Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Correct understanding of salvation, and relationships between salvation, grace, faith and good works

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God (Eph 2:8)

What should salvation be for a believer?
Salvation is:

1. The way put forth by God, since The Fall of Man, for Man to be able to be saved from eternal
    destruction - the entering and remaining in the burning fire of Hell.

2. To be saved is therefore,
    a) to avoid going to Hell;
    b) to finally, enter Heaven, the dwelling place of God, to live with God;

3. Having being reconciled back to God (being justified), until we die (physically), or are raptured,
    to live our life consistent to one going to live with God; and that necessitates we learn to live
    under  the Lordship of God. A non-believer is a mutiny, and has to be reconciled back to God, and
    when he has been reconciled through salvation, he is to live under the Lordship of God.  Having
    being justified, a believer needs to come under sanctification, before proceeding to Heaven. For
    Salvation as Justification and Sanctification, read: "Salvation as Justification and Sanctification".

Per se, Salvation is NOT these…
Salvation is NOT about prosperity in earthly living per se. It is NOT even about long life, NOT about wealth and health (health even), NOT about worldly accomplishments, NOT about leaving a worldly legacy, NOT about being philantrophic, as such. The truth is that salvation is about Heaven and Hell, and it is about the Lordship of God. The truth is the truth, regardless of people NOT liking to think about it or be reminded of these things.

Ah, it is really deferring to men, to sugarcoat the salvation of God. When we sugarcoat, when we add layers of sweet stuff over a thing, the thing is NOT gone, but the purity of it is hidden. What is worse is that situation can become such that the sugarcoat became the thing that people desire, instead of the gem inside. When this happens, the truth is missed.

Of course, salvation (sozo) includes health, physical and emotional; the meetings of our earthly needs; and being in able form, to do lots of “good works”; yet these are just the things that can accompany the main objectives of salvation, and are which, we as believers, can look to God to provide.

So, if today, we, as believers, are NOT in good physical health, or NOT at all wealthy relative to the Jones, salvation did NOT short-change us, God did NOT do any injustice against us, or God has NOT been unfair to us, for salvation is NOT about these things, per se.

A journey back (to God) or a journey to destruction
Life on earth is transient. Relative to eternity, it is really miniscule. Since The Fall of Man, life on earth is a short journey (and it has gone shorter and shorter since The Fall) to, either Hell or Heaven. A person in salvation travels the Way of Holiness, while the ones without, they travelled outside of that way or highway. Those of us, believers, have Jesus Christ leading us, and our part to play, is to learn to submit to His Lordship. Scriptures are full of pictures of steadfastness, perseverance and obedience, and that is how we are to journey.

The mindset
As believers, if we become as rich as the Jones, we are thankful to God, if we are NOT, we are also thankful to Him; if we are as fit as a fiddle, we thank God, if we are NOT, we also thank Him, and praise Him for who He is; if we have been able to accomplish much in our earthly lives, we thank Him for His endowments and enabling, if we have NOT, still we thank Him for every breath of our lives, for with every breath, we have been afforded the opportunity to say, “Lord, please forgive us our sins, cleanse us, for you are holy and righteous; and Lord, we thank you for this extra moment that we can learn submission to your Lordship, before we come to live with you.”

If we are called home early, we accept it, if we are called later, we accept it too, and until we are called, we are to live in submission to the Lordship of God, in steadfastness, in perseverance, and in obedience out of love for our Lord, regardless of afflictions (of ill-health, emotional struggles, poverty, etc, etc), knowing that our God is holy and righteous, and He is full of love and faithfulness towards us (Ps 89:14), wanting us to return to Him in the freedom of children of God (Rom 8:21).

Today, if you are a young man or woman, you may balk at reading such sayings, for to you, the picture of Hell and Heaven seems so very far away, but Scripture tells that our souls may be demanded of us at any time, when we least expect it. It is independent of your young age or your preoccupation.

Relationships between salvation, grace, faith and good works
In the above, I have not mentioned grace, faith or what we need to do to enter into salvation; it was intentional, for I have desired to say what salvation truly is meant to be, for us, Man – avoidance of Hell, and getting to Heaven. Now, next, we will take a look at what is the relationship between grace and faith in relation to salvation, and good works.

Grace, salvation, gift and faith
Grace is unmerited favor of God. By unmerited favor, it means that the favor is granted without us doing anything to earn it. In other words, it is a gift. When we say that something is by grace, we mean, that something is granted as a gift, and so in Eph 2:8, when it is said that it is by grace that we are saved, it means that salvation is a gift from God.

My own interpretation of “and THIS not from yourselves, it is the gift of God”, of that verse 8, is that it ("THIS") is referring to salvation. Salvation is by grace of God, a gift from God. It is NOT intentionally referring to grace as such.

I know people talked about grace as a gift of God; I am NOT saying grace is NOT a gift of God, but grace given as a gift and salvation given as a gift can be quite different.  Grace is better said as a favour, although it is a gift.

Salvation as a gift is like, I say, "Everyone who follows me into the next room, will get a gift".  Everyone, you, he or she, a young woman, an old lady, a healthy man or a sick man, etc. (when you follow me into the next room), you get a gift.

Grace as a gift is like, I have here, a bag of gifts and I say, "Hey, you there, catch", and I throw out a gift to him; "The lady in black, here, this is for you; it will suit you well", and I hand out a gift to her; "The girl seated down, come here, I have a nice gift for you; I would like you to use it to cheer your sick mother back home", and I hand over a beautifully wrapped gift to the girl; etc, etc.  Not everyone in the room gets a gift, some does NOT.  Grace is as He determines.  Salvation as a gift is more a subset of Grace as a gift.

Faith here, NOT a gift to the same extent
Many people, I believe, have erroneously used Eph 2:8 and said that faith is by God, NOT from us. The gift of God referred to, in the verse, is salvation, NOT faith. I have already said above, the gift referred to, in the verse is NOT grace, either  (although grace is a gift of God).

It is possible though, that sometimes, the word, “grace” is used in place of the word, salvation. For example, in Rom 5:2, “this grace” was referring to salvation or reconciliation back to God which is what salvation is about.

The point to note is that, this Eph 2:8 verse is NOT saying faith is a gift of God, even though there are preachers out there claiming that the faith mentioned here is a gift. I cannot agree with this notion, because if it were so, then all who hear the gospel should be entering into salvation, but this is NOT the case, precisely because faith is lacking in some instances.

Unless one believes in GENERAL predestination of PERSONAL salvation {predestination implies that all already set by God as to who will be saved and who will NOT}, which I do NOT believe, faith here CANNOT be a gift to the same as extent as salvation is a gift of God.

Does faith come from God or not?
While it is NOT incorrect to say everything comes from God, often times, we must avoid it as a cliché. If we apply this all the time, we will end up saying even evil things that happen to people come from God.

Of course, when we trace everything back across (all) time, everything originated from God. Even Satan is creation of God. But we really cannot say that all the evil done by Satan, are coming from God {Although, on a more positive note, we are inclined to say positive things come from God, for we have a good God actively pursuing Man, intending only good for us all}.

I believe the overall counsel of the Word, teaches us that faith is NOT to be treated in like manner as salvation, a gift of God, although like I said, of course, everything comes from God.

There is a verse (Rom 12:3) in Scripture that has the mention of faith or a measure of faith, as being given by God, but in so many verses in Scripture {you can just do a concordance search}, the understanding given is that faith is NOT to be looked at as gift of God or grace of God in the sense that it is an unmerited favor of God that God must give. We will look at that Romans verse in a moment, but I want to say that there is another verse where unmistakably there is a faith that is a gift from God, and that is found in 1 Cor 12:9 which listed the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

1 Cor 12:9, and the question it poses
In the case of 1 Cor 12:9, gifts were dealt with, and as such, the 9 items there, were for free, given unmerited for, and by grace. Regardless how one argues concerning when a believer becomes possessed of the gifts, it is still to be understood that the gifts, being gifts, are freely given by God. And so, when one believer has a gift, and another does not seem to, to me, it indicated nothing of any “superiority” of the former over the latter, for a spiritual gift is NOT merited for (one does NOT earn it). You may ask about the relevance of this? Its relevance is that, in 1 Cor 12:9, it is stated that there is such a thing as a gift of faith, whereas I have just mentioned earlier that generally, faith (normal faith) is NOT a gift of God to the same extent as salvation of God is. 

Does it means if I do NOT have the faith to do certain thing, it has nothing to do with me, that I should even be bothered with, at all, much like I be NOT bothered, if a sick person I pray for, does NOT get healed,  arguing that it is God’s responsibility since faith is to be given by Him (to me), as it is said to be a gift from Him {in 1 Cor 12:9}? What do you think? Is it correct to say, “Blame God, don’t blame me since faith is supposed to be given by Him.”?

My divide of the Word
To correctly divide the Word of God, I believe, we have to have a proper perspective of the free-will of Man, given by God, and the interventions of God. In order NOT to get very long-drawn into this, it suffices to say that both the free-will of Man and the interventions of God are at work. And this means that there is a part that Man is to do, and there are things God does, in the normal, as well as things that God does as interventions. To what extent God intervene, is of course, His prerogative.

Faith to usher in God’s intervention
Faith is required for us to live a life pleasing unto God, for the ways of the world are often out of syn. with the ways of God. To go against the pulls and pushes of the world, we need to trust God (have faith in God) that He would intervene when we are in alignment to His ways or want to be in alignment.

Although it is NOT to be said that it is imperative for faith to be present in order for God’s interventions to come, often times, faith ushers in God’s interventions, for faith is in part, a right belief consistent with the truth of God {I am leaving out the discussion of the make-up of faith}.

Supernatural faith and normal faith
In terms of the faith required to “draw” the interventions of God, for exceptional interventions, there is a class of faith called supernatural faith; all other faith falls under normal faith. The onus for normal faith rests with us.

The faith talked about in 1 Cor 12:9 is NOT normal but supernatural, and so are the other 8 gifts listed in 1 Cor 12. The gift of tongue is supernatural, and the gift of healing is supernatural. When I pray for a seriously sick person and he is healed, it is supernatural, it is crazy to think that I can somehow work up a healing power to heal a seriously sick man; it is a supernatural intervention and healing from God. If I move in that gift, it is a supernatural gift, given by grace of God. Similarly, the faith in 1 Cor 12:9 is also a supernatural faith, that cometh by grace of God, and is a gift.

A simple way of looking at the issue is that onus of normal faith rests with us, that of supernatural faith, with God.

Back to “the” question
Now, is the faith to accept Jesus Christ as one’s personal Lord and Savior, a normal faith or a supernatural faith? Eph 2:8 said that we are saved by grace, through faith. So, is the faith here, a normal faith or supernatural faith? If we say that it is supernatural, and therefore, a gift, then whose fault is it that one does NOT come into salvation? Is it the Gospel sharer or the preacher? Or is it God’s fault?

If it is the sharer or preacher’s fault, do you think you will want to share? I probably will NOT, for it ties with a Chinese idiom, “the more you do, the more wrong you commit, the less you do, the less wrong you make!” If it is NOT the fault of mine, as the sharer or preacher, than whose fault is it, God’s? Or do you want to be very polite, and say that it is God’s responsibility; up to him, whether or NOT, He wants to give the faith to accept Jesus? Or is it NOT the onus of the hearer to decide if he will choose to believe?

We all know that Scripture said that God desires that all men be saved (1 Tim 2:4), and if we say that He is responsible for giving of the faith, is God trying to be “funny” on an absolutely serious issue, to give some, and NOT to others? Of course, NOT; I believe therefore, the faith in Eph 2:8, and for that matter, the same in many scenarios, is normal faith, a faith that is to come from the person’s choice.

Many scriptures indicated normal faith
Many pictures painted by Scriptures show us that the faith element required is the normal faith that is to come from us. If we hold onto the notion that God has to make us to have the faith for an action, we can end up, repeatedly asking God, “God, make me have the faith”, and yet nothing happens! God's fault!

One can be attempted to say, as we yield our free-will to God, God is able to give us the faith for action, and things will happen, but honestly, it is still like a chicken and egg issue. Which comes first, to let go of your free-will or have faith? Do we need to let go of our free-will to have faith or is it the other way round, we need to have faith to let go of our free-will? I say it is more of a choice issue; we have to decide to release our free-will to God; we have to choose to have faith in God.

How can we make such choices or how can we “acquire” faith in God, is a thing that we should learn, but before we go there, let me address the odd verse of Rom 12:3 which has in it, "faith is given by God".

Romans 12:3 – faith is given by God?
For by the grace given me I {Apostle Paul} say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you (Rom 12:3).

Many people have taken the above out of context, to mean that our faith has nothing to with what we do or NOT do, but have everything to do with whether or NOT God has given/is giving the faith or NOT, for an action.

Such pushing of responsibility back to God, is commonly liked by the “overly grace” believers, for they so often, believe that if they were supposed to do a thing, God would move them to do it, there is NOT the need to try, or be exhorted to do, for they think they have (claim to have) the full mind of Christ, such that if God has wanted a thing done, they would know! This is self-pride, to a very high degree.

If I do NOT have the faith to do a thing, it is because I have NOT come into possessing that measure of faith, rather than it is because God has NOT given me the measure of faith required {unless the situation calls for supernatural faith}. This is the correct attitude, for in it, there is a dose of onus on our part, in getting higher level of faith. Scripture is very clear that God expects faith from us. Without going into detail discussions, I will just quote Scripture saying that without faith it is impossible to please God (Heb 11:6). Very obviously, such a scripture is meaningless if we insist that the faith we need to please God is the faith He must give to us.

The truth is that Rom 12:3 was only trying to say that we are NOT to “run ahead” or “run outside” of what God is doing and intending to do with us. It is like saying God has prepared you to be the manager of a department, and you run ahead and want to be the CEO of the company. In other words, the Lord has equipped you to function at a certain level, and function with faith, of course, for only in that way, what you do, is pleasing unto Him; and so, you do NOT “run ahead” or “run outside” of that; if you do that, you are thinking too highly of yourselves.

The exhortation of this verse, Rom 12:3, is along the line of 1 Cor 7:17 - But as God hath distributed (G3307) to every man, as the Lord hath called {to service} every one, so let him walk. And so ordain I {Paul} in all churches. The “given” in “…faith God has given you” in Rom 12:3, comes from the same Greek word, merizō (G3307), as in “distributed” in 1 Cor 7:17, it is just that the translators used different English words for the same Greek word.

I am NOT saying there is NOT the "God-beginning" of things, good things.  All good things comes from God; and if they don't come directly, but through others, the initiation does come from God.  While Phil 2:12 tells us that we are to work out our salvation with fear and trembling, the working has to be with God, for the verse following (v13), it was stated for us that God was the one who works in us to will and act in order to fulfill His good purpose.  Through the indwelling Holy Spirit, God works in us, our response to the leading of the Holy Spirit, is the part that is "faith-asking".  Will you choose to trust (have faith in) the Holy Spirit's leading, and go do what is required?

Rom 12:3 is NOT about God has to give normal faith in order that one has faith to live a life pleasing unto God. I also do NOT believe supernatural faith was implied there. I repeat, it is trying to say that we are NOT to “run ahead” or “run outside” of what God is doing and intending to do with us.

[Added 14 June 2011: We develop our faith (normal faith) in the refining process that all believers are subjected to, by the Lord. The Apostle Paul spoke about growth from infancy to maturity in the faith, nothing of the sort that some "overly grace" preachers have suggested that we jump from imperfection to perfection in the blink of the eye, upon born again.]

To possess normal faith
Concerning coming to possess faith, perhaps, we should consider, firstly the faith required for entering into salvation. Then, we will look at post born-again, how faith can be sustained and “grown”.

Faith to enter into salvation
The faith to enter into salvation, how does it come? Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God (Rom 10:17, KJV). For a non-believer to come into salvation there has to be faith in him, for Eph 2:8 said that, one enters salvation by grace, through faith.

The way a non-believer come to possess the necessary faith, according to this Rom 10:17, is by hearing the word of God; that is why there is a necessity to share the gospel with non-believers so that they get to hear the word of God. More can be said, but more importantly we need to take note that ultimately, the non-believer has to believe in Jesus in his heart, and confess with his mouth (by choice), that Jesus Christ is his personal Lord and Savior. This is typically, how a person enters salvation (by grace) through faith (Rom 10:10).

Exercising is crucial, for both, pre & post entering into salvation
I am NOT saying that we cannot pray to God for more faith, but I am saying we should be conscious of the correct attitude that there is that “our part” that we need to play. Even in the entering into salvation above, we see that one needs to exercise whatever little faith that is possessed. The exercise is in the exercising of his free-will (a choice) to confess with his mouth to accept Jesus as his personal Lord and Savior.

In Luke 17:5, we read of the apostles of Jesus asking the Lord to increase their faith when the Lord told them that they had to repeatedly forgive others who had sinned against them repeatedly, despite their claiming that they were repentant each time. The apostles feared that, that would be too hard, and thought that they had NOT the faith to do it {not enough faith}, and so, they asked Jesus to increase their faith, so that they could do it, to repeatedly forgive the same people. Jesus did NOT reply them that He would give them more faith, instead He said this:

And the Lord said, If ye had faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye might say unto this sycamine tree, Be thou plucked up by the root, and be thou planted in the sea; and it should obey you.  (Luke 17:6, KJV - I have replaced the NIV of this verse with the KJV; "faith as small as a mustard seed" is NOT a good translation, in my view {1 Mar 2013}).

In other words, Jesus was saying that they had to exercise whatever faith that they had; NOT to be overwhelmed by the odds stacked against them; the mustard seed/seedling does NOT freeze at the external odds against it.

By leaving the reply as that, I believe, what Jesus was trying to tell the apostles was that when they exercised what faith they had, it would grow or increase. The point is that the apostles asked for increase, and assuming, and it is logical to assume, in this case, that Jesus was answering them; the increase must have been found in the answer - exercising!

A lot more can be said concerning how faith {normal faith} can be nurtured, but the short answer is that we have to subscribe to the never-ending cycle of exercising faith that comes from the hearing of the word of God. And in this never-ending cycle of exercising faith, we are in fact, going about good works.

Faith and good works
What is the relation of the two? In the above paragraph I said in the never-ending cycle of exercising faith, we are in fact going about good works. Good works in Scripture is NOT just simply good works, like the world understands it to be, like being charitable, per se.

Essentially, it is good works of faith or good works in exercising of faith. Precisely because without faith it is impossible to please God, good works is not good works to God if it is NOT done with exercise of faith (Exception is possible, but exception acceptability is contingent on grace and sovereignty of God {as in the case of centurion in the gospel}).

The Book of James has more to say about putting faith into action as evidence of our true faith. I think it is an exception rather than a norm, for believers to just bask in grace; such understanding of the “overly grace” believers are too skewed. Eph 2:10 clearly stated that we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus, to do good works. We are commanded to do good works, and through them, bring glory to our God (Matt 5:16). For better understanding of what good works is, and the detailed exposition of the link between good works and faith, read my separate article, "Good works explained (Part I)".

How is grace connected with faith and good works?
The good works that the world understands can be just being charitable. For example, one donates $100K to a university/educational endowment fund. But the good works in God’s eyes are often deeds He wants done; in other words, it is connected to Him. Faith makes that connection to Him.

Salvation and Lordship are together (for greater understanding of this, read my separate article, “Luke 6:46 - PART I – Salvation and Lordship are together”), and in the living of our lives as believers, Lordship of God is everything. Our faith is tied to the Lord, and so, in the exercising of our faith, God gets into the picture. As submission is NOT blind and Lordship is NOT accidental (read the article if you want the exposition), faith is also NOT blind and accidental. When, despite our lacking circumstances, we are able to accomplish the good works through the exercise of faith, the grace of God {unmerited favor} is likely to be that, which made the difference, being extended for the situation.

Although it is NOT always that a Christian hears from God directly for a deed, but if he always sets the Lord {and His ways} before him (Ps 16:8), and stays righteous, his steps (and therefore, his deeds) can be expected to be ordered by the Lord (Ps 37:23), and God’s grace {unmerited favor} can be following his deeds.

What about good works and salvation?
This is probably what many are wanting to know – any direct relation between good works and salvation? Sorry, folks, digest the above, and wait for a separate article!

Anthony Chia, high.expressions – Lord, may more of us understand that in our salvation, we are not JUST to bask in grace, and JUST to do our own things. Cause in us such a stirring Lord, that we will awake from our slumber. Amen.

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Monday, December 20, 2010

Psalm 66 – Intercede, but cherish not sin in your heart

Preamble: Because of the continual interest on the subject of intercession, which I observed by the hits over time to my separate article, “Intercede for others, and you’ll be blessed too”, I am putting up this exposition which I have written, some time back.

The way to read this article is that the orange underlined texts are the verses of the Bible (NIV, unless otherwise stated). The black texts following the Bible verses (and enclosed by square brackets) are my commentaries. At the end of these Bible texts and commentaries, I have inserted a section on "Points to take note/What we have learnt/can learn".

Psalm 66

For the director of music. A song. A psalm.

1 Shout with joy to God, all the earth! [This is a psalm to magnify the LORD, after experiencing God’s goodness in answering a man’s prayer.

All the earth (elsewhere, could include elements of nature), meaning all the men of the earth, should magnify God, said the psalmist. Why do we think the psalmist said that? Because we are His creation, without God’s intentional creation of us, there are no us. God is our maker, and that alone deserves our praise. Of course, there were and are more, the greatness of God, His righteous deeds, etc, etc. And so, the psalmist said to shout with joy to God.]
2 Sing the glory of his name;
make his praise glorious!
[Sing of the glory of His name; let our praises of Him be glorious. Sing with gusto.]
3 Say to God, "How awesome are your deeds!
So great is your power
that your enemies cringe before you.
[How awesome are God’s deeds! How great is His power! All His enemies cringe before Him.]
4 All the earth bows down to you;
they sing praise to you,
they sing praise to your name."
[Again the psalmist said all the earth worships Him; bows down to Him, sings praise unto Him, sings praise to His name.]
5 Come and see what God has done,
how awesome his works in man's behalf!
6 He turned the sea into dry land,
they passed through the waters on foot—
come, let us rejoice in him.
[The psalmist said to come and see what God has done; the psalmist exclaimed the awesomeness of His works in man’s behalf. Referring to parting of the Red Sea by God, the psalmist spoke of God turning the sea into dry land, for the people of God to pass through on foot. Come, said the psalmist, let us rejoice in Him.]
7 He rules forever by his power,
his eyes watch the nations—
let not the rebellious rise up against him.
[God rules forever by His power {whether or not, men acknowledge that}; His eyes watch all the nations. The psalmist warned that no people should think they could rise up in rebellion against God.]
8 Praise our God, O peoples,
let the sound of his praise be heard;
[O peoples, not just the Jews, the chosen people of God, but all peoples, are to praise God. Let the sound of such praise be heard all over.]
9 he has preserved our lives
and kept our feet from slipping.
[God has preserved their lives, and kept their feet from slipping.]
10 For you, O God, tested us;
you refined us like silver.
[Psalmist recognized that God was doing a testing and refining work in them, the Jews, like silver being refined.]
11 You brought us into prison
and laid burdens on our backs.
[In such testing and refining, God had allowed His people to enter into captivity {slavery in Egypt}, and suffered much.]
12 You let men ride over our heads;
we went through fire and water,
but you brought us to a place of abundance.
[He had allowed men to ride over His people’s heads {enslaved them}; His people went through fire and water {great hardship and suffering, refining by}, yet still He did not abandon His people; God brought His people to a place of abundance {Promised Land}. The psalmist was saying that God would and had come through for His people.]
13 I will come to your temple with burnt offerings
and fulfill my vows to you-
14 vows my lips promised and my mouth spoke
when I was in trouble.
[Now, the psalmist indicated to us that he (and it should also be so, too, for others of God), had prayed, cried, and interceded before God, and God had heard his cries, acted for His people, and he (and it should also be so, too, for others of God) would go to His temple with offerings, and to fulfill all vows made to the LORD in those times of afflictions, in his cries unto the LORD.]
15 I will sacrifice fat animals to you
and an offering of rams;
I will offer bulls and goats.
[{In those days} The psalmist said he would sacrifice fat animals to Him, offering of rams, bulls, and goats. {In our days, our offering takes different forms, no more of animal sacrifices, but will surely include sacrifices of praise and worship, and other resources, like of our time and wealth even, for His use.}]
16 Come and listen, all you who fear God;
let me tell you what he has done for me.
[Is the psalmist turning personal here, personal in a way to refer to his particular affliction? I believe not; even in the rest of the psalm, he made no mention of any separate personal affliction.

But in verses 9-12 above, he spoke of a corporate affliction and the deliverance thereof. So, what was he trying to say by verse 16? I believe he was saying, in relation to the corporate affliction (of course, he was part of that corporate body, the people of God, the Jews then), how he took up the issue before the LORD, and how the LORD had dealt with him, in relation to his cries. In short, God had listened to his cries, and had answered his prayer {within his expectation}.

So, the psalmist was saying to come and listen, all who feared God, i.e. who held God in reverence awe; how it happened, what God had done in relation to his burden for the people of God.]
17 I cried out to him with my mouth;
his praise was on my tongue.
[The psalmist said he cried out to God with his mouth; he praised God with his tongue; now this was despite the psalmist’s affliction, as one in the corporate affliction {we are to praise God, even in our afflictions}]
18 If I had cherished sin in my heart,
the Lord would not have listened;
[The psalmist revealed here a little secret to having God to listen to our cries. It is not that God does not hear us; God always hear the cries of His people (Ex 3:7, Ps 116:1-2). Yet listening is more than just mere hearing. Now, in this verse 18, the “listen” or “hear” as in some other versions of the Bible, was translated from Shama (H8085); and when we look at the Lexicon for meanings under Shama, we find various shades of meanings, from “mere perceiving by ear” {weak Shama} to, “to listen to consent or grant request” {strong Shama}, and to the strongest word, “to obey” {strongest Shama}. I believe this NIV translation here is appropriate, using “listen” instead of “hear”

Listening carries the connotation of hearing with a posture to try to agree; it also speaks of attentiveness, whereas hearing is just a perceiving by ear. E.g. Did you hear the doorbell? We do not say did you listen the doorbell? We say when the wife speaks, the husband listens, and we do not say, when the wife speaks, the husband hears.

The psalmist said if he had cherished sin in his heart, or he had been unrighteous in his ways, the LORD would not have listened {strong Shama}. If we do not want God to just hear {weak Shama} us, but also to listen {strong Shama} to us, keep our heart pure, do not cherish sin in our heart, do not engage in unrighteousness. It is not a matter of meriting God’s favor; rather it is when we are in agreement with the righteousness of God, our situation would draw the hand of God to help. This is true for prayers for ourselves as well as for others.]
19 but God has surely listened
and heard my voice in prayer.
[And so, the psalmist, without cherishing sin in his heart, declared that God had surely listened and heard his voice in prayer {and had acted to give the result stated in verse 12, the people of God being brought to a place of abundance}.]
20 Praise be to God,
who has not rejected my prayer
or withheld his love from me!
[The psalmist, I believe, was not just exhorting others, but also his own very soul, to praise God, for God had not rejected his prayer or withheld His love from him.]

Points to learn:

Do you think that for a corporate affliction like that mentioned in verses 9-11, only the psalmist was praying; no others were praying for the nation? Obviously, not. There is something to learn here, both of what our minimal part should be, of corporate matters (matters of the body of Christ), and the attitude thereof: We are to be like the psalmist, pray, cry, and intercede for corporate matters affecting a body, especially we are associated with that particular body, in one way or another. Be in the right posture when we pray and intercede, as taught here in verses 17-20; particularly, do not cherish sin in our hearts, and that means that we are to live rightly (right living, or live righteously).

{Added 24/11/2010: I do not believe that just because this psalm or any other psalm, is of the Old Testament collection, it is not applicable to us because the psalmist was not born-again, and therefore, was not in like state as us, believers, who have been born-again.

The undeniable truth is that God said in His Word that He is the same, yesterday, today, and forevermore; and so, it cannot be that God objected to his children cherishing sins in their hearts in the Old Testament time, and now, under the New Testament time, it is fine if believers cherish sins in their hearts.

The psalmist clearly spoke about the onus being on us, and this remains unchanged, regardless of us, New Testament believers, having entered into salvation by grace. Well, I cannot accept the teaching by some overly grace teachers suggesting that regardless of our sins, our continual sins or our harboring or cherishing sins, when God sees us, He sees only His Son who is completely righteous, not us, and arguing from there, there was no need of asking God for forgiveness for our sins, and accordingly too, such sins or cherishing of sins do not hinder God’s listening to our prayer. If you are one subscribing to such skewed grace theology, I am sorry this does not appeal to you, but for those who are not, let me repeat, herein is an important secret to the posture of prayer and intercession – cherish not sin in your heart.}

Verse 20 is, from my experience, that which will give us immense assurance that we are not just objects, but beings, whom God cares to give ear to, and listened to, and to me, that is an expression of love, of God’s love for us, individually.

Anthony Chia - An enemy hears you not; a strange can hear you; but a lover listens. Today intercede, and experience God’s love for you.

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Monday, December 13, 2010

Keeping Christmas

I am not much of a story-teller, yet here I believe is a good little story given by the Lord, when I thought of how I could encourage and edify Ms Liz Mah, a Christian sister in Malaysia, afflicted with stage 4 lung cancer. When it seemed like everything around her had collapsed in June 2009, this sister experienced a special touch from the Lord. Not that she was healed of her cancer, but she experienced the love and forgiveness of the Lord, and that touch has transformed her perspective of the Lord, and so she has re-started an earnest journey with the Lord, even as she is still in her affliction, trusting the Lord to sustain her, even as she perseveres and anticipates the healing touch from the Lord.

A special touch from the Lord always transforms. It is my belief, because the Lord have “spoken” to me, of my church (the church I attend), in the renewed life of sister Liz Mah, and in my own renewed life, that in God’s transformation touch, often, there is the laying hold of the perspective that we are to serve our Lord even as we are not “completely fine”. I have seen it in my own Senior Pastor’s life, and recently a young but mighty servant of the Lord, Philip Mantofa, of Indonesia, has shared that in his 30,000 strength church, sick people, and people in afflictions, serve to pray for the sick and others in afflictions, even when their own conditions are not yet healed and resolved by the Lord. It is not a matter of working for our salvation (sozo), but it is a matter of embracing the understanding that love and faithfulness always go before the Lord (Ps 89:14b), and we are the extensions of the Lord that spread out that love and faithfulness even as we herald his coming into all spheres of life of our fellow men. He is holiness, righteousness, and justice, this He cannot compromise (Ps 89:14a) (because it is His very nature; very important to lay hold of this, too), yet He desires to come and move in love and faithfulness towards the pinnacle of His creation, Man.

We, Christians, are God’s heralds, and as heralds of such a king, we are to be the aroma of His fragrance of love and faithfulness; and we can be, in big and small ways, in great endowment or little giving, in giant act of kindness or little gesture of love, in giving a great sermon or a little and timely word of encouragement, in giving great and earth-shaking prophecy or just a little word of knowledge, in travailing intercession or a little prayer, in serving as a minister or a heart-warming usher, in praying for the sick or just giving out a word that bless another (even more), and in giving advice in great wisdom or just identifying and staying with one in affliction.

My own affliction, I have not shared, it is still perhaps, not the time yet, but I see a pattern of the Lord at work, and I can see that pattern in my own renewed life, and I can see it in Liz Mah’s transformation. As I have said, we are not working for our salvation (sozo), yet God’s grace has been seen to be extended to those embracing the kind of heralding for our King as I have just mentioned. In Pastor’s Philip Mantofa’s church, it is not uncommon for the sick “healers” themselves being healed by the Lord as they were praying for others who were afflicted. We actually do not need to have a person healed by the Lord before he could pray for another to be healed (although we can do that, to “pass on the healing”), a sick can pray for another sick, for it is the Lord who heals, not man, not the sick man or the healed man, but the Lord, solely.

As usual, I rattle on too much; here is the story, and the relevant part of the content of the email I sent to Liz:

Keeping Christmas {Liz, wrote an article on her blog, and this is the title}

ROMANS, xiv, 6: He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord....

Liz, a beautiful sermon, and a good extract too {Those interested to read Liz’s article, can click on the “Keeping Christmas” above}. I believe as long as we bear in mind and honor Him in regard to His holiness and righteousness, when we regardeth a thing, a day or a thought, and do it as regarding it unto the Lord, it is likely that it pleases the Lord.

Here is a story of 3 men (friends) stopping at the bucket of the Salvation Army, commonly put up at this time of the year, Christmas Season. The first man, thinking about how blessed he is, to have his little boy healed of his prolonged cough, just in time for this year's Christmas caroling, drops a $10.00 into the bucket. In his heart, as he drops that off, he utters to the Lord, "I thank you for my boy, and for your healing for his cough. Use this to bless a child. Amen."

The second man, a rich man, saw what his friend, the first man, did, and he whips out his Gucci wallet, and drops off a $1,000.00 note into the bucket, thinking in his heart, "Now, my 2 friends can see how generous I am."

The third man, on seeing the rich man just dropped off that $1,000.00 note, says a prayer in his heart, "Lord, you have seen me and my family through these past months, and I am very thankful. I have barely enough to last the family for the remaining days of this year, yet Lord, take this $2.00, and multiply it.” As he is about to drop the $2.00 note into the slot of the bucket, a gush of wind comes, and the note flies off his hand. It lands in front of a gentleman, and when the man picks up the note, it flies off his hand, and it lands in front a lady, and she does the same, and the note again flies off her hand, and it lands in the midst of a bunch of school kids chaperoned by a teacher.

The teacher says to the kids that they have to return the $2.00 to the lady (they thought the note belongs to the lady), and they go over to the lady, but the lady says that the note flew off the hand of the gentleman a short distance away, and they all go over to the gentleman. The gentleman tells them that the note came from the man standing at the Salvation Army bucket, and they all go over to that third man.

The man puts the $2.00 note into the bucket in full view of everybody. The kids decide to give as well, and every of the 20 kids, pushes in a $2.00 note into the slot of the bucket. The gentleman puts in a $100.00 note, the lady, a $50.00 note, the teacher, $10.00 note. The crowd around the bucket attracted many other onlookers, and they too give, some $2.00, some $10.00, a few, $100.00. There was even a rich lady who pushes in another $1,000.00 note. The third man kneels on the pavement, and thanks the Lord.

The first and the third men regardeth their giving to the Lord, and that pleases the Lord, but not the rich man with the Gucci wallet, although he gave the most. He did not regardeth it unto the Lord. The third man's sacrificial giving, even though it was a mere $2.00 note, pleased the Lord to answer his prayer, and multiplied it many folds. It is not how much, it is whether or not, it is regardeth unto the Lord. It is not how much, it is whether or not, it costs us anything. May we all keep this beautiful story from the Lord, in mind, as we keep this Christmas.

I have left out other parts of the email to Liz, but here is my prayer for her. If you are already serving the Lord in some little way, even in some intermittent but consistent fashion, or have now decided to do so, or be more consistent and intentional in those good things that you are already doing, may this prayer be appropriated into your life even as you read it:

May the Lord bless you and keep you, and your family, as you regardeth all to Him.
May He heal you as you persevere in Him.
May He renew your mind to receive His Lordship wholeheartedly and unwaveringly.
May He flood you with the peace and joy of His Spirit.
May He keep you in all righteousness.
May He be ever faithful to you.
May He lead you all the way,
Even as you are determined to follow Him all the way.

Lord, such is my prayer for sister Liz Mah, {and NOW also for those who have set their hearts to be the true heralds of you, the Almighty King, the Holy God, and yet, is the God of love}. Amen.

I have been following Ms Liz Mah’s blog entries for many months now. I used to leave some comments on her blog, but her site no longer allowed for comments (as unkind souls had abused, by sending offensive stuff), and I have been communicating with her via emails. Her blog link is this: Liz’s adventure. I am not related to Liz (she is married and have 2 kids), but I would be glad if you could keep Liz in prayers, even if it is for a period of time. Liz is expected back to work (employment) in Jan 2011. Pray for this aspect as well, as she prepares herself to confront that added challenge.

Lastly, blessed Christmas to one and all, and a Happy New Year, too.

Anthony Chia – Lord, you have sent us into the world. Sanctify us {set us apart for your sacred use} by the truth; your word is truth (John 17:17-18). Amen.

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Sunday, December 5, 2010

Judges series - Judges 18 - State of disregard, of things of the LORD

The way to read this article is that the orange underlined texts are the verses of the Bible (NIV, unless otherwise stated). The black texts following the Bible verses (and enclosed by square brackets) are my commentaries. At the end of these Bible texts and commentaries, I have inserted a section on "Points to take note/What we have learnt/can learn".
{For full listing of all articles in this series, click here}

Judges 18

Danites Settle in Laish

1 In those days Israel had no king.
And in those days the tribe of the Danites was seeking a place of their own where they might settle, because they had not yet come into an inheritance among the tribes of Israel. 2 So the Danites sent five warriors from Zorah and Eshtaol to spy out the land and explore it. These men represented all their clans. They told them, "Go, explore the land."
The men entered the hill country of Ephraim and came to the house of Micah, where they spent the night. 3 When they were near Micah's house, they recognized the voice of the young Levite; so they turned in there and asked him, "Who brought you here? What are you doing in this place? Why are you here?"
4 He told them what Micah had done for him, and said, "He has hired me and I am his priest."
[This is a continuation of the story started in Judges 17. Here the Dan tribe was introduced. From what was said, the time period was not late into the Judges period because the Dan tribe had not been given their territorial land allocation (Some believed that by this time they could have fought the local Amorites who proved too strong for them {Judges 1:34}). The Danites were still scouting for good land to occupy in the Promised Land, and had sent out 5 warriors to spy out the land. The men came to Micah’s house and the Levite priest told them how he became a priest for Micah {given in chapter 17}.]
5 Then they said to him, "Please inquire of God to learn whether our journey will be successful."
6 The priest answered them, "Go in peace. Your journey has the LORD's approval."
[The 5 men asked the Levite priest to inquire of God about their journey, and the Levite reported back that their journey had God’s approval.]
7 So the five men left and came to Laish, where they saw that the people were living in safety, like the Sidonians, unsuspecting and secure. And since their land lacked nothing, they were prosperous. Also, they lived a long way from the Sidonians and had no relationship with anyone else.
8 When they returned to Zorah and Eshtaol, their brothers asked them, "How did you find things?"
9 They answered, "Come on, let's attack them! We have seen that the land is very good. Aren't you going to do something? Don't hesitate to go there and take it over. 10 When you get there, you will find an unsuspecting people and a spacious land that God has put into your hands, a land that lacks nothing whatever."
11 Then six hundred men from the clan of the Danites, armed for battle, set out from Zorah and Eshtaol. 12 On their way they set up camp near Kiriath Jearim in Judah. This is why the place west of Kiriath Jearim is called Mahaneh Dan to this day. 13 From there they went on to the hill country of Ephraim and came to Micah's house.
[The 5 men left the Levite, and came to a city called Laish, a very good land, lacked nothing and without “link” to other inhabitants of the lands – ideal for take-over. 600 men were sent, and these men again reached Micah’s house.]
14 Then the five men who had spied out the land of Laish said to their brothers, "Do you know that one of these houses has an ephod, other household gods, a carved image and a cast idol? Now you know what to do." 15 So they turned in there and went to the house of the young Levite at Micah's place and greeted him. 16 The six hundred Danites, armed for battle, stood at the entrance to the gate. 17 The five men who had spied out the land went inside and took the carved image, the ephod, the other household gods and the cast idol while the priest and the six hundred armed men stood at the entrance to the gate.
18 When these men went into Micah's house and took the carved image, the ephod, the other household gods and the cast idol, the priest said to them, "What are you doing?"
19 They answered him, "Be quiet! Don't say a word. Come with us, and be our father and priest. Isn't it better that you serve a tribe and clan in Israel as priest rather than just one man's household?" 20 Then the priest was glad. He took the ephod, the other household gods and the carved image and went along with the people. 21 Putting their little children, their livestock and their possessions in front of them, they turned away and left.
[One can’t help but remark this, “Like that also can, meh!”. The Danites thought nothing about plucking out “the house of the LORD” from Micah, complete with the Levite priest, and the Levite priest also played along since he was glad to hear that he would made be the priest for the Dan tribe.]
22 When they had gone some distance from Micah's house, the men who lived near Micah were called together and overtook the Danites. 23 As they shouted after them, the Danites turned and said to Micah, "What's the matter with you that you called out your men to fight?"
24 He replied, "You took the gods I made, and my priest, and went away. What else do I have? How can you ask, 'What's the matter with you?' "
25 The Danites answered, "Don't argue with us, or some hot-tempered men will attack you, and you and your family will lose your lives." 26 So the Danites went their way, and Micah, seeing that they were too strong for him, turned around and went back home.
[Micah got some neighbors and gave chase but eventually came back empty-handed, because the Danites were too strong for him to fight.]
27 Then they took what Micah had made, and his priest, and went on to Laish, against a peaceful and unsuspecting people. They attacked them with the sword and burned down their city. 28 There was no one to rescue them because they lived a long way from Sidon and had no relationship with anyone else. The city was in a valley near Beth Rehob. The Danites rebuilt the city and settled there. 29 They named it Dan after their forefather Dan, who was born to Israel—though the city used to be called Laish. [The Danite men, together with the Levite priest went on to Laish, attacked it and burned it to the ground, rebuilt it, and renamed it as Dan.]
30 There the Danites set up for themselves the idols, and Jonathan son of Gershom, the son of Moses, and his sons were priests for the tribe of Dan until the time of the captivity of the land. 31 They continued to use the idols Micah had made, all the time the house of God was in Shiloh. [At this city, the Danites set up their own house of the LORD, complete with the idols from Micah’s house. According to verse 30 here, Jonathan, the grandson of Moses became the priest for them, and Jonathan’s sons did the same.
The state of affair was really bad, the grandchildren of Moses ministering here using the idols Micah made when The House of the LORD was in Shiloh, The Levitical City of the Israelites, then. Again, this showed the complacency and the lack of governance of the Levi tribe – a mockery to God.]

What we can learn here:

This is a continuation from chapter 17, and it continued to show the level of spiritual complacency and lack of governance during the Judges period, which was the period following the death of a strong leader, Joshua who took over the leadership baton from Moses. The story again showed idolatry, complacency, and presumptuousness, even lack of governance. For completeness, I repeat the matters which we should take note of (leaving out curses which was confined to chapter 17 verses 1 & 2):

1. All forms of idolatry are unacceptable, and are detestable to God

2. Spiritual adultery, even the slightest, is not acceptable to God. We are to have the LORD as the only God, He and He alone shall we worship and turn to. We cannot have another god, beside Him.

3. We are not to be complacent with the things of the LORD, and this includes His ways, His Words, which include His instructions, laws, commands, and precepts, and sensitivity to His Holy Spirit.

4. We are also to be careful that we do not act presumptuously.

5. To avoid the pitfalls of ignorance, complacency, presumptuousness, we must make an effort to be diligent in the things of the LORD.

6. It is our responsibility to ensure our spiritual heritage gets passed down the generations.

Anthony Chia – Lord, I pray that more and more of your children would take an interest in safeguarding the legacy of your truths, in the light of rampant mis-interpretations of your core scriptures in the Word. Amen.

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Sunday, November 28, 2010

Psalm 62 - God and only God matters

Preamble: My original intention was to put up my exposition of “Ps 66 – Intercede, but cherish not sin in your heart”, which I have done some time back, because my previous article, “Intercede for others, and you’ll be blessed too”, has continued to find readers. But last week, I felt led, to do up the exposition of Ps 62, which I thought I will put up, perhaps, several weeks later, (again) but this morning, when I read the blog entry of a cancer-stricken lady (Liz Mah), in Malaysia, and the email of Rusty Russell, USA, on him being stricken by some strange “disease”, I have decided to put this up, ahead of Ps 66 -Intercede, but cherish not sin in your heart {title, mine}.

There are 3 reasons for this swap:

1. I hope that Ps 62 would encourage both Liz Mah and Rusty Russell to hold on to the position, “God and only God matters”.

2. As the titles of the intercession articles suggested, I hope that fellow believers would pray and intercede for both Rusty Russell (many of my readers, from FGBMF, should know him (and you can know about the great works and sacrifices of this man of God, at his website, http://rustyrussellsblog.com/), and sister Liz Mah (I have no relation to Liz, except that, for several months now, I have, I believed, been led to encourage her on her journey with the Lord even as she was afflicted in life. You can know more about her from her blog site, http://lizadventure.blogspot.com/.

3. I want to encourage both Rusty Russell and Liz Mah to continue to pray and intercede for others even as they are still bearing the weight of their own afflictions.

Recently, I have my belief in a particular way of God confirmed by a young but powerful man, Philip Mantofa, of God from Indonesia { http://en-gb.facebook.com/ps.philip.mantofa}, and that way of God is that, we are to pray and intercede for others (and even, to serve) even when we are in affliction ourselves (my own testimony also bears witness to it). When we take up the causes of others, when we focus on securing God’s aid for others, be it through prayer and intercession or service, Jesus prays and intercedes for us, in Heaven, before the Father God. I am not saying that we should not pray for ourselves, but perhaps, in the ways of God, there is a dimension of Jesus interceding, additionally, for those who have placed the interests of others ahead of their own. Isn’t it wonderful to know that even as we are busying praying and interceding for others, Jesus takes up our cause and prays and intercedes before the Father God in Heaven (Rom 8:34). The Bible said the prayer of righteous one avails much (James 5:16). Jesus passes that righteousness with a full 100%. Don’t you like Him to intercede for you?

For testimonial evidence of such is a way of God, those who read my previous article, “Intercede for others, and you’ll be blessed too”, I related that I was healed when I interceded for the Haiti disaster. I have also shared, as encouragement, in my church, that when I served as a lay Altar Minister, and still avail myself to pray for the sick, when I was in pain myself, the Lord healed me, and caused my pain to leave me. Pastor Philip Mantofa had shared that he too, had experienced God’s healing of his body of weird affliction, when he interceded for a member of his congregation of the same weird affliction. He said he was healed of his affliction when he did not even know if the member of the congregation was healed or not.

Of course, I am not saying that we work for salvation (sozo), but when we love God (often times, many of us do not know how to love God, according to his definitions) by aligning ourselves to His Word and ways, we attract or draw out His grace and mercy. Please, do not habour in your heart that because you pray for the sick, and they got healed, then Jesus must intercede, and you must be healed; that is not what I am saying, nor is it the right attitude of the heart. The right attitude, and I am not saying I have arrived, is that we place God’s interests and the interests of others, ahead of ours, in love, fulfilling the twin pillars of love that enveloped all laws and commandments.]

The way to read this article is that the orange underlined texts are the verses of the Bible (NIV, unless otherwise stated). The black texts following the Bible verses (and enclosed by square brackets) are my commentaries. At the end of these Bible texts and commentaries, I have inserted a section on "Points to take note/What we have learnt/can learn".

Psalm 62 - God and only God matters {title, mine}

For the director of music. For Jeduthun. A psalm of David.

1 My soul finds rest in God alone;
my salvation comes from him.
2 He alone is my rock and my salvation;
he is my fortress, I will never be shaken.
[David started out this psalm by saying to God his position, his stand, his belief system, his faith.

David stated that his soul found rest in God alone; his salvation came from Him. God alone was his rock and his salvation; He was his fortress, and He, David would never be shaken knowing that. {I prefer this 1984 edition of the NIV over the latest 2010 version, for the 2010 version had no “alone” in either of the verses. The KJV or NKJV both have at least an “alone” in one of the 2 verses. This, in my view, is important, and must NOT be omitted}

There are 2 important points to note: One, David’s understanding that his soul would find rest in God, and God was his rock, his salvation, and fortress; and two, such rest could only be found in God ALONE, not in anything else or, in God together with something else; and God ALONE, and no others, was his rock, his salvation, and his fortress. The “ALONE” point is very important, we cannot try to find rest for our soul in God and something else, it must be purely and solely in God. David experience was that there were no others or no other things. That was how he could weathered through the repeated attempts by King Saul whom he served with great loyalty, and the rebellion of his son, Absalom, snatching his throne at Jerusalem. Only one could not fail David, and us, too, and that was and is God; everything else could and can fail. If we want to be able to say that we will NEVER be shaken, then our reliance must be solely on and in God, no one else, nothing else.]
3 How long will you assault a man?
Would all of you throw him down—
this leaning wall, this tottering fence?
4 They fully intend to topple him
from his lofty place;
they take delight in lies.
With their mouths they bless,
but in their hearts they curse. Selah
[David then told God what was bothering him.

David had enemies, and he was telling the LORD that his enemies kept on assaulting him. His enemies had wanted to throw him down the moment there was weakness in his position, like throwing him down a (city) wall or fence that was weakened or was shaky {In those days, city were fortified with walls, and people stood/moved about on the top of those walls}. His enemies fully intended to topple him from his elevated position (his elevation was by the LORD). David said these people who were after his blood delighted in lies. They pretended to bless, but in their hearts they cursed. These were wicked people.]
5 Find rest, O my soul, in God alone;
my hope comes from him.
6 He alone is my rock and my salvation;
he is my fortress, I will not be shaken.
7 My salvation and my honor depend on God;
he is my mighty rock, my refuge.
[David repeated his faith in God again, but this time he was even speaking to his soul {stir himself to hold on to the right position that he first was able to assume}.

The spoken words are powerful, and meditations of the heart, even more so, and David knew both. That was why he cared to say in the earlier verse that his enemies lied, and they blessed, but in their hearts they cursed. So, David wanted to speak to his own soul, so that his soul and heart would be firmly established in who God was.

David told his soul to find rest in God alone, saying that his hope would come from God. God alone was and would be his rock, and salvation; God was and would be his fortress, and he would not be shaken. In verse 7, David repeated again that God was his salvation; and his honor, his high position depended on God. God was his mighty rock, his refuge.

I believe that David at this time was already king, and was enthroned in Jerusalem, yet even in his high position, he still had enemies, and had included those outwardly looked friendly, but were scheming against David, even to want him to fall.]
8 Trust in him at all times, O people;
pour out your hearts to him,
for God is our refuge. Selah
[Such psalms, like this one here, were recited before the LORD. In 1 Ch 16, after David successfully brought the ark of God into the City of David, he had instituted spontaneous exaltation before the LORD, including spontaneous praises, psalming, and worshiping with joyful sounds, at the tent (some called it the Tabernacle of Praise) which he had put up for housing the ark of God. Such a psalm was also to edify and build up others, when recited.

In verse 8 here, and in the subsequent few verses, we read of David, after encouraging himself, tried to edify others by calling his people to trust in God at all times, to pour their hearts out to God, for God was their refuge, too.]
9 Lowborn men are but a breath,
the highborn are but a lie;
if weighed on a balance, they are nothing;
together they are only a breath.
[David said that men, whether lowly men (or lowborn men) and lofty men (or highborn men), they were the same on God’s scale, they were nothing but only a breath. Indeed, Man was nothing but dust with a breath, and our very breath was and is from God; He gives us our every breath each day. We have believed a lie if we think that just because we are highborn, or in high or lofty position, we are special; men are all the same, completely dependent on the grace and mercy of God.]
10 Do not trust in extortion
or take pride in stolen goods;
though your riches increase,
do not set your heart on them.
[Because of his status as a king, and so, his contacts with the highborn, David continued to speak what he had observed of these people’s characters which he felt were not right, and these people ought to reconsider their belief system.

David advised not to trust in extortion or to take pride in stolen goods. The people who extorted, were the highborn, and the “powerful” people. Stolen goods here probably carried a broader meaning to include every form of ill-gotten goods, including those through abuses, including of power, etc, etc. Here is sound advice from David, “though your riches increase, do not set your heart on them”. Our every breath, life, could be demanded of us, at any time, whatever riches we amassed cannot save us. Our salvation and our hope have to be in God alone, and no other, animate or inanimate.]
11 One thing God has spoken,
two things have I heard:
that you, O God, are strong,
12 and that you, O Lord, are loving.
Surely you will reward each person
according to what he has done.
[Speaking from experience, David ended by speaking about the character and ways of God.

Such beautiful depiction of the character of God: One thing God has spoken, two things have I heard – that you, O God, are strong, and that you, O Lord, are loving. What is meant here was that when God speaks, we can be sure that we hear in it, God is almighty, powerful and strong, and we can hear in it, God loves us. God is El Shaddai yet He is loving towards us. (It must be understood that in those days, the spoken words, especially through the prophets were the most frequent way of interaction/communication between God and Man. That was why that which proceeded from the mouth of God was being referred to.)

Verse 12b, was the observation of David, and I believe that David, as a man said by God to be after His own heart, this observation could not be wrong, that God would reward each person according to what he has done.

In Jer 17:10, the same thing was said, and in that prophecy of Jeremiah, the LORD Himself said it - “I the LORD search the heart and examine the mind, to reward a man according to his conduct, according to what his deeds deserve.”]

What we can learn here:

1. It is perfectly fine for us to tell God how we regard Him. It is nonsensical to say that God knows everything, and so we should not even need to say that. Sure, God knows everything, but it still does not mean that we do not tell things that God already know. If it were so, why bothered to talk to God at all since He already know everything. However, one needs to be truthful though, we cannot deceive God; we cannot say one thing and in our heart it is a different thing. The Holy Spirit of God searches and knows the hearts of men (1 Ch 28:9). What is the significance of doing this? What we have is a relationship with God, and so, for a relationship, we tell the other party such matters. When we do that, it goes to show that we place importance to the relationship, and importance to the other party, in this case, God.

2. It is not only fine, it is necessary for us to reinforce our faith and belief by speaking to ourselves, to our own souls, so that we would be reminded, and continue to hold on to positions which we first were able to assume. For example, in psalm 42:5-6a (or 43:5 {In many Hebrew manuscripts Ps 42 & 43 constituted one psalm}), we read this:

Why are you downcast, O my soul?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
for I will yet praise him,
my Savior and my God.

Remember now, that our spoken words and the meditations of our heart are very crucial for us to assume a firm position concerning the matters of the faith. Do them both, speak to ourselves, and meditate on God’s words.

3. Many psalms have a petition element, and this one is no exception, and if we are to petition, we are to say what our problem is, or what is bothering us. Again, do not say God knows, and so, I will say nothing. If it were the case, why pray to, or talk with, or psalm to God, at all! My personal belief is that you can be long-winded or short-winded, it does not really matter. God is able to take it all, and if He is annoyed He will let you know. Just avoid vain repetitions. In the moment, if He asks that you cut-short, you cut-short, otherwise, shoot away. Verses 3 & 4 above were where David told God what was bothering him.

4. In the intended edification by David, we should note the followings:

a. What he recommended was what he subscribed to. In Verse 8, he recommended trusting in God alone, to cry out to God, and take refuge in Him; all of these were what he was subscribing to, as can be seen from the verses prior to verse 8.

b. Concerning verse 9, regardless of our high or low position, we can only take pride in one position, and that is the position of God’s grace and mercy. In James 1:9-12, the apostle James taught about this. Those interested can read my exposition of the James’ text from this separate article of mine, “Trials and Temptations (James 1:2-18)”.

c. We are all being tested in our Christian walk. The lowborn men will be tested too, yet Scripture had much to say to the highborn men or men in high positions, the rich and the powerful. In a very real sense, pride and money are the biggest stumbling blocks for men. Actually, the same James 1:9-12 passage talked about the trials of the rich and those in high position. David, in verse 10, reminded 2 things: one, do not misuse high position, and be found to engage in extortion, and derive ill-gotten gains through those positions; such are not only dishonest, it is oppressive, and oppression is always detested by God. Two, though one’s riches increase, he is not to set his heart on them, for if he holds money too tightly to his chest or loves money, he will find problem loving God, and serving Him.

d. The character of God; David pointed out 2 important attributes of God, He is almighty, none can match Him, and He is loving (it does not mean God does not punish). These 2 attributes, David said, could always be noted in God’s words, meaning we can see these attributes in them. We better believe that (the character of God), if we are to stand firm on “God and only God matters”.

e. The ways of God; David believed that God would reward each according to what he has done. This is not necessarily be referring to Man's perspective of "good works" as such, like doing a philanthropic act of donating $100K to a university endowment fund, but at the least, should include such matters of whether or not, what we do is in agreement with the very foundation of His throne. Ps 89:14 gives us “the foundation of His throne as justice and righteousness”. In Micah 6:8b, we read this: “And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God”. Will we NOT receive mercy when we show mercy? Surely, the Lord may reward us with mercy, for Matt 5:7 said this: “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy”. If we stubbornly remain wicked, what do we think is our reward? Prov 10:16 said this: “The wages of the righteous bring them life, but the income of the wicked brings them punishment”. 1 Pet 3:12 - For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” Revelation 2:23b has this: Then all the churches will know that I am He who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds.

Anthony Chia, high.expressions – Lord, may I subscribe to what I write here. May I constantly speak your ways and truths to my soul, and meditate upon them, that I may be firmly established in my knowing you, and will NOT waiver in my position that “God and only God matters”.

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Sunday, November 21, 2010

Judges series - Judges 17 (Micah, his mother & Levite)

The way to read this article is that the orange underlined texts are the verses of the Bible (NIV, unless otherwise stated). The black texts following the Bible verses (and enclosed by square brackets) are my commentaries. At the end of these Bible texts and commentaries, I have inserted a section on "Points to take note/What we have learnt/can learn".
{For full listing of all articles in this series, click here}

Judges 17

[Preamble: This and the other narratives that follow in subsequent articles(Judges 18-21) form a miscellaneous collection, or appendix to the Book of Judges. It belongs to a period when the Hebrew nation was in a greatly disordered and corrupt state. This story here (Judges 17) speaks not of any judge, but only serves to illustrate the great disorder, even disorder in the matter of proper administration of priestly matters or acts of worship or devotions unto the Lord.

Those who had gone into the Book of Ezekiel, would know that even a few hundred years later, when the judges period was over, many kings had passed on, and the Hebrews were exiled, the northern kingdom people, to territories of the Assyrians, and the southern kingdom (Judah) people, to Babylon, God still spoke to prophet Ezekiel about His displeasure at the Levites, saying that only the Zadokites (of the Levites) were faithful to the ways of God.]

1 Now a man named Micah from the hill country of Ephraim 2 said to his mother, "The eleven hundred shekels of silver that were taken from you and about which I heard you utter a curse—I have that silver with me; I took it."
Then his mother said, "The LORD bless you, my son!"
[Here, a man by the name of Micah, and living in the Ephraim country, told his mother that he had taken her 13 kg of silver, after hearing his mother uttered a curse on discovering the loss of her silver.

The verses speak of the readiness of people at that time to curse others. No one is to curse another unless the curse is instituted according to the Word of God. Curses instituted according to the Word of God are curses sanctioned by God. Any others are not, and cannot be given. Curses are a grave matter; that was why the Word of God had it recorded for us that one of the specific powers of the Cross of Jesus Christ, is the power to nullify curses. Jesus became the curse that we might be released from any curses made on our lives. Before God sent Abraham out to the Canaan land to populate the earth, he said this to Abraham:

I will bless those who bless you,
and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
will be blessed through you." (Gen 12:3)

Just on the account of this, we can see that people of God cannot curse another. We who are believers are children of Abraham by faith (Gal 3:7). Because we are created in the image of God, our words have powers. Curses have powers in them. Bless people, do not curse. It is wicked to curse another, and wickedness is detestable to God.

If the account of Abraham was a little too far off, consider the account of the Balaam and the talking donkey. This account probably happened towards the end of the 40 years of wandering in desert. The Israelites had again come near the Jordan, and they had already defeated Sihon, king of the Amorites, and Og, king of Bashan. The Moabites (descendants from one of the sons of Lot, Abraham’s nephew) who also lived in the plains of Jordan got frightened. The Moab prince, Balak, went to consult Balaam, a prophet who had gone astray, who was believed to be an Ammonite (Ammonites, were also in the plains, they were the descendants from the other son of Lot).

Some said Balaam was a wicked man and a non-Israelite. The latter was true, he was not a Israelite since he descended from Lot, who though came from the same bloodline as Abraham, both were the descendants of Shem, one of the 3 sons of Noah; was separated from Abraham after the destruction of Sodom (and Gomorrah). An Israelite is a descendant of Israel (aka Jacob), son of Issac, son of Abraham. Since Lot was not directly descended from Abraham, Lot’s descendants were not Israelites.

The account of Balaam and the talking donkey revealed that Balaam knew the LORD and the LORD knew him, which was not surprising because he was an Ammonite, descendant of Lot. The LORD, on pleading by Abraham (Gen 19), spared Lot and his two daughters (Lot’s wife turned back and was turned into a pillar of salt). Many years after that, when the Israelites came out of Egypt and first came to plains of Jordan again, God told the Israelites to only pass through, and not to take, the lands of the Moabites and Ammonites because He said those lands were given to Lot and his descendants. The favor of God was evidently on the bloodline of Shem, one of the 3 sons of Noah; and in those early days, extended down to Lot.

So much for the little background on Balaam, but what did he has to do with curses? You see, Balak, the Moab prince, because of his fear of the Israelites, sent for Balaam to curse the Israelites. Balaam, on his way to Balak, on his donkey, had his donkey refusing to obey him, and turned 3 times. After the 3rd time, the donkey spoke to Balaam, the donkey was mad that her master had beaten her when what she did, was to avoid the angel of the LORD who had stood in front of the donkey with a drawn sword, for those 3 times. Finally, the angel of the LORD opened the eyes of Balaam to see him, the angel of the LORD, and the latter told him that, had the donkey not turned, Balaam would have been killed by him. To cut the story short, Balaam gave a number of oracles on the occasions he was supposed to curse the Israelites; oracles according to the words of the angel of the LORD (instead of curses). In his first oracle, he included,

How can I curse
those whom God has not cursed?
How can I denounce
those whom the LORD has not denounced? (Num 23:8)

In his second oracle, obviously referencing Gen 12:3 (given above) he included,

God is not a man, that he should lie,
nor a son of man, that he should change his mind.
Does he speak and then not act?
Does he promise and not fulfill? (Num 23:19)

In the third oracle, he included,

Like a lion they crouch and lie down,
like a lioness—who dares to rouse them?
"May those who bless you be blessed
and those who curse you be cursed!" (Num 24:9)

So, don’t curse, only bless.]
3 When he returned the eleven hundred shekels of silver to his mother, she said, "I solemnly consecrate my silver to the LORD for my son to make a carved image and a cast idol. I will give it back to you."
4 So he returned the silver to his mother, and she took two hundred shekels of silver and gave them to a silversmith, who made them into the image and the idol. And they were put in Micah's house.
[In those days, people just did what they thought was the “proper” thing to do without regard to the commandments of God. Of course, one of the 10 Commandments of God said that people were not to set up carved images or cast idols. Furthermore, Moses instituted a number of curses, called the Curses of Mount Ebal, recited over the Israelites by the Levites from Mount Ebal, just before the Israelites crossed the Jordan River to the Promised Land. Moses, because he was not crossing over with the Israelites, because God had not permitted him to enter the Promised Land (Those who want to know why God did not allow Moses to enter, see my article, “Do you know why Moses did not enter the Promised Land?”), specifically instructed the Israelites not to forget the commandments of God after they crossed over, and instituted the curses mentioned. They can be read from Deu 27:14-26. The relevant curse is quoted below:

"Cursed is the man who carves an image or casts an idol—a thing detestable to the LORD, the work of the craftsman's hands—and sets it up in secret." Then all the people shall say, "Amen!" (Deu 27:15)

The mother of Micah thought she did the proper thing, getting the silversmith to make an idol out of the silver, and had it put in Micah’s house. She thought it was an act of thankfulness for the recovery of the silver, and the honesty of his son, but what she did was detestable to the LORD. We should not make such mistakes, and we can only avoid these mistakes if we are bothered with the things of the LORD, what the Word says, and be sensitive to the Holy Spirit which the Word of God says would reveal to us nothing but the truth.]
5 Now this man Micah had a shrine, and he made an ephod and some idols and installed one of his sons as his priest. 6 In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit. [With the silver idol from his mother, Micah effectively had a shrine in the home. Micah got hold of some more idols, made an ephod (special piece of clothing worn for performing priestly function), and made one of his sons as his priest. Indeed, people just did what they saw fit.

If we read about God’s specific instructions given in the Book of Numbers (particularly Numbers 3) to the Tribe of Levi (Levites) concerning the proper handling of the Tabernacle, you will realize the Israelites then had become so complacent about the things of the LORD that no wonder the LORD was greatly displeased, that He sometimes lifted his hands of protection off the Israelites, as a chastisement to the people.]
7 A young Levite from Bethlehem in Judah, who had been living within the clan of Judah, 8 left that town in search of some other place to stay. On his way he came to Micah's house in the hill country of Ephraim.
9 Micah asked him, "Where are you from?"
"I'm a Levite from Bethlehem in Judah," he said, "and I'm looking for a place to stay."
[I thank the LORD for allowing me, very quickly and easily, to understand much of the surrounding circumstances to events in the Old Testament; and I believe this will continue.

A little background information is good here: In the Exodus from Egypt to the Promised Land, God moved with the Israelites in a portable tent called The Tabernacle. Of the tribes of the Israelites, the LORD had chosen the Levi tribe as his own (Numbers 3:44 & 45). The role of the Levites is singular – do the work of the Tabernacle. That was to say that a Levite’s life was to work at the house of the LORD, and nothing. In those days, the LORD’s instructions to the Israelites were very specific – the Levites were the LORD’s directly, they were not even counted together with the other tribes in census. Because they were the LORD’s, the LORD was their inheritance, and as such, they, as a tribe, would not be entitled to any territorial land allocations which all the other tribes were entitled to, and the Israelites were to take care of them, and not to neglect them, as they were the LORD:

"Command the Israelites to give the Levites towns to live in from the inheritance the Israelites will possess. And give them pasturelands around the towns (Num 35:2).Be careful not to neglect the Levites as long as you live in your land (Deu 12:19). And do not neglect the Levites living in your towns, for they have no allotment or inheritance of their own (Deu 14:27). If a Levite moves from one of your towns anywhere in Israel where he is living, and comes in all earnestness to the place the LORD will choose, 7 he may minister in the name of the LORD his God like all his fellow Levites who serve there in the presence of the LORD. 8 He is to share equally in their benefits, even though he has received money from the sale of family possessions (Deu 18:6-8).

So, now we read of this young Levite; he was not staying in The Levitical City of Shiloh, or any levitical city. He had been living amidst the tribe of Judah, in Bethlethem, which was not a levitical city, for it was only about 10km south of Jerusalem. He was going to find another place where he could do what he was supposed to do in a house of the LORD. On his way, he met Micah.]
10 Then Micah said to him, "Live with me and be my father and priest, and I'll give you ten shekels of silver a year, your clothes and your food." 11 So the Levite agreed to live with him, and the young man was to him like one of his sons. 12 Then Micah installed the Levite, and the young man became his priest and lived in his house. 13 And Micah said, "Now I know that the LORD will be good to me, since this Levite has become my priest." [Micah asked that the Levite live with him and be his priest, to take care of the shrine in his house.

I believe this passage showed 2 things, not one, as is commonly written in commentaries. The one that was written in commentaries was about Micah, that he mistakenly thought that by doing this thing, having a Levite as a priest, the LORD would be pleased. The commentators were right: how could the LORD be pleased, when things were not done according to his specific instructions, and idols were found to be worshipped together with the LORD in his house? Do not be mistaken, I am not saying that there could not be other houses of the LORD apart from the Tabernacle at the Levitical city of Shiloh; that was not the case, if you look at Deu 18:6-8, already quoted above.

The other issue, which was not talked about, was the complacency of the Levi tribe. Theirs was a special tribe with a special specific lifetime calling for every man in the tribe. The privileges were instituted by God Himself, but the calling was also by God. They must not fail to pass on the responsibilities of their calling to their descendants. This young Levite here clearly was not properly guided, ended up being a stumbling block to others, who were looking to him for guidance for spiritual matters. On the subject of whether a Levite could at all be installed as a priest, based on strict Biblical records that I know of, the answer was no (Exo 29:1-9, Num 3:9-10), only the descendants of Aaron (Kohanim) could be priests. All Kohanim were Levites but not all Levites were Kohanim.]

What we could learn here:

At the opening of my exposition of this chapter, I have already said that this chapter, and the subsequent ones, in the Book of Judges, did not address particular judges, rather it served to paint the background of the time – disorder and corruptness. Nonetheless, from this, we can still learn some important things, for this chapter had touched on curses, idolatry, spiritual adultery, complacency, and presumptuousness.

1. We must not curse people, rather we should bless.

2. All forms of idolatry are unacceptable, and are detestable to God

3. Spiritual adultery, even the slightest, is not acceptable to God. We are to have the LORD as the only God, He and He alone shall we worship and turn to. We cannot have another god, beside Him.

4. We are not to be complacent with the things of the LORD, and this includes His ways, His Words, which include His instructions, laws, commands, and precepts, and sensitivity to His Holy Spirit.

5. We are also to be careful that we do not act presumptuously. Here, Micah’s mother was presumptuous; Micah himself was, also.

6. To avoid the pitfalls of ignorance, complacency, presumptuousness, we must make an effort to be diligent in the things of the LORD.

7. It is our responsibility to ensure our spiritual heritage be passed down to the generations. The Levite above was ignorant of the requirements of the LORD, had he not be taught by his father? Also, ignorance was prevalent in the general population of the people of God, then.

Anthony Chia – Even as I thank you for the ease with which I have understanding of your Word; by your grace and revelation, I look forward to more of the same, from you. Lord, may I be faithful to hold fast to what you have revealed through your Word, and your Spirit, and remember, always, that when much is given, much is expected, also, by you. Amen.

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