Hebrews 11:1-7, Living By Faith

[1]Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.  [2]For by it, the elders obtained a good testimony.
[3]By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible.
[4]By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts; and through it he being dead still speaks.
[5]By faith Enoch was taken away so that he did not see death, “and was not found, because God had taken him”; for before he was taken he had this testimony, that he pleased God.  [6]But without faith, it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.
[7]By faith Noah, being divinely warned of things not seen as yet, moved with godly fear, prepared an ark for the saving of his household, by which he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness which is according to faith. (NKJV)

Hebrews 11 gives a far different view of “life” with reference to God than most seem to realize.  The writer gives us some examples of the faith he mentioned starting in 10:38.  “Faith” has little, if anything, to do with “prosperity,” but with “perspective.”  True faith enables us to looks at things the way God looks at them, which may be quite different, even opposed, to the way the world looks at them.  In the verses before us, we see five instances of “faith.”
1. the elders, v. 2, that is, the Old Testament saints in general, from whom the writer picks some particular examples.

“good testimony”.  Or “good report,” as the KJV has it.  Perhaps we misunderstand these words.  Especially in our day, what is called Christianity goes out of its way to find broad acceptance and understanding, with some going so far as to “dialogue” with Islam and other world religions.  “Inter-faith” is the current buzzword.  This viewpoint is unBiblical.  While we certainly aren’t to try to be divisive, the only way we can find acceptance with an ungodly world in the things of God is to be unfaithful to the things of God.
Perhaps vs. 33-38 throws a little light on this “report:”  the world despised these OT saints.  That is a good report.  Cf. Luke 6:22-26.

2. creation, v. 3.  There is an important principle in this verse as the writer starts where God starts, namely, with the origin of all things.  The world says that all things just happened, with a mindless, meaningless development from nothing into “here we are today.”  Science tells us that everything in the universe began “as a condensed droplet of matter at an extremely high density and temperature.”  (Robert Jastrow, Red Giants and White Dwarfs, p. 51).  Known today as the “big bang theory,” it was first put forth in 1931 by a Father Lemaitre, a Belgian astronomer educated as a Jesuit priest.  Allegedly, because of enormous internal pressure, this “drop of matter” rapidly expanded and things developed, over billions of years, into that which we see around us today.  This includes “us”.

There are some things, however, which this elaborate theory never addresses.  Where, for example, did this primordial “drop” come from?  It just suddenly “appeared”?  Further, where did it appear?  As I understand the theory, before the appearance of this drop, there was nothing.  But wouldn’t this include “space” itself?  There was nowhere for this nothing to suddenly begin becoming something.
This, of course, is a simple version of a complex viewpoint.  Basically, though, it gets rid of any idea of “God” and leaves us at the top of the food chain, so to speak.  There is no higher being to whom we are accountable.  There are no absolutes, no sin, and certainly no need for redemption and a Redeemer.

On the other hand, “faith” simply accepts the record of Genesis 1:1, In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.  Thousands of books and millions of words have been written about all this.  The few hundred words of this post won’t settle the issue.

“Faith” says that it’s already been settled.

The word translated “understand” is in the present tense.  There will never be a time in this life where faith isn’t necessary as to the origin of things.  This is not to say that there isn’t “evidence” for the various “-ologies” of science, but an evolutionist  and a creationist will look at the same evidence – the world around us, with its marvelous unity, intricacy and complexity – and arrive at opposing conclusions.

The word translated “worlds” is not “kosmos,” but “aionas”.  “Kosmos” refers to the world from the standpoint of its place in space; “aion” considers it from the standpoint of time.  There are those who say that the words are synonymous here.  I don’t think so.  We’re very limited in our perception and understanding.  This evil world is but a dust-mote in the vast reaches of space, and it’s history the merest twinkle in view of eternity.  Paul wrote of “God’s eternal purpose,” Ephesians 3:11, “the ages to come,” Ephesians 2:7, “all ages,” Ephesians 3:21.  God has dealt with the whole as well as with each part, and each part has its place and purpose in the whole.  Every event is but a single note in the eternal symphony to the glory of God.

Finally, though there is much more we could say about this, we’re told that what we see was made out of things we can’t see.  How did the “ignorant” writers of the Bible know this?  How were they able to reduce the whole spectrum of theoretical physics to this simple sentence?

3. Abel, v. 4.  Note especially the phrase, “more excellent.”  Cain’s offering wasn’t rejected because it was of inferior quality or shoddy workmanship.  No doubt, Cain worked hard with his crops and gave of his very best.  Cain was rejected because he tried to do things his way.  Abel was accepted because he did things God‘s way.

4. Enoch, vs. 5, 6.  Though he’s mentioned a couple of other times in the Old Testament, six verses in Genesis are all that’s told us of this man:  Genesis 5:18, 19, 21-24.  There’s just enough to whet our curiosity.  We’re told only that after he begot Methuselah, he walked with God, v. 22.  What happened to turn him around?  What was it about this birth or this child that changed his life?  We’re not told – only that he pleased God.  No one could ask for a better “testimony”.

5. Noah, v. 7.  Our earlier post on Noah and the Flood goes into more detail on this event.  Here the writer simply refers to Noah’s motivation: “godly fear,” and the result of his labor:  the destruction of the world.   He condemned the world because he believed God and they didn’t.

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March Memories: “Look Now Toward Heaven.”

When my wife and I were first married, we started each evening to read a chapter of the Bible before we went to bed, beginning in Genesis.  We would alternate verses.  We hadn’t been doing this for very long when we came to Genesis 15.  As we were reading through this chapter, I noticed something I had never seen before.  It made me exclaim aloud, “Now, wait a minute!”  As I looked at this thought, the chapter, as well as the Bible’s teaching on faith, opened up to me in a way that was unbelievable.

One word of caution.  There’s a standard understanding of this chapter that’s pretty much universally held.  I held it myself.  In fact, I’ve never seen or heard the approach to this chapter that I now hold.  I believe that my view is right.  It’s just that every so often someone comes up with some new teaching “from Scripture” – some hare-brained idea that’s all the rage for a couple of weeks, and then fades back into the woodwork.  I’m not interested in novel ideas about the Scripture.  I agree with Paul in Romans 4:3, where he asked the question in another connection, What does the Scripture say?

..really say?

So, before you go any further in this post, I’d like for you to read Genesis 15 – yes, right now.  Close your laptop and open your Bible.  Read Genesis 15.  It’ll just take a few minutes.  Or look it up online, if you’re inclined that way.  I’m an old geezer myself and prefer books, though, obviously, I do use a computer. 🙂

I wonder how many will actually do that.

Anyway, the usual reading of this chapter concludes with the idea that Abraham goes out at night and looks at the starry heavens.  “Whoa!” he says.  “That’s a lot of stars.”

The trouble with this idea is that men HAD counted the stars, or so they thought.  The ancient Egyptians catalogued 1025 stars.  That’s not a very large posterity – not even really a good sized town.  Even as late as 1627, the German astronomer Kepler had only catalogued a little over a thousand stars.  It’s only been with the invention and improvement of the telescope that science has discovered that there are innumerable galaxies, each one with innumerable stars.  Just in passing, how did the “ignorant goat-herder” who is alleged to have written Scripture know about innumerable stars, when only a handful, relatively speaking, are visible to the naked eye?

There’s another, even more interesting, challenge to the usual understanding of the chapter.  That’s why I asked you to read it.  There are two phrases which caught my attention that long-ago night, and forever changed my conception of the chapter.  Did you notice them?

God told Abraham, “Look now toward heaven….”  Some of the later versions omit the word, “now,” but I think my interpretation is still valid.

After the conversation in v. 5, we read in v. 12, now when the Sun was going down, and in v. 17, when the Sun went down and it was dark….  My wife would have read v. 12 and I would have read v. 17.

Now, I don’t know if it was the reading of those phrases, or hearing them read out loud, or what, but they caught my attention.  They caused me to exclaim, “Now, wait a minute!”  To me, these phrases indicate that it was broad daylight when God told Abraham to look at the stars.

Now, I hear you say, “Wait a minute!”

It doesn’t make sense, does it?  The idea that God would ask someone to count stars in the daytime?

It seems to me that there are several lessons we can learn from this incident.  There are a lot of things in Scripture that don’t “make sense.”  That’s why unbelievers and skeptics have so much trouble with them.  God told Noah to build a huge boat because a flood was coming, and it have never even rained up until that time.  God told Israel to walk around Jericho for seven days, and on the seventh day they were also to yell real loudly.  What kind of warfare is that?  The Lord fed 15,000 or more people with a few sardine-sized fish and a couple slices of bread.  Pretty slim pickings.

Yet, in each case, “sense” was wrong, or at least very inadequate.

In addition, Abraham had to choose between what he could see, or what God said.  To do that, he had to go against the “science” of his day.  That’s still true.  At least here in the US, it seems that God hardly exists.  Violence and immorality are increasing.  Atheism has pretty much become the law of the land and the Bible is illegal in a good portion of our society.  As for science, no comment is needed.

But there’s more.

Abraham was a shepherd.  He’d spent a lifetime of nights under the stars.  And he could expect to spend a lot more nights under them.  But God said, “Look now….”  Abraham couldn’t look to his experiences.  God said, “Look NOW.”  He couldn’t count on his expectations.

As Christians, we can look back and see how God has blessed us.  For example, the way I met my wife involves about 7 years, four states, quitting a job, a long move, several people, a telephone book, and a phone call.  But that’s a story for another time….

We can see many times that God has been with us.  And, by His grace, we look forward to an eternity which will infinitely eclipse the things of this world.  It’s the “now” that’s the problem.

I’ve known and know people going through things I can’t even begin to imagine.  And this blog has led me to people who are also suffering.  For all these, “now” is anything but enviable.

“All” Abraham had to go on was the naked word of God.  There was no “tangible, verifiable evidence” – the kind skeptics and unbelievers are always asking for – just God and His promise.  But you see, that’s what “faith” boils down to: an absolute reliance on and trust of, God and His Word, even when everything around us says, “Why?”  Why do you think there are such attacks on the Bible?  “Faith” isn’t about us getting God to do what we want, it’s about trusting His Word and what He says He will do.

Abraham had to wait 13 years for the beginning of the fulfillment of that promise.  He did some foolish things in the meantime, things which echo today in the Middle East.  Even though Abraham was foolish, God was faithful to His promise.

For all believers, Paul wrote, the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us, Romans 8:18.

Let me encourage you, dear readers of this blog.  I don’t know anything about your “now,” but God does.  I don’t know what to say to ease your burden.  I just hope and pray that He will use these few words to encourage and bless you.

Look now toward heaven….
___________________

(originally published March 26, 2013.)  edited.

March Memories: Creation and the Fall of Adam and Eve, Genesis 1-3.

[As we continue our “March Memories,” we think it’s good to back to the beginning – of everything.  On every side, atheistic science and materialism tell us that there is no God, and there is nothing that we can’t figure out in a laboratory or raise in a petri dish.  I just watched a TV show that asserted that Noah could never have built the Ark the Bible describes because he didn’t have the technology to build such a craft.  We still haven’t figured out for sure how the Egyptians built the pyramids, but we know for sure that Noah couldn’t have built the Ark!  There’s lots of stuff “back there” that we haven’t figured out how they did it, or even in some cases what it is, but they still did it!]

As we come to the book of Genesis, we find that it tells us where everything came from, not from some random cosmic explosion, but from the power and wisdom of God.  So Genesis is the real Origin of Species, long before, and in opposition to, Darwin.  It tells how the earth came to be, and where man came from.  It accounts for the entrance of sin into the world, revealing that man is a moral being, different from all other earthly creatures, in contrast to evolution, which tells us that he’s just a highly-developed version of them.  It accounts for the nation of Israel, as well as for the origin and distribution of many of the other nations of the world.

Genesis is also the “foundational” book of the Bible.  It tells of sin and redemption, and forms the basis for most of the rest, if not all, that the Bible says on these subjects.  Its first redemptive promise contains in a verse (Genesis 3:15) the whole of prophecy given in the rest of the Bible.

Here are some ways Genesis might be outlined:

1.  The Beginning of Human History, chs. 1-11.
2.  The Beginning of Hebrew History, chs. 12-50.

or –

1.  The Beginning of Man’s Residence on the Earth, chs. 1, 2.
2.  The Beginning of Man’s Rebellion on the Earth, chs. 3-11.
3.  The Beginning of Man’s Redemption on the Earth, chs. 12-50.

or the more familiar –

1.  Creation, chs. 1, 2:  Preparation for Man.
2.  The Fall, chs. chs. 3-5:  Presumption of Man.
3.  The Flood, chs. 6-9:  Punishment of Man.
4.  The Tower of Babel, chs. 10, 11:  Perversity of Man.
5.  The Patriarchs, chs. 12-50:  Preference Among Men.

As we look more closely at the opening of Genesis through this outline, we see:

Creation, chs. 1, 2: Preparation for Man.

A.  It opposes many errors, among them:

1.  Atheism.  “In the beginning, God…,” Genesis 1:1.  NOTE:  the Bible was written to people who already believed in God, and, in many cases, who had had personal dealings with Him.  The Bible never attempts to “prove” the existence of God, though His creation (“nature”) has many proofs for those who will see them, Psalm 19:1-4; Romans 1:18-20.

2.  Pantheism.  That is, God is everything, and everything is God.  There is a modern version of this called “panentheism,” which, while maintaining that God is everything, also maintains that He is greater that everything.  Creation is “contained” within Him.  Scripture shows that God is indeed the Supreme Creator and Sustainer of everything, but also that He is distinct from everything.  He IS everyWHERE; He IS NOT everyTHING!

3.  Materialism.  That is, “matter” is eternal and, as such, has always existed.  This begs the question, “Where did matter come from in the first place?”

4.  That everything came unintentionally and spontaneously into existence, i.e., “The Big Bang.”

B.  Genesis reveals the origin of the universe and of the earth.  It doesn’t particularly tell us “how” or “why.”  Theistic evolution, in a sincere but misguided attempt to align Scripture with atheistic science, doesn’t see what the Bible says about origins.  I have no difficulty with the idea that the earth is more than 6,000 years old; I just have trouble with the idea, as we’ll see in a moment, that it’s billions of years old.

Herbert Spencer, an eminent scientist who died in 1903, taught that everything exists in one of five categories:  time, force, action, space or matter.  Moses already knew that, millennia earlier.

1.  time – “In the beginning”
2.  force – “God”
3.  action – “created”
4.  space – “the heavens”
5.  matter – “and the earth.”

C.  Genesis has many features which don’t agree with evolution.  Among them are:

1.  It has an intelligent Creator, not a mindless cosmic catastrophe, followed by aimless and random development.

2.  The earth was created before the stars!  They were made on the fourth day, when the earth already existed.

3.  Plants were created on the third day, before the Sun, which was created with the other stars on the fourth day.  If the “days” are geologic ages, as evolution claims, then how did vegetation survive without the Sun to nourish it?

4.  On the first day, God created “light” as something distinct from Himself, Who is light, 1 John 1:5.  On the fourth day, creating the Sun, He created “time.”  Our concept of time would have relevance nowhere else in the universe.

5.  Each kind of animal was created fully developed.  It had no need for further “development,” apart from adaptation to climate or environmental changes.  There are many instance of such development within species; there is no evidence for development between species.

6.  Each creature was made with the ability to reproduce according to its kind, 1:11, 21, 24, not mutate into another, entirely different, kind.

7.  Sea creatures were created on the same day as birds.  Birds did not evolve eons later from the dinosaurs.

8.  In a separate act, man was created from the dust of the ground, 2:8.  He did not “evolve” from “lower” animals, nor did God simply choose one or two from a number of already existing hominids with which to form a special relationship.

The Fall, chs. 3-5:  Presumption of Man.

1.  Note that man fell because of a discussion over whether the Word of God was to be accepted “literally” or not.  That discussion is alive and well today.

2.  Note that man fell because he decided to replace God as the moral authority as to what was “good” or “evil.”  The essence of sin is the disagreement with God over jurisdiction:  who decides “good” or “evil”?

3.  Because of his sin, man fled from God.  Left to ourselves, we’re still fleeing.  This doesn’t mean that men and women can’t be “religious;” witness the number of religions in the world, but how many of them, even those who claim to believe the Bible, actually follow the Bible, or believe it’s authoritative?  How many people even read the Bible and have any real idea about what it says?

God must seek us, if we are to “find” Him, Isaiah 65:1.

4.  Man was taught that, because of his sin, the only way he could continue to live physically was through the substitution and death of an innocent sacrifice.  All religion revolves around this central issue:  how may a man or woman live before God, regardless of how “live” is defined, or whomever or whatever God is said to be.

5.  Because of man’s sinfulness and God’s holiness, God’s justice bars the way to the tree of life, Genesis 3:24.  All religion seeks to answer the question asked very early in Biblical history, “How can man be righteous before God?”  “…Or how can he be pure who is born of woman?”  Job 9:2; 25:4.

To put it another way, how can I satisfy God’s justice and the holiness His word and nature require?  How can I escape the penalty for the disobedience I’m guilty of?  It is only Biblical Christianity (for there is a great deal in “Christianity” that is not Biblical) that proclaims the answer foreshadowed by the slain animals and coats of skin.  The only way God’s justice has ever been or ever will be satisfied is through the sinless life and shed blood of the Lord Jesus Christ.  By His death He paid forever the penalty demanded by a broken Law, and by His sinless life He obtained that righteousness imputed to believing sinners, by which and only by which they and we will ever be able to stand before God uncondemned.

Friends, if we have committed even one sin, and who among us wouldn’t have to admit to that, we are lost and undone without the Lord Jesus.  O blessed life, that did what we could not, and blessed death, that did what we dare not!
_______________

(originally published, April 9, 2013) edited and new material.

 

“The Kindness of God.” Part 1: “What is Man?”

Why “kindness”?  We’ll take a closer look at this later.  For now, consider 2 Samuel 9:3 and Ephesians 2:7.

I.  The Necessity of Grace.

Before the Renaissance, it was believed that the proper study of mankind was God.  With the Renaissance and the rise of humanism came the belief that the proper study of mankind is man.  This is alright up to a point; we should know as much about ourselves as possible, but as it has developed, too many believe that when you are studying man, you are studying God!

What does the Bible say about Man?  Why is grace necessary?  Is it necessary?  We start at the beginning.

A. The Creation and Fall of Adam and Eve, Genesis 1-3.

 Our Lord accepted the Genesis accounts of creation and the Fall as historical events.  So did Paul.  So do we.

1.   The creation of Adam and Eve, Genesis 1:26-31; 2:8-25.

We can in these lessons do little more than touch the surface.

a.  their responsibility, 1:26, 28.

They were to be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it; …have dominion over…every living thing that moves on the earth.  In other words, they were to explore their new home and put it to good use.  In a sinless context like the Garden, the word “dominion” carries the idea of stewardship, not “domination,” as it so often does in a sinful context, like ours.  Adam was to till the ground, not just lie around in idleness.  Even in “paradise,” there was work to do.

b. their resources, 1:29; 2:16.

They were given to eat freely of every tree in the Garden except one.  There was no miserly rationing of things they might need, but all was freely given, even access to the Tree of Life.  If they’d’ve been smart, they would have rushed right over and eaten of it.  It should have been their first meal!  Of course, they had no way of knowing the future, or what was at stake.

c.  their restriction, 2:17.

There was only one tree which they were forbidden to eat from, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  This restriction served a two-fold purpose:  1).  Even though, in a sense, Adam was lord of all he surveyed, yet he was still just a creature and, as such, subject to the will of the Creator.  2).  Adam and Eve didn’t need to know about “good and evil.”  They had full access to God.  He determines what is “good,” and what is “evil.”  In their lives just now, there was no “evil.”  If there were any questions, they had only to ask Him.

2.  The conduct of Adam and Eve, Genesis 3:1-6. 

a.  they listened, vs. 1-5.

Even in the Garden, they made bad choices:  Eve to listen to the serpent, and Adam to listen to his wife.  Though perhaps humorous, this last really isn’t funny, because from these few minutes in the Garden have come millennia, indeed, even an eternity, of sin and suffering.  Notice how Satan turned the generosity of God into an intolerable restraint, implying that He was keeping something good from them.  Furthermore, he said, they wouldn’t “die” if they ate the fruit.  To the contrary, they would become like God, and by this, he implied, they wouldn’t need Him to be their moral and spiritual compass.  They could decide for themselves.

b.  they looked, v. 6.

We say, “They,” because the verse says that Adam was “with her.”  We believe he was there all the time.  She didn’t have to go looking for him.  Now, the tree looked beautiful and its fruit, she was told, was beneficial.  In her defense, Eve had no experience with deceit, it not having become part of the daily fabric of life.  So she picked a delicious-looking fruit – probably not an apple, and ate it.  Then she “shared” with Adam.

3.  The consequences to Adam and Eve, Genesis 3:7-24. 

a.  they died, (Genesis 2:17).

What does they “died” mean, since Adam lived well over 900 years outside the Garden?  Seeing this, some have looked at Psalm 90:4 and its repetition in 2 Peter 3:8, and misreading it as if it said 1000 years is one day to the Lord, have said that this is what God meant.  However, the only “day” Adam likely knew, never having read Psalm 90:4, was the “day” of 24 hours.  Besides, there is a certain immediacy in God’s warning – in the day you eat of it [the fruit], you shall surely die” that is lost if all God meant was that Adam would live less than a thousand years.

Before the Sun went down on that fateful day when they disobeyed God, Adam and Eve had died.  As we’ll see shortly, the primary effect of death is separation, and we read no more of any fellowship Adam and Eve had with God.  They were now afraid of Him and tried to hide.

b. they tried to do something about it, Genesis 3:7.

The world with its warped thought jokes about “the oldest profession in the world,” but they’re wrong.  The oldest “profession” is that of tailor.  Mankind still has no understanding of its condition before God, Romans 3:11, yet knows something is “wrong,” and so is still making “loincloths.”

c.  they shifted the blame, Genesis 3:12, 13.

Ultimately, Adam blamed God:  “the woman You gave me….”  Eve blamed the serpent. Yet the responsibility had been given to Adam to keep the Garden.  He failed in his primary responsibilities to God and to protect (another meaning of the word translated, “keep”) Eve.  After all, she was part of what God had entrusted into his keeping.

d.  their relationship were disrupted.

Their primary relationship was with God.  Before the Fall, and we don’t know how long that took, they had enjoyed fellowship with God, Genesis 3:8.  I’m sure, for example, that it was a festive occasion when God brought Eve to Adam.  However, after the Fall, there is no record that they ever again had such fellowship with God.  They were thrown out of the Garden.  They had died spiritually.

Their relationship with each other deteriorated, as well.  Gone forever was the innocence with which they had reveled in each other’s company.  I use the word “revel” deliberately.  There was no sin to cloud their happiness together; everything was perfect and holy.  We cannot imagine what it must have been like, although those who are blessed with a happy marriage have a small taste of it.  But now their memory was of what had happened – how they had failed God and each other, to say nothing of the curse under which they now lived:  evicted together from paradise, multiplied and painful child-bearing for Eve, as well as subordination to her husband, and, for Adam, increased and frustrating toil.

Paradise had truly been lost.

e.  they lost the right to eternal life, and their ability to obtain it.

Being evicted from the Garden barred them from the Tree of Life.  To make certain of that, God placed cherubim and a flaming sword in the way to prevent access to it, Genesis 3:22-24.  The lesson for them, and for us, is that if you want eternal life, you have to do something about your sin and the justice of God.  What they could have freely taken at any time before their sin was completely denied to them after it.

f.  their descendants were affected.

Though we see this relatively soon in the murder of Abel by his jealous brother Cain, we’re more concerned about descendants further along the line, like us.  What effect, if any, did the Fall have on us and our children and grandchildren?  We’ll explore the answer to this, Lord willing, in the next lesson.

Questions.

 1.  What bars man from eternal life?

 2.  Why is grace necessary?

 3.  What does “kindness” have to do with it?

 4.  Are the Biblical accounts of Creation and the Fall reliable.  Why?

 5.  What responsibility did Adam and Eve have in the Garden?

 6.  What resources?

 7.  Were there any restrictions?  Why?

 8.  What did Adam and Eve do?

 9.  What does it mean:  “they died”?

10. What other results were there from their eating the fruit?

A Wish for Couples Marrying This Spring….

…Or Anytime.

It will soon be the season for weddings.  I’d like to give these couples some thoughts and wishes as they begin life together.

I’ve been blessed to participate in the weddings of our three married children and privileged to officiate in one of them.  Our unmarried daughter finally got tired of my asking if she had found someone and ever so politely and lovingly and in so many words told me to buzz off.  And no, she wasn’t crude about it, just firm.  She’s quite content being single.

I was just going through my files looking for something else when I came across the notes I used in those weddings.  Reading them again brought tears to my eyes as I recalled those happy occasions and am able to reflect on what has happened since then in all of them.  I sometimes joke that I’m where we now live because of my wife, and she’s here because of the grandchildren.  We have others in different states now, but these were the only ones for quite a while.  It’s been a blessing to watch them grow and mature, and to see our children happy and settled.

In the beginning of all things earthly, God created the heavens and the earth, with all the creatures that are in them.  On one level, it was for occasions like weddings that all these wonderful things were made.  We read in Genesis that God made a man and gave everything into his hand, except one tree.  God brought all the animals to Adam, and Adam named them.  There was, however, something missing.  Every animal, every bird, had its own corresponding mate – there were two of them.  Only Adam stood by himself.  God said, “It is not good that man should be alone,” and He set about at once to finish His creation.  When He was done, He brought the first woman to the first man. Now God hadn’t been caught off-guard or surprised and so made Eve as some sort of after-thought.  I think He did it this way to show the special relationship that one man and one woman are to sustain toward each other for life.

For the man: –

There’s an interesting verse in the Old Testament that’s very applicable here.  Most people think of the Old Testament as all stern and unyielding and there are some things in it which do sound strange to us.  And it’s true that we don’t live under its requirements any more. but there’s still a lot of wisdom in its pages.  This verse has some of it:

When a man has taken a new wife, he shall not go out to war or be charged with any business; he shall be free at home one year, and bring happiness to the wife whom he has taken, Deuteronomy 24:5 (NKJV).

“Bring happiness to the wife whom he has taken.”

“Bring happiness to your wife.”

When was the last time you heard that in marital counseling?

And, yes, I understand that there are sometimes complex issues involved.  After all, we are human beings.

But this is a good place to start.

We men are pretty good, or bad, about what we expect from our wives:  “She’d better” do this or that.  We don’t give much thought to what they might expect from us. However, God said to the man, “Bring happiness to your wife.”  It’s your responsibility to make her happy, not hers to make you happy.

The world has a saying, “When the queen is happy, there’s peace in the realm.” There’s a lot of truth in that.  If you treat your wife like a dog, don’t be surprised if she barks at you.  Of course, that’s the trouble with a lot of men, they would treat a dog better than they do their wife.

It might be objected that that’s Old Testament, and even I have recognized that we don’t live under its rules any more.  However, the same God Who wrote the Old Testament wrote the New Testament as well.  In 1 Corinthians 7:33, Paul wrote, …he that is married cares about the things of the world – how he may please his wife. 

Many consider Paul to have a negative view of marriage and of women in general.  Not so.  In this verse, he explicitly says that it’s the man’s responsibility to please his wife, although he does also say that the wife is to make her husband happy. Being well-versed in the Old Testament, since that’s pretty much all they had in the beginnings of the New Testament, not forgetting the teachings of the Lord Jesus, he likely was thinking of Deuteronomy 24:5.

I suppose there might be some who look at the phrase “the things of the world,” and figure that they don’t have to worry about it.  Marriage is “of the world,” and Christians are “not of this world.”  However, God ordained and instituted marriage, and laid out the guidelines under which it was to be entered and lived.  That those guidelines have been ignored or rejected has a lot to do with the mess society is in right now.

And we can’t overlook Ephesians 5:25, which says, Husbands, love your wives as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for it. I don’t know of any man, no matter how much he thinks of himself, who would say that he’s done that!  Also, Colossians 3:19.

He shall bring happiness to the wife whom he has taken. 

For the woman: –

Genesis 2:18 gives us the fundamental reason why God created Eve, as we’ve already noted.  It wasn’t good for man to be alone.  Malachi 2:14, …she is your companion… These two verses bookmark the Old Testament view of marriage.  It is a companionship.  There may or may not be legitimate reasons for “girls’ night out” or “boys’ night out,” but blessed indeed is that couple which finds its greatest joy in each other.

Marriage isn’t a competition.  One is not “better” than the other.  We’re all fallen, fallible creatures and it wouldn’t be until heaven, if marriage were to endure til then, that a wife would have a perfect husband, and the husband a perfect wife.

And there is no condescension in marriage.  Those who disagree with the Biblical view of marriage accuse it of making women second-class citizens.  That’s not true.  We each have different roles and responsibilities in marriage, but one is no less important than the other.  There are physical differences to be sure; I don’t know that my wife could pick up a 40 lb bag of salt to put into the water softener, but then she has mothered five children and birthed four of them.  One went ahead of us, whom we never got to meet, hold or love.  She wins, hands down!  And it has taken a woman of great grace, courage and mercy to put up with me for 43 years!

Eve was to be a completion, a complement, to Adam.  She was the finishing touch to creation.  It wasn’t until after her appearance that God pronounced everything, very good, Genesis 1:31.

A lot of the trouble in marriage is caused because people overlook this basic dictum: He created them male and female. Men are men and women are women.  Men are not from Mars and women are not from Venus.  We are both from the hand of God.

A lot of women want their husbands to be more like themselves.  I suppose that has to do with feelings and emotions.  And men want their wives to be more like them.  Or they want to “get in touch with their feminine side.”  If you want to see my feminine side, I’ll introduce you to my wife!

God “made them male and female.”  In every area and in every difference, God has made them that way.

To a young woman standing before me, I would say, “you are about to enter into uncharted territory, so far as you are concerned.”  [I admit that this is an old-fashioned view, that couples don’t move in together without the benefit of marriage “to see if it’ll work out.”  Where’s the fun – and the challenge – of discovering a new country, so to speak, if you’ve already explored all of it?  And this doesn’t consider what God says about such an arrangement, that it is sin.] (continuing – ) “No longer will you be a single young woman answerable and responsible only to God and yourself.  From now on, the young man standing by your side must have great consideration in your plans and in your life.  You are required by Holy Scripture to have respect for him, to obey him.  This does not mean that you are to become a door-mat or a non-person in any way; it simply recognizes that his is the main responsibility before God in your marriage.”

It’s very interesting that there’s no Scripture which tells the wife directly to love her husband, only to respect him.  [Fellows, listen up.  Are you worthy of respect?]  Indeed, there is a verse which counsels older women to admonish the younger women to love their husbands…., Titus 2:4.  It must be tough on you ladies when your Prince Charming turns out to be a frog.  I don’t see how you do it.  The older ladies are supposed to have some experience in this and are to pass it along to the younger ladies.

To both of them: –

Marriage is a “they” proposition:  A man shall leave his father and his mother and cleave to his wife, and they shall be one flesh. “They” speaks of a mutual endeavor. “Shall become” speaks of a mutual effort.  “One flesh” speaks of a mutual experience.  This is very brief.  So much more could be said about it.

To any young couples contemplating marriage who are reading this, I wish for you two that you will become like an ornamental Benjamin fig tree I once saw.  Someone had taken three slender trees and planted and braided them together.  The tree had grown over these three individual shoots and they had become united as one tree. I know it loses a lot in the telling, but the tree was beautiful.  May you two as you plant and entwine your lives grow together as one and become beautiful in the hand of God.

1%

With this 1%, I’m not writing about the supposed 1% who have all the wealth, as those who are trying to incite class envy and warfare allege, but in the “difference” in the DNA of humans and chimpanzees.  Just in passing, thinking about “wealth” and way off the mark, earlier today I read an article which pointed out, in the current agitation to increase the minimum wage, that the minimum wage was first imposed in 1938.  Guess how much it was….

 

 

25 cents.

 

 

An hour.

 

 

But I digress.  As I wrote, “way off the mark.”

I’ve been watching an interesting series on Netflix which attempts to explain the inexplicable mysteries of the universe.  The narrator, Dr. Neil deGrass Tyson, does an excellent job of explaining science in a way that people like me who don’t have that kind of background can understand it.

According to Dr. Tyson, chimpanzees have 99% of the same DNA that humans have. I’ve heard other figures, but they are all in the high 90s.  Young chimps are able to figure out simple things, like stacking boxes to get to, say, a banana.  Perhaps they can be taught very simple sign language.  But they stop “developing,” if you will, and never advance beyond a very elementary point.  Dr. Tyson didn’t dwell on this, but wondered if there were aliens out there who were 1% smarter than we are and if they thought no more of us than we do of chimpanzees.  Just in passing, again, bananas are said to share 50% of the same DNA as humans.

What I wonder is, if chimps and humans are so close in their “programming,” which is basically what DNA is, why is there such a gulf between them?  If they’re only 1% dumber than we are, why isn’t that really evident?  There’s more to it than just the fact that chimps never learn anything more than very, very basic things – at least from our perspective.  They do very well as chimps.

The truth is, there is a vast difference between us and them, which begs the question, “Why?”

The answer is found in Scripture.  Now, Dr. deGrass is an evolutionist and casually dismisses the fact that early scientists like Newton believed in God, so he wouldn’t agree with this post.  He would also probably dismiss Genesis as any kind of a reliable account of origins.  It was interesting, though, that he does use the term “genesis” is referring to those origins.

Among other things, the early chapters of Genesis describe the creation of animate life, including mankind.  Genesis 1:21 and 25 record the creation of aquatic life, flying creatures and animals.  When Genesis gets to the creation of man, however, it says something quite different.  In the creation of all other life, there is nothing said about what God planned to do with it.  In the case of man, however, He said, “Let us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness;…,” Genesis 1:26.

Now this doesn’t mean, as some teach, that we’re “little gods.”  There’s no “divine spark” just waiting to fanned into a blaze by the right kind of education or environment or economic status.

What it means is that we’re not just advanced animals.  There is something about humans that isn’t true of animals.  This something is creativity, ingenuity, even spirituality.  So far as we can tell, no animal conceives of a “higher power.”  No animal has ever started a civilization or invented some new wonder of industry or technology.  Of course, they don’t destroy each other in the same wholesale way as humans do, either, but that’s another post.

There’s more to mankind that just the material.  We’re more than animated bodies.  We think and hope and dream and plan.  That “1%” involves so much more than just genetic differences.  It involves that which, no matter how corrupted and ruined by the Fall of Adam and Eve it has become and how far we try to get away from Him, that which God meant when He said, “Let us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness.”

One day, through the Lord Jesus Christ, that purpose will come to complete and final fruition.

“Even so, come, Lord Jesus.”

 

 

 

 

 

“Abraham Believed God,” Genesis 15; Romans 4

Some of you, well, one anyway, know that I am privileged to teach a Bible study on Saturday night, and wished that you could be here.  So do I.  The following, including the questions, is the latest study, edited slightly from having written it once already.  The blog and the lessons have worked together well, since we’re going through Genesis on our way, Lord willing, through the Bible.

In Bible study, there is something called “The Law of First Mention.”  This simply means, sometimes, that the “first mention” of a word in Scripture has special significance.  For example, the first mention of Satan, energizing and working through a snake, is first mentioned in Genesis 3, where we learn of the craftiness of the devil and that his main goal is to destroy faith in the Word of God and to turn people away from it.  The first mention of “peace” is in Genesis 15:15, and refers to Abraham going to his fathers, that is, dying, in peace.  People want to “live” in peace, and that’s certainly worthwhile, but it’s more important to die in peace.

Genesis 15:6 gives us the first mention of “righteousness,” a verse Paul quotes in Romans 4:3, where he teaches how righteousness is attributed to us.

Genesis 15.

The events in this chapter happen after Abraham’s victory over the 5 kings and after his rescue of Lot, recorded in Genesis 14.  He had had dealings with the king of Sodom, turning down a rich “reward” from him.  He had encountered the king of Salem. Melchizedek, the king of Salem [Jerusalem], had given him a tithe, and been blessed by him.  We probably should have said something about him, as he prefigures the priesthood of the Lord Jesus, Psalm 110:4; Hebrews 7:1-4, especially v. 3.

After all these happenings, perhaps a reaction set it.  We don’t know for certain, but, based on what God said, perhaps he began to be concerned about how the 5 kings might retaliate.  After all, he was only one man, with a very small army, trained though they might have been, 14:14.  Maybe he thought of the riches he had turned down, and, perhaps, a tinge of regret began to creep in?  We really don’t know, just surmise all this from God’s promise to him.

Anyway, God granted him a vision in which He said, “Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield [against the kings?], your exceeding great reward” [because of his turning down the king of Sodom?]

However, something else had been gnawing at Abraham, and it came bursting out:  “what will you give me, seeing I go childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?”  I don’t think this was unbelief, but frustration, or perhaps a feeling of futility.  He had no son to inherit, so whatever God might give him wouldn’t stay in the family; it would go to his steward, according to the law at that time.  Indeed, if Abraham died without a son, there would be no family.

God wasn’t caught off-guard; nor did He rebuke Abram for this outburst.  He just brought him outside.

The interpretation of this passage. 

It’s usually pictured as God leading Abraham outside, and Abraham looks up at the starry sky.  He thinks, “Whoa!  That’s a lot of stars!”  The trouble with this is that men HAD counted the stars, or so they thought.  Even as late as 1627, the German astronomer Johannes Kepler had catalogued only a little over a thousand stars.  That’s a few less even than the ancient Egyptians had listed centuries before.  Perhaps the difference may be explained by where Germany and Egypt are on the planet.  Still, that doesn’t seem to agree with God’s previous promise that Abraham’s seed would be like the dust of the earth, Genesis 13:16.  It wasn’t until the invention of the telescope, and its development into the powerful one we have today, that men discovered that the stars really are as innumerable as “the dust of the earth.”

So Abraham believed God in spite of what the “science” of the day might have said, like Noah before him had believed God saying a flood was coming when it hadn’t ever even rained.

A second difficulty with this interpretation is found in a couple of phrases elsewhere in the description of this event.  V. 12 says, Now when the sun was going down, and v. 17 says, when the sun went down and it was dark.  This would indicate that it was daylight when God told Abraham to count the stars.

There are several lessons to learn from all this.

The instruction in this passage. 

1.  Atheists and skeptics are always asking for “tangible, verifiable proof” of the existence of God, or Jesus, or of the truthfulness of Scripture.  However, Scripture tells us of things not seen, Hebrews 11:1.  True, Abraham had the “evidence” of God, because God was talking to him, nevertheless, the stars weren’t visible.  Even if they had been visible, he would still have had to believe God, because “science” said that there weren’t really all that many of them.

2.  Sometimes, it’s necessary to believe God in spite of the situation, or even what science insists is true.

3.  The world thinks all this is foolish and stupid, but Scripture says that the foolishness of God is wiser than men, 1 Corinthians 1:25.

4.  This is an unconditional promise.  It doesn’t depend on Abraham, which is a good thing, as Scripture demonstrates his weakness.  He was fallible and sinful, just like the rest of us.  To demonstrate this “unconditionality” even more, God performed what seems to be a bizarre ritual, though it was known later, Jeremiah 34:18.  He told Abraham to bring several animals and divide them into two, placing the parts in two rows on the ground.  Then a smoking oven and a burning torch passed between the pieces. Two people making a covenant or treaty would pass between the pieces.  This meant that they were calling down on themselves the curse of dismemberment, like the animals, if they violated the terms of the covenant or treaty.  However, only God passed through the pieces this time.  Only He is responsible for the fulfillment of the promise.  It is unconditional.

5.  Abraham was a shepherd and had spent a lot of nights under the stars.  However, God said, “Look now….”  Granted, some of the newer versions don’t include “now,” but the interpretation is valid.  So Abraham couldn’t go on past experience.  Further, no doubt he expected to spend more nights under the stars taking care of his flocks.  But God said, “Look now….”  He couldn’t rest on future expectations.  Likewise, we Christians can look back at many times God has blessed us, and, by His grace, look forward to an eternity of fellowship with Him and His people.  But sometimes…the “now” gets us.  Since the “now” is really all we have, may we learn from Abraham to trust God when it’s in the “in spite of…,” times, as well as when things seem to be going well.

Romans 4

Romans is an exposition of “the Gospel,” 1:11, 16.  In chs. 1-3, Paul shows the need for the Gospel because of the condemnation of all men, regardless of ethnicity, 3:19.  In 3:21, he begins his teaching of “justification,” and the righteousness of God apart from the law.  Romans is the answer to the age-old question posed by Job in Job 9:2, “…how can a man be righteous before God?”

In his explanation of the Gospel, Paul tells us what it’s all about.  In Romans 1:17, he writes, for in it [the Gospel] the righteousness of God is revealed…. If modern Christians had written this verse, they probably would have written, “for in it the love of God is revealed….”  But the Gospel message isn’t about “love,” cf. 1 John 1:5; it’s about “righteousness,” that standard of holy living that God requires if we’re to stand in His presence uncondemned.  That’s why the early church never preached “the love of God.” Neither did the Lord Jesus.  John 3 records a private conversation, designed to counteract the narrow view of a Pharisee.

Apart from the Lord Jesus, no one has any claim on or participation in “the love of God,” John 3:36; 1 Timothy 1:14.  The Gospel isn’t about telling people how much God loves them, but about how much God has against them, and what’s to be done about it.

In Romans 3:11, Paul quotes Psalm 14:2, There is none righteous, no, not one.  The result of that is in 3:19, all the world may become guilty [accountable] before God.  In v. 21, Paul introduces the righteousness of God.  This really is nothing new, because the law and the prophets, that is, the Old Testament, foretold a time when God would intervene in man’s sorry state and do something about it.  To demonstrate this, he turns to Abraham.

The testimony of Scripture, vs. 1-8.

In this portion, Paul quotes two Scriptures, Genesis 15:6 and Psalm 32:1, 2. Genesis 15 has to do with Abraham’s believing God “in spite of,” as we’ve seen.  The Psalm has to do with David’s praise of God for His grace in forgiving sin and “covering” with the blood of OT sacrifices.  David learned something about “grace” in the aftermath of his own sin with Bathsheba.  There were no sacrifices for adultery and murders, both of which David was guilty of.  Yet, in 2 Samuel 12:13, the prophet Nathan said to David, “The LORD has also put away your sin; you shall not die.”  Neither Abraham nor David “earned” righteousness.  Nevertheless, there were severe consequences throughout the rest of David’s life.  You see, God may forgive sin without cancelling its temporal consequences.  

The time of Abraham’s justification, vs. 9-11.

The Jews made a big deal out of circumcision.  To them it had become almost an inviolable guarantee of God’s blessing.  No Jew, no matter how wicked, could ever be condemned for his sin.  No Gentile, no matter how “good,” could ever escape condemnation, except by becoming a Jew or at least a proselyte.  The early church had trouble with this, as well.  Paul, who had a great deal to do with the settling of this controversy in Acts 15, points out when Abraham was declared righteous.  It was before he was circumcised, v. 10.  Circumcision had nothing to do with it.

Like the Jews of Paul’s day, some today make a big deal out of this “sign of the covenant,” except that they say it’s been replaced by infant baptism.  Circumcision meant inclusion in the Abrahamic family.  In our day, infant baptism has pretty much come to mean salvation itself, if not explicitly, then implicitly.  That is, paedobaptists deny baptismal regeneration, yet their teaching about infant baptism almost certainly leads in that direction.  However, infant baptism is no more the means of being born into the family of God that circumcision was the means of a Jewish boy being born into the line of Abraham.  It was a sign that he had already been born.  Likewise, baptism is meant to signify that one has already been born again, or born spiritually.  There is no NT evidence of anyone being baptized apart from their own profession of faith.  There were males in the OT who were circumcised:  Ishmael, the sons of Keturah after the death of Sarah, Esau, to whom the rite meant nothing.  They weren’t part of the covenant because they had the wrong birth.  Likewise, baptism without the personal faith of the one being baptized is meaningless.

Besides all that, even circumcision had to do with “righteousness by faith.”  Paul writes that circumcision wasn’t just about the Abrahamic Promise itself, but it was really a seal of the righteousness of the faith which [Abraham] had while still uncircumcised, Romans 4:11, also v. 12 (emphasis added).  It was intended to be a continual visual reminder of blessing by faith, not by works, not by ritual, and certainly not a guarantee of continual blessing.  The Jews pretty much ignored this aspect of the rite.

The inclusiveness of justification, vs. 11, 12.

This doesn’t mean that everybody is justified, but rather that it’s available to everyone, not just Jews.  In v. 11, Abraham is called the father of all those who believe.  That’s us. Without going through the rite of circumcision, all who believe have righteousness imputed to them also.  It isn’t just limited to Jews.

In  v. 12, Abraham is also called the father of circumcision.  Note very carefully how Paul put it:  to those who not only are of the circumcision, but who also walk in the steps of the faith which our father Abraham had while still uncircumcised (emphasis added).  See also v. 16.  These are ethnic Jews who also have faith like Abraham.  In other words, they are “spiritual Israel.”  I know that term is used of “believers” in general, but if anything, we’re “spiritual Isaac,” Galatians 4:28.  However, see also Galatians 3:26-29.  Ethnicity has nothing to do with it, naturally or spiritually.  Nor ritual.

The triumph of faith, vs. 13-25.

1.  with regard to Abraham’s posterity, vs. 13-18.  God’s promise wasn’t based on Abraham’s performance, nor on the works of the law, because the law brings wrath, v. 15.  If blessing were through the law, Paul wrote, then faith is made void, and the promise made of no effect.  In other words, if the Promise is conditional, then it’s effectively canceled.  We saw this in the Mosaic Covenant and Israel’s repeated failure to live up to its conditions.  It’s of faith, that it might be of grace.  In other words, it’s of God, not of man.  The result is that it’s certain to all the seed, v. 16.  This means something to us.  If we’re believers, we’re part of that “seed.”

2.  with regard to his person, vs. 19-22.  Indeed, there was nothing Abraham could do to bring this promise to pass.  Though Paul is here referring to Genesis 17 (17:5, where God changes Abram’s name to Abraham), it’s still true.  There was nothing Abraham could do.  Hebrews refers to him as being as good as dead, Hebrews 11:12.

3.  with regard to ourselves, vs. 23-25.  In Galatians 3:16, Paul uses a play on the word “seed,” which is singular.  Because of this, some people teach that “the seed” is only Christ, so that the Abrahamic Promise is “fulfilled in Jesus,” and so there’s nothing left to be fulfilled.  The OT is all done.  And truly, Christ is the Seed (or the descendant of Abraham) as our Representative, but what He did makes the Promise certain to all the seed.  Righteousness is imputed to those who believe in Him who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead.  In other words, we believe in the same God that Abraham did.

Notice that Paul wrote that Jesus was raised because of our justification, v. 25 (emphasis added).  I used to have difficulty understanding what this meant, since I believed with most others that Jesus only died to “provide” salvation, not actually to secure it for those for whom He died.  Since we weren’t “justified” until we believe, how could Paul write what he did?  Paul could write this because in His eternal decree, God has already “justified” those whom He chose, and even “glorified” them.  I can look in the mirror and tell I’m not “glorified” yet, but in God’s mind and purpose, it’s as good as done.  The difficulty with justification is that we’re all sinners.  How can God call us “righteous”?  He can do this because Jesus was first of all delivered up because of our offenses (emphasis added).  His death paid the price for our sins and His life provided the righteousness God imputes to believers, so that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus, Romans 3:26.

Jesus paid it all,
All to Him I own.
Sin had left a crimson stain;
He washed it white as snow.

 Questions.

1.  What’s the significance of God’s telling Abram to “count the stars”?
2.  What was Abram’s main concern?
3.  What is “faith” about?
4.  What was significant about “now”?
5.  What is the Gospel about?
6.  Was Paul introducing something “new” into his teaching?  Why, or why not?
7.  What did circumcision have to do with Abram’s being declared “righteous?”  Why or why not?
8.  Beside the covenant itself, what was circumcision about?
9.  What is the “triumph of faith” with regard to Abraham?
10. What is it with regard to ourselves?
11. How can God declare sinners to be “righteous”?