Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Psalm 139

I am currently in a class entitled "The Heart of the Matter" which looks at what the heart is, what it does, and how it affects our life. In the first session several verses mentioning the word heart were read and categorized by the action concerning the heart. One of those was:
Psalm 139:23-24 (ESV)
Search me, O God, and know my heart!
    Try me and know my thoughts!
And see if there be any grievous way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting!

There was plenty of discussion over what David thought and felt when writing this, but one comment struck me because it was based on: 1) the context of the psalm—a rare occurrence in evangelicalism; and 2) David's understanding of God's intimate and detailed knowledge of the individual. A rough outline of the psalm looks like this:
1. God's Familiarity as Seen in His Attributes
    a. Omniscience (1-6)
    b. Omnipresence (7-12)
    c. Foreknowledge (13-16)
2. Proper Response
    a. Delighting in God's Knowledge (17-18)
    b. Following God's heart (19-22)
    c. Requesting continued work (23-24)
The comment previously mentioned was from verse one, "you have searched me and known me." How often do we think about that? How often would we want to? I am like most other people and relish in the comfort that nobody with whom I have contact can read my thoughts unless I voice them, and even then they are heavily edited. To borrow a phrase, what happens in my thoughts, stays in my thoughts. The potentially unpleasant fact is that God knows.

Here is a thought-provoking question: how would I think differently if I understood that God was listening? Here is another: should I think differently knowing that God is listening? I leave the former question for you to ponder, but to the latter question, a typical Christian would say, "Yes, of course." I say, "It depends." If I am a new believer, this seems to be an obvious conclusion that I do not yet have a handle on, and that is fine as long as there is progress. If I am an older believer, this question should not even arise since the Lord's presence will be known daily. Remember how David was a man after God's own heart? He understood the Lord's presence. And when caught red-handed and red-faced in murder and adultery (Uriah and Bathsheba), he confessed immediately. David's sin caused a momentary break concerning God's familiarity, but it was revived through the accusation, and action was taken.

So what is my reaction to this wonderful news? Do I use that understanding to purge sin from my life? Do I hate the things God hates and love what he loves? Do I delight in worship the Lord for his familiarity with me?

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Luther on Worship

The very highest worship of God is this that we ascribe to him truthfulness, righteousness, and whatever else should be ascribed to one who is trusted. When this is done, the soul consents to his will. Then it hallows his name and allows itself to be treated according to God's good pleasure for, clinging to God's promises, it does not doubt that he who is true, just, and wise will do, dispose, and provide all things well.
--Martin Luther, The Freedom of a Christian

Friday, April 18, 2008

Theology of Numbers: God's Care

The people mentioned previously who are bored or confused by Numbers will probably not expect any depth of theology in it. On the other hand, they may see theology as boring and confusing, so there would be no surprise. In fact there are several elements of God's work that become clear when examined. The first concerns the Lord's care for his people. This was manifest in four ways:

Presence – From the first day out of Egypt, YHWH was with his people. First, he led the nation "by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light . . . [which] did not depart from before the people" (Exodus 13:21-22). This continued throughout the wilderness journey (Numbers 9:15-23). Certainly, the people knew the correct general direction—knowledge was not the issue. What they lacked was wisdom concerning timing in travel and best path.

Second was the promise to Moses that "I will meet with you, and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim that are on the ark of the testimony, I will speak with you about all that I will give you in commandment for the people of Israel" (Exodus 25:22). God chose to dwell among his people and be intimately involved with the affairs of life by giving instruction through his servant Moses. This was explicitly demonstrated when Moses and Aaron each had his authority questioned (Numbers 12:4-9 and 16:19-21 respectively).

God's desire is to be dwelling among his people. This covenantal concept was delivered to Joseph through an angel “She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21) for the fulfillment of the prophecy that “'the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel' (which means, God with us)” (Matthew 1:23). God was with his people.

Provision – Throughout the wilderness journey, the Lord supplied abundantly.
  1. Manna was supplied six days per week and was versatile for preparation as the people could ground, beat, boil, and make cakes with it (Numbers 11:7-9).
  2. Quail was provided when the people grumbled though it was used also to judge them (Numbers 11:31-35).
  3. Water was miraculously given when needed most (Numbers 20:8).
Though they felt forsaken in their need, the supply came in its proper time and portion. Jesus reiterates this promise with a reminder to put the kingdom of God before all else and he will supply the need (Matthew 6:25-34).

Patience – The Israelites constantly grumbled against the provision of God. At times the divine patience wore thin and the people experienced disciplinary judgments. God’s forbearance, however, is indicated in the fact that he did not abandon his people.

Protection – The desert weather did not adversely affect the people. Sihon and Og, with mighty armies, were not able to prevail against Israel (Numbers 21). The would-be curses of Balaam were turned into blessings (Numbers 23-24).

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Overview of Numbers

Most people I have encountered equate a study of Numbers with a study of the phone book. This is probably brought about from ten chapters of organization material followed by a confusing mish-mash of history and doctrine. This is the way I first viewed it, but things changed. After reading it a few times, a logical, beautiful pattern began to develop that goes something like this:
  1. Organization at Sinai (1:1-10:10)
  2. Disorganization in the wilderness (10:11-21:35)
  3. Reorganization on the plains of Moab (22:1-26:65)¹
  4. Preparations for entry to Canaan (27:1-36:13)
Through each stage of the journey, YHWH showed himself faithful to the nation. With justice, grace, and mercy the Jews are shown and taught what is required of a holy people of a holy God.

¹The first three points are adapted from James E. Smith, The Pentateuch, Joplin: College Press Publishing, 1993.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Profitability of Scripture

There is a weekly Bible study where I work. We were finishing the book of Daniel and trying to decide where to go next. Someone in jest mentioned Leviticus or Numbers then added that they would probably be too boring. "No!" I exclaimed. "They're anything but boring." You see, the person who finds those or any other Old Testament books boring has never studied those books. And herein lies the rub--most Christians find those books boring. Get my drift here?

Consider Paul's statement to Timothy:
But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work. ( ESV)
What had Timothy learned and believed from childhood that was so profitable? Most Christians today would say it is the New Testament books, then grudgingly admit under pressure that Paul may have been considering the Old Testament as well. How sad. The apostles' Bible for preaching the gospel was the Old Testament--Jesus was the fulfillment of all that Moses and the prophets had written.

Without going too far down Diatribe Drive, perhaps we should take a side street. Paul told Timothy that the OT Scriptures were profitable. Who doesn't enjoy a profit? In economic terms a study of the OT would have a rather high return on investment (ROI). What investor in his right mind would pass on something that good? Spiritual investment is no different, and the dividends are more secure and lasting. I have done a personal study on the book of Numbers and come away with many concepts and pictures that are directly attributable to the local church and believers individually. I plan on sharing some of them as this progresses.

And if you were wondering, for the work study we finally decided on Acts. I would have preferred an epistle, but I don't mind. It's still profitable.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Sometimes the ancients say it best

In whom was it possible for us, the lawless and ungodly, to be justified, except in the Son of God alone? O sweet exchange, O the incomprehensible work of God, O the unexpected blessings, that the sinfulness of many should be hidden in one righteous man, while the righteousness of one should justify many sinners!
-- Epistle to Diognetus 9.4-5

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

In the beginning . . .

Every blog and blogger has a beginning. This is mine. My purpose is to share things that I have learned through 35 years of studying God's word and lay it down in a profitable way. I will certainly make mistakes using this technology, so bear with me.