27. Assessing Value

Meditations in Meaning & Values  27. Assessing Value

Gal 5:2    I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all

We have started to think about ‘values’. We noted that laws flow out of values. We considered that we need to identify values but even more importantly, where they come from, their origin. We also observed that many people simply adopt other people’s values, often those of celebrities or ‘big names’. We concluded the last meditation by starting to ponder about love being a basic foundation for values and God being the ultimate source of love, but what if you remove God? Can you have love, can you have values without God? Well the obvious answer is yes, of course you can, because there are nations that do not know God but still have laws, and those laws suggest they have values.

You may wonder why we have chosen the above verse with the apostle Paul speaking of circumcision. Well essentially what he was saying was that if you were a Jewish Christian and you relied upon circumcision to establish your relationship with God (as Abraham did) then you had no need of Christ. Now we can go a stage further in this consideration of values and say that many people have desires to be ‘good’ but work to achieve that appearance of goodness and acceptance by others, and so their ‘efforts’ mean they don’t turn to God for His help or His way of bringing about goodness or righteousness. We can substitute activity for God, and this is what many people do, and in so doing they reveal that in theory at least they hold to certain values. They value the activity more than they value God, or God’s way of doing things.

A basic dictionary definition of ‘value’ starts with worth, what we assess the worth of someone or something. We find that usage in the early part of the Bible in Leviticus where it was possible for Israelites wanting to dedicate themselves to the Lord, to give money instead of themselves. Thus you find, The LORD said to Moses, “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: `If anyone makes a special vow to dedicate persons to the LORD by giving equivalent values, set the value of a male between the ages of twenty and sixty at fifty shekels of silver, according to the sanctuary shekel; and if it is a female, set her value at thirty shekels.” (Lev 27:1-4) Now I’m sure many of us leap up at the apparent demoting of women but I would suggest that in those days it was simply because the man was the breadwinner and the protector who even went to war to protect his family. In crudely practical terms, if he died it would be a greater loss and would threaten the very existence of that family (remember, in those days) than if the wife died and whose caring functions could be replaced by a servant.

I would also suggest there is an additional thing, that God knows men need additional esteem. I believe women (and in that society it would be most women of child bearing age) knew their worth the moment they had had a baby. The worth of this life bringer and one who will nurture the life into adulthood cannot be measured. We play down this function and in our misguided-values society we place more value on a ‘career’ as if working in a shop or wherever else is a greater career that raising a human life. But that is how we skew values today!

There, already in the consideration we have been considering the value of human life and of human gender, but it is what we all do subconsciously all the time and we show it by the way we respond to people.

I have always been struck by the way the apostle Paul spoke to the Ephesian elders when he said, “Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.” (Acts 20:28)  The more you pay for something the more you will value it or the more value is attributed to it. Now suppose my wife had a ring that I had given to her at our wedding. She will no doubt value it. Now suppose we are robbed at gunpoint and the robbers take my wife’s ring and I chase them to get it back – and do retain it – but get shot and die in the process. I would suggest that that ring multiplies in value to her as not only a reminder to her of our wedding day, but also of the day I gave my life for it for her. If Jesus bought the church with his blood (and he did!) then what must he feel about us?  The appropriate word, I believe is we are precious to him.

I suspect value – meaning in this context, worth – can be estimated by the amount you input into something. Parents when they look at their child graduating from university, say, look on with pride but so often with nostalgic memories, thinking back to all those things that made up the life of that child now a young person, the times of crisis (and staying awake watching over them all night) and the times of joy (when they won their first swimming certificate). I am sure that part of their ‘valuing’ this young person is linked with all that they have put into them.

It is true in so many aspects of life. Here is the man or woman who has just been praised for the wonderful garden they have. They seek to shrug it off but deep down they look at this garden remembering how when they first came there it was a wilderness of grass and brambles and weeds. Hours and hours and hours of hard work have gone into this garden to make it the wonder that it is now. How can you value that?  Similarly how can you value this painting that the artist has told me took fifty hours to create? An aged artist was challenged over why his masterpiece paintings cost so much. He simply replied, you are paying for fifty years of experience.

Here’s a question for us Christians: how much do you value the work of Christ on the Cross, this work which was planned in detail from before the foundation of the world, hinted at through the period of the Old Testament, brought to earth by Jesus the Son of God, fulfilled at Calvary on Good Friday and ratified on Easter Sunday?  Have these truths so impacted us that we see the wonder and we see the cost to God of them and therefore we hold on to them as precious? How much do we value this work of God? Value appears in all aspects of live and no more so than in the Christian context.

1.9 The Testimony of the Bible

Meditating on the Judgements of God:   1.9  The Testimony of the Bible

John 3:16,17   For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

I still have a sense of dissatisfaction, that I have not yet adequately covered the point I am trying to make at the moment and which should be remembered in all that follows. Earlier on we said that God is love and that God is good and that God is perfect and we spelled out definitions to try anchor those words. But when I originally wrote a book on God’s love in the Old Testament, when it came to His goodness, I noticed that the testimonies of such people as David always anchored the term with God’s activities. To keep us from becoming judgment-orientated, even though this is the subject we are working towards, we perhaps need to remind ourselves of some of the good things God has done as shown to us in the Bible. That is what this study is about.

Our starting point has to be the Creation. As we have noted before, when God finished creating the whole of the earth, including us, His assessment of it was that “it was very good” (Gen 1:31). As a world without strife or disharmony in any shape or form, it was good to live in and the provision of fruit and vegetables was amazing. I am told there are over twelve hundred varieties of edible bean in the world today! God’s provision for us is all about pleasure and enjoyment within the boundaries He established. Wonderful!

When Adam and Eve fell He did not destroy them but simply put them outside the garden area where they had known the Lord. He did not give up on His plans for mankind. When we come to look at the judgements of Genesis we will discover that although mankind constantly got it wrong and went from bad to worse, God’s activity was incredibly restrained when it came to dealing with them.

We then find Him starting to build a relationship with a man called Abram and when he doesn’t do very well on occasion, God still keeps on with him – and with his son and his grandson Jacob. In fact His dealings with mankind simply reveal the folly of sin in man and the grace and goodness of God who does not give up on us.

Indeed God works within the sin framework of the world that exists after the Fall, and so copes with Jacob’s self-centred twisting, uses spoilt brat Joseph and allows the chosen family to end up in Egypt where they settle but end up as slaves. He then takes a failure called Moses and uses him to confront the awful sin of the Pharaoh of Egypt and delivers Israel out of his hands. He puts up with the moanings and groanings of Israel as they travel to Sinai and eventually when they refuse to enter the land God has chosen for them, He waits patiently until the generation of unbelief has died off and then takes the next generation to this land described as  a land flowing with milk and honey,” (Ex 3:8) a picture of wonderful provision.

When, long after they have settle there, they demand a king, the Lord does not give up on them but gives them one who fits exactly the king they have in mind, an impressive young man without equal among the Israelites–a head taller than any of the others.” (1 Sam 9:2) Unfortunately he fails and so God gives them another to be king, David, who does unite and establish the kingdom. When it comes to his son, Solomon, we see the peak of God’s blessing when the Queen of Sheba comes to visit and is absolutely overwhelmed by God’s provision (see 1 Kings 10, esp. v.7-9)

When Solomon eventually drifts away form the Lord, the Lord does not give up on them but splits the kingdom to give two opportunities for blessing to flow out of relationship with Him. The northern kingdom fails from the word go and the southern kingdom has good, bad and very bad times. The northern kingdom eventually fails and is carried away and when the southern kingdom settles in for very bad, they too are eventually swept away in what we call the Exile. Now we might have expected God to have given up on these people and utterly destroyed them but to our surprise we find He brings them back to the land and restores them.  Four hundred years later His Son, Jesus, is born into this land.

When we observe the ministry of Jesus the simplest way of describing it is to say he simply did good and kept on doing good in his Father’s name. Through him blessing followed blessing. When he formed a group of disciples he did not give up on their misunderstandings but patiently taught them. He allowed himself to be arrested, falsely tried, condemned and crucified. Three days later he rose from the dead and  instead of preaching death and destruction for this foolish world (both Jew and Gentile), he promised blessing, which came in the form of the outpouring of his Holy Spirit.

When you watch the movement of the Holy Spirit you see power and joy and then gifting of both spiritual gifts (1 Cor 12) and spiritual ministries (Eph 4:11,12), all of which are expression of His ongoing loving intent for us. In and through the Church we see his ongoing blessing of individuals; it is an ongoing picture of the love of God being poured out and poured out in abundance.

Please, although we are going to focus on studying the different types of judgment, and the reasons and purposes involved in judgment, and then specific judgments, please don’t get judgment-centred. Hold to the things we have considered in this first part for the judgments are minimal in comparison to all the goodness that is revealed in the Bible.

7. The Way of Return

Meditations in 1 John : 7 :  The Way of Return

1 John  1:9   If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness

The whole thing about the Christian faith is that it is about returning to God. The work of salvation on the Cross by Christ was so that we, who were hostile to God and His enemies, could be reconciled to Him: For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.” (Rom 5:10,11) The Christian life is all about being brought near to God with our sins forgiven and dealt with on the Cross, so that He, by His Spirit, may work in us to conform us (make us like) His Son, Jesus. That was why Paul said, “we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness.” (2 Cor 3:18).

This reconciliation was made possible by Christ’s work on the Cross, and came into practical being when we surrendered our lives to him and became a Christian. From then on it was all about access to God and Him having access to me.

But of course we all know the experience of having blown it and feeling a million miles away from God. Yet that isn’t actually how it is, it’s just how it feels it is. We briefly mentioned this previously but from God’s side He has not turned away from us, but Christ is active on our behalf: “But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense–Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.” (1 Jn 2:1)  Yes, this is the truth: when we get it wrong, Jesus speaks up on our behalf. I imagine him turning to the Father and saying, “Father, I died for them. Please send the Spirit to draw them back to us, send Him to draw them back into that daily relationship with us, for I have done my part by dying for them, so their sins are dealt with.” This is the intent of the Godhead, to draw us back into relationship with them.

So how does He do that? The Spirit comes and convicts us of what we have done wrong. How does he do that? He simply speaks to us again and again and reminds us that it was wrong and that we will lack peace until we have dealt with it. Our conscience is that part of us that weighs ethical issues, moral issues that need facing, and the Spirit comes and speaks to us at conscience level and reminds us what, deep down, we already know: we got it wrong – and we can’t just leave it.

This latter issue is an important and significant issue. As we said, deep down we know within ourselves that we have done wrong and we know that we have hurt or offended the Father and that there is an unresolved issue between us. You see exactly the same thing when a child breaks lose against a parent. Nothing may be said but the child knows that it has offended the parent and done wrong. We see it in children and in adults; there is often a ‘making up’ behaviour that follows by the offender, an artificial brightness that tries to gloss over what happened. Yet the truth is that we know that this is not right and experience tells us that the only way to properly deal with it is to own up, face it and say sorry.

Perhaps because of this, throughout the Bible forgiveness only follows repentance, that facing up to our wrongs and saying sorry. And that, at last, brings us to our verse above which, when we have come to the place of confession, acknowledgement of our wrong and request for forgiveness, brings great reassurance. Unlike some world religions, or even misguided parts of the Christian Church, we will never get back to God by working to appease God and show Him how good we really are – because He knows the truth and knows that this side of heaven we will always need the sanctifying work of the Spirit changing us. And, of course, He has laid down the appropriate way for our sins to be dealt with.

Christ has taken every sin in his body on the Cross and so every sin has been dealt with, but that has to be applied to every individual human being and it can only be applied when they acknowledge their state and their need and accept what Christ has done for them. Then and only then does the work of Christ on the Cross apply to them.

But it is more than that because as we have noted in both this and the previous meditation, this side of heaven we will still need the sanctifying work of the Spirit changing us, because we can still get it wrong. Yet even every new failure has already been dealt with on the Cross, for Christ died for every sin ever committed, past, present, and future. But that still needs applying and the way it is applied is by us facing the sin and confessing it.

It is at that point – and the first part of the verse is down to us – that the work of Christ kicks in and we can be assured that God will remain true (faithful) to Himself and to His word, and so we can be guaranteed that when we do confess, then He WILL forgive. It is that simple but sometimes we struggle to accept that simplicity and so feel after we’ve confessed we still need to prove to God that we are good. No we’re not, but our intent is to be.

So, if you are aware that you have a bad attitude towards God or against any other person, or if you are aware that you have said or done something you know you ought not to have said or done, then realize the truth and respond according to this verse. Amen? Amen!

8. On a Journey

Meditations in the life of Abraham : 8. On a Journey

Gen 12:4,5  So Abram left, as the LORD had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Haran. He took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, all the possessions they had accumulated and the people they had acquired in Haran, and they set out for the land of Canaan, and they arrived there.

The thing about meditating on Scripture is that it allows you to think beyond the surface of what is there.  So we have this aged man and his wife and nephew (who tags along!) setting out from Haran, leaving his father and his entourage to go to a place that has not yet been made clear. Somehow, we assume, he has been told back in Ur that Canaan was their destination (11:31) and so now they arrive there. It has been a long journey and an interrupted journey, having stopped off at Haran. Now that stop at Haran must have been frustrating for Abram because the indication is that God had spoken to him, he must have shared it with his father, and then his father had taken the family on the journey to Canaan but then got distracted along the way.

The main thing about a journey is that it involves time and effort. For Abram to get to Canaan meant travelling for some considerable period of time, presumably by camel. (they are a well-off family 12:5). The future blessing was clearly linked to Canaan and therefore the sooner they got there the better. What would happen once they got there, only the Lord knew. A journey is a means to an end. There is a sense whereby we are on a journey and the end is heaven. While we are here on this earth, we are not at our final destination, therefore we are journeying towards our final destination.

Another thing about a journey is that things happen along the way. As we’ve noted already, for this family, along the way, they stopped off and a significant part of the family separated off.  Now Abram had been told to leave his father’s household behind and that might have concerned him when the whole family (except Nahor) had come with him. Leaving his father behind now might, therefore, have been a relief. He was now being obedient to the original call – except Lot insisted on coming along and Abram was not sufficiently strong in his understanding to insist he went alone. Yes, along the journey things change, slowly but slowly it seems sometimes, our lives come into line with the will of God. It is only after it has happened sometimes that we realize we had not been in line before.

But actually this is what working out this new relationship with the Lord is all about. We don’t realize it when we first become a Christian; we think we have arrived, but actually it is just the start of a journey of change. We didn’t realize it back then but even though we had been born again there were still some pretty big changes to be brought about in us, the biggest being learning to trust the Lord in the walk ahead. That’s it, isn’t it – we have a way ahead of us and because we’ve never walked that path before, it is unknown. Furthermore, because it is unknown things will happen that we can’t foresee and it is quite likely there will be things we cannot handle on our own and thus we will deepen our knowledge of the Lord and learn to rely upon Him more. Is a mark of growing or developing maturity, how long it takes us to call on the Lord when we face difficulties – the more we mature the shorter the time!

But the story of Abram thus far, reminds us or nudges us to think that this journey can get interrupted and we can get distracted and yet I am sure that no experience is a wasted experience. We can learn from everything that happens, even when we get it wrong. The apostle Paul spoke of it more as a race and the Galatians obviously were getting sidetracked over the subject of circumcision so he eventually says, “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love. You were running a good race. Who cut in on you and kept you from obeying the truth?” (Gal 5:6,7). Yes, perhaps if we are being real, we might acknowledge that life is made up of a number of distractions along the way, distractions that seek to lead us from the truth, and distractions that seek to keep us from being obedient.

Eventually Paul was able to say, “I press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Phil 3:14). Yes, he was putting all aside as he remembered what his calling was – heaven!  He was going to get there and he wasn’t going to let anything distract him or turn him away. We, likewise, have the same calling. It is to walk the walk with Christ while we are on this earth, and remain faithful at all times. It is a journey and we may get distracted, but once we realize that, let’s get back on the faith track, working out our relationship with the Lord. Let’s press on in faithfulness and godliness. Amen? 

7. The Plan Revealed

Meditations in the life of Abraham : 7. The Plan Revealed

Gen 12:1-3  The LORD had said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you. “I will make you into a great nation  and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”

We indicated in the previous meditation that God had a plan from before the foundation of the world, a plan that would be worked out through all generations, coming to its climax in the form of His Son, Jesus Christ, but then continuing on through all generations until the time when He will wind up the world as we know it today. EVERYTHING that happens yesterday, today and tomorrow falls within that plan.

What actually is that plan? It is simply to draw men and women back into a relationship with God so that their lives may then be brought back, in a large measure at least, to be lived according to His original design for human beings. Why is this necessary? Because at the Fall we lost the relationship with God, turning our back on Him and going our own way. That is what the Bible calls Sin, that propensity within every one of us to be godless and self-centred. While we are like that, so much of what we do will be unrighteous, i.e. it is the opposite to God’s design for us, and is harmful, hurtful and destructive. Here in this paragraph is the overview of the Bible, the overview of history, the overview of this plan of God as shown in the Bible,

So how does Abram fit in this plan? In three specific ways: first, because he is going to be the first man who enters into a long-term relationship with the Lord. Then, out of that, he is going to provide an example of faith, an example of what it means to relate to the Lord. Then out of that, he will be the father of a nation into whom the Son of God will be born. That nation will have history and culture and that will provide the background for the Son of God coming to this world and living in it for thirty three years.

So here in these first verses of Genesis 12 we have something of this plan declared. Let’s examine it bit by bit. It is what had already been spoken by the Lord to Abram, presumably when he was back in his home country. It first requires Abram to do something. First there was to be a leaving: Leave your country, your people and your father’s household.” The future for Abram would mean leaving the people he had known all his life, leaving the life of idolatry. What would replace that, only time would tell, but it wasn’t just a leaving, it was living with a purpose; there was somewhere to go: “and go to the land I will show you.”  God had a place for him that would prove to be a place of blessing, a place where his relationship with the Lord would be worked out.  These two things are just the same for us. When the Lord calls us, He calls us to leave the godless and self-centred lifestyle we have known all our years and embark on a journey with Him into the experience of thekingdom ofGod where that new relationship will be worked out.

Then come the promises of God, the things He says He will do if Abram is obedient:I will make you into a great nation.” That, as we’ve noted before, will act as a spur to Abram but that is not its main point. It is simply a declaration of what God will do with him. Now note that there is no time scale attached to this, so Abram will never see this ‘great nation’ but he will be the start of it. In God’s economy, we may often be just the start of something that others will enter into.

Then comes a second promise: “and I will bless you.”  We may think that being made into a great nation is blessing enough but God has more than just making him into a nation: “I will make your name great.”  He is going to be famous. Is that just because he is to be the father of a nation or is there something more? “and you will be a blessing.”  No, it is more than just being a figurehead, somehow he is going to be a bringer or good for other people; his life is destined to affect others.

As we read on now we find that other people will be seriously affected by the way they treat Abram. “I will bless those who bless you.”  i.e. those who purpose good for Abram will have good done to them by God. “and whoever curses you I will curse.”  If people mean harm to Abraham they will find that God opposes them and will bring harm on them. Well those are promises that mean security for Abram himself and that is good, but there is yet something more: “and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” Notice the word, ‘through’. As a result of Abram people from all over the word will be blessed? How will that be? It will be as we said earlier: he is to be an example of faith and a provider of the nation into which the Messiah will be born. Hallelujah!

19. Hold to God

Meditations in Deuteronomy : 19 :  Hold to God

(Focus: Deut 7:1-6)

Deut 7:1,2 When the LORD your God brings you into the land you are entering to possess and drives out before you many nations — the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites, seven nations larger and stronger than you– and when the LORD your God has delivered them over to you and you have defeated them, then you must destroy them totally

Because we so often have the tendency to miss the main point, I think it is worth reiterating what I said in the previous meditation, that this book is all about Israel’s relationship with the Lord.  Indeed EVERYTHING in this book flows out of that. Perhaps we need to spell it out even more simply, for many of the questions that I receive about Israel’s activities, especially about their taking the Promised Land, would never need be asked if we only understood something of the significance of this and the incredible importance that is attached to it.

Let’s look at the ‘big picture’ – which post-moderns don’t like doing – for therein is actually the truth about life. God created this whole world, the whole universe and indeed everything that is, as an expression of His love and His desire to express His love to sentient beings. He made us in His own image and He gave us free will, the ability to choose. His design was perfect. His assessment of what He had made was “very good”. Yet, nevertheless, the first true man and woman fell from innocence and sinned – they acted godlessly and in a self-centred way. Their experience of this Sin was the experience of every single human being since.

Yet, we said, God had made us to be people who lived in relationship with Him and in accordance with His design for mankind. Thus eventually He chooses Israel to demonstrate the possibility of living in relationship with God, revealing God for who He truly is. To do that, they have been given God’s ‘design-rules’ for them as a nation (the Law), through which they will reveal His wisdom. In addition, when they live in close relationship with Him, He will be able to guide them and help them and generally bless them. If they fail to live in close relationship with Him, none of these things will be possible. That is how crucial these things are.

Thus now Moses comes to speak about the time immediately ahead of them when they enter the Promised Land. Note, first of all, the reference to the Lord ‘driving out’ the inhabitants of the Land. People so often focus on Israel destroying the inhabitants, but God’s first intention, which is repeated MANY times, is to drive the inhabitants out of the land. They do NOT have to die! It is their choice if they do. If they do resist and oppose Israel, THEN, and only then, Israel are to utterly destroy them.

Now consider this for a moment. The present occupants of the Land are pagan, occultic, idol worshippers who even sacrifice their children to their idols. If these people, hearing about God (because the word DID spread ahead of Israel) and knowing Israel’s intent (which became very clear) then go on to resist and refuse to leave the land, what you then have is a people utterly committed to occultic, idol worship living in the midst of Israel and being a constant temptation to them to forsake the Lord. Everything about The Plan for Israel will be threatened if this is allowed to happen. It is for this reason that the command to utterly destroy them is here. Their entire future hangs on this. (In retrospect, we see that they failed to do this and that idolatry was the downfall of Israel, revealing that even a people drawn into relationship with God cannot simply keep the rules; sin is too strong!)

To reinforce this command to destroy, Moses then covers a variety of other possibilities which might have come into the minds of the people:

Make no treaty with them, and show them no mercy. Do not intermarry with them. Do not give your daughters to their sons or take their daughters for your sons, for they will turn your sons away from following me to serve other gods, and the LORD’s anger will burn against you and will quickly destroy you. (7:2-4). There is to be no alternative. No treaties, no marrying their girls. There is a very clear reason why you are not to do this: they will lead you astray from the Lord! It is as simple as that. The Lord knows the weakness of human beings and so seeks to keep us from that which will harm and destroy us.

Even more than this, when Israel go in to the Land, they are to clear out of it all remnants of the occultic idol worship that has continued there for so long: This is what you are to do to them: Break down their altars, smash their sacred stones, cut down their Asherah poles and burn their idols in the fire. For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession.” (7:5,6)  Nothing of this terrible and superstitious and occult-based religion that is there at the present is to remain, for Israel are to be holy – unique among the peoples of the earth. Remember, they are supposed to be showing the rest of the earth a viable and good alternative. THAT is the objective behind these commands and Israel fail to heed them at their cost.

 

 

18. Fidelity & Testimony

Meditations in Deuteronomy : 18 :  Fidelity & Testimony

(Focus: Deut 6:13-25)

Deut 6:13-15 Fear the LORD your God, serve him only and take your oaths in his name. Do not follow other gods, the gods of the peoples around you; for the LORD your God, who is among you, is a jealous God and his anger will burn against you, and he will destroy you from the face of the land.

Our verses today point to a major truth in Scripture which almost gets lost by law-keepers. This is very natural because, as we have pointed out a number of times, Deuteronomy is all about the law but that actually ISN’T its central focus. We might think it is the Land and all that is involved in taking it, but it isn’t! The central focus is having a relationship with the Lord. It is so easy to lose this fact in the midst of everything else.

God, the one and only true God, has called them into a relationship with Him at Sinai and all that follows is to be about how they live out that relationship. He has called them for a purpose – to reveal Him to the rest of the world and they will do that by the way they live. Remember we saw previously, this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say, “Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.” (4:6). The ‘this’ that is at the beginning of this quote is their obedience to God. That is what will reveal them and Him to the rest of the world.

Thus everything we have now is about the Lord and how they view Him and respond (or not) to Him. It starts with attitude: “Fear the LORD your God.” Hold Him in great respect. How will they show that? “Serve him only,” and if you’re not sure about what that means, “do not follow other gods, the gods of the people around you.” After all that they have been through with the Lord, this might seem an unnecessary instruction, yet it is vital.

It is all about their relationship with Him, and if they turn to idols that relationship will be abandoned. So Moses gives them a warning: “The LORD… is a jealous God.” Don’t see that negatively.  Jealousy can be a right emotion when there is a right relationship.  It means God wants to protect them from other ‘suitors’, false beliefs and gods who are no god, idols that are purely pieces of carved wood. The Lord wants to keep them from straying from The Truth, Himself.

In fact, if they do, His anger will be expressed and He will destroy them as a nation. If they are to be representing Him to the rest of the earth, if they turn to idols they will be representing something far from the truth and the world will be led astray and God will not have that! Israel are to stick to the Lord and put their trust in Him alone.

On various occasions in their desert travels they had grumbled against Him, as if He could not provide for them: “Do not test the LORD your God as you did at Massah.” (v.16.) You can see what happened there in Exodus 17.  Instead of asking Moses to ask the Lord to help them and provide water, they grumbled and complained and doubted God. They had yet to learn that they could utterly trust Him. So now, whenever they think about the laws of God, they should see them as God’s blessing for them and not something onerous. They should not doubt God.

So, he goes on, “Be sure to keep the commands of the LORD your God and the stipulations and decrees he has given you. Do what is right and good in the LORD’s sight, so that it may go well with you and you may go in and take over the good land that the LORD promised on oath to your forefathers, thrusting out all your enemies before you, as the LORD said.” (6:17-19). There are the same ‘ingredients’ as before: a call to keep the laws, to enable God’s blessing to be upon them as they go in and take the Land.

Then comes a further ‘ingredient’ that we have noted before – a stipulation to pass them on to their children and make sure future generations know about them and keep them: “In the future, when your son asks you, “What is the meaning of the stipulations, decrees and laws the LORD our God has commanded you?” tell him: “We were slaves of Pharaoh in Egypt, but the LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand. Before our eyes the LORD sent miraculous signs and wonders–great and terrible–upon Egypt and Pharaoh and his whole household. But he brought us out from there to bring us in and give us the land that he promised on oath to our forefathers. The LORD commanded us to obey all these decrees and to fear the LORD our God, so that we might always prosper and be kept alive, as is the case today. And if we are careful to obey all this law before the LORD our God, as he has commanded us, that will be our righteousness.” (6:20-25)

When their children ask about the laws of Moses, the people are to refer them back to their origins, how God brought them out of Egypt and how He took them into the Promised Land. The purpose of the laws, he goes on, is to enable us to prosper. When we keep them, we will be living rightly in accordance with God’s design (righteously) and he will bless us and we will be blessed!

Similarly today, the way we live is to reveal the Lord: “let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” (Mt 5:16). May it be so!

 

14. Ten Commandments

Meditations in Deuteronomy : 14 :  The Ten Commandments

(Focus: Deut 5:6-21)

Deut 5:6,7 The LORD spoke to you ….And he said: “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. “You shall have no other gods before me.

Thus, at last, Moses starts restating the Law. It begins with what we call the Ten Commandments. These are clearly the fundamental or basic laws that, I would suggest, would apply to any godly nation. I use the word ‘godly’ because, contrary to popular perception, the first four commands are all about honouring God. But before we get to the details, observe again both here as in the Exodus 20 original account, the commands are put into an historical context.  They flow out of their relationship with the Lord which was established when He delivered them from Egypt. That is the starting place for both accounts.

Now a comparison between this account and the original one in Exodus 20 is interesting. For instance the first three and commands 6 to 9 are identical in both passages. Moses has them on the two slabs of stone being kept in the ark and presumably quotes directly from them. We might ask, therefore, why there are slight variations in the others. The answer has to be that as Moses reads them out he goes to make particular and special emphases as different points to make them clearer and stand out even more. Let’s see if that works.

In the fourth command, in the Exodus account, we read, Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.” In the present account it reads, Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the LORD your God has commanded you.” The word ‘observe’ seems stronger and emphasizes that the Law isn’t to be just known, but obeyed. The addition, “as the Lord your God has commanded you”, emphasizes that this is not Moses’ law but the Lord’s and that demands obedience. In the ‘explanatory part’ of that command, Moses now adds in , “nor your ox, your donkey.” possibly to make it all inclusive with no get-out clauses and he adds at the end, “so that your manservant and maidservant may rest, as you do.” Again it emphasizes that everyone is to be able to rest; something we have lost entirely from modern life today. The biggest change comes, however, in the reason that is given at the end of that command. In the Exodus account it was a reference to the fact that God rested after six days of Creation, but here it is explained as, “Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the LORD your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm.” The focus is, as it has been many times so far in this book, on responding to God because of what He has done for you in delivering you and making you the people that you are. Indirectly it acknowledges that we are a fallen human race and therefore what has happened to Israel is even more wonderful, and they should let that motivate them to be obedient.

In the fifth command, to honour parents, Moses adds, “as the LORD your God has commanded you,” and then also as a reason, “and that it may go well with you” in the land. Again there is the added emphasis about it being God’s command and the way it will work out in the Promised Land ahead of them. It fits better in the present historical context.

In the last command there is a slight change in order of the words and Moses says, “You shall not set your desire on your neighbor’s house,” which is perhaps a more simple way of saying ‘don’t covet.’

In each of these instances Moses simply reinforces the original command and puts it more into the present context. It is interesting to note that he feels he has this freedom to do this. He is God’s representative and obviously feels he has God’s approval to do this. These are not casual mistakes but purposeful reinforcing and emphasizing to a people who have been through forty years of discipline and who need that refocusing as they prepare to enter the land.

The Ten Commandments still stand as a beacon in a dark world, as God’s ‘design-rules’ for an orderly society. They begin with commands about holding to the truth of who God is and not varying from that, to simple absolutes that delineate right from wrong. It is wrong to murder, steal etc., so why do people foolishly say that we no longer need the Ten Commandments? The truth is that it isn’t to do with those obvious laws for a peaceful and harmonious society; it is to do with the ones that speak about relationship with God! That is the issue in the debate!

We might ask a final question. Are the Ten Commandments all we need? As basics for a wise and godly society yes, but as far as helping a society in a fallen world, no!  Part of the Law was to do with the sacrificial system and that was all to do with putting people right with God after they had done wrong. Part of the Law was to do with putting things right within society and that also is needed in a fallen world where mankind does not always do what is right. Both of these areas covered the fallen nature of humanity. The Ten Commandments cover neither. They are the starting point for a godly society but they do not deal with the fallen side of humanity. A study of all aspects of the Law given through Moses will help us understand mankind very much more. Let’s learn!

42. Two

Meditations in Ecclesiastes : 42 :  The Strength of Two

Eccles 4:9-12 Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up! Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.

I find there are times when I am challenged by my casual approach to Scripture. When I first looked at these verses, I thought, “Whatever made Solomon jump to thinking about companionship?” and it wasn’t until I looked again at the context that I realised that these verses flow on in small section that starts, Again I saw something meaningless under the sun: There was a man all alone” (v.7,8) and yesterday we considered the frustration  of that man as he worked with no one to hand it on to. But now Solomon thinks on and essentially declares, “It’s not good to be alone.”

He lists the benefits of not being alone. First two working together can achieve far more than two individuals working alone. Second, if one stumbles and falls, it is good to have another alongside to help you up. Third, when it’s cold at night, it is good to have one to warm you. Fourth, when you come under attack it is good to have another alongside you to stand against the attacker with you.

Yes, these are the obvious benefits of not walking through life alone. It may refer to friendship, it may refer to having a partner in business or it may refer to having a spouse. There are many circumstances in life where two together are better than being alone, yet sadly in our day, I believe loneliness is growing. With the fragmentation of families there are individuals separated off from the group and that makes the loneliness even harder. In a permissive age there are those who have been encouraged to express their difference but who have found that doing that has isolated them from many others. I was part of a conversation only yesterday that was talking about tattoos which have become very common, and yet despite that, they still act – in many people’s eyes at least – as a brand that separates out and declares that this is a certain sort of person who is wanting! So many things in modern life, it seems, separate and divide and cause loneliness.

Possibly one of the most obvious ways in our modern society is what used to be called ‘courting’. How alien that concept seems to have become in a world where it seems it is common to not even wait for the third date to end up in bed. Yet sexual intimacy has proved to be elusive for many. Sex isn’t necessarily intimate; it can be purely exploitive, and we feel used. The excitement of once-forbidden fruit lasts only a while and then the couple realise they are miles apart; there is inner loneliness, even though there is outer closeness.

The advice I used to give to young people, and still do if they are willing to listen, is develop your relationship in three slow stages. First of all get to know each other by just being with each other, talking and sharing and finding out about each other, i.e. build the social aspect of the relationship first. Second, if the couple are Christians (and if they’re not I have no hope for their long-term relationship, and if one is and the other isn’t, generally, don’t walk this path together) then develop your spiritual relationships together – read the Bible together, pray together, go to church and worship together, and seek God’s will together and serve God together. Then, and only then, if these two facets of your relationship together indicate you are compatible, you talk about life-long commitment and only when you are committed for life, do you develop the physical side of your relationship.

Our modern society is full of young people who are essentially lonely, even though they go to clubs together, bed together and whatever else together. I have been there and I have seen it and that is how it is for so many young people who are desperate for closeness, desperate for real intimacy, desperate for trust and desperate to find real love, which is all about commitment as well as feelings, and yet the way that the world proclaims is not bringing home the goods!

I said as an aside earlier, and you may not have liked it, that I have no hope for a long term relationship without God. Yes, there are married couples who have lived it out for decades without God, but increasingly that is becoming a rarity with the pressures of modern life. Solomon’s enigmatic final phrase hints at the truth: A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” What is the third strand? God, of course!  With God genuinely in your relationship you have a real fighting chance of have a good life together ahead.

But why do Christians get divorced, I hear you ask, before I finish. Consider Jesus’ words: “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard.” (Mt 19:18).  If we have allowed ourselves to get into a place where we have been hardened (and it may only be one in the partnership) so that we are no longer open to hear God’s counsel, either directly or through a counsellor/leader, then yes we will end up divorcing, but that is a path where we have hardened God out of our experience, which is why just now I spoke of having God genuinely in your relationship. These are serious matters in these days of anguish and loneliness.

46. Opposing God

Meditations in James: 46 : Opposing God’s will

Jas 4:16,17 As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil. Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins

What I find one of the most amazing things in life, is that God seems to allow us to go on in the way we live and tolerates our godlessness, often for many years, without apparently doing anything to correct it. The apostle Peter understood this: do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Pet 3:8,9). For instance I didn’t come to the Lord until I was nearly twenty two, my mother until her late fifties and my father until his early sixties, and a friend of mine until his early sixties.  Examples abound of people who the Lord allowed to go through decades of their lives before He drew them to Himself.  Yet, as I have pondered this I have thought two particular things. First, I suspect that the Lord had been speaking many times but we had just not heard. Second, the Lord knows there will be a time when we will be most open to Him and He may have to wait many years for that. He doesn’t mind waiting because He knows that our time here on earth is but a prelude to eternity with Him. Of course there are many people who seem never to hear and who never respond, yet God doesn’t want that, but will still not force our wills.

Now I say this in the light of where James has brought us to. He has spent the last chapter calling us directly and indirectly into relationship with the Lord, and away from the world. As we questioned before, we’re not sure if he had specific people in mind when he wrote who he knew were like this, or whether he was speaking generally because he knew that we are all prone to this sort of thing. We’ll again assume the latter. He has just written about our tendency to plan life ignoring God, and now he sees people even bragging about what they do. ‘Christmas letters’ come to mind in this respect. An article in the paper commented on the trend of sending out Christmas letters that tell of all the holidays the senders have had that year, making those who can’t afford such things feel bad when they are recipients of such letters. To display such activities of the past year must be a form of boasting, however naïve the senders may be. “Look at what we have done” is clearly the sense of these letters. Such letters must evoke comparisons and even envy. Indeed that has got to be a form of boasting.

However James’ comments have more of an edge to them than merely chiding against pride – although he is not averse to doing that as we’ve seen previously in his comments about favouritism in church. Yes, he says, boasting is evil, pride is evil, doing your own thing is evil, making others feel bad is evil, but there is something more. He speaks of anyone who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it. There is an implication here that there is more to this flitting around, doing what you will, going where you will. There is the implication that Christians – for remember, he is writing to Christians – know within themselves that there is another way they ought to be living, but don’t. Because we have the Holy Spirit living within us, He will be speaking to us to guide us, correct us, and lead us to be doing other things, things that are not just self-centred, things that bless others in the will of God.

Of course these things raise far bigger issues, issues about use of time and money and other people.  We have spoken about it being the well-off members of society who can afford a variety of holidays, afford to spend their surplus money on self. Isn’t it right to take times away to recharge our batteries? Yes, of course it is. That isn’t the point that James is making. His point is the origin of our travels or our activities. Is it the Lord? Do we refer all our activities to the Lord, recreational as well as work, and especially work?

James is right in our face on this issue. Look, he says, if your conscience or the Holy Spirit within you is bugging you about other possibilities, other ways to live your life, other things to do with your life, and you disregard either of them, if you disregard what you know is right, don’t you realise that that is sin.

Can it be that many of us are inadvertently sinning, simply because we carelessly disregard the quiet voice of God speaking to us, seeking to lead us into a less self-centred, more God-centred lifestyle, one that is far more fruitful, that impacts and changes the world instead of allowing the world to change us, as this chapter has been saying?

When it came to Communion, the apostle Paul had to chide the Corinthians: Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep.” (1 Cor 11:27-30). He was chiding them because they were not caring for one another, and the result was that some of them were being taken to heaven prematurely!  If that applied then, how much more in the context of what James has been saying. Put in its simplest form it says that God may often tolerate non-Christians slowness of response, but once we are in the kingdom, we are answerable to the King who will hold us accountable. Food for thought?