In an earlier Psalm King David had asked Yahweh to “judge me as my righteousness and integrity deserved” (Ps7:8). That could only be referring to his own righteousness: but in Psalm 32, almost certainly penned after his grievous sin against Uriah to gain his wife Bathsheba, he wrote “I confessed my offence to Yahweh and He took away my guilt and forgave my sin” (v5). He continued: “For blessed is the man to whom Yahweh imputes no guilt and in whose spirit is no deceit” (v2). God had forgiven his sin, accepted him as righteous or vindicated him because he confessed it from a pure heart, although he was punished through the death of Bathsheba’s son (2Sam12:14) which caused him considerable grief. That is the only sense in which righteousness can be imputed (cf. Rom4:11+22); it is not an alien righteousness transferred to an individual but God’s declaration that one is vindicated and accepted by Him, or in the formulation of the Psalmist God no longer imputes guilt to them for a specific offence. This is affirmed by the fact that before that sin was brought to his attention by Nathan the prophet, David was guilty in God’s sight of man slaughter (2Sam12:9) and liable for punishment even as God’s servant. Had David not confessed such a mortal sin, his spirit would have been tainted, his guilt would have remained as would his broken communion with His Lord and the Spirit that he enjoyed as anointed king.
The good news for David and God’s chosen people today is that “if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1Jn1:9). Forgiveness whether human or divine is in a sense an imputing of righteousness – treating someone as if they had not committed a particular offence, which God is willing to do providing sins are confessed from a pure heart like David. But as Jesus makes abundantly clear throughout His ministry it will be a person’s own character and legacy that will determine their eternal prospects. Paul affirms as much writing to Christians at Corinth when he warns them that they shall all one day “appear before the judgement seat of Christ and shall be paid back for the things that were done whilst in the body whether they were good or bad” (2Cor5:10). And in one of his more straight forward passages of Romans he writes:
God will repay everyone as their deeds deserve. For those who aimed for glory, honour and immortality by persevering in good works, there will be eternal life, but for those who out of jealousy have taken for their guide not truth but injustice, there will be the fury of retribution. Trouble and distress will come to every human being who does evil- Jews first but Greeks as well; glory and honour and peace will come to everyone who does good – Jews first but Greeks as well. There is no favouritism with God (Rom2:6-11)
Here he is definitively referring to final judgement as opposed to other references especially in Romans and Galatians to “justification” in the context of covenantal acceptance or the marking out of God’s chosen people, and the fact that this was now be through faith in Christ, not Torah observance (circumcision and other such “works of the Law”) that some Judaisers infiltrating the churches were insisting upon. These are areas I cover in detail in my book* that no doubt will feature in future posts.
Job’s undeserved suffering had not been aided by three of his would-be comforters Zophar, Bildad and Eliphaz. Their line was that his suffering must be due to his own sin for God would only permit suffering to those who deserved it. Once Job had convinced them of his integrity they gave up the argument concluding effectively that God must be in the wrong. Elihu on the hand would have none of it. He identifies the fact that God sometime brings suffering to individuals for their own good (33:18), using every means possible to enlighten and show mercy to as many as will receive it (33:29,30). He concludes with a hymn of praise to God – mysterious in His ways yet One whose nature accords with the thoroughly intelligible “divine theology” referred to in my earlier post:
“God is clothed in fearful splendour; El Shaddai is far beyond our reach. Supreme in power, in fairness towards all, excelling in righteousness, yet never the Oppressor – no wonder that people fear Him: every thoughtful person holds Him in awe” (Job37:22-24).
That paved the way for the assessment that really mattered, the Creator’s Himself. He firstly chides Job for effectively impugning His justice. His ways are not man’s ways and Job should bow to His infinitely superior wisdom. There then follows a remarkably prolonged monologue in which God in reminding Job of His greatness exhibits the greatest delight in His own earthly creation, especially the splendour of the animal kingdom and His providence towards it (38:36-41:26). Our God who is spirit delights in His majestic, material Earth, and why not indeed? As for Job’s three would-be comforters, there is a satisfying twist in which having called on Job to repent they are rebuked for misrepresenting God’s character as much as Job’s (42:7) and are required to provide a burnt offering for themselves by which they would be forgiven through Job’s prayerful intercession. Elihu however was not so rebuked and his very name (meaning “He is my God”) further suggests that his words were wise and truly inspired, just as he had claimed (32:8,18,19).
We are given a rare glimpse into the courts of eternity in the opening chapter of Job, and an occurrence that I could scarcely get my head round in the past; only recently has it begun to make any sense to me. That is a meeting chaired (so to speak) by God Himself with Satan amongst the attendees. Then there’s the seemingly genial opening remarks: you can read the minutes of the meeting for yourself (vv7-12) it seems almost flippant to relate it here. Yet it speaks of a mystery that is essential to grasp if one is to comprehend some of the concepts covered in my book, namely that an arrangement exists between two cosmic enemies in order that its Facilitator may fulfil His extraordinary purposes for His creation, more especially those beings made in His own image. Of course, it is a one-sided affair for these are no equal opponents: the One is the Creator, the other an immensely powerful but corrupted creature entirely at His mercy. That was affirmed in the Eden incident where Satan in the form of a serpent was placed under the curse of destruction. (Job1:7)Nevertheless, in the meantime he fulfils a purpose and is allowed, as it were, to be himself for that very end.
In the case of Job, Satan was given authority to inflict misery upon him but within set boundaries. It was primarily to test Job and prove his faith; centuries later he would be employed to test a far greater Man, again to no avail, but he would be instrumental in bringing about His betrayal and death (cf. Luke22:3). Yet although this spirit of evil has no inherent rights whatsoever over God’s property, his impact goes beyond merely testing man; he has been granted authority to sift him, own him and destroy the very seed of his humanity under certain circumstances. In the Apostle Peter’s language Satan is like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour. All (apart from One) may have at some time fallen for his wiles, but it is something else to be devoured, owned and (effectively) employed by the devil as was Cain, the prototype of those who willingly succumb to his mastery (Gen4:7KJV; Jud1:11). Yet even this is for an entirely good end as St Paul for one well understood (Rom8:20-21; 9:22-23). It is one of the more surprising aspects of what the apostle refers to as “the multi-faceted nature of God’s wisdom”; the other being what in the same passage (Eph3:9-11 cf. Greek) he described as “the fellowship of the secret (plan) hidden in God through the ages” which I explain in my book pertains to the constitution of the people of God and their role within a vastly more benign providence than has been traditionally understood by the churches.
Great David’s greater Son would later become the embodiment of wisdom; his lesser son and heir Solomon at least began well, praying above all else for that divine quality from which all virtues flow. His prayer was granted together with immense wealth and prestige that he had not sought and would later regrettably become a stumbling block to him. His greatest honour was undoubtedly to have overseen the building of God’s Temple. After the Feast of Dedication, Solomon blessed the people, yet his prayer was not restricted to his subjects alone. He recognised that God wished Israel to become a divinely disciplined and holy nation that would act as a salvific bridgehead to the rest of creation. He therefore prayed not just for his own people but the whole world:
Even the foreigner, not belonging to Your people Israel but coming from a distant country attracted by your name – for they too will hear of Your name, of Your mighty hand and outstretched arm – if a foreigner comes and prays in this temple, listen from heaven where You reside, and grant all that the foreigner asks of You, so that all the peoples of the earth may acknowledge Your name and, like your people Israel revere You (1Kings8:41-43NJB)
Note those “foreigners” who would come to revere Yahweh would not become a part of “Your people” (Israel) to do so (v43). It had never been intended under the Old Covenant that the whole world “become Jewish” but neither was it destined for the cosmic waste-paper basket. Many in the world would be enlightened by the Jews and come to revere Yahweh once they had understood Him to be not just the God of Israel but Lord of the Heavens and Earth (see also Deut4:5-6). Similar principles and context applies to the Church as I set out in my book, a free PDF of which is available HERE.
I have been working through the Old and New Testament, identifying the various interpretative “glosses” that have led to the mystery of God’s munificent providence being sustained for so long. But in view of the epidemic that is sweeping the world causing misery and death for so many, I will briefly comment on this phenomenon. For after all, such a crisis does pertain to our subject matter being divine providence – God’s foreseeing protection and care of His creatures.
I imply in the post’s heading that this medical and (likely) economic catastrophe should not entirely bemuse the Christian – and here’s why. Jesus places such events in the context of the so-called tribulations which He describes as birth-pangs that are to proceed His return. In Luke chapter 21 Jesus speaks of events occurring which will “cause people’s hearts to fail them for fear of what they see coming upon the earth” (v26). But He goes on to say “When you (My disciples) see these things, look up, lift up your heads for your liberation draws near” (v28). Paul in Romans chapter 8 writes concerning the whole creation groaning and travailing in pain pending the revelation of the sons of God (v19), being God’s elect (v14). He indicates in that passage that not only they but the whole creation shall be delivered from corruption into the liberty of God’s children (v21). The writer to the Hebrews speaks of the fact that it was fitting even for the Son of Man to suffer, not only to pay the price for human sin but His own perfection and preparation for glory (Heb2:10-11) – the indication being that suffering is a prerequisite to future glory Of course, should the virus directly impact upon ourselves and those we love our faith may well be tested but hopefully not in the sense of feeling forsaken by God or doubting His providential care. Everything remains under control.
The origins of disease
The biology and outworking of viruses, cancers and the like is ingeniously malevolent. Who or what is behind them? Jesus again provides a clue:
The Lord answered (the ruler of the synagogue) and said, “Hypocrite! Does not each one of you on the Sabbath loose his ox or donkey from the stall, and lead it away to water it? So ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, WHOM SATAN HAS BOUND – think of it—for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath?” (Luke 13:15-16NKJV)
The Bible-hub study website comments on this passage “The words imply the belief that there was another source than mere bodily disease for the infirmity–in part, at least, the belief that all disease–or very many forms of it–is directly or indirectly traceable to the power of the enemy”. And as the writer to the Hebrews affirms, Satan’s realm and authority extends to death itself (Heb2:14). Extraordinary as it may seem, God’s arch-enemy and ours has been granted substantial authority in the affairs of this world in the current age, which is why Jesus designated him “archon tou kosmou” – prince of the world order, in which sickness and death along with what Paul refers to as spiritual wickedness in high places invariably play a part (Eph6:12). That will be the case until Jesus returns in glory in spite of the fact that He has already done everything necessary (at Calvary) to defeat such evil in principle (Jn12:31). Why our loving God should permit these continuing disasters is also alluded to in Romans8:20-21 and considered in detail in the final chapter of The Little Book of Providence, a free PDF is available HERE
What more shall I say concerning faith? There is not time for me to give an account of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, or of David, Samuel and the prophets. These were men who through faith conquered kingdoms, did what was righteous and earned the promises (cf. Heb11:32, 33). I will though comment briefly on David, described as a man after God’s own heart. Was that statement in the context of “imputed righteousness” or the preparation of Spirit? No, it was the boy David by nature as God perceived him. After his repeated episodes of disobedience, King Saul was informed by Prophet Samuel that his sovereignty was to come to an end and that Yahweh had discovered a man after His own heart who would replace him. It was not until his anointing as king that “the Spirit of Yahweh seized upon David from that day onwards” (1Sam16:13).
In the context of earlier posts, the fact that David or any man or woman may “have the heart of God” (or indeed the mind of Christ) must mean they reflect His nature in terms of for example what qualities and actions God finds pleasing or distasteful. It affirms once again that comprehending God’s nature is not beyond the grasp of human reason for it is reflected in measure within man when he is at his best. The extent and indeed the outworking of divine love and holiness may well surpass human imagining, but not its nature or essence. Love is love; Holiness is holiness: it is as Scripture and all true wisdom defines these qualities both for God and man. I am bound to re-emphasise this as certain theologies that I have depended upon in the past contradict such a principle. Of course, having the heart of God or the mind of Christ is one thing; living a life entirely free from sin is quite another which neither David nor any man but One has achieved.
Moving on to the conquest of the Promised Land, satanic hybrids in the form of giants are again encountered – King Og (the fellow with the enormous bed – Deut3:11) is directly referred to by Rahab (Joshua2:10), a woman described as a harlot, but also by the writer to the Hebrews as an example of “faith” (11:31). She had welcomed the Israelite spies into her home recognising them to be servants of Yahweh, God of Heaven and earth (v11), and made a pact with them such that she and her family would be well treated once they had conquered her homeland. By this act of FAITH Rahab was justified.
However, the apostle James declares her to have been justified by works (2:25), by which it is indicated her actions were an intrinsic component of her justification, works being the efflux of faith, the latter never being alone or merely a matter of “trust”. Paul, the writer to the Hebrews (and I for that matter) would opt to describe her as being justified by faith, i.e. by the QUALITY of utilising the light she had received concerning the Creator in a positive way (sometimes referred to in the Old Testament as godly fear) as opposed to perfectly fulfilling a law or acquiring a required standard which would be justification by works in a more substantive sense than the way James utilises the term. Once this distinction is grasped James and Paul are seen to be in perfect agreement and both accord with the teaching of their Master concerning the criteria for final judgement set out in Matthew25, where faith is not so much as mentioned, merely acts of compassion (regardless of their standard or consistency), being the efflux of the “faith” of those “sheep” who are “of God” so have retained the divine image. These principles are explained in more detail in chapter three of my book, a free PDF of which is available from HERE.
“Parents may not be put to death for their children nor children for their parents, but each must be put to death for his own crime” (Deut24:16)
The Torah was not man’s law but God’s and certain universal principles may be drawn from it. We have already considered the finite, proportional and humanity-focussed nature of final judgement; here we see that neither guilt nor righteousness can in its essence be transferred from one person (or Person) to another. That is more clearly and contextually affirmed in Christ’s own teaching on final judgement in Matthew 25. Neither Adam’s guilt nor Christ’s righteousness is taken into consideration in that definitive passage, merely the actions of the individuals being judged (vv31-46).
Many will struggle to reconcile that with their particular understanding of the teaching of Paul, a matter I deal with in detail in chapter three of my book*.
This is not to say that Adam’s guilt and Christ’s perfection do not impact upon humanity; nothing could be further from the truth. The former has resulted in an inherent deprivation of spiritual life and physical mortality whilst the Latter provides the ultimate remedy for both, not as a direct result of the Life itself but through its expenditure. Likewise the former resulted in “original sin” which (as the Eastern Church better understands) is not an imputation of Adam’s guilt as such but the transference through procreation of what Paul refers to as “the body of this death” (Greek: somatos tou thanatou toutou) – this death being the current experience of the concupiscent “law within the bodily members” processed through the physical brain revolting against the law (and light) that God has implanted within the human psyche referenced by the conscience (Rom2:15; 7:23). That in turn results in “dead works” of the flesh that prevent the natural man from fulfilling the ultimate purpose of human life: to know and serve the living God in spirit and truth (Heb9.14). Likewise again, the perfect life, selfless death and sacramental body and blood of the Righteous One enables His personal disciples to be forgiven, cleansed and renewed so as to become “free indeed” to participate in the divine life even whilst in mortal flesh (Jn8:36).
• A free PDF of the e-book version is available HERE
As far as the Old Testament age was concerned, the race of Israel was intended to have been a light to the Gentile nations, living as a holy nation faithful to Yahweh, whose name and Law would become honoured amongst other nations:
“Look, as Yahweh my God commanded me (Moses), I have taught you laws and customs for you to observe in the country in which you are to take possession. Keep them and put them into practice and other peoples will admire your wisdom and prudence. Once they know what all these laws are, they will exclaim “No other people is as wise and prudent as this great nation (Israel)” (Deut4:5,6).
Some readers will be perplexed by Moses’ statement: the Law (Torah) actually to be practiced so that the world would come to admire Israel and her Law?? Yes indeed, that was the intention. The witness of Israel being faithful to the Law provided through Moses was meant to have been the rest of the world’s “preparation for the Gospel” i.e. their future submission to the Lordship of King Jesus when He eventually came to do exactly what John Baptist expected Him to do: destroy the enemies and oppressors of God’s people and judge the whole world, i.e. put it to rights. Then, supported by the Jewish Nation (the sons of the Kingdom – Mt8:12), He would establish God’s Kingdom on Earth, reconciling other nations to God and each other by inculcating a way of peace along the lines of Isaiah2:4.
It didn’t pan out that way and St Paul explains why (if only he were understood). It’s not the Old Testament being hyper-allegorical, it’s the outworking of Paul’s revelation – the previously undisclosed mystery concerning God’s plans for the Gentile nations that I explain in chapter one of The Little Book of Providence – a free PDF available HERE
Contrary to the understanding of many, the covenant established with God’s chosen race was potentially do-able; moral perfection was not expected, provision being made for human weakness through the system of animal sacrifices. Such sacrifices were only a figure of the Eucharist to be established under the Covenant of Christ’s Blood, but the blood of bulls and goats DID expiate the day to day inadvertent sin of God’s people (e.g. Lev16:15-22), which is why Yahweh commanded them to perform them:
“If through inadvertence you fail in any of the orders which Yahweh has given to Moses… this is what must be done: If it is an advertence on the part of the community, the community as a whole will offer a young bull as a burnt offering as a smell pleasing to Yahweh with the prescribed accompanying cereal offering and libation and a he-goat AS A SACRIFICE FOR SIN. The priest will perform the rite of expiation for the entire community of Israelites AND THEY WILL BE FORGIVEN for it is an inadvertence" (Num15:22-25)
On the other hand those who sinned wilfully would be treated as aliens and “bear the consequences of their guilt” (v31). So moving forward in time to some of Paul’s polemics it was not the case that Jews believed they had perfectly to “keep Torah” in order to be accepted by God; forgiveness for day-to-day sins was provided. Neither was it their “human initiative” or “pride” to endeavour to keep the Law (à la Augustine/Luther/Calvin) but a response to divine teaching. Indeed, Yahweh wished they had tried all the harder to honour their side of the Covenant (Ex19:5,6).
“But what about the teaching of Hebrews?” some are bound to ask. The writer to the Hebrews was not contradicting the above. He taught that although bulls’ and goats’ blood could purify the flesh (Heb9:13), it could not sanctify the soul by taking away sin (Greek:“aphairein”) and thereby cleanse the conscience (Heb9:13-14). Pardon for sin is one thing; cleansing from sinfulness is quite another; this has been a major area of confusion for many. The shedding of an animals’ blood under the Old Covenant enabled sin to be pardoned as we have just observed from the Pentateuch but it did nothing to progress the partaker towards moral rectitude (Heb10:1). The Old Law made no one perfect (Heb7:19); only the blood of Christ can “save to the uttermost” (Heb7:25) by “purging the conscience of dead works so as to serve the living God” (Heb9:14).
A free PDF of the e-book pertaining to these blogs HERE