Freed to live through the death of another.

Tag: OT (Page 1 of 2)

Eight Perspectives on the Problem of Human Suffering

RBY Scott, in his book The Way of Wisdom (New York: MacMillan, 1971, 144-147) offers eight solutions / perspectives to take on the problem of human suffering. These perspectives are based on his analysis of Old Testament wisdom literature in particular.

Here’s Scott’s list:

  1. Retributive — just punishment for sin (Job 4.7-9; 8.20)
  2. Disciplinary — corrective affliction (Deut 8.3; Prov 3.11-12)
  3. Probationary — God’s testing of the heart (Deut 8.2; Job 1.6-12; 2.10)
  4. Temporary or apparent, in comparison with the good (or bad) fortune of others (Job 5.18; 8.20-21; Ps 73)
  5. Inevitable, as a result of the Fall (Job 5.6-7; Ps 14.1-4)
  6. Necessarily mysterious, since God’s character and plan are inscrutable (Job 11.7; 42.3; Eccl 3.11)
  7. Haphazard and morally meaningless, in that time and chance happen to all (Job 21.23, 25-26; Eccl 9.11-12)
  8. Vicarious — one may suffer for another or for the many (Deut 4.21; Ps 106.23; Isa 53.3, 9, 12)

Anything you’d add? Any of them that don’t make sense? Isn’t it interesting how in some sense, we can see Christ taking on each one of these types of suffering during his life, ministry, and death? Even the suffering of the Old Testament anticipates the Messiah!

Reading Leviticus

If you’re on my Bible reading plan (there are at least two of you that I know of :)) or any other similar plan, there’s a good chance you’re finding yourself smack-dab in the middle of Leviticus right now. That’s not an easy place to be.

For most Christians, the new year’s zeal and the intruiging narrative which kept us on schedule through Genesis and the first half of Exodus has lost its power. Somewhere around Exodus 25, when Moses was receiving the instructions for the building of the tabernacle, it became tough-sledding. 

Do we really need to read it all? What difference do all these laws make to us now? Was it really a temptation for them to boil a young goat in its mother’s milk? Why did God inspire this? These are all questions that plague us as many of us find it hard to make it through this section of Scripture.

Here are three things I’ve found helpful for getting through:

  1. Buy an ESV Study Bible. This is going to sound funny, but it’s not intended to be: There are pictures in this Bible. It seriously helps. As the old saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. I feel like I understand the layout of the tabernacle better now than after any other time making it through Exodus. 
  2. Look for Patterns. When going through a book like Leviticus, it is easy to get caught up in the details and miss the big point. For example, did you notice any recurring phrases as you read through the last 3/4 of Leviticus? From chapter 11 on the phrase ‘I am the Lord’ is repeated 49 times. That’s significant. You’ll want to read the book noticing those kinds of patterns and asking, ‘Why is this said so many times?’ That will help you understand the book as a whole.
  3. Read it as Literature. While there are so many lists of laws, they are not randomly strewn together. There are particular narrative incidents given in between particular laws and commands. Why? What’s the point in putting that particular story right where it is, after that particular event? Those are the types of questions that will help you benefit from Leviticus, because they’ll keep you focused on big picture issues, rather than particular case laws.

And don’t give up! Keep on going! Every single word that is there is God-breathed, and it is all useful. The soul who perseveres will be blessed!

A Few Thoughts on Friendship

Isn’t it funny how things just seem to come together in your life at different points in time to reinforce certain lessons in your mind? In my recent readings through 1 Samuel, I’ve been encouraged to think about friendship again.

David and Jonathan were friends. Fiercely loyal, loving, and dedicated to the good of the other, despite dire circumstances. They were immediately drawn to each other as men of kindred spirits, once Jonathan saw David slay Goliath. Both of them were men of valour and courage, whose love for each other remained loyal, even when it would have been easy to give up.

David reflected on the importance of friendship in Psalm 1:

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers.

David says, the one who is approved by God is the one who does not surround himself with bad influences. In other words, his friends are full of wise counsel and godliness, quick to speak the word of the Lord.

Last night at prayer meeting, we read Proverbs 1. There David’s son Solomon also reflects the importance of one’s friends in a similar way:

My son, if sinners entice you, do not consent. If they say, ‘Come with us, let us lie in wait for blood; let us ambush the innocent without reason; … we shall find all precious goods, we shall fill our houses with plunder; throw in your lot among us; we will all have one purse’–my son, do not walk in the way with them; hold back your foot from their paths, for their feet run to evil, and they make haste to shed blood.

Again, this powerful truth is illustrated. The people you surround yourself with will influence you. Only the proud person thinks ‘I can hang out with whoever I want and I won’t be changed by them.’ That’s an unbiblical thought.

I was saddened a little while ago when I got to meet some friends of a friend of mine. His friends were spiritually (and otherwise) immature. Their conversation was godless and irreverent. I was saddened, because I was made to wonder what that said about my friend. Friendships and allegiances speak something about you, and they will inevitably influence you.

Friendships are important to God. In the New Testament James says that ‘friendship with the world is enmity with God.’

All that to say this: Are you intentional about your friendships? What types of people do you surround yourself with? Are you careful to seek out friends who will be an influence for good in your life rather than bad?

Are you deliberate in trying to be a good friend to those you are already friends with? Do you redeem conversations and turn them godward? 

A good friend is a good influence. Are you a good friend? Are you seeking them?

Justifying God

Abraham banishes Hagar

Abraham banishes Hagar

Genesis gives an interesting picture of Abraham. There were times when he was faithful and times when he was not, but overall the NT looks back on him as the prototypical ‘man of faith’ who will inherit the promises of God. The highest goal we can strive for is to be like Abraham–in fact, to have faith, in order that we may become one of his children.

But Abraham’s faith wavered. God had made tremendous promises to Abraham about his ‘seed’ and ‘blessing all nations’ and things like that. But when Abraham gave his situation an honest evaluation, it was tough for him to see how this could come about. The circumstances just didn’t look like God was going to fulfil his promises.

Abraham loved God, and believed God’s word. But he doubted that God had the power to bring about his purposes, because of the circumstances of Abraham’s life. Abraham knew that God had promised children, but knew that the chances of that in the later stages of his (and Sarah’s!) life were slim to nil. 

Abraham was concerned that God be justified. He desired for God’s promise to be fulfilled, for God’s word to come true. 

Many of us find ourselves from time-to-time in situations like Abraham. We know God’s commands, God’s promises, God’s declarations regarding the future. But when we look at the world the way it is–and in particular, our world the way it is–we start to wonder how (or if) God will actually pull it off.

But we want him to! We want God to be shown right! We want God to be justified in the words he has spoken and in the declarations he has made. We just aren’t really convinced that, given these circumstances, there is any way he can show himself to be true.

So what did Abraham do? He found his own way to bring about (what he thought) were God’s purposes. In his eagerness for God to be justified, he thought he would help God out, by adjusting the rules a little bit. Abraham took Hagar, his wife’s servant, and had a child by her, thinking that this would be the means by which God would be justified.

But God said no. His promises were bigger, and his power is bigger than Abraham could have imagined. Abraham may have had the right intention, in trying to show God to be just, but his problem started when he felt like God needed to be justified by us. He spent too much time looking at his own circumstances (and wondering what could possibly be done), and not enough time gazing at the God who had made the promise.

This applies on so many levels. Theologians, for example, may wonder how God could be good, fair, righteous, etc., but still demand that only men hold certain positions in the church. They think, ‘Our society is more advanced than the church of Christ!’ We wonder how God could be the things he says he is, and still insist on something so backward. So we seek to justify God by bending his rules. 

My hope for myself (and for you) is that I would spend more time gazing at God and thinking about his omniscience and omnipotence, and less time thinking about my circumstances. The more I’m convinced of his infinite ability to deliver on his word, the less I’ll be tempted to justify him by compromising in my own life.

Which Wisdom?

Saul is a foil character. A foil character exists as a backdrop against which the positive traits of the protagonist may be displayed. It’s bizarre that Saul would be one, because everyone in his day thought he was going to be the hero. It’s also bizarre because he is supposed to be the hero: he is the king of Israel!

In 1 Samuel 12, Saul experienced great victory in battle against the enemies of God’s people. All the people showed great faith in him as their leader, and the kingdom was renewed under him. 1 Samuel 13, however, tells a different story.

When the people lose faith in Saul (because they are astronomically outnumbered), Saul does the ‘wise’ thing from a human perspective. He goes ahead with the sacrifice that they needed to carry out before heading into battle. He knows there’s a time to act, and this is it, and the prophet who was supposed to do it isn’t here. It would be foolish to wait. Waiting would mean less people to fight with you. Waiting would mean looking silly as a king. Waiting would mean people would lose even more confidence in you.

When Samuel arrives, he pronounces judgement on the king, who has acted ‘foolishly,’ and announces that he will lose more than the battle–he will lose his throne.

Saul is the foil for Jonathan in the next chapter. Jonathan looks at the drastic situation (impossible by human standards), and says, ‘Hey, why not try something great and see if the Lord will bless it?’ So he grabs his armour bearer, and the two of them head off to take on the Philistines all on their own. That seems foolish–or at least foolhardy. 

But sure enough, brave Jonathan, who ventures everything on God, is blessed! They show up and immediately strike down about twenty men, cause panic in the Philistine camp, and lead the whole charge for the Israelite army. Even the chicken-hearted soldiers who fled from his father’s poor leadership came out of the caves and graves where they were hiding to follow Jonathan. 

Man’s wisdom resulted in condemnation. Saul rushed ahead and did what seemed wise from his vantage point. Jonathan examined the situation, but calculated how the Lord may be pleased to work, despite how things looked. He made the ‘foolish’ decision of risking much on God.

May God give me grace to know that kind of wisdom!

Samuel and Confronting Sin

In the Lord’s providence, we finished up our morning series in James and our evening series in Galatians on this past Sunday. It was quite interesting to me that both sermons finished with exhortations to Christians to be confronting sin in the lives of their brothers and sisters.

As I sat and listened to my friend Paul preach on Sunday evening on a topic very similar to how my message had ended on Sunday morning, I thought to myself, ‘What is the Lord teaching us? What is he preparing us for as a church?’

This morning I was reading from 1 Samuel 12, and came across a very relevant passage. Here Samuel, the outgoing judge, has just appointed Saul as the king of Israel. Samuel then addresses the people and confronts their sin. While this is not the main intention of the passage, I think there are some great truths to be gleaned here when it comes to addressing sin in the lives of others.

  1. Samuel spelled out their sin for them.
    Samuel didn’t allude vaguely to some things that they had done which might be considered wrong, but he had specific sin in mind when he addressed the people, and he was direct in letting them know what it was they had done wrong. He called sin sin. Where they had rejected God and preferred other things, he showed them. They were not left guessing as to what he was really getting at, or whether or not it was actually sin.
  2. Samuel let them feel the weight of their sin.
    Granted, Samuel had a pretty cool trick up his sleeve when he was able to make a thunderstorm appear (I don’t know how many of us will be able to use that one), but one thing he was sure to do was show them how serious their sin was. He didn’t let them get away with a merely intellectual acknowledgement of their sin. He made sure they felt it. When Samuel had showed them their sin and how it had angered God, ‘all the people greatly feared the Lord …. all the people said to Samuel, “Pray for your servants to the Lord your God, that we may not die…”.’ His conviction about their sin had resulted in their own conviction, confession, and repentance.
  3. Samuel offered the grace of God.
    When they had experienced genuine conviction for their sin, Samuel said, ‘Do not be afraid; you have done all this evil. Yet do not turn aside from following the Lord, but serve the Lord with all your heart.’ In other words, ‘Yeah, you’ve blown it pretty bad. But trust in the Lord and he will forgive you. Remember, he wants your whole heart.’
  4. Samuel assures them with the best reason to hope.
    Why should they trust him? Why should we trust God that we’ll be forgiven when we’re confronted with the reality of our sin? We should hope because of who God is: he will never change. Samuel offers this to his people: ‘For the Lord will not forsake his people, for his great name’s sake, because it has pleased the Lord to make you a people for himself.’ In other words, God won’t forsake you, because he’s put his own name on you. You’re his people, called by his name and it has been his good will to make you that way. To forsake you now would be to forsake the pursuit of his own glory and his own joy–something which could never, ever happen. God will be faithful to you, because he cannot and will not abandon his pursuit of his own glory and the display of his righteousness. What a comforting thought! Unless God changes, I can never be forsaken. We who are Christians–who live this side of the cross chronologically–can look back and see that faithfulness of God to his people and the committedness of God to his own people infinitely more than even Samuel could. What comfort in the face of conviction!

This all calls for balance and wisdom. I pray that God will give me grace to be able to pursue my brothers and sisters, to confront them on specific sins, to let them feel the weight of those sins which cost Christ his life, but then to offer the grace of God and the comfort of his promised faithfulness.

The Christ of Isaiah

In my own devotions I’ve just finished reading through the book of Isaiah. I must say that I think one of the reasons why our churches today are so weak and shallow, and have such a small view of God is that we don’t read our whole Bible. I know so many Christians who just simply don’t want to read the Old Testament for one reason or another. What a tragedy!

This time through Isaiah has been my favourite so far. Isaiah’s God is so wonderfully transcendent, yet so amazingly concerned for the poor; so profoundly righteous, so awesomely just; forever concerned with making the whole world to know that he–YHWH–is God, and there is no other.

One of the other things that really struck me this time is how much the apostle Paul quotes Isaiah. It’s amazing! I don’t know how I never noticed it before. And not just Paul, either–the New Testament authors seem to love the book of Isaiah. The cool thing is that so many times when an NT author quotes Isaiah it is to say some pretty remarkable things about our Lord Jesus. Here are just a few examples that stuck out to me the past couple of days.

  1. Isaiah 60.1-2, quoted in Ephesians 5.14. This passage in Ephesians 5 is cool because Paul takes a saying of Isaiah about YHWH and then directly applies it to the New Covenant believers in Ephesus, saying that all the truth of the person and holiness of God is found in the man Christ Jesus, who is none other than God himself.
  2. Isaiah 60.19-20, quoted in Rev 21.23 and 22.5. Make sure you read both of those references. In Isaiah the promise is given that in the New Jerusalem there will be no need of sun or moon YHWH (his specific, personal name) will be the light in that place for his people. In Revelation, John says that the glory of God–which is paralleled with the lamb of God (i.e., Jesus) will be the light. In other words, Jesus and YHWH are One. Now this is an obvious theme throughout Revelation, but it’s that much cooler when you read it in the context of Isaiah and all that you’ve heard over the past 60 chapters about the glory of God.

Too often we either don’t want to read our Old Testament or else we read it as quickly and superficially as possible because we think it has nothing to say to us. In reality, all its truth speaks of Jesus, who has everything to do with us if we claim to be Christians.

So get in the Word! Remember that every word is God-breathed and useful to us, so that we can be equipped to do the work of God that he has called us to.

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