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5/10/2018     Yesterday     Tomorrow
Numbers 19     Psalm 56-57     Isaiah 8:1-9:7     James 2

Numbers 19

Laws for Purification

Numbers 19:1 Now the LORD spoke to Moses and to Aaron, saying, 2 “This is the statute of the law that the LORD has commanded: Tell the people of Israel to bring you a red heifer without defect, in which there is no blemish, and on which a yoke has never come. 3 And you shall give it to Eleazar the priest, and it shall be taken outside the camp and slaughtered before him. 4 And Eleazar the priest shall take some of its blood with his finger, and sprinkle some of its blood toward the front of the tent of meeting seven times. 5 And the heifer shall be burned in his sight. Its skin, its flesh, and its blood, with its dung, shall be burned. 6 And the priest shall take cedarwood and hyssop and scarlet yarn, and throw them into the fire burning the heifer. 7 Then the priest shall wash his clothes and bathe his body in water, and afterward he may come into the camp. But the priest shall be unclean until evening. 8 The one who burns the heifer shall wash his clothes in water and bathe his body in water and shall be unclean until evening. 9 And a man who is clean shall gather up the ashes of the heifer and deposit them outside the camp in a clean place. And they shall be kept for the water for impurity for the congregation of the people of Israel; it is a sin offering. 10 And the one who gathers the ashes of the heifer shall wash his clothes and be unclean until evening. And this shall be a perpetual statute for the people of Israel, and for the stranger who sojourns among them.

11 “Whoever touches the dead body of any person shall be unclean seven days. 12 He shall cleanse himself with the water on the third day and on the seventh day, and so be clean. But if he does not cleanse himself on the third day and on the seventh day, he will not become clean. 13 Whoever touches a dead person, the body of anyone who has died, and does not cleanse himself, defiles the tabernacle of the LORD, and that person shall be cut off from Israel; because the water for impurity was not thrown on him, he shall be unclean. His uncleanness is still on him.

14 “This is the law when someone dies in a tent: everyone who comes into the tent and everyone who is in the tent shall be unclean seven days. 15 And every open vessel that has no cover fastened on it is unclean. 16 Whoever in the open field touches someone who was killed with a sword or who died naturally, or touches a human bone or a grave, shall be unclean seven days. 17 For the unclean they shall take some ashes of the burnt sin offering, and fresh water shall be added in a vessel. 18 Then a clean person shall take hyssop and dip it in the water and sprinkle it on the tent and on all the furnishings and on the persons who were there and on whoever touched the bone, or the slain or the dead or the grave. 19 And the clean person shall sprinkle it on the unclean on the third day and on the seventh day. Thus on the seventh day he shall cleanse him, and he shall wash his clothes and bathe himself in water, and at evening he shall be clean.

20 “If the man who is unclean does not cleanse himself, that person shall be cut off from the midst of the assembly, since he has defiled the sanctuary of the LORD. Because the water for impurity has not been thrown on him, he is unclean. 21 And it shall be a statute forever for them. The one who sprinkles the water for impurity shall wash his clothes, and the one who touches the water for impurity shall be unclean until evening. 22 And whatever the unclean person touches shall be unclean, and anyone who touches it shall be unclean until evening.”

Psalm 56

In God I Trust

Psalm 56 To The Choirmaster: According To The Dove On Far-off Terebinths. A Miktam Of David, When The Philistines Seized Him In Gath.

1  Be gracious to me, O God, for man tramples on me;
all day long an attacker oppresses me;
2  my enemies trample on me all day long,
for many attack me proudly.
3  When I am afraid,
I put my trust in you.
4  In God, whose word I praise,
in God I trust; I shall not be afraid.
What can flesh do to me?

5  All day long they injure my cause;
all their thoughts are against me for evil.
6  They stir up strife, they lurk;
they watch my steps,
as they have waited for my life.
7  For their crime will they escape?
In wrath cast down the peoples, O God!

8  You have kept count of my tossings;
put my tears in your bottle.
Are they not in your book?
9  Then my enemies will turn back
in the day when I call.
This I know, that God is for me.
10  In God, whose word I praise,
in the LORD, whose word I praise,
11  in God I trust; I shall not be afraid.
What can man do to me?

12  I must perform my vows to you, O God;
I will render thank offerings to you.
13  For you have delivered my soul from death,
yes, my feet from falling,
that I may walk before God
in the light of life.

Psalm 57

Let Your Glory Be over All the Earth

Psalm 57 To The Choirmaster: According To Do Not Destroy. A Miktam Of David, When He Fled From Saul, In The Cave.

1  Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me,
for in you my soul takes refuge;
in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge,
till the storms of destruction pass by.
2  I cry out to God Most High,
to God who fulfills his purpose for me.
3  He will send from heaven and save me;
he will put to shame him who tramples on me. Selah
God will send out his steadfast love and his faithfulness!

4  My soul is in the midst of lions;
I lie down amid fiery beasts—
the children of man, whose teeth are spears and arrows,
whose tongues are sharp swords.

5  Be exalted, O God, above the heavens!
Let your glory be over all the earth!

6  They set a net for my steps;
my soul was bowed down.
They dug a pit in my way,
but they have fallen into it themselves. Selah
7  My heart is steadfast, O God,
my heart is steadfast!
I will sing and make melody!
8  Awake, my glory!
Awake, O harp and lyre!
I will awake the dawn!
9  I will give thanks to you, O Lord, among the peoples;
I will sing praises to you among the nations.
10  For your steadfast love is great to the heavens,
your faithfulness to the clouds.

11  Be exalted, O God, above the heavens!
Let your glory be over all the earth!

Isaiah 8

The Coming Assyrian Invasion

Isaiah 8:1 Then the LORD said to me, “Take a large tablet and write on it in common characters, ‘Belonging to Maher-shalal-hash-baz.’ 2 And I will get reliable witnesses, Uriah the priest and Zechariah the son of Jeberechiah, to attest for me.”

3 And I went to the prophetess, and she conceived and bore a son. Then the LORD said to me, “Call his name Maher-shalal-hash-baz; 4 for before the boy knows how to cry ‘My father’ or ‘My mother,’ the wealth of Damascus and the spoil of Samaria will be carried away before the king of Assyria.”

5 The LORD spoke to me again: 6 “Because this people has refused the waters of Shiloah that flow gently, and rejoice over Rezin and the son of Remaliah, 7 therefore, behold, the Lord is bringing up against them the waters of the River, mighty and many, the king of Assyria and all his glory. And it will rise over all its channels and go over all its banks, 8 and it will sweep on into Judah, it will overflow and pass on, reaching even to the neck, and its outspread wings will fill the breadth of your land, O Immanuel.”

9  Be broken, you peoples, and be shattered;
give ear, all you far countries;
strap on your armor and be shattered;
strap on your armor and be shattered.
10  Take counsel together, but it will come to nothing;
speak a word, but it will not stand,
for God is with us.

Fear God, Wait for the LORD

11 For the LORD spoke thus to me with his strong hand upon me, and warned me not to walk in the way of this people, saying: 12 “Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread. 13 But the LORD of hosts, him you shall honor as holy. Let him be your fear, and let him be your dread. 14 And he will become a sanctuary and a stone of offense and a rock of stumbling to both houses of Israel, a trap and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. 15 And many shall stumble on it. They shall fall and be broken; they shall be snared and taken.”

16 Bind up the testimony; seal the teaching among my disciples. 17 I will wait for the LORD, who is hiding his face from the house of Jacob, and I will hope in him. 18 Behold, I and the children whom the LORD has given me are signs and portents in Israel from the LORD of hosts, who dwells on Mount Zion. 19 And when they say to you, “Inquire of the mediums and the necromancers who chirp and mutter,” should not a people inquire of their God? Should they inquire of the dead on behalf of the living? 20 To the teaching and to the testimony! If they will not speak according to this word, it is because they have no dawn. 21 They will pass through the land, greatly distressed and hungry. And when they are hungry, they will be enraged and will speak contemptuously against their king and their God, and turn their faces upward. 22 And they will look to the earth, but behold, distress and darkness, the gloom of anguish. And they will be thrust into thick darkness.

Isaiah 9:1-7

For to Us a Child Is Born

Isaiah 9:1 But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.

2  The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
on them has light shone.
3  You have multiplied the nation;
you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you
as with joy at the harvest,
as they are glad when they divide the spoil.
4  For the yoke of his burden,
and the staff for his shoulder,
the rod of his oppressor,
you have broken as on the day of Midian.
5  For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult
and every garment rolled in blood
will be burned as fuel for the fire.
6  For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7  Of the increase of his government and of peace
there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.

James 2

The Sin of Partiality

James 2:1 My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. 2 For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, 3 and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” 4 have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? 5 Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him? 6 But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court? 7 Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called?

8 If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. 9 But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. 10 For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it. 11 For he who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. 12 So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. 13 For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.

Faith Without Works Is Dead

14 What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? 17 So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

18 But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. 19 You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! 20 Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? 21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; 23 and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God. 24 You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. 25 And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? 26 For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.

The Reformation Study Bible

What I'm Reading

Ruth | Relationships

By Richard S. Adams 5/9/2018

     There is a gentleness about the story of Ruth that always appeals to me. Maybe because it is such a simple story, with a powerful message, a message never weakened by repeating. We are often unexpectedly blessed when we try to help someone else. Paul told us to focus on others rather than ourselves. Philippians 2:3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.  ESV

     Ruth lost a husband, Naomi lost a son. Surely Ruth bore a grief of her own, but her concern was for Naomi. Naomi gave Orpah and Ruth good advice; return to the home of your parents. Orpah did nothing wrong by returning to her own home. The three women had no means to provide for themselves. By returning to their homes Orpha and Ruth might still have a future, but Ruth refused to leave Naomi. She would not abandon the older woman to her own care.

     Ruth was born in Moab and Moab was a frequent enemy of Israel, Naomi’s home. Ruth was raised a pagan, but she was willing to give up her pagan gods and her home to return with Naomi to Israel. It seems altogether fitting that the name Ruth means companion; friend; vision of beauty, but these are over shadowed by her virtues of humility and kindness.

     Can the power of relationship be defined? What is relationship? We cannot see it or measure it, but who would deny its existence? I look out our window and see the trees bending in the wind. I do not see the wind, but the trees tell me it is there. As the wind moves the trees, relationships and lack of relationships move us. Disappointing, exhilarating, sad, joyful, full of anger, resentment, jealousy, loving, peaceful, contented and even just plain happy; all find their place in relationships.

     A day without relationship, a day without touch is tragic. We are moving faster and faster toward that very day. We are losing our ability to touch and to be touched. We are becoming more and more numb to the evil in our own hearts. We slaughter a million lives, millions of future relationships each year with no awareness of the future effects of our ‘right now’ choice.

     Would anyone disagree it is more and more difficult to find a modern-day Ruth? Naomi, on the other hand, is everywhere, yet her plight we cannot see ... until it becomes our own.

     I wonder if Ruth had any fear of how she would be treated by the people of Israel? Regardless, she was determined to stand by Naomi. She had no agenda, only taking care of Naomi. How could she know that what she was doing in her ‘right now’ would have such a wonderful impact on forever?

     What can I do right now, in the power of the Holy Spirit, to move someone else the way reading the story of Ruth moves me? Ruth became the great grandmother of King David and Paul writes in Romans 1:3-4 ... who was descended from David according to the flesh 4 and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord...   ESV

     Richard S. Adams | Lover of Christ, husband of Lily, father of four, grandfather of eleven, Masters in Divinity and Certificate in Spiritual Direction. On staff at George Fox 1/2009 to 7/2018.


Kingdoms in Conflict

By R.C. Sproul Jr. 6/1/2007

     It is the special gift of the serpent that he is not only able to construct his own diabolical versions of the things of God but that he is able in turn to disguise what he is doing. He creates a fake, and then turns around and disguises it as something safe and innocuous. That is, he is not only the false prince of a false kingdom, but those who are citizens of his realm have no idea that that is where they live. Because, for instance, the separation of church and state is an enshrined principle of these United States, precious few recognize that the statism we have embraced as a culture isn’t merely bad politics, it is bad theology. That is, the problem with statism isn’t ultimately the intrusiveness of the state, but the presumption of the state. The problem isn’t that they control our lives, but that they think they are God. The affront isn’t to our liberties, but to God’s prerogatives. Would that we were more zealous to protect His authority than to protect our petty liberties.

     Consider the Lord’s prayer through the eyes of the average American. While the federal government is writing checks to “artists” whose work consists of crucifixes floating in jars of urine, or images of the virgin Mary covered in elephant dung, it is at the same time seeking to make it a crime to “desecrate” the flag. How many of us understand what desecration is? It means to make unholy, or to treat that which is holy as unholy. Our fathers in Washington insist that their flag must be hallowed, it must be treated as holy.

     When the citizen of heaven prays, he asks God that we on earth might come to obey and rejoice in our Lord as those who have entered their reward already do. We want to be as obedient as those who are in glory. When the citizen of these United States prays, he asks the state to impose our will on other nations, as it is imposed here. He asks that this kingdom would, even with carnal weapons, bring our vision of paradise to bear on every corner of the globe. We call it exporting democracy.

     When the citizen of heaven prays, he asks God for his daily bread. When the citizen of these United States prays, he asks his god to provide his daily bread, his college loan, his mortgage insurance, his health care, his prescription drugs. He asks his god to make sure the stock market keeps climbing. He asks his god to provide jobs and a chicken in every pot. He even is brazen enough to ask for miracles. A hundred years ago a great epidemic passed over this land. Thousands died of influenza, and the nation responded in prayer, to the living God. Twenty years ago, a new epidemic began to spread in America. Once again Americans prayed. The difference this time is they bowed toward Washington, asking the state to cure AIDS.

     When the citizen of heaven prays, he asks God that his debts might be forgiven, as he forgives the debts of others. When the citizen of these United States prays, he asks the state to create more debts, to cover his own debts. He asks the bankrupt state to borrow still more money from the future, so that he too can continue to borrow more money from the future, and pay off those debts in inflated dollars.

     When the citizen of heaven prays, he asks God to lead him not into temptation, but to deliver him from evil. When the citizen of these United States prays, he asks his god to keep him away from evil, to tax his vices, to sue the vice providers, to buy airtime to cajole us all to eat better, and buckle our seat belts, and if all that fails, to pay the doctors to undo our mistakes.

     When the citizen of heaven prays, he affirms that the kingdom, the power, and the glory all belong to our Father. When the citizen of these United States prays, he affirms that the kingdom, the power, and the glory belong to the party with which he is affiliated.

     God tells us not to put our hope in princes and horses, and we, fools that we are, think that because our world is ruled by presidents and nuclear missiles, that we have outgrown this danger. We would be wise to remember this simple historical truth: not a single Christian was martyred in the first century because he believed Jesus was the Messiah, because he believed Jesus was raised from the dead. Every Christian martyr to fall at the hands of the Romans fell for one simple reason — he refused to take the pledge of allegiance. The Roman pledge was rather shorter than ours — Caesar ho kurios — Caesar is lord. Tens of thousands of Christians went to their death because they confessed the first creed of the church — Christos ho Kurios — Christ is Lord. They knew where their citizenship lay. If His kingdom is to come in greater fullness in our day, if His will is to be done in these United States as it is in heaven, then the church of Jesus Christ must learn where they are citizens. For His is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory. Amen.

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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

Prayer and Culture

By Gene Edward Veith 6/1/2007

     I recently headed the translation committee for our church body’s new hymnal and worship book. Our previous hymnal included the choice of a modernized version of the Lord’s Prayer. We found, though, that no one used it. Even the churches that had given themselves over to contemporary worship — claiming that old-fashioned language and time-honored practices were incomprehensible to “modern” or “postmodern” people today — when they deigned to pray the Lord’s Prayer used the old-fashioned, time-honored version, complete with “thy’s,” “art’s,” and “trespasses.”

     The Lord’s Prayer is the ultimate prayer, comprehending everything that we can pray for, and as such it sinks deep into the consciousness and into the culture.

     Prayer still has cultural currency. A TV reporter might be a militantly biased left-wing secularist, but after an interview with the survivors of a hurricane or the family of a murder victim, he often tells them, “Our thoughts and prayers are with you.” Legislatures, including those that acknowledge no laws higher than the ones they make up, still begin with prayer. When a national catastrophe takes place — for example, the 9/11 attacks — presidents declare a day of prayer and mass prayer services are convened in sports stadiums or the National Cathedral.

     At these exercises of national piety, the Lord’s Prayer is no longer used. Whereas some of us can remember beginning each school day with the Flag Salute and the Lord’s Prayer, it is generally recognized that use of a specifically Christian prayer is not appropriate in a religiously pluralistic context. In our new civil religion, not just Christians but Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Sikhs, Hindus, Native American animists, and whatever other religions might be represented in the community, must be dragged out and acknowledged. Sometimes this means each priest, imam, or witchdoctor offer his own distinct prayers, as the assembly bows their heads. Sometimes the assembled but diverse worshipers offer generic prayers that refer to no specific deity.

     But the Lord’s Prayer reminds us that it makes a huge difference whom we are praying to. A prayer calls upon a specific God, one who is named. “Our Father, which art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.” The teaching of the Bible about prayer is full of names. Jesus tells us to pray in His name and to hallow the name of the Father. The Holy Spirit is said to pray with us. The point is, for Christians, prayer is Trinitarian. We do not pray to a generic deity, much less to the presiding god of a pantheon. We are praying to someone specific, the Triune God revealed in the Bible, and to Him alone.

     Even in some Christian churches — or, perhaps, used-to-be Christian churches — people are now cringing at invoking “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” and are balking at addressing God as “our Father.” Those are sexist terms, so they say. They address God as if He were a male. Since God is spirit, they maintain, we should use language that is not gender-specific, so as not to exclude women from identifying with the divine. So the persons of the Trinity become “Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier.” Or, as recommended by a liberal Presbyterian task force, “Rock, Redeemer and Friend,” “Mother, Child and Womb,” “Rainbow, Ark, and Dove,” or “Sun, Light and Burning Ray.”

     But praying to “Burning Ray” is not the same as praying to “Our Father, which art in heaven.” Christianity is a revealed religion. God’s Word, indeed God incarnate, reveals the words with which we are to address and think of Him. If we make up our own religious language according to our preferences and sensitivities, we are out of the orbit of Christianity. And the deity that we name “Burning Ray,” being our own creation, is an idol. And as if that were not bad enough, we are repudiating not just the first but the second petition of the Lord’s Prayer: “hallowed be thy name.” Our culture’s new civil religion is inclusive of everyone, but it cannot be inclusive of Christians. When it comes to interfaith worship services, multi-faith prayer meetings, and civic demonstrations of our religious tolerance, Christians must politely excuse themselves.

     On days of national prayer, it is a pious act of good citizenship for citizens of every religion to go to their mosques, synagogues, ashrams, or churches to make supplications to whatever gods they believe in to bless this country. To summon them all to do so in one place of worship, though, is not toleration of religion; rather, this shows disrespect for everyone’s religious integrity.

     Christians know that it is wrong to mistreat people of other religions and that faith is not something that can be forced on unbelievers. So Christians should be tolerant. But religious toleration has morphed into religious relativism, the notion that all religions are equally valid. Christians cannot be relativists, but a culture that respects religious diversity can have a place for Christians in all their uniqueness. But now diversity is morphing into what can only be described as polytheism, the cultural need to affirm many gods.

     This is where Christians must draw the line, even if it means exclusion from the public square. After all, Christians suffered martyrdom in polytheistic Rome rather than offer the slightest ritualistic prayer to a deity other than “Our Father, which art in heaven.”

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     Dr. Gene Edward Veith is provost emeritus and professor of literature emeritus at Patrick Henry College and director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Ind.

Gene Edward Veith Books:

Prayer: A Warrior’s Weapon

By John Piper 7/1/2007

     In Daniel 10, the prophet receives a word from the Lord (v. 1) — a vision of conflict that stunned him with its greatness. So Daniel set himself with tears and fasting and prayer to seek the meaning of the vision, and for three weeks he wrestled in prayer over this vision and sought to know God’s will.

     After three weeks he went out to the banks of the Tigris River (v. 4). There he had a vision that was so awesome he could hardly bear it. To make matters worse (in v. 10), a hand reached out and touched him so that he shook terribly on his hands and knees. Then the voice said (vv. 11–12): “O Daniel, man greatly loved, understand the words that I speak to you, and stand upright, for now I have been sent to you…. Fear not, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart to understand and humbled yourself before your God, your words have been heard, and I have come because of your words.”

     Now this is immensely important for understanding prayer. Notice the words: “I have come because of your words.” Put that together with the words in verse 11: “I have been sent to you.” That is, God sent him. So the point is that God answered Daniel’s prayer as soon as he began to pray three weeks ago. “From the first day that you humbled yourself before your God your words [your prayers] have been heard, and I have come because of your words [your prayer].”

     So this heavenly being has come because Daniel prayed and humbled himself before God and fasted. And the three-week delay was not because God took three weeks to hear. What was it then?

     Verse 13: “The prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me twenty-one days, but Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me.” The reason the messenger of God was detained is because a spiritual being called “the prince of the kingdom of Persia” stood against him. And the reason this angelic messenger got free from this opposition was because the angel Michael came to help him.

     This is the clearest example in all the Bible of what is called by some people a “territorial spirit.” Verse 13 refers to “the prince of the kingdom of Persia.” The natural meaning of this phrase would be that among the supernatural beings opposed to God, at least one is assigned to a territory or, more accurately, to a kingdom, in this case Persia. Presumably his job is to darken the people of Persia — to keep them from having the truth and the light of God’s Word.

     But this spirit is not the only one mentioned. Look at verse 20–21: “Then he [the messenger from God] said, ‘Do you know why I have come to you? But now I will return to fight against the prince of Persia; and when I go out, behold, the prince of Greece will come. But I will tell you what is inscribed in the book of truth: there is none who contends by my side against these except Michael, your prince.’”

     So it appears that there was a spirit over Persia and a spirit over Greece. But it also seems that Michael, the good angel, has some special assignment for Israel, because it says at the end of verse 21: “Michael, your prince.” And the “your” there is plural. This is not a reference to Daniel’s guardian angel, but to Israel’s guardian angel.

     How then shall we do ministry in view of this reality of territorial spirits? First, we ought to take the supernatural seriously and realize that we are in a warfare that cannot and should not be domesticated by reinterpreting everything in the biblical worldview so that it fits nicely with secular, naturalistic ways of thinking about the world. Secondly, notice that Daniel’s prayer that has such powerful effects in the spiritual realm did not focus on angels and territorial spirits. Rather, he was wrestling for truth and for the good of God’s people. He was totally shocked when an angel appeared to him. And he knew nothing about the conflict with the prince of the kingdom of Persia.

     But it’s no accident that the messenger said that his struggle with the prince of Persia lasted exactly the same amount of time that Daniel’s fasting and prayer did — twenty-one days. The reason for this is that the warfare in the spirit realm was being fought in a real sense by Daniel in the prayer realm.

     And so it is with more of our prayers than we realize. But the point is this: Daniel’s praying was not about angels. And probably ours shouldn’t be either. We should wrestle in prayer and fasting for the things that we know are God’s will in our lives and our families and our church and our city and our world. But by and large we should probably leave it to God how He will use angels to get His work done. If God shows us more, we will use it. But the essence of the matter is not knowing the spirits but knowing God and praying in the power of Holy Spirit.

     So let us be about prayer with all our might. May the Lord make us a people who pray like Daniel.

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     John Piper is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is author of more than 50 books.

John Piper Books:

A Supernatural Faith

By R.C. Sproul 7/1/2007

     “The God hypothesis is no longer necessary to explain the origin of the universe or the development of human life.”

     This assertion was at the very heart of the movement that took place in the eighteenth century that we call the Enlightenment or the Aufklärung. This movement spread from Germany to France and then to England. The French Encyclopedists (writers of an encyclopedia during the eighteenth century that promoted secular humanism) were militant in their denial of the need for the existence of God. His existence was seen as no longer necessary because He had been supplanted by the “science” of that period that explained the universe in terms of spontaneous generation. Here we see an example of pseudoscience supplanting sound philosophy and theology.

     Added to this, we have the agnosticism of the titanic philosopher Immanuel Kant, who argued that it is impossible for science or philosophy to acquire knowledge of the metaphysical realm of God. It was declared that all knowledge must be restricted to the realm of the natural. With the combination of Kant’s agnosticism and the hypothesis of the Enlightenment, the door was open wide to a thoroughgoing philosophy of naturalism. This philosophy captured in its wake the academic theologians of Europe in the nineteenth century.

     Out of this came nineteenth-century liberalism with its militant anti-supernatural perspective. The liberalism of that era denied all of the supernatural elements of the Christian faith, including the virgin birth of Jesus, His miracles, His atoning death, and His resurrection. The supernatural was stripped altogether from Christianity. Commenting on this in the twentieth century, the Swiss theologian Emil Brunner described nineteenth century liberalism as mere “unbelief in disguise.”

     The twentieth century saw a continuation of the impact of naturalism with the so-called neo-liberalism of German theology, particularly as it was manifested in the writings of Rudolf Bultmann. Bultmann saw the Bible as a mixture of history and mythology. He believed that which was mythological had to be removed from the text of the Bible in order to speak relevantly to modern people. Of course, from Bultmann’s perspective, the supernatural trappings of the New Testament were all a part of the mythological husk that had to be stripped away from the ethical core of the Bible. The impact of liberalism and neo-liberalism on the church left it basically as a worldly, nature-bound religion that sought refuge in a humanitarian social agenda. This is the approach to Christianity that has all but completely captured many of today’s mainline churches throughout the world.

     However, in the last few decades, we have witnessed a comeback of sorts of the supernatural. Yet this increasing interest in the supernatural has been driven in large measure by a fascination with the occult. People are now interested in demons, witches, spiritualists, and other occultic phenomena.

     The Christianity of the Bible is a religion that is uncompromisingly supernatural. If we take away the supernatural, we take away Christianity. At the heart of the worldview of both Testaments is the idea that the realm of nature is created by One who transcends that nature. That God Himself is “supra” or above and beyond the created universe. The first principle of the Bible is that God must never be identified with the realm of nature but always and everywhere be seen as the Lord over nature. The difference between the natural and the supernatural is the difference between that which is restricted to this world and that which participates in the realm of the divine, the realm that is above and beyond the reach of what is found in simple nature.

     In no way does this affirmation of supernature in the Bible denigrate the importance of the natural. The natural realm is where God’s work of redemption is played out in space and time. But that work of redemption is not a natural process of human evolution or development; rather, it involves an intrusion from above, from the transcendent realm of God, which addresses the spiritual nature of our humanity.

     With the renewed interest in the supernatural that comes with the occult, we must be ever vigilant to make sure that whatever understanding we have of the supernatural is an understanding that is informed by the Bible and not by paganism. Sheer naturalism is paganism with a vengeance, but so is the occult. What we need is an understanding of the supernatural that comes to us from the supernatural, from the Author of the supernatural, who reveals to us in His Word the content of the supernatural realm — so that our understanding of angels, or demons, or of spiritual beings comes from God’s self-revelation and not from human speculation, neo-gnostic magic, or other forms of pagan intrusions. Again, we must insist that without the supernatural, Christianity loses its very heart, and this writer cannot understand why anybody would attach any great significance to Christianity at all once it’s been stripped of its supernatural elements.

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Robert Charles Sproul, 2/13/1939 – 12/14/2017 was an American theologian, author, and ordained pastor in the Presbyterian Church in America. Dr. R.C. Sproul was founder and chairman of Ligonier Ministries, an international Christian education and discipleship organization located near Orlando, Fla. He was also copastor of Saint Andrew’s Chapel in Sanford, Fla., chancellor of Reformation Bible College, and executive editor of Tabletalk magazine. Dr. Sproul has contributed dozens of articles to national evangelical publications, has spoken at conferences, churches, and schools around the world, and has written more than one hundred books. He also served as general editor of the Reformation Study Bible.

R.C. Sproul Books:

Read The Psalms In "1" Year

Psalm 48

Zion, the City of Our God
48 A Song. A Psalm Of The Sons Of Korah.

1 Great is the LORD and greatly to be praised
in the city of our God!
His holy mountain, 2 beautiful in elevation,
is the joy of all the earth,
Mount Zion, in the far north,
the city of the great King.
3 Within her citadels God
has made himself known as a fortress.
4 For behold, the kings assembled;
they came on together.
5 As soon as they saw it, they were astounded;
they were in panic; they took to flight.
6 Trembling took hold of them there,
anguish as of a woman in labor.
7 By the east wind you shattered
the ships of Tarshish.
8 As we have heard, so have we seen
in the city of the LORD of hosts,
in the city of our God,
which God will establish forever. Selah

ESV Study Bible

Numbers 19; Psalms 56-57; Isaiah 8:1-9:7; James 2

By Don Carson 5/10/2018

     American coins have the words “In God we trust.” In our pluralistic age, it is not unreasonable to respond, “Which God?” Even if the answer to that were unambiguously the God of the Bible, most people, I suspect, would think of this trust in God in fairly privatized of mystical ways. It is distressingly easy to think of trust in God as a kind of religious intuition, a pious sensibility, with only the vaguest perception of what this trust entails.

     David is under no such delusions. Twice in Psalm 56 his description of the God in whom he trusts implicitly gives some substance to the nature of trust. David writes, “When I am afraid, I will trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I will not be afraid. What can mortal man do to me?” (56:3-4, emphasis added). Again: “In God, whose word I praise, in the LORD, whose word I praise — in God I trust; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?” (56:10-11, emphasis added).

     In both passages, David grasps that trust in God is the only solution to his fear: “When I am afraid, I will trust in you . . . in God I trust; I will not be afraid . . . in God I trust; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?” The superscription of the Psalm shows that David wrote it shortly after his horrible experience in Gath (1 Sam. 21:10-15). While fleeing Saul, David hid out in Philistine territory and came within a whisker of being killed. He escaped by feigning madness. Doubtless he had been very afraid, and in his fear he trusted God, and found the strength to pull off a remarkable act that saved his life.

     But for our purposes, the striking element in David’s confession of his trust is his repetition of one clause. Three times he mentions the Lord God whose word I praise. In this context, the specific word that calls forth this description probably has something to do with why David could trust him so fully under these circumstances. The most likely candidate for what this “word” is that David praises is God’s promise to give him the kingdom and to establish him as the head of a dynasty. His current circumstances are so dire that unbelief might seem more obviously warranted. But David trusts the Lord whose word I praise.

     What we need is faith in the speaking God, faith in God that is firmly grounded in what this speaking God has said. Then, in the midst of even appalling circumstances, we can find deep rest in the God who does not go back on his word. Transparently, such faith is grounded in God’s revelatory words.

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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).

Don Carson Books:

The Institutes of the Christian Religion

Translated by Henry Beveridge





In the former Books an exposition has been given of the three parts of the Apostles' Creed concerning God the Creator, the Redeemer, and the Sanctifier. It now remains to treat, in this last Book, of the Church and the Communion of Saints, or of the external means or helps by which God invites us to fellowship with Christ, and keeps us in it.

The twenty Chapters of which it consists may be conveniently reduced to three particular heads--viz. I. Of the Church. II. Of the Sacraments. III. Of Civil Government.

The first head occupies the first thirteen chapters; but these may all be reduced to four--viz. I. Of the marks of the Church, or the means by which the Church may be discerned, since it is necessary to cultivate unity with the Church. This is considered in Chapters 1 and 2--II. Of the rule or government of the Church. The order of government, Chap. 3. The form in use in the primitive Church, Chap. 4. The form at present existing in the Papacy, Chap. 5. The primacy of the Pope, Chap. 6. The gradual rise of his usurpation, Chap. 7--III. Of the power of the Church. The power in relation to doctrine as possessed either by individuals, Chap. 8; or universally as in Councils, Chap. 9. The power of enacting laws, Chap. 10. The extent of ecclesiastical jurisdiction, Chap. 11--IV. Of the discipline of the Church. The chief use of discipline, Chap. 12. The abuse of it, Chap. 13.

The second general head, Of the Sacraments, comprehends three particulars,--I. Of the Sacraments in general, Chap. 14--II. Of the two Sacraments in particular. Of Baptism, Chap. 15. Of Pædobaptism, Chap. 16. Of the Lord's Supper, Chap. 17. Of profaning the Lord's Supper, Chap. 18. Of the five Sacraments falsely so called, Chap. 19.

The third general head, Of Civil Government. This considered first generally, and then under the separate heads of Magistrates, Laws, and People.




The three divisions of this chapter are,--I. The article of the Creed concerning the Holy Catholic Church and the Communion of Saints briefly expounded. The grounds on which the Church claims our reverence, sec. 1-6. II. Of the marks of the Church, sec. 7-9. III. The necessity of cleaving to the Holy Catholic Church and the Communion of Saints. Refutation of the errors of the Novatians, Anabaptists, and other schismatics, in regard to this matter, sec. 10-29.


1. The church now to be considered. With her God has deposited whatever is necessary to faith and good order. A summary of what is contained in this Book. Why it begins with the Church.

2. In what sense the article of the Creed concerning the Church is to be understood. Why we should say, "I believe the Church," not "I believe in the Church." The purport of this article. Why the Church is called Catholic or Universal.

3. What meant by the Communion of Saints. Whether it is inconsistent with various gifts in the saints, or with civil order. Uses of this article concerning the Church and the Communion of Saints. Must the Church be visible in order to our maintaining unity with her?

4. The name of Mother given to the Church shows how necessary it is to know her. No salvation out of the Church.

5. The Church is our mother, inasmuch as God has committed to her the kind office of bringing us up in the faith until we attain full age. This method of education not to be despised. Useful to us in two ways. This utility destroyed by those who despise the pastors and teachers of the Church. The petulance of such despisers repressed by reason and Scripture. For this education of the Church her children enjoined to meet in the sanctuary. The abuse of churches both before and since the advent of Christ. Their proper use.

6. Her ministry effectual, but not without the Spirit of God. Passages in proof of this.

7. Second part of the Chapter. Concerning the marks of the Church. In what respect the Church is invisible. In what respect she is visible.

8. God alone knoweth them that are his. Still he has given marks to discern his children.

9. These marks are the ministry of the word, and administration of the sacraments instituted by Christ. The same rule not to be followed in judging of individuals and of churches.

10. We must on no account forsake the Church distinguished by such marks. Those who act otherwise are apostates, deserters of the truth and of the household of God, deniers of God and Christ, violators of the mystical marriage.

11. These marks to be the more carefully observed, because Satan strives to efface them, or to make us revolt from the Church. The twofold error of despising the true, and submitting to a false Church.

12. Though the common profession should contain some corruption, this is not a sufficient reason for forsaking the visible Church. Some of these corruptions specified. Caution necessary. The duty of the members.

13. The immoral lives of certain professors no ground for abandoning the Church. Error on this head of the ancient and modern Cathari. Their first objection. Answer to it from three of our Saviour's parables.

14. Second objection. Answer from a consideration of the state of the Corinthian Church, and the Churches of Galatia.

15. Third objection and answer.

16. The origin of these objections. A description of Schismatics. Their portraiture by Augustine. A pious counsel respecting these scandals, and a safe remedy against them.

17. Fourth objection and answer. Answer confirmed by the divine promises.

18. Another confirmation from the example of Christ and of the faithful servants of God. The appearance of the Church in the days of the prophets.

19. Appearance of the Church in the days of Christ and the apostles, and their immediate followers.

20. Fifth objection. Answer to the ancient and modern Cathari, and to the Novatians, concerning the forgiveness of sins

21. Answer to the fifth objection continued. By the forgiveness of sins believers are enabled to remain perpetually in the Church.

22. The keys of the Church given for the express purpose of securing this benefit. A summary of the answer to the fifth objection.

23. Sixth objection, formerly advanced by the Novatians, and renewed by the Anabaptists. This error confuted by the Lord's Prayer.

24. A second answer, founded on some examples under the Old Testament.

25. A third answer, confirmed by passages from Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Solomon. A fourth answer, derived from sacrifices.

26. A fifth answer, from the New Testament. Some special examples.

27. General examples. A celebrated passage. The arrangement of the Creed.

28 Objection, that voluntary transgression excludes from the Church.

29. Last objection of the Novatians, founded on the solemn renewal of repentance required by the Church for more heinous offences. Answer.

1. In the last Book, it has been shown, that by the faith of the gospel Christ becomes ours, and we are made partakers of the salvation and eternal blessedness procured by him. But as our ignorance and sloth (I may add, the vanity of our mind) stand in need of external helps, by which faith may be begotten in us, and may increase and make progress until its consummation, God, in accommodation to our infirmity, has added such helps, and secured the effectual preaching of the gospel, by depositing this treasure with the Church. He has appointed pastors and teachers, by whose lips he might edify his people (Eph. 4:11); he has invested them with authority, and, in short, omitted nothing that might conduce to holy consent in the faith, and to right order. In particular, he has instituted sacraments, which we feel by experience to be most useful helps in fostering and confirming our faith. For seeing we are shut up in the prison of the body, and have not yet attained to the rank of angels, God, in accommodation to our capacity, has in his admirable providence provided a method by which, though widely separated, we might still draw near to him. Wherefore, due order requires that we first treat of the Church, of its Government, Orders, and Power; next, of the Sacraments; and, lastly, of Civil Government;--at the same time guarding pious readers against the corruptions of the Papacy, by which Satan has adulterated all that God had appointed for our salvation. I will begin with the Church, into whose bosom God is pleased to collect his children, not only that by her aid and ministry they may be nourished so long as they are babes and children, but may also be guided by her maternal care until they grow up to manhood, and, finally, attain to the perfection of faith. What God has thus joined, let not man put asunder (Mark 10:9): to those to whom he is a Father, the Church must also be a mother. This was true not merely under the Law, but even now after the advent of Christ; since Paul declares that we are the children of a new, even a heavenly Jerusalem (Gal. 4:26).

2. When in the Creed we profess to believe the Church, reference is made not only to the visible Church of which we are now treating, but also to all the elect of God, including in the number even those who have departed this life. And, accordingly, the word used is "believe," because oftentimes no difference can be observed between the children of God and the profane, between his proper flock and the untamed herd. The particle in is often interpolated, but without any probable ground. I confess, indeed, that it is the more usual form, and is not unsupported by antiquity, since the Nicene Creed, as quoted in Ecclesiastical History, adds the preposition. At the same time, we may perceive from early writers, that the expression received without controversy in ancient times was to believe "the Church," and not "in the Church." This is not only the expression used by Augustine, and that ancient writer, whoever he may have been, whose treatise, De Symboli Expositione, is extant under the name of Cyprian, but they distinctly remark that the addition of the preposition would make the expression improper, and they give good grounds for so thinking. We declare that we believe in God, both because our mind reclines upon him as true, and our confidence is fully satisfied in him. This cannot be said of the Church, just as it cannot be said of the forgiveness of sins, or the resurrection of the body. Wherefore, although I am unwilling to dispute about words, yet I would rather keep to the proper form, as better fitted to express the thing that is meant, than affect terms by which the meaning is causelessly obscured. The object of the expression is to teach us, that though the devil leaves no stone unturned in order to destroy the grace of Christ, and the enemies of God rush with insane violence in the same direction, it cannot be extinguished,--the blood of Christ cannot be rendered barren, and prevented from producing fruit. Hence, regard must be had both to the secret election and to the internal calling of God, because he alone "knoweth them that are his" (2 Tim. 2:19); and as Paul expresses it, holds them as it were enclosed under his seal, although, at the same time, they wear his insignia, and are thus distinguished from the reprobate. But as they are a small and despised number, concealed in an immense crowd, like a few grains of wheat buried among a heap of chaff, to God alone must be left the knowledge of his Church, of which his secret election forms the foundation. [517] Nor is it enough to embrace the number of the elect in thought and intention merely. By the unity of the Church we must understand a unity into which we feel persuaded that we are truly ingrafted. For unless we are united with all the other members under Christ our head, no hope of the future inheritance awaits us. Hence the Church is called Catholic or Universal (August. Ep. 48), for two or three cannot be invented without dividing Christ; and this is impossible. All the elect of God are so joined together in Christ, that as they depend on one head, so they are as it were compacted into one body, being knit together like its different members; made truly one by living together under the same Spirit of God in one faith, hope, and charity, called not only to the same inheritance of eternal life, but to participation in one God and Christ. For although the sad devastation which everywhere meets our view may proclaim that no Church remains, let us know that the death of Christ produces fruit, and that God wondrously preserves his Church, while placing it as it were in concealment. Thus it was said to Elijah, "Yet I have left me seven thousand in Israel" (1 Kings 19:18).

3. Moreover, this article of the Creed relates in some measure to the external Church, that every one of us must maintain brotherly concord with all the children of God, give due authority to the Church, and, in short, conduct ourselves as sheep of the flock. And hence the additional expression, the "communion of saints;" for this clause, though usually omitted by ancient writers, must not be overlooked, as it admirably expresses the quality of the Church; just as if it had been said, that saints are united in the fellowship of Christ on this condition, that all the blessings which God bestows upon them are mutually communicated to each other. This, however, is not incompatible with a diversity of graces, for we know that the gifts of the Spirit are variously distributed; nor is it incompatible with civil order, by which each is permitted privately to possess his own means, it being necessary for the preservation of peace among men that distinct rights of property should exist among them. Still a community is asserted, such as Luke describes when he says, "The multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul" (Acts 4:32); and Paul, when he reminds the Ephesians, "There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling" (Eph. 4:4). For if they are truly persuaded that God is the common Father of them all, and Christ their common head, they cannot but be united together in brotherly love, and mutually impart their blessings to each other. Then it is of the highest importance for us to know what benefit thence redounds to us. For when we believe the Church, it is in order that we may be firmly persuaded that we are its members. In this way our salvation rests on a foundation so firm and sure, that though the whole fabric of the world were to give way, it could not be destroyed. First, it stands with the election of God, and cannot change or fail, any more than his eternal providence. Next, it is in a manner united with the stability of Christ, who will no more allow his faithful followers to be dissevered from him, than he would allow his own members to be torn to pieces. We may add, that so long as we continue in the bosom of the Church, we are sure that the truth will remain with us. Lastly, we feel that we have an interest in such promises as these, "In Mount Zion and in Jerusalem shall be deliverance" (Joel 2:32; Obad. 17); "God is in the midst of her, she shall not be moved" (Ps. 46:5). So available is communion with the Church to keep us in the fellowship of God. In the very term communion there is great consolation; because, while we are assured that everything which God bestows on his members belongs to us, all the blessings conferred upon them confirm our hope. But in order to embrace the unity of the Church in this manner, it is not necessary, as I have observed, to see it with our eyes, or feel it with our hands. Nay, rather from its being placed in faith, we are reminded that our thoughts are to dwell upon it, as much when it escapes our perception as when it openly appears. Nor is our faith the worse for apprehending what is unknown, since we are not enjoined here to distinguish between the elect and the reprobate (this belongs not to us, but to God only), but to feel firmly assured in our minds, that all those who, by the mercy of God the Father, through the efficacy of the Holy Spirit, have become partakers with Christ, are set apart as the proper and peculiar possession of God, and that as we are of the number, we are also partakers of this great grace.

4. But as it is now our purpose to discourse of the visible Church, [518] let us learn, from her single title of Mother, how useful, nay, how necessary the knowledge of her is, since there is no other means of entering into life unless she conceive us in the womb and give us birth, unless she nourish us at her breasts, and, in short, keep us under her charge and government, until, divested of mortal flesh, we become like the angels (Mt. 22:30). For our weakness does not permit us to leave the school until we have spent our whole lives as scholars. Moreover, beyond the pale of the Church no forgiveness of sins, no salvation, can be hoped for, as Isaiah and Joel testify (Isa. 37:32; Joel 2:32). To their testimony Ezekiel subscribes, when he declares, "They shall not be in the assembly of my people, neither shall they be written in the writing of the house of Israel" (Ezek. 13:9); as, on the other hand, those who turn to the cultivation of true piety are said to inscribe their names among the citizens of Jerusalem. For which reason it is said in the psalm, "Remember me, O Lord, with the favour that thou bearest unto thy people: O visit me with thy salvation; that I may see the good of thy chosen, that I may rejoice in the gladness of thy nation, that I may glory with thine inheritance" (Ps. 106:4, 5). By these words the paternal favour of God and the special evidence of spiritual life are confined to his peculiar people, and hence the abandonment of the Church is always fatal.

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

  • So Will I
  • The Calvinist
  • How Great Is Our God

#1  Words and Music by Joel Houston Benjamin Hastings & Michael Fatkin


#2  ... a glimpse of God's sovereign intersection with the life of a sinful man.


#3  Music video by Chris Tomlin performing How Great Is Our God.


     Devotionals, notes, poetry and more

coram Deo
     4/1/2006    A Simple Mystery

     John Wesley is quoted as having said: “Bring me a worm that can comprehend a man, and then I will show you a man that can comprehend the triune God.” A clever statement indeed, but just as every analogy of the Trinity that has ever been offered breaks down under scrutiny, so Wesley’s analogy of a worm’s comprehension of man compared to our comprehension of God breaks down as well. First of all, worms are not made in the image of man. Secondly, worms have not been given special revelation from man, and, what is more, no man ever became a worm, even though at times our wives may be led to think otherwise. We were made in the image of our triune God with minds carefully crafted by God to understand certain things about God. Our Creator then provided us with certain information about Himself through His revelation to us. As a result, we have been given the ability and the knowledge to understand all that God has intended for us to comprehend — and such comprehension comes only through faith given to us by God, for the natural man cannot understand the things of God.

     At the heart of Wesley’s statement is the truth that no mere man can comprehend God completely. But the mistake is often made by the people of God in thinking that we cannot comprehend God rightly. In fact, in many circles, for someone to speak of God as some sort of unknowable, mysterious figure that is beyond reality is thought of as super-spiritual. The Bible does teach that there are certain things God has hidden from us (Deut. 29:29). The Bible also teaches that God is not completely comprehendible by men, nor are His ways fully understood by men (Rom. 11:33–34; 1 Cor. 2:16). Nevertheless, as we examine the Bible, many divine mysteries are unfolded by God Himself. Though we may not understand completely how God is three in person and one in essence, we do know the simple truth that He is.

     We who are finite in our capacity cannot fully comprehend our infinite God, for the infinite mystery of our triune God is contained only by He who is infinite. And although the explanations that our Lord provides are simple, they are indeed true. For that reason, we should be less concerned with trying to figure out those things about God that He has not given us the ability to comprehend and be more concerned with living coram Deo, before His face, according to all that we can comprehend about our gracious and holy, triune God.

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     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

     A surprise attack before dawn, on this day May 10, 1775, gave America one of its first great victories of the Revolutionary War. Ethan Allen, who commanded the Green Mountain Boys of Vermont, captured Fort Ticonderoga on Lake Champlain without the loss of a man, by overrunning the stronghold in the early Morning while the British were still sleeping. When Allen demanded immediate surrendered, the bewildered British captain asked in whose name such a request was being made. Ethan Allen responded: "In the Name of the Great Jehovah and the Continental Congress."

American Minute

Lean Into God
     Compiled by Richard S. Adams

I know God will not give me anything I can't handle.
I just wish that He didn't trust me so much.
--- Mother Teresa
Soundbyte Spirituality: Sayings to Awaken Faith

In many areas of understanding,
none so much as in our understanding of God,
we bump up against a simplicity
so profound that we must assign
complexities to it to comprehend it at all.

It is mindful of how we paste decals to a sliding glass door
to keep from bumping our nose against it.
--- Robert Brault  www.robertbrault.com

To know that God knows everything about me
and yet loves me is indeed my ultimate consolation.
--- R.C. Sproul
Discovering the Intimate Marriage: A Practical Guide to Building a Good Marriage

When I pray, coincidences happen;
when I stop praying,
the coincidences stop happening.
--- William Temple
Hebrew Word Study: A Hebrew Teacher's Call to Silence
... from here, there and everywhere

The Imitation Of Christ
     Thomas A Kempis

     Book Four - An Invitation To Holy Communion

     The Second Chapter / God’s Great Goodness And Love Is Shown To Man In This Sacrament

     The Disciple

     TRUSTING in Your goodness and great mercy, O Lord, I come as one sick to the Healer, as one hungry and thirsty to the Fountain of life, as one in need to the King of heaven, a servant to his Lord, a creature to his Creator, a soul in desolation to my gentle Comforter.

     But whence is this to me, that You should come to me? Who am I that You should offer Yourself to me? How dares the sinner to appear in Your presence, and You, how do You condescend to come to the sinner? You know Your servant, and You know that he has nothing good in him that You should grant him this.

     I confess, therefore, my unworthiness. I acknowledge Your goodness. I praise Your mercy, and give thanks for Your immense love. For it is because of Yourself that You do it, not for any merit of mine; so that Your goodness may be better known to me, that greater love may be aroused and more perfect humility born in me. Since, then, this pleases You and You have so willed it, Your graciousness pleases me also. Oh, that my sinfulness may not stand in the way!

     O most sweet and merciful Jesus, what great reverence, thanks, and never-ending praise are due to You for our taking of Your sacred body, whose dignity no man can express!

     But on what shall I think in this Communion, this approach to my Lord, Whom I can never reverence as I ought, and yet Whom I desire devoutly to receive? What thought better, more helpful to me than to humble myself entirely in Your presence and exalt Your infinite goodness above myself?

     I praise You, my God, and extol You forever! I despise myself and cast myself before You in the depths of my unworthiness. Behold, You are the Holy of holies, and I the scum of sinners! Behold, You bow down to me who am not worthy to look up to You! Behold, You come to me! You will to be with me! You invite me to Your banquet! You desire to give me heavenly food, the Bread of Angels to eat, none other than Yourself, the living Bread Who are come down from heaven and give life to the world.

     Behold, whence love proceeds! What condescension shines forth! What great thanks and praise are due You for these gifts! Oh, how salutary and profitable was Your design in this institution! How sweet and pleasant the banquet when You gave Yourself as food!

     How admirable is Your work, O Lord! How great Your power! How infallible Your truth! For You spoke and all things were made, and this, which You commanded, was done. It is a wonderful thing, worthy of faith, overpowering human understanding, that You, O Lord, my God, true God and man, are contained whole and entire under the appearance of a little bread and wine, and without being consumed are eaten by him who receives You!

     You, the Lord of the universe, Who have need of nothing, have willed to dwell in us by means of Your Sacrament. Keep my heart and body clean, so that with a joyous and spotless conscience I may be able often to celebrate Your Mysteries and to receive for my eternal salvation what You have ordained and instituted for Your special honor and as an everlasting memorial.

     Rejoice, my soul, and give thanks to God for having left you so noble a gift and so special a consolation in this valley of tears. As often as you renew this Mystery and receive the Body of Christ, so often do you enact the work of redemption and become a sharer in all the merits of Christ, for the love of Christ never grows less and the wealth of His mercy is never exhausted.

     Therefore, you should prepare yourself for it by constantly renewing your heart and pondering deeply the great mystery of salvation. As often as you celebrate or hear Mass, it should seem as great, as new, as sweet to you as if on that very day Christ became man in the womb of the Virgin, or, hanging on the Cross, suffered and died for the salvation of man.

The Imitation Of Christ

Andrew Murray's Absolute Surrender
     Practical religion. The Christian life

     And how does He fulfill the trust of that dependence? He does it by sending down the Holy Spirit--not now and then only as a special gift, for remember the relationship between the vine and the branches is such that hourly, daily, unceasingly there is the living connection maintained. The sap does not flow for a time, and then stop, and then flow again, but from moment to moment the sap flows from the vine to the branches. And just so, my Lord Jesus wants me to take that blessed position as a worker, and Morning by Morning and day by day and hour by hour and step by step, in every work I have to go out to just to abide before Him in the simple utter helplessness of one who knows nothing, and is nothing, and can do nothing. Oh, beloved workers, study that word nothing. You sometimes sing: "Oh, to be nothing, nothing"; but have you really studied that word and prayed every day, and worshiped God, in the light of it? Do you know the blessedness of that word nothing?

     If I am something, then God is not everything; but when I become nothing, God can become all, and the everlasting God in Christ can reveal Himself fully. That is the higher life. We need to become nothing. Someone has well said that the seraphim and cherubim are flames of fire because they know they are nothing, and they allow God to put His fullness and His glory and brightness into them. Oh, become nothing in deep reality, and, as a worker, study only one thing—to become poorer and lower and more helpless, that Christ may work all in you.

     Workers, here is your first lesson: learn to be nothing, learn to be helpless. The man who has got something is not absolutely dependent; but the man who has got nothing is absolutely dependent. Absolute dependence upon God is the secret of all power in work. The branch has nothing but what it gets from the vine, and you and I can have nothing but what we get from Jesus.

Absolute Surrender (The Colportage Library)

Proverbs 16:22-24
     by D.H. Stern

22     Common sense is a fountain of life to one who has it,
whereas fools are punished by their own folly.

23     The wise man’s heart teaches his mouth,
and to his lips it adds learning.
24     Pleasant words are like a honeycomb,
sweet to the taste and healing for the body.

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

My Utmost For The Highest
     A Daily Devotional by Oswald Chambers

                Take the initiative

     Add to your faith virtue … (“Furnish your faith with resolution.”) (MOFFATT) --- 2 Peter 1:5.

     “Add” means there is something we have to do. We are in danger of forgetting that we cannot do what God does, and that God will not do what we can do. We cannot save ourselves nor sanctify ourselves, God does that; but God will not give us good habits, He will not give us character, He will not make us walk aright. We have to do all that ourselves, we have to work out the salvation God has worked in. “Add” means to get into the habit of doing things, and in the initial stages it is difficult. To take the initiative is to make a beginning, to instruct yourself in the way you have to go.

     Beware of the tendency of asking the way when you know it perfectly well. Take the initiative, stop hesitating, and take the first step. Be resolute when God speaks, act in faith immediately on what He says, and never revise your decisions. If you hesitate when God tells you to do a thing, you endanger your standing in grace. Take the initiative, take it yourself, take the step with your will now, make it impossible to go back. Burn your bridges behind you—‘I will write that letter’; ‘I will pay that debt.’ Make the thing inevitable.

     We have to get into the habit of hearkening to God about everything, to form the habit of finding out what God says. If, when a crisis comes, we instinctively turn to God, we know that the habit has been formed. We have to take the initiative where we are, not where we are not.

My Utmost for His Highest

     the Poetry of RS Thomas


Suddenly after long silence
  he has become voluble
  He addresses me from a myriad
  directions with the fluency
  of water, the articulateness
  of green leaves; and in the genes,
  too, the components
  of my existence. The rock,
  so long speechless, is the library
  of his poetry. He sings to me
  in the chain-saw, writes
  with the surgeon's hand
  on the skins's parchment messages
  of healing. The weather
  is his mind's turbine
  driving the earth's bulk round
  and around on its remedial
  journey. I have no need to despair; as at
  some second Pentecost
  of a Gentile, I listen to the things
  round me: weeds, stones, instruments,
  the machine itself, all
  speaking to me in the vernacular
  of the purposes of One who is.

Selected poems, 1946-1968

Swimming In The Sea of Talmud
     Bava Kamma 60b


     At the onset of the AIDS epidemic, many people believed that those afflicted with the disease were "getting exactly what they deserved." Drug-users who shared dirty needles or homosexuals who engaged in risky and promiscuous behavior were reaping what they themselves had sown. Many saw the virus as God's punishment for sinful behavior. As long as one did not commit the sins, one had nothing to fear from the punishment. But it soon became clear that this black-and-white view of AIDS was not accurate. A young boy, a hemophiliac, contracted the disease from a blood transfusion. The same thing happened to a superstar tennis player during a heart operation, and to the wife of a well-known television actor. All three were to die of AIDS. Faithful wives were infected by their husbands who, unbeknownst to them, were leading secretly promiscuous lives. "Once permission has been given to the Destroyer, it does not differentiate between righteous and wicked."

     We would like to think that technology has brought us to the point where we can fight "clean" wars. The nation watched television during the Gulf War, enthralled by the "smart bombs" that could be directed to a specific target and even guided through a chosen window or door. We came to believe that only the target would be hit, leaving no "collateral damage." But our assumptions about the new warfare proved illusory. Some of the smart bombs malfunctioned; others were adversely affected by wind or weather conditions. And of course, there was always human error. The truth is that innocent civilians who happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time continue to die in war. It is in the very nature of bombs and warfare itself to be indiscriminate. "Once permission has been granted to the Destroyer, it does not differentiate between righteous, and wicked."

     Two people are sharing some juicy gossip. One says to the other: "Can you keep a secret? I've just got to tell you what I heard yesterday, but you've got to promise me that you won't breathe a word of this to anyone!" The next day, the person sworn to secrecy has "just got to tell" someone else, who will also be told to keep it confidential. Pretty soon, the secret is public knowledge and is not only being passed from one person to another but also being embellished. Whether it is true or false, whether it was supposed to be private or not is now irrelevant. Several people will be deeply embarrassed; reputations may even be ruined. Someone may be fired; another person's marriage may be destroyed. Once the genie is let out of the bottle, it cannot be put back in. That is the nature of gossip. "Once permission has been given to the Destroyer, it does not differentiate between righteous and wicked."

     Knowing that this is true, we need to be extremely careful that we ourselves are not the ones who give "permission" to the various "destroyers" of life and human dignity.

     Bald from both sides.

     Text / Rav Ammi and Rav Assi were sitting in front of Rabbi Yitzḥak Nappaḥa. One said: "Tell us a law!" The other said: "Tell us a legend!" He started to say a legend but was not allowed to. He started to tell a law but was not allowed to. He said to them: "I will tell you a parable. To what can it be compared? To a man with two wives, one young, one old. The young one pulls out his white hairs, while the old one pulls out his black hairs, and thus he becomes bald from both sides!"

     He said to them: "If so, I will tell you one thing that is good for both of you: 'When a fire is started and spreads to thorns' [Exodus 22:5]. 'Is started'—by itself—'[so that stacked, standing, or growing grain is consumed,] he who started the fire must make restitution.' The Holy One, blessed be He, said: 'I must make restitution for the fire I started. I started a fire in Zion, as it says: "He kindled a fire in Zion which consumed its foundations" [Lamentations 4:11], and I will one day rebuild it by fire, as it says: "And I Myself … will be a wall of fire all around it, and I will be a glory inside it" [Zechariah 2:9].' A law: The verse begins with property damage and ends with personal damage, to show that fire is his responsibility."

     Context / The Rabbis of the Talmud felt free to cite and quote not only God's words but also God's thoughts and intentions. There are times, though, when the Rabbis went even further, taking a verse out of context or quoting only the part of the verse that suited their own purposes. The verse from Zechariah is a classic example. It would be awkward, redundant, and contradictory to have God quote the entire verse, saying:

     And I Myself—declares the Lord—will be a wall of fire all around it, and I will be a glory inside it.

     Therefore, the verse is quoted in the Gemara without the two Hebrew words n'um Adonai, "declares the Lord." It is likely that the Rabbis saw no problem with this truncated reading of the verse, taking the words and putting them back in God's mouth in a totally different context. In order to accomplish this, the Rabbis had to leave out two words to make God sound sensible.

     In this Gemara, Rav Ammi and Rav Assi, two sages often quoted together, are studying with Rabbi Yitzḥak Nappaḥa. Each student wants his mentor to teach the material that he enjoys most: One asks for legend/midrash, the other for law/halakhah. Rabbi Yitzḥak is caught in a bind. When he starts to teach midrash, one student interrupts and asks his teacher for law. But when Rabbi Yitzḥak switches to law, the other student prevents him from continuing, for he prefers legend.

     Being a master teacher, Rabbi Yitzḥak resorts to the use of a parable to explain his predicament: A man with two wives, one young and one old, would have one of them wanting him to look more youthful and the other desiring a more mature husband. (It seems that Rabbi Yitzḥak did not really consider the possibility that a young wife might want an older man, or that an older woman might prefer a more youthful husband.) Each wife pulls out only some of his hair, but nonetheless, the result is that the man is left "bald from both sides." Thus, the expression is roughly equivalent to our English "no-win situation" or the more contemporary "Catch-22."

     Rabbi Yitzḥak is such an expert teacher that he finds one biblical verse that serves the purpose of both a midrash/legend and a halakhah/law, thus satisfying both students. The midrash is that if the person who started the fire must make restitution, then even God will do so. God had caused Jerusalem to be destroyed by fire (as the verse from Eikha, or Lamentations, attests), and God will accept the responsibility and cause Jerusalem to be rebuilt by fire (the verse from Zechariah). The law that Rabbi Yitzḥak teaches is that both property damage and physical damage are referred to in the verse from Exodus. Property damage is from the words "When a fire is started and spreads to thorns," while personal damage is implied in "he who started the fire," that is, someone started it (as opposed to the beginning of the verse, where it appears as if the fire started on its own). Even though the fire may appear to have started by itself, there is still a responsible party who must pay.

     In the Hebrew, what is translated as "fire is his responsibility" is literally "fire is his arrow," meaning that it is something that the man himself did. Just as shooting an arrow can start an entire process that may have been unintended and unexpected, but is nonetheless the responsibility of the marksman, so too the one who started a fire which spread to another's field is responsible.

Swimming in the Sea of Talmud: Lessons for Everyday Living

Ruth / Islands of Hope
     Teacher's Commentary

     The story of Ruth takes place in the time of the Judges (Ruth 1:1). The book tells a simple, beautiful story, that is even more compelling because of the spiritual darkness of the times.

     The last chapters of Judges describe the tragic moral and spiritual state of the Jewish people during this era. They had lost track of the Law, perverted the worship of God, and slipped into moral depravity. The Book of Ruth reminds us that even in evil times a godly life is possible. There will always be believers who love and honor God even in sin-saturated societies.

     Ruth herself is also important genealogically, for she was the great-grandmother of King David. Ruth is also an important reminder that, even though through the Old Testament era the Hebrews were God's chosen people, Gentiles like Ruth of Moab could find a personal relationship with the God of Israel.

     Kinsman-Redeemer. The story of Ruth also illustrates the meaning of the Hebrew word ga'al, which means to "play the part of a kinsman." In Old Testament Law, a near relative had the right to act on behalf of a person in trouble or in danger. When persons or possessions were in the grip of a hostile power, the kinsman might act to redeem (to win release and freedom). The marriage of Boaz to Ruth involved buying back Naomi's family land, and meant that their son would carry on Naomi's family line. Jesus, by taking on humanity, became our near Kinsman, with the right to redeem you and me.

     Commentary / A teenager stands before the juvenile court judge. Who's to blame? The home? The society? The individual? Questions like these reflect one of the most significant disputes of our day: conflict between the notion that society shapes and determines the individual—and the notion that the individual bears full responsibility for his own acts. Pleas to juries, much of our social legislation, various schools of pyschology and sociology, and the supposed philosophies of political parties, all reflect the conflict between these two views.

     How much of a person's choice is determined by social conditions and how much by the individual's free volition is a tangled question. There's no doubt that environment and society do have an impact on personality. This is one reason why Israel's lifestyle under Law placed so much emphasis on discipline. The people of Israel were to judge and cleanse themselves of sinful patterns which might emerge in the society. The people were jointly responsible to maintain a holy way of life. When righteousness did mark the lifestyle of the nation, the promised blessings included the eradication of social ills.

     Israel, under Joshua, did maintain a just society. But there was no guarantee that individuals would continue to choose God's ways. The nation drifted away—away from trust in God and away from commitment to righteous paths. Israel increasingly became an unjust society, marked by all the sins and insensitivity we see portrayed in Judges 17–21. The society as a whole became ungodly.

     What then about the individual? Did an unjust society, amplifying the tendency to evil that sin implants in every person, make it impossible for the individual to choose good? The last chapters of Judges might suggest this, for they give us insight into the deterioration of Israel as a whole, through descriptions of two people whose experiences reflect the condition of the nation.

     But now we turn to a cameo portrait of different individuals, and look into the private lives of Ruth and Boaz, two who lived in that same paganized culture. These individuals, private rather than public personages, reveal something of the freedom that each of us has to choose.

     You and I live in what is, in many ways, an unjust and an unrighteous society. The standards of our day often reflect values and a morality which are tragically far from the divine ideal. But we, no less than Ruth and Boaz, also have the freedom to choose. Despite the pressures and temptations of our times, we too can live godly lives as we follow closely Jesus Christ, our Lord.

     Two Who Chose / The Bible gives a surprising amount of space to the days of the Judges. Israel passed some 400 years in Egypt, but the Bible is silent about these centuries. Yet chapter after chapter portray, in depth, the life God's people lived during the 300 or so years of Israel's deterioration. It follows that God recorded these stories of men and women, as well as the tale of the nation, for an important purpose. Through the inspired record God communicates His message—to the generations of Israelites who lived later, and to us who live today.

     Ruth (Ruth 1–4). When Elimelech took his wife, Naomi, and two sons to the land of Moab, one of Israel's traditional enemies, he was fleeing a famine. He was also leaving his heritage in Israel. During the following 10 years, Elimelech died and Naomi's two sons married Moabite wives. Within the decade the two boys also died, and Naomi, hearing that the famine time was past in Israel, determined to return home.

     At first the two daughters-in-law intended to return to Israel with her. But Naomi urged them to stay in Moab. There seemed no hope of a marriage or a home for them if they returned with Naomi, who was by now a bitter widow. One of the two listened to Naomi's urging, and she returned to her people and their gods. But Ruth, the other, made one of the most touching and courageous statements of individual commitment recorded in Scripture. Abandoning her people and culture, Ruth chose to identify herself with Naomi, Naomi's then powerless people, and with Naomi's God (Ruth 1:16–17).

     The Book of Ruth tells of the return of the two women, and shows the results of Ruth's commitment.

     First, however, we see Ruth's commitment expressed in her lifestyle. Even though Ruth was a foreigner, she was recognized as a good woman who had come to take refuge under the wings of the Lord God of Israel (Ruth 2:8–13).

     The story of Ruth continues with her meeting of Boaz, a relative of her dead husband. In Old Testament times, it was customary for a widow who did not return to her father's household to marry someone in her dead husband's family. The nearest kinsman had this privilege and obligation. The first child of such a second marriage was given the inheritance and name of the first husband, rather than inheriting from the actual father's holdings, particularly if the second husband had been previously married and had a family of his own.

     With Ruth's reputation and her faith in God established, Boaz was drawn to this young widow. When, following Naomi's instructions, Ruth indicated her willingness to marry Boaz, he agreed to marry her and to take responsibility for Elimelech's inheritance.

     It's easy to misunderstand some of the story here, unless we grasp something of the customs of those days. For instance, when Ruth went at night to the threshing floor where Boaz and his men were threshing wheat, and lay down at his feet, no immorality is suggested (Ruth 3:6–9). This was a symbolic act expressing Ruth's willingness to place herself under the protection of Boaz.

     Similarly the discussion at the gate, and the taking off of the sandal, reflect Old Testament customs. The city gates were where the older men gathered and where business could be transacted in front of many witnesses. Taking off the sandal and passing it had the same force in Israel in those days as signing a contract has in ours.

     So Boaz quickly cleared away the legal requirements and married Ruth.

     The last verses of the Book of Ruth contain a striking revelation: the child born to Ruth and Boaz (and "given" to Naomi as a grandson) was Obed, the grandfather of Israel's greatest and most godly king, David.

     Samson (Judges 13–16). Four Old Testament chapters are allotted to Ruth. Four are also devoted to Samson. Very possibly Samson was a contemporary of Ruth's son Obed, or of Ruth herself!

     But what a contrast in the lives of these two who lived during the same era of Old Testament history.

     Ruth had been born in a pagan home, and later, influenced by Naomi, had chosen to identify herself with Israel and Israel's God—even though at the time Israel was an oppressed people. Samson was born in Israel, and his birth was preannounced by an angel. His father and mother were godly believers. Their response to the angel clearly demonstrates that. When Manoah's wife told him an angel had spoken to her, Manoah prayed and asked that the angel be sent again to instruct them how to bring up the child. When the angel came, Manoah's first words were, "Now when your words are fulfilled, what is to be the rule for the boy's life and work?" (Judges 13:12)

     The parents of Samson were taught that their boy was to be dedicated to God from birth, never to drink wine, or cut his hair, or eat any unclean thing. This pattern of life is defined in the Old Testament for those taking a special vow to God. Such persons were called Nazarites. From his birth, Samson knew an ideal environment. The Bible tells us that "he grew, and the Lord blessed him, and the Spirit of the Lord began to stir him" (Judges 13:24–25).

     This promising start soon drifted into a disturbing pattern of life. Samson, for all his advantages, was a selfish and sensual man. He was not motivated by a concern for God's people; in fact, the Lord had to use his passion for a Philistine woman to move Samson to act against his people's enemies (Judges 14:1–4). Engaged to the girl he desired, Samson was tricked into the loss of a bet with guests at the wedding feast. Angry because the girl had betrayed the answer of the riddle over which he'd wagered, Samson paid—then disappeared in hot anger (Judges 14:19). His bride was given to another man!

     Furious, Samson took revenge by burning the Philistines' fields and by waging one-man guerilla warfare against Israel's oppressors. Instead of leading his people to throw off Philistine domination, Samson continued to act alone, being moved only by his thirst for revenge. Ultimately Samson's own people were forced to deliver him to their enemies, or face destruction! Samson went with them. But when the Israelites left, Samson broke off the bonds that held him and, grabbing a donkey's jawbone, used it as a weapon to kill a thousand enemies (Judges 15:10–15).

     Samson was personally invulnerable. He possessed a supernatural physical strength so unnatural that the lords of the Philistines realized there must be some secret source—and perhaps some way to neutralize it. Samson's strength became his weakness: his dominance over others was based on physical prowess alone. But his weakness was the domination of his own personality by the desires of his flesh.

     Samson became involved with a prostitute named Delilah, who was bribed by the Philistines to seek the source of Samson's power. Judges 16 tells how Samson foolishly betrayed his secret—his long hair, which had never been cut and which symbolized his Nazarite commitment. Once Samson's hair was cut, he was easily taken by the Philistines, blinded, and forced to grind grain at a mill in a Gaza prison.

     Much later, the Philistines gathered to praise their god, Dagon, for giving them Samson, "the one who laid waste our land" (Judges 16:24). Samson was brought in to be ridiculed. Leaning against the two middle pillars which bore the weight of the great temple, Samson, his hair now regrown, prayed for strength. With a mighty heave, Samson displaced the pillars, and the temple crumpled, killing Samson and about 3,000 of the enemy.

     Samson had judged Israel for 20 years. Yet he is the only one of all the judges of whom it is not recorded that he brought rest to the land.

     The Family Factor: Deuteronomy 11:18–21 / The portraits of Ruth and Samson in the days of the Judges focus our attention on another important issue. In each setting, we gain fascinating insight into families.

     Ruth, brought up in a pagan home, turned from her upbringing to identify with Naomi, Naomi's people, and Naomi's God. Samson, child of a godly home, dedicated to the Lord, lived for himself. Even in his death, Samson's primary motive was selfish. "Strengthen me," Samson prayed, "and let me get revenge on the Philistines for my two eyes" (Judges 16:28).

     What can we conclude from the record? First, environment alone does not determine us for either good or evil. Neither being members of a sinful society nor a pagan family fixes our future. There is an element of freedom and of individual responsibility that must be accepted by each one of us. We cannot blame our parents for our choices. We cannot blame our friends. We cannot blame the moral state of the society in which we live.

     A bad environment may make it more difficult to choose the right. But the individual still remains responsible for his acts. In the same way, a godly environment is no guarantee that one will choose wisely. We can take no comfort in our parents' faith. We need to make our own commitment lest we too wander from God.

     Second, there seems to be an interplay in the era of the Judges between three factors rather than just two. It's not just the influence of society versus the individual's freedom to choose. There is a family factor as well. Judges and Ruth show us that even in a corrupt society there were godly men and women, and godly families. It also shows compellingly the fact that believers need to understand how to share their faith with the next generation!

     Samson's parents, for all their personal piety, were not effective in sharing their faith with their son in any life-shaping way. Naomi, despite her unhappiness, communicated compellingly with her pagan daughter-in-law, Ruth.

     How can parents, whose own relationship with God may be strong, communicate effectively with their sons and daughters? The Old Testament, reinforced by the New, suggests these principles:

     Parental piety is a prerequisite (Deuteronomy 11:18). God's command to adults is to "fix these words of Mine in your hearts and minds." This does not mean that a parent must be perfect, an "ideal" believer who never makes a mistake and never sins. Instead, it means that the parent's faith must mean more than Sunday expression; more than giving lip service to God and to His Word. Knowing a great deal about the Bible is not stressed here. What is important is that the parent be a person who himself or herself responds to God's Word. The parent needs to be building the messages of God into his or her own heart and soul. God's revelation is to shape the attitudes and values and behaviors of believers, as well as our beliefs.

     Only a person who is growing in the Lord will be able to communicate his or her faith to others compellingly.

     Intimate relationship provides a context (Deuteronomy 11:19). The Scriptures focus on the privilege of communicating God and His ways to each new generation in the home. "Teach them to your children." Israel's lifestyle did include certain institutions, such as the cities of refuge and the levitical cities. But there were no educational institutions. There was no Sunday School for the nurture of a new generation, and no colleges for their instruction in the faith. The home, with its intimate and warm personal relationships, was the context in which God's Word was to be communicated.

     The rest of Scripture shows us why the home is so important. Faith is best communicated when there is a love relationship between the teacher and learner. Where there is opportunity to observe the life, and participate in shared experiences, the values and the attitudes, the emotions that are associated with actions, all these are learned along with beliefs.

     In the context of warm relationships there is a chance for the communicator to explain in words his or her inner feelings and thoughts.

     In this whole process, faith's lifestyle is not just talked about: it is modeled, incarnated in the life of the older believer.

     When the relationship is a continuing one, extending over the growing years, and not simply one of infrequent contact, faith's lifestyle can be gradually developed.

     The critical relational factors shown throughout Scripture seem to be these: loving, being and staying close, sharing, communicating openly, and of course, living by one's commitment to God and His Word.

     Somehow Samson's parents, for all their personal piety, were not successful in shaping a godly son. And Naomi, for all her disappointments in life, was able to influence Ruth to love her, and then to love her God.

     Explicit teaching in daily life (Deuteronomy 11:19). The Deuteronomy passage makes it clear that we are to teach God's Word. It also shows us when and how. We are to teach by talking about God "when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down, and when you get up." The stress here is not laid on what we would call formal teaching—teaching with a teacher, a curriculum, a classroom, a particular time of day. The emphasis in the Bible is on informal teaching: on using God's Word to explain and interpret experiences we share in daily life.

     The other Morning a conflict flared up between my youngest son and my daughter. He said something thoughtless that hurt her feelings. After I spent 10 minutes of quieting and helping her, my son was angry with me. He felt she had taken his remark wrongly, and so it was her fault. I'd been altogether too comforting to suit him!

     It took about half an hour to work things through with him, and help him see that his words had been thoughtless, and that he had really spoken in anger, selfishly. It took even more time to come to the place where forgiveness could be asked and given. Then we talked more about forgiveness, and that for the Christian it means that a confessed sin is truly gone. God's promise is "I will forgive their wickedness, and will remember their sins no more" (Hebrews 8:12).

     Later that day our youngest was going over to play with a friend with whom he'd had some conflict. Didn't it bother him to go over there again?

     "No," he said. "When you've forgiven someone, you forget."

     It is this kind of teaching of God's ways, using His Word to interpret and guide in daily experience, that is the key to effective Christian nurture. It was this kind of teaching which might have helped Israel to avoid the dark days of the Judges—if only the adults had first made their own choice to be faithful to God.

     How good to know that when you and I trust God, and seek to obey Him, we can communicate our faith effectively to those who are near us, to those whom we love.

The Teacher's Commentary

     Judaism in the Land of Israel

     There is no doubting that Jews in the land of Israel wrote a sizable literature in the centuries when the Second Temple stood, and a considerable amount of it has survived to the present in one form or another, that is, in whole or in part, in the original language or in translation. Rarely is there information about exactly when a book was written or who wrote it, but texts of a variety of literary genres were composed in the period. A number of those works are now incorporated into the Hebrew Bible, although it is not always certain which books date from the Second Temple era. There would be a large amount of agreement among experts about the following as coming from the postexilic age:

     Final form of the Pentateuch

     1–2 Chronicles
     Many of the Psalms
     Third Isaiah (Isaiah 56–66)

     Perhaps there are other books or parts of books in the Hebrew Bible stemming from the years after the initial return from exile.

     In the later centuries of the period, Jews continued to write, and many of their compositions have survived to the present. One difficulty is that it is not always clear which books were written in Israel and which in the Diaspora. A possible indicator of location is language (if we happen to know the original language of the work): a book written in Hebrew or Aramaic is more likely to have been written in Judea (or Babylon) than in Egypt, while a work in Greek has a better chance of coming from Egypt or some other part of the Hellenistic world. But one should not exclude the possibility that a Greek work comes from Israel. One other note should precede the survey of Jewish literature from Israel: in a sense Josephus, a prolific author whose works are invaluable for understanding early Judaism, is a writer from Israel. He spent the first thirty years or so of his life in Judea, where he was a prominent priest and occupied important positions. But the Judean Jew Josephus actually wrote his histories War and Antiquities and his Life and Against Apion while he was living in Rome after the end of the Jewish revolt in 70 C.E. In that sense he is a Diaspora writer. He seems to have composed War in a Semitic language, but only the Greek version exists today.

     It is convenient to divide the books and other works that were probably written in Israel into different, rather general literary categories.

The Eerdmans Dictionary of Early Judaism

Take Heart
     May 10

     Let him who walks in the dark,… trust in the name of the LORD. --- Isaiah 50:10.

     We understand by the name the revealed character of God. ( Twelve sermons for the troubled and tried (Charles H. Spurgeon Library) ) When you cannot see your way, then open this Book [the Bible] and try to find out what sort of God it is in whom you trust. See what he did in the ages past; see what he has promised to do in all time present. See his infinite love in the gift of his dear Son.

     By the name of the Lord is also meant his dear Son, for it is in Jesus Christ that Jehovah has proclaimed his name. When it is dark around you and within you, then get to your Savior, and think of him and all his sorrow and his victory. As you hear his cries and perceive the flowing of his blood, you will gain comfort and joy such as will turn your darkness into day.

     It is also good, dear friends, when you are thinking of the name of the Lord to remember that to you it signifies what you have seen of God in your own experience. This is his memorial, or name, to you. A grand thing it is, when at present you have no consolation, to recollect the consolation you enjoyed in years gone by. Oh, the days when he did help us! You said, “What a deliverance I have had! I will never doubt him again!” O poor stupid, you are doubting him now! But why? Jehovah is with you, therefore do not be afraid.

     Furthermore, the text says, let him “rely on his God.” Let him lean on his God, make God his stay, his prop, his rest. You have taken God to be your God, haven’t you? If so, he has also taken you to be his own. There is a covenant between you: lean on that covenant. Lean wholly and fully on him who is your covenant God.
--- C. H. Spurgeon

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

On This Day
     Knights of the Temple  May 10

     When the Crusades made it possible for medieval Christians to again visit the Holy Land, the question of security arose. How could pilgrims be safe from banditry? In 1118 Hugh de Payens, a knight of Campagne, joined eight others in a solemn vow to protect European travelers, thus organizing the “Knights of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon.” Hugh obtained church sanction, and the Templars, as they were called, grew quickly in influence and wealth. They purchased property and set up an organization across Christendom. They acquired castles and became an elite military force coveted and often hired by rulers. As their wealth increased, they established financial institutions in Paris and London.

     In 1305 Philip the Fair of France, eyeing their wealth, used a disgruntled knight to bring charges against the order. The initiation rites involved blasphemy and homosexuality, it was claimed. The Templars, it was alleged, in secret admission ceremonies forced recruits to deny Christ, to spit on the cross, and to kiss the posteriors and navels of fellow knights. On the night of October 13, 1307 (“the accursed day”), all the Templars in France were rounded up and arrested. Philip used torture to obtain confessions, and many died in agony. Pope Clement was persuaded to disband the Templars and expand the persecution across Europe.

     But Paris remained the center of suffering, and on May 10, 1310 54 knights were burned alive in one mass inferno. Thirty-six more died under torture, four more were burned a week later, and hundreds perished in prison. The twenty-second (and last) grand master of the order, Jacques de Molay, was reserved for burning another day. On the eve of March 12, 1314 he was led in front of Notre Dame and tied to the stake. According to sources, while the flames were shooting around him, he summoned the pope and king to meet him at the judgment within a year.

     Pope Clement died a few weeks later of a loathsome disease, and Philip, 46, perished in a hunting accident within six months.

     I saw a great white throne with someone sitting on it. … I also saw all the dead people standing in front of that throne. Every one of them was there, no matter who they had once been. Several books were opened, and then the book of life was opened. The dead were judged by what those books said they had done.
--- Revelation 20:11,12.

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

Morning and Evening
     Daily Readings / CHARLES H. SPURGEON

          Morning - May 10

     “But now is Christ risen from the dead.”
1 Corinthians 15:20.

     The whole system of Christianity rests upon the fact that “Christ is risen from the dead;” for, “If Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain: ye are yet in your sins.” The divinity of Christ finds its surest proof in his resurrection, since he was “Declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead.” It would not be unreasonable to doubt his Deity if he had not risen. Moreover, Christ’s sovereignty depends upon his resurrection, “For to this end Christ both died, and rose, and revived, that he might be Lord both of the dead and living.” Again, our justification, that choice blessing of the covenant, is linked with Christ’s triumphant victory over death and the grave; for “He was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification.” Nay, more, our very regeneration is connected with his resurrection, for we are “Begotten again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” And most certainly our ultimate resurrection rests here, for, “If the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you.” If Christ be not risen, then shall we not rise; but if he be risen then they who are asleep in Christ have not perished, but in their flesh shall surely behold their God. Thus, the silver thread of resurrection runs through all the believer’s blessings, from his regeneration onwards to his eternal glory, and binds them together. How important then will this glorious fact be in his estimation, and how will he rejoice that beyond a doubt it is established, that “now is Christ risen from the dead.”

     “The promise is fulfill’d,
     Redemption’s work is done,
     Justice with mercy’s reconciled,
     For God has raised his Son.”

          Evening - May 10

     “The only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.”
John 1:14.

     Believer, you can bear your testimony that Christ is the only begotten of the Father, as well as the first begotten from the dead. You can say, “He is divine to me, if he be human to all the world beside. He has done that for me which none but a God could do. He has subdued my stubborn will, melted a heart of adamant, opened gates of brass, and snapped bars of iron. He hath turned for me my mourning into laughter, and my desolation into joy; he hath led my captivity captive, and made my heart rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory. Let others think as they will of him, to me he must be the only begotten of the Father: blessed be his name. And he is full of grace. Ah! had he not been I should never have been saved. He drew me when I struggled to escape from his grace; and when at last I came all trembling like a condemned culprit to his mercy-seat he said, ‘Thy sins which are many are all forgiven thee: be of good cheer.’ And he is full of truth. True have his promises been, not one has failed. I bear witness that never servant had such a master as I have; never brother such a kinsman as he has been to me; never spouse such a husband as Christ has been to my soul; never sinner a better Saviour; never mourner a better comforter than Christ hath been to my spirit. I want none beside him. In life he is my life, and in death he shall be the death of death; in poverty Christ is my riches; in sickness he makes my bed; in darkness he is my star, and in brightness he is my sun; he is the manna of the camp in the wilderness, and he shall be the new corn of the host when they come to Canaan. Jesus is to me all grace and no wrath, all truth and no falsehood: and of truth and grace he is full, infinitely full. My soul, this night, bless with all thy might ‘the only Begotten.’ ”

Morning and Evening

Amazing Grace
     May 10


     Thomas Kelly, 1769–1854

     … Great and marvelous are Your deeds, Lord God Almighty. Just and true are Your ways, King of the ages. All nations will come and worship before You, for Your righteous acts have been revealed. (Revelation 15:3, 4)

     Ascension Day, when we commemorate the translation of our Lord to heaven, is often a neglected observance in the lives of many Christians. It occurs 40 days after Easter, and though it never falls on a Sunday, the Lord’s Day following Ascension Day is designated as Ascension Sunday. It is certainly one of the important events in the life of Christ, and it should be celebrated along with His birth, death, resurrection, sending of the Holy Spirit, and the promised second coming.

     It is always thrilling to relive with our imagination the ascension scene on Mount Olivet described in Acts 1. There was the parting blessing from the Lord to His disciples and His final instructions regarding their mission to be worldwide witnesses after being empowered by the Holy Spirit. Then the One who had been nailed to a Roman cross just a short time before was dramatically taken up before their very eyes. And the two men dressed in white who suddenly appeared reminded the disciples that Christ’s ascension must always be related to His return—“this same Jesus … will come back in the same way you have seen Him go into heaven” (Acts 1:10).

     “Look, Ye Saints! The Sight Is Glorious” is generally regarded as one of the finest ascension hymns in the English language, one that is worthy of much greater use than it normally receives. Its author, Thomas Kelly, is recognized as one of Ireland’s finest evangelical preachers, as well as one of its most distinguished spiritual poets of the 19th century.

     Look, ye saints! the sight is glorious: See the Man of Sorrows now; from the fight returned victorious, ev’ry knee to Him shall bow: Crown Him! crown Him! Crowns become the Victor’s brow.

     Crown the Savior! angels, crown Him! rich the trophies Jesus brings; in the seat of pow’r enthrone Him, while the vault of heaven rings: Crown Him! crown Him! Crown the Savior King of kings.
     Hark! those bursts of acclamation! Hark! those loud triumphant chords! Jesus takes the highest station—O what joy the sight affords! Crown Him! crown Him! King of kings and Lord of lords!

     For Today: Luke 24:50, 51; Acts 1:1–10; Philippians 2:6–11; Hebrews 2:9.

     Rejoice in the truth that your Lord not only rose triumphantly but ascended into heaven victoriously to be your personal representative before the Father. Learn and sing this hymn ---

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. XX. — BUT, the doctrine concerning the liberty of confession and satisfaction, you either deny, or know not that there is the Word of God. — And here arises another inquiry. But we know, and are persuaded, that there is a Word of God, in which the Christian liberty is asserted, that we might not suffer ourselves to be ensnared into bondage by human traditions and laws. This I have abundantly shewn elsewhere. But if you wish to enter the lists, I am prepared to discuss the point with you, and to fight it out. Though upon these subjects I have books extant not a few.

     But, — “the laws of the Popes (you say,) may at the same time be borne with and observed, in charity; if perchance thus, eternal salvation by the word of God, and the peace of the world, may together consist, without tumult.” —

     I have said before, that cannot be. The prince of this world will not allow the Pope and his high priests, and their laws to be observed in liberty, but his design is, to entangle and bind consciences. This the true God will not bear. Therefore, the Word of God, and the traditions of men, are opposed to each other with implacable discord; no less so, than God Himself and Satan; who each destroy the works and overthrow the doctrines of the other, as regal kings each destroying the kingdom of the other. “He that is not with Me (saith Christ) is against Me.” (Luke xi. 23.)

     And as to — “a fear that many who are depravedly inclined, will abuse this liberty” —

     This must be considered among those tumults, as a part of that temporal leprosy which is to be borne, and of that evil which is to be endured. But these are not to be considered of so much consequence, as that, for the sake of restraining their abuse, the word of God should be taken out of the way. For if all cannot be saved, yet some are saved; for whose sake the word of God is sent; and these, on that account, love it the more fervently, and assent to it the more solemnly. For, what evils did not impious men commit before, when there was no word? Nay, what good did they do? Was not the world always drowned in war, fraud, violence, discord, and every kind of iniquity? For if Micah (vii. 4) compares the best among them to a thorn hedge, what do you suppose he would call the rest?

     But now the Gospel is come, men begin to impute unto it, that the world is evil. Whereas, the truth is, that by the good Gospel, it is more manifest how evil it was, while, without the Gospel, it did all its works in darkness. Thus also the illiterate attribute it to learning, that, by its flourishing, their ignorance becomes known. This is the return we make for the word of life and salvation! — And what fear must we suppose there was among the Jews, when the Gospel freed all from the law of Moses? What occasion did not this great liberty seem to give to evil men? But yet, the Gospel was not, on that account, taken away; but the impious were left, and it was preached to the pious, that they might not use their liberty to an occasion of the flesh. (Gal. v. 13.)

The Bondage of the Will   or   Christian Classics Ethereal Library

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