Tuesday, May 22, 2012

120522 - Deuteronomy 18-19 - God's Immutability, Goodness and Severity

Tuesday SOAP: Old Testament prophets and witnesses were held to an extremely exacting standard of faithfulness. Misrepresent God, and you were to die. Bear false witness, and the penalty for whatever charge you claimed would be leveled against you. Wait.. the New Testament believer is a witness who "prophesies," right? (Joel 2:28/Acts 2:17-18; 1 Corinthians 14:1, 39, in the sense of proclaiming God's Word) Where is the continuity? How serious is it if we misrepresent God today?

S: But the prophet, which shall presume to speak a word in my name, which I have not commanded him to speak, or that shall speak in the name of other gods, even that prophet shall die. And if thou say in thine heart, How shall we know the word which the LORD hath not spoken? When a prophet speaketh in the name of the LORD, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which the LORD hath not spoken, but the prophet hath spoken it presumptuously: thou shalt not be afraid of him. (Deuteronomy 18:20-22)

And the judges shall make diligent inquisition: and, behold, if the witness be a false witness, and hath testified falsely against his brother; Then shall ye do unto him, as he had thought to have done unto his brother: so shalt thou put the evil away from among you. And those which remain shall hear, and fear, and shall henceforth commit no more any such evil among you. And thine eye shall not pity; but life shall go for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot. (Deuteronomy 19:18-21)

O: So in meditating on these two passages it occurred to me today to wonder why it is that so many see a striking difference between the "God of the Old Testament" and the "God of the New Testament." Why is that? God does not change. In the Old Testament, He said, "For I am the LORD, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed." (Malachi 3:6) In the New Testament, He said, "Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever." (Hebrews 13:8) James says there's not even a shadow of turning with Him. (James 1:17)

Are there instances of costly obedience in the Old Testament? Abraham was commanded to send a son away so that the picture of Christ would be made more clear. Then he was asked to sacrifice the remaining son. (Gen. 21:12, 22:2) But Jesus said His disciples would be betrayed by parents, brothers, family and friends... put to death and hated by all for His name's sake. (Luke 21:16-17)

Are there instances of costly disobedience in the Old Testament? Achan, and possibly his whole family, were stoned for defying God's command regarding the spoil of Jericho. (Joshua 7:1-26) But Ananias and Sapphira were struck dead for lying to the Holy Spirit about a freewill offering. (Acts 5:1-11)

Are there extremely exacting laws in the Old Testament? The one above is a frequently cited example: "eye for eye and tooth for tooth." And here we see what at first seems a kinder, gentler God:

Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloke also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain. Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away. Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. (Matthew 5:38-45)

But if we read this very carefully, it's not about a change in the Law, but a change in the victim: He was saying that we must have the mind which is in Christ Jesus, not demanding exaltation for Himself, though He was in very nature God. No more are His followers required by Law to demand justice for themselves; they are instead directed to extend mercy, love and prayer. Joseph, husband of Mary, was said to be a just man, in that his plan was to put her away privately. (Matthew 1:19) Because according to the Law, if she had been an adulteress, she should have been stoned.

But Jesus also said:

Wherefore if thy hand or thy foot offend thee, cut them off, and cast them from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life halt or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet to be cast into everlasting fire. And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire. (Matthew 18:8-9)

The point is not whether the mutilation should be taken literally or not. The point is that, what is far more severe than a human court that is legally bound to maim someone who maims another is a heavenly court which will consign offenders to an eternity that is far worse than self-mutilation.

A: And nominal Christians who boldly state, "My God would never send anyone to hell" aren't so much a product of today's lukewarm religious smörgåsbord as they are just standing in a long tradition of false witnesses of God. In the first century, a heretic named Marcion saw in the Old Testament an entirely different God and ended up having to discard more than half of the New Testament in order to do so. Although there was a strong reaction to him at the time, the heresy continues today in a different form. Men react so violently to the notion of a holy God that they are willing to edit out the supernatural or claim that the Old Testament is a mix of truth and legend.

Against these voices the Bible-believing Christian is required to stand, because to do otherwise is to be a false prophet (Claiming to speak for God while denying the words He's already spoken.) or a false witness. (Lying about what it means and what we are obligated to do.) And to be honest - we're not doing that good a job. One of last year's biggest controversies? Does hell really exist? (https://bitly.com/bundles/abranch/7)

I think it's because we are afraid that a balanced message of both the goodness and severity of God (Romans 11:22) will empty our churches, kill the attendance of our ministry outreaches, and we'll lose our platform to declare the good news. The pressure to pick and choose passages which hold up the embracing, inviting "side" of God is almost overwhelming. And the fact that the balance throughout the Bible is so often missed is evidence of how frequently we give in to that pressure. I don't see another way to do this than to have a deliberate commitment to declare "all the counsel of God" (Acts 20:27) Am I a New Testament Christian? Of course. And I understand that going through the whole Bible means that we spend about five times as much time in the Old Testament as the New, because that's the approximate ratio of the volume of content. Yet though we have to be faithful to "rightly divide" between what is written TO us (1 John 5:13, etc.) and what was written to others, but is nevertheless FOR us, (Romans 15:4), we are also responsible to uphold the continuity and unified message - the unified SAVIOR presented by the Word of God. (John 5:39)

P: Lord, it's at your discretion that I speak - and move and breathe and even hold together. I trust that you are able to keep me from falling, to keep that which I have committed unto you. Keep my tongue and pen faithful to represent you accurately.


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