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Psalm 81 November 25, 2019

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Here are my thoughts on Psalm 81.

Summary: In this passage, Asaph begins by exhorting the people of God to praise Him with their voices and musical instruments.

He reminds them to observe the New Moon festival that God promulgated to their forefathers.

He then delivers the following prophecy:

  • God delivered their forefathers from their bondage in Egypt
  • thus, God commanded their forefathers to reject idolatry – asserting that if they obeyed Him in that regard, then He would bless them
  • their forefathers disobeyed Him in that regard – compelling Him to give them their just deserts
  • if they obey Him in that regard, then He will pulverize their enemies while granting them the choicest blessings.

Thoughts: In verses 3-5, Asaph asserts that God promulgated the New Moon festival when He delivered the Israelites from their bondage in Egypt. Spurgeon offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 4:

When it can be proved that the observance of Christmas, Whitsuntide, and other festivals was ever instituted by a divine statute, we also will attend to them, but not till then. It is as much our duty to reject human traditions as to observe the ordinances of the Lord. We ask concerning every rite and rubric, “Is this a law of the God of Jacob?” and if it be not clearly so, it is of no authority with us, who walk in Christian liberty.

While I concur with Spurgeon’s thesis, I should note that I was:

  • unaware of the meaning of “Whitsuntide” before I strolled through this passage; I now know that it refers to the week after Pentecost (i.e. the seventh Sunday after Easter Sunday), which I do not observe
  • baffled by Spurgeon’s reference to Christmas. I would posit that most – if not all – Christians use Christmas as an opportunity to celebrate the birth of Christ; if that is correct, then why did Spurgeon object to “the observance of Christmas?” Had the observance of Christmas been distorted by Spurgeon’s English contemporaries? Did Spurgeon believe that Christians should refrain from celebrating the birth of Christ? Did Spurgeon believe that His birth should be celebrated at another time of the year? I anticipate probing him on this point in the next life.

In verses 15 and 16, God speaks through Asaph, asserting that those who reject Him will be ashamed – while those accept Him will receive the finest blessings. Spurgeon offers some thoughts on this point:

Our enemies become abashed and cowardly when we, with resolution, walk carefully with the Lord. It is in God’s power to keep the fiercest in check, and he will do so if we have a filial fear, a pious awe of him…When his people walk in the light of his countenance, and maintain unsullied holiness, the joy and consolation which he yields them are beyond conception.

These are challenging verses, since I struggle to reconcile them with my observations of believers and nonbelievers. Do nonbelievers actually “become abashed and cowardly” when they observe the righteous words and deeds of believers – or do they respond by shunning those believers? If the wicked are resolute in their opposition to God, when will He put them to shame? As for those who accept Him…I occasionally experience “joy and consolation,” but I am inclined to wrestle with Him about the trials that He places in my walk with Him. I would like to be joyful in the midst of trials – but I usually only experience joy in retrospect, when I have the requisite emotional detachment to be able to place each trial within the context of His plan for my life.

A Message About Ammon August 9, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Jeremiah 49:1-6.

Summary: In this passage, God proclaims His comprehensive judgment on the Ammonites.

He states that they have committed the following offenses:

  • worshiping false deities – especially Molech
  • displaying pride and arrogance – especially in relation to their economy
  • occupying the land that He gave to His people.

Thus, He will compel foreign powers to crush them by sacking their cities. Those who survive this calamity will mourn and wail, yet He will not stay the hand of their enemies. In fact, He will enable their enemies to exile the survivors from their land.

Yet He concludes with a note of encouragement, stating that He will eventually restore the Ammonites to their land.

Thoughts: Here, we see that God charges the Ammonites with several offenses. Now this book contains an additional offense on the part of the Ammonites against the people of Judah: we know from verse 14 of chapter 40 that Baalis king of the Ammonites plotted the murder of Gedaliah son of Ahikam. That offense drives home the point that the Ammonites deserved to be punished by God. Now I am curious: was Baalis affected by God’s punishment of his subjects? Also, how did God restore the fortunes of the Ammonites? Did they acknowledge His sovereignty at that time? Did they confess their sins before Him and repent of them?

A Message About Moab August 5, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Jeremiah 48.

Summary: In this passage, God proclaims His comprehensive judgment on the Moabites.

He states that they have committed the following offenses:

  • defying Him
  • displaying pride and arrogance – especially in relation to their military and their economy
  • worshiping false deities – especially Chemosh
  • scorning His people.

Thus, He will compel a foreign power to crush them by sacking their cities and ruining their vineyards. Many of them will be slain; moreover, the survivors will mourn and wail, yet He will not stay the hand of that foreign power. In fact, He will enable that foreign power to exile the survivors from their land.

Yet He concludes with a note of encouragement, stating that He will eventually restore the Moabites to their land.

Thoughts: In verse 7, we see that the Moabite deity “Chemosh will go into exile, together with his priests and officials.” I view this verse as an assertion of the supremacy of God. Indeed, He worked through the unnamed foreign power in this passage to demonstrate the relative impotence of Chemosh – to the extent that this deity is poetically described as being banished from its territory. This verse is also a valuable reminder to modern-day believers that God is superior to the false deities who wield their influence throughout this fallen world. He will defeat these false deities – in His timing – and put all those who place their confidence in them to shame. Thus, we should be on our guard, lest we unwittingly place our confidence in these impotent deities.

In verse 47, we see that God promises to “restore the fortunes of Moab.” This promise is similar to His words of encouragement to the Egyptians in verse 26 of chapter 46, where He states that “Egypt will be inhabited as in times past.” Note that He does not offer words of encouragement to the Philistines in chapter 47, though. Thus, I am curious: why did God decide to extend His grace to the Moabites and the Egyptians – while withholding it from the Philistines? Were the Philistines guilty of more egregious offenses than the Moabites and the Egyptians? Was God displaying His divine sovereignty through these words of encouragement? How did the Moabites and the Egyptians respond to God’s grace in the wake of their judgment?

Here, we see that God charges the Moabites with a litany of offenses, including pride and arrogance. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 30:

Whenever the ungodly boast, we should not be afraid, bearing in mind what the prophet teaches here. He says that this pride stems from their derision of God, but that it will not help them at all in their lives.

As a believer in a First World country, I am often tempted to boast of the advantages of my nation. For example, I could cite:

  • the strength of our military
  • the successful technologies that we have developed
  • the postgraduate programs that attract talented students from other nations.

Yet this passage – and, indeed, history itself – demonstrates that any prosperous entity will eventually be surpassed by another entity. Prosperous entities will experience a reversal in their fortunes. Thus, modern-day believers in First World countries should consider questions such as:

  • can we look beyond the advantages of our respective countries and maintain our focus on God?
  • are we aware of the difficulties experienced by believers and non-believers in other nations?
  • how can we leverage the advantages of our respective countries to advance His kingdom plan?
  • will our contributions to His kingdom plan transcend the inevitable decline of our nation?

Threat of Captivity March 26, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Jeremiah 13:15-27.

Summary: In this passage, God speaks through Jeremiah, declaring that He will send the people of Jerusalem and Judah – including the king and the queen mother – into exile for their sins. This stems from the fact that they are spiritual adulterers – they have worshiped idols and consorted with other nations. They have aggrieved God, who is their husband; thus, He must bring shame on them.

Thoughts: In verse 18, God instructs Jeremiah to rebuke the king of Judah and the queen mother. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point:

The prophet is now told to address his discourse directly to King Jehoiakim and his mother. By showing that he would not spare even the king and queen mother, God hoped to arouse the community in general.

Now the sidebar note in my NIV Study Bible for this verse states:

Who were the king and the queen mother? Jehoiachin and his mother, Nehushta…Jehoiachin, who began and ended his reign as an 18-year-old, likely looked to his mother for advice.

I was confused by these conflicting explanations, and so I was spurred to peruse the notes for this verse in Bible Hub. Those notes reveal some disagreement among commentators as to whether this verse references Jehoiakim or Jehoiachin. When I meet Jeremiah in the next life, I hope to query him on this point and settle the matter.

In verses 26 and 27, we see that God plans to bring shame on His people for their acts of spiritual adultery. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point:

God assumed the character of a husband to his people. As he had been so shamefully despised, he now says he was ready to punish them by throwing the skirts of his people over their faces, that their reproach or baseness might appear by exposing their private parts.

While I cannot bring any personal experience to bear regarding this passage, I assume that if a lover’s significant other were unfaithful to them, they would feel a deep sense of shame. Moreover, I assume that the aggrieved lover could be filled with a desire for retribution. In these instances, though, could their sinful nature distort that desire for justice? In contrast, we see that God displays a holy jealousy and a righteous desire that sin be punished appropriately. Indeed, I believe that He is the only “lover” who can properly respond to an adulterous “significant other” and properly punish them.

A Linen Belt March 18, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Jeremiah 13:1-11.

Summary: In this passage, God conducts the following object lesson with Jeremiah:

  • He instructs him to purchase a linen belt – and maintain its purity
  • He then instructs him to bring that belt to Perath and conceal it in a crevice in the rocks
  • After some time has passed, He instructs him to retrieve that belt – which is now ruined and useless.

Indeed, that belt is a metaphor for the people of Jerusalem and Judah. Initially, God set them apart, binding them to Himself with a holy covenant. Yet their idolatry has ruined them in His eyes.

Thoughts: Here, we see that God provided Jeremiah with various instructions concerning a linen belt. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verses 1-9:

Doubtless a vision is being narrated here, and not a real transaction, as some people think.

When I meet Jeremiah in the next life, I will query him on this point. Did this passage involve “a real transaction,” or did it consist of “a vision?” On one hand, if it consisted of a vision, what were his thoughts and emotions after that vision? Was he overwhelmed by grief at the fallen state of his compatriots? On the other hand, if it involved a real transaction, what were his thoughts and emotions during that sequence of events? Was he baffled by God’s instructions?

In verse 11, we see that God brought the people of Jerusalem and Judah into a covenant relationship with Him “for my renown and praise and honor.” This is a valuable reminder of our ultimate purpose in life – to glorify God. Thus, I was spurred to assess my own life and consider how I am glorifying God on a daily basis. Now I do wonder: am I truly giving God my best on a daily basis? Having strolled through all of Paul’s epistles, I see that he drove himself to exhaustion for God’s glory on a daily basis. As a resident of a First World country, am I called to emulate Paul’s lifestyle? This is a difficult question to answer…so at this point, my prayer is that God would continue to mold me and shape me so that He would be pleased with me at each stage of my life.

The Valley of Slaughter February 19, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Jeremiah 7:30-8:3.

Summary: In this passage, God speaks through Jeremiah, condemning the people of Judah for their idolatrous actions, including:

He will punish them by causing them to perish in the Valley of Ben Hinnom; moreover, they will run out of room to bury their dead in that place. Furthermore, all of the dead will be exposed to carrion fowl and other wild animals – serving as a just punishment for their worship of the heavens.

Thoughts: This passage reminds me of the macabre imagery in Revelation 19:11-21 concerning the punishment of the wicked. The following question also occurs to me: what is the impact of exhuming a corpse and allowing it to be ravaged by carrion fowl and other wild animals? Clearly this action has no effect on the one who is deceased, as their soul has already departed from their body and cannot be damaged through physical means. One thought is that we should consider the effect of this action on those who are still alive. Indeed, a sense of decency and humanity compels us to honor the dead by giving them a proper burial. Thus, if the dead are not properly buried, our sense of decency and humanity is offended, and we ponder the rationale for that action. It is God’s desire that we arrive at the following conclusions:

  • He hates sin – whether it is committed in the Old Testament or the New Testament
  • we must abhor what He detests and cherish what He embraces.

Not One is Upright February 11, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Jeremiah 5.

Summary: In this passage, God speaks through Jeremiah, declaring that all social classes in Jerusalem and Judah are plagued by sinfulness. He charges them with the following sins:

  • rebellion against His authority
  • corruption
  • oppression of the disadvantaged
  • ignorance – as they should have acknowledged Him as their Creator and Sustainer.

Thus, He will employ the Babylonian army to punish them. In particular, the Babylonians will devastate their land and decimate their population.

Thoughts: Verses 12 and 13 include the reaction of the people of Jerusalem and Judah to Jeremiah’s prophecies. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 13:

Jeremiah exposes the contempt the people had for God. They said, “Oh, these are fine words the preachers speak from their pulpits. But everything they say comes to nothing. Whatever they denounce on us will fall on their own heads.”

I anticipate meeting Jeremiah in the next life and plying him with questions concerning his ministry. Did he pray that God would move in the hearts of his compatriots so that they would accept His message and repent of their sins? What were his thoughts and emotions as they scoffed at his attempts to rescue them from impending judgment? Did he ever harbor a desire to compel them to accept the truth of his message? Did he ever entertain the thought of abandoning his ministry and fleeing to a neighboring country?

Here, we see that God condemns His people, as they fail to acknowledge His sovereignty despite the evidence of His creation. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 24:

The people were more senseless than lifeless elements. “For you have eyes,” he says in summary, “and you have ears, and all human faculties. God gave you rain. Every year the earth has been fruitful. Are not your minds filled with God’s bounty? Yet you do not think he should be worshiped.”

This passage reminds me of Paul’s polemic against unbelievers in Romans 1:18-32, since they fail to acknowledge God as the Creator of the universe. Indeed, the ultimate cause of the nature of the universe has been debated since the beginning of time. In general, humans can employ their five senses in perceiving nature; for example, they can:

  • feel the warmth of the Sun
  • smell a field of flowers
  • behold the grandeur of a glacier.

While humans generally agree on the nature of these phenomena, they often make widely varying inferences regarding their ultimate cause. Sometimes I wonder why God has made it difficult for all humans to make the same inferences in this regard. Perhaps those differences reveal His holiness, as holiness has no meaning without wickedness.

Israel Forsakes God February 2, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Jeremiah 2:1-3:5.

Summary: In this passage, God reiterates the charges that He leveled against the people of Israel and Judah in the previous passage:

  • they have forsaken Him
  • they have turned to other gods.

They have manifested their sinful disposition by:

  • signing treaties with pagan nations
  • committing acts of ritual prostitution
  • abusing the weak and poor in their midst.

God has responded to their sinful deeds by:

  • compelling their pagan allies to break their treaties with them
  • enabling their enemies to plunder them
  • striking their land with a severe drought.

The people of Judah, though, respond to God by becoming more obstinate in their sinfulness.

Thoughts: Here, we see that God levels a charge of idolatrous behavior against the people of Israel and Judah. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 25 of chapter 2:

He simply means: The people are so insane that they cannot be reformed, no matter how much God tries to check their excesses, through which they were led away into following idols and superstitions. Whenever there was any danger they ran until their feet were bare and their throats were parched, for they went off to Egypt and then to Assyria, as we have already seen.

As a modern-day believer, I often struggle with an attitude of superiority towards the idolatrous Israelites. In particular, I scorn them for prostrating themselves before idols of wood and stone, and I assert, “I would never commit such a foolish sin today.” I need to remember, though, that each generation has struggled with idolatry. Perhaps I should consider how I spend my time and resources; do I dedicate the bulk of my energies to fruitful endeavors? Modern-day idols (e.g. the Internet) are pernicious; I need more strength from the Holy Spirit to achieve daily victories in that regard and bear more fruit for His glory.

In verse 26 of chapter 2, we see that there were many false prophets in Israel and Judah during Jeremiah’s ministry. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point:

It is as if he said they were corrupt from top to bottom and now showed total contempt for God.

This spurred me to consider the spiritual environment in Judah during Jeremiah’s ministry. It is evident that Jeremiah regularly battled a plethora of false prophets as he delivered God’s words to his compatriots. Perhaps those false prophets constantly assured the people of Judah that God was pleased with them and that the calamities that Israel had suffered would not befall them. When Judah experienced any adversities, those false prophets may have refused to connect them with God’s judgment of their sinfulness. The people of Judah would have struggled to apprehend the truth in Jeremiah’s message as the false prophets skillfully plied them with eloquent falsehoods. Unfortunately, discerning spiritual truth is still difficult for modern-day believers. Truly we need the guidance of the Holy Spirit in order to act with love and humility towards others who may disagree with us on various points of controversy.

To the Church in Thyatira December 4, 2015

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Here are my thoughts on Revelation 2:18-29.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus Christ commands John to write to the minister of the church in Thyatira. In particular, He commends them for their good deeds. Yet He rebukes them for condoning the actions of those who are idolatrous and sexually immoral; moreover, He states that He will punish those who commit those sins. Indeed, He promises that those who do not condone idolatry and sexual immorality will:

  • be able to rule over the nations
  • receive assistance from Christ in this regard.

Thoughts: I certainly hope to meet the believers from the church in Thyatira in the next life and learn how they responded to this letter. I hope to ply them with queries such as:

  • who was Jezebel?
  • were any members of their church idolatrous and/or sexually immoral?
  • was it difficult for them to take a stand against idolatry and sexual immorality?

We see some interesting parallels between this letter and the letter to the church in Pergamum. In particular, both churches are commended by Christ:

  • He praises the deeds of the believers in Thyatira
  • He praises the believers in Pergamum for refusing to commit apostasy.

Yet both churches are rebuked by Christ for their tolerance of idolatry and sexual immorality. We can infer that Christ wants believers to take a stand against the sins that are inherent to their zeitgeist; He demands more from believers who merely do good deeds and refuse to renounce their faith. This is a challenging point for me, as I prefer to avoid “ruffling feathers” by condemning the sins of my peers. When I have an impulse to take a stand against the sins of others, I consider my shortcomings; those thoughts cause me to remain silent – lest I be characterized as a hypocrite. Thus, I need to pray for God’s wisdom and strength so that I can be obedient in this regard; I need to know how to properly condemn the sins of my peers, even if my words and deeds along these lines incur their wrath.

To the Church in Pergamum December 1, 2015

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Here are my thoughts on Revelation 2:12-17.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus Christ commands John to write to the minister of the church in Pergamum. In particular, He commends them for their refusal to commit apostasy – even though they could be killed for their faith. Yet He rebukes them for condoning the actions of those who are idolatrous and sexually immoral; moreover, He states that if they do not repent of this sin, then He will judge them with His Word. Indeed, He promises that those who do not condone idolatry and sexual immorality will:

  • be found righteous in His eyes
  • enjoy fellowship with Him.

Thoughts: I certainly hope to meet the believers from the church in Pergamum in the next life and learn how they responded to this letter. I hope to ply them with queries such as:

  • who was Antipas?
  • how did the teaching of Balaam spread to their city?
  • how did the teaching of the Nicolaitans spread to their city?

I am also curious as to how these believers maintained their faith in the face of intense persecution – especially since Antipas became a martyr in their city. Many believers never experience intense persecution; they never need to make life-or-death decisions regarding their faith. While I do not know what the future holds, I pray that God will give me the strength to maintain my faith in Him in all circumstances; I know that I need His strength in this regard, as I would certainly commit apostasy without His guidance.