[This is the first message in a series, Steadfast Psalms for a Scattered People]
This week our church was “cancelled.”
Praise around the throne of God went on unceasing, but our church didn’t gather because of the now-infamous and still-dangerous Coronavirus. With this unwanted hiatus, our elders decided to offer a devotional meditation for our congregation. This was not an attempt to replace church—an online “gathering” cannot reproduce what the body of Christ gathered does. Yet, we wanted to feed the flock from the scriptures. And this week that word came from Psalm 90, a prayer of Moses, the man of God.
You can watch the video here. What follows is a more fulsome meditation on this Psalm.
In these days of self-imposed and government mandated isolation, we need to learn from those who have walked the path of isolation and walked it well.
In the Bible, few have experienced soul-crushing isolation like Moses. At forty, Moses was a prince in the household of Pharaoh. Yet, in the blink of an eye, Moses went from the center of power in Egypt to the backside of the dessert, where he would chase sheep for another forty years. Continue reading
In preparation for Sunday’s sermon on expositional preaching, here are ten observations from Deuteronomy 4:32–40.
1. Future hope (vv. 25–31) is based on God’s past actions (vv. 32–39).
Grammatically, verse 32 begins with the word “for” (ki). This opening word reveals the relationship between verse 32 and what comes before it. Previously, verses 25–31 explained the future mercies of God—what Yahweh promised to do to restore his people (vv. 29–31). Verse 32 explains why Israel can have confidence in this future grace. Because God saved Israel from Egypt with omnipotent power, so we can trust he will act in power again to restore his people in the future. In short, Israel’s future hope (and our hope) stand on the powerful working of God’s grace in the past.
2. Covenant obedience (v. 40) is also the past actions of God (vv. 32–39).
On the other side of verses 32–39, we find another implied reason for action. Covenant obedience (“keeping his statues and rules”) is motivated by the redemption of God from Egypt and the revelation of God’s word at Sinai. In short, just as God’s previous works of salvation strengthen our future confidence in God, they also call for faithfulness. Continue reading
What are the “last days”? When are the “last days”? Are we now living in the “last days”?
These are questions that students of prophecy like to ask. They are also questions that are often answered by looking to current events, world crises, and various “signs of the times.” Yet, what if the “last days” are actually something that began 2,000 years ago (see Heb. 1:2)? What if the Bible actually begins speaking about the last days in the first book of the Bible? And what if most of the events associated with last days find explicit fulfillment in the events of the New Testament?
While not denying the blessed hope of Christ’s return, students of the Bible must consider how the Bible develops its own terminology. And if “last days” are a technical term in the New Testament, we do well to consider where does that language come from and how should be understand the Bible on its own terms.
On this question, G. K. Beale’s A New Testament Biblical Theology is immensely helpful. In the third and fourth chapters, he surveys the Bible to show how the Bible introduces, develops, and fulfills the language of “latter days.” In what follows, I will outline some of his thoughts on the use of “latter days” in Moses. I’ll also add a few observations of my own. And in the weeks ahead I’ll circle back to trace the rest of the biblical theology through the Old Testament into the New Testament. So stay tuned. But today, we’ll consider what Moses says about last days Continue reading
As we took another look at worship this Sunday, we focused on the covenantal history outlined by Moses in Deuteronomy 4. In these verses, Moses directed Israel to remember the covenant God made with them, to guard themselves from idolatry, and to take comfort in Yahweh’s ongoing faithfulness.
While there are many differences between Israel on the Plains of Moab and the people of God today, there are similarities too. And by learning the pattern of worship—in particular, gathered worship—we will see what the Spirit teaches us about our identity in Christ and how gathering for worship plays a crucial role in our lives.
You can listen to the sermon online. Response questions and additional resources are listed below.
In preparation for Sunday’s sermon on worship, here are ten observations from Deuteronomy 4:9–31.
1. The middle section of Deuteronomy 4 can be divided into three time-plotted windows.
The first window looks back to the gathering of Israel at Horeb (4:9–14). The second window looks at the people present before Moses. It warns Israel to remember their covenant and not worship idols (4:15–24). Then, te third window looks to the future, to a day when Israel will be scattered because of sin; it also offers hope and the promise of Israel’s restoration because of God’s mercy (4:25–31). From this chronological presentation, Moses shows how the covenant with Israel extends from past to present and from his present to future.
2. The main point of each section is related: Guard your heart!
In verses 9–14 Moses says (twice!), Guard your heart by remembering the covenant made at Mount Horeb. The double command of guarding is seen in verse 9, when Moses says, “Only take care (šmr), and keep (šmr) your soul diligently, . . . ”
Next, verses 15–24 repeat the focus on guarding as Moses exhorts, “Therefore watch (šmr) yourselves very carefully.” In this section, the warning moves to the present, as he urges Israel to guard their hearts from idolatry by remembering who they are—a people redeemed by Yahweh (v. 20).
Last, verses 25–31 foretells a time when Israel will forget God and break their covenant. In other words, they will fail to guard their hearts. Nevertheless, in their failure, God will remain faithful. And Moses promises Yahweh will guard Israel’s future by remembering “his covenant” (v. 13) . As verse 31 states, “For the LORD your God is a merciful God. He will not leave you or destroy you or forget the covenant with your fathers that he swore to them.”
From this reading, we can see how “guarding” is a theme that runs throughout Deuteronomy 4. Continue reading
In his commentary on Deuteronomy, Daniel Block considers the relationship between God’s covenant with Abraham and his covenant with Israel. Entitled “the covenant with your forefathers” in Deuteronomy 4:31, he asks whether this is a reference to God’s covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (cf. Exod 2:24; 6:4; Lev 26:4)? Or a reference to the covenant God made with Israel at Horeb (Deut 4:13)? Or is it somehow a reference to both?
In eight points, Block shows why it is best to see these two covenants as organically related. Instead of singularly referring to the covenant with Abraham or the covenant at Horeb, he explains that God’s covenant with Israel continues the covenant with Abraham. Adding legislation to the original covenant with Abraham, it extends the promises to Abraham and adds national stipulations for Abraham’s offspring. In this way, Block helps us read Moses on his own terms and to see how the biblical covenants relate to one another. Here’s how Block explains it: Continue reading
On Sunday we began a new sermon series considering what Scripture teaches about worship. Over the summer we will learn from Moses, David, and Paul, but this first Sunday we began by hearing what Moses said about God’s pattern for worship at Sinai.
While our worship is not at Mount Sinai, but Mount Zion (Hebrews 12:22–24), the pattern of worship revealed to Israel teaches us about the worship God desires for those who have been saved by Christ. From the revealed worship at Sinai, we begin to see what God has in store for his church.
This week’s sermon considers this “revealed worship” and what it means for us today. You can listen online. Below are response questions and additional resources for studying what Scripture says about worship. Continue reading
In preparation for Sunday’s sermon on worship, here are ten observations from Deuteronomy 4:1–14.
1. Deuteronomy 4 is the last chapter of Deuteronomy’s covenantal introduction.
In Deuteronomy Moses follows (and reformulates) a covenant structure identifiable by anyone living in the ancient Near East. Just as covenants made between kings and their servants (i.e., Suzerains and their vassals) followed a standardized pattern, so does the book of Moses.
|Ancient Near Eastern Suzerainty Treaty
||Deuteronomy as a Covenant Document
|Preamble (“These are the words . . .”)
||Preamble (1:1–5): “These are the words of Moses addressed to all Israel . . .”
|Historical Prologue: a survey of the relational history between covenant partners
||Historical Prologue (1:6–4:49)
||General Stipulations (ch. 5–11): general commands to love, serve, fear Yahweh
||Specific Stipulations (ch. 12–26): an exposition of the Ten Words
|Divine Witnesses: various deities called to witness the treaty
||Blessings and Curses (ch. 27–28)
|Blessings and Curses: relating respectively to the maintenance of breach of the covenant
||Divine Witnesses (see 30:19; 31:19; 32:1–43)
From this outline, we see where Deuteronomy 4 is situated. It is the final word of the covenantal introduction (i.e., the historical prologue). Moreover, in a way that deviates from the classical ANE treaty formula, it adds covenantal instructions that anticipate the next sections—namely, the general and special stipulations given in chapters 5–26. Continue reading
In his illuminating book, A Secular Age (summarized here), Charles Taylor argued the unbelief handed down to us from the Enlightenment, coupled with new religious expressions in the 19th century, and accelerated by the sexual revolution of the “Sixties,” has resulted in many and competing spiritual longings that live somewhere between belief and unbelief.
In short, we are living in an “age of authenticity,” where expressive individualism seeks to satisfy personal appetites in quasi-spiritual ways. On one hand, our age eschews organized religion and the constraints of any spiritual authority—be it a codified text or clerical leaders. Whereas faith in the divine was nearly impossible at the Middle Ages, in our day unbelief is becoming increasingly normative. On the other hand, our age is not satisfied with nihilistic unbelief. Spirituality abounds, even when such spiritual longings and beliefs are left undefined. In short,
People are increasingly looking for a life of greater immediacy, spontaneity and spiritual depth than can be provided for them in the immanent order of unbelief, while on the other hand many do not find the authenticity and wholeness that they desire in the established (mobilised) forms of religion. (From a summary of A Secular Age)
In this space, individuals and affinity groups continue to create new ways of spiritual living and corporate (read: customized) worship. As a result, it is hardly surprising that sincerity, not truth, is considered to be the greatest good for worship today. What defines spiritual worship is an interior experience, not conformity to a moral standard or faithfulness to God’s revealed will.
How far we have fallen! Even in the church, where people and pastors know and want to know God (or do they?), this all-consuming desire for spiritual authenticity authorizes worship leaders to invent new ways of worship. Yet, when we go back to the Bible, we learn that sincerity is never enough for true worship. Rather, worship that pleases God is patterned after God’s revelation itself. And we who long to worship God in Spirit and Truth must learn again from God how he wants to be worshiped. Continue reading
Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully
— 1 Timothy 1:8 —
In his classic Systematic Theology, Louis Berkhof outlines three uses of the law,
[The Civil Use of the Law]
The law serves the purpose of restraining sin and promoting righteousness. Considered from this point of view, the law presupposes sin and is necessary on account of sin. It serves the purpose of God’s common grace in the world at large. This means that from this point of view it cannot be regarded a means of grace in the technical sense of the word.
[The Pedagogical Use of the Law]
In this capacity the law serves the purpose of bringing man under conviction of sin, and of making him conscious of his inability to meet the demands of the law. In that way the law becomes his tutor to lead him unto Christ, and thus becomes subservient to God’s gracious purpose of redemption.
[The Normative or Christian Use of the Law]
This is the so-called . . . the third use of the law. The law is a rule of life for believers, reminding them of their duties and leading them in the way of life and salvation. This third use of the law is denied by the Antinomians. (Berkhof, Systematic Theology, 614–615)
Not to be confused with the tripartite division of the Law (i.e., the Moral, Civil, Ceremonial), the three uses of the law are a traditional way Reformed (and other) theologians have explained law and its various uses in God’s plan of salvation.
Observing the way the New Testament, but especially Paul, spoke of the Law positively (Rom. 7:12; 1 Tim. 1:8) and negatively (Rom. 7:5–6; 8:2), this threefold approach shows how God’s law preserved the world from sin (first use), revealed sin and prepared Israel for the gospel (second use), and now continues to purify the Christian by means of Spirit-powered obedience to God’s law (third use). To better understand each aspect of the law, let’s consider each in turn. Continue reading