Christianity 201

March 31, 2015

Living on the East Side of Jordan

Today we pay a return visit to the writing of Elsie Montgomery at the blog Practical Faith. She continues to work through both an Old Testament passage and a New Testament passage (and one from a Psalm) in each day’s writing. To read more in this series, click the title below and then click the blog header to see the daily chronology unfold. If this resonates with you, consider becoming a daily reader of her daily devotional.

PuzzlePuzzles in the Bible

In studying the Word of God, I’m beginning to see it in a very broad view. It (and all of history) has four parts: creation, fall, redemption, new creation. The first two are described in just three chapters. The last one is hinted at more than described but can be found in the last part of Revelation. The redemption part fills most of the Bible. I’m also seeing how each narrative, each piece of poetry, the writings of the prophets and of course the stories of Jesus and the new church all fit into this larger plan.

But there are puzzles. In Numbers 32, God’s people are about to enter the land of promise, and while they will encounter enemies and battles, they will eventually enjoy this new land. This is both a genuine historical event and an illustration that points toward the redemption of God’s people through faith in Christ and the entrance of Christians into a new way of life.

The puzzle is in the OT illustration. A couple of tribes decided they didn’t want to go into that land God promised them. Moses was upset. He reminded them of God’s anger when the entire group refused to go in forty years prior. He warned them, “For if you turn away from following him, he will again abandon them in the wilderness, and you will destroy all this people.”

However, they said, “We will build sheepfolds here for our livestock, and cities for our little ones, but we will take up arms, ready to go before the people of Israel, until we have brought them to their place. And our little ones shall live in the fortified cities because of the inhabitants of the land. We will not return to our homes until each of the people of Israel has gained his inheritance. For we will not inherit with them on the other side of the Jordan and beyond, because our inheritance has come to us on this side of the Jordan to the east.” They wouldn’t live there, but they would help the others go in and fight for what God had promised them.

So Moses said to them, “If you will do this, if you will take up arms to go before the Lord for the war, and every armed man of you will pass over the Jordan before the Lord, until he has driven out his enemies from before him and the land is subdued before the Lord; then after that you shall return and be free of obligation to the Lord and to Israel, and this land shall be your possession before the Lord.” (Numbers 32:15–22)

I’ve wondered what part of God’s redemptive plan is illustrated in this historical event. I’ve one answer, but this is pure speculation on my part. In the narrative, His people entered the land He promised them, just as Christians are to enter new life in the fullness and power of the Holy Spirit. Those who helped them go in, but did not live there are like some Christians who do not seem to desire that rich manner of Christian life. They are content to be God’s people, but ‘live on the east side of Jordan.” They care about those who move forward in their spiritual lives, even help them by prayer and support, but are not concerned to move on themselves. Again, my explanation is speculation. If there are better answers, I’d love to hear them.

The NT is mildly related, not to the OT story, but to my attempts to better understand it. Paul was writing to a church that was fighting over which was the best speaking gift. He said, “If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord. If anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized. So, my brothers, earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. But all things should be done decently and in order.” (1 Corinthians 14:37–40)

God didn’t want them quarreling or forbidding the gifts they didn’t prefer. Instead, they were to be orderly, obeying the commands of the Lord and desiring the gifts that explain His will. He didn’t tell them to push aside the gifts they looked down on, but to recognize the Word of God as the Word of God. This is not about being the ‘best” but being godly people. I can speculate about meaning, but God does not want me to look down my nose on those who do not agree.

The reading from the Psalms expresses the hearts of those who stayed on the east side of the promised land, and it expresses how I feel when I cannot understand why God allowed them to do that or what significance it has for His people now.

“I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living! Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!” (Psalm 27:13–14)

Sometimes saying “I don’t know for sure” comes out of my mouth with great reluctance. I like to know all the answers, and the bottom line for everything. This time, I am not sure. Maybe God allowed those tribes to stay out of the land of promise just to humble me – the person who thinks she can know everything – and show me that I must wait on the Lord for this one.

May 2, 2010

The Sheer Arrogance of Doctrinal Certainty

I’m not talking about the core 7-12 doctrinal statements on which we all agree, but rather the peripherals, the distinctives, the non-essentials.

I got thinking about this after stumbling over this blog post at Free in Christ which in turn contained a quotation from Alexander Campbell.   Taken to extremes, this quote could render anyone powerless to know anything, and in my opening sentence here, I am thinking it should not be considered to apply to widely held, commonly practiced Christian theology.

I also think we need to leave some margin for mystery.

But I am beginning to get both Campbell’s intent, and the blog poster’s interpretation of it — adding a wee bit of overstatement in this post’s title just to keep things lively.

I’ve taken the liberty to break it up into smaller paragraphs:

“…it is a mark of imbecility of mind, rather than of strength; of folly, rather than of wisdom; for any one to dogmatize with an air of infallibility, or to assume the attitude of perfect intelligence on any one subject of human thought, without an intimate knowledge of the whole universe.

But as such knowledge is not within the grasp of feeble mortal man, whose horizon is a point of creation, and whose days are but a moment of time, it is superlatively incongruous for any son of science, or of religion, to affirm that this or that issue is absolutely irrational, unjust, or unfitting the schemes of eternal Providence, or the purposes of the supreme wisdom and benevolence, only as he is guided by the oracles of infallible wisdom, or the inspirations of the Almighty.

Who could pronounce upon the wisdom and utility of a single joint, without a knowledge of the limb to which it belongs; of that limb, without an understanding of the body to which it ministers; of that body, without a clear perception of the world in which it moves, and of the relations which it sustains; of that world, without some acquaintance with the solar system of which it is but a small part; of that particular solar system, without a general and even intimate knowledge of all the kindred systems; of all these kindred systems, without a thorough comprehension of the ultimate design of the whole creation; of that ultimate design, without a perfect intelligence of that incomprehensible Being by whom, and for whom all things were created and made?

How gracefully, then, sits unassuming modesty on all the reasonings of man. The true philosopher and the true Christian, therefore, delight always to appear in the unaffected costume of humility, candor, and docility.”

–Alexander Campbell in The Christian System