“What are you doing here, Elijah?” (1 Kings 19:9, 13 – Part 1)

INTRODUCTION. These next few posts explore the vital importance of Mission for sustaining us and helping us maintain our zeal for life. In this Bible story, Elijah runs from Jezebel (1 Kings 19) and runs to Horeb, the mountain of God to meet with the LORD and find out His purpose for the rest of his life.

ELIJAH’S PREVIOUS MISSION

As 1 Kings 19 opens, Elijah has experienced a great victory. The LORD had given him a mission and had appointed him as the prophet to speak to King Ahab about the wickedness of Israel. But now the mission regarding the drought was over. Fire had come down from heaven and had consumed the soaking wet sacrifice. The people had declared, “The LORD, He is God!” and the prophets of Baal had been slain at the Kishon. Then a cloud as small as a man’s hand (1 Kings 18:44) had grown into an entire sky black with clouds and wind, and a heavy shower had ended three and a half years of drought. The LORD has accomplished a great work through His prophet and Elijah stood briefly on a spiritual mountaintop.

Now things have changed dramatically. Jezebel has issued her threats (19:2) and our hero “was afraid and arose and ran for his life” (19:3). He heads south as fast as he can, eventually sitting down alone under a juniper tree. Then the Scripture says:

and he requested for himself that he might die, and said, “It is enough; now, O LORD, take my life, for I am not better than my fathers.” – 1 Kings 19:4

Elijah is exhausted, so he slept. Twice the angel of the LORD (the pre-incarnate Christ) wakes him and gives him bread and water, so that he can go “in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb, the mountain of God” (19:8).

THOUGHTS ON THE PASSAGE SO FAR (1 KINGS 19:1-8)

LOSS OF MISSION. In my opinion, Elijah did not run away because he was afraid of Jezebel, at least not primarily. Oh, yes, she was an evil woman and she intended harm to Elijah, but Jezebel’s threat was not the primary reason Elijah was afraid. If the prophet were merely afraid of Jezebel, he would have stopped running long before he reached “Horeb, the mountain of God.” No, Elijah was not fleeing FROM Jezebel, but he was fleeing TO God.

Why was Elijah afraid and fleeing to God? Elijah was seeking the face of the LORD to know if his life’s work was done. Elijah was afraid because he feared that his purpose in life was finished. And if the LORD was done with him, as he feared was the case, then it was time for him to die.

He was thinking, “LORD, was that it? Was that my only work for You? Have I accomplished all the work You have given me to do? Because if my work is done, then my life is done. I would rather die than languish.” So his fear was related to his loss of mission or loss of purpose. “If I have no more purpose, then I need no more life. LORD, give me a new mission or take my life and take me home.”

For at least three and a half years, Elijah had experienced the joy of being on a mission for the LORD and with the LORD. Every day when he arose from sleep, he was engaged, even consumed by the work the LORD had given him. He was God’s chosen prophet to declare to Ahab and Jezebel their wickedness, to call them to repentance, and to warn them of the coming judgment. Every moment was meaningful. The mission was accomplished on Carmel as the LORD glorified Himself, and then came the letdown. “What is my mission now?” When Jezebel threatened Elijah with death, he thought it might be God’s signal that his life’swork was done.

Was God done with Elijah? Were his fears well-founded?

THE ANGEL OF THE LORD. We see the LORD’s compassion on his frightened prophet as he sleeps under the juniper tree. The angel of the LORD Himself comes to Elijah twice, feeding him a bread cake from heaven (John 6:35, 50) and giving him some of the living water (John 4:14). Notice also that the angel of the LORD tells Elijah that there is still a journey for him to complete (“the journey is too great for you” – 19:7),  thus giving him a strong hint that there is yet work for him to do.

FORTY DAYS AND FORTY NIGHTS. This phrase is significant because it indicates that Elijah was going to Horeb, the mountain of God, to seek the LORD with extended fasting.

I have usually read this expression in this passage as meaning how long Elijah traveled, but he did not need forty days and forty nights to travel from Beersheba to Horeb, a distance of less than two hundred miles.

Rather, when the expression “forty days and forty nights” appears in the Scripture, (with the exception of Genesis 7:4, 12), it describes times when Bible heroes spent a long time in fasting and prayer. (Moses in Exodus 24:28; 34:28 when he was on Sinai (Horeb) with the LORD receiving the Law. Jesus in Matthew 4:2 during His temptation in the wilderness.) Thus the expression here in 1 Kings 19:8 is describing Elijah coming to Horeb to seek the LORD with extraordinary fasting.

ELIJAH AND THE LORD AT HOREB

When Elijah arrived at his destination, he found “a cave and lodged there” (19:9). The word of the LORD came to him,

“What are you doing here, Elijah?”

Why did the LORD ask this question of Elijah? First, although the LORD perfectly knows all things, He wanted Elijah to verbalize the reason he had come to Horeb. It was like the perfect physician asking the patient the reason for his visit. Or like Jesus asking blind Bartimaeus. “What do you want Me to do for you?” (Mark 10:51) Or again, like Jesus asking the man at the pool of Bethesda if he wanted to get well (John 5:6). The LORD’s question forced Elijah to think about the answer. “Yeah, why am I here?”

ZEALOUS FOR THE LORD

Elijah answers, “I have been very zealous for the LORD, the God of hosts” (19:10). As I consider this reply, I hear Elijah telling the LORD that he has been zealous and he is still zealous, but he needs to know if the LORD still has work for him to do. “LORD, I am zealous and I am willing, but I need to hear from You if my work is done. O, LORD, do You have another assignment for me?”

NEXT POST. In my next post, I will continue to explore this story of Elijah at Horeb and will see how the LORD faithfully sends the prophet out for another mission. We will also learn how Elijah’s search for a mission has applications for us, especially during times of transition in our lives. Stay tuned.

SDG                 rmb                 5/10/2022                   #527

Psalm 116:2 – Why every believer prays (Part 2)

INTRODUCTION. One of several posts on Psalm 116:1-4. These four verses of this psalm tell why every believer prays and how every believer was rescued. (see Post #516, 4/14/2022)

Because He has inclined His ear to me,
Therefore I shall call upon Him as long as I live. – Psalm 116:2

Psalm 116 is an outpouring of thanks to the LORD for His amazing grace extended toward the psalmist. The LORD has taken all the initiative in rescuing this helpless sinner from his sin and from the cords of death and has dealt bountifully with him and has placed in his hand the cup of salvation. The psalm, then, is thanksgiving for the goodness of the LORD. In this post we will be meditating on the second verse. .

116:2 CALLING ON THE LORD AS LONG AS I LIVE

116:2a. – “Because He has inclined His ear to me”

What does it mean that “the LORD has inclined His ear to me?” It means He continually hears my prayers. Unlike man, the LORD never slumbers or sleeps. Psalm 121:4 – “Behold, He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.” Once He has inclined His ear to me, He is always attentive to my cry. Because He has inclined His ear to me, He does not become irritated at my persistent cries, but patiently listens to my voice as a father does to his beloved child. Psalm 103:13 – “Just as a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him.” In the midst of the cacophony of the noise of the world, the LORD distinctly hears my voice and inclines His ear to my cry.

In the book of Esther, King Ahasuerus inclined the golden scepter to Queen Esther (Esther 5:2) because she had found favor in his sight. In the same way, the LORD has inclined His ear to His child because we have found favor in His sight.

After granting Esther favor, King Ahasuerus then listened carefully to her request. “What is your request? Even to half of the kingdom it shall be given to you” (5:3). Just so, after granting me favor, the LORD listens carefully to my voice so that He can answer my request. “What do you want Me to do for you?” (Matt. 20:32). “Ask and you shall receive” (Matt. 7:7).

The LORD whom I love has graciously inclined His ear to me. What shall I do in response?

116:2b. – “Therefore I shall call upon Him as long as I live.”

The sovereign LORD of the universe has inclined His ear to me and has given me free access into His presence. I have the opportunity to delight myself in the LORD (Psalm 37:4). “In Your presence is fullness of joy; in Your right hand are pleasures forever” (Psalm 16:11). All of these have been made available to me and are mine for the asking. “The LORD has heard my supplication. The LORD receives my prayer” (Psalm 6:9). He is with me always, even to the end of the age (Matt. 28:20). With all this available to me, how will I respond?

“Therefore I shall call upon Him as long as I live.”

As long as I draw breath, I shall call upon the LORD!

When times are good, I will call upon Him with prayers of thanksgiving, thanking Him for giving me seasons of peace and rest. When times are difficult, I will call upon Him with prayers of thanksgiving, thanking Him for His presence and His promises of heaven, and thanking Him for giving me His Spirit who gives me strength to persevere and for giving me His Word, which reminds me of the LORD’s sovereign power over all things.

I will call upon Him when I grow old and feeble and gray, when my hands shake and my memory has faded, and I will give Him praise for having sustained me thus far.

I will call upon Him at all times, asking Him to make me more useful to the Master and asking Him to continue to purify me with hyssop and to remove any wicked way from me. I will call upon Him for a cleaner heart and a steadfast spirit. I will call upon Him to grant me the ability to love people well and to forgive my enemies and to let my speech be seasoned with salt and to let no unwholesome word proceed from my mouth, but only such as is good for edification according to the need of the moment so that it will give grace to those who hear.

I will call upon the LORD as long as I live because there is no greater delight than to fellowship with the LORD of the universe.

Yes, “I shall call upon Him as long as I live.”

My next post on Psalm 116 will consider 116:3 and the condition from which the LORD delivered us. SDG                 rmb                 4/15/2022                   #517

Psalm 116:1 – Why every believer prays (Part 1)

INTRODUCTION. The first of several posts on Psalm 116:1-4. These four verses of this psalm tell why every believer prays and how every believer was rescued.

I love the Lord, because He hears
My voice and my supplications. – Psalm 116:1

Psalm 116 is an outpouring of thanks to the LORD for His amazing grace extended toward the psalmist. The LORD has taken all the initiative in rescuing this helpless sinner from his sin and from the cords of death and has dealt bountifully with him and has placed in his hand the cup of salvation. The psalm, then, is thanksgiving for the goodness of the LORD. In this post we will be meditating on the first verse.

116:1 THE AMAZEMENT AND THE PEACE OF THE ONE WHO LOVES THE LORD

116:1a. – “I love the LORD.”

First, this love for the LORD is required to be a believer. Every believer loves the LORD and only believers love the LORD. Every believer cries out with the psalmist in an unashamed shout, “I love the LORD.” This is the deepest possible love of emotion and passion, a love of heart, soul, mind, and strength. This is the believer’s love for the LORD.

But second, “I love the LORD” defines the believer. There are many ways to describe a Christian. Born-again. Saved. Converted. Repented. Trusted in Christ. And, of course, there are others. But “I love the LORD” is the most unambiguous. This expression clears away all the mists and all the doubts. A believer is best defined as one who loves the LORD.

Third, “I love the LORD” demolishes any lukewarm counterfeits. The question that blows away the smoke and breaks the mirrors is the question, “Do you love Jesus?” Don’t tell me of your church attendance or of your giving to the church, of when you “prayed the prayer” or of how religious your grandmother was. Don’t impress me with your good deeds done for the church or with how you feel about Christmas. The question on the table is, “Do you love Jesus?” And, if you claim to love Jesus, how do you demonstrate that in your life? The life that overflows with love for Jesus will broadcast that love to others and will serve as an ongoing testimony to Jesus. This is what the psalmist expresses when he say, “I love the LORD.”

Before I knew Christ, I could love no one, for all I had was the twisted, selfish love of self. But now my heart overflows to the point of bursting with my love for the Lord, and that love for the LORD pours out in my love for others. But this love for others is strictly secondary for the psalmist in this psalm. This is a love-psalm from the disciple to the LORD. If this phrase were the entire psalm, the psalm would be complete. These four words express a complete thought and contain enough truth to fill entire books. How is it that the LORD would set His affections on this wretched man (Luke 5:8) and would make it possible for me to love Him (1 John 4:10, 19) “with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind (Matthew 22:37). “I love the LORD!” I long to shout it from the housetops. The Holy One of Israel is my King!

Next the psalmist adds the reason He loves the LORD.

116:1b. – “because He hears my voice and my supplications.”

How can it be that the LORD of the universe bends down from His holy throne to hear the pathetic cries of His feeble servant? Why would one so great pay any regard to one of such immense insignificance? How can we explain such grace? Consider these verses.

The eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous
And His ears are open to their cry. – Psalm 34:15

He (the LORD) heard my voice out of His temple,
And my cry for help before Him came into His ears. – Psalm 18:6

How can these things be? The answer is that God hears my voice and my supplications because, before time began in eternity past, He chose me in Christ to be His adopted child (Eph. 1:4-5) and because the Father sent the Son into the world to be the propitiation for my sins (1 John 4:10), and because God, by the power of His Holy Spirit, at a point in time, made me alive together with Christ (Eph. 2:4-6) and He made me His child (John 1:12); God hears my voice, I say, because I am His child.

My next post (on Psalm 116) will consider Psalm 116:2 and what the believer does in response to the amazing news that the LORD hears my voice and supplications.

SDG                 rmb                 4/14/2022                   #516

Imprecatory psalms – A definition, then a look at Psalm 69

INTRODUCTION. In post #500 on March 8, I had begun a series of articles discussing the so-called “imprecatory psalms” in the Bible. There are a number of these passages in the psalms, and their purpose seems to be to ask the Lord to destroy the psalmist’s enemies. This post will consider specific imprecatory psalms and think about how the believer is to apply these passages.

In the last post about this topic, we had taken time to get the proper mindset for these imprecatory passages. While the Bible does give us these psalms as a means of calling upon the Lord for justice, the calling down of God’s curses and God’s vengeance upon someone is an exceptional act. This is done rarely in cases of unusual cruelty or when the injustice is blatant and heinous. A believer is usually to endure the evil in the world and to persevere through the evil using the ordinary means given to us in the Scriptures. So, the believer is not to call down heaven’s curses and woes on every personal enemy at the first sign of conflict but is rather to bear with the conflict and the difficulty while pressing on in obedience. There comes a time, however, when the injustice is too evil merely to be endured. The time has come for God to stop the evil and to stop the evildoer. “Rise up, O Judge of the earth. Render recompense to the proud” (Psalm 94:2). This is when the believer calls upon the Lord and imprecates the wicked.

DEFINITION

We need to establish a definition for what we mean by “imprecatory.” The Webster’s Dictionary definition for “imprecate” is “to call down evil upon” or “to curse.” When we are referring to imprecatory psalms (verses, really) in the Bible, we mean “when the believer calls upon God to render punishment on perpetrators of evil, cruelty, or destruction.” The evildoer’s crimes and cruelty can no longer go unpunished, but the one committing these heinous, sinful acts is too powerful to be restrained by human means. Therefore, the believer cries out to the Lord, the One who is all-powerful, to observe the shocking injustice and to stop or to destroy or to punish the wicked one.

THE IMPRECATORY PASSAGES

We have talked about these imprecatory passages long enough, and now it is time to take a look at some of them. As we look at these, I want to consider the context of the verses; that is, what prompts the psalmist’s cry to the Lord, as well as the content of the cry.

Two passages stand out as the most obvious of imprecatory psalms, Psalm 69 and 109.

Psalm 69:22-28

22 May their table before them become a snare;
And when they are in peace, may it become a trap.
23 May their eyes grow dim so that they cannot see,
And make their loins shake continually.
24 Pour out Your indignation on them,
And may Your burning anger overtake them.
25 May their camp be desolate;
May none dwell in their tents.
26 For they have persecuted him whom You Yourself have smitten,
And they tell of the pain of those whom You have wounded.
27 Add iniquity to their iniquity,
And may they not come into Your righteousness.
28 May they be blotted out of the book of life
And may they not be recorded with the righteous.

CONTEXT. In this psalm of David, the author is lamenting his oppression by his enemies. The literal context, then, is one of distress from attack and affliction by David’s enemies, and David is pouring out his complaint before the Lord and asking for His intercession.

But this psalm is much deeper than that. This is an overtly Messianic psalm and is about the suffering of the Lord Jesus during His passion in Gethsemane and then His agony on the cross. The foreshadows of Calvary are obvious, for in this psalm we can hear the groans of our Savior as He prepared to bear the wrath of God on our behalf. The psalmist prophetically laments the greatest injustice in human history as by Jesus’ wounds we are healed.  

But there is even more than that because this psalm is also about the persecuted church that, as the body of Christ, suffers the world’s hatred as the witnesses of Christ on the earth. Faithful believers are “hated without cause” (69:4; John 15:25). They are reproached for Jesus’ sake (“reproach” – 69:7, 9, 10, 19, 20). Dishonor, pain, shame, distress, and affliction (“afflicted”) are the words of the psalmist, again picturing the suffering church as they endure the reviling of the world. So, the context of the psalm is suffering, and the lamentations of Christ and then of His church as they fill up His sufferings (Colossians 1:24).

Although these sufferings are God-ordained, they are, nevertheless, evil and deserve to be punished by God. These are wicked acts of injustice, and they demand a just recompense. Therefore, the psalmist calls on the LORD to act and to punish the wicked NOW.

CONTENT. David calls on the LORD to bring specific curses on these wicked men. First, he asks for physical punishment. Let their food be poison and let all peace be taken from them (22). Cause them to go blind and make their legs lose their strength and shake (23). “God, pour out Your indignation and anger upon them for their evil (24).” Let there be strife in their house and may they have no children (25). In the midst of the imprecation, the psalmist speaks explicitly of the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53 (~300 years before Isaiah wrote his prophecy) and reminds the LORD of the crimes of the wicked (26). The curses conclude with spiritual, condemnatory judgments upon these evil men. May their iniquities be multiplied and never forgiven (27) and may they be blotted out of the book of life (Revelation 3:5; 13:8; 20:15) so that they will never be recorded as righteous. The effect of David’s imprecation is to ask the LORD to condemn these evil men to eternal punishment.

APPLICATION. The psalms are given to us as poetic theology and describe for the believer how they can speak to and pray to their God. How, then, is the believer to apply this psalm? It seems to me that the nature of Psalm 69 limits its application to those situations where the believer, as a member of the body of Christ, is suffering or enduring affliction because they are a follower of Jesus. In other words, the injustice being experienced comes only because a person identifies with Jesus. (See Matt. 5:10-12; 10:16-22; 24:9; John 15:18-21; 1 Pet. 4:12-14, 16, 19.) So, the believer would turn to this psalm when they are being persecuted for their faith in Jesus. Then the believer would cry out with the psalmist for justice from the Lord. Persecution of the righteous is still wrong, and it is still appropriate to cry out to the Lord that He would bring justice to His people and recompence to the evildoer.

But also, the suffering believer would pray through this psalm for perseverance through the suffering, that he would endure as his Savior endured His hour of suffering. The believer would remember that the Lord has ordained all things and that his attitude should be, “Not my will, but Your will be done,” whatever that will is.

Psalm 69 would encourage the believer that part of the calling to Jesus is a call to suffer for His name (Acts 5:41; Phil. 1:29-30). The psalm, then, reminds the believer of the privilege it is to suffer for Jesus’ name and, therefore, to suffer well, to suffer as a Christian should suffer.

ONE QUESTION. One of the issues with these imprecatory psalms, these passages that invoke cursing upon the evildoer, is that they seem to conflict with specific teaching in the New Testament about how the believer is to view their enemies. This is the topic that I want to address in the next post.

SDG                 rmb                 3/14/2022                   #502

The prominence of prayer in the new covenant – Part 2

INTRODUCTION. The new covenant, which was announced in Jeremiah 31:31-34, inaugurated by the Lord Jesus on the night that He was betrayed, and established by Jesus’ death on the cross, differed dramatically from the old covenant, which had been in effect since the Fall and which the LORD formalized when He gave the Law on Sinai. The old covenant was a covenant of works whose purpose was to bring the awareness of personal sin (Romans 3:20) and of sin’s corresponding condemnation (Romans 5:16a), while the new covenant brings with it forgiveness of sin (Ephesians 1:7) and imputed righteousness (2 Cor. 5:21).

Not only do these two covenants differ in their purposes, but they also differ dramatically in the day-to-day practices of each covenant. One of the most apparent ways that the new covenant differs from the old is in the area of prayer.

Post #483 (January 13, 2022) examined prayer under the old covenant, while this post (#484) examines prayer in the new covenant.

First, we examined prayer under the old covenant and saw that prayer was rare because few people knew the LORD.

AND IN THE NEW COVENANT?

The previous comments (Post #483) were focused on the old covenant. As we turn to the new covenant, we ask the question, “Has anything changed?” Well, some things have not changed. In the new covenant, as under the old, it is still true that those who know the Lord, pray to the Lord, and those who do not know the Lord do not. This is an immense truth. In fact, this can serve as a diagnostic tool to determine spiritual health and even to assess whether or not someone is a genuine follower of Jesus. A feeble or nonexistent prayer life may very well indicate a nonexistent relationship with Jesus Christ, even for a person who claims to be a Christian, even for a person who regularly goes to a church. But in the new covenant, this truth has not changed: “Those who know the Lord, pray to the Lord, and those who do not know the Lord do not.”

But with the coming of the Lord Jesus and the new covenant, everything else related to prayer has changed, and changed dramatically. In the new covenant, prayer becomes prominent, even primary in the life of the individual believer and in the life of the church. One of the major features of Jesus’ earthly ministry was His time spent in prayer. Since Jesus prayed, all His disciples should pray. In fact, on more than one occasion, the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray. So, in contrast to the old covenant and the Law, there is explicit instruction on prayer in the New Testament and there are many examples of prayer. The New Testament epistles are full of prayers to guide the disciple in their own conversations with the Lord.

We also see that every believer is commanded to pray. A few examples will suffice. Paul charges every believer to “Pray without ceasing” in 1 Thess. 5:17. No comment needs to be made on that verse, does it? In Ephesians 6:19, again the apostle Paul directs his readers to “pray at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and petition for all the saints.” Prayer saturates the life of the new covenant believer and the worship of the new covenant church. Since the new covenant church is made up of those who know the Lord (Jeremiah 31:33), the church should be a place of prayer (Matthew 21:13). This is different from the old covenant temple, which was not a place of prayer, but a place of sacrifice.

Consider this for a moment. The Law of the old covenant loomed over the temple and demanded the blood of sacrifices to hold back the wrath of God. But in the new covenant, the final sacrifice has been offered and the wrath of God has been quenched (Romans 3:21-26; 1 Cor. 5:7). The Law’s demands have been satisfied (Romans 8:4) and the wages of sin have been fully paid (John 19:30). The believer has now been reconciled to God through the death of His Son (Romans 5:8-11) and fear of judgment has been nailed to the cross. The veil of the temple that intentionally separated sinful man from holy God has been ripped in two from top to bottom to show that God now dwells with His people; indeed, God, by His Holy Spirit, now dwells in His people! Now God’s people know Him because He indwells them (Ephesians 1:13-14). And as we stated before, those who know the Lord, pray to the Lord.

As we examine the contents of the book of Acts, we see that prayer is prominent in the early church. In Acts 1:14, the apostles are “devoting themselves to prayer.” In 2:42, they were continually devoting themselves to the prayers.” A bold prayer to God is prayed in 4:24-31 that results in the place being shaken. In Acts 6:4, the apostles select deacons so that they can “devote themselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” In Acts 8:15, Peter and John come down to Samaria from Jerusalem and “prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit.” There is no need to go through the entire book to see that prayer was central to every aspect of the New Testament church. And why was that so? The new covenant believer prays because he gets to pray! The believer is invited to come boldly to the throne of grace (Hebrews 4:16). In Ephesians 3:12, Paul reminds all believers that “in Christ we have boldness and confident access through faith in Him.” Paul is here referring to access to God through prayer, because he follows this up with, “For this reason, I bow my knees before the Father” (Eph. 3:14), as he begins another prayer. Again, prayer is the very heartbeat of the new covenant because conversation with his God is the privilege of every member of the new covenant church. Prayer is the rule, rather than to rare exception.

The new covenant believer has been invited to pray to the Lord of the universe any time he wants. Let us be those who pray intimately and often.

SDG                 rmb                 1/16/2022                   #484

The prominence of prayer in the new covenant

INTRODUCTION. The new covenant, which was announced in Jeremiah 31:31-34, inaugurated by the Lord Jesus on the night that He was betrayed, and established by Jesus’ death on the cross, was wholly different from the old covenant, which had been in effect since the Fall and which the LORD formalized when He gave the Law on Sinai. These two covenants differ in their forms and in their foundations. The old covenant was a covenant of works whose purpose was to bring the awareness of personal sin (Romans 3:20) and of sin’s corresponding condemnation (Romans 5:16a), while the new covenant brings with it forgiveness of sin (Ephesians 1:7) and imputed righteousness (2 Cor. 5:21).

Not only do these two covenants differ in their purposes, but they also differ dramatically in the day-to-day practices of each covenant. One of the most apparent ways that the new covenant differs from the old is in the area of prayer.

These next two posts will consider the practice of prayer in the old and new covenants, show how they are dramatically different, and give reasons why they are different.

First, we will examine prayer under the old covenant.

UNDER THE OLD COVENANT, PRAYER WAS RARE

The first observation is that “Under the old covenant, PRAYER WAS RARE.” Most prayer in the Old Testament was limited to the prophet or the priest or the king. When the people needed to hear from the LORD, they would usually go to a prophet or perhaps to a priest, but there is little evidence in the Old Testament that the average Hebrew prayed directly to the LORD. Also, in the Law, there was no command to pray and there was no instruction on prayer, so the typical Israelite was not expected to pray.

WHY WAS THERE LIMITED PRAYER UNDER THE OLD COVENANT?

There are reasons for this paucity of prayer under the Law, though. Under the old covenant, the LORD was perceived as distant and unapproachable. At Sinai with the giving of the Law of condemnation, the LORD had appeared in billowing smoke and blazing fire and thunder and the loud blaring of a trumpet. Then, in the temple, the LORD was behind the veil in the inner holy of holies and could be approached only once a year on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur), and even then, only by the high priest with the shed blood of an animal. The old covenant was dominated by the Law, and under the Law, God was a consuming fire. Men do not have the courage to approach or to pray to the consuming fire.

The result is that, for the Israelite who saw God as a God of judgment and as the God of the Law, there was no need to pray. God required obedience to the Law. That was clear. If I failed to obey the Law, there was a just recompence. The Law was black and white. So, why would I bother to pray and for what would I pray? The Law required me to perform, not to pray. And so, the people of Israel and Judah rarely prayed.

BUT THERE WERE THOSE WHO PRAYED

There were those, however, who lived during the time of the Law who prayed, even prayed fervently and frequently. In the Psalms we see David and Asaph and the sons of Korah and others pouring out their heart to the LORD in intimate, emotional prayers. These prayers are raw and powerful as the psalmist gives unhindered voice to the deepest feelings and secrets of his heart. We see the same thing when we look to the prayers of Hannah and Jacob, the prayers of Daniel and Habakkuk, the prayers of Hezekiah and Jeremiah. These prayers have passion and heat, and they display none of the fear engendered by the Law. The ones who pray to the LORD in the Old Testament pray to One whom they know intimately, whom they know to be gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness. Those who pray, pray to the LORD because they know the LORD. There is certainly the fear of reverent awe, the sense of approaching One of unimaginable power and holiness and glory, but there is no fear of judgment or condemnation or retribution. The feelings of awe are consumed not by the fire of judgment but by the immensity of His everlasting love. And so, the one who prayed to the LORD as Redeemer and Savior during the old covenant did not pray from the Law, but they prayed from the love of God that had been given to them by grace.

What are we saying? Those who know the LORD, pray, and those who do not know the LORD do not. We are saying that those who know the LORD long to pour out their heart before Him in prayer. In the old covenant, those who knew the LORD as their Savior and their Redeemer, as their rock and refuge and strong tower; those who knew the LORD as their God of salvation, prayed to the LORD. And those who did not know the LORD, but had merely heard of the God of Israel, the God of Sinai, the God of the Law, these did not pray to the LORD. And, from what we read in the Old Testament, the great majority of people fell into this latter category. Since few people knew the LORD, few people prayed.

In the next post, we will take a look at prayer in the new covenant and begin to see how prayer is different between the covenants and why.

SDG                 rmb                 1/13/2022                   #483

Nothing is impossible for God (Jeremiah 32:17, 27)

We are frail. This reality becomes increasingly obvious with increasing years. We are frail and we are vulnerable, and we live in a broken world that is hostile to frailty and vulnerability.

And this feeling of weakness is intentional. Man is designed by his Creator to feel his vulnerability and his insignificance in the immensity of the universe and in the complexity of his world. There are so many ways that we can feel overwhelmed by life, that it must be given to us by design. There are a variety of threats that can plague us at any moment, unexpectedly breaking into our lives and shattering our former serenity. There can be threats to our most important relationships, threats to our livelihood, threats to our health, threats to our sense of security, threats to our need for meaning and significance. Any one of these threats can produce a situation where escape seems impossible and where there is no path forward that will not be tragic or disastrous. What are we to do in these circumstances? Is there an answer and a place to turn, or is surrendering to our vulnerability simply a consequence of being human? After all, who can do the impossible?

It is in these situations that the believer, the one who calls upon the name of the Lord, can turn to his God and cry out to Him. For what we need is a God who can do the impossible, who can come to us in our frailty and our vulnerability and rescue us. We need a Savior who is mighty to save, not only from sin, but also from the threats of this world. We need a God who has publicly declared His willingness and His ability to help those who cry out to Him. And in the Lord, we have such a God. Consider these passages of Scripture:

‘Ah Lord GOD! Behold, You have made the heavens and the earth by Your great power and by Your outstretched arm! Nothing is too difficult for You’ (Jeremiah 32:17).

“Behold, I am the LORD, the God of all flesh; is anything too difficult for Me?” (Jeremiah 32:27).

But our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases (Psalm 115:3).

“With people this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew19:26).

“Is anything too difficult for the Lord? At the appointed time I will return to you, at this time next year, and Sarah will have a son” (Genesis 18:14).

The Lord has repeatedly and conclusively declared His power and His ability to do whatever He pleases, and He has also declared that it pleases Him to do good to His children. The Lord Jesus teaches that, “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him?” (Matthew 7:11).

The Lord is certainly able to do the impossible and our faith tells us that He is willing to help us with our impossible situation.

“And there is no other God besides Me, a righteous God and a Savior; There is none except Me. Turn to Me and be saved, all the ends of the earth. For I am God, and there is no other” (Isaiah 45:21-22)

Whatever you are facing now that seems humanly impossible is not impossible for God. Cry out to Him and have faith that His power demonstrated in the creation of the world and in raising Christ from the dead will also avail for you.

SDG rmb 1/7/2022 #481

The angel of the LORD went out (Isaiah 37:36)

INTRODUCTION: This post is about a pompous Assyrian king who blasphemes and reproaches the LORD, and who then encounters the angel of the LORD. Those who blaspheme and reproach the LORD will, sooner or later, have to deal with the angel of the LORD.

In Isaiah 36-37, we find Isaiah’s account of the failed Assyrian invasion of Judah by Sennacherib, the Assyrian king. Or rather, “the great king,” as he calls himself. (This incident is recorded three times in the Old Testament: here in Isaiah, and also in the two history books of 2 Kings 18-19 and in 2 Chronicles 32.) The biblical narrative has a stunning conclusion as what seemed to be certain victory is switched into a crushing defeat.

When Sennacherib king of Assyria sends his spokesman, Rabshakeh, to meet King Hezekiah’s officials, the Assyrians are overflowing with confidence and contempt. Their army has rolled down from Nineveh in conquest and has reached as far as Jerusalem with little resistance. Kingdoms with their pagan gods have fallen like dominoes, and Sennacherib sees no reason Judah and Jerusalem will be any different. Yes, it is true that the Assyrians have heard of the God of Israel, the LORD, but the king of Assyria views YHWH as no different than the gods of wood and stone. Why would anyone have confidence or put their trust in a God you cannot see? And so, Sennacherib sends Rabshakeh to terrify Judah and to blaspheme the LORD and to urge Hezekiah to surrender. Clearly, Sennacherib is the great king.

THE TAUNTS AND THE BLASPHEMIES

As Rabshakeh meets Eliakim, Shebna, and Joah by the upper pool (Isaiah 36:2), his intimidation guns are blazing. The Assyrian spokesman is skilled at taunt and blasphemy.

“What is this confidence?” (36:4). You are outnumbered and you will be overwhelmed. Face it, you are doomed. You have no reason for any confidence.

“On whom do you rely?” (36:5). Look around you. There is no one who can rescue you from the great king of Assyria. Do not rely on your army or on the cleverness of your king. And surely you are not relying on the LORD to protect you!

“We trust in the LORD our God” (36:7). You have got to be kidding! Where do you see the LORD? And besides, the LORD is the one who told us to come up against Judah in the first place, and now you are trusting Him to protect you from the great king? No way!

“Do not let Hezekiah deceive you” (36:14). He thinks that his God is going to help you, but he is dreaming, and he is trying to deceive you. You don’t have a chance.

“Do not let Hezekiah make you trust in the LORD” (36:15). You would be foolish to trust in the LORD. If you let Hezekiah trick you and deceive you, the great king of Assyria will come into Jerusalem and kill you. The LORD is not to be trusted.

“Beware that Hezekiah does not mislead you saying, ‘The LORD will deliver us (36:18).’” None of the other gods have been able to deliver their people, so why would you think that YHWH will help you. The LORD is just like the other gods. He is powerless and useless, but Sennacherib is the great king. Give up, for the LORD cannot help you.

Rabshakeh has already crossed the line and his doom is already sealed. Certainly, the LORD has heard enough from this blasphemer about his pipsqueak king, But Rabshakeh has more reproach and contempt to pour out.

“Do not let your God in whom you trust deceive you, saying, ‘Jerusalem will not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria (37:10).’ Did the gods of those (pagan) nations deliver them?” (37:12). Now not only is Rabshakeh saying that the LORD cannot defend Jerusalem against the king of Assyria, but he is also accusing the LORD of deceiving His people. He blasphemes God by accusing the God who cannot lie of deception. Rabshakeh declares trust in the LORD to be foolish and compares the LORD to the powerless pagan gods of the nations.

Up to this point, the LORD has been patient and has allowed the Assyrians to rant and to blaspheme against Him, but when Hezekiah prays to the LORD and asks Him to “deliver us from his hand that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that You alone, LORD, are God” (37:20), the LORD moves in power to destroy the upstart king.

“For I will defend this city to save it for My own sake and for My servant David’s sake” (Isaiah 37:35).

THE ANGEL OF THE LORD WENT OUT

The LORD will not long tolerate blasphemies against His name or open contempt from evil people. He will bring a just recompense and He will bring it swiftly. Sennacherib’s arrogant blasphemy against the LORD has sealed his destiny. Like the proud questioning of Pharaoh before him (Exodus 5:2) and like the blasphemous rants of the beast at the end of the age (Daniel 7:8, 11, 25; 11:36; Revelation 13:5, 6), so Sennacherib has reproached and blasphemed the Holy One of Israel (Isaiah 37:23). Therefore, as the LORD destroyed Pharaoh for his arrogance, and as He will destroy the beast for his blasphemies (2 Thess. 2:8; Rev. 19:20), so the LORD recompenses Sennacherib for his arrogance and his raging against the LORD (Isaiah 37:28-29).

“Then it happened that night that the angel of the LORD went out” (2 Kings 19:35). We have met the angel of the LORD before in the Old Testament. He spoke to Hagar and to Abraham. He met Joshua as he was preparing to conquer Jericho. He spoke to Gideon and to Manoah. He fed Elijah when the prophet was discouraged. And now, “the angel of the LORD went out.” He is the mysterious figure who seems to be God, although He also appears to be somehow separate from God. He speaks as the LORD, with all the authority of the LORD, yet He somehow is not the LORD. And here we see “that the angel of the LORD went out.” With all the authority and power of the LORD, He rises up to take vengeance (Psalm 94:1-2) on the Assyrians. It is one against the entire Assyrian army, and the Assyrians are vastly outmatched. The angel of the LORD brings divine judgment on Sennacherib for his arrogance and his blasphemies against the living God. “The angel of the LORD went out and struck 185,000 in the camp of the Assyrians” (Isaiah 37:36). With his armies decimated and himself humiliated, Sennacherib returns to Nineveh where he is killed by his own sons in a pagan temple. So much for the great king of Assyria.

CONCLUSION AND APPLICATION

In our walk through this world, the believer can feel attacked by the world and overwhelmed by the perceived forces arrayed against us. There are times when, like Hezekiah, the voices of evil people and the whispers of doubts in our head can threaten to undo us, and our faith can waver. In those times, remember God’s power. Remember that you are the Lord’s delight and that He has promised to be your shield and defender. Remember that He is with you like a dread champion (Jeremiah 20:11). Remember that, like Hezekiah, you can call upon the Lord, and He will hear you. Remember that “He will give His angels charge concerning you, to guard you in all your ways” (Psalm 91:11). We are given this story to remind us that the LORD, He is God (1 Kings 18:39), and He is always with us. When the Rabshakehs in your life begin to taunt and blaspheme the living God, turn to the LORD and cry out to Him.

SDG                 rmb                 12/9/2021                   #467

The local church as the disciple’s most accessible marketplace

INTRODUCTION: For the disciple of Jesus Christ, their local church is their most accessible marketplace for growing in spiritual maturity. This article will explore factors in the local church that affect discipleship and that largely determine how quickly and how much the disciple can grow in Christlikeness.

NEW IN CHRIST

Through the miracle of the new birth, a sinner comes to faith in Christ, passes from death to life (John 5:24), becomes a new creation in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17), and begins his walk with the Lord. Now this sinner has become a saint. He is pointed toward Christ, and he hungers and thirsts for righteousness (Matthew 5:6). And so, his journey in discipleship has begun. Even before he recognizes it, the Lord is purifying him with hyssop (Psalm 51:7) and is beginning to flush out the old man with his evil practices (Colossians 3:9) and is beginning to conform him to the image of Christ (Romans 8:29). And the result of a healthy new birth is that the disciple has a zeal to grow in practical holiness. Having been declared righteous through his faith in Jesus, the disciple now seeks to make his practical righteousness look more and more like his declared righteousness. But where is the best place for the disciple to grow?

THE LOCAL CHURCH

The answer to that question is, “In a good local church.” For the disciple of Jesus Christ, the best place to grow in practical righteousness and in Christlikeness is in a good local church. No matter where the person is in their spiritual journey, whether still a spiritual toddler or a spiritual grandfather and role model to others, the local church is God’s appointed vehicle for growing the disciple to greater maturity as a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Having established the fact that the local church is the place where disciples grow, it must also be acknowledged that, among local churches, there is a wide range of effectiveness in making mature disciples. Why is that? Why are some churches known for the maturity and fruitfulness of their disciples while most churches seem to have no fruit at all? I believe there are several factors that determine how effective a church is in making disciples.

THE FACTORS FOR EFFECTIVENESS

ARE THERE MATURE DISCIPLES THERE? The first factor I will mention is the actual maturity of the local church. Are there mature disciples in the church from whom younger disciples can learn? In a given church, there may be those who are physically mature, and there may be some who have been professing Christians for a long time, but that is not the question. It is very possible to be a member of a local church for a long time and to have not grown much. Does the church have a robust theology that they live by? Are there members of the church who are steeped in the Bible? Does the church pray a lot? Are there members of the church who have been with Christ in their times of testing? Have they seen God’s faithfulness in suffering or in loss or in waiting? Are there any people in the church who could be role models, about whom you would say, “I want to be like him”?

What is the “maturity density” in the church? This is a question about the average maturity that would determine growth by means of “random discipleship,” what we might call “drive-by discipleship.” In churches that have a high “maturity density,” there are ongoing opportunities for discipleship in ordinary encounters on Sunday mornings or in community groups or in breakfasts or lunches. In these sorts of churches, “Iron sharpens iron” (Proverbs 27:17) on a regular basis in ordinary conversations, but in churches that lack spiritually mature disciples, ordinary conversations remain ordinary. So, the first factor is the actual spiritual maturity of the local church.

CHURCH’S ATTITUDE TOWARD DISCIPLING: The next factor that influences the progress of the disciple is the overall attitude of the church toward discipling. Is the church motivated by 2 Timothy 2:2ff, that there are to be generations of disciples “teaching others also”? Does the church practice and even prioritize discipleship, as opposed to people who merely profess to be Christians but never really grow or show any meaningful fruit? Would the church be described as a country club or as a gymnasium? Is the church a place where many different spiritual growth opportunities are constantly being presented, or are real spiritual growth opportunities hard to come by? Is discipleship and spiritual growth championed by the lead pastor from the front? Is the lead pastor constantly talking about the expectation that church members will grow spiritually? Does the church expect members to be helping others grow in maturity or to be actively seeking their own spiritual growth, or is there no real expectation that anyone would be actively seeking spiritual growth?

A church that is serious about discipleship will manifest that attitude in many growth opportunities, such as theologically rich sermons, one-on-one discipleship, training classes like Oakhurst’s Equipping classes, Bible studies, small groups like OBC Community Groups which focus on Word and prayer in a fellowship context, and Spirit-filled worship. In a discipling church, there will be opportunities for sacrifice, suffering, theology, missions, evangelism, encouragement, prayer, and so on.

If you want to grow as a disciple of the Lord Jesus, look for a church the gives evidence of these kind of qualities. Look for a church that is serious about discipling its people.

ZEAL OF THE DISCIPLE. The third factor that will determine the rate of spiritual growth and the upper limit of spiritual growth is the zeal of the disciple himself. In the final analysis, your discipleship is 100% your responsibility. Although a mentor or a pastor may be personally invested in your spiritual growth, at the end of the day, growth is the disciple’s project. The disciple is the one who must be motivated to grow and to bear fruit in keeping with repentance. Are you hungry to grow in your faith? In the richest discipleship environment on earth, a disciple can languish and backslide and stagnate in their spiritual life is they will not put out the needed effort. Do you actively seek growth opportunities? Do you prioritize your spiritual growth? There are many things, even many good things, that can distract a disciple from the path of spiritual growth and of increasing usefulness to the Master. If you are not willing to act on discipleship opportunities, and if you are reluctant to take risks and to try new things and to exercise your faith, then you should not expect to ever make much progress in practical holiness or Kingdom usefulness.

SDG                 rmb                 12/07/2021                 #466

James 5:16 (“Confess your sins”) and biblical accountability

Within the current world of evangelicalism, it is not uncommon for pastors and churches to talk about the idea of “accountability.” Probably the foundational biblical text used to justify “biblical accountability” is the well-known verse from the book of James:

Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much. – James 5:16

In this post I want to explore James 5:16a, the bolded part of the verse above, and the related subject of biblical accountability, to develop a “theology of accountability” so that we can be faithful to the commission that the Lord Jesus gave His church in Matthew 28:19-20, to make disciples.

How can accountability help us make mature disciples?

Before we begin digging into the meaning of James 5:16a, however, we need to understand the correct context for this accountability, and we need to define what we mean by “biblical accountability.” My hunch is that, if you asked ten Christians what they mean by “accountability,” you would get nine or ten different answers. So, we will start with context and definition.

THE CONTEXT FOR ACCOUNTABILITY

First, the appropriate context for biblical accountability is a Discipleship Relationship. “What is that?” you ask. When I use the term, “Discipleship Relationship,” I mean a relationship between a Discipler (more mature believer) and a disciple (less mature believer) that has been established by mutual consent for a period of time which is primarily intended to produce spiritual growth in the disciple. In this arrangement, the Discipleship Relationship is the vehicle that is being used to further growth toward Christlikeness.

DEFINITION OF ACCOUNTABILITY

Next, we need to define what we mean by the word “Accountability.” As we are using the word, “Accountability” refers to a tool used in the context of a Discipleship Relationship whose main purpose is to help the disciple (less mature believer) see victory over a besetting sin. That is, one of the areas of spiritual growth in Discipleship is the area of victory over persistent or besetting sins. In this area of Discipleship, Accountability can be an effective tool for putting persistent sin to death (Colossians 3:5).

ACCOUNTABILITY AND JAMES 5:16

It is in the practice of Accountability that we will consider James 5:16. In this verse, James gives us specific actions to take and then gives us an implied promise of healing if we do.

James instructs us to confess our sins to one another and pray for one another that we may be healed. Here are two actions followed by a promise. One person confesses their sin to another person, expecting that, once the other person knows of the sin the first person has just confessed, the other person will immediately respond with prayer to the Lord for victory over the sin that has now been brought out into the light. James finishes this sentence with a promise, “that you may be healed.” Within a Discipleship Relationship, then, the disciple confesses a besetting sin to the trusted Discipler, bringing it out into the light. The disciple’s confession of sin elicits spontaneous prayer from the Discipler for the disciple and indicates that the Discipler has now joined the disciple in the fight against the disciple’s sin. There are now two warriors in the battle. Now both disciple and Discipler are firing the weapons of The Word and prayer at the hated sin. The confession of one warrior recruits a fresh soldier into the fray. And the promise is that the sin must yield. There is a promise that the sin confessed and assaulted with the weapons of spiritual warfare will be put to death. There will be victory.

So, we confess our sins to one another for three basic reasons:

  1. The confession brings the sin into the light as the disciple acknowledges the sinfulness of this sin and identifies this particular sin as the target of their mutual spiritual warfare (2 Cor. 10:3-6).
  2. The effect of this confession is to multiply the assault against this enemy of our holiness by recruiting a new soldier and thus increasing the artillery against the sin.
  3. Allows more people to rejoice together when we see the Lord giving the victory. Thus, the Lord receives more glory (2 Cor. 1:11). (Listen carefully!)

ACCOUNTABILITY AND CONFESSION IN ACTION

What we see, then, is that the machinery of Accountability is triggered by a confession of sin within the context of a Discipleship Relationship. That confession moves the sin out of the darkness and into the light and into the line of fire of spiritual artillery from both Discipler and disciple. The spiritual weaponry of the sword of the Spirit (the Bible/the Word), of prayer, of repentance and of mutual encouragement are poured out on the detested sin until it is vanquished.

SDG                 rmb                 11/17/2021                 #456