I & II Peter

26 Mar

notes from BYF talk 18th Mar 2011

First Peter and Second Peter are 2 letters written by Peter to a scattered group of Christians who share his faith.  Peter was one of the 12 disciples or apostles who spent much time with Jesus during His earthly life.  The gospels picture him as quick to speak and to act, often without thinking through what he does or says.  Examples of this include his cutting off of the soldier’s ear in the Garden of Gethsemane; his offer at the transfiguration to build shelters for Jesus, Moses and Elijah, and his running ahead of the other disciple into the empty tomb.  He is also one of the closest followers of Jesus, often being privy to scenes seen by only some of the apostles.  On the night of Jesus’ trial before the crucifixion he is seen denying Jesus three times, yet after the resurrection receives a threefold personal reaffirmation recorded in Jn. 21, and in his letters he is seen magnifying Jesus.  The patient, restful, loving Peter we perceive from his epistles (which were written much later in his life than the occurrence of the events recorded in the gospels) is often remarked upon as an example of the transforming power of God.[1]

Within the letters the writer evidences that he is an eyewitness of many events in the life of Jesus, such as hearing God’s voice from Heaven at the transfiguration (II Pet. 1:17f.), and possibly the crucifixion, or at least the events leading to it (I Peter 2:23; 5:1).  The readers had not known Jesus during his earthly life, and unlike us did not have the completed New Testament from which to learn about His life and teaching.  Thus it was especially beneficial for Peter, an eyewitness and follower of Jesus, to write to them. (De Haan, p.6)

The letter may have been carried by a messenger to each location in turn in order mentioned at the beginning of Ch.1.[2]

The two letters appear to have been written to the same readers, as II Pet. 3:1 records ‘This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved.’[3] Unlike Peter, they had not known Jesus during His earthly life (I Pet. 1:8[4]).  By the time Second Peter was written many of Paul’s letters were in wider circulation and may have been regarded with a level of authority as implied in II Pet. 3:15 & 16, which notably use the term ‘other scriptures’ alongside reference to Paul’s letters.  Jn. 21:19 refers to Peter’s method of death (which traditionally is seen as crucifixion[5] upside down) which may suggest the fourth gospel was written after Peter’s death, and therefore after both epistles.[6]

Suffering is an important theme in I Peter.  The suffering in question comes from trials (which are primarily to be understood as exterior persecution rather than internal temptations) and are specifically those experienced by Christians because they are Christians.  While Peter wants his readers to rejoice in trials and suffering, he makes clear in I Pet. 4:15 that they should not suffer as a murderer or thief or evildoer.

Peter deals much with the way in which Christians should live.  He emphasises the difference which is to be seen between how Christians should live and how non-Christians live, including the Christian readers themselves before they came to faith.

Christians are described as having an imperishable inheritance.  To them through the gospel have been announced things into which the prophets of God in the Old Testament and even the angels longed to look.  They are called to be holy, that is, set apart for God.  They have living hope.  They are guarded by God’s power.  Their faith is more precious than gold, they rejoice with inexpressible joy, God is their Father.  They are a holy/royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s people who received mercy.  They live in light.  Free from slavery to sin and servants to God.  Their lives should be so attractive that unbelieving husbands can be won by their believing wives without a word.  Their conduct is respectful and pure.  They are to be characterised by ‘unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind’ I Peter 3:8.  they are loving and hospitable, using gifts for one another.  They live for God

The non-Christian way of life is called your ‘former ignorance’, that is, a time when the people in question lacked knowledge.  It is perishable.  Malice, deceit hypocrisy, envy and slander characterise the non-Christian, but the Christian is told to put these away from themselves.  To the one who does not believe Christ is a stumbling stone, and the non-Christian stumbles because he does not obey the word.  They live in darkness.  The face of the Lord is against them.  They live for human passions, sensualities, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry.  Their lives are a flood of debauchery.  They are spiritually dead.



The means by which the readers moved from being non-Christians to Christians is described as a ransom.  If someone wanted to free a slave from his slavery they had to pay a large some of money to ransom him.  The costly ransom is not silver and gold, which Peter calls ‘perishable’, but Christ’s blood.  His perfect sinless-ness and suitability for sacrifice is conveyed by comparing Him to ‘a lamb without blemish or spot’.  In the Old Testament, animal sacrifices offered to God because of the sins of the people had to be perfect, and their blood had to be shed.

The change itself is described as being born again.  The believer is given a new life in Christ.  They should then forsake their old sinful life.  While they will still sin, they should strive to live a life set apart for God.  The idea of being born again conveys being given a new life to start and the end of the old life.  This occurs when the non-Christian by faith accepts Christ’s sacrifice, thus becoming a Christian.

The cost of this change is emphasised in I Peter.  Though salvation is free to those who receive it, it cost God the great price of Christ’s blood.  Next to this, Peter sees the most valuable and enduring earthly materials as corruptible and worthless.

I Peter is a book about suffering, but a book about hope in that suffering.  Peter has been called the apostle of hope.[7] The hope is only there because of Christ.  Peter isn’t writing to people who suffer generally.  He makes clear that he is not writing to those who suffer because they have done wrong (_____).  He writes to Christians who suffer because they are Christians.  It is only to these that Peter guarantees hope.  The hope is not merely or even necessarily, that the suffering they are experiencing will cease (in this life).  Rather he points to their eternal hope.  This hope is purchased at great price by Christ’s death for them.

The readers were Christians, (probably some from a Jewish background scattered because of persecution & returning home after Pentecost, but also Gentiles from pagan backgrounds[8] The organised persecution of Christians by the Roman Empire, (particularly renowned under Nero) probably came later than, but soon after this Epistle,[9] (though no-doubt later readers appreciated Peter’s words) but localised persecution of this new and misunderstood religion was likely from ‘the Romans, the Jews, and their own families’.[10] [11] In some countries harsh persecution from governments, other religious groups and believers’ families is still common.  We may not suffer as violent opposition to our faith, but in whatever trials we do face we can we share the hope to which Peter encourages his readers to look.  Christian hope is not a vague uncertain ‘hope so’ kind of hope, but a certain looking toward what we know is and will be but which we do not yet see.  Yet the non-Christian does not have this hope, Eph 2:12 having a message strikingly similar to much of 1 Peter ‘remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.’[12] The sure hope does not encourage the Christian to sit and wait, but to live for Christ amongst those who don’t yet know Him.  One author writes ‘Hope is not a sedative; it is a shot of adrenaline’[13]

After His resurrection Jesus had commanded Peter to feed the flock (Jn. 21), and Peter’s letters constitute part of his fulfilling this commission (Wiersbe).

The description of believers is not always what everyone would see as positive.  The opening verses describe them as strangers, exiles, pilgrims or sojourners (cf, Heb. 11:13).  While the Christian life is beneficial, with it comes a sense of detachment from the World, and at times a lack of unity with those who are outside Christ.  ‘Christians have standards and values different from those of the world, and this gives opportunity both for witness and for warfare’ (Wiersbe[14]).  Being a sojourner need not be seen as negative, for one who is a sojourner is such because he has a home but is not there.  Thus being a sojourner points to the believer’s home in Heaven.  The term is paired with the word chosen, pointing to God’s favour on the believer.

What else does I Peter address?

Addresses relationships to government, to masters or employers, between husbands and wives, and between people in general.  (Nelson’s p.461)  He points out that ‘Christian character is more important in a woman than the latest fashion.’  (Lion Handbook, p.637)  The relationship between leaders in churches and the other members is explained.

Written by Peter, one of the 12 disciples/apostles

Written to Christians who were suffering and had been dispersed.

Christ gave an example of enduring suffering

The believer has a rich inheritance (Heaven) bought with a great price (Jesus’ death)

Trust God and live obediently.  (ESV book intro)

Linked with hope are the recurring ideas of joy and glory.[15] We are to be joyful even in suffering, though it may be a painful joy, not only because we know that suffering will end in Heaven, but also because we know that God is in control and working for our good (JP).  One commentator writes of I Peter ‘the three themes of suffering, grace, and glory unite to form an encouraging message for believers experiencing times of trial and persecution.’[16] Christians have been born again, God is our Father, and He gives us an imperishable inheritance (JP).

Summary of why I Peter was written

To exhort the readers to endure suffering as a Christian for righteousness, knowing that Christ suffered, and to be holy, displaying Christian characteristics of love, hospitality etc., living soberly not sensuously and being self-controlled, forsaking sins and observing proper order (– husbands + wife, shepherds + sheep) because of Christ’s redeeming from sin, which resulted being born again and provided an imperishable inheritance.

II Peter

II Peter was written near the end of Peter’s life.  It has some characteristics of a farewell discourse.  Before he died, Peter wanted to remind the readers of his teaching, in order to equip them to live for God in his absence. Peter was probably in prison in Rome awaiting execution.  In II Pet 1:14-15 Peter implies that he knows his death is imminent.  By this stage the persecution of Christians by the Roman Empire had become somewhat more extensive and formalised, due largely to the emperor Nero’s use of the Christians as a scapegoat for the great fire of Rome.  Even with this persecution may not have been as empire-wide as at some later times (ESVSB intro I Pet.).

The recipients of the letter are not clearly named, but in II Peter 3:1, Peter speaks of this as his second letter to these people, thus the readers are likely to be the same churches addressed in I Peter.  There are significant parallels between II Peter and the book of Jude, which we will look at in a couple of weeks.

Throughout the letter Peter contrasts the truth from God that is the Christian message, with the teachings of the false teachers who were seeking to lead others astray.  Peter points out that the Christian message is not made up of myths, but rather based on the eyewitness of God’s power displayed in Jesus.

Christ’s second coming, and the judgement and punishment of those who are not Christians are frequently discussed.  He warns that the day of the Lord, that is, the end of the world/second coming, will come unexpectedly like a thief in the night (II Pet. 3:10).  He points back to God’s punishment on Old Testament examples including sinful angels.  Peter writes against the false teachers who denied the second coming.  He points out that the reason Christ has not returned is not God’s slowness, but his patience.  God is giving time for those who do not yet know Christ to turn to Him and thus avoid the fiery judgement which will accompany His return.  The apparent delay is the result of God’s grace.  Christ’s return is not only a reason for unbelievers to dread punishment, but a motivation for Christian readers to live obediently until then.  While the Christian’s salvation is not based on works, Christians should ‘Live an exemplary life’ (TM[17]) among those who don’t or don’t yet know Jesus.

Like I Peter, in II Peter there is a significant contrast to the way in which the Christian’s and non-Christian’s way of life are described.  The way in which the non-Christian lives is associated with corruption and decay, and also with enslavement (II Pet 2:19), as those who do not know Jesus are slaves to sin.  He writes They [the false teachers] promise them [those who listen to the false teachers’ teaching] freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity–for a man is a slave to whatever has mastered him. (2Pe 2:19 NIB).  The end of these false teachers is the gloom of utter darkness (II Peter 2:17).

Christians have received God’s power and his precious promises.  Peter calls God’s promises ‘precious’ and displays excitement over what God has done for him.  By these they are able to escape the corruption of the world.  The life without God is not pictured as something enjoyable or harmless, but as something from which it is desirable to escape.  The Christian should beware lest he become entangled again in the defilements of the world (II Pet 2:20).  While he is sure that his sins are forgiven and he is right with God, he should continue to add to his faith Christian characteristics such as virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection and love (II Pet 1:5-8).   Some of the false teachers taught that immorality was acceptable for Christians, but Peter reminded the readers that with salvation comes the promise of a life that can be different.

As was common for someone approaching death (II Pet 1:14), Peter is keen to instruct the readers as to how they should live in his absence. (v.15)  Namely, they should live lives of obedience to God.

II Pet. is Peter’s farewell message to the churches before he dies, encouraging them to live obediently and avoid false teachers.  Christians should continue to believe the truth and live as God desires as they await Christ’s return, when He will judge those who don’t know Him.

Summary of why Peter wrote each book in two words: –
You’re suffering
I’m dying

[1] Mears, p.608

[2] Hort see Grudem TNTC p.53

[3] The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001, S. 2 Pe 3:1

[4] echoing Jesus’ words to Thomas Jn. 20:29

[5] ‘Rome…where Peter endures a passion like his Lord’s!’  Tertulian cited Grudem, p.34;  ‘he came to Rome and was crucified head downwards, for so he demanded to suffer’ Eusebius cited ibid p.35

[6] Accepting Petrine authorship

[7] John apostle of love; Paul apostle of faith.  See Wiersbe BE / Mears p.607 etc.

[8] I Peter 1:14, 18; 2:9-10; 4:1-4). (Wiersbe who had been scattered among different nations due to persecution because they had become Christians.)

[9] (Wiersbe suggests Peter foretells[9] this in 1 Peter 4:12 The Bible Exposition Commentary – New Testament, Volume 2. p.389,

[10] Life Application Study Bible

[11] McGrath suggests the persecution addressed in I Peter was yet to come. NIVBC p.379

[12] The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001, S. Eph 2:12

[13] Wiersbe  The Bible Exposition Commentary – New Testament, Volume 2.

[14] The Bible Exposition Commentary – New Testament, Volume 2.

[15] Mears, p.608

[16] Wiersbe The Bible Exposition Commentary – New Testament, Volume 2. p.390’

[17] The Message, I Peter 2:11

(JP refers to John Piper’s sermons available for download from Desiring God)

Running the Race and God’s Fatherly Discipline

7 Dec

Sermon Preached at Dungannon Baptist Sunday 5th Nov PM

Read Hebrews 12:1-17  http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Hebrews%2012:1-17&version=ESV

Focus on vv.1-11, for context read 1-17

Heb 10:23 points out that God is faithful, the closing verses of ch. 10 mention the idea of believers having faith, in 11:1  the writer defines faith, then in the rest of that chapter illustrates it by listing an extensive catalogue of Old Testament characters who had faith and displayed this in their actions.  He concludes this list in 11:39 writing: –

39 And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, 40 since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.[1]

The ideas of perfection and of something better are important in Hebrews.  The new covenant and items associated with it are referred to as ‘better’ than those pertaining to the Old Covenant.  One possible outline of Hebrews is

A better person (than angels, Moses & Joshua)             1:1-4:13

A better priesthood (covenant sanctuary and sacrifice)   4:14-10:18

A better power (Christ being the basis of a better life)   10:19-13:25[2]

In ch.12, on which we will focus tonight, Jesus is referred to as the perfecter of our faith.

While chapter 11 addressed others in the past, the writer moves to focus on his present readers here in chapter 12, the first two verses using terms such as ‘us’ and ‘our’, before moving into directly addressing the readers as ‘you’.  The cloud of witnesses in 12:1 refers to the Old Testament characters whose faith has been chronicled in the preceding chapter.  The faith of others who have gone before can serve as an encouragement to us that living a life of faith is possible and worthwhile.  The passage serves as a useful reminder that, while worthwhile, the Christian life is not always easy.  While Hebrews does not explicitly point it out, many of those included in the list had fallen into sin, yet went on to walk closely with God and were still remembered as people of faith.

Moses – murdered an Egyptian

Samson – revealed secret of strength to Philistine wife Delilah

David – adultery with Bathsheba, arranged Urriah’s death

Rahab – non-Israelite, prostitute

Rahab also used by James as an example of faith in action (Jas. 2:25)

While these characters were not exempt from sin, the writer stresses the importance of laying aside every weight and sin.

There is some debate over why the term ‘witnesses’ is chosen for the Old Testament characters of faith.  Some (D. Guthrie) suggest the past heroes of faith are pictured as metaphorically watching the present Christians as they attempt to live the life of faith, witnessing what is happening.  The description of being surrounded by a cloud of witnesses would fit with a Roman stadium.  Donald Guthrie expands the phrase from the end of v.1 ‘let us run with endurance the race that is set before us’[3] into a stadium metaphor with the past heroes watching the present competitors running the race.  He (D. Guthrie) writes ‘The heroes of the past are now viewed as spectators, whereas the Christians are in the arena.’[4] However he points out that they are not fickle or casual spectators watching for entertainment, but that their presence in the stands can inspire others.  The Living Bible paraphrases verse 1 in accordance with this understanding:

‘Since we have such a huge crowd of men of faith watching us from the grandstands’

Scripture does not generally suggest that those who have passed away continue to watch those who are alive, but it would be possible to follow this understanding as part of the metaphor.

While this is a possible interpretation, it seems better to understand them not as witnesses who watch the present competitors, but as witnesses who by their example of a life lived for God by faith encourage the present believers to likewise live by faith.  (F. F.) Bruce writes ‘by their loyalty and endurance they have borne witness to the possibilities of the life of faith.  It is not so much they who look at us as we who look to them – for encouragement’.[5] They are former competitors in the race in which we now run, and they testify that faith is worthwhile.

 

 

Other examples of the positive example of Old Testament characters include James 5, at which we looked last Tuesday night.

10 As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. 11 Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful. [6]

This passage also uses Job and the prophets as examples of enduring suffering, and Hebrews 12 will use Jesus as the supreme example of enduring suffering.

While here positive Old Testament role models are drawn upon, this does not mean all Old Testament characters are to be imitated.  Ch.12 will later use Esau as a negative example.  I Cor. 10:7-10 uses the negative behaviour of Israel during the wilderness wandering as an example of how not to behave.

7 Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.”

8 We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day.

9 We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents,

10 nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer.

11 Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come.

(1Co 10:7-11 ESV)

As motivation to lay aside weights and sin the writer refers to the cloud of witnesses who have gone before and exhorts his readers to look to Jesus.  A deliberate looking away from other distracting things and focusing on Jesus is suggested.  Even the Old Testament examples can only be examples, but Jesus provides more than an example, also being able to help and strengthen the struggling believers.  More than an example of the life of faith, Jesus is the origin of their faith and the one who brings it to perfect completion.[7]

Brown writes: ‘Running with perseverance is possible only whilst [the runners]…are looking not to the encouraging witnesses, the present contestants, the ultimate goal, or even the promised reward, but to Christ alone.’[8]

The weights to be laid aside probably include any form of ‘spiritual hindrance’.  We are to give up whatever hinders our relationship with God.  The next phrase refers to running the race with endurance, and runners both in the first century and today seek to set aside any unnecessary weight to allow them to run more effectively.  The things which hold a person back in the spiritual race may differ between individuals, or at least the degree to which they hold individuals back may differ, but we must realise that they are not as important as running the race.  Jesus said ‘if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away.’ (Mat 18:8 ESV)  cf. Mt. 5:30, Mk. 9:43.  The weights may include things which are not always in themselves sinful, but to some can lead us into sin and/or away from God.  Excess weight restricts the runner’s activity.  For the readers, clinging on to Judaism may have been included in the weight which held them back from Christ.

It is possible either that weight and sin are meant as one and the same, or that they are intended separately.  We are told to lay aside sin itself, which is aptly described as clinging so closely.  Objects or clothing clinging to an athlete could cause him to trip.  Sin entangles people in much the same way.  The idea of clinging closely emphasises the difficultly of removing sin from our lives.  This is probably general enough to include all sin, as all sin is a problem for the spiritual runner.  Specific sins may cling particularly close to particular individuals, although Hebrews does not here go into detail about individual sins.

The effort of shedding burdens for the athlete is made worthwhile by the ability to run the race well.  Hebrews urges us to run the race with endurance or perseverance.  Endurance and a determination to keep going may be required for the race set before us by God.  As v.2 points out, although believers may need to endure suffering, Christ has already endured the suffering of the cross.  The idea of enduring is important in Hebrews (Heb. 10:32, 36; 12:7).

While the athlete imagery is most pronounced in the opening verses, it may be present to some extent throughout our passage v.11’s fatherly discipline and training being similar to that through which an athlete must go, and vv.12-13’s healing of arms and knees being accompanied with the reference to straight paths perhaps indicating a tired, injured athlete is envisioned.

Paul also used athlete imagery, in 1 Cor. 9:24, Gal. 2:2

We are to look to Jesus as we run in the race.  Hebrews as a whole views Jesus variously as High Priest, as the Son of God, as the Son of man and as a man, and the last of these is the focus here.[9] While His purpose on earth was by no means limited to providing us with a good example, He was fully human (while fully divine) and endured suffering.  He is described by two terms, the second ‘perfecter’ being part of a wider theme of perfection in the epistle. Even in the midst of discussing how the Christian should live, Hebrews makes clear that it is Jesus, not our effort, who makes out faith perfect and complete.

The first term ἀρχηγός archegos can be translated in various ways.  It is used of Jesus twice in Acts.  Firstly he is called the archegos of life, usually translated as ‘prince of life’ or ‘author of life’ in Acts. 3:15.  Secondly it is used in relation to His exaltation in Acts 5:31, where it is usually translated ‘prince’ or ‘leader’.

Apart from those references it is used only in Hebrews in the New Testament, where it is used in 2:10, and in the present passage, 12:2.  It has the idea of a pioneer, pathfinder, trailblazer, initiator, founder, author, leader, victor, ruler, hero

Scott finds in the term three inter-related categories: –

(1) path-breaker (pioneer) who opens the way for others,

(2) source or founder

(3) leader-ruler.[10]

It refers to one who has gone before preparing the way.  Jesus became human, and knew suffering as a human, therefore He knows from experience about suffering.  Hebrews emphasises this idea elsewhere particularly in 4:15 which says:

ESV Hebrews 4:15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. (Heb 4:15 ESV)

Although living chronologically after the Old Testament examples of faith, Jesus is seen as the trailblazer of faith, perhaps much in the same way as ch.11 says of Moses: ‘He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt’[11] God the son is seen as active even in the Old Testament period, inspiring the faith of the old covenant saints.

In ch.2, the term (ἀρχηγός) is associated with the bringing of many sons to glory by Jesus’ sacrificial death, and here in ch.12, the status of believers as sons will be in focus in the coming verses.

v.2 ‘looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.’ [12]

The translation ‘for the joy that was set before him endured the cross’ suggests the joy in question was the reason Jesus went to the cross, and is probably then to be understood as joy at having redeemed believers

An alternative translation is ‘instead of the joy that was set before him endured the cross’.  In this understanding the joy would be the bliss with God the Father enjoyed by the Son before He became incarnate.  Phil. 2 makes a similar point to this, (although the focus there is exhorting believers to Christ-like humility)

[Speaking about Jesus]6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,

7 but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.

(Phi 2:6-7 ESV)

 

Like Phil. 2, Heb. 12 follows what may be a reference to humiliation by discussing Christ’s present exaltation, here referring specifically to His being ‘seated at the right hand of the throne of God’  While in what sense it is a physical place may be debated, God’s right hand is often given as Christ’s location after His ascension.  The right hand was a position of honour and authority; distinction and power, particularly in relation to kings.  It suggests participation in government and sharing of glory and honour.  Hebrews elsewhere emphasises Christ’s sitting down as signifying the completion of the atonement made by Him as High Priest, in contrast to the earthly High Priest who stood daily offering the same sacrifices.

  • Heb 1:3-4 (ESV) After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.
  • Heb 10:12 (ESV) 12 But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God,

Nevertheless, it is not merely a position of complete rest or inactivity, but rather of authority.  He is not only pictured as seated at the Father’s right hand, but elsewhere as standing (at God’s right hand) in Acts 7:56 (Stephen’s martyrdom) and walking in Rev 2:1 (opening of letter to Ephesians).  The sitting at the right hand is drawn in part from Ps 110, which is important in Hebrews, with its stress on Christ as a priest like Melchizedek.

The suffering believers are instructed to ‘Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.’[13] Christ was rejected by those to whom He came, suffered mocking and scourging culminating in His crucifixion.  The believers may have been suffering, but they had not yet suffered to the point of death.  While its primary aim was the justification of those who believe in Jesus and ask His forgiveness, the cross also stands as the greatest example of suffering in history, combining not only the physical pain, but the weight of our sin.

Are you focused on Jesus?

Having shown that the life of faith is desirable and having exhorted the readers to forsake sin, the letter goes on to explain discipline as displaying God’s fatherly care.

Discipline as sons vv.4ff.

Hebrews then quotes Prov. 3:11-12, emphasizing the address ‘My son’, and going on to explain that although the believers are experiencing discipline, this does not mean God has forgotten them or does not care for them.  Rather, discipline is evidence of a good father’s relationship with his sons.  The quote combines encouragement with gentle rebuke.  The readers had forgotten, or were in danger of having forgotten, the encouraging fact that God was their Father, and that His discipline showed His love.  The quote is described in Hebrews as an exhortation or ‘word of encouragement’ (Heb 12:5 NIV).

In the original context of Proverbs, ‘My son’ is the address of a father (at first Solomon) to his son in teaching him to obey God, the term ‘my son’ occurring 14 times in the first 7 chapters of Proverbs (1:8, 10, 15, 2:1, 3:1, 11, 21; (4:1); 4:10, 20; 5:1, 6:1, 20; 7:1).  Hebrews applied the term ‘son’ to the believers and probably personifies scripture making it appear to give the address to them.[14] We have a tendency to dislike discipline or correction, but the central thought of the quote is to not despise the Lord’s discipline.  The latter part of it compares God to a Father disciplining a son he loves.  Hebrews expands on this comparison, highlighting three main areas:

Validates – true sons are disciplined v.7-8

Response – be subject, as to earthly fathers v.9-10

Benefit – fruit of righteousness v.11

Discipline validates the father-son relationship, as true sons are disciplined by a good Father, only illegitimate sons are left without discipline or rebuke.  As a legitimate son would inherit from his father and be in a position of responsibility and honour, care would be taken in training him.  The discipline of the readers was evidence that they were God’s sons.

Our response to God’s Fatherly discipline should be to be subject to God, even as we were subject to earthly fathers.  Earthly fathers are subject to whims and inconsistencies, mistakes or selfishness, but God acts for His people’s good when disciplining.  God’s discipline is superior in length and in motivation.  God is referred to as the ‘Father of spirits’ or ‘Father of our spirits’ which is probably intended to emphasis Him as believers’ spiritual or heavenly Father in contrast to their earthly fathers.  God desires that we honour Him and become more like Him through His training.

The end result of discipline is holier living, which comes after being trained by discipline.  The term ‘fruit of righteousness’ is used, indicating not our state before God, which is established by justification through Christ, but our practical living.  Fruit does not appear instantly on a tree, but grows over time.  The biblical metaphor of fruit for changed living in the Christian’s life is probably most familiar from the fruit of the spirit listed in Gal. 5 ‘the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.’ (Gal 5:22-23 ESV).  Hebrews describes the fruit of righteousness as ‘peaceable’, and ‘peace’ is included in the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians.  The idea of righteousness as fruit may be linked to the topic of discipline, as pruning a plant helps it produce better fruit, as Jesus taught in Jn 15

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser.  Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.

(Joh 15:1-2 ESV)

While training can be applied to plants, it is more commonly used in an athletic

setting, returning to the metaphor used in the opening verses of the chapter.

The passage doesn’t say all suffering is punishment.  Discipline need not imply punishment, but can be used in the sense of an athlete training.[15] The KJV uses the term chastisement in v.8, which probably has too negative a connotation.  The idea is not so much of punishment and harsh criticism, but of correction or discipline, the word having to do with children’s education and training, including the moral dimension of this.[16] An illegitimate son may have had more than his fair share of harsh chastisement, but what he would lack is loving discipline.[17]

The point is that hardship can be a blessing.  The idea of suffering as helping the believer’s life is found elsewhere, such as Ps 119

67 Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep your word.

…[moving down a few verses]

71 It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes.

(Psa 119:67-71 ESV)

The key to coping with suffering is to be trained by it, thereby growing in holiness.

vv14ff. has a community focus, telling believers to strive for peace with others and avoid bitterness.  Many Old Testament passages and themes are drawn on in vv.12-17 which we won’t study in detail, tonight.  The section has been called ‘almost a mosaic of biblical ideas and images drawn from the prophetic tradition (12:12), the wisdom literature (12:13), psalmody (12:14), the law of Moses (12:15) and the story of the patriarchs (12:16).’[18]

vv.12ff. probably continues the athletic image in the instruction to lift drooping arms and weak knees.  This can be understood either as lifting and strengthening one’s own limbs, or as helping others who are struggling.  Both of these are good to do.  It is an image of exhaustion, despondency and despair, but the encouragement provided by a right understanding of the race they were running and the suffering they were experiencing should have given the readers, and us, greater strength as they and we look to Christ.

Summary/Application

Run the race of the life of faith focusing on Jesus, avoiding distraction and setting aside spiritual hindrances and sin.

Suffering can be discipline which evidences that God is our Father who cares for us


[1] The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001, S. Heb 11:39-40

[2] adapted from Knowing God Through Hebrews, (Grand Rapids: RBC Ministries, 2005) p.3

[3] The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001, S. Heb 12:1

[4]Guthrie, Donald: Hebrews: An Introduction and Commentary. Nottingham, England : Inter-Varsity Press, 1983 (Tyndale New Testament Commentaries 15), p.249

[5] Bruce, F. F., The Epistle to the Hebrews Revised (NICNT), (Grand Rapids/Cambridge: Eerdmans 1990), p.333

[6] The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001, S. Jas 5:10-11

[7] for further see Jones, Hywel R. Lets Study Hebrews, Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 2002), p.137

[8] Brown, Raymond, The Message of Hebrews (BST), (IVP) ~p.235

[9] Anderson, Robert, Types in Hebrews in Bible Explorer software ch.11 before note 118

[10] Scott, J. Julius JR, ‘Archēgos in the Salvation History of the Epistle to the Hebrews’ in Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, Vol. 29, No. 1 (Mar 1986), pp.47-54.

[11] The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001, S. Heb 11:26

[12] The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001, S. Heb 12:2

[13] The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001, S. Heb 12:3

[14] Guthrie, Donald: Hebrews: An Introduction and Commentary. Nottingham, England : Inter-Varsity Press, 1983 (Tyndale New Testament Commentaries 15), p.253

[15] Croy discussed G. H. Guthrie, George H., ‘Hebrews’ in Beale, G.K. & Carson, D.A. (eds.), Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, Apollos, Nottingham, 2007) p.987

[16] Anderson, Robert, Types in Hebrews in Bible Explorer software ch.11 after note 118; BibleWorks8 notes

[17] Anderson, Robert, Types in Hebrews in Bible Explorer software ch.11 after note 118

[18] Brown, Raymond, The Message of Hebrews (BST), (IVP) p.236

Stereotypes

15 Jun

Recently I have ordered several books from different locations via the internet, using http://www.amazon.co.uk and http://www.abebooks.co.uk .  I have been interested to note the differing packaging, those ordered from Amazon itself coming in a purpose designed brown cardboard envelope (immediately below left), most others coming in some form of bubble-wrap lined white paper  envelope (immediately below right and centre), one of these being wrapped in tissue paper (not pictured) within this.

However, for some reason it was only the one from Ireland that came in environmentally friendly packaging made by reusing a Heineken box (below).

Take Kerr

If I was Prime Minister / President / Whatever

4 Jun

Earth Moon & Sun

The Earth goes round and round.  The Moon goes round the Earth.  The Earth goes round the Sun.  Where am I going with this…

For some reason I probably don’t understand as well as I should, the above occurrences mean that once every four years we get an extra day, February 29th.  However, at the end of a leap year no-one ever sits down and thinks, that was good, I got a lot more done this year than in each of the three previous years, that extra day came in very handy.  Conversely, in a normal year, no-one sits down at the end and thinks I didn’t get enough done this year, if I’d only had one more day I could have been finished.  To a large extent we waste February 29th.

Therefore, I propose that February 29th be set aside as a day of training.  Training in what, you might ask? Training in one of the things with which mankind (perhaps particularly computer literate mankind) seem to struggle immensely.   The usage of the humble apostrophe.

Take Kerr

And Take Kerr when you use apostrophes.

Psalm 19

1 Jun

Below are notes from a sermon I preached at @dungannonbc last summer when we were meeting in the school.  Don’t feel compelled to read it, I just though it might be of more use here than in some dusty corner of the computer.

Psalm 19 (New International Version)

Psalm 19

For the director of music. A psalm of David.

1 The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.

2 Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they display knowledge.

3 There is no speech or language
where their voice is not heard. [a]

4 Their voice [b] goes out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world.
In the heavens he has pitched a tent for the sun,

5 which is like a bridegroom coming forth from his pavilion,
like a champion rejoicing to run his course.

6 It rises at one end of the heavens
and makes its circuit to the other;
nothing is hidden from its heat.

7 The law of the LORD is perfect,
reviving the soul.
The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy,
making wise the simple.

8 The precepts of the LORD are right,
giving joy to the heart.
The commands of the LORD are radiant,
giving light to the eyes.

9 The fear of the LORD is pure,
enduring forever.
The ordinances of the LORD are sure
and altogether righteous.

10 They are more precious than gold,
than much pure gold;
they are sweeter than honey,
than honey from the comb.

11 By them is your servant warned;
in keeping them there is great reward.

12 Who can discern his errors?
Forgive my hidden faults.

13 Keep your servant also from willful sins;
may they not rule over me.
Then will I be blameless,
innocent of great transgression.

14 May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be pleasing in your sight,
O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.

Footnotes:

  1. Psalm 19:3 Or They have no speech, there are no words; / no sound is heard from them
  2. Psalm 19:4 Septuagint, Jerome and Syriac; Hebrew line

C. S. Lewis, wrote of Psalm 19: “I take this to be the greatest poem in The Psalms and one of the greatest lyrics in the world.”[1] This Psalm could be divided into two main parts.  (Some commentators argue, based on differences in content and meter, that the two parts were originally separate).   In the first part, from verses 1 to 6 the Psalmist reflects on how God has revealed Himself through nature, in the second he reflects on God’s personal revelation through His word, which then leads David to consider his own standing before God.  In the first section, specifically in verse 1, David uses the term ‘God’, which stresses in particular God’s power, such as His power as creator.[2] However in the second part he moves to use the personal covenant name of God ‘Yahweh’ or ‘Jehovah’ signified in most English translations by ‘Lord’ in small capitals.  (This occurs 6 times in verses 7-9 and once in the last verse.)  Thus it is through His word rather than nature that God is known personally, but it is the same God who reveals himself through both.

Verse one reads:

1 The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.

As a shepherd David would have spent much time outside, beholding the sky above him.  The word for skies is used in Genesis 1:6-8 speaking of God creating an ‘expanse’ or ‘firmament’: –

Gen 1:6 And God said, “Let there be an expanse between the waters to separate water from water.” 7 So God made the expanse and separated the water under the expanse from the water above it. And it was so. 8 God called the expanse “sky.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the second day.

This word is used in only one other place in the Old Testament[3], further suggesting that some relationship may be intended to be seen.  Some have even suggested that the Psalm is written as a commentary on Genesis 1.[4]

The reason that the sky and all nature speaks of God is that He is their creator; they are the work of his hands.  Speaking of creation as the work of God’s hands is not in contradiction to Genesis’s account of Him speaking them into being, but both are expressions that God is creator.  Speaking of God’s hands need not imply that He physically has hands, but is an example of what is sometimes called anthropomorphism, or speaking of God in terms of Him having human attributes.  This is common within the Bible, perhaps particularly so within the psalms due to the poetic nature of such expressions, and their usefulness in creating parallelism.  Often in Hebrew poetry a similar thought is repeated using different words.  This can add emphasis or further explain the point being made.

While many aspects of nature on earth may speak to us of God’s creatorship, the sky has probably always been a source of interest to mankind.  In antiquity it was sometimes pointed-out that man was distinguished from the animals in that animals generally look downward at the ground while man walks upright and can see the skies.  Space travel in more recent times again testifies to the great interest the sky forms for man.  The key for the psalmist however must be noted: his interest is in the sky because it speaks of God.  Paul in the latter part of Romans 1 takes up the theme of God’s revelation through nature, but goes on to point out that some had worshiped the creation rather than the creator.  Along with Astrology, the worship of heavenly bodies themselves was expressly forbidden in the law, the law of which the psalmist will later speak as the greatest revelation of the Lord.  Deut. 4:19 records one such prohibition: –

19 And when you look up to the sky and see the sun, the moon and the stars—all the heavenly array—do not be enticed into bowing down to them

The distinction between worshiping God, who has revealed Himself in part through nature and worshiping nature itself is an important one.  It has been pointed out that ‘man does not see God by looking at the sky; what he sees is the glory of God.’[5] When we look at the heavens we see evidence of God.

Having begun to consider the sky, in verse 2 the Psalmist now contemplates day and night or light and darkness.  Day and night have been called ‘the two fundamental perspectives from which the heavens may be perceived’[6].  By day the sun illuminates the sky, by night the moon and stars are seen amongst the darkness.  In Psalm 8 thinking of the heavens leads David to focus on the night sky.  The moon and stars make him consider man’s apparent insignificance.  Ps 8 begins: –

1 O LORD, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory
above the heavens.

And continues: –

3 When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,

4 what is man that you are mindful of him,
the son of man that you care for him?

However, back in Psalm 19 it is the daytime sky on which David concentrates.  He goes on to describe the sun, how it appears to move across the sky giving light and heat to all parts of the earth.  Day and night was also an important theme in the creation account of Genesis 1, with light being created first, God separating light from darkness, and the remainder of the account being structured by days which have an evening and a morning.

The NIV of verse 2 reads: –

2 Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they display knowledge.

This describes how during each day and night the heavens are speaking of God.  Some other translations, however, suggest that each day passes on to the next day testimony of God’s glory, as does each night to the next night.  The CEV translates the verse:

(CEV)  Each day informs the following day; each night announces to the next.

These have been described as ‘two choruses that take it in turns’[7], as though the day and night alternate in singing of the glory of their creator.  Which ever sense is intended, whether the picture is of heavens speaking during the day and night, or of the day and night themselves speaking and passing on the message to the following day and night; the idea is of an ongoing perpetual witness to God’s glory being manifested in His creation.

The word used in the first half of verse 2 of pouring forth speech has the idea of something bubbling up or bursting forth.  Together with the other three verbs in the first two verses it creates a vivid image of a message going out, almost as if the heavens could say with Peter and John in Acts 4:20 ‘we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.’  (KJV)

Verse 3 can be translated in two slightly varying ways: –

NIV     3 There is no speech or language
where their voice is not heard.

NIVn    They have no speech, there are no words;
no sound is heard from them

The first, and more commonly preferred, translation points to the universality of natural revelation: ‘There is no speech or language /where their voice is not heard.’  The witness that the heavens give can be understood by all people, people of all languages.

The second alternative points out that they do not literally speak: ‘They have no speech, there are no words; / no sound is heard from them’.  In this understanding David would be pointing out that the witness given by the heavens is not with words which are heard with the ears.  However, the first alternative seems to fit better with the content of the rest of the psalm.  Verse 5 emphasises that their voice is gone throughout all the earth.  Verse 6 points out that the sun provides heat to the entire world. So it seems reasonable that in verse 3 the psalmist was likewise trying to convey that the message of the heavens reaches all people.  Put simply, the thrust of the opening verses has been summarised thus: ‘Creation is a “wordless book” that everybody can read because it needs no translation.’[8] Or more briefly ‘The world witnesses to God’[9].

The NIV of verse 4 reads: –

4 Their voice [b] goes out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world.

Where the NIV uses the word voice, the Hebrew has the word line, often used in the sense of a measuring line.  (Possibly this indicates wide reaching witness; or their ‘rule’ as they regulate times and seasons’.[10])  The Hebrew is reflected in the KJV.  However early Greek, Latin and Syriac translations use words meaning ‘voice’ or ‘utterance’ as does Paul when he quotes this verse in Romans 10:18.  It is possible that a Hebrew pun is being employed.  Knight suggests this can be conveyed in English by the way ‘cord’ c o r d, a rope, sounds like ‘chord’ c h o r d, a musical term.

While in Psalm 19 David is addressing the topic of revelation through nature to all people, Paul (in Romans) uses the verse in relation to the special revelation of the scriptures to Israel and the preaching of the gospel.  While not all the Jews of Paul’s day had heard the gospel, representatives of Judaism throughout the known world had done so[11], and they all had the earlier revelations of our Old Testament.  Thus sufficient witness has been given so as to leave all men without excuse.  In Acts 14 and Acts 17, when Paul was preaching to gentiles, he began with creation before explaining to them the message of the gospel, for creation was something with which they were already familiar and which spoke of God’s existence and creatorship.

[While we would probably think of looking at nature to see God, David has used the metaphor of the heavens speaking of God’s glory.  A variety of terms are utilised to covey the idea of the heavens speaking: declare, proclaim, pours out speech, reveals knowledge, their voice.  The concept of inanimate creation being pictured as speaking can be found elsewhere in scripture, such as Psalm 145:10’s declaration ‘10 All you have made will praise you, O LORD’.  At the end of verse 4 the metaphor of speaking gives way to that of the sun as a bridegroom and a strong man.  ]

V4b-6

From the last part of verse 4 until verse 6 David focuses his attention on the sun. He writes: –

In the heavens he has pitched a tent for the sun,

5 which is like a bridegroom coming forth from his pavilion,
like a champion rejoicing to run his course.

6 It rises at one end of the heavens
and makes its circuit to the other;
nothing is hidden from its heat.

David uses poetic language to convey how the sun appears to move across the sky.  Just as the testimony of the heavens was heard in all the earth, so the heat of the sun is experienced by all, and gives evidence of its creator.  The dawning sun is compared to a bridegroom.  Relatively little is known of the specific details of a marriage ceremony throughout bible times, but usually a procession was involved, often at night ensuring all could attend and making it a spectacle when illuminated by torchlight. The parable of the wise and foolish virgins in Matthew 25 draws on this practice.  The bridegroom and his friends would probably go in procession to collect the bride at her family home, and then lead her to the home where she was to live with her husband.  A lavish wedding supper would be celebrated, probably at the Bride’s parents’ home.  These festivities could last for up to 1 or 2 weeks.  Here in Psalm 19 the bridegroom is said to come out of his chamber.  This is either the place in which the marriage ceremony has been conducted, or it may refer to that in which the marriage has been consummated.

The second image of the sun is that of an athlete running in a race.  Like an energetic sportsman the sun appears to eagerly move across the sky.  Like a newly married man or a hero the sun appears at dawn, leading David to contemplate the glory of his God.

The Egyptians at the time worshipped the sun as the supreme God, and regarded each of the Pharaohs as its incarnation.  Other ancient near eastern cultures wrote hymns to the sun, but in so doing they deified nature.  Unlike this, David saw that the sun was just part of creation, which pointed to its creator.  Creation is not pictured as being divine, but as praising and speaking of the One Who is divine.

The psalmist moves from contemplating the witness of creation to consider that of God’s law.  The God who is creator is also the one who has revealed Himself through his word.

Verses 7-9 are carefully structured with the related pattern of a term for the word of God, followed by a characteristic of it and then an explanation of what it does for the one who studies and follows it.  A variety of terms are used by the psalmist to refer to God’s word: law; statutes or testimony; precepts; commands; fear; rules or ordinances or just decrees.    While these all speak of the same word, and we need not delineate them too clearly, the specific nuances of each term help to shed light on the fuller image which the psalmist is creating.  Most of these words are also found in Psalm 119 which focuses in its entirety on the scriptures; and also in the book of Deuteronomy with reference to the law.  There is also some similarity to the opening chapters of Proverbs where wisdom is extolled.  Here in Psalm 19, to each of the terms for the law is added a characteristic: it is perfect; sure; upright; pure; clean or radiant; and true.  After each of these come an explanation of the effect it has on the human life: ‘reviving the life’; ‘making wise the simple’; ‘making the heart rejoice’ ; ‘enlightening the eyes’; ‘enduring forever’ and ‘entirely righteous’.

The terms for the law come together with the characteristics of and activities ascribed to God’s word build up a description of something which can and does have a powerful effect on those who read or hear, and obey it.

The first term is ‘law’, or in the Hebrew ‘torah’.  This in its strictest sense can be used specifically of the first five books of the Old Testament, Genesis – Deuteronomy and of the covenant made between God and His people through Moses.   After the completion of the Old Testament canon, it was usually divided into three subsections, the law, the prophets and the writings.  David of course composed this Psalm before these divisions were as rigid, and in any case, ‘law’ could have wider connotations than strictly the first five books, and could even include oral teaching.  Particularly after the time of Ezra it could include all that was regarded as Holy Scripture.[12] Calvin concluded that the Psalmist has in view ‘the whole body of doctrine of which true religion and godliness consists’[13].

The English word ‘law’ to us can have an impersonal legal sense, but the Hebrew concept of ‘torah’ conveys a sense of teaching instruction or direction.  The law is declared to be ‘perfect’ or ‘blameless’. The term ‘perfect’ was usually applied to sacrifices.  It conveys the idea of an animal which is spotless or flawless and thus suitable to be offered as a sacrifice.  In applying it to the law the psalmist points to the sufficiency of Holy Scripture.  The reason that it is perfect, is, of course, because it comes from the Lord.

It revives the soul.  When God breathed into Adam’s nostrils he became a living soul.  The law revives the soul, Craiggie expands: ‘it is the fundamental force, restoring to full vigor and vitality the flaggering spirit of mankind, and providing him with the enduring inner food without which life cannot be fully lived’[14].  In the third verse of Psalm 23, the same action is attributed directly to God –

2 He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,

3 he restores my soul.
He guides me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.

The phrase could by used of food, as in Lam. 1:11

(ESV)11All her people groan
as they search for bread;
they trade their treasures for food
to revive their strength.

This restoring or reviving is the giving of life.  God’s word imparts spiritual life to those who follow it and sustains them in this life.[15] In the opening of Deut 4 Moses commands obedience to the law and refers to its life-giving qualities: –

Deut 4:1 Hear now, O Israel, the decrees and laws I am about to teach you. Follow them so that you may live and may go in and take possession of the land that the LORD, the God of your fathers, is giving you.

The second part of verse 7 says: –

The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy,
making wise the simple.

While the NIV uses the word ‘statutes’ here other translations of the word include ‘commands’, ‘witness’ and most commonly ‘testimony’.  The word was often used of the Ten Commandments, and the ark containing the stone tablets was commonly called the ark of the testimony.  While the term is not limited to the Ten Commandments, they form the basis of God’s law.  The psalmist goes on to describe this testimony as being ‘sure’ or ‘trustworthy’.  He then explains that it makes wise the simple.  In the book of Proverbs three main types of people are discussed: the wise, the foolish, and the simple. The wise follow the teaching of God, while the fool is strongly and consistently opposed to God’s teaching.  The simple is not strongly committed to either extreme but is easily led by others.[16] Here in Psalm 19, the testimony of the Lord is credited with the ability to take the simple and make him wise.  A slightly different approach sees the simple here not as naïve, but as those who in a childlike manner humbly accept the truth of God.[17] Dahood has suggested that ‘simple’ should read ‘mind’ creating a better parallel, with the instruction of God reviving the soul, giving wisdom to the mind, rejoicing the heart and enlightening the eyes.[18]

The first part of verse 8 declares: –

8 The precepts of the LORD are right,
giving joy to the heart.

The word ‘precepts’ has the idea of commandments, statutes or mandates of God.  Precepts are things which God has commanded us to do, particularly detailed instructions for everyday life.  They are right, they are correct and we should rejoice to obey them.  The heart is not limited to the emotions, but is also the centre of rational thinking and man’s will.

The psalmist continues in the second part of verse 8: –

The commands of the LORD are radiant,
giving light to the eyes.

The idea behind the word commandment is ‘that which has been appointed’.  By his commands God has appointed for us what we should do and what we should not do.  The NIV follows the suggestion that ‘radiant’ is the intended sense in this verse.  A number of other translations prefer the word ‘pure’.  If radiant is the intention a similarity with the reference to the sun in the first half of the psalm may be created.[19] The idea of radiance is implied by ‘giving light to the eyes’, whether we translate it as radiant or pure.  Pure would refer to being clean and without sin, unalloyed and free from impurities.  Unlike any manmade system of ethics God’s commandments are entirely pure.  Our eyes need light in order to see properly.  Likewise we need commandments in order to know how to behave properly.  Thus the commandments enlighten the eyes.  Knight notes that when a hungry wanderer is given food and drink, the light returns to his eyes.  So should be our attitude to the word of God.

In verse 9 we meet the most unusual term for the word of God in this psalm: –

9 The fear of the LORD is pure,
enduring forever.

In another context this would be thought to refer to a disposition or activity, fearing the Lord.  Yet here it is placed parallel with 5 terms referring to the instruction of God.  The emphasis of the second part of the expression also differs from the others.  Here it is ‘enduring forever’, while the others refer to the law’s influence on man: ‘reviving the soul’, ‘making wise the simple’, ‘rejoicing the heart’ and ‘enlightening the eyes’.  This one however, and the one following it, refer to God’s instruction itself, without specific reference to its working in the life of man: it is ‘enduring forever’ and righteous altogether’.  This prepares for the movement into verse 10 where the focus is on the law as more desirable than gold and sweeter than honey.  After this the focus becomes increasingly on man where God’s rules warn his servant.  The closing verses move away from the focus on the scriptures to contemplate man’s relationship with God.

Verse 9 describes the fear of the Lord as being clean and enduring forever.  The fear of the Lord is frequent in Proverbs, and consists in giving Him due awe and reverence, and living a life reliant on Him.  The fear of the Lord would be an unusual term for the scripture, and some have noted that changing little more than a letter in the Hebrew would allow the term to be changed from ‘fear’ to ‘word’, suggesting the possibility of a copist’s mistake.  However there are no mss which include the term ‘word’ and it seems likely such a mistake would have been noticed.  While fear of the Lord is an unusual term for the scriptures, due reverence for God is necessary to learn from His word and His word teaches us to fear Him.  It is not a distressing, weakening fear, but is clean, helping us to grow in Christ.  The fear of the Lord is clean; it is free from the dirt of our sinful thoughts and lives.  The thought of the psalmist’s own sinfulness will come into focus later in the Psalm.  The precepts of God are the revealed way by which we revere Him.  God’s word endures forever.  Jesus told His disciples ‘Matt 24: 35Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.’[20] It is not only enduing in that it will exist forever, but also in that it endures in every circumstance of life in which we may find ourselves.

The closing part of verse 9 contains the last of the six expressions about the scriptures.  It says: –

The ordinances of the LORD are sure
and altogether righteous.

Other translations for ordinances include rules, just decrees, judgements, decisions.  It can be used of a judge’s verdict or a formal decree.  As well as general laws, within the narrative of scripture we find God passing Verdict on the activities of people and of nations.  Through these we can learn what pleases God.  While as Christians we are not under the law, it can still serve to show us God’s righteous standards and our own need of his grace.[21] The psalmist moves on in the closing verses, having considered the word of God, to contemplate his own sinfulness and his need of divine forgiveness, a forgiveness we now have in Christ.  God’s ordinances are ‘sure’ or ‘true’, they convey accurately God’s will to us, and they are stable enough to be relied upon.  They are ‘righteous altogether’ because they are revealed by the One who is righteous, the Lord Himself.

As we said with the children the ordinances of God are more to be desired than gold.  People constantly strive for wealth, but how many truly strive to and delight in doing God’s will.  God’s just decrees are sweeter than honey to the psalmist.  We may crave sweet food and increased wealth, but do we really have the greater yearning for the words of the living God that David expresses here?

Verse 11 adds: –

11 By them is your servant warned;
in keeping them there is great reward.

God’s ordinances warn us so that we can avoid the danger of sin.  Ezekiel was appointed a watchman over Israel by God, and the messages he brought from the Lord described as warnings from God to the people about their wickedness.[22] Warning has the idea of lightening up or illumining, (creating another reference to light, referring back to the discussion of the sun).  Just as turning on a light allows us to see obstacles clearly, God’s ordinances allow us to see the right way to go, and the wrong things to avoid.  Probably the best known verse of Psalm 119 compares God’s word to a lamp and a light.

105 Your word is a lamp to my feet
and a light for my path.

We need this illuminating warning from God, because we do not know the way to live ourselves.  Proverbs says in 2 places: –

Prov 14:12 (16:25) There is a way that seems right to a man,
but in the end it leads to death.

God’s word reveals to us warnings, but we must not just read and know the warnings, but also act upon them. James 4:17 says

17Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.

Great reward is spoken of here for the servant of God.  Just doing God’s will is reward in itself.  Following God’s ordinances will result in assurance and growth of character.  Specific rewards have already been spoken of: ‘reviving the soul’; ‘making wise the simple’; ‘making the heart rejoice’ ; ‘enlightening the eyes’.  It is, of course, through God’s word that we know of the way of salvation by faith, and thereby eternal reward.

The servant of God is one who belongs to God and who is dependent on Him.  By using the term ‘your servant’ in verse 11 the psalmist moves for the first time from talking about God, to talking to God.  In verse 12, 13 and 14 he moves into direct petition to the Lord.

The psalmist never explicitly raised the negative aspects of the world around us, such as natural disasters.  However, the closing verses focus on that the reason that creation is corrupted, man’s sin.  Clines argues that behind the entire description of the law here lies the story of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in Genesis 2 and 3, Genesis 1 being the background to the first part of the psalm.  According to Clines, a number a parallel phrases between Psalm 19 and Genesis 2-3 suggest that the psalmist is trying to suggest that the law of God is a superior means of attaining wisdom than eating from the tree of knowledge.

While God’s word provides warnings to the psalmist, and he esteems it more highly than gold or honey, he is still conscious that he sins, and needs God’s forgiveness and His help to avoid sin.

This is the theme of verses 12 and 13, which read: –

12 Who can discern his errors?
Forgive my hidden faults.

13 Keep your servant also from willful sins;
may they not rule over me.
Then will I be blameless,
innocent of great transgression.

In writing this Psalm David contemplates his own sinfulness, and in corporate singing of the psalm others are encouraged to do the same.  He asks ‘who can discern his errors’ or ‘Who has full knowledge of his errors?’[23], ‘Who can notice every mistake?’[24].  In this verse David addresses the fact that we often sin without even being aware of the sin.  We have committed sins about which we have forgotten, or of which we were not conscious in the first place.  It has been said that we should not mistake a poor memory for a clear conscience.  The Psalmist’s response is to ask God to forgive these hidden faults.  These faults are hidden even to ourselves.  We can also try to hide our errors from others.  But God knows about them and we need His forgiveness.  The word hidden was used in verse 6, where, speaking of the sun, it is declared: ‘nothing is hidden from its heat.’  And our sins are not hidden from God unless we have His forgiveness.  ‘Forgive’ in verse 12 is in some versions translated ‘Declare me innocent’.  This is not a proclamation of innocence because no sins have been committed, but because they have been forgiven by God in His grace.  Unlike David and the first singers of this Psalm we can now know that our sins are dealt with through Christ’s death.

Verse 13 moves from hidden errors to wilful sins, sins where one is conscious of doing wrong.  David, and the singer, asks that he be kept back from these by the Lord.  (The word ‘sins’ is not actually in the text, and so it could possibly refer instead to being kept from presumptuous or wicked people, and their negative influence or control.  However virtually all translations take it to refer to presumptuous sins, which fits the thrust of the passage much better.[25])  These ‘wilful sins’ or ‘presumptuous sins’ are committed in ‘arrogant disregard of divine commands’[26].  The Law of Moses distinguished between these two kinds of sins.  The hidden faults, or ‘sins of inadvertence’ could be dealt with by the sacrificial system; the presumptuous sins were not normally able to be dealt with by the sacrificial system.  Two main examples of these are murder and adultery, but yet we know from scripture that David himself was forgiven these by God’s grace and mercy.  II Sam 12:13 records: –

13 Then David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the LORD.”
Nathan replied, “The LORD has taken away your sin. You are not going to die.

The term ‘great transgression’ was sometimes used of adultery in the ancient near east, but it here probably refers to great sin in general.[27]

In verse 11 David spoke of himself as God’s servant, and he does so again at the start of verse 13.  This forms a contrast with the next part of verse 13 where he fears sins could have dominion over him.  He desires to be the servant of God and not of sin.

The Psalmist declares ‘Then I shall be blameless’.  The word ‘blameless’ is related to the word ‘perfect’ in verse 7:

7 The law of the LORD is perfect,
reviving the soul.

Psalm 1 declares of the blessed man: –

2 But his delight is in the law of the LORD,
and on his law he meditates day and night.

In Psalm 19:14 David asks the Lord to make the mediation of his heart acceptable in His sight.  This is not the natural state of the contents of fallen man’s words and thoughts.  At the time of the flood Genesis 6 records God’s view of those people then living: –

5 The LORD saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time.

David asks for much the opposite of this, that the thoughts of his heart be acceptable in God’s sight.  The phrase ‘be acceptable’, like the earlier term ‘perfect’ in verse 7 is usually used of sacrifices.  Leviticus 22 uses both terms when describing acceptable sacrifices: –

21And when anyone offers a sacrifice of peace offerings to the LORD to fulfill a vow or as a freewill offering from the herd or from the flock, to be accepted it must be perfect; there shall be no blemish in it.

Formulas of dedication similar to this last verse of Psalm 19 could be spoken over sacrifices as they were being presented to the Lord.  While verse 14 could be taken out of this context and used as a general plea for God to control our inner disposition, it can refer to the Psalm which has just been sung.  The Psalmist and the singer ask that the song be acceptable to the Lord as would be a sacrifice.  The psalm opened with the speech of the heavens and closes with the speech of the psalmist.  Prayers in the Psalms usually open with the address ‘O Lord’, but here the Psalmist keeps it to the end.  He describes the Lord as: ‘my rock and my redeemer’.  The One who made the heavens, is the one who has revealed himself in his word and is the one who has a personal relationship with men and women, both in David’s time and today.

We today know more about nature, the world around us and the sky above us than the writer and first singers of this psalm.  We, unlike them have a completed canon of scripture.  We can know full forgiveness through Christ.  Should the words of this psalm not then ring as true for us as when it was first written?


[1] Cited Wiersbe p.77

[2] El.  Tesh & Zorn, p.188

[3] Dan 12:3

[4] So Knight, p.94

[5] Knight, p.93f

[6] Craigie, p.180

[7] Nötscher cited Fraus, p.270

[8] Wiersbe, p.78

[9] Mays, p.97

[10] Eaton, p.492 (not taking this view)

[11] Morris, Romans, p.392f.

[12] Fraus p.273

[13] cited Mays, p.99

[14] Craiggie, p.182 cf ‘imparting refreshment to the inner man, his true soul-food’ Briggs & Briggs cited Clines p.8

[15] references on this thought Wiersbe, p.80

[16] ESVSB Intro to Proverbs: Character types in proverbs.

[17] So Wiersbe, p.80 (Matt 11:25 luke 10:21)

[18] Tesh & Zorn, p.191

[19] by Dahood, see Whybray, p.44

[20] Mat. 24:35; Mark 13:31; Luke 21:33

[21] Wiersbe, p.82

[22] 3:17

[23] BBE

[24] GW

[25] contra Fraus ‘Against the wicked protect your servant’.  (cf YLT  ‘Also–from presumptuous ones keep back Thy servant’)

[26] ESVSB

[27] For Clines it is an allusion to the fall of man. p.13

Character of God

1 Jun

Mark D. Futato in his Interpreting the Psalms: An Exegetical Handbook, (Kregel Publications, 2007) p.165, discussing the songs of confidence, makes the following comment.  (emphasis added)

‘It is one thing to sing a hymn when all is well, or a lament when trouble is on all sides, or a song of thankgiving when God has delivered us from disstress.  In each of these cases our song and circumstances match.  To express profound confidence in God when help has not yet come is quite another matter.  In this case we experience a disconnect between our song and our situation.  As we have seen, however, our confidence is not rooted in our situation but in the character of God.  He is our refuge, our shepherd, our “mother,” our guardian and our surrounding mountain.  [H]e is our King who reigns over our lives and the world he has made.’

Book available for limited preview on Google books: http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=Kzvk8udC-H8C&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_navlinks_s#v=onepage&q=our%20confidence%20is%20not%20rooted%20in%20our%20situation%20but%20in%20the%20character%20of%20God&f=false

(or you can borrow mine depending on who you are)

Take Kerr.

Invisible Book Shelf

31 May
Umbra Conceal Floating Book Shelf, Small

Umbra Conceal Floating Book Shelf, Small

I don’t own this, nor have I ever seen it in real life, and have no idea from experience of how good or otherwise it is, and do not intend to purchase it as I don’t want to drill my walls.  Nevertheless, it looks intriguing, and I needed an excuse to practice adding a picture.  It is available by Amazon for £10.00.  (larger size £14:00).

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Umbra-Conceal-Floating-Shelf-Small/dp/B000IVRTBO/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=kitchen&qid=1275341640&sr=8-1

Suggestions

31 May

Suggestions of what to do with this, now that @twokindsofwords has gone to the bother of setting it up for me would be welcomed.

Take Kerr.

Test 1

28 May

Hello World!

Hello world!

27 May

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