The End of Assyria | The Voice 11.28: July 11, 2021

posted in: The Voice | 0

The Voice

The End of Assyria

Ashurbanipal might have reigned over the Assyrian Empire at its greatest height, with Nineveh the largest and most prominent city of its day. Yet its end had been decreed, and would come swiftly. As the Assyrians had done unto others, thus it would soon be done to them.

Nahum of Elkosh was given the burden of Nineveh by YHWH between 668 and 612 BCE. YHWH was about to render judgment on and obtain vengeance against Nineveh and Assyria (Nahum 1:1-15). Nahum invites the hearer to experience the crisis as it unfolded: the enemy advances upon Nineveh, and the Assyrians attempt to mount their defense (Nahum 2:1). The enemy soldiers have dyed their shields and clothing in red to terrify their foes; their chariots and soldiers have brandished their metal (Nahum 2:3). The chariots dashed around the city; commanders gave orders; they stumble over the accumulated bodies of the dead (Nahum 2:4-5). Nineveh had been built on two rivers which often flooded and would undermine the foundations of many buildings in the city, including the palace; Nahum correctly recognized that it would be during such a time that Nineveh would be attacked and conquered, with the sluice gates opened and the palace foundations undermined (Nahum 2:6). Thus Nineveh would be captured; its women would be made slaves and would lament deeply (Nahum 2:7). In this way YHWH was restoring Israel’s majesty, ravaging its ravagers and providing recompense (Nahum 2:2).

Nineveh was well known for its many pools of water; it would cry out to its residents to remain, and yet they all flee (Nahum 2:8). Its conquerors plunder all its wealth, leading to all kinds of devastation; the Assyrians have grown faint and pale and tremble (Nahum 2:9-10). Nahum asked where the den of the great lions had gone: YHWH of Armies was against this great lion den, and thus it would all be destroyed, they would no longer prey on the land, and their messengers would no longer be heard (Nahum 2:11-13).

Nahum pronounced woes upon Nineveh, a city full of bloodguilt, lies, plunder, and spoil: war chariots will break through into the city and the piles of corpses will rise (Nahum 3:1-3). Nahum spoke of Nineveh as a whore practicing sorcery which enticed and enslaved people by that sorcery; YHWH is against her and would expose her nakedness, treat her with contempt, and make her a spectacle, so all who would see her would turn in disgust (Nahum 3:4-7). The report of Nineveh’s devastation would spread, yet none would lament over her or comfort her (Nahum 3:7).

Nahum then referenced the destruction of No of Amun, which we know as Thebes in Egypt. The Assyrians and the Egyptians under the Twenty-Fifth Kushite Dynasty fought many battles against each other from 701 until 668. In 668 Ashurbanipal thoroughly defeated Tanutamun the Kushite king of Egypt and did not stop at Memphis as his father Esarhaddon had done: he pressed his advantage all the way into Upper Egypt to Thebes and thoroughly ransacked Thebes. Even though Egypt was no longer anything like its grandeur in the days of the New Kingdom, and had been overrun by Libyans and Kushites over the past few centuries, Thebes had endured without having been violated. Ashurbanipal’s sack of Thebes, therefore, was an unprecedented blow. Nahum now warned Nineveh and Assyria that they were no more secure than Thebes proved to be (Nahum 3:8). The Egyptians had their allies as well (Nahum 3:9). And yet they “went into exile,” having been thoroughly conquered by Ashurbanipal; thus the Ninevites would also act like drunkards, stumbling and tottering, and would hide from their enemies (Nahum 3:10).

Nahum compared the great fortifications of Nineveh to fig trees with ripe fruit: easily shaken out and made to fall (Nahum 3:12). Their vaunted military forces would prove weak and ineffectual; the great city would be exposed to their enemies; fire would consume their gates (Nahum 3:13). Nahum taunted Nineveh and the Assyrians, exhorting them to prepare for a siege, expand their mercantile base, and send out messengers and officials like locusts, buzzing with requests for aid but never found when needed (Nahum 3:14, 16-17). Nineveh will be cut down by fire and sword, devoured as if by a swarm of locusts (Nahum 3:15). Nahum declared Assyria’s leaders were sleeping and its people scattered without anyone to gather them together (Nahum 3:18). Their destruction would be a mortal wound, and all would celebrate when they would hear of it, for all had thoroughly suffered from their cruelty (Nahum 3:19).

All of what Nahum prophesied came to pass. The Neo-Assyrian Empire projected strength, and its great leaders were able to accomplish fearful devastation across the ancient Near Eastern world; nevertheless, Assyria had been plagued for years by a cycle in which strong leaders would often be succeeded by weak and ineffectual heirs beset by continual infighting. If anything, the string of consistently strong leaders from Tiglath-pileser III around 750 to Ashurbanipal a century later was the aberration. Ashurbanipal had laid the Egyptians, the Babylonians, and the Elamites low, yet exhausted his army and empire in doing so. His successors after 631 came quickly and fought against one another in a series of civil wars. The collapse of Elam allowed the Medes to establish hegemony on the Iranian plateau to the east; the always restive Chaldeans gained strength under Nabopolassar their king in Babylon. In 616 Nabopolassar allied with Cyaxares king of the Medes along with the feared Scythians and Cimmerians of the north, and they attacked Assyria. This coalition attacked Nineveh and destroyed it in 612; Sinsharishkun king of Assyria died in the fighting. The general Ashur-uballit II was named king, and the Egyptians under Necho II and what was left of Assyria tried to keep the Assyrian power going to keep Babylon and Media in check (cf. 2 Kings 23:29); the Assyrian-Egyptian alliance was thoroughly defeated at Harran in 609 and at Carchemish in 605. After 609 the Kingdom of Assyria, which had existed since time immemorial, was eliminated as a going concern.

Thus Nineveh and Assyria would fall, and fall greatly. It is hard to overstate how unprecedented and unimaginable such a fate would have seemed for Nineveh and Assyria when Nahum was given its burden by YHWH. Yes, Thebes of Egypt had been ransacked, but the Egyptians had reasserted their control and a native pharaoh ruled as they had for untold generations. The Assyrians had previously destroyed Babylon yet also had rebuilt it, and the Chaldeans there had been restive since the days of Hezekiah king of Judah (cf. 2 Kings 20:12-20). The Assyrians had innovated in the administration of their empire and their practice of forced migrations of various populations, but otherwise nations and powers remained as they had for generations. Who could have imagined the complete elimination of the mightiest and most feared power of the day?

We as modern readers easily become dulled to the stories of the rise and fall of empires. We read here of the end of Assyria and know that in time Babylon, Egypt, and Persia would all fall in similar ways; the entire ancient Near Eastern world would be thoroughly transformed by the introduction of Hellenism; the devastation of late antiquity would bring an end to Roman rule, and Islam would become the prevalent force in the land during the medieval era. We thus do well to return to what Nahum prophesied with fresh eyes so we can see how profound it must have been to watch the end of a world play out, and all just as had been predicted. What was unimaginable in 650 had become the new reality within a generation. Thus it had also been with the destruction of the northern Kingdom of Israel in 722; thus it would be when Jerusalem and the Temple would be destroyed in 586.

Yes, such “apocalypses” have happened many times ever since. The world has not yet ended, but the worlds of ancient Israelites, Assyrians, and other ancient Near Easterners certainly have. For good reason Nahum’s images for Assyria would be repurposed for Babylon and Rome: great powers act like great whores, enticing and enslaving other nations to participate in their idolatries. And YHWH of Armies judges them, and does unto them as they did unto others. Thus we have the word of prophecy made sure; thus we also are warned that our nation, if it is a great power and installs itself as the great whore of the world, will likewise be judged, and will suffer what it has caused others to suffer. May we find assurance of the prophetic word from the burden given to Nahum, and may we heed the warning of Assyria’s story, and find salvation in YHWH of Armies in Christ, and not trust in the ways of the world!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The End of Assyria | The Voice 11.28: July 11, 2021

Domination Versus Stewardship | The Voice 11.27: July 04, 2021

posted in: The Voice | 0

The Voice

Domination Versus Stewardship

And God blessed them: and God said unto them, “Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the heavens, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth” (Genesis 1:28).

From the beginning humanity was given the charge to fill the earth, subdue it, and have dominion over the animals. No other creature presently can match human beings in terms of their impact on their environment. How shall we understand God’s mandate for humanity to subdue the earth and have dominion over it?

Many read and understand God’s mandate for subduing the earth and maintaining dominion over it in terms of domination. According to this view humanity must continually battle the forces of nature and attempt to master and control them. In order to truly dominate the creation, mankind must eliminate all sorts of vestiges of nature and impose order, discipline, and concrete upon the land. Everything in the creation is seen as some kind of “natural resource” to be developed and leveraged for the benefit of humanity. If it exists, man must exploit it.

We can certainly understand how such a view might develop and get promoted. A lot of the modern economy, and the philosophical principles which undergird it, relies upon private property, development, and never-ending exploitation of resources. This leads to a perspective of looking at everything as being owned by someone or some organization with the expectation of leveraging whatever resources might exist for material benefit and gain. Likewise, many believe a domination view is the natural understanding of the text, and it is difficult for them to imagine any other way of looking at how humanity would interact with the creation. Is the universe not actively attempting to kill us all? If we do not attempt to control our environment, will the environment not conspire to destroy us? God did say to subdue the earth, no? Thus, why should humanity not use every tool at its disposal to dominate and exploit the creation?

Nevertheless, we should consider how well our endeavor to dominate the creation is working for us or the creation. In our attempts to eliminate some danger or difficulty, we find ourselves creating new difficulties or causing new problems. We have created paradises where there was once desert; now water resources are being exhausted and the prospect of the desert returns. We have overexploited many animal and fish stocks; we may not enjoy the abundance of food in the future we take for granted today. Antibiotics have saved countless lives yet also ravage our microbiome in deleterious ways. We have greatly lessened certain causes of death but have greatly increased a number of others; likewise, we have made advances against some debilitating conditions and illnesses while other conditions and illnesses now flourish. Some have greatly benefited from the production of wealth; others are worse off than before. Our technological advances provide us a higher quality of life in many ways but have impoverished us in terms of our relationships with the creation and with one another. We pave over natural land and call it our new paradise yet yearn for the simplicity, quiet, and renewal we find in nature. We face the prospect of civilizational collapse because of the very forces which have powered and driven our civilization’s development.

In our attempt to dominate the creation we should learn our limitations. We cannot presume to dominate the creation as those above or beyond it: whether we like it or not, we are part of this creation. We were made in the image of God, certainly (Genesis 1:26-28); yet we are made. We are part of this creation; humanity has a higher calling and purpose, indeed, yet remains part of the created order, part of the animal kingdom, subject to the same corruption, decay, and natural forces which govern the rest of the creation (Romans 8:18-22). We might presume to be gods, but the creation will remind us quite sharply that we die like every other created being. We brought nothing into this world; we take nothing out of it.

There has always been another way of understanding how humanity is to subdue the earth and to have dominion over it. At the beginning God made Adam to keep and tend the Garden of Eden He had made (Genesis 2:15). Adam had done nothing to make it; God did not call Adam to tear it up and build something else, or to exploit all of its resources until there was nothing left. Instead, God made it all for His glory, honor, and joy, and made the man to maintain it. In this way Adam was made a steward of God’s creation: to use his creative power to exercise a level of control over which plants would grow where, to maintain certain numbers of various kinds of animals in certain domains, and to keep it according to the harmony established by its Creator.

As the people of God Israel was to understand themselves as the stewards of God’s good land which He gave them. Israel was often reminded how they did not labor to obtain the land; God had given it to them (e.g. Deuteronomy 7:1-8:20). The Israelites could understand themselves as owning the land, but their ownership did not give them the right to do whatever they pleased: they were expected to let the land lie fallow and enjoy its Sabbath once every seven years, and land that had been sold was to be given back during the jubilee year (Leviticus 25:2-55). Natural resources were not to be overexploited: they could not take a mother bird and its eggs, but had to let the mother bird go free (Deuteronomy 22:6-7). When the Israelites multiplied in their sins and perpetuated an unjust and oppressive society, the land suffered in mourning, and did not produce for the people (cf. Hosea 4:1-3).

The principle of stewardship is prominently manifest in the new covenant in Christ. By their very nature and definition servants and slaves are stewards of whatever their masters have entrusted to their care (e.g. Matthew 24:45-51, 25:14-30, Luke 16:1-8, 1 Corinthians 4:1-2); as Christians we understand ourselves as servants of God in Christ, that we have brought nothing into this world, all that we have and are come from God, and God will hold us accountable for how we have used what He has given us (Matthew 25:14-30, Romans 2:5-11, 1 Timothy 6:6-8). Christians have little difficulty recognizing that every spiritual blessing in Christ is not earned or deserved but given freely as gifts which we are to use to bless one another and not to merely advance our own interests (Philippians 2:1-4); likewise Christians understand that the material resources with which God has blessed them should be used to bless others as well and not just to advance their own interests (Luke12: 13-59, 2 Corinthians 8:1-9:13). Therefore, why do so many Christians resist understanding these same principles at work in their relationship with God’s creation? Did any of us make or design the creation, or was it made by its Creator as very good and to his honor, glory, and joy? Have any of us earned, deserved, or merited a certain standing in the creation by our own virtue? To what end has God given us the charge to subdue and have dominion over the creation: so that we can heap up material benefits for ourselves to the active harm of other creatures and some of our fellow humans, or to keep it and tend it to provide blessings for ourselves and for many others, both now and in the future?

Whenever domination has been attempted, nature might suffer for a time, yet in its suffering the creation has caused great suffering for humanity. Whenever humans have understood themselves as stewards of God’s creation, living within and working with the creation, the bounty of creation has nourished and sustained humanity. The way of domination is the way of the powers and principalities over this present darkness, leading to exploitation, oppression, and despairs; the way of stewardship is the way Jesus approached His life and ministry and expects Christians to approach their lives and ministries, and provides even more blessings and benefits to others. May we understand the creation as a gift of God which we are to manage for His honor and glory, and not as a resource to dominate and exploit, and obtain eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Domination Versus Stewardship | The Voice 11.27: July 04, 2021

Checking Ourselves at the Door | The Voice 11.26: June 27, 2021

posted in: The Voice | 0

The Voice

Checking Ourselves at the Door

As Christians we have the privilege of the opportunity to have association with fellow brethren of like precious faith just as we have association with God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Not only do we have the privilege of association, we are to likewise think highly of our brethren.

Unfortunately, just like with our earthly families, we tend to treat the ones we are to love the most, our spiritual family in Christ Jesus, rather poorly; after all, “familiarity breeds contempt”. The Scriptures, however, ought to jolt us out of that type of thinking.

While conflict over some matters is almost impossible to avoid in congregations, just as in the family, we do see some significant reminders regarding how we should view one another that we should continually remember. As Paul says in Romans 14:15, regarding the contention in Rome over eating of meats:

For if because of meat thy brother is grieved, thou walkest no longer in love. Destroy not with thy meat him for whom Christ died.

In times of contention, do we continue to view the one with whom we have some disagreement as “him for whom Christ died”? How different would our attitudes be if we did so?

The main problem in such times is the need that we have to check ourselves at the door, so to speak, particularly in matters relating to one another. Unfortunately, we see far too often that brethren, in the guise of strong faith, do not feel so compelled to check themselves at the door.

Why do we assemble, according to the Scriptures?

Let all things be done unto edifying (1 Corinthians 14:26).

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 10:24-25).

Most brethren would readily agree to the fact that encouragement of the saints is the Biblical purpose for assembling. Our service to God and other actions done in the assembly all gear toward that end. So why is there neglect of the following Scriptural principles?

Let no man seek his own, but each his neighbor’s good (1 Corinthians 10:24).

Now we that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves. 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” (Romans 15:1-3).

If there is therefore any exhortation in Christ, if any consolation of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any tender mercies and compassions, make full my joy, that ye be of the same mind, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind; doing nothing through faction or through vainglory, but in lowliness of mind each counting other better than himself; not looking each of you to his own things, but each of you also to the things of others (Philippians 2:1-4).

Sadly, there are some Christians who prove more than willing to seek to do good to their neighbors and yet despise their brethren. Why? Not because of false teaching or immorality, but over differences of opinion on matters of liberty. The very ones whom they should care about the most seem to get the least attention, not because of some critical matter of the faith, but because they forgot to check themselves at the door.

It is extremely disconcerting to see this attitude especially prevalent in many who ought to be considered the “stronger”. As opposed to following Romans 15:1-3 and bearing with the failings of the weak, they would much rather despise the weak and would rather see them gone so that they can have their liberties than to share in the communion of the faith. It is easier to characterize their brethren as “legalists,” “traditionalists,” or far worse caricatures than it is to really sit down with your brothers and sisters in Christ, they for whom Christ died, and try to reasonably work out matters, or (God forbid!) lay down your liberties for the sake of the unity of the faith.

When it is more valuable to have one’s way in matters of liberty than it is to maintain unity in the faith, such represents the essence of Phariseeism: people so concerned about things that, comparatively, do not matter, while neglecting love and mercy and faithfulness. Yet these very same people seem to be more quick to point the finger at their brethren than themselves.

It is always easier to see the Pharisee in the other than it is in yourself.

The time has past for the “strong” brethren to quit acting as if they are the “weak” brethren. Apparently everyone wants to be the strong brother: such a one has the faith to engage in various practices. How many, however, want to bear the responsibilities that come with being the “stronger” brother? It is not sufficient to simply have the knowledge, as it is written in 1 Corinthians 8:1-3:

Now concerning things sacrificed to idols: We know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffeth up, but love edifieth. If any man thinketh that he knoweth anything, he knoweth not yet as he ought to know; but if any man loveth God, the same is known by him.

Far too many brethren have knowledge without the maturity in love necessary to properly manage that knowledge. Any knowledge of a liberty in Christ must have with it the knowledge of the greater priorities: righteousness, joy, and peace in the Holy Spirit (Romans 14:17). Knowledge of a liberty without the recognition of responsibility simply leads to divisiveness, strife, and contention, the very things that God deplores (Galatians 5:19-21).

If you are strong in faith regarding a matter of liberty, particularly a liberty involving the assembly of the saints, act like it; be willing to bear with the failings of the weak, make sure that you are not causing others to stumble by your knowledge/liberty (Romans 14-15:3). You cannot earn “brownie points” with God by pointing the fingers at your “weaker” brethren, those with whom you disagreed, acting as if they were the problem. They will stand in judgment for their end of whatever disagreement arose; it is far more important for you to first turn the finger on yourself before tearing down the faith of another.

Brethren, we need to check ourselves at the door. Think seriously on how many disagreements would never exist, how many divisions could be avoided, how much more and better work could be done in the Kingdom if we all embodied the attitude that the Scriptures mandate: seek the good of others, especially those of the household of faith. Do all things to build up.

“All things” does not mean “all things I want to do”. Brother or sister, check yourself at the door!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Checking Ourselves at the Door | The Voice 11.26: June 27, 2021

Gentleness | The Voice 11.25: June 20, 2021

posted in: The Voice | 0

The Voice

Fruit of the Spirit: Gentleness

The Apostle Paul addressed the imminent danger of apostasy among the Galatian Christians, firmly insisting they could not expect to find grace if they held to the Law of Moses (Galatians 1:1-5:16). But Paul did not want to neglect other principles, especially faithful living in Jesus; thus he condemned the works of the flesh and exhorted the Galatian Christians to manifest the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:17-24). Paul spoke of the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, self-control; against such there is no law.

Love well defined the whole of the fruit of the Spirit. Joy and peace speak to a disposition which Christians ought to maintain; longsuffering/patience, kindness, goodness, and faithfulness well demonstrate an appropriate disposition. Likewise, Christians ought to be marked by gentleness, meekness, or mildness (Greek praotes).

The term “meek” is often used today with a negative connotation; it is often used of a person who is perhaps quiet and unassuming or a person who does not stand up for himself. This connotation is not present in the word as used in the Scriptures or as it was used in earlier times. Webster’s defines the term as follows:

1. Mild of temper; soft; gentle; not easily provoked or irritated; yielding; given to forbearance under injuries.
2. Appropriately, humble, in an evangelical sense; submissive to the divine will; not proud, self-sufficient or refractory; not peevish and apt to complain of divine dispensations.

We may see the reasons behind the choice of the term “gentleness” in many modern versions over the term “meekness,” lest any receive the wrong impression about what a Christian ought to be. A Christian is not to be a “pushover,” one who does not stand up for what he believes; he is to be gentle, a person who maintains control and grace even under significant duress. A gentle person need not be a doormat; the gentle person maintains strength under control.

Paul expected Christians to be thus gentle (Ephesians 4:1-2, Colossians 3:12, 1 Timothy 6:11, and Titus 3:2), especially when it proves necessary to correct a fellow Christian (1 Corinthians 4:21, 2 Timothy 2:25).

Paul insisted upon gentleness and meekness as as an attribute of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 10:1), the One whose life we ought to emulate (1 Corinthians 11:1). He considered Himself meek and lowly in heart (Matthew 11:29-30). His entire experience in His suffering and death displayed His gentleness and strength under control: at any point He could have summoned legions of angels to save Him and destroy those who would destroy Him, and yet He suffered as He did in order to fulfill what was written (Matthew 26:51-54). Even as He was about to be led away to be killed Jesus proved willing to heal the ear of the high priest’s servant (Luke 22:51). While on the cross Jesus asked the Father to forgive those who were killing Him and mocking Him, for they did not know what they were doing (Luke 23:34-37). Thus Jesus did not desire to see any lost or destroyed; He gave little thought to Himself and His own interests, and even while suffering incredible evil and pain sought what was best for others and did not respond with violence or vituperation but blessing and good.

Since Jesus is the Son of God, fully God as well as fully man, many consider His example to be a great ideal yet beyond what the rest of us can do. Yet Stephen, one of the earliest Christians, found himself in a similar predicament in Acts 7:2-60. He strongly indicted the Sanhedrin for what they had done; they sought to stone him to death. While they stoned him Stephen prayed that this sin would not be laid against them (Acts 7:60). Stephen was full of the Holy Spirit, and the fruit of the Spirit was thus manifest in him: he was able to demonstrate an extraordinary level of meekness and gentleness in seeking the salvation and best interest of those who were killing him. Jesus and Stephen proved meek, but who among us would consider them to have been doormats, pushovers, or soft?

Unfortunately, far too many have made much of the demonic, unspiritual wisdom of the world regarding assertiveness, aggression, and gentleness, and have tried to baptize it and commend it as part of the Christian faith. In many churches Christians are expected to project strength and deny weakness; whatever strengths are not displayed prominently are dismissed or denied. Many lauded the “fighting style” of preaching and evangelism and did not shy away from using the Devil’s tactics to seek to advance the cause of the Lord Jesus.

Such is why Christians must always keep the cross of Jesus foremost in their minds when they consider how they are to live so as to glorify God. There is no pride in or way to project strength upon one of the most barbarous and humiliating form of torture and execution devised by mankind. There can be no “flexing” or assertiveness while being nailed upon a cross. For this reason many of the opponents of Christianity have scoffed and derided the faith as rationalizing pusillanimity, softness, and weakness, a faith for the “losers” who could not overcome the “strong.” Yet for those being saved in Christ this is part of the “foolishness” and “weakness” of God which is greater than the “wisdom” or “strength” of the world: by displaying such strength under control, and showing love, care, and concern even while enduring horrendous evil, Jesus was glorified above every name (Philippians 2:5-11). Stephen obtained a crown of life not despite his desire for the forgiveness of those who were killing him, but partly because of it (Acts 7:53-60).

In Christ strength is not determined by the exercise of dominance in various rituals or in the expression of violence; in Christ these things are considered worldly folly and weakness (cf. Matthew 20:25-28). Strength under control is prized in Jesus: the recognition that one could exercise dominance or violence, but instead chooses to love, care, and bless (Matthew 5:38-48, Romans 12:9-21). If Christians derive their strength from God in Christ and maintain the cross of Jesus as their confidence, there is no need to project strength to hide worldly insecurities; we can be mild, gentle people, always seeking the good of others regardless of how they would treat us.

We should never expect to receive the world’s accolades for manifesting gentleness and meekness; quite the contrary, we should expect derision and mockery. The way of gentleness and meekness is the way of the cross; yet in suffering thus we share in Christ’s sufferings so that we can also share in Christ’s glory (Romans 8:17-18). May we prove meek and gentle like Jesus, suffering with Jesus, so that we can obtain the resurrection of life in Jesus!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Gentleness | The Voice 11.25: June 20, 2021

The Burden of Nineveh | The Voice 11.24: June 13, 2021

posted in: The Voice | 0

The Voice

The Burden of Nineveh

He is probably not the first prophet who comes to mind; for far too many his name is barely known, more recited as part of the list of the books of the Bible than a prophet whose message is considered in its own right. Nahum of Elkosh carried the burden of the prophetic message against Nineveh and Assyria; when understood contextually, his message provides powerful validation of the work and character of YHWH and a humbling reminder regarding the fates of nations.

All we know of Nahum comes from the book of prophecy which bears his name. The town of Elkosh is not mentioned otherwise in the Bible; based on ancient commentary it is believed to have been situated in the northern part of Israel in Galilee. The book of Nahum does not explicitly provide a specific timeframe in which the burden was given; Nineveh would be destroyed in 612 BCE, and the destruction of Thebes in Egypt to which Nahum referred in Nahum 3:8-10 took place in 663, and so we believe he prophesied during this period. As part of Galilee Elkosh would have been conquered by the Assyrians in 732 and its inhabitants exiled by the time Nahum prophesied (2 Kings 15:29); it is most likely that Nahum had fled to Judah and prophesied from there against those who had overrun his native land.

Thus Nahum prophesies in Judah regarding the fate of Assyria during the days of Manasseh, Amon, and/or Josiah, kings of Judah; he almost certainly does so while Ashurbanipal still reigned over Assyria (668-631). Assyria had been a regional power since time immemorial, and now was at the height of its power: Ashurbanipal reigned over an empire which stretched from Egypt to the Caucasus Mountains, and Anatolia to the Persian Gulf. The ancient Near Eastern world had never seen a single nation prove as dominant over the rest in all of its history: the Neo-Assyrian Empire was the largest the world had ever seen, and Nineveh was the largest city in the world. It seemed that the gods of all the nations cowered before the might of Assur and his people; the boast of the Rabshakeh in Isaiah 36:18-20 had merit in the eyes of many during that time. Then, as now, the Assyrians were infamous for their brutality in war, and none had proven able to resist their power in the past century. Nineveh and Assur were filled with the treasures and the bounty of the ancient Near East; Ashurbanipal cultivated an image of cosmopolitan urbanity, compiling a great library and patronizing the gods and the arts. Nineveh in Nahum’s day was like Rome in the first century, London or Paris of the nineteenth century, or New York City and Washington, DC today: the center of political and economic power and civilization.

By this time the northern Kingdom of Israel had not existed as a going concern for at least sixty years; the Israelites had been scattered in other Assyrian domains and others now lived in its land. Judah, meanwhile, was still recovering from the Assyrian invasion of 701. The Biblical authors rightly emphasized how YHWH delivered Jerusalem from the hand of Sennacherib king of Assyria (cf. Isaiah 36:1-37:38); yet Isaiah rightly characterized the whole campaign as a disastrous calamity from which Judah barely escaped (Isaiah 1:1-9). Lachish, Azekah, and other major cities of Jerusalem had been laid waste; thousands had been slaughtered. Whereas Hezekiah, Manasseh, Amon, and Josiah reigned over Judah, the king of Assyria continued to consider them as his vassals; Manasseh unwisely participated in some kind of rebellion and again felt the wrath of Assyria (2 Chronicles 33:11-13). At this time Judah was a small, relatively insignificant kingdom situated right in the middle of a major arena of conflict between Assyria and Egypt; the people of the day would have not expected much of anything to come of it or of its god.

And yet Nahum was given the burden of Nineveh (Nahum 1:1). YHWH was a jealous God who would avenge Himself against His enemies with fire (Nahum 1:2). YHWH might be slow to anger, but He was great in power and would not clear the guilty (Nahum 1:3). YHWH might seem insignificant to the nations, but He maintained power over the creation: He marched in the storm, caused the sea and rivers to run dry, mountains trembled before Him, and the world and its people would be laid waste (Nahum 1:3-5). Even the king of Assyria could not stand before YHWH’s indignation or resist His anger (Nahum 1:6). Yet for His people YHWH is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble, and remembered those who take refuge in Him (Nahum 1:7). YHWH’s enemies will be overwhelmed with a flood and pursued into darkness, so why would they devise schemes against Him? He would make a full end of them as drunks consume alcohol and dry stubble in fire (Nahum 1:8-10).

From Nineveh had come out someone who plotted evil against YHWH (Nahum 1:11). YHWH recognized how the Assyrian army was powerful and numerous, but they would be destroyed (Nahum 1:12). YHWH also recognized how He had afflicted Judah His people, but would do so no more: He would break the yoke of Assyria from their necks (Nahum 1:12-13). YHWH’s decree had been established: Assyria would come to an end; its idols would be destroyed; their graves would be desecrated; Assyria was accursed (Nahum 1:14). On the mountains would appear the feet of those bringing good news and declaring peace: Judah should observe its festivals, for the Assyrian would not pass through anymore, having been cut off from the earth (Nahum 1:15).

Nahum’s message likely seemed hard to fathom when he proclaimed the burden, but its moment would come far sooner than any might have imagined. A herald would come and proclaim good news to Judah regarding the downfall of Assyria. Later other heralds would come and proclaim the good news to Judah of the downfall of other powers. Ultimately, heralds would come to God’s people and proclaim the reign of God in His Christ who died and was raised in power and the downfall of sin, death, and the powers and principalities which imprisoned them and all mankind. The world may not have thought much of the God of Israel and Judah, but He would make His name and power known. May we submit to the God of heaven and obtain life in Jesus His Son!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Burden of Nineveh | The Voice 11.24: June 13, 2021

You Shall Be As God | The Voice 11.23: June 06, 2021

posted in: The Voice | 0

The Voice

You Shall Be As God

And the serpent said unto the woman, “Ye shall not surely die: for God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:4-5).

The first temptation set the stage for all temptation.

Most people are familiar with the Genesis author’s account of man’s fall from paradise: Eve was tempted by the serpent, who later is identified as Satan, and she partook of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, violating the one command God had given to Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:1-6; cf. Revelation 12:9). Much is made of many of the details of the story: the serpent’s original line of questioning; Eve seemingly adding an additional aspect beyond what God had commanded (to not even touch the fruit); the serpent adding one word to God’s command and thus changing everything (“you shall not surely die!”); the process by which Eve was seduced to eat the fruit by seeing it was good for food, a delight to the eyes, and desirable to make one wise, and the parallels with the ways of the world in 1 John 2:13-16; Adam’s presence yet silence, and his complicity by eating as well. These details are important and provide many lessons. Yet a core emphasis of the serpent is often passed over or neglected: the suggestion that God is holding out on Adam and Eve because if they ate they would “be as God” in knowing good from evil (Genesis 3:5). To this end Eve perceived the fruit was desirable to make one wise (Genesis 3:6): she was willing to countenance not only the challenge to God’s goodness and faithfulness but fell prey to a desire to be greater than their created station and to be as God.

Thus Adam and Eve were tempted by the serpent to exalt themselves beyond the way God had made them and to go beyond what God established was good for them to know and do. Yet the challenge and the temptation did not stop with Adam and Eve. How many among us have thought about going up to Adam and Eve in the resurrection and chiding them; after all, did they not have but one job? Why could they not handle that one command? Yet their story is told because it is also our story. If we had been Adam or Eve, we would have done the same thing, because we have done the same thing. We have been innocent. We have heard a command from God. We have listened to the Evil One ask questions about that command. We might well have recognized the command and even added a little bit more to it as a hedge to protect ourselves. The Evil One has given us reason to wonder if God is holding out on us, has minimized the consequences of our behavior, and has challenged us whether God is truly good, loving, or faithful. And the Evil One has often played on our conceit and suggested we could become more like God. And we have listened, and in our own ways we have partaken: we have fallen prey to the lust the eyes, the lust of the flesh, and/or the pride of life. Such is not an attempt to deny or minimize the historicity of Adam and Eve; it is a reminder that the Genesis author was motivated by more than just setting forth the historical record when telling the story.

As Christians we have been told that trying to be like God is a good thing: we should try to be holy like God is holy, right? Indeed, there are many ways in which we ought to become more like God and God is glorified in it. But all impulses humans have can be directed either for the good or in more base, corrupt ways.

David well confessed how God made humans a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor (Psalm 8:5). We can act with great nobility and truly exemplify what is good, right, and holy. Yet we are also easily unsatisfied with our condition and aspire for more. We can take our great capabilities and direct them toward domination, manipulation, and oppression in our attempt to be as God.

God made us with these capabilities because He made us in His image, intending to share in relational unity with Him and to exercise dominion over His creation (Genesis 1:26-28). Such great power comes with great responsibility. In our corruption, however, we are unsatisfied with our current condition. We want to know more and accomplish more. The “more” is not necessarily intended to glorify God; it is to glorify ourselves. We want greater control over how life begins, proceeds, and ends. We want more control over our environment. We do not want to countenance having to submit to any power greater than ourselves. We want to be as God.

The serpent’s statement was true as far as it went: when Adam and Eve partook of the fruit, they did become as God in knowing good and evil. But that knowledge was not good for them. It did not make them gods; it all too clearly proved their limitations and failures. So it goes when humans, in their presumption, would be as God. Our most acrimonious debates in the public square center on those aspects in which we have accrued power beyond that of our ancestors over life: in terms of fertility, conception, pregnancy, birth, and end of life issues. Our technological developments have been used to preserve life but have also been used to take more life than ever before. The very things we develop in order to make life easier and more comfortable also contain the seeds of devastation and destruction of all we seek to enjoy. We easily get frustrated with those ways in which we are less than God and thus seek to escape into the realm of fantasy and imagination in which we can transcend those limitations. We are tempted toward false modesty when faced with the consequences of our aspirations to be as God, for the wreckage of our havoc reinforces for us how we are very human indeed. Whenever we seek to be as God we are quickly reminded of how “human” we are.

As Christians we do well to pray with David for God to keep us back from presumptuous sins (Psalm 19:13). We ought to seek to be holy as God is holy, and to be conformed to the image of God’s Son (cf. Romans 8:29, 1 Peter 1:15-16): it must be underscored how we are to become as God in terms of love, grace, mercy, and especially humility, for God’s Son did not come to be served but to serve and give His life as a ransom for many (Matthew 20:25-28, John 13:1-35). We seek to become as how God treated us in how we treat Him and others; we must always and fully confess that we will never become God, and it has never been for us to be as God. God is God; we are His creation, and we should rejoice in our station, and glorify and exult our God as part of that creation. Whenever we try to become like God in our presumption, death, devastation, and despair follow in its wake. Whenever we try to become like God as He has revealed Himself in Christ, life, light, and healing has given hope and sustenance to mankind and the creation. Let us seek to become like God in Christ, and cease presuming to be as God, and obtain life in Him!

Ethan R. Longhenry

You Shall Be As God | The Voice 11.23: June 06, 2021

Media | The Voice 11.22: May 30, 2021

posted in: The Voice | 0

The Voice

Media

They overran the highlands of modern-day northwest Iran and developed a mighty force which helped to destroy Assyria and maintained a strong influence on the ancient Near East. Their influence would remain for generations, yet their glory and legacy would be left to their conquerors: we have no written documentation from their own hands, and their story is told by others. Such was the ironic fate of Media and the Medes.

Media represented the territory nestled between the Zagros Mountains to the west and northwest, the Great Salt Desert (Dasht-e Kevir) to the east, Elam to the southwest, and Persia to the southeast, in the northwestern portion of modern day Iran. The meaning of the term “Media” or “Mede” in Old Iranian is not definitively known, but is most likely akin to “central, in the middle,” consistent with other Indo-European terms (cf. “median”). Herodotus, a Greek historian, claimed the Medes were originally known as Arians (Histories 7.62); in various Greek and Roman stories, the Medes took their name from Medea, wife of Jason of the Argonaut fame, or her son Medus, likely on account of the similarity of the names. Herodotus also recorded how the Medes really represented a collection of Iranian tribes: the Busae, the Paretaceni, the Struchates, the Arizanti, the Budii, and the Magi (ibid. 1.101).

According to archaeological evidence and the Assyrian chronicles, Iranian tribes moved into northwest Iran following the collapse of the Bronze Age civilizations in the Near East (ca. 1150-1050 BCE); they spoke Indo-European languages and were most likely people of the steppe. During this time the Middle Assyrian Empire, the Elamites, and the Babylonians had declined in power, allowing a more free migration of peoples. Media would be conquered and controlled by the Neo-Assyrian Empire for many centuries (ca. 911-625); the Assyrians would settle some of the exiled Israelites in the land of the Medes (2 Kings 17:6, 18:11). According to Herodotus, the Median tribes were brought under singular control by Deioces around 700; he and his son Phraortes would reign until 625 (ibid. 1.95-130). Other sources suggest the Medes only came together under the reign of the most capable and mighty Median ruler, Phraortes’ son Cyaxares. Under Cyaxares the Medes would conquer their Iranian neighbors, including the Persians; Cyaxares allied with Nabopolassar the Chaldean king of Babylon, and they fought against and defeated the Assyrians, eliminating the Assyrian Empire as a going concern (612-609, as prophesied in Nahum 1:1-3:19). Cyaxares would extend the Median Empire to include Armenia, areas of northern Mesopotamia, and parts of eastern Anatolia. Cyaxares died in 585 and his son Astyages reigned after him. Astyages would be overthrown in a revolt by his grandson Cyrus the Persian of Anshan in 550, establishing the Achaemenid Persian Empire and ending the Median Empire as a going concern.

The Persians may have militarily conquered the Medes, yet the Medes maintained significant pride of place and influence throughout the days of the Persian Empire and long afterward. It would seem that Cyrus left much of whatever infrastructure the Medes had developed in their empire, and maintained Median generals, nobles, and officials in his court and government. The Median capital of Ecbatana remained the summer residence of the royal court throughout the time of the Persian Empire (cf. Ezra 6:2). Thus, even though we have no other corroborating evidence to attest to the Darius the Mede who ruled Babylon after Belshazzar according to Daniel 5:31-6:28, we have no reason to doubt his existence or his heritage; Cyrus might well have appointed him to rule over Babylon on his behalf. The author of Esther spoke of the power of Persia and Media, the princes and princesses of Persia and Media, and the unalterable law of the Persians and the Medes in the days of Xerxes, well over fifty years after the demise of the Median Empire (Esther 1:3, 14, 18, 19; cf. Daniel 6:15). The Greeks, who maintained significant interaction with the Achaemenid Persian Empire, did not strongly distinguish between Medes and Persians; they considered becoming too “Iranian” with being “Medianized.” The Magi had always been the more “priestly” tribe among the Medians, upholding and promoting Zoroastrianism throughout the days of the Persian Empire; it is likely that the Greek term used for the Magi was later applied to any kind of priestly caste, for magic and magicians, and most famously to describe the wise men who came from the east to see Jesus (cf. Matthew 2:1-12). yet the association demonstrates another aspect of the pervasive influence of the Medes. Jewish people lived in Media in the days of the Second Temple; some Jewish people from Media were present in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost and heard of Jesus raised from the dead (Acts 2:9). The later Parthian and Sassanid Empires also highly prized the territory of Media and the heritage of the Medes.

Media and the Medes remain an astonishing phenomenon in the ancient Near Eastern world: a confederation of tribes which powerfully influenced the trajectory of history and shaped a major world empire, yet one which left very little evidence for itself in the written and archaeological records. While some have proven willing to cast doubt and skepticism regarding the Medes and their empire, we do better to trust the ancient sources that the Medes did establish a great empire, co-opted by the Persians, who proved willing to continue to uphold the integrity, value, and structure of Median society and make it their own.

To this end we should look very skeptically upon any endeavor which would try to disassociate the Medes from the Persians in terms of the empires envisioned by Daniel in Daniel 2:31-45, 7:1-28: the Babylonian and Median empires existed simultaneously, and neither the Jewish people nor the Greeks made significant distinctions between the Medes and the Persians (cf. Daniel 5:28). Thus Babylon was the gold head and the lion from Nebuchadnezzar’s dream and Daniel’s vision; Persia, or Medo-Persia if one is so inclined, was the silver chest and the bear; the latter two empires would thus be Macedonian and Roman. Thus the interpretation of the empires as Babylon, Media, Persia, and Macedonian is right out.

Media truly was in the middle of the events of the Near Eastern world in the middle of the first millennium BCE. We cannot fully understand how much the Medes influenced the Persian Empire and all successive empires after them, but we can appreciate their place in the history of the ancient Near Eastern world and their importance in Biblical history.

Ethan R. Longhenry

Works Consulted

Medes” (accessed 2021/05/23).

Media | The Voice 11.22: May 30, 2021

Passive-Aggressive Behavior | The Voice 11.21: May 23, 2021

posted in: The Voice | 0

The Voice

The Challenges of Passive-Aggressive Behavior

There is a cancer that is destroying not a few churches these days. It is not a matter of doctrine, although doctrine may sometimes factor into the difficulty. It is an insidious matter, a practice nowhere commended by Jesus or the Apostles and yet prevalent among Christians. More than likely, all of us, at some time and at some level or another, have been guilty of it.

This cancer is passive-aggressive behavior. When we speak about passive-aggressive behavior, we are not using the new definition/diagnosis of a psychiatric condition of the same name but are speaking, in most general terms, of a certain type of behavior. “Passive aggressive” is defined by Merriam-Webster as:

Being, marked by, or displaying behavior characterized by the expression of negative feelings, resentment, and aggression in an unassertive passive way.

We can identify many types of “passive-aggressive” behavior. Perhaps a Christian feels as if he or she is not included enough in activities; they complain about the lack of inclusion but seem unwilling to work actively with other Christians or to facilitate such activities themselves. Or perhaps another Christian has, in ignorance, said or acted in an unbecoming or offensive way. Other Christians recognize the words or deeds, complain to others about it, but never have the resolve to address the matter with the one who said it or did it. There might be times when there is discontent with the way that elders shepherd or evangelists promote the Gospel or with the actions and/or attitudes of fellow Christians. This discontent easily becomes fodder for gossip and slander as opposed to addressing these matters directly with the elders, evangelists, or Christians in question.

Passive-aggressive behavior among Christians, therefore, represents those times when Christians are bothered, frustrated, or distressed about a person, condition, or situation, but for whatever reason they are unwilling to substantively address their concerns with the people in question themselves. Instead, they pour forth these negative feelings to other, less involved people, to their family members, or, God forbid, to unbelievers and outsiders. There may be times when many people feel the same way about a person or group and will talk with one another and sympathize with one another, but the matter never gets addressed with that person or group. There is aggression, since the negative feelings are real, but they are handled rather passively. The risk of actively addressing the matter and causing discomfort and possible hard feelings with the “offensive” party is too great; to keep the matter to oneself and to not let it become a hindrance, however, remains too difficult!

There is no approval of this behavior in Scripture. Jesus explicitly charges believers to confront a brother who has sinned against them directly (Matthew 18:15-18). While talking about fellow Christians seems to be standard policy in conversations in congregations, such too easily devolves into gossip sessions, condemned by God (2 Corinthians 12:20, 2 Thessalonians 3:11, 1 Timothy 5:13). In such an environment Christians are not “speaking truth” to one another, because internal bitterness and resentment is being covered up, which also should not be so (Ephesians 4:25, 31-32).

This does not mean that we should address every difficulty that may come up with one another. There are times when we might have been too sensitive, and the problem is really more with us and our attitudes than with the other person or persons and their behaviors. In such circumstances we must work on ourselves and to develop the right attitude of love, compassion, and tenderheartedness toward one another (cf. Ephesians 4:32). In so doing, however, we certainly should not hold our personal challenges against the other!

If, however, there is a circumstance where something does bother us, and it keeps being a hindrance, and if we are tempted to speak to others about it, we would do best to handle the matter directly with the person or persons involved. If we are willing to experience the negative feeling and to foster it and dwell upon it, and if we would prove willing to talk to others about it, then we should be willing to talk to the one who precipitated such a feeling. If we are too fearful or unwilling to talk about it with the person him or herself, we have no right to hold on to the feeling or to address it with others!

No one enjoys being the object of passive-aggressive behaviors; why, then, would we act in such ways about others (Luke 6:31)? Let us be willing to work with one another, and avoid passive-aggression in our attitude and behavior!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Passive-Aggressive Behavior | The Voice 11.21: May 23, 2021

Faithfulness | The Voice 11.20: May 16, 2021

posted in: The Voice | 0

The Voice

Fruit of the Spirit: Faithfulness

Defending the integrity of the Christian faith as the witness of what God accomplished through Jesus of Nazareth proved important to the Apostle Paul; most of his letter to the Galatian Christians sought to affirm the Gospel which they had been taught (Galatians 1:1-5:16). Yet witness to the faith in Christ must be lived as well as believed; thus Paul exhorted the Galatian Christians toward faithful living in Jesus in condemning the works of the flesh and manifesting the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:17-24). Paul spoke of the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, self-control; against such there is no law.

Love well defined the whole of the fruit of the Spirit. Joy and peace speak to a disposition which Christians ought to maintain; longsuffering/patience, kindness, and goodness well demonstrate an appropriate disposition. Likewise, Christians ought to be marked by faithfulness.

“Faithfulness” translates the Greek word pistis, the word used throughout the New Testament to refer to “faith”; Thayer defined it as:

1) conviction of the truth of anything, belief; in the NT of a conviction or belief respecting man’s relationship to God and divine things, generally with the included idea of trust and holy fervour born of faith and joined with it
1a) relating to God
1a1) the conviction that God exists and is the creator and ruler of all things, the provider and bestower of eternal salvation through Christ
1b) relating to Christ
1b1) a strong and welcome conviction or belief that Jesus is the Messiah, through whom we obtain eternal salvation in the kingdom of God
1c) the religious beliefs of Christians
1d) belief with the predominate idea of trust (or confidence)
whether in God or in Christ, springing from faith in the same
2) fidelity, faithfulness
2a) the character of one who can be relied on

For far too long and for too many “faith” has been reduced to its first definition: conviction of truth. “Faith” is thus made out to be about whether one accepts a given premise to be true or not; in this perspective, someone who is “faithful” is someone who accepts as valid various premises upheld to be true.

Faith certainly demands conviction regarding the truth; the Hebrews author rightly understood faith as the assurance (Greek hupostasis, “substance,” a word that in its literal form denotes the idea of “standing under” or “setting under)” of things hoped for, a conviction (Greek elegchos, referring to evidence) of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1). Modern man has not done himself many favors by suggesting the primary means by which we ascertain truth is the scientific method, for most of what we believe cannot be thus proven. Instead, human beings live by “faith”: the human body is confined to the sense perceptions and the mental faculties; we only know with any certainty the things going on around us that we can see, taste, touch, smell, or hear, and the past impressions of what we have seen, tasted, touched, smelled, or heard. Even with these perceptions we can often be wrong, and our reliance on them is in itself a measure of faith. We have faith in our eyes that what we see is truly what is before us; that the vibrations we sense in hearing is truly what another says to us, and so forth. All of our actions in life are based in some measure on faith: we go to work with the faith that we shall be recompensed, and receive that money with the faith that it has value. We cooperate with others in faith, expecting that everyone will fulfill whatever commitments they have regarding us. Even the most “absolute” fields, such as mathematics and science, are really exercises in faith, trusting in the laws of logic and scientific observation to produce valid results. Faith as “conviction of belief” defines our existence.

For good reason the witness of what God accomplished in and through Jesus of Nazareth is considered “the faith” (cf. Jude 1:3): as Christians, we must go well beyond recognizing how our lives are defined by faith more than proof, and maintain confidence and conviction that God has worked powerfully in Christ and continues to do so.
We do well to believe that Jesus is the Incarnate Son of God, in whom the fullness of deity dwells in bodily form, having lived, suffered, died for our sins, and raised in power on the third day, according to the witness of the Apostles (1 Corinthians 15:1-8, Ephesians 2:1-3:12, etc.). We must recognize how God’s work in Christ seems foolish to many in the world, and how many would distort and pervert the witness of God in Christ to accomplish their own purposes, leading those who accept such views to fall away from the living God (1 Corinthians 1:18-32, Galatians 1:6-9, 1 Timothy 4:1-2, 6:3-10, 2 Timothy 4:1-4, 1 John 4:1-6, 2 John 1:6-9).

Yet, despite all of this, James’ declaration should resound in our ears: we believe God is one and do well, and yet the demons thus believe, and shudder (James 2:19)! If the acceptance that Jesus is the Son of God were sufficient in and of itself to save, the demons would have no reason to be afraid. Faith certainly demands the recognition and affirmation of what God accomplished in Christ, but must go well beyond it. Those who would come to God most certainly must believe that He exists: yet they also must confess He rewards those who seek Him (Hebrews 11:6).

The entire story of Scripture is the story of God’s faithfulness to His people. In the Hebrew Bible this faithfulness is spoken of as hesed, a term which is not easily translated into English: where steadfast love meets covenant loyalty, being committed and loyal with a warm feeling toward those to whom one is “faithful.” Israel continually proclaimed God’s hesed toward them (e.g. Psalm 136). In the Exodus and Wilderness journeys God proved faithful to His promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and demonstrated why Israel should trust in Him as the only God (cf. Deuteronomy 4:31-39). As God had proven loyal to His covenant and promises and had proven faithful to Israel, thus Israel was called upon to remain loyal to God and follow His instruction, and not trust in their own strength and power and become as the nations around them (Deuteronomy 8:6-20).

In Christ God fulfilled the promises He made to Abraham and to Israel (Hebrews 6:17-10:25). God demonstrated His faithful love by sending His Son to die for our sins while we were still sinners, and provided hope through His resurrection from the dead (Romans 5:6-11, Philippians 3:21). God, in His faithfulness, rightly expects those who would find salvation in Christ to likewise prove faithful to Him by drawing near to Him and to become conformed to the image of His Son (Romans 8:29, Hebrews 10:19-25). To this end Christians must be full of faith in God in Christ: not just mentally accepting the truth of what God has done in Christ, but to actively trust in God in Christ, relentlessly submitting themselves to Jesus in all things, especially those matters in which culture, upbringing, and temperament would tempt them to follow their own ways or the ways of the world (Galatians 2:20). Christians must manifest Peter’s disposition in John 6:68-69: where else could they go, for they have become convicted that Jesus is the Holy One of God, and has the words of eternal life? While Christians must know what God has done in Christ, they are not saved by knowledge but by faith (Ephesians 2:1-10): we must trust in God in Christ, and we will find that faith tested many times to see what kind of foundation upon which it has been built (cf. 1 Corinthians 3:11-15).

Thus Christians must be marked as faithful people: full of faith and trust in God and what He has accomplished in Jesus. To this end Christians must also be people in whom others can trust: faithful in their dealings, their “yes” as “yes” and “no” as “no,” able to be relied upon as they rely upon God (Matthew 5:13-16, 37). That faithfulness is not rooted in their own inclinations or temperament but in their conviction and the embodiment of that conviction and trust in God in Christ. In this way Christians seek to live according to the new commandment given to them: to love one another as Jesus loved them (John 15:9-17). Thus they will be recognized as faithful.

God is who He says He is: God has demonstrated His power and covenant loyalty to us. We therefore do well to prove loyal to God in faithfulness, fully trusting in God in Christ in all things, proving loyal and dependable to others because of what God has accomplished in Christ. May we all display faithfulness in God in Christ and obtain life in Jesus!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Faithfulness | The Voice 11.20: May 16, 2021

Angry Prophet, Merciful God | The Voice 11.19: May 09, 2021

posted in: The Voice | 0

The Voice

Angry Prophet, Merciful God

Jonah stopped trying to resist God’s call. He would preach repentance to Nineveh. God’s response was exactly what he expected, and it angered him.

YHWH had previously called Jonah ben Amittai to go and preach repentance to Nineveh; Jonah instead sought to flee to Tarshish, in modern day Spain, to get as far away from YHWH and His call as possible (Jonah 1:1-3). But YHWH caused a great storm to come upon the Mediterranean Sea, leading Jonah to be cast out of the ship, after which he was swallowed by a large fish (Jonah 1:4-17). Jonah prayed to God and thanked Him for His deliverance while in the fish, who returned him to the land of Israel (Jonah 2:1-9).

So YHWH again called Jonah ben Amittai to go and preach repentance to Nineveh (Jonah 3:1-2); this time Jonah went and did as YHWH told him (Jonah 3:3). The author testified to the great size of Nineveh: it would take three days to travel across the whole metropolitan area (Jonah 3:3). Jonah traveled a day’s journey into the city and began to preach how the city would be overthrown in forty days (Jonah 3:4).

And then an extraordinary thing happened: the Ninevites believed what Jonah said and performed rituals of mourning and repentance, putting on sackcloth and proclaiming a fast. The poor people did this as well as the rich; even the king himself wore sackcloth and ashes (Jonah 3:5-9)! If the rest of the works of the prophets are any indication, the prophets of Israel were not used to being so readily heard and heeded, especially when they pronounced oracles of judgment. And yet these pagans, sworn enemies of Israel, humbled themselves before God and had repented. God saw how they turned away from their evil, and God relented from the judgment against Nineveh (Jonah 3:10).

One might think Jonah would thus be on top of the world: he had preached, people had listened, and disaster had been averted. But now it is time for the reader’s expectations to be overthrown.

Jonah was furious with YHWH (Jonah 4:1)! We are now told why Jonah sought to flee from the presence of YHWH to Tarshish: Jonah knew that God was gracious and merciful, slow to anger, abounding in covenant loyalty and steadfast love, and would relent of His anger toward Nineveh; Jonah testified about YHWH according to what was written of Him in His Torah (Jonah 4:2; cf. Exodus 34:6, Numbers 14:18). Jonah asked God to take his life; he felt it better to die than to live (Jonah 4:3). YHWH asked him if he did well to be angry (Jonah 4:4).

Jonah then made for himself a tent and sat to the east of Nineveh to see what might happen to the city (Jonah 4:5). YHWH then caused a plant to grow up near Jonah to give him shade in the middle of the day, and Jonah was very thankful for that plant (Jonah 4:6). The next day YHWH caused a worm to eat the plant and a scorching east wind to arise; Jonah felt great distress, despaired of life, and wanted to die (Jonah 4:7-8). God asked Jonah if he was right to be angry about the plant; Jonah responded that he was right to be angry to the point of death (Jonah 4:9). The book of Jonah then ended with YHWH’s response and the lesson of the plant: Jonah had great regard for this plant for which he did not labor and lived for a day, so why should YHWH not have regard for Nineveh and its one hundred and twenty thousand inhabitants who were ignorant of right and wrong, and all of their cattle (Jonah 4:10-11)?

The modern reader often finds the ending of Jonah disorienting. Should Jonah not be pleased that people listened to what he had to say? Why is Jonah so easily angered, and what kind of man of God would be angry when God shows grace and mercy?

We must remember that the story of Jonah was not written for us but for ancient Israel. And for them the story would sound very different based upon what would take place between the preaching of Jonah and their own time. The audience would know that these very same Ninevites would rise up and conquer the Northern Kingdom of Israel and cause great distress to the southern Kingdom of Judah within living memory of Jonah’s preaching. God was thus preserving the very people who would bring destruction upon His people.

The Israelites and Judahites expected YHWH to show them grace, mercy, steadfast love, and covenant loyalty; Jonah knew such is what God was all about. But neither Jonah nor the Israelites particularly wanted to see YHWH display similar grace, mercy, and steadfast love toward their mortal enemies.

Furthermore, consider the oracles regarding the nations throughout the prophets: do they not all universally condemn the nations for their transgressions against Israel? Would God not come out in judgment against all of them? Yes, even against Nineveh itself, according to Nahum?

Jonah believed in God; Jonah is prejudiced against Nineveh and toward his fellow Israelites, and most Israelites would naturally agree. We should not imagine that Jonah or the Israelites would have wanted God to wantonly destroy all the pagans for the sake of destroying all the pagans; but the Assyrians were no ordinary pagans. They were the people with the most fearsome reputation in the ancient Near East, and if there were any group of people whom Israel and their neighbors would rather YHWH condemn in judgment, it would be Assyria. And so Jonah found it galling that YHWH would show grace and mercy to the very people who would soon ravage and destroy His land and His people. Jonah wanted nothing to do with it, and Jonah was very angry.

We do well to remember that judgment against Nineveh would come: within a century and a half of Jonah’s visit to Nineveh, the city would be destroyed by the Medes and the Chaldeans, and Assyria would cease being a going concern, all according to the word of YHWH through the prophet Nahum. The fall of Assyria would prove more swift and decisive than any could have imagined. As the Ninevites would do to the people of God, thus it was done to the Ninevites.

But when Jonah preached repentance to Nineveh, the Ninevites had not yet destroyed Israel. When Jonah warned Nineveh of God’s judgment, the Ninevites were no more or less worthy of condemnation than anyone else. Israel did well to remember that YHWH’s judgment against them was a result of their faithlessness and idolatry: they put their trust in gods who could not save and foreign policy machinations, and they were destroyed in their foreign policy machinations, for their gods could not deliver them. Assyria was the rod of YHWH’s anger indeed (Isaiah 10:4), but Assyria was a chosen instrument. If not by them, judgment would have come at the hand of another.

The message of the book of Jonah to Israel ought to resound to this day: YHWH is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love and covenant loyalty. We rely upon God displaying such grace and mercy to us; what, then, if God does the same to our mortal enemies? God shows no partiality (Romans 2:11); why would we not expect God to show mercy toward those who repent, even if those who repent would resist us and cause us great pain and distress in the future? Why would God not have any regard or concern for other people whom He has made, even though they prove ignorant of Him and His ways?

Christians confess Jesus as Lord of lords and King of kings, reigning over every people and nation; all can come to Him and find salvation (cf. Ephesians 2:1-3:12, Revelation 19:16). Christians should recognize that God will show love, grace, and mercy to whom He will, and His love is not hemmed in by national or ethnic boundaries. And yet Christians have often taken the posture of Jonah and have proven despondent when God has shown mercy to their enemies. Far too many Christians have fallen prey to the temptation of demonizing and dehumanizing their opponents, especially those who actively resist them and their faith. They have a hard time imagining God would show mercy to their enemies; after all, do they not despise all God represents?

Yet God has regard for all whom He has made. God has regard for those who resist His purposes. God would show them grace and mercy if they repent. Will we learn the lesson of the book of Jonah and turn, recognizing that if God abounds in grace and mercy, He might well show grace and mercy toward those we would rather Him condemn?

Ethan R. Longhenry

Angry Prophet, Merciful God | The Voice 11.19: May 09, 2021