Saturday, January 30, 2016

Sunday Reading: Athanasius, On the Incarnation of the Word Part 3

Ikone_Athanasius_von_AlexandriaThis Sunday, I am concluding my reading through of Athanasius’ On The Incarnation of the Word of God. In Part 1 (1-19) he has already shown that it was necessary for the Creator of all to become a human being to restore the universe and his people who bore his image, from within the corrupted universe. In Part 2 (20-32) he has shown that the incarnation is shown and validated through Jesus’ death and resurrection. I am reading the Logos version from Select Works and Letters, ed. Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, trans. Archibald T. Robertson, vol. 4, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church.

In Part 3, Athanasius defends the truth of the incarnation against the objections to it by the Jews and Greeks. He focuses on scripture to defeat the Jewish arguments and philosophy to defeat the Greeks. He begins his defense against the Jews by showing that the Jewish Messianic prophecies are only completely fulfilled in one man – Jesus Christ. He especially focuses on the birth, death and resurrection prophecies that find their ultimate fulfillment only in Jesus. One prophecy that receives special attention is the 70 sevens prophecy of Daniel. Athanasius ties this to  the time of the coming of Christ and notes that the Jewish temple, king and nation were destroyed and are not rebuilt to this day, signifying that Christ was the subject of the prophecy. Finally, he points to the great signs and wonders that even the Jews acknowledged happened during Jesus’ ministry, along with the virgin birth and resurrection. He concludes the section by asking “What then has not come to pass, that the Christ must do? What is left unfulfilled, that the Jews should now disbelieve with impunity?” (58)

He that is declared in Scripture to suffer on behalf of all is called not merely man, but the Life of all, albeit He was in fact like men in nature. 56

For the prophecy not only indicates that God is to sojourn here, but it announces the signs and the time of His coming. For they connect the blind recovering their sight, and the lame walking, and the deaf hearing, and the tongue of the stammerers being made plain, with the Divine Coming which is to take place. Let them say, then, when such signs have come to pass in Israel, or where in Jewry anything of the sort has occurred. 56–57

For when He that was signified was come, what need was there any longer of any to signify Him? When the truth was there, what need any more of the shadow? For this was the reason of their prophesying at all,—namely, till the true Righteousness should come, and He that was to ransom the sins of all. And this was why Jerusalem stood till then—namely, that there they might be exercised in the types as a preparation for the reality. 57

In the next section he refutes the objections of pantheistic Greek philosophy. If the Universal mind (Logos) shows itself in the physical universe, why not in a human body? If the Logos inhabits the universe why not a human body?

The philosophers of the Greeks say that the universe is a great body; and rightly so. For we see it and its parts as objects of our senses. If, then, the Word of God is in the Universe, which is a body, and has united Himself with the whole and with all its parts, what is there surprising or absurd if we say that He has united Himself with man also. 58

It cannot be absurd if, ordering as He does the whole, and giving life to all things, and having willed to make Himself known through men, He has used as His instrument a human body to manifest the truth and knowledge of the Father. For humanity, too, is an actual part of the whole. 59

But the Greek philosophers object that the Logos should have revealed himself “by means of other and nobler parts of creation.” Athansius argues that the prupose of the incarnation was to deal with the results of sin, with healing and resurrection from the dead. It was human beings that were in need of this and thus, he became a human being. To heal death in the body, he had to take on a body.

The Lord came not to make a display, but to heal and teach those who were suffering…mankind being in error, the Word lighted down upon it and appeared as man, that He might save it in its tempest by His guidance and goodness?  59-60

Death likewise could not, from its very nature, appear, save in the body. Therefore He put on a body, that He might find death in the body, and blot it out. 60

Athanasius argues that because humans subjected the world to idolatry, sin and death, Jesus took on a body to bring the whole world knowledge of God and heal the mess starting with the human beings that messed it up. That this is so is seen by the worldwide response to the Christian message, its effects on society and the demise of idolatry and demonic influence.

The Word of God took a body and has made use of a human instrument, in order to quicken the body also, and as He is known in creation by His works so to work in man as well, and to shew Himself everywhere, leaving nothing void of His own divinity, and of the knowledge of Him. 61

Christ alone, by ordinary language, and by men not clever with the tongue, has throughout all the world persuaded whole churches full of men to despise death, and to mind the things of immortality; to overlook what is temporal and to turn their eyes to what is eternal; to think nothing of earthly glory and to strive only for the heavenly.  62

Who then is He that has done this, or who is He that has united in peace men that hated one another, save the beloved Son of the Father, the common Saviour of all, even Jesus Christ. 64

Athanasius concludes with the reason that God became man…

For He was made man that we might be made God; and He manifested Himself by a body that we might receive the idea of the unseen Father; and He endured the insolence of men that we might inherit immortality. 65

Friday, January 29, 2016

Last Weekend in January at PIU

Last week of January (2)We have had a busy week at PIU as we close out January of 2016. On Thursday I met with Dr. Chris Hong, the President of New Tokyo Medical College (left) in Pohnpei. This school’s goal is to train doctors to be medical missionaries.Last week of January (5) They are partnering with us so that we can provide the Bible degrees these future doctors will need. We have agreed to work together (details of which we are still workiing on) and, when I am in Pohnpei this coming week I plan to meet with his staff and students. Thursday night I led the first Focus gathering with an “ask the president anything” format. Then for Friday’s chapel we had the always entertaining Ricke Harris give us a talk on “testing ourselves for spiritual life.”

Last week of January (4)Last week of January (7)

“Yes, I see that hand!” Not exactly. The students asked good questions that ranged from “Who is your favorite NBA team” to “Is technology replacing God” This kind of thing is my favorite part of the ministry at PIU.

Last week of January (9)Last week of January (10)

Ricke got the students to think about being disciples of Jesus rather than just people who identify as Christians.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Reading in Deuteronomy This Week #1 (Chapters 1-11)

41I8byk6O9L._SX402_BO1,204,203,200_This year’s reading through the Old Testament now moves on to the book of Deuteronomy. I am reading it with a very different type of commentary than I have been, Deuteronomy, The JPS Torah Commentary, by Jeffrey H. Tigay. The JPS Commentary set is a Jewish commentary that provides traditional rabbinic and halakhic, along with critical, commentary. I have been posting quotes from the book on my Facebook page on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday (NT is Mon-Wed-Fri) and we can discuss comments and questions about the passage there. As usual, quotes from the commentary are in blue below…

Basically, Deuteronomy records Moses' final speech to Israel as they prepare to enter the Land. In it he recalls the history that brought them thus far and explains the torah (instruction) God provided to them at Mt. Sinai (Horeb in Deuteronomy) and on their journey. It is written in an ancient Near Eastern covenant form in which a ruler grants land to his servants and they are thus in a dependent relationship to the ruler. The people trust and obey the ruler because he has shown the abiiity to take care of them and protect them. Moses' instruction here is that the wise and prudent thing to do is to continue to trust God because obedience leads to prosperity.

Deuteronomy is thus Moses’ valedictory: he sums up the laws that he gave the people and the lessons of the period in which he led them, and urges them to observe those laws and keep those lessons in mind always. 2–3

Chapters 1-4 recount the history of the wilderness journey. The theme is simple: When you trust and obey God you are blessed, and when you fail to trust his care, grumble and disobey, you will experience curse and be judged. Chapter 1 recounts the failure of the generation that left Egypt to trust God. Because of that none of them, including Moses, would enter the Land, except for Joshua and Caleb. 2-3 recount the successful journey to the Jordan. Unlike the previous unfaithful generation, the new generation obeys God, and so they have victory over their enemies (Og and Sihon) who attack them. This provides the tribal lands for the 2 1/2 Eastern tribes.

The historical content of Moses’ address reflects the importance of history as the basis of biblical religion. Religious belief in the Bible is based mostly on Israel’s experience of God rather than on theological speculation. This experience is an important component of the covenantal relationship between God and Israel, since covenant relations between political entities were likewise based on their past experiences with each other. Moses’ review of the relations between God and Israel in the recent past parallels similar historical surveys at the beginning of treaties between suzerains and vassal states in the ancient Near East. Deuteronomy 1, 7

Since Israel’s primary duty to God is obedience to His laws, teaching them to every Israelite is imperative, and this is Moses’ main aim in Deuteronomy. Deuteronomy 1.18, 13

Moses reminds the people that their own experience demonstrates the Lord’s capacity to meet all their needs, and that they are ignoring what their experience teaches. This experience became the basis of Israelite faith in God. Wherever the Bible presents a credo explaining Israelite belief or practice, it consists of a summary of what God did for Israel rather than affirmations about His nature. Deuteronomy 1.29-31, 17

Here, God expresses one of the pervasive themes of this chapter: He has given the Edomites their land just as He is about to give the Israelites theirs...Especially noteworthy is the moral obligation inherent in the fact that the Edomites, Moabites, and Ammonites received their lands from God: the Israelites have no right to any of those lands. Deuteronomy 2.5, 24–25

The human action was successful because of God’s control of the events. By mentioning God’s role first, Moses implies that His action was decisive; Israel merely reaps the benefit. Deuteronomy 2.33, 32

Moses’ prayer follows a standard form for petitions...In prayers influenced by Deuteronomy these statements are often declarations of God’s incomparability, similar to our verse. In later times the rabbis invoked this verse as the precedent for the rule that one should always begin petitions with the praise of God. Deuteronomy 3.24-25, 38

Deuteronomy 4 finishes the 1st address of Moses and introduces the 2nd address which will begin in chapter 5. It gives a historical basis for Israel's obedience to the law. Israel's worship of God is based on what He has done: choosing Israel, the Exodus, the miracles in the wilderness and their recent victories over the Amorites. God has proven himself to be the one and only God and the only one worth worship. The gods of the nations may be real beings, but they are created, inferior beings to the one God (4.35). The speech focuses on the first two commands, that there is only God and he should never be worshiped with idols. Obedience is a matter of life and death. The nation will be healthy, influential and long-lived if they obey these two commands.

Chapter 4 is the theological heart of Deuteronomy, explaining its most fundamental precepts, monotheism and the prohibition of idolatry... Especially noteworthy are the arguments that go beyond reward and punishment and emphasize the logic and justice of the laws. Such arguments show the Torah’s aim of securing not merely mechanical observance of the laws but willing assent because of their inherent value. Deuteronomy 4, 41

Moses appeals for observance of the commandments because they are uniquely just and observing them brings about a closeness with God that is unparalleled among the other nations. By observing them Israel will earn admiration as a wise and discerning people. Deuteronomy 4.5-8, 44

It was love for Israel’s ancestors that led God to choose Israel, take them out of Egypt, and give them the promised land. Deuteronomy is the first book in the Torah to speak of God loving and choosing Israel. In speaking of love it makes the emotional dimension of God’s relationship with Israel explicit. Deuteronomy 4.37-38, 56

Chapters 5-11 present introduce the next section (to chapter 28) of the book by presenting the basics of the law (10 commandments) with the rationale behind it and provides Israel both positive and negative motivation to obey it. Chapter 5 repeats the 10 commandments, reminds Israel of their commitment to obey it and emphasizes that Moses received it directly from God. 6 is the preamble to the next section in which Moses explains the rest of the law which he received on Sinai. The main point is that "Israel’s love and loyalty to YHVH must be undivided and accompanied by constant efforts to remember His instructions and teach them to future generations." (76) Thus, it was important that the Israelites meditate on and teach God's laws so that they would learn to live by them and continue in God's blessing and continue in good relationship with Him.

In the Bible not only the principles behind the laws but the laws themselves were believed to have been authored by God and revealed to Israel through His spokesmen, the prophets. This belief reflects the conviction that God is Israel’s king, hence its legislator. Deuteronomy 5, 60

Moses has a twofold purpose in teaching the laws: ensuring their performance and inculcating reverence for God. Thus the laws were not only an expression of reverence for God but also a means of teaching reverence, like the theophany at Mount Sinai, the festivals, and reading the Teaching. Deuteronomy 6.1-3, 75

Chapter 7 begins a section in which Israel is instructed to remember and reflect on God's laws and what he has done so that they will not succumb to the dangers of the new land which will try to entice into worshiping other gods and forgetting their dependence on YHWH. Chapters 7-8 are, basically, commentary on the first two of the ten commandments. Chapter 8 continues this theme by urging Israel to remember and keep the law to demonstrate and remind them that they are dependent on God. Just as God sustained them with manna in the wilderness he will continue to meet their daily needs in the land.

Israel’s motive should be to respond to God’s faithfulness with its own faithfulness, not simply to avoid punishment and receive a reward. Deuteronomy 7.11, 88

Israel’s hunger in the wilderness was no accident: it was brought about by God to teach the people that nature alone could not be relied upon for food. Then He fed them manna, a previously unknown food, to show them that nourishment depends on Him: man does not live on natural foods alone but on whatever God decrees to be nourishing. Deuteronomy 8.3, 92

The lessons taught in the wilderness will not be apparent in the promised land, where Israel will lack nothing. In prosperity Israel’s dependence on God will be less obvious, and once its own efforts begin to succeed Israel might imagine that all its new wealth is due to those efforts. It must therefore keep in mind what it learned in the wilderness, always remembering that prosperity depends on God. Deuteronomy 8.7-18, 93

Chapters 9-10 remind Israel of their tendency toward rebellion so that they will not become complacent or self-trusting in the land. The golden calf incident, along with many others, show this tendency and remind them that they have no right to the promised land. It is a gift of God's mercy, based on the promises to their forefathers, not on their own virtue. They rebelled with the golden calf at the very moment that God was giving the law to Moses on the mountain. The only reason they were not destroyed was God's mercy, faithfulness to his promise to the patriarchs and Moses' intercession. The section ends with an exhortation to cultivate attitudes of faithfulness so that they might be successful and blessed in the land.

God is saying that by right Israel ought to be destroyed, but that He wants the prophet to make the case for sparing them. Prophets frequently play this intercessory role in the Bible in addition to their role as God’s messengers to man. This is part of what God wants them to do.  Deuteronomy 9.14, 100

Moses appeals for total obedience to God in the future. He does not focus on obeying the rules of the renewed covenant that come at this point in Exodus (Exod. 34:12–26), but on underlying attitudes, as he does throughout this part of Deuteronomy. He summarizes the principles that must guide the people’s behavior if they are to avoid further acts of rebellion...“Your history of rebellion shows that you lack the following qualities, to which you must dedicate yourselves in the future.” Deuteronomy 10.12-22, 107

Chapter 11 closes the preamble to the sermon that reveals God's laws to the 2nd generation of the nation. Moses' point is that Israel must now have an attitude of loyalty and obedience to their King YHWH if they want to be blessed by Him. He gives three basic reasons: 1) they should have learned by their wilderness experience that this brings blessing and disobedience brings the curse. 2) They are still dependent on God for rain in the promised land 3) God promises to remove the Canaanites if they are faithful people. God has shown himself to be a good and great king and God in their experience, so they should follow him. This loyalty must be expressed in an oath (taken after they enter the land) which places Israel under the covenant and recognizes its commands, rewards and punishments as God shows them here.

In our passage, as the Israelites prepare to settle in a land where they will adopt a new, agricultural way of life, Moses forewarns them that rain and fertility are given by God in return for obedience, and that if the Israelites should turn to false gods, He will withhold these gifts, causing the Israelites to perish from the land. Deuteronomy 11.16-17, 114

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Day of Prayer 2016

2016-01-24 18.19.57The PIU Day of Prayer began Monday at Noon and concluded at Noon Tuesday as we celebrated prayer chapel together. 2016-01-24 18.20.02The Monday session took place outside in the pavilion at the center of campus on a beautiful day with a nice breeze blowing across the campus. It was a time of seeking to recognize the presence of God with us and listen to His voice. It was a blessing to experience that with so many of the students and staff. Most of the PIU family participated in a 24 hour fast (what people gave up was optional) as a reminder of our focus on prayer.

2016-01-25 17.11.022016-01-25 17.09.51The chapel was a time of corporate, small group and individual prayer. After singing some songs we had a corporate time of praise followed by several different small group prayers for the PIU family and the communities we live in. This is one of my favorite times as I get to pray with students that I have not really had a chance to get to know yet. It is also so encouraging to be able to hear students praying for me and to have an opportunity to pray for them individually.

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Every semester the day of prayer is such a blessing. Perhaps we should do it more often?

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Sunday Reading: Athanasius, On the Incarnation of the Word Part 2

Ikone_Athanasius_von_AlexandriaThis Sunday, I am readings through Part 2 of Athanasius’ On The Incarnation of the Word of God. In Part 1 (1-19) he has already shown that it was necessary for the Creator of all to become a human being to restore the universe and his people who bore his image, from within the corrupted universe. The second part deals with the necessity of Jesus’ death and resurrection. I am reading the Logos version from Select Works and Letters, ed. Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, trans. Archibald T. Robertson, vol. 4, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church.

The main point would be that God shows Himself through his works within the universe he created, and the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ was God’s greatest work in this world…

For it is God’s peculiar property at once to be invisible and yet to be known from His works… it must be evident, and let none brazen it out against the truth, both that the Saviour raised His own body, and that He is the true Son of God, being from Him, as from His Father, His own Word, and Wisdom, and Power…and bestowed incorruption upon all by the promise of the Resurrection, having raised His own body as a first-fruits of this, and having displayed it by the sign of the Cross as a monument of victory over death and its corruption. 53

Athanasius has already shown that only the creator could restore His creation from the corruption of sin. In this section he shows that only the death of Christ could pay the debt that all creation owes and provide the victory over sin, death and the demonic world that was needed. This needed to be a public death because it was on behalf of and as a witness to the whole creation, and it had to be “at others’ hands” because he was dying to pay for those very sins. The murder of Jesus became the means of forgiving all murderers, including us as participants in it through our sin. He endures the “curse of the cross” to to remove the curse from us.

So it was that two marvels came to pass at once, that the death of all was accomplished in the Lord’s body, and that death and corruption were wholly done away by reason of the Word that was united with it. For there was need of death, and death must needs be suffered on behalf of all, that the debt owing from all might be paid.  47

So death came to His body, not from Himself, but from hostile counsels, in order that whatever death they offered to the Saviour, this He might utterly do away. 49

For it is only on the cross that a man dies with his hands spread out. Whence it was fitting for the Lord to bear this also and to spread out His hands, that with the one He might draw the ancient people, and with the other those from the Gentiles, and unite both in Himself.  49

The resurrection is the evidence that all of the above happened. It was a public, bodily resurrection with many witnesses. The effect of the resurrection is that death has been made powerless and people no longer need to fear it because death is now the gateway to resurrection and God’s kingdom. Christian martyrs were (and are) a very visible witness to this truth. The defeat of death and the demonic world is also seen in the power of the name of Christ over the demonic as the church extended into the Gentile world. Only a living God working through his Spirit would have this kind of power.

For not even thus—not even on the Cross—did He leave Himself concealed; but far otherwise, while He made creation witness to the presence of its Maker, He suffered not the temple of His body to remain long, but having merely shewn it to be dead, by the contact of death with it, He straightway raised it up on the third day, bearing away, as the mark of victory and the triumph over death, the incorruptibility and impassibility which resulted to His body. 50

But now that the Saviour has raised His body, death is no longer terrible; for all who believe in Christ tread him under as nought, and choose rather to die than to deny their faith in Christ. For they verily know that when they die they are not destroyed, but actually [begin to] live, and become incorruptible through the Resurrection. 51

Death is daily proved to have lost all his power, and idols and spirits are proved to be dead rather than Christ, so that henceforth no man can any longer doubt of the Resurrection of His body. 53

Christ died and rose again and thus, we can live today in the power of his resurrection.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Covenant Players Chapel

Covenant Players (2)One of my favorite chapels every year is when the Covenant Players perform Covenant Players (4)here. I know the students also enjoy these chapels. Kurt and Cathy Purucker have been coming for several years and we have developed a good relationship with them. They have also done drama seminars for us in the past. This year’s presentation was especially good, and the plays presented God’s Word in a way that provoked reflection and discussion. We also had a good time of fellowship  with them after the chapel.

Covenant Players (1)Covenant Players (3)

Even though there were plenty of laughs, I thought the plays were a little more serious this year. I especially appreciated the two plays that dealt with persecution and loneliness.

Covenant Players Chapel (1)Covenant Players Chapel (4)

Somebody brought doughnuts to celebrate Joyce’s birthday once again. They were enjoyed by staff, faculty and students alike. Joyce mentioned that they covered her two favorite food groups: bread and sugar.

Reading in Numbers This Week #4 (Chapters 20-36)

41Quqi3pMxL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_This post brings the discussion on the book of Numbers with the commentary, Numbers: God’s Presence in the Wilderness, by Iain M. Duguid to an end. Previous posts on Numbers can be seen here, here, and here. I have been posting quotes from the book on my Facebook page on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday (NT is Mon-Wed-Fri) and we can discuss comments and questions about the passage there. As usual, quotes from the commentary are in blue below…

Chapter 20 brings the story to the end of the wilderness wanderings and begins the preparation of the next generation of Israelites to enter the Promised Land. It will start with the death of the older generation with Miriam going first. The ongoing complaining of the older generation made them unfit to enter the land and brought this condemnation even on to Moses. Instead of trusting God, they exaggerated their difficulties and blamed God for their bad choices. Moses, also loses it and, instead of interceding for the people, he disobeys God's instructions and pours his own condemnation on the people. In a way, instead of speaking to God to provide, Moses assaults God with a stick and paints himself as judge and provider. In the end, Moses has become just as much a rebel (he does receive forgiveness and passes on the mission to the next generation) as the people and Moses, Aaron and Miriam are part of the 1st generation who die in the wilderness.

It is worth noticing that in Numbers 20, even though the people were clearly at fault in their complaining, the Lord viewed the sin of Moses and Aaron in judging them as a far more serious infraction. In other words, even when the sheep are simply being stubborn and recalcitrant in not following our leadership, we are not called to beat and berate them, even in our own minds. Instead, we are to love them and keep on urging them forward, gently and persistently pointing them to the cross. In truth, much of our frustration in ministry comes from the fact that we have begun to see ourselves as the functional saviors of ourselves and our people. Remembering that it is the sovereign Lord who is saving and sanctifying us, and not we ourselves, will deliver us from much of our frustration. Numbers 20, 254

Numbers 21 marks the transition from focus on the old dying generation of the unfaithful to the faithful new generation as it begins with the first victory over the Canaanites. The fiery serpents teach the nation to quit grumbling about returning to Egypt (the serpent nation) and learn to look to God in faith for healing and victory. They experience victory over the kings of the Amorites and praise God in song as he leads them through the wilderness.

Faith is the stuff of life in the wilderness, unleashing the power of God by which Satan is overcome...those who live by faith sing songs of praise. The gospel transforms us from sinners to singers. To be sure, that is often a gradual process. Throughout our lives, we will continue to be simul cantor et peccator (“at the same time a singer and a sinner,” to paraphrase Luther’s famous expression). Numbers 21, 265-266

The transfixed serpent on the standard thus demonstrated in visual terms the defeat of Israel’s mortal enemies, Egypt and Satan, overcome by the power of the Lord. When the people felt afresh the bitter pain of their sinful rebellion, they were given a sign to show them the life-giving power of the Lord that was constantly available to heal them. Numbers 21, 263

Numbers 22-24 describe the attempt by Balak king of Moab to hire Balaam, an international wizard who had the power to curse whole nations, to curse Israel. This sets up a huge spiritual battle between God's desire to bless Israel and the power of Balaam to curse them. In chapter 22, despite Balaam's greedy desire to get rooms full of gold and silver, God humbles him and forces him to bless Israel. No one can turn away the Abrahamic promise to bless. Balaam tried multiple times to do the "correct ritual" to bend God toward his desire but God would not change his desire to bless Israel. Finally, when Balaam realizes that God will not change his desire to bless, he makes the great prophecy in chapter 24 of what will be the history of their region and that, though the nations will disappear, Israel will survive because a "star will rise out of Jacob" and bring in God's kingdom for God's people.

It is almost invariably the case that our actions expose the real truth about our hearts. Our actions make plain what else we must have apart from the Lord to make our lives meaningful and significant...No matter how orthodox and impressive our words are, they are not worth the breath expended in uttering them if there is no congruence between them and our deeds. Numbers 22, 274–275

The central lesson behind the story of Balaam is the Lord’s determination to bless his people. No hotshot prophet will be permitted to curse God’s people, no matter how much he wants to, because the Lord has declared them blessed. Instead, his very attempt to curse Israel will itself be turned into another blessing. Numbers 22, 277

These oracles of Balaam, which declare not merely positive present realities but a glorious future yet to come, are most certainly true because the Lord’s sovereign power extends beyond the present into the future. What man cannot predict—what the future holds—the Lord is able to declare, because he himself holds the future in his hands. Even sickness, disease, and the schemes of evil men are not exempt from his sovereign will to bless his people. Numbers 23, 285

People may come and go: some will let us down and hurt us, while others, no matter how faithful, will ultimately die and leave us on our own. But God will still be there. Fortunes may be made and lost, houses may burn, stock markets may crash, and cars will inevitably rust. Yet in Christ, we have an inheritance that no misfortune can touch. At the end of the day, only God remains, and those upon whom his blessing rests. Numbers 24, 289

Despite God's blessing in the Balaam affair, the people reject God's blessing by engaging with the Midianites in their immoral religious practices. When God asks the older leaders to discipline the people they do not take action. Finally, one of the younger leaders, Phinehas, performs the task that the Levites were to do, defend the honor of God, and kills the Israeli man and Midianite woman who were flaunting their rebellion before the entire nation. God himself, then disciplines the nation with a plague. This kind of idolatry continued to plague Israel throughout its history. Phinehas stopped the plague by piercing through the sinners, but the plague of idolatry is not truly dealt with until Jesus Christ allowed himself to be pierced.

Sin is never a private matter: our sin affects other people, directly and indirectly. Having said that, though, we also need to be clear that the primary issue in this story is not sex but idolatry...Israel’s abandonment of the true and living God was the crime that merited their death.  Numbers 25, 294–295

The census in chapter 26 shows that the old unfaithful generation has died off and the new generation are poised to inherit God's promises. The census total number is pretty much the same as the previous census, showing the continuity of the promise from one generation to the other. However, Israel is also reminded that they must trust God's promises and move forward in faith if they are to inherit the promises. Chapter 27 shows that, though Israel still was a sinful nation and subject to discipline, God's grace operates and overcomes the effects of sin. Zelophahad's daughters receive an inheitance in the land even though their male heirs died in the wilderness. Moses prays for a king which God will grant through Joshua, then David and ultimately in Jesus Christ.

When faced with trials, unbelief doubts that God can really fulfill his promises and draws away the glory that is his due by leaving us in a state of frantic worry and despair. When we fear the future, God’s glory is not on our lips and in our hearts. Likewise, when we encounter success, unbelief thinks that our triumphs are the result of our own gifts and efforts, not God’s work. Once again, unbelief siphons off glory that ought to go to God alone. Unbelief is thus a great sin because it is robbing God of some of the glory that is due his name. God takes the honoring of his name very seriously indeed, and unbelief dishonors it. Numbers 26, 304

Yet when the older generation has failed to provide the proper lead, there is a challenge here to the younger generation to learn from Zelophehad’s daughters to step forward in faith to fill in the failings of those who have gone before. Numbers 27, 306

Numbers 28-29 detail the close fellowship that the new generation of Israel was to have with God. The regular sacrifices symbolized the daily, weekly and special times of fellowship that God wanted with his people. They also symbolized the need for total (the animal gave its life) and costly commitment that was required for fellowship with God. They recognized that everything they had was from God, but at the same time that God was very generous and wanted to share these things with them. The festivals and sacrifices also oriented them to living by God's calendar. Many of God's laws in the OT were designed to teach people how to live in a way that was in tune with the way he created the universe and with God's mission for humankind.

Communion with God is never cheap. It demands everything we have and everything we are.  Numbers 28, 311

There is also a distinct pattern in the way the various sacrifices were to be offered that forms a pattern for our own communion with God, a pattern that was intended to remind Israel constantly to orient their lives according to God’s calendar. Numbers 28-29, 313

We need to learn the same lessons they did. We need to be constant in our daily devotion and regular in our weekly fellowship with God’s people. We need to be faithful in all of the passing seasons of life to give thanks for our redemption accomplished in Christ and for his ongoing care for us day by day. Above all, we are to be forward-looking believers, neither overly elated nor unduly cast down by the twists and turns of life’s fortunes, instead keeping our eyes constantly fixed on Christ, who is our heavenly inheritance. Numbers 28-29, 319

Numbers 30 talks about the binding nature of vows to God especially in regards to how they are handled with women in their society. Vows were to be taken seriously because people are to reflect the faithfulness of God within their own speeach and actions. Women's vows were taken seriously, unlike most of other cultures of that day, but limits were placed on them to maintain order in the society.

One key aspect of that reflection of the Lord’s character is to be shown in our faithfulness to do what we have promised, no matter what the cost. When we fail to keep our vows, we undermine people’s confidence not only in our own faithfulness but also in the faithfulness of the God whose name we bear. Numbers 30,  322–323

Oaths of abstinence were not made because abstinence was a better, higher way of life. It was simply an expression of the present absence of joy in one’s life for the purpose of repentance or consecration for a particular task. After that period was over, the person who had made the oath would return to normal life. Numbers 30, 324

Joined to Christ by faith, we have become part of God’s family, heirs in Christ to all of the promises of God. Our inheritance rests on his faithfulness, not our own. God is the Promise Keeper to whom we look. What is more, our faithful husband, Jesus Christ, has even paid the penalty for our broken vows.  Numbers 30, 327

In chapter 31 we see God using Israel to judge the nation of Midian for their opposition to God and his plan for Israel. Balaam incited them to try to lose God's blessing through unfaithfulness and God acted to protect His people. Even in judgment the sanctity of live was upheld as the soldiers had to go through 7 days of cleansing from blood before they could be received back into the community. In many ways this chapter is a picture of how God's judgment works.

This conflict between Israel and Midian is no ordinary human war. Nor is it an act of ethnic cleansing on Israel’s part, with the Israelites seeking to wipe out every trace of a rival ethnic group, the Midianites. There is, in fact, nothing ethnic about this conflict, for this war is part of God’s larger war on sin and evil. It is simply the continuation and completion of God’s judgment on those who were involved in the sins of Numbers 25. Numbers 31, 329–330

The next section (32-33) reflects on the faithfulness of God throughout the wilderness journey. God was so faithful that 2 1/2 tribes decided to remain on the East side of the Jordan River. Even though they are faithful to continue on to help their brothers in the conquest of Canaan, this decision to not enter the Land will cause problems for Israel throughout its history. These 2 1/2 tribes will be the first to go into exile in Assyria. Chapter 33 is a list of 42 camps along Israel's journey. The breaks in the list describe God's acts of faithfulness and blessing while the places of judgment are mentioned but not expounded upon. Duguid suggests that these 42 represent the 6 creation days (6 X 7) in which Israel works in anticipation of entering the land of 7th day rest.

Seeing in the Bible is definitely not believing. On the contrary, sight is often the exact opposite of faith. Seeing is frequently the prelude to bad decisions because our eyes tend to make superficial judgments...Choosing with our eyes often leads us into spiritually dangerous places—places that may then be hard to leave because our possessions weigh us down and hold us there. Wherever our possessions are, there our heart is also. Numbers 32, 338

We too need to be reminded regularly of God’s faithfulness to us along the way. We need to take time to reflect on all the ways in which that faithfulness has been evidenced in our lives. Numbers 33, 346

Chapter 34 begins the conclusion of the book by changing the perspective from looking at the past to planning for the future. It lays out the anticipated borders of the Promised land to remind the Israelites of their goal and God's promise. Chapter 35 provides a great example of how God's faithfulness overcomes the curse of the past. It lays out the cities for the Levites which are scattered through the land so that the Levites can minister to the people. It also provides for cities of refuge where a killer can receive a fair trial. God had turned the Genesis curse (34, 49) into a blessing and a murdering tribe into the tribe that defended life in the land. Finally, chapter 36 coompletes the story of Zelophehad's daughters who "live happily ever after" in an orderly and blessed inheritance given to them by God.

So take the time to look back on your journey and to give thanks for the Lord’s faithfulness to you thus far. Be alert to the compromises that the world presses in on you, and resist its insistence that you live at peace with its standards. Be “peculiar,” different from those around you who do not serve the Lord. Yet above all else, look forward to the end of the journey, the seventh seven of rest that God has prepared for you in Christ. Numbers 34, 353

The church is a community of forgiven sinners and should therefore provide a warm welcome for all who come seeking a refuge from their sins. It should be a community of forgiven sinners who are also a community of forgiving sinners.  Numbers 35, 362

The end of the book of Numbers is certainly not a whimper but rather a quiet and confident affirmation of faith in God as the people of God look forward to the future...The legislation concerning the inheritance of Zelophehad’s daughters accomplishes the same two purposes: it concludes what precedes, while inviting us at the same time to look ahead to what is yet to come. Numbers 36, 363

We know that Israel as a nation most often lived like the unfaithful generation that died in the wilderness, and thus, the nation ended in exile. We stand much like that generation, as the resurrection of Jesus has brought us out of the slavery of sin, death and separation, waiting for the full implementation of the promise at His return. Like them the issue for our blessing and the blessing of those around us is our faithfulness to him.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Happy Birthday to Joyce

Joyce Bday (5)Joyce Bday (9)Yesterday we celebrated Joyce’s *#th birthday. Technically, she is still celebrating it, since she was born in California and it is still the 21st there. The celebration actually began when the family came over Wednesday night to open more of their Christmas presents (Late postal dleivery here tends to stretch Christmas out through January – back in the 80’s we were still receiving Christmas presents in Palau in March). Last night we went to a new Mexican restaurant, Taco Sinaloa, in Tumon. The food was excellent, the meet was seasoned and the sauces and toppings were made fresh. We had a good time celebrating with Mike, Samantha and the kids.

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Joyce spent some quality time with Arete

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We all enjoyed the food and posing for pictures

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Back From Chuuk

12491961_950753346872_9041530953247857027_oI arrived back on Guam from Chuuk last night. I was only there two days, but I think we got a lot accomplished. My main reason for going was to accompany and introduce our new English teacher for the PIU program at the FCC campus, Jered Hunter. 2016-01-17 22.32.11I met Jered in South Carolina last October at Columbia International University and he agreed to come out to Tol for the Spring semester. (I snatched the picture on the right from his Facebook page.) We met Monday morning with our Chuuk TF Director Iotaka Choram and with the FCC Campus Director Yosta Lodge to get classes and details worked out. Jered will be teaching two remedial and two academic program classes this semester. That is Jered with all his stuff preparing to head out for Tol (left). I was also thrilled to see PIU 2008 graduate Happiness Lodge in our meeting as well. Happi, who graduated from International Theological Seminary with an M.Div., is working on curriculum for FCC and will be teaching some classes for us. This is another major step forward for our partership with them. 8 courses will be taught at FCC and 2 at the Berea TF this semester.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Sunday Reading: Athanasius, On the Incarnation of the Word

Ikone_Athanasius_von_AlexandriaFor my Sunday readings, I am trying to work in some old books among the new ones, so I thought it was time to go back to one of the Church Fathers. Athanasius’ On The Incarnation of the Word of God is one of the most important writings of the church fathers, and in Christian history, and one of the earliest and best defenses of the doctrine of the Trinity and incarnation of Jesus Christ as both fully God and fully human. I am reading the Logos version from Select Works and Letters, ed. Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, trans. Archibald T. Robertson, vol. 4, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church

For the more He is mocked among the unbelieving, the more witness does He give of His own Godhead; inasmuch as He not only Himself demonstrates as possible what men mistake, thinking impossible, but what men deride as unseemly, this by His own goodness He clothes with seemliness, and what men, in their conceit of wisdom, laugh at as merely human, He by His own power demonstrates to be divine, subduing the pretensions of idols by His supposed humiliation—by the Cross—and those who mock and disbelieve invisibly winning over to recognise His divinity and power. 36

Athanasius begins by defending the doctrine of creation ex nihilo. This is relevant because the incarnation fixes what went wrong (human sin) with the original creation – both the rebellion in the spiritual world and that of Adam and Eve in the Garden. In a way, the incarnation begins a re-creation of the world. If a re-creation was needed, humans were incapable to do it. God had to step in and accomplish it.

God is not weak; but that out of nothing, and without its having any previous existence, God made the universe to exist through His word, 37

For if, out of a former normal state of non-existence, they were called into being by the Presence and loving-kindness of the Word, it followed naturally that when men were bereft of the knowledge of God and were turned back to what was not (for what is evil is not, but what is good is), they should, since they derive their being from God who IS, be everlastingly bereft even of being; in other words, that they should be disintegrated and abide in death and corruption. 38.

The God who spoke life into being is the only one who could fix the problem of death that came into the world through sin. The word that spoke life into creation was the Word who, coming into the world, could bring life back from the dead. Almighty God could not allow his creation to waste away into nothingness. Only by taking on a body and defeating death, could God Himself restore life into creation.

Death having gained upon men, and corruption abiding upon them, the race of man was perishing; the rational man made in God’s image was disappearing, and the handiwork of God was in process of dissolution.  39.

He took pity on our race, and had mercy on our infirmity, and condescended to our corruption, and, unable to bear that death should have the mastery—lest the creature should perish, and His Father’s handiwork in men be spent for nought—He takes unto Himself a body, and that of no different sort from ours.  40

While it was impossible for the Word to suffer death, being immortal, and Son of the Father; to this end He takes to Himself a body capable of death, that it, by partaking of the Word Who is above all, might be worthy to die in the stead of all, and might, because of the Word which was come to dwell in it, remain incorruptible, and that thenceforth corruption might be stayed from all by the Grace of the Resurrection. 40–41

The second reason for the incarnation was so that people could know God and thus, be restored as the image of God. Sin had removed humanity so far from God that they were in danger of losing their reason and reason for existence. Jesus, by taking on human flesh, provided a way that fleshly people could experience God with their senses and learn about him from the ground up. God lowered himself to human level to make connection with the people he created so he could raise them up to what He intended them to be.

For by men’s means it was impossible, since they are but made after an image; nor by angels either, for not even they are (God’s) images. Whence the Word of God came in His own person, that, as He was the Image of the Father, He might be able to create afresh the man after the image…He took, in natural fitness, a mortal body, that while death might in it be once for all done away, men made after His Image might once more be renewed. None other then was sufficient for this need, save the Image of the Father. 43

He sojourns here as man, taking to Himself a body like the others, and from things of earth, that is by the works of His body [He teaches them], so that they who would not know Him from His Providence and rule over all things, may even from the works done by His actual body know the Word of God which is in the body, and through Him the Father. 44

The Word disguised Himself by appearing in a body, that He might, as Man, transfer men to Himself, and centre their senses on Himself, and, men seeing Him thenceforth as Man, persuade them by the works He did that He is not Man only, but also God, and the Word and Wisdom of the true God. 44–45

Thus, the incarnation becames the ultimate revelation of God. The 2nd person of the Trinity completely lowers himself to the level of man without, at any time, ceasing to be God.

But these things are said of Him, because the actual body which ate, was born, and suffered, belonged to none other but to the Lord: and because, having become man, it was proper for these things to be predicated of Him as man, to shew Him to have a body in truth, and not in seeming. But just as from these things He was known to be bodily present, so from the works He did in the body He made Himself known to be Son of God. 46

Friday, January 15, 2016

First Friday Chapel

2016-01-14 17.07.09Yesterday was our first regular chapel of the semester. We enjoyed a rousing time of worship which included one of my favorite hymns (The Love of God) as part of a medley. I had the privilege to be the first chapel speaker of the semester. 2016-01-14 17.08.43I am not sure how that tradition got started, but I enjoy having the opportunity to do it. I preached on “how to avoid being your own worst enemy” from Joshua 7-8. It was fun. There was a good response from the students as I tried to make the sermon a bit more interactive than they are used to. We have chapel on Tuesdays and Fridays at 11AM. The community is always welcome to join us.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Paul and the Faithfulness of God Chapter 1

51YyKVMJh L._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Back in a September post I announced that my New Testament reading for this school year would be Paul and the Faithfulness of God, vol. 4, Christian Origins and the Question of God, by N. T. Wright. My plan was to post on my blog with every chapter completed. I have been posting quotes from the book on my Facebook page 3 times a week, on Mon-Wed-Fri, but have not produced the promised  “once a week or so I will sum up my thoughts about it on this blog.”  I didn’t make that goal and so now I am trying to catch up.  Each chapter is long (chapter 1 is 75 pages) so what you are getting here is a very brief summary. I welcome comments and discussion on my Facebook page. By the way I am using the Logos version of the book.

Wright enters the worldview of Paul through the short letter to Philemon. His point is that Paul sees the Jesus event as something that changes everything. Jesus’ life, death and resurreection completes the story of humanity and Israel and becomes the center around which everything else must be shaped. It not only reconciles humans to God, but totally changes the way humans relate to one another, breaks down the old social structures that divided people and reorients them back to God’s original intention for humanity

If we had no other first-century evidence for the movement that came to be called Christianity, this letter ought to make us think: Something is going on here. Something is different. People don’t say this sort of thing. That isn’t how the world works. A new way of life is being attempted—by no means entirely discontinuous with what was there already, but looking at things in a new way, trying out a new path. 6

He does not refer to Onesimus as a ‘fugitive’. That is not the category in which he wants Philemon to see his former slave, even for a moment. No: he is Paul’s beloved son and therefore Philemon’s beloved brother. Those who have read this letter without seeing the profound, and profoundly revolutionary, theology it contains should ponder the social and cultural earthquake which Paul is attempting to precipitate—or rather, which he believes has already been precipitated by God’s action in the Messiah. 9

For Paul, much as he valued freedom, the mutual reconciliation of those who belonged to the Messiah mattered more than anything else. For Philemon to have responded angrily to Paul’s letter by giving Onesimus his freedom but declaring that he never wanted to set eyes on him again would have meant defeat for Paul. Reconciliation was what mattered. That is why Paul wrote this letter. 12

Paul is teaching Philemon, and indeed Onesimus (as according to Richard Hays Paul had to teach the Corinthian church), to think within the biblical narrative, to see themselves as actors within the ongoing scriptural drama: to allow their erstwhile pagan thought-forms to be transformed by a biblically based renewal of the mind. Here we see one of the most fundamental differences between Pliny and Paul. Pliny’s appeal, we remind ourselves, reinscribed the social dynamics already present. Paul’s subverted them. 15

The cross itself, though not mentioned explicitly in Philemon, emerges here, embodied in the ministry of the imprisoned apostle, as the theological substructure of the pastoral appeal. This is what gives energy and colour to the personal aims and rhetorical strategy of the entire short composition...Paul’s Jewish worldview, radically reshaped around the crucified Messiah, challenges the world of ancient paganism with the concrete signs of the faithfulness of God. 20–21

Because of Jesus, Paul understood everything differently—God, the world, God’s people, God’s future, and in and through it all God’s faithfulness. 22

The second section focuses on how Paul integrated theology (Paul’s innovation was to place theology at the center of his worldview). The praxis, symbols, worship, language etc of Christianity would come from theology – who is this Jesus and what difference does He make? This required all Christians to be thinkers, with the enablement of the indwelling Spirit, and theologians to a certain degree. Jesus would be the lens through which all life would be viewed.

One of the extraordinary achievements of Paul was to turn ‘theology’ into a different kind of thing from what it had been before in the world either of the Jews or of the pagans. One of the central arguments of the present book is that this was the direct result and corollary of what had happened to Paul’s worldview. Paul effectively invented ‘Christian theology’ to meet a previously unknown need, to do a job which had not, until then, been necessary. 26

For Paul, there is no question that the praxis of the Messiah-following people created a context within which it made sense to think the revolutionary thoughts he urged his converts to think. But it is equally clear that he believed that the renewal of the mind through the work of the spirit would generate and sustain new patterns of behaviour. 27

The study of Paul’s worldview leads to a striking, dramatic conclusion: this worldview not only requires a particular ‘theology’ to sustain it, but also requires that ‘theology’ itself play a new role, integrated with the worldview itself. 30

Humans are worshipping creatures, and even when they don’t consciously or even unconsciously worship any kind of god they are all involved in the adoring pursuit of something greater than themselves. Worship transforms humans, all of us, all the time, since you become like what you worship. 36

The Jewish worldview (monotheism) redefined, with the idea being “in Christ” through the Spirit at the center of this redefinition, is what dirves Paul’s theology. This is why understanding the Old Testament in context is so viital to understanding the New Testament. He sums up Paul’s theology as “one God, one people, one future for the world.”

Monotheism is indeed at the heart of Paul’s theology, not simply as ‘what he believed about God’ in a sense that could be detached from what he believed about other topics (not least salvation), but rather as the integrating theme which explains and gives depth to all the others. 37

Paul remained a deeply Jewish theologian who had rethought and reworked every aspect of his native Jewish theology in the light of the Messiah and the spirit, resulting in his own vocational self-understanding as the apostle to the pagans...and we shall find that, precisely because his Jewish theology was rooted in creational monotheism, it necessarily addressed, in a variety of ways of which the letter to Philemon is one, the wider worlds of philosophy and empire, of home and market-place, of human life in its many dimensions, of the real life of the whole cosmos. 46

The proper angle from which to approach Paul’s engagement with his pagan context is precisely his deep-rooted Jewish understanding, just as the proper angle from which to examine those deep Jewish roots is his sense that now, in the messianic age, it was time to confront the world of the gentiles. Because of the Messiah and the spirit all these things came together—and, with them, the lesser dichotomies also, as scholarship has seen them, of justification and being-in-Christ, of apocalyptic and covenant, of old and new ‘perspectives’, of theology and ethics, of spirituality and politics. 47

Paul’s theology must be discussed in terms of history, exegesis and application. That is we have to understand Paul from what we know of his world, what we read in his writings and within his own times. Even though we cannot do this perfectly there are tools that help us to do this. We need to strive to find what Paul meant when he wrote something, not what we want it to mean.

Paul did not write the kind of systematic treatises in which he would have taken care to cover all possible ‘topics’. There is always at least an implicit gap between the textually limited ‘Paul’ we know from the letters and the hypothetically wider ‘Paul’ who might well have had other things to say—if only some church had sent him a letter to ask him about them. 50–51

Critical Realism: a self-critical epistemology which, in rejecting the naive realism which simply imagines that we are looking at the material with a God’s-eye view, rejects also the narcissistic reductionism of imagining that all apparent perception is in fact projection, that everything is really going on inside our own heads. Critical realism engages determinedly in a many-sided conversation, both with the data itself and with others (including scholars) who are also engaging with it. 51

A historical hypothesis, like a scientific hypothesis, must (a) get in the data, (b) do so with appropriate simplicity, and (c) shed light on areas outside the basic subject-matter of the inquiry...We assume that writers intended their texts to mean something and we also assume that it is in principle possible to move towards the discovery of that intention. 54

I have to learn that life is more complicated than drawing up a list of good people, who said all the things I agree with, and bad people, who said the opposite. As Solzhenitsyn said, the line between good and evil runs through each one of us and every human community.
One of the reasons we do history, in fact, is because it acts as a brake, a control, on our otherwise unbridled enthusiasm for our own ideas...What history demands, and exegesis facilitates, is suspension of judgment in order to learn wisdom
. 54–55

We need to strive to find what Paul meant when he wrote something, not what we want it to mean. Wright decries theologians who remove books from the Pauline corpus (Ephesians and Colossians) because they don’t fit their theoology of Paul. He advocates using all the traditional Pauline books to define Pauline theology, although he sees 1 Timothy and Titus as the only ones that might be questioned.

Even if we’ve given up making Paul the preacher of our favourite theology, we still want him to back up our assumed ideology; and the thought of those differentiations within the household, with their threat of something we might even call ‘hierarchy’, is too much to bear. 58

This note of hermeneutical caution may be thought appropriate, and it, too, should haunt the following pages, should stand beside the historian even in the moment of historical triumph, whispering, ‘Remember that you too are hermeneutically conditioned.’ 67

He closes the chapter using the letter to Philemon as an allegory in which traditional orthodoxy (Philemon) and critical historical approaches (Onesimus) are at odds. Wright urges, like Paul, that they be brought back together. The Paul of history was a pastor with practical concerns and we need both sides working together to understand him.

If you want to understand Paul, understand him as someone with his feet on the ground (or in the stocks) of messy reality, his shameful sufferings openly visible to the embarrassment of the high-minded, lofty Corinthians and perhaps also of their successors today...How much safer Paul would have been had he founded a seminary in Tarsus or Antioch and required future church leaders to sit at his feet day by day! But how much less like the apostle whose calling was not just to speak of, but actually to embody, the covenant faithfulness of God. 70

As we shall see when we examine (Paul's) worldview, the symbols, praxis and stories which contribute to it are none of them simply about ‘ideas’ and ‘beliefs’. They are about the creator God, his world and his people—and this world and these people are creatures of space, time and matter, open by definition to historical enquiry, living life in public without shame, modelling a way of life which is precisely in and for the world, affirming the goodness of the creator’s universe and of human beings within it. 72

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Reading in Numbers This Week #3 (Chapters 12-19)

41Quqi3pMxL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_I am continuing to work through a discussion on the book of Numbers, with the commentary, Numbers: God’s Presence in the Wilderness, by Iain M. Duguid. Previous posts on Numbers can be seen here and here. I have been posting quotes from the book on my Facebook page on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday (NT is Mon-Wed-Fri) and we can discuss comments and questions about the passage there. As usual, quotes from the commentary are in blue below…

The rebellion against Moses begins in chapter 12 with his own family. Miriam and Aaron, because of jealousy over Moses' God-given position of leadership stir up trouble by grumbling about his "Cushite" wife. They are jealous that God speaks directly to Moses. Ironically, when God appears to them, they get a direct word of judgment from God. Miriam is stricken with a disease that makes her look like a corpse. The 2nd rebellion is much more severe and directed against God. As the 12 tribal leaders are sent to the land to scout it out they agree on the bounty of the land but disagree on their ability to take it. The majority emphasize the difficulties and do not mention God's promises or past saving acts. Joshua and Caleb urge the people that with God's help they can do it. The people reject Joshua and Caleb's advice and God judges them by allowing their expectation of death in the wilderness to come true. However, the children they thought would become the spoils of war would become the ones that God would bring into the land.

What is the cure for the grumbling that flows from envy? It is the cross. There God paid the price for your unworthy soul and for mine. There he purchased us back to be his servants, weak and feeble though we are. When we contemplate the greatness of his grace to us in the cross, we cannot doubt that he has our best interests at heart in the way he has brought our circumstances together, even though they are different from the circumstances of others around us. Numbers 12, 165

If you fear the Lord, you will be free from the fear of your enemies; if you forget God, you will inevitably fear men. Numbers 13-14, 170

The eye of faith recognizes that in this world, reality is not accurately measured whenever we are “humanly speaking.” This is God’s world, in which his Word and his promises must ultimately prevail. No matter how great the opposition, if the Lord is pleased with us, our future is assured. Numbers 13-14, 171

Chapter 15 interjects laws about sacrifice and clothing into the narrative. This is God's response to the people's decision not to enter the Promised Land. The sacrifices were to remind them of their privileges and responsibilities as the people of God. The privilege was to be in relationship with God and to enjoy relationship, protection and the blessings that went with that. The responsibility was to be the unique people of God, a people who followed their king and were a "nation of priests" to the world. The sacrifices reminded people of the exalted position they held by God's grace. To reject this was dangerous and subject to judgment because God has ordered creation to bring blessing to those who obey him. The harsh judgment on the man who gathered sticks on the Sabbath was a judgment of treason on a man who publicly "shook his fist" in the face of God. Ultimately, obedience brings blessing, rebellion brings judgment.

Like the Israelites, we have false beliefs about God that we persist in doggedly in spite of all of the evidence to the contrary. Until these deep-rooted core beliefs are challenged, little real change is possible in our lives. That is why even when we recognize that our sinful patterns lead to painful consequences, we often find that we cannot change them. Numbers 15, 183

The motivating power of all sin lies in failing to believe God’s good purpose for us, which is for us to glorify him and enjoy him forever... Whatever we are pursuing when we sin, it is always something less than God’s good purpose for us. It is a functional idolatry of something other than the Lord. Numbers 15, 185

Having given the Lord’s people laws that demonstrate his mercy (15:1–21) and his justice (vv. 22–36), the final commandment in this section speaks of the Lord’s covenant faithfulness. The tassels were designed to remind Israel who they were by God’s grace, which in turn was the foundation for their call to obedience. Numbers 15, 194

In Numbers 16 and 17 the rebellion reaches its climax. Korah complains that Aaron is not the only one who should be high priest while Korah, Dathan and Abiram complain about the lack of positive results of Moses' leadership. Instead of defending himself Moses calls upon the Lord to vindicate him and to show who he has chosen for leadership. God answers the prayer quickly as the rebellious Levites are destroyed by the fire of God and the other rebels are swallowed up by the ground beneath them. This did not end the rebellion. Amazingly the people still reject God's leader Moses and thus, reject God. Plague breaks out in the camp and, amazingly, the two rejected leaders save the people as Moses intercedes for them and Aaron runs into the midst of the plague between the living and the dead to save them. Finally God gives the sign of the budding almond rod to show who was his real choice for leadership. The rods represented authority and God showed, by making Aaron's rod into a living likeness of the menorah, that Aaron's family, as high priest, would be the channel of the blessing of God's presence to the nation.

Those who desire to lead should be examined and tested, not just so their abilities and gifts can be discerned, but so others can discern as far as possible their hearts and motives. Character is far more crucial than knowledge or gifting, important though those are. Do such persons simply long for the prestige of the title of elder or pastor, or do they have a genuine desire to serve God and his people?.. It is a fearful responsibility to lead God’s people, and not one to be taken up lightly. Numbers 16, 203

Biblical leaders, however, serve because God has called them to that position and recognize that sometimes even those whom God has called may not see dramatic visible results. Numbers 16, 204

The Lord took Aaron’s dead stick and turned it into a miniature lampstand in the midst of the other twelve sticks, a sign of life and future blessing in the midst of the community. Numbers 17, 214

After the rebellion God gives direction to the people about tithing and holiness. These laws were, in many ways, a gracious promise that the people would have plenty and be able to give and that God would provide a way for their connection with him. The principle behind the tithe in chapter 18 was that all people belong to God and thus, the tribe of Levi become the "tithe" of the people to the service of God. In addition, the people were to tithe from their agricultural products to support the work of ministry and the ministers. There were multiple tithes in the Sinai Covenant to support the work of ministry, to provide for the poor and needy and even to have a big celebration of God's goodness (Deut. 14). The ashes of the red heifer (19) symbolically provided cleansing for the regular contamination of living in a world of sin, decay and death. Symbolically, the spotless heifer took on the death that sin caused as the penalty of contamination was taken by those that prepared the ashes. The ashes then provided, like confession, a "faithful and just" application of forgiveness.

The Lord is not only the inheritance of the priests and Levites but the inheritance of all of the saints as well...If we understand and remember these truths, it will be our delight to give generously to support those whom the Lord has called to serve him full-time. We will be overjoyed when we have an opportunity to meet the needs of the poor, and we will make it a priority to show hospitality and celebrate fellowship with the Lord’s people in his presence. That is the essence of all true Christian tithing and giving. Numbers 18, 238

Instead of redefining sin so that it no longer covers the things that we do, or pretending that sin doesn’t exist in our carefully sheltered world, it is far better to recognize the inevitable reality of our contact with sin and let that realization drive us back to God and to the cleansing he has provided. Numbers 19, 244