Strength, courage, and adequacy

Moses blesses Joshua

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.

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Justification: by grace or works?

Saint Paul

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

Noah’s flood, God’s wrath?

construction of Noah's ark

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

The peril of pride in privilege or pampering: Ephraim and Manasseh

Jacob Blessing Ephraim and Manasseh (detail) / Benjamin West, 1766-68

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

Burning but not consumed : Moses, God, and a bush

Moses and the burning bush

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).
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Counting winners and losers on Good Friday—and Easter

The Resurrection of Christ / Noel Coypel, 1700

The Resurrection of Christ / Noel Coypel, 1700

What is winning? And what is losing? In a baseball game, it’s obvious. At the end of the game, the team with the most runs wins. The other loses. In life, the distinction is not nearly as clear cut.

This is Holy Week. On Good Friday, it looked like Jesus lost. The two thieves crucified on either side of him had different views. On Easter, it turns out Jesus, and the second thief, won.

The chief priests gloated in triumph. “You claimed to be the Christ. Well, if you’re the Christ, let’s see you come down off that cross, loser!” His friends, those who dared to show up at all, cowered at a distance.… Read the rest

Truly preparing to worship

Worship serviceWe prepare to go to church. That’s not quite the same as preparing for worship. It is quite possible to come to church and go home without having worshiped.

Some churches make it nearly impossible for anyone to worship.

I’m thinking in particular of a service where the sermon was little more than a book review and the congregation had little chance to participate. Or of other services where the sermon has consisted of the preacher explaining away what the Scripture lesson clearly taught.

But even in churches where the content of the service is good and the congregation has ample ways to participate, it is too easy just to go through the motions and leave unmoved.… Read the rest

All the New Testament apostles: more than 12!

apostle Matthias

Saint Matthias / workshop of Simone Martini, ca. 1318

There is a common teaching that God intended that there would be only 12 apostles. When Judas killed himself, Peter and the church chose Matthias to take his place, but later God overruled them and chose Paul.  Then how come the New Testament names other men—and a woman—as apostles?

In order to believe the teaching that the appointment of Matthias was a mistake, it is necessary to believe that

  • Peter acted impulsively, having been misled in his prayer and meditation on the Word as described in Acts 1.
  • After Peter and the entire assembly prayed, the Holy Spirit allowed them to make a fundamental error and start the whole church on the wrong foot.
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What becomes of an unrepentant priest? The sad story of Eli

Hannah prays as Eli watches

Hannah’s Prayer in the Temple / Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld (mid 19th century)

Jonah is the story of a disobedient prophet who repented. Eli is the story of a disobedient priest who did not. Jonah comes across as petulant even when he finally did God’s bidding. Eli seems in nearly all of his dealings as a very godly man. Jonah’s story is familiar enough that I won’t summarize it here, but I suppose many fewer readers even know who Eli was.

We first encounter Eli in the first chapter of 1 Samuel, where he is a bit player. Hannah, a barren woman taunted by her husband’s other wife, prayed silently, but in great anguish, at the tabernacle.… Read the rest

The consequences of sin and repentance

Joshua and Israelites

Joshua and the Israelite People / Korolingischer Buchmaler, ca. 840

“Joshua fit the battle of Jericho and the walls come a-tumblin’ down.” Then he and his people sinned. The next part of the story didn’t go as well for them. Joshua decided to attack the small town of Ai next. They chased his warriors out of town and killed some of them. What happened?

Most obviously, someone named Achan took some of the spoils and hid them in his tent. God didn’t appear to Joshua and tell him what had happened and what he thought about it. He hardly ever does.… Read the rest