Praying from the Psalms

June 20, 2009

More thoughts on Imprecatory Prayers

Imprecatory means to call down or pray for judgment to be brought on someone or something.
This is certainly a serious thing and we might remember that Jesus taught us to pray for those who despitefully use and persecute us.  That is ‘going the second mile’ for those who would harm us.  Notice that this is the attitude towards ‘my’ enemy, towards the one who is persecuting ‘me.’  But what of the one who is persecuting someone else, perhaps, as happened in Thailand one time. A military strong arm, bent on overthrowing his country, was roaming the streets of Bangkok, killing students and other citizens who stood in his way.  Should we be soft on the sin and violence (I think of terrible suffering of Christians in Sudan), ignoring terrible tragedy poured out on others (whole villages destroyed in Indonesia simply because the villagers were Christian)? How easy for me from my easy chair to ask for forgiveness!  What about asking for judgment from the Lord?  Do we have a moral right and responsibility to pray for this? 

• I wanted to pray for the students’ safety, for blessing in a difficult situation  Yes, but
• How was I supposed to model praying ‘for’ that general? 
• ‘What’ was I supposed to pray for him?  Pray for the salvation and blessing on one who was killing students, some of whom were my students?
• Does the Bible offer any help in such a situation?

Yes it does and in the OT we read in such Psalms as 35:22-26; 69:22-28; 109:6-20; and 137:7-9, and many that have a verse or two such as Ps. 3:7; 139:19-20.  Even the NT has some verses that hint in this direction: Phil. 3:2, 18-19; 1 Tim. 1:20; 2 Tim. 4:14.

The following are some lessons I have learned as I tried to make the prayers of Psalms my own:

(1) Do truth, holiness, righteousness really matter?  Have they gotten swallowed up in a mushy, romantic, back-boneless love, in an easy-going cheap grace?  Am I seriously looking for a new heaven and a new earth where righteousness dwells? (2 Pet. 3:13)

(2) Do I take sin (first of all, ‘my’ sin) seriously?  We have all heard ‘hate sin and love the sinner’ which often comes out practically as ‘love the sinner and ignore sin.’  Which idea reflects most clearly my praying?

(3) Does my praying five evidence of my zeal over the issue?  How concerned am I that righteousness must be victorious over evil?  (Again, first in myself!)

(4) Who should pray for a wicked person to be forgiven?  If someone breaks into your house and molests your family, should I forgive that person for violence against you and your family, or must you be the one to pray for forgiveness?

(5) The seriousness which these verses (as well as the whole Bible) take of wickedness sheds a new light on the wonders of grace and forgiveness found only in Jesus Christ.

(6) It also sheds brilliant light on the cross where ‘righteousness and peace kiss’ (Ps. 85:10); where God is both just and the justifier of the one who believes in Jesus (Rom. 3:26b)

(7)   It is a strong, practical reminder that we should be in tune with ‘The Day’ which is coming.  The day of vengeance, the day of reckoning, the day of judgment.  Righteousness will be a major issue then; it should be now as well.  (See Isa. 2:6-22; Zeph. 1:14-18; Acts 17:31)

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A prayer for a curse, rather than for blessing?  That sounds like cult stuff at first!  But is it and where should we as Bible believing Christians stand on the matter? 

The issue made front page news in The Baptist Standard, publishing arm of the Baptist General Convention of Texas.  Wiley Drake, a former Southern Baptist Convention official said that after praying for 10 years for George Tiller of Kansas (a late term abortionist) to be converted, he changed his prayer to what is called an imprecatory prayer of judgment for Tiller.  How passionately did you pray for the conversion of that killer of innocent babes in (almost ‘out of’) the womb?  Mr. Drake was way ahead of me in that department. 

But our question, what about this imprecatory prayer of judgment?  Can Christians use such when we are told to pray for those who despitefully persecute us?  What about those who use their power and abilities do destroy justice for the innocent and down-trodden?  What about tyrants who in cruel violence destroy whole peoples who live under their thumbs?

It is time Christians stood up in passionate disagreement against such violence perpetrated by powerful and self-serving, self-exalting leaders and regimes.  How should we have prayed for Hitler or Stalin or Nero, or Tiller; how should we pray for dictators in Sudan or Osama bin Laden?

Several things that we need to consider though as (or before) we pray this way:

• Consider your own sinful stance before an awesome and holy God who knows every thought, every intention, all words and all actions.  This is a call for our repentance and honesty before our loving God.
• You are in no way planning to take vengeance on others out of your own initiative! Remember God has plainly said, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay.”
• Remember that this is your prayer.  You are asking God and leaving the method, the timing, in fact the whole situation to His answer.  (Here, we sometimes think we must act quickly, forgetting that we are pleading with God who has His own timetable, and His own way of dealing with the total scene.)
• Along with this we are not presuming to tell God “how” this prayer should be answered.  Too often we pray for exact results and think God should answer in “just that way.”

Here is a biblical example.  David was a shepherd boy before he became king of Israel.  When his son Absalom tried to usurp the throne from his father, how did David pray?  (See Psalm 3 and note the heading of that psalm before verse 1).  He knew from his shepherding days that a toothless lion or bear was not very dangerous to the flock.  And so he prays in v. 3:7b, “Strike all my enemies on the jaw; break the teeth of the wicked.”

David was praying that the power, the authority of the enemy be broken so that the flock might not be harmed.  He did not pray for specific results, but that God would deal with these enemies in a way that would render them powerless and their plans ineffectual – however God might do that.  In sad truth, Absalom did die in his wrongful escapade, but that was not necessarily in David’s mind.  In fact, David deeply loved Absalom and mourned his death (2 Sam. 15, 18).

Perhaps we should pray that those in power who are dealing wickedly with helpless people and innocent victims should at the very least be stripped of their power and strong-arm tactics.  And at the very bottom, we who can intercede for these helpless ones should do so with passion.

More on the Bible passages that deal with imprecatory prayers in the next blog.

Notes on the Resurrection of Jesus

The topic today is one of the most important teachings of the whole Bible.  Certainly the creation of the world as a beginning point, the incarnation of Jesus as the eternal Son becoming flesh and His death on the cross, paying the price for judgment on our sins, and His promise to one day re-enter history as the Son returns in glory are equally important.  But the cornerstone has always been the historical fact, the inescapable truth that Jesus arose from the dead after being dead three days. 

In 1 Cor. 15:17 Paul says, “. . . if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile, you are still in your sins.”  In the same vein a fellow missionary from Singapore said, “If Christ was not raised, there are no Christians; there is nothing to believe.”

The resurrection is the center point of the Christian faith; the central facet around which the truth of that faith has always revolved.  Acts 17:3 says of the Christians of that 1st century, they went about “explaining and proving that the Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead.”  Paul adds, “This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Christ.”  Such is the case – and the pressing need – in the 21st C. as well.  The gospel message of the NT was not in teaching and good works, but the truth: Jesus died and rose again!

1. The claims of Jesus that He would rise from the dead

Mt. 12:38; 16:21; 17:9,22-23; 20:18-19; 26:32; 27:63;
Mark 8:31; 9:9-10, 31-32; 10:33-34; 14:28, 58;
Luke 9:22
John 2:19-22

A. Many times when Jesus spoke of His death, He also mentioned His resurrection.
B. Jesus based the truthfulness of His claim on His rising from the dead.
C. No other religion founder or teacher has dared to base his teaching on such an
 outrageous claim that he would rise from the dead.
D. The disciples, though hearing Him numerous times did not understand until He
 actually arose (and even then had a hard time!). Mark 9:10, 32.  Would you?

2. The circumstances surrounding the death and the tomb, the pre-resurrection  scene

A. Jesus was dead   Mark 15:37; Luke 23:46; John 19:30

(1). Facts of death by crucifixion

(a) The scourging.  Eusebius (3rd C. AD) wrote that many victims did not even live through this but died before being crucified.  “The bodies of those about to be crucified were laid open (the whips had pieces of bone or metal in the end to open the back) so that the veins and arteries were literally visible.”  We note that some had a measure (?) of mercy and stopped the whipping at 39 strokes (one short of the required 40).  Mt. 27:26; Mk. 15:15; John 19:1

(b) Crucifixion.  This form of execution was designed to cause maximum pain in the head, the nerve endings ‘set afire’, the scourging sending shock waves throughout the whole body, high fever exaggerating terrible thirst, swelling around nail puncture holes, blood collecting in brain and stomach, despair and shame at being hung naked.  The victims could only long to die quickly, but some lasted for up to two or three days.

(2). Testimony of soldiers experienced in this form of death

(a) The soldiers saw no need to break his legs (a common practice  to hasten death) Jesus was dead already   John 19:33

(b) One, to make sure he was dead pierced his chest showing that  Jesus was already dead.

(3). Pilate wanted to make it absolutely certain before he gave the body away    Mark 15:44-45

B. The body and the tomb

(1). Joseph and Nicodemus ask for the body   Lk. 23:53; Jn. 19:33 
Think about taking a body off a cross.  Would they notice signs of life?

(2). The grave cloth and laying the body in the tomb

(a) Wilbur Smith, speaking of his burial, says “we know more about
Jesus burial than that of any ancient figure, be they from the OT, from Egypt or Babylon, Greece or Rome”

(b) Wrapping the body.  The Jewish practice was to start at the feet
and wind the cloth around and around, putting nearly 100 pounds of spices as they did so.  These spices would soon harden into cement like substance making the body a mummy.

(c) The tomb was probably a prepared cave in the garden of
Joseph, likely a rich man.  It was not likely to have been one grave out of many in a large cemetery; also it may have been close to where Jesus had died.  We don’t know.

(d) The women who perhaps saw him die, followed the procession
to the garden, watched the process and saw them put the body in the tomb with a cloth placed over the face – end!

(3). The stone

(a) Graves had to be protected lest thieves or wild animals break
into them.  A common way was to have a large rock ready to roll down in front of the grave, usually into a trench that would make it difficult to roll away. 

(b) One ancient text adds a note to Mark 15:46 saying it would take
20 men to remove such a stone.  Later, the women would worry about that and how to move it.

(4). The Governor’s seal   Mt. 27:66   At the request of the Jews, Pilate  ordered the government seal be placed on the tomb.

 (5). Pilate further ordered a detail of soldiers assigned to guard the
seal on the grave of a dead man (that is almost laughable, isn’t it?)  One of these soldiers was to be facing the seal at all times.  For one of them or the group to go to sleep would bring punishment of immediate death.  Roman writings testify to just such a judgment.

C. The discouraged and fearful disciples

(1), The disciples were without hope   Luke 24:17

(2). They were afraid

(a) They were when Jesus died   Mt. 26:56; Mark 14:50

(b) Even after the first rays of resurrection, they were afraid.  John  20:19

(3) They were psychologically devastated with absolutely no motivation to
tell anyone about what had happened.  There was nothing to tell, certainly no good news.  Our leader was crucified – that’s it, end of story.  (See the first chapter of Acts for their changed demeanor and hope.)

3. The post-resurrection scene

A. The empty tomb

(1)  Everyone soon knew that the tomb was empty – enemies, Pharisees,
Romans as well as the disciples.  So the question had to be asked, “Why?”  To try to deny it with a bare, feeble comment, “He’s still there” would not do.

(2) Disproving the cry of resurrection should have been easy.  The tomb was
perhaps just outside the city, no more than an hour’s journey.  Perhaps some did go out to look, but had to come back with the same answer, ‘the tomb is empty!’

(3) The women had seen Joseph bury His body a short 72 hours previously.   Surely they did not forget where the tomb was and go to the wrong place.  After how many years (not hours) and you can still walk right up
 to the very spot where your parents are buried, right?!

B. The stone

 (1) This stone was quite large (Mt. 27:60; Mk. 16:3-4) so as to deter thieves
from breaking into the grave in search of jewels or other valuables.

(2) The women remembered this and were concerned (Mt 28:2; Mk. 16:3)

C. The grave clothes

(1) Two things of note.  First the strips of cloth used to wind the body was
still there.  Robbers or disciples, for that matter would not take the body and leave the cloth behind.  It had probably begun to harden by then and getting the body out of the wound up cloth would have been impossible.

(2) The special cloth used to cover the face of the corpse was folded and
lying off to the side.  Not a crime scene of robbers in a hurry.

 
D. The Roman seal and the guards

 (1) The stone moved, the seal was broken and that was a crime punishable
by death – to anyone who defaced it and certain death for those guarding that seal as well.

(2) Knowing they were in deep trouble, they went to the religious leaders –
not to find the body, but to concoct a fantastic story of how the disciples came to steal his body while they slept.  (Remember, sleeping on duty was a capital offense.)  And besides, if they were asleep, how could they know who stole the body or what happened.  Further, people do not need to be bribed to tell the truth!  (Mt. 28:11-15)

E. The resurrection appearances

 (1) Mary Magdalene,   John 20:14; Mark 16:9-11
 (2) Two women outside the tomb,   Mt 28:9-10
 (3) Peter   Luke 24:34, 1 Cor. 15:5
 (4) Two disciples on the road to Emmaus,   Luke 24:13-33
 (5) The disciples without Thomas,   John 20:19-24
 (6) The disciples with Thomas,   John 20:26-29
 (7) Seven disciples on the shore of Galilee,   John 21:1-23
 (8) More than 500,   1 Cor. 15:6
 (9) James,   1 Cor. 15:7
 (10) Eleven disciples,   Matt. 28:16-20; Luke 24:33-52
 (11) At the time of His ascension,   Acts 1:3-12

Reason to Believe

While we continue to think on the wonder of the incarnation of Jesus – God becoming a man, the God-Man, we also look to the other end of that marvelous life to find every reason to believe Him.

1. Prerequisite:   The Stubborn Fact of Jesus’ death

 1. The straight forward narrative of Jesus’ death
 2. The replacement theory (another went to the cross instead of Jesus) will not stand the examination.
 3. The swoon theory fails for the same reason.
 4. The theory that the scene was influenced by drugs also fails
 5. Jesus was dead!  The soldiers saw to it; the witnesses believed it; the disciples went into a tail-spin of despair and hopelessness because “He was dead!”
 6. Sympathetic followers removed his body, prepared and buried that body

2.   The Amazing Fact of the Resurrection

 1. Jesus prophesied His own resurrection
 2. The stone was rolled away to let others in and see
 3. There was no body
 4. Yet the grave clothes were there
 5. The soldiers were bribed to say (on pain of death) that they were asleep
 6. The psychological transformation of the disciples could not be built on a falsehood.
 7. A false rumor was spread about that the disciples stole the body
 8. He was seen by many different people at various times (one time by over 500!)  A little to difficult  to blame this on hallucinogenic drugs.
 9. The whole fabric of the disciples’ message was built on truth and could not be sustained by a foundation of lies.

3. The Value of the Resurrection

1. The resurrection proves that Jesus is indeed the Son of God, Rom. 1:3-4.
2. The resurrection is the bedrock foundation of the Church, Eph. 1:20-22.
3. The resurrection is the foundation for the authority given to Jesus,  Mt. 28:18
4. It is related to the truth of victory over death,  Rev. 1:17-18; Rom. 6:9
5. The resurrection gives us confidence in our justification,  Rom. 4:25; 5:10; 8:34
6. Through the resurrection we have new birth into a living hope,  1 Pet. 1:3
7. It is the foundation of Christian victory,  Rom. 6:10; Eph 2:4-10; Phil. 3:10; Col.  3:1-4
8. It provides confident assurance in our own bodily resurrection,  Rom. 810-11
9. The resurrection is one of the foundation stones of our preaching,  1 Cor. 15:14
10. It is instrumental in our forgiveness,  1 Cor. 15:17
11. If Christ be not raised, your faith is vain, empty,  1. Cor. 15:17
12. If Christ be not raised, you are still in your sin,  1 Cor. 15:17
13. If Christ be not raised, those who have died have perished,  1 Cor. 15:18
14.  It is the cornerstone of certainty for our whole faith,  1 Cor. 15:17

Atheist Day in America

April 1, 2009

The latest atheistic thrust of America (similar to the current adds on London’s buses) is “You believe God does not exist?  You are not alone.”

What an uneventful, pointless statement.  So . . .  you are not alone, Mr/Ms Unbeliever, what good does that do you or any of your agreeable friends?  You are still an unbeliever and you have not addressed the wisdom, or the rightness or wrongness of that statement one whit.

America has perhaps agreed that you ‘not alone’ unbelievers should have your day as most believers in God have at least a day to celebrate their faith.  Christians have Christmas and Easter, Buddhists (who are in reality atheist) celebrate the birth/death/enlightenment of the Buddha, Muslims celebrate their month of lent, Jewish folks have Passover, etc. and atheists have April 1, April Fools’ Day.  So congratulations!  You are not alone on your day. 

The Christian Bible confirms your faith with these words: “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God’.”  This might be interpreted in the following ways (because in Hebrew the words ‘there is’ is not there):

(1)  ‘The fool says in his heart, NO GOD’ meaning what the usual atheist blabber is, that there is no God around (though He might be hiding in some place that they have failed to look).  There are quite a few, led by Richard Dawkins and others with you so it is true that you are not alone.

(2)  ‘The fool says in his heart, NO God!’ meaning there may be a God or god or gods somewhere but they/it certainly has no authority or control over me.  In other words they may be agnostic in their belief, but they are under the thumb of no one or nothing but themselves.  There are many in this practical state, so again it is true, you, you fool, are not alone.

(3)  ‘The fool says in his heart, NO . . . GOD, please, no!’  meaning the response of many when they find out it is appointed unto mankind once to die, after that the judgment.  Though many of you are not alone in that condition now, in that day you will be terribly alone – absolutely no one will stand with you as you face the God of the universe.  You fool, you will be alone!

Pascal’s wager is still the best option.  If you, Mr Atheist and your friends, are right, I have lost nothing by ordering my life by a faith in, as you put it, the non-existent one. 

If on the other hand, I am right in my faith, you have lost everything. You are and will be starkly, absolutely alone as you stand before the God of the universe! 

I hope and pray that you will not be among those lonely fools, dear reader!

God’s Call to Repentance

Zechariah begins his series of visions and oracles with the fact of a nation steeped in sin and God’s call is for them Return unto Me, says Yahweh of hosts, that I may return unto you, says Yahweh of hosts.   The prophets spoke from the mouth of the Omniscient God, foretelling things to come; but to the current generations in which they lived they were chiefly preachers of righteousness, and their constant cry was, “Repent,” which in Hebrew is the command, “turn!”

Ezekiel 33:11:   “Turn ye, turn ye”; for why will you wander from the source of life and  blessedness, and die, O House of Israel?”

1 Chronicles 7:14:   “If my people . . . will turn from their wicked ways”

Isaiah 55:6-7:   “. . . let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts . . .”

Jeremiah 3:12, 13:   “Return, thou backsliding Israel . . . acknowledge your iniquity, that you have  transgressed against Yahweh your God.”

Ezekiel 18:30-32:   “Repent, and be turned from your transgressions . . .cast away from you all  your transgressions, and get a new heart and a new spirit . . .”

Hosea 14:1:   “O Israel, return unto Yahweh your God; for you have fallen by your iniquity.”

Joel 2:12- 13:  “Turn you, even to Me, with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping and with  mourning; rend your heart . . . turn to Yahweh for He is gracious . . .”

Amos 5:4-6:   “Seek Yahweh and you shall live”

Zephaniah 2:2-3:   “before the day of the Lord’s anger come upon you, . . . seek righteousness”

Malachi 3:7:   “Return unto Me, and I will return to you, says Yahweh:

And in the New Testament as well!  Repentance in the NT means a change of mind and heart; it means humbly confessing that God speaks the truth with regard to our sin, i.e. ‘facing it squarely’
“Repentance is,” as Richard Roberts puts it, “the first word of the Gospel.”

Matthew 3:2:   John the Baptist: “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

Matthew 4:17:   Jesus first message: “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is near.”

Luke 13:3, 5:   “. . . unless you repent, you too will all perish.”  (twice)

Luke 24:46-49:  “. . . repentance and forgiveness of sin will be preached in His name . . .”

Acts 3:19:   “Repent, then, and turn to God so your sins may be wiped out”

Acts 17:30:   “God commands all men everywhere to repent”

1 John 1:9:  “If we confess our sins (repentance is assumed here), He is faithful and just . . .”

Revelation 2 and 3:  5 times in 7 short letters comes the call to “repent”

Because we may be ‘hard of hearing’ (we assume it is not spoken to us or we are not careful ‘how we hear’, Luke 8:18) we may need to pray the refrain repeated three times in Ps. 80:3, 7, 19.  We must listen not just with our ears, but with obedient hearts!

The events of this chapter happen several years after those of chap 6.  There Uzziah died, but his son Jotham had already become king (because Uzziah sinned and was punished with leprosy).  In chapter 7 Jotham has also died and now Ahaz is on the throne of Judah.

Israel, the northern half of the divided kingdom (also called Ephraim), and a neighbor to the north Aram (Syria) joined forces to attack Judah and Jerusalem.

Ahaz was shaking in his boots (7:1-2) and Isaiah went to encourage him (7:3-9)  Notice the compound name in verse 7, thus says the Lord GOD  – the word Lord being that word that means ‘boss,’ ‘master,’ ‘sovereign’ and the word GOD is a translation of God who has revealed His name as Jehovah or Yahweh.  This was to be an encouragement to Ahaz that the Sovereign Lord of the universe whose Name is Yahweh would not let the feared invasion occur.  His responsibility?  To believe! (7:9) 

Then to further encourage the king in his faith stand, he was invited to ask for a sign, be it big or little.  His response was one of disobedience veneered over with hypocritical humility:  I will not ask, nor will I test the LORD (7:12). 

To see the real reason why he did not want to trust God in this matter, turn to 2 Kings 16:7f.  Ahaz had already made a trip to Assyria (an even more powerful enemy than Syria and Israel).  He asked Assyria to help him defeat Syria and Israel.  This was a bit like a mouse asking the lion in to help get rid of the house cat!  Not exactly a smart move, and definitely not one of faith!!!  The sad part was that he confessed to the king of Assyria that he was accepting the position of “servant” and “son” before that pagan king. (2 Kings 16:7)  No child of the King of kings should ever make such a compromising statement!

Isaiah was furious at Ahaz’s response.  He said in effect, “you may think it an easy thing to try the patience of mankind with your blabbering, but will you indeed try the patience of my God?”

Ahaz had turned the ship of Judah onto a path from which there was no return.  Ahaz refused to ask for a sign so now he will get one of God’s choosing. 

Behold a virgin will conceive (this spelled death to the prized “line of David” in the minds of these kings).  The king – every king – had to come through the male descendent.  But the announcement here is that a virgin, a woman without a human husband would bear a son (a promised king, the messiah) and his name would be called Immanuel.  He would be a descendent from God through a virgin. 

Though several more kings would come through this line of David, the decision was final and that line effectively severed.  The sign became a sign of judgment on Ahaz and through him to the whole line of David, but at the same time – and this is the wonderful thing in all this story – this sign would be the announcement of God’s fulfillment of His plan to bring salvation to the world through the incarnation of His Son who would soon die for the sins of all mankind.

Out of a word of judgment, our great God brought promise of salvation.  Think about that!

Sometimes we try to gather up all that is into a comprehensive thing called a worldview.  The more we know about the universe we live in, the more awesome – and necessary – is our struggle to think this through.  I wrote about ‘probable’ God earlier and wish to start there for some who are not yet sure they want accept the premise of God, especially the Bible’s God.

But first, consider the alternatives to ‘probable’ God

• Pantheism – everything is god
• Pan-in-theism – everything is in god or god is in everything.
• Polytheism – there are so many gods (millions?), they negate one another.
• New Age mysticism/spirituality – wishful thinking with feet planted firmly in mid-air.
• Atheism/materialism – what we see is all we got; god is off the table, out of the market place, confined (if he or it exists) to mystical personal feelings of the heart.
• Agnosticism – we’ll just play dumb, “I don’t know, maybe yes, maybe no.”

All these worldviews (1) are versions like ‘new age’ – no foundation, feet planted firmly in mid-air and in which an unconscious blind fate is elevated to the throne of the universe; (2) provide a multitude of ways to avoid commitment.  It is no wonder our country and our world is unable to even think morally or ethically upright, let alone find a solid foundation upon which to stand.  (3) These views erase the boundaries between heaven and earth, matter and spirit, soul and body, man and animal, intellect and will, time and eternity, Creator and creature, being and nonbeing.  They deny the concept of a definite beginning, the existence of a conscious purpose, the hope of finding any ultimate destiny for the existence of the world and its history.

Against all of the above there stands a Christian worldview which is first and foremost a creation-based worldview.  I have taken notes from H. Bavinck, “Reformed Dogmatics,” vol. 2, p. 425f. 

From the beginning heaven and earth have been distinct, a division between being and nonbeing; there is a division between matter and spirit, between man and animal, between time and eternity, between Creator and creature.  There is a profound distinctness between sun moon, stars; between plants and plants, animals, and humans.  Yet in that diversity, there is also a superlative kind of unity.  The foundation of both diversity and unity is in God.  It is He who created all things in accordance with his unsearchable wisdom.

Here is a unity that does not destroy but rather maintains diversity, and a diversity that does not come at the expense of unity, but rather unfolds it in its riches.  This world can metaphorically be called an organism, in which all the parts are connected with each other and influence each other reciprocally.  Heaven and earth, Creator and creature, man and animal and plant, time and eternity, truth and life, spirit and material, state and church, family and society, though they are distinct are not separated.  There is a wide range of connections between them, a spiritual or ethical bond that holds all together in unity.

As a result of this worldview, Christianity has overcome both the contempt of nature and its deification.  The Christian looks at the world and history and observe s the unfathomability of the ways of God and the unsearchability of his judgments; he does not despair, for all things are subject to the government of an omnipotent God and a gracious Father who will make all things work together for good to those who believe and love Him.

We are born that we should know the Maker of the world, the purpose of that world and also know ourselves as God knows us.  With this worldview, we are on the path to knowing the God who not only is Maker, but also Savior and Redeemer, a faith that issues in immortality.

See http://answersingenesis.org , click on worldview

God’s Call of Isaiah

March 5, 2009

Isaiah 6

Some might ask why the book doesn’t begin with Isaiah’s call.  Why is it not until chap. 6 that we read this?  I think the answer is that Isaiah wants to set his ministry in context and the first five chapters give us that context.  He lets us see just how bad was the rebellion against Yahweh, the Holy One of Israel (which by the way is a favorite descriptive Name of God in this book. 

Not only is Israel’s blatant sin made clear, but there are also brief hints of God’s great mercy and purpose displayed in the glimpses of the One who would come to redeem the peoples of the world – all who would believe, including a portion of Israel known as the remnant.

Against that background we read of Isaiah’s call

This call came in the year of Uzziah’s death.  He had been the King of Judah for 50 years and basically had a long period of prosperity and peace.  Uzziah disobeyed God late in his reign and was struck with leprosy.  He was forced to stand down and Jotham his son, reigned briefly. 

Isaiah 6:1 says “. . .I saw the Lord seated on . . . a throne”  Note that the word Lord is not the same as the word LORD of verse three, the latter being a translation of the Hebrew word for the Name of God, i.e. Yahweh.  “Lord” (‘adonai) of verse one is what we normally understand by lord – master, boss, sovereign.  (See my blog on “God is Personal and Has a Name”)  Isaiah saw a vision of the Sovereign Ruler of the universe.
The important thing for Isaiah in this experience was the message of the seraphim (the only time these ‘burning ones’ occurs in the Bible) who cry, “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD God of Hosts.”  The building shook and was filled with smoke, symbols of the awesome presence of Almighty God; Isaiah was shaken to the very core of his soul.  Holiness is what constitutes His distinctiveness.  It is His total and unique moral majesty. 

Isaiah said, “Woe is me for I am lost (ESV) undone” (KJV).  This word ‘lost’ comes from a root ‘to be silent.’  What a powerful word – silenced, i.e. excluded from the heavenly choir, unable to speak or prophecy or even the silence of death!  Speechless before the throne!

No wonder at Isaiah’s response.  Compare Abraham’s “I who am but dust and ashes” or Job’s “I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes” or Peter’s “Depart from me for I am a sinful man.”
No person can stand erect before the Holy God!  When people fear before God, it “is not the consciousness of . . . humanity in the presence of divine power, but the consciousness of  . . . sin in the presence of moral purity.” (Rowley quoted by Motyer, The Prophecy of Isaiah, p. 77)

In verses 6 and 7, God deals with Isaiah exactly at the point of Isaiah’s sin.  The seraph, using the burning coal, touched his mouth and said . . . This was not just a bare act, but an act accompanied by divine interpretation.  Both belong to God; Isaiah does nothing.  God deals with the wickedness (unclean lips) – removed; and He also deals with the guilt (sin) – atoned for!  What a wonderful God who deals with sinners, not only as they think necessary, but as He knows to be necessary!

 6:8   Then I heard the voice of the Lord (‘adonai again) saying.  The Almighty Sovereign speaks; man must listen and respond.  . . . who will go for Us?  The plural “us” is quite amazing and very rare in the Old Testament (see Gen. 1:26).  These we might say are the first hint of the mysterious but majestic wonder of the Trinity.  The reality of this awaits the revelation in the New Testament and is understood and believed by those who know ‘the rest of the story.’  Isaiah’s response was immediate: Send me. 

At first glance, this seems the oddest commission ever given to a prophet: 
Keep on hearing, but do not understand;
Keep on seeing, but do not perceive. (6:9) 
Then he adds in typical Hebrew fashion (v. 10):
 Make their
 heart dull
  ears heavy
   eyes blind
lest their
   eyes see
  ears hear
 hearts understand
 and turn and be healed.

Think about the implications of that passage. It is cited in Matt. 13:14-15; John12:40; Acts 28:26.
 Those who won’t be morally responsible for uprightness, may soon be at a point where they can’t be morally upright and then all is lost. 

Isaiah faces “the preacher’s dilemma: if hearers are resistant to the truth, the only recourse is to tell them the truth yet again, more clearly than before.  But to do this is to expose them to the risk of rejecting the truth yet again and, therefore, of increased hardness of heart.  It could even be that the next rejection will prove to be the point at which the heart is hardened beyond recovery. . . . Opportunity in human life is as often judgment as it is salvation.” (Motyer, p. 79)

The last three verses send Isaiah in the exact opposite direction of great revival and success. It is a ministry that will last until the cities are utterly desolate and the remnant sent into exile.

Verse 12 says that even the tenth (remnant) remains only to be burned again, the last hope – the only hope is that God will, out of the stump, make a tender shoot grow up.  This is a prophecy of the Messiah who would become the “Branch” of which we read in Isa. 4:2.

Let us make sure we are not less than the donkeys and oxen (1:3), but understand, hear and see what God has revealed to His people who must believe and obey that Word.  Perhaps it is not too late, but one thing is sure, no one can continue to rebel against God with impunity.  There will come a day when it is too late.

I pray that no reader of this study will end up in that sad state.

Isaiah the Evangelist

March 3, 2009

Isaiah is known as the “king of prophets,” “the prince of OT preachers,” and most importantly, the “exalted evangelist of the gospel” some 750 years before that gospel was accomplished in the cross of Christ and preached as an accomplished fact in history.  Two of the early Church Fathers of the Christian era spoke in this way:
 Jerome says: “I shall expound Isaiah in such a manner that he shall appear not as a prophet only, but as an Evangelist and an Apostle”
And Augustine: “Isaiah deserved the name of an Evangelist rather than that of a Prophet.”

For this first study, I would like to simply point to some of the many prophecies that refer to a coming One who would deal with sin and bring deliverance to those who would believe in that One.  Later studies will deal with other riches in this great book.

In Isaiah 4:2-6 we read of the “Branch” who would come, and wash away the filth and sin of Zion (Jerusalem), ending in such a way that God’s glory would be like a canopy over all.  Jeremiah 23:5-6 explains the “Branch” further.

Isaiah 7:14 speaks of “the virgin who will conceive, bear a son; that son would be given the name Immanuel, which means God with us.”

No one can read the passage in Isa. 9:6-7 without having the sounds of Handel’s Messiah ringing in their heart.  This One is further named (a name in the OT was not just a moniker by which one was called to supper, but a verbal picture of the character of that One) as Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father and Prince of Peace.

Chapter 11 tells us of the “shoot” that will come forth from the “stump of Jesse,” (a reference to the line of King David) and that One will be filled with the Spirit of the Lord.  Further, it will usher in a spirit of peace and amiability to a world filled with violence of tooth and claw.  Go back and read Isa. 2:1-5 in this same light.

Isa 16:5 prophecies of one of the line of David who will sit on a throne established in steadfast love (chesed – a word in a previous blog) and faithfulness

God promises in chapter 25:6-9 that He will swallow us (destroy) the shroud that covers all peoples and nations (death) and show Himself to be the savior the people had been looking for.  This is none other than the work this One would accomplish at the cross.

Glimpses of the coming King are found in 32:1 and 33:17, 22.

In the second part of this great book, Isaiah paints a picture of the coming of one who would be a voice in the wilderness (John the Baptizer) crying, “Prepare the Way for the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.”  Again, Handel’s music wells up in our ears and hearts!

Then there are four passages which have traditionally been called the “Servant Songs.”  They are found in 42:1-7; 49:1-9; 50:4-9; and 52:13-53:12.

Add to the above the following: 59:16-20; 63:1-6 and finally 66:18-23 picturing to Old Testament minds and hearts the finale similar to John’s vision in Revelation 21 and 22.