Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Empty Stuff

Ecclesiastes 2:1-26


So I hated life, for the work which had been done under the sun was grievous to me; because everything is futility and striving after wind.
In this chapter, we see that even the pursuit of pleasure simply brought the Preacher pain. Though he had been blessed with many things, they did not bring him any joy.


Three Frustrating Pursuits

Pleasure--The Preacher decides to set himself toward enjoying the things which he has. He allows wine in moderation to bring him some pleasure and relaxation. He then set out to consider what he could develop. He built houses, planted vineyards, established parks and gardens, surrounding himself with slaves, grew large flocks, accumulated great wealth, provided himself with great entertainment and singers and even sought sexual pleasure through many concubines.

The Preacher is unique in that there was no limit to his pursuit of pleasure. If he wanted something, he had the means available to attain it. Whereas you and I can find the pursuit of pleasure in things to be limited--for we are limited in what we can acquire--the Preacher does not have this problem. When we pursue pleasure in an object or material things and pleasure cannot be found, you and I can be tempted to believe it is simply evaded us because of the limit in quantity we can enjoy. But the Preacher tells us that if he wanted it, he got it.

But such a pursuit did not bring the Preacher joy. Ultimately, all that he had, and all the pleasures he enjoyed did not truly profit him. A full-fledged materialistic pursuit with no limit in acquisition still ended with futility.

Reputation--It's interesting to see how status begins to creep into the Preacher's thinking. It was not enough that he gained a large farm, but he needed to tell us it was larger than all before him (7). He reminds us that his pursuit ended with him being greater than all before him (9). Though his pursuit may not have started with him comparing himself to others, it eventually ends at this place. Yet, he must consider that nothing he can do is really that impressive, for it has been accomplished before. And not only that, but men will forget all about him, just like they would the fool. Sure, pursuing wisdom may mean you get to enjoy some more things here on earth--due to your wise stewardship--but ultimately the same fate befalls the fool and the wise man alike. The reputation may stand for a moment, but someone else will gain more things and bypass your reputation, or upon death, your reputation will be forgotten. The pursuit becomes empty.

Inheritance--Since possessions cannot bring personal satisfaction, perhaps the Preacher could find more joy in fulfillment for others. He could continue to accumulate possessions, but instead of the focus being personal, he could prepare for others. Could satisfaction be found in setting up the lives of your descendants?

Again, the Preacher only finds despair. Sure, he can work hard and be wise to be sure to provide a large inheritance, but he has no idea how his children would handle it. Will they squander it all? Will they not make the same wise choices he did and end up losing it in poor investments? Could the inheritance even lead to a poor work ethic?

Ultimately, the Preacher mourns that the inheritance may not last, and that his children may not truly benefit from it. It does not seem right to him that they get to enjoy what he has worked so hard for, though they did not have to work to receive it.

So, Now What?

In light of this despair, what is left to do with your possessions? The Preacher resigns that there is nothing better to do than to enjoy what you do have. It may not be perfect and it may not be totally fulfilling, but enjoying what you have at least makes the most of what you have. Eat, drink and enjoy what you have from you work. The Preacher even seems to acknowledge that grace and humility (rather than pride) are at the root of enjoying these things. God has given them to you. God has given you the ability to enjoy it. Therefore, do it!

At first glance, this could seem to be the proper approach to our possessions. [In fact, I have heard several pastors quote these verses as a commission that this is what God would have us do with your stuff.] However, notice that this view also ends in despair (v 26).

It is also scary to note that if you believe that your possessions are the result of grace and are gifts from God, yet do not seek a higher purpose than "under heaven" then you must formulate a purpose for the grace you have received. Without seeing that things exist and happen for the purpose of glorifying Christ, a person is left to see their life in total isolation. So, the Preacher ends up believing that what he has is a reflection of what he has done. God will give to him because he has done well, while the one who has not is deprived because he is wicked. Such a view will lead to a self-righteousness.

There has to be something better than just temporary fulfillment from your possessions, right?

Jesus Transforms It All

Throughout Ecclesiastes, the words of the Preacher are Christless. He only seeks out that which is "under the sun" or "under heaven." We should read his words, see his despair, and know that in Christ, things do not have to be as he describes. But was does considering Christ do to our view of possessions? In light of death, our possessions become futile and empty. We can't take any of it with us. (Growing up, my father would regularly remind me, "You don't see trailer hitches on hearses.") But what does a consideration of Christ accomplish? Does it simply say, "Well, you are going to die someday, but there is life after death through Christ. So enjoy what you've got now, because you don't need to fear death."

No, we should understand that Christ not only gives us hope for after death, but He also transforms how we should view our possessions here on earth.
"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."--Matthew 6:19-21
When we consider Christ, we learn that our present circumstances can be submitted for eternal glory of Christ. Therefore, what I have is not simply for this world. When I acknowledge that it is submitted to Christ--and that He sits as Lord over all--my possessions become object for His glory. If you simply view your possessions for you own joy, then yes, the day is coming that you die and have nothing to show for it. But if while "under the sun" you seek to use what you have to bring glory to Christ and spread His gospel, then after you die, those objects have generated eternal reward; reward which will also serve to glorify Christ.

A close look at 1 Corinthians 3 reminds the believer that he will stand before God in judgement. It is not a judgement to condemnation, for Christ has saved us from such condemnation. It is a judgement toward reward. And Paul reminds us that God will take all things from our life on earth and pass it through a fire. If those things on earth lead to eternal benefit, then they will be displayed for eternal reward. However, if the things from this earth were only used for temporal joy on earth, then the possession is consumed with the fire of judgement.

The glory of considering Christ is that we are not left to despair in our possessions' failure to provide real joy. We become aware that it is impossible for things to produce genuine joy, therefore we are not disappointed when objects let us down. We also do not find vanity in death, but in light of eternal life, we are aware that our current living can have eternal benefit.


We can seek meaning in our things, but we are incapable of keeping them secure. They will be destroyed, slowly decay or even be stolen. However, Christ has stored up for us a treasure that is eternally secure, and guarded by His eternal hand:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ; and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls.--1 Peter 1:3-9

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Empty Wisdom

Ecclesiastes 1:12-18


Because in much wisdom there is much grief, and increasing knowledge results in increasing pain.
The preacher lays out some pretty negative thoughts in regard to wisdom. Twice in this short passage he acknowledges that pain and grief come with increased wisdom and knowledge. Should this be our attitude toward wisdom?


The Preacher begins his "lesson" by letting us know that more wisdom has simply brought the knowledge of more pain. As he seeks out answers, he simply finds more devastation. Persecution, oppression, injustice, disease, heartache, pain and death. These are the things the Preacher finds when he looks more closely at life. This pursuit only brings grief.

In fact, the Preacher feels it is grievous--the Hebrew word suggest a tone of evil or bad--task given by God that weighs down and burdens man. It is our fate to seek out the answers to these things, but what a miserable fate it is. For as the Preacher explores these issues, he finds that he really has very little control over the events of his life, or the life of anyone else. That which is crooked cannot be straightened; he cannot really change the course of anything before him. He sought wisdom and found it, and at the end of that frontier he found pain and misery.

Is Wisdom Really Vanity?

The report of the Preacher seems so contrary to the perspective of wisdom from Proverbs 3:7-26:
Do not be wise in your own eyes; Fear the LORD and turn away from evil. It will be healing to your body And refreshment to your bones. Honor the LORD from your wealth And from the first of all your produce; So your barns will be filled with plenty And your vats will overflow with new wine. My son, do not reject the discipline of the LORD Or loathe His reproof, For whom the LORD loves He reproves, Even as a father {corrects} the son in whom he delights. How blessed is the man who finds wisdom And the man who gains understanding. For her profit is better than the profit of silver And her gain better than fine gold. She is more precious than jewels; And nothing you desire compares with her. Long life is in her right hand; In her left hand are riches and honor. Her ways are pleasant ways And all her paths are peace. She is a tree of life to those who take hold of her, And happy are all who hold her fast. The LORD by wisdom founded the earth, By understanding He established the heavens. By His knowledge the deeps were broken up And the skies drip with dew. My son, let them not vanish from your sight; Keep sound wisdom and discretion, So they will be life to your soul And adornment to your neck. Then you will walk in your way securely And your foot will not stumble. When you lie down, you will not be afraid; When you lie down, your sleep will be sweet. Do not be afraid of sudden fear Nor of the onslaught of the wicked when it comes; For the LORD will be your confidence And will keep your foot from being caught.
We do not see pain and grief as the result of wisdom, according to this Proverb. In stead, we see healing for the body, prosperity, and blessing. Wisdom is regarded as better than silver, fine gold and precious jewels. Happiness and long life are found in wisdom.

We know that wisdom and understanding cannot be bad things, for this Proverb reminds us that God created the heavens and the earth through His great wisdom, understanding and knowledge.

Therefore, the Proverb tells us to guard wisdom and keep it close. We should highly value it for it will serve to protect us.

What is the critical distinction between this Proverb and the Preacher? First, consider two of the most famous verses from Proverbs 3:
Trust in the LORD with all your heart And do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He will make your paths straight. (5-6)
In Proverbs 3, wisdom is set with God forever in view. God established the creation by wisdom. Wisdom is not housed within ourselves, but is granted by God. Real wisdom is to find our confidence ultimately in the Heavenly Father.

However, the words of the Preacher do not consider this. Yes, He acknowledges that God calls man to seek wisdom, but He does not seem to find a desirable God in this process. In stead, He sees God almost cruelly setting this out as our task.

I also believe the phrases under heaven (13) and under the sun (14) speak to the Preacher's perspective. While many commentators will diminish the value of these statements, believing them to simply be a common phrase used in the era to mean "everything," I believe they carry more significance. I believe the Preacher is telling us the scope of His search. He has looked from a horizontal perspective only. He is not considering eternity. He is not considering the heavenlies and that God may have a greater purpose or perspective. He is only considering the world from his own eyes, with that which he can see.

In fact, it appears that if the Preacher is going to consider God, it is only in that He may help him gain wisdom. God becomes a means to gaining the wisdom the Preacher seeks, instead of God being the end of wisdom. Consider Paul's words in 1 Corinthians 1:18-31
For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, "I WILL DESTROY THE WISDOM OF THE WISE, AND THE CLEVERNESS OF THE CLEVER I WILL SET ASIDE." Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God. But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, so that, just as it is written, "LET HIM WHO BOASTS, BOAST IN THE LORD."
Twice in this passage, Paul makes it very clear that Christ is not a means to you gaining wisdom, but that Christ Himself is Wisdom. Therefore, we understand that the pursuit of wisdom is not futility for the pursuit of true wisdom is actually the pursuit of Christ. We do not Christ as a tool in our quest for wisdom, to help us gain a bit further understanding, for wisdom's sake. No, we seek wisdom because in it, we find and know Christ more deeply. Through the glory of the gospel, we find that true wisdom transcends beyond "under the sun" and "under heaven" and becomes the One who is seated at the right hand of the Father.


Wisdom is not intended to be a grievous task. However, if the pursuit of wisdom is restricted to simply seeking out things we see on this side of eternity and are removed from the pursuit of Christ, then such wisdom will only bring grief and pain. This sort of wisdom will only reveal to us the pain in the world and our helplessness to do anything about it. However, when we seek Christ, we see the One who came and lived within our pain, who became the Man of Sorrow, so that we may be set from from only considering the here and now. Instead, we find great hope, for the pursuit of true wisdom leads us to the foot of the cross, where we see our Savior becoming a curse for us, so we would not have to endure the grief of this world alone. Instead, we rest in the day that is coming when all such grief will be done away with!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Luke 11:5-13


There is a fine line between persistence and nagging. While everyone celebrates the quality of perseverance, no one wants to harry. But in most situations, you can read a person's body language to help you navigate that fine line. As the person begins to show signs of annoyance, it serves as gauge to tell you it is time to back down a bit.

But what do we do in prayer? We can't really see God's face to know if we are bugging Him. Are we left to assess our circumstances to determine if He is annoyed? Am I being stubborn or wrong to continue to pray for something which God has not yet granted? Furthermore, does God even find my praying annoying? Obviously, if we care about our relationship with God, we should care about these answers.

After teaching what is often called The Lord's Prayer, Jesus then gives a parable and explanation regarding prayer.


Exhibit A (Luke 11:5-8)

Suppose one of you...This parable has a little extra emphasis, for Jesus places the listener into the lesson. He does not present this tale as "a man was visited by a friend," but keeps His listeners involved in the illustration. Jesus began to teach His disciples about prayer at their prompting and He's continuing now into the attitude behind prayer, and wants to make sure they understand He is still instructing them personally.

Hospitality--The problem for the host would be understandable to the audience. In our age, a person can travel across the country and you can predict their time of arrival within minutes. However, in the Biblical era, you are fortunate to predict a guest's arrival within a day or two. Transportation would be far less dependable as well as options for lodging along the way. And without constant forms of communication, the traveler would have no way to contact their host with an approximate arrival time. And without modern forms of food preservation, the host would not want to prepare for their guest too far in advance.

Therefore, even if the host was anticipating the arrival of a guest, it is understandable that he would not be prepared at midnight. However, his friend has been traveling and is now under his roof. There would be an expectation to take care of this weary traveler. However, to the host's dread, he finds his cupboard bare--a nightmare in a culture that highly value's hospitality. And since there are no 24 hour grocery stores at this moment, apart from the help of his neighboring friend, it is impossible for him to care for his guest.

Clearly, Jesus is associating the host with the person praying. The host heads over to the friend's house because he is in serious need and helpless to change the situation. The host holds in his hands the ability to change the circumstances for the host.

The Outcome--Imagine being the neighbor and getting a call (or the doorbell ringing) at midnight. A typical home at this time was simply a one room house. Since modern forms of heat were not available (and evenings could get cool), the family usually slept closer together to provide warmth. As your "friend" knocks on the door, he could wake all the children up, and if you rise to answer the door and then search around your house for food to share, you nearly insure that the children will wake up!

However, you also know, as it becomes clear that your friend is not going to give up easily, that if your friend continues to knock on the door and call out for you, he will most certainly wake up the entire house. Furthermore, you will not be able to get back to sleep until he is off of your front porch. The goal becomes peace and silence, therefore you respond to your friend's need because it is the quickest (and easiest) way to get him to leave you alone.

Bottom line: Badgering got results that simply asking could not.

Explanation (Luke 11:9-10)

Jesus turns his attention back to his disciples specifically. In light of this parable, Jesus then tells His disciples to ask so that they can receive. You hear an echo of these words later, when James says:

You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures.--James 4:2b-3
Jesus encourages his disciples, in the midst of teaching them on prayer, to ask. Should one expect to receive if they do not ask? However, if you ask, shouldn't you expect to receive?

Jesus gives a parable about badgering your neighbor for things, then draws that to direct application ("So I say to you...) in our prayer life. Is He teaching that just as badgering our neighbor can gain results, so can badgering God?

Exhibit B

Less of a hypothetical, Jesus turns the attention to parenting. Dads, which of you do not want what's best for your children? You would not replace a request for a fish with a snake, or an egg for a scorpion, would you? Of course not, because you love your children and want their best. However, every honest parent knows that at times, they do respond to their children according to their own selfish motive and not the child's best. (Discipline being a critical area. Often we are tempted to discipline our children more out of our frustration or embarrassment and less out of a desire for their growth and development.) Why, though we love our children, are we tempted at times to think selfishly rather than selflessly? Jesus says it is because we are evil. We are sinners.

So, if we still desire to lavish gifts and care upon our children, even though we struggle against sin, how much more will God's love be shown in His benevolence since He does not battle selfish sin? We are encouraged to ask of God just as we would ask of our earthly fathers, believing they desire what's best for us. However, we can ask of God with even more confidence, since He is our Perfect, Sinless Father.


At first glance, this text can appear contradictory. Jesus offers one example which says we should badger God just like the neighbor did his friend, for eventually He will give in just to get us off His back. Then then follows it with the exhortation to ask.

The second example follows the exhortation to ask, and tells us our motivation should be a trust in God that He will treat us better than our earthly father.

Some will argue, "Who cares?" Either way, you're called to ask. Does it really matter what your motivation will be? I believe it does matter, for the reason you ask will effect the way which you ask. Your theology will greatly effect your actions.

However, I do not think the "exhibits" are contradictory. Let's consider the what Jesus says about the neighboring friend:

He is able to help, but unwilling. (12:7)
He claims that helping would be far to inconvenient. (12:7)
He claims he cannot get up, though he obviously can. (12:7)
Out of no regard for relationship--but rather do to nagging--he will eventually respond. (12:8)

To understand Jesus' parable is to understand He is not calling us to contrast the two "exhibits" but to contrast the first exhibit with the Biblical revelation of our Heavenly Father. Not only is our Heavenly Father capable of helping, but He is also willing. Our Heavenly Father made the Greatest Sacrifice ever in sending His Son, so He obviously is not one who values His convenience over others' well-being. If everything about the "friend" is inconsistent with the Biblical picture of our Heavenly Father, then shouldn't we contrast their motivation for acting as well?

In reality, Jesus is teaching that God will respond to our requests, not because we wear Him down with nagging and He eventually wants to be rid of us, but because of His great love for us. The point is that God is nothing like the neighboring "friend," but is exactly the opposite. His motivation is His great love for us and therefore we should ask of Him, just like we would our earthly father.


Believing that your nagging God will gain you results will end in damaging theology.

Suppose you get what you ask for: You will be tempted to see your sovereignty above God's. He responded to you because you "out-willed" Him. In this way, you can believe you can ensure results and get God to do what you want. Many people pray to God as if He is their marionette. You will believe you got results, not by His grace, but by your effort. Any time you have this type of perspective, you diminish the glory of God, and by doing so, it will have damaging effects upon you.

Suppose you do not get what you asked for: You will assume the blame upon yourself. You did not pray enough times, or long enough or hard enough. You'll be left wondering how close you got God to exasperation before you quit. You will wonder if a lack of response is your failure. Since the prayers of a righteous man are powerful and effective, you will wonder if a lack of your desired answer must be a reflection of a lack of character. While pride can become evident in self-righteousness when we get what we ask for, it can also show its presence when we think we are the reason for a different result.

Yes, the Bible says much on prayer, and this short section of Scripture does not cover it all. The Bible clearly shows that our prayers somehow have an effect on a Sovereign God who already knows the beginning from the end. They are not a futile exercise, but do have an effect. However, the Word also teaches that God may not give us what we ask for at times because His grace calls for Him to give us something else. This text, however, speaks to us specifically about our motivation.

We should ask God of that which we desire. We should ask, not demand. We should ask, trusting that He will respond to us according our relationship with Him, not according to our performance. Therefore, we must also trust that if we do not receive our desired outcome, it is because our gracious loving God wants something even better for us. We may not always see this, or understand how our current circumstances are an evidence of His grace, but we can rest that it is.

Ultimately we should ask of God, and ask away! Knowing that our Loving Heavenly Father will give us what we need, not simply what we want. We cannot nag Him or wear Him down, but instead we share our heart, rejoicing that above all else, He has given us His Son and the Holy Spirit! He is always our True and Perfect Friend, when we are in or out of need!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Finding Meaning in the Meaningless

Ecclesiastes Overview


Vanity of Vanities, says the Preacher, Vanity of vanities! All is vanity.
No other book of Scripture begins with such a tone. Of course, though vanity today can mean "excessive pride in one's appearance," this is not the author's intention. Some translations say, "meaningless" and the Hebrew even conveys "emptiness or worthlessness." Some assume such a despairing tone is the author's attempt to shock and gain attention. However, the author also concludes the book (12:8) with:
Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, all is vanity!
A close survey of the book will show this is the Preacher's theme throughout.

But why the despair?
Is there really no hope?
How does this theme find consistency with the rest of the Bible?


The [not-so] Merry-Go-Round of Life (1:3-11)

The despair of the preacher is immediately attributed to cycles seen in life, the most tragic being the coming and going of generations. A generation is born, lives and then dies, yet the earth just continues on as it always has. There are three illustrations of this:

The sun--Everyday, the sun rises in its place, travels across the sky and sets in its place again. Only to rise the next day and go through the same pattern all over again. (Some suggest "scientific inaccuracy" in the language, for it suggests the sun is moving in the sky. However, this is just figurative language, the same as we continue to call it a "sunrise" and "sunset," though we know the earth is in orbit.)

The winds--Similarly, the wind seems to cycle around the globe. The wind blows south only to double back north again. The cycle simply continues.

The rivers--Even the water cycle serves as an example. The waters flow into a lake, yet the lake never overflows. The river finds its source in another lake, yet that lake never runs dry. The perfect illustration of this is the Jordan River, which flows from the Sea of Galilee into the Dead Sea. Though the Dead Sea has not outlet, it never fills up.

Like a merry-go-round, cycles in life can seem fun at first but later become nauseating. A cycle can seem to bring stability and predictability. However, the despair comes in not finding a way out of the cycle. Eventually, these things become wearisome. We never find satisfaction in what we see or hear.

There simply is nothing new. What has come to be already existed and we're looking at the future right now, for it will simply repeat our present. Not only is this wearisome, but the fact that some people think things are new is wearisome as well. When someone thinks something is new, this only shows how quickly they forget the past. In fact, the cycle is so sure, we can even confidently know that future events will be a copy of present circumstances, and will also be forgotten. There seems to be no way of escape.

While we may be able to affirm this pattern by observing life, we do find a tension in this passage. No other part of Scripture provides this hopelessness. Can you imagine Jesus or John the Baptist standing in front of a crowd and declaring, "This is all worthless. It's a cycle with no escape and there is no point."

Why would the message of Ecclesiastes be so unique to the rest of Scripture?

The Author v The Preacher

To properly understand the Book of Ecclesiastes, I believe we have to come to terms with the fact that some things in the Bible are not true. This is not an attack on divine, verbal, plenary inspiration of the Scripture. It is an affirmation that the Scriptures record true statements from men, as well as false statements. We first meet Satan in Scripture as he lies. Job is filled with chapters of really bad advice from ignorant friends.

I remember once seeing a church website that posted the verse Therefore, if You worship before me, it shall all be Yours (Luke 4:7). This is a horrible verse for a church, for you must consider the source and purpose of the verse. This verse is not assuring us that all things will be come ours by worshipping Christ. THis verse is actually from Satan, to Jesus, during the temptation. First of all, Satan is calling for Jesus to commit idolatry. Second, it is a false statement, for Satan does not have the authority to eternally hand all things over to Christ. When we consider the context of this verse (including the source), we realize this statement is recorded perfectly in the Scriptures, but the statement is a false statement.

In the same way, I believe we are to understand the majority of the Book of Ecclesiastes as false thinking. Consider the third person to first person switch in the Book.

From verse 1:1--The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem.
From verse 1:12--I, the Preacher, have been king over Israel in Jerusalem.
From verse 10:7--I have seen slaves riding on horses and princes walking like slaves on the land.
From verse 12:8--"Vanity of vanities," says the Preacher, "all is vanity!"

Observing the shift in person (from third to first back to third), helps us understand their are two main characters of the book of Ecclesiastes: The Author and The Preacher. From verse 1:12 through verse 12:7, we are given the teaching's of the Preacher, though I do not believe the Preacher is actually the author of the book. Consider how awkward verse 9 & 10 are, if the Preacher actually recorded these things about himself and chose not to do so in the first person:
In addition to being a wise man, the Preacher also taught people knowledge; and he pondered, searched out and arranged many proverbs. The Preacher sought to find delightful words and to write words of truth correctly.
In verse 12:11, the Author reminds us that true wisdom comes from One Shepherd, and I believe it is his intention to contrast the Preacher's "wisdom" with the wisdom that comes from One Shepherd. THerefore, we need to understand that most of the book of Ecclesiastes is supposed to presented in contrast with Christ-centered thinking.

However, there are some obstacles we must be aware of to keep from tripping over details:

Who is the Preacher? Many (if not most) commentators suppose the Author to be Solomon. I do believe the Preacher may be Solomon (either directly quoting him, or basing the "sermon" of the preacher upon the experiences of Solomon.) While some things seem to affirm Solomon, many of these do not necessitate the Preacher to be Solomon (ie. Son of David can be simply mean descendant), while other statements seem awkward for Solomon to make (ie. "all who were over Jerusalem before me"). Again, the Preacher could be a direct (or indirect) reference to Solomon, however, there is another tragic reason it does not seem the Author would be Solomon.

Simply put, Solomon's life does not end well. Because Ecclesiastes ends with a call to fear God and appears to show the worthlessness of all his previous musings, many assume this to mean Solomon experienced a personal revival at the end of his life. However, 1 Kings 11 does not present a picture of Solomon repenting. I pray for his sake that he did, but the text seems to indicate that Solomon died in the despair and deceit of his sin.

Thus, if the sermon is Solomon's, it is likely a different author places the sermon in the middle of the book to illustrate to his son (12:12), how not to think. The Preacher's thinking does not consider the One True Shepherd, while the Author calls his son to consider all wisdom actually comes from the One Shepherd.

What about references to God within the Preacher's sermon? This seems to be the most common inconsistency of most commentators. Occasionally, the Preacher's sermon seems to find some hope and even speaks of true characteristics of God. Most commentators see these as signs that even when beat down by life's circumstances, one cannot remain in despair. These statements are seen as signs of hope and virtue.

However, nearly every on of these "positive" statements are followed another statement about vanity. None of these middle statements about God's character actually reveal joy, hope or delight in the Preacher. Instead, he rightly assesses an attribute of God (like Sovereignty), but does not delight in it (but rather finds God rather capricious). He may state something accurate about God, yet it is incomplete. Since the perspective of the Preacher is Christ-less, his thinking is naturally incomplete.

Derek Kidner, in his commentary on Ecclesiastes, reminds the reader that the secular mind is "not necessarily theoretical atheism, but a thoughtless attitude towards a God whose existence is unquestioned but unappreciated." Though the Preacher's view is Christ-less, it does not mean he denies the existence of God. It simply means he has not given God much thought, not does He appreciate and give thanks for Him.

Such a view of the Preacher helps us understand why he does not find joy, hope or worship when considering God.


So if most of the book of Ecclesiastes is inaccurate thinking, what benefit is there in studying the book?

Reading the words of the Preacher should break our hearts. We not only see the number of harmful ways he pursues pleasure, but also the empty results the pursuits produce. To know that real people are caught up in these vain pursuits should cause us to feel compassion for their despair.

I've heard people advocate that media is a great way to develop this compassion as well. Pastors will exhort their congregations to get to the movie theatre and watch the hottest television shows so that you can know what "unsaved Joe and Mary" are thinking. However, the entertainment may not be accurate to how a typical person things (there is still a vast difference between Rodeo Drive and Main Street), it may not accurately reveal the vanity of such thinking, and it also may present those pursuits in enticing ways that do nothing to promote your sanctification.

Instead, the book of Ecclesiastes serves us by taking us into the heart and mind of the Preacher. This also serves our evangelism for we can see the source of the despair that he feels. Many people will pursue these vain pleasures and think the reason they are coming up empty is due to a lack of resource. However, the Preacher shows us someone who was able to pursue these things fully, yet comes away unfulfilled. We should use his message to push others to see the vanity in their own pursuits. As the Preacher reveals, death can be a great apologetic. As one is forced to consider their own death, the things they live for now suddenly become powerless and worthless. We can sharpen our ability to lovingly point these vanities out to others by reading the words of the Preacher.

We're reminded that this is how most people think. And though they may believe in God, they may pursue morals and may even accept that Jesus was special, they do not see Him as Lord and Savior sitting above all things. To say this powerless form of Christ is genuine Christianity is like saying a tree and an elephant are similar because they both have a trunk. We see the contrast between a Sovereign Christ and a helpless religious teacher, but it also our responsibility to help them see the difference too!

But the words of the Preacher are not just for the lost. Though Christ is our Living Water, we can still be tempted to go to other wells. The words of the Preacher serve as a reminder to us that we should not be tempted to chase after these other pursuits. As we continue to war against the flesh, it serves us well to be aware of its strategies. The Preacher's words remind and rebuke me in my drift toward Christless thinking. They also serve as an encouragement to know that in Christ, such despair is completely removed. The despair created by these vanities are replaced by the hope of Him!

True Worship
Reading Ecclesiastes should cause you to exult in Christ!

The calling away from the Preacher's teaching is not to a different philosophy. Consider Colossians 2:8:
See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ.
Paul does not simply call us to think more like Christians, Paul calls us to think on Christ. By looking at the completely Christless perspective of the Preacher, the believer is reminded that our hope is found in our Savior. He is out hope, not just the One who brings hope!

The book of Ecclesiastes should cause us to exult in Christ as we see the hope only He can provide and as we acknowledge His grace to us in allowing us to see His goodness. True wisdom does come from One True Shepherd, Our Chief Shepherd!

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Leviticus 12:1-8


At this point, the LORD begins to instruct Moses about cleanliness laws. This section continues from chapter twelve to chapter fifteen and covers everything from the cleanliness of a woman haven given birth, issues of leprosy, mold within a home, skin diseases and other genera cleanliness laws.

However, there is a very real element in Leviticus 12 which contradicts what the largest "church" in the world teaches. And for that, it is probably good for us to take a moment to look at Leviticus twelve.


Again, the LORD instructs Moses in regard to these laws. Moses is then called to respond to these words and teach the nation of Israel.

When a woman gives birth to a child, she will be unclean for the first seven days. On the eighth day, however, her son will be presented before the LORD for circumcision. The act of circumcision is an exterior response to the covenant God has made with Israel. Circumcision does not enter a person automatically into the covenant with God, but is an exterior sign of an inward reality. Consider:

For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God.
Obviously, an eight day old baby cannot choose to be circumcised, so this is really a response from the parents to the promises of God. Simply cutting the foreskin of a son does not grant eternal life. But this is a response to the promise made by God, and the passionate desire to walk in obedience, not to establish the covenant, but to celebrate it. (see Genesis 17).

If the woman gives birth to a son, she remains unclean in her blood for a period of thirty-three days. Though she does not remain "unclean," there is some restriction which looks similar to that of uncleanness.

The time is doubled for a girl baby. There is no circumcision process for the girl, however the mother remains unclean for two weeks. Her total time of purification is sixty-six days.

Once her days of purification are completed (thirty-three days if she had a son, sixty-six if a daughter), she is to come to the doorway of the tent of meeting and offer a one year old lamb as a burnt offering and a young pigeon or turtledove for a sin offering. The priest will offer the sacrifice for the woman and atonement will be made and she will be cleansed from the flow of her blood.

God offers another opportunity for those without financial means. Any parent knows that the birth of a child immediately makes you assess your finances differently. The LORD offers that the person who may not have financial means, but has been blessed witha son or daughter is able to respond to the LORD in obedience without the sacrifice being too burdensome. Instead of the lamb and a pigeon/turtledove (again, notice the LORD does not give parameters as to what constitutes poverty), the LORD provides two pigeons or two turtledoves. One bird would be for the burnt offering and one is to be for sin offering. Again, we are assured that the sacrifice is pleasing to the LORD for we are told the priest will make atonement for her.


Why would the female child cause the mother to be unclean and in her blood of purification for twice as long? There are a lot of theories, but none proves ultimately satisfactory. The text does not give us any indication as to the purpose but simply states that this is God's standard and we should comply.

But why would child birth make a person unclean?

First, the union of a husband and a wife is not sinful. God was pleased that a husband and wife would become one flesh, and such a union is intended to point us to the beauty of Christ and the church. (Genesis 2:24/Ephesians 5:31-32).

Second, reproduction is not sinful. God is not displeased when a family grows and multiplies. (Genesis 1:28)

Instead, this is a testimony to the imputation and pervasive effects of the sin nature. David stated, "Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, And in sin my mother conceived me" (Psalm 51:5). Some assume this means than David was conceived in illegitimacy. However, nowhere is Scripture is this indicated and people should be cautious about making such charges. Instead, it should be understood that David is acknowledging that the sin nature was present in him from the moment of conception.

The sin nature is often misunderstood. We do not become a sinner the moment we sin, for David acknowledges the sin anture at conception. No, we sin because we are a sinner. The emphasis of the blood flow in this passage should remind us that the process of childbirth has become cursed, due to sin. Sin effects childbirth. Sin effects the child, for he/she will be conceived as a sinner.

However, the emphasis of Leviticus 12 is upon the woman. She bears the child and is unclean or in the process of purification. She offers the sacrifice. The priest presents it for her. The priest will make atonement for her. The emphasis is not upon the father or the child, but upon the mother. It should remind us of the pervasive effects of our sin nature and its universal application to all men and women.

However, many actually deny this principle!
And when eight days had passed, before His circumcision, His name was then called Jesus, the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb. And when the days for their purification according to the law of Moses were completed, they brought Him up to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, "EVERY firstborn MALE THAT OPENS THE WOMB SHALL BE CALLED HOLY TO THE LORD"), and to offer a sacrifice according to what was said in the Law of the Lord, "A PAIR OF TURTLEDOVES OR TWO YOUNG PIGEONS."--Luke 2:21-24
From this text, we see two things:
    a) Mary and Joseph were not wealthy.
Jesus was not born into a family of prestige or privilege. Mary does not offer up a year old lamb, but instead offers two birds. This tells us that she and Joseph could not afford to offer anything else.
    b) Mary was a sinner.
First, we see that Leviticus says the offering is for the woman. Second, we know that Joseph is not actually involved in the process of Jesus' conception and is therefore removed from the birth process (other than general emotional support to Mary). Thirdly, we know that Jesus is unblemished and therefore without sin. However, Mary does not just offer a burnt offering, but presents to the priest a pair of birds.

Ironically, in an offering that is intended to teach the pervasive universal truth of sin nature, Mary's actions refute the Roman heresy of Mary's sinlessness. The "Immaculate Conception" is not about the sinlessness of Jesus Christ. The Immaculate Conception, as a Roman doctrine, is the heresy that Mary was actually born without a sin nature, so that she could then bear the Messiah. Therefore, Roman Catholicism teaches the perpetual virginity of Mary and that since she did not have a sin nature, she also lived a sinless life. When we carefully study Leviticus 12, we see that Luke 2 exposes and destroys the heretical concept of a sinless Mary! If Mary was without sin, why would she offer a sin sacrifice?

At this point, you may wonder, why would this matter? This is not a Christian apologetic blog, nor is it devoted to exposing and debunking the views of false religions. This is intended to be an online commentary of Scripture. However, I would suggest that the Roman Heresy of the perpetual virginity of Mary is deeply personal.

    The Roman church has declared me damned to hell.
Consider the following "anathemas" from the Council of Trent:
“If any one saith, that by faith alone the impious is justified; in such wise as to mean, that nothing else is required to co-operate in order to the obtaining the grace of Justification, and that it is not in any way necessary, that he be prepared and disposed by the movement of his own will; let him be anathema.” Sixth Session CANON IX

“If any one saith, that justifying faith is nothing else but confidence in the divine mercy which remits sins for Christ's sake; or, that this confidence alone is that whereby we are justified; let him be anathema.” Sixth Session CANON XII

“If any one saith, that, in the Catholic Church there is not a hierarchy by divine ordination instituted, consisting of bishops, priests, and ministers; let him be anathema.” Twenty-Third Session CANON VI.

“If any one saith, that in the Catholic Church Penance is not truly and properly a sacrament, instituted by Christ our Lord for reconciling the faithful unto God, as often as they fall into sin after baptism; let him be anathema. “ Fourteenth Session CANON II

“If any one saith, that baptism is free, that is, not necessary unto salvation; let him be anathema.” Seventh Session CANON V

“If any one saith, that all Christians have power to administer the word, and all the sacraments; let him be anathema.” Seventh Session CANON X
(This list is not a complete list of the anathemas from the Council of Trent, nor is it the only ones which are in direct conflict with the Scriptures and therefore consider me condemned to hell. It is also noteworthy that the Roman Catholics are not the only ones who proclaim these rules. A very strong case can be made that the Old German Baptist Brethren place all of these listed restrictions [and many more] upon people as well--except for that of confession to a priest.)

Therefore, the Roman system has officially declared that the biblical message of salvation is a message that condemns a person to hell. They have officially convened and "gone on the books" to state that I am condemned forever for believing the Bible.
    I have experienced the agony of this deception upon others.
Just last week, my mother buried her father. He was honored during a mass. I had shared the gospel several times with my grandfather. My father had shared the gospel several times with my grandfather. Neither of us ever saw him respond with an affirmation of the Biblical gospel. Instead, he would ponder what was said, meet with a priest and allow the priest to explain away the Scriptures. I never had the joy of seeing my grandfather respond to the Biblical gospel with understanding.

Is my grandfather in heaven? I hope so. But my only hope is that the coma he was in for the last week of his life was actually the gracious work of My Heavenly Father to shut his ears of from the lies of the "priesthood" and allow him to be alone with the Scriptures he had heard. I prayed madly during that week that God might save him since the lies were silenced. Perhaps in His grace He did.

My ministry has been marked by too many heartbreaks due to the enemy's use of false religion. A person is counseled to read the Scriptures for a week. They return and see things which are not in the text, or ignore the obvious things that are, because a religious system has lied to them and Satan uses it as a veil over their eyes to keep them from seeing the gospel.
    My Savior, the Only One Who is truly holy, Who died for my sins, is robbed of His glory.
This is actually that which is most personal. In the throne room of God, as we declare, "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty" (Revelation 4:8), should I also sing a song to Mary's holiness? Is she able to ascribe to the Lord the praise He is due when she also stands in the throne room holy in her own right? Is God's holiness really a factor that sets the Trinity apart if there is another in the room who is holy? (See how their system quickly finds Mary elevated to divine status?)

I have no idea if we will sing songs written in our present age, but how could Mary join us in singing "Jesus Paid It All?" For what has Jesus paid for Mary if she has no sin? How could she cry out "Worthy is the Lamb," a direct attestation to His atoning work, when it was not necessary for her? Furthermore, when we add just one person to the Throne room of heaven who does not actually need Christ's righteousness imputed to her, how have we not diminished His glory and made Him a liar when He said "no man gets to the Father but through Him?"

So what?

This does not become a simple exercise in doctrinal fidelity for doctrine's sake. Anyone who passionately loves Christ should greatly desire that He receive the glory He is due and hate any false doctrine which robs Him of this glory. However, in our pluralistic society, we are exhorted to believe it really doesn't matter as long as a person is sincere. Right worship matters, and right worship requires right doctrine.

The point is not simply to avoid Catholicism, for most people can easily apply this principle, and quite frankly, few probably find themselves tempted by it. The point is to passionately pursue and proclaim the glory of Christ in all His fullness and reject anything which diminishes that glory.

The Roman Catholic Church does not preach a gospel that leads to salvation and presents Christ in His deserved glory. The German Baptist Brethren Church does not preach a gospel that leads to salvation and presents Christ in His deserved glory. Neither does a liberal protestant church. Neither do silly Grace Brethren Churches which do not think it necessary to preach the gospel (because their people already know it), or who claim to be centered in Christ but do not find it necessary to talk about Him every week. There are multiple avenues and every religious organization is prone to deny or even neglect the truth of the gospel in Jesus Christ.

At this point, it is necessary to clarify. There are Roman Catholics who are saved. There are German Baptists who are saved. There are people in liberal protestant churches who are saved. There are people in gospel neglecting, Christ diminishing Grace Brethren churches who are saved. I am not saying that a specific church membership can separate a genuine believer from the love of God which in Christ Jesus our Lord.

However, our hearts should be broken to realize that Mother Teressa (a woman typically lauded for her piety) is facing eternal condemnation if she actually believed the "gospel" her church taught. If she believed in the denial of imputed righteousness (as the Catholic church proclaims), then none of her works were considered righteous by God and she did not have the wrath for her sin transferred to Christ.

This should be used as a litmus to search your own soul for salvation. If you believe that you are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, but that others may be saved through a different way, I would challenge that you do not have saving faith. If you believe Mother Teressa could accomplish salvation through her good works, you do not believe Jesus is the only way. If you believe Mary could actually be sinless and stand before God in His glory in her own merit, you believe there is another way to God than through Christ alone. The truth of the sinfulness of all of humanity should not be used as a self-righteous study to take pride in our own accurate doctrine. This truth should instead drive us to humility as we understand the severity of our own sin problem and then fill us with compassion as we genuinely try to win others to salvation in Christ.

And if you know a person who knows genuine salvation in Jesus Christ but is in the fellowship of a gospel denying fellowship, you should be compassionately pleading with them to get out! God's glory matters and we should fear the contamination of poor teaching and genuine dislike those doctrines which rob Him of His glory.


Such understanding of doctrine is offensive to many. It is considered judgmental and "heresy hunting." False doctrine matters and has grave consequences. How then should we respond to false doctrine?
But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life. And have mercy on some, who are doubting; save others, snatching them out of the fire; and on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh.--Jude 20-23
If you know Christ as your Savior, yet the noise of our pluralistic society has influenced you, and you find yourself doubting the firm conviction of the exclusivity of Christ, find a merciful believer who will help instruct you with the Word of God. Repent of the ways you have conformed to the image of the world and seek the transformation into the image of Christ by the renewing of your mind. And if you know someone who professes Christ but is struggling with doubt, seek to be that person who mercifully ministers the Word of God to him/her.

If you have not seen the severe and total depravity caused by your sin nature, nor have you understood the exclusive nature of the perfect sacrifice of Jesus Christ for sin, then understand your soul is at stake. This is the universally, eternally, undeniably most important issue in your life to resolve. Your soul hangs in the balance. Find someone who understands this urgency and seeks to share the message of salvation with you. If you know someone who does not understand the consequence of their sin and the exclusivity of Christ, understand their soul hangs in the balance and seek to share Christ with them. It is not your love for them that keeps you silent (for how can you claim you love them if you allow them to continue to hell without you pleading them to repent and turn). It is your love for self (and desire to avoid awkward confrontation) that keeps you silent.

And if you attend a church because it is socially acceptable, makes it easier to find customers for your multi-level-marketing home business or simply gets your mother-in-law off your back, yet you resist the message of salvation preached regularly by your church, quit coming to the church. Other souls are at risk and if you do not care enough about your own soul to submit to Christ, at least do not prevent others through your influence. And if you know someone who weekly (or regularly) attends and participates in the life of a congregation but has no interest in submitting to the gospel, have the courage to speak to them about how you do not want to see the garment polluted by the flesh.

The issue is not doctrinal fidelity for doctrine's sake. If you have tasted and seen that the Lord is good, we should desire that people understand that message. Like a person who is enjoying their best meal they have ever tasted at a restaurant raves about the meal and even offers others a bite. We should be people, who once we have seen the severity of our sin are drawn to see the glory of the grace offered in Christ and should be calling others to taste and see as well!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Leviticus 11:1-47


Many people have not given much thought to the "dietary laws" found in Leviticus. Often, the response can be quite troubling. Some have a crisis of faith, assuming this is a portion of Scripture we simply ignore, thus leading them to question what other portions of Scripture "no longer apply." Others, read the dietary laws and attempt to apply them. They seek to show their devotion to the Lord by eliminating pork or lobster. So which is it? Are we still bound by the dietary laws, or are there passages of Scripture that have no application today?


The LORD begins to teach between the clean and unclean animals. Both Moses and Aaron receive this instruction from the LORD.

The nation of Israel may eat of any land animal that has a split hoof and chews cud. This is not a reference to the gestational process of the cow, but merely to the constant appearance of chewing (such as a rabbit). However, the LORD makes it clear that a rabbit is not clean, for it does not have split hoof. The requirements for cleanliness are not either/or, but the animal must have both a split hoof and must chew the cud.

Not only is the person to avoid eating these animals, but the LORD also instructs that they should not make contact with their carcasses. To touch the carcass of an unclean animal will make the person unclean as well.

Likewise, and Israelite may eat of any sea animal with fins and scales and remain clean. However, those sea creatures which do not have scales or do not have fins are to be regarded as unclean. This applies to all water animals, whether in the sea or in a river. They are to avoid consumption and are not to touch their carcasses.

The text makes it very clear that the LORD expects the Israelites to keep themselves distanced from these things. They are to abhor these creates and detest them. They are not to make any form of compromise.

The LORD next lists birds which are to be considered unclean. With birds, he does not list features that make the bird clean or unclean, but merely lists off different birds that are unclean. Though a bat is technically not considered to be a bird, it makes sense on this list since it has wings and flies, and is considered unclean.

Any winged insect that walks on all fours is unclean, unless they have jointed legs with which to hop. The grasshopper and the locust may be eaten, but other winged four-footed insects are forbidden.

The LORD reminds us that contact with an unclean animal carcass will make the person unclean. In fact, if he must move the animal (carry it), he becomes unclean until evening and must also wash his clothes. This is a deliberate "ritual" since they did not naturally wash clothing after one wearing (as we do today). These unclean carcasses could come from any of the afore mentioned unclean animals, as well as any animal with four paws.

The LORD also instructs Moses and Aaron that reptiles, rodents and other "swarming things" are considered unclean and detestable.

The LORD also instructs that the contact of an unclean animal with something will make that object unclean.

If an unclean animal dies on a fabric or clothing, the person is to wash the garment and it remains unclean until evening.

If an unclean animal dies in contact with an earthenware vessel, and oven or a stove, they are to be smashed. They remain unclean.

If an animal dies in contact with water or food or any other form of beverage, they are considered unclean. Since the LORD gives no parameters to them becoming clean again (He does not say "until evening"), it is assumed that they remain unclean and should be discarded.

However, if an unclean animals dies in contact with a cistern or well, the water remains clean, although the person who removes the animal becomes unclean.

If an unclean carcass falls upon a pile of seed, the seed is still considered clean. However, if the seed has had water applied to it, thus beginning the germination process, the seed is to be considered unclean.

The LORD also instructs that the carcass of a clean animal can also make a person unclean. If an animal used for food (a clean animal) dies, then a person who contacts the carcass or eats from it will be considered unclean until evening. Now surely, every clean animal that they ate was dead, but this speaks to the manner of the death. If they animal died without being killed for the purpose of butchering and eating, then it was unclean. However, if they killed the animal to eat it, this would not mean they are unclean. Otherwise, every form of meat would make one unclean, and even a peace offering would make one unclean.

The LORD "recaps" the unclean animals on the land that are not allowed. If it crawls on its belly, walks on four feet or has many legs, it is to be considered unclean and will make the person unclean. The Israelites response was that he was to detest such things.

The LORD explains that the motivation for pursuing cleanliness should be the holiness of God. Since God is holy and set apart, so the Israelites should seek to make a distinction between the clean and the unclean. God has called Israel out of the land of Egypt, therefore, they should act like a people who have been called out and are separate. This pursuit of holiness is motivated out of the work God has done on their behalf.


While the LORD gets very specific in listing the clean and the unclean animals, He does not reveal to us the purpose in labeling some things clean and others unclean. This has led many to speculate. Why are some animals clean and others are not. There are a number of theories:

    Safety--Some speculate that God kept certain animals from the Israelites because they were unhealthy. Some scientific reports claim that pork, for instance, can be quite easily contaminated with disease. This view says that God is graciously saving them from a poor diet. However, this view should be viewed with caution, for it's basic premise relies on science to tell us what is healthy and what is not. (Has the scientific community even come to a consensus about eggs yet?) Also, some of science's findings are in contradiction with this view. (For instance, ostrich is considered a healthier alternative to beef.)
    Symmetry--Others suggest that God condemns some animals as unclean because they are abnormal. They argue that an animal that splits the hoof and chews the cud is normal, while other forms are abnormal. However, what makes this the standard, but all animals with four paws are to be considered unclean? Again, the list seems to be arbitrary.
    Proximity to Death--Since the text lays out that carcasses (even from a clean animal) can make one unclean, some speculate that the distinction between clean and unclean becomes an issue regarding death. Those animals which kill other animals, eat from dead animals or are similarly related to death become unclean. While many of the birds listed do eat carrion, camels and rabbits do not, making this list difficult to affirm.
    Pagan Practice--Others assume that the LORD's desire for the Israelites to remain separate is a call to their worship practices. Since they are surrounded by pagan worship, God is calling them to abstain from practices that could be misunderstood as pagan participation. Therefore, animals (ie. pigs) which were central in pagan worship practices are forbidden. However, cattle were central in pagan worship (especially Egypt, which the LORD directly references), yet they are considered clean.
While we can become distracted chasing possible purposes (I encountered one scholar who suggests that chewing the cud is meant to symbolize meditating on God's Word?), we can miss God's great calling in this.

This is not simply an issue of time or detail, that God doesn't consider it important, so neither should we. In actuality, God considers this quite important, for He calls the people to detest and abhor that which is unclean. He fails to give us the specific detail as a grace. Knowing our fleshly tendencies, we would create greater law around the "dietary laws" if we knew the purpose of the separation. For instance, if the purpose was health, wouldn't we be tempted to create a new "super clean" category that was proper healthy preparation of clean animals? Wouldn't we now declare that free-range cattle are even cleaner than the previous standard. We would not be freed from the Law, but would find ourselves under a greater yoke to it.

But there is a reason why we can eat a double bacon cheeseburger and still be strong believer:
On the next day, as they were on their way and approaching the city, Peter went up on the housetop about the sixth hour to pray. But he became hungry and was desiring to eat; but while they were making preparations, he fell into a trance; and he *saw the sky opened up, and an object like a great sheet coming down, lowered by four corners to the ground, and there were in it all {kinds of} four-footed animals and crawling creatures of the earth and birds of the air. A voice came to him, "Get up, Peter, kill and eat!" But Peter said, "By no means, Lord, for I have never eaten anything unholy and unclean." Again a voice {came} to him a second time, "What God has cleansed, no {longer} consider unholy." This happened three times, and immediately the object was taken up into the sky. Now while Peter was greatly perplexed in mind as to what the vision which he had seen might be, behold, the men who had been sent by Cornelius, having asked directions for Simon's house, appeared at the gate; and calling out, they were asking whether Simon, who was also called Peter, was staying there. While Peter was reflecting on the vision, the Spirit said to him, "Behold, three men are looking for you. But get up, go downstairs and accompany them without misgivings, for I have sent them Myself." Peter went down to the men and said, "Behold, I am the one you are looking for; what is the reason for which you have come?" They said, "Cornelius, a centurion, a righteous and God-fearing man well spoken of by the entire nation of the Jews, was {divinely} directed by a holy angel to send for you {to come} to his house and hear a message from you." So he invited them in and gave them lodging. And on the next day he got up and went away with them, and some of the brethren from Joppa accompanied him.--Acts 10:9-23
It is interesting to note that God does not say, "Don't call it unclean anymore!" or "Quit thinking of it as unclean." The LORD says, "What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy." It is more than a semantic change. God has actually made the animals clean. But what has been accomplished? Peter should have known that the animals were clean, for Jesus said it Himself:
After He called the crowd to Him again, He {began} saying to them, "Listen to Me, all of you, and understand: there is nothing outside the man which can defile him if it goes into him; but the things which proceed out of the man are what defile the man. ["If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear."] When he had left the crowd {and} entered the house, His disciples questioned Him about the parable. And He *said to them, "Are you so lacking in understanding also? Do you not understand that whatever goes into the man from outside cannot defile him, because it does not go into his heart, but into his stomach, and is eliminated?" ({Thus He} declared all foods clean.) And He was saying, "That which proceeds out of the man, that is what defiles the man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting {and} wickedness, {as well} {as} deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride {and} foolishness. All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man."--Mark 7:14-23
The Pharisees are outraged that the disciples have not ceremonially cleansed their hands before eating. Without declaring their hands consecrated, aren't they taking uncleanness into themselves? Jesus addresses this issue by saying that what goes into a man's mouth is not what makes him unclean. But how can Jesus say this, and how can He declare all foods clean, when Scripture says He came not to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it? Isn't He destroying the Law?

Not if the proper purpose of the dietary laws were understood. No person, despite how closely they followed these laws, should have allowed himself to think he was achieving personal holiness. As designed, a person should go through the day, careful to avoid all that is unclean, and yet realize that his heart is still impure before the LORD. The laws were meant to point people to the need of a Savior, for a simply change in diet could do nothing to change the condition of the heart.

But to a heart not surrendered to the LORD, we do just the opposite. We would be tempted to declare to the LORD, "LORD, I didn't eat pork or lobster or even a rock badger today. I thank you that I am not like the pagan unclean people all around me." Such self-righteousness is an offense to the LORD. It does not reveal a heart set apart for God, but instead reveals a mind still conformed to the image of this world.

Jesus fulfilled the Law by obeying it at all times, but also by revealing it's real purpose. The dietary laws were never intended to create holiness in a person, for what enters the stomach and passes through the body cannot make a person holy. The dietary laws were intended to reveal to us that holiness can only be given by God, to us, through the righteous work of Jesus Christ.


Peter would understand the principles of the dietary laws better than anyone else. When presented with unclean animals to eat, Peter exclaimed, "By no means, Lord, for I have never eaten anything unholy and unclean." He had understood the dietary laws, studied them and ordered his life around them. However, God rebuked him by stating, "What God has cleansed, no {longer} consider unholy." Peter had also heard Jesus declare that all foods were clean. As Peter begins to process this from Acts 10, he also realizes the impact is evangelistic. Simply calling a people to look different from the exterior will not produce holiness, nor will it draw other to the gospel. The proper function of these dietary laws is to reveal their incompletion.

But this does not mean the pursuit of holiness is futile:
Therefore, prepare your minds for action, keep sober {in spirit,} fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts {which were yours} in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all {your} behavior; because it is written, "YOU SHALL BE HOLY, FOR I AM HOLY."--1 Peter 1:13-16
Peter calls believers to pursue holiness. However, notice how he roots this. First, we keep our hope fixed on the grace of God through Jesus Christ. We then seek to avoid conforming to the world and pursue holy behavior...for He has called us. He makes us holy. He provides the holiness for us. We then seek to live it out.

This kind of holiness, produced from a heart transformation and working its way outward (not developed from exterior rules to try to change the nature of the person) is the true kind of holiness God desires and is that which really sets us apart from the world. It is not God's desire that we return to the dietary laws, but that we see the purpose of the dietary laws, and call upon the Lord to produce holiness. He offers to truly make us different and set us apart from the world.

It doesn't come from food. It doesn't come from rules. It comes from the LORD.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Leviticus 10:1-20


There is nothing wrong with informal worship, but casual worship is deadly. At the end of Chapter 9, we see the people fall to the ground and shout out to the LORD for His grace in providing mediation. The response of God was glorious, as fire came out from His presence and completely consumed the offering. But because we are sinful men, our temptation is to turn the glorious grace of God into an opportunity for sin and self exaltation.


Many suggest that "now" indicates immediate action since the events in Chapter 9. Perhaps even as Moses and Aaron join the people in praising God, Nadab and Abihu decide to "make a show" themselves. Each one grabbed his own firepan and placed incense on it. They then offered "strange fire" unto the LORD. What exactly does that mean? Well, the text gives some possible clues:

    1. The incense may have been unusual or unordinary.
    2. They may have been drinking. (10:9)
    3. They may have tried to enter the Holy of Holies. (16:1-2)
    4. It was an offering which the LORD had not commanded. (10:1)
"All of the above" may possibly be the most accurate answer. No matter what the specifics, Nadab and Abihu approached the LORD without proper reverence.

Ironically, if Nadab and Abihu were looking to repeat the previous display, they came quite close. Just as fire had come out from the LORD's presence and consumed the sacrifice in Chapter 9, now fire comes out from the LORD's presence and completely consumes the brothers, killing both of them.

Moses reminds Aaron that the LORD requires that He is treated as set apart. He reminds Aaron that the priests role should remind the people that God is set apart. This should result in Him being honored. The word honored here actually means weighty/heavy. Quite literally, He is reminding Aaron that He is not to be taken lightly.

There is no response, debate or defense, for Aaron knows his role is to keep silent and receive God's just judgement.

Aaron and his surviving sons would have become unclean had they touched Nadab or Abihu. Leviticus 21 gives us more specific instructions. The High Priest is not to official mourn or come in contact with the body. Though Eleazar and Ithamar would have been allowed to touch the body (since it was their brothers who died), due to the unique aspect of their ordination, Moses order for Aaron's cousins, Mishael and Elzaphan, to carry the bodies outside the camp.

We are told that they were still in their tunics. This probably speaks to the nature of the fire. Many suppose it was a like lightening, a very targeted jolt that killed the priests but did not consume their clothing. This at least tells us that the fire was not a raging inferno, devouring both the man and his clothing.

Moses immediately warns Aaron, Eleazar and Ithamar to refrain from official mourning. This is the specific instruction not to uncover their heads or tear their clothes, for these would be signs of a being in a mourning period. Moses warns that this is not only for the priests welfare, but they should refrain so the LORD does not become wrathful against the entire congregation. The rest of the nation of Israel will mourn for the loss that day. But for Moses and his surviving sons, they are not even to leave the doorway of the tent of meeting.

This command reinforces the mediatorial role of the priesthood, and in a way, we see it reversed. Aaron, because he has the anointing oil upon him, is not able to defile himself by mourning for his sons. However, the nation of Israel, for whom he is a representative to the LORD, will mourn on his behalf.

It should not be missed that God speaks directly to Aaron at this point. Previously, God has spoken to Moses, who then conveyed the message to Aaron and his sons. This does not only signify a stern warning coming directly from the LORD, but also reveals the compassion of the LORD, that He would speak to Aaron in the midst of his suffering.

It is reasonable to assume that Nadab and Abihu had been drinking, since the LORD immediately addresses this with Aaron. Perhaps the alcohol caused these two brothers to be more bold, experimenting with the fire. Whatever the reason, the LORD makes it clear to Aaron that this statue carries throughout all generations. The priests shall not drink any alcohol when coming to the Tent of Meeting to serve. This will further instruct all of Israel to see a difference between the holy and profane.

This also serves as a reminder to Moses, Aaron and all of Israel, that everything about the priesthood that has been shared through Moses carries the same authority to all of Israel as if it came to all of them directly through the LORD.

In essence, Moses' words tell Aaron and his sons to proceed with the offerings. Because they have obeyed Moses and did not defile themselves with mourning, they may now follow through with the grain offering and the peace offerings.

As Moses searches around, he discovers that Eleazar and Ithamar neglected to eat their portion of the sin offering, and allowed it to be consumed with fire instead. Moses was angry for it seems that Eleazar and Ithamar are not taking the sacrificial work seriously either. Moses responds that since this was not the atoning sacrifice, the sons of Aaron should have completed the offering by eating their portion. In fact, verse 17 allows us to see that they are to eat the sacrifice, not only as a form of provision, but also as part of the lesson of someone bearing guilt. This ultimately points to how Christ bears our sin for us.

Aaron intervenes for his sons, letting Moses know that it is not out of neglect that the sacrifice was not eaten, but rather out of reverent fear. With all that happened that day, it didn't seem proper to participate in the sin offering.

Once Moses hears their motive, he responds that their actions seem right. This statement would also be a confirmation that the LORD is not angry, for the LORD would have revealed otherwise to Moses.


While there are many options for that which made the fire offensive, it is certainly clear that their attitude was irreverent. Moses immediately reminds Aaron of the LORD's words. He will be set apart and He will be honored. In the wake of seeing the LORD open up worship before Him, Nadab and Abihu are then tempted to take the LORD casually.

To be casual is not the same as being informal. We have people who gather for worship with us who dress informally. This is not a problem, provided the person does not become casual in their worship. What is the difference? Many times, people say a believer should dress up for church because, "You would dress up if you met the President of the United States." However, what if I was to meet the President on a basketball court? Would I still be expected to show up in shirt and tie? No, the informality would be understandable, however at no point should I become casual. He does not cease to be the President.

In the same way, God does not give us commands regarding a dress code or require formality of attire. Yet, at no point should a person think he is offering reverent worship, simply by what he is wearing. If a person is tempted toward a casual nature, perhaps more formal clothing would help, but it is not the solution. Many people are tempted to only consider exterior requirement but not search that attitude of the heart. For instance, consider another issue revealed in this passage: alcohol.

While some may think God simply requires a person to avoid alcohol while in worship, the person has missed the point of the text. (For one, it would be hard to take the bread and the cup when the cup traditionally was filled with wine!). However, Paul helps us see beyond just the outside:
And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father; and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ.--Ephesians 5:18-21
It is not enough to simply abstain from alcohol. Reverent worship requires a person is filled with the Holy Spirit. Paul explains that this filling has three key elements. The Spirit filled worshipper will sing songs to the LORD in the presence of other believers. He will live a life of gratitude, not grumbling, but acknowledging the grace of God in all his life. And reverent worship requires that a believer has a good attitude toward authority. He must show submission to authority over him, for this shows a proper attitude toward the authority of God.

So often, we are tempted to sing songs, attend services or claim that we are engaged in worship, even as we neglect these elements. However, God has the right to dictate what worship looks like and how the person should worship him. Certainly, as we see the mediatorial system, we recognize that all worship must be through Jesus Christ, as our Great High Priest.

But is reverence still an issue in the midst of grace? Doesn't grace negate our need for reverence?

Interestingly, people often miss the grace of God which is revealed in this text. We easily spot two men's irreverence and the negative consequences that come upon them. However, Aaron, Eleazar and Ithamar are all subject to the wrath of God as well. They have neglected to properly handle the sin offering, and in reality, have placed the entire nation at great risk. However, in the midst of this, we see God graciously receive them and hold off any judgement.

Even as we read this text, our hearts are inclined toward irreverence. Our flesh convinces us that just a few minor adjustments will make it possible to show God the proper reverence that He deserves. However, none of us are capable of offering Him perfect reverence on our own. Only Christ, placed such perfect honor upon His Father:
Jesus spoke these things; and lifting up His eyes to heaven, He said, "Father, the hour has come; glorify Your Son, that the Son may glorify You, even as You gave Him authority over all flesh, that to all whom You have given Him, He may give eternal life. This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent. I glorified You on the earth, having accomplished the work which You have given Me to do. Now, Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was. I have manifested Your name to the men whom You gave Me out of the world; they were Yours and You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word. Now they have come to know that everything You have given Me is from You; for the words which You gave Me I have given to them; and they received {them} and truly understood that I came forth from You, and they believed that You sent Me. I ask on their behalf; I do not ask on behalf of the world, but of those whom You have given Me; for they are Yours; and all things that are Mine are Yours, and Yours are Mine; and I have been glorified in them. I am no longer in the world; and {yet} they themselves are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father, keep them in Your name, {the name} which You have given Me, that they may be one even as We {are.} While I was with them, I was keeping them in Your name which You have given Me; and I guarded them and not one of them perished but the son of perdition, so that the Scripture would be fulfilled.--John 17:1-12
I only show proper reverence to God when I acknowledge that righteous reverence was only shown to the Father by His Son, Jesus Christ. And now, as I have been set free by Christ, I may now worship Him with the reverence He deserves...not to earn His grace, but because I have received His grace!


Many times we are tempted to allow the grace of God to tempt us to come to God lightly. However, knowledge of the grace of God should encourage reverence, not distract from it. David said:
Make me know Your ways, O LORD;
Teach me Your paths.
Lead me in Your truth and teach me,
For You are the God of my salvation;
For You I wait all the day.
Remember, O LORD, Your compassion and Your lovingkindnesses,
For they have been from of old.
Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions;
According to Your lovingkindness remember me,
For Your goodness' sake, O LORD.
Good and upright is the LORD;
Therefore He instructs sinners in the way.
He leads the humble in justice,
And He teaches the humble His way.
All the paths of the LORD are lovingkindness and truth
To those who keep His covenant and His testimonies.
For Your name's sake, O LORD,
Pardon my iniquity, for it is great.
Who is the man who fears the LORD?
He will instruct him in the way he should choose.
His soul will abide in prosperity,
And his descendants will inherit the land.
The secret of the LORD is for those who fear Him,
And He will make them know His covenant.
--Psalm 25:4-14