Isaiah 45 – Blinded by Sovereignty

17 12 2008

A month ago I happened to read Isaiah 45 and was really struck by it.  I was going to post about, then the hiatus came, then I forgot about it…

But then Ryan preached a great sermon on God’s sovereignty, and then wrote that examination on God and “fairness”, so I figured I should get in on the party.

There’s a lot in this passage I wanted to touch on, but instead of listing the entire chapter, I think I will humbly request that you read the whole chapter first.  Don’t forget to come back when you’re done!

So, do you feel puny and in awe of our great Creator?!  If not, let’s look at a few parts of what the prophet was writing here.

God will use the tools He wants based on His purposes, not necessarily that person’s merits.
The beginning of the chapter relates how God called out Cyrus the Great to be his instrument to subdue nations for the benefit of Israel.  It is interesting to see God remark that He is calling Cyrus in spite of the fact that Cyrus does not acknowledge God.  It is important to also see God’s purpose in this is so that “men may know there is none besides Me.” (v 6)

God alone creates and distributes righteousness.
Verse 8 was the reason I read this chapter and just thinking about it was filling me with wonderment.  Think about the seeming randomness of nature.  Rain drops falling here and there, flowers and plants growing in variety and uniqueness.  We Christians see these things, but don’t deny that God is controlling all of it.  Yet here, God is comparing that apparent randomness to how He distributes righteousness and salvation.  It may seem random, but He is in control.  He not only is sovereign in it’s distribution, but also in it’s inception! (I, the LORD, have created it)

God has the indisputable right to do as He pleases.
The next five verses show that God is aware of our inability to understand all this and provides His response to human questioning of His methods.  The potter and clay image is even more well known thanks to Paul using it in his own writings and is very powerful.  God’s claim to sovereignty is found in the fact that none of us would be here if it weren’t for Him.  He created us, thus He owns us.

God answers only to Himself.
If you feel you are being repressed by an unfair authority, you would seek the judgment and delivery from someone in higher authority, right?  Well, I think this is the reason God makes so many declarations of His exclusivity in this chapter about His sovereignty.  Consider:

“I am the LORD, and there is no other.”
“I, the LORD, speak the truth; I declare what is right”
“And there is no God apart from me”
“a righteous God and a Savior; there is none but Me”
“I am God, and there is no other”

If we are even going to entertain the evil attitude to question God’s practices, who are we going to complain to?  Does God have a superior who can put Him in His place?  Is there a law above God that we can point to to show Him the err of His ways?  To entertain a question of the “unfairness” of God is to presume that God must answer to something or someone.  Maybe it is the case that we have set up our own ideas of morality and truth as an idol above God…

So I ask again, do you feel puny?  Are you in awe?  If not, you should probably read Isaiah 45 again.  Don’t despair at God’s sovereignty, rejoice in it.  We are sustained every day by it, we are saved by it.

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That’s Not Fair!

8 12 2008

Lately, around our church, there have been some “discussions” about the doctrine of election.  Those who have the hardest time with the biblical teaching of the doctrine (that God sovereignly and unconditionally chooses those to whom He will grant salvation) seem to fall back on the argument of “but that’s not fair!”

The argument is a relatively simple one: if God chooses some to be saved and passes over others, that is not fair to those who have been passed over.  Those who object on this grounds of “fairness” believe that God should be an equal opportunity provider (or savior) and make salvation open to everyone, not just give it to a select few.

There are several problems, biblically, with this argument.  Today, I just want to focus on one.  Let’s talk about God and “fairness.”  We’ll start our conversation with a story.

The Life of a Prophet

Along time ago, there was a godly man named Ezekiel.  Ezekiel was an Israelite living in exile in the land of Babylon.  While there, God called him into service as a prophet.

Sounds like a good gig, right? Get to have an intimate relationship with God, He lets you in on all of the details of His plan, and you get to be His mouth piece to speak to His people.  If you think Ezekiel had it good, then you haven’t read the book.

First, God tells Ezekiel that He’s going to make him mute:

And I will make your tongue cling to the roof of your mouth, so that you shall be mute and unable to reprove them, for they are a rebellious house. But when I speak with you, I will open your mouth, and you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD.’ He who will hear, let him hear; and he who will refuse to hear, let him refuse, for they are a rebellious house (Ezekiel 3:26-27).

God tells Ezekiel that the only time he can talk is when God gives him a prophecy to share with the people.

Can you imagine what that must have been like for Ezekiel in his daily life?  No “I love you” to the wife.  No “You gave me the wrong change” at the market.  No “Hey, you guys catch the chariot races?” to the fellas. No personal, verbal communication whatsoever! And this didn’t just last a week.  It didn’t change for Ezekiel until years later (see Ezekiel 24:27). How unfair!

But wait, there’s more!

In chapter 4, God tells Ezekiel to put on a little play for the exiled people of Israel.  God tells him to recreate His judgment against both the Northern Kingdom of Israel and the Southern Kingdom of Judah by suffering a “personal siege” for them.  What does this look like?  It has several staggering components, but let me just run down a few for you:

  • Ezekiel needs to bind himself and lay upon his left side for 390 days! (Yes, for more than a year!)  He does this to present a visual of God’s judgment upon the Northern Kingdom of Israel.
  • Then, God tells him to do it again, however this time Ezekiel must lay on his right side and do so for 40 days.  This pictures the judgment upon the Southern Kingdom of Judah.
  • Also, during this time he needs to eat the same putrid food and water those in a siege would eat and drink.  This includes God given orders to cook his food over on an open fire fueled by human feces!  Here Ezekiel graciously objects and God allows him to cook his food instead with heat provided by cow dung (how appetizing!).

Could you imagine that being your regular practice for over a year?!  And Ezekiel is doing it simply because God told him too.

However, here’s the clincher for me.  Here’s where I’d be tempted to say, “Go find somebody else, God!” Read the rest of this entry »





The Glory of The Son

2 12 2008

I might be telling you something you already know, but what’s new, right?

Here it is… are you ready?

Our Savior is glorious!!

He is amazing and breathtaking and beautiful and awesome, and I stand (yet again) freshly amazed at His person.

This latest round of awestruck Savior-marveling joy comes via meditation and study on the first few chapters of the letter (or sermon) to the Hebrews.  From the opening salvo, the author of Hebrews shows us a Savior before whom we can’t help but bow the knee in wonder and amazement.

Listen to this description of our Lord Jesus:

Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom.”

You, Lord, laid the foundation of the earth in the beginning, and the heavens are the work of your hands; they will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment, like a robe you will roll them up, like a garment they will be changed. But you are the same, and your years will have no end.”

If you’re familiar with the book of Hebrews, you know those lines come from chapter 1 and I’ve quoted the author of Hebrews as he quotes the OT.  But think about the texts from which he is drawing his statements.

The first selection comes from Psalm 45, a psalm praising the king.  However, the line the author is directing towards Christ would have been understood as being spoken of Yahweh, not of the human king.  But the Hebrew’s preacher pulls it into his sermon and places the tag of this statement squarely upon the person of Jesus!

However, I think the second quote is the more staggering of the two. It comes from Psalm 102 and there is no way anyone could have mistaken the statements found there as applying to anyone less than deity (notice the strong contrast in the Psalm between the frailty of the human condition with the eternal stability of God Almighty).  An OT Jew would have read those statements as applying solely to God Himself, yet the author of Hebrews says those are the qualities and characteristics of the Son:

You laid the foundation of the earth”

“the heavens are the work of your hands”

“they will perish, but you will remain”

“You are the same, and your years will have no end”

Staggering, isn’t it?  (If not, go back and read through that again- especially dwelling on the idea of the heavens- the heavens!- being his handiwork!)

As you finish chapter 1 of Hebrews, you might ask yourself the question: who could doubt the deity and exalted status of this glorious Person?  Who could doubt the divinity of Christ when the author of Hebrews makes his case so strongly?

But, as you marvel at this exalted Person, let the shocking nature of chapter 2 hit you like a bucket of cold water in the middle of a deep and blissful dream: this eternal and glorious Person took on our humanity and suffered for us!

Think about this: with the words of supreme exaltation still ringing in our ears, the author of Hebrews turns and says, “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things” and “he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.”

Do we realize what is being said here?  The One with an eternal throne, the One who made the stars and will outlast them all, that One stepped into my frail and feeble “skin,” He lived in this cesspool of a world, He walked its filthy streets, He witnessed its multiplicity of evils, and He suffered what I suffer.

The eternal One suffered.

The One who outlasts the heavens suffered.

The One who Psalm 102 paints as a contrast to human frailty tasted the full breadth of our frailty!

Doesn’t the question “Why?!” just thunder through your mind and crash into your conscience? Doesn’t it all seems so wrong… the Perfectly Holy One tempted, the Omnipotent One suffering, the Eternal God being made like us?!

It seems so wrong, but yet… so glorious.  As you find the answer to the “Why?!” question (“so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people“) you discover the beauty in what looks like perversion.

So, as I sit meditating on the Person of my Savior… the One who tossed the stars into place with His fingers and yet died the death of criminal, naked and pierced onto a tree… a faithful Son lovely atoning for the sins of a people who rejected Him… who atoned for my sins while I was willfully opposed to Him… I have to confess: I can’t help but be amazed.

What a glorious Savior!





Psalm 32 part 6 – The Joy of Humiliation

2 10 2008

I am working through Psalm 32 in an attempt to share it’s depth with you as well as help my endeavor to commit it to memory.  Read my thoughts on the previous stanza here.

Psalm 32:10-11

Many are the sorrows of the wicked
But he who trusts in the Lord, lovingkindness shall surround him.
Be glad in the Lord and rejoice, you righteous ones;
And shout for joy, all you who are upright in heart.

This is a very humiliating psalm.  If you read it over and over and meditate on how it applies to your own life, you realize a couple things about the way things are:

– You sin
– You sin a lot
– God had to do some incredible and painful things to fix what we messed up
– God is perfect, holy, gracious and merciful
– When juxtaposed to God’s attributes, we are flawed, impure, malevolent, and spiteful

In the contemporary world, such humiliation leads to sadness, despair, or depression.  See “humiliate” on dictionary.com.  But strangely enough, in God’s worldview, humiliation on our part brings joy!  How does this work?

Have you ever tried to make a tool do something it was never intended to do?  I’ve been a homeowner for a little over a year and had many situations like this.  I needed to carve away some of the trim in some places along our floor and went down to Lowes to get a chisel and mallet.  I spent a lot of time pounding, mangling, and pretty much mutilating my trim and become quite frustrated.  I couldn’t understand why this would be so difficult.  A couple months later, I needed to another project that required a chisel and while in Lowes again, I noticed that there apparently are MASONRY chisels and WOOD chisels. Read the rest of this entry »





Where’s Our Hope?

1 10 2008

This morning, as I was reading through the judgments of Isaiah 19-21, verse 6 of chapter 20 really caught my attention:

And the inhabitants of this coastland will say in that day, ‘Behold, this is what has happened to those in whom we hoped and to whom we fled for help to be delivered from the king of Assyria! And we, how shall we escape?’

Isaiah is here describing, prophetically, God’s judgment against the great rulers and people of Egypt, and when those who dwell on the coast see how these mighty people were defeated and humiliated, they too will lose all hope.

As I read that, and meditated on God’s judgment upon these people for their misplaced hope (a malady all idolaters suffer from), my thoughts turned to our current economic crisis.  When the news came down this week that the economic bailout package had been voted down and wall street went into a panic, I imagine many around the country started to feel their source of hope was being threatened.  This morning, I pictured them saying “Behold, this is what has happened to those in whom we hoped and to whom we fled for help to be delivered… And we, how shall we escape?”

Honestly, I felt a little bit of that worry myself. I don’t own any stocks or have an investment portfolio, but I did feel a little pang of panic as I thought about how this current crisis will threaten my lifestyle and comfort.  I’m sure many of us, even who have little invested, wrestled with this fear.  Again, we’re like the coastland people who see the mighty being defeated and then wonder how we can possibly survive.

As I contemplated my fear in light of this passage, God used this crisis, in the light of His word, to reveal to me some misplaced hope and confidence.  Let’s be honest, we in America have made materialism and wealth our god.  Often we look to it for hope, security, strength and meaning.  I too am guilty too often of this ‘idolatry.’

So, this morning I’m praising God for His revelation in the midst of this crisis.  I’m praising Him for using the evil of man’s greed and foolish financial planning to accomplish His good purpose of exposing to many of us our misplaced trust.

When the next bank fails or the Dow Jones takes another nose dive, let’s be people who rejoice that we have a source of strength and hope that can never be moved and will never fail.  Let us be people who live intentionally with our hope and trust set squarely on the only One worthy of it, and when others fear because the might have fallen, let us be those who stand with unwavering confidence because our Might One will never fail.





Psalm 32 part 5 – Godly Guidance

24 09 2008

I am working through Psalm 32 in an attempt to share it’s depth with you as well as help my endeavor to commit it to memory.  Read my thoughts on the previous stanza here.

Psalm 32:8-9

I will instruct you and teach you in the way which you should go;
I will counsel you with my eye upon you.
Do not be as the horse or as the mule which have no understanding,
Whose trappings include bit and bridle to hold them in check,
Otherwise they will not come near to you.

First, a slightly more academic observation.

The obvious reading of this stanza is that by direction of the Holy Spirit, David takes on the role of a pure prophet and dictates for the Lord.  God speaks to David and subsequently the reader to assure us that He will guide us at every step.  This is the general interpretation by most who read this psalm, among whom seem to include MacArthur and Piper.

I found an interesting angle, however, in my Bible Knowledge Commentary by Walvoord & Zuck.  They assert this this psalm was most likely liturgical in nature, meaning it would be akin to something in a book of common prayer.  The point they make is that the assembly would read along with David for most of the psalm, but the last two stanzas would be more of an address from David (or the leader) to the people.  Thus, David is the one pledging to be their guide and watch over them.

I don’t read Hebrew, but I have a feeling that even if I did, it wouldn’t answer the question.  Honestly, I don’t think it makes a HUGE difference since there are other scripture references that speak of both God’s guidance and the guidance of God’s earthly shepherds.

If we read this from the perspective of God speaking, we can take comfort that God is always watching over us, ready with the guidance we need if we will seek it out.  If we read it as David speaking, we can take the same comfort that God has proven in history that He will raise up leaders who will watch over us, ready with the guidance we need if we will seek it out.  The latter interpretation is simply a method of the truth of the former interpretation.  Six in one hand, a half dozen in the other.

Second, observations for application Read the rest of this entry »





Psalm 32 part 4 – Faithfulness Beyond Forgiveness

20 09 2008

I am working through Psalm 32 in an attempt to share it’s depth with you as well as help my endeavor to commit it to memory.  Read my thoughts on the previous stanza here.

Psalm 32:6-7

Therefore, let everyone who is godly pray to You in a time when You may be found;
Surely in a flood of great waters they will not reach him.
You are my hiding place; You preserve me from trouble;
You surround me with songs of deliverance.

I see a “therefore”… let’s see what it’s “there for”!

The prior stanzas speak about the blessing of forgiveness, the chastisement of the unrepentant, and the faithfulness of God to forgive.  Now it’s talking about praying to God and relying on Him for deliverance.  Does it seem like a subject change?  I don’t believe so.

David just asserted that when one comes to God seeking forgiveness, forgiveness will be given.  But then what?  Are we caught up in the sky to sin no more?  Does God impart holy Scotch Guard to our souls?  If you are human, you know that sometime after being forgiven, sin will come knocking at the door again.  If we have any maturity at all, we understand the peril our souls are in.  I believe it is temptation and sin that is being described in this stanza in the imagery of calamity.

In light of this, it is interesting to note that the “godly” are not those who are capable of perfection, but those who know well enough to run to God when sin is preying on them (see Romans 12:9).  After the last couple of years of tsunamis, Katrinas, and Gustavs, the reference to a “flood of great waters” is a little clearer to me.  Think of those disasters where whole houses, cars, and people were just swept away.  Now imagine a towering stone pillar on the coast of this onslaught, impervious and unphased by the cascading storm surge and the harrowing winds.  Would you rather be in the stone fortress… or in a pup tent on the beach? Read the rest of this entry »