—even in the destruction wrought by God on Korah and those who revolted with him, God preserved these Sons of Korah for his purposes in the life of Israel and in his redemptive plan. As Peter writes, God certainly does know how to rescue the godly while at the same time destroying the wicked (2 Peter 2:9-10).

In addition to God being referred to as a “rock” in scripture, it should be noted that his Word—the scriptures—is also described in the same way (Matthew 7:24; Exodus 32:15-16). Not only is he the rock to cling to during the trials and torrents of life, but his word provides for us the rock foundation upon which our lives are built sure. If you want to live a life that is reckless and swayed by the winds of change, then avoid this rock with all your power, but if you wish to know a life of sublime pleasure, then God gives us a foundation upon which to build…his most Holy Word.

How often, though, like the psalmist, we go about either saying or wanting to say that God has forsaken us. It is as if God had said that in Christ all things in life would be trouble-free. Yet, this is the gospel of the charlatans, not the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Instead, Jesus said:

“If the world hates you, know that it hated me before you. If you were from the world, the world would love as one in the same. But because you are not from the world—rather I chose you from the world—for this, the world hates you. Remember the word which I spoke to you—a slave is not greater than his lord. If they drove me out, they will also drive you out. If they treasure my word, they will also treasure yours.”

(John 15:18-20)

In other words, Jesus is reminding his Apostles and us how if we are faithful to him, the world will treat us as it treated him. The world put Jesus to death; why do we feel that we should expect to be treated differently?

The psalmist, understands this, I believe, and he continues by asking himself the rhetorical question, “why do I go about darkened…”—”why am I depressed and downcast” is what he is saying to himself as he looks at the torments of his enemy. For indeed, we know that our God is a great redeemer and a rock and if we rest in him we will be held secure from all eternal dangers. One may destroy our bodies but they cannot destroy our eternal souls. Beloved, why is it that so often we lament over the trials we face, for our God is with us and he has promised us that he will use such trials to strengthen us and to mature our faith (James 1:2-4). There is indeed a time to come when we will enjoy the bliss of being in God’s presence eternally, but for now, we remain in this world for a singular purpose—to glorify God by working out the Great Commission…that of making disciples of all of the nations—a program that begins in our neighborhoods, in our homes, and in our own hearts.

I asked the Lord that I might grow
In faith, and love, and every grace;
Might more of His salvation know,
And seek, more earnestly, His face.

’Twas He who taught me thus to pray,
And He, I trust, has answered prayer!
But it has been in such a way,
As almost drove me to despair.

I hoped that in some favored hour,
At once He’d answer my request;
And by His love’s constraining pow’r,
Subdue my sins, and give me rest.

Instead of this, He made me feel
The hidden evils of my heart;
And let the angry pow’rs of hell
Assault my soul in every part.

Yea more, with His own hand He seemed
Intent to aggravate my woe;
Crossed all the fair designs I schemed,
Blasted my gourds, and laid me low.

Lord, why is this, I trembling cried,
Wilt thou pursue thy worm to death?
“’Tis in this way, the Lord replied,
I answer prayer for grace and faith.

These inward trials I employ,
From self, and pride, to set thee free;
And break thy schemes of earthly joy,
That thou may’st find thy all in Me.”

-John Newton

 

 

The Conversation


“Some weather we’ve been having, isn’t it?” “Did you see the game last night?” “Did you read the paper this morning, with crime going up and unemployment going up, what is this world coming to?” “Did you hear what those democrats did?”

Conversations, we all have them every day and usually they are had around some fairly mundane subjects—weather, sports, news, politics, etc.  Most of the time, we strike up these conversations without much thought and they are over almost as quickly as they begin.  Most of the time these conversations are had with complete strangers with no expectation of ever seeing them again.  So, of what value are they?  Do they serve a purpose other than that of trying not to look unsociable and filling up dead air with useless chatter? I am not convinced that they do.

But what if even those short conversations were ones that could become significant? What if they could become eternally significant? Would we have the conversation if it contained meaning and not just noise? What if we opened our conversations with, “where do you go to church?” instead of “what do your think of the weather?

God has given us language so that we can exchange ideas with one another in community—that is what the very word, “conversation,” means—“to exchange ideas.” In addition, ideas have consequences because the ideas you offer will in turn spark ideas in the mind and hearts of those who hear them. The question is whether or not you are exchanging ideas of consequence or whether you are merely beating the air. The weightier the idea the more significant the consequence.

One of the things that concerns me, though, is that as a society we have become rather superficial not only in our conversations but in our ideas. It is almost as if we are afraid of the consequences of significant conversation so we opt to avoid it altogether. Yet significant conversations are essential for building significant relationships and significant relationships are essential for effecting change in peoples’ lives.

So, what do your conversations look like? Are they significant or do you play it safe, seeking to stay in the shallow end of the relationship pool. If we are going to effect change in our community, shallow will not cut it.  We need to enter into the deepest end of the pool and speak of the resurrection of the very Son of God who came into this world, lived amongst men, died a horrible death to atone for the sins of his people, and rose again on the third day.  There is no conversation more significant that that and there is no conversation that this world needs to hear more than that one. Will you be the one to have that conversation with those you meet, though?

Revealing God (John 17:6)

“I have made your name known to the people whom you gave me out of this world; they were yours, even so, you gave them and they have guarded your word.”

(John 17:6)

Jesus has made the Father’s name known.  What a remarkable statement this is!  Often we find agnostics speaking of their pursuit of God; philosophers of ages past have sought to understand the nature of the invisible God behind the universe—yet these always rely on their own strength.  God even goes as far as to pronounce that he will be hidden from his enemies (Genesis 4:14; Matthew 11:25), yet revealed in the Son alone.  Thus, John earlier records:

“Jesus said to him, ‘I am the Path, the Truth, and the Life; no one comes to the Father except through me.’”

The Apostle Paul even goes as far as to write:

“To me, the least significant of the saints, this grace was given, to proclaim the good news of the incomprehensible riches of Christ to the nations, and to illuminate that which is the plan of the mystery which has been hidden from eternity in God who created all things in order that the multi-faceted wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and authorities in heavenly places.”

(Ephesians 3:8-10)

In other words, the plan of God to reveal himself in his Son has intentionally been kept hidden from the world until God revealed his Son, Jesus Christ.  In turn, God has also given the church the task of making this great truth known to a world that has been kept in darkness, awaiting the preaching of the Gospel.  No matter how hard the philosopher or the agnostic “searches” for God, he will not find God apart from the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  But for those who hear the word preached, there is eternal life.

“For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to those who are being saved, it is the power of God.”

(1 Corinthians 1:18)

Many are rather uncomfortable with just how “exclusive” the claims of Christ are—Jesus leaves us with no room to suggest that there is any other way to genuinely know God than through Him.  Now, it is true that God reveals enough about himself in the natural world as to leave mankind without an excuse (Romans 1:18-20).  Yet, as we have been discussing, He remains veiled apart from his Son, Jesus Christ.  It is like being caught in a maze.  The very existence of the maze points to a creator and the logic of the maze implies that there is an exit; yet the only exit door by which you may meet the Creator and enjoy life is the Creator’s Son, Jesus Christ.  Apart from him, you become more and more befuddled and feebleminded by the complexity and darkness of the maze.

Yet, loved ones, note the joy with which Paul proclaims that it has been given to him to preach the good news of the “incomprehensible riches of Christ” to the unbelieving nations.  This task, which we call the Great Commission, belongs to you and to me as well.  Let us indeed rejoice in this task, but let us also engage the world as we live out this great and wonderful responsibility, for Christ has revealed the Father to a world that is dark and filled with unbelief.  Let us reveal Christ so they might have light and hope.

Christ the Cornerstone (Psalm 118:22)

“A stone, which the ones who build rejected,

it is to the head of the corner.”

 

            Though this translation is awkward and unfamiliar, I wanted to translate it more literally to retain the force of the idiom that is employed.  Yet first, note that this is one of the most quoted Old Testament verses in the New Testament.  It is quoted verbatim in Matthew 21:42, Mark 12:10, Luke 20:17, Acts 4:11, and 1 Peter 2:7.  Paul also paraphrases this verse in Ephesians 2:20, though, when Paul paraphrases the idiom about the “head of the corner, he uses the Greek word ajkrogwniai√oß (akrogoniaios), which can either mean “cornerstone” or “capstone.”  Paul retains the meaning of the idiom (being the most important stone in a structure) though some of the force of the idiom is lost.

            Before we look at the idiom itself, it is worth noting another important, though very subtle, difference between a literal translation and how we usually see the phrase translated.  You will notice that I have translated the beginning of this verse as “a stone” rather than “the stone.”  Neither the Hebrew nor the Greek translations of this passage contain the definite article (“the”) before the word for stone.  Though this may seem like a very minor point to make, its connotations are sweeping.  The implied thought, when the definite article is present, is that there is only one stone that the builders have rejected.  Yet this is not the case!  Indeed, one of Jesus’ great criticisms against the Jewish leaders is that they were constantly rejecting the prophets, murdering them because of the witness they bore.

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones the ones sent to it.  How often I have wanted to gather your children in the same way a bird gathers the chicks under its wing—and you would not!  Behold!  Your house is left to you desolate!  For I say to you, you shall not see me from now until you should say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’”

(Matthew 23:37-39)

The fact is that the psalmist understood the nature of his people when this prophesy was made, and indeed, he did not place the definite article to leave open the condemnation of those builders who were rejecting the multiple stones offered by God.

            This does not mean, though, that there were more than one cornerstones intended by God for Israel.  The idiom that follows, “the head of the corner,” is clearly speaking singularly of the Messiah who would come—hence the New Testament writers’ application of this passage to Jesus.  This is a standard technique in Hebrew poetry, to go from a broad concept to a narrow concept, to go from the general to the specific.  The picture presented to us is that of a huge heap of rejected stones, one of which, one very special one of which, is the promised Christ.  What sweeping condemnation this is against the leaders of Israel for their rejection of our Lord!

            So what of this language of the “head of the corner”?  In context, we usually simply translate it as “cornerstone,” but I think that the value of the idiom is that it forces us to see the implications of Jesus’ position in terms of the church.  The word that we translate as “head” is the Hebrew word varo (rosh), which refers to something that is first, chief, or primary.  Jesus as the head of the corner is the stone that is placed first, apart from which no other stone can be laid.  It is because of Jesus’ pre-creational covenant with the Father to sacrifice himself on behalf of the elect as their mediator so that God would not enter into eternal judgment immediately after Adam and Eve fell.  There would have been no church, old or new, apart from Christ.  Hallelujah for that promise! Yet, at the same time, do not miss what that means for us today as the church.  Our very existence is based on Jesus Christ.  That means that all we do as the church, both individually and corporately, must be seen in terms of that relationship.  What we do must be judged not on the basis of how well it happens to work, but on the basis of how faithful it is to Jesus Christ.  As Americans, we tend to be a rather pragmatic people, but when stones must be conformed to a cornerstone, what is true and right becomes far more important.  Too many churches compromise the truth to get things accomplished, but it is far more important, as believers, to be interested in doing what is right and not what may seem to work.

            So what about the rest of the idiom?  The word for corner is hN”Pi (pinah), and is a word that can be used in a variety of ways.  Primarily it speaks of a corner of a wall, and that is exactly how we normally interpret it in this psalm.  Christ is the cornerstone, it is on the basis of his position that all other stones are laid.  No stone can be part of the church if it is not laid in alignment with Christ, etc…  It is also worth noting that structures get their strength from their corners, thus Christ presents himself as a strong corner upon which the rest of the church gathers its strength.  In addition, the word hN”Pi (pinah) is often used figuratively to refer to one who is a leader amongst the people (see 1 Samuel 14:38).  Understanding the idiom in this way would present Jesus as the first or chief leader amongst the people of the church.  Either way you understand it, the force of the idiom strikes home in a mighty way.  We may function as part of the church, but only in our relationship to Jesus Christ—he is our cornerstone and our chief leader.  He is the basis upon which all we do must be ordered.  He is the reason for our very existence.

            Beloved, we have a tendency to run off ahead on our own paths, seeking after our   own visions of grandeur.  The problem is that often these things are not in alignment with the cornerstone that has been laid long ago (before the foundations of the earth!).  Yet, loved ones, when you are building a structure out of stones, it is not the stone that tells the builder where it should be placed—the builder has the arbitrary right to place the stone as he wishes.  So too with God, the master builder of the church and of our lives.  Sometimes we have a tendency to look over the fence at the greener grasses that lie out of our reach.  There is a reason why we have been set where we have been set—trust the master builder’s reasoning—seek to fulfill God’s design for your life and forget about the flights of fancy that will do nothing more than feed your ego.

Christ is made the sure foundation,

Christ the head and cornerstone,

Chosen of the Lord and precious,

Binding all the church in one;

Holy Zion’s help forever,

And her confidence alone.

-7th century Latin Hymn

Translated by John Mason Neale

Idols Do Not Growl (Psalm 115:5-7)

“Mouths are theirs, yet they do not speak;

eyes are theirs, yet they do not see;

ears are theirs, yet they do not hear;

noses are theirs, yet they do not smell.

There are hands, but they do not feel;

there are feet, but they do not walk;

there is no utterance in their throats.”

(Psalm 115:5-7)

 

            The psalmist continues to point out the foolishness of idolatry.  Though you carve a mouth onto a piece of gold or silver, such does not impart the ability for such an item to speak.  Though you give it eyes, it will never see.  It may have ears, a nose, hands and feet, but it is still a cold, inanimate, lifeless hunk of metal created by the hands of men and of no more value than it has in artistic merit.  In contrast, we worship a God who does hear our prayers; he speaks from heaven as recorded in his word and he sees even what is done in dark places where no man may see.  Our God is a God who moves in this earth and is bound by nothing, and the value of our God is not based on the limited skills of men’s craftmanship, but is infinite and based in His eternal glory and character.  What a contrast there is between the gods of men and the One True and Living God!

            The last clause in this passage must also be understood in terms of the Hebrew words that the psalmist employs, for it is not meant as a repetition of the first line of this passage, but intensifies it.  The passage begins with the idea that these idols have carved mouths, yet cannot speak, but in the case of the last clause, the psalmist uses the term hg”h’ (hagah), which literally means, “to growl.”  This is also the term that is often used to describe the faithful man deep in meditation over God’s word (see Psalm 1:2 or 63:6).  In the ancient Jewish culture, when one was deep in meditation over the scriptures, one would often quietly mumble the words that one was reading.  To an observer, that slow, almost rhythmic, mumbling would sound akin to the low, guarded growl of an animal—much like that of a large dog warning you that it does not wish to be disturbed.  There is no such growl in the throat of these created idols because there is no intelligence in them with which to understand the wisdom of God’s word.

            This begs the question about intelligence and where the source of intelligence is.  The presupposition of the secularist in our culture is that intelligence is nothing more than exchanged electrical and chemical impulses in the grey matter that we call our brain.  Yet, if this is so, it is genuinely impossible for us to have rational/creative thought and understanding.  In their mindset, ideas, for example, are nothing more than cause and effect and “rationality” is nothing more than a complex set of predictable signals from one part of the brain to another.  Yet, when you take this mindset to its rational end, our brains are really no more than complicated computers which are unable to create genuine, rational ideas or to understand—all we do is process.  It takes a soul that is able to act independently of cause and effect to be able to rationally interpret data and to understand.

            Why is this significant?  It is significant because we live in a culture that is working hard to create what they term as “Artificial Intelligence.”  Given that they believe human thought is just a mass of chemical-electrical signals, they believe that they can duplicate such within a sufficiently sophisticated computer chip.  What are the ramifications of this?  If their world-view is right, then when computers reach the point of being able to “think rationally” for themselves, they will be eligible for the same rights as we would give to a human.  In addition, they are trying to place themselves in the position of God, having “created” for themselves a new race—a race of intelligent computers.

            Certainly, much of this is still kept in the realms of science fiction, but often what is science fiction in one generation becomes science-fact in subsequent ones.  In the beginning of the 20th century, the idea of rockets flying into outer space was something dreamed of only by the writers, by the end of the 20th century, rockets in space had become commonplace.  When my parents were in college, they used computers that filled an entire room; when I went to college, laptops were becoming commonplace.  Today, even young children are computer literate.

            Why are we dwelling on this?  It gets back to what the psalmist speaks of in the last clause of this passage—there is no meditation or utterance in their throats.  A computer cannot “growl” over any information, let alone the scriptures because a computer does not nor can have any understanding.  You may program it with sufficiently complex algorithms to mimic some aspects of human thought, but there will never be any genuine understanding or creative thought—it will never be anything more than input and output.

            There is a wonderful little analogy given by a man named John Searle in the 20th century that describes why a computer cannot truly have independent thought.  The analogy basically says, take a man who knows no Chinese and has never even seen Chinese, and put him in a room with a slot and two books.  Through the slot, put in a list of instructions in Chinese.  The man’s job is to take that list, look up each instruction in the first book, which will tell him what response to write from the second book.  Instructions and responses are always in Chinese, there is never any translation given for him within the books and he never sees what takes place outside of the box when he gives said response. 

            Certainly, there will be many errors made at first, but over time, the man will get pretty proficient with it.  In fact, over time, the man may even begin to recognize the subtle differences between characters and even be able to remember the proper responses to common commands.  Yet, when you take the man outside of the box, he will not be able to read or comprehend Chinese.  He will not be able to understand it or be able to interact with someone else using Chinese.  Why?  When there is no translation, there is nothing more than input and output—exactly the way a computer chip works.  A computer chip cannot think, reason, or understand because it has no God-given soul—it does not have genuine life.  The works of our hands, no mater how complex or lifelike they may seem are unable to understand.  This is something that the psalmist understood nearly 3000 years ago—it is a shame that many today still have not learned that lesson.

            Beloved, not only ought we not bow down to the works of the hands of men, we ought not be intimidated by them either.  Sometimes, when we see this person or that person with their strings of academic degrees, we set our God-given common sense and wisdom to the side and allow them to spout foolishness because we feel inadequate to stand up to them.  Beloved, don’t be.  The wonderful thing is that the facts and reality of this world—given that God created it—support the Biblical truth.  Much of what the secularists espouse is propaganda designed to intimidate.  It is like the old preacher who wrote on the side of his sermon notes: “weak point, preach loudly!”  Much of their “scientific” theory is anything but scientific and all they are doing is preaching loudly and passionately to try and get you to go along with them.  Don’t fall into that trap.  God has given you minds with which to think and to reason—it is part of the Imago Dei (the image of God) within you.  Don’t let them intimidate you for they are acting on their instincts, like unreasoning animals, but, we are getting ahead of ourselves.  Beloved, we worship a living and active God who is infinite in his glory and in his worth—why would you want to settle for anything less?