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The Bible – Book by Book – Samuel

Pastor Donny Friederichsen

The story of Ruth transitions from the time of Judges into the time of Kings. This progression is spelled out more clearly in the two books of Samuel. The books of 1 & 2 Samuel are titled because they open with the narrative of Samuel. But it isn’t really the best title for the books because Samuel is not the principal focus of the book. In the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures) and the Vulgate (the Latin translation of the whole Bible), 1 & 2 Samuel are paired with 1 & 2 Kings and named 1-4 Kings or 1-4 Reigns or Kingdoms. 1 & 2 Samuel are particularly focused on the rise and fall of another person, David. David is the real hero of these books.

There are three main sections in 1 Samuel. The first section details the birth and rise of the last judge to lead Israel, Samuel. 1 Samuel opens with the fervent prayers of Hannah. Her womb had been closed, but she prayed that if the LORD would give her a son, she would give him to the LORD. Eli, the priest, observed Hannah praying (and after determining that she wasn’t drunk) and answered that the LORD would grant her prayer. The LORD makes good on his promise to Hannah, and then Hannah makes good on her promise to God. She gives her son Samuel up to serve in the temple. The LORD calls Samuel and he was established in the land as a prophet.

Samuel grew and was respected in the land. He became a judge over Israel. But as Samuel grew older, the people were dissatisfied with him. They wanted a king like the other nations. Samuel tried to convince the people that they were not like the other nations. They were God’s people. But the people persisted. And the Lord granted their request. Samuel anointed Saul as king.

Saul was the kind of person you would expect to be king. He was handsome. He was tall. He was a competent military commander. He is who the people would have picked. But Saul lacks faith in the LORD. Saul fails to keep covenant. He does not obey God’s prophet (1 Sam 13-15). Samuel confronts Saul in his disobedience and Saul continually shifts the blame to others. Samuel rejects Saul and separates from him.

Samuel finds himself in Bethlehem. He comes to the family of Jesse, from whom God will reveal to Samuel the next king of Israel. Samuel assumes the oldest and tallest son will be chosen. But he is wrong. It is none of the sons whom Jesse has presented. At Samuel’s urging, they call in the son who in the family’s judgment was too insignificant for the feast, David. David is chosen king. He is ruddy and handsome, but his appearance does not influence his selection. David is anointed as king. Now, based on the promise of God’s Word, David risks his life by entering into royal court.

As Saul descends into a psychotic state, David rises in power and stature. The people begin to sing of David’s valor in comparison to Saul’s. “Saul has struck down his thousands, and David his tens of thousands.” This enrages the already mentally unstable Saul. Saul repeatedly attempts to kill David, but he remains patient and faithful to God’s anointed king, Saul. On several occasions, David chooses to preserve Saul’s life when he easily could have ended it. This was out of faithfulness to the Lord.

Saul dies in battle with the Amalekites, and David becomes king. As David becomes king, three major shifts have been realized in Israel. First, there is a shift in the leadership of the nation. They have moved from warlord judges to kings. Second, there is a shift in national stature. The nation of Israel is no longer a tribal league, but now it is a unified kingdom. Third, the worship of the LORD has shifted from Shiloh to Jerusalem.

The book of 2 Samuel opens with David hearing of Saul’s death and his rise to the throne. Where 1 Samuel revolved around the narratives of three men, 2 Samuel will focus on David. It will detail the rise and fall of the King. David’s reign as king will document a number of huge successes. The boundaries of the land will spread from Egypt to the Euphrates. David will demonstrate a tremendous faithfulness to the LORD. He will provide a model for repentance. But David’s reign also documents some spectacular failures. David failed to fully follow God’s Word. David committed adultery with Bathsheba and murdered her husband Uriah. David’s son Absalom led a bloody rebellion against him. David sinned again by taking a census when God had instructed him not to.

The rise and fall of David demonstrates that while David was God’s chosen and anointed king, David was not God’s ultimate king. There were great successes under David. But David’s failure pointed to another greater king. David was a man after God’s own heart, but he was not the ultimate king. God did promise David, however, that his seed would be that king. The narrative in 1 & 2 Kings shows that Solomon would not be that king either. But generations later, there would be a Son of David born in Bethlehem who would be that greater king.

The Bible – Book by Book – Ruth

Pastor Donny Friederichsen

Throughout the history of Israel, God has always provided a redeemer for His People. In Egypt, he provided Moses to rescue His People from slavery. In the wilderness, as the people wandered toward the Promised Land, God provided Joshua to lead them across the Jordan River. After Joshua through the book of Judges, the God provided a series of warlords to judge the peoples. But at the end of Judges, we find Israel in a dark period. “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25). As we turn the page in our English Bibles, we come to the book of Ruth. God is going to raise up another Redeemer.

The book of Ruth is the story of how God’s unfailing love will bring about Israel’s greatest leader, David. Great persons in Scripture have a birth narrative. A birth narrative is the story of how a person’s birth came about. 1 Samuel begins with the story of Hannah’s prayer for a child and the Lord’s answer to that prayer with the birth of Samuel. The beginning of Exodus is the story of the circumstances that gave rise to the birth of Moses and his remarkable childhood. The Gospels of Matthew and Luke give the details surrounding the birth of Jesus. The book of Ruth is a birth narrative for Israel’s greatest leader. It provides the background and family history of David. This explains why Ruth appears just before 1 Samuel in our English bible. But in the Hebrew canon, it actually appears after the book of Proverbs. This is probably because the book of Ruth is a real-life fleshing out of the excellent and virtuous woman in Proverbs 31. What does this Proverbs 31 woman look like? The Hebrew canon says, “Here is the story of Ruth.”

The book of Ruth can be outlined with four major sections. 1) Ruth emigrates from Moab to Bethlehem. 2) Ruth gleans in Boaz’s field. 3) Ruth meets Boaz on the threshing floor. 4) Boaz redeems Ruth.

The book opens in the time of Judges during a famine. Naomi’s husband dies. Her two sons die. She is left with two foreign daughters-in-law in the foreign land of Moab. Naomi hears that there is food in her hometown of Bethlehem. She decides to return, but before she warns her daughters. She tells them there is no future with her. Orpah decides to leave Naomi, but Ruth pledges to stay with her. “For where you go I will go, and where you lodge, I will lodge. Your people will be my people, and your God my God” (Ruth 1:16). So they set off to Bethlehem together. Upon arriving in Bethlehem, Naomi changes her name to Mara, which means bitterness. She is a broken woman.

The second act occurs in the wheat fields of Boaz. Ruth goes to glean in the fields as a poor foreigner. She chances up on the fields of Boaz, a respected Judahite and wealthy landowner. Boaz shows great respect for Ruth. He protects her and provides for her. Ruth is confounded by his grace and asks why she has found favor in his eyes. Boaz responds that it is due to her generosity toward Naomi. When Ruth returns home, Naomi informs her that Boaz may be a kinsman redeemer. The kinsman redeemer was the closest relative who had the obligation to avenge the death of a family member (Num 35), buy back property (Lev 25), redeem a relative sold into slavery (Lev 25), and possibly enter into Levirate marriage to preserve the name of his relative (Deut 25). There is hope.

The third act occurs at the time of threshing. This season was marked with a great celebration on the threshing room floor. Naomi hatches a risky plan that results in Ruth making a provocative proposal of marriage to Boaz. Boaz wants to accept but presents a problem. There is one who is a closer kinsman redeemer.

The fourth act is Boaz’s gracious redemption of Ruth and Naomi. Boaz goes to the gates of the city, where business was transacted, and addresses the nearer kinsman. Boaz explains the presence of Naomi’s fields and this man’s right to them. He is intrigued. But then Boaz mentions that there is a woman, and this nearer kinsman would have the obligation to raise up a son to maintain the name of the deceased. The man is less enthused about this. Upon learning this, the nearer kinsman backs out. So, Boaz is able to redeem Ruth and Naomi, in order “to perpetuate the name of the dead” (Ruth 4:10). Ruth and Boaz marry, and she gives birth to Obed. And Obed is the father of Jesse, who is the father of David. David becomes king of Israel and an important part of the line of Jesus. The Gospel of Matthew specifically records in the birth narrative of Jesus that Jesus is descended from “Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth” (Matt. 1:5). The foreign widow was graciously brought into the lineage of the Messiah of God’s People. Once again, God provides a redeemer for His People.

The Bible – Book by Book – Judges

A curious event occurs in Genesis 5:5. It might not seem so curious to us, as this event has become somewhat commonplace to us. But at that time, this sort of thing had never happened before. It was a new event in human history. In Genesis 5:5, Adam died. Other people had died before Adam, or at least one person. But that was the unnatural event of murder. We don’t see anyone in the Scriptures dying of natural causes. This was a curious event and it solidified the reality that had entered into the creation when Adam and Eve had fallen into sin. The life of man now ended in death. In fact, the rest of Genesis 5 is a litany of death. “and he died…and he died…and he died.”

If death remains a curious event, it is only because we will experience it but once. It is no longer curious because it is completely foreign to us. The book of Genesis ends with the people of God in Egypt and another death, the death of Joseph. The book of Joshua ends with the death of Moses and the people of God in the land of Canaan. They have been chosen as God’s special people. They have been rescued from slavery. They have received a Promised Land. But they are still subject to the unyielding presence of death.

The book of Judges will not answer the problem of death. It will open by reiterating the death of Joshua. The death of Joshua bridges from one book into the next. This is important because it sets the context of the book of Judges. People die. Leaders die. And the death of leaders will send Joshua into a downward cycle of despair.

There is a repeating pattern in the book of Joshua. There is rebellion against the LORD, “The people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the LORD” (Judg 3:7). God is angry with them. The people are oppressed by their enemies. The people cry out in repentance. The LORD raises up a deliverer, or a judge. There is peace for some period of time. The judge dies. And then the cycle starts over. There are twelve judges in the book. Six of these judges receive some form of narrative. But each seem to follow this cyclical pattern, with each subsequent judge being a little worse than the previous and each revolution being punctuated with the death of the judge. Therefore, a picture of a downward spiral is more accurate than that of simply a cycle. The story arc of Judges more closely follows that of a toilet bowl than a bicycle wheel.

The first judge in the cycle is Othniel. Othniel is raised up after the people cry out for deliverance from the hand of Cushan-rishathaim (i.e. Cushan the Doubly Wicked). Othniel confronts Cushan and defeats him. And there is 40 years of peace in the land.

The second judge is Ehud. Ehud’s cycle is one of the most colorful depictions of battle in the Bible. Ehud slaughters Eglon by concealing a dagger on his right thigh. When he confronts Eglon, who was a “very fat man,” Eglon was in his bathroom. Ehud reaches with his left hand for the dagger on his right thigh. He thrusts it into Eglon’s fat belly, pierces the sphincter, and disembowels Eglon. The fat closes up over the handle of the dagger. Ehud leaves the dagger in Eglon and escapes. Ehud ushers the people into 80 years of peace.

It might be apparent by now that these judges were not what we typically think of as judges. They were not officials in black robes making judicial pronouncements. Perhaps a better translation of the term would be “warlords.” The warlord in the middle of Judges is Gideon. Gideon is often celebrated in our churches, but perhaps that should be re-thought. Gideon is, at best, a mixed bag. He destroys the altar of Baal, but he repeatedly demonstrates a lack of faith in God’s command. He delivers Israel from Midian and refuses to be made king, but then he names his son Abimelech, which translates to “My father is king.” Gideon is a hero/antihero who reflects well the fickle nature of the people and yet is an instrument of God’s grace.

The longest narrative in Judges is given to Samson. Again, Samson is often presented to us (particularly in children’s story bibles) as a hero, but he is really more antihero. He is a deeply flawed saint. He has a birth narrative, like noteworthies Moses and Samuel. But he often does what is right in his own eyes. Bruce Waltke summarizes, “He mixes his faith with lust of the eyes, lust of the flesh, and pride of life, not with love of God and Israel.” Samson also reflects a fickle people. And Samson will not be the ultimate deliverer of the people, for he too will die.

Every warlord judge died. None of them brought true deliverance to the people. They still rebel against God, suffer the consequences, cry out to God, and seek deliverance. But that deliverance will only be fulfilled in one who will not die. The book of Judges is a cry for redemption that can only be satisfied by One who defeats the grave and death. The book of Judges calls for the covenant-keeping God to destroy the anarchy of our hearts with an ever-living Redeemer, Jesus Christ.

The Bible – Book by Book – Joshua

The book of Joshua is primarily and fundamentally about Joshua. This should be rather self-apparent. The book is titled Joshua. “After the death of Moses, the servant of the LORD, the LORD said to Joshua the son of Nun, Moses’ assistant” (Josh. 1:1). This Joshua flows out of who Moses was and what Moses did. Moses was known as the “Servant of the LORD.” Fourteen times in the book of Joshua, Moses is referred to as the “Servant of the LORD.” Moses saw the LORD face-to-face. He had an intimate relationship with the LORD. He was a prophet of the LORD. The “Servant of the LORD” also ties Moses into the lineage of men like Abraham (Gen 24:26). The promise of the patriarchs come through Moses and to Joshua. This Joshua connects the books of Moses (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy) with the rest of the Hebrew canon. There is a clear progression of the history of God’s people from Moses into Joshua.

In the Hebrew canon, Joshua is not considered a “history” book. It is part of the prophets. The books we typically consider to be the “historical” books of the OT (Joshua through 2 Kings) are called the “Former Prophets,” in distinction to the “Latter Prophets” (Isaiah through the Minor Prophets). Why is this important in understanding Joshua? These “Former Prophets” give us more than just history. What they present is, in fact, historical (and true). But it is also written as more than a collection of facts and figures. It is meant to convict and comfort. The author is more concerned with a prophetic telling of the conquest of the Promised Land than he is with a presentation of raw fact. This does not diminish the historical reliability of the narrative in the least. It does, however, help us to see more of the comprehensive and redemptive plan of God for his people.

Moses, the Servant of the LORD, dies. The book opens with this macabre note. This is a constant refrain through the Scriptures. Everyone dies. Adam died. Abraham died. Isaac died. Joseph died. And now, Moses died. The book of Joshua is going to end with, you guessed it, a death. Joshua will die. Every one of the patriarchs died. Every great leader of God’s people died. Every single leader of Israel died. And the leadership is passed onto this Joshua. The death of Moses did not curtail or stop God’s plan. John Calvin noted, “While men are cut off by death, and fail in the middle of their career, the faithfulness of God never fails.” The mantle of leadership is passed on to Joshua, the son of Nun.

This Joshua will lead the people of Israel over the Jordan River. This book will divide Joshua’s leadership over the people into three distinct sections. The first twelve chapters describe the conquest of the land. Israel will cross the Jordan and start defeating the Canaanites. They will fail at some points, but God will provide the victory to them. The next section, chapters 13-22, details the division of the land. Each of the tribes of Israel will receive their portion. God is faithful to his promises. The third section, chapters 23 and 24, is a reminder to the people to remain faithful to God. Remember the covenant that God established with you and live according to it.

It would be reasonable to think that the people would be hesitant to cross the Jordan and to take possession of the land after the death of Moses. Moses had been so important to everything they had known. Moses was the one whom God raised up to deliver them. Moses led them through the waters. Moses received the Law. Moses interceded for them. Moses had done everything. What would they do now? Joshua 1:1 gives us the reassuring news, “The LORD said to Joshua.” The LORD spoke to Moses. Now the LORD speaks to Joshua. It confirms his calling. It comforts an anxious people. It emphasizes that this transition is from the LORD. God is still faithful to his promises. The LORD’s provision of Joshua was a blessing to the people. They can be strong and courageous because of Joshua. The book of Joshua is primarily and fundamentally about Joshua.

And yet…it is not about this Joshua. The book of Joshua is primarily and fundamentally about another Joshua. The Hebrew name Joshua means, Yahweh saves. The Greek transliteration of Joshua is Iesous, from which we get the English name Jesus. Jesus’ name means, the LORD saves. The Joshua of this book really is a signpost pointing us to the other Joshua. The other Joshua is the one who will lead God’s People into the true Promised Land. He will provide us with God’s portion. He is the leader that, though he dies, will rise from the dead and reign victorious over the grave. He is the one who will establish and fulfill the covenant promises. He will bless those who bless God and curse those who curse God. And it is because of this greater Joshua that we can be strong and courageous.

The Formal Principle of the Reformation

Assistant Pastor Christopher Diebold

Through a series of events largely outside of Martin Luther’s control, he found himself scheduled to debate John Eck, a noted Roman Catholic theologian, in the summer of 1519. What has come to be called the Leipzig Debate marked a shift in Luther’s criticism of the Roman Catholic Church. The precipitating event was Luther’s defense of some positions of Jan Hus, the Bohemian proto-reformer who was burned at the stake more than 100 years earlier. Interestingly, Luther defended Hus’ theology only after Eck had debated Luther into a corner.

In the course of the debate, Luther eventually responded to the claim that he was supporting a condemned position by defending many of Hus’s positions as essentially orthodox. When Eck questioned his defense of a noted heretic, Luther countered that the Council of Constance, which sentenced Hus to death, could have been in error. This led him to state that councils could and had erred, as had popes and canon law. What remained infallible for Luther was Scripture and thus it was finally authoritative for the church.[1]

And so, when presented with the choice of supporting the Roman Catholic Church or the heretic Jan Hus, Luther chose the heretic. “For the first time, Luther had articulated clearly his position that popes, councils, and theologians were all subject to error, leaving Scripture as the supreme authority in all theological matters. This became a watershed moment, resulting in both increased support and increased opposition after he left Leipzig.”[2]

Thus, the formal principle of the Reformation was established. The arguments between Roman Catholics and reformers would be debated from there on the grounds of this question: how do you know that Scripture is the supreme authority? As the Reformation continued and expanded, other reformers would add clarity to what it means for Scripture both to claim and to be the ultimate authority. John Calvin remarks,

When that which professes to be the word of God is acknowledged to be so, no person, unless devoid of common sense and the feelings of a man, will have the desperate hardihood to refuse credit to the speaker. But since no daily responses are given from heaven, and the Scriptures are the only records in which God has been pleased to consign his truth to perpetual remembrance, the full authority which they ought to possess with the faithful is not recognized, unless they are believed to have come from heaven, as directly as if God had been heard giving utterance to them.[3]

Scripture’s authority is founded on God’s choice to leave a permanent record of his revelation in writing rather than to engage in continued direct divine revelation through the ages. How do you know God’s will for your life? He has preserved his revelation in Scripture and Scripture alone; Scripture declares itself to be the very word of God.

Fast forward a few hundred years. While the Dutch Reformed theologian Herman Bavinck was writing his Reformed Dogmatics at the turn of the 19th century, this same issue persisted, yet the questions were more sophisticated. One such Roman Catholic response to the formal principle of the Reformation was this question: how do you know that you know Scripture is the supreme authority? After all, Scripture has always been interpreted by authority, e.g. Moses, the Levitical priests, Christ, and the Apostles. If Scripture needs authoritative interpretation, it can’t be clear. If it’s not clear, how do you know that it is the supreme authority? So the argument goes.

The Reformed defense of the formal principle of the Reformation is presented well by Bavinck:

The doctrine of the perspicuity [clarity] of Holy Scripture has frequently been misunderstood and misrepresented, both by Protestants and Catholics. It does not mean that the matters and subjects with which Scripture deals are not mysteries that far exceed the reach of the human intellect. Nor does it assert that Scripture is clear in all its parts, so that no scientific exegesis is needed, or that, also in its doctrine of salvation, Scripture is plain and clear to every person without distinction. It means only that the truth, the knowledge of which is necessary to everyone for salvation, though not spelled out with equal clarity on every page of Scripture, is nevertheless presented throughout all of Scripture in such a simple and intelligible form that a person concerned about the salvation of his or her soul can easily, by personal reading and study, learn to know that truth from Scripture without the assistance and guidance of the church and the priest. The way of salvation, not as it concerns the matter itself but as it concerns the mode of transmission, has been clearly set down there for the reader desirous of salvation.[4]

The Holy Spirit opens blind eyes to the clear truth of Scripture. This clear truth is infallible truth because Scripture is the very word of God. Though councils and popes have erred, Scripture cannot err. So, Scripture is the only solid ground upon which we can know God. This is why sola Scriptura was the formal principle of the Reformation.

As we remember the Reformation this Sunday, remember specifically the formal principle of the Reformation.

[1] https://reformation500.csl.edu/timeline/leipzig-debate/

[2] Ibid.

[3] Institutes, 1.7.1

[4] Reformed Dogmatics, 1:477

Satan

Pastor Donny Friederichsen

The spiritual world is unseen. Though it is felt in various ways, it is often ignored or disregarded because it is invisible. The visibility or lack thereof does not affect the reality of evil spiritual forces which oppose God. The chief of these forces is Satan. Satan is real. Often Satan is popularly depicted as red with horns, goat hooves, a tail, and a pitchfork. Very little of this would find its origin in how the Bible describes Satan. Likely, his popular image comes from an eclectic mix of folklore, mythology, and literature. But what does the Bible say about Satan? A comprehensive answer cannot be given here. But we will look at various names and titles given to Satan. We will also see his principal manner of attack against God and Christians. And we will lay out some strategies for Christians in resisting him.

Just as there is the kingdom of God, there is a kingdom of evil spirits (Matt 12:26; Mk 3:24; Luke 11:17-18). And at the head of this kingdom is Satan. He is the devil, the enemy, the accuser (Rev 12:10), Belial (Syriac for worthlessness), Beelzebul (Lord of the dwelling or Lord of the flies, Matt 10:25), prince of demons (Matt 9:34), the ruler of the kingdom of the air (Eph 2:2), the ruler of this world (John 12:31), the god of this world (2 Cor 4:4), the great dragon and the ancient serpent (Rev 12:9; 20:2).[1] He is a murderer and the father of lies (John 8:44). He goes about like a roaring lion seeking whomever he can destroy (1 Pet 5:8).

Satan is always and everywhere the adversary of God, the opponent of Christ, and the deceiver of humans. His primary goal is to make people sin. He will use every imaginable tactic or tool to lead people into sin, violence, and even death. His hatred of God is so intense that he longs to destroy every creature who bears the image and imprint of God. Satan will do everything he can to prevent someone from coming to faith in Jesus Christ. And failing that, from the moment you believe, he will do everything he can to torment, trouble, and keep you from living a joyful and holy life.

The Dutch theologian Wilhelmus À Brakel notes that Satan will appear in three different manners. He will appear as an angel of light (2 Cor 11:14). He will appear godly and lovely. He might bring to attention some passage of Scripture, but he does so with intention to deceive and distort. He will distract from the preached Word with some other benign topic. His strategy in this is to take our gaze off of Christ and place it on things of lesser value. He will tempt us to be satisfied with virtue for the sake of virtue, and rob us of the comfort that comes in Christ. Satan will appear as the Prince of darkness. He will assail our senses in a way that we cannot tell reality from imagination. In this he induces fear. He will create scenarios where our lives seem to be in jeopardy, and we are tempted to doubt God’s power or kindness. But Satan most likely chooses to conceal himself. He will convince us that he does not exist. And quietly and without notice he will tempt and corrupt our hearts. He will lead us into evil, prevent us from good, or simply bewilder and confuse the soul.[2]

In each of these presentations, Satan will attempt to make the Christian sin. He will obscure your faith. Frivolous questions of the trustworthiness of God will creep into your minds. Doubts will bubble up in your hearts. The path of the cross will seem unbearable. He will then assail your prayer life. You will miss the comfort, strength, and power of prayer. You will believe that you are too busy to pray. He will also seek to prevent you from the blessing of the means of grace. You will be tempted to occupy your minds with drivel until late on Saturday, and then struggle with being drowsy on Sunday. Your minds will be cluttered with random thoughts, so that you do not focus on the preached word. He will also attempt to rob you of the joy and benefits of your sanctification. You will doubt every good thing you do. You will question whether you don’t do enough or that you attempt to do too much to earn God’s favor. Satan will attack your faith, prayers, reception of the Word, and sanctification. If he cannot destroy you, he will seek to sideline you.

Jesus was clear in his assessment of the reality of Satan. Either he is as Jesus says he is, or Jesus is wrong on this key aspect of faith and religion. In response, we should learn to resist the devil, and he will flee from us (James 4:7). We must remember that Satan is a conquered enemy (Zech 3:2). He is powerful but his power is limited by an all-powerful God. We know his schemes, so we should recognize his influence and turn all the more to Christ. God provides faith. We must remember to pray. We need to remember God’s Word. And we must live in the encouragement of Christian fellowship.

[1] Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, 3.146.

[2] Brakel, The Christian’s Reasonable Service, 4 Vols., 4.236–41.

Demons

Dr. David Talcott

With Halloween right around the corner, we are about to be confronted with something we usually don’t like to think about: demons. Pirates and princesses might be the costumes we prefer, but all too often the holiday is marked with darker elements.

Unfortunately, Halloween often makes light of something that is a pretty serious matter. Demons are real. They are evil spirits, personal beings with a mind and will, but no body. They are like evil angels. In fact, scripture suggests they are angels who God originally created good but who, like Satan, rebelled against God and are now fallen and evil. Matthew 25:41 says, describing the final judgment, “Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels.’” Likewise, the apostle Peter tells us in 2 Peter 2:4 that angels “sinned” and are now being “reserved for judgment.” The flow of the passage suggests these angels sinned before the days of Noah. Revelation 12:7-9 describes the devil and his angels losing a fight with the archangel Michael and his angels. It seems that demons existed before man and will be judged in the last days along with man.

So, demons are real, and not something to make light of. They show up quite a bit in the gospel accounts where Jesus dramatically demonstrates His power over them, but only occasionally in other parts of Scripture. Demons don’t seem to play a role in Genesis (unless 6:2 is referring to them) or Exodus, for example, or the books of the prophets. In general it’s not common in Scripture to have a direct demonic encounter.

Many people today worry about “demon possession” like in the gospels, but the more common evil in scripture is “demon worship.” In Deuteronomy 32:17, Psalm 106:37, 1 Corinthians 10:20, and Revelation 9:20 we’re told that some people worship demons, sinning by worshipping and sacrificing to false spiritual powers rather than the one true God who made heaven and earth.

1 Corinthians 10 is a particularly strong warning for us as Christians. The Apostle Paul writes, “I do not want you to become sharers in demons” (1 Cor 10:20). That’s an astonishing warning to write to a church – that through their misuse of the gifts of God, and a turning away from true worship, they could come to worship idols like the Gentiles. Paul uses the Israelites as an example. The Israelites were given many blessings, all of which came from Christ: “all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea; all ate the same spiritual food; and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ” (1 Cor 10:2-4). Like us, today, the Israelites were brought through water and given spiritual food and drink to sustain them.

But, what did the Israelites do with these blessings? They were unfaithful, rebelling against God’s wise governance: Paul says that “Nevertheless, with most of them God was not well-pleased” (1 Cor 10:5). Psalm 106:37 describes the Israelites practicing child sacrifice like the pagan nations around them. Just as many Israelites, who experienced all the blessings of the covenant, failed to truly worship God, we too can experience all the blessings of being in the visible church and yet fail to properly honor God. Just as “not all Israel is Israel” (Rom 9:6), not all who sit in church pews are Christians. For, as Paul writes, “He is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that of the flesh” (Rom 2:29).

These are challenging words for us today, but they are words filled with hope. For what comes next in Romans is this: true circumcision is “by the Spirit, not by the letter” (Rom 2:29). True followers of God love Him with their whole hearts, approach Him in humility and faith, trust in His provision for their salvation, and know that apart from Him they are lost. Their hope is not in external rituals but in the grace of God manifested in His Son Jesus and working in their hearts by the power of His Spirit. We can have great hope that God is our loving Father.

So, as costumed demons are about to be spread around our neighborhoods, we should remember the Israelites and how they turned away from the true God. We should spend more time resting in Christ’s finished work on the cross than we do worrying about encountering someone with “demon possession.” We should take more care to actively do our part in the worship of God and obedience to His perfect law rather than worry about what demons might do to us. True, evil spirits actively seek to deceive: Paul writes “in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons” (1 Tim 4:1). But, it need not be so with us. God has given us His Holy Spirit and has bestowed on us ordinary means of grace that can sustain us through this life: His Word preached and read, the sacraments, prayer, and Christian fellowship. God has graciously given us all that we need, so let us hold fast to Him, a kind and loving Father.

Covenant Theology – A Primer

Assistant Pastor Chris Diebold

By my count, there are 164 churches in our denomination, the Presbyterian Church in America, with the word “Covenant” in their name. By the end of 2017, the PCA was comprised of 1,568 churches. Given all the options for naming a church, ten percent representation suggests to me that the idea of covenants is pretty important to us reformed and Presbyterian folk. But why are covenants so important to us? You’ll have to come to our Fall Theology Conference next week to find out. However, as a primer to the conference, I’ll spend a brief moment presenting a few general ideas about covenant theology. Hopefully this whets your appetite for next week.

Let’s cut to the chase. Why are covenants and covenant theology important to us? Dr. Ligon Duncan says, “Covenant Theology is the bible’s way of explaining: the atonement, the Christians’ assurance of salvation, sacraments, redemptive history, and the dynamic of God’s sovereignty and our human responsibility in living out the Christian life.” In short, covenant theology is important because it is the framework God has used to reveal his gracious plan of salvation.

If covenant theology is so important, then we should expect to see covenants at the center of the high points in Scripture. And that is, in fact, what we see. Think back to the flood in Genesis 6-9. The rainbow is the covenant sign that God will not destroy the earth again by flood (Gen 9:11). The relative stability of the seasons is an aspect of God’s covenant (Gen 8:22), and this stability points to God’s patience in judgment until all his chosen people have called upon his name (cf. 2 Pet 3:4-10). Covenant theology is thus central to our understanding of God’s patience in his plan of redemption.

But consider also that a covenant is at the center of the promises and sign given to Abraham in Genesis 15-17. The promise that all the nations would be blessed through Abraham and the sign of circumcision which gave assurance of the promise are tied together by a covenant ritual ceremony. Covenant theology is at the heart of the promise that would ultimately be fulfilled in Christ Jesus.

Finally, remember the words of our Lord as he instituted the Last Supper. “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:20). Jesus uses covenantal language to explain the significance of his death. By these words, he ties language from Exodus 24 to language from Jeremiah 31. Covenant theology is thus a central way to understand the grand narrative of God’s plan of redemption that finds its climax in the life, death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Given the importance of covenant theology, two words on what covenant theology is not should be mentioned. Covenant theology is not a response to dispensationalism. While covenant theology speaks to the same issues as dispensationalism, it is not a reaction to that 19th century theology made popular in the Scofield reference Bible.

Covenant theology is also not a response to Baptists. Certainly it speaks to the reason why Presbyterians baptize infants, but it is not a reaction to believers-only baptism. In short, covenant theology is not a weapon employed against ideological adversaries. It is an honest look at the teaching Scripture to explain the framework of redemptive history.

By extension, the Fall Theology Conference is not a strategic assault on any reformed Baptists in the congregation. Rather, it is an opportunity for us to consider more carefully the depths of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God. It is an opportunity to grasp at the big picture of God’s work of salvation and how it can be that Adam and Jesus are connected. It is an opportunity to have all the more reason to give all glory, laud, and honor to our great God to the praise of his glorious grace.

So, I hope you will join us on October 13 and 14 for our Fall Theology Conference. We are blessed to have Dr. Nick Reid teaching on this subject for us. And since this is a primer for the conference, I’ll close out this reflection with a brief sketch of what Dr. Reid will be teaching.

In the morning session at 10:00 am on Saturday, October 13, Dr. Reid will present “The Ancient Near Eastern Backgrounds to Covenants.” The events of Scripture do not happen in a vacuum, so it is helpful to have some background. However, it’s always important to be mindful of the direction of influence between the world and Scripture.

In the evening session at 5:00 pm on Saturday, Dr. Reid will speak to us on the topic of the Abrahamic covenant. In “Father Abraham Had Many Sons: Our Father in the Faith?” he’ll present to us the importance of that covenant to us.

In Sunday school, Dr. Reid will present “What’s Love Got to Do With It: The Mosaic Covenant” as he lays out crucial teaching on the relevance of the Mosaic Covenant today.

On Sunday, Dr. Reid will preach on Isaiah 54:1-17 which presents God’s eternal covenant of peace that he promises to establish with his people. I do hope that you can join us and profit from this valuable opportunity to learn more about covenant theology.

Truth and Politics

Pastor Donny Friederichsen

I’ve been listening to a fascinating audio book on the nature of warfare in World War II. Giles Milton’s book, Churchill’s Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare details the unconventional and sometimes brutal methods employed to defeat the Nazis. Churchill’s belief was that the Nazis were inflicting total warfare on the British. Thus, the only response was to defeat them by any means. The idea of a genteel and gentlemanly war was discarded in favor of espionage, deception, and sabotage. This was a zero-sum game. It was either won or lost, and losing was not an option. It seems that many today are approaching modern American politics with the same zero-sum game attitude. And in this type of battle, the end justifies the means.

The truth is, I planned on writing this reflection weeks ago. When it was scheduled, I didn’t have any idea that the nation would be embroiled in a hyper-politicized “he said/she said.” But here we are; a nation that feels, in many ways, to be ripping at the seams. What is a Christian to make of it? How should believers in Jesus Christ evaluate their political opinions? How should Christians express their opinions (even political ones)? The Scriptures point us to the sanctity of truth, the necessity of honesty, and the maintaining of our own and our neighbor’s good name.

Truth is to be regarded as sacred because it is an attribute of God. God cannot lie (Titus 1:2). “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all” (1 Jn 1:5). God’s word is truth (Jn 17:17). God is infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in his truth (WSC 4). But untruth and falsehood is rampant in this fallen world because of sin. Satan is the deceiver (Rev. 12:9). He is the father of lies (Jn. 8:44). Because of this, Christians are to cherish and uphold truth while rejecting what is false.

The ninth commandment instructs us, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor” (Exo. 20:16). The Larger Catechism 144 & 145 explains this generally by forbidding whatever is contrary to the truth and to the good name of any person. Honesty is necessary in all aspects of life. Honesty requires a defense of truth and the good name of ourselves and our neighbor. The Larger Catechism 145 forbids opposing this, especially in “public judicature.” Public judicature is the administration of justice in courts of the state or church. False testimony or accusations must be opposed. Likewise, “undue silence in a just cause” is wrong. Justice is perverted if those abused or those who witness abuse remain silent. Their silence only results in the innocent suffering and the guilty escaping. In this respect, the #MeToo movement has been tremendously helpful in encouraging the abused to speak up. Every accuser should have a right to be fairly heard. But every accuser does not have a right to be believed. Only what is true should be believed.

Modern politics excels at what the WLC calls “speaking the truth maliciously.” Though what is said may be technically true, it is wielded solely in an attempt to injure someone’s reputation. Half-truths and innuendo dominate modern political discourse. Social media is filled with memes and articles that purposely distort the truth for political purposes. And we in the church are often complicit in their propagation. Before posting or sharing something we should ask, “Does this fairly characterize or summarize the other person’s point of view? Am I addressing the issue or attacking their person? Are terms clearly defined? Does this statement address the topic at hand?” If we cannot appropriately answer these questions, then posting the meme or article probably violates the ninth commandment. Careless posting on social media without a concern for the whole truth is bearing false witness. It damages others and it damages the ability of the church to speak into important matters in this culture. Honesty is necessary.

Life works best when in line with God’s law. This means that even in political discourse we need to maintain the good of our neighbor’s name. The parable of the Good Samaritan (Lk. 10:25-37) instructs us that our “neighbor” may include someone we’ve considered our enemy. The Larger Catechism warns against either “scornful contempt” or “fond admiration.” We must not treat others in our thought, word, or deed in a way that demeans or ignores their inherent human dignity. We must also not have a blind, foolish devotion to some person because they are part of our tribe. It is far too easy to overlook the faults and foibles of those with whom we agree and to target the very same faults and foibles of our enemies. This is sin.

The health of our political and social discourse is reaching a critical point. The words and actions of those in the church should be different. Our words should be true. Our actions should seek and promote the truth. We must strive to preserve our own good name and reputation and that of our enemies. We should debate and disagree with ideas. There is a right and wrong way to lead the nation. There are better and worse philosophies. These things need to be discussed vocally and passionately. But we must not stoop to deceitful or dehumanizing ways. For Christians, our current political discourse is not a zero-sum game. The end does not justify the means. We cannot violate the ninth commandment because doing so brings dishonor upon our Savior.

 

 

 

The Bible – Book by Book – 2 Corinthians

Jared Smith

Gospel ministry and life in the church are full of great difficulties and trials. These difficulties are on full display in Paul’s second recorded letter to the church in Corinth. The Apostle Paul’s most personal letter is the final letter of several that he wrote to the church: the letter mentioned in 1 Cor. 5:9, our canonized 1 Corinthians, which could arguably be the “severe” letter mentioned in 2 Cor. 2:3-4 (or the “severe” letter could be a separate letter altogether) and finally 2 Corinthians. 2 Corinthians was written while Paul was in Macedonia roughly one year after he wrote 1 Corinthians (55/56 AD).

Many times we read Paul’s epistles as theological treatises or systematic theologies. Though they are chock full of theology (it’s Holy Scripture; it’s all theological), we would do well to remember that Paul’s epistles are personal letters from an apostle and church planter to churches that he either planted or ministered to. 2 Corinthians reminds us of this personal nature in that the main thrust of the letter is Paul’s defense of his ministry. Ironically, Paul does not defend his ministry by discussing his great theological and rhetorical abilities, but rather by exposing and boasting in his suffering and weakness. In the midst of defending his ministry, Paul exhorts the church to give generously to their fellow Christians in need, particularly the Christians in Jerusalem (chs. 8-9).

After his customary greetings (1:1-2), Paul jumps right into discussing the “affliction we experienced in Asia” (1:8), reminding the Corinthians of the comfort that can only be provided by God himself. He then moves to explain why he didn’t visit them. The church saw Paul as fickle, so he explained that he stayed away to spare the church an inevitably painful visit rather than from a lack of confidence or decency (1:23-2:2). One of the disappointments that Paul had with the church was the lack of forgiveness for a repentant brother (2:7-8). His other disappointment is due to the church’s lack of discernment regarding false teachers (which he discusses later). Unlike the “peddlers of God’s word” who have seemingly bewitched some in the church, Paul and his companions are “men of sincerity, commissioned by God” (2:17). He continues to defend his ministry writing that his ministry is not due to his own sufficiency (3:4-5) but to the mercy of God (4:1). And it is not a ministry about him, but rather one that is empowered by the Holy Spirit to point the church towards Christ Jesus. Paul boasts that his Christological responsibility is to “give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (4:6). This focus enables Paul to endure various trials without being destroyed or quitting the ministry. Rather, Paul’s Spirit-empowered resilience encourages the saints so that, in their own trials, they too can know that “this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (4:17).

The apostle knows that his despair is temporary, but life in Christ is eternal. He points the church to the day in which Christ will judge both good and evil (5:10). Yet the saints should not be fearful because they have been reconciled to God through Christ (5:18) and are therefore new creations (5:17). As an ambassador for Christ, Paul sees his ministry as one of reconciliation. The church can find joy in that they are reconciled to God because of the substitutionary work of Christ Jesus – “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (5:21). Due to the ministry and message that has been entrusted to Paul, he warns the church to have no partnership with those who practice and teach evil (6:14).

After his initial defense of his ministry (1:3-7:1), Paul writes to the Corinthians of the great joy he has for them upon hearing from Titus how the church was a repentant church (ch. 7). In the midst of their questioning of Paul’s ministry, the apostle can still rejoice because the majority of the church had accepted Paul’s authority via the letter sent to them (7:12) and Titus’ visit. Though a church should be very much known for its theological and ethical purity, it is just as vital that a church is known for its lifestyle of repentance. Upon writing these thoughts, Paul swiftly couples his commendation of their repentance with exhortations for their generosity (chs. 8-9). Paul exhorts them specifically by recalling the generosity of the Macedonian church in their poverty (8:1ff) and by reflecting on God’s love of and supply to cheerful givers (8:9ff).

Paul ends his epistle defending his ministry once again by boasting in sufferings.  The Corinthian church sees Paul as physically and rhetorically inferior (10:10), yet Paul sees his suffering and inferiority as proof of ministry. Over against the so-called “super apostles” (11:5), Paul boasts in the many dangers he endured for the sake of the gospel (11:24ff). Though he could boast of his pedigree (11:22-23) and his revelations (12:1-6), he would rather boast in his weakness so that “the power of Christ may rest upon me” (12:9). Paul makes his final plea by writing “aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace, and the God of love and peace will be with you” (13:11).  A sober reminder even for the church today.