Friday, February 18, 2022
Bible Reading Reflection (Lev. 11-15) – Purity
Thursday, February 17, 2022
God's Love as Phileia
Titus 3:4-5 says, “But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us,…” loving kindness is philanthropia, which literally means love for mankind and is the origin of our English word philanthropy. God’s love for man, which led to the cross is the ultimate philanthropy. There is no love for mankind like the love of God.
Romans 12:10 says, “Love to one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.” Love here is philostorge, a combination of phileia (love/affection) and storge (family love). Brotherly affection is philadelphia, which means brotherly love. We are called to have familial affection for one another. That means that we must get along and like each other. This may seem impossible, but I can remember siblings who could not stand each other. The parents’ solution was to make them hold hands for several days and do everything together. It was not acceptable that they had disdain for each other. If that is the way it is with a physical family, how much more so would this be for the family of God? After all we are blood, but it is blood that goes for beyond this life. We are related by the blood of the Son of God who shed it in order to adopt us into God’s family.
Romans 12:13 says to “Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.” Hospitality is philoxenia, which literally means, “strangerly love.” Not only are we to show brotherly love to our brethren, we are also to show strangerly love to the stranger. This implies a level of kindness and compassion that we see demonstrated in Jesus as he welcomed people from all walks of life, whether they tax collectors or pharisees.
Several passages tell us to greet each other with a holy kiss (Rom 16:16; 2 Cor 13:12; 1 Thess 5:26; 1 Pet 5:14). Kiss is philema, which is in the same class of words as phileia. As I reflect on this, it occurs to me that this expression seems to be much more intimate than our typical handshake. But even though this was a typical cultural expression for that time, the word, “holy” indicates that this is not just the typical kiss of greeting, but is special. Our relationship with each other in the family of God is different than associations we have with those outside. We greet each other with holy tokens of affection because we have been sanctified and adopted by God to be his family.
This has caused me to reflect on the nature of love. I remember a time when I used to think, “I have to love you, but that doesn’t mean I have to like you!” This came from the mistaken idea that love, specifically agape, had nothing to do with emotion or liking someone. I now see the ludicrous nature of trying to love without any kind of affection. The instructions to love in the passages above seem to indicate just the opposite. We are not called to like someone, but are called to love, which is much deeper than like.
Sunday, February 13, 2022
Those Who Challenged God
Our God is an all-powerful, holy, holy, holy God. It is not unusual for someone who encounters God in his holy splendor to prostrate himself flat on his or her face in fearful reverence. The call of Isaiah in Isaiah 6 is a classic example of this. The covenant people of God at the base of mount Sinai had a similar reaction. The holy presence of God covered the top of Mount Sinai with smoke, thunder and lightning along with his great voice. They were so fearful that they wanted to hear the voice of the Lord no more, and asked Moses to be their mediator so they would not have to hear God's voice directly.
Knowing this about our God, many believers would not want to question or challenge God. Few would even dream of implying God might do something too extreme or unwarranted. Yet that is just what Job does in the book of Job. However, Job is not the only one in scripture who is so bold and daring. Maybe it's understandable in Job's case. After all, from a human standpoint he doesn't have much to lose. If God were to smite him, he would die and that would be the end of his suffering. But that is not what Job wants. He wants vindication, but that's another study.
Is it ever okay to challenge God's decisions and actions? Leaving aside the whether there could ever be an appropriate time to do this, there are some illuminating examples of prominent servants of God who boldly challenged the Almighty.
The first example comes from Genesis 18:22-33. God revealed to Abraham that he would destroy Sodom and Gomorrah because of their wickedness. The Hebrew of the passage emphasizes the greatness of their sin in verse 20. Their sin is great "to the extreme" or to put it in contemporary terms, "to the max." He refers to the great outcry from Sodom and Gomorrah, which suggest a pattern of grave injustice and cruel wickedness. The story that follows about the treatment of Lot’s guests shows the sheer depth of the depravity of the people there. Even after being blinded, the text says that they were still groping to find Lot’s door in order to rape his guests.
God had every right to destroy these cities, and it is likely that anyone who knew anything about these cities would agree. Then Abraham did the unthinkable. It wasn’t that Abraham tried to change God’s mind. It wasn’t even that he tried to bargain with God to spare the city for a handful of righteous people if they are found in the city. Rather, it was his bold question which could implicate God - "Far be it from you to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous and the wicked are treated alike. Far be it from you! Shall not the judge of all the earth deal justly?" (Gen 18:25). What was Abraham saying? Why would he ask such a thing? Did he really believe God might do a grave injustice by slaying the innocent along with the wicked? Abraham knew he was going out on a limb, so he pled with God not to get angry as he tried to save the city for the sake of the righteous in it. In the end, Abraham could not save the city, but as someone once put it, "Abraham has saved God." In other words, if there was any doubt about the justice of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, the encounter between Abraham and God and subsequent salvation of Lot and his family has removed all doubt as to God's justice in destroying every man and woman in the city.
Another case in Moses. When God made a covenant with the newly formed nation of Israel at Mount Sinai in Exodus 19. Israel responded with, "All that the Lord has spoken we will do" (Ex 19:8). But just over a month later, they built an idol and had a feast to the Lord. In response, "9 The Lord said to Moses, “I have seen this people, and behold, they are an obstinate people. 10 Now then let Me alone, that My anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them; and I will make of you a great nation.” (Ex 32:9-10). There is no doubt that the people are guilty. God redeemed them out of Egyptian bondage to be his own people, and they have already rebelled. There is no doubt that God would be justified when he carries out his intent to destroy these people.
What is curious is God’s words to Moses, “Let me alone so that…” What is that supposed to mean? Can Moses really stop God from unleashing his wrath? In saying this, God practically invited Moses to intervene. Just as God revealed to Abraham what he was going to do to Sodom and Gomorrah, thereby allowing Abraham to respond, God appears to do the same with Moses. Moses responded to try and save Israel. However, unlike Abraham, Moses cannot appeal to God’s justice to try and save them. There was no doubt that they had sinned and dishonored God even though they could look up and see the presence of God that had enveloped the top of Mount Sinai. God would have been justified in destroying Israel and starting over again with Moses and make of him a great nation. This would also been in keeping with the promise God made to Abraham, since Moses was of the seed of Abraham. Instead, Moses responded with, “O Lord, why does Your anger burn against Your people whom You have brought out from the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? 12 Why should the Egyptians speak, saying, ‘With evil intent He brought them out to kill them in the mountains and to destroy them from the face of the earth’? Turn from Your burning anger and change Your mind about doing harm to Your people. 13 Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, Your servants to whom You swore by Yourself, and said to them, ‘I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heavens, and all this land of which I have spoken I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.” (Ex 32:11-13)
God had called them "this" people when he wanted to destroy them, but Moses continues to call them "your" people. Moses appeals to what the Egyptians might say if God destroyed them in the wilderness, and the promise God made to Abraham to multiply his descendants and reminded God that this is “your” people. Moses simply asks God to relent and change his mind, and the text goes on to say, “So the Lord changed His mind about the harm which He said He would do to His people” (Ex 32:14).
Unlike Abraham, Moses was able to get God to relent, which was because of the covenant that God had made with theses people.
Another example comes from Amos 7:1-7.
7 Thus the
Lord God showed
me, and behold, He was forming a locust-swarm when the spring crop
began to sprout. And behold, the spring crop was after the king’s
mowing. 2 And it came about, when it
had finished eating the vegetation of the land, that I said, “Lord God, please
How can Jacob stand, For he is small?” 3 The Lord changed His mind about this. “It shall not be,” said the Lord. 4 Thus the Lord God showed me, and behold, the Lord God was calling to contend with them by fire, and it consumed the great deep and began to consume the farm land. 5 Then I said, “Lord God, please stop!
How can Jacob stand, for he is small?” 6 The Lord changed His mind about this. “This too shall not be,” said the Lord God.”
Twice, God announces judgement on Israel in two visions. Twice, Amos pleads with God, and twice God changed his mind.
The picture Amos paints of the nation and her sins in the previous six chapters of Amos makes it clear that God is justified in unleashing his wrath against Israel. God had caused the nation to become prosperous. However, many were getting rich at the expense of the poor, so God decides to withdraw his blessing and unleash his judgement. These include judges taking bribes and perverting justice, exploitation of the poor and needy, idolatry, incest, violence against the helpless, etc. There was do doubt that Israel deserved the justice God planned to bring. However, when God showed Amos what he would going to do, Amos managed to swerve the nature of God’s judgment.
There are other examples of men challenging God and/or changing God’s mind However, there is something unique about the examples above. What is amazing is that God intentionally involves men in his decisions. Moses could have consented and said, "I'm just your slave, I can't stop you. Besides, you're the boss, do what you see is best". Instead, Moses boldly tells God it would be better if God were to spare Israel so that Egypt would not think that God brought Israel out to the wilderness with the evil intention of destroying them. So Moses boldly gives God what he perceives to be a better option, and God takes it! The same could be said of Abraham and Amos.
This demonstrates something about God’s character. God’s righteous anger is aroused by wickedness and rebellion. However, his compassions are also kindled by the pleads for mercy. Here is what God said about himself to Moses when he revealed himself to him in the cleft of the rock:
“6 Then the Lord passed by in front of him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; 7 who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations.” (Ex 34:6-7)
This passage from the New American Standard translates the Hebrew word, “hesed” as lovingkindness. The word, which has no English equivalent, is sometimes rendered, steadfast love, unfailing love, loyalty, or even kindness/mercy. An acceptable translation would be, “covenant love.” This word refers to love by covenant. In other words, love that is a choice. I can’t help but notice the contrast of God visiting the iniquities of the fathers to the third and fourth generations, but covenant love to thousands.
This self revelation of God and his character became the basis of Moses pleading to God for Israel once again. After rebelling and making a short-lived plan to elect a new leader and return to Egypt, “11 The Lord said to Moses, “How long will this people spurn Me? And how long will they not believe in Me, despite all the signs which I have performed in their midst? 12 I will smite them with pestilence and dispossess them, and I will make you into a nation greater and mightier than they” (Num 14:11-12).
Once again, God wanted to stary over again with Moses, Israel had a pattern of grumbling and rebellion against God.
“13 But Moses said to the Lord, “Then the Egyptians will hear of it, for by Your strength You brought up this people from their midst, 14 and they will tell it to the inhabitants of this land. They have heard that You, O Lord, are in the midst of this people, for You, O Lord, are seen eye to eye, while Your cloud stands over them; and You go before them in a pillar of cloud by day and in a pillar of fire by night. 15 Now if You slay this people as one man, then the nations who have heard of Your fame will say, 16 ‘Because the Lord could not bring this people into the land which He promised them by oath, therefore He slaughtered them in the wilderness.’ 17 But now, I pray, let the power of the Lord be great, just as You have declared, 18 ‘The Lord is slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, forgiving iniquity and transgression; but He will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generations.’ 19 Pardon, I pray, the iniquity of this people according to the greatness of Your lovingkindness, just as You also have forgiven this people, from Egypt even until now” (Numb 14:13-19).
Moses once again pled with God to forgive Israel. This time, he repeats God’s own words about the kind of God he is: “slow to anger and abundant in covenant love.” Based on this, he prayed that God pardon them “according to the greatness of your covenant love.”
“So the Lord said, “I have pardoned them according to your word” (Num 14:20).
It occurs to me that all of this demonstrates that God is eager to forgive. Indeed, the Psalmist wrote,
5 For You, Lord, are good, and ready to
And abundant in lovingkindness to all who call upon You” (Ps 86:5).
God is ready to forgive. He is eager to forgive. He is so eager that he has at times invited the righteous to pray for and plead of behalf of his people. Based on the greatness of his unfailing love and the pleading of someone to advocate for his people, God changes his mind and relents.
I know there may be those who might claim this is heresy because it attacks the doctrine of God’s sovereignty and the immutability of God. However, instead of starting with doctrinal statements and looking for scripture to support them, one should simply read the scriptures and allow them to speak for themselves as to the kind of God we serve. God does not reveal himself in theological propositions, logical deductions, and doctrinal formulas. To reduce God to a proposition does him injustice. God reveals himself through his actions, which are preserved for us in scripture. The Biblical authors do not make the attempt to minimize God to the lowest common denominator. The closest thing you have to this are the statements made about God in various Psalms in the Psalter and Psalms sprinkled throughout the rest of the Old Testament. However, these are not mere abstractions, but are often connected with a story. Even the law given at Sinai is inseparable from the history connected to it. To separate law from the story leads to legalism. God is our Father who has come to live among us, not an abstract theological deduction.
God is holy, but he is not so sensitive that his people cannot question him. God is much bigger than we are. He can take it. As uncomfortable as this may be at times, it can be considered a great act of faith and is often the time of the greatest spiritual growth.
Tuesday, February 08, 2022
Bible Reading Reflection (Exodus 26): God's Covering
This helps to more appreciate our Lord’s atoning work through Christ. God came out of the holy of holies and into a human body. God came near, but covered himself this time in human flesh. He shared in our flesh and blood to provide a permanent solution for sin by offering up his own blood. He entered into the human experience so that he could sympathize with us in mercy and faithfulness. He has come near in such a way so that we can refer to him not only as our God, but also our Abba, our Papa, our Father.
Thank you for being faithful and not giving up on us. You have drawn near to us, may we draw near to you.