5 things I have learnt from the books of 1 & 2 Samuel

As a part of my Bible reading throughout 2020, I am highlighting 5 things from the books of the Bible that have stood out to me and taught me.

Here are 5 things I have learnt from the books of 1 & 2 Samuel.

God is Jealous for His Glory

The God of the Bible is a jealous God. He says so Himself in a number of places in the Old Testament (e.g. Exodus 34:14). It may seem strange to talk about God in this way. Often, to accuse someone of being jealous is to point out a flaw in their personality. We wouldn’t encourage jealously in our children, and we find jealous adults to be contemptible. Why would we say God, who we confess to be perfect and holy, is jealous?

In normal conversation, we use the term ‘jealousy’ as a synonym to the term ‘envy’ and so to call God jealous seems to imply that He would be desiring something for Himself that is not, by rights, His own. But what could an almighty and all – powerful God desire after that He does not have? We need to instead think of God’s jealousy in a different sense. He is not coveting something that does not belong to Him, but rather He is zealously defending that which is already His by right.

Perhaps a human example is useful. Imagine a husband who walks in on his wife having an affair with another man. Suppose this husband is a good husband, who loves his wife and has kept himself pure for her alone. We would not expect such a husband to be indifferent to the actions of his wife. In fact, we would not think he was a particularly good or loving husband if he were to be indifferent towards the affair! Instead, we expect him to be jealously angry. His wife had made a covenant with him in their marriage vows to be with him alone and she had broken that. Rightly, he considers her love specially to be his by right of the vows they made. His jealously is for that which his wife is to give to him, and him alone. In a similar way, God is jealous for His glory that is owed to Him by right, and it is not to be shared with another.

However, that’s exactly what happens in the 1 Samuel 5. The Philistines capture the ark of God’s covenant and put this holy object in the temple of their god, Dagon. They place the ark next to the idol they had made of Dagon, setting the glory of God next to the supposed glory of Dagon. After just one night, the statue of Dagon had fallen down in front of the ark, its head and hands having been broken off the idol. Moreover, the city of Ashdod where the ark was being kept suddenly broke out in disease. Quickly, the Philistines realise that this was a judgement from God, and they return the ark to Israel. God would not be mocked and placed next to a handcrafted false idol. He was jealous for His glory in a way that made the Philistines tremble.

God’s Purposes are not Based on Human Wisdom

The book of 1 Samuel is the story of two kings – David and Saul. Saul is anointed as the first king of Israel, but he turns his back on following God is rejected by Him. God them sends His prophet Samuel to anoint the future king, a young shepherd boy, David. It is clear that God’s favour is on David and is not on Saul. In turn, Saul becomes envious of David and tries to kill him a number of times.

It may be difficult to have understood these events as an average Israelite living through this time. Saul is described as being handsome and taller than any other man. He was a fearsome warrior who had qualities that seemed to make him perfect for the choice of king. He looked the part and, in his early military victories (1 Samuel 11, 13) seemed to indicate he was of kingly material.

However, ultimately, it was the small, young shepherd boy, David, that would rise to become the greatest king of Israel. To human eyes and reason, it was difficult to believe. In fact, when Samuel went to anoint God’s chosen king after school, he ends up as the house of Jesse and Jesse calls his seven eldest sons to present themselves before Samuel. Yet, though his older sons were tall and strong, God says to Samuel:

“Do not look on [one of David’s elder brother’s] appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7)

God’s purpose in choosing David was not found in the wisdom of man, which would have preferred Saul, or one of David’s seven elder brothers. However, it was David’s heart that the Lord was after and what enabled David to become the greatest king of Israel.

Vengeance Belongs to the Lord

Although David had been anointed king by Samuel as a young boy, Saul was still on the throne. David actually becomes an armour – bearer to the king (his employ at the time when he fought the giant Goliath) and Saul is said to have “loved him greatly” (1 Samuel 16:21).

However, relations between the king and his appointed successor did not remain so genial. He initially becomes envious of David after a song in honour of success on the battlefield was sung by women in Israel said that Saul slew thousands, but David slew ten thousands. Saul tries to get revenge on David by getting him killed by the Philistines (1 Samuel 18:20 – 30). Yet David survives, and Saul became afraid of David, and became his enemy.

Many times after that, Saul tries to kill David, but every time David manages to escape and evade him. Despite Saul’s repeated attempts on his life, David does not seek revenge on Saul. In fact, the Lord gives Saul into David’s hand more than once, and David has an opportunity to exact vengeance on Saul and kill him. Yet, David never takes the opportunity (e.g. 1 Samuel 24). He respects the authority that God has placed in his life and recognised that vengeance would indeed be meted to Saul, but that it would come by God’s own hand and in God’s own time. David had the choice to be a vigilante killer, but instead respected and gave glory to God in trusting God’s plan for justice over his own.

The Davidic Covenant

One of the lasting comments that has shaped how I read the Bible (specifically the Old Testament) was made by the late R. C. Sproul. He talked about revelation of God in the Old Testament being like a picturesque landscape. All of it is beautiful, but sometimes there are great moutain peaks that stand high above the ground. There are some chapters in the Bible that are God’s great mountain peaks of His revelation to us. In the 2 Samuel 7 we get one such mountain peak, allowing us to see further into God’s plan of redemption than ever before.

In an incredible covenant to David, God blesses David’s family line with perpetual royalty.

“The Lord declares to you that the Lord himself will establish a house for you: when your days are over and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, your own flesh and blood, and I will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be his father, and he will be my son. When he does wrong, I will punish him with a rod wielded by men, with floggings inflicted by human hands. But my love will never be taken away from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you. Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.” (2 Samuel 7:11 – 16)

This meant that God was blessing David with his descendents being the kings of the land. As we find out later in the books of 1 & 2 Kings, the kings were rarely God – fearing men, and often fostered immorality and idolatry in their lands. However, God never revokes His promise to David. Often, He did use ‘human hands’ to bring judgement on the unworthy kings.

More important than the fate of the subsequent kings of Israel, this covenant to David finds a greater fulfilment in the person of Jesus. Much is made in the New Testament about Jesus being in the line of David. This is precisely because the covenant in 2 Samuel 7 finds ultimate fulfilment in Jesus as David’s true heir. Through Jesus is David’s kingdom to endure forever.

The angel Gabriel tells Mary that the child she was carrying would inherit the throne of His father, David, and will reign there forever (Luke 1:32 – 33). For this reason, Paul calls Jesus the seed of David (Acts 13:22 – 23). The great office of Christ’s redemptive work as our king is established and foretold here. No wonder David’s immediate response is a prayer of thanksgiving and praise (2 Samuel 7:18 – 29).

The Necessity of Repentance

Whilst David is described as a great leader, a great warrior, a man of humility, and particularly as “a man after [God’s] own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14), this is not to say that David is perfect. In fact, the Bible portrays him as anything but perfect. Like is the fate of many prominent men in the Old Testament, David falls into sexual sin.

As an aside, this fact alone should teach Christian men, in particular, to be weary of this most successful and cunning of Satan’s lures. The more visibly prominent a member of God’s community, the more Satan seems to pile on the temptation to sexual sin. The strongest man (Samson), the wisest man (Solomon), and the most godly man (David) in the Old Testament all fall into sexual sin – and that is by no means a complete list! This is not to say that women are immune for this tactic of the Devil (certainly Gomer’s exploits cause immense pain in her sexual infidelity in the book of Hosea), but Biblical evidence points to the fact than men succumb to this temptation with great regularity.

As mentioned above, David is one such man. In one the Bible’s most infamous tales, sleeps with Bathsheba whom he sees on a nearby rooftop. After she conceives a child, David attempts to get her husband, Uriah the Hittite (a member of David’s army) to sleep with his wife and pass the child of as legitimate. However, this does not work, so David decides to have Uriah indirectly murder by sending him to an almost certain death on the battlefield. Ominously, the end of the chapter records that “the thing that David had done displeased the Lord.” (2 Samuel 11:27).

Then God sends a prophet, Nathan, to show by way of a parable how displeasing David’s actions were. David realises his sin. 2 Samuel 12:13 records David saying to Nathan simply “I have sinned against the Lord.” and Nathan shows that David’s repentance was genuine as he replies saying  “The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die.”

David’s forgiveness in God’s sight shows his true sorrow and repentance of his sin. We know more of David’s repentance through Psalm 51 which is wrote after being confronted by Nathan. Here we get David’s heart revealed as he recognises his sinfulness before God, offering a “broken and contrite spirit” (Psalm 51:17), and asks for a clean heart in order to praise God and teach others of God’s ways.

Of course, there is much more to the books of 1 & 2 Samuel than just these 5 points, but they are the ones that stood out to me as I read through 1 & 2 Samuel in 2020. Enjoy reading them for yourself!

5 things I have learnt from the book of Ruth

As a part of my Bible reading throughout 2020, I am highlighting 5 things from the books of the Bible that have stood out to me and taught me.

Here are 5 things I have learnt from the book of Ruth.

The Importance of Loyalty and Friendship

Friendship is not a box office topic. Often, it must give way to romance and action and mystery. The book of Ruth is the book of the Bible that gives a central role to friendship in its narrative, yet even here it is overlooked for the romance involved. I would argue that the book is much more focussed around the friendship of the Moabite Ruth and her Jewish mother – in – law, Naomi, than it is about Ruth’s relationship with Boaz.

In chatper 1, we see that Naomi must have been kind and gracious to Ruth and treated her well. Why else would Ruth show such loyalty in leaving her own land to go with Naomi to Judah? Indeed, Naomi must have used her relationship with Ruth to tell her about the God of her home, too. Ruth, when emphasising to Naomi that she would be remaining with her, says to her mother – in – law:

“For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I wil lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God.” (Ruth 1:16)

Naomi gives Ruth advice, knowing the laws of land about gleaning crops from fields and how she may get her relative, Boaz, to take notice of her. Ruth and Naomi work together and God gives them a great blessing in Boaz, and ultimately in Ruth’s son, Obed. Ruth is described as “worth more to [Naomi] than seven sons” (Ruth 4:15). Without Ruth, Naomi would have become a bitter old woman (see Ruth 1:20) and without Naomi, Ruth would be a poor widow scratching out a living. But God blesses their friendship and loyalty in a glorious way.

The Reward of Kindness

When Ruth goes to glean the crops out of Boaz’s fields, Boaz approaches her and mentions that what Ruth has done for her mother – in – law in leaving Moab to return to Judah with her had been told to him. Boaz seems touched by this and gives her food and wine from his own table (Ruth 2:14) and says to Ruth that she may glean not only the discarded grain, but also among the sheaves that was usually not to be touched by the poor. Boaz instructs his workers not to reproach Ruth for doing so. He even instructs them to pull out extra sheaves and leave them to Ruth to glean (Ruth 2:16).

This is incredible kindness shown by Boaz and is blessed by God. He goes above and beyond what the law strictly required of him. As the beginning of the book of Ruth says, it was “the days when the Judges ruled” (Ruth 1:1). As we have already seen in the book of Judges, this period in the history of Israel was not one marked by moral virtue and a keeping of the law. In general, everyone seemed to do what they thought was right, rather than following the law that God had given them. How rare and wonderful this act of kindness from Boaz would have seemed in this age of wickedness!

Ruth repays kindness with kindness in her offer of marriage to Boaz, and inviting him to be the redeemer of her and Naomi. Boaz replied:

“May you be blessed by the Lord, my daughter. You have made this last kindness greater than the first in that you have not gone after young men, whether poor or rich.” (Ruth 3:10)

Ruth was struck by Boaz’s kindness to her and he ends up fulfilling his obligation as a redeemer of the family. In these acts of kindness, both Ruth and Boaz are rewarded by God, not least in their marriage to each other and the birth of their son.

God’s People Are More Than Just Israel

A distinctive theme of the Old Testament is that Israel are God’s people. This truth is established many times, not least in the book of Genesis, where God actually calls Abraham out of the pagan lands and promises him a nation that ultimately will become God’s people, Israel.

This is contrasted with the New Testament proclamation of Jesus to go into all the world, preaching and baptising in the name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In Acts 2, the Holy Spirit is given to the Church at Pentecost, enabling them to spread the word around the world. The Church of the New Testament, as Paul has to frequently remind certain Christians, is a multi – national Church, consisting of different people groups all over the known world.

It is perhaps tempting, therefore, to imagine that somehow God has changed in His approach to salvation between Old and New Testaments. In the Old Testament, the people of God were Israel. In the New Testament, the people of God are from many nations. However, this is not entirely the case. In the Old Testament, as we have an example in the person of Ruth, not all of God’s people were to be found in Israel. (It’s also worth noting that the reverse is true – not all of Israel were truly God’s people, either. Jesus talks about this in John 8:31 – 47, and Paul in Romans 9:6 – 8). She, a Moabite by birth, became one of God’s people. Not merely physically, but spiritually, too. She became a worshipper of the true and living God. In doing so, she serves as an example that God’s plan for salvation has always, and not just in the New Testament, been about saving more than just the family of Abraham.

The Meaning of Redemption

There is an obsure part of Israelite law tucked away in Leviticus 25:47 – 55 that talks about those who are poor being redeemed (or bought out of debt) by their relatives who had an obligation, if they were able, to make this redemption. It’s an easy law for our eyes to glaze over when we read a book like Leviticus, but it is actually extremely important, especially in the book of Ruth.

Naomi informs Ruth in chapter 2 that Boaz is a kinsman redeemer of the family, meaning that he is a close relative to Naomi with an obligation to redeem a member of the family. Naomi and Ruth, as widows, would certainly not be in a position to sustain themselves, and looked to sell land previously owned by Naomi’s late husband. It would be the duty of the kinsman redeemer, therefore, to buy out the land in the name of the family, allowing Naomi and Ruth to live in the family instead of selling themselves into slavery. Boaz ends up taking on his responsibility as kinsman redeemer after an even closer relative claims that he cannot redeem it himself (Ruth 4:6).

This is a great illustration of the act of redemption, played out for us in the lives of Naomi, Ruth, and Boaz. In fact, Boaz actually takes on a role just as God did for Israel in His actions towards them, redeeming them out of Egypt. David sings of God in this way in Psalm 19. Not only this, but this Old Testament narrative of redemption is a shadow of an even greater redemption. The book of Hebrews talks about Christ in this way:

“Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same [our Kinsman], that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery [our Redeemer] all their lives.” (Hebrews 2:14 – 15)

Boaz’s redemption of Ruth foreshadows the greater redemption in Christ as He redeems His people from their sins.

God’s Faithfulness to His Promise

At the very end of the book, the author decides to attach a genealogy. Perhaps this is an unorthodox method of ending a book, but the reason soon becomes clear in the next two books of the Bible – 1 & 2 Samuel. It says that Ruth gave birth to Obed, who it turns out is the grandfather of a man called David. In isolation, this seems insignificant. Yet, we know from later on in the Bible, that David is the future great king of Israel. Not only that, but David’s line is given a special status as the royal line of Israel. In fact, in 2 Samuel 7, God institutes the ‘Davidic Covenant’ with David, saying that forever there will be a member of David’s line on the throne.

This is the ‘promised seed’ that is mentioned all the way back in Genesis 3. The Divine author of Scripture is revealing God’s work through human reproduction to carry His chosen line all way through to Jesus. The book of Matthew, which opens with a genealogy of this very family (and Ruth and Boaz are both mentioned in Matthew 1:5), connects this family line to Jesus.

The closing verses of Ruth show us that God’s faithfulness is not always apparent to us at the time. Boaz and Ruth, I doubt, had any idea that God had chosen to include them in this special family, and yet He was carrying out His foreordained plan that culminated in giving us His Son, the great kinsman – redeemer!

Of course, there is much more to the book of Ruth than just these 5 points, but they are the ones that stood out to me as I read through Ruth in 2020. Enjoy reading it for yourself!

5 things I have learnt from the book of Judges

As a part of my Bible reading throughout 2020, I am highlighting 5 things from the books of the Bible that have stood out to me and taught me.

Here are 5 things I have learnt from the book of Judges.

Forgetting the Lord Leads to Sin

After finishing the book of Joshua, you can’t help but be optimistic. God has provided Israel with the laws and they ways they ought to live in order to prosper in the long sought – after Promised Land. However, quickly, realisation dawns that life in the Promised Land will not be quite so simple. In fact, it’s extremely convoluted and chaotic, not to mention somewhat sickening and gory.

Despite first appearances, there is a clear literary structure to the book of Judges. It goes something along the lines of the following:

  • Israel ‘does evil’ in God’s sight. This is usually prefaced with phrases like ‘And Israel forgot the Lord their God’, which is the author’s perpetual reminder about the true cause of Israel’s sin, regardless of the other circumstances.
  • God hands Israel over to be conquered and oppressed by other nations as a judgement for their sin.
  • The Israelites finally decide to remember God and cry out for help.
  • God raises up a member of the nation of Israel as a Judge to deliver them from their oppression.
  • There is peace for a time under the Judge.
  • Israel then ‘do evil’ in the sight of the Lord as they ‘forget the Lord their God’ once more, and the cycle begins again.

The root problem with the horrific scenes in the book of Judges is found here. They forget the Lord their God. They chase after idols – not just the physical carvings and statues they worship, but the idols self – gratification, greed, and power. This pattern is excatly replicated in our own lives – we enter into sin because we forget, either deliberately or through neglect, the Lord our God.

“Everyone did what was right in their eyes”

After reading through the law of God in the first five books of the Old Testament, these words evoked a sense of foreboding. In fact, when we consider they way the Bible portrays the moral judgement of mankind, these words are nothing but chilling. Yet, the quote that ‘everyone did what was right in their own eyes’ is a common refrain of the book of Judges. Invariably, the author of the book uses it as an epitaph in the decline of the moral state of Israel as they slide into evermore egregious acts of violence.

Specifically, we see:

  • The story of Ehud (Judges 3:15 – 30) who fashions for himself a dagger to assassinate Eglon, king of Moab on the pretence of giving him a message from God.
  • The story of Jael (Judges 4:17 – 22) who harbours Sisera, commander of the Canaanite army, in her tent. She gives him a bottle of milk for his thirst before driving a tent peg through his skull.
  • The story of Gideon (Judges 6 – 9) who, initially a coward, overcomes his fear by faith in the Lord. However, he then leads Israel into idolatry by his own arrogance and then starts an inter – tribal civil war.
  • The story of Jephthah (Judges 10 – 12, see below), who ends up sacrificing his daughter in order to earn favour from God.
  • The story of Samson (Judges 13 – 16), who slaughtered Philistines for fun, and slept with a prostitute, Delilah, before going back on his promise to God and revealing to her the source of his supernatural strength. After being delivered to the Philistines, and having his eyes gouged out in captivity in the Philistine temple, he single – handedly demolished the temple, killing everyone in the temple, including himself.

However, this particular phrase should not be confined to the nation of Israel in the time of the book of Judges. If one could write an appendix of this current age of subjectivism and postmodernity, it could so easily be ‘everyone did what was right in their eyes.’ Those in the secular world would consider this a successful moral guide for society, but the book of Judges teaches us that it leads to some horrific scenes, justified by a twisted understanding of morality. If the book of Judges teaches us anything, it is what happens when a society allows its memebers act according to what is right in their own eyes.

The Judges Point to Christ, the Judge

It would be an understatement to say that the judges of Israel in the book of Judges were flawed people. They acted corruptly, selfishly, and sometimes violently. It was clear that they knew precious little about fulfilling their God – givened role and how to serve Him. They provided some deliverance from Israel’s oppression, but the nation quickly lapsed back into idolatry. God uses them to save His people temporarily, but not permenantly.

With all these flaws and shortcomings of the judges, it might be difficult to see where they fit in the Bible’s overall narrative. However, one thing that jumps to mind is that Christ is frequently alluded to as the Judge of humanity in the New Testament (c.f. John 5:22; Acts 10:42; 2 Timothy 4:1, etc.) The judges of Old Testament Israel were but a pale shadow of the true Judge of Israel, Jesus Christ. He, like the aforementioned judges, will deliver His people from oppression. However, He, unlike the others, will judge with righteousness, justice, and mercy, rather than sinful corruption.

Christ is the greater Samson. Instead of opening his arms to demolish a temple to kill his enemies, He opened His arms on the cross, to save His enemies.

Christ is the greater Gideon. Gideon won a great battle against Israel’s armies without an army, yet Christ won a greater battle against the enemy of His bride, Satan, without a sword (Judges 7:16 – 23). He is the true Bread that will strike down His enemies (Judges 7:9 – 15).

It is Christ to whom all the judges are point. They were the imperfect judges who oversaw partial deliverance for God’s people, but on the last day, the perfect Judge will shepherd in an eternal deliverance for His Church.

The Heart is a Factory of Idols

The book of Judges shows, as much as anything else, how easy it is to fall into idolatry. It is the systemic problem; a root problem from which many other issues blossom.

Yet it is not as if their own propensity to idolatry was not pointed out to them repeatedly by God. They were instructed to drive out all the people from the lands, lest they be enraptured by the idolatrous gods of the native peoples. However, we know this does not happen (Judges 1:27 – 2:3) and God makes it clear that the Israelites’ disobedience has led them into idolatry. The reason that God knew that the idols of the Canaanite gods would ensnare Israel is because humanity’s sinful nature is always lusting after idols; new and old. It is in our fallen nature to honour ‘the creation rather then the Creator’ (Romans 1:25) and to be trapped by idols in our hearts.

It’s not as if our hearts are any different! In fact, the parallel statement in the New Testament is found in Romans 12:2:

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

In other words, instead of driving an idolatrous people from the land, drive out the idolatrous influences of your mind. This is a spiritual conquest of Canaan, with the battleground swapped for the spiritual influences of heart and mind for the land of Palestine.

Why Not To Make Foolish Vows

I am sure that everyone has made promises and oaths that were unwise. Promises we never expect to keep, or even promises we know we can never keep. Indeed, God had instructed Israel as to how sacred vows are (Deuteronomy 23:21 – 23) and explicitly mentions that vows are not to be broken (Numbers 30:2). Of course, this reflects God’s character completely: His word is completely sure; He is unendingly and perfectly faithful and so His law to His people reflects that. God’s high view of keeping vows corresponds to His own guarantee of His faithfulness.

With that in mind, it would have been innate in the Israelite psyche that oaths and vows were simply not to be made lightly, for if they were made, then their word would bind them. Thus, when we read Judges 11:29 – 31, it leaves a chilly sense of foreboding:

“Then the Spirit of the Lord was upon Jephthah, and he passed through Gilead and Manasseh and passed on to Mizpah of Gilead, and from Mizpah of Gilead he passed on to the Ammonites. And Jephthah made a vow to the Lord and said, ‘If you will give the Ammonites into my hand, then whatever comes out from the doors of my house to meet me when I return in peace from the Ammonites shall be the Lord’s, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering.'”

Jephthah made this vow living, as he did, in house where animals would often wander through the house and its courtyard. In fact, animals would often occupy the ground floor, and the family would live on the first floor. Expecting, no doubt, that an animal would be first to leave his house on his return, Jephthah made this most tragic of vows. The hauting question, of course, would be: what if it is not an animal? Verse 34 provides the answer:

“Then Jephthah came to his home at Mizpah. And behold, his daughter came out to meet him with tambourines and with dances. She was his only child; besides her he had neither son nor daughter.” (Judges 11:34)

Horrorstruck, Jephthah tears his robes in sign of grief (Judges 11:35) but says that he must carry out his vow. This shows incredible selfishness on the part of Jephthah. He knows that God requires vows to be kept, but Jephthah must also have known that human sacrifice was also viewed as a most repugnant sin (Deuteronomy 18:10 – 12). Therefore, he chooses to try and save himself, claiming he is doing God’s will by keeping his oath at the expense of his daughter’s life, rather than repenting before God and acknowledging that his hasty vow has led him to something immoral.

Jephthah did not understand God’s nature. He did not see God as a God who fogives the penitent but only as a slave master whose law must be followed. He separated God’s law from God’s character (the very essence of legalism) and in doing so he, and his poor daughter, paid a terrible price.

We learn from Jephthah, then, to humble ourselves rather than blunder on in our folly; throwing ourselves on the mercy of God the Father, who does not, ultimately, take pleasure in burnt offerings (epsecially human ones), but rather a broken and contrite heart (Psalm 51:16 – 17).

Of course, there is much more to the book of Judges than just these 5 points, but they are the ones that stood out to me as I read through Judges in 2020. Enjoy reading it for yourself!

5 things I have learnt from the book of Joshua

As a part of my Bible reading throughout 2020, I am highlighting 5 things from the books of the Bible that have stood out to me and taught me.

Here are 5 things I have learnt from the book of Joshua.

God is With Us

As Israel prepare to cross the Jordan river out and into the land of Canaan, the promised land, God gives them this amazing promise:

“Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go. This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”  (Joshua 1:7 – 9)

Entering into a new and unknown land, embarking on the daunting journey of building an entire nation, you would not blame the Israelites for being overwhelmed as they entered the promsied land.

Yet, God encourages them in their new venture. He reaffirms the promises that He made to them in the book of Deuteronomy, in that they will be successful and will prosper in keeping God’s law. However, He then goes even further and promises His eternal covenant faithfulness to Israel by being with them wherever they went. Centred on the tabernacle and, later, the temple, the presence of God among His people became the central tenet of God’s people.

What a great act of condescention, for God to dwell with sinful humnanity! Yet, this is only a shadow of the great condescention of Christ, who came to Earth as ‘Immanuel’; God with us.

The Futility of Thinking You Know Better Than God

This is a fault to which we are all subject, in one way or another, whether we are conscious of it or not. We like to think that we know better than God. This is particularly true of situations where we cannot see why God would instruct us to do something (or refrain from doing something) for reasons we can’t yet see.

Such is the case with Joshua in the land of Canaan. God excplicitly lays out to Joshua to drive the people in Canaan fully from the land (Numbers 33:50 – 56). However, Joshua does not obey, and instead he does not drive all the people out completely. Some remain, albeit having to do a form of forced labour as servants.

The real problem, was that the idols of the Canaanites remained within Israel, and ultimately lead Israel astray and bring them into the idolatry of their pagan ancestors. Fundamentally, Joshua thought he knew better than God and decided to keep some of the Canaanites as servants, but it leads to renewed idolatry in the land; exactly what obeying God’s instruction would have guarded against. With reflection and hindsight, Joshua could see how his belief that he knew better than God had such dire consequences.

God’s Faithfulness in the Face of the Impossible

When you read through Joshua 12, and you read all the kings defeated first by Moses, and then by Joshua, in the conquest of Canaan, you start to wonder how the (relatively small) nation of Israel managed to do what they did and fully enter into the promsied land.

Joshua, alone, fights and defeats 31 kings (Joshua 12:24) in the process of his campaign of conquest. Personally, if I were told before hand that I had to defeat 31 separate kings on the way to victory, I would not believer it to be possible. I would most certainly give it up as a lost cause.

In fact, to any human being and human strength alone, this is almost certainly a lost cause. The purpose of the Holy Spirit in the pages of Joshua making this point about the number of kings defeated is just so we’d see that these were victories of God, and not victories of man. No human army alone could accomplish what the Israelites achieved and so we are pointed to the faithfulness and power God in both upholding His promise and having the power to bring about the comprehensive victory!

The Worship of God Requires Carefulness

How could we describe the ways in which we are to worship God? With sincerity, perhaps? With passion? Devotion? Faith? Truth?

All these are of course good and right, but how often do we think that we must worship God with carefulness? Twice in the book of Joshua, we are told to be careful when we worship God.

“Only be very careful to observe the commandment and the law that Moses the servant of the Lord commanded you, to love the Lord your God, and to walk in all his ways and to keep his commandments and to cling to him and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul.” (Joshua 22:5)

“Be very careful, therefore, to love the Lord your God.” (Joshua 23:11)

God tells the people of Israel that they must be careful in loving God because if they are not, then they will be ensnared by the culture around them that will lead them astray.

To guard themselves, Joshua points the people to the commandments that God issued to them. To walk in light of the law that God has revealed is the only way for Israel to prosper as a nation, as God had warned them in the book of Deuteronomy.

In an age where novelty and invention in worship are commendable assets, Joshua paints a very different picture of what service and obedience to God looks like. If we are not careful, we may drift off into Paganism. We cannot think we can trust ourselves to invent ways by which to worship God, instead we must be careful to observe His commandments serve Him with our hearts.

The Deadly Influence of Pagan Culture

Directly related to the section above, not only does the book of Joshua instruct and teach us to be careful in our worship of God, but it also gives a glimpse into what falling into the clutches of a Pagan culture looks like for the worship of God’s people.

Cynically, we might say that this part of the book of Joshua does not really apply to us today since we don’t live in an age where people make Pagan sacrifices to carved idols. However, the influence of Pagan culture is often much more subtle than that. Immediately after warning Israel to be careful to love God, Joshua then says:

“Therefore, be very strong to keep and to do all that is written in the Book of the Law of Moses, turning aside from it neither to the right hand nor to the left, that you may not mix with these nations remaining among you or make mention of the names of their gods or swear by them or serve them or bow down to them, but you shall cling to the Lord your God just as you have done to this day…

For if you turn back and cling to the remnant of these nations remaining among you and make marriages with them, so that you associate with them and they with you, know for certain that the Lord your God will no longer drive out these nations before you, but they shall be a snare and a trap for you, a whip on your sides and thorns in your eyes, until you perish from off this good ground that the Lord your God has given you.” (Joshua 23: 6 -8, 12 – 13)

Whilst the trap for Israel may well have been bowing down to carved ‘gods’ in the form of animals or other creatures, the idols of the culture into which we are born can be as equally pervasive and dangers.

Whenever we impose the standards of our culture and society on the Church, we are falling into this very trap. When acceptance by those outside of the Church becomes important; when we allow the culture to criticise the law of God, then we have been infiltrated by the very same Pagan philosophy that so captivated the Israelites of Joshua’s time. What our culture holds dear and what the ancient Canaanite culture holds dear may not have a lot in common, but their lure away from God’s word is exactly the same.

Just as Israel ought to have taken every precaution to rid themselves of the corrupting influence of the Pagan Canaanite culture, so we should endeavour to do the same with ours.

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:2)

Of course, there is much more to the book of Joshua than just these 5 points, but they are the ones that stood out to me as I read through Joshua in 2020. Enjoy reading it for yourself!

5 things I have learnt from the book of Deuteronomy

As a part of my Bible reading throughout 2020, I am highlighting 5 things from the books of the Bible that have stood out to me and taught me.

Here are 5 things I have learnt from the book of Deuteronomy.

The Uses of the Law

The book of Dueteronomy is all about the law. ‘Deuteronomy’ is made up of a combination of two Greek word: ‘deuteros‘ which means ‘second’ or ‘the other’ and ‘nomos‘ meaning ‘law’. Thus, Deuteronomy is ‘the second law’ or ‘the other law’.

The book of Dueteronomy, then, revolves around God’s law. Historic Protestantism in general, and Reformed Theology in particular (c.f. WCF 19.6, for example), have traditionally recognised three primary uses of God’s law as revealed to His people. Each of these three uses are seen, at least in archetypal form, in the book of the Deuteronomy.

The first recognised use of the law is that of a mirror. Using the law as a mirror will reflect two things. First, the law shows us the perfect righteousness of God. In God’s law, His holiness is on display.

“And what great nation is there, that has statutes and rules so righteous as all this law that I set before you today?” (Deuteronomy 4:8)

“The Rock, his work is perfect
for all his ways are justice.
A God of faithfulness and without iniquity,
just and upright is he.” (Deuteronomy 32:4)

God law is shown to be free from sin and to uphold justice. His law is a complete reflection of His goodness, righteousness, and justice. To fully understand what God’s law says is right and wrong is to glimpse what God has deemed good according to His very nature.

Secondly, in contrast to God’s righteousness, the law reflects to us our own sinfulness and inadequacy under the law. Who can read the laws given in Deuteronomy 5 and honestly claim to have kept them all? Or, indeed, any of them? As Paul says, “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.” (Romans 3:20) In other words, without the law, we would not know what sin is. The law shows us a reflection of our transgressions before a holy God. To fully understand what God’s law says is right and wrong is also to have our own sin reflected back at us.

The law has a second function, in addition to being a mirror to reflect the righteousness of God and sinfulness of man. The law also serves a civic duty to restrain the evil in the hearts of mankind. In this, the law is a blessing of common grace. Althought the law cannot change hearts, it can at least restrict the behaviour of sinners, and even protect the righteous from the deeds of the evil. One use of the law was to keep an orderly society in Israel and a measure of safety granted to law – abiding citizens. The civil punishments for breaking the laws in Deuteronomy highlight this use of the law to deter otherwise malicious hearts.

Finally, the third function of the law is to instruct God’s people into the good works that please God. As Christians, we strive to keep the law (where it is applicable to us). We do this, not earn God’s pardon for past, or even future, mistakes but because we, out of a response of love and gratitude to God, wish to please Him. God’s law shows us how to do this because it has revealed what is right and pleasing to a holy God. Never more obvious is this than in the book of Deuteronomy. God makes the adherence to the law a source of blessing or favour from Him. Many times in the book of Detueronomy does God much blessing He will bestow upon Israel if they were only to keep His law. For example,

“You shall walk in all the way that the Lord your God has commanded you, that you may live, and that it may go well with you, and that you may live long in the land that you shall possess.” (Deuteronomy 5:33)

God tells Israel that keeping the law are good works that please Him with such promises. In this same vein, Jesus said “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (John 14:15). In this passage, Jesus was clearly speaking of the third use of the law. Similarly in Deuteronomy, Israel’s knowledge of good works before God stemmed directly out of their knowledge of God’s statutes and laws.

The Necessity of Passing on the Faith

Possibly the conerstone of the book of Deuteronomy (and perhaps of all Jewish life) is the Shema from Deuteronomy 6:4:

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.”

This is the great central monotheistic confession and affirmation of Israel. In a sense, the culture of Israel was built this confession and the commandment immediately after it You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” (Deuteronomy 6:5); the very words Jesus quotes as being ‘the greatest commandment’ (Mark 12:28) to the Sadducees. In a sense, it is simply a summary the first four commandments (the first table of the law) as given in Deuteronomy 5:6-15. Yet, the Shema was to have an imporant place in the life of Israel. In order to keep this most important commandment and confession at the centre of the life of Israel, God went on to say:

“And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” (Deuteronomy 6:6 – 9)

In other words, it belief in the one God of Israel and the worship of Him with all heart, soul, and might is to become the identity of the Israelites. It was to be the life – blood of the culture that they were to pass down to the next generation, bringing their children up in knowledge of this God. Reminders were to be put everywhere in the home of the God whom they were to worship with everything they had. It was even to make the very dwelling places in which they lived (c.f. Joshua 24:15).

As a consequence, in contrast to the secular message of today, the Israelites valued the instruction of their children in the way of the Lord to be of the highest importance. To bring your child up in they way they should go and to honour the Lord was a virtue, not a vice. It was essential education from the very earliest age.

Nothing was more important to them, nor should be more important to us, to bring our children up in the knowledge and right worship of the one true God.

God’s Blessings for Obedience

Over and over and over again in the book of Deuteronomy, God says to Israel to keep His commandments so that they will prosper in the promised land. For example, Deuteronomy 4:40:

“Therefore you shall keep his statutes and his commandments, which I command you today, that it may go well with you and with your children after you, and that you may prolong your days in the land that the Lord your God is giving you for all time.”

This same exhortation is given countless times in Deuteronomy. It serves us as a remind of the blessings we receive from God. Obviously, there is a historical and contextual difference between the time in which we are now living and the one in which the Israelites in Deuteronomy were living. We can’t simply apply God’s promise to them as a promise to us and say ‘If I obey God, therefore I will receive these physical blessings.’ as that promise has not been made to us.

However, there is a spiritual reality to this physical picture that God is giving. Whilst our obedience to His law is not a way to receive material blessing from God, we do know that He spiritually blesses us.

Firstly, it helps grow our sanctification as we are conformed by God the Holy Spirit into the image of our elder Brother, the Lord Jesus. Secondly, we are told that we will be rewarded in heaven according to our deeds under the law:

“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.” (2 Corinthians 5:10; c.f. Revelation 22:12)

Therefore, as Christians we long to keep God’s because a) it please Him and b) it is to our greatest spiritual benefit.

The Seriousness of False Prophecy

We currently live in a day that is full of people proclaiming to be prophets. They might not use that term to describe themselves, but often they will talk about receiving a ‘prophetic word’ from the Lord. Deuteronomy 18:15 – 22 has stood out to me in Deuteronomy because of these very people.

This passage foretells a prophet to come and will speak all that God commands of Him. This prophet is ultimately fulfilled in the person of Jesus, who is the greatest prophet and who only ever spoke that which God commanded.

The passage in Deuteronomy 18 then goes on to give a word of caution to Israel about those who raise themselves up as prophets of God. The warning is stark:

“But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name that I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die.” (Deuteronomy 18:20)

In other words, false prophecy carries a death sentence in the eyes of God. It is easy to see why. A false prophet puts himself in the place of God Himself; it is the height of blasphemy.

False prophets, who claim to have a word from God, are some of the most popular preachers and ministers alive today. Their words should be as authoritative as anything in the Bible (since it’s still God’s word) but ‘prophecies’ fall far short of the mark. In fact, some churches and celebrity evangelists will attempt to teach you how to receive ‘prophetic words’ from God (and sometimes shame those who don’t receive them!) but passages such Deuteronomy 18 ought to be a deterrent to such practices. We stand on sacred ground when we claim that we are receiving direct revelation from God and our words are therefore on the same authority as the book of Romans, John, or Isaiah. Are we sure we want to go there?

The Ultimate Curse

When reading through the book of Numbers, the motif of blessing was evident, including the archetypal ‘Aaronic’ blessing of Numbers 6:23 – 27:

“Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, Thus you shall bless the people of Israel: you shall say to them,

The Lord bless you and keep you;
the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.

‘So shall they put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them.'”

This is what is meanst to be blessed. However, in Deuteronomy 21:22 – 23, we find a disturbing couterpart to God’s blessing: His curse. A curse is the opposite of a blessing. The complete antithesis of the favour and good disposition of God. Perhaps the curse of God would read something like this:

‘The Lord curse you, and abandon you;
the Lord keep you in darkness and give you only judgment;
the Lord turn His back upon you, and remove His peace from you’

This is the complete opposite of a blessing. To have such a curse laid upon you would be chilling and would fill you with a sense of dread and forboding. Everyone who would witness such a curse would know that something awful has been committed, for someone to receive such a curse from God.

Deuteronomy 21 tells us that a curse was reserved for the one that hangs on a tree; the punishment for anyone who had committed a crime punishable by death. The body of the criminal was to be hanged on the tree to symbolise this condemning curse upon that person.

Incredibly, this was the fate to which Jesus subjected Himself on the cross. In the words of Paul:

“Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree'” (Galatians 3:13)

Paul is quoting here from Deuteronomy 21. Jesus, though perfect and without crime in Himself, takes the crime of His people upon Himself and suffers the curse of God on their behalf. He conveys His feeling of abandonment on the cross; darkness covered the Earth; the Lord had removed His face of pleasure and instead looked upon Jesus with wrath. He was under the curse of God.

In fact, for those who place their faith and trust in Jesus, the will never have to experience the curse of God!

Of course, there is much more to the book of Deuteronomy than just these 5 points, but they are the ones that stood out to me as I read through Deuteronomy in 2020. Enjoy reading it for yourself!

5 things I have learnt from the book of Numbers

As a part of my Bible reading throughout 2020, I am highlighting 5 things from the books of the Bible that have stood out to me and taught me.

Here are 5 things I have learnt from the book of Numbers.

The Power of God’s Blessing

It is often too easy when reading the books of the law, the Torah, to see God as harsh and strict. God spends a lot of time giving laws and detailing the consequences for the Israelites’ transgressions. We can be fooled into thinking that God is, by nature, restrictive and miserly.

Yet, this could not be further from the truth. Whilst God does give His law as a reflection of His character, it is not the only thing that He gives to the Israelite nation: He also takes time to bless them. It is not that God first blesses Israel in the book of Numbers, as He bestows a number of blessings on the fathers of Israel, but Numbers contains two important blessings.

The first is the Aaronic blessing, found in Numbers 6:24 – 26:

“The Lord bless you and keep you;
the Lord make his face to shine upon you
and be gracious to you;
The Lord lift up his countenance upon you and
give you his peace.”

This was God’s word of blessing on His people. His desire is to show Israel grace, support, peace, and the blessing of His very presence. It is a sign of God’s favour and of His loving and kind disposition towards His people. This blessing, of course, was offered by God to Israel in the full knowledge of Israel’s hearts towards Him. No – one reading the Old Testament can ever suppose Israel as being worthy of such a blessing, yet it is God’s earnest command for Aaron and his sons to bless Israel in this way.

In fact, wherever we are called ‘blessed’ in the Bible (e.g. “blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked” – Psalm 1:1), this passage helps explain what the ‘blessing’ means. It is the archetypal blessing. The blessing of God is His face, turned to shine upon us and keep us in His grace and peace.

The second is Balaam’s blessing. In the famous story of Balaam and his donkey in Numbers 22 – 24, Israel are passing through the lands of Moab. The king of Moab at the time, Balak, summons Balaam and instructs him to curse the Israelites as they pass through the land of Moab (Numbers 22:17). Yet, under God’s direction, when Balaam tries to curse the Israelites, he ends up blessing them three times.

Whilst Balaam is blessing Israel in the triumph of the Israelite nation, he makes it clear that those against God’s people cannot undo the blessing that has been placed upon them. For example, in his first blessing, Balaam says “how can I curse whom God has not cursed?” (Numbers 23:8), in his second blessing “He has bless, and I cannot revoke it” (Numbers 23:20) and, in his third blessing “blessed are those who bless you and cursed are those who curse you.“ (Numbers 24:9). God’s blessing is final and absolute. If God has blesses, who can curse? God’s blessings are His alone to give and His alone to revoke.

God’s Immutability

Within Balaam’s second blessing of Israel as they pass through the plains of Moab, he makes a quite profound statement that reveals to us something of the nature of God.

“God is not a man, that he should lie,
or a son of man, that he should change is mind.
He has said and will he not do it?
Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfil it? (Numbers 23:19)

This is an amazing revelation of the nature of God. In stark contrast to the man – made idols of the ancient near East culture, God is not a man. He does not have the same failings as men, like the propensity to lie. Moreover, He does not even change His mind. In other words, what God says is a) true and b) final. What He says, as Balaam goes on to say, will be carried out. What He speaks will come true.

This reveals to us one of the most treasured and comforting attributes of God: His ‘unchangableness’ or His ‘immutability’. God, both in His will and His nature, cannot change. He cannot go back on His word; He cannot deceive by saying one thing and doing another. He cannot change what He has willed or who He is.

All these things men and women do all the time, but God is not like us. We fluctuate between one thing another. We lie and go back on our word. We say will do something but we do not follow through. We change our minds many times a day. Yet, who God is and what God has willed has never changed throughout all eternity and nor shall it change.

If this were not true, we could never trust His promises. What if God were to change His mind on the last day and revoke His promise of salvation to those who trust in the name of Christ? With a changeable God, this is a possibility. If He were fickle, we could have no genuine hope for salvation or reconciliation with God. But He is unchanging and His word is sure and so we can place our trust in His promises because He can never not be who He is, and He can never go back on His word!

God’s Power to Speak

One of the more awe-inspiring moments in the book of Numbers is the curious moment in Numbers 22 when Balaam’s donkey begins to speak. Of course, through the mere laws of nature, this is impossible. However, a talking donkey is hardly a challenging prospect for the Almighty God of the Universe.

In this peculiar episode, God supernaturally gives Balaam’s donkey an ability to rebuke his master for beating him with his staff (Numbers 22:28 – 30). God uses this encounter to reveal Balaam’s own sin to him (Numbers 22:34). But one other lesson to learn from this confrontation is that God’s power in speaking is not dependent of the vessel of His word.

This is of specific solace to me as someone who occasionally shares God’s word publically, but it is also equally applicable to whenever and wherever the Gospel is shared. The power of God’s word does not lie in the eloquence, or otherwise, of the speaker. If God can make His word known through a donkey, He can use the imperfect human vessels of His Church.

God’s Grace in Salvation

One of the most remarkably prophetic incidents in the whole of the Old Testament occurs when Israel are the wilderness. Rather unremarkably, the people Israel were complaining to Moses again about being brought out of Egypt (Numbers 21:4- 5). However, after God sends serpents among the people of Israel as a judgement for speaking against God, Israel are repentant of their sin (Numbers 21:6 – 7). God provides for Moses a bronze serpent to hold over the people, and commanded everyone bitten in Israel to look upon it in order to live (Numbers 21:8 – 9).

Two main things are striking here. First, is the incredible act of grace that God provides for His sinful and rebellious people. Though it seems to us, desensitised to sin as we are, that God’s judgement of serpents was excessive, their sin warranted judgement. They continued to attack the goodness of God’s rescue of them in their freedom from slavery and continual disbelief in His provision for them in the wilderness. Yet God is gracious, and provides a way of salvation for His people. The people of Israel in no way deserved a way to be spared the judgement of the snakes, but God out of nothing but sheer grace gave them a way of salvation, entirely unmerited by Israel.

Secondly, although God provides an incredible cure to save the Israelites from the bites of the snakes in the wilderness, John makes it very clear in John 3:14 – 15 that God has provided an even greater solution to an even deadlier disease:

“And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.”

The incident of the bronze snake in the wilderness is merely a shadow of the greatest act of salvation provided by God: the lifting up of the Son, Jesus Christ, on the cross. If we look to Him, we have life. Not merely life cured from a snake bite, but eternal life cured from sin.

The Importance of Vows

There are a number of vows that the book of Numbers talks about that the people of Israel could make to God. One particularly important one was the Nazerite vow (Numbers 6) which is the vow that both Samson (Judges 13:7) and Samuel (1 Samuel 1:11) take to consecrate themselves for a special service to God.

Yet the Nazerite vow was not intended to be taken by every Israelite. There was, however, guidance given about vows made generally in Numbers 30. There is no room for someone to go back on a vow made to the Lord. He is considered ‘bound’ by his pledge. The word of an Israelite was to be rock solid and trustworthy.

God reflects His own character and His own faithfulness of His vows and promises by requiring that to be reflected in His people. By teaching His people about the importance of keeping vows, both special and ordinary, He is teaching His people to be able to trust the promises that He makes to them.

This particular command will be a very real problem for the nation of Israel to come, and perhaps some of the greatest ‘falls from grace’ in the rest of the Old Testament occur when people break or forget the promises made to God. Others make hasty vows, without considering the consequences of what would happen once they had to carry out what they had vowed.

However, as Christians living in the light of the New Testament, we know that God has fulfilled and kept every promise He has ever made and we can rest assured in the firm knowledge that His promises endure forever. His promise was not made hastily, but decided in eternity past. There is no doubt of the validity of His vows, for He does not break His word.

Of course, there is much more to the book of Numbers than just these 5 points, but they are the ones that stood out to me as I read through Numbers in 2020. Enjoy reading it for yourself!

5 things I have learnt from the book of Leviticus

As a part of my Bibe reading throughout 2020, I am highlighting 5 things from the books of the Bible that have stood out to me and taught me.

Here are 5 things I have learnt from the book of Leviticus.

The Holiness of God

If there is one topic that the book of Leviticus addresses as much, if not more than, any other, is the topic of the holiness of God. The entire book of Leviticus revolves about reflecting the holiness of God in the holiness of His people. Of course, the holiness of the people of Israel, at best, could only ever be a mere shadow of the infinite depth and perfection of the holiness of God. Nowhere is this made more explicit than in Leviticus 11:44 where God says “For I am the Lord your God. Consecrate yourselves, therefore, and be holy for I am holy.” The distinctions that Israel were to make in their laws, including the distinction between clean and unclean, was to reflect the greater distinction between the holy and the common (Leviticus 10:10).

Not only is God teaching Israel moral holiness (that is, utter sinlessness) but also holiness in the sense of being ‘set apart’ from that which is common. The people were to know the difference between the ‘holy’ and the ‘common’ and this was to reflect the difference between the Being of God and the being of man. God is both holy in the sense that He is morally perfect, but He is also holy in that He is entirely distinct in His very nature, just as something ‘common’ is categorically distinct from that which is deemed ‘holy’.

The Meaning of Uncleanness

Even through only a quick flick through the book of Leviticus, it is evident that the words ‘clean’ and ‘unclean’ are important. To really understand quite how important they are, consider what life would be like living in ancient Israel. Under Levitical law, you could become unclean when you touched a carcass of an animal (Leviticus 11:24), contracted a skin disease (Leviticus 13:3), came into contact with house mould (Leviticus 14:36), or experience a number of different types of bodily discharge (Leviticus 15:1 – 33). Under these laws, amongst others, you can imagine the Israelite people living on a heightened awareness of ‘cleanness’. To them, being in a state of ‘clean’ or ‘unclean’ was of utmost importance – especially if you were a priest.

However, it is not the case that just because a person was unclean that they had done anything sinful. For example, women after childbirth are cited as being ‘unclean’ (Leviticus 12:1-8) and yet it is abundantly clear that childbirth is no sin. The states of ‘clean’ and ‘unclean’ were not, primarily, moral distinctions but rather ceremonial distinctions. They were to distinguish between the ‘holy’ and the ‘common’.

Yet, while the distinction of ‘clean’ and ‘unclean’ are not categories of sin, they are meant to reflect the pervasive nature of our sinful condition. Reading Leviticus 11-15 carefully gives a sense of how difficult, on a day – to – day, week – by – week basis, someone could live without becoming ‘unclean’. The majority of the time, this was no real issue – you would wait the appropriate time, purify yourself through washing, sometimes offer a sacrifice, and then you were clean again. The must have been a common occurance for the average Israelite. Nevertheless, this pervasiveness of ‘uncleanness’ was to remind the Israelites of the ubiquity of sin. There was absolutely no escaping it; the only hope was to be delivered from it.

Jesus helps us understand the significance of these laws. In Mark 7:14-32, Jesus teaches that it is not what goes in to a person that defiles them, but what comes out. The Israelites naturally saw defilement producing ‘uncleanness’, but Jesus said that the defilement of our thoughts, words, and of our heart is what truly makes us all ‘unclean’. With this teaching, Jesus showed how the picture of the categories of ‘clean’ and ‘unclean’ was intended to show the Israelites that the totality of their lives was, by nature, unclean.

With joy do we then read in Hebrews 9:13-14: “For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification [i.e. cleanness] of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify [i.e. make clean] our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.”

The Distinction of Levitical Laws

Not every law in Leviticus is equally applicable to the Church today. Whilst this might not be a controversial statement in and of itself, the reasons why certain Levitical laws are not equally applicable today certainly is. Critics of Christianity level the accusation of Christians “cherry – picking” part of the Bible that suits their personal views, and the Levitical laws are a favourite place of theirs to go. “You say that homosexual activity is an wrong [citing Leviticus 18:22] yet you wear clothes of mixed fabric [Leviticus 19:19] and eat shellfish [Leviticus 11:10] which Leviticus also condemns” is a particularly popular and well – recycled line.

This objection should be treated seriously, as there certainly are laws we strive to follow as Christians from Leviticus and others that we don’t. However, the accusation of ‘cherry – picking’ laws cannot seriously be substantiated on a fair reading of Leviticus.

Throughout the book of Leviticus, there are many laws that God gives to His people and reading law after law can often get tedious and simply algamate in our minds to one ‘block’ of laws. Yet, this is not how God intended us to understand His laws. We may skim through them in order to quickly to get to something else, but the ancient Israelite would cry “Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long.” (Psalm 119:97). So, what would happen when we take the time to pick apart God’s law? We would find that there are clearly three separate, distinct types of laws that God has revealed in His word.

First, there are ceremonial laws. These are the laws by which God has provided a way, in the Old Testament, for Israel to deal with their moral sinfulness and ritual uncleanness by way, primarily, of sacrifices. The first 17 chapters of Leviticus instruct the Israelites on the different types of sacrifices they should offer to God and under what conditions they should offer them. There are burnt offererings (Leviticus 1), grain offerings (Leviticus 2), sin offerings (Leviticus 4:1-5), to name a few. Israelites were to be familiar with how to offer each sacrifice and when to do so. However, whilst these are clear commandments in the Scripture, these are not commands that Christians need to follow. The reason is clearly found in Hebrews 10:1 – 14:

“For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near. Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sins? But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.

Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said,

‘Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired,
    but a body have you prepared for me;

in burnt offerings and sin offerings
    you have taken no pleasure.

Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God,
    as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.’’

When he said above, “You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law), then he added, “Behold, I have come to do your will.” He does away with the first in order to establish the second. And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.”

Secondly, there are the civil laws. These were laws that God gave specifically to Israel, for Israel. Often, though not always, these laws are easy to identify as they are accompanied by the phrase “speak to the people of Israel”. Examples include, but are not limited to:

Refraining from eating the fat of oxen, sheep, and goats (Leviticus 7:23)
A list of animals Israel may eat (Leviticus 11:2)
Uncleanness after giving birth (Leviticus 12:2)
Obsevering the ‘Feast of Booths’ on the 15th day of the 7th month (Leviticus 23:34)
Economical laws of Sabbath Year, Jubilee Year, propertry redemption, and welfare for the poor (Leviticus 25:1 – 55)

Such laws as these are intended to be observed by the state of Israel and enforced by its leaders. However, it is again clear in the New Testament that the Church is not a nation (Romans 9:6) as God has grafted in believers from the Gentiles to the root of the nation of true, believing Israel (Romans 11) so that Christianity is not bound by the laws or the geographical and political boundaries of any one nation.

Finally, however, there are moral laws. These are laws that God gave to Israel, but are not expired because they are based, not on Israelite ceremonial ritual or the civil state of Israel, but on God’s character: “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy” (Leviticus 19:2). Such laws include, but are not limited to:

Theft and deception (Leviticus 19:11)
Oppressing neighbours (Leviticus 19:13)
Idolatry (Leviticus 26:1 – 13)
Killing children – specifically as a sacrifice to Molech (Leviticus 20:1 – 5)
Committing adultery, incest, bestiality, and homosexual activity (Leviticus 20:9 – 21)

Moreover, such moral laws are often repeated in the New Testament – for example Leviticus 19:2 is repeated in 1 Peter 1:16; Leviticus 19:18 is repeated in Matthew 22:39; Leviticus 19:18 is repeated in Matthew 5:43; Leviticus 20:9 – 21 is repeated in 1 Timothy 1:9 – 10. Therefore, when reading and interpreting Leviticus, the question “what type of law is this?” is vital to a correct understanding of the passage.

The civil and ceremonial laws point us to the person and work of Christ, in whom and whose work they are fulfilled, whilst the moral laws continue to reflect God’s character and are laws we should keep if we are to honour Him.

The Regulation of Worship

Leviticus contains one of the most chilling, and one of the most instructive passages in whole Bible – the historical account of the actions and demise of Nadab and Abihu. An episode so short it is easily missed, but no horrifying it cannot be ignored.

Nadab and Abihu were sons of Aaron and therefore consecrated priests in the line of Levi. Their solemn duty was to facilitate the worship of God amongst His people. However, what we see in the narrative of these two priests was an innovative approach to the worship of God. They “offered unauthorised fire before the Lord, which he had not commanded them” (Leviticus 10:1). Perhaps they thought “it’s alright, nowhere has God forbidden this!” But their problem wasn’t that they offered up forbidden fire, they simply offered up fire that had not been commanded of them.

The story of Nadab and Abihu is so instructive because it shows us that we ought not worship God in a way that He has not commanded us. Their tragic tale has taught me to ask of myself: “Am I taking the worship of God for granted, and doing and offering things that He has not commanded for me?” If God has not commanded us to do something in worship for Him, perhaps it is not best to think “God hasn’t forbidden it, I can’t imagine He’d have a problem with it.”

A Sacrifice Requires Sacrifice

Levitical laws, as mentioned above, detail a number of different types of sacrifices that the Israelites were give at the tabernacle (and, later, the temple) for a number of different reasons. The main thing that these sacrificial offerings have in common is that they were provided by the one offering the sacrifice.

Of course, later in the life in the nations of Israel and Judah, a trade would develop where you could buy your animal for the sacrifice with money. Almost certainly, this is the practice that is occurring when Jesus condemns the traders for making His Father’s house into a house of trade (John 2:14 – 16), selling oxen, sheep, and pigeons – all animals used for Levitical sacrifices (c.f. Leviticus 9:4, Leviticus 1:10, Leviticus 14:30).

However, the book of Leviticus is clear that the intention of the sacrificial laws was not to ‘outsource’ your sacrifice, but to give up something you would have otherwise kept for yourself. Often, the sacrifice (be it, goat, sheep, or bull) would be ‘flawless’ or ‘unblemished’ or ‘spotless’ – a prized animal. It is clear that the sacrificial act was to be an act of not merely sacrificing materially but also sentimentally. It was supposed to make the offerer of the sacrifice feel like there are giving up something that they don’t want to part with; it was supposed to require a sacrifice in order to perform. The rest of the Old (and New) Testament bear this out: God’s purpose was to find His people sacrificing not, first and foremost, a long line of animals, but their very hearts in contrition.

“For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it;
    you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
    a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”
(Psalm 51:16 – 17)

Of course, there is much more to the book of Leviticus than just these 5 points, but they are the ones that stood out to me as I read through Leviticus in 2020. Enjoy reading it for yourself!

5 things I have learnt from the book of Exodus

As a part of my Bibe reading throughout 2020, I am highlighting 5 things from the books of the Bible that have stood out to me and taught me.

Here are 5 things I have learnt from the Book of Exodus.

God’s Dominion Over All of Life

The Egyptians in the time of Exodus lived in a henotheistic culture. They believed in multiple gods, that had their own specific reign over a portion of human life (e.g. Ra was the god of the sun, Bes was the god of mothers and children etc.) and each nation had their own gods for these domnions of life.

However, God’s testimony through Moses and Aaron in midst of the pagues of Egypt is that the truth is quite different entirely. God was teaching Moses, and through him the rest of the Hebrew people, of monotheism – that there is only one, true, and living God. Not only did the God of Israel exercise His Divine power in the land of Egypt, but He also exercised Divine power over all the asepcts of Egyptian life. From showing His control and sovereignty over the source of the lifeblood of the Egyptian nation, the river Nile, to His control over the Egyptian weather, animals, and ever the very life of its citizens, God shows His sovereign power through the plagues of Egypt as a form of judgement upon the Egyptians.

The Israelites were to learn that YAHWEH, the LORD, was God no matter where He would lead them, and no matter the aspect of life.

God’s Relationship with Hard Hearts

One of the most prominent motifs in the story of Exodus is the hardening of Pharoah’s heart. Pharoah’s heart, as we see from Exodus 5:23 is already hard, as he already commits evil acts against the Hebrews. This makes sense from a Biblical worldview, as we are told repeatedly throughout the Bible, that man is fallen in sin and no – one has anything other than a sinful nature and a hard heart (Psalm 14, 53; Romans 3:23 etc).

However, we also know that God explicitly tells Moses that He will harden Pharoah’s heart (Exodus 7:3) as an act of judgement. In essence, God removed His hand of grace from Pharoah, allowing him to do what his sinful nature and his hard heart wanted him to do. In short, what we see in Pharoah is a microcosm of Romans 1, where sinners “do not honour Him has God or give thanks to Him” (v. 21) and their “foolish hearts were darkened” (v. 21). In doing so they “exchanged the glory of the immortal God for a lie” (v. 23). Therefore, as a judgement, God “gave them up in the lust of their hearts” (v. 24) or, in other words, “since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done” (v. 28). We see this pattern in Pharoah, who refused to listen to God’s word through Aaron and Moses and, as a result, his heart heart was hardened and he therefore was given up to even more rebellion against God.

Whilst God is free to “[harden] whomever He wills” (Romans 9:18), He did not awaken desires in Pharoah that he did not already possess, but rather God gave Pharoah up to the lusts of his heart in order to display His power.

The Imagery of Passover

At the very end of God’s judgement on Egypt, God issues His decree of the final plague: the death of the firstborns in Egypt. In truth, of course, Israel was no less and deserving of this judgement than Egypt was. Yet God, as an act of mercy, instructs each house in Israel to sacrifice an unblemish lamb (Exodus 12:5 – 6) and use the blood of that lamb to cover the doorposts and the lintel of the entrance to their house. They were to eat the meat of the sacrificed lamb, along with unleavened bread and bitter herbs (Exodus 12:8). At that night, the last night before they left Egypt for the wilderness, the angel of death, sent by God, passes through Egypt, sparing the firstborns in the houses with the blood on the door frame. God instructs Israel to observe this same feast every year, a whole week long celebration, as a reminder of God releasing Israel from slavery in Egypt.

The Passover provides startling imagery of Christ that does not fail to stun me every time I read it. The male lamb that was spotless and without blemish was to be killed, which is precisely the language used of Christ in John’s Gospel (John 1:29). Its blood was to stay death’s hand and even the blood was displayed in the shape of the cross: some on each side of the door, some on at the top of the door frame that would have likely dripped to the floor. The cross – shaped covering of the blood of the lamb to keep Israel’s firstborn from death and lead them out of slavery mirroring the Lamb of God, slain on the cross, who, by His blood, saves His people from death and slavery to sin.

A more stark and obvious foreshadowing the sacrifice of Christ on the cross is hardly imaginable. No wonder does Paul say “For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.” (1 Corinthians 5:7b)

The Stubbornness of Israel

Israel did not have an easy time in Egypt. They were treated harshly, even by the standard of slaves. The racial hatred for the Hebrew people from the Egyptians is quite evident in the early chapters of Exodus. Yet as an act of great mercy, God rescues Israel from the hand of their oppressors. He demonstrates His complete sovereign power of the supposedly greatest nation on Earth, and frees His people. Over this time, God has done some truly awe-inspiring miracles: I am sure no one who saw the Nile instantly turned into blood would forget it in a hurry. Even aside from the plagues, God saves His people from the persuing Egyptian chariots by parting a great sea in order for Israel to cross safely and escape into the desert.

Perhaps it is easy, therefore, to imagine that at least that specific generation of the nation of Israel would never forget the work of God; that they would be eternally thankful and trusting of the Lord who brought them out of slavery and who manisfested His power in such incredible works.

Yet, the book of Exodus proves that human nature will always find a way to forget God’s providence. It only took a mere month and a half for Israel to complain. Evidently, God’s rescuing Israel from cruel slavery was not enough, and they grumbled about how it was better in Egypt with the bread and meat they could eat until they were full (Exodus 16:3), which the Lord graciously provides in the form of manna during the day, and quail in the evening.

Yet again, the very next chapter “the people quarreled with Moses” (Exodus 17:2) about the Lord’s provision for them, so the Lord brings forth water from the rock at Horeb (Exodus 17:6). In this sequence of passages, the Israelites doubt God’s ability to provide for their basic necessities – food and water. In this regard, Israel merely provides a pattern that all humanity follow: we see God provide for us, sometimes in wonderful and unexpected ways that we vow will never be forgotten, and yet it is not long until we once more lack trust in His provision.

The Need for Intercession

If there is ever a moment in the Bible where I want to shout “what are you doing?!” to those people in historical narrative, it is when the Israelites build a statue of a golden calf in Exodus 32. A small detail I have often missed is Aaron’s proclamation: “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you out of Egypt” (Exodus 32:8). Aaron is not seeking to worship some other deity, but he is attempting to worship the God of Israel in a woefully insufficient manner. The golden calf is one of the most obvious violations of the 2nd Commandment there have been – a commandment written on the very tablets Moses breaks as he is horror-struck by the sight of the golden calf.

Such a repugnant violation of God’s tesitmony to his people, the Lord threatens to consume them in His anger (Exodus 32:10). Yet, in the midst of God’s (deserved) wrath against Israel, Moses intercedes for his people. He pleads for God’s mercy and for Him to remember His covenant with Abraham (Genesis 12) which Moses quotes directly back to God (Exodus 32:13).

God relents (Exodus 32:14). It is not that Moses had twisted God’s arm into doing something that He would not otherwise had done. It does not fit that God would ‘forget’ His covenant to Abraham that Moses, a mere man, had to jog God’s memory into ‘remembering’ it. What Moses was doing by interceding for the nation of Israel, is to recognise that Israel needs mercy. Moses is saying to God that he knows that God is a God of mercy because of His covenant to Abraham. Therefore, Moses pleads for God to exercise that mercy, and God does. He was always going to because He is a God who is faithful to His promises.

Yet God’s intention here is to show the Israelites the need for intercession. They are rightly worthy of God’s wrath and continually need an advocate in the face of God’s righteous and holy anger. In this way, Moses’ prayer of intercession is a foretaste of the work of the Lord Jesus Christ. He is our priest forever, interceding at the right hand of the Father (Hebrews 7:23 – 25, c.f. Psalm 110:4) as the perfect reflection of the intercession of Moses.

Moses’ intercession was not sufficient to turn away God’s wrath on His people forever, but Jesus’ intercession is.

Of course, there is much more to the book of Exodus than just these 5 points, but they are the ones that stood out to me as I read through Exodus in 2020. Enjoy reading it for yourself!

5 thing I have learnt from the book of Genesis

Over the last year or so, I have found myself reviewing most of the non – fiction books that I read. Partly, this was for the intention of giving other people information about the book before reading it themselves, but primarily it has served to keep myself accountable when reading a book. It has forced me to read more slowly, more deeply, more critically, and to think more broadly about the structure of the book as a whole. As a result, I find that I have benefitted more from the books I have read recently than in times past.

In light of this, during my read through of the Bible in 2020, it has seemed a good idea to me to continue the same practice, but for the books of Scripture instead. It is my hope that it will help me to understand more fully the Word that God has so graciously preserved.

Here are 5 things I have learnt from the Book of Genesis.

The Generosity of God’s Provision

In a narrative so well – known that it has become almost synonymous with the book itself, the Genesis account of creation and the fall contains a lot of misrepresented and half understood passages.

One such passage is of God’s warning to Adam, where He says “of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:17). This verse can sometimes be used to show God as cruel, or even taunting, to place a tree in the garden to tempt Adam. God is portrayed as a miser and as restricting humanity where He can.

Yet the actual Genesis account is far from this distorted version of events. In the preceding verse, Genesis 2:16, God says to Adam “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden” before saying “but of the tree of the knowledge of good and eveil you shall not eat”. Contrary to a miserly attitude in God, He is abundantly generous to Adam, in creating for Him a garden with as many trees and animals as he could possibly want. With exception only of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, God gives Adam every type of seed and fruit (Genesis 1:29), as well as all animals and plants for food (Gen. 1:30). Furthermore, although the garden of Eden was a specific location of limited size, it was God intention to expand the garden, allowing Adam and Eve dominion and subjugation over the whole Earth and everything in it (Genesis 1:28). This is far from a restrictive, parsimonious Creator, but One pleased to shower humanity with His goodness.

The Importance of Genealogy

Several times in the book of Genesis, we comes across one of those chapters that I often pretend to read, but almost never actually read. Full of bizarre, sometimes comical names, Biblical genealogies often are a chore to read and to extract meaning. While it is true in a sense, that the specific name of the individuals listed are of little consequence to us, we should be glad that the genealogies are there.

After the fall, God curses Adam and Eve, and exiles them to the garden. In Genesis 3, God is clear about the consequences that result from humanity’s fall into sin: fruitless toil of the ground for Adam, multiplied pain in childbirth for Eve. Yet, in the midst of this curse of God, there is a ray of hope. For God says, when cursing the serpent, I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” (Genesis 3:15).

Here, in this picture, God tells us the answer to man’s sin problem. In doing so, God declares a spiritual war between the serpent and the offspring of the woman. God is saying that He will ultimately defeat the serpent through the promised offspring of the woman.

Immediately after this war is declared between the serpent and the offspring of the woman, the very next chapter of Genesis records the first murder. The offspring of the serpent, Cain (c.f. 1 John 3:12) kills the offspring of the woman, Abel. The spiritual war has been declared, and Abel is the first casualty.

Whilst this looks like dire reading, we are reminded at the end of chapter 4 that Adam knew his wife, Eve, and they have another son, Seth. Then, we have a genealogy in chapter 5 that serves to connect the hope of the promised offspring, through Seth, down ten generations to Noah. So, when the flood comes, we know that the promised offspring is still alive.

Through the rest of the book of Genesis, we are tracing the promised offspring of God. Amid the hope that the promised offspring, there is always doubt. Abraham is promised a son but Sarah is beyond childbearing years and so the link in the chain appears to be broken, until God defies the belief of Abraham and Sarah and fulfils His promise in the birth of Isaac.

Next, there are twins. But when the eldest son, the presumed offspring of the promise, surrenders his birthright, God ensures that the promised offspring is not lost by preserving it in Jacob.

Jacob has twelve sons and God chooses Judah, son of the woman that Jacob didn’t even want to marry, to carry the promised offspring. The relentless pattern of Genesis is a hunt for the promised offspring that will lift the curse of God from the garden.

This helps us understand, in the beginning of Exodus, why Pharoah (offspring of the serpent) seeks to kill all the Hebrew first – born boys, in order to eradicate the promised offspring. Similarly, Matthew begins his Gospel with a genealogy in order to connect the promised offspring, from Abraham, all the way to Jesus, who is the true promised offspring and the one to crush the head of the serpent and claim decisive victory.

Each genealogy in Genesis, and indeed in the whole Bible, serves as a reminder that God is preserving His promised offspring.

The Extent of Human Sin

It is virtually impossible to read Genesis without being struck by the potent culture of sin, ranging from prideful boasting (e.g. Genesis 11) to perverted sexual ethics (e.g. Genesis 19) and a whole host of other shameful words and actions. In a certain sense, the book of Genesis serves to show that the disease of sin has corrupted every aspect of the human life and experience. Humanity became so wicked in God’s sight that He (quite justly) brings about judgement in the form of the flood (Genesis 6). Even the more godly individuals in Genesis are not without their serious moral shortcomings. Abraham lies about his wife being his sister (Genesis 20) and attempts to bypass God’s promise to him by having children, not by Sarah, but by a servant, Hagar, instead (Genesis 16). Jacob, having blackmailed Easu for his birthright (Genesis 25), procedes to have children by four separate women (Genesis 29 – 30). Lot offers to trade the virginity of his daughters in order to protect two strangers (Genesis 19), and Noah gets drunk in his own vineyard (Genesis 9).

Throughout the book of Genesis, man’s complete ruin in sin is exposed and shows two great Biblical truths. The first is that the capacity for man to sin and to invent evil is beyond comprehension; not just in the book of Genesis, but in every generation. Secondly, God displays His faithfulness and His mercy again and again. God relents in His judgement upon His people over and over again, even when their sin reaches new heights. Not only is that true in the book of Genesis, but throughout human history.

The Beauty of God’s Covenant

God reveals Himself in the book of Genesis to be a God of relationship and covenant. He is not an aloof creator with no interaction with His people, and nor is He simply a God who occasionally ‘intervenes’ in one way or another. Rather, the God of Genesis engages into a relationship, a covenant, with His people.

Initially, God makes a covenant with Adam (Genesis 2:17) that promised eternal life to Adam if Adam were to be obedient to God. However, if Adam were to break this covenant God said “on this day you shall surely die”. Yet, God shows Adam and Eve incredible grace. Instead of ending the lives of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, He instead institutes another covenant, in Genesis 3:15, that the offspring of the woman would crush the head of the serpent, as referenced above. This covenant promises to deal with the sin of mankind, rather than removing humanity from the face of the Earth.

Later on in the book of Genesis, this second covenant, the Covenant of Grace, is found and re – affrimed in the covenantal promises to Noah (Genesis 9:8 – 17) and to Abraham (Genesis 12:1 – 3). This covenant, first established in Genesis, is a thread of God’s relationship to His people that runs through the Bible and is still in effect today. We do not preach ‘do this and live’ but instead preach ‘look to Christ, the promised offspring, in faith and receive eternal life’.

The Freedom of God’s Sovereignty

In a culture that is influence much more by secular humanism, materialism, and paganism than Christianity, the Bible’s teaching on the will of man and the sovereignty of God can be difficult to understand. Yet, in the first book of the Bible, God provides two very clear examples of His sovereign purpose.

First, the case of Esau and Jacob. Esau, the older, was due to receive the inheritance due to him as the first born son of Isaac. However, as has been noted above, Esau forsook his claim to his inheritance, and instead gave that right to his younger brother, Jacob. When the time came for Isaac to bless his children, he was blind, and did not realise that he gave the blessing of his first born son he had intended for Easu to Jacob instead (Genesis 27:27 – 29). As we trace the promised offspring through Genesis, it is clear that God honours Isaac’s blessing and chooses the tribe of Jacob, later renamed Israel (Genesis 32:28), as His chosen people and the ones through whom the promised offspring is to be found.

It seems like God has had to follow the whims and the choices (that Genesis always portray as real, genuine choices) of those involved in the Jacob and Esau narrative and that God’s plan has been disrupted. However, we are specifically told in the New Testament (Romans 9:10 – 13) that God “though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad” (v. 11) had chosen that “the older would serve the younger” (v. 12). In fact, it was God’s plan all along for Jacob to father the promised offspring. It was, ultimately, His sovereign decree that defines His chosen people.

Similarly, and even more bluntly, the narrative of Joseph and his brothers establishes this relationship between human responsibility and Divine sovereignty. Joseph’s brothers, driven by jealously, stripped Joseph and threw him into a dry pit (Genesis 37:24) and ultimately sold him to slavery in Egypt (Genesis 37:28). The text is clear about their motivations: they did this out of their hatred for Joseph (Genesis 37:4). The responsibility for their actions rests clearly on their shoulders.

However, once Joseph rises to the rank of Prime Minister in Egypt and the brothers seek food in Egypt after a famine, Joseph reveals himself to his brothers. The brothers beg for forgiveness, recognising that they have done evil to Joseph (Genesis 50:17 – 18). Yet, in one of the most elucidating verses in the Bible, Joseph states As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” (Genesis 50:20). The very actions that the brothers purposed for evil, God intended, through His ultimate, sovereign purpose, for good.

God is working out His sovereign plan, whilst we all still remain responsible for each decision that we make. It is because we have a God who is able to work out His sovereign plan through our sinful actions that we can hope and rely on His promises!

Of course, there is much more to the book of Genesis than just these 5 points, but they are the ones that stood out to me as I read through Genesis in 2020. Enjoy reading it for yourself!