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Category: Scripture

Infants Shall Rule Over Them

Let’s get this on the table right from the get-go: Isaiah 3 was not written to modern-day U.S.A. It was written to ancient Israel under a specific set of circumstances, and unlike what some Bible interpreters seem to imply, it is not legitimate to simply read the Old Testament and apply every principle and enforce every example in the New Testament era. (This is true even if it was presented as a positive example of commendable faith in the OT. For example, it is ironic that the folks who argue for liturgical dance in the NT church from a verse or two in Psalms are quite silent on the issue of taking their child up the side of Mt. Moriah, knife in hand. And if there’s a nut out there crazy enough to be this logically consistent in his poor OT interpretation, I’d be the first one supporting the pagan civil magistrate who imprisons or executes him for his wickedness.)

Nevertheless, there are some gripping and ironic parallels between some of the judgments God was inflicting on Israel then, and what is happening in our country now. Hear the word of the LORD from Isaiah 3:

For behold, the Lord God of hosts
    is taking away from Jerusalem and from Judah
support and supply,
    all support of bread,
    and all support of water;
the mighty man and the soldier,
    the judge and the prophet,
    the diviner and the elder,
the captain of fifty
    and the man of rank,
the counselor and the skillful magician
    and the expert in charms.
And I will make boys their princes,
    and infants shall rule over them.
And the people will oppress one another,
    every one his fellow
    and every one his neighbor;
the youth will be insolent to the elder,
    and the despised to the honorable.

For a man will take hold of his brother
    in the house of his father, saying:
“You have a cloak;
    you shall be our leader,
and this heap of ruins
    shall be under your rule”;
in that day he will speak out, saying:
“I will not be a healer;
    in my house there is neither bread nor cloak;
you shall not make me
    leader of the people.”
For Jerusalem has stumbled,
    and Judah has fallen,
because their speech and their deeds are against the Lord,
    defying his glorious presence.

For the look on their faces bears witness against them;
    they proclaim their sin like Sodom;
    they do not hide it.
Woe to them!
    For they have brought evil on themselves.
10 Tell the righteous that it shall be well with them,
    for they shall eat the fruit of their deeds.
11 Woe to the wicked! It shall be ill with him,
    for what his hands have dealt out shall be done to him.
12 My people—infants are their oppressors,
    and women rule over them.
O my people, your guides mislead you
    and they have swallowed up the course of your paths.


Scripture taken from ESV via BibleGateway.com

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God Is: Merciful and Caring to Those Who Are Weak

As the first “normal” installment in the long-term “God Is:” series (the first one was an introduction, the second was correspondence), I want to focus here on some additional observations from Deuteronomy that clearly demonstrate, among other things, God’s mercy and personal care for the weak and lowly of this world. While we are all weak and lowly compared to Him, these passages show God’s heart towards those that we would consider weak even compared to ourselves. Widows. Orphans. The poor. Foreigners residing within Old Testament Israel. Levites who had no inheritance among the other tribes due to their status of being set apart for God’s use. Many of these we still have with us today. Some we don’t. Nevertheless, these were the weakest of humanity with whom Israel interacted.

And God cared for them.

Observe His words in Deuteronomy 26:12-13 (NASB):

12 “When you have finished paying all the tithe of your increase in the third year, the year of tithing, then you shall give it to the Levite, to the stranger, to the orphan and to the widow, that they may eat in your towns and be satisfied. 13 You shall say before the Lord your God, ‘I have removed the sacred portion from my house, and also have given it to the Levite and the alien, the orphan and the widow, according to all Your commandments which You have commanded me; I have not transgressed or forgotten any of Your commandments.

Being a bit slow on the uptake at times, it took me until Chapter 26 to start thinking, “You know, this care for the weak sounds familiar. I think it’s been mentioned before at least once or twice.” Doing some simple cross-referencing revealed several mentions prior. While not exhaustive, here are some sample passages dealing with the same theme:

From Chapter 14:

28 “At the end of every third year you shall bring out all the tithe of your produce in that year, and shall deposit it in your town. 29 The Levite, because he has no portion or inheritance among you, and the alien, the orphan and the widow who are in your town, shall come and eat and be satisfied, in order that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hand which you do.

From Chapter 15:

“If there is a poor man with you, one of your brothers, in any of your towns in your land which the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart, nor close your hand from your poor brother; but you shall freely open your hand to him, and shall generously lend him sufficient for his need in whatever he lacks.Beware that there is no base thought in your heart, saying, ‘The seventh year, the year of remission, is near,’ and your eye is hostile toward your poor brother, and you give him nothing; then he may cry to the Lord against you, and it will be a sin in you. 10 You shall generously give to him, and your heart shall not be grieved when you give to him, because for this thing the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in all your undertakings. 11 For the poor will never cease to be in the land; therefore I command you, saying, ‘You shall freely open your hand to your brother, to your needy and poor in your land.’

Chapter 16:

10 Then you shall celebrate the Feast of Weeks to the Lord your God with a tribute of a freewill offering of your hand, which you shall give just as the Lord your God blesses you; 11 and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God, you and your son and your daughter and your male and female servants and the Levite who is in your town, and the stranger and the orphan and the widow who are in your midst, in the place where the Lord your God chooses to establish His name. 12 You shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt, and you shall be careful to observe these statutes. 13 “You shall celebrate the Feast of Booths seven days after you have gathered in from your threshing floor and your wine vat; 14 and you shall rejoice in your feast, you and your son and your daughter and your male and female servants and the Levite and the stranger and the orphan and the widow who are in your towns.

And finally, Chapter 24 (think of the story of Ruth and Boaz here):

19 “When you reap your harvest in your field and have forgotten a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it; it shall be for the alien, for the orphan, and for the widow, in order that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. 20 When you beat your olive tree, you shall not go over the boughs again; it shall be for the alien, for the orphan, and for the widow. 21 “When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, you shall not go over it again; it shall be for the alien, for the orphan, and for the widow. 22 You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt; therefore I am commanding you to do this thing.

It’s interesting to observe some of the reasons the Lord gives for this care for the weak. First, because He commanded it. It’s simple, really. Do this, Israel, to observe the Lord’s commandment. But the secondary reasons, and what would seem to be, from a human perspective, the impetus for the first become clear also. Namely these: the Levites had no specific inheritance in the Israel (i.e. lands to grow their own crops and herds) due to the nature of their service, they were supported by the tithes of the people; additionally, the weakest of the land needed help in order to survive; that is, orphans, widows, aliens, and other legitimately poor members of society. Naturally, it would be very difficult, if not impossible, for these to adequately provide for themselves given the economic realities of that era. I would imagine the fact that they were nomads on the verge of entering the Promised Land, and would need time to get some semblance of an organized agricultural and economic system up and running, initially contributed to the importance of caring for each other in these ways. As a matter of fact, God reminds them that they were strangers in the land of Egypt, and gives this as another reason for them to engage in care for the weakest among them. Don’t forget where I brought you from. Remember Me, remember My care and compassion for you, and do likewise as you enter the land of promise.

This theme is not limited to Deuteronomy. In Psalm 94:6, the Psalmist cries out to God with a fierce indictment against the wicked who, according to verse 6, “slay the widow and the stranger and murder the orphans.”  In Isaiah 1:16-17 God reproves the nation of Israel for their failure in this area, even referring to them as Sodom and Gomorrah a few verses earlier, a shocking label for His people:

1“Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; Remove the evil of your deeds from My sight. Cease to do evil, 17 Learn to do good; Seek justice, Reprove the ruthless, Defend the orphan, Plead for the widow.”

To be clear, my goal today is not to draw distinct comparisons between how Israel was to handle these groups and how we ought to. That’s not my point at all. My goal is to focus us on what these passages reveal to us about the nature and character of God Himself. Among other things, the mercy of God displayed through His care for the weakest members of His chosen nation is on display here. Our primary responses ought to include reverential worship, praise, thanksgiving, adoration and all associated thoughts and actions that show our love for God, which is properly and necessarily shaped by our knowledge of His character as revealed in His Word.

God is a merciful God, and for that we ought to be very thankful. Glory in His name today.

Law, Gospel, Corpses, and Babies

It’s Saturday afternoon. I’m supposed to be working on the family budget right now. Fortunately, I decided to start reading the book of Romans about an hour or two ago and now I’m off the hook.

Truth be told, I am ten-year-old-at-first-baseball-game giddy to be starting a new study in Romans. Romans is the book that transformed my personal Bible study and ignited a hunger for Divine truth I don’t remember ever experiencing prior to my first (and last) trek through it as a freshman/sophomore in college twelve years ago. I ought never go that long again between studies of this Theological masterpiece.

Admittedly, I’m running a risk by giving you this glimpse into the first few verses of Romans. If you attend Bethany Baptist Church, you are likely to hear me preach this at my next possible opportunity. If you attend Calvary Baptist Church of Wakefield, you might hear this at my guest preaching appearance on June 1. However, the risk is largely mitigated based on the likelihood that by the next time I preach I will have about fifteen competing sermon ideas from this great book. So this article might be your only crack at hearing the awesome truths I’m learning on this first section of Romans. The bottom line is this: if I don’t preach it to someone, even in written form, I’m going to drive my wife crazy with my living room mutterings and occasional displays of redefined charismata. So here goes.

Romans 1:1-7 (NASB)

Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, 2 which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures, 3 concerning His Son, who was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh, 4 who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord, 5 through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for His name’s sake, 6 among whom you also are the called of Jesus Christ; 7 to all who are beloved of God in Rome, called as saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

For a sermon, I’d likely preach this whole section. But for the purpose of this article, and for what caused me some hooping and hollering earlier, I’ll focus on verses 1 and 2.

I’m guessing that most folks, when hearing the words “Romans Chapter One” likely think of the famous section from verses 18-32 that deal with humanity’s awful state. However, ignoring the first half of this chapter is done at great cost to the reader. The truths found here are monumental and glorious. If you are running out of time to read today, quit reading this article and go read and contemplate the first half of Romans 1 for yourself.

Romans opens with Paul introducing himself to the church at Rome, who according to some later verses he had not yet met in person, but had longed to for some time. At the end of verse one, he mentions the fact that he was set apart for the gospel of God, a privileged calling indeed. Verse two continues on this theme of the gospel, which Paul states that God, “promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures.” And it is here I want to focus.

Paul is clearly making reference to the gospel foundation that was laid in the Old Testament. The very first instance of this truth would be in Genesis 3:15, where God promises to send a Deliverer to crush the head of Satan. But I’d like to focus on an example of the gospel foundation in Exodus to show you what got my Bibdrenaline pumping a little while ago.

Do you remember Exodus 3? This is the chapter in which Moses encounters the burning bush in the wilderness of Sinai near the end of his time shepherding for his father in law, Jethro. He had vacated Egypt 40 years prior under threat of death from Pharaoh. Now, as an 80-year old man Moses was about to be called by God to go back to Egypt, to a new Pharaoh and to the people of God, to lead God’s sovereign rescue effort of His chosen people. The Israelites were about to go from giant group of slaves to theocratic nation.

But Moses resisted. Five times, as a matter of fact. As a lesson on the patience of God, this is a great chapter for you to mark down for later study. In Exodus 3:11, Moses’ very first of five objections went like this: “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh, and that I should bring the sons of Israel out of Egypt?”

God’s gracious response (verse 12)? “And He said, “Certainly I will be with you, and this shall be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God at this mountain.”

Interestingly, God gave Moses a sign that required Moses to obey before receiving it. Those aren’t our favorite kind of signs as humans, eh? But now we skip ahead. Moses had returned to Egypt. God had unleashed 10 plagues against the pagan nation, each one an attack on a different Egyptian deity. Finally, after the death of Egypt’s firstborn, Pharaoh and his people basically rushed the Hebrews out of the land, sending them off not with rocks and pitchforks, but amazingly, with gifts of immense worth.

In a final brazen act of rebellion, Pharaoh and Egypt changed their minds and pursued Israel to the brink of the Red Sea. Expecting to meet the sons of Jacob in weakness and quickly secure their return and surrender, instead Egypt met God. Face to face, as it were. And the results were not pretty. The people of God lifted nary a finger, and all of Egypt’s mighty warriors lay dead on the shore. God would not be mocked.

Within several weeks, Israel, the new nation, reached the wilderness of Sinai and its famous mountain (Exodus 19). God had kept His promise to Moses. The sign had been fulfilled.

It was here at Sinai (also called ‘Horeb’) that God told Moses to prepare the people for an overwhelming display of his holiness and wrath on the third day. Not a man or beast ought to touch the mountain or the death penalty would follow. We’re told that when God descended on the mountain, the sight was so terrifying that the people trembled before Him. There was thunder, lightning, the sound of a loud trumpet, and God came down to the mountain in fire, causing it to seem as if the whole mountain were a furnace as its smoke poured forth to the heavens. All of this was a stark reminder that God was holy and they were not. He could not be approached by sinful people. He was set apart. He was hallowed. He was fearful in His wrath against sin.

It was also here at Sinai, just prior to this mighty display, that God offered the people a covenant (Ex. 19:3b-6):

Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob and tell the sons of Israel: 4 ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings, and brought you to Myself. 5 Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; 6 and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the sons of Israel.

Now we often gloss over this truth, but it remains: God was not offering them a flexi-nant. This was not an 80/20 deal, in which as long as they kept their end of the bargain 80% of the time, He would keep His. It wasn’t even a 99/1 deal. That’s not the way covenants work. In reality, the people were being asked to perfectly keep this covenant. And they quickly accepted this impossible task in verses 7-8:

“So Moses came and called the elders of the people, and set before them all these words which the Lord had commanded him. 8 All the people answered together and said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do!” And Moses brought back the words of the people to the Lord.”

A more appropriate response might have been, “Hey, we can’t do that. We need help! We need grace! We need mercy!” Regardless, a question likely arises in your mind: why would God put forth an impossible covenant? This seems unfair at worst, or pointless at best.

The answer is simple, and it is the foundation of the gospel. Israel could not possibly earn, or merit, God’s favor. The covenant wasn’t given them as Plan A of the gospel, and when they failed miserably God decided to enact Plan B. No! The point was to show Israel, and through the record of the Old Testament to show us as well, that we cannot make ourselves pleasing or acceptable to Him. There was no hope for them. There is no hope for us.

Except in the powerful gospel of Christ. You see, if you strip away our sin, if you strip away God’s holiness and wrath, then you strip away the foundation of the gospel. If I have it in me to keep God’s covenant, than a bloodied and forsaken Deliverer seems a bit unnecessary, even excessive, don’t you think? The substitutionary atonement of Christ (my sin and God’s wrath placed on Him at the Cross, His righteousness clothing me) comes off as an archaic and gory notion of barbaric proportions rather than a glorious and Divine resolution to our sin debt.

Paul got it. Paul probably got it better than anyone ever has. He realized how rooted the gospel was in the Old Testament, and why. And he gloried in the privilege of carrying that long-ago-promised gospel far and wide.

The people standing at Sinai were spiritually dead corpses. And such were we . You see, the gospel isn’t medicine for the sick, it’s resurrection for the dead. Paul makes this much clear in Ephesians 2:1, 4-6:

And you were dead in your trespasses and sins…4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 6 and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,

This reality of spiritual deadness – the fact that the unsaved are literally spiritual cadavers totally devoid of life – brings a whole new dimension to what Jesus told Nicodemus in John 3:3: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” The gospel takes mature, adult carcasses rotting with sin and stinking of death, and re-bears them as clean, pink, shiny, new little babies in Christ. This is being born again! This is the new birth! This is the power of the Cross! No longer a dead man lying lifeless on the table, but a vigorously alive infant crying and screaming and constantly desirous of milk! Glory!

Paul knew this gospel. He saw its roots in the Old Testament. He understood its foundation. And rather than minimizing the ugliness of the human condition, he underlined it. For the gospel becomes more glorious as we better understand from what we were rescued. The book of Romans has rightly been called the Gospel of God’s Grace. I’m on the tip of this magnificent continent, and cannot wait to go inland.

Acclaimed Commentaries on Romans, in order of preference (full disclosure: I have a copy of Moo’s on the way):

The Epistle to the Romans, Douglas Moo

RomansThomas Schreiner

The Message of Roman’s: God’s Good News for the WorldJohn R.W. Stott

RomansR.C. Sproul

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