3. Two Worlds

Reaching into the Psalms 1 to 4: 3. Two Worlds (End of Psa 1)

Col 1:13   he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves

Psa 1:6   For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous, /  but / the way of the wicked leads to destruction.

Wrong Understanding: “We’re all the same,” and, “Who are you to say I am inferior?”  Two comments that can be heard when the Gospel is shared. Both are defensive and both misunderstand the truth. The apostle John in his first letter full of love has an unnerving verse near the end: “We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one.” (1 Jn 5:19) It’s that latter part, about Satan ruling over the unbelieving world. John isn’t saying that you and I who are Christian believers are under Satan’s rule but we do live in a world surrounded by people who are.

Distinction: The last verse of Psalm 1 makes a very clear distinction if we hadn’t noticed it before: the righteous and the wicked. There are no in-betweens in the mind of the writer. You are either ‘righteous’ or you are ‘wicked’. Now if you look up modern synonyms for ‘wicked’ you come up with ‘cool’, and ‘terrific’ and ‘fabulous’ which only goes to show how the world has completely reversed the meaning of this word which means evil or immoral or dishonest or corrupt.

Righteous? How can anyone declare they are righteous? What does it mean? A dictionary definition is simply ‘morally correct’.  I would add, ‘one who is morally correct because they are in line with God’s declared will or God’s design’. In his famous treatise on righteousness in his letter to the Romans, the apostle Paul first declared that naturally no one is righteous (Rom 3:9-20): There is no one righteous, not even one,” (v.10) and no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law.” i.e. keeping the rules is not the way because a) we always fall short of perfection and b) such rule keeping is always self-centred. But then he states what righteousness means in God’s sight: “This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe,” (v.22) and “a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law.” (v.28) So faith, simply believing what God has said, is what is righteousness according to God. For someone like David, living years before Jesus came, the belief was in the Law, that it was the expression of God’s will, declared through Moses, and was to be the basis of the life of the Israelite; that was faith, that was righteousness, even though none of them kept it fully.

Distinction again: Now in this Psalm, ‘the righteous’ as such is only mentioned once, although there is much about the righteous. However ‘the wicked’ are mentioned four times (verses 1,4,5, & 6). When we group verses together there is a clear distinction. First the righteous (implied): Blessed is the one …. whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night…. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither -whatever they do prospers.”  Then the wicked: “the wicked ….. the way that sinners take…. the company of mockers… Not so the wicked! They are like chaff that the wind blows away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.” It is like there are two different sorts of people, two different communities, two different countries almost.

In our starter verses above, I included, “he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves.”  (Col 1:13) There Paul makes this same distinction between two different administrations, if we may put it like that, one presided over by Satan, the other by the Son of God. The unpleasant truth for many is that if you have never made Jesus Saviour and Lord, then you are under the administration of Satan, you are living according to his ways and his dictates, you are living a godless, self-centred life that leads to unrighteous thoughts, words and deed. This is the reality about those who are not believers, but it is not because I say so but because the Bible clearly declares it.

The Ways of the Wicked: In verse 1 there are three associated words: wicked, sinners & mockers. They are all expressions or descriptions of godless, self-centred unbelievers. There is a progression there. It starts with keeping in step with the wicked, being associated with them as they walk. But then their walk is purposeful, going somewhere like a path, the way they take, these sinners. But then they have a destination, a place of agreement, of ‘fellowship’ almost where they settle, they sit and they discuss and they mock the faith of believers. Go onto a website (but don’t!) of followers of some of the key crusading atheists and you find this there. It’s a nasty place.

The Outcome for the Wicked: Their outcome is stated clearly in a threefold way. First a general description: They are like chaff that the wind blows away.” (v.4) i.e. they have no future. Second there is a double declaration of their future experience, for they, “will not stand in the judgment, nor …. in the assembly of the righteous.” (v.5) There will come a time after death when they will have to stand before God and explain themselves and they will not be able to count themselves as part of the congregation of the righteous. Thus finally, this walk, this way, this destination ultimately, “leads to destruction.” (v.6) The Bible, in picturesque language, seeking to convey the awfulness of it, speaks of ’a lake of burning sulphur’ or ‘a lake of fire’. (Rev 19:20, 20:10,14,15). Only the devil, the beast and the false prophet, are spoken of as being there tormented ‘for ever’ and unbelievers are simply cast in for destruction (no mention of ‘for ever’.) The implication is clearly for destruction as we find at the end of this Psalm.

And So? No, we are not all the same and, no, I am not claiming special status, but the Bible – here and many places elsewhere – makes this very obvious distinction between the ‘righteous’ and the ‘wicked’.  ‘Wicked’ is measured in terms of self-centred godlessness while the ‘righteousness’ is about relationship that comes about from having heard God’s word about out state and about His provision in the form of the work of Christ on the Cross and believed it and responded to it and live by it. The ‘wicked’ develop and establish their godless, self-centred lifestyle and when they eventually come face to face with God, will acknowledge they are not part of the congregation of the righteous and face destruction, no wonderful future in eternity with God and all the blessings He has for believers. By contrast – and it is a big contrast – the righteous delight in the Lord and in His word and His will, and as they meditate, reflect on, study and feed on His word they are resourced with ‘life’ and they grow, flourish and are fruitful and prosper, while their Lord watches over them and blesses them. It sounds too good to be true, but this IS the reality that the word of God declares. Hallelujah!

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40. Sinful Race

Meditations in Job : 40.  Part of the sinful human race

Job 15:14 “What is man, that he could be pure, or one born of woman, that he could be righteous?

As we have commented before there are some Christians who focus on sin and failure and in this respect they are like Eliphaz who, you will remember is speaking against Job for the second time. Previously when he spoke, he indicated that he had received the spirit encounter and the result of that was a mindset that put man down and derided him. We reminded ourselves about being made in the image of God and of being loved by God. We may need to do that again!

So here he is having just put Job down by suggesting four times that Job’s words were rubbish. Now he goes on to speak again of the failures of mankind. Essentially our verse today says that no person born of a woman can be pure, everyone is a sinner. Now of course we have no dispute with that, for Paul said, all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Rom 3:23). The difference between Eliphaz and Paul is that Eliphaz gets bogged down in it while Paul goes on to say, “and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” (Rom 3:24). Paul only speaks of our sin in the context of our salvation. Eliphaz follows the same track that we saw in Ch.4 & 5, referring to the ‘holy ones’, the angels. In chapter 4 he had said, “If God places no trust in his servants, if he charges his angels with error, how much more those who live in houses of clay.” (v.18,19). Here he says, If God places no trust in his holy ones, if even the heavens are not pure in his eyes, how much less man, who is vile and corrupt, who drinks up evil like water!” (v.15,16). It’s the same old argument being repeated. God doesn’t trust his angels who are close to Him, so why should he trust mankind. As we commented when we considered that earlier passage, that is only true of the fallen angels, and as we now know, God loves us and sent his Son in human likeness to die for us so, no, mankind is not abhorred by God, but loved.

Eliphaz now says he wants Job to listen to him on the basis of the wisdom that he has picked up from the elders through the years: “Listen to me and I will explain to you; let me tell you what I have seen, what wise men have declared, hiding nothing received from their fathers.” (v.17,18). You obviously are clueless, Job, is what he infers here when he says patronizingly, “Listen to me and I will explain to you.” And why does he think he can teach Job some things? Because I have seen it, I have picked it up from the wise men before me who passed on all they had learnt from their fathers and “(to whom alone the land was given when no alien passed among them)” (v.19), i.e. right at the beginning when no one else was there and they were the first in the land. That’s where MY wisdom comes from! So what has he learnt from them?

“All his days the wicked man suffers torment, the ruthless through all the years stored up for him. Terrifying sounds fill his ears; when all seems well, marauders attack him. He despairs of escaping the darkness; he is marked for the sword.” (v.20-22) i.e. the wicked (who he surely associates with Job) and ruthless man will receive torment, and enemies will attack him and leave him in despair (yes, this is Job!) He piles it on: “He wanders about–food for vultures; he knows the day of darkness is at hand. Distress and anguish fill him with terror; they overwhelm him, like a king poised to attack,” (v.23,24) i.e. he feels utterly hopeless, in darkness, filled with distress and anguish. So, Eliphaz, you do understand what Job is going through, so why can’t you feel for him? Answer, because you would rather condemn him! There’s a reason behind all this, continues Eliphaz; it is “because he shakes his fist at God and vaunts himself against the Almighty, defiantly charging against him with a thick, strong shield.” (v.25,26) You’re a rebel, Job, and you’ve brought all this on yourself! Watch how he now piles it on Job, heaping him with more and more negatives and there can be absolutely no doubt that this is specifically about Job: “Though his face is covered with fat and his waist bulges with flesh,” (v.27) Is Job so well off that he is rather over developed? Well it’s unkind to mention it anyway! Moreover “he will inhabit ruined towns and houses where no one lives, houses crumbling to rubble.” (v.28) – his home will be desolate and as a general statement, “He will no longer be rich and his wealth will not endure, nor will his possessions spread over the land.” (v.29) – his riches will have been taken. But it’s worse: “He will not escape the darkness,” (v.30a), the anguish of darkness will go on and on and he won’t be able to escape it.  “A flame will wither his shoots,” (v.30b), the burning irritation of his sores will undermine his life, “and the breath of God’s mouth will carry him away,” (v.30c), i.e. God’s decree will undermine his security and carry him away.

Note that although Eliphaz hasn’t directly referred to Job, it is obviously him that he has in mind, so now he brings him a warning in the same indirect manner: “Let him not deceive himself by trusting what is worthless, for he will get nothing in return. (v.31). Whatever you seem to be trusting in will not help you, and “Before his time he will be paid in full, and his branches will not flourish. He will be like a vine stripped of its unripe grapes, like an olive tree shedding its blossoms.” (v.32,33). You are going to be cut off so that any fruit that was apparent will be stripped away. Job had appeared prosperous but now that is all stripped away and he has nothing. Why? “For the company of the godless will be barren, and fire will consume the tents of those who love bribes.” (v.34) God sorts out the godless so they will not be fruitful and when they take bribes, God’s justice will fall on them and their homes and possessions will be taken. “They conceive trouble and give birth to evil; their womb fashions deceit.” (v.35) This sort of person breeds trouble and, by implication, it will turn round and bite them!

What an example of ongoing condemnation! Now there may be a number of truths built in there but the trouble is that these generalities DON’T apply to Job. This is not happening because he had defied God (v.25,26), he is not godless and doesn’t take bribes (v.34) and he doesn’t breed trouble (v.35). These are all FALSE ASSUMPTIONS of Job in Eliphaz’s mind. Zero out of ten for wrong assessment, Eliphaz!

26. Need for Focus

Meditations in Job : 26 :  A Need for Focus

Job 9:22,24 It is all the same; that is why I say, `He destroys both the blameless and the wicked.’ ……… If it is not he, then who is it?

We struggle to understand our world. Science, in its simplest form, is simply the observation of what is and how it works. We make great endeavour to find out and sometimes it is not easy. A scientist comes up with a hypothesis but then finds they have to readjust it in the light of new evidence.  We have ‘world views’, personal outlooks on how the world works. Some people have a world view that the world is purely material and there is nothing else. Others, such as Christians, realise the world is both material and spiritual and we understand that God exists, angels exist and demons exist. We believe in Satan and sin, and these help us understand some of the things that happen in life, but it is all about observing what is, and drawing conclusions from it. The only trouble is that we don’t have all the evidence and so we jump to wrong conclusions, and those are seen in the forms of other so-called world religions. Most world religions are mankind reaching out for the unseen God. When we come to Judaism and Christianity we find God reveals Himself. The fuller picture only comes with revelation.

One of the difficulties about revelation is that you have to go looking for it, so here is the whole Bible available to us, but few of us take the time and effort to read it and find out what is being revealed through it. If the commentators are right, and the book of Job is one of the oldest books in the Bible, then Job had a problem – he didn’t have all this revelation that we now have through The Book.  Job is looking at the world through the fuzzy eyes of pre-revelation, and he needs to have his eyes focused by The Book so that he can see more clearly. It is because he didn’t have this revelation, I suggest, that God didn’t hold it against him what he says in these passages. As the apostle Paul said, where there is no law there is no transgression.” (Rom 4:15) and sin is not taken into account when there is no law.” (Rom 5:13)

Let’s see what Job was saying, picking up from where we finished in the previous meditation: Although I am blameless, I have no concern for myself; I despise my own life.” (v.21). He comes to the point where essentially he says, “I’m sure I’m blameless (I’ve searched myself) but to be quite honest, I’ve just given up and I’m past caring about myself and I despise my life and wish I were dead.” It’s then that he makes this rather strange comment:It is all the same.” (v.22a). Do you see why I spoke about ‘focus’ earlier on, because if a person is short sighted and they lose their glasses, everything becomes a blur and it is all the same, nothing is distinct, nothing is in focus.

Now he continues, that is why I say, `He destroys both the blameless and the wicked.” (v.22b) Without revelation, this is his eventual conclusion, having observed the events in his life, that God seems to destroy both the blameless and the wicked, everyone seems to come under the same hammer. He observes what he sees in life: “When a scourge brings sudden death, he mocks the despair of the innocent.” (v.23).  When the Black Death, as it was called, came to London in the Middle Ages, it swept away all before it, innocent and guilty. Albert Camus wrote The Plague, a book that struggled with this problem, that God seemed to be a killer God who did not discriminate. Indeed Job goes further as he thinks about it:When a land falls into the hands of the wicked, he blindfolds its judges.” (v.24). In other words, when unrighteousness takes over a land, there is no justice and the innocent suffer alongside the guilty. Around the world in a variety of countries there is persecution against the church, and the innocent are imprisoned, beaten and killed. When there is no focus, it is all blurred and it seems like this is all the work of God, for as Job concludes, If it is not he, then who is it?” Now THAT is a good question!

It is here that we come face to face, yet again, with the great dilemma that faces us as we observe the world. Is this the work of God to sweep away the innocent, or is He powerless to stop it happening?  It is at this point that we might be helped to think of God’s inactivity as ‘voluntary self-control’ or even some of his activity as ‘loving anguish’. Let’s take the former first. Of course God could step in and stop all evil. He is God and He has unlimited power, but that doesn’t mean He always uses it. If He did we would cease to be human beings. We would cease to be beings that can make choices, make decisions and take sovereign action – and this independence we value very highly. Where would we want God to draw the dividing line? With murders and rapists, with thieves, with people who beat and abuse their children, with those who cheat on their taxes, with those who tell lies, with those who speak slander, or with those who think wrong thoughts? Where do you draw the line? It is an impossibly for this line to be drawn. You either permit free will or you create a race of robots. It IS as simple as that.

But you say, this isn’t all about God sitting back and doing nothing! Job’s situation is provoked by God. It may have been Satan who did it, but it was God who authorized it! Well yes, God authorizes everything that happens and sometimes He authorizes distress and even death but whenever He does, the Bible hints that it deeply distresses Him. The parent who goes to smack his child for a serious and dangerous rule infringement is heard to say, “This will hurt me more than you.” The child doesn’t believe that but then he doesn’t understand the anguish of the loving father who hates to see anything painful happening to his child, but who yet knows that for the child’s further safety this is the only way that the child will remember and stay away from the harm. We venture out onto a whole new area of thinking here, if we dare to stretch out our minds and realise that in a fallen world, sometimes the difficulties and pain work for a greater good – and the Cross is the classic example of that.

Make sure you get the focus of the Scripture. God does not create evil or do evil. God does not tempt us into doing wrong. Those things come from Satan and from sin in human beings. If sin never existed, none of the rest would follow, but ultimately everything goes back to the subject of a fallen world. This side of heaven we live with it, but we have the comfort that comes through the revelation that, Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” (Heb 13:5). The Lord is always there with us in it, and He feels (see Jn 11:35) with us in it and, moreover, His grace (His resources) is there for us (see 2 Cor 12:9, 2 Cor 9:8, Phil 4:19) in it. The day may be difficult, but the Lord is in it with us, feeling it with us, and there to help us in it. That is the clear perspective of life in this fallen world.

God who watches over us

God in the Psalms No.1

Psa 1:6 For the LORD watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.

In this very first psalm we are introduced to a very basic concept in respect of the Lord: the Lord sees the affairs of men. The reality is that God IS there and He DOES see all that is going on in the affairs of the earth. Now if that is all it was, we might be able to be complacent, thinking that God is ‘out there’ but powerless to do or affect anything we’re involved in, but this verse doesn’t allow us that complacency.

The verse says first that God watches over some people but that other people will perish. In other words the implication is that God DOES something when He looks and sees. The clear implication is that the latter group of people will perish because GOD destroys them! Now because one group is being contrasted with the other, then when it says “God watches over” the clear meaning must be that He sees AND ACTS in such a way as to preserve them. So one group He preserves and the other group He destroys.

It is somewhat important therefore that we understand who these two groups are, for it suggests that we can either feel secure in the knowledge that God will look after us or, if we are in the other group, we should fear because the warning is that He will destroy us!

So, let’s look at group one, first of all. This group is simply referred to as the righteous‘. This description occurs many times in the Bible. Put in its simplest form, we might refer to those who are living in ‘right-ness’, whose lives are declared right because they are living in the way God has designed them to live. Abraham was declared righteous when he simply believed God (Gen 15:6 / Gal 3:6). Righteous is therefore a term used to describe those who respond well to God, those who live in relationship to God.

By comparison the wicked are those who ignore or reject God and live as they want and live lives quite contrary to the way the Lord designed them to be. When they ‘do wrong’ it is because it is contrary to God’s desire. ‘Wrong’ is that which is contrary to God’s goodness.

Now notice the use of the phrase ‘the way ofwhich is used of both groups. An individual doesn’t just do one or two good things in respect of God, or one or two bad things in respect of God. We LIVE in these ways. The righteous is the man or woman who has come into relationship with God and that means in every area of their life. The wicked have every area of their life ruled by ‘self’ and every area is tainted by wrong. Thus when the psalmist refers to ‘the way of he is meaning the whole of the life of that individual.

So it is that the Lord guards the life of the person who has turned to Him and put their life under His rule. So also, it is that the Lord deals with that person who is daring to live in God’s world contrary to God’s design for them, ignoring or rejecting Him and, even more, living in disharmony with others, causing harm to others. That is why the Lord will deal with them, because, left to their own devices, they will harm God’s world. In His wisdom, the Lord may allow them leeway, space in which to repent (2 Pet 3:9), but if repentance does not come, their end is decreed. They perish!

Thus this simple verse in this first psalm reveals to us a God who distinguishes between right and wrong and who comes down and responds to people according to the way they have chosen to go. The challenge is, which way have we chosen?

8. Uncovered

MEDITATIONS IN ISAIAH – No.8

Isa 3:18 In that day the Lord will snatch away their finery: the bangles and headbands and crescent necklaces

Deception is a deadly thing. Jesus once told a parable about a rich farmer who kept building bigger and bigger barns to store his wealth (crops), and who concluded, “You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.” (Lk 12:19) but he didn’t realise he was at the end of his wasted life: “But God said to him, `You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?” (Lk 12:20). Affluence is very deceptive. It can make us feel secure and in our (false) security we forget God and forget our spiritual wellbeing. Before we know where we are, disaster strikes and our lives collapse (see also Jesus’ parable of the two house builders – Mt 7:24-27).

After the verses we considered in the previous meditation, Isaiah goes on to speak against different groups of people. As we noted he speaks against a general group first of all, the wicked: “Woe to the wicked! Disaster is upon them! They will be paid back for what their hands have done.” (v.11). Now we tend to think that ‘wicked people’ are really evil, but I suspect from what follows that it would include large numbers of our own society. “Youths oppress my people.” (v.12a) In some parts of Western society, certain parts of towns are ‘no-go areas’ because of youth gangs. “Women rule over them.” (v.12b) When God had ordained men to take the lead, the prophet speaks against the women who had taken control. How many people would this word upset today in the West? “The LORD enters into judgment against the elders and leaders of his people.” (v.14). Young people and then women and now leaders come under God’s spotlight.

See how the Lord comes to them: “The LORD takes his place in court; he rises to judge the people.” (v.13). Our guilty consciences may make us feel that this is a bad picture but it is a picture of the Lord who comes to assess guilt or innocence and it is only the guilty who have cause to fear. Justice is about fair and rational assessment of the truth. The innocent have nothing to fear. Indeed the innocent can rejoice that injustices are about to be dealt with!

Sometimes people have funny feelings about God’s judgment, speaking harshly about Him, but look at see what He is moving against: “It is you who have ruined my vineyard; the plunder from the poor is in your houses. What do you mean by crushing my people and grinding the faces of the poor?” (v.14,15). His vineyard is a picture often used of the nation, God’s people. He is speaking against those who have robbed from the poor, who have trodden them down. Wouldn’t we all cheer at this?

But then he comes back to the women: “The women of Zion are haughty, walking along with outstretched necks, flirting with their eyes, tripping along with mincing steps, with ornaments jingling on their ankles.” (v.16). These are the affluent women of Jerusalem, the modern affluent girl power, full of pride, sexual desires and indifference to God. Affluence, we said above, is deceptive and these women are typical of the attitude of the people of Jerusalem and Judah. They think they are something and they care nothing about the poor who were referred to earlier. Ms Materialist cares nothing about God – or about others. Self-centredness is the name of the game.

Now we have considered in previous meditations the Lord’s intent, which is to draw His people back to Himself. In their folly they have made themselves weak and a prey to other nations and other ideologies, which is why they worship idols from elsewhere. The only way to bring them to their senses is to strip away their finery, strip away their material wealth and wellbeing. We can often cope with a reduction in our wealth, but the removal of our wellbeing really brings us down and brings us to our senses. So how is the Lord going to deal with them? Therefore the Lord will bring sores on the heads of the women of Zion; the LORD will make their scalps bald.” (v.17). Oh my goodness, He’s going to attack their beauty and their makeup! He’s going to remove their fashion accessories by which they hold so much store! See verses 18 to 23 for a list of their finery with which they adorn themselves and which deceive them into thinking they are great and they are secure. He’s going to remove it all to bring them to their senses!

We need to understand here, or remind ourselves if we took in the previous meditations, that the Lord’s intent is to bring this people into a place of real blessing, instead of this surface, counterfeit. It is not only what people look like on the outside that makes them rich, it is what they feel like on the inside, how they think of themselves, of God and of others. A self-centred, self-serving people are not rich, however many bits and pieces they have to adorn themselves or their homes. It’s not wrong to have money and possession, but if we obtain those at the cost of losing our soul, we have indeed become very confused and deceived. In the materialistic day in which we live, we would do well to really thing about these things!