The Daughters of Zelophehad: Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah and Tirzah.

“Who?  What?  What in the world!?”

“Who is Zepho- Zelod- whatever it is?”

I wonder how many of you have heard of these six people before?  They actually are important in Old Testament history, or at least the daughters are – and have importance even in the New Testament, as we’ll see shortly.

I decided Friday afternoon, instead of sitting down and watching Netflix for a while before I went to work, that I would read some more in the Bible.  Always so much better than Dr. Phil or Katie, or even what we actually prefer to watch on Netflix.  My reading was in Numbers, so I started where I had left off that morning with ch. 26, but I only got as far as 27:33:  Now Zelophehad the son of Hepher had no sons, but daughters; and the names of the daughters are Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah. 

This is part of the second census taken in Israel, a census designed to ensure that those who had rebelled 38 years earlier and refused to enter the land, even after favorable reports from Joshua and Caleb, had all died as a judgment on their rebellion, Numbers 26:63-65.  Their rebellion had caused the rest of Israel to wander in the desert for an extra 38 years.  The girls are mentioned in three other places in the  OT:  Numbers 27:1; 36:11 and Joshua 17:3, always together and always in the same order.  Zelophehad is mentioned one additional time, in 1 Chronicles 7:15, as having no sons, but only daughters.  They aren’t named there.

A second reason for this census is that it forms the basis for the future division of the land.  This was to be done according to the size of each tribe as determined by this census, Numbers 26:52-56.

I’d noticed before that all the girls’ names ended in -ah, and had wondered if it was some form of JAH, the name of God.  This is often the case.  I decided to find out.   I was disappointed.  It wasn’t.

As I looked at the meanings of the girls’ names, I wondered what story there might be behind them.  Names often carry significant meaning in the OT.

I had to wonder, though.  Mahlah means “sickness”.  Who names their daughter, “Sickness”?  Noah means “movement.”  This, by the way, isn’t the same name as the Noah who built the Ark to escape the Flood.  Even though it seems that way in our translations, the Hebrew words, though very similar, are different.  The Noah of Genesis 6, his name means “rest.”  Hoglah is thought to mean “a partridge.”  It’s uncertain.  Milcah means “Queen” or “Counsel.”  And, finally, Tirzah means “delight” or “delightful.”

So, nothing about God.  And I have no idea, if it were even possible, how to weave any kind of “story” from these very different names.

However, it isn’t the names or their meanings that make these young women important.

We’ve mentioned that this second census was in part about the division of the Land of Promise, or the inheritance, the heritage, of each family as it would be passed from generation to generation.  Each of the three other appearances of these girls has something to do with “inheritance.”

In Numbers 27:1-11, the daughters come to Moses and the leaders Israel and tell them that their father, Zelophehad, had not died with those who died in Korah’s rebellion, Numbers 16, but had simply died naturally, leaving no sons behind.  Why, therefore, they ask, should his name disappear from Israel?

This question resulted in the LORD commanding that the inheritance of one who died without sons should pass, first of all, to daughters.  If no daughters, then the LORD commanded other arrangements to be followed.

In Numbers 36, another problem arises with their inheritance.  The leaders of the families of the children of Gilead, one of the daughters’ ancestors, came to Moses and the leaders of Israel and mentioned that if the daughters married outside their tribe (Manasseh), then the inheritance would move from Manasseh to whatever tribe they married into.  The heritage of Manasseh would be diminished.

This wasn’t just a matter of greed.  Inheritance and heritage were considered almost sacred in Israel.  After all, the original land division had been made by lot.  This doesn’t mean that they simply “rolled the dice,” but rather that the boundaries of each part of the land had been determined by the Lord.  Solomon later put it like this, The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD, Proverbs 16:33.  This doesn’t give us license to decide things that way – the flip of a coin, etc.  It’s just how the LORD told them to do it.  He hasn’t said that to us.

As one example of the importance Israelites attached to their heritage, consider the following.  Several centuries later, after the division of the kingdom into Israel and Judah, a man named Naboth owned a vineyard in Samaria, a vineyard which was located next to the palace of Ahab, a wicked king of Israel, 1 Kings 21.  Ahab wanted this vineyard so he could plant a vegetable garden.  He offered to buy this plot of land or trade Naboth for a better one.  Hear Naboth’s response:  “The LORD forbid that I should give the inheritance of my fathers to you!” 1 Kings 21:3.

The leaders’ concern was legitimate.

The daughters last appear in Joshua 17:3-5, where they claim that which was given to them by the LORD.

There is something else in this portion.  Apparently the daughters were the only ones among some of the tribes who “got it right.”  As Israel was preparing to enter the Promised Land, they had to face opposition even before they got there.  On the east side of Jordan were two kingdoms which came out against them in war:  Sihon, king of Heshbon and Og, king of Bashan.  The LORD enabled Israel to be victorious, carefully note Deuteronomy 2:26-3:11.

The land of these two kingdoms was excellent grazing land.  Some tribal leaders came to Moses and requested this land because they had a lot of livestock.  After some discussion, Moses agreed.  So the tribes of Reuben, Gad and “the half-tribe of Manasseh” received their allotment of land on the east side of the Jordan, though the Promised Land lay west of the river.  This division caused trouble in the not-too-distant future, to say nothing of later on.  See Joshua 22.

“The half-tribe of Manasseh”???

Yes.  We read in Joshua 17:5-6 that ten shares fell to Manasseh, besides the land of Gilead and Bashan, which were on the other side of the Jordan, BECAUSE the daughters of Manasseh received an inheritance among his sons, and the rest of Manasseh’s sons had the land of Gilead (emphasis added).  Apparently, for the purpose of the division of the land, the daughters were considered the children of Manasseh.  They were of that tribe.

So, except for the concern of these daughters for their father, Manasseh would have had no land in the Promised Land itself.  This, however, isn’t their only, or even perhaps the more important, contribution to the nation of Israel.

From this point, the daughters disappear from Scripture.  Their influence, however, lives on.

How so?

As we come to the NT, we see something curious.  There are two genealogies given for the Lord Jesus, one in Matthew and one in Luke.  Critics and skeptics have noted the differences between them and exclaimed, “Aha!  You see!  There are contradictions in the Bible!”  These, of course, aren’t the only places they claim that.  The skeptics never stop to consider that there might be a reason or an explanation, especially in the genealogies, for “the differences.”

 What is the reason?

After the summary statement that Jesus was the son [descendant] of David and of Abraham, Matthew follows Abraham’s line through Isaac, Jacob and Joseph down through David and the sons who followed him as kings of Israel and then sons who went into captivity, ending with Jacob, who  begot Joseph the husband of Mary. We’ve dealt with Mary and the birth of our Lord in an earlier post on Matthew’s genealogy.

As we read through the genealogy this time, though, we run into a problem,  We go through all the “begots,” which simply means that A was the father of B, until we get to verse 11, which reads Josiah begot Jeconiah and his brothers about the time they were carried away to Babylon.

Jeconiah.

Also known as Coniah and Jehoiachin, he was not one of the good kings of Judah.  In fact, he did evil in the sight of the LORD, according to all his father had done, 2 Kings 24:9.  You can read about his father and the great sin he committed in Jeremiah 36.  Coniah reigned just three months before Nebuchadnezzar invaded Judah and took him prisoner.

Jeremiah gives us more about him, as well as the problem he brings with him to the genealogy in Matthew.  In Jeremiah 22:24, God says, “As I live,” says the LORD, “though Coniah the son of Jehoaikim, king of Judah, were the signet on My right hand, yet would I pluck you off; and I will give you into the hand…of Nebuchadnezzar.”  In v. 30, Jeremiah wrote, Thus says the LORD, “Write this man down as childless, a man who shall not prosper in his days; For none of his descendants shall prosper, sitting on the throne of David, and ruling anymore in Judah.” 

Here is another verse skeptics misread.  They look at the word “childless” and point to 1 Chronicles 3:17 and even Matthew 1:12, where Coniah does indeed have sons and shake their heads:  “Contradictions, contradictions.”  If they would actually read the text, they would discover that it refers to the throne of David.  Coniah would be “childless” as far as any of his descendants ever sitting on that throne.

None of Coniah’s descendants ever sat on David’s throne.  None of them ever can.  When Nebuchadnezzar deposed Coniah, he put Mattaniah, Coniah’s uncle, on the throne and changed his name to Zedekiah, 2 Kings 24:17.  Coniah went into captivity.  Zedekiah was the last king to sit on David’s throne.  No one has sat there since.

So?

Joseph is a descendant of David through Coniah.

If Joseph’s were the only genealogy we have of Jesus, then Jesus would be prevented from ever sitting on the throne of David because of the curse on Coniah.

Luke, however, gives us a second genealogy, Luke 3, in which he runs David’s line through another of David’s sons:  Nathan, v. 31.  Matthew ran it through Solomon.  Though she’s never mentioned, Luke’s has to be Mary’s genealogy.  Because of the daughters of Zelophedad, Jesus inherits the throne of David through Mary, not through Joseph.  The promise that Gabriel gave to Mary in this regard is interesting.  Telling her that she would bear a Son, he continued, He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David.  And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever,…,”  Luke 1:32, 33a.  He didn’t say a word about the throne to Joseph.

So, you see.  Do right, and you never know how the Lord will use it.  These five daughters were only concerned about their father.  They had no idea at all that, generations later, this concern would directly affect the Messiah.

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John 8: The Woman Taken in Adultery

I’ve seen several recent posts mentioning this Scripture.  Admittedly, this is a controversial portion.  Earlier, it was thought possibly to encourage immorality because the woman seems to have “gotten away with it,” and Jesus didn’t enforce the Mosaic Law.  (Actually He did; we’ll see this shortly).  More recently, it’s disputed because of textual criticism: the “best” manuscripts don’t include it.

For what it’s worth, and I’m no “scholar,” it seems to me that textual criticism, which tries to determine the actual text of the Old and New Testament from the variants that are found in the manuscripts and the early translations – and they are there – borders on sanctified unbelief.  For example, one of the most highly regarded authorities on this subject has clearly said that 2 Peter is not canonical, that is, it shouldn’t be in the NT.  A friend of mine had a book on the Elephantine papyri, ancient Jewish manuscripts dating from the 5th century BC, published by Brigham Young University.  I’m sorry, but what does Mormonism, with its additional “holy books,” a large portion of one of which is a verbatim repeat of the King James Version, down to verse and chapter divisions and punctuation, what does Mormonism have to do with determining the text of Scripture?  But, I digress….

Back to John 8….

The usual understanding of this portion is that it’s all about forgiveness.  Jesus forgave this woman of her sin.  Others have said that it teaches that we’re not to judge others.  Jesus didn’t judge this sinful woman.  Are these what it teaches?

The Setting, v. 2. 

The Feast of Tabernacles had just concluded the day before, John 7:2, 37, so there would still have been larger than normal crowds in Jerusalem.  Jesus was sitting in the Temple, teaching those who had gathered to hear Him.  Perhaps the Jewish leaders thought this would be an ideal time to expose and get rid of this threat to their power, cf. John 11:48.

The Set-up, vs 3-6.

In the midst of the quiet with only the sound of the Master’s voice, suddenly there was a commotion.  A group of men, scribes and Pharisees, leaders of the people, were dragging a struggling, disheveled woman toward the front of the gathering.  A strident voice rang out over the shocked silence:

“Teacher, this woman was caught in adultery, in the very act.  Now Moses commanded us that such should be stoned.  But what do you say?”

A challenge to the Savior.  Perhaps these men, or at least some of them, had heard Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount saying several times, “You have heard that it was said…, but I say to you….”   The “you” is emphatic:  “Moses commanded…, but YOU, what do YOU say?”

The only reason these men were interested in what the Lord would reply was that they might have something of which to accuse Him, v. 6.  These men were never there actually to hear what the Lord had to say; they were just looking for something they could use against Him.  I wouldn’t be surprised if they didn’t engineer the whole thing.  Granted, the men probably knew the woman could be tricked into this – a godly Israelite lady would never have done what she did, but that still gives them no excuse for their mistreatment of her.

The Silence, v. 6. 

But Jesus stooped down and wrote on the ground with His finger, as though He did not hear them.

I love this verse.

There have been numerous suggestions as to what the Lord wrote.  Of course, no one can really know, because John doesn’t tell us what He wrote.  Any conjecture is just that, conjecture.  My own “conjecture” is that He wrote, “Where is the man?”

You see, Leviticus 20:10, which is probably what the men were referring to, says, among other things, the adulterer and adulteress shall surely be put to death.  So it seems reasonable to me that Jesus wrote, “Where is the man?”  If the woman had been caught in the very act, there had to be a man involved.  Where was he?

The sentence, v. 7, 8. 

Many who read this portion of John don’t seem to realize that the Lord told them to go ahead and stone her.  Granted, and this is important, He put a condition on it. Nevertheless, he told them to do what Moses had commanded them to do.

The “condition” was that the one throwing the first stone at her had to be without sin among them.  Now, was the Lord requiring that they be “sinless” in order to execute this guilty woman?  Not at all, otherwise such sentencing could never have been carried out, even in Moses’ time.  My own view, and I won’t be dogmatic about it, is that Jesus was really saying to them that the one who was without sin in this particular matter should be the first to throw a stone at her.

After all, they had set her up, and they were trying to set Jesus up.  Though not participants in the actual act of adultery, they were as guilty as she was.  And the Lord know it, cf. John 2:24.

Again, He stooped and wrote on the ground.  And, again, we don’t know what He wrote. This time, I won’t “guess”.

The Struggle, v. 9.

Again, silence.  The strident voices of the woman’s accusers were quiet.  The Master was again writing on the ground.  Silence.  Perhaps the men looked at the ground and/or at each other.  Perhaps they shuffled their feet or cleared their throats.  The Scripture says that, though there may have been silence on the outside, their consciences were quite loud on the inside.  Suddenly, there was movement.  After a few uncomfortable moments, the eldest of them began to move toward an exit.  Then another, then another, then all of them, with as much “dignity” as they could still muster from the oldest even to the last.  Again, silence.   Just Jesus, the woman and the crowd, waiting to see what would happen next.

The Sequel, vs. 10-11.

This is the climax of the whole story.  Jesus finally raised Himself us, to see only the woman standing in front of Him.  Her accusers were all gone.  He said to her, “Woman, where are your accusers?  Has no one condemned you?”  You see, in cases where the death sentence was to be imposed, and there are more than 40 such cases in the Law, at least two witnesses had to testify to the guilt of the accused party.  But in this case, the case of the adulterous woman, there were no accusers.  Legally, there was no ground for her to be condemned or to be executed.  It is on this basis, and not because He “forgave” her, that Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you.”  It’s not because we’re not “to judge.”   There were no witnesses to her guilt.  She could not be condemned.  It was the Law.

The woman was not standing before Jesus in His capacity as the Judge of all mankind.  He will be that one day, and she will stand before Him again.  So will we all.  She was standing before Him as a Jewish Rabbi, who was required to uphold the Law.  He did so. The “scribes and Pharisees” did not, but were simply using it in their efforts to “get” the Lord Jesus.

The Single Word, v. 11.

The woman only said three words so far as the record goes.  And we have no further record of her at all.  But one of those three words gives us hope that this experience had also worked conviction in her, conviction which brought her to the Lord, not conviction like that of the scribes and Pharisees, which drove them away.

She called Him, “Lord.”

The Foreknowledge of God

…elect according to the foreknowledge of God…, 1 Peter 1:1 (NKJV).

Sooner or later, everyone who reads more than just an occasional verse in or devotional from the Bible comes across verses like 1 Peter 1:21.  Often, some older Christian or perhaps a book or commentary will explain it in this way:  this simply means that God looked down through the corridors of time and “chose” those whom He foresaw would choose Him.

Several things might be said about this view of God’s choice, which isn’t really “His” choice at all.

1.  “Foreknowledge” is not just “foresight,” any more than sight and knowledge are the same.  God “knows” all things intuitively – He is God.  That is, He doesn’t learn by observation or experience, like we do.  And He knows everything immediately – that is, He doesn’t have to search His memory for some fact or thought.  He knows everything all the time.  And when the Bible says that God “knows” someone, it doesn’t necessarily mean that He is simply “aware” of them.  For example, in Matthew 7:23, where our Lord declares to some astonished lost people who claimed to know Him that He never knew them,  He’s not saying that He didn’t know “about” them.

In Amos 3:2, where God said to Israel, “You only have I known of all the families of the earth, He wasn’t pleading ignorance of all the other nations.  A parallel passage in Deuteronomy makes this plain: “For you are a holy people to the LORD your God; the LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for Himself; a special treasure above all the peoples on the face of the earth,” Deuteronomy 7:6.

The Psalmist understood this when he wrote in Psalm 44:3 about Israel’s possession of the promised land: for they did not gain possession of the land by their own sword, neither did their right hand save them; but it was Your right hand, Your arm, and the light of Your countenance, because You favored them.

This is in contrast to Joshua 11:20 (KJV) where it is said that the nations in the land received no favor.

Furthermore, the Lord made it plain that there was nothing “foreseen” in Israel that was the basis of His choice of them over other nations, “It is not because of your righteousness or the uprightness of your heart that you go in to possess their land, but because of the wickedness of these nations that the LORD your God drives them out from before you…,” Deuteronomy 9:5.  Indeed, Moses continued, “Therefore understand that the LORD your God is not giving you this good land to possess because of your righteousness, for you are a stiff-necked people,” Deuteronomy 9:6.  Then, in v. 7, he reminds them of their continued rebellion against the LORD from the moment they left Egypt until then.

In fact, there is never any indication anywhere in the Old Testament, apart from the prophesied blessings of the New Covenant foretold by Jeremiah and Ezekiel, that Israel ever was or ever would be the righteous people they were supposed to be.  Except for a relatively few individuals, there would be nothing but rebellion and stubbornness in the nation as a whole throughout their whole history.

In truth, Israel was no better than the nations which she dispossessed.  She quickly fell into the same sins they had been guilty of and eventually suffered the same judgments as they did.  Only because of God’s choice of them has Israel as a nation not been wiped off the face of the earth.  There’s a lot that the Bible says about Israel and this present time, to say nothing of her future, but those are perhaps subjects for another time.

2.  In the Bible, God’s purpose and His foreknowledge are sometimes mentioned together and when they are, His purpose is mentioned first.  On the Day of Pentecost, Peter declared that the Lord Jesus “…was delivered by the determined counsel and foreknowledge of God,” Acts 2:23.

Surely, SURELY, no one would be so foolish as to conclude that Christ’s death on the Cross was included in God’s purpose only because God “foresaw” that it would happen! Acts 4:28 certainly indicates otherwise, “…to do whatever YOUR HAND and YOUR PURPOSE determined before to be done [emphasis added].

Romans 8:29, which speaks of those whom God foreknewfollows v. 28, which speaks of those same people as being the called according to His purpose.

We see from these verses that God’s “foreknowledge” is based on His purpose, and not the other way around, and also not on the “foreseen” actions of sinful men and women, which leads to our next thoughts.

3.  The Bible itself uses the figure of God “looking down from heaven.”  In Psalm 14:2, we read, The LORD looks down from heaven upon the children of men, TO SEE IF THERE ARE ANY WHO UNDERSTAND, WHO SEEK GOD [emphasis added].  If the ordinary understanding of “foreknowledge” were true, then surely we would read that God does indeed find “some” who “understand” and who “seek” Him.  Is that what we read?  Quite the contrary: They have all turned aside, they have together become corrupt; there is none who does good, no, not one, Psalm 14:3.  These thoughts are repeated in Psalm 53:2, 3, and Paul quotes them in Romans 3:11.

But there is more.

4.  In Matthew 11:20-21, we read of Jesus:  Then He began to rebuke the cities in which most of His might works had been done, because they did not repent:  “Woe to you, Chorazin!  Woe to you, Bethsaida!  For if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long again sackcloth and ashes.  Then He says the same thing about Capernaum, contrasting their rejection of Him with what would have been reception in Sodom had His works been done there.

As difficult as these verses are to understand and receive, being so opposite of what is taught and believed today, these are the words of the Lord Jesus Himself, not some narrow-minded “hyper-Calvinist” or some wicked theologian trying to impose his views on Scripture.  This is the Lord Jesus Himself, teaching that there were some who would have repented if they had been given the opportunity, but they were never given the opportunity!  Contrary to modern belief, they were not chosen based on their “foreseen faith.”  They were not chosen at all.  They were left to suffer the consequences of their sin.

If you’ve been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb, don’t ever think it’s because of something God “foresaw” that you would do.  It’s His grace, not our “willingness,” that saves us.  One of the old Puritans said that anything outside of hell was more than we deserve.  But to be brought into the fold of His people and to share in the showers of blessing He lavishly gives them….

God’s Will, My Will, Whose Will?

As I wander along the highways and byways of blogtopia [not my term, but a great one!], I see a lot of questions and comments about God’s will and “free will.”  I don’t have all the answers, but perhaps I might have one or two thoughts that will help shed some light on this sometimes gritty subject.

[[Something I don’t normally do on a post, but this one is so important that I feel compelled to do this in print:

“Father, we are so foolish, fallible and finite that when we come to the idea of asking questions about how You do things…, we must have Your guidance to understand even the simplest things You have revealed about Yourself.  This is anything but ‘simple,’ but deals with things philosophers and thinkers have pondered and discussed for millennia.  Open our understanding so that we might know something of the wonder and greatness of Your dealings with us….

“In Jesus’ name, through Whom alone we come into Your presence.  Amen.”]]

Some are so focused on God’s sovereign will that they seem to make man little more than a puppet or robot.  I knew a brother who would always say, “I was caused to believe in Jesus.”  Never would he simply say, with Paul, “I know whom I have believed,…  2 Timothy 1:12 (NKJV).

Others are so focused on man’s will that, as it were, they put up a “no trespassing” sign and believe that God cannot do anything in their lives unless they give Him permission.  They put limitations on God that they would never dream of putting on themselves.

This latter viewpoint, though much more prevalent than the former, is no more Scriptural.

What does the Scripture say? Romans 4:3.

Actually, Scripture doesn’t address this issue as such at all.   It does say some things about the subject almost in passing, as if there should be no question about it.  So, let’s look at some examples of what I mean.

Genesis 50:20, “…as for you, you meant it for evil, but God meant it for good….”

This, of course, is Joseph’s reconciliation with his brothers, who, because of their hatred for him had sold him into slavery years earlier, then lied to their father about it.  In the providence of God, they and their families and father had come to Egypt where Joseph made himself known to them and took care of them for several years.  Now Jacob was dead, and the brothers thought they were [rightfully] in for it.  The verse above was part of Joseph’s response to them.

There was nothing “good” about what they did to Joseph or how they covered it up.  Jacob grieved for many years over the death, as he thought, of this son of his beloved Rachel.  Joseph suffered for about 13 years in Egypt, even though God put him in a place where he could save many people alive.

There is no attempt to “reconcile” these two disparate things: the evil that the brothers meant, the good that God meant.  They are just simply recorded.  The same word is used both times, that what the brothers purposed and willed to do to Joseph, God purposed and willed that they should do to Joseph.

Did God “do” something to the brothers in this?  Did His will “force” their wills?  No, they did freely to Joseph exactly what they wanted to do.  At the same time, without thought or knowledge on their part, they did exactly what God wanted them to do.

Exodus 4:21, speaking to Moses about Pharaoh, God said, “I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go.”  This is indeed a difficult nut for people to crack.  What did God mean?  How could He do this to Pharaoh?

In order, perhaps, to understand this a little better, we need to look at Pharaoh.  Was “his heart” “neutral” in this matter?  Was he open to the things Moses said?  Was he a “seeker” after truth.  Did he want to know about the God of Israel?

No, indeed!  At Moses’ first encounter with him, Pharaoh responded, “Who is the LORD, that I should obey His voice to let Israel go?  I do not know the LORD, nor will I let Israel go,”  Exodus 5:2.  I imagine the emphasis was on the “I”: “…that I should obey…?”

There was no “harden” button on Pharaoh’s heart that God had to push.  His heart was already hard!  God just demonstrated that by bringing some things to Pharaoh’s attention that he didn’t want to deal with, namely, that he wasn’t a god himself, and that the God of the Hebrews was God, the only God, the true God, as opposed to the pantheon of gods Pharaoh worshiped.  All the plagues against Egypt were against the gods of Egypt, to show their impotence and falsehood.  And to show that the God of the Hebrews, as we said, was, indeed, the only true God.

Exodus 31:1-6; 35:6-36:2, With regard to the construction of the Tabernacle, God told Moses, “I have put wisdom in all the hearts of the gifted artisans, that they may make all I have commanded you.”  God gave some the artistic ability to craft and construct the Tabernacle, and just underline all the references to “hearts” and “willing,” etc.  There are at least 15 such references in the 16 verses of 35:6-36:2.  God willed and the people willed.  As for the “offerings” to supply the necessary materials, note 25:1 and 36:6, 7 as well.

One more from the Old Testament.

2 Kings 11:29-36; 12:15, 24, though you should read both chapters.

This has to do with the reason for the breakup of Israel into two camps:  the two tribes, who became known as Judah, and the other 10 tribes, who retained the name Israel and were also known as Ephraim or The Northern Kingdom.

King Solomon had been unfaithful to God and had introduced idolatry into Israel, probably at the instigation of his pagan wives.  In 2 Kings 11:9-13, God promised judgment on his line and on the nation for this sin.  He finally died and his son Rehoboam took over.

Solomon had heavily taxed the people in order to finance his lavish lifestyle.  The people understandably asked Rehoboam to lessen their load.  (And you thought complaints about taxation were something new!)  Rehoboam asked counsel of some who had served his father.  Their advice was to listen to the people.  Then he asked some of his friends what to do.  Their advice was to tell the people, in effect, “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet!”

Rehoboam, being young and stupid (though he was 40 or so), followed the advice of his friends, who were also stupid and arrogant.  2 Kings 12:15 says, “So the king did not listen to the people; for the turn of events was from the LORD, that He might fulfill His word, which the LORD spoke by Ahijah the Shilonite to Jeroboam the son of Nebat.”

Naturally, the people didn’t care for this, so they said, “See ya’,” and went their way.  Rehoboam called out the army to go and bring them back by force.

In chapter 12, God forbade this.  Too bad Rehoboam didn’t seek God before.  Anyway, through another prophet, God told him, “You shall not go up nor fight against your brethren the children of Israel. …for this thing is from Me.”

Rehoboam’s arrogance and stupidity.  The anger and decision of the people.  All their own. Yet God’s will, as well.

Now to the New Testament.

When I was a young student at a Bible College, struggling with these concepts, I came across some verses.  My roommate and others were also struggling with these ideas.  The verses are

2 Corinthians 8:16, 17,  In the context of Paul’s instructions to the church at Corinth, he wrote, But thanks be to God who puts [or, “has put”] the same earnest care for you into the heart of Titus.  For he not only accepted the exhortation, but being more diligent, he went to you of his own accord.

Once again, we see the interconnection of God’s will and man’s will.  God worked in Titus’ heart.  Of his own will, Titus did something.  This activity of God neither negates, diminishes nor undermines the choices and activity of man.

And there is also

Revelation 17:17, For God has put it into their hearts [the “ten kings” of vs. 12, 13] to fulfill His purpose, to be of one mind, and to give their kingdom to the beast, until the words of God are fulfilled.  Here is a clear verse about the will and purpose of God and the will and purpose of man.

However, someone might say, “Well, yes, there are some verses like what you say.  But in salvation – ‘whosoever will.’  Christ is standing at the door of our heart, knocking for admission.”

That’s true.  “Whosoever will.”  At the same time, please read the rest of that verse.  How many people do you know in the world, or even in the church, for that matter, who “thirst” for the water of life?

As for Revelation 3:20, it’s in the context of the Lord’s words to His churches, especially the church at Laodicea.  This church was so filled with itself that it didn’t even realize that Christ was on the outside.  There are lots of churches like that, so filled with programs and personalities that they don’t even miss the Lord Jesus.

Two final verses, and they are about “salvation”.

John 6:39, 40, The Lord Jesus says, This is the will of the Father who sent Me, that of all He has given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day.  And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day.”

Our Lord has no difficulty with divine sovereignty and human activity.  He never sought to “reconcile” them; they’re not enemies.  He never tried to “explain” them or make them palatable to fallen human nature.  He just simply taught that they are both true.  So does the rest of the Bible.

In John 6:39, 40, there are on the one hand, those indeed whom the Father chose and gave to the Son to redeem.  (By the way, in a nutshell, the biblical doctrine of election is that had God not chosen some to be saved, nobody at all would be saved.)  On the other hand, the door to salvation stands wide open.  There isn’t a single verse in the more than 30,000 – if memory serves me – verses  of Scripture  preventing the salvation of the worst sinner who ever lived.  The difficulty lies with us, not with God.  Those who believe in the Son have eternal life; those who do not, do not.  It’s as simple as that.

Conclusion:  There is SO MUCH more that could be said on this subject.  I’ve just barely scratched the surface.  And I’ve probably raised questions, as well as trying to answer some of them.  I’m sorry.

Whether you agree with what I’ve written or not, remember that we’re “discussing” God.  Do you really want a God you can get your mind around?  One that little?

Oh, if we can’t “understand” what God has told us about Himself, can we at least “trust” Him?  After all, isn’t that what “faith” boils down to, trusting Him and His Word?

God bless this study, for Jesus’ sake.  Amen.

Sticks

The verses we’re looking at in this post seem to many to be an excessive punishment for a relatively minor offense.  They’re found in Numbers 15:32-35 (NKJV):

“Now while the children of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man gathering sticks on the Sabbath day.  And those who found him gathering sticks brought him to Moses and Aaron, and to all the congregation.  They put him under guard, because it had not been explained what should be done to him.  Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘The man must surely be put to death; all the congregation shall stone him with stones outside the camp.’ So as the LORD commanded Moses, all the congregation brought him outside the camp and stoned him with stones, and he died.”

“Whoa!” these folks say, “That’s harsh!”  And, in truth, perhaps a case could be made for the man, as is done in modern trials during the “penalty phase,” where men and women convicted of the most heinous crimes have folks testifying about what wonderful persons they really are at heart.  Perhaps this man was just trying to gather some sticks to help feed his family.  Perhaps, with so many Israelites, firewood was in short supply, and so the man was taking advantage of a time when fewer people were looking for it.  Perhaps this was the only time he could do it.  Etc., etc.

All this misses the point.  The man broke the Law.  Yeah, but “sticks”?  Such a minor thing!

There are no “minor” things.  After all, wasn’t it a relatively “minor” offense that started this whole catastrophe in the Garden of Eden?  Religious man may have divided sins into “venial” and “mortal,” but God knows no such distinction.  He was the One Who gave the final judgment in this “minor” case.  

There are no “venial” sins.  Even a little thing like picking up sticks on the Sabbath, in defiance of His command against it, was a “mortal” sin.  Any sin is “mortal.”  Every sin is “mortal.”

Our world, even the “religious” one, has lost sight of most of Who God is and what He requires of us.  I thought about different words for that last sentence: “wants,” “asks,” but that is just symptomatic of what the sentence describes.  God is pictured as waiting for man to do something so He can act, patiently waiting on the sidelines of His own creation until we decide to send Him into the game.  Wanting to bless us, but unable to unless we “let Him.”  He must be amazed, if we can ascribe such a feeling to Deity, at our arrogance.

There is such an unScriptural emphasis on “the love of God,” and such a humanized definition of it at that, that we have lost sight of what Paul called, “the goodness and severity of God,” Romans 11:22, something Paul told his readers to “consider.”  He’s calling attention to what he says in the verse, that is, that we’re not to forget the two sides of the Divine character:  “goodness” and “severity.”  When was the last time you heard a sermon that mentioned “the love of God”?  Probably the last one.  When was the last time you heard a sermon on “the severity of God?”  Ever?

In the Numbers account, God is emphasizing what it means to follow His Law.  Even the least infraction merits death.  The Law is a unit.  Break even one part of it, and the whole thing is gone – so far as making it to Heaven, or being “pleasing” to God, James 2:10.  I was in a Bible study class that was discussing the attributes of God.  Someone mentioned His immeasurable love.  The teacher wrote that down on the blackboard.  I mentioned His inflexible justice.  The teacher said, “Ooh, I don’t like that,” and would only write down “justice.”

If you want to know something of the severity of God, consider Who It was on the Cross.  There’s only ever been one Individual Who could truthfully say, “I always do those things which please” the Father, John 8:29.  And God put Him on a Cross.  Preachers always emphasize the love of God in the death of Christ, and that is true.  If God hadn’t had a love for mankind in general, He wouldn’t have gone to all the trouble He did to save it.  The Lord Jesus wouldn’t have suffered as He did, if there were no “love for His own,” cf. John 13:1.  At the same time, was that all the Cross was: a demonstration of “love”?

Not at all.  It was also a demonstration of the “severity” of God.  Paul put it in a nutshell when he wrote, “For He has made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him,” 2 Corinthians 5:17.  The Cross was as much a matter of justice as it was of love, or grace.  We’ll never get the bottom of that verse.  God put the Only One Who ever pleased Him on a Cross, to pay for our sins, who never please Him, in and of ourselves, don’t want to please Him and couldn’t please Him even if we tried.  There’s just nothing in us responsive toward God apart from His grace.

Some churches talk about the “merits of the saints,” as if there’s some sort of heavenly bank where all their extra good stuff is stored up, ready to be taken out by those who don’t have enough good stuff.  I’m sorry, but there’s only been One Who had any merit, any “good stuff,” to begin with, let alone having any “extra.”

Jesus Christ did on that Cross what none of us could do – satisfy God’s justice, His “severity.”  He did that to the extent that not a single person for whom He died can ever perish.  Their sins have been paid for.  Their debt has been cancelled.

You’ll never appreciate the goodness of God if you don’t have at least a little understanding of His “severity,” that is, that He can, will, and does, judge “sticks”.

Not My Kid!!

I mentioned in an earlier post that there are things in the Old Testament which are contrary to our modern way of thinking.  The portion of Scripture for this post is perhaps at the top of the list.  It’s found in Deuteronomy 22:18-21:

“If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey the voice of his father or the voice of his mother, and who, when they have chastened him, will not heed them, then his father and his mother shall take hold of him and bring him out to the elders of his city, to the gate of his city.  And they shall say to the elders of his city, ‘This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious; he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton and a drunkard.’  Then all the men of his city shall stone him to death with stones; so you shall put away the evil from among you, and all Israel shall hear and fear.”

In Yahoo Answers, it’s usually referred to along the lines of “killing my kid”, implying a young child.  It can’t mean that, because then there would have been no next generation.

There is an idea that there weren’t any instructions after the Fall, that God left Adam and Eve to the leading of their conscience, an idea popularized by the Scofield Bible.  It is true that there is no record as such of any revelation from God between Adam and Moses, yet there are indications of it.  To name just one, cf. Genesis 26:5, where God talks about Abraham obeying “My charge, My commandments, My statutes, and My laws.” Moses wouldn’t be born for centuries.  So it’s clear that there was something to which men were responsible before the giving of the Law at Sinai.  We just don’t have any record of it.

We’re not told a great deal about the instructions God may have given Adam and Eve, but we are told enough.  He set some precedents.  There is, for example, marriage, Genesis 2:24, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.”  Our Lord referred to this in Matthew 19:4-6, “…He who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’.  So then, they are no longer two, but one flesh.  Therefore what God has joined together. let not man separate.”  

When God created Adam and Eve, He told them to “multiply,” that is, to have children.  This introduces “the family.”  The family is the basic unit of society.  Marriage is the glue that’s supposed to hold the family together.

God told the first couple to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth….”  Unlike most of the animal world, bringing human offspring into the world isn’t just a matter of preservation of the species.  It means much more than just bringing the next generation into the world.  It has more to do with the idea that the next generation is raised in such a way that it doesn’t destroy the species.  We see this all around us.  Where the Biblical idea of the so-called “traditional” family has been destroyed or distorted, the younger generation often grows up in such a way that if they don’t literally destroy, that is, kill, each other, then they engage in “destructive life-styles” which just take longer to accomplish the same thing.  The concept of family as it’s found in the Bible is the foundation of society; if the family goes, society goes.

Human children require far more care than any other offspring in the world.  Most animals are able to carry on by themselves after just a few days or weeks.  Not so, children.  Not only is there the protecting of them because they are helpless, there is the nurturing and teaching which takes several years.  While it may be true that in their first three or four years children learn most of what they will ever learn, no five year old is ready for his own apartment.  Even teenagers struggle with the change from child to adult.  Parents are to be there, indeed, “the family” is there, to be a support system.

In addition, it is here, in the family, that we first learn to interact with others: our parents, and perhaps brothers and sisters, and then, to the society and world in which we live.  As we grow, our circle expands until, as adults, we enter society on our own, away from home and family.

It’s in the family that we first learn about authority and sharing.  It’s a shame and tragedy when youngsters grow up without ever learning these lessons.  The first thing a baby demonstrates is that he or she is completely absorbed in himself or herself.  I grant that the baby has a very limited understanding of what is going on around him.  At the same time, all he knows is that he is wet, hungry, thirsty, tired, or in some other way uncomfortable.  He wants immediate gratification; it doesn’t matter what needs his mother,  usually, might have – his are more important.

The state license plate that says, “kids first”, sounds good, but the thought is too often misplaced.  I understand that children are important and in many instances they do come first.  With God’s blessing and help, my wife and I raised four children to mature and responsible adulthood.  What I’m concerned about is the idea that the kids run the family, and that parents have no real say.  What the kid wants, the kid gets.  Unfortunately, he grows up with this attitude and those around him are the ones who suffer for it.

The idea of learning authority in the home is that we might come to know that there is an ultimate authority:  God.  Parents are just the first link in the chain of command.  Too many people never get even to that point; for them, there is only one link in the chain: themselves.

It is these last thoughts that are emphasized in Deuteronomy 22:18-21.  The relationship of child and parent is very important in the Bible. One of the sins Israel later was judged for was they had “made light of father and mother,” Ezekiel 22:7.  In the New Testament, Jesus rebuked the scribes and Pharisees for depriving their parents of necessary support by saying that what they should have used for that was “dedicated to God,” so was unavailable to care for their parents.

So important is this relationship that God considered it worthy of death for a child to defy his parents.  Again, we must point out that this doesn’t mean a young child.  It refers to one old enough to know better, one who is a drunkard and glutton, probably an older teenage, although the concept of “teenager” is relatively new.  Even in the history of the U.S., the first Secretary of the Navy was given command of his first ship when he was twelve.  It’s only relatively recently that “teenagers” have been consigned to the wasteland of the Xbox or X-rated activities. thereby wasting the tremendous energy and enthusiasm they have, and setting them on the path of wasting a great deal of their time and talents.

In our time, things have been turned completely around.  You see this everywhere, little children in a restaurant or at the supermarket screaming their heads off because they’re not getting their way.  Parents are at a loss to deal with this because children have “rights,” or so we’re told.  You see older kids swaggering down the middle of the street, their pants down around their knees, arrogance spread across their faces.  “Juveniles” commit the worst of crimes because they know that their “juvenile” records will be sealed, and they basically can get away with it.  High schools have become hotbeds of violence and terror, with things happening almost daily which were beyond imagining in my high school days (where, by the way, we had a rifle range in the basement for ROTC, with rifles and ammunition, locked away, of course, but still there.  Never a hint of any trouble with them.  I qualified as a marksman on that range).  That high school was in what is now “the ghetto,” but we had less trouble than preschoolers get into now.

Then, of course, there’s the complete absence of any teaching about “God.”  If anything, education is against the idea of God, or of absolutes, or of morality, which has been replaced by “political correctness”.

I’m not advocating a return to Old Testament practices, but heading in that direction would certainly take care of a lot of the problems caused by the “troubled youth” in our time.

Abraham and Isaac

This is about one of the more “difficult” passages of Scripture.

Genesis 22:2 (NKJV), “Then [God] said, ‘Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.”

This is perhaps one of the most controversial chapters in the Bible.  “What kind of God would demand that you sacrifice your son?”  I heard this or something like it a few years ago on a popular TV show.  I’ve mentioned that I spend a lot of time on Yahoo Answers’ Religion and Spiritual section.  Two or three times, I’ve seen the question, “What would you do if God asked you to kill your son?”  You can imagine some of the answers.

It is a perplexing thing to many.  Why DID God require this of Abraham?  Without going into a lot of speculation. let’s see if we can make some sense of all this.  Note that there are three main characters in this scenario: God, Abraham, and Isaac.

God.  What was God doing, asking such a thing of a devoted believer?  Genesis 22:1 says that all this was a “test”.  There are some who use this verse and others like it to claim that God isn’t omniscient, that is, all-knowing.  He was testing Abraham, so these folks say, so He could find out what Abraham would do, what kind of faith he had.  I submit that this test was so that Abraham could find out what kind of faith he had.  It’s easy enough to say, “I believe God” when the Sun’s shining, but not so easy when things go South.

And God didn’t make it “easy.”  Notice the language: “Take now – your son – your only son Isaac – whom you love….”  Making sure that Abraham understood what he was doing.  Besides all that, Isaac was the channel through whom blessings were to flow to humanity.  Yet God said, “Take him and sacrifice him.”  It’s true that God had no real intention that Isaac should die, but Abraham didn’t know that.

Abraham.  Genesis 22:3 has got to be one of the most amazing verses in the Bible: “So Abraham rose early in the morning….”  I wish I could underline this:  “early in the morning.”  No hesitation, no questions, just got up to go and do what God had told him to do.  Four men on a three-day journey.  I can’t help wondering what thoughts went through Abraham’s mind.  

Isaac.  I’ve seen pictures showing Isaac as a young boy accompanying his father on this journey.  Some have pictured him as such, helpless and unable to defend himself from a cruel and heartless father.  However, v. 6 tells us that he was able to carry the wood for the sacrifice.  This was more than just a couple of sticks.  Isaac would have been well able to refuse and prevent his father from laying him on the altar when the time came.  His father was probably 115, or older.  Isaac was probably at least an older teenager; I heard one preacher say that Isaac was 33 years old, like Jesus going to the Cross, but there’s no way to know that for sure.  He was, however, old enough that he had to be willing to go along with his father.

He was also an observant young man.  In verse 7, we read of his asking his father, “Look, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?”    This brings us back to Abraham.

Abraham, v. 8.  We mentioned a moment ago the thoughts that must have gone through Abraham’s head.  I think that by morning Abraham had already settled his mind on this matter.  Note what he told the two young men who accompanied him and Isaac on this journey.  When they got within sight of their destination, “Abraham said to his young men, ‘Stay here with the donkey; the lad and I will go yonder and worship, and we will come back to you’,” v. 5.

 “WE will come back to you….”  The Hebrew text is even stronger: “We are determined to go, we are determined to worship, we are determined to return.”  Was this just something Abraham said to cover a bad situation, or did he really mean it?  Or, perhaps he was  delusional, an old man overwhelmed by a tragic situation?  

We can’t be sure of the exact sequence of Abraham’s thoughts, but the New Testament gives us some insight into them.  Hebrews 11:17-19 says, “By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, of whom it was said, ‘In Isaac your seed shall be called,’ concluding that God was able to raise him even from the dead, from which he also received him in a figurative sense.”

In other words, Abraham knew God, he trusted God.  Now, the rationalists of his day, like those of our day, might have said, “Now, wait a minute, Abraham.  Show us tangible, verifiable evidence that God can raise anyone from the dead.  No one has ever come back from the dead.  It’s not scientifically possible.  When you’re dead, you’re dead.”  Granted, in Abraham’s case, he could have pointed to Isaac, who had been born miraculously, and said, “Here’s my evidence.”  The point is, in this case, Abraham trusted God in spite of “the evidence,” that is, that he was going to have to kill his son, so far as he knew, and no one had ever, up to that time, been raised from the dead.  He knew that God had promised great blessing through Isaac.  Indeed, he was to be the continuation of the Abrahamic line.  Perhaps Abraham reasoned something like this:  if God were to be faithful to that promise, then He would have to raise Isaac from the dead.

Abraham didn’t look at the situation; He looked at God.  God knows what He is doing, even if we don’t.  In fact, when it comes right down to it, how can we know – really know – what God is doing?

But that’s not the focus of this story; it’s on Abraham’s answer to his son’s question; his response to the query about a lamb:  Abraham answered, “My son, God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering,” v. 8.  This brings us back to God.

God.  God stopped Abraham at the last possible moment, humanly speaking.  He doesn’t always act when, or how, we think He should.  Leaving aside what God told him about his obedience, there was “a ram caught in a thicket by its horns,” v. 13.  God had indeed “provided”.

Centuries later, John the Baptist cried out concerning the Lord Jesus, “Behold the Lamb of God, Who takes away the sin of the world,” John 1:29.  The incident of Abraham and Isaac is a foreshadowing, a “type”, of the Lord Jesus.  This is how Paul, in Galatians 3:8, could say that “God preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand.”  Granted, Paul doesn’t specifically mention the death and resurrection of Christ, but it’s only through that death and resurrection that “all nations of the earth shall be blessed,” Galatians 3:8; Genesis 12:3; 18:18; 22:18; 26:4, where the promise is repeated and verified to Isaac himself.

As that ram became a substitute for Isaac, so the Lord Jesus became a substitute for sinners.  As the ram was sacrificed in the place of Isaac, so the Lord Jesus was sacrificed in the place of sinners.  The Gospel isn’t, “Smile, God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.”  The Gospel is that God has provided a substitute and a sacrifice for those who believe on Him.  He has given the answer to our sin problem.  God imputed the sins of those who would believe to Christ.  As it were, those sins became His, even though He was sinless and perfect and holy.  Christ suffered the punishment due those sins.  Conversely, God imputed the righteousness of Christ to believers, though we are anything but righteous.  God looks at believers as being as righteous as Christ, because His righteousness has been credited to them.

When my firstborn son was just an infant, I was someplace where there was a crying baby.  He was having a fit about something, as babies know how to do! I had never liked crying babies, but as I looked at this red-faced little fellow, somehow I saw my own son – and it was alright.  God looks at believers and, instead of seeing our failings, sins, stubbornness and general all-around unworthiness, He sees His Son, in Whom He is well-pleased.  And it’s alright.  Not that we can live as we like, as some charge, or that we don’t have responsibility to live holy lives by the grace of God.  It’s that we’re accepted because of the Lord Jesus Christ, not because of what we do.  God has provided for Himself – and for us – a Lamb.

As I said at the beginning, this is a controversial passage.  I’ve tried to explain it Scripturally.  I hope it’s been a blessing to you.  If you still have any questions, I’d be glad to try to answer them.

“To the praise of the glory of His grace.”