Monday, 6 September 2010

Revelation 1:12-20

Revelation 1:12-20

Read these verses over again. Go on, once more.
You can't read them often enough.

Seven is the perfect number, a complete number. So seven lampstands, which are the seven churches, represent the complete church. The glorious Lord Jesus Christ is with, in the midst of, his church.
How can we be downcast? What shall we fear? The Lord is with us.
[Seven here is not about the seven churches of Asia - the use of this phrase in 1:4 is probably the only 'real' number, i.e. non-symbolic number, in the whole book.]

Son of Man is a designation the Lord Jesus uses often of himself. I think its use comes from Daniel 7. In this context when we read 'one like a son of man', I think the emphasis falls on the likeness of the Lord Jesus to humans. If we had been alive and seen the Lord Jesus we would have seen arms and legs, a head, a body - a human. What John sees is the glorious Lord Jesus, but he is like a human, in human form. The incarnation doesn't end with the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus. His body is raised from the tomb. There is a human in heaven.
Yes, the Lord is with us.

The Lord Jesus is seen by John in purity and power. He is without sin or any kind of failure and he is the one who exercises justice with the sword of justice.
It keeps getting better, he was dead and now is alive and will never die again. He holds authority over death and hell. He is the one who can be depended upon.

We will read later in Revelation of John falling before a heavenly messenger, but this is the only time such prostration is not corrected. It is entirely correct to fall on your face before the Lord Jesus.

The seven angels of the churches, a perfect number of messengers to the churches. It could be the teachers/preachers in the church, or could be a perfection of God's message to the church. The point in this passage is that the seven stars are in the hand of the Lord Jesus. The message of God to the church is in Christ's hand, and nowhere else!

It really is all about Jesus.

Go on, read it again, it will do you good.

Saturday, 4 September 2010

Revelation 1:9-11

Revelation 1:9-11

Having spoken in exalted terms of the Lord Jesus and his reign it may surprise us to read of 'tribulation' and the need for 'patient endurance'. v. 9.

The kingdoms of this earth, the enemies of God: the devil, death, sin, will not simply roll over and die. They continue to war against the Lord and his Christ, and his Kingdom now established.

We need to learn this again, patient endurance, not deliverance, is the sign of the Spirit at work amongst us. Our Lord and Saviour suffered and endured patiently, if we follow him, how can we expect not to follow him here?

John describes a vision for us, note that he writes 'Write what you see in a book ...' v. 11. Sometimes it is easy to put into words what we see, sometimes it is impossible. How do you use words to describe the range of colours in a sunset? Big clue here! John is going to have to put into words in a book indescribable visions of the glory of God. If we push the words John uses into their literal sense we end up with nonsense. Literalism is not a good way to read the Bible. This is not to say that what John is trying to describe is not real, objectively real. God is real, the Lord Jesus who was slain but now lives for ever is real, but sometimes the language John uses to describe these things pushes our words to the edge of their meaning.

Symbol and story, metaphor and analogy - the tools of the poet and prophet to convey that which no eye has seen, no ear has heard and the heart of no human can comprehend. Beward of readings of Revelation that try to nail all the words in this book down too tightly.

Friday, 3 September 2010

Revelation 1:4-8

Revelation 1:4-8

John makes it clear that this letter is addressed to 'the seven churches that are in Asia', v. 4.
John didn't make a mistake here, this address is as inspired as every other word in this text. The book of Revelation must have meaning for the seven churches that are in Asia, it cannot only be a text that has meaning for 20th century dispensationalists.
We hear God speaking to us in Scripture by submitting our reading of the text to that shared with our sisters and brothers who first received the text. United in Christ as one people the distance between us is not as great as sometimes it is presented. There is one God, one Lord Jesus, one Spirit at work in the writing of Scripture, its first reception in the first century and its present reception in the 21st century.

The traditional Christian letter greeting, 'Grace to you' is extended in a wonderful celebration of the Lord Jesus Christ. Some points to note:
'the seven spirits' - not seven (one more than six) but a perfect spirit, the Spirit.
'the faithful witness' - in his life, death, resurrection and ascension Jesus Christ bears witness to the faithfulness of God to his covenant promises.

The kingdom language in v. 6 is important as this text will present Jesus not only as Christ, but also as Lord, the King of all Creation over all other challengers. Combined with the eternal language in these verses we see that the reign of the Lord Jesus has begun and will never end.

The work of Christ is freeing us from sins is introduced early in Revelation. This is not the whole of salvation, but remains a daily prayer that we would know the joy of sins forgiven and peace with God through the blood of the Lord Jesus shed on the cross.

Is this how we know Jesus? Is this the Jesus we try to share with others when we speak to them of him?

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Revelation 1:1-3

Revelation 1:1-3

There is something that God wants to make known - a revelation from God.
This revelation concerns things that must soon take place, as we will see in chapters 4+5, the fulfilment of the purposes of God.
This revelationis given by God to Jesus Christ, God has chosen to make known the fulfilment of his purposes through Jesus Christ, and him alone.
It is Jesus Christ who engages the service of the angel who is sent to John and discloses this revelation to John.

John is not properly the author of this text. The author is God, the revelation is his to make known. John then serves in the role of recorded, he writes down what he is shown and what he hears. The principal objection to this John being the author of the Fourth Gospel is the marked difference in the style of the Greek. However, given strong thematic links and the united testimony of the early church we should not hesitate to think of this John as the same John we know from other New Testament texts.

Seven times in this book a blessing is pronounced: see also 14:13; 16:15; 19:9; 20:6; 22:7, 14. Seven is the perfect number, the number of completion and so these seven blessings together describe the perfect blessing. One who is blessed knows the favour of God, and is one who reads this book so that others may hear and learn of this revelation. But also one who keeps what is written, obeys, submits to, allows the words to change them and their life. This is the blessed life.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Revelation - and Apocalyptic

Sometimes this book is called 'The Apocalypse', see the title of Smalley's commentary, amongst many.
In this context I think 'apocalypse' refers to the Greek work 'apokalupsis' which is rendered in English versions as 'revelation', e.g. 1:1 - 'The revelation of Jesus Christ'.

Another term, 'apocalyptic' can be used to describe the genre, or type of writing that is employed in this book. Here the term refers to a form of writing in which standard symbols are used to represent usually elements of a vision which has been granted by God. There are examples of apocalyptic writing in Daniel 7-12 and Zechariah 9-14. It seems a strange form of writing to us, however, if we were to read a number of second Temple Jewish texts it would quickly become familiar.

From this I would make the following points:
1. John is trying to describe something which cannot be contained in human language. How can you describe the Lord Jesus as both one who has been slain and who is now reigning?
2. The code to the symbolic language would have been widely known, certainly to the Christians in Asia who received this text. It is not a code designed to be hard to break, to keep things secret from agents of the Roman Empire.
3. This is code, or picture, language we should not press the details into physical relality. The numbers are all symbolic and should not be treated as mathematical or arithmetical representations of quantity or value.

That this text is apocalyptic does not however change the nature of the text as a letter. It is from beginning to end a letter to the seven churches and intended to have meaning and be useful to them.

Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Revelation - an outline

I always find it helpful to have an overview of a book of Scripture before diving into the details. The challenge with Revelation is that I don't think you will work one out before you have worked through the text. I suppose at best you can make a starting point and as you go through amend your outline in the light of your new understanding of the text.

Here is my current attempt, this after preaching through the text twice.

1:1-20 - Introduction
              This chapter introduces the whole book, giving us the key theme that this book is a revelation 'of Jesus Christ' v. 1.
2:1-3:22 - The seven letters
               This text, like other New Testament books touches down in a particular time and place, it was in the first instance to these seven churches.
4:1-5:14 - A vision of God's purposes achieved
               These chapters give the assurance to churches under pressure, which is elaborated in the following chapters.
6:1-8:5 - The seven seals
8:6-11:19 - The seven trumpets
12:1-14:20 - Scenes of cosmic conflict over God's purposes
15:1-16:21 - The seven bowls
                  I think the three sets of seven are repeating the same story. The first two sets have an interlude at the end, which reflects chapters 12 to 14. God's purposes will be achieved, not matter what opposition rises against them.
17:1-20:15 - Scenes of judgment and celebration at God's judgment
21:1-22:21 - In the presence of God, the hope of God's people

I know some of these are quite big portions, but we'll break them down as we go through. The main thing here is to note the deliberate parallels in the sets of seven (seals, trumpets and bowls). The text is not recording three successive stages of history or salvation, but the one event, the one salvation of our God. The three fold repetition gives us great assurance that the matter is certain and fixed by our God for his glory.

Friday, 27 August 2010

Revelation - books

If it is true that of the writing of books there is no end, this seems especially true of Revelation.

I'm not going to mention all the books I have, just one or two ...

John Richardson 'Revelation Unwrapped: Revealing the blessing of John's Vision' MPA books, 1996.
This is a superb book, only 82 pages, but each one of them is solid gold. A brief book gives an overview, and with Revelation I think too many people get lost in the details. If you decide to buy only one book on Revelation, buy this one.

Michael Wilcock 'The Message of Revelation' IVP The Bible Speaks Today series, 1975/1989.
Another very good book, longer than Richardson, but now comes with a study guide. Very helpful on the shape and structure of the book.

Philip Edgcumbe Hughes 'The Book of Revelation: A Commentary' IVP 1990.
Hughes offers his own translation of Revelation aiming to make clear what he sees as the meaning of the text, this is very helpful. Hughes seeks to unpack the symbolism of Revelation that we might better see how such a text works.

Eugene H Peterson 'Reversed Thunder' Harper Collins 1988.
This is not a commentary on the text and should not be approached in that way. However, this is a wonderful, rolling meditation on the themes arising from Revelation and may be a good guide as to how we are to respond to this text. I'm a great Peterson fan so this is another highly recommended book.

Stephen S Smalley 'The Revelation to John: A Commentary on the Greek Text of teh Apocalypse' SPCK 2005.
I was amazed to pick this up very cheap in a sale in Dec 2007 and it would be my recommended commentary on the Greek text. The Greek of Revelation is challenging and if you are trying to use the Greek you will need a good text, this one is recommended.

I have Charles in the old ICC series from 1920, 2 volumes and I have two of the three volumes by Aune in the Word Biblical Commentary series. These are helpful on the Greek of the text, but I think loose there focus on the whole by following too many side roads. If you use the Greek books like these will be essential, but you really need something shorter to keep you on track.

Thursday, 26 August 2010


Over the next fews weeks I though I would post on Revelation. I hope this doesn't see you all run for the hills!

No, I'm not claiming in any of my posts to have all the answers to all the questions arising from this wonderful book. However, the more often we read it together and share our thoughts the more clearly we may see some of the things God would say to us in these words.

So, stick with it and please join in - leave a comment and others may respond and our community of readers may grow.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Judges 21:1-25

Judges 21:1-12
The aftermath of this situation hardly improves for Israel.

The people worship the Lord, the ask ‘why’, but they do not appear to ask him, ‘what next?’

They find one town that has not taken the oath against Benjamin, kill all the men and married woman and steal 400 young girls, virgins, that they may be given to the 600 Benjamites.

We cannot imagine that our Lord would tell his people to do such a thing. It happened, but there is not one word of the Lord commanding it. There is no sign of the Lord approving of this wicked deed. The people have gone off script, not only in chapter 21 but way before this. The continual cycle of sin has lead the nation to this point. There is no other outcome for repeated sin.

Judges 21:13-25
Their first scheme is only partly successful, they need another 200 wives. Why not steal them? Well since you murdered the fathers of the first 400 why not!

Verse 24 may sound as though all is well, each man is entering the promised inheritance. But how have they entered it? Not in the Lord’s way. What are the doing in it? Not living for the glory of God.

Verse 25 is the sad and sober conclusion to this book, ‘there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.’

God’s people need God’s leader, God’s King. The situation in the nation does improve (slightly and only for a short time) under David and some other godly kings. However, this verse points us to Jesus, God’s King for God’s Kingdom. Only when he is King and we do what is right in his eyes will we see God's Kingdom established, only then will we live in his promised land.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Judges 20:1-48

Judges 20:1-17
The nation responds, the tribes gather. 400,000 men prepared for battle. The Levite repeats his story once again in all its horror and the tribes are enraged.

To defend these worthless men Benjamin gathers 26,000 (that is one man for every 15 set against them).

There is no one seeking the Lord here or asking God what he wants them to do. It is more like two mobs preparing for a fight.

Judges 20:18-28
For two days the people of Israel go out against Benjamin, and for two days they are defeated.

Now they seek they Lord, now in their trouble and defeat they call out asking the Lord what they should do.

How gracious is the Lord’s word that the next day they will defeat the enemy (who is really a fellow tribe of Israel).
We might wonder why the Lord continues to bother? Only because he is faithful to his covenant. Even if this people fall into sin and war against one another, he will remain faithful.
Does this mean the Lord is pleased with the majority of Israel? I don't think so. They could have stopped this a long time ago if only someone had stood up against the idol worship growing in the land.
No one comes out of this well.

Judges 20:29-48
Is this a victory? 25,000 killed and 600 escaped to live by a rock in the wilderness. It sounds more like wanton destruction, killing for the sake of killing, without restraint or purpose.

Chaos is too small and tame a word for this, yet it fully describes what is going on in Israel.

The Spirit of the Lord worked order out of chaos, Gen 1, but here we are returning to a chaos of violence and idol worship that denies the creative purposes of our God. Too often the chaos we create is a denial of our God.

Monday, 19 July 2010

Judges 19:22-30

Judges 19:22-30
A tale of horror. The men of the town gather seeking to rape the strange man who has come among them. They are offered two women but refuse. When the concubine in thrown out of the house they rape her to her death.

No one comes out of this story well, the words of the master are harsh and uncaring as he steps over the concubine to leave the house and continue on his way home. His gruesome action in cutting up the concubine and send her pieces around the nation is callous and cruel.

So much for the hospitality of the people of Israel.

Yes, this is a text about the abuse of women. The concubine is treated like a piece of disposable property. So is the virgin daughter who is not raped. There is nothing in this text for us to copy. All we see here are examples of how we should not live.

Sunday, 18 July 2010

Judges 19:1-21

Judges 19:1-21
Once again we are reminded, there is no king in Israel. No effective leadership for the people.

An unfaithful concubine is sought that she may be brought home. An extended ritual of hospitality is played out in the house of her father until we think he would be happy for the husband to remain with them in his home.

On the journey home the man and his concubine travel to an Israelite town, expecting some hospitality from the people there, as they found with they concubine’s father. But only one old man will show them kindness.

The scene is set.

The rest of this story may I think rightly be called a text of terror. We should be horrified at what happens in a city of the people of God, in a town within the promised land. This is not why the Lord promised the land to this people. This is not what the Lord intended from his chosen people and royal priesthood.
It would be easy to skip over these chapters, and many do this. Why did the Lord include such chapters in Scripture? Not because he likes horror stories! As with all Scripture it's purpose is to teach, reprove, correct, train in righteousness, equipped God's people for all good work.
This is what happens when God's people abandon God and remake gods of their own choosing. Don't turn your eyes away, because if it could happen to God's people in Israel it can happen to you and me wherever we are!

Saturday, 17 July 2010

Judges 18:21-31

Judges 18:21-26
Micah calls out his household and gives chase to the tribe who have stolen his idols. Notice how Micah speak about these things, ‘You have taken away my gods that I made’. How could he not notice, he a creature of the Living God is now upset because the gods he made have been stolen.

If I have made it, it isn’t God. God made me, I did not make God. Even to say such things betrays how far from truth and Godliness Micah has fallen.

How often our casual words, words spoken in haste or anger betray where our hearts lie.

Micah sees his gods stolen and fears that he is left with nothing. To be without God is indeed to be left with nothing, no hope, no peace, no future. But our God cannot be stolen from us because he is the one who keeps us in his powerful hands – not the other way round.

Judges 18:27-31
The people of Dan do gain an piece of the land for themselves. But it turns out not to be the promised land they gain.

It is a land polluted by idols of their own choosing. They worship gods that are not god, they worship in ways that are not the Lord’s ways, they set up priests not called to this task by the Lord.

They could hardly be further from the promised land if they had set up home in Hawaii.

How easy it is to think we are making a home for ourselves with the Lord, and forget that he is the one who makes a home for us and calls us to live in that home in ways that honour and please him.

Friday, 16 July 2010

Judges 18:1-20

Judges 18:1-6
The disaster of Micah’s idols spills out beyond one family and one Levite priest. Note the refrain of these chapters is repeated in v. 1.

The tribe of Dan has failed to gain its inheritance, they are searching though the land looking for somewhere to call home. The come across Micah’s house and the priest, the seek the Lord’s will from him and are given the kind of guidance they would be pleased to receive. However, contaminated by Micah’s idols nothing will work out well for them.

Judges 18:7-10
The five Danite spies find an unsuspecting group, poorly defended and return to the main body of the tribe reporting success.

The appearance of success can be deceitful, no doubt they think they are on the right road with God blessing them.

Is this not a failing that often falls upon us? We believe that success is the only measure of whether the Lord is pleased with us, whether the Lord is guiding our labours. We can be 'apparently' successful while living in great disobedience. This is not to advise against success, we rightly pray for the Lord to bless our labours in his service, but we need a wider perspective on his blessing than merely what is successful.
Judges 18:11-20
As the tribe of Dan go off to defeat this unsuspecting people they pass by the house of Micah. The five spies tell of the worship centre and idols they have seen.

The whole tribe turns aside to see this, and having seen they lay hold of these false idols to take them for their own. And the false priest, proving faithless towards Micah runs down the road after his useless idols. It started in stealing and comes to stealing again. What a mess!
From one man and his idols we now have a whole tribe entrapped in false worship. Do we heed this warning?

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Judges 17:1-13

Sorry for the long delay in following on from chapter 16. Honest, I never intended to dodge these final chapters. So, here goes ...

Judges 17:1-6
I don’t like to say Scripture is difficult, but these final chapters of Judges are difficult, because they are so unpleasant.

The cycle of sin, defeat, calling to the Lord, raising of a Judge appears to vanish here, we are dropped right into the middle of some terrible situations.

We begin with Micah making idols and setting up one of his sons as priest in his own house. In this he is encouraged by his mother, who clearly doesn’t understand what it means to dedicate something to the Lord. And this sorry situation started with Micah stealing the money from his mother before returning it to her. A broken picture of broken lives in a nation about to be devastated by sin.

Verse 6, "In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.", introduces the new refrain of these final chapters.

What do we mean by dedication to the Lord? Do we ever try, like Micah's mother to dedicate to the Lord something he doesn't want, or in a way that will not please him?

Judges 17:7-13
It is not just one family that is falling into sin. A Levite, if anyone should know better in the nation then a Levite should. But no, coming across Micah and his false idols and false worship centre the Levite is persuaded to remain with Micah and become a priest to one family.

Is there no one to stand up for the Lord? No one to say that this behaviour is wrong? Is there no authority (no king) who will serve the Lord? No, at this time there is no one. What a dreadful state of affairs for a nation to fall into.

We know it is not always easy to stand up, but there is a time when we must. Even if we are the only one we cannot and must not deny and be ashamed of our Lord.

Thursday, 24 June 2010

Judges 16:23-31

Judges 16:23-31
Samson's great strength was a gift from God - not a result of his long hair. God does not give Samson strength because of Samson's faithfulness, but because of God's choice and purpose.
When we read of Samson's hair growing again, we know that Samson has nothing to do with this, he can't stop his hair growing and he is not able to have it cut, or styled! There is no magic in Samson's hair.

Judges 16:28 - is Samson renewing his faith? I don't think so, because I don't think, if we could ask Samson, he would say he ever lost his faith. Samson's foolishness with these women is not Samson abandoning God, or back sliding from his faith, it is Samson getting it wrong. Often we think we are serving God, we are continuing in faith and hope, but we are getting it wrong. We can be believers and get it wrong.

Samson's death gives an appearance of victory over the Philistines, although there is not verse telling us that the people had peace for so many years as with other judges. Samson's death is the death of the judges. God has permitted this pattern of leadership, with its cycle of sin, calling to God, raising up a judge, deliverance, sin to continue as long as it has, to fully demonstrate that this is not the answer. God's people are not learning how to live holy lives. The nation is not reflecting God's glory to the world. Samson is the final demonstration that no judge will be the promised deliverer, Genesis 3:15.
Judges 17 to 21 are not pleasant chapters, but they demonstrate for us what happens when God's people reject God and his ways.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Judges 16:1-22

Judges 16:1-22
The ultimate foolishness. You would think any sane person would have worked it out. Once you could have let her away with, but three times she nagged an answer out of Samson, three times she passed it to the Philistines, three times they hid in her back room waiting to capture Samson.
But then we don't work out sin or temptation any better. Time after time, returning to old sins, falling once more at old temptations - the same one we fell before yesterday.
Samson didn't learn, the sad stories of chapters 14 and 15 should have taught him, even if Delilah's triple betrayal didn't.

All we can do is marvel at God's amazing grace. He has a purpose to achieve in Samson and Samson's foolishness will not defeat God's purposes. We do not abuse God's amazing grace, we depend upon it that when we get it wrong, God will remain faithful. The story of Samson is not about a great hero of the faith, but about a great God who is worthy of our faith, our trust, our hope.

Monday, 21 June 2010

Judges 15:9-20

Judges 15:9-20

Samson's behaviour results now in an invasion of Judah by the Philistines. One man bringing trouble and suffering upon the whole nation.
To prevent their suffering the people of Judah agree to hand Samson over to the Philistines. But Samson breaks free from the bonds that hold him and wins a great victory over the Philistines. A thousand men with the jaw-bone of an ass.

The story ends with Samson exhausted and dying of thirst. It can only be by grace that the Lord listens to his prayer and opens a spring of water to save Samson's life.
How wonderful is amazing grace which in Samson's life as in ours is never deserved or earned.

That Samson can make such a hash of serving the Lord and cause such suffering all around, but still be used by the Lord is a miracle of grace. Not an excuse for us to give up and not try to do things for the Lord in a way that will honour him. We depend upon grace, we do not take advantage of grace - or perhaps we should not take advantage of grace.

Saturday, 19 June 2010

Judges 15:1-8

Judges 15:1-8

Samson, a fool for women who never learns, tries to patch things up with his Philistine wife who has betrayed him at their wedding feast.
When told she has been given to another, Samson goes off on one again. This time he thinks he has the right. He burns their fields in a cruel way involving the suffering of animals.
The result of this act is the burning of his wife and her family by the Philistines.

There are consequences to our acts. There are unforseen consequences, this makes life difficult because we are not God and we don't know everything that can or will happen.

Samson's foolishness with women, his uncontrolled anger are causing havoc all around. Is there not a lesson here about Christian character and the importance of seeing the fruit of the Spirit grow in our lives, especially if we are called into service for the Lord?

Friday, 18 June 2010

Judges 14:1-20

Judges 14:1-20

The trouble begins. Like a golden thread, except not so golden, running through the story of Samson, this man is a fool around women. Especially foreign women who will only get him and his nation into trouble.

We can see this is wrong, and yet, on route to make arrangements for the wedding the Lord strengthens Samson to defeat a lion with his bare hands. The carcass of this lion and its swarm of bees become the source of Samson's riddle, which the Philistine wedding guests cannot unravel.
Samson is nagged/encouraged by his wife to tell her the riddle which she repeats to her people. This woman has made a choice, she will stick with her people rather than her new husband. Samson will not be able to lift her out of her family aliegences into a full union within the people of God.
Enraged, and it does read as though Samson goes off in a terrible rage, he kills 30 Philistines to pay off his debt and storms off home.

Is this serving the Lord? I really don't think so. Some might try to argue that the Philistines, all Philistines were enemies of the Lord and his people and however they are killed it is all one and is all well done. But that doesn't work for me. If the Lord is to exercise justice against all people then it must be just. And I don't think justice is served in anger.

Samson has a work to do for the Lord. He has been chosen and prepared for this from conception. His foolishness around women and his anger may go a long way to blunting the effectiveness of the Lord's purposes in Samson. Not that the Lord's purposes will fail, but they will and can be blunted by foolish living on the part of God's people.

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Judges 13:15-25

Judges 13:15-25

There is often a confusion we can notice in the Bible when people meet an angel. Very often they think they are meeting the Lord and seek to honour the angel in ways that are appropriate only for the Lord.
In this story Manoah would offer the angel some sacrificed food. The angel replies that he will not accept this offering from Manoah, because it should only be offered to the Lord.
It is right and good that we honour those who serve the Lord among us and for us. However, we must be careful not to take the honour and glory and praise which belong to the Lord and transfer them to others.

When the angel disappears in the smoke of the offering Manoah and his wife realise they have seen an angel of the Lord. This realisation leads them to think they will die, for who can see the Lord and live? This fear of seeing the Lord is common in the OT. How great is our joy to know that in Jesus God is with us, not some of the time but all the time. Thank God for Manoah's wife who helps him understand the purposes of God. And thank God for all who help us learn how to live in the presence of God day by day without this fear.

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Judges 13:1-14

Judges 13:1-14

Samson is the final judge whose story is recorded in this book. His story begins with the cycle we've observed so often in this book repeated once again for us. The people do evil and are handed over to their enemies.

By grace the Lord works, he promises a child to a childless couple. This is not a conception without a human father, but it is a miracle. The Lord works in the lives of these two for their blessing and the blessing of the nation.
By grace the Lord sends the angel a second time, this time so that Manoah might see and hear the angels words. The Lord didn't need to do this, and could have told Manoah that he should believe the word of the Lord delivered through his wife. But, grace is grace, undeserved and free, and the Lord sends his angel a second time.
By grace the Lord will be at work in Samson's life and in the nation through Samson. By grace, not by hair style of diet choices. The Lord does not work because Samson has long hair or a strict diet. Our obedience does not earn anything from God, does not deserve anything from God. Obedience is good because it is obedience, not for any reward. Whatever the Lord does in us or through is is freely done, by grace.

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Judges 12:1-15

Judges 12:1-15
The end of the Jephthah narrative and three more minor judges.

The Ephraimites seem to be a right lot of complainers. They never make the battle and also manage to whinge about it.
Jepthah is weary of all this, and sometimes we get weary of the constant drip of complaining. But this is not good.
The people of the Lord are divided, over how you pronounce a word! And the difference is between an 's' sound and an 'sh' sound!! 42,000 are slaughtered over a fight that started because of a victory!
If I didn't already believe that sin was in built, or hard wired, into humans before reading this story, I would by the end of it.
When we daily pray, 'Lead us not into temptation' do we consciously include the temptation to un just complaining? The temptation to aggressive responses to opposition? The temptation to divide and weaken the body of Christ?
What a dreadful story. How patient is the Lord that he would remain faithful to his people and his promises. Far more faithful than we will ever be or than we could ever deserve.

The brief account of the three judges that conclude this chapter are further examples of the goodness of the Lord.

Saturday, 12 June 2010

Judges 11:18-40

Judges 11:18-40
Jephthah once again tries to talk the king out of this war, verses 18 to 28, but with no success.

Then disaster.
What is Jephthah doing? Why does he take such a foolish vow which the Lord has not asked of him and does not seek from him?
I think Jephthah is trying to impress both God and his men with such an extravagant vow. That there is a victory in the battle has nothing to do with Jephthah's vow. The Lord had already decided to give the victory, vows don't change God's mind.

A vow is good when taken in the Lord's service in areas that honour the Lord. A vow can strengthen a weakened spirit and encourage faithfulness in service.

This vow should have been broken. No vow justifies murder, and that's what this is. If a vow brings you into conflict with the Lord's word then confess the foolishness of your vow and seek the Lord's forgiveness as you break it.

Friday, 11 June 2010

Judges 11:1-17

Judges 11:1-3
Jephthah is despised and rejected because he is the son of a prostitute. Is this any worse than being the son of a gossip, or the daughter of a drunk? In fact, why do we so often judge others not by who or what they are in themselves, but by association with others?
Why do we have a league table of sins in which the ones we don't commit are always worse than the ones we do commit?

How many have been driven from our fellowships, our congregations, from the gospel, because of our unwelcoming and severe attitudes towards their sin?

Judges 11:4-17
When trouble arises Jephthah and his band of worthless rogues are sought out. How would we have answered the elders of Gilead? Would we not have told them to get lost! Jephthah, perhaps longing for inclusion, answers gently and undertakes to deliver the people.
His gentle words work well on the people of Gilead, but not so well on the king of the Ammonites. Jephthah tries to resolve this dispute by talking. What a wonderful idea, if only we would try resolving disputes by talking first we might aviod much conflict in our lives.
That Jephthah's talking fails does not mean it was a bad idea or that it should not be tried again. By all means talk, and talk again. Anything to avoid the destruction of warfare.

Thursday, 10 June 2010

Judges 10

Judges 10:1-18
Two minor Judges follow Abimelech, Tola and Jair. Apart from their fulfiling the required role in the cycle of sin, calling to God, deliverance and peace we know nothing more.
The repetition of this cycle really does drive it's significance home to us.

There is an extended account of disobedience among the people, idolatry, which serves to introduce the next Judge, Jephthah.

Judges 10:13 seems out of place, as the Lord tell the people 'I will save you no more.' Clearly, since the Lord does save the people under Jephthah and Samson there is something more going on here.
Judges 10:14, I think, gives us the answer. The Lord is challenging the people about which 'god' they will trust. Will they trust the Lord? Will they continue to trust Baal or Ashtaroth?
These others 'gods' cannot save them, there is no hope or deliverance in them. If they hear that the Lord will not save them they may be in this encouraged to look for some other deliverer, but they will find none. Only the Lord can save. If he does not save there is no salvation for anyone.

The Lord longs for all people to depend upon him alone and faithfully. Can he do any more for us than he has done in Jesus his Son, and still we are slow to believe, slow to trust, faithless where he is faithful.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Judges 9:22-57

Judges 9:22-57
Abimelech doesn't come out of this story well. He is a wicked and cruel man with no regard for human life, other than his own!

The people of Shechem change their minds, a bit late though, and turn on Abimelech. I can't imagine anything other than the forgiveness of the cross being able to wash away the sin of the people of Shechem in supporting Abimelech's murder of his brothers.

The conclusion in verses 56 and 57 show that God works out judgement upon both Abimelech and also the people of Shechem. The confusion in this passage about who is fighting whom and who is on which side is all to common in a civil war type situation where neighbour fights against neighbour. An increase in violence flows from a beginning of violence done by leaders and supported by people.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Judges 9:1-21

Judges 9:1-21

Abimelech sounds like a horrible man. He longs to be king and so persuades the towns people to allow him to murder all his brothers. O for one person to stand up and speak the truth in this situation, will no one say this is evil or wrong or wicked? But there is no one, and murder is done.
Abimelech is guilty, so are the silent ones who stood by. How often are we guilty in our silence?

One son escapes, Jotham. He returns with a parable which puts the matter pointedly before the people of Shechem. We are not told their reponse, and Jotham doesn't seem to wait around to find out either. We must presume they rejected Jotham and his parable, choosing to stick with the bad choice they made in Abimelech.
It is bad enough to make a bad decision once. But to stick by it! When it is pointed out to you and you won't change it! What madness is this? Not madness, wickedness, a wickedness we can all easily fall into as we harden our hearts against the Lord and his word.

The next few chapters of Judges are all bad. There are some deliverances from enemies, but surrounded by so much that is not good it is hard to find anything to celebrate. Mind you, they are not as bad as chapters 17-21!

Monday, 7 June 2010

Judges 8:22-35

Judges 8:22-35
This is a sad end to the story of Gideon. It begins well, with Gideon refusing the kingship over Israel because the Lord will rule over you. In a few years Samuel will tell the people this when they ask him to anoint a king over them, so they might be like all the other nations.

But, instead of leaving it there Gideon takes up a collection and then makes an ephod. An ephod is some sort of ceremonial garment worn by the High Priest and used by him in divination. When you asked the Lord for guidance, you asked a question that could be answered yes or no, and the Priest would use the ephod in divining the answer.
There was one ephod, and the Lord only wanted one in Israel. Why did Gideon make another? We are not told, we are only told the sad outcome of this failure.

It is failure, sin, because Gideon is perverting the worship of God. Gideon is taking what belongs only to the Priests for himself and his town. Worship should be offered to God only in ways that God is willing to receive.

The language used is very strong, 'Israel whored after it [the ephod]'. Idolatry is usually pictured in the bible using language of sexual sin, prostitution or adultry. The intimacy of our relationship with God is pictured in marriage and faithful sexual relations, this [our relationship with God] is perverted in idolatry in similar ways to the perversion of sexuality out with marriage.

Let Gideon be a warning then. It is possible to serve the Lord faithfully in great things and fall into sin leading others with you.

Saturday, 5 June 2010

Judges 8:4-21

Judges 8:4-21
There is a change in these verses. We do not here see Gideon seeking the Lord's will, waiting for the Lord to give victory. Yes, in some ways Gideon is merely finishing off the work started in chapter 7. However, is he doing this in the Lord's way and at the Lord's time?

Gideon's treatment of the citizens of Succoth and Penuel is markedly different from his treatment of the men of Ephraim, vv. 1-3. Is Gideon here modelling for us the difference between Proverbs 26:4 and 26:5?
Proverbs 26:4 Do not answer a fool according to his folly,
 or you will be like him yourself.
Proverbs 26:5 Answer a fool according to his folly,
 or he will be wise in his own eyes.

Or, and I think this is more likely, is Gideon getting this bit wrong?

Is Gideon dispensing justice when he kills Zebah and Zalmunna, or is this about revenge? Revenge is never a motive that will achieve a good work for the Lord.

It is too easy for us to slip from being in the place of obedience, in the place where our service is for the Lord and brings glory to us, until we find ourselves lost in disobedience and self-service. Only a conscious attention to our walking with the Lord and keeping close to him will guard against this falling from his way. If Gideon could fall here, so can we.

Friday, 4 June 2010

Judges 8:1-3

Judges 8:1-3

A great victory has been won. Why then are the men of Ephraim complaining? We know what they are complaining about, 'Why did you not let us join in with you in the battle?' But, why do they raise this complaint?
Are they feeling insecure? Do they feel left out or excluded? Has their pride been wounded?
I'm not sure that any of these are good reasons for raising this complaint and we might be tempted to send them away with a flea in their ear (as the saying goes!)

However, Gideon, with his wise words, turns away anger. Is Gideon over stating the case? He might be: they captured two princes and Gideon destroyed a whole army. However, as he humbles himself, as he magnifies their deeds so their anger is subdued.

How often have we known, or been involved in, a situation where one wrong word has resulted in years of bitterness and broken relationships?

We need to learn ways of peace, lifestyles of patience, kindness and gentleness before they are needed, so that these things become our instinct. Gideon didn't have time to go away and think up a good response in the light of all the possible outcomes. What is our instinct? If it is untrained by the Spirit it will be angry and defensive. Only as we daily train ourselves in ways of life that reflects God and his gentleness can we hope to answer situations as wisely and gently as Gideon.

Thursday, 3 June 2010

Judges 7:16-25

Judges 7:16-25
The day of victory is here! This is what the Lord promised Gideon and now it has arrived.

Gideon and his 300 men surround the Midianite camp, raise a shout, sound the trumpets and reveal the concealed torches from within broken jars. Down to v. 24 I don't think Gideon and his men do anything else. The Lord strikes the hearts of the Midianites with terror and they attack one another. This is the point at which the victory is won, and yet, the men of Ephraim are required to join in and finish off the enemy.

A two stage victory.
We cannot read this and not think of the once for all victory of the Lord Jesus upon the cross which is worked out everyday in the power of the Spirit in the lives of God's people. A victory won is to be lived in, entered into.

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Judges 7:8b-15

Judges 7:8b-15
Gideon seems like a man who needs a lot of encouragement and reassurance. We remember the visit of the angel and then the fleece. But here in v. 10 it is the Lord who takes the initiative and offers Gideon this assurance.

Gideon has cause for doubts, his army has been reduced to a mere 300 men. They are equipped with some provisions and trumpets. But the Lord is with him and the Lord will give the enemy into his hands.

In many situations in the UK Christians feel deflated, if not defeated. We look at ourselves and our churches and see small numbers. The Lord is the God of encouragement and comfort. He will give us assurances of his presence, his grace and his power.

The dream Gideon overhears being repeated and interpreted is about him and the victory the Lord will win through Gideon. A loaf of barley bread - when we first met Gideon he was hiding in a wine press threshing wheat (for bread perhaps!) and now this mighty man of valour will knock over the strong tents of Midian.

Gideon responds very positively to this encouragement from the Lord. Do we always respond so positively? Has the Lord been encouraging us? Has he called us into service? Has he promised his presence and power to be with us? Are we living faithless lives when we do not trust the assurance the Lord gives and take that risk which he is calling us into?

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Judges 7:4-8a

Judges 7:4-8a
With only 10,000 left Gideon hears the Lord's word, 'There are still too many.' I wonder if Gideon was dismayed at this word from the Lord? Do we sometimes without thinking pray, 'Whatever you say to my Lord, I want to hear and obey'. This might be the kind of word we will hear, but it's not easy.

There are a number of different ideas about what the men were doing either lapping with hands or mouths. I don't think it really matters. The point is that God is separating out the larger part to be sent home. I don't think God is trying to choose who is the best fighters, who will give the most attention or anything like that, this removes the point of the story.

Gideon's army has been reduced from 32,000 to 300, a reduction of 99.06% - that is the point of the story. With only 300 men Gideon is being sent against an army that has oppressed and impoverised Israel for years. All Gideon is left with is a few men, some provisions and a collection of trumpets.

When we look around at the church today, are we downcast at small numbers, at poor resources? And yes, we should pray for more, our God is a generous Father. But we do not despair! With our poor efforts God can build his church for his own glory.

Monday, 31 May 2010

Judges 7:1-3

Sorry I've been away for so long, but the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland intervened. So, here's back to Judges 7 .

Judges 7:1-3
Jerub-Baal = let Baal contend, picks up the theme from 6:31 that Baal cannot contend because Baal is nothing. Baal is not another name for God. Baal is an empty name, a breath of wind. In this multi-faith society it has become necessary to remind oursevles that not everything called god is God, and not everything worshipped is God.
The God of the bible makes himself known uniquely in Jesus Christ his son, and he alone is God.

Baal cannot contend. The Lord, the God who brought his people up out of Egypt will demonstrate this, not by giving Gideon a great army, but by so reducing Gideon's army that the only explanation of victory can be the hand of the Lord.
I'm sure they don't read this passage often at office training schools for the army. 'If you are frightened, put your hand up and go home!' By this simple means the Lord reduces Gideon's army by 22,000 men. A good size of army on its own, but these are sent home.

Do we trust the Lord to work with our poor resources? Do we depend upon numbers? A US army chaplain, just before the invasion of Europe in 1994 told his General, 'Success is assured we have arranged for 5,000 people to pray.' The General asked, 'What if the enemy have 5,001?'
Numbers do matter, when we count people each one is someone for whom Jesus died, and someone through faith called into the service of their Lord. But, we don't depend upon our strength, but look to the Lord who alone will give the victory.

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Judges 6:28-40

Judges 6:28-35
I really like this passage. The people gather, enraged at the destruction of the Baal idol, seeking to preserve the honour of this god. What an answer Gideon's father gives, 'Let Baal defend his own honour, if he is a god.' Would we be brave enough to give such an answer to defend the honour of our God? Is this how Christians respond in our nation to perceived insults towards the Lord?

Back to business, the Midianites and Amalekites come up into the land against the people once more. This is Gideon's time, he does nothing in secret, the trumpet is blown, messengers sent out and an army is gathered.

Judges 6:36-40
What is Gideon doing here? He was given a great sign of assurance from the Lord why is he seeking another?
There is the trivial response to this passage, 'Lord, I think you want me to buy a BMW car. So if you let me see so many BMW cars then I'll know it is a sign from you.' How absurd.
The Lord responds with great patience to Gideon, who really doesn't deserve this patience. It is no excuse for us to talk of laying out a fleece before the Lord.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Judges 6:11-27

Now we meet Gideon.

Judges 6:11-18
Gideon, the smallest son, in the least family, in an insignificant tribe is to be lifted out of his obscurity to be the saviour for the nation.
The angel of the Lord appears and gives a very strange address to Gideon. Gideon is hiding his handful of wheat from the Midianites he certainly is not behaving like a might man of valour.
Somehow he becomes persuaded that it is the Lord who is speaking to him. He asks the Lord to wait until he brings out a present for him.

Judges 6:19-24
This is the passage which offers Gideon all the assurance he should need. He offers his gift to the Lord, the gifts are received and the Lord vanishes from his sight. Even after he has vanished the word of the Lord still comes again to Gideon, 'Peace be to you. Do not fear'.

Is it an angel of the Lord who has appeared to Gideon, or is it the Lord himself? At one level, since the angels are all ministering spirits who perfectly reflect the word of the Lord given to them there is no practical difference. But, there are angels, a category of creation who are not the Lord.
Is Gideon merely being polite, 'my lord', or 'sir'. That certianly won't work for v. 15.
I don't think we need to go so far as to read this as a pre-incarnational visit of the Lord Jesus. The Lord is able to appear to his people in whatever form he chooses, according to his own purpose.

Judges 6:25-27
This section ends with Gideon fulfilling the word of the Lord and destroying the Baal statue and the Asherah in his own father's garden! Gideon is in himself an unlikely person to choose to lead the nation into a war, but his father has foreign idols in the garden, how much less likely can Gideon become?

Monday, 17 May 2010

Judges 61:1-10

Judges 6 is the beginning of the Gideon narrative. Running through to chapter 8 this is the first major narrative, extending beyond one chapter in the book of Judges. I suppose Deborah and Barak have two chapters, but chapter 5 reworks the base narrative of chapter 4 in poetic form.

Judges 6:1-6
Once again the people of Israel do evil. This time their enemies are the Midianites, aided by the Amalekites. In passing let me say, I've never met anyone who is interested in who the Midianites were or what colour of clothes the Amalekites wore. It is too easy, and a great temptation to major on minors, does our knowledge of the Midianites or Amalekites change the meaning of the word of God? Will knowing about this background help us to live lives as disciples of Jesus? I don't think so!

Judges 6:7-10
Before raising up Gideon to save the people the Lord sends a prophet to condemn the people, to make them know that their situation is a result of their sin.
The Lord speaks of his great faithfulness from the time he brought the people up out of Egypt. We see here one of the Lord's great objectives in the Exodus, to have the people set free from Egypt know him as their God.
But, you have not obeyed my voice. There is no need to bring a specific verse or passage and say this is the one you have disobeyed. The purpose of God in Exodus and in all his speaking to the people is that they would be his people and he would be their God. Whenever they fall into evil they are not the people of God, they are living as though God were not their God!

Since the desire of God, in Exodus and Gospel, is to be our God, is it really to hard for us to have him as our God? Is there any other God we would rather have?

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Judges 5:12-31

Judges 5:12-23

This passage is a massive expansion compared with the account in chapter 4. We have a long list of tribes who all came out to fight with Barak and Deborah. Some, however, are noted for not coming out, e.g. Reuben, v. 16.

v. 23 - most likely Meroz was an Israelite village, quite close to the site of the battle, from whom Deborah and Barak should have expected support, but received none.

All classes of people are included in those who fought and achieved this victory.

vv. 20-21 - this exalted language reminds us that the Lord fought with and for his people. The Canaanites who worshipped nature gods (sun, moon and stars) are reminded in this song that the Lord is the Creator of all and all creation serves his glorious purposes.

Judges 5:24-31
Here the imagination of the poet is given full reign. The murder of Sisera is described with great rhythm and power, but with a sparseness of detail.
Again vv. 28-30, imagine a scene that an Israelite poet could never have seen. The despair which Sisera has brought to many homes is now brought to his.

v. 31 - the victory is the Lord's and the glory is his.

Saturday, 15 May 2010

Judges 5:1-11

It is very hard to divide this poem into sections, but I'll try to follow obvious paragraph, or strophe divisions.

Judges 5:1-3
This is the introduction to the poem.
v. 2 - the leaders are praised for leading and the people for following. Remember Barak's reluctance to go into battle unless Deborah would go with him. Would he sing this verse with some hesitancy or shame?
v. 3 - the kings are told to listen carefully to this song, which will remind them that the victory is the Lord's and not their's.

Judges 5:4-11
vv. 4-5 - Seir and Edom are trans-Jordan, from which the Lord moved when he led the people into Canaan.
vv. 6-9 - brings us close to the present event, the troubles known by the people are recorded and then Deborah arises and leads the people. v. 8 tells us of the sin of the people and the trouble it brought into the land.

Judges 5:10-11
Those who ride (the rich) and those who walk (the poor) are to bear witness to the deliverance God achieves for his people.

Notice how little of these verses is reflected in chapter 4.

Judges 5

Judges 5 is a poem. This is the one key fact that must be noted if this chapter is to be properly understood. Some elements of poetry are important:

Imagination - the event which the poet reflects upon happened, but in his presentation he uses his imagination to shape his words.
Focus - poetry focuses on aspects of a story, some details are magnified, some are omitted.
Poetry is not science of any kind, i.e. it is not the social science of history.
Purpose - while there are forms of poetry the purpose of which is to record and maintain historical accounts, e.g. a saga, other forms of poetry have the purpose of celebration or lamentation, the reader or hearer of the poem is intended to respond emotionally to the text.

In Hebrew poetry rhyme is too easy and is not an element, features such as repetition (parallelism), rhythm, metre feature prominently and give a heightened style to a poem in contrast to a prose account.

Friday, 14 May 2010

Judges 4:11-24

Continuing on Judges 4

Judges 4:11-16
The unexpected v. 11 introduces Heber, whose wife will soon feature prominently in this narrative.
Sisera hears that Barak has raised a force against him and he calls out his great war machine, with all the latest technology of that time.
Deborah encourages Barak with the word that the Lord has already given Sisera over to defeat. And so Barak sweeps down from Mt Tabor and wins a great victory, even though Sisera escapes from him.

Judges 4:17-22
There is no explanation given as to why Jael would kill Sisera and break the bond between Jabin and Heber. This perhaps reminds us of Rahab, the Jericho prostitute who for fear of the Lord betrayed her town to save Joshua's two spies.
Notice how plainly the account of the murder of Sisera is recorded, an stark absence of unnecessary detail. Too often, I think, we focus or make much of details or events that are small to the Lord. We need to learn to treasure what he treasurers.

Judges 4:23-24
This is an expected conclusion to this account, except there is no mention of the death of Deborah or Barak. While these events are recorded in a formulaic way, the small differences between them allow us to see a human hand at work composing the material, guided by the Spirit, mentioning that which is important in each episode.

Thursday, 13 May 2010

Judges 4:1-10

Judges 4 is one unit of text which is quite difficult to divide into smaller units of text that make sense on their own. What I will do is follow paragraph divisions as in the ESV.
Judges 5 recounts the same events, but in the form of poetry. That these two passages are set side by side will help us to see the differences between prose and poetic forms of writing as found in the OT.

Judges 4:1-3
This is by now a familiar comment on the evil deeds of the people of Israel. Do not grow weary of these passages. It is important for us, when we fall into sin, that the Lord will speak to us of this and call us to repentance and faith. This is what he is doing for Israel in these repeated stories.

Jduges 4:4-10
Deborah is described as a prophetess and a judge in Israel. Do not quickly pass over the obvious - Deborah is a woman. In a culture where women were property how wonderful it is that the Lord uses women to bring his word to his people and to serve as leaders for his people.
Deborah brings the Lord's word to Barak 'go up against the enemy', but Barak hesitates. I'll go if you'll go with me. Is Barak thinking that when faced with going down to the battle Deborah will change her mind, change the word she has received from the Lord? If so he is mistaken, Deborah immediately agrees.
When in v. 9 Deborah tells Barak that the glory of this victory will go to a woman, at this point we assume she is talking about herself. But no, as we will see shortly another woman wins the glory.

And so the scene is set for the Lord to gain a victory over his enemies and set his people free once again.

Friday, 7 May 2010

Judges 3:12-31

Judges 3:12-30
12-14 - we notice here that the enemies of the people of the Lord are quick to join together against the Lord and his people. How sad to reflect upon the on going and obvious disunity among those who follow Jesus.

15-19 - Ehud is an unexpected deliverer, a left handed man. Such a sinister man has over many centuries been treated with undeserved hatred and suspicion. But not with the Lord, he chooses and uses Ehud to achieve his purposes for his people.
Ehud is not the only deceitful person used by the Lord, remember Jacob?

20-23 - Ehud makes use of his left handedness to achieve the killing/murder of the king.

24-25 - Ehud makes his escape and the king is not disturbed for some time, allowing Ehud not only to get away but to raise the nation.

26-30 - Ehud leads the people to a great vicotry of their enemies. The conclusion to this account follows the pattern we would expect from the book, a victory for the people led by a leader raised up by the Lord results in a time of peace.

31 - Shamgar is one of those Judges only mentioned in this one verse in the book, yet his service to the Lord is not forgotten.

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Judges 3:7-11

Judges 3:7-11

Othniel is one of the so called minor Judges. If we remember that 'minor' only refers to the amont of space given to their story in the text that's ok, but it's too easy to slip into imagining that these Judges are less important than the so called major Judges. That is a great error, it doesn't matter whether your part in the story is big or small, if you serve the Lord with faithfulness your part is as important as every other part.

The story of Othniel follows the expected pattern: sin, defeat, calling for mercy, the Lord raises a Judge who saves the people, and the Judge dies.

Repetition is very important in Scripture. The writting materials were expenses and space was valuable. You couldn't write on and on like a free blog post. So, when things are repeated in Scripture it is very important that we take close notice of what is being repeated.

This pattern of the book of Judges is repeated many times in this book, and is part of the big story of the bible. Our Christian living is marred by continual falling into sin, but saved by God's faithful mercy shown to us in the cross of the Lord Jesus.


I found a great new piece of code reftagger - get it here.

If you use blogs or other sites and include references to Scripture this is a great way of having the text you refer to pop up whenever you move the cursor over the link.

Thanks to Charlie Cameron on whose blog I first saw this used. Read Charlie's blog at St Andrew's Bellsmyre

Saturday, 1 May 2010

Judges 3:1-6

Judges 3:1-6

OK, which is it to be? Did the Lord leave these nations to test Israel, v. 1? Or 1:27-36, were the nations too strong, or did Israel just give up on driving them out?

Of course, the answer is both!

In this passage we are suddenly dropped right into the midst of the mystery of God's providence. It is easy for us to explain the presence of the foreign nations in the midst of Israel in terms of human failure and disobedience, and that is true, Israel did fail and was disobedient.
But that is not the whole story.
God has purposes to achieve which require him to maintain the presence of foreign nations in Israel. The testing spoken of is that trial of faith, as though by fire. Will the people remain faithful to the Lord? God also has a purpose of teaching the people war.
We know these things are God's purpose because the Scripture reveals it to us.
But, can we understand it? No, I don't think we can.

There is much of God we can't and won't understand. We want to ask why did God chose to test and train his people this way? But we will never be told. Without this information the passage seems arbitrary, or unfair. Our response to the mystery of providence must be worship, submission, dependence. We will never understand God's ways, it is wicked presumption to pry into them. It is best to bow before such passages and recognise the sovereign grace of God revealed in them.

Friday, 30 April 2010

Judges 2:16-23

Judges 2:16-23

The Lord is not only gracious in his keeping a remnant of the nation, holding them through the defeat by enemies. His grace is shown in the provision of Judges, leaders for the people.

Here we see how important a leader, called by God to exercise that leadership is.

The people fell into sin, the Lord raised up a Judge. The people did not listen to the Judge but continued in vile sin. The Judged acted in the power of God to save the people. The people responded to this salvation achieved through the Judge, but, as soon as he died the fall into sin once again.

The frustration of leadership is seen here, the leader is ignored and rejected. It has been said that a leader with no one following is just a guy taking a walk. However, a leader needs only have God with them, or better the one to be used as a leader needs only to keep close to and in step with God and their service will bear fruit.

The Church needs Godly leaders - make this a key prayer request.
Godly leaders need encouragement, need the fellowship of God's Spirit - make this a prayer request.

Thursday, 29 April 2010

Judges 2:11-15

Judges 2:11-15
This is a summary passage of the fall of Israel into idolatry which is sin. The presence of other nations beside the Israelites made it easy for them to begin Baal worship. Baal and Ashtaroth were fertility gods believed to bring strength to cattle and to multiply crops. This, I think, is the most common form of idol worship, still common today. Not that we have statues of bulls in our gardens or female idols by our beds, although too many people buy such items as fashion accessories for furnishing their homes!
No, we worship the gods of increase, all is aimed at multiplying our possessions, our money, whatever. We do not live lives content with the provision of the Lord but strive after an excess - it's called idolatry.

If it is suggested that the lesson from this text is that Christians, fearing the dangers of syncretistic idolatry, should withdraw from contact with non Christians, then the suggestion is clearly wrong. Living after the resurrection, the ascension and Pentecost, Christians are strengthened by God's Spirit powerfully working within them in a way that the Israelites were not.
What we should learn is that left to our own strength we would fare no better than ancient Israel. Even with the presence of the Spirit we can still through over familiarity with false patterns of worship find ourselves drawn away into the sin of idolatry, and that all too easily. While living in the world we must take care not to be infected by the godlessness of the world.

The Lord punishes this sin by invasion and defeat. The Lord has spoken of this punishment before, Deut 28:25 and Josh 23:13, when he brings this invasion and defeat the Lord is being faithful to his word.

There are consequences which follow from human sin. It is not unjust that these people bear the penalty for their sin, it is perfectly just. It is amazingly gracious that any survive, that the Lord perseveres with a remnant, who are not less sinful than those who died, but are recipients of grace.

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Judges 2

The death of Joshua is once again reported, in this section to illustrate how the people fell into sin following the death of their leader.

We know well that a Godly leader has a great influence on the life of a nation. Together with other leaders the memory of God's gracious acts is kept alive through a Godly leader.
But, when this leader and their generation are gone, it is all too easy for the next generation to forget, or abandon the ways of the Lord.

I think the challenge here to leaders is this: how do we not only teach the ways of the Lord, but enable others to experience the grace and power of the Lord? If my relationship with the Lord is mediated through a leader it always remains second hand, one step removed. We need to lead others into strong, enlivening, personal relationships with the Lord.
For those not leaders in the church: do we desire our own relationship with the Lord? Are we content to allow the 'professionals' to do all the relating to God on our behalf? Beware, this way will lead to our sinful abandoning of the Lord and his ways.

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Judges 2

The angel condemns the people of the Lord of disobedience. We should note that in what the angel says he reminds the people of the Lord's gracious work for them:
> freedom from slavery in Egypt;
> being brought into the land;
> being given a covenant to which the Lord is faithful.

In the light of this the people were commanded to break down the altars to other gods, who are not god, used for worship by the people of the land. This they have failed to do. In this they are disobedient to the Lord to their own harm. These altars which they have not destroyed will become the snares which entrap God's people in false worship.

The correct response of the people is weeping and mourning as they sacrifice to the Lord. Confession of sin is a time for mourning our falling into sin, our tears expressing our desire that we should be kept from sin in the future.

Monday, 26 April 2010

Judges 1

Sorry for the long delay in continuing with chapter 1.

1:4-36 can be taken in one unit. We note within this long section that 1:4-18 and 22-26 are more positive, whereas 19-21 and 27-36 reflect a failure within Israel, I'm going to comment on these shorter units.

In these verses the tribe of Judah, in obedience to the Lord's command, go up against the inhabitants of the land. They gain the victory over the people and disposes them of lands and cities.
Caleb, as leader of the tribe, gives gifts to those who act valiantly in the battle(s).
The violence in this section, perhaps especially against Adonibezek may offend, but we should remember this account would not be unusual as a record of warfare of this time, and may indeed by thought of as restrained. Adonibezek receives what he has inflicted upon others in the past.

Here we read of a tribe, Benjamin, failing to drive out the inhabitants of the land. The living together of those who do not serve the Lord with those trying to serve the Lord always results in sin and the Lord being abandoned.
The tempting response is to remove ourselves from contact with non Christians, but this is not right. Newly empowered with God's Spirit and gifts of the resurrection Christians are better able to live in non Christian communities and maintain a faithful discipleship.

Another section recording the Lord going with his people and giving them the victory over their enemies.

While we read of Joseph driving out the inhabitants all the other tribes named here fail to drive out all the natives from their areas of the land.

This is a foreshadow of trouble to come. These nations who do not know the Lord will live together with Israel and lead Israel to worship other gods who are not gods and to abandon the Lord.
Of concern is also that driving out all these nations was the Lord’s purpose, but we see Israel settling for something less than God’s purpose. It is always sinful to settle for less than God desires for us.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Judges 1

ok, can't put it off any more, here goes chapter 1 ...

Joshua is dead. We read again of his death in chapter 2. This is the setting for the opening of Judges, just as the death of Moses served as the setting for the opening of Joshua.
The death of a great leader is always a traumatic event for a nation and a people. Will the leader be forgotten? Will all the achievements of that leader be swept away under a new broom?

The people make a good beginning, the ask the Lord what they should do next. They know, because Joshua told them often enough, that the purpose of the Lord is for them to conquer the land and drive out all the inhabitants, the general plan is clear. But, specifically what are they to do first, or who is to go up first? Asking the Lord is always a good place to start and obeying his reply is even better.

Judah makes a good beginning. Once they know the Lord is sending them first, they go to a brother tribe, Simeon, and ask for help. We are probably to imagine that Judah could have done this by themselves, as so often we can carry out areas of Christian service by ourselves. However, it is better to share service with others and the mutuality of Judah's request is heartening and for us very often a challenge.

A good beginning, I'll get on to the 'success' of this beginning in another post.

Three books on Judges

I'm getting closer to the text, it is coming. Here are some recommended books on Judges.

1. David Jackman 'Mastering The Old Testament: Vol 7: Judges and Ruth', pub 1991.
David Jackman, is in my opinion, one of the finest preacher of the last 20 years. His work is consistent good, of a very high standard and covers the text well. This book is aimed at preachers but would be of value to anyone seriously reading Judges.

2. Michael Wilcock 'The Message of Judges', pub 1992 (in the IVP The Bible Speaks Today series)
At only 175 pages this isn't a long book and probably isn't the most exciting book on Judges, if it's exciting you want try Wilcock on Revelation in the same series! It is a good treatement of the text, apart from the final five chapters which are given only 25 pages (and the text is printed in these few pages).

3. Dale Ralph Davis 'Judges: Such a great salvation', pub 2000 (in the Christian Focus ed.)
Dale Ralph Davis on the former prophets is a must have, these are truly great books on passages of Scripture which many Christians struggle with. Judges is covered in 21 chapters and although not every stone is overturned this is a very good book and probably my top recommendation from these three.

I generally don't recommend series' as a whole, most series' are good in parts. I don't have any critical texts on Judges, and nothing on the Hebrew text so I don't know what's good in these areas.

If you have, or know of any good books on Judges why not leave a comment with a recommendation.

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Judges - An Overview

Still on general introduction to Judges.

An overview of the book can be given as follows:

1:1-3:6 - A general introduction to the book and the period, most of the key themes of the book are
                introduced in these verses.
3:7-31 - the first three Judges
4:1-5:31 - Deborah and Barak (a very interesting section as it allows us to compare a Hebrew prose
                 account of an event with a poetic retelling of the same event.)
6:1-8:35 - Gideon
9:1-12:15 - various Judges, two chapters on Jephthah
13:1-16:31 - Samson
17:1-18:31 - Micah's idols
19:1-21:24 - A levite and his concubine
21:25 - programatic summary of the book

Such an overview allows us to identify the major narrative sections, Gideon, Samson, Deborah and Barak, Jephthah. Because we have not limited the key themes of Judges to the lives and events of the Judges chapters 17 to 21 do not appear as some kind of appendage roughly added to this text, but are a key part of the shape of Judges and its theological importance. These chapters are of course some of the most 'offensive' in the OT and it is good to tie them closely into the structure of the book and therefore the main story line of the whole OT.

Monday, 12 April 2010

Judges - key themes

Before diving into the text, which is what we really want to do, let me set out what I think are a few of the key themes in this book of Judges.

1. The land.
Forming part of the promise to Abraham from Gen 12 on the land, this particular land, features prominently, not only in Judges, but in Joshua, Ruth and the latter Prophets.

2. Repeated sin.
This book is designed to highlight the cyclical nature of human sin. Over and over the people fall into rebellion against the God who has brought them up out of Egypt.

3. Repeated faithfulness.
Not from the people, but from God. Our Father's response to human sin is divine mercy and grace - yes, even if that grace is shown through the hard times of judgement and punishment upon sin.

4. Repeated failure.
The title of the book comes from the Judges who are the main characters. They are raised up by repeated fail to change the people, they cannot arrest the cycle of sin.

5. Where is the king?
21:25 is probably the programatic verse in this book. Where the Judges fail we are offered the hope that a king might succeed. This launches us into the narratives of Samuel and Kings.

Friday, 2 April 2010

Coming Next

Thanks to everyone who has been following the posts on Galatians. I hope they have been helpful.

Next week I'm on holiday so beginning on Monday 12 April (fanfare now ...) Judges!

A recent Bible Society survey of bible reading people reveals a great discomfort with the OT in general and the narrative portions in particular. Judges has a few of the so-called 'texts of terror', so pray that as I post and you read over the coming weeks that God will open our eyes to his word in this book.

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Gal 6

Verses 11 to 18

If Paul has dictated this letter to a scribe, v. 11 becomes an authenticating mark in his own hand. Which can only work if someone receiving the letter would recognise Paul's large letters.

Paul ends this letter with the contrast between making a show in the flesh and holding fast to the cross of Christ. Circumcision has this value, you can measure it. You can boast of it. You can do neither with the cross of Christ.
It is claimed that by circumcision the law is kept, however, the whole law is not kept or even attempted.

A Christian's boast is in the cross of Christ - note, not the Christ upon the cross, but the cross of Christ. In union with Christ we die, we die to the world and its poor, selfish desires. Under the cross we are like those who are dead to the world.
Paul is not arguing that uncircumcision is better than circumcision. The new creation which follows the cross is everything.

There will be peace and mercy upon all who are in union with Christ and who cling fast to the cross.

Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Gal 6

Verses 6 to 10

These verses continue the theme of how someone who is spiritual is to live in step with the Spirit.

'All good things' in v. 6 is probably a way of refering to all the many blessings we have received from God our Father. It is a great encouragement to teachers of God's word when those who are taught share something of God's blessing: yes, materially, teachers in the church are to be supported, but also spiritually. When was the last time you encouraged someone who teaches you by sharing with them something you have learned, some insight into God's grace you have received?

v. 7, I think, is saying something like this ... it is possible to live selfishly and think that God will bless your selfishness. But, God will not be abused like this, he can see right through you. Sowing to the flesh, v. 8, is selfishness, such a way of life brings only destruction. On the other hand, sowing to the Spirit is living generously, courageously for others. Eternal life is that life in God's presence those in step with the Spirit presently enjoy, more of this life is what reap when we live in step with God's Spirit - so, no surprise there!

vv. 9-10 There is a phrase I often hear, 'I've worked for the church (Guild/Sunday school/missions/choir) for ** many years, it's time for the younger ones to take their turn.' Not always, but sometimes what is actually being said is, 'I'm tired of all this good work and I want to have more time for my things.' We can grow weary of doing good.
Or how about, 'We've been at the evangelism/service/praying/whatever for ages now and nothing is happening, let's do something else.' I wonder how many Christians have given up on some work for the gospel before it was God's time to bless their labours?
Doing good, keeping in step with the Spirit, being spiritual is not something we do for a season and then move on to the next thing (apart from the return of the Lord Jesus there is no next thing). I know how hard it is, but we are to keep on, take every opportunity to do good.

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Gal 6

We can divide this final chapter of Galatians as follows:

Verses 1 to 5
The phrase 'you who are spiritual' connects this section with chapter 5. Those who are spiritual are those who walk by the Spirit, who produce the fruit of the Spirit. Paul is not moving onto another theme or topic, but another part of the same thing.
In passing this is the same word which we find in 1 Cor 12:1, 14:1 where it is usually rendered 'spiritual gifts'. I think the whole section in 1 Cor, chapters 12 to 14 is better understood as being not about spiritual gifts, but about being spiritual. What is the Spirit filled life like? Gal 6 here adds to this picture Paul offers us.

Those who are spiritual bear other's burdens, work for reconciliation. Forgiveness is difficult because we don't want to carry the load which will remove temptation from others, we don't want to engage in the difficult work of reconciliation. What does it mean to say, 'I forgive you, but I don't want anything to do with you'?
Spiritual people recognise their own need for forgiveness, their own need for help with their burdens and learn, in step with the Spirit, what it means to lovingly care for others.

Monday, 29 March 2010

Gal 5

Verses 16 to 26

I'm sure that many of us have heard sermons which seem to focus upon vv. 17-21. Like conversion testimonies which so glamourise our life before Christ that the rest of us are left thinking, 'Well I had a pretty dull life and didn't sin as much as I could.'
We need to know what the life of the sinful nature is - but only so we can avoid it. Not so we can endless talk about it.

I read this passage in Peterson's The Message a few weeks ago and I think the way he presents the fruit of the Spirit is really good and worth setting out side by side with the ESV:
ESV                     Peterson The Message
Love                    Affection for others
Joy                       Exuberance about life
Peace                   Serenity
Patience               We develop a willingness to stick with things
Kindness              A sense of campassion in the heart
Goodness             A conviction that a basic holiness permeates things
Faithfulness         Involved in loyal commitments
Gentleness           Not needing to force our way in life
Self-control         Able to marshal and direct our energies wisely

Some are better than others, but on the whole Peterson will help us look at this familiar passage in a new light, and that has to be good.

There is a phrase I like about practising the presence of God. I wonder if we need to have an additional phrase practising living in step with the Spirit? Sometimes the message that the Spirit will grow his fruit in us can lead to a passive waiting for the Spirit to grow patience in me. But, we are already filled by and with the Spirit can we not begin to practise living as tree producing this beautiful fruit?

Gal 5

Verses 13 to 15
Freedom is a great blessing in Christian living which we receive in union with Christ. However, the word 'freedom' can be a trap to many. We hear freedom and we think, 'Great, I can do whatever I like.'

Our freedom in Christ is in Christ. We have been set free from sin, death and the devil so that we can now serve Christ, serve others, live as a blessing to the nations. Our freedom in Christ is not for ourselves, but for others. We need to learn this new perspective upon freedom.

Saturday, 27 March 2010


The biblefresh web site is now live. There is a link on my side bar, please do visit the biblefresh site.

There are lot's of good resources to help us read the bible, and to help us encourage others to read the bible. Visit the site, read the bible - it could change your world!

The biblefresh Scotland launch is on Monday 24 May in Edinburgh, venue and time to follow, also details of events elsewhere, probably Glasgow and Dundee.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Gal 5

Verses 7 to 12

The metaphor here is of running and being hindered from running - very similar to standing firm or falling away, holding fast and letting go; having received the gospel and abandoning the gospel.

Obeying the truth is a key phrase in Galatians, to obey the truth is to remain in the gospel. Obedience is not a contrast to faith, but a consequence of faith and salvation. Yes, a letter in the NT which is traditionally held up as one of the great texts for justification by faith alone requires from those so justified, obedience.

There is a persuasion, a temptation to not obey the truth. God who calls us as his disciples will not persuade or tempt us in this way. The old saying is true, just a little of such persuasion will infect the whole lump. Just a few who encourage us to disobey can very easily cause great trouble for the church.

Paul has great confidence, not I think in the church, or Christians, at Galatia, but in the truth of the gospel. He believes that when he preaches, or writes, of the gospel that gospel carries with it all the power and clarity needed to persuade others of its truthfulness. Paul therefore can hope in the gospel that those taking a different position from his will have their minds changed by the gospel. The judgment or punishment reserved for those not submitting to the gospel is the judgment of God which will fall upon all who reject his gospel.

The cross is offensive: it challenges our self-sufficiency, declares our sinfulness, rebukes our rejection of God - we are offended when we are challenged and condemned as rebel sinners before our God. To preach the cross faithfully is to put one's self in a place of being rejected and causing offence. What then shall we do, give up on preaching the cross? May it never be. Only the cross makes all people right with God. Let it offend us, better that we are offended and led to the cross than not offended, not brought to the cross and so not saved by Christ.

v. 12 very well expresses the exasperation of Paul towards those who teach human actions in place of the cross.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Gal 5

Verses 2 to 6
It might appear as though Paul were saying that Christ and the law are mutually exclusive; you can have either the law or Christ but not both. However, that's not exactly right.

Accepting circumcision is about our practice, our lifestyle and the way we think or hope we can approach God. To accept circumcision is to depend upon the act of circumcision for our acceptance with God. When we do this, clearly, Christ becomes meaningless to us, since the gospel declares to us that in Christ alone can we find acceptance with God.
This is made clear in v. 4 of this paragraph where Paul writes about desiring to be justified (made right with God) by the law. If that is our desire we have 'fallen away from grace' - nb. there is the falling away theme once again!!

Christ and the law are not mutually exclusive, that is the wrong way to think about how Christ relates to the law. Christ fulfills, achieves, completes, satisfies the law. In Christ the law is ended. The law points to Christ and now Christ has done the law is fulfilled in Christ.

We are to approach God in Christ, depending upon his finished work, with faith enlivened by the Spirit clinging to the hope of righteousness - which is Christ. It really is all about Jesus!

v. 6 needs careful handling. In response to vv. 2-5 we cannot simply ignore circumcision, or any other religious practice we may think of. Non circumcision is no more of a claim before God than circumcision. United to Christ Jesus by the gift of faith which is made alive in us by the Spirit we find that our lives are changed and our deeds, our actions become those of love. Faith alone does not mean we sit at home, comfortable in our intellectual comprehension of 'the faith'. By no means! Grace alone describes our salvation by God in Christ, faith alone describes our union with Christ and our life now lived in union with our Saviour.
Faith is only faith when it results in acts of love displayed in our lives.

Monday, 22 March 2010

Gal 5

We can divide Gal 5 into the following sections:

Verse 1 has been coming for a while now, all through chapter 4 we could sense it coming over the horizon.

This surely is the characteristic call to the Galatians - stand firm! Do not submit again!

The blessing of the gospel, the outcome of being justified by faith is freedom in Christ: freedom to worship God, freedom to follow Jesus, freedom to live by the Spirit.
We have been set free for (in order that we might enjoy) freedom!

Do we live in this freedom? Are we remaining there (standing firm)? Or have we exchanged our freedom in Christ for a new slavery?

Sunday, 21 March 2010

Gal 4:21-31

Paul brings his critique of seeking to live under the law to a head with this contrasting use of the Hagar Sarah narrative.

Of interest is v. 24 where Paul writes 'this may be interpreted allegorically'. Allegory is a very particular form of textual interpretation which should be used very carefully, and I think sparingly, in relation to the bible. Allegory is different from typology and the two must be carefully distinguished. There are a few places, here and the 'parable' in Matt 21:33-46 being two obvious ones. I write 'parable' since being an allegory there is a legitimate question about this text fitting into the genre of parable.

Back to Gal 4, Paul is contrasting the liberty enjoyed by the child of the promise in contrast to the natural born child who is not free. This use of the Hagar Sarah narrative does not diminish the historical nature of this narrative, these things did happen. However, guided by the Spirit Paul is able to use them in this way to add weight to all he has written about our relationship to the law and the great liberty offered in the gospel.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Gal 4:12-20

In a very personal passage Paul expresses his deep concern for the Galatians as they waver over the truth of the gospel and are tempted to return to former ways.
Characteristically, Paul offers himself as an example for other disciples to follow. At times we are tempted to write this off by reminding ourselves that Paul is an Apostle and we're not. Such cowardice will not do, too many young believers are desperately looking for role models from older disciples, worked examples of how to live as those who depend upon Jesus.
Do we not give thanks to God, and rightly so, for those who showed us gospel living in their lives? Should we not seek to be such people who will show others?

Paul has preached and shown the gospel to the Galatians. They have received this gospel as though brought to them by 'an angel of God' (v. 14). We can well understand why Paul is perplexed, why would anyone abandon such a gospel?

v. 19 has a very helpful note from Paul about what is happening in our lives as we receive and continue in the gospel, 'Christ is formed in you!' Is this how we think about gospel living? Is our first priority our own salvation or forgiveness? What place does the formation of Christ in us have in our thinking? As people in whom Christ is formed we surely become that blessing to the nations promised by the Father to Abraham, see 3:14 again. What a goal for our discipleship!

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Gal 4:8-11

Paul writes more than once about how entering a Christian life is turning from false gods to the one true God - see 1 Thess 1:9-10.
In this short paragraph Paul writes of the on going temptation faced by Christians to make the return trip. It might be that this is the key theme of Galatians - 1:6, 10; 2:5, 13, 14, 18; 3:3, 4; 5:1, 2, 4, 7, 8. Having become Christian by the work of God through his Spirit we are often tempted to regress to a form of self-help religion which denies the gospel.
It is possible that Paul's writing on justification and righteousness in chapter 3 is done in service of calling Christian back from this error of abandoning the gospel.
4:9 - Paul is asking how can we do this.

We are attracted by ceremonies, by rituals, by being part of the 'in crowd' - all of which is offered us in false religion. If the Christians in Galatia, or in Stranraer or wherever do this, then Paul may well despair that his labours have been in vain.

So any Christian reading this - time for self reflection and examination: where do you find, in your religious life, that you are depending upon days, seasons, rituals, ceremonies - which you know have become a false god to you? What is tempting you in this direction? How can we encourage one another to remain in the gospel now that we have come to know God?

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Gal 4:1-7

Sorry for the break over the past two weeks, everything else took over, but I'm back to Gal 4.

We can divide up the chapter:

This opening paragraph then follows immediately from the end of chapter 3.

In Paul's culture a son who would inherit had a lowly status before he came into his inheritance, just like being a slave. The common practice was to appoint guardians, or managers of the estate, until the son came into his inheritance.
Paul draws the comparison between the condition of a son and 'we', all those who have now become disciples of Jesus. We have all been in the condition of slaves, yes, slaves to the world, to our flesh, to our desires.
Paul has come to see that the time of the coming of the Lord Jesus; his death, resurrection and ascension is the time set by God the Father for his children to enter into their inheritance.
Redeemed, v. 5, is a commercial term - purchased for God. Adoption as sons continues the family and inheritance metaphor, both of these terms describing in part what it means for us to enter into the liberty of the children of God.
One of the blessings of our becoming children of God is the gift and receipt of the Spirit of God within us. God gives his Spirit to all his children - the gift of the Spirit is not a higher blessing but in inseperable from our life as disciples of the Lord Jesus. It is only by the working of God's Spirit within us that anyone can call out to God, as Jesus the Son taught us, 'Father'.

I think this paragraph is one of the very few where 'son' cannot always be rendered as gender neutral. In Paul's culture only the son would inherit, but in the gospel all become 'sons' in the sense that all inherit the blessings of God without in any sense all becoming male.

Friday, 26 February 2010

Gal 3:23-29

I don't like to say the bible is difficult, with the help of the Holy Spirit God's children are well equipped to understand our Father's word. However, Gal 3 is quite a dense passage. With that thought we come to the final section.

Before and after - before faith came and after faith came. In v. 23 by 'faith' Paul means something like 'Christ upon whom we can depend to fulfil the law and remove its curse'. Only after the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus was it possible for us to have faith in Christ and so be set free from the law. 'Faith' describes the possibility of life with Christ apart from the law.

To lead us to Christ - now in v. 24 Paul teaches a second use of the law. The law fulfils the function of a particular household slave, the one who took the family children to school. He wasn't the teacher, just the supervisor of the journey to school. So the law, once we realise that we can't obey it and that it won't make us right with God, leads us to Christ as the only one who has obeyed it and the only one who can make us right with God. Once we have been led to Christ the work of the slave (the law) is over, we are set free from the slave to learn from our new master Christ.

All sons of God - I passionately believe that v. 26 is not only for males, it is for females also. However, it is one of the few verses where it is important to retain the male term 'son'. Paul is moving to the climax of this chapter, namely, that in Christ we all become co-heirs. In the ancient world only the male child could inherit, so Paul is saying that in Christ we all become those who will inherit from our Father. (We do not all become male, but we do all enter into the rights of inheritance).
All - is such an important word. The many and various ways we humans have of dividing ourselves from one another become meaningless in Christ. As many as were baptised, as many as are clothed anew in Christ, as many as now belong by faith to Christ, so many are All. All these are one new people, one new humanity in Christ.
This remarkable unity in Christ for all people is the good news of the gospel. You are all one in Christ Jesus.

Heirs according to promise - promise has been a key theme of this chapter. We become co-heirs not by law, not by right, not by obedience, but by faith in Christ.

Since unity in Christ is the good news, what should we do to promote unity with other Christians?
How should Christian view the law and make use of the law in the light of what Paul teaches us here?