Raising our Ebenezers

One of the most famously obscure lines in any of our hymns appears in “O Thou Fount of Every Blessing”.  It reads, “Here I raise my Ebenezer; hither by Thy help I’ve come.”  Most of us, when we hear “Ebenezer”, tend to think “Scrooge”, so the line is confusing. Continue reading

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Hannah and Mary

Samuel Dedicated by Hannah at the Temple by Frank W.W. Topham

Many Christians are familiar with the song of Mary in Luke 1:46-55.  Fewer though, realize that it has an Old-Testament predecessor.  This forerunner is the song of Hannah, which appears in 1 Samuel 2:1-10.

The similarities between the two songs are too striking to be coincidental.  Both are sung by women in an unpromising position.  Both are about the same circumstance:  the birth of an unexpected son.  Both begin with similar language (“My heart rejoices in the Lord.”).

Most importantly, though, both have similar content.  Hannah’s song and Mary’s song both explore the same theme.  They exalt a God who humbles the mighty, exalts the lowly, and proves His covenant faithfulness to His people. Continue reading

Decency in Darkness

Other than the time immediately preceding the flood, the closing chapters of Judges are arguably the darkest chronicle in the Bible.  The final story of the book—the rape and murder of a man’s concubine by the men of Gibeah—does not appear to have one likeable character, one single redeeming quality.  The author of Judges wants us to understand that at that point in time, the people of Israel were as depraved as the people of Sodom and Gomorrah.

The next book of the Bible, Ruth, though set in the same time period, has almost nothing in it but good, sympathetic characters.  Ruth herself isn’t even an Israelite.  She’s a Moabite.  However, the loyalty she shows to her bereaved mother-in-law marks her out as an admirable woman regardless of her ethnicity.  Boaz too shows kindness and generosity in a way that distinguishes him as a truly excellent man. Continue reading

Samson’s Fatal Flaw

Most Christians are aware of the great spiritual cycle of the book of Judges:  prosperity, apostasy, punishment, repentance, deliverance, and prosperity.  However, fewer recognize that this cycle is also a downward spiral.  Even as the Israelites repeat these steps, their overall spiritual state declines.

This decline is revealed in the character of the judges.  The first judge, Othniel, has nothing negative said about him in the text.  However, the last judge in the book is Samson, who is perhaps the least spiritually attractive hero in the entire Bible. Continue reading

Saved by Other Gods

Judges 10:10-14 describes an exchange I can only describe as snarky.  As is typical after the death of a righteous judge, in Judges 10, the Israelites once again abandon God and begin serving the false gods of the nations around them.  As is also typical, God withdraws His protection and delivers His rebellious people into the hands of their enemies.  Only then do they wise up, realize that they should have been serving God all along, and cry out to Him for help.

However, in vs. 13-14, God has this to say in reply:  “Yet you have forsaken Me and served other gods; therefore I will save you no more.  Go and cry out to the gods whom you have chosen; let them save you in the time of your distress.” Continue reading

Bible Reading Week #15

  • The end of Joshua – Our Bible reading in Joshua focused mainly on the children of Israel’s conquest of Canaan. After conquering 31 kings west of the Jordan River (Joshua 12:9-24), the nation could finally begin to divide the land up among the tribes (Joshua 13:1-33). In chapter 14, one of the original 12 spies (Caleb), asked for the inheritance promised to him by God 45 years earlier. At 85 years old, Caleb requested the hill country of Hebron. He wanted to be able to drive out any giants that remained.

The last two chapters of the book consist of Joshua’s farewell address to the nation. After calling the leaders of Israel, he reminds them of the grace of God that had been shown to them (Joshua 23:1-4).  He then urges all the people to serve the Lord and keep His commands (Joshua 23:6; 24:15). He warns them that if they failed to do so, God would in turn remove them from the good land He had just given them (Joshua 23:15-16). The people responded by promising to faithfully serve the Lord (Joshua 24:16-28). Joshua then wrote their covenant in the “book of the law of God” and constructed a great stone as a memorial of the events of the day.

Joshua would die at 110 years of age. He was buried in Timnath-serah in Ephraim (Joshua 24:29-31). The book also concludes by mentioning the burying of Joseph’s bones that were brought from Egypt and the death of the second high priest, Eleazar (Joshua 24:32-33).

  • The book of Judges – This book records some of the darkest moments in the history of Israel. The generation that Joshua lead into Canaan is commonly called, “The greatest generation of Israel.” Unfortunately, the next few generations would not even come close to that level of faithfulness. Instead, they would start serving the same false gods as the heathen nations around them (Judges 2:11-15).

The book begins with God promising not to help Israel drive out the rest of the Canaanites. Since Israel refused to obey Him and drive out the remaining nations immediately, God refused to help them any longer. Instead, He would allow those remaining nations to be a “thorn” in their side (Judges 2:1-5).

The period of Judges lasted for about 300 years. During that time, Israel found themselves in a repeated cycle of disobedience to God and suffering. They would RELAPSE in their faithfulness to God (Judges 3:7). The Lord would get RETRIBUTION and allow them to suffer at the hands of heathen nations (Judges 3:8). The children of Israel would then cry to God and REPENT (Judges 3:9). God would then RAISE up a judge (warrior or deliverer) who would save them (Judges 3:10). The land would then be at a period of REST, until the same cycle would repeat itself once again (Judges 3:11).

There were fifteen judges of Israel.

  • Othniel (Judges 3:7-11)
  • Ehud (Judges 3:12-30)
  • Shamgar (Judges 3:31)
  • Deborah (Judges 4-5)
  • Gideon (Judges 6-8)
  • Abimelech (Judges 9)
  • Tola (Judges 10:1-2)
  • Jair (Judges 10:3-4)
  • Jephthah (Judges 10:5-12:7)
  • Ibzan (Judges 12:8-10)
  • Elon (Judges 12:11-12)
  • Abdon (Judges 12:13-15)
  • Samson (Judges 13-16)
  • Eli (1 Samuel 4:18)
  • Samuel (1 Samuel 7:15)

The book of Judges teaches us that life is always better when we listen to and obey God. A life without doing so leads to suffering and chaos (Judges 21:25).

Ezekiel 18 and David’s Son

A couple of weeks ago, I preached a sermon in which I used Ezekiel 18:20 to counter the Calvinist doctrine of original sin.  After the sermon, though, a member at Jackson Heights asked me about an apparent contradiction raised by the text.  Ezekiel 18 says repeatedly that the son will not die for the sins of the father, but in 2 Samuel 12:13-14, God through the prophet Nathan tells David that because of David’s sin with Bathsheba, his son with Bathsheba will die.  What God says won’t happen in Ezekiel 18 apparently does happen in 2 Samuel 12.  What gives? Continue reading