Posted in Uncategorized

Clarity of Thought in a Day of Muddy Waters

INTRODUCTION:

In Scripture God speaks with clarity, but those marred by sin have difficulty seeing the truth in its proper light. Sin separates, it muddies, it clouds the perception, it makes straight lines appear crooked and crooked lines straight. An overarching assumption that I believe, sometimes gains some headway among those who profess the name of Christ, is articulated in this fashion: “it is only sinners that truly struggle with the plainness of the biblical text, but not I, for I have the Spirit to guide me into all truth.”

And yet, and honest reading of the Bible reveals that even those who were considered people of the book, men and women of faith, erred in seeing the truth as God intended it.

Muddy vision…

One such example is found in the Gospels where the Lord Jesus warns His disciples to “Watch and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees” (Matt 16.6; ESV).1 This statement is on the heels of Jesus interaction with the so-called leaders (false shepherds) of Israel, where He rebukes them for not seeing the clearness of the revelation before them. They wanted a sign from Jesus to prove who He was claiming to be. He had healed all sorts of illness. He had cast out demonic forces. He had fed multitudes with scraps. And, He had taught with undeniable authority from the Scriptures. But…they wanted more proof. Jesus tells them,

You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times.”

MattHEW 16:3

And, in similar fashion He says to His disciples,

O you of little faith, why are you discussing among yourselves the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive? Do you not remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many baskets were gathered? Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many baskets were gathered? How is it that you fail to understand that I did not speak about bread? Beware of the leaven [the doctrine] of the Pharisees and Sadducees”

MattHEW 16:8-11

Jesus was warning His own to beware of false teaching (Matt 16.12). For the unwary allow it to stay and fester and grow, rather than throw out the lump that has been corrupted by it (e.g., 1Cor 5.1-7). The point I am making is that though biblical teaching has a perspicuity to it (a clarity/clearness), it is not just the wicked that fail to see the truth when it is smack dab in front of their face, but so too does the righteous wrestle with it.

Notice Jesus does not say to the disciples that they have “no faith,” but “little faith.” Unlike the so-called religious leaders of their generation they at least followed Jesus. They knew to some degree that hope rested in Jesus and no one else. But, they struggled with seeing things as clearly as they were revealed. Their vision was somewhat muddied.

Possible objection or excuse…

I suppose some might attempt to argue that this was before the Holy Spirit had been poured out. After which, they would be able to walk by the Spirit and not by the flesh. This type of response is given when one looks at the episode in the Garden of Gethsemane on the night of Jesus arrest. Just as Jesus foretold, when “the Shepherd is struck the flock would be scattered” (Matt 26.31; Zech 13.7). They fled because they did not have the boldness of the Spirit yet (cf. Acts 2), it is offered. I disagree.

The Holy Spirit does lead us into truth as we follow His Word; with this sort of statement I will agree. The Holy Spirit also gives us boldness to testify before all that Jesus Christ is Lord and that salvation is found in no other but Him; with this statement I too find agreement. But the reception of the Holy Spirit into the lives of the believer does not make the person in question impervious to faults or frailties. Or else why do we still struggle from time-to-time with sin (cf. 1John 1.8-9)? Or else, why are we still sometimes prone to gross errors that in fact malign the clear teaching of Scripture (cf. Gal 2.11-14; 2Pet 3.16)? Why do believers at times, for a season, temporarily adopt teaching that has demonic roots: meaning, it is not rooted in the mind of God, but instead, is found, in the heart of the creature (e.g., Matt 16.23)?

As clear as the Scriptures are, our minds are so affected by the curse of the Fall, that it is a lifelong process of “rebuke, correction and teaching” that slowly trains us to think and live righteously (2Tim 3.14-17). And so, God rightly disciplines those whom He loves, like a good father will do to his own children, so that we might learn to live by every word that proceeds from His mouth rather than falling prey to leaning on our own understanding.

Personal-Pastoral study…

I have been studying the book of Daniel now for the better part of a year. Being an expositional preacher, I attempt, to the best of my ability, to teach accurately the Word of Truth as it is written. This requires much labor on my part, as it does any legitimate student of Scripture. Currently I am working through the 9th chapter of this book. Much has been spoken about this area of the Bible during the course of the societal/political upheaval we have been witnessing here in the United States (think 2020-2021). So-called prophecy experts are using their influence to muddy the waters further about our present circumstances.

Cultural Reflection…

Take our current cultural climate as a living example. Why are we seeing what we are seeing here in the West? Why are so many things so sharply divided? Why has panic found a comfortable seat in the heart of so many? Why is evil and wickedness promoted by those inside and outside of Christ’s Body (i.e., His congregation)? Why is the civil government flexing its metaphorical muscle against a large portion of the populace? Why is “Big-Eva’s” leadership (the so-called Evangelical arm of the Christian Church) so quick to adopt the language of today, to synchronize itself with current cultural trends (i.e., syncretism) so as to appear relevant, accepting, peaceful and fully woke? What is the root of the problem. Who is the desolater and who is bringing forth the desolation that we are now witnessing?

Brief lesson…

To the learning the term “desolate” can be taken in either its adjectival sense as an illustrative, describing word; or, “desolate” can be understood as the action (verb) of making desolate. From a biblical standpoint God is the author of the desolation.

He is the one that removes, or strips bare, the inhabitants of the land. Seen in various, interrelated forms of judgment: drought, famine, pestilence and war (this violence against life is either through beasts or the sword). This is a visual representation of what enslavement to sin (i.e., rebellion towards our Maker’s Law) looks like, and so, we should not be surprised that God in the past has used the enemies of His people to wage war, and to drag them off into captivity (cf. Book of Judges).

From the same viewpoint, mankind is the cause of the desolation. They are the ones responsible for bringing about God’s retributive action on this earth.2 As Nebuchadnezzar wisely opined,

[God’s] dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation; all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, ‘What have you done?’”

Daniel 4:34b-35

False assumptions…

Just as the king of Babylon said in his own heart, “Is not this greatness before me all that which I have built and established by my own power?” (Dan 4.30; paraphrased).3 Our current generation, here in the West, has assumed that our powers that be, our wealth, were wrought by ourselves without anything from God above. Moreover, this attitude the permeates unbelieving thought has infiltrated Christ’s covenantal body and has led those that bear the name of Jesus to withdrawal and abandon their high calling of loving Him in every area of life. They have played the role of the desolater, apostatizing from the faith along various veins of thought. How so? By adopting that which God hates and declaring it good. By not only being unaware of the leaven in our society, but eagerly setting down such leavened bread at the table, reserving those various lumps of dough in storage to be worked into more flour.

The prophet’s who cried for “peace, peace” in Jeremiah’s day find a kindred spirit with various Christian leaders in our own. They wanted peace as they married their hearts to the demagoguery of the political/societal forces that promoted every form of idolatry imaginable, and many of our own leaders are guilty of the same. But just as peace did not come when Daniel was a young man, neither will peace be given to our generation. Desolations are decreed. As our nation has moved further and further along the trail of abandoning the True God of All Creation, we have invited Him to wet His sword and sharpen His arrows, to train the string of His bow against us (Psa 7.12-13). And when our wealth is taken from us, when we lose all that is treasured above our Great God—who so many fail to acknowledge until it is too late—can anyone of us say, “How dare ye God? On what grounds? By what right have you waged war against us?”

The answer is this:

“It is you who have thought to strike at me by refusing to kiss the Son in whom I am well pleased. No mercy, no quarter is to be given until this rabble is done away with, and this that you have treasured is made desolate. For all My Son’s enemies shall be put beneath His feet, before the end, the final one being death!”4

Daniel, the Lord’s prophet, understood with clarity the reason for the state of things; in what brought them into being and what would bring them to their end:

As it is written in the law of Moses, all this evil is come upon us: yet made we not our prayer before the Lord our God, that we might turn from our iniquities, and understand thy truth. Therefore hath the Lord watched upon the evil, and brought it upon us: for the Lord our God is righteous in all his works which he doeth: for we obeyed not his voice…we have sinned, we have done wickedly.”

Daniel 9:13-14, 15b; KJV

Responsibilities…

Our refusal to obey God’s voice has ushered in His wrathful judgment against a nation that slaughters her young, abuses them, perverts the doctrine of marriage and the family, has no respect for personal property and endorses theft at the national level, celebrates slander and hate based on superficial characteristics, promotes slothfulness, and every form of perversion that the human mind can imagine.

Now the prophecy speculators will tell you that this means that the writing is on the wall and that the end is near. This is true, in part. There is an end in sight and we are witnessing it with the increasing speed in which our cultural decay is made evident (the proverbial writing on the wall), but this is not the first end that has occurred. Neither will it be the last. Things are being shaken, so that what cannot be shaken will be left standing (Heb 12.27-28).

What we ought to be doing…

Rather than hope for an escape hatch to open up, let us with boldness and courage proclaim our Lord’s greatness. For He is in fact the one orchestrating this end that we are witnessing for His glory and for the benefit of the people whom He loves. Like Paul we need to learn what it means to rejoice in persecution. We need to be better students of the Word of God, so that we can see with clarity “what is good and acceptable and perfect” to Him (Rom 12.2), by applying them.

This means rather than abandoning the culture we being accepting the responsibility to change the culture from the bottom up. By leading godly family, training our children up in righteousness, giving them the means to stand against a culture that attempts to sway them towards lies, rather than the truth, and getting involved in our communities where we live. Understanding that when we declare Jesus Christ as Lord that we are saying His authority permeates every facet of life, in heaven and in earth, and so we seek to reform this world after His image; in politics, in science, in music, movies, as tradesmen, as businessmen, in education, in art, in architecture, etc., etc. If its on this earth, Christ owns it and we need to start making it known that all the earth is His, for He has made it for His glory.

We need clarity of thought, so that our works will properly reflect “our God, our Lord!” (John 20.28).

ENDNOTES:

1All Scripture unless otherwise noted shall be of the English Standard Version (ESV).

2There is a sense where one can attribute the designation “desolater” to both God and mankind. The image bearer (mankind) who refuses to listen to the voice of His Maker obeying His Law-Word is the desolater in a causal sense. The sinner causes God to act in response to the desolater’s rebellion. In this fashion, then God is also a desolater, but one that serves as the effect. The apostle Paul writes that the “wages of sin is death.” Sin brings about the desolation of the desolater for God’s righteous judgment is against those acts of desolation (i.e., abandonment of God’s Holy standard). In acting God acts in removing the sinner from His life, which in an ultimate sense is the experience for destined to hell for their willful rebellion. Like God drove Adam and Eve from the garden, God drives the sinner from the wealth of His creation and ultimately from His presence, if the sinner continues in his or her rebellion. Thus, the cause and effect relationship between the two is intrinsically tied. Man’s sin (the cause of desolation) identifies the man as a desolater (the one who acts in rebellion against God), and yet, God’s retributive judgment of righteousness (the effectual act of desolation) against the reprobate identifies God as the desolater—i.e., the one who makes desolate. Knowing who is being referred to requires attention to the flow of thought given by the writer. Hopefully, you have been able to follow my own. If not, feel free to ask a question.

3Notice the warning that God gives to such thinking in Deuteronomy 8:17-20. Since all people are without excuse, one cannot claim that they were ignorant to the fact that they owed thankfulness to another besides themselves who made all things and gave to them the things which they now possess (see Rom 1.18-25).

4This statement is a smattering of verses that tie in a general concept revealed in Scripture. Either we submit to God so that His goodness might be poured out upon us, according to His Namesake and Glory—nothing of which is owed to us. Or, we rebel against Him, refusing to listen to His Word and enjoy the consequences of such tyranny on our part. See: Psalm 2; Matthew 17:5; Leviticus 26.31; 1Corinthians 15.26-27.

Posted in Biblical Questions, prophetic pitfalls

How well do you Read Your Bible? Managing Prophetic Passage Pitfalls

How well do you read your Bible’s? Let’s do a little test shall we and see what comes about. Read the following passage:

  • “Hear, you peoples, all of you; pay attention, O earth, and all that is in it, and let the Lord God be a witness against you, the Lord from his holy temple. For behold, the Lord is coming out of his place, and will come down and tread upon the high places of the earth. And the mountains will melt under him, and the valleys will split open, like wax before the fire, like waters poured down a steep place” (Mic 1.3-4).

What event is being spoken about? What do you think? Is this event in reference to the entire planet—the whole earth and all that is in it? What about this talk about God’s holy temple? Where? In Jerusalem? Or some other place? What about this talk of God “coming out of his place?” Is this in reference to a physical temple, a physical throne or a picture of God taking action from Heaven? What about the text telling us that He “will come down and tread upon the high places of the earth?” Is God truly coming here? Is He really going to walk upon the mountains? Will they “melt under him…like wax before the fire?” Will the “valleys…split open…like waters poured down a steep place?” Or is such language referring to the appearing judgment from on High?

More importantly, is the timing of this event past or future? How are we to answer such questions? What is our best course of action?

Please Pay Attention to the…?

Have you ever heard the real-estate motto: “Location, location, location?” Well, for the student of Scripture our motto is or ought to be: “Context, context, context!” If we want to read our Bible’s well—and we should!—then we need to pay attention to the context. We need to learn to observe the details in the text.

Though this apocalyptic language used by the prophet Micah seems to be global in extent and appears to allude to some distant time in the future (I mean the world didn’t end in fire, and the mountains weren’t split wide open turned into valleys, and we haven’t seen God come down from heaven…YET!), the fact remains that the event in consideration has already transpired. And it did not happen on the whole earth, but in the entire land.  It was not spoken and written for all the people throughout the earth as if we all are about to experience it, but for a specific people limited to the land in question.

The objection rises: “Yes, but the text says ‘Pay attention, O earth, and all that is in it.’”

True enough, but let us go back to the text in its entirety. Look at what comes before (v.1) and what comes after (v.5). These two verses limit the transaction, no matter how fantastic we might find the language in-between.  Listen to what they say:

  • Verse 1: “The Word of the Lord that came to Micah of Moresheth in the days of Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah, which he saw concerning Samaria and Jerusalem.”
  • Verse 5: “All this is for the transgression of Jacob and for the sins of the house of Israel. What is the transgression of Jacob? Is it not Samaria? And what is the high place of Judah? Is it not Jerusalem?

The Hebrew word translated “earth” (Mic 1.2) in English is אֶרֶץ  (erets) and commonly refers to land, or territory/kingdom, or earth/soil. That the concern here is over Samaria and Jerusalem and the covenantally unfaithful within them ought to be apparent even when one performs a cursory reading of the text. Verse 1 says that this prophecy—the Word of God—was given to “Micah of Moresheth…concerning Samaria and Jerusalem.”

Observational Details a Must…

In the text we find that the reader is even provided a rough timeline of the prophet Micah’s ministry.  Micah served during the reign of three kings from the line of David; Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah. From this we are also able to deduce that this was at a time in history when the former kingdom of Israel was split into two separate nations: Israel to the north, and Judah to the south. The reference to “Samaria and Jerusalem” (v.1) highlights both of those nations as they were capital cities: Samaria of Israel, and Jerusalem of Judah.

This information is repeated somewhat in verse 5 as a form of indictment. One of the prophet’s primary roles was to confront covenant breakers with legal violations. I realize that the concept of legal violations is somewhat distasteful to modern Christian thought, but the truth is the same today. When we sin, we are in rebellion against the Law-Word of God; we have violated our covenantal obligations with Him. This is a legal violation.  And without some form of recompense (i.e. payment) we will experience the judgment of God (i.e. His Wrath).

The sins of the two kingdoms here (Israel to the North and Judah to the South) are given in verse 5: “The transgression of Jacob…is… Samaria,” and “the high place of Judah [her transgression] …is…Jerusalem” (cf. Hos 7.1; 2Kgs 16.4). Now if some of these things seem foreign to you, and you don’t get it… I understand. If you want clarification, you will need to do some “leg work” in searching the Scriptures to see what is going on during the time of Micah’s ministry (i.e. What were the kings of his day doing? How were they leading the people? What has God promised to do?).

Dig into the Historical Context…

It would also be beneficial to know the northern kingdom of Israel’s early years. What their first king instituted as common religious practices were the foundation stones of the apostacy rampant throughout her later years. What you will find is that Jeroboam established a new god (two golden calves; one in Bethel, the other in Dan), a new priesthood with new temples/high places and an altar in Bethel, as well as new religious festivals and a new capital to rival Jerusalem, lest “the kingdom will turn back to the house of David” (1Kgs 12.26; read 1Kgs 12-14).

This idolatry would continue until God sent Assyria against Samaria, eventually crushing them in 721 B.C. (approx.).

  • “Therefore,” declares the Lord God “I will make Samaria a heap in the open country, a place for planting vineyards, and I will pour down her stones into the valley and uncover her foundations. All her carved images shall be beaten to pieces, all her wages shall be burned with fire, and all her idols I will lay waste, for from the fee of a prostitute she gathered them, and to the fee of a prostitute they shall return” (Mic 1.6-7).

God would also send Assyria to the south, for “…disaster has come down from the Lord to the gate of Jerusalem” (Mic 1.12, cf. v. 9). Judah was not innocent of committing idolatry. Although from David’s line we find many good kings who sought to walk in the ways of David (i.e. man after God’s heart; following His will), there were many who did not. They, like Samaria built high places too (read through Kings and Chronicles if you don’t believe me), and because of this the Lord would also eventually make “Jerusalem…a heap of ruins” when God sent Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon to beat down their gates, burn their city and temple, and tear down stone on top of stone exposing her foundation (approx. 600-586 B.C.; three phases of conquest).

However, history reveals that the prayers and devotions of Hezekiah stayed God’s hand of judgment. And rather than fight against Jerusalem, the Lord fought for it:

  • “Therefore thus says the Lord concerning the king of Assyria: He shall not come into this city or shoot an arrow there, or come before it with a shield or cast up a siege mound against it. By the way he came, by the same he shall return, and he shall not come into this city, declares the Lord. For I will defend this city to save it, for my own sake and for the sake of my servant David” (2Kgs 19.32-34).

The Lord removed the threat of Assyria from Judah’s doorstep, and Sennacherib (king of Assyria after Shalmanser) left and was killed by his own sons, worshipping his fake god Niroch (2Kgs 19.35-37).

Learn to Tread Carefully…

What’s my point? That we need to take care when we read Scripture, in particular prophetic passages of the past. We need to carefully observe the context (linguistically, historically, culturally), before we attempt to interpret and then make application of it. What is recorded in Micah 1 sets the tempo for the rest of the book. The events he has in mind are futuristic for his generation. Take note of that. Granted, there are some references later on in his writings that point to the Messiah, but that discussion will have to wait for another day.