Fallen Virgin Israel | The Voice 8.45: November 11, 2018

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Fallen Virgin Israel

God commissioned Amos to pronounce words of indictment and judgment against the northern Kingdom of Israel for all the transgressions of idolatry and injustice perpetrated in the land, warning them to repent or experience the mighty day of YHWH at the hands of the Assyrians (Amos 1:1-4:13). Amos persisted with this message in Amos 5:1-27.

Amos took up a lamentation over Israel: virgin Israel has fallen and will not rise again (Amos 5:1-2). Amos then envisioned a horrific future for Israel: reverse decimation, with only a tenth of the population remaining (Amos 5:3). We cannot begin to imagine that kind of death and destruction!

Such a terrible fate for Israel was not inevitable: they could seek YHWH and live, but they could not do so through visiting Bethel, Gilgal, or Beersheba (Amos 5:4-5). These were places where altars had been built and idols fashioned in the name of YHWH, and they represent the religious centers for Israel at the time (1 Kings 12:25-33, Hosea 4:15, Amos 4:4). These places would be devastated; YHWH was not pleased with the offerings and religious service made in them. YHWH would not be found in them; if they did not seek Him, He would cause them to be devoured (Amos 5:6).

Amos indicted the Israelites for their oppression: they turned justice into wormwood, a kind of poison, and brought righteousness down to earth (and this is not a good thing; it has been degraded; Amos 5:7). They ought to seek YHWH who made the stars in the sky and caused day and night to come in their cycles, and who would bring down the mighty suddenly, without notice (Amos 5:8-9).

Amos set forth the ground of YHWH’s judgment: the Israelites despised those who would speak righteousness, have trampled the poor, and extracted resources from others unjustly (Amos 5:10-11). From their profit they have built nice houses, yet they would not live in them; they planted exquisite vineyards, yet they would not enjoy them (Amos 5:11). Israel’s sins were abundant in oppressing the poor man; wise and discerning people knew it was a time to remain quiet, for it was an evil time (Amos 5:12-13). Despite all of this, if Israel would turn and seek God, hate evil, love good, and do what is right, YHWH would preserve the remnant of Israel (Amos 5:14-15). And yet, sadly, it would not be: great mourning and lamentation would be heard in the land after YHWH had passed through it (Amos 5:16-17).

Some in Israel apparently sought the Day of YHWH, thinking of it as some great thing for them; Amos worked diligently to disabuse Israel of the notion: the Day of YHWH is darkness and not light (Amos 5:18). The Day of YHWH is compared to a man fleeing from a lion but coming upon a bear, fleeing into his house only to be bit by a snake: it is a day of inescapable tragedy; darkness, not light (Amos 5:19-20). You do not want to have to endure a day of YHWH; it is unspeakably horrific.

Amos would again stun his audience: YHWH hated their feasts and assemblies; He would not accept their sacrifices and offerings; He did not want to hear the sounds of their instruments anymore (Amos 5:21-23). Amos was not condemning the idea of feasts, assemblies, and instruments in the service in the Temple; the problem was the people’s hypocritical service, willing to go through religious rituals but not embodying YHWH’s primary purposes in the Law. For this reason Amos then encouraged Israel to have justice roll down as water and righteousness like a mighty stream (Amos 5:24): a justly famous verse, in context emphasizing YHWH’s concern for living justly and righteously. Amos then asked if Israel brought offerings during their days in the Wilderness (Amos 5:25). Israel would take their statues of the idols they had made, Sikkuth and Kiyyun, and God would exile them beyond Damascus (Amos 5:26-27). Amos’ question in Amos 5:25 was rhetorical, seeming to be no, and yet there are examples of offerings given in Leviticus and Numbers. Perhaps the offerings made were daily offerings made by Levites but not brought by the people, which is Amos’ point. Disputes exist regarding Amos 5:26, since Sikkuth and Kiyyun are not otherwise attested: regardless, Amos condemned the idolatry of the people and pronounced YHWH’s condemnation of them and exile to Assyria.

By this point many might think Amos is a broken record, saying the same thing in various ways. Amos’ message remains consistent throughout; such is the nature of the work of the prophets. Yet Amos’ messages in Amos 5:1-27 have resonated from then until now. People, now as then, look for what seems to be the easiest way to placate the gnawing guilt they feel regarding their spiritual lives. It is easier to keep one’s vision down and go through rote exercises and rituals than it is to look up and pursue the God of righteousness and justice. We understand the idea of an evil time in which it seems better to stay quiet than to raise up one’s voice and be denounced and despised. Many have been greatly inspired by the call to have justice roll down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream, but who proves as willing to leave their comfort zone to practice such pure and undefiled religion (James 1:27)?

Israel thought all was well; in truth, it was an evil time. Judgment was coming, and virgin Israel would fall, be devastated, and would never rise again. God sees iniquity, immorality, injustice, and oppression. He will judge, and it will not be pleasant. The Day of YHWH will come against all unrighteousness, and God’s wrath will be satisfied. This is not a fate or a day anyone should want to see. May we all repent, seek God, uphold justice and righteousness, and obtain the resurrection in Christ Jesus!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Finding True Security | The Voice 8.44: November 04, 2018

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Finding True Security

The Western world is saturated in anxiety. Everyone seems to be afraid of something; people keep speaking past each other, fearing what they fear while not perceiving what those opposed to them fear. Politicians work to stoke divisions and pander to the worst of human nature in fearmongering. “Mass shooting events” seem to be the new normal: barely a week goes by without a new mass shooting event somewhere in the country, in schools, religious centers, entertainment venues, and many other places. People look warily at those whom they perceive to be a threat to their security or standing, and prove receptive to and often affirm draconian measures taken against such people. A lot of people seem to live perpetually on “high alert.”

In such an environment people naturally look for some kind of comfort and security: a place in which they can feel safe. Safety in security is the goal of many, and some go to great expense to build up armaments, security staff, and the like in order to assure their safety and the safety of those around them. Some wish for restrictions on guns or other weaponry. People vote and put confidence in leaders who they believe make them feel safer: many have come to believe the opposing political party is the source of much of their anxiety and insecurity, and devote their efforts to elect people in their preferred party, presuming greater comfort and security if “their people” are in power.

And yet true security cannot be found in any of these things. Security staffs can be breached; armaments can be bested; furthermore, neither can protect against the ravages of illness, old age, and death. Government officials can do only so much to ensure safety and security, and whatever measures they take will come at the expense of the liberty and freedom of at least some segment of the population. Politicians do not deliver on all of their promises; whatever feeling of comfort and security is felt by their voters is more like a placebo than anything resembling actual security.

The unpleasant fact of the matter is that there is no true security or comfort on earth. We may find ourselves in the wrong place at the wrong time; we may suffer injury, illness, and/or death, and there would be little to nothing which we could do about it. Tragedies do not just happen to other people; at some point, the “other person” might well be you or me! If anything, the infrequency of suffering tragedy directly is one of the great “miracles” of life in the modern Western world. The levels of safety and comfort we seek represent luxuries our forefathers, and many less fortunate people around the world to this day, could not and cannot afford.

Whether we wish to admit it or not, we are not guaranteed another breath; we cannot have complete assurance or confidence that we will live to see tomorrow, let alone anything beyond, as James reminds us in James 4:14:

Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. What is your life? For ye are a vapor, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.

We are a vapor; our lives will pass on. True security will not come from the earth or from anything of our own design. The people of God have known for generations that true security can only come from God our Creator, the One who was, is, and is to come, who has promised to be our refuge and strength (cf. Psalm 46:1, Revelation 4:8). The power of sin enslaves mankind; death, the consequence of sin, is greatly feared, and people will stop at nothing to avoid it (Romans 5:12-21). God defeated sin and death through Jesus’ death and resurrection, and all who would put their trust in Jesus and His way receive confidence in hope of the same salvation (1 Corinthians 15:1-58, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). In Christ there is peace; in God we can find comfort; the Holy Spirit is our assurance of salvation (2 Corinthians 1:3-4, 5:5, Philippians 4:7).

We therefore must look to God our Creator for comfort and security, and must cast our anxieties upon Him (1 Peter 5:7). True security does not look like anything we would have imagined. Our God is good, holy, just, righteous, kind, and merciful, but He not safe: He is a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:29). Through Him we learn just how deeply we have been deceived by the Evil One to do his will: our fellow people are not our enemy, but have been deceived along with us (Ephesians 2:1-3, 6:12, Titus 3:3). Everything we have feared about our fellow man was misguided; we ought not fear what man can do to us, for it cannot be compared to what God will do for those who do not know Him or obey the Gospel of His Son (Matthew 10:28, 2 Thessalonians 1:6-9). In Christ we can see the work of the Evil One and the powers and principalities in the governments and systems of the world, obtaining and maintaining power, wealth, and influence by instigating people into anxiety, fear, and insecurity, and setting them against one another (Matthew 4:8-9, Ephesians 6:12, Revelation 13:1-18). In Christ victory over anxiety, fear, and insecurity does not come from bigger walls, better weaponry, terrorism, or anything of the sort; Jesus obtained victory over sin and death through serving humanity in love and humility, suffering depredation and death, and rising in glory in the resurrection, and Christians obtain the same victory according to the same path (Philippians 2:5-11).

It is natural to seek after comfort and security. Yet what is natural often comes into conflict with God’s purposes for mankind in Jesus. If our comfort and security is obtained through the suffering and deprivation of others, the cost is not worth the “benefit.” If in our quest to relieve ourselves of our anxieties and fears we close ourselves off to other people, find reasons to demonize and dehumanize them, and do not seek their good and their salvation, we prove we are of the Evil One and not of Christ (Luke 6:27-36). To follow Christ demands that we become as vulnerable, as able to be wounded by others, as Christ was for us: it will hurt; it will lead to persecution; it may lead to death (1 Peter 2:18-25, 4:12-19). We must always remember that true security cannot be found in this world: we are weak, we are easily deceived, and we cannot escape every danger. Instead, we must live boldly in faith, loving one another and our fellow man, showing mercy in humility, suffering whatever may befall us, confident not in ourselves but in Jesus the Christ for full salvation. May we place our trust in God in Christ, and make Him our refuge, and put away the idolatry of comfort, safety, and security in this world!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Prosperity Myth | The Voice 8.43: October 28, 2018

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The Prosperity Myth

Charge them that are rich in this present world, that they be not highminded, nor have their hope set on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy; that they do good, that they be rich in good works, that they be ready to distribute, willing to communicate; laying up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come, that they may lay hold on the life which is life indeed (1 Timothy 6:17-19).

The story of America has always involved a myth about prosperity.

Europeans “discovered” America in the pursuit of gaining wealth by opening a new route to the Orient. Many sought the legendary El Dorado, searching for gold. For hundreds of years people have crossed oceans seeking to make their fortunes in America, having heard all sorts of fantastic stories about those who went from rags to riches and the endless bounty of the New World. And now we ourselves fall prey to the same temptation to put our confidence in maintaining and upholding American prosperity.

And yet, for most, American prosperity has been a mirage. El Dorado was nowhere to be found. The hopes of many who came to America were dashed; prosperity did not come as easily as the boosters and the marketers had claimed. Guarantees about economic growth in the market are as quickly quashed as they are raised. We keep seeking financial prosperity and security; we may be doing sufficiently well to survive, but it never seems to be enough, and there seems to be plenty of reason for economic anxiety.

In truth, there is no “sure thing” in matters relating to money. Wealth has always been for a few, and even then, extremely uncertain. We may be regaled with “rags to riches” stories; there are equally as many riches to rags stories, but who has the stomach to hear them? Investments that took years to build up can vanish in a matter of weeks. Cherished plans for the future are dashed quickly when the money dries up. Steady incomes are reduced, yet expenses keep adding up.

We may feel the pain at many points. That pain is designed to get us to reconsider our priorities. And yet, far too many people will still put their trust in money, or the government, or in the things that they can see and touch. They may have received setbacks, but now they just want to recoup their losses, or try harder for next time. Prosperity is just around the corner, we may think. The problem is that prosperity is always just around the corner; always a bit out of reach.

As the Preacher says, all of this is vanity (Ecclesiastes 5:10-15). We came into this world with nothing, and we will take nothing from it (Job 1:21, 1 Timothy 6:7). All physical matter will one day be destroyed (2 Peter 3:9-12): when that day comes, what will be left to show for all the energy expended to accumulate wealth? What will people have left to show for their lives and their efforts?

As it is written,

“Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon the earth, where moth and rust consume, and where thieves break through and steal: but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth consume, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: for where thy treasure is, there will thy heart be also” (Matthew 6:19-21).

We should be working to gain spiritual wealth, not necessarily physical wealth. It is not as if people cannot become rich; many do. The problem is that wealth is ultimately unreliable. It can be lost or stolen; it can corrupt and corrode the one who holds onto them. Instead, Jesus invites people to lay up “treasures in heaven”: ironic, of course, since laying up treasures in heaven is all about divesting oneself of the treasure of earth to benefit others. Spiritual wealth is not about how much is in your bank account, but whether you gave to those who were in need from your bank account. Spiritual wealth has little to do with your investments in companies and materials, but has everything to do with your investment in people and relationships. On the final day, those who trusted in the uncertainty of riches will weep when all they had and trusted perished (James 5:1-8). On the final day, those who trusted in God and the certainty of His riches of love, mercy, and compassion will rejoice with the Father and the Son and see the full impact of their love and devotion to others.

Many people today cry out and wonder why they have not prospered as they imagined they would. Many have suffered because of the financial decisions of others; some have suffered because of their own arrogance and misguided confidence in their ability to play the field or manage the market. And yet, in the end, we have not truly lost anything that was originally ours, since everything we enjoy are blessings from God, and we were not born with them, and we cannot take them with us after we die. Whether this was from God or not, we ought to learn and teach spiritual lessons from it. There is a whole lot more to life than money. Real security can never be found in steady paychecks or investments. Making money is not to be man’s ultimate pursuit (1 Timothy 6:7-10). We should always count the human cost to whatever we say or do. And, in the end, things are not that important. God, His love for man, and His expectations for man, are.

“For what shall a man be profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and forfeit his life? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his life?” (Matthew 16:26).

Jesus’ question is not merely academic. Jesus asks regarding the ultimate outcome of the philosophy of the world: so what if you could even gain everything on the earth? Is it still worth your life? Everyone knows what the answer to the question when they are confronted with the reality, yet by their actions and thoughts they betray their devotion to the myth of prosperity and materialism. They keep working for that which does not satisfy, and devote themselves to things that ultimately cannot profit.

Let us not be seduced by these myths, and let us do all we can to show the way of Christ, where people are more important than things, love greater than money, and faith more than the illusion of stability. Let us place our trust in the only secure thing in life: God and His love as expressed through Jesus His Son. Let us hold fast to the reality of prosperity: the riches of God’s grace that He freely pours out on those who believe in His Son (Ephesians 1:7-9). Let us be rich toward God, even if that means we are poor on earth!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Christian and Happiness | The Voice 8.42: October 21, 2018

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The Christian and Happiness

In the Declaration of Independence Thomas Jefferson declared that all men are endowed by their Creator with the unalienable right to the pursuit of happiness; modern Americans seem to believe that happiness is their birthright.

The modern “gospel of happiness” can be summarized succinctly: do whatever makes you happy, and divest yourself of whatever makes you unhappy. Life is too short to be unhappy; you only live once. Are you unfulfilled and unhappy in your job or career? Then find a new one. Are your friends or family a drag? Have nothing to do with them, and get new friends. Are you unhappy in your marriage? Then end it and start afresh. Morality and virtue seem old-fashioned and quaint; now it is all about what feels good and what we think makes us happy.

Meanwhile, an army of marketers and salesmen work diligently to appeal to our desire for happiness. They do so not to really help us find happiness, but to associate the products they wish to sell with our pursuit of happiness. They do not even really want us to find real happiness; that would probably hurt the bottom line. Instead, it is all about feeling lack and insufficiency: if only we had this or that product, then our lives would be happier. We might get a good feeling buying the product, but afterwards it will not meet our desires for it. Far too many of us seek happiness in buying and getting things; these marketers and salesmen are able to make a good living, but in the end we find ourselves less happy than before!

For all the talk about finding happiness, pursuing happiness, and the pretense of happiness we find all around us, many Americans are actually quite unhappy and anxious. In true American fashion, this discontent has opened a large market for self-help gurus to proclaim the various ways in which to find true happiness. Some suggest it comes from holistic living; others have encouraged meditation, mindfulness, and other forms of asceticism; almost all suggest, in some way or another, that happiness can be achieved if we just work a little harder or think about it the right way. These methods provide some benefit for many people; and yet, for many others, it only deepens the difficulty, for now they are not only unhappy, but also are given reason to blame themselves for it.

And yet, in all of this, a fundamental question is never really addressed: what is happiness? Most people understand happiness in terms of good feelings and a sense of personal satisfaction. If happiness involves good feelings and personal satisfaction, by definition, happiness will be quite subjective: a “moving target,” if you will. Furthermore, how do we quantify happiness? How can two people be in relatively similar circumstances in life and yet diverge greatly in their levels of happiness? For that matter, how come many of the people who seem the happiest often have less in terms of material wealth or benefits than those who seem unhappy?

Let none be deceived: happiness is a good thing. It is a positive emotion, something which our Creator has made and put within the heart of man to enjoy. It is not automatically wrong to want to be happy. Nevertheless, for the Christian, a belief in the unalienable right to the pursuit of happiness is an endeavor in missing the point at best and an invitation to idolatry at worst.

God has never promised the Christian that he or she would be happy on the earth. For that matter God has never commanded or expected Christians to put their efforts into pursuing happiness on the earth. God instead commends joy and contentment for the Christian (Philippians 4:4, 1 Timothy 6:6).

Many might wish to suggest that happiness and joy are synonymous. It is possible for a person to be happy and joyful; those who are happy likely have joy; and yet the goal of the Christian life is to maintain joy even if one feels unhappy. Happiness is more of an emotion or a feeling; joy is a mental perspective and attitude. Paul encouraged the Philippian Christians to rejoice in the Lord despite being imprisoned and in otherwise unpleasant circumstances; James the Lord’s brother encouraged Christians to consider it all joy when they underwent suffering and trial (James 1:2)! Life is full of disappointments, distress, failure, pain, and suffering; we cannot expect to always feel happy about everything. Yet no matter what we endure in our present circumstances we can choose to keep our minds, hearts, and souls focused on the Christ, Crucified then Risen in glory and find peace.

A lot of unhappiness stems from a feeling of scarcity: we do not feel like we have enough, we do not look good enough, we are not enough, etc. Ironically, no matter how much we have, we can always think that we lack some other thing. Yet we can also recognize that all we have comes from God as gifts from Him, entirely undeserved, and be thankful towards God for His gifts, and appreciate them (Romans 5:6-11, 1 Thessalonians 5:18): this is contentment. Contentment focuses on what we have, not what we do not have; contentment focuses on what we are thanks to what God has done for us in Christ, not what we are not (Matthew 6:19-34). When we are content, what we have in God in Christ is always enough; when we yearn for anything more, we will be plagued with discontent, anxiety, distress, and unhappiness.

In the beatitudes Jesus spoke of the poor, those who mourn, the meek, the peacemakers, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, and those persecuted for Jesus’ and righteousness’ sake as blessed: the Greek word makarios means one who is fortunate or even happy (Matthew 5:3-12, Luke 6:20-23). We generally do not associate happiness with poverty, mourning, or persecution; people in the first century did not either! Jesus wished to challenge our perspective on how we live: it is not as if there is inherent happiness in poverty, mourning, or persecution, but those who undergo such things have better things to which they can look forward in life now and/or in the resurrection. Those who are rich, laughing, or accepted, however, can only look forward to future forms of despair. Happiness, after all, is fleeting; it may be here one moment, but it may be gone the next, whether our circumstances change or not.

The “gospel of happiness” is a lie; it cannot save. Life is not about whatever makes us happy; for the Christian, life is about what glorifies God in Christ, which includes the path of suffering. We ought to be content with what God has given us; we can rejoice in whatever circumstance we find ourselves because we have the victory in Jesus. Be not deceived: one can change jobs, spouses, families, friends, and all kinds of other things, but never find happiness, for happiness is not found in the abundance of possessions, and people always frustrate and disappoint. True contentment and joy is found in glorifying God in Christ through what we own and with whom we relate in life. In the resurrection of life there will be no more suffering, pain, or distress, but unbroken fellowship with God, basking in His light. May we trust in God in Christ to obtain true peace, joy, and contentment, and obtain the resurrection of life!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Prepare to Meet Your God, Israel! | The Voice 8.41: October 14, 2018

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Prepare to Meet Your God, Israel!

Amos was given an uncomfortable word to prophesy to the northern Kingdom of Israel: the nations would come under judgment, yet so too would Israel and Judah; YHWH was making known through His prophets what He would do to Israel, it would be a spectacle before many neighboring nations, and barely a remnant would remain (Amos 1:1-3:15). Amos would continue with three further prophetic indictments of Israel (Amos 4:1-13).

Amos chastised the women of Samaria of means as “cows of Bashan”: Bashan was well-known for its productive pasturage, and so the reference speaks to the wealth and prosperity, and perhaps a swipe at the voluptuousness, of the wives of prominent Samarians (Amos 4:1; cf. Deuteronomy 32:14, Psalm 22:12, Ezekiel 39:18). We can be assured that the women would not have been amused by the comparison. Amos’ portrayal of the women of Samaria did not make them look attractive: he indicted them for the oppression and crushing of the poor and needy since they made constant demands for resources from their husbands (Amos 4:1). On account of this YHWH has sworn on His holiness that all of them would be carried out of Samaria by hooks: they would become slaves and carried away into exile (Amos 4:2-3). Amos may not have ingratiated himself with the women of Samaria by having said such things; yet we should not imagine that the Samarian women were themselves actively oppressing the poor. Their husbands, the lords, were the ones doing the oppressing, but it was their lifestyle which was enriched in the process. Thus the women of Samaria would be held accountable for how their husbands had obtained the wealth which they used for their benefit. The Israelites could not take hold of the dishonest gain of others and imagine they would escape condemnation!

Amos then turned his sights onto the Israelite temples at Bethel and “Gilgal” (perhaps a reference to Dan, or perhaps still a place of sacrifice; Joshua 4:19-20, 1 Samuel 10:8, 14-15), and sarcastically or mockingly invited people to come there and transgress through the regular offerings and sacrifices which they loved to offer there (Amos 4:4-5). Amos would later speak condemnation on these places (Amos 5:5); he was likely offering an implicit challenge to the legitimacy of Israelite service in these places since they had not been authorized by God to do so (cf. 1 Kings 12:25-13:10). Yet he also critiqued Israel’s hypocrisy: it was not as if Israel denied YHWH’s existence, or did not participate in religious rituals, or anything of that sort. Israel remained firmly committed to offering sacrifices and following the particulars of religious services, but did not practice the commandments of the Law among one another. They loved sacrificing animals far more than sacrificing for the needs of others; they loved giving their tithes at the appropriate time far more than giving relief to the needy and oppressed among them. We are to imagine that the “cows of Bashan” and their husbands, among others, would come and offer sacrifice and give tithes and presume all was well between them and God. Such was not the case. Unauthorized religious practices, or even legitimate religious practices done in unauthorized ways, would not justify Israel, nor could religious fastidiousness absolve Israelites from their obligations toward their fellow man.

Amos proceeded to set forth all the “warning signs” YHWH had sent to Israel. YHWH had brought them “cleanness of teeth” in their cities: the goal was not a great dental hygiene program, but a way of expressing famine and a lack of food (Amos 4:6). YHWH kept the rains from them, or brought only intermittent, inconsistent rain, leading to drought and famine (Amos 4:7-8). YHWH sent pestilence on the land, ruining crops with blight and mildew and trees with locusts and worms (Amos 4:9). YHWH cast upon Israel plagues of Egypt and defeat from their enemies, the loss of cities as with Sodom and Gomorrah (Amos 4:10-11). Despite all these warnings, Israel did not return to YHWH. Therefore, all that was left was a ringing cry and warning: prepare to meet your God, O Israel (Amos 4:12)! As we can tell from the context, YHWH was not coming for some coffee or a nice chat; Amos was again warning Israel of imminent apocalyptic-level judgment which would come at the hands of Assyria and lead to the elimination of the northern Kingdom of Israel as a going concern, the exile of its people, and the effectual end of ten of the tribes of Israel. All this was certain because it was declared by YHWH, He who created the mountains, the wind, the morning dawn, and who makes people know what they think and who treads upon the earth (Amos 4:13).

Amos provided powerful testimony regarding God’s interactions with Israel in ways Israel may not have necessarily perceived. The difficulties Israel experienced were in alignment with the curses for disobedience in Leviticus 26:14-46; God sent them not as arbitrary punishments but as warnings to encourage return and restoration. Yet Israel did not hear; God was left without any other remedy. It was not as if Israel could say that God had given them no warning, inkling, or indication of what was to come in 732 and 722; far from it. Nor was the imminent doom of Israel something God wanted or desired; instead, God had warned the people through the prophets and the calamities they experienced. They did not hear; therefore, they would meet their God, and they would regret it terribly.

All of what Amos said seemed laughable or remote to the Israelites in the days of of Jeroboam (II) king of Israel; after all, the calamities were in the past, and they were enjoying a great moment of power and prosperity. Forty years later, what Amos had warned had come to pass. Israel had met its God, and it did not go well for Israel.

Christians do well to learn from the example of Israel lest they fall by the same pattern of disobedience (1 Corinthians 10:1-12). We should not be enriched at the expense of the poor or the needy; having others do the dirty work for us will not absolve us of blame or responsibility (James 5:1-6). All acts of our religious service in life, whether in the assembly or in our personal lives, are good things, but they must be done according to the ways and will of the Lord, and are no substitute for embodying the love, compassion, and benevolence of the Lord Jesus (Colossians 3:17, James 1:22-27). God seeks to discipline us for our own good, but we must accept the chastisement lest we are found deficient when the Lord Jesus returns (1 Corinthians 9:24-27, Hebrews 12:4-11). One day we will meet our God; it is up to us whether it will be a glorious day of meeting our Beloved, or whether it will be a terrifying experience of the wrath of God (2 Thessalonians 1:6-10). May we serve God in Christ, obtain the resurrection of life, and avoid condemnation!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Lament | The Voice 8.40: October 07, 2018

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The Voice

Lament

So many in modern Western culture do whatever they can to avoid pain, suffering, or discomfort; so much, therefore, is left unsaid, unaddressed, and would rather be forgotten. We have intentionally neglected times and seasons for lament, even among the people of God, and we suffer because of it.

Lament is a powerful expression of pain and/or grief. In the Scriptures lament is most commonly associated with the book of Lamentations, composed to give voice for Israel to grieve and lament over the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. Most of the Psalms feature lament in some way or another, giving vent to grief and suffering on account of the hostility of enemies, illness, betrayal, sin, and feelings of abandonment. In the New Testament Jesus lamented over Lazarus’ death and the grief displayed by his sisters (John 11:33-35); Jesus promised the disciples would lament His death before His resurrection (John 16:20); Christians made great lamentation over Stephen after his death (Acts 8:2).

No one mistakes lament for a pleasant process; nevertheless, during this life, we will have moments and perhaps even seasons of lament. People around us suffer from sickness, oppression, and death; at times we ourselves suffer from these as well. In lament we confess the brokenness of the world subject to the corruption and decay of sin and death, and our powerlessness to do much about it (Romans 5:12-21, 8:18-23). When informed of tragic news, or having recognized complicity in sinful forms of injustice and oppression or inaction in the face of injustice and oppression, we do well to lament and mourn what has transpired. We may lament as individuals, giving voice to our pain, suffering, frustration, anxiety, distress, or any other malady before God (cf. 1 Peter 5:7); we do well to find relevant psalms and pray them, using the inspired Psalter to help us communicate our grief and pain before God. We also have reason to lament together in community, mourning with those who mourn, and welcoming and accepting those who have suffered among us (Romans 12:15, 1 Corinthians 12:26).

In lament we go to the house of mourning, which the Preacher wisely recognized provided greater value than the house of feasting (Ecclesiastes 7:2). Our modern society is enraptured with the house of feasting: youth and youthful looks are idolized, happiness seems to be the goal, and everyone seems to attempt to showcase their best life on Instagram. By necessity, therefore, aging is the worst and is to be hidden at all costs; any sort of physical, mental, or emotional difficulty is weakness and must be suppressed; discussing or focusing on our mortality is awkward and uncomfortable; and Epicureanism and its attendant desire to avoid all pain and suffering is the philosophy of the day. Very little space is given for those who suffer; anyone going through any distress or pain quickly learns that they make others uncomfortable, and do best if they hide away. They are told to get over it, happy up, or smile, reflecting the vacuous promises of the self-help movement whose promise cannot be sustained in the creation marred by corruption. Depression and suicide are prevalent, and why not? We are made to feel the crushing weight of hopelessness and inadequacy if we are not living up to the pretenses of youth, health, fulfillment, and happiness.

The church ought to be a refuge in times like these, but unfortunately, the people of God have in too many places forgotten the practice of lament. Some remain overly enraptured with the idol of positivity, mistaking Biblical exhortations to joy for the superficial happiness of the world. Most recognize the existence of suffering, pain, and brokenness in the world, but have not been equipped with the resources of lament. The modern songbook is of little use in this regard; precious few hymns give voice to grief or suffering, and they are easily drowned out by the emphasis on praise. Let none be deceived: praise is well, good, and necessary; praise is an important feature of the psalms. Yet more psalms feature lament than praise, and this is not even remotely true of the modern Christian hymnal repertoire. Prayers are often offered for those in various forms of distress, yet true lament over sin, suffering, and the like is also rarely found offered in the assemblies of the saints, and might be considered awkward or embarrassing to some. Not a few Christians have found themselves adrift, despondent and in distress, and do not where to go in order to find acknowledgement of their struggle and the means by which to find sustenance in God to endure and overcome them. Some such Christians fall away, spiritually dying of thirst in an ocean of positivity and praise.

Lament is awkward, uncomfortable, and unpleasant; by necessity it dwells upon our failings, our inadequacies, our shame, our sin, and our suffering, and/or that of others. Yet, just as in Christ we are made strong when we are weak, so in lament we are strengthened and encouraged when we confess our limitations and failures (cf. 2 Corinthians 12:9). In lament we speak the reality of sin, sickness, and suffering; we no longer have to hide in shame from these realities, pretend they do not exist, or anxiously presume they can only happen to other people. In lament we humbly depend upon God, for hope of real justice, grace, mercy, and redemption are in Him and nowhere else. In lament we identify the lies of our society and culture and liberate people from the need to continue to maintain the pretense that everything is great and fantastic all the time. In lament we give space for people to mourn, to grieve, and to come to grips with their faults and failings, all of which are necessary to overcome.

Lament, however, is not an end unto itself; if we grieve and mourn but have no hope, we are no different from the Gentiles. As demonstrated in the psalms of lament and in Lamentations, lament is empowered by a strong faith in God that He will heal, enact justice, and redeem. The disciples lamented Jesus’ death, but on the third day their lament turned to joy, for the Lord Jesus overcame death in His resurrection (Luke 24:1-53). The hope of resurrection sustains the Christian: yes, in this life we will have suffering, grief, and ultimately death; yet, in Christ, we will overcome sin and death, and share in the resurrection in which there will be no more mourning, pain, tears, or death (John 16:30-33, Philippians 3:20-21, Revelation 21:1-22:6). We lament injustice knowing that the God of justice will soon come and judge the living and the dead and make all things right (Acts 17:30-31). It is fitting, therefore, for all lament to end in declarations of faith and confidence in God. In the world there would be no hope; right would make right; suffering and evil are just the way things are. It is because we have confidence in God as our Creator, a God of love and justice, a God who allowed His Son to die for our sins and raised Him for our justification that we can lament over present illness, pain, sin, suffering, and death.

Lament may not be fun, but we were never promised a fun-filled ride to eternity. The way to Zion is through Calvary; we will have to endure seasons of lament if we would obtain the resurrection of life. Yet lament is not the end; our ground of hope is in the resurrection of Jesus, confidence in His return and judgment, and eternity in the resurrection in joy. May we grow in faith in God in Christ and obtain that resurrection!

Ethan R. Longhenry

1 Enoch | The Voice 8.39: September 30, 2018

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The Book of Enoch (1 Enoch)

Angels coming to earth and marrying women; giant offspring who become evil spirits on the earth; visions of the heavenly realm and the complex working of the universe; warnings of imminent judgment: the Book of Enoch can seem extremely crazy to the modern reader. And yet it may have more relevance to the Christian faith than one might imagine.

The Book of Enoch claims to be the testimony of Enoch, of the seventh generation of men as recorded by Methuselah his son and Noah his great-grandson (Genesis 5:21-32). Most scholars and even most Christians consider the book to be pseudepigraphal, most likely written between 300-50 BCE. The Book of Enoch is subdivided into five sections: the “Book of the Watchers” (1 Enoch 1:1-36:4), the “Book of Parables” (1 Enoch 37:1-71:17), the “Book of Luminaries” (1 Enoch 72:1-82:20), the “Book of Dream Visions” (1 Enoch 83:1-90:42), and the “Letter of Enoch” (1 Enoch 91:1-108:15). While all these subdivisions draw from the same body of stories regarding Enoch, it is generally suggested that different authors composed different sections at different times in different contexts. The Book of Enoch seems to have been written originally in Aramaic and then translated into Greek and from Greek into other languages. The Book of Enoch has only been preserved in its entirety in Ethiopic (Ge’ez); fragmentary evidence for the Book of Enoch has been preserved in Greek, Latin, Syriac, and Coptic, and most famously in Aramaic from among the Dead Sea Scrolls in Cave 4. The Book of Enoch records traditions regarding Enoch’s visions of heaven as they relate to fallen angels, the increased sinfulness of man, God’s judgment in the Flood, and the imminent expected judgment with the coming of the Chosen One, the Son of Man.

The “Book of the Watchers” (1 Enoch 1:1-36:4) introduced the whole collection of sayings and visions of Enoch and told the narrative of the events of Genesis 5:12-9:17: a group of angels, known as the Watchers or the Sons of God, saw the beauty of human women, the daughters of man, and were able to know them and produce offspring, the Nephilim. These fallen angels also revealed secret knowledge to humans which would make them more powerful and destructive. The Nephilim caused great damage to the earth and increased bloodshed. God determined to eliminate this thread by judging the world with the Flood and preserving Noah and his family while the archangels seized the fallen angels and imprisoned them in chains in the abyss of hell. Enoch is taken up into heaven and shown all of these things as well as the ways the creation operated: the ways of the sun, moon, winds, waters, to paradise, the abode of the dead, and the abyss of hell. Enoch would also see tablets in which all the deeds of mankind to come were written down, and was able to thus understand how all things would take place and their end.

The “Book of the Parables” (1 Enoch 37:1-71:17) featured stories similar to the narratives of the Book of the Watchers, but also told stories of Enoch seeing the coming of a Son of Man in righteousness, power and dominion given to Him, and His judgment upon the whole world. The “Book of Luminaries” (1 Enoch 72:1-82:20) focused on Enoch’s visions regarding the operation of the sun and moon, insisting on the priority of a solar calendar, and full of detail on how the calendar would work. The “Book of Dream Visions” (1 Enoch 83:1-90:42) set forth the history of Israel from creation until the Maccabees in a barely veiled series of animal figures, expecting imminent final judgment. The rest of the Book of Enoch coalesced around a “Letter of Enoch” (1 Enoch 91:1-108:15) in which Enoch spoke of a “vision of weeks,” with a week representing seven generations, and seventy weeks for the present heavens before the coming of the new heavens and unnumbered weeks of righteousness, the two ways of righteousness and sin, and a series of wisdom/prophetic discourses pronouncing woe on the oppressive rich and seeking to encourage the oppressed and persecuted righteous to persevere in faith. The book ends with a story regarding Noah’s birth, the judgment which would come in his day, and warning of future judgment, and the final vision of Enoch, of books written to glorify the deeds of the righteous who will be raised in light while sinners would see that light in their darkness and depart.

The Book of Enoch, or at least the core stories on which the Book of Enoch depend, proved highly influential as apocalyptic narratives of the Second Temple Period. Their presence among the Dead Sea Scrolls attests to their influence. Jesus’ comment regarding angels as not given in marriage has a parallel in the book of Enoch (Matthew 22:30, 1 Enoch 15). Jude explicitly quotes 1 Enoch 1:9 in Jude 1:14-15, and called it prophecy; the Book of Enoch’s narratives regarding fallen angels imprisoned in chains best explain Jude’s and Peter’s references in Jude 1:6 and 2 Peter 2:4, and themes in the Book of Enoch may help explain 1 Peter 3:18-20 and the whole framing of judgment in 2 Peter 3:1-13. Jesus’ strong emphasis on being the Son of Man is at least parallel with the Book of Enoch if not influenced by it. The Revelation of John featured many themes similar to those found in the Book of Enoch, suggesting at least parallelism if not some level of continuity in apocalyptic imagery.

Many early Christians believed in the inspiration of the Book of Enoch; Tertullian especially made a spirited defense of it (Epistle of Barnabas 4:16; Justin Martyr, Second Apology 5; Irenaeus, Against Heresies 4.16.2; Athenagoras, A Plea for the Christians 24; Clement of Alexandria, Stromata 5.1.10, Selections from the Prophets 2.1; Tertullian, On the Apparel of Women 3.1-3). In the third century and following the Book of Enoch began to fall out of favor among many Christians; Ambrose and Augustine offered explicit disapproval. The Book of Enoch would be lost to Western and even most of Eastern “Christendom”; the Ethiopian Orthodox continued to consider it inspired and preserved its text over time.

The Book of Enoch remains a conundrum for Christians, since Jude affirmed Enoch as a prophet, and thus granted some legitimacy to the stories contained therein, and yet the work has all the hallmarks of being at least mostly pseudepigraphal and was lost to most Christians for over a millennium. Christians do well to explore the Book of Enoch: an English translation is available online. If nothing else the Book of Enoch helps to illuminate the world of Second Temple Judaism, providing an apocalyptic answer to the questions regarding the suffering of the righteous and the oppression of the wealthy and giving voice to the expectation of the imminent judgment of God by His Chosen Anointed One. Yet the Book of Enoch might well provide an important key to interpreting the events of Genesis 6:1-14; Peter and Jude at least seem to view those events in light of what is made known in the book of Enoch. It may well also have had some influence on Jesus Himself. May we put our trust in God through Jesus the Son of Man, seek His purposes, and be prepared for the day of judgment to come!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Works Consulted

Nickelsburg, George and VanderKam, James. 1 Enoch. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Fortress Press, 2012.

A Crisis of Authority | The Voice 8.38: September 23, 2018

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A Crisis of Authority

These days “authority” is often seen as almost a “dirty” word. People show very little respect for authority and remain skeptical about any claims of authority. The news is full of people in whom authority was entrusted who have broken that trust and used their authority for nefarious ends. In the early twenty first century there is indeed a crisis of authority.

The crisis of authority in modern society may seem new, yet it is rooted in many trends which have been developing in Western civilization over the past few centuries. Concern for the individual as an individual is as old as Christianity; waves of reform movements have broken over the Western world repeatedly since the 13th century, and by necessity stand in some tension with existing authority. Yet it was during the Enlightenment in the 18th century when skepticism toward any inherited authority was popularized, and the United States of America is nothing if not a grandiose Enlightenment project. From the Revolution onward Americans have proven very skeptical toward authority figures and claims of authority, even as they affirmed the authority of reason. In the wake of two world wars and the imminent threat of nuclear devastation, even the authority of reason was toppled in the twentieth century. Postmodern viewpoints cast aspersions on human ability to know much of anything for certain; postmodernism, especially with the growth of tolerance and multiculturalism, has almost inevitably led to a level of relativism in understanding truth and even authority: people are left to decide for themselves what is right or what is wrong, who to trust, and who to reject. In this way the individual is enshrined as the ultimate authority for everything, yet one who cannot be certain of anything.

Authority in religion has followed a similar trajectory: greater concern for individuals, reformation of church structure, empowering the individual Christian to understand the truth of God for him or herself, etc. In truth, much good has come from reformation and restoration in “Christendom”: the authoritarianism of the religious institutions of the medieval and early modern periods went beyond anything God authorized in the New Testament. It was, and is, a good thing to rid Christianity of clericalism and abuses of authority. Yet the movement toward reform did not stop with clerical institutions; aspersions have been cast against the authority of the Scriptures and the truths contained therein regarding the work of God in Christ and among Israel. These days many in religion are in the same place as many in society: postmodernist relativism. Religious truth is what a person makes of it, but people cannot be certain of anything in religion.

It is true that authority is easily abused: people claim authority God never gave them, others are willing to give authority to people who do not deserve it, and anyone in a position of authority is easily tempted to abuse that authority to satisfy their own desires. Yet the abuse of authority does not negate the need for authority; our present cultural confusion testifies to the difficulties of the excess of the other side. When anything can be true, how can we know anything is true? If there is no really greater arbiter of what is right, good, and true than myself, and I am flawed, is there any hope to cling to what is right, good, and true? Meanwhile, modern society remains quite oppressive to those who do not enjoy its privileges and benefits, and is even bleak and oppressive to many who do!

Authority always exists, whether we wish to admit it or not. Even if we wish to believe all power devolves onto individuals, people often are really enslaved to some force, idol, or power beyond themselves (e.g. Romans 1:18-32, 6:14-23). The New Testament identifies the existence of the powers and principalities over this present darkness (e.g. Ephesians 6:12): these are spiritual forces which people empower to rule over them in oppressive ways. Revelation 13:1-18 would give us the impression that it is the Evil One who empowers the oppressive governments of the world to do his bidding; this would confirm Satan’s claim to be able to give power over them to Jesus in Matthew 4:8-9. The forms and the attitudes may have changed, but the work of Satan and the powers and principalities of this present darkness remain behind them all.

Yet Jesus died on the cross, and in so doing defeated Satan, the powers and principalities, sin, and death, and was raised in power on the third day, openly triumphing over the forces of evil (Romans 8:1-5, Ephesians 3:10-11, Colossians 2:15). God the Father has given all rule and authority to His Son the Lord Jesus Christ, and all will stand in judgment before Him based on what He has said (Matthew 28:19, John 12:48, Acts 2:36, 17:30-31). Therefore, as Christians, it is not about what we think or feel, but what Jesus said and did is true. Jesus pointed the way of resistance against abuses of authority: embodying holiness and righteousness, speaking truth to power and to the oppressed, suffering at the hands of the forces of evil, and trusting in God who judges justly, finding vindication in Him (Romans 8:17-18, 1 Peter 2:18-25). This does not seem like victory to the world; nevertheless, it turned the world upside down, and always turns the world upside down when faithfully practiced.

To this end all authority belongs to God and comes from God (Romans 13:1); all who are empowered by Him will be called to account before Him (Romans 2:5-11, 1 Corinthians 15:24-28). God has established governmental powers to rule over the nations and will hold them accountable in judgment (Romans 13:1-7). God has established the family and will hold the husband accountable for shepherding his family and his children (Ephesians 5:22-6:4). All Christians are part of the Body of Christ and must work according to the will of the Lord as He has made known through the Apostles in the Scriptures (Romans 12:3-8, 1 Corinthians 12:12-28); elders appointed over local churches will be responsible for how they shepherd the local congregation over which the Holy Spirit has made them overseers (Acts 20:28, 1 Peter 5:1-4). All individuals will be held accountable for what God has given them in terms of their lives, abilities, time, etc., according to the standard of Jesus (Romans 8:28, 14:10-12). At the same time, all who are under those who wield authority will be held accountable for how they lived in subjection: as citizens to the government, as family members to the male head of the household, as Christians to Christ and to the elders of a local congregation where applicable (Romans 13:1-7, Ephesians 5:21-4:9, Hebrews 13:17, 1 Peter 2:11-18).

Terrible, horrific things have been done by those who claim authority and power, both in the world and in religion: this is a distortion of God’s purposes, and God will judge those who do such things. We are perhaps living through such a period of judgment on various forms of authority for what they have done. But authority will remain; the question will be whether we will recognize how authority ought to work and submit to the Lord Jesus and His purposes or go our own way and find ourselves eternally set on our own way away from the life and light found in God in Christ. We mourn and lament for all those who have suffered terribly at the hands of authority figures; Jesus Himself suffered terribly from religious and secular authority figures alike. Jesus provided the way forward: victory through submission and suffering. May we submit to the will of the Lord Jesus, suffer with Him, and thus be glorified with Him on the day of resurrection!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Christian and the Holy Spirit | The Voice 8.37: September 16, 2018

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The Christian and the Holy Spirit

God is often glorified as the One in Three and Three in One, and some provision is made regarding the Father; the Son is highly praised for His life, death, resurrection, and lordship, and the salvation offered through His sacrifice. Attitudes toward the Spirit, however, vary considerably.

Many prove enthusiastic about the Holy Spirit, to put it mildly. In their assemblies they put strong emphasis on what they believe to be the work of the Spirit among them. They speak more about the Spirit than they do about the Father or the Son. They address the Spirit frequently and believe the Spirit to be constantly communicating with them about all manner of issues, mundane and profound. And yet, for all the enthusiasm for the Spirit, substantive knowledge of what He has made known through the prophets and the Apostles is often lacking. All too often their thoughts and feelings get “baptized in the Spirit” and become justified as if it is the Spirit working in them, and yet their words and deeds often prove inconsistent with what the Spirit has made known.

And yet, for many others, one might be forgiven for wondering the same thing as the disciples of John in Acts 19:1-9, unsure whether God has even given the Spirit. Many such people may confess that the Holy Spirit exists, yet in practice they have completely conflated the Spirit with the revelation the Spirit has given in Scripture. In the extreme some such people manifest characteristics of “Christian deism”: God did great and wonderful things until the Apostles died, and ever since things have just carried on without much divine intervention. Such people may have a strong command of what God has made known in Scripture, yet knowledge of the Spirit, and perhaps even knowledge of God in Christ, may not go beyond the end of the written page.

Let none be deceived: part of the work of the Holy Spirit did involve communicating God’s purposes to mankind. The prophets would speak the “word of YHWH”; Peter declared that such men spoke from God as they were moved by the Holy Spirit to do so (2 Peter 1:21). The Lord Jesus Christ Himself gave messages to the churches through John, and yet He wished for the Christians of Asia Minor to hear what the Spirit said to the churches (Revelation 2:1-3:21): even Jesus’ messages were often mediated by the Spirit. In the Bible, therefore, we have the revelation of God to man through the Holy Spirit so we may come to know of God and the salvation He has accomplished in Jesus (2 Timothy 3:15-17). The Gospel of Jesus Christ has been fully delivered (Jude 1:3); therefore, we have no basis upon which to believe the Holy Spirit continues to be given for people to speak in tongues, prophesy, or provide new spiritual knowledge (1 Corinthians 13:8-10).

Whereas the Bible contains many instances of people making direct appeals to God the Father and even the Lord Jesus Christ, the text contains no instance of anyone making a direct appeal to the Holy Spirit. Instead, the Scriptures emphasize how the Father sends the Spirit on account of the Son (John 14:26, Acts 2:33, 38). The Holy Spirit directed Paul to write what is found in 1 Corinthians 12:1-14:40 precisely because the Corinthian Christians had allowed the exercise of spiritual gifts to go to their heads: it had become all about the exercise of spiritual gifts, not about love and mutual building up through what God had given. We may know the Spirit of truth from the spirit of error from what people say and do (1 John 4:1-4): any claim anyone would make regarding “what the Spirit told them” is suspicious. The Apostles, whom we all confess to have been inspired by the Spirit, did not rely on claims of being inspired by the Spirit to communicate the Gospel: instead, they relied upon the message which the Spirit gave them to speak, confirming it with their witness and the witness of David and the prophets (e.g. Acts 2:14-36). If it is truly made known in the Spirit, it is found in the Scriptures; if it cannot be found in or consistent with the Scriptures, it is not really from the Spirit.

The Holy Spirit did not glorify Himself; and yet He does communicate in Scripture regarding His continued relationship with those who are saved in Christ. Christians receive the gift of the Holy Spirit as a “down payment” on salvation (2 Corinthians 5:5, Ephesians 1:13-14); John declared how we may know we abide in God because He has given us of His Spirit (1 John 4:13); Christians individually and collectively have the Spirit dwelling in them (1 Corinthians 3:16-17, 6:19-20, Ephesians 2:18-21). The Spirit prays for Christians, interceding with the Father through the Son with groaning too deep for words (Romans 8:26-27). When immersed in water for the forgiveness of sins Christians are baptized into one body, the church, in the Spirit: to this end Christians must be diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit they share through the reconciliation they have gained with God and each other in Jesus (1 Corinthians 12:13, Ephesians 4:3). God strengthens Christians in their inner being through His Spirit (Ephesians 3:16); through that Spirit He would be powerfully at work in and through us, and by that Spirit He will raise us from the dead (Romans 8:9-11, Ephesians 3:20-21). The Spirit works to sanctify us, making us holy, empowering us to manifest His fruit (Galatians 5:19-21, 2 Thessalonians 2:13, 1 Peter 1:2).

Christians do well to navigate between the Scylla of enthusiasm and the Charybdis of Christian deism in regards to their relationship with the Spirit. As God the Holy Spirit is love does not coerce or compel; He does not force anyone to convert, become holy, or anything of the sort (1 Corinthians 13:4-8, 1 John 4:8). We do not know–and cannot know–the working of the Spirit beyond that which He has made known to us in the revelation of Scripture; we can never know for certain whether a matter is of the Spirit or is of our subconscious or even perhaps a demonic temptation. It would be foolish for us to presume everything we think or feel comes from the Spirit; but would it not be equally foolish for us to presume everything we think or feel has no relationship with the spiritual realm and just involves our subconscious? Likewise, in humility, we may feel hesitant to consider a matter as coming from God or directed by Him in the Spirit since we cannot know it for certain; and yet, is it also not presumptuous to deny God the glory for what He may well have done to accomplish His purposes in our lives?

God’s purpose in Christ is for all mankind to be one with Him as He is One in Himself (John 17:20-23); the Holy Spirit has an important role in God’s work of reconciling mankind to God and to each other. The Holy Spirit has communicated the message of this work God has accomplished through the prophets and the Apostles in Scripture. In Scripture the Holy Spirit also attested to His presence in the life of the believer unto empowerment in sanctification. We must not fear developing a relationship with the Spirit in God through Christ on account of the excesses of enthusiasm; we must not get carried away in enthusiasm from what God has made known in Scripture. May we glorify God in Christ through the Spirit, obtain the assurance of God in the Spirit, and seek to live faithful lives empowered by the Spirit!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Lord YHWH Has Spoken | The Voice 8.36: September 09, 2018

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The Lord YHWH Has Spoken

The prophet Amos came to the northern Kingdom of Israel according to the will of YHWH (Amos 1:1). He drew in the Israelites by proclaiming YHWH’s judgments upon the nations, and then declared to them the condemnation of both Judah and Israel in like manner for their iniquities (Amos 1:-2:16). The time had come to make known to Israel the word which YHWH had spoken against it (Amos 3:1).

The word of YHWH is spoken against the whole family of His people whom He brought out of Egypt; of all the families of the world He knew only them, and so He would visit all their iniquities upon them (Amos 3:1-2). This may seem odd and paradoxical at first: if He only knew them, how can he love them and yet punish them? Would it be better to not know Him? It is not as if judgment will not come for other nations, as can be seen in Amos 1:3-2:3. Instead, Amos indicted Israel and Judah on the very ground on which they maintain their confidence: God has chosen them and has made them His covenant people. Amos did not deny this; in fact, it is the very reason why their iniquity must be punished, because they should have known better, for they alone of all the nations should have maintained their trust in YHWH and none other!

Amos introduced a series of rhetorical questions in Amos 3:3-6: can two people walk together unless they have agreed to do so? Does a lion roar if he or she has not taken prey? Could a bird fall into a trap if no trap was set, or could a trap spring without taking anything captive? Can a trumpet be blown in a city without people becoming afraid? All of these rhetorical questions lead to the forceful conclusion of Amos 3:6: will a city endure disaster without YHWH having anything to do with it? This text has endured some violence, for many have taken some of its rhetorical questions out of context for their own purposes. In context, the message remains relatively straightforward: these things do not happen. People walk together only if they agree; lions only roar when they have prey; traps must exist to catch birds; trumpet blasts, which herald a coming army or a need to muster a standing army, leads to fear; and if disaster reaches a city, YHWH has something to do with it. Israel would soon hear of cities being destroyed; they could not rationalize these events as if they had nothing to do with YHWH their God. YHWH would be judging the nations.

Amos then provides both assurance and a warning (Amos 3:7-8): YHWH does nothing without making it known to His servants the prophets; if a lion roars, people fear, and the Lord YHWH has spoken, and so who can but prophesy? Contrary to popular expectations YHWH did not (and does not) leave people in the dark regarding what will befall His people and what they are to do about it. The people receive due warning from the prophets. Indeed, the Lord YHWH was speaking, and so Amos had to prophesy. The message was not one Israel wanted to hear; it was one Israel would deny until the bitter end; yet Israel could never say they were never warned, and had no recourse. What would happen to Israel proved extraordinary for the time; but Israel had no excuse, for Amos (and Hosea) told them what would be.

In Amos 3:9 the prophet rhetorically summoned the Philistines and the Egyptians to assemble in Samaria to bear witness to the tumult and oppression present throughout the land. They would see a people who cannot do right, ruled by people who participate in intrigues and work diligently to enrich themselves in oppressive and exploitative ways (Amos 3:10). The Israelites would therefore suffer at the hands of an adversary who would surround their land and plunder them (Amos 3:11). If they would not treat others as they would want to be treated, then they would suffer as they had caused others to suffer!

We are told Amos was “among the shepherds” in Tekoa (Amos 1:1); this experience informed a most vivid, albeit horrifying, illustration: as a shepherd might recover a couple of legs or an ear from the mouth of a lion who had seized a sheep, so perhaps a corner piece of a couch and a part of a bed might be rescued from among the people of Israel after their devastation (Amos 3:12). Israel’s devastation would be almost total, a catastrophe which would beggar belief in the prosperous days in which Amos prophesied.

Amos provided further testimony: when Israel would be punished for transgression, the altar at Bethel would be destroyed, and the houses of ivory and the winter and summer houses of the rulers and the elite would perish (Amos 3:13-15). The latter would be accomplished by the Assyrians; the former would be done later by Josiah king of Judah (2 Kings 23:15). The symbolism is potent: a broken altar is a sign of a defeated religious practice, a challenge to the premise that God dwelt there or honored the sacrifices offered there. The Kings author and the prophets consistently denounced the idolatrous practices in Dan and Bethel; we would imagine the Israelites believed they were really approaching the presence of YHWH there with their offerings and sacrifices. That pretense would be eliminated along with the people. Likewise, whereas the common people always suffered degradation and distress in any calamity, the nobility would often remain unscathed; for them to lose their homes and wealth expressed the thoroughness of the calamity. And, again, what they had gained by oppression and violence would be taken from them in oppression and violence.

The Lord YHWH indeed had spoken; Amos had to prophesy. Everything he spoke came to pass. As Christians we ought to learn from the example of Israel and not follow in their disobedience. We should not imagine that merely knowing of God and His purposes guarantees our redemption; we must trust in God and seek to do His will and be conformed to the image of His Son (Romans 2:5-11, 8:29). We have every confidence that God has made known what will take place through the words of the prophets and the Apostles (cf. 1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:11, 2 Peter 3:1-4, 8-10, etc.). The Golden Rule has its parallel in the rule of God’s judgment: if we do not treat people as we would want to be treated, it might well be done to us as we have done unto others. May we trust in God and seek righteousness and justice lest we are devastated in condemnation!

Ethan R. Longhenry