All posts by Keith Plant

Stepping out of a Difficult Situation.

Psalm 27

Background to the Psalm:

 David longs for closer fellowship with the Lord, to: ‘dwell in the house of the Lord’ as it were and be in a very different situation to the one he finds himself in.  There’s a sense that this is an experience that every believer may have at some point.  Some have argued for this having been two Psalms which have somehow ended up together, but James Montgomery Boice points out: ‘The first half of the Psalm (vv1-6) excludes confidence.  The second half (vv7-14) is a very moving prayer.’ [1]  The differing halves of the Psalm just reflect a changing mood so there’s no reason not link the two differing themes together.

The structure of the Psalm:

  • David places his confidence in the Lord in each and every situation (vs1-3).
  • David seeks closer fellowship with God which will act as protection for him (vs4-6).
  • David seeks the Lord to intercede for him through study of his Word (vs7-12).
  • David states his confidence in the Lord and urges others to have the same confidence (vs13-14).

Some obviations on the text (all quotations ESV):

The Psalm starts with two statements which, due to their nature, suggest the questions that follow them are rhetorical.  The first: ‘The Lord is my light and my salvation’ (v1) makes us think of Jesus’s statement: ‘I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life’ (John 8:12).  But what did David mean by it here?  The answer is in what he writes next which is:  ‘whom shall I fear?’  This shows his confidence in the goodness of God as he sees clarity in who God is and what he does, so how is it possible to fear?  He follows this statement by stating: ‘The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?’  The beauty of this verse when coupled with Jesus’s statement is that if David has such confidence and security in the nature of God being light, how much more should we have in Jesus as he shows God’s purpose to us through his life, death and resurrection!  Many times David had been in a tight corner and under threat, so he language may be poetical, but the description shows there have been times where people of evil intent had sought to do him a great deal of harm!  Yet it is they who: ‘stumbled and fall’ (v2) not David!

Derek Kidner notes: ‘the singleness of purpose’ of verse 4.[2]  But how are we to understand it?  My feeling is that this is not an ambition to give up his Kingship and become a priest, but rather that he’s seeking a closer relationship with the Lord.  As Eric Lane points out, Psalm 23 may have been written when David was a Shepherd.  But it: ‘ended with the desire to dwell in the house the Lord for ever, which no one takes to mean David aspired to the office of priest everlastingly; everyone interprets it spiritually.’ [3]  However there is a more literal meaning in David’s longing.In Psalm 42 David is desperately missing the fellowship and joy of Tabernacle worship.  CS Lewis notes that very often in the Psalms for the writers: ‘Their longing to go up to Jerusalem and to “appear before the presence of God” is like a physical thirst.’  He elaborates that: ‘Lacking that encounter with Him (God), their souls are parched like a waterless countryside.  They crave to be “satisfied with the pleasures” of His house.’[4]  There was something special about Tabernacle and Temple worship which we would be rash to dismiss in the context of various Psalms.  James Montgomery Boice, after highlighting CS Lewis’s views on the subject and noting Jesus’s comments in John 4:23-24, argues that: ‘There is something to be experienced of God in church that is not quite so easily experienced elsewhere.  Otherwise, why have churches?  If it is only instruction we need, we can get that as well by an audiotape or a book.  If it is only fellowship, we can find equally well, perhaps better, in a small home gathering.’[5]  For David, this was quality time, where he was unhurried in his meditation, prayer and fellowship.

The word: ‘For’ in verse 5 establishes a connection with David’s devotion to the Lord and his wish to spend time in the Tabernacle.  God is his protection which is picked up again in the phrase: ‘he will conceal me under the cover of his tent’.  The last part of the verse, and also verse 6, pictures David in an unassailable place where his enemies cannot reach him.  Therefore he will worship the Lord (v6).  The centrality of verse 4 is brought to the fore again as David speaks of offering sacrifices illustrating his joyful worship of God.  What David infers here is that our worship is a daily and constant thing.

In the second half of the Psalm David turns to prayer.  Verses 7-10 are a plea that the close relationship that David has been seeking with the Lord will continue as David seems to be experiencing some sort of opposition or difficulty.  Whether verse 10 is to be taken literally seems unlikely.  The prayer starts with the request that God hear him and be gracious to him.  This is the right attitude to prayer and David reminds us it is only by his grace that we can approach God in prayer.

David now reminds us that any genuine meeting with God can only be found in his Word.  The phrase: ‘You have said “seek my face.”  My heart says to you, “Your face, LORD, do I seek.”’ (v8) illustrates David’s observance of the Law.  As King, David would have had been presented with (or have copied it out for himself) a copy of the Law (Deuteronomy 17:18-20).  The Law spoke to everyone in that it illustrated God’s love and devotion towards his people.  So this is how David could seek the Lord’s: ‘face’ as he had an intimate knowledge of the character and nature of God.

Verse 9 indicates that David may have felt that he was subject to God’s anger or punishment.  But he pledges his devotion to the Lord with the use of his word: ‘servant’.  The last part of the verse illustrates the confidence that the Lord will not abandon him but rather will: ‘take me (David) in.’ So David now makes a positive request.  The phrase: ‘and lead me on a level path’ (v11) illustrates that David cannot see any stability outside of God’s Law and in verse 12 we come to what is the reason for this prayer of intercession.  David is suffering slanderous accusations!  He seeks for God to keep a hold on him and not to give him up to his enemies.  It might strike us as curious as to why David’s request to the Lord occurs here rather than at the beginning of this prayer in verse 7.  Yet there is a sense this whole Psalm has been about this.  David seeks the Lord’s protection and will throughout this ordeal.  The lesson here is David doesn’t see it as just the Lord’s job to deliver him from his difficulties.  The Lord has provided the Law, his Word, for David, so he sees as his responsibility to study it and keep it with the Lord’s help!  So David now comes to a twofold conclusion.  Firstly, he believes that this closer walk with God is possible in the here and now (v13).  Secondly, most likely drawing on his experience from prayer, he urges others to have confidence that the Lord will answer their prayerful petitions.  They are to: ‘wait for the LORD!’ and by doing so demonstrate the strength of their faith and confidence in him (v14).

David’s Christ-like example in this Psalm shows that obedience to God’s Word requires God’s help but also a great deal of our obedience.  We may suffer intense opposition and the difficulties such as David did.  But as David concludes, God is faithful so it is more than worth the effort!

[1] James Montgomery Boice, Psalms, Volume 1, Psalms 1-41, (Grand and Rapids, Baker books, 1994), 238.
[2] Derek Kidner, Psalms 1-72, An Introduction and Commentary on Books I and II of the Psalms (Leicester, Inter-Varsity Press, 1973), 121.
[3] Eric Lane, Psalms 1-89, The Lord Saves (Fearn, Focus Publications, 2006) 134.
[4] C.S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms (Glasgow, William Collins Sons, 1961), 47.
[5] Boice, Psalms Volume 1, 241.

The Heroes of Faith: Corporate Faith and Unexpected Faith!

By faith the people crossed the Red Sea as on dry land, but the Egyptians, when they attempted to do the same, were drowned.  By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they had been encircled for seven days.  By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies’ (Hebrews 11:29-31).

In these verses the writer shifts his focus from personal faith to corporate faith, and then to what might be termed totally unexpected and extraordinary faith!

The crossing of the Red Sea was an act of incredible faith and whatever the behaviour of the people before the crossing (Exodus 14:10-13) it must have taken great faith to walk the path between the piled up walls of water even if it was: ‘as if on dry land’. Yet, as we know: ‘the Egyptians, when they attempted to do the same, were drowned’ (v29).  The writer then fast forwards forty years to one of the most remarkable events of Joshua’s conquest of the Promised Land, the conquest of Jericho.  The actual method that the Lord had prescribed for taking Jericho must have seemed totally ludicrous.  After all, how could walking round the city once six days in a row and on the seventh, on the seventh circuit, giving a loud shout possibly be an effective strategy (Joshua 6:1-21)?  Think about it, it sounds absolutely mad!  Surely siege-engines would have to be built to scale or breakdown the city walls and you would have to have a well-trained army!  It took faith for the people to obey instructions like that even if they had seen God at work in the past!  But that is what they did because they had faith in God and Joshua as his servant.

That now brings us to the big surprise of Hebrews chapter 11, Rahab and her monumental example of faith! Rahab and her family’s lives were spared in the conquest of Jericho due to her reaction to the Israelite spies.  She took the great risk of hiding them and covering for them (Joshua 2:8-21).  Her reaction is interesting as it is a display of great faith for someone living among a pagan people.  While all in Jericho had heard the stories of the Lord’s great deliverance of his people from Egypt only Rahab drew the right conclusion in that she: ‘so feared Yahweh’s threat that she fled to receive his mercy’.[1]  In other words she threw herself on the mercy of the living God, while the rest of Jericho panicked and locked the gates.  John Calvin notes her background was even less promising: ‘the name harlot is added to heighten the grace of God’.  He then adds: ‘it is also certain that this refers to her past life for her faith is the evidence of her repentance.’[2] So this former ‘Shady Lady’ is held up by the apostle James as a beacon of faith and rightly so (James 2:25). She is an example of faith in the most surprising place and circumstances, and a wonderful testimony to Just how far God’s grace and mercy can extend!

[1] Dale Ralph Davis, Joshua, No Falling Words (Fearn, Christian Focus Publications, 2000), 56.

[2] John Calvin, The Epistle of Paul to the Hebrews and the First and Second Epistle’s of St Peter, Calvin’s Commentaries (Edinburgh, Oliver and Boyd, 1963), 181.

Want to listen to a sermon on this passage? Faith that Expects the Miraculous.

 

What is the Real Issue with the Appointment of the new Bishop of London?

The appointment of Sarah Mullally as Bishop of London caught many people by surprise.  After all it’s the third most important appointment after Canterbury and York.  So it poses the question, why exactly is Sarah Mullally seen as appropriate for the post?  A quick look at her credentials shows she’s had an impressive record in nursing and has been highly honored for it.  However when it comes to the Church she has served six years in local ministry as a team rector (after being a self-supporting deacon) before becoming a residentiary Canon in Salisbury.  Rather interestingly, she’s served just two years as the Suffragan bishop of Crediton in the Exeter Diocese.  This seems to suggest she’s been fast tracked for her current appointment!  So what exactly is going on here?

Now before I go further, I’d like to make clear that despite being a Minister in a Church belonging to the Evangelical Fellowship of Congregational Churches this is not a let’s have a go at the ‘Church of England’ post.  The theological basis of the Church of England is scripturally based (just check out the 39 articles).  I am indebted to having grown up in an Anglican Church where Scripture was faithfully taught, believed and applied.  Rather, I am concerned about the agenda in leadership of the Church when there appears to be a fast tracked appointment of another Bishop who seems to favour LGBT equality, whatever her position on marriage is for the moment!  I say for the moment as Archbishop Welby seems to have moved along way from the evangelicalism that he happy purported when he was first appointed Archbishop of Canterbury.

What this calls to mind is a very entertaining but thought-provoking episode of ‘Yes Prime Minister’.  Jim Hacker has only been Prime Minister short time and is grappling with his responsibility, particularly with the idea of the nuclear option.  He meets with an expert who questions when, and if, he would ever press the button.  His challenge to Hacker is that in the Cold War it would never be a case of a full frontal assault, but rather what he calls salami tactics, the enemy taking a slice by slice gradually.  The only response Hacker gives to the question as to when he would press the button as another metaphorical slice is taken is: “well I might”.

And this is what I feel is happening in the Church of England as gradually the ground is being shifted.  Some while back I read Sam Allberry’s post concerning the General Synod’s discussion on sexuality and transgender issues.  He lamented that no one really wanted to talk about Scripture and theology other than Evangelicals.  No, all the talk was about sharing experience and good disagreement!  I’ve read with interest and dismay of Laura Ashworth’s resignation from the Archbishop’s Council.  Knowing Laura as a very wise and capable Christian and having watched with interest her progress through the General Synod to this position, I found myself reluctantly understanding her decision as what’s the point of sitting on a Council or Synod if you’re just tolerated, but the moment you raise Scripture as an argument you are, no doubt, politely side-lined!  And how can there be good disagreement on Scriptural issues when people won’t engage with Scripture in the first place?

The Church of England is suffering an identity crisis, except it refuses to call it that.  It finds itself marginalised due the leadership’s departure from seeking a scriptural basis for what it does and says.  But rather than look to Scripture, as Bishop Rob Thomas was courageously saying in a recent interview, it is looking at ways it can align its self with the world while pretending that the C of E is one big happy family!  This brings to mind Paul’s warning to the Timothy: ‘For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions’ (1 Timothy 4:3).  The sad thing is that the leadership of the Church of England seem happy to comply!  But the folly of this brings to mind the words of Charles Haddon Spurgeon who when preaching on Acts 17:6 where Paul and Silas are accused of turning: ‘the world upside down’ commented that it was the wrong way up to start with!

In the end, Conservative Evangelicals are being thrown scraps.  I was delighted when Wallace Benn was appointed as Bishop of Lewis and also with Rob Thomas more recent appointment.  But one gets the feeling this is just a pat on the head to show Evangelicals are acknowledged but can then be ignored!

I often give thanks in my prayers for those in the Anglican Communion who are making a stand for orthodoxy.  The question is how can the battle be won when the opposing parties are not even on the same playing field?  Standing for Scripture is a faithful and noble thing to do, but what if it has no effect on the leadership of a denomination because they no longer happy to converse about certain theological issues in Scriptural terms?  I personally pray for a future of the Church in this land (we should never make the mistake in thinking this is just a C of E problem) knowing the Lord can bring about revival in His Church.  After all: ‘if the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?’ David (the psalm’s writer) has already got that one worked out: ‘In the Lord I take refuge’ (Psalm 11:3 and 1).  However, Bible believing Anglicans must beware with Evangelicals of other denominations as it can hardly be term a ‘fifth column’ when leadership is increasingly strengthening, not just a liberal approach to Scripture, but a dismissal of all scriptural theology in some of its discussions!

The Heroes’ of Faith: Moses Part 2

‘By faith he (Moses) left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king, for he endured as seeing him who is invisible.  By faith he kept the Passover and sprinkled the blood, so that the Destroyer of the firstborn might not touch them’ (Hebrews 11:27-28).

The writer of the letter has impressed upon his readers that Moses did not conform to the sinful pleasures of Egypt which surrounded him as a younger man.  Rather, he was an example of faith.  Nonetheless, verse 27 raises an interesting question, as Moses left Egypt twice.  Much ink has been committed to paper on this matter, and there are reasonable arguments for either event, but I feel it refers to the Exodus.  The first time Moses fled in panic, due the Pharaoh’s anger, therefore, this reason for leaving does not really represent an act of faith, but in my opinion, the Exodus does.  Now I know some will say Pharaoh was defeated rather than angry, but I would argue his anger manifests itself in his change of mind and pursuit of the Israelites, which then leads to the decimation of the Egyptian army in the Red Sea (Exodus 14:21-29).[1]   But we must not get so tied up in these arguments that we miss that Moses’s motivation came from: ‘seeing him who is invisible’ (v27) which is probably a reference to Moses’s encounter with the burning bush (Exodus 3:1-4:16) – and this means his focus was on the Lord and it was he who motivated him.

But perhaps the most incredible act of faith for Moses was the keeping of the Passover.  The Lord had given detailed instructions of how his people were going to be preserved and saved (Exodus 12:21-28). And even though Moses had seen the Lord at work through the plagues, he might doubt, perhaps, as to how putting a bit of blood round the door post was going to protect families from the forewarned death coming upon their firstborn?  Yet, as Moses demonstrated trust in this promise, and obediently followed the Lord’s instruction, he brought about the protection and salvation of God’s people!  John Calvin sums up the extent of Moses’s faith.  ‘It could seem absurd that Moses set up a few drops of blood as a remedy for the vengeance of God, but he was content with the word of God alone and had no doubt that the people would be exempt from the plague which was coming upon the Egyptians.’[2]   Now, that is living by faith!

The example of Moses must have been a tremendous encouragement to these Jewish Christians. He gave up so much to stand with God’s people.  They could relate to this, as they had endured hardship and struggle, and had even had their property confiscated in their stand for Christ (10:32-34). But once again, Moses only got just a glimpse of his reward!  In Deuteronomy 34:1-7 he views the Promised Land from Mount Nebo, but never actually sets foot in it.

In conclusion, Moses – like others in this chapter – saw only from a distance what had been promised (v13), but never doubted that he would receive it!

[1] The arguments concerning Moses departure from Egypt are rather helpfully summed up by F.F. Bruce when he writes: ‘Some commentators, however, have preferred to see here a reference to Moses departure from Egypt at the time of the Exodus.  One argument in favour of this view is the statement that “he endured, as seeing him who is invisible”, which might be understood as an allusion to his experience at the burning bush.  Against it, however, is the consideration that reference to the Exodus here, before the institution of the Passover in verse 28, would be out of its natural order, as well as the consideration that fear of the king’s wrath would be irrelevant to this later departure from Egypt, since the king and his people like then urged Moses and the Israelites to get out as quickly as they could.’  F.F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans Printing Company, 1964), 322-3.
[2] John Calvin, The Epistle of Paul to the Hebrews and the First and Second Epistle’s of St Peter, Calvin’s Commentaries (Edinburgh, Oliver and Boyd, 1963), 179-180.

Want to listen to a sermon on this passage? What’s so Special about Someone who gave up the Easy Life?

The Heroes’ of Faith: Moses Part 1

‘By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden for three months by his parents, because they saw that the child was beautiful, and they were not afraid of the king’s edict.  By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God, than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward’

(Hebrews 11:23-26).

As a fan of Woody Allen films, I particularly like ‘Zellig,’ which is a mock documentary. The central character (Zellig) exhibits a peculiar phenomenon in that he takes on the physical characteristics and racial distinctions of whoever he is with.  It basically takes on, and sends up – to a great comical affect – the very human need to try and fit in, and to be loved.

In contrast, one of the key aspects that typify Moses’s life is that he does not conform, or take on the nature of what is around him! In the eyes of the Jewish Christians (to whom the letter was addressed) Moses was a monumental figure as the Law-giver. But, there is a lot more to Moses in the sense that, right from the start, he is a product of faith.  Moses’s parents exhibited faith when they kept him hidden as a baby.  The phrase: ‘because they saw the child was beautiful’ (v23) is probably best understood in the Greek as a term that can be used to describe: ‘elegance in clothing.’[1]  This denotes that his parents took the bold risk in preserving his life – despite Pharaoh’s order – because there was something exceptional about him as a child.[2]   In that sense they were also heroes of faith!  Moses, however, far from being a mere product of his parents’ faith, he exhibits his own, active and strong faith when, he chooses to throws his lot in with the mistreated people of God whilst he was still growing up among the finery and privilege of the Egyptian royal family.

Now, if we read Exodus chapters 2-3 we know there is a bit more to it than that. Moses is hesitant; he makes excuses, even when the Lord has shown that he will help him with the incredible miracles that he is given to perform, and which will give great authority to his message!  When he runs out of excuses he is still trying to weasel his way out of it with a final plea to the Lord to send someone else!  Hardly, we might think, a hero of faith!  However (just like the other heroes of faith), he is dealt with by God, with a great deal of grace and finally rises to the task.  Verse 26 raises a question, what exactly is meant by: ‘the reproach of Christ’?  I think the simplest answer is that Christ is found in all the Scriptures, and that means we can see pointers, or a signpost to his redemptive work in events like the exodus which Jesus himself noted (John 5:45-46).  But there is also another way of looking at it, as Paul Ellingworth notes that: ‘The author of Hebrews sees a positive analogy between the sufferings of Moses and those of Christ.’[3]  But again, we shall see in the second part, he only saw God’s promise partially fulfilled.  Quite simply, he was looking to the Lord’s reward, rather than what was no doubt, sensual and materialistic lifestyle, typical of members of the Royal family in Egypt.

Want to listen to a sermon on this passage? What’s so Special about Someone who gave up the Easy Life?

[1] Donald Guthrie, The Letter to the Hebrews, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, (Leicester, Inter-Varsity Press, 1983),  238-9

[2]  Stephen uses the same phase in Acts 7:20 when he witnesses to the Jewish Council before his martyrdom.

[3] Paul Ellingworth, The Epistle to the Hebrews, The New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1993), 614.

The Heroes of Faith: Isaac, Jacob and Joseph.

By faith Isaac invoked future blessings on Jacob and Esau.  By faith Jacob, when dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, bowing in worship over the head of his staff. By faith Joseph, at the end of his life, made mention of the exodus of the Israelites and gave directions concerning his bones’ (Hebrews 11:20-22).

After the intense focus on Abraham, the next three verses deal with Isaac, Jacob and Joseph in a much quicker manner, yet actually covering almost half of the book of Genesis! Nevertheless, despite of the fleeing mention of each they are well worth looking at.  Isaac’s blessing of Jacob and Esau is intriguing to say the least (v20).  A Brief summing up of the two characters (for a more complete study of the events read Genesis 25:19-28:9) shows Esau as driven by his sensuality and bodily appetites, which causes him to be done out of his birth-right and blessing as Isaac’s oldest son by his brother Jacob. That makes Jacob a liar and a cheat!  So, how does this qualify as an act of faith when Jacob’s blessing was a result of deceit and trickery?

Isaac realised that God would still bring about his purposes; even when sinful human beings try to manipulate them! In the next verse we find Jacob literally on his deathbed, blessing Joseph sons again in an unorthodox manner by blessing the younger (vs20-21 and Genesis 48).  We can see from the events in Jacob’s life (Genesis 27-50) that he arrived at the conclusion that all his trickery and scheming has got him nowhere.  It is only through God’s grace that blessing has come (check out his prayer in Genesis 32:9-12, it’s a key moment in his spiritual growth).  In other words, despite his past, Jacob is now living by faith and seeing God’s promises extended to another generation!  So how do we understand the workings of God here?  John Owen outlines the theological implications for us. ‘So did God accomplish his purpose and promise unto Jacob, by ordering the outward circumstances of the irregular actings of him and his mother unto his own blessed ends.’ He goes on to point out that the Lord: ‘accepted their persons, pardoned their sins, and affected the matter according to their desire.’[1]  Put simply, if God wills it, and I stress – if God wills it – even the misguided actions of those who have some faith can be used by the Lord in his purpose because of his infinite grace towards sinful people!  In other words: ‘God’s blessings are given not because we deserve them, but because we need them.’[2]

That brings us to verse 22 and Joseph’s act of faith in asking for his bones to be taken back to the Promised Land (Genesis 50:22-26). Why was this simple request regarded as an act of faith? It was for several reasons. Firstly, those who had gone down to Egypt were seventy in all (Genesis 46:27) which is hardly a nation’s worth!  Another factor, which made their return to the “promised land” rather unlikely, was that things were pretty good for them in Egypt.  Yes, we know that things were far from good later (which will lead us to the next example of faith, Moses) yet, here, Joseph speaks by faith. He knew that however things might have appeared God had something better for his people in the future, because he had promised it to their forefathers.  Again he serves the writer’s purpose well in that he speaks of something he does not get to see but believes will happen, because God has promised it!  As such, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph are once again interesting examples of faith, and a good encouragement to those who seek such faith models to live by.

Want to listen to a sermon on this passage? Three fleeting but poignant examples.

[1] John Owen, An Exposition of the Epistle to the Hebrews, Volume 7, (Edinburgh, The Banner of Truth Trust, 1991), 122.

[2] Raymond Brown, The Message of Hebrews, Christ Above All, The Bible Speaks Today, (Leicester, Inter-Varsity Press, 1982), 212.

A Lesson in God’s Faithfulness through David’s Failure!

Psalm 34

Background of the Psalm:

The events that inspired David to write Psalm 34 are found in 1 Samuel 18-21. David had killed Goliath and was the hero of all Israel.  Saul was jealous as, due to his disobedience, Samuel had prophesied that his kingship would be given to another (15:28).  In Saul’s mind David’s the main contender so his life was under threat.  Due to Jonathan’s friendship David escapes, but he’s in a desperate situation and makes a bad decision.  Abimelech the priest is nervous when David turns up as word had probably got out that Saul had made attempts on David’s life.  But David spins a story that he’s on a ‘secret mission’ and needs provisions and weapons.  The priest only has the consecrated bread but is assured that David and his men have all behaved themselves.  He also has Goliath sword.  Having got food and a weapon David is on his way.  But David has lied and has looked to his own ingenuity rather than looking to the Lord!

Looking to put some distance between Saul and himself David heads for Gath in Philistine territory.  Perhaps he’s thinking he can hire himself out to King Achish as a mercenary.  But the problem of being the hero of all Israel is that David is easily identified by the King’s officials (21:11).  David, in desperation, pretends to be mad in the hope that the King will think he’s a harmless loony and fortunately it works.  The King has David thrown out and David escapes to the cave at Adullam where he is among family and where various people in trouble or with some kind of grievance (probably against Saul) join him (22:1-2).

 The structure of the Psalm:

  • David praises God for his deliverance the benefits of that deliverance (vs1-10).
  • The tone of the Psalm changes from a prayer of praise to a sermon (vs11-22).
  • This covers: the fear of the Lord – how it is practised (vs11-14).
  • The Lords attitude towards those who follow him which is seen in their deliverance vs15-22).

Some observations on the text (all scriptural quotations ESV):

David starts by praising God (v1). The phrase: ‘I will bless the LORD at all times’ could be phrased ‘at every time’.[1]  David uses ‘Yahweh’ the covenant name of God.  So David rejoices as God has been faithful in keeping his promises.  He can boast that God had acted and delivered him from all his: ‘fears’ (v4).  David’s state in verse 6 was due to his sin, but that did not stop him crying out to God (no doubt in repentance).  Verse 7 has a stunning statement: ‘The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them.’ This picture of God’s protection is David’s reason for praising God.  The ‘angel of the Lord’ is singular, but ‘encamps’ is plural.  God is so powerful and there is nothing outside his influence and sovereignty.  Phillip Eveson notes he: ‘acts like a protective shield to deliver his people.’[2]  The angel of the Lord can refer to the pre-incarnate Christ.  Jesus, when praying for his disciples, prayed: ‘not one of them has been lost’ (John 17:12) and when praying for all believers he prayed: ‘Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me, where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world’ (John 17:24).

The next part of the Psalm applies this message with evangelistic zeal! Imagine David in that cave at Adullam with his not so merry men.  “Learn from my mistake” he says “I fouled up, but God was faithful.”  David wants others to have his experience of God’s faithfulness.  But they must trust God and take refuge in him (v8) and ‘fear’ him (v9).[3]  Maybe a lion growls in the distance so he uses it as an illustration. Even a Lion can get hungry and weak but: ‘those who seek the LORD lack no good thing’ (v10).In verses 11-14 David addresses those listening as ‘children’ (v11) reinforcing the instructive element of this Psalm.[4]  The person who wants to live to honour the Lord will refrain from falsehood and seek a path through life that pleases God.  The interesting thing is this comes at a time of danger and failure in David’s life, but it increases his zeal to live in a way that pleases the Lord (vs12-14).  David reminds those listening the Lord is looking out for them, but he is against the wicked (vs15-16).Verse 17 starts to draw a conclusion. The first part of verse 17 contains a statement which is fundamental to understanding prayer. ‘When the righteous cry for help, the LORD hears them.’ The second part contains the statement that the Lord: ‘delivers them out of all their troubles.’ But is that true?  For a start, no one is righteous before God?  The Old Testament has a different view of righteousness.  This is not: ‘the righteousness of God’ (2 Corinthians 5:21) that we have due to Christ’s substitution; this refers to being visibility moral and upright.  But can we expect our prayers will always be answered in the positive when we are going through trouble of some sort?

I believe these verses are supposed to be understood in a broader context. Verse 18 is the key as this verse reflects God’s care for: ‘the broken-hearted’ as he: ‘saves the crushed in spirit.’  The New Testament context is found in Matthew 5:3-10 where Jesus teaches his disciples of the benefits those who are going through a tough time will receive.  Jesus is teaching his disciples, so these promises are made to believers.  How the Lord delivers his people is found in verses 19 and 20.

Verse 19 seems to duplicate verse 17, except its context is singular. But now David makes a remarkable claim that God: ‘keeps all his bones; not one of them is broken’ (v20).  This seems hard to believe!  Maybe David escaped with no broken bones but he’s still in danger as when he writes these words as he’s hiding from Saul.  Michael Wilcox notes: ‘The Lord promises deliverance from such things, but that is not the same as exemption from them’.[5]  But John applies it as a prophecy fulfilled when Jesus was crucified as he did not have any of his bones broken (John 19:31-37).[6]  The apostle Peter preaching on the day of Pentecost, states that: ‘this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosening the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.’  Acts 2:23-24).  So God delivered Jesus: ‘a righteous man’ completely and in that sense verse 19-20 is fulfilled.  The last part of the Psalm (vs21-22) contrasts the fate of the ‘wicked’ to the future state of the ‘righteous’.  The wicked, who make things for God’s people, will be condemned but those who love the Lord will be redeemed!

For us this means Jesus paid the price for our sin on the cross. Whatever David originally meant by these words, he understood that God was actively protecting him.  So he could end the Psalm on a note of confidence by stating that: ‘none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned (v22).  Philip Eveson notes that God’s: ‘covenant name “the Lord” (Yahweh) appears in almost every verse of the Psalm’,[7]  That’s a reminder that God will always keep his promises!

[1] Derek Kidner, Psalms 1-72, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (Leicester, Inter–Varsity Press, 1973), 139.

[2] Philip Eveson, Psalms, From Suffering to Glory, Volume 1, Welwyn Commentary Series, (Darlington, Evangelical Press, 2014), 218.

[3] Although I do believe that the element of physical fear can also be applied here as we need to remember who God is.  Hebrews 10:31 is certainly written from this perspective!

[4] David addresses them as ‘children’ which is not is not dissimilar to the teacher instructing his pupils as ‘sons’ in Proverbs 4:1 which Peter Craigie sees as a better translation here.  Peter Craigie, Word Biblical Commentary, Psalms 1-50 (Waco, Word Books Publisher, 1983) 280.

[5] Michael Wilcox, The Message of Psalms 1-72, Songs for the People of God, (Leicester, Inter-Varsity Press, 2001), 118.

[6] This is also reminiscent of the Passover lamb that was not to have any bones broken (see Exodus 12:46).

[7] Eveson, Psalms Volume 1, 221.

The Heroes of Faith: Abraham Part 2.

‘By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son,  of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back’

(Hebrews 11:17-19).

Before we moved to Stony Stratford I redecorated our house as we were going to be letting it.  My friend, who is a builder and decorator, was helping me.  One day I had to do an online bank transaction on the computer in the room where he was working.  When I finished his words were: “and you trust that thing?”  He is, by his own admission, old-fashioned, paying and transacting everything in person.  You could say if he could see it, he believed it!

Those who received this letter wanted to see visible blessing at that present time!  But the writer of the letter is making it clear their spiritual forefathers did not see the full extent of God’s blessings in their lifetime, yet they trusted him.

This is why the writer now comes back to Abraham.  He trusted God.  But there is real twist in verses 17-19 which makes Abraham’s obedience up to this point seems simple!  God asks him to sacrifice his only son Isaac!  Becoming the father of a great nation appeared possible, even if Abraham did not see it in his own lifetime.  But, destroying the means of that promise…? That was another thing entirely!

A look at the story in Genesis 22:1-14 is useful.  Firstly, God is testing Abraham to give up the son he loved (Genesis 22:1-2).  We are party to what is going on, but Abraham is not!  Secondly, Abraham displays real faith when he mentions to the servants that he and Isaac: “will go over there and worship and come back again to you” (Genesis 22:5).  This fits with the comment that Abraham: ‘considered that God was able even to raise him (Isaac) from the dead’ (v19).  He expected Isaac and himself to return!  Lastly, there seems to be compliance on the part of Isaac.  He is a young man in his late teens or early 20s strong enough to carry wood for the sacrifice, so it is unlikely he would be overpowered by his father who was over 100 years old.  The structure of the Genesis passage in verses 9-10 deliberately slows the narrative to give the impression of each step and task being done thoroughly,   by the use of the words: ‘and’ and: ‘Then’…Admittedly, modern sensibilities may struggle with Abraham contemplating sacrificing his son, the emphasis here, however is on his remarkable faith![1]

However there is yet another aspect we should note. In John 8:56, when Jesus is conversing with the increasingly hostile Pharisees he states: “Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day.  He saw it and was glad.”  How are we to understand this extraordinary statement?  I think the answer is found in the above described episode of faith.  The phrase: ‘figuratively speaking’ (v19) can be rendered in the Greek as: ‘as a parable’.[2]  So Abraham receiving Isaac back from his figurative death acts as a parable that points to Christ’s work – Abraham in being willing to sacrifice his only son, just as God gave up his only son, and the probable compliance of Isaac in the same way Jesus was compliant with his Father’s will.  We also have God’s provision of a ram (Genesis 22:11-14) – in the same way, we are spared through Christ’s substitution for our sin.  God had promised that by Abraham: “all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3).  Maybe, through these events, Abraham was partial to some understanding how God might just do that!

Want to listen to a sermon on this passage?  What’s so Special about Someone who Lived in a Tent? Part 2.

[1] However, whatever our modern sensibilities, John Currid makes the point that in verse 19 of the Genesis passage the idea of he and Isaac and going together has been used twice before in the passage (vs6 and 8) and therefore reflects a: ‘harmony between father and son on the way to the mountain. Now it is used here for the same reason: as they return from the mountain there is still harmony between them.’ John D. Currid, A Study Commentary on Genesis, Volume 1, (Darlington, Evangelical Press, 2003), 396.
[2] Richard D. Philips, Hebrews, Reformed Expository Commentary, (Philipsburg, P and R Publishing 2006), 478.

 

The Heroes of Faith: Drawing some Conclusions from the Examples so Far.

These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.’ (Hebrews 11:13-16).

At this point the writer is probably thinking: “I’ll return to Abraham in a minute, but let’s draw together everything we can from these examples of faith we have had so far, to see how it helps us in our earthly pilgrimage.” So now, he draws three conclusions.

Firstly, the writer focuses on the major subject matter, relevant to Jewish Christians – the recipients of his letter. He points out that the aforementioned ancestors had ‘all died in faith, not having received the things promised’.  The results of their faith were not fully seen in this life; nonetheless, the second part of verse 13 makes it clear they did not doubt that they would see the results of God’s promises.  It was as if they had had glimpsed them: ‘from afar’ which confirmed their reality!

Secondly, these believers acknowledged the world was not their home. They were in fact: ‘strangers and exiles on the earth.’ Abraham was a supreme example of this, never putting down roots anywhere, instead, living a nomadic existence in a tent, moving to wherever the Lord directed him!  Lastly, the behaviour of these examples of faith highlights they were looking for a home of God’s provision, not their own.  Abraham could have thought to himself: “well this isn’t working out!  I’m fed up of this over-extended camping trip, I’m going home!” but he never did… John Brown observes: ‘From the call of Abraham to the death of Jacob was a space of 200 years. During this period they might have easily returned to Chaldea. The distance was no obstacle.  There does not seem to have been any external obstruction.  But they gave clear evidence that they were not disposed to return.’[1]

 Verse 16 focuses on a major theme of the letter: everything God provides is better!  These people of faith did not take pleasure in material things.  No, their focus was on: ‘a better country, that is, a heavenly one.’ What is interesting is that when people take that attitude God delights in them!  The phrase: ‘Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God’ shows that God takes pleasure in being identified with such people, despite their past failings. The thought of putting down roots must have been very attractive to Abraham, but God has so much more prepared for those who love him.  Philip Arthur makes this observation concerning the nature of faith presented in the letters of Paul. ‘If Paul emphasise faith in what God in Christ has done in the past, the author to the Hebrews compliments this by reminding us of another dimension of faith that launches out into an unknown future confident that God will provide.’[2]  What a challenge for us in an age where people are consumed with the acquisition of wealth and materialism.  The writer of the letter has introduced us to people who were heavenly minded because they kept their focus on God.  It is as if he is saying “they kept going – and I’d like you to make it your motto to keep going, and see the wonderful rewards they did!”

Want to hear listen to a sermon on this passage?   No Turning Back!

[1] John Brown, An Exposition of the Epistle to the Hebrews (London, Banner of Truth Trust, 1964), 518.

[2] J. Philip Arthur, No Turning Back, An Exposition of the Epistle to the Hebrews, (London, Grace Publications Trust, 2002), 12.

 

What are the Real Issues with the Shack?

It’s not surprising that with the success of the book (with sales of over 10 million) ‘The Shack’  has now been turned into an incredibly successful film with takings of over $96 million on a $20 million budget!

The story, in brief, revolves around Mack,  who four years previously  suffered the brutal murder of his  young daughter.   Mack suffers from what he calls his  ‘Great Sadness’.  Yet, during the course of the story, a meeting with God   (at the shack of the title)  brings him to a point  of resolution concerning his pain and anger.  The story seeks to deal seriously with suffering. It shows God as compassionate and that ultimately sufferings and heartache can only really be healed through meeting and knowing him.  But opinion has been divided concerning ‘The Shack’.  Some Christians have embraced it  as a positive tool for outreach.  Others have  called it   a work of heresy!   But what are the real issues ?

Firstly, its representation of God.  Any time we  portray God as we imagine him we run the risk of being  in violation of the Second Commandment.  The story also downplays the use of the Bible  with personal experience being more important.  Christ’s work on the cross is side-lined, hence the holiness of God  and the issue of sin being an affront to him  is sacrificed.  Christianity, depending as it does on this, is pushed to one side to present a more ‘Universalist’ view.  Even when ‘The Shack’ is at its best, as some Biblical concepts are well illustrated, very often a strong sense of ambiguity  prevails.   In the end we are  left with a ‘touchy-feely’ God who is  a completely user-friendly re-invention!

Those embracing  it as a tool for outreach prove the Church is in retreat  in this country.  It has become  concerned  with its image, seeking to have what it sees as a more user-friendly  and politically correct one,  Hence ‘The Shack’ ticks all the right boxes!Yet when writing to the Galatian Church the apostle Paul refused to accept any other purported  Gospel  regardless of who preached it  (Galatians 1:8-9).    The issue of sin  and the cross  is central  as: ‘Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”’  (Galatians 3:13).  This demonstrates the seriousness of sin.  It’s such an affront  to a holy God  that we are  literally cursed  and, true to his nature, he would have to  judge us as such!  But this, and the willingness  of Christ, by his  voluntary  obedience to his father, to become a curse  for us makes the Gospel all the more remarkable (Philippians 2:6-8).   I’ve recently been reading ‘Preaching – an Awesome Task’  by  Eryl Davis.   Its subtitle ‘Wrath, Final Judgement, Hell  and the Glorious Gospel’,  struck me as really appropriate as the Gospel’s is the remedy to the first three.  And that’s what makes it glorious!  Its message  of Christ’s sacrifice for our wrong doing  is the  only way that  we can ever possibly be  reconciled to God who, because of his  holy nature, could never   coexist  with our sin!  No wonder  Paul would accept  no other Gospel!

In the end we all  need the authentic Gospel and ‘The Shack’ with it’s strong sense of ambiguity falls short!   At best to use it as such  could be interpreted as  sincere   but misguided.  Let’s be bold enough  to believe in the power of the true Gospel with the centrality of the cross as the remedy for sin.  And let’s repent of the times we’ve been tempted of depart from it in our witness!

The subject of  Gospel integrity  is dealt with in the sermon  Accept no Imitations! (Galatians 1).