Tuesday, 26 September 2006
24th September 2006
Strange stories part.3
Murder so soon!
The account that we have read is one of the saddest that we can find in the bible. I do not say that merely because Cain murdered his brother so soon after creation. First generation man was capable of the most heinous crime; that is the sad thing. From our perspective Adam’s sin was just a minor infringement and we would probably expect sinfulness to be progressive. What I mean by that is; it seems logical that sin over a period of years or centuries would progressively get worse as the generations learn evil ways from each other. What the story of Cain tells us is that:
· Sin is caught and not taught.
· Man is capable of the most awful crimes.
· Sin affects others.
1) Sin is caught and not taught.
Who was it that taught Cain to be jealous of his brother?
Why did Abel offer a sacrifice that was acceptable to God and Cain did not?
What made Cain so filled with jealousy that he actually killed his younger brother?
These are difficult questions. The account is recorded in the bible for us to learn from. So what is it that we can learn?
As I have said sin is caught and not taught. Anyone who has children; or even observes them knows that you do not have to teach a child to be naughty they merely have the ability right from birth! One of the saddest things to happen in the 20th century was the development of AIDS. This virus seems to have had it’s inception amongst the homosexual fraternity and was at first regarded by some as judgement upon what many might term as gross sin. It was not long before the virus was widespread outside of homosexual circles and beyond the effects of immorality. I have seen innocent children dying of the disease in an orphanage in Romania. They caught the disease there, not because of their personal sin or even because of the immorality of their parents but simply because infected blood had come from the USA and the children were being given daily injections of nutrients instead of feeding them wholesome food. The needle was used from child to child and the disease was spread in no time! One little needle affected a whole orphanage! This is like sin, the devil injected SIN into Adam and Eve and they have passed it on to their children and so on. Sin is not merely in the genes it has become a part of the human personality. It is not locked away in some section of our brain that could be operated on. It is in the very heart of man; not in the blood pump as some might suggest, but it is central to man’s personality.
This being the case what can we do about it? That question is like saying; “I would like to change the colour of my blood.” Some might think that the royal family have blue blood and so are different but if you were to cut one of them you would find that their blood is also red and not blue. The very nature of blood is that it is red and there is nothing that you can do about it. Sin is equally a reality! King David said of himself (he was also speaking on behalf of all humanity) “surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.” Psalm 51:5 You see sin is caught and not taught. We could say that our parents are guilty of passing it on but that would be unfair because as we have seen sin is an integral part of our nature. There is nothing that we can do about it! Just as Viorika died of AIDS in that orphanage in Piatra Niamt because the disease infected her so we will all die due to sin. That is the judgement passed on by God to humanity when Adam and Eve ate the fruit!
By this argument are we then saying that the sins of the children is the fault of the parent? This is a very modern train of thought. We are often given to think that the child who turns bad is due to a bad upbringing. There are many parents in the world today who “beat themselves” because their child has gone off the rails. It is true that parents do have an influence for both good and bad upon their children but the bible never gives the impression that the sins of the child are the responsibility of the parent. The account of Cain is a good example, which demonstrate that to us.
2) Sinful man is capable of the most awful crimes.
It is true to say that Adam was guilty for sin entering the world but what was to follow within his own family was the fault of Cain. If we were to devise a story of what the first recorded sin against humanity might be I wonder whether we would come up with jealousy, which led to murder.
Both Cain and Abel were farmers, Cain worked the soil and Abel was a shepherd. Both of them came to God with gifts of worship, Abel’s sacrificed lamb was acceptable to God but Cain’s offering of grain was unacceptable. God spoke with Cain about the upset that was caused by his unacceptable offering but instead of “taking it up with God” Cain went out and murdered Abel. We could make much of the acceptable and unacceptable offering but that is not the purpose of our study tonight. Except that we must say that Abel had learned that there is no approach to God without the shedding of blood and Cain thought that he could approach God with the labours of his hands (works!)
If we think back to our last point that “sin is caught and not taught” then we should not be too surprised that the first sin against mankind would result in the ultimate inhumanity that we can commit; murder!
What Cain was displaying at the beginning of human history is the total depravity of man. This description was of course coined by John Calvin and is one of the tenets of Calvinism. John Calvin did not merely think it up he observed it from accounts such as this in scripture; he also knew it from his own heart and the evidence of mankind. Cain was not merely first generation man who was slightly tainted by sin; he was born in sin and shapen in iniquity, as was Abel also. Abel discovered that there was away to the gracious heart of God, Cain killed Abel because he was jealous of Abel’s faith and acceptance. If that is not depraved I do not know what is, and all of this right at the very beginning of time!
Ever since that time man has fought and died over religion, many blame God but as we can see from this account God is not to be blamed. In actual fact by His grace He came to Cain and spoke with him giving him every opportunity to ask why his gift was unacceptable. But Cain was happy in his false religion he did not want to change his way so therefore the one who followed truth was the object of his wrath.
What we learn so far from this story is that each individual is responsible for their own personal sinfulness and that from the beginning of time after the fall all men became totally depraved and all are capable of the most heinous crimes. Thankfully part of our God-given nature is a conscience, which prevents most of us going as far as Cain did! But to God the sin of disobedience as with Adam is every bit as depraved as murder. We might not fully appreciate that but with God all sin is an abomination and He hates it.
The final thing that we will observe from this account tonight is that:
3) Sin affects others!
From the facts that we have of the account we can find no evidence that Abel deserved the anger of Cain. There is no pre-history that might give us the impression that there was an on-going problem between the 2 men. In fact as far as the account is concerned the years between birth and adulthood are completely ignored. God is clearly not intending us to see anything but the sinfulness of sin. The truth is Cain was jealous of Abel and that jealousy led to deception. He conned Abel to go to the field and it was there that the innocent and unsuspecting Abel was attacked and killed by his own brother.
Abel had done no wrong but Cain’s sin affected him. This I suppose is obvious to all but do we remember that our sin affects others. We might not go as far as Cain but our personal sin does affect others. I recently was speaking with a Pastor in England who is going through great difficulties and may even be “kicked out” of the church because a man who has been convicted of child abuse and violence towards his own wife and children has persuaded a proportion of the church that the Pastor had set him up by claiming that he was having an affair with his wife. There is no truth in it whatsoever but the sin of that man who professes faith is affecting not just one man but also both families and the church.
Beware our sins affect others.
It is not just that our sin affects others it affects God as well!
After Cain had killed Abel, God came to him and asked where his brother was which brought about the excuse that has been used from that time to this; “am I my brothers keeper?” Cain was about to learn that he had touched something sacred. Many years later Job said that “life is God’s to give and God’s to take.” Cain had taken what was God’s right and made it his own. He was ejected from God’s presence it seems from the passage forever! This is a sobering thought. Up until this time man had been in relationship with God even though unity had been broken; God had kept a relationship going. Now Cain would be protected from others but he would be outside of God’s covenant care. This means that he was not saved from the penalty of his sin but even so he was under God’s safe keeping.
As we know from the rest of the bible God has no desire that man should go the way of Cain but wants all men to be in relationship with Him. Abel’s offering is the key to how this would come about. We have already said that it was acceptable to God because somehow Abel had learned the concept that acceptance by God for the sinner comes through sacrifice. We know of course that God was pleased with Abel’s sacrifice because it pointed to the ultimate sacrifice; not the blood of innocent animals but that of God the Son, our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. You see sin affects others but it affects God even more. A sacrifice had to be made and the only acceptable sacrifice for the sins of mankind was the sin of the Ideal Man. The Perfect Son of God!
Sinful man is totally depraved by his sin; he alone is responsible and he affects others by his sinful ways.
But the greatest affect is upon God Himself who never stopped loving mankind but by His love, grace and mercy sacrificed His Son that all who will repent and believe on Him as the Only Lord and Saviour will be saved!
17th September 2006
Strange stories part 2
A serpent speaks?
Do you really believe that a serpent spoke to Adam & Eve?
As the background to this account we need to read Ezekiel 28:12-19 where we find the pre-history account of Satan’s fall and exclusion from heaven. There are many questions that are raised from this passage but they are for another study. It is sufficient for us to know what God has revealed through His prophet. It shows us that God’s enemy and the enemy of our souls has been cast down to earth and his purpose is to degrade God’s truth. With this in mind it is much easier to understand what is happening in the account of the fall. We might not understand why God allowed it to be so but in faith we have to accept that certain things about God’s purposes are beyond human understanding.
The works of the evil one:
· The first thing that we observe is that he comes as a deceiver. The scripture tells us that he was craftier than any of the wild animals. Adam had already seen all of the created animal kingdom when God brought them to him to be named. You would have thought that when this serpent came to him and Eve that he would have been at least suspicious. No other animal had spoken to him before and there was none amongst the animals to be found that would be a friend to man. But now this serpent comes and is able to speak. The only communication they had known before was with each other and with God Himself.
Do we believe that a serpent spoke? Many would say that is impossible and we would tend to agree with them but this was no ordinary serpent it was the embodiment of the one thrown out of heaven who was more crafty than any other created being and whose sole purpose is the destruction of God’s friends. The Apostle Paul in his letter to the church in Galatia says that we should beware of the devil who is able to present himself as an angel of light. That is one of God’s special messengers. His purpose is to bring a message contrary to God’s revealed word. The answer to our question is; yes we do believe that this serpent spoke and that he spoke in a way that is consistent with his person.
· The second thing that we observe is the way that he gains a hearing with Eve. He comes with a subtle question. The implication behind the question being that God is overbearing and unfair. He simply asked, “Did God really tell you that you can not eat of any of the fruit of the trees in the Garden of Eden?” We can imagine the emphasis made as he would have pointed to all of the ripe and beautiful fruit on the trees around them, surely a God of love will not let you see this and then prevent you from eating any of it. We of course know the lies that are contained within but it is all moving towards an entry into conversation with Eve. He was putting Eve in the danger zone, we must never forget that Adam was with her but he remained silent. (In effect this made him doubly guilty after all it was he that God had given instruction to as to what tree was unavailable to them for food!!) Eve was brought into conversation with the devil; a very precarious situation. The experts tell us that the life expectancy of a person on the hard shoulder of a British motorway is approximately 10 minutes. Therefore to escape danger get out of the car and take shelter behind the safety barrier! One word with Satan and we are in extreme danger He is so persuasive that we will fall for his charm before we know it. James in the New Testament tells us to resist the devil (not discuss with him) and he will flee. Eve (and Adam) did not resist but they entered into discussion because to them he seemed so rational and nice. We need to be aware that the devil will enter into conversation questioning us through all sorts of people as to the accuracy or fairness of God’s word and if we are not careful we can so easily be beguiled by what seems to be plausible thoughts but are in reality the devil’s lies.
Once engaged in conversation, Eve’s guard was down and the serpent’s subtlety was no longer necessary, he merely needed to give a warped sense of logic. Eve’s answer to him displays her lack of understanding and Adam’s unwillingness to correct her. She was right when she said that they could eat from every tree in the garden bar the tree of knowledge of good and evil but she added to God’s word when she said that they were not to touch it either. It may seem to be a small thing but the uncertainty is there and the devil knows it. He can then continue to “twist the knife” of deception. Eve is listening and is on uncertain ground, her foundation is about to crumble and her husband is of no use. The devil plays his trump card by:
· Telling an awful lie. He in effect tells her that God is a liar and that he has better knowledge and understanding. Do not listen to God’s word listen to me! He points her to the fruit “look at it; it is good to eat. Hold it; see you will not really die.”
· Promising greatness. The devil tells Eve that she will not die but that she would become just like God. You can be important; you will have great knowledge, power and authority. You will instead of being subservient to God will become His equal. You will know all about good and evil. At that point Eve did not have a clue what evil was, she had only experienced the good of God and now she was innocent to the evil that was confronting her. All of these promises sounded good to her and she wanted them. There is only one part of Satan’s terrible promises that came to fruition. They immediately knew all about evil, as they quickly became acquainted with evil, good very quickly became a distant memory. God’s promise was also fulfilled; death entered into their experience.
Eve willingly ate the fruit and gave some to Adam who ate with eager willingness; immediately a new relationship was formed. The God of all creation was divorced from His friends and they became attached to the enemy of God and creation.
So can we believe that a serpent spoke?
The answer clearly is “yes we can;” we must believe that he did because this is the answer to the question that has been asked throughout history; “what on earth is going wrong with this world?”
The devil himself is in actual fact pleased when man pours scorn on this story, he wants mankind to believe it to be a fable because he is using his old tactic of saying that what God has revealed is a lie. Sounds familiar doesn’t it! The devil has no new tricks but it is amazing how readily we fall for the old ones as if we had never heard of them before. The reason that this is so is because a vital change took place on that day. A degenerative condition entered into humanity; SIN; it controls our actions, mind, intellect etc. Sin is fired in our hearts by Satan and his agents; (who we know as the demons,) therefore by birth we are enemies of God. Born in sin and shapen in iniquity.
Because of the enormity of what had just happened God’s first words are of vital importance. Look at verses 14-19. The ultimate promise of death and decay, pain and suffering; problems and difficulties has now been pronounced upon creation with no part of it being exempt from its effect!
· For the woman there would be pain in childbirth and a dependency upon her husband.
· For the man there would be toil and graft as he tries to control the fallen natural world.
· For both of them there would be a permanent separation from fellowship with God. Instead there would be a lonely walk without the constant help and fellowship that they had previously experienced. Spiritual death was immediate with physical death to follow. They now had to live under the fear of inevitable death at some time in the future.
ALL OF THIS BECAUSE THEY LISTENED TO A SNAKE THAT TALKED!
Adam and Eve had learned that the devil is the father of lies and deception; they had listened to him and believed him and now they were reaping the benefit of their unfaithfulness to God. They had broken their trust with Him and also the happy relationship. They had discovered what evil is and that sin is serious, it brought about God’s wrath upon them who had previously been kept for Satan and the other fallen angels.
There was something else that they were about to learn:
· God loves mankind.
· God is full of grace and mercy.
Verse 15 is a gospel verse; it is good news! Here is a promise recorded from God to the devil. There is a day coming when the son of a woman will come and even though he will be damaged by the devil; but that he will defeat the devil! We know from this side of history that this is pointing forward to the Lord Jesus Christ who came and defeated the works of the devil but He also came and redeemed sinners who will trust in Him. He brought about a re-creation. The paradise lost in Eden is restored on the cross. God displayed His grace and mercy on the day of the fall by beginning His revelation of what found complete fulfilment in Jesus Christ. In my bible the account of creation takes just 2.5 pages with the rest of scripture occupying 1383 pages. This tells us that God’s prime purpose is not the mode of creation. (We do not need to get bogged down as so many do on creation issues!) But we need to keep the focus that God has of the mode of re-creation as found in the sacrificial and substitutional death of the Lord Jesus Christ on behalf of undeserving but repentant sinners.
Do I believe that a snake spoke?
Yes I do and I believe that the same devil who spoke through that serpent still speaks today through a multiplicity of different media.
I alos believe that our God who condemned the work of the devil on that day and offered a way of restoration still speaks today and is still offering salvation through Christ Jesus. The devil says otherwise but he has always been a liar and God is wholly true.
WHO DO YOU BELIEVE?
God’s attitude to man’s foolish antics.
Stanza 1: Worldwide rebellion.
Why do the nations conspire and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the LORD and against his Anointed One. "Let us break their chains," they say, "and throw off their fetters."
Stanza 2: God’s displeasure.
The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them. Then he rebukes them in his anger and terrifies them in his wrath, saying, "I have installed my King on Zion, my holy hill."
Stanza 3: A great declaration.
I will proclaim the decree of the LORD: He said to me, "You are my Son; today I have become your Father. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession. You will rule them with an iron sceptre; you will dash them to pieces like pottery."
Stanza 4: A solemn exhortation.
Therefore, you kings, be wise, be warned, you rulers of the earth. Serve the LORD with fear and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry and you be destroyed in your way, for his wrath can flare up in a moment. Blessed are all who take refuge in him.
I have taken the opportunity to break the Psalm down into its original stanzas rather than the verse structure of our English bibles, making it easier for us to understand its meaning.
Psalm 2 is another anonymous Psalm but many think due to its Royal content that King David wrote it. You can read all about that in many of the reliable commentaries. The Psalm is regarded as one of the Messianic Psalms. This simply means that it largely points forward to the coming King who is the Anointed One of God. We are at an advantage in that we know in reality what our forefathers waited for. Jesus is the fulfilment of what the Psalmist speaks of.
1: Worldwide rebellion.
I cannot think of a more relevant topic for us to consider today than this one. It seems that the whole world has its focus against the God of the bible and against His Anointed One. As Christians we know the Anointed On to be the Lord Jesus Christ. As we watch our television news or read the daily papers we cannot help but see the attack upon true religion. It is unacceptable to speak against Mohammed but those who protest violently against the Pope’s recent comments find no inconsistency in carrying placards declaring Jesus Christ to be the servant of Allah. Jesus told us that He came to serve God and mankind but He will never serve Allah who is merely a god of Mohammed’s imagination. As Christians we are under severe threat at the moment from the followers of a false religion (Islam) to compromise bible truth in return for security from the attack of fundamental extremists. We must always remember that Jesus is the only way to God (John 14:6) and that all who are on the side of truth believe in Jesus and His word (John 18:37).
What we see around us is a normal reaction to God and His purposes for mankind through the work of His Anointed One. It has been the reaction from the time that this Psalm was written; it certainly is the case today and will be the case until Jesus returns! We should not be surprised that the gospel is under attack, the ferocity of the attack might frighten us but we must stand firm in the face of severe opposition. If this message got into the hands of some extremists we would very soon see the extent of how the world rails against our Saviour and the word of truth.
The Psalmist who is probably David asks from a human point of view “why do the nations plot and join together in their opposition to our God?” He also notes the futility of their stand, it might make life almost impossible for the believer but they are merely displaying their foolishness before God Almighty, so therefore we have a glimpse of God’s reaction to their foolishness.
2: God’s displeasure.
What the people of the world are doing is no laughing matter. God is not sitting in heaven falling around laughing at the antics of the world as we might at the stupidity of a troupe of circus clowns. The concept of Him laughing is the use of irony, man foolishly or laughably thinks that he can plot against and oppose God Almighty! How foolish he is. The bible tells us that the fool says in his heart that there is no God. (Psalm 14:1) Psalm 2 tells us that God not only finds the antics of man laughable but also worthy of Divine mockery. God is not afraid to expose the stupidity of man. As we have said this does not come from a sense of heavenly entertainment for a God in heaven who has created a nation of clowns designed to bring hilarity in heavens courtrooms! As we continue in our 2nd stanza we see the real heart of God revealed! Wrath and anger is the result of the foolish antics of mankind! Both of these words are almost unacceptable in 21st century vocabulary. They are certainly not the words of religion today! Many go to extremes to talk of the love of God but anger at sin and justice for sinners is a dirty concept in their minds. But the bible clearly in this passage and many others declares God’s hatred of sin! In His anger He rebukes the mocking world and in His wrath He terrifies them!
At this point the psalmist comes to the crux of the matter, the Psalm is all about a King. But not just any King this King is not appointed by man or in place by fate of birth, God installs him! The place of reign is Zion, God’s holy place. The King is still to come at the time when the Psalm was written, but Jesus is the fulfilment and so we can now move on to the third stanza which is a:
3: Great declaration.
We now come to a verse that is much used and abused by Christians and non-Christians alike. It seems that verse 7 is speaking of a time when Jesus was born and became God’s son. The Muslims and Jehovah’s witnesses in particular make much licence of this trying to disprove the deity of the Lord Jesus Christ. There are many passages of scripture that speak of Jesus being from the beginning and that He is co-equal with God, therefore being very God. So the question is; does this verse contradict those truths as the sceptics tell us; and at first might seem to us. As we have already said, we are in a privileged position because we know that the Son it speaks of is the Lord Jesus and we also have the scripture to help us. A helpful tip in the understanding of scripture is that it never contradicts itself and that where there are difficult passages to understand the divinely inspired text is always the best commentary that we can turn to. To understand this verse we have to turn to the New Testament and see how on a number of occasions this verse is quoted concerning Jesus the Son of God. It is always right and proper to try to understand what the original writer and readers would have understood by the passage but we need to remember also that their understanding was limited and that they are not necessarily the best commentators of even their own writings. God did inspire the Apostles and the other writers of the New Testament to apply Old Testament prophesies and promises of Messiah to Jesus in order to show the world just how he perfectly fulfils all that God had previously promised of Messiah. This verse is no exception.
It might surprise us today in what context the New Testament writers applied this verse to the life of Jesus. We might expect that it speaks of the Divine relationship that has always been ongoing. But the context of its usage is on each occasion concerning the resurrection of Christ. (see Acts 13:33; Hebrews 1:5 &5:5) So what do we learn from this?
In the Old Testament the concept of a son of God was not necessarily seen as a divine person. For example Israel was described by God as His son, He also described the king as his son. It is this concept that I believe is the key to understanding this verse. The King became the son of God upon His coronation; it was God’s special title of authority for him to rule over Israel. When Jesus died and rose again He in effect became King over the kingdom of the church. Therefore God declared Him to be King or Son of God; He was always divine; the second person of the trinity but now as David (and all the other kings that followed him) became king over Israel and was upon his coronation declared to be God’s son so now Jesus is declared to be the final King over the kingdom of God’s people. The perfect fulfilment of what the kings of Israel failed to be.
The role and responsibility of the Final King then is set out in the Psalm. He will conquer many nations from across the whole world and He will reign with absolute authority. God declares His Son to be a King and judge over the entire world but it does not end there. God is not merely concerned with hellfire and brimstone, He shows His gracious hand by issuing a:
4: Solemn exhortation.
The first act of obeyance for the king was to kiss his hand or ring of authority. This is a declaration of submission to his newly bestowed authority. The King is the one in total authority. If that was true of the kings of Israel how much more so for the King of kings! God in effect in this last stanza tells all whether it is royalty or the average man in the street “you will do well to obey My King.” He says it is the wise man who obeys Him, we are to serve Him not as we might serve the authorities but with rejoicing. This is no arduous task it is pure delight to serve King Jesus! But there is a solemn warning within our responsibility we must serve with fear and rejoice with trembling because the King is an awesome and Holy figure and His hatred of wrong is so acute that His anger can flare up in a moment. We cannot come to Him in our own way, just as you would never come to a king in David’s day just as you please, it is even so in our present day with our Queen; and so it is with the King of Kings. We must come acceptably to Him. How is that?
In repentance from our sins and in submission to His authority, our King being wholly righteous and just and fair will never be angry at such actions but always pleased to accept such a person.
So how does God view this world? In much the same way as He views the individual as we saw last week! He is angry with all of the sinful ways of the nations but He is always pleased to accept all who will come to Him in the right way!
Again we ask where do you stand? Is He angry with you or is He pleased with you? As God does in this Psalm I give you the solemn exhortation Embrace King Jesus or you will encounter His wrath and anger due to your sin.
17th September 2006
Psalm 1: God’s view of man.
What are the Psalms?
They are sacred or praise songs of Israel. The genre of their writing is poetry. The word Psalm is mizmor, which is Hebrew, meaning a composition, set to music. They were to be sung to music, probably with the lyre in mind. As with all songs they come from the writers emotions as he views life as a believer in God. They are deeply personal, exposing the innermost joys and sorrows. They are blatantly honest and often question what God is doing in their current circumstances. We must always remember that they are also inspired by God. Peter tells us that they are not merely man’s thoughts but that the Holy Spirit carried man along. The circumstances and observations of the writer were used by God to reveal something of His character and purposes as the Psalm writers pondered and questioned and praised God for their experience!
The book or collection of Psalms found in our bibles is divided into 5 different groups or books:
1. Psalms 1-41
2. Psalms 42-72
3. Psalms 73—89
4. Psalms 90-106
5. Psalms 107-150
There are also Psalms recorded elsewhere in the Old Testament: Exodus 15; Deuteronomy 32; Judges 5; 2 Samuel 22 and Habakkuk 3.
We have said that the Psalms are poetic; they are lyrical and often parallelistic in style. This is a typically Hebrew way of communicating which uses repetition to enforce the statement made. E.g. “the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof; the world and they that dwell therein.” Both statements say the same thing but in different ways which has the effect of enforcement of the fact. The psalms make much use of this linguistic form.
The poetry does not of necessity follow a rhyme but a rhythm. It is often the beat that carries the song along and thus aids remembrance. Often the verse divisions and the translations of our bibles does not reveal this to us but as we read the bibles poetic books it serves us well to recall these facts as we seek to interpret.
Another important form found in the psalms is the use of acrostic patterns. Simply put the writer starts with a word beginning with the first letter of the alphabet and then proceeds by using the next consecutive letter to begin the next verse or section. Psalm 119 is a perfect example of this, if you look in your English translation you will find it sectioned into the consecutive letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Psalm 119 is a more complex acrostic than that but the structure is best left for a time of Bible study.
All of these styles were intended to make remembering God’s word easier for the people. Sadly as we have said it is really no help to us in English or any other language.
With all of this in place we can now come to the text of Psalm 1, the background that we have looked at is covered more comprehensively in any commentary that covers Psalms and I recommend if you want a better understanding that you look into it further.
God’s view of man:
A rider to our understanding of God’s view of man must always come from the absolute truth of God’s love for mankind. Always keep in your minds eye that Jesus told us that God so loved the world that He did something about man’s sin in order that by faith man might be restored to a right relationship with Him. But as it stands man is naturally an enemy to God. So how does God view man?
God in actual fact has 2 views of man; both are positive but the outcome for individuals from a differing viewpoint is very different. The reason for God having 2 viewpoints is that there are 2 different types of man. The view that God has of you depends which type of person that you are. Both types are described in Psalm 1. You will discover the first type in verses 1-3 and the second in verses 4-5:
1. The blessed man.
2. The wicked man.
Who is the blessed man?
The psalm tells us that he is:
a. Distinguished by what he does not do.
b. Seen by what he delights in.
c. Effective in life.
The man blessed of God can be seen by what he does not do. As a young Christian I was told much of what Christians should not do or more to the point what they should not listen to, watch or drink! This is not what the anonymous writer of this Psalm is saying. In verse 1 we can see a development of what he is saying. The man blessed of God does not go along with the ways of the wicked; he does not promote their ways! The development of the point is that he does not go along with then stop and be part of it and then rest amongst it. Life is like a marathon; it is endurance to the end. If a marathon runner slows to a walking pace he is in danger of stopping all together. The man blessed of God is called to have no agreement with wicked ways, he must not walk the same road, and he certainly must not stand among them or sit and be part of them. God is pleased when His people are in the world but are seen by the world as different because of not being part of sinful ways. The argument is much bigger than what you watch, drink or listen to!
The man blessed of God is seen by what he delights in. The man of God delights in the law of God. The New Testament tells us that the law is a schoolmaster that leads us to God. The law actually tells us that we are helpless before God and that we cannot accomplish the requirements of the law. That is the commands of God. As we contemplate them we see a need for God to intervene and within the pages of scripture we see His plan unfold and sin being dealt with through the sacrificial death of His Son, Jesus Christ. If this is not your delight then it is fair to say that you are not one of God’s blessed people. The blessed man delights in and meditates on the law day and night, that does not mean just reading the bible but applying God’s principles to every aspect of daily life. Charlie Simpson was a man seen by all of his work colleagues to be a man of God because he loved God’s word. He not only read it but he lived it, are we seen as blessed of God because we delight in Him and His word?
The blessed man is effective in life. The psalm tells us that whatever he does prospers. The example that the psalmist gives is of a tree planted in perfect growing conditions. The tree does all that a tree should do. It begins to take up water and nutrients from its abundant supply; the natural result of this is that it began to grow according to season, which is in the right way. Then in time it gave good fruit. The blessed man grows or prospers in a similar way. This is not a passage to tell us that if we are Godly then we will be wealthy etc. It simply shows that as a tree is expected to grow well given the right conditions so is a Christian. We also have the right conditions, the Word of God which is sufficient for all that we need in life: 2 Timothy 3:16-17 “all scripture is God breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God (the man who is blessed) may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” The word of God is the staple diet of the believer; it contains all of the nutrients for a naturally prosperous spiritual life, which is the production of spiritual fruit. The fruit of the Spirit is “love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control.” These qualities have a greater lasting effect than does prosperity of health or wealth. Those who are blessed of God have benefited British society over the years.
What about the ungodly?
The psalm tells us that the ungodly are known by:
a. Their lack of substance.
b. By what they cannot do.
The ungodly are like the chaff, waste from the threshed grain. Chaff has no use; it has no substance and is blown away by the slightest draught. God’s word is damning towards those who are ungodly. It says that in God’s eyes they are wasters; useless and of no value to Him. We as fellow humans look at people who even deny the existence of God and we can observe great value from their lives to humanity. Often they do greater things for the good of mankind than Christians ever do but we always have to remember that we look at the outer appearance God is concerned about the heart of man. To Him the most important thing is not kindness to others but faithfulness to Him which should the springboard for goodness. Goodness without Godliness is worthless; Godliness without goodness is hypocrisy!
The ungodly are also known by what they cannot do. It does not matter how much good they do towards fellow man they will not be able to stand before God in judgement and that means that they will not enter into the congregation of the righteous. Sin is a reality that all mankind are guilty of (come tonight to see how it all happened). God hates sin far more than He approves of human kindness. Sin to Him is unacceptable; with to us some sins are more unacceptable than others but to God all sin is abhorrence! Therefore he will reject all who sin at the judgement and all such will not enter into the congregation of the righteous, which is heaven.
Our problem is that we do not know who belongs to which group. We look on the outer appearance but God sees the innermost being. We make judgements on people as we see; they are good, bad or in-between to us.
BUT GOD SEE’S IT AS IT REALLY IS!
He looks on the heart of man and He knows those who are His! The real question is:
Which type of person are you?
Jesus came by God’s good grace to deal with the issue. We are not acceptable by our own goodness as we have seen but through Jesus’ sacrifice all who repent and believe on Him as Lord and saviour of their life will be made righteous and therefore will enter heaven.
Thursday, 7 September 2006
27th August 2006
Gideon loses his way.
Before the days of communist rule in Bulgaria the communists in the country were kind and helpful in society, an example to all people. It was no surprise when they were elected into power.
Once in power they changed. They were in fact worse than other Communist states around them. Power seemed to change them; or did it simply show them in a true light?
It was a little bit like that with Gideon; power did not go to his head in the same way but once he had the full support of the people he seemed to change somewhat. Again we need to remember his roots. It is always fascinating to watch television programmes tracing the roots of a prominent person, we often see from humble background comes a great man. There could be no more humble circumstances than Gideon came from: an insignificant man from an insignificant family in the least influential tribe of Israel. But now he is leader of Israel and will be called upon to make right decisions. How will he cope?
The insignificant man had with a small army defeated the mighty Midianite army and their allies. That was a great test to Gideon
What came next was an even bigger test: SUCCESS & POPULARITY.
To bring it back into context, Gideon had only defeated Midian by God’s direct intervention, but because he was the man who God had used he had become a national hero.
How would Gideon cope with success and popularity?
Gideon had finally defeated the kings of Midian and had killed them taking as his prize the symbols of their authority from their persons. These articles of gold and silver in themselves would have made Gideon a wealthy man and of course a national hero.
The people want at this point to officially make Gideon their leader, but the request they make is more than that of an ordinary leader, they are looking to set up a dynasty. They asked for Gideon, his son and grandson to rule over them. What they were really asking even though they did not use the word was “be our king.”
The premise for their request was misguided because it was God who had won the battle and He was already their King! Naively they asked for an unacceptable thing from Gideon, and so his refusal to accept their offer on the surface looks to be honourable and good, but as we shall see from the events that followed they prove Gideon to be somewhat ingenuous in his reply!
At this point both Gideon’s refusal and his theology seem to be good. He told the people that God would rule over them and not he; but words come easily. Did Gideon fully believe what he had said? We may never know with absolute surety but I believe we have a good idea of the true heart of Gideon from the rest of the account.
When the officials wanted to have a portrait painted of Oliver Cromwell he insisted that the painting be accurate. Other prominent people then; just as today would have their least attractive feature removed, but Cromwell insisted that the portrait be “warts and all!” The bible is like that; it reveals everything of its characters “warts and all!” That is what 1 Corinthians 10:6 tells us; “the record of the lives of those who have gone before has been recorded “warts and all” so that we can learn from their example.
Gideon’s first mistake.
A wrong perspective: We see in verse 22 that Gideon said the right thing but he did not correct the people’s error. They believed that Gideon had saved them but it was God that had saved them and Gideon did not correct their wrong perspective. He allowed them to give him the glory that really belonged to God. You may say that I am stretching the point a little because God had told Gideon that he would save Israel from Midianite oppression but Gideon knew that he had not really done anything! It was all of God.
It is true that it seems to be a minor issue but great problems arise out of small beginnings. Cancer begins with one single cell going out of control, producing a tumour, which if left unchecked will kill the whole body! All of us as Christians especially those in any leadership capacity are prone to the error of Gideon. God is sovereign in the affairs of the church, it is He who fights and wins our battles against the devil. As Gideon did we easily take the glory due to God to ourselves. A good example is after the service when somebody says to the preacher “great message today” the preacher so easily forgets the sweat and toil and often desperation of his personal preparation and the supply of the Holy Spirit’s wisdom without which the sermon would be “dry old sticks.” When the compliment comes it so easily is taken for his own glory and not God’s. We know how important it is to encourage each other but whenever a difficult task is being undertaken for the glory of the Lord we rely on his help. When the task is completed then the danger of a wrong perspective so easily comes in. Gideon I believe failed here and if we are perfectly honest we have to admit that we have failed similarly and often!
WARNING: Unchecked error soon becomes a major problem both personally and corporately in the church. Error is best dealt with at its inception rather than later when it has become like a tumour in the body!
Gideon’s second mistake.
A false humility: Gideon did not want the people to make him king but he did tax them for a special purpose. It again may seem like a small thing but his refusal to lead was followed by his request of an earring tax from the people. He imposed a “battle tax” in order to glorify himself as the victor! As we have already seen he had become rich and famous from his spoils of war BUT he wanted more! The victorious army were pleased to comply after all they were now much better off than they had been for seven years. An earring per person is a small price to pay for freedom. But to Gideon it was a vast wealth 43pounds or 19.5 kilograms of pure gold. We can imagine the value of such an amount; but of course Gideon did not want the gold for himself but for another purpose, which we will consider in a few minutes.
The point that I am trying to make is that even though he had fine sounding words Gideon’s actions told a very different tale. He was assuming leadership by his actions and demands. He was displaying a false humility and was guilty of duplicity.
Warning: False humility and duplicitous actions must never be a part of the fabric of the church. The church does have its leaders of varying types, elders, deacons, children’s and young people’s etc. but ALL of us must always remember that CHRIST IS THE ONLY HEAD OF THE CHURCH. If we usurp His authority then we like Gideon might have pious sounding words but they are merely a display of our false humility.
Gideon’s third mistake.
An arrogant pride: You may wonder whether I might have got the last point wrong. Gideon it seems put the taxes into a memorial. He made the gold into an ephod (a vest like garment), which he displayed in his hometown of Ophrah.
I suggest that in the making of this ephod Gideon was displaying an arrogant pride the result of which would be to set up idol worship in Ophrah. Remember it was Gideon who had destroyed the idols in his father’s home and now he was replacing them with his own idol.
Why do I say that Gideon displayed an arrogant pride? To understand this we need to go back to Exodus 28 where God had instructed Moses concerning the garments to be worn by the High priest. Part of the uniform of the high priest was an ephod. This garment had great significance; without it the high priest could not enter into the holy of holies; that is the place where God had promised that His presence would be. From the ephod hung the breastplate, which was ornamented with 12 precious stones, which represented the 12 tribes of Israel who were the people of God. The high priests role was to represent the people before Almighty God and then to convey God’s word to the people. What Gideon was doing by making his golden ephod was shortcutting God’s prescribed way for mankind to approach Him. Gideon was in fact saying, “I have devised a new way to God.” That is false religion and only a proud and arrogant man could display such a thing. He was assuming the high priestly function even though there was a high priest appointed by God in Shiloh with the authentic ephod, which displayed his authority before the people. Gideon led his family back into idolatry. We will consider the implications of this next week, but for today we can say that through the making of this ephod Gideon was saying:
- I have a direct line to God. He took on the high priestly function.
- What has gone before (true religion) has been superseded. You can now worship in Ophrah instead of Shiloh and the object of worship is an ephod and not God in heaven.
Warning: Just because God has used a man for a set purpose does not mean that he may change God’s rules for life of for worship. Gideon did that; we must not! God has set before us his way of approach no man however great must tamper with that! Gideon’s arrogant pride caused him to fly in the face of God’s revealed plan and purpose. This passage is in scripture not that we may criticise Gideon but that we might learn a lesson from Gideon’s error. It is important that we read the accounts of the lives of these men in the light of the truth of scripture and that we learn lessons from the good and the bad things that they did!
We as Christians can easily fall into the same errors:
- Unchecked wrong perspectives (or understanding) will lead to problems.
- False humility is one of the greatest dangers in the church. Humility can so easily be false. Jesus tells us to beware of wolves in sheep’s clothing. A wolf can look like a sheep or even the shepherd but they often carry the teeth of false humility.
- Arrogant pride is destroying the church and it is often those who are appointed as shepherds who display this sin the most.
Wednesday, 6 September 2006
3rd September 2006
The importance of dying well.
John Wesley’s Methodists were complimented for the fact that they died well. This was a backhanded compliment from a sceptic. By his own observations the man discovered that the Methodists were not afraid of dying. But to die well is more complex than just coping well at the point of death. To truly die well is to leave behind a lasting legacy for those who follow on. Gideon as we saw last week was not a good example in all that he did. He was guilty of a false understanding of the things of God, of a false humility and of arrogant pride. Gideon did not die well because he left behind him a false form of religion that encouraged his descendants to rapidly revert to Baal worship; he also left behind a dysfunctional family. There are many examples of leaders that did die well e.g. Abraham, Moses and Joseph. Gideon amongst others lost his way and left a legacy of apostasy and a divided family.
Gideon’s life ended with a:
Which in turn led to:
Israel’s tenuous security.
An uncaring people.
A good leader needs to make his practice as good as his understanding. In the church a leader needs to make his lifestyle as good as his theology. His understanding of who God is should affect his lifestyle for the good of all that he comes into contact with. By Gideon’s failure in this department we can learn where not to go wrong.
Gideon had done particularly well whilst God was closely directing his path. It is true that Gideon had questioned his suitability before God and that he needed supernatural evidence before he could fully trust God at His word but when he did; he obeyed God as directed. We can learn much from what some might term as Gideon’s blind obedience; but what was in fact a complete trust in the God who had revealed Himself to him and had told him of His plan to save Israel by Gideon’s hand. This is not blind obedience it is an example of what faith is all about. In this Gideon is commended and is a great role model. The problems come in the passage that we considered last week and the end of Gideon’s leadership of Israel.
Gideon made his home back in Ophrah. The leadership of the people should always have been closely related to the worship of God. Whenever the Israelites wandered from true worship the mention of the tabernacle and arc are scarce in the text. The arc was at the time of the Judges mostly in Shiloh and sometimes in Bethel but it was never in Ophrah. The very location of Ophrah (out on the borders) made it an unsuitable place for worship to take place. Gideon as we saw last week substituted a linen ephod (the authentication of the High priest) with a grand golden version that the people worshipped in his hometown. Gideon was rather disappointingly declaring himself not only king of Israel but as priest also. God had historically spoken to the nation through the Priesthood and I suppose because God had spoken to Gideon and had used him greatly Gideon in his display of arrogant pride had decided that he could devise a new way of approach to God. He had obeyed God’s specific revelation to him but had totally ignored God’s word, which came through Moses. In His revelation God had already set up the mode of worship through the Levitical priesthood of which the man from Manasseh (the least of tribes according to his own estimation!) had decided was now superseded.
Gideon simply chose to ignore theology in order that he might lead and direct God’s people in the way that was most convenient to him. He went back home to the farm instead of taking God’s (and the people’s) appointment of leadership seriously! This is a great temptation for those who are in any leadership capacity. It is human nature to try to do things that are convenient or easy but it is not always wise or prudent to do so! It is never right when it flies in the face of God’s revealed will. Gideon had the priesthood in his day and they had the Law of Moses to refer to but Gideon chose to ignore God’s word. The result of Gideon’s pragmatic leadership was the people’s eventual return to Baal worship. This did not happen until after Gideon’s death. In actual fact the land experienced rest and peace for 40 years under Gideon’s leadership. (This is the last recorded peace in the book of Judges.) There is a lesson that we must learn from the peace that was experienced. It clearly does not relate to their faithfulness during that time but it is clearly a fulfilment of God’s promise made to the people in answer to their desperate prayer. This speaks more of God’s amazing grace than it ever does of His people’s faithfulness. Gideon’s leadership led to anarchy and mass murder within his own family.
As Christians we have God’s declared word (the bible and the Lord Jesus Christ) it is our guidebook and we have no right to change God’s plan. We cannot worship God just as we please there are guidelines and they must be obeyed. Leaders cannot lead just as we please we must be faithful to what God has laid down in the scripture. Gideon was guilty of doing his own thing; we must not! When we do our own thing there is always a “knock-on” effect that will have dire consequences eventually. Peace and apparent blessing is not always what it might seem!
While Gideon was the leader of Israel the people experienced a:
As we have said Israel enjoyed 40 years of peace under Gideon’s leadership. This was a time of false security and also a time when the people wrote their own destiny. If they had remained faithful; God’s promise is that He will always faithfully bless them BUT they did not! God kept His promise of their freedom from external oppression but they were not a people who were blessed of God even though they might think that they were! It all seemed well to them but they were in a very precarious situation. They were living on past blessings and every day they were offending God himself by the false worship of the ephod in Ophrah!
How deceiving situations are, peace is not always the evidence of God’s blessing. In actual fact we see more of blessing in the scriptures in days of difficulty and oppression. The truth of Israel’s experience at this time was that they experienced true blessing when they were most oppressed! Remember that it was oppression that caused them to pray. It was because they prayed earnestly that God heard and answered their prayer. It was also at this time that God was actively bringing about their salvation and all of the time the people did not know the extent of their blessing.
It was during the most cruel and darkest days of Roman oppression in Judea that God was most at work and even the disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ did not understand what a blessing those days were. Salvation was being accomplished not for a nation from external oppression BUT for all people from the grip and penalty of sin.
THE WHOLE PLAN WAS UNNOTICED AT THE TIME BY THE PEOPLE!
One of the dangers of the church is that as in Gideon’s day we measure blessing by the ease and comfort of life. If only Gideon had been wise to the end, he would have seen that the ease they were experiencing was a false security. Ease and Gideon’s family situation (he had many wives and 70 sons; a flagrant breaking of the creation code which suggest one man; one wife!) were contributory to Israel’s compounded problems.
During Gideon’s lifetime the land experienced peace but the people were sinking deeper and deeper into error for which after Gideon’s death they would reap the benefits. The bible principle is that “the wages of sin is death” this is highlighted by what happened immediately after Gideon’s death. Abimelech, (which means, “My father is king.” Another evidence of Gideon’s arrogant pride!) gathered support from Shechem (the people of his mother) and they slaughtered all but one of Gideon’s other sons in order that Abimelech might lead Israel! Death and anarchy came into the land as a direct result of spiritual unfaithfulness during Gideon’s lifetime!
We must be careful of misinterpreting peaceful days. They may just be the precursor to difficulties that are related to current sinfulness. God often gives peace as a blessing but it can sometimes be a false security.
False security led to an uncaring attitude!
An uncaring people.
Verse 35 is a very sad verse. We discover Gideon’s leadership was rewarded by the people’s uncaring attitude towards his family.
How hard it is for the family of leaders. Not just leaders in the church but leaders in general! Consider the Queen and her family. It is hard for the media to criticize the Queen herself but there is not a member of her family that have not; and will not be left to the mercy of media scrutiny and unfairness! It is hard for them because of who she is!
We might have grown to expect such treatment in the nation but it should not be part of the people of God. Israel should have known better. They had loved Gideon, they even wanted his leadership to continue through his family but when “push comes to shove” they simply forgot their continuing responsibility to the family! They had forgotten what sacrifices Gideon’s family had made in order that he might serve the nation. A wife whose husband is away fighting the battle does not know that God has intervened and Midian has been defeated she just has to wait and worry until news comes of victory and safety. Children are left behind worrying about whether their father will ever return. This is all compounded by Gideon’s polygamy; and so not just one wife but a multiplicity of wives and 70 children are involved. The families of leaders carry a larger burden than most people will give credit for. Then when criticism of his leadership undoubtedly came; Gideon was probably uncaring about it but it would have been like knives in the heart of wives and children. I wonder how Tony Blair’s children are affected by all of the negative carping about the job that their dad is doing will affect them. I suggest very badly!!!
Gideon largely had been a good leader; his reward for faithfulness was an uncaring attitude towards his family from those he had cared for!
The church appoints a man to be pastor. His family are “innocent by-standers” in the arrangement. They are his responsibility but they do make tremendous sacrifices for the good of the church. They do not always see and understand the issues of leadership but they do release and allow the man to be about his work often to the detriment of his family. They make massive sacrifices of time, earning capacity and privacy. They share a husband and father with the fellowship. They hurt desperately when their loved one is criticized (and they know about it far quicker than you think)! They are often lonely and uncared for. Forgotten in the plans for outings and excursions, often exempt due to stupid philosophies that say that the Pastor must have no friends amongst the people! ABSURD
Israel did not care for Gideon’s family when he had died. Does the church in general look after their leaders families when the man himself has long gone? Remember that generally women live longer than men and therefore wives are left, do they have adequate pension, friendship and care in later life or are they left uncared for as Gideon’s family were?
Gideon did not die well because of the mistakes he made, but he was a valued servant of God who faithfully led the people who in turn rapidly forgot that they had a responsibility before God for Gideon’s family. It is important that we live well in order that we die well. But it is also important that God’s people care well for each other. Remember that the greatest evidence of our gospel message is how we are seen to love and care for each other!