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
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
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
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
We 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
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.
… Read the rest
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
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
One of the odder little stories in the book of Judges concerns a man named Micah (Judges 17). He stole 1100 pieces of silver from his mother and then confessed. When he returned it, she dedicated 200 pieces of it to the Lord took it to a silversmith.
She commissioned a graven image and a molten image. Then she gave them to Micah. He promptly set up a shrine and consecrated one of his sons as priest.
Lest anyone think this ancient story has nothing to do with us in the 21st century, today’s newspaper has a story with the headline, “Atheists find solace in prayer.” I’ll be thinking about that a lot and have more to write later.… Read the rest
Wisdom. Mural at the Library of Congress by Robert Lewis Reid
“Knowledge comes, but wisdom lingers.” That’s the caption to a mural called “Wisdom” in the Thomas Jefferson Buliding of the Library of Congress.
Wisdom differs from intelligence or knowledge. The ordinary dictionary distinction is that wisdom involves sound judgment and the ability to apply learning and knowledge to the conduct of your affairs.
In the Bible, there are four different words translated wisdom. They refer to having skill, being prudent, being upright, and having understanding.
Solomon, known above all for his wisdom, ultimately failed.
… Read the rest