Tag Archives: gospel

Random thoughts on race

These thoughts are in no particular order. Just some things racing through my mind.

  1. I have come to wince whenever I read a blog or a comment that begins with “First, I want to say that I condemn all racism; and white supremacy is bad and wicked.” I have found that whenever a comment begins that way, invariably the writer is about to say something horrible.
  2. I applaud this business for firing this openly racist employee.
  3. I wonder if the others who paraded the Nazi symbol and shouted inflammatory hate speech were immediately excommunicated from their congregations as soon as they returned. Something tells me not.
  4. God told Abraham that in his seed (who is Jesus Christ) all the families of the earth would be blessed. You cannot then shout curses at the families of the earth and have any part in Christ.
  5. God forbade the making of images to worship him. Images are powerful. When a statue becomes more important to you than peace and love, or even the lives of men and women in God’s image, you might have a worship problem.
  6. You might say to yourself, “It isn’t the statue, it’s what it represents.” This is exactly what Jeroboam would have said.
  7. If you are more committed to defending the confederacy than the proclamation of the gospel and the advancement of the kingdom of God, you have a worship problem.
  8. #7 can apply to any ideology or any nation.
  9. The kingdom of God is not the United States, the confederate states, or any nation under the sun. The color of your skin is not the criteria of membership in the kingdom of God, but faith in Jesus Christ.
  10. If your fear of other people causes you to take part in or support hate rallies, then you fear the wrong thing.
  11. “Well, the other side does it too!” is the argument of a 2 year old. Eventually, someone has to act like an adult.
  12. My heart breaks for the family and friends of the young woman who was killed. May God’s peace be upon them and may they find comfort in Christ.
  13. #12 has no “but”. Only that.
  14. The Scripture condemns all racism, idolatry, hatred, bigotry, and murder. There is no “but”.
  15. To my Presbyterian friends, something to think about: When you publicly defend the “good things” that Dabney wrote, you immediately alienate half of the country. I don’t understand why you do this.
  16. That’s all for now. I’m going to retreat. This kills me.

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I Love Your Church, O God

At times it is discouraging. At times, it feels as if God has forsaken her. At times, you wonder how many pastors will fall into scandal, how many children will be abused in her day care centers, how many wives will suffer at her hands, how many husbands will have nowhere to go.

At times, you watch evil men soar away in their 60 million dollar jets paid for out of the pensions of widows they have defrauded and abused.

How many times will the sheep be driven away to make room for the wolves? You find them huddled at home, in caves, barred from the communion of the saints – and you wonder, “Has God forsaken the church?”

I understand the voices of those who have declared that they are done with the organization, that they will never join a church again. I hear the stories and I understand. It makes me sad, though. The church is the bride of Christ, the fellowship of the saints is precious. The preaching and the sacraments are indispensable means of grace. So I understand, but I cannot agree with cutting yourself away from the body of Christ. So perhaps this will help.

Please hear me closely, and think about this, especially if you have been driven away from your church by wolves. My goal is not to throw stones at those who have been greatly hurt. I long for your healing. My goal is only to be faithful in my calling and point you to Christ. Christ still loves his bride and still calls you to fellowship with the saints. So think about this: Were you truly driven from the church? Or were you delivered from a synagogue of Satan?

I was thinking this through as I was preparing a Bible study on King Jeroboam.

The Book of the Kings of Judah and Israel (1 and 2 Kings) opens with King Solomon. Solomon is given a great kingdom, promised the blessing and favor of God, and has been granted the privilege and responsibility to build the great Temple of Jehovah in Jerusalem.

The Temple is where God had chosen to place his name. He revealed himself there, accepted the sacrifices and the worship of his people there, atoned for sin there, and there he communed with his people.

But Solomon rebelled against God towards the end of his life, and God divided the kingdom. The ten tribes in the north rejected their allegiance to the house of David in the days of Solomon’s successor, Rehoboam. The northern tribes established their own king. His name was Jeroboam.

Jeroboam made a crucial and deadly theological error. Jeroboam believed that God, whatever he might be named, was an indifferent or hostile being that could be manipulated and controlled through religious ceremonies.Religion, to Jeroboam, was for the purpose of gaining control of the favor and blessings of God, or the gods. The most important thing to Jeroboam was the establishment of his own kingdom, not the fellowship of the one true God.

If Jeroboam had understood the truth, he never would have built for himself temples and calves at Dan and Bethel. God cannot be manipulated or controlled by men. The distance between God and man is so great and profound that it can only be crossed by God himself. Man cannot reach up to God; God must reveal himself to man.

The Westminster Confession puts it like this:

The distance between God and the creature is so great, that although reasonable creatures do owe obedience unto Him as their Creator, yet they could never have any fruition of Him as their blessedness and reward, but by some voluntary condescension on God’s part, which He hath been pleased to express by way of covenant. (Westminster Confession of Faith, 7:1)

Men don’t manipulate, control, or coerce God. God said to Job,

11 Who has first given to me, that I should repay him? Whatever is under the whole heaven is mine. (Job 41:11 ESV)

But God, who was under no necessity and no compulsion, chose freely to condescend to reveal himself to men. This is what we mean by the word “covenant”. He made a covenant with David, that David’s house would be established forever. Eventually, that would be fulfilled in David’s greater son, Jesus. Through David’s house, the usurpation of the devil would finally be overthrown and the kingdom of God established. This was pictured in the kingdom of David and Solomon, but not fulfilled until the King of Kings was raised up on a cross, to finally crush the power of death by his resurrection.

God chose the tribe of Levi to mediate the sacrifices, pointing to Christ who would be the Great High Priest as well as the flawless Lamb of God. God chose the Temple in Jerusalem to picture his own throne in heaven, where we now have perfect access to the God of Mercy because of our true great High Priest, Jesus Christ. Jesus is the Word of God made flesh, for us and for our salvation. Outside of David’s Seed, through the covenant made to the house of David, there is no salvation. There is no fellowship with God apart from God’s covenant with David.

But Jeroboam was a true pluralist. He believed that there are many ways to God. He offered sacrifices because he thought that God perhaps was hungry or needed something from him. He made his worship huge and magnificent, and devised it from his own heart, thinking that God would be impressed and be forced to bless him. Look at how the bible describes what he did:

26 And Jeroboam said in his heart, “Now the kingdom will return to the house of David.
  27 “If this people go up to offer sacrifices in the house of the LORD at Jerusalem, then the heart of this people will return to their lord, even to Rehoboam king of Judah; and they will kill me and return to Rehoboam king of Judah.”
  28 So the king consulted, and made two golden calves, and he said to them, “It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem; behold your gods, O Israel, that brought you up from the land of Egypt.”
  29 And he set one in Bethel, and the other he put in Dan.
  30 Now this thing became a sin, for the people went to worship before the one as far as Dan.
  31 And he made houses on high places, and made priests from among all the people who were not of the sons of Levi.
  32 And Jeroboam instituted a feast in the eighth month on the fifteenth day of the month, like the feast which is in Judah, and he went up to the altar; thus he did in Bethel, sacrificing to the calves which he had made. And he stationed in Bethel the priests of the high places which he had made.
  33 Then he went up to the altar which he had made in Bethel on the fifteenth day in the eighth month, even in the month which he had devised in his own heart; and he instituted a feast for the sons of Israel, and went up to the altar to burn incense.
  (1Ki 12:26-33 NASB)

He wanted to establish his own kingdom. He had no interest in obedience and in trusting Jehovah for salvation. He wanted nothing to do with restored fellowship with God. He wanted money and power.

So he appointed his own priests, he devised his own theology, he created his own worship days, he chose his own place and his own architecture. Notice how many times the Scripture says, “which he had made”.

I imagine him as the first Frank Sinatra, singing in his heart as he ascended the steps of the altar,

“I planned each charted course
Each careful step along the byway
And more, much more than this
I did it my way.”

But God had commanded him to do the exact opposite:

38 ‘Then it will be, that if you listen to all that I command you and walk in My ways, and do what is right in My sight by observing My statutes and My commandments, as My servant David did, then I will be with you and build you an enduring house as I built for David, and I will give Israel to you. (1Ki 11:38 NASB)

The inauguration day of new form of worship at Bethel arrives. The faithful, including the Levites and a few from the other tribes, have narrowly escaped and fled to Judah. The rest of the people (so, so many of them) gathered around the new calf at Bethel. It was magnificent. All the movers and shakers were there. All the singers and wise men and famous people in Israel were there. And Jeroboam solemnly ascends the stairs to the great and wonderful altar – that he devised out of his own heart.

But suddenly from the crowd, there is one voice calling out the Word of the Lord:

“O altar, altar, thus says the LORD, ‘Behold, a son shall be born to the house of David, Josiah by name; and on you he shall sacrifice the priests of the high places who burn incense on you, and human bones shall be burned on you.'” (1Ki 13:2 NASB)

Jeroboam reacts as expected. He throws out his arm and commands “Arrest that man!”

There is much more to say here and wonderful truths to be meditated on. But there is really only one thing I would like to talk about here (blogs can’t address everything):

The man of God wasn’t persecuted by the Church of God. He was persecuted by a usurper, an enemy of the cross of Christ, and an enemy of God masquerading as a religious leader.

Jeroboam devised his own theology, created his own worship, ordained his own priests according to his own criteria, chose his own days of worship, and built his own temple according to the plan of his own mind. And he did it all for only one reason: to establish his own kingdom. It was all about money and power.

The same issue arises frequently in the church. Money and power are powerful aphrodisiacs. This is why Jesus said, “You cannot serve God and Mammon.”

500 years ago, the whole church was under the bondage of the papacy. They faced the same questions while the faithful were driven away from the church, locked in prisons, beaten, and burned alive as criminals. We will soon approach the 500th anniversary of Luther’s bold stand.

And they struggled with the same question: We know that Jesus loves his church, but I am separated from the church because I confessed the truth. Am I schismatic? Am I guilty of dividing the body of Christ?

And the wise pastors of that day realized something. There is a true church and a false church. There is a difference between the two. We know that Christ loves his bride. We know that Jesus commanded us to never forsake the gathering of ourselves together. The apostles commanded the faithful to submit to the pastors and elders of the church.

Does that mean that those who have been driven away from the church are sinning in God’s eyes for not submitting to the wolves in power?

This is why it is so important to learn how to distinguish the true church from the false. The old confession of faith of Reformed Churches summarizes the teaching of scripture this way:

ARTICLE 29 of the BELGIC CONFESSION

THE MARKS OF THE TRUE CHURCH, AND WHEREIN IT DIFFERS FROM THE FALSE CHURCH

We believe that we ought diligently and circumspectly to discern from the Word of God which is the true Church, since all sects which are in the world assume to themselves the name of the Church. But we speak not here of hypocrites, who are mixed in the Church with the good, yet are not of the Church, though externally in it; but we say that the body and communion of the true Church must be distinguished from all sects that call themselves the Church. The marks by which the true Church is known are these: If the pure doctrine of the gospel is preached therein; if it maintains the pure administration of the sacraments as instituted by Christ; if church discipline is exercised in chastening of sin; in short, if all things are managed according to the pure Word of God, all things contrary thereto rejected, and Jesus Christ acknowledged as the only Head of the Church. Hereby the true Church may certainly be known, from which no man has a right to separate himself.
With respect to those who are members of the Church, they may be known by the marks of Christians; namely, by faith, and when, having received Jesus Christ the only Savior, they avoid sin, follow after righteousness, love the true God and their neighbor, neither turn aside to the right or left, and crucify the flesh with the works thereof. But this is not to be understood as if there did not remain in them great infirmities; but they fight against them through the Spirit all the days of their life, continually taking their refuge in the blood, death, passion, and obedience of our Lord Jesus Christ, in whom they have remission of sins, through faith in Him. As for the false Church, it ascribes more power and authority to itself and its ordinances than to the Word of God, and will not submit itself to the yoke of Christ. Neither does it administer the sacraments as appointed by Christ in His Word, but adds to and takes from them, as it thinks proper; it relies more upon men than upon Christ; and persecutes those who live holily according to the Word of God and rebuke it for its errors, covetousness, and idolatry. These two Churches are easily known and distinguished from each other.

I know it is long, but I trust it will be helpful for you. Notice the three marks: first, is the gospel preached purely? Do you know who Jesus is and what he has done. Does the pastor preach what he has been commissioned to preach? Has he been called and set apart according to the command of Christ (1 Timothy 3, Titus 1, many other passages) or is he self-appointed? Remember that Paul said, “How can they preach unless they are sent?” They might be doing something up there in something that looks like a pulpit, but if he is  not qualified and not properly called and set apart, it isn’t preaching, and there is no voice of God there.

How much pain and suffering could be avoided if we insisted that those who fill our pulpits have the qualifications that God commands us to look for!

What does he preach? What is his confession? What does he believe? Is the church about money and power, or about the exaltation of Jesus Christ. Usually those churches that exalt Christ are small, struggling, and insignificant in the eyes of the world. The reason this is so is that Jesus will never give his glory to another. He is most glorified when men are weak and insignificant and small.

Are the sacraments administered faithfully, or do the church leaders think that they know better than Jesus and invent rites and ceremonies out of their own hearts? Is Jesus worshiped purely according to the scriptures, or is the worship invented by the cunning of the hearts of men?

What about discipline? Are the wolves praised and sheep driven away? This does not simply mean “do they practice excommunication?” for the popes practiced excommunication. So did Jeroboam, Jezebel, Ahab, Sennacherib, Nebuchadnezzar. Their excommunications were particularly brutal, as is always the case with the children of the devil. What the scripture speaks of is not that, but of wicked men, children of the devil, driven away no matter how much money and power they have. Are the littlest ones protected? Does the church seek to imitate Jesus, who said,

42 “And whoever causes one of these little ones who believe to stumble, it would be better for him if, with a heavy millstone hung around his neck, he had been cast into the sea. (Mar 9:42 NASB)

And here:

11 Sing praises to the LORD, who dwells in Zion; Declare among the peoples His deeds.
  12 For He who requires blood remembers them; He does not forget the cry of the afflicted. (Psa 9:11-12 NASB)

This is what we should be looking for. When you visit a church, look for these things. Does the church seek to be faithful to the marks of Christ? Or do they cover up sin and deny affliction and oppression? Are they too busy throwing arrows at far away places that they cannot cleanse the filth in their own nest? Are their pastors self-appointed and self-ordained? Are they accountable?

I love the church of God. I love the communion of the saints. I long for her houses to be full of the saints of God. But I fear that what mostly passes for the church in this day is closer to the calves at Bethel than the temple in Jerusalem. Don’t look for the programs, the money, the entertainment, or where all the popular kids go. Look for the marks of the church, and join with them.

I know that there are times when God’s people are exiled from the temple. I know David fled for years – but he longed for the day when he again would walk on the streets of Jerusalem. This was where God chose to place his name.

Today God still reveals himself. But not in the synagogues of Satan. He reveals himself in the still, small voices of mostly forgotten and insignificant men proclaiming his word to the few faithful in the pews. It isn’t in the flash and show. It isn’t in the money and power. These guys aren’t getting invitations to the White House. They are building the kingdom of God one soul at a time, so they don’t make headlines.

But their names are written in heaven. The Lamb knows those who are his.

For another post on the same topic, see here.

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Thoughts on Psalm 68:11

The Lord gave the word: great was the company of those that published it. (Psa 68:11 KJV)

The context of this Psalm is holy warfare. God goes with the armies of Israel and achieves the victory. When the enemy kings flee, the good news is announced at home. God is indeed a mighty conqueror and defender of His people!

Unfortunately, the traditional translations of this text miss something very important. The first three words are indisputably translated “The Lord gave the word.”

The next three words are rich with meaning. The first word is based on the Hebrew root that means “to announce good news.” The Greek equivalent of that word is “euangelion”. We get our word “evangelism” from that. It means also, “to announce good news.”

The form of the word is a participle – which in Hebrew is a verbal adjective, here used as a noun. There is no noun that it modifies. So it would be translated “Those who announce the good news” – in the context, it is the good news of God’s victory over the armies of the enemy.

The next two words are the word for “army” or “host”, and the word for “many” or “multitude”. Added with the first word, the sentence would translate thus: “Those who announce the good news (are) a great army”. So far, so good.

But here’s the tricky bit.  The participle (“those who announce the good news”) is feminine plural. This is not a grammatical feminine gender, but an actual feminine suffix taking the place of a feminine pronoun. English distinguishes between feminine and masculine pronouns in the 3rd person singular (“he” or “she”), but there is no distinction in the plural. “They” can be either. But Hebrew DOES distinguish, and the participle is clearly feminine plural. The only possible translation is “Those (the women) who announce good news”.

These translations get it right:

The Lord gives the word; the women who announce the news are a great host: (Psa 68:11 ESV)

The Lord gives the command; The women who proclaim the good tidings are a great host: (Psa 68:11 NAS)

The King James follows the Greek translation, which inexplicably translates the feminine participle with a Greek masculine participle. It shows how necessary it is for Bible interpreters to learn the original languages. Translations, even old, established ones, err.

So what does this mean? I have simply given you a grammar lesson so far, but it shows at least that the inspired word of God does not expect women to keep their mouths shut. Miriam sang of God’s victory over Pharaoh. Deborah sang a song of victory over Sisera.

The good news of Jesus, David’s greater son, is to be proclaimed to all, by everyone who confesses his name. He has conquered Satan and death and sin and misery by his death and resurrection. The joyful tidings are to be sung and proclaimed and announced throughout the world, and the women ALSO are to make the proclamation!

I once knew a man that refused to sing any hymns by Fanny Crosby because he viewed it as a woman teaching in the church. God clearly doesn’t have the same view.

I do not believe that this has any bearing on the New Testament offices of the church – pastors, elders, or deacons – and I know that there are those who disagree with me. But I DO think this has a great deal to do with the dignity, worth, and value of the women in the congregations. There is no hint here of the women proclaiming the good news ONLY to other women. They are simply said to “announce the good news.” I think this has to do with the universal office of every believer. The Lord gives the word. The women, a mighty army, proclaim it.

Tell your neighbors, sing the songs, proclaim the good news to all. When churches leave the task of evangelism to the ordained offices, the church withers and dies. Go into all the world and proclaim the news! Satan is conquered. Death’s sting is vanquished. The armies of the enemies have fled! This is good news indeed!

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How Shame Drives Us From Christ

This story came up in my newsfeed today. I am taking a sick day today, but there is so much wrong here, and it is so prevalent, that I wanted to make a few comments.

For some reason, Evangelical America has decided that shame is an effective way to battle sin. My whole life, I have heard that “Israel forgot how to blush” (Jer. 6:15) which led to their destruction. Therefore (so it is taught) when we catch someone in some kind of sin, the best thing we can do for them is publicly shame them so that they won’t sin any more.

This is actually practiced in so many churches, but it seems to always be selectively applied. The only people I have ever heard of being publicly shamed like this – forced to stand before the whole church, or the whole school, and confess their sins – are teenage girls who are found to be pregnant. I find it abhorrent, and contrary to the gospel of  Christ. And yet, it still seems to be the consistent practice of Evangelical America.

The article linked above does an excellent job in its critique and how it actually encourages abortion. But there are a few theological issues as well.

First, to clarify the Jeremiah passage, the prophet was not addressing those with tender consciences who needed comfort and hope, already plagued with guilt. He was speaking to the hardened, oppressive, idolatrous leaders who were casting their children into the fire, crushing the poor and the widows, and abusing and destroying without any twinges of conscience whatsoever. Jeremiah is rebuking their hardness of heart and was not expecting any repentance from them. It was not written to teach us that shame is an appropriate corrective to sin but to warn us of those with “seared consciences”. There are those who can do the most horrific things and feel no pains of guilt whatever. To apply this passage solely to teenagers found pregnant is simply abusive.

There is no biblical warrant for public confession of private sins. And, no, sex before marriage is not a sin against the whole school – or the whole church, for that matter.

Even in the Old Covenant, before the Gospel of Jesus Christ was fully revealed, two kids who got pregnant before marriage was not considered the worst imaginable sin that must be publicly exposed and shamed. The boy was either to provide a dowry and marry the girl. Or if the father thought that marriage was a bad idea, the boy was to provide a dowry and leave town.  Neither one was stoned or publicly shamed.

That being said, it might be good for us to remember our first parents after their first sin. Shame drove them into the bushes, hiding from the face of God. It was the voice of God that lovingly drew them out of the bushes. “Adam, where are you?”

They didn’t die. God told them the truth, but he didn’t shame them. Rather, he provided for them coverings, pointing to the perfect sacrifice of His Son, to be revealed in due time. Now that the gospel has been revealed to us, we know that the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ covers our sin and our shame and brings us out of hiding. That is what being a Christian is. We live openly and honestly, not seeking to cover our shame by shaming others, but by coming again and again to the cross. Why an organization that calls itself Christian would drive sinners into the bushes is beyond my understanding.

The kind of “Christianity” practiced by so many, which publically shames young girls for sin, is not the Christianity of the Bible. Shame is intolerable to the human spirit and must be covered. We have only two options: Cover with fig leaves of our own making, or come to Christ for what he has offered us. When we come to Christ, shame is taken away so that we might stand before God and one another. When we try to cover our own shame, we increase it. We may temporarily feel better, but eventually, the shame returns.

The worst part of what happened to this young woman is that she learned about a false Christ – a Jesus who shames sinners, who turns an angry and harsh face on those who confess and repent, who demands his pound of flesh before he offers peace. She was taught that Jesus first ridicules and gleefully watches us weep before he grudgingly offers forgiveness. She was taught that even after she goes through all of that, Jesus is still ashamed to be seen in public with her. She was taught that Jesus was ashamed to be her God, ashamed of her and her baby!

No wonder the young people are leaving the church in droves! They aren’t leaving the Church of Jesus Christ, they are leaving the Church of the Blind Leaders of the Blind.

Jesus came to call us out of hiding. To offer covering for our shame by taking it upon himself. He came, not to ridicule and mock us, but to bear all of that shame and guilt and take it out of the way, nailing it to the cross.

For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers, (Heb 2:11 ESV)

Jesus offers salvation, not shame, to all who come to him in faith. Shame is reserved for those who refuse to come, who refuse to repent. Shame is reserved for the Day of Judgment, but it has no place in the Gospel.

How should the church respond then when a young girl is found to be pregnant?

First, reach out with love and support. Do not pretend that sin is not sin, but respond to it honestly according to scripture. I would hope that the pastor and elders have forged an open relationship with this girl before this happened, so that she will feel safe with them, because there are some important questions. Was this assault? Who is the father? Did she feel compelled? Was there a power imbalance?

If this is simply a boyfriend/girlfriend situation that got out of hand, they will need counseling and help to deal with the shame and guilt that they already feel. Otherwise, if they get married, they will carry that shame and guilt into their marriage bed, which will be damaging to the “one-flesh” relationship. But those are topics that are far bigger than can be addressed here.

But more importantly than all of this, they need to know again the gospel of Jesus Christ. He offers his perfect righteousness without shame, without reproach, without grudging, to all who come to him. No strings, no penance, no public ridicule. This is what the free offer of the gospel IS. It’s about time we got it right.

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Call Upon the Name of the Lord

We don’t know exactly when Joel wrote his prophecy. But we know that the people of God had suffered a tremendous plague of locusts. One swarm of destroying swarm right after the other, and the people of God called upon every god and every power that they could think of. But they didn’t call upon the name of the Lord.

God had warned them. He had given them the greatest thing anyone could ever hope for. He gave them Himself. He said, “I will be your God, and you shall be my people.” What an astounding thought! That the creator of heaven and earth, the only power there is, the giver of life and all good things, would call himself “our God!”

And yet, when things got tough, they called on every idol, every creature, every trick in the book, and never once called on the name of the Lord.

And God warned them again. There is no other savior. There is no other deliverer. There is no other strength. There is only the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and He has offered himself to us and calls Himself “our God.”

And the day will come when God will come in judgment and everything unclean and defiling and wicked will be destroyed,

“But whosoever calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.” That God would stoop to save the likes of us is a thought that staggers the mind. But He does. In fact, He became flesh and took the wrath of God against sin in His own body on the cross. And He did this so that He could truly be our God, and we would be His people!

And the gospel goes forth to every tribe, every kingdom, every people. “Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord will be saved.” Only now it is made more clear than it was even in the Old Covenant.

Paul told the church at Corinth that the church is made up of everyone “who calls upon the name of the Lord Jesus.” He knew what he was saying. He wasn’t inventing a new god, for there are no other gods than the God of Abraham. He was saying that Jesus of Nazareth, born in Bethlehem, crucified in Jerusalem, who rose from the dead and ate and drank with his disciples was none other than Jehovah, the God of Israel.

And whoever calls upon His name shall be saved. There is  no other hope, no other name given under heaven than the name of Jesus.

So when you say you are a Christian, do you also call upon the name of the Lord Jesus Christ as your only hope of salvation? Do you call upon Him when you are out of hope? When the world is dark?

Or do you look to everything else, as Israel did of old?

Where do you turn for justice? Where do you turn for healing? Where do you turn for covering for your shame?

Where do you look for beauty and hope and goodness? Where is your heart most satisfied? Are your affections on this earth, or does your heart long to be where Christ is, at the right hand of God?

God will not give His glory to another. He won’t share it with his creatures. It is His will that Jesus Christ be praised from the rising of the sun to the going down. It is God’s will that Jesus Christ be exalted in the hearts and minds and affections of all who claim His name.

So this world tends to fade in the hearts of those who love Jesus. This world is seen for what it is when the heart is turned towards Christ. It is under a curse. It is full of madness and folly. Pain and illness and disappointment, and even times where we are close to despair, cling to our skin. The smell of our failures and cruelties and wickedness overpower our senses. Our longing for beauty and goodness and love leave us gasping. And in those times, when we have nowhere else to turn, we call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. “Lord, save us!”

And that is where we ought to be, and it is good.

For whoever calls upon the name of the Lord Jesus shall be saved.

Even so, come quickly, Lord Jesus.

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“Just Keep Quiet, Sister”

Recently I’ve been meditating on the rape of Tamar and the coming of the Christ. These two are connected.

This might need some explaining. King David was anointed by God Himself. He was the king “after God’s own heart.” After the oppression and abuse against him by King Saul in 1 Samuel, your heart is cheering as David is finally anointed king. The good guys won! You expect the fairy tale ending, “And they all lived happily ever after…”

But the accounts of Israel’s history rarely end that way. Ever since sin entered into the world, our stories never end well. David was a righteous king – compared with Saul. But he was never really the point of the account. If salvation could come by government, David’s kingdom would have succeeded and Christ need not have come. But the problem with the world is universal. Not even David is immune. The sin that lies in the heart of every man also lies in the heart of David – and not “sin” in the mild “everyone sins” kind of way, but hateful, ugly, destructive and vile sin.

Like every good story teller, the author of 2 Samuel doesn’t just give us a treatise on total depravity and our need for a greater king and greater savior; instead, he shows us. David’s fall into murder and adultery has consequences for his whole family, including his virgin daughter, Tamar.

Tamar is beautiful, which means she is a target for the kingdom of the devil who hates beauty. Her half-brother Amnon is consumed with lust for her. His lust is not a lust for her beauty, but the lust of a hungry wolf in the presence of a sheep. His lust to kill, consume and destroy has been sexualized, which is what rape is.

He is constricted by Tamar’s position as a daughter of the king and one thing a man like Amnon hates is to be restricted by anything. He has two conflicting beliefs going on. First, he believes as the crown prince that he is entitled to whatever he wants. And second, the king has the authority to command. So what happens when the king’s rights conflict with the prince’s “rights”? It is this conflict that consumes Amnon and makes him sick. To Amnon, Tamar’s personhood and will don’t even enter into it. She’s just an object to be used.

Amnon, like all wicked men, has an advisor that promises to help him through the dilemma. Jonadab says, “Go to your sick bed. When your father comes to visit, ask him to send Tamar to nurse you back to health.”

And Amnon does. We are not told why David didn’t see through such a ridiculous ruse, but based on simple observation, we can make an educated guess. People have no problem confessing total depravity when it comes to people that are different than they are. If one is outside of your circles, you have no problem with confessing their corruption. It is easy to see the sin of Philistines, Moabites – even those of other tribes. The sins of Benjamin are easy to see if you are from Judah.

But where it hits hard is when you are confronted with the total depravity of your children, your brothers, your sisters, your church. “Those kinds of things don’t happen in Israel!”  “Not in my church. Not in my family. Not in my tribe.”

But sin doesn’t give us a pass because of who we descended from. In fact, it is the opposite. It is precisely because of who we descended from that we are all conceived and born in sin.

Even Amnon. Would David have allowed a non-family member to be alone with his daughter under such a flimsy excuse? I think not.

At any rate, David commands Tamar to attend to her brother. Tamar makes food for poor, sick Amnon and he watches her. She brings the bread to him, but he refuses to eat. Then he sends everyone else out of the room.

Tamar stands there alone, afraid, powerless. He commands her, “Come here. Lie with me.”

She protests strongly. “A thing like this shouldn’t be done in Israel!”

She begs him. She pleads for him to remember pity. “Where will I take my shame? I will spend the rest of my life ashamed and reproached. Unable to marry. Unable to live. What will I do? Who will take this shame away from me if you do this horrible thing.”

She pleads with him to remember his own reputation. “You will go down as a fool in Israel! Why would you do such a thing?”

She even gives him a desperate alternative, “Ask our father to give me to you as wife. He won’t withhold me from you!”  It seems desperate, but it is her only option in that culture before Christ. If she is raped, no one will marry her. She will be cut off without children, without protection, without support. She will have nothing but shame and reproach. Even today, in many cultures a girl who is raped faces excommunication from her family, her people, and sometimes is even tried and punished as an adulterer. The devil’s kingdom is ugly, hateful and cruel. How many women do we know who have been driven from their churches and families even in America because they were raped?

Amnon refuses to listen. He wants to destroy her innocence and beauty. His destructive desires are sexually charged. He is not lusting after her beauty. He is lusting after her destruction. So he forces her, because he is stronger than she is. And he rapes her.

The word “forces” is the Hebrew word, ‘anah, which means to afflict, oppress, humble. We will come back to that word.

After Amnon is done with her, he hates her. He hated her before, but now he has what he wants from her. He says, “Get up and get out.”

She weeps. She pleads. It is now clear to Tamar that it was not an act of extreme love gone bad, but an act of hatred and destruction. All rape is about destroying the image of God. It is never about love or even desire. It is about hatred and defacing God’s image.

Amnon calls in his servant and has her thrown out of the room. She leaves the room in tears. She tears her robe – the special robe of honor worn by the king’s daughters – and flees to Absalom’s house. Absalom is Tamar’s full brother.

Absalom immediately knows what happened and tells her, “Be quiet. Don’t take it to heart. He’s your brother.”

God gave men and women a wonderful gift when he created them. It was a gift of communication. Words and thoughts, the ability to hear, to meditate, to express. It is unique to man out of all creatures under the sun. We can open our lips, choose words and fellowship with one another and with God. We can talk about our feelings, our likes and dislikes.

We can use words like “love”; “joy”; “peace” – as well as “hatred,” “ justice,” “abuse.”

But the devil and his kingdom hate God and hate his image. He seeks the destruction of the voice, of the personhood, of the will. He seeks the annihilation and defacement of beauty and love.

The most effective way to achieve all of these goals of the devil is through rape. For this reason a rapist was not allowed to live in Israel under Moses’s law. There wasn’t anything to be done with him. A man who rapes is a man completely given over to the power of the devil and must be removed from society.

And rape removes the voice. Where will she take her disgrace? Does she have two or three witnesses? Does she have the courage to stand up to her attacker in an assembly of men who in her mind are just like her attacker? She tells her church, and is told to just be quiet. Don’t rock the boat. Don’t ruin the ministry. She tells the magistrate, and is often left just like Tamar. David knew about it. He was angry, but did nothing.

Her choice is gone, because he is stronger than she is. Her voice is gone – silenced by threats, intimidation, coercion. Where will she take her shame?

This is the hopelessness of the kingdom of the devil. After Absalom takes Tamar into his house, we are left with this: “And Tamar lived with Absalom, desolate, in her brother’s house.” She then disappears from the sacred record – except in the mind of God.

Her question still hangs in the air, leaving us empty and hungry for a solution. “Where will I take my shame?”

Many centuries later, Isaiah comes on the scene. He writes,

The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
2 to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn;
3 to grant to those who mourn in Zion– to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he may be glorified. (Isa 61:1-3 ESV)

The good news, the gospel, is proclaimed to the “poor”. The Hebrew word, as you may have guessed by now, is ‘anah – Afflicted, forced, humiliated, poor

And who is this one of whom Isaiah speaks? Does he speak of himself or does he speak of another?

When Jesus of Nazareth began to preach in Capernaum, he opened his Bible to this passage and read it. Then he said,

“Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luk 4:21 ESV)

Do you see? Do you see that Isaiah is giving the answer to Tamar’s question? Do you see those for whom Jesus came? He came into this world in the womb of another virgin daughter of Israel. He came for all who have been broken, bowed, and afflicted. He came for those who have been abused, raped, and humbled. He calls to the broken-hearted, those with no strength, and those who have been the victims of every Amnon of this present world. His gospel is for the weak, the downtrodden – those who mourn.

He never told the outcasts to “be quiet”. He spoke with them. He listened to them. But more importantly than all of that, he brought to them good news. He came to set his people free. He came to give a voice to the voiceless, justice to the oppressed, mercy to the repentant. He came to set the prisoner free.

I know that the world is full of those who are like Tamar. I know many of you personally and see the gospel of Jesus alive in you. Christ has indeed fulfilled his promise and proclaimed the good news to you and has called you his own.

If Tamar’s story is yours and you do not know Jesus, learn of him. His yoke is easy and his burden is light. He hates Amnon, and destroyed the power of the one behind Amnon on the cross. He bore the curse in his own body and then rose from the dead, proclaiming the season of God’s favor to all who are hopeless and voiceless. He came to restore the damaged image of God in you – to restore your beauty, your voice, your will, your courage.

You are fearfully and wonderfully made, a daughter of the king who will never look away and refuse you justice. You have your voice restored to confess his name. You have your will restored to choose for yourself whom you will serve. Have the courage to come out of the kingdom of oppression and darkness and bondage and follow your savior.

If we call ourselves Christians, should we not strive to imitate our Lord? Do we follow him and give the gospel to the Tamars of the world – justice and mercy and renewed hope? Or are we more like Absalom; “Be quiet, sister; don’t take the matter to heart.”

May God give us the courage to proclaim faithfully the gospel of the kingdom of Christ, even when the kingdom of the devil threatens and fumes. May we stand firm.

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Meditations on TULIP, Part three

By anonymous

See part one and part two here.

Irresistible Grace – There is no formula known to man that explains the the timing or how the call will be answered. After hearing the gospel, which draws the elect by the Holy Spirit, many begin a very unexpected journey. Some cry out to him, then are allowed to continue on for some time- wrestling – working out their faith – feeling the crushing despair of unbelief. Others are immediately struck with a deep and abiding faith. God knows every struggle and knows what each individual needs to be refined.

Even those who appear to be strongest in their faith will admit that, in weak moments, they struggle and wrestle with unbelief. As they go through this, their cries don’t go unnoticed by God. His saving grace, once poured out, saturates believers to the point that even though part of them doubts, the overwhelming and irresistible grace of God always wins out.

Sometimes our doubt or sinfulness manifests itself in actions that bring shame or even horrible consequences but for true believers, it never wins. As we grow in grace and knowledge, this becomes clearer. God’s gracious grip on us does not let up -no matter how hard we may squirm to get away.

Perseverance of the Saints – This is often flippantly dismissed by those who say -”Once saved always saved”. True believers cannot claim to be saved then go about living life in whatever way they please because now they’re saved. It cannot be reduced to a simple and trite slogan. No, to persevere implies struggle.

Saints- that’s all believers – will struggle. They will recognize their own depravity. They will gratefully and thankfully recognize that God chose them unconditionally. They didn’t have to do something or prove themselves. The sacrifice of Christ, the atonement is for them. God has given them this and set them apart from those who have made themselves gods.

God gives them everything they need to persevere. Some limp along with physical pains and struggles that discourage and pull them down, others wrestle with emotional or inward grief that they may feel is unspeakable. There are those who deal with both physical and emotional pain. But God never leaves. He never forsakes his people. There are scores of testimonies of many Christians slaughtered throughout history for their faith. Their stories are lost to us but these souls are dear to their Heavenly Father.

We only persevere through the strength and grace that God gives us. Through everything, we keep moving along with our eyes on the cross – knowing He cares for us.

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Meditations of TULIP, part 2

See part one here.

by anonymous:

Unconditional Election – The mention of this term is often the springboard for arguments for and against predestination. To me, the word “unconditional” underlines the importance of understanding the previous point -Total Depravity. God’s election or choosing is not based on conditions – such as those who keep his law perfectly or those with bloodlines to Abraham. He doesn’t choose the best of the best. This is obvious if you know any true believers. They are not the best. God is choosing from a world full of depraved people. Unfortunately, His choosing is assumed to be accomplished in the same way that we might choose something – “Let’s see, I’ll try one of these people because they’re charming and maybe a few of these funny people, oh, and lots of these blonde people. I really love blonde people! And, I guess I have to take all of these outwardly pious people. They try so hard.” Again, we try to squeeze God into our tiny little minds.

It seems that too much time and energy has been put into coming up with an explanation of how and why God might choose certain people. Humans try to pin God down. How could he do this? How can he choose, yet, also say that all who call on the name of the Lord will be saved. But maybe we should ask, “what right do we have to question or ask how this works?”

When people question God’s actions, they make themselves as God. They judge him, using feeble minds and tangled arguments, to justify themselves. Imagine your reaction if someone who has openly hated you, and with whom you had no relationship, demanded to know how you decided who is invited to a party at your home. What if they mocked you and said you were unfair while demanding an explanation and questioning your authority to invite specific people into your home. Your reaction…? Would you feel like you owed them an explanation? It is very shaky ground for humans to question God, trying to find inconsistencies as if they can trip Him up and then demand He provide an explanation. This is frightening stuff.

We do this to God when we question and argue with each other. Even the “best” Christians feel somewhat exasperated and wish God would have made it more clearly in line with their own thinking. Again and again, we refuse to believe that God’s ways are not our ways.

So do we argue with God about how people are saved? Do we proudly claim to be the elect, resting on our heritage, while patronizingly accepting that even minorities and bad people are sometimes saved? At some point we have to own up to the repugnant ideas we have accepted for years. We should collapse in fear at the thought of where God could have left us.

Yes, I am one of the elect……I met no conditions or qualifications……unconditionally elected!

Limited Atonement – Not to mean God is limited – God’s hands are not tied. Christ’s sacrifice on the cross was not barely enough to squeak the elect into heaven. Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved. There is never a question of His death and resurrection being incomplete or an atonement that could only handle a percentage of sinners. Jesus’ sacrifice was complete – more than enough for all. Just as when he broke the bread and pieces of fish – He started with a small portion and ended with food left over. His grace has no limits and spills out to even the unbelievers and those who persecute the church.

The atonement, however, is limited to those who call on his name. The limits stem from the sinfulness of people. There will always be wicked people – sons of belial – who have a deep and abiding hatred for God. They hate God and want nothing to do with the saving grace of Christ. They work overtime in their evil ways and justify their actions by saying there is no God. They attack the gospel with vicious and mocking criticism and glory in their own intellect. God is completely and perfectly just and fair to limit the atonement to those who call upon His name. He requires only that we call on him and even gives us what we need in order to do this.

Those who have made themselves into god, angrily and jealously look on Christians as fools, who in weakness, have chosen to believe on the one true God. The wicked believe we live in a dream world – that we believe a fairy tale. But it’s the very weakness, the crying out, the begging for forgiveness, that brings us to our knees, that ultimately gives us strength in Christ.

God is completely just in his actions. Again, the limits come from those who refuse him.

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Headship is not Hierarchy

In my recent post, I made the statement that the phrase “he shall rule over you” was something new that came into the world because of the curse. I wrote, “There was no hint of hierarchy before the fall.” Since this has generated some consternation, and great concern that I might be turning liberal, I thought it wise to clarify a bit here.

To see clearly, perhaps Augustine’s division of the states of man might be helpful. If you recall, Augustine delineated four states of man, which were later repeated by Thomas Boston, neither one of them liberal.  First, before the fall, in his created state, man was able to sin and able to not sin. After the fall, unregenerate man was able to sin and not able to not sin. Regenerated man is able to sin and able to not sin. And glorified man is able to not sin and unable to sin.

Before the fall, before sin entered the world, Adam and Eve served God perfectly. They did not live for themselves; their desires were not to have power over each other, but they both lived as they were created – as one flesh, in perfect unbroken harmony. We can have no idea what this was like, since our state now is far different. If by “hierarchy” you mean that Adam ruled his wife and she submitted to his desires, I reject that. It has no basis in scripture.  If by hierarchy you mean an order of creation, that I happily accept, as Paul wrote

For Adam was first formed, then Eve. (1Ti 2:13 KJV)

This I wholeheartedly confess, believing the Bible to be the inerrant, infallible word of God. I am hesitant to try to apply this beyond how Paul applies this, however, since I have no idea what it looked like practically before the fall. I think it is reading to much into the text to say that this means that Adam ruled over his wife. Did Adam sit on the couch and say “Woman, beer me and shut those kids up!” I think not. He did not rule his wife. They both served God and one another perfectly, being without sin.  This is the only thing that I meant when I said, “There was no hint of hierarchy before the fall.”

After the fall is a world I can relate to. Men and women became idolaters and rebels. They were covenant breakers, serving themselves and their own lusts. The curse that came upon the relationship was that the desire of the woman would be “toward the man”, which I still interpret to mean that she would retain the longing for the one flesh relationship that she would be unable to have, because he would instead rule over her. This is different than before, and part of the curse, and not good.  She, in her unregenerate state, would respond to this rule in a variety of ways, depending on her personality. Despair, hopelessness, manipulation, domination – but it would be a life of slavery and degradation after the fall, which she would resist in various ways, because she would still be human. And she would still long for her husband.

I do not believe you can read anymore into the phrase, “to your husband, your desire”, than that. Nor do I believe you can read anymore into Genesis 4:7 than what is there, but I will address that in another post in another time. There is nothing in Genesis 3:16 that is prescriptive. It is simply a description of what life will be like now that men and women have sold themselves into the slavery of sin and death. They will now be governed by the rules of the kingdom of the devil, rather than the law of God. And this will be the case until the Seed of the Woman comes and crushes the head of the oppressor, which happened when Christ gave himself to the death of the cross.

Christ came to take away the curse, he delivered us from the bondage of sin and the power of the devil. This means that we no longer are to live by the rules of the kingdom of the devil. This is what Ephesians 5 is all about. The wife, instead of seeking her own things and her own desires, is to submit to her husband, as described here.

11 The heart of her husband doth safely trust in her, so that he shall have no need of spoil.
12 She will do him good and not evil all the days of her life. (Pro 31:11-12 KJV)

She is not to chafe against him, work against him, or seek his harm, but to do him good. Remember that Christ’s work is to restore what we lost. The goal of marriage is the one flesh relationship, rather than the antagonistic and abusive relationship that characterized the kingdom of the devil. It isn’t about who makes the coffee, changes the diapers, or does the dishes. It’s about love and peace.

Paul also has in mind the marriage of believers. He is not at all talking about marriage to a wolf, who seeks to destroy and devour. He is talking about believers, united in faith to Jesus Christ, where there is one Lord, one faith, one baptism (chapter 4). The church is to endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of love, and this is to be pictured most prominently in the home.

The husband’s job is not to rule over his wife, enforce the rules, or be the commander and king at home in his castle, for it is not his castle. The home belongs to Christ. He is not to usurp Christ’s role as the king of kings, but he is to emulate Christ in only one way, according to the text. He is to love her.

This fits beautifully with Jesus’ definition of authority in John 13:

John 13:1 Now before the feast of the passover, when Jesus knew that his hour was come that he should depart out of this world unto the Father, having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end.
2 And supper being ended, the devil having now put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him;
3 Jesus knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he was come from God, and went to God;
4 He riseth from supper, and laid aside his garments; and took a towel, and girded himself.
5 After that he poureth water into a bason, and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded.
(Joh 13:1-5 KJV)

We cannot claim the smallest amount of authority that Jesus has. All authority has been given into his hands. And yet, he took the lowest place and washed his disciples’ feet. Wow.

Then look what he says,

12 So after he had washed their feet, and had taken his garments, and was set down again, he said unto them, Know ye what I have done to you?
13 Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am.
14 If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet.
15 For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you. (Joh 13:12-15 KJV)

So in answer to the question, “Do I believe that the husband has authority in the home?” My answer is “Yes. Certainly. There is no way around it. He is to wash his wife’s feet, serve her, do good to her, love her – even, as Paul says, give himself for her.

This is far different than the curse of Genesis 3:16. It turns it on its head. Instead of either the man or the woman serving themselves, their lusts, their goals and desires, both are to serve the Lord Jesus Christ, and the husband is to take the lead in taking the lowest place in the home. That’s not me saying this. That’s Jesus Christ.

It is the husband ultimately responsible for the peace of the home. It is the husband that God will hold accountable for what has been entrusted to him. But he does not rule the home by power and control. He governs his home by service and love. You can see a woman controlled by power. She is downcast and the light is gone in her eyes. And you can see a woman who is loved by her husband. She is alive, fully human, confident, and joyfully doing whatever work God has called her to with spirit and life. Why do so many who claim the name of Christ believe that women are to be controlled by entitlement and power?

The husband isn’t the boss, the commander, the chief, the king. All of that belongs to Christ. Rather, the husband is the head, and she is the body. He is to nourish, cherish and love her as his body, because she is his body. That’s the point. To ask the question, “But isn’t he still in charge?” is to miss the point entirely. Do you think that she will turn into a harpy if you neglect to command her for a day? Whom did you marry? Is she not also an heir of eternal life and a firstborn son of God in Jesus Christ?

So for you husbands insisting that you are the head of your home, take it seriously. Go home, cook dinner, draw her a bath, do the dishes, put the kids to bed. Ask her what she is thinking. Talk about her dreams and fears. Assume she also is led by the Holy Spirit and trying to serve her Lord with a pure heart. Do all the modern equivalents of washing the feet.  This is what Jesus is talking about.

Remember that we are bought with a price, the precious blood of the lamb, and do not belong to ourselves. Husbands don’t belong to themselves, and wives don’t belong to themselves. All belong to Christ, and the husband is to take the lead in service and love.

Yes, I believe that the husband is the head of the home. But not like the president is head of the country. But like Jesus is the head of the church – flesh of our flesh and bone of our bone. And he washes our feet, and took the lowest place. This is our example.

As for man in the glorified state, there will be no more sin. The last will be first and the first last. Those who served on earth will be served in heaven. Those who were served on earth will serve in heaven. The kingdom of heaven throws all that we think we know about power and authority on its head.

It’s time we took that seriously.

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Genesis 3:16

…And thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee (Gen 3:16 KJV)

The publishers of the ESV recently announced that they have changed their translation of Genesis 3:16 to this:

…Your desire shall be contrary to your husband, but he shall rule over you.

I believe this translation to be in error. In this brief post, I shall attempt to explain my reasons.

First, a confession. At one point not too long ago in the past, I also succumbed to the same faulty reasoning. In the paper “Promoting a Biblical Sexual Morality”, of which I was the primary author, I wrote the following:

Second, the curse was on her relationship with her husband. “Thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee” (Gen. 3:16). Her intense longing would be directed towards her husband. The preposition translated “to” primarily indicates motion towards or into. Metaphorically it is used for “against”. Her longing, instead of a covenantal opening herself completely to the love of her husband, would now be directed towards domineering, manipulating, and refusing to be truly loved. (Reformed Church in the United States: Promoting a Biblical Sexual Morality. 2013, page 41)

In this paragraph, I referenced Tremper Longman’s book on the Song of Songs (page 65). Longman, in turn,  referenced an article by Susan Foh, entitled “What is the woman’s desire” (WTJ 37 (1974-75) 376-83.

This article by Foh seems to have influenced quite a lot of thinking (including mine). And now its influence is felt even in the ESV translation of Genesis 3:16. The question is this: is this proper exegesis?

I have to admit that the section that I wrote is somewhat embarrassing. To say that the curse upon the woman involves her domineering, manipulating and refusing to truly be loved by her husband seems a bit much  to read into one preposition.

This exegesis makes much of the similarity between Genesis 3:16 and Genesis 4:7. In Genesis 4:7, we read that God, speaking to Cain of sin, says,

And unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him. (Gen 4:7 KJV)

The connection is then made that sin seeks to have dominion over a man. Since the words and the grammar are identical to 3:16, the meaning of 3:16 is that the woman also seeks to have dominion over the man.

But both texts simply speak of “desire”. Why is the desire of the woman assumed to be the same as the desire of sin? This was an uncomfortable niggling that I buried deeply until I recently dug it up and thought about it.

My embarrassing admission is that I wanted to make an assumption, and I manipulated the grammar to do so.

It seems to me that using Genesis 4:7 to interpret Genesis 3:16 is rather sketchy exegesis. It would be similar to saying that God spoke against Baasha (1 Kings 16:12 – the preposition is ‘el) and God spoke unto Moses (Ex. 3:14 – the preposition is the same) therefore, God was against Moses just as he was against Baasha. It’s really bad exegesis. It seems to me that the meaning of the phrases must be determined in the context.

The fact is “sin” and women are not the same thing, and their desires are not the same thing. I wonder why we make the assumption that women’s desires are always for domination and manipulation even when the text doesn’t say so. Simply saying “Sin desires to manipulate and dominate and since the same preposition is used this applies to the woman as well” simply will not cut it. That’s not how language works.

The phrase in question is the one translated “and your desire shall be toward your husband.”

The second part, “And he shall rule over you” isn’t in dispute. Those words are simple and bear only one translation. The connecting copulative “and” is attached to a redundant personal pronoun “he” which indicates a disjunctive phrase. In other words, the second phrase is set in contrast to the first – BUT he shall rule over you.

So what does the first phrase mean? Looking at the words, it begins with a prepositional phrase introduced by the copulative vav (and). The prepositional phrase is simply two words: the preposition ‘el and the word for man, or husband, with the pronoun “your”.  After this prepositional phrase is the noun “your longing”. There is no verb. The complete phrase is this “And to your husband, your longing; but he shall rule over you.”

The question is whether the preposition ‘el ever has the meaning “contrary to”, as the ESV revision committee, following the lead of Susan Foh, claims.

The simple answer is no. If you wish to do a very technical study, you may look at Bruce Waltke and M. O’Conner, Biblical Hebrew Syntax (Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns) 1990. 11.2.2. A helpful summary of that massive work is the work by Bill T. Arnold and John H. Choi (A Guide to Biblical Hebrew Syntax. New York, Cambridge University Press, 2003). Hebrew prepositions generally have a primary spatial meaning, with metaphorical secondary meaning. The primary spatial meaning is terminative (to, unto, towards).

I know, very technical. Let me break it down. The preposition ‘el means to, unto, or towards. It is a preposition indicating the termination of movement. That is its primary meaning. If I leave my office and walk to my house, I would use the preposition ‘el. Towards. Most commonly, it is used with the verb “to say” to indicate to whom the words are said. In the phrase, “And God said unto Moses”, the preposition ‘el would be used. God designed his words to terminate in the ears of Moses. I hope this makes sense.

In the lexicon by Brown, Driver and Briggs (somewhat archaic and disputed by modern scholarship) they indicate that “against” is a valid translation, and give many quotations, primarily by the prophet Ezekiel. For example,

Son of man, set thy face against Gog (Eze 38:2 KJV)

I would assume that since ‘el here has the translation “against”, the ESV revisers took that as their cue to translate it “contrary to” in Genesis 3:16. But in Ezekiel, the meaning of “to, or towards” is still latent in the word “against”. When a man’s face is “set” towards someone, hostility can certainly be assumed from the context, without changing the meaning of the preposition.

Even Brown, Driver and Briggs add this caveat to the translation “against”:

Where the motion or direction implied appears from the context to be of a hostile character, ‘el = “against”

No such hostility is expressed or implied in Genesis 3:16.

In another standard reference, The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, by Laird Harris, Gleason Archer, and Bruce Waltke, we read

Finally, the preposition can also mean “against,” although motion toward is evident, as in Gen 4:8, where Cain “rose up against Abel.” Here °el no doubt retains something of the original sense of both physical and mental motion toward. J.B.S.

In none of these statements by the universally recognized resources can the word ‘el be made to mean “contrary to”. There is no enmity stated or implied. There is no hostility inherent in the context.

The most widely recognized lexicon does not even admit the metaphorical use of “against” (Koehler-Baumgartner, Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament “HALOT”).

To summarize this rather complicated  survey, the basic meaning of the word is to, or towards. Sometimes, if the context and the verb used are hostile, “against” would be a proper meaning. But this does not mean that we can pick and choose whatever meaning we want. “Contrary to”, in the context of Genesis 3:16 or 4:7, cannot be justified. Only if we make the assumption that the word “longing” indicates hostility can we make this phrase mean “against her husband”.

The word “longing” only appears three times in all known Hebrew literature. In Genesis 3:16, Genesis 4:7, and Song of Songs 7:10:

I am my beloved’s, and his desire is toward me. (Sol 7:10 KJV)

In the Song of Songs, the preposition is ‘al, rather than ‘el. Formerly, I made much of this, but I was mistaken. the two prepositions have overlapping semantic fields and are used interchangeably, much like the English “to” and “towards”. The difference is not great enough to warrant new doctrines.

The word “longing” in all  three passages admits the same meaning: a great desire, a longing. It isn’t the same word as “covetousness”, and it isn’t the same word as “wanting something”. It is a rare word and “longing” is a good translation of it. I would be hesitant to go any deeper than that; that isn’t how language works.

So the simple reading of the text is this: “To your husband your longing”. In English, we would have to supply the verb “will be”. To your husband will be your longing. In other words, “your longing will terminate on your husband”, or, “your longing will be to your husband”.

So what does it mean? What is the longing of the woman? In the context, God is pronouncing the curse upon creation, the serpent, the man and the woman. He has already promised that one would come who would crush the head of the serpent (3:15), and he now moves on to the consequences of Eve’s sin.

How would she have heard those words? Let’s take it with the second part of the phrase, “But he shall rule over thee”, which is set in contrast to the first phrase. It’s a disjunctive clause. The word “rule” (mashal) can be good rule, benevolent rule, tyrannical rule or any other kind of rule. It’s a common word. It means to have dominion over. It is something that was not there in the relationship before the fall. It is something new. If it were there before the fall, then the curse on the woman would be that everything would be the same, which is ludicrous. The context implies that this is something new. The serpent will crawl on its belly; the ground will bring thistles, and your husband will rule over you.

Before, Adam and Eve were one flesh. There is no hint of hierarchy in the garden. (I explain this more fully here). It is beyond the scope of this article to go into the meaning of “help meet”, but suffice it to say that hierarchy, authority and submission are not inherent in the Hebrew word ‘ezer (help). It is the name most often given to God, Israel’s help.

Instead, the relationship of the man and the woman was a relationship of unity and love. They were one flesh, committed, loving, fleeing all others, cleaving to one another.

I believe in that context, 3:16 can only mean one thing. Eve will still long for that. Her longing will terminate on her husband. She will long for that which was lost in Eden. But instead, her husband will rule over her.

The one flesh relationship would be a broken and corrupted remnant of what it was supposed to be.

This fits the context, does no violence to the grammar, and opens up wonderful insights into the marriage relationship.

Remember that God had promised already to crush the head of the serpent. The curse would one day be overcome. This was foretold in the Song of Songs:

I am my beloved’s, and his desire is toward me. (Sol 7:10 KJV)

The Song is a picture of redeemed relationship. One that could not happen apart from the gospel of Christ. His longing to her and her longing to him are mutual. Instead of him ruling over her, he desires her. When the word is only used three times, it cannot be an accident that Solomon is referring to the curse on the woman and looking forward to the time when that is taken away.

Paul, in Ephesians 5 speaks of the same thing. Love your wife. Don’t rule over her.

Since we live in a cursed world and all are tainted by sin, the desire of the wife towards her husband can and does easily become an idolatrous desire. The husband can never give to the wife what only Christ can give.

But as Redeemed creatures, we can certainly live as pictures of the life-giving water of Christ. So the husband is not to be worshiped as Christ, nor is he a mediator between God and his wife. But he can imitate Christ in one area: Love. The marriage is to be a picture of what was lost in the fall. The problem with the woman under the curse is not that she manipulates and dominates. It’s that she longs for what was lost and that longing is to her husband.

How Leah longed for a husband! How Rachel longed for a husband! Look at the harems of David and Solomon, and these were God’s people! How much worse would it have been in Persia or Assyria! Look at Elkanah, Hannah and Penninah; Look at what happened to Esther.

The woman longs for the one flesh relationship that she was created to have. But men have ruled over her. Does she turn to manipulation and resistance? Perhaps. Every human resists domination and subjugation. But this is not what 3:16 says.

Now that Christ has come, we as men are called, not to rule over our wives (whether benevolently or not) but to love our wives, and thus reflect to the world the love of our great savior, who gave himself for us.

See my follow-up post here.

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