Saturday, July 27, 2019

Sarah's Daughters

I just finished the first draft of the lyrics of a new song. Here they are in their roughness.
World premier.
The mostly finished product can be viewed here and here.

Sarah's Daughters
by Neil Short

Sarah called on Yahweh. She was God's elect. 
She esteemed her man in mutual respect. 
Trembling, she met God out on the wild frontier. 
We are Sarah's daughters if we do not fear. 

(refrain)
We have the news of Jesus' sacrifice. 
He made us prophets by enkindled tongues of fire. 
So lift your voice about the love of Christ. 
We minister the gospel of salvation's power. 

All who live a godly life will be abused. 
We are steady if we keep the scripture dear. 
We have God when we are wrongfully accused. 
We are Sarah's daughters if we persevere. 

God has given ministry to everyone―
Even son and daughter prophets in their youth―
As when came the Spirit in Jerusalem. 
We are Sarah's daughters if we preach the truth. 

Scriptures: 
1 Peter 3:6; Genesis 18:12; 16:5; 2 Timothy 3:12-17; Acts 2:17-18

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Irresistible Grace?

I was recently asked to address scriptures that seem to promote the doctrine of Irresistible Grace–the doctrine that God's grace cannot be resisted.I have a short list of passages showing that God's grace can be resisted:
Luke 7:30
John 5:40
Colossians 1:23
1 Thessalonians 2:16
Hebrews 10:26
2 Peter 2:1

These are the ones I have currently tagged in my Olive Tree Bible App as being contra-Irresistable Grace. I don't always remember to tag my notes; so these lists are far from exhaustive. My intent with this article will be to cite each passage and to share with you my notes on it. I am certain that my conclusions will at times be vulnerable to refuting arguments. I will leave it to the reader to draw his/her own convictions.

Verses that tend to promote the doctrine of Irresistible Grace:

Isaiah 30:19
Truly, O people in Zion, inhabitants of Jerusalem, you shall weep no more. He will surely be gracious to you at the sound of your cry; when he hears it, he will answer you.
I am not sure how this verse promotes the doctrine of Irresistible Grace. Perhapse it is clear when read with the unconditional mindset. If nobody is weaping any longer then they will cry to God and God will hear. What other choice do they have? Even the calvinistic Reformation Study Bible says, "Like the father of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32), the Lord is quick to listen for the voice of His returning people. It is they who are hard of hearing" (R.C. Sproul).

The calvinistic ESV Study Bible begins its comment at verse 18. "Note the amazing logic of grace: God's people forsake him for a false salvation (vv.1-17); therefore, he is gracious to them (v. 18); but he waits, for the LORD is a God of justice, i.e., he knows the porfect way to achieve his purpose, the perfect tme to go into action, and the perfect disciplinary process that awaken Judah" (Raymond C. Ortlund Jr.).  In order to conclude that God is gracious before the people repent one must see it before he reads it. The text says the complete opposite. God is gracious in response to the people's cries.

Jeremiah 31:3
the Lord appeared to him from far away.
I have loved you with an everlasting love;
therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.
This passage is often presented as proof of Irresistible Grace.

Hat tip to Jamie Saunders who wrote this Facebook comment:
The drawing that Jeremiah is speaking to is that general drawing which was rejected of Israel, but is of such a kind that God will persist in continually putting it forth unto their national restoration after the Babylonian captivity–or the end of the ages–comes to it's end.  Jeremiah's point there is to show that God in the wilderness had attempted to woo them in love, but he 'failed' of the result due to their obstinacy–cue captivity.  Yet, God will once again do this work and the results will be clearly manifest to all in the future.  Meaning?  The so-called "internal call" is in no sense conveyed within this text and in fact the exact opposite of that is relayed in the context.
In summary: God's continued faithfulness to Israel/Judah has always been from the perspective of repeated invitations to faithfulness–not from continued blessing irrespective of Israel's unfaithfulness.

Ezekiel 36:27
I will put my spirit within you, and make you follow my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances.
Make you -- does this language require divine determinism? If so then the priests did the same thing in Ezekiel 44:12. Also, such determinism contradicts Ezekiel 18:31. This verse should be seen as consistent with Hosea 2:14.
Therefore, I will now allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her.
Matthew 22:14
For many are called, but few are chosen.
The Calvinist take on this verse seems to be at odds with Romans 8:30. The Reformation Study Bible defines two kinds of "call." The first is a general call that Christians extend to everybody. The second is an "effectual" call.
The preaching of the gospel represents the outward call of God. This call is heard audibly by both the elect and the nonelect. Human beings have the ability to resist and refuse the outward call. He will not respond to the outward call in faith unless or until the outward call is accompanied by the effectual inward call of the Holy Spirit.
The second is the powerful call that God places on the heart of the unbeliever. That "effectual call" is ultimately irresistible.
Effectual calling is irresistible in the sense that God sovereignly brings about its desired result. This sovereign work of grace is resistible in the sense that we can and do resist it in our fallen nature, but irresistible in the sense that God’s grace prevails over our natural resistance to it.
Elected and chosen are the same gk word (Gk 1588)

Election is about individuals choosing God. Those who are not chosen are thus not chosen because of their own resistance.

John 6:29
Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”
Belief is a work. Calvinists read this verse as if belief is irresistible.

Faith is not a gift. Salvation is a gift (Ephesians 2:8-9).

Believing refers to the entire process of human reception of God's act of grace. In that sense, faith can be seen as a gift because it comes out of God's work of self-revelation. The final choice is nevertheless our own.

Acts 1:16-20
“Friends, the scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit through David foretold concerning Judas, who became a guide for those who arrested Jesus— for he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry.” (Now this man acquired a field with the reward of his wickedness; and falling headlong, he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out. This became known to all the residents of Jerusalem, so that the field was called in their language Hakeldama, that is, Field of Blood.)
“For it is written in the book of Psalms,
‘Let his homestead become desolate,
and let there be no one to live in it’;
and
‘Let another take his position of overseer.’
 As much as Calvinists would like to argue, this passage does not support the notion that Judas was destined to betray Jesus.

This was not a prophecy about Judas that needed to be fulfilled.

The scripture is Psalm 69:25 and Psalm 109:8. Psalm 69:25 speaks of David's enemies in the plural, not singular as Peter quoted it. Peter modified it a bit to refer to Judas. Peter merged the two verses and applied them to his current situation because he believed there was an apostolic vacancy that needed to be filled. Peter was arguing the scriptures needed to be fulfilled, but not prophetically. They were fulfilled through parallelism.

Jesus similarly applied Psalm 41:9–about David's betrayal by (probably) Ahithephel–to his current situation with Judas in John 13:18.

The passage fulfills the OT language by similarity or applicability but they were not prophetic fulfillments.

Jesus said that the Father gave Judas to him but that he had lost him (John 17:12). Judas chose to be an apostle (Luke 6:13; John 6:70) but Judas fell from his apostleship by his own choice (Acts 1:25).

On Judas' salvation, consider John 17:12.
While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost, so that the scripture might be fulfilled.
 Do not overlook the fact that Jesus says he lost Judas.

What scripture? Since there are really no prophetic passages regarding Judas in the Old Testament, the scriptures must have been fulfilled through similarity or applicability.

Note that Judas started out as a saved man but he lost his salvation due to his own choices.

Judas left everything to follow Jesus (Mark 10:28 = Matthew 19:27).

Judas was given authority to cast out demons, heal the sick and preach the gospel (Matthew 10:1-27).

Judas' name was written in heaven (Luke 10:20).

He had a throne in Heaven upon which he would judge Israel (Matthew 19:28; Luke 22:30). Note: Luke places the saying after Judas' failure but Matthew places it before (Matthew 26:14).

Although Jesus called Judas a devil (John 6:70) he also called Peter "Satan" (Matthew 16:23).

Even Peter lost his salvation at one point (Mark 8:38; Matthew 10:33; cf Matthew 26:34). Peter's restoration to salvation required conversion (or repentance) (Luke 22:31-32).

On the word "fulfill," consider James 2:22-23
You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was brought to completion by the works. Thus the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” and he was called the friend of God.
Note: Genesis 15:6 is not a prophecy. Neither are most of the OT passages that the NT says are "fulfilled."
cf.
Matthew 1:18-22 = Isaiah 7:14
John 19:24 = Psalm 22:18

It does not make sense to think of Genesis 15:6 as something that will someday come true.

"Fulfill" does not mean that the current point is a prophecy that is now coming true. It means that the current point matches a text in the OT. The usual reason a NT writer says that something fulfills an OT text is not because it was originally intended to apply in that situation or even that it has the same truth value or lesson. It is quoted for its rhetorical impact. Its meaning here is
When we, by faith, do good works, we fulfill the scripture that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness."
Today, instead of saying "fulfilled" we would probably say "We might verbalize the current point in classical Old Testament verbiage" or, "I am reminded of the text" or "This idea gives new meaning to the Old Testament saying."

So, Matthew 2:17-18
Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:
“A voice was heard in Ramah,
wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.”
becomes more clear as...
This terrible thing that Herod did brings new meaning to the words of Jeremiah: "A voice was heard in Ramah....."

Romans 3:7
But if through my falsehood God’s truthfulness abounds to his glory, why am I still being condemned as a sinner?
This verse seems to support the notion that God authorizes sin in order to receive self-glory. The verse does not really make that point at all. Paul is actually arguing against the notion that God authorizes sin. If it were true, then sinners would not be condemned. Some people do a hat-dance around this one; but it just doesn't stand up. (Maybe it is a.... MYSTERY!) Paul is making a closely parallel argument in Romans 9:19.

2 Corinthians 1:21-22
But it is God who establishes us with you in Christ and has anointed us, by putting his seal on us and giving us his Spirit in our hearts as a first installment.
Here is the HarperCollins Study Bible note:
The Spirit, whom believers receive at the time of conversion (see Gal 3.2–3), is the “down payment” that provides assurance that all God’s saving promises (v. 20) will be fulfilled (see Rom 8.11; Eph 4.30). (John T. Fitzgerald)

Compare the HarperCollins note with the Reformation Study Bible:
Those who are guarded by God in this way continue to trust in Christ throughout their lives (13:5; Col. 1:23; Heb. 3:14), because God protects them through the faith He gives them (v. 24). None of them can fall away. If one has been justified, one will most certainly be glorified (Rom. 8:28-30).
In other words, the Holy Spirit does not guarantee God's promise of salvation (i.e., to those who believe). It is, instead, salvation itself that is guaranteed irrespective of a person's choices. To place this passage under the heading of ultimate salvation misses the meaning of the verse. The problem with the "irresistible grace" take is that the passage deals with an aspect of salvation (Jesus is really coming again) but not salvation in its broad sense (suggesting that a predestined believer cannot ever become an unbeliever). It is easy to apply this verse too broadly and arrive in the wrong doctrinal place.

Ephesians 1:13-14
In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.
When this scripture is invoked to support Calvinism, it is conscripted to support the doctrine of Preservation of the Saints (that it is impossible to lose faith). It becomes important in our analysis to notice that Preservation of the Saints and Irresistible Grace are logically consistent. One implies the other.

If you must believe then you must continue to believe indefinitely.

If you must continue to believe indefinitely, then your beliefe is God's sovereign choice that also cannot be resisted. Thus the moment you first believed was also a result of God's sovereignty and thus irresistible.

This scripture actually refutes the second syllogism.

Ephesians 2:10
For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.
This verse may suggest that we are what God has made us because we had no other choice. The verse means that the death of Christ had purpose for our lives that are now covenantally intimate with Christ's resurrection and new life.

Thus, it does not mean a prior choice of individuals and not other individuals. It is a preparation of a kind of person... a kind of person who has accepted new life in Christ Jesus. All this preparation God intends for us is still resistible. The verse does not suggest otherwise.

Ephesians 4:21-24
For surely you have heard about him and were taught in him, as truth is in Jesus. You were taught to put away your former way of life, your old self, corrupt and deluded by its lusts, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.
I may have made a mistake here. This scripture promotes the idea that a person's choice is required and teaching to be like God is resistible. Maybe readers can help me wrap my mind around the "irresistible" model in this passage. I don't see it.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Does Jesus Fulfill God's Promise About David's "House?"

Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me; your throne shall be established forever.
According to 2 Samuel 7:16, David will always have a descendant on the throne of Israel. This promise appears to be unconditional. Indeed, many interpreters look at passages like the one made directly to David as being fulfilled in Jesus. Well, yes and no.

One big problem with the view that God's promise to David is unbreakable is the fact that, between Zerubbabel (not really a king) and Jesus, there was a really long dry spell of no Davidic kings. Half a millennium!

Interpreters can cite references that look back to God's promise to David and seem to anticipate Jesus (Isaiah 9:7; 11:2). We can take note of Matthew's detail of Jesus' ancestry as Matthew traces it through David and the kings of Judah (Matthew 1:1, 6-12). We can recognize that Jesus is identified as the son of David in the gospels (Luke 1:32-33 and many references of Jesus as "son of David" by people he encountered in the gospels).

We run into some trouble when we read passages like Jeremiah 33:19-26.
19 The word of the LORD came to Jeremiah: 20 Thus says the LORD: If any of you could break my covenant with the day and my covenant with the night, so that day and night would not come at their appointed time, 21 only then could my covenant with my servant David be broken, so that he would not have a son to reign on his throne, and my covenant with my ministers the Levites. 22 Just as the host of heaven cannot be numbered and the sands of the sea cannot be measured, so I will increase the offspring of my servant David, and the Levites who minister to me.
23 The word of the LORD came to Jeremiah: 24 Have you not observed how these people say, “The two families that the Lord chose have been rejected by him,” and how they hold my people in such contempt that they no longer regard them as a nation? 25 Thus says the LORD: Only if I had not established my covenant with day and night and the ordinances of heaven and earth, 26 would I reject the offspring of Jacob and of my servant David and not choose any of his descendants as rulers over the offspring of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. For I will restore their fortunes, and will have mercy upon them.
According to these two oracles, God's promise to David that he will always have a descendant on the throne of Israel is as unbreakable as God's covenant with day and night. But this passage refers to God's promise to David's family in the same breath as God's promise to Levi's family. In other words, the perpetuation of the throne of David and the perpetuation of the levitical priesthood are equally certain. But we know that the levitical priesthood was put to rest by Jesus (being a priest according to the order of Melchizedek, Hebrews 5:5-6; 7:11-12, 17). Jeremiah's oracles in this place look like another unfulfilled prophecy since there is no way to explain how the promise was fulfilled for the Levites!

The problem, the way I see it, is that we are not understanding God's covenantal promises correctly. Even when they appear to be unconditional, they really are conditional. God's promises can be resisted. Consider this passage, also in the book of Jeremiah, that warns that God's promise to David is in jeopardy of failing because of the people's sinfulness.

Jeremiah 11:4-5
For if you will indeed obey this word, then through the gates of this house shall enter kings who sit on the throne of David, riding in chariots and on horses, they and their servants, and their people. But if you will not heed these words, I swear by myself, says the LORD, that this house shall become a desolation.
Even David understood God's promise to be conditional.

1 Kings 2:1-4
When David’s time to die drew near, he charged his son Solomon, saying: “I am about to go the way of all the earth. Be strong, be courageous, and keep the charge of the LORD your God, walking in his ways and keeping his statutes, his commandments, his ordinances, and his testimonies, as it is written in the law of Moses, so that you may prosper in all that you do and wherever you turn. Then the LORD will establish his word that he spoke concerning me: ‘If your heirs take heed to their way, to walk before me in faithfulness with all their heart and with all their soul, there shall not fail you a successor on the throne of Israel.’
In the case of the citizens of Jerusalem in the days of Jeremiah, the idea was that, while God's promise to David seemed unbreakable, the people could push back with their ungodly ways and deny fulfillment of God's promise. In fact, they had to push back really hard; but when the Babylonians came to town, it was over.

The New Testament church was constantly on the lookout for ways that Jesus fulfilled God's promises. Those connections identified Jesus as the Messiah of God. Nevertheless, many of those connections link back to promises that were unfulfilled in their original intentions. (I do not mean to imply that the church misused Scripture. Their reading was valid for their day). In the case of the perpetuation of the levitical priesthood, it just flat never happened.




Appendix:

A fascinating oracle that relates to this discussion appears in Isaiah 24. In that oracle, the prophet identifies another seemingly unbreakable promise, the rainbow promise (Genesis 9:16) to be conditional.

Isaiah 24:5, 18
The earth lies polluted
    under its inhabitants;
for they have transgressed laws,
    violated the statutes,
    broken the everlasting covenant.
Whoever flees at the sound of the terror
    shall fall into the pit;
and whoever climbs out of the pit
    shall be caught in the snare.
For the windows of heaven are opened,
    and the foundations of the earth tremble.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Genesis 27: Should we agree on everything?

Genesis 27:36
Esau said, “Is he not rightly named Jacob? For he has supplanted me these two times. He took away my birthright; and look, now he has taken away my blessing.” Then he said, “Have you not reserved a blessing for me?”
It is interesting that the writers and prophets of the Old Testament are not all in full agreement with everything. In this case, Hosea is sympathetic to Esau when he said,

The LORD has an indictment against Judah,
and will punish Jacob according to his ways,
and repay him according to his deeds.
In the womb he tried to supplant his brother,
and in his manhood he strove with God. (Hosea 12:2-3)
Hosea is somewhat sympathetic to Esau but also to anyone who has been mistreated by Israel in more recent times to the prophet. He may even be thinking about the nation of Edom that is called by her ancestor Esau. That kind of thinking is not universal in the Bible. In fact, the man Jacob is generally treated as an upstanding hero in most places.

It is frustrating to see denominational leaders attempt to get everyone to agree on everything. It comes across like they are wanting people to stop thinking for themselves and just accept what the leadership says they should think. That is the definition of a cult. If Jesus is our cult leader, then so be it; but if church leadership starts telling us what to think, then that is a problem. Not even the writers of the Bible agree on everything.

Genesis 26: unmerited favor

Gen 26:12-14
Isaac sowed seed in that land, and in the same year reaped a hundredfold. The Lord blessed him, and the man became rich; he prospered more and more until he became very wealthy. He had possessions of flocks and herds, and a great household, so that the Philistines envied him.
Here is the take-away from this chapter. Isaac did not deserve this blessing; but God is not about being fair as much as he is about grace. This blessing is unmerited, as is our own salvation that we enjoy and appreciate.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Genesis 25: Abraham in the afterlife. Patriarchal period? What about Rebekah?

Genesis 25:8
Abraham breathed his last and died in a good old age, an old man and full of years, and was gathered to his people.
Abraham was gathered to his people? What does that mean? Here are some useful thoughts:

NKJV Study Bible (Thomas Nelson):
A burial. The phrase also indicates that there is an afterlife (see Genesis 15:15; 35:29; 49:33).
John Walton, NIV Cultural Study Bible:
This expression finds its roots in ancient views about burial and afterlife. Both the practice of burials in family tombs and the view of continuing social relationships in the afterlife retain the concept of the ancestors as a distinguishable group. One’s place in the family of deceased ancestors was just as central to one’s identity as one’s place in the family in the land of the living. The living family honored the deceased both individually and corporately through a variety of practices that did not stop after burial.
John E. Hartley, Understanding the Bible Commentary:
The phrase gathered to his people refers to the idea that the deceased became numbered with his departed ancestors. This language, which occurs only ten times and only in the Pentateuch, hints at a belief in some type of life after death.
See also 2 Samuel 12:23; Genesis 37:35

So, while being gathered to one's people seems to be a euphemism for being buried (1 Kings 14:20 and many like it), It seems to betray a very early belief in an afterlife. The concept of life after death may very well be much older than many assume.

Gen 25:22-23
The children struggled together within [Rebekah]; and she said, “If it is to be this way, why do I live?” So she went to inquire of the LORD.
And the LORD said to her,
“Two nations are in your womb,
and two peoples born of you shall be divided;
the one shall be stronger than the other,
the elder shall serve the younger.”
While this historical period is customarily identified as the Patriarchal Dispensation—when God spoke to the patriarchs—God spoke to the female heads of household too! Women have always been in personal relationship with God and they did not need their husbands to mediate for them. (Recall that Sarai boldly called upon Yahweh to take her side against her husband Abram in Genesis 16:5). This biblical history ought to inform the notion of gender based roles in the modern church and Christian families.

If Isaac would have paid better heed to Rebekah's revelation he would have spared his family a lot of trouble.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Emotionally conflicted God

God is consistent in character. Consistent character is definitely the meaning of the "God does not change" statements in the Bible (1 Samuel 15:29; Numbers 23:19; James 1:17). Nevertheless, God experiences emotions and sometimes those emotions are conflicted.
Jeremiah 12:8
My heritage has become to me
like a lion in the forest;
she has lifted up her voice against me—
therefore I hate her.

Jeremiah 31:3
I have loved you with an everlasting love;
therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.
Well, what is it? Does God hate God's people or does God love God's people? The answer is that God sometimes has a love-hate relationship with God's people. God's actions in history have betrayed both relational passions toward God's people.
Jeremiah 10:24
Correct me, O Lord, but in just measure;
not in your anger, or you will bring me to nothing.
Jeremiah realized that God is sometimes so angry that, if God punished his people during that angry spell, it would be the end of them. God needs a cooling off period before punishing. Similarly, we humans should cool off before we perform any punishment to our own children.

How can we accept a God who is sometimes emotionally conflicted? The reason we should accept this God is:
  • because God is consistent in character and faithful to covenant/promise.
  • because the God of the Bible is the only God that exists.
  • because a responsive God holds to account the actions of those God loves.
The less we are committed to covenant relationship with God, the more arbitrary God's emotional disposition toward us may seem. God has positioned God's self into a divinely vulnerable position because God is totally committed to relationship. We are the ones who wander away from God. In a relationship, the one who is most committed to it is the one most vulnerable to grief and pain. God has exposed God's self to that kind of damage. Would we renew our own promisses to be faithful to God?

Does this revelation about God's emotions bring God down to the level of humans? No. We need to be careful about assuming God is just like us. It is true, however, that we are a lot like God. It means something to be created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). Humans experience emotions that originated at the divine level. Emotions are not in themselves evil. I am even talking about negative emotions like anger and jealousy. The question is if your emotions control you or if you control yourself while experiencing these very strong emotions. God works to prevent God's motions from ruling God just as we are expected to prevent our own emotions from ruling ourselves.