Christianity 201

March 14, 2016

More On the Holy Spirit in the First Testament

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Usually when we pay a return visit to an author, we catch up to their most current writing. But in this case, something quite different; we’re running part two of the article we used a year ago. (Here’s our link. Links to all four parts follow.) As always, click the title to read at source, and note the links to the other parts of the series. The writer is Brennan Hughes and the blog is titled Heaven’s Muscle, which is also the title of his book.

The Holy Spirit in the Hebrew Bible (2) Prophecy

Last time, we explored the idea of the Spirit as God’s presence on earth, the Spirit’s metaphorical association with water, and the Spirit as an agent of creation.  Now, let’s turn to things the Spirit does for people.

One thing the Spirit causes people to do is prophesy.  Topic number four is thus the Spirit’s association with prophetic activity.  But what does that even mean, really?  To get a handle on all the things prophecy entails, we need to examine what people in the biblical story do when they are said to prophesy by the Spirit.

Moses was a Spirit-filled leader, yet even he needed help.  In Numbers chapter 11, YHWH (that’s the Hebrew name for Israel’s God) gives Moses a break by helping Moses delegate his leadership responsibilities.  God tells Moses to select seventy elders who have proven leadership ability.  The group then assembles (with two of the elders missing).  The text says:

Then the Lord came down in the cloud and spoke with [Moses], and he took some of the power of the Spirit that was on [Moses] and put it on the seventy elders.  When the Spirit rested on them, they prophesied—but did not do so again.

However, two men, whose names were Eldad and Medad, had remained in the camp.  They were listed among the elders, but did not go out to the tent.  Yet the Spirit also rested on them, and they prophesied in the camp.  A young man ran and told Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.”

Joshua son of Nun, who had been Moses’ aide since youth, spoke up and said, “Moses, my lord, stop them!”

But Moses replied, “Are you jealous for my sake?  I wish that all the Lord’s people were prophets and that the Lord would put his Spirit on them!”  Then Moses and the elders of Israel returned to the camp.

Implicit in this passage is that the Spirit’s presence endows these 70 elders with authority and the ability to help Moses judge the people (Num. 11:17-29).  The Spirit’s presence is manifested in a temporary outburst of prophecy, but the text does not tell us exactly what these elders did that was so striking to the people around them.

Numbers 11 may be the earliest text that explicitly links the Spirit to prophecy, but it is not alone.  Let’s pause for a moment and think about what exactly these elders might have been doing when they prophesied.

Although prophecy sometimes entails proclaiming what the future holds (or rather, might hold), prophesy is not the same thing as future-telling.  Biblical prophecy is usually an intelligible message from God, either in the form of statements, dreams, or visions.  Prophets in other ancient near eastern cultures and in the Greco-Roman world also experienced visions and dreams and announced divine messages, but being a “prophet” in these cultures could also mean that one has ecstatic experiences.  Some linguists think the Semitic root word for prophet and prophecy means “bubbling over,” which is to suggest that prophecy involves (at least sometimes) wild, idiosyncratic behavior.  There are touches of this in the Bible, as well.

Let’s skip ahead to Saul, the first king of Israel.  In First Samuel 10, after anointing Saul, Samuel the prophet sends him on a mission and tells him:

you will go to Gibeah of God, where there is a Philistine outpost.  As you approach the town, you will meet a procession of prophets coming down from the high place with lyres, timbrels, pipes and harps being played before them, and they will be prophesying.  The Spirit of the Lord will come powerfully upon you, and you will prophesy with them; and you will be changed into a different person.  Once these signs are fulfilled, do whatever your hand finds to do, for God is with you. . . .

As Saul turned to leave Samuel, God changed Saul’s heart, and all these signs were fulfilled that day.  When he and his servant arrived at Gibeah, a procession of prophets met him; the Spirit of God came powerfully upon him, and he joined in their prophesying.  When all those who had formerly known him saw him prophesying with the prophets, they asked each other, “What is this that has happened to the son of Kish?  Is Saul also among the prophets?” . . .  After Saul stopped prophesying, he went to the high place. (NIV)

The Spirit of God again comes upon Saul in the next chapter, as Saul burns with anger against the Ammonites and summons an army using severed ox parts (I Samuel 11:6-7).

Unfortunately, the Spirit of YHWH later leaves Saul, and is replaced by “an evil spirit from YHWH” (I Samuel 16:14; 19:9).  By this time, Saul has become the enemy of David, God’s choice to be Saul’s successor as king.

First Samuel 18 records an incident in which Saul sends three waves of soldiers to Ramah to capture David.  Each band of soldiers runs into Samuel’s group of (musical?) prophets.  And each time, the Spirit of God “came upon” the soldiers, and they all prophesied.  Finally, Saul himself decides to travel to Ramah, and he meets the same fate:

So Saul went to Naioth at Ramah. But the Spirit of God came even on him, and he walked along prophesying until he came to Naioth.  He stripped off his garments, and he too prophesied in Samuel’s presence. He lay naked all that day and all that night. This is why people say, “Is Saul also among the prophets?”

Thus, in I Samuel, we see prophets that travel in groups, that play musical instruments, and that at least occasionally are publicly naked.  This prophetic activity is incited by the Spirit, and the Spirit’s presence changes a person’s heart and makes him “a different person.”  But for Saul, the prophecy was temporary and even his positive personality change ultimately did not last.

Much more common in the Bible, however, are episodes in which prophecy is equated with speech, and these divine messages are often explicitly linked with the Spirit.  For example, King David’s last words begin with “The Spirit of the Lord spoke through me; his word was on my tongue” (2 Samuel 23:2; cf. Matthew 22:43).  Much later, the author of Nehemiah notes that YHWH admonished the Jews “by his Spirit” through his prophets (Nehemiah 9:30).

Having the Spirit of YHWH come upon someone is often a prelude to a prophetic announcement (I Chronicles 12:18; 2 Chronicles 15:1; 20:14; 24:20) or a career of prophecy (Isaiah 61:1).  As an example of a prophetic announcement associated with the Spirit, Isaiah proclaims, “And now the Sovereign Lord has sent me, with his Spirit.  This is what the Lord says.. .” (Isaiah 48:16).  When YHWH called Ezekiel, the Spirit came into him and raised him to his feet (Ezekiel 2:2, 3:24, 11:5).

The Spirit also gives visions (Ezekiel 11:24).  And interpretations of visions and dreams.  Even Pharaoh could see that Joseph the interpreter of dreams was “one in whom is the spirit of God” (Genesis 41:38).

These passages illustrate the common biblical connection between being filled with the Spirit and experiencing prophecy, whether that prophetic activity is defined as delivering a powerful verbal message from God, experiencing meaningful dreams and visions, foretelling the future, or — at least in one episode — joining a commune of ecstatic nude musicians.

Prophecy can also manifest itself as a brief episode or as a lifelong avocation.

We should not be surprised, then, to see a direct link between the presence of the Spirit and the experience of prophecy in the New Testament, in early church history, and, I suggest, in the church today.

As a postscript, I note that several New Testament passages identify the Spirit as the source of Old Testament prophecy.

In Hebrews, quotations from the Old Testament are said to be words of the Holy Spirit (3:7; 9:8; 10:15).

First Peter 1:10-12 says that

“the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow.  It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven.  Even angels long to look into these things.”

Finally, “Prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21).

I hope these glimpses of the Spirit’s prophetic activity in the Old Testament provide some useful context for understanding prophecy in the New Testament and even among God’s people today.  Feel free to share and to leave comments.  There’s more to come!
Click here for Part I
Click here for Part III
Click here for Part IV

January 27, 2016

Prophetic Reluctance: Jeremiah

A few days ago we introduced the term prophetic reluctance and interestingly enough it was also connected to Jeremiah:

Jeremiah 20:9

But if I say, “I will not mention his word
    or speak anymore in his name,”
his word is in my heart like a fire,
    a fire shut up in my bones.
I am weary of holding it in;
    indeed, I cannot.

Eugene Peterson renders this in The Message:

But if I say, “Forget it! No more God-Messages from me!” The words are fire in my belly, a burning in my bones. I’m worn out trying to hold it in. I can’t do it any longer!

The NIV Study Bible notes that this one verse indicates two seemingly contradictory inclinations: a prophetic reluctance that is overcome by a divine compulsion.

…Today we pay a return visit to the blog Weeping Into Dancing. I had a hard time choosing which devotional article to feature here, so I really hope you’ll click the title below and then take a few minutes to look around at other items.

Will You Speak?

Uniquely formed by the hands of God, with special gifts and talents, each one of us has been created to fulfill a specific purpose. Understanding the cost of our redemption, a freely given blood sacrifice, humbles man into submission. Therefore, we yield our will and take up His instead. Obedience, faith, and trust draws one into Christian service, but it is our love for the blessed Redeemer that propels us forward into unknown territory.

The prophet Jeremiah was very young when the Lord called him into service. He was ordained to be a prophet, a mouthpiece for God. Understanding the importance of such a position, he was filled with fear. He felt all of his insufficiencies. But God insisted that he go where he was sent, and speak as he was commanded. God persuaded Jeremiah there was nothing to fear, saying He would be with him to provide any necessary deliverance.

“Then the word of the Lord came to me, saying: 

‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you;  Before you were born I sanctified you; I ordained you a prophet to the nations.’

 Then said I:

‘Ah, Lord God! Behold, I cannot speak, for I am a youth.’

 But the Lord said to me:

‘Do not say, “I am a youth,” for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and whatever I command you, you shall speak. Do not be afraid of their faces, for I am with you to deliver you,’ says the Lord.”

From that moment, Jeremiah lost all fear and pronounced the sad prophecies and warnings of God, without regard for the king and his strong men. This was often at the peril of his life. However, God was faithful to protect and deliver him from all harm. This is not to say he was free of trials and hardship, including time in a cistern. (Jeremiah 38)

Jeremiah lived during one of the most devastating periods in Jewish history. He saw the destruction of Jerusalem, after his warnings and prophecies fell on deaf ears. How sad it must have been to speak words of warning yet see them ignored. Once the catastrophe came, he lamented the terrible fate of his people in the Book Lamentations.

Hope found in Jesus ChristAs children of God, we ALL have a responsibility to share the Good News with others. To hold on to this hope, found in Jesus Christ, and not speak of it is contrary to our calling. The Great Commission is not just for missionaries, evangelists, preachers, or teachers. We all need to be ready and willing to give a reason for the hope that lives within our hearts. Fear will try to hold our tongue, but like Jeremiah, we must trust God to give us the words to say and the deliverance from every evil.

But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” 1 Peter 3:15 (NIV)

Some will ask, “What about the Christians who have been unjustly imprisoned for their faith? How is God protecting them? So many Christians are facing dreadful atrocities, painful persecution, even murder for simply professing their faith in Christ.

Here now is the hard pill to swallow. How do we know God hasn’t delivered them? Our heavenly Father is a God of compassion. He wants the very best for us. Although our feeble minds might not fathom the purpose for such trials and suffering, should we toss aside what we do know of God’s righteous character? Surely our faith assures us that there is some good, some great work, and some wondrous reward for those who refuse to deny Christ. We must remember our inheritance is in heaven.

The heavenly Father had a purpose for Jeremiah. God’s plan was to use Jeremiah to pronounce judgment upon the people of that time. It was not a job he relished. In all honesty can we say, should an opportunity arise, that we too would speak the truth regarding our faith, even if it led to persecution? Would we deny Christ to avoid imprisonment… or even death? The day may soon be upon us when the faith of every American is questioned, just as it is now questions in Syria, Iran, and across this world.

But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven.” Matthew 10:33 (NKJV)

October 7, 2014

Four Applications from Elijah

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:43 pm
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Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth.  James 5:17 ESV

Last year we introduced you to Louisiana pastor Waylon Bailey and today we pay a catch-up visit to his blog.  As always, click the link below to read this at source; we chose this from a number of excellent articles.

Four Takeaways from the Days of Elijah

Can something that happened 2900 years ago really be relevant for someone growing up today?

After all, there are only a few things the same today as 2900 years ago.

Let me give you two things that have not changed.

Human nature has not changed. A teenager living with an iPhone may seem far different from teenagers before the time of Christ, but human nature has not changed. The kid growing up today has more information in a day than the child in ancient times had in a lifetime, but they are the same on the inside.

Human nature has not changed.

The message of God has not changed. He is the same. He is consistent. God and His word have not changed.

For these reasons, we can learn valuable lessons from the prophet Elijah (I Kings 17-19).

Here are four takeaways you can get from the days of Elijah.

First, even in the worst of times, God has a man. Elijah was that man. He proclaimed the word of the Lord with fearlessness but not without repercussions. Jezebel swore to hack him to death within twenty-four hours.

Elijah gave the message and suffered the consequences. Even in the consequences, God remained faithful.

Jesus promised the same for His followers. When you are brought before officials because of your faith, don’t worry about what you will say. God the Holy Spirit will give you the words to say. God is faithful.

Second, either there is one God or there is no god. You can’t have both. The confrontation on Mount Carmel showed the impossibility of continuing to waver between two opinions.

Third, there are plenty of people who love God and who can be counted on in times of persecution. God assured Elijah he was not alone. God had preserved 7,000 in Israel who had not bowed down to Baal.

You are not alone either. Thank God for the fellowship of faithful believers.

Finally, God is God and will not be denied. He is the Sovereign Lord. As He showed His power in the days of Elijah, He will do so today.

The day will come–maybe soon–when every knee will bow before the Lord (Philippians 2:9-11).

If you would like to receive a devotional like this six days a week, please subscribe to http://www.waylonbailey.com. It will come to your inbox free of charge, and we don’t give out your email.

Go Deeper: Article on Elijah at BibleStudyTools.com

Of course, we had to include the song, right?

September 24, 2012

Keeping the Contract

Today’s thoughts are from A Year With God: Daily Readings and Reflections on God’s Own Words, by R. P. Nettlehorst, published in 2010 by Thomas Nelson. (Also available is A Year With Jesus: Daily Readings and Reflections on Jesus’ Own Words.) This entry, number 169, is part of a section titled “Loyalty and Betrayal” and is titled “What the Contract Stipulates.”

CEV Jer. 11: 1-3 The Lord God told me to say to the people of Judah and Jerusalem:

I, the Lord, am warning you that I will put a curse on anyone who doesn’t keep the agreement I made with Israel. So pay attention to what it says. My commands haven’t changed since I brought your ancestors out of Egypt, a nation that seemed like a blazing furnace where iron ore is melted. I told your ancestors that if they obeyed my commands, I would be their God, and they would be my people. Then I did what I had promised and gave them this wonderful land, where you now live.

“Yes, Lord,” I replied, “that’s true.”

 

People change their minds. They make promises, but then circumstances arise and they find it easy to alter the agreement. They had good intentions, but how were they to know what would happen?

The prophets were not innovators. They did not bring a new message from God. Instead, they preached the old story, repeating what God expected: his people would love him and love one another.

The book of Deuteronomy contained the formal agreement between God and Israel. The outline and structure of Deuteronomy matched the ancient treaties of the era. Such treaties were usually made as a consequence of war, when one nation defeated another in battle. In the Israelites’ case, however, they had been rescued rather than beaten.

Such ancient treaties began with a summary of recent events that explained the reason for the treaty. Following that were regulations that governed the relationship between two nations. Then the treaty listed all the benefits that would come if the agreements were properly kept, followed by the horrible curses that would befall those who dared violate the terms of the agreement. Finally witnesses were called upon to confirm the treaty.

Israel had agreed to that treaty with God in the time of Moses. They promised to do whatever God said. They had not been forced under duress to agree to the contract. He rescued them from Egypt before he offered it to them They were out of danger. And that was when they had decided to agree to the contract.

God reminded his people that he had not changed.They were comforted to know that God does what he promises.

July 23, 2011

Spiritual Drought and Spiritual Famine

Earlier in the week while reading The Peoples Bible (a new edition NIV which highlights frequently searched verses at BibleGateway.com) I was again confronted with Amos 8: 11-12

11 “The days are coming,” declares the Sovereign LORD,
   “when I will send a famine through the land—
not a famine of food or a thirst for water,
   but a famine of hearing the words of the LORD.
12 People will stagger from sea to sea
   and wander from north to east,
searching for the word of the LORD,
   but they will not find it.

We’ve been hearing much in the last few days about drought in the United States and famine in east Africa.  Perhaps that why the topic has been on my mind.  This passage is discussing a spiritual drought and a spiritual famine.  I decided to see what was available on this passage online, and a search brought me to my own blog, Thinking out Loud, and a post that was written just a few months ago in April…

A few years back, Wood (Woodrow) Kroll wrote a book which bears the same name as the organization he heads, Back to the Bible (Multnomah Publishing). The following is taken from pages 67-68:

Two Old Testament prophets from Israel would feel very much at home at the dawn of the twenty-first century. I think they have much to say to us as the did to those who heard them in person…

Amos was a lowly shepherd from Tekoa (Amos 1:1) a village not far from Bethlehem. He made no special claims for himself, in fact, when his authority to speak for God was challenged because he was not what people expected of a prophet, Amos said, “I was no prophet nor was I a son of a prophet, but I was a sheep breeder and a tender of sycamore fruit”(7:14). Amos was a pretty humble guy, but when God appeared to him and said, “Go prophesy to My people Israel” (7:15) he could do nothing else.

Amos prophesied during the days of King Uzziah, when Israel’s economy was flourishing. He looked at a society in which the people of God had become complacent and noticed that the Jews had no intimacy with the heavenly Father and paid no attention to those charged with teaching them the Word. When he spoke these words to his countrymen, Amos actually predicted our day: “‘Behold the days are coming,’ says the Lord God, ‘that I will send a famine on the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord'” (8:11).

That famine has arrived. In our physical and financial prosperity, the church has become spiritual anemic and biblically illiterate.

The prophet Hosea echoed the cry of Amos. He ministered to Israel during the chaotic period just before the fall of the nation in 722 B.C. In that respect he was ominously familiar with what happens to a nation who forgets God and His Word. Unlike Amos, Hosea was a member of the upper class. He was one of the most unusual prophets of the Old Testament.

Strangely, God commanded Hosea to marry a prostitute (Hosea 1:2-9). His wife, Gomer, eventually returned to her life of sin, but Hosea bought her back from the slave market and restored her as his wife (3:1-5). Hosea’s unhappy family life served as an illustration of Israel’s sin. The people of God had fallen out of love with God, grown cold toward Him and no longer heeded His Word. They rejected the one true God and served pagan Gods.

In that context, Hosea prophesied with words that have a chilling ring for the church of the twenty-first century. He spoke for God when he said, “My people are destroyed for a lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I also will reject you from being priest for Me, because you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children” (4:6). The Israelites forgot God’s law. They failed to read his word and showed no respect for it. Therefore God promised that he would forget His people as they had forgotten His Word. That simply meant that He would withhold His blessing and all the good things that would have been theirs had they spent more time loving God by reading His Word.

~Wood Kroll