Christianity 201

September 7, 2016

Time and Promises

Earlier this week, our friends at Daily Encouragement suggested checking out the devotionals by David Guzik the host of Enduring Word, the daily radio program of Calvary Chapel Santa Barbara. He’s currently in a series in 2 Samuel. If you like what you see here, click the title below and navigate to read other commentaries in this series.

Time and Promises

 Now there was a famine in the days of David for three years, year after year; and David inquired of the Lord. And the Lord answered, “It is because of Saul and his bloodthirsty house, because he killed the Gibeonites.(2 Samuel 21:1)

People don’t always get wiser as they get older, but King David certainly did. In the face of a national crisis, he did the right thing – David inquired of the Lord. This means that David wisely sought God in the face of chronic problems. David was concerned after the first year of famine, and even more concerned after the second year. But two years of famine didn’t make him look to a spiritual cause. Yet after three years of famine, David inquired of the Lord. This shows that David didn’t see a spiritual reason in every problem; but he did not shut his eyes to the hand of God in circumstances.

The first and second year he might see it as general test of the Kingdom of Israel. But as the famine continued for the third year, David thought there was something in it more than ordinary. Even though he knew that the natural cause was drought, he thought there might be a supernatural reason behind the natural cause.

As David inquired of the Lord, God showed him the problem. He said, “It is because of Saul and his bloodthirsty house, because he killed the Gibeonites.” This massacre isn’t recorded in 1 Samuel, but David didn’t question that it happened. Apparently at some time during his reign Saul attacked and killed many of the Gibeonites. The Kingdom of Israel as a whole had some hand in it, either because they approved it or didn’t oppose it. This made the Kingdom of Israel a partner to the crime, and so the whole kingdom suffered under the three-year drought.

Saul’s crime was worthy of judgment because “he killed the Gibeonites.” When David heard it was because of an attack against the Gibeonites, a chill probably ran up his back. He knew they were a people especially wrong for Saul to attack and kill. In the days of Joshua – more than 400 years before David’s time – Israel swore not to harm the Gibeonites, a neighboring tribe (Joshua 9). God expected Israel to keep their promise, even though the Gibeonites tricked Israel into making the agreement. Saul’s crime was not only in the killing of the Gibeonites but also in breaking this ancient and important oath.

The hand of judgment upon Israel in 2 Samuel 21 emphasizes many important principles.

First, we see plainly that God expects us to keep our promises. But we also see that God expects nations to keep their promises. He held Israel as a nation to account for their failure to keep the Joshua 9 promise to the Gibeonites.

Second, we see that time does not diminish our obligation to promises. “It was a long time ago,” one might say. Indeed, it was a long time – but the eternal God expects us to keep old promises as well as new ones. God held Israel to account for a 400 year-old promise.

Finally, we see that God’s correction may come a long time after the offense. Saul committed this crime many years before – at least 30 years before this time. God gave Israel plenty of time to see their error and correct the problem, but after many years God brought the correction Himself. If correction is not immediate, it may still be on the way.

The idea of time and promises shows us the failure of men, but it also shows us the glory of God. If God has such a high expectation that men keep their covenants, we have great confidence that He will keep His covenant with us. Revelation 4 tells us that surrounding the throne of God there is an emerald rainbow. The rainbow – way back from the days of Noah – is a reminder of God’s faithfulness to His promise. The sovereign God, seated on a glorious throne, wants to remember and keep every promise He makes to us. We can count on it, that every promise of His will be fulfilled over time.

 

 

November 17, 2015

Why Did Uzzah Have to Die?

Today we pay a return visit to ecclesia.org and a Bible topic that often perplexes people. This passage is also the clearest statement by the scriptures on what is often called situation ethics. If you’re unfamiliar with this story, pause for a moment and read 2 Samuel 6:1-12. Ecclesia is a great resource; consider bookmarking this one in your computer.

David, Uzzah, and the Ark of the Covenant

The “Ark” means a box or chest. The pattern of the ark was revealed to Moses in Exodus 25. It was to be made of wood, rectangular in shape, gold plated inside and out. It had a decorative gold border around it forming a rim on the top of the ark. It had a cover made of gold called “the mercy seat”, and matched the dimensions of the ark. At either end of the cover was a hammered gold cherub (angel), with wings outstretched over the plate. You see the creatures as they pull their wings in front of their faces and look down upon the ark. They apparently were small because a solid gold piece would be extremely heavy if it were very large and the ark would be top heavy and awkward to carry. And the ark was mobile. Beneath the plate within the container were three objects: A golden jar that held the manna, Aaron’s rod, and the tables of the Covenant. God promised he would meet with the people of the mercy seat. The very Glory of God was shown on this Mercy Seat.

In other words, this ark was Holy. It was set apart to God. So careful with God that in the details of the drawing that he wrote in Exodus 25, he gave the dimensions, he said how it was to be covered, He even talked about how it was to be carried. At the base of each of the four corners was a fixed ring of gold. Through these rings were slipped gold plated poles by which the entire chest was to be carried. Numbers 3,4 and 7 clearly state that handling the tabernacle was to be done by Levites, and it was to be done on their shoulders.

Each one of these things were important to God. Even how the ark was transported from one place to another, because that’s where David got into trouble. David thought the best way to move the ark was on a cart (2 Samuel 6:3). So they got a new cart and set the ark on the cart and started to transport it, but something happened. Suddenly there’s a death (2 Samuel 6:7). What did Uzzah do to deserve death?

2 Samuel 6:6, “And when they came to Nachon’s threshingfloor, Uzzah put forth his hand to the ark of God, and took hold of it; for the oxen shook it.”

That’s all he did. After all, it’s a natural thing to do, if it’s going to drop you’ve got to grab it! But it wouldn’t have ever dropped if they would have done it right.

What’s the right way? The Levites were the ones who were suppose to carry the ark, the poles were to be put through the little ringlets at the bottom of the ark, the poles were to be placed on the shoulders of these specially chosen men, and they were to balance it as they carried it from one place to another. And David didn’t do that. He took a convenient route and changed the details to fit the expediency of the hour.

“It doesn’t matter what you do, do something, even if it’s wrong”. That’s the most stupid council I have ever heard. “Do nothing until it’s right, then do it with all your might”. That’s wise council.

Now here’s David standing next to a corpse and he gets mad (2 Samuel 6:8) because of the Lord’s outburst against Uzzah. We have David angry at the Lord when, in fact, the Lord was angry at David. Now understand David hasn’t done his homework, we often get in trouble when we don’t do our homework. We seek the Lord’s Will and we reach out on a lark and we want to do “that”, so, in expediency or convenience or because we’re in a hurry, we make “that” decision. And the Lord says, “Look, I have written a lot of things in my book about that decision you just made, and I want you to take council from me. That’s why it’s not working. And if you want to have a heart for me, then you check my Word and you find either precepts or principles, and you go according to that, and I’ll make you happy like you won’t believe. If you don’t, you will be miserable.”

People need to know the right way to do things and to practice them. Shortcuts or grandstand plays almost never work over time, and when they are substituted for careful execution, people are often hurt.

Uzzah undoubtedly meant well. On the surface he did a useful, helpful, even noble thing. But he did not do the right thing, and it cost him his life. In this strange circumstance, brought about because David, the leader, wanted to do things his way, the right thing would have been to let the ark touch the earth instead of Uzzah’s sinful hands.

David assembled thousands of people and had glorious music played in celebration of the Ark’s return to Jerusalem. It was a grandstand play. It would have been much better had he quietly followed the instructions and done it right. Enthusiasm must be accomplished by obedience. It is not enough to mean well. We must also do the right thing.

June 16, 2014

Trusting God While Running For Your Life

Be merciful to me, my God,
    for my enemies are in hot pursuit;
    all day long they press their attack. (Ps. 56:1)

Trusting God 3

We’re always looking for ways we can promote the work of new authors, and today we’re introducing you to Scott James whose first book is coming out in October from Broadman and Holman. Scott is a doctor and attends the church where David Platt teaches; we discovered this at David’s blog where you’re encouraged to read it at source; just click the title below. You may also want to have your Bible open in a separate browser to Psalm 56.

Trusting God in the Mire: Reflections on Psalm 56

By Scott James

“In God we trust” may be a familiar idiom, but what does it look like when the rubber meets the road? Let’s take a look at a biblical example of what it means to trust in God in a practical sense. In Psalm 56, David gives some substance to the nature of trust.

Running for Your Life

Look first at the extraordinary situation from which David pens these words. The introduction of this Psalm says that it was written when the Philistines had seized David in Gath. Here’s the backstory: David is a young man whom God has anointed to become the next king of Israel (1 Samuel 16:1, 12 13); the current king, Saul, is obviously not in favor of this, so Saul turns against David (1 Samuel 18:10ff) and sets out to kill him (1 Samuel 19:1). David is therefore running for his life and unfortunately ends up in the hands of his greatest enemy, the Philistines—carrying their slain hero’s sword, no less (1 Samuel 21:9–10). This is clearly not a good situation for David. The people of Gath immediately recognize David and, with a mixture of cowardice and cunning, David feigns madness to escape the deadly situation (vv. 12–15).

David wrote Psalm 56 in the midst of this terrifying situation. In it, David admits that when faced with a dire circumstance his initial reaction was marked by fear and panic. However, more important than his gut reaction, David asserts that steadfast trust in the Lord is the only solution to a troubling scenario like this. Easy to say, but what does that kind of trust actually look like?

In order for us to understand the testing that David’s faith is undergoing, a large portion of Psalm 56 is spent cataloging how his enemies are bent on destroying him: vv. 1, 2, 5, and 6 all detail the unceasing assaults from which David is running. He is trampled, oppressed, attacked, and his cause is injured. He is the subject of evil thoughts and is the target of a strife-inducing manhunt that is ultimately aimed at ending his very life.

Trembling and Believing

In the middle of this catalogue of doom, verse 3 shows us that David is no Stoic—he openly admits fear. But the great thing about this honest confession is that he immediately follows it up with an affirmation of his trust in God. It’s important to see from this that, in some sense, it is possible for fear and faith to occupy the same mind at the same moment.

So that’s what David was up against, but what does his assertion of trust amount to? David tells us three times in vv. 4 and 10 that he puts his trust in God, “whose word I praise.” To trust in God is to rightly value His word. David trusted God by believing that God would actually do what He had promised to do. Specifically for David, the word he was trusting was likely God’s promise to give him the kingdom and make him the head of a royal dynasty (1 Samuel 16). At this point in the story—hiding out from the murderous Saul in desert caves, acting insane to escape the Philistines—this promise seems laughable. Despite present appearances, however, David still believes God’s word, so much so that it causes him to praise God (vv. 4 and 10) even while he is still neck deep in dire circumstances.

With this trust, David confidently speaks out: “I shall not be afraid. What can flesh do to me?” (v. 4). In v. 9 he states that his “enemies will turn back” because he calls on the Lord as his deliverer. In vv. 12 and 13, David offers up a thank offering, saying to God, “you have delivered my soul from death.” David is so confident of his deliverance that he speaks of it in the past tense. That confidence is not based on guesswork, sketchy prophecy, or bravado; it is appropriate only because God has already told David what He has in store for him. David actually takes God at His word and acts upon it, even when the circumstances don’t seem to match. For David, this meant that he stepped out of the cave while the odds still seemed stacked against him. He continued the fight that eventually culminated in his ascension to the throne of Israel (2 Samuel 5:1-3). That is trust in God.

Not Just for David

We too are called to trust God in a way that is every bit as real as David’s trust. Just as David heard God’s word through the prophet Samuel, so too we have a sure word, for the Bible is God’s very word to us. It is the vehicle through which He reveals His will and in it He makes countless promises to us. Our trust is firmly founded in this God who speaks.

We trust in God by believing in what He has said and, no less importantly, by believing that He actually intends to fulfill His word. Hebrews 10:23 tells us that our hope is well founded because “He who promised is faithful.” Just like David, our hope is based on God’s faithfulness, not our present circumstances. So let’s step out in faith like David, praising God for who He is and living lives that show we believe He will accomplish all his good purposes, just as He said He would.

 

 

February 20, 2013

What is the Source of Temptation?

I once heard a comedian say, “I have no problem with temptation. I just give in.”  I laughed, but it also resonated with me.

This week our youngest son was asked to speak to his youth group on an assigned topic, the story of David taking the census. At first it seems somewhat straightforward — David did something that was wrong and there were consequences — but as you did deeper the passage becomes more complex.

II Samuel 24 (NLT)

David Takes a Census

Once again the anger of the Lord burned against Israel, and he caused David to harm them by taking a census. “Go and count the people of Israel and Judah,” the Lord told him.

So the king said to Joab and the commanders of the army, “Take a census of all the tribes of Israel—from Dan in the north to Beersheba in the south—so I may know how many people there are.”

But Joab replied to the king, “May the Lord your God let you live to see a hundred times as many people as there are now! But why, my lord the king, do you want to do this?”

But the king insisted that they take the census, so Joab and the commanders of the army went out to count the people of Israel. First they crossed the Jordan and camped at Aroer, south of the town in the valley, in the direction of Gad. Then they went on to Jazer, then to Gilead in the land of Tahtim-hodshi and to Dan-jaan and around to Sidon. Then they came to the fortress of Tyre, and all the towns of the Hivites and Canaanites. Finally, they went south to Judah as far as Beersheba.

Having gone through the entire land for nine months and twenty days, they returned to Jerusalem. Joab reported the number of people to the king. There were 800,000 capable warriors in Israel who could handle a sword, and 500,000 in Judah.

Judgment for David’s Sin

10 But after he had taken the census, David’s conscience began to bother him. And he said to the Lord, “I have sinned greatly by taking this census. Please forgive my guilt, Lord, for doing this foolish thing.”

11 The next morning the word of the Lord came to the prophet Gad, who was David’s seer. This was the message: 12 “Go and say to David, ‘This is what the Lord says: I will give you three choices. Choose one of these punishments, and I will inflict it on you.’”

13 So Gad came to David and asked him, “Will you choose three years of famine throughout your land, three months of fleeing from your enemies, or three days of severe plague throughout your land? Think this over and decide what answer I should give the Lord who sent me.”

14 “I’m in a desperate situation!” David replied to Gad. “But let us fall into the hands of the Lord, for his mercy is great. Do not let me fall into human hands.”

15 So the Lord sent a plague upon Israel that morning, and it lasted for three days. A total of 70,000 people died throughout the nation, from Dan in the north to Beersheba in the south. 16 But as the angel was preparing to destroy Jerusalem, the Lord relented and said to the death angel, “Stop! That is enough!” At that moment the angel of the Lord was by the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite.

17 When David saw the angel, he said to the Lord, “I am the one who has sinned and done wrong! But these people are as innocent as sheep—what have they done? Let your anger fall against me and my family.”

(the story continues further into the chapter)

There is so much about this passage that Bible commentators agree we don’t know. Why was God angry with Israel? What it pride that caused David to want the numbers. Did the punishment fit the transgression? (Quickly now, how many Facebook friends do you have?)

But one of the most difficult aspects of this passage is the source of David’s desire to count his men, especially when you consider the parallel passage in I Chronicles 21.  Because there the  first verse there reads:

Satan rose up against Israel and caused David to take a census of the people of Israel.

So was it Satan or the Lord who caused David to do the thing David later called ‘sin’ and ‘foolish’?  What is the source of temptation?

NLT -Genesis 2:15 The Lord God placed the man in the Garden of Eden to tend and watch over it. 16 But the Lord God warned him, “You may freely eat the fruit of every tree in the garden— 17 except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If you eat its fruit, you are sure to die.”

I think the point is that today, each of us has “trees” in our “garden” that are the source of spiritual testing. Adam and Eve “walked with God in the cool of the evening,” so they were intimate friends; but God was clearly God, so the temptation to ignore his warning not to eat the fruit — especially when offered the opportunity that “your eyes will be opened as soon as you eat it, and you will be like God, knowing both good and evil”(3:5 NLT)  — was easily rationalized away.

Sometimes these “trees” are simply there, but I believe sometimes God says, ‘It’s exam time. So what about that, or those, or him, or her?  Aren’t you just a little bit interested?’  Sometimes the answers are obvious, but sometimes the details are more complicated. A thing that is generally a good thing — there are many times a census takes place in scripture, including the time at the birth of Jesus where Joseph and Mary are both registered and taxed — can at other times be a bad thing if it’s being done from the motivation of pride.

A good thing done at the wrong time is a bad thing.

I Corinthians 10:13 tells us,

The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure. (NLT)

So what do we do with James 1:13?

And remember, when you are being tempted, do not say, “God is tempting me.” God is never tempted to do wrong, and he never tempts anyone else.

I think the key to this story is that God didn’t cause David’s pride or disobedience, but rather that God exposed the pride that was already resident within him. This is probably key to understanding why the first verse of the two accounts appear to disagree.  And it surfaces in the very next verses in James:

14 Temptation comes from our own desires, which entice us and drag us away. 15 These desires give birth to sinful actions. And when sin is allowed to grow, it gives birth to death.

A parallel study would involve the trials that are sent to Job. Satan — at God’s suggestion — is allowed to wreak havoc on Job’s life, but within limits. Satan is the agency of calamity, but only as God permitted that unique test to happen.

Job 1:8 Then the Lord asked Satan, “Have you noticed my servant Job? He is the finest man in all the earth. He is blameless—a man of complete integrity. He fears God and stays away from evil.”

Job 2:3 Then the Lord asked Satan, “Have you noticed my servant Job? He is the finest man in all the earth. He is blameless—a man of complete integrity. He fears God and stays away from evil. And he has maintained his integrity, even though you urged me to harm him without cause.”

 

We have to recognize that the source of temptation isn’t nearly as important as our response to it.

~PW

 

 

 

 

January 11, 2012

The Way of Jesus is not The Way of Perfectionism

Psalm 51
The Message
 1-3Generous in love—God, give grace! Huge in mercy—wipe out my bad record.
   Scrub away my guilt,
      soak out my sins in your laundry.
   I know how bad I’ve been;
      my sins are staring me down.

 4-6 You’re the One I’ve violated, and you’ve seen
      it all, seen the full extent of my evil.
   You have all the facts before you;
      whatever you decide about me is fair.
   I’ve been out of step with you for a long time,
      in the wrong since before I was born.
   What you’re after is truth from the inside out.
      Enter me, then; conceive a new, true life.

 7-15 Soak me in your laundry and I’ll come out clean,
      scrub me and I’ll have a snow-white life.
   Tune me in to foot-tapping songs,
      set these once-broken bones to dancing.
   Don’t look too close for blemishes,
      give me a clean bill of health.
   God, make a fresh start in me,
      shape a Genesis week from the chaos of my life.
   Don’t throw me out with the trash,
      or fail to breathe holiness in me.
   Bring me back from gray exile,
      put a fresh wind in my sails!
   Give me a job teaching rebels your ways
      so the lost can find their way home.
   Commute my death sentence, God, my salvation God,
      and I’ll sing anthems to your life-giving ways.
   Unbutton my lips, dear God;
      I’ll let loose with your praise.

 16-17 Going through the motions doesn’t please you,
      a flawless performance is nothing to you.
   I learned God-worship
      when my pride was shattered.
   Heart-shattered lives ready for love
      don’t for a moment escape God’s notice.

Eugene Peterson:

The attempt to impose perfection on either oneself or another, whether parent on child, pastor on congregation, CEO on a company, teacher on student, husband on wife, wife on husband, is decidedly not the way of Jesus.

And how do we know?  In large part because of David, the ancestor of Jesus, who was unembarrassed to be called Son of David.  David provides a large chunk of the evidence that disabuses us of the idea that perfection is part of the job description of the men and women who follow Jesus.  More narrative space is given in our Scriptures to the story of David than to any other single person, and there are no perfectionist elements in it.  The way of David is, from start to finish, a way of imperfection.

… David was a person of prayer.  As it turns out we wend up knowing far more about David’s dealings with God than we do about his dealings with Goliath and Saul, Jonathan and Abigail, Bathsheba and Tamar. And we kneed to know this, for God is the large, totally encompassing reality in which “we live and move and have our being.”  John Calvin described the Psalms as “an anatomy of all the parts of the sou.l”  We will never understand the first thing about who we are and what we are doing if we know ourselves only from the outside. Not that the inside can be understood apart from the outside (nor the outside apart from the inside.)  We need access to both: the story and the prayers. And we have both. There are some ancient manuscripts in which copyists left a gap after each incident in David’s life into which the reader could insert an appropriate Psalm, praying his or her human action into God’s presence and action.

There is not the slightest effort given in the biblical story to make David admirable in any moral or spiritual sense. And yet there is the assumption in all of this that flawed and faithless and failed as is he is, he is representative — not a warning against bad behavior but a witness, inadvertent as it was, to the normalcy, yes, the inevitability of imperfection

The Jesus Way, pp. 79-82