Monday, December 22, 2014

Prayer meeting in Topeka for the persecuted church, emphasis Isaiah 19:21-25, January 31

What: Prayer meeting for the persecuted church, emphasis Isaiah 19:21-25.

Where: Hillcrest Community Center, 1800 S.E. 21st St., Topeka, Kansas, 66607.

When: Saturday, January 31, 2105, 1 p.m.


Facebook event for this meeting. OR

Meetup event for this meeting.


At this meeting, we will pray for the persecuted church, with an emphasis on a particular prophecy of Isaiah:

21 Yahweh will be known to Egypt, and the Egyptians will know Yahweh in that day. Yes, they will worship with sacrifice and offering, and will vow a vow to Yahweh, and will perform it. 22 Yahweh will strike Egypt, striking and healing. They will return to Yahweh, and he will be entreated by them, and will heal them. 23 In that day there will be a highway out of Egypt to Assyria, and the Assyrian shall come into Egypt, and the Egyptian into Assyria; and the Egyptians will worship with the Assyrians. 24 In that day, Israel will be the third with Egypt and with Assyria, a blessing within the earth; 25 because Yahweh of Armies has blessed them, saying, 'Blessed be Egypt my people, Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel my inheritance.'

Isaiah 19:21-25 (WEB).

The Egyptians and the Assyrians were two of the earliest Gentile national groups to hear and positively receive the Gospel. There are still persecuted communities of of both Coptic (Egyptian) and Assyrian Christians in the Middle East. The Christians of Egypt have been under intense pressure for te last few years. The Assyrian Christians of Iraq have been right in the middle of Isis' path. Nonetheless, as the quoted prophecy shows, God has said He will preserve them, and ultimately make them into a blessing to the whole earth, along with Israel, God's inheritance. We should now pray for them in their trouble!

Further Explanations of Interpretation of Isaiah Passage

Link to how I personally reached the conclusion that the passage was to be taken literally, as a future prophecy.

Academic paper stating reasoning.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Eli the High Priest, talking when action was required

The story of Eli demonstrates that true repentance sometimes demands firm action to restrain evil, not just changed attitude or talk. Eli, the High Priest before Samuel, knew God. However, his sons Hophni and Phinehas, did not know or obey God. Instead, they abused their offices as priests to enrich themselves—stealing from the worshippers’ portions of offerings made to God—and sleeping with the women who ministered at the door of the tabernacle. (I Samuel 2:12-16, 22). Eli knew what his sons were doing, and repented—after a fashion—but his repentance was inadequate. All he did about their sins was to reprove them orally:

23 He said to them, “Why do you do such things? For I hear of your evil dealings from all this people. 24 No, my sons; for it is no good report that I hear! You make Yahweh’s people disobey. 25 If one man sins against another, God will judge him; but if a man sins against Yahweh, who will intercede for him?”

I Samuel 2:23-25a (WEB)

However, Eli’s sons did not listen to him and repent of their sins—because, as the text notes, God had determined that they should die for dishonoring him. I Samuel 2:25b. When the oral reproof was ineffective, Eli did nothing more to restrain his sons. He allowed them to continue serving as priests, when he should have removed them from their positions. But he did nothing more than talk.

Indeed, after Eli spoke to his sons about their sins, but did nothing more to restrain them, God sent him two prophets to warn him of the consequences of his inaction. The first, unnamed prophet told Eli precisely what the problem was—Eli was honoring his sons above God:

27 A man of God came to Eli, and said to him, “Yahweh says, ‘Did I reveal myself to the house of your father, when they were in Egypt in bondage to Pharaoh’s house? 28 Didn’t I choose him out of all the tribes of Israel to be my priest, to go up to my altar, to burn incense, to wear an ephod before me? Didn’t I give to the house of your father all the offerings of the children of Israel made by fire? 29 Why do you kick at my sacrifice and at my offering, which I have commanded in my habitation, and honor your sons above me, to make yourselves fat with the best of all the offerings of Israel my people?’
30 “Therefore Yahweh, the God of Israel, says, ‘I said indeed that your house, and the house of your father, should walk before me forever.’ But now Yahweh says, ‘Far be it from me; for those who honor me I will honor, and those who despise me will be cursed.

I Samuel 2:27-30 (WEB)

This accusation was accompanied by a dire warning—Hophni and Phinehas would both die on the same day, and Eli’s entire house would be punished by removal from priestly office and by death at young ages throughout their generations. As is true of all such warnings delivered by God, this prophet’s warning implied that Eli had an opportunity to repent—by restraining his sons, not just nagging them—and thereby avoiding the consequences of which the prophet warned. But Eli ignored the warning, and continued to honor his sons above God.

The second prophet God sent to Eli was the young man Samuel. Samuel was not of a priestly lineage by blood—he was of the tribe of Ephraim (I Samuel 1:1, 20). However, Samuel’s mother had promised him to God if God would open her womb (I Samuel 1:11), and Eli had raised him in the Tabernacle from the time he was weaned (I Samuel 1:21-28, 2:11) . One night God called Samuel, who had not previously heard God’s voice. The first two times, Samuel thought Eli was calling him. The third time, Eli recognized that it was God calling Samuel, and instructed him to tell God that he was listening. (I Samuel 3:7-10). God’s message to Samuel confirmed that of the earlier, unnamed man of God who had spoken to Eli:

11 Yahweh said to Samuel, “Behold, I will do a thing in Israel, at which both the ears of everyone who hears it will tingle. 12 In that day I will perform against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from the beginning even to the end. 13 For I have told him that I will judge his house forever, for the iniquity which he knew, because his sons brought a curse on themselves, and he didn’t restrain them. 14 Therefore I have sworn to the house of Eli, that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be removed with sacrifice or offering forever.”

I Samuel 3:11-14 (WEB)

The next morning, Samuel delivered God’s message to Eli. Once again, God’s warning to Eli implied an opportunity to repent—by restraining his sons. But Eli’s only response to this warning was resignation: “It is Yahweh. Let him do what seems good to him.” (I Samuel 3:18b). Not long after that, the warnings were realized. Israel went to battle against the Philistines, and had Hophni and Phinehas carry the Ark of the Covenant before them into battle—as a kind of good luck charm assuring victory. (I Samuel 4:1-4). This was an unauthorized use of the symbol of God’s presence with his people, but Hophni and Phinehas had taught the people to use God rather than worship him by their performance as priests during the preceding years. Thus, the people’s decision to misuse the Ark as a magical charm was a natural consequence of the sins of their priests. However, the battle did not go as expected. Israel lost the battle, with 30,000 casualties, the Ark of God was captured by the Philistines, and Hophni and Phinehas died in battle. (I Samuel 4:10-11). When news of the capture of the Ark and the death of his sons was brought to Eli, he also died. (I Samuel 4:18).

So, in Eli’s situation, true repentance would have required him to take the action within his power to restrain his sons’ abuse of their priestly offices. He had the authority to remove them from their positions to end the reproach they were bringing upon God. Simply nagging them wasn’t enough. To be sure, in the church, correcting the sins of others must start with gentle reproof, with a correct heart attitude (Matthew 18:15-18; Galatians 6:1-2). There are procedures to be followed, with the purpose of correction, not punishment. But, whether my own personal sin or that of a brother is involved, merely talking, when action is required, is not true repentance on my part.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Balaam: Old Testament picture of a false prophet who showed false repentance

Balaam was a man of several notable distinctions. I’ll start with the best-known distinction--Balaam was also the only the only human in the biblical record who had a conversation with an animal that spoke with a human voice. Balaam was known among his own people as a diviner or sorcerer. But he also knew and had conversations with God—the one true God, Yahweh—and was used on at least three occasions to bring forth true prophecies. In spite of this, however, he died as an enemy of God, a permanent example of a person ruined by greed and false repentance concerning it.

The story of Balaam, as far as the Bible is concerned, starts with the arrival of distinguished dignitaries from Moab at his home. Balak, King of Moab, thought he had a serious problem. The children of Israel, millions of them, led by Moses, have arrived at his eastern border. They have asked for safe passage through his land, to go to their own land on the other side of the Jordan. Balak has heard the stories of Israel’s deliverance from Egypt years earlier, under the same leader, Moses—the ten plagues, ending with the death of the firstborn, and the parting of the Red Sea—and he is scared. In fact, Balak and his people have no reason to fear Israel at this time. God has commanded them to leave Moab alone, not to take any of their land, and to pay full price for anything they eat and drink as they pass through Moab. But Balak and his people either did not know that God has told Israel this, or did not trust that Israel would obey this command. They refused Israel safe passage, and sent a committee of their nobility to Mesopotamia to seek out Balaam. Balak has heard of Balaam’s reputation as a sorcerer—as Balak’s ambassadors tell Balaam, “I know that he whom you bless is blessed, and he whom you curse is cursed” (Numbers 22:6)—and wanted to pay Balaam any price he named to curse Israel. Once Israel was cursed, Balak wanted to engage them in battle and drive them away.

When Balak’s ambassadors first approached Balaam, he asked them to stay the night while he inquired of the LORD. On that occasion, God said to Balaam without qualification, “You shall not go with them. You shall not curse the people; for they are blessed.” Numbers 22:12. This was a very simple “NO. don’t do it!” instruction. Balaam put the blame squarely on God, and failed to mention the blessing God spoke on Israel, when he repeated God’s message to Balak’s ambassadors: “Go to your land; for Yahweh refuses to permit me to go with you.” Numbers 22:13. Balak’s ambassadors, in turn, understood that the decision was made by Balaam, not by God at all, reporting to Balak that “Balaam refuses to come with us.” Numbers 22:14.

Balak may have thought he was dealing only with the stubbornness of the prophet, rather than with a matter already conclusively determined by God. Whatever his reasoning, he then sent more and higher-ranking ambassadors to Balaam with still more money, and the promise “I will promote you to very great honor, and whatever you say to me I will do. Please come therefore, and curse this people for me.” Balaam is clearly tempted, for his first response to this offer is “If Balak would give me his house full of silver and gold, I can’t go beyond the word of Yahweh my God, to do less or more.” Numbers 23:18. Then, instead of immediately sending Balak’s embassy away, he again invites them to spend the night while he inquires of God again. (Recall that God had already said “NO” in very plain terms). This time, however, God’s answer to Balaam—who was obviously determined to go—was “If the men have come to call you, rise up, go with them; but only the word which I speak to you, that you shall do.” Numbers 23:20. God permitted Balaam to follow the greed in his heart, to his own destruction, as we shall see later. But God also was angry with Balaam’s determination to go with the men, and sternly warned him to say only what God told him.

On the way to Moab, Balaam had his famous conversation with his donkey and a confrontation with the Angel of Yahweh. Both of these events occurred because God was angry with Balaam’s stubborn determination to follow his greed and go with the men to Moab. Balaam was so taken by his own greed that he was no longer aware of God—or of his Angel opposing him—but his donkey was. Three times Balaam’s donkey saw the Angel and turned out of the way, or laid down under Balaam to stop him. Each of these three times, Balaam beat his donkey. The third time Balaam beat his donkey, the donkey talked back to him! Here is the conversation Balaam had with his ass:

28 Yahweh opened the mouth of the donkey, and she said to Balaam, “What have I done to you, that you have struck me these three times?” 29 Balaam said to the donkey, “Because you have mocked me, I wish there were a sword in my hand, for now I would have killed you.” 30 The donkey said to Balaam, “Am I not your donkey, on which you have ridden all your life long until today? Was I ever in the habit of doing so to you?” He said, “No.”

Numbers 22:28-30.

It was only after this conversation that the Angel of Yahweh made himself visible to Balaam. The Angel explained why he was there, and that he had more mercy for the donkey than for Balaam in his rebellious state:

31 Then Yahweh opened the eyes of Balaam, and he saw Yahweh’s angel standing in the way, with his sword drawn in his hand; and he bowed his head, and fell on his face. 32 Yahweh’s angel said to him, “Why have you struck your donkey these three times? Behold, I have come out as an adversary, because your way is perverse before me. 33 The donkey saw me, and turned away before me these three times. Unless she had turned away from me, surely now I would have killed you, and saved her alive.” 34 Balaam said to Yahweh’s angel, “I have sinned; for I didn’t know that you stood in the way against me. Now therefore, if it displeases you, I will go back again.” 35 Yahweh’s angel said to Balaam, “Go with the men; but only the word that I shall speak to you, that you shall speak.”

Numbers 22:31-35.

One would think this would be enough to drive anyone to repentance! And, when Balaam arrived in Moab, at first he certainly appeared to have repented. When he first met Balak, he told him, “Behold, I have come to you. Have I now any power at all to speak anything? The word that God puts in my mouth, that shall I speak.” (Numbers 22:38). When Balak leads Balaam to the first high place overlooking part of the people of Israel, and offers his offering to God, Balaam meets with God, and brings back a true prophecy from God, blessing Israel. (Numbers 23:1-10). Balak then complained, ““What have you done to me? I took you to curse my enemies, and behold, you have blessed them altogether.” To this, Balaam responded, “Must I not take heed to speak that which Yahweh puts in my mouth?” So, in the first test, Balaam’s repentance appears genuine.

Balak then led him to a second high place, offered more offerings, Balaam once again went apart, met with God, and brought back another true prophecy blessing Israel. However, this second prophecy contained the seeds of Balaam’s own undoing:

19 God is not a man, that he should lie,
nor a son of man, that he should repent.
Has he said, and will he not do it?
Or has he spoken, and will he not make it good?
20 Behold, I have received a command to bless.
He has blessed, and I can’t reverse it.
21 He has not seen iniquity in Jacob.
Neither has he seen perverseness in Israel.

Numbers 23:19-21.

Balaam spoke God’s words, but, in his rebellious state, he did not correctly understand them. Balaam apparently thought God was saying that he had chosen and blessed Israel because he had not seen any iniquity or perverseness in them, when, in fact, exactly the converse was true. God had overlooked Israel’s iniquity for 40 years because He had chosen them. But Balaam, like Balak, was apparently only aware of God’s judgments on Egypt and the crossing of the Red Sea; he was not aware of God’s workings among Israel during the 40 years since that time. God did not see iniquity in Jacob or perverseness in Israel because He chose not to see it after he dealt with it in chastisement, not because it wasn’t there. Ultimately, though this was far in the future in Balaam’s day, Jesus died for the whole people of Israel, so that the nation would not perish for their sins. (See John 11:49-52, another true prophecy uttered by an enemy of God—Caiaphas, the High Priest responsible for Jesus’ death). Balaam did not understand this. But, had he stopped with his second oracle, his outward behavior would have been in obedience to God’s command, as he had only said the words God gave him. His repentance would still appear genuine.

After some more complaining about Balaam blessing the people he had been hired to curse, Balak led him to a third high place, where he could view a different part of Israel’s camp, and offered more sacrifices. This time, instead of going off to meet with God before speaking, “Balaam saw that it pleased Yahweh to bless Israel” (Numbers 24:1), and, when he looked on the camp of Israel “and the Spirit of God came on him” (Numbers 24:2) and he spoke yet another blessing. (Numbers 24:3-9). Indeed, this blessing echoes the blessing God gave to Abraham, “Everyone who blesses you is blessed, everyone who curses you is cursed.” (Numbers 24:9, compare Genesis 12:3). So, to this point, Balaam’s repentance still looks good.

Balak then has this conversation with Balaam:

10 Balak’s anger burned against Balaam, and he struck his hands together. Balak said to Balaam, “I called you to curse my enemies, and, behold, you have altogether blessed them these three times. 11 Therefore, flee to your place, now! I thought to promote you to great honor; but, behold, Yahweh has kept you back from honor.” 12 Balaam said to Balak, “Didn’t I also tell your messengers whom you sent to me, saying, 13 ‘If Balak would give me his house full of silver and gold, I can’t go beyond Yahweh’s word, to do either good or bad from my own mind. I will say what Yahweh says’? 14 Now, behold, I go to my people. Come, I will inform you what this people shall do to your people in the latter days.”

Numbers 24:10-14.

What follows this is Balaam’s fourth oracle, a vision of the coming of the Messiah, the “star” and the “scepter” that would rise out of Israel (Numbers 24:17-18), followed by oracles of the judgments God would bring on Israel’s neighbors. After that, Numbers 24:25 records that Balaam went back home. If the story ended here, it would have appeared that Balaam’s repentance was real.

But Balaam’s story doesn’t end in Numbers 24. In Numbers 25, Israel remained camped where it was, next door to Moab in territory also claimed by the Midianites. While there, “began to play the prostitute with the daughters of Moab,” who led many Israelites into the idolatrous worship of Baal Peor, a deity worshiped by both Moab and Midian. The Midianites were also involved in this plan to assimilate Israel by intermarriage and by leading them into idolatry (see Numbers 31:1-16). Indeed, when God brought a plague on Israel because of it, the event that led to the end of the plague was the summary execution by Phinehas the priest of a tribal leader of Israel who had brought the daughter of a Midianite chief into the camp, and into his tent, while Israel was mourning about the plague. (Numbers 25:6 ff.)

Because of Midian’s role in the attempt to lead Israel into immorality and idolatry, Israel was commanded immediately to harass Midian, because Midian had “harassed” Israel with its trickery in the matters of Baal Peor and the daughter of one of its chiefs. (Numbers 25:16-17). Several chapters later, as one of his last acts, Moses is commanded to lead 12,000 men of Israel to “avenge the children of Israel on the Midianites” (Numbers 31:2) by destroying them. It is recorded that, in the attack on Midian, the 12,000 Israelite soldiers killed every male in Midian, and “they also killed Balaam the son of Beor with the sword.” (Numbers 31:7-8). So it appears that Balaam, instead of remaining at home in Mesopotamia after he left Moab, returned and was found among the Midianites.

This is made explicit in the next few verses. The Israelite army killed all of the adult males in Midian, but spared the women and children alive as part of their booty. Moses reproved them for this with the words:

Have you saved all the women alive? 16 Behold, these caused the children of Israel, through the counsel of Balaam, to commit trespass against Yahweh in the matter of Peor, and so the plague was among the congregation of Yahweh.

Numbers 31:15b-16

Thus, when Balaam took up residence in Midian, he was still seeking a reward. God did not let him utter a curse on Israel. But he tried to teach Midian—and, obviously, Moab as well—to induce Israel to adopt behaviors that he thought would bring God’s curse on them, and thus allow the peoples around them to assimilate them without a fight. Remember that one of Balaam’s true prophecies was that God did not behold iniquity or perverseness in Israel. Balaam taught Midian and Moab how to introduce iniquity into Israel, so that God would see it among them!

New Testament references to Balaam make it abundantly clear this is what happened. For instance, in Revelation 2:14 Christ himself takes issue with the church in Pergamum because they “have there some who hold the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to throw a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit sexual immorality.” In this reference, Balaam is used an Old Testament figure of a false teacher who spread immorality and idolatry among God’s people. Similarly, in writing of false teachers within the Church, Jude speaks of Balaam’s greed when he writes that these teachers

[s]peak evil of whatever things they don’t know. They are destroyed in these things that they understand naturally, like the creatures without reason. 11 Woe to them! For they went in the way of Cain, and ran riotously in the error of Balaam for hire, and perished in Korah’s rebellion.

Finally, 2 Peter 3 contains the longest New Testament description of Balaam as a figure of a false teacher, and this discussion also speaks of Balaam’s greed, along with his immorality, his bondage to sin, and God’s choice to interrupt his insanity by speaking through an animal:

12 But these, as unreasoning creatures, born natural animals to be taken and destroyed, speaking evil in matters about which they are ignorant, will in their destroying surely be destroyed, 13 receiving the wages of unrighteousness; people who count it pleasure to revel in the daytime, spots and defects, reveling in their deceit while they feast with you; 14 having eyes full of adultery, and who can’t cease from sin; enticing unsettled souls; having a heart trained in greed; children of cursing; 15 forsaking the right way, they went astray, having followed the way of Balaam the son of Beor, who loved the wages of wrongdoing; 16 but he was rebuked for his own disobedience. A mute donkey spoke with a man’s voice and stopped the madness of the prophet. 17 These are wells without water, clouds driven by a storm; for whom the blackness of darkness has been reserved forever. 18 For, uttering great swelling words of emptiness, they entice in the lusts of the flesh, by licentiousness, those who are indeed escaping from those who live in error; 19 promising them liberty, while they themselves are bondservants of corruption; for a man is brought into bondage by whoever overcomes him.

2 Peter 3:13-17

The conclusion of the matter is also stated by Peter. Balaam is an Old Testament figure, not only of a false teacher, but also of false repentance. After the donkey spoke to him, Balaam outwardly did what God wanted—for awhile. While he was in Moab with Balak, at least on the first trip, he spoke only God’s words; God turned his intended curse into a blessing. (Deuteronomy 23:4-5). But on the second trip to the region, Balaam showed his true colors. He taught Midian, Moab and even Balak to make Israel sin. Thus Peter, still thinking of the example of Balaam, goes on to write of the general effects of false repentance:

20 For if, after they have escaped the defilement of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in it and overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. 21 For it would be better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after knowing it, to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them. 22 But it has happened to them according to the true proverb, “The dog turns to his own vomit again,”✡ and “the sow that has washed to wallowing in the mire.”

The story of Balaam is a potent warning of this.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

The qualifications of the author, Ian Johnson, to write theology, or the lack thereof

On certain occasions in the past, I have received e-mail absolutely INSISTING that I must take down all of my web material forthwith, and desist from ever posting any additional material like it, simply because the writers--and there have been at least two of them--did not find in my declared background a properly-accredited theological degree followed by an ordination certificate from a denomination they recognized. Both of them argued--one of them over many e-mails--that such human recognition is essential before one may teach the Word of God, and that it is a grave sin to proceed without it. I certainly disagree with them. I find no such prohibition in my Bible. Instead, the scriptures tell me to do as the Spirit leads me.

Nevertheless, for the benefit of those who must know my human qualifications, and approve of them, or treat me as a self-condemned heretic, I have created a series of pages attached to this blog that spell out my qualifications. Copies of many of the source documents (academic transcripts, etc.) are even linked to these pages, so that the curious, or the judgmental, may verify as much as possible of my information, I now present these pages:

Ian Johnson's Short Bio

Ian Johnson's Education

Ian Johnson's Licensure

Ian Johnson's Links, including other websites in which he is involved.

I will only publish these links on the face of the blog one, so if you are interested please take advantage of this now! I will return to the discussion of repentance--specifically, Balaam's bad example of repentance--in a few days!

Monday, September 22, 2014

Pharaoh, who played "let's make a deal" with God

The next great example of faulty repentance which views only the consequences of sin is the Pharaoh who opposed Moses, who tried to play a game of "Let's Make a Deal" with God.

Now you might think it strange that a ruler who believed he was a god or a divine force, and whose people looked to him as their divine intermediary with all of the gods, the man who, in his own mind, upheld for his people all of the truth, justice, order and other good (collectively, the ma'at) in the cosmos, would believe he had any need to even listen to anyone who said he represented the One True God. It would be even more astonishing to imagine that his people would permit--and, later, urge--him not only to listen to this God, but to negotiate with him. It would be extremely embarrassing for that divine earthly ruler and extremely threatening to his people. It would literally upset their entire belief system. But that is exactly what happened when Moses returned from exile, and brought YHWH, the LORD, the One True God who loved His People Israel, back from the desert with him. Pharaoh was actually reduced to negotiating with Moses' God, and on several occasions admitted that Moses' God was in the right and he was in the wrong! But these forced admissions of wrongdoing were the confessions of a hardened heart; they were not true repentance, as we shall see.

But first, we need to set the stage. In Genesis 45 and 46, Joseph, son of Jacob (Israel), who has risen to the second highest office in Egypt during a famine and has the complete trust of the Pharaoh then in office, after first moving his brothers to true repentance for selling him into slavery in Egypt years earlier, brings all of Israel's family to Egypt and settles them in Goshen. Then, as is often said, in Genesis 50 Joseph dies, and Genesis ends "in a coffin in Egypt."

Jump forward 400 years for the next record in Exodus. By this time these was a new king over Egypt, one who didn't know Joseph. Ex. 1:8. But he did know of Joseph's people, the Children of Israel, and he regarded them as a threat. They were multiplying too rapidly, and the Pharaoh feared revolution, or treachery in time of war. He gave all of the normal reasons political leaders have given from that day to this to justify hating a minority and committing genocide against it. You can read this in Exodus 1. The motives for race hatred really haven't changed in 4000 years!

The Pharaoh's first plan was simply to work the Israelites to death as slave laborers. When that didn't work, he came up with an even more diabolical scheme--he ordered the Hebrew midwives (there were only two of them) to kill all the boy babies, but let the girls live. Obviously, keeping the girls around would provide for rapid assimilation of the Hebrews into the Egyptian community via forced marriages. This approach did not require wasting the girls, who, after all, would later be useful for creating more slave babies and more sordid enjoyment for Egyptian men! But the midwives did not co-operate, and God, the One True God (really present in Egypt at the time!) protected and rewarded them. When Pharaoh figured this out, he devised his cruelest scheme of all--Hebrew parents were to be made the enforcers of his edict. They were ordered to throw all of their boy babies into the Nile, to drown there. All of this is in Exodus 1.

But, from the first day the Israelites started to groan under Pharaoh's mistreatement, God heard them. Indeed, we are told,

23 In the course of those many days, the king of Egypt died, and the children of Israel sighed because of the bondage, and they cried, and their cry came up to God because of the bondage. 24 God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. 25 God saw the children of Israel, and God was concerned about them.

Exodus 2:23-25 (WEB).

When God heard their groaning, he acted very promptly--by having a baby born who would later be their deliverer from Egypt. (Ex. 2:1). Through a series of mundane but nonetheless miraculous events, he brought Moses first into Pharaoh's court, as the adopted son of Pharaoh's daughter, then cast him into the desert of Midian for forty years of exile when he tried to do God's work, saving his people, in his own human strength. Moses had many lessons to learn, and it took 80 years for God to teach him these lessons. This is the subject of chapter 2 of Exodus. God answered Israel's cry, 80 years later, when he had His man ready to confront Pharaoh. (See, also, Acts 7:17-35 and Hebrews 11:23-27). God is not deaf; He just works in His own time.

So, now, 80 years after the persecution began, we find Moses prospering, after a fashion, married, tending flocks in the Midian desert. His people are still suffering, and groaning, in slavery in Egypt. God appears to him in a burning bush, and tells him to go bring God's children out of Egypt:

“I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt, and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters, for I know their sorrows. 8 I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and large land, to a land flowing with milk and honey; to the place of the Canaanite, the Hittite, the Amorite, the Perizzite, the Hivite, and the Jebusite. 9 Now, behold, the cry of the children of Israel has come to me. Moreover I have seen the oppression with which the Egyptians oppress them. 10 Come now therefore, and I will send you to Pharaoh, that you may bring my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt.”

Exodus 3: 7-10 (WEB).

At first, Moses is hesitant, doubting his qualifications, but God gives him signs, and reveals His Name to Moses. (Ex. 3:12-4:8) He also overcomes Moses complaint that he has never been a fluent speaker by sending his brother Aaron, who was articulate, to meet him--though God was angry with Moses' resistance and preferred Moses would simply trust God to speak through Him. (Ex. 4:10-16, 27-30). All of the main characters are now in place. God's consistent message to Pharaoh, from here to the end, as delivered by Moses and Aaron, is: "Yahweh says, Israel is my son, my firstborn," 23 and I have said to you, “Let my son go, that he may serve me” Exodus 4:22

Moses and Aaron are sent into Egypt knowing that both Pharaoh and Egypt will need to be broken before Pharaoh will let the people go, and even then it will be because he has no choice

1 Yahweh said to Moses, “Behold, I have made you as God to Pharaoh; and Aaron your brother shall be your prophet. 2 You shall speak all that I command you; and Aaron your brother shall speak to Pharaoh, that he let the children of Israel go out of his land. 3 I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and multiply my signs and my wonders in the land of Egypt. 4 But Pharaoh will not listen to you, and I will lay my hand on Egypt, and bring out my armies, my people the children of Israel, out of the land of Egypt by great judgments. 5 The Egyptians shall know that I am Yahweh, when I stretch out my hand on Egypt, and bring out the children of Israel from among them.”

Exodus 2:1-5 (WEB).

Nevertheless, God sends Moses and Arron to Pharaoh nine times with His message, each time with a stronger demonstration of his power. God gives Pharaoh nine chances to repent. His response shows the hardness of his heart. Like Cain and Esau, he would prefer to avoid the worldly consequences of his sin or rejecting God's direct command. And, as the consequences become more severe, he is willing to negotiate with God and even admit he is wrong. But his hardness never breaks. He never agrees to obey God's command, exactly as God spoke it.

At the time Moses makes his first presentation of God's command to Pharaoh (Ex. 7:8-13), he shows a simple, non-destructive sin. Aaron's rod changes into a snake. But when Pharaoh's magicians are also able to make their rods change into snakes, we are told that Pharaoh's heart was "hardened" so that he would not listen to Moses--despite the fact that the snake had been Aaron's rod ate all of the snakes produced by the magicians! Pharaoh could still lie to himself, saying that the gods he represented were greater than Moses' God.

When Moses made his second presentation to Pharaoh (Ex. 7:14-24), all of the waters of Egypt, including the mighty Nile (one of Egypt's god's), turned into blood. We are told the people had to dig to find groundwater that wasn't blood. Once again, Moses' magicians could turn relatively small quantities of water (compared to the Nile!) into blood. So Pharaoh's heart was again hardened--he could go on believing that his gods (minus the Nile, of course) were greater than Moses' God--even though his magicians could not turn the Nile back into water again!

Moses made his third presentation of God's message (Ex. 8:1-6) accompanied by the start of sudden swarms of frogs (also gods to the Egyptians) throughout Egypt. Once again, Pharaoh's magicians could make a few frogs come up, but couldn't make Moses' frogs go away. This time, for the first time, Pharaoh appears to yield, telling Moses: "Pray to the Lord to take the frogs away from me and my people, and I will let your people go offer sacrifices in the desert." (Ex. 8:8). Moses asked Pharaoh to st the time the frogs should be removed, and Pharaoh answered "tomorrow." So, on the next day, the frogs died, and Pharaoh reneged on both his promise to Israel and his apparent repentance toward God. He would not let the people go. (Ex. 8:14-15).

Moses fourth presentation of his message was preceded by a plague of gnats, or, in some other translations, lice, which covered men and animals throughout the land (while the word used is somewhat obscure, it clearly refers to a swarming insect pest). (Ex. 8:17-18). When Pharaoh's magicians couldn't make even a few of these particular pests appear by their magic, let alone get rid of the plague of them that was covering the land, they said to Pharaoh, "This is the finger of God." Yet, even though he had now lost his last rational excuse for believing the gods he represented to be greater than Moses' God, "he hardened his heart," and wouldn't even listen to his own magicians. (Ex. 8:19). The next morning, Moses and Aaron came to Pharaoh with their fourth presentation of God's message, and word of the next plague: there were going to be swarming flies all over Egypt. But this time God was going to make a distinction between Egypt and His People: the flies were going to be found all over Egypt except in Goshen, where His people lived. (Ex. 8:20-22). And then the swarms of flies came, as predicted, all over Egypt, except Goshen. Pharaoh then summons Moses and attempts to make a "deal" with God, giving Him part of what He wanted: "Go, sacrifice to your God here in the land!" (Ex. 8:25). Worship your God, but don't leave us and your bondage to us! Through Moses, God refused this offer. (Ex. 8:26-27). Pharaoh then makes a slightly "better" offer to this new God of Moses whom he can't control: "I will let you go offer sacrifices to the Lord in the desert, but you must not go very far." (Ex. 8:28). Moses appears to accept this offer, as it at least let Israel leave to go into the desert, and prays to have the flies removed. But once the flies were gone, Pharaoh, who never intended to let the people go even a little way out of his control, reneged on the offer. The people were not allowed to go. (Ex. 8:30-31).

Moses fifth presentation of God's command was followed by a plague on the livestock of Egypt, but not that of Israel. (Ex. 9:1-4). Pharaoh did not yield--even to the point of summoning moses for negotiations.

Moses sixth presentation of God's command was followed by boils on the Egyptians and their animals (Ex. 9:8-9). Pharaoh was unmoved.

Moses seventh presentation of the message contained both a warning to Pharaoh about his own pride and hardness and a warning of the consequences--the worst hailstorm ever:

‘This is what Yahweh, the God of the Hebrews, says: “Let my people go, that they may serve me. 14 For this time I will send all my plagues against your heart, against your officials, and against your people; that you may know that there is no one like me in all the earth. 15 For now I would have stretched out my hand, and struck you and your people with pestilence, and you would have been cut off from the earth; 16 but indeed for this cause I have made you stand: to show you my power, and that my name may be declared throughout all the earth; 17 as you still exalt yourself against my people, that you won’t let them go. 18 Behold, tomorrow about this time I will cause it to rain a very grievous hail, such as has not been in Egypt since the day it was founded even until now. 19 Now therefore command that all of your livestock and all that you have in the field be brought into shelter. Every man and animal that is found in the field, and isn’t brought home, the hail shall come down on them, and they shall die.”’

Exodus 9:13-19 (WEB).

The hailstorm stripped all the trees, killed all of the sprouted crops and all livestock left outside--except in Goshen. Pharaoh's next offer admits wrongdoing and certainly appears, on its face, to express repentance:

27 Pharaoh sent, and called for Moses and Aaron, and said to them, “I have sinned this time. Yahweh is righteous, and I and my people are wicked. 28 Pray to Yahweh; for there has been enough of mighty thunderings and hail. I will let you go, and you shall stay no longer.”

Exodus 9:27-28 (WEB). But Moses prayed, the storm ended, and Pharaoh reneged, again. The people were not let go. (Ex. 9:33-35).

Moses' eighth presentation of God's message to Pharaoh promised a swarm of locusts to destroy the remaining crops. Pharaoh then offers God another "deal:" "You may go, but only the men may go; the women and children must remain in Egypt." (Ex. 10:10-11). God rejected this offer, and Pharaoh drove Moses out of his presence. The plague of locusts followed.

Next, Pharaoh once again expresses faulty repentance:

16 Then Pharaoh called for Moses and Aaron in haste, and he said, “I have sinned against Yahweh your God, and against you. 17 Now therefore please forgive my sin again, and pray to Yahweh your God, that he may also take away from me this death.”

Exodus 10:16-17 (WEB). This time Pharaoh made no promises. Moses prayed, and God removed the locusts. But Pharaoh would not let God's people go.

Before the ninth presentation of God's word to Pharaoh through Moses, God sent complete darkness on Egypt--except for the dwellings of the Israelites, where there was light. (Ex. 10:21-22). Pharaoh then summoned Moses to make his final offer: "Go, worship the LORD. Even your women and children may go with you; only leave your flocks and herds behind." (Ex. 10:24). Pharaoh obviously understands, as Jesus would later say, that a man's heart is where his treasure is. Matthew 6:21. The children of Israel were still immersed in Egyptian culture, which valued its possessions. They had not had time to learn to value God above their livestock--that was one of the lessons of the sacrifices they were to make. So Pharaoh knew that, if they left their possessions behind in Egypt, they would leave their hearts behind, too, and they would return to him as slaves. God, of course, rejected this offer (Ex. 10:25)--the people's wealth must go with them to worship Him, as he may ask them to sacrifice anything they have in worship.

Pharaoh then ordered Moses to leave his presence and never see him again, and Moses confirmed he will never see Pharaoh again. (Ex. 10:27-29). However, on his way out, Moses warned Pharaoh of the final plague: all of the firstborn of Egypt, of people and animals, will die that night, but this plague will not touch Israel, "that yoy may know that Yahweh makes a distinction between the Egyptians and Israel." (Ex. 11:4-8).

Everything Moses predicted happened that night. All of the firstborn of Egypt died. But in the houses of the Israelites, who showd their faith in God by sacrificing a lamb and putting its blood on the doorposts and lintels of their houses, no one died. (See, Hebrews 11:28). The angel of death passed over their houses. Pharaoh permitted Israel to leave, as God had asked. The Egyptians gave of their own goods remaining to the Israelites, and urged them to leave. (Ex. 12:1-38, 13:17).

But when God did not lead Israel on the direct route out of Egypt, but, instead, led them into an encampment where it appeared they could be trapped by the Red Sea, Pharaoh's heart was again hardened, and he pursued them with the chariots of his army, to bring back his slaves. (Ex. 14:1-9). God protected Israel from Pharaoh's army with a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. Nevertheless, Pharaoh's heart was so hardened that he continued to pursue them. Ultimately, God divides the sea, so that Israel may pass through the sea to the other side on foot. It is then pharaoh makes his fatal mistake: He presumes that, if the sea has been parted, his armies can follow Israel through it. All of the Israelites escaped from Pharaoh's army through the sea. But Pharaoh's chariots got stuck in the mud at the bottom of the sea, and the sea closed up on them. Israel escaped, but Pharaoh and his army were drowned. (Ex. 14:23-31). "By faith they passed through the Red Sea as on dry land. When the Egyptians tried to do so, they were swallowed up." Hebrews 11:29.

Pharaoh's faulty expressions of repentance arose from a hardened heart. But each time Pharaoh at first appeared to repent, then either reneged or offered God a "deal," his heart was further hardened. In the same way, when we offer God false, faulty repentance, this leads to a hardening of our hearts which will cause us ultimately to foolishly invite God's judgment. This is the lesson that can be taken from the life of this Pharaoh--false repentance is dangerous. God seeks true repentance, which is shown by a willingness to obey what he is telling us to do.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Prayer Vigil for Saeed Abedini Sept. 26--Special Plea for Prayer for Persecuted Christians Worldwide

A week from today, Friday, September 26, a worldwide event will be happening: the Second Annual Global Prayer Vigil for Saeed Abedini. Pastor Abedini is an American citizen born in Iran, who came to faith in Jesus and, in the course of time, became a pastor in Idaho. But he retained his love for his own people, much as the Apostle Paul retained his love for the Jews even while being sent by God to the Gentiles. Pastor Abedini made several trips back to Iran to help his people, unmolested. Then, two years ago, he returned to Iran to assist in establishing a state-run orphanage, and was arrested on September 26, 2012, for "crimes against the state," because he is a Christian. He is presently serving an 8-year sentence in one of the most dangerous prisons in Iran. The first purpose of the meetings on September 26 is to pray for his safety and release: The national meetings are announced on these two websites:

Be Heard Project: Prayer Vigil September 26 #SaveSaeed.

Voice of the Persecuted: 2nd Annual Global Prayer Vigil for Saeed Abedini Planned for September 26th.

These meetings are being held in hundreds of cities around the world. They will be preceded by a prayer meeting in Washington, D.C., the evening before, in which Franklin Graham, Jay Sekulow and others will be involved. Our local Topeka, Kansas, Second Annual Global Prayer Vigil for Saeed Abedini (link to MeetUp) will be held on the South Apron of the State Capitol at noon. (If you prefer, here is a link to the Topeka Prayer Vigil on Facebook.) These meetings will also drawattention to and lift up prayer for aan even larger concern: the growing persecution of Christians in a large number of countries. This is a concern Christians should address before God in unity, and with a spirit of repentance for our own divisiveness. In Topeka, at least, the Prayer Vigil for Pastor Saeed will lead into a continuing series of quieter meetings addressing persecution more generallyTopeka Prayer for the Persecuted. Topeka Prayer for the Persecuted promotes times of group prayer, and times of public awareness, for Christian minorities and individuals who are presently being persecuted because of their faith. Persecution is found in many places in the world--notably now Iraq, Iran, Syria, Egypt, the states of the Arabian Peninsula, and the territory of the dangerous "Caliph" of the new Islamic State. In these areas, systematic destruction of Christian minorities that have lived, mostly at peace, for almost two millennia is underway. But persecution is also a fact of life in other places, such as China, and now India and Pakistan, and numerous countries in Africa. This group will seek to bring attention to this story to which the media as a whole has largely shut its eyes. But, more importantly, we will pray, and attempt to foster prayer outside our meetings, for the persecuted, as well as for our own national leaders and the national leaders of the countries that persecute (1 Timothy 2: 1-4). We plan to meet--either for a private, quiet prayer meeting or for a less-quiet activity, about once a month. It would be good to see similar local groups starting in other places as a result of this effort!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Esau, who despised the birthright and could not find repentance

The next clear example of a Biblical character who displayed a defective form of repentance is Esau. Esau, like Cain, sought to repent of only a consequence of his sin. therefore, though he sought relief feom that consequence earnestly, he is said to have found no opportunity to repent. The writer to the Hebrews says:

14 Follow after peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no man will see the Lord, 15 looking carefully lest there be any man who falls short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and many be defiled by it; 16 lest there be any sexually immoral person, or profane person, like Esau, who sold his birthright for one meal. 17 For you know that even when he afterward desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for a change of mind (metanoias) though he sought it diligently with tears.
Hebrews 12:14-17 (WEB)

This passage affirms six things about Esau, which will each be discussed in turn: 1) he fell short of the grace of God; 2) he exhibited a "root of bitterness" that caused trouble and defiled; 3) he was sexually immoral; 4) he was profane; 5) he sold his birthright for one meal; 5) he later desired his father's blessing, but was rejected; and 6) he found no place for repentance concerning the blessing, though he sought it with tears. First, Esau fell short of the grace of God. Esau, as firstborn, had the right to the birthright of his father Isaac. This birthright included not only leadership of the family after his father's death and a preferred share of the inheritance, but also, on the spiritual plane, the right to the promises God had made to Abraham and Isaac. God's promises to Abram, before He even renamed him Abraham, started with this promise, made when he told Abram to leave his own land for a land God would show him:

Leave your country, and your relatives, and your father’s house, and go to the land that I will show you. 2 I will make of you a great nation. I will bless you and make your name great. You will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who treats you with contempt. All the families of the earth will be blessed through you.
Genesis 12:1-3

Some time later,God promises to make Abram's offspring as numerous as the dust and to give them all the land he can see and walk through. (Gen. 13:14-16). God later promised to be Abram's shield and very great reward. (Genesis 15:2.) God also repeated his promise of offspring grater then the stars and the sand (Genesis 15:4-5), and that they would be placed in possession of the land in which Abram lived as a wanderer (Genesis 15:6), as soon as the sin of the Amorites who then lived there was full. (Genesis 15:16). Note God's word to Abram about the sin of the Amorites--it is important to the story of Esau, as will be explained later.

Although Abram tried to fulfill God's promise in his own wisdom and strength--agreeing with his wife Sarai that he should have the son God promised through Sarai's servant Hagar--Hagar's son Ishmael was not to be the inheritor of the promises. Instead, thirteen years later, after first repeating to Abram (now renamed Abraham) the promise that he would be a father of nations and that his offspring would inherit the land, God promises to give Sarai--who he renames Sarah--a son. (Genesis 17:3-6, 15-16). He peomises that sarah will be a mother of nations, and that kings will come out of her, just as he had previously promised Abraham. (Genesis 17:16). God established His covenant with Abraham through the as-yet-unborn son of his wife Sarah, to give the children of this son of the promise everlasting possession of the land and to be their God. (Gen. 17:3-8) He told him to name his son Isaac, and promised "I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him." (Genesis 17:19).

Much later, God commanded Abraham to offer Isaac as a sacrifice to Him. After Abraham demonstrated his faith in God and in the resurrection by showing himself willing to obey God, even in this, God repeated his previous promises:

15 Yahweh’s angel called to Abraham a second time out of the sky, 16 and said, "I have sworn by myself, says Yahweh, because you have done this thing, and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 that I will bless you greatly, and I will multiply your offspring greatly like the stars of the heavens, and like the sand which is on the seashore. Your offspring will possess the gate of his enemies. 18 All the nations of the earth will be blessed by your offspring, because you have obeyed my voice."
Genesis 22:15-18 (WEB).

God confirmed these same promises to Isaac (Genesis 26:2-5, 24). These promises, were, in a greater and more real sense than the property of Abraham and Isaac, the birthright of Esau. Yet Esau "despised" his birthright. He sold it to his younger brother, Jacob, for a bowl of soup when he was hungry. (Genesis 25:34). He was one of those of whom Paul warns, who are "enemies of the cross of Christ, whose end is destruction, whose god is the belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who think about earthly things." (Philippians 3:18-19). In this way, Esau was "profane," i.e., common, in his thinking, placing grater value on his own appetite than on the blessing of God. Therefore, just as Hebrews says he "fell short of the grace of God."

In falling short of the grace of God, Esau displayed a root of bitterness which caused trouble for centuries. Esau never really forgave Jacob the loss of his birthright. This was compounded when Isaac, their almost-blind father, believed himself near death, and Rebekah, their mother, counseled her favorite son, Jacob, how to steal his brother's blessing (Genesis 27:1-27), knowing that God had told her that the older son would serve the younger (Genesis 25:23). The ruse worked, and Isaac passed on to Jacob the blessing of Abraham:

“Behold, the smell of my son
is as the smell of a field which Yahweh has blessed.
28 God give you of the dew of the sky,
of the fatness of the earth,
and plenty of grain and new wine.
29 Let peoples serve you,
and nations bow down to you.
Be lord over your brothers.
Let your mother’s sons bow down to you.
Cursed be everyone who curses you.
Blessed be everyone who blesses you.”
Genesis 27:27b-29

When Esau returned with the game he had killed, expecting the blessing of his ancestors, Isaac told him that Jacob had stolen his birthright. Esau then noted, correctly, that Jacob, whose name meant "supplanter," had "supplanted" him two times, first by taking his birthright, then by taking his blessing. Genesis 27:37. Esau then asked his father if he has only one belessing, and he wept. Esau, as Hebrews says, sought the blessing earnestly with tears. But he did not repent of the flippant attitude he had taken toward his birthright. He merely repented, and mourned, the consequences of that attitude--the loss of both the birthright and the blessing. After Esau wept for a blessing, the best prophetic blessing Isaac could give him was:

“Behold, of the fatness of the earth will be your dwelling,
and of the dew of the sky from above.
40 By your sword will you live, and you will serve your brother.
It will happen, when you will break loose,
that you shall shake his yoke from off your neck.”
Genesis 27:39b-40.

It is here in the story that the root of bitterness clearly starts to defile many--the whole family of Esau (the later Edomites). Esau consoled himself the loss of his birthright and blessing by telling himself that his father would soon be dead, and he would then be free to kill his thieving little brother! As will be seen in a few paragraphs, this root of bitterness carried over into the whole relationship between the Children of Israel (Jacob) and the Edomites.

But at this point Jacob is saved by another of Esau's vices--his immorality. Esau had married two Hittite wives his parents couldn't tolerate. Remember what was said earlier about the immorality of the people of the land--which included the Hittites--not being "full" yet? It was, at least, not full enough yet for God to be ready to drive them out of the land in judgment. But it was full enough that they "grieved" Isaac and Rebekah's "spirits. (Genesis 26:34). To add further injury, when Esau saw that his parents did not like his Hittite wives, he added to them one of the daughters of his uncle Ishmael. (Genesis 28:9). The problem was not the number of Esau's wives--his blessed brother Jacob ultimately had four wives. Rather, it was the immorality of the communities from which Esau drew his wives. Esau's immoral taste in wives gave his mother and excuse to ask his father to send Jacob away--back to Haran where her family was. (Genesis 28:1-5). Thus, when Isaac died, Jacob was miles away with uncle Laban, where Esau couldn't kill him.

It is interesting to note that, although Esau personally years later displayed a degree of forgiveness and even love for his brother(Genesis 33:4-16), the same was not true of his descendants, the Edomites. Though Esau himself at least partially overcame his root of bitterness later in life, it defiled his entire family for the rest of their history. When Israel, the descendants of Jacob, left Egypt and wandered through the wilderness for 40 years, when God was ready to bring them to their own homeland, He brought them first to the border of Edom. They requested only safe passage through the land of their "brothers" the Edomites--as God had commanded them not to take anything that belonged to Edom--but Edom denied them passage. (Numbers 20:14-21). So Israel went the long way, around Edom, in the desert.

Edom’s hatred of Israel did not end in the desert, as Israel was leaving Egypt, but literally continued “throughout all generations,” as long as Edom continued to exist. Just as Jacob had predicted when he blessed his sons, after Israel entered their possession, Edom came under their control--at least for a time--from the days of King David until the days of King Joram. In Joram’s time, Edom successfully revolted against Judah, and remained enemies of Judah from that time on. (1 Kings 8:20-22). The result was no ordinary political rivalry. It was a pure ethnic hatred, driven by hurt pride and a sense of old injury. It was a cherished anger--a root of bitterness--of which the Edomites refused to let go. Amos, one of the earliest of the writing prophets, explains that the Philistines of Gaza took whole communities of Hebrews captive and sold them as slaves to Edom--and for this Gaza and the Philistines were to be punished. (Amos 1:6-8). God then decrees even greater punishment on Edom:

For three transgressions of Edom, yes, for four,
I will not turn away its punishment;
because he pursued his brother with the sword,
and cast off all pity,
and his anger raged continually,
and he kept his wrath forever;
12 but I will send a fire on Teman,
and it will devour the palaces of Bozrah.
Amos 1:11-12 (WEB).

Enmity with Israel was also a point of national pride in Edom. Edom believed itself safe in its mountain fortresses, safe from anything Israel or Israel’s God could do to them. It will be noted that Edom’s national pride in its own self-sufficiency arose directly from its ancestor Esau’s pride when he believed he could make it on his own, without the godly birthright of Abraham and Isaac that belonged to him. Jeremiah, Obadiah and Malachi use nearly identical words in describing Edom’s pride. Thus, Jeremiah says:

15 For, behold, I have made you small among the nations, and despised among men. 16 As for your terror, the pride of your heart has deceived you, O you who dwell in the clefts of the rock, who hold the height of the hill: though you should make your nest as high as the eagle, I will bring you down from there, says Yahweh.
Jeremiah 49:15-16 (WEB).

Obadiah’s very similar words add only that Edom thought no one could bring them down:

2 Behold,[c] I have made you small among the nations. You are greatly despised. 3 The pride of your heart has deceived you, you who dwell in the clefts of the rock, whose habitation is high, who says in his heart, ‘Who will bring me down to the ground?’ 4 Though you mount on high as the eagle, and though your nest is set among the stars, I will bring you down from there,” says Yahweh.
Obadiah 1:2-4 (WEB).

Esau’s self-confidence in lightly casting away the birthright was the inner attitude in him which God foreknew, and hated. In his posterity, it became a confidence that, even if God Himself cast them down, they would rebuild in his face. This wicked pride earned Edom the judgment of God, and the name “the Wicked Land:”

A revelation, Yahweh’s[a] word to Israel by Malachi.
2 “I have loved you,” says Yahweh.
Yet you say, “How have you loved us?”
“Wasn’t Esau Jacob’s brother?” says Yahweh, “Yet I loved Jacob; 3 but Esau I hated, and made his mountains a desolation, and gave his heritage to the jackals of the wilderness.”
4 Whereas Edom says, “We are beaten down, but we will return and build the waste places”; Yahweh of Armies says, “They shall build, but I will throw down; and men will call them ‘The Wicked Land,’ even the people against whom Yahweh shows wrath forever.”
Malachi 1:1-4 (WEB).

It hardly need be mentioned that self-reliance, the belief in our ability to make our own success in God’s face, while thumbing our noses at Him, is a part of the modern American creed.

But, in Edom’s case, its pride, and its cherished grudge against Israel (going all the way back to Jacob), had an even more severe consequence in God’s eyes. It led Edom to continually take vengeance on it brother, Israel. As Ezekiel said, “Because Edom has dealt against the house of Judah by taking vengeance, and has greatly offended, and revenged himself on them; therefore thus says the Lord Yahweh, I will stretch out my hand on Edom, and will cut off man and animal from it; and I will make it desolate…” Ezekiel 25:12-13. Summarizing the thrust of Obadiah, whenever attackers came against the children of Israel, Edom gave them help and encouragement. They “looked down on” them in the day of their disaster, and rejoiced in their destruction. They helped all attackers plunder their brother Jacob, seizing their wealth, and cutting off the escape of those who were fleeing. They did great violence to Israel. Obadiah 1:10-14. In the end, when the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem, they gave aid and encouraged compete its destruction:

7 Remember, Yahweh, against the children of Edom,
the day of Jerusalem;
who said, “Raze it!
Raze it even to its foundation!”
8 Daughter of Babylon, doomed to destruction,
he will be happy who rewards you,
as you have served us.
Psalm 137:7-8 (WEB).

But, even beyond Old Testament times, the Edomites remained enemies and oppressors of Israel. Herod the Great, who took power in Judea, Galillee, Edom and Samaria upon the collapse of the Jewish Hasmonean dynasty, was by birth an Idumean—i.e., an Edomite. It was this Herod who had all of the young boys in the vicinity of Bethlehem killed in an attempt to kill Jesus. Matthew 2:16. It was his son, Herod Antipas, who had John the Baptist executed and played a weak and negative role in the trial of Jesus. Matthew 14:3-12; Luke 23:6-12. Another of Herod’s sons, probably Herod Agrippa I, started the persecution of the Church recorded in Acts 12 and had James, the brother of John, beheaded. The Apostle Paul was later brought for trial before this Herod’s son, Herod Agrippa II. Acts 26. Edom’s hatred of the Jews, who carried with them the promise of blessing to all the nations, asserted itself even against Jesus, the Son of God, when he came.

Such is the destructive power of self-sufficiency--that is, reliance on our own dead works--when joined with a root of bitterness that arises from taking the things of God too lightly and then "repenting" only of the consequences of doing so, all the while blaming others for those consequences. Much of the evil in the world today can be traced to bitterness cherished by self-sufficient individuals (and institutions and nations!) that do not know how to repent!

Monday, August 11, 2014

Cain, who came to God on his own terms and repented only of the personal consequences of his sin

Cain is a near perfect example of a Biblical character who relied on his own "dead works," and, hence, manifested only a defective form of repentance. Cain, it will be recalled, fell down a slippery slope of sin that started with arrogance--approaching God on his own terms. Cain obviously was on speaking terms with God prior to his sin, because, even after his sin, God spoke to him directly seeking repentance. See Genesis 4:9-10. Both Cain and his brother Abel understood they were to bring an offering to God. Abel brought an acceptable offering of fat portions from his flock, Genesis 4:4, an animal sacrifice that correctly acknowledged that Abel was unable to save himself and was awaiting God's perfect sacrifice for his sin. Cain, by contrast, brought some grain he had produced, the fruit of his own labors. Cain brought an offering to God on his own terms, one designed to remind God of his own works, not to remind Cain of his need for a savior. God accepted Abel's sacrifice, but did not accept Cain's sacrifice. Genesis 4:4-5. The writer to the Hebrews explains this difference in God's acceptance of Abel's offering and his rejection of Cain's in terms of the faith, or lack of it, shown by the two offerings:

1 Now faith is assurance of things hoped for, proof of things not seen. 2 For by this, the elders obtained testimony. 3 By faith, we understand that the universe has been framed by the word of God, so that what is seen has not been made out of things which are visible. 4 By faith, Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, through which he had testimony given to him that he was righteous, God testifying with respect to his gifts; and through it he, being dead, still speaks.... 6 Without faith it is impossible to be well pleasing to him, for he who comes to God must believe that he exists, and that he is a rewarder of those who seek him.
Hebrews 11:1-4, 6.

Abel believed God, and brought the sacrifice God had requested because he believed God would reward him for seeking after God. By contrast, Cain brought an offering that showed his faith in himself and his conviction that he did not need to seek God. Cain obviously believed in God, in the sense of believing in His existence. In the passage in Genesis, Cain brings a sacrifice to God, God talks to Cain, and Cain talks to God! But Cain was totally missing the second half the Hebrews 11:6 formula. He believed God, but saw no benefit in seeking God as He had prescribed. He relied upon the "dead works" of which Hebrews 6:1 speaks. His "worship" was designed to show God Cain's own self-sufficiency, and God rejected it.

So, at this point, God offers Cain his first opportunity to repent. God saw that Cain was angry that his offering hadn't been accepted (Gen. 1:5), and told him: “Why are you angry? Why has the expression of your face fallen? 7 If you do well, won’t it be lifted up? If you don’t do well, sin crouches at the door. Its desire is for you, but you are to rule over it.” (Ge,. 1:6-7)(WEB). At this point, the acts of repentance that would have accompanied salvation in Cain's life were quite simple. All he needed to do was overcome his murderous anger, take his focus off his brother, place it on God, and bring God a right sacrifice. God wanted Cain to make the same recognition of his own insufficiency and dependence on God that Abel had.

However, Cain's response was to yield to his jealous anger. If God was going to play favorites, and accept Abel but not Cain, Abel had to die! Cain, the first murderer, killed his brother. (Genesis 4:8).

Here, again, God gives Cain not one but two opportunities to repent. God first asks Cain, "Where is Abel, your brother?" Cain gives an evasive answer that manifests his total lack of concern for his brother. "I don't know. Am I my brother's keeper?" (Genesis 4:9). God, who knew exactly what Cain had done, then spoke judgment on Cain--still in an effort to induce repentance:

“What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood cries to me from the ground. 11 Now you are cursed because of the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. 12 From now on, when you till the ground, it won’t yield its strength to you. You will be a fugitive and a wanderer in the earth.”
Genesis 4:10-12 (WEB).

Although God's judgment on Cain was severe, it was clearly an attempt to induce repentance in that God let Cain live. The legal precept announced just a few chapters later in Genesis would have called for Cain's immediate execution: "Whoever sheds man’s blood, his blood will be shed by man, for God made man in his own image." (Genesis 9:6). God permitted Cain to live, though as a fugitive and wanderer. In response, Cain himself recognizes that he should die for his sin, and expresses his fear of this consequence to God: "Whoever finds me will kill me." (Genesis 4:14c). God even provides Cain a mark so that those who find him will not kill him, and promises sevenfold vengeance on anyone who kills Cain. (Genesis 4:15).

However, even after all of God's merciful attempts to bring Cain to repentance, Cain is only able to manage an expression of fear for the consequences of his act:

13 Cain said to Yahweh, “My punishment is greater than I can bear. 14 Behold, you have driven me out today from the surface of the ground. I will be hidden from your face, and I will be a fugitive and a wanderer in the earth. Whoever finds me will kill me.”
Genesis 9:13-14 (WEB).

Cain never repents of his self-sufficiency, his "dead works." He also never truly repents of the sin of murdering his brother. He only "repents" of the severe consequences his acts brought on himself.

In addition to the passages discussed above, Cain is cited as an example in two other New Testament passages. In Jude 11, in speaking of false teachers who have infiltrated the Church for their own gain, the writer says: "Woe to them! For they went in the way of Cain, and ran riotously in the error of Balaam for hire, and perished in Korah’s rebellion." From what has already been said, it can be seen that false teachers have gone "in the way of Cain" in that they have preferred their own self-sufficiency, their own "dead works," to the truth of Christ, and are willing to destroy others to maintain it.

Finally, I John 3:10-13 well summarizes the matter of Cain, and its application to our lives:

10 In this the children of God are revealed, and the children of the devil. Whoever doesn’t do righteousness is not of God, neither is he who doesn’t love his brother. 11 For this is the message which you heard from the beginning, that we should love one another; 12 unlike Cain, who was of the evil one, and killed his brother. Why did he kill him? Because his deeds were evil, and his brother’s righteous.
I John 3:10-13 (WEB).

Saturday, August 9, 2014

The repentance from dead works that accompanies salvation in Hebrews 6:1-12

This passage uses the stronger word for repentance, metanoia, twice, once in verse 1 and again in verse 6. Although this passage has a reputation for being difficult, due to its use by some as a "proof text" for the proposition that a Christian may "lose" his or her salvation as a result of sin, it is, in fact, a very simple passage when placed in its proper context. Taken as a whole, it is not a teaching about "loss of salvation," but a simple encouragement to show diligence in the matters that accompany salvation. This is summarized in verses 9 through 12:

9 But, beloved, we are persuaded of better things for you, and things that accompany salvation, even though we speak like this. 10 For God is not unrighteous, so as to forget your work and the labor of love which you showed toward his name, in that you served the saints, and still do serve them. 11 We desire that each one of you may show the same diligence to the fullness of hope even to the end, 12 that you won’t be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and perseverance inherited the promises.
Hebrews 6:9-12 (WEB).

With this goal of the passage in mind, the immediate context of the "repentance" verses actually starts at the end of chapter 5. The writer reproves some of the Hebrew believes to whom he is writing because they have remained immature in their knowledge of Christ. The writer wants to teach them the "meat" of the Word of God, but they are still babies. Hebrews 5:12-13. This has not occurred because they are new converts. Indeed, they have been in Christ long enough that, "by this time" they "ought to be teachers" (5:11), but they have refused to become "experienced" in the Word and to exercise their senses to discern good and evil.(5:11, 13). Instead, they have become dull of hearing (v.11) and need to have someone teach them the basics again--"the rudiments of the first principles of the words of God (archēs tōn logiōn tou theou)."

Therefore, in the the first two verses of the sixth chapter, the writer first urges his readers to move on from the "basics" they should have learned long ago, toward more complete knowledge. He then quite summarily reminds his readers of the doctrines that they should already know, the "beginning"(archē)--actually a singular in the Greek, as these teachings form a single unit--or "first principles" of the word of Christ. Note that the first listed teaching, the foundation of all of the others, is repentance:

1 Therefore leaving the teaching of the first principles of Christ (archēs tou christou logon), let us press on to perfection—not laying again a foundation of repentance (metanoias) from dead works, of faith toward God, 2 of the teaching of baptisms, of laying on of hands, of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment.
Hebrews 1:1-2 (WEB).

The "repentance" here called a foundation of our faith, is not, on the face of it, a mere change of emotions about our sins. It is not merely telling God that we are sorry if we have offended Him, or that we feel badly about doing wrong. It is certainly not feeling bad about the consequences. It is repentance from "dead works," which is a quite literal translation of the Greek (nekrōn ergōn). These are not merely sins--acts which lead to death--as some modern translations say. These "dead works" are relate to the whole human concept that we can earn our own way, that we can "make it" without God. As applied to the writer's audience of Hebrew believers, these "dead works" would have been the "works of the Law," the keeping of all of the Law of Moses, by which no one is ever justified (Romans 3:20). It is the way of life that proclaims that, though there is a God, I can live my own life, independent of Him, and by my own works, make myself good enough to meet His standards. This attitude is also seen in many modern people, some of whom call themselves Christians, who merely modify the standards God prescribes to suit their own (or their religious subculture's) tastes. Thus, many who recognize that there is a God, and have some respect for Jesus, will gladly tell an inquirer that they believe they are "good enough" because they vaguely treat other people well and try to be a "good person." So, for them, being a "good person" substitutes for the laws of the Pentateuch as "enough" to meet God's approval while living their own lives, never seeking Him. And there is an almost infinite variety of religious observances in between keeping the whole Law of Moses and merely trying to be a "good person" in which people in our world put their faith. These are "dead works." The foundation of the first principles of Christ is repentance from these "dead works," from the whole life pattern of trying to earn our own way, in favor of faith in God. Faith in God must be substituted for faith in ourselves.

As this post concerns the concept of "repentance" in this passage, I will not here attempt to interpret the other four teachings that are said to be included in the "first principles of Christ"--that is, teachings about baptisms, laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. Instead, I will merely note in passing that, because historically so much of what passes as Christian teaching (and even as "official" Christian teaching) has denied the first two foundations, the other four often come to us in sadly distorted forms as well. Remember that the first sin--that of Adam and Eve--was precisely "dead works." Ultimately, Eve was successfully tempted with the promise of independence from God. The serpent told her "God knows that in the day you eat it, your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." (Genesis 3:5). Eve herself then saw that the forbidden fruit was "to be desired to make one wise." (Genesis 3:6). So she ate it, gave it to Adam, and he ate, too. After they ate, and realized they were naked, our first parents' first act was a "dead work," the beginning of human religion: they promptly made coverings to hide their nakedness, then hid themselves from God. (Genesis 3:7). They obviously thought, if God couldn't see their nakedness, he wouldn't see their sin, either. The futility of that way of thinking, at least in the case of Adam and Eve, is well known--God was aware of their sin, as proved by their consciousness of their own nakedness, and He proceeded to tell them the consequences of it--discord, painful labor for both of them, and, ultimately, death. (Genesis 3:16-19). These are always the consequences of abandoning God, the source of life, to go our own way. Nevertheless, large segments of "Christendom" have for centuries received baptisms and laying on of hands as if they were meritorious works that can make us "good enough" for God, even while going our own way (which was never their intended function). The resurrection of the dead and our fate in eternal judgment is then made to depend on these dead works. This is a perversion of the truth.

This line of thought, then, naturally leads into the next few verses of the Hebrews passage. There are those who have tasted the goodness and power of God, and have even shown a defective form of repentance, but who still cling to the good things of God as "dead works" and ultimately become hardened to the reality of God's grace. Notice first what is said in verse 4 of this passage about these people's experience with God. They were "once enlightened," God showed them Himself and his way, but they didn't follow the light they were given. They "tasted of" the heavenly gift, but did not eat it and make it fully their own. They were "made partakers" of the Holy Spirit, knowing His conviction of sin, righteousness and judgment (John 16:8-11) and "tasted" the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, but did not make these things the central, controlling part of their lives. They dabbled in Christianity, without ever getting the "point" of it, and then fell away--because they pursued Christianity merely as a means of "fixing" their old lives ("dead works") and failed to show diligence in the matters that accompany salvation, if salvation is real.

So, this passage is a warning that the same kind of hardening of the heart that happens in the world, according to Romans 1:18-31, can also happen among people associated with the Church who claim Christianity but refuse the truth at the center of it--i.e., that God doesn't want to "fix" my life, He wants to give me His life. Recall that in Romans 1, the course of decline into depravity starts with God revealing Himself to all people, but people in general reject God because they want to live their own life without Him, to do their own thing. So they invent gods who will, if appeased with offerings and service, generally let them do their own thing. This darkens the perception of their hearts toward the true God, who, in turn, lets go of them and gives them over to all of the depravity their sinful hearts can invent--literally, all of the evils of the modern world--and their hearts become hardened toward the God they have rejected. Hebrews 6:4-7 is a warning that the same kind of process can occur among people who call themselves Christians.

The Bible, both Old Testament and New, is full of examples of people in which this process has occurred. The next nine posts in this series will discuss some of these examples in detail: Cain, Esau, the Pharaoh who opposed Moses, Balaam, King Saul, King Zedekiah, Judas Iscariot, Ananias and Sapphira, and Simon the Sorcerer in Samaria. What all of these had in common, as will be seen in the more detailed posts to follow, is some knowledge of God, a decision to approach God on their own terms which led to an outward sin, and defective "repentance" that left them in their "dead works" rather than in the "better things" that accompany salvation. For these, who have gone their own way into a defective "repentance" that seeks merely to "fix" their life and be relieved of consequences rather than to accept God's life, the warning of Hebrews 6:4-8 is obviously true:

4 For concerning those who were once enlightened and tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Spirit, 5 and tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the age to come, 6 and then fell away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance (metanoian); seeing they crucify the Son of God for themselves again, and put him to open shame. 7 For the land which has drunk the rain that comes often on it, and produces a crop suitable for them for whose sake it is also tilled, receives blessing from God; 8 but if it bears thorns and thistles, it is rejected and near being cursed, whose end is to be burned.
Hebrews 6:4-8 (WEB)

There comes a point at which God, after repeatedly offering a person a relationship on his terms--i.e., we must accept His life--will cease to accept defective repentance and allow that person to become hardened. There comes a point at which a decision must be made. If, at that point, one decides to "fall away" from the relationship God offers--the Greek word here, parapiptō, has the sense of abandoning, disavowing or disassociating from a former relationship--God will honor that person's choice. At that point, it becomes impossible to "renew" to repentance someone who has repeatedly refused true repentance and relationship with God on His terms. Therefore, it is vitally important to truly repent from "dead works" and show diligence in the things that accompany salvation.

The examples to be discussed in the next nine posts will clarify this.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Repentance from opposition to the truth, 2 Timothy 2:25

In 2 Timothy 2:25, metanoia, translated "repentance," is clearly used to signify, not just a change of mental state or an emotional response, but also the change in behavior that results from that response:

24 The Lord’s servant must not quarrel, but be gentle towards all, able to teach, patient, 25 in gentleness correcting those who oppose him: perhaps God may give them repentance(metanoian) leading to a full knowledge of the truth, 26 and they may recover themselves out of the devil’s snare, having been taken captive by him to his will.

2 Timothy 2:24-26 (WEB) (parenthetical added).

In the broader context, Paul instructs Timothy, among other things, to remind and charge his flock not to "argue about words, to no profit, to the subverting of those who hear" (2 Tim. 2:14). He then instructs Timothy personally to exercise diligence in study to keep his message pure (v. 15), to avoid empty chatter (v. 16), and to "flee from youthful lusts, but pursue righteousness, love and peace with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart" (v.22).

Paul then moves on to discuss how Timothy is to behave toward those who set themselves in opposition against him. First of all, and contrary to most modern Christian practice, he is to avoid arguing with them! He is, Paul says "to refuse foolish and ignorant questionings, knowing that they generate strife" (v. 23); indeed, Paul says that, as the Lord's servant, he must not quarrel. Instead, Timothy is to respond to his opponents by continuing to patiently teach the truth, gently correcting his opponents. It is possible, Paul implies, that by continuing to teach the truth and treating his opponents gently, God will give even his opponents repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth. For those who are interested in such things, the Greek construction of this sentence-mēpote followed by an aorist subjunctive verb--implies that Timothy is not to expect that his opponents will repent. It is unlikely, but God may grant them repentance, and, because of this possibility, Timothy is to continue to be gentle with them and patiently teach them the truth, if they will hear him.

And what will be the result if God grants them repentance? First of all, they will be brought to the knowledge of the truth--the same truth Timothy is preaching--and, therefore, stop opposing Timothy. This is one change in behavior that will result from their repentance. But even more, they will recover themselves out of the devil's trap, and no longer be captive to do the devil's will. So their repentance will cause them to stop doing the devil's will.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Regret that Leads to Repentance, or Not: 2 Corinthians 7:8-11

2 Corinthians 7:8-11 illustrates that repentance is not mere regret or sorrow. It does this by using, and directly contrasting, three terms: "sorrow" (Greek noun lupē, verb lupeō), "regret" (here used in forms of the verb metamelomai) and "repentance" (metanoia). Indeed, the point is made that the sorrow or regret "of the world," leads to death:

8 For though I made you sorry (elupēsa) with my letter, I do not regret (metamelomai) it, though I did regret (metemelomēn) it. For I see that my letter made you sorry (elupēsen), though just for a while. 9 I now rejoice, not that you were made sorry (elupēthēte), but that you were made sorry (elupēthēte) to repentance (metanoian). For you were made sorry (elupēthēte) in a godly way, that you might suffer loss by us in nothing. 10 For godly sorrow theon lupē produces repentance (metanoian) to salvation, which brings no regret (ametamelēton). But the sorrow of the world (kosmou lupē produces death. 11 For behold, this same thing, that you were made sorry in a godly way (theon lupethēnai), what earnest care it worked in you. Yes, what defense, indignation, fear, longing, zeal, and vengeance! In everything you demonstrated yourselves to be pure in the matter.
2 Corinthians 7:8-11 (WEB) (parentheticals added).

Note carefully what this passage asserts about the relationship between regret, sorrow and true repentance. First, note that repentance does not arise from mere regret. If I do what I know is wrong, but excuse myself by saying that "regrettably, it had to be done," this is not repentance. Knowledge of the pain my actions cause others, or God, and regretting that pain, is not repentance. Likewise, remorse occasioned by being caught and punished--regretting the consequences of my actions that fall on myself--is not true repentance.

On the other hand, true repentance may arise from sorrow about my actions. Specifically, repentance arises from "godly sorrow"--that is, sorrow which comes from God, for His always-restorative purpose--not from the sorrow of this world. It should be remembered that the background of this passage is the rebukes Paul delivered to the Corinthian church in his first letter to them. In his earlier letter, Paul had reproved them for dividing into parties that honored human leaders and followed the wisdom of the world (I Corinthians 1:1-3:23), for tolerating sexual immorality, including a member who had his father's wife (1 Corinthians 5 & 6:12-20), for wronging each other and suing each other to redress those wrongs in pagan civil law courts (1 Cor. 6:1-11), for dishonoring marriage by improperly depriving each other of marital rights and through divorce (1 Corinthians 7), for injuring each others' conscience by eating meat sacrificed to idols (1 Corinthians 8 & 10), by eating the Lord's Supper self-centeredly, not dealing with their divisions, and thus not recognizing the Lord's Body (the Church) in partaking of it (1 Corinthians 11:17-33), for not maintaining proper order in worship and abusing the gifts of the Holy Spirit in the process (1 Corinthians 12 & 14), and above all for pursuing showy demonstrations of God's presence and power rather than love for each other (1 Corinthians 13). Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians was, in many respects, quite harsh, and it did cause sorrow in Corinth.

However, though Paul initially regretted reproving the Corinthians so harshly and causing them grief--though he did so under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit--by the time he wrote his second letter he no longer regretted his harshness. God had used the first letter to create "godly sorrow" which led to "repentance." But, as Paul explained, that "repentance" was not limited to a feeling of regret or to merely saying "I'm sorry." No, the repentance that resulted from godly sorrow worked "earnest care" in the Corinthians to correct the problems Paul had identified in his first letter. It produced "defense, indignation, fer, longing, zeal, and vengeance." The actions taken by the Corinthian church in response to the godly sorrow prompted by Paul's first letter were sufficient to demonstrate them to be "pure" in the matter. This is true repentance, and it always comes from God.

By contrast, the sorrow that comes from the world leads to death. Worldly sorrow does not come from God. In the first place, it is often sorrow over the wrong things--not sorrow that I did wrong, but sorrow over the consequences to myself and others. God offers forgiveness for sins. There is no forgiveness for consequences--only God's grace to overcome them, if I am willing to receive that grace. But if I am only "sorry" for the consequences, I am in no position to receive that grace. I must either continue in denial, or despair. Secondly, the sorrow of the world is often imposed on us by others for their own ulterior purposes. People use other people's ability to feel guilt to manipulate them into doing what the purveyor of the guilt wants them to do. I can all too easily be conned into a "guilt trip" about the real or imagined consequences to someone else of one of my actions--even an action that was good and right--and convinced that I must do something to compensate them for those consequences, that I owe them something. But these compensatory actions do not come from God, they come from the will of another human being playing on my guilt. They, too lead to death, and have nothing to do with true repentance.

True repentance, then, arises from sorrow that comes from God, and leads me back to God, back to earnest care to do what God wants.