Thursday, September 28, 2006

Is God Worthy of Trust: Divine Omnipotence

In the Peter Jackson film The Return of the King viewers join Gandalf the White and Pippin at the city of Gondor. The city is about to be attacked by a battalion of Orgs and evil men and we hear one soldier cry out, “It is just as Lord Denethor foresaw.” Apparently the steward of Gondor had predicted that a day of destruction would come upon the city. Gandalf speaking wisely, however, responds, “foreseen and done nothing!” Gandalf found no conciliation in Denethor’s predictions, for foreknowledge with out action means little. An ability to know and predict the coming danger to the city was of no help to its people if the steward would not take action to protect them. We have just finished discussing the doctrine of God’s foreknowledge, and surveyed why that should be a comfort to us, and an encouragement for us to trust God. This foreknowledge, however, is only encouraging in so far as we know about God’s omnipotence. I have argued, in the previous chapter, that involved in divine foreknowledge is divine foreordination. He knows what will happen tomorrow because He has foreordained all of tomorrow to come about. This is part of the teaching of God’s omnipotence, and by grasping hold of this doctrine we can add a final support to the tower of our faith.

Divine Omnipotence is the doctrine that God is able to do everything that can possibly be done.[1]The biblical verses most often appealed to are Psalm 115:3 “Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases;” Psalm 135:6 “Whatever the LORD please, he does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps;” and Daniel 4:35 “…[H]e does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, ‘What have you done?’” I want to focus in, however, on a passage in Jeremiah and ask the question that God Himself asks in this section, “Is anything too hard for the Lord?”

In Jeremiah 32 we read God telling the prophet to buy a field. This is a particularly amusing, even bizarre, thing for God to say to Jeremiah. The background of this command finds Jeremiah shut up in prison, Zedekiah ruling like an ignorant and evil king, and the besieging of Judah. The whole land is eventually going to pass into the hands of Chaldeans and into the hands of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. Why does God demand this of Jeremiah at such an odd and hopeless time? Precisely because it is a hopeless time. The possession of the field by Jeremiah is to be a symbol of the possession of all of the land by the Israelites. God will not leave them in captivity and without a possession, but He will bring them back. It is a word of hope and a symbol of God’s faithfulness to His covenant. But, like most of us, Jeremiah has a hard time believing the Lord and so he finally comes to ask for some assurance.

Jeremiah 32:24-25 Behold, the siege mounds have come up to the city to take it, and because of sword and famine and pestilence the city is given into the hands of the Chaldeans who are fighting against it. What you spoke has come to pass, and behold, you see it. 25 Yet you, O Lord GOD, have said to me, "Buy the field for money and get witnesses"- though the city is given into the hands of the Chaldeans.'"

Note all that Jeremiah confesses in this prayer. God had foreseen the Chaldean invasion, he “spoke” beforehand and it “has come to pass.” But note also that Jeremiah has concern here. “You had me buy a land, God, but now the Chaldeans are taking all the land. What is the meaning of this?” It is not a demand for God to answer for these actions, it is not an arrogant assertion of supposed rights to knowledge. No, Jeremiah is requesting a greater explanation of God’s plan. He wonders, rightly, how he can own the land that he bought, if the Chaldeans take it all? God answers.

Jeremiah 32:26-42 The word of the LORD came to Jeremiah: 27 "Behold, I am the LORD, the God of all flesh. Is anything too hard for me? 28 Therefore, thus says the LORD: Behold, I am giving this city into the hands of the Chaldeans and into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, and he shall capture it. 29 The Chaldeans who are fighting against this city shall come and set this city on fire and burn it, with the houses on whose roofs offerings have been made to Baal and drink offerings have been poured out to other gods, to provoke me to anger. 30 For the children of Israel and the children of Judah have done nothing but evil in my sight from their youth. The children of Israel have done nothing but provoke me to anger by the work of their hands, declares the LORD. 31 This city has aroused my anger and wrath, from the day it was built to this day, so that I will remove it from my sight 32 because of all the evil of the children of Israel and the children of Judah that they did to provoke me to anger- their kings and their officials, their priests and their prophets, the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem. 33 They have turned to me their back and not their face. And though I have taught them persistently, they have not listened to receive instruction. 34 They set up their abominations in the house that is called by my name, to defile it. 35 They built the high places of Baal in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, to offer up their sons and daughters to Molech, though I did not command them, nor did it enter into my mind, that they should do this abomination, to cause Judah to sin. 36 "Now therefore thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, concerning this city of which you say, 'It is given into the hand of the king of Babylon by sword, by famine, and by pestilence': 37 Behold, I will gather them from all the countries to which I drove them in my anger and my wrath and in great indignation. I will bring them back to this place, and I will make them dwell in safety. 38 And they shall be my people, and I will be their God. 39 I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear me forever, for their own good and the good of their children after them. 40 I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them. And I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me. 41 I will rejoice in doing them good, and I will plant them in this land in faithfulness, with all my heart and all my soul. 42 "For thus says the LORD: Just as I have brought all this great disaster upon this people, so I will bring upon them all the good that I promise them.

It is a rhetorical question that God asks, yet He answers it Himself. “Is anything to hard for me?” The answer is an obvious no, but just in case we don’t get that, God spells the answer out in this lengthy speech, of which I have only given a portion. It is God who is “giving this city into the hands of the Chaldeans and into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon.” But, in verse 37, it is also God who “will gather them from all the countries” which He drove them out to.

These are powerful nations that God is referring to here. He has foreordained that they capture Israel, they are His rod to discipline the children of Israel for their rebellion against Him. But, though they are powerful and conquer many nations, God is greater. He foresees their coming destruction, but He is able to bring the captured Israelites back from their bondage. He will do it, He says. What a powerful God this is. No one can “stay His hand,” not even Nebuchadnezzar.

In the Daniel 4 passage quoted above it is Nebuchadnezzar himself who professes the sovereignty and omnipotence of God. The text reads:

Daniel 4:1-3 King Nebuchadnezzar to all peo- ples, nations, and languages, that dwell in all the earth: Peace be multiplied to you! 2 It has seemed good to me to show the signs and wonders that the Most High God has done for me. 3 How great are his signs, how mighty his wonders! His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and his dominion endures from generation to generation…

Daniel 4:28-37 All this came upon King Nebuchadnezzar. 29 At the end of twelve months he was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon, 30 and the king answered and said, "Is not this great Babylon, which I have built by my mighty power as a royal residence and for the glory of my majesty?" 31 While the words were still in the king's mouth, there fell a voice from heaven, "O King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is spoken: The kingdom has departed from you, 32 and you shall be driven from among men, and your dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field. And you shall be made to eat grass like an ox, and seven periods of time shall pass over you, until you know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will." 33 Immediately the word was fulfilled against Nebuchadnezzar. He was driven from among men and ate grass like an ox, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven till his hair grew as long as eagles' feathers, and his nails were like birds' claws. 34 At the end of the days I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored him who lives forever, for his dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation; all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, "What have you done?" 36 At the same time my reason returned to me, and for the glory of my kingdom, my majesty and splendor returned to me. My counselors and my lords sought me, and I was established in my kingdom, and still more greatness was added to me. 37 Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, for all his works are right and his ways are just; and those who walk in pride he is able to humble.

God’s promise, His prediction, came true because God is able to do all that He pleases, in heaven and on earth, and beneath the earth.

The great question of this portion of our study is “Is God Worthy of Trust?” The answer, after all that we have considered (His Immutability, Internal Consistency, Foreknowledge, and Divine Omnipotence) must be a resounding, “YES!” The God of the Bible, the only true God, is a God most definitely worthy of trust. Do you trust this God who makes the wind and the waves to cease in the person of Christ? Do you trust this God who commands nations and they obey, who draws a people for Himself from every tribe, and tongue, and nation, and a God who gives spiritual life to a spiritually dead people? Whatever you may be going through in your life that causes you to doubt God’s trustworthiness, either in theology or practice, I ask you the same question God asked Jeremiah, “Is there anything too hard for God?”

Do you despair because of illness, loss, need? Do you feel hopeless, abandoned, alone? Do you feel to sinful, to immoral, to hard-hearted? Are these things impossible for God? They are not! God is the all-powerful, that is omnipotent, creator, sustainer, and Savior. Trust in Him today!

[1] Some would disagree with the addition of the qualifier “that is possible to be done.” There is a debate over whether or not God can do the impossible (i.e. make round squares, etc.). I agree with Ronald Nash and others in saying that it does not detract from God’s omnipotence to say He cannot do that which is impossible. The Bible even plainly asserts that God cannot lie, it is “impossible” for Him. This is a good refutation to the old philosophical trap “Can God create a rock so big He couldn’t lift it?” See Ronald Nash, Faith & Reason. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1988). 183.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Is God Worthy of Trust: Divine Foreknowledge

Romans 8:28 is a famously misunderstood verse. It is pasted over every situation in which a Christian goes through like a Band-Aid. But some hurts are too serious for Band-Aids. They can do little for gaping scars and internal wounds. Such is the nature of life for many of us. If Romans 8:28 is spewed out by every pastor and layman without a second thought we will not take much joy in our suffering, nor will we find much hope in God’s goodness. When we come to understand the context of Romans 8:28, however, and we see that the “good” that “all things” are working towards is our being made more like Christ then we know, that like Christ, we must suffer, and that the price is worth the prize. In a like manner the doctrine of God’s foreknowledge is often applied to our lives like a quick fix proof text. But unless we know what this doctrine means, and means for us specifically, it will generate very little faith from our hearts.

The doctrine of divine foreknowledge is often assessed as God ability to know what will take place in the future before it comes to pass. It is exactly what it says, fore-knowledge, that is knowledge prior to event. This definition, however, falls short, for the word contains something more than simply “prior knowledge.” As John Frame explains, “Often in biblical languages, as in English, when the verb know has a noun rather than a fact-clause as its object, it refers to a personal relationship, not a knowledge of information.”[1] To demonstrate what he means, the author quotes Psalm 1:6 as evidence.

Psalm 1:6 for the LORD knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.
Does this verse simply mean that God is aware of what the righteous are doing, the information is accessible to Him? Surely it must mean more, for the “way of the righteous” seems rather obvious. No, in this passage it is implying that God watches over, guards and keeps, the way of the righteous man, for in the beginning of the chapter we read “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked.” One of the ways he is blessed is that God keeps him in the path of righteousness.[2] This brings us to a very important distinction: foreknowledge must also involve foreordination.

If the words seem to be a bit confusing hold on to them, there key to understanding the great truth of God’s foreknowledge and why it should give us confidence in God. Foreordination, like foreknowledge, means to do something beforehand. In this case it means that God ordains, or decrees, something to take place prior to its actual taking place. For God to truly have a knowledge of the future, for Him to be certain that anything really will happen the way He sees it, then He must decree that it be so. God establishes that it will happen and because of this He knows it will. Perhaps it’s hard to grasp in the abstract, let’s look at a concrete example.

In chapter 48 of Isaiah we find the people of Israel have been in captivity in Babylon for sometime. The Fall of Jerusalem took place in 587 B.C. and even before this some were already in slavery. Many have died in captivity; many have been born in captivity. But there is good news on the horizon: soon King Cyrus of Persia, will release them to return to their homeland and rebuild their temple. But before this happens God intervenes to prepare them for the release. God prepares them for their release by announcing it before hand.

Isaiah 48:1-3 Hear this, O house of Jacob, who are called by the name of Israel, and who came from the waters of Judah, who swear by the name of the LORD and confess the God of Israel, but not in truth or right. 2 For they call themselves after the holy city, and stay themselves on the God of Israel; the LORD of hosts is his name. 3 "The former things I declared of old; they went out from my mouth and I announced them; then suddenly I did them and they came to pass.

It is important here to note why God says he foretold the event. He did it because “I know that you are obstinate, and your neck is an iron sinew and your forehead brass, 5 I declared them to you from of old, before they came to pass I announced them to you, lest you should say, 'My idol did them, my carved image and my metal image commanded them.'” The people of Israel confessed God with their mouths, but it was “not in truth or right.” They had actually, in practice, adopted the idols of their captors and were worshiping them. Man’s heart is full of sin and so in order that God’s work might not be attributed to an idol, God foretells the work that will be done. God foreknows what will take place in this situation. But more than simply a knowledge of facts, God has foreordained the events to take place. See how He describes the destruction of Babylon by Cyrus and the release of Israel:

Isaiah 48:12-15 12 "Listen to me, O Jacob, and Israel, whom I called! I am he; I am the first, and I am the last. 13 My hand laid the foundation of the earth, and my right hand spread out the heavens; when I call to them, they stand forth together. 14 "Assemble, all of you, and listen! who among them has declared these things? The LORD loves him; he shall perform his purpose on Babylon, and his arm shall be against the Chaldeans. 15 I, even I, have spoken and called him; I have brought him, and he will prosper in his way.

Note the strong language of divine sovereignty in the text. It is God who does, who lays, who spreads, who calls. God loves, performs, speaks, calls, and brings. The “him” of verses 14 and 15 refer to Cyrus, and while we concede that it is Cyrus, himself, who crushes Babylon and frees Israel, it is really God who performs his purpose on Babylon and brings Cyrus our and prospers his way. God does all these things!

So we see here that God’s foretelling of the events of Israel’s release and Babylon’s defeat is not comforting simply because God knows it will happen. Rather we rejoice to know that God has His hands in all things. What He foreknows He has foreordained, and so nothing is beyond His realm of control. While of course this opens up a whole theological can of worms (i.e. how do we deal with bad things that happen to us), we must never forget that Romans 8:28 teaches both God’s sovereignty and His love for us. He works all things out for our good, which is conformity to Christ.[3]

Is God trustworthy? He is trustworthy because He is sovereign over all. He not only knows what will happen in the future, but He knows because He has ordained it to happen. This is most wonderfully seen in our salvation. Romans 8:29-30 reads:

For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

God’s foreknowledge is not an impartial reception of information. It is an active love, that brings about the salvation of His elect people.

How does all this help us to trust God better? It gives us confidence that no matter what we are facing we know that God has a purpose in it. Sometimes His purposes are beyond the scope of our small minds, in fact often they are, but what a comfort it is to know that nothing just happens, nothing is a mistake, unknown, or out of God’s control. We can trust God because in His foreknowing all things, His hands are at work in ordaining them to take place that all His purposes might be done, including our sanctification.

[1] John M. Frame, The Doctrine of God. (Philipsburg: P&R, 2002). 72.
[2] It is relevant here to document that both the NIV and the NLT translate the verse as “For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous…” and “The Lord watches over the path of the godly…” The NASB also suggests that “approves” and “has regard to” are possible synonyms for the word “knows”.
[3] For further discussion on this subject see D.A. Carson, How Long, O Lord? (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1990).

Friday, September 22, 2006

Lost in Religion

Krista and I are finally caught up on Lost and axiously await the new season, which starts next month. We finished watching season two today and as we did I contemplated the place of religion in the show. I can't begin to articulate the full scope of religion in the show, but it is interesting to note that several characters stand out:

1) Jack- Jack is the man of science, as is evidenced both by his skepticism and the episode which bears the title "Man of Science" contrasting Jack with another, the "man of faith." Jack is a man of reason and doubts all that he doesn't understand.

2) John Locke- Obviously named for the philosopher, Locke represents the "man of faith" named in the above mentioned episode. Locke's faith, however, is very pagan. He beleives the island is god of some sort. It demands sacrifices (like Boone, from season one) and tells the man what to do. Locke slowly looses his faith throughout season two and we see his skepticism rise.

3) Mr. Echo and Charlie- Both of these men are Catholics. Charlie's presence as a religious figure was hardly felt, however, in the first season. Mr. Echo, however, confronts viewers and fellow islanders with true religion and "pure faith." Of course I would disagree with the presentation of Christianity given by the writers, but none the less I am amazed by the confrontation between Locke and Echo, the friendship between he and Charlie, and the by the very fact that one whole episode is about the 23rd Psalm.

What all this means I will not now attempt to say, but it is intriguing to say the least. I agree with Gene Edward Veith when he says that Lost is the best show currently on television.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Is God Worthy of Trust: Internal Consistency, Part 2

I don’t know much about cars; in fact I am sure that I know almost nothing. It was only just recently, after driving for several years, that I had the “pleasure” of learning how to change a tire (something every man should know how to do). But one thing I do know is that to jump-start a car you need both a positive charge and a negative charge. The opposite charges are necessary. In the last chapter we looked that the negative side of God’s Internal Consistency, that is His inability to lie. In this chapter I want to turn to the positive aspect of His goodness. To jump-start our trust in God we need both the negative charge and positive charge. For if we suppose that simply a knowledge that God can’t lie is sufficient, then our trust will remain a dead battery, but with the extra charge that God’s internal consistency contains also His goodness, then our engines of faith will roar loud with assurance.

The Bible teaches us that God’s nature is goodness. Jesus said as much to the rich man in Matthew 9:17, “…There is only one who is good.” James tells us that “every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights…” The Psalms in particular echo the praise that God is good:

Psalm 100:5 5 For the LORD is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.

Psalm 106:1 Praise the LORD! Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!

Psalm 107:1 Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!

Psalm 118:1 Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!

Psalm 118:29 29 Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!

Psalm 119:68 You are good and do good; teach me your statutes.

Psalm 135:3 Praise the LORD, for the LORD is good; sing to his name, for it is pleasant!

Psalm 136:1 Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.

God’s very nature is to be good. But this language may be misleading. We must qualify it more specifically. It is not simply that God’s nature is good, as though there is some external standard by which we can judge God’s nature and compare it and classify it as “good.” This would be blasphemous. Rather, we must understand that God is the very standard of goodness. Anything we would judge as “good,” must be so because it reflects the very nature of God. Now let’s give our faith that positive charge by looking more specifically at what it means for God to be good.

The Bible doesn’t tell us in specific language what God’s goodness is, but rather it tells us through describing what God does. The Bible does this on many occasions; so Michael Horton writes, “The triune God is known in His works, not in His essence.”[1] It would be helpful then, if this is how God’s goodness is to be known, that we look at a particular passage that demonstrates it. Psalm 107 is a beautiful Psalm depicting plainly the goodness of God towards His people.

The Psalm opens with a command:

Psalm 107:1 Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever! 2 Let the redeemed of the LORD say so, whom he has redeemed from trouble 3 and gathered in from the lands, from the east and from the west, from the north and from the south.

In this first verse we are presented with a glimpse of the character of God, “He is good.” The Psalmist, however, goes on to spell out just what that goodness looks like: “His steadfast love endures forever.” So God’s goodness involves a love, and a steadfast love, and a steadfast love that endures forever. Furthermore, and this point will be elaborated more fully later, God’s goodness involves redeeming a people from trouble, and a gathering a people of various ethnicities. But in noting also the state of the people whom God redeems we see a more beautiful picture of His goodness displayed. So the Psalmist describes mankind in general as thus:

Psalm 107:4-43 Some wandered in desert wastes, finding no way to a city to dwell in; 5 hungry and thirsty, their soul fainted within them. 6 Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress. 7 He led them by a straight way till they reached a city to dwell in. 8 Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love, for his wondrous works to the children of men! 9 For he satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry soul he fills with good things. 10 Some sat in darkness and in the shadow of death, prisoners in affliction and in irons, 11 for they had rebelled against the words of God, and spurned the counsel of the Most High. 12 So he bowed their hearts down with hard labor; they fell down, with none to help. 13 Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress. 14 He brought them out of darkness and the shadow of death, and burst their bonds apart. 15 Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love, for his wondrous works to the children of men! 16 For he shatters the doors of bronze and cuts in two the bars of iron. 17 Some were fools through their sinful ways, and because of their iniquities suffered affliction; 18 they loathed any kind of food, and they drew near to the gates of death. 19 Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress. 20 He sent out his word and healed them, and delivered them from their destruction. 21 Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love, for his wondrous works to the children of men! 22 And let them offer sacrifices of thanksgiving, and tell of his deeds in songs of joy! 23 Some went down to the sea in ships, doing business on the great waters; 24 they saw the deeds of the LORD, his wondrous works in the deep. 25 For he commanded and raised the stormy wind, which lifted up the waves of the sea. 26 They mounted up to heaven; they went down to the depths; their courage melted away in their evil plight; 27 they reeled and staggered like drunken men and were at their wits' end. 28 Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress. 29 He made the storm be still, and the waves of the sea were hushed. 30 Then they were glad that the waters were quiet, and he brought them to their desired haven. 31 Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love, for his wondrous works to the children of men! 32 Let them extol him in the congregation of the people, and praise him in the assembly of the elders. 33 He turns rivers into a desert, springs of water into thirsty ground, 34 a fruitful land into a salty waste, because of the evil of its inhabitants. 35 He turns a desert into pools of water, a parched land into springs of water. 36 And there he lets the hungry dwell, and they establish a city to live in; 37 they sow fields and plant vineyards and get a fruitful yield. 38 By his blessing they multiply greatly, and he does not let their livestock diminish. 39 When they are diminished and brought low through oppression, evil, and sorrow, 40 he pours contempt on princes and makes them wander in trackless wastes; 41 but he raises up the needy out of affliction and makes their families like flocks. 42 The upright see it and are glad, and all wickedness shuts its mouth. 43 Whoever is wise, let him attend to these things; let them consider the steadfast love of the LORD.

There is a pattern to this Psalm, as there are to many. The Psalmist explains God’s good acts in rescuing, helping, and showing mercy to various peoples in different, though all dire, circumstances, and then he charges the recipients of this grace to thank the Lord. He speaks first of those who “wander in desert wastes”. These are folks lost and abandoned, they are “hungry and thirsty,” and their “soul fainted within them.” There is an obvious illusion to the Israelites coming out of Egypt here. The reference to the Exodus, however, does not negate the application to us. We may not all be wandering in a physical desert, hungry and thirsty, but such is a fitting description of our depressions, and struggles. But just as there is good news for the Israelites, that God heard their cries and brought them into a city to dwell, so there is good news for all His people. The passage continues noting that God “Satisfies the longing soul and the hungry soul He fills with good things.” This is a good act of God.

The word “good,” itself, is used in this passage twice. Once to describe the very nature of whom God is, “He is good,” and once to describe what He gives, “good things.” But the word itself need not be found in every phrase for us to recognize the whole account here as a working out of God’s goodness. God not only leads and feeds a wandering people, but he frees prisoners, He heals the distressed who were near the gate of death, and He delivered them from their destruction. Furthermore God calmed a raging storm and brought sailors to their desired haven, and He turns deserts into springs of water, deserts into pools, and He raises up the needy out of affliction.

This is a good God, and we may rightly apply this to our present situations. The Psalms speak in poetic language and while there is a literal level, these verses also indicate that the language speaks beyond actual prisoners and actual sailors, and so forth. It speaks to all of us who go through emotional, physical, and spiritual distresses daily. It declares that God is good, and does good for us. Note, however, that sometimes what is good is for us to be brought low. V. 12 states of those who had rebelled against God that He “bowed their hearts down with hard labor.” This would not seem good to us, but look at what it leads to. Though they “fell down with none to help,” the text tells us that they “cried to the Lord in their trouble, and He delivered them from their distress.” Deliverance comes only after depression.

Of course the ultimate point of this text is not that God delivers from emotional or physical distress, which He sometimes does in this life and sometimes does not. Rather the main point is that God is good because He “redeemed from trouble and gathered in from the lands.” God’s goodness is found ultimately in the worst place in the history of the world, at the cross. God’s goodness is seen in His sending Jesus Christ to bear the punishment for our sins. This is consistent with who God is. God is good and we know that because He displays His character in what He does. Our definition of good, our morality, human ethics, declares what is good, not because it acknowledges some abstract notion, but because God’s nature is revealed to us in both creation and in the Bible. Our knowledge of good is partly a knowledge of God.

God’s internal consistency permits us more freedom to trust Him. When we know not only that God cannot lie, but that this inability to lie is met with a desire to display His nature as a good God to His people. God’s goodness is just that positive charge we need to jump-start our faith and trust. Trust in God, for He is good, and His steadfast love endures forever.

[1] Michael Horton, Lord and Servant: A Covenant Christology. (Louisville: WJK, 2005). 22.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Is God Worthy of Trust: Internal Consistency

It is one of the more famous accounts from the gospels. The Jewish religious leaders come and accuse Jesus of being Satan, and they do so on the grounds that He has power to cast out demons. Jesus’ response points out the illogic of their comment:

Mark 3:23-26 And he called them to him and said to them in parables, "How can Satan cast out Satan? 24 If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25 And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. 26 And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but is coming to an end.

It is from this passage, of course, that we get the common expression, “A house divided cannot stand.” Jesus point is that it would have been internally inconsistent for Satan to cast out his own demons. Internal consistency is an important attribute of anyone. A man who says one thing and does the exact opposite is the definition of hypocrisy. The officer of a battalion of Germans during the Turkish War told his men to fight bravely, for if they died in battle they would awake and feast with the Lord. When the battle got too hot for this officer he fled form the scene and hid. Upon finding him some of his men asked him, “why do you not wish to eat with the Lord today?” The response of the man was, “I am fasting.” This sort of internal inconsistency is quiet common among men, but do we find any evidence of it in God? This is an important question, for if God turns out to be a hypocrite then our assurance in Him is groundless.

A key passage for this discussion is found in Numbers 23. Here we find an interesting dynamic. A evil king calls on an evil prophet to help him destroy the nation of Israel which is invading the land. So the context is set up in this way:

Numbers 22:1-6 Then the people of Israel set out and camped in the plains of Moab beyond the Jordan at Jericho. 2 And Balak the son of Zippor saw all that Israel had done to the Amorites. 3 And Moab was in great dread of the people, because they were many. Moab was overcome with fear of the people of Israel. 4 And Moab said to the elders of Midian, "This horde will now lick up all that is around us, as the ox licks up the grass of the field." So Balak the son of Zippor, who was king of Moab at that time, 5 sent messengers to Balaam the son of Beor at Pethor, which is near the River in the land of the people of Amaw, to call him, saying, "Behold, a people has come out of Egypt. They cover the face of the earth, and they are dwelling opposite me. 6 Come now, curse this people for me, since they are too mighty for me. Perhaps I shall be able to defeat them and drive them from the land, for I know that he whom you bless is blessed, and he whom you curse is cursed."

The apostle Peter tells us that Balaam “loved gain from wrongdoing” (2 Peter 2:15), and so we know that this was not a good man who surely would have spoke against Israel and cursed them for a decent price. But God intervenes and commands Balaam not to speak anything other than what God tells him, and this He does in a magnificent way.

Numbers 22:21-35 So Balaam rose in the morning and saddled his donkey and went with the princes of Moab. 22 But God's anger was kindled because he went, and the angel of the LORD took his stand in the way as his adversary. Now he was riding on the donkey, and his two servants were with him. 23 And the donkey saw the angel of the LORD standing in the road, with a drawn sword in his hand. And the donkey turned aside out of the road and went into the field. And Balaam struck the donkey, to turn her into the road. 24 Then the angel of the LORD stood in a narrow path between the vineyards, with a wall on either side. 25 And when the donkey saw the angel of the LORD, she pushed against the wall and pressed Balaam's foot against the wall. So he struck her again. 26 Then the angel of the LORD went ahead and stood in a narrow place, where there was no way to turn either to the right or to the left. 27 When the donkey saw the angel of the LORD, she lay down under Balaam. And Balaam's anger was kindled, and he struck the donkey with his staff. 28 Then the LORD opened the mouth of the donkey, and she said to Balaam, "What have I done to you, that you have struck me these three times?" 29 And Balaam said to the donkey, "Because you have made a fool of me. I wish I had a sword in my hand, for then I would kill you." 30 And the donkey said to Balaam, "Am I not your donkey, on which you have ridden all your life long to this day? Is it my habit to treat you this way?" And he said, "No." 31 Then the LORD opened the eyes of Balaam, and he saw the angel of the LORD standing in the way, with his drawn sword in his hand. And he bowed down and fell on his face. 32 And the angel of the LORD said to him, "Why have you struck your donkey these three times? Behold, I have come out to oppose you because your way is perverse before me. 33 The donkey saw me and turned aside before me these three times. If she had not turned aside from me, surely just now I would have killed you and let her live." 34 Then Balaam said to the angel of the LORD, "I have sinned, for I did not know that you stood in the road against me. Now therefore, if it is evil in your sight, I will turn back." 35 And the angel of the LORD said to Balaam, "Go with the men, but speak only the word that I tell you." So Balaam went on with the princes of Balak.

Using the mouth of a Donkey God warns Balaam to speak only God’s word. Upon meeting with Balak, the man gives him an oracle. We read:

Numbers 23:3-8 And Balaam said to Balak, "Stand beside your burnt offering, and I will go. Perhaps the LORD will come to meet me, and whatever he shows me I will tell you." And he went to a bare height, 4 and God met Balaam. And Balaam said to him, "I have arranged the seven altars and I have offered on each altar a bull and a ram." 5 And the LORD put a word in Balaam's mouth and said, "Return to Balak, and thus you shall speak." 6 And he returned to him, and behold, he and all the princes of Moab were standing beside his burnt offering. 7 And Balaam took up his discourse and said, "From Aram Balak has brought me, the king of Moab from the eastern mountains: 'Come, curse Jacob for me, and come, denounce Israel!' 8 How can I curse whom God has not cursed? How can I denounce whom the LORD has not denounced?

Balaam confesses what God has said, these are His people and they are doing all that He has foreordained and planned. No one may stop them unless God does it. In this passage we are reminded of God’s unchanging nature, His plan stands for Israel unmoved. Yet our focus here is God’s internal consistency, the homogeny of His actions with His character. This we find when Balak, himself, pleads with Balaam for a second oracle from God. Balaam acquiesces and we read the following:

Numbers 23:11-21 And Balak said to Balaam, "What have you done to me? I took you to curse my enemies, and behold, you have done nothing but bless them." 12 And he answered and said, "Must I not take care to speak what the LORD puts in my mouth?" 13 And Balak said to him, "Please come with me to another place, from which you may see them. You shall see only a fraction of them and shall not see them all. Then curse them for me from there." 14 And he took him to the field of Zophim, to the top of Pisgah, and built seven altars and offered a bull and a ram on each altar. 15 Balaam said to Balak, "Stand here beside your burnt offering, while I meet the LORD over there." 16 And the LORD met Balaam and put a word in his mouth and said, "Return to Balak, and thus shall you speak." 17 And he came to him, and behold, he was standing beside his burnt offering, and the princes of Moab with him. And Balak said to him, "What has the LORD spoken?" 18 And Balaam took up his discourse and said, "Rise, Balak, and hear; give ear to me, O son of Zippor: 19 God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it? 20 Behold, I received a command to bless: he has blessed, and I cannot revoke it. 21 He has not beheld misfortune in Jacob, nor has he seen trouble in Israel. The LORD their God is with them, and the shout of a king is among them.

After a second attempt to curse the people of Israel Balak is confronted with the futility of his efforts, and Balaam’s response is simply that “what God said the first time is what He meant.” Balaam respond with a firm attestation to God’s internal consistency: God is not a man that He should lie.” It is not in God’s nature to lie. It is in man’s nature to deceive, and trick, and take back his word, to “change his mind,” but it is not God’s nature to do such things. The author of Hebrews says the same thing in perhaps clearer terms. In Hebrews chapter 6 the author wants to assure his audience of their salvation. God’s promise will not fail, he insists. And we know this, he writes, because God has sworn by Himself.

Hebrews 6:13-20 For when God made a promise to Abraham, since he had no one greater by whom to swear, he swore by himself, 14 saying, "Surely I will bless you and multiply you." 15 And thus Abraham, having patiently waited, obtained the promise. 16 For people swear by something greater than themselves, and in all their disputes an oath is final for confirmation. 17 So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, 18 so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. 19 We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, 20 where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.

Both these passage, the one in Numbers and the one in Hebrews, affirm that it is not consistent with Himself for God to lie. We often make plans and break them. Young girls get stood up on the night of their proms, men and women left at the altar on their wedding days, and husbands abandon their families. We make promises we can’t keep, and we flat out lie to one another. This is consistent with our sinful natures, though certainly not justifiable. But this is not God. God is truth! He never lies! Many of us struggle with trusting others because we have been hurt. Our hearts still bear the emotional scars from that man, that woman, that comment, that deed. We shrink back from developing connections with people because of fear. We tend towards pessimism to avoid getting our hopes too high; “I won’t be hurt again,” we tell ourselves. But none of this is applicable when we come to God. God cannot lie, God cannot forget His promises, and plans; such is inconsistent with being God! “Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?” Balaam asks, and the answer is an obvious “no”. Psalm 115:3 affirms: Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases.

Is God worthy of our trust? Absolutely, because not only does He not lie, but He cannot do so. What He says, and what He has promised, He will do! Trust in God!

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Is God Worthy of Trust: Divine Immutability

At the basement level of any theological discussion lays the issue of epistemology. Epistemology deals with how we can obtain knowledge. In building a theology of trust, specifically, we must wrestle with the question “how do we know God is trustworthy?” No question could have more significance for this doctrine than that one, for the implications are numerous. For example, if God is not trustworthy then He is not reliable, we cannot have hope in Him, we will not pray, we will not trust the Bible, and finally we will become hard skeptics. If God is not trustworthy then nothing He has said about Himself, about us, about the world or the future, can be taken at face value and believed. God may be, then, both a liar and a deceiver, and such a God is not worth our trust at all. God does, however, affirm His complete trustworthiness, and He does so in four ways: (1) His Immutability; (2) His Internal Consistency; (3) His Foreknowledge; and (4) His Omnipotence. By examining each of these four attributes we will build up a Biblical, epistemological, ground for trusting God. We begin the discussion by looking at God’s immutability.

I can remember as a kid playing with playdough. The malleable clay-like substance would be smushed through cookie-cutters to form any sort of shapes and sizes that I preferred. It could be rolled into little balls to throw at my siblings, or it could be flattened like a pancake. Though some may contend for a deity like this, it is not the way we should think of God. While playdough can be molded and re-shaped, and is mutable (changing), God is immutable. God does not change. In Psalm 102 we read an earnest prayer of an afflicted soul, and a heartfelt confession of God’s unchangeableness. The Psalmist writes:

Psalm 102:1-11 Hear my prayer, O LORD; let my cry come to you! 2 Do not hide your face from me in the day of my distress! Incline your ear to me; answer me speedily in the day when I call! 3 For my days pass away like smoke, and my bones burn like a furnace. 4 My heart is struck down like grass and has withered; I forget to eat my bread. 5 Because of my loud groaning my bones cling to my flesh. 6 I am like a desert owl of the wilderness, like an owl of the waste places; 7 I lie awake; I am like a lonely sparrow on the housetop. 8 All the day my enemies taunt me; those who deride me use my name for a curse. 9 For I eat ashes like bread and mingle tears with my drink, 10 because of your indignation and anger; for you have taken me up and thrown me down. 11 My days are like an evening shadow; I wither away like grass.

This prayer is made by one in deep distress. It appears as though he has no hope, no one to even turn to for comfort. But note that this is a prayer, and in praying to God the Psalmist must have believed that he had someone to turn to, and indeed he confesses as much:

Psalm 102:12-22 But you, O LORD, are enthroned forever; you are remembered throughout all generations. 13 You will arise and have pity on Zion; it is the time to favor her; the appointed time has come. 14 For your servants hold her stones dear and have pity on her dust. 15 Nations will fear the name of the LORD, and all the kings of the earth will fear your glory. 16 For the LORD builds up Zion; he appears in his glory; 17 he regards the prayer of the destitute and does not despise their prayer. 18 Let this be recorded for a generation to come, so that a people yet to be created may praise the LORD: 19 that he looked down from his holy height; from heaven the LORD looked at the earth, 20 to hear the groans of the prisoners, to set free those who were doomed to die, 21 that they may declare in Zion the name of the LORD, and in Jerusalem his praise, 22 when peoples gather together, and kingdoms, to worship the LORD.

Hope resounds in that first sentence alone, “But you, O Lord, are enthroned forever.” This is not the temporary reign of a king, nor the time-constrained term of a president, it is an eternal kingship. God rules over His creation forever, and forever has no conclusion.
While this eternal kingship must have been a great comfort to the soul of this distressed prayer, we have not yet reached his ultimate confession of surety in God. He continues with a hard realization that brings us to our knees.

Psalm 102:23-24 23 He has broken my strength in midcourse; he has shortened my days. 24 "O my God," I say, "take me not away in the midst of my days- you whose years endure throughout all generations!"

In one fell swoop God has crushed the ultimate hindrance to trust in Him: self-trust. The man in this prayer recognizes that he is at a loss, the end of his rope. God has broken his strength, and right in the midst of his succeeding. How often we feel on top of the world when things are going our way. We feel ourselves invincible, and capable of anything. Our dreams are coming true and we find suddenly, though it has actually been occurring for some time, that we trust in ourselves. And just like Judah’s trusting in Egypt was idolatry, so trusting in ourselves is idolatry, and God will not stand for it! He breaks our strength in midcourse and we fall on our faces confused and at a loss. But then, at the moment of realizing his weakness and frailty, his inability and failure, the Psalmist records the climax of his confession:

Psalm 102:25-28 Of old you laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. 26 They will perish, but you will remain; they will all wear out like a garment. You will change them like a robe, and they will pass away, 27 but you are the same, and your years have no end. 28 The children of your servants shall dwell secure; their offspring shall be established before you.

What gives rise to the Psalmist’s steadfastness and hope in the midst of affliction and sorrow? God’s unchangeableness. We will fall, men will wither away like grass, and in fact the grass withers away too, and the whole world will be changed but God remains the same. The Bible reveals again and again that we serve an immutable God.

Malachi 3:6 "For I the LORD do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed.

James 1:17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.

Hebrews 1:10-12 And, "You, Lord, laid the foundation of the earth in the beginning, and the heavens are the work of your hands; 11 they will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment, 12 like a robe you will roll them up, like a garment they will be changed. But you are the same, and your years will have no end."

This is the God of scripture, the unchanging, immutable God of all.

It’s important to dig deeper, at this point, into the theological specifics of God’s immutability. In what way is God unchanging? Wayne Grudem summarizes this doctrine as follows: We can define the unchangeableness of God as…God is unchanging in His being, perfections, purposes, and promises, yet God does act and feel emotions, and He acts and feels differently in response to different situations.[1]In his definition Grudem has made several important statements. Let’s note first that he states God is unchanging in His being. That is what we find in all the quotes listed above, God’s being does not change. There is great significance in this stability for the creator/creature distinction.

A modern heresy known as “Process Theology” contends that God is not stable, but rather He is becoming. That is to say, “As we act, and as the universe changes, God is truly affected by these actions and the being of God changes- God becomes something other than what He was.”[2] The fault of this theology is that it ignores the Bible and it wrongly assumes that God’s immutability means that nothing we do has meaning to God. This is where Grudem’s qualification becomes important.

Grudem’s definition asserts that God “does act and feel emotions, and He acts and feels differently in response to different situations.” This is an important qualification because it takes into consideration the Biblical texts that speak of God being affected by what we do. We may rest assured that as unchanging as God is, He is not unmoved by His creation. The Bible tells us that God rejoices (Isa. 62:5), is grieved (Ps. 78:40; Eph. 4:30), He is angry and wrathful (Ex. 32:10), He pities Children (Psl. 103:13) and he loves with an everlasting love (Isa. 54:8; Ps. 103:17).[3] We can take comfort that even though God is unchanging He truly responds to us and feels for us.

God is unchanging and, as the Psalmist notes, it is this unchangeableness that gives us hope when we worry and distress. But the most glorious depiction of God’s immutability is found in the person of Christ.

Hebrews 13:8 8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

In Christ is our greatest hope, because He has redeemed us from the curse and bondage of sin, and has paid the penalty for our sins. He not only stands as our savior eternally, but He stands as our advocate with the Father eternally. Do you struggle with trusting God? Then take heart that He will never change! And when He feels great compassion for you it will stir this unchanging God to act on behalf of His people. Ultimately this is exactly what has happened in the cross. God, who loved us and chose us before the foundation of the world, saw us in our desperate state, as hell-bound sinners, and He sent His son to rescue us from wrath. Take heart in that just as this unchanging God will never renege His promise of salvation, so He will never change in any of His ways, perfections, promises, or even His being. Let that truth dissolve your worries into calm trust.

[1] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994). 163.
[2] Ibid. 166.
[3] Ibid.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Trusting God Matters

The theological climate that we live in today is a very complex and troubling one. Many issues face the church today that would cause, and do cause, a number of believers to doubt major doctrines. But throughout all of the changing tides we may breath a sigh of relief, thanking God that He does not change with the seasons. Or does He? There are some today among the evangelical community who are saying just that: God changes. He is not the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow, and in fact, the real truth is that God doesn’t have a clue what tomorrow will bring. This new theology is known as Open Theism, and its proponents are growing among the church. Hear what one of their own has to say:

The belief of mine which has caused such a stir is called “the open view of God,” though I prefer to call it “the Open view of the future.” In a word, this view states that the future is not entirely settled. It partly consists of open possibilities. Since God knows reality perfectly, He knows the future perfectly, just as it is; partly as settled, partly as open. So, some things about the future are a “maybe,” not a “certainty,” even to God.
Why do I believe this? Because I simply can’t make sense of the Bible without it. Yes, the Bible clearly reveals that God is certain of many things that are going to take place ahead of time. But the Bible also reveals that some things about the future are open possibilities even to God.[1]

So amidst the already troubling storm of theological controversy there are some who deny the very reliability of God. If God cannot know the future, then how can He be trusted, how do we know He won’t make a mistake (another position taken by the Open Theists). But for most of us this academic issue isn’t nearly as troubling as is the simple fact that we don’t feel like God is control of our days and moments. There is real doubt there about our day-to-day lives. O, we don’t deny that God is trustworthy to hold our salvation, to keep the universe spinning, to bring about the final end that He desires for the whole universe, yet we just don’t know how reliable He is with the details. It’s as Elyse Fitzpatrick wrote:

It’s not that I don’t trust Him for certain things- like my eternal home with Him; it’s just that when it comes down to my everyday life, I frequently act as though I can handle difficult circumstances better than He can. [2]

It is at this point that we have to ask, though it seems the answer is obvious, does trusting God matter? Can’t we get by without trusting Him to be in control of everything? Let’s expound upon this concept further, for what’s at stake is our very hope and surety.

2 Kings chapter 18 speaks a great deal about trust; the word is mentioned six times in the chapter.[3] The context is the beginning of the reign of Hezekiah in Judah, and it reveals to us that he is a good and godly man:

2 Kings 18:1-8 In the third year of Hoshea son of Elah, king of Israel, Hezekiah the son of Ahaz, king of Judah, began to reign. 2 He was twenty-five years old when he began to reign, and he reigned twenty-nine years in Jerusalem. His mother's name was Abi the daughter of Zechariah. 3 And he did what was right in the eyes of the LORD, according to all that David his father had done. 4 He removed the high places and broke the pillars and cut down the Asherah. And he broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made, for until those days the people of Israel had made offerings to it (it was called Nehushtan). 5 He trusted in the LORD the God of Israel, so that there was none like him among all the kings of Judah after him, nor among those who were before him. 6 For he held fast to the LORD. He did not depart from following him, but kept the commandments that the LORD commanded Moses. 7 And the LORD was with him; wherever he went out, he prospered. He rebelled against the king of Assyria and would not serve him. 8 He struck down the Philistines as far as Gaza and its territory, from watchtower to fortified city.

It is significant to note that the most noble virtue of Hezekiah is that he “trusted in the LORD God of Israel.” But in background of Hezekiah’s faith is the fall of the Northern Kingdom. Assyria has swept in and after three years of fierce battles Samaria falls to captivity. The writer of 2 Kings gives us this summary of the fall of the Northern Kingdom to demonstrate just how bold was the act of Hezekiah’s to come.

It does not take long before the power hungry Assyrians are at it again and they soon besiege more towns and more lands, and in 701 B.C. he lays siege to Judah. And it is here that we find a surprising narration:

2 Kings 18:13-16 13 In the fourteenth year of King Hezekiah, Sennacherib king of Assyria came up against all the fortified cities of Judah and took them. 14 And Hezekiah king of Judah sent to the king of Assyria at Lachish, saying, "I have done wrong; withdraw from me. Whatever you impose on me I will bear." And the king of Assyria required of Hezekiah king of Judah three hundred talents of silver and thirty talents of gold. 15 And Hezekiah gave him all the silver that was found in the house of the LORD and in the treasuries of the king's house. 16 At that time Hezekiah stripped the gold from the doors of the temple of the LORD and from the doorposts that Hezekiah king of Judah had overlaid and gave it to the king of Assyria.

Here we read that this great man of faith has weakened. In order to appease the King of Assyria Hezekiah strips the temple of God of all its gold and sends it off to his enemy. Dale Ralph Davis comments, “Faith still has its problems…it can cave in.”[4] When the heat was on, this man who “trusted in the LORD God of Israel,” dropped his faith.

Here we have a prime example of exactly of our dilemma. Our faith in God is strong, except when there is pressure in the details of our lives, except when we are confronted with hard situations. Faith in God is grand and great in the abstract, but hard in those nitty-gritty details of today. Hezekiah “trusted in the LORD God of Israel,” save when confronted with oppressors more powerful than Judah. If this sounds like you, keep reading and hopefully the following descriptions of Hezekiah will encourage you to follow in his footsteps towards change.

What follows compels both a shock and a cheer from us. The phrase “At that Time” signifies a change in the narration. After some time has passed, so it appears, Sennacherib, the King of Assyria, sent a great army to call Hezekiah out. The inference is that Hezekiah had made an oath to pay tribute to the King of Assyria, but in a bold move Hezekiah finally stopped the tribute, and now Sennacherib has sent his army to “re-negotiate” the terms of their contract.

2 Kings 18:16-18 At that time Hezekiah stripped the gold from the doors of the temple of the LORD and from the doorposts that Hezekiah king of Judah had overlaid and gave it to the king of Assyria. 17 And the king of Assyria sent the Tartan, the Rab-saris, and the Rabshakeh with a great army from Lachish to King Hezekiah at Jerusalem. And they went up and came to Jerusalem. When they arrived, they came and stood by the conduit of the upper pool, which is on the highway to the Washer's Field. 18 And when they called for the king, there came out to them Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, who was over the household, and Shebnah the secretary, and Joah the son of Asaph, the recorder.

What transpires next is the exchange between Hezekiah’s court officials and the military leaders of Sennacherib, and repeatedly in the dialogue we find the concept of trust raised. At the heart of The Rabshakeh’s speech is the argument that without this tribute Judah has no one to trust in. He provides a very persuasive argument too.

2 Kings 18:19-25 19 And the Rabshakeh said to them, "Say to Hezekiah, 'Thus says the great king, the king of Assyria: On what do you rest this trust of yours? 20 Do you think that mere words are strategy and power for war? In whom do you now trust, that you have rebelled against me? 21 Behold, you are trusting now in Egypt, that broken reed of a staff, which will pierce the hand of any man who leans on it. Such is Pharaoh king of Egypt to all who trust in him. 22 But if you say to me, "We trust in the LORD our God," is it not he whose high places and altars Hezekiah has removed, saying to Judah and to Jerusalem, "You shall worship before this altar in Jerusalem"? 23 Come now, make a wager with my master the king of Assyria: I will give you two thousand horses, if you are able on your part to set riders on them. 24 How then can you repulse a single captain among the least of my master's servants, when you trust in Egypt for chariots and for horsemen? 25 Moreover, is it without the LORD that I have come up against this place to destroy it? The LORD said to me, Go up against this land, and destroy

Without going into a complete exposition of the passage we can identify three movements in The Rabshakeh’s speech: (1) The Political Ploy; (2) The Mockery; and The Religious Tactic.

In verse 22 he is attempting to drive a wedge between the people of Judah. The Rabshakeh is not aware that the “high places” and the “altars” that Hezekiah tore down were part of a religious reform that was pleasing to Yahweh. But that doesn’t matter, as Davis writes:

He doesn’t care about religion but politics. The Rabshakeh likely knows that not everybody in Judah was smack-happy over the King’s reforms. If his rhetoric can stir up some high-place-loving sourpusses it can only help Assyria’s case. He wants to stroke the embers of Judean rancor and bitterness over the king’s reforms.[5]

Verses 23 and 24 are sheer mockery of Judah. The men of Sennacherib derisively state they would give them a whole cavalry if the people of Judah could best even one of their own men. Finally in verse 25 he resorts to religious talk, saying that it is in fact the God of Judah, Himself, who gave them orders to destroy the city. But the most revealing comment in the whole speech is one we skipped over. It is the remarks about Judah’s trust in Egypt.

It is a sad thing when the unbeliever reveals the displaced trust of the believer. Judah may have confessed to trust God, but they trusted Egypt more. This is revealed even more clearly in the prophetic ministry of Isaiah, the prophet of Judah during this time. Read the prophets scathing rebuke:

Isaiah 30:1-3 "Ah, stubborn children," declares the LORD, "who carry out a plan, but not mine, and who make an alliance, but not of my Spirit, that they may add sin to sin; 2 who set out to go down to Egypt, without asking for my direction, to take refuge in the protection of Pharaoh and to seek shelter in the shadow of Egypt! 3 Therefore shall the protection of Pharaoh turn to your shame, and the shelter in the shadow of Egypt to your humiliation.

Isaiah 31:1 Isaiah 31:1 Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help and rely on horses, who trust in chariots because they are many and in horsemen because they are very strong, but do not look to the Holy One of Israel or consult the LORD!

In these two convicting passages we find the very heart of our dilemma: Trusting God matters because failure to do so inevitably leads to idolatry. Judah had turned from God and put their faith in Egypt, they had credited this nation with greater power than Yahweh. It is a sin to not trust God. Though it is difficult to hear we must grapple with this truth and wrestle it into our minds. Let it affect the way we think. Not trusting God is not simply a shortcoming that we have, it is not simply a misguided effort to cope with life, it is not simply a tendency common to our secular society. No, rather it is sin and it leads to idolatry. Trusting God matters, as Isaiah and as The Rabshakeh, points out, because “God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid; for the LORD GOD is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation” (Isa. 12:2).

Isaiah does not leave us without hope, however. For though our trust in God is flawed and weak, and prone to cave in like Hezekiah’s there is one who works for us. Isaiah writes:

Isaiah 32:1-17 SV Isaiah 32:1 Behold, a king will reign in righteousness, and princes will rule in justice. 2 Each will be like a hiding place from the wind, a shelter from the storm, like streams of water in a dry place, like the shade of a great rock in a weary land. 3 Then the eyes of those who see will not be closed, and the ears of those who hear will give attention. 4 The heart of the hasty will understand and know, and the tongue of the stammerers will hasten to speak distinctly. 5 The fool will no more be called noble, nor the scoundrel said to be honorable. 6 For the fool speaks folly, and his heart is busy with iniquity, to practice ungodliness, to utter error concerning the LORD, to leave the craving of the hungry unsatisfied, and to deprive the thirsty of drink. 7 As for the scoundrel- his devices are evil; he plans wicked schemes to ruin the poor with lying words, even when the plea of the needy is right. 8 But he who is noble plans noble things, and on noble things he stands. 9 Rise up, you women who are at ease, hear my voice; you complacent daughters, give ear to my speech. 10 In little more than a year you will shudder, you complacent women; for the grape harvest fails, the fruit harvest will not come. 11 Tremble, you women who are at ease, shudder, you complacent ones; strip, and make yourselves bare, and tie sackcloth around your waist. 12 Beat your breasts for the pleasant fields, for the fruitful vine, 13 for the soil of my people growing up in thorns and briers, yes, for all the joyous houses in the exultant city. 14 For the palace is forsaken, the populous city deserted; the hill and the watchtower will become dens forever, a joy of wild donkeys, a pasture of flocks; 15 until the Spirit is poured upon us from on high, and the wilderness becomes a fruitful field, and the fruitful field is deemed a forest. 16 Then justice will dwell in the wilderness, and righteousness abide in the fruitful field. 17 And the effect of righteousness will be peace, and the result of righteousness, quietness and trust forever.

Jesus Christ is the King pictured here, the God-man whose righteousness is applied to those who repent of their sins and believe upon Him for salvation, and the effect of this righteousness will be trust forever. We may rejoice that our salvation does not rest upon how well and how faithful our trust in God is. Though this does not relinquish the duty we have to trust in God, and the dangers we have towards relapses into idolatry, it does give us hope.

Trusting God matters, friends, because God demands to be trusted and putting our trust anywhere else is idolatry. Let this truth alter the way you think, and let the knowledge of Christ’s work spur you on to trust God more.

[1] Quoted in Paul Kjoss Helseth, “What is at Stake in the Openness Debate? The Trustworthiness of God and the Foundation of Hope.” Beyond the Bounds: Open Theism and the Undermining of Biblical Christianity. (Wheaton: Crossway, 2003). 278-279.
[2] Elyse Fitzpatrick, Love to Eat, Hate to Eat. (Eugene: Harvest, 1999). 30.
[3] Eight times if you count “trusted” in verse 5, and “trusting” in verse 21.
[4] Dale Ralph Davis, 2 Kings: The Power and the Fury. (Ross-Shire: Christian Focus, 2005). 263-264.
[5] Davis, 268.

Friday, September 15, 2006

A Christian Nation?

In Church History II today our class was sidetracked by a rather heated in-class discussion over the concept of a Christian nation. Arguments for the necessity of a public display of The Ten Commandments and appeals to myth that our nation was founded on Christian principles abounded. Yes that is right, I wrote the word "myth". I write this now not in order that I might offend or upset anyone, but of the mere purpose for historical accuracy.

There is no evidence that suggests our nation was founded upon Christian principles. While it is certainly true that many of our founding fathers professed to be Christians, there denial of significant orthodox theologies proves otherwise. Men like Jefferson and Franklin are only the most noted in this category. For those not convinced I recommend that you read my article "Religion and Rationality in the First American Gothic Novel." The article deals with the anlysis of the themes and content of the first American Gothic novel Wieland written by Charles Brockden Brown during the aftermath of the American Revolution (1798). While some of the arguments may not make sense to those unfamiliar with the novel, it does offer some support for what I have stated here about the founding of the American Constitution.

America was not founded on the Bible, but on Lockean Philosophy. While the morality of John Locke's philosophy may have some similarities to the moral mandates of Scripture the two are far from one another. We do not live in a Christian nation friends, but let this not stop us from promoting the gospel and calling men and women to faith and repentance. It is not the governments job to promote true religion, it is ours.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Christianity and the Civil War: Suggestions for Reading

Though it is largely unknown to the average American there was a series of great revivals that took place during the Civil War among the soldiers. Paul Harper has done a marvelous job surveying the spirituality of the soldiers in an audio lecture, but there are number of excellent books that document this as well. There was no lack of Christian faith and doctrinal preaching during these days, and theologians found themselves on both sides of the battle lines. It is said that during the war men went to George Whitefield's casket in New England, which was open in those days, and tore a piece of the man's frock to tie aroudn their guns. Great Baptist and Presbyterian leaders served as chaplains for both The South and The North, and other cases of Christian involvment in the war abound. For those who are both advid lovers of American history and interested in the theological framework that both shaped and was shaped by the Civil War here are some good resources:

1) The Civil War as Theological Crisis- Mark A. Noll

2) From the Flag to the Cross: Scenes and Incidents of Christianity in the Civil War- Amos S. Billingsley

3) Christ in the Camp- J. William Jones

4) Stonewall Jackson: The Spiritual Side- David Myers

5) Stonewall Jackson's Pastor: An Autobiography- William White

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Tuesday Meditation

Rejoice not over me, O my enemy; when I fall, I shall rise; when I sit in darkness, the Lord will be a light to me. (Micah7:8)

There will be tribulation for the saints. God never spoke otherwise. In fact Jesus himself said, “Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.” But we with the apostle Peter will rejoice “that [we are] counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name”. How can we rejoice in tribulation and trial, in persecution? Because we like the prophet Micah know that when we fall, we shall rise. Not that we shall do this by our own power but by the great power of “God, the Lord, who is [our] strength.”

I have days of darkness, days where all seems hopeless, but it is not hopeless. God is a light to me! He shines in the darkness, “and the darkness has not overcome” His light. God is the “true light”. When I fall, God will raise me up. When I am in darkness He will be a light to me. His word will be a lamp unto my feet, and I will know where I am to walk. He brings me out of the darkness and into His “marvelous light.” That is the gift of salvation, and the flowing promises from the cross, that the great and mighty God who has drawn me from the kingdom of darkness into the marvelous light will “never leave me nor forsake me”.

Rejoice not over me, O my enemy, for my God is great. When I fall, God will raise me up! When I sit in darkness, the Lord will be a light to me! “Why should the nations say where is their God? Our God is in the heavens; He does all that He pleases!” If it please the Lord to put me in darkness, then I will “wait for the God of my salvation, my God will hear me.”

The Lord is my strength, my shelter, my strong fortress; He is my King and my light. When I fall, and I know I will, He will raise me up. When enemies rejoice over me, and they will, He will trample them “down like the mire of the streets.” When I sit in darkness, and I will, He will be a light to me; for Jesus is the true light that has come into the world!

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Preaching and Science: A Lesson from Russ Moore

Russ Moore, Dean of the School of Theology and Vice President of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, spoke very honestly about the relationship between pastoral ministry and the study of science in his Systematic Theology II course a few weeks ago. Dr. Moore is a gifted professor, has been a guest speaker for Answers in Genesis (a Christian organization devoted to the study of Science and Christian apologetics), and knows his science. In class he gave the following exhortation to a question from one student on pastoral ministry and science.

Every pastor is called to be a pastor/theologian, not a pastor/scientist. It's perfectly okay to share with your people possible solutions to the natural Sciences/Bible dilemma, but speak with humility when you do so. Help your people know that the answers you and any other gives are provisional. That is they are not solid, fixed, definite answers. They may be resolutions to the problems, but they may have to be tweaked, altered, or completely abandoned if new evidence comes to light, or more study reveals a necessary affect on your "resolution" that you had not previously seen.

Dr. Moore pressed upon us that there are somethings we simply cannot explain, things which we don't have resolutions for, and we should no be disturbed by this. It is okay to give answers to the questions of your parishoners, but never suggest to them that this answer is absolute. For inevitably something will come along to challenge that and it may be even more plausible than your answer.

This is a good word to us all- Preach the Word, not science. Where science needs to be discussed, do so with humility.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Hey, It Could Happen

There use to be a commercial for McDonalds (at least I think it was McDonalds), in which a kid described some outrageous events happening and it ended with the child saying, "Hey, it could happen." The expression has relevance for the recent developments among Christianity in Great Britain, only in this case it's not so outrageous.

Stephen Green, an Evangelical Christian, was arrested recently for some highly volatile Christian activity. What did he do? He handed out leaflets at a homosexual rally, which quoted the Scriptures' forbidding homosexuality. Perhaps Green was malicious in his doing so? No, reports tell us he was peaceful and friendly. Green's attempt to share the gospel with homosexuals, was not received well, however. He has been arrested and now the questions follow: Will all Christians who view homosexuality as sin be faced with similiar charges in England? What about in America, will this contagion spread to the other side of the Atlantic? All these questions are serious, not some outlandish proposal but an uptight conservative Chrsitian. Al Mohler is asking the same questions and has discussed the issue on his radio show with special guests. I urge you to listen in and to read the two blogs he has written on the subject, you can find both the blogs under the articles section to the left, and each contains a link to the radio show.

This is a pressing issue even for American Evangelicals. We must always remember that what happens to our brothers in other parts of the world could take place on this continent. Hey, it could [really] happen.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Early Ohio Baptist Life

See my latest article: "An Unsung Hero: A Biographical Sketch of Francis Dunlevy, an Early Baptist Leader in Ohio." Francis Dunlevy was a fascinating man with quite a record of achievements, yet none are as wonderful to God and church history as is his love of the Lord, the Bible, and the Church. He was not only an unsung revolutionary hero, but as a leader among the first Baptists in Ohio he has laid the groundwork that many Ohioan Baptists have built off of. I hope someday soon to sketch a history of the Miami Association, the first fellowship of Baptists in Ohio, but for now I have settled with Dunlevy.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Get D-Evolutionized This Weekend

This weekend, September 10, at Grace Baptist Church in Minford, Ohio ( Answers in Genesis will be hosting a video conference on Dinosaurs, Genesis and the Gospel. For those in the area, this is a great oppurtunity to get answers to the questions about the relationship between the Bible and Natural Science. Here's the link:

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Weddings, Reading, Pressure and the Gospel

This has been a particularly hard week for me. One of the weeks in which things pile up and work seems to overload you. I can hardly wait for the weekend.

On last Friday Krista and I took off to Ohio, where we celebrated the wedding of my sister and new husband John. I preached the wedding sermon on Saturday, a great blessing for me and I hope for them as well. It was a fresh reminder of the purpose of marriage. Ephesians 5 clearly teaches us that God established marriage to point us to Christ's relationship with the church. The weekend went quick and while being enjoyable, has left me with a ton of reading to catch up on. So I've been engrossed in books all week. Yet again I was reminded that God has given to the church teachers, men to help us better understand our God. And whether those teachers be immediately located in our local church or far off we can thank God for them and the value we find in them. I was particularly encouraged by one authors writing on sanctification this week, and I hope to post on it soon enough. All the pressure I am feeling now has suprised me, not because I wasn't expecting it, but more because I didn't expect to get so much from it. That is to say that though I feel a weight of work on my shoulders, and I am tired and in need a breath of air, I am suprised that I am learning so much about the gospel. What a joy to study God's word and character. If only all Pressure could feel like this! Praise God for Pressure which reminds me of His grace in the Gospel.