Romans 9 – Election

Read Romans 9

Today Paul tackles the theological doctrine that we call “election” head on.  The doctrine of Election is both incredibly complex and abundantly simple in attempting to describe and give us an understanding of how God acts.  Simply put, the doctrine of Election speaks to the reality that some are chosen to be God’s people while others aren’t.  Those that are chosen as so due to no special circumstances or prior knowledge of potential good, but rather because of “God’s good pleasure and will.”

While that may sound simple enough, the issue is much more complex.  The doctrine of Election, as Paul describes it here, that there are those who are ethnically Hebrew who are not God’s people and also, by extension, those that claim to be Christian that also are not God’s people.  Why?  How?  Because it isn’t about physical descent or ancestry, Paul says, but rather that God’s people are given that identity through God’s mercy and promise only, not because of anything they or any other human did or will do.

Ok, perhaps we can accept that… but it doesn’t really seem fair… and doesn’t that impinge upon the theological notion of free will?  What about the people that never hear the Gospel?

Paul points out the reality of this being at the very heart of God.  Simply put: He is God.  His ways are higher than our ways.  We may not be able to fully understand it.

Yet there is a movement from specific to universal that takes place in Christ’s work.  No longer is the promise given only to the Jews, but it extends to the Gentiles as well.  God’s grace in Jesus Christ is available to all, and as John says, “Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.”



Day 348: 1 Timothy 1-6; Leadership Qualifications

We now enter a set of three books that are commonly called the Pastoral Epistles.  These are a set of letters that Paul wrote to Timothy and Titus towards the end of his life, likely while he was imprisoned in Rome.  Paul, understanding that he is at the point of handing off the leadership of the Church to others, exhorts Timothy and Titus, two primary, second generation believers and leaders in the church about the things that are important as they move into the future.  The Church itself was in a time of transition, as persecution was increasing and the thoughts of the immediate return of Christ were fading, the Church and its leaders had to learn how to function in the world as it worked to spread the Gospel in an extremely hostile and dangerous environment.

Remember that some of the beginnings of Church leadership and governance have already been seen in the book of Acts.  In Acts 6, we see the first selection of the office of deacon, a role that was primarily concerned with the physical well being of the Church and the poor around them.  These were people that are in charge or receiving offerings and gifts and then distributing them to those who have need.  Also in Acts, we see several situations where the church leaders decide things in a greater counsel.  In some ways this was the beginning of what the Reformed Church knows as a “classis” or a “synod,” which are larger bodies with representatives that come from churches within their areas to help govern and maintain order and direction in the greater church.

In my studies this semester I have had the opportunity to read through the Book of Church Order for the Reformed Church in America and some commentaries on it.  While this probably doesn’t sound like an entirely thrilling read, and it wasn’t, I think that it does offer some insight into how the Church, or at least the RCA denomination has taken the words that Paul speaks to Timothy here, and later to Titus, very seriously.  For lack of better things to say, I think I’m just going to encourage you to re-read this portion of 1 Timothy 3 and then I included a portion of the preamble of the RCA Book of Church Order about the leadership offices.  Compare what Paul has to say and what the view of the RCA is.  The emphasis on ordination to the offices within the church is important in the RCA because of what is meant by the word “ordained.”  It comes from the word “to choose” or to “elect,” something that comes from our doctrine of election, something that has a great deal to do with Lord’s choosing of a person of people to accomplish a particular task.  I say this, and so does the RCA, in whatever way conveys the highest amount of humility possible as this is not something to be flaunted, but rather understood as being completely and totally about the work of God in the lives of the people He has chosen, not because of their own excellence or merit.  In any case, let me encourage you again to read and compare the selections below!  I welcome any discussion that they or this might bring!

1 Timothy 3

Qualifications for Overseers

The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task.  Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach,  not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money.  He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?  He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil.  Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.

Qualifications for Deacons

Deacons likewise must be dignified, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for dishonest gain.  They must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. And let them also be tested first; then let them serve as deacons if they prove themselves blameless.  Their wives likewise must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things.  Let deacons each be the husband of one wife,managing their children and their own households well.  For those who serve well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves and also great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.

Preamble of the RCA Book of Church Order

The Reformed churches have sought to follow the practice of the churches whose experience is recorded in the New Testament. The churches then were ruled by “presbyters” or “elders,” just as the synagogues from which the first Christian converts came were ruled by elders. The Reformed churches consider the minister to be an elder of a special kind, called in some churches of the Reformed order, the “teaching elder.” Ministers and elders therefore govern the church together. They also assist in the governing of the larger church by becoming from time to time members of the higher legislative assemblies or courts of the church. Thus also the lines of authority in the Reformed churches move from the local church to the General Synod. This is so since Christ, according to the New Testament, has appointed officers to govern the church under himself. Their authority to govern derives from him even though they are elected by the people. The local churches together delegate authority to classes and synods, and having done so, they also bind themselves to be subject together to these larger bodies in all matters in which the common interests of the many churches are objects of concern.  While governance of the Reformed church is executed through the offices gathered in assemblies, the church expresses its full ministry through all its members in a variety of tasks. Each assembly is charged with determining the nature and extent of its ministry in faithful obedience to Scripture and in responsible concern for the church’s mission in the world. Every member receives a ministry in baptism and is called with the whole church to embody Christ’s intentions for the world.



Day 341: Ephesians 1-3; Dead to Sin, Alive in Christ

The church in Ephesus was arguably one of the most important churches in the western part of Asia Minor, mostly because of the central location of the city of Ephesus, which was the most important city in western Asia Minor, in what is now known as Turkey.  Located on the western coast of what is now Turkey, Ephesus was one of the last cities with which to dock before heading across the Aegean Sea.  It is almost parallel with Corinth, which would have likely been one of the city’s greatest trading partners.  Ephesus, being as busy and important as it was, became home to a great deal of pantheistic worshipers of Greek and Roman gods as well as a home for thinkers and philosophers.  To that end, the city was home to a great amphitheater, the temples of Hadrian and Artemis, and the Library of Celsus, one of the greatest Libraries of the ancient world (which was privately funded by Celsus himself).

Both Paul and John spent a great deal of time in the city of Ephesus.  Paul used it as one of his bases from which he traveled throughout the heart of the Roman empire, starting churches and encouraging Christians as he went.  John also spent a great deal of time in Ephesus, the place from which he likely wrote his Gospel and the letter that he wrote to the churches before he died.  Tradition hold that John died in Ephesus and his tomb is located there in the Basilica of St. John.  The letter of Ephesians, as well as that of Colossians, Philippians, and Philemon are commonly known  as the “prison epistles” because tradition holds that they were written by Paul from prison to encourage the church as it continued to grow.  Ephesians is probably the most uplifting letter that Paul writes to any of the churches, full of encouragement and instruction with little in the way of admonition and disciplinary talk.

The letter to the Ephesians is divided into two parts that actually fall well into the readings that we have for today and tomorrow.  Today, the first half of the book, largely covers God’s plan of salvation in Christ.  Paul beings with an opening, thanking God for all the Spiritual blessings in Christ that have been poured out on the church.  He also touches on what we have just talked about in the book of Ephesians, the idea of identity approaching it this time from the angle of adoption.  He says,

just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love.  He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.  In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.  In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory.

This passage is where we draw a great deal of our understanding of the doctrine of election and how we understand our identity in Christ.  Like we talked about yesterday, identity is a big deal for us, especially as we look at who we are and whose we are.  The deeper definition of our being one in Christ Jesus plays a big part in our lives.  Paul says that this happens because we were chosen, in the same way that Israel was chosen, not because of anything that we have done, but because of the grace of God in Christ Jesus.  Like a child who has been adopted by someone, we too have become a part of God’s family, or as Paul says in Galatians, heirs to the promise in Christ Jesus.  There is no longer a distinction between Jew and Greek, or any other distinction, we are all one in Christ Jesus.

Paul goes on from here to talk about how this happens.  Most of this explanation comes from the abundantly well known words of Ephesians 2, a place that we get a great deal of our understanding about the nature of grace:

You were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient. All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else.  But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.  For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God—  not the result of works, so that no one may boast.  For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.

This is what Paul is working so hard to make known to people throughout the world, and encouraging churches to hold as the basis of their faith in Jesus Christ.  This too is what he is encouraging all people in the community of faith to hold to and to preach and testify to in their lives.

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name.  I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love.  I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.



Day 328: Romans 8-10; New Life in the Spirit

Keeping in mind all that we have talked about over the last two days in the intro to Romans and our talk on faith yesterday,  today’s reading is quite simply the next step along this “Romans Road” that we have been walking.  Paul’s writing in the book of Romans is meant to lay out the whole story of redemptive history in a way that is both logical and systematic.  We have walked with him from the death of our old lives without Christ, when we did not know God and did not have faith, into a new life of faith in Christ Jesus in which we are Justified and made Righteous in Him!  All of this happens because of the faith that God gives us through the working of the Holy Spirit on our hearts.  Yes, even faith is a gift of God.  We often like to think of faith as being something that we produce in ourselves… we want to take some active part in our own salvation.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people say that it is difficult for people to accept that they can’t do anything to better themselves.  In some ways this is a particularly North American issue.  In the United States especially, we have this notion of “pulling yourself up by your own boot straps” and “working to better your own life.”  Our culture of individualism and “win at all costs” mentality has made it difficult for us to accept salvation as something that we take no active role in.  If we could only work up our own faith and discover for ourselves the way of salvation, then we would “save ourselves.”  But this is not reality.  God has searched us out, the Holy Spirit who has been at work in our hearts since the beginning, drawing us to God and bringing us to faith.  It is also through the Holy Spirit that we are united to Christ when we come to faith!  Our Triune God is at work throughout the salvation process.

So where does Paul go from here?  “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  For the Law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.”  This is great news for us!  More than this though, we are not only set free, we are adopted as sons and daughters of God and made to be fellow heirs to the Kingdom of God.  Moreover, we are future heirs of the resurrection and the glory that will be revealed in Christ Jesus, and now in us because we are united to Him.  It is here that we begin to move from the topic of what God has done in us and the grace that we have received toward what it is that we are to do with this new life that we have found ourselves in.  Paul talks a great deal about perseverance here, without actually naming it, and how we need to rest in the love of God that is in Christ Jesus.  While life may be difficult, there is nothing at all in this world that can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?  As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
    we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

We will talk more about turning this corner tomorrow, but for now Paul goes back into another discussion about election (which is a topic that will come up again and again, so once again we will forego a deeper discussion on election until a later time) and then faith vs. works.  It is clear that he is in anguish of his Jewish brothers and sisters who have really gotten the law wrong.  He points out to us once again that it is by faith that we receive salvation and that it was faith that was the ultimate goal of the Law as well.  Paul echoes the words of the Shema here as well, talking about having the Word of God “in your mouth and in your heart.”  Sadly many of the people of Israel didn’t pick up on this.

This is something that we need to always have before us as we live out our lives of faith.  It isn’t about actions, not about doing all the right things in the right order.  In fact, living for Christ isn’t about that at all.  As we will see tomorrow, we are called to live lives of gratitude for all that we have received in Christ Jesus, but never thinking that what we do somehow makes us more or less saved.  Once we are saved, we are saved forever.  I wonder if that was what C.S. Lewis was getting at when he wrote “Once a King or Queen in Narnia, always a King or Queen in Narnia.”



Day 327: Romans 4-7; By Faith

We continue in Paul’s explanation of the Gospel as he lays out for the church in Rome the good news of Jesus Christ.  Remember yesterday how he walked through the a sort of “creation narrative” as he explained general revelation and how all humanity is without excuse for knowing God.  He also makes it very clear to us that all of humanity is sinful in its very nature and that there is nothing that we can do to get out of this sin.  Calvinists would call this “total depravity” but it might be better to say that this is a “pervasive depravity” combined with “total inability.”  While this doesn’t necessarily fit in with the TULIP acronym, it most certainly is more correct (and besides, TULIP is a poor representation of Calvinism anyway).  Sin affects every part of our being and there is nothing we can do to make it right or to make ourselves right.  No amount of good works, social status, or even ethic status as the Jews thought can save anyone from their sins.  Quite simply, Paul says that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.

Yet it isn’t all hopeless here!  Paul also goes on to say that “and [all] are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.”  The good news is that God has done something about our condition!  God knew that we could not do it on our own and so He did it for us by sending His Son to live and die for us.  I added the word “all” into this because it is implied from the first half of the sentence.  It is true that ALL have sinned.  It is also true that ALL are justified.  Now this is something that people might push back on because is smells of universalism.  Our “TULIP” acronym comes back into play here with both “Limited Atonement” and “Unconditional Election.”  Again, I must point out that TULIP is really a horrible acronym for calvinism or the reformed faith because both of these statements can be confusing.  It might be better to put it this way: Christ’s death on the cross was Sufficient for all, but effective for elect.  Who are the elect?  Well… that gets into an entirely other topic…

 Election is something of a difficult doctrine to unwrap.  People often hear it as God has chosen some and not others.  Essentially, this is true… but when said like this, it makes it sound like no one gets to choose anything about anything.  You are either elect and go to heaven or you are the opposite (reprobate) and don’t.  If you throw a word like “predestination” in there, it makes it even worse for some because we think that these choices are already made.  The fact of the matter is, at least on some level, God has revealed Himself to some people in a special way (we call this special revelation).  For those in whom the Spirit is working and gives faith, which is also a gift from God mind you, when they come to faith they become one of the elect, chosen by God and forgiven of their sins by His grace alone.  The ramifications of this doctrine are that there are those who will never choose God and never turn towards Christ.  Paul says that these people are without excuse.  For them, the death of Christ is as sufficient as it is for anyone else to save them from their sins, yet because they have not turned to God in faith and accepted this gift, it is not effective for them.

I understand that these are difficult teachings, but they are clearly laid out in the Bible.  We will return to them in the future, but for now I would like to focus in on the key word here: “faith.”

As we return from this to the readings for today, check out how Paul lays out the stories of Abraham and faith.  Abraham isn’t saved, says Paul, by virtue of being the father of the nation of Israel.  He is saved because “he believed God,” because he had faith.  This didn’t have anything to do with his works or his ethnicity, it had to do with faith and Paul lays this out pretty clearly.  It all depends on faith.

He continues on in chapters 5-7 to talk about the effects of having faith in God do for our life.  It is not simply that when we come to faith our sins are forgiven and that’s that.  Paul shows us that in many ways what happens is that we “put on” Christ in many ways.  When we come to faith in God through Christ Jesus by the working of the Holy Spirit we “die” to our old self.  We are no longer who we were, but we are raised to life in Christ!  This is one of the main promises in the sacrament of baptism and one of its primary meanings as well (more on that to come later as well).  By faith we are united to Christ… in God’s eyes He no longer sees us as a sinful human, but sees us as He sees His Son: RIGHTEOUS.  For those looking for another theological term, we call this “imputed righteousness.”  Calvin, in his institutes says it like this:

“Christ, having been made ours, makes us sharers with him in the gifts with which he has been endowed. We do not, therefore, contemplate him outside ourselves from afar in order that his righteousness may be imputed to us but because we put on Christ and are engrafted into his body–in short–, because he deigns to make us one with him.” (3.11.10)

Wow, this is a heavy post today.  My head hurts thinking about the theological ground that we covered.  Yet these things are important.  Perhaps not all the fancy theological words, but the premise is at the very core of the Christian faith.  In some ways, these are the things that we need to be able to talk about as Christians.  Granted, I think that people tend to be more open to hearing about the testimonies of people as they experience God in their lives.  However, at some point in time it comes down to faith in Christ Jesus and what has taken place in our lives.  We NEED to know these things… perhaps not the technical jargon so much… but what has happened to us… we need to know this so that we can share this Good News with everyone we meet.  One of the things about election that is so vitally important to the whole of the doctrine is the fact that, in just about every place that it is talked about, the writers and theologians say that we can never know who is elect and who isn’t.  The doctrine of election gives us no excuse to not preach, but actually encourages us to testify even more because WE ARE NOT the judges of who is elect and who isn’t… that is something that has happened in the counsel of God alone and will not be known until the end of time.  So speak boldly the Gospel of Jesus Christ!

 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.  For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”



Day 142: Esther 1-4; Esther the Hebrew Queen

Today we take a step backwards in history, to the time when some of the people of God are still in exile.  The particular dates of the book of Esther happen after the edict of Cyrus goes out allowing the Jewish people to return to Jerusalem, the first wave of people to return to Jerusalem.  The Persian king that is referenced here, Ahasuerus, is actually the Persian King Xerxes I, who reigned over much of the known world.  As we read, from India to Ethiopia.  That is a major chunk of the world today, and as you can see by the map here, a fairly major chunk of the known world back then as well.

The Persian Empire in the Time of Esther Photo Credit: www.edsitement.neh.gov

The Persian Empire in the Time of Esther
Photo Credit: www.edsitement.neh.gov

Though God is never explicitly mentioned in the entire book of Esther, we can very clearly see His hand at work in all of this, once again providentially providing for His people, even in their time of Exile.  The fact that Esther even has a chance to come before the King, much less become queen is indeed an act of God.  Generally speaking, the Hebrew people were despised by other nations.  Remember all the way back to Egypt, when the people had to live in another region of the land because they were Hebrews?  This is why Mordecai instructs her to keep her identity and ethnicity a secret.  So we see that king chooses her and appoints her queen, an act that can also be attributed to God.  As she rises to the throne though, she is not left to fend for herself.  With the help of Mordecai she is able to thwart the assassination attempt on Xerxes.

Xerxes I was a Zoroastrian Persian Shahanshah ...

Xerxes I was a Zoroastrian Persian Shahanshah (Emperor) of the Achaemenid Empire. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The true conflict of the narrative of Esther arises when we meet Haman, a new addition to the court of King Xerxes.  We read that Mordecai refuses to bow down or pay homage to Haman, which makes him angry.  This is a clear example of the Hebrew Mordecai remembering his identity as a chosen member of Israel.  Though he is far from his land, he clearly has not forgotten the God that he serves.  Mordecai’s actions make Haman furious though, leading to the plot to kill all of the Jews throughout the kingdom of Persia.  This is, as you can imagine, a potential disaster for the Hebrew people.  Yet God is so easily thwarted from His plans and promises to His chosen people and Mordecai points this out.  Esther has been chosen for such a time as this, appointed to a position where she can change the course of this evil plot…

Have you ever found yourself in a position like this?  I mean sure, you probably have been selected to be a king or queen, you might not be able to pass laws or issue decrees, but Have you ever found yourself in a position of influence where you can change things?  Correct injustices?  Speak on behalf of those with no voice?  In many ways, Queen Esther could be the face of the growing social justice movement that has become a major player in both Christian circles and in the political arena as well.  We, in the Western Church, find ourselves in some of the wealthiest, most prosperous conditions in the whole of the known universe.  We throw away things that people fight for on a daily basis in 3rd world countries.  I wonder what would happen in the church in America opened its eyes collectively to these issues?  We have resources upon resources.  We are called to reach out to the poor, the elderly, the sick, the lonely, and the lost.  We are called to be the voice of those who have none.  Perhaps we have been appointed to do this work in such a time as this.



Day 137: Ezra 8-10; Sins of the Exiles

Upon arriving back in Jerusalem, Ezra doesn’t find everything perfect among the people.  I imagine him arriving and there being a lot of celebration or that kind of glassy-eyed look that one gets when they start a new job.  We often call it the “honeymoon phase.”  Everything seems ok, nothing really going on to upset anyone.  Everyone is happy that you’re there, no one is looking for problems.  Ignorance is bliss… but not for Ezra.  When he arrives in Jerusalem, he gets right to work.  We read about him being set by Artaxerxes, the king Persia, who allows Ezra to return to his own land with any that want to go, and gives Ezra a blessing for his journey.  Ezra rounds up the people, which are listed in chapter 8 and beings his long journey to Judah.

Esdras-Ezra was a Jewish priestly scribe who l...

Esdras-Ezra was a Jewish priestly scribe who led about 5,000 Israelite exiles living in Babylon to their home city of Jerusalem in 459 BCE. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So, when he arrives, it would be understandable for him to take a few days break before he gets to work… but not Ezra.  No, he jumps in with both feet.  No sooner has he arrived in Jerusalem than an official approaches him and lets him know what the situation is.  Some of the people of God, the returned exiles have intermarried.  This is a major violation of the Law of Moses.  The people of Israel were God’s people, set apart by God Himself to be a holy nation, a “royal priesthood.”  They were supposed to be the representatives of God to the world; a community blessed to be a blessing.  Part of the Law that they were to follow was that they were not to intermarry with other nations.  It was forbidden because of the nature of the people of God being set apart.  It was also forbidden because God knew that the people would be drawn away from him and to the idols of the spouses of other nations.  Its just asking for trouble really and God wanted to make sure that they weren’t exposing themselves to that kind of temptation.

Ezra Prays for the People Photo Credit: www.dwellingintheword.wordpress.com

Ezra Prays for the People
Photo Credit: www.dwellingintheword.wordpress.com

The prayer of Ezra is a beautiful prayer recognizing the sinful state that they are found in and the true fact that they are unable to do anything about it.  He recounts the people’s current predicament and God’s amazing wonders, abundant faithfulness, and unconditional love.  It kind of reminds me of Psalm 130:

Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord! O Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my pleas for mercy!

If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared.
I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning.
O Israel, hope in the Lord! For with the Lord there is steadfast love, and with him is plentiful redemption. And he will redeem Israel from all his iniquities.

Sadly, this particular passage of Scripture has been misquoted many times as a reason to Scripturally oppose inter-racial marriage.  These people take the verses of Ezra completely out of context and think that it is ok to judge people because the person that they love is of a different race or ethnic background.  That is simply not what is being said here.  The Law of Moses was very clear on the reasons for not intermarrying with these certain culture.  It had to do with the sin that they committed before the Lord and the overwhelming temptation that it would have brought on the people of Israel (not that they really needed it).  God had chosen this people and set up the Law that He did so that the people of God would fulfill the purpose that God called them to, being a light and blessing to the nations.  In any case, taking Scripture out of context and using it as proof texting for one’s own personal agenda or to further one’s own beliefs that do not jive with the rest of the Bible is wrong, and it proves nothing except ignorance.  We have to remember that these things are written in a place and context in which we are not familiar.

Besides, today’s reading isn’t about the law that was broken and the sin that was done as much as it is about repentance that takes place and the forgiveness that is given.  The people don’t simply discover the sin and say “oh well” as their fathers would have done before the exile.  Instead, they repent and turn back to God and the Lord honors their repentance.  Sadly though, Ezra ends here on a note of dissonance, pointing out that some of these inter-marriages have produced offspring.  Now these families are broken… and that is where the book ends.  Why do you think this is?  Perhaps pointing out the difficulties in following God?  Perhaps being a cliff hanger for Nehemiah?  Maybe its just something to leave you thinking, and perhaps in some uncomfortable place as we try to figure out how God is at work here to.  What do you think?



Day 129: 2 Chronicles 20-22; Jehoshaphat to Queen Athaliah

The Prayer of Jehoshaphat Photo Credit: www.bibleencyclopedia.com

The Prayer of Jehoshaphat
Photo Credit: www.bibleencyclopedia.com

The prayer of King Jehoshaphat in our reading today, is quite possibly one of the least known, best prayers of the people of God in the Bible.  Jehoshaphat, having no where else to turn, goes to God and basically rehashes the Covenant with God, asking Him to act on their behalf because they have indeed turned their hearts toward Him.  The prayer really gives us a deep insight into the Hebrew Theological thinking as well, relating back in their ancestry, almost rehashing their history as an appeal to God.  We talked about this at the beginning of 1 Chronicles, how the people look to their past as a way of being closer to God.

This prayer, and the narrative of Jehoshaphat is also set in between the narrative of his father, Asa, and the following narrative of his son and grandson.  Remember back two days to the narrative of King Asa, towards the end of his life he is threatened by the Northern Kingdom.  What does he do?  Rather than seeking the face of God, he sends tribute to King Ben-Hadad of Syria for help.  In this act, the Lord calls him out and Asa becomes very angry and bitter at the end of his life.  Later, after the reign of Jehoshaphat, we read the narratives of Jehoram and Ahaziah (also known as Jehoahaz and not to be confused with the wicked Ahaziah that reigned in Israel).  They are simply evil and do not follow the Lord and we see very clearly the results that come of it.

However, Jehoshaphat does not follow in these evil ways, he does not place his trust in others, he is moved to prayer and places his faith in God.  What happens in this?  Not only does God promise that the battle against his enemies will be won, God says that they will not have to life a finger because “the Battle is the Lord’s.”  All they need do is believe and go out to face down their enemy.  No doubt this took some courage, I can’t imagine having to go out and face down an innumerable enemy army.  However, as they stand at the ready, Jehoshaphat rallies them saying, “Hear me, Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem! Believe in the Lord your God, and you will be established; believe his prophets, and you will succeed.”  I have visions of Aragorn rallying his troops before the gate of Mordor or the Young King Peter leading the charge against the White Witch.  These analogies disintegrate pretty quickly, but you get the idea.  The people are rallied and God wins the victory… and the spoils of war are almost more than they can handle.

Aragorn at the Black Gate of Mordor Photo Credit: www.pegelowssoapbox.blogspot.com

Aragorn at the Black Gate of Mordor
Photo Credit: www.pegelowssoapbox.blogspot.com

Like I said though, the narrative of Jehoshaphat is Juxtaposed between the pretty good and the really bad, and we continue on today to the really bad.  The reigns Jehoram and Ahaziah (again, also known as Jehoahaz and not to be confused with the wicked Ahaziah that reigned in Israel) are relatively unremarkable.  They are similar in nature, being completely evil in the sight of the Lord.  During their reigns all that was gained during the reigns of Asa and Jehoshapaht were lost; spiritual, geographically, economically, and the like.  There is continual strife within the families, which ultimately led to Queen Athiliah’s wicked reign and the almost extinction of the Dividic line of Kings.  However, as I said a couple days ago, we have to keep in mind the Lord’s covenant with David, something that the writer of 1 & 2 Chronicles wishes to impress on his readers as well.

He writes, in the midst of the narrative of Jehoram, “Yet the Lord was not willing to destroy the house of David, because of the covenant that he had made with David, and since he had promised to give a lamp to him and to his sons forever.”  This is a testament to the faithfulness of God in the face of evil and sinful leaders.  I think that the writer is communicating something else here as well to his audience, the notion that God is at work and working in the face of sin and rebellion.  Even when we can’t see God’s actions or the outcomes that He means to bring about, God is still at work in the world, always seeking to bring about His will.  What will?  The same Will that God has been working towards since the beginning.  The same Will that God has been working towards in Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Israel, and now the line of David… and it is the true nature and purpose of the covenant community (the Elect) of Israel… and of the Church today… “I will be your God and you will be My people, and through you all the nations of the earth will be blessed.”



Day 124: 2 Chronicles 1-4; Solomon Reigns in Jerusalem

We now enter into the book of 2 Chronicles.  The first book, our readings for the past week or so, brought us from Creation through the reign of King David.  2 Chronicles, our readings for the next week or so, will bring us from Solomon through the Exile.  Today, we begin where we left off yesterday, with the transition of power from David to Solomon.  As Solomon assumes the throne he does exactly what he is charged to do by his father too, he worships God and seeks His face first and foremost.  This happens within the context of a time of worship in front of the tabernacle that is set up in Gibeon.

Solomon prays for Wisdom Photo Credit: www.hisdaughter02.blogspot.com/

Solomon prays for Wisdom
Photo Credit: www.hisdaughter02.blogspot.com

That night, we read, the familiar narrative of God coming to Solomon and offering the new king anything that he wants.  As we read in 1 Kings 3, Solomon asks for wisdom and knowledge to govern the people of God.  This is a request that pleases God and one that He grants to Solomon 100 fold and then some.  Along with wisdom and knowledge, Solomon is blessed with wealth beyond compare and incredible success.  While it doesn’t say it here, remember that in 1 Kings Solomon is granted rest from his enemies and receives a considerable amount of gifts and tribute from the surrounding nations that are under his rule.  We read here too that in the first couple years of his reign, Solomon establishes Israel, and particularly Jerusalem, as the principle power in the region and makes “gold as common as stone.”

English: Solomon and the Plan for the Temple, ...

English: Solomon and the Plan for the Temple, as in 1 Kings 6, illustration from a Bible card published by the Providence Lithograph Company (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This time, from David through most of Solomon’s reign, is considered to be the “Golden Age” of Israel.  For the first time in their existence, they are (for the most part) following God and living in His ways.  Because of this, God is blessing their socks off, and everything seems to be going their way.  It is in this context that Solomon begins to build the Temple of the Lord, the right granted to him by God.

Yet it is not in this context that these things are written.  Remember that the book of Chronicles is largely considered to have been written upon the return of the exiles from their captivity in Babylon to their desolate homeland in Judah.  They had nothing… less than nothing really.  The great city described in 2 Chronicles 2 lay in ruins.  The only thing that was as common as stone in Jerusalem was probably weeds or ruble.  The Temple of the Lord had been stripped of its former glory and burned to the ground. There was nothing left.  This is such a sharp contrast to what is being described here.  It must have been difficult to hear… much less write.

However, there is a purpose here in writing about the way things used to be, about their former glory as it were.  The writer isn’t rubbing it the face of those the returned exiles, showing them all the stuff they could have had… or didn’t have.  No, the writer is showing the people who they are by showing them who the people of Israel are.  He is showing them that it is very clear what God can bring about when His people follow His Laws and His will for their lives.  He is showing them that all of that can be restored if they follow in the ways of the Lord.  Of course this narrative does not stand in a vacuum, but is juxtaposed against the coming narratives of the disobedience of Israel… the very reason they are in the situation that they were in.  But the point here is that this is who the people of God are… they are a blessed people, chosen by God to be a blessing to the nations around them.  In their return, they can once again live in the City of David, own the inheritance that was given them, and if they will follow in the ways of the Lord, God will be faithful as He always has been, and bless them once again.



Day 123: 1 Chronicles 27-29; David's Final Charge

This last section of 1 Chronicles is a tribute to the final acts of David and all that he had done in his reign.  We’ve read about all the people that he has conquered, all the wealth that he has accumulated, and all the people that he appointed to the different positions as he made preparations for the building of the Temple.  Yet at the end of all of this, we see what I think is the most significant thing about David, about his reign over Israel and his life before God.

David's Charge to Solomon Photo Credit: www.bibleencyclopedia.com

David’s Charge to Solomon
Photo Credit: www.bibleencyclopedia.com

As David is wrapping things up with his life he calls all the people together and gives them a charge, and does the same with his son.  His speech could have been about all the things that he has done and all the preparations that he made so that everything will now go right because he has laid the groundwork for the building of the Temple which he wanted to do but couldn’t because God said no.  However, that is simply not the case with David.  When David speaks to the people and to his son Solomon, he gives all glory, all honor, and all praise to God alone.  David says, “Yet the Lord God of Israel chose me from all my father’s house to be king over Israel forever. For he chose Judah as leader, and in the house of Judah my father’s house, and among my father’s sons he took pleasure in me to make me king over all Israel.  And of all my sons (for the Lord has given me many sons) he has chosen Solomon my son to sit on the throne of the kingdom of the Lord over Israel.”  David’s emphasis is on the Lord’s work and decisions that made all of this possible, not because of anything that he had done.

The same goes for his charge to Solomon too.  David doesn’t point out his own good works, or even the ability of Solomon to complete this task on his own.  Instead, he implores his son to seek after God in all his works and in doing so Solomon will find success.  David says, “Be strong and courageous and do it. Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed, for the Lord God, even my God, is with you. He will not leave you or forsake you, until all the work for the service of the house of the Lord is finished.”  Solomon’s work is done, and only can be done, because it was the Lord who appointed him to do it.  David has done well in making preparations, Solomon will do well in administration… yet it is all because the Lord, the God of Israel ordained it and sustained it.  David recognizes this in his life and encourages his son to continue this.

In many ways, David’s story is Israel’s story… or at least what Israel’s story was supposed to be.  David is clearly blessed by God, and is clearly chosen by God.  One of the scary theological terms that we use for this is “ELECTION.”  It refers to the obvious fact that is pointed out time and again that God has clearly chosen David and has blessed him.  In the same way we see this with the people of Israel, as God has chosen them to be His people not because they were special or extra good in some way, but because God chose them.  Now, generally speaking, when people talk about ELECTION, the conversation disolves into an argument and winds up being about people deciding about who is in and who is out… or about how a loving God could choose some and not others.  While I acknowledge that those arguments are out there, I think what is more appropriate to approach in this discussion is the purpose of the ELECT in God’s plan and working in the world.  You see, ELECTION has never been simply about who is in and who is out.  The purpose of ELECTION is about God’s working through a specific group of people to bring about His will, His reign, and His blessings in the world.  The original ELECTION of Abraham comes with a covenant promise that, as God’s ELECT people, they will be a blessing to the whole world.  It wasn’t about God not choosing the other nations of the world, but about how God is going to communicate His blessings, His grace, and His love to the entire world!  This becomes even more important and prominent in Jesus Christ, but we’re still many hundreds of years away from that yet in the Biblical narrative… so stay tuned!