Moses Blesses Joshua Before the High Priest / James Tissot, late 19th century
God’s first words to Joshua are, “Moses my servant is dead. Now proceed to cross the Jordan.” Joshua had known that this moment would come.
Everyone knew that Moses would not lead the people into the Promised Land.
We have all experienced starting a new venture or getting a big promotion, something that we have prepared to do for a long time.
But when it comes time to actually start working, it’s only natural to have some jitters about our adequacy.
Christ in the desert / Ivan Kramskoi (1871)
Perhaps you have seen this object lesson: Before starting his sermon, a preacher asked for a volunteer from the congregation. He had a jar of beans and three ping-pong balls, and asked the volunteer to put the ping-pong balls into the jar. He couldn’t do it.
The preacher emptied the beans into a pitcher. The balls easily fit into the jar. Then the preacher asked the volunteer to see how many of the beans he could get into the jar. They all fit with some room to spare.
The ping-pong balls represented time with God.… Read the rest
Saint Paul / Bartolomeo Montagna (1481)
Does the Bible contain contradictions? It can appear so.
Paul wrote, “For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law” (Romans 3:28), and a few lines later, “For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God” (Romans 4:2).
James, on the other hand, wrote, “Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? . . . You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone” (James 2:21, 24).… Read the rest
Construction of the ark, from the Nuremberg Chronicle (1493)
According to Romans 1:18, the wrath of God is revealed against all ungodliness and unrighteousness. It seems at first that Noah’s flood could be Exhibit A.
Except that a careful reading shows that nowhere in the Genesis account of the flood does “wrath,” “anger,” or any synonym occur!
The first time “anger” occurs in the King James Bible is Genesis 27:45 to describe Esau. “Wrath” first occurs is Genesis 39:19, which describes Potiphar after his wife accused Joseph of attempted rape. Abraham asked God not to be angry in Genesis 18:30 when the two were bargaining over the fate of Sodom.… Read the rest
Christians know that the Bible says, “Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18) and “Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say, rejoice” (Philippians 4:4).
In fact, those are the texts of two popular rounds that are probably going through your head right now.
We know what the Word says. That doesn’t make it easy for us to wrap our minds around what it really means or how to do it. Sometimes, life is so miserable that there doesn’t seem to be anything to rejoice about at all.
And yet Paul, the man who wrote those words, didn’t exactly have an easy life.… Read the rest
Jacob Blessing Ephraim and Manasseh (detail) / Benjamin West, 1766-68
Perhaps nothing so starkly displays the fall more starkly than comparing the first verse in Genesis (which begins, “in the beginning”) and the last (which ends, “in a coffin in Egypt.) Unfortunately, the story gets worse from there.
Until his death, Joseph was Egypt’s prime minister and held nearly unlimited power. Lord Acton’s saying, “power tends to corrupt and absolute power tends to corrupt absolutely” is only partly correct.
Power reveals and intensifies the level of corruption already present. Strong faith in God reduces that level substantially. If sons of godly people show themselves corrupt, it’s because they did not inherit faith.… Read the rest
Wisdom portrayed as a woman
Proverbs 31 ends with a description of a virtuous wife. More than one Christian woman has confessed a love-hate relationship with that chapter. Men have their own frustrations with it.
Here is a caricature that captures the problem: this wonderful woman possesses every virtue. She effortlessly runs the household. And a prosperous business. Everyone respects her. Her husband adores her, but he spends all his time hanging around the city gate chattering with his buddies.
Many women look at her in frustration, because some of her stellar characteristics are completely absent from their lives. Many men look at her in frustration because their own wives fall so far short of that ideal.… Read the rest
Moses and the burning bush / Raphael, ca. 1515
Fire appears in the Bible a lot.
- God is like a refining fire (Malachi 3:2).
- His word is like a fire and like a hammer that breaks the rock (Jeremiah 23:29). Three friends of Daniel spent some time in a fiery furnace.
- Elijah called down fire on the men sent to arrest him (2 Kings 1:10, 12).
- James and John wanted to call down fire on the Samaritans (Luke 9:54).
- Tongues of fire appeared over 120 people in the upper room on Pentecost (Acts 2:3).
- And during the Exodus God appeared as a pillar of fire at night (Exodus 13:21-22).
… Read the rest
Holy wisdom icon (Yaroslavl) / Russian, 17th century
Paul’s epistle to the Colossians is the only one he wrote where he hadn’t founded the church.
The church was rife with heresy, and its leader Epaphras visited Paul in prison to get some guidance. Paul addressed the epistle not to the church at Colossae, but to the saints and faithful there.
Paul’s opening prayer for the Colossian saints, and I’m sure for all Christians anywhere, was that they would “be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding” (Colossians 1:9).
Christ Enthroned / Bartolomeo Vivarini (1450)
What human experience is more common than death? It happens to everyone, but nothing is more mysterious. Some of us regard it with despair, stoicism, or bewildered resignation.
Some of us have the faith to rise above all that and look past death. Wishful thinking or delusion? No. It’s the expectation of a certain triumph.
It occurs to me that there is one human experience as common as death, and that’s birth. If a child in the womb has any thoughts or feelings or expectations about birth, no one knows what they are.