The Problem of Violence in the Old Testament

A friend from church pointed me to this presentation on the problem of violence in the Old Testament. It isn’t something that deals with any specific passage for this week, rather I bring it up as a response to difficulties that arise from many passages we’ve now covered in past months of Year in the Bible. Follow this link to Ravi Zacharias International Ministries and click to listen to the talk by John Dickson. It is about 25 minutes, so maybe save it to listen to later today.

Violence in the Old Testament, part 1 of 2

Some of his point is that we should not approach the Old Testament thinking throughout that Israel is some sort of paragon of morality and holiness. Just because Israel performs an action or one Israelite performs an action, and such actions are recorded, does not mean that those things are right and good for us to emulate. Much of what is recorded is the sinfulness of God’s people, further showing to us the continued dependence we all should have on God’s grace. Not now and not ever have we been able to rely on our own righteousness. But Dickson does concede that he is troubled by some passages, and we should not avoid such feelings.

But don’t just read to my summary, go listen. He’s got an Australian accent, if that further encourages you to give it a shot.

Catching Up: 1 Samuel 7 and ‘Come Thou Fount’

I’m going to look back in our schedule at a selection that fell in the previous week of Year in the Bible. In 1 Samuel the Israelites are having some difficulties with their neighbors the Philistines. At the urging of Samuel, they cry out to their Lord for forgiveness and deliverance, and Samuel intercedes with prayer and sacrifice. God saves his people giving them victory over their enemies.

In response to God’s help and in recognition that God is the one who secured the victory, Samuel sets up a memorial to be a witness for the people. Earlier Israel had matched up against the Philistines and failed, but with God’s help they succeed. Samuel wants the people to remember this so he erected a stone to serve as the memorial and named it Ebenezer, meaning ‘stone of help.’

There’s a song that recounts this story from 1 Samuel and mentions this Ebenezer, but this detail has been lost in more recent rewritings. The song is “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing.” Our hymnal at church uses the 1973 rewrite in which the second stanza goes like this:

Hither to thy love has blessed me
Thou has brought me to this place
And I know thy hand will bring me
Safely home by thy good grace

These lyrics replace in other modern hymnals the lyrics:

Here I raise my Ebenezer;
Hither by Thy help I’m come;
And I hope, by Thy good pleasure,
Safely to arrive at home.

I can see why someone would rewrite lyrics that might carry no significance if no one knows what Ebenezer is. But that can be a challenge to teach others or inform ourselves of these Bible stories that inspired the hymn writers and shaped their words. When we sing this popular hymn let the words remind us of this story from 1 Samuel, a story of our complete dependence on God’s help and of the way we should memorialize the wonderful help he gives to us.

Year in the Bible, Quarter 2 Week 6

I’m back from vacation now and here we are in week six of Year in the Bible. We’ll play a little bit of catch up in covering the two weeks of reading on the site, so now is the time to share any questions you may have.

We’re continuing in both 1 Samuel and Romans, with the latter especially packed full of information. This is all the more reason to try coming out to one of the two reading groups to share insights and try to get the most out of these books.

I’ve been hearing some good stories from people who are keeping up with all the readings and even heard today of someone who was able to catch up on three weeks of backlog. What was great is that this catching up wasn’t rushed through just to get it done. We don’t want to read to have just read the Bible. We don’t want to check it off like some chore. We read to learn more of God and to hear his voice speak to us.

So if you are catching up, take your time. You don’t want to rush through and miss what God would have you see.

Exchanging Good For Bad

Looking at these two passages from 1 Samuel 8 and Romans 1 you see a common thread:

Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah and said to him, “Behold, you are old and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now appoint for us a king to judge us like all the nations.” But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to judge us.” And Samuel prayed to the LORD. And the LORD said to Samuel, “Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them.
1 Samuel 8

 

For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.
Romans 1

We lack wisdom and continue to choose things of this world rather than cling to our God. Israel is not content with God as king, instead wanting to be just like everybody else. The people of Romans chose to worship created things, not the creator. How often do we continue to think we know better than God? Why can’t we trust that God will satisfy us perfectly in the way he provides, instead of blazing our own trail? It doesn’t work well in 1 Samuel nor in Romans. Let us gain a bit of wisdom and learn from the mistakes of others.

Unashamed of the Gospel

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.
Romans 1:16

Just a quick thought on this verse. Who can read it without being challenged? Haven’t there been times when we have either lacked boldness in sharing the gospel or have doubted its great power? But if the latter is true, if the gospel of Jesus Christ is the power of God for the salvation of Jews and Gentiles, then what responses are available to us? Is there any course of action but an unashamed proclamation of what is the only hope for the world?

Shame is a wholly inappropriate response to the gospel. It is nothing we should feel guilty about nor have to apologize for. That God loved us so much that he sent Christ here for for us should be something we openly rejoice in.

I hope Paul’s writings will not only challenge us, but encourage us to share in such boldness.

Off to the Midwest

Here is a short note on my vacation.

I just want to give a heads up to everyone that I’ll vacationing from posting this week. But that is not a vacation from reading.

We all have many things on our plates and when something new comes along, temporary or permanent, we have to make choices. Can we fit it all on? Does something need to be displaced? These decisions are made, whether we are aware or not. Let’s be assertive in such a process. If we take account of our priorities and step in to make these decisions, then we can protect what we deem important. Reading God’s Word is important.

I’ll keep that up, and post if I get a chance.

Everyone Did What Was Right in Their Own Eyes

In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.

Judges 21:25

This is the depressing end to the book of Judges. Depressing, but not surprising. No sooner is Israel settling in the promised land than they are turning from God’s ways and falling into sin. The Judges were to bring the people back to God, but the chorus of this book is that Israel again does what is evil in the sight of the Lord (2:11, 3:7, 3:12, 4:1, 6:1, 10:6, 13:1). Having heard that phrase, in the sight of the Lord (NIV – in the eyes of the Lord), so many times, it is then so fitting to close the book, “Everyone did what was right in their own eyes.”

Many times over God has shown them how he sees things. He urges them to live according to his ways, to do what is right in God’s eyes. But continually they instead do what is right in their eyes, according to how they see things.

…and everyone did what was right in their own eyes.

Judges is a saddening book as we see Israel, who have been blessed by God with so much, turn from him. Yet we can’t read it from too far a distance. Are we that unlike Israel? Don’t we do whatever we think is good? Do we allow God to be the judge in our lives, or do we more often take that role upon ourselves? How many things do we do that don’t look “right” to our own eyes? How many things can we name that we know God wants, but we think differently? Who wins that battle?

This problem can be even more deceiving because we may not easily think of things in our lives that we know God wants to change.* It’s amazing how much we all are in agreement with God–or how much God agrees with me! But is that the way we would expect it to go? No, we’re told to expect sacrifice and trials. We are told to die to the old self, to live for Christ (Romans 6:1-18, Galatians 2:20, Ephesians 4:17-24, Romans 12:1-2). So if it seems that God has stamped his approval on all that we do and believe, isn’t it possible we’re just doing what we think is right in our own eyes, not in the sight of God?

It is easy to read the Bible and look for those parts of Scripture that affirm what we want to hear. But we need humility to approach God confessing that we are prone to self-deception (1 John 1:8). We need to ask God to help reveal those things that we think are in line with his will, but are not. We need the Spirit to pierce through our assumptions as we read God’s Word and reveal to us the challenges as well as the comfort of the Bible.

I think back to Galatians as Paul tells the churches that he had to challenge Peter (Cephas) for the way in which he was treating the Gentiles. Here is Peter, a great leader of the early church, and he is mistreating fellow brothers in Christ. He was doing what was right in his own eyes. God uses another of his servants to remind Peter than in the sight of God, there is no Jew or Gentile, and to act in another way is against the gospel of Jesus Christ.

We need God’s Word, prayer, and other followers of Christ to speak truth to us. We are not equipped to be our own judges. If everyone is left alone to decide for themselves what is right and what is the truth for them, we find ourselves with the people of Judges. Rather we should seek to see things through the eyes of God. We should seek to do what he says is right, even if the world around us thinks us foolish.

*There may be plenty of little things as we are sure God would prefer that we pray more, speed less, and be nicer to others. But on those things we agree with God, it is just a matter of doing. I’m thinking bigger.
 

A Song for Psalm 51

On Sunday I invited everyone who is not reading along with Year in the Bible to read one thing this week, Psalm 51. It’s thought to be a psalm written by David after Nathan the prophet came to him, rebuking him for the sin he committed with Bathsheba (2 Samuel 12).

It is a psalm of repentance and reliance on God, and it is one of my favorites. A band called Indelible Grace plays an amazing version of a song based off this psalm that balances a plaintive, yet hopeful tone. I think this is fitting given the context and the depth of pain and brokenness we see in these words. There is a desperate longing to be reconciled with God. But there is still hope because of the work of God and the assurance we have that he will forgive. Check out the song at this link, and let me know what you think:

Indelible Grace, ‘God, Be Merciful To Me (Psalm 51)’