March Memories: “The God of My Salvation.”

(another of our “March Memories.”)

Habakkuk 3:17, 18 (NKJV).

A lot of people have the idea that the Old Testament is all stern and forbidding, but it’s interesting that three of the greatest confessions of faith are found there. It’s true that there is a lot that is strange and even contradictory to our way of thinking, but there are also rays of light which are scarcely matched in the New Testament.

One of these confessions of faith is found in Job 13:15, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him.”   Another one is found in the actions of Abraham as he went to “sacrifice” his son:  “The lad and I will go yonder and worship, and we will come back to you,” Genesis 22:5 (emphasis added).  We did a post on this.  The third confession is found in the text at the beginning of this post.

Please remember that not a single one of these confessions was made when the Sun was shining and all was well with the one making the confession.  It’s easy to praise God then.  But Job was  sitting in the shambles of what’s left of his life – children, possessions and health all gone.  All he had left was a wife with no sympathy for his outlook and integrity.  Abraham had to weigh what he was being told to do against the promise of God concerning that very son.  Habakkuk was looking at the coming destruction and dissolution of his beloved nation.  I wonder how many of us could echo their sentiments in similar circumstances.

I was reading and thinking about the verses in Habakkuk one morning, and they almost arranged themselves into verse form.  Here they are –

Though the fig tree may not blossom,
Nor fruit be on the vine.
Though the harvest of the olive fail,
And food be hard to find.
Though the flock may come to nothing,
And no oxen in the stall –
Yet I’ll rejoice in Yahweh:
My joy, my God, my All.

May God bless these thoughts as He has to me.

(Originally published March 5, 2013.)

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Jephthah and His Daughter.

Judges 11:29-40 is one of those puzzling episodes in Scripture, with skeptics wondering how Jephthah could do such an awful thing to his daughter, and believers trying to figure the story out, as well.

To start, we want to focus on the daughter.  Like the servant girl of Naaman’s wife, this young lady was a remarkable person.  She met her victorious dad with a dance of welcome.  She was glad to see him.

She may as well have plunged a dagger into her dad’s heart, even though, in her innocent joy, she had no idea what she was doing.  Regardless of what may have happened afterward, it’s clear what Dad thought when he saw her come to meet him….

He was devastated….

But our focus here is on the girl.

1.  She had a submissive spirit, v. 36, So she said to him, “My father, if you have given your word to the LORD, do to me according to what has gone out of your mouth, because the LORD has avenged you of your enemies,….”

This doesn’t mean that she was beaten into submission by her father, or that she struggled against the idea.  When she found out what was going on, she simply said, “Do it.”  We don’t know anything about such an attitude in our willful and insolent society, where parents are mocked and scoffed at by their children, and “children’s rights” have pretty much cancelled out parental rights – until the kid does something “society” doesn’t like, and then, watch out!

Granted, we live in a different time than Jephthah and his daughter did, but the subject of the fifth commandment is still valid today:  Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. ‘Honor your father and mother,’ which is the first commandment with promise: that it may be well with you and you may live long on the earth, Ephesians 6:1-3.

The idea of respect for parents has almost disappeared in our time.

But there was something else, and this is the main thing:

2.  She had spiritual perception, v. 36.  She recognized that it wasn’t about what our society would likely call an abusive father, but about a vow that her father had made to the Lord.  We don’t know anything about this in a culture where “a man’s  word” isn’t worth the paper it’s written on, and the saying is, “A contract [a vow] is made to be broken.”  When things get tough, people make promises to the Lord all the time, but how often, when things get better, do they follow through?

And it doesn’t matter if Jephthah’s vow was “rash” or “foolish,” as it’s often described.  Perhaps it was.  It was still binding.  Leviticus 30:2 says, If a man vows a vow to the LORD, or swears an oath to bind himself by some agreement, he shall not break his word; he shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth.”  And Deuteronomy 23:21, 23 says, “When you make a vow to the LORD your God, you shall not delay to pay it; for the LORD your God will surely require it of you, and it would be sin to you. … That which has gone from your lips you shall keep and perform, for you voluntarily vowed to the LORD your God what you have promised with your mouth.”  The key word there is “voluntary,” as Jephthath’s was.  V. 22 says, “But if you abstain from vowing, it shall not be sin to you.”

Who knows what was going through Jephthah’s mind before and as he was making this vow.  Perhaps he felt pressure because of his background.  Judges 11 tells us that he was unwelcome among his brothers, and they had disowned him.  He’d left home and became the head of a band of raiders, vs. 2, 3.  After a time, the Ammonites threatened war against Israel, and Israel’s leaders turned to him to lead Israel against them, vs. 4-11.  He wasn’t too thrilled with the idea, but after some haggling with them, he agreed.

Though Jephthah tried to reason with the king of the Ammonites, the king wouldn’t listen, but went ahead with his plan to attack Israel, vs. 12-28.

One thing I find very interesting is found in vs. 28, 29:  then the Spirit of the LORD came upon Jephthah, and…he advanced toward the people of Ammon.  And Jephthah made a vow to the LORD….  Granted, some time passed while he was moving toward the enemy, but he wasn’t just some wild-eyed revolutionary when he made his vow.  As I said, who knows what was going through his mind.  Perhaps just the heat of the moment….

Regardless, he was stuck.

Now the Law did have something to say about the redemption of a sacrifice.  In Leviticus 27:1-8, if the “vow” concerned a person, a certain monetary value was placed on him or her, depending on age.  They weren’t killed, as was an animal.  There were some other provisions in the Law, as well.  However, Leviticus 27:28 says, “Nevertheless no devoted offering that a man may devote to the LORD of all he has, whether man or beast…; every devoted offering is most holy to the LORD.” Whatever happened, the daughter had become “most holy to the LORD.”  Perhaps this is a key to understanding this episode.

There are those who harshly criticize Jephthah, believing that he went ahead and sacrificed his daughter on an altar.  Perhaps he did.  In v. 40, the phrase, “the daughters of Israel went four days each year to lament” her, could refer to her death. Another view, the one which I hold with others, is that she, as “most holy to the LORD,” was given over to perpetual virginity.  This is confirmed, possibly, by the fact that she requested 2 months to go with her girlfriends to lament her virginity.  She could never marry or have children.  To our society, this is no big deal, but back then, it was.

To be barren was almost worse than death, because a woman could never fulfill her destiny as a mother.  If this is the case, then “the daughters of Israel” came to lament her remaining single.  Again, to our society, no big deal.  “Virginity” isn’t considered all that important:  “it’s just sex.”  Indeed, such a view as hers can hardly be understood by the rampant feminism  and/or immorality of a “Fifty Shades of Grey” society.

For the father, either way, this meant the end of his family.  His daughter was his only child.  For something of the importance attached to this, see the post I did on the daughters of Zelophehad, or read their story in Numbers 27.  Indeed, even the sordid action of Lot’s daughters was prompted by the desire to keep their father’s line going, Genesis 19:32.

Jephthah is mentioned later in Scripture.  Samuel remembered him as one whom the LORD has sent to deliver Israel, 1 Samuel 12:11.  Hebrews 11:32 mentions him as one of the heroes of the faith.  It’s interesting that every one of the four men mentioned in that verse was very much less than perfect.

Perhaps Psalm 15:1, 4 gives us an answer.  In v. 1, the Psalmist asks a question, Lord, who may abide in Your tabernacle?  Who may dwell in Your holy hill?  The rest of the Psalm gives the answer.  V. 4 is relevant here:  He who swears to his own hurt and does not change.

I don’t really know for certain what happened between Jephthah and his daughter.  Maybe he stands as an object lesson not to be hasty in making promises we later might not want to keep.  Maybe he just stands as a testimony to being faithful to your word, regardless of what it might cost you. In any event, God doesn’t sugarcoat the records of our lives.  He doesn’t photoshop or airbrush the pictures of His people to make them look better than they are. He shows warts and all.

Whether this is a story of “warts” or not is a subject for a lot of discussion. Perhaps only the Judgment will finally clear it all up – along with a lot of other things.  In the meantime…

A Soldier’s Prayer

(found in the notebook of a dead U.S. Soldier – France, 1918.)

OUR FATHER

to whom all praise, all honor should be given, for Thou art the great God

WHO ART IN HEAVEN

Thou, by Thy wisdom, rulest the world’s whole fame, forever, therefore

HALLOWED BE THY NAME 

let, nevermore, delays divide us from Thy glorious grace, but let

THY KINGDOM COME 

let Thy commandments opposed be by none, but Thy good pleasure and

THY WILL BE DONE 

and let our promptness to obey ever be the very same

ON EARTH, AS IT IS IN HEAVEN 

then for our souls, O Lord, we also pray Thou wouldest be pleased to

GIVE US THIS DAY 

the food of life, wherewith our souls are fed, sufficient raiment also, and

OUR DAILY BREAD 

with every needful thing, do Thou relieve us, and in Thy mercy and pity

FORGIVE US 

all our misdeeds, for Him Whom Thou didst please to make our offerings for

OUR TRESPASSES 

and forasmuch, O Lord, as we believe that Thou will pardon us

AS WE FORGIVE 

let that love teach, wherewith Thou dost acquaint us to pardon all

THOSE WHO TRESPASS AGAINST US 

though Thou sometimes find’st we have forgot this love to Thee, yet help

AND LEAD US NOT 

through souls and bodies wont to desperation, nor let earth’s gain drive us

INTO TEMPTATION 

let not the soul of any true believer fall in the time of trial

BUT DELIVER 

yea, save from the malice of the devil and in both life and death keep

US FROM EVIL 

thus pray we, Lord, of Thee from Whom this may be had

FOR THINE IS THE KINGDOM 

this world is Thy work, its wondrous story to Thee belongs

THE POWER AND THE GLORY 

and all Thy wondrous works have never ended, but will remain

FOREVER AND EVER 

thus we poor creatures would confess again, and thus, would cry eternally

“AMEN”

Yearbooks, Memories and Such.

One of our grandsons was over at the house recently and we got to talking about chess.  This led to the attic and a search for a beautiful granite chess set one of our daughters brought from Mexico several years ago.  In the course of rummaging around up there, I came across a box with a bunch of yearbooks:  mine from college, one of my wife’s from high school and some of my mom’s from high school and college.

I got to looking at my mom’s yearbooks and was struck by the fact that almost every page was filled with autographs, well-wishes and mysterious sayings, which I’m sure made perfect sense to her and her friends.  My own yearbooks? – pretty vacant in comparison.

One of her college friends prophesied that Mom would become a famous biology professor at Harvard (her nickname was “Bugs”) and that she would marry a President of the United States.  Well, she did teach nurses, but she married a truck driver.  A good thing for me, otherwise someone else would be writing this.  My youngest son was born in a hospital where she worked as a nurse, and while my wife and I were there, this lady probably in her 60s (she seemed old to us at the time!) came and asked if I were related to ? – and she named Mom.  I was.  This lady had been one of her students in the hospital, and she told me what a wonderful teacher and woman Mom was.

It’s hard to believe that the yearbook with the prophecies is 80 years old.  It’s from 1933.  I doubt if Mom ever thought about her 73-year old son one day looking at this book.  There’s probably only one or two of all those girls still alive – they’d be around 100 now.  She herself would have turned 100 last year.  But she’s been gone for more than 40 years.

The books served as an interesting snapshot of an earlier, much different, time.  The fashions and hairdos looked funny.  But then, ours would probably look funny to them as well.  Probably embarrassing.  The interesting thing about her high school yearbooks was that two of them mentioned this club of boys whose goal was to advance Christian values in the school.  One of the books mentioned the Bible studies they held.

This is certainly in stark contrast to the internet article two days ago about a high school student who was suspended for saying, “bless you,” when one of her classmates sneezed.  Seems this expression was on a list of several “religious” words forbidden by the teacher.

TImes have certainly changed.

But they do that.  Children grow up.  Fashions come and go.  Some may come back, others may become a laughingstock in the future. Today’s treasure may become tomorrow’s trash.  The only thing that doesn’t change, I guess, is that things change.

If our focus is on this world, it’ll change.  That may be good; it may be bad.  I have some ration books from WWII.  Very precious at one time, but just an historical curiosity now.  I have a work history which goes back to 1961.  I can tell you every job I’ve held in that time and how much I made.  Interesting (perhaps only to me!), but pretty useless now.  I remember the first job I had making a buck an hour!  I was rich!

One of our children will have been with her employer 20 years next January (my! – where has the time gone! 🙂 ).  Some of our grandsons are thinking about college and what they want to do in life.  I kid my daughter that in just a few years, she can look forward to be a grandma!  I don’t think she’s ready for that 🙂 .  I think it would be great to be a great-grandpa. 🙂

The point of all this rambling?  There’s really only one thing in this life that never changes.  (And yes, I know you can think of exceptions to that generalization.  But you’ll see what I mean.)  In praising God, the Psalmist said, Of old You laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of Your hands.  They will perish, but You will endure; yes, they will all grow old like a garment; like a cloak You will change them, and they will be changed.  But you are the same, and Your years will have no end, Psalm 102:25-27.  The writer to Hebrews quotes these verses in Hebrews 1:10-12.  Then he wrote, Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever, 13:8.

I really don’t know how to end this.  Just, I guess, an encouragement not to put all our eggs into one basket.  Better – we should put them into His basket and let Him take care of them.

…Continued

My last post, which was also the last post of 2013, was about TV shows which had been cancelled or shows which had been brought to a conclusion and so were finished. As things developed, though I was wrong, I thought that post might also be the concluding post for this blog. I have been pleasantly surprised by the number of views which the blog has continued to receive, even though there has been no new post for about six weeks.  Also, I have been amazed at the number of views a particular post has received.  My post on the daughters of Zelophedad has received 50 views just this week.

That last post of 2013 mentioned three shows, not by name, that were ending, or so I thought.  We’ll still never know what happened to “A” and “B” and the show that concluded satisfactorily has still concluded satisfactorily.  However, the third show, I was surprised to discover today, has a new season on Netflix.

Thinking about all this, I decided that these shows are a little like life, not that TV ever shows anything truly life-like, especially “reality shows.”  But some things turn out satisfactorily, some things don’t, and there are “surprises” quite often, like we recently had here at home when the furnace and the hot water heater both went on the fritz at the same time. 😦

We live in an age of increasing skepticism.  Traditional, that is, Christian, beliefs and morals have largely been jettisoned.  The Bible is illegal in schools and government [at least here in the US], and we’re pretty much just circling the drain.  Even many churches don’t really believe the Bible to be the Word of God.  They’re quite willing to “dialogue” with other religions which deny or contradict Biblical teaching.

Many people deny any such thing as an “afterlife”:  “Once you’re dead, you’re dead. There’s nothing beyond the grave.”  Believing that, many people spend their lives trying to find some “meaning” to their otherwise drab lives.

In contrast to this view, the Bible clearly teaches that “…it is appointed for men once to die, but after this the judgment,” Hebrews 9:27.  In other words, there is something beyond death and the grave.

There is some discussion among Biblical teachers about what the Bible says about judgment.  That discussion isn’t important here.  The point is, there IS judgment coming!  Revelation 20:11-15 graphically portrays it:

Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat on it, from whose face earth and heaven fled away.  And there was found no place for them.  And I saw the dead, small and great [that is, whether famous or unknown], standing before God, and books were opened.  And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books.  The sea gave up the dead which were in it, and Death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them.  And they were judged, each one according to their works.  Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire.  This is the second death.  And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.  

This is not a favorite portion of Scripture.  Many people simply cannot agree with the idea that a “God of love” would do such a thing.  However, the God of Scripture isn’t the God of popular thought.  He is a God of righteousness, justice and holiness – as well as “love.”  Sin must be punished.  Sin will be punished.

One of the local TV stations has a news segment on “cold cases,” that is, crimes which have never been solved.  There are several TV shows with this as their theme – the solving of “cold cases.”  There will be no “cold cases” in eternity.  Every murder, every rape, ever crime, will finally be “solved.”  Those who have “gotten away with it” in this life, whether because they were never found or because of some legal maneuvering, will discover that they didn’t really get away with it.  Those who are guilty of gross or multiple crimes – like a Hitler or Stalin – which human justice really can’t adequately deal with, will discover that there is One who can.

We will finally find out, so to speak, what happened to “A” and “B”.

Yes, but not everybody is guilty of some crime or other.  That is true, however, we are all guilty of sin.  We may not have broken man’s law – we always drive the speed limit – but we have broken God’s law.  I doubt there’s a single person alive who would say that they have ALWAYS lived as they think they should.  If that’s true of us in our own sight, how much more is it true of us in God’s sight?

The issue in Revelation 20 isn’t whether or not one is “good” enough to make it into heaven, but whether or not one’s name is in the “Book of Life.”  Those whose names are there have repented of their sins and trusted the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation. They haven’t joined the church or been baptized or done a hundred of the other things men say must be done in order to be saved; they have simply rested on who the Lord Jesus was and what He did for sinners.  In short, they have “believed.”  They, and they alone, will enter heaven.

Hebrews 9:27, which we quoted above, also says, Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many.  In other words, He endured the punishment sinners ought to endure.  He paid the price for their sins, though He had none of His own.  Indeed, if He would have had sins of His own, He could never have paid for the sins of others.  But He lived a perfect and sinless life.  That perfect life is credited to those who believe, because we have no such perfection of our own and can never achieve it.  That is the only way we will ever “make it” into heaven.  His is the only goodness, or righteousness, that God will accept.  His is the only payment that can ever be made for sins.  We could never pay for even one of our own sins, let alone the myriad of them of which we are guilty.

Though there is much more I could say about all this, I’ll close with this.  There is a “new season” beyond the grave.  Are you ready for it?  

“…nor were thankful…”

This excerpt occurs in the middle of that depressing section from Romans 1:18-32. Considering all that Paul says in those verses, this seems like a relatively “minor” offense.  Because of that, it’s one, I’m afraid, we give little thought to.

Since tomorrow is Thanksgiving in the US, perhaps it would be good if we spent a few minutes thinking about why Paul included it.  The “nor” connects it to what Paul just said, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful…, v. 21. These go together.  If one doesn’t want to acknowledge God, one probably won’t be thankful for His blessings.

A question.  Who were these people?  Paul doesn’t really identify them, although since the creation of the world indicates it happened pretty early.  My own view is that it refers to that time before the call of Abraham in Genesis 12.  God gave these people what they wanted.  He let them go.  And called one man to begin the process of reclaiming the whole race.

Another question.  What does it mean when it says they knew God?  There’s a school of thought that believes that between the Fall of Adam and Eve in Genesis 3 and the giving of the Law in Exodus 20 that men (and women) were left pretty much to the guiding of their own consciences.  This is “the Dispensation of Conscience.”  Is that accurate?

Though we have only incidental references to it, it seems to me that there was indeed a revelation of God of which we have no clear record.  For example, just in the life of Abraham, God said of him,  “Abraham obeyed My voice and kept My charge, My commandments, my statutes, and My laws,” Genesis 26:5.  These seem to be references to a lot more than the record we have from Genesis 12 onward.

The Book of Job, thought to have been written before the time of Moses, is filled with references to God, righteousness and judgment.  There are also amazing references to things not clearly revealed otherwise (to us) until the NT.  See Job 14:14; 19:25-27.   Where did these come from? Certainly not from the consciences of fallen men.

It seems to me, therefore, that when Paul wrote that they knew God, it wasn’t just some general, unspecified awareness of a “Higher Power,” but men actually “knew” the God of Heaven.  That is, they were familiar with Him and His teachings and laws.

In spite of all this, they turned their backs on Him.  They weren’t thankful, either. Thankful for what?  Well, if nothing else, that God hadn’t destroyed the race completely, say, at the Flood.  Or that He hadn’t just let Adam and Eve go after they turned away from Him and ate of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  Or at the tower of Babel, just left people to the confusion and disarray of their new languages.

But He didn’t.

They didn’t care.

What about Thanksgiving Day, 2013?

Do we care?

Or is it just “Turkey Day”?

This nation seems to be well on its way to being another example of people who have been greatly blessed by God, but have turned their backs on Him, with the results we see both in Romans and in our society.

Well on our way to the trash heap of history.

Do I care?

Am I thankful?  Well, not for where we seem to headed as a nation, but for the blessings of God?  Are you?

I’m thankful for the freedom we still have.  Freedom to write this blog.  Freedom to believe as I understand the Scriptures to teach.  Freedom which still makes us one of the best places on earth to live.  We don’t build fences to keep people in.

I’m thankful for the Scripture.  It tells me that there is more to this life and this world than this life and this world.  It tells me of a Savior Who laid aside His own interests, as it were, and made mine His.  I’m thankful for the grace that brought salvation to mankind, and to me individually.  To others, as well.

Further, I’m thankful for the lady who has shared my life and my our home for the last 43 years.  My wife.  I’m thankful for the children God has given us, children whom we hope, the ones farther away, might surprise us tomorrow and be here.  Although with the snow coming down, they might be better off staying home.  I’m thankful for their children and the privilege of watching some of them grow from infancy.  It won’t be that long, Lord willing, before Sharon and I are great-grandparents, though I tremble at the thought of the world they will enter.

Thankful for friends, for health, for so many blessings, so often overlooked.

Oh, give thanks to the LORD, for He is good!  His mercy endures forever, Psalm 107:6.

He Maketh No Mistake

My Father’s way may twist and turn,
My heart may throb and ache,
But in my soul I’m glad I know,
He maketh no mistake.

My cherished plans may go astray,
My hopes may fade away,
But still I’ll trust my Lord to lead
For He doth know the way.

Tho’ night be dark and it may seem
That day will never break;
I’ll pin my faith, my all in Him,
He maketh no mistake.

There’s so much now I cannot see,
My eyesight’s far too dim;
But come what may, I’ll simply trust
And leave it all to Him.

For by and by the mist will lift
And plain it all He’ll make,
Through all the way, tho’ dark to me,
He made not one mistake.

–A. M. Overton

I’m doing some research for another post and decided to look in my Grandmother’s Teacher’s Edition Smith’s Bible Dictionary (copyright 1884!)  How many books in other fields that old are still relevant!?

As I opened the book, it fell open at a whole bunch of clippings and notes in my Grandmother’s writing.  There was a picture of a friend of hers, whom I remember from long ago, celebrating her 91st birthday.  On the back of this clipping is part of an article titled “Servicemen Reminded of Social Security Law Amendments.”  There’s not enough of the article to know what it’s about, but I guess some things even in this world never change.  (Though, of course, they do.)

There’s a verse in the Old Testament that I can’t remember the reference and can’t find it in my Strong’s Concordance.  Probably I don’t remember it quite right.  It goes something like this:  God is talking to Israel about their future and tells them that there’s coming a time when they will understand that there was a cause [reason] for everything He did to and with them.  They will understand that “He made no mistake.”

May these verses bless you in reading as they blessed me in typing.