Bible

Bible Studies For Life

Florida Baptist Convention, BCF, Richard Elligson

Richard Elligson

Richard Elligson is associate professor of missions and chair of the theology division at The Baptist College of Florida.  Archives

Session 1

January 12, 2020

WHY DOES SUFFERING EXIST?

Genesis 3:16-19; Romans 8:18-25

Early in my ministry (and late one night), I was called to the local hospital by an ER nurse who was dealing with a man who had just lost his mother in a tragic accident. The man asked me one simple question: “If God is supposed to be so good, then how could He let my mother die?” In some form or other, that question has been raised throughout human history. If God is good, then why is there evil? And if God is all-powerful, then why doesn’t He stop it? As you can see, that “simple question” is not so simple after all! While I don’t remember everything I said in the hospital that night, I do remember sharing with that hurting man three important truths from God’s word.

Truth #1: All suffering is a result of sin (Gen. 3:16-19). Let’s face it: sometimes our suffering is the direct result of direct sin! If you play with fire, you will eventually be burned; and if you play with sin, you will eventually reap the consequences (see Gal. 6:7-8). But that doesn’t mean that all personal suffering is the direct result of personal sin. Job suffered unimaginable anguish, not because he had sinned, but because he hadn’t! (see Job chapters 1 and 2). And the poor man “blind from birth” in John 9 so suffered not because of his sin, but rather as a means to bring glory to God (see John 9:1-3). Yet in every case, the only reason that suffering exists in the first place is because of the fall of man. Notice the strong language and new vocabulary introduced with the penalties imposed on Adam and Eve in this section of Genesis 3. In contrast to the “good” of Genesis 1 and 2, we see words like pain and anguish in verse 16; cursed and painful labor in verse 17; thorns and thistles in verse 18; and the sweat of your brow and a return to the dust in verse 18. Here’s the point: when sin entered the world, suffering entered it as well.  

Truth #2: All suffering is ultimately alleviated by Christ (Rom. 8:18-22). Dr. Adrian Rogers used to say, “Man only has three problems: sin, sorrow, and death. The good news is that Jesus Christ and His cross provide the solution to all three of those problems.” In the first part of Romans 8, the apostle Paul contrasts life controlled by the flesh with life controlled by the Spirit. By the time he reaches verse 18, he is contrasting the suffering of the present life with the glory of the life to come. All of creation was corrupted because of sin (v. 20); all creation awaits its deliverance, which will be signaled by the resurrection and glorification of God’s children (vv. 21, 23). The world’s “groaning together with labor pains” (v. 22) pictures not only the suffering of the present time but reflects the joyful expectation of what lies ahead. So where does this deliverance come from? From the same God who pronounced the curse in the first place. In fact, God’s provision to restore fallen humanity by a blood atonement was demonstrated just after the sin was committed and the curse pronounced. God’s declaration to the serpent, “I will put hostility between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed. He will strike your head, and you will strike his heel” (Gen. 3: 15) is a foreshadow of Calvary, while His covering Adam and Eve with the skins of freshly killed animals (as opposed to their own futile fig leaves) indicates the means by which atonement would be granted. Here’s the point: the same God who allowed sin and suffering to enter the world also made a provision to overcome it.

Truth #3: All suffering has a purpose in God’s greater plan (Rom. 8:23-25). Like Job in the Old Testament and “the man born blind” in the New (see above), God actually uses suffering for our benefit and for His glory. First, suffering helps shape us and conform us to Christ (see Rom. 5:1-5; James 1:2-4). Second, our suffering points us to Christ. Remember, it was in Peter’s sinking despair that he cried out “Lord save me!” (Matt. 14:30). Third, through suffering we discover the blessing of hope (vv. 23-25). In their hour of great anguish, Jesus reassured His disciples, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart, I have overcome the world!” Here’s the point: while suffering is never fun, it is always a purposeful part of God’s plan.

Session 2

January 19, 2020

HOW CAN GOD USE ME WHEN OTHERS SUFFER?

Isaiah 58:3-11

There is a big difference between noticing someone’s suffering and actually doing something about it. Interestingly enough, this passage reminds us that our failure to act is not simply a failure of compassion…but a failure in our worship.

The problem of false worship (vv. 3-5). In words reminiscent of the prophet Malachi, the Lord asks rhetorical questions here to make His point. Verse 3 comes from the perspective of God’s people. They are portrayed as saying to Him, “We are worshipping (or in this case, fasting), so why God, are you not responding? We are making bitter sacrifices, so why, God, are you not paying attention to us?” And like in the book of Malachi, the answer is the same: “because you are simply going through the motions.” Isaiah then mentions several ways that the fasting of God’s people was actually false worship. First, they were guilty of ignoring the meaning of the fast they were participating in. Seventeenth-century commentator Matthew Henry said, “A fast is a day to afflict the soul; if it does not express true sorrow for sin, and does not promote the putting away of sin, it is not a fast.” Rather than afflicting their souls, God’s people “did as they pleased” (v. 3). Second, they were guilty of “oppressing their workers” (v. 3). The original language generally relates to exacting payment. In other words, while humbly fasting, they were harshly charging full payment from those who owed them. Third, their fasting was ruined by selfish and confrontational demands (v. 4). While these demands may have been aimed at others, the context allows them to be aimed at God. In other words, they selfishly demanded (rather than selflessly pled) that God respond to them. How could such anger and strife be acceptable to God? Finally, their fast was empty because the people were drawing attention to themselves (v. 5). They were going through the motions on the outside, but there was no purity or holiness showing up on the inside (see Jesus’ warnings about this in Matt. 6:1-5). Again, the question is asked, “Is this acceptable to the Lord?”

The pattern for faithful worship (vv. 6-7). In these verses, the Lord expresses the purpose of the fast in question. Notice how this act of personal worship translates into acts of public works. All of the verbs in verse 6—break, untie, set free, tear off—depict intentional acts that provide relief. Wickedness refers to cruel treatment of others in general. Those cruelties are to be cut off. The ropes of the yoke are the leather thongs that attached the yoke to the oxen’s neck and shoulders. These are to be loosed. The oppressed are those enslaved to heavy burdens. They are to be released. The yoke refers to the continuous struggles themselves. Every one of them is to be relieved. While the verbs in verse 6 are emphasized, the pronouns in verse 7 are the important words: your bread; into your house; when you see him; your own flesh and blood. Notice the sequence of events in the passage: false worship is to be replaced with faithful worship, which translates into faithful (and personal) works. And not only are burdens to be removed, but blessings are to be added! (see also James 2:15-17).

The product of faithful worship (vv. 8-11). So, what happens when everybody moves into faithful worship and faithful works? The entire nation is blessed! Look at the words used now: light like the dawn; righteousness; glory (v. 8); a shining light; noonday (v. 10); satisfy; strengthen; watered garden; spring of water in a parched, dry land (v. 11). The contrast is great, because the difference made by true worship is great. The lessons? First, simply going through the motions of worship is not enough. God desires those who will worship Him in spirit and in truth (John 4:24). Second, worship alone is not enough. Faith that does not manifest itself in good works (especially in obvious situations of suffering and need) is a dead faith (James 2:17- 18).

Session 3

January 26, 2020

WHY AM I SUFFERING?

Job 11:13-16; 23:8-12
John 9:1-3

How many times have you heard it said, “Life isn’t fair?”

If anyone ever had the right to say that, it would be the Old Testament role model of patience, Job. In Job chapters 1 and 2, this righteous and prosperous man lost everything he had—his family, his possessions, his health, and nearly his life—all because God was bragging on him! The remainder of the book describes Job’s dealing with his suffering, the advice offered by his so-called friends (whom he referred to as “miserable comforters”), and a final confrontation with God Himself who puts Job in his place before restoring his good fortune. The book is a classic study of human suffering and all the explanations (both accurate and erroneous) of what causes suffering and how to alleviate it.

Not all personal suffering is the result of personal sin (Job 11:13-16). As I mentioned back in session 1, some suffering is indeed the direct consequence of direct sin. Haman was hanged on the gallows he devised for Mordechai (Esther 7:10). King David lost his son as a direct consequence of the adultery and murder he committed (2 Sam. 12:14). Ananias and Sapphira lied to the Holy Spirit and the disciples about the property they sold (in short, they had pride; they lied; and they died! Acts 5:1-11). But the truth is, suffering comes for other reasons as well. Verses 13-16 are not the words of Job, but of his friend Zophar, who exemplifies the all-too-popular concept that prosperity is always the result of righteousness and that suffering is always the result of sin. The principles Zophar stated in verses 13 and 14 are good ones. To “redirect the heart” (v. 13) means to re-focus one’s affections or get one’s priorities right. And fervent prayer (v. 14) is always a good thing. To remove iniquity from one’s hands and to correct whatever injustices one might be harboring (v. 14) are certainly ways to please God. The problem with Zophar’s counsel is the assumption he made that God is punishing Job for some terrible sin!

There are times when everyone—even the righteous—suffer (Job 23:8-12). Throughout Job’s ordeal, his friends were trying to persuade him to confess to some heinous sin that he had not committed. And throughout, Job stood his ground. This section of Scripture is one of many in which he defends himself (this time, to Eliphaz). In verses 8 and 9 we sense Job’s frustration: simply put, God cannot be found. He is certainly there, and He is actively moving. Yet, His presence remains far away (see also Ps. 13; Ps. 22). In verses 11 and 12, we see Job’s determination. In the midst of difficult times, Job remained committed. His feet followed God’s path; he did not stray away from it (v. 11). He kept His commands; he treasured God’s word (v. 12). Sandwiched between Job’s frustration and his determination is his declaration. In verse 10 Job makes two important statements: first, “God knows where I am.” Even though Job couldn’t feel His presence, he exercised his faith (see Deut. 31:6). Second, “God is testing me.” The picture is one of precious metal being purged in the furnace to burn off the dross, leaving behind only the purest sample of—in this case—gold (see Prov. 17:3; Mal. 3:3). Whereas the devil tempts one so that he might sin, God tests one so that he might shine! Unlike his dour friends, Job understood that even the righteous suffer…and this too, is the plan of God.

In every case, God knows what He is doing (John 9:1-3). This story represents the clearest teaching Jesus gave regarding the suffering of the innocent. Like the friends of Job, the disciples shared the view that personal suffering was always the result of personal sin. The idea that it could have been the man’s own sin (even though he was born that way) either reflects the consequences of the innate sin nature or a contemporary heresy of the day. That the blindness may have been the result of his parents’ sin refers to the Old Testament tradition they had been taught (see Num. 14:18; Deut. 5:9). Jesus made it clear that this man, together with his blindness had been carefully set in time and place, “so that God’s works might be displayed in him” (v. 3).   

Session 4

February 2, 2020

WHAT IS GOD’S ANSWER TO SUFFERING?

Job 40:1-8; 42:1-6

When it is all said and done, there is only one sin: pride. Wanting to be God got Lucifer kicked out of heaven, and Adam and Eve kicked out of Eden. And it’s the same sin we wrestle with every day. Deep down, we want to be God.

While Job was blameless in his actions, he too, fell prey to pride’s temptation. In defending himself against his friends’ accusations, Job ultimately went in the opposite direction, essentially declaring himself to be innocent and God to be unfair. While it is no sin to question God (God has broad shoulders…He can handle our questions!), it is a sin to presume we know more than He does. This book ends with God rebuking Job for his presumptions.

Pride distorts our view of God’s purpose (40:1-5). The flexing of God’s muscle before the presumptuous Job began in chapter 38 with these ominous words: “Who is this who darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Now prepare yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer Me!” The phrase “words without knowledge” is the key. Job had set himself up as an expert on how God operates. In the next two chapters, God challenged Job to explain those mysteries that only God could explain. By chapter 40, Job knew the best thing to do was to keep his mouth shut (vv. 4-5). Remember: seldom do we get ourselves into trouble by saying too little!

Pride distorts our view of God’s justice (40:6-8). So often, our human perspective of justice is particularly selfish. When things go the way we think they should, we call it “fair.” When things go against us, what we believe, or what we think ought to happen, we call it “unfair.” But being fair and being just are two different things. Job’s self-defense bordered on self-righteousness. His declaration of innocence made God out to be unfair. God’s accusation of Job in verse 8 is particularly scathing: “Would you declare Me guilty to justify yourself?” In other words, did Job understand that he was trying to trade places with God, by making God the sinner and Job the righteous? From a human perspective, Job saw his suffering as unfair. But from God’s perspective, He is just in whatever He does. He is God!

Pride is destroyed by humility and submission (42:1-6). There is only one cure for pride, and that is humility. And Job reminds us of the bitter pill humility so often is! Job’s response to God’s rebuke contains all the right elements. First, there is confession. The word “confession” in the Bible means to say the same thing. In verses 2 and 3, Job does just that: he agrees with God, “Surely I spoke about things I did not understand; things too wonderful for me to know.” But confession is only the first step. Second, there needs to be repentance. Repentance refers to a change in one’s thinking that leads to a change in one’s behavior. Job’s explanation for the change in his attitude was his confrontation with God. All that he heard—or been taught—in the past about God may have been accurate but was somewhat foggy in his mind. God’s appearance to Job had brought a new and startling clear understanding of who exactly Almighty God is (v. 5). Verse 6 demonstrates that Job’s distorted view of God’s purpose and God’s judgment had been made right: “Therefore I take back my words and repent in dust and ashes.” The closer one gets to the light, the more clearly one sees his own imperfections. Hence, a fresh view of the holiness and power of God always produces introspection and self-evaluation. Job saw God, then looked at himself; and he didn’t like what he saw. His suffering sent him to the ash heap the first time (Job 2:8). His submission brought him back to it the second time.

Explore The Bible

Sherard Burns, Florida Baptist Witness, Explore the Bible

Sherard Burns

Sherard Burns is the senior pastor of Renewing Life Church in Miami, FL. Archives

January 12, 2020

GOD CALLS

NUMBERS 22:22-25

INTRODUCTION
Balaam and the donkey.  For certain this is a most perplexing passage of scripture. But make no mistake it is scripture. It is not a fable or a fairy tale. It is God’s decided means of communicating a truth to His people. Balaam is complex. At times, he seems to be a man of obedience but, in truth, he is a pagan seer/sorcerer. Like King Cyrus, Balaam’s story shows us that the Lord can use means that may appear contradictory to what we think. What matters most is the point of the story: it is the power of God that accomplishes God’s tasks not the abilities of men. We have only one message: What God tells us to say and that is it!

THREE STRIKES (Numbers 22:22-27)
On the surface, this passage can appear a bit odd; strange even.  God tells Balaam to go to Moab and to prophesy and then, seemingly out of nowhere, God sends the angel of the Lord to impede Balaam’s progress.  God, who told him to go is now, “incensed that Balaam was going” (Numbers 22:22). To oppose him the angel of the Lord appeared, with sword drawn, three times. In each case the donkey’s movement was increasingly constricted. In each case the donkey turned away from the path leading to Moab. But why this seeming change of mind by the Lord? Balaam, at all times, was to move only when and as the Lord instructed him.  In verse 20 we find the conditional wording of the Lord (not seen in the CSB) “If the men come have come to call you, rise, go with them: but only do what I tell you” (Numbers 22:20, English Standard Version). It is widely suggested that it was this disobedience that incensed God. The men had not come to Balaam as of yet, but in the very next verse we are told “Balaam rose in the morning, saddled his donkey and went with the princes to Moab” (Numbers 22:21). Things must be done God’s way when God calls us to it. Not the way we would like or when we would like to.  This story teaches us more than about a talking donkey. It teaches us that God will oppose us in what He has called us to do if we do it in ways that are contrary to His purposes and designs.

TWO QUESTIONS (Numbers 22:28-30)
The donkey speaks! This is a remarkable occurrence but not more so than the fact that Balaam engages her. But there is something more than the exchange that is being expressed. Yes, a donkey is speaking and a man is listening but what the scripture is actually teaching us is the fact that the Lord can use anyone (anything) to accomplish His purposes.  The question the donkey raises are questions designed by God to expose to Balaam his own disobedience and sinful reactions. His first answer to the donkey is one of accusation – “You made me look like a fool. If I had a sword in my hand, I’d kill you now” (Numbers 22:29). Balaam is exposed here. Not only does he accuse but he speaks murderous language and the true nature of his heart is revealed. To Balaam’s violent response the donkey says “Am I not the donkey you’ve ridden all your life until today? Have I ever treated you this way before” (Numbers 22:30)? Balaam’s response to the donkey is an admission that is both short and filled with tension: “No” (Numbers 22:30). From the lips of a donkey a great contrast is before Balaam: the prophet (sorcerer) has been disobedient but the donkey has only been obedient. Could it be that the Lord uses this odd relationship to teach Balaam a lesson in humility?

ONE VIEW (Number 22:31-35)
Out of his admission of being wrong Balaam is granted what, to this point, what only the donkey had been privileged to. Balaam saw, “the angel of the Lord standing in the path with a drawn sword in his hand” (Numbers 22:31). An interesting contrast is made here. The angel tells Balaam that he was spared the sword because the “donkey saw me and turned away from me these three times. If she had not turned away from me, I would have killed you by now and let her live” (Numbers 22:33). What Balaam was going to do to the donkey, he, himself would have experienced but is spared because of the donkey. His eyes are opened and now he sees himself as well as his sin and as a result wants to go back home (Numbers 22:34). That would be too easy. Now, the famous seer will continue his mission, assisted by a donkey and speaking only what the Lord will have him to speak (Numbers 22:35). Balaam will travel with the men, but with one view – the view of the Lord.

CONCLUSION
No individual, or group for that matter, is bigger than the mission of God. The most gifted and the most eloquent in the kingdom of God are not indispensable.  When the Lord calls us to a task may we learn from this narrative that God will get His view across in spite of who we are. He does not stand in need of anyone because He can use anything. He chooses to use us, so let us walk in humility.

January 19, 2020

GOD COMMISSIONS

NUMBERS 27:12-23

INTRODUCTION
Have you ever followed another car to a specific destination? Before the days of cell phones (crazy!) I remember once following a friend from Alabama to his home in New York for his wedding. At some point, he must have forgotten that we were following him as he proceeded to weave in and out of traffic – out of sight! It was frustrating to say the least. At one point I thought about turning around but the occasion was too special to turn back. I drove until I saw him waiting for us on the side of the highway waving his hands. I was frustrated but at the moment I was relieved. The one who was leading me was still here and I could safely get to my destination. Israel is on the precipice of entering the promised land. Moses, their leader, cannot go in. He has been leading the way but now he will weave out of their sight. Can you imagine to fear? But God always has a plan.

FACING DEATH (Numbers 27:12-14)
The people of Israel are ready to cross the Jordan and begin the process of taking the land that the Lord had promised.  Yet, Moses cannot go. He and Aaron were the only leaders the people knew to this point. Aaron, however, has already died and now, at the brink of a great moment of fulfillment, Moses will die. The Lord allowed Moses to see the land but said “After you have seen it, you will be gathered to your people, as Aaron your brother was Numbers 27:12,13). Moses had disobeyed the Lord in the Wilderness of Zin by striking the rock rather than speaking to it (Numbers 27:14). While some might argue “But this is Moses!” the decision of the Lord was not arbitrary. Moses, the one who had seen God, acted in disobedience and, therefore, his death was just. What we are taught in this exchange is that the Lord shows no favoritism. The previous generation has slept because of their sin and now Moses, the last of that lot, would experience the same fate. It does not matter who we are or what our position may be, obedience to the Lord is to be primary in all that we do. Moses stood between God and the people in the sin of the golden calf, but none stands between him and the Lord now. What an incredible grace that we, like Moses time and time again, disobey the Lord and do not show forth his holiness, are not consumed. We have between us the Lord Christ, the mediator between God and man such that when we fail we can go to God, through Him, for mercy and pardon.  Yet, while grace is ours, discipline in right living is also commanded. Race does not excuse our sin. It empowers our right living. God, still, shows no favoritism.

LOOKING TO THE FUTURE (Numbers 27:15-17)
Moses, as a true, humbled leader would do, looks forward to the purposes of the Lord, seeking the Lord for the new leader (Numbers 27:15). The future belongs to the Lord and, therefore, the one who leads into that future must be appointed and approved by the Lord Himself. Too often when we seek for new leadership, especially after a failure, churches tend to work harder to not get the same man they had rather than seeking the man the Lord wants. Moses knows that the health and hope of the people lay in godly leadership. He must choose. The task that awaited the new leader was a bit different than Moses’. The new leader would need to be able to “go out before them and come back in before them, and who will bring them out and bring them in…” (Numbers 27:17). The new leader would need to be a military strategist, able to lead them men to battle victoriously. This was not required of Moses, but would be necessary to take the land from its current inhabitants. Yet, like Moses, this new leader would need to be skilled in shepherding the people of God.  This would involve ensuring the law was kept and also that the people would remain separated from those who worshipped other gods. The responsibility of this man was enormous, therefore, he could not be one who “volunteered.” He had to be called, selected and commissioned by God. This is such a great passage for us as we entire a new year (a new decade). Are we looking to the Lord for our future, living according to His commission or are we volunteering for things that “we” want or desire? In this New Year may our future be submitted to Him.

GOD PROVIDES (Number 27:18-23)
The Lord was sought and the Lord answered: “Take Joshua son of Nun, a man who has the spirit in him and lay your hand on him” (Numbers 27:18). Joshua was the natural choice. He led in the battle against Amalek (Exodus 17), was one of the scouts who searched out the land (Numbers 13:16) and, perhaps most important, he remained faithful when the other rebelled against Moses (Numbers 14:6). It is imperative in leadership succession that one has proven themselves to be loyal to the Lord (and the established leadership) and faithful in executing the plans of the Lord. Joshua was that man. In as much as God provided, visual approval had to be established as well. Moses was told by the Lord, “Confer some of your authority on him so that the entre Israelite community will obey him” (Numbers 27:20). With this conferred authority and the consecration of Joshua by Eleazar, it was obvious and clear to all that Joshua now assumed the role as leader of the nation. Seeking the Lord for leaders or whatever it is that we stand in need of is complex and simple at the same time. Simple in that we must seek the Lord for what we desire. Complex, in that we must be, humbly, involved in the process ourselves. Moses sought the Lord. The Lord provided and then told Moses to get involved. In this year may we aggressively be invested in what we seek from the Lord as aggressively as we seek Him for it

January 26, 2020

GOD EXPECTS

NUMBERS 32:20-32

INTRODUCTION
No one is perfect. That is a truth that is used by some as an excuse to behave in ungodly ways. It is true that we are not perfect but we are called to be people who imitate our Lord (Ephesians 5:1) and, therefore, reflect His character and ways. As God is THE promise keeper those who follow Him must reflect the same by seeking to live righteously in every aspect of our lives. When we confess our loyalty to Christ and our commitment to follow in His ways the Lord expects that we should model His integrity in doing and being as we professed. The expectation of God is to be our greatest duty of delight.

WARNING ISSUED (Numbers 32:20-24)
The Gadites and the Reubenites desired to settle in a specific part of the land east of the Jordan. Moses, initially, was alarmed, but in the end imposed on them requirements that called them to a wholehearted commitment. They were to be armed and always ready to fight and, when called to fight, to not cease until victory was won. In other words, they had to give full allegiance and commitment to the cause of God without reservation. A second aspect of this agreement was that, if the Gadites and Reubenites agreed, they would have to live and do all things as before the Lord (Numbers 32:20,21,22). This phrase, repeated three times, was to remind them that their commitment was not, first, to Israel, but to the Lord. This sobering thought was highlighted in these words: “But if you don’t do this, you will certainly sin against the Lord; be sure your sin will catch up with you” (Numbers 32:23). “Before the Lord” also reminded them that this was God’s work and that they should commit the entire work to Him for success. A final reason for the repetition of the phrase was to encourage them to never lose sight that the Lord, Himself, is in control. From this passage we can see that the Lord, who never changes, expects the same allegiance and faithfulness from the church today.  There is no room for claiming the Lord and yet being committed to ourselves. Faithfulness to the end is the calling of everyone who names the name of Christ. We are to live the whole of our lives and yield to entirety of our hearts as coram deo – In the presence of God.

 AGREEMENT GIVEN (Numbers 32:25-27)
The Gadites and the Reubenites submit to the requirements laid out by Moses in full submission to his leadership, recognizing themselves as his servants (Numbers 32:25, 27). As servants they reflected the true nature of servanthood, being willing to surrender all for the sake of the mission of God, saying “Our dependents, wives, livestock, and all our animals will remain here in the cities of Gilead” (Numbers 32:26). This did not mean that they were simply leaving people and animals behind but it was a statement of their trust that the Lord would preserve and protect all as they completed His mission. Sometimes we are so attached to people and things such that we are hindered in fulfilling our calling from the Lord. We must reflect the same hope, trust and faith and these groups did and trust in the Lord’s protective provision and see Him as our greatest priority (Luke 14:26). The Gadites and Reubenites were also ready to leave all to the Lord’s care because they were “equipped for war before the Lord and will go across to battle as my lord orders” (Numbers 32:27). As Christians, we are equipped for the battle – the good fight – the Lord has for us. The Holy Spirit resides within us, equipping us moment by moment with every gift and grace needed to finish the race set before us. What remains is this: are we willing to trust the Lord with all things, including our own lives, knowing that He who has equipped us will never leave nor forsake us?

ACCOUNTABILITY ESTABLISHED (Number 32:28-32)
What is lacking in churches today is real and authentic accountability. Pastors are believed, without question, merely because of their position. Others are believed simply because they make certain claims. The Bible, however, proves that all must be held accountable for their lives and commitments to the Lord. Although the Gadites and Reubenites verbally agreed with the requirements given by Moses and, even though they called themselves his servants, Moses nonetheless laid out actions of accountability. Moses said that if the Gadites and Reubenites fulfilled their obligations by crossing over, being always ready to battle and battling to the end “you are to give them the land of Gilead as a possession” (Numbers 32:29). If they did not fulfill their obligations “they must accept land in Canaan with you” (Numbers 32:30). These words of Moses were said in the presence of Eleazar, Joshua and the family heads of Israel (Numbers 32:28) so that it was unmistakably clear what the expectations and consequences were. Accountability is crucial, not simply to hold others to lives of integrity, but to ensure, as humanly as possible, that the name of the Lord is not defamed by outright hypocrisy, especially within leadership. May the Lord revive the spiritual discipline of accountability within the church, for His glory.

February 2, 2020

VALUED

DEUTERONOMY 5:17; 19:4-13

INTRODUCTION
We live in an increasingly violent world.  Major cities in America are littered with bodies, young and old, black and white, rich and poor etc., who have been murdered. School shootings have shed light, not simply on the need for better gun laws and background checks but, they have also shown that the evil of murder extends even to the youngest of hearts. In a sense, none of us should be surprised by these things and yet, the sheer number of events that have taken place makes anyone wonder whether or not the people of God are actually bringing to bear the vision of God’s kingdom on earth. Murder must be decried, not simply by marches, but by the legal protection of the innocent and the swift justice handed out to those who commit homicide or manslaughter with intentional evil.

PROHIBITION (Deuteronomy 5:17)
The wide range of understandings regarding the aspect of murder has caused debates and divisions in almost every sector of culture, including the church. When the Lord, however, commands us not to murder He has one specific aspect in mind: murdering someone for reasons other than being enemies of war or for committing a crime that warrants capital punishment. In other words, what the Bible is set against is the deliberate and intentional killing of someone outside of the legal (biblical) sanctions within the Word of God. In a word, we are not to commit homicide. This understanding is not so controversial as that of euthanasia and abortion. Some feel the freedom to decide, on their own, whether or not they, or someone else has the right to take their life. Assisted suicides have created a moral foray in which sympathizers come from all stripes, some of whom are Christian. Abortion is by far the greater “controversy” creating division both political and spiritual with many believing the right to choose is actually life giving.  However, when one considers the biblical and even the scientific evidence, it is clear that fetus’ not only have heartbeats but are known by the Lord in the womb (Psalm 139:13; Jeremiah 1:5) and have a purpose determined by the Lord (Galatians 1:15). The social and emotional aspects related to these issues are very real, but we must give way to the Bible at all times which calls anything other than killing for war or heinous crimes (homicide OR manslaughter) – murder. Euthanasia is wrong and abortion is wrong. We should not commit murder. 

GRACE (DEUTERONOMY 19:4-10)
There was a difference in the law between accidental and premeditated homicide. Accidental murder was shown in the example of a man’s axe, while being used to cut down a tree, accidentally flew off and killed another person. In this situation the offender could flee to a sanctuary city and not be condemned (Deuteronomy 19:5). In light of the possibility of such incidents the people were to add additional sanctuary cities throughout the land to mitigate against the possibility of unjust killings due to accidental deaths (Deuteronomy 19:7-10). This law was put in place because it is within the heart of the injured person to return evil for evil seeking to avenge the murder of a relative, as in the example of the axe already given. Therefore, the law was given to protect the offender from harm since he held no previous animosity towards the one accidentally murdered (Deuteronomy 19:6). Underneath the essence of this law is the grace of God extended to the people in which they are to extend to others in such circumstances. While we may have never murdered anyone – accidentally or intentionally – Jesus declared that murder is different within the economy of the Kingdom of God. Murder, physically speaking, meant the taking of a life, but Jesus says that murder happens in being angry with, insulting or calling another believer a fool. Such action is liable of judgment and hell (Matthew 5:21-22). The actions Jesus mentions are intentional sins – intentional acts of spiritual murder – and the Lord, in them all, provides grace for our repentance, restoration and reconciliation with one another. If the Lord had not provided the law of sanctuary cities the people of Israel, in some circumstances, would have continually violated God’s law.  But the Law preserved the brother or sister who, in their anger, was seek vengeance. They were protected from their own sin (grace) because the Lord provided these sanctuary cities.

JUSTICE (Deuteronomy 11:13)
Even though the Lord provided us with so many means of grace and mercies it is still possible that we, in our sinful passions, might seek the handle matters in our way.  If this were to happen, if a person still sought and murdered someone for an accidental homicide and, afterwards, fled to the sanctuary cities for protection, the elders were still charged to be diligent in executing justice (Deuteronomy 19:13). If the person is found to have avenged another’s murder he would be punished and executed (Deuteronomy 19:14). One evident reality in this is that the Lord sees. It matters not whether the individual hides in a sanctuary city of not, the Lord who sees all and knows all will discover and expose such a person. The same is true for all of us. In our sinful passions we can act and behave in ways that warrant discipline from the Lord. Whatever the excuse or reasoning may be the Lord will shed light on our heart motives and deceptions and call us to account.

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