Sunday, August 13, 2017

Genesis 12:1-20

Genesis 12:1-20

God tells Abram to journey through territory that eventually becomes the inheritance of Israel. This oracle may have come to Abram when he still lived in Ur of the Chaldeans or perhaps it came to him after his family had settled in at the place they called Haran. In any case, this journey kicks off God’s plan for Abram to make of him a “great nation” that will be a blessing to “all the families of the earth.”

Similar cases of covenantal language appear in chapters 15 and 17 but God’s statement to Abram in 12:2-3 is central to the whole Bible. It is the Bible’s thesis statement. God planned to make a people for himself through whom he would reach the world. The core thought defines the vocation of God’s people:

In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.


It is not the vocation of God’s people to be God’s exclusive people—the only ones who are saved and at the expense of those who, by their very heritage, will never find God’s favor. No. It is the vocation of God’s people to channel God’s favor to the world.

The meaning of that vocation became more evident to the writers of the Bible as they experienced more and more contact with Gentile nations. We will see it in a chilly way in the early days of the nation and during the Assyrian crisis when the kingdom of Israel was destroyed beyond recovery. We will see it in a prominent way when the people of Judah are carried into captivity. We will see it in the days of the Roman oppression. We will see it in the preaching and ministry of Jesus Christ. We will see it as the primary vocation of the church.

Everywhere Abram journeyed he built a monument to Yahweh and he worshiped God. We all have secular lives; but everywhere we go, we should be leaving monuments in people’s minds that testify to the reality and character of God. Do people see God working in me?
Dear friends, let us love one another, because love is from God, and everyone who loves has been fathered by God and knows God. (1 John 4:7, NET)

Friday, August 11, 2017

Promoting Enns' "The Sin of Certainty"

I just started to read Pete Enns' book, The Sin of Certainty. My stack of books "to read" is getting a little tall. (Sorry, Dr. Enns). This book is going to be great! I wish to transcribe a few nuggets from the introductory material in the book. -Neil

Most Christians―I'd be willing to bet, sooner or later, all Christians―have unexpected uh-oh moments that threaten familiar ways of believing and thinking about God, moments that show up without being invited, without a chance to prepare for what's coming and run for cover.

Maybe we've read a book, listened to a podcast, watched Secrets of the Bible Revealed on cable TV or a Disney movie on a plane that introduced instability to our once stable faith. Maybe we've met new people who don't share our ideas about the Bible or God at all, but who are just plain nice and what they say makes sense. Maybe we've experienced a deep loss or an unspeakable tragedy that leaves us questioning everything we ever thought we believed about God, the world, and our place in it.

I believe these uh-oh moments get our attention like nothing else can. In fact, I believe they are God moments. I don't claim to know how it all works, and I've learned the hard way over the years not to think I can speak for God, but I believe uh-oh moments serve a holy purpose―at least they have for me. They help break down the religious systems we create for ourselves that sooner or later block us from questioning, wondering, and, therefore, from growing. (7-8)

When we are held captive to our thinking, moving to what is not known and uncertain is automatically seen as a fearful development. We think true faith is dependent on maintaining a particular "knowledge set" and keeping a firm grasp on a tightly woven network of nonnegotiable beliefs, guarding each one vigilantly, making sure they all stay above the water line no matter how hard the struggle―because if what we "know" sinks, faith sinks right down with it. (17-18)

Dr. Enns writes his books in a very contemporary style. His books are broken up into little bite-sized subchapters―much like blog articles. A reader can pick up the book and literally read for five minutes and not have to back-track to get back into the thought-flow. His writing style is easy-reading even for readers who find it difficult to focus on what they are reading. His books are great serious content packaged in a format acceptable for readers who otherwise obtain most of their "knowledge" from Facebook.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Salvation by faith alone. Genesis 6

Genesis 6:1-22

We learn a number of important characteristics about God in this chapter.

God is capable of regret (vs. 6). See also 1 Samuel 15:11.

God is able to grieve (vs. 6). He is able to experience emotional pain. See also Psalm 78:40; Isaiah 63:10; Luke 19:41-42; John 11:33-35; Ephesians 4:30; Hosea 11:8-9.

God reacts to human action (vs. 7). See also Isaiah 9:11-12; Jeremiah 18.

When we compare vs. 7 to Genesis 1:31 we see that now God has changed his mind about the goodness of the world.

God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. (Genesis 1:31)

God is able to change his mind. See also Exodus 32:14; Psalm 106:23;  1 Samuel 2:30; Jeremiah 15:6.

We learn in this chapter that Noah found favor in the sight of God (vs. 8). It is certainly evident why. He was faithful all the way to chapter 7. He followed God’s instructions and built the ark. It was Noah’s obedience that save his life and the lives of his family. I am certain Noah would have said that he was saved by grace alone yet we can see that Noah’s real faith was required.

A covenant (vs. 18) is an agreement between two parties. If one of the two parties violates the terms of the covenant then the covenant is broken. If Noah had been disobedient, he and his family would have perished in the flood—no matter how much favor he found in God’s eyes.
Noah did this; he did all that God commanded him. (Genesis 6:22)

You must master it. Genesis 4

Genesis 4:1-26

Central verse: Genesis 4:7. Sin is lurking at the door; it’s desire is for you, but you must master it.

At this point, Cain’s future is open. The nature of Cain’s future depends on Cain’s choices. God gave Cain some really good advice. “You must master it.” God did give this good advice while knowing full well that Cain would fail to follow it. God advised Cain to do something completely possible for Cain to accomplish.

The Bible does not characterize sin as something we cannot master (James 1:14-15). We are able to master it (1 Corinthians 10:13) and we are able to call on God in prayer for additional strength (Luke 22:40, 46) and strategy (James 1:5) to master it.

What we are not able to bear is the consequence of our sin. “My punishment is greater than I can bear!” (Genesis 4:13). When Jesus forgives, he carries something of ours that is too much for us to bear.

“Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4:9). This response is extraordinarily snide on Cain’s part. It’s like Leonard McCoy from Star Trek when he said, “I’m a doctor, not a bricklayer!” Just because I have a defined responsibility or vocation (tilling the ground/subduing the animals) does not mean I am not responsible for other things.

The first consequences of sin: Genesis 3

How do people write books? It seems the best way is to spend the winter secluded in a large resort in the mountains. I want to write a book of approximately 300 devotionals that a reader can use as a guide for reading approximately half of the Bible... the core stuff. You know. Skip Song of Solomon and Esther, for example. They will be for Volume 2. I don't think I will be able to do it "in my spare time." Anyway, here's what I wrote today.

Genesis 3:1-3:24

The serpent redirected focus to what God has forbidden. The serpent offers freedom, fulfillment, pleasure, discovery and autonomy. God does too—except for autonomy.

I am impressed by verse 11: “Who told you that you were naked?” God is offering these first two humans an opportunity to confess and to express regret; but each of them transfers blame to someone else. They never regret. Mending damaged relationships begins with expressed regret.

However, the violated party in a damaged relationship can do a lot to mend the damage. God set for us a really good example by providing only natural consequences of the infraction. There were three parties involved in this sin: the serpent, the woman and the man. The only one of these three that actually was cursed is the serpent. There is no curse language directed towards the woman or the man. We recognize God’s mercy in these consequences.

The consequence that sent a shock wave through the ages is what God said to the woman. “He shall rule over you” (vs. 16). None of the consequences detailed by God are results we should happily embrace. That the man shall rule over the woman is not some beautiful new pecking order. It is not divine notice of the woman’s new “place” in the social order. Rather, it is a natural consequence of sin.

There is every good reason to make work easier and more efficient (less sweat), to try to live longer (no hurry to return to the ground), to ease the pain of giving birth and to eliminate female subjugation.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

God hardens Pharaoh's heart after the plague of boils

I want to give special attention to two of the plagues mentioned in Exodus. In that short text it becomes clear that self-hardening and divine hardening are both the same thing. I will intersperse my own comments as important points need to be made.

Exodus 9:1-12
1 Then the Lord said to Moses, "Go to Pharaoh, and say to him, "Thus says the Lord, the God of the Hebrews: Let my people go, so that they may worship me.
2 For if you refuse to let them go and still hold them,
My comments: Notice the conditional language in verse 2. This language ought to inform our understanding of verse 12.
3 the hand of the Lord will strike with a deadly pestilence your livestock in the field: the horses, the donkeys, the camels, the herds, and the flocks.
4 But the Lord will make a distinction between the livestock of Israel and the livestock of Egypt, so that nothing shall die of all that belongs to the Israelites.' "
It is interesting that there is no report of Moses actually delivering this warning to Pharaoh; but obviously he did.
5 The Lord set a time, saying, "Tomorrow the Lord will do this thing in the land."
6 And on the next day the Lord did so; all the livestock of the Egyptians died, but of the livestock of the Israelites not one died.
All of the livestock? But Exodus 9:19 reports that there was more livestock to die. This "all" language appeared recently in Exodus 8:31 where it seems Egypt had not a single fly remaining in the land. Not one fly! This language is called hyperbole. "All" type language is rarely to be taken literally but rather in a specific context. The point here is that there were many-many dead livestock animals.
7 Pharaoh inquired and found that not one of the livestock of the Israelites was dead. But the heart of Pharaoh was hardened, and he would not let the people go.
8 Then the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, "Take handfuls of soot from the kiln, and let Moses throw it in the air in the sight of Pharaoh.
9 It shall become fine dust all over the land of Egypt, and shall cause festering boils on humans and animals throughout the whole land of Egypt."
This plague, interestingly, comes upon Egypt this time without warning.
10 So they took soot from the kiln, and stood before Pharaoh, and Moses threw it in the air, and it caused festering boils on humans and animals.
11 The magicians could not stand before Moses because of the boils, for the boils afflicted the magicians as well as all the Egyptians.
12 But the Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh, and he would not listen to them, just as the Lord had spoken to Moses.
Remember the conditional language in verse 2? It shows that Pharaoh's behavior was not under God's control. Divine hardening is actually self-hardening but in the context of Divine pressure to repent. Exodus 9:27 calls Pharaoh's behavior a "sin" which, by definition,' is a personal act of the will. Exodus 9:34 calls self-hardening a sin, even though, two verses later, God calls Pharaoh's self-hardening divine hardening (Exodus 10:1). The obvious conclusion here is that self-hardening against God's invitations to repent is the exact same thing as divine hardening.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

He was destined before the foundation of the world. 1 Peter 1:20

It is very easy to misinterpret 1 Peter 1:20. This passage is all about Jesus' existence long ago and his dearness to the Father―long before his miraculous birth.

There is much that can be misunderstood about the passage even by Greek scholars. I am no Greek scholar myself; so I will write as if I were a fly-on-the-wall and listening to the scholars argue. Here is the verse in the NRSV:
He was destined before the foundation of the world, but was revealed at the end of the ages for your sake.
The most interesting phrase in this verse appears to be "before the foundation of the world," but, surprisingly, the word "destined" is equally interesting.

This verse appears to say that God planned our redemption by the blood of Christ before he even began to create. I will dispute two common conclusions from this verse. I dispute
  1. that this verse refers in any way to the time God created the world
  2. that this verse makes any claim about God's plan for blood redemption
foundation of the world?
The meaning of "foundation of the world" is not as straightforward as it appears in translation. The Greek is καταβολῆς κόσμου (katabolē kosmos).

Katabolē, according to Strong's, means "a throwing or laying down." Figuratively, it means to deposit semen into the womb or to plant seed in the ground. Secondarily, it means, according to Strong's, "a founding (laying down a foundation)." It seems that the English translations follow the King James Version which followed the Geneva Bible which followed the Vulgate. Someone, somewhere at some time (cough-Jerome) decided that katabolē means to lay a foundation. There are scholars who honestly question that assumption. Since the primary meaning of the word is to throw something down, some smart-types have suggested that katabolē ought to be understood as a moral falling or decay. Indeed, "throwing down" is the primary definition in Strong's.

Add to this investigation the fact that kosmos in the Bible indicates not "the world" but the people in the world.
For God so loved the world (kosmos) that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. (John 3:16)
So, "foundation of the world" is very likely better translated as "the moral failure of the people in the world." This understanding suggests the condition of the world in Genesis 6 that resulted in God destroying all life in the flood (but for those who were saved on the ark). Now, the New Testament sometimes mentions stuff that happened "from the foundation of the world" (Matthew 13:35; 25:34; Luke 11:50; Hebrews 9:26; Revelation 13:8; 17:8) meaning "after the moral decay of the people of the world." The rest of the time, the New Testament refers to stuff that happened "before the foundation of the world" (John 17:24; Ephesians 1:4; Hebrews 4:3; and 1 Peter 1:20) meaning "before the moral failure of the people of the earth."

predestined?
In my mind, the only difficult verse of the collection is 1 Peter 1:20. The NRSV says that Christ "was destined before the foundation of the world." What does it mean? What was Christ destined for?

Again, we examine the Greek (leaning heavily on the experts). From the context, this verse smells like Jesus was destined before the great corruption to be redeemer. That smell is not correct. Please understand, I am not claiming that Jesus is not our redeemer. Jesus is definitely our redeemer. All I am claiming is that this verse does not describe Jesus as our predestined redeemer.

The word translated by the venerable NRSV as "destined" is the word usually translated as "foreknown" (προγινώσκω proginōskō). Apparently, the translators thought "foreknown" did not make sense since Jesus "was in the beginning with God" (John 1:2); so maybe they figured Peter meant "destined." Well, "foreknown" means "known" in some contexts (Acts 26:5 and the apocryphal Wisdom of Solomon 6:13) and possibly "foreloved" in others (not in the "Biblical" sense, Romans 8:29). "Knew" means "loved" in these contexts: Amos 3:2; Deuteronomy 7:7-8; 10:15; Jeremiah 1:5; Matthew 7:22-23;  1 Corinthians 8:3;  2 Timothy 2:19. Several translations understand proginōskō as "known" including ESV, NASB, NET Bible, God's Word, World English Bible and Young's Literal translation.
"He was known before the foundation of the world but revealed in the final time for you...." (NASB).
Although, I think "He was loved before the moral decay...." makes better sense.

In conclusion: "The foundation of the world" almost certainly refers to the moral decay of the people of the earth. In 1 Peter 1:20, "foreknown," "known" or "destined" means, in its clearest sense, "loved."