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David and Solomon, Part 2

David didn’t have it easy. He had been anointed by Samuel to be Israel’s next king, yet that wouldn’t happen for a long time. Saul, present king of Israel, hung on to the throne by the skin of his teeth while David was waiting in the wings. Gradually losing his grip on reality, Saul knew he was in trouble but like so many in his shoes, he was in too deep. The die had been cast and whether he was fully aware or not, he was finished as king even as he was still being called “king.”

Meanwhile, David’s stunning victory over Goliath was one of those seminal events in one’s life life that causes a sea change to occur. David had been a rugged shepherd, tending to his father’s sheep. But now crazy king Saul decided to bring David from his father’s sheep pens to his royal court and give him a position in the army.

That sounds good on the surface but life in Saul’s court was like walking on egg shells. David never knew what Saul he would run into on any given day. Would he be the genial king that liked you, or the crazy old king who tried to run you through with a spear? David had no idea.

Life can be like that for anybody. But David, in the midst of a life of uncertainty, could write words like this:

The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles. (Psalms 34:17 | NIV84)

David and Jonathan: Best Friends

And Jonathan made a covenant with David because he loved him as himself. (1 Samuel 18:3 | NIV84)

It wasn’t Phil Collins who said this, but he could have:

What is a friend? A single soul living in two bodies.

Who knew St Augustine could write something so sentimental as that? It is sentimental to be sure, but it certainly did describe the kind of relationship that existed between David and Saul’s son, Jonathan.

After the slaying of Goliath, David went to live in the royal palace at Gibeah. He was to serve as a court musician but also as Saul’s armor bearer when Israel went out to do battle. It was in the palace that David met Jonathan and their legendary friendship grew. Verse one describes the friendship in graphic terms. In the NIV84, it looks like this:

Jonathan became one in spirit with David, and he loved him as himself. (1 Samuel 18:1 | NIV84)

In the Hebrew, though, this is how the friendship is described:

The soul of Jonathan was “knotted” to the soul of David.

Four things characterized their friendship: loyalty, love, personal devotion, and self-sacrifice. Jesus described friendship like this in John’s Gospel, and it sounds a lot like the friendship that existed between Jonathan and David.

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”. (John 13:34-35 | NIV84)

So serious did Jonathan take his friendship with David that he actually made a unilateral covenant of friendship with him. It was unilateral in the sense that Jonathan committed himself to David without regard for himself.

The Lord leads people like that into our lives. No believer can make it through life alone; we all need a Jonathan. Years ago, Christian entertainer David Meece wrote these lyrics, and they’re spot on:

I heard the news about you
A little while ago
I tried to call but you weren’t at work
I’m glad I caught you at home

No one else in this whole wide world
Could mean as much as you to me
So I thought I’d drop by for a little while
In case you needed a friend

Everybody needs a little help to get their life together
(And you’re no exception)
Everybody needs another hand that they can hold onto
Everybody needs a little help to get their life together
And I want to give it to you

You can cry if you need to
You know I’ll understand
You can tell me everything that you feel inside
Don’t you hold it in

Don’t you worry, don’t apologize
For anything you do or say
‘Cause what are friends for but to be around
When you’re feeling that way

That certainly described the friendship between David and Jonathan. No wonder King Saul was so jealous.

Saul’s anger flared up at Jonathan and he said to him, “You son of a perverse and rebellious woman! Don’t I know that you have sided with the son of Jesse to your own shame and to the shame of the mother who bore you? As long as the son of Jesse lives on this earth, neither you nor your kingdom will be established. Now send and bring him to me, for he must die!” (1 Samuel 20:30-31 | NIV84)

Jonathan paid a high price for being David’s friend, and that price was the choice between obeying his father or remaining loyal to his friend. Saul had tried to kill David during one of his crazy rages but failed, and so he enlisted Jonathan’s help to get that job done:

Saul told his son Jonathan and all the attendants to kill David. But Jonathan was very fond of David and warned him, “My father Saul is looking for a chance to kill you. Be on your guard tomorrow morning; go into hiding and stay there. I will go out and stand with my father in the field where you are. I’ll speak to him about you and will tell you what I find out.” (1 Samuel 19:1-3 | NIV84)

That’s what a friend does; he intervenes on your behalf; he tries to find solutions to your problems. That’s exactly what Jonathan did. The fact that King Saul relented shows how well Jonathan knew his old man. Jonathan was not only loyal, but he was also sharp.

Saul listened to Jonathan and took this oath: “As surely as the Lord lives, David will not be put to death.” (1 Samuel 19:6 | NIV84)

But that didn’t last very long. There was another skirmish with the Philistines and once again David distinguished himself. This brought about another outburst of jealous rage on the part of Saul. In fact, we are told this:

Saul sent men to David’s house to watch it and to kill him in the morning. But Michal, David’s wife, warned him, “If you don’t run for your life tonight, tomorrow you’ll be killed.” (1 Samuel 19:11 | NIV84)

Michal was David’s wife and she was also Saul’s daughter, Jonathan’s sister. It seems as though the whole family liked David except for crazy Saul! Michal resorted to what we call “situation ethics” in order to make good David’s escape from her father’s men:

Then Michal took an idol and laid it on the bed, covering it with a garment and putting some goats’ hair at the head.14 When Saul sent the men to capture David, Michal said, “He is ill.” (1 Samuel 19:13-14 | NIV84)

She lied, and the Bible never condones lying for any reason, no matter how well-intentioned. However, while many Christians get all bent out of shape regarding this lie, they completely miss the really troubling aspect of this whole incident. What was a heathen idol doing in David’s house in the first place? A household idol such as this one was usually kept in a small shrine in the house, so it wasn’t just a paperweight. It’s unfortunate that so early in David’s career he was already compromising his faith. Is it any wonder Solomon built so many shrines all over the land? This was his example.

As both the friendship between Jonathan and Michal and David proves, sometimes associating with God’s people can put you in a difficult position.

The Fugitive

David was on the run for his life now, with Saul and his forces nipping at his heels. He fled from Gibeah to a community of priests with the odd name of Nob. Previously, David’s wife Michal had engaged in some situation ethics, and here at Nob David tries his hand at lying to protect himself.

David went to Nob, to Ahimelech the priest. Ahimelech trembled when he met him, and asked, “Why are you alone? Why is no one with you?” David answered Ahimelech the priest, “The king charged me with a certain matter and said to me, ‘No one is to know anything about your mission and your instructions.’ As for my men, I have told them to meet me at a certain place.’” (1 Samuel 21:1, 2 | NIV84)

David’s bald-faced lie and deception led to the slaughter of all the priests at Nob. It’s a horrible lesson that David never really learned. Out of an entire town of priests, one escaped. Abiathar somehow managed to escape the wholesale massacre at Nob and fled, meeting up with David and his band of followers. When he explained what happened, David said this:

I am responsible for the death of your father’s whole family. Stay with me; don’t be afraid; the man who is seeking your life is seeking mine also. You will be safe with me.” (1 Samuel 23:22b, 23 | NIV84)

And he was safe. As a matter of fact, Abiathar became sort of the chaplain of David’s band of heroic misfits. Many years later, after the death of David, Abiathar was given the bum’s rush by David’s successor, Solomon, as he was suspected of colluding with Adonijah, David’s other son, to take the throne from Solomon.

To Abiathar the priest the king said, “Go back to your fields in Anathoth. You deserve to die, but I will not put you to death now, because you carried the ark of the Sovereign LORD before my father David and shared all my father’s hardships.” So Solomon removed Abiathar from the priesthood of the LORD, fulfilling the word the LORD had spoken at Shiloh about the house of Eli. (1 Kings 2:26, 27 | NIV84)

David was far from perfect, but through all his ethical failings, he remained loyal to God.  The modern Christian should have some empathy for the man.  We’re far from perfect too.  David was a man of questionable ethics and morality, yet God referred to him as “the apple of his eye.”  God calls, saves, and anoints imperfect people to get His work done.

 

 

 

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David and Solomon, Part 1

Israel was never supposed to have a king. In God’s plan, Israel was supposed to be a completely different of nation from any nation on earth. According to Greg Boyd –

Functioning as a microcosm of humanity, and as part of their priestly-servant role to other nations, it seems God wanted to manifest his original plan for humanity by raising up a nation that had no need of a human king, for they had God as their king. According to the biblical narrative, this is how it was for the first several hundred years after their deliverance from Egypt. Moreover, throughout the OT we find the Lord commanding his people to place no trust in human rulers, weapons or armies, but to rather find all their security in him.

That Israel ended up with the likes of King David was a concession of God to His stubborn people. Read carefully what Moses said to the Israelites while they were wandering in the desert wilderness –

When you enter the land the Lord your God is giving you and have taken possession of it and settled in it, and you say, “Let us set a king over us like all the nations around us…” (Deuteronomy 17:14 | NIV84)

That’s a concession; that’s not what God ever wanted for His people, look at the wording carefully: “Let US set a king over us like all the nations around us.” But they weren’t supposed to be anything like the nations around them; Israel was created to be different, yet they wanted to be just like everybody else. That was their downfall. Back to Moses, here was how the king of Israel was to behave –

The king, moreover, must not acquire great numbers of horses for himself or make the people return to Egypt to get more of them, for the Lord has told you, “You are not to go back that way again.” He must not take many wives, or his heart will be led astray. He must not accumulate large amounts of silver and gold. (Deuteronomy 17:16-17 | NIV84)

Good luck with that! Israel wanted a king and God let them have one. Saul, their first king, was a real piece of work. Mentally disturbed doesn’t begin to describe King Saul. Things didn’t end very well for him –

Saul said to his armor-bearer, “Draw your sword and run me through, or these uncircumcised fellows will come and run me through and abuse me.” But his armor-bearer was terrified and would not do it; so Saul took his own sword and fell on it. (1 Samuel 31:4 | NIV84)

Even though Israel’s desire for a king wasn’t what God wanted for them, He could still work through a king, and God set in motion events that put His man on the throne.

The Lord said to Samuel, “How long will you mourn for Saul, since I have rejected him as king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil and be on your way; I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem. I have chosen one of his sons to be king.”(1 Samuel 16:1 | NIV84)

God chooses David, 1 Samuel 16:1 – 13

Samuel, Israel’s national and beloved prophet, was devastated that God had rejected Saul, but God wouldn’t let him sit around in his misery for long. He was given a new mission. Saul’s dynasty would not be allowed to continue. If Israel would have another king, Samuel would have to leave the past behind and move forward. Moving forward brought Samuel to Bethlehem. The Lord’s choice for Saul’s successor would be found among the eight sons of Jesse. Jesse was the grandson of Boaz and Ruth. In an interesting twist of history, Ruth was a Moabitess and Boaz’s mother was also from outside of Israel. Her mother was Rahab of Jericho.

Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab,Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth,Obed the father of Jesse,6 and Jesse the father of King David. (Matthew 1:5-6a | NIV84)

It was tricky for Samuel to obey God’s directions in verse one. To go to Bethlehem from Ramah, Samuel would have to pass through Gibea, Saul’s capital. Given Saul’s mental and spiritual decay, he was taking his life in his hands. Samuel didn’t exactly lie to Jesse, but there was a little subterfuge going on –

But Samuel said, “How can I go? Saul will hear about it and kill me.”The Lord said, “Take a heifer with you and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.’ Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what to do. You are to anoint for me the one I indicate.”. (1 Samuel 16:2-3 | NIV84)

The sons of Jesse paraded in front of Samuel but the prophet was given some advice from the Lord:

But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”. (1 Samuel 16:7 | NIV84)

God’s standards are certainly not the same as ours! We are quick to judge by appearances, but appearances can be very misleading. And yet, oddly enough, when they finally got around to the son God wanted, we read this –

So he sent and had him brought in. He was ruddy, with a fine appearance and handsome features. Then the Lord said, “Rise and anoint him; he is the one.”. (1 Samuel 16:12 | NIV84)

God chose the handsome one after all. But it was what was inside David that counted. God doesn’t look for people that look good or are of a certain height and weight or age, rank or position. God chooses whom He will and He sets His Spirit in those whom He accepts.

So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers, and from that day on the Spirit of the Lord came upon David in power. Samuel then went to Ramah. (1 Samuel 16:13 | NIV84)

David’s confidence in God, 1 Samuel 17:32 – 54

Even though the events of chapter 17 seem to occur right after those of chapter 16, some years have passed between David’s anointing and his encounter with the giant, Goliath. By this time, Saul’s mental state had deteriorated greatly. His mood swings were wild, from depression to rage at a moment. This was God’s judgment on him for his willful, sinful disobedience. Far from a child, David was a young man in chapter 17 and we catch a glimpse of his ability to lead, rule, and inspire people. It also demonstrated that David was not only a man of unwavering faith in God, but also keen military strategist.

Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God. (1 Samuel 17:36 | NIV84)

David was anointed but was still waiting in the wings; Saul was still the king and David was still tending his father’s sheep back at Bethlehem. In verse 36, David was trying to convince King Saul that he could defeat the “uncircumcised Philistine.” Goliath was his name and he’s a bit of a mystery. He was a “giant,” probably clocking in at almost 10 feet tall. He was tall and powerful, arrogant and proud. He was probably a descendant of the sons of Anak, who had struck fear in the hearts of the Israelites before the conquered the Promised Land.

The people are strong and tall–Anakites! You know about them and have heard it said: “Who can stand up against the Anakites?” (Deuteronomy 9:2 | NIV84)

Apparently David thought he could stand up against one Anakite: Goliath! But David’s “self-confidence” wasn’t based in his abilities. He was riled up against Goliath because Goliath was defying “the armies of God,” or, in effect, God Himself. David’s confidence was in God, not in himself even though he had already demonstrated his skills in defeating adversaries, such as lions and bears.

When David faced Goliath with no armor on, and no weapons in his hands save a slingshot and some smooth stones, the giant’s pride was offended. He cursed David, but David stood his ground and warned Goliath that the giant’s time on earth was quickly running out. And then he announced the theological purpose of is mission.

All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the LORD saves; for the battle is the LORD’s, and he will give all of you into our hands. (1 Samuel 17:47 | NIV84)

David’s guaranteed victory over Goliath was going to be so much more than that. It was to demonstrate to the Philistines – and others – that God exists and that He will deliver His people no matter what. The size of an enemy’s army or the strength of their weapons is of no consequence. This victory did just that, and it also showed David’s true character. The victory was the Lord’s, not his, and everybody knew it. He made his faith known and he inspired others.

You may wonder if David was afraid facing this giant. He wouldn’t be a human being if wasn’t! But David knew the secret of winning a battle. Sinclair Ferguson, Scottish Reformed theologian, remarked,

The fear of the Lord tends to take away all other fears. This is the secret of Christian courage and boldness.

Not only that, there’s also this:

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools a despise wisdom and discipline. (Proverbs 1:7 | NIV84)

And onlookers, including crazy King Saul, could see that David feared God more than he feared man and they sensed that there was something very special about this young man.

David increases in knowledge and influence, 1 Samuel 18, various verses

The sun was setting fast on Saul’s dynasty while David’s star was rising.

When Saul saw how successful he was, he was afraid of him. But all Israel and Judah loved David, because he led them in their campaigns. (1 Samuel 18:15, 16 | NIV84)

David’s fear of the Lord was bringing him victory upon victory over Israel’s enemies, and he was being noticed and respected. Saul, on the other hand, feared David, and his sanity slowly slipped away. To Saul, David became THE enemy, and he tried to kill David repeatedly.

And from that time on Saul kept a jealous eye on David. The next day an evil c spirit from God came forcefully upon Saul. He was prophesying in his house, while David was playing the harp, as he usually did. Saul had a spear in his hand and he hurled it, saying to himself, “I’ll pin David to the wall.” But David eluded him twice. (1 Samuel 18:9 – 11 | NIV84)

Reading the accounts of Saul’s attempts on David’s life, it’s tempting to chuckle. Saul had become a pathetic character. Saul even put David on the front lines of battle, apparently hoping he’d be killed. The exact opposite happened. Saul just couldn’t kill David. Saul imagined that David was his enemy, but in reality Saul had no better friend than David. He was loyal to the king and made sure the king wasn’t killed by the enemy. He treated crazy, dangerous King Saul with courtesy and respect even though he certainly didn’t deserve it. The Lord, who had abandoned Saul, was with David and He blessed David continuously.

 

 

God and Iniquity, Part 5

Iniquity, as we have learned, is not at all a good thing. It’s a sin. In fact, it’s the worst possible sin anybody can commit. God has a special relationship to your iniquities: More than hating them, God reveals them, they are always before Him, and if you have the misfortune of being involved in iniquities, when God looks at you, He sees the stain of the guilt of your iniquities.

That’s the bad news. When it comes to God and the mystery of iniquity, there is actually some good news. Very good news! It’s found in the Old Testament book of Micah.

You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea. (Micah 7:19 | TNIV)

That sounds like good news, doesn’t it? God will “hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.” Other translations speak of “the sea of forgetfulness.” Reading a verse like that gives us hope. It reassures us that God cares; that He will do something for us; that we won’t be stained by our iniquities forever. This verse in Micah sounds very much like another, more well-known verse concerning sin.

…as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. (Psalm 103:12 | TNIV)

That’s about as close as the Bible comes to saying that once God has forgiven our sins, transgressions, and iniquities, He forgets them. God, being as perfect as He is, is unable to actually forget anything. Let’s just say that He “purposes not to remember” certain things, like our iniquities.

Let’s examine Micah’s book and see what led him to make such a profound, comforting statement.

Micah the man and his times

Micah was a native of Moresheth, a small town located in the foothills some twenty miles west of Jerusalem. It was a very fertile area; well watered being close to the maritime plain between the Judean hills and Philistia by the sea. There was an abundance of grainfields, olive groves, and grasslands, but the farmers Micah grew up with were almost always in dire economic straights. Many of them in debt up to their ears, were forced to mortgage their farms to rich men of Samaria and Jerusalem, who more often than not just took their land out from under them, turning them into tenant farmers, oppressed by greedy absentee overlords. This exploitation of the poor was in the eyes of Micah one of the most heinous crimes of his day, and he fiercely denounced the exploiters.

They covet fields and seize them, and houses, and take them. They defraud people of their homes, they rob them of their inheritance. (Micah 2:2 | TNIV)

It’s not that Micah had an axe to grind against rich people. He didn’t. It was how some wealthy people were treating the poor. He saw their shabby treatment as a slight against God.

While the poor where being mistreated by the rich, the rich had it pretty good. In fact, both Israel and Judah were enjoying a period of great economic prosperity during Micah’s lifetime. The prophet Amos, writing during the same time period, made this observation:

You lie on beds inlaid with ivory and lounge on your couches. You dine on choice lambs and fattened calves. You strum away on your harps like David and improvise on musical instruments. You drink wine by the bowlful and use the finest lotions, but you do not grieve over the ruin of Joseph. (Amos 6:4 – 6 | TNIV)

And Micah’s people were a very religious people. At least from casual observation. In spite of their adherence to the feasts and observances of their faith, the people of Judah were constantly flirting with idolatry, often mixing paganism with their Judaism. The situation in Israel to the north was far worse.

But the people of both kingdoms had deluded themselves into thinking everything was OK because they were prospering economically. There had been no wars for years. And in spite of some social injustice, Micah’s years were golden for both kingdoms.

It wouldn’t be long, though, before those halcyon years would come to an end. Assyria was becoming a world power and it wouldn’t be long before it would occupy Israel for a time before destroying Samaria and taking the Israelites into a permanent exile. Judah was faring a little better, but time was running out for the southern kingdom, too. They saw the destruction of Israel but failed to learn anything from their fate, and a century later, Judah would fall to the Babylonians.

One of the most famous verses in the Bible is found in Micah. People concerned with what we call today, “social justice,” love this verse, but as usual it means much more than most people think it does. The Bible isn’t nearly as shallow as people are.

He has shown all you people what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8 | TNIV)

There were many prophets in the land, like Micah, warning the people that they’d better “shape up or ship out,” and their audiences responded with either blank stares – thinking they were doing OK – or outright anger – offended that a so-called prophet would dare question their lifestyle. But the fact was, God had shown His people what was good. The Mosaic law spelled out in no uncertain terms exactly what God required of His people.

It’s too bad that this verse has been hijacked by social liberals, because it doesn’t have anything to do with what we call, today, “tolerance” or “diversity” or “welfare,” but rather everything to do with faith. The phrase, “act justly” carries with it a religious component. In other words, people are to treat each other well out of a sense of moral obligation to God. God has blessed you, therefore out of gratitude to Him, you should treat others the same way. In that sense, Judaism was a supposed to be a truly God-centered religion. Christianity should be that way, as well. That’s what James had in his mind when he said things like this:

Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. (James 1:26, 27 | TNIV)

That’s what large chunks of Micah’s writings are all about. But he also wanted his people to treat each other with mercy. As the word is used here, it means to treat others kindly. Is that too much to ask of people? Apparently a great many people in Micah’s day weren’t doing that. God wants all people to be kind to each other kindly, but especially His people!

Finally, God’s people should have been living in a state of constant humility before God. It’s not that Micah was telling his people to just “be humble,” but to “be humble before God all the time.” There weren’t any Pharisees during the days of Micah; that sect of Judaism wouldn’t be formed until sometime after the second Temple was built. But it seemed like a majority of the population of Israel and Judah were a acting like them! Jesus didn’t have much use for Pharisaic hypocrisy.

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel. (Matthew 23:23, 24 | TNIV)

From the outside, all looked well. But things were not good at all. Micah knew it, and he tried to get that message across to the people.

Judgement passed

Am I still to forget your ill-gotten treasures, you wicked house, and the short ephah, which is accursed? Shall I acquit a person with dishonest scales, with a bag of false weights? (Micah 6:10, 11 | TNIV)

Ah yes, the all-seeing Eye of God doesn’t miss a thing! Micah’s culture was a violent one. It’s interesting to note that the root for that word, “violence,” is “violate,” which means, “to treat something (usually sacred) with irreverence and disrespect.” It doesn’t mean physical action. Being mistreated or treated badly by a person is to be violated! Israel and Judah at this time were rife with violence – criminality from dawn to dusk, as shoppers and tradesmen were ripped off and taken advantage of. God saw all of this dishonesty and, as we know, you reap what you sow. Israel and Judah were going to reap an ill harvest because they allowed false religions to thrive, hypocrisy in the priesthood to flourish, and dishonest business practices encouraged.

Therefore, I have begun to destroy you, to ruin you because of your sins. You will eat but not be satisfied; your stomach will still be empty. You will store up but save nothing, because what you save I will give to the sword. You will plant but not harvest; you will press olives but not use the oil on yourselves, you will crush grapes but not drink the wine. (Micah 6:13 – 15 | TNIV)

To me, those are horrifying verses to think about. Before an Assyrian or a Babylonian soldier picked up arms against Israel or Judah, the citizens of both of those kingdoms were literally starving to death in the midst of plenty. In these verses we see God’s unchanging principles that gain gotten by wickedness is loss, that prosperity built by injustice cannot endure, that comforts obtained through oppression cannot be long enjoyed. The greatest truth of life is that happiness and power sought at the expense of others will never be found. Every human being reaps what he sows. It’s an unalterable law of the universe that nobody can avoid.

A word of hope

So, is all lost, then? Micah was describing the citizens of Israel and Judah, but he could have been describing America! Is there any hope? We’re about to get the good news, but let’s do a quick recap. God’s people were neck-deep in idolatry, secularism, and all manner of bad behavior, but they kept on going to their temple services and giving God His due. God declared to them that their “sacrifices” were not enough. Sacrifices and religious observances are wonderful things, by the way, when they are accompanied by an appropriate lifestyle. God was just disgusted with the lot of them. There was nothing they could do to get in good with God.

So, in a sense, there was no hope from their end. But, as always, God has the final word. And it’s a welcome one. The child of God will always realize this, and this will be his attitude:

But as for me, I watch in hope for the Lord, I wait for God my Savior; my God will hear me. (Micah 7:7 | TNIV)

Of course God heard Micah praying, as He hears all of His people, and He sees their hope and faith. And God has a way of making things right, if we are patient enough.

Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea. (Micah 7:18, 19 | TNIV)

Micah asks a very good question because it forces us to focus on the incomparable greatness of God. Can anybody be compared to Him? Of course, the answer is nobody – no person or no god – can come even close to measuring up to who our God is and what He has done. That conclusion begs some other questions that you might not like. If our God is so great, why are you so fascinated with the alluring sins of our times? Why are you so anxious about anything happening in your life or even in the world around you? Instead of wasting our time fearful, fretting, and forsaking our relationship with God, we ought to encouraged by what God has done and by all of His promises!

No other entity can pardon your sins and forgive your transgressions. Just as the Pharoah’s chariots were “hurled into the sea” and sank into the depths like dead weight, so God will do that with our iniquities. This whole passage reminds us of what the Lord told Moses:

And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.” (Exodus 34:6, 7 | TNIV)

God can and does pardon our sins and forgive (literally “pass over”) our transgressions because He became the Passover Lamb and substitute for our sins. Only our God is able to release us from being enslaved by our sinful desires and passions. And God throws our iniquities in the the sea of forgetfulness. What a wonderful Savior! Nobody can do those things for us. Except our God. The prophet Jeremiah marveled at God just as Micah did:

This is what the Lord says: “Let not the wise boast of their wisdom or the strong boast of their strength or the rich boast of their riches, but let those who boast boast about this: that they understand and know me, that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,” declares the Lord. (Jeremiah 9:23, 24 | TNIV)

Let’s celebrate our God, who alone can remove our sin and guilt and replaces them with joy and satisfaction, in spite of all the grief we have given Him. There’s nobody like our God.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

God and Iniquity, Part 4

Iniquity is an awful thing. Sure, it’s sin, but it’s the worst possible of all sins. We all sin. We may be redeemed, but we still struggle with sin. We live in it. It’s all around us. In a million different ways, every minute of every day of our lives we are exposed to sin. Whether we hear it or see it. And whether we like it or not, it influences how we think, feel, and act. That’s why we most of the time we aren’t ever aware that we are sinning until it’s too late. It’s as though we can’t help ourselves – that’s not an excuse, just an explanation. Iniquity is different. You have to out of your way to commit an iniquity. You plan to do it. You scheme to do it. And when at last you’ve done the deed, you hide it; you do your best to make sure nobody finds out. Unlike your run-of-the-mill, garden variety sin, you have the power to not commit an iniquity.

But of course, God knows all about your iniquities. As we’ve discovered, He not only knows about them, He reveals them. They are always right in front of Him. And you are stained with the guilt of your iniquities.

Is there any hope? Fortunately for us, there is.

But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. After he has suffered, he will see the light of life and be satisfied ; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities. (Isaiah 53:5, 6, 11 | TNIV)

Context

As far as the majority of Bible scholars is concerned, the content of Isaiah 53 really begins back in 52:13.

See, my servant will act wisely ; he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted. Just as there were many who were appalled at him—his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any human being and his form marred beyond human likeness—so he will sprinkle many nations, and kings will shut their mouths because of him. For what they were not told, they will see, and what they have not heard, they will understand. (Isaiah 52:13 – 15 | TNIV)

This is God the Father talking about “his servant.” We Christians view all the “Servant” passages in Isaiah as finding their ultimate fulfillment in Jesus Christ. In these verses here, we get a glimpse into how the Father viewed His Son and His Son’s mission on earth.

God’s view

The first thing God draws attention to is the Son’s wisdom; His belief that Jesus Christ will act wisely. And He did. The wisdom of the Son was completely self-denying. He made all the right decisions that would put Him on the Cross. But Jesus Christ possesses all the wisdom needed to deal with man’s greatest problem: Sin. And what looked like foolishness to onlookers, was in fact wisdom on display.

He was beaten beyond recognition. People who saw Him were appalled and disgusted with the appearance of this so-called Messiah. And yet, as the Lord says, Jesus Christ “sprinkled many nations.” That’s an interesting phrase that is probably lost most of us today. It has the idea of a Jewish ceremony involving purification and the forgiveness of sins. Even as it appeared as though the Son of God was dying and helplessly nailed to a cross, He was acting in complete wisdom and in complete harmony with His Father’s will, obtaining the forgiveness of sins for people that hitherto was never available to them.

We don’t talk a lot about the wisdom of the Son of God, but a long time after Isaiah wrote what he did about the issue, the apostle Paul tackled it like this:

Where are the wise? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. (1 Corinthians 1:20 – 25 | TNIV)

Christians would do well to remember what both Isaiah and Paul wrote. It applies to our time as much as it did to theirs. Too many believers don’t have the confidence they should have in their faith, their Scriptures, or their Savior. There is no equivalence at all between man’s wisdom and God’s.

Man’s view

From God, we move to the astonishment of those who came to believe in the Savior. But it was hard fought belief.

Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? (Isaiah 53:1 | TNIV)

Bible scholars love to debate who the “we” here is. Jews or Gentiles? Maybe both, since “the arm of the Lord” has embraced all people. Anybody who found Jesus has wondered in astonishment of a couple of things. First, we who love Jesus find hard to believe why so many don’t! “Who has believed our message,” indeed! Apparently few have!  Yet God in His great love and compassion has embraced all sinners who need saving. Why do so many people miss Jesus? It’s because He’s the unexpected Savior. Just read how Isaiah described Him in these verses.

He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by others, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem. (Isaiah 53:2 – 3 | TNIV)

Jesus didn’t come in power and glory. He came as one of us. Just an average guy who could feed 5,000 people with almost no food, walk on water, raise the dead, and change the weather. But Jesus wasn’t what people were looking for and He isn’t what people are looking for today. The great sadness is that people of every generation are looking for the same things: peace, happiness, contentment, security, love, and acceptance. But what they don’t know is that all those things are found only in once person: Jesus Christ.

Jesus Christ became a “man of suffering” because He became one of us, and suffering marks the human condition. Living the life He did and hanging on the Cross, Jesus experienced, if only for the briefest moments in eternity, what it is like to be one of us: lonely, sad, abandoned, betrayed, and suffering alone.

Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. (Isaiah 53:4 | TNIV)

We tend to focus on the first part of that verse, but it’s the second half that is the most telling: “…we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted.” In other words, we saw everything Jesus went through, but we got it wrong. We didn’t understand what we were seeing. And most people today still don’t. People today still don’t understand Jesus. They don’t get what He did for them, which is why when you share your faith them, more times than not you get a blank stare for your efforts.

But you understand what Jesus did for you. He didn’t have any pain, until He felt yours. He never suffered, until He began to feel your suffering.

The facts

But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:5, 6 | TNIV)

The first four verses are basically what believers think about Jesus. Beginning with verse 5 are the facts. Let’s take a closer look.

Pierced for our transgressions. This simple phrase is really the basis of a wonderful theological doctrine: vicarious expiation. The English “pierced” comes from a Hebrew term meholal which means “pierced,” “transfixed,” or “bored through.” He was nailed – nailed for our pesha, our transgressions, which were our devious, deviant rebellions. The pain was all His, because of the sin that was all ours.

Crushed for our iniquities. Jesus Christ was shattered for our “inborn crookedness.” The Hebrew, medhukkdh, means “pulverized,” “crushed,” or “shattered,” and awonoth means not only “iniquities” but “twisted and perverted crookedness.” Our iniquity is basically our perverse, persistent, hopeless addiction to doing the things that hurt God, ourselves, and others. Our secret sins.

Punishment that brought us peace. The word “punishment” means “disciplined.” Can you imagine? That Man on the cross was being disciplined so that we could experience peace! What a wondrous thing that Jesus did for us. All that He went through on the cross – all the violence and pain resulted in peace for you and me.

By his wounds we are healed. This phrase is far more controversial than it should be. The natural way to read this is that what Jesus went through on the cross provided physical healing for us. I don’t necessarily disagree with that, but there was physical healing before Jesus was crucified. Peter, over in the New Testament, gives us a divinely inspired interpretation of this phrase:

When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. “He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.” (1 Peter 2:23, 24 | TNIV)

It seems that Peter links this healing to the wounds caused by sin. And while you and I get all get all hung up on the notion that cancer or heart disease or a broken bone are the worst things that can befall a human being, the Bible teaches something very different. Sin, and what sin does to people – individuals and their relationships with others – is far worse than any physical problem you could think of. That’s not that we shouldn’t pray for sick people; the Bible says we should! But we shouldn’t minimize the devastating effects sin has on us. Your iniquities and sins are what put Christ on the Cross. He dealt decisively with sin, in wisdom and in full possession of all of His faculties, and once and for all freed man from his enslavement to sinning day after day, after relentless day, so that potentially every human being could enjoy peace with God, with his fellow man, and with himself.

Unfortunately, rarely do we human beings ever do what’s best for us.

We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:6 | TNIV)

Again, these are the facts. Man prefers his own way to God’s way. He has transferred his allegiance to a god of his own making, fulfilling his own will and desires, leaning on his own intellect and innate talents, proving he is wholly selfish. This is sinful man’s ongoing iniquity. This is humanity’s common guilt.  That’s the folly of the human race.

As we wrap up this study, the last phrase of verse 6 is haunting and continues to reverberate down the corridor of time: “…the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” Understand what that means, and you’ll understand the depth of God’s love. Ross Price, in his wonderful commentary on Isaiah, sums it up perfectly:

God became the Suffering Servant, provided the vicarious atonement, and bore, in His Son, the iniquities of the world. Since then, vicarious pain has been life’s highest decoration. God does not punish the righteous with the wicked (Gen. 18: 25). He accepts the suffering of the righteous for the wicked (Mark 10: 45).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

God and Iniquity, Part 3

Iniquity is a sin, but it’s the worst possible of all sins. It’s deliberately twisting God’s will and God’s commands in such a way as to do what you want to do, not what He wants you to do. It’s scheming and plotting to commit a sin that you try to hide from everybody.

So far in our study of God and Iniquity, we discovered that no matter how hard we try, God not only finds out our iniquities, but He exposes them.

And Judah said, What shall we say unto my lord? what shall we speak? or how shall we clear ourselves? God hath found out the iniquity of thy servants: behold, we are my lord’s servants, both we, and he also with whom the cup is found. (Genesis 44:16 | TNIV)

And in a very disturbing verse, we learned that our iniquities are always in God’s view.

Thou hast set our iniquities before thee, our secret sins in the light of thy countenance. (Psalm 90:8 | KJV)

This time, we’re going to look another aspect of our iniquity. The verse comes from the prophet Jeremiah:

No amount of soap or lye can make you clean. You are stained with guilt that cannot ever be washed away. I see it always before me, the Lord God says. (Jeremiah 2:22 | TLB)

God not only sees our “guilt” or iniquity, but this verse explains why He does: It stains us. In some way, our iniquities mark us so that when the Lord looks at us, He sees them. As is usually the case with a verse in Scripture, there is a lot going on in Jeremiah 22 that explains this verse, so let’s take a peek at a sad day in the life of God’s people.

Background

Israel was in bad shape spiritually by the time this prophecy was given. The purpose of God’s Word here in chapter 2 was to explain why Israel was in such deplorable condition: Israel has always wandered away from God and their children are just as bad and just as guilty.

Jeremiah was called by God to be a prophet in chapter 1 and here in chapter 2 he gets his first job:

Go and shout this in Jerusalem’s streets: This is what the Lord says! I remember how eager you were to please me as a young bride long ago, how you loved me and followed me even through the barren deserts. (Jeremiah 2:2 | TLB)

Israel’s perplexing behavior

For the next eight chapters, Jeremiah’s sermons are recorded for us. Some of these sermons were preached in the streets, others in and around the Temple. These were powerful sermons, and Jeremiah’s series starts out with “the good old days.” Israel started out faithful and true, like a young bride utterly devoted to her new husband. She was led by and followed the Lord throughout their wilderness wanderings. During those years, God’s people had never strayed out of their close relationship with God – no idolatry whatsoever. Those were hard years for them, yet they were the best years of their covenant relationship with Jehovah.

But those were the “good old days.” It’s not like that anymore and God, poetically, comes across like the befuddled spouse:

O Israel, says the Lord, why did your fathers desert me? What sin did they find in me that turned them away and changed them into fools who worship idols? (Jeremiah 2:4, 5 | TLB)

Of course, God knows why, but He wants His people to come to the correct conclusion on their own. In God’s reckoning, He had done so many good things for them; they had received so many blessings – beginning with their freedom from the Egyptians – that God couldn’t conceive of how they could possibly “cheat on Him.” It’s not that they had left Him, it’s that Israel had added other gods to worship alongside the true God. Rabbi Joshua Joseph Heschel wrote this about this passage:

What a sublime paradox for the Creator of heaven and earth to implore the people so humbly.

In the minds of the people, they hadn’t abandoned their God. They still went to the Temple to worship and participated in all the offerings, sacrifices, and holy days. But they “expanded” their religious beliefs to include those of the surrounding pagan cultures. They had embraced the some of the practices and some of the gods of these godless people. They added to their worship of Jehovah the worship of lesser gods.

Even their priests cared nothing for the Lord, and their judges ignored me; their rulers turned against me, and their prophets worshiped Baal and wasted their time on nonsense. (Jeremiah 2:8 | TLB)

So it wasn’t just the “people in the pews” that had taken up with false gods, but the religious leaders – priests and judges – were fiddling with paganism, as were the rulers of the land.

But I will not give you up-I will plead for you to return to me and will keep on pleading; yes, even with your children’s children in the years to come! (Jeremiah 2:9 | TLB)

Now, that’s devotion! God’s never going to give up on His people. But this verse is also a statement of indictment. God wouldn’t let them go, and He would use all the tools at His disposal to bring them back, including punishment.

Why not just let Israel go? It was because their idolatry was unnatural; it was like an illness. Now, it was perfectly natural for pagan nations get involved in sick, perverse, and deviant lifestyles brought on by the worship of false gods, but it wasn’t at all natural for God’s people to live like that.

Look around you and see if you can find another nation anywhere that has traded in its old gods for new ones-even though their gods are nothing. Send to the west to the island of Cyprus; send to the east to the deserts of Kedar. See if anyone there has ever heard so strange a thing as this. And yet my people have given up their glorious God for silly idols! The heavens are shocked at such a thing and shrink back in horror and dismay. (Jeremiah 2:10 – 12 | TLB)

God’s people had been called to a higher standard of life, based on their covenant relationship with God. They had made a promise to be markedly different from other cultures. And even though they had broken their end of the covenant by adopting many of the detestable practices of these cultures, God wasn’t going to break His end of the covenant. He would do all He could to woo His people back.

God is challenging His people to look at other nations around the world and compare their actions to those of the other nations. Sure, those other nations were worshiping false gods and their cultures were depraved, but God’s people were worse because they had exchanged their glory – that would be their faith in Jehovah – for worthless idols. In other words, at least those other cultures were faithful in their devotion to their false gods, but Israel had become a pathetic loser because they couldn’t be faithful to their true God. Psalm 106 tells us that predilection to unfaithfulness began very early on – just after He miraculously delivered them from their slavery in Egypt:

For they preferred a statue of an ox that eats grass to the glorious presence of God himself. Thus they despised their Savior who had done such mighty miracles in Egypt and at the Red Sea. (Psalm 106:19 – 22 | TLB)

Their actions made no sense, but then rarely does sin make sense. Here, Israel had frittered away the One who was everything to them because He had done everything for them and in return the false gods gave them precisely nothing.

For my people have done two evil things: They have forsaken me, the Fountain of living waters; and they have built for themselves broken cisterns that can’t hold water! (Jeremiah 2:13 | TLB)

Reading those verses, you can see that as far as the believer is concerned, iniquity – which is what we’re seeing here – isn’t normal; it’s aberrant in the life of a believer. It’s like a mental illness, where the afflicted one harms himself, thinking it’s a good thing. Would any sane person do what Israel did: exchange a jug that holds water for a broken one?

Israel’s pathetic state

God sees Israel’s state as truly pathetic. Yes, the people had willingly corrupted themselves, but verse 14 has a tinge of terrible sadness about it:

Why has Israel become a nation of slaves? Why is she captured and led far away? (Jeremiah 2:14 | TLB)

That’s how God saw His people now. He redeemed them to be a free people – free in every way – yet because of the iniquity of their hearts they had become slaves once again; easy pickings for foreign nations. What kind of illness makes a person who had been enjoying freedom and liberty choose servitude to other people? It boggled God’s mind. Instead of simply being led by Him, Israel had entered into horrible allegiances with Egypt to the south and Assyria to the north. They shouldn’t have, but they did so willingly.

And you have brought this on yourselves by rebelling against the Lord your God when he wanted to lead you and show you the way! (Jeremiah 2:17 | TLB)

Like idolatry, dependence on foreign powers instead of trusting in the Lord had always been a snare to God’s people. Both Hosea and Isaiah had opposed foreign alliances. Time and time again, both Israel and Judah had political aligned themselves with pagan nations and time and again these allegiances ended badly for both nations. Tragically, they never learned the lessons their own experiences had taught them! Even today each generation seems compelled to suffer untold agony because it has learned nothing from God’s actions in history. Does that make sense? Of course not. But, as I have said before, sin makes no sense.

God’s people are better than this, and that’s the point of this verse:

I had planted you like a choice vine of sound and reliable stock. How then did you turn against me into a corrupt, wild vine? (Jeremiah 2:21 | TNIV)

Israel had started out so well! No other nation in the history of the world had been founded by God Himself! Only Israel. And yet she descended into what amounted to a nasty, gangly weed in the garden of God.

The power of Iniquity

And that’s the background of the verse that began this article:

Although you wash yourself with soap and use an abundance of cleansing powder, the stain of your guilt is still before me,” declares the Sovereign Lord. (Jeremiah 2:22 | TNIV)

Notice the action in this verse. God is speaking in a poetic fashion, but we all know what the Lord is getting at. The people knew they had done wrong and were continuing to do wrong, and that’s why they were washing themselves with soap and cleansing powder. The significant phrase is “you wash yourself.” In other words, they knew full-well the extent of their iniquity, and that made them guilty, but instead of reaching out to the Lord in repentance and asking for forgiveness, they foolishly thought they could scrub themselves clean. That’s the absolute height of human arrogance right there! In their sick, deluded state, they assumed that if they paid Jehovah lip service and went through the motions their faith dictated, that they were free the rest of the time to heap iniquity upon iniquity upon iniquity  because they could simply toss God His due. The apostle Paul later wrote this:

What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. (Romans 6:1 – 4 | TNIV)

Of course, Paul’s audience was different from that of Jeremiah. Paul was writing to born again Christians in the Roman church. He was writing to people who had been set free from their bondage to sin; to people who had pledged to live for and serve Jesus Christ. Maybe the two audiences weren’t so different after all, separated only by the passing of many centuries. The issues that plagued Israel are the same ones that continue to plague the church: Worldliness and compromise of the faith. Trying to live on both sides of salvation’s fence. How many Christians do exactly what these ancient Hebrews did? Live like pagans all week long, then go to church on Sunday to assuage the guilt of their iniquities. How many churches have become so worldly and their theology so worldly that you’d be hard-pressed to tell them apart from any other club or organization in town?

The thing is this, however. Nobody can wash away their own iniquities – not Jeremiah’s people and not people today. You can’t do enough good deeds or enough acts of contrition to purge away your guilt – God sees it and He’s offended by it. Your iniquities have stained you and God is the One with the stain remover. Not you. Not your priest or minister. Only God.

That’s why Christians are to strive toward being perfect. Not that you stand a snowball’s chance of actually being perfect on this side of Heaven, mind you. But in the striving, you will be bending your will to God’s will; you’ll be living in fear of offending Him by your behavior; you’ll be so busy praying and seeking direction and power to live right, and then your mind will finally and at last be shed of its habitual way of thinking and before you know it, you will be a mentally sound member of the Body of Christ, living in God’s grace and blessing and being a blessing to others.

 

 

 

 

God and Iniquity, Part 2

Last time, we defined “iniquity” as the worst of all sins. It’s a deliberate twisting and bending of God’s law and God’s will to suit you. It’s scheming to commit a sin. And the first thing we learned is that God has a habit of revealing your iniquity. In other words, you can’t hide any sin, least of all your iniquity, from God.

Here’s another shocking bit of information regarding your iniquity:

You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your presence. (Psalm 90:8 | TNIV)

Think about that the next time you’re fiddling around with something or some behavior you know goes against the Lord’s will. Can you imagine how offensive it must be; having your iniquities sitting there, in front of God, not going away?

Background of the psalm

Psalm 90 is an honest psalm – a look at how temporary and transient man’s life is. It’s a hard look at living life under the wrath of God.

The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of human beings who suppress the truth by their wickedness…. (Romans 1:18 | TNIV)

All human beings are living under the wrath of God, which is to say that we are living on a sinful and sin-cursed planet, and we witness God’s displeasure with man’s sinful ways every minute of every day. Sickness, disease, war, hunger, poverty, death, are all the inevitable results of a world stuck on the wrong side of the Almighty. Psalm 90 was written from that perspective.

Most versions of the Bible add this subscription, which is not part of the inspired text:

A prayer of Moses, the man of God

Since these little titles in some of the psalms aren’t part of the original texts, they’re interesting to consider but may or may not be accurate. Psalm 90 may or may not have been written wholly or in part by “Moses the man of God,” but it’s similarity to Deuteronomy 33, which Moses did write, is obvious. Bible scholars who come down on the side of Moses’ authorship point to the overall antiquity of this psalm. It’s old. It’s an ancient piece of literature.

Regardless of who wrote it, Psalm 90 is a magnificent psalm. English philosopher and writer, Isaac Taylor, thought so highly of this psalm that he wrote:

It is perhaps the most sublime of human compositions, the deepest in feeling, the loftiest in theological conception, the most magnificent in its imagery.

The sovereignty of God, verses 1 – 6

The psalm begins in a way that, if you believe Moses wrote it, makes sense for a man who didn’t really have a place to live for half of his life.

Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations. (Psalm 90:1 | TNIV)

Moses and Israel, after leaving the land of Egypt, wandered around the desert for 40 years. In all that time, as nomads, they kept moving – trudging across the trackless desert in search of a promise given generations ago. This psalm begins and ends with a declaration that God is “the Lord.” The Hebrew is Adonai, the Creator and Ruler of all there is. God had made the universe, and in Him God’s people find protection. He is constant. God can be depended upon to be “dwelling place” for all generations.

Not only is God the Creator and a dependable Source of protection, His love is eternal – without beginning and without end.

Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the whole world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God. (Psalm 90:2 | TNIV)

God the loving Father has made the planet man lives on. Just think about the care with which God made the perfect home for His masterpiece of creation; a person created in His very own image. When you stop and consider yourself and the world around you, you’ll come to the same conclusion the psalmist did: From all eternity, there is God. Wherever you look to the past, He is there, working in the history of man. He’s all around you today; He’s the “dwelling place” where you can find protection. And God is in the future. These first two verses give us powerful images of our God as the Creator, the Sustainer of our lives, the ultimate “Safe Place” for Christians, and the One who is dependable because He has been so from eternity past.

And then there’s this:

You turn people back to dust, saying, “Return to dust, you mortals.” A thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night. Yet you sweep people away in the sleep of death—they are like the new grass of the morning: In the morning it springs up new, but by evening it is dry and withered. (Psalm 90:3 – 6 | TNIV)

Compared to the greatness of God, man is little more than dust. As great a creation man is, even as he bears the image of his Creator, he is weak and subject to the Eternal God. Man doesn’t like the implication of this group of verses, but the fact is, it is God and God alone who has power over His creation, not man. The thought that man thinks he can alter what God has created is beyond arrogance! If you’ve visited the many “ghost towns” that litter the coal fields, you’ll see what I mean. Nature reclaims the monuments of man. Man is transient and so are his works, as great as he thinks they may be.

In comparison to the eternity of God, man is like a blade of grass. It’s there one moment, gone the next. Even the famous Methuselah, a man who managed to live an astounding 969 years, just 31 shy of a thousand, is viewed by God as transient. Time means nothing to God, and yet time means everything to man. We never have enough of it, we run out of it, and it slips by faster and faster the older you get. Yet one more indication of how temporary man really is. Willem VanGemeren, who has written numerous books about the Old Testament, including a superb commentary on the psalms, made a powerful observation on this fact:

Each human being is a drop in the giant stream of time.

Dealing with God’s wrath

We are consumed by your anger and terrified by your indignation. You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your presence. All our days pass away under your wrath; we finish our years with a moan. Our days may come to seventy years, or eighty, if our strength endures; yet the best of them are but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away. (Psalm 90:7 – 10 | TNIV)

Here is it – living under God’s wrath. This sounds like a piece of poetry, yet it perfectly describes the life of all people living under and dealing with God’s wrath. All people, even Christians, are in the same predicament, though believers have a hope that non-believers don’t. We are all having to deal with God’s wrath even as we go about our daily lives. Doctor’s appointments, aches and pains, the funeral of a loved one, natural disasters, all these things and more are evidence that we are constantly facing the wrath of God.

Just look at how insightful the psalmist was. He knows that even our anxieties are evidence of God’s judgment! He uses the phrase, “terrified by your indignation,” but the context shows us that we are “terrified” of life and death and everything in between.

That gets us to verse 8, which is terrifying in its implications. Our “iniquities” and our “secret sins” are always in God’s view. No wonder man is terrified. He should be. God’s wrath is always His moral response to our disobedience. God’s isn’t normally in a bad mood. He’s not a grouchy, angry, miserable deity. God is love, but when man disobeys His law, then God has a moral right to impose His wrath. He made the rules, after all. Man may think he’s in charge, but Psalm 90 declares another truth. God is in charge. Many years later, the apostle Paul wrote about this:

The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of human beings who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal human beings and birds and animals and reptiles. (Romans 1:18 – 23 | TNIV)

Paul wrote than man is without excuse, and knowing that our “iniquities” and “secret sins” are not only known by God but He has to keep looking at them, man is rightly terrified about dying and what is waiting for him. God sees man’s “iniquities,” his despicable acts of bad behavior, hidden from public view. And man’s “secret sins,” the things man thinks he’s “gotten away with,” are no secret to God. God is rightfully angry with His creation as man acts in ways completely contrary to how he KNOWS he should be acting.

And verse 10 is almost too painful to read. It states the obvious, but it’s still hard to read. Everybody knows that 70 or 80 years are all most of us will get. Maybe a few more or less. Maybe a few more if we eat food that even rabbits don’t like, avoid all the good food and all those wonderful glutens that make life worth while, and take up jogging, but in the end, that old Grim Reaper will get us. The psalmist wrote that in the end, after all our years, we will go out in a moan. That’s about it, isn’t it? We moan because we know, deep down in our heart of hearts, it’s because of sin that we come to an end.

How we should respond

Well, we can’t stay in this depressed state! So thank the Lord the psalmist kept on scribbling:

If only we knew the power of your anger! Your wrath is as great as the fear that is your due. Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom. (Psalm 90:11, 12 | TNIV)

Praying for wisdom is the proper response when you know you are living under God’s wrath, when you’re trying to deal with His anger, and when you know your life isn’t your own; that you aren’t guaranteed the next moment. You need wisdom. You need to know how to live the best life you can given the limited number of days you have been granted. It’s not an accident that “fear of God” is linked to “wisdom” here. They’re frequently linked together throughout the Psalms and the Proverbs.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding. (Proverbs 9:10 | TNIV)

There’s nothing wrong with a healthy fear of God and of His anger toward your sin. You can be a born again, blood-bought child of God, and though your sins have been and will be forgiven, God still sees your bad behavior that causes Him to be angry. You’re a fool if you have no fear of that. So pray for wisdom, so that you will know how to live in such a way as to be pleasing to God.

Prayer for God’s mercy

In light of God’s Sovereignty and of His complete right over this world and over you, mercy is what you need from the Lord. He should be angry, but experiencing His mercy would be better.

Relent, Lord! How long will it be? Have compassion on your servants. Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days. Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us, for as many years as we have seen trouble. May your deeds be shown to your servants, your splendor to their children. (Psalm 90:13 – 16 | TNIV)

This short but powerful prayer has three simple components. First, the psalmist would love to experience God’s favor once again. In the strictest context, the people of Israel were suffering self-inflicted wounds, but they were still God’s servants. How many of you are having to deal with your own self-inflicted wounds caused by your iniquities and secret sins? But if you are child of God, you remain so. God never abandons His child, even as that child is tending to his self-inflicted wounds. Mercy is what is needed.

Second, the psalmist wants to experience joy again. Having to live in a sinful world while maintaining your integrity is hard enough, but when you stumble from time to time and have to scramble to regain your uprightness is enough to rob you of your joy. Nobody wants to be miserable, yet once you are in that run it’s hard to jump out of it. Real joy and gladness comes from the love of God.

Lastly, the psalmist longs for a continual flow of God’s blessings. Wouldn’t you ask for that, too? Isn’t it better to constantly experience God’s love through His blessings than to experience it once in a blue moon? The psalmist’s request is well founded and it’s a request you should be making, too. Realizing that it is from God that all good things flow, why not ask Him to keep the spigot of blessings open?

In the end, though, what God’s people really need is God’s favor – His blessing on their work.

May the favor of the Lord our God rest on us; establish the work of our hands for us—yes, establish the work of our hands. (Psalm 90:17 | TNIV)

Yes, as the Teacher observed, life is vanity, but we’re all stuck here for our 70 or 80 years. We’re temporary, transient beings whose destiny in hands of another. We need to acknowledge that, as the psalmist did. We need to see that we need God’s favor; we need His blessings because, after all, they make life bearable. No, in fact, they make life wonderful. You and I as believers in and followers of Jesus Christ have the advantage of those who aren’t. God will establish the work of our hands; He will bless us and our work and He will make our lives amount to something.

God and Iniquity, Part 1

We hear a lot about sin. Not that we do much about it, mind you. But we hear a lot about it. What we don’t hear a lot about is something called iniquity. It’s used well over 200 times in the Old Testament and often it’s mentioned along with sin.

Keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children, unto the third and to the fourth generation. (Exodus 34:7 | KJV)

The word translated “iniquity” is a Hebrew words that looks like this: avon. And it refers to something that is “bent, twisted or distorted.” An iniquity is a bending, or a twisting or a distortion of God’s law. In the hierarchy of bad behavior, “iniquity” is the worst of all. It’s worse than sin; worse than a transgression. It’s the deliberate planning and scheming to do that which is opposed what God wants. Take a look at now a modern translation translates Exodus 34:7 –

maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation. (Exodus 34:7 | NIV84)

“Rebellion” is a deliberate turning away from the direction God wants you to be going in. That’s a good picture of what “iniquity” is all about. Of course, “sin” is rebellion too, but it’s different.

Sin

One of the best definitions of “sin” is found in a letter the apostle John wrote:

Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness. (1 John 3:4 | NIV84)

You may think that sounds a lot like a sin – breaking God’s law – and you wouldn’t be wrong. But it’s worse than that. While every iniquity is sin, there are degrees of punishment for sin and some sins are worthy of greater punishment than others. For example, if you read about God’s law in the Old Testament, if a person commits adultery, their punishment was death. But if a person stole something, the punishment wasn’t nearly as severe.

A classic verse about “sin” is what king David thought about it:

Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me. (Psalms 51:5 | NIV84)

At first glance, that looks ridiculous. How could an unborn baby be sinful? He hasn’t done anything yet! But that’s not what sin is all about. Think of “sin” as not necessarily something a person does but rather the state he is in. A sin can be an action, but it’s what every human being is. He is a sinner by default. In the Old Testament, “sin” comes from a Hebrew word that means “missing the mark” or “falling short.” By now you’re likely thinking of a rather famous New Testament verse about “falling short.”

for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…(Romans 3:23 | NIV84)

So “sin” is a lawlessness but it’s also part of who every human being is – he isn’t living up to God’s standard.

Transgression

Back in Exodus 34:7, the word “transgression” is mentioned along with sin and iniquity. It’s also mentioned in Psalm 32:5 –

Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity.I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord”–and you forgave the guilt of my sin. Selah. (Psalms 32:5 | NIV84)

Those three things – sin, iniquity, and transgression – form the unholy trinity of evil. Like iniquity, a transgression is a sin; it’s the breaking of one of God’s laws. It’s an act, not a state. For example. When you’re out driving around and you drive 60 miles per hour in a 25 mile per hour zone, you are transgressing a law of man. There’s nothing bad about going 60 miles per hour, but when you go against a posted law and do it, you’re transgressing a law. You’ll be punished accordingly, and if you change your driving habits, you’ll never be punished again.

So if you look at what David wrote in Psalm 32:5, knowing the difference between the three members of the trinity of evil, you can see what David was getting at. Jack Wellman brilliantly sums it up like this:

David said he will confess (means agree with) his transgressions (his willful acts of disobedience) to the Lord, and God will forgive the iniquity (his bending, twisting, and distorting of the law that grew in the degrees worthy of greater punishment), of his sin (the transgressions of God’s law).

Over the net few weeks, I’d like to take a closer look at the relationship God has with our iniquities. Let’s begin with the fundamental fact that God finds them. Like it or not, we can’t anything from Him, let alone our iniquities.

And Judah said, What shall we say unto my lord? what shall we speak? or how shall we clear ourselves? God hath found out the iniquity of thy servants: behold, we are my lord’s servants, both we, and he also with whom the cup is found. (Genesis 44:16 | KJV)

Famine

It all started with seven skinny cows. You’ll recall that Joseph, the brother who had been sold into Egyptian slavery by his brothers, had risen to the heights of Egyptian polity because the Lord had given the Pharaoh a dream of an impending famine. The poor guy couldn’t make heads or tales of this crazy dream involving these ugly, skinny cows, but Joseph could:

Seven years of great abundance are coming throughout the land of Egypt, but seven years of famine will follow them. Then all the abundance in Egypt will be forgotten, and the famine will ravage the land. The abundance in the land will not be remembered, because the famine that follows it will be so severe. The reason the dream was given to Pharaoh in two forms is that the matter has been firmly decided by God, and God will do it soon. (Genesis 41:29-32 | NIV84)

Well, what’s a Pharaoh to do with information like that? Again, young Joseph had a solution:

Let Pharaoh appoint commissioners over the land to take a fifth of the harvest of Egypt during the seven years of abundance. They should collect all the food of these good years that are coming and store up the grain under the authority of Pharaoh, to be kept in the cities for food. This food should be held in reserve for the country, to be used during the seven years of famine that will come upon Egypt, so that the country may not be ruined by the famine. (Genesis 41:34-36 | NIV84)

What Pharaoh couldn’t possibly know, and what Joseph didn’t understand yet, was that this whole famine – a famine that would impact a large portion of the Middle East – was for the sole purpose of reuniting Joseph with his family. Can you imagine? The lengths that God will go to in an effort to make things right and accomplish His great purposes always astounds me.

Power

From prison to pinnacle in a few verses! That’s the way it is with the Lord sometimes.

So Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I hereby put you in charge of the whole land of Egypt.” Then Pharaoh took his signet ring from his finger and put it on Joseph’s finger. He dressed him in robes of fine linen and put a gold chain around his neck. He had him ride in a chariot as his second-in-command, and men shouted before him, “Make way!” Thus he put him in charge of the whole land of Egypt. (Genesis 41:41-43 | NIV84)

Joseph’s rule over Egypt was very successful. The seven years of extreme prosperity resulted in tons and tons and tons of produce being carefully stored away against the coming famine. During this time, two sons were born to Joseph, Manasseh and Ephraim.

While Egypt was ready to face the famine, Canaan wasn’t. Apparently word spread among the people of the eastern Mediterranean that food could be bought in Egypt.

When Jacob learned that there was grain in Egypt, he said to his sons, “Why do you just keep looking at each other?” He continued, “I have heard that there is grain in Egypt. Go down there and buy some for us, so that we may live and not die.” (Genesis 42:1-2 | NIV84)

These brothers of Joseph were a supine, useless lot with no ambition and even less initiative. But they made the journey. It had been some 20 hears since Joseph had seen them. He recognized them but they were clueless about him. Of course, now Joseph was no longer a young, gangly teen. He was grown man, around 40 years of age, dressed professionally and clean shaven. And Joseph wasn’t a fool. He knew his brothers. He would take this occasion to test them. Over the course of two visits, Joseph treated his brothers very, very harshly. His purpose in this test was to see if his brothers had changed in the intervening two decades. Joseph demanded that if the brothers ever needed to come back to buy more food, they would have to bring Benjamin with them. He was the youngest and stayed back home with Jacob.

The famine ravaged on, and it was time to go back to Egypt to buy some more food. Jacob didn’t want Benjamin to go, but he reluctantly gave in and this time he sent his whole brood to Egypt for a supply of groceries. At first, Joseph treated his brothers royally, and especially young Benjamin.

When portions were served to them from Joseph’s table, Benjamin’s portion was five times as much as anyone else’s. So they feasted and drank freely with him. (Genesis 43:34 | NIV84)

Now it was time to test his brother’s intergrity. Had they changed? Or were they the same shiftless, scheming, good-for-nothing, no account fools that had beat him up and sold him into slavery? He had Benjamin falsely accused of purloining an expensive silver cup.

Then the steward proceeded to search, beginning with the oldest and ending with the youngest. And the cup was found in Benjamin’s sack. (Genesis 44:12 | NIV84)

Of course, Joseph arranged to have the cup put there for the purpose of the test. The punishment for this was death. What would these brothers do? Once before they were willing to sacrifice one of their own regardless of the pain it would cause their father. Would they do it again? Or had they changed. Apparently they had changed. The brothers refused to abandon Benjamin, and Judah, the very brother who was responsible for selling Joseph into slavery, stepped forward and in one of the most touching speeches in literature, offered his life for Benjamin’s. It’s not unimportant nor co-incidental that centuries later, a descendant of Judah would offer His life so that others could live.

And that’s the background to the verse that started this whole thing: Genesis 44:16 –

And Judah said, What shall we say unto my lord? what shall we speak? or how shall we clear ourselves? God hath found out the iniquity of thy servants: behold, we are my lord’s servants, both we, and he also with whom the cup is found. (Genesis 44:16 | KJV)

The sentence that we need to look at is this: “God hath found out the iniquity of thy servants.” The NIV84 translates it slightly differently: “God has uncovered your servant’s guilt.”

“Iniquity” involves “guilt,” but just what were the brothers guilty of? Think about that for a minute. They certainly weren’t guilty of stealing the cup! That was a trick. These brothers were guilty of nothing. Except for something they had done two decades earlier. Something they thought they had “gotten away with.” But in truth, nobody gets away with anything. God will always – always – uncover or “find out” a sinner’s iniquities. You can’t hide anything from God. Adam and Eve tried that. Earlier in the book of Genesis, we read this exchange after Adam and Eve sinned:

But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?” He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid. (Genesis 3:9-10 | NIV84)

And man has been hiding his iniquities – his sins – ever since. God knows what you  and I are guilty of, even if we have managed to hide our actions from everybody on earth. God knows and one day, all will be laid bare for the universe to see. God knows your iniquities and He uncovers them.

 

 

 

 


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