Saturday, March 11, 2006

The Briefest of Histories

Manuscripts and ChaosStart

Jeremiah chapter 1 is about the call of Jeremiah and the fortitude with which he would be strengthened. He would have a hard message and long weary and hard years to drive it home. And so he begins:

Now the word of the LORD came to me saying,
    Go and proclaim in the ears of Jerusalem, saying,
        Thus says the LORD,
            I remember concerning you the devotion of your youth,
                The love of your betrothals,
            Your following after Me in the wilderness,
                Through a land not sown.
            Israel was holy to the LORD,
                The first of His harvest.
            All who ate of it became guilty;
                Evil came upon them.
        declares the LORD.

The word of the LORD

Note the style of Jeremiah's proclamation. He begins with an event that happened: "The word of the LORD came to me..." It leaves us wondering about the nature of this. Did he see a vision? Was it some internal manifestation? We are not told. All that we can surmise is that it left no doubt as to its origin.

Then there is the curious bracketing of the message, "Thus says the LORD, message, declares the LORD." What are we to make of this? It almost seems that by the time we get to the message we are at least 2 levels removed from the source. In other words, the LORD is not speaking directly to Jeremiah, but rather through an agent or means (i.e. the word of the LORD) who passes on the message to Jeremiah. In passages such as this, Jeremiah makes clear that he is only, if you will, the message bearer who makes no special claims of status before God.

The Message

The meaning of the message seems clear enough on a quick read, "You used to love and follow me, but you don't anymore. You are guilty and evil."

But a detailed reading becomes mysterious. There are 4 parallel couplets that carry this message. The first three couplets seem positive enough. They almost sound like an older parent reminiscing about the days of his children's youth. But as words from the LORD concerning His people, even these simple phrases make one pause.

I remember concerning the devotion of your youth / The love of your betrothals. The phrase "devotion of your youth" is easy enough. One can imagine the days of the patriarchs and the steadfast connection they had with the LORD. It is somewhat harder to connect this with the children of Israel in the general case, because they are often described as stubborn and hard-hearted, but even so there was always a remnant in every generation. However, if it is easy to understand "devotion of your youth" what are we to make of "the love of your betrothals?" Why is there more than one? I almost think of this in terms of generation after generation of Jacob's descendants renewing their connection with the LORD. In other words, Jacob loved the LORD and his children for generation after generation connected themselves intimately with their God.

Your following after Me in the wilderness / Through a land not sown. If the first couplet was about the Patriarchs and the generations after them, we can see that this couplet contains the next important phase in the history of Jeremiah's countrymen. This is the period of time when God took the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and made a nation out of them. The phrase "land not sown" is the bridge to the next couplet.

Israel was holy to the LORD / The first of His harvest. We have moved from a "land not sown" to a harvest. We have moved from the days of the patriarchs to the wilderness wanderings and now come to the nation of Israel. The point of the message at this juncture is that all should have gone well. There was love and devotion. There was a following during a difficult time. There was a sowing and a harvest. We would anticipate a return generation after generation.

All who ate of it became guilty; / Evil came upon them. But things turned sour. The descendants of Israel delighted to receive the benefits of the harvest, but they failed, in a sense, to re-sow the seed. Instead of becoming holy and maintaining their devotion and continuing to follow, they became guilty. Then evil came.

In short these four couplets contain the entire history of the children of Israel from the days of the patriarchs to Jeremiah's own day. Evil has fallen upon the land and its people. It will be up to Jeremiah to bring the charge. From this introduction, Jeremiah will lay out the legal case against his own countrymen. It is important to remember how far removed they are from the LORD who planted them.

<>< Test everything. Cling to what is good. ><>

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Another post is coming

My work has been very busy and it has been hard to carve out the time needed for the next essay, but it is coming. In the meantime, for those of you who might be curious about what I sound like as a teacher, the Biblical Studies Foundation has posted an audio of my Music in the Church teaching. Don

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

The Jeremiah Essays: Of Manuscripts and Chaos

Josiah's Reforms Start The Briefest of Histories

There is a problem with the text of Jeremiah that, for me, adds a dynamic element to its understanding. But first, some background to help you understand the problem.


Somewhere between 300 and 200 B.C. the Hebrew Scriptures were translated into Greek. This translation is known today as the Septuagint--named for the 70 translators purported to have worked on it. At the time this translation was made, Greek had become the language for international discourse. Consequently, the translation provided a means by which Jews who were losing their Hebrew fluency could read the Scriptures and it had the effect of raising interest in God and Judaism among the Gentiles. It is worth noting also that New Testament quotes of the Old Testament are quotes from the Septuagint and that the Septuagint aided the spread of Christianity among the Gentiles. It is the first demonstration that a translations of the Scriptures into contemporary language, even if imperfect, encourages the spread of the knowledge of God.

The Problem with the Text of Jeremiah

We no longer have the Hebrew text used by the Septuagint translators. Today's translations of the Old Testament are based on the Masoretic Hebrew text whose earliest copies date from about 900 A.D. For the most part there is good agreement between the Masoretic Hebrew text and the Septuagint Greek text. A notable exception is the book of Jeremiah. The Septuagint is missing 12% to13% of the material included in the Masoretic text and some of the chapters have a different arrangement. This amounts to perhaps over 2000 missing words. Here is an example:

Then I spoke to the priests and to all this people, saying, "Thus says the Lord: Do not listen to the words of your prophets who prophesy to you, saying, 'Behold, the vessels of the Lord’s house will now shortly be brought again from Babylon'; for they are prophesying a lie to you. Do not listen to them; serve the king of Babylon, and live! Why should this city become a ruin? But if they are prophets, and if the word of the Lord is with them, let them now entreat the Lord of hosts that the vessels which are left in the house of the Lord, in the house of the king of Judah and in Jerusalem may not go to Babylon. For thus says the Lord of hosts concerning the pillars, concerning the sea, concerning the stands and concerning the rest of the vessels that are left in this city, which Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon did not take when he carried into exile Jeconiah the son of Jehoiakim, king of Judah, from Jerusalem to Babylon, and all the nobles of Judah and Jerusalem. Yes, thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, concerning the vessels that are left in the house of the Lord and in the house of the king of Judah and in Jerusalem, 'They will be carried to Babylon and they will be there until the day I visit them,' declares the Lord. 'Then I will bring them back and restore them to this place.'" (Jeremiah 27:16-22)

The section in bold italics is missing in the Septuagint.

There are some who look at these differences and suggest that it calls into question all Scriptural reliability. For an example, see The Jeremiah Dilemma which states:

Because of the damage these facts inflict on the inerrancy doctrine, Bible fundamentalists will, of course, resist the obvious conclusion that they lead to, but until the inerrantists can produce a Masoretic copy of Jeremiah that antedates the Septuagint, they will find it hard to defend their claim that the Bible text we now have is essentially the same as what was written in the "original autographs.

Farrell Till, the author of The Jeremiah Dilemma sees a conspiracy that emended the text:

These omissions have grave implications for the inerrancy doctrine, because they suggest that significant editing occurred in at least one Old Testament book after completion of the original manuscript. So what exactly are we to conclude from this? After verbally inspiring Jeremiah to write his manuscript, did Yahweh decide he could improve on the original and then direct someone to reorganize the material and insert the passages that weren't available to the Septuagint translators or to the scribe who made the Qumran copy? If so, what does this say about the omniscience of Yahweh that we hear so much about? Or if the changes didn't happen under Yahweh's direction, did some scribe or committee of scribes just take it upon themselves to do the editing? Either way again, the proponents of Bible inerrancy have a serious problem on their hands. They preach a doctrine that simply cannot be squared with known facts.

Do Farrell Till and others who draw similar conclusions have a good case? If not, why do they not? There is a twofold answer. The first has to do with the assumption behind this statement, "After verbally inspiring Jeremiah to write his manuscript,..." The second has to do with Jeremiah's time.

The Nature of Jeremiah's Manuscript

To say, "After verbally inspiring Jeremiah to write his manuscript" implies that Jeremiah wrote a book in a manner similar to to books like 1 & 2 Kings, or Esther, or Song of Songs, or any of the New Testament books. By this I mean that the book is a unified work rather than a compendium. Jeremiah is a compendium.

Evidence for Jeremiah as a compendium of material can be seen by comparing Jeremiah 39 with 2 Kings 25. The wording and verse ordering are quite similar. Did Jeremiah also write 1 and 2 Kings? Did someone include this section of 2 Kings in Jeremiah to add context to the book? In either case, it demonstrates that Jeremiah is not a single manuscript that Jeremiah sat down and wrote.

Evidence for Jeremiah as a compendium of material can be seen by noting that Jeremiah chapter 30 contains the text of a letter that he sent to the early exiles before the siege of Jerusalem began.

Evidence can be seen by noting that Jeremiah 36 contains a reference to a single prophecy that Jeremiah dictated and sent to King Jehoiakim--only to have the king burn it up. Jeremiah had to dictate the prophecy again. The prophecy is, of course, included in Jeremiah. However, it is also clear that Jeremiah consists of scores of such things.

The fact is that the Lord inspired Jeremiah to speak and write messages and letters throughout his 40 plus year ministry and our book of Jeremiah is a collection of those messages. Furthermore, Jeremiah has a very loose arrangement and much of the material is not in chronological order. To see this note down the order in which the kings of Judah served: Josiah, Jehoahaz, Jehoiakim, Jehoiachin, and Zedekiah. Then note how they are referenced in chapters 21-39. The first 19 chapters are a diverse collection of messages without chronological markers.

So, given that the Masoretic text and the Septuagint differ both in amount of material and arrangement and given that Jeremiah is a collection of messages, which is the more likely? That the Masoretic text represents later additions or that the Septuagint and Masoretic text represent to differing collections of Jeremiah's inspired writings with the Masoretic text being more complete?

Jeremiah's Time

This brings me to Jeremiah's time. In his days, Jerusalem was demolished and most of its people deported to Babylon. Jeremiah stayed behind with the poorest of the land, but the continuing political upheaval forced his move to Egypt. It is easy to imagine that Jeremiah's writings and material went to Babylon with the exiles. It is also easy to imagine some going with Jeremiah to Egypt. There is no requirement that the material was identical. The inspiration of Scripture does not demand it. 

Far from subtracting from the reliability of Jeremiah, the so called textual problem adds a deeper dimension to the times in which he lived. It speaks of the chaos and upheaval and change. It is a key factor to keep in mind as you study Jeremiah.

<>< Test everything. Cling to what is good. ><>

Friday, December 23, 2005

The Jeremiah Essays: Josiah's Reforms

Not Just the Weeping ProphetStartManuscripts and Chaos

Jeremiah opens with a list of kings under whose reigns Jeremiah lived:

The words of Jeremiah the son of Hilkiah, of the priests who were in Anathoth in the land of Benjamin, to whom the word of the Lord came in the days of Josiah the son of Amon, king of Judah, in the thirteenth year of his reign. It came also in the days of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah, until the end of the eleventh year of Zedekiah the son of Josiah, king of Judah, until the exile of Jerusalem in the fifth month. (Jeremiah 1:1-3, NASB 95)

In this essay, I want to discuss Josiah and his reforms as it relates to Jeremiah’s ministry. In one of the few really definitive time markers, Jeremiah tells us that the "word of the Lord came to him" in the 13th year of Josiah’s reign. Let’s connect this with this historical reference from Chronicles:

Josiah was eight years old when he became king, and he reigned thirty-one years in Jerusalem. He did right in the sight of the Lord, and walked in the ways of his father David and did not turn aside to the right or to the left.

For in the eighth year of his reign while he was still a youth, he began to seek the God of his father David; and in the twelfth year he began to purge Judah and Jerusalem of the high places, the Asherim, the carved images and the molten images. They tore down the altars of the Baals in his presence, and the incense altars that were high above them he chopped down; also the Asherim, the carved images and the molten images he broke in pieces and ground to powder and scattered it on the graves of those who had sacrificed to them.

Then he burned the bones of the priests on their altars and purged Judah and Jerusalem. In the cities of Manasseh, Ephraim, Simeon, even as far as Naphtali, in their surrounding ruins, he also tore down the altars and beat the Asherim and the carved images into powder, and chopped down all the incense altars throughout the land of Israel. Then he returned to Jerusalem. (2 Chronicles 34:1-7)

So Jeremiah’s ministry began just after Josiah began his religious reforms and continue past Josiah's death some 15 years later. These reforms were quite extensive as this reference from 2 Kings shows:

Moreover, Josiah removed the mediums and the spiritists and the teraphim and the idols and all the abominations that were seen in the land of Judah and in Jerusalem, that he might confirm the words of the law which were written in the book that Hilkiah the priest found in the house of the Lord. Before him there was no king like him who turned to the Lord with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his might, according to all the law of Moses; nor did any like him arise after him. (2 Kings 23:24-25)

That there was a relationship between Jeremiah and Josiah is certain from the eulogy that Jeremiah gave at Josiah’s funeral:

Then Jeremiah chanted a lament for Josiah. And all the male and female singers speak about Josiah in their lamentations to this day. And they made them an ordinance in Israel; behold, they are also written in the Lamentations. (2 Chronicles 35:25)

So from all this we know, that Josiah was known historically as one who implemented the most broad sweeping religious reforms and we know that Jeremiah knew Josiah well enough to have a strong public presence at Josiah’s funeral. So I find it odd that in all of Jeremiah’s 52 chapters there is not a single reference to Josiah’s reforms. This begs me to ask the simple question, "Why was this so?" The reason for this essay is to present my answer to this question. The answer is important, because it provides a convenient means to draw attention to the backdrop against which Jeremiah can be understood.

It could be that much of what has been preserved of Jeremiah's writings was material written past Josiah's time. But I suggest that there is a more fundamental reason: Josiah's reforms failed! To be sure, he succeeded in removing the external trappings of idolatry in the nation. He succeeded in recovering the Torah and making it part of his government. I am confident in saying that in-so-far as it depended on him, Josiah's reforms should have been the turning point for Judah. But his reforms nonetheless failed. Indeed the right way to see the situation is that very soon after his soldiers "tore down the altars and beat the Asherim and the carved images into powder…" they were quickly rebuilt. Josiah’s reforms failed to reach the hearts of the people.

There were a few, at the time of Josiah's birth, who knew the Lord alone as God and passed on the knowledge and traditions. They reached the likes of Josiah, Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and others. But these were just small points of light in a great darkness that overshadowed the land and its people. Simply put the knowledge of God was quickly slipping away. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say they these were to few healthy cells remaining in a cancerous mass that required drastic surgical removal.

Consider this. When Josiah found the lost Torah in the temple and tore his clothes, he sent messengers to Huldah, a prophetess, to ask about this significance. Here is her response:

She said to them, "Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, 'Tell the man who sent you to Me, thus says the Lord, "Behold, I am bringing evil on this place and on its inhabitants, even all the curses written in the book which they have read in the presence of the king of Judah. Because they have forsaken Me and have burned incense to other gods, that they might provoke Me to anger with all the works of their hands; therefore My wrath will be poured out on this place and it shall not be quenched."

'But to the king of Judah who sent you to inquire of the Lord, thus you will say to him, "Thus says the Lord God of Israel regarding the words which you have heard, Because your heart was tender and you humbled yourself before God when you heard His words against this place and against its inhabitants, and because you humbled yourself before Me, tore your clothes and wept before Me, I truly have heard you," declares the Lord. "Behold, I will gather you to your fathers and you shall be gathered to your grave in peace, so your eyes will not see all the evil which I will bring on this place and on its inhabitants."'" And they brought back word to the king. (2 Chronicles 34:23-28)

And consider the day, probably after Josiah's death, when the Lord sent Jeremiah to locate a Godly person in the city:

Roam to and fro through the streets of Jerusalem, and look now and take note. And seek in her open squares, if you can find a man, if there is one who does justice, who seeks truth, then I will pardon her. And although they say, 'As the Lord lives,' Surely they swear falsely. (Jeremiah 5:1-2)

And consider this declaration from those who were left after the Babylonian invasion:

"As for the message that you have spoken to us in the name of the Lord, we are not going to listen to you! But rather we will certainly carry out every word that has proceeded from our mouths, by burning sacrifices to the queen of heaven and pouring out drink offerings to her, just as we ourselves, our forefathers, our kings and our princes did in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem; for then we had plenty of food and were well off and saw no misfortune. But since we stopped burning sacrifices to the queen of heaven and pouring out drink offerings to her, we have lacked everything and have met our end by the sword and by famine. And," said the women, "when we were burning sacrifices to the queen of heaven and were pouring out drink offerings to her, was it without our husbands that we made for her sacrificial cakes in her image and poured out drink offerings to her?" (Jeremiah 44:16-19)

Josiah's reforms have no place in the writings of Jeremiah, because they were irrelevant to his message. The generations during which the Lord exhibited His patience was over. He has raised up Nebuchadnezzar to execute the Covenant curses (see Deuteronomy 28:15 ff.). History and God's plan are in motion and Josiah meets an early death to fulfill the words of Huldah that he "would not see all the evil which I will bring."

As I see it, in Jeremiah's day, Judah was a generation away from losing the knowledge of God. Josiah had found a lost copy of the Torah—where were the scriptures? On a certain day, Jeremiah could not find a godly person in the city. The Lord God was bringing to pass events that would correct these circumstances. Jeremiah is about those things. On this topic, I will have much to say. Jeremiah is about the outpouring of God's wrath, but is also about the outpouring of His mercy. It is a journey that I hope you will follow. I am fully convinced of this: God’s wrath always shows a face of mercy. As I work through Jeremiah Essays, I will bring this to light.


Tuesday, December 13, 2005

The Jeremiah Essays: Jeremiah—Not just the Weeping Prophet

Josiah's Reforms

This post begins a series of essays that will work sequentially through the book of Jeremiah. This is not to say that Jeremiah is not a book that deserves a complete analysis, but it is ground that has been covered by many people—and sometimes a slightly higher level can offer perspectives that a detailed look cannot. And so it is my plan to work through the book and comment on passages that I find particularly interesting and instructive.

I just googled using the phrase "weeping prophet." As I predicted the first entry was about the prophet Jeremiah. There were some 710,000 web pages found by the search, but after only 782 pages, Google announced that the remaining 99% were just repeats. The vast majority of those 782 pages referred to Jeremiah.

So who am I to downplay this popular title?

It is not that Jeremiah did not weep. It is rather that "weeping prophet" belies the strength and fortitude that was the foundation of this prophet. It belies the reasons for those painful moments when he wept. It belies the connection with the Lord of hosts who cried with Jeremiah, but held resolute in purpose to eradicate a nation that He claimed as His own.

Here is Jeremiah weeping:

"Oh that my head were waters And my eyes a fountain of tears, That I might weep day and night For the slain of the daughter of my people! Oh that I had in the desert A wayfarers' lodging place; That I might leave my people And go from them! For all of them are adulterers, An assembly of treacherous men. They bend their tongue like their bow; Lies and not truth prevail in the land; For they proceed from evil to evil, And they do not know Me," declares the Lord. (Jeremiah 9:1-3, NASB 95)

Did that last line catch you by surprise? Are these the words of Jeremiah or the Lord? Surely it is Jeremiah who speaks, "Oh that I had in the desert a wayfarers' lodging place that I might leave my people and go from them!" And just as surely it is the Lord who speaks, "For they proceed from evil to evil and they do not know Me." There are times throughout the book that Jeremiah, in speaking for himself, also speaks for the Lord. His feelings and emotions are God's feelings and emotions. There is weeping, but it is combined with a grim determination that there is a hard task to be done to rescue the children of Israel from an idolatry that has left them only a generation from losing the knowledge of God.

Many a fire-and-brimstone preacher could benefit from the tears of Jeremiah/God over the message that Jeremiah delivered. Many a hell-fire-and-damnation revivalist could benefit from a heart that cries because it has been pushed to the limits where mercy will do more harm than good. There is no joy in judgment; only grim necessity.

But here is my main point. Designating Jeremiah as the weeping prophet obscures his authority and iron-clad strength of will and determination to perform God’s hard and difficult calling. Jeremiah’s ministry covered a period of over 40 years. Nobody liked his message. He met daily opposition to a message of coming destruction, opposition to his message in the days destruction was at hand, and opposition to his message after the destruction was complete. He faithfully stayed on task and message. His designation as the weeping prophet completely fails to communicate this most important side of the man.

It is better to see Jeremiah as the prophet of authority, because that is what the Lord gave him:

Then the Lord stretched out His hand and touched my mouth, and the Lord said to me, "Behold, I have put My words in your mouth. See, I have appointed you this day over the nations and over the kingdoms, to pluck up and to break down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant." (Jeremiah 1:9-10)

And it is certainly proper to think of Jeremiah as the prophet of iron and bronze, because that was how God equipped him:

"Now, gird up your loins and arise, and speak to them all which I command you. Do not be dismayed before them, or I will dismay you before them. Now behold, I have made you today as a fortified city and as a pillar of iron and as walls of bronze against the whole land, to the kings of Judah, to its princes, to its priests and to the people of the land. They will fight against you, but they will not overcome you, for I am with you to deliver you," declares the Lord. (Jeremiah 1:17-19)

So as I develop these essays, you will see the tears. But you will also see the authority and the fortitude of Jeremiah. He is the prophet to whom I would bestow the most honors. He had the most difficult message and he delivered it day in and day out for over 40 years. Come along with me and get to know the man and his message better.

<>< Test everything. Cling to what is good. ><>

Monday, November 21, 2005

Was Jesus a Good Teacher

It is a common dodge. When presented with the gospel and the claims of Jesus the Messiah, many will say, “I believe that Jesus was a good teacher.” Their assumption is that this is enough to fend off the greater claims. They are, of course, thinking of things like the Lord’s Prayer, the Beatitudes, and most especially the Golden Rule.

But if Jesus were just a man, we could not actually say that he was a good teacher. To be sure, the Lord’s Prayer, Beatitudes, and Golden Rule are strokes of genius, but he said and taught many other things. Many of them would cause great concern if spoken by a pastor or Bible teacher.

A good Bible teacher will direct his hearers to God. Jesus directed attention to himself. Let’s take the Beatitudes as an example:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
“Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
“Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
(Matthew 5:3-10, NASB 95)

So far so good—Here is teaching that anyone would strive for. But note where Jesus goes next:

“Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. “
(Matthew 5:11-12)

What do we make of this phrase “because of me?” By what authority does Jesus say that being persecuted because of him makes our reward in heaven great? What does it mean that being persecuted because of him is identical to the persecution suffered by the prophets of old? We get so caught up in the flow of the “normal” teaching, that we fail to take note of the diversion. I now make a habit of putting Jesus’ words in my mouth—to see if I could possibly get away with saying them. It is surprising how often I would not.

Let’s take two more quotes. The first is one that I could say as a teacher:

For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished.
(Matthew 5:18)

The second is one I could not.

“Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away. (Matthew 24:35)

Jesus did not teach that He was God who had taken on humanity. He did something more subtle. He lived the reality. It permeated everything that He did and said. Consequently, it is all the harder to divide the scriptures into the great teacher sections and those words that point to something grander.

<>< Test everything. Cling to what is good. ><>

Monday, October 24, 2005

Time Knots and the Eternity Dimension

Consider these verses:

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. (John 3:16-17, NASB 95)

First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1 Timothy 2:1-4)

And these:

What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there? May it never be! For He says to Moses, "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion." So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, "For this very purpose I raised you up, to demonstrate My power in you, and that My name might be proclaimed throughout the whole earth." So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires.

You will say to me then, "Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?" On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, "Why did you make me like this," will it? Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use? What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? And He did so to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory, even us, whom He also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles. (Romans 9:14-24)

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. (Ephesians 1:3-6)

Or these:

Then the word of the Lord came to me saying, "Can I not, O house of Israel, deal with you as this potter does?" declares the Lord. "Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in My hand, O house of Israel. At one moment I might speak concerning a nation or concerning a kingdom to uproot, to pull down, or to destroy it; if that nation against which I have spoken turns from its evil, I will relent concerning the calamity I planned to bring on it. Or at another moment I might speak concerning a nation or concerning a kingdom to build up or to plant it; if it does evil in My sight by not obeying My voice, then I will think better of the good with which I had promised to bless it." (Jeremiah 18:5-10)

Someone will read John 3:16 and say, "This is the core of who God is and by this understanding I say that God offers His salvation to all men and men must choose to accept or reject." Such persons might refer to themselves as Armenians.

Another will read Romans 9:14-24 and say, "This is the core of who God is and by this understanding I say that God chooses who will be saved.". Such persons might refer to themselves as Calvinists.

And another will read Jeremiah 18:5-10 and say, "This is the core of who God is and by this understanding I say that God limits Himself such that He really does not know the future and will respond to events as they unfold." Such persons will say that they have an "Open Theology."

There have been botany jokes around these notions. Calvinists have their T.U.L.I.P. by which they remember their five essential doctrines. They would look at the Armenians and say that their flower is the daisy whose petals may be picked to the tune, "He loves me. He loves me not." By extension, I guess one could say that the flower of the Open Theologians is the Forget-Me-Not.

Now people think of me as a scholar--and that is true in-so-far as scholarship is a means by which I seek truth with integrity. But I am also a simple man. I know when I have met my match and when to give up. The simple truth is that all the above verses contain incontrovertible truth! Each one has application as we live our lives and make our choices and pray to God.

  • As a Christian and part of the body of Christ, I need to learn to love all men and women. And without a doubt all theologies would give lip service to this--and many of all stripes will live it. But if "election" is foremost in your mind and you are preaching the gospel out of obedience, how can the proclamation not lack compassion and warmth? I must rather preach and live with the knowledge that God really does want everyone in the audience to respond, even though all will not. To put this more broadly, every day that I live, I have real choices to make--and preparation of character by which future choices are correct. Except for passages like Romans 9 and others, the Bible reads as if choice and responsibility are real and part of live. It must be so. So I accept and believe that God loves all men and women and that my choices and their choices are real.
  • It would seem from the New Testament that most Jews in the days of Messiah and following rejected Him. We find in our own days that most of the World does the same. As we live our lives we have days that go on swimmingly, and then comes the day of unexpected tragedy. These are the times when we have comfort from the sovereign God who controls all things. This is the God who raised up Bill Clinton and George Bush--and Washington, Lincoln, Hitler, and Stalin (cf. Romans 13:1-7). This is the God who brought catastrophe on Job for the sake of a better relationship. When trouble comes, our God is in control and "causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. (Romans 8:28)" So I accept and believe that God is in control and is able to raise up His chosen leaders in a democratic society. I accept and believe that the salvation of my family and friends is in His hands and is by His choice. I accept and believe that the troubles that I face today and tomorrow are from His hand working His purposes for my good and others.
  • Prayer is boring, if you are face to face with someone who "knows it all" in the most literal sense. Why bother in light of this: "Even before there is a word on my tongue, Behold, O Lord, You know it all. (Psalm 139:4)" And yet, there are Scriptures that reveal that God wants to here and respond to our prayers--that our prayers and reasoning expressed to God make a difference. Consider Moses who "convinced" God not to wipe out the children of Israel, because it would hurt God's reputation among the nations. I accept and believe that my prayer makes a difference in the unfolding of history.

I also accept and believe that there is no reconciling these truths. In prayer, I am arguing earnestly with one who knows each word before it is formed--but my prayer makes a difference. Today God's love for all men will lead some to repentance and they will move into the category of having been chosen from before the foundation of the world. Others will die without faith and they will move into the category of being fashioned beforehand as an object of wrath. God will relate to me as if He does not know the future--even though He has named every star in every galaxy. He might relent concerning catastrophe or not--although the future course of His plan of salvation and history rely on His acting according to His predetermined plan, which happens to require that He relent at this juncture.

These are the areas where the domain of time "interfaces" with the domain of eternity. It is worth noting that Jesus said, "Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am." (John 8:58) He is present in the past--and by extension He is present in the future. God "is" at all points of time. For us time flows, for Him time is a tapestry. For Him the history of the universe is like a book that He is writing--and He can work on any part at any time. He is the creator and we are the creation. Each of the verses above reflect a different light of the eternal God working from eternity relating to creatures bound by time.

If I tie a knot in a rope and firmly attach the ends of the rope to two poles, no one in three dimensional space will be able to untie the knot without undoing one of the ends. A being who lived and moved in a four dimensional realm could easily untie this knot by moving parts of it outside the 3-D landscape. So it is with these irreconcilable and incontrovertible truths. Taken into eternity, they can be unraveled. However, just as I cannot imagine how the knot is untied in that dimension to which I have no access, so I cannot imagine how to reconcile these truths.

But I can accept them, and believe them, and live in the light of their complete truth and reality.

Test everything. Cling to what is good.