Many believers today have the idea ingrained in their brains that God may cause evil, or bad things, to happen to people in order that God may bless another with something good. There are probably thousands upon thousands of examples given by those who hold to this belief. The death or sickness of a loved one was God's way of bringing a relative to salvation, or God caused a horrific disaster that lead many to Christ; we have all heard such testimonies. When questioned by those who are not believers, or by believers who simply can not ascribe such acts to God, the testifiers claim that we must not seek answers or question God as we can not possibly understand how God works.
Many thousands of years ago, a young man who was loved dearly by his father endured a horrific situation. He was ripped from his father by his own brothers and sold to slave traders. Most of us are very familiar with the story of Joseph, his beautiful coat, and very jealous brothers. The question is, was God the cause of Joseph's brothers selling Joseph in order that some good might be done in the future? This is what countless Christians believe and teach; it must be so as God controls everything.
My goal is to take a look at some of of the passages in Genesis relating to this story and examine whether God authored Joseph's ordeal. If you wish to read the entire saga, it begins in Genesis chapter 37.
"...God intended it for good..."
Genesis 50:20 Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people, as he is doing today.
Genesis 50 seems to solidify the fact that God did sell Joseph into slavery so that a good purpose could be served. Was there a lapse in time between the sale of Joseph and God's plan? Or, were these acts one in the same? We know that God had plans for Joseph's family, but how does this story fit into God's plans?
It is interesting to see that nowhere in the portion of the story when Joseph is sold into slavery do we find that God caused this to happen, or that Lord had any hand in it. The first time we hear of the Lord is in Genesis 39:2 where it is stated that the Lord was with Joseph and everything that Joseph did as a slave was blessed and the Lord caused Joseph to prosper, as a slave. In other words, Joseph did a very good job and also, Joseph most likely was not the most private in his worship of his God. Joseph was a testimony for the Lord among a land of idol worshipers.
Genesis 41 gives us yet more insight into whose hands were working for Joseph's favor. Pharaoh had strange dreams that none of his wisest men could interpret. Here is a place where we can see God's hand begin to work in Joseph's life (and in Pharaoh's), and that of the areas in and surrounding Egypt. The dreams ultimately point towards a coming disaster. When Israel as an established nation suffered at God's hands due to a breakdown in their relationship with God, God lets Israel know what is coming and that God has caused it. This of course is the case here. Joseph proclaims to Pharaoh that God indeed is going to cause a famine. Here is an early act of power displayed by God to the world, just as God displays to a future Pharaoh in Exodus.
"See, I have..." Genesis 41:41 And Pharaoh said to Joseph, "See, I have set you over all the land of Egypt."
As a result of God's work through Joseph, Joseph is placed in a position of immense power in Egypt. Such a position will ensure that God's plans for Israel will continue. Genesis 41:38-41 we see that Pharaoh, not God, placed Joseph in this position. Pharaoh sees no alternative that makes sense; because of God, Joseph is wise and must be the one who can lead them through the coming famine. I believe this was entirely Pharaoh's decision. If Pharaoh had not come to this conclusion then God would have provided a way for Joseph to lead. I sincerely believe that if God had directly placed Joseph into the position over Egypt that the scriptures would surely tell us so. God shares power, it's true. We can also see the Pharaoh's heart towards God when comparing him to the future Pharaoh who had a disposition against Israel. How soon God is forgotten when things are going well.
Note the next point to when Joseph gives any glory to God. It is not until he is blessed with a son, Manasseh, that Joseph praises God for making him forget all of his troubles endured while in Egypt. We must take pause and wonder if Joseph praised God at his new seat of power; certainly the Pharaoh did in a certain manner, just by his actions.
"...What is this that God has done to us?" Genesis 42:28
Genesis 42 continues the saga of Joseph. His brothers appear on the scene during the famine seeking food to bring back home. Without going into detail, you can read for yourself, Joseph works to make sure the brothers will return with Benjamin, Joseph's unknown youngest brother. Verse 28 shows how the brothers incorrectly attribute the acts of Joseph to God. Furthermore, Jacob in no way blames God for any of this, in verse 36, Jacob simply exclaims that "All this has happened to me!" Jacob does not blame God as his sons did! We can also see the guilt ridden brothers try to see some type of judgment in their situation when, in fact, there is none!
Genesis 43:23 He replied, "Rest assured, do not be afraid; your God and the God of your father must have put treasure in your sacks for you; I received your money."
Joseph now tells his brothers that God put the money in your sacks. He states that he has received the money they paid for the grain. Of course this is not true! God never placed any money in the sacks, Joseph did. So why then would Joseph claim this? I believe Joseph is very emotional at this point, he is overwhelmed at the sight of his brothers, the same that sold him into slavery. Yet, Joseph shifts blame away from them or himself and towards God in order to ease their conscience. Joseph, a very man whom the Lord is with, a man who fears God, does not seek judgement but want reconciliation though he is not quite reading to declare his purpose. We must not attribute things to God that have not been plainly stated that they are a s such.
When the brothers return Joseph again has something, a silver chalice, placed in the sack of Benjamin. Again the brothers are dismayed and this time are brought back to Joseph by his servant. In Genesis 44:16 the brothers again lay the cause of this at God's feet as a judgement yet it was Joseph, not God who engineered the 'theft'.
"...for God sent me before you to preserve life." Genesis 45:5
I believe that we see the same language used by Joseph in Genesis 45 as we did back in chapter 43. Once Joseph tells his bothers who he is he can see the guilt and self-condemnation on their faces. Joseph wants, in no way, for his brothers to have such guilt. This is an amazing picture isn't it? The brothers were deserving of death, if not at least a life of slavery for their actions. Yet Joseph has no such thoughts! His only wish is to again be reunited with his family! No retribution, only reconciliation, just as with God our Father who wishes to have the world conciliated to Himself. I do not believe that Joseph attributing his brothers actions to God.
"...God intended it for good..."
Genesis 50:20 Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people, as he is doing today.
So now we come back to chapter 50 and the question of the entire saga of Joseph in Egypt as being attributed to God.
If you remember back in chapter 37, Joseph had dreams of his rise to power. I do believe it was a position that God desired Joseph to be in for the specific reason that God's people needed to grow and multiply. Egypt as a current world leader was the place that God chose.
Joseph's brothers action against him was clearly viewed as sinful. Read Genesis 42:22, Reuben declares as much. If God was the catalyst in Joseph being thrown into a pit, possibly murdered, or being sold as a slave, then God was the cause of sin. This can not be as we know God is not the author of sin! I believe God did have a plan but the way in which the plan was to come about was never set in stone. This was certainly not a case of righteous judgment against Joseph or his family. The brothers were jealous and acted on their own. What they intended for harm against Joseph, God used for good. God did intend for Joseph to be in a position of leadership and strength which is clear from Joseph's own dreams; the manner in which it worked was not necessarily all of God's doing. I firmly believe their are other such places in scripture where we can see God as having an ultimate goal or plan yet men thwart God's plan at certain points yet, God still can take these actions and work them toward the desired goal.
To often God is seen as a being that moves everything like pawns in a giant plan to accomplish God's goals while creation has no say or choice in the play leading to the finale. I believe that far more than not, God shares the movements that reach toward the finale with creation. What makes for a greater God? One that must make sure every single aspect of life towards the final goal of All In All is strictly controlled, or a God that can sit back and let creation develop a true relationship in which there is give and take, a sharing in the plan, yet still see the plan through?
"God will seek us -- how long? Until he finds us. And when he's found the last little shriveling rebellious soul and has depopulated hell, then death will be swallowed up in victory, and Christ will turn over all things to the Father that he may be all and in all. Then every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." --Clarence Jordan - (founder of Koinonia Community, author of “Cotton Patch Gospel”) Taken from the Tentmaker webpage- http://www.tentmaker.org/Quotes/uniquotes.htm#OnTheRestorationofAllThings
In my frequent reading of Christian books I often read that I should be advancing the Kingdom of God on earth. Somehow I need to work in my own life or community to bring God's Kingdom; it is my (or our) responsibility. Exhortations are made to do more good works, live like Jesus, sin less or stop sinning (as if that is even possible), and other such ideas. While I certainly agree that living like or following the ways of Jesus during his earthly ministry are very worthwhile and profitable, I wonder if it is really our responsibility to bring any kingdom down from heaven.
One confusing idea is that most Christians can't wait until they are "in heaven" yet many still speak with such joy over bringing the kingdom to earth. Is there really a difference? Will heaven and earth kind of meld together? Or are Christians just so impatient that they have to insist the Kingdom be here now since they have to wait for heaven.
How do we bring the Kingdom of God to earth? Can we even do this? It seems the idea is that by making the world a better place where everyone gets along, there is no war, the earth is cared for, the starving are fed, slavery is eliminated completely, and a host of other qualifications, that God will be coaxed into bringing the Kingdom to us. It is even how many pray and numerous modern day Christian songs have such lyrics. Bring your Kingdom!
There are many scriptures which show this is not what is expected of the Christian today. I would like to call out just a few. Now, this is not to say that we should not live Christ-like lives or feed the hungry and end slavery! We should be doing these things and more! However, I believe we do these things for a different reason.
The apostle of our day is Paul. He is the apostle to the nations which were those outside of Israel. In fact, today, there is no biblical Israel. I know that will upset many, but it is true. There will be a biblical Israel again, just not now. So, the twelve apostles were sent to the ends of the world for who? Not the nations, but to the lost house of Israel. While many Jews lived in the Roman province of Israel, many lived among the nations and that is where the twelve were to go and minister. Paul was sent to the gentiles, or nations. It is for this reason that I do much of my reading and study from Paul's writings.
Colossians 3:1-3 (NET BIBLE) (1) Therefore, if you have been raised with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. (2) Keep thinking about things above, not things on the earth, (3) for you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God.
Colossians is a Pauline epistle, a letter, which he wrote to the believers in Colosse. The passage above is a familiar one to many believers. It's message is simple, focus on heavenly things, where Christ is. If we are not sure what those things are, Paul gives us some ideas over the next few verses. Mainly, I believe, if we just focus on Christ alone, the rest will follow. Mostly, I want to draw attention to the place were we are to set our affections, or seek the things of, this being "above" or "at the right hand of God". Many will call this place heaven which it is, but also is not (that's just a thought for you to dwell on!).
Colossians 3:11 (NET) (11) Here there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all and in all.
Notice chapter 3 and verse 11. Paul says that in the "here" there is not a difference between several groups of people. In Paul's day there was a big difference between them! Where is "here"? Is it on earth? I do not believe so! Remember where we are seeking things? Above, where Christ is. That is the "here" or in some translations, the "where". In Christ there is no division or separation of individuals due to nationality or status of freedom. There are just people that are believers, people that are part of the body of Christ. There is no call in these scriptures to bring down the things above and apply them to earth. There is a call for us to seek them and apply them to our lives.
But Dan, we are living on earth! Yes, you are. But...where are you suppose to be living? Spiritually?
Ephesians 1:3 (NET) (3) Blessed is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms in Christ.
That is a great passage! Notice where our blessings are? In the "above", the "heavenly realms". Honestly, I do not look for God given blessings of the physical or earthly nature because I do not believe God is providing these today. The next passage really says a lot about us, the body of Christ!
Ephesians 2:4-7 (NET) (4) But God, being rich in mercy, because of his great love with which he loved us, (5) even though we were dead in transgressions, made us alive together with Christ -- by grace you are saved! -- (6) and he raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, (7) to demonstrate in the coming ages the surpassing wealth of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.
Notice verse 6, we are seated with Christ in the "above", in fact this is in the far above, the above of the heavens. I like to think of this place as the end of creation. That's how far above! This is where I am, spiritually, today. It is where I am to walk, talk, do, and seek. Notice Paul says there is a purpose for us as well; for God to demonstrate His Grace in Christ towards us. I have no desire to "bring God's Kingdom here", to earth. God has a special purpose for His Son's body! That is where I desire to be.
There will be a Kingdom on this earth someday, and I won't be a part of it either. I may have some work to do in it, but it will not be mine.
2 Timothy 2:15 (NRSV) (15) Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved by him, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly explaining the word of truth.
Do you wonder what God says about you? When you "slip-up" and sin do you think that God is suddenly disappointed with you? If God is surrounded by angelic hosts what do they talk about concerning the Body of Christ which is made up of us?
My dad recently asked our congregation, if God was to write your biography what would it say? I admit that I was stopped cold in thought. My mind instantly began wandering to my life, at least what I could remember, and how short I am of God's glory. How could God write anything good about me? I sat quietly not wanting to give the wrong answer! When my dad gave the answer, certainly to a trick question, it seemed so obvious that I felt pretty dumb! Of course I should have known the answer, but there was doubt. Why?
I believe that most faithful bible readers do the scriptures a great disservice. One, they do not divide rightly and try to take everything for our age which is utterly confusing. Secondly, how often do we read and not let the word soak us to the core of our being. In other words, do we really believe what we are reading is true to us so that it becomes part of our life? A simple question like what God would write for my biography should be easily answered since I have read particular passages which speak to this very question weekly!
Matthew 5:44 says to "...Love your enemies and bless those who persecute you...". How do I bless those who curse me? Do I give them things? Do I invite them to church or pay for their gas? The word "bless" occurs frequently in the scriptures; how do we know what it is to "bless" someone?
Paul, in Romans 12, echoes the words of Jesus in Matthew chapter 5. Romans 12:14 states that we should bless those who persecute us. Paul even gets a little more detailed and said to bless them and not to curse them. Further on in verse 20 Paul says to feed your hungry enemies and give them something to drink when they are thirsty. He said that in doing so your enemies will feel shamed. Are we to understand feeding hungry people as giving them a blessing?
When a visitor attends church, or when a special speakers comes we often say it was such a blessing to hear or see them. Of course I agree, it is a blessing. But, is this the idea of what a blessing is in relation to scripture? We certainly feel blessed! The great hymn sings along to "count your many blessings see what God has done". Maybe. I believe we need to simplify how God has blessed us because I feel that our thoughts of blessings has run wild! Amateur Warning: I am not a Greek theologian and use what many refer to as primitive and outdated resources when seeking out the meaning of a Greek word, so bear with me! The word "bless" or its variations of "blessed" and "blessing" come from the Greek word eulogeō which is made up of two Greek words meaning "speak" and "good or well". Strong's Concordance says the word eulogeo means to speak well of. Eulogeo is where our English word eulogy comes from. What is a eulogy? A eulogy is where someone speaks well of another, often used at funerals or memorial services. Have you ever heard someone curse the deceased?
1 Corinthians 4:12 says that we bless when reviled by others or when people abuse us we wish them well. Really Paul? Are you telling me that when someone drops a bunch of obscenities towards me I am suppose to wish them well? Yes! While we were enemies of God, Christ died for us!
The passage I referred to earlier which I read weekly, or close to it, is from Ephesians chapter 1.
Ephesians 1:3 NRSV (3) "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places,"
Lets focus on the second time "blessed" occurs in Ephesians 1:3. God has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places. What does this mean? In light of what the Greek idea of blessed is, I believe that God is (right now) speaking well of us! God speaks well of me! God speaks well of me through Christ as I am in Christ. Come on you say, do you really believe that when you sin God does not get disappointed? That is exactly what I believe. I believe the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ did just what God said it did, canceled all of my sin, in God's eyes. God sees me in His Son, perfect. Now that is amazing because I am far from perfect!
We have a great example of this very fact in Job. The adversary walks the earth seeking to catch humans in wrong doing so he can point fingers and show God how foul God's creation really is. God purposefully plays right into the adversary's game and speaks well of Job. We know Job was not perfect, but God talked about him that way! God said "Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man who fears God and turns away from evil." Blameless and upright!
Psalm 82 tells of the council of God which come before Him. Job 38 says all of the angelic host of heaven shouted for joy over God's creation. 1 Peter 3:22 states the Jesus Christ is at the right hand of the Father with angels, authorities, and powers that are made subject to Him. There are heavenly hosts, probably millions of them, at least, and God speaks well of you to them.
What then is the answer to the question of God writing your biography? I believe my biography would mirror that of my Lord Jesus Christ. Does that sound insane? Out of line? Heresy? It probably does to most of Christianity but it is exactly what I believe. Read Ephesians 2:6, where are you in God's sight? Yes, God speaks well of you.
"It is claimed that universalism does away with free will...what is forgotten is that God has eternity to work in. It is not a question of God, as it were, rushing a man into heaven. It is a question of God using an eternity of persuasion and appeal until the hardest heart breaks down and the most stubborn sinner repents." –William Barclay
Malachi 3:2-3 NRSV: (2) But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner's fire and like fullers' soap; (3) he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the LORD in righteousness.
1 Corinthians 3:15 NRSV (15) If the work is burned up, the builder will suffer loss; the builder will be saved, but only as through fire.
All builders will build on foundations of various materials. 1 Corinthians 3 uses silver, gold, wood, precious stones, hay, and straw as examples. Verse 11 states the Jesus Christ is the foundation; silver, gold, precious stones. Anything built on other than Christ is wood, hay, or straw, flimsy and corruptible. "The builder will be saved, but only as through fire". This was written by Paul to believers who were still young in the Spirit yet older in the flesh. Focus please on the saving fire. If we were to have a brick of gold full of impurities what can be done to see the true value or to make the gold usable? Refine the gold, the impurities are separated, the gold is saved as pure. A refiners fire.
Malachi also speaks of the refiners fire, the messenger is like a refiners fire. Malachi speaks of purifying the tribe of Levi, the priests that have become impure. The LORD does not seek the destruction, total, of the priestly tribe but rather wants to refine them for His future purposes. A purifier of silver removing the dross to reveal pure silver. This passage is very particular in its audience however it speaks to the purpose of the fire. A refiners fire is consuming yet the end goal is not total destruction.
A less familiar metaphor is the use of fullers soap. Near Jerusalem there was a fullers field as told of in Isaiah 36:2. A fuller cleaned linens. Circular vats were filled with water and fullers soap, linens were then trampled on by foot. The soap was very strong and able to whiten fabrics. A field away from the city was necessary as the smell of the process was not desirable. The linens were roughly treated with a purifying result. So, this passage of Malachi presents two important metaphors regarding the purifying nature of our Lord.
Both are a means of purification and are extreme. One is of fire hot enough to melt a precious metal to it's liquid state in order to remove impurities, the other is a rough trampling meant to pound out the ground-in debris and discoloration of linens. If one is to imagine being a brick of impure silver, of a heavily soiled linen, the thought of being melted in such heat or trampled on would be frightful. This is the intent, to melt, to purify.
Ezekiel 22:17-21 NRSV (17) The word of the LORD came to me: (18) Mortal, the house of Israel has become dross to me; all of them, silver, bronze, tin, iron, and lead. In the smelter they have become dross. (19) Therefore thus says the Lord GOD: Because you have all become dross, I will gather you into the midst of Jerusalem. (20) As one gathers silver, bronze, iron, lead, and tin into a smelter, to blow the fire upon them in order to melt them; so I will gather you in my anger and in my wrath, and I will put you in and melt you. (21) I will gather you and blow upon you with the fire of my wrath, and you shall be melted within it.
Fire that proceeds forth from the mouth of God, "the fire of my wrath", is the purifier. God IS the source of the fire. Wrath has a purpose, to purify. Zechariah speaks of a number of God's people from Israel that will be put through the fire for refinement.
Zechariah 13:9 NRSV (9) And I will put this third into the fire, refine them as one refines silver, and test them as gold is tested. They will call on my name, and I will answer them. I will say, "They are my people"; and they will say, "The LORD is our God."
Israel, as a nation, grew in Egypt. God refers to this growing period as a furnace. The people were raised up in a land that became hostile toward them. The nation of God's chosen grew into maturity in the furnace of adversity. The furnace had a reason, to refine until the product was prepared to enter the world.
Jeremiah 11:1-5 NRSV (1) The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD: (2) Hear the words of this covenant, and speak to the people of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem. (3) You shall say to them, Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: Cursed be anyone who does not heed the words of this covenant, (4) which I commanded your ancestors when I brought them out of the land of Egypt, from the iron-smelter, saying, Listen to my voice, and do all that I command you. So shall you be my people, and I will be your God, (5) that I may perform the oath that I swore to your ancestors, to give them a land flowing with milk and honey, as at this day. Then I answered, "So be it, LORD."
The words of God as spoken through the prophet Jeremiah in verse 4 describe Egypt as an "iron-smelter". The furnace was not a place of destruction, it was not the end, it was not a place of eternal torment but it was the beginning for Israel. It was a time of strengthening and preparation. A time to display the mighty works of God. Israel was to grow in faith and trust of their God. The world was to learn of God.
And what of eternal punishment for the lost in a lake of fire? Was this ever God's intention? The valley to the east and south of Jerusalem was a place of abomination. Israel followed the idol worship of other nations by offering their children to Molech. In several places of the Old Testament God speaks of disgust with Israel for this act of heathen worship where children were made to pass through the fire of Molech, to their death. It is said that the idol was a very high statue of metal, hollow, hands outstretched with palms facing upward. The fires were constantly kept burning within the idol heating the hands to unbearable temperatures. The hands held the children as they burned alive. What was God's statement on this cruel practice?
Deuteronomy 12:29-31 NRSV (29) When the LORD your God has cut off before you the nations whom you are about to enter to dispossess them, when you have dispossessed them and live in their land, (30) take care that you are not snared into imitating them, after they have been destroyed before you: do not inquire concerning their gods, saying, "How did these nations worship their gods? I also want to do the same." (31) You must not do the same for the LORD your God, because every abhorrent thing that the LORD hates they have done for their gods. They would even burn their sons and their daughters in the fire to their gods. 2 Kings 17:16-18 NRSV (16) They rejected all the commandments of the LORD their God and made for themselves cast images of two calves; they made a sacred pole, worshiped all the host of heaven, and served Baal. (17) They made their sons and their daughters pass through fire; they used divination and augury; and they sold themselves to do evil in the sight of the LORD, provoking him to anger. (18) Therefore the LORD was very angry with Israel and removed them out of his sight; none was left but the tribe of Judah alone. 2 Kings 21:6 NRSV (6) He made his son pass through fire; he practiced soothsaying and augury, and dealt with mediums and with wizards. He did much evil in the sight of the LORD, provoking him to anger. Ezekiel 20:31 NRSV (31) When you offer your gifts and make your children pass through the fire, you defile yourselves with all your idols to this day. And shall I be consulted by you, O house of Israel? As I live, says the Lord GOD, I will not be consulted by you. Jeremiah 7:31-32 NRSV (31) And they go on building the high place of Topheth, which is in the valley of the son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire--which I did not command, nor did it come into my mind. (32) Therefore, the days are surely coming, says the LORD, when it will no more be called Topheth, or the valley of the son of Hinnom, but the valley of Slaughter: for they will bury in Topheth until there is no more room. Jeremiah 19:4-6 NRSV (4) Because the people have forsaken me, and have profaned this place by making offerings in it to other gods whom neither they nor their ancestors nor the kings of Judah have known, and because they have filled this place with the blood of the innocent, (5) and gone on building the high places of Baal to burn their children in the fire as burnt offerings to Baal, which I did not command or decree, nor did it enter my mind; (6) therefore the days are surely coming, says the LORD, when this place shall no more be called Topheth, or the valley of the son of Hinnom, but the valley of Slaughter.
The LORD said of this terror, "which I did not command or decree, nor did it enter my mind;". Burning a person alive never entered the mind of God. God never even thought of this, ever, until the Israel began to burn their own children. Understand, God NEVER thought of this. God did not foresee that anyone would do such a thing. It NEVER entered God's mind. Is God a liar? God has never intended to burn anyone alive, for eternity, as a punishment for any reason. This should cause us to wonder about the fire that comes straight from the mouth of God. What are the properties of such a fire. Is the fire literal or metaphoric? Are those who are "destroyed" in the fire of God's wrath gone forever?
1 Corinthians 3:15 NRSV: (15) If the work is burned up, the builder will suffer loss; the builder will be saved, but only as through fire.
Near to our home is a great museum of local history. The museum is a village of actual buildings mostly from the Western New York area of the 19th century. One of the buildings is of the local potter. If you are there at the right time the potter is there at his wheel creating amazing pieces of which we have purchased a few for display in our home. Working with clay as one would have done during the mid to late 1800's is a fascinating activity to watch. At times the lump works out very well into a beautiful bowl or pitcher while other times the potter must smash his creation and start over, not because of a mistake, but because the clay is not cooperating due to impurities.
Taking clay from the earth for use is a primitive process that has undergone many changes over thousands of years. In Jeremiah's day there would be a greater chance for impurities or clay that was not ready to work properly than we can obtain today. It was a tedious process of mixing the right amount of water to the raw earthen clay and draining it, then remixing with water and so on until it was ready for sifting to remove the excess water and with it any pebbles, sand, humus, and other organic materials.
Jeremiah 18:1-6 NRSV (1) The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD: (2) "Come, go down to the potter's house, and there I will let you hear my words." (3) So I went down to the potter's house, and there he was working at his wheel. (4) The vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter's hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as seemed good to him. (5) Then the word of the LORD came to me: (6) Can I not do with you, O house of Israel, just as this potter has done? says the LORD. Just like the clay in the potter's hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.
Jeremiah went to the potter's house and witnessed the affects of an impure clay in a potter's hand. The potter had to rework the clay into a different type of vessel, probably after removing the impurity our making a vessel that might be able to be of a different quality using the impure clay. Perhaps it was as simple as adding more water. The idea God wants Jeremiah to take away is that God is making something with someone and if that someone is impure, God can still use them. Of course we see that the certain someone is Israel. Verse 6 states just that, "Can I not do with you, O house of Israel, just as this potter has done? says the LORD. Just like the clay in the potter's hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel."
Jeremiah 18:7-11 NRSV (7) At one moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, (8) but if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will change my mind about the disaster that I intended to bring on it. (9) And at another moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it, (10) but if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will change my mind about the good that I had intended to do to it. (11) Now, therefore, say to the people of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem: Thus says the LORD: Look, I am a potter shaping evil against you and devising a plan against you. Turn now, all of you from your evil way, and amend your ways and your doings.
The LORD continues to speak to Israel through Jeremiah; you are a clay vessel that I am shaping with an evil (calamity) intent because you have not obeyed My words! God declares in the previous verses that God will repent, or change His mind, depending on the actions of nation concerned. Does this imply God's judgments are not set in stone? Does it say that God can change His mind? Yes to both, and more. Regardless of the condition of the clay, God can rework it for good. Israel's evil ways can be changed and God will rework the clay of calamity into a clay of beauty. The outcome depends not on God the potter, but Israel the vessel. Unfortunately the vessel has made up its mind in verse 12, "But they say, "It is no use! We will follow our own plans, and each of us will act according to the stubbornness of our evil will."
Jeremiah is next told to bring a clay pot to the Potshard gate which overlooked the Valley of the Sons of Hinnom, or Topeth (later called Gehenna in the Greek) and to break the pot. Several men of the temple were to accompany Jeremiah to hear of the prophecy that would come to pass due to Israel harden hearts witnessed to in verse 11. The Potshard gate was were broken pottery was taken and piled up like a garbage dump. Potshard pile were used by the people to find usable pieces of broken pottery. Job used a potshard to scrape his sores. According to Isaiah 30:14 pieces that were big enough could be used to removes coals from a fire or as a dipper or ladle for scooping water out of the cistern. Some shards might be used to write on as well.
Jeremiah 19:1-6 NRSV (1) Thus said the LORD: Go and buy a potter's earthenware jug. Take with you some of the elders of the people and some of the senior priests, (2) and go out to the valley of the son of Hinnom at the entry of the Potsherd Gate, and proclaim there the words that I tell you. (3) You shall say: Hear the word of the LORD, O kings of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem. Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: I am going to bring such disaster upon this place that the ears of everyone who hears of it will tingle. (4) Because the people have forsaken me, and have profaned this place by making offerings in it to other gods whom neither they nor their ancestors nor the kings of Judah have known, and because they have filled this place with the blood of the innocent, (5) and gone on building the high places of Baal to burn their children in the fire as burnt offerings to Baal, which I did not command or decree, nor did it enter my mind; (6) therefore the days are surely coming, says the LORD, when this place shall no more be called Topheth, or the valley of the son of Hinnom, but the valley of Slaughter.
Chapter 19 of Jeremiah tells us why judgment was coming. The people had forsaken the LORD and turned to other gods. They also offered their children as live burned offerings which God states never entered His mind, that is to burn anyone alive (think burning in a fictional place called hell). Notice that the valley will no longer retain its given names. What is to happen in this valley to the people of Israel will be a terrible thing that will be remembered for generations to come. In fact Jesus, during his earthly ministry will use it as an example for the hypocritical pharisees. Though modern Christianity have taken Jesus' statements to the pharisees to describe "hell", the pharisees did not understand His words in such a way; they knew what happened in Gehenna.
My dad once told me that he realized, at a point as a father, that the best you can do as a parent is to teach your children what you believe is right. He said that at a certain age your children will eventually go there own way and the hope is that at some point, if they stray, they will return to the teachings you offered them. My own son reached that age recently and I have finally begun to recognize that no amount of anger, wrath, or punishment will change him. He has formed his opinions on life, he has his own way set and somewhat precariously planned; regardless of everything I have been trying to teach him. It is most definitely not the way I would go! He is a smart kid however, and even though I become fearful of how his life might go I am also sure at the same time that he will get through. My wrath has been poured out on my son on more than a few occasions! Unfortunately it was often a quick tempered response that many times allowed a regretful punishment to fly out of my mind. I know I am not alone.
"The secret of God's anger is God's care" -Abraham J. Heschel
I do not intend to equate God's progressive nature of wrath to that of mere humanity. Humanity has a strong tendency to display wrath in an unfair, often selfish and quick tempered way with no previous thought. We, in many different ways, explode. Can we see though that God has changed the nature of God's wrath? I should rather ask if God has altered the order of the steps in which God's wrath occurs? I rephrase the question because God's wrath is always accompanied by God's true nature which is love. Often some will list the attributes of God and attempt to equate wrath as an equal attribute with love. I do not believe this can be done. God's core, God's very being, God's single attribute is love. Everything else we read about coming from God must be seen in this light, love, including wrath.
A major roadblock for the western mind is our own judicial systems. Of course there are many different varieties of judicial systems. The commonality is the desired "final" judgement which obviously varies with the crime. We all want to see the criminal "get theirs". God has a completely different view of a judicial system. Take the book of "Judges" for example. What did the "Judges" do? Did they "judge" in the manner of modern society? No, they delivered Israel, rather God delivered Israel through the judges! While the judge remained alive the people flourished. Another example are the cities of refuge. A man commits a terrible crime and might be sent to such a city to avoid certain death. If the man lived long enough he may eventually be allowed back into his own city. Cain worried about revenge taken against him after he murdered his brother yet God provided a way for Cain to live without this fear; even worse to our modern minds, Cain had children and great societies, cities and cultures come from him! That is some punishment! Big deal right? So what, Cain could not rely on farming anymore, he could adapt! How unjust!
Deuteronomy 10:13 NRSV (13) and to keep the commandments of the LORD your God and his decrees that I am commanding you today, for your own well-being.
The desire of God was to provide Israel with a way to keep them safe and well cared for. God loved Israel. God did not begin with thoughts of wrath and anger. God began with thoughts of care and a desire for Israel to be the light of then nations whom God also loved.
Exodus 20:4-6 Brenton (4) Thou shalt not make to thyself an idol, nor likeness of anything, whatever things are in the heaven above, and whatever are in the earth beneath, and whatever are in the waters under the earth. (5) Thou shalt not bow down to them, nor serve them; for I am the Lord thy God, a jealous God, recompensing the sins of the fathers upon the children, to the third and fourth generation to them that hate me, (6) and bestowing mercy on them that love me to thousands of them, and on them that keep my commandments.
In Exodus 20 God sets a plan of wrath. If Israel sins the children of the sinning generation will suffer all the way through the fourth generation! That is a long time for people to suffer the wrath for something a long lost relative did. In verse 6 we see mercy, after a long period of wrath. After the commandments were given Moses went back up the mountain to receive further instruction from God. This is a familiar story.
Exodus 32:7-10 Brenton (7) And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, Go quickly, descend hence, for thy people whom thou broughtest out of the land of Egypt have transgressed; (8) they have quickly gone out of the way which thou commandedst; they have made for themselves a calf, and worshiped it, and sacrificed to it, and said, These are thy gods, O Israel, who brought thee up out of the land of Egypt. (10) And now let me alone, and I will be very angry with them and consume them, and I will make thee a great nation.
Notice that the original wrath God intended to pour out through the fourth generation is not even considered! God decides instead to wipe them all out and start over again with Moses. We know that Moses interceded and appealed to God's sense of humiliation to save Israel.
The next time we see the same thought from God as expressed in Exodus 20 is in Exodus 34. Something changes here. Notice that God begins with the statement of mercy and adds long-suffering, compassion, and truth. God sates that God will take away iniquity and unrighteousness on thousands. Then God, lastly, gives mention of holding the children through the fourth generation guilty for their ancestors sin.
Exodus 34:6-7 Brenton (6) And the Lord passed by before his face, and proclaimed, The Lord God, pitiful and merciful, long-suffering and very compassionate, and true, (7) and keeping justice and mercy for thousands, taking away iniquity, and unrighteousness, and sins; and he will not clear the guilty; bringing the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and to the children's children, to the third and fourth generation.
The next time we read of God's declaration regarding the generations and the guilt of sin is in Ezekiel.
Ezekiel 18:14-21 Brenton (14) And if he beget a son, and the son see all his father's sins which he has wrought, and fear, and not do according to them, (15) and if he has not eaten on the mountains, and has not set his eyes on the devices of the house of Israel, and has not defiled his neighbor's wife, (16) and has not oppressed a man, and has not retained the pledge, nor committed robbery, has given his bread to the hungry, and has clothed the naked, (17) and has turned back his hand from unrighteousness, has not received interest or usurious increase, has wrought righteousness, and walked in mine ordinances; he shall not die for the iniquities of his father, he shall surely live. (18) But if his father grievously afflict, or plunder, he has wrought enmity in the midst of my people, and shall die in his iniquity. (19) But ye will say, Why has not the son borne the iniquity of the father? Because the son has wrought judgment and mercy, has kept all my statues, and done them, he shall surely live. (20) But the soul that sins shall die: and the son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, nor shall the father bear the iniquity of the son: the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the iniquity of the transgressor shall be upon him. (21) And if the transgressor turn away from all his iniquities which he has committed, and keep all my commandments, and do justice and mercy, he shall surely live, and shall by no means die.
God now keeps the sin with the sinner. The sinner's children, if they keep the law, will not be punished. Verse 19 shows the mind of people! They will ask and wonder why justice has not been served! Even more is that God allows for the sinner to change their ways and live! Numerous times God changed His mind regarding the punishment of Israel. Deuteronomy chapter 30 states that God's total desire was for Israel to live long in the land they were to inherit. God worked out of love for His people. Ultimately God intended for Israel to be a light to all nations so that the nations would be blessed by Abraham's seed. Israel was to bring to God's love the world.
Isaiah 42:6-7 NRSV (6) I am the LORD, I have called you in righteousness, I have taken you by the hand and kept you; I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations, (7) to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.
Every instance of God's wrath poured out on Israel was to bring them back to God so that the ultimate goal would be realized and God's love would be made known to ALL men. Unfortunately Israel never fulfilled God's desire and by Acts 28 Israel was temporarily set aside. Did God's idea of wrath change? I do not believe so but I do see that God must have given thought to how God would reveal His love and over time and through the ever changing relationship with Israel God did adjust how wrath would be used to accomplish His purposes. This by no means suggests that God's nature changed! Rather it suggests that God simply revealed His nature in a different way.
According to Matthew 5:14 we are the "light of the world". This is a fairly common assumption among Christianity. It certainly makes sense. But are we, in the context of Matthew 5, the "light of the world"? Absolutely not! In a sense one could possibly be a light to the world referred to by Jesus, but not literally. Before you hang me upside down by my toes let me explain.
Much of the modern church has little idea that the gospels are not written directly to us. Yet this is where most churches tend to preach from. How much confusion is spread among believers as a result? Are our sins dead, nailed to the cross, or do we still need to confess our sins? Did the cross work accomplish anything or not? If I am still required to confess my sins and ask God's forgiveness than the answer is no, the cross accomplished little. This is but one example out of many. Matthew 5:14 is another. Recently a dear brother at our assembly, Richard Driscoll (with the study help from his brother Tom), gave a wonderful lesson regarding many of the topics Christians hold on to that are truly intended for Israel. Not Israel of today, but of Israel during Jesus' ministry and of Israel in the future. One such topic was from Matthew 5:14. As I was reading this week out of Philippians 2 I was reminded of Dick's lesson.
Philippians 2:15 NET so that you may be blameless and pure, children of God without blemish though you live in a crooked and perverse society, in which you shine as lights in the world
Paul states we are "lights of the world", plural. Is is the same as Jesus stated in Matthew? Let's take a look at the differences. They are quite important.
The first thing that we might ask is why does Paul use "lights", plural. There is a reason and it is significant. The original words for light, and lights, are not the same. "Lights" in the Philippians text is the Greek word phoster, G5458 for lexicons or concordance. It has a simple meaning, illuminator or luminary. Young's Literal Translation uses the word "luminary". The NRSV uses the word "stars" which I find is the most appropriate. When you look at the night sky it is a field of black with pin pricks of light, stars. The stars are not what illuminates the entire sky. Our own star, the sun illuminates the nights sky as its light is reflected off of the surface of the moon. We can see the stars but they are not our source of light.
A star has a job, as far as an inanimate object can have a job. The sun provides light and heat for our solar system. We know that the light of the sun is also a source of energy. As scientists discover stars with planets they are showing us other stars that light their own solar systems. When you look at an image of our Milky Way galaxy there are billions of stars, each one doing its own part. Keep this in mind for a few moments.
Matthews "light" is number G5457 and means luminousness: fire, light. Strong's gives us a note to compare G5457 with two other words. One is "to lighten" or "to show", the other is to "show or make known one's thoughts, that is, speak or say: affirm". What is the difference?
In Matthew 5:14 Jesus is speaking directly to the disciples, no one else. There are others nearby who can here Jesus' instructions. See Matthew 5:1, there are crowds following Jesus so he heads up a mountain. When he finally settles on a spot his disciples join him. in verse 12, Jesus further warns the disciples that they will be persecuted as the prophets were by their own people, Israel. This entire passage was to the disciples only. The second portion of Matthew 5:14 says that "A city on a hill can not be hid". I wonder what city could be referenced here? Jerusalem?
Jerusalem is on a plateau surrounded by a few mountains and very step walled valleys. Have you ever noticed that in scriptures one always goes up to Jerusalem, even when they are situated north of the city? I am in New York and if i were to travel to Florida, I would say I was going down to Florida. Jerusalem was central to Israels system. It was their pride. Though Jesus does not specifically say the city is Jerusalem I believe that it is a good possibility that it was the city on a hill.
Matthew 5:14-16 NRSV (14) "You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. (15) No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. (16) In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.
Please note verse 15 above. Immediately Jesus uses an example involving lighting up a house. The disciples are the light of the world. What world? Here is a very important thing to understand; when "world" is used in scriptures it does not mean "world" as we understand it to mean. The "world" to me is the entire earth. In scripture "world" refers to an ordered system of religion, politics, culture..., while earth, soil, or dirt refers to the earth. Think about "world" for a moment. The United States is an ordered system. Within our country are states, each being their own ordered system. In each state are counties, then towns or villages, each being their own ordered system. What about our own homes? My wife and I govern our own home in different ways than our neighbors, we have our own ordered system, our own world.
Matthew 10:5-6 NRSV (5) These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: "Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, (6) but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.
In Matthew 10: 5-6 Jesus instructs the disciples to go to Israel ONLY. In fact he says to the "house of Israel". As a collective light the disciples are to illuminate the house of Israel. Matthew 15 tells of the woman who is following after Jesus to heal her daughter. When the woman finally gets her chance to speak Jesus tells her he can not help because he is only on the earth for Israel. The woman rightly counters that even the dogs, the nations, feed on the scraps from Israel. Here we see what the entire purpose of Israel was, to be a light unto the nations! The problem was always that Israel was herself in constant darkness. Jesus was there with his disciples to bring light to Israel so they could fulfill their purpose!
Matthew 5:16 NRSV (16) In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.
Notice the instruction regarding works. It is in complete opposition to the works in Philippians 2.
Philippians 2:12-13 NRSV (12) Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; (13) for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
Are you catching the difference? The disciples are to perform good works so the people can see these works and give glory to the Father. Matthew 5:10-20 tells the disciples to make sure that their works are better than the pharisees! Works mattered in the old covenant. What about the works in Philippians? It is of God, God is working in us according to God's plan. We are to work out our own salvation, individually, meaning that we are to show the world God in us. In Galatians, a letter written by Paul to primarily Jews who are constantly trying to tear down the churches and put them under the law, he states in chapter 2 verses 19-21 that he died to the law and that "it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me". Notice verse 10 of Ephesians 2.
Ephesians 2:8-10 NRSV (8) For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God-- (9) not the result of works, so that no one may boast. (10) For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.
God prepared our good works! The disciples could not have Christ in them, they could not have God in them. That became possible through the cross of Christ! The disciples had to be a light to Israel, themselves as followers of Jesus who was the true light. God dwelt in the temple. Jesus dwelt among the disciples. God now dwells in the believer. We are a body of individuals (Ephesians 4:15-16) meant to bring light to our own little worlds, the light is Christ! We have never been called to the entire world and in fact at the time of the disciples, neither were they! (yet). The disciples were only called to light up Israel. You should actually see Matthew, Mark, and Luke as a continuation of the Old Testament. The story is so similar with the exception that their Messiah was actually among them!
Ephesians 4:15-16 NRSV (15) But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, (16) from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body's growth in building itself up in love.
In today's biblical economy we are a light to those we come in contact with. To those at work, at the store, on the street, at home, on vacation. I mentioned you might be a light in Israel; if you travel there and let Christ shine through you then you will be a light in Israel but not in the way the disciples are commanded in Matthew. That's it, it is that simple. We are lights illuminating our immediate surroundings like the sun light our solar system. The disciples where a lamp illuminating the house of Israel.
Jonathan Mitchell translates both Matthew 5:14 and Philippians 2:15 well. According to him we are "folks continuously shinning as illuminators WITHIN the ordered system" while the disciples were "the light OF the ordered system".