Oppression and Slavery Under God’s Sovereignty: Five (dis)Comforting Truths from Psalm 105

Maybe you have had an experience like this: While walking or driving somewhere, you suddenly realize that the beauty of the scenery around you is littered with complex moral issues. If you visit Mount Vernon or Monticello, you are struck by the beauty of both presidential homes. Yet, in learning the history, you are also confronted with the fact that both plantations depended on slave labor. Likewise, if you celebrate the Civil Rights victories of the 1960s, you must consider that many of the programs implemented to help blacks during that era have done more harm than good.

Something similar occurs in Psalm 105, only the findings there are not based upon fallible interpretations of history. In Psalm 105, we have the inspired and inerrant Word of God. And strikingly in these 45 verses, we find multiple, morally-complex statements. Some of these issues concern oppression (v. 14), others talk of slavery (v. 17), but in every case, God is praised for his sovereign actions in history.

Indeed, for all the beautiful comfort that Psalm 105 brings, for it is a Psalm that speaks of God’s faithfulness in leading his people from Abraham to Moses, it also introduces many complexities in God’s sovereignty over the nations. Yet, instead of impugning God with error or wrong-doing, a rightful understanding of Psalm 105 actually helps us to know who God is, how he works in the world, and how we can better understand our own morally-complicated history. To that end, let’s look at Psalm 105 and its discomforting truths which in time lead to a greater confidence in God.

1. God can and does stop oppression.

While the history of our fallen world knows no period when or where oppression has been absent, it is clear from Scripture that when God intends to prevent oppression and overturn slavery, he can. In Psalm 105, the Psalmist reflects on God’s care for Abraham, when the patriarch and his children had no land to call their own (vv. 12–15). As they sojourned among warring nations (see Genesis 14), Psalm 105:14 says that God “allowed no one to oppress them; he rebuked kings on their account, saying, ‘Touch not my anointed ones, do my prophets no harm!'”  Continue reading

‘Seedtimes of Tears’: The Goodness and Necessity of Tears in Ministry

paul

When Paul called the Ephesian elders to himself in Miletus (Acts 20), he recounted his three years of service before them. His words focused on preparing the elders whom he loved and labored with for the challenges they would soon face. Just as Paul fought the beasts of Ephesus (see 1 Corinthians 15:32), so too they would have to protect God’s sheep from the goats and boars who would come to ravage the Lord’s vineyard in Ephesus.

Reading Acts 20 recently, Paul’s words in verses 18–-20 struck a nerve. He writes,

And when they came to him, he said to them: “You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews; how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house

Humility. Tears. Trials.

As Paul faithfully preached the gospel, he encountered humbling trials, tear-filled circumstances, and strong opposition for simply doing what God has said to do. For Paul, this was business as usual (see 1 Corinthians 4:12–13), but Paul shares these difficulties to remind the elders that it was their calling too. For anyone called to speak God’s Word—one might think of Paul, or Jesus, or the prophets of old—is likewise called to a ministry of suffering and sorrow. Sorrow was and is a natural and necessary emotion for God’s servant of the Word.

Strikingly, in Acts 20, tears are mentioned three times: (1) as Paul recalled his fruitful ministry of the Word in Ephesus (v. 19); (2) as he called the elders to be alert of false teachers (v. 31); and (3) when the elders and Paul part, realizing they will never see one another again, they wept (vv. 37–-38). In all of these places, tears are the natural and necessary part of genuine ministry. Indeed, it is worth considering these tears, as they prepare us for service and alert us to the high cost of laboring in the Lord’s vineyard. Continue reading

Rescuing Jabez from the Soft Prosperity Gospel

jabezYesterday I had the privilege of preaching in chapel at Columbus Christian High School. Of all the texts I could have preached I decided to preach on a little, obscure passage in the book of 1 Chronicles—story of a man by the name of “pain.”Yes, that’s right, I preached “The Prayer of Jabez.”

Despite those who have written off Jabez and his prayer because of the way it has been used to promote the soft prosperity gospel, I am increasingly convinced Jabez is a type of Christ standing between Melchizedek and Jesus. More than that, his story gives us an overwhelming testimony of God’s grace to those who are in pain. For that reason, I preached “The Pain of Jabez and the Comfort of Christ.”

What follows is part of the interpretive outline I unpacked in the sermon.  Continue reading

Suffering: Playing Your Part With Passion

Recently, archaeologists discovered what they think is a missing section of 1 Samuel. It is a section of the book which describes what Saul did after he chased David out of his courtroom. You might remember, David was ‘hired’ by Saul to play his harp in order to sooth Saul’s soul when evil spirits tormented him (1 Sam 16:14-23).

The recent discovery tells of how after David departed, Saul was left with no choice but to call on Israel’s philosophers to come and comfort him. And apparently, it did not go well. Instead, of refreshing his soul, these debaters of the age reasoned why bad things happened to good people and why men like Saul suffered as they did. The missing section claims that these foolish lovers of wisdom only exacerbated the problem and that Saul actually pinned a couple of them to the wall with his spear.

Apparently, they were not as agile as David. Nor were they as existential as David, either—meaning, they did not exist.

In truth, there is no such archaeological account and there were no such philosophers. But you already knew that because surely no king would hire philosophers for solace and comfort. Philosophers do well to afflict the comfortable, but they are less skilled at comforting the afflicted. Continue reading