Thursday, September 14, 2017

THE BIG POINT OF ECCLESIASTES - DON'T MISS IT!

Do not be excessively righteous and do not be overly wise. Why should you ruin yourself? Do not be excessively wicked and do not be a fool. Why should you die before your time? 
(Ecc 7:16-17)

Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near when you will say, "I have no delight in them" . . .  
The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person. For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil. 
(Ecc 12:1, 13-14)

I am amazed at the lengths to which some normally excellent commentators go to transform Solomon's (or his ghost writer's) worldly conclusions in 7:16-17 into spiritual advice.  These are the Preacher's musings about the futility of life in this world.  They should not be taken as divine directives.  His views are limited to life "under the sun," and only occasionally does the thought of God's judgment and reward steal into his reasoning.  There is edification in seeing the book as a whole and remembering the Preacher's conclusion in 12:1, 13-14.  The big message is this: If we look at life in our fallen world from a temporal perspective, it is only emptiness and futility, not worth living.  But when we look at our lives in light of the Creator's purpose for us, in light of eternal, spiritual values, our lives have purpose and satisfaction. 

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

FADING GLORY OF OLD COVENANT

Exodus 34:30-35
Moses' authority as spiritual leader derived from his intimate relationship and communication with God, which resulted in the divine glow on his face. This reflected glory did not last, but faded until Moses' next encounter with the LORD. Hence, the Apostle Paul noted to the Corinthian church that Moses "used to put a veil over his face so that the sons of Israel would not look intently at the end of what was fading away" (2 Cor. 3:13). In the context of Exodus we may infer that the only glory the people were to see was the reflected glory of God, not any human glory in Moses himself. And the only authority Moses had was derived from his communion with God.
By way of application, every minister of Christ today should ask himself, "Do people catch a glimpse of the glory of the Lord when I stand in the pulpit and expound His Word?" If not, what is lacking in my on communion with God?  
In the Apostle Paul's  analogy, though, Moses is representative of the Old Covenant. The glory of the Old Covenant, which Paul calls "the ministry of death, in letters engraved on stones" (2 Cor. 3:7), was a fading glory. It was glorious because it reflected God's holiness and righteousness; it was fading because of Israel's disobedience. God's purpose in forming a holy people of His own would be fulfilled in the New Covenant through the sacrifice of His Son and the work of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of believers. That glory, "the glory of God in the face of Christ" (2 Cor. 4:6), will not fade away.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Genesis 3:23

"therefore the LORD God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken."  Genesis 2:7-8 tells us that God formed the man "of the dust of the ground," and then "placed the man" in the garden which the Lord God had planted. It seems that both the ground from which Adam was formed and the garden that the LORD planted were in the large region called Eden.
(see The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of The Bible, Vol. 2)

God had planted an idyllic garden that would sustain Adam and his family without the hardships described in Genesis 3:17-19. Having rejected God's plan, Adam would have to plant his own garden in a cursed earth by the sweat of his brow! Most importantly, as Matthew Henry points out, the man and his wife were shut out of that intimate fellowship with God that they had enjoyed in the unspoiled garden! "But your iniquities have separated you from your God; And your sins have hidden His face from you..." (Isaiah 59:2)

The man did not go out willingly; he had to be driven out!  And God had to post cherubim to keep him out! (Gen. 3:24) Because of man's sin, God was now unapproachable! Yet in Christ, and only through Christ, the redeemed children of God are bidden: "Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need." (Hebrews 4:16)

There seems to be a parallel between the banishment from the garden and the giving of the Law at Mr. Sinai. For the first gracious giving, the LORD Himself provided the tablet and the writing. The people violated the Law, which they had heard pronounced previously, and Moses shattered those tablets at the base of the mountain. (See Ex. 20-24, 32) For the second giving, God commanded Moses to hew out two tablets like the first, and God would write on them the commandments. Those second tablets were to be kept in the Ark of the Covenant -- a figure of Christ, the only one who could and did keep God's holy law. (See Ex. 34:1-4; Deut. 10:1-5)

Where man's wisdom and efforts fail, God's grace prevails!  "Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more . . ." (Rom. 5:20 ESV)

Monday, August 3, 2015

THOUGHTS ON THE USE OF 'CHESED' IN THE HEBREW BIBLE

"Chesed" is often translated in the NASB as "lovingkindness."  It is a perplexing Hebrew word that has been the subject of many theses, papers, and even books.  It has been translated "mercy" "kindness" "steadfast love," to name a few.  German scholar N. Glueck said chesed means, "conduct in accord with a mutual relationship of rights and duties, corresponding to a mutually obligatory relationship... principally . . ."  This view arose mainly from studies of Canaanite documents from the Syrian city-state of Ugarit, and Glueck’s work, I feel has overly influenced biblical scholarship.  All human languages are adaptable to the demands of the various cultures of which they give expression and, indeed, help mold. No aspect of human life puts greater demand on language than religious expression, communicating ones relationship to God and God to the individual or group.  To transfer uncritically the use of a word in ancient Canaanite myths to the Hebrew culture ignores the differences both in cultural setting and religious expression.  God’s revelation to the Hebrew people and particularly to the Israelite nation required special uses of Semitic language, just as New Testament revelation put new demands on the Greek language.
There are certainly passages that lend themselves to the use of chesed for a covenant relationship, particularly God’s covenant relationship with Israel.  (See Isaiah 63:7)  Nevertheless, a study of all the O.T. references in context will make it clear that limiting the definition of chesed to Gleuck’s concept will not suit all the usages. 
Psalm 25:6 offers us insight into the meaning of chesed since the word is used in the plural. 
Remember, O LORD, Your compassion and Your lovingkindnesses, For they have been from of old. (NASB)
If its meaning were “loyalty to a covenant,” as many maintain, it would be difficult to translate in this verse.  The ESV dodges the issue in favor of the singular “steadfast love,” the translators’ preferred rendering.  The KJV and the NKJV both use “lovingkindnesses”.  In the following verse (v. 7) the context seems to favor the KJV and NKJV translation of chesed as “mercy,” yet the NASB stays with “lovingkindness,” that version’s consistent choice.[1]
This is a rich word that has a broad range of interlocking or interrelated meanings.  Anyone who is fluent in more than one language has experienced the difficulty of translating certain concepts from one language to another, especially using only one word.  It is often impossible.  Some languages express complex ideas in one word that require more than one word, perhaps a whole phrase, to express in another language.  This is especially true in varying contexts.  Old Testament Hebrew scholars have favored the notion that chesed involves a covenant relationship.  I contend that the varied contexts in which the word occurs belie that notion.  The word does imply a relationship of some kind, but not necessarily a covenant relationship.
In Psalm 36:5, 7, for instance, chesed is clearly not limited to God’s covenant with Israel; it extends to the whole of creation and all people.  Psalm 86 uses chesed three times.  It is translated  “lovingkindness” in the NASB, “mercy” in the KJV and NKJV, and “steadfast love” in the ESV.  Verse 15 gives us insight into the breath of the word by linking it to related words:
But You, O Lord, are a God full of compassion, and gracious, Longsuffering and abundant in mercy and truth. (NKJV)
Comparing “mercy” in the context of the underlined words gives us the flavor of the word. To show chesed is to show the utmost benevolence, a word which might come closest to capturing the essence of chesed.  Another possible translation would be “goodness,” the quality of moral excellence in every aspect. 
Luke 1:78 provides more insight into the meaning of chesed.  In Zacharias’ Benedictus, he says, “Because of the tender mercy of our God, With which the Sunrise from on high will visit us . . .”  The word for “mercy” is the Greek word eleos, which means “compassion, pity, mercy.”  According to G. Abbott-Smith, eleos is used in the Septuagint “chiefly” for chesed. (Manual Greek Lexicon of the New Testament) Luke’s use of eleos here supports the LXX translators’ choice in the Old Testament, and the notion of “mercy” fits the contexts of many Old Testament passages where chesed occurs.
The words found in context with chesed lead me to this definition:  "God's consistency in always acting toward people and his creation in accordance with His character and His standards of interpersonal relationships."  Thus, God's chesed assures us that we can depend on Him in all circumstances.  It also affirms the immutability of God and the goodness of God.




[1] I have found that comparing the NIV translation in this study is nearly meaningless.  Since the NIV follows the “dynamic equivalent” approach to translation, it takes great liberties with the original text making comparison on any given word nearly impossible or meaningless. 

Friday, July 31, 2015

Priorities vs. Anxieties

Therefore do not be anxious, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. (Matthew 6:31-33)


The Gentiles, unbelievers who find their only existence in this present world with no thought of eternity or God's kingdom, seek intensely (επιζητουσιν) the physical and material things of this world.  The Greek word used has the force of "craving." In Revelation, these people are labeled as "dwellers on the earth" (3:10; 6:10; 8:13; 11:10; 13:14; 17:2, 8 et al). This fallen world is all they have, so they crave all the pleasures of it they can get. 

Jesus admonishes his disciples to think differently. And He promises His people, the citizens of His kingdom (Philippians 3:20), that our heavenly Father will provide all these things if we trust Him and focus on spiritual priorities.

In contrast to the intensive "seeking"  or "craving" of the Gentiles for physical necessities and comforts, Jesus urges His disciples to "seek" (ζητεῖτε) the kingdom of God and His righteousness. The Greek particle translated "but" (δε) is not the strongest word that could have been used to express contrast. And since it is followed by adverb "first" (πρωτον) -- "but seek first" – it is clear that Jesus is not diminishing the importance of diligent work and wise management of resources. The Book of Proverbs, as well as Paul’s exhortations (Eph. 4:28; 1 Thess. 4:11), will certainly correct any misconception in that area. This verse is about priorities: Godly priorities relieve anxiety. Jesus says that the greatest possession we can have is our relationship to God -- citizenship in His kingdom and righteousness, Christ-like character.  When our spiritual priorities are in order, we need not be worried, indeed, we will not be worried about our physical and material provisions. God cares for His own.


Monday, January 19, 2015

The Seven Spirits of Revelation

Revelation 1:4

John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne . . . 

Revelation 4:5
From the throne came flashes of lightning, and rumblings and peals of thunder, and before the throne were burning seven torches of fire, which are the seven spirits of God . . .

Revelation 5:6
And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth.

Comparing Revelation 1:4, 4:5, and 5:6 with Zechariah 3:9 and 4:10, we get the strong impression that the expression "seven spirits" is symbolic of the omniscience of God. In the contexts of both Zechariah and Revelation, the culmination of God's plan of salvation and judgment are in view.  God sees all and will judge righteously. 

Other commentators see this expression as referring to the Holy Spirit in "his seven-fold . . . energy" (Jamieson, Fausset, & Brown) or to the "all perfect Spirit" (Barnes).  Gill also sees the person of the Holy Spirit in His completeness.  Mounce, on the other hand, sees the seven spirits as seven angelic beings, but Barnes argues convincingly against that interpretation. (See Barnes’ Notes) 

I do not disagree with JFB, Barnes or Gill in principle; I just see the context emphasizing the omniscience of God, The Holy Spirit, in the context of the end time judgments.  Beale adds the attribute of omnipotence based on the "seven horns" of the Lamb (5:6) and 2 Chronicles 16:9a: For the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward him. The attribute of omnipotence is certainly represented by the "seven horns," but it is paired with, not equal to, omniscience in both this passage and 2 Chron. 16:9.

Note: Scripture citations are from the English Standard Version.