Tag Archives: Don Carson

Are we listening?

I’m in the middle of reading Jeremiah. He had been talking about the fall of Jerusalem for decades, but no-one was listening. Finally, with the Babylonians at the gates of the city, he is approached for advice. First king Zedekiah. God sword to him through Jeremiah is that the city will fall, best for him and his family if he surrenders, then his life and the life of his family will be spared (Jer 38). Zedekiah listened, but didn’t heed those words. When the Babylonians captured him, they killed his family in front of him and then put out his eyes. (ch 39)

A few months on and everything Jeremiah has said has come true. You would have thought that his credibility would rise. And it had – risen enough for him to be consulted. Unfortunately not enough for his words to be heeded. Again a delegation of officers escaping the Babylonians came to him, headed up by Johanan son of Kareah, an army officer. They ask Jeremiah to pray to the Lord for guidance over whether to flee to Egypt or to sit out the occupation in Judah. Ten days later the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah.

“If you stay in this land, I will build you up and not tear you down; I will plant you and not uproot you, for I have relented concerning the disaster I have inflicted on you. Do not be afraid of the king of Babylon, whom you now fear. Do not be afraid of him, declares the Lord, for I am with you and will save you and deliver you from his hands. I will show you compassion so that he will have compassion on you and restore you to your land.’” Jer 42:10-12

He goes on to say that if they go to Egypt, the Babylonians will surely follow and overthrow Egypt as well. Once again they ignore his advice, dragging Jeremiah to Egypt with them.

Twice, the leaders have consulted God (through Jeremiah) but not obeyed. in both cases they have already got a plan and consult as a way of gaining a Divine approval of what they were going to do anyway. Don Carson has this to say on the subject:

“Most movements that spring up from the fertile soil of Christendom appeal, in one way or another, to the will of God. Few probe the will of God too deeply. God is for evangelism; therefore he is for the ways we are proposing to do evangelism, and we invoke his will to sanction our methods….”

Think crusades. Think the angry street preacher pronouncing hell and judgement. He goes on:

“God is love; therefore he is against church discipline except in the most egregious cases (with either never arise, or, if the do, by the time they do they too are covered by the love of God), and we invoke God’s will to sanction our determined niceness. God wants his people top be separate and holy; therefore we must withdraw into huddled isolationism and lob hateful barbs against all who disagree with us, and we invoke God’s will to authorise out tearless harshness and ruthless condescension”

Think Westboro Baptist Church with their tasteless picketing.

“There wretched pits are terribly easy to fall into. All it takes is resolution, and no more real interest in the will of God that what we need to sanction our preferences.”

Are we asking God to bless what we are going to do anyway, or are we seeking his will on it, even if we don’t like it?

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When God starts speaking: some thoughts on Job 38-40

Job, by Leon Bonnat
Job, by Leon Bonnat

When God starts speaking, what does he say?

After many chapters of complaints from Job, an upright man who has lost his home, wealth, children and health, and waffle from Job’s friends attempting to comfort him, God finally speaks from Job 38 onwards. I’m looking at chapters 38-40 today and I’ll think about the final section another time.When God starts to speak to Job, he does not give a direct answer to any of his questions concerning his suffering and his integrity. He responds with a series of rhetorical questions. “Where where you when I laid earth on its foundations?…  Have you journeyed to the springs of the sea or walked in the recesses of the deep? Have the gates of death been shown to you?… Have you seen the gates of the deepest darkness?…”

The answer to these, of course, is No, Job wasn’t there, and he hasn’t seen these things, only God has. Perhaps that this is a reminder, in his suffering, to think outside of himself. God’s nature overflows to create and sustain the world. We are right to ask what our place is in that and even to question our circumstances, but we must never forget the size, awe and scale of the God who made us. As Don Carson notes on this passage, “Perhaps God wants something more from us than mere understanding”

From the stream of rhetorical questions, this one is posed:

“Will the one who contends [or accuses / finds fault] with the Almighty correct him?
Let him who accuses God answer him!” (Job 40:1)

Job has more sense than to answer.

Throughout the book, Job has maintained his integrity. In his anger he does not sin, but he does come close to accusing God of being unjust. Job knowns he has been an upright man and he wants to justify himself before God and make a case that his suffering is undeserved. God’s response here is similar to above, but a bit more direct:

Adorn yourself with glory and splendor,
and clothe yourself in honor and majesty…
Then I myself will admit to you
that your own right hand can save you. (Job 40:10,14)

He is God, not us. We do not see God’s perspective on things. This is not to say that we shouldn’t cry out to him ‘from the pit’ as the Psalmist does on many occasion, but we do so with a sense that we do not, cannot fully understand. Sometimes God gives answers, sometimes he doesn’t, but only God can save us. He wants something more than our questioning of ‘why’ and our accusations of injustice, and in this book of Job the answer is coming. In the meantime, reflecting on the scale, majesty, and awe of God, which is where the Psalms usually end up, can help us see what he is actually doing, may give us comfort within it, and may help us to see beyond our suffering.

When God starts speaking, what does he say? “Look at me! I am enough! Trust me.”

Spiritual Drift

people do not drift towards holiness. Apart from grace driven effort, people do not gravitate towards godliness, prayer, obedience to scripture, faith, and delight in the Lord. We drift towards compromise and call it tolerance; we drift towards disobedience and call it freedom; we drift towards superstition and call it faith. We cherish the indiscipline of lost self-control and call it relaxation; we slouch towards prayerlessness and delude ourselves into thinking we have escaped legalism; we slide towards godlessness and convince ourselves we have been liberated.

Don Carson

Joshua and Leadership 7

In Joshua 7, the Israelites face their first setback since crossing the Jordan. The city of Jericho had fallen, but it can with the instruction to destroy all the devoted things that the people of Jericho used in their worship of other gods. One man, Achan, didn’t, and kept some for himself. The result was that God was no longer ahead of them in battle. The covenant had been compromised. The Israelites lost in battle to the people of Ai, a people that they should have been able to conquer.

Joshua’s response is intercession, though his prayer to God is accusatory and defeatist. God’s response to Joshua is ‘get up off your knees and rot out the sin of your people’. The community is responsible for the sins of others in it, and for the corporate keeping of the covenant. The punishment of Achan seems harsh, but his sin led indirectly to the killing of 26 people. It was necessary and served as a sign of God’s mercy on the rest of the people.

Don Carson: “The worst judgement occurs when God turns his back on people and resolutely lets sin take its course.”

Pharaoh’s heart – Bible input wanted

I’m reading through Exodus 7-11 – the great plagues of Egypt, which I’m preaching on soon, and I’m puzzled by the parts where Pharaoh’s heart becomes hardened/stubborn and is therefore disobedient to God by refusing to let Moses and the Israelites go.

Sometimes it seems to be portrayed as Pharoah himself becomeing stuboorn:

Ex 8:15 But when Pharaoh saw that relief had come, he became stubborn…

Ex 3:32 But Pharaoh again became stubborn…

But on most other occasions it looks like God is doing the hardening – making him stubborn and therefore making Pharaoh unable to obey:

Ex 7:3 But I will make Pharaoh’s heart stubborn…

Ex 9:12 But the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and just as the Lord had predicted to Moses, Pharaoh refused to listen….

Ex 10:1 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Return to Pharaoh and make your demands again. I have made him and his officials stubborn.

Is Pharaoh operating under diminished responsibility?

Don Carson (in For the Love of God) says we need to remember three things when coming to this passage:

  1. Pharaoh is already a wicked person. The hardening of his hard is a judgement on a wicked man, albeit an earlier judgement than usual.
  2. In all human interactions, God is never entirely passive – “God hardened his heart” and “Pharoah hardened his heart” are mutually complementary
  3. God does do other things like this in the Bible, albeit rarely (1 Kings 22, Ezek 14:9, 2 Thess 2:11-12)

Any other thoughts?

Sabbath Rest

In his daily devotional, For the Love of God, Don Carson poses a question at the end of his comment on Leviticus 23.

How should the people of the new covenant remember and commemorate the provisions of our great covenantal God?

Leviticus 23 is all about the setting up of festivals for the Israelites to commemorate the acts of God in their history – the Festival of Weeks, the Passover, the Day of Atonement, the Feast of Trumpets and Tabernacles. They recall what God has done from God bringing them out of slavery in Egypt, to his ongoing provision of the harvest and his ongoing work of Atonement.

At the heart of these festivals are sacrifice and offerings, and rest. The Israelites are continually told to ‘do no regular work’ (see  verses 3, 8, 21, 25, 30, 35, 26). These festivals are to be a day of rest.

A few months ago I was interviewed for a piece on local radio about Sunday Trading hours. About 15 years ago the laws were relaxed and shops began to open on Sundays, albeit for shorter hours than on other days of the weeks. There were a few exceptions – Christmas Day and Easter Day were to retain the old laws with restricted trading on these days. This year talk has been to relax these laws even further, and allow full shopping hours on these days. I was asked what I thought of this. Why did we have a day once a week when shops were shut?

The answer, I think comes from what Sabbath was originally for.

  • It was to rest. Humans are created with a need to relax and recharge. We do it on a small scale each day by sleeping, but we need a larger scaled rest once ever seven days. Does it have to be every seven days? If wee keep going for too long, we burn out. Even God rested after his creation.
  • To have time with family. Relationships need to be nurtured and time with family in increasingly being crowded out of life. The early Soviet empire experimented with a continuous calendar of five and six day weeks, with a fifth of the population having a different day off so that 80% of the workforce was working at any one time. For various reasons, it didn’t work, but one of them was that  it destroyed family life. They reverted to a seven day week with a common day off.
  • To remember and worship God. This was the point of all the Israelite festivals – to stop for a time and remember what God had done for them. We have shopping available six days a week, do we really need another and are we crowding out time to contemplate what God has done for us?
  • By having a Sabbath rest, we are not only remembering what God has done, but trusting him for it. This is one day when people weren’t allowed to go to their fields and look after their crop. By not working we are trusting God to provide the growth for the food and ultimately to provide the food itself, rather than relying solely on our own work. This I see as very valuable as it reminds us where all of our provision comes from in the first place.

Having said that, does the Sabbath Rest have to be on a Sunday? No, but having a common day of rest for the whole society helps. Historically, the Jewish Sabbath (and early Christian Sabbath) was a Saturday, and some Christians still keep this day holy. But if shops do open on a Sunday, they will require people to staff them and will make spending time with families more difficult if people are called into work. In countries where Sunday trading is still limited, families use the opportunities to go to parks and have picnics and meals together. In the UK, Sunday is now just another shopping day.

Of course, there are always going to be some who have to work on a Sunday, being a minister I am one of them. In this case the principle of taking one day off to rest, remember God, and spend time with family still applies, regardless of which day of the week it is.