The Link between Lot and Rahab

A series of parallels in the stories of Lot and Rahab

In his creation of life, God reused code in projects as varied as people and plantains. That’s not a lack of imagination as some ignorant people insist. It’s a love of elegance. Things that appear to be wildly different becoming quite similar when you look closer.

God clearly loves a good pattern, and this character trait comes out all through Scripture. From a distance, Genesis, Leviticus, Psalms, Ezekiel, Matthew, and James all look very different, but when you put them under a microscope, segments of reused code–like DNA–begin to emerge.

Consider the characters of Lot and Rahab. They are fairly minor characters in the Old Testament, but they are both discussed in the New Testament more than Josiah, Ezekiel, Esther, Samson, Ezra, or Nehemiah, all of whom are might seem to be more significant. When you look closely, they have a lot more in common with each other too.

Lot Rahab
A sinner living in a sinful city, doomed to destruction. A sinner living in a sinful city, doomed to destruction.
Two men entered the city gates by day. Two men entered the city gates by day.
Sheltered the two visitors in his house at night. Sheltered the two visitors in her house at night.
Men of the city demanded he surrender the two visitors. Men of the city demanded she surrender the two visitors.
Believed the two visitors. Believed the two visitors.
His home city was destroyed. Her home city was destroyed.
Saved himself & part of his family. Saved herself & part of his family.

That’s pretty amazing! It’s what Tony Robinson calls a “thematic connection,” and I don’t recall anyone every mentioning it in Sunday School.

It’s very cool, it’s fascinating, but, having made the connection, is there any practical value to be had?

Yes!

A sinner living in a sinful city. Neither Lot nor Rahab were perfect people. In fact, they are remarkable for their glaring failures. Who else is a sinner living in a sinful city, doomed to destruction? You and me. We’re all sinners (Romans 3:23), and all cities are doomed to eventual destruction. Whoever you are, wherever you live, you are a sinner living in the modern equivalent of Sodom, Jericho, and Nineveh.

Two visitors sheltered, nourished, and believed. Unlike the ACLU and the court of public opinion, God never passes judgment without due process. He respects his own rules, and he provides both warnings of pending judgment and credible witnesses to all accusations. We have been warned by an unending stream of prophets and teachers from the very beginning, and there are several pairs of witnesses that testify of our sins. Just four of those pairs are (1) the Torah and the Spirit, (2) the Tanakh (the Old Testament) and the Apostles (the New Testament), Moses and Yeshua (Jesus) and (3) the written word and the living Word.

Lot and Rahab took their two witnesses into their homes, sheltering and nourishing them. We need to do the same with the written word, as Moses instructed us (Deuteronomy 6) and as David exemplified (Psalm 119): read, listen, study, discuss… Hide God’s Law in your heart. We need to pray and commune with God regularly and consistently (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Worship, prayer, and emulation are like the food of God. He doesn’t want us to be always learning and never doing. He wants us to spend time with him, and he wants to see us living as Yeshua lived. In these ways we ensure that God’s witnesses will be in our favor at the end and will rescue us from the destruction that awaits those who refused them.

The men of the city. We are assailed daily by attacks on our faith, on the reliability of the Scriptures, and on the reality and sufficiency of Yeshua. Schools, courts, friends, family, and employers under the sway of humanists and God-haters tell us that God’s Law is evil and that sin is virtue. The primary mission of our Enemy is to defile everything that is pure, and the more determined you are to hide God’s word in your heart and display it in your life, the more determined he will be to tear you down. Your only hope for salvation is in the forgiveness of the Father and the strengthening of the Holy Spirit.

Salvation of self and family. Like Lot and Rahab, your faithfulness can help to save your family. You can’t force anyone to believe in Yeshua–remember Lot’s wife–but you can have enormous influence on them through your own faithfulness. As your character and your love increases, those who have a willing heart will be drawn to God through you. Noah, Joseph, Paul’s and Silas’ jailer, the faithful wife of 1 Corinthians 7… all these were able to save some or all of their families through extraordinary obedience to God.

What really connects Lot and Rahab–and you and me–is their faith. God sent messengers to warn them of the destruction of their cities. Alone of the inhabitants in the city, they believed God, they acted on their belief, and their faith was counted to them as righteousness.

They weren’t perfect; they were sinners like you and me. Lot fathered children with his daughters, and Rahab was a prostitute who betrayed her people. This too is a consistent pattern. David was an idolater, adulterer, and murderer, yet God loved him and called him faultless because of his faith and repentance from sin.

We are Lot and Rahab and David, and if there’s hope for them, there’s hope for us too.

What Purpose the Crucifixion?

In the eyes of God, Yeshua's blood erases our sins and his righteousness becomes ours.Someone on Twitter recently told me that he is still not sure why the Messiah needed to die. My reply (brief due to the limitations of Twitter) was something like this:

Something has to cover (atone) our sins before we can approach God. A precise understanding of how atonement works is probably beyond our comprehension, but I think of it like neutralizing a bad odor. God can’t stomach our stench, so he sent Yeshua whose blood covers and removes it. His good odor becomes ours in God’s nostrils, hence the repeated description of sacrifices as “a pleasing aroma” to God.

This interaction reminded me of another conversation I had with someone a long time ago, reproduced here:

Q: What purpose did the crucifixion and resurrection serve?

Among other things, the Crucifixion satisfied the requirement of the Law for the death of the sinner, and the Resurrection established Yeshua’s permanent mastery of death. The Law still requires death for certain offenses, but there is forgiveness apart from mere physical death. Yeshua’s crucifixion opened the door for grace at the final judgment and for eternal salvation.

Q: Did they change anything? If so, what, when, and for whom? Was the world a different place after the resurrection than before Christ’s death on the cross? In what way?

There was a change, but it was subtle (and dramatic at the same time, if that makes sense). Without Yeshua’s death and resurrection, nobody at any point in history, backwards or forwards, could ever be saved from eternal damnation or granted eternal life, but the method of salvation didn’t change after that event from what it was before. In other words, someone in 100 BC is saved the same way as someone in 100 AD: through faith in God’s mercy enabled by the blood of Yeshua. Salvation has always been available to anyone who asked and subjected themselves to God’s mercy. No one was ever saved by his own circumcision or obedience to Law, but by the grace of God in providing a substitutionary payment for the sins of all people who have ever lived.

Yeshua’s resurrection proved his innocence. He could not be condemned because he never violated a single point of the Law and so could not be held in the grave. Untainted blood acts as a sort of spiritual shield or mask that allows us to approach God (and vice versa) closer than we could as our natural, fallen selves. In the eyes of God, Yeshua’s blood erases our sins and his righteousness appears to the Father as our own if we willingly place ourselves beneath it. But since God exists outside of time and could look through that blood at Abraham and David as well as at you and I, this doesn’t really answer the question.

The world was a different place after Yeshua’s death and resurrection in three important ways.

First, our perspective changed. Abraham knew a redeemer must come and looked forward in faith to that day. We now know that the redeemer has already come, and we look back at that day in faith that his blood is sufficient to cover our sins. The ultimate fulfillment of redemption is yet to come, but the payment has been made in full. An earnest of delivery was given in the form of the Holy Spirit, and we now look forward to the reality.

Second, although God exists outside of time, our spirits do not. Before Yeshua, the Scriptures seem to indicate that the dead went to some place like the underworld common to most ancient mythologies: “Abraham’s Bosom” for the faithful and Hades for the unfaithful. They could speak and thirst and could sometimes even return to the land of the living. Yeshua changed something in that arrangement, although I won’t pretend to understand exactly what.

Third, Yeshua, who has become a man and the firstborn of the resurrection, can now operate as our high priest in the supreme tabernacle in Heaven. When we accept his kingship and covering of our souls, our obligation is transferred from the Law, which holds us in bondage as lawbreakers, to him, who sets us free by mercy. His priesthood is superior to that of Aaron’s and his forgiveness supersedes any condemnation we might have under the Law.

Q: Did He die only so that we wouldn’t have to go to Jerusalem every year and kill animals for God?

No. The sacrificing of animals never had anything to do with eternal salvation. They atoned for inadvertent or accidental sins. There has never been an animal sacrifice for deliberate sin. Having said that, I don’t know exactly what affect his death and resurrection has on animal sacrifices. Since they were never intended to save anyone’s soul and there is no altar on which to offer them anyway, it’s not something I’m going to worry about overmuch.

However, there are prophecies that appear to indicate there will be animal sacrifices offered up again on an altar in Jerusalem under Yeshua’s personal supervision. If that is a correct understanding, then his death could not possibly have negated all need or use for sacrifices. Perhaps no sin offerings will be made, but other kinds will. I’m not sure.

Q: The patriarchs of old, were they really saved through their faith that Yahweh would send a walking talking Messiah one day thousands of years in the future to walk and talk with their descendants, or were they saved through simple childlike faith that Yahweh would somehow make good on His word that He would redeem all of His people?

Both. They were saved by their faith in God’s mercy that he would give them life despite their sins. The mechanism of that mercy was the Messiah’s death, which some of them knew was necessary. I don’t believe they had to know the precise details of what form that mechanism would take, so long as they trusted in God to provide it. I believe the same is true today.

Q: Did they really know who the Messiah would be or what purpose He would serve?

Some of them, yes. I believe Abraham knew after God provided a sacrifice in place of Isaac. He prophesied of the Messiah when he told Isaac, “God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering.” (Hebrew for “burnt offering” is olah, which means “an ascending”. It implies something that burns and rises up in smoke, but it could be interpreted as anything that ascends to Heaven.) God actually provided a ram that day, not a lamb. The promised Lamb of God appeared centuries later in the person of Yeshua, was killed, rose from the dead, and ascended to Heaven.

Q: Christ said “believe on me and you shall be saved.” How about those who lived and died before Christ? Did Job appeal to his Maker or to his cousin Abraham’s seed?

Isn’t Abraham’s seed and Job’s Maker one and the same? In order to believe on Christ, no one needs to know the specific sounds that make up his human name (or any facsimile thereof) or even to know that he has already come. They only need to know that they are sinners and hopeless in themselves and to trust in (“believe on”) God to provide the means of their salvation. That means is Yeshua, but Job didn’t need to know the name of the Messiah nor the specific time or place of his birth. He just had to trust God to take care of it.

Q: Another very odd thing about the Scriptures is that they almost always, when properly translated (such as in the KJV, remarkably enough), say that the faith OF Christ shall save us, not our faith IN Christ. Now isn’t that strange?

The limitations of human language. We cannot possibly be really saved by any actions or thoughts of our own. Salvation is provided solely by God based on his own criteria. Fortunately, he has promised that salvation to us based on certain conditions which do not include physical obedience to any law.

Q: And what of Mark 9:24, where the man says “I believe. Help my unbelief.” How does a man need help believing if he is already fully convinced?

Is anyone ever fully convinced of anything? I trust and believe, but sometimes I still have doubts.

Romans 7:15-17 For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I. If then I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law that it is good. Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.

There are so many questions concerning spiritual matters for which we only have unsatisfactory answers, at least intellectually. But this is one of the greatest things about God and his plan for our salvation. It doesn’t matter how smart you are, how well you can wrap your mind around the incomprehensible details of an infinite God. What matters is that you are able to perceive and admit your own imperfections and to trust in Him, and our capacity to trust is not tied to our capacity to reason.

Faith Is Like a Seed. Make It Grow.

Four essential elements to growing stronger faith in God.

Faith is ubiquitous in Scripture.

  • Faith makes us well. (Matthew 9:22 & 29, Luke 17:19, Acts 3:16, James 5:15, etc.)
  • Faith makes great works possible. (Matthew 17:20, Luke 17:6, Hebrews 11, etc.)
  • Faith inevitably leads to good works. (Acts 20:21, Romans 3:31, Hebrews 11, James 2, etc.)
  • Faith makes our good works effective on the spiritual plane. (Hebrews 11, James 2, etc.)
  • Faith is essential to our eternal salvation. (Romans 3:28, Ephesians 2:8, Hebrews 11, etc.)

Over and over, the scriptures say, “If you had faith, you would be healed.” If you had faith, big things would happen.

Clearly faith is vital. Without faith, we are powerless. Without faith, we are lost.

Yet we all struggle with insufficient faith. We believe, but, for most of us, big things aren’t happening. As the desperate father in Mark 9 said, “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.”

Is it possible to develop faith, to start with a little and end with a lot? We know that God can simply give us greater faith–he is God, after all–but from long experience we also know that’s not how he usually operates. Yes, our faith can grow over time. Paul told the congregation at Thessalonika that he thanked God for their continually growing faith (2 Thessalonians 1:3), and Yeshua hinted at this fact when he compared faith to a seed. (Matthew 17:20) Seeds aren’t meant to be static. They were designed to sprout and grow into something much larger, which in turn produces many more seeds of its own.

The big question is how. How can we develop our faith from a mere seed to a plant? I know that this is a question that I have struggled with all of my life. Why aren’t people healed when we pray? The answer to that question can be complicated, but Scripture is very clear that, at least in part, people aren’t healed because they or the one praying for their healing have too little faith.

So how can we grow more faith?

Yeshua’s metaphor of the mustard seed implies that faith doesn’t grow only by virtue of its existence. No seed sprouts and grows without fertile soil, water, stress, and light. There are things besides faith itself, which we need to add to our little seed before it will grow to the piont of moving mountains and healing the sick.

Deep, Rich Spiritual Soil

Just as in the parable of the sower and the seed of the Gospel, the seed of faith also needs deep, healthy soil to prosper. It needs to be embedded in an environment which encourages long-term, meaningful maturity. The environment in which our faith sprout–or doesn’t sprout–includes the people, places, things, and habits with which we surround ourselvs.

We have all heard that you become like those with whom you spend the most time, and I believe it’s true.

Pessimists are like the weeds of the parable. Their constant negativity chokes the hope and life out of you until you can’t believe in that anything good could happen for you. They need love as much as anyone–more, evidently–but you can’t keep them as close friends. They will drag you down to keep company with their misery.

The proud and self-sufficient are like the rocks. On the surface, they might be very positive, but their hearts are hard. Why should they trust in God when they believe they already have all that they need. If you spend too much time with them, the seed of faith will have no opportunity to put down roots, and it will whither and die.

Maintaining and building faith requires keeping company with people of faith. Surround yourself with people who trust God. Be active in a community of faith. Be a friend to people who are where you want to be, and be careful not to speak negativity into their lives.

And not only company, but our home, work, and religious environments need to be conducive to developing faith. What kind of art hangs on your walls? What is the usual conversation like in the break room? Do your personal and spiritual habits focus on God’s faithfulness or on God’s wrath?

People like to denegrate religion, but ritual and tradition have always been very powerful instruments for building faith. Liturgy, rituals, annual observances, and the like will never save anyone. If your church teaches that they are necessary for salvation, that will tend to degrade faith. However, if they use these things to emphasize God’s dependability and mercy, they can be wonderful. The forms of traditional religion that unite people and build faith while honoring God’s commands are nearly endless. It’s important that your religion honors God by adhering to his standards, but don’t throw out all religion because some people and organizations have abused it.

If there are elements of your environment that discourage faith, consider how you can replace them with something more positive.

Good Spiritual Nourishment

Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. (Romans 10:17)

The Bible is full of God promises and stories of those who trusted him and also those who didn’t trust him. Memorize God’s promises and read those stories often. They are all through the Scriptures, but especially focus on Genesis, the historical books1 the Psalms, and the Gospels2. There are also many stories of faith and miracles outside the Bible. The biographies of missionaries are especially rich nourishment in this respect.

Entertainment and education should also be designed to promote a strong faith and relationship with God. If your favorite author writes disdainfully of the miraculous and if your favorite bands mock the promises of God, how can they do anything but discourage you? It’s counter-productive to read about divine Providence in the morning and listen to someone talk about how it’s all “me, me, me” in the afternoon.

Pay attention to what’s being fed into your life, and try to filter out those inputs that aren’t helpful. Replace them with books, videos, podcasts, conversations, etc., that will encourage you and reinforce your faith.

Spiritual Stress

Yes, stress. Just like children, all plants need some kind of stress to mature and produce good fruit. Some plants need a touch of frost. Some need a hard freeze. Some plants need a strong wind to scatter seeds and some need to be eaten. Almost all plants need pruning in order to reach their greatest heights and productivity.

Your faith will never grow if it is never put to the test. How do you learn to trust someone if you never need to trust them. You start by acting as if you have faith, whether or not you do. You make yourself vulnerable and take a chance.

Take risks. Get banged up a little. If nothing else, you’ll toughen up a bit and gain some life experience.

Shining Spiritual Light

In Yeshua was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:4-5)

Faith isn’t the belief that God exists. Faith is the belief that God is who he says he is, that he keeps his promises, that he loves you and will never abandon you. Faith is another word for trust.

How do you learn to trust a friend, your husband, your wife? Through experience. You trust a good friend because he has been there for you in the past. He stood by your side when everyone else disappeared. If you want to trust God more, then you need to spend more time with him. Set some time aside every day to read your Bible, to pray, and to listen.

Your prayers don’t have to be limited to any particular format. Kneel and pray aloud if that works for you. Or sit in a comfortable chair and sip your morning coffee. Go for a walk. Dance. Whatever language allows you to speak most freely is fine because God speaks that language too.

Corporate worship is also important. Liturgical and informal prayer, singing of hymns, blowing shofars, dancing, waiving banners, pilgrimages… Like intimacy in a marriage and shared experiences with friends, all of these things create mental and spiritual reactions in us that draw us closer to God, that strengthen our emotional ties to the one being worshipped. (And be careful that your worship is directed upward and not to a performer on stage or to an experience.)

Getting to know God isn’t limited to the proverbial prayer closet and time spent focusing vertically. We can also gain a deeper knowledge of God by focusing laterally, toward the people around us.

The King will answer them, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’” (Matthew 25:40)

Everyone around you–young and old, sick and healthy, good and bad–bears the image of God, and they are all the focus of God’s loving attention. If you want to know God better, go find someone with a need that you can meet and then meet it. Pay attention to the things that God pays attention to. Be kind. Be generous. Love your neighbor, and not just your wealthy and nice smelling neighbors. In showing love to people who desparately need it, you will learn something of God’s heart, of the love and the pain that God feels for each one of us, and God himself will draw nearer to you.

It’s not enough to let God’s love illuminate you, because you weren’t designed just to be a solar collector. You were designed to take the spiritual light of Yeshua and turn it into fruit full of good works meant to feed God’s people. If you want more faith, then you need to be the instrument through which God answers the faith of others.

Faith is a living, growing thing. It requires attention, care, and feeding. It needs a healthy environment in which to take root. It needs a constant stream of reinforcement and encouragement. It needs exercise. Most of all, faith depends on an ever-growing relationship with the King in whom we have faith and with his people for whom we ARE faith.

Gardens don’t spontaneously spring up from the ground. They take planning, deliberate action, and hard work. Even Eden needed a gardener.

When I sit down to write, I usually have an idea of what I intend to communicate, but sometimes God leads me in a direction I wasn’t expecting. This is one of those times, and this is a message I needed to hear. Using this structure of a seed needing good soil, nourishment, stress, and light, I’m going to develop a faith-growing plan for myself and my family.

I encourage you to do the same.

Evaluate your current environment and your life’s inputs and identify those things that would tend to discourage faith. Don’t try to fix everything right away. Remember that God told Israel only to drive the Canaanites out of the land as they were ready to advance and occupy it. Instead, remove a negative influence and replace it with a positive one. Then another. Have a plan with a definite goal in mind, and don’t be afraid to alter the plan as you go and circumstances require. As long as you continue to move forward, your faith will too.

 


1 Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1-2 Samuel, 1-2 Kings, 1-2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther.
2 Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and Acts.

The Roles and Fields of Righteous Men

Every laborer has his place in God's vineyard.Four of the great patriarchs of Torah were faced with the deserved destruction of unrighteous people, and the all reacted differently.

When God told Noah that he would destroy the entire world by a great flood, he spent his days building an ark to save his family according to God’s command, but also in preaching to the lost. Even though God had told him the world was beyond saving, he meant to try it anyway. God did not rebuke him for it, and the Apostles even praised Noah for his great work as a preacher. Even so, his efforts seem pointless. I doubt that he gained anything useful from them except for a greater understanding of the debased nature of man. God killed every living person on the planet outside of Noah’s small family.

A few hundred years later, God told Abraham that he was about to destroy Sodom. The people there had never done anything for Abraham, and in fact had caused him a considerable amount of trouble. Abraham knew that Sodom was a cesspit and didn’t want anything to do with it, yet he dared to bargain with God to save the people of Sodom anyway. The remarkable thing is that God entertained this negotiation. Like Noah before him, Abraham’s efforts went unrewarded beyond the personal gain of a greater understanding of God and man. God sterilized Sodom with fire, saving only Lot, his wife, and two daughters.

Lot too, tried to save more than were only in his house. He tried to save his married daughters and their families as the angels told him, but he couldn’t even convince those whom God had told him to save. He should have been working to save the people of Sodom all along, but he waited until it was too late, and then he couldn’t even save what was once his own. Even those family members who had escaped with him would be taken away, his wife by her own disobedience, and his daughters by his own poor judgment and the infectious wickedness of Sodom that they had brought with them. Lot, too, learned something of God and human nature, but he couldn’t save anyone.

Later, Moses would be given the opportunity to save others multiple times. He tried to save Pharaoh and the people of Egypt through preaching, but he already knew that they wouldn’t listen and would be crushed beneath God’s wrath. However, the outcome in Moses’ other opportunities was different than all those previous. He called Israel out of Egypt, and they followed him and the pillar across the Red Sea to safety. He interceded on Israel’s behalf several times in the wilderness, even offering his own life, and caused God to spare them each time.

I’m not sure that Moses was such a better man than Abraham or Noah. (A strong argument could be made concerning Lot, however.) They were all great men of God. So why did Moses succeed where his ancestors had failed?

The answer is the same that must be given to the man called to be a shepherd who would rather be a traveling evangelist, to a prophet who would rather be a king, and to a hand that would rather be an eye: It wasn’t their job.

Noah’s job was to clear the land. He uprooted trees, cut sod, and tilled the soil. It didn’t matter how long he preached to the blades of grass; they would never become wheat. Abraham planted seeds in the soil Noah had prepared. He weeded, watered, and fertilized. And Lot…well, Lot tried, but in the end, all he could do was transplant a few questionable tares from one garden to another.

But Moses harvested. He arrived in just the right season, and he reaped where he hadn’t sown. That was simply his role to play. It doesn’t necessarily mean that Moses was greater than Abraham. Where would the reaper be without the sower? Moses just had a different job to do.

(Originally written for Soil from Stone, January 22, 2013.)

The Real Difference Between the Righteous and the Wicked

The Scriptures call Noah, Abraham, and David righteous men, but Paul said that “all our righteousness is as filthy rags.” The Biblical narratives of these men illustrates Paul’s point very well:

The second thing Noah did when he got off the boat was to plant a vineyard so he could get drunk. (You have to give him props for patience and long-term planning.) When push came to shove, Abraham lied and gave up his wife in order to save his own skin. And who can forget the story of David and Bathsheba? Over the preceding decades, he killed hundreds of men with his own hands and then topped it off by stealing a friend’s wife and having the friend killed to cover up his adultery.

After all that, how can Scripture call them righteous men, “a friend of God”, and “a man after God’s own heart”?

Psalm 32, written by David, is a chiastic song (see here for an explanation of chiasms) that helps us understand this seeming contradiction.

A chiasm in Psalm 32

  • A – V1-2 Blessed is the forgiven who honestly repents
    • B – V3-4 Living in unrepented, unconfessed sin is oppressive to a righteous man
      • C – V5 I determined to confess (speech) and I will be forgiven.
        • D – V6-7 Let the righteous pray to God before it is too late. God will save them.
      • C – V8 Let me tell you (speech) how to find the peace that I have.
    • B – V9 Don’t cling stubbornly to sin. Don’t prompt God to reign you in forcibly.
  • A – V10-11 Steadfast love and joy are for the righteous and upright in heart

David began by describing the reaction of a righteous man to sin in his own life. “When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. Day and night your hand was heavy upon me. My strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.” He vividly described a tormented, guilty conscience. He continued by describing the antidote to his shame: confession, forgiveness, repentance. He said the same will work for every righteous person: “Let everyone who is godly pray to you while you may still be found.”

Adopting the perspective of God speaking to the penitent David, he wrote, “I will teach you how to walk and will watch over you as you go.” The wicked, to the contrary, do not repent, but cling stubbornly to their sin. If they feel shame’s call to repent, they suppress it until they can no longer hear it. Longing to be free, they reject God’s Law of life and love, and replace it with another, harsher law of death and hatred. “Many are the sorrows of the wicked,” David said, “but steadfast love surrounds the one who trusts in Adonai.”

David was a righteous man, yet he sinned. The difference between a righteous and a wicked man, according to David’s testimony, isn’t sin itself, but the man’s response to it. The righteous man doesn’t want to sin. He wants to be perfect, to be obedient to God’s instructions. He listens to his conscience and to God’s words. The wicked man hears the same words, feels the same shame, but trains himself to ignore it, to submit instead to a yoke of sin that can only lead to death.

Be the righteous man by confessing your sins to God, asking His forgiveness, and by endeavoring not to repeat them. In Romans 1-2, Paul describes what will happen if you ignore God’s call for too long.

And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done.
(Romans 1:28 ESV)

Eventually, it will be too late. You won’t be able to turn back, either because God won’t let you or because you have just run out of time.

(This post is about what separates the heart of the righteous from the heart of the wicked. Later this week, I’ll talk about a few outward evidences of what’s going on inside.)

Hunter vs Shepherd

Everyone has a role to play in God’s plan. Don’t be afraid to be who God intends for you to be.
Everyone has a role to play in God’s plan. Don’t be afraid to be who God intends for you to be.

Genesis 21:20 And God was with the boy, and he grew, and lived in the wilderness, and became an archer.

At least on a personal level, archery is almost exclusively an offensive art. You can’t effectively defend yourself with a bow the way you can with a shield or even a pike. So it fits with Ishmael’s character and God’s prophecy about him that he would be an accomplished archer.

Like other shady characters in the Bible, Ishmael was a predator by nature. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that; God needs hunters too. They can put food on the table (or the spit, as the case may be) and can take down the enemy’s king from a distance in the heat of battle. But a man who is a predator by nature may not be suitable for certain roles, such as carrying on God’s promise to send a Messiah who would take away the sins of the world.

Of course, this does not mean that Isaac was chosen for that role because of his superior character. He was only an infant. He had no character yet. Isaac was chosen to inherit the blessing of Abraham because that’s what God had promised to do. Nothing more or less. There was nothing Isaac could have done to merit God’s grace.

We all have our roles to play in God’s plan. Some of us are hunters and some shepherds; some are doctors, janitors, soldiers, or millwrights. The important thing is to be who you were called to be and not to be jealous of other parts of the body of Messiah.

(Edited and relocated from “Soil and Stone” where it was originally published on 2/16/2013.)

Sometimes Faithfulness Requires Coloring outside the Lines

Abraham and Sarah sending Hagar into the wilderness
Abraham and Sarah sending Hagar into the wilderness

Peter told us that Sarah obeyed Abraham, not the other way around. (1 Peter 3:5-6) She respected her husband so profoundly that she even called him “Lord.” Can you imagine what kind of reception that would have in one of today’s churches? They would probably call the police on Abraham and report him for emotional abuse. Even so, Peter points to her attitude as the biblical ideal, saying, “Ladies, if you are Sarah’s daughters you should emulate her.” (See Mutual Submission in Marriage, part 1 and part 2.)

Peter painted a rosy picture of Sarah-homemaker and Patriarch Abe, but it was incomplete. Sarah and Abraham weren’t perfect. Far from it. They didn’t always believe, Abraham wasn’t always wise, and Sarah wasn’t always respectful. Consider the matter with Hagar.

Genesis 21:10-11 And she said to Abraham, Cast out this slave woman and her son. For the son of this slave woman shall not be heir with my son, with Isaac. (11) And the thing was very evil in Abraham’s sight, because of his son.

Sarah overstepped her bounds when she told Abraham what to do with Hagar and Ishmael. She had every right to make her wishes known and to give Abraham advice (respectfully and gently!), but this was neither a wish nor advice. It was a command. Old Abe would have been perfectly within his rights to tell her to take a hike.

Whatever we may think of polygamy and concubinage, God recognized both as legitimate–if not always wise–marriage. Abraham had a responsibility to Hagar as her husband and to Ishmael as his father. They needed him. He had put them in this position of need and, even if they weren’t faithful to him, he was determined to be faithful to them. He couldn’t just abandon them. The very idea is abhorrent to an honorable man!

Nonetheless, Abraham knew that Sarah was not normally given to such termagent outbursts. Instead of replying in anger and dismissing her words, he considered them and brought them to God who told him she was right. There was much more going on here than just a personality conflict between two women in the same house. Their lives were prophetic. Hagar and Ishmael had to go in order to set the stage for millennia of conflict that was necessary for God’s ultimate plans. They had to go in order to further establish a pattern of dividing sheep from goats.

My point is that despite Sarah’s flawed manner, if Abraham had refused to listen, doing what he thought was right instead of what God said was right, he would have rejected God’s promise too. God would have either made his life very much harder until he complied or Abraham would have become Ishmael, the cast out one. God would have chosen someone else.

Don’t be quick to anger, and don’t be so bound to propriety that you cannot hear truth through a difficult tone of voice.

Who Among Us Will Live?

After carrying the wood of his own death to the mountain, Isaac, a grown man, laid still for Abraham and waited for the knife to fall.

After losing their families and homes and serving the King of Babylon for many years, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego walked into the furnace and Daniel walked into the lion’s den.

After carrying his execution cross to Golgotha, Yeshua allowed the Roman soldiers to nail him to the wood, pierce his side with a spear, and force a crown of thorns onto his head.

After Stephen, Peter, and countless others dedicated their lives to preaching salvation and the Word of God to the world, they willingly gave up their lives in the dungeons, arenas, and fires of evil men.

Meanwhile, the userer, the unjust, the reprobate, and the cruel live freely and without fear. As Solomon wrote,

Ecclesiastes 8:14 There is a vanity which is done upon the earth: that there are righteous men, unto whom it happeneth according to the work of the wicked; again, there are wicked men, to whom it happeneth according to the work of the righteous – I said that this also is vanity.

Where exactly is justice in this world? Solomon also said this,

Ecclesiastes 12:1 Remember then thy Creator in the days of thy youth, before the evil days come…

Evil days will come; they come for everyone eventually. Everyone suffers. Everyone goes through fire. But in the very end, only that which is pure survives:

Isaiah 33:10-22 Now will I arise, saith the LORD; now will I be exalted; now will I lift Myself up. (11) Ye conceive chaff, ye shall bring forth stubble; your breath is a fire that shall devour you. (12) And the peoples shall be as the burnings of lime; as thorns cut down, that are burned in the fire. (13) Hear, ye that are far off, what I have done; and, ye that are near, acknowledge My might. (14) The sinners in Zion are afraid; trembling hath seized the ungodly: ‘Who among us shall dwell with the devouring fire? Who among us shall dwell with everlasting burnings?’ (15) He that walketh righteously, and speaketh uprightly; he that despiseth the gain of oppressions, that shaketh his hands from holding of bribes, that stoppeth his ears from hearing of blood, and shutteth his eyes from looking upon evil; (16) He shall dwell on high; his place of defence shall be the munitions of rocks; his bread shall be given, his waters shall be sure. (17) Thine eyes shall see the king in his beauty; they shall behold a land stretching afar. (18) Thy heart shall muse on the terror: ‘Where is he that counted, where is he that weighed? Where is he that counted the towers?’ (19) Thou shalt not see the fierce people; a people of a deep speech that thou canst not perceive, of a stammering tongue that thou canst not understand. (20) Look upon Zion, the city of our solemn gatherings; thine eyes shall see Jerusalem a peaceful habitation, a tent that shall not be removed, the stakes whereof shall never be plucked up, neither shall any of the cords thereof be broken. (21) But there the LORD will be with us in majesty, in a place of broad rivers and streams; wherein shall go no galley with oars, neither shall gallant ship pass thereby. (22) For the LORD is our Judge, the LORD is our Lawgiver, the LORD is our King; He will save us.

The world is full of trouble and sorrow, and I won’t pretend to understand why it had to be this way. There is only One who knows the beginning from the end. Put your trust in Him, not in men or political parties or ideologies.

Remember how Solomon concluded his treatise on the vagaries of mortal life:

Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. (14) For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.

(Edited and moved from “Soil and Stone” where it was first published on February 22, 2013.)

Behold the King in His Glory

Anti-Christian forces are advancing everywhere. Muslims are pouring into Europe and America nearly unopposed. Bankers and financiers rob their creditors, debtors, and stock holders, and are rewarded from the accounts of the unaffiliated public. Politicians promise to give their constituents everything, while plotting to take everything. Unemployment, public debt, and inflation are all high. Wages and public morality are low. Times are hard, and they are likely to get much harder.

But there is something waiting beyond whatever darkness lies ahead.

Isaiah 33:17-22 Your eyes shall see the king in his beauty; they shall behold the land that is very far off…. (20) Look on Zion, the city of our holy meetings; your eyes shall see Jerusalem a quiet home, a tabernacle that shall not be taken down; not one of its stakes shall ever be removed, nor shall any of its cords be broken. (21) But there the glorious YHWH will be to us a place of broad rivers and streams, in which no galley with oars shall go, nor shall mighty ship pass by it. (22) For YHWH is our judge, YHWH is our lawgiver, Jehovah is our king; He will save us.

Beyond the waiting, the struggles, and the transient illusions of loss and failure lies peace, fellowship, learning, and prosperity. But to get there, we must repent, commit to obedience, and arm ourselves with whatever weapons are appropriate to the battle. We must be prepared to stand and fight against whatever evils may be, but we must never pretend that victory will come by our own strength. Victory is inevitable in the end–whether we see it or some future generation–but it is only inevitable because God will fight for us when the time is right.

(Originally written for Soil and Stone.)

Patriarchy and Devotion

Noah, Abraham, & David were patriarchal servants of God.You’ve heard that you can know the rightness of something by its fruit. Well, here are some stories of real life patriarchy in action.

One man threw out all good sense, and devoted his entire life to a senseless project with no gain and no practical purpose at all. He neglected his family for his obsession and eventually even dragged them down with him. He abused his wife’s trust and submissive personality by pressuring her into joining him and abandoning any semblance of a real life outside of his tyrannical grip. He denied his children any chance at a normal social life by forcing them to work non-stop for years on end. His self-serving attitude turned his family into his slaves while he constantly harangued them with self-righteous sermons about how much better he was than everyone else in the world. His harping about the evil world eventually brainwashed them all, and they ended up locking themselves away from the rest of mankind and living with animals, virtually as animals.

There was another man who went even further off the deep end. He was the worst kind of sexist, even to the point of making his wife call him “Master,” and probably making her wear a veil too. He was always telling his family how God talked to him. You know what they say, “It’s OK to talk to God as long as you don’t think he’s talking back.” Well, this guy seduced a young immigrant girl and then kept her locked up at his house where he treated her as a slave for nearly twenty years. Eventually he took this woman and the son he had fathered on her out to the desert and left them to die. And as if that wasn’t bad enough, then he told everyone that God had told him to kill his own son as some kind of perverted human sacrifice. He nearly went through with it, but there must have been some last glimmer of sanity, because then he said that God changed his mind. Well, that was the final straw for the wife that he had been dragging around and treating like dirt for decades. She left him and died of a broken heart not long afterwards.

A third man was a womanizer. He always seemed to have a new woman with him. He was a sweet-talker who could carry a tune and was always singing to the ladies. They were probably the kind of women who were attracted to power and money, but didn’t have the intelligence or the character to understand what is really important in life: complete and utter devotion from your man. This man was a thug. He was known to have killed a few men, although no one ever dared stand up to him. He actually claimed to have killed thousands, but that was just his swollen ego talking. When he was caught with someone else’s wife, he made a big deal about being sorry for it, but he kept on sleeping around with his bimbos. One day he was out drunk and causing a commotion in the streets. His wife, who had been faithful for years despite his despicable ways, saw him doing a public strip-tease in front of a crowd of women. She finally told him off and ended up locked away for pretty much the rest of her life. Meanwhile he kept on with his same old ways, even trying to seduce a young girl as an old man.

Or at least that’s how most people, including Christians, would see it today.

Fortunately, God left a record of what really happened, and most Christians are willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. The real story is that Noah and Abraham and David were such outstanding men of God that he trusted them with the most difficult tasks. Noah’s wife and three sons knew from their own experience that he was unlike any other man alive. They willingly gave up their professions and their social standing in order to help him build an insane boat, because they knew that he was a man of God. The Bible says that “Noah found favor in the eyes of God.” Abraham was among the kindest and gentlest men that ever lived. He was fair and honest in everything he did, and his wife held him in such great esteem that she called him lord by her own choice. He had such an intimate and complete faith in God that he was willing to give up his own son at God’s command, no matter what the cost to himself or his wife. Sarah may or may not have left him or even died because of that event, but she understood that God’s will must always come first. The Bible calls him the Friend of God. David was a man of great passion and integrity all at the same time. He made a serious mistake with one woman, and paid dearly for it. But the majority of his life was spent in complete devotion to God and service to his country. He was the epitome of the servant king. His first wife, Michal, was jealous of God and rebuked David for his public dancing and singing to God. Her pride cost her everything. She never again had David’s respect, and she died bitter and childless. The Bible calls David a man after God’s own heart.

Don’t expect God’s ways to always be to your liking. His ways are not your ways. The obedience of one man means more to him than the disapproval of ten thousand. To serve him means to give up all claims to social status or pride. He expects complete devotion. A true man of God can never be devoted1 to his wife, because devotion can have only one object. To serve God means to be willing to give up every comfort, every friend, and every loved one. All of those things are no better than dirt in comparison to him.

Or at least that’s how Christ taught it once upon a time.

1 I am using the older sense of devotion, indicating complete absorption. In that sense, devotion to anything besides God is a form of idolatry.