Tag Archives: Israel

God’s Decree

Meditations on the Psalms

I will tell of the decree (Psalm 2:7 ESV)

All creation is bound by the laws of God. What is a decree? A decree is a legal ordinance prescribed by a ruling authority to resolve, to limit, or to fix and approve a specific required action. God is speaking in the first person about an action He has determined necessary which has already been done and finished. History, from God’s perspective, is complete and finished, even though people have yet to live it. He sees and knows what will happen. God is telling us about that which He decided in eternity to accomplish in space-time history.

King David desired to build a temple for God in Jerusalem, to house the ark of the Lord. Before he died God told him, through the prophet Nathan, that he was not the one who would build a temple for God. “When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever” (2 Samuel 7:12-13 ESV). God decreed David not build the temple but that Solomon, David’s son, would build a house for God and the ark of God in Jerusalem. This is what happened in history.

From the beginning, when God created Adam in His image, He gave Adam a boundary. There was only one constraint placed upon him. He was to not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:1 6-17 ESV). Adam was given dominion over the earth and everything on it. He was given the enjoyable responsibility of being fruitful and multiplying and subduing the earth. He was even given direction to care for everything, including the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The only restriction place on him was that he did not have permission to eat from this one tree. If he ate from the tree he would die both physically, though not right away, and spiritually. Surely die is actually the word die twice. Die die.

When God brought His people out of Egypt, making them wander through the desert, He gave them laws and ordinances. He decreed they follow His laws. Exodus through Deuteronomy are a compilation of laws and the history of Israel from the time they entered Egypt until they entered the Promised Land. In two places the Ten Commandments, ten irrevocable statements of God about Himself and those who are His, are given, once at the beginning of their wanderings and then at the end. God is specific and pointed in His statements. They are to worship Him only and love each other. (See Exodus 20:1-17 and Deuteronomy 5:6-21.) These are immutable laws, absolute in the physical world and the eternal realm. They transcend space and time, and are upheld by God throughout eternity.

God’s decrees are not simple corporate mandates for nations and peoples to blindly follow. They are commands for each individual.

God leaves the Christian in the world as a testimony to the world about Him and His grace. Having the image of God gives the ability to naturally follow God and His will. For the Christian, having the indwelling Holy Spirit, because of the corruption of the vessel containing the image of God, gives the tools needed to live righteously in an unrighteous world. Christians do not try to be salt and light. They are salt and light.

You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 5:14-16 ESV)

Following God’s laws and decrees are a natural ability for those created in the image of God. That He has to tell us His decree about His Son is a testament to the truth of rebellion and sin. God gives His written laws so there is no mistake about His absolute will. Go sent His Son, Jesus Christ, as irrefutable evidence of the need of Man and the grace of God toward those bent by sin. Jesus’ life is God’s decree about life

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“God said” in Genesis

Studies in Genesis 1

And God said … (Genesis 1:3 ESV)

Ten times in Genesis 1 the words “God said” are used to denote God’s deliberate action in creation (see Genesis 1:3, 6, 9, 11, 14, 20, 24, 26, 28, 29).

It is fitting God use the words “God said” in the first chapter of Genesis. Not only does using this phrase establish God as deliberately and actively working in creation but it also shows God’s continued presence in what He has created. He does not simply wind up the universe and let go becoming an absent builder or disinterested observer. What He has begun He will see to completion, involved in every step.

Here are other times the phrase “God said” is used in the book of Genesis.

After God created Adam He determined it was not good for him to be alone (see Genesis 2:18).

When God confronted Eve and the Serpent it was with deliberate intent to show their rebellion (see Genesis 3:13-14).

When God ejected sinful Adam and Eve from the garden it was to deliberately keep them from the Tree of Life (see Genesis 3:22).

God deliberately chose Noah, directing him to build an ark for a specific reason. “And God said to Noah, ‘I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence through them. Behold, I will destroy them with the earth’” (Genesis 6:13 ESV; see also Genesis 8:15; 9:8, 12. 17).

When God chose Abraham and made a covenant with him it was to deliberately show the lineage of His Son Jesus Christ. “And God said to him, ‘Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations’” (Genesis 17:3-4 ESV; see also Genesis 17: 9, 15, 19; 21:12).

When God chose Jacob and changed his name to Israel it was to affirm the lineage and genealogy of His Son, Jesus Christ. “And God said to him, ‘I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply. A nation and a company of nations shall come from you, and kings shall come from your own body’” (Genesis 35:11 ESV; see also Genesis 35:1, 10).

When “God said” at creation He meant for all time.

True or False?

Balaam said to Balak, “Behold, I have come to you! Have I now any power of my own to speak anything? The word that God puts in my mouth, that must I speak.” [Numbers 22:38 ESV]

Balaam, son of Beor, carried the reputation of speaking for the gods. His story is a study in Scriptural contrasts and seeming inconsistencies. A soothsayer, one who was seen as able to predict and manipulate the future he was summoned by Balak to curse Israel. Balak, the king of Moab, had witnessed the destructive power of Israel as they moved into his territory. Israel wanted to pass through peacefully but the kings they encountered insisted on engaging them in combat. Every king who came against Israel was defeated. Barak, seeing combat would fail, tried to buy a curse against Israel from someone he recognized as powerful.

Balaam could do nothing unless God allowed it. He obviously knew about God, as he knew about all of the false gods of the countryside. When summoned by Balak Balaam enquired of God about what he should do.

God said to Balaam, “You shall not go with them. You shall not curse the people, for they are blessed.” [Numbers 22:12 ESV]

Balaam followed God’s instructions and sent the emissaries away. He was not a man after God’s own heart. Yet, he heard God speak and followed His instructions.

Balak’s emissaries, his own sons, came a second time to ask Balaam to come. They brought more money and larger promises. A second time Balaam told them he could not curse Israel, even if the king gave him all the gold and silver he could muster. But, Balaam asked God a second time what he should do, as if God is one who changes His mind. This time God told Balaam to go with the men but speak only the words He would give him.

Balaam’s oracles concerning Israel are classic blessings of God for His chosen. Those who God blesses are blessed. Those who God curses are cursed. Balaam spoke the words God revealed to him by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

There are many difficulties in this story which may be hard to comprehend and understand. It sounds almost mythical, a story of a story told by generation after generation, subtly changing until the whole story becomes implausible.

At three different times while Balaam was on his way to meet Balak the Angel of the Lord, the pre-incarnate Christ, stood ready to kill him. A donkey saved the man’s life three times. Balaam, angry because his donkey veered of the road, crushed his foot and leg, and finally lay down when it saw the Angel of the Lord, beat it. Then God opened the mouth of the dumb beast so it could speak in a way both Balaam and the donkey could understand. Please note, if God can put words into the mouth of a dumb animal He can put words into the mouth of a godless man. Balaam was not a man who worshipped God even though God obviously spoke through him. God will speak through anyone He wishes without necessarily guaranteeing that person a place in His kingdom. Even a donkey can receive God’s revelation and be inspired to speak the words of God by the Holy Spirit.

Those who claim the position and authority of teacher, showing knowledge and understanding of God and His Word, may teach His Word without knowing Him intimately and without Him knowing them as a child of His. Their desires give them away. Nothing is hidden from God, who knows all even to the depths of the thinking of the hearts and the precise actions of the person’s future.

Balaam was a master of manipulation, knowing the boundaries within which he could move without compromising his worldly reputation. When God would not allow him to curse Israel, only bless His people, he offered a suggestion to Balak, a way to attack and compromise God’s people without engaging them in open combat. “While Israel lived in Shittim, the people began to whore with the daughters of Moab” [Numbers 25:1 ESV].

Nowhere in this story are we told Balaam suggested Moab entice Israel to worship false gods and commit sexual immorality. Jesus tells us in the Revelation of Jesus Christ, when He confronts the Church at Pergamum “but I have a few things against you: you have some there who hold the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, so that they might eat food sacrificed to idols and practice sexual immorality” [Revelations 2:14 ESV].

Teachers who do not teach righteousness according to God’s absolute will are false teachers, sprinkling the Word of God with the thinking and motivations of the world. “They have followed the way of Balaam, the son of Beor, who loved gain from wrongdoing, but was rebuked for his own transgression; a speechless donkey spoke with human voice and restrained the prophet’s madness” [2 Peter 2:15-16 ESV].  People who give the impression of holiness and righteousness and truth and goodness gain nothing if the thinking of their hearts are not changed by the God who is these characteristics.

Amen

For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. [Matthew 5:18 ESV]

Jesus uses the word “amen” in this verse. “For truly(amen)I  say to you.” God uses the word to affirm the absolute fulfillment of His promises. Revelation 3:14 uses the word as a name of Christ. “And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: ‘The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation’” [Revelation 3:14 ES]. Jesus is throwing the full weight of God’s eternal being behind the words He has and will state.

God gave His Word, deciding before creation what would occur, knowing, before creation what He would do. Heaven and earth began. His Word was present. Heaven and earth will end. His Word is eternal. Like Himself His Word is not constrained by time or place.

Perhaps we need to realign our thinking with the truth of His eternal Word. When He says “I have come to fulfill them (the Law and the Prophets) [Matthew 5:17 ESV] we think automatically He is referring to the Hebrew Scripture. By doing so we place upon His Word our created and temporary thinking. This is not wrong thinking but is incomplete thinking.

Long into the history of the nation of Israel God gave the Law to Moses for the people of Israel to follow. Hundreds of years before Abraham had been separated out from all people and blessed. Soon after he was given the command to circumcision. Isaac was chosen, not Ishmael. Jacob was chosen not Esau. Jacob had twelve sons by four women and his tribe went to Egypt and lived there for 400 years. After Moses was born it was another 80 years before God brought the people out of Egypt. Then, 400 years into Israel’s history, God gave the people the Law, beginning with the Ten Statements, commonly known as the Ten Commandments.

To limit the Law and the Prophets to the written law of Moses is to ignore the history of Israel and the real people who lived that history. It also completely ignores, or makes of little consequence, the relationship God has with His creation before and after the giving of the Law of Moses.

A great portion of the Law of Moses prescribed the duties of the priests in offering sacrifices. Certain animals were forbidden as sacrifices. God identified what kind of animal could be sacrificed and how the animal was killed. Hebrew Law determined who received portions of the sacrifice for food and what parts were given wholly to God.

There is no longer a need for animal sacrifice. Jesus’ sacrifice fulfilled the laws of the sacrifice. Does this mean the laws dealing with sacrifice are null and void? Absolutely not. We learn, if we are willing, about the extent of the sacrifice of Christ for us through the sacrificial law. Israel’s history tells us about God who redeemed those enslaved by sin.

He is the eternal Word, the author of the Word of God and nothing about Him will cease to exist when heaven and earth disappear. We place ourselves in a box when we refuse to view God’s Word as eternal demanding our interpretation of His Word be limited by a specific time and place.

Jesus confronted the teachers of the law over and over about their misinterpretation of God’s Word. They had the Word of God, the Law and the Prophets and used the traditional interpretations of the words to justify themselves. God gave His law so men would see their sin and turn to Him not so they would have a means to justify themselves before Him.

Why could not the teachers of the law understand Jesus’ words as He spoke and taught, or His actions as He healed? They had been taught and embraced a training which closed their minds to the truth. They had been taught by their “father, the devil” [John 8:44 ESV] turning truth and its head, claiming truth was not true and the lie was true and trustworthy. “Because I tell the truth, you do not believe me” [John 8:45 ESV]. Remove and compromise the truth and you will keep self from being good, because good has been redefined, excused, tortured into a lie. Take away the goodness of God and there can be no justice or righteousness, only fairness applied arbitrarily. Rob the world of justice and righteousness and holiness expunges the world from its presence, for only that which is true and good and right and just can be holy. Jesus was all of these things. Like a foreign object being rejected by the body so the corrupted body of men rejected Jesus.

We learn about Jesus by examining His life and His words. Since He wrote the Hebrew Scripture about Himself we would do well to examine it and know what it says. God’s Spirit in us will teach us if we are willing and open to learning.

Peter and Stephen

Those who have the pure salt of righteousness and shine God’s truth through their persons in a world darkened by sin will naturally face persecution. Creatures of darkness cannot abide the light for they fear exposure and run away from anything touched by light. But the light of truth cannot be hidden any more than it can be extinguished, especially when the source of light is God Himself, who is truth. Nor will the salt of righteousness lose its saltiness from those abandoned to God simply because of the hatred of the world.

Stephen was a Grecian Jew probably born outside of Judea or Galilee. He was one of the Diaspora, in Jerusalem to celebrate Passover or Pentecost and staying when he heard either Jesus teach or one of the Apostles, Peter maybe, or John. This is all speculation. We know little about Stephen other than his name, that he was chosen with six others to help serve the growing church, and that he was a godly man filled with the Holy Spirit. We also know he had a good grasp of Israel’s history and was unafraid of the Jewish leadership. We know he was persecuted and murdered because of his stance for Jesus and the gospel. We know he was falsely accused and offered a defense using his accusers own history. His story is in Acts 7.

Israel’s history condemns them for it is their history which God used to point to His Son. Using normal sinful thinking these Jews pluck out the good things from their history ignoring the sinful behavior of their ancestors. Jesus, Peter, and Stephen would not allow them this luxury. They, just like their fathers, were prone to idolatry.

Peter, an untrained teacher, also used Israel’s history to point to Jesus, His death and resurrection. None of those who confronted Peter could disprove his words. They could not produce Jesus’ body. Nor could they stand against Peter’s words before the people. Many entered God’s kingdom because of Peter’s words and miracles.

Steven did the same thing. “Brothers and fathers, hear me. The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran, and said to him, ‘Go out from your land and from your kindred and go into the land that I will show you’” [Acts 7:2-3, ESV].

Peter used the words of Moses to prick the consciences of his hearers, words they knew well.

Moses said, ‘The Lord God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers. You shall listen to him in whatever he tells you.  And it shall be that every soul who does not listen to that prophet shall be destroyed from the people.’ And all the prophets who have spoken, from Samuel and those who came after him, also proclaimed these days. You are the sons of the prophets and of the covenant that God made with your fathers, saying to Abraham, ‘And in your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed.’ God, having raised up his servant, sent him to you first, to bless you by turning every one of you from your wickedness. [Acts 3:22 ESV]

Stephen used the same illustration from Scripture. “This is the Moses who said to the Israelites, ‘God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers.’ This is the one who was in the congregation in the wilderness with the angel who spoke to him at Mount Sinai, and with our fathers. He received living oracles to give to us” [Acts 7:37-38, ESV].

Peter brought his teaching to the place where he accused the Jews of killing God’s Righteous One. Stephen did the same. Peter saw thousands come to God through the gospel and felt the lashes of the Sanhedrin, rejoicing in his sharing in the suffering of Christ. Some came into the kingdom from Stephen’s teaching while he lived. He felt the stones of their hatred toward God while asking God to forgive them. How many has God made righteous through the light of Stephen?  We do not know. It does not matter to us. What matters is we, too, are willing to shine light in a world dedicated to darkness and hatred for God.

Those who hate God think they can extinguish a person’ s light and nullify their righteousness through persecution and intimidation or by killing them. Jesus was raised from the dead. The hatred of the world is evidence of the citizen of the kingdom of heaven’s righteous standing before God.

But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.” [Acts 4:19-20, ESV]

God Separated Light from Darkness

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day. [Genesis 1:1-5 ESV]

When God created He made something out of nothing. Before He created even the inconceivably smallest particle of matter did not exist. But God exists outside of the physical universe. Then God spoke, acted, created, began creating, and there was something.

God created all physical reality with order and precision, having no defect. Yet, within these verses we see the reality of darkness and light. Before God did anything else in creation He created light. He separated the darkness from the light. Notice there was darkness over the all the earth. By this I think He means the physical planet upon which we live before the planet was habitable.

Yet, He didn’t just create. God created the universe, the earth, and people with His image, pointing to Himself. All of the evidence of creation shows the Creator at work. But God has revealed more about Himself in Scripture which we could not understand through simple observation of the physical universe. A finite mind cannot comprehend an infinite being.

Since God is omniscient  His eternal foreknowledge knew intimately the reality of coming sin and the resulting separation of those He created from Himself. Perhaps sin had already been introduced into eternity through the rebellion of Lucifer and the expulsion of those angels who followed him.

In Scripture darkness is a symbol for sin. Light is a symbol of righteousness and perfection. Separation is a theme in Scripture. God cannot allow any sinful person or thing in His presence. He separates from Himself that which does not conform to His exact, perfect standard.

From the beginning God has shown the reality of separation, light from darkness, and the truth of the righteous being set apart from the unrighteous. Separation is always from something to something different, from sin to something greater, something not sin. Separation from sin means separation to righteousness. But first those who sin must be separated from Him who cannot sin.

When Adam sinned he was separated from the place created by God for him and his enjoyment. He, and all who followed were also separated from God, unable to have the intimate relationship for which they were designed.

Cain killed Abel, separating his brother from life and himself being separated from his people. Others joined him, a group of separate people who did not follow God.

Seth was born and through him God chose to send His Son.

Then the “sons of God saw that the daughters of man were attractive. And they took as their wives any they chose” [Genesis 6:2 ESV]. Do not think these were angels. They were not. God’s sons were the line of Seth and the daughters of men were of the line of Cain. The marriage of the godly with the ungodly corrupted and further separated all from their relationship with God.

The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” [Genesis 6:5 ESV].  But God separated for Himself Noah and seven others.

Then God separated for Himself one of Noah’s sons, Shem

Then God separated for Himself Abram from all of the pagans of the world. Then God chose for Himself Isaac, not Ishmael. Then God chose for Himself Jacob, who would become Israel, not Esau. Israel was separated from the world to serve God and to bear witness of His righteousness. Even Israel sinned and parts of the nation were separated from the rest and exiled.

Sin corrupts all it touches but God’s Spirit recreates, taking away the sentence of separation. His light cannot be extinguished.

God kept His promise to the sinful world. From the beginning He determined to send His Son to take upon Himself the sentence demanded by justice for sin. Israel was chosen not because they were sinless but because of His eternal determination of the genealogical line through which Jesus would descend. All of creation points to Him.

He is the light of the world and reveals the truth of separation and the gift of restoration.

God’s Mercy Seat

“You shall make a mercy seat of pure gold. … And you shall make two cherubim of gold; of hammered work shall you make them, on the two ends of the mercy seat. … Of one piece with the mercy seat shall you make the cherubim on its two ends. … toward the mercy seat shall the faces of the cherubim be. And you shall put the mercy seat on the top of the ark, and in the ark you shall put the testimony that I shall give you. (Exodus 25:17-21 ESV]

The term “mercy seat” is best understood using the word “propitiate” which currently means conciliation. The actual Hebrew word means “lid” or “covering.” Yet, this particular lid does more than keep the contents of a box secure. Part of the lid was the cherub with outstretched wings and faces looking down at the lid, at the contents of the ark under the lid. It is from between the cherub God spoke to Moses. “There I will meet with you, and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim that are on the ark of the testimony, I will speak with you about all that I will give you in commandment for the people of Israel” [Exodus 25:22 ESV].

Under the mercy seat, contained within the chest, were three things placed within at God’s command over a short period of time. First were the second set of stone tablets upon which were the Ten Commandments written by God. Moses threw down and broke the first copy on the trail into camp when he heard the people of God partying and realized their sin and decadence, their rebellion against Him and God. Also within the Ark was a jar of manna (Exodus 16:33-34), never spoiling, and Aaron’s rod, which had budded, showing God’s approval of Moses and Aaron after a rebellion (Numbers 17:10). So, within the ark were God’s law, God’s provision for His people, and a symbol of God’s absolute decrees, His choosing.

Once a year the high priest, beginning with Aaron, would enter the Holy of Holies, or the Most Holy Place, where the Ark of the Testimony was, and offer atonement for the sins of the people. He would do this following the requirements of God commanded in Leviticus 23 by sprinkling, or pouring out blood on the cover, over the mercy seat. By doing this, still only once a year, the high priest would atone for the unintentional sins of the people.

As God looked down, symbolized by the faces of the cherubim, He would see those things in the ark. He would see His assurance of His decrees in choosing those who are His to do His will even though they rebelled. He would see the provision He made for His people during their wanderings in the wilderness because of their rebellion. He would see the Laws of God broken by the people in their constant rebellion. Then He would see the blood poured out over these things. Blood does not hide from His sight the rebellion of all people. Blood says the crimes and rebellion of the people have been paid for, atonement made, the sentence carried out and finished.

Once a year the blood poured out on the Mercy Seat released those who rebelled from the eternal just sentence and punishment for their sin. But someone has to bear the brunt of the punishment. It is not the blood of bulls and goats, which mean nothing to God. For the people continued to rebel, to sin against Him, requiring sacrifice daily, and annually in the Most Holy Place. Sacrifices must be repeated. To stop this there must be one sacrifice which takes care of all sin. Either that, or each must bear the sentence for their sin alone.

It was never God’s intent that each bear the sentence for their own sin. It was His intent that One perfect sacrifice be made for the sin of all. That sacrifice was His Son, Himself. Only one who has perfectly kept the Law of God could be the substitute, to bear the sentence of sin for another. And, He did.

“For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus who God has put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sin. [Romans 5:22-25 ESV]

There is only One who could bear the burdens of the sin of any in the world, let alone all in the world, and pay the penalty of sin. It is God Himself. Jesus’ blood releases us from the sentence of sin which is eternal separation from God. His blood does not hide our sin from God. Nothing can. His blood covers  our sin so that when God looks at us He sees the blood of His Son covering us. His sacrifice and blood paid the penalty and redeemed us from certain eternal death. For thousands of years the sacrifices pointed to the continual rebellion and sin of people. These same sacrifices also pointed to the one sacrifice of the One who demonstrated His eternal active love for us, His mercy toward us, through His personal sacrifice.

Yet, even though God’s mercy is greater than we can ever know there are still many who will not be saved. There remains one unforgivable sin. Only one. But, it only takes one sin to separate us from God.