Three Narrative Creeds of the Old Testament (Part 1)

Note: I am playing catch-up with posts. This one is from slightly more than a year ago. It may take a while to prepare part 2.

While I was a student at Canadian Bible College and Canadian Theological Seminary I was privileged to have excellent professors in Theology and Biblical Studies. It is always fun to see what they may be up to years later. This post and the following one  highlight my impressions of a 2013 lecture series by my Old Testament professor: Dr. Mark Boda. This part will try to summarize highlights from the video series on Youtube.

Dr Mark Boda’s Hayford Lecture: Three Pulses of Narrative Theology in the Old Testament 

When it comes to study of the Bible, modern scholars must recognize that they usually stand on the shoulders of giants. Some scholars recognize borrowings from other works in the biblical literature. Others recognize the work of later editors who arranged the material into what is now a “canonical form.”  Yet others take a step back and point out the obvious: the narrative form of most of the Old Testament. 

This last insight has developed into what is now called the study of Narrative Theology, which is what Dr. Boda is becoming increasingly interested in. He says it is important, however, to consider the insights offered by other branches of Old Testament Theology while immersed in the narrative.

An early proponent of a narrative approach was Gerhard von Rad. He noticed a  creedal history of redemption in narrative form, which Dr. Boda shortens to “narrative creed.” Von Rad’s examples of this include Deuteronomy 6:20-25 and Chapter 26, as well as much of the book of Joshua. 

Some portions of scripture look like a canonical form of salvation history in liturgical form, such as Nehemiah 9:5-33.

Another giant who infoms Dr. Boda is Christof Barth, whose Old Testament Theology,   God With Us  takes V Rad’s insights and builds on them.

With their insights and others, Dr. Boda attempts to bulid a coherent framework for Old Testament Narrative Theology. The first step is to notice that there are three heartbeats or pulses that run through the narrative of the Old Testament.

1st pulse: narrative creed

This is the “salvation history” noticed by von Rad. It is part of the overarching story of creation-ancestors-exodus-conquest-exile-restoration-redemption of the Bible. At many points where Israelites are gathered before God, they recite aspects of that story. For instance, as God pronounces the Ten Commandments he reminds them that his is the God “who brought you out of Egypt.” (Ex. 20:2)

As they gather forty years later at the border of the promised land Moses reminds them:

“We were slaves of Pharaoh in Egypt, but the LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand. 22 Before our eyes the LORD sent signs and wonders—great and terrible—on Egypt and Pharaoh and his whole household. 23 But he brought us out from there to bring us in and give us the land he promised on oath to our ancestors. (Deut 6:21)

 A Narrative Creed basically confesses the redemptive action of God. This kind of creed is frequently featured in both Old and New Testaments. They provide an answer to the most important question: What lies at the core of my faith?

 God has acted mightily in the life of Israel to redeem them from slavery. Even in captivity God has acted to redeem his people. We can have confidence that he is well able to act again at the appropriate time.

2nd Pulse: Character Creed

The Old Testament contains a second form of creedal statement. These are statements about the character of God himself. A passage that rehearses the redemptive character of God is found in Ex. 34:6-7. This passage is found in the story of Moses asking to see God’s glory. God allows him to see his back, but not his face as he passes in front of Moses. Notice what God says about himself.

 6 And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, 7 maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.” 

 The themes of Exodus 34:6-7 can be found throughout the Psalms, for example.

Psalm 16:5-11 speaks of why David trusts God. It is because of the glory behind God’s personhood. God’s glory is not only about the greatness of his being and power, but especially about the greatness and goodness of his person.

Ps 108:1-4 praises the quality of God’s love, faithfulness and goodness. Ps. 25:7 is a call for forgiveness of sin, based upon God’s self-proclaimed forgiving nature.

 The Prophet Jeremiah, as he predicts the doom of what is left of Israel, repeats almost verbatim the second half of Ex. 34:7 as justification of God’s punishment on the people in Jer. 32:18.

This creed of God’s character – his love, faithfulness and justice is repeated throughout the Old Testament. God’s character is the foundation for both forgiveness and punishment.

3rd pulse: relational creed (confessing redemptive relationship with God)

There are four  covenants that involve Israel in the Old Testament: Abrahamic, Sinai, priestly, Davidic.  All four of these are “eternal” covenants. In Hebrew that is  berith olam.” This shows that these covenants are very important to both God and Israel.

Of these covenants, the Priestly covenant is very important but almost unnoticed by scholars, pastors  and lay people.

A biblical covenant is basically an agreement with obligation (berith) between two parties. Many are made between people in Bible. The usual format concludes with a formula: “I will be your ___ and you will be my ____.”

Similar wordings are found in Exodus 6:7 and Jeremiah 30:22, where God says that he will be Israel’s God and they will be his people.

Within a covenant a relationship is formalized that includes reciprocity, status and  responsibility. Reciprocity means that responsibility and benefit go both ways. It is not a one-sided agreement. Each of the parties has a status in the eyes of the other. for instance God becomes the only God for Israel and Israel becomes God’s favoured people. Both parties agree to a set of principles and duties. As an example, Israel follows God’s laws and commands and God provides for them and protects them against enemies.

We see this for example in Deuteronomy 26

17 You have declared this day that the LORD is your God and that you will walk in obedience to him, that you will keep his decrees, commands and laws—that you will listen to him.

18 And the LORD has declared this day that you are his people, his treasured possession as he promised, and that you are to keep all his commands. 19 He has declared that he will set you in praise, fame and honor high above all the nations he has made and that you will be a people holy to the LORD your God, as he promised.

 

As God introduces himself to Moses in Exodus 6 he reminds Moses of the covenant he made with Abraham and tells Moses that he is about to use Moses to fulfill his promise to Abraham.

2 God also said to Moses, “I am the LORD. 3 I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob as God Almighty,a but by my name the LORD I did not make myself fully known to them.

4 I also established my covenant with them to give them the land of Canaan, where they resided as foreigners. 5 Moreover, I have heard the groaning of the Israelites, whom the Egyptians are enslaving, and I have remembered my covenant.

6 “Therefore, say to the Israelites: ‘I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment. 7 I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God. Then you will know that I am the LORD your God, who brought you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. 8 And I will bring you to the land I swore with uplifted hand to give to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob. I will give it to you as a possession. I am the LORD.’ ”

God’s declaration, “I am the Lord” is key to all three of the narrative pulses of the Old Testament. Notice that the elements that form the narrative creed, the character creed and the relational creed are all included in the passage above as God moves from ancestors to nationhood in his promises.

 

For Dr. Boda, these pulses are also key to the New Testament

 

1) Elements of the Creed of God’s Redeeming actions can be found in the following passages:

Compare Act 2:11 with Deut. 11:2, which speak of the “mighty works of God.”

Luke 24:1-8, 25-27, which quote passages that state that the Messiah will suffer and be proclaimed.

1 Cor. 15:1-8, 19-26 declare as of first importance the activity of Jesus Christ in atoning for our sin.

 

2) Creed of God’s Character

John 1:14-18, echoing Ex 33-34 with the witness to God’s glory, grace and truth.

2 Cor. 3:7-12 compares the Holy Spirit’s effect in our lives with the glowing in the face of Moses after Moses spends time in God’s presence.

 

3) Creed of Relationship with God

Christ renews all 4 covenants to a whole new level.

Abrahamic  Covenant: In Gal. 3:6-9, 15-18, 24-29 God has promised Abraham more descendants than can be counted, and Jesus includes anyone with the same kind of faith in him as Abraham had as children of Abraham.

National Covenant with Israel: An example is in Matt. 22: 1-10, where Jesus opens up the Kingdom of God to include non-Israelites.

Davidic Covenant:  Compare 2 Cor. 6:14-18  with 2 Sam. 7:14, in which David’s descendants will be considered God’s children. The Corinthians passage calls all who overcome God’s children, radically expanding David’s “family.”

Priestly Covenant: We find examples in 1 Pet. 2:4-10 and Heb. 13:10-16, where Peter calls the assembly of believers a royal priesthood and the writer of Hebrews declares Jesus to be the greatest High Priest of all, who intercedes with God on our behalf with a once-for-all sacrifice that actually atones for all sin.

This last section in Dr. Boda’s lecture about how the three narrative pulses found in the Old Testament continue and are expanded in the New Testament is just a brief overview. I will expand on these and add my own thoughts in the next post.

 

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The Gates of Hell Shall Not Prevail

Dr. Michael S. Heiser specializes in trying to understand the supernatural world-view of the ancient writers of the Bible. He has brought fascinating and sometimes frightening background to various difficult-to-understand portions of the Scriptures.

One that has puzzled many Protestants is found in Matt. 16:13-19, where Jesus appears to be telling Peter that Peter is the rock Jesus will be building his church upon. Of course, Roman Catholic theologians have no problem with this, as it seems to place them in a position of leadership because of “apostolic succession.”

The meaning of Peter’s name in Greek, petros, meaning “stone” or “small rock” is different from the meaning of the word Jesus used for “rock,” lithos, which refers to a large rock, boulder or huge rock formation such as a crag or rock outcropping. This has led most Protestants to assume that Jesus is the larger rock that the church is built on.

Dr. Heiser takes a different approach from a straightforward word study. He studied the ancient spiritual geography of the area according to various scriptural clues and the Book of Enoch, which both Peter and Jude seem to be familiar with.

Spiritual geography??

Yes, believe it or not, the ancients knew that certain regions in that area of the Middle East were known to be the abode of evil or demonic beings. Heiser discovered that Jesus was facing one of those regions when he spoke to Peter about the church attacking the gates of hell. (Yes, attacking. The gates are defending hell, not attacking the church. Gates are a defensive fortification, not a weapon of conquest. I was once a soldier, and we soldiers know the difference.)

One of the clues about the spiritual geography can be found of the area can be found in a prophecy about the primary region that the Messiah would minister in: Galilee, found in Is. 9:2. Galilee was one of the first areas settled by Israel, after defeating the two kingdoms that previously occupied that land. The tribes of Zebulon and Naphtali, and half of the tribe of Manasseh settled there after those battles. Note that the prophecy calls this a land of deep darkness.

We find out some things about these defeated kingdoms from Josh. 12:1-5. We learn that the southern half of Gilead, bordering on northern Ammon, is ruled by Sihon, king of the Amorites, including his capital city of Heshbon. The northern half, bordered by Mount Hermon in the north, is ruled by Og, king of Bashan, who is called one of the last of the Rephaites (or Rephaim). Most of these names and titles figure prominently in the spiritual geography of the region.

The Rephaites were a tribe descended from the Nephilim, ancestors of the giants of the land. Other giant tribes were collectively referred to as Anakites (Anakim). A few descriptions can be found in these verses. These giants were the reason the Israelites initially refused to enter the Promised land. They were scared to death of these ferocious warrior-giants. Og, king of Bashan was one of those giants. To give an idea of his size, his bed was 12 feet long and made of iron to carry his weight (Deut. 3:1-3, 8-11). King Sihon of the Amorites probably was a giant, too (Amos 2:9).

Where did these giants come from? Surprisingly, Genesis 6:1-4 has the answer. It seems that their ancestors, the Nephilim (which the Greek translators render as “giants”) were a hybrid of “sons of God” and human women. Much more detail about the connection between Noah’s flood and the Nephilim can be found in our previous post, Sons of God and Daughters of Men. These Sons of God were created angelic beings who decided to leave their heavenly abode and responsibilities for where the action was: earth. Their pre-flood progeny died in the flood, but more were apparently born after the flood, according to Genesis 6.

Ok, so there were giants in the land. What does that have to do with the forces of darkness that apparently overshadowed the area? A book that James and Peter, disciples of Jesus, were familiar with provides the answer.

The Book of Enoch describes a time shortly before the flood when some of the “Sons of God” – angelic or heavenly beings .- left their heavenly abode to live on earth and marry human women. A version is available online at https://reluctant-messenger.com/1enoch01-60.htm. That version list the relevant section as chapter 7. The following is an excerpt from an English translation of the Book of Enoch with the relevant information.

CHAP. 6.—And it came to pass, after the children of men had increased in those days, beautiful and comely daughters were born to them. 2. And the angels, the sons of the heavens, saw and lusted after them, and said one to another: “Behold, we will choose for ourselves wives from among the children of men, and will beget for ourselves children.”

3. And Semjâzâ, who was their leader, said to them: “I fear that perhaps ye will not be willing to do this deed, and I alone shall suffer for this great sin.” 4. Then all answered him and said: “We all will swear an oath, and bind ourselves mutually by a curse, that we will not give up this plan, but will make this plan a deed.” 5. Then they all swore together, and bound themselves mutually by a curse; and together they were two hundred.

6. And they descended on Ardîs, which is the summit of Mount Hermon; and they called it Mount Hermon, because they had sworn on it and bound themselves mutually by a curse. [Hermon: “dedicated to destruction”] 7. And these are the names of their leaders: Semjâzâ, who was their leader, Urâkibarâmêêl, Akibêêl, Tâmiêl, Râmuêl, Dânêl, Ezêqêêl, Sarâqujâl, Asâêl, Armers, Batraal, Anânî, Zaqêbê, Samsâvêêl, Sartaêl, Turêl, Jomjâêl, Arâzjâl. 8. These are the leaders of the two hundred angels, and the others all were with them.

Book of Enoch

Notice the location of their headquarters: Mount Hermon. Matt. 16:13-19 places Jesus and his disciples are near Caesarea Philippi, near a rock formation that is part of the small mountain range leading to Mount Hermon. In ancient times it was considered a gateway to the world of dark spiritual forces – with good reason. This area was literally the gateway to hell of the ancient world.

In fact, according to Ps. 68:14-22 Mount Hermon, as the highest peak in Bashan (therefore called Mount Bashan in the Psalm) is Jealous of Mount Zion, Jerusalem’s peak, which is the place God’s rule is said to be centered. So Mount Hermon is actually the headquarters of the dominion of darkness and the arch-rival to God’s rule.

So, what exactly is Jesus doing at that location with the pronouncement that his church will prevail over the gates of hell? Among other things, he is telling them that his church is being built with Galileans, in Galilee, at the very heart of the evil kingdom. He is knocking at the front door of the rival kingdom’s headquarters and proclaiming their doom through the ministry of his disciples.

He is also provoking the forces of darkness to attempt to thwart his mission, drawing them to move to have the Jewish and Roman authorities to crucify him.

In Eph. 6:12 Paul the Apostle refers to the dark angelic or demonic realm that is behind all the evil in the world. the “principalities and powers” in high places of spiritual darkness that we are at war against as Christians. Jesus’ statement to Peter at their “gates” was the formal declaration of that war.

The spiritual geography of Mount Hermon and Bashan also explains a strange reference in Ps. 22:10-15 about being surrounded by the “bulls of Bashan.” Psalm 22 is recognized by Christians as the messianic psalm of Jesus’ crucifixion. This is a poetic reference to the forces of evil, spiritually centered in Bashan, the land of darkness that had seen his great light.

These rulers of the demonic realm believe they have won by maneuvering to have Jesus killed. What they have not planned on is the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. In rising again, Jesus proves that only he can do the unthinkable: rescue people from death.

Instead, Jesus and his church are bringing people out of the once-secure stronghold of the grave.

And the invasion of hell continues.

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Paul, Abraham and Circumcision

People are often surprised to hear that our small church fellowship meets on Saturday rather than Sunday and on Bible-based yearly festivals rather than Christmas and Easter. Some try to persuade me that Sunday is the “Christian” day of worship. Some go so far as t try to accuse us of a kind “old covenant legalism.”

Some even seem to regard the law itself as a curse, and warn against falling into “the curse of the law” as though we must actively avoid doing anything that the law might require. They do this on the grounds that the “new covenant” supersedes the “old covenant.”

They are certainly correct that the new supersedes the old, but there must be more to it in order to explain a few strange things in the book of Acts.

Some strange things happen as you read the account of Acts 15 and following. For one thing, as Paul brings the letter with the conclusions of the Jerusalem Council to his Gentile churches, he stops to have Timothy circumcised.

Why, if circumcision is no longer necessary?

Why does Paul want to get to Jerusalem in time for one of the festivals?

Why does Paul agree to pay for a Temple ritual for a Jewish believer?

Of course, one easy answer I hear is that Paul is preaching to both Jews and Gentiles, so he must act Jewish In order to be allowed in the synagogues (and therefore so must Timothy, the son of a Jewish mother). In other words, like Paul’s Roman citizenship, it helps with evangelism and is therefore useful.

Paul actually gives a far more nuanced answer in the book most often referenced for understanding salvation by faith alone: Romans. In Chapter 4 :1-15 Paul explains how Abraham was declared righteous by God by believing what God told him (in Genesis 15). Paul explains that it was only later (Genesis 17) that Abraham was circumcised.

What this does is make Abraham the father of the ones saved by faith alone and  of those circumcised and saved by faith alone.

One thing Paul’s analysis indicates is that you can be saved in both circumcision and un-circumcision by faith alone.

Paul notes that Abraham’s faith and God’s declaration of his righteousness came before the physical circumcision. This means that God’s declaration of righteousness is not automatically invalidated or neutralized by Abaham’s later circumcision.

Neither is God’s declaration of righteousness automatically nullified by keeping the law, as was the case with nearly every other Old Testament person of faith. Paul even quotes David in verses 6-8 as relating how blessed people are when God does not count their sin against them and forgives it. The context of the passage Paul quotes from is very interesting. You can read about how that grace applied in David’s life in Psalm 32.

Imagine that! Grace in the Old Testament! Even grace under the Old Covenant!

This is why Paul can state that neither circumcision nor un-circumcision mean anything for salvation. Abraham and

The people who claim that meeting on sabbath or biblical festival dates automatically fall into the “curse of the law” have missed that important point.

Paul’s argument against the “Judaizers” is not about whether or not the law may be kept by Jewish and non-Jewish believers, but about whether or not it is required for salvation. Clearly it is not.

That is why Paul neither forces Gentiles to adopt the law nor forces Jews to abandon it. Faith in Jesus, his sacrifice and resurrection, and his Lordship over one’s life is how God has decided to graciously grant salvation.

Keeping aspects of the old covenant law that appeal to individuals are lifestyle choices that do not automatically affect salvation. They only become a problem if the law is viewed as a means of salvation.

Understanding this gives a completely different understanding of Paul’s admonition to not let anyone judge you for whether or not you keep new moons or feasts or sabbaths. When Paul says that it doesn’t matter, he actually means it doesn’t matter. He does not mean that we must not observe them. All he means is that we must not judge one another whether or not we observe them.

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Pentecost and the Seal of a New Covenant

When we gathered on Pentecost Sunday I wanted to go over some of the threads of Scripture that come together in the Acts 2 account of Pentecost.

One thread that pertains to receiving the Holy Spirit comes from Jeremiah 31:31-34. Jeremiah predicts a time when God will form a new covenant with all of Israel and Judah (ending the division of the kingdom). This covenant would be different than the one that was entered into after God led the children of Israel out of Egypt in certain ways.

For one thing, rather than God writing his law on tablets of stone to be contained in a special box in the Tabernacle or Temple, the law would be “written on their hearts.” This “inward law” would make them God’s people, and the LORD would once again be their God.

A second characteristic of this “new covenant” would be that each individual would personally “know the LORD.” In other words each person would have, a personal relationship with the God of Israel.

A third different characteristic mentioned by Jeremiah about this covenant is that it would include forgiveness of sin, even to the point of God “forgetting” it. In the previous covenant, sin had to be “propitiated” or “atoned for” each time by a sacrifice. Forgiveness is different from propitiation.

We will see how these three apply in the Acts 2:1-21.

Another passage that bears on Pentecost is one that Peter quotes to justify their speaking in tongues: Joel 2:28-32. Peter notes that their speech is directly related to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit promised by Joel.  We are told that there were about 120 believers in Acts 1. Presumably gathered on the day of Pentecost with the Apostles in Acts 2 there were also the women who are mentioned in various places in the Gospels. The women would also have been speaking in tongues with the rest. Just in case this is not convincing we note that Philip later has four daughters who are prophets (Acts 21:9), definitely fulfilling that prophecy.

Other characteristics of this time include blood, the sun going dark, and the moon becoming like blood, While we are not told about what the moon looked like on the day Jesus died, we do know that blood and darkness characterized Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice.

Another characteristic of Joel’s “Day of the Lord” prophecy is an offer of universal salvation. “All who call on the name of the LORD will be saved” is the  This is exactly what Peter is offering in his Pentecost sermon, as you read in Acts 2:36-41.

Yet another thread involves a reversal of the Tower of Babel incident in Genesis 11:1-9. Many of the nations mentioned in the story are mentioned in Acts 2:9-11 as understanding the supernatural speech. 

The gift of the Spirit is very important in the lives of the believers. The Apostle Paul will later write that the Spirit is what makes us children of God and heirs with Christ (Romans 8:14-17). No wonder Joel and Peter make such a big deal about the indwelling of God’s Spirit. How can you be a child of God and heir with Jesus if you don’t “know the Lord?”

Jesus tells his disciples that when he leaves he will send “another comforter” who will teach them “all things” (John 14:8-17, 25-27). “Knowing the Lord” would not be a problem for followers of Jesus.

The gospel of Jesus Christ fulfills the conditions of the new covenant as taught by Jeremiah. Repentance and belief in Jesus as Saviour and Lord, baptism in his name and receiving the Holy Spirit puts God’s law (teaching) directly into their minds, forgives sins and turns sinners into God’s people and therefore God becomes their God.

 

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Common Grace

Atheists and agnostics sometimes complain about “the problem of evil.” If God is good, they say, why does evil exist?

I note the irony that disobedience to God’s will seems to be the cause of evil and leads to all the evil results we see around us. For instance was it God or man who was the first murderer? Christians and Jews know the answer to that one: Cain, one of the first generation children of Adam and Eve. By far the majority of human tragedy comes from human greed, anger, short-sightedness or outright stupidity.

Beyond this there is a  problem for atheists hidden on the other side of their own question: the problem of good.

What do we mean by the problem of good?

There are two aspects to the problem of good. First, if there is no God how do we know what is good? Why is good, well, good? How do you derive morality from a struggle for “survival of the fittest, for instance?” Why do most people seem to innately have a sense of right and wrong (whether or not they actually follow the right)? The idea of having a built-in conscience is more of a problem than most atheists want to acknowledge.

There is even an aspect of the problem of good that can be puzzling to Christians. It can be formulated like this: “If human beings are tainted by a sinful nature, why are there non-Christians who are seemingly more morally upright than many Christians who have the Spirit of God?” In other words, why are there good people around who are not Christians?

And why do some non-Christian artists, artisans, designers, engineers or scientists come up with superior work to many Christians ones?

The answer to both has been discussed in a doctrine called the doctrine of common grace. This doctrine is rooted in aspects of God’s character.

Jesus has interesting things to say about the character of God that we can sometimes miss if we aren’t paying attention. For instance, in Matt 5:43-48 Jesus teaches his disciples to love their enemies and pray for their persecutors. Why? So that they can behave as children of the Father. He gives the example of God sending sun and rain on the ungodly as well as the godly. God is even kind to the ungrateful and wicked (Luke 6:35).

While a casual reading of the Bible by a skeptic can give the impression of a harsh and tyrannical deity, there is much more revealed than at first glance. Even in judgment God displays a remarkable forbearance, as we will demonstrate a little later.

First of all, was it necessary for God to create humankind as a thinking creation? Better yet, do we deserve to exist in the first place? In fact, God liked his created humans enough to declare his whole creation “very good.”

When Adam and Eve sinned they were warned that death would follow if they ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. And it did. But, really, 930 years later (at least for Adam)? Compared to our 70-or-so-year modern lifespans that hardly seems like a punishment.

After only about 1560 years there was so much human evil and violence on the earth that humankind seemed on the verge of wiping itself out, so God intervenes by sending a flood. Yet he allows enough humans and animals to survive to give them a fresh start.

God later tells Abraham that his descendants would have to wait 430 years to inherit their land because the sin of the Amorites has not gotten bad enough to drive them out yet. Really, God is going to wait 430 years before intervening? Watch out for that angry, quick-tempered God! (For those of you not accustomed, this is what sarcasm looks like.) So, in reality, God really is very slow to anger and much more merciful than he is given credit for by his opponents.

The point is this: the tree was the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, not the tree of evil. God allows enough good for society to function well enough to allow the human race to prosper as a whole.

This is not to say that God eliminates dysfunction and tragedy. No. He even tells Adam that life will be hard and toilsome. But that doesn’t stop humanity from multiplying and filling the earth. It also doesn’t stop mankind’s ability to overcome many problems and rule over the earth.

The God who created the world is also the one who sustains it (Colossians 1:17). He does that, in spite of the twisted nature of his human creation. He explains why in John 3:16. God wants human beings to have eternal life. They can’t have it if they don’t have any chance to survive in the here and now. So he sustains the world in a balance that allows both good and evil to become obvious to all.

He also allows it to make God’s work and will obvious to all if they do not refuse to see. For instance, the world will eventually see how God’s judgment is not based on random anger, but is based on a reality that transcends human points of view (Romans 1:18-19, Rom. 1:25).

Acts 14:17 In Lystra Paul heals a man born blind and begins to be seen as a god. He points them to Jesus, beginning with what even pagans know: there is a God who has been providing for them. He equates this Sustainer God with the Creator God.

Theologian Louis Berkhof tells us what such grace accomplishes: “[It] curbs the destructive power of sin, maintains in a measure the moral order of the universe, thus making an orderly life possible, distributes in varying degrees gifts and talents among men, promotes the development of science and art, and showers untold blessings upon the children of men.” Thus common grace encompasses not only physical blessings like rain and food and health, but also blessings in the areas of intellect, morality, creativity, society, and religion. Like all grace, all undeserved favor, it is meant to point us to our kind, loving Creator.

Four Purposes of Common Grace

  1. Common Grace Serves God’s Greater Purpose of Saving Grace by restraining both human sin and God’s wrath (Rom 13:1).Otherwise we would be destroyed either by God or ourselves
  1. Common Grace Demonstrates God’s Mercy and Goodness.God takes no pleasure in final judgment but delights rather in salvation.
  1. Common Grace Demonstrates God’s Justice. God allows people to know  him by his works and therefore know that judgment is coming and is just.
  1. Common Grace Demonstrates God’s Glory. As man exercises dominion he shows how creative God is for making man in his image.

Common grace allows us to influence our homes, workplaces and society through the dominion mandate.

There is biblical precedent for believers cooperating with non-believers to achieve what God commanded in the cultural mandate:

  • Daniel served faithfully in Nebuchadnezzar’s court (Daniel 2)
  • Jeremiah wrote to the Jewish exiles in Babylon charging them to “seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper” (Jeremiah 29:7)
  • Paul told the Galatians, “as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people” (Galatians 6:10)

At the same time, there is other scripture that seems to say the opposite:

  • When the Israelites escaped from Egypt, “they plundered the Egyptians” (Exodus 12:35-36)
  • Paul admonished the Corinthians, “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and unrighteousness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?” (2 Cor. 6:14)
  • When the Jews returned from Babylon, the Samaritans were not allowed to help the people of God rebuild the temple (Ezra 4:1-3)

This concept of cooperating with non-believers but not being yoked with them, being “in the world but not of the world,” is more complicated than it first appears. Help is found in the “doctrine of common grace.”

R.C. Sproul has a very helpful video about common grace on YouTube.

Here are some sources for the information regarding the Lous Berkhof quote, the purposes of common grace  and the ideas about working together yet not “unequally yoked with” non-Christians in this post:

https://www.ligonier.org/learn/devotionals/providence-and-common-grace/

https://www.ligonier.org/learn/articles/loving-provision/

https://tifwe.org/common-grace-how-believers-and-non-believers-can-advance-gods-purposes-together/

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New Songs

We have a few more new songs to sing here at Wascana Fellowship since the last update. We have nothing to sell, so we we try to identify the source of any tunes we conscript into our lyrics. Most of our songs are intended for teaching as we worship, so many are paraphrases of biblical texts. Some of those include Christian answers or observations about what is in the biblical texts.

A Change of Heart A meditation on Jeremiah 17:9.

The Divine Congregation Psalm 82 describes a meeting of God’s divine council, a group of angelic beings who were given control over parts of the human population from the time God confused the languages and scattered the human population. God appears unhappy with their rule.

Freedom

God Can Be Known Romans 1:15-25

God Has Spoken Hebrews 1:1-4

The Great High Priest How Jesus fulfills the role of Israel’s High Priest once for all time.

My Light and Salvation

A New Commandment John 13:31 & 34

Praise the Lord Yes All That’s In Me Worship to the ever-popular “Ode to Joy” by Beethoven.

Psalm 146

The Word Made Flesh Based on John 1

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Natural Disasters and God’s Goodness

A recent discussion we were having about common grace became bogged down in the question of the relationship between God and natural disasters. This post points to a couple of articles that help clarify the issue.

In “Where is God in Natural Disasters?” Erwin Lutzer is interviewed about this issue. He writes that this has become a fallen world and that there are lessons to be learned, including the fragility of life, our mortality and our need for Jesus Christ and the eternal life that he offers.

Sharon Dirckx of the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics wrote “Why Does God Allow Natural Disasters?” to address this from a wider scientific, theological and socio/political perspective. As an example, you may be surprised, as I was, at how much death and destruction from disasters can be averted or allowed by human activity. I will not re-invent the wheel, so check out her article. It is definitely a worthwhile read.

These are just two examples of a much larger and extensive body of work. Christians have been formulating reasonable responses to questions about God and his workings for centuries. Many of the modern objections about God and Christianity show a fundamental refusal to interact with the literature or to bother with researching a Christian world-view.

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