Adoption: David and Mephibosheth

Mephibosheth

Adoption

“…like one of the king’s sons” 2 Samuel 9:11b

Read 2 Samuel 9

Adoption is something we understand in our society. A family decides to take in a child either because they have no children of their own, or because they want to add to their family. It may be an infant or an older child. The normal process is that the parent searches for the child. The child doesn’t take the initiative and demand entrance into the family.

Likewise, adoption as a theological term is focused on the personal relationships salvation brings. Grudem says, “Adoption is an act of God whereby He makes us members of His family.”

One of the most beautiful examples of adoption is found in the account of King David’s grace extended to Mephibosheth, the disabled son of Jonathan. Here we see a strong and powerful king stoop down to reach out to someone who is everything he is not. He does it because of covenant mercy.

In this account in 2 Samuel, we see King David takes the initiative to search out relatives of Jonathan. He is under no obligation. He is pondering his love for Jonathan and remembering his covenant. He seeks out a descendant of Jonathan merely because he wants to show him favour. David had promised both Saul and Jonathan that he wouldn’t destroy their descendants, as was the custom of kings to put away rivals to the throne. We find those in 1 Sam. 20:12-17, 41-42, 1 Sam. 23:16-181 Sam. 24:20-22. Read.

He wonders, “Is there anyone who is left of the house of Saul, that I may show kindness for Jonathan’s sake?” In verse 3 he calls it “the kindness of God.” This word kindness can also be translated covenant-faithfulness or grace. A covenant is a contract between two parties. Grace, according to Chuck Swindoll, “…can mean unmerited favour—extending special favour to someone who doesn’t deserve it, who hasn’t earned it, and can never repay it.

Notice David doesn’t qualify the request, he just asks, “Is there anyone?” not, “Is there anyone worthy, or qualified?” It’s enough that he has promised, and he means to keep his promise. David finds a former servant of Saul and inquires again. Ziba knows of a son of Jonathan, but warns David about Mephibosheth’s disability. He may be trying to subtly warn David that Mephibosheth wouldn’t look good in the court of the king. David doesn’t care. He just asks, “Where is he?”

Mephibosheth was the only surviving son of Jonathan, King Saul’s son. In 2 Sam. 4:4 we read about his crippling accident when he was only five years old. (read) When news came of the death of his father and grandfather, Mephibosheth’s nurse took him and fled. He fell and became lame in his feet. He was now living with a friend, in a barren place. He had no home or property of his own, even though he was the grandson of the king. But God has no grandchildren. We must each be adopted individually into His family as sons and daughters.

Mephibosheth receives a summons. A summons is not like an invitation to a party, which can be declined. It is a request that comes with authority and if he would not come willingly, with means to bring it about. What must he have thought when he heard King David’s servants say, “The king wants to see you.”? Did he feel fear, or merely resignation, knowing this day would come?

Mephibosheth tosses aside his cane and falls at David’s feet, probably expecting a sword on his neck. Instead, what does he receive? The king calls him by name, and says,

“Do not fear.” That’s comfort

“For I will surely show you kindness…” That’s grace

“And will restore to you all the land of Saul your grandfather.” That’s inheritance

“…and you shall eat bread at my table continually.” That’s communion/fellowship

Just like that, Mephibosheth goes from a place of barrenness to a place of honour. He knows he doesn’t deserve this favour. He refers to himself as a dead dog.

David further instructs Mephibosheth’s servant Ziba and his sons and servants to farm the former property of Saul, which he has now bequeathed to Mephibosheth. This was probably extensive property. Up until now he probably has not farmed it since he has been in hiding, fearing for his life. He has reason to fear for the accepted practice of the day was that when a new king came to the throne he’d secure his kingdom by removing all threats to it from the previous king’s descendants. Mephibosheth also would have no doubt heard how his uncle Ishbosheth was murdered in his bed. He would not be sure if David was responsible for it, or the death of General Abner, whom Joab killed.

But now he has an inheritance to pass on to his own sons. David does this, and yet does not send Mephibosheth away. He could have just given him the land and been done with him. Instead, he insists on giving him a home in the palace. Mephibosheth will “eat at my table like one of the king’s sons.” This is where we see adoption, with all the privileges we mentioned.

Chuck Swindoll says, “He may be heard coming to dinner, his cane clop clopping on the floors, but once he is seated, the tablecloth of grace covers his crooked feet.”

Likewise, we were estranged from our Father because of our sin, lame in our “walk”, our lifestyle. We were in the wilderness with no home of our own, no inheritance, no comfort and no fellowship. Just as Adam and Eve hid from God, we were in hiding because of our sin. Sin causes shame.

“Pride and shame. You’d never know they were sisters. They appear so different. Pride puffs out her chest. Shame hangs her head. Pride boasts. Shame hides. Pride seeks to be seen. Shame seeks to be avoided. But don’t be fooled, the emotions have the same parentage. And the emotions have the same impact. They keep you from your Father. Pride says, ‘You’re too good for Him.’ Shame says, ‘You’re too bad for Him.’ Pride drives you away. Shame keeps you away. If pride is what goes before a fall, then shame is what keeps you from getting up after one.”

Max Lucado–He Chose the Nails

We’re afraid to look up into the face of God. We’re ashamed. What if he doesn’t accept us? But then He lifts our chin and we look into His face. What do we see there? Judgment? Censure? Disapproval? Condemnation? Oh, no. We see Love. Acceptance. Pardon.

Then we hear the summons of the King, the effectual call of the gospel. We hear it, recognize its truth, and believe it. We agree with the Word of God. We know we are deserving of judgment, not mercy.

God the Father initiated the process. He searched us out, not because we were loveable, but because of the love He has for His Son and the covenant He made with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and David. He has promised to give His Son the nations for His inheritance. That’s us! So He decides to take us into His family. He is under no obligation to do so. He adopts us. He gives us the family name: Christian, which means, “little Christs”. There is to be a family resemblance in character to our Heavenly Father, who is holy, and to our Elder Brother, Jesus Christ. We love those who are now our brothers and sisters. We know that our conduct matters. If, in a human family the actions of one cause either shame or honour to the whole family, how can we live as if we were not bearing the family name, Christian?

We can now have comfort with no fear of condemnation. He shows us grace that we don’t deserve, haven’t earned, and can never repay. He takes care of our needs. He leads us. He disciplines us as sons and daughters. He makes us heirs with Christ. Think of that! Such an inheritance! What can the world possibly offer us? And we have communion with this One through prayer, through His word, and we will one day see Him face to face.

We also have the privilege of suffering with Him. “…and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together.” Rom. 8:17

For those of us without fathers, He is the Father of the fatherless. What a privilege to be adopted into THIS family!

“Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God!” 1 John 3:1

What about Machir?

We first hear of Machir, son of Ammiel in 2 Sam. 9:4 Here he seems to be loyal to the house of Saul, sheltering the son of Jonathan in a place called Lo Debar. Yet later on, when Absalom rebels, he becomes loyal to David, appearing with two others with provisions for David and his family when they fled from Jerusalem.

“Now it happened, when David had come to Mahanaim, that Shobi the son of Nahash from Rabbah of the people of Ammon, Machir the son of Ammiel from Lo Debar, and Barzillai the Gileadite from Rogelim, brought beds and basins, earthen vessels and wheat, barley and flour, parched grain and beans, lentils and parched seeds, honey and curds, sheep and cheese of the herd, for David and the people who were with him to eat. For they said, ‘The people are hungry and weary and thirsty in the wilderness.’” 2 Sam. 17:27-29

Did David’s care of Mephibosheth change his loyalties? Perhaps.

What happens to Mephibosheth later on?

His future continues to be linked with his servant Ziba, for good and bad. Ziba, who had fifteen sons and twenty servants, was charged with farming all the land that had formerly belonged to Saul. This provided for Mephibosheth’s family. Read 2 Sam. 9:2-4, 9-11.

But when Absalom rose up against David, causing David and his family to flee, Mephibosheth was left behind. See 2 Sam.16:1-4. What caused Ziba to turn on Mephibosheth and slander him before David? Was it greed? Was it not enough to care for the land? Did he desire to own it for himself and his many sons? It would appear to have worked, for when David first heard the accusation that Mephibosheth had designs on the throne, he seemed to believe it. He immediately handed over all of Mephibosheth’s property to Ziba without any further inquiry. Didn’t Mephibosheth deserve the benefit of the doubt? Had he ever given any indication of disloyalty to David?

At this point David was discouraged and depressed. His own son rose against him and was now seeking to kill him. Soon another would curse him and he basically said, “Bring it on. Let him curse.” He didn’t know who to trust. Perhaps this descendant of Saul was showing his true colours.

Yet, when the crisis was over and Absalom was dead, David began the trek back to Jerusalem. There to meet him at the Jordan were Shimei, the man who cursed him, and wonder of wonders, Ziba. He even brought along his fifteen sons and twenty servants for support. Read 2 Sam. 19:15-17 However, this time he said nothing, for Mephibosheth was there to speak for himself. Read 2 Sam. 19:24-30 His unkempt appearance showed his mourning the whole time the king was gone. Not the appearance of one who expected to be restored to the throne of his grandfather.

Yet David’s discernment and judgment was still lacking. He heard Mephibosheth’s story, that Ziba had deceived him and slandered him before the king, reasoned it could be true based on his disability, saw his appearance, heard no protest or denial from Ziba, and yet he was frozen with indecision.

Mephibosheth claimed no special privilege, even knowing David’s covenant with Jonathan. He left it with David to judge wisely, saying, “…but my lord the king is like the angel of God. Therefore do what is good in your eyes.” 1 Sam. 19:27b

He realized his situation had been much worse before, yet David had shown him mercy. “For all my father’s house were but dead men before my lord the king. Yet you set your servant among those who eat at your own table. Therefore what right have I still to cry out anymore to the king?” 2 Sam. 19:28

This is when you’re reading and you wish David could see what you see. Mephibosheth is telling the truth. He isn’t a deceiver, he was deceived. He isn’t lying; he was slandered. He’s not after land; his servant is.

But even the best of men are men at best, and David disappoints us with his indecision. Because he’s not sure which one has told the truth, he dismisses the case and comes up with a half-way solution, dividing the land up between Ziba and Mephibosheth.

While Ziba is probably happy with the arrangement, instead of being punished for his lies and deceit, Mephibosheth now shows his true humility. He relinquishes his rights and says Ziba can keep all the land; he’s only happy the king has returned safe and sound.

“Then Mephibosheth said to the king, ‘Rather, let him take it all, inasmuch as my lord the king has come back in peace to his own house.’” 2 Sam. 19:30

In the future, when wise King Solomon hears a similar case, he rightly judges who the true owner is because of their willingness to give up their rights for the greater good. (1 Kings 3:16-28)

Read 2 Sam. 21:7 The final time he is mentioned was when he was spared by David, even when other members of Saul’s family were put to death. The reason Scripture gives us is because of the oath between David and Jonathan. At this point, David may have renewed his confidence in Mephibosheth, or else he spared him in order to keep his oath.

Prayer: “Heavenly Father, what a privilege to be able to say that we are the children of God, adopted into the royal family, heirs of God and joint-heirs with Jesus Christ, who owns all things! That we should bear the name Christian. Lord, make us holy, so we can bear the name in a manner worthy of our calling, that we will not bring dishonour to Your name. You have given us so much in Christ. You searched us out when we were hiding in the wilderness of our sin, fearing the punishment that was sure to fall on us. You summoned us, not because we were loveable, but because of Your covenant-faithfulness. You not only showed us mercy in not giving us what we deserve, since we were Your enemies, but you showed us grace, compassion, and care. You took us into Your family, gave us provisions, fellowship and an inheritance that doesn’t fade away, reserved in Heaven for us. All because of Your Son, whom You love. Even when others may slander us before the world, or the enemy of our souls accuse us before Your throne, we know that unlike David, You will judge righteously, for You read our hearts. Thank you so much for the promise of adoption to all who believe. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”

Questions for Discussion:

Any questions or comments?

Did you ever see the gospel in this narrative before?

Have you considered the doctrine of adoption and all it entails before?

What was the most surprising aspect of this doctrine or narrative to you?

Response:

Live in the light of who we are in Christ. He is our Elder Brother. Let the world fade away.

Propitiation

threshing-floor

Propitiation

What’s God so Angry About?

Of all the theological terms we find in the Bible, I think propitiation is the least known and understood. One could ask the average man on the street, and he may know something about words like sanctification or maybe even regeneration, but it’s unlikely he would have even heard the word propitiation.

Sadly, one would not find results much improved within the walls of today’s churches. More than just a product of the spiritual illiteracy of our day, there is a sad lack of Biblical preaching and solid teaching.

Part of the reason many have never heard the word mentioned, let alone expounded, has to do with its meaning and the implications of it for the modern Christian who doesn’t like to hear about the thorny topic of the wrath of God.

Here are the portions of Scripture where we find it:

“But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” Romans 2:21-26

Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.” Hebrews 2:14-18

“My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.” 1 John 2:1,2

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.” 1 John 4:7-12

Story example of this doctrine: The plague following David’s census.

Jesus as the Intercessor in David’s census

Read 2 Samuel 24, 1 Chronicles 21

“Let your hand be against me…but not against Your people.” 1 Chron. 21:17

It’s a sad fact of the Christian walk that many of our greatest sins are not committed early in our walk, when we are immature in the faith, but later in life, when we should know better. We can become complacent or over-confident. But we are told in 1 Cor. 10:12 “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed, lest he fall.”

We see David, larger than life in the pages of Scripture, boldly facing a giant when he was only a teen, leading soldiers during his years in the wilderness, and finally becoming not only a righteous king of Israel, but a man after God’s own heart.

Yet David is also known for his great moral failure in regard to Bathsheba. That is a sad story and most understand the lessons from that event quite well. But although the causes of that sin could be lust, coveting, abuse of power, and neglect of duty, it also led to other sins like adultery, murder and lying.

In this stage of David’s life, he is nearing the end of his reign. The incident with Bathsheba is long past, Solomon is a grown man, and David’s kingdom is well established. At this point, they have rest from their enemies.

Yet, instead of thankfulness and praise to God, we see both pride and insecurity. David orders a census of the people in his realm. Was he puffed up with hubris, forgetting that the LORD had taken him from shepherding sheep to shepherding His people? Did David think that the kingdom was his because of something great in himself?

Or was David insecure, fearing that his army wasn’t large enough? Did he forget that God did not need armies to win battles, but that He was able to save “with many, or with few”? Did he need to hear the numbers to assure himself that they would be able to withstand any attacks? He spoke of trusting the LORD, but now he trusted in the arm of man.

We don’t know David’s true motives in this case, but we do know that behind it all, God was judging His people. We see this in verse one of 2 Sam. 24

Again the anger of the LORD was aroused against Israel, and He moved David against them to say, ‘Go, number Israel and Judah.’”

The reason is not given, but it must have been some kind of sin on the part of Israel. The fact that it says, ‘again’ tells us there had been an earlier incident. Most believe this to be Uzzah’s sin in touching the ark, recorded in 2 Sam. 6:6-12. It related to the improper respect for the law of God in handling the things of God. Something similar may have been the case here. In the law of Moses, there is a regulation regarding taking a census. It is found in Exodus 30:12 which says,

“When you take the census of the children of Israel for their number, then every man shall give a ransom for himself to the LORD, when you number them, that there may be no plague among them when you number them.”

The amount is specified in the next few verses. As far as we know, this wasn’t done, so it could be a consequence. This would again remind them that they needed to remember they were dealing with a holy God who must be worshipped in the manner He prescribed.

We know from Scripture that God is the First Cause of the judgment upon His people.

Yet, 1 Chronicles 21:1 says Satan stood up against Israel, and moved David to number Israel. Which was it? God, Satan, or David? All three, but in this order. God, the Sovereign of the universe is the First Cause, allowing events for His good purposes; Satan, once allowed by God, incites David by putting the thought in David’s mind; and David, as a free moral agent, does what he wants to do for his own reasons, by ordering a census.

What next? David calls a meeting of his generals, tells them what he wants, and silences their protests. They can’t understand why he feels it is necessary to order this make-work project. Even his nephew, General Joab, not known for his spiritual insight, protests. He seems to understand the wicked intent behind the order, and so refuses to count the Levites or Benjamites in the total; possibly because the Levites were excluded from military service and the temple was in Gibeon, with the tribe of Benjamin. The main reason for Joab’s half-hearted obedience was his general disdain towards any of David’s orders with which he disagreed. See 1 Chron. 21:6 (think of his disregard to deal gently with Absalom, for example).

David ordered them to count all the men over the age of twenty. This was the age at which they would be eligible for military service.

Was he hoping to conscript more soldiers if he deemed there were not enough, or to increase taxes based on the population? Was David planning an offensive to take even more land than Yahweh had allotted them? We don’t know, but we know that whatever his motives, God was not pleased.

Ten months later, the census is completed and the numbers are reported to David. Immediately, his conscience is pricked and he recognizes the wickedness of what he has done. He sees it even before a prophet is dispatched to announce God’s assessment of the situation. He repents, yet judgment still falls.

The prophet Gad is sent by God to address the king the next day. Surprising, and yet, not. This was how God communicated with the patriarchs. David must have known the news would not be good. He must have feared the approach of the prophet, as if he was bringing condemnation, just as the prophet Nathan had. Gad didn’t even explain the problem, but went straight to the punishment.

“Thus says the LORD, ‘I offer you three things; choose one of them for yourself, that I may do it to you.’”

Gulp. Would it be worse to choose your own punishment than to merely take whatever the LORD would send?

“Will three years of famine come to you in your land? Or will you flee three months before you are defeated by your foes, with the sword of your enemies overtaking you? Or will there be three days’ plague in your land? Now consider and see what answer I should take back to Him who sent me.”

Consider the terrible options brought by the prophet; famine, enemies, or plague. These three things have been the usual punishments for disobedience for their nation from the beginning. What an impossible choice! Any of those would result in so much death, again the result of David’s actions. How many would die as the result of his decisions?

“I am in great distress,” David says to Gad. “Please let us fall into the hand of the LORD, for His mercies are great, but do not let me fall into the hand of man.”

So, that would mean David chose the first or last option; famine or plague. He must’ve been so overwhelmingly distressed at the thought of fleeing from his enemies again, after the years in the wilderness, running from Saul, and more recently, on the run from his own son, Absalom. Some commentators speculate that there was possibly some measure of selfishness in David’s choice, since the prophet said with the second option he would fall by the sword. (1 Chron. 21:12) Perhaps this old warrior-king liked the idea of dying in his bed after all.

Are those thoughts too harsh? Hadn’t David learned that the LORD’s mercies were indeed great, as he saw when He forgave his many sins?

*****

The choice was made by God. The plague began that night.

The sound of anguish and loud wailing would have been heard behind almost every door. At first, the people wouldn’t understand what was happening, or why. Family members would suddenly get sick and die. They didn’t know how many would die in this divine judgment. Even if their family members were fine on the first day, would it be a comfort, once they learned it would last three days? They were at the mercy of the LORD, as David had said.

It must have seemed so mystical; the way the LORD was working. They had witnessed God’s supernatural power over events in the life of David so many times, but in his favor. Yet now, to be witnessing God’s judgment, of this magnitude, on His own people… and they knew it would happen just as the prophet said because God always did what He said He would do. There would be a plague throughout the whole land. And it would last as long as God decreed. Thankfully, not a moment longer.

A plague. Like the judgments on ancient Egypt in the day of Moses, God was revealing His mighty arm. He would do as He wished in the affairs of men. He was a discerner of men’s hearts. He knew what was in David’s heart; what motivated him to number the people.

Yet they could be equally sure the plague would not extend beyond Israel’s borders, because this time Israel was the object of God’s wrath, just as the Israelites were spared when the LORD judged Egypt. This was a very specific plague; Israel only, three days only.

But why must the people suffer for the king’s folly? When he took Bathsheba and murdered Uriah, God didn’t strike the people. Why now? It must not have seemed fair. In his sin with Bathsheba, which was heinous, and affected many people, he was forgiven. Yet now, in this seemingly harmless incident, the judgment is severe. What’s the difference?

We don’t know for sure, but possibly because the incident with Bathsheba was a private sin, it resulted in private consequences, mostly within the king’s own family. But this was a public sin, therefore the consequences were public. If the king was motivated by pride in the number of his people, as if the strength of Israel was the result of his leadership, rather than the blessing of God, then, perhaps the LORD was taking away from their number to show him that He alone is the cause of blessing or cursing, mercy or judgment.

But what’s so wrong about a census? It’s been done many times without this type of response.

Often the sins we think are small, are more offensive to God because he knows our motives. Or it could have been because of the manner in which it was done, which we mentioned earlier.

But why can’t God just forgive David, if he repents, like before?

He did repent. He recognized his sin. His conscience was bothered. This was before he even knew the prophet would come to him. Perhaps there are times when we are repentant, and God forgives us, yet the consequences still come. David was forgiven for his sins against Bathsheba and Uriah, yet there were still grave consequences. Other soldiers died along with Uriah. Families were bereaved. Who can understand the judgments of God?

Couldn’t he just offer some kind of sacrifice, like the one for wilful sin, and hope that God would relent?

Doubtful. When the prophet announced the judgment, it didn’t come with options to avoid it. This time, the sacrifice would be the lives of his people. How many that would be, they didn’t know.

Imagine yourself in the midst of this divine judgment. You’d wonder if every family would lose someone, like in the plague in Egypt, with the death of the firstborn? Would the judgment be that comprehensive?

These were probably the longest, most dreadful three days of David’s life. He knew he couldn’t stop the judgment of God. He must have feared moment by moment that a messenger would arrive with terrible news about someone in his family.

This was no localized event. News would arrive of thousands of dead throughout all Israel, from Dan in the north, to Beersheba in the south, all beginning on the same day. Yet the greatest number of deaths seemed to be in Jerusalem, itself, the city that bore Yahweh’s name. When it was all over, seventy thousand men of Israel died. If it’s the case that only men died, again it would remind David of his desire to know how many men of fighting age where in the land. It’s also interesting that 1 Chon. 21:14 says not just that they died, but that these men ‘fell’, so the idea is that of falling in battle. The LORD was fighting, not for His people, but against them.

Their only consolation would be that the prophet said the plague would last only three days. Only three days!

All business would been suspended, as it often is in a national crisis. The whole country would be in a panic, probably hoping to flee from the plague; but they were kept in Israel, caring for the dead or dying. David and all the elders of Israel were clothed in the sackcloth of mourning.

On the evening of that third day, David goes up onto the rooftop, this time not as a restless king looking for a distraction, but as a distressed man at the mercy of God. Even from this height, the cries of mourning could be heard in the streets below. David looks out over Jerusalem, the city he loves and his heart must have ached.

1 Chron. 21:16 We don’t know how this angel appeared but it may have been as if the clouds had formed into the shape of a man; with his sword drawn and outstretched over Jerusalem. The elders of Israel seemed to see it as well, and fell on their faces.

David fell to his face and cried out, “I am the one who has done evil indeed,” he confessed. “Was it not I who commanded the people to be numbered? But these sheep,” he stretched his arm out over the city in entreaty to God, interceding for his people, “what have they done? Let your hand, I pray, O LORD my God, be against me and my father’s house, but not against your people.”

How different this evening walk on a rooftop was from that evening long ago! To be witness to such a prayer! Although the people could rightly be angry at David that this punishment had come upon them, could they imagine that if they were in David’s position, they’d wish curses on their own family in the place of others? David had already seen so much suffering in his own family as a result of his actions, and now he was willing to take on even more, to spare his people. He was truly a shepherd of the people. Usually, in sacrifice, it was the life of an innocent animal in place of a guilty person; but now David, the guilty man, offered himself in place of his innocent sheep.

As if in a conversation with God, Himself, the prophet Gad arrived behind them on the roof. As was his usual direct approach, the prophet went straight to the message.

In response to David’s prayer, the prophet told him, “The LORD has relented of the disaster and has restrained the hand of the destroying angel. Now go up, erect an altar to the LORD on the threshing floor of Ornan, the Jebusite.”

It’s odd that the LORD directed David to a new place of worship, rather than the tabernacle in Gibeon, which was only six miles away from Jerusalem. But David did not question the command. Instead he hurried to observe the word of the LORD, perhaps thinking to spare even one more person if he obeyed quickly. Zadok, the priest and several other guards would have followed David as he entered his chariot and went in the direction of the vision he had seen in the sky over Jerusalem. As some citizens of Jerusalem saw the royal chariot pass by, he may have heard them exclaim, “The king! The king has come down to see our suffering!”

David must have turned away in anguish. Many would not yet know he was the cause of the plague. When they learned of it, they could well curse him instead.

When they arrived at the property of Ornan, the Jebusite, which was near Mount Moriah, the man would have looked up to see the king and his servants approaching. David wasted no time in going directly to the man. Ornan bowed before the king with his face to the ground.

“Are you Ornan, the Jebusite?” David asked.

The man nodded. “Why has my lord, the king, come to his servant?” Ornan must have asked, with trembling in his voice. The man must have feared for his life since the king came to him in person and asked for him by name.

“Grant that I might buy the threshing floor from you at full price, that I might build an altar to the LORD, that the plague may be withdrawn from the people.”

Ornan lifts his head, relief and surprise in his eyes, then he stands. “Let my lord the king take and offer up whatever seems good to him.” He motions to a yoke of oxen nearby. “Look, here are oxen for burnt sacrifice, and threshing implements and the yokes of the oxen for wood. All these, O king, Ornan has given to the king,” then he adds with a bow, “May the LORD your God accept you.”

David must have paused at Ornan’s last comment.

“No, but I will surely buy it from you for full price; for I will not take what is yours for the LORD, nor will I offer burnt offerings to the LORD my God with that which costs me nothing.

Isn’t that beautiful? This time he would not abuse his power and take what did not belong to him, like he had taken Bathsheba.

David counted out a generous sum and paid Ornan, so it then became royal property. Their haggling was reminiscent of the purchase of Sarah’s burial site by Abraham, done in front of witnesses, to make it legal.

David then set about building the altar himself, brushing away the help offered by his servants. As the king placed each rock, one by one, on the growing altar, we wonder if David remembered how he wanted his people counted?

When it was built, David offered burnt offerings; in acknowledgement of the righteous judgment of God, and peace offerings; in recognition of the mercy of God. This was accomplished through Zadok, the priest, whom he had brought with him.

When the oxen had been laid on the altar, David fell to his knees and called out to God. We don’t know what he prayed, but we know his prayer was heard. A moment passes. David instructs Zadok to proceed with lighting the burnt offering, but there is no need, as fire came from heaven, directly onto the altar. The guards standing nearby may have fallen backwards, some would have cried out in fear. What was happening?

David would have recognized what had happened, and it caused him to fall on his face. They would have felt the heat from the fire. When they looked up, the sacrifice had been completely consumed.

The LORD was pleased to answer David’s prayer and accept the sacrifice by fire. If the plague was a supernatural occurrence, this was more so.

As David inhaled the scent of the burnt offering, he must have marvelled that God had accepted the offering. Just as all of God’s judgments were just, so great was His mercy toward His people. Once His sword was sheathed, there would be no further deaths from this plague.

David was truly humbled by this event, perhaps even more so than after his sin with Bathsheba. In many ways, he had abused his power; taking another man’s wife, ordering this census because of his pride, not following God’s commands in how it should be done.

Now, he realized he was not greater than this poor farmer, whose land he purchased. He did not just come and demand the land and all he needed. He bought it for a generous price, and built the altar with his own hands, rather than merely ordering his servants to do it. He finally saw that true worship was costly, as his disobedience had been costly.

In spite of the horrible events of those three days, it must have been hard to feel any bitterness toward David. God’s anger had been spent. His wrath was propitiated or appeased. The avenging angel had sheathed its sword, near the same place where Abraham’s hand was stayed from killing Isaac, so long ago. It was over.

Some of the Scarlet Threads we find are revealed as contrasts, like the blood of Abel crying out for justice, versus the blood of Christ crying out for forgiveness. How is Christ pictured in this event? He is the One Who intercedes for His sheep and offers to take their punishment. In David’s case, it was the guilty for the innocent.

“Let your hand be against me…but not against Your people.” 1 Chron. 21:17

In Jesus’ case it is the innocent for the guilty.

“For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit,” 1 Pet. 3:18

Jesus stands between the just wrath of God and His people. He absorbs it in Himself as the sacrifice, becoming a propitiation for the wrath of God.  “…who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness—by whose stripes you were healed. 1 Pet. 2:24 Even now He intercedes for us based on what He has already accomplished.

What is intercession? The dictionary calls it, “prayer, petition, or entreaty in favor of another”. It carries the idea of urgency and deep concern. We see Jesus in John 17 interceding for the disciples and those who would believe through them (all other believers, including us).

“Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us.” Rom. 8:34

“Therefore He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.” Heb. 7:25

We also know the Spirit intercedes for us when words fail us.

“Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God.Rom. 8:26,2

David interceded on behalf of the people. Jesus intercedes for us. The Spirit intercedes for us. And we can intercede for others in prayer.

His sacrifice was complete and accepted. We know this because God the Father put His stamp of approval on it by raising Jesus from the dead. Romans 4:25 says Jesus… “who was delivered up (to die) because of our offenses, and raised because of our justification.” His resurrection proved that the sacrifice was acceptable to God. Otherwise He would have stayed dead. It corroborated everything Jesus ever said and did.

It’s also interesting to note that even though there was already a set place of worship, in Gibeah, six miles northeast of Jerusalem, God directs David to a new place. “For the tabernacle of the Lord and the altar of the burnt offering, which Moses had made in the wilderness, were at that time at the high place in Gibeon.” 1 Chron. 21:29 He then prophesied that it would be the site of the soon-to-be-built temple. “Then David said, “This is the house of the Lord God, and this is the altar of burnt offering for Israel.” 2 Chron. 22:1

This place is in the shadow of Mount Moriah, the place where Abraham almost sacrificed his son. It remained the place where David continued to go to worship, 1 Chron. 21:30 says, because of fear. It became the site that Solomon built his temple, “Now Solomon began to build the house of the Lord at Jerusalem on Mount Moriah, where the Lord had appeared to his father David, at the place that David had prepared on the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite.” 2 Chron. 3:1 and the same area where Christ was sacrificed a thousand years later. Coincidence? I think not.

Prayer: “Oh gracious, merciful LORD. This narrative shows us how You are involved in the affairs of men, and overrule them because You are Sovereign. When we read of things like a plague being sent by Your hand to punish Your people, we tremble. Yet with You there is mercy. We also see that You are holy and we could not stand in Your presence, let alone approach You if not for the finished work of Christ on our behalf. He has become our propitiation, absorbing in His own body the wrath we deserved. He intercedes for us, even now, and we thank You. If we are hidden in Christ, we are safe from Your righteous judgments. Thank You for accepting His sacrifice.”

Questions: How is your take on this narrative different from what you thought previously? Did you ever feel the plague was somehow an over-reaction to the census? Did you ever see Christ in this story before? Did you know about the change in location of worship? Do you ever feel you have to ‘defend’ God to unbelievers who would use this story to demonstrate how He appears harsh and uncaring? Did you notice that David never once complained about the judgment of God? He only ever claimed He was merciful and appealed to Him to transfer His judgment to Himself.

Response: Do you agree with the statement that many sins are committed when believers are more mature, than when they are less mature in the faith? Why do you think that is?

The Meaning and Purpose of Miracles

Jesus calms the storm

The Bible is a unique book, superintended by the Spirit of God, recording how God stepped into history to save His people. As such, it records miracles, or fingerprints of God; proof that He is real and acting on behalf of His people.

“A miracle is “an event which runs counter to the observed processes of nature.” J.D. Spiceland

Wayne Grudem, in his Systematic Theology, however gives a wider definition of a miracle. He says, “A miracle is a less common kind of God’s activity in which he arouses people’s awe and wonder and bears witness to himself.” This would take into account many of the wonderful things that happen in our lives or the lives of others in answer to prayer.

One often hears of someone being saved for whom we’ve long been praying, or a prodigal returning to the Lord, when we had begun to give up hope, or a person, healed of cancer or some other disease. Some would say a sunrise or sunset, the beauty of creation, or the birth of a baby is a miracle, but just one we take for granted.

While one wouldn’t call these miracles in the strict sense, Grudem’s definition would apply here. Remember, he called it, “…a less common kind of God’s activity in which he arouses people’s awe and wonder and bears witness to Himself.”

That is not to say that the miracles that are recorded, such as the lame being able to walk, or Jesus walking on water, are just tricks. They are not. God is truly intervening in our world in a supernatural way. He is not just interested in our world in a theoretical way. He actually acts on behalf of His people in history.

The most significant Old Testament miracle was the parting of the Red Sea, in order for the Israelites to escape their enemies. It demonstrated both His power and His love. It is the centrepiece of Jewish history in the Old Covenant.

God has power that we don’t have because of Who He is. By extension, the disciples were given that power to perform miracles, from Jesus, Himself.

In the New Testament, we see God again acting on behalf of His people, by the coming of Jesus Christ in history. We know God by His actions and what they reveal about Him.

It’s important for us to understand the role of miracles in validating both our faith and the person and work of Christ. Some people would think that the Bible is full of miracles from cover to cover, but that is not the case. There are key time periods when a great number of miracles were done, in order to accomplish something amazing, like creation, or to validate a particular person or time period.

So we see the five main time periods in Scripture with many miracles are at Creation itself; at the time of Moses, who represents the Law; at the time of Elijah, who represents the Prophets; during the life of Jesus Christ, to validate His Person and Work; and during the establishment of the early church, to validate and expand it throughout the world.

What then is the purpose of miracles?

1. For the glory of God, both in that instance, and ultimately, as His kingdom goes forward. We see that as a person was healed, for example, they gave praise to God. After Jesus healed a paralyzed man, Matthew says, “When the crowd saw this, they were filled with awe; and they praised God, who had given such authority to man.” When the disciples asked why a man was born blind, Jesus stated it was “so that the works of God might be displayed in him.” John 9:3b

2. To be restorative; that is, to reverse the effects of the fall, such as sickness. An example is how the gift of tongues at Pentecost, recorded in Acts 2 reversed the effects of the curse at Babel. It was not an example of what would happen when anyone was saved, but a miracle unique to that time; a once for all event, like the Red Sea crossing was only done once.

At Babel, they were trying to make a name for themselves, and reach God their own way, so God confused their languages and they spread out through the world because they couldn’t understand each other. Now they were spreading out to share the gospel in all the languages God had created, in order to make His Name great. Now speaking in different languages was a blessing rather than a curse. This also resulted in the first reason, to glorify God in that instance, and to spread the gospel through the known world quickly, without having to learn languages.

3. To point to a deeper truth; they are directly linked to His redemptive work on our behalf. Why are these particular miracles recorded for us? Blindness; because we are spiritually blind and cannot see the beauty of God in the face of Jesus Christ. Deafness; because we are spiritually deaf to the wonderful gospel that can set us free. Disability; because our walk (lifestyle) is compromised so we cannot follow the Lord. Paralysis; because we cannot do anything to save ourselves. Lepers; because our sins have disfigured the image of God in us and separated us from fellowship. Demon possession; because we’re enslaved to sin and Satan and Christ sets us free. Death; because the wages, or payment for sin, is death. Death is separation; our souls from our bodies.

4. To validate His person and His message. Notice that only Jesus did miracles that proved His power over creation, like calming a storm with only a word. Only God the Creator could do that. There is no record in Scripture of the disciples doing any miracles related to control over nature. That’s why they were so surprised and terrified when Jesus calmed the storm. “So the men marvelled, saying, ‘Who can this be, that even the winds and the sea obey Him?’” Matt. 8:27 The miracles were the fulfillment of prophecies concerning the Messiah. They were signs that pointed to Who He was, rather than merely good works. To the unbelievers who witnessed them, they were mere wonders. To those who witnessed them and believed, they demonstrated that the promised Messiah was now in their midst.

5. To strengthen our faith. We know that since God has acted in history before, He will keep His promises and finish the work He began in us by faith. He can be trusted to do as He has said, and we know He has the power to fulfill His word. He will restore creation to its proper order, He will restore the image of God in man, He will bring these bodies back from the grave and He will destroy death and usher in His glorious kingdom. This we know. Our faith is not centred in theory, but in the action of God.

6. To fulfill Scripture. Matthew 8:16,17 “He took our illnesses and bore our diseases.”
Just a few general thoughts about miracles. Jesus was not a magician doing parlour tricks. All of the miracles were done for a reason. Jesus never did miracles on demand. We see this when before His trial, Luke says, “When Herod saw Jesus, he was greatly pleased, because for a long time he had been wanting to see Him. From what he had heard about him, he hoped to see him perform a sign of some sort. He plied him with many questions, but Jesus gave him no answer.” Luke 23:8, 9

Also, Jesus did not empty all the graveyards, nor did He heal everyone who was sick at the time. Jesus did not heal Joseph, Mary’s husband. He died before Jesus’ public ministry began.

Again, it goes back to the purpose of miracles. Performing miracles was not the main reason He came to earth. The ones He did were not intended to be comprehensive, but representative. Miracles pointed to deeper truths, like blindness, deafness, disability, leprosy, paralysis, demon possessions and death. Just as with salvation, He does not intend to save all the people in the world, but representatives from all groups of people.

Do we need to see miracles in order to believe? No, because the ones that are recorded should be enough to confirm our faith as we see in John 20:31. When we become believers, we believe everything that God says, because He is trustworthy.

Also, even with seeing these miracles firsthand, and hearing the best preacher EVER, many did not believe. Unbelief never has enough evidence.

Jesus’ resurrection is the greatest miracle of all. He raised Himself from the dead. It validated all of His claims as to Who He was, and what He accomplished on the cross, namely our Redemption.

Miracles are not recorded in Scripture merely to entertain us or give us great stories to read to our children. They are there to encourage believers. They are also evidence that demands a response. Faced with these aspects of the life of Christ, we must respond in repentance and faith.

Our Rational Faith: Examining Theories of The Resurrection of Jesus Christ

Empty tomb

Belief in miracles lies at the heart of Christian faith. Post-modern, non-Christian man finds the idea of miracles offensive and is suspicious of such an irrational concept. But without the miracle of the Resurrection, Christianity would have passed into obscurity in the first century.

Only Jesus did miracles that proved His power over creation like calming a storm with only a word. His miracles also verified that He was the promised Messiah. But Jesus’ resurrection was the greatest miracle of all! He raised Himself from the dead. It validated all of His claims as to Who He was, and what He accomplished on the cross.

The resurrection of Jesus Christ was a unique event in history. Although Scripture records instances of people being raised from the dead, by Elijah and Elisha, by Jesus and Peter, and Paul, as well as some at the same time as the resurrection of Jesus, His is unique in two ways.

First, all others were raised from death to life through the agency of a person, but Christ raised Himself from the dead. He said, “I have power to lay down my life,” (meaning He would not die unless He purposed to do so, since He had no sin in Him), and “I have power to raise it up again.”John 10:17, 18

A second difference is that all the other people who were raised to life, eventually died again. Their bodies weren’t glorified. Only Jesus rose from the dead, and is alive forevermore in His glorified body. This is our God!

So how do we ‘defend’ this miracle to unbelievers? They mock, they laugh, they dismiss it. “You really expect me to believe that Jesus rose from the dead?”

Some say maybe He wasn’t even really dead, that He just fainted. This is known as the swoon theory, but most serious scholars don’t believe it. Remember, the centurion put a spear up into His side far enough to pierce His heart, in order to confirm He was dead. He did this job every day. He knew a dead person when he saw one.

Also, there was a practice of breaking the legs of the person being crucified to speed death along, since then they couldn’t push up to take a deeper breath. But the Bible says, “But when they came to Jesus, and saw that He was already dead, they did not break his legs.” John 19:33

Also the Jews were convinced He was dead. That’s why Joseph of Arimathea went to ask Pilate for Jesus’ body so he could bury Him.

Matthew 27:57-61 says, “Now when evening had come, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who himself had also become a disciple of Jesus. This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate commanded the body to be given to him. When Joseph had taken the body, he wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and laid it in his new tomb which he had hewn out of the rock; and he rolled a large stone against the door of the tomb, and departed. And Mary Magdalene was there, and the other Mary, sitting opposite the tomb.” And Joseph and Nicodemus prepared the body for burial with linen cloths. They would not do this if He was not dead.

The disciples knew He was dead, so they were in hiding, fearing for their lives.

So, since we know Jesus really died, I think we can dismiss the swoon theory.

Another theory says His disciples stole His body, and then circulated the story that He was raised from the dead. The origin of this is in Matthew 28:12, 13 “When they (the chief priests) had assembled with the elders and consulted together, they gave a large sum of money to the soldiers, saying, tell them, ‘His disciples came at night and stole Him away while we slept.’” Verse 15 says, “So they took the money and did as they were instructed; and this saying is commonly reported among the Jews until this day,” meaning until the day of this writing, at least. But this story was still going around in 160 A.D. at the time of Justin Martyr.

So let’s consider the option that the disciples stole the body.

Jesus, Whom everyone agreed was dead, was placed in a tomb. This tomb was a cave with only one entrance. A very large and heavy rock was placed into the entrance, probably rolled down into a crevice, so that to remove it would require you to push it uphill.

It’s important that we see details recorded in Scripture, like how large the stone was as an impediment to stealing a body. The women commented on it as they went to the tomb on Sunday morning. “Very early in the morning, on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb when the sun had risen. And they said among themselves, ‘Who will roll away the stone from the door of the tomb for us?’ But when they looked up, they saw that the stone had been rolled away—for it was very large.” Luke 24:1,2

Although the disciples didn’t seem to remember that Jesus told them He would be killed and then rise again on the third day, His enemies did. They went to Pilate and asked for a guard to be set by the tomb for this very reason.

“On the next day, which followed the Day of Preparation, the chief priests and Pharisees gathered together to Pilate, saying, “Sir, we remember, while He was still alive, how that deceiver said, ‘After three days I will rise.’ Therefore command that the tomb be made secure until the third day, lest His disciples come by night and steal Him away, and say to the people, ‘He has risen from the dead.’ So the last deception will be worse than the first.”
“Pilate said to them, ‘You have a guard; go your way, make it as secure as you know how.’ So they went and made the tomb secure, sealing the stone and setting the guard.”
Matthew 27: 62-66

The stone was the physical deterrent, the official seal from Pilate was the legal deterrent, and the guards were the enforcers.

So Pilate said, “You have a guard.” We know there was more than one individual guard because upon seeing an angel, it says in Matt. 27:4 “and the guards (plural) shook for fear of him, and became like dead men.” Also Matt. 28:11 says, “…some of the guard came into the city and reported to the chief priests all the things that had happened.”

A Roman guard was a military unit consisting of up to 60 soldiers. Imagine. And these were given one job: to guard a dead body in a tomb with one entrance sealed with a stone. You’d think they could do that!

Not only that, but if they were tasked to guard a prisoner, and that prisoner escaped, the guard was put to death. This was the Roman way. That was incentive enough to do their job!
They also could not sleep on the job, or they’d be punished.

So, even assuming a dozen guards, consider their story. They see an angel, and fall down as dead men. When they get up, the stone is rolled away and the body is gone. Also remember, the stone wasn’t rolled away to let Jesus out. It was rolled away to let people in to see that the tomb was empty.

They must have been terrified to report this. What? All of them fell asleep on the job? What? Their prisoner is gone? They knew that when they reported it, they would be put to death. It was their only job. It should have been easy. But this was no ordinary person in that tomb!

Have you seen the internet meme, You had one job! Do you know what an internet meme is? It’s either a picture or a phrase that gets used on the internet to explain unrelated subjects. Anyway, this meme, You had one job! shows pictures like an area where they were supposed to paint the word F-I-R-E and they spelled F-R-I-E instead, and it says, You had one job! Or a section in a store labelled Toothbrushes and Toothpaste, and the products are under the wrong sign. You had one job!

Well, these guards had one job, and they failed.

They report the missing body, and are told to circulate the story that they fell asleep and the disciples stole the body while they slept. How it must have hurt their pride to say they all fell asleep on the job; that they had all failed in their assigned task. Not only that but they were given money (a bribe) and assured that it would be smoothed over with the governor, so that they wouldn’t be put to death for letting their “prisoner” escape.

If I could cross-examine them about their story, I’d ask, “If you were asleep, how do you know it was the disciples who stole the body? And if you saw who it was, why did you allow it?”

Further, if the disciples stole the body, you’d think they’d just run in and grab Him and go, wouldn’t you? Yet the body was missing, but the grave clothes remained. Curious.

Where were these disciples at the time? Most had deserted Jesus when He was arrested, and now they were in hiding for their lives, fearing the same fate. Those disciples? They stole the body? Not likely.

Yet, after the resurrection, they were so convinced of its truth, they became bold witnesses. They turned the world upside down.
These were rational men. Almost all (ten of eleven) were killed as martyrs, yet none ever denied that they had seen the risen Lord. Who would die for a lie?

So I think we can dismiss the theory that the disciples stole the body. The alternative is that the bodily resurrection of Christ is true.

Christianity is based on the truth of the resurrection. We believe it by faith, but our faith is not irrational.

Miracles are not recorded in Scripture, merely to entertain us or give us great stories to read to our children. They are there to encourage believers. They are also evidence that demands a response. Faced with these proofs of His resurrection, we must respond in repentance and faith.

There’s a reason we use ‘improper grammar’ and say “Christ is risen,” rather than “Christ has risen.” It’s because once He rose, He did not die again, but remains risen from death, in His glorified body.

A nice Resurrection morning greeting is to say, “Christ is Risen!” and the response is, “He is Risen indeed!”

Anthropomorphisms: Written by the Finger of God

jesus_writing

Because God is spirit and doesn’t have a body like ours, it’s necessary for Him to condescend to explain Himself in terms we would understand. This is called an anthropomorphism. For example, when we hear, “The eyes of the LORD are on the righteous, and His ears are open to their cry,” Psalm 34:15 we understand that it means He is omniscient and He hears their prayer.

The term comes from the Greek words, anthropos, meaning man, and morphe, meaning form. Man is made in God’s image in terms of personality; we have a will, emotions, etc. God, in Jesus, took on our form. There are many verses in Scripture that speak in terms of God having human form; with feet, hands, mouth, heart, eyes, and voice. The Israelites were prohibited from making images in any form; since God is spirit.

Once we realize that God doesn’t have body parts like we do, we need to try to look beyond the literal and see the figurative image it’s trying to convey. I was thinking today of the verses about the finger of God.

In the following verse, “Then the magicians said to Pharaoh, ‘This is the finger of God.’ But Pharaoh’s heart grew hard, and he did not heed them, just as the LORD had said.” Ex. 8:19 the finger of God seems to relate to work of God in judgment, when He brought the plagues on Egypt.

We also see the finger of God when He personally wrote the ten commandments on tablets of stone. “And when He had made an end of speaking with him on Mount Sinai, He gave Moses two tablets of the Testimony, tablets of stone, written with the finger of God.” Ex.31:18 This shows His personal interest in this important event. The Law is sometimes called a transcript of His holiness. By revealing to us that we can’t keep the law, we see His holiness in contrast.

Jesus also mentions it, in relation to his miracles. “But if I cast out demons with the finger of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you.” Lu.11:20 They didn’t believe the miracles proved He was God and the promised Messiah, so it was a judgment on them. The finger of God, in this case relates to His power.

I think the most interesting time the term is used, is when a woman caught in adultery was brought before Jesus. In this case, it was no longer an anthropomorphism, since God had now taken a human body and lived among us.

“Now early in the morning He came again into the temple, and all the people came to Him; and He sat down and taught them. Then the scribes and Pharisees brought to Him a woman caught in adultery. And when they had set her in the midst, they said to Him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in adultery, in the very act. Now Moses, in the law, commanded us that such should be stoned. But what do You say?” This they said, testing Him, that they might have something of which to accuse Him. But Jesus stooped down and wrote on the ground with His finger, as though He did not hear.

So when they continued asking Him, He raised Himself up and said to them, “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.” And again He stooped down and wrote on the ground. Then those who heard it, being convicted by their conscience, went out one by one, beginning with the oldest even to the last. And Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst. When Jesus had raised Himself up and saw no one but the woman, He said to her, “Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?”
She said, “No one, Lord.”And Jesus said to her, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.” John 8:2-11

Here, once again we have God writing with His finger. What did He write? Scripture doesn’t tell us, but based on the response of the scribes and Pharisees to what they saw Him write, I would guess He was again writing the ten commandments, reminding them they hadn’t kept them. Convicting them of sin. Perhaps He wrote, “Thief”, “Liar”, “Adulterer”, “Murderer”. Beginning with the eldest, they dropped the stones and walked away.

Since He silenced the critics who were hoping to place Him in a quandary about the law, He again dealt masterfully with them, as only the God Who created the law can do. By pronouncing judgment in this case, forgiving the woman who, according to the law, deserved to die, He proved Himself to be the Lawgiver, Who was able to forgive without being unjust. How did she get away with her sin? Because He would soon pay the price for it. That’s how God can justify the ungodly, and yet remain just, Himself.

In this narrative of Jesus with the woman caught in adultery, we see the finger of God relates to His power to forgive and His personal interest in this situation. We also see His ability to pronounce judgment in this case because He is the Lawgiver, and His humanity because He did not pronounce judgment from Heaven, but from earth, in the actual circumstance.

So we see from these verses that God can convey so much meaning about Himself and His character by using things that are familiar to us, much like we adjust our teaching of deep truths to the age and understanding of our hearers. He is a gracious God and a patient teacher.

Regeneration: Ezekiel’s Valley of Dry Bones

drybones
“I will cause breath to enter into you and you will live.” Ezek. 37:5

Read Ezekiel 37:1-14, John 3:8

In this vision of the prophet Ezekiel, he is set down in a valley filled with dead men’s bones. God condescends to where we are to save us. He finds us as we are but doesn’t leave us in that condition. He doesn’t just bring us into heaven as we are. We must be changed. We must become a new creation.

There were very many corpses, long dead, bleached by the sun, very dry, unburied, and very dead. The fact that they were unburied was shocking and suggests a violent death. It was a miserable condition and would have been a discouraging and distressing image for Ezekiel since God’s people were in exile at this point.

He is asked a question by God. “Son of man, can these bones live?” What a question! Can the dead live again? Can the spiritually dead be brought to life? If anyone else asked it, the question would have been rhetorical. But Ezekiel suspected he knew why the question was asked.

He answers, “O LORD God, you know.” Only God imparts life. It’s a supernatural work. Apart from it we would remain spiritually dead and would have no hope of a physical resurrection.

Wayne Grudem says regeneration is “a secret act of God in which He imparts new spiritual life to us. This is sometimes called ‘being born again’.”

Like Adam, just a lump of clay, until God breathed into him and he became a living breathing soul. (Gen 3:27) In John 3, Jesus is explaining the new birth to Nicodemus. “You must be born again.” Wind is an emblem of His quickening power. He says, “I will cause breath to enter into you and you will live.” It is a divine initiative.

Like Lydia (Acts 16:14b) “…The Lord opened her heart to heed the things spoken by Paul.” She could not believe until God opened her heart.

While it is a supernatural act, He uses means to accomplish it. Ezekiel is given the strange command to prophesy to the dead bones. It seems foolish. They’re dead; thoroughly and completely dead. Similarly through the foolishness of preaching, we are to speak the words of life to dead men and women. Therefore, “…it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. “ 1 Cor. 1: 21b

Prophesying can either mean to foretell events yet to be, or to tell forth a message from God. The second meaning is in view here. Ezekiel is to speak under inspiration. Do we realize that preachers are speaking to the dead? They are truly dead in trespasses and sins (Eph.2:1) not merely sick.

We need a heart transplant. In Ezekiel 36:26, 27 he speaks of God removing our stony heart and replacing it with a heart of flesh so we can obey Him. God can convert the most hopeless sinner, because what’s more hopeless than being dead? We are all dead, and not just “mostly dead” like in the movie, The Princess Bride.

So Ezekiel did as he was told, in spite of his lack of control over the results. His job was to be obedient. “So I prophesied as I was commanded.” The bones ‘heard’ the word of the LORD. Scripture is needed. See the necessity of preaching in conversion. “How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?” Rom.10:14 ”So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” Rom. 10:17

Who do these dry bones represent? Verse 11 says it is “the whole house of Israel.” These are the people of God throughout all ages. We are the “Israel of God.” Gal. 6:6

The immediate benefit of hearing this message was encouragement and hope for the exiles to return to their land and be invigorated with spiritual life. But like most Old Testament prophesies, they also have a future application. The ultimate hope is that He gives us new spiritual life now through conversion, (our dry bones live), and we have the hope of resurrection. “I will open your graves.” Vs. 13 We will be brought out of our graves to our own land, the New Jerusalem.

So Ezekiel preaches to these dry bones the Word of God, they hear, and a rattling begins as the bones rejoin, and flesh, bones and skin are added. Yet, although they look like people, they are still unsaved; like the unregenerate in our congregation. They look like us, but they are missing new life. These bones were almost complete. The Spirit is needed to impart life. “Jesus answered, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.’” John 3:5, 6 We need to pray for the Spirit to accompany the Word and powerfully impart life in the hearers.

What is the purpose of raising these dead bones to life? “Then you shall know that I am the LORD.” Vs. 13 The ultimate goal is His glory. We are saved for a purpose. “It became an exceeding great army.” Vs. 10 We need to know God keeps His covenant. Vs. 14

We are part of the church militant. “You therefore must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier.” 2 Tim. 2:3, 4

Missions:Speaking to a Dying World

Four Samaritan Lepers

As an oncology nurse, I’ve seen hundreds of deaths. I’ve seen sudden death and lingering death, peaceful death and painful death. I’ve seen the difference between how believers and unbelievers die. Seeing someone take their last breath is a sobering experience.

Because of my field of work, I’m a realist about death. Yet as a believer, I’m an optimist. I know that God does heal. My husband is fourteen years cancer free. However, some cancers recur, others spread rapidly despite treatment.

The world avoids the whole idea of death with entertainment and distractions. Even believers who are secure in their salvation may still fear the mode of death itself.

Life is short, maybe 80 years. Even the longest life is distilled into a twenty minute eulogy. “Better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting. For that is the end of all men, and the living will take it to heart.” Ecc.7:2

To the unbeliever, death is the Great Unknown. It is a fearful thing. They have no hope of ever seeing their loved ones again. They have only despair. Their idea of eternal life is that the person will live on as long as someone remembers them.

But we don’t sorrow as those who have no hope. Death does not have the last word. Because Jesus rose from the grave, we will, too.

Tucked away in 2 Kings 6 and 7 is an account of a terrible famine in the besieged city of Samaria. The Syrian army was camped outside the walls. The people were resorting to cannibalism. Elisha prophesies a sudden reversal of the famine in one day. Four lepers are sitting outside the city and decide they can either starve to death where they are, or surrender to the enemy and perhaps find mercy. If not, they’ll die either way. In the mean time, God had routed the army. They fled leaving everything behind. The lepers go from tent to tent, eating and gathering treasures, until their conscience pricks them. They remember their brothers dying in the city while they have such abundance. They say, “We are not doing right. This day is a day of good news, and we remain silent.”

They return to the city with the good news, their story is corroborated, and the famine is reversed, as prophesied.

We bask in the joy of sins forgiven, the hope of Heaven. But we can’t just gorge ourselves and not share the Living Bread. “We are not doing right.” We cannot remain silent. “This is a day of good news. “

There’s an urgent need for the gospel. There’s a famine out there. It’s a dying world. Do we live like it? Or are we so self satisfied that we forget their destination without Christ? We squander opportunities to share the gospel, talking about nothing of consequence. I know I do.

So how do we tell them? Just say something! Like the healed blind man in John 9, he wasn’t able to argue about theological issues, but he could say, “One thing I know: that though I was blind, now I see.” “Evangelism  is just one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread.” (D.T. Niles) Tell them where they can find bread.

Published in Summer 2012 issue of Barnabas