Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Underestimating God's Holiness

"But when they came to the threshing floor of Nacon, Uzzah reached out toward the ark of God and took hold of it, for the oxen nearly upset it.  And the anger of the LORD burned against Uzzah, and God struck him down there for his irreverence; and he died there by the ark of God,"  (II Samuel 6:6,7).

What seems on the surface to be a capricious outburst of unjust anger on God's part is actually justified wrath in the face of disobedience to His plainly-stated requirements for acceptable worship. 

* The Requirements. 

In Numbers 3:30, 31; 4:15; and 7:9, the Old Testament law specified that the ark of God was to be carried by the sons of Kohath.  Additionally, Exodus 25:12-15 clearly recorded the LORD's instructions through Moses for the means of transporting the sacred ark: "You shall cast four gold rings for it and fasten them on its four feet, and two rings shall be on one side of it and two rings on the other side of it.  You shall make poles of acacia wood and overlay them with gold.  You shall put the poles into the rings on the sides of the ark, to carry the ark with them.  The poles shall remain in the rings of the ark;  they shall not be removed from it." 
Thus are given the living God's specific and crystal clear commands concerning moving the ark which represented His ineffable Name.

*  The Requirements Unknown.

Having captured the ark of God, the Philistines decided after seven months (I Samuel 6:1) that they had had enough.  Throughout the land mice had brought plague, and tumors had broken out on the entire populace, producing an outcry for relief.  Their pagan priests and diviners advised returning the ark with a guilt offering of their own concoction (6:5).  Moreover, the means they counseled for its transportation was a new cart (vv. 7,8), hitched to two milch cows on which there had never been a yoke.  The people heeded this advice (vv. 10, 11), and the ark was led back to Beth-shemesh, where the people there rejoiced at the sight of its return.

* The Requirements Ignored.

Having become established as king over Israel (II Samuel 5:12), David determined that it was time for the ark of God to be returned to Jerusalem, the City of David.  He gathered thirty thousand of Israel's chosen men together, to transport the sacred ark.  "They placed the ark of God on a new cart that they might bring it from the house of Abinadab which was on the hill; and Ahio was walking ahead of the ark," (6:3,4). 

Did King David not know the passages in Numbers and Exodus related to moving the ark?  Of all things, he is adopting the same mode as the enemies of the Lord:  a new cart(!)  Where is the spiritual leadership from the "man after God's own heart"? 

* Consequences of Man-Made Worship

In this situation, David's failure to conscientiously follow God's worship mandate cost a man his life.  David's anger (6:8) was likely directed at himself for carelessly underestimating the holiness of the living God.  In his zeal to get the ark back in its proper location, he failed to take into account the supreme holiness of God's Name. 

This account is a needed reminder and warning for our man-centered society and lackadaisical churches.  Any attempts to worship the sovereign God of heaven and earth apart from the Spirit of the Lord Jesus Christ are rejected.  God must be worshipped in Spirit and in truth (John 4:24), acceptable only through access granted by the Lord Jesus (John 14:6).  Any and all attempts to approach Him by humanly-devised methods and means are idolatry, and an abomination. 
May He grant grace for the acceptance of this truth.


Monday, October 20, 2014

Who Has Our Trust?

  "Stop regarding man, whose breath of life is in his nostrils;  For why should he be esteemed?"  (Isaiah 2:22)

In context, Isaiah is picturing and prophesying richly-deserved judgment upon Judah.  A number of elements in the second chapter fitly describe what was experienced during the Babylonian captivity, but the overall intensity better portrays the future tribulation known as the Time of Jacob's Trouble (Jeremiah 30:7; Matthew 24; Revelation 6--19).
"In that day men will cast away to the moles and the bats Their idols of silver and their idols of gold, Which they made for themselves to worship, In order to go into the caverns of the rocks and the clefts of the cliffs Before the terror of the LORD and the splendor of His majesty," (vv. 20, 21; cf. Rev. 6:12, 15, 16). 

In such a time of unprecedented trauma, chaos, and terror, peace will be promised by the Antichrist, and his confident assurances will lead many to place faith in him.  Verse 22 is Isaiah's admonition to stop depending on people, however trustworthy and capable they may seem, and trust only in the living God. 

We continually struggle with faith in the seen versus faith in the unseen.  Our senses constantly scream that what we can see, hear, taste, touch and smell are reality, and the unseen realm of spirituality is (a) non-existent, (b) unscientific, (c) undependable at best, (d) an indication of insanity at worst.  The world system assures us that man is the measure by which the universe should be perceived, and what we do not understand shouldn't concern. 

Yet in times of difficulty, loss, death, despair, fear and heartbreak, times when we're overwhelmed by life's enigmas, faith in man won't do.  Even faith in faith will disappoint, for faith is only as valid as the object in which it is placed.  Thus, only faith in the living triune God of the Scriptures, the sovereign King of the universe, will sustain us through tribulation. 

The Father assures His own, "Do not fear, for I am with you;  Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God.  I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand," (Isaiah 41:10).  The Son, the Lord Jesus Christ invites, "Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.  Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and YOU WILL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS," (Matthew 11:28, 29). 
The third Person of the Trinity, the blessed Holy Spirit, provides unspeakable comfort for all who belong to the Lord Jesus, even as the Savior promised, "I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you," (John 14:16, 17).

Grant grace that we who have been changed by the Lord Jesus would lean less and less on man and be deepened in our dependence upon You. 
In the Lord Jesus' Name,

Sunday, October 19, 2014

The Word of the living GOD

"Is not My word like a fire?" declares the LORD, "and like a hammer which shatters a rock?"  Jeremiah 23:29

In stark contrast to the dreams of false prophets, devised out of deceitful hearts, for the purpose of making God's people forget His name, the living God Himself likens His truth to (a) fire and to (b) a hammer. 

(a)  Fire consumes
       In I Kings 18, the authenticity of Elijah's commission as a prophet and the veracity of his message from God were on the line.  The prophets of Baal outnumbered him 450 to 1, and the hearts of the undiscerning people had been swayed to spiritual adultery.  Elijah proposed settling the issue by a contest: "Now let them give us two oxen; and let them choose one ox for themselves and cut it up, and place it on the wood, but put no fire under it; and I will prepare the other ox, and lay it on the wood, and I will not put a fire under it.  Then you call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the LORD, and the God who answers by fire, He is God," (vv. 23, 24). 
All morning, through the noon hour, even to the time of the evening sacrifice, the false prophets leaped about the altar, cut themselves with swords and lances until covered with blood, all the while yelling for their god to answer by fire.  The Bible says, "but there was no voice, no one answered, and no one paid attention," (v. 29). 
Elijah then models obedience to the living God's worship requirements by erecting the altar in His Name (v. 32), at the proper time (the evening sacrifice)(v. 36), and with prayer that glorified Him as God:  "O LORD, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, today let it be known that You are God in Israel, and that I am Your servant, and that I have done all these things at Your word.  Answer me, O LORD, answer me, that this people may know that You, O LORD, are God, and that You have turned their heart back again," (vv. 36, 37). 
At the command of the LORD, "the fire of the LORD fell, and consumed the burnt offering and the wood and the stones and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench." (v. 38) 
What the physical fire did in this narrative, the word of the living God does, spiritually, where it is proclaimed in the power of the Holy Spirit.  Speculations are destroyed, lofty things raised up against the knowledge of God, consumed by His invincible word which accomplishes what He desires, succeeding in the matter for which He sends it.
At the judgment seat of Christ, consuming fire will be used in the determining of rewards: "Each man's work will become evident; for the day will show it, because it is to be revealed with fire; and the fire itself will test the quality of each man's work.  If any man's work which he has built upon it remains, he shall receive a reward.  If any man's work is burned up, he shall suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire," (I Corinthians 3:13-15).     
(b)  Fire also purifies.  As it is that our hearts are "more deceitful than all else, and desperately sick" (Jeremiah 17:9), we are in continual need of the Word's purifying work on our hearts.  John Rippon's familiar hymn, "How Firm a Foundation" applies:
When through fiery trials thy pathways shall lie,
My grace, all sufficient, shall be thy supply;
The flame shall not hurt thee; I only design
Thy dross to consume, and thy gold to refine. 

The Word is the tool of His grace by which His purifying work is accomplished.  Through hearing, reading, studying, memorizing, meditating upon, and obeying the Word, our impure motives are revealed, our secret sins surface for confession, hypocrisy unheeded is no longer ignored, the grieving and quenching of the Holy Spirit is taken seriously, and the desire to please our Lord becomes preeminent.

As a hammer, the Lord's Word shatters.  Why?
It is His Word.  The Word of the living God is all-powerful because He is omnipotent.  As Jeremiah records God's question, "Behold, I am the LORD, the God of all flesh; is anything too difficult for Me?"  The prophet humbly affirmed, "Ah Lord GOD!  Behold, You have made the heavens and the earth by Your great power and by Your outstretched arm!  Nothing is too difficult for You!" (Jer. 32:27, 17)
Isaiah also quotes the living God as He asserts, "My word which goes forth from My mouth shall not return to Me empty, Without accomplishing what I desire, And without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it," (Isaiah 55:11).
As someone has well said, hard words produce soft hearts.  Conversely, soft words produce hard hearts.  Meaning?  The undiluted Word, the unvarnished truth, proclaimed in the power of the Holy Spirit, confronts the heart, pierces the soul (Hebrews 4:12), and makes one willing in the day of His power.  As Paul commanded his protege' Timothy, "Preach the word... reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction," (II Timothy 4:2).  Sound doctrine, strongly delivered, makes for softened hearts.
However, the deceitful heart is hardened when the truth is compromised, when pleasing to the tickled ears of the hearers, who will then eschew the truth and turn to myths (vv. 3,4).

In these days where false prophets abound, where the church has become worldly and the world has become so churchy that there's little difference between the two, and when a God-sent spiritual awakening is our only hope, pray the Lord of the harvest to raise up godly, Spirit-unctioned preachers who preach the shattering Word in its purity and power!