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Judges 8     Acts 12     Jeremiah 21     Mark 7


Judges 8

Gideon Defeats Zebah and Zalmunna

Judges 8 1 Then the men of Ephraim said to him, “What is this that you have done to us, not to call us when you went to fight against Midian?” And they accused him fiercely. 2 And he said to them, “What have I done now in comparison with you? Is not the gleaning of the grapes of Ephraim better than the grape harvest of Abiezer? 3 God has given into your hands the princes of Midian, Oreb and Zeeb. What have I been able to do in comparison with you?” Then their anger[a] against him subsided when he said this.

4 And Gideon came to the Jordan and crossed over, he and the 300 men who were with him, exhausted yet pursuing. 5 So he said to the men of Succoth, “Please give loaves of bread to the people who follow me, for they are exhausted, and I am pursuing after Zebah and Zalmunna, the kings of Midian.” 6 And the officials of Succoth said, “Are the hands of Zebah and Zalmunna already in your hand, that we should give bread to your army?” 7 So Gideon said, “Well then, when the Lord has given Zebah and Zalmunna into my hand, I will flail your flesh with the thorns of the wilderness and with briers.” 8 And from there he went up to Penuel, and spoke to them in the same way, and the men of Penuel answered him as the men of Succoth had answered. 9 And he said to the men of Penuel, “When I come again in peace, I will break down this tower.”

10 Now Zebah and Zalmunna were in Karkor with their army, about 15,000 men, all who were left of all the army of the people of the East, for there had fallen 120,000 men who drew the sword. 11 And Gideon went up by the way of the tent dwellers east of Nobah and Jogbehah and attacked the army, for the army felt secure. 12 And Zebah and Zalmunna fled, and he pursued them and captured the two kings of Midian, Zebah and Zalmunna, and he threw all the army into a panic.

13 Then Gideon the son of Joash returned from the battle by the ascent of Heres. 14 And he captured a young man of Succoth and questioned him. And he wrote down for him the officials and elders of Succoth, seventy-seven men. 15 And he came to the men of Succoth and said, “Behold Zebah and Zalmunna, about whom you taunted me, saying, ‘Are the hands of Zebah and Zalmunna already in your hand, that we should give bread to your men who are exhausted?’” 16 And he took the elders of the city, and he took thorns of the wilderness and briers and with them taught the men of Succoth a lesson. 17 And he broke down the tower of Penuel and killed the men of the city.

18 Then he said to Zebah and Zalmunna, “Where are the men whom you killed at Tabor?” They answered, “As you are, so were they. Every one of them resembled the son of a king.” 19 And he said, “They were my brothers, the sons of my mother. As the Lord lives, if you had saved them alive, I would not kill you.” 20 So he said to Jether his firstborn, “Rise and kill them!” But the young man did not draw his sword, for he was afraid, because he was still a young man. 21 Then Zebah and Zalmunna said, “Rise yourself and fall upon us, for as the man is, so is his strength.” And Gideon arose and killed Zebah and Zalmunna, and he took the crescent ornaments that were on the necks of their camels.

Gideon's Ephod

22 Then the men of Israel said to Gideon, “Rule over us, you and your son and your grandson also, for you have saved us from the hand of Midian.” 23 Gideon said to them, “I will not rule over you, and my son will not rule over you; the Lord will rule over you.” 24 And Gideon said to them, “Let me make a request of you: every one of you give me the earrings from his spoil.” (For they had golden earrings, because they were Ishmaelites.) 25 And they answered, “We will willingly give them.” And they spread a cloak, and every man threw in it the earrings of his spoil. 26 And the weight of the golden earrings that he requested was 1,700 shekels[b] of gold, besides the crescent ornaments and the pendants and the purple garments worn by the kings of Midian, and besides the collars that were around the necks of their camels. 27 And Gideon made an ephod of it and put it in his city, in Ophrah. And all Israel whored after it there, and it became a snare to Gideon and to his family. 28 So Midian was subdued before the people of Israel, and they raised their heads no more. And the land had rest forty years in the days of Gideon.

The Death of Gideon

29 Jerubbaal the son of Joash went and lived in his own house. 30 Now Gideon had seventy sons, his own offspring, for he had many wives. 31 And his concubine who was in Shechem also bore him a son, and he called his name Abimelech. 32 And Gideon the son of Joash died in a good old age and was buried in the tomb of Joash his father, at Ophrah of the Abiezrites.

33 As soon as Gideon died, the people of Israel turned again and whored after the Baals and made Baal-berith their god. 34 And the people of Israel did not remember the Lord their God, who had delivered them from the hand of all their enemies on every side, 35 and they did not show steadfast love to the family of Jerubbaal (that is, Gideon) in return for all the good that he had done to Israel.


Acts 12

James Killed and Peter Imprisoned

Acts 12 1 About that time Herod the king laid violent hands on some who belonged to the church. 2 He killed James the brother of John with the sword, 3 and when he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also. This was during the days of Unleavened Bread. 4 And when he had seized him, he put him in prison, delivering him over to four squads of soldiers to guard him, intending after the Passover to bring him out to the people. 5 So Peter was kept in prison, but earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church.

Peter Is Rescued

6 Now when Herod was about to bring him out, on that very night, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and sentries before the door were guarding the prison. 7 And behold, an angel of the Lord stood next to him, and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him, saying, “Get up quickly.” And the chains fell off his hands. 8 And the angel said to him, “Dress yourself and put on your sandals.” And he did so. And he said to him, “Wrap your cloak around you and follow me.” 9 And he went out and followed him. He did not know that what was being done by the angel was real, but thought he was seeing a vision. 10 When they had passed the first and the second guard, they came to the iron gate leading into the city. It opened for them of its own accord, and they went out and went along one street, and immediately the angel left him. 11 When Peter came to himself, he said, “Now I am sure that the Lord has sent his angel and rescued me from the hand of Herod and from all that the Jewish people were expecting.”

12 When he realized this, he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John whose other name was Mark, where many were gathered together and were praying. 13 And when he knocked at the door of the gateway, a servant girl named Rhoda came to answer. 14 Recognizing Peter's voice, in her joy she did not open the gate but ran in and reported that Peter was standing at the gate. 15 They said to her, “You are out of your mind.” But she kept insisting that it was so, and they kept saying, “It is his angel!” 16 But Peter continued knocking, and when they opened, they saw him and were amazed. 17 But motioning to them with his hand to be silent, he described to them how the Lord had brought him out of the prison. And he said, “Tell these things to James and to the brothers.”[a] Then he departed and went to another place.

18 Now when day came, there was no little disturbance among the soldiers over what had become of Peter. 19 And after Herod searched for him and did not find him, he examined the sentries and ordered that they should be put to death. Then he went down from Judea to Caesarea and spent time there.

The Death of Herod

20 Now Herod was angry with the people of Tyre and Sidon, and they came to him with one accord, and having persuaded Blastus, the king's chamberlain,[b] they asked for peace, because their country depended on the king's country for food. 21 On an appointed day Herod put on his royal robes, took his seat upon the throne, and delivered an oration to them. 22 And the people were shouting, “The voice of a god, and not of a man!” 23 Immediately an angel of the Lord struck him down, because he did not give God the glory, and he was eaten by worms and breathed his last.

24 But the word of God increased and multiplied.

25 And Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem when they had completed their service, bringing with them John, whose other name was Mark.


Jeremiah 21

Jerusalem Will Fall to Nebuchadnezzar

Jeremiah 21 1 This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord, when King Zedekiah sent to him Pashhur the son of Malchiah and Zephaniah the priest, the son of Maaseiah, saying, 2 “Inquire of the Lord for us, for Nebuchadnezzar[a] king of Babylon is making war against us. Perhaps the Lord will deal with us according to all his wonderful deeds and will make him withdraw from us.”

3 Then Jeremiah said to them: “Thus you shall say to Zedekiah, 4 ‘Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Behold, I will turn back the weapons of war that are in your hands and with which you are fighting against the king of Babylon and against the Chaldeans who are besieging you outside the walls. And I will bring them together into the midst of this city. 5 I myself will fight against you with outstretched hand and strong arm, in anger and in fury and in great wrath. 6 And I will strike down the inhabitants of this city, both man and beast. They shall die of a great pestilence. 7 Afterward, declares the Lord, I will give Zedekiah king of Judah and his servants and the people in this city who survive the pestilence, sword, and famine into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon and into the hand of their enemies, into the hand of those who seek their lives. He shall strike them down with the edge of the sword. He shall not pity them or spare them or have compassion.’

8 “And to this people you shall say: ‘Thus says the Lord: Behold, I set before you the way of life and the way of death. 9 He who stays in this city shall die by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence, but he who goes out and surrenders to the Chaldeans who are besieging you shall live and shall have his life as a prize of war. 10 For I have set my face against this city for harm and not for good, declares the Lord: it shall be given into the hand of the king of Babylon, and he shall burn it with fire.’

Message to the House of David

11 “And to the house of the king of Judah say, ‘Hear the word of the Lord, 12 O house of David! Thus says the Lord:

“‘Execute justice in the morning,
and deliver from the hand of the oppressor
him who has been robbed,
lest my wrath go forth like fire,
and burn with none to quench it,
because of your evil deeds.’”

13 “Behold, I am against you, O inhabitant of the valley,
O rock of the plain,
declares the Lord;
you who say, ‘Who shall come down against us,
or who shall enter our habitations?’
14 I will punish you according to the fruit of your deeds,
declares the Lord;
I will kindle a fire in her forest,
and it shall devour all that is around her.”


Mark 7

Traditions and Commandments

Mark 7 1 Now when the Pharisees gathered to him, with some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem, 2 they saw that some of his disciples ate with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. 3 (For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands properly, holding to the tradition of the elders, 4 and when they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash. And there are many other traditions that they observe, such as the washing of cups and pots and copper vessels and dining couches.) 5 And the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” 6 And he said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written,

“‘This people honors me with their lips,
but their heart is far from me;

7 in vain do they worship me,
teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’

8 You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.”

9 And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! 10 For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ 11 But you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, “Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban”’ (that is, given to God)— 12 then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, 13 thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do.”

What Defiles a Person

14 And he called the people to him again and said to them, “Hear me, all of you, and understand: 15 There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.” 17 And when he had entered the house and left the people, his disciples asked him about the parable. 18 And he said to them, “Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, 19 since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.) 20 And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. 21 For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, 22 coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. 23 All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”

The Syrophoenician Woman's Faith

24 And from there he arose and went away to the region of Tyre and Sidon. And he entered a house and did not want anyone to know, yet he could not be hidden. 25 But immediately a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit heard of him and came and fell down at his feet. 26 Now the woman was a Gentile, a Syrophoenician by birth. And she begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. 27 And he said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs.” 28 But she answered him, “Yes, Lord; yet even the dogs under the table eat the children's crumbs.” 29 And he said to her, “For this statement you may go your way; the demon has left your daughter.” 30 And she went home and found the child lying in bed and the demon gone.

Jesus Heals a Deaf Man

31 Then he returned from the region of Tyre and went through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. 32 And they brought to him a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment, and they begged him to lay his hand on him. 33 And taking him aside from the crowd privately, he put his fingers into his ears, and after spitting touched his tongue. 34 And looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” 35 And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. 36 And Jesus charged them to tell no one. But the more he charged them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. 37 And they were astonished beyond measure, saying, “He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”

The Reformation Study Bible

What I'm Reading

Receiving the Baton

By Bob Kauflin 10/1/2010

     As I run the final laps of my race on this earth (however long the Lord allows that to be), one of my greatest joys and desires is to serve the next generation.

     When I was in my twenties, I assumed, somewhat arrogantly, that my friends and I had better ideas than anyone who was older than we were. That covered everything from music styles to leadership practices to how to raise a family.

     Thirty years and many humbling experiences later, I’m aware that no generation starts in a vacuum. Whether we know it or not, we’re standing on the shoulders, wisdom, and experiences of those who have gone before us, and we should seek to learn as much as we can from them.

     I realize that sounds a little selfserving coming from a guy in his midfifties. But many of the young leaders I’ve had the privilege of working with, especially in the areas of church music and worship, understand better than I ever did the importance of benefiting from the past while forging a new path into the future. And I thank God for them.

     Last year I gave a message on transferring ministry responsibility to the next generation. In my preparation, I came across some principles for passing the baton in a relay race that are surprisingly relevant for young leaders.

     The race is about the baton, not the runners

     A relay race is meaningless unless the baton is successfully passed from one runner to the next. A runner without a baton is running in vain.

     For Christians, the “baton” is the gospel. As he neared the end of this life, Paul wrote to Timothy, “By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you” (2 Tim. 1:14). These are the words of a man who knows he will soon face death and is more aware than ever what must be passed on. “Guard the good deposit.” Guard the good news that Jesus Christ has “abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (1:10). Of all that we receive from those who have gone before us, nothing is more important.

     When we’re being mentored, we naturally hope to pick up ways of thinking, practices, and methodologies that are helpful. That’s a good thing. When we spend a lot of time with someone, we might even develop similar vocal inflections, mannerisms, or a way of laughing.

     But whatever else you learn from those you’re looking to, make sure you receive the gospel. Whoever your teachers and mentors might be, they aren’t as important as the gospel they’re proclaiming.

     The point isn’t to become the next Billy Graham, the next John Piper, or the next whoever. The point is to be faithful to the unchanging gospel: “Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18). As you apply what you’ve learned from others to your life and ministry, make sure you don’t miss what matters most.

     A relay race involves more than one person

     In the often individualistic world of track and field, the relay is a unique race. It requires teamwork that other races don’t. The runner who crosses the finish line is integrally dependent on those who have run before him.

     Likewise, we need those who have gone before us. We’re running the same race. Hebrews 11 is a clear reminder that we are but one piece of the glorious tapestry God is weaving together for His glory.

     Having a relay mindset means being one of the faithful men Paul describes to Timothy (2 Tim. 2:2). What can keep you from being part of the relay team? Rarely interacting with those from another generation. Spending the majority of your time reflecting on the ideas of your peers. Criticizing any idea or practice that doesn’t rate high on the relevance or coolness meter. Only reading books that were printed in the last decade — or worse, confining your reading to the blogosphere or Twitter.

     Cultivating the humility that recognizes the need for voices older and wiser than your own isn’t easy. But it’s well worth the effort.

     Runners must develop a mutual dependence and trust

     Relay runners spend hours together practicing their handoff. They study each other’s habits, know each other’s speeds, and understand each other’s strengths and weaknesses.

     While simply listening to teachings of more mature Christians will bear fruit, a secure transfer requires a bond of trust. That trust is developed through shared experiences, open-ended discussions, applying the gospel to sins and successes, and demonstrating a steadfast trust in God in the midst of disagreements and difficulties.

     Work hard to find someone you can not only learn from, but share life with. Practice eagerly learning, humbly receiving, and faithfully implementing what you’re learning, all the while trusting God’s Holy Spirit to bring fruit through your labors. Make it easy for those who have run the race before you to pass on what they’ve learned.

     After all, before too long, you’ll be passing the baton to someone else.

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     Per Amazon | After receiving a piano performance degree from Temple University in 1976, Bob traveled for eight years with the contemporary Christian group GLAD as a songwriter, speaker, and arranger. He continued to write and arrange for the group until 2010, and was a major contributor to The A Capella Project (1988). In 1984, he left GLAD to pursue active involvement in a local church associated with Sovereign Grace Ministries. In the early 90s, he helped to plant what is now CrossWay Community Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, and was featured on the Integrity's Hosanna! CD, Chosen Treasure. In 1997, after 12 years of pastoring, Bob moved to Gaithersburg, Maryland, where he led corporate worship at Covenant Life Church and became the Director of Sovereign Grace Music. Through conferences, seminars, and his blog, Worship Matters (www.worshipmatters.com), he seeks to equip pastors, musicians, and songwriters in the theology and practice of congregational worship. He also oversees the production of Sovereign Grace albums. He currently is involved in another church plant in Louisville, KY, led by CJ Mahaney. Bob and his wife, Julie, were married in 1976. They are blessed with six children and an ever growing number of grandchildren.

The Peace that Passes

By R.C. Sproul Jr. 10/1/2010

     The Bible is a book that is bigger on the inside than it is on the outside. Look at it from one perspective, and it’s rather a small book. It occupies less space on a shelf than a dictionary. Some versions you can even carry in your pocket. Yet when we consider all that is within it, it’s a rather large book. It equips us for every good work (2 Tim. 3:16). Its riches can and will occupy our meditations into eternity.

     Many, if not all, of the Bible’s parts have much the same quality. Jesus gives the most famous, most significant, most far-reaching sermon in all of history, and yet it covers just three chapters, Matthew 5–7. In those short chapters, Jesus tells us how we may receive the blessing of God. He speaks to how His people are to relate to the broader world, calling us to be salt and light. He explains how His Sermon on the Mount relates to the first “sermon on the mount,” the giving of the law at Sinai. He expands our understanding of the Mosaic law, tells us how to love those within the kingdom, and shows us how to serve those without. He teaches us how to pray, and how to fast, then reminds us that our treasure is in heaven.

     All of this fits nicely into such a significant sermon. These are matters of the first importance, fitting themes for this cosmic exposition. But then, Jesus does something most of us wouldn’t expect — He tells us to stop worrying. Why this? Why here? Sure, avoiding anxiety is important and valuable. But couldn’t this have waited for another sermon, for a less auspicious occasion? Precious few freshly minted seminary graduates would include such an admonition in their first sermon. Not many pastoral candidates would choose this application to conclude their candidating sermon. But Jesus includes it. Why?

     Our first clue is this — Jesus doesn’t merely tell us to not worry. Instead, He tells us what we should not be worrying about: “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on” (6:25). Stranger still, in this brief sermon, Jesus reiterates this point: “Therefore do not be anxious, saying ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things” (vv. 31–32a).

     Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, is, before He tells us to seek the kingdom, telling us what life looks like inside the kingdom. This is how you love; this is how you pray; this is how you obey. And this, He tells us, is what you don’t do — be anxious about what you will eat, what you will drink, what you will wear. This mindset defines the people of the kingdom; it sets us apart from the Gentiles. This is the mark of Christians. You will be recognized, Jesus tells us, not because you have no food, drink, or clothes. Your Father in heaven knows you, like the Gentiles, need these things. What will set you apart from the world around you, what will separate you, is that you will not worry. You will be at peace. You will have but one priority — to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.

     We should be encouraged to remember that Jesus preached this sermon to the choir. That is, Jesus isn’t here castigating the scribes and Pharisees. He is talking to His own. The same is true with that first sermon on a mount (Ex. 20). While all men everywhere must not worship false gods or construct idols, while all men must honor God’s name and His Sabbath, while all men must respect those in authority, keep covenant, and so on, God is speaking to His own people here. He is saying, “I rescued you from Egypt, because you are Mine. I am carrying you on eagles’ wings, because you are My people. I will establish you in a land flowing with milk and honey, because you are My beloved. When you get there, be sure not to murder each other. Don’t steal the property of your neighbor. Keep covenant with your wife.” In like manner, Jesus is telling us not to worry not because we are never tempted to do so, but precisely because we are so tempted. He is preaching to the choir because we aren’t choirboys. We do fret. We do fear. We do follow the patterns of the Gentiles.

     Our calling, then, is twofold. First, we need to learn to believe that our Father in heaven cares for us. Jesus in this sermon makes this abundantly clear. God provides for the sparrows, for the lilies of the field. He knows what we need, and He will provide. Second, though, we must repent of our fears. In the end, this is what marks the Christian, not that we are sinless but that by His grace we repent when we fall. When we repent, we have been promised that “He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). When peace passes, when it slips from our grasping hands, we rest here, and thus rest in that peace that passes understanding.

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     R.C. Sproul Jr. has served previously as a pastor, professor, and teacher. He is author of numerous books. Some are listed below.

R.C. Sproul Jr. Books

The Apocalypse

By Keith Mathison 11/1/2010

     The book of Revelation seems to lend itself to either obsession or neglect. In the first church I attended as a new Christian, our pastor preached through the entire book of Revelation at least twice in a two-year span of time. We were convinced that Revelation was the key to understanding today’s headlines. At the other end of the spectrum are those who think Revelation is too difficult to understand and give up trying. The book is difficult, but it also promises a blessing to those who hear and keep what is written in it (1:3). Despite its difficulty, therefore, it is worth studying.

     I discussed Revelation at some length in my book From Age to Age: The Unfolding of Biblical Eschatology. Here I simply want to summarize a few points that may make understanding this part of Holy Scripture a bit less complicated. First, and probably most important, is the fact that Revelation cannot be fully comprehended apart from a good understanding of God’s earlier revelation to His people. The book of Revelation alludes to and echoes the Old Testament more than any other New Testament book. Revelation also reveals the ultimate fulfillment of previous biblical promises and prophecies. In short, if you want to understand Revelation, get to know the rest of the Bible first.

     The second point to consider is the book’s structure and outline. This is a disputed issue among New Testament scholars, but despite the disagreements, the basic outline and flow of the book can be grasped. The book begins with a prologue (1:1–8). The first major section of the book includes John’s vision of Christ and the messages to seven churches (1:9–3:22). John continues with his first vision of heaven (4:1–5:14), which leads to three series of judgment oracles. The judgments associated with the seven seals are first (6:1–8:5). This is followed by the judgments associated with the seven trumpets (8:6–11:19). Before the final series of judgments, John includes an interlude about the conflict of God’s people with evil (12:1–15:4). The judgments associated with the seven bowls follow (15:5–16:21). The next section describes the judgment of the harlot Babylon (17:1–19:10). This is followed by the transition from Babylon to the New Jerusalem (19:11–21:8). In the final major section, John describes the new Jerusalem (21:9–22:9). The book concludes with an epilogue (22:10–21). If this basic outline is kept in mind, it is much easier to grasp the meaning of the book.

     A third point that has caused some difficulty is the date of the book’s composition. There are two main options. Some have argued for a date between AD 64 and 70, while others have argued for a date around AD 95–96. Most contemporary scholars believe the book was written at the later date, and this, I believe, has contributed to the difficulty of interpreting the book. The evidence for the earlier date is quite strong, and if the book was written at the earlier date, it is much more comprehensible. John indicates a number of times that his prophecy will be fulfilled very soon (1:1, 3, 19; 2:16; 3:10–11; 22:6–7, 10, 12, 20). If the book was written between AD 64 and 70, before the Roman destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, then these references to an imminent judgment make perfect sense. We will realize that many of John’s prophecies in this book are judgment oracles against Israel.

     The final point that must be considered is the basic hermeneutical approach one should take. Throughout history, four basic approaches have been suggested: the futurist, historicist, preterist, and idealist approaches. The futurist approach is the most popular. Those taking this approach understand everything from 4:1 forward to be a prophecy of events that are yet to occur. The historicist approach understands Revelation to be a prophecy of church history from the first advent to the second coming of Christ. According to the preterist approach, most (not all) of the prophecies in the book were fulfilled not long after John wrote the book. The idealist approach understands John to have been using symbols to express timeless principles concerning the ongoing conflict between good and evil.

     As hinted at above in the discussion of the date, the preterist approach makes the most sense of the book. John himself says the prophecies of the book will be fulfilled soon, not thousands of years later. Furthermore, he repeatedly identifies his book as a “prophecy” (1:3; 19:10; 22:7, 10, 18, 19). This means the way we approach earlier prophetic books should instruct the way we approach this one. Many of the Old Testament prophetic books deal with impending judgments on Israel and surrounding nations. They also contain sections referring to ultimate future restoration. This means we already take a basically preterist approach to most of the Old Testament prophetic books. The same approach should be taken to this New Testament prophetic book. It too refers to an impending judgment of Israel while also pointing forward to ultimate restoration. Once we grasp this fact, the meaning of the book of Revelation becomes clearer.

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Per Amazon, Keith A. Mathison (MA, Reformed Theological Seminary; PhD, Whitefield Theological Seminary) is dean of the Ligonier Academy of Biblical and Theological Studies and an associate editor of Tabletalk magazine at Ligonier Ministries. He is editor of When Shall These Things Be: A Reformed Response to Hyper-Preterism and associate editor of The Reformation Study Bible. He lives in Lake Mary, Florida, with his wife and children.

Keith Mathison Books:

Thriving at College

By Alex Chediak 11/1/2010

     College represents a minefield of temptation for the Christian student. It is often the first time a young person raised in a godly home is under the direct, ongoing influence of both professors with secular agendas and classmates with immoral ambitions. Character-polluting influences can be readily discovered even at many Christian colleges, where freedom from Mom and Dad results in some experimenting with sin, perhaps manifesting an unconverted state.

     But college also represents an incredible opportunity for unparalleled spiritual and intellectual growth. How can a Christian thrive at college instead of flirting with sin or rejecting his faith? First, by not negotiating Christian morality (Eph. 5:3–11). Befriending non-Christian or marginally Christian students need not include practicing activities that clearly displease God or defile your conscience. Second, by loving God with your mind — seeking to be the best student you can possibly be, given the measure of gifting with which you’ve been entrusted, fruitfully cultivating your God-given talents into skills that prepare you for the vocation with which you will serve the Lord after graduating. In the meantime, being a student is a vocation, and the work of a student is intrinsically good and a gift from God. Apply yourself in this season of preparation. Third, by seeking to grow in godliness within a community that provokes you to vigorously kill sin (Rom. 6:12–14; Heb. 12:1–2), to put away childishness, and to “expect great things from God and attempt great things for God” (William Carey). In short, college should be a launching pad into all that accompanies responsible Christian adulthood.

     Christians in secular universities sometimes wonder to what extent they can learn from non-Christian professors. Not wanting to be conformed to the pattern of this world (Rom. 12:2a), they may minimize the value of academics, giving larger priority to Christian relationships and campus fellowship organizations. But if Daniel and Joseph are any indication, it is possible (and commendable) to excel in even hostile environments (Dan. 1:20; Gen. 39:2). Because God’s common grace is distributed to all, non-Christian professors have a wealth of expertise in their respective disciplines. Pay attention to their lectures and assiduously complete their assignments. Learn from them even while you scrutinize their philosophical underpinnings. In fact, to the extent that you excel in their classes, you will win not only their respect but the respect of others in your chosen field.

     As a college freshman, I took philosophy from an atheist. After getting a B- on my first exam, I went to see the professor. I asked him how I could do better. He taught me to synthesize philosophical perspectives and to succinctly and fairly express an opponent’s view before giving a refutation. His advice has made me a better thinker, debater, and writer to this day.

     Non-Christian peers also afford you the opportunity to practice true Christian tolerance. The sentimental tolerance of our day suggests that relational harmony requires that truth be relative: what’s true for me need not be true for you. Only then can we get along. But biblical tolerance involves treating others charitably and respectfully even when we believe they are in error. Truth remains objective, absolute, and outside us. We can share meals, play sports, and study with non-Christians, honoring and being blessed by the imago Dei in them, while (as opportunity allows) vigorously refuting non-Christian beliefs (from materialism to amorphous spirituality) and winsomely presenting arguments for the Christian faith.

     The academic competition of college puts on display the parable of the talents (Matt. 25:14–30), which can be a source of undue anxiety for many. Some apparently have five talents, others two, others one. Joe gets A's in calculus and physics with little effort, while Jason works his heart out to get B's. Unfair? No, since nobody has anything that they have not received (1 Cor. 4:7), and every talent we receive is to be fruitfully cultivated for the service of God and neighbor. Furthermore, our divergent levels of gifting help us discern our calling. Failing in engineering may be God’s means to lead you into a fruitful career in accounting and business. We work coram Deo, not unto man (Col. 3:23; 1 Cor. 10:31), so we’re free to rejoice that God gifts others in different and sometimes greater ways than He gifts us. To love is to stop enviously looking up or haughtily looking down. Moreover, learning from better students and helping weaker students is both a way of honoring them and a means of enhancing your own competence.

     Lastly, fight workaholism with a godly view of recreation. Some recreation is essential. But to avoid its abuse it should be intentional, limited, and restorative. The attitude we bring to it should be one of God-dependent thanksgiving — a recognition that we can rest from our labors because only God is infi nite (Ps. 121:4–8). In rest we humbly embrace our finitude. But just as importantly, the attitude we take from leisure should include thankfulness for God’s gift of work — even the preparatory work of college.

     Friend, may your college experience truly launch you into a full-orbed, God-mastered adulthood.

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     Dr. Alex Chediak is associate professor of engineering and physics at California Baptist University. He is author of Preparing Your Teens for College, and his blog can be read at AlexChediak.com.

Overcoming Doubt

By Scott Devor 11/1/2010

     I began my college years ready to conquer the world for Christ. The reality of my journey, however, tells quite a different story. College, for me, was a roller coaster — from incredible joys to the most debilitating doubts I ever experienced. Recalling these years once again, I joyfully recognize God’s providence, even through the dark valleys I walked.

     Although I had decided to attend a secular college with professors who were predominantly non-Christian, there was still a great deal of good to be found, and it came in the form of learning — both in and out of the classroom. Part of this learning was discovering who I was: I was introspective, always asking questions, and very interested in understanding how people think and how the world works. This led me to major in philosophy.

     In the classroom, I continued to learn many profitable truths from the secular philosophers I studied: Thomas Hobbes taught me of the great wretchedness in man and the need for a remedy (for Hobbes, the remedy was government). Friedrich Nietzsche and Albert Camus taught me the folly of life without God and the utter despair that accompanies that worldview. And Blaise Pascal helped me understand these two truths in light of Jesus: “Knowing God without knowing our own wretchedness makes for pride. Knowing our own wretchedness without knowing God makes for despair. Knowing Jesus Christ strikes the balance because he shows us both God and our own wretchedness.” (Pensées (Dover Thrift Editions)) While the Lord gave me grace to understand some things right away, many struggles took years for me to finally overcome.

     Not too long ago, I came across the following definition of Christianity on the internet:

     Christianity is the belief that a cosmic Jewish zombie can make you live forever if you symbolically eat his flesh and telepathically tell him that you accept him as your master, so he can remove an evil force from your soul that is present in humanity because a rib-woman was convinced by a talking snake to eat from a magical tree.

     This definition represents the majority view among the professors I encountered at college. This vehement skepticism is probably why 75 to 90 percent of high school seniors who profess Christianity abandon their faith by the time they graduate college.

     The world I entered as a college student was a God-ignoring culture filled with more “isms” (pluralism, relativism, individualism) and more addictions (drug, alcohol, pornography) than I dreamed possible. More than that, college was a continual onslaught of objections to Christianity. Professors and students would ask: How could a book written by so many different authors contain no errors? Doesn’t science disprove God? Who would believe in a book that describes floating axe heads and talking donkeys and snakes? Doesn’t Christian faith preclude rationality? If God is so good, why is there so much evil in the world? Good questions. But not questions without good answers.

     It was my junior year in college, and unanswered questions about Christianity were fixed in my mind. I began doubting the faith. At this point in my life, I had been heavily involved in the church, teaching numerous adult Bible classes and ministering to the youth. Even with all that involvement, I was still sinking slowly into a mire that sought to consume me. To make matters worse, I was engaged to a wonderful Christian woman, and I was too scared to tell her or anyone else about my doubts.

     At the end of my junior year, the doubts became too great for me to bear, so, by the grace of God, I went to my pastor to explain what was happening. I had many unanswered questions that seemed irresolvable. I unloaded some of these on my pastor. He responded: “It’s clear that you don’t want any part of Christianity if it isn’t true, so go find out — test it — and hold fast to the truth (1 Thess. 5:21).” His words gave me courage to ask the difficult questions and seek out the best answers. It was at that point that God began to turn my darkness into something very beautiful.

     I sought out brothers to help bear my burdens (Gal. 6:2). These brothers spoke the truth of God to me and were the means by which God preserved my heart and mind throughout college. Just as a broken bone heals back stronger, so the Lord took my brokenness and strengthened my faith (Ps. 34:18).

     Many of our modern universities are profoundly alienated from God; thus, struggling in college comes as no surprise. Let us remember that we are not alone (Heb. 13:5). For we have the Great High Priest who knows our struggles, who relates to us, and who has overcome the world (John 16:33; 1 John 5:4). Christianity is not to be lived in isolation: We must look to Christ, the Author and Perfecter of our faith, and look to godly men and women to help bear our burdens.

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     Scott Devor is former managing editor of Tabletalk magazine.

Judges 8; Acts 12; Jeremiah 21; Mark 7

By Don Carson 7/25/2018

     In many ways, Gideon was a great man. Cautious when the Lord first called him, he took the first steps of obedience at night (Judg. 6). Then, filled with the Spirit of God (Judg. 6:34), and convinced by two extraordinary signs that God was with him (Judge. 6: 36-40), he led his divinely reduced band of three hundred men in an extraordinary victory over the Midianites (Judg. 7).

     Yet for all his greatness, Gideon represents something of what is going wrong with the nation. Deep flaws of character and inconsistency multiply and fester, so that by the end of the book the entire nation is in a very bad way.

     In the first incident of Judges 8, Gideon comes off well, the Ephraimites pretty badly. No one was willing to fight the Midianites before God raised up Gideon. Now that victory under Gideon has already been so stunning, the Ephraimites abuse him for not inviting them into the fray earlier. He responds diplomatically, praising their efforts in the latter part of the operation, and they are appeased (Judg. 8: 1-3). At the towns of Succoth and Peniel, neither the towns nor Gideon appear in a very good light (Judg. 8:4-9, 13-17). The townspeople are cowardly, unprincipled, and willing to sit on the fence until they see which way the winds are blowing.

     For all the justice of Gideon’s response, however, he seems more than a little vindictive. When it comes to the execution of the Midianite kings Zebah and Zalmunna (Judg. 8:18-21), his decision is based less on principles of public justice or on the Lord’s commands regarding the cleansing of the land than on personal vengeance: his own brothers had been killed in the war.

     On the one hand, Gideon does not seem to be power hungry. He turns down the popular acclamation that would have made him king on the grounds that the Lord alone is to rule over this covenant nation (Judg. 8:22-23). But then he stumbles badly. He makes his request for gold earrings, and ends up with such a hoard that he constructs an elaborate ephod, an outer vestment adorned with more than forty pounds of gold. The state of religion in Israel is so deplorable that soon this ephod has become an idolatrous object of worship, not only for the nation but even for Gideon’s family (Judg. 8:27). The covenantal allegiance he maintains in the nation is partial.

     There is worse trouble brewing. He takes not two or three wives, but many and has seventy sons. Upon his death, the nation returns to unrestrained paganism and displays ugly ingratitude toward Gideon’s family (Judg. 8:33-35). And one of his sons, Abimelech, turns out to be a cruel, power-hungry butcher (Judg. 9).

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Don Carson is research professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois, and co-founder (with Tim Keller) of The Gospel Coalition. He has authored numerous books, and recently edited The Enduring Authority of the Christian Scriptures (Eerdmans, 2016).

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Read The Psalms In "1" Year

Psalm 78

Tell the Coming Generation
78 A Maskil Of Asaph.

32 In spite of all this, they still sinned;
despite his wonders, they did not believe.
33 So he made their days vanish like a breath,
and their years in terror.
34 When he killed them, they sought him;
they repented and sought God earnestly.
35 They remembered that God was their rock,
the Most High God their redeemer.
36 But they flattered him with their mouths;
they lied to him with their tongues.
37 Their heart was not steadfast toward him;
they were not faithful to his covenant.
38 Yet he, being compassionate,
atoned for their iniquity
and did not destroy them;
he restrained his anger often
and did not stir up all his wrath.

ESV Study Bible

The Institutes of the Christian Religion

Translated by Henry Beveridge

     6. This consideration ought to be constantly present to the minds of magistrates, since it is fitted to furnish a strong stimulus to the discharge of duty, and also afford singular consolation, smoothing the difficulties of their office, which are certainly numerous and weighty. What zeal for integrity, prudence, meekness, continence, and innocence, ought to sway those who know that they have been appointed ministers of the divine justice! How will they dare to admit iniquity to their tribunal, when they are told that it is the throne of the living God? How will they venture to pronounce an unjust sentence with that mouth which they understand to be an ordained organ of divine truth? With what conscience will they subscribe impious decrees with that hand which they know has been appointed to write the acts of God? In a word, if they remember that they are the vicegerents of God, it behoves them to watch with all care, diligence, and industry, that they may in themselves exhibit a kind of image of the Divine Providence, guardianship, goodness, benevolence, and justice. And let them constantly keep the additional thought in view, that if a curse is pronounced on him that "doeth the work of the Lord deceitfully," a much heavier curse must lie on him who deals deceitfully in a righteous calling. Therefore, when Moses and Jehoshaphat would urge their judges to the discharge of duty, they had nothing by which they could more powerfully stimulate their minds than the consideration to which we have already referred,--"Take heed what ye do: for ye judge not for man, but for the Lord, who is with you in the judgment. Wherefore now let the fear of the Lord be upon you; take heed and do it: for there is no iniquity with the Lord our God, nor respect of persons, nor taking of gifts" (2 Chron. 19:6, 7, compared with Deut. 1:16, &c.). And in another passage it is said, "God standeth in the congregation of the mighty; he judgeth among the gods" (Psalm 82:1; Isaiah 3:14), that they may be animated to duty when they hear that they are the ambassadors of God, to whom they must one day render an account of the province committed to them. This admonition ought justly to have the greatest effect upon them; for if they sin in any respect, not only is injury done to the men whom they wickedly torment, but they also insult God himself, whose sacred tribunals they pollute. On the other hand, they have an admirable source of comfort when they reflect that they are not engaged in profane occupations, unbefitting a servant of God, but in a most sacred office, inasmuch as they are the ambassadors of God.

7. In regard to those who are not debarred by all these passages of Scripture from presuming to inveigh against this sacred ministry, as if it were a thing abhorrent from religion and Christian piety, what else do they than assail God himself, who cannot but be insulted when his servants are disgraced? These men not only speak evil of dignities, but would not even have God to reign over them (1 Sam. 7:7). For if this was truly said of the people of Israel, when they declined the authority of Samuel, how can it be less truly said in the present day of those who allow themselves to break loose against all the authority established by God? But it seems that when our Lord said to his disciples, "The kings of the gentiles exercise lordship over them; and they that exercise authority upon them are called benefactors. But ye shall not be so: but he that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief; as he that doth serve" (Luke 22:25, 26); he by these words prohibited all Christians from becoming kings or governors. Dexterous expounders! A dispute had arisen among the disciples as to which of them should be greatest. To suppress this vain ambition, our Lord taught them that their ministry was not like the power of earthly sovereigns, among whom one greatly surpasses another. What, I ask, is there in this comparison disparaging to royal dignity? nay, what does it prove at all unless that the royal office is not the apostolic ministry? Besides, though among magisterial offices themselves there are different forms, there is no difference in this respect, that they are all to be received by us as ordinances of God. For Paul includes all together when he says that "there is no power but of God," and that which was by no means the most pleasing of all, was honoured with the highest testimonial--I mean the power of one. This, as carrying with it the public servitude of all (except the one to whose despotic will all is subject), was anciently disrelished by heroic and more excellent natures. But Scripture, to obviate these unjust judgments, affirms expressly that it is by divine wisdom that "kings reign," and gives special command "to honour the king" (1 Peter 2:17).

8. And certainly it were a very idle occupation for private men to discuss what would be the best form of polity in the place where they live, seeing these deliberations cannot have any influence in determining any public matter. Then the thing itself could not be defined absolutely without rashness, since the nature of the discussion depends on circumstances. And if you compare the different states with each other, without regard to circumstances, it is not easy to determine which of these has the advantage in point of utility, so equal are the terms on which they meet. Monarchy is prone to tyranny. In an aristocracy, again, the tendency is not less to the faction of a few, while in popular ascendancy there is the strongest tendency to sedition. [684] When these three forms of government, of which philosophers treat, are considered in themselves, I, for my part, am far from denying that the form which greatly surpasses the others is aristocracy, either pure or modified by popular government, not indeed in itself, but because it very rarely happens that kings so rule themselves as never to dissent from what is just and right, or are possessed of so much acuteness and prudence as always to see correctly. Owing, therefore, to the vices or defects of men, it is safer and more tolerable when several bear rule, that they may thus mutually assist, instruct, and admonish each other, and should any one be disposed to go too far, the others are censors and masters to curb his excess. This has already been proved by experience, and confirmed also by the authority of the Lord himself, when he established an aristocracy bordering on popular government among the Israelites, keeping them under that as the best form, until he exhibited an image of the Messiah in David. And as I willingly admit that there is no kind of government happier than where liberty is framed with becoming moderation, and duly constituted so as to be durable, so I deem those very happy who are permitted to enjoy that form, and I admit that they do nothing at variance with their duty when they strenuously and constantly labour to preserve and maintain it. Nay, even magistrates ought to do their utmost to prevent the liberty, of which they have been appointed guardians, from being impaired, far less violated. If in this they are sluggish or little careful, they are perfidious traitors to their office and their country. But should those to whom the Lord has assigned one form of government, take it upon them anxiously to long for a change, the wish would not only be foolish and superfluous, but very pernicious. If you fix your eyes not on one state merely, but look around the world, or at least direct your view to regions widely separated from each other, you will perceive that Divine Providence has not, without good cause, arranged that different countries should be governed by different forms of polity. For as only elements of unequal temperature adhere together, so in different regions a similar inequality in the form of government is best. All this, however, is said unnecessarily to those to whom the will of God is a sufficient reason. For if it has pleased him to appoint kings over kingdoms, and senates or burgomasters over free states, whatever be the form which he has appointed in the places in which we live, our duty is to obey and submit.

9. The duty of magistrates, its nature, as described by the word of God, and the things in which it consists, I will here indicate in passing. That it extends to both tables of the law, did Scripture not teach, we might learn from profane writers; for no man has discoursed of the duty of magistrates, the enacting of laws, and the common weal, without beginning with religion and divine worship. Thus all have confessed that no polity can be successfully established unless piety be its first care, and that those laws are absurd which disregard the rights of God, and consult only for men. Seeing then that among philosophers religion holds the first place, and that the same thing has always been observed with the universal consent of nations, Christian princes and magistrates may be ashamed of their heartlessness if they make it not their care. We have already shown that this office is specially assigned them by God, and indeed it is right that they exert themselves in asserting and defending the honour of him whose vicegerents they are, and by whose favour they rule. Hence in Scripture holy kings are especially praised for restoring the worship of God when corrupted or overthrown, or for taking care that religion flourished under them in purity and safety. On the other hand, the sacred history sets down anarchy among the vices, when it states that there was no king in Israel, and, therefore, every one did as he pleased (Judges 21:25). This rebukes the folly of those who would neglect the care of divine things, and devote themselves merely to the administration of justice among men; as if God had appointed rulers in his own name to decide earthly controversies, and omitted what was of far greater moment, his own pure worship as prescribed by his law. Such views are adopted by turbulent men, who, in their eagerness to make all kinds of innovations with impunity, would fain get rid of all the vindicators of violated piety. In regard to the second table of the law, Jeremiah addresses rulers, "Thus saith the Lord, Execute ye judgment and righteousness, and deliver the spoiled out of the hand of the oppressor: and do no wrong, do no violence to the stranger, the fatherless, nor the widow, neither shed innocent blood" (Jer. 22:3). To the same effect is the exhortation in the Psalm, "Defend the poor and fatherless; do justice to the afflicted and needy. Deliver the poor and needy; rid them out of the hand of the wicked" (Psalm 82:3, 4). Moses also declared to the princes whom he had substituted for himself, "Hear the causes between your brethren, and judge righteously between every man and his brother, and the stranger that is with him. Ye shall not respect persons in judgment; but ye shall hear the small as well as the great: ye shall not be afraid of the face of man, for the judgment is God's" (Deut. 1:16). I say nothing as to such passages as these, "He shall not multiply horses to himself, nor cause the people to return to Egypt;" "neither shall he multiply wives to himself; neither shall he greatly multiply to himself silver and gold;" "he shall write him a copy of this law in a book;" "and it shall be with him, and he shall read therein all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the Lord his God;" "that his heart be not lifted up above his brethren" (Deut. 17:16-20). In here explaining the duties of magistrates, my exposition is intended not so much for the instruction of magistrates themselves, as to teach others why there are magistrates, and to what end they have been appointed by God. We say, therefore, that they are the ordained guardians and vindicators of public innocence, modesty, honour, and tranquillity, so that it should be their only study to provide for the common peace and safety. Of these things David declares that he will set an example when he shall have ascended the throne. "A froward heart shall depart from me: I will not know a wicked person. Whoso privily slandereth his neighbour, him will I cut off: him that hath an high look and a proud heart will not I suffer. Mine eyes shall be upon the faithful of the land, that they may dwell with me: he that walketh in a perfect way, he shall serve me" (Psalm 101:4-6). But as rulers cannot do this unless they protect the good against the injuries of the bad, and give aid and protection to the oppressed, they are armed with power to curb manifest evil-doers and criminals, by whose misconduct the public tranquillity is disturbed or harassed. For we have full experience of the truth of Solon's saying, that all public matters depend on reward and punishment; that where these are wanting, the whole discipline of states totters and falls to pieces. For in the minds of many the love of equity and justice grows cold, if due honour be not paid to virtue, and the licentiousness of the wicked cannot be restrained, without strict discipline and the infliction of punishment. The two things are comprehended by the prophet when he enjoins kings and other rulers to execute "judgment and righteousness" (Jer. 21:12; 22:3). It is righteousness (justice) to take charge of the innocent, to defend and avenge them, and set them free: it is judgment to withstand the audacity of the wicked, to repress their violence, and punish their faults.

10. But here a difficult, and, as it seems, a perplexing question arises. If all Christians are forbidden to kill, and the prophet predicts concerning the holy mountain of the Lord, that is, the Church, [685] "They shall not hurt or destroy," how can magistrates be at once pious and yet shedders of blood? But if we understand that the magistrate, in inflicting punishment, acts not of himself, but executes the very judgments of God, we shall be disencumbered of every doubt. The law of the Lord forbids to kill; but, that murder may not go unpunished, the Lawgiver himself puts the sword into the hands of his ministers, that they may employ it against all murderers. It belongs not to the pious to afflict and hurt; but to avenge the afflictions of the pious, at the command of God, is neither to afflict nor hurt. [686] I wish it could always be present to our mind, that nothing is done here by the rashness of man, but all in obedience to the authority of God. When it is the guide, we never stray from the right path, unless, indeed, divine justice is to be placed under restraint, and not allowed to take punishment on crimes. But if we dare not give the law to it, why should we bring a charge against its ministers? "He beareth not the sword in vain," says Paul, "for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath on him that doeth evil" (Rom. 13:4). Wherefore, if princes and other rulers know that nothing will be more acceptable to God than their obedience, let them give themselves to this service if they are desirous to improve their piety, justice, and integrity to God. This was the feeling of Moses [687] when, recognising himself as destined to deliver his people by the power of the Lord, he laid violent hands on the Egyptian, and afterwards took vengeance on the people for sacrilege, by slaying three thousand of them in one day. This was the feeling of David also, when, towards the end of his life, he ordered his son Solomon to put Joab and Shimei to death. Hence, also, in an enumeration of the virtues of a king, one is to cut off the wicked from the earth, and banish all workers of iniquity from the city of God. To the same effect is the praise which is bestowed on Solomon, "Thou lovest righteousness, and hatest wickedness." How is it that the meek and gentle temper of Moses becomes so exasperated, that, besmeared and reeking with the blood of his brethren, he runs through the camp making new slaughter? How is it that David, who, during his whole life, showed so much mildness, almost at his last breath, leaves with his son the bloody testament, not to allow the grey hairs of Joab and Shimei to go to the grave in peace? Both, by their sternness, sanctified the hands which they would have polluted by showing mercy, inasmuch as they executed the vengeance committed to them by God. Solomon says, [688] "It is an abomination to kings to commit wickedness; for the throne is established by righteousness." Again, "A king that sitteth in the throne of judgment, scattereth away all evil with his eyes." Again, "A wise king scattereth the wicked, and bringeth the wheel over them." Again, "Take away the dross from the silver, and there shall come forth a vessel for the finer. Take away the wicked men from before the king, and his throne shall be established in righteousness." Again, "He that justifieth the wicked, and he that condemneth the just, even they both are an abomination to the Lord." Again, "An evil man seeketh only rebellion, therefore an evil messenger shall be sent against him." Again, "He that saith unto the wicked, Thou art righteous; him shall the people curse, nations shall abhor him." Now, if it is true justice in them to pursue the guilty and impious with drawn sword, to sheath the sword, and keep their hands pure from blood, while nefarious men wade through murder and slaughter, so far from redounding to the praise of their goodness and justice, would be to incur the guilt of the greatest impiety; provided always they eschew reckless and cruel asperity, and that tribunal which may be justly termed a rock on which the accused must founder. For I am not one of those who would either favour an unseasonable severity, or think that any tribunal could be accounted just that is not presided over by mercy, that best and surest counsellor of kings, and, as Solomon declares, "upholder of the throne" (Prov. 20:28). This, as was truly said by one of old, should be the primary endowment of princes. The magistrate must guard against both extremes; he must neither, by excessive severity, rather wound than cure, nor by a superstitious affectation of clemency, fall into the most cruel inhumanity, by giving way to soft and dissolute indulgence to the destruction of many. It was well said by one under the empire of Nerva, It is indeed a bad thing to live under a prince with whom nothing is lawful, but a much worse to live under one with whom all things are lawful.

     Christian Classics Ethereal Library / Public Domain      Institutes of the Christian Religion



  • L4 Historic Israel Geography
  • Telling His Story
  • Genesis

#1    Dr. Elaine Phillips

 

#2 Nancy Grisham   Biola University

 

#3 Allen Yeh   Biola University

 


     Devotionals, notes, poetry and more

coram Deo
     2/1/2015    All Things Well

     Back before electronic calendars and smartphones, many of us used something called a Day-Timer. I got my first professional Day-Timer when I joined the staff of a church at nineteen years old. And though I haven’t used a Day-Timer in more than a decade, I recently came across an old one, and when I opened it I was immediately drawn to the words that I wrote on the front page of my calendar: “The busy man is a lazy man.” From my first Day-Timer to my last, I wrote those words on the front page so that every time I opened it, I would be reminded not ever to become an overscheduled workaholic, running around like a chicken with his head cut off, too busy and too rushed to do anything well. Borrowing from something C.S. Lewis wrote, it’s the lazy man who does not properly schedule his time, who cannot say no, who does not plan ahead properly, who is often late for appointments, who is always rushing around, not calling people back in an appropriate time frame, and so on.

I have worked hard over the years never to let myself become busy. Still, most people who know my schedule would likely call me busy. For example, my next available scheduled lunch appointment is three months away, most of my phone calls are scheduled weeks out, and most major calendar items are typically scheduled more than a year or two out. Nevertheless, I am by no means busy; my schedule is simply full. My dedicated assistants work hard to meticulously maintain my schedule so that I have ample time to attend to urgent pastoral matters within the church, such as responding to a family in crisis, visiting a dying church member in the hospital, or counseling someone facing a major predicament. Furthermore, such scheduling allows me to care properly for my wife and children, spending all the time with them I possibly can so that we can be together, play together, and rest together. For what does it profit a pastor if he gains the whole church but loses his family?

Both labor and rest are creation ordinances given to us by God before the fall. They are given to us for our good and for God’s glory, and God calls us to work hard so that we can rest hard. By God’s design, the most revolutionary thing we could do in our busy, fast-paced society is take one day every week to rest and worship with our family and friends. However, we are living in a generation that doesn’t rest well because it doesn’t know what it really means to work hard, plan well, and say no to various opportunities and activities. And too often, the culprit is the local church that programs its people with so many activities that people have no time left to spend with their families and friends to enjoy life together and rest together—let alone take care of widows and orphans.

In many cases, our inability to rest says more about the busyness of our hearts than the busyness of our schedules. As Christians, we are called to labor well and rest well, and only when we do both as God has directed us will we find the right balance in life.

     click here for article source

     Dr. Burk Parsons (@BurkParsons) is editor of Tabletalk magazine, senior pastor of Saint Andrew’s Chapel in Sanford, Fla., a visiting lecturer at Reformed Theological Seminary, and a Ligonier Ministries teaching fellow. He is editor of John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine, and Doxology.

Ligonier     coram Deo (definition)

American Minute
     by Bill Federer

     Ulysses S. Grant was commissioned this day, July 25, 1866, as General of the Army, being the first officer to hold that rank. His courageous victories during the Civil War catapulted him into national prominence and in 1868, he was elected America’s eighteenth President. To the Editor of the Sunday School Times in Philadelphia, President Ulysses S. Grant wrote: “Your favor of … asking a message from me to the … youth of the United States … is this Morning received. My advice to Sunday schools, no matter what their denomination, is: Hold fast to the Bible as the sheet anchor of your liberties.”

American Minute

Lean Into God
     Compiled by Richard S. Adams


The greatest discernment is not to point out devils and recognize the enemy in every a situation, though that is a part of the equation. The most important thing is to recognize when the Lord is truly moving, so we do not miss out on His fullness. The watchmen on the wall had a two-fold responsibility in Old Testament times. They sounded an alarm when they saw the enemy approaching. But this was not their primary task. The greater responsibility was to watch for the king coming, so the gates could be opened and the inner chambers prepared for him. Without the King in our camp, we are powerless against the adversary. As we open our hearts to Jesus, we can trust Him to lead us in the way everlasting.
--- John Crowder

The Ten Commandments have lost their validity…Conscience is a Jewish invention. It is a blemish like circumcision… --- Adolph Hitler
Herman Rauschning
Hitler Speaks


I used to ask God to help me.
Then I asked if I might help Him.
I ended up by asking Him to do His work through me.
--- Hudson Taylor

What God says is best, is best, though all the men in the world are against it.
--- John Bunyan

Faith, like gold, is for use and not for ornament.
--- Frank W. Boreham
Mushrooms On The Moor

... from here, there and everywhere

History of the Destruction of Jerusalem
     Thanks to Meir Yona

     CHAPTER 17.

     How The War Of The Jews With The Romans Began, And Concerning Manahem.

     1. This advice the people hearkened to, and went up into the temple with the king and Bernice, and began to rebuild the cloisters; the rulers also and senators divided themselves into the villages, and collected the tributes, and soon got together forty talents, which was the sum that was deficient. And thus did Agrippa then put a stop to that war which was threatened. Moreover, he attempted to persuade the multitude to obey Florus, until Caesar should send one to succeed him; but they were hereby more provoked, and cast reproaches upon the king, and got him excluded out of the city; nay, some of the seditious had the impudence to throw stones at him. So when the king saw that the violence of those that were for innovations was not to be restrained, and being very angry at the contumelies he had received, he sent their rulers, together with their men of power, to Florus, to Cesarea, that he might appoint whom he thought fit to collect the tribute in the country, while he retired into his own kingdom.

     2. And at this time it was that some of those that principally excited the people to go to war made an assault upon a certain fortress called Masada. They took it by treachery, and slew the Romans that were there, and put others of their own party to keep it. At the same time Eleazar, the son of Ananias the high priest, a very bold youth, who was at that time governor of the temple, persuaded those that officiated in the Divine service to receive no gift or sacrifice for any foreigner. And this was the true beginning of our war with the Romans; for they rejected the sacrifice of Caesar on this account; and when many of the high priests and principal men besought them not to omit the sacrifice, which it was customary for them to offer for their princes, they would not be prevailed upon. These relied much upon their multitude, for the most flourishing part of the innovators assisted them; but they had the chief regard to Eleazar, the governor of the temple.

     3. Hereupon the men of power got together, and conferred with the high priests, as did also the principal of the Pharisees; and thinking all was at stake, and that their calamities were becoming incurable, took counsel what was to be done. Accordingly, they determined to try what they could do with the seditious by words, and assembled the people before the brazen gate, which was that gate of the inner temple [court of the priests] which looked toward the sun-rising. And, in the first place, they showed the great indignation they had at this attempt for a revolt, and for their bringing so great a war upon their country; after which they confuted their pretense as unjustifiable, and told them that their forefathers had adorned their temple in great part with donations bestowed on them by foreigners, and had always received what had been presented to them from foreign nations; and that they had been so far from rejecting any person's sacrifice [which would be the highest instance of impiety,] that they had themselves placed those donation about the temple which were still visible, and had remained there so long a time; that they did now irritate the Romans to take arms against them, and invited them to make war upon them, and brought up novel rules of a strange Divine worship, and determined to run the hazard of having their city condemned for impiety, while they would not allow any foreigner, but Jews only, either to sacrifice or to worship therein. And if such a law should be introduced in the case of a single private person only, he would have indignation at it, as an instance of inhumanity determined against him; while they have no regard to the Romans or to Caesar, and forbid even their oblations to be received also; that however they cannot but fear, lest, by thus rejecting their sacrifices, they shall not be allowed to offer their own; and that this city will lose its principality, unless they grow wiser quickly, and restore the sacrifices as formerly, and indeed amend the injury [they have offered foreigners] before the report of it comes to the ears of those that have been injured.

     4. And as they said these things, they produced those priests that were skillful in the customs of their country, who made the report that all their forefathers had received the sacrifices from foreign nations. But still not one of the innovators would hearken to what was said; nay, those that ministered about the temple would not attend their Divine service, but were preparing matters for beginning the war. So the men of power perceiving that the sedition was too hard for them to subdue, and that the danger which would arise from the Romans would come upon them first of all, endeavored to save themselves, and sent ambassadors, some to Florus, the chief of which was Simon the son of Ananias; and others to Agrippa, among whom the most eminent were Saul, and Antipas, and Costobarus, who were of the king's kindred; and they desired of them both that they would come with an army to the city, and cut off the seditious before it should be too hard to be subdued. Now this terrible message was good news to Florus; and because his design was to have a war kindled, he gave the ambassadors no answer at all. But Agrippa was equally solicitous for those that were revolting, and for those against whom the war was to be made, and was desirous to preserve the Jews for the Romans, and the temple and metropolis for the Jews; he was also sensible that it was not for his own advantage that the disturbances should proceed; so he sent three thousand horsemen to the assistance of the people out of Auranitis, and Batanea, and Trachonitis, and these under Darius, the master of his horse, and Philip the son of Jacimus, the general of his army.

          The Project Gutenberg EBook of The Wars of the Jews or History of the Destruction of Jerusalem, by Flavius Josephus Translator: William Whiston

The War of the Jews: The History of the Destruction of Jerusalem (complete edition, 7 books)

Proverbs 21:28
     by D.H. Stern

28     A lying witness is doomed,
but one who heard [what was said] will testify successfully.


Complete Jewish Bible : An English Version of the Tanakh (Old Testament) and B'Rit Hadashah (New Testament)

Mushrooms On The Moor
     by Frank W. Boreham

     IV | 'SUCH A LOVELY BITE!'

     It is a keen, clear, frosty winter's night, and I am sitting here in a cheerfully lighted dining-room only a few feet from a roaring fire. An immense chasm sometimes yawns between afternoon and evening, and it seems scarcely credible that, only an hour or two ago, I was out on the river in an open boat, fishing. It was a glorious sunny afternoon when we pushed off; the great hills around were at their greenest; and the only reminder vouchsafed to us that to-morrow is midwinter's day was the glitter of snow away on the top of the mountain. The water around us, reflecting the cloudless sky above, was a sea of sapphire, out of which our oars seemed to beat up pearls and silver. Arrived at our favourite fishing grounds, we lay quietly at anchor, and for a while the sport was excellent. But, later on, things quietened down. The fish forsook us, or became too dainty for our blandishments. The sun went down over the massive ridges. A hint of evening brooded over us. The blue died out of the water, and the greenness vanished from the hills. Everything was grey and cold. As though to match the gloom around us, we ourselves grew silent. Conversation languished, and laughter was dead. We turned up the collars of our coats, and grimly bent over our lines. But the cod and the perch were proof against all our cajolery, and would not be enticed. At length my hands grew so cold and numb that I could scarcely feel the line. My enthusiasm sank with the temperature, and I suggested, not without trepidation, that we should give it up. My companions assented to the abstract proposition; but, with that wistful half-expectancy so characteristic of anglers, did not at once commence to wind up their lines. I was, therefore, just on the point of setting them an example when one of them exclaimed excitedly, 'Wait a second; I had such a lovely bite!' That was all; but it gave us a fresh lease of life. For half an hour we forgot the hardening cold and the deepening gloom, and chatted again as merrily as when we baited our hooks for the first time. It was a bite; that was all. But, oh, the thrill of a bite when patience is flagging and endurance ebbing out!

     It is because of a certain cynical tendency to deride the value of a bite that I have decided to spend the evening with my pen. 'A bite!' says somebody, with a fine guffaw. 'And what on earth is the good of a bite, I should like to know? A bite is neither fish, flesh, fowl, nor good red herring! A bite is of no use for breakfast, dinner, tea, or supper! Bites can neither be fried nor boiled, measured nor weighed. A bite, indeed!'—and once more the cynic loses himself in laughter. That is all he knows about it, and it merely supplies us with another evidence of the superficiality of cynicism. The critic is sometimes right, but the cynic is never right; and the roar of laughter that I hear from the cynic's chair, as he talks about bites, is, therefore, rightly translated and interpreted, a kind of thunderous applause. Why, in some respects, a bite is better than a fish. Only very occasionally does a fish look as well on the bank or in the boat as it appeared to the excited imagination of the angler when he first felt the flutter on the line. I have caught thousands of fish in my time; but most of them I have dismissed from memory as soon as they went flapping into the basket. But some of the bites that I have had! I catch myself wondering now what beauteous monsters they can have been.

     'Well, and how many did you catch?' I am regularly asked on my return.

     'Oh, a couple of dozen or so; but, oh, I had such a bite! . . .'

     And so on. It is the bite that lingers fondly in the memory, that haunts the fancy for days afterwards, and that rushes back upon the angler in his dreams.

     'Oh, I've lost him!' one of my companions called out from the other end of the boat this afternoon. 'He got off the line just after I started to draw him in; such a lovely bite; I'm sure it was the biggest fish we've had round here this afternoon!'

     Of course it was! The bite is always the biggest fish. There is something very charming— something of which the cynic knows nothing at all—about this propensity of ours to attribute superlative qualities to the unrealized. It is a species of philosophic chivalry. It is a courtesy that we extend to the unknown. We do not know whether the joys that never visited us were really great or small, so we gallantly allow them the benefit of the doubt. The geese that came waddling over the hill are geese, all of them, and as geese we write them down; but the geese that never came over the hill are swans every one, and no swans that we have fed beside the lake glided hither and thither half as gracefully.

     A young girl comes to my study. She is tall and comely, and her face reveals a quiet beauty. But she is dressed in black, and the marks of a great sorrow are stamped upon her pale, drawn countenance. My heart goes out to her as she tells her story. It was so entirely unexpected, so totally unthought of, this sudden loss of her lover. Just as she was dreaming of orange-blossoms for her own hair, her fingers were employed upon a wreath of lilies for his bier. As she sat in the church on that dark and dreadful day, the organ that she fancied greeting her with a wedding march set all the aisles shuddering to a dirge. And her unfinished bridal array had all been laid aside that she might garb her graceful form in gloom. As I looked into her sad eyes, swollen with weeping, I fancied that I could see into her very soul, and scan the secret pictures she had painted there. The happy wedding, with all its nonsense and solemnity, its laughter and its tears; the pretty little home, with his chair of honour, like a throne, facing hers; his homecoming evening by evening, and the welcome she would give him; the children, too—the sons so handsome and the girls so fair! What art gallery contains paintings so perfect? I saw them all—these lovely visions hung with crape! And as I saw them, I reverenced our sweet human habit of attributing impossible glories to the unrealized.

     And what about the parents of the baby I buried yesterday? Are there no pictures in these stricken souls worth viewing? As you pass through these chambers of imagery, and view one of these exquisitely painted pictures after another, you have the whole splendid career mapped out before you. Such triumphs, such honours, such laurels for his brow! The glory of the life that would have been is spread out before their fancy, sketched in the fairest colours! Thus tenderly do we set a halo on the forehead of the unrealized! Thus charitably do we let the fancy play about the fish we never caught! Let the cynic hush his sacrilegious laughter! There is something about all this that is very human, and very beautiful.

     And just because it is so beautiful, it is worth analysing, this thrill of joy that I feel when the fish tugs at my line. I shall try to take the sensation to pieces, in order that I may find out exactly of what it consists. I suppose that, really, the secret is: I am pleased to feel that my bait has some attraction for the fish that I now know to be there. It is horrid to keep on fishing whilst your mind is haunted by the suspicion that your hooks are bare, or that they are baited in such a way that they make no appeal to the fish that may be swarming around you. The sudden bite settles all that, and you feel every faculty start up to vigorous life once more.

     Now, as a matter of fact, there are few things more pathetic than the feeling that sometimes steals over the best of men, that there is nothing in them to attract the affection, the friendship, and the confidence of others. The classical instance is the case of Mark Rutherford. How his lonely soul ached for comradeship! 'I wanted a friend,' he says. 'How the dream haunted me! It made me restless and anxious at the sight of every new face, wondering whether at last I had found that for which I searched as if for the kingdom of heaven. God knows that I would have stood against a wall and have been shot for any man whom I loved as cheerfully as I would have gone to bed, but nobody seemed to wish for such a love or to know what to do with it!' Here is the poor fisherman, who feels that he has no bait that the fish want. It was not as though he caught the perch whilst the cod fought shy of him. 'I was avoided,' he says elsewhere, 'both by the commonplace and by those who had talent. Commonplace persons avoided me because I did not chatter, and persons of talent because I stood for nothing—there was nothing in me!' But, just as he was giving up, Mark Rutherford felt the line tremble, and knew the ecstasy of a bite! He was suddenly befriended. 'Oh, the transport of it!' he exclaims. 'It was as if water had been poured on a burnt hand, or some miraculous Messiah had soothed the delirium of a fever-stricken sufferer, and replaced his visions of torment with dreams of Paradise.' The world holds more of this sort of thing than we think. A writer who cannot get readers, a preacher who cannot get hearers, a tradesman who cannot get customers—it is the same old trouble. Fishing, fishing, fishing, until the whole head is sick and the whole heart faint. Fishing, fishing, fishing, until the whole world seems to be pouring its contempt upon the unhappy fisherman. Fishing, fishing, fishing, until a man feels that there is nothing in him, nothing in him, nothing in him; and the contempt of his fellows leads to the anguish and hollow laughter of self-derision. Oh, what a bite means at such an hour! 'Blessed are they,' exclaims poor Mark Rutherford, 'who heal us of our self-despisings! Of all services which can be done to man, I know of none more precious.'

     But even a bite may do a man a great deal of harm unless he thinks it out very carefully. It is certainly very annoying, after waiting so long, to feel that the fish has come—and gone again! A fisherman must guard against being soured and embittered just at that point. It was the tragedy of Miss Havisham. Everybody who has read Great Expectations remembers Miss Havisham. In some respects she is Dickens' most striking and dramatic character. Poor Miss Havisham had been disappointed on her wedding-day; and, in revenge, she remained for the rest of her life dressed just as she was dressed when the blow staggered her. When Pip came upon her, years afterwards, she was still wearing her faded wedding-dress. She still had the withered flowers in her hair, although her hair was whiter than the dress itself. For the dress was yellow with age, and everything she wore had long since lost its lustre. 'I saw, too,' says Pip, 'that the bride within the bridal-dress had withered like the dress, and like the flowers, and had no brightness left but the brightness of her sunken eyes. I saw that the dress had been put upon the rounded figure of a young woman, and that the figure, upon which it now hung loose, had shrunk to skin and bone. Once I had been taken to see some ghastly waxwork at the Fair, representing I know not what impossible personage lying in state. Once I had been taken to one of our old marsh churches to see a skeleton in the ashes of a rich dress that had been dug out of a vault under the church pavement. Now, waxwork and skeleton seemed to have dark eyes that moved and looked at me.' Poor Pip! And poor Miss Havisham! Miss Havisham had lost her fish just as she was in the very act of landing him. And she had let it sour and spoil her, and Pip was frightened at the havoc it had wrought.

     The peril touches life at every point. It especially affects those of us who are called to be fishers of men. It is a great art, this human angling, and needs infinite tact, and infinite subtilty, and infinite patience. And, above all, it needs a resolute determination never on any account whatever to be soured by disappointment. When I am tempted to wind up my line, and give the whole thing up in despair, I revive my flagging enthusiasm by recalling the rapture of my earlier catches. What angler ever forgets the wild transport of landing his first salmon? What minister ever forgets the spot on which he knelt with his first convert? In the long and tedious hours when the waiting is weary, and the nibblings vexatious, and the bites disappointing, let him live on these wealthy memories as the bees live in the winter on the honey that they gathered in the summer-time. Yes, let him think about those unforgettable triumphs, and let him talk about them. They make great talking. And as he recalls and recites the thrilling story, the leaden moments will simply fly, the old glow will steal back into his fainting soul, and, long before he has finished his tale, he will find his fingers busy with another glorious prize.

Mushrooms on the Moor (Dodo Press)
My Utmost For The Highest
     A Daily Devotional by Oswald Chambers


                Am I blessed like this?

     Blessed are … --- Matthew 5:3–10 .. ---

     When we first read the statements of Jesus they seem wonderfully simple and unstartling, and they sink unobserved into our unconscious minds. For instance, the Beatitudes seem merely mild and beautiful precepts for all unworldly and useless people, but of very little practical use in the stern workaday world in which we live. We soon find, however, that the Beatitudes contain the dynamite of the Holy Ghost. They explode, as it were, when the circumstances of our lives cause them to do so. When the Holy Spirit brings to our remembrance one of these Beatitudes we say—‘What a startling statement that is!’ and we have to decide whether we will accept the tremendous spiritual upheaval that will be produced in our circumstances if we obey His words. That is the way the Spirit of God works. We do not need to be born again to apply the Sermon on the Mount literally. The literal interpretation of the Sermon on the Mount is child’s play; the interpretation by the Spirit of God as He applies Our Lord’s statements to our circumstances is the stern work of a saint.

     The teaching of Jesus is out of all proportion to our natural way of looking at things, and it comes with astonishing discomfort to begin with. We have slowly to form our walk and conversation on the line of the precepts of Jesus Christ as the Holy Spirit applies them to our circumstances. The Sermon on the Mount is not a set of rules and regulations: it is a statement of the life we will live when the Holy Spirit is getting His way with us.


My Utmost for His Highest

The Kingdom
     the Poetry of RS Thomas


                The Kingdom

It’s a long way off but inside it
  There are quite different things going on:
  Festivals at which the poor man
  Is king and the consumptive is
  Healed; mirrors in which the blind look
  At themselves and love looks at them
  Back; and industry is for mending
  The bent bones and the minds fractured
  By life. It’s a long way off, but to get
  There takes no time and admission
  Is free, if you will purge yourself
  Of desire, and present yourself with
  Your need only and the simple offering
  Of your faith, green as a leaf.


Selected poems, 1946-1968

Searching For Meaning In Midrash
     D’RASH


     All agree that tzedakah, giving to those in need, is one of the most important mitzvot in the Jewish religion. But there is disagreement on exactly how and when that mitzvah is to be carried out. Moshe ben Maimon, also known as the Rambam, or Maimonides (1135–1204) wrote in the Mishneh Torah (Laws of Gifts to the Poor, chapter 10): “There are eight levels of tzedakah.” These are, in ascending order:

1. Giving grudgingly.
2. Giving graciously, though not enough.
3. Giving after being asked.
4. Giving before being asked.
5. When the recipient knows the giver,
     but the giver doesn’t know who received.
6. When the giver knows the recipient,
     but the recipient doesn’t know who gave.
7. When giver and recipient don’t know one another.
8. Giving a loan or providing a job.

     Israel ben Yosef Al-Nakawa (fourteenth-century Spain) had a different approach. In his work Menorat HaMaor, he spoke of “Five Levels of Tzedakah.” They are, also in ascending order:

1. Pledging in public (merely for the honor)
     and then not giving.
2. Pledging publicly but with good intentions.
3. Giving anonymously, so that only the poor person
     knows who gave.
4. Giving secretly, so that even the poor person
     doesn’t know who gave.
5. Giving a loan or providing a job.

     One could imagine the author of our Midrash writing an addendum to the above lists:

     There are two levels of giving tzedakah. The lesser level is to leave a bequest, so that the money is given after one’s death. Thus the giver enjoys his wealth while he is alive, and after he is dead and can no longer derive benefit from it, it passes over to those who can. Such a person is likened to the acacia tree, of which it is said, “From the acacia there is no benefit except in cutting it down.” Only when it is no longer alive and growing can others make use of its resources.

     The higher level of tzedakah is to give to others while one is still alive. For in this manner, there is a twofold benefit: The recipient is helped now and does not have to wait for the death of the giver; and the giver has the reward of seeing the results of his or her mitzvah. Such a person is likened to a fruit tree, of which it is said, “While it stood, its fruit fed us; after it was felled, its wood warmed us.”

     /ANOTHER D’RASH

     Exodus 25–27 lists acacia as the sole wood used in the construction of the mishkan, Tabernacle, the portable sanctuary that the Israelites carried with them in the wilderness.

     You shall make the planks for the Tabernacle of acacia wood, upright. (Exodus 26:15)

     Thus, the acacia could be cut down and made into long, wide boards.

     How ironic that the Talmud records this anonymous axiom—“The only benefit from the acacia is when it is cut down”—without acknowledging that the acacia actually has an important and sacred use in traditional Jewish life before it is cut down. Two of the primary ingredients in the ink for Torah scrolls, tefillin, and mezuzot come from the acacia tree. One is גּוּמִי/gumi, “gum acacia,” also known as gum arabic, a thickening agent made from the dry sap of this tree. The other is אֲפָצִים/עֲפָצִים/afatzim, “nutgalls” or “gallnuts,” made from a growth on the acacia.

     Why, then, did the Rabbis claim that “The only benefit from the acacia is when it is cut down” when it did have clear uses even before it was cut down? Perhaps this is a case of Rabbinic exaggeration: The acacia does not produce an edible fruit. Or this may be a case where many people were not aware of the usefulness provided by the sap and gall of the acacia.

     Thus, it is not really true that “The only benefit from the acacia is when it is cut down.” For Jews, there is nothing more sacred than a Torah scroll, and the Torah scroll requires an acacia before it is cut down. We should not judge a tree merely by its fruit. We also need to look at its inner essence, where we discover that there is great worth and benefit. So, too, we have to look inside people and discover that their real worth is often not what appears on the surface.


Searching for Meaning in Midrash: Lessons for Everyday Living

Take Heart
     July 25

     To grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge.
--- Ephesians 3:18–19.

     Stand still and admire and wonder at the love of Jesus Christ to sinners—that Christ would rather die for us than for the angels. How Great Is Our God They were creatures of a more noble extract and in all probability might have brought greater revenues of glory to God; yet that Christ should pass by those golden vessels and make us vessels of glory—what amazing and astonishing love is this! This is the envy of devils and the admiration of angels and saints.

     The angels were more honorable and excellent creatures than we. They were celestial spirits; we, earthly bodies, dust and ashes. They were immediate attendants on God; we, servants of his in the lower house of this world and remote from his glorious presence. Their work was to sing hallelujahs, songs of praise to God in the heavenly paradise; ours, to dress the Garden of Eden, which was only an earthly paradise. They sinned only once and only in thought, as is commonly thought, but Adam sinned in thought by lusting, in deed by tasting, and in word by excusing. Why didn’t Christ suffer for their sins as well as for ours? Or, if for any, why not for theirs rather than ours? We move this question not as being curious to search your secret counsels, O Lord, but that we may more admire the love of Christ, that surpasses knowledge.

     The apostle, in admiration of Christ’s love, affirms it to surpass knowledge—that God, who is the eternal Being, should love the human when it had scarcely a being (Prov. 8:30–31), that he should be enamored with deformity, that he should pity us when no eye pitied us. Such was Christ’s transcendent love that our extreme misery could not abate it. The deplorableness of our condition only heightened the flame of Christ’s love. It is as high as heaven—who can reach it? It is as low as hell—who can understand it? Such is his perfect, matchless love to fallen people. That Christ’s love should extend to the ungodly, to sinners, to enemies who were in rebellion against him (Rom. 5:6, 8, 10)—yes, not only so, but that he should hug them in his arms, lodge them in his bosom, dandle them on his knees—is the highest refinement of love (Isa. 66:11–13).
--- Thomas Brooks


Take Heart: Daily Devotions with the Church's Great Preachers

On This Day
     Man of Habit  July 25

     William Romaine was a safe and predictable minister in eighteenth-century England—until he sat under the preaching of George Whitefield. For the rest of his life, Romaine was a fiery evangelical in the Church of England. His zeal confounded church leaders, and he lost both friends and positions. In at least one church, officials refused to light the building where he spoke, forcing him to preach by the light of a single candle held in his hand. But Romaine’s revivalistic preaching drew larger and larger audiences until all of London was affected.

     While Whitefield traveled around the world and Wesley throughout Britain, Romaine held down the fort in London. That was his citadel, and he became the rallying point for London’s Anglicans who loved the evangelical truth.

     Romaine was a man of habit. He took breakfast each day at six, reading from the book of Psalms as he ate. Dinner was at half-past one, supper at seven in the Evening, after which he took a walk. He conducted family prayer at nine in the Morning and at nine at night. Bedtime was ten.

     He lived to be 81, working unabated until his final illness. On Saturday, July 25, 1795, Romaine found himself unable to go down the stairs. He settled on an upstairs couch in great weakness, “giving glory to God.” In late afternoon, he was heard to whisper, “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil, for thou art with me.” A little later, a friend bent over and said, “I hope, my dear sir, you now find the salvation of Jesus Christ precious, dear, and valuable to you.” Romaine replied, “He is a precious Savior to me now.” A little later, as though seeing the Lord, he cried, “Holy! Holy! Holy! Blessed Jesus! To thee be endless praise.” And about midnight “as the Sabbath began” he took his final breath. His friends planned a private funeral, but thousands showed up. Fifty coaches followed the hearse, and multitudes on foot. His critics had long since folded their tents. The city loved him, and it loved his truth.

     You are true to your name, And you lead me along right paths. I may walk through valleys as dark as death, But I won’t be afraid. You are with me, And your shepherd’s rod makes me feel safe.
--- Psalm 23:3b,4.


On This Day 365 Amazing And Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs And Heroes

Morning and Evening
     Daily Readings / CHARLES H. SPURGEON

          Morning - July 25

     “He left his garment in her hand, and fled, and got him out.” --- Genesis 39:12.

     In contending with certain sins there remains no mode of victory but by flight. The ancient naturalists wrote much of basilisks, whose eyes fascinated their victims and rendered them easy victims; so the mere gaze of wickedness puts us in solemn danger. He who would be safe from acts of evil must haste away from occasions of it. A covenant must be made with our eyes not even to look upon the cause of temptation, for such sins only need a spark to begin with and a blaze follows in an instant. Who would wantonly enter the leper’s prison and sleep amid its horrible corruption? He only who desires to be leprous himself would thus court contagion. If the mariner knew how to avoid a storm, he would do anything rather than run the risk of weathering it. Cautious pilots have no desire to try how near the quicksand they can sail, or how often they may touch a rock without springing a leak; their aim is to keep as nearly as possible in the midst of a safe channel.

     This day I may be exposed to great peril, let me have the serpent’s wisdom to keep out of it and avoid it. The wings of a dove may be of more use to me today than the jaws of a lion. It is true I may be an apparent loser by declining evil company, but I had better leave my cloak than lose my character; it is not needful that I should be rich, but it is imperative upon me to be pure. No ties of friendship, no chains of beauty, no flashings of talent, no shafts of ridicule must turn me from the wise resolve to flee from sin. The devil I am to resist and he will flee from me, but the lusts of the flesh, I must flee, or they will surely overcome me. O God of holiness preserve thy Josephs, that Madam Bubble bewitch them not with her vile suggestions. May the horrible trinity of the world, the flesh, and the devil, never overcome us!


          Evening - July 25

     “In their affliction they will seek me early.” --- Hosea 5:15.

     Losses and adversities are frequently the means which the great Shepherd uses to fetch home his wandering sheep; like fierce dogs they worry the wanderers back to the fold. There is no making lions tame if they are too well fed; they must be brought down from their great strength, and their stomachs must be lowered, and then they will submit to the tamer’s hand; and often have we seen the Christian rendered obedient to the Lord’s will by straitness of bread and hard labour. When rich and increased in goods many professors carry their heads much too loftily, and speak exceeding boastfully. Like David, they flatter themselves, “My mountain standeth fast; I shall never be moved.” When the Christian groweth wealthy, is in good repute, hath good health, and a happy family, he too often admits Mr. Carnal Security to feast at his table, and then if he be a true child of God there is a rod preparing for him. Wait awhile, and it may be you will see his substance melt away as a dream. There goes a portion of his estate—how soon the acres change hands. That debt, that dishonoured bill—how fast his losses roll in, where will they end? It is a blessed sign of divine life if when these embarrassments occur one after another he begins to be distressed about his backslidings, and betakes himself to his God. Blessed are the waves that wash the mariner upon the rock of salvation! Losses in business are often sanctified to our soul’s enriching. If the chosen soul will not come to the Lord full-handed, it shall come empty. If God, in his grace, findeth no other means of making us honour him among men, he will cast us into the deep; if we fail to honour him on the pinnacle of riches, he will bring us into the valley of poverty. Yet faint not, heir of sorrow, when thou art thus rebuked, rather recognize the loving hand which chastens, and say, “I will arise, and go unto my Father.”

Morning and Evening

Amazing Grace
     July 25

          ON JORDAN’S STORMY BANKS

     Samuel Stennett, 1727–1795

     If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men. (1 Corinthians 15:19)

     In this day of the “throwaway” and the temporary, Christians must live according to their belief in eternity. The apostle Paul reminded the believers at Corinth that if their hope in Christ were related only to this life, they would be the most miserable men of all (1 Corinthians 15:17–19). The anticipation of God’s tomorrow makes it possible for Christians to live joyfully today—regardless of life’s circumstances.

     He liveth long who liveth well! All other life is short and vain;
     He liveth longest who can tell of living most for heavenly gain.


--- Horatius Bonar      What Canaan was to God’s chosen people of the Old Testament, the “heavenly places” are to New Testament believers. God has raised us up with Christ so that even now we can sit with Him in heavenly places (Ephesians 2:6). Living in Canaan, our spiritual heavenlies, should be the Christian’s daily experience as well as a foretaste of our eternal glory. We, like the Israelites, must faithfully follow our Leader and foresee and enjoy our possessions now.

     Samuel Stennett was one of the most respected and influential preachers among the dissenting or non-conformist groups of his times. He pastored a Baptist church on Little Wild Street in London, England, for an entire lifetime. The tune, “Promised Land,” is one of the many traditional melodies used in the United States during the early part of the 19th century. The hymn was first published in its present form in 1895.

     On Jordan’s stormy banks I stand and cast a wishful eye to Canaan’s fair and happy land, where my possessions lie.
     All o’er those wide extended plains shines one eternal day; where God the Son forever reigns and scatters night away.
     No chilling winds nor pois’nous breath can reach that healthful shore; sickness and sorrow, pain and death are felt and feared no more.
     When shall I reach that happy place and be forever blest? When shall I see my Father’s face and in His bosom rest?
     Chorus: I am bound for the promised land, I am bound for the promised land; O who will come and go with me? I am bound for the promised land.


     For Today: Numbers 14:7–9; Isaiah 35:10; Revelation 21:1–4

     Determine to set your sights and values more strongly on eternity and heavenly gain. Go forth with a buoyancy to your step and this song upon your lips ---

Amazing Grace: 366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions

De Servo Arbitrio “On the Enslaved Will” or The Bondage of the Will
     Martin Luther | (1483-1546)


     Sect. XCVII. — THE Sophists also felt the invincible and insupportable force of this argument, and therefore they invented the necessity of the consequence and of the thing consequent. But to what little purpose this figment is, I have shewn already. For they do not all the while observe, what they are saying, and what conclusions they are admitting against themselves. For if you grant the necessity of the consequence, “Free-will” lies vanquished and prostrate, nor does either the necessity, or the contingency of the thing consequent, profit it anything. What is it to me if “Free-will” be not compelled, but do what it does willingly? It is enough for me, that you grant, that it is of necessity, that it does willingly what it does; and that, it cannot do otherwise if God foreknew it would be so.

     If God foreknew, either that Judas would be a traitor, or that he would change his willing to be a traitor, whichsoever of the two God foreknew, must, of necessity, take place, or God will be deceived in His prescience and prediction, which is impossible. This is the effect of the necessity of the consequence, that is, if God foreknows a thing, that thing must of necessity take place; that is, there is no such thing as “Free-will.” This necessity of the consequence, therefore, is not ‘obscure or ambiguous;’ so that, even if the doctors of all ages were blinded, yet they must admit it, because it is so manifest and plain, as to be actually palpable. And as to the necessity of the thing consequent, with which they comfort themselves, that is a mere phantom, and is in diametrical opposition to the necessity of the consequence.

     For example: The necessity of the consequence is, (so to set it forth,) God foreknows that Judas will be a traitor — therefore it will certainly and infallibly come to pass, that Judas shall be a traitor. Against this necessity of the consequence, you comfort yourself thus: — But since Judas can change his willing to betray, therefore, there is no necessity of the thing consequent. How, I ask you, will these two positions harmonize, Judas is able to will not to betray, and, Judas must of necessity will to betray? Do not these two directly contradict and militate against each other? But he will not be compelled, you say, to betray against his will. What is that to the purpose? You were speaking of the necessity of the thing consequent; and saying, that that need not, of necessity, follow, from the necessity of the consequence; you were not speaking of the compulsive necessity of the thing consequent. The question was, concerning the necessity of the thing consequent, and you produce an example concerning the compulsive necessity of the thing consequent. I ask one thing, and you answer another. But this arises from that yawning sleepiness, under which you do not observe, what nothingness that figment amounts to, concerning the necessity of the thing consequent.

     Suffice it to have spoken thus to the former part of this SECOND PART, which has been concerning the hardening of Pharaoh, and which involves, indeed, all the Scriptures, and all our forces, and those invincible. Now let us proceed to the remaining part concerning Jacob and Esau, who are spoken of as being “not yet born.” (Rom. ix. 11).


The Bondage of the Will   or   Christian Classics Ethereal Library


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