Tag Archives: superstition

Desiring Versus Coveting

Studies in Genesis 3

So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. (Genesis 3:6 ESV)

We do not know what Eve and Adam were feeling when they ate the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. We do know Eve’s thought process. Eve talks with a snake who is controlled by the Deceiver. She believed the Deceiver’s lie about the fruit having a special property other than simple nutrition. She believed the first superstition that actually eating this fruit would give her wisdom and insight and make her like God.

Eating the fruit showed her bent toward rebellion. She and Adam were instructed by God to take care of the tree of the knowledge if good and evil but to not eat its fruit. She wanted something only God could have, to be like Him in all ways, not just with His image, and acted upon this desire. Adam and Eve were given dominion over the Earth. This dominion did not extend to God. He has ultimate authority over all He has created.

Eve and Adam coveted that which was God’s and not theirs.

God uses the word “covet” in this verse. Most translations of the Scripture use the word “desired” but it is the same word used in the tenth commandment in Exodus and Deuteronomy. The word used means to desire, take pleasure in or to delight in. It is something which is desirable or precious. Its first use is in Genesis 2:9 when God creates every tree “pleasant” which means “desirable” and is also translated “covet.” “And out of the ground the LORD God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (Genesis 2:9 ESV). Covet is used in both a good and evil way in Scripture. God made the fruit of the trees desirable and precious.

Rebellion takes that which is designed for pleasure and makes it an object of desire which must be had at all cost. That which is desirable becomes the object of lust. Coveting is wanting a thing more than wanting God. Coveting becomes wanting what someone else owns for your own, which includes wanting what God owns, and planning how to acquire that thing.

Coveting that which belongs to God or others is the foundation of sin. That which drives sin and rebellion is to have what belongs only to God by planning to take it away from God. After the fall people are so completely bent by sin that their natural tendencies are always away from Him. For most there is no conscious thought of God. For Adam and Eve God should have been in the front of their minds. As the ruling authority over the earth, coming under the authority of God, Adam and Eve should have been aware of both their position under God and His position over them. Ignoring or forgetting God is not wise.

The First Superstition

Studies in Genesis 3

But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil. (Genesis 3:5 ESV)

We are shown the birth of the first superstition. By eating the forbidden fruit, the Deceiver implies two things will happen. First, Eve’s knowledge will become complete. Secondly, with the addition of complete knowledge will come divinity. The Deceiver is saying she will be another God. This is a lie.

Superstition is an absurd religious belief or practice meant to manipulate either nature or God, or both, into doing that which is against both the laws of nature and the person of God. Such superstition relies upon the misinterpretation of evidence and willfully believing something which cannot be true. Adam and Eve had enough knowledge to know the fruit of the tree, any tree, was meant only for food. They also had enough intimate knowledge of God to know they could never be completely like Him in His person. They had those qualities which allowed them to know God both intellectually and intimately. They were His authority on the world but had no authority anywhere else.

Here, we learn something about the Deceiver. We already know he (I am moving away from the term “it” for the Deceiver is called “he” in Scripture) was created by God. We know he was able to enter and control a physical animal. We know he did not have the image if God, yet was intelligent, understood morality and was willful. We can surmise he did not have dominion. We now know he was in rebellion against God, had done something forbidden him by God because he wanted to be equal to God. I draw this opinion-conclusion from his words to Eve. He wants her to rebel against God just as he rebelled against God. He wants her to think she can be like God just as he thinks he can be like God. This line of thought and action suggests a hatred for God and everything God has created, including himself.

David, in Psalm 7, gives us the formula followed by the Deceiver, and consequently by all who are in rebellion against God. “Behold, the wicked man conceives evil and is pregnant with mischief and gives birth to lies” (Psalm 7:14 ESV). First comes the desire to rebel against God. This desire is not instant nor arbitrary but deliberate and focused. Next, is the time needed for the rebellion to grow to viability. Both “evil” and “mischief” are translated “trouble.” But “evil” includes idolatry and wickedness while “mischief” suggests deliberate labor toward a specific end or conclusion. Finally, the result of active rebellion is deception, fraud and betrayal.

While the Deceiver was already in rebellion against God he planted a seed of rebellion in Eve. Either Eve, and Adam, were already contemplating their place before God, questioning their relationship with Him, or he, the Deceiver, spent some time cultivating, planting and feeding the superstition. Both concepts are possible. But, we do not know. Genesis tells a story of a single meeting between the serpent and Eve. We must be careful to not add to God’s words.

Jesus Mercy Toward …

One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.” [John 5:5-7 ESV]

“Do you want to be healed?” Jesus asked a simple question. He did this often. His question strikes at the truth of the man’s hopelessness. God does ask us questions. His questions are designed to reveal our hearts, our motivations and objectives. He rarely offers us options. He never asks us to do something. He always commands we do what He tells us to do.

It is no surprise many carrying their handicaps as well as their sinful, immoral habits comfortably on their shoulders. If they were honest with themselves they would say “no” to Jesus’ question. They don’t want to be healed. For being healed sends them into an unknown, having to deal with parts of life they never had to confront. For most of us the answer to His question is “are you kidding? Of course I want to be healed.” Yet, being healed, being changed into something healthy carries great cost. We don’t want to confront our sin and live any differently than the comfort of our current situations.

Notice the one Jesus healed and those He did not heal. Near him lay a “multitude of invalids” all gathered under the same place all clinging to a superstitious belief an angel would stir water and the first one in is healed. He had been an invalid for 38 years. We can only speculate if his condition was all his life. He had been an invalid for so long he had grown comfortable with his lot. His focus was on the water and the impossibility of ever being changed. His faith was fixed on one thing and it wasn’t God. Besides, God made him this way. Why should God want to heal him?

His place was hopeless. He would die an invalid.

I wonder if Jesus, in order to not attract attention to Himself, whispered to the man as he lay in his usual place? I imagine the question was for him only. I wonder what Jesus saw in this man? Why did Jesus speak to him and not the others ? Why did Jesus show tangible mercy to this man and not to the others? I have an idea.

Jesus healed him to test the hearts of the religious leaders of Jerusalem. I say this for two reasons. First, He healed the man on the Sabbath and then told him to work. Jesus’ instruction Get up, take up your bed, and walk” [John 5:8 ESV] was a command and the man immediately obeyed. And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked. Now that day was the Sabbath” [John 5:9 ESV]. This is neither the first nor the last time Jesus would heal on the Sabbath. But the Jewish tradition, building an impenetrable wall around the fourth commandment determined carrying anything was a violation of the intent of the Law. Jesus continually challenged the Religious leaders interpretation and application of Scripture. Jesus healed this man because He knew the Jewish leaders would challenge, not the reality of the healing but the violation of their traditional understanding of God’s Law.

Keep God’s law and He will reward you. Violate God’s Law and His wrath will fall on you. Their understanding of God’s Law was as superstitious as the invalid’s belief that stepping into a pool after the water was stirred by an angel would bring healing.

When we focus on the invalid and not the Lord we may draw many conclusions about what might have happened. How ecstatic he may have been. How worshipful and thankful to God he may have been. We do not know his emotional state beyond the hopelessness of his response to Jesus question. We do see the reaction of the Jews to one working on the Sabbath. Had not God decreed death to those who worked on the Sabbath? Working on the Sabbath was strictly forbidden. But then, so was every other sin. Jesus regularly challenged the thinking and heart motivations of the strict Jews whose faith was in the Law and not the God upon whom the Law is founded.

Our work of faith is the evidence of faith at work. Obedience to God is expected and carries no merit. We cannot say to Him, I obeyed now You owe me. It is our responsibility to obey God as His creation and servants. When we take His words, especially His Scripture, and add to them our own laws and expectations we supplant His authority. When Jesus healed on the Sabbath He had the authority to do so. When He commanded a man “work” He had the authority to do so. When he challenged the legalistic machinations of the Jewish authorities it was because they were challenging His authority.

Man’s interpretation of God’s Law is not merciful. Law trumps mercy when applied by sinful man and is manipulated and reconfigured to leave control with man and not God. Man’s understanding of justice demands the Law be applied strictly. It is the Law which becomes the object of faith, just as the pool was the invalids object of faith. However, when God is the object of faith then the Law only points out the sinfulness of man .

The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good. Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, producing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure. For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. [Romans 7:10-14 ESV]

But God is merciful as part of His eternal character. He offers mercy but still demands obedience. The second reason is this: Jesus commanded the invalid to do two things, not one, separated by a short period. First, He told him to pick up his mat and walk, and the man did. But, later He told the man to stop sinning. “Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, ‘See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you’” [John 5:14 ESV]. What could be worse than being an invalid for 38 years? What could be worse than having the Jews angry with you for violating the Law? Being separated from God because of sin is worse.

God’s mercy trumps man’s interpretation of the Law. After all, it’s His Law and it conforms to His eternal character. When controlled by sin the Law is used to fight to keep power over those under it and is used to frustrate and even stop God’s mercy. God’s mercy and justice are not opposed to each other but are fully compatible. Jesus had mercy on this man, actively loving him by healing his body and giving him direction toward God. He no more deserved God’s mercy than anyone else in the world.

It was the Jews, whose object of faith was the Law and not God, who turned the Law into an idol, who wanted to kill Jesus because he challenged their dishonesty and superstitious use of God’s Law.

This was why the Jews persecuted Jesus, He healed on the Sabbath. But Jesus answered them, “‘My Father is working until now, and I am working.’ This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God” [John 5:16-18 ESV].

It is Jesus’ equality with God, and His passionate substitution for us on the cross, which fulfills the law and energizes God’s mercy. Don’t allow any interpretation of Scripture to point away from Jesus and His active love for those who are His.

Mercy Received

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. [Psalm 51:1 ESV – To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet went to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba]

Mercy.

Our world sees needing mercy as weakness, something the strong does for those unable to do for themselves but only when they want. There is no compunction to offer mercy, no social obligation, no legal demand. Mercy becomes a symbol of control and a check put on a score card. We like it when we see people showing mercy to others. We wonder why many of those who need mercy have allowed themselves to come to the place of need. Even God says “I will show mercy to whom I show mercy” [Exodus 33:19 ESV]. We read into His words the implication He doesn’t have to show mercy to anyone. Even though we need His mercy. Nevertheless, He is the ultimate example of our obligation to show mercy to others.

We are only half right. We show mercy to others because He has shown mercy to us first. He is our example and the standard against which the evidence of our lives is measured. But I think we have misunderstood and misinterpreted His words to Moses. His showing mercy is not arbitrary, controlled by a whim or hormonal fluctuations. There are absolute circumstances where He shows mercy. There are absolute circumstances where He removes His mercy. He has stated these circumstances, made known His demands and expectations, defined His law and statutes and given both circumstances for compliance and rebellion. We do not judge Him.

In the Hebrew Scriptures most of the verses using the word “mercy” are found in the Psalms and Prophets. Mercy becomes a substantial yet poetic word used to describe God’s compassion shown to us. There are several Hebrew words used. One, racham, has the positive connotation of loving deeply and compassionately, with affection. Another, chanan, means to show favor or pity, gracious attention and consideration, generally toward one who is in great need. Both words are verbs and show an act of the will from one toward another.

In the Greek New Testament only one significant word is used for mercy, eleeo, which  means to show favor toward someone afflicted or wretched and in the greatest need. Again, it is a verb showing an act of the will from one toward another.

Mercy is relational. It is active love shown by God to all. It is the active love those who are His show to each other and to those who continually rebel against Him. It is a realization of the need for God’s active love, an understanding of the consequences of our need and a humble acceptance.

David knew he was sinning when he had Uriah murdered and then took Bathsheba as his wife. He knew the law and had a personal relationship with God. His faith in God was strong. It is not the sin which corrupted his flesh was stronger but his resolve to sin, his decision to sin and rebel against God, was more important to him than his desire to love God. He wanted to sin and God did not stop him. The ramifications of sin and the response of God to sin is too large for this small essay. David asked for mercy knowing intimately the consequences of his sin. David asked for mercy knowing God had shown His mercy to David all along. The only way David could express the depth of his misery over his sin, the crushing need for God’s mercy and acceptance, is through poetic words filled with emotion.

The Academic may dissect mercy, separating its various parts and discovering how each part works with the other. The student may learn all about mercy and how it should work in the cold environment of the lab or from the sterile pages of a textbook. But those who know mercy can only cry out in their hearts in fear of God’s wrath, in receiving God’s love through repentance and faith and in acceptance of His eternal compassion.

David expressed his deepest feelings through poetry. We don’t all need to write poetry to feel or to express our feelings. We all do need to think and feel as the whole person God has made us. We all do need to weep with mourning over sin and weep for joy in God’s mercy.

Lord, don’t let my thinking be devoid of feeling.

Have mercy on me, O God [Psalm 51:1 ESV]

And the Lord afflicted the child that Uriah’s wife bore to David, and he became sick. David therefore sought God on behalf of the child. And David fasted and went in and lay all night on the ground. [2 Samuel 12:15-16 ESV]

David asked for mercy for his child, conceived through an adulterous affair resulting in the murder of his lovers husband. Yet, the child died. It was David and Bathsheba who sinned yet it was the child who died. Did God not show His mercy to the child? Ultimately, the momentary affliction of sickness to death brought the child into the presence of God. Then, David sought mercy for himself. In both cases, God showed mercy to those He loves.

Still, you will find this refrain throughout the Psalms and the Gospels. God’s people continually cried out to Him for mercy. His people are afflicted, assaulted, hurt and grieving and they cry out to God for His mercy while requesting God kill and destroy those who are afflicting and assaulting them. They want His mercy and for Him to not show mercy to those against them, causing their pain and discomfort. This is an enigma which I do not understand.

Many seek God mercy and then either accept it or reject it because His mercy does not fit their expectations. In the broadest sense His mercy is shown to every man every day, to every person, even when they do not realize it. As an integral part of common grace God’s mercy is given to the ignorant, the hypocrite and those who catch only a glimmer of His compassion. The righteous Judge shows mercy to all by not executing judgment against all. It is mercy which brings a condemned sinner into the presence of God. Yet, most will not recognize His mercy.

We are under God’s condemnation because of sin. Most people in this world, having dispensed with the knowledge of God in their rebellion, live in fear of the superstitious. They have replaced the truth of God with a lie of their own invention, accepting the lie as truth. To say you believe in superstitions, something foisted upon an unsuspecting, even innocent, people, denies the image of God in man which witnesses the truth of God. Yet, God continues allowing the superstitious to live using fear to drive them toward Himself. He prompts them with His Spirit to see the truth. Those who die saying the truth of the Spirit is a lie, die physically and spiritually. There comes a place where God’s mercy ceases and His wrathful judgment is exercised.

How do we know God shows Himself and His Spirit shows the truth to those in rebellion? He has told us.

And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness.[Genesis 15:5-6 ESV]

But it is the spirit in man, the breath of the Almighty, that makes him understand. [Job 32:8 ESV]

The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard.
[Psalm 19:1-3 ESV]

For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. [Romans 1:19-20 ESV]

What about the hypocrite, specifically the religious hypocrite? Those who say with their mouths they are following God, who even demonstrates religious piety, while continuing to rebel against God in their hearts. They recognize the concept of mercy without demonstrating they have received mercy. Jesus’ strongest words were not against “sinners” and “tax-collectors” and “prostitutes”, or even against the Roman occupiers who controlled Judah and Jerusalem. His most critical words were against the religious leaders.

“But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves. [Matthew 23:13-15 ESV (and following)].

Although receiving God’s mercy and grace they showed none to those who did not fit their expectations. By seeking to control others they try to control God and show they have no understanding of God’s grace and mercy.

Those who catch only a glimmer of God’s mercy need only that glimmer. It is enough for them to honestly see themselves as God sees them, desperately wicked, black with sin as with leprosy, totally depraved, completely unable to do anything righteous. But, a glimmer of God’s mercy also shows them how much God loves them. Though sentenced to death, eternal separation from God who is the source of life, His Son took upon Himself the judgment due me. In exchange for my sin He gave me His righteousness. His mercy is given and received, not earned or bought.

How do I know I have, or anyone has, received God’s mercy. Because I want to give others what God has given me. “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy” [Matthew 5:7 ESV].