Artistry in Exodus 2
The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, whose names were Shiphrah and Puah, “When you are helping the Hebrew women during childbirth on the delivery stool, if you see that the baby is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, let her live.” The midwives, however, feared God and did not do what the king of Egypt had told them to do; they let the boys live. Then the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and asked them, “Why have you done this? Why have you let the boys live?”
The midwives answered Pharaoh, “Hebrew women are not like Egyptian women; they are vigorous and give birth before the midwives arrive.”
So God was kind to the midwives and the people increased and became even more numerous. And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families of their own. (Exodus 1:15-20)
Its appears that God rewarded the Hebrew midwives for their dishonesty.
Under what circumstances might lying ever be justified? We tell our children that honesty is the best policy, that telling the truth is always the right thing to do and that deception is sinful. What have the great thinkers of the ages said about lying?
Moses: You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour (Exodus 20:16) Confucius: It is good for a son to lie to protect his father
Plato: Lies are permissible in war, in jest and to avert evil
Jesus: I am... the truth the truth will set you free (John 14:6, 8:32)
Paul: Let God be true though everyone were a liar (Romans 3:4)
Augustine: It is permissible to conceal truth in order to save life
Mohammed: Lying leads to wickedness and wickedness leads to hell fire Aquinas: Telling the truth with intent to deceive is worse than lying
Kant: To be truthful in all declarations is a sacred command of reason Nietzsche: All words fail to represent reality truthfully and are, therefore, lies Bonhoeffer: Anyone who tells the truth cynically is lying
“What is truth?” asked Pilate (John 18:38). Many legal systems depend on an oath similar to: “I promise to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.” However, no-one has “the whole truth”, therefore whoever claims it commits perjury before they have given evidence. Our access to truth is at least provisional.
So what possible defence can be made?
It is axiomatic that mortals cannot comprehend the immortal nor the earthbound measure the transcendent (Isaiah 40:21-31). A god worth calling God must have secrets (Deuteronomy 29:29) and thoughts beyond human imagining (Isaiah 55:8-9). By grace, human shame is concealed under garments (Genesis 3:21) and divine glory under a towel (John 13:4). Such a God hides gold in a garden (Genesis 2:12), hides wisdom among the ants (Proverbs 6:6), hides a baby in Egypt (Exodus 2:1-10, Matthew 2:13-15), hides all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Colossians 2:3) in a carpenter (Mark 6:3), hides the gospel in parables (Mark 4:11), hides himself as a servant (Philippians 2:1-6) and hides treasure in jars of clay (II Corinthians 4:7).
It is the glory of God to conceal things, but the glory of kings is to search things out. Proverbs 25:2
Such a God wrestled with Jacob and refused to disclose his identity (Genesis 32:22-32), such a God rewarded Hebrew midwives for speaking untruth to power (Exodus 1:15-21), such a God instructed Moses to ask for a fictional three-day excursion into the wilderness (Exodus 3:18), such a God protected Rahab the lying prostitute (Joshua 2, 6:22-23) and such a God encouraged Samuel to disguise his intent to anoint Jesse’s son by arriving under a cloak of sacrifice (I Samuel 16:1-3).
God incarnate instructed his followers (and his enemies) to conceal his true identity until they grasped his agenda (Mark 3:12, 5:43, 7:36, 8:26, 9:9), or until the right time had come (John 12:23). He said to his brothers, “I am not [yet] going up to this feast” - but then attended en krypto in secret (John 7:8-10) before revealing himself in a loud voice (John 7:37). There is a time to be silent and a time to speak (Ecclesiastes 3:7).
By gradual disclosure God allows his image-bearers to “search things out.” Jesus warned his disciples that taking the gospel to new places would expose them to dangers, like sheep in wolf-country they would require dove-like innocence and serpentine shrewdness (Matthew 10:16). God does not lie but brings the concealed things to light at the appointed season (Titus 1:1-3) and ultimately nothing will remain concealed (Matthew 8:17). But in the meantime, en krypto is a strategy with precedent.
For who among us has not wrapped a gift to disguise its contents? Cross-cultural communication of the gospel is an exercise in gift-wrapping. The gift is eternal life (Romans 6:23) and we should desire with Paul to renounce underhand ways and means and speak plainly in so far as we can.
For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God's word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ (II Corinthians 2:17).
But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God's word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone's conscience in the sight of God
(II Corinthians 4:2).
Who is sufficient for these things? (II Corinthians 2:16)
Unb(l)ind him! John 9
The many people Jesus healed
His glory and his pow’r revealed.
The blind, the deaf, the mute, the lame
Now saw and heard and spoke his name.
'Who sinned to close this blind man’s eyes?'
Jesus replied to their surprise
That no-one sinned, but when he sees
God’s glory shall in him increase.
Then Jesus spat upon the earth
And just as at creation’s birth
'Let there be light!' was his command
Fresh eyes he fashioned from the sand.
And sent him off to wash his face
He then returned brimful of praise.
The Pharisees rose and detained
The man born blind and Jesus blamed.
This healer cannot come from God,
He breaks the Sabbath which is odd.
We don’t believe this man was blind.
They called his parents who declined
To answer on this hot subject.
The diagnosis was correct.
We know not how he came to health,
But he can answer for himself.
The feisty man was in no mood
To tug his forelock, so he stood
And listed off a catalogue
Of follies of the synagogue.
They drove him out, for he could see
Right through their vain hypocrisy.
And Jesus went and found the man
Who worshipped him, the Great I AM.
Then Jesus’ friend at Bethany
Fell sick and died. Catastrophe!
The Lord came late and all seemed lost.
Did he not care about the cost?
The sisters ran and wailed and cried
'Where were you? He need not have died!'
Then Jesus wept before the tomb,
The stench of death before him loomed.
Then heavenward he raised his voice,
His tone now changed as he rejoiced.
'I thank you, Father, that you hear,
You conquer death and vanquish fear.
Come out, my friend, vacate the room!
Your time will come, but now the tomb
Is warned, the Prince of Life has come,
The grave must crack and death succumb.'
Then Lazarus came out the tomb.
'Unbind him from his death cocoon,
Release him from the grip of death.
Like Adam let him draw fresh breath.'
The wailing stopped and joy outpoured
And fellowship was now restored.
Then friend and Saviour sat to eat
And Mary sat at Jesus’ feet.
(c) Neil Rogers 2022
On Sunday I argued that being humble means that you think of yourself rightly. It means that your assessment of your worth matches your actual worth. Genesis helps us understand how we as human beings should understand our value.
Truths to Rightly Assess our Worth
First we were created. Just like the worth of a carpenter is infinitely more than the worth of his table, so, too, is God's worth infinitely above ours.
Second, humanity was created to stand at the very top of God's creation. No other work of God's creation was made in his image or with the ability to be inhabited by his infinite Spirit.
Third, we've destroyed our value by plunging ourselves headlong into sin. We've degraded ourselves to a despicable degree.
Fourth, God has no intention of leaving his image bearers in the depths of their sin but sent his Son to pull them out, clean them up, fix them, remake them, bring them into his family, make them co-heirs with his Son, and restore them to the position that he designed them to hold in the first place. Our future glory will be even greater than that original glory we were meant to have, for now we will also display God's glorious grace for all eternity!
All four of those truths must be understood rightly if we as human beings are ever going to properly understand our worth and therefore live humbly before God and others.
A Little More Specific
On Sunday, I stayed at a very general level—the level of humanity. We could take this thought a step further, a step toward the more specific, and apply it on a more personal level. The principle remains the same: Those who are humble think of themselves with sober judgment. That is, their conception of their importance and value matches their actual importance and value. This applies not only when we think of ourselves corporately as members of the human race but also when we think of ourselves as individuals.
Even before sin entered the world, it is clear that no single finite human being living alone is capable of putting the nature of God on display for the world to see. It wasn't good for Adam to be alone. That's because God, though one, is not alone. Just as he lives in relationship in the life of the Trinity, he created humanity to live in relationship too; thus God created Eve.
That means that Adam's individual value in putting the worth of God on display is not as great as Adam and Eve's collective value in putting the worth of God on display. When a man and his wife live in relationship with each other in such a way that the very nature of the Trinity is seen, then they better image forth God's nature than if Adam were to have remained the only human on the planet. Properly reflecting the glory of God is on the line when it comes to how husbands and wives relate to each other.
Adam and all individual human beings need to understand that about their worth. Even those individuals who have received the gift of singleness must understand that it's when God's people come together as a body that we better put God's glory on display than if we were to live alone in the desert all our lives.
This naturally leads to how the New Testament talks about the gifts of the Spirit. Though every single child of God is sealed and anointed by God's Spirit, not every single child of God has received the exact same gifts of the Spirit. We're not clones. Equality does not mean sameness. God loves diversity. The Spirit gives each believer gifts as he sees fit. Using the analogy of a body, Paul says that some of us are eyes, some of us are ears, and some of us are noses (1 Cor. 12:17). The point is that we use what the Spirit of God has particularly given us for the good of the whole.
This means that when we come to assessing our particular value as individuals, it's right to say things like, "I'm good at _____, and I'm not good at _____. I can contribute _____ to the body, but I need others to help me to _____." That is another part of what it means to be humble. Humble children of God see how God has put them together, understand what God has specifically entrusted to them, acknowledge the specific gifts that God's Spirit has given them, and are acutely aware of how they need others to complete in them what they themselves are lacking.
Prideful people don't acknowledge that while they may be a really good ear, they are pathetic when it comes to seeing (to use Paul's metaphor in 1 Cor. 12 again). And prideful people certainly don't celebrate this fact. Prideful hands become envious and competitive when interacting with people who are much better feet than they could ever be. Furthermore—let's assume the bride of Christ is left-handed—prideful right hands don't celebrate the fact that their left counterpart gets to do the writing while they are left holding the paper so it doesn't move. This is not so among the humble. God designed us to need each other "that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another" (1 Cor. 12:25).
So after understanding who you are as a human being, the next question for you, believer, becomes, Do you understand who you are as an individual member of Christ's body? Do you rightly assess how God has sovereignly made you as one of his specific statues, or do you think more highly of yourself than you should? And are you capable of celebrating the fact that you, though perhaps an excellent nose, would run the body into a tree if you tried to do the job of an eye?
How Do We Know?
Answering that question would require another entire post. Suffice it now to say that when it comes to determining who you are, make sure you're listening to God and not deciding based on what you wish you were. And the beautiful thing is that we're not left figuring this out on our own. It is often true that others around us are much better at objectively recognizing if we make a better eye or a better ear. So get some guidance.
Once you've begun to understand how God has made you as an individual, will you embrace it or reject it? Will you fan those gifts into flame, or will you throw a wet blanket on them and try to start your own fire? Being humble means recognizing and accepting how God has made you, not making that decision for yourself. "Create your own identity" is an often-repeated mantra of our day. It has nothing to do with biblical Christianity. Humble people rejoice at discovering the specific role God has assigned to them in this drama called the history of the world, and they rejoice at seeing others living out to the fullest the roles that God has given to them. In fact, they give themselves to helping them carry out those roles. And there's no envy or rivalry or jostling for a different role. There's only joy that God would give us a part at all.
Oh, ICB, may God be merciful and grant us the gift of humility toward one another and before him under his mighty hand!
Grace and peace,
by Pastor Neil
Sometimes narrative episodes come in pairs in the Bible, as if two stories were crafted on the same template. These two accounts of two sons of Jacob, Judah and Joseph, have many parallels and contrasts. On the surface the story of Judah and Tamar is a story of sexual incontinence and the story of Joseph and Potiphar's wife is a tale of sexual self-control.
But the parallels go much deeper.
Judah goes down and lives among the Canaanites
Joseph is taken down to Egypt
Judah sets up business with Hirah
Joseph is purchased by Potiphar
Judah prospered with a growing family
Joseph prospered and made his master prosper
Judah makes an invitation to illicit sexual intercourse
Joseph resists an invitation to illicit sexual intercourse
Judah leaves behind his seal and its cord and his staff
Joseph leaves behind his cloak
Judah passes false judgement and Tamar is to be burned
Joseph receives false judgment and is thrown in jail
Taking a careful look at the scriptures, one can see that this happens quite frequently. We have seen this kind of parallel story-telling before:
Jacob disguises himself
Leah disguises herself
Tamar disguises herself
Jacob puts on his brother’s clothing
Leah puts on her sister’s clothing
Tamar puts on different clothing
Jacob steals his brother’s blessing
Leah steals her sister’s blessing
Tamar steals a blessing
Moses leads the people of Israel through the Red Sea on dry land
Moses, in a dry land, brings water out of the rock for the people of Israel
I Samuel 1-2:
Elkanah’s dysfunctional family
Eli’s dysfunctional family
Jesus stills the raging storm
Jesus silences the raging spirits
Jesus meets a Samaritan woman at mid-day
Jesus meets a Jewish man at mid-night
King Herod throws a banquet for his birthday in his palace
King Jesus throws a banquet for 5000 on a hillside
What are we supposed to do with this kind of observation? Well, if nothing other than noticing the literary craft of the original authors, let us at least take notice of this kind of narrative skill. But also let us observe what the coupled narratives show us. Is there a balancing truth to be learned? Is there a fuller meaning to be grasped? Take a look at some of the psalms and see how a problem posed in one finds its resolution in the next.
Zoom out just a little from the verse you are reading and ask the question: ‘What else is on the page?’
Dear ICB family,
On Sunday on the basis of Joseph and Jesus I argued that even when the devil, our enemies, the world, or our own flesh intends us harm by doing evil to us, at the very same time, in the very same act, God intends that evil for good.
That's what Joseph explicitly says to his brothers: "You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good" (Gen. 50:20 NIV).
In other words, when Joseph's brothers sold him into slavery, their intentions and purposes were evil. In that very same act, God's intentions and purposes for Joseph were good.
We see the same dynamic in Acts 4:27–28. After Peter and John were released from prison, they gather with other believers and pray, and that prayer includes these two breathtaking sentences: "Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen."
That is, Herod, Pilate, the Gentiles, and the people of Israel intended nothing but evil when they put the innocent Son of God to death. God, however, intended that very same evil act for good, namely, to provide salvation for the world.
After the service on Sunday, someone asked me a very good question: It's clear that God intended evil acts for good in the cases of Joseph and Jesus. That's what the texts say. However, is it appropriate to apply these particular instances to us today and say that when we face evil, God intends those evil acts for good, too? Are there any cases when we should simply say that evil happened and God did not intend that evil to happen for good purposes?
That is an excellent question that I think deserves a lot more attention than what I gave it in the sermon on Sunday. Am I taking a leap by saying that since God intended the evil perpetrated against Joseph and Jesus for good, God also intends the evil that happens to us today for good?
I don't think I gave the dear brother who asked the question a very good answer, so I'd like to try to do better here.
In short, I do think we can say that in any and all evil perpetrated against us today, God intends those evil acts for ultimate good. And I'd like to give you some reasons why.
I want to preface all this by saying that I tread very lightly here. We're looking into some of the deepest mysteries of the universe. I chose to end the service with the doxology from Romans 11 on purpose to highlight that very fact. Yet, I do believe the Bible gives us some help in answering this question. In what follows I'll examine some of that evidence.
Second Corinthians 4:17 says, "For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison" (ESV).
In the context, the "troubles" Paul has in mind are things like being "afflicted in every way" (4:8), being "perplexed" (4:8), being "persecuted" (4:9), being "struck down" (4:9), carrying "in the body the death of Jesus" (4:10), "being given over to death for Jesus' sake" (4:11), and having "death… at work in us" (4:12).
It's clear that those afflicting, perplexing, persecuting, and striking Paul down, causing him to carry Jesus' death around in his own body and experiencing death at work in him, were doing so with evil intentions. They meant what they did for evil.
But then notice that in 4:17 Paul says that it's those kinds of afflictions that are "preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison." In other words, it's as if the afflictions have another intention or purpose in mind, namely, to prepare for us something that is so big and glorious we can't even begin to compare it with anything else. Such an intention is very much good!
Now, obviously the afflictions themselves do not have a will. They themselves are merely acts committed by other people. That means that they in and of themselves cannot intend anything good or evil. Only those committing the acts can have an intention one way or the other. So while the people carrying out the afflictions are clearly intending evil by what they do, we must ask the question, "Who or what is intending those afflictions for good?"
We could answer that by saying that there is some mysterious force in the universe at work that takes afflictions and intends those very evil afflictions for good. Or we could say that God himself intends evil afflictions for good. I'm inclined toward the second of those two options.
Does not James 1:2–4 follow this very same logic?
"Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing."
Again, James says that the testing of your faith (that is, "trials of various kinds") produces steadfastness. It is not hard to conclude that those bringing about the various trials that we encounter in our lives intend evil by doing so. Yet James' words almost sound like the trials have some sort of will in and of themselves and intend to produce such steadfastness. Of course, the trials themselves are not capable of possessing a will.
So, as was the case in 1 Corinthians 4, we're left asking who or what does in fact intend the trials of various kinds for the good end of producing steadfastness which leads a person to being perfect and complete, lacking in nothing? Certainly not the ones inflicting the trials. I conclude that our being perfect and complete is God's intention in the various trials we face. (I would argue the same dynamic is at work in 1 Peter 1:6–9.)
Lastly, I would point to Romans 8:28: "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose" (NIV).
Compare the NIV with the ESV:
"And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose" (ESV).
Which is it? Do all things "work together for good" (ESV), or is it that "in all things God works for the good" (NIV)?
The Greek grammar allows for either translation. We can understand the text to be saying that the things themselves work together for good, or we can understand the text to be saying that God is the one who actively works them together for good.
In the end, I think we arrive at the same conclusion, namely, that it is in fact God who actively and intentionally works all things together for good, including Joseph's being sold into slavery by his brothers, the death of Jesus, and any of the various trials that you face day in and day out.
I say that it must be God who intends all things—even evil—ultimately for good because even if we go with the ESV's rendering of the verse ("all things work together for good"), if you don't conclude that it's God who is doing that, you're left having to credit the fact that all things work together for good to some cosmic force, as if the things in and of themselves have the ability to achieve their desired good end somehow apart from God.
I feel much more confident saying that, even if the ESV represents what Paul intended (and again, the grammar can go either way), ultimately it is God who brings about good in all things, even evil. And that is a blanket statement that applies equally to us today as it did to Joseph and Jesus.
So those are my reasons why I would say that I am justified applying these verses about Joseph and Jesus to us today. I do really think that, given enough time—perhaps in some cases not until eternity—we'll be able to look back at all the evil we faced and conclude that God intended that very evil for good.
I'll say that that does not mean God commits evil. Evil human beings commit evil. I'm simply saying that in some mysterious way, God intends even evil to accomplish good: like the salvation of God's people from a famine, or the salvation of the world from their sins, or an eternal weight of glory that is beyond all comparison, or our steadfastness which makes us perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
I'll end where I ended on Sunday. I believe this is true. I believe this is amazingly comforting and hope-filled. My enemies, the world, my flesh, and Satan himself cannot throw anything at me that God does not intend for good.
However, that fact doesn't always feel very comforting, especially when the pain is still so sharp.
So let's not be quick to take these glorious truths and shove them down people's throats when they're hurting. Let's be patient. Let's weep with those who weep. Let's be quick to hear and slow to speak. Let us speak truth, but let's do it when it might be best received, and that might take some time. Perhaps a lot of time.
Be encouraged, dear brothers and sisters. God intends your good.
Grace and peace,
A Blessing in Disguise?
What is the purpose of clothing? People wear clothes for many different reasons: to cover one's shame, to identify with a certain tribe, to protect in the workplace, to attract, to repel, to disguise, to impress, to oppress and for many other reasons.
In the story of Joseph and his family there is a lot of detail about clothing. It all starts with Rebecca who instructed Jacob to wear the clothes of his older sibling to disguise himself as Esau so that he could steal the blessing from Isaac his father.
Rebekah took the best garments of Esau her older son, which were with her in the house, and put them on Jacob her younger son. Gen 27:15
There is a fair irony in the way that Jacob’s deception of his father is mirrored in Laban’s deception of Jacob. The trickster is tricked. One sibling is substituted for the other and receives a blessing while being disguised. Jacob deceived his father and Laban deceived Jacob.
But in the evening [Laban] took his daughter Leah and brought her to Jacob, and he went in to her. …And in the morning, behold, it was Leah! Gen 29:23-25
Then as if there had not been enough deception, camouflage and disguise as a consequence of siblings wearing clothing that was not theirs to wear, Jacob made an ornate robe for his favourite son Joseph and the atmosphere in the family chilled to a cold hatred. It was not the wisest of gifts and to wear it was not the wisest decision!
Now Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his sons, because he was the son of his old age. And he made him a robe of many colours. Gen 37:3
The hatred, which is fuelled by Joseph’s two dreams, festers and the brothers sell Joseph into slavery in Egypt. Reuben had been hoping to rescue the lad from the malicious grip of his other brothers, but they had already sold the 17-year-old favourite into exile in the land of the pyramids. Look at the numerous references to clothing in the next paragraph:
When Reuben returned to the pit and saw that Joseph was not in the pit, he tore his clothes and returned to his brothers and said, “The boy is gone, and I, where shall I go?” Then they took Joseph's robe and slaughtered a goat and dipped the robe in the blood. And they sent the robe of many colours and brought it to their father and said, “This we have found; please identify whether it is your son's robe or not.” And he identified it and said, “It is my son's robe. A fierce animal has devoured him. Joseph is without doubt torn to pieces.” Then Jacob tore his garments and put sackcloth on his loins and mourned for his son many days. Gen 37:29-34
Meanwhile, Joseph is sold to the captain of the guard in Egypt. This man prospers because the Lord is with Joseph but his wife has a different plan for this new slave in the family. Her attempt at seduction fails, but once again Joseph loses his coat! That lad leaves his clothes all over the place.
Joseph goes to jail and via the interpretation of dreams eventually comes before pharaoh and is appointed as a ruler over the whole land of Egypt. And what does Pharaoh do?
Pharaoh took his signet ring from his hand and put it on Joseph's hand, and clothed him in garments of fine linen and put a gold chain about his neck. Gen 41:42
Here we are, right back at the beginning, Joseph is wearing fine garments which identify him as the favourite, the one who rules, the special one! There must have been a sense of déjà vu as the robes of pharaoh were placed on Joseph's shoulders and again when Joseph's brothers came to buy grain and bowed down before him.
There is something very reminiscent of the whole plan of salvation in the Joseph story. Jesus shared the glory of the Father, laid aside that glory, emptied himself, became subject to death, then rose again, laid aside the death clothes, is once again clothed in glory and it is his prayer that we shall share in his glory (John 17:24). Is this not what was modelled when he washed the disciples feet? (John 13) Jesus got up from the table and laid aside his clothing (left his Father in heaven and laid aside his glory), wrapped a towel round his waist (adopted the role of a servant), washed the feet of his disciples (made them clean by an act of submission), then when he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments he resumed his place (he took up his renewed glory and ascended to the throne of God.
Joseph’s brothers stripped him, threw him into a cistern, sold him into slavery in Egypt, but towards the end of the story he says, “..it was not you who sent me here, but God. You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” (Gen 45:8 and 50:20) Jesus was sold, stripped, laid in a hewn tomb and although Herod, the Romans and his own people conspired together to murder him, they only achieved what God had originally intended (Acts 4:27-28), the salvation of many.
This theme of clothing, attempted disguise and camouflage, lost clothing, covering nakedness and re-clothing is one that starts in the garden of Eden and finishes in the holy city, the new Jerusalem. The divine question in Genesis 3:11 is, "Who told you you were naked?" Then in Genesis 3: 21 we read that, “..the Lord God then made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them.”
At the other end of the Bible, in Revelation 3:18, there is an invitation from the risen Lord Jesus to, “…buy from me white clothes to wear, so that you can cover your shameful nakedness!”
I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” Rev 7:9-10
I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. Rev 21:2
So then, dear brothers and sisters, “…let us put off the old self, which belongs to our former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of our minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” Eph 4:22-24
photo by Haneen Krimly on Unsplash
Because you have said, “We have made a covenant with death,
Dear ICB family,
Notice how this single, very long sentence is structured: "Because you have said…; therefore thus says the Lord God…."
So what did Israel say?
As Pastor Neil commented on Sunday, they said they'd taken out an insurance policy against death. They'd cut a deal to escape suffering and defeat. They'd decided to trust that nice-sounding lies could save them.
Because they said all that, therefore, God had something to say in reply. What did God say?
God said he had laid down a new foundation for his people, something (or someone) to be believed. The foundation that God laid is as straight as an arrow and as strong as bedrock. It's not the kind of foundation that will produce so many of the precariously leaning walls that you see all around Bishkek. Righteousness is the plumb line, which is a string with a weight at the end used to see if a wall is actually straight or not. When the wall built upon this foundation is measured against God's righteousness, both the foundation and the wall will be found standing perfectly vertical. All lies will be knocked down, and all other insurance policies will be annulled.
Now what about the "because" and the "therefore"? Remember, the whole sentence is structured, "Because you have said…; therefore thus says the Lord God…." What is the logical connection here between what Israel said and what God said in reply?
A consistent theme across the book of Isaiah is the image of God looking down upon his people and looking for someone, anyone, to guide his people (51:18), to intercede for them (59:16), to declare his truth (48:14), to answer him when he called (50:2), to help and to uphold (63:5), yet in each case, God is left wanting. There is not a soul capable of standing for true righteousness and bringing ultimate salvation to God's people.
So what does God do? "So my own arm brought me salvation, and my wrath upheld me" (63:6).
In other words, precisely because no human being can or will save God's people, God rolls up his sleeves and goes about the task of saving them himself.
That is what we have here in Isaiah 28. God's people had begun trusting in everything but God to save them and had become utterly corrupt, so what does God do? He says, "I am the one who has laid a foundation in Zion." In other words, it is because no one else can lay such a foundation that God, in effect, looks down on his people and says, "Well, looks like it's down to me," and he grabs his trowel and gets to work himself.
This is the God we serve. It is because no one else can save that God himself therefore saves us. It is because we are all idolaters and trust in everything else but him that God sent the "precious cornerstone," Jesus the Christ, the Son of the living God, into the world to be his people's foundation. And what a glorious foundation of justice and righteousness it is, perfectly straight, unimaginably strong! No other foundation can compare.
And who is invited to build their lives upon this sure foundation? "Whoever believes will not be in haste." When you build on any other foundation, you'll spend your life scurrying about and fretting that your house is going to collapse. Not true for those who, by faith, build here. They find rest.
So come. Stop trying to take out your own insurance policies, and admit that precisely because you've already done so God himself must be the one to save you or you're lost. And then allow yourself to be blown away by God's kindness, the kindness that sees all your alliances with Egypt and yet lays a stone in Zion for God's people's foundation anyway. Trust in him, and therein find your rest.
Laura and I are thankful for such a foundation as we prepare to spend the next several months back in the US. We will miss you all, and we are already looking forward to returning.
Grateful that God grabbed his trowel,
A stone in Zion
Isaiah 28:14-19; 1 Peter 2:4-10
What does it mean to say that God is a rock? It means that God is dependable, reliable, strong, unchangeable, unmovable. Why, then, would you build your life on or trust in anything else?
Israel turned to trusting in other alliances, either with death or with other nations, instead of trusting in God, as Isaiah makes clear in Isaiah 28.
Christ has become the foundation upon which we as little stones are being built together into a spiritual house for God, as Peter says in 1 Peter 2.
Two ways to respond when the enemy is at the gate: alcohol or military alliances or to the living stone in Zion.
Peter says that there are two ways to respond to Jesus: as a stumbling block or as the foundation upon which you build your life.
Questions for personal reflection and/or group discussion