Mizpah: A Clue for the Storyline of 1 Samuel and for Reading the Bible Better

nick-tong-76567-unsplashWhat is in a name? Or, for that matter, what is in a place? In the Bible, often there is a lot in a place or a name. Just think about Jabez (1 Chronicles 4:9–10) or what Nathanel thought about Nazareth (John 1:46).

Those are just two examples of the way names and places matter in the Bible. In fact, O. Palmer Robertson has written a whole book on the theological significance of geography. And the careful reader of Scripture would do well, especially in narrative books, to consider the location where the story takes place.

For instance, in 1 Samuel Mizpah, a city in Benjamin, shows up eight times—seven times in chapter 7, once in chapter 10. And I believe this location gives significant information about the book of 1 Samuel and the ominous choice of Saul as king. Let’s consider and see how paying attention to this place helps us understand 1 Samuel and how to read biblical narratives. Continue reading

A Biblical Theology of the Old Testament: Seven Videos on Location in Iceland

For the last two days I have been in Iceland teaching a biblical theology of the Old Testament. Drawing on The Drama of Scripture by Craig Bartholomew and Michael Goheen, I have sought to explain how the Old Testament is organized around the twin concepts of Kingdom and Covenant.

The following videos are put up by Loftstofan Baptistakirkja (Upper Room Baptist Church) and their pastor Gunnar Ingi Gunnarsson. They review the teaching I did last year in Iceland and dive into the Kingdom of David and the New Covenant. Tonight, we will finish with a look at the Psalms.

Please take time to pray for this church, for their pastor, and the spread of the gospel in Iceland. And if you are interested, you can watch some of the teaching videos here (please excuse the opening few minutes of each where I bumble around until I start teaching). Or better, go watch Christian By Default (see above). It will tell you more about the spiritual climate of Iceland.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds Continue reading

God’s Currency Exchange: How God Funds His Gospel Mission

pina-messina-465025-unsplashOver the summer, our church considered many of the things Jesus said about money. In a Sunday School series following Randy Alcorn’s The Treasure Principle, we learned much about how to invest our lives in things eternal. This Sunday, in our Sermon on the Mount series, we will again look at Jesus’s words about storing up treasure in heaven and not on earth.

Reflecting on this passage, I am reminded of an article I read more than 15 years ago on the subject of money and how it can be and should be “converted.” “Transmuted,” not converted, is actually the word R.A. Torrey used in his article, “Our Lord’s Teaching about Money,” but converting earthly riches into heavenly gain is the idea.

This article is actually more than 100-years old now, included in the historic 12-volume set The Fundamentals, but the truths contained therein are just as relevant today as they were in 1909. Indeed, God’s truth is eternal and his principles about all of life, including money, are evergreen. Yet, the point about converting currency into earthly treasure is one I haven’t heard often, thus I share Torrey’s point here.

Currency Conversion: How God Funds His Gospel Mission

In Torrey’s article on money, he lists nine “laws” Jesus taught about money. Each are worth considering, but it’s his final point about converting money into eternal rewards that has always stuck with me. And so I share it here: Continue reading

A New Covenant Perspective on Fasting

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“And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret;
and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
— Matthew 6:16–18 —

This Sunday our church comes to Jesus’s words about fasting in Matthew 16:16–18. In preparation, I have read many commentaries and articles on the subject, but one question lingers: How does the new covenant impact fasting?

In his immensely helpful chapter on fasting, Donald Whitney identifies fasting as numerically greater than baptism—77 uses of fasting in the Bible, compared to 75 uses of baptism. Yet, does that mean fasting is equally important for the new covenant Christian?

I am not sure. While the Bible regularly talks about fasting, most of the occurrences are found in the Old Testament. And while every word of Old Testament is useful for our instruction, I wonder how fasting relates to the covenants? Or to turn it the other way, is there a difference between fasting under the Law and fasting under the Gospel (i.e., the Law fulfilled)? Could that explain the difference in emphasis? That is what I will try to answer below. Continue reading

Drinking Deeply from Our Father in Heaven: Nine Observations about Giving, Praying, and Fasting (Matthew 6:1–18)

didin-emelu-329478-unsplashIn the middle of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gives instructions about giving (vv. 2–4), praying (vv. 5–15), and fasting (vv. 16–18). In our church we have taken one sermon per “spiritual discipline,” but really in the structure of Matthew’s Gospel, we should read these three disciplines together. And in fact, when we do there are some observations we discover that we might not find on our own.

So here are nine observations about Matthew 6:1–18 and Jesus’s instructions about these critical elements of worship, discipleship, and spiritual communion with God.

1. Giving, praying, and fasting make up the center of the Sermon.

Sermon on the Mount Overview copy

From the structure of the sermon, we discover verses 1–18 should be read as the center of the sermon. Even more specifically, giving (vv. 2–4) and fasting (vv. 16–18) should be seen as a concentric ring around Jesus’s instructions around prayer (vv. 5–15), which itself is centered around the Lord’s Prayer. And that pray too is shaped to put three imperatives on both sides the words “on earth as it is in heaven.”

In other words, the shape observed in the image above continues right to the summit of the mountain, where we discover that prayer in the presence of our heavenly father is the goal of the Law (5:17–48) and the Prophets (6:19–7:11), as well asthe center of Jesus teaching about discipleship (6:1–18).

Moreover, because of this intentional shaping and the balanced presentation of giving and fasting around prayer, we may find that these various disciplines are not as independent as we often think. In fact, to get the full meaning of Jesus’s words we should read them together. Continue reading

Like Father, Like Sons: A Father-Oriented Approach to Christian Maturity (Matthew 5:43–48)

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Like Father, Like Sons: A Father-Oriented Approach to Christian Maturity (Matthew 5:43–48)

“Be mature as your Heavenly Father is perfectly mature.” It doesn’t have the same ring as “Be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect,” but it may be closer to the reality of what Jesus is saying in Matthew 5:48.

On Sunday we finished the last of six expositions of the law that Jesus gives in Matthew 5:43–48. And as Jesus addresses the topic of love and hate, we learn how to grow up in Christ and to become more like our Heavenly Father.

You can listen to the sermon online. Discussion questions and further resources are listed below.  Continue reading

What Should We Think About the Imprecatory Psalms?

angel-clouds-weather-vera-161199Imprecatory psalms (e.g., Pss 5, 10, 17, 35, 58, 59, 69, 70, 79, 83, 109, 129, 137, 140) are those psalms which call upon God to destroy the enemies of God. They come from the anguished hearts of persecuted Israelites, and they include some of the most shocking words in the Bible. Take just a few examples.

Psalm 35 provides one of the most acceptable imprecatory Psalms. Verses 4–6 read,

Let them be put to shame and dishonor
who seek after my life!
Let them be turned back and disappointed
who devise evil against me!
Let them be like chaff before the wind,
with the angel of the LORD driving them away!
Let their way be dark and slippery,
with the angel of the LORD pursuing them!
(Psalm 35:4–6)

In Psalm 109, the language gets more severe as David calls for the personal ruination of the wicked.

Appoint a wicked man against him;
let an accuser stand at his right hand.
When he is tried, let him come forth guilty;
let his prayer be counted as sin!
May his days be few;
may another take his office!
May his children be fatherless
and his wife a widow!
May his children wander about and beg,
seeking food far from the ruins they inhabit!
May the creditor seize all that he has;
may strangers plunder the fruits of his toil!
Let there be none to extend kindness to him,
nor any to pity his fatherless children!
May his posterity be cut off;
may his name be blotted out in the second generation!
May the iniquity of his fathers be remembered before the LORD,
and let not the sin of his mother be blotted out!
Let them be before the LORD continually,
that he may cut off the memory of them from the earth!
(Psalm 109:6–15)

Finally, in Psalm 137 David pronounces a benediction on those who destroy the children of the wicked:

Remember, O LORD, against the Edomites
the day of Jerusalem,
how they said, “Lay it bare, lay it bare,
down to its foundations!”
O daughter of Babylon, doomed to be destroyed,
blessed shall he be who repays you
with what you have done to us!
Blessed shall he be who takes your little ones
and dashes them against the rock!
(Psalm 137:7–9)

Due to their graphic violence and divine approval—they are in the Bible, after all—many Protestant liberals have charged the God of Israel with violence unbecoming a deity. Other modern readers have written off Christianity entirely because of the imprecatory Psalms and Israel’s violent history. Even for gospel-loving, grace-proclaiming Christians, the inspired cries for vengeance make us feel uncomfortable. They don’t immediately fit our normal grid for a God who is love. What, therefore, should we think about the imprecatory Psalms?

A few years ago, my PhD Supervisor and good fried, Stephen Wellum, gave a Sunday School lesson on these psalms, and what follows is an amplified outline of his lesson. Continue reading

Common Grace: How God Blessed the Nations in the Age of Abraham

rainbowGod’s covenant with Noah is often described as the covenant of common grace, and rightly so. In the wake of God’s judgment on the earth, the heart of humanity remains unchanged (cp. Gen. 6:5 and 8:21), yet for God to bring redemption to the world, some measure of preservation must be granted. Therefore, with strong covenantal language—berith occurs 7 times (vv. 9, 11, 12, 13, 15, 16, 17) in Genesis 9—God promises to uphold creation: “While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease” (8:22).

These promises to Noah envelope all creation and articulate God’s common grace—his universal beneficence towards a world filled with sin. In other words, common grace is common because it encompasses all humanity universally, not because it is mundane. Common grace is distinct from saving grace in that the former does not atone for sins or grant eternal life. Rather, it grants “grace” to the righteous and the unrighteous (cf. Matthew 5:45) and provides a historical context for saving grace to operate.

That being said, common grace is not equally apportioned. It is not like the periodic table, where every element possesses the same atomic weight. Rather, common grace is specific in that it often depends upon the saving grace given to God’s chosen people. In other words, just as common grace is promised through the Noahic covenant, so common grace continues to be mediated through other covenantal mediators. In Scripture, the first instance of this is Abraham.
Continue reading

The Lord’s Supper as the Origin of Christ-Centered Hermeneutics

jesus.jpegThere are many arguments for reading the Bible with Christ at the center. But where do they come from? Are they the product of biblical interpreters? Or is there a source found in Scripture itself?

In answer to this question, the best place to see the Bible’s Christ-centeredness may come from Christ himself. Not only does he say explicitly that all Scripture speaks of him (John 5:39), but in the Passover he interprets the most important event in Israel’s history as his own. As Alastair Roberts and Andrew Wilson note, “Jesus is specifically identifying the unleavened bread as representing his body, . . . and he is telling his Jewish followers to celebrate the Passover in memory of him, not just their liberation from slavery in Egypt” (29). Continue reading

Feeding on the Lord: So Much More Than a Metaphor

breadHunger. It’s one of the most basic of human desires. And in the Bible it is one of the most important concepts related to salvation, faith, and one’s experience with God.

Physically, hunger and our attempts to fill our stomaches are experiences that unite all mankind. While experienced differently in famine-afflicted Africa or affluency-afflicted America, an “empty stomach” is something that speaks to everyone.  We cannot go without food, and thus we search for something to fill us up and give us life.

Spiritually, the language of food, famine, eating, nourishment, and emptiness fills the Bible. From the plethora of fruit trees given to Adam and Eve in the Garden, to the Manna in the wilderness, to the loaves and fishes that Jesus provided for his followers, God has provided physical sustenance. At the same time, food has been a source of destruction—sin entered the world through eating the forbidden fruit; Esau lost his inheritance when he chose stew over his birthright, and Paul says that men ate and drank destruction on themselves when they wrongly ate the Lord’s Supper.

So clearly, food plays a key role in our physical and spiritual pursuit of God. At the same time, Scripture often speaks of eating metaphorically. Psalm 34:8 reads, “Taste and see that the Lord is God.” And Psalm 36:8 says that the children of man “feast on the abundance of your house, and you give them drink from the river of your delights.” Apparently, our experience with food—physical bread, meat, and drink—is meant by God to teach us what it means to feed on the Lord and drink from his streams of life.

Still, I suspect that for all we know about food, we may struggle to understand what it means to feed on the Lord. If God is Spirit (John 4:24), then how do we feed on him? And if he is invisible, where do we go to find fullness in him?

Just this last week, I preached a message on feeding on the Lord. My repeated command: Feed on the goodness and grace of God. But how? I can imagine someone saying, “That’s sounds great, but what does that mean?” So here is my answer to that question: What does it mean to feed on the God who is invisible? Continue reading