11. God of Purpose: Justice (1)

Getting to Know God Meditations:  11. God of Purpose: Justice (1)

Ex 34:6,7  Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished;

Reassurance:  I am sure there are some Christian readers who may have been tutting about the last study in that I have dealt first with the end product and have not yet dealt with how that can come about – the Cross – and I want to reassure you that as with the apostle Paul, “Christ crucified” is first and foremost in my mind. Having said that I put the previous study about behaviour first for two reasons: first, it shows us the need that we have as fallen, dysfunctional human beings and, second, it shows us God’s end goal – to redeem us and that means to restore us, change us, remake us, and that very often gets forgotten in Christian circles.

Only the other day I came across the following quote (which may need a little thinking about) from a modern Christian writer who I respect: “Transformation of life and character is no part of the redemptive message” but that came just after references to, “the gospel of sin management…. behaviour modification, avoiding obvious sins through a kind of religious willpower.”  What that highly acclaimed Christian writer was saying – and I totally agree with it – is that ‘trying hard to be good’ is not what makes a person a Christian. Unless the foundation, that I am now going back to consider, is laid in a person’s life, ‘trying hard to be good’ is all that we are left with and that is doomed to failure.

Approach: In order to be as clear as I possibly can in this study (and possibly the next one that I may have to extend this into) this is how I intend to cover this subject

  1. Recap the human need.
  2. Initial thoughts about Justice.
  3. What happened on the cross and the potential of what follows.
  4. How that can be applied into individual lives.

 Recap the human need: I believe I have shown quite reasonably in the previous study, not only the amazing potential that there is for every human being, but also the reality of how it so often works out. We may wish we could live spectacular lives, lives that are positive, affirming myself and others, bring peace and blessing wherever I go, but left to my own devices that is not how it works out.

The Bible is very realistic without being depressing. For instance the apostle Paul addressing just this same problem  wrote, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do,” (Rom 7:15) and then, “I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing,” (v.19) and then, “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me ….. Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!”  (v. 24,25) and he then goes on to talk about what Christ has achieved on the cross and what power from God – the Holy Spirit –  now does to change him.

But he highlights the dilemma that confronts us: I am faced with my own fallibility, my own weaknesses, my own failings and I am uncomfortable with them.  Now there may be three responses here:

i) deny my failings, blame others for them, ignore all this and continue to be a self-centred, godless person getting it wrong, or

ii) start trying to be religious or good, still being self-centred, focusing on ‘my ‘ efforts, or

iii) we accept the Bible teaching.

Before I move on, I must note  that when people start thinking about these things – and being concerned about them – it is usually a sign of God moving. People do not move from a quick casual thought to deep reflection and conviction without help from God, yet the moment He sees there is an opening of heart, He will be there, gently speaking in the background, although we tend never to be aware of it at the time; it is only awareness retrospectively.

Thoughts about Justice: Justice is a strange concept. As the Internet puts it,  ‘Justice is the morally fair and right state of everything and, Justice is a concept … that means that people behave in a way that is fair, equal and balanced for everyone.’ We may watch TV police dramas and justice is always there in the background.

We take it for granted, yet when it comes to the way we think as a society, or as individuals within society, we find that today there are two prevailing moods or outlooks. One says don’t bother me with such things and lives in a happy state of blissful ignorance, but sadly it is neither happy nor blissful. The other says that absolutes and boundaries are restrictive psychological constructs, and so have been abandoned so that, in the eyes of many at least, anything goes and ‘right’ is what feels right to the individual and varies with the situation. (hence ‘relativism’ and ‘situation ethics’). To talk about ‘justice’ in this sort of environment seems quite alien. But when we have the nerve or courage to stop and think about these things, this relative morality backfires on us because a) we don’t want it to apply in my own life and b) we do have specific ideas of things that we consider ‘wrong’, and c) we are often uncomfortable with applying justice to my own foibles and failings.  In fact the second group become clearer when they have become personal in my own life. So let’s give some examples.

a) My own life: I can be very casual about behaviour in general until it impacts me personally, for example, someone breaks into my house and trashes it, I scream for the police, and demand justice; I want these vandals caught and punished. My mother is badly mugged walking down the street and ends up a bruised mess in hospital. Ditto response. My daughter is gang raped and severely traumatized. Ditto response. It is right to demand justice; it is right to demand an end be brought to such behaviour and the perpetrators be severely dealt with. That is justice, bringing rightness to a wrong situation.

b) My lists of wrongs: But each of us have, when we pause to think about it, a list of things we consider wrong. For example the moment I use the word ‘pedophile’ most right thinking people will say that sexual child abuse is wrong – always. We could, no doubt, create long lists of things that each of us say is ‘wrong’. Sometimes we may hesitate because we feel certain things get a bit close to home, for example anger if we ourselves struggle with it.

c) Hesitant Justice: Because so often we are unsure about ourselves, lacking confidence in who we are, and because we have so often succumbed to the false doctrine of relative ethics, we are so often hesitant to consider the thought that moral failure carries with it consequences, and one of those consequences is a sense of guilt. We can make excuses but deep down – and sometimes we try to suppress it – we know that there are standards and we are guilty of either not having reached them or of having broken them. We also so often have a feeling that there is nothing to be said here because this is just how life is, and I am stuck here. We may have read self-help books, even gone on courses, but then failure struck and as much as we try to deny it, we know it is our failure. For all these sorts of reasons we so often try to duck the issue: I am guilty and there are consequences.

And So? Well, we have run out of space for this study and have only managed to cover two of the four subjects I want to cover – 1. Recap the human need, and 2. Initial thoughts about Justice – and so we will leave the other two until the next two studies.

15. No Longer Orphans

The Wonder of the Church:  Part 3 – Making of Believers

15. No Longer Orphans

Jn 1:12,13 to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

1 Jn 3:1 See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!

Me – Us?: I wonder if you were asked what aspect of ‘being a Christian’ stood out most to you, what you would reply? A believer? A church-goer? A good person? I want to suggest in this study that our starting and finishing point is that I am a child of God. That speaks of origins and identity, and it speaks of ongoing relationship, and it opens up thoughts about the future and our eternal destiny. Let’s browse together in this field.

Alienated: Psychologists talk about alienation, environmentalists talk about alienation, Marxists talk about alienation. It simply means being separated or estranged from some essential part of life. That counterfeit religion, Marxism, blames capitalism for isolating and dehumanizing people, psychologists blame relationships for human breakdown, sociologists blame society for human injustices that warp outlook. There is always a cause and always an effect. Sometimes in the context of his writings, the apostle Paul used the word ‘Gentiles’ to simply mean those who had no relationship with God. Speaking of this group he said, “For they live blindfold in a world of illusion and cut off from the life of God through ignorance and insensitiveness. They have stifled their consciences and then surrendered themselves to sensuality.” (Eph 4:18,19 JBP) See the cause: ignorant of God, insensitive to Him, hardening themselves (their consciences) to Him. See the effect: they just live lives given over to the five senses – and that is all. They are alienated from God, separated and cut off from Him, and thus live in a world of illusion, of deception, of delusion, and it feels lonely.

The Big Picture: The truth is that God created and brought this world into being and designed us to be people who had a relationship with Him, but that was lost at the Fall. There may be a bundle of secondary reasons why we experience difference sorts of alienation – from ourselves (not facing who we truly are), from others (not being able to relate to others), from society (who we see as hostile and cruel) and so on, but the ultimate truth is that because we are alienated from God, the One we were designed to relate to as Father, all these other things tend to be dysfunctional, not working as they should. And that is how it would stay if God had not foreseen all of this and planned to counteract it by the work of His Son and His Spirit.

The Problem of Sin: Have you ever thought that when God said, “you must not eat from…” (Gen 2:17), the first and only prohibition, in their perfect provision for Man, the Godhead knew that living with provision was fraught with dangers? Eating too much would cause obesity. Making and using alcohol in excess would have many harmful effects, and so on, so many potential hazards – and so many hidden boundaries. Throughout the Creation, excess would harm but wise use would bless. And thus man would have to learn about boundaries, so God applied a limitation to just one tree to teach the lesson, and man learnt to restrain his appetites as wisdom decreed, an expression of love, of relationship, an acceptance of God’s wisdom in provision.

But then came, “Did God really say…”  (Gen 3:1) and behind even just one boundary, one limitation, there lurks temptation, temptation to reject, temptation to ignore, temptation that says, “Perhaps He didn’t mean it, perhaps my way is best.” Temptation is there behind the many hidden boundaries that wise usage means are there. Temptation had to be faced and overcome or given way to, and whichever way, lessons learned. And thus God stood back while a tempter came, the test faced, and the Fall experienced, and life would never be the same again. And that is how it has been for you and me ever since. We sin, we do wrong, we miss the mark, we fall short, and all these things alienate us from God. In the same way that Adam and Eve hid from God immediately after their disobedience (Gen 3:8), the deep-down sense of our failures, our inadequacies, our falling short, mean that we too feel alienated from God. We should be children of God but we lost our relationship, we became orphans.

Adopted? Which is what makes that verse in the first chapter of John so wonderful: “to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” (Jn 1:12) We ‘become’ – we weren’t but now we are adopted into God’s family, taken back into the family where we were designed to be from the start. Expanding that, as the Amplified Bible puts it, to as many as did receive and welcome Him, He gave the authority (power, privilege, right) to become the children of God, that is, to those who believe in (adhere to, trust in, and rely on) His name.” See the new cause: believing, sticking to, trusting in, relying on Jesus – that is what brings about this new relationship. See the new effect: we become children of God, and when it says, “He gave the authority”, those other words explain that God conveys the right to be called a child, the privilege of being a child of God, and the power to be a child of God. Keep on turning those words over. I not only have the privilege of being able to be called a child of God, I have been given a legal right from heaven of having that title – and it doesn’t stop there – and I also have the power to live as a child of God.

Divine Act: But how and why? Because of what follows:  children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” (Jn 1:13) There is early warning of what was to come a couple of chapters later – “Children born…. Of God”Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.” (Jn 3:6,7) So why, to use the language above, do I have the right to be called a ‘child of God’? Because I am a product of the work of God, Him justifying me, Him placing His Holy Spirit within me to indwell me. Why do I have the power of a child of God? Because His power indwells me.

Different! Do you remember the first study in this Part (no.8) was all about the fact that a Christian is different from a non-Christian? Here is the second of the things that come about when we are born again that make us different – I am given the right to be called a child of God because I have been born of God – He has made me that when I surrendered to Him, and that is only possible because of the work of Christ on my behalf on the Cross, (It is for you also if you receive it as such!) and the indwelling work of the Holy Spirit in me for the rest of my life. How wonderful!

18. Warning about Anger

Reaching into the Psalms 1 to 4:   18. Warning about Anger

Psa 4:4 (ESV)   Be angry, and do not sin; ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent.

This is another of those verses that translators have struggled with. I have used the ESV which is the same as the NKJV and some older versions, but even they have a footnote attached to ‘be angry’ that suggests an alternative as ‘be agitated’ or ‘tremble’ (NKJV) and “Tremble and do not sin” is the NIV.

Anger? Let’s take the thought of anger first of all. In the New Testament the apostle Paul uses this verse: “Be angry, and do not sin”: do not let the sun go down on your wrath.” (Eph 4:26) The truth is that anger is an experience we all have at some time or other. David spoke of this more fully in a later psalm: do not fret when people succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes. Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret—it leads only to evil.” (Psa 37:7,8) We may get angry when we are offended and that is more of a defence mechanism. However we may rightly get angry (because God does) when we see wilful wickedness in the world around us. Habakkuk, we noted in the study of the previous psalm, was obviously angry when he cried out, “How long, O Lord, must I call for help? But you do not listen! “Violence is everywhere!” I cry, but you do not come to save.” (Hab 1:2) It is right to be angry about things that are clearly seriously wrong.

The Danger: The problem with anger is that it can flare up, burst forth and cause harm and upset. As David said, “it leads only to evil.” Not only can it cause harm to others as you may inflict your emotions on them, but it may in turn inflame them and cause them to retaliate and both might well be unrighteous. So the version above says, “Be angry (BUT) and do not sin.” I have inserted the ‘but’ there to imply that anger may be right but if it is carried on it may lead into sin.

Complexity: On the other hand there is a case to be made for suggesting that David is almost instructing us to be angry so that we do not sin. The challenge in verse 2 had been about godless unrighteousness in the land (and maybe in those bringing about these circumstances) and it is right to be angry about such things, in fact complacency almost becomes sin (“forgive us the things we have not done.”) What a complex things this anger is. Sometimes it is sin not to be angry but when we do become angry it becomes sin if we hold on to it.

Wrong and Right Responses: Why might that be? Why does it become sin to hold on to it? If we hold on to anger it means we are revelling in it, relishing it almost, using it, but it is never meant for that. I conclude that anger is meant to highlight injustice and wrong, but once we have observed that, the righteous ongoing response is to give it over to the Lord. Why? Two reasons. First, we may be wrong, we may have wrongly understood or only partially understood the situation and so we need to hand it back to the Lord for His assessment of it – “Lord will you judge this.” But second, more often than not, in reality you and I are incapable of really changing that evil, only God can, and sometimes we have to give it to Him and submit to His wisdom over it. He may want to deal with that person, here and now, or He may leave them for His greater purposes and only deal with them at the Final Judgment. Whichever it is, He knows best and we would be wise to simply submit it to Him. Perhaps part of our ongoing praying might be to ask, “Lord, is there anything you want me to do about this situation?” Merely because we say ‘submit it to the Lord’, does not imply passivity; it is simply suggesting we present the situation to the heavenly court for the will of God to be worked out in respect of it.

Ponder it: “Ponder in your own hearts on your beds” or as the NIV puts it, “when you are on your beds, search your hearts.”  i.e. we need to check out what we are feeling and thinking. Why I am feeling like this? What has caused me to react like this? Is there an element of self-centred, self-interest in my response? What is the truth about this situation? What does God feel about it? I wonder how many times we let things fester in our minds because we do not submit our feelings and thoughts to rigorous examination. Do I need to hold scripture up before me? I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” (Mt 5:44,45)

Am I perfect? Do I always get it right? What is my ‘offender’ going through? What has brought this about? Could I have prevented it? Was I the cause of it? The more I ask such questions of myself the more I silence and quench the anger.

I am aware that in these paragraphs I have veered away from anger that arises from observing general human iniquity (such as human slave trading) to anger that arises when I am dealing with another person, and I have done that because I don’t believe most of us get angry about the big sins of the world – we duck them because they seem too big for us to do anything about – but we do often encounter trying circumstances that involve others and it is within those that we hear words spoken, things said and done, that raise our ire.

So yes, when I start asking the questions of myself that challenge my honesty and integrity, then I find I go silent. Thus David’s last words of this verse: “be silent”, and they come as a result of the pondering in bed. In bed? Yes, in line with Paul’s words, “do not let the sun go down on your wrath.” i.e. don’t go to sleep in a state of agitation. If you go to bed still angry, get up and sort it, don’t let it drag on. If there is an unrighteous situation, do what we said above, commit it to the Lord with the option of being told what part He might want us to play in changing things.

Can I insert a word of wisdom here before we finish? If you are angry within yourself because of something someone else has said or done, it may be that it is your sensitivity or your misunderstanding of the situation and nothing to do with the other person. If we have contributed to the situation then it may be appropriate to apologise or even ask for forgiveness but if your anger is one of these other things, then can I counsel you not to dump it on that other person with an apology, especially if they know nothing of your wrong reaction. The other thing today is don’t go public with your unrighteous indignation, certainly not on social media. If someone has offended you, you confront them lovingly in private and with humility. If you are out for blood, you are acting unrighteously. Don’t do it. If you genuinely want to be godly, then seek reconciliation with grace, wisdom and humility and only after you have paused, slept on it for a night and been open before the Lord. Such a simple verse but with such profound potential.

31. Essentials (1) Sin & Guilt

Reaching into Redemption Meditations: 31. Essentials (1): Sin & Guilt

2 Sam 12:5 “As surely as the Lord lives, the man who did this must die

2 Sam 12:7 “You are the man!

Significance: It may be that if you have been following this series, or you’ve just come to it and scanned the number of studies that are here, you might ask the question, why are you continuing this, why are you going over the same ground again?  The answer to that is that ‘Redemption’,  first of all, is something that so often we consign to ‘spiritual facts’ about what happened back when I became a Christian but, second, because the whole emphasis that I have felt from the outset of this series is that it is also a description of the ongoing work of God to keep us on track, being changed into the likeness of Christ and a being an active citizen of the kingdom of God and, third, all of that despite the fact that we are failures and get it wrong.

It is the combination of these last two things, that God is continually working on us sinners to bring about change, that is so significant, and it is significant because of its part in enabling us to triumph in spiritual warfare. It is when Satan whispers to us, “You are rubbish, no one loves you, you are insignificant, you are achieving nothing meaningful in life, give up,” that these things come into play as we respond, “Yes, all you say is right, but God still loves me and is still working on my life to change me so that in Christ I am somebody and in Christ I do have a purpose and in Christ I am going somewhere – so go away!!”

Why Sin? But why, you may ask, do we need to go back and eyeball ‘sin’ again, why do we need to focus on sin and guilt as our heading says? Well, again there are at least two reasons. The first is the reality of sin and the second is that when we face that reality it makes us more aware of the wonder of this whole thing about God’s redemption. Yes, we have seen some of these things previously, and we have certainly seen them in the lives of individuals and in the life of Israel, but now we need to bring this aspect right out into the open and shine the spotlight on it in order to a) understand its reality and then b) appreciate even more the wonder of God’s redemption.

Sin’s Reality: We don’t like talking about ‘sin’ because it is depressing, and it raises the spectre of judgmentalist condemnation, which the Pharisees of Jesus day were good at. It can be depressing because it is always there, lurking in the background. As God said to Cain, that we saw in an earlier study, “if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.” (Gen 4:7) What that implies is that we have to be constantly alert and make positive acts of will to overcome the temptation to give way to self-centred, godlessness that leads to unrighteous acts or words. There have often been arguments in theological circles whether it is an inherent predisposition within each of us that we have inherited, or whether it is simply the moral choice we are so often confronted with when faced with people or circumstances who provoke us or present us with moral options.

The option to do our own thing, contrary almost certainly to God’s design for us and the world, is ‘sin’. It is as the Bible says, ‘lawlessness’ (1 Jn 3:4) Lawless simply means operating outside or contrary to the Law and ‘the law’ in this general context simply means the way God has designed this world to work properly. The Bible uses the word ‘folly’ a number of times, a noun that means foolishness, and any act of sin is ‘folly’ or foolish because it always has a detrimental effect, a negative outworking in our lives. David lusting after Bathsheba was folly in itself AND because it led on to other sins – trying to cover up what had happened by having her husband killed. In the New Testament Paul made that all- encompassing statement, “The wages of sin is death,” (Rom 6:23) i.e. the outworking of sin always results in spiritual death or the separation from the life that is God.

Call a spade a spade: We have this phrase or expression, meaning to call a thing what it is, and so we must from the outset eyeball our stupid acts of self-centred godlessness what they are – sin and, yes they are, stupid!  David, when Nathan told his little parable, rightly responded with anger, as our first verse above shows. It was right to be angry at the injustice in the parable and the perpetrator deserved to die. It was then Nathan spoke those terrible words, “You are the man,” and instantly, David, the man after God’s own heart, was convicted: “I have sinned against the Lord.” (2 Sam 12:13). It was the same language Jesus inserted in his parable of the prodigal son: Father, I have sinned against heaven and you, and am not worthy of being called your son.” (Lk 15:21) Wrongs against people are also wrongs against God.

If you steal from another person, vandalize their property, speak wrongly against them, entice their partner away, all of these things are offences against that person AND against God. They are against God because they run contrary to His design for us that we live in peace and harmony with one another, and it is like we say, “God, I don’t care about your will, your ways in the world, your design, I’ll do my own thing,” and the trouble is all such things bring repercussions, there always will be negative outworkings, the ultimate one being the accountability that God demands at the end of our lives, “Why did you act as less than the child I designed you to be, why did you act as a godless, self-centred sinner?”

God’s Remedy: The death of His Son on the Cross outside Jerusalem, two thousand years ago in time-space history, was deemed by heaven to satisfy justice, was deemed to be sufficient to act as the judgment on every individual sin ever committed. The only thing is that it needed to be appropriated by us and we do that when we a) acknowledge, confess and repent of our sin(s) and b) accept the truth that Jesus died in our place to redeem us.  It can’t work unless these two things are there in place. When we are convicted of our sin, the recognition that we are helpless and hopeless and need God’s help, God’s forgiveness, God’s transformation, it is both devastating and dynamic. It is devastating to be truly honest about yourself – I am lost! It is dynamic in that it opens the floodgates of God’s love, mercy and grace that is poured out to us and which we are then able to receive.

Individual Sins: When we blow it – and yes, we are still a Christian who loves the Lord – the short way back is as we have described above, acknowledge, confess and repent, but the lessons we have observed through the studies earlier in this series, tell us that so often there are repercussions or consequences that have to be faced. So often, life doesn’t just go on, and so to see that in detail, we’ll need to wait until the next study.   You have sinned? It is not the end, but you are required to follow the Biblical pattern – acknowledge, confess and repent – and then receive forgiveness and cleansing and a fresh start – but it must begin with honesty, I’ve blown it! That is the beginning of the next step.

14. Manasseh

Reaching into Redemption Meditations: 14. The Strange Story of Manasseh

2 Chron 33:10-13 The LORD spoke to Manasseh and his people, but they paid no attention. So the LORD brought against them the army commanders of the king of Assyria, who took Manasseh prisoner, put a hook in his nose, bound him with bronze shackles and took him to Babylon. In his distress he sought the favour of the LORD his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers. And when he prayed to him, the LORD was moved by his entreaty and listened to his plea; so he brought him back to Jerusalem and to his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the LORD is God.

 Manasseh in outline: We have so far been examining some of the lives of the well-known figures of the earlier part of the Old Testament, the Patriarchs, then Moses, then David. Now we consider a king who strangely reigned 55 years in the southern kingdom of Judah, Manasseh, who in a simple summary did evil and was carried off to Babylon (2 Chron 33:1-11) and there repented & was restored (2 Chron 33:12-20). The account above shows the hand of the Lord in his affairs

  • Bringing Assyria against him, resulting in him being taken to Babylon,
  • Being moved by his prayers of repentance and restoring him to Judah.

Manasseh’s work of restoration: Subsequently Manasseh, “got rid of the foreign gods and removed the image from the temple of the LORD, as well as all the altars he had built on the temple hill and in Jerusalem; and he threw them out of the city. (v.15) Then he restored the altar of the LORD and sacrificed fellowship offerings and thank offerings on it, and told Judah to serve the LORD, the God of Israel. (v.16) The people, however, continued to sacrifice at the high places, but only to the LORD their God. (v.17) Now what is remarkable about all this is the depth of wrong-doing that he had sunk to before all this happened.

Manasseh’s sin: He did evil in the eyes of the LORD, following the detestable practices of the nations the LORD had driven out before the Israelites. He rebuilt the high places his father Hezekiah had demolished; he also erected altars to the Baals and made Asherah poles. He bowed down to all the starry hosts and worshiped them. He built altars in the temple of the LORD, of which the LORD had said, “My Name will remain in Jerusalem forever.” In both courts of the temple of the LORD, he built altars to all the starry hosts. He sacrificed his sons in the fire in the Valley of Ben Hinnom, practiced sorcery, divination and witchcraft, and consulted mediums and spiritists. He did much evil in the eyes of the LORD, provoking him to anger. He took the carved image he had made and put it in God’s temple…. Manasseh led Judah and the people of Jerusalem astray, so that they did more evil than the nations the LORD had destroyed before the Israelites.”  (2 Chron 33:2-7,9), i.e. he:

  • Followed the ways of the Canaanites (v.2)
  • Rebuilt high places, erected altars to Baal, made Asherah poles (v.3)
  • Built wrong altars in the temple (v.4,5)
  • Sacrificed his sons and practiced sorcery, divination and witchcraft (v.6)
  • Put a carved image in the temple (v.7)
  • Did more evil than the Canaanites had done (v.9)

The Lord’s Judgment: We need to see God’s word of judgment, prior to the events recorded above, as we find it in 2 Kings for, in the light of the above, it is equally remarkable: “The LORD said through his servants the prophets: “Manasseh king of Judah has committed these detestable sins. He has done more evil than the Amorites who preceded him and has led Judah into sin with his idols. Therefore this is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: I am going to bring such disaster on Jerusalem and Judah that the ears of everyone who hears of it will tingle. I will stretch out over Jerusalem the measuring line used against Samaria and the plumb line used against the house of Ahab. I will wipe out Jerusalem as one wipes a dish, wiping it and turning it upside down. I will forsake the remnant of my inheritance and hand them over to their enemies. They will be looted and plundered by all their foes, because they have done evil in my eyes and have provoked me to anger from the day their forefathers came out of Egypt until this day.” (2 Kings 21:10-15)

  • The Lord’s word (v.10) which is probably an expansion of 2 Chron 33:10 – see above.
  • His sin is worse than the Canaanites before him (v.11)
  • Therefore disaster will come on Jerusalem and Judah (v.12)
  • Jerusalem will be wiped out (v.13)
  • They will we handed over to their enemies (v.14)
  • And this is all because of what they have continued to do (v.15)

A Major Question: The question has to arise, in the light of this incredibly strong word of judgment on Manasseh and Jerusalem and Judah, how did it come about that these things – the destruction of Jerusalem – did NOT happen for another half century?

Answers? One can only suggest the following. Scripture is quite clear that even when the Lord has spoken judgment, when repentance comes, that repentance causes the Lord to ‘change His mind’ so that He does not bring that judgment. Thus at the end of Manasseh’s reign there is no indication of this destructive judgment falling on Jerusalem. So why did it eventually happen? Observe the kings who followed Manasseh.

Amon: He did evil in the eyes of the LORD, as his father Manasseh had done. Amon worshiped and offered sacrifices to all the idols Manasseh had made. But unlike his father Manasseh, he did not humble himself before the LORD; Amon increased his guilt. (2 Chron 33:22,23) Contrasted with his father, did some of what Manasseh had done but did not repent. Was assassinated by his officials within two years. Did he steer God’s eyes back towards that threat of destruction?

Josiah:  A mostly good king (see 2 Chron 34 & 35) who sought the Lord (34:1-3), cleansed the land (34:4-7), restored the temple (34:8-13), renewed the Covenant (34:14-33), celebrated the Passover (35:12-19) but was unnecessarily killed after a battle (35:20-27). One might assume he put Judah in a better light before God.

Jehoahaz: Only reigned a short period before Egypt came against him and so Jehoahaz ends up in Egypt and Jehoiakim left to reign. See 2 Chron 36:2-4

Jehoiakim: (2 Chron 36:5-8) Did evil was taken to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar after 11 year reign.

Jehoiachin: (2 Chron 9,10) A bad king only reigned for three months before Nebuchadnezzar called him to Babylon.

Zedekiah: Refused the Lord (2 Chron 36:11-14), and after 11 year reign was taken into exile with Judah in Babylon (36:15-21)

Back to Manasseh: Thus, after Manasseh, of the six kings who followed before Jerusalem was destroyed, only Josiah was good. This, despite the prophetic warnings that came again and again, the kings and their subjects refused to turn back to the Lord and thus the word originally spoken against Manasseh was now fulfilled. It was only Manasseh’s repentance that put it off and one cannot help feeling that of each subsequent king has similarly turned to the Lord, that destruction would never have happened.

What have we learned? We have seen murderers and adulterers in these studies and Manasseh encapsulates the summary that “however bad you are, if there is genuine repentance, salvation (redemption) will follow”.  We referred to God’s words through Ezekiel and perhaps we need to conclude with them here to remind ourselves of the Lord’s heart:Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign Lord. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?” (Ezek 18:23) and “Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit. Why will you die, people of Israel?  For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent and live!” (Ezek 19:31,32) and, “Say to them, ‘As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, people of Israel?’” (Ezek 323:11) Be quite clear, God’s heart is to redeem whenever there is repentance.

2. Separation at the Fall?

Reaching into Redemption Meditations: 2. Separation at the Fall?

Gen 3:22-24   And the Lord God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.”  So the Lord God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken. After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.

 The First Judgment: In this two-study first Part of this series, I am seeking to lay out the gist of where it is going and nowhere is it better seen than in the Fall and God’s judgment on Adam and Eve. It is something that I believe most Christians rarely think about and I suspect I would not have done until I started writing a book about “The Judgments of a Loving God”, and of course, this is the first judgment in the Bible.  But what are the elements of this story.

God’s Framework: The Fall doesn’t happen in a vacuum, it happens within the framework of God’s design for Adam and Eve which clearly and simply said, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.” (Gen 2:16,17) There were His parameters for their lives: a) an amazing provision – lots of fruit trees, b) one restriction – one tree not to touch, and c) a consequence if they did – death to their relationship with God (for that is what it was).  The consequences are significant in that they all flow out of the absence of God’s presence.

Questions & Answers: Well, you might ask, why should that have to be?  Why would child-bearing become harder, why would working the ground be harder, why should they have to be put out of the garden? The answer has to be in the actions of Eve and then Adam. Basically they both said, we will disregard God’s framework so yes, a) we will enjoy that wide provision, but b) we will not be limited and so be able to eat that forbidden tree, because c) we see that knowledge is good and we cannot see how it can be destructive, so we’ll do what we want.

Consequences: They were, when you think about it, effectively saying, God we don’t want you in our lives laying down rules. We’ll do what we want. Now it may not have been spelled out as blatantly as that, but that was the reality of the Fall.  If you think about human lives – and theirs in particular – you can’t live on the basis of, “I’ll choose which bits of God’s design I’ll conform to, rejecting some, going along with some,” because ultimately that is still self-centred godlessness, my definition of Sin.  You either accept fully that God knows best and seek to live in accordance with His design (which is what Christians do), or you question His wisdom and are the ultimate arbiter of the life you live, and without God’s presence that is often hard and things go wrong.

The Effect: The story of Genesis 2 and 3 that we have been considering shows God making Adam and Eve accountable for their actions and so when we read our verses above where He excludes them from the Garden, i.e. from His presence and thus His resources, it is simply Him saying, “Well, you want to run your own lives; that is sad but I love you so I will help you do that, there is the whole world out there for you, but this bit where I am will no longer be accessible. If that’s what you want, go for it!”

More Questions: So far, all very familiar, but suppose you were an onlooker back then, what might you have been thinking? Without any knowledge of the future you might think that this God is the God that some think of who, having set the world up and sees it going wrong, abandons it and goes and lives down the other end of the universe, if we may put it like that. Isn’t that what appears to have happened?  Hasn’t God acted as a Judge and condemned them to live on their own, with limited resources? Isn’t life condemned to just get worse and worse, as William Golding so aptly showed in his book, ‘Lord of the Flies’ or George Orwell portrayed in his book, ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’?  You might have thought that if you didn’t know the future and have a Bible as we do.  There are two things that shout to us that that wasn’t the whole picture.

Relationships: The first is the fact of what we go on to see in the following nine chapters of Genesis in outline but is then seen in detail, God having relationships with individuals. He doesn’t “disappear off to the other end of the universe”, He is still there and although His presence is not there in the same intimate way, we see He is there communicating with Cain, with Enoch, with Noah, and with Abram. When it gets as far as Abram, later to become Abraham, there is a deepening ongoing relationship revealed, and that is echoed in all the main players who follow – Isaac (in a small measure), Jacob (in a greater measure), Joseph (in similar measure) and then Moses, who reveals perhaps the deepest level of relationship with God in the Old testament period. But what is God doing in all these relationships? He is showing His desire to interact with those who will respond to Him and learn from Him and go with Him in His plans and purposes for the world. That is brought into sharp relief in the coming into being of the nation of Israel.

Long-term Plan: Now I have written this many times in past studies so forgive me if I repeat this again, but when we have the revelation that is brought through the apostles of the New Testament period, we find a number of references to the fact of the coming of the Son of God to redeem us, that all point back to this having been decided before the creation of the world and thus before the Fall and all its consequences: Jn 17:24, 1 Pet 1:20, Eph 1:4, Rev 17:8, Rev 13:8, 2 Tim 1:9, Tit 1:2. All these seven references clearly speak of this plan having been devised by the Godhead long before the Fall actually took place, i.e. they knew that it would take place and saw that the plan of salvation, that we have in the New Testament, was the only way to deal with the sins of the sinner, satisfy justice, and make it possible for each of us to come back into a loving and real relationship with God.

And So?  This is mind-blowing stuff. It shows us a God who is both a Judge and a Redeemer. As Judge He makes us face the truth about ourselves and recognise our plight, our need out of our helpless and hopeless situation. As Redeemer He comes to us with a way out of the courtroom, out of the execution yard, and back into the courts of heaven to receive all the wonder of being part of God’s family. Right back there, just after the Fall in that confrontation in the Garden, it looked like a godless and hopeless and painful future but seeds for the salvation of mankind had already been sown in God’s words to the deceiver: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel,” (Gen 3:15), an enigmatic  message that would come down the centuries for those with ears to hear and understand. Redemption is the plan! It’s all been planned!! Hallelujah!

Application for further thought and prayer: Lord, thank you that although you always hold us accountable for our failures, you are still there with us and working for our good, working to bless us, so that we enter more and more into the wonder of the salvation you have prepared for us, which so often seems so unclear to us. But thank you for what I have seen so far and thank you that you have so much more for me yet to come.

1. Considering Redemption

PART ONE: Introducing the Theme

Reaching into Redemption Meditations: 1. Considering Redemption

Ex 15:13 In your unfailing love you will lead the people you have redeemed. In your strength you will guide them to your holy dwelling.

Approaches: There are times when I come to the end of a series of studies and wonder where I should go next. How does God want to feed me or challenge me next? And then there are other times – and this is one of them – when as I pray early in the morning I find the Lord filling my mind with a completely new train of thinking that challenges and stirs and demands to be written down.

Significance: For the last week or so, while I have been writing another series, I have found the Lord challenging my thinking into an area that I have never been before, and I have found it mind blowing. So it is time to start writing it. These will not be short meditations because the content is too important and too significant to be dealt with casually. If you want quick and easy and effortless daily readings, this will not be for you. However, if you will journey with me along the path I believe we will travel, I think I can promise you that you will be blessed and maybe even your whole outlook on yourself and others transformed. Yes, that is where I believe this is going.

Old Testament basics: Let’s take this word ‘redeem’ which has been imposing itself on me. My Bible dictionary says: “1. To buy back. 2. To get back, recover, by paying a fee. 3. To pay off a debt.”  In our verse above, Moses and Miriam sing this song of triumph after the Exodus and they look at what God has done, delivering them from slavery and they speak of themselves as “the people you have redeemed”.  Perhaps they take their language from the language the Lord used earlier: “‘I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment.” (Ex 6:6)

New Testament Parallel: Today, in respect of our own salvation, the New testament speaks of, “Jesus Christ who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.” (Titus 2:13,14) Also, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law …..  He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus.” (Gal 3:13,14) It is the same sort of picture in the New Testament in respect of our salvation as in the Old Testament in respect of the deliverance of Israel from Egypt. The two sets of verses above speak of us being delivered FROM something (the old godless life of wrongdoing) and delivering us TO something (all the blessings that now flow through the work of the Cross – justification, adoption, glorification etc.)

Questions: So where are we going here? Well let me ask a simple question. How extensive is the redeeming work of Christ? Who will it cover? Does it cover a murderer? Does it cover an adulterer? Does it cover a denier? If you say no to these, you are running contrary to what the Bible tells us about the ‘heroes of faith’ who we will consider in this series as a preliminary to looking at how we live our church lives.  Oh yes, that is where this is going. How do you feel about Christians who have killed, Christians who have committed adultery, Christians who have denied Christ, Christians who have been caught with their hands in the till, Christians who have been found to be frauds?

No Jumping to Conclusions: Be careful here. I hope we are going to look into this in sufficient depth that we will avoid the two extremes of judgmentalism that writes off people and the opposite that simply shrugs and says, “It doesn’t matter, we’re all human.” God has given us case study after case study in the Bible and what we will see is a God who is both a Judge who declares guilt and a Redeemer who pays for our punishment. This means that on one hand we cannot be casual about sin – and we need to call it for what it is – and on the other we cannot withhold grace from the sinner. The thing about redemption is that God looks to deliver the person under the sentence of death and restore and elevate them to a position of sonship. It can be a painful process but a wonderful one.

Basic Truths: In case you might think I am going soft on you, let’s remind ourselves of some New Testament teaching from the apostle John. First, “My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” (1 Jn 2:1,2). Next, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 Jn 1:9) These two sets of verses lay out three very important truths for the Christian:

Sin is an exception: “so that you will not sin”. The apostle doesn’t expect the believer to sin. The standard is to aim for perfection (Mt 5:48 –“Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect”, perfect meaning complete in Christ.)

Yet we can fail: But if anybody does sin.” It is a possibility. These are hopefully just one-off failures, one-off sins, things where, to use my phrase, ‘we trip over our feet and it goes pear-shaped’.

Confession is the way back: “If we confess our sins.” Acknowledgement of sin, of a failure, of our guilt, is a pre-requisite to restoration. Often, we struggle with this because we are not in a secure place and we fear the people around us will condemn is. We will deal with this as we go along. That must change.

Consequences: Now it would be foolish to pretend that there are no consequences to our acts of failure (Sin!) and part of our journey ahead must be to face those consequences and consider how grace may abound. However, let’s keep in mind throughout (and the scriptures will help us see this) that God’s intention is always to help us come to a place of restoration. When we look into the Bible with ‘redemption focused eyes’, we will see people who didn’t get there, and we’ll see why they didn’t, but we’ll also see some surprising cases where people who seriously blew it and got it very badly wrong, still ended up in God’s good books – and that is really encouraging for each of us as we live out each day with the Lord. Oh yes, it is all there, so will you be prepared to join me in this mind-blowing experience and be prepared to have your mind changed (not by heresy but simply by what the Bible shows us) and your outlook transformed?

Application for further thought and prayer: Lord, I may have question marks over my life but today I rest secure in the knowledge that you are working for good in it, and whenever I see failure, I will rejoice that you want to take me to a new level of restoration as you work to redeem my life on a daily basis. Thank you so much.