Posts Tagged 'obedience'

James, Part 4

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It’s a classic movie, but it’s wrong. God should be your pilot, not your co-pilot! If He’s your co-pilot, it’s time to switch seats!

The very first thing you notice as chapter 3 ends and chapter 4 begins is the sharp contrast between how one chapter ends and the other begins.

But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.  Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.  (James 3:17, 18  NIV)

What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?  You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God.  (James 4:1, 2  NIV)

Those were some Christians James was writing to!  Of them, he wrote:  “You desire but do not have, so you kill.”  I hope James was exaggerating.  But you never know.  Worldliness isn’t a problem unique to the American Church of the 21st century.  It’s always been a problem – the elephant in the sanctuary pastors are afraid to confront for fear of offending a member or two.  James, however, wasn’t afraid to address the issue.  And it should be addressed in the strongest possible terms because worldliness isn’t just the polar opposite of righteousness; it’s something that destroys a Christian testimony, makes God look bad, and rips apart churches.  It causes non-Christians to shake their head and roll their eyes in derision when Christians, who know better, are caught displaying worldly attitudes.

Far from being worldly, Christians are called to be righteous and to display the righteousness of Christ through their lives.  That’s a challenge for Christians today, as it was during James’ day.

Controlling your desires

If you think the early church was characterized by peace and harmony, you couldn’t be more wrong.  Just after Pentecost, we are told:

All the believers were one in heart and mind.  (Acts 4:32a  NIV)

But that didn’t last long.  Within a decade, the young church looked a lot like our churches today, filled with quarreling, hard feelings, envy, and selfishness.  In the first verse, James is likely using figurative language but his point is well taken.  Actual killing wasn’t going on, but worldly attitudes were killing relationships and breaking hearts, giving truth to the old saying:

Wars without come from wars within.

How we treat other people starts with our attitude – not about the people, but about the world.  If we set our hearts on the world and what the world can give us, we are in trouble.  When we “covet,” we necessarily end up hurting other people as the object of our desire becomes more important than the person or people in our lives may be.  A.F. Harper observes –

The basic trouble is that you allow unholy desires to possess your spirits.  Those desires if uncleansed and unchecked lead to spiritual disaster.

The Christian is potentially the most deluded person on earth.  They covet.  They desire things contrary to God’s will.  So they engage some prayerful chicanery –

When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.  (James 4:3  NIV)

The worldly Christian is so spiritually dull he doesn’t know what God’s will is.  He foolishly imagines that his wants and desires constitute God’s – will so much so that he prays for his wants and desires not knowing he’s wasting his time.  Naturally God won’t give him the answer he’s looking for since that answer isn’t His will in the first place!  Deluded and frustrated, this carnal Christian gets the wrong idea of God.  To Him God can’t be trusted and his faith just “doesn’t work,” so why bother?  Having a worldly attitude always results in a ruined spiritual life.

But James is also trying teach us a little something about prayer.  James had wrote –

You do not have because you do not ask God.  (James 4:2b  NIV)

We ought to be asking God for everything in our lives, but our motives have to be right.  The things we are asking for need to be within God’s will and our motives need to respect that will.  If God doesn’t give us what we’ve asked for, we shouldn’t then turn around and covet the thing.

Why is it important to control our desires?  Why is worldliness and a worldly attitude so bad?  It’s not just bad form, it’s a outright sin.

You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.  (James 4:4  NIV)

James likens worldliness to adultery.  Straddling the line, as any driver can tell you, is dangerous.  You’re always safest on your own side of the road.  A Christian can’t straddle the line for long, either.  You can’t be a friend of God and a friend of the world at the same time.  James isn’t teaching a new thing.  Jesus said this –

No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.  (Matthew 6:24  NIV)

Worldliness is like spiritual adultery.  Of this attitude, one Bible scholar noted –

Worldliness is succumbing to the seductions of a fallen world.  Worldliness is being concerned with worldly affairs to the neglect of spiritual needs.  Worldliness is the state of being directed by the outward influences of the surrounding culture.  Christians must reject worldliness.

The opposite of a worldly attitude

Or what do you think the Scripture means when it says that the Holy Spirit, whom God has placed within us, watches over us with tender jealousy? But he gives us more and more strength to stand against all such evil longings. As the Scripture says, God gives strength to the humble but sets himself against the proud and haughty.  (James 4:5, 6  TLB)

If we belong to God, our worldly attitudes necessarily have to go.  If we, for whatever reason, cherish as friend worldly attitudes, we become – we make ourselves – the enemy of God.  But the opposite to a worldly attitude is that of humility.  Augustine cleverly noted –

It was pride that changed angels into devils; it is humility that makes men as angels.

We’re not exactly sure what Scripture James had in mind when he wrote verse 5, but his point is well taken.  God wants our undivided attention.  God has placed within every believer His Holy Spirit, and He is intensely concerned about our attitude.  And the Holy Spirit will help any believer who wants the help to overcome any worldliness that may be lingering in his life.

It may well be that James had Exodus 34:14 in the back of his mind –

Do not worship any other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.  (NIV)

Our God is a jealous God and He allows no rivals; He refuses to share our love with any other so-called god.  It’s our complete loyalty, love, and devotion He’s after because those are the things He has given us.  The best thing we can do to build our relationship with God into a strong and functional one is to humbly admit our worldly tendencies and then allow the Holy Spirit to change us.

A worldly Christian is in love with himself and the world; he is always looking for ways to make himself feel good.  He may go to church, sing in the choir and to everybody appear to be a model Christian.  Yet if he refuses to come closer to God he is condemned by God because of his pride.

Get close to God

In our struggle against worldliness, there are two things we should be doing all the time:

So give yourselves humbly to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.   (James 4:7  TLB)

A great  many Christians want the latter without bothering with the former.  But the truth is, you can only resist the devil IF you first “give yourself” or “submit” to God.  Very simply that means living in obedience to God.  So if you can’t obey God, you won’t be able to resist the devil, hence you will sin, or more accurately, you’ll forever remain in the rut of sin, unable to get out of it.

It seems like such a no-brainer, it’s a wonder all Christians aren’t running around, resisting the devil all the time.  But we know that certainly isn’t the case.  As to why so few are, the answer is found in the word – humbly.  We are supposed to be submitting to God humbly, but since so many of us have problems with that part of the deal, we choose to sin.

Make God part of your life

The theme of the last paragraph of James 4 is a simple one:  Self-centered living produces Christians who ignore God’s will.

Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.”  (James 4:13  NIV)

That’s probably addressed to you.  And to me.  We all make plans, and we naturally expect God to fall in line with them.  Dr McGee, in his commentary on the Bible, makes an interesting comment about Christians who “make big plans for the future.”

It has taken me a long time to learn just to play it by ear.

That’s a tongue-in-cheek thing to write, but he’s not wrong.  We all have to  make plans, but in all our planning we have to be very careful not to plan God out of our lives.  God does exist and we need to plan our futures around Him and His will.  Being a worldly Christian doesn’t always mean behaving like the prodigal son or Judas Iscariot.  Sometimes worldliness manifests itself in something as simple as indifference – indifference to God in the form of disregarding His presence and His will.

What is the mark of a true Christian as opposed to a “cultural Christian”?  It’s this:  A true, born again believer in and disciple of Jesus Christ not only believes that God exists, but he lives like he believes He exists.  A cultural Christian believes in God but lives as though He doesn’t exist by never considering His will for their daily lives.

Why is it so important for Christians to  seek after God’s will and to live according to it?  Verse 14 provides the obvious answer:  We don’t know what the future holds.  Human beings without consideration of God, foolishly make plans as if they know what they will be doing or where they will be living years down the road.  We act as though we are secure, but the opposite is the truth.  We are frail.  We are, in God’s long view of things, here today and gone tomorrow.

Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.”  (James 4:15  NIV)

But really, James was just echoing thoughts of Psalm 102:11-

My days are like the evening shadow; I wither away like grass.  (NIV)

And that’s why Christians (and intelligent sinners) shouldn’t live presumptuous lives.  God should always be the “silent partner” in all our plans and work.  He should be consulted and His will followed when He reveals it to us.  As one scholar put it:

The boaster forgets that life depends on the will of God.  The right feeling is, both my life and my actions are determined by Him.

It’s not what we say but how we live that shows the world that we belong to Christ.

 

 

THE GOSPEL FULFILLS THE LAW, Part 3

Dali's Crucifixion

THE WONDER OF OBEDIENCE

When you think about it, the Bible is a very strange book.  It is, at the same time, extremely complex and extremely simple.  It’s divine principles are understandable even for children, yet it has come to us over a considerable length of time, in multiple languages, from many individual authors writing from a variety of cultural viewpoints.

Reading all the Biblical admonitions from Genesis to Revelation, from men of God like Moses, Hezekiah, Paul, Peter, and of course Jesus Christ, we are struck by how many  opportunities for obedience we are given.  The Bible continually offers its readers the choice to obey its commands or not.  It was John Calvin who said,

True knowledge of God is born out of obedience.

He made a remarkable observation:  without consistent obedience to God’s Word, God cannot be known.  Naturally, consistent obedience is only possible when the contents of the Bible are known.  Eugene Peterson, the man responsible for “The Message,” wrote,

With a biblical memory we have 2,000 years of experience from which to make off-the-cuff responses that are required each day in the life of faith.  If we are going to live adequately and maturely as the people of God, we need more data to work from than our own experience can give us.

1.  Obedience to God—Demanded, Leviticus 18:1—5; Deuteronomy 6:13—25

There is a warped view of God known as Deism that teaches God is like a great, cosmic director, who created the universe as His stage, set everything in it in motion and then left His creation to its own devices.  Man, then, is merely an actor being observed by God from a distance; whether or not he follows God’s commands has no effect of God whatsoever.  Of course, this aberrant theology is completely at odds with how the Bible describes God:  He being intimately involved in giving His creation every possible chance to succeed.

Unique Obedience, Leviticus 18:1—5

The LORD said to Moses  “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘I am the LORD your God. You must not do as they do in Egypt, where you used to live, and you must not do as they do in the land of Canaan, where I am bringing you. Do not follow their practices. You must obey my laws and be careful to follow my decrees. I am the LORD your God.  Keep my decrees and laws, for whoever obeys them will live by them. I am the LORD.

In Leviticus 16 and 17, Moses issued decrees concerning proper sacrifices and gave details about the Day of Atonement.  Those admonitions were very important because they explained to the people how God was going to deal with sin until the coming of Christ.

In chapter 18, Moses gave various laws concerning marriage and relationships within marriage.  These laws were given to safeguard this holiest of institutions against abuse.  One phrase is repeated several times in this section:  “I am the Lord,” or “I am the Lord your God.”  These phrases appear some 20 times in chapters 18 and 19.  Why repeat something that was obvious to the Israelites?  This was God’s way of indicating that Israel as a nation was different from all the nations around them because their God was different.  Jehovah was a holy God and He expected holiness from His people.

The problem with Israel was that their standards of behavior were based, not on God’s expectations, but on what they saw around them.  Because they were supposed to be different from other nations, they were not to be like the Egyptians, for example, or like the Canaanites.  They were to behave differently; they were to take their cues from the Lord.

After warning the Israelites, God issued an overreaching command in verse 4—

You must obey my laws and be careful to follow my decrees.

The word “you” in this verse is plural; God is dealing with the entire nation; the whole of Israel was being called on to obey God’s laws; young or old, male or female, sick or healthy did not matter.  In verse five, however, God gets personal and addresses, not the collective Israel, but rather the individual Israelite—

Keep my decrees and laws, for whoever obeys them will live by them. I am the LORD.

God’s intention was not just that Israel as a nation remained pure and holy, but He knew that Israel was made up of Israelites!  The health of the nation depended on the health of the individual.   Notice carefully the words of verse five:  obedience was evidenced by how one lived.   In Biblical terms, obedience never remains in the head; it always works itself out in one’s quality or standard of life.

God’s Gracious Response, Deuteronomy 6:13—25

The Ten Commandments form the basis of the covenant between God and the Israelites and is the nucleus of the Torah, the Law.  Many more regulations would be piled upon the Decalogue, but these ten commands from the heart of God are eternal and not one has ever changed, been changed, or been revoked.

It was vital for the Israelites to obey the Law of God because their very survival as a people depended upon it—

Hear, Israel, and be careful to obey so that it may go well with you and that you may increase greatly in a land flowing with milk and honey, just as the LORD, the God of your ancestors, promised you.  (Deuteronomy 6:3)

Deuteronomy 6 is really a call for Israel to keep God commandments in love.  But love goes both ways; God first demonstrated His love by delivering His people out of Egypt and leading them to the Promised Land.  Israel now had an opportunity to respond to God’s love by their consistent obedience to His commands.

Verse 15 is difficult for some people to understand because of the way human beings have come to understand “jealousy”—

[F]or the LORD your God, who is among you, is a jealous God and his anger will burn against you, and he will destroy you from the face of the land.

To us, “jealousy” is a harmful sin often resulting in broken relationships and bitter feelings between people.  However, the reasons for God’s anger being aroused are very severe and always harmful to His people whether they are conscious of that danger or not.  God is very protective of those He loves and He will take action to preserve His people from harm even if the threat comes from the people themselves.  God warned the Israelites sternly not to test Him; in other words, they had been warned and for their own good the people should resist trying God’s patience.

For their own good the people needed to live in obedience.  The words of Moses are sobering:  if the people disobeyed, they would not survive in the land.  On the other hand, if they obeyed, things would go well for them.  Once again, the people were presented with a choice: obey and live or disobey and risk death.  It is hard to imagine that’s even a choice!  Who would choose death over life?  Apparently, many would rather die than obey.

In their obedience, not only would God bless the people, He would bless the land.  Imagine; the believer’s obedience results in an overflow of blessings!  That is the generous nature of God.  But the key to success was in obedience.  In verses 20—23, Moses commanded the people to recite the history of Israel to successive generations to remind them of why there was a Law and to remind all generations that they are never blessed by God based on their own righteousness, but only on the grace and mercy of God Himself.  All they had to do was obey, and He would simply declare them righteous.

And if we are careful to obey all this law before the LORD our God, as he has commanded us, that will be our righteousness.  (verse 25)

2.  Justified By Faith, Not By Law, Galatians 3:10—14; John 14:23—24

When we fast forward from Moses’ time to Paul’s, things in Israel have changed dramatically.  No longer was Israel a powerful nation; it was an oppressed nation.  Because the nation did not obey the commands of God, God handed them over to her enemies, which would eventually lead to Roman domination by the time of Christ.

We also notice that the relationship between the Law and the people had changed with the coming of Christ, who, while not obliterating the Law, fulfilled it completely.

Man’s Curse, God’s Redemption, verses 10—14

All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.” Clearly no one is justified before God by the law, because “the righteous will live by faith.” The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, it says, “Whoever does these things will live by them.” Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole.”  He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.

A key ingredient in Paul’s thesis is a bit obscure.  His thought related to those who “continued” to depend on obeying the law.  When Christ came, things changed.  Scripture, and in particular Galatians, exposes the limitation of the Law (or works) by teaching both by word and example that it can only bring a curse upon the people.  Furthermore, it was never the Law that saved anybody, it was always faith.  When Christ came, He literally redeemed His people from the Law and its curse and provided for them a way of life based on faith.  He did this by being made a curse Himself through hanging on the Cross.

Paul taught three main points:

  • Those who choose to live under the principle of the Law are under the Law’s curse because the Law pronounces a curse upon all who fail to keep the every point of the Law.
  • Nobody is justified by the Law because the Law itself taught that man is justified by faith.
  • A person could not try to obey the Law and live by faith because the underlying principles of each way of life are mutually exclusive.

To prove his thesis, Paul quoted liberally from the Torah, the books of the Law.   In previous verses, Paul gave specific examples of Abraham and of the Galatians themselves, but with verse 10, he spoke in more general terms about people who were depending on the Law to make them righteous.  Of note is that Paul never says the Law is wrong or evil or that it should never be obeyed.  He addressed the issue of people who thought the Law could produce in them righteousness.  This is the essence of legalism, which teaches that a person’s character is the result of  his blind obedience to a system of rules and regulations.

Verse 11 makes it clear that even way back in Moses’ day man was saved by faith, not by keeping the Law.  Now, the Law did have value because it showed to sinful man the way of salvation, which Paul proved by quoting from Habakkuk 2:4.  But the Law was not faith which he says in verse 12.  One cancels out the other, which is why a person must choose to live either by the Law or by faith.

To the Jew who loved the Law and put so much “faith” in it, Paul’s words must be have been hard to grasp, so he gave the supreme example:  Jesus Christ.  Christ, Paul wrote, “redeemed us from the curse of the law.”  Here was a man who obeyed the Law to nth degree, yet He wound up hanging on a Cross!  The Law did not save Him, it in fact, cursed Him.  Jesus by His death demonstrated exactly what the Law does:  despite a person’s best intentions, their blind to the Law always must end in death.

But Jesus did an amazing thing:  He “redeemed” man from the curse of the Law.  The word “redeem” is from the Greek word exagorazo which means “to buy out of slavery” by paying a price.  Christ became a curse for us, which is another way of saying the same thing; He took our place by taking on the curse of the lawbreaker.

But what part of the Law did Christ fail to obey that resulted in His being cursed?  He was perfect in His obedience, so how could the Law curse Him?  To answer this question, Paul quoted from the Law again, Deuteronomy 21:23—

Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree.

Jesus Christ, the sinless Son of God came under the curse of the Law—God’s curse, really—through absolutely NO FAULT of His own:  He simply hung on a tree.  And because He technically violated only ONE PART of the Law, He became guilty of violating all of it and consequently bore the punishment of God’s wrath for every violation of the Law.   He became a curse, not when He was born or while He was engaged in His earthly ministry, but the moment He hung on the Cross.  The Greek word for “tree” is zulon, which really means “wood,” “timber,” or “tree.”  Christ was nailed to a tree; His cross, then, became His tree of death, so that He might make it a tree of life for you and for me.  What an astonishing thought!

Obedience Continues, John 14:23—24

The danger, of course, is to assume that because we are not to live “under the Law”  that we come think that the Law has no value to us and therefore may be ignored all together.  This, of course, is something the Bible does not teach.  Obedience is still the lynch pin of our salvation, except that our obedience is not blind nor forced upon us; our obedience is a matter of our freedom and it is to be born out of love, not for words of the Law, but for the Word Himself.

In John 14, we have Jesus’ last teachings to His followers.  They had no idea what was about to happen to the Man they loved and followed, nor did they fully grasp what His mission really was.  In frustration, Judas (not Iscariot) said this in verse 22—

“But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?”

In response, Jesus said this—

“Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.  Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.”

Jesus did not want people following Him because of His miracles.  Jesus wanted, and still wants, followers who will learn to live according to His teachings through simple obedience to them.

It’s a fact:  love for Christ is evidenced by obeying what He has taught.  This love flows both ways, for as believers obey in faith, the Son of God through the Holy Spirit dwells with them, making His home with them.  As far as Jesus was concerned, obedience equals love. Of course, the opposite is also true:  our disobedience shows that we do NOT love Christ.  There is NO other way to express your love for God and Christ except through obedience.  As one commentator remarked,

A loving heart will always be displayed by working hands.

As always, we have a choice.  We may choose to love the Man who loved us so much that He became a curse for us and bore God’s wrath in our stead.  Jesus Christ was obedient though that obedience led to His death on the Cross.  Our obedience, though, results in life!  Or, we may choose to be disobedient and face the cold consequences of that choice.

What will you choose to do?

(c)  2009 WitzEnd

If God Be For Us, Who Can Be Against US?

God the Father by Quellin

Psalm 91

Psalm 91 is the second movement in a stirring “trilogy of trust,” made up of Psalms 90, 91, and 92.  Read in order, Psalm 90 represents a cry for deliverance, Psalm 91 is an expression of trust and Psalm 92 rejoices in deliverance accomplished.  The present psalm combines the characteristics of a lament, of an affirmation of faith, of wisdom poetry and a divine oracle.

Like many psalms, this one has no title, so assigning a date and historical background to it is difficult.  Jewish tradition, however, credits Moses with its authorship, but as we read it, we can’t help but be reminded Paul’s words in Romans 8:31—

What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us?

1.  Trust, verses 1—8

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.

I will say of the LORD, “He is my refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust.”

Surely he will save you from the fowler’s snare
and from the deadly pestilence.

He will cover you with his feathers,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.

You will not fear the terror of night,
nor the arrow that flies by day,

nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness,
nor the plague that destroys at midday.

A thousand may fall at your side,
ten thousand at your right hand,
but it will not come near you.

You will only observe with your eyes
and see the punishment of the wicked.

In this psalm, the author alternates between the first and third person; he describes his own confidence and security then that of his readers.  Believers have a common experience with God; we may all have the exact same experience with God as the psalmist had.  Sometimes we think that only the most spiritual or most saintly among us can feel what this psalmist wrote.  Peter knew this was not true—

Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism.”  (Acts 10:34)

Noteworthy in the first two verses are the four names of God:

  • Most High.  The Hebrew is El Elyon.  In the Canaanite religion, El was the creator god, the supreme deity from whom all their other gods proceeded.  The Hebrews, living in a land surrounded by worshipers of these god, believed that Yahweh was El Elyon, “God Most High,” or the God greater than all others.
  • The Almighty.  In Hebrew, Shaddai, describes the God of victory and triumph; an all-powerful God who cannot be defeated.
  • The Lord.  God’s personal name, Yahweh.  This was a name so sacred to the Hebrews none can say it or write it out.
  • My God.  Not only is Yahweh all powerful, all victorious, and above all other gods, He can be known personally by a human being.  He is not “the God up there,” He is the God who can be known by sinful man; the God who dwells among His people.

Not only do these “proper names” of God encourage us and inspire us to have confidence in Him, the psalmist goes on to describe His God as:

  • A refuge.  God is a “safe place” for His children to dwell in.  He is a place of “comfort” and “peace.”  In the presence of God, we cannot be touched by the enemy.
  • My fortress.  In His presence, we are surrounded by the battlements of Heaven!  When we dwell with Almighty God, He fights for us.
  • Trustworthy.   Our God is, above all, trustworthy.  He is everything His Names say He is.  God cannot let us down because it is not in His nature to do so.

There is an overriding theme of protection is these verses, highlighted by the words:

  • Shelter and Shadow.  These words paint the vivid image of a bird who shelters her young under her wings (see Psalms 17:8; 36:7; 57:1; 63:7).
  • Refuge and Fortress.  These words suggest a military stronghold, fortified and ready for offensive and defensive battle.

All believers may experience God like this, but the key is this confession:

I will say of the LORD…my God, in whom I trust.

Beginning with verse 3, the psalmist poetically expresses the conviction that God cares for and is completely involved in the safety of His people.  God protects us from almost invisible traps, like the “fowler’s snare” and deadly diseases.  The last phrase of verse 4 is such a powerful thought—

[H]is faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.

The burden or responsibility for our safety is God’s!  He is faithful to us, therefore He protects us.  We belong to Him; we are His treasured possessions, and God cares for us as though we are rare, priceless jewels.

Verses 5 and 6 furnish a double parallelism:  the terror of night and the arrow…by day, the pestilence…in the darkness and the plague at midday.  What a descriptive way to say that God never ceases to watch over His people!   Only God can provide security from all that cause us to fear, both natural and supernatural causes, day and night.  There is not one evil thing that God does not have full authority over.

The greatness of God is further amplified by the graphic ratio of a thousand or even ten thousand to One.  Those are good odds to our Warrior God!

2.  Triumph, verses 9—18

If you make the Most High your dwelling—
even the LORD, who is my refuge-

then no harm will befall you,
no disaster will come near your tent.

For he will command his angels concerning you
to guard you in all your ways;

they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.

You will tread upon the lion and the cobra;
you will trample the great lion and the serpent.

“Because he loves me,” says the LORD, “I will rescue him;
I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name.

He will call upon me, and I will answer him;
I will be with him in trouble,
I will deliver him and honor him.

With long life will I satisfy him
and show him my salvation.”

The Hebrew of verses 9 and 10 is difficult and a literal translation makes little sense.  If we take the NIV as accurate, then we must acknowledge that when we compare these two verses with many other passages in both the Old and New Testaments, verse 10 cannot be taken in a literal sense; of course, none are exempt from approaching “harm,” but for those who make their dwelling in the Most High, those who experience harm will not be harmed.

The beautiful promises of verses 11—13 are conditional upon how we respond to verse 9.  These verses are very well known because of their misuse by Satan.  He took them out of context when he tried to seduce Jesus during the wilderness temptation.  The promise of divine deliverance, however, is real, and is clear:  God would even use His angels to protect those who love Him.

In the harsh reality of life, we know that sometimes God allows very negative things to come into the life of His children.  Both Job and Jesus are prime examples of this.  However, we, who love God, know that no power is beyond God’s control.  We believe God when He proclaims His love for us and we trust Him when He says He loves us and He protects us, even while we act and live responsibly.  Knowing divine protection is ours is not a license to live recklessly nor is it permission to test the limits of God’s deliverance.  Satan, as you recall, tempted Jesus to act in way out of God’s will, but Jesus sternly rebuked him and was delivered.

Jesus answered, “It says: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'”  (Luke 4:12)

In the final three verses of Psalm 91, God Himself is the speaker and He reinforces what the psalmist had written.  The conditions upon which everything depends are very simple:

  • “Because he loves me.”  It all begins with our genuine love for God.  In this instance, the word “love” suggests a deep and impassioned longing or desire for the Lord.
  • “He acknowledges my name.”  A key ingredient in experiencing the continuing deliverance and intervention of God is simply to give Him the glory when it happens!  We ought never to be ashamed to proclaim what God has done.
  • “He will call upon me.”  To activate the promises in this psalm, we must “call upon” God; we must avail ourselves of His attentiveness.   Implicit in this is a faith in God’s Word and in His ability to provide that which He has promised.  Why ask something of somebody is you didn’t think they had it to give?  When we ask, we are, in a sense, proclaiming our faith in God’s glorious provision.

Obedience and faith are a natural result of God’s love being poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit—

And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.  (Romans 5:5)

When we know God as personally as the psalmist did, his experiences become ours; if we are believers yet have not seen this side of our Heavenly Father, the problem is within ourselves.  Each one of us has as much of God as we desire.  If we are disappointed with His seeming indifference to us, it is because we are indifferent to Him.  Let’s reach out in faith and embrace God; let’s learn to take Him at His Word.  Let’s be passionate about Him, and as we do so, we will see just how passionate He is about those who love Him.

(c)  2009 WitzEnd

SAUL: The Lost Man

Saul rips Samuel's robe

1 Samuel 15

Last time we looked at Saul, we discovered that he was, in his heart, a disobedient man.  He disobeyed the plain word of the Lord given to him through the prophet Samuel.  In chapter 13 we learned the high price he paid for his disobedience:  he would be denied a dynasty.  Nevertheless, Saul was still Israel’s king and God was not eager to withdraw His favor from His king.  Such is the Lord’s “lingering grace,” which gives the stubborn a little more time for repentance.  Saul would be given one more chance to show himself faithful to God.  Sadly, with chapter 15 Saul’s decline would be complete and irreversible; he was denied his dynasty in chapter 13, and now he will be denied his kingship.

Let’s consider—

1.  Saul’s clear mission, verse 3

Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy everything that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.

Samuel was sent with a message from the Lord to King Saul.  God’s patience had finally run out for the wicked, warlike Amalekites and He would choose Saul as His instrument to completely destroy them, as prophesied as far back as Exodus 17:8—16.

The Lord’s order to Saul was to not spare anything or anybody.  The Hebrew phrase (charam cherem) is somewhat complex but literally means “to put under the ban.”  It is usually used of people and objects that have been set aside as God’s personal property, either to be used of Him or destroyed by Him in an act of judgment.   It is a powerful phrase which to our modern sensibilities is difficult to fathom.  It is a concept that could be used to describe radical surgery performed by a skilled surgeon to prevent the spread of a malignant cancer.

This was no ordinary war; Israel was expressly commanded to take no booty, and all living creatures were to be killed.  This was to be a complete judgment of God upon an evil, godless race of people who were a blight on planet earth and a threat to the continued existence of God’s chosen people.  What a solemn responsibility Saul had been entrusted with!  God, as the sovereign owner of all He has created, may choose animate or inanimate objects to execute His will over His creation.  Sometimes, God had used earthquakes and storms to benefit His people or to judge them.  This time He will use Saul to deal with the Amalekites.

Neither personal feelings nor human reason should stand in the way of fulfilling God’s will and purpose.  When God tells us to do something, we must obey to the letter His command, not embellishing it with our ideas and reasoning.  If God should tell us to walk on the water, we need to be prepared to do just that.   If God should tell us to sell all we have and give the proceeds to the poor, we must obey that command, no matter how strange it may seem to us.  To not obey the word of God is to show Him the highest form of contempt.

2.  Saul’s disobedience, verse 9

But Saul and the army spared Agag and the best of the sheep and cattle, the fat calves and lambs—everything that was good. These they were unwilling to destroy completely, but everything that was despised and weak they totally destroyed.

The express command of God was to spare nothing, but Saul spared a lot.  He allowed his feelings and his eyes to determine his action and his level of obedience.  Saul allowed his natural instincts as a shepherd, and as a dealer in cattle, to overrule the direct command of God, which no doubt made no sense to Him all; he spared the very best, but destroyed the weak and useless.

How easy it is to give God the things we don’t want and to keep the best for ourselves.  God was not at all pleased that Saul partly obeyed; do you suppose God will accept our partial obedience?  Do you suppose God will accept the weak and the useless from us, even as we keep the best for our own purposes?  To partially obey is to disobey and whenever self-interest is allowed a place in our service to God, we are faithless and open to His rebuke.

3.  Saul’s lame excuses (more of the same), verses 13, 15 20, 21

When Samuel reached him, Saul said, “The LORD bless you! I have carried out the LORD’s instructions.”

Saul answered, “The soldiers brought them from the Amalekites; they spared the best of the sheep and cattle to sacrifice to the LORD your God, but we totally destroyed the rest.”

“But I did obey the LORD,” Saul said. “I went on the mission the LORD assigned me. I completely destroyed the Amalekites and brought back Agag their king.  The soldiers took sheep and cattle from the plunder, the best of what was devoted to God, in order to sacrifice them to the LORD your God at Gilgal.”

This singular event was Saul’s final probation; he had been warned many times before and repeatedly came up short.  It is quite possible that verse 11 is about the saddest verse in all of Scripture—

“I am grieved that I have made Saul king, because he has turned away from me and has not carried out my instructions.” Samuel was troubled, and he cried out to the LORD all that night.

The Hebrew for “grieved” is nacham, meaning “to sigh,” “to be sorry,” “to rue.”   It does not mean that God somehow changed His mind about Saul, as some have suggested.  God does not “learn” about us nor does God have to “adjust” His thinking toward us.   God interacts with human beings all the time and His reactions to what we do show that God is absolutely coherent in his thoughts and He is never caught off guard.  That is, we can predict how He will react with certainty if we act in a dishonoring manner or if we act in way that pleases Him.  The difference between God and human beings is that when we act we often have no idea what the unintended consequences of that action will be.  However, God does.  Our actions never catch Him off guard, and so He never has to change His mind about us.

Walter Kaiser:

God can and does change in His actions and emotions towards men so as not to be fickle, mutable, and variable in His nature and purpose.

God was broken hearted that Saul disobeyed, and Samuel’s reaction was a mirror reflection of how God was grieving.

When the prophet finally met up with Saul after Saul had erected a monument of his victory, the excuses came flowing out of Saul like wet cement.  Like the crowing of the rooster when Peter denied his Lord, so the bleating of the sheep mocked the Word of the Lord to Saul.  To make matters worse, Saul insisted that he had been obedient. Once again, he thought that partial obedience would be good enough for God.

It is pitiful when we, like Saul, justify our sins of disobedience when confronted.  But how many of us are masters of self-deception?  How many of us have actually convinced ourselves that partial obedience is good enough?   How many believers have deluded themselves into thinking they are “right with God” because He hasn’t sent a plague on them or struck them dead?   Galatians 6:7 is a frightening verse—

Do not be deceived:  God cannot be mocked.

You will reap what you sow; if you continually sow seeds of disobedience, you will reap what Saul is about to reap.  God is predictable in how He deals with disobedient sinners.  And God knows your heart, like He knew Saul’s.  We can’t delude Him.

If Saul had only obeyed, how different things would have been.  But most of us are about as reliable as Saul was.  Complete obedience is so hard.  Some Christians think complete obedience is impossible.  Is it really impossible?  Not according to this verse—

For the eyes of the LORD range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him.  (2 Chronicles 16:9)

That is all God wants from any of His children:  a full commitment.

4.  Saul’s “confession,” verse 24

Then Saul said to Samuel, “I have sinned. I violated the LORD’s command and your instructions. I was afraid of the people and so I gave in to them.

The more Saul spoke, the more his heart was revealed.  He was right to confess that he sinned; he had been caught.  But then the secret came out:  He feared the people, and the fear of man did him in.

Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is kept safe.  (Proverbs 29:25)

How many believers never accomplish anything for God because they fear what man will think?

  • I’m afraid to witness to my friend because I don’t want lose his friendship.
  • I don’t go to church because it might make my wife mad.
  • We don’t say grace in restaurants because it’s embarrassing.

We, who think things like this, need to pay heed to what the Lord said to the prophet—

“I, even I, am he who comforts you.
Who are you that you fear mortal men,
the sons of men, who are but grass.”  (Isaiah 51:12)

The child of God is clothed in the armor of God, but so-called Christians with no backbones are cowards.

The LORD is with me; I will not be afraid.
What can man do to me?  (Psalm 118:6)

5.  Saul’s final rejection, verse 26

But Samuel said to him, “I will not go back with you. You have rejected the word of the LORD, and the LORD has rejected you as king over Israel!”

According to Luke 9:26, to reject God’s Word is to be rejected of God—

If anyone is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.

Saul’s so-called confession and so-called repentance was too little to late.  Verse 27 shows the violence in Saul’s heart—

As Samuel turned to leave, Saul caught hold of the hem of his robe, and it tore.

The arrogance of the man!  The tearing of the robe dramatically illustrated the loss of the kingdom.  But God’s ever-faithful prophet had the last word—

Samuel said to him, “The LORD has torn the kingdom of Israel from you today and has given it to one of your neighbors—to one better than you.   (verse 28)

Of course, that neighbor was David.  Just as “obedience is better than sacrifice” so David was better than Saul.  How ironic that Saul “was better” and “without equal” when God first called him?  Saul’s downfall was his doing; he was his own worst enemy.

Verse 29 says more about Saul’s character than it does about God’s—

He who is the Glory of Israel does not lie or change his mind; for he is not a man, that he should change his mind.”

Everything good about God was nowhere to be found in Saul.

It is possible to be a Christian, full of the Holy Spirit, yet not live the kind of life that glorifies God and brings honor to His Name.  It is possible to be a Christian but live in disobedience to the revealed Word of God.  But be warned:  such believers live in danger of becoming lost at any moment; shipwrecked on an island of sinful isolation from the body of Christ, a stumbling block to the rest of us and an offense to God.  Someone once wrote:

There is line by us unseen,
That crosses every path;
The hidden boundary between
God’s patience and His wrath.

How close are you living to that line?

(c)  2009 WitzEnd

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