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The Escape to Egypt October 13, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 2:13-18.

Summary: In this passage, an angel of the Lord commands Joseph to flee to Egypt with his family – as Herod is planning to kill Jesus. Joseph obeys this command – thereby fulfilling a prophecy in Hosea 11:1.

The Magi fail to return to Jerusalem after worshiping Jesus in Bethlehem; when Herod realizes that they have disobeyed him in that regard, he is filled with rage. He then orders an infanticide in Bethlehem and its environs – thereby fulfilling a prophecy in Jeremiah 31:15.

Thoughts: Here, we see that Herod sought to kill Jesus – as he viewed Jesus as a threat to his reign. Ryle offers some thoughts on this point:

Do we think that Christ’s cause depends on the power and patronage of princes? We are mistaken. They have seldom done much to advance true religion; they have far more frequently been the enemies of the truth…There are many people like Herod. Those who are like Josiah and Edward VI of England are few.

Ryle’s thoughts spurred me to learn more about Edward VI of England. Perhaps Ryle and his contemporaries extolled Edward’s virtues because he:

  • was a passionate Protestant
  • died tragically.

In any event, Ryle makes an accurate assessment of the divide between politics and true religion. As modern-day believers, we should not trust in our political leaders to advance the kingdom of God. While we should still pray for them – as that is an act of obedience on our part – we must ask God how we, given our relatively limited sphere of influence, can advance His kingdom.

A Message About Egypt July 30, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Jeremiah 46.

Summary: In this passage, God proclaims His comprehensive judgment on Egypt. First, He asserts that their defeat at Carchemish by the Babylonians is an act of divine vengeance. He uses the Babylonians as His sword to destroy their formidable army.

He then asserts that their nation will be invaded by the Babylonians. At that time, He will continue to use the Babylonians as His sword to:

  • scatter their mercenaries
  • sack their cities
  • expose their false gods.

He concludes with some comforting words to His people. In particular, He asserts that He will preserve them as a nation – while judging the Egyptians.

Thoughts: In verse 2, God asserts that He punishes Pharoah Neco and the Egyptian army through their defeat at Carchemish. Since I am a history buff, I was delighted to learn that God played an active role on that momentous occasion. Indeed, since God is the Lord of History, perhaps He played an active role in other contemporaneous battles such as the Battle of Megiddo. Now this spurred me to pose the following questions:

  • if God is still the Lord of History, does He exercise His sovereignty to the same degree in all world events?
  • for example, is He as concerned with the outcome of a sporting event as He is with the work of a Bible translator?
  • does God exercise His sovereignty in modern warfare?
  • did God exercise His sovereignty in other historical conflicts that did not occur in the Middle East?

Here, we see that God punishes the Egyptians for their idolatry. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 19:

As we have said, and as experience teaches, unbelievers are hardly moved when God summons them to his tribunal. They remain in their folly unless their torpor is shaken out of them. This is why the prophet attacks the wicked so strongly – that he may wake them up from their drowsy state.

This also spurred me to pose the following questions:

  • was this prophecy eventually communicated to the Egyptians?
  • if so, how did they respond to it?
  • if not, did God assert the irrelevance of their ignorance concerning the ultimate cause of their downfall?
  • what was the Egyptians’ concept of the God of Israel and Judah?
  • since at least part of this passage concerns events predating the fall of Jerusalem, when did God deliver this prophecy to Jeremiah?
  • did Jeremiah proclaim this prophecy to the Jews after they had fled to Egypt to escape the wrath of Nebuchadnezzar?

In verses 27 and 28, God directly addresses His people. Calvin offers some insights on this point in his commentary on verse 27:

The prophet now speaks to the Israelites, for he was not appointed a teacher to ungodly nations. Whatever he said to ungodly nations was for the benefit of his people.

Calvin’s insights reinforce the main point of this passage: the people of God should place their ultimate hope in Him – not in a foreign nation that does not worship Him. Now this main point can be extended to our context; it challenges us to consider the extent of our trust in God. How much do we trust tangible things, e.g. careers, financial institutions, the ground beneath us? What does it mean for us to place our ultimate hope in Him – and reflect that reality in our thoughts, words and deeds? Since we naturally gravitate toward tangible things, we need wisdom and strength from Him to view all tangible things as subservient to His will and purposes – and live in light of that reality. For example, we can pray about how God can be more fully glorified through our management of our finances.

Disaster Because of Idolatry July 26, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Jeremiah 44.

Summary: In this passage, God speaks through Jeremiah, declaring that He has destroyed Judah in response to the idolatry of His people. He then condemns the Jews who have fled to Egypt, as they have also engaged in idolatry during their sojourn in that pagan nation. Thus, He will cause them to perish in Egypt – just as He punished their compatriots in Judah – and so they will never return to their homeland.

Yet the Jews in Egypt assert that they will continue to engage in idolatry; in particular, they will continue to worship the Queen of Heaven. Moreover, they assert that their current predicament stems from their failure to worship that deity.

Jeremiah responds by asserting that their current predicament stems from their failure to worship God Himself. He then repeats his declaration that God will cause them to perish in Egypt – demonstrating the true cause of their current predicament. He concludes by assuring them that God will cause the downfall of the current ruler of Egypt, just as He caused the downfall of King Zedekiah; that event will presage their downfall in Egypt.

Thoughts: In verse 1, we see that the Jews settled throughout Egypt after their flight from Judah. In light of the fact that immigration continues to dominate the headlines, I am curious as to how this influx of Jews impacted Egypt. Did the Egyptians recall the time in their nation’s history when the Jews dwelt among their ancestors? Did they warmly greet these refugees from King Nebuchadnezzar? Did these refugees place a significant strain on the resources of Egypt? What did these Jews offer the Egyptians in exchange for allowing them to stay in their country? Did the Egyptians compel at least some of these Jews to serve them as slaves?

We also see that the Jews in Egypt rejected God’s condemnation of their idolatry. I was taken aback by their response, as I am accustomed to Biblical accounts of the Jews responding to a warning from God with an initial declaration of repentance – before resuming their sinful ways. Here, though, the Jews skip the step of repentance. Now I am curious: were they embittered by their exile in Egypt? Did they suspend their worship of the Queen of Heaven during the siege of Jerusalem? Note that the siege would have put a crimp in their food supply – including the raw materials that were necessary for baking cakes and preparing drink offerings for that deity.

Here, we see that the Jews in Egypt declared that their troubles began when they suspended their worship of the Queen of Heaven. Calvin offers some insights on this point:

Here he emphasizes their ingratitude in blaming God for all their calamities. These punishments should have restored them to their right minds, but they only made them more and more obstinate.

This incident reminds me of the old adage that correlation does not imply causation. In particular, God rebukes His people for asserting a causal relationship between 1) not worshiping the Queen of Heaven and 2) their current predicament. This leads me to a larger point: it seems that causal relationships between events were more obvious during Biblical times. For example, we see that:

  • God caused the death of King David’s first child with Bathsheba in response to his acts of adultery, murder and deception in relation to her
  • God punished the people of Judah during the ministry of Jeremiah in response to their rampant idolatry and mistreatment of the disadvantaged members of their society
  • God struck down Ananias and Sapphira in response to their attempt to deceive Him regarding the money that they obtained by selling their land.

Yet it seems that nowadays, causal relationships between events are more difficult to establish. For example, when a calamitous event occurs, we cannot assert that it was caused by a specific sinful deed. God does not inform modern-day believers that, “human action X has directly caused awful event Y.” This lack of information may be difficult for us to accept, as we naturally seek an explanation for every shocking news story. At those times, we must return to the fact that God is still sovereign over all things – and He will direct them for our ultimate good and for His ultimate glory.

Warning Against Unbelief March 27, 2015

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Here are my thoughts on Hebrews 3:7-19.

Summary: The author begins with the following inference from the fact that Jesus is worthy of greater honor than Moses – his readers should obey all of His commands. He supports this point by quoting from Psalm 95:7-11, where God tells them that:

  • it is their duty to yield to Him as He works on their souls
  • the people who came out of Egypt with Moses provoked and grieved Him – especially at Meribah – even though He had revealed Himself to them through His deeds
  • the people who came out of Egypt with Moses often judged that sin was better for them than obedience, and so they did not know His ways
  • thus, the people who came out of Egypt with Moses did not enter the Promised Land.

The author then affectionately exhorts his readers – in light of God’s words in Psalm 95:7-11 – to take heed that their souls are not full of evil and wickedness, as that would lead them to commit apostasy; moreover, God is able to punish and avenge apostasy for all eternity. They must have a constant inclination toward mutual exhortation and consolation, as that will enable them to guard against the deception of sin; that deception could prevent them from yielding to God as He works on their souls. Indeed, if they remain in Christ, then they will maintain their interest in Him and obtain the benefits that they expect from Him. He reiterates Psalm 95:7-8 to drive home this point.

Now the author poses a series of questions designed to further compel his readers to remain in Christ. These questions remind them that:

  • some of the people who came out of Egypt with Moses heard God’s voice – yet they chose to provoke Him
  • God was displeased with those who chose to provoke Him, and so their bodies were cast out and abhorred by those who viewed them
  • God did not allow those who chose to provoke Him to enter the Promised Land, as they did not obey His command in that regard.

The author concludes by stating that those who chose to provoke God lost their right to enter the Promised Land, as they ignored His promise in that regard.

Thoughts: In this passage, the author reminds the Hebrews that their fathers failed to enter the Promised Land because of their disobedience – in spite of the fact that God had revealed Himself to them. Owen offers some insights on this point in his commentary on verse 9:

Some of these deeds were works of power, as when he divided the sea; some of these deeds were majestic and terrifying, such as the frightening appearances in thunder, lightning, fire, smoke, and earthquake, when the law was given; some of these deeds showed God’s favor toward his people and his love and care for them.

Sometimes I wonder how the Israelites failed to obey God despite the fact that He had performed numerous mighty deeds in their sight. At those times I speculate, “well, if God had 1) appeared before me in a pillar of fire, 2) parted the Red Sea so that I could escape from the Egyptians, and 3) provided manna for me to eat in the desert, wouldn’t I have enthusiastically obeyed Him when He commanded me to enter the Promised Land?” Of course, I then remind myself that the prospect of attacking and conquering the inhabitants of the Promised Land is rather unpleasant; while I have never served in the military, I have read accounts where soldiers have discussed the difficulty of overcoming their natural tendency to avoid killing another human being. Moreover, if the inhabitants of the Promised Land were twice my height, then my natural instinct for self-preservation would battle against my obligation to honor God. Overall, I doubt that I would have been more obedient than the average Israelite if God had commanded me to enter the Promised Land.

In verses 13 and 14, the author exhorts his readers to engage in mutual exhortation and consolation, as this will enable them to obtain the benefits of remaining in Christ. Now since I have attended several churches and participated in several fellowship groups, I have had many opportunities to both exhort others and benefit from their exhortations. In my previous small group, I made an effort to approach each meeting with the mindset of encouraging the other members through my words and deeds. While I am unsure as to whether my words and deeds had a positive impact on the other small group members, I can say that praying before each meeting helped me approach it with the proper intentions. I have also found that mutual exhortation becomes more challenging as we move past the initial stage of our Christian walk; some sins are more difficult to remove than others, and without the appropriate stimuli, those sins will continue to hinder our spiritual growth. We should have the desire to push each other out of our comfort zones, as that is a critical impetus for genuine spiritual growth.