ZECHARIAH: PROCLAIMING A GOD WHO REMEMBERS

The hardships of life often cause doubt to enter our minds as to whether or not the Lord has forgotten us. Our minds ponder, “The Lord has too much to occupy His attention to be concerned about my situation.” In honest moments we must all confess we have entertained such thoughts. Well, if you have had such thoughts you are not alone. As we leaf through the pages of the Old Testament, we meet a prophet named Zechariah. He was given by the Sovereign of the Universe a message to proclaim to a people who were experiencing hardships and wrestling with thoughts that the Lord had forgotten them. The message of the faithful prophet was clear: We can be assured the Lord God of heaven is a God who remembers.

Zechariah was born in Babylonian exile, but he came to Jerusalem when Persian leadership, who conquered Babylon, decreed the Jews could return to their homeland if they so desired (537 BC). He was a contemporary of the prophet Haggai who was older in age, but their messages supplemented each other. Together they encouraged and inspired the people in the midst of discouraging times to complete the rebuilding of the Temple, to spur the people on to righteous living, and to keep the Messianic promises and hope alive.

The name Zechariah means “he whom Yahweh remembers” or “Yahweh has remembered.” A priest, he was already ministering to those who had returned from the exile and resettled in the land when the Lord placed His hand upon him with a visionary message. He burst upon the scene with prophetic passion in November 520 BC, in the second year of the reign of Darius the Persian ruler (Zech. 1:1). His prophetic ministry lasted at least two years, most likely longer, but at least until December 518 BC (Zech. 7:1). Because of the opposition, hardships and lax spiritual commitment the people were encountering, Zechariah shared with them heavenly visions he had received that were to serve as encouragement and reassurance that God had not forgotten or forsaken them and to not lose hope in the Messianic promises given them.

His messages to the people were communicated to him in eight visions, which are filled with a wealth of significance for us today. They can only be briefly summarized as to their meaning.

(1) The Horsemen among the Myrtle Trees (1:7-17) – The horsemen had been patrolling throughout the earth and announce that all was within Divine control and to assure the Israelites that the Lord still loved them and in His Providential timing would restore Jerusalem and bless His people with His fragrant presence.

(2) The Four Horns and Four Smiths/Craftsmen (1:18-21) – The four horns are four kingdoms that scattered Israel (Assyria, Egypt, Babylon, and Medo-Persia) and the smiths will scatter all powers that have opposed God’s people. All brute force will be put down. Such a proclamation was no doubt a source of relived comfort and encouragement to the people of God.

(3) The Man with the Measuring Line (2:1-13) – Zechariah sees a man holding a measuring line in his hand. The man says he is going to measure the city of Jerusalem. The vision declares God’s promise that Jerusalem will be expanded beyond the walls that surround them and the people will one day live in safety, as the Lord will dwell in the midst of them.

(4) Joshua Accused by the Adversary (3:1-10) – The prophet sees Joshua the high priest standing in filthy garments being accused by Satan before the Angel of the Lord. Joshua is a representative of the people. Satan is rebuked, and Joshua is given clean garments. The vision is symbolic of Israel’s forgiveness and restoration as God’s “priestly” nation. This vision is also a prediction of the one day coming High Priest—the coming Messiah, symbolized by a BRANCH and an omniscient, seven-eyed Stone!

(5) The Golden Chandelier/Lampstand and the Two Olive Trees (4:1-14) – The prophet sees a golden lampstand being fed oil from two olive trees. The two olive trees represent Zerubbabel the governor of Judah and Joshua the high priest (some scholars see the two olive trees as the Old and New Testament, others Law and Grace). The golden lampstand represents the Temple and there is provided an abundant supply of divine oil so the light and power for carrying out Israel’s mission can be accomplished.

(6) The Flying Role (5:1-4) – The prophet sees a huge scroll thirty feet by fifteen feet, written on both sides, flying over the whole earth. This vision speaks of God’s judgment upon those who are unrepentant of their sins.

(7) The Woman in the Basket (5:5-11) – The prophet is shown a basket that holds an ephah (three-fifths of a bushel). On the basket is a lead cover. An angel opens the basket to reveal a woman sitting inside, which represents sin/evil/wickedness. There appeared two women with stork-like wings who pick up the basket and carry it to Babylon. This vision pictures that evil must be removed from their lives and from the land.

(8) The Four Chariots (6:1-8) – The prophet sees four horses of different colors pulling four chariots, running in different directions throughout the whole earth. They are under the providential control of God as He carries out His promises and purposes. The people can be assured that every promise the Lord has made will be fulfilled and the wickedness of the nations will be judged and the His people will find peace in the fulfillment of the Messianic hope.

What message(s) can we glean from Zechariah and his visions? We learn that God is a God who remembers. That even in our discouragement, when it looks like God is slow in moving in our lives or when we even think He has forgotten us, in His sovereignty He continues to ride upon chariots of Divine Providence to bring about His purpose and to fulfill His promises to you and I. When circumstances prove difficult and obstacles confront us, we must remember that there is a reservoir of divine grace (picture in the oil) sufficient to help us through any struggle. When we feel we are sinking beneath the load, we are to hold on to Him who is called the BRANCH, whose eyes see our every plight. It is through trials that the walls of our character are measured, and it is through those very trials that the Lord expands the borders of our trust and usefulness. Zechariah exhorts us to put away our sin and develop an inner relationship with the Lord if we expect to experience His full blessings in our lives and experience the fragrance of His presence. God cannot bless sin, but will visit in the bounty of His strengthening presence when we put away our filthy garments. And when the Accuser of the Brethren, Satan, points an accusing finger at us, our Advocate, Jesus Christ, steps in to rebuke our Accuser and extends His forgiveness.

When the enemies of the Lord assail us, we must remember the prophet’s words that in the midst of the battle, victory comes “not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the Lord of hosts” (Zech. 4:6). And Zechariah truly gives us a anticipatory promise that someday the Messiah will stand upon the Mount of Olives (Zech. 14:4), His feet standing in ultimate victory over all His enemies…and His promise to you and me is that He now stands upon the mountains in our lives and by His Spirit empowering us to victory.

Press on my friend, we serve a God who remembers and not one word of all His good promises will ever fail!

Blessings,
Dr. Dan

 

NAHUM: THE PROPHET WHO PROCLAIMED LOVING-JUSTICE

Have you ever heard a sermon out of the book of Nahum? Probably not! Nahum is one of those Minor Prophets skipped over because it is perceived he doesn’t have a relevant word for the twenty-first century. However, the message within Nahum contains a freshness in its meaning in the midst of the oppression, violence and brutality we see today among the nations. His message is clear and plain: vengeance still belongs to the sovereign Lord and blatant disregard for God and violent treatment of others will bring certain judgment. Nahum teaches that God still hates brutality and will not allow any nation to continue in its inhumaneness forever.

Nahum means “consoler” or “comforter.” Nahum refers to himself as an Elkoshite (1:1). The exact location of Elkosh has been debated, either from the place later called Capernaum or a city in southern Judah. A man who had a passion for his people, he was filled with righteous indignation against the inhumanity of Assyria. His words were a comfort to those who had and were suffering under the barbaric cruelty of the Assyrians. The overarching theme of the book is the coming downfall of the Assyrians, truly one of the Jews worst enemies. His message was a consolation to Judah who had watched their brethren in the Northern Kingdom devastated by the Assyrians (722 BC) and who were a menace to them.

In dating Nahum’s pronouncement, it was after the fall of Thebes in Egypt (663 BC), as he writes of it as a past event (3:8-10); and it was before the fall of Nineveh, the Assyrian capital, which took place in 612 BC. So taking the middle ground, his pronouncement of loving-justice was about 645 BC.

Some background information about Assyria would prove profitable in revealing why judgment against them was forthcoming. Assyria made its appearance on the world scene in 14th century BC, its territory located in the northern part of present day Iraq. The first capital of Assyria was Assur, being named after its national god. Assur was located some one hundred and fifty miles north of present day Baghdad on the west bank of the Tigris River. Nineveh later became their capital. A warring and ruthless people, they sought to crush all who opposed their continual advancements. By the ninth century BC Assyria had become a dominate world force, having as their goal to further expand their territorial empire. As their power grew they began to pose a threat to Israel (the Northern Kingdom) and Judah (the Southern Kingdom). The Northern Kingdom, weaken by spiritual declension and weak and corrupt leaders, under the puppet leadership of King Menahem (c749-c737 BC), was forced to pay heavy tribute to Assyria (2 Kings 15:14-22). With the heavy burden of paying tribute to Assyria, Israel decided to revolt. The Assyrians marched into Israel, seizing the capital city of Samaria, and after three years of fighting destroyed the city (722 BC) (2 Kings 18:10). Thousands of Israelites were deported, and according to 2 Kings 18:11, “The king of Assyria did carry away Israel unto Assyria, and put them in Halah and in Habor by the river of Gozan.” While the Assyrians were a thorn in the side of the Southern Kingdom, they were never able to capture them as they did the Northern Kingdom.

The ruthless Assyrians were feared, despised and hated by the world for their callousness and the inhumane way they treated their captives. A vast amount of Assyrian history, beyond biblical records, has been preserved in ancient inscriptions that give detailed accounts of more than a few of their military encounters and battles. Historical inscriptions describe a people who were barbarically brutal, cruel and bloodthirsty. Assyrian records reveal they would impale their captives, often beheading them and piling their heads in the streets. As well, they would tie their victims down and torturously flay them while alive, their victim’s skins being trophies of triumph. Boys and girls would be burnt alive. They would slowly dismember their captives while alive, until they cried out for death. Men captured in war would have their intestines and private parts ripped out of them. Enemies would be buried alive up to their necks with only their heads exposed, their heads smeared with honey and ants poured on them one can only imagine the horror they experienced. Spikes would be driven through their victim’s cheeks or tongues and paraded through the streets. Their vicious cruelties make Mao Tse-tung, Stalin, Genghis Khan, and Saddam Hussein look like choir boys (For an excellent article on Assyrian brutality see Erika Belibtreu, “Grisly Assyrian Record of Torture and Death,” Biblical Archaeology Review, 17:01, (Jan/Feb 1991), 1-11).

When one looks at the viciousness of the Assyrians one understands why Jonah (8th century BC) did not want to go preach at Nineveh. He wanted God to judge them! However, being persuaded by “ a whale” of an experience, Jonah’s preaching gave the Assyrians a temporary reprieve as they repented. In time, though, they not only fell back into their cruel ways, they actually grew worse. Their time had now run out, and because of their extreme brutality they would experience the judging hand of God upon them. In 612 BC the Assyrians were overthrown by a coalition of Babylonians, Scythians and Medes and became an asterisk on the pages of history.

The message of Nahum is that God’s sovereign, loving-justice will eventually prevail. One may ask, “How can you use love and justice in the same sentence? Are they not two opposing terms?” Quite to the contrary, at the very heart of Nahum’s message is love, for it is God’s love that imposes judgment. If God didn’t bring the judgment of divine justice to bear on unrepentant ungodliness He would not be a Being of love. Love and justice are inseparably interwoven together, as God’s love for humanity and His people arouses His righteous-justice and in time reacts in judgment against those who continually live godlessly and mistreats His people.

God’s justice may seem to us slow in coming, but it is sure in coming. God is both patient and sovereign. While He gives men and nations opportunity to repent, He also warns them if they do not the hammer of judgment will fall. Just because judgment seems to be delayed from our perspective, we can be sure the Providential wheels of justice are turning and moving forward toward reckoning day. And as P.T. Forsyth so eloquently writes, “His justice does not sleep. The bolt of judgement which seems to come so suddenly from heaven, comes really from the heart of a storm which has been gathering long, and when it suddenly bursts forth it does with force…with force that flows forth from His holy-love revealed in the justice and judgment of the Cross” (P.T. Forsyth, “The Slowness of God,” The Expository Times, 11: 1900, 218-222). Amen!

Blessings,
Dr. Dan

OBADIAH: THE EDOM IN US ALL

Obadiah is a much over looked book in the Old Testament. Taking its place among the Minor Prophets, Obadiah’s twenty-one verses make it the shortest book in the OT. The message of the book is directed toward the people of Edom who looked on in fiendish glee as Jerusalem was overrun and plundered by foreign armies. While the book is a pronouncement of judgment against the ancient land of Edom, as shall be discovered, there is a treasure of truths contained within that are applicable for our lives.

The book is named after the prophet who received the vision (1:1). Obadiah means “servant or worshipper of the Lord.” The name Obadiah is associated with at least twelve other characters in the Old Testament, but none appear to be the Obadiah named in the book. Nothing is known of the prophet beyond what is found in the twenty-one verses preserved for us. From his own words it is clear he is a pious, patriotic, and passionate man who put into words the message burning in his soul.

The date of the book is open to debate by scholars. The two most likely dates are: (1) Eighth century BC; and (2) Shortly after 586 BC. There is a prophet Obadiah in the days of Elijah and Elisha, which if the same person would suggest the earlier date. However, few scholars contend it is the same Obadiah as the minor prophet. The later date seems more appropriate, as the prophecy of Obadiah was issued in a response to a time when Jerusalem was overtaken by foreign forces, who the prophet indicates the Edomites in some way conspired with the enemy (v. 15). That seems to indicate that the incident referred to is the 586 BC destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar. If such is the case, the date of the book is best dated sometime after the 586 BC strike of Babylon. The latter date would make Obadiah a contemporary of the prophet Jeremiah, which is indicated by similar pronouncements against Edom by the two prophets (Jer. 49:14-16 and Obadiah v. 1-4).

The book of Obadiah tells the story of two individuals, Jacob and Esau; two nations, Israel and Edom. Though twin brothers, their descendants became rivals. Jacob was the father of Israel, and Esau became the father of the Edomites. Through this ancient land of Edom, the Israelites, coming out of Egyptian slavery, marched as they came into the promised land of Israel. As they came into the land, they had difficulty with the Edomites who were nemeses of Israel from the very beginning. The Israelites and Edomites were continually antagonist. This struggle began in their mother’s womb, continued after they were born, and continued on in their descendants. They were always opposed to one another. Anytime calamity happened to the Israelites the Edomites fiendishly rejoiced. Obadiah issued a declaration that because of their active opposition to the Jews, judgment would eventually be visited upon them. The prophet’s pronouncement came to pass. While “the final fate of the Edomite kingdom remains completely shrouded in darkness,” the nation was eventually swept into the forgotten pages of history (Martin North, History of Israel, (London: Black, 1959), 294).

How does Obadiah’s prophecy against a now forgotten nation speak to us in the twenty-first century? One must remember that every passage has an interpretation, and it also has various applications. While the interpretation of the book focuses on the doom of Edom who was always actively opposing Israel, there is a practical application that we see in regard to the hostile opposition that existed between Jacob and Esau; between Israel and Edom.

We know from experience and from the teaching of the New Testament there is active opposition between the Old Man and the New Man; between the Flesh and the Spirit; between the New Nature and the Old Nature. Paul makes it clear in Galatians 5:17 that the New Man and the Old man, the Flesh and the Spirit are contrary one to the other. They are always opposed to one another. Yes, Jacob and Esau, Israel and Edom, is a picture of the perpetual opposition that takes place between the Flesh and the Spirit; between the New Nature and the Old Nature. The two irreconcilably are opposed to one another. There is an Edom in all of us.

Like the Edomites, the Flesh is filled with pride (v. 3-4), which leads to self-sufficiency (v. 4), envy, hatred, indifference, unbrotherly conduct, gloating over the misfortune of others (v. 10-14). What a perfect description of the Old Man who opposes the New Man. Edom was guilty of pride, and pride is the root of all human evil. It is pride that defies God; it is pride the resulted in Lucifer becoming Satan; it is pride that creeps into the life of the Christian that actively opposes what the Lord is desiring to accomplish and bring to pass in us. There is an Edom in all of us.

While every Christian has an Edom within, that is not the end of the story.  Obadiah records in verses 15-16 that judgment is determined upon Edom, and Jacob (Israel) will reign again (20-21)! That Jacob will come out on top is certain, it is evitable and inescapable, for the Lord is forever against the opposition of Edom and no peace will be made with them. In the same respect, the Lord is against the Flesh, no peace can be made with it. There was no hope for Edom; there is no hope for Flesh. There was no reforming Edom; there is no reforming the Flesh. Just as peace was not made with the Edomites; we are not to make peace with the Flesh. The characteristics of Edom had all the characteristics of the Flesh. But, again, Jacob will reign and govern; the Spirit will reign over the Flesh.

It is by the power of the Cross and through the coming of the Holy Spirit we overcome the Edom within us. At the cross sin (the Flesh) was judged, and at Pentecost the power of the Holy Spirit was sent Who enables us to overcome in the Spirit the Flesh. Have we embraced the promise that Edom is judged and Israel restored? Have we yielded to the cross where pride, self-sufficiency, and all the negative characteristics of Edom were judged? Who is ruling in our lives, Esau or Jacob, Edom or Israel, the Flesh or the Spirit, the Old Man or the New Man?

There may be an Edom in us all, but Christ, the Prophet greater than Obadiah, has declared that Edom has been judged, the Flesh has been defeated, and deliverance has been provided. O, what a Savior

Blessings,
Dr. Dan

THE LOVE OF GOD AND SIN

John the Beloved writes, “God is Love” (I John 4:8). There is a misconception as to the meaning of the Love of God. Many picture God as a Heavenly Grandfather who lets the grandkids get by with anything without fear of any reprisal. Many people who live recklessly in sin hide behind the truth that God is love. They interpret God’s love to mean He is tolerant of any kind of behavior regardless of how ungodly it might be. After all, if God loves me what difference does it make how I live, for He will forgive me anyway. There are those in Christendom today who endorse all kind of bizarre and depraved lifestyles under the umbrella that God loves everyone and, in the end, it matters not how one lives; therefore, we must be tolerant, accepting, understanding, and nonjudgmental no matter how debased one’s behavior.

One who defines God’s love under the pretense of toleration regardless of the kind of behavior one engages in, does so because they either (1) have a total misunderstanding of the essence of Divine Love; or (2) they do so to give themselves an excuse to live as they please. In most instances I think it is the latter reasoning. Let it be said, the Love of God is not to be a shield to hide behind so one can indulge in deliberate unbiblical behavior. Such an abuse of God’s love is an offense to the holiness of God which necessitated the work of Christ…and called for it and provided for it.

One must forever embrace the truth that God’s love cannot be divorced from His holiness. God’s love flows forth from His holiness (His moral and transcendent purity), which of divine necessity effects judgement upon sin. God’s love seeks to bring about repentance and transformation in man, but He does so within holy-love’s character which detests sin. Judgment is holiness’ reaction to sin, which is the enemy of God and the destroyer of man. One cannot have an adequate grasp of the love of God in Christ Jesus until one has an understanding that God’s holy-love came to condemn sin which is incompatible with God’s holy nature. His love cannot be separated from His holiness The horror of the cross pictures the ugliness of sin in the face of holiness, yet the love of God is exhibited in Him bearing and judging sin in Himself as our Sacrifice for our noncompliance to the demands of His holiness. His love didn’t and doesn’t tolerate sin, but exposed its hideousness on the cross. His love didn’t excuse sin but judged it. There can be no offer of forgiving grace without an affirmation of the moral majesty of His holiness which despises sin. His love didn’t dismiss sin but in Christ dealt with sin.

God’s Loving grace has no meaning apart from His holiness which exposed on the cross sin in all its horror and the judgment it deserves. It is the holiness in God’s love that necessitated the cross. While in the Christ of the cross God provided redemption for humanity, the cross is foremost the self-justification of God to the world that He is holy and sin is an affront to His holy character. On the cross the holiness and love of God merged, revealing the darkness of sin and love of Christ who not only complied with God’s holiness but bore in Himself our judgement, paying the debt we owe for our inability to comply with the demands of His holiness. The message of the New Testament from John the Baptist, to Jesus, to Peter, to Paul, to John is “Repent.” In repentance we acknowledge the despicableness of sin is exceedingly sinful in the face of a holy God. True repentance is realizing that God took the broken law of his holiness so seriously that it entailed the perfect obedience of Christ and His death upon the cruel cross. The terror of sin’s judgment should fall upon us, but in love the judgment of our sin was laid on Him. At the cross we see the severity of God in His dealing with sin and we see the love God in Christ in the giving of Himself as the Sacrifice for our sins. Our salvation was not secured by dismissing judgment upon sin, but by judgment upon sin. God’s holy-love accepted and bore in Himself His own holy judgment upon sin. He being the only One who had the right to judge sin, absorbed in Himself the judgment we rightly deserved. Now that is LOVE.

One who claims Christ as Savior and continues in their sin, in an antinomian lifestyle, under the pretense that God’s Love will overlook their willfully sinful lifestyle, has failed to grasp the meaning of Christ’s death on the cross. His death was not to preserve us in our sin, but to save us out of our sin. His death was not for the purpose of making us comfortable in our sin, but for us to grasp the horror of sin for which Christ died and turn from those sins. His death was not for purpose of continuing in the old life, but walking in newness of life. His death was not for the purpose of tolerating sin, but seeing the blackness of sin and turning from it. His death was not for the purpose of being acceptant of sin, but expelling from our lives the very sins for which God judged in Jesus Christ. The judgment due us willingly became His, the repentance remains ours. It was because of man’s sins that Christ suffered; it was punishment of sin that fell on Him. And the worst of sins is to with ingratitude continue on in those very sins for which Christ suffered the judgment of the holy Father  on our behalf.

God in grace through Christ calls us unto Himself. Seeing that only holiness can be in communion with a holy God, by the grace of God He has made provision in Christ for us to come unto Him; and by a living faith in Christ we become partakers of that same eternal holy-love which God from everlasting to everlasting bestows upon His Son.  O, what a Savior.

Blessings,
Dr. Dan

A PEOPLE WHO HAVE FORGOTTEN HOW TO BLUSH

Jeremiah is one of the most captivating prophets to emerge from the pages of the Old Testament. He prophesied in the last days of the Southern Kingdom, from about 625 to 585 BC. Known as the Weeping Prophet, he proclaimed through tears the truth of God’s Word and called for repentance of the people even as the nation was going through the death rattles. Jeremiah’s words fell on deaf ears. The people had hardened themselves in sin and totally ignored the prophet’s warnings, even as judgement was traveling toward them faster than a speeding chariot as result of their willful defiance before a holy God.

The times of Jeremiah had sunk into a cesspool of spiritual, moral and political depravity. Religiously the nation had adopted a mixture of Baalism, Babylonian cults, various nature religions, and a touch of the formalism of Judaism. It was clearly religious syncretism, a little of this religion and a little of that religion. Morally the people were corrupt, embracing immorality and sensualism. They had become insensitive to sin. Jeremiah indicts them for their total spiritual degeneracy. The people had forgotten God. Politically the leaders were corrupt, oblivious to the real needs of the people and only took action when it would bring gain to their pocketbooks. It was a time when robbery, murder, lying and selfishness were widespread and characterized the life of the people. On the world front, the Babylonian government was waiting for the right timing to invade and conquer. The spiritual, political, moral and world conditions of our day mirror the conditions in which Jeremiah lived.

In reading this thought provoking and sobering prophet, there leaps off the inspired pages a word we don’t hear any more in the sin hardened day we live and certainly don’t see it occurring in very many lives. Found in Jerimiah 6:15 one finds these words, “Were they ashamed when they had committed abomination? nay, they were not at all ashamed, neither could they blush: therefore they shall fall among them that fall: at the time that I visit them they shall be cast down, saith the LORD.” In Jeremiah 8:12 he recorded similar words, “Were they ashamed when they had committed abomination? nay, they were not at all ashamed, neither could they blush: therefore, shall they fall among them that fall: in the time of their visitation they shall be cast down, saith the LORD.”

The people to whom Jeremiah was preaching had become so bold in their sin and tolerant of evil, they had forgotten how to blush. They had become devoid of all shame in regard to sin, no words the prophet said could melt their rebellious hearts; no amount of reasoning or threatening of judgment could budge them away from embracing their sin. Yes, they had forgotten how to blush.

One may ask, “Exactly what do you mean by the term blush?” Physiologically, blushing occurs when adrenaline causes the capillaries that carry blood to the skin to widen, and one becomes “red faced.” Yet what causes one to blush? Emotionally, blushing is often associated with an emotional reaction over something said or seen. Blushing is often associated with a person’s embarrassment over something usually associated with issues dealing with immodesty or impropriety. As well, blushing is connected with a person of tender conscience who feels guilt when confronted with wrong doing, a person of genuine modesty may blush when bragged on over an accomplishment, and there is the blush of virtuous anger in the face of mistreatment or wrong doing.

In its context, how is Jeremiah using the term blush? The Greek philosopher Diogenes once remarked to a youth whom he saw blushing: “Courage my boy, that is the complexion of virtue.” Jeremiah defines blush as does Diogenes, it is associated with “the complexion of virtue.” When Jeremiah says the people have forgotten how to blush, he is saying they are no longer embarrassed or shamed by sin. The prophet was living in a society that had become desensitized to sin. They could flaunt their sin with no shame, embarrassment, or uncomfortableness. Shamelessness when it comes to sin is the forerunner to destruction, as a society who lives shameless in their actions can find themselves sinning past feeling.

My, oh my, we are living in a society today that is no different from the culture in which Jeremiah preached. We are living a society that has forgotten how to blush as it relates to virtue. These days virtue is a word foreign in our vocabulary as is blush. Shamelessness has pervaded the culture. There is no shame in the vilest behavior. There is no guilt in the most evil act. There is no embarrassment when caught in the most abominable conduct. Individuals can gun down multiple people with no remorse. People can adopt the most perverted sexual lifestyle, and not only don’t sense any shame in their actions but brag about their depraved behavior with arrogant pride. People can endorse killing a baby in the womb and even destroying the child after it is born with no twinge of conscience or regret, and even castigates those who don’t agree with their murderous agenda. Today traditional marriage between a man and a woman is scorned and is being replaced by the most bizarre relationships imaginable. The God given identity between a male and female is not only being blurred, but is being erased and it is being done so as if such an unnatural designation is natural. Today society defends sin, and anyone who dares to speak out against the progressive agenda to embrace the most bizarre abnormal behavior as normal is seen as an intolerant person and a danger to society.

There is no longer a humble reverence for God that pervades the national consciousness or conscience. The Church instead of actively being God’s voice, has been silent too long.  As a result, the godless culture today wants to strip society of all references, mention of or reminders of the God of the Bible and the Christ of the Cross; and they do so with contempt, anger, and a viciousness that defies common reasoning. Men will defiantly shake their fists in the face of the Law Giver of the universe and mock at any mention of reprisal by a holy God. Society today mocks and laughs at sin, but the Bible clearly teaches that “fools make a mock at sin” (Proverbs 14:9).

Yes, we have forgotten how to blush; we have become desensitized to sin. No longer blushing at sin, we glorify it!! Continuing in sin never fails to take away the sense and shame within the sin, and where virtue once was is replaced with contempt for the Divine Law. When one sets their stubborn will like a flint against the Sovereign Lord of the universe and is resolved to continue and persist in that path, one will discover the very stars in the skies and the sun and moon will cry out against them. As those in Jeremiah’s day did, man today in his obstinate sin cries out, “But God loves us He will not permit us to see a Visitation of His Judgment.” The Bible teaches behind God’s love is His holiness which justly reacts in judgment to all which doesn’t comply with His divine holiness. To presume otherwise is to wrongly presume. Paul in Romans stated it clearly, “Do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed” (Romans 2:4-5).

Those in the day of Jeremiah ignored the prophet’s words and as result the day came when holiness’ hammer of judgement fell against the nation’s sins. Nebuchadnezzar invaded the Southern Kingdom three times (605, 597, 586 BC), until Jerusalem had been leveled and the people found themselves in captivity. May I say, this nation like the Southern Kingdom is living on borrowed time. Men may scoff and mock, but the clock is ticking. Those who have ears to ear let them hear.

It is past time in repentance before the God of holy-love we return to a people who can blush again. Like Jeremiah and Diogenes, we need a Church that will influence the  culture to once again reflect  a “complexion of virtue.”

Blessings,
Dr. Dan

THE GHOST OF SCHLEIERMACHER AND HIS IMPACT ON TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY THEOLOGY

The average person has never heard of Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768-1834), the nineteenth century German theologian, yet his ghost still walks the aisles of many churches, teaches in some theological institutions, and influences many preachers’ theological thoughts. Schleiermacher is considered the father of theological liberalism. As shall be seen, his influence upon twenty-first century theology is widespread.

Born in 1768 in Breslaw, Germany, Schleiermacher was the son of a Prussian army chaplain. At a young age he was sent to a Moravian boarding school noted for fervent pietism. While the pietism appealed to his religious nature, he began to doubt the Christian tenets of the faith and in time abandoned Christian orthodoxy. At age nineteen (1787) he wrote his parents a distressing letter in which he informed them he no longer believed Jesus was God incarnate and that he had abandoned the belief that “Christ’s death was a vicarious atonement and I cannot believe it to have been necessary” (The Theology of Schleiermacher: A Condensed Presentation of His Chief Work, “The Christian Faith” by George Cross and Friedrich Schleiermacher, University of Chicago Press, 1911,  19). Thus, began his departure from orthodox Christian faith to embark upon a path of theological liberalism. He sought to fashion in new language and develop new ideas to replace what he considered were no longer relevant concepts to the current culture…and in the process save Christianity from irrelevance.

In his effort to refashion the Christian faith to appeal to the current culture he diluted its truths. Schleiermacher rejected that the whole of the Bible was inspired and viewed the Bible as a book that “must be treated like all other books.” He pressed to eliminate from the Bible all that referred to the “mystical and supernatural elements,” which included the virgin birth, the miracles of Christ, and even the resurrection. (Dawn DeVries, Jesus Christ in the Preaching of Calvin and Schleiermacher (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1996), 99). Since objective truth as asserted to be in the Bible was unobtainable, redemption comes about as the result of a subjective experience apart from any historical event of the past – like the cross or the resurrection.

Schleiermacher elevated one’s subjective experience as authoritative over the objective facts and truths presented in the Bible. For him “religion” was essentially “feeling,” which he defined as “immediate self-consciousness…in and through the Infinite” (Schleiermacher, On Religion: Speeches to Its Cultured Despisers, tr. John Oman, (NY; Scribner, 1958), 49-50). One’s subjective experience (feeling) was authoritative over biblical authority. As well, he taught that sin is the experience of our innate God-consciousness being hindered by the conflict between our fleshy, sensuous nature and our higher spiritual nature. Redemption comes through Jesus Christ by means of His self-communication to awaken man to his unique God-consciousness; redemption being not about the forgiveness of sins, but about a transformation of character (R. Niebuhr, Schleiermacher on Christ and Religion (New York: Scribner, 1964), 208). Schleiermacher believed that Christ set the example by living his entire life in a state of absolute dependence on God; therefore, it is not Christ’s vicarious death and resurrection that saves us, but it is by striving to emulate Christ’s life as the ideal experience of divine dependence. The Church is to be a community where a person’s God-consciousness emerges, bringing about a new relationship in one’s relation to God and to the world.

Let it suffice to say, Schleiermacher’s attempt to reconstruct the Christian faith to make it more palatable to the culture of his day resulted in dramatically altering the doctrine of God, authority of the Bible, sin, the deity of Christ, Christ’s atoning death, the resurrection, and the way of redemption. While the life of Christ was held up as an ideal for humanity to reach, one is to reject the “magical” conception of redemption through the mediation of Christ. Though Schleiermacher had a keen intellect, he could not embrace what by reason he could not rationally explain. Thus, he rejected biblical Christianity even as he attempted to try to repackage it for the culture of the day.

While Schleiermacher’s name may have faded into history and even unknown in the twenty-first century, his ghost still pervades the theological landscape. Today we see Protestant preachers and denominations who seek to repackage the truths of the Bible in language that softens its authoritativeness in order to make it more relevant and acceptable to the culture. One is encouraged to no longer use terms like, “The Bible says, the Bible teaches, the Word of God says, the Word of God teaches.” After all, what is important is one’s experience with God, which is more important than one’s assent to some objective biblical tenets. Once one begins traveling down that slippery slope in the name of relevance and appeasement, one gradually elevates subjective experience as authoritative over the objective truth of God’s Word. And once one embraces elevating subjectivity as authoritative over the objective truth of God’s Word, it will not be long before the Bible is tossed aside and one’s subjective experience will be deemed as authoritative regardless of what God’s Word says. Yet how can one, though, determine the legitimacy of one’s subjective experience if there is no authoritative objective truth whereby the experience is measured?

If one’s subjective experience is authoritative and primary and the Bible secondary in its authority, then there will come the redefining of what constitutes sin. After all, if one’s personal experience trumps the authority of the Bible then one can determine for themselves what is right and wrong. For what constitutes sin is not determined by objective biblical tenets which teach man is a sinner by nature and choice and is alienated and separated from his Creator, but sin is redefined as simply the experience of our innate God-consciousness being hindered by the conflict between our fleshy, sensuous nature and our higher spiritual nature. And since one’s subjective experience is authoritative, then one is the determiner of what is of a sensuous nature. Such reasoning is how one can claim to be a Christian yet adopt a lifestyle that is not only diametrically opposed to the Word of God but pervertedly abnormal to even normative behavior. After all, one is only a “sinner” in the sense one has not had emerge from within their God-consciousness. And the Church is to be community where one can be aided to discover their inner God-consciousness and their needed dependence on God.

Of course, if the Bible is not the Church’s primary authoritative source, then that opens the door to one’s subjective God-experience not anchored in any historical event such as the cross or the resurrection, but only in any experience which brings about God-consciousness in one’s life. If that is the case the virgin birth is not necessary, the cross is not necessary, and the resurrection while important, is not more important than one’s personal experience. The question is asked again, how can one determine the legitimacy of one’s subjective experience if there is no authoritative objective truth whereby the experience is measured?

Yes, to the astute listener there are many “preachers” and denominations today that are channeling the spirit of Schleiermacher in their presentation of the “gospel.” It is a “gospel” that is man-centered not Christocentric. One must be very leery when one hears a preacher or a denomination use flowery words that seek to repackage the Word of God in language that weakens or softens the Bible’s inspiration and authority to make it more appealing to the culture. True, we are living in a changing culture, but we don’t reach the changing world by changing the Word, but by unapologetically proclaiming the unchanging Word. It is proclaiming the objective truths found within the Life-Giving Word of God that are able to breathe life into one who is dead and trespasses and sins.

Paul encouraged Timothy to preach the Word in season and out of season, when it was convenient and when it was inconvenient, when it was acceptable and unacceptable, when it appealed to man and when it didn’t appeal to man. The Inspired Volume holds within it pages the answers to the woes of man – and it is found in the atoning cross of Christ who died for the sins of all humanity. Salvation is not found in a subjective experience that is anchored outside the objective truths of the Word of God which informs that man is in need of a Savior and that Savior is Jesus Christ whose death on the cross was vicarious and His resurrection verifiable. Again, that message doesn’t need to be repackaged or refashioned….it simply needs to be  retold!

Blessings,
Dr. Dan

THE DISHONESTY OF UNBELIEF

Over the years this writer has had conversations with many a person, who when it came to embracing the existence of a Supreme Being, were quick to contend that there just doesn’t exist enough evidence for them to believe. Such individuals say they have examined “all the evidence” and it all seems to fall short of producing convincing proofs of the existence of an Intelligent Being; therefore, if there is uncertainty as to the existence of a God then the Christian faith is unworthy of consideration.

There is one fact this writer has learned over the years, proof for the existence of an Intelligent Designer is so overwhelming one has to intentionally ignore the plethora of evidence to come to the position of “unbelief.” As well, the evidence for the truth of the Christian faith is so abundant, that, again, one has to deliberately disregard the eyewitness, historical, archeological, and personal evidence to embrace “unbelief.” Over the years I have never personally met a person who embraced “unbelief” who were totally honest in their skepticism. When someone says they have examined all the known evidence and there doesn’t exist enough to “believe,” they are not being completely honest in their assertion. For one to conclude that there is no God one would have to sift through all the evidence that could possibly ever exist to come to such a conclusion. Since no one has knowledge of everything, is the skeptic willing to admit that the evidence they are seeking could possibly exist in that unknown portion of knowledge they have not yet discovered? It is the height of arrogance and dishonesty for one to say they have sifted through all the evidence, when there is much knowledge they have not yet discovered, which may very well contain the “evidence” they contend doesn’t exist!

Truth of the fact is, there is enough evidence for belief that already exists that man doesn’t have to search further. At the root of their “unbelief” is an obstinate unwillingness to give up their personal autonomy to the Sovereign of the universe. The Bible says “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jer. 17:9). Man has rebelled against his Creator, he has declared defiant mutiny against Him. And man, in order to rationalize his self-autonomy so he can live peaceably in a condition divorced from divine dependence, his deceitful heart concludes it is more convenient to embrace “unbelief.” For if God does exist and the Bible is true, then it means man is responsible for his actions and must one day give an account to an All-Knowing God who is the Giver of life. How much easier it is to dismiss His existence on the false premise that there is not enough evidence for His existence, than to conform to the moral order of the divine Lawgiver.

While the deceitful heart can actually deceive one into a state of unbelief, more often than not those who are truly honest know deep down they are only deceiving themselves! One may attempt to dismiss God’s existence on the assertion that there is not enough evidence to believe, but one can not silence the “echo of God’s voice” He has put within each of us. The deceitful and wicked heart seeks to silence His inner “echo” by willfully embracing unbelief. When one declares themselves as god and one adopts a lifestyle that is contrary to the Creator’s design, then no amount of evidence will convince them of God’s existence…not because the evidence is not there, but because the individual would rather continue on in their sin than surrender to the One who sits upon the throne of heaven. Their “unbelief” is dishonest. It has nothing to do with lack of evidence, but it has to do with a life that desires to live outside the boundaries of God’s presence, principles, and power.

Unbelief is a choice; it is matter of the will; it refuses to believe. The Greek word “unbelief” (apistia – from a = without + pistós = believingmeans literally not believing) is used in the Bible to describe an unwillingness to commit oneself to another or respond positively to the other’s words or actions. Apistia is the antithesis to faith; it is a stubborn refusal to believe even when evidence is overwhelming and obvious. One doesn’t want Jesus upsetting their lifestyle. We see examples of this throughout Jesus’ ministry. In Mark six we find Jesus traveling “into his own country” and “he could there do no mighty work, save that he laid his hands upon a few sick folk and healed them, and he marveled at their unbelief” (Mark 6:1-6). Matthew adds “he did not many mighty works there because of their unbelief” (Matt. 13:54-58). On the day of Jesus’ resurrection, He “appeared unto the eleven as they sat at meat, and upbraided them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they believed not them which had seen him after he was risen” (Mark 16:14). In both instances it was not lack of evidence that resulted in unbelief, but it was unwillingness and stubborn refusal to respond positively to the clear evidence before them.

The author of Hebrews said of those who were not allowed to enter the Promise Land, “So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief” (Heb 3:19). It was not because of lack of evidence they didn’t believe, for they had witnessed the parting of the Red Sea, experienced miraculously supplied manna in the wilderness, drank water that incredibly flowed from a rock, feasted on quail that unexplainably appeared, etc. The problem was not lack of evidence, for it was abundant, but it was because of an “evil heart of unbelief” (Heb. 3:12). They stubbornly refused to believe.

Yes, unbelief is a matter of the will; it is refusing to believe even when confronted with evidence that is irrefutable. The dishonesty of unbelief is that one’s “unbelief” is not anchored in a head problem, but a heart problem. One who willfully desires to cling to their self-autonomy divorced from a relationship with their Creator, no amount of evidence will suffice. Unbelief in essence says, “I hear what you are saying, but I choose not to believe it. I reject what you are saying in spite of the evidence. It has nothing to do with evidence, it has to do with the fact I want to be my own god and live as I please, apart from the principles and presence of the One who created me.”

The dishonesty of unbelief is that it has nothing to do with evidence, but everything to do with self-autonomy and living independently of the Source of all life. Skepticism is a convenient cover for sinners. Over the years I have studied all the stock arguments for endorsing unbelief, and may I say as lovingly as I can, I have observed that all the reasons given for dismissing God’s existence and the claims of Christianity are more emotionally and personally driven than intellectually founded. Evidence abounds for the truly honest inquirer. In the Gospel of Mark, a young father brought to Jesus his ailing son requesting the Master help him. And “the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou my unbelief” (Mark 9:24). The paradox of life is that belief yearns to reign over unbelief, but the deceitfulness of one’s rebellious heart seeks to suppress the truth (Rom 1:18).

Men may contend they embrace unbelief for many reasons in an attempt to convince themselves and others their arguments are founded on honest conclusions, but in reality unbelief has its root in a willingness to do so. But this I know, if one honestly brings their unbelief before the Christ of the cross and honestly cries out and sincerely asks Him to reveal Himself in all His splendor, like doubting Thomas, one will find their unbelief dissolve before the Risen Savior and will find themselves emphatically declaring, “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28).

O, what a Savior.

Blessings,
Dr. Dan

HOSEA: THE PROPHET OF DIVINE LOVE

Everyone is captivated by a good love story that stirs our emotions and leaves our eyes moist. We are mesmerized when we witness a love that seems to transcend the ordinary boundaries of human experience. Our hearts long to experience such love and we are enchantedly moved inwardly when we witness such love genuinely demonstrated. As one thumbs through the pages of the Old Testament, the fingers seem to magically stop at the book of Hosea where we find such a love story. For woven into the very fabric of its pages is found a wondrous love that runs deeper than the deepest ocean and foreshadows the Divine Love flowing forth from He who called Himself the Water of Life – Jesus Christ.

The book Hosea presents to the reader an eternal love story that is illustrated in the life of the tender-hearted prophet. Hosea takes his place among the greatest lovers of all the ages, and having his heart crushed and broken, his actions that followed gives to the world a picture of the heart of the Divine Lover – God.

Most prophets begin the books that bear their names by retelling the event which led them to respond to God’s call. Hosea, who began his ministry about 785 BC during the reign of Jeroboam II, begins by recounting a strange request by the Lord, “The beginning of the word of the Lord by Hosea. And the Lord said to Hosea. Go, take unto thee a wife of whoredoms and the children of whoredoms: for the land has committed great whoredom, departing from the Lord. So he went and took Gomer [and married her]” (Hosea 1:2).

Before proceeding with this amazing love story and how it illustrates the love of God, a question needs to be answered: Did Hosea wed Gomer while she was a harlot or was she chaste at the time of the marriage, later becoming involved in pagan idolatry and harlotry? If Hosea married her while she was already a harlot this presents a moral dilemma, as it diminishes God’s high view of marriage, contradicting His command to the Jews not to marry those involved in pagan idolatry and harlotry (Lev. 21:7). Since God would not violate His own character and commands, it is best to see Gomer as chaste at the time of the marriage to Hosea, only later becoming involved in harlotry. “Take unto thee a wife of whoredoms,” is best understood proleptically, meaning looking to the future and calling her what see would eventually become – a harlot. Hosea is writing after the fact; marrying a chaste woman he records what she later became – unfaithful. As well, Gomer wouldn’t have been a true type of Israel if she was unfaithful at the time of the wedding, as Israel was faithful at first then later committed spiritual adultery.

Hosea and Gomer upon their marriage set up housekeeping and all seemed well. Three children were born into their home, two boys and a girl. Then one day Hosea came home from work and his wife was gone, as she had taken on the life of a harlot. His heart was crushed by unrequited love and he begins to weep uncontrollably. In the midst of his gush of tears Hosea hears the voice of another weeping. It is the voice of God who tells the broken-hearted prophet, “Hosea, just as your wife has adopted a lifestyle of idolatry and harlotry, so my people have gone into spiritual adultery.” In that moment Hosea’s tears became a telescope though which he saw more clearly the very heart of the infinite love of the Divine Lover. He learned the Gospel through his tears. He spoke to the people out of this own suffering and brokenness.

Gomer’s harlotry was tragically a symbolic picture of Israel’s unfaithfulness to the Lord. Even though many in Israel had turned a deaf hear to the prophet’s preaching, even the most tone deaf could see his flowing tears over his heartbreak and sympathize with his deep sorrow. In effect, Hosea’s wounded love became a living sermon before the people. Hosea had covered Gomer with his love; God had covered Israel with His love. And what Gomer did to Hosea by playing the harlot, Israel did to God by engaging in spiritual harlotry. Hosea’s love for Gomer in spite of her whoredoms did not make sense to onlookers; in like manner God’s love for unfaithful Israel defies understanding. Hosea desired a relationship with Gomer based on love; God desires a relationship with you and I anchored in love.

In Hosea chapter three the prophet out of genuine love travels into the sinful environment of pagan idolatry and immorality and reclaims his unfaithful bride. Gomer was enslaved in pagan harlotry, yet Hosea was willing to pay the redemption price to get her back. Hosea recounts, “So I bought her to me for fifteen pieces of silver, and for an homer of barley, and an half homer of barley” (Hosea 3:2) O, what love, what grace. Returning to the one who loved her most (3:3), the restored relationship of Hosea and Gomer supplied the people with an illustration of God’s Love for them. Just as Gomer was still beloved of her husband, though she had been unfaithful; God still loved Israel, though unfaithful.

God had “wedded” Himself to Israel, but they drifted into spiritual harlotry. Israel had been unfaithful to God’s goodness and defied His holiness , but God in a love beyond our comprehension sought to actively reclaim them. The Lord sought to reclaim them not by tolerating their sin (Hosea 3:4), but restoration would be accomplished through the loving action of redemption by judgement upon their sin, which afterwards the children of Israel would return and seek the Lord their God (3:5). Through the Assyrians, judgement fell upon the Northern Kingdom (722 BC). Judgement was not for the purpose of destroying them, but bringing about repentance from sin unto restoration and reconciliation of relationship with Him. It is hard for the human mind to fathom that in judgment God has a redemptive purpose. True love does not allow continuance in sin, but seeks to redeem out of sin and its destructive nature for the purpose of restoration in relationship.

God is pained by sin and takes action against it. The action of God’s holy-love is two-fold: (1) to justly judge sin in its rebellious opposition to divine holiness, revealing sin’s destructive nature as an enemy of God’s holy nature; sin having created a barrier between God and man; and (2) in the condemnation of sin He reveals the love in His holiness which actively seeks to redemptively reconcile the ruptured relationship with Him caused by sin. God’s love is anchored in His holiness which justly judges and condemns sin in order to redeem; in order to bring about repentance; in order to restore; in order to reconcile; in order to renew the broken relationship with Him. The holiness in such love seeks to crush the sin not tolerate it, for only then can true fellowship be enjoyed with One whose character is holy-love.

The love we see demonstrated in Hosea, was not only an illustrative example of the love God had for unfaithful Israel, but it was a foreshadowing of the great love that God would reveal in Jesus Christ. God in Christ traveled to the environment of sinful man to pay the redemption price. At the cross we see not only the forgiving love of God, we see the holiness of such love. Christ came to crush sin not tolerate it. Christ came to atone for sin not overlook it. P.T. Forsyth has written, “By atonement, therefore, is meant that action of Christ’s death which has a prime regard to God’s holiness, has it for its first charge, and find man’s reconciliation impossible except as His holiness is divinely satisfied once for all on the cross. Such an atonement is the key to man’s redemption and reconciling.” Holiness requires sin to be dealt with not tolerated or simply swept under the rug. On the cross Christ, taking upon Himself holiness’ justifying judgement upon sin and confessing the holiness found in such love, extends the forgiving holy-love of God to sinners like you and I (Romans 5:8).

As sin was judged on Calvary’s Hill for man violating and willfully opposing the holiness of God, the holiness found in such love makes possible our redemption. Christ, as our Substitute, paid the price of redemption, and not with silver and gold but with His precious blood (I Peter 1:18-19). God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself (2 Cor. 5:19). Ah, such love, such grace…it escapes our comprehension. And it is such holy-love that beckons us and calls us to His side. While the love of Hosea demonstrated amazing love for Gomer, the holy-love of God in Jesus Christ far exceeds that displayed by Hosea. In Christ we find Divine Love condemning sin, in order that He might be our Redeemer, our Reconciler, our Restorer, the One in whom we can have an abiding relationship.

As Hosea sought out Gomer, today the Lord Jesus Christ seeks after you. The redemption price has already been paid by His atoning work on the cross. May such holy-love woo us to His side.

O, what a Savior!

Blessings,
Dr. Dan

A COUNTRY PREACHER GOES TO TOWN

Tucked within the pages of the OT is a little-known book that bears the name Amos. Amos is one of those forgotten prophets of the Bible. He is called a minor prophet as the result of the length of its pages as compared to books like Isaiah or Jeremiah, but Amos is a Major Leaguer in what he had to say. He hit a homerun every time he opened his mouth! In fact, Amos is considered to be the first of the classical prophets. If this be the case, Amos is the oldest collection of sermonic literature that we possess.

Amos made his home in a place called Tekoa, about five miles south of Bethlehem. He was a keeper of sheep and a tender of Sycamore fruit. His background was that of agriculture, which when meeting him was evidenced by his speech, his smell and the clothes he wore. While his rough speech and tattered attire led those to whom he encountered to jump to the conclusion that he was an uneducated “country preacher,” yet found in the book of Amos is some of the best Hebrew in the OT.

Amos’ ministry spanned from a period of about 780-752 BC. Having a life-altering encounter with the Lord (7:15), he was commissioned to carry a much-needed message to those who lived in the Northern Kingdom, Israel. His name means “burden” or “burden-bearer.” And a passionate burdened he had for his kinsman. Amos lived in a day of religious and social decay, moral and religious degeneration, the rich were oppressing the poor, injustice prevailed in the courts, there was violence in the streets, robbery was a daily occurrence, dishonesty in leadership was commonplace, adultery was accepted as normal, true religion was mixed with pagan practices, abnormal behavior was accepted as normal, and while all the right religious rituals were being conducted outwardly there was no inner faith. Evil had become deeply entrenched, blinding the people to their own plight. While outwardly there was prosperity, Amos saw beneath the material prosperity to the poverty of morality, ethical integrity and spirituality that  pervaded society and the lives of the people.

Amos had a fire in his bones to speak out against all the moral, ethical and spiritual declension he saw flowing like an out-of-control river. The preaching of the country preacher was not received very well. He was called a rabble-rouser, a trouble maker, one who stirred the pot when all appeared well on the surface. Amos chapter 7 is a picture of how his message was received. He was at Bethel preaching against the sins of the nation and that judgment was coming unless there was repentance and a return to the Lord God of heaven. Amaziah, who was the polished, politically correct paid priest, didn’t like what he heard from the lips of Amos. Amaziah was a people pleaser, who preached the message that the people wanted to hear: sin is a word of the past and it matters not how you live, God will not judge sin so let go and “just do it,” mixing Judaism with paganism is permissible for we have to be tolerant, repentance is unnecessary and negative talk of judgment only hinders one from reaching their full potential. Amaziah was guided by political-correctness not by principle.

The message of Amos was just the opposite. Amos could not be bought. He preached that God is holy, righteous, and of moral character who calls on this creation and creatures to conform to His holy, ethical and moral order. Amos preached man is sinful, which is the root to all greed, dishonesty, abuse of others, adultery, violence, robbery and all the other destructive behavior seen in society. Amos preached that the only hope for humanity is to repent before a holy God, and if not, judgement will be the natural outflow and reaction of holiness against sin. Amos preached engaging in empty religious ritual is worthless if there is no genuine inner faith that leads to a relationship with the Living God. Amos was not concerned about political correctness, but divine principle.

Amaziah personally confronted Amos and told the “country, hay-seed preacher” to shut his mouth and go back to his sheep and fig-picking. When Amos courageously refused to curtail his message, Amaziah mailed a letter to the King Jeroboam II and told him Amos was conspiring against him by speaking negative words of judgement because of the sins of the nation and the people. Amaziah sought to use political leverage to hush-up Amos. With divine unction, Amos continued to proclaim the message given him by the Lord until, as tradition records, he was either beaten to death or pinned to a wall by a spear.

The conditions in which Amos lived truly resemble the conditions in which we live today. Sin and self-indulgent living flow in the streets like a river overflowing its banks. Like in the days of Amos, we have forgotten God and even dare Him to judge us…if after all there is even a God. We want “preachers” to preach messages that make us comfortable in our sins and that is tolerant of our unrighteous behavior no matter how abnormal it is. Political correctness trumps biblical correctness, and those who dare disagree are vilified. Evil has become deeply entrenched, blinding people to their own plight. We want “preachers” to tell us no matter what “religion” you embrace, they all will lead to the same god who doesn’t demand repentance or an inner faith that is anchored in a relationship with the Living God. And if an “Amos” proclaims a message other than what “Amaziah” proclaims they are called rabble-rousers, and efforts are made to silence them.

Amos needs to become the prophet of our age. Though efforts are continually enacted to silence the message that God is holy, man is a sinner, sin is destructive, and judgement is sure if repentance is not forth coming, we need preachers to don the mantle of Amos to unapologetically and lovingly proclaim the truth. How fierce the fires of judgment as Amos so clearly painted with his poetic words. Yet here is the Good News, our sin and the judgment of our God met on Calvary’s Hill, offering forgiveness and reconciliation to all who will embrace His atoning work. And in His resurrection, He was triumphant over sin, death and the devil, and to all who encounter Him in faith become partakers of His victorious life. The sufficiency of the Christ Event, from which flows so great a salvation, is driven home to our hearts and minds as we hear and heed the words of Amos, overwhelming in their divine intensity and long overdue in their necessity to be faithfully proclaimed.

It is past time that more “country preachers” go to town!

Blessings,
Dr. Dan

EZEKIEL: TRUTHS FROM A FORGOTTEN PROPHET

Ezekiel is one of the most interesting prophets in the Old Testament. If he were alive today, he would be labeled as a “strange bird,” out of step with society, and one who would be known to adopt bizarre behavior to lend imagery to the message he was called to preach. Ezekiel is a book which, because of its difficult passages and mysterious imagery, is often neglected and ignored, but there are many wonderful truths that lay buried within the pages of this extraordinary book.

Ezekiel was born about 623/22 BC, and writes during the time of Judah’s exile (1:2) to a people who were in exile. In 597 BC many Jews, including Ezekiel, were taken into Babylonian captivity. While many of the exiles did not believe the city of Jerusalem would ever fall, Ezekiel at age 30 was commissioned by the Lord (593 BC), that because of rampant sin and forgetting God Jerusalem would be destroyed in judgment for their willful sin. The words he spoke came to pass (586 BC), whereby then his message turned to God’s desire to bring about renewal and reconstruction among His people.

Ezekiel’s call to the prophetic office is one of the most vividly descriptive found in the Bible, as he tries to describe what his eyes in astonishment saw. What his eyes were privileged to witness could not be described with earthly words, but one truth is certain; he had a life-altering encounter with God. He recounts in chapters 1-3 his heavenly vision in most descriptive terms that leave us in worshipful awe. A brief summary follows.

The Whirlwind out of the North: One day while Ezekiel was by the River Chebar (1:3), the vision he experienced began by a whirlwind coming out of the North (1:4). The North signified the land of Israel’s invaders, Babylon. While the majority of those in exile argued Jerusalem would escape judgement, God will give to Ezekiel a message to deliver to the people that Jerusalem will be destroyed (Ezekiel 4).

The Four Living Creatures: After the whirlwind, the first thing that Ezekiel describes of his vision is four living creatures. He later reveals these creatures are cherubim (10:20); but in appearance they are a mixture of angel, animal, and human. They have four faces, that of a man, ox, lion, and eagle; representing intelligence, service, power, and swiftness, respectively.

The Great Wheels: Next to each living creature there were four giant wheels made of two wheels intersecting one another. The wheels are covered with eyes! The wheels moved in every direction and in unison all at the same time.

The Expanse: An expanse sits above the heads of the four living creatures, and above the expanse is a throne, and above the throne is a figure of a man (Divine-Human) gleaming like fire, surrounded by a rainbow-like radiance.

While we can never plumb the depths of Ezekiel’s heavenly vision, there are some wonderous truths that we can glean from what he is seeking to convey. Without getting lost in the details of his vision, there are seven truths that are most evident which are applicable to the day in which we live. We are living in rebellious and reckless times when people for the most part have forgotten God and in turn God’s people think He has forgotten them. Ezekiel’s vision, though, reminds God will eventually judge sin and, as well, is not indifferent to His promise to restore, renew and reconstruct when one repents.

In the imagery of Ezekiel’s vision, we learn:

First, God’s Audience. God’s audience was to those in exile, and Ezekiel would be God’s spokesperson to the people. The vision began by a whirlwind coming out of the north (1:4). The north signified the land of Israel’s invaders (Babylonian); judgement coming like a whirlwind from the north. Many of those in exile thought Jerusalem was invincible, but God gives to Ezekiel a message to deliver that Jerusalem will be destroyed because of her sin (Ezekiel 4). God could rightly judge without warning, but He sends forth His messengers to warn and demand repentance so they that man can never say he wasn’t first warned. While such warnings today may fall on deaf ears, the warnings and the invitation to repent must continue to be sounded to audiences before us.

Second, God is Awesome. God is above our comprehension. He is transcendent above our deepest thoughts and highest intelligence. Ezekiel tried to describe in human language He who cannot be described in words or grasped by our finite minds. How prideful of man to think that he in his limited intelligence can figure out or put in a box all that God is. And how arrogant is man to demand that the Infinite Mind of the universe explain to the finite mind of man that which he could not fully grasp or comprehend anyway.

God’s Awesomeness not only includes His transcendence, but His holiness. The fire about the One on the throne symbolizes eternal purity, and our inability to approach him in our impurity and sinfulness. That God is holy means that He is above sin, that He is righteous, that He is morally pure. Holiness is His self-affirming purity, which He will not allow to be soiled by man’s “unholiness.” All one can do when one realizes they are in the presence of such holiness is to bow and cry out, “I am woefully sinful and dwell in the midst of an unclean people.”

Third, God is Almighty. Ezekiel saw One sitting on a throne, whose throne was high above the breadth of the vast expanse. The One who sat upon the throne was called “Almighty” (1:24) suggesting the sovereignty of God’s rule. In spite of how hopeless or helpless things looked on earth, the Almighty, Sovereign Lord of the universe is still in control. He is not taken by surprise the chaos and confusion on earth; He is not shocked at man’s rebellion and sinful actions. Some thought that God had abandoned Israel (9:9), but the vision is to remind Ezekiel’s hearers that God is still in control even though the people are in exile.

Fourth, God is Active. Ezekiel describes four giant wheels made of two wheels intersecting one another. The wheels move in every direction and in unison all at the same time. This speaks of the truth that the One on the throne is not inactive but is active. The complexity of the wheels moving in every direction and in unison all at the same time speaks of the complexity of God’s activity in Providence, which to us is sometimes incomprehensible. In spite of the evil we see, in spite of things that occur which defy our logic and can’t be explained, God is active in the enforcing the laws of His divine Providence with precision. While we can not always trace the Hand of God, we can always trust the heart of God. Yes, God is active in the world in which we live.

Fifth, God is Aware. Ezekiel records that the wheels had eyes!! This speaks of the fact that God sees all. He is omniscient, knowing all things. Nothing escapes His watchful eye. Nothing slips by Him. No matter what takes place, it does not and will not slip by the all-seeing eye of the One who sits on the throne. Yes, the many eyes on the wheels represent the totality of God’s perceiving all things. Those in exile thought that God did not see what was happening (9:9), but the eyes in Ezekiel’s vision show that nothing can escape God’s vision.

Sixth, God’s Assurance. God commissions Ezekiel to carry a message to the exiled that He cares. Their sin had besmirched the holiness of God, yet the One on throne, through Ezekiel, assures them if they repent, He will forgive and restore. The rainbow is a symbol of assurance that God will keep his promises. God’s holy-love is active in calling men away from the destructiveness of their sin into the light of renewal and reconstruction. The Lord assures us that He cares by sending men like Ezekiel who warn that judgement is coming if there is no repentance from sin, but to those who repent, He promises forgiveness and a renewed and restored relationship with the living Lord is experienced.

Seventh, God instills Awe. In the presence of such a sight, all Ezekiel could do was fall on his face in surrender and listen to the voice of the One on the throne (2:1). Ezekiel’s vision serves notice that whoever would enter into the Lord’s service must have a clear vision of the One into whose service they are called and bow before Him in surrender. No one can share a message they first have not experienced or internalized themselves.

Oh, the wonderful truths found within Ezekiel’s amazing descriptive vision of that which is truly indescribable with human words, but nevertheless a reality. The truths which we find in Ezekiel are truly applicable in our day and time. God is on the throne, is active among us, and His divine Providence is and will bring about that which He has purposed for all creation and our individual lives. While warnings are continually issued that judgement is just reaction of God’s holiness to sin, few listen and the vast majority continue to ignore God’s gracious warnings and invitation to repent through His messengers.

This writer encourages one to prayerfully, reflectively and slowly read and reread the first three chapters of Ezekiel, and as one does ask the Lord to give each reader a fresh vision of the amazing God we serve and in renewal experience a transformed relationship with the God who longs to commune with each of us….and in spite of what circumstances may otherwise say, He is active in our world and in our lives.

Blessings,
Dr. Dan