25. Redeemed From (1)

PART FIVE: Nuts & Bolts of Redemption

Reaching into Redemption Meditations: 25. Redeemed From (1)

Eph 2:1-3    As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.  All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts.

Big Brush Strokes: We move in to what I anticipate will be the penultimate Part of this series, before we reach the most difficult and potentially contentious final Part, that may possibly be a minefield as I want to look honestly and openly and look for fresh wisdom and insight in respect of some of the things that seem to blight modern church life or perhaps act as challenges or possible hot-spots of contention with the world. However, before we move into that, so as not to create too much of a culture shock against where we have been so far in the series, I think we need to look more broadly at creating a foundation for these things by recapping some of the key things we’ve seen in big brush strokes to remind ourselves of what the picture of redemption is all about, and then in the following studies consider some of the detail outworking of redemption, the nuts and bolts of it, if you like, how it really works. We have said in passing that redemption is about being delivered from our old lives into new lives. So let’s think some more about this matter of being delivered FROM.

From Godlessness: This is so simple, straight-forward and obvious that it should hardly need restating, but it is just because it is so obvious that we need to face it and consider it. Now some people dislike the use of the word ‘godless’ because they think it is associated with being a pagan unbeliever – and it is – but it is also a characteristic of so many lives, of ‘believers’ as well as unbelievers. Let me demonstrate. In our starter verses above, the apostle Paul opens up with, “you were dead”. Put aside, for the moment, how and why you were dead (in the way you lived) previously, and remember the warning that God gave Adam and Eve originally: “you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.” (Gen 2:17)

Now it is clear after the Fall that they continued to live for many years, but without that previous relationship with God. Yes, physical death did eventually come but spiritual death – the absence of God in their lives – became the new way of life. So, when Paul said “you were dead” he meant, as he referred to their old lives before knowing Christ, that they had been spiritually dead with no relationship or awareness of God. Yes, as we’ll see, this was worked out in the way we lived and the things we did, but those things all followed the approach to life that we had – being without God (godless) – and that all starts in the mind. In the active sense it is open hostility to God and rejection of God, but in a passive sense it is expressed as simply not thinking about God, and it is this latter approach that Christians so often live with.

Reliance upon me: The other side of the coin to godlessness is self-centredness. Now there is a difficulty here in that we are all made with ‘self-consciousness’, and that is not a result of the Fall but simply something that all sentient beings have. Indeed that is part of the definition of us human beings. So there is nothing wrong with being self-aware, but that is very different from self-centredness which refers to the exclusion of others and, in this case, the exclusion of God.

Biblical Examples: Consider some of the people we have examined earlier in this series. When Abram told his wife to pretend to be his sister, he was acting to protect himself. When Jacob schemed and plotted and connived, it was all to advance himself through his own cleverness. When Joseph received prophetic dreams, all he could think of was how great that was going to make him, not why God might do that and what He might do to make that happen. When Moses killed the Egyptian he was taking action in a way he thought was good, not pausing to think of the consequences. When David took Bathsheba he never paused to think of the consequences, he was simply taken up with desire, and that set in motion a series of consequences (she became pregnant) that led him to have her husband killed. Again and again and again, we have here examples of how people think only of themselves (at the moment) and give no thought to God or His wishes or, even worse, His demand for accountability.

Applied to the Christian Life: Now Paul, in our verses above, was making the point that this is how our lives were run, prior to knowing Christ. When we come to Christ, the theory is that we will cease to be god-less and (implied) become God-focused, but the truth is that it is so easy to continue like that. It is what is natural, it is what the old life did, and the enemy seeks to fill our minds with so many distractions that we forget the way it needs to be now. Paul was later to write, “be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” (Rom 12:2) We have commented more than once that God’s desire is to change us into the likeness of Jesus (see 2 Cor 3:18) and I said just now in a way that might sound slightly legalistic, ‘we forget the way it needs to be now’ but the reality is that when we permit our approach to life to remain self-centred and god-less, we are left, like Jacob, having to scheme and plot how to triumph in life, not realizing that God does want us to triumph in life, but with His wisdom and His revelation and His activity in our circumstances. How easy it is not to pray, not to seek God, not to ask for His wisdom, not to ask for His intervention, how easy it is to think, to reason, to work and struggle to achieve ends that we think will be good.

Sub-standard Goals: The trouble is that, yes, God does want us to think and to reason and to work but so often our goals are less than His and our ways are more arduous than His so that we exhaust ourselves in the process. Did God want Abram to succeed in life? Oh most definitely, just look at the things He said He wanted to do for him. Did He want Jacob to succeed? Oh, most definitely. Again look at the prophecies and the end results. And Joseph? Oh most definitely. The dreams said it all, it was just that Joseph didn’t understand there could be a way of humility, so that instead God had to use his pride and arrogance to set in motion the events that followed, events in which God intervened as He gave favour to Joseph. Did God want Moses to deliver his people? Yes, but not by killing them one by one (the logical outworking of what he started to do!) Now God has great goals for us but either we can’t believe they could be that good, or we don’t see how they could come about, so we struggle and beaver away at being successes (i.e. we are being godless) when all the time the Lord is longing to show us a better way.

The First Goal of Redemption: Division between us and God came about at the Fall and was formalized, if we may put it like that, by God’s judgments on humanity. Nevertheless that never meant that He stood back, never to have any more dealings with mankind, for we soon see (as we saw in the second study) that He was having contact with Cain and Abel, with Enoch, with Noah and with Abram. God’s desire has never changed, to have a relationship with those He had created. The Fall was not the end. Throughout our studies we have seen this desire of God’s, to redeem people from the mess they have been making with their godless efforts and bring them into a real relationship that is good, with Him. Whatever else you might have considered or picked up in these studies, a real and ongoing relationship with the Lord is the first and foremost goal of God’s work of redemption. He redeems us from being far away, to come close to Him. The fruit of that is peace, a sense of security, wisdom, revelation, grace, strength, power, all things that He can provide for us. Even more than this, as we have already hinted, He longs to be involved in our circumstances so that, where we let Him, He will intervene to bring about changes in them.

Practicalities: We’ve just given a broad sweep of the things He wants to do for us, but let’s pick up on three of the most obvious ones the scriptures speak so clearly about. Consider: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 4:6,7)

  1. Anxiety: Anxiety has to be one of the most common emotions that we Christians experience – worries, concerns, fears, doubts – a mixed bag under this one heading. Why? Because life is often difficult, and people are often difficult, and the circumstances become difficult, and we struggle in our minds with what to do, can we do, is there anything to do? And so we worry. Remaining in a state of worry (sorry if this sounds hard) is godless and self-centred. The means of dealing with it is there in those two verses – not to reason, rationalize, scheme, plot, plan – it is to take it to God, to commit it to Him. As the psalmist put it, Take delight in the Lord,and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will do this: He will make your righteous reward shine like the dawn, your vindication like the noonday sun. Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him.” (Psa 37:4-7) Giving over your circumstances (commit your way) to the Lord means we will trust Him to be there for us, and that will be seen in practical outworkings. The Living Bible puts it well, “Commit everything you do to the Lord. Trust him to help you do it, and he will.” (v.5)
  1. Wisdom: We find we are confronted by people or circumstances who challenge our ability to cope; we don’t know how to handle them. We feel all at sea, lost. (and then, so often, we worry). “you don’t know what you’re doing, pray to the Father. He loves to help. You’ll get his help and won’t be condescended to when you ask for it. Ask boldly, believingly, without a second thought.” (Jas 1:5,6 Message version.) Perhaps we are more familiar with, “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt.” (NIV) But there it is, when we run out of ideas, ask Him. This is the God we sometimes describe as all-knowing and all-wise.
  1. Grace: Perhaps the umbrella that all these things come under is grace which, in this context, can be defined simply as ‘God’s resources that are available to us to enable us to cope’, and we might add, ‘to cope with everything that comes our way in life.’ As the Lord said to Paul, “My grace is enough; it’s all you need.” (2 Cor 12:9 Message version) Believe that.

With God: So, to conclude, these things are all there available to us, plus lots more, and they become available when we stop being self-centred and godless and turn to God. To conclude with Jesus’s words: “Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Lk 11:11-13) OK? Ask!

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16. Redeeming Israel – the Promised Land

Reaching into Redemption Meditations: 16. Redeeming Israel – the Promised Land

Ex 6:6-8 ‘I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians….  And I will bring you to the land I swore with uplifted hand to give to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob. I will give it to you as a possession. I am the Lord.’”

 Redemption and the Covenant: In the previous study we considered the fact of the Exodus as an act of redemption. Now we focus more tightly on the wider act of the Exodus for, in the verses above, we see the Lord revealing a two-part plan: a) to deliver Israel out of the slavery of Egypt, and b) delivering them into the freedom of the Promised Land.  He also reveals that this will come about by ‘mighty acts of judgment’ – which we come to know as the ten plagues, and then the destruction of Pharaoh and his army in the Red Sea – and then He will enter into a new relationship with them as a people: “I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God.” (6:7) At mount Sinai He speaks about that as a “covenant”, a legal binding agreement.

Awareness and Cooperation: Now the question arises, why does this word ‘covenant’ arise so many times in the Bible? For instance, it is first used with Noah (Gen 6:18 – basically you build an ark, I’ll flood the world but will save you) then Gen 9:9-17 not to flood the world again. Next came the covenant with Abram (Gen 15:18 on) and with Isaac (Gen 17:21) and at various times God referred back to His promise to Abram. Now we have ‘covenant’ arising again but this time it is with the newly constituted nation, Israel, at Mount Sinai, to be a ‘treasured possession’. Now here is my question. We know from seven New Testament references that God’s plan of salvation through Jesus was formulated by the Godhead, before the foundation of the world. Now that plan was going to be operated, if I may put it like this, through the ‘environment’ that was the nation of Israel. So if this plan was in the mind of God from the outset and all the things we are observing are a part of that big over-arching plan, why did the Lord bother to announce it; He was going to do it anyway? The answer has to be because He wanted them and us to be aware of it and in being aware, be an active part of it, cooperating with Him in it all the way along.

Land and People: It is clear from the Lord’s original declaration in Ex 6:6-8 that His plan involves a) them as a people (Ex 6:6,7) and b) Canaan as the land He had promised to the Patriarchs (Ex 6:7,8). For us today that is expressed as a) the Church, the redeemed community of God’s people, and b) the kingdom of God, wherever and whenever and however His will is expressed on the earth through us today. People and purpose. The Promised Land was to be the environment in which Israel existed and revealed their relationship with God. Today we do not have a physical land because the ‘kingdom of God’ is revealed anywhere in the world where the people of God express the reign of God.

God’s Purpose for the Taking of the Land: It is clear from the Lord’s declarations that His intent in respect of the Promised Land also included bringing judgment on the inhabitants, the Canaanites. As the other aspect of it was to give Israel a home of their own, it meant that He wanted to use Israel to bring that judgment on the Canaanites.

Understanding the Judgment on Canaan: Now there is often so much mis-information, ignorance or even confusion about this, that we need to deal with it here. First of all, when we consider God’s instructions to Israel and His statements about His own involvement, we find there are 31 references to the Canaanites being DRIVEN OUT, and only 4 references to them being DESTROYED and only 4 to them being WIPED OUT. God’s overall purpose was that the Land be cleared of the Canaanites and their pagan practices, and that achieved by driving out those pagan inhabitants, so only if they resisted in battle would they need to be overcome and destroyed.

Possibilities: Now those pagan practices could be removed (and that is the objective of the judgment that is Israel on them) by a) the people leaving the Land (hence ‘driven out’) or b) they submit to Israel and become part of Israel – and that we see happening in respect of Rahab (see Josh 2) and the Gibeonites (see Josh 9). When God said He would drive them out, it is clear He means a) using fear (e.g. Deut 2:25, 11:25, Josh 2:9,11, 5:1) and b) using Israel themselves.

Failure & Discipline! Now when you study what actually happened, you realise a) Israel failed to do what they were commanded to do, AND b) the Lord accommodated their failure into His overall plan! This becomes clear when we move on into the book of Judges. Their failure is first recorded in Jud 1:27-36 and He holds them to account over this (see 2:3 which echoes Num 33:55 and is seen in Josh 23:13.) The warning had been clearly given that if they failed to clear the land of its people then, those you allow to remain will become barbs in your eyes and thorns in your sides. They will give you trouble in the land where you will live,” (Num 33:55) God had fulfilled His covenant with Abram etc. (see Ex 33:1, Numb 14:23, 32:11, Deut 1:35, 10:11, 31:20,21,23. 34:4, Josh 1:6) and Israel should have trusted Him but didn’t. That was their failure which was now seen in their failure to completely clear the Land. Now He declares, “I will no longer drive out before them any of the nations Joshua left when he died. I will use them to test Israel and see whether they will keep the way of the Lord and walk in it as their ancestors did.”  (Jud 2:21.22)

God’s Persistence: We will see the outworking of this in the next study but what is amazing is that, as can be seen in the way the people grumble leaving Egypt, the way they grumble in the desert on the way to Sinai, the way they turn away so quickly at Sinai, the way they grumble on the way from Sinai to the Land, and their refusal to enter the Land, CONSTANTLY they fail to apprehend the wonder of the Lord’s presence with them and trust Him, and CONSTANTLY they fail to be obedient to Him. Now in Ex 19:5, one of our starter verses above, “if you obey me fully,” is the crucial condition required of Israel but, as we’ve just seen, they fail to do that again and again.  So what is amazing is God’s determination in working this through with Israel. One way or another His is going to redeem them and bring them through to the place where they will indeed be a light to the nations.

Lessons for Us? We must, as we’ve said before, never be casual about sin and never settle for a path that leads us away from receiving all that the Lord has on His heart for us. It is important that we do not live our lives based on our emotions that will go up and down. Growing ‘in Christ’ means we come to rely on the truths of the Gospel, the things we are considering here. However, there are in all this, two things that are really encouraging.

Redeemed from godlessness: The first is that the Lord will not give up on us just because we make a mess of life. In fact the truth is that many of us came to Christ because we realized what a mess we were making of life on our own, and we recognized our godlessness – yet on our own we were incapable of changing that. It was when we called out to Him that we found He was there for us and all of our mess didn’t matter. He died to redeem us from our mess.

Redeemed from the failures: The second thing is that although we may continue to get it wrong, and we continue to ‘trip over our feet’, the Lord is there constantly working to get us through to the end where we can come confidently face to face with Him in eternity. Yes, this account of Israel entering the Promised Land and yet not fully taking it, so often epitomizes our lives. We’ve entered the new life in the kingdom of the Son (Col 1:13) and yet how imperfectly we live it sometimes. But not only does the Lord not give up on us, He perseveres in His project which is to change us and see us through to the end, and that is where discipline comes. He will, like Israel in the imperfectly taken land, use the things we tolerate – against us – to help change us! Those things we think are OK, so we don’t get to sort them out, He will use to discipline us until we see what is going on and take steps to completely remove them from our lives. This process is life-long, and it is what theologians call sanctification.

38. The Oppressed

Meditations in Ecclesiastes : 38 :  The Oppressed

Eccles 4:1 Again I looked and saw all the oppression that was taking place under the sun:  I saw the tears of the oppressed– and they have no comforter; power was on the side of their oppressors– and they have no comforter.

To the shallow thinker, the presence of the oppressed of the world must raise a question about the nature of God.  This question we find Habakkuk raising with God: “Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrong. Why then do you tolerate the treacherous? Why are you silent while the wicked swallow up those more righteous than themselves?” (Hab 1:13) i.e. God, I know you are holy and good, so how can you just stand back and do nothing in the face of all the evil in the world? It is a legitimate question.

For Solomon (who had been a hard taskmaster) it was a valid problem. He looked at what he saw happening in the world and he saw oppression and he saw the tears of the oppressed and he saw that no one was giving them comfort, and he saw that the people with the power were the oppressors. These are the basics of oppression wherever it takes place. Because people are the same throughout history, it is exactly the same today. It may be kings or rulers holding their people in a rod of iron, it may be those dealing in people trafficking, it may be gangs terrorizing neighbourhoods, or it may simply be parents abusing their children or employers exploiting their workers. Whatever it is, it is the same: powerful people oppressing weaker people.

As Solomon looked he didn’t come up with any answers beyond the philosophical: “And I declared that the dead, who had already died, are happier than the living, who are still alive. But better than both is he who has not yet been, who has not seen the evil that is done under the sun.” (v.2,3)  If the world it like this, he concludes, the person who has died is better off now they no longer have to endure the oppression they had been suffering, but of course, the people in the best position are those who have never yet been born because at least they haven’t been through it. That’s a very negative way of viewing it. Perhaps it would be better if we asked two questions: why does this happen and what can we do about it?

First of all, why does this happen. There are two factors that contribute to this. First there is the free will that God has granted to mankind. He has made us so that we choose how we will live, what we will do. Second is the fact of sin in every human being, that tendency to godlessness and self-centredness that leads to unrighteousness. Put these two things together and people oppress people. It is as simple as that. We don’t have to but we choose to – and it is sin and it is evil.

But then this usually raises an even bigger question, the question that Habakkuk raised: why doesn’t God step in to do something about it. The answer here is also twofold and it involves what God can’t do and what He can do.

First of all what God can’t do. It is logically very simple and yet so many people just can’t see it. Ask yourself the question, what would you like God to do? Step in and stop it. How? Er…. MAKE every person good. You’ve just taken away their free will, their ability to choose, that human ‘ingredient’ that makes us who we are. Do that and we have grey robots who are all the boring same and who are incapable of the thing we call love. So tell people to be good! He does, all the time. I am utterly convinced that God speaks to every single human being but many of us are like Pharaoh – hard hearted. We have set our hearts on oppressing those weaker than ourselves and so we refuse to listen to God.

OK then, let’s ask the other part: what can God do? So does God stand back and do nothing? No, He works in the hearts and lives of individuals. A slave can know the wonder of God’s love, even in the face of oppression. But more than that revolution comes when many people rise up against the oppressor. We have seen it a number of times in the last fifty years. Something we have to accept is that God knows that some of these things take time, but that doesn’t mean to say He is doing nothing today. It just means we may have to wait a while to see what He’s been working on!

So let’s ask the second question: what can we do about it? Wherever we see it we should ‘blow the whistle’ on it and shout it from the rooftops. That won’t always have effect, but it will sometimes. Wherever we see it, we should be praying against it and not only ask the Lord to act to stop it, but also ask what part we might play in bringing it to an end. The truth is that the Lord does want to act against oppression, but largely through other people. In a civilised society He has prompted us to create legal systems that seek to deal with criminal activity. Unsaved world government will never get it completely right, but at least we can pray and speak out to encourage governments to speak and act against other governments who oppress their people or allow oppression within their countries. The world is a constantly changing kaleidoscope of changing nations and changing activity. The fact that there is oppression doesn’t mean to say that we have to tolerate it.

15. Wrath of God

We return to our series in Romans

Meditations in Romans : 15 :  The Wrath of God

Rom 1:18 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness

Mostly we associate ‘wrath’ or anger with unrestrained outbursts of extremely hostile emotions witnessed by words and even deeds. Because we are so often unclear on the characteristics of God we think of God’s wrath or anger in these terms but an examination of Scripture indicates that this is not so. The wrath of God is a cool, calm, purposeful bringing of judgment that is deserved. It is a bringing of justice. Yes God is upset by our foolish godlessness and unrighteousness and yes He does rise up to take action against such attitudes and behaviour, but God’s anger is never out of control.

Anger, a dictionary of pastoral ethics suggests, is… ‘a response to wrong doing… may be negative or positive, unloving or loving…. redemptive or destructive… a neutral emotion.’  Wrath it seems in Scripture refers to anger in action. It is right to feel emotional about wrong doing and anger is an emotion that says ‘this should not have been’ or ‘this should not have happened’. Anger shows an absence of complacency about such wrongdoing, and God is never complacent. Wrath is anger that has determined that action should be taken against this wrong-doing. It is anger moving into retribution or judgment or correction. God doesn’t get angry over our stumbling attempts as His children to get it right when we make mistakes.

From what Paul says in our verse today God’s ‘anger-in-action’ is directed at godlessness and wickedness. Wickedness is wrong that is done with evil intent. The intent of the person is to positively do evil, wrong, harm etc. It is righteous to be angry at wilful, positive-intent evil! God has made us with a wonderful world and with immense individual potential – specifically to be and do good, in the image of our Creator. To purposefully go in the opposite direction to cause hurt, harm or damage in a purposefully destructive manner whether it simply involves words or, more likely, specific acts or hurt or harm, is a cause for negative emotions of indignation and displeasure and these are the expression we call anger. God is right to show this indignation and displeasure when He observes this wilful godlessness and unrighteousness that we call evil.

Now we mustn’t confuse the outworking of God’s anger with the emotion of His anger. Anger is the emotion and the emotion, in some situations, is closely linked with His calculated decision to take remedial action. We do need to note in passing that when God brings discipline or judgement, it is a form of remedial action. It is either to stop permanently a course of action by removing the person who God sees will not change whatever He says or does, or it is corrective in the way it stops a person following the course they are following so that they follow a new path that is not hurtful, harming or destructive. Now we are going to see in the verses ahead that God takes action (wrath = anger-in-action) and the form of what we would call judgment is clearly corrective, i.e. designed to bring change of behaviour.

Thus we should see that although God’s wrath is obvious, it isn’t necessarily destructive, it isn’t designed to kill or destroy people. We will see that soon in the verses ahead. So, we shouldn’t misunderstand God’s ‘wrath’ and see it as a vindictive or spiteful act, which is what it so often is in human beings. God’s wrath is thus seen to be His anger or indignant displeasure that is of such a magnitude, because of the nature of the sin, that it results in action by God against those committing the sin.

Perhaps a final thing we should emphasise is that so often men’s wickedness is both an expression of and an outworking of men suppressing the truth. First of all they suppress the truth by denying it, denying God and denying the way He has designed the world to work best, and they then proclaim and live a lie. Second, in the way that they do evil and wickedness, they prevent truth, the truth of God’s design being lived out as He wants it to be. They stop goodness prevailing, and they stop love prevailing.

This is the truth of how God has designed us to live and they stop that happening. It is a wilful, self-centred, pride thing and it is something human beings do purposefully. We don’t accidentally fall into it. It may happen gradually as we take one small step after another into a life of utter godless self-centredness, but each step involves an act of will. It is not just one step but many steps, many times when we make these acts of will in rebellion against God and rebellion against the truth. It is a downward spiral away from the truth and into a life of deception that is destructive in every way. If we live like this then let us not make any foolish talk about God’s harshness. It is right to be angry against such lifestyles and it is right of God to take action against such things to protect His world.

13. Perplexed

Today and for the next two weeks we take a break from Ephesians (which we will come back to) and continue a series we started before on “Questioning God”

‘WHY?’ QUESTIONS No.13


Jud 21:3 O LORD, the God of Israel ,” they cried, “why has this happened to Israel ? Why should one tribe be missing from Israel today?”


Because we live in a Fallen World, there are quite often times when circumstances seem perplexing and we wonder why things should actually be happening. The question, “Why?” is not uncommon. Ultimately though, we will suggest, such things boil down to just one or two ultimate reasons. Let’s consider what was causing this cry in Israel at this particular time. To get to the root of it we have to go right back to the beginning of chapter 19 of Judges.

Now a Levite who lived in a remote area in the hill country of Ephraim took a concubine from Bethlehem in Judah.” (Jud 19:1). There was, we see a man of the tribe of Levi who lived in the middle of the country in the area given to the tribe of Ephraim (Levites didn’t have their own land; they lived all over the country). He took what we would call today a second wife, and she came from further south in Judah‘s territory. As you read on we find she was unfaithful to him and returned to her home. After a while he followed her and persuaded her to return with him. Because his father-in-law kept delaying their leaving, eventually it wasn’t until early evening that they left and so it was getting dark when they decided to stop off at Gibeah in the territory of Benjamin. Here they were given shelter in the home of an old man. However word got out that they were there and a bunch of homosexuals banged on the door demanding that the man come out and have sex, (Not a nice story!) Instead of the man going out, to appease these men, they sent the concubine out (possibly hoping perhaps that she wouldn’t interest them) but they gang raped her and left her for dead.

So angered was the man that when he got home he cut her body into twelve and sent a part of it to each of the tribes of Israel demanding something be done. When the tribes gathered they determined to stand against Benjamin and demand justice. However, “The tribes of Israel sent men throughout the tribe of Benjamin, saying, “What about this awful crime that was committed among you? Now surrender those wicked men of Gibeah so that we may put them to death and purge the evil from Israel.” But the Benjamites would not listen to their fellow Israelites.” (Jud 20:12,13). Benjamin has obviously got to such a low moral state that they tolerated blatant sin and even defended it. To cut a long story short (read Judges 20) Israel basically destroyed Benjamin in the fighting that followed, with the exception of six hundred men who fled into the desert. Suddenly Israel realized that the twelve tribes were potentially now only eleven and the awfulness of this caused them to cry out in today’s verse.

Why should such a thing happen? Ultimately the answer is sin! But more than that, it was unrestrained sin. In this low time of the Judges, there was no king, no one leader who called the nation to account, and so sin was allowed to prevail and got worse and worse, and so eventually this situation occurred. Not only was it the sin of the people of Gibeah, but it was the acceptance of it by the whole tribe of Benjamin. Sin had taken root in that part of the land. Where sin is accepted, we may accept it and allow it to get worse and worse. Unless God intervenes, sin never improves; it is always a downward spiral.

Whenever we look at grieving circumstances, the hard truth is that they are grieving because of sin. Some person or people are the cause of whatever grief there is. Linked with this always, is godlessness. Sin is one aspect of godlessness or godlessness is one aspect of sin. We sin because we have been deceived by Satan into believing that God’s not around and we will get away with it. Ultimately all our sin is because we have come into the place of mistaken thinking – God’s not here so I can do what I like. That is godless thinking and it leads to unrighteousness. Whatever the conflict, whatever the upset, whatever the perplexing situation, it is because there is sin involved and linked to that, godless attitudes.

Whenever we are seeking to be genuinely godly, there will never be anything less than peace and harmony. Now the one exception to that statement is where justice must prevail because sin has harmed. Justice is required within society and sometimes, as in the unpleasant situation we have just been considering, justice means punishment has to fall which still leaves us grieving. If you read chapter 20 of Judges you will see that the Lord was completely involved with this. This was no mere act of revenge; this was an act of justice to purge the land of sin, and as such it was heart rending.

A difficult and unpleasant part of Scripture, yet the truth is still there which needs to be heeded. Sin is waiting to rise up and spread. We must stand against it within ourselves individually and in society corporately. If we fail to do that it will grow and spread and be utterly destructive. We would really do well to heed this awful lesson.

11. A Righteous God

MEDITATIONS IN ISAIAH – No.11

Isa 5:16 But the LORD Almighty will be exalted by his justice, and the holy God will show himself holy by his righteousness

If you want to be blessed and encouraged, there are certain areas of the Bible that do that very obviously. This is not one of them. Within parts of the Bible there is scripture that needs very carefully looking at. In these first five chapters of Isaiah we find words that are largely of condemnation. We don’t like being told off; we don’t like having our faults exposed, and so it is possible that we might have negative responses to these chapters for that reason – though we may not like to acknowledge that. In these meditations so far we have sought to face the uncomfortable truth, that here we find Jerusalem and Judah exposed and God’s warnings of what will happen if they do not change. It is not pleasant or comfortable reading. Yet, all Scripture is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.” (2 Tim 3:16).

Before we look at the detail of where we have got to, let’s ask what, in general, these chapters tell us. Well, I believe they scream loudly to us that God has standards, design-rules I have called them, that reflect the way He has designed us to work best. He made those design-rules known to Israel through Moses and they accepted them. Unfortunately they failed to keep them but their failure was more that they failed to be faithful to God, and then failure to keep the rules followed. Godlessness always comes before unrighteousness. Now part of the equation was that God wanted Israel to be a light to the rest of the world, to reveal Him to the rest of the world, and reveal His desire to draw people back from sin (godlessness and unrighteousness) and re-establish them in a relationship with Him, out of which they could order their lives according to His design rules and receive His blessing.

When Israel turned from Him, this meant that, being known as God’s people, they would now be conveying a very confused and distorted picture of the Lord, and therefore the Lord had to draw them back to Himself and His ways for them, that the rest of the world might receive a true picture of Him. For those reasons the Lord acts against Israel in such a way as designed to remove the wrong elements and at the same time preserve the right elements, while at the same time giving more people opportunity to turn from the wrong to the right. That is what these chapters are all about!

Thus in the ‘song’ that Isaiah wrote, we find a picture of the Lord removing the security from the nation (5:5) and leaving it barren (5:6) and just in case they were slow in understanding he clearly identifies the vineyard as God’s people (5:7).

From verse 8 to verse 23 we find a series of ‘woes’. These are expressions of distress about Judah’s state and what will happen to them. They are materialistic (v.8), carousers forgetting the Lord (v.11,12), who rejoice in sin, deceit and wickedness and decry the law of the Lord (v.18,19), who distort and reverse the truth (v.20), who think they are smart (v.21), who are big drinkers (v.22), and who distort justice (v.23). Tragically they are exactly the same as seen in so much Western society today. These do not portray the Lord’s people as He has designed them to be, and so he will take action against them.

We see that He will bring down their fine houses which they use to boost their image and their ego (v.9), bring down their crops, which is their source of wealth (v.10), allow an enemy to come in and wreak havoc (v.13,14,26-30) so that their pride will be humbled (v.15). If this is the only way that He can bring this people to their senses, He will do it for the sake of the rest of the world. That is what our reading of wider Scripture tells us is behind this.

Now when our home or car has been broken into, we demand that the police do something about it. We want them to catch the offender and punish him. That is justice and we expect it, yet when many of us read of the Lord dealing with Judah, we suddenly take on different standards. How terrible this is, the hypocrites say. Excuse me? Surely what we have been considering and reading about is simply justice. Yes, these people have “rejected the law of the LORD Almighty and spurned the word of the Holy One of Israel.” (v.24) and although some of us aren’t bothered by that, we would be bothered by the outworking of that as far as it concerns human rights abuses: “he looked for justice, but saw bloodshed; for righteousness, but heard cries of distress.” (v.7) and those “who acquit the guilty for a bribe, but deny justice to the innocent.” (v.23). THAT is how they spurned God’s design rules, and any civilized person should agree that that outcome was bad – criminal in fact!

Justice demands that this people be dealt with. God is dealing with them. At the end of it all of these injustices are removed, all these human rights abuses are ended. At the end of it, there is peace and right living in the land. It has been purged of the evil, the wickedness and the deceit for which it had been known previously. When that happens the world may look on and wonder and realise that THIS God is different from any idol they have worshipped. This God is the One who designed the world, and passed on to His people the rules for living that conformed to that design, and He even enforced it, so that goodness and peace should return to it. It is only the foolish or the petty who quibble against this outcome and if you don’t like it, one might ask, have you got a better way that would produce that good outcome from this messy state?


(Because these particular meditations are rather on the heavy or serious side, we will pause up for a week or so and come back to them after we’ve had a ‘New Testament break’.)