Category Archives: Scripture

Just as my mother did

In Psalm 86 David is crying out to his God for help. He is facing enemies who seek to destroy him and have no love or fear for God. David reasons that since he does love God he will cry out to him for help.

The psalm is a beautiful example of the struggles of the faithful heart in the midst of turbulent waters. One the one hand praising and worshiping a God who is unchangingly merciful and relentlessly compassionate, while on the other experiencing the day by day pressure of being pursued by those seeking our harm. One the one hand surrounded by peace & rest, on the other contempt & hatred. For anyone who has known opposition in their life this psalm is an oasis of hope in a inhospitably desert.

Right in the middle of meditating on this psalm I was struck by one phrase in verse 16. I had been reading the psalm for many days but never read this phrase as I read it now. David is crying out to God to remember his life of service to him and using this as a reason for God to save him. Then there comes this throw away phrase that struck my profoundly – just as my mother did.

David is here remembering how his mother served God, how she loved her children and her husband Jesse through her service. In his moment of heartache David’s mind goes back to his mother. Remember her Lord? Remember how she served you, as I now serve you? Remember that from generation to generation we are a faithful family? Would you intervene to rescue those that are seeking with their whole heart to follow your ways?

One of the things that hits me about this text is how it deepens the intimacy of the final plea to God. In the final few verses David cries out for God’s visible manifestation of his strength (v16). He asks God to be God in his circumstances because David is his servant, who serves him and seeks to glorify him in each moment of his life (v12). He thinks of the most visible expression of that servant attitude in his life and his mind instinctively goes to his mother, rather than his father. Then he immediately thinks of his enemies and their absolute absence of a humble servant heart. This extreme contrast compels him to cry out to God for the invisible pleasure of God upon his people to be made known to shame his opponents into submission.

David’s mother is not named in the bible, but according to the Talmud it was Nitzevet. We know very little about her, but she must have been some woman. Not only did she exemplify a life of service to God, but she raised seven boys. Sometimes in parenting our enthusiasm is overcome by apathy as more and more children arrive. The youngest one can sometimes be the most ignored and left to get on with things themselves. It is to her credit that her witness did not wane with age, but rather deepened and sweetened.

Until this little phrase hit me this week I had not appreciated how much of an influence David’s mother would have had on his ministry, leadership and reign. The example of this godly woman helped shape the man who “shepherded them with integrity of heart; with skilful hands he led them” (Psalm 78v72). What an impact her life made, what a difference had she not been the faithful servant in her private home as a mother, wife and friend. She was a visible sign of God’s goodness to David which lasted his entire life and impacted the entire Israelite nation. Thank God for faithful, godly, servant hearted mothers!

The gospel according to GDPR

On the 25th May 2018 a new law hit the UK that changed how organisations held people’s private date such as their name, address, email etc. It was called the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and sought to ensure that there is greater transparency over what information is held about us online and in databases.

In preparing for this day I got a load of emails from organisations asking me to verify that they could keep sending me their marketing materials. Hopefully this new regulation will mean fewer spam emails and phone calls over the coming years as there is a greater penalty for misuse of personal information.

All this focus on personal data made me think about three important lessons for learning more about how the gospel impacts our daily lives in this area:

We are more than our data

In this day of social media and everything being online, it is sometimes easy to forget that even through you may know all about someone from their Twitter or Facebook feed, you don’t really know that person until you meet them and spend time with them. All of us whether we realise it or not present only a certain side of our personality online, the real us is much too complex, contradictory and cautious to bare all online.

We are so much more than the bare statistics of our life, what our name is, where we live, who we are married to, our waist size, our iQ, our job title. All of this data is a representation of the person behind it, and can be copied by others to try and steal our identity, but the real you stands distinct and separate from all the numbers and characters.

Our data is not our own

GDPR says to us that we control the data about ourselves, and can have it removed and deleted if we so wish from any UK organisation that holds information about us. While it is theoretically possible to remove every digital copy of our data there is an infallible and never-ending record of not only ever online transaction, but everything we have said, done and thought being recorded right now.

This is the story of our life as recorded by an infinite, all-knowing God who is the one who really does own all of the information about you and me – the God who created time, the universe and human history. All of life is logged away in his memory banks, a perfect record of our lives, for better or for worse.

He owns this data and no amount of  hitting “unsubscribe” will remove it from this database. It is permanently etched onto his memory for all time by every person who is alive now and has ever lived. God knows us inside and out, and has it all on file!

Your data will destroy you

As this data repository grows throughout our lives it shows us for who we really are, not the photoshopped version of ourselves, but the real you. All of us fail at some point or another, all of us leave traces behind us of weakness or corruption. We seek to move on and forget the bad stuff and hope that no one ever pulls up that file or views that video, but it is there like a silent depth charge waiting to explode at the first contact.

None of us can claim to have a totally pure hard-drive. Our personal data is private but not hidden. On the final day everything will be laid bare and the private will become public, and the hidden things revealed. Unless we act now, it will then be clear that the viruses were not the only reason our files were corrupted.

Data cleansing is for real

The good news is that the record can really be swept clean. Although in this life every online action leaves a trace, by the power of the one who made us he is able to destroy our records once and for all – through the cleansing that comes from the death of his Son.

Then we will find that there is really only one piece of information that is really important and we are happy for the entire world to know – whether we are his disciple or not. It will be this piece of data that will split mankind right down the middle, and it will be this tiny piece of data that restores and refreshes our systems totally and completely one day.

So feel free to unsubscribe from following this blog at any point, and let me know if you want your email address deleted, but just make sure you don’t opt out of GDPR – gospel driven personal renewal!

The Master’s mind

At the start of Ephesians Paul has been praising and adoring God. Although he writes about “us” and “we” in verses 3-14 he is really inviting us to view God’s wonderful acts on our behalf…it is as if he is stood in front of a beautiful picture and is helping us admire it…do you see this bit? And this? How wonderful the artist is! He says to us. From verse 15 he changes his focus – he moves from adoration to intercession, from worship to supplication.

We are no longer stood beside him viewing the picture – we are now the recipients of a gift he wants to give us. I am praying for you he says…ever since the first day that I heard about your faith. I am praying for all of you, without faltering, without stopping …but what is he praying for them? He wants them to know God. He is praying to God the Father that He would help them to know him better.   Paul knows that this is the most important and vital prayer he can pray for another believer. He knows that we struggle to really comprehend the truths of verses 3-14 and our knowledge of God is at times superficial and transient. I want us to notice three things about this request for the knowledge of God:

i) A spiritual knowledge – firstly it is a spiritual knowledge. He prays that God would give them the “spirit” of wisdom and revelation. Over Christmas I had the pleasure of sitting with the in-laws to watch Mastermind. Do you know how this programme works? Have you seen it? Each person has a specialist topic that they answer questions on in round one and then general knowledge questions in round 2. Here are some specialist subjects that were considered not suitable to be used:

  • Routes to anywhere in mainland Britain by road from Letchworth.
  • Cremation practice and law in Britain.
  • The banana industry.
  • Orthopaedic bone cement in total hip replacement.

Now maybe you wouldn’t chose those topics, but how would you revise for your own specialist topic? You would get films, books, Internet – whatever you could to research everything about you topic…and hope for the best! Paul says knowing God is not like this. The most learned (but unsaved) university theology professor has less true insight into the knowledge of God than a young child who has come to faith in Jesus. Amassing facts is a futile task, if we come to them as we come to every other piece of knowledge.

So what is spiritual knowledge? It is the ability to understand, accept and hold a conviction about truth that is granted completely and utterly dependent on the movement of the Spirit of God. And it comes to us Regardless of intelligence, race, gender, wealth, age – or any other human quality. We come to understand something we didn’t before, we come to accept something we previously rejected, we come to believe something we previously denied, we come to trust in someone who was previously unknown to us. In essence it is not becoming a mastermind on a favourite subject, but coming to a place where we understand the Master’s mind.

ii) A hidden knowledge – secondly, it is a hidden knowledge. Paul is praying that God would open the eyes of our hearts to help us see the unseen. What is truly humbling is that none of us have the slightest chance of finding this spiritual knowledge on our own, unless God opens our eyes. Yes, there are glimpses that we can get of the divine being from creation, but left to our own we are utterly incapable of discovering truth about God. If God had chosen to remain unknown there would have been absolutely nothing any of us could have done about it. If we come to really understand this it should deeply trouble us…if what I have said is true, then nothing in the strength of my human wisdom can fathom the mysteries of God.

Is this not what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1.20-31? “The world in its wisdom did not know him”. He is beyond our reach. He must reveal himself, and to whom and when and how is entirely at his discretion. The wind blows where it pleases, so does the self-revealing almighty God. It is a knowledge that we are at first entirely ignorant of – all of us at one time were outside of Christ and cut off from this knowledge. As we shall see next time, we were by nature objects of wrath and dead in our sins. This is the natural condition of men and women. We should not be surprised at people’s response to the gospel.   To the natural man it is foolishness.

There is nothing wrong with the message, it is not a secret knowledge, it is plain for all to see, but it is us who must be changed to understand it. We must come to know the unknown, and see the unseen. What is hidden must be revealed – that is why the preaching of the gospel is so important. For in proclaiming Christ crucified to a lost world we are the means by which God has chosen to open blind eyes.

iii) A gradual knowledge – thirdly it is a gradual knowledge. Look at what he says…I keep asking… Not only is it spiritual and hidden but it is also gradual in our experience of it. there are times when we receive fantastic new insight into God, but it is not always like this. Remember how it was for the blind man in Mark 8.22 – after Jesus touched his eyes the first time he could see people moving like trees, then Jesus puts his hands on the mans eyes again and he can see clearly. Was Jesus suffering from a temporary problem with his healing power? No, it was a metaphor for how we come to see spiritually, that was immediately played out by Peter – who has been shown by the Spirit who Jesus is…the Messiah, but is blind as to why he came v33 as he tries to rebuke Jesus for talking about going to the cross.

Our knowledge of God generally comes to us little by little and is a slow process! Sure there is the moment when our eyes are first opened and we see Jesus for who he really is, and we are overcome with adoration and awe. By God’s grace he grants more experiences like that throughout our life, but the norm for us seems to be a gradual opening in our understanding to the radiant brilliance of his beauty. Like the years and decades that it takes us to get to know our wife, so knowing God takes a lifetime and beyond, into eternity.

25 Things I’m Learning About Ministry of the Word within the Mundanity of Work

As I stumble out of bed for another early morning commute to work I wonder, again, why God has put me on this never-ending treadmill. For many years now I have struggled to balance two compelling, and sometimes conflicting, visions – the one is a calling to the ministry of the word, the other is a strong conviction to be rooted in secular employment. As I struggle through how these two visions work themselves out in the daily grind of work I have learnt many important lessons:

1. The mundanity and struggle of work reflects the consequences of the fall (Genesis 3.17). Shouldering the burden of this is never going to be easy.

2. It is good to provide for your family and not to be a burden on others, it also gives you the privilege of being able to give to others.

3. Many types of work can be beneficial to society (even if sometimes the connection can be a bit intangible). Most of my career has been spent helping well off senior managers make better decisions…but eventually wealth creation filters down through society.

4. Secular work grounds us in the reality of the daily grind that 99.9% of the world are engaged in. The working world has changed drastically in the last 10 years – being part of this world helps us engage with others and ensures we feel their pain before we open our mouths.

5. Work can be satisfying and fulfilling when you are doing something you enjoy – but often you won’t be, so see #8.

6. Work stops you from becoming lazy and having opportunity to sin. Not having any free time and being constantly tired means you never have the opportunity to waste time or have idle hands. Doesn’t feel like much of a blessing, but worth noting.

7. Working in the professional services industry teaches you how to keep your promises, develop strong relationships, deal with conflict and go above and beyond others’ expectations. All these are vital skills needed to build a health church and can only help in ministering to others in a broken world.

8. The daily grind of work teaches us how to be obedient to the one whose servant we are. When we stay where we are only because we believe that is what we have been told to do, against all our desires, then we learn what it means to say “I am the Lord’s servant, let him do with me as he wishes.”

9. Being a professional person gives us credibility with some people who would not give a minister two seconds. Unfortunately, today the role of the church minister has become ostracised from society. 50 years ago the church was at the centre of the community and life revolved around the church, now it is seen as a forgotten relic of a past time. Ministers struggle with overcoming this barrier to reach people, Christians in secular work have no such barrier and can gain a hearing (provided they have something to say!).

10. Holidays are necessary. Trying to prepare sermons during your holiday is not a good idea. Often in lay preaching opportunities to preach only come during the pastor’s holidays – resist the temptation to burn the candle at both ends as it inevitably has a serious impact on family life and health.

11. God sees your desires, time is not running out, God is in control, He will guide you. Although sometimes everything inside of you says the opposite, trust God to open doors in his timing. Be the best where you are right now. Work hard and be content, as well as you are able. The burning passion for ministry can lead to discontent and frustration, instead use it to lead to greater submission and yielding. Learn that “it is good for a young man to bear the yoke…to bury his face in the dust” (Lamentations 3.27).

12. Preach every sermon as if it really is your last, you don’t know when the next opportunity will come and if he will call you home before.

13. Don’t be afraid to repeat a sermon in a different church, the emotional drain of preaching is hard enough to recover from on the Monday morning, let alone preparing a new sermon every time. Make sure you give yourself enough time to prepare so that you do not burn yourself out – find what level of ministry you can cope with and recognise that the changing demands of a young family will impact this too.

14. You are not indispensable to the work of the Kingdom. Elijah, Moses, Joseph and even Jesus spent years in the wilderness as God prepared them for ministry. It is not wasted time – see #7, 8, 11

15. Do not get comfortable. Live as though one day you will take a 50% pay cut, manage your family with that perspective in the front of your mind. Pray for an open door for bivocational ministry.

16. Your children are your most important mission field, even after a long day and a long commute, don’t give in to exhaustion when its bed time. Give each of them one to one time with you and the Lord every night, whenever you are around.

17. Take opportunities to develop your gifting wherever you can. Write, read, study. Use your commute – if you are on a train study theological texts and if you are in the car listen to iTunes podcasts such as The Daily Audio Bible, or theological courses from Reformed Theological Seminary (see iTunes U). The longer the commute the more time you have to study every day.

18. Be a person of integrity in all aspects of your working life. Build a reputation for integrity and honesty despite the challenges.

19. Recognise that changing jobs and churches will happen from time to time, and that each time it does happen you are back to square one. Make sure your motivations for career progression are subjected to the test of the Spirit. Ask yourself: Is this job the right move for me, my family, my church? However, recognise that the logical or sensible decision is not always the right one – remember Abraham was called out of Ur, leaving all his wealth and career prospects behind, a decision contrary to all human wisdom, but obedient to his God.

20. Put down roots. Moving churches, houses & jobs every 1-2 years (as is often the case these days) can make you a spiritual nomad. Pray for God to help you put down roots so that you can have the opportunity for ministry in the local church and develop relationships at work that go beyond the superficial.

21. Find an outlet for your ministry of the word – for me it has been writing and preaching, for others it will be any number of things. Find a way to serve others in your community, sometimes this will be at work in the business world, as that is where we spend most of our time. Do something constructive to encourage you that in some tiny little way you are contributing to the progress of the kingdom of God.

22. Don’t forget how important exercise and physical activity is to having a healthy mind. Being involved in ministry while also working doesn’t leave much time for anything else, if you are also gradually becoming less fit then this is a recipe for a mid-life breakdown. Work on having a healthy body so that you have enough energy and drive for everything else you do.

23. Serve in the church as much as you can, while recognising your limitations. Don’t constantly feel guilty for not making the evening service or the prayer meeting. Give what you can cheerfully, liberally, graciously and then recognise the limitations on your service. Allow God to give you the joy of being a cheerful giver of your time, money and gifting.

24. Preach the gospel free of charge. Don’t allow anyone to take away your boast of preaching the gospel for no other motivation than for the love of God and desire to help others. Do not accept a preaching fee while you are in full-time employment (this is my philosophy of ministry, I recognise there are other passages to balance (e.g. “the worker is worthy of his wages”) and I wouldn’t want to be dogmatic on this).

25. Look for others to encourage in the ministry. Next to entering the ministry yourself, the greatest privilege you can have is to encourage and prepare others for being a full-time minister of the word. Look for other Christians in the secular world who have never had the opportunity to develop their gifting and, where possible, mentor and guide them in their development.

I’m sure there are many more – that’s 25 to get us going, anyone want to suggest number 26?

Anyone think I need a holiday? 😉

Ultim Scriptura

Calvin’s Institutes, Book 4 Chapter 9

Under what government is the church to be run? Who makes the final decision and decrees in regard to sound doctrine and teaching? The Israelite nation operated under a number of different systems – ancestral tribal leaders (e.g. Jacob); charismatic judges (so called “Kritarchy”); divinely anointed monarchs (e.g. David) and hereditary monarchs (e.g. Solomon). All of these were under the broad dominion of a theocratic system, where the Word of the Lord was (in theory) supreme over the decisions and decrees of men. But what is the government of the church age? Are we still under a theocracy? If so, how does this represent itself, and if not what replaces it? Do we look to our leaders for a final ruling or is it every believer for themselves, as each seeks to understand and interpret the scriptures?

It is to this issue that Calvin turns in Chapter 9 as he probes ever more deeply into the issue of authority. He asks whether the councils that had determined orthodoxy since the fourth century actually had the right to final authority in questions of doctrine. This is remarkably bold from Calvin as the Roman Catholic Church viewed these councils as having the ultimate say in biblical interpretation and church practice. Moreover, these councils were graced by many of the most influential church fathers. Nevertheless, Calvin is unrelenting in his pursuit of defining the limits and jurisdiction of firstly the church (see Chapter 8 ) and now the councils.

Calvin makes sure that his opponents understand his examination of councils does not spring from a lack of respect, for “it is not because I set less value than I ought on ancient councils. I venerate them from my heart, and would have all to hold them in due honour.” But he immediately adds “there must be some limitation” as to their rule, for “it is the right of Christ to preside over all councils” and they must never become a law unto themselves.

Calvin then asks what scripture says about the authority of councils – have they always been viewed as they are in his day? Well, the examples of councils in the New Testament are pretty disturbing – in John 11.47 we see that the Jewish ruling council condemn Jesus to death – not the type of decision you would want from your upholders of truth. Moving away from Jewish councils, Calvin then demonstrates that the early Christian councils were sometimes in opposition to each other, for example the councils of Nice and Constantinople disagree on the use of images in the church – meaning one of them must have been wrong. While his opponents did agree that, in theory, councils may error in areas not essential to salvation, in practice they denied this. For they sought to use the power of the councils “as a pretext for giving the name of an interpretation of Scripture to everything which is determined by councils.” Thus, they seek to justify “purgatory, the intercession of saints and auricular confession”.

Thus, if we cannot demonstrate a biblical mandate for the establishment of infallible councils, what then should be the principals by which the true bounds of authority should be defined? Calvin argues that we should examine each council’s decree on its own merits, seeking to examine: “what time it was held, on what occasion, with what intention, and who were present; next I would bring the subject discussed to the standard of scripture.” For support of this view Calvin quotes Augustine who stated that the bishops were not bound by the authority of previous councils, arguing instead – “let thing contend with thing, cause with cause, reason with reason, on the authority of scripture.”

Response

Throughout this chapter Calvin repeatedly brings the decrees of the church and councils to the bar of the scriptures as a final examination. Just like a lawyer who relies on the country’s legal rulings for the prosecution of their case, so Calvin draws upon the bible to assess the rules of his day. For while both a judge and a pastor may be misguided, the law that underpins their decisions and doctrines remains uncorrupted. Calvin would be well used to the idea of a written code of practise against which decisions must be referred from his days training to be a lawyer. The only difference being the scriptures can be relied upon as infallible, while all human legal systems have some areas of imperfection.

So what is the result of all this on our church governance? Well, while we recognise that God has appointed pastors and shepards to oversee the flock, and they have been entrusted by the church with leading us wisely, they must always bring all their decisions and decrees against the bar of scripture. Only the scripture is authoritative, not the will of a pastor, the wisdom of a denominational leader or consensus of a local church. Yes, there is an important point to make about the potential risk in this of entrusting the interpretation of scripture to fallen men and women, but if God was willing to take that risk then shouldn’t we?

It is interesting to see Calvin’s use of church history, particularly Augustine throughout the Institutes. While Calvin and Luther are considered champions of Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone), Calvin goes to great pains to demonstrate that his teachings are nothing new. In fact he traces them all back to the early church fathers and shows that he is the one who is being most faithful to early church tradition. Perhaps it would be better to speak of Ultim Scriptura – “scripture final” rather than alone, as the reformed faith never seeks to sever biblical interpretation from church tradition, but faithfully build upon the orthodox interpretation of believers right back to the time of Christ. Thus, just as in the law illustration above, Calvin uses the biblical equivalent of legal precedent in examining the bible – that is, what have hundreds of years of biblical interpretation made of this verse? How has the church understood it and applied this teaching? Only then does the scripture’s final authority come into its own and it alone is the final authority, not tradition. We must never lose sight of this as the only authoritative test for church doctrine.

“The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul. The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy, making wise the simple. The precepts of the LORD are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the LORD are radiant, giving light to the eyes. The fear of the LORD is pure, enduring forever. The ordinances of the LORD are sure and altogether righteous. They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold; they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the comb. By them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.” Psalm 19.7-11

Father, may you grant that our biblical interpretation would be pure, untainted and Spirit-led. May we not lose sight of the great cloud of witnesses who have gone before and grappled with your Word to interpret it faithfully, may we draw deeply from their wisdom. Amen.

Why is the Old Testament shut out of church?

I recently read this interesting article by Dale Ralph Davies and thought it fitted in well with where we are in the Institutes regarding the value and place of the Old Testament.  Thanks to Reformation21 for posting it on their website: http://www.reformation21.org/articles/why-is-the-old-testament-shut-out-of-church.php

“I don’t want to begin this lecture by spiritualizing a text but…the Old Testament is good bit like Jephthah the Gileadite in Judges 11:1-3.  His brothers so much as booted him out of their father’s household because of his illegitimate birth.  That’s the way it is with the Old Testament in much of the contemporary church.  The church seems to feel that it’s okay if the Old Testaments stays in the land of Tob with Jephthah, but let’s not even give it the status of step-testament in the household of faith.  In short, there are certain barriers that keep–and have kept–the Old Testament from being heard in the church and I want us to understand what some of them are; it should help us understand the problem.

I.  Scholarly Barrenness

I don’t care if many beg to differ, professional study and teaching of the Old Testament has largely killed the Old Testament for the church and wrecked it for hundreds of theological students.  I speak especially of the so-called higher critical position regarding the OT.  (Now don’t accuse me of being anti-intellectual; in fact, I think that any MDiv grad from an evangelical seminary should know the critical position(s) regarding especially the Pentateuch, should know–and be able to refute–the criteria scholars have used to carve up the canonical text.  A little time with Kenneth Kitchen or R. K. Harrison is time well-spent).  We have had about 150 years of this anti-supernaturalist scholarly study of the OT and it has produced results as cold as concrete and as appetizing as stewed okra.  Let me give examples.  

Here’s a commentary on Exodus 14:5–the first part of the verse speaks of ‘the king of Egypt,’ while the 2nd part refers to him as ‘Pharaoh’ and so ‘there can be no doubt’ that the verse is ‘composed of two different sources.’  Naturally, we find that very moving.  Or go to Exodus 34:6-7; this commentary says that Yahweh’s self-proclamation here (‘Yahweh, Yahweh, a God compassionate and gracious…’) is ‘out of place’ and is ‘an addition which is made up of customary, stereotyped phrases.’  Here is the crucial, climactic, consoling self-revelation of Yahweh, brimming with theological profundity and devotional power–and Martin Noth never heard it.  The Fountain of living waters overflows and Noth spends eight lines of critical hogwash on him.  

Or here is a commentator on 1-2 Kings.  At 2 Kings 2:23 we read of Elisha going up to Bethel, where apparently the incident of the bears tearing up 42 lads occurs.  But this commentator says there is nothing in the narrative itself to suggest that this happened at Bethel except that introductory comment that Elisha had gone up to Bethel.  This amounts to saying that the text says this occurred in Bethel but we can’t be sure because the next two and a half verses don’t mention Bethel–no landmarks like the Bethel Moose Lodge, I suppose–so we really can’t be sure it happened in Bethel.  One could forgive such nonsense were it not for worse stuff.  The same commentator, writing on 1 Kings 8:27 (where Solomon prays, ‘But will God indeed dwell on the earth?  Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain thee; how much less this house which I have built!’), tells us this verse must be deleted as ‘secondary’ and that it looks like a ‘marginal comment which later found its way into the text.’  Leave aside the critical issue.  Even if he were right on that (and he’s not), how can he ignore, how can he pass by without any comment the massive, head-throbbing theology of that verse?  

On and on it can go.  You can find out, for example, that 1 Samuel 3 may not be a prophetic call but an ‘auditory message dream theophany,’ and then like Lucy in Peanuts you think:  Now that I know that, what do I do?

And so theologs tend to give up on the Old Testament.  If it involves such complex, intricate analysis by the high priests of whatever the reigning German-geschichte is, then surely it is ‘too complicated for me for bother with.’  Use a psalm or two for funerals and a quote from Amos for Social Justice Awareness Sunday, but otherwise forget the OT.  Mainstream critics may mock evangelical use of the OT, but they have not given us any help.  Unbelieving biblical interpretation cannot nurture life–it cannot even arouse interest.  It is worse than lethal–it is boring.  


II.  Evangelical Sloppiness

 We have our own boners, of course.  We may ring the changes and make the jump from Rahab’s scarlet cord (Josh. 2:18) to the cross; there’s a proper way of doing that in Joshua 2 but not by hanging from Rahab’s cord–it won’t bear the weight.  Someone may make Jael’s hammering Sisera in Judges 4 a picture of the mortification of sin.  One should never dispute with Spurgeon, I suppose, but one might be excused for thinking that the writer of Judges would be surprised to know that that was what he was suggesting.  That ‘take’, however, is preferable to the one that sees in Jael a true picture of the Christian evangelist, for she ‘went softly to him’ and we ought to be gentle in the work of evangelism.  (One may as well see in Sisera’s drinking Jael’s yogurt a foreshadowing of the Lord’s supper!)  Or, does the compassion of Pharaoh’s daughter for baby Moses (Exod. 2:5-6) point to the need we should all feel to exercise empathy with people?  

This sort of thing does not come from the sterile biblical critics but from our own camp, the Bible-thumpers.  Naturally, we would distance ourselves from most of the samples just cited (though some might want to hold on to one or two of them!).  Still, evangelical-types have their own problems with tone-deafness to Scripture.  How easy it is for a Bible-believing, gospel-preaching interpreter to take up Genesis 39 and zero in on verses 7-12 and start pressing home ‘principles for overcoming temptation.’  Now it doesn’t matter whether Potiphar’s wife was an old bag or a real doll, this approach will likely miss the main point.  The whole narrative of Genesis 39 is framed with these notices that ‘Yahweh was with Joseph’ (vv. 2, 3, 21, 23).  These notes do not eliminate the temptation theme, but don’t they say that the presence of God is more primary than the temptation?  The testimony of the whole chapter is then that Joseph had Yahweh’s presence in his forsakenness (vv. 1-6), in his temptation (vv. 7-18), and in his probable disillusionment (vv. 19-23).  The accent falls not on principles we follow but on the presence of the God who keeps us.  It’s almost a case in point contrasting man-centered and God-directed hermeneutics.

I know we want to show how ‘applicable’ Scripture is to our people’s needs and some apparently fear that having a God-focused approach to Scripture will sabotage that.  On the contrary!  It’s when you keep seeing the splendor of God in Scripture that you will address the needs of your people.  Ah, but here I have left lecturing and gone to meddling.  

I simply want to note that not even the Bible-packers have done the OT right.  We often need to be cleansed of our hermeneutical leprosy.  Having a right view of inspiration does not guarantee a proper practice of interpretation.  I think Walt Kaiser said something like that.  So you know it’s true.  

III.  Superficial Assumptions

One morning when we were in Baltimore, my wife called me on the manse-to-study intercom.  I had left a note for her about the repair of our washing machine.  She told me that she could not ‘make out one word’ of that note.  Then she had to gall to proceed to read the note to me over the phone.  My anger began to ignite over the paradox:  she had just said she could not make out one word of my note and here she was reading it off perfectly easily to me!  Then she stumbled on a word–it was the one word she could not make out.  I had assumed when she had said she could not make out one word that she was making a snide remark about left-handed handwriting and that she meant ‘not any word’ instead of ‘just one word.’  I thought she was speaking extensively, whereas she was speaking literally.  It was one of those quick but mistaken assumptions.

I think assumptions like that are made about the Old Testament.  We may make such assumptions because pastors or teachers have passed on their attitudes about how dull or uninspiring many sections of the OT are.  Or we may get that attitude by our own superficial reading of it–there is nothing useful here, we say, or, the writer of Judges 1 must’ve been an unemployed geography teacher angry over the demise of his subject in the public school system and so taking out his vengeance on generations of Bible readers.  I can only say that this attitude keeps you from hearing the OT.  I can only say that I find the apparently dullest and deadest texts to be brimming with vitality and excitement.  I think our real problem is that we don’t want to sit before the Lord’s word and think.  

Take Genesis 25:12-18.  It begins, ‘These are the generations of Ishmael…’, and you say, ‘Ugh, this looks like a downer.’  No sparkling narratives in this section; after all, you’re never going name your kids Mibsam or Mishma.  Twelve sons of Ishmael and so on.  Then what?  Then ‘the generations of Isaac’ (v 19).  Here is the promise line.  Did I say line?  Well, not quite.  Isaac’s praying because Rebekah, like Sarah (see 11:30), is barren (v. 21).  Do you catch the contrast?  Here is the non-promise line, here is the kingdom of this age, Ishmael’s line, and it is going to town with furious fertility (vv 12-18), and here is the promise line, the kingdom people, who can’t even get out of the starting gate.  Isn’t this the way it often is?  The kingdom of God is there but in such mustard-seed form, in such hidden and obscure and fragile fashion, that it doesn’t seem to hold a candle to the virility and vitality of the kingdom of this age.  You still will not likely feel a wave of devotional warmth come over you, but you should see that the biblical writer was making a point when he placed the dull list of Ishmael’s fertility side-by-side with Isaac’s sterility.             

Or take Genesis 23.  Interesting but seemingly not very vital.  Sarah has just died and Abraham is under the gun to get a place to bury her.  He doesn’t want to borrow a grave from the locals but to obtain his own burial plot.  Any mortician with a marketing heart would tell you that you shouldn’t wait till then–arrangements should be pre-planned.  Otherwise you’re at the mercy of the Hittites and you know they will put the screws to you.  But there’s more here than the last rites for Sarah and Ephron’s deposit in First National of Kiriath-arba.  The story brackets itself as occurring in ‘the land of Canaan’ (vv. 2, 19), which might seem trivial except that it was the land Yahweh promised Abraham in 12:7 (‘to your seed I will give this land’).  And four times we read that what Abraham wanted was a ‘possession’ (one time the Hebrew word varies but this does not affect the idea; vv. 4, 9, 18, 20).  And that’s what he got.  Do you see what happened the moment that wry smile wrinkled crafty old Ephron’s face as he felt the 400 weight of Abraham’s silver?  Yahweh had begun to fulfill his promise of a home to Abraham and his seed.  True, it wasn’t much.  But more than he had asked for–Ephron insisted he buy not only the cave but the field it was in!  It was only a cemetery plot, but it was a part of Canaan that now belonged to Abraham.  Yahweh was being faithful to his promise of 12:7!  Sometimes that is the way Yahweh shows himself–as the God who is faithful in little.  And note when he does that–at the death of Sarah.  You can say what you want about a ‘redemptive-historical hermeneutic’ but don’t leave the flesh and blood out of it.  Verses 1-2 (Sarah’s death and Abraham’s mourning) show that covenant people meet common sorrows, and it is interesting that it is precisely in this time of grief and trouble that Yahweh gives Abraham this tiny token of his firm faithfulness.  

Sometimes it’s the commentators who are superficial.  Take the axe-head story in 2 Kings 6:1-7.  One writer says this story illustrates how trivial some of the OT miracles are; another dismisses the whole episode in less than six lines and says it has ‘no particular merit or significance’ apart from showing the power the man of God possesses.  But think a little and put this ‘rinky-dink’ episode in its context.  Before it is the ‘Naaman’ chapter, with all its high-powered political tension.  Well, ask the king of Israel:  the Syrian king sends this high-profile military man to Israel and is obviously trying to foment an ‘international incident.’  And then, post-axe, in 6:8ff. there are these military conflicts between Syria and Israel.  And in the middle of anguished diplomatic maneuverings and military conflicts the God of Israel cares about a dirt-prophet who has lost a borrowed axe-head.  That may be trivial and without merit or significance to some; others, however, will see flashes of glory in it.  They will say, “That’s just vintage Yahweh!  Having his eye on his most obscure servant amid all the stuff that steals headlines in the evening news!”  There is much more in this text but we can’t take the time this morning to–shall we say?–sharpen the axe.

IV.  Hermeneutical Intimidation

Another barrier to the use of the OT in the church is what I call hermeneutical intimidation.  I’m thinking of those OT passages that depict events so racy or so appalling that we wonder whether we dare sully the sermon space with such material.  Or there are texts where God seems to act with such harshness or abruptness that we fear we cannot ‘explain’ them adequately.  The laws of uncleanness in Leviticus 11-15 suddenly seem more preachable than Genesis 38 or Judges 19 or 1 Samuel 15.  Even explaining the ‘sin unto death’ in 1 John 5:16 seems like a piece of cake beside trying to handle a story of a concubine who has been gang-raped and whose corpse has been hacked up into 12 pieces and parcel posted throughout Israel.  Even safer is a nice exposition from Philippians 1.  Now Philippians needs to be preached (and I have done so) but why are we so wary of these wild and unruly OT texts?  I think we are intimidated by them, and wrongly so, for I hold that these terrible texts hold tremendous treasure.  

Take 2 Samuel 6, for instance.  David wants to bring the ark of Yahweh out of obscurity into the city of David.  The celebration begins by transporting the ark, Philistine-like, on a new cart.  Somewhere on the trek the oxen get clumsy and Uzzah reaches out to steady the ark.  Next thing we know, Uzzah is writhing on the ground, the music fades, the gasps begin.  The EMTs arrive but can do nothing.  And the text won’t allow you to say, ‘Well, Uzzah had always had trouble with angina,’ for verse 7 is clear:  ‘The anger of Yahweh burned against Uzzah, and God struck him down there.’  Of course, questions pile up.  Well, Uzzah was in the wrong, but why didn’t Yahweh cut him some slack?  Why was he so abrupt?  So severe?  Now you can explain some items.  You can say that Yahweh had spelled out how the ark was to be moved and apparently no one thought Numbers 4 was that important.  You can probably say that this was not a final but a temporal judgment on Uzzah, i.e., it did not involve his salvation but was a temporal punishment for his error.  In one way, however, that is little help:  how can you say he ‘only’ lost his life?  When all is said and explained, the story leaves you with the impression that Yahweh is a scary God.  I think that’s the point the story wants you to get:  you don’t mess with a God who is both real and holy; you can be angry like David if you want (v 8), but you will do better to join his later response and tremble (v. 9).  Maybe there’s a message for the church here.  We’re always hearing that we should have more emotion and feeling in our worship.  Okay, so how about fear?  That’s emotional.  How about trembling?  How about some God-induced terror?

Then note what the narrative does.  The presence of the ark seems to bring blessing to Obed-edom, its interim caretaker (vv 11-12a), and someone had apparently read the Pentateuch, and so they bring up the ark with joy and celebration.  In the second half of the story, note the emphasis on joy, dancing, and shouting (vv. 12-16).  And there’s another tragedy; this time not Uzzah but Michal–she does not delight in God.  Second Samuel 6 may be a troubling text.  But do you see the theology of the chapter when you put both halves together?  To rightly respond to Yahweh you should both shudder and dance.  Our God is a consuming fire (Deut. 4:24) but he should also be our exceeding joy (Ps. 43:4).  This holy and happy God wants us to reject both irreverence and coldness.  Have you ever wondered what Psalm 2:11 means when it says to ‘rejoice with trembling’?  Don’t we see a narrative incarnation of it in 2 Samuel 6, that leprous text we may have wanted to ignore?  Where can you get a better balance of truth than that?

But let’s face it.  A lot of this ‘hermeneutical intimidation’ comes not from difficulty in understanding the OT text but rather from the way the text will grate on the sensibilities of contemporary culture.  The text is not unclear; it’s the sovereign God of Israel who aggravates the daylights out of proud post-moderns.  Take the first hunk of 2 Kings 1.  King Ahaziah takes a tumble out of an upper storey and is pretty mashed up apparently–enough to be concerned whether he will survive.  So he sends messengers to ask Baal-zebub god of Ekron if he will recover.  Yahweh sends Elijah to intercept his lackeys.  Elijah tells them:  ‘Is it because there is no God in Israel that you are going to inquire from Baal-zebub god of Ekron?  Now therefore, here’s what Yahweh says:  “The bed to which you have gone up–you will not come down from it, but you will surely die”‘ (vv. 3-4).  But folks are offended at such virile biblical theism.  It’s okay for Yahweh to put the first commandment on the books but no need for him to take it so all-fired seriously.  Here is a man in anguish at the most critical hour of his life and is seeking to ‘re-discover some spiritual roots’–and he’s sentenced to death for it.  Just because he prefers a ‘different meta-narrative’ he is doomed.  Why does Yahweh have to love truth that much?  Why is the heat of his holiness always turned up so high?  Why won’t he allow us to shape him in our image?  This not only offends crass pagans but tends to embarrass soft-around-the-edges evangelicals as well.  Sometimes our problem is that the text is all too clear.  

V.  Spiritual Deficiency

I thought I might end on a little piece of heresy–or at least some might think it so.   
Let me do this through the back door.

I remember preaching in one of our Mississippi churches one Sunday evening while I was serving at this fine institution.  After the service a faithful member of that congregation, a lady around 80 years of age who had almost lost her eyesight (but carefully listened) gave me her reaction to the Old Testament text that had been preached:  ‘Isn’t God dear?,’ she said.  She did not mean that in a schmaltzy or mushy sense.  She meant:  Isn’t God delightful?  Isn’t he marvelous?  Doesn’t he act in such ways toward us that stir up our love for him?  She may have been nearly blind but she saw something with keen clarity–if you keep your eyes on God himself you will be thrilled, or at least immensely satisfied.  

Maybe this is why the OT is shut out of the church.  We do not have the right approach.  I am not convinced that there is a ‘problem’ with the OT.  I do not think the ‘strangeness’ or ‘distance’ or the language of the OT is much of a problem; nor is our difficulty with the OT mainly a matter of techniques.  Rather we get off track in our interpretation of the OT because our eyes are fastened on the wrong ‘object.’   I do not mean that we cannot consider methods and genre and criticism and problems, but for crying out loud there is a living God waiting to reveal himself in the OT and we so easily take our eyes off of him!  If he is my exceeding joy (Ps. 43:4) then I should delight in seeing him in the OT.  If he is the fountain of living waters (Jer. 2:13), I should be thirsting and craving for him as I read its texts.  

So much depends on this.  Don’t tell me, ‘But Leviticus is so dull.’  I know the provisions for the sin offering in Leviticus 4-5 aren’t nearly as racy as Judah and Tamar (Gen. 38), but when, for example, you read that if the offender can’t afford a lamb, he can bring two turtledoves or two pigeons, and that if he can’t afford those, he can bring a tenth of an ephah of fine flour–Yahweh is telling you something about himself.  He is saying that he will never let anything get in the way of his finding an atonement for your sins.  For the present he’ll do it with two quarts of flour if he has to.  What kind of a God is that?  Who’s ever heard of such massive, world-moving, guilt-drowning grace?  

Well, we mustn’t get sucked into giving more examples here.  I simply wonder if a good bit of our ‘problem’ with the OT might be a heart problem.  Maybe our problem is a spiritual one–maybe we are not salivating for the triune God as we read our Bibles.  Maybe we’re focused on sermons rather than worship.  If once you have found God fascinating…that goes a long way towards curing the ‘problem’ of the OT. 

_____________________________________________________________________________
Incessantly interesting God, your character is our rest, your ways our relish;
you have left your fingerprints all over your word–you tempt us to come find you in it!  Oh, grant that we will faithfully yield to this temptation, and in and through these pages come to you, to ‘God our exceeding joy.’  Amen.

Ralph Davis is the Pastor at Woodland Presbyterian Church in Hattiesburgh, MS, former professor at Reformed Theological Seminary, and the author of several commentaries published by Christian Focus.”   

http://www.reformation21.org/articles/why-is-the-old-testament-shut-out-of-church.php

From fading glory to surpassing glory

Screen Shot 2017-12-29 at 14.44.32Book 2 Chapter 11 Section 1-14

During the last few chapters Calvin has been at pains to stress the unity and connection between the Old and New Testaments. However, now he focuses on how they are different. He concludes that the major differences lie principally in the mode of administration between the two covenants rather than the substance. Calvin groups these into five points:

  1. In the Old Testament the future inheritance is foreshadowed by earthly blessings, in the New it is more clearly revealed in the gospel and the physical evidences are no longer necessary. Calvin argues that although the Jews were encouraged to regard Canaan as their promised inheritance, the physical land was not the totality of their inheritance. Indeed, God was trying to build the concept of an eternal inheritance through the giving of a temporal land. “He promised them the land of Canaan for an inheritance, not that it might be the limit of their hopes, but that the view of it might train and confirm them in the hope of the true inheritance, which, as yet, appeared not.”
  2. Types are used in the Old Testament, whereas the reality is found in the New Testament.  The idea here is that the God introduced concepts through the Old Testament that were physical expressions of spiritual truths that were later explained and fully realised in the New Testament. An example would be the Scapegoat – where a goat would be symbolically portrayed as receiving the sins of the community and then being taken outside the camp. On one level this illustrated the removal of the sins from the community by God, but as a “type”, this law reveals something of the real scapegoat – the Lord Jesus, on whom our sin was placed and who received the judgement of God.
  3. The Old Testament is literal, the new is spiritual. The former relies on the letter of the law, the latter on the Spirit of the lawgiver. The Old brought death and condemnation, the New life and freedom. Calvin summarises the Old Testament this way: “it commands what is right, prohibits crimes, holds forth rewards to the cultivators of righteousness, and threatens transgressors with punishment, while at the same time it neither changes nor amends that depravity of heart which is naturally inherent in all.”
  4. The Old Testament brings bondage, the new freedom. The Old breeds fear, the New confidence and security. Indeed, the former “filled the conscience with fear and trembling” the latter “inspires it with gladness.”
  5. The Old Testament belongs to one people only, the new to all. Calvin is here referring to the bringing in of the Gentiles to God’s plan of salvation through the preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

In light of the significant differences between the two testaments, and the subsequent confusion that blights many believers when studying the Old Testament, in the final section Calvin considers why God bothered to use two testaments at all. Why didn’t God go straight to the New Testament without the introduction of the Old? Why bother with physical illustrations of types and figures rather than going straight to the reality and underlying spiritual truths? Indeed, some have become so confused that they claim that the God of the Old Testament was different to the God of the New Testament.

  • Firstly, because in His infinite wisdom God saw fit to use this means to glorify Himself and tutor His children in the depths of His grace and mercy. God was pleased to use earthly blessings to reflect spiritual blessings and physical punishments to reflect the horror of spiritual punishments.
  • Secondly, God should not be criticised because He adapts different forms to different ages. Calvin uses the methods employed by a father to instruct his children compared to those he uses when they have reached adulthood – different methods for different times.
  • Thirdly, as a wise and loving Creator, God is pleased to adopt the best method at the right moment in history. We should not wonder that God used a different set of signs to prepare for Christ’s first coming than He uses now that Jesus has been manifested to the world.

Response

It seems to me that many believers today are confused about the place and value of the Old Testament. Over the last few chapters we have thought about how the two testaments are similar and different. When Calvin draws the connections between the Old and New Testaments he draws out the beauty in the former and enables us to see the jewels scattered broadly throughout the law and the prophets. When he now turns to show us the greatness of the New in comparison to the Old he helps us to see that the beauty of the Old is like shiny copper compared to the sparkling emerald of the New.

“Now if the ministry that condemns men is glorious, how much more glorious is the ministry that brings righteousness! For what was glorious has no glory now in comparison with the surpassing glory. And if what was fading away came with glory, how much greater is the glory of that which lasts!” 2 Corinthians 3. 9-11

 

The relational God

labyrinth2Calvin’s Institutes (Book I Chapter X Section 1-3)

In Chapter 10 Calvin returns to the theme of the knowledge of the Creator God as found in the scriptures. By now we appreciate how hard it is to come to a real understanding of who God is. Indeed in Chapter 6 Calvin is honest enough to recognise how hard it is for anyone to come to a true understanding of the Living God. He says “we should consider that the brightness of the Divine countenance, which even the apostle declares to be inaccessible, is a kind of labyrinth, – a labyrinth to us inextricable, if the Word does not serve as a thread to guide our path: and that it is better to limp in the way, than run with the greatest swiftness out of it.” (I.VI.3).

But now Calvin is ready to introduce us to God as he reveals himself in His interactions with mankind.  This enables us to more fully understand and appreciate his attributes as He relates to us as our Creator. The three foundational attributes that God reveals about himself are His:

  1. Loving-kindness – His loving care for His children
  2. Judgment– His disciplining work as a just Sovereign
  3. Righteousness – His saving and preservation of the righteous

His other attributes of truth, power, holiness and goodness are encompassed by these three.

Response:

How true it is that so many today are lost in this labyrinth, dashing headlong towards another dead-end. If, by the Grace of God, we have been shone upon by a shaft of divine light illuminating His character, let us give thanks rather than pretend it was any wisdom or virtue of ours.

God reveals Himself as the relational God, but no one ever said that a relationship with God would be easy. We can’t pick and choose the attributes we would like God to have. We may wish he only had certain attributes that we are comfortable with, but if we are to have a true and meaningful relationship with Him then we must come to Him as He is, not how our culturally moulded sensitivities dictate.

“As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust.” Psalm 103.13+14

Father thank you for revealing something of Your character to us, we confess our limited understanding and corrupt minds. Help us to love and adore you as you are and not try to make you fit into our finite minds. We embrace your Fatherhood today and your right to govern this world by Your wisdom and truth, Amen.

Word and Spirit in harmony

libertine2Calvin’s Institutes (Book I Chapter IX Section 1-3)

In this short chapter Calvin address the error of the Libertines – not the British punk-rock band, but a group in Calvin’s day that claimed the Spirit spoke to them apart from the written word. They are even so bold to “reject all reading of scripture themselves, and deride the simplicity of those who only delight in what they call the dead and deadly letter”. Thus they promote the superiority of the Spirit over the word of God and separate the two by their teaching.

Calvin shows how ridiculous this position is by drawing attention to the attitude of the apostle Paul who, although he received direct revelations from God, always had the utmost respect and reverence for the written word. Paul exhorts Timothy to commit himself to the public reading of scripture and describes every part of the written word as useful for “teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3.16). The witness of the other bible authors is the same – despite many of them hearing God directly or seeing visions and dreams, they all have the deepest regard for the scriptures.

Indeed, in contrast to the view of the Libertines, the role of Spirit is “not to form new and unheard of revelations, or to coin a new form of doctrine of the gospel, but to seal on our minds the very doctrine which the gospel recommends”. Calvin finishes by admitting that the letter of the law can indeed be dead when not read with the grace of Christ, and when it only “sounds in the ear without touching the heart”.

Response

The word without the Spirit leads to legalism and dead orthodoxy, the Spirit without the word quickly leads to error and false teaching. Both are necessary to a healthy discipleship where our lives are brought under the authority and teaching of the word, powerfully applied to our hearts by the Holy Spirit. This is where real liberty is found.

“Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God”. Ephesians 6.17

Father, keep us from the errors of empty orthodoxy and passionate error. We rely on the final and sufficient revelation found in your word, send your Spirit to transform our understanding of you. Magnify the Lord Jesus through your word by your Spirit today, Amen.

An argument for the credibility of scripture

Witness2Calvin’s Institutes (Book I Chapter VIII Section 1-13)

Having established in the previous chapters that the witness of the Spirit is essential to believing in the divine inspiration of the bible, Calvin does not leave the issue there. In Chapter 8 he turns to “proofs” that demonstrate the reasonableness of this belief. He uses a number of arguments to demonstrate the credibility of scripture, including its majesty, simplicity, antiquity, preservation by the Jews and testimony of the martyrs.  But it is his arguments regarding Moses that I had found most interesting.

Calvin points to four things in the life of Moses that enhance the credibility of his writing as being divinely inspired:

1. The honesty of Moses. When Moses was writing the account in Genesis of Jacob’s benediction to his sons, he writes that Jacob says to Simeon and Levi (whose tribe Moses belonged to) “Let me not enter their council, let me not join their assembly…I will scatter them in Jacob and disperse them in Israel” (Genesis 49.6+7). If Moses was creating a work of fiction would he not make his ancestor the most blessed of all the children rather than the one cursed? Or consider “why does he not bestow the office of High Priest on his sons, instead of consigning them to the lowest place” when by his word he could command the entire nation?

2. The miracles of Moses. How many miraculous signs and wonders happened during Moses ministry and yet, despite all the grumbling of the Israelites and all the challenges to his authority, none of the Israelites ever disputed these events. The mighty acts testify that Moses was a prophet from God and was speaking on behalf of God.

3. The character of Moses. Again, throughout his ministry Moses’ leadership and authority was repeatedly challenged. The people challenging him were eye witnesses to the miraculous events and had a very strong oral tradition regarding the life of the Patriarchs and would have known if he had made the slightest exaggeration or embellishment in his writing to enhance his status.

4. The predictions of Moses. Turning again to the account of Jacob’s benediction, Moses relates that Judah will be given the ruler’s scepter (Genesis 49.10). There is no evidence for this prediction coming true during, or for 400 years after, the life of Moses. Indeed, the first king chosen is from the line of Benjamin. How could Moses have known that God would remove the kingship from Saul and grant it to David – of the tribe of Judah.

Response:

In the 500 years since Calvin penned these words the credibility of Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch and traditional views of the Old Testament has been viciously attacked by academics and liberal philosophy. Calvin’s arguments in this chapter need to be supplemented with a response from modern day theologians.

However, I believe he makes a good point when he  reminds us of the power of eyewitnesses in the scriptures, not only in the Gospels, but also in the Pentateuch. As the accounts of the Exodus and wilderness wanderings were committed to manuscripts there would be those alive who could testify to the truth or error of the writings. They would keep the author accountable to the truth of the events they related.

“We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty”. 2 Peter 1.16

Father, thank you for the testimony of reliable, trustworthy men who were led by the Holy Spirit to commit your words and deeds to writing. Strengthen the confidence of your people today in the credibility of your word and guide your theologians to present the reasonableness of this belief to our generation. For your glory and honour, Amen.