God’s Acts of Providence (13)

The Chief End of Man (12)

The Destruction of Sodom (Conclusion)

Genesis 19:27-38

The next morning, Abraham sees the results of the destruction as “dense smoke rising from the land, like smoke from a furnace.”  We are also told that God “remembered Abraham, and he brought Lot out of the catastrophe that overthrew the cities where Lot had lived.”

The story continues with Lot and his daughters moving from Zoar into the mountains out of fear for another catastrophe.  There, the three of them lived in isolation.  After some time, Lot’s daughters decided that since there were no men to marry, they would commit incest with their father to carry on the family line.  They proceeded to serially induce Lot to drink to the point of near senselessness and copulate.  These illicit unions each produced a son, Moab by the older and Ben-Ammi by the younger.  Each son was the founder of a tribe, the Moabites and Ammonites.

How can this sequel to Lot’s treatment of his daughters be understood but as a warning that, once a parent has lost moral authority, the consequences in their children can be appalling indeed.  Lot had said to the mob in Sodom, “Behold, I have two daughters who have not known man; let me bring them out to you, and do to them as you please.”   Have the daughters not learned well and rebounded to do what they liked with their very own father?

At the end Lot appears to be an example of the consequences of weakness in character combined with bad choices.  Had Lot not chosen to live near Sodom, but rather lived out his life in the country in comradeship with the blessed, wise Abraham, perhaps his weakness could have been covered, even redeemed over time.  Instead he chose the path of seeming advantage and ease.  The consequences for him and his family were disastrous even for those who escaped with their lives.

We can look upon Lot with anger and sorrow.  We would do well to remember that these stories in God’s Word are not just about what happened to this person or that many thousands of years ago.  Lot’s story is also ours.  Have we not, each of us, also taken the easy but foolish path, had our moral weaknesses exposed in humiliating crises and seen our mistakes rebound upon us in unexpected and awful ways?

This is the last that we will see of Lot, Abraham’s nephew and companion, who chose to go with him into the great unknown, following God’s call.  I have justifiably been very hard on Lot in this commentary.  We have seen Lot at his very worst, pressed to the limits of his wits by events that are beyond the experience of all but the most unfortunate few.

We can rightly wonder what became of Lot in eternity within the mercy and justice of our Great God.  The answer is there to be found in the New Testament, in Peter’s Second Epistle:

… if he condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah by burning them to ashes, and made them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly; and if he rescued Lot, a righteous man, who was distressed by the filthy lives of lawless men (for that righteous man, living among them day after day, was tormented in his righteous soul by the lawless deeds he saw and heard) …     (2 Peter 2:6-8, NIV)

Lot was finally judged to be a righteous man.  Can we not take the greatest comfort, the most fervent hope from this merciful judgment?  I can only pray so.  For were my worst moments laid bare in eternal words there would be no extenuating circumstances, no unforeseeable consequences of anywhere near comparable moment to accompany them.

If I have judged Lot’s worst moments harshly perhaps I too have sinned by a lack of charity.  If so, I pray for forgiveness.  In the end, Lot is redeemed only by God’s mercy. He may look down from Heaven counting the souls protected by his life’s story with joy as he worships the Christ through whom he has been saved.

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God’s Acts of Providence (12)

John_Martin_-_Sodom_and_GomorrahThe Chief End of Man (11)

The Destruction of Sodom

Genesis 19:1-26

19 1The two angels came to Sodom in the evening; and Lot was sitting in the gate of Sodom. When Lot saw them, he rose to meet them, and bowed himself with his face to the earth, 2and said, “My lords, turn aside, I pray you, to your servant’s house and spend the night, and wash your feet; then you may rise up early and go on your way.” They said, “No; we will spend the night in the street.” 3But he urged them strongly; so they turned aside to him and entered his house; and he made them a feast, and baked unleavened bread, and they ate.

Lot also responds to the Angels of Destruction (though he clearly does not know their purpose or likely even their status) with generous hospitality.  It’s possible that he knows the fate that awaits them should they spend the night exposed in the public square.  The others, assuming that the idea of a violating sexual assault was already in their minds, would have noted Lot’s protective stratagem with disapproval, if not anger.  One can only wonder why Lot would chose to allow his family to live in such an environment.

4But before they lay down, the men of the city, the men of Sodom, both young and old, all the people to the last man, surrounded the house; 5and they called to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us, that we may know them.”

The telling detail, “both young and old,” is truly chilling.  The contagion of evil was so pervasive and powerful that the young men were already full participants.  For this to be the case the old would have to have practiced evil openly, in pride, as opposed to shamefully, in the shadows.  The words of our Lord and Savior and His great Apostle come burning into mind as warning.

“It would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around his neck than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin.”

(Luke 17:2, NIV)

… they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.

(Romans 1:32b, NIV)

The sin at issue here is homosexual gang rape of the most extreme nature.  Surely two men subjected to such an assault by this many men would die as a consequence.

Sodom has earned a special place in our lexicon of evil, and, given the monstrous nature of this unprovoked attempted crime, deservedly so.  Even our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, used Sodom as an example of evil.  Our thoughts and usage should be tempered though by how He used this city.

“And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted up to the skies? No, you will go down to the depths. If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day.”  (Matthew 11:23, NIV)

“I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town.”  (Luke 10:12, NIV)

Though Sodom is surely a standard of evil, it also clearly does not represent its nadir.

6Lot went out of the door to the men, shut the door after him, 7and said, “I beg you, my brothers, do not act so wickedly. 8Behold, I have two daughters who have not known man; let me bring them out to you, and do to them as you please; only do nothing to these men, for they have come under the shelter of my roof.”

Lot starts well.  He courageously goes out to meet the mob, placing himself between them and the objects of their lust.  He then proceeds to plead with them as friends, seeking out the “better angels of their natures.”[1]

But what are we to make of his counter proposal?  I can read a dozen expositions on the sanctity of the host-guest relationship in ancient society and still recoil in horror at Lot’s suggested resolution.  By what moral standard did the honor and very lives of his own daughters count for so much less than that of his houseguests?  Note also the use of his daughter’s virginity as an additional incitement to lust within this despicable offer.  It would have been so very much the better had Lot’s speech stopped at the end of verse seven.  We can sometimes make allowances for decisions made in the heat of the moment.  I don’t believe that this is one of those instances.

We cannot move on without considering the impact that this offer would have had on Lot’s daughters.  Although the door was closed, we can safely assume that the entire household was following the outside events with the keen interest that fear motivates.  Are we to suppose that Lot’s daughters, upon hearing his stunning offer, said to themselves, “Well, given the relative value of the host-guest and parent-daughter relationship in this culture and the situational mortality here at play, our father is making an astute counter-proposal to the mob.”?  I think not.

It is far more likely that Lot’s daughters viewed his proposition as nothing short of total betrayal.  Though women in these ancient societies were treated as second-class citizens or worse, they could not but have felt the reality of God’s love and value in their hearts.  To be treated thus by their very own father would have struck deep into their souls, creating wounds from which would flow terrible consequences.

9But they said, “Stand back!” And they said, “This fellow came to sojourn, and he would play the judge! Now we will deal worse with you than with them.” Then they pressed hard against the man Lot, and drew near to break the door.

Lot’s strategy is backfiring and the situation grows direr.  In particular, his appeal to fellowship has been rejected and he now stands outside the circle of protection as an alien, just like the houseguests who he sought to protect.

10But the men put forth their hands and brought Lot into the house to them, and shut the door. 11And they struck with blindness the men who were at the door of the house, both small and great, so that they wearied themselves groping for the door.

The Angels of Destruction take control of the situation, saving Lot and neutralizing the mob’s ability to do any future harm.

12Then the men said to Lot, “Have you any one else here? Sons-in-law, sons, daughters, or any one you have in the city, bring them out of the place; 13for we are about to destroy this place, because the outcry against its people has become great before the LORD, and the LORD has sent us to destroy it.”

It now becomes clear that it is only Lot and his extended household who will be offered salvation.  I am left to wonder if these are the only righteous people in Sodom.  Given Lot’s behavior towards his own daughters there is some doubt concerning his own righteousness (at least to my modern mind).

Were Lot and his household spared as a consequence of Abraham’s righteousness being conferred upon them?  After all, Lot had chosen to live in what surely has been revealed to be an evil culture and I have already commented on his failure as a father.  Perhaps the LORD God, in deference to Abraham’s feelings, or because Lot had yet a role to play in the redemptive plan, spared him and his own from this terrible fate.

14So Lot went out and said to his sons-in-law, who were to marry his daughters, “Up, get out of this place; for the LORD is about to destroy the city.” But he seemed to his sons-in-law to be jesting.

The presumption is that his sons-in-law were not part of the mob.  I can but wonder what would be their reaction had they fled and found out about Lot’s offer of their fiancées to the rabble.

We can easily understand their skeptical response.  Our everyday world appears so secure.  And, to be frank, the notion of the LORD coming down to destroy is far from our conception of the likely.  We should, though, ask ourselves, is there an outcry against our society that is so great and our sin so grievous that the LORD may go down and see if what we have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached Him?

15When morning dawned, the angels urged Lot, saying, “Arise, take your wife and your two daughters who are here, lest you be consumed in the punishment of the city.” 16But he lingered; so the men seized him and his wife and his two daughters by the hand, the LORD being merciful to him, and they brought him forth and set him outside the city. 17And when they had brought them forth, they said, “Flee for your life; do not look back or stop anywhere in the valley; flee to the hills, lest you be consumed.”

Whatever their motives, the Angels of Destruction clearly have the strongest orders to see that Lot and his family are spared.  The sense of near panic in the angel’s exclamations gives the impression that the timetable of destruction is out of their hands, though further on we will find that this is not the case.  Perhaps their exhortations were so strong in order to impress the seriousness of the situation on these confused people.

18And Lot said to them, “Oh, no, my lords; 19behold, your servant has found favor in your sight, and you have shown me great kindness in saving my life; but I cannot flee to the hills, lest the disaster overtake me, and I die. 20Behold, yonder city is near enough to flee to, and it is a little one. Let me escape there–is it not a little one? –and my life will be saved!”

Once again Lot utterly fails the test.  There he stands with his wife and two daughters, and what comes out of his mouth – “me great kindness,” “my life,” “I canot,” “overtake me,” “I die,” “me escape,” and, finally, as if to land the final blow of cruelty and selfishness, “my life will be saved.”  What can Lot’s wife and daughters be thinking of him by this point?  I mourn for these women to have been so dehumanized, so devalued.  But I also mourn for Lot, that this crisis has revealed a stark reality of his weakness that otherwise might have been surmounted over time.  It is a terrible thing to be devalued.  It is also a terrible thing to be exposed so nakedly as a moral failure.  My God have mercy on our souls.

21He said to him, “Behold, I grant you this favor also, that I will not overthrow the city of which you have spoken. 22Make haste, escape there; for I can do nothing till you arrive there.” Therefore the name of the city was called Zo’ar.

The angels continue to overlook Lot’s moral failures and accommodate his requests.  Surely these are acts of mercy.

23The sun had risen on the earth when Lot came to Zo’ar.

24Then the LORD rained on Sodom and Gomor’rah brimstone and fire from the LORD out of heaven; 25and he overthrew those cities, and all the valley, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and what grew on the ground.

26But Lot’s wife behind him looked back, and she became a pillar of salt.

And so destruction arrives.  To the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah it would have appeared as an inexplicable, arbitrary, sudden catastrophe.  We know nothing of the sin of Gomorrah, though surely it was similar at least in seriousness.  These cities will stand as eternal examples of both standards of evil and the possibility of sudden divine judgment upon it.

We too easily externalize these symbols, applying them to the other in place or person.  We would do well to consider the Sodoms and Gomorrahs that exist within our own selves.  Places yet unredeemed by Christ’s Kingship, where envy, avarice, anger, lust and cruelty still hold their sway.  To contemplate these dark cities of the soul is to be driven to your knees in prayer, and, to be lifted up in joy at the knowledge of Christ’s forgiveness and mercy.

At the last, almost as an afterthought, we find Lot’s wife succumbing to the temptation to look back at their lost life, and paying with her life.  It is her only act in the entire story.  But her loss enables the awful retribution played out by Lot’s daughters that is to follow.

[1] “the better angels of our nature.” Abraham Lincoln, First Inaugural Address, Monday, March 4, 1861

God’s Acts of Providence (11)

god_and_the_angels_2_visit_abraham_by_arent_de_gelder_1645_1727The Chief End of Man (10)

Bargaining for the Sinful

Genesis 18

The LORD appeared to Abraham accompanied by two companions while he was sitting near great trees of Mamre at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day.  Upon seeing them, Abraham immediately rose to greet them, bowing low to the ground.  Abraham is the first to speak in this perplexing encounter with the LORD.

18 3“My lord, if I have found favor in your sight, do not pass by your servant. 4Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree, 5while I fetch a morsel of bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on–since you have come to your servant.” So they said, “Do as you have said.”

In the previous encounters with the LORD, we are given no indication of His appearance (assuming that there was a visual component).  Here, we find Him appearing in none other than human form.  Perhaps we should pay close attention to the form that the LORD God chooses for His encounters with humankind, for would not this have a significant influence on both our immediate response and the way in which it is remembered?

In this particular case, the form elicits Abraham’s instinct of hospitality.  It is initially unclear if Abraham recognizes in these human forms his LORD, or, if he is only being generous to passing strangers.

6And Abraham hastened into the tent to Sarah, and said, “Make ready quickly three measures of fine meal, knead it, and make cakes.” 7And Abraham ran to the herd, and took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to the servant, who hastened to prepare it. 8Then he took curds, and milk, and the calf which he had prepared, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree while they ate.

Abraham has likely perceived something about these three that speaks to greatness, for he prepares a feast and then stands nearby, likely in some apprehension, as they partake.

9They said to him, “Where is Sarah your wife?” And he said, “She is in the tent.” 10The LORD said, “I will surely return to you in the spring, and Sarah your wife shall have a son.” And Sarah was listening at the tent door behind him. 11Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in age; it had ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women. 12So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, “After I have grown old, and my husband is old, shall I have pleasure?” 13The LORD said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh, and say, ‘Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?’ 14Is anything too hard for the LORD? At the appointed time I will return to you, in the spring, and Sarah shall have a son.” 15But Sarah denied, saying, “I did not laugh”; for she was afraid. He said, “No, but you did laugh.”

If Abraham had any doubts about who it was visiting him, they were removed by this exchange.  The reiteration of the promise by the LORD removed all doubt about His identity.

The exchange with Sarah is both fraught with significance and seemingly trivial.  Sarah’s inner laughter was of enough importance for the LORD to call her on it.  And yet, once this has been accomplished the matter is dropped.  Perhaps it was meant to have a powerful influence on Sarah.  I can only imagine that to be called out on a sin by the LORD God Himself would reverberate with unimaginable power for the rest of a person’s life.

16Then the men set out from there, and they looked toward Sodom; and Abraham went with them to set them on their way. 17The LORD said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, 18seeing that Abraham shall become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall bless themselves by him? 19No, for I have chosen him, that he may charge his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice; so that the LORD may bring to Abraham what he has promised him.”

Once again we are allowed to hear the LORD’s inner thoughts.  In a sense, He is asking Himself if Abraham should be given the position of a Prophet – one who is given the Word of God and who thus becomes a participant in its Life.

But there is something else of wondrous import in this inner dialogue. The LORD thinks, “all the nations of the earth shall bless themselves by him.”  The LORD is here thinking about us!  Here, at the very beginning of the nation of Israel, a people set apart to carry God’s promise, our salvation was in God’s mind.

20Then the LORD said, “Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomor’rah is great and their sin is very grave, 21I will go down to see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry which has come to me; and if not, I will know.”

The outcry is likely that of the innocent who have been caught up in the snares of sin in these cities.  We will see in due course the treatment that could befall unwary passers through.

What exactly is meant by the LORD going down to see for Himself once again places us in the position of interpreting a situation in which He has chosen to limit Himself.  It must be said, though, that it is truly a terrible thing to have the LORD choose to look into the sin of an individual or a community due to an outcry against them.

22So the men turned from there, and went toward Sodom; but Abraham still stood before the LORD.

23Then Abraham drew near, and said, “Wilt thou indeed destroy the righteous with the wicked? 24Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city; wilt thou then destroy the place and not spare it for the fifty righteous who are in it? 25Far be it from thee to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from thee! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?”

It’s of significant note that the LORD has not told Abraham of His intentions if the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah was as grievous as the outcry it had caused.  Perhaps there was something in the demeanor of the LORD or His companions (angels of destruction on their way to their dreadful task) that foreshadowed destruction.  In any case, Abraham guesses well.

We now see what can only be described as an audacious act of mercy on Father Abraham’s part.  There can be little doubt that Abraham knew well the evil that had free reign in the lives of the inhabitants of these cities.  Yet, he decides on the spot to engage the LORD God in a test of wits for the lives of these very people.

Perhaps seeing the LORD in the form of human flesh steeled Abraham’s courage.  As intellectually untenable as this may seem, in the heat of the moment, with the lives of thousands hanging in the balance, perhaps Abraham lost sight of the full glory of the LORD.  In doing so, he would be so bold as to contend with Him, not as man to man, but as man to a Being who could be swayed by human argument.

We also must note that the object of Abraham’s mercy was likely not just Lot and his family.  If so, he could have simply requested that they be spared.  In past encounters Abraham had been straight spoken with the LORD regarding his desires.

26And the LORD said, “If I find at Sodom fifty righteous in the city, I will spare the whole place for their sake.” 27Abraham answered, “Behold, I have taken upon myself to speak to the Lord, I who am but dust and ashes. 28Suppose five of the fifty righteous are lacking? Wilt thou destroy the whole city for lack of five?” And he said, “I will not destroy it if I find forty-five there.” 29Again he spoke to him, and said, “Suppose forty are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of forty I will not do it.” 30Then he said, “Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak. Suppose thirty are found there.” He answered, “I will not do it, if I find thirty there.” 31He said, “Behold, I have taken upon myself to speak to the Lord. Suppose twenty are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of twenty I will not destroy it.” 32Then he said, “Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak again but this once. Suppose ten are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of ten I will not destroy it.” 33And the LORD went his way, when he had finished speaking to Abraham; and Abraham returned to his place.

It is noteworthy that this tense exchange ends up being limited to the fate of only Sodom.  It is the LORD who makes this limitation.  Abraham presses his case to the outer limits, increasing his own abasement while reducing the number of righteous.

One can almost see Abraham when the number reaches ten, perspiration on his face, hands trembling, considering if there is room in the LORD’s patience and mercy for the number to be reduced to five.  If he did harbor such a thought, he concluded that the LORD had been pressed as far as mere flesh could.

This encounter shows how small a proportion of righteous can protect the larger community in which they live.  It also reflects Abraham’s largeness of soul that he would contend to such lengths for those who were well known to be evildoers.  Finally, though, it speaks to the inexorable justice of our LORD God once He has set His face to answering the cries of the oppressed.

If the consequences were not so dreadful, Abraham’s contending with the LORD could almost be seen as comical.  Here a man of dust seeks to outsmart the LORD God of the universe.  Surely He knew exactly how many righteous people lived in Sodom, so would also know where to draw the line.

But in truth there is nothing comical about this situation.  The LORD does not treat us as playthings that exist for His amusement.  No.  He treats us as lost souls of the utmost value that He will go to the greatest length to recover.  He also treats us as beings that bear moral responsibility for our choices.  And, in some extreme cases, a terrible judgment is extracted for the whole world to witness.  In every individual case there is a judgment.  When that moment comes, may we be found in Jesus Christ.  It is our only hope.

A Brief Excursion into PCUSA Heresy

heresy1At a recent Bible Study I said that the PCUSA is being torn asunder by a “christianity” that believes in “god” as simply a human construct that can be used to manipulate others.  I made this comment as an inference based on my observation of our denominational elite’s behavior.  For example, that in the over 24,000 words written in support of gay marriage at the recent General Assembly, Jesus Christ Himself was not quoted even once.  Rather, the entire argument was based on what the proponents believed about Jesus Christ.
The very next day I was stunned to discover that there is a PCUSA pastor (the Rev. John Shuck) in apparently good standing who states openly that which I had inferred.  If you follow the links, you will go from the original source article to The Friendly Atheist, where you will find the Rev. Shuck’s summary of his beliefs:

For example, I believe that:

  • Religion is a human construct
  • The symbols of faith are products of human cultural evolution
  • Jesus may have been an historical figure, but most of what we know about him is in the form of legend
  • God is a symbol of myth-making and not credible as a supernatural being or force
  • The Bible is a human product as opposed to special revelation from a divine being
  • Human consciousness is the result of natural selection, so there’s no afterlife
From “The Friendly Atheist” site we can continue follow links to Pastor Shuck’s blog site to Southminster Presbyterian Church (Beaverton, OR) to their Staff page.  There you will find that the Rev. Shuck has been their pastor since January 1, 2015.  You will also be told in Rev. Shuck’s staff bio that:

John has been involved in the work of the Westar Institute (the Jesus Seminar).   Westar promotes the advancement of religious literacy.   John is proud that Southminster engages spirituality and critical thinking.   John is a signatory of the Clergy Letter Project that advocates scientific literacy including teaching Evolutionary Theory.   John’s favorite Sunday is Evolution Sunday on the Sunday closest to Charles Darwin’s birthday.

Note that I have already investigated PCUSA ties to the Westar Institute and Jesus Seminar (focus on the Rev. Bruce Reyes-Chow, see from here to here).
I would like to believe that Pastors Shuck and Reyes-Chow are isolated cranks who have no real connection to or influence in the denomination.  Unfortunately, I have to note that the Rev. Reyes-Chow was the 2008 Moderator of the PCUSA and the Rev. Shuck appears to be happily prospering in the denomination.
As I have expressed this concern the responses have varied from support and affirmation to disagreement and diminishment.  In particular on the latter response, some have attempted to diminish by pointing out that these individuals are both few in number and rendered ineffective by the “silliness” of their position.

I can’t shake the sense that the PCUSA leadership (particularly now that so many pastors/members/churches have given up and exited) see “following Christ” from a similar perspective.  Yes, I understand that these denominational leaders talk all the time about “following Christ.”  Yet, when they had the opportunity to make the supposedly compelling case for same-gender marriage, Christ as testified to in the Bible was completely excluded.  That failure destroyed the last shred of their credibility on my part.

My concern has been best put into words by Dr. Van Til in an essay on the Confession of 1967 (emphasis added).

Though we concede that the new creed and its new theology speak highly of both Christ and the Bible, we nevertheless contend that new meanings have been attached to old, familiar words. The whole question, accordingly, is one of reinterpretation. One may take a milk bottle and fill it with a poisonous white liquid and call it milk, but this does not guarantee that the poisonous liquid is milk. It may well be some thing that is highly dangerous to man. …

Though the twentieth-century church has been informed by the new theology that it can have no objective or conceptual knowledge of God and of Christ, this same theology still continues to speak about God and Christ in eloquent terms. But, as we have already noted, these terms have new definitions. The God and the Christ of this contemporary theology have very little in common with the God and the Christ of historic Christianity.  There is good reason to believe that the new theology has virtually manufactured a new Christ, a person who is essentially different from the Savior of the Scriptures.

I’m not attempting here to reopen debate on the Confession of 1967, but the theology described above is what I too often see in our denominational and presbytery leadership today.

Although there is a clear aspect of “silly” in what Pastors Shuck and Reyes-Chow are doing, there is another side far less humorous.  I see people such as them as the avant-garde who demonstrate that there are no theological bounds left within the PCUSA.  Yes, few do or even want to follow them.  But for those who are determined to obliterate Christ as testified to in the Bible and replace Him with an avatar carrying their own beliefs, they show that the denomination cannot rouse itself even to oppose in-your-face heresy.

Thus, I’m concerned that these two apostate pastors are only the tip of an awful iceberg.  That is, while they openly argue for heresy, many others quietly work incessantly to manipulate trusting Christian souls into great error.
My personal response is to pray that faithful PCUSA congregations continues to be a bright beacon of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in these dark, dangerous times.  We should support and encourage our pastors to continue preaching and teaching Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and the Bible as God’s Word.  We should speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15) with courage and conviction.  And finally, we should, by trusting in God’s good providence, never despair and never cease praising His saving grace in our lives and in this broken world.

God’s Acts of Providence (10)

365099543_640The Chief End of Man (9)

The Covenant Confirmed

Genesis 17:1-22

17 1When Abram was ninety-nine years old the LORD appeared to Abram, and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless. 2And I will make my covenant between me and you, and will multiply you exceedingly.”

Here again, our modern sensibilities attenuate the terrible import of this utterance.  To many of us, the state of blamelessness is achieved by denial of any outside standard by which we could be judged.  Thus, we are found to be blameless as long as we are “true to ourselves.”  This standard, of course, has the wonderful characteristic of being invisible to everyone except the individual to whom it is being applied.  Thus, in practice, it becomes “I am blameless as long as I do what I do, think what I think and am who I am.”

Although mere flesh and blood may often be intimidated by such a pose (at least in what we call Western Civilization) we are fools indeed to imagine that God Almighty is so affected.  His sovereignty is absolute, as are His standards.  Our understanding of them can grow, thus creating the illusion of change, but they themselves are fixed beyond the power of time or events.  We should tremble to our very depths at the thought of being ordered to walk blamelessly before the God Almighty.

3Then Abram fell on his face; and God said to him, 4“Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. 5No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. 6I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come forth from you.

7And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your descendants after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your descendants after you. 8And I will give to you, and to your descendants after you, the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.”

Abram labored under no such foolhardy illusions.  He falls facedown before God, surely in the posture of total subservience, worship and fear.

The first concrete sign of the covenant is the change of name from Abram to Abraham.  Each time his name is uttered it will be a reminder of this special pledge.

9And God said to Abraham, “As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your descendants after you throughout their generations. 10This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your descendants after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. 11You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. 12He that is eight days old among you shall be circumcised; every male throughout your generations, whether born in your house, or bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring, 13both he that is born in your house and he that is bought with your money, shall be circumcised. So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant. 14Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.”

The second concrete sign will be written in the flesh upon the organ of male reproduction.

15And God said to Abraham, “As for Sar’ai your wife, you shall not call her name Sar’ai, but Sarah shall be her name. 16I will bless her, and moreover I will give you a son by her; I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.”

At last, Sarai becomes Sarah, the mother and matriarch.

17Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed, and said to himself, “Shall a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?” 18And Abraham said to God, “O that Ish’mael might live in thy sight!”

Can we really fault Abraham for this doubting response?  Miracles are after all the stunning exceptions to rules that appear to be so ironclad that they never fail.  Stones will fall when dropped on this earth.  A person diagnosed with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer will die.  We pray for healing, but we know that the answer will be “no” unless somewhere in the fathomless will of the Almighty there is the act of a miracle that will bring Him glory.

On the other hand, we are not blessed with direct communication with the Almighty, as was Abraham.  What was it about His presence that suggested limitation in power?  Perhaps in stooping so low so as to communicate with Abraham God set aside His full glory.  We do know that were God to reveal Himself to us in His fullness we could not survive the encounter.

Then Moses said, “Now show me your glory.”

And the LORD said, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the LORD, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.”

Then the LORD said, “There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock. When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will remove my hand and you will see my back; but my face must not be seen.” (Exodus 33:18-23, NIV)

How often must our LORD God suffer our disdain for having, in His great love and mercy, humbled Himself so that we might meet to be healed?

19God said, “No, but Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him. 20As for Ish’mael, I have heard you; behold, I will bless him and make him fruitful and multiply him exceedingly; he shall be the father of twelve princes, and I will make him a great nation. 21But I will establish my covenant with Isaac, whom Sarah shall bear to you at this season next year.” 22When he had finished talking with him, God went up from Abraham.

At this point there is no ground left to Abraham on which to protest.  God has spoken.  He has named the son that will be born to him and Sarah.  He has graciously provided for Ishmael’s future.  He has settled the line by which His covenant will proceed.  He has finished speaking, and His word is final.

Genesis 17:23-27

Abraham’s obedience to circumcise is immediate.  On that very day he circumcises himself, Ishmael and all of the males in his household, precisely in accordance with God’s command.

Though Abraham has been found to falter and fail in the details, it must be said that he truly glorifies God when called to the terribly hard tasks of faith.  Do we sometimes focus too much on the details while losing sight of that which truly tests our faith?

A Brief Excursion into the Middle East

We should pray for the personal safety of this courageous man.  He has dared to expose the true depth of evil that motivates the “anti-Zionism” of the Arab world, and, of those who fellow-travel or even outright support their “cause.”  If you wonder how the PCUSA elites fit into this statement, please read my posts starting with The PCUSA and Israel (Part 1) and ending with The PCUSA and Israel (Part 4).

The Arabs’ Real Grievance against the Jews (excerpt, read the whole thing).

As Arabs, we complain because Palestinians feel humiliated going through Israeli checkpoints. We complain because Israel is building in the West Bank without Palestinian permission, and we complain because Israel dares to defend itself against Palestinian terrorists. But how many of us have stopped to consider how this situation came to be? How many of us have the courage to admit that waging war after war against the Jews in order to deny them the right to exist, and refusing every reasonable solution to the conflict, has led to the current situation?

Our message to Jews, throughout history and particularly when they had the temerity to want to govern themselves, has been clear: we cannot tolerate your very existence.

Yet the Jews demand the right to exist and to exist as equals on the land where they have existed and belonged continuously for more than three thousand years.

In addition, denying a people the right to exist is a crime of unimaginable proportions. We Arabs pretend that our lack of respect for the right of Jews to exist is not the cause of the conflict between the Jews and us. We would rather claim that the conflict is about “occupation” and “settlements”. They see what radical Islamists are now doing to Christians and other minorities, who were also in the Middle East for thousands of years before the Muslim Prophet Mohammed was even born: Yazidis, Kurds, Christians, Copts, Assyrians, Arameans, and many others. Where are these indigenous people of Iraq, Syria and Egypt now? Are they living freely or are they being persecuted, run out of their own historical land, slaughtered by Islamists? Jews know that this is what would have happened to them if they did not have their own state.

The real Arab grievance against the Jews is that they exist. We want the Jews either to disappear or be subservient to our whims, but the Jews refuse to bend to our bigotry, and they refuse to be swayed by our threats and our slander.

Who in his right mind can blame them?

Fred Maroun, a left-leaning Arab based in Canada, has authored op-eds for New Canadian Media, among other outlets. From 1961-1984, he lived in Lebanon.

If you have any doubts about the intentions of Israel’s Arab and Persian neighbors, here is a summary of the situation.

Israel-under-siege3

Israel is Surrounded by Genocidal Enemies

God’s Acts of Providence (9)

The Chief End of Man (8)

Not Trusting God and the Consequences

Genesis 16:1-6

In this passage we find Sarai taking her own initiative to see that some semblance of an heir is created.  She has given up on the idea that her own body will be its source, and therefore decides to offer her maidservant, Hagar, as a surrogate.  Abram agrees to this improvisation and takes Hagar as a wife.   In due time Hagar conceives.  But rather than bringing blessing, discord follows, for Hagar “began to despise her mistress.”  In a fit of rage Sarai turns on Abram, blaming him for this humiliating situation.  Abram responds by telling Sarai that she is free to dispose of Hagar as she sees fit.  As a consequence, Sarai makes life so miserable for Hagar that she eventually decides to escape rather than continue to suffer such mistreatment.

This episode can be interpreted as a living parable on what happens when we take into our own hands that which God has reserved for His own action.  Though Sarai and Abram didn’t know it, we who have read the whole account know that God intended to work a miracle by bringing Isaac into being through Sarai’s aged body.  But, rather than wait in faith to see what the LORD would do, they took their own line to fulfill the promise.  The results were tragic, with continuing impact echoing and amplifying down the eons of human history.

Genesis 16:7-16

16 7The angelgiovanni_lanfranco of the LORD found her by a spring of water in the wilderness, the spring on the way to Shur. 8And he said, “Hagar, maid of Sar’ai, where have you come from and where are you going?” She said, “I am fleeing from my mistress Sar’ai.” 9The angel of the LORD said to her, “Return to your mistress, and submit to her.”

10The angel of the LORD also said to her, “I will so greatly multiply your descendants that they cannot be numbered for multitude.” 11And the angel of the LORD said to her, “Behold, you are with child, and shall bear a son; you shall call his name Ish’mael; because the LORD has given heed to your affliction. 12He shall be a wild ass of a man, his hand against every man and every man’s hand against him; and he shall dwell over against all his kinsmen.”

It must be simply noted that it is here, with the birth of Ishmael that the peoples of Judaism and Islam first meet.  The issues raised by these relations and controversies are much too delicate, too intricate for one such as myself to productively comment upon.

However, we can ask, are the dark, deadly seeds of tragedy being here seen planted?  The LORD is intervening to sustain and bless both Hagar and Ishamel, and yet they are being sent back to a dysfunctional situation with the promise of continuous discord.

As we survey the continuing wreckage created by the consequences of these broken beginnings we can only shudder at the scope, depth and power inherent in God’s mighty, impenetrable works.  May we pray without ceasing for a way for peace on earth to be attained that is not the peace of the grave.

13So she called the name of the LORD who spoke to her, “Thou art a God of seeing”; for she said, “Have I really seen God and remained alive after seeing him?” 14Therefore the well was called Beer-la’hai-roi; it lies between Kadesh and Bered.

15And Hagar bore Abram a son; and Abram called the name of his son, whom Hagar bore, Ish’mael. 16Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore Ish’mael to Abram.

Hagar’s encounter with the LORD is confirmed by the naming of the place as well as by Abram’s naming of the child.  We moderns too often fail to appreciate the power to which the ancients attached naming.  To them, to name a person or place was to in some deep sense define its essence, even its destiny.  Though we may smile at their innocence, perhaps we should consider more seriously the power of words, including names, to harm and heal.

Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing. (Proverbs 12:18, NIV)

God’s Acts of Providence (8)

The Chief End of Man (7)

God’s Comfort and Promise

Genesis 15

15 1After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision, “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.”

Perhaps far from feeling emboldened by his incredible victory, Abram is realizing how large are the forces that surround his relatively small household and how dangerous are the entanglements that are being created.  There are times when the winning of a battle, though necessary and good in itself, places one at greater future risk.  For the city-state kings, Abram may have emerged as a force to be reckoned with, and the determination of to what end left to the vagaries of politics.  At such a point of fear it is the response of a merciful LORD to come down to Abram bringing a renewed message of comfort.

2But Abram said, “O Lord GOD, what wilt thou give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Elie’zer of Damascus?” 3And Abram said, “Behold, thou hast given me no offspring; and a slave born in my house will be my heir.”

Abram remains doubtful about the future and speaks candidly to the LORD.  He speaks within the confines of faith in His sovereignty, but yet still admitting his own fears.  Though the LORD has deigned to meet with Abram, he never loses sight of His Holiness.

heirs-stars4And behold, the word of the LORD came to him, “This man shall not be your heir; your own son shall be your heir.” 5And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your descendants be.”

This second metaphor is surely the more uplifting and encouraging of the two in this passage.  How much better to be compared to the heavenly stars than the common dust that is trod under foot by man and beast!

Note the ambiguity in this pledge.  Abram is promised a son from his own body, not from Sarai’s and Abram’s union.  The withholding of this detail will have profound consequences while revealing great shadows within their souls.

6And he believed the LORD; and he reckoned it to him as righteousness.

Regardless of the entire deficit in faith and action that will occur in Abram’s future responses, this singular act of faith by a lonely, exposed wanderer to the LORD’s covenant set in motion a Holy Instrument of Salvation that would work out it’s power through the generations of frail flesh until the Son of God arrived to claim the final Victory.

7And he said to him, “I am the LORD who brought you from Ur of the Chalde’ans, to give you this land to possess.” 8But he said, “O Lord GOD, how am I to know that I shall possess it?” 9He said to him, “Bring me a heifer three years old, a she-goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” 10And he brought him all these, cut them in two, and laid each half over against the other; but he did not cut the birds in two. 11And when birds of prey came down upon the carcasses, Abram drove them away.

12As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell on Abram; and lo, a dread and great darkness fell upon him. 13Then the LORD said to Abram, “Know of a surety that your descendants will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs, and will be slaves there, and they will be oppressed for four hundred years; 14but I will bring judgment on the nation which they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions. 15As for yourself, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age. 16And they shall come back here in the fourth generation; for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.”

covenantbetweenthepieces17When the sun had gone down and it was dark, behold, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. 18On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphra’tes, 19the land of the Ken’ites, the Ken’izzites, the Kad’monites, 20the Hittites, the Per’izzites, the Reph’aim, 21the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Gir’gashites and the Jeb’usites.”

This is one of the most haunting passages in Scripture.  We begin with the LORD’s continuing words of comfort and promise along with Abram’s continuing words of fear and doubt.  And so the LORD instructs Abram to conduct an ancient ritual of covenant making.  The human idea was that if either party violates the covenant they would share the fate of the cloven animals. How such a ritual could be understood by Abram to apply to the Sovereign LORD is unclear.  Perhaps we can understand this as yet another example of the LORD humbling Himself so as to meet us at our point of need.

The experience itself is drenched in dread ambiguity and the imponderable.  Where does Abram’s will end and the LORD’s sovereignty begin?  Is the four hundred years mistreatment of Abram’s descendants punishment for his doubt or would it have happened regardless?  What determines when a people’s sin has reached its completion?  Did the peoples who occupied the land of promise have any purpose in the LORD’s plan other than to be overthrown?

What has become absolutely clear is that the LORD has made a covenant of eternal purpose with this nomad and his descendents, body and spirit.

Q 34. [The LARGER CATECHISM] How was the covenant of grace administered under the Old Testament?

A. The covenant of grace was administered under the Old Testament, by promises,[1] prophecies,[2] sacrifices,[3] circumcision,[4] the passover,[5] and other types and ordinances; which did all foresignify Christ then to come, and were for that time sufficient to build up the elect in faith in the promised Messiah,[6] by whom they then had full remission of sin and eternal salvation.[7]


[1] Rom. 15:8; Acts 3:20.

[2] Acts 3:20, 24.

[3] Heb. 10:1.

[4] Rom. 4:11.

[5] I Cor. 5:7; Exod. 12:14, 17, 24.

[6] Heb. 11:13.

[7] Gal. 3:7–9; Heb. 11.

God’s Acts of Providence (7)

The Chief End of Man (6)

War and Rescue

Genesis 14

This chapter contains the complex story of war between numerous kings and their city-states, including Sodom and Gomorrah.  Lot and his clan were caught up in the defeat of Sodom and were taken as plunder.  When word of their fate reached Abram he marshaled 318 men and went off in pursuit. Upon closing with the foe, Abram’s forces routed them in a night attack.  He recovered Lot with his entire household and possessions.

After this great victory Abram shares a celebration with the king of Sodom, within which there is a meeting of import with Melchizedek[1] king of Salem.  Abram declines an offer of reward by the king of Sodom.

[1] See Hebrews Chapter 7.

God’s Acts of Providence (6)

The Chief End of Man (5)

Abram and Lot Separate

Genesis 13:1-18

Abram and Lot’s flocks had become so large that the land could not support them both.  Therefore Abram proposed that they separate.  He gave Lot the first choice, and he picked plain of the Jordan (which included the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah).  Abram then chose the land of Canaan.  Lot “lived among the cities of the plain and pitched his tents near Sodom.”  This was very poor judgment on Lot’s part, for “the men of Sodom were wicked and were sinning greatly against the LORD.”  We pick up the narrative at verse fourteen.

13 14The LORD said to Abram, after Lot had separated from him, “Lift up your eyes, and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward; 15for all the land which you see I will give to you and to your descendants for ever. 16I will make your descendants as the dust of the earth; so that if one can count the dust of the earth, your descendants also can be counted. 17Arise, walk through the length and the breadth of the land, for I will give it to you.” 18So Abram moved his tent, and came and dwelt by the oaks of Mamre, which are at Hebron; and there he built an altar to the LORD.

The LORD builds on His promise, comparing the number of Abram’s descendents to the uncountable dust of the earth. Is it possible that Abram detected an undercurrent of menace, or at least dissonance in the metaphor?