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Power, Real & Imagined

Wednesday, January 27th, 2010

The despots of the world cling to the notion that they possess power, and this legitimizes the enacting of their every whim. The ancient Babylonian emperor Nebuchadnezzar harbored such illusions regarding his personal significance and authority. He was the poster child for Lord Acton’s well-known dictum: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.” The eighteenth century British statesman William Pitt the elder uttered a similar sentiment, saying: “Unlimited power is apt to corrupt the minds of those who possess it.”i This knowledge of humanity’s proneness to abuse power led the founders of the United States to develop a government where authority is divided among its separate branches.ii Unfortunately, these liberal sentiments were written more than 2,200 years after this Mesopotamian monarch held sway over the near east. Accordingly, Nebuchadnezzar was the unquestioned head of Babylon with no checks and balances to curtail his exercise of power; or so he thought…
Bright Lights, Big City
Following their deportation from their homeland, four well-born Hebrews found themselves serving the Babylonian kingdom. Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah – soon to be renamed Belteshazzar, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego – were placed in the most prestigious university of the land in preparation for their work in the civil service of the regime. After graduating with top honors, they were placed in jobs where they distinguished themselves by hard work and faithfulness (Dan. 1:20.) Their rapid promotions to more important work came due to the Lord intervening in Nebuchadnezzar’s life through a prophetic dream. The king and his most erudite advisors were at a loss to interpret the mysterious nocturnal revelation. In frustration, he vainly attempted to coerce an answer from his wise men by ordering their immediate executions. Daniel and his friends were able to petition the Lord for the solution to the dream, and thus their lives (and those of their colleagues) were spared. Furthermore, they achieved high status in the government on account of Daniel’s successful interpretation – a feat for which, he gave all of the glory to God (Dan. 2:47-49.)
Nebuchadnezzar’s dream should have humbled him to acknowledge that the Most High God is over all and that Babylon and all subsequent empires would eventually give place to the establishment of the earthly reign of the Messiah. Instead, he seemed to be enamored with his position as “the head of gold” (Dan. 2:38.) He set about building a monument to his own greatness, and in characteristic ancient kingly fashion, he wanted total allegiance from his officials – even to the point of worshiping the golden image that he erected. When the royal philharmonic struck up the music that was undoubtedly composed especially for this notable occasion, all of the government employees were to render obeisance to the image. Imagine the
scene: what an amazing display of unity when all of the officials great and small prostrated themselves in testimony to the king’s self-perceived ultimate greatness! Regrettably, the effect was weakened by the fact that when the multitude bowed down, three men conspicuously stood.iii
Royal Hubris Meets Divine Reality
News of this affront to the royal dignity soon came to Nebuchadnezzar’s ears, filling him with rage at the temerity of these ungrateful Jews. Who did they think they were? All of the powerful and important people physically professed their loyalty to him as supreme, what made Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego think that they were exempt from the royal decree. Perhaps they had misunderstood. With remarkable restraint (for an Oriental despot, that is), he offered them a second chance: if they would put their faces in the dirt when the encore was performed, then the king would show clemency. The seriousness of rejecting his mercy is shown in his final words to them: “But if you do not worship, you shall be cast immediately into the midst of a burning fiery furnace. And who is the god who will deliver you from my hands?” [Dan. 3:15, emphasis mine.] His final question was clearly rhetorical, but soon he would receive an unexpected answer to that incredulous inquiry.
Remarkably, the three men turned the king down flat. More astonishing was their brave explanation of why they could not bow to him or any other man as supreme: “If that is the case, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king. But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up” (Dan. 3:17-18.) Their supreme allegiance was to the living God, not to some idol or mere man. If the Lord so desired, His power could easily deliver them. If it was not his will to rescue them, however, they still would not prostrate themselves to the golden image. Loyalty to God trumps all other considerations – even earthly life itself. If they died in that furnace, they would join the multitude of martyrs who bear witness to the reality of the true Lord by the giving of their lives. Many testified in this way before them, and many have given their lives for God’s glory since then. The chain of martyrs continues today in numerous places around the world and extends into the future Tribulation, when martyrdom will be the norm for those who are loyal to the Lord Jesus Christ in the face of unprecedented persecution and tyranny.iv
They Wouldn’t Bow, Bend, or Burn
Accordingly, the three faithful men were violently thrown into the deadly, white-hot furnace. Contrary to Nebuchadnezzar’s expectations – and every law of physics regarding fire and heat – the men freely roamed the furnace unscathed. What is more, a fourth man joined them in their affliction, except He did not look like the others. By the king’s own astonished admission: “…the form of the fourth is like the Son of God” (Dan. 3:25.) After this display of awesome Divine power, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego emerged from the testing without a hair
singed or the odor of smoke upon their persons.v Such a magnificent display of power caused the awe-struck monarch to declare that they were “servants of the Most High God” (v. 26.) This dramatic occurrence elicited a remarkable confession from the lips of this eastern potentate:
Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, who sent His Angel and delivered His servants who trusted in Him, and they have frustrated the king’s word, and yielded their bodies, that they should not serve nor worship any god except their own God! Therefore I make a decree that any people, nation, or language which speaks anything amiss against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego shall be cut in pieces, and their houses shall be made an ash heap; because there is no other God who can deliver like this (v. 28-29.)
Once again their faithfulness to the Lord resulted in their promotion, further authenticating the principle “…those who honor Me I will honor, and those who despise Me shall be lightly esteemed” (1 Sam. 2:30; Dan. 3:30.)
The Illusion of Political And Military Power
Nebuchadnezzar was far from the last ruler to imagine that his power was greater than the God of Israel. Daniel chapter 5 tells the sad tale of one of his successor’s downfall for his disrespectful handling of the vessels of the Jerusalem Temple. The famous hand-writing on the wall appeared to tell wicked Belshazzar that his time was up – he had “…been weighed in the balances and found wanting” (Dan. 5:27.) In keeping with the Lord’s prophecy, that night his capital fell to the Medo-Persian forces and he was promptly executed. Hubris among autocrats did not cease with the demise of Babylon, however. Events in the life of the Lord Jesus Christ demonstrate that He suffered the same sort of mistreatment at the hands of supposedly powerful human beings.
A Scene From The Greatest Miscarriage of Justice In Human History
After being subjected to “show-trial” style hearings before Annas, Caiaphas, and the partial gathering of the Sanhedrin, Christ was led away to the fifth Roman governor of Judea, Pontius Pilate. The Romans prided themselves on the Lex Romana (Latin for “Roman law”), and affirmed that its enforcement was the basis of the Pax Romana (Latin for “Roman peace.”) Of course, the subjugated people under their rule might contend that things were peaceful as long as they bowed to the supreme authority of this occupying power. Nevertheless, the Romans prided themselves on law and justice. Their jurisprudence forms the historic foundation of most legal systems in the modern western world.
Pilate had used military force to quell other disturbances (e.g. Lk. 13:1; cf. Josephus’ The Antiquities of the Jews 18.2.60.) If Jesus was a threat to the state or the peace of Judea he was prepared to punish him in the severest manner. The problem was that this Galilean did not behave like a terrorist or revolutionary; nor did He exhibit open lunacy. Jesus just stood before
the judgment seat silently, permitting His enemies to heap opprobrium upon His person unchallenged. Not a single syllable was uttered by the accused in His own defense. If he had been an observant Jew the scene might have called a Scripture to the governor’s mind: “…as a sheep before its shearers is silent, So He opened not His mouth” (Isa. 53:7.)
Innocent, Never To Be Proven Guilty
Despite the vehement condemnations of the chief priests and their allies, there was no obvious evidence of the prisoner’s guilt. He did not need to speak, His innocence of the charges leveled against Him was apparent. Most unusual of all, Jesus did not beg for mercy from the powerful Roman official who seemingly held His fate in his hands. The contrasting views of Pilate’s position between the judge and the accused is demonstrated in the following exchange: The Jews answered him {i.e. Pilate}, ‘We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has made himself the Son of God.’ When Pilate heard this statement, he was even more afraid. He entered his headquarters again and said to Jesus, “Where are you from?” But Jesus gave him no answer. So Pilate said to him, ‘You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?’ Jesus answered him, ‘You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above. Therefore he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin’ (Jn. 19:7-11.) At issue was Pilate’s authority (translated “power” in the KJV & NKJV.) The governor thought it incredible that Jesus did not beg for mercy – or at least, plead His innocence – from this exalted jurist. To paraphrase his exasperated expostulation: “I have authority to release or crucify you! You had better start talking to me.” The Lord’s reply revealed the true nature of things: it was the meek One who actually held the power, for He is the incarnate Son of God.
Like Nebuchadnezzar before him – and all human rulers for that matter – Pilate’s power was limited by the will and power of the sovereign God who ordains the powers that be. As the Babylonian emperor recounted centuries earlier after the Lord humbled him: “…I blessed the Most High and praised and honored Him who lives forever: For His dominion is an everlasting dominion, And His kingdom is from generation to generation. All the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing; He does according to His will in the army of heaven. And among the inhabitants of the earth. No one can restrain His hand or say to Him, ‘What have You done?’” (Dan. 4:34-35.) As the early believers exultantly prayed: “For truly against Your holy Servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, were gathered together to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose determined before to be done” (Acts 4:27-28.)
The Wrath of Man Carrying Out God’s Purposes
For all of their vaunted pretensions of authority, the leaders of the earth are subject to the Most High God and only succeed in carrying out His purposes. What a comfort to believers who suffer under tyrannical regimes in “closed” countries. Nothing can happen to them apart from the permission of the Almighty Lord of heaven and earth. As He demonstrated in the case of the three Jews who would not bow, He stands with His people as they go through the fire (Isa. 43:2.)
Not only does He control and limit the suffering, He identifies with and strengthens His saints in their trials. Thankfully, the church has a Savior who affirms that “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth” (Matt. 28:18.)
i “Letter to Mandell Creighton (April [3? or 5?], 1887”:,_1st_Baron_Acton, See also: Both accessed on 1/26/10.
ii The principle was well-articulated by the chief architect of the U.S. Constitution, James Madison, who wrote: “The accumulation of all powers legislative, executive and judiciary in the same hands, whether of one, a few or many and whether hereditary, self-appointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny.” [Emphasis mine.]
James Madison, “The Particular Structure of the New Government and the Distribution of Power among its Different Parts from The New York Packet, Friday, February 1, 1788,” in The Federalist Papers, by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, & John Jay, p. 269. Originally published 1788, republished 2008 by Forgotten Books, (no other documentation available.) Electronic edition accessed on 1/26/10 at:
iii Daniel is absent throughout the passage. It is impossible to say where he was, but had he been there, his actions before and after this event make it clear that he also would have refused to bow, e.g. Dan. 2 & Dan. 6.
iv Given the modern usage of the term “martyr” by religious extremists who take the lives of others, it is worth noting that the word literally means “witness” in ancient (Koine) Greek, and indicated one who gave his life as a witness to the reality of the Lord Jesus and His gospel, e.g. Rev. 2:13; for the future Tribulation martyrs see Rev. 6:9-11.
v That this is evidence of the supernatural is well-known to anyone who ever sat by a camp fire – or even emerged from a modern restaurant that contains a smoking section!


The Truth A La Carte

Friday, September 18th, 2009

The Truth A La Carte
By: Keith Keyser

Buffet restaurants have their merits. There is something to be said for being able to choose from a wide variety of dishes according to personal preference. Choice in other mercantile matters is also attractive. While I personally miss browsing bookshelves in second-hand bookshops, it is satisfying to shop for precisely what one is looking for on-line. Choosing what one likes, and leaving the rest – it’s the way of modern society; such thinking sometimes intrudes on Christian thinking. People often say things like “The Gospel is the most important thing” or “Church government is the most important thing.” Conversely, it is sometimes said that eschatology, church truth, or matters of Christian living are secondary doctrines. When it comes to biblical truth, however, the Lord does not allow for this piecemeal approach to His teaching. Christians are to unite around the person of Christ and not every difference in understanding and practice is necessarily biblical grounds for cutting one off (e.g. the seven churches of Rev. 2-3.) We are to love our fellow saints for His Name’s sake even if they have an incorrect understanding of prophecy, usage of spiritual gifts, and matters relating to God’s sovereignty and human responsibility (Phil. 3:14-16.) Nonetheless, the truth is a unified body of teachings that suffers when the whole counsel of God is neglected. As believers, we are to strive to believe, obey, and practice the truth in its entirety for the glory of God.

The Danger Of Segmenting The Truth

Ardent believers sometimes get so excited about a particular truth that they neglect other aspects of the faith. Some affirm that reaching the lost is the main goal of Christianity; therefore, every activity of the local church ought to be conducted with the lost in mind. This philosophy greatly influences the church growth movement, and produces “seeker-friendly churches.” In actuality, it creates an entertainment culture within the meetings of the local church. People now come to the meeting expecting to be coddled and stimulated by music and preaching that appeals to them. The original intention of the church to be a temple of God where we bring something for God in worship has been lost in mainstream Christianity.

At other times, a false dichotomy between doctrine and practice is created. For example, some argue that doctrinal matters are unimportant; love and care for one another are the essential things. Recently, social justice is making a comeback in evangelical circles. Several big name preachers are getting behind initiatives to combat poverty, AIDS, malaria, and even global warming. In their efforts to affect society positively, they are minimizing distinctively Christian doctrines for “the greater good” of improving this world. To accomplish their goals some of them make common cause with secular organizations as well as other religious groups who teach false gospels. Others merely minimize and marginalize the teaching of the Scriptures.

The Importance Of The Whole Counsel Of God

The truth cannot be embraced “a la carte.” God’s truth is a unified whole; repeatedly, the New Testament describes it as “the faith” (e.g. Acts 6:7; 13:8; 14:22; Rom. 1:5; 1 Cor. 16:13; Gal. 1:23, etc.) The language scholar, W.E. Vine defines this phrase as: “…what is believed, the contents of belief, the ‘faith,'”1 Another writer summarizes it this way: “So fundamental is faith that the term may be used to categorize the whole Christian way, and the expression ‘the faith‘ comes into being, not simply as a way of referring to the trust in Christ that is so basic, but as a means of drawing attention to the whole body of teaching and practice that characterizes the Christian group. It all springs from faith and is an expression of faith, yet it articulates and expresses what Christians believe, their doctrine or ‘deposit'”2
The early church was committed to the fundamentals of the faith: “…they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2:42.) An examination of the first thirteen chapters of Acts shows that they were also devoted to helping those with physical needs; moreover, they loved one another deeply. They held to sound doctrine and sound Christian practice. They followed the apostles’ teaching regarding the local church and  Christian living for individuals. They were also passionate about witnessing and carrying out foreign missions. In short, the early church was balanced – they were devoted to the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

Like the other apostles, Paul preached the faith in its entirety. In his valedictory speech to the elders from Ephesus, he described his labors among them in these way: “…Ye know, from the first day that I came into Asia, after what manner I have been with you at all seasons, Serving the Lord with all humility of mind, and with many tears, and temptations, which befell me by the lying in wait of the Jews: And how I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you, but have shewed you, and have taught you publicly, and from house to house, Testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 20:18-21, emphasis mine.) He goes on to say:

Wherefore I take you to record this day, that I am pure from the blood of all men. For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God. Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them. Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears. And now, brethren, I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified. (vv. 26-32; emphasis mine.)

Paul was clearly interested in instructing the Ephesians in the complete body of truth. He took this as a sacred trust from the Lord, for which he would one day give account (vv. 26-27; 2 Tim. 4:7-8.) Furthermore, upon leaving them he commended them to God’s care and Word, showing the vital importance of adhering to the Scriptures as the spiritual food of the flock (v. 32.) The Word of God is the only divinely-ordained manual for the faith and practice of the saints.

Christianity Is Well-Rounded

If one neglects any aspect of the truth as taught in the Scriptures, one risks getting spiritually out of balance, thereby diminishing the Lord’s glory and His work in one’s life. In discussing the gifts given to the Church, 1 Corinthians 12 makes the point that “…there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are differences of administrations
, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all” (1 Cor. 12:4-6.) The different gifts are intended to build up the body of believers. Accordingly, there are different strengths among different Christians. The evangelist has special ability in preaching the gospel and equipping the saints to witness. The teacher excels at expounding the Word in a clear fashion. The one with the gift of helps is able to aid in difficult situations. There are different spiritual abilities given to each believer in order to achieve the common goal of bringing all of the saints to maturity (Eph. 4:13.) The gifts balance each other, and so do the doctrines of the faith. In light of these facts, may Christians study the Scriptures and obey all of their teachings.

The bottom line is this: one does not have to choose between doctrines of Scripture. One Bible teacher expresses it this way: “We  do not have to sacrifice the truth on the altar of the Gospel, nor on any other spiritual altar.” God’s Word must be obeyed regarding salvation, church order, ethics, morality, and eschatology. Like the early church one should be doctrinally sound and loving, holy, evangelistic, mission-minded, and conscious of others’ physical and emotional needs. Following the teachings of the Bible produces a sanctified, loving, fulfilled life. If one’s life is not marked by a difference from the world, then there is a disconnect between one’s behavior and “…the faith which was once delivered to the saints” (Jude 3.) The Bible rightly understood produces balanced, Christ-like lives. To neglect some aspects of the truth is to stymie spiritual growth.

1 Vine, W., Unger, M. F., & White, W. (1997, c1996). Vine’s complete expository dictionary of Old and New Testament words (electronic ed.) (2:222). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

2 Hawthorne, G. F., Martin, R. P., & Reid, D. G. (1993). Dictionary of Paul and his letters (290). Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press. (Emphasis mine.)

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Mirror, Mirror

Sunday, June 14th, 2009

“But we all, with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are transformed into the same image from glory to glory, even as from the Lord the Spirit.” 2 Cor. 3:18, ASV
Shakespeare famously described the theater in these words: “whose end, both at the first and now, was and is, to hold as ’twere, the mirror up to nature; to show virtue her own feature, scorn her own image, and the very age and body of the time his form and pressure” (emphasis mine.)i The recently deceased Brazilian stage director, Augusto Boal once commented on this metaphor, saying: “I think that’s very nice. But I would like to have a mirror with some magic properties in which we could, if we don’t like the image that we have in front of us, would allow us to penetrate into the mirror and transform our image and then come back with our image transformed.”ii One can sympathize with his sentiments, for honest introspection reveals many flaws and destructive attitudes within one’s own heart. Man’s rebellion against his Creator has warped his personality and rendered him a slave to unbridled passions and perverseness. Sin scars people, and – if left unchecked – leaves an eternally calloused, distorted soul (Rev. 22:11.) To put the matter in scriptural phraseology, sin brings about death (James 1:15.)
A story about Gilbert Keith Chesterton, the British man-of-letters, demonstrates the human predicament. A newspaper of his day invited its readership to answer the question “What is wrong with the world?” He wrote the following: “Dear sirs, I am. Sincerely yours, G.K. Chesterton.”iii Literature’s mirror shows man to be his own worst enemy. This self-destructive tendency was described more recently by the disgraced former governor of New York, Eliot Spitzer; speaking of his situation, he said: “… The human mind does, and permits people to do things that they rationally know are wrong, outrageous … We succumb to temptations that we know are wrong and foolish when we do it and then in hindsight we say, ‘How could I have?'”iv Men recognize their moral failings and vices, but they have no concept of anything that can permanently refashion the inner-man. Thankfully, God’s Word speaks of another mirror, and links it with the reality of transforming a sinner into the image of a perfect man.
Who Is The Fairest Of Them All?
2 Corinthians refers back to the story in Exodus of Moses drawing near to commune with the Lord, afterward returning to the people with a glowing face. Being in the presence of God – albeit not being able to look on Him as He actually is – illuminated Moses’ face. So that the Israelites would not see the glory ebb away from his countenance, that man of God veiled himself. In Christ, however, we are able to draw near with unveiled face, for the glory of the incarnate, risen Christ never fades. It does not pertain to that former, imperfect time in God’s dispensational dealings with Israel, but rather to the current age of grace.
The passage holds that the glory of the Lord is the secret to human transformation (2 Cor. 3:18.) The mirror spoken of in this text reveals Christ, rather than sinful man. Looking within oneself will only lead to despair, if it is not coupled with consideration of Christ’s person and work. As the nineteenth-century Scottish preacher, Robert Murray M’Cheyne wrote: “For one look at
yourself, take ten looks at Christ.”v The key to the correction of human sinfulness and frailty lies in the sanctifying work of the Lord. One must look away from self to Christ.
“What Would Jesus Do?” He Would Transform Us By His Spirit
Some have the idea that following the example of the Lord’s earthly life is the key to moral transformation. Indeed, some verses do exhort us to imitate His blessed pathway as a man (e.g. 1 Pet. 2:21.) Nevertheless, the contemplation of the Lord Jesus far exceeds mere outward observation. It also entails the power of the Holy Spirit conforming us to Christ’s glorious image (Rom. 8:29; 12:2.) The scholars differ on the proper translation of the Greek word rendered “beholding as in a mirror” in verse 18 (katoptrizomai, Strong’s #2734.) Some translate it as “reflecting as a mirror” or something similar (Revised Version 1881; NRSV; ESVmg.) It is legitimate to translate the word either as “behold” or “reflect.” The question is, which word best fits this chapter? Since Paul is contrasting the age of Moses with the New Testament age, the main issue is beholding the glory of the Lord; thus “beholding” suits the context best.Of course it is also true that through the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit believers reflect the glory of the Lord. As the fruit of the Spirit is produced in them, Christians will exude Christ-likeness & reproduce aspects of His moral glory here on earth. In the future, they will be transformed into glorious bodies, so that the outward & the inward agree in their reflection of Christ. Believers are not glorious in & of themselves. Rather, they are destined to reflect the glory of Christ, both morally & physically (1 Jn . 3:2.) Beholding the Lord presents the end of the Holy Spirit’s transforming work; He will conform the believer to the image of Christ.
In James 1:23 the metaphor of the mirror speaks of someone looking into the Word and not paying attention to what it reveals about himself. In 2 Corinthians 3, however, the manner of beholding is accentuated, rather than the object under consideration. As one commentator puts it: “Paul’s emphasis here is not so much on the reflective capabilities of the mirror as it is on the intimacy of it. A person can bring a mirror right up to his face and get an unobstructed view. Mirrors in Paul’s day were polished metal…and thus offered a far from perfect reflection. Though the vision is unobstructed and intimate, believers do not see a perfect representation of God’s glory now, but will one day (cf. 1 Cor. 13:12.)”vi
Humanity’s predicament has been solved by God’s sanctifying work. He is able to show man as he is, and then forgive, justify, cleanse, and transform him into Christ’s glorious image. This amazing transformation is effected solely by His grace and power. It is in beholding the Lord Jesus in the Word of God that the believer is transformed by His Spirit into that same lovely image. Indeed, no more beautiful sight can astonish the eyes of man’s understanding than the Altogether Lovely One, who loves us and gave Himself for us (Gal. 2:20.)
i William Shakespeare, Hamlet 3.2.21-22;A New Variorum Edition of Shakespeare, Volume 3, Part 1: Hamlet, (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Co., 1877), p. 228. Electronic edition:,M1
ii From a 2005 television interview, quoted in his New York Times obituary on, May 9, 2009.
iii G.K. Chesterton, cited at
iv Jonathan Darman, “Spitzer in Exile,” Newsweek, April 27, 2009; electronic edition, p.2:, accessed 6/08/09.
v Andrew A. Bonar, Memoirs and Remains of Robert Murray M’Cheyne, Edinburgh: Oliphant, Anderson, & Ferrier, 1883, p. 239. Electronic edition accessed at:,M1
vi John MacArthur, Jr., The MacArthur Study Bible. electronic ed. Nashville : Word Pub., 1997, c1997, S. 2 Co 3:18

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Podcast: Broken Cisterns

Thursday, May 7th, 2009

Thoughts from Jeremiah 2:1-13.

To listen click on: krkpodcast-Jer2.1-13.Broken-Cisterns

Leper Catering

Tuesday, May 5th, 2009

Hard times came to ninth-century Israel. 2 Kings 6 and 7 recount the tale of the conflict with their northern neighbors the Syrians – also known as the Arameans – and the ensuing siege of Samaria. A severe famine upon the inhabitants of the Israelite capital followed, leaving the people in desperate straits. Things became so difficult that certain women resorted to cannibalizing their own children in an effort to assuage their incessant hunger (2 Kings 6:26-29.) Formerly worthless, but edible commodities like a donkey’s head suddenly became costly delicacies. This high price for a ceremonially unclean animal indicated the extreme suffering playing out within the city walls. Such misery engendered a collage of colliding emotions in the Israelite king – including frustration, perplexity, rage, and helplessness. His ire soon turned against the Lord’s faithful spokesman, Elisha, but the latter was not to blame for the calamity (v. 31.) Instead, he pronounced a message of unparalleled deliverance to the astonished monarch and his advisers. Elisha’s message of sudden salvation with an overnight economic turnaround was so amazing that one of the king’s officer’s exclaimed: “Look, if the Lord would make windows in heaven, could this thing be?” (7:2.) Like modern unbelievers, this cynical man deplored the prophet’s “pie-in-the-sky God-talk” in the face of their dire circumstances. This practical-minded military man could not envision any real-life solution that could bring about this rapid recovery. Theological platitudes would not put food on the table, nor lift the Aramean blockade which prevented needed supplies from reaching the starving citizenry. His impetuous answer – positing the making of “windows in heaven” in order to effect this implausible scenario – met with Elisha’s solemn prediction that the disbelieving pragmatist would indeed see it occur, but would not partake of the blessing. A Divine Stimulus Package The biblical narrative then turns to the plight of four lepers, barely surviving on the fringe of Israelite society. Under normal conditions, they were diseased outcasts, shunned by uninfected society. The famine added hunger and the prospect of almost certain death to their troubled lives. Imminent death drives people to extreme behavior, and these men were no exception to the influence of this fear. Their reasoning was simple, yet logical: “if we go to the city it will mean our certain demise; if we go to the Aramean camp at least they might pity us and show charity (or at least, give us a last meal before executing us.)” The first choice led inexorably to the grave; the second – however improbable – offered a ray of hope. Happily, God was going to do something well beyond their wildest imaginations. Instead of finding bloodthirsty soldiers preparing for the final assault on Samaria, the lepers encountered a buffet. The camp was abandoned. The Lord caused the Arameans to hear the sound of a great army. In the previous chapter, God’s invisible host struck the Arameans with blindness (6:14-23.) Now all they had to do to defeat this second force was to make a terror-inducing noise (v. 6.) In their haste to leave, the troops deserted their gear and provisions, thereby providing an exquisite repast for the four impoverished pariahs. In the midst of their feasting, their consciences kicked in: “We are not doing right,” said they. We need to tell the
famished Samarians of the food that is so near to them (v. 9.) Thus, these four unlikely caterers became God’s instruments to tell the Israelites of the tremendous salvation that was divinely prepared. True to Elisha’s word, the king’s officer was trampled to death in the gate by the starving masses as they hurried to feast on the Aramean stores (vs. 17-20.) As in every age, disbelief in God’s Word leads to destruction. Unlikely Messengers Who would have thought that four lepers would be the conduit of blessing to the beleaguered city dwellers? It should not come as a surprise, however, for God still uses the foolish things of the world to confound the wise and the weak things to defeat the mighty (1 Cor. 1:26-31.) In that day, He used four men who were as good as dead to preach His message of salvation, so that no one would doubt that God had brought about the rescue. Likewise, today He uses people who were spiritually dead and hopeless to preach the great Gospel of God’s incomparable grace. As wretched as was the siege of Samaria, it cannot compare with the misery of being in bondage to sin under the divine wrath, facing eternal separation from one’s Creator. Just as the Lord powerfully delivered the Israelites in that day, even so today Christians proclaim the glorious story of His gracious salvation through the death and resurrection of His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. Heaven’s windows have opened with Glad Tidings of free deliverance in Christ. This wonderful historical event also reminds saints of the spiritual resources at our disposal. When things seem the worst and all hope is lost, then we can look up to a God, who at a moment’s notice, can change tragedy into triumph. His wisdom and power are capable of solving the most intractable problems. What is more, His love and light shine the brightest when things are the darkest. When human thought is confounded, when the swift are torpid, when the strong are enfeebled, then the Lord comes forth in power to save. Whatever bleak situation the believer faces, he can be confident that his Redeemer is mighty and has appointed him to salvation (1 Thes. 5:9.)

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The Rise of Joshua

Thursday, April 30th, 2009

“We never hear of great men until the time when all other men are small,” wrote the late nineteenth century British author Gilbert Keith Chesterton. Momentous times produce leaders of renown. Joshua came on the scene when Israel desperately needed spiritual, courageous leadership. Moses, Aaron, & the rest of the old guard (except the venerable Caleb) had passed on, and the nation was on the verge of a major military campaign to occupy the promised land. The Son of Nun had been the heir-apparent to Moses’ leadership position for sometime; now God brought him to the forefront of national affairs. Numbers 27:18-21 indicates this change in power: “And the Lord said unto Moses, Take thee Joshua the son of Nun, a man in whom is the spirit, and lay thine hand upon him; And set him before Eleazar the priest, and before all the congregation; and give him a charge in their sight. And thou shalt put some of thine honor upon him, that all the congregation of the children of Israel may be obedient. And he shall stand before Eleazar the priest, who shall ask counsel for him after the judgment of Urim before the Lord: at his word shall they go out, and at his word they shall come in, both he, and all the children of Israel with him, even all the congregation.”
As with all great leaders, Joshua had formative experiences that shaped his character and prepared him for his future role as a general and ruler. His early successes as a warrior, coupled with his devotion to the Lord and Moses, equipped him for a glorious career as the Conqueror of Canaan. Perceiving the importance of Joshua’s training under Moses is an essential prerequisite for understanding the mature leader who took Israel into the Promise Land.
Joshua: The Warrior
Significantly, the first time one reads of Joshua is in a martial context (most scholars agree that he was probably about forty-five years old at this time.) Ex.17:8-16 details the insidious attack upon Israel by their inveterate enemies, the Amalekites. Israel vanquished their foes by looking to the Lord for help. Overlooking the battlefield, Moses sat upon a rock with the rod of God and his own hands raised; below in the thick of the fight, Joshua led the troops into combat. The combination of the former’s intercession with the latter’s bravery proved to be lethal to the marauding Amalekites. The scriptural account concludes with these significant words: “And Joshua broke the power of Amalek and his people with the edge of the sword. And Jehovah said to Moses, Write this [for] a memorial in the book, and rehearse [it] in the ears of Joshua, that I will utterly blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under the heavens. And Moses built an altar, and called the name of it Jehovah-nissi. And he said, For the hand is on the throne of Jah; Jehovah will have war with Amalek from generation to generation!” (Ex.17:13-16, JND.) Joshua was never to forget the treachery of Amalek and their destiny to be wiped out by the Lord’s forces wherever they might be found. This incident also bolstered his confidence in the power of God, who would be the source of all of his future victories.
Joshua: The Understudy
The Bible is filled with stories of mentors and protégés such as Samuel and David, Elijah and Elisha, and Paul and Timothy. For a young believer to have spiritual guidance from an older, more seasoned man or woman of God, is a very valuable asset. These wise veterans of the pathway of faith provide warnings against potential pitfalls, correction for mistakes, and encouraging words in times of distress. In his early days we find that Joshua was continually in the presence of Moses as his devoted helper. From companying with the meekest man on the earth, Joshua learned important lessons of patient restraint and decisive action. When Moses went up Mount Sinai to meet with God, Joshua accompanied him part way, and faithfully awaited his return. (Ex.24:13.) Already, Joshua was known as Moses’ “attendant” (or “servant” according to other translations.) While the nation below was reveling in their idolatry and other immoral celebrations, the Son of Nun was occupied with the spiritual activities on the mount. Although he could not ascend all the way with Moses, he was as near as possible. Even at this early stage in his career, he was concerned with the things of God.
It is important that Christians devote themselves to spiritual things as soon as possible. Attendance at the meetings of the local assembly, personal Bible study, prayer, serving others, and witnessing are all activities to which young Christians need to dedicate themselves. Preparations are often made for secular vocations, but how much do believers today get ready for spiritual service? Many times young Christians go through academic training to become equipped for the Lord’s work. Apart from real life experience, however, this can result in top-heavy Christianity (that is, mental faculties that are overdeveloped at the expense of practical spiritual growth.) Joshua’s training took place in the company of an experienced man of God in the midst of the real struggles of daily life. Everyday problems taught him dependence on the Lord.
That Joshua benefited from spending time with Moses was apparent during their descent of the mount. When the two men heard noise in the camp, the younger warrior mistook the noise for battle. The elder man correctly identified it as singing. Moses had been forewarned by God of the Israelites’ sin. Thus, he told Joshua the real situation: Israel was engaging in shameful debauchery around the Golden Calf. The mentor’s wisdom instructed the young man, and gave him a valuable lesson in discernment. Moses further taught Joshua to esteem the Lord’s honor and the good of the people above personal zeal for his own reputation and clout. When the Lord appointed seventy of the elders to assist Moses in governing the people, two of these men remained in the camp, prophesying (as opposed to doing this at the Tabernacle.) The Son of Nun saw this as a threat to his teacher’s authority. Moses corrected him, however, saying “Are you zealous for my sake? Oh, that all the Lord’s people were prophets and that the Lord would put His Spirit upon them!” (Num.11:29, NKJV) This correction reminds one of a similar lesson that the disciples learned from the Lord Jesus (Mk.9:38-39.) A student’s loyalty should be to God alone with no taint of parochial or sectarian attitudes.
Joshua: Zealous for the person of God
Ex.33 records for us Moses pitching the “Tent of Meeting’ in order to speak with the Lord. When he departed from the Tent, verse eleven tells the reader that “his servant Joshua, the son of Nun, a young man, departed not out of the tabernacle.” Most commentators agree that he stayed behind to guard the holy site. Whether this be the reason, or whether he remained there to worship, one can see his keen interest in this holy place where God’s glory was regularly seen.
Joshua: The Faithful Spy
Certainly the most famous incident in the Son of Nun’s early career was his participation in the military reconnaissance of Canaan. Twelve spies were selected to go on this mission, which required exploration skills, stealth, and courage. Each of the tribes produced a prince for this arduous scouting assignment. The fact that Joshua was among them gives an indication of his importance to his native tribe, Ephraim. Like his celebrated ancestor Joseph, Joshua was a dependable man who succeeded in every undertaking. Young believers need to remember that God’s way is to begin with faithfulness in small tasks and then take on greater responsibility as the Lord leads. In the parable of the ten pounds the Lord Jesus commended the wise servant, saying: “…because thou hast been faithful in that which is least, be thou in authority over ten cities.” (Lk.19:17, JND) The servants chosen to distribute aid to the early church’s widows were selected because they had previously proved themselves to be “of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom.” (Acts 6:3, NKJV) Similarly, an elder was not to be “a novice.” (1 Tim.3:6) Advancement in the things of God is based upon reliability in past service. At the time of this event, he was still called “Oshea” (meaning “Deliverance/Salvation.”) In honor of his past devotion to God and recognizing his future exploits in dependence on the Almighty, Moses re-named him “Jehoshua” (shortened to “Joshua”–“Salvation of Jah.” See Num.11:16.) Similar to the elongation of “Abram” (“High Father”) to Abraham (“Father of a Multitude”), this new moniker reflected greater trust in the Lord with better results. The name was a harbinger of the bright future ahead when Moses’ trustworthy aide-de-camp would succeed his mentor as commander in chief.
Caleb and Joshua agreed that the task was achievable. When the other ten spies began to argue against the mission, Caleb urged the people to obey the Lord, saying: “…Let us go up at once, and possess it; for we are well able to overcome it.” (Num.13:30) Nevertheless, the other scouts reasoned based on sight, affirming that the odds of success were negligible. They told a tale of giants and mighty, fortified cities. The two faithful spies asserted that God would give Israel the victory no matter what foes they faced. To the detriment of the nation, human reasoning and emotion prevailed in the discussion. The Israelites wept and said the unthinkable: “Would God that we had died in the land of Egypt! or would God we had died in this wilderness! And wherefore hath the LORD brought us unto this land, to fall by the sword, that our wives and our children should be a
prey? were it not better for us to return into Egypt? And they said one to another, Let us make a captain, and let us return into Egypt.” (Num.14:2-4) This apostasy resulted in that entire adult generation missing the opportunity to enter the Promised Land. Moses and Aaron mourned, and Joshua and Caleb tore their clothes in grief. Only these latter two would make it into their inheritance. Sadly they would have to wait forty years in order to enter Canaan. This tragic story reminds one that the godly often find themselves in the minority. Even when others depart, however, the Christian must side with the Lord by obeying His Word. Joshua and Caleb withstood enormous peer pressure, and remained faithful to the One Who delivered them from Egypt. Consequently, He honored their loyalty by preserving them for the conquest of the Land.
The Commission
The early career of Joshua, marked by numerous celebrated deeds, led into a brighter future as the great leader of Israel into the Promised Land. Before his death, Moses commissioned his right-hand lieutenant to “Be strong and of a good courage: for thou must go with this people unto the land which the LORD hath sworn unto their fathers to give them; and thou shalt cause them to inherit it. And the LORD, he it is that doth go before thee; he will be with thee, he will not fail thee, neither forsake thee: fear not, neither be dismayed.” (Dt.31:7-8) It is delightful to read these final words from the older servant to his replacement; they are entirely without envy or ill feeling. Moses had done his part in preparing the next generation of leadership, and Joshua had responded with steady spiritual growth. Likewise, it is imperative that the elders of today’s assemblies pass on the truth and the responsibility to capable younger men. 2 Tim.2:2 sets forth this truth: “And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.” The well-crafted words of John McClintock and James Strong, two biblical scholars of a bygone era, are a fitting summary of the Son of Nun’s exceptional career: “Joshua’s life has been noted as one of the very few which are recorded in history with some fullness of detail, yet without any stain upon them. In his character have been traced, under an Oriental garb, such features as chiefly kindled the imagination of Western chroniclers and poets in the Middle Ages: the character of a devout warrior, blameless and fearless, who has been taught by serving as a youth how to command as a man; who earns by manly vigor a quiet, honored old age; who combines strength with gentleness, ever looking up for and obeying the divine impulse with the simplicity of a child, while he wields great power and directs it calmly, and without swerving, to the accomplishment of a high, unselfish purpose.” (Article on “Joshua”, John McClintock and James Strong, The Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological, & Ecclesiastical Literature, CD-ROM edition, Ages Digital Software, 2000.)

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The Origin Of Despotism

Thursday, April 30th, 2009

The international scene is littered with conflicts, stemming from the desires of competing power blocs who struggle for hegemony on the world stage. Great despots like Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Attila the Hun, Napoleon Bonaparte, and Adolf Hitler – to name a few – have all shared a desire to obtain power and enjoy the conquest of large swathes of territory. The Lord Jesus noted this propensity of the Gentiles for power mongering, telling His disciples that the Kingdom of God operates on entirely different principles (Mat. 20:25-26.) Man’s struggle for tyrannical power goes back to ancient times. God commissioned Adam and his descendants to have dominion over the earth. Nevertheless, since the Fall the God-given impulse to rule over the planet has been corrupted by sin. Man now wants to oppress his fellow man. By investigating the ancient records of the birth of empires, one may glean instruction for both the current and future situation.
Genesis 10:8-11 introduces us to the first emperor, a fearsome ruler ominously named Nimrod (“Rebellion/Valiant” Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew Lexicon.) His chief credential as a leader was his martial skill, described as “a valiant warrior” and “a mighty hunter before the Lord” (v.8, NET.) The margin of The New English Translation notes that the phrase “before the Lord” can be used “…as a means of expressing the superlative degree.” In other words, it is a Semitic way of saying that he was the greatest hunter – one who had no equal in combat. Interestingly, words from the same Hebrew root are used in the Old Testament to describe hunting for men (e.g. Jer. 16:16.) Nimrod was indeed a hunter, but his quarry was not deer or lions – it was his fellow man!
Through his military prowess Nimrod assembled a kingdom that was the cradle of the greatest civilizations of the Near East, including Akkad, Assyria, and Babylonia (vs. 10-12.) Genesis 11 gives the account of his followers’ vain attempt to establish a power that could rival Heaven itself. Rather than subdue the earth for God’s glory, they wanted to unite in a project that would demonstrate their numerical strength and leave behind a monument to their architectural genius and engineering skill. What is more, this grandiose public works project would keep them from being scattered over the earth (v. 4.) By working together they would become a cohesive unit that would collectively exercise power. Furthermore, they would construct an immense edifice to their own glory: “a tower whose top may reach unto heaven” (v. 4.) It was a statement of human strength and wisdom independent of their Maker, flaunted in the face of the God of the Heavens.
With man arrogantly taunting the Almighty with this expression of defiance, it is ironic that God had to stoop to see their puny tower: “And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower…” (v. 5.) It looked big from the human perspective, but from God’s viewpoint it was miniscule. Likewise, contemporary man makes great plans and undertakes ambitious projects, but it is all of no account in the sight of the Most High God. His sovereignty is absolute and therefore is not threatened by the machinations of
proud men. He quickly brought the matter to an end by confounding their language into many diverse tongues.
In spite of God’s greatness and man’s comparative frailty, human beings continually overestimate their own importance. The modern onset of a formal philosophy called “Humanism” is merely a restatement of the ancient lie in the garden, “You will be like God” (Gen. 3:5, ESV.) Man always sees himself as the center of the universe. If he thinks of God at all, he exiles the Almighty to the marginal role of being a sort of celestial Santa Claus – someone to call upon when he wants something or is in some kind of trouble. The Lord is certainly not viewed by man as someone who commands human reverence and accountability.
Like the ancient builders of Babel, contemporary humans want to make a name for themselves. Thus, their scientific advances and artistic achievements are adduced as proof of their intelligence – not as evidence of the brilliance of the Creator of the human mind. This preoccupation with man as the measure of all things will ultimately culminate in the deification of humankind in the person of the Man of Sin (2 Thes. 2:3-12.) The Lord Jesus referred to this when He said: “I am come in my Father’s name, and ye receive me not: if another shall come in his own name, him ye will receive. How can ye believe, which receive honor one of another, and seek not the honor that cometh from God only?” (John 5:43-44.) In man’s search for a lasting name, humans will only find eternal shame and infamy by following the Son of Perdition. He will hold sway over a mighty confederacy of nations, but it will lead the world to the final judgment.
How much better to emulate Abraham’s obedience to the Lord, and letting Him make a name for you (Gen. 12:2.) While the architects and luminaries of Babel are entirely anonymous today, Abraham’s name is still world famous and will continue to be so for all eternity. Greatness is found in humbly submitting to God, rather than in exalting oneself. In Christ, man will indeed be glorified (Rom. 8:28-30.) 1 Peter 5:6 exhorts believers to “Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time.” James 4:10 similarly adds: “Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He shall lift you up.” The Christian should also keep in mind the promise to the overcomer in Rev. 2:17: “To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it” (Italics mine.) The names that man seeks are temporary; the name that God gives is eternal. Human pride must be abased; Deity must be exalted! God will elevate man to a high position, but never at the expense of Divine glory.

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The Indispensable Widows

Thursday, April 30th, 2009

If one were asked to make up a list of the most important people in our world today, the names would probably be culled from the ranks of the famous statesmen and policy makers in the various regimes of the globe. Doubtless, numerous brilliant scientists and scholars would be listed among the ranks of the great; other people would include immensely talented artists, writers, and musicians. Still others would discuss great business leaders, who help shape the economies of the world. On such a list of the ‘Who’s who’, would we find people who are commonly called widows? Striking a bit closer to home, would we choose to build a new assembly around a core group of widows? Most church planters would probably prefer to begin a new local testimony with young individuals or couples, and there is nothing intrinsically wrong with such a desire. Nevertheless, it is important to remember that the assembly has a desperately needed role for the widows to play. They are especially useful to God, and need to exercise their ministry among His people. Widows in the Old Testament In appreciating the value of the godly widow, it would be helpful to study the history of God’s concern for these ladies. The Old Testament is filled with admonitions to care for the widow (such instructions are frequently coupled with instructions to help the fatherless and the stranger.) Consider the fact that the Mosaic Law commanded Israel to care for the widows. In Exodus 22.21 to 24 the Lord says: ‘Thou shalt neither vex a stranger, nor oppress him: for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt. Ye shall not afflict any widow, or fatherless child. If thou afflict them in any wise, and they cry at all unto Me, I will surely hear their cry, and My wrath shall wax hot, and I will kill you with the sword; and your wives shall be widows, and your children fatherless’. Deuteronomy 10.18 assures us that ‘He doth execute the judgment of the fatherless and widow, and loveth the stranger, in giving him food and raiment’. Widows and orphans were to be fed from the obligatory tithes that Israelites paid, Deut.14.29, and they were to be included in the festivities accompanying the Feasts of the LORD, Deut.16.11, 14.
In ancient times, widows were in most cases unprotected and destitute. If she did not have family to care for her, no one looked out for the widow’s rights, or made sure that she was sustained. In some societies to this day, widows are forced to eke out whatsoever living that they may find. Such poverty and need found an answer in the Word of the One who described Himself as ‘A Father of the fatherless, and a Judge of the widows, is God in His holy habitation’, Ps.68.5.1 Clearly God is devoted to the widow’s defense and provision. His scathing indictment of the failure of Israel’s leaders in the days of Isaiah includes the fact that ‘…they judge not the fatherless, neither doth the cause of the widow come unto them’, Isa.1.23. Years later, the Lord assured Israel that such oppression
1 . In this verse, the word ‘Judge’ is being used to describe one who makes sure that a person is protected and that their rights are maintained; that is to say, the widow’s sins are not in view in this verse.
would result in Divine judgment, Mal.3.5. These are but a few of the many Old Testament references to God’s unceasing love and concern for widows.
Widows in the New Testament
The Lord Jesus’ ministry shows us that God’s interest in the widow was not confined to Old Testament days. Repeatedly, He condemned the scribes and Pharisees for their abuse of widows, e.g. Matt.23.14 & Luke 20.46-47. Furthermore, on seeing a mourning widow following the bier of her only son, the Lord intervened and restored the boy’s life, Luke 7.11-17. At the time of the crucifixion, it is highly possible that Mary was a widow. The Lord’s compassionate desire to have her protected is seen in His statement from the Cross, ‘Woman behold thy son…son behold thy mother’, John 19.26-27. In both the Old and New Testaments it is apparent that the Lord loves the widow.
Widows as providers
Having established God’s ongoing interest in the widow, one may inquire, ‘What then is the importance of the widow to the assembly’? Firstly, the Lord has used widows to provide for His servants. In the Old Testament, He used a Gentile widow to shelter Elijah during part of the famine, 1 Kgs.17.8-24. During the church age, He has likewise used many widows to house and help His people. Among the marks of a godly widow in 1 Tim.5:10 is that ‘…she [has] lodged strangers…[and] washed saints’ feet’. At the Judgment Seat of Christ many widows will undoubtedly be honored for using their modest homes and meager possessions to further the work of God. Widows are also indispensable for the assembly, because they were used by the Lord Jesus to set the standard for selfless giving. On one occasion He observed many affluent worshippers casting large sums of money into the Temple treasury. Rather than single out some huge financial contribution as an example of giving, the Lord Jesus focused on a poor widow, who threw in two mites–a paltry amount in comparison to the gifts of the wealthy contributors. Nevertheless, the Lord affirmed that she set the standard on sacrificial giving by throwing in all that she had. One has noted that she had two mites, and therefore, could have kept one for herself. (Who could blame her?) Instead, she gave all that she had. God affords the widows the honorable place of contributing out of their poverty, a privilege that many with large bank accounts will never know, Luke 21.1-4. Widows: An example of faith
Thirdly, widows set an example for the assembly in their life of faith. 1 Tim.5.5 reminds us that ‘she who is really a widow and left alone, trusts in God, and continues in supplications and prayers night and day’. (NKJV) It is all too easy to mechanically give thanks for one’s daily food without really being grateful for it. For the widow with little or no means of visible support, procuring food and clothing is a repeated exercise in dependence on Jehovah Jireh’s faithful provision. It is likely that the reluctance of many young people to devote all of their time and energy to the Lord’s work on the foreign and domestic mission fields results from their lack of understanding God’s ability to provide for His workers ‘on faith.’ Although such questions naturally occur to the human mind,
such believers would do well to study the pious widows, who depend on the Lord without ‘letters of commendation’.2 The assembly desperately needs faithful widows to remind it of God’s generosity toward His children. Widows: A barometer of piety Another vital function that the widows play in the Lord’s assemblies is as a gauge of the piety of believers. James phrases this aspect of widowhood well, ‘Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world’, Jas.1.27. How a believer responds to those who are less fortunate than himself is an excellent barometer for our love, sympathy, & selflessness. If left to themselves, Christians often get wrapped up in their own problems and needs. The presence of needy saints like widows serves to remind Christians to care for the weak and show the love of Christ in practical ways.
God remembers the widows
Widows also demonstrate God’s faithfulness and mercy. Though widows are sometimes forgotten by humans, the Lord never neglects them. He affords them the inestimable privilege of being the objects of His special affection and compassion. To the theologian, God is academically merciful; to the widow, His mercy is known in every day experience.
Widows as servants
Any assessment of the widow, would not be complete without noting their remarkable contribution to the work of the Lord. The distinguished history of widows’ service takes us back to Anna, who ‘…departed not from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day. And she coming in that instant gave thanks likewise unto the LORD, and spake of him to all them that looked for redemption in Jerusalem’, Luke 2.37-38. Anna has her modern counterparts in the church. Many widows faithfully serve the Lord around the globe as missionaries.3 Likewise, in North America and the United Kingdom
2 The author certainly supports the biblical use of letters of commendation; it is feared, however, that in some quarters, they are seen to be a guarantee of financing from the Lord’s people. On being commended, a wise servant of God counseled me: ‘Look to the Lord for your support, not to the assemblies’. I have found this to be good advice. God doesn’t need ‘a letter’ to support those who do His business. J. Hudson Taylor’s famous axiom bears repeating: ‘God’s work, done in God’s way, will never lack God’s supply’. Widows show the ability of the Lord to provide for His own, apart from all human conventions.
3 Along with single sisters, widows compose a large segment of active servants in Gospel work and other ministries on the mission field; for verification of this, one may consult the CMML Missionary handbook or the Echoes of Service handbook. It is easy to forget the widows of missionaries/fulltime workers once their husbands have past off the scene.
the efforts of widows have a strong impact on the character of the work of the Lord. Often it is still ‘the widow’s mite’ that supports the work of the Lord. Similarly, in their prayer lives and worship, many widows are the backbone of the local assembly. Anna was a woman of prayer; likewise, only heaven will accurately tell the distinguished history of the widows who waged spiritual warfare through prayer. Often times critics of biblical principles of gathering accuse women of having a nonfunctioning role in the meetings of the assembly because they are silent. On the contrary, God hears the silent worship of the sisters (including the widows), and is pleased by it. Having scanned the long history of the Lord’s appreciation for and usage of widows, one must conclude that they play a vital role in the work of God. Rather than overlooking the widows, local assemblies need to practically care for them, pray for them, and tap into their piety in the testimony of the fellowship. May the Lord teach us the value of widows, and the significant role that they play in His plans. Furthermore, may we like the Lord, love them and help them in their quest to bring glory to the Almighty God. Many of the principles that are mentioned in this article also apply to widowers, single elderly sisters or brothers, and ‘shut-ins’. God remembers them, and will reward them in a coming day at the Judgement Seat of Christ.
Let us continue to financially support the widows on the field, who are in many cases neglected.

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The Hatred of God

Thursday, April 30th, 2009

In modern colloquial English the word “hate” is commonly used to mean something far weaker than its dictionary definition. People often say “I hate traffic jams”, or “I hate the Dallas Cowboys.” What they usually mean by such statements is that they dislike such phenomena or people. When God uses the word, however, it carries a far weightier meaning. The Scriptural use of the term in connection with the Almighty indicates absolute loathing and detestation. In light of this, what then does God hate? Proverbs 6:16-19 list seven things that the Lord abhors.
The first thing that God detests is “a proud look.” Other translations render the word “haughty eyes.” (e.g. JND, ASV, & RSV.) This problem has plagued man since his expulsion from the Garden of Eden. Seeing things from a proud perspective has long been one of the major faults of human beings. In this age of technological advancement and material prosperity, people tend to think of themselves more highly than they ought. They rejoice in their “good fortune”, forgetting to thank God for their health, possessions, and life itself. Like the Babylonian King Belshazzar of old, they carouse and celebrate in a carefree manner, never thinking that “the God in whose hand [their] breath is, and whose are all [their] ways, [they] have not glorified.”(Dan.5:23, brackets mine.) Instead, they view things through a hubris-laden filter, believing that man is the measure of all things. Men view themselves as being capable of accomplishing anything. Certainly people who have gone to the moon, engendered the computer revolution, and eradicated smallpox can do whatever they set their minds upon doing. Such proud optimism pervades our music, media, & educational institutions in the modern era. In God’s sight, however, such thinking is the product of “haughty eyes” and He hates it. Such a viewpoint negates the Biblical teaching on sin, the necessity of the Cross, and elevates man to equal status with his Creator. Man needs to recognize his vileness and inability to please God through human exertion or merit. God loathes our proud thoughts, and commands humble repentance and faith towards the Almighty.(Acts 17:30)
The second object of the Lord’s loathing is “the lying tongue.” James would later forcefully write concerning the tongue: “And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell…the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. (Jms. 3:6, 8) The honest critic is forced to concede that these statements are no exaggeration of the tongue’s potency. It is a destructive and dangerous weapon that has touched off many wars, divided many families, and broken many hearts. This member becomes even more vicious when one adds “lying” to it. The Bible affirms that such verbal falsehood characterizes Satan, the Father of lies himself.(Jn.8:44) In God’s estimation there is no such thing as a little white lie; rather, He declares His enmity towards the tongue that speaks falsehood. The Lord Jesus, who called Himself “the truth,” stands in contrast to error and lies. The lying tongue robs God of glory, exalts man, denies the Gospel of
grace, repudiates the word of the Lord, and perpetrates many other perfidious iniquities. “Hands that shed innocent blood” next comes on the list of abominations in Proverbs 6. With over one hundred million people slaughtered, the twentieth century holds the ignominious distinction of bloodiest recorded century in human history. This gruesome moniker is evidenced by the occurrence of two world wars, notorious episodes of genocide against the Armenians and the Jews, plus mass murder in Russia, Cambodia, Argentina, Rwanda, Burundi, Algeria, Nigeria, Bosnia, and Israel (to name only a few places.) The United States has not been exempt from the butchering of innocents; “civilized” America justifies the blood on its hands with the relatively antiseptic term abortion. Millions of unborn children are slain in the womb in the name of family planning, population control, and personal rights. God hates the murder of innocents. He noted the massacre of the Israelite infants in Egypt, as well as the killing of the Bethlehemite babies. The righteous judge of all the earth will avenge the helpless. “A heart that deviseth wicked imaginations” comes next on the list of seven abominations in the sight of the Lord. This well-describes the current mindset that pervades our media, books, and entertainment industry. In the internet age, it is easy for man’s perverse thinking to be rapidly spread around the world. Even the art world seems fixated on glorifying the obscene, rather than exalting the beautiful things in God’s Creation. Man’s downfall has always been, at root, a heart problem. In the time of Noah, the Scripture records: “And GOD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” (Gen. 6:5) The Lord’s displeasure with this brought on a worldwide flood that destroyed everyone except Noah and his immediate family. Closely related to the wicked thoughts of man’s heart are “feet that be swift in running to mischief.” As fast as men can devise evil, they hasten to implement it. The last two characteristics on the Lord’s list are particularly insidious. “A false witness that speaketh lies” and “he that soweth discord among brethren” both imply the most calculated deceit, intended to bring about maximum damage to an individual. His distaste for these loathsome attributes is no doubt so acute because of the fact that such things were done to His beloved Son at Calvary. False witnesses testified against the Lord Jesus before the High Priest. Later the lie was maintained before Pontius Pilate. Doubtless, Satan delighted in the separation of the disciples as the Shepherd was smitten and the sheep were scattered. During the Church age this infernal liar has repeatedly tried to divide God’s people (the many splits in Church history bear sad testimony to this reality.) The closer that the crucifixion account is examined, the more it becomes apparent that all of these seven abominations were present on the day that the Lord Jesus gave His life.
With “a proud look” men rejected their Creator-Messiah, reckoning Him as a transgressor. They mocked Him, saying “He saved others, Himself He cannot save.” (Mt.27:42) “A lying tongue” was seen in the taunts that the masses hurled in Christ’s face. What more “innocent blood” could have been shed than that of
the Spotless Son of God? Truly, the wickedest plan that the heart of man ever devised was the murder of the Lord Jesus Christ! The Gospels tell the story of man’s haste “running to do mischief” in such words as “…straightway in the morning the chief priests held a consultation with the elders and scribes and the whole council, and bound Jesus, and carried him away, and delivered him to Pilate.” (Mk. 15:1) There was absolutely no hesitation on the part of the Lord’s enemies; they wanted to be rid of Him immediately. In light of the presence of these seven abominations at Calvary, it makes man’s crime against the Son of God all the more heinous and despicable. The wonder is that the Word testifies that God still loves mankind, and offers salvation to those who will repent and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. The last words of the Bible well sum up the divine invitation: “I Jesus have sent mine angel to testify unto you these things in the churches. I am the root and the offspring of David, and the bright and morning star. And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely. .. He which testifieth these things saith, Surely I come quickly. Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus.” (Revelation 22:16-17, 20)

To download the article in PDF: The Hatred Of God

Special Ops

Thursday, April 30th, 2009

The recent fighting in Afghanistan has cast the spotlight on extraordinary soldiers, referred to as Special Operations or Special Forces. All major armies have their elite troops, who are reserved for difficult missions, requiring bravery and skill in superlative degree. The Israeli Defense Force has its celebrated paratroopers. The British have the Special Air Service (SAS) and the Royal Marines. While the United States military has numerous different Special Operations units (e.g. The Navy Seals; Marine Recon teams & Scout-Snipers; & the Army Rangers, Green Berets, & Delta Force.) In Biblical times, there were also valiant warriors, who possessed courage, loyalty, & faith. Champions like Gideon, Jephthah, and Samson performed great martial exploits in delivering Israel from their enemies. Perhaps no other group of men in the Scriptures deserve the title of Special Forces more than David’s Mighty Men.
Most great military leaders form their commando squads from the ranks of experienced professional soldiers, who are ideal physical specimens. Furthermore, wise commanders seek intelligent men, who have a strong sense of espirit de corps. In our day, we might look for university-trained officers, products of our prestigious military academies, or at least, graduates of officers candidate school. In the case of the mighty men, however, David recruited unlikely heroes under extreme conditions. 1 Sam.22:1-2 gives the account of the arrival of his first troops: “David therefore departed thence, and escaped to the cave Adullam: and when his brethren and all his father’s house heard it, they went down thither to him. And every one that was in distress, and every one that was in debt, and every one that was discontented, gathered themselves unto him; and he became a captain over them: and there were with him about four hundred men.” (Italics mine) Truly, David garnered the nucleus of his armed forces from a motley crew of disenfranchised and disenchanted wanderers. They came to him when he was rejected and unrecognized by the nation of Israel. Saul sought to murder him, and he was reduced to dwelling in a cave. Many of the Mighty Men first joined David at this low point in his history.
David’s recruiting policy of taking in defaulters and other vulnerable people reminds one of the Lord Jesus’ tactics in forming His forces. His servants are culled from the teeming masses of slaves to vice, enemies of God, recalcitrant rebels, and spiritually debilitated debtors. As Paul describes it in 1 Corinthians 1:26-29: “For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to naught things that are: That no flesh should glory in his presence.” Ordinary human thinking would seek followers from the upper echelon of society; but God changes His soldiers from the inside out into a “new creature.” (2 Cor.5:17) In the Master’s service, the hated tax collector (Matthew) and ardent political partisan (Simon the Zealot) are changed into devoted apostles of Christ. Fishermen become fishers of men (e.g. Peter & John); and council members bow to the
“Wonderful Counselor” (e.g. Nicodemus & Joseph of Arimathea.) Only the Lord Jesus could take an inveterate enemy of the Gospel like Saul of Tarsus and transform him into its greatest proponent. In more modern times, committed atheists like C.S. Lewis have converted to Christ, as well as sinners of every demographic and description.
It is interesting to note the authority structure of David’s Mighty Men. Officers’ ranks were attained by first proving oneself on the battlefield. For example, Josheb-basshebeth, the first man on the list in 2 Sam.23, was rewarded with high position in the army on account of his loyalty and accomplishments in combat. He also earned the nickname Adino the Eznite (loosely translated, “One of the sharp spear”) due to his slaying of eight hundred enemy soldiers on one day. This remarkable feat was performed without the aid of modern firearms or explosives; Adino did it with just a spear! Such a heroic performance was rewarded with a responsible position: “the chief of the captains” (probably the equivalent of our modern Major General—Joab would have been over him as the supreme general of the armed forces. See 1 Chr.11:4-6.) Similarly, the Lord Jesus apportions positions of service based on diligence in lesser tasks. In the assembly, He says that an elder is not to be “a novice.” (1 Tim.3:6) The men who were put in charge of the distribution to the widows of the early church were “…men of honest report [indicating their responsible character as demonstrated by past performance], full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom.” (Acts 6:3, bracketed comments mine.) The Lord Jesus further demonstrates this principle in His comments on authority in the Kingdom of God (Mat.25:14-30.) Those who are faithful in little are reassigned to greater duties.
The Christian life is described as warfare in the New Testament. Ephesians 6 offers a well-known list of spiritual weapons that comprise the believer’s armaments. Likewise, 2 Cor. 10:3-5 points out that “…though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;) Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.” Martial imagery fills the New Testament in the exposition of the greater spiritual battles that transpire between the forces of good and evil. Therefore, Christians can learn a great deal from studying the special operations forces of the man after God’s own heart.
To Be Continued
Old Testament Special Forces or In the Lord’s Army, Part 2
By: Keith R. Keyser
David’s renowned special operations group, the Mighty Men were composed of brave warriors who were entirely devoted to their King. The valiant killer Josheb-basshebeth, also called Adino the Eznite, headed up the first team on the list. He was followed by Eleazar the son of Dodo the Ahohite, who completed several important missions. His name indicates the sort of man he was: “God [is] helper.” He relied on the Lord to strengthen him in the rigors of battle. The same attitude has marked all of God’s servants
through the ages. Samuel readily acknowledged the Lord’s help as the source of the Israelites victory over the Philistines. (1 Sam.7:12) Paul told that Philippians “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” (Phil.4:13, Italics mine.) The Psalmist expresses this same thinking: “Some boast of chariots, and some of horses; but we boast of the name of the LORD our God.” (Ps.20:7, RSV) The Proverbs further adds: “Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.” (Pro.3:5) Those who rely on God for their help will never be ashamed.
Eleazar lived up to his name. 2 Sam. 23:9 tells us of his courage in standing with David when many others had fled. The succeeding verse says: “He arose and attacked the Philistines until his hand was weary, and his hand stuck to the sword. The LORD brought about a great victory that day; and the people returned after him only to plunder.” (NKJV) He demonstrated his prowess as a swordsman, but could not put down his weapon after the victory was secured. Heb.4:12 compares the Word of God to a sword; likewise, Eph.6:17 calls the Word of God “the sword of the Spirit.” Interestingly, Eleazar was a man who could not put down the sword. Figuratively speaking, Christians need to be devoted to learning and properly wielding the sword. Believers in the West have never had more Bible translations, commentaries, study tools, Bible computer programs, and sermons on tape. This notwithstanding, there is a genuine famine of Bible knowledge among professing Christians. The Church needs more men and women like Eleazar, who will cling to the sword. After his impressive stand on the battlefield, the Israelites who had fled returned to partake of the spoils of victory. In an era of inconsistency, there is a desperate need for godly believers whose faithfulness to the Word will be an example to weaker saints.
Shammah the son of Agee the Hararite stands next on the honor role of David’s Mighty Men. His name means “Ruin or Waste.” This inauspicious moniker failed to capture the true essence of this able combatant. He may have been a waste to others, but in David’s eyes, he was among the Army’s most able troops. God still uses those who come to Him with wasted lives; He gives them new life and uses them through the power of His Holy Spirit. Shammah’s valor and usefulness is seen in the fact that he refused to forsake a field of lentils in the face of a large force of attacking Philistines. Others may have reasoned in this manner: “It’s just a field of beans; it’s not worth risking my life.” In contrast, Shammah stood & protected it, for it was part of the land that God gave to His people Israel. Christians would do well to mark his example. Today truth is very lightly esteemed. Many believers readily leave New Testament-style assemblies in favor of less Scriptural gatherings on account of a lack of appreciation for the truth of the Biblical pattern. Some excuse this by pointing to the problems and mistakes of the assemblies (one wonders if they encounter perfect believers in the new congregations that they join.) Others argue that they need a fellowship with more programs for themselves and their children. If they are not satisfied with obeying Christ in the manner that He prescribes in His Word, however, they will not find His approval in fleeing to a different local church. Oh for Christians with the heart of Shammah, who stay and become part of the solution.
After recounting Shammah’s impressive exploits, 2 Sam.23 tells a remarkable story of personal dedication to the king’s well-being and desires. Some scholars teach that the
three protagonists are different from the first three men on the list. It is this writer’s belief, however, that this incident flows naturally from the accounts of Adino, Eleazar, and Shammah; consequently, they are probably the three who performed this dramatic act of selfless heroism. The story takes place during David’s exile in the desert, when he was hiding in the Cave of Adullam. The Philistines were then in possession of his hometown, Bethlehem (in fact, they had a garrison of soldiers stationed there.) David longingly said: “Oh that one would give me drink of the water of the well of Bethlehem, which is by the gate!” (2 Sam.23:15) Anyone who has been away from home for a long time can identify with his wistful utterance. The three warriors heard this statement, and decided that David’s wish was their command. They set over on the dangerous trek to Bethlehem, where they broke through the Philistine defenses, drew the water, and fought their way back out of the city. They brought the water to their king, who recognized it as an act of devotion that only was fitting as a gift for God. Thus, David poured it out as a drink offering to the Lord. Where are the believers in our age who will care for the desires of the Lord Jesus’ heart? The highest use of our lives as Christians would be to seek out our Father’s will, and do it unhesitatingly; worship and service are His rightful due.
At this point you could make the following a third article, or you could combine it with the above to make this a two article series. Whatever you choose is fine with me. Should you decide to make it three articles, you may title the third: “Commandos in David’s Forces.” Or “In the Lord’s Army”-Part 3.
The second choice unit in David’s special operations force was composed of three dependable soldiers. Abishai the son of Zeruiah was David’s nephew, and also the brother of two other famous fighters: Joab and Asahel. When Saul was hunting David in the wilderness, Abishai and David snuck into his camp, and took the king’s staff and water jug. This bold act, demonstrated that they could have killed him, but instead showed mercy. On another occasion, Abishai had great success in a battle against the Ammonites and the Syrians (2 Sam.10:10,14.) When King David was older, this valiant officer saved him from death at the hands of a giant Philistine (2 Sam.21:15-17.) 2 Sam.23:18-19 asserts that he commanded the second group of three due to his impressive slaying of three hundred men in one battle. Truly, he was a very accomplished warrior.
Benaiah the son of Jehoida served under Abishai in this second unit. Bravery was in his blood, for His father is described as “a valiant man of Kabzeel, who had done many acts” (2 Sam.23:20.) Often the sons of great men find living in their father’s shadow awkward. Nevertheless, Benaiah was a “chip off the old block”; if anything, his exploits outshone his fathers mighty deeds. He killed two lion-like warriors of Moab. This description conjures up images of ferocity, but Benaiah did not find these bloodthirsty savages to be much of a challenge. Next, the chapter tells us how he slew a lion in a pit on a snowy day. One cannot help but be impressed with this feat. Bravery aside, however, one wonders why he would undertake such a dangerous mission. 2 Samuel is silent on the matter, but perhaps someone feared that the wild beast would get loose and wreak havoc among the local Israelites. Rather than see them suffer anxiety, Benaiah eliminated the threat. He also put on an unparalleled display of martial arts skill in disarming a large Egyptian combatant, and then killing him with his own spear. It is reminiscent of David
killing Goliath with his own sword. Moreover, it also was the same tactic that the Lord Jesus used in defeating Satan and death itself. As Heb.2:14-15 says of Christ: “Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; And deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.” Thanks be to God, the Christian can sing “O Death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?” with assurance, knowing that “…we are more than conquerors through him that loved us” (1 Cor.15:55; Rom.8:37.) Benaiah’s courage and talents earned him the important position of head of the King’s guard (the equivalent of heading up the Secret Service. The marginal reading says that David made him head over his council, so there was probably some advisory capacity involved in this job.)
The soldiers who comprised David’s Mighty Men came from all sorts of backgrounds. It is surprising to see the wide variety of people that are represented on this list. They were drawn from every corner of Israel and beyond. Some, like Zelek the Ammonite, were Gentiles. Elhanan the son of Dodo of Bethlehem was from David’s hometown. In contrast, Ittai the son of Ribai was from Saul’s hometown and tribe. Ahithophel, the advisor who defected to Absalom’s side, had a son who was numbered with the Mighty Men. Similarly, the Lord Jesus draws His troops from every race, tribe, nation, and language group. All of these diverse soldiers are united by their love for and devotion to the King of kings and Lord of lords.
Although his brothers and armor bearer are listed, the cunning general Joab, who figures prominently in 1 and 2 Samuel, is absent from the role of the devoted warriors. His many acts of brutality and perfidy disqualified him from the honor roll of the Mighty Men. Poignantly, the list ends with the name of one of David’s most dedicated soldiers: Uriah the Hittite (ironically, also a Gentile.) It is a sad reminder of David’s treachery towards one of his faithful servants. Thankfully, members of the Lord’s army need never fear that Christ Jesus will ever disappoint us. He is faithful, and promises to be with us until the end of the age, at which time He will take us home to be with Him forevermore. Furthermore, He will reward us, and we will share in His glory.

To download the article in PDF: Special Ops