How Absurd! | The Voice 11.42: October 17, 2021

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The Voice

How Absurd!

Life in this creation after the Fall: we live for a time and then we die. It all seems rather absurd.

Such is the perspective of the Preacher in Jerusalem in Ecclesiastes 1:1-2.

“Ecclesiastes” is a transliteration of the Greek translation of Hebrew Kohelet, “one who speaks before an assembly,” thus, “the preacher.” The Preacher is identified as the “son of David, king in Jerusalem in Ecclesiastes 1:1; he is also said to have taught knowledge and arranged many proverbs in Ecclesiastes 12:9. For this reason most associate the Preacher with Solomon, king of Israel, and author of most of the book of Proverbs (ca. 950 BCE). Scholars remain convinced Ecclesiastes is a work of far later provenance, perhaps dating from the Hellenistic period (ca. 330-250 BCE). We have no quarrel with attributing the work to Solomon, yet will continue to speak of him as he spoke of himself in the work: as the Preacher.

The Preacher began his message the same way he would end it in Ecclesiastes 12:8: by declaring that all things were hevel. The translations and understandings of hevel are numerous. The concrete referent of the term is manifest in Job 7:16, Psalms 62:10, 144:4, Proverbs 21:6, and Isaiah 57:13: wind, breath, or vapor. The term would develop more abstract referents based on the physical characteristics of wind/vapor. Since one cannot weigh or measure the wind or vapor, it was seen as without substance, thus leading to a meaning of “fruitless” or “worthless” (so Psalm 78:33, Proverbs 13:11, Jeremiah 2:5, 10:13, 15, 16:19, 51:18). Since wind and vapor pass away quickly, hevel could mean “fleeting” or “transitory” (so Job 7:16, Proverbs 31:30, Ecclesiastes 6:12, 7:15, 9:9, 11:10). Since one cannot easily see wind, breath, or vapor, it could easily be associated with that which is obscure and dark, and thus difficult to comprehend or understand (so Ecclesiastes 11:10). Thus we can understand the King James Version and American Standard Version’s translation of the term as “vanity,” and thus “vanity of vanities, all is vanity!” The New English Translation appropriately understands hevel as indicating futility: “absolute futility! All is futile!” A more imaginative definition would understand hevel as used by the Preacher to indicate absurdity: everything, in the end, proves absurd.

But what is futile and absurd? The Preacher spoke of life in terms of what goes on “under the sun” (e.g. Ecclesiastes 1:3): what is the ultimate purpose of human life as we live it in this creation in its present condition?

To this end all is futile. People live, work, and die. Whether they are good or evil, they live, work, and die. Rich and poor, fortunate or unfortunate, oppressor or oppressed; they all die. They are soon forgotten, and the world goes on. Thus, it is all futile.

How do we respond to such a message? Few Biblical messages lead to as much consternation as does the Preacher’s message in Ecclesiastes. What the Preacher has to say seemed to run afoul of the rest of the Biblical witness; thus its original editor felt compelled to conclude that the ultimate conclusion of the matter was to fear God and keep His commandments (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14). The Preacher would not deny as much; yet he is playing out all of human pretension to its natural end. People naturally want to stay together and make a name for themselves (cf. Genesis 11:4); but will any of that work? People look to labor, various forms of pleasure, or monuments or something of that sort to make sense of their lives between their birth and their death; yet can such efforts really sustain human meaning in existence?

The Preacher has rightly seen the end of all these matters, and would go on to explain as much throughout his message. He would disabuse us of the pretensions of the mythology which people like to tell themselves and their children: our labor will outlast us; we find who we are in our fun; life is all about us and our happiness; we can make an everlasting name for ourselves in this creation. None of these things really work; none of them truly satisfy. They are all vanity, futile: it is all absurd.

Would the Preacher have us fall into depression? By no means! The Preacher must strip us of our pretensions so that he can liberate us from them and allow us to find joy and pleasure in that which God has given for us: the fruit of our labor; the spouse of our youth; food and drink; the very things which we take for granted when we expend ourselves according to our pretensions. Life is absurd, but we can still enjoy it. We can appreciate it all the more for what it is when we are disabused of what it was never meant to sustain.

Little of this is immediately evident just in the Preacher’s statement that all is futile and absurd; it will flow from what he would go on to say. Yet it is important for us as hearers and readers to be properly prepared to hear what the Preacher has to say lest we try to rationalize and justify his warnings away in our attempts to hold onto the pretensions of life which we have inherited. We must be open to the utter absurdity of it all if we will be able to appreciate what the Preacher has to say.

In the end God does call all of us to fear Him and keep His commandments in the Lord Jesus Christ, looking to what God has done in Christ for ultimate meaning and eternal life. We do well to anchor our trust in God in Christ so that we can enjoy the lives He has given us for His glory and honor, and not attempt to make of life beyond what it can sustain. May we recognize the absurdity of life under the sun yet seek to glorify God in Christ in all we do!

Ethan R. Longhenry

How Absurd! | The Voice 11.42: October 17, 2021

1 John: Introduction | The Voice 11.41: October 10, 2021

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1 John: Introduction

1 John represents one of the most sublime and yet profound books of the New Testament. At five chapters, it is not very long; but is full of encouraging thoughts and provides much to ponder.

The letter, as written, provides very little biographical information regarding either its author or its intended recipients. The author never identifies himself, yet the many parallels in thought and language between the author of 1 John and the author of the Gospel of John (as we will see) indicate that John the Apostle is the most likely author. Second century traditions agree with this identification. We recognize that Christians are the intended audience (1 John 1:3), and John’s tender appeals to his “little children” seems to indicate that the audience is well-known to John (cf. 1 John 2:1; 5:23). Based upon all available evidence, the audience is most likely the various Christians who lived near Ephesus in Asia Minor; the letter may have been written to one particular church or as an encyclical, with different copies going to many local churches.

Ephesus is the assumed place of authorship since the Gospel of John, the three letters of John, and the Revelation of John all seem to be written from the same hand. Both the Revelation and second century traditions place John in Ephesus toward the end of his life. Since 1 John itself betrays no geographical information or clues, we must content ourselves with this assumption.

The date of 1 John represents a contentious matter. The two timeframes most commonly advanced are between 61-67 or 85-95 CE. The early date tends to be favored by those who believe the whole of the New Testament canon was completed by 70 CE, and that John’s writings all precede (and anticipate) the destruction of Jerusalem. The later date tends to be favored by those who see John writing more to Christians in Asia Minor after the events of 70. 1 John itself provides few clues that can provide positive identification of the time period. Nevertheless, the complete lack of mention of Paul or Timothy is suspicious if John is writing in Ephesus in the 60s; likewise, very few of John’s concerns precisely parallel Paul’s concerns as laid out in 1 and 2 Timothy, which is also suspicious if the works are nearly contemporaneous. Furthermore, John’s great concerns with docetic and gnostic teachings (docetic: the belief that Jesus was not really in the flesh, but was God seeming to be flesh; gnostic: various beliefs that emphasized secret knowledge and presented an alternative view of reality more in line with Hellenistic philosophy; cf. 1 John 2:18-22; 4:1-3). While it is true that Paul seems to deal with the beginnings of such beliefs in Ephesus in the mid-60s (cf. 1 Timothy 6:20-21, 2 Timothy 2:16-19), the problem is much greater in John’s day, which is consistent with all historical evidence. The lack of interaction between John with Paul and Timothy and the more developed forms of docetism and gnosticism present in the area of Ephesus provide more credence to the later date.

Why does John feel compelled to write the letter? John says that he writes to “make our joy complete” (1 John 1:4). To do so, he encourages the brethren to live faithfully according to the standard of Christ’s commandments (cf. 1 John 2:1-6), and to stand firm against the false doctrines (most likely forms of docetism and/or gnosticism) that are growing in prevalence in his day (1 John 2:18-22; 4:1-3). We see that John wrote a letter to Christians in Asia Minor sometime between 85-95 CE to make his joy complete, encouraging them in their faith, exhorting them to stand firm in God’s truth and to put God’s truth to work in their lives.

Ethan R. Longhenry

1 John: Introduction | The Voice 11.41: October 10, 2021

Man’s Influence on the Creation | The Voice 11.40: October 03, 2021

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Man’s Influence on the Creation

How strongly can humans influence God’s creation?

Our possible influence over the creation has become a serious and contentious matter. The implications of how we answer the question might well significantly impact our quality of life and the quality of life for those who may come after us.

The question is fraught with a continual human problem, aptly described by David in Psalm 8:4-7: in the grand scheme of the creation, humanity is small and insignificant, and we rightly wonder why God would notice us; and yet God has made us a little lower than the heavenly beings, crowned us with honor and majesty, and have given us dominion over the earth. Therefore we can understand a perspective that suggests human activity cannot strongly influence God’s creation since God is great and powerful and humans are not; we can understand why anyone who would hold to such a view would consider the alternative to be arrogant and presumptuous, claiming humans can do things they actually cannot do. Yet even though humans might be insignificant in the grand scheme of things, what if their activities on the earth can lead to significant changes and consequences for themselves and for other creatures on the planet? If such were possible, then the suggestion that we are too small to do much of anything would presume a false humility and its conclusion another form of arrogance and presumption: the belief humans can do whatever they wish and it will not significantly impact their environment.

What has God made known about human influences on the creation? In Hosea 4:1-3 YHWH began to indict Israel for their sinfulness: they were unfaithful and disloyal, did not recognize God, cursed, lied, stole, killed, and committed adultery, and as a result the land would mourn, leading to the death of people, land animals, and even the fish of the sea.

We today might wonder how or why Hosea would make such a connection: why would animals and fish suffer because people lie and steal? We can consider one very practical reason: those who do not respect the lives of their fellow humans will also not respect the lives of animals or the environment in general. If the Israelites had no problem extorting and plundering their fellow humans, they would not think twice about over-exploiting and plundering the abundance God provided for them in the land.

There remains a more profound and spiritual reason for such a connection, however, which hearkens back to the beginning. We have been told God made a very good creation in Genesis 1:31, and Paul declared that sin and death entered the creation through Adam’s transgression (Romans 5:12-21). Human sin is not something that just affects God, the person who sinned, and any victimized by that sin; since sin works contrary to the purposes of God in the creation, sin is a transgression against the way the creation is supposed to work, and will have an impact on the creation. Thus Isaiah lamented how the land and would would languish and mourn because the earth was polluted by the transgressions and violations of its inhabitants against God and His covenant (Isaiah 23:3-5). The land would suffer the result of this curse (Isaiah 24:5-14). As Jeremiah asked: how long would the land be parched, the grass withered, the animals die, and all because of the wickedness of the people (Jeremiah 12:4)?

The prophets directly associate God’s judgments on people with environmental devastation (Isaiah 33:9, Joel 1:10-13, Amos 1:2, 5:16, 8:8, Nahum 1:4, Zephaniah 1:3): the people would watch as their cities would burn down, their wealth was plundered, but also as their land burned or suffering from drought, famine, and pestilence. The Chronicler understood Jeremiah’s promise of seventy years of exile to allow the land to enjoy the sabbath years Israel never provided (2 Chronicles 36:20-21; cf. Jeremiah 25:11, Leviticus 25:4, 26:33-35).

In all these matters we should be reminded of Hosea’s maxim and warning to Israel: they had sowed the wind and would reap the whirlwind (Hosea 8:7). The fruit of what they would endure would be bitter indeed, and all because they proved covetous, greedy, and did not give appropriate regard for life or appropriate care and provision for the land.

Most agree that humans can wield significant influence over a given land or region, and many Christians do so on the basis of what we have demonstrated above from Scripture. Yet many will suggest human influence is limited or restricted to small areas of land and cannot significantly alter the balance of life.

For the majority of human history such a position was very understandable: human technological innovation was fairly limited and restricted, and environmental impacts seemed easily mitigated. Populations would rise and tax the earth and its resources, but then times of plague, pestilence, famine, and war would reduce the population and allow the earth and its resources to recover to some degree.

Nevertheless, recent discoveries about the finely tuned balance present on the earth should give everyone pause. The more we compare historical documentation of the rise and fall of empires and civilizations with data about the state of the climate from ice and mud cores from around the world, the more we see the power of the influence of environmental factors over our lives. In a very real way such evidence does confess humanity’s relative weakness and insignificance in the grand scheme of things: the rise and fall of nations and powers had as much to do with slight variations in global temperature and the changes in weather and environmental conditions which came as a consequence as it did with the relative strength and competence of the rulers and powers of the day. Time and time again the veneer of civilization proved very thin in the face of floods, drought, pestilence, and plagues, especially when these disasters would compound upon one another.

Over the past two hundred years, and especially within our own generation, human technological innovation has exploded and has led to significant environmental consequences. Humans with machines powered by electricity and fossil fuels transform land to a degree heretofore unimaginable. The human population has exploded over the past century; around the world we have replaced wild land and wild species with developed and cultivated land for ourselves, pets, and farm animals. In almost every domain the earth groans under the burdens we have imposed upon it: many lands have been denuded of fertile soil and are cultivated only with difficulty and fertilizer; it is now believed that half of the wild animals who were alive a generation ago are now gone; more species find themselves at the brink of extinction; fish stocks have been depleted and people now look to deeper and less quality fish to make up the difference; humans encounter new bacteria and viruses as they push ever deeper into previously untouched lands; plastic and other pollutants are everywhere; the oceans are warmer and more acidic; temperatures have risen; hurricanes/typhoons, floods, drought, and wildfires have grown in strength and duration. All of these are presently happening; who knows what will happen if we persist in our behaviors?

If one group of humans in one area, in their greed and sinfulness, can lead to environmental degradation and devastation when they reap the whirlwind they have sown, there is no intrinsic reason why humans around the world, if they prove greedy and sinful, will not suffer environmental degradation and devastation when they reap the whirlwind they have sown. We have gone beyond what is necessary in our exploitation of the earth; who knows how God will judge us for doing so? Perhaps He has built corrective measures into the fabric of the creation itself, and we will begin suffering the effects of these corrective measures. Perhaps He might bring a more specific form of judgment. Perhaps He will show mercy. Nevertheless, we presume a lack of consequence for the ways in which we exploit the creation to our peril and even greater peril for our children and grandchildren. May we uphold and honor the value of life and the creation with which God has blessed us abundantly, and look for the resurrection of life in Christ!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Man’s Influence on the Creation | The Voice 11.40: October 03, 2021

Moral Authority in Society | The Voice 11.39: September 26, 2021

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Application of Christian Moral Authority in Society

One of the “constants” in American society has been the role of religion in the sphere of social activism. From abolition to prohibition to civil rights and now abortion, much of the impetus to change societal views, attitudes, and standards has come from the voices of many of the religious persons of the day.

As we enter the twenty-first century, however, we are in the midst of a vast and rapid secularization of society, the origins of which were sown in the founding of our country. When this reality is paired with the “Christian nation” revisionism inherent in the Evangelical “Religious Right,” we see the presence of a “culture war,” where “god fearing Americans” are pitted against “godless secularists”. The rhetoric in these conflicts is extremely heated, passion for the issues involved consume many of those involved, and not a few “life and death” struggles regarding serious issues are being waged. How should we, as Christians seeking to follow the New Testament, approach such matters?

It is in this arena where the contrast between the “Christian America” theology of Evangelicalism and Biblical views of church and state could not be clearer. While the presence and even preeminence of Christianity and its values in America is assumed in such Evangelical theology, the Bible itself never assumes it. Furthermore, it is assumed that it should be the ideal that the government reflect Christian values.

Such concepts, in reality, represent a misplaced idealism. As it is written:

Ye adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? Whosoever therefore would be a friend of the world maketh himself an enemy of God (James 4:4).

Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the vain glory of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever (1 John 2:15-17).

The reality, for many, is likely to be uncomfortable, yet undeniable: the United States of America is a worldly country. It is of the world. It will pass away with the world (if it does not do so beforehand). While we can certainly have fealty toward the country in some ways, to embrace it without any consideration of the difficulties present would be amiss.

For our citizenship is in heaven; whence also we wait for a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ (Philippians 3:20).

The “secularization” of America represents less of a “loss of godliness” and more of a removal of the false mask and the ugly reality which has always existed. America has never been God’s chosen nation, nor ever will be.

An unfortunate consequence of the primary Evangelical view is the expectation that Christians should work to make this country more godly through the political/legislative process, or through protest, complaint, and declaration of offense. Indeed, it would seem that the only people more “offended” in the world than “Christians” are Muslims! Any time some kind of immorality is advanced, or some anti-Christian sentiment expressed, Christians get “offended” and go and complain. Does this really sound like what we see in the New Testament?

Concerning the relationship between a Christian and his government, we are told the following:

Tell us therefore, “What thinkest thou? Is it lawful to give tribute unto Caesar, or not?”
But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, “Why make ye trial of me, ye hypocrites? Show me the tribute money.”
And they brought unto him a denarius.
And he saith unto them, “Whose is this image and superscription?” They say unto him, “Caesar’s.”
Then saith he unto them, “Render therefore unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s” (Matthew 22:17-21).

Let every soul be in subjection to the higher powers: for there is no power but of God; and the powers that be are ordained of God. Therefore he that resisteth the power, withstandeth the ordinance of God: and they that withstand shall receive to themselves judgment. For rulers are not a terror to the good work, but to the evil. And wouldest thou have no fear of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise from the same: for he is a minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is a minister of God, an avenger for wrath to him that doeth evil. Wherefore ye must needs be in subjection, not only because of the wrath, but also for conscience’ sake. For this cause ye pay tribute also; for they are ministers of God’s service, attending continually upon this very thing. Render to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor (Romans 13:1-7).

I exhort therefore, first of all, that supplications, prayers, intercessions, thanksgivings, be made for all men; for kings and all that are in high place; that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and gravity. This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; who would have all men to be saved, and come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:1-4).

Be subject to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake: whether to the king, as supreme; or unto governors, as sent by him for vengeance on evil-doers and for praise to them that do well. For so is the will of God, that by well-doing ye should put to silence the ignorance of foolish men: as free, and not using your freedom for a cloak of wickedness, but as bondservants of God. Honor all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king (1 Peter 2:13-17).

In the whole of the New Testament, these represent God’s message to the Christian in regards to the government: obey them when they do not transgress God’s commands. Pay them the taxes due and the honor due them. Pray for them, that we may have tranquil and quiet lives.

Concerning salvation, it is written,

For I am not ashamed of the gospel: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For therein is revealed a righteousness of God from faith unto faith: as it is written, But the righteous shall live by faith (Romans 1:16-17).

Concerning God and the world, it is written,

For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, And the discernment of the discerning will I bring to nought.”
Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For seeing that in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom knew not God, it was God’s good pleasure through the foolishness of the preaching to save them that believe. Seeing that Jews ask for signs, and Greeks seek after wisdom: but we preach Christ crucified, unto Jews a stumblingblock, and unto Gentiles foolishness; but unto them that are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men (1 Corinthians 1:19-25).

From these Scriptures, the message is plain: America is not going to become godly because Christians spent their days striving to legislate Christian values. If America is to become godly, it is because the Gospel is preached in America and souls are obedient to Christ Jesus. America will become “God’s country” when its constituents humble themselves before the Almighty and serve Him first; even then, the United States of America would not be “God’s country” as much as Americans have become God’s people (1 Peter 2:9)!

The moral authority of the Christian has little to do with himself and everything to do with the Gospel he is charged to promote (Matthew 28:18-20). As it is written,

But when the kindness of God our Saviour, and his love toward man, appeared, not by works done in righteousness, which we did ourselves, but according to his mercy he saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, which he poured out upon us richly, through Jesus Christ our Saviour; that, being justified by his grace, we might be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life (Titus 3:4-7).

Sadly, the way that many in “Christendom” react to anything that is offensive to their faith is not to suffer the wrong but to complain and act as if the government should do something about it. The New Testament makes it crystal clear that no Christian is owed anything by secular governments. Yes, Christians in many ways are blessed to live in America, since there are many freedoms present not granted in other lands and the ability is theoretically present to participate in the government of the land.

But how are all of these freedoms being used today? They are far too often being used toward negative directions: protest, condemnation, chastisement, and so forth. That is not what we see in the New Testament!

Although Paul lived in the Roman Empire, ruled by a dictator clothed as an emperor, he had many freedoms as a Roman citizen. One such freedom was the right to appeal to Caesar and a trial in Rome (cf. Acts 25:11). Paul was given the opportunity to speak to many of the rulers of the land: Felix, Festus, Agrippa, and Nero. When he spoke to them, did he bring up the “rights” of Christians, how badly the Jews were persecuting them, and how idolatry should be made illegal in the Roman Empire? No. He preached the Gospel (Acts 24:1-26:32). He utilized the freedoms and opportunities granted to him under Rome to further the progress of the Gospel.

Sadly, however, I fear that this is not the case in America. As opposed to taking the opportunity to teach the world about the seriousness of sexual sin of any stripe, God’s plan for marriage, and salvation from sin in Christ Jesus, many seek legislation to condemn certain sins, particularly surrounding homosexuality and now transgenderism, so that the coercive power of the nation-state is to be used to chastise sinners. Such things are indeed sinful, and God will judge; yet why should we necessarily expect the government of a theoretically free society to care? The opportunity is presented to teach the truth; instead Christians are manipulated for political ends and endlessly mocked and derided as intolerant bigots. The Gentiles are given reason to blaspheme (Romans 2:24). The foolish are able to keep spouting off their ignorance (1 Peter 2:15).

But perhaps the most lamentable tragedy has been in the case of the contest regarding abortion. Since 1973, a life-or-death contest has ensued in this country over whether abortion should be legal or illegal. Untold millions (likely billions) of dollars have been spent to organize protests, contacting of elected officials, material distribution, campaign contributions, etc., attempting to keep it legal or to make it illegal. Many have resorted to picketing abortion clinics and verbally condemning those who use its services.

Is abortion wrong and a moral evil? Absolutely. On the other hand, a majority of the citizens of the USA believe that a woman should have the option available to her. So much time and so many resources are being expended, therefore, in what looks to be an interminable battle.

Meanwhile, how many pregnancy crisis centers are forced to reduce its services and programs by half because of lack of funding? If only a fraction of the dollars spent to ensure that pictures of aborted fetuses are placed in front of abortion clinics had been redirected, perhaps many other abortions would not have taken place.

Many feel as if any form of “compromise” is a moral evil, and we should not be satisfied with anything less than complete and absolute bans on abortion, enforced by the coercive power of the state.

What did Jesus say?

“But go ye and learn what this meaneth, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ for I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matthew 9:13).

And Jesus lifted up himself, and said unto her, “Woman, where are they? did no man condemn thee?”
And she said, “No man, Lord.”
And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn thee: go thy way; from henceforth sin no more” (John 8:10-11).

The very people in the middle of the abortion issue, women in situations contemplating abortion, are being lost in the midst of the fight. How sad! After all, the power to end abortion is not in government. Women sought abortions before Roe vs. Wade; even if the case were overthrown and a blanket ban were enacted, abortions would still happen, and babies would still die. Homosexuals engaged in committed relationships even when there was general agreement that marriage should be defined as involving a man and a woman.

The following is said about spiritual things, but is no less true about laws governing political entities:

But we know that the law is good, if a man use it lawfully, as knowing this, that law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and unruly, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, for fornicators, for abusers of themselves with men, for menstealers, for liars, for false swearers, and if there be any other thing contrary to the sound doctrine; according to the gospel of the glory of the blessed God, which was committed to my trust (1 Timothy 1:8-11).

Depraved people who do not honor the Creator cannot be expected to follow earthly authorities, either (Romans 1:18-32). Sinners sin! Where is our energy best directed?

Let none be deceived: we must stand firm and speak out against the moral evils of our society. In so doing, however, we ought not speak as sanctimonious hypocrites, as many allege and too many have actually been; we must point to the Gospel of Christ. To seek the government’s aid is to put trust in men; the government is not God’s intended vehicle for moral reformation, for such is entrusted to the Gospel of His Son (Romans 1:16). The Gospel will save, not the laws of America. There is not one person who will obtain the resurrection solely because he or she observed the laws of the United States of America. The only way that we are going to make it is by being obedient servants of God, promoting His Gospel.

Part of the promotion of that Gospel is the recognition of our own sinful past and the humble recognition that we are no better than those “nasty sinners” who do the things we condemn. As Jesus indicated to the adulterous woman, she should go and sin no more; but we have no right to condemn her. We are, however, charged to show mercy (Luke 6:30-31). In terms of abortion, how many women go through with the practice because they have been coerced? Not a few are forced into it, either by her family, the father and/or his family, or other factors. If but a portion of the funds being used to fight the contest in regards to the law were redirected to crisis centers and other venues, abortion rates would decline even further. If we worked to show mercy to women in difficult circumstances, we may not just save her from committing terrible sin but might even save her soul. What is our true purpose?

Would it be wrong for the state to use its coercive power to protect the unborn? Absolutely not. Is political action entirely worthless? Not at all. Nevertheless, as we can ascertain from Scripture, the moral authority of the Christian rests in the promotion of the Gospel in word and deed. Time is short; our resources are limited; we must make sure that we do all that we can to promote God’s message while we still have the time and so does our fellow man. We must make sure that our priorities are properly centered on Jesus Christ, His Kingdom, and His righteousness (Matthew 6:33, Philippians 3:20, Colossians 1:13), and that our energies are expended in His service first and foremost. We must recognize that the government is fallible, of the earth, going to pass away, and invariably will not be pleasing to God because it represents, on the whole, people who are not pleasing to Him.

If we are doing what is right, society will see us as people who do their best to love their fellow man, showing mercy to them as we have received mercy. Even though society may be against us, we have the moral imperative to conduct ourselves so as to give them no opportunity to blaspheme; instead we must speak and act so as to silence their ignorance, as it is written:

But even if ye should suffer for righteousness’ sake, blessed are ye: and fear not their fear, neither be troubled; but sanctify in your hearts Christ as Lord: being ready always to give answer to every man that asketh you a reason concerning the hope that is in you, yet with meekness and fear: having a good conscience; that, wherein ye are spoken against, they may be put to shame who revile your good manner of life in Christ. For it is better, if the will of God should so will, that ye suffer for well-doing than for evil-doing (1 Peter 3:14-17).

Let us live according to this standard: when we speak and act, people see Jesus speaking and acting in us, and that we are humble and faithful servants, representatives, and ambassadors of Him and His Kingdom.

Ethan R. Longhenry

Moral Authority in Society | The Voice 11.39: September 26, 2021

Humility | The Voice 11.38: September 19, 2021

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Humility is one of the more difficult forms of virtue to manifest. The Greeks thought humility to be weakness and did not consider it a virtue; the world, by in large, maintains that assessment. Those who exalt themselves, prove arrogant, and manifest confidence seem to get ahead more than those who maintain humility and do not exalt themselves. So it is in our superficial world. And yet, Jesus humbled Himself. When man is confronted with some manifestation of the glory of God, the natural and instantaneous reaction is to fall on one’s face and to declare one’s worthlessness.

Isaiah, when confronted with the glory of God, exclaims the following in Isaiah 6:5:

Then said I, “Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, YHWH of hosts.”

As Ezekiel sees a heavenly vision, his reaction is recorded in Ezekiel 1:28:

As the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud in the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness round about. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of YHWH. And when I saw it, I fell upon my face, and I heard a voice of one that spake.

In the New Testament, as Jesus is transfigured, appears with Moses and Elijah, and the voice of God speaks, the response of Peter, James, and John is recorded in Matthew 17:6:

And when the disciples heard it, they fell on their face, and were sore afraid.

By now we can see a consistent pattern: when we are confronted with even a slight manifestation of the glory of God, our utter nothingness as dust is made very clear, and all we can do is fall down on our faces and cry out how unimportant and nothing we are.

While we have little chance of having such a manifestation made to us while in the flesh, we must recognize that we are always in the presence of God. We have association with God, and He desires to hear our petitions (1 John 1:3, 1 Peter 3:12). The awesomeness of that fact should constantly humble us. We are but dirt; we have the opportunity to serve the living God. We would do well to have the attitude of the servants described in Luke 17:7-10:

“But who is there of you, having a servant plowing or keeping sheep, that will say unto him, when he is come in from the field, ‘Come straightway and sit down to meat’; and will not rather say unto him, ‘Make ready wherewith I may sup, and gird thyself, and serve me, till I have eaten and drunken; and afterward thou shalt eat and drink?’ Doth he thank the servant because he did the things that were commanded? Even so ye also, when ye shall have done all the things that are commanded you, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants; we have done that which it was our duty to do.'”

Our goal is to be obedient servants (Romans 6:16-18); that demands a position of humility, and we should be more than willing to accept it.

Jesus Christ, of course, is the ultimate example of humility. As it is written:

Have this mind in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who, existing in the form of God, counted not the being on an equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men; and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, becoming obedient even unto death, yea, the death of the cross. Wherefore also God highly exalted him, and gave unto him the name which is above every name; that in the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven and things on earth and things under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:5-11).

Let us strive to digest this passage for just a moment. God the Son was God. He was in the heavenly places. He willingly took on the form of a man. Not only did He humble Himself by being a man, He was a man of no esteem: the supposed son of a carpenter in the backwoods of Galilee (cf. Isaiah 53:2-3). Not only was He not a man of much esteem, He was never rich according to the standards of men, nor did He have much of a formal education (John 7:15). He taught the people, healed them of disease, did many other works, and for it was unjustly reviled and condemned, to die the worst kind of death that mankind could ever devise. Who can believe such a thing? It is small wonder that Paul speaks about how God has made void the wisdom of the world (1 Corinthians 1:17-20)! Because of His great humility, God raised Jesus and exalted His name above every name, to the glory of God the Father.

In the world, to be exalted you must exalt yourself. In the Kingdom of God, you must humble yourself if you desire exaltation on the final day (Matthew 23:12). This is counter-intuitive yet entirely necessary.

Let us consider the ultimate example of Christ’s humility: washing the disciples’ feet in John 13:1-17. In the ancient world, there was no lowlier position than the servant assigned to wash people’s feet, and yet here is the Lord of the Universe washing the feet of His disciples, a group known to not understand the purpose of Jesus and constantly bickering over who was the greatest. His lesson is made manifest in John 13:12-17:

So when he had washed their feet, and taken his garments, and sat down again, he said unto them, “Know ye what I have done to you? Ye call me, Teacher, and, Lord: and ye say well; for so I am. If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, have washed your feet, ye also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that ye also should do as I have done to you. Verily, verily, I say unto you, a servant is not greater than his lord; neither one that is sent greater than he that sent him. If ye know these things, blessed are ye if ye do them.”

We often speak of humility in terms of a “heart issue”: one must have it in one’s heart to be lowly, and such is certainly a part of humility. Jesus, however, tells us that humility is also manifested in our deeds: as He has served us, we therefore should serve others. That is what Jesus taught the disciples, and such is what Paul taught later disciples in Romans 15:2-3:

Let each one of us please his neighbor for that which is good, unto edifying. For Christ also pleased not himself; but, as it is written,
“The reproaches of them that reproached thee fell upon me.”

Humility is not an easy tendency for most of us: we have a natural desire to elevate oneself, especially when we go about doing good. By serving others, however, it is easier to have our hearts in the right place. We must constantly remember that we serve a great and awesome God, and that we are as nothing before Him. We must keep the example of our Lord in mind, recognizing that if we humble ourselves we can be exalted on the last day. Let us consider Galatians 6:3-4:

For if a man thinketh himself to be something when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself. But let each man prove his own work, and then shall he have his glorying in regard of himself alone, and not of his neighbor.

Let us consider ourselves properly, and let us be as unprofitable servants, doing only that which we are supposed to do, and all boasting and glory are Christ’s for His love and His suffering on our behalf.

Ethan R. Longhenry

Humility | The Voice 11.38: September 19, 2021

Walking in the Name of YHWH | The Voice 11.37: September 12, 2021

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Walking in the Name of YHWH

The short-term forecast for Israel and Judah remained bleak: terrifying judgment on account of their idolatry, oppression, and other sins. Yet YHWH would remain faithful to His people; they would again walk in His name.

The Word of YHWH had come to Micah of Moresheth in the eighth century BCE; Micah 1:1-3:12 primarily presented YHWH’s indictment of Israel and Judah and warning regarding imminent judgment at the hands of the Assyrians. Some hope for future restoration had been extended in Micah 2:12-13. The rest of the Word of YHWH through Micah would present more hope yet also plenty of indictments, judgment, and woe for Israel and Judah (Micah 4:1-7:20).

Micah envisioned Zion as the most important mountain, to which people from many nations would come in order to learn the ways of YHWH. YHWH would judge among the people and they would turn weapons into farm implements (Micah 4:1-3; cf. Isaiah 2:2-4). Peace and prosperity would come for the nations, for YHWH had decreed it; other nations might serve their gods, but Israel should follow YHWH forever (Micah 4:4-5). YHWH would gather the disabled and the marginalized on that day and make a new nation of them; He would reign over them on Zion; Zion’s dominion would return (Micah 4:6-8).

But for now Jerusalem would groan: their king would disappear, and their pain and suffering would be great (Micah 4:9). They would go to Babylon, but YHWH would rescue them (Micah 4:10). Nations have gathered against Zion for violence and humiliation, but YHWH would defeat them and would crush many nations (Micah 4:11-13). They would first suffer siege and be struck on the face (Micah 5:1).

Micah then extended hope for Israel from Bethlehem, a place seemingly small in Judah, yet from which the King would emerge and rule over Israel (Micah 5:2). YHWH would hand His people over to their enemies until this King would be born; Israel would be re-unified; the King would shepherd Israel; they would live in security, and the King would be honored throughout the world and provide peace (Micah 5:3-4). If the Assyrians would invade, Israel would send rulers to rule over Assyria, the land of Nimrod, and their King would rescue Israel from any Assyrian invasion (Micah 5:5-6). Israelites would live in the midst of many nations and be as dew and as lions in the forest, not dependent on humanity but able to attack and strike; their enemies would be destroyed (Micah 5:7-9). YHWH would destroy Israel’s chariots, horses, cities, sorcery, and idols to cleanse His people from their sins (Micah 5:10-15).

But for the moment the people needed to again hear YHWH’s indictment (Micah 6:1-2). YHWH wanted to know how He had wronged His people or wearied them; He had rescued them from slavery and provided for them in the midst of enemies (Micah 6:3-5; cf. Exodus 1:1-Numbers 36:13).

Micah asked what he would need to bring in order to stand before YHWH: burnt offerings, rams, oil, his own firstborn child for sin and rebellion (Micah 6:6-7)? Micah said YHWH had told Israel what is good and what He desired from them: to do justice, love covenant loyalty, and live obediently before God (Micah 6:8).

YHWH spoke again to Jerusalem: He would not stand idly by while they use corrupt scales, commit violence, and lie to one another for dishonest gain (Micah 6:9-11). He would strike them terribly: they would eat but not find satisfaction; they would plant crops but not enjoy the harvest; they would work olives and grapes but not enjoy the fruit of that labor, for they have gone in the way of Omri and Ahab, and will thus be made a horror and a mockery among the nations (Micah 6:12-16; cf. 1 Kings 16:16-21:29).

Micah lamented his own suffering: he considered himself as harvesters with nothing to harvest (Micah 7:1). The faithful and godly have disappeared; everyone committed sin, did evil, and did not profit for righteousness (Micah 7:2-4). No one could trust anyone else; even one’s own spouse could not be trusted with secrets; family dynamics have been thoroughly disrupted, and a person’s enemies are in his or her own family (Micah 7:5-6). Micah would yet watch and wait for YHWH, assured He would hear (Micah 7:7). Micah warned his enemies to not boast over him, because he might have fallen and sits in darkness, but he would get up, and YHWH would be His light (Micah 7:8). We get the impression Micah is speaking for his people now, for he then spoke of how he must endure the anger of YHWH on account of his sin, yet he remained confident that YHWH would defend him and accomplish justice (Micah 7:9). His enemies would see this and be filled with shame. They may now ask where YHWH has gone, but they would eventually be trampled (Micah 7:10). Jerusalem would be rebuilt; Israel’s boundaries would be extended; people would come to Israel from Assyria, Egypt, the coasts, and the mountains (Micah 7:11-12). The earth would suffer desolation because of what its people did (Micah 7:13). Micah wanted God to shepherd His people and allow them to graze again in Israel; he wanted God to accomplish miraculous deeds as He did for their ancestors in Egypt; the nations would see and their strength would fail; they would humble themselves before YHWH (Micah 7:14-17).

Micah’s message concluded by asking who was a God like YHWH, forgiving sin, pardoning rebellion, a God who is not angry forever, but demonstrates covenant loyalty; a God who will have mercy on His people and will overthrow their sins (Micah 7:18-19). Micah remained confident in YHWH’s covenant loyalty to Abraham and Jacob according to the oath He made in ancient times (Micah 7:20).

All of what Micah foretold would come to pass. The Assyrians would devastate Israel and most of Judah, but would be humbled at the gates of Jerusalem; Judah would later go into exile in Babylon; the people would return to the land of Judah, but also many would remain dispersed among the nations. A King would arise from Bethlehem, Jesus of Nazareth, and He would be the Good Shepherd of the people of God, and reigns forever over His Kingdom of which there will be no end. YHWH proved faithful to His promises.

Yet people to this day continue to persist in iniquity; corruption and oppression remain. Trust proves difficult. Many wonder what they need to do in order to please God, if there even is a God; many others imagine God has wronged or wearied them. We therefore can gain much from YHWH’s word to Micah. If we want to please God, we must do what is just and right, love covenant loyalty, and live obediently before Him; we must wait patiently for Him, because He will judge the wicked and will be exalted in righteousness and holiness. We do well to come to heavenly Zion and learn of the God of Israel, to walk in His name, and obtain eternal life through Jesus His Son. May we trust in God in Christ and share in the resurrection of life!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Walking in the Name of YHWH | The Voice 11.37: September 12, 2021

Peril of Science | The Voice 11.36: September 05, 2021

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The Peril of Science and Technology

Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up (1 Corinthians 8:1).

Our society tells itself a comforting story of progress: people consider the many scientific and technological advancements over the past three hundred years and tend to focus on the positive results. It seems hard to argue too much: at no point in human history has daily life been so thoroughly transformed in such a short time. The narrative of progress is a very tempting one, yet with it comes the great peril of science and technology: knowledge all too easily leads to arrogance.

The premise of “progress” itself lends itself to arrogance. If we have “progressed,” it must mean that we are better than those who came before us. For untold generations people presumed that people of olden times lived better, proved wiser, and enjoyed a better time than those in the present. Today the situation is exactly reversed: people today are confident they live better, prove wiser, and enjoy better times now than their ancestors did in the past. We have so much greater understanding of things; we enjoy a higher quality of life, at least in material terms, than did our ancestors; we tend to live longer. The failures and limitations of our ancestors have been exposed and even magnified in light of current developments and understanding. Doubtless there are many things we understand better than our ancestors did; yet is it possible that our ancestors understood other things better than we do? No doubt many of our ancestors would have greatly appreciated the higher quality of life we enjoy in material terms, but would they prove willing to abandon the sense of community, camaraderie, and inter-connectedness they enjoyed which we have lost? Our ancestors sinned and transgressed in many ways; do we think we have escaped such transgression, or is it that we are blind to the logs in our own eyes while very perceptive of the specks in the eyes of our ancestors? We presume that modern life is “progress” at our peril: modern life is certainly different, and comes with some benefits, but that does not mean that modern life is “better.” The Preacher is wise: time is cyclical; what has been will be; there is nothing truly new under the sun; yet to say the former days were better than these is not according to wisdom (Ecclesiastes 1:2-9, 7:10). We can appreciate the differences in modern life that make it better while critiquing and lamenting those differences that have made life worse.

Expansion of scientific knowledge and development of technology has led to great and unjustified arrogance. It did not have to be this way: we can imagine a world in which scientists and innovators recognize the divine order of things and in humility seek to gain better understanding of the creation in order to glorify and honor their Creator. Instead we live in a society which two centuries ago decided to assume a mostly “dead” universe with life as the great exception as opposed to the previous model in which the universe was understood as alive and made for life. Therefore those who have gained greater understanding of science and technology are all too easily tempted to believe they have become the masters of the universe. They seek to learn so they can control and manipulate; whenever humans have attempted to learn so as to control and manipulate, they have established a culture of death. And so it is today: with our fossil fuel driven economy we oppress the creation, over-exploit its resources, create deserts, and call them paradises. Far too many scientists, and those trained to believe in a scientific mindset, have given themselves over to scientism, presuming that science and the scientific method is the means by which to explain everything. Thus they presume God cannot exist because He does not fit in the box of their scientific methods; they try to explain everything based upon what can be ascertained through scientific exploration. They have thus created a diminished desert of life and call it paradise, because their desert is at least ordered according to their specifications of what they can understand. We hear continual stories out of Silicon Valley of men and women who believe that the technology they develop is The Answer to All Our Problems, and who consider themselves as gods upon the earth. They have gained great wealth from their innovations and thus they presume they can run the world. They imagine that all the world’s problems can be solved with just better application of technological know-how. No matter what, in such a view, there is always better living through science and technology.

Far too many blind themselves by such delusions. The scientific endeavor is good, even excellent, in its appropriate sphere; yet much of life, especially the parts of life worth living, cannot be reduced to biological impulses and what can be explained by science. Scientism, almost by necessity, leads to an Epicurean posture: life is meaningless; thus, we should do all we can to avoid pain and enjoy life responsibly. Ancient Greeks proved wiser than modern man: they recognized that Epicureanism was a possibility, but did not presume it was the given or default philosophical posture, and appreciated many other perspectives. Beauty, meaning, and truth give life its value, and none of these can be fully appreciated through a purely scientific perspective; when one hears that altruism and the humanitarian impulse is deemed to be an evolutionary misfire, one should surely see the diminishment of humanity and the dullness of imagination left to us in such a purely materialistic perspective. Just as science cannot explain all things, technology cannot fix all of our problems. In fact, technology creates problems as it might fix others. Can you remember the halcyon days when it was imagined that social media would be a means by which humans would be able to come together and share in life together despite physical distance and be a force for good? It did not take long before the pursuit of money made it more profitable to use social media to tear people apart and to fear The Other and reinforce tribal allegiances. Now many who helped set up social media are filled with lament and regret. As it went with social media, so it goes with all sorts of science and technology. All such knowledge and development are morally neutral: they are tools. They can be used for good or for evil. Unfortunately, people with the best of intentions become so dazzled with the possibilities for good that they dismiss and prove blind to the equally likely possibilities such tools possess for evil until it is too late. People become so enamored with the idea of progress they forget they have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory and maintain a propensity to sin. In our attempt to become masters through science and technology we become enslaved and entrapped to what we have made; we may dominate for a season, but may find ourselves undone by the consequences of our domination.

In all such things we can perceive the hand and judgment of God, and He is right, just, and holy to do so. Ever since Babel man has arrogated himself against God and His purposes, and every time man has ultimately found himself frustrated. “Civilization” and “progress” prove thin veneers, easily penetrated by danger, disaster, and distress; for all we have learned about the universe and our technological advancements, we have not made much “progress” regarding metaphysics and philosophy, and “the good life” remains as elusive as ever. We might be more comfortable physically, yet agonize and suffer greatly mentally, emotionally, and spiritually as we become more isolated through our science and technology.

There was a time when people could look upon three hundred years of advancement, what they deemed to be a great and refined time of civilization, and had every reason to imagine it would go on forever. That time was the Roman Empire of the middle of the second century, and their way of life did not go on forever. They may have felt as if they had progressed, but a time would come when they would “regress.” We do not prove as different from them as we might like to think. Knowledge makes arrogant; science and technology can be wonderfully effective servants, but they make for despotic and terrible gods. May we recognize the peril that can arise from overconfidence and overreliance in science and technology, glorify God as God and use science and technology in ways which honor His purposes, and find life in the resurrection in Christ!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Peril of Science | The Voice 11.36: September 05, 2021

Phoenicia | The Voice 11.35: August 29, 2021

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Ethnically they were a Canaanite people; they spoke a Canaanite language; they worshiped and served the Canaanite pantheon of gods. Jezebel, architect of Israel’s service to Baal, was among their number. Based on what was written in Deuteronomy, one might imagine Israel was to devote such a people to destruction. And yet throughout the period of the kings Israel and Judah maintained at least cordial relations, if not outright alliances, with the cities of Phoenicia. How was this possible? What made the Phoenicians different?

The ancient land of Phoenicia lay on the narrow coastal strip of land from the Mediterranean Sea to the west and the Anti-Lebanon Mountains to the east, and from Arwad in the north to Acre in the south, primarily in today’s Lebanon. The Greeks called the people of the land Phoiníkē; it may come from the Phoenicians’ own term for themselves (ponnim; the land they called put), or from the purple dye which the Phoenicians manufactured from the murex shell for which they were famous throughout the Mediterranean world. The Greeks, as well as many Lebanese to this day, believed the Phoenicians originally came from the civilization of Dilmun in modern-day Bahrain; modern genetic analysis, however, confirms that the Phoenicians were a Canaanite people with extremely ancient origins in the land.

From beginning to end the Phoenicians represented a collection of city-states who relied heavily on trade and industry: Tyre, Sidon, Byblos, Beirut, Baalbek, and many others. Phoenicia is very much like much of Greece: mountainous with a rugged coastline punctuated by a few small natural ports. They did not have much land suitable for farming; the closest such land to their southeast was first controlled by other Canaanite city-states, and later by the kingdoms of Israel and Judah. Their survival was thus dependent on their ability to trade and manufacture goods.

Both Egypt and the Mesopotamian civilizations maintained significant interest in Phoenicia on account of the cedars of Lebanon since their lands did not feature many such trees; the cedars of Lebanon were highly prized in Scripture and used in building Solomon’s palace and Temple (1 Kings 5:1-18, 7:1-13, Psalm 104:16, Song of Solomon 5:15, Ezekiel 31:3, Hosea 14:5, etc.). Phoenician contacts likely strongly influenced Minoan and thus Mycenaean Greek civilizations; Phoenicia, especially Tyre, Sidon, and above all Byblos, was incorporated into the Egyptian Empire from the days of Thutmose III until its decline under the Ramessids of the twelfth century BCE.

Few people benefitted as much from the collapse of the large empires and civilizations of the Late Bronze Age as did the Phoenicians. Mycenaean Greek and Egyptian power diminished; beginning around 1230 the Phoenicians experienced a kind of resurgence and renewal and began to take over the primary sea routes in the eastern Mediterranean. Within a few centuries they would expand their seafaring and trade connections throughout the entire Mediterranean basin, a near monopolistic position they would maintain for most of the first millennium BCE. Ezekiel testified to the extent of their trading network at the height of their influence in Ezekiel 27:5-25: from modern day Spain and Morocco in the west to Turkey, Mesopotamia, and the Arabian tribes in the east. They established colonies to facilitate trade throughout the Mediterranean from Cyprus to Marseilles and “Tarshish,” or Spain; the most famous and prominent such colony the Tyrians called “Kart-hadash,” or Carthage, in modern-day Tunisia; likely founded in the ninth century BCE, Carthage would eventually rule over an economic empire dominating the western Mediterranean basin until defeated thrice by the Romans in the third and second centuries BCE. Punic, the Canaanite based language of the Carthaginians, was still spoken there in the days of Augustine of Hippo in the fifth century CE.

Throughout their days the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah maintained an alliance of convenience with the Phoenicians. Despite having territory along the Mediterranean Sea the Israelites never became a seafaring people; successful Israelite forays into seafaring generally took place with Phoenician assistance (cf. 1 Kings 9:26-28). Thus Israel and Judah were dependent on the Phoenicians for all sorts of merchandise and goods from across the Mediterranean and Near Eastern worlds. The Phoenicians had little arable land, which Israel and Judah had in abundance (cf. Ezekiel 27:17). The Phoenicians were thus dependent on Israel and Judah for food. Their mutual dependence on one another reinforced their alliance which seems to have been maintained from the days of David until the demise of the Israelite and Judahite kingdoms.

Hiram I of Tyre was an ally of David and Solomon, sent Lebanese cedar and workmen to Solomon so he could build the Temple and his palace, and also assisted Solomon’s ships in their journey to Ophir (ca. 950-935 BCE; 2 Samuel 5:10, 1 Kings 5:1-18, 9:27-29); he expanded Tyrian power and for a moment set up the closest thing Phoenicia ever saw to a unified state. Jezebel, scourge of Israel, was daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians; Elijah’s condemnation of her did not extend to the house of her father (1 Kings 16:31). The prophets of Israel prophesied distress and doom for the Phoenicians as they did most of the other nations around Israel, particularly for their wealth and presumption (Isaiah 23:1-18, Ezekiel 26:1-28:26, Joel 3:4, Amos 1:9-10, Zechariah 9:2-3).

The Phoenicians found it increasingly difficult to maintain political autonomy as the Assyrians, Babylonians, and Persians developed their empires. Tiglath-pileser III annexed half of Phoenicia as part of the Neo-Assyrian Empire; Sargon II and Esarhaddon would violently suppress later rebellions, with the latter destroying Sidon in the process (ca. 744-650). Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon famously besieged Tyre for thirteen years, yet unsuccessfully (587-575; cf. Ezekiel 26:1-28:19, 29:17-21). After the Babylonians exiled the Judahites and Philistines, the Phoenicians likely colonized the Levantine coast down to Gaza. The Phoenicians decided to accommodate themselves to Persian rule and were richly rewarded for doing so; they maintained considerable autonomy and maintained their maritime hegemony. The navy with which Xerxes attacked the Greeks came from the Phoenicians and the Egyptians. The king of Sidon rebelled against Artaxerxes III and Sidon was destroyed, leaving Tyre as the primary Phoenician city until it was besieged successfully by Alexander the Great after a seven month siege and most of its inhabitants having fled to Carthage. The Greeks thought highly of the Phoenicians and the Seleucids continued to allow the Phoenicians to maintain some autonomy and their maritime connections with their western colonies. Phoenicia would eventually come under the sway of the Romans and was incorporated as part of the province of Syria; Jesus visited Tyre and Sidon and there healed the daughter of the Syro-phoenician woman, and also used Tyre and Sidon as representatives of pagans who would have repented had they heard what had been proclaimed in the cities of Galilee (Matthew 11:21-22, 15:21-28). The Romans both devastated the Phoenician colony of Carthage and its empire as well as the political autonomy of Phoenicia itself, and the Phoenicians assimilated into the greater Roman milieu.

The Phoenicians proved adept at sailing; they are responsible for the development of the keel, the bireme, and the trireme, the last of which would become the standard vessel in the Mediterranean for the rest of antiquity. They also developed the amphora, which remained the standard measure and means of transporting liquid goods for two thousand years, as well as self-cleaning ports and the beginnings of admiralty law. The Phoenicians kept the Mediterranean and Near Eastern world together: the portrayal of Ezekiel 27:5-25 testifies to their influence, and they are credited with adapting the Proto-Sinaitic/Canaanite glyphs into what would be called the Phoenician alphabet, the basis upon which the Greeks and Romans would develop their alphabetic signs which we use to this day. They also would have transmitted religious ideology, cultural artifacts and concepts, and other such things. The Greeks and Romans would build upon the existing trade network of the Phoenicians. Yet the Phoenicians also proved adept in industry: they developed or built upon existing techniques for glass-making, metalwork, and woodwork, and manufactured the purple dye which indicated high standing and royalty throughout antiquity. The Phoenicians were also likely the reason wine and viticulture spread throughout the Mediterranean world.

Thus the Phoenicians might have been Canaanite in origin, ethnicity, language, and religion, but by necessity developed a culture and industry quite distinct from their inland relatives. Manufactured and traded goods from the Phoenicians proved very important for the Israelites and Judahites. Many aspects of what would become Western civilization developed on the basis of Phoenician goods and ideas. Yet judgment came for the Phoenicians as it did for all nations. We do well to learn from them and not trust in our ability to trade and prosper economically, but to trust in God in Christ in all things!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Works Consulted

Phoenicia“(accessed 2021/08/26).

Phoenicia | The Voice 11.35: August 29, 2021

Hebrews 10:25 | The Voice 11.34: August 22, 2021

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Handling Hebrews 10:25 Rightly

The Lord’s people recognize the importance and power of coming together as the ekklesia, the assembly, or church, of Christ. By all accounts the earliest Christians learned the value and importance of the assembly from the instruction and example of the Apostles: they set forth what the Lord had decreed, in word and deed, regarding the assembling of God’s people in Christ, and early Christians followed the traditions as given to them (e.g. Acts 20:7, 1 Corinthians 11:17-34, 14:1-40). Assembling, for Christians, is so normative that we do not even see it given as a command: the Apostles only bring up matters of the assembly as reminders in exhortation, or more generally, to correct unhealthy and sinful patterns of behavior manifest in the assembly (1 Corinthians 11:17-34, 14:1-40). After all, what kind of assembly is there that does not assemble?

Yet this has posed a challenge for Christians as they seek to establish Biblical authority and provide exhortation in the faith; it can be difficult, and wordy, to explain how the assembling of the saints was a regular habit of early Christians, taking place at least weekly on the first day of the week by approved apostolic example, and thus highly encouraged. Therefore, a “shorthand” has developed: the appeal to Hebrews 10:25 as the authority and basis upon which we insist for every Christian to assemble on the first day of the week with their fellow Christians as the local church and participate in the acts of the assembly, and thus that every local church meet every week for an assembly:

Not forsaking our own assembling together, as the custom of some is, but exhorting one another; and so much the more, as ye see the day drawing nigh.

Hebrews 10:25 does represent a very important verse when it comes to the value and power of the assembly, but can it bear the burdens modern application would impose upon it? Are we rightly handling this word of truth in the ways in which we refer to it and apply it (cf. 2 Timothy 2:15)?

Our first task must be to understand Hebrews 10:25 in the context of what the Hebrews author is saying and doing. Hebrews 10:25 comes at the end of the core exhortation the Hebrews author is making based on all the arguments and demonstrations he has made regarding the superiority of Jesus and the covenant in His blood over all that came before:

Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by the way which he dedicated for us, a new and living way, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh; and having a great priest over the house of God; let us draw near with a true heart in fulness of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience: and having our body washed with pure water, let us hold fast the confession of our hope that it waver not; for he is faithful that promised: and let us consider one another to provoke unto love and good works; not forsaking our own assembling together, as the custom of some is, but exhorting one another; and so much the more, as ye see the day drawing nigh (Hebrews 10:19-25).

The Hebrews author makes his thesis and provides three points of exhortation in application, and does so in a particular order. Christians have boldness to enter the presence of God in Jesus’ blood through the veil of His flesh and with Him as priest (Hebrews 10:19-21). Christians thus must draw near to God with a true heart in fullness of faith (Hebrews 10:22). Having received cleansing in baptism, Christians must hold fast to their confession in hope, for God who has promised is faithful (Hebrews 10:23). Christians must consider one another as fellow Christians to provoke, or stir up, to love and good works (Hebrews 10:24).

The Hebrews author’s exhortation to not forsake the assembling of ourselves together thus does not stand on its own; it is directly dependent on, and thus a subset of, the exhortation to consider one another to stir one another up to love and good works. His concern about the forsaking of the assembling is intensified by what he says afterward: those who sin deliberately have no hope of redemption, but a fearful expectation of judgment (Hebrews 10:26-31); the recipients of the letter ought to remember the afflictions they endured beforehand, having jointly participated in the sufferings of those reviled for the faith, and ought not cast off the boldness they had, which would provide a great reward (Hebrews 10:32-35); they need patience to receive the promise after having done the will of God, not becoming those who shrink back to perdition, but as those who have faith in the salvation of their souls (Hebrews 10:36-39).

From Hebrews 10:26-39, along with many other aspects of the Hebrews letter, we can perceive how the Hebrews author is deeply concerned about the faith of the recipients of his letter: he is worried they are losing heart and are at risk of apostatizing through backsliding. A sign of this apostasy would be if and when they would abandon the assembling together of themselves, as some already had; they would miss out on exhortations to love and good works, and it might not take long after that for them to renounce their confession and pull away from God in Christ.

Thus the Hebrews author is very concerned that those who read his letter might abandon the faith; based on his choice of term in Hebrews 10:25, such concern begins with the abandonment of the assembly. “Forsaking” is the Greek egkataleipontes, a present participle of the verb that means “to forsake, abandon, leave in the lurch.” It is the same word Paul uses to describe what Demas did when he loved this present world and went to Thessalonica in 2 Timothy 4:10; he would again use it to describe how all abandoned him at his first defense before Caesar in 2 Timothy 4:16. In Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34 it translates the cry of abandonment Jesus cited from Psalm 22:1. All of these examples represent serious forms of abandonment; the use of the present participle would suggest a continuous or repeated action, consistent with the Hebrews author’s concerned about those who had made such forsaking/abandonment a “custom” or habit (Greek ethos). The Hebrews author therefore does not have in mind some Christians who occasionally miss an assembly here or there; he has in mind those who have abandoned the coming together with fellow Christians, and thus in danger of abandoning their confession and their faith.

For that matter, the Hebrews author also does not specify the nature of the coming together of Christians beyond for exhortation: he uses the Greek episunagogein, a “coming together” or “meeting” of Christians; the term “synagogue” comes from that Greek term, used only elsewhere in the New Testament in 2 Thessalonians 2:1 to describe the gathering together of Christians when the Lord Jesus returns. No doubt such a term would include the likely normative weekly assembling of Christians on the first day of the week to remember the Lord’s death in His Supper, along with preaching, giving, singing, and praying (e.g. Acts 20:7, 1 Corinthians 14:1-40, 16:1-3, Ephesians 5:19), but the term is not limited to such meetings. It could include meetings as often as daily for encouragement and edification (cf. Acts 2:41-46). It may have involved smaller gatherings of Christians for meals and other activities in joint participation in the faith (1 Peter 4:9-11).

To this end we can understand what the Hebrews author attempts to accomplish: if we are going to consider one another, to stir up to love and good works, we must gather frequently to do so in order to exhort one another. Abandonment of such gatherings is a major warning sign that a Christian is disconnecting from his people and might well thus disconnect from his or her confession and faith in Christ.

In application, therefore, we can see that Christians ought to prioritize gathering together: certainly for the first day of the week assembly, but also at other times. Nevertheless, the assembly of the saints is not prioritized as of the greatest importance here: the Hebrews author prioritizes drawing near to God, then holding firm the confession of our hope, and then considering one another, to stir up to love and good works (Hebrews 10:19-24). Gathering together and exhorting one another is a means by which we consider one another (Hebrews 10:25), consistent with Paul’s exhortation for all things in the assembly to be done for building up in 1 Corinthians 14:26. We come together in the assembly to build up and strengthen one another, stirring one another up in faith to love and good works in exhortation, providing substance and strength to empower and equip each other to continue to serve the Lord Jesus in relational unity, hope, and faith in life.

What does it mean to “forsake” the meeting of Christians? The Hebrews author primarily has in mind those who have fully abandoned joint participation with fellow Christians in the assembly or in smaller gatherings. He does not have in mind those who might miss a meeting here or there, or those who are inconsistent in assembling. It might well be that many Christians have an unhealthy view of the assembly and do not appropriately prioritize participation within it; some might well look for excuses to assemble as infrequently as possible in their carnal ways of thinking. Such attitudes are unhealthy, but they are symptoms of a greater problem; to shame and condemn about not assembling does not reach the heart of the matter. If the greater problem, whatever it may be, is addressed, generally the assembling with the saints will become a more regular occurrence.These concerns are not being addressed by the Hebrews author, however, in Hebrews 10:25, for such people have not abandoned coming together with their fellow Christians. At some point they might; but that moment has not arrived yet, and it cheapens the Hebrews author’s concern to suggest otherwise. These concerns are not being addressed by the Hebrews author, however, in Hebrews 10:25, for such people have not abandoned coming together with their fellow Christians. At some point they might; but that moment has not arrived yet, and it cheapens the Hebrews author’s concern to suggest otherwise.

We do well to remember how the gathering of Christians in Hebrews 10:25 is instrumental to a purpose: considering one another. Without a doubt, the normative practice of early Christians was to assemble on the first day of the week to participate in certain acts of the assembly, with perhaps other gatherings at other times, and we do well to honor and observe the same tradition. But we must remember that such assembling is set forth for us as a normative example; in times of particular emergencies, we might not be effectively considering one another by meeting in person. Thankfully, with modern technology, we have means by which we can consider one another, and even in a sense gather together, without being physically proximate. Under normal circumstances, abandonment of physical presence and the sharing of physical space would not glorify God; nevertheless, under distress, some means of communication and sharing together is better than none. We must not confuse the means to an end with the end itself.

It is important for Christians to come together as the church as a demonstration of the relational unity they share in and with God in Christ. It is right, good, and appropriate for Christians to observe the normative example of early Christians in weekly assemblies to that end; it is even better for Christians to gather together more frequently to consider one another. Nevertheless, the assembly is not the most important thing in the faith; Christians were not made for the assembly, but the assembly for Christians, and the assembly is a means by which Christians consider one another, and not an end unto itself. We consider one another as joint participants in Christ to encourage one another, and all the more as the day draws near; we do that so we might strengthen one another to continue to draw near to God in Christ, and to hold firm our confession in hope without wavering. May we properly discern God’s purposes in revealing Hebrews 10:25, encourage one another in Christ, and obtain the resurrection of life in Him!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Hebrews 10:25 | The Voice 11.34: August 22, 2021

Conclusion | The Voice 11.33: August 15, 2021

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The Works of the Flesh and the Fruit of the Spirit: Conclusion

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are contrary the one to the other; that ye may not do the things that ye would. But if ye are led by the Spirit, ye are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these: fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousies, wraths, factions, divisions, parties, envyings, drunkenness, revellings, and such like; of which I forewarn you, even as I did forewarn you, that they who practise such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, self-control; against such there is no law. And they that are of Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with the passions and the lusts thereof. If we live by the Spirit, by the Spirit let us also walk. Let us not become vainglorious, provoking one another, envying one another (Galatians 5:16-26).

Paul was greatly concerned for the Galatian Christians, remaining perplexed how they could have so quickly abandoned the Gospel for another message; he defended himself and his ministry and powerfully set forth how justification is by faith in God in Christ and not by works of the Law of Moses (Galatians 1:1-5:15). Such a matter was not “mere” doctrine, for if they accepted circumcision and thus submitted to the whole Law, they would fall from grace in Christ (Galatians 5:1-5). But Paul’s concern for the Galatian Christians went beyond the doctrinal: he wanted to exhort the Galatian Christians so their lives would reflect the kind of conduct demanded by the Gospel message.

We have considered each individual characteristic of the “works of the flesh” and the manifestations of the “fruit of the Spirit” Paul listed in Galatians 5:19-23. Paul did not intend for us to consider each in isolation; he has woven them all together into a composite whole.

Paul has framed the entire exhortation with a clear contrast: Christians ought to walk by the Spirit, and if they do so, they will not fulfill the lust of the flesh (Galatians 5:16). Paul made much of walking by the Spirit as a child of God in Romans 8:1-17; James and John affirm that love of the world is enmity with God, and thus we must resist the lusts of the flesh (James 4:4, 1 John 2:15-17). Paul recognizes that the temptation to fulfill the desires of the flesh is strong; those desires are set against the desires of the Spirit, and this is so in order to keep us from doing what our flesh would want to do (Galatians 5:17). That which is according to the flesh works toward corruption, decay, and nothing good or profitable. Paul understood how the best way forward is to walk by the Spirit, striving to manifest His fruit at all times, motivated not by anxieties and fears in the world but according to the love and strength poured out upon us in Christ. If we are led by the Spirit, we are not under the Law (Galatians 5:18): Paul elaborated on this contrast in Romans 7:1-8:15, considering himself trapped by sin under the law to do what he did not want to do, yet now set free by Christ to walk according to the Spirit.

Paul would go on to set forth the works of the flesh, yet begins his listing with the phrase “the works of the flesh are manifest” (Galatians 5:19-21). The term “manifest” is also translated as “evident,” and for every Christian who seeks the will of God, those things which gratify the flesh to the detriment of the spirit are evident. Most people recognize when they go beyond trying to understand and begin trying to rationalize doing things which are not truly profitable or glorify God.

Paul not only declared that those who participate in the works of the flesh would not inherit the Kingdom of God, but said he had warned them before and thus warned them again (Galatians 5:21). Paul wanted the message emphasized for the Galatian Christians: it is not worth it to mess around with the works of the flesh. We cannot do the will of our Father in heaven and revel in the works of the flesh; God is loving, merciful, gracious, kind, and longsuffering toward us, but is also holy and righteous in His judgment. No Christian should want to stand before Jesus if they have participated in the works of the flesh freely without repentance.

When Paul concluded the manifestations of the fruit of the Spirit, he pointed out how there are no laws against them (Galatians 5:23). They do not lead to condemnation; they give life and hope. With the Spirit there is life and peace; with the ways of the world there is death and division.

Paul thus told Christians to reckon themselves as having crucified the flesh with its lusts and passions (Galatians 5:24). In Romans 6:1-11 Paul considered baptism the point at which the Christian had put to death the man of sin in order to walk in newness of life; earlier in Galatians 2:20 he considered himself as crucified with Christ, and the life he lived he did not live for himself but for the Son of God. The crucifixion metaphor is apt, not only because it is the means by which the Lord Jesus died and overcame the powers of sin and death, but also because it involved not only death but exposure and humiliation. We must reckon the lusts and passions which would drive us to not just be dead, but even as humiliated and exposed for the dead ends they prove to be. We cannot glorify God in Christ if we are always trying to turn back and resurrect our former life for yet another round of sin.

Instead, we must make good on our profession: we must walk according to the Spirit and behave as the Spirit would have us behave (Galatians 5:25). We know what such a life looks like: it manifests the Spirit’s fruit.

Galatians 5:16-26 is not the only time in which Paul lists various sins and characteristics of righteousness; in every letter to churches he will exhort them to resist unholy worldly conduct and toward behaviors which glorify God in Christ. Yet few of the lists are as thorough as the works of the flesh and fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:19-23; the works of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit is a useful framework through which we can consider all the types of things which Paul has addressed in other passages. That which is consistent with righteousness will manifest the fruit of the Spirit; all that is of the world is explicitly a work of the flesh or something like unto them. May we all seek to walk according to the Spirit, give no quarter to the flesh, and obtain life in Christ!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Conclusion | The Voice 11.33: August 15, 2021