Julian Freeman

Freed to live through the death of another.

Tag: Moses

We Wait Patiently for Justice

Justice does not come quickly. The righteous answer is not always the obvious one. And, quite frankly, you’re not always the judge and you don’t always have the clarity you think you do. That’s why, biblically, every matter must be established by two or three witnesses and it must have a due process.

Tim Challies wrote what ended up being a pretty controversial post on patiently waiting for justice to be done in the matters relating to Sovereign Grace Ministries. He pointed out that we are to love, hope all things, wait until the matter is fully heard, and entrust justice to those authorities appointed by God. Even in the cases where there is alleged sexual abuse and alleged cover-ups.

For some, that was asking too much. Apparently, for a Christian seeking justice, we don’t need such waiting games. ‘The powerful are hiding and maneuvering to oppress the victims,’ we are told, ‘and therefore we ought to stand up for the victims.’

Rachel Held Evans, in her response to Challies, made it clear that the obligation of the church in seeking justice is the protection of the weak rather than the strong:

As Christians, our first impulse should be to protect and defend the powerless, not the powerful.

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You Are Provoking Me

There are certainly lots of curious things that happen in sections of Old Testament narrative. But one of the more curious realities of the Moses narrative, to me, is the fact that Moses is not allowed to go into the Promised Land. It’s not the fact that he’s forbidden that seems curious, but the fact that he seems repeatedly to blame his sin on the people of Israel (see Deut. 4.21-22 for example).

On this, D.A. Carson writes:

Of the many lessons that spring from this historical recital, one relatively minor point — painful to Moses and important for us — quietly emerges. Moses repeatedly reminds the people that he himself will not be permitted to enter the land. He is referring to the time he struck the rock instead of speaking to it (Num. 20). But now he points out, truthfully, that his sin and punishment took place, he says, “because of you” (Deut. 1:37; Deut. 3:23-27; Deut. 4:21-22). Of course, Moses was responsible for his own action. But he would not have been tempted had the people been godly. Their persistent unbelief and whining wore him down. (For the Love of God, vol. 1. Read the full entry here.)

In other words, the persistent sin of the people of Israel had finally provoked the meekest of all men on the earth (Num 12.3) to sin. And now he was paying for it, ‘because of [them].’

Do you see what happened? When they persisted in unbelief, rebellion, and sin, it discouraged and disheartened even the most faithful. Holiness and the battle against sin, for the people of Israel, was something essentially communal. However one person acted effected others.

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Newsflash: The New Testament is Shorter

Call me Captain Obvious if you like, but the New Testament is shorter than the Old Testament. I was thinking about this the other day and it occurred to me that in some sense the length of the two covenant documents speaks to the relationship between the covenants themselves and what is required of the people who are part of those covenants.

Simply asking the question, ‘Why is the New Testament shorter?’ helps us to see the nature of the covenants in contrast. For example, here are at least two parts of the answer that I would give you to that question:

1. There are no genealogies in the New Testament

One of the things that makes the Old Testament longer is the accumulation of stories of family lines. So, for example, the story of Judah and Tamar in Genesis 38 is vital because it records God’s preservation of the line of Judah. The Old Testament is filled with both genealogies and narratives that preserve bloodlines.

The New Testament, on the other hand, has no genealogies (except for that of Jesus, which is the climax of the Old Testament). There are no stories of fathers and children, no stories of family lines being preserved.

This makes the New Testament shorter. It also illustrates one of the fundamental differences between the covenants. The older covenant was passed on from generation to generation through bloodlines and families (Gen 15.3-5), while the newer is passed on through gospel proclamation and faith (2 Tim 2.2). Therefore, the New Testament simply has the book of Acts which records how the gospel was proclaimed and believed. That’s all there is for narrative. There is no ongoing record of families which must be saved because God’s people will now be made up of ‘all nations’ as they become disciplines… adopted children.

2. There is no case law in the New Testament

A second reason why the Old Testament is longer is because Moses and many prophets after him are forced to belabour the teaching of the Law in any and every imaginable context (and even some rather unimaginable ones!). Every time I read through the Old Testament I’m amazed at some of the case law and think to myself, ‘Really? Someone did that? And they needed to set a precedent law against it?’

In the New Testament, however, there is a distinct lack of laws (note: I didn’t say distinct lack of Law). You would think that as the New Covenant was being received and applied across cultural boundaries and geographical regions and religious backgrounds there would be a lot more Acts 15-type-moments. But in reality, there aren’t, simply because the New Covenant isn’t about setting case law. That’s not the nature of this covenant.

For example, when the Corinthians ask Paul about whether or not they are free to eat meat sacrificed to idols, he does not deliver case law that is binding on all Christians. Rather, he holds up the ideal of freedom and then allows it to be swallowed up by the law of love so that individual Christians simply cannot answer the ethical question without coming face to face with the question, ‘What is love and am I willing to be governed by it?’ (see 1 Corinthians 8-10). He does the same thing again when it comes to the exercise of spiritual gifts (see 1 Corinthians 12-14). Love is the law that governs all of Christian behaviour in the New Testament (John 13.34-35).

And so it is written…

When you’ve only got one law that trumps in any and every situation, and you don’t have to record genealogies and family histories spanning thousands of years, you can write a much shorter covenant document. Which is precisely what we have.

"Please show me your glory!"

Every child knows the story from Sunday School. From the time we’re little we picture it… Moses goes up the mountain to speak with God. God is there, in a cloud, fire, and lightning and the people are afraid. But God speaks with Moses. Amazing!

But then the unthinkable happens: Moses dares to ask for even more! Now he wants to see God!

We tremble to think of how daring this is–but what if…

So God causes his glory to pass by Moses. You can read about it here. But here’s the thing that I wonder. I know the way I pictured this when I was little. I know how I think God must’ve looked to Moses as he passed by. And then I think, “If only I could see God like that, it would totally change the way I live! I would never struggle with sin again!”

But maybe I need to reevaluate the way I think about this.

How about this: Have I thought that I have beheld more of God than Moses? I’m sure Moses saw Jesus, but did he see calvary? Did he see God dwelling with man in the New Jerusalem? He did not see the fullness of the revelation that we have in the completed Old and New Testaments. (If you think this isn’t a valid comparison, check this out.)

What have I seen of God? If I haven’t seen him, it’s probably because my eyes aren’t open. What Moses saw part of, while hidden in a rock on a mountain, we leave on our bookshelf gathering dust.

And then we wonder why we struggle with indwelling sin…

If we want our faces to shine, we must behold more of God–we must find him in his Word.

The Self-Policing Church

I don’t know why it continues to amaze me, but it does: God is concerned with purity. He hates sin and will not tolerate the arrogance and abomination of sinners in his assembly. Of course, this makes sense, given that he himself is “holy, holy, holy“; altogether separate, pure, and entirely other from us.

As I’ve been reading through Deuteronomy again the past few days it has hit me that over and over again God demands purity in his people because he is pure. But more than that, he demands that his people maintain a standard of purity and holiness as well, because of their relation to him who is pure! They are to be a people holy, even as he is holy, because they are to be a nation of priests: witnesses of him to the world.

The repetition of this theme throughout Deuteronomy (the Mosaic “farewell discourse” as the people of God prepare to enter the promised land) is astounding. What is even more astounding is that they are to “police” themselves! See here for some examples.

So that was then, what about now? If this was how the people of the OT were to handle sin and impurity, what about the people of the NT? Afterall, the OT is “copies” and “shadows” of the real things. The Church, in the NT is the true “chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for (God’s) own possession” (1 Peter 2.9).

This idea of being a people and nation for God in the NT–just as in the OT–is used to exhort God’s people to increased purity and holiness of life! That’s why Peter continues: “I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul…”

This is more than an individualistic call to a righteous life. It’s a call to consider the fact that we are a people who are to represent God collectively, as a nation! When our members begin to make mockery of the God we are to glorify by the way that they live, we are to purge the guilt of that sin from our midst.

Obviously that was easier to do, theoretically, when they people of God were a physical nation, but it is no less important now. For the church to be effective in glorifying the God of holiness by remaining pure, she must be “self-policing.”

Where it seems many in our day have trouble with this is this notion that the Christian “ought never judge.” The problem here is mistaking a concern for the glory of God’s name in the purity of his people with a self-righteous pride. The solution, it would seem, is for Christians concerned with the glory of Christ and the purity of his bride to remain humble “gate-keepers” and for all Christians to be open to loving correction.

In a culture that says no-one is allowed to correct anyone, this would be light and salt indeed.

And in a western-world where it seems that much of Christendom has nothing else to do, other than to re-discover old heresies abandoned in the purification of the church in days of persecution in the past, this means we must police our own doctrine as well. It would be absurd to think that God is this concerned with his glory in the way that we live, because it represents him, but that he won’t care if we teach (or “discuss” or “humbly question”) the wrong things about him.

A father is embarassed when his boys misbehave at school. He’s also embarassed when they describe him to their teacher as a guy who “looks just like us… only more girly.”

Glorifying God as his chosen, holy nation, means acting like him and describing him as accurately as possible in all circumstances. To this end, the church must be “self-policing,” watching our life and doctrine closely.

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