14. God of Variety (1)

Getting to Know God Meditations:  14. God of Variety (1)

Psa 22:1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?  Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish? (Psalm of David – prophetic poetry)

Jn 20:30,31  About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”)  (Prophetic Aramaic fulfillment cry of Jesus Christ on the cross – historical narrative)

Continuation:  I am aware we have been through some challenging areas in the recent days and it seems right to step back with a lighter overview for a moment to give some readers some breathing space perhaps. I did wonder about putting this study much earlier in the series but it feels right to use it here to step back and catch a wider view of the Bible rather than the specific message, although that will almost certainly come through.

Variety: When we look at the world and we look at the Bible and we look towards God, if He is the Creator of all this – and the alternative is, in the words of one leading atheist, a meaningless mess – our conclusion has to be that He is a God who loves variety. I always remember, many years ago hearing someone say, “Did you know there are over 1200 sorts of edible bean in the world?” Since then I’ve heard so much more in science that says this world is a showcase of variety, no more so than when you look at people and cultures, and also no more so than when you look in the Bible.

Variety & the Bible: Every now and then I hear some smart character pontificating about the failures of the Bible and the moment you hear them using and deriding the word ‘literal’ you know they are speaking out of a weak limited area of knowledge and understanding. Hopefully, if you have been a Christian for any length of time, you will have sat in on a sermon or study where you will know that the word ‘literal’ is dismissed. “Is it literally true?” says this smart character trying to make a smart point. Whatever do you mean? Do you understand the variety of writing that is here in this book? Let’s consider some of the variety of genres or styles or writing we find in the Bible.

i) Historical Narrative: There is history, narrative if you like, and yes we can say that is literally true, it did happen in time-space history. The evidence is there, the writings so often supported by archaeology or other history sources. This isn’t always so but there has been an interesting phenomena over the past hundred and fifty years. Critics said, “Oh there is no archaeological evidence for those accounts in ….” and they name some passage, and lo and behold twenty years later the remains are unearthed. Absence does not mean it did not happen. Just be patient!

ii) Teaching: There is much straight forward teaching in the Bible. Let’s take that classic book, ‘Proverbs’ and let’s take one example from early on, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.” (Prov 1:7) Time and space forbids us meditating on that, but is it literal? What does that mean? Is it literally true? Well, yes. Or consider Jesus teaching his disciples, to take a random example, many prophets and kings wanted to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.” (Lk 10:24) To ask is it literal is meaningless without explanation. Yes it is literally true what he said. Look at Jesus’ parables and you find teaching within a story. Is the story literally true? Don’t be daft, it is a story! Watch out for similes, metaphors and personification and if you don’t know what they are, classes on Literature 101 are needed.

iii) Prophecy: There are big chunks of prophecy in the Bible, the biggest probably being the book of Revelation at the end. In the Old Testament, the big books are Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel (and there are a number of what are called ‘The Minor Prophets’).  Each of those big four contain some narrative as well as prophecies. Is it literal? Well the narrative is but look at prophecy and you find that it is a complete mix of exhortation, teaching and picture language and the picture language (e.g. personification) is clearly not meant to be taken literally but simply conveys meaning. Is this allegory literal? Don’t be daft, it’s an allegory!!!

iv) Poetry: You will know that it is in poetic form because of the way it will be laid out in your Bible. If you ask a poet, is your poetry literal, they will look at you, seeing one who has not got a clue about the style and goal of poetry (this is not the place to do that – do your own research). Poems convey meaning, poems express emotions, poems come from and touch the heart. Read the Psalms and see this.

The Problem with Scripture: There is a problem from our point of time in history, in fact there are at least four problems.

i) The first is historical: The book is spread over a two thousand year period and covers a vast range of changes in history. An excellent example of historical data is that found in Luke’s Gospel (who we have referred to in an earlier study): In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar—when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene— during the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness.” (Lk 3:1,2) Note 7 historical figures (if you don’t count John) and five geographical locations and three historical ‘job descriptions’.

 ii) The second is cultural: So often we see behaviour that was common in a particular culture and at first sight, without explanation, it may appear strange to us. We need to learn about the culture. (I will not give examples of these because they each will require too much explanation.)

iii) The third is linguistic: Some of the word patterns or uses of language appear strange to us, but it was the way they spoke back then. Again I hesitate to give examples for the sake of time and space but when you see phrases or sayings that seem strange, look them up on the Internet.

 iv) The fourth is geographical: The action of the Bible takes place over an area from Egypt to modern-day Iraq.  It therefore includes many countries (some of which don’t exist today), and many towns and cities (some of which either don’t exist today or have changed their names).  It also includes geographical features such as rivers, lakes, seas and mountains, that are clearly located.

Each of these things requires an intelligent reading and that will take time and effort.

And So: Our key point within this study is to highlight

a) the variety of styles of writing found in the Bible, each of which needs identifying if we are not to make wrong assumptions about it,

b) the indirect forms of speech that are often used, requiring us to identify them and not jump to false conclusions about what is being said, and

c) the various difficulties or gaps in understanding that may appear because of the Bible recording the ways and culture of people who lived two to four thousand years ago, in a different part of the world from that with which we are familiar.

Therefore, in these 66 books, written by over 40 writers, we find a rich variety of amazing literature, and once we overcome the obstacles I have referred to above, we find a rich vein of history that sheds light on who we are, why we are and where we are going. Oh, yes, this is not merely academic literature that we read for mundane interest, this is a book that reveals to us what life is all about and the One who brought it all into being. In the next study we will compare and highlight some of this ‘literature’ more fully so we can see the wonder of it.

22. 2 Chronicles

Meditations of Old Testament Highlights: 22.  2 Chronicles

2 Chron 36:15,16   The LORD, the God of their fathers, sent word to them through his messengers again and again, because he had pity on his people and on his dwelling place / But they mocked God’s messengers, despised his words and scoffed at his prophets / until the wrath of the LORD was aroused against his people and there was no remedy.

I choose these two verses from 2 Chronicles as the highlights of this book as they summarize everything else that had gone on, and explain how the book concludes in the way it does. There are three parts to it, I suggest, and I have put dividers in the above verses to show those divisions.

It starts with God. Now we might expect that a book on history, which is what 2 Chronicles basically is, should start with a focus on people because usually history is all about how people have acted in different periods of ‘history’. However, the Bible is all about God and the revelation of His purposes for the earth and specifically, as He sought to use Israel to reveal Himself and His plans and purposes to the rest of the world. So it starts out with God’s activity.

I am tempted to produce a long list of references showing how God spoke into the life of Israel and its kings from the period of the reign of Solomon to the Exile but instead I will simply recommend you read the book and make the list yourself. The truth is that God spoke again and again into the lives of these people and, says the recorder, it was because He had pity on His people.  Now that is quite remarkable for I have to confess if it had been me overseeing Israel’s history I would have been first of all frustrated, then annoyed and finally angry with Israel, and all that quite quickly – but God held back again and again and again.

As I have studied the judgments of God in detail, the thing that amazed me most of all is that during the period of the kings of the two kingdoms, was the Lord’s restraint. I have concluded that there must be various reasons why this was so, but ultimately the thing that stands out most, in the apostle Peter’s words,  is that He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 pet 3:9) or, to apply that to the period of the Kings, He was giving them opportunity after opportunity to learn from past mistakes and eventually get it right.

However, that is where one of my favourite quotes kicks in: “The one thing that history teaches us is that history teaches us nothing.” i.e. we fail to learn from the past! This takes us into the second part of these verses and we see here the folly of Israel as the recorder observes, “But they mocked God’s messengers, despised his words and scoffed at his prophets”.  And we might add – and kept on doing it!

That is the tragedy of the Old Testament historical record – that Israel failed to learn and, instead of rising to greatness with the wonder of all the things that God had done for them, especially in their early days,  they mocked the prophets, they despised what they were saying and generally made fun of them. These were men (and the occasional woman) who sought to get Israel back into a good place with God, but again and again and again the folly of Sin broke through and they continued to worship idols and pick up on other nations’ false religions.

For those who have never thought about these things, the last part may come as a shock: “until the wrath of the LORD was aroused against his people and there was no remedy.” Anger, or wrath, is a signpost within our consciousness that things around us are going wrong and are contrary to what we feel is right or just or fair. It is, in fact, right to become angry in the presence of such things, but what we do with our anger is another matter. Bear in mind that we are talking about God tolerating Israel’s folly for centuries, and we see that God’s anger is not hasty! Now in assessing the judgments of God throughout the Bible, as I have noted before in these studies, ‘terminal judgments’ are those which involve death and destruction (as against ‘disciplinary judgments’ which are designed to change people’s minds) and in the light of how long it takes for God to bring a terminal judgment, I have also named them as “judgments of the last resort”, i.e. God only brings them when He sees there is no hope of getting the people to change. “There was no remedy” or there was no other way to stop what was going on.

That is why in the last chapter of 2 Chronicles we have the record of King Nebuchadnezzar coming and destroying Jerusalem and taking most of its inhabitants into exile. The book was either compiled much later than the events recorded, or there was a postscript added for the book concludes with the record of King Cyrus, decades later, under the inspiration and direction of God, sending back the Jews to rebuild, first the temple and then the walls of Jerusalem. There are two major events in the life of Israel: the Exodus and the Exile.

The Exodus had brought them out of Egypt, taken them to Mount Sinai to become a nation before God, and then on into the Promised Land forty years later. The Exile was the ‘last resort’ action of God to take Israel out of the Land to be purged of their idolatry while in Babylon until they could be brought back forty years later. It would appear that the presence of God was absent from Jerusalem for a unique period, since the reign of David who captured Jerusalem and made it his capital, a period of seventy years, as prophesied by Jeremiah, from the destruction of the Temple until its rebuilding completion.

These are enormous sweeps of history and they reveal the wonder of the plans and purposes of God stretching over centuries and millennia. Living with our slow day by day lives, it is difficult to comprehend such long periods and the things that went on in them, which is why the last chapter of 2 Chronicles is such a remarkable record. We may not be able to see much significance as we look back over our lives, and find it difficult to think about the years yet ahead, but both are still within the ambit of the plans of God. Someone once wrote, “A people without the knowledge of their past history, origins and culture is like a tree without roots.” The book of 2 Chronicles provides that history and God-culture for Israel and provides endless learning resources that we can apply into our lives today as part of the Church.

Perhaps these notes will challenge us to also become more knowledgeable about the beginnings and history of the Church so that we may see ourselves in a greater perspective. In one of his books, author Terry Pratchett wrote, “If you don’t turn your life into a story, you just become part of someone else’s story.” Your story with God is your testimony. Like Israel’s, it probably has highs and lows, but if it reveals the love and goodness of God, we have indeed had our eyes opened to reality, and that is worth sharing.

2.1 A Fallen World

Short Meditations in Psalms: 2.1  A Fallen World

Psa 2:1   Why do the nations conspire (or rage) and the peoples plot in vain?

It is a basic spiritual fact, often forgotten by Christians and denied by non-Christians, that we live in a ‘Fallen World’. A world that is different from the way it was when God first made it. Unless you accept this explanation of the state of the world you are left drifting into a depressed and hopeless state about mankind that, in the words of some of my Law students in the past, are just ‘not nice’. An amazing understatement!

Has it always been like this, are we just a bunch of degenerating animals portrayed so graphically in ‘Lord of the Flies’? Is this how it will always be? The Humanist Manifestos have spoken with such optimism about our man-controlled future but seen next to the history of the last hundred years or so, and what is happening in the world today, must be condemned as some of the most unrealistic writings of pretentious dreamers.

If we take this first verse in isolation it might be thought to have nothing to do with God and that’s how we’ll consider it for the moment – the rest will come in the next verse. One thing we Christians are often not very good at, is understanding history. I confess that it was not a subject that grabbed me at school but in more recent years I have come to see the value of understanding much of it.

For instance over the last couple of years I have done a reasonable amount of study on the origins of the First World War which seems particularly apt in the light of this first verse. Our verse speaks of nations conspiring and plotting. Examine the period of history leading up to the start of the First World War and that perfectly describes what was going on. Indeed go on a couple of decades and then study European history in the run up to the Second World War, and you basically find exactly the same.

“Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun” is one of the most famous slogans from Mao Zedong, and coming in 1927 between the two World Wars it summed up godless mankind’s thinking, exhibited so clearly in both those wars. Violence is how to get what you want!

But what is it that drives humanity to these extreme expressions of self-centredness? The Bible calls it ‘Sin’, the propensity of every single human being to be self-centred and godless. This is why nations fight and couples fight and children fight.

We’ll consider the ‘godless’ dimension in the next study but for now recognise that self-centredness is at the heart of every upset in the affairs of mankind, and that starts with me.

19. Holding to the Plan (2)

Meditations on ‘Focusing Faith’ : 19.  Faith and holding to the Plan (2)

Heb 11:24,25   By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a short time.

A couple of studies back we noted Joseph holding to ‘The Plan’,  the plan spoken out by God to Abram, Isaac and Jacob – this is my land and now it will be your land, for ever, and you will multiply and become a great people. Over four hundred years have passed – four  hundred years, how long that sounds! That was the same length of time that passed between the end of prophetic revelation in the Old Testament period to the start of the events recorded in the Gospels in the New Testament! It’s like us thinking about things happening in the early 1700’s, but with God time is not an issue, His plans and purposes remain regardless of how many years pass.

So Moses is living some 400 years on from the Patriarchs but he knows his history, he knows that he is a Hebrew, an Israelite as they will become. Somehow he’s done his history and presumably kept contact with his natural mother even though he was being brought up for the first forty years of his life as a Prince of Egypt.

Stephen in Acts 7 tells the story: At that time Moses was born, and he was no ordinary child. For three months he was cared for in his father’s house. When he was placed outside, Pharaoh’s daughter took him and brought him up as her own son. Moses was educated in all the wisdom of the Egyptians and was powerful in speech and action. “When Moses was forty years old, he decided to visit his fellow Israelites. He saw one of them being mistreated by an Egyptian, so he went to his defense and avenged him by killing the Egyptian. Moses thought that his own people would realize that God was using him to rescue them, but they did not.” (Acts 7:20-25)

Now of course we know that it all went wrong and the next day one of his own turned on him and it became public knowledge so that he had to flee from Egypt and spent the next forty years looking after sheep in the desert, until God called him to look after over a million human sheep in the desert. But it really all happened on that first day when, as Stephen put it, “he decided to visit his fellow Israelites”. Up until then he had been living a life of privilege behind palace walls, with everything laid on for him. Perhaps it wasn’t that he had kept touch with his family but had just learned about them in his private tuition in the palace and, knowing his own history, how his own palace mother had taken him out of the Nile, he decided to go an look for himself and visit the people from whom he originally came. When he arrived at where they were he saw they were slaves and he saw one of them being mistreated by a slave driver and at that point he stepped over the line and stood for being a Hebrew. All of his history, the history of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob came rushing back from the lessons he had received and he knows these are his people, a people with a special relationship with God, Yahweh.

Yes, at that moment he ceased to be the son of Pharaoh’s daughter and was a Hebrew with a history that could not be ignored. At that moment he decided to stand for them and went too far and killed the slave driver. As the Hebrews writer puts it, “By faith Moses, …. chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a short time.”  The ‘pleasures of sin’ were simply the life of luxury and leisure in the royal palace, self-concerned and godless.

Now there is a possible course of action that we don’t usually think about. He was a Prince of Egypt, no doubt a powerful man. The slave driver is likely to be just another slave as far as Pharaoh would be concerned, two a penny. So he died, so what? These things happen. He could have faced it out, but he didn’t. These were his people and he found himself going back to them the next day, at which point he has to remonstrate with two Hebrews who are quarreling and who turn on him. This is the point of decision. He could have brazened it out – “Who do you stupid slaves think you are? Don’t you realise I am a prince of Egypt, get back to you work or I’ll have you killed.” In his role that was a very real possible way through this – but he’s a Hebrew himself, and it’s got to him, and so “He regarded disgrace ….of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward.” (v.26) His reward? To be counted as one of the people of God. At that moment he made the decision to leave; he could no longer handle this, being a prince in Egypt while his own people were slaves. He ran, and it was an act of faith. Whatever the future held it must be better than the reality I now know exists here in this land.

But there is an aspect of the record we have missed: “When Pharaoh heard of this, he tried to kill Moses, but Moses fled from Pharaoh and went to live in Midian.” (Ex 2:15) We have just examined what could have happened but for that to happen Moses would have to deny his people, deny his own birth and stand up in this situation as an Egyptian who cared nothing about the Israelites – but he couldn’t!

There is an unusual phrase I have taken out from the middle of that verse 26: “for the sake of Christ.” Now of course he would not have known about Christ, not known about the coming Messiah because that was something to only be revealed through the prophets in the centuries ahead – but we are told elsewhere in scripture that Moses was a prophet, a great prophet and so even here at this early part of his life, he senses there is something more to life, something more of God’s plans. He’s learnt about Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and he’s no doubt seen the God factor in their histories and as he catches that in his spirit, something says, “There is something more” and even that is just a glimmer of the revelation that is to come. We’ve seen it in Abraham who looked for a city with God, a dissatisfaction with the present and a yearning for what God has on his heart, and Moses has it as well.

So this forty year old embryo prophet, who doesn’t realise it yet, senses something at this turning point in his life, something of the eternal will of God and in a moment of desperation, he goes for it, he rejects his life in Egypt and has to flee.  He’s caught something from God and he goes for it. That is faith.

Because of the presence of the Holy Spirit indwelling us and making us Christians, we too catch this sense, the will of God. The enemy will challenge it and maybe we will be confronted by difficult circumstances where we have to either own up or shut up, we either stand for the truth or we join the rest who deny truth. We ARE the people of God. Pharaoh doesn’t like it and will threaten us. ‘Pharaoh’ is the world attitude today that denies God, challenges Him and His people and we resist him in the same way Moses eventually came to resist the next Pharaoh, with the will of God, the word of God and the power of God, but we’ll only do that when we’ve made the same decision by faith that Moses made – I am one of God’s people. I am not a prince of this world. I will do His bidding and leave the rest up to him. Amen!

1. Introduction

Motivation Meditations in Acts : 1 :  Introduction

Acts  1:4   On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about.

We have previously written a meditation series entitled, “Why?” but that asked questions of God about why things happen like they do.  This series is slightly different in that we will be examining why we act like we do, what is it that motivates us to act like we do, and to do that we are going to use the book of Acts as our basis for consideration.

Our opening verse give us one obvious reason why we, as Christians, do things – because Jesus or God has told us to do so, but that is only a starting point because, as we so often say in these meditations it is important to look at verses in context. So what have we actually got here at the beginning of Acts?

First of all we have a bunch of men and women and they all have history. They are all, we believe, beyond teenage years at the very least. We might guess that they are mostly in their twenties or thirties but we aren’t told. They all have family backgrounds and some of them at least (maybe most) have families of their own. That we may surmise from what we read in the Gospels.  So each of them is a unique personality and they bring that personality to the Gospel accounts, and we mustn’t forget that. We are first and foremost the people God and our families and life has made us to be.

But this particular group of people have a unique history, at least in respect of the last three years, and it involves being called by and then following Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God. Those three years must have been the peak of human experience as they walked and talked and ate with the Son of God, and then watched him perform healings and miracles, often dozens if not hundreds a day. They saw him raise people from the dead, they saw him walk on water, and three of them saw him transfigured. And then he drew them into what he was doing so that they were the ones who broke bread and fishes to feed five thousand and then four thousand people. They were sent out and they saw healings and signs and wonders and came back full of joy.

But then they had gone up to Jerusalem with him on that last occasion and gone through that nerve racking week when again and again he taught and healed in the temple precincts under the very noses of the authorities who felt threatened by him. They had been with him in the upper room for the Last Supper and they had been with him in the Garden of Gethsemane and fell asleep when he prayed, and then they had seen him arrested and then he had been crucified and buried. They had been utterly miserable and fearful and had hidden away until after three days, when he had been raised from the dead, he came searching them out. Then he had sent them up to Galilee and had eventually come and joined them there – and that is where we find them.

All of these things we need to take into account when we consider these disciples – about to be apostles – as we observe them in Acts.  We are similar to them in that we have unique personalities and we have history but we are very different from them in that we have not been through the wonders and the terrors that were unique to their experience. For us our experience of Jesus started differently. We didn’t have an encounter with this compelling human-cum-God figure. Our encounter came through another human being, yes, and it was Jesus by his Spirit operating through them, but from then on our experiences were different and yet they are the same in as far as they have flowed out of our response to the call of the Son of God to “follow me”.  We are different from our neighbour who has not had this experience in that they have not (yet) come to crisis point in their life where they were faced by their failure and their need and surrendered to God and received His love and forgiveness and regeneration by His Spirit.

That is where we come from but we may be very similar in a number of ways to these disciples with Jesus at our starting point: we hope we are open and available to the Son of God and will therefore be obedient to his calling and his directions, and yet like them we probably have questions because life isn’t as clear as preachers would sometimes like us to believe. So we’re going to stop here in this first meditation and leave the questions to the next one where we can more fully consider them.

For the moment, as we get ready to step out in these new areas of consideration, hold onto that thought about context and background. Yes, we may be motivated in a whole variety of ways that I believe we will see as we get into this series, but behind it all and perhaps limiting or even enabling it, is our personal history. We are what we are because of where we’ve come from and the experiences we’ve had so far in life and all of that will impinge on the things that then press in on us in further life experiences to motivate us to do what we do. Pray for revelation and insight into who you are and how the Lord works in and through these things as we progress in this new series.

1. We Know

Meditations in 1 John : 1 :  We Know!

1 John  1:1   That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched–this we proclaim concerning the Word of life.

I like the opening of 1 John in the same way I like the opening of Luke 1, for both of them are so down to earth. Luke wrote, Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account.” (Lk 1:1-3) Luke spoke of eyewitnesses who had passed on what had happened involving Jesus. John goes one step further and is  basically saying, “I was one of those eyewitnesses!”

After the first chapter, John uses the word ‘know’ 33 times! John writes near the end of the first century and if persecution was often a problem for the early church in the first three hundred years of its life, the growing presence of heresies in that part of the world was possibly even a greater enemy to be resisted. Truth was thus a primary currency of the early church and they considered it vital to pass on the truth about Jesus and to resist the perversions of the truth that a variety of heretics sought to bring.

One particular group of heretics were the Gnostics who majored on having special knowledge. For them knowledge was all important but their knowledge declared that matter was evil and because of that God could not have existed in a sinful human body, i.e. the incarnation could not have happened. Their knowledge was that of a special group, not given to the world at large. John combats this by declaring all these things in his letter openly, for anyone to see and know. Christianity was to be a faith open to all; all it needed was repentance and submissions to God.

And so, even with the opening of his Gospel, John has this slightly mystical  or philosophical feel to his writing which would appeal to many of his era: “that which was from the beginning”. This beginning was not merely the beginning of Christianity but the beginning of everything. In his Gospel he had begun, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.” (Jn 1:1-3) For John there was no doubt about Jesus: he was with God and was God and had been God from beginning of time, and had been part of the godhead bringing creation into being.

Although he does not name Jesus in these verses it is clear that this is who he is referring to. At the end of verse 2 he calls him “the Word of life.” Referring to Jesus in his Gospel he declared, “In him was life, and that life was the light of men.” (Jn 1:4) and to make sure no one misunderstood, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (Jn 1:14). A word is a part of communication and this ‘Word’ was God’s communication to us, His Son.

But with John there is nothing mystical in all this. Their experience of the Son of God had not been some weird experience induced by drugs. No, it has been in daily experience: “we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched”.  This is why I said this is all so down to earth. God isn’t found in strange and mystical experiences. Eastern religions are so often like certain modern philosophies that demand some ‘special out of body type of experience’ to authenticate or make sense of life. In his book Kim, Rudyard Kipling has his young hero, Kim, encounter a holy man in India who is seeking some such experience. Eventually the old man, short on food and drink, falls into a water-filled ditch and has his ‘experience’. That is the sort of weird and wonderful deception the enemy seeks to bring to the world and it is a far thing from Christianity which is based on factual history.

This is why we have the Gospels, factual accounts of the things that happened in time-space history. John, writing near the end of that first century, is aware of the tendency of human beings who like the strange, the weird, and the spectacular. Yes, there is the divinely supernatural at the heart of Christianity but it is not to exalt man; it is simply the working of Almighty God. The same sort of thing was seen in unbelieving Naaman when he was sent to Elisha to be cured of his leprosy and was told by him – via his servant! – to go and wash in the Jordan seven times. Naaman was furious: “Naaman went away angry and said, “I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the LORD his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy. Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than any of the waters of Israel? Couldn’t I wash in them and be cleansed?” So he turned and went off in a rage.” (2 Kings 5:11,12)

No, our faith is based upon facts of time-space history and we respond to the God who brought all things into being and who, in the course of time, sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to die for our sins. It all happened back there in history and John saw it, John had been there with Jesus and had travelled with him for three years. Oh yes, John knew, and he wants to pass that knowledge on to us to act as a foundation for our faith. Let your faith be built as you read God’s word intelligently.

7. Division & Obedience

Meditations in Deuteronomy : 7:  Land Division & Obedience

(Focus: Deut 3:12-29)

Deut 3:18-20 I commanded you at that time: “The LORD your God has given you this land to take possession of it. But all your able-bodied men, armed for battle, must cross over ahead of your brother Israelites. However, your wives, your children and your livestock (I know you have much livestock) may stay in the towns I have given you, until the LORD gives rest to your brothers as he has to you, and they too have taken over the land that the LORD your God is giving them, across the Jordan. After that, each of you may go back to the possession I have given you.”

Moses continues to recount their recent history. He has reminded them of forty years ago, of their desert wanderings and then how they returned to the borders of Promised Land, but this time to enter, not from the south but from half way up from the land east of the Jordan, and how they had peacefully passed through three different peoples’ land and how they had fought and triumphed over two nations who opposed them.

The land that they took from these two kings was then apportioned to three of the tribes: “Of the land that we took over at that time, I gave the Reubenites and the Gadites the territory north of Aroer by the Arnon Gorge, including half the hill country of Gilead, together with its towns. The rest of Gilead and also all of Bashan, the kingdom of Og, I gave to the half tribe of Manasseh.” (v.12,13) This was further detailed in verses 13 to 17. It was important, however, that the fighting resources of those three tribes was not lost to the nation and so when we arrive at verses 18 to 20 we find Moses instructing that although the families may settle in this land already taken, the fighting men of these tribes must continue on over the Jordan with the rest of the army to take the land. It was vital that, although settled in the east, these three tribes continued to see themselves as part of the whole nation that still had a responsibility to take all the land to the west. Thus he reminds them about national solidarity.

He is picking up important issues about the nation as he prepares to talk about the Law and about obedience, and so next he turns to the subject of leadership: “At that time I commanded Joshua: “You have seen with your own eyes all that the LORD your God has done to these two kings. The LORD will do the same to all the kingdoms over there where you are going. Do not be afraid of them; the LORD your God himself will fight for you. (v.21,22) Moses was passing on the leadership baton and just in case the people might have said, “Why can’t you come with us and continue to lead us?” he explains again what had happened to him: “At that time I pleaded with the LORD: “O Sovereign LORD, you have begun to show to your servant your greatness and your strong hand. For what god is there in heaven or on earth who can do the deeds and mighty works you do? Let me go over and see the good land beyond the Jordan–that fine hill country and Lebanon.” (v.23-25) He had wanted to come with them but that wasn’t possible. Why?

“But because of you the LORD was angry with me and would not listen to me. “That is enough,” the LORD said. “Do not speak to me anymore about this matter. Go up to the top of Pisgah and look west and north and south and east. Look at the land with your own eyes, since you are not going to cross this Jordan. But commission Joshua, and encourage and strengthen him, for he will lead this people across and will cause them to inherit the land that you will see.” (v.26-28)  This referred back to the incident reported in Numbers 20:9-13 and then Num 27:12-14.  Moses had not been faithful to the Lord’s character on that one occasion and so the Lord was taking him home to heaven rather than let him continue into the land. That in itself would act as a reminder to Israel that the Lord was holy and holds His people accountable to Him – whoever they are!

Thus we come to the end of this early part of the book where Moses recounts their history. To go back to what we said at the beginning, the Law and calls to obedience, which follow, must be seen in context – the context of history. Israel are what they are and they are where they are because of the Lord. Already, through the things that have happened to them over these past forty years, they have learned much about the Lord. Indeed everything that follows must be seen in the light of that.

For us today our faith is founded in history – things that have happened on this earth already. Yes, they may have happened many centuries ago but the records are clear and the records may be trusted. We have the records in this book we call the Bible, and they can be trusted. We are what we are and we are where we are because of the Lord. The church is what it is because of the Lord. All that we have and all that we are is because of Him and because of what He has done already for us. That is why it is so important that we read and understand and hold on to these records. It is as important for us as it was for Israel. May we remember that!