Still in Matthew

English: Folio 9 from the codex; beginning of ...

English: Folio 9 from the codex; beginning of the Gospel of Matthew (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Last week we visited our old church – the one we attended 8+ years ago.  The pastor did a great job preaching out of Matthew.  The interesting thing was that he was preaching through the book of Matthew when we left.  At the time, he said that he intended on preaching on this book the rest of his ministry.

When I asked some friends who still go there, I found out that this was a continuation of the series from more than 8 years ago!

It is really amazing all the spiritual nourishment you can get when you read deeply and study even one book in the Bible!

Categories: Visiting Church | Leave a comment

Our future apartment

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OK, it’s not a 5 star hotel – that’s what the university said.  But still, it looks pretty comfortable to me.  This is where we will be living in less then 2 months.  I’m pretty excited about it.

Categories: Getting Started | Leave a comment

We have an offer

Saturday, I woke up and went out to Star Bucks to drink coffee.  I wasn’t really expecting anything – but I decided to check my email.

WOW.  We have an offer to teach now in China.  Our contact sent a copy of the contract and we printed it out.  The rest of the day Saturday we spent going over the contract and discussing it with a good friend who is a professor.  After being reassured that everything looked OK, we sent off our replies on Monday afternoon.

Today I got another email back.  We will begin our first class on September 10, 2012!!!!!

English: huanggang 中文: 黄冈

English: huanggang 中文: 黄冈 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is exciting!  We have some pictures of the apartment.  It is in an 8 story building where they house teachers.  It is about 15 minutes walk to the new campus and they have a free bus if we need to teach at the old campus.

In approximately 2 weeks, the visa work will be finished and on the way here.

Huanggang Normal University is the name of where we will be teaching.

Categories: Getting Started | Leave a comment

Storm Damage July 7, 2012

The storms came and the tree did not stand

This afternoon, a storm came through town.  After several very hot and very calm days,  suddenly the skies opened up and rain pour down.  Not only rain came with the storms, wind did also.  The radio said they weren’t tornadoes, they were micro-bursts.  Whatever they were, they tore up quite a few trees.

A neighbor down the street often has signs in his yard proclaiming Bible verses.  One of them says, Gal. 6:7.  “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.”

It could not withstand the storm

A lot of people are deceived.  They think they are prepared for the storms of life.  They have deep roots and strong branches.  They are strong and healthy.  But then the storm hits.  The storm will come to every man in its own way.  When that happens, will you stand strong or will your inner weakness be revealed?

Think about your life.  Are you ready for storms to hit?  It may be it won’t be a complete uprooting of your life.  It may be only a few branches will blow off, a few leaves will be lost.

Just a small loss

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Shave and a Haircut – go to hel…

The Real Meaning of Leviticus 19:27-28

I believe that all scripture is inspired by God.  However, many passages ARE difficult to understand and can be misconstrued.  Paul wrote to study to show yourself approved unto God – rightly dividing or understanding the word of God.  Because this passage is used to discredit the Scriptures, it is important for believers to have a proper understanding of just what it is saying.

One of the most disgusting tactics used by those intent on destroying belief in the Scriptures is the taking of passages out of context, without proper study, and flinging them in other’s faces.  As an example, “You must not believe the Bible because Jesus says that if your eye causes you to sin – pluck it out.  You’ve already looked at pretty women – why haven’t you pulled your eye out?  Don’t you believe the Bible?”  This kind of infantile behavior is all too common and you probably cannot say anything to such a person.  The Bible warns against casting pearls before swine meaning, “If someone is intent on distorting your words and meaning, don’t argue.  It’s worthless.  Their mind is closed and facts won’t make any difference.”

Enjoy the study.

English: Group of Kohanim studying the Halacho...

English: Group of Kohanim studying the Halachot of Tumah and Taharah in anticipation of the coming of Moshiach. עברית: צוות כהנים עוסקים בלימוד הלכות טומאה וטהרה בצפייה לקראת ביאת המשיח. החל בכיוון השעון: פרץ הכהן, עמיחי הכהן, יעקב הכהן, יוסף הכהן, דוד הכהן, ויונתן הכהן (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Taken from – edited by standrewscumberland

Leviticus 19:27-28 says:

“(27) You shall not round the edge of your head, nor shall you destroy the edge of your beard. (28) And you shall not make a cutting for the dead in your flesh, nor shall you make a written tattoo upon you; I am YHWH.”

In these two verses we are forbidden to make four types of “cuttings”:

  • 1) Cutting the head or hair
  • 2) Cutting the face or beard
  • 3) Cutting the flesh
  • 4) Inscribing writing on the flesh

But what exactly is forbidden by these four commandments?  Are we really required to grow long Elvis-style side locks?  To understand these four commandments we must consider the meaning of the words in their immediate context as well as the broader context of the entire Old Testament and the ancient world in which the Bible was given.

The first commandment – rounding the side of one’s head.

This doesn’t mean that you cut your head but rather to cut your hair on your head. Specifically we are forbidden from rounding the “Pe’ah” of the head.

Pe’ah is often translated as corner or side-lock, but it actually has the meaning of “side” or “edge”. This is always the meaning of the word Pe’ah in hundreds of passages throughout the Scriptures such as “and for the second side of the tabernacle, on the north side (Pe’ah), twenty boards.” (Ex 26:20) and again” And the west side (Pe’ah) shall be the Great Sea, from the border as far as over against the entrance of Hamath. This is the west side (Pe’ah).” (Ezekiel 47:20).

To “round the edge of your head” means to cut off the hair around the sides of the head. Many folks think that this is talking about the pagan “bowl-cut”. A bowl-cut was an ancient hair-cut with pagan significance that was created by placing a round bowl on the head and cutting all the exposed hair.

However, when this command is repeated in Deuteronomy 14:1-2 we read: “…you shall not cut yourselves nor shall you place baldness between your eyes, for the dead.

Since most people don’t have hair “between the eyes” this phrase is usually understood as the hair on the front of the head above the eyes.  From this we learn two things from Deuteronomy 14.  First, we learn that the prohibition is not necessarily a bowl-cut, but making any baldness around the edges of the head. Second, we see that the prohibition is specifically dealing with mourning. That is, one is prohibited to make baldness in the head as an act of mourning “for the dead”. In ancient times, when someone died the surviving relatives were so distraught that they cut their skin until they bled and shaved bald spots on their head.

While cutting one’s hair may sound like a strange act of mourning to the modern reader, this was a common practice in the ancient world. In fact, the Scriptures even permits non-Israelites to perform this despised mourning practice in certain situations.  We read regarding the captive Gentile woman: “and she shall shave her head… and she shall cry over her mother and her father for a month of days” (Deuteronomy 21:12-14).  As an act of mercy, the Torah allows t

he heathen women to shave her head while she mourns her recently killed father and mother (cf. Deuteronomy 20:13-14).

That making bald spots on the head was a mourning practice is also mentioned by the prophets.  Amos 8:10 writes, “And I will turn your feasts into mourning, and all your songs into lamentation; and I will bring up sackcloth upon all loins, and baldness upon every head; and I will make it as the mourning for an only son, and the end thereof as a bitter day.”  Micah 1:16 says, “Make yourself bald, and shear yourself for the children of thy delight; enlarge your baldness as the vulture; for they are gone into captivity from thee.

In ancient times, making bald spots on the head was an act of mourning along with lamentation, rending of clothes and donning of sackcloth. Thus when we are forbidden in Leviticus 19 and Deuteronomy 14 to “round the side of your head” and “place baldness between your eyes… for the dead” the meaning is that we may not shave our head or any part thereof as an act of mourning or sadness. There is no implication in the commandment in Leviticus 19 that we must grow side locks or pony tails. The only thing prohibited in Leviticus 19:27a is to shave the side of the head as an act of mourning. Were one to shave their head for stylistic reasons their would be no prohibition whatsoever.

We have seen thus far that the Israelite is forbidden to make cuts in his flesh and shave parts of his head as acts of mourning “for the dead”. In Leviticus 21 there is a similar prohibition that specifically applies to the Kohanim (descendants of Aaron). In Leviticus 21 the Kohanim are forbidden from becoming ritually impure from the dead with the exception of their immediate relatives. After listing the relatives that the Kohen may become impure from, we read:

“(4) A man shall not become impurified by his people to defile him. (5) They shall not make bald a baldness in their head nor shall they shave the edge of their beard and in their flesh they shall not cut a cut.” (Leviticus 21:4-5)

The context of the passage is explicitly defiling oneself for the dead. In this case the Kohanim are forbidden from various mourning practices. Not only are they forbidden from coming in contact with the dead bodies of their deceased friends but they are also forbidden from defiling themselves by making bald spots on their heads, by shaving their beards, and by cutting their skin. We see here that three of the prohibitions found in Leviticus 19 and Dt 14 are repeated in Leviticus 21. In all three passages both the implicit and explicit contexts are that of mourning practices. Every ancient person knew that one cut one’s skin or shaved one’s head as an act of mourning and it was these acts of mourning that are being prohibited in Leviticus 19. While the idea of mourning by cutting flesh and shaving may not be obvious today, we have seen that the Bible takes it as a given that cutting one’s flesh and shaving one’s head are common ways of mourning along with crying and wearing sackcloth.

It is worth noting that the Nazir made a vow not to shave his head (Numbers 6:5). At the end of the period of abstention, the Nazir would shave his entire head: “And the Nazirite shall shave his consecrated head at the door of the tent of meeting, and shall take the hair of his consecrated head, and put it on the fire which is under the sacrifice of peace-offerings.” The reason the Nazir can  shave his entire head is because he’s not doing it as an act of mourning. In 2 Samuel 14:26 we read that Absalom, the son of King David, used to grow his hair long and then shave his head every year. Again, this was not an act of mourning and therefore it was permissible to shave the head.

The second commandment – shaving your beard.

Was shaving the beard was also a forbidden mourning rite? In other words, is the prohibition to shave the beard a general prohibition for all occasions or is it exclusively prohibited as an acts of mourning or sadness.

Perhaps the first clue regarding shaving one’s beard is the ritual purification of the “leper”. Leviticus 14:9 says: “And it shall be on the seventh day, that he shall shave all his hair off his head and his beard and his eyebrows, even all his hair he shall shave off; and he shall wash his clothes, and he shall bathe his flesh in water, and he shall be clean.” A person is required to shave his beard in certain situations and this is even an act of purification. Likewise, we read about the consecration of the Levites in Numbers 8:7: “And thus shalt thou do unto them, to cleanse them: sprinkle the water of purification upon them, and let them cause a razor to pass over all their flesh, and let them wash their clothes, and cleanse themselves.”  Again we see that shaving the beard and indeed all the hair is not only permissible but can be an act of purification. In contrast, the prohibition of Leviticus 19 is to shave the head or beard as an act of mourning!

There are many biblical passages that make it clear  that shaving the beard was an act of mourning in ancient times. In Jeremiah 41:5, we read about a group of pilgrims mourning the destruction of the Temple: “There came certain men from Shechem, from Shiloh, and from Samaria, eighty men, having their beards shaven and their clothes rent, and having cut themselves, with meal-offerings and frankincense in their hand to bring them to the house of YHWH.”  We see that these pilgrims were mourning and therefore tore their clothes, cut their skin, and shaved their beards.

The fact that shaving was an act of mourning may shed light on a passage that has often defied explanation. In 2 Samuel 9:1-4 we read that David sent emissaries to Hanun king of Amon to comfort him over the death of his father. For some reason Hanun became convinced that David’s emissaries had not come to comfort him but to spy out the land. In a strange act of retribution he decided to cut off half their beards and send them humiliated back to Israel. Thus we read:

“(2) …And David’s servants came into the land of the children of Amon. (3) But the princes of the children of Amon said unto Hanun their lord: ‘Do you think that David does honour your father, that he hath sent comforters to you? has not David sent his servants to thee to search the city, and to spy it out, and to overthrow it?’ (4) So Hanun took David’s servants, and shaved off the one half of their beards, and cut off their garments in the middle, even to their buttocks, and sent them away.

It always seemed strange that Hanun and his advisors would suspect David’s emissaries of being spies without any seeming justification. Even stranger was his reaction to discovering spies be that he cut off their beards. Bearing in mind that ancient peoples shaved off their beards as an act of mourning “for the dead”, it becomes clear why Hanun’s advisors doubted that David’s men  had come to pay condolences. Probably Hanun and his cronies sat in the royal court with torn clothes, cut skin, and shaven beards. When David’s men arrived with full beards Hanun’s advisors assumed they were not coming to mourn the dead king but to spy out the land. For were they really coming to mourn the king they would have shaven their beards. To teach them respect of the dead and humiliate them at the same time, Hanun ordered that half their beards be cut off!

In summation, Leviticus 19:27-28, Leviticus 21:4-5, Deuteronomy 14:1-2 prohibit 4 different acts of mourning. These are:

1) Making a bald spot on the head as an act of mourning

2) Shaving the beard as an act of mourning

3) Cutting the skin as an act of mourning

4) Writing on the skin as an act of mourning

Interestingly, the making of tattoos as an act of mourning is the most elusive in the list. It is only mentioned once in Leviticus 19:28 and then never alluded to again in the Bible. Reference is made to writing on the flesh as an act of dedication to YHWH (Isaiah 44:5), but never as an act of mourning. Yet the practice of inscribing the name of the dead loved one in a tattoo still exists to this very day. Recently this practice has come to the attention of the public when it was reported that New York firemen and policemen were inscribing tattoos on their flesh in memory of their deceased comrades.

English: Dead Man Incorporated tattoo.

English: Dead Man Incorporated tattoo. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I hope you enjoyed the study.

Categories: Controvery | Leave a comment

Maybe a University

English: The Jiuwanxi Bridge in Zigui County, ...

English: The Jiuwanxi Bridge in Zigui County, Hubei, China (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Continuing the saga.  It looks more and more like we might be teaching in a University.  We have a school that is waiting for our documentation.  Today, we will pick up the doctor reports (basically a form that says we are in good health), we will go to Kinko’s and scan our passports and our diplomas. We will attach our letters of recommendation.

And then – the big moment!

We will email this across to the continent of Asia.  If all of this is acceptable – we might start teaching conversational English by September 1.

We have  prayed that God would make his way plain and this may be it.  This is the only place to that has responded to us at all.

Again – we feel like Abraham.  Will this work out?  God knows!  We can only act on faith.

English: The Jingzhou Bridge, Hubei, China

English: The Jingzhou Bridge, Hubei, China (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Snake Hill (Sheshan) of Wuhan (Hubei, Chin...

The Snake Hill (Sheshan) of Wuhan (Hubei, China), topped by the Yellow Crane Tower, seen from the west (from the eastern end of the First Bridge). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Categories: Getting Started | Leave a comment

Lectionary Thoughts July 15 2 Samuel 6

The lectionary passage for this Sunday skips a very important section.  It is 2 Samuel 6:1-5 and then it skips down to verse 12b and continues.  I think we really ought to focus on this part that is missing.

The Chastisement of Uzzah

The Chastisement of Uzzah (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

David again brought together out of Israel chosen men, thirty thousand in all. He and all his men set out from Baalah of Judah to bring up from there the ark of God, which is called by the Name, the name of the Lord Almighty, who is enthroned between the cherubim that are on the ark. They set the ark of God on a new cart and brought it from the house of Abinadab, which was on the hill. Uzzah and Ahio, sons of Abinadab, were guiding the new cart with the ark of God on it, and Ahio was walking in front of it.David and the whole house of Israel were celebrating with all their might before theLord, with songs and with harps, lyres, tambourines, sistrums and cymbals.

When they came to the threshing floor of Nacon, Uzzah reached out and took hold of the ark of God, because the oxen stumbled. The Lord’s anger burned against Uzzah because of his irreverent act; therefore God struck him down and he died there beside the ark of God.

Then David was angry because the Lord’s wrath had broken out against Uzzah, and to this day that place is called Perez Uzzah.

David was afraid of the Lord that day and said, “How can the ark of the Lord ever come to me?” 10 He was not willing to take the ark of the Lord to be with him in the City of David. Instead, he took it aside to the house of Obed-Edom the Gittite. 11 The ark of theLord remained in the house of Obed-Edom the Gittite for three months, and the Lordblessed him and his entire household.

This is exactly the type of passage that people wonder about.  “Why was God so harsh?” peoople wonder.  “Is this the same God as the God of the New Testament? ” “Why can’t God be more understanding?” “What did these people do that was so wrong that made God so angry that he reached out and murdered this man Uzzah in cold blood?”

This is not how I feel about this passage, but it is the way many people look at God in America.  God can be love but he cannot be holy or just -not if these things cannot be put into ‘Hallmark’ cards.

The Scripture says that what Uzzah did was an irreverant act.  Let’s think more about this.

What is the background to this passage?  In Exodus 25:10-16, we are told this about ark of the Lord:

10 “Have them make an ark of acacia wood—two and a half cubits long, a cubit and a half wide, and a cubit and a half high. 11 Overlay it with pure gold, both inside and out, and make a gold molding around it. 12 Cast four gold rings for it and fasten them to its four feet, with two rings on one side and two rings on the other. 13 Then make poles of acacia wood and overlay them with gold. 14 Insert the poles into the rings on the sides of the ark to carry it. 15 The poles are to remain in the rings of this ark; they are not to be removed. 16 Then put in the ark the tablets of the covenant law,which I will give you.

Numbers 4:5-6, 15 says,

When the camp is to move, Aaron and his sons are to go in and take down the shielding curtain and put it over the ark of the covenant law.Then they are to cover the curtain with a durable leather, spread a cloth of solid blue over that and put the poles in place. 

15 “After Aaron and his sons have finished covering the holy furnishings and all the holy articles, and when the camp is ready to move, only then are the Kohathites to come and do the carrying. But they must not touch the holy things or they will die. The Kohathites are to carry those things that are in the tent of meeting.

The ark of the Lord was to be carried using the poles through the rings on the ark.  God had been very specific on this.  In addition, only Kohathites were to carry the ark.

English: The Ark of God Carried into the Templ...

English: The Ark of God Carried into the Temple Español: El Arca introduciéndose en el Templo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Now some folks will look at this and say, “How petty of God.  How could he kill someone because they didn’t follow some simple instructions.”  But is this really that petty?  Yesterday on the radio news, I heard about two children who were electrocuted while swimming.  It seems that some simple wiring had gone wrong.

We are all familiar with situations that seem small, but result in death.  And many times we rebel against God’s laws.  But cry as much as we want, God’s laws are still there.

Uzzah made the mistake of thinking that the ark of the Lord would be defiled by touching the dirt.  But this is a fundamental flaw in understanding the nature of the world.  It is not the world that is in rebellion against God.  Dirt does not defile the holy things of God – people who are in rebellion against God defile the holy things of God.

Matthew 15 tells the story of Jesus and his disciples eating wheat straight from the field.  The pharisees complain that Jesus didn’t wash his hands first (this was not a health issue but a tradition of the elders).   Verses 18-20, Jesus explains:

18 But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. 19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.20 These are what defile a person; but eating with unwashed hands does not defile them.”

Categories: Lectionary | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

Lectionary Thoughts July 8th 2 Samuel 5

English: Statue of King David by Nicolas Cordi...

English: Statue of King David by Nicolas Cordier in the Borghese Chapel of the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore. Français : Statue du roi David par Nicolas Cordier, dans la chapelle Borghèse de la basilique Sainte-Marie Majeure. Italiano: Statua del re Davide di Nicolas Cordier, nella Capella Borghese della Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore in Roma. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Second Samuel Chapter Five
“All the tribes of Israel came to David at Hebron and said, “We are your own flesh and blood. 2 In the past, while Saul was king over us, you were the one who led Israel on their military campaigns. And the Lord said to you, ‘You will shepherd my people Israel, and you will become their ruler. ’”

3 When all the elders of Israel had come to King David at Hebron, the king made a compact with them at Hebron before the Lord, and they anointed David king over Israel.

4 David was thirty years old when he became king, and he reigned forty years. 5 In Hebron he reigned over Judah seven years and six months, and in Jerusalem he reigned over all Israel and Judah thirty-three years.

6 The king and his men marched to Jerusalem to attack the Jebusites, who lived there. The Jebusites said to David, “You will not get in here; even the blind and the lame can ward you off.” They thought, “David cannot get in here.” 7 Nevertheless, David captured the fortress of Zion, the City of David.

8 On that day, David said, “Anyone who conquers the Jebusites will have to use the water shaft to reach those ‘lame and blind’ who are David’s enemies.” That is why they say, “The ‘blind and lame’ will not enter the palace.”
9 David then took up residence in the fortress and called it the City of David. He built up the area around it, from the supporting terraces inward. 10 And he became more and more powerful, because the Lord God Almighty was with him.
11 Now Hiram king of Tyre sent messengers to David, along with cedar logs and carpenters and stonemasons, and they built a palace for David. 12 And David knew that the Lord had established him as king over Israel and had exalted his kingdom for the sake of his people Israel.

13 After he left Hebron, David took more concubines and wives in Jerusalem, and more sons and daughters were born to him. 14 These are the names of the children born to him there: Shammua, Shobab, Nathan, Solomon, 15 Ibhar, Elishua, Nepheg, Japhia, 16 Elishama, Eliada and Eliphelet.

17 When the Philistines heard that David had been anointed king over Israel, they went up in full force to search for him, but David heard about it and went down to the stronghold. 18 Now the Philistines had come and spread out in the Valley of Rephaim; 19 so David inquired of the Lord, “Shall I go and attack the Philistines? Will you hand them over to me?”
The Lord answered him, “Go, for I will surely hand the Philistines over to you.”

20 So David went to Baal Perazim, and there he defeated them. He said, “As waters break out, the Lord has broken out against my enemies before me.” So that place was called Baal Perazim.

21 The Philistines abandoned their idols there, and David and his men carried them off. 

22 Once more the Philistines came up and spread out in the Valley of Rephaim; 23 so David inquired of the Lord, and he answered, “Do not go straight up, but circle around behind them and attack them in front of the balsam trees. 24 As soon as you hear the sound of marching in the tops of the balsam trees, move quickly, because that will mean the Lord has gone out in front of you to strike the Philistine army.” 25 So David did as the Lord commanded him, and he struck down the Philistines all the way from Gibeon to Gezer.

This sermon was written by Dr. S. Lewis Johnson and edited by standrewscumberland.  The original can be found at:

Special note: Just to the south on the edge of Jerusalem is Zion.  Mount Zion is to the west but Zion is that part, contiguous to the city of Jerusalem where David had his kingdom.  That is what he is speaking about when he mentions the stronghold of Zion that is the City of David.

This chapter doesn’t see all that special.  We see that David is crowned king in Hebron and crowned king of all Israel.  David had already been crowned king of Judah.  But in the light of the whole of the Scriptures, it becomes very significant.  Two things of great importance are found in this chapter.

First there is David’s anointing.  The figure of David lies behind all of Christianity.  When Christ is born,  Gabriel said, “He will be great, he will be called the son of the highest, and the Lord God will give him the throne of his father, David.  And he will reign over the house of Jacob forever and of his kingdom there shall be no end.”  Jesus will be given the throne of his father, David.

In last chapter of the Book of Revelation the Lord says, “I am the root and the offspring of David, the bright and the morning star.”

English: Jerusalem Mount Sion King David Statu...

English: Jerusalem Mount Sion King David Statue – Haredim want King David statue moved (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The second thing that makes this chapter so important is Jerusalem’s choice as David’s military and national capital.  His own palace was built by Hiram on Zion, which was right next to Jerusalem but is now part of Jerusalem.  The stronghold of Zion is the place where he and other kings lived and carried out the ministry that was given to them as rulers.  Throughout Scripture, many things are spoken about Jerusalem. In fact, all of the events of the Scripture ultimately gather round the city of Jerusalem.  It became for Israel the only accepted spiritual center for Israel and here is the beginning of the golden age of Israel’s history, the rule of David and Solomon.
In Jerusalem, the suffering and death of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ was accomplished.  And when we turn to the conclusion of the Bible, in Revelation chapter 21, John the Apostle sees the New Jerusalem coming down from Heaven, the heavenly Jerusalem, underlining again the importance of both David and Jerusalem for the story that is found in the word of God.
2 Samuel chapter 5 is a chapter that is exceedingly important from the standpoint of the whole program of the word of God.
David is crowned as king.  This is a testimony to the virtue of patience.  His most cherished hopes are realized after years of patient waiting.  It’s no wonder that David wrote so many psalms in which he expresses the fact that we ought to wait on the Lord God.  In Psalm 37, we read, “Rest in the Lord and wait patiently for Him; Do not fret because of him who prospers in his way, Because of the man who brings wicked schemes to pass.”  The 9th verse, “For evildoers shall be cut off; But those who wait on the Lord, They shall inherit the earth.”  And in the 34th verse, “Wait on the Lord, and keep His way, And He shall exalt you to inherit the land; when the wicked are cut off, you shall see it.”
After all of the years that have passed since Samuel spoke to him and told him, as a very young man, that God intended to make him king, David finally comes to the goal to which Samuel had directed his eye and it’s now reached.  It really is a climactic event for David and it’s just the beginning of his glorious reign.
Look for a few moments through the chapter.  The author begins with an account of the making of the covenant with Israel.  Abner, who was Saul’s general, had really prepared the way for David’s rule over the whole of the Twelve Tribes.  In chapter 3 we read in verse 17.
“Now Abner had communicated with the elders of Israel, saying, “In time past you were seeking for David to be king over you.  Now then, do it!  For the Lord has spoken of David, saying, ‘By the hand of My servant David, I will save My people Israel from the hand of the Philistines and the hand of all their enemies.’”  And Abner also spoke in the hearing of Benjamin.  Then Abner also went to speak in the hearing of David in Hebron all that seemed good to Israel and the whole house of Benjamin.”
And so, we read here in chapter 5, “Then all the tribes of Israel came to David at Hebron and spoke, saying.”
Note that they had three grounds for making David king over all of the Twelve Tribes.
First of all, they spoke, saying, verse 1, “Indeed we are your bone and your flesh.”  So the ties of kingship were, first of all, mentioned as the qualifications of David for the rule.  Moses had said some things about the king of Israel, a long time ago.  It seemed strange because at the time they had no king and it was not God’s will for Israel to ever have a king except the Lord himself.  But they longed to have a king, just like the nations, and God did finally give them Saul.
Moses had some instructions about the king.  Deuteronomy chapter 17 verse 15 states, “You shall surely set a king over you whom the Lord your God chooses; one from among your brethren you shall set as king over you; you may not set a foreigner over you, who is not your brother.”
This was to be, ideally, the Lord Jesus Christ  but because of Israel’s desire to have a king just like the others, they got Saul.  It’s difficult for Christians to be what they really are, different.  It’s difficult to realize that a different kind of life flows through the veins and the spirits of believers.  It’s difficult for us to realize that we are not of this world.  We are separate.  And so, in the case of Israel, they were told in the beginning that they were to have one of them, and one of them only, as a king.  God intended, ideally, only our Lord Jesus Christ.  But Israel was not willing to trust the Lord God alone as their king and so a succession of kings comes.  And David is one of the line but they all point forward to the Lord Jesus Christ.  So first of all then, they point out that David is one of them.  The ties of kingship, “Indeed, we are your bone and your flesh.”  And so David qualified in that respect.
Secondly, they point to his proven leadership, they say, “Also in time past, when Saul was king over us, you were the one who led Israel out and brought them in,” and so, consequently, they appeal to the fact that he stood out as a leader.  You could go back and read the passages in 1 Samuel chapter 18 verse 5, verse 13, verse 16, and verse 30.  And they all make that point that when David was serving Saul, the soul of the nation was knit to him because of the accomplishments of him in his leading role.  So, consequently, his proven leadership.
And we can put it down into the principles of this, that his calling is evidenced in his conduct as of the Lord.  “By their fruits you shall know them.”  And in David’s case, not only was he one of them, but he also had been proven to be a leader with excellent qualities.
And then, finally, at the end of verse 2, the third of the reasons, we read,  “And the Lord said to you, ‘You shall shepherd My people Israel, and be ruler over Israel.’”  So, ultimately, it was the divine approval.  They had resisted him, the eleven tribes, under Ishbosheth, under Saul, but now they’ve become reconciled to him, acknowledged that God’s choice all along has been David.
As a result of it, they came and came to him at Hebron.  And David made a covenant with them at Hebron before the Lord.  And they anointed David king over Israel.  And he was anointed, as a shepherd king.  He was to shepherd them and to be a shepherd king.
One of the great themes of the word of God is that the Lord Jesus is our shepherd.  David makes a great deal of it.  Jacob, of course, spoke about the God who shepherded him all the days of his life.  Micah speaks about one who shall stand and shepherd his people Israel.  And so the kind of king that Israel is to have is not the kind of king such as a Saddam Hussein or a Joseph Stalin an autocratic dictator but a shepherd king; one who rules but one who rules with the care and the concern that a shepherd manifests for his flock.  Samuel doesn’t tell us this but 1 Chronicles chapter 12 tells us that when they came to Hebron and anointed him king they had a feast for several days.
1 Chronicles chapter 12 and right at the end of the chapter.  “And they were there with David three days, eating and drinking, for their brethren had prepared for them.  Moreover those who were near to them, from as far away as Issachar and Zebulun and Naphtali, were bringing food on donkeys and camels, on mules and oxen, provisions of flour and cakes of figs and cakes of raisins, wine and oil and oxen and sheep abundantly, for there was joy in Israel.”
And so they celebrated it with three days of feasting.  Then there is a brief chronological note in verses 4 and 5 that we will pass over.  But we note now that after David has been anointed king, his thoughts turn toward Jerusalem.
Jerusalem had a Jebusite fortified citadel right in its midst.  As David looked out over the scene and reflected upon the fact, he realized that the Jebusites, a Canaanite people, should not be allowed to live within Israel, and particularly right in the city.  So in a remarkable exhibition of faith and political and military foresight, David and his men go to Jerusalem to take the citadel of the Jebusites.  We read, “And the king and his men,” that’s the six hundred men, “who were his army for so long, and they went against the Jebusites, the inhabitants of the land, who spoke to David, saying, ‘You shall not come in here; but the blind and the lame will repel you,’ thinking all along that it’s impossible for David to overcome this citadel.”
It was remarkable foresight that David thought of Jerusalem.  If you look back at the history of that part of the country, you can remember that it must have had for him a great deal of nostalgia.  Abraham had offered up Isaac at Mount Moriah, right nearby.  The great men of the Old Testament had often passed by, those that preceded David, had often passed by that hill and they looked at it.  And now David, in thinking about his kingdom, looks at it as the ideal place to have his kingdom.  But, when he arrives, the Jebusites hold it.  And they are so confident that they will keep that stronghold that they say to him, look, if we only have cripples, you cannot take it.  The cripples can keep this city.  It’s such a stronghold.  They thought themselves impregnable, obviously.  And so a garrison of cripples they felt could defend the city against David and his men.
One of the reasons that David wanted this was the simple reason that the presence of alien Jebusites in the land was something that disturbed him because God had said that Israel was to be a separate people.  To have Jebusites right in the midst of the land and among them was something that he could not take.  The presence of alien peoples in the midst of the peoples of God, defiant of David and worshippers of blind and lame idols, it was something that he felt he ought to get rid of.
Someone has put it this way, “For such an alien element to occupy a strong hold in the very heart of the country, was a most galling thought to one intensely patriotic and brave, and could not but have suggested to him the defective courage and faith of his ancestors in Israel, who allowed such a thing to be possible.  It was no mere love of fighting, no desire to create a diversion on his accession to power that induced him to challenge his best men to seize the position.  It was statesmanship, regard for the purity of the national life, and the honor of him who originally gave the land to Israel for an inheritance.  The people of God must be separate from the heathen.”  So for fundamentally spiritual reasons but spiritual reasons that had military significance for him, he determined that the powers of darkness represented by the Jebusites would not have a foothold in his land.  And so he came and he offered a challenge to his men and the challenge is represented in verse 8, “Who ever climbs up by way of the water shaft and defeats the Jebusites” he shall be chief and captain.
There was a spring, the spring of Gihon, which was to the south and east of that mountain or that citadel, and it as there that the Jebusites and others who lived up on the stronghold got their water.  And there was a shaft that went from the top down, within, to the spring.  And so David conceived the idea that the way to get in to the stronghold is by the water shaft.  It was a brilliant piece of military maneuvering and Joab and some of the men managed to go up the shaft and into the city and overcame the Jebusites on the top of it.  By so doing, he conquered the stronghold, masterminded by David but conquered by his men.  The city, as a result of that, came to be called the City of David.  David did some construction around it to strengthen it further.   And the writer of the chapter adds the important point in verse 10, “So David went on and became great, and the Lord God of hosts was with him.”
You may have wondered about the expression, “The blind and the lame” and especially that clause “Who are hated by David’s soul, who are hated by David’s soul.”  What he intends for us to understand by it is the same thing that we are to understand when Jesus says, “If a man does not hate father and mother, brother and sister, he cannot be my disciple.”  He means, in other words, hate in the sense of despising anything that is contrary to the purpose of God.  And these individuals were hated by David, not personally, but because they represented the intrusion of the kingdom of Satan within the kingdom of the Lord God.  And so, the city was taken.
The author of the Epistle of the Hebrews makes a great deal over the fact that the Lord Jesus is a High Priest after the order of Melchizedek.  Melchizedek appears in the Bible in Genesis 14 and then one verse in Psalm 110, written by David, “Thou art a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.”   Why is Jesus is called a High Priest after the order of Melchizedek?  Melchizedek is called King of Salem.  Salem is the old name for Jerusalem.  Melchizedek had a priesthood, of God Most High, on Salem, or in Salem, inclusive, evidently, of the stronghold of Zion.
So when David conquered Jerusalem, the priesthood that belonged to Melchizedek was regarded as now belonging to him.  And so, in the case of David, we have one who is both king and the inheritor of the priesthood of the Most High God.
Jesus is a king and a priest, High Priest after the order of Melchizedek, but also one who has the throne of David.  So the figure of the king/priest is the result, ultimately, at least in David’s thinking, of the taking of the old kingdom of Salem, where the high priesthood of Melchizedek existed.
From verse 9 on, we read of the consolidation of David’s kingdom, a local consolidation, and he constructs the citadel in a way to further protect his palace.
And then, Hiram, King of Tyre, they did have economics in those days, business, and Hiram at Tyre had a large business and one of his businesses was in woodwork.  And he wanted to have good relationships with this rising and budding kingdom, and so he provided for David messengers with the promise of cedar trees and carpenters and masons and they built David a palace, a house.  Now, as a result of that, we read in verse 12, “So David knew that the Lord had established him as king over Israel.”
You would never know that David had some of the feelings that you and I have.  That is, at times, we want some confirmation.  And David seems to have no problems.  But every now and then, you can see evidence of the fact that David is just like you and me.  He follows what he thinks is the will of God but from time to time the confirmations are given to encourage him further.  I like to read that because it reminds me how I, too, feel much the same thing when I fell I’m doing the Lord’s will but then there comes a confirmation from the Lord that it really is the Lord’s will.
So we read Hiram’s response to David’s kingdom and all that had happened, brought him further knowledge that the Lord had established him as king over Israel, and that “He had exalted His kingdom for the sake” not of David, you’ll note but “for the sake of His people Israel.”
The remainder of the chapter records decisive defeats of the Philistines.  They heard the news that David had been anointed king over the Twelve Tribes and they recognize here an enemy.  The fact that he now was in Jerusalem, and had conquered the Jebusites made the enemies of the people of the Lord attack.
When the Philistines came up, David went down to the stronghold and there gathered his men together and thought about what they were going to do.  He inquired of the Lord and the Lord said, “Go up against the Philistines, for I will certainly give the Philistines into your hands.”  The result was that David went to Baal Perazim and defeated them there.  David said, “The Lord has broken through my enemies before me, like the breakthrough of water.”  In other words, the victory was so decisive it’s as if the Lord had burst through ahead of him.  He’s the Lord of the Breakthrough.  And the result was that the gods of the Philistines, who had been carried there by their men, had been left on the field and David and his men gathered them up.  It’s a terrible thing to have a god that you have to carry around, isn’t it?  How much better is it to have a God who carries us around.  And Isaiah, in one of his great chapters in his prophesy makes that point.  “The heathen have to carry their gods around.  They have to put them on wagons with beasts of burden, who have a hard time carrying them about.  But our God carries us.”
And so they won.  But that’s not enough because the Philistines decide they are going to attack again.  And so they come up again in the Valley of Rephaim.  And this time, when David inquired of the Lord, the Lord said, “Now, we’ll not do it the same way this time.”  No doubt the Philistines were prepared for the frontal attack this time.  And so, the Lord said, “Now, we’ll just have a little surprise attack from the rear.  And David, you gather around and get in the rear of them.  That will also cut off their escape, so if they manage to try to escape, they’ll have to go a circuitous route.  And when you hear the sound of marching in the tops of the mulberry trees,” the Rabbis like to speak of this as the angels in the top of the trees.  Probably related to the fact that in Psalm 104, the angels are called winds and spirits.  In fact, spirit is a term used of angels in the word of God.  But, “When you hear the sound of marching in the tops of the mulberry trees, then you shall advance quickly.  For the Lord will go out before you to strike the camp of the Philistines.”  And so they gathered around in the rear and concealed themselves until finally, the sound came and the wind of the spirit of God, flowing through the trees, made the rustling sound, sound like marching men.  And David said, “Quick, attack.  And they attacked the sleeping Philistines,” at least, they were sleeping in the sense of totally unprepared and God drove the Philistines back through David from Geba as far as Gezer.  There is a place for waiting and there is a place for acting.  And this was the time to act.
You can see, as you read this chapter and ponder it that under girding and controlling David’s life is the sovereign electing grace of God.   Verse 3, verse 7 and 8, verse 10, verse 12, verse 20, verse 24, all underline the fact that the secret of David’s success is the blessing of the sovereign God who is caring for him and who is with him. When we realize that God as the sovereign God is with us through Jesus Christ, what a blessing that is to know that fact, the gods of the heathen are not like our God.
A T-shirt said, “Their rock is not like our Rock.”  That comes from Deuteronomy chapter 32:31, “For their rock is not like our rock, even our enemies themselves being judges.”  There were probably quite a few Philistines, after those two battles, who said the problem with us is we have the wrong god.  Our gods are different from their gods.  Our rocks are weaker than their rock, their Jehovah.
It’s wonderful to have the confidence that God’s sovereign grace sustains us in all the experiences of our lives.  But sudden reversals may come to God’s saints also. Just as David has been anointed king and just as he has taken Jerusalem, and everything seems wonderful, the Philistines attack.  It’s not surprising that when we think we have everything nice and easy, that things turn out otherwise.  These things happen to wean us from confidence in men, things, and self and to keep us from building too permanent a nest down here upon this earth.  But we can rest in the knowledge that God is going to fulfill his promise.
The Lord Jesus is baptized as the Son of God and the voice from Heaven comes.  “This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased.”  And then, the Spirit drives him into the wilderness to be tested for forty days.
Joseph has his dream and his brethren bow down before him, and it looks as if Joseph is going to have a marvelous future.  And what happens?  His brethren hate him and send him into captivity.  As a matter of fact, hope he might die.
The motto of King Alfred is very fitting.  “If today thou be conqueror or err of the fight, tomorrow.”  If today thou be conquered, prepare for the fight of tomorrow.  So, it’s not surprising then that the reversals come.
Finally notice David constantly seeking divine guidance.  He used his God-given mind but he also submitted his mind to the sovereign control of the Lord God.  So, using his own mind, he inquired of the Lord.
The methods of God vary.  He sometimes wins battles by frontal attack.  Sometimes by the attack from the rear, but the constant touch with the Lord God was the secret of David’s success.  That’s the only way in which you and I will be able to accomplish the Christian life, to the blessing of us and the pleasure of the Lord God.
When the Lord Jesus was ready to choose his apostles, he prayed all night as he selected the twelve men.  When the Lord Jesus left the apostles to cross the sea, he went up into the mountain.  And as they were dealing with the wind and the waves, he was on the mountain praying.  In Gethsemane, as he faced his greatest trial, he was on his knees praying, constantly.  As a matter of fact, the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews adds something not found in the Gospels.  He prayed with strong crying and tears.
Spurgeon wrote “No doubt, by praying we learn to pray.  And the more we pray, the oftener we can pray and the better we can pray.”  He also made the point that you don’t become a prayer warrior unless you learn to persevere in prayer.  Abraham and Jacob praying all night at Peniel, the Lord’s praying all night, Elijah praying to shut up heaven, these folks didn’t just pray on occasion.  Rather, their lives were characterized by constant prayer and growth in perseverance in prayer.
As Christians, that that’s the only way in which you and I will truly live a life that is pleasing to the Lord God.  But, as we look over this chapter, we see the great  statesmanlike leader, King David, so spiritual that he wrote the magnificent psalms.  Yet, in times of stress, this man turned to the Lord.  May we do the same.  There is no way that you and I, less gifted than King David, can succeed if we do not make it a habit of our lives, to inquire of the Lord God.

Categories: Lectionary | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

A sermon on James 1:2-4


Sermon by Geoff Thomas, 14 June 1998 evening. – Edited by standrewscumberland

English: Pagans kill Christians in Pliska.

English: Pagans kill Christians in Pliska. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

James is both blunt and realistic in this statement.  Facing trials of many kinds is what happens if we are normal Christians. Nobody in the 1st century thought that becoming a Christian meant health, wealth, and prosperity.

James says two things in these verses: one is a command and the other a reason for the command.

First the command, “Consider every trial pure joy.”

This is a command not a suggestion.  It’s our duty and we are sinning if we disobey.

You consider with your mind, not your feelings.  You do it with your thought processes.  James is not saying, “feel joyful,” but learn to think joyfully in your trials.

Let’s look at some examples:

1] Paul tells us he learned to be content in whatever state he was in.  He understood that being discontented was going against the belief that there is a loving Father God in charge of everything in his life. So he learned, as his Christian life progressed, to be contented. Each day he might have said to God, “Thy will be done” and when Paul knew that something was God’s will he could stop his self-pitying or sulking.

2] In the early church, the apostles were preaching the gospel in opposition to the Jewish leadership. The Sanhedrin had them arrested, and decided to have them flogged. Some died under a flogging.  How did apostles respond? We are told [5:41], “The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.”  They considered their sufferings in the light of the sufferings of Christ for them. Christ had considered these men worthy to bear shame for his sake. This was an honor! So they weren’t depressed and angry about this turn of events. They considered it pure joy.

3] Paul and Silas in the prison in Philippi had been roughed up, given an unjust trial, lashed, put in the stocks in the dungeon.  But they considered it as a cause for praise. They had been faithful servants to the great Servant. He suffered innocently and triumphed over his enemies. They were given the same confidence. Europe was going to hear the gospel.  At midnight they were not sulking.  They were singing psalms of rejoicing.

So one day these scattered Christians of the 12 tribes were sitting in their seats on the Lord’s Day gathering and this letter from James was read to them. The very first thing he told them was that they were to use their minds, and consider it pure joy whenever they were in the middle of any and every trial. “First of all learn this great lesson” they were told.

Then they were told that the trials were “of many kinds?”

James mentions some of these in his letter: sudden death (v.11), being an orphan or a widow (end of chap 1), exploitation and also illness (in chap.5: vs.4 & 14).  Trials are common to us all, but the way they settle on one church or another and go from one believer to another varies. We may be slandered, our human ambitions might be crushed, we may be ostracized, there might be some thorn in the flesh, some personality problem, or unrequited love, intellectual problems, domestic heartache.Suffering is so diverse. We’ve got to face the reality as Christians that our faith is likely to be tested by God in such ways. There is no immunity for us as disciples from the Valley of the Shadow, whatever form that valley takes. We may be working under the most unpleasant management – men who make our lives a misery. We may face constant articulate opposition to our Christian convictions. The whole operating style of our place of work may be aimed at the embarrassment of Christian believers. We meet people who contradict our beliefs and mock our faith and we have to stand absolutely alone. There is not one class of trials to which God is limited. so that in them alone we can rejoice. These trials are “of many kinds”.

A Christian can’t say about anything, “That will never happen to me.”   Check it out: did it happened to Job, to Simon Peter, to Noah, to Abraham, to the apostle Paul ? One thing God knows about each one of us – what load we are able to bear. It is God who puts the load on us and he knows our breaking point. God won’t allow us to carry more than we can bear. That is the great limitation, and the ONLY limitation. No Christian is exempt from trials of many kinds. The one guarantee is that our faith will not fail.

In the NIV, James says about these trials, “you face them”.  It would be better to say that you fall into them. The word is used in the story of the Good Samaritan about the poor man who fell among thieves.  So trials come upon us, as unexpectedly as the ringing of a phone. You don’t need to go out of your way to look for sufferings or to create difficulties. It is inevitable that we are going to bump into these testing times. There have been Christians who have deliberately provoked the world’s hostility. Others have actively sought martyrdom. That’s foolish. We are going to face it. “Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6:34). Walk along the narrow way, keep in step with the Holy Spirit and you will meet enough to test your faith.

If you think, “I can’t be a Christian to have to go through this,” then think of Job and how at first he himself was spared but he lost family and property. Then God allowed his health to be touched, though his life were spared. God is in control of the degree of hardship at every stage. With Job it stops at the taking of his life, but with Stephen he even forfeits his life.

Don’t think that Christians are always suffering although it is a possibility.  It’s just that it is common for Christians to meet trials.  The Christian life is “the fellowship of his suffering.” Every single Christian is tested.

Then, James says, that whenever it happens, “consider it pure joy.” Consider it 100% joy – all of it, nothing but joy, not a mixture. You can’t cut out 90% of a trial and count that part as joy. Everyone of us can look back with thankfulness to some aspect of every difficulty we have experienced. We can think of the wonderful support we had from our family and friends, and count those memories as joyful. We can say, “it could have been worse, and you can always see someone in a worse condition.” That is not what James is saying here. He says, “Face up to the whole thing.” Don’t leave any of it out. All of it is to be accounted as joy.”

That sounds crazy!  You have lost a sense of the love of God. Your body is racked with pain. You have just lost a loved one. You are being persecuted. The lives of your family are in danger. There is no earthly hope at all.

Imagine all that, and then this great word comes to us, “Consider it pure joy.” Regard this trial as a reason to rejoice. Account it as being “pure joy.” Because it does not seem to be joy. It seems terrible. But account it as joy that you are facing a trial. Your heart is breaking, and it is difficult to keep going, but you account it as joy that you are being faced with this trial.

How can we do this?  Only by leading your mind toward the right biblical considerations. By thinking about trials from God’s perspective. You can in this way reach the point when you rejoice in them. You consider the God of providence, your Saviour the Lord of love, the ministry of the Holy Spirit, and the promises of his Word. Consider all that – as you face trials of many kinds. Pure joy does not just happen. It takes a deliberate act of will. It may mean getting back under Biblical preaching again. It may mean being more diligent in personal devotions. It may mean getting wise counsel from godly people. It means everything that a true consideration of these most important events that have come into your life requires. You pay that trial that measure of respect. Bring it into the presence of Almighty God and reflect on it there.

It doesn’t mean you rejoice in cruelty, suffering, shame, injustice, destruction, or waste. It does not mean saying, “Well, Hallelujah anyway.” It does not mean no tears or sense of loss. “Consider !” means setting the trial in the whole mighty picture of a reigning loving God.

So we have looked at the command with which James begins this letter, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds.” Now we come to the second part, the reason for the pure joy.


James says, Consider it pure joy … because This is not an irrational statement. It is not a “Cheer up old man.”  How can they be prevented from being hopelessly idealistic ? “Consider it pure joy when my worse fears are realized” ? “Consider it pure joy when my heart is breaking ? It’s nonsense without a “because” and there has to be some pretty massive explanation for considering it joy.

1] The first reason James gives is this, that the trial is testing our faith.

This word ‘testing’ is found in just one other place in the NT in Peter’s first letter and it’s found there in the context of the refiner, who tests and tries gold with fire. It is a great verse for casting light on this verse. “you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.” (I Peter 1:7) The fires of trials are there to prove that your faith is genuine faith and prove the reality of our beliefs.

All sorts of things are tested to prove that they are genuine.  Do you want your drugs tested?  Do you want to know that they are genuine and will do what it says ? Yes.  If you love antiques and you collect brass, then when you go to an antique shop you take a magnet with you and test the brass. If the magnet sticks to the brass then you know that it is simply gilded iron. You wont buy it because it is not the real thing. Currency. The cashier runs a special pen on that note or holds it to a special light. You are glad she does because you don’t want a forged note given to you in change. Household appliances. They have a seal to show that they have been tested and they are safe and effective. Cars. They are tested for their safety. Rivers and beaches and air and food and water – all are tested.

Everything important is tested. Trivial things are not tested.  But shouldn’t a Christian’s faith in God be tested ? Isn’t that worthy of testing ? Think of all we say hangs on true faith in Jesus Christ. Eternity with God in heaven for all who believe. “Therefore being justified by faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” And it’s true ! Then, do I have that faith ? Have I got the real thing ? How terrible to go through my life assuming that I did, but at the end discovering that I didn’t !

In the Pilgrim’s Progress there is a character called Ignorance and in the very last paragraph of the book we are told that it is his turn to come to the river of death, and he has no difficulty crossing it – a ferryman called Vainhope rows him over. But the shining ones at the door of heaven ask him for his certificate, that is, they ask him for the proof of real faith. He fumbles for it but cant find it. Then they bind him hand and foot and take him away. And you know how Pilgrim’s Progress ends ? “Then I saw that there was a way to hell, even from the gates of heaven, as well as from the City of Destruction !”

Do we have genuine saving faith? Such faith is tested and tried by God Himself ! He puts our faith under all kinds of pressure. He places our faith in different circumstances. We have this faith that means that we believe in the over-ruling providence of Almighty God We believe that God works all things together for our good. We believe that God is in control. We believe that God loves us. We believe that God cares for us. We believe that if we cast all our cares upon the Lord that he will sustain us, that he will look after us, and provide for us in all our needs, in every conceivable peril. That is our faith. yet there are these times when God puts us to the test. He places us in situations where it is difficult to believe that that is God’s attitude, that that is the way God regards us, that he is really in control. We have these great Christian convictions We have the assurance of God’s providential care, We have the assurance of God’s love. We believe all that and we act upon it. We base and structure our whole life around this great conviction – God is in control. God cares for us. Yet, time and again, we find that what is happening to us speaks of something very difficult. We find ourselves in so many situations where it is almost impossible for us to believe that God is in control, and so difficult to believe that God cares for us.

That is what James is teaching here. We have the great convictions of our faith. God is going to test our faith. God is going to do it by placing us in situations where it is going to be hard for us to go on as Christians, where discipleship is going to be costly, and where God’s own sovereignty and God’s shepherding and his own love is obscured and almost contradicted by the circumstances of our day to day lives.

“Do you really believe that all things are working together for your good ?” We are not sure. So God tests us with a trial, and we did keep trusting him through it all ! We passed the test ! “Do you truly believe that you have a wonderful loving Shepherd who watches over and protects you in all that happens ?” We are not sure, but when the test comes we find we have looked to God for help and grace. We have passed the test and are stronger because of it. Such trials then become means of grace to strengthen us. It is that kind of testing James is concerned for here. Consider it pure joy because it is God himself who is so concerned that your faith is genuine that he is testing it in all kinds of circumstances.

2] The second reason James gives for considering our trials to be pure joy is that these tests develop perseverance, and maturity and fulfilment

The test is an exercise, and every exercise strengthens. Troops go out on military exercises and they become tougher men. A young athlete runs for longer and longer distances, and he prepares himself for the marathon race. His exercises produce constancy. A young couple in the early years of marriage are sustained by their feelings. Then their child gets sick, or the husband is made redundant, or his job takes him away from home for weeks at a time, or she meets someone else and is drawn to him. There is a test and they go through it biblically, that is, they deal with it as the Bible tells us to handle these trials, trusting God, seeking help from him, honoring their marriage vows under fire. They are grittily determined to save their marriage – and as a result they get stronger, because their love is now a tried and tested love. They appreciate their marriage vows as never before. A student has a ‘mock’ exam before the real thing. The ‘mock’ helps him, he’s gone through that test, so that he is not so ill-prepared when the big external exam comes.

So God tests us with a little test, and we pull through it. “Oh,” we say, “So I have that amount of faith.” We doubted whether we had that much faith. Then God brings a bigger test into our live, and we pull through that. So on and on. There comes a time when we bury our parents, our husband or wife – it comes to all of us, and we are not bitter because our faith is a proved faith. We say, “I don’t know how I could have coped without God.” We have been given perseverance and staying power and heroic endurance.

There are two graces very close to one another that we must have. One is patience, and that is what we must show towards other people. Then there is the word mentioned here, perseverance, and that is not a passive submission to circumstances, it is a strong active challenging response to the difficulties we have to face. We conquer this trial, we are more than conquerors, by perseverance, keeping going and keeping going, day after day. That isn’t passive is it ? Shakespeare says, “Though patience be a tired mare yet she will plod.” What do we need as Christians more than the grace to keep plodding on ?

The testing of our faith develops perseverance. How else can anyone learn staying power ? I don’t know. But it doesn’t end there. There is a chain reaction. v.4 “Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” Now where does all this start ? It starts with trials of many kinds. No other door to someone being “mature and complete, not lacking anything” except the door marked ‘trials.’

What do we want to be in the future ? First priority, “mature and complete.” Who wants to be a kid for ever ? You hear of the behaviour of some of these TV presenters and football players – vast salaries, travelling the world, surrounded by admirers and yet behaving like spoiled kids. What do you want in the future ? “That I be mature and complete.” Of course. The door to that is the door marked “Trials.” And the road to that is Perseverance Road. Keep persevering and you become mature and complete. You have to finish each stretch of the road. to reach maturity.

So to Christians under trial – “Don’t interfere with God’s plan for your life.” Don’t give up on your marriage when the first trial occurs. Don’t run out on your wife when a handicapped child is born. Don’t give up on the course when there is only one year to go. Don’t resign from the church when your conscientious beliefs are rejected by others. Persevere! Finish the work ! So you may be mature and complete. There is a growing period for a fruit, maybe five months from the first small fruit appearing to the time when they are ready to be picked and sold to the shops. You have to go through the whole growing period – finish the work so that the fruit are complete.

When we are in a trial God says to us, My grace is sufficient for you, for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Believe God! Don’t give up. “Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” Aren’t there people in the Christian church whom once you had great hopes in ? That in the future they would be mature and complete, leaders in the work of the gospel ? Yet they have been a great disappointment. There was a testing time in relationships, or in their trust in the truth of the Bible, or in their understanding of the gospel, and they failed the test.  Think of Jonah failing the test, cutting it short by doing things his way, heading for Joppa, running away from God. Instead of going east to Nineveh he tried to sail across the sea west to Tarshish. he heaped misery on misery by doing things his way. But in the end he had to do God’s will in God’s way.

Every trial you pass through you must consider it joy because it can make you mature and complete. Are there any weak points in your life? Do you have an irritable spirit? Quick to retaliate? Not gentle enough? Then God will permit trials to come into your life to strengthen and exercise those graces. You don’t pray privately as you should. God will send some trials into your life to cause you to pray. When a trainer looks at an athlete he spots areas of weakness in his life. he does not say, “Your arms are weak. Wrap them in cotton wool and put them in two slings.” No he exercises that person at the point of his weakness. God does the same to us where we are weak. He strengthens our weakness by trials, by perseverance to make us mature and complete

How do we end up in this wonderful state of “not lacking anything” ? Not lacking in love or trust or concern for others or spiritual energy? It starts with trials, and facing them maturely, recognising that the Prime Mover of all that touches us is Almighty God, submitting to them with joy, and letting the testing of our faith produce maturity.

This is the only way. Paul says it in Romans 5:3 & 4, “we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance’ perseverance, character, and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.”

And Peter says it, “all kinds of trial have come so that your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may be proved genuine and may result in praise glory and power when Jesus Christ is revealed” (I Peter 1:6 & &0.

The result of the trial is new hope that does not disappoint. You have become a stronger and more useful person, with a closer relationship with the Lord and more loving relationship with other Christians. All this only comes when trials come into our lives and we respond to them as we should.

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Lectionary Thoughts – July 1, 2012 2 Samuel 1:1-27

2 Samuel 1:1, 17-27

"David and Jonathan," by Rembrandt. ...

“David and Jonathan,” by Rembrandt. Jonathan is the figure in the turban. Hermitage News (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

1 After the death of Saul, David returned from defeating the Amalekites and stayed in Ziklag two days.

17 David took up this lament concerning Saul and his son Jonathan18 and ordered that the men of Judah be taught this lament of the bow (it is written in the Book of Jashar):  19 “Your glory, O Israel, lies slain on your heights.     How the mighty have fallen!  20 “Tell it not in Gath, proclaim it not in the streets of Ashkelon, lest the daughters of the Philistines be glad, lest the daughters of the uncircumcised rejoice.  21 “O mountains of Gilboa, may you have neither dew nor rain, nor fields that yield offerings of grain.  For there the shield of the mighty was defiled, the shield of Saul—no longer rubbed with oil.  22 From the blood of the slain, from the flesh of the mighty, the bow of Jonathan did not turn back, the sword of Saul did not return unsatisfied.  23 “Saul and Jonathan—in life they were loved and gracious, and in death they were not parted. They were swifter than eagles, they were stronger than lions.  24 “O daughters of Israel, weep for Saul, who clothed you in scarlet and finery, who adorned your garments with ornaments of gold.  25 “How the mighty have fallen in battle!  Jonathan lies slain on your heights.  26 I grieve for you, Jonathan my brother; you were very dear to me.  Your love for me was wonderful, more wonderful than that of women.  27 “How the mighty have fallen! The weapons of war have perished!”

David’s Lament over Saul by Chris Appleby  (with some slight editing – excellent thoughts on this passage)
2 Samuel 1:1-1:27

Saul was anointed King of Israel by popular acclaim, though at God’s direction. He was taller than all his peers, an apt warrior king. Just the sort of man Israel needed to oppose the Philistines. Except that he was also a flawed king. He forgot where his power as King came from. As a result God decided to turn the kingship over to David.

David wasn’t without fault but of all the kings of Israel, David stands out as the one King who throughout his life remained steadfast in his faith in the God of Israel. David is the model King, the one after whom Jesus Christ himself will be named, as the Son of David.

What’s so remarkable about David is that he maintains his faith in God throughout his life. David was chosen by God to bring his people to security and prosperity in the land God had promised to Abraham. This is the beginning of a dynasty that will start well and then fade away until God sends his own Son to bring his promises to completion.

In 2 Sam 1 David has been anointed some time before, but has had to wait 15 or 20 years for Saul to die before receiving the kingdom. As 1 Samuel finishes, Saul is defeated by the Philistines and dies on his own sword.

But there’s no sense of triumphalism in this story. This is a sad day in the history of Israel. Her first king is dead.

English: King David, second king of Israel

English: King David, second king of Israel (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

David and his men were sent back by the Philistines from the battle with Saul and ended up in a battle of their own, attacking an Amalekite raiding party who had kidnapped their wives and children. Now they’ve returned, unaware of the outcome of the battle to the north. Then a man comes into their camp with news of the battle. He comes to tell David of Saul’s death.

We know what’s happened, but David doesn’t. We know that this man is a liar and con man. He’s torn his clothes and covered himself with dust to make his appearance seem authentic. He elaborates his story with all sort of details: where they were; the chariots and riders bearing down on them; Saul leaning on his spear on his last legs; his heroic action in dealing Saul the death blow and then taking the crown and arm band to bring to David. And it’s all made up! Clearly this Amalekite expects to receive a substantial reward from David.
No sooner has he told his story than he realizes his mistake. David doesn’t respond with the joy he expects. Instead he responds with grief. He takes his clothes and tears them as a sign of mourning. So do the soldiers standing around him. They begin weeping and mourning and it goes on until evening. The Amalekite is thoroughly confused.

What he’s failed to realize is that these men hold God’s choice as precious. This death that he’s reported is part of a great defeat for the people of Israel. And not only has Saul died but so has Jonathan, David’s great friend and companion.

Also, Saul is God’s anointed one. David is rightly described as a man after God’s own heart. For him, personal ambition was secondary. What mattered most was God’s right to choose, God’s right to dispose of his people as he saw fit. And when God anointed someone as King, only God had the right to take away that position.

So as the mourning subsides, he asks the man where he’s from. The man tells him that he’s the son of a resident alien, an Amalekite. The fact that he’s an Amalekite isn’t the issue here, despite the fact that David’s just come back from fighting an Amalekite raiding party. It’s that he’s a resident of Israel. That means that he would have been aware of the significance to the Israelites of Saul as God’s anointed king. He should have understood David’s attitude to Saul as God’s anointed one.

But he isn’t a theologian, he’s an opportunist. He’s thinking on a secular political level. He thinks he can manipulate David to his own advantage.

Galego: Gustave Doré. A morte de Agag

Galego: Gustave Doré. A morte de Agag (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the OT history of Israel there are 2 other Amalekites who come to prominence. One is Agag found in 1 Samuel 15 and who in the end was put to death by Samuel. The other is Haman, who appears in the book of Esther. There he manipulates events to first become powerful in the court of King Xerxes of Persia and then he uses his power to arrange for the slaughter of all the Jews living there. In the end his opportunism is overcome and he suffers a similar fate to his other 2 countrymen.
Unfortunately for this man, he hasn’t given a thought to the theological reality in which he lives. But he soon realizes it as David rebukes him, then, as the new King of Israel, passes judgment on him. “Were you not afraid to lift your hand to destroy the Lord’s anointed?” “Your blood be on your head; for your own mouth has testified against you, saying, ’I have killed the Lord’s anointed.’”

The sense of relief at Saul’s death that this man expected never happens. Instead the one who claims to have killed the Lord’s anointed is executed. Instead of the great victory celebration that he expected, we find David composing this great lament over Saul and Jonathan.

“How the mighty have fallen! The glory of Israel lies slain upon the mountain tops. Don’t speak of it, lest you give the Philistines cause to rejoice. Treat the news with the reverence it deserves.” You can imagine him today, saying ’turn off the cameras. Don’t put this on CNN. It’s too serious, too tragic to make a spectacle of.’

He enjoins nature to join him in his mourning, to withhold it’s bounty: dew, rain and harvest. Mt Gilboa, where Saul died was synonymous with fertility. But now it’s been defiled by the blood of Saul and Jonathan. So he calls on nature to honor the dead, to fast and mourn out of respect for those who have died.

He celebrates the valor of these two leaders of Israel. Here we see the dual images of war, of horror and of honor. Both must be remembered. In battle, there is heroism, devotion to duty, and love of country that leads to the sacrifice of so many. But the stark reality and horror of war is there also.

That’s what we find here. There’s the blood of the slain, the fat of the mighty, but there’s the expertly wielded bow, kept steady in the face of overwhelming odds, the courageous sword that keeps swinging until the end.

And there’s the camaraderie, the partnership of father and son, joined as inseparable allies in their battle for God’s people. Certainly Saul was David’s enemy at times, while Jonathan was his unswerving friend. But when they appeared together on the field of battle they were seen to be partners, working together, equal in their strength and battle skill. Combined they were a force to be reckoned with.

But now they’re gone. Israel has lost a king and so David calls for the community to mourn. Mourning is something that needs to be done with our community. That’s why we join together for funerals.  We need a community around us when we mourn the loss of a loved. The person who’s died needs a community to express the loss that their death has brought on the world and to acknowledge their contribution to the lives of others. And so David calls on the community to mourn together.
Finally David gives a heartfelt cry of lament over his closest friend. He says “I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan; greatly beloved were you to me; your love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women.”

Don’t let anyone tell you this is referring to homosexual love between David and Jonathan. The whole point of what he says here is that this isn’t the sort of sexual love that he might have with a woman and David had a few wives in his time, so he knew what he was talking about!

No, this is the sort of close intimate friendship between 2 men that you don’t her about much these days. Only I’m not sure our friendship are often at this level any more. More often they’re more of the nature of acquaintances or teammates or associates. C.S. Lewis wrote in his book, the Four Loves, “This love, [i.e. friendship love,] free from instinct, free from all duties but those which love has freely assumed, almost wholly free from jealousy, and free without qualification from the need to be needed, is eminently spiritual. It is the sort of love one can imagine between angels” (p91) David and Jonathan shared a bond of friendship so close it couldn’t be broken, except by death.

And so he repeats this refrain. “How the mighty have fallen!” It’s a refrain that sums up the sense of loss and waste, coupled with the recognition of their achievements as warriors. It begins and ends the lament. It’s repeated as Jonathan is remembered. “How the mighty have fallen!” It’s a lament in fact of the human condition. All fall in the end, no matter how great they are.

Before we leave this lament for Saul, notice the significance of this form of public mourning. First notice what a beautiful thing it is. There’s something about the human mind, the human spirit, that needs beauty even in the depths of sadness. The beauty of the poetic form that we find here, takes the sadness we’re feeling and transforms it from something ugly to something that we can begin to deal with. It’s an essentially personal form of expression, a way of entering into our experiences, not just watching them happen to us.

But Lament isn’t just a personal expression. It’s a communal, public expression. There’s no doubt that this expresses David’s personal pain, but it’s also intended as a public expression of the loss of the community. That’s why he instructs that this “Song of the Bow” be taught to the people of Judah. He wants the whole nation to be able to express their sadness. He wants the people to acknowledge what’s been lost in this battle. It isn’t just a strategic loss of territory. It’s more personal, more spiritual, than that. They’ve lost the one that God anointed as their King.

David and Saul. Stained glass, Paris, 15th cen...

David and Saul. Stained glass, Paris, 15th century (some 13th century elements used again). From the Sainte-Chapelle of Paris, opening B (Kings). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As David is about to begin his reign, it’s significant that he sees with theological eyes the deeper principle at play here. The Lord’s anointed is dead. This is the cause of great sadness forIsrael. David’s reign can’t begin until the loss of Saul is acknowledged. And as he begins his reign he knows it’s not because of his own ability or wisdom or strategic skill. It’s because he too is the Lord’s anointed. The success he gains in establishing the kingdom will be the result of God’s intervention, God’s empowering. This is a lesson David had already learnt and it’s a lesson he taught to his people. Listen to the words of Ps 127, reputedly written by David’s son, Solomon: “Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the LORD guards the city, the guard keeps watch in vain.” David’s success will come from his devotion to and his reliance on the Lord, shown so clearly here in his response to the death of Saul. David is a King after God’s own heart, because he looks to God for success in all he does.

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