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Oaths November 29, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 5:33-37.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus begins by presenting a general principle from the Old Testament forbidding perjury (note that specific injunctions in this regard can be found in passages such as Numbers 30:2 and Deuteronomy 23:21). He then interprets that principle, asserting that:

  • when making a vow, we necessarily refer to God
  • thus, all vows must be kept.

Thoughts: This passage caused me to reflect on the promises that I have made. I strive to honor the promises that I make in the workplace, as my ability to keep them has a non-negligible impact on my career progression. As for the promises that I make outside of the workplace, though, my track record is a mixed bag. For example, I find that I fail to honor simple promises such as, “see you at 1:30 p.m.” – especially when I am five minutes late. Thus, I plan to respond to this passage by making a greater effort to honor the promises that I make outside of the workplace. Moreover, if I find that I cannot honor these promises, then I should either offer a reasonable explanation of my failure or “underpromise and overdeliver.”


A Message to Baruch July 28, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Jeremiah 45.

Summary: In this passage, God addresses Baruch son of Neriah during the reign of King Jehoiakim as he completes the transcription of the prophecies of Jeremiah. In particular, God rebukes Baruch for his display of self-pity – yet He assures him that He will preserve him during the Babylonian destruction of Judah.

Thoughts: Here, we see that God instructs Baruch to not “seek great things for” himself. Now when I perused Calvin’s commentary on this passage, though, I found no mention of Baruch’s intentions at that time. This caused me to ponder the editorial decisions that produced the Crossway Classic Commentaries, especially those originally written by Calvin. In particular, I wonder how the editors, Alister McGrath and J.I. Packer, determined which sections of Calvin’s original text would be worthwhile for the modern reader. Here, it is fair to assume that inquiring minds would ask: why God was reproving Baruch in this passage? I will also make a small leap and assume that Calvin did address this point in the original text – so why did McGrath and Packer choose to omit it? It should be noted that some of the other Crossway Classic Commentaries, especially the ones originally written by Charles Hodge, contain many detailed explanations, while the ones originally written by Calvin are terse. I anticipate meeting McGrath and Packer someday and querying them on this point.

By Faith June 1, 2015

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Here are my thoughts on Hebrews 11.

Summary: The author begins by asserting that justifying faith gives the good things that are promised in the future a real substance in the minds and souls of believers. Indeed, all true believers from the foundation of the world until the end of the dispensation of the old testament were commended because of their justifying faith.

Then, the author asserts that by faith, believers assent to the fact that God spoke and the universe was made; they are assured that the things that their senses and reason can understand were made by the invisible power of God.

Now the author furnishes the following examples of true believers in the Old Testament:

  • Abel responded to God’s command and promise by offering a sacrifice – along with 1) a sense of sin and guilt and 2) a trust in the way of redemption and recovery that God had provided; thus, God accepted his sacrifice and spoke well of it, and he is well-known in all generations
  • Enoch was translated from a state of faith and obedience – here in this world – to a state in the next world of enjoying God, and this occurred without the intervention of death; indeed, without faith one cannot be well-pleasing to God, as He only rewards those who are diligently seeking Him
  • when God told Noah that He would destroy the world, Noah had a reverential fear about His warnings, and he built an ark according to His directions; thus, the faith he exercised and his obedience condemned the world, and he was freely adopted by God – obtaining righteousness
  • when God transferred the right and title to Canaan to Abraham and told him to go there, he wholly committed himself to God’s faithfulness and goodness, even though he did not have the least encouragement about Canaan
  • moreover, Abraham sojourned in Canaan – as did Isaac and Jacob, since God specifically made the same promise to them both that he would transfer the right and title to Canaan to them; this stems from the fact that Abraham looked for heaven, as God is the artificer and maker of that settled, quiet habitation
  • Abraham and Sarah were equally involved in the divine revelation concerning the birth of Isaac; thus, although Abraham’s natural body had died – in terms of procreation – his seed became like the stars of heaven due to their faith.

Next, the author asserts that the aforementioned believers persevered in faith to the end; indeed, even though it was a long space of time before God’s promises to them were fulfilled, they greeted them with love and delight. They knew that they were just passing through the world, and they declared their beliefs plainly. If they had desired their own countries, they could have returned to them; instead, they longed for heaven.

Then, the author returns to the examples of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and asserts that:

  • when God commanded Abraham to offer Isaac as a burnt offering, he fully obeyed Him even though He had earlier stated that the promise of his offspring would be fulfilled in Isaac; Abraham’s faith reconciled that promise with God’s command, and so God gave Isaac back to him
  • Isaac authoritatively applied God’s promises to Jacob and Esau
  • as Jacob died, he worshiped God – leaning on the top of his staff; also, he authoritatively applied God’s promises to the two sons of Joseph.

Now the author furnishes additional examples of true believers in the Old Testament:

  • as Joseph died, he focused on the fulfillment of God’s promise – in terms of land – to his forefathers; thus, he put his brothers and their children under oath regarding his funeral arrangements
  • the parents of Moses preserved his life – as a baby – due to their strong faith
  • Moses lived and worked by faith, as he crucified his heart to his outward enjoyments, the riches of Egypt and their attendant advantages; since he believed in Christ and focused on the fulfillment of God’s promise in Him, he was distressed with evil things that destroy nature
  • Moses delivered the people out of Egypt – despite the fact that he had in front of him a bloody tyrant
  • Moses observed the Passover along with the ordinance where one would dip a bunch of hyssop in a bowl containing the blood of a lamb and then use the hyssop to strike the sides and tops of the doorframes of their house; thus, the angel whom God used to execute His judgments did not destroy the firstborn of Israel
  • when God parted the waters of the Red Sea, the children of Israel passed through it; when the Egyptians also tried to pass through it, they were swallowed up
  • the children of Israel marched around the high and strong walls of Jericho for seven days; thus, God allowed them to take and destroy that city
  • Rahab received the Israelite spies, concealed them, gave them intelligence and arranged for their safe escape; thus, God exempted her from the denounced doom of her race, even though she had given herself up to the vilest of sins.

Then, the author describes the faith of other true believers in the Old Testament, including Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and the prophets. These true believers:

  • subdued kingdoms
  • wrought righteousness
  • observed the fulfillment of God’s specific promises to them
  • put a stop to the mouth of a lion so that it could not hurt anyone
  • committed themselves to God’s sovereignty in a blazing furnace
  • fled from two-edged swords
  • overcame moral and bodily infirmities
  • were armed with strength for battle and defeated foreign armies
  • raised children from the dead – giving them into their mothers’ arms.

The author also asserts that some true believers were:

  • steadfast under torture, as they longed for the resurrection that leads to eternal life
  • mocked and subject to a servile punishment used on vagabonds and the vilest of men
  • imprisoned
  • killed – for example, some were beheaded
  • in a poor and mean condition, and they were in need of friends; they were tormented and pressured by great dangers that were continually brought on them.

Regarding the true believers who escaped death, the author states that even though they sheltered in uninhabited wastes and hollow places where wild beasts sheltered, the world was not worthy of having them live in it.

Now the author asserts that while true believers under the old testament had obtained witness through their faith, the promise of the manifestation of Christ for the redemption of the church was not fulfilled during that time. The author concludes by asserting that this promise has been fulfilled under the Gospel dispensation; thus, his readers are in a preeminent state.

Thoughts: In verse 7, Noah is commended by God for demonstrating his faith in response to His divine warnings and instructions. Owen offers some insights on this point:

These were not yet seen when Noah warned about them, nor were they “seen” a hundred years later. The cause of the flood, the wickedness of the world, and the destruction of the world, through God’s power, was invisible. So it was an act of pure faith for Noah to believe what he had no evidence for, except through divine revelation, especially since the thing itself seemed so incredible.

Clearly Noah demonstrated amazing faith in his unique circumstances. I would certainly like to meet him in the next life and learn how he meticulously designed and constructed the ark, successfully gathered a large group of animals and managed to place them in the ark, and successfully convinced his family to assist him in this massive project. How did he continue working on this project in spite of the insults and hostility of his neighbors? How did he maintain his faith in God’s promise to judge the world while sin continued to reign in his society? Did he feel vindicated when God finally judged the world with the flood, or was he affected by the fact that most of the world had been punished for eternity?

While all of the examples of faith in this passage are cogent, I was particularly struck by the faith of those who had to address life-or-death situations. For example, how did Abraham find the strength to prepare to offer Isaac as a burnt offering, even though he and Sarah had finally gained him as their promised descendant in their old age? How did Moses’ parents find the strength to preserve his life as a baby, even though Pharaoh could have executed them for disobeying his orders? How did Moses find the strength to defy Pharaoh and prove the superiority of the God of Israel to the gods of Egypt, even though Pharaoh could have ended his life with a simple order to his guards? How did Rahab find the strength to assist the Israelite spies, even though she could have been executed for treason? It is truly amazing that God can enable ordinary people to place His interests above the value of their lives.

In verses 35-38, the author cites examples of faithful believers in the Old Testament who endured great suffering. Owen offers some insights on this point:

The apostle now gives a different set of examples, which are more readily suited to the condition of the Hebrews. For hearing about the previous ten glorious examples they might think that they had nothing to do with them. For their condition was poor, persecuted, exposed to all evils and to death itself for the profession of the Gospel. They wanted to know: what will faith do when people are exposed to persecution and martyrdom?

The author provides an inspiring list of examples to encourage the Hebrews in the midst of their difficult circumstances – as they were strongly tempted to return to the apparent safety and comforts of Judaism. This passage reminded me of 2 Corinthians 11:16-33, where Paul provides a similarly impressive list of the difficulties that he endured for the sake of preaching the Gospel message. Clearly the list of examples in this passage would be fodder for an epic film; of course, a major caveat is that none of those believers are mentioned by name. In any event, this list challenges modern-day believers to keep themselves from growing complacent in this world. This list shows us that genuine believers draw closer to their true calling in Christ by drawing away from this world. Thus, we must seek to rise above the world around us; this is extremely difficult, though, as we are inclined to sink into the world around us. We need divine grace and strength so that we can internalize the transitory nature of this life and prepare for the permanence of the next life.

The Law and the Promise February 9, 2013

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Here are my thoughts on Galatians 3:15-25.

Summary: Paul begins by reminding the Galatians that they obey the civil law by not altering a person’s last will and testament; how much more, then, should they not alter God’s “last will and testament” that He gave to Abraham and his descendants? Now this testament was freely given to Abraham – and it was made in his descendant, Jesus Christ. Also, God gave His law long after He had already given His promise to Abraham; thus, His law could not abolish His promise. If God’s blessings could have come by the law, then His promise would have been in vain; yet He freely gave His blessing to Abraham.

Now Paul asks the Galatians: if God’s blessings do not come by the law, then why did He give the law in the first place? In fact, He gave the law so that sins would increase and be revealed to mankind until the incarnation of Christ – the One who is referenced in God’s promise to Abraham. He reminds them that God’s law was ordained by angels – and by Moses, who was inferior to these angels (in contrast to the new covenant, which was ordained by Christ). Men offended God, and so they needed Moses to intercede with God on their behalf; now Christ has interceded with God on their behalf, and His intercession permanently reconciles them to God.

Paul then cites another objection to the Gospel – namely, that man’s failure (or success) in terms of observing God’s law causes Him to delay (or hasten) the fulfillment of His promise. This is false, as no law that God gave could, by men’s success in terms of observing it, hasten the fulfillment of His promise. Instead, the Old Testament asserts that men are subject to the curse of sin and eternal death – so that those who believe in Jesus Christ can receive God’s blessing that He originally gave to Abraham.

Paul states that before the incarnation of Christ, men could not free themselves from the terrors of the law, as they knew that they were subject to God’s eternal wrath. Yet God gave His law so that men might be:

  • humbled by the ensuing revelation of their sinfulness
  • come to Christ
  • be declared righteous by Him.

Paul concludes by asserting that after the incarnation of Christ, believers are not subject to God’s eternal wrath – and so the law cannot terrify them any more in that regard.

Thoughts: In this passage, Paul discusses the role of Moses as a mediator between God and His people – who had offended Him. Luther offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 20:

Moses’ intercession does no good here; he has done his job and has now vanished, with his veil. Here the wretched sinner, quite desperate and approaching death, encounters the offended God. There must be a mediator quite different from Moses to satisfy the law, take away its wrath, and reconcile to God the poor sinner who is guilty of eternal death.

Now we see in Deuteronomy 18:15 that Moses knew that Christ – at some point – would surpass him as a mediator. Thus, I wonder what thoughts occupied his mind as he delivered a plethora of commandments, regulations and ordinances to the people of Israel as recorded in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. Perhaps Satan tempted him to interrupt his delivery of God’s law and inform the Israelites, “by the way, you won’t be able to follow this entire law perfectly, and so you will be cursed no matter how you strive to obey it. You have to look beyond this law to be right before God.” Did God only partially reveal His will to Moses regarding justification (which would have diminished the force of that hypothetical warning on his part)? Perhaps God prevented Moses from fully understanding this mystery of justification, as his exhaustive list of laws would illustrate the magnitude of His holiness to the Israelites (and show them their inability to emulate His holiness).

Verse 22 clearly states that all men are under the curse of the law and are subject to God’s wrath. Luther offers some insights on this point:

These verses clearly say that sin imprisons not only those who sin blatantly against the law or do not outwardly obey the law, but also those who are under the law and try their best to obey it. Whatever is without Christ and his promise, whether it be God’s law or human law, ceremonial or moral law, without any exception, is a prisoner of sin. The policies and laws of all nations, however good and necessary, and all ceremonies and religions too, if without faith in Christ, are and remain under sin, death, and eternal damnation.

Luther’s comments caused me to mull over the following thorny issue: how can we, as Christians, effectively communicate to an outwardly righteous non-believer (i.e. one who constantly shows kindness to others yet does not acknowledge Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior) that they are “under sin, death, and eternal damnation”? Of course, numerous passages in Scripture affirm this truth, yet it is often difficult to persuade such non-believers of its reality, especially when they do not affirm the reality of Jesus Christ. One approach in this regard entails presenting them the historical evidence of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. If they could be compelled to – at a minimum – mull over this body of evidence, this process could plant some seeds of faith in their hearts. Another approach in this regard entails believers examining their own lives and seeing how they can – both inwardly and outwardly – show kindness to others more often. In some ways, this latter approach can be more effective than the former in terms of evangelism.