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The World in Submission

“Hear, O kings! Listen, O dignitaries! I, to Yahweh, I will sing and sing praise to Yahweh, the God of Israel. Yahweh, in your going out from Siyr, in your confident stride from the field of Edom, the ground shook and also the heavens flowed down — also the clouds flowed with water. The mountains even flowed before the face of Yahweh — even Sinai before the face of Yahweh.”

(Judges 5:3-5)

And thus the song begins. Notice again that the emphasis in this song of praise is not on man or even on just how much we love God. The emphasis is on God and all he is and all he has done. His greatness far surpasses anything we might feel or do, yet how often are our modern hymns and praise songs focused on the “I” and not on the “He.”

As one moves into the song, notice the kind of language that is employed…the earth trembles as God is on the move, the heavens above are shaken and rain falls down from the clouds…even the mountains — even mount Sinai trembles and pours forth water. Notice also, how often this kind of language is employed in the scriptures (see Psalm 68, for example). It is language that is figurative in nature, though it describes a historic event. God is on the move and there is nothing in the natural order that does not submit to the presence of the almighty God. That said, how odd it is, that when one gets to the book of Revelation, so many professing Christians (in the pre-millennial school of thought) turn this language into something that can only be understood in a literal sense when throughout the rest of the Bible it is used figuratively when found in this kind of construction.

Deborah and Baraq are indeed looking back to God leading the people through the wilderness and through their enemies, whether on the fields of Edom or from the mountains of Seir (just northeast of the Gulf of Aqaba) and they portray the natural world as moving along with Him — making straight the paths for the Lord of Glory! And since we cannot grasp the might of our God, given our finite limitations, Deborah and Baraq use figurative language to describe the mightiest things that they can think of (the earth, the mountains, the clouds, the sky) as shaking in submission before God. All that is, all that could ever be, must bow before the Lord of Creation. Yet, how sad it is that man shakes his fist in rebellion. Jesus states that the mark of our Love for God is found in our obedience to his command; that simple principle should shake the ground below the feet of most professing Christians, and drive us all to our knees, begging forgiveness and the faith to obey.

Bowing in Submission

“in order that at the name of Jesus every knee would be bent in heavenly places and in earthly places and in places under the earth and every tongue would admit that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.”

(Philippians 2:10-11)

And all of God’s people said, “AMEN!” This is one of those passages that ought to stir us up because it is a reminder that there is a time coming when all of the pretense of atheism and all of the rebellion of false religions will be brought to a crushing halt and Christ in his fullness will be revealed even to his enemies and they will bow before him. Amen. Amen. Amen. What a day that will be.

Yet do know, this passage is not talking about universal conversion. The language of knees bending is language that refers to people bowing in submission to one who is greater than they are. In some cases, it refers to a willing submission to one’s good and just master. But in other cases, it is used to portray the humiliating defeat of a king’s enemies who are then forced to bow, if even under the crushing foot of the victorious king.

The confession follows along with that notion. Believers, of course, will joyfully proclaim the Lordship of Jesus. Unbelievers, though, will utter it out of abject hatred through clenched teeth. They then are the defeated foe made to confess the Truth against which they have been rebelling with all of their might. These who stand in rebellion against the King of Kings hate him so greatly that they would choose even the torments of hell to remove themselves from his presence. And had Jesus not saved us from our sin by giving us spiritual rebirth, changing our wicked hearts, we would be doing the same…seething at the notion of admitting to be true that which we had spent a lifetime suppressing in our hearts.

Thus, while these verses are a song of triumph and hope for the believer, they are utter condemnation to the unbeliever. It is glory and salvation for some and utter defeat for others. May indeed we all be amongst those who will celebrate at the throne of Christ, bowed in grateful submission before his feet. And to those who stand against Christ here and now in this life, know that there will be a time when you will stand no longer but will be bowed down in utter defeat.

God Reigns from His Holy Throne

“God reigns over the peoples; God sits upon his holy throne.”

(Psalm 47:9 {verse 8 in English translations})

 

The plain theme of God’s lordship and rulership over his creation continues through this verse as we move through the psalm — God is worthy of our praise — he alone is King and Ruler and Sovereign over those who serve him and over his enemies as well. Yet, how is it that God is King over all of the peoples? All of the peoples certainly do not serve him nor do all of the peoples acknowledge his kingship. So how are we to understand this clause.

Though God does not take away our liberty to go here or there or to do this or that, he has created us in such a fashion that we fulfill his design for us individually and in the world. Thus, by God’s providential governance, he orders the events of our lives so to bring about his designs. That means that even the most hardened atheist who rails against God with fist clenched and shaking in the air is still under the Lordship of God’s plan and design. They might not acknowledge Him or recognize Him in their life, but nevertheless he is there. Indeed, there will come a time and a day when they will confess that great truth (Philippians 2:9-11), but the reality is in place even now and has always been in place.

There is another principle that needs to be turned back towards home, and that is our obedience to and submission before the rule of God. God calls us to submit to Him; we tend to do what we want even though at times what we want does not honor Him. And we do it anyway. We, like the atheist, are often guilty of raising our clenched fists against God even if we do so only by our choice of actions. We too are worthy of His judgment. Forgive us, Lord, for we indeed have willfully sinned against you!

And in Christ, there is mercy, there is peace, and there is hope. We need to remind ourselves of these things because in our sin we tend to draw ourselves away from the mercies of God and from his forgiveness. We are not given license to sin in Christ, but when we do sin, we are given forgiveness and praise be to God for that! Our debt has been paid by Jesus Christ, loved ones, let us live like it and live in a way that seeks consistently to honor the one who sacrificed so much for us and now who sits exalted on his throne on high. Our God does indeed reign from his Holy throne; let us live like it.

A Man Under Authority

“And he said, ‘I am a servant of Abraham.’”

(Genesis 24:34)

“‘And I am also a man under authority having soldiers under myself. I say to this one, “Go,” and he goes and to another one, “Come,” and he comes. And to my servant, “Do this,” and he does it.’ And Jesus hearing this marveled and said to the ones following him, ‘Amen! I tell you that you will find no one with such a great faith in Israel.’”

(Matthew 8:9-10)

Rightfully, Eliezer begins by explaining that he is a servant, an emissary of sorts, sent by Abraham to meet with Nahor’s family. From the very start of this conversation, he makes it clear that he is not acting on his own authority, but under the authority of his master. All that he says from this stage out is said out of the context of that relationship — he is servant, Abraham is master. And a servant takes no liberties with the responsibilities that his master has given him.

Jesus, too, encountered such a man who understood the role of those under authority. A Roman Centurion sought to have a household servant healed but when Jesus offered to come to his home and do just that, the Centurion refused, stating that he was unworthy to have Jesus enter his home but that instead, if Jesus would speak the word, he knew his servant would be healed from afar.

The Centurion grounded his faith on the principle of submission. Because Jesus was God, the things in the world, by definition, had to be in submission to him. Jesus spoke and the storms were calmed. Jesus willed it and fish filled the nets of fishermen. Jesus blessed the fish and the loaves and they miraculously fed 5,000 men plus their families who were with them. Jesus cast out demons and healed diseases — he even raised the dead! Surely proximity means nothing to the God who can work all of these things. Surely the world was in submission to Jesus the God-Man. This, the Roman Centurion understood. The Centurion also understood that the reason he himself had authority over others (his servants and soldiers) was because he too was under the authority of one greater than he (Caesar) who had commissioned and sent him. Similarly, Jesus was under the authority of God the Father who sent him. This, Jesus commends over the faith of those around him in Israel.

Submission is not a popular term in our world today; neither was it a popular term in the Israel of Jesus’ day. Sadly, all degrees of sin have come from our unwillingness to submit to the authority and rule of God. C.S. Lewis used to say that one of the things that held him back from becoming a Christian was the realization that if there was really a God (as the Christians describe him) that God had the power to place expectation on Lewis’ life whether Lewis liked it or not. The fallen nature hates the idea that man is under the submission of a Holy God…yet we are.

Even in churches, we are used to people acting and speaking on the authority of men, not on the authority of God. Pastors often quote litanies of views by different commentators and theologians to make their point rather than standing on the authority of God. Church leadership meetings are often conducted along principles of pragmatism rather than Scripture. How often we find church business meetings that might begin or end with a few verses of scripture and prayer, but where 96% of the energy is spent debating on how money should be budgeted or spent? Is this faithful to 1 Corinthians 14:26? How often even pastors insist on their own agenda rather than speaking prophetically from the word of God (prophetically in the sense that the preacher’s role is to apply the Scriptures with directness of language and reason to the people in their own culture and era)?

While we like “doing our own thing,” as Christians we are called to be like the Centurion and the Servant of Abraham. We are called to be men and women acting in submission to God as he has revealed in His Word. It is then that we will begin to see God use us because it is only then that people will see God through our works and not us. One praises the master, not the tools in his hands; may we seek always to be sharp and ready for the master’s employment.

The Active and Passive Obedience of Isaac – A Shadow of Christ

“In this way they came to the place which God had told him and there Abraham built the altar and arranged the wood on it. He bound Isaac, his son, and set him on the altar on top of the wood. Then Abraham stretched forth his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son.”

(Genesis 22:9-10)

 

It is at this point where the faith of Isaac comes to surface next to the faith of his father. There is no longer any doubt as to whether Isaac understands what is going on for he has likely seen his father make many such sacrifices of animals. Even still, Isaac allows his father to bind his hands and feet like one would bind an animal for the slaughter and then lay his bound body on the fire. There is also no question that if Isaac chose to resist, this teenager could have easily maneuvered around his centenarian father. Yet, Isaac chooses to submit to his father’s will and his obedience to his father here moves from an active obedience to a passive one, trusting the call of God upon his life.

How, in Isaac’s submission, we see an image of Christ. Being God, Christ could have chosen not to go to the cross — yet such a choice would have condemned us all. In love for us and in submission to his Father, Jesus chose to go to the cross and submit to the cruelty of the sacrifice that was laid out before him. Isaac gives us a picture of that submission in his own life though we rarely give Isaac the credit for being a man of faith.

Abraham, too, stands as a man of faith, trusting God to fulfill his promise even through resurrecting his son from the dead. There will be another son (Jesus) who will indeed do just that — die and be raised from the grave to glory. While the promise to Abraham was through Isaac, the one who the promise is ultimately guaranteed by is Christ Jesus, who indeed is the seed of the woman promised in Genesis 3:15 as well as being the seed of Abraham (Galatians 3:16). Abraham believed the promise would be fulfilled through Isaac even if God had to raise him from the dead; God made his promise fulfilled and consummated through Christ, His Son, by resurrecting him from the dead that our hope and life may be in Him. Isaac is a shadow for us of the Christ to come. Praise be to God that he has indeed come and given us life and life eternal.

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?

‘You are a dead man!’: Genesis 20:3

“And God went in to Abimelek in a dream by night saying to him, ‘Behold, you are dead over the woman you took for she is married to a husband.’”

(Genesis 20:3)

 

Just as God did before, once again he protects the purity of Sarah. God ensures that the woman who will be the vessel of his promised child will have that child with her husband, Abraham, and not through a surrogate, whether Egyptian or Canaanite. Once again, the God of heaven demonstrates that he is the great shepherd over his people, protecting them from the harm that would come from the logical end of Abraham’s sin.

A question might be asked as to why Sarah submitted to her husband. She certainly saw the folly of his initial sin and to see it repeated seems a bit odd. Some may suggest that she was trusting in God’s deliverance. One also may suggest that she could have shared Abraham’s fears and thus entered into his sin willingly. We have already seen the sin of Sarah when she tried to take God’s promise into her own hands by giving her servant Hagar to Abraham as a wife. The child, Ishmael, came into the world as a result of this sin and the world has seen no end of grief as a result of these Ishmaelite children, those we now know as Arabian Muslims. How our sins so often come and haunt us.

Anyway, Abimelek (many of our Bibles wrongly transliterate his name as “Abimelech”) tries to take Sarah as a wife, likely because of Abraham’s wealth and wanting to build an alliance and thus secure Abraham’s allegiance. This was a common practice in ancient times, yet Sarah is not simply a sister, but indeed is the wife of Abraham. In this, all bets are off and God intervenes.

Loved ones, the God we worship today is the same God who protected Sarah. Now, sometimes he chooses not to protect his own in the way he protected Sarah, but he has promised to protect nonetheless and to carry each of us through whatever trial or trauma that we may face in this fallen world. God is a good God and though we often have to walk through hellish experiences in this life, we should be comforted in knowing that his hand always remains on us. Be at peace, his hand will guide and protect still today.