Psalm 8

On April 29, 2010, in Culture, Religion, Theology, by marc

I was reading this yesterday and decided to work on memorizing it.  I probably did before at some point in my schooling; say, fourth grade or so.  But it’s been so long since I’ve concentrated on memorization of scripture.  I figured, might as well try; goodness knows I have lots of room in my memory for stupid, inconsequential stuff.

Psalm 8

Oh Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory above the heavens.
From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise
because of your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger.

When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars that you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him,
the son of man that you care for him?
You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings
and crowned him with glory and honor.

You made him ruler over the works of your hands;
you put everything under his feet:
all flocks and herds, and the beasts of the field,
the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea,
all that swim the paths of the seas.

Oh Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!

As I’ve noted before, I’m currently reading through the Bible with a goal of completing it in a year or less.  I started in late December when I picked up my copy of the NIV Stewardship Study Bible, which I’ve found to be a very good reading Bible.  It doesn’t have a full set of footnotes with a more or less verse-by-verse exposition of the scriptures as one gets in, say, the Reformation Study Bible or the ESV Study Bible, but it does contain a lot of additional material highlighting the importance and centrality of stewardship to the Christian life.  For Psalm 8, the SSB contains a quote from the great American theologian Jonathan Edwards:

Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758)

Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758)

We have shown that the Son of God created the world for this very end, to communicate Himself in an image of his own Excellency… When we behold the light and brightness of the sun, the golden edges of an evening cloud, or the beauteous rainbow, we behold the adumbrations of His glory and goodness, and in the blue sky, of His mildness and gentleness.

One thing that has tripped me up on occasion in this particular Psalm is verse two: “From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise because of your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger.”  Perhaps the translation is awkward and it sounds more natural in the original Hebrew, but I’ve always wondered what the first part of the sentence has to do with the last part.  Over at Logos.com, they have a commentary available which sheds a bit of light on the connection:

[Verse] 2. So manifest are God’s perfections, that by very weak instruments He conclusively sets forth His praise. Infants are not only wonderful illustrations of God’s power and skill, in their physical constitution, instincts, and early developed intelligence, but also in their spontaneous admiration of God’s works, by which they put to shame—

still—or, silence men who rail and cavil against God. A special illustration of the passage is afforded in Mt 21:16, when our Saviour stilled the cavillers by quoting these words; for the glories with which God invested His incarnate Son, even in His humiliation, constitute a most wonderful display of the perfections of His wisdom, love, and power. In view of the scope of Ps 8:4–8 (see below), this quotation by our Saviour may be regarded as an exposition of the prophetical character of the words.

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I managed to do a bit more reading from the Stewardship Study Bible, and stumbled upon something that really made me think about the nature of humanity.

Oftentimes, we like to think (even as Christian believers) that it would be nice to know for sure that God exists and what his plans and instructions are for us going forward.  Who hasn’t daydreamed about receiving a 3×5 card with written instructions from God on precisely how to proceed with some difficult task, or even things that aren’t really difficult at all?  I certainly have, and I know I’m not alone.  And of course the implication of such thoughts is that if only God would reveal himself to us in such a direct way, all our doubt and uncertainty would be washed away and we would be able to live our lives fully committed to His will and His ways.

Jonah and the Whale

Jonah and the Whale by Pieter Lastman

And yet the Bible gives us a completely different view of the matter.  How many people in the Bible communed directly with God, talked with Him, received direction from Him, only to turn away from Him later?  I touched on this a bit in the previous post, noting the poignancy of Solomon’s eventual straying from his solemn commitment to God at the dedication of the temple.  But my understanding of the gravity of Solomon’s sin was only enhanced through the reading of the beginning of I Kings 9, where the Lord appears to Solomon a second time. Imagine that – God appearing to you and speaking directly to you not once, but twice. One would think that should be enough to keep generations of a family on the straight and narrow.  And God’s instructions to Solomon are nothing if not clear:

“As for you, if you walk before me in integrity of heart and uprightness, as David your father did, and do all I command and observe my decrees and laws,  I will establish your royal throne over Israel forever, as I promised David your father when I said, ‘You shall never fail to have a man on the throne of Israel.’

“But if you or your sons turn away from me and do not observe the commands and decrees I have given you and go off to serve other gods and worship them,  then I will cut off Israel from the land I have given them and will reject this temple I have consecrated for my Name. Israel will then become a byword and an object of ridicule among all peoples.  And though this temple is now imposing, all who pass by will be appalled and will scoff and say, ‘Why has the Lord done such a thing to this land and to this temple?’People will answer, ‘Because they have forsaken the Lord their God, who brought their fathers out of Egypt, and have embraced other gods, worshiping and serving them—that is why the Lord brought all this disaster on them.’ ”

This is not difficult to understand.  And coming directly from the mouth of God to Solomon, one would imagine that it would be unforgettable.  And yet, with the turn of a page, we see Solomon marrying foreign wives and allowing the worship of foreign gods in Israel.  Granted, many years had passed with that page turn.  But still – forgetting the personal, individual instruction of God?

And let us not forget that an entire generation of the nation of Israel enjoyed the physical presence of the incarnated Lord Jesus Christ – God enfleshed – and even that was not enough.  Matthew 12:38-45:

Then some of the Pharisees and teachers of the law said to him, “Teacher, we want to see a miraculous sign from you.”

He answered, “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.  For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.  The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now one greater than Jonah is here. The Queen of the South will rise at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for she came from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomon’s wisdom, and now one greater than Solomon is here.

“When an evil spirit comes out of a man, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house unoccupied, swept clean and put in order.  Then it goes and takes with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that man is worse than the first. That is how it will be with this wicked generation.”

In the end, even the resurrection of the Son of God proved inadequate to convince many of the Jewish leaders of the authenticity of Christ’s claims.  If God-in-person wasn’t enough for some to change their ways, the 3×5 card probably wouldn’t make a lot of difference either.

Things are getting away from me here a little bit, so let me see if I can tease any worthwhile nuggets out of these scriptures and my mass of thoughts.

  • I suppose first of all, we must note the depravity of humanity.  The one thing we are able to do more easily than anything else it seems is to ignore God, to dismiss God, to shuttle God off to a corner while we go about our more important work.  Solomon had the opportunity to commune with God with a directness that most of us, if not all of us, will never experience or understand.  The chief work of his life was building a glorious temple for the Lord, a building which still inspires awe to this day in its description.  And yet, with the passage of time, even that was not enough to keep him fully committed to the Lord.  The first century Jews had Jesus, God himself, walking among them.  We all know how that story ended.  We must never underestimate our capability to ignore, deny, hate, and crucify God.  After the Fall, it is an inherent part of our being as humans.
  • With that being said, it is also important to note that while we will never have that 3×5 card from God, Jesus reminds us that what we have from God – His Word – should be enough for us.  I am reminded that God’s word serves as “…a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.”  A lamp does not flood the entire scene with light; rather it gives enough light to take a step or two, and reveals more territory as one walks along.  We need to live by faith, confident that the God who performed the miraculous deeds for his people in scripture is still the same today, and that “…in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”  For myself, I know that this is a lesson I need to learn and re-learn, again and again, for the rest of my life.
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I Kings 8:56-61

On March 26, 2010, in Culture, Religion, Theology, by marc

I’m still pursuing my goal of reading through the Bible from front to back in a year; I believe I’ve mentioned before that my reading Bible is Zondervan’s new NIV Stewardship Study Bible, which I’ve found to have a good deal of interesting supplemental material (although since my focus has been on reading scripture, I must confess that I’ve been skimming through some of the extras).  That being said, today I ran across the following passage – I Kings 8:56-61 – which struck me.  This is a prayer of Solomon, uttered immediately following his prayer of dedication for the just-completed temple:

“Praise be to the Lord, who has given rest to his people Israel just as he promised. Not one word has failed of all the good promises he gave through his servant Moses.  May the Lord our God be with us as he was with our fathers; may he never leave us nor forsake us.  May he turn our hearts to him, to walk in all his ways and to keep the commands, decrees and regulations he gave our fathers.  And may these words of mine, which I have prayed before the Lord, be near to the Lord our God day and night, that he may uphold the cause of his servant and the cause of his people Israel according to each day’s need,  so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the Lord is God and that there is no other.  But your hearts must be fully committed to the Lord our God, to live by his decrees and obey his commands, as at this time.”

There is a tenderness here that warmed my heart; such gratefulness for the faithfulness of God.  And then the request that God himself would guard the paths of the people – that God would cause the people to honor Him, in order that they avoid giving offense to God and bringing trouble upon their own heads, and ultimately to bring glory and honor to God from all peoples of the earth.

It’s poignant as well to note that in just a few chapters, Solomon will stray from the commitment that he makes here, and will thus face rebellion within his kingdom for abandoning a full devotion to his God – a reminder to us today that we must always guard our hearts and minds, aware that we are constantly susceptible to sin.  We must daily recommit ourselves to honoring God alone.

Bible Reading – Why We Fail

On March 26, 2010, in Culture, Religion, Theology, by marc

We fail in our duty to study God’s Word not so much because it is difficult to understand, not so much because it is dull and boring, but because it is work. Our problem is not a lack of intelligence or a lack of passion. Our problem is that we are lazy. — R.C. Sproul

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Ephesians 2:1-10:

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Simple, stunning, beautiful.  Not from ourselves, but a gift of God; not by works so that boasting in anything but the grace and goodness of God is precluded.

Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee;
Let the water and the blood,
From Thy wounded side which flowed,
Be of sin the double cure;
Save from wrath and make me pure.

Not the labor of my hands
Can fulfill Thy law’s demands;
Could my zeal no respite know,
Could my tears forever flow,
All for sin could not atone;
Thou must save, and Thou alone.

Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to the cross I cling;
Naked, come to Thee for dress;
Helpless look to Thee for grace;
Foul, I to the fountain fly;
Wash me, Savior, or I die.

While I draw this fleeting breath,
When mine eyes shall close in death,
When I soar to worlds unknown,
See Thee on Thy judgment throne,
Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee.

- Augustus M. Toplady, 1776.

Numbers and the rights of women

On January 17, 2010, in Culture, History, Religion, Theology, by marc

Perhaps you’ve noted in my Goodreads feed that I’ve been working my way through the Bible since late December.  My goal, initially stated, was to read the Bible from front to back (like one would read a regular book) over the course of this year, and to read it aloud.  I got off to a good start, and even began to record myself reading it (thinking that someday when I die, the kids might just find it in some format and have an audio copy of their dear old dad reading the scriptures cover to cover to play for their children, and so on.  I’ve sort of trailed off in enthusiasm for that particular aspect of the project, and I’ve modified the goal of reading it aloud because it’s sort of impractical at times to read aloud at some points when I have time to read, so I’m now planning to read as much as possible aloud.

Anyway, I’m making steady progress, and I’m hoping to be through the Pentateuch by the end of this month – a reasonable goal, I think, especially considering that I’m entering the homestretch of Numbers halfway through January.  And today, I ran across a passage that was interesting, and casts some interesting light on the common claim that the Bible is a tool of patriarchy and all about the oppression of women.  Numbers 27:1-11 says:

The daughters of Zelophehad son of Hepher, the son of Gilead, the son of Makir, the son of Manasseh, belonged to the clans of Manasseh son of Joseph. The names of the daughters were Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah and Tirzah. They approached the entrance to the Tent of Meeting and stood before Moses, Eleazar the priest, the leaders and the whole assembly, and said, “Our father died in the desert. He was not among Korah’s followers, who banded together against the LORD, but he died for his own sin and left no sons.  Why should our father’s name disappear from his clan because he had no son? Give us property among our father’s relatives.”

So Moses brought their case before the LORD 6 and the LORD said to him,  ”What Zelophehad’s daughters are saying is right. You must certainly give them property as an inheritance among their father’s relatives and turn their father’s inheritance over to them.

“Say to the Israelites, ‘If a man dies and leaves no son, turn his inheritance over to his daughter.  If he has no daughter, give his inheritance to his brothers. 10 If he has no brothers, give his inheritance to his father’s brothers.  If his father had no brothers, give his inheritance to the nearest relative in his clan, that he may possess it. This is to be a legal requirement for the Israelites, as the LORD commanded Moses.’ “

As I was reading, it struck me that this action taken by the daughters of Zelophad was likely completely out of step with the overwhelming male-dominated culture of the day, and God’s response indicates that while the culture may have been male-dominated, He certainly wasn’t.  Via Zondervan’s Expositors’s Bible Commentary, some more detail on how God expressed his concern for these women:

(1-4) The question brought to Moses by the five daughters of Zelophehad, whose genealogy is traced back to Manasseh (cf. 26:33), concerned the securing of the inheritance and the preservation of their father’s name in the land.  Their action in approaching the leaders of the nation was unprecedented, a great act of courage, conviction, and faith.  When the women made their claim to Moses, they specified that their father had not died because of participation in the rebellion of Korah (see Nu 16) but only because he was part of the entire doomed first generation.  It appears from this verse that the rebels associated with Korah not only lost their lives in the judgment of God but that their survivors lost their inheritance as well.  So the women came asking for a decision from the Lord, that their father’s name not disappear from among the clans  of his family.  These verses clearly demonstrate the tie of name to land in the expectation of Israel.  One’s meaning in the community is dependent on the survival of his name in the distribution of land in the time of conquest…

…(6-11) This section gives an indication of how case law might have operated in Israel.  The general laws would be promulgated.  Then legitimate exceptions or special considerations would come to the elders and perhaps be brought to Moses himself.  He would then await a decision from the Lord.  In this case the Lord gave a favorable decision to these women.  In fact, he went beyond their request.  They had requested a landed property (v. 4).  The response of the Lord was for a hereditary possession of landed property.  Not only would they receive the property, they could transfer it to their heirs as well.  It is as thought their father had had sons!

God is not a God for men only.  Even in a time when the world was completely dominated by males, God was concerned about the treatment of women, and was concerned enough to intervene and ensure that they were treated fairly and to do so in a way that was revolutionary at the time.

By the way, I’m reading through my newest copy of the Bible – the NIV Stewardship Resource Bible, published by Zondervan with additional material edited by some friends of mine from work.  The stewardship material that I’ve encountered thus far has been very worthwhile, and of course the NIV translation is very accurate and readable.  Highly recommended.

The New Year’s Update

On January 11, 2010, in Culture, General, History, Politics, Religion, Theology, by marc

So of late, I’ve been noodling around with a bunch of different books, as usual.  My primary concentration has been on Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader, which was one of my Christmas gifts, and has been a great read so far.  I’d say I’m just over 1/3 of the way in, and North Korea is as utterly screwed up as I’d imagined it to be.  Aside from which, who would have thought that a guy like Kim Il-Sung (or Kim Jong-Il, for that matter) would be able to build a cult of personality so powerful that young women would consider it an honor to strip naked and be a component of a “living bed” for said totalitarian monsters.

Yeah, that’s… just wrong.  But it apparently happens.  (I long for some nutjob apologist for the regime to come along and leave a DPRK-style denunciation of me in the comments.)

In other news, I managed to snag a relatively cheap copy of Volume III of James Montgomery Boice’s commentaries on Romans (in the hardcover to match my copies of Volumes I, II, and IV).  Thank you, Amazon Marketplace.  I also picked up a copy of RC Sproul’s 1 volume commentary on Romans, and I’m hoping to get his commentary on John ASAP.  And I’ve made a goal of reading through the Bible from cover to cover this year, and I’m doing so using my new pseudo-leatherbound copy of the NIV Stewardship Study Bible from Zondervan, which was edited by a friend of mine.  As of now, I’m just past the giving of the law in Exodus.

After some wheeling and dealing, I managed to scrape together the cash for a copy of NT Wright’s The Resurrection of the Son of God, which is – according to reviews – 700+ pages of glorious apologetics in defense of the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  That should also keep me occupied for a while.

So happy new year to all; I’ll keep you posted as I make progress.