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

Are We Defined by Our Desires? | The Voice 8.35: September 02, 2018

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Are We Defined by Our Desires?

One of the great drivers of the major changes in attitude and perspective about sexuality in modern Western culture involves sexuality and identity. Many today take for granted the idea that a person can be defined by their sexual desire. Thus, to condemn a way a person exercises sexual desire is to condemn the person for who they are, and that is understandably seen as unjust and unfair. And yet, by common confession, the conceptualization of people as being biologically determined by their sexual desires—that a person is bisexual, heterosexual, homosexual, etc., like they are male or female, tall or short, etc.—has only existed since the Victorian era (ca. 1850). This view has become so ingrained in our culture that it is rarely questioned; it has become “common sense” to 21st century Westerners. Yet is it so? Are people biologically determined by their sexual desires?

Sexual desire, like many facets of humanity, is complicated; there are no doubt many genetic antecedents and predispositions involved. Yet how are infants and small children to be defined? They should be asexual. It has been found that many young people, on account of hormonal changes and/or environmental issues, go through a phase of interest in members of the same sex; for most this phase passes. Are they “gay” because they go through such an experience? By no means! Recent YouGov surveys in the United States and the United Kingdom show that younger generations increasingly no longer identify as exclusively “heterosexual” or “homosexual” but fall somewhere on the “bisexual spectrum”1. There is a greater awareness, even among the members of the LGBTQ community, of “fluidity” in sexual expression and identification.

“Nature,” both in its good created order and in its corruption on account of sin and death, certainly influences one’s sexual desires (cf. Romans 5:12-19, 8:18-25). So does one’s environment: one’s parental heritage, education, and cultural attitudes also influences whether a person exercises sexual desire, and how. Secular culture cannot have its cake and eat it too: if it is becoming aware of the existence of many types of sexualities and fluidity in sexual identity and expression, then it must admit that we are not biologically determined to be our sexual desires.

In Biblical times, humans did not consider themselves in terms of “-sexual” identities; no one in Scripture is called a bisexual, heterosexual, homosexual, or anything else of the sort. Instead God made man and woman in His image, and intended for a man to leave his father and mother, cling to his wife, and become one flesh (Genesis 1:27-28, 2:24, Matthew 19:4-6). God thus made men and women with sexual desire, and God provided the appropriate covenantal relationship, marriage, in which sexual desire could be satisfied and celebrated (Proverbs 5:15-19, Hebrews 13:4). Any exercise of sexual lust or behavior that does not manifest mutual indwelling of a man and woman who are joined by God in marriage is condemned as lasciviousness and porneia, sexually deviant behavior (Galatians 5:19, 1 Thessalonians 4:3-8). Such is why Paul condemns same gender lust and sexual behavior in Romans 1:18-32 and 1 Corinthians 6:9-10.

Christians must maintain confidence in God’s revelation to humanity in Jesus and not the presuppositions of the culture in which they live (Colossians 2:1-10). We should not buy into the assumption that people are to be defined by their sexual desires; God’s concern is for all of us to remain chaste, maintaining our bodies in holiness and purity, avoiding sexual lust and behavior outside the confines of a marriage in which God has joined a man and a woman (cf. 1 Thessalonians 4:3-8). We are more than our desires; we must all learn to exercise proper self-control and not allow temptation to become lust and sin (James 1:13-16). May we affirm God’s good purposes for human sexuality and warn about the sins surrounding its abuse!

Ethan R. Longhenry

1: “A third of young Americans say they aren’t 100% heterosexual”; “1 in 2 young people say they are not 100% heterosexual” (accessed 08/2015).

Are the Biblical Accounts of Israelite History Myths? | The Voice 8.34: August 26, 2018

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Are the Biblical Accounts of Israelite History Myths?

Since the “Enlightenment” and the beginning of the “Age of Reason” (ca. 1650-1750), many have sought to consider all aspects of religion to be matters of myth and superstition. Many such people have denied the existence of God and all things supernatural. It is not surprising, therefore, that they have also attempted to cast aspersions on the record of history preserved in the Old Testament.

At one time these beliefs were restricted to the élites in the universities and seminaries, first in Europe, and then in America. Now their views are represented among a good number of “secular” people, especially those influenced by higher education. These views are also strenuously promoted through Internet articles and sensationalized television shows and find a far broader audience than before.

While different schools of thought grant different levels of legitimacy to different amounts of Israelite history as reflected in the Old Testament, all three which we will consider agree that at least part of that history did not actually happen. In their estimation, some part of Israelite history are myths, that is, stories invented to explain a group’s existence, identity, location, customs, or other similar matters. Some would suggest that whole stories are complete fabrications; others would allow that certain individuals did exist in history but some or most of the stories told about them did not really happen. All would attempt to divorce the miraculous or supernatural from the narratives.

The most extreme school of thought is the minimalists, also known as the “Copenhagen School,” prominent in parts of northern Europe. In their eyes, the entire Old Testament is suspect, written entirely during the Persian (ca. 530-332 BCE) or Hellenistic (ca. 332-167 BCE) periods. They would not deny the possibility of the Old Testament preserving actual historical records, but believe that it is not possible to sort out fact from fiction. In their view, the Old Testament is useful only in understanding how Jews in the Persian and/or Hellenistic period understood themselves and their nationality, and any attempt to understand Israel as a historical nation before the exile is historically dubious.

Most scholars repudiate the minimalist school as extreme, but dispute among themselves as to the extent of the legitimacy of the Old Testament historical narratives. In general, the older the narratives in the Old Testament, the more likely scholars are to believe it to represent mythology and not true historical events. To that end, most accept the history of the divided kingdom from 1 Kings 12 through 2 Kings 25 and the post-exilic events of Ezra and Nehemiah as generally valid. Many accept the history of the United Kingdom from 1 Samuel 8 through 1 Kings 11 as valid, but the advocates of the “low chronology” suggest that if those kings ever existed, they would be more like tribal chieftains, and place the archaeological evidence previously associated with the time of David and Solomon to the days of Omri and Ahab. Some believe the period of the Judges to broadly represent historical fact. The conquest of the land in the days of Joshua is heavily disputed: some scholars deny that the conquest ever happened, instead believing either that the Israelites more peaceably entered the land and ultimately overran much of its territory or that the Israelites were really a collection of Canaanites who banded together to become one nation. Other scholars believe the Israelites did conquer parts of Canaan. Most scholars believe the Exodus account to be largely mythological: some scholars will accept the idea that a band of people left Egypt and eventually settled in Canaan, either all at once or in stages, but precious few accept the Exodus account as stated. Most have also relegated all of the stories in Genesis into the category of myth. In the academic world, most of those who continue to accept the entire Old Testament history of Israel as historical fact are many scholars and theologians associated with “conservative” Evangelical Christianity, and some among Orthodox Judaism as well.

It is important to note that nothing has ever been discovered which refutes or casts serious doubt upon any of the narratives of Israelite history in the Old Testament: none of the stories has been “disproven.” As we will see, some pieces of evidence lend credence to the narratives of the Old Testament. Nevertheless, most of the claims against the legitimacy of the historical records of the Old Testament rest on the absence of evidence: a lack of evidence of the Exodus or the Wilderness wanderings; a lack of evidence of the conquest under Joshua; a lack of evidence for the building campaigns of David and Solomon; and so on and so forth.

Archaeological discoveries are the main reason why most people have rejected the beliefs of the minimalist school. Texts and other objects found both in the land of Israel and in the greater Egyptian and Mesopotamian area broadly agree with the historical narratives found regarding the periods of the divided kingdom, the exile, and after the exile. The “Cyrus Cylinder,” discovered in Babylon, extols Cyrus as a king who allowed people to return to their homelands and who restored temples and service to the gods, consistent with the decree of Cyrus for the Jews as preserved in Ezra 1:1-4. The “Nebo-Sarsekim Tablet” was also found in Babylon, naming the same official as found in Jeremiah 39:3. King Hezekiah of Judah is attested in Sennacherib’s Prism, describing the devastation of Judah and the siege of Jerusalem according to the perspective of the Assyrians, the Siloam inscription discovered in the Siloam Tunnel in Jerusalem, and by many seals (called bullae), particularly around Jerusalem. The Mesha Stele tells the Moabite version of the narrative found in 2 Kings 3:4-8, and explicitly names Omri as king of Israel, the men of Gad, and speaks of YHWH. An Aramean inscription found in Tel Dan and dated around 850-800 BCE speaks of victory over the king of Israel and the “house of David.” Stories of Canaanite religion found among texts from Ugarit in northern Phoenicia are consistent with the portrayal of Canaanite religion (and the basis of much of Israel’s idolatry) in the Old Testament. These and many other discoveries directly and indirectly demonstrate that the historical narratives of the Old Testament fit within their time and place.

The recent discovery of a well-established fortress at Khirbet Qeiyafa dated to the period of the United Monarchy suggests that David and Solomon were more than mere tribal chieftains. The earliest evidence for Israel outside of the Bible comes from the Merneptah Stele, ca. 1213-1203, in which Pharaoh Merneptah of Egypt boasts that he laid waste to Israel, an event unattested in the Old Testament. Even though we have not discovered any direct evidence for earlier events, many of the features of the narratives in Genesis are consistent with their time period toward the end of the third millennium BCE in ways inconsistent with later times (e.g. Sarai giving Hagar to Abraham to bear children, Genesis 16:1-4).

We cannot expect archaeological and historical evidence to “prove” that the historical narratives of the Old Testament are factual: the best that can be expected is for archaeological and historical evidence to show that these historical narratives fit into their time period and are consistent with all available evidence. The historical narratives of the Old Testament meet this criterion: the events described make sense in the time frame in which they are alleged to have taken place. All claims against their legitimacy depend on absence of evidence, but absence of evidence is not evidence: a lack of corroborating evidence does not automatically mean that a given narrative is a myth. Archaeological and historical evidence is comparatively scant, especially in Israel, and a product of happenstance: there is much we do not know, and much we will never know.

Archaeology and history do not disprove the narratives of the Old Testament; in fact, they show how those narratives are consistent with their times and places. If it were not for the existence of Judaism and Christianity, and modern desires to reject and repudiate religion, much of this doubt would not exist. We have no good basis upon which to doubt the legitimacy of the historical narratives of the Old Testament; we therefore do well to accept them as true as we serve Jesus, the fulfillment of Israelite history, as Lord!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Christian and the Lord Jesus Christ | The Voice 8.33: August 19, 2018

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The Christian and the Lord Jesus Christ

“Jesus loves me, this I know / For the Bible tells me so.” Christians are well acquainted with this sentiment from the popular hymn. Yet how should Christians relate to the Lord Jesus Christ?

Those who have come to put their faith in Jesus as Lord have learned about Him through the proclamation of the Gospel regarding His life, death, resurrection, lordship, and eventual return, as preserved in the pages of Scripture (Romans 1:16, 10:17). His earliest followers testified how they experienced Jesus as the Word of life: they saw Him, touched Him, heard Him, and were commissioned by Him to go out to tell everyone what they had seen and heard (Luke 24:44-49, Acts 4:20, 1 John 1:1-3).

We are familiar with the story they told: Jesus was born of a peasant Galilean girl who had never known a man and conceived by the Holy Spirit. He was fully human yet fully God: the Word made flesh. He grew up in Nazareth, a place of no consequence. For approximately three years He ministered in Galilee and Judea, proclaiming the imminent Kingdom of God, healing the sick and the disabled, casting out demons, challenging the religious authorities and their biases, associating with the unclean, the marginalized, and the sinful, and preparing His twelve closest followers to follow in His ways. Jesus was betrayed by one of His disciples, condemned as a blasphemer by the religious authorities, abandoned by His disciples, given over to the will of the Jewish people by Pontius Pilate, and eagerly crucified by all. On the third day, Jesus arose from the dead; death had no power over Him, and the death He died was to atone for the sin of the world. Forty days later, having appeared to His disciples many times, Jesus ascended to heaven, and was enthroned at the right hand of the Father as Lord of lord and King of kings, ruling over a Kingdom which would have no end (Matthew 1:1-Acts 1:12).

From all of this Christians recognize Jesus’ great love, care, and compassion for humanity and God’s creation. He proved willing to humble Himself so as to take on flesh and dwell among us (Philippians 2:5-11); He served others faithfully, not thinking of Himself or His own interests, and even died for us (Romans 5:6-11). Christians therefore feel strong gratitude and appreciation for Jesus and all He did to secure our redemption.

And yet, for many Christians, Jesus seems remote. He has ascended to heaven; we no longer see Him in person. Yes, Jesus pronounced blessings on those who have not seen and yet believe (John 20:29); yes, we ought to affirm, with Peter, that even though we have not seen Jesus, we love Him and believe Him and what His followers said about Him and therefore are filled with great joy on account of Him (1 Peter 1:8). Nevertheless, it can be easy for Christians to believe they serve an absentee landlord. Where is Jesus in the midst of our trials and difficulties? Where is Jesus in the midst of all the religious confusion and turmoil?

Christians ought not be deceived: Jesus may have ascended to heaven, but He has not “checked out” from the creation for which He died. He continues to serve as Lord; God’s plan in Him remains as valid, powerful, effective, and necessary as it did 1,900 years ago (Ephesians 3:11, Hebrews 13:8). We should note how Luke begins Acts by speaking of the Gospel which he wrote as “all Jesus began to do and teach,” which implies Jesus would continue to do things and teach afterward, and so we can see throughout the book of Acts: yes, the Acts of the Apostles is about how the Apostles proclaimed the Gospel throughout the world, but throughout it was directed by Jesus and accomplished His purposes (Acts 1:1). In Revelation 2:1-3:21 the Lord Jesus communicated specific messages in the Spirit to the seven churches of Asia Minor, providing specific commendations of faithful behavior and condemnation of unruly behavior. Jesus knew quite well what was going on in all of the churches: the Christians may not have seen Him in their midst, but He was there.

We may not see the Lord Jesus, but the Lord Jesus sees us. We love Him because He first loved us; He gave His life not only so we might have forgiveness of sins, but as a way forward for us, that we would learn by suffering how to overcome evil, sin, and ultimately death (Romans 8:17-23, 1 John 4:7-21).

Yet our connection with Jesus should not seem distant or oblique; He stands as the Mediator between God and man since He remains fully God and fully human to this very day, and intercedes for us before His Father (Romans 8:30-34, 1 Timothy 2:5). Jesus is the image of God and the embodiment of God’s character: we can draw closer to God because we perceive Him and relate to Him in Jesus (Colossians 1:15, Hebrews 1:3). Jesus sympathizes with our plight: He was tempted in all points, yet did not sin (Hebrews 4:15). We can pray to God in Jesus’ name; the Apostles also felt comfortable directly speaking to Jesus in prayer, and no suggestion is given that we cannot do the same (John 15:16, 16:23, 2 Corinthians 12:1-10, Colossians 3:17). We should honor Him and Lord and seek His purposes while recognizing His purpose is to save mankind, not condemn it. If He wished for our condemnation, He would not have died for our sins!

For good reason Jesus used the illustration of the vine and branches in John 15:1-8: Jesus is the vine, and we are to be the branches. Our connection to God is through Jesus; the more connected we are to Jesus, the more life sustaining and nourishing strength we draw from Him. This is true individually and collectively, since Jesus is to be both Lord of our lives and remains Head of the church. This connection is no mere metaphor; we may not see Jesus, but if we do not relate to Him as Lord, Savior, Friend, and Guide, we have no hope of salvation!

The Apostles’ testimony is sure: one day the Lord Jesus will return, and we will see Him face to face, and we will always be together with the Lord (cf. 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). Early Christians drew strength and comfort from this hope, and we should as well. Relational unity with Jesus is of greater value than anything else in all creation; may we trust in Him as Lord, follow Him, and in Him obtain the resurrection of life, and abide with Him forever!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Transgressions and Punishments of the Nations | The Voice 8.32: August 12, 2018

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Transgressions and Punishments of the Nations

Life was good in Israel and Judah in the days of Jeroboam (II) and Uzziah. Territories lost to the Arameans had been recovered; Assyria was consumed with its own affairs. Prosperity had returned to Israel and Judah. The Israelites expected the good times to last; Israel had been made great again.

YHWH called a shepherd and dresser of sycamore trees from Judah named Amos to prophesy to the Kingdom of Israel (Amos 1:1; cf. Amos 7:14-15). He was not a prophet or a son of a prophet, yet he proved faithful to his calling.

YHWH roared from Zion and uttered His voice from Jerusalem, and the land withered (Amos 1:2). YHWH was the creator of heaven and earth; if He spoke a word of condemnation against a nation, it would come to pass. And so Amos began to prophesy against the nations surrounding Israel according to a pattern: for three transgressions and for four YHWH would not revoke the punishment (e.g. Amos 1:3, 6, etc.). Amos did not contradict himself; the trope indicated fullness, perhaps even overabundance, of sinfulness on the part of the nations, and thus the justice inherent in YHWH’s punishment of them.

Damascus, representing the Arameans, were the first indicted: they had devastated Gilead, Israelite territory, and the Arameans would themselves be devastated and lost (Amos 1:3-5). Gaza, representing the Philistines, and Tyre, representing the Philistines, had delivered up an entire people to the Edomites; fire would consume their cities and their rulers would be cut off (Amos 1:6-10). The Edomites come under condemnation for having attacked his brother, the Israelites, and maintained anger against him; fire would consume them as well (Amos 1:11-12). The Ammonites, like the Arameans, made incursions into Gilead, and slaughtered pregnant women; their cities will be devoured and their king exiled (Amos 1:13-15). The Moabites are indicted for their vile treatment of the king of Edom; they also will suffer fire and devastation (Amos 2:1-3).

So far all of the Israelites who would have heard Amos would have had no difficulties with anything he had said. They would all assent to YHWH’s care and provision for His people and the justice involved in the nations around them getting their just deserts for their mistreatment of the people of God.

But then the condemnation came for Judah: they rejected the Law of YHWH and followed the vanities of their fathers, and fire would come for their cities (Amos 2:4-5).

And now the moment of truth and indictment had come. If the Israelites had thought justice coming for the nations was good and right, then they had better be ready to endure the judgment YHWH would pronounce on them. YHWH would not revoke the punishment of Israel for its transgressions, either (Amos 2:6)!

Amos decried how the righteous were sold for silver, most likely a reference to rampant bribing of judges or other officials to pervert justice (Amos 2:6). Amos was deeply concerned regarding the treatment of the poor: the needy were sold for a pair of sandals, representing a paltry sum, the head of the poor were trampled, and the afflicted were turned aside, all no doubt in the pursuit of greater gain (Amos 2:6-7; cf. Genesis 14:23, Leviticus 25:39-46). Many among the wealthy had gained their wealth at the expense of the poor; soon all their wealth would be consumed and taken away.

Amos condemned the shocking immorality present in Israel: a man and his father would go into the same girl, profaning the holy name of YHWH, perhaps a reference to Israel’s participation in Canaanite religious rituals, or an indication of the level of sexual licentiousness among the people (Amos 2:7; cf. Deuteronomy 23:17). Amos envisioned the Israelites laying down next to altars on garments taken by pledge and drinking wine in the house of their God purchased with the fines of the poor: they likely presumed themselves to be the chosen people of God, and their wealth demonstrating YHWH’s favor, when in reality they were committing terrible sacrilege and heaping up iniquity for the day of judgment (Amos 2:8).

All of Israel’s prosperity depended on their position in the land and the favor of their God: it had been YHWH, after all, who had removed the strong Amorites from the land, and had brought Israel out of Egypt when they had been slaves (Amos 2:9-10). YHWH raised up prophets and Nazirites in the land, and yet the Israelites did not want to hear the message of the prophets, and forced the Nazirites to drink wine, breaking their vows (Amos 2:11-12; cf. Genesis 15:16, Numbers 6:1-21, 13:32, Joshua 10:1-27, 24:11).

All of this iniquity and presumption could no longer stand. The day of YHWH would come swiftly. YHWH would press Israel down in its own land: all of the mighty men would lose their strength, their ability, and the best of them would flee away naked on that terrible day (Amos 2:13-16).

While we might hope that some Israelites were convicted by Amos’ message, the historical record would indicate most would have tuned him out once he turned to indict Israel. Judgment for everyone else was expected; surely YHWH would not turn against His own people! And yet, within a generation, Israel would be devastated by Assyria, and all Amos said regarding the Kingdom of Israel would come to pass.

God sees the transgressions of the nations; He will hold them all to account in judgment. The people of God throughout time have taken comfort in God’s vengeance against those who work iniquity, especially those who persecute the people of God. And yet, as Peter reminds us, judgment begins at the household of God (1 Peter 4:17). If God will hold those in the world to account for their oppression of the people of God, what will He do to the people of God who oppress others, or, God forbid, one another? If God will condemn the nations for sexual immorality, what will He do to the people of God who have flagrantly committed sexual immorality? Yes, the day of judgment will come against all who commit iniquity; yet God will show no partiality.

Yet how will the people of God today respond? As in the days of Amos, so today: messages condemning the iniquity of the nations prove popular. But what happens when that same message is turned toward the people of God and their iniquity? Will we scoff as Israel did? Then we will reap the same condemnation as Israel. May we learn from the example of our ancestors in the faith and turn away from our iniquity and sin, repenting in lament, and seek to follow all God has established in Christ so we may obtain the resurrection of life!

Ethan R. Longhenry