Studies in Deuteronomy — I: The Giants

August 25, 2016 Leave a comment

I’ve been listening to Tom Chantry’s recent series through Deuteronomy (only completed through Deut. 4, and apparently on break at least for the summer): a good series with many interesting points regarding the first few chapters of Deuteronomy.

Deuteronomy 2:8-23 is one of those seemingly dry narrative texts in which Moses provides detail about various races of giants, historical data of events that had already taken place in which one people group had replaced another.  We tend to ask, why is this in the Bible and what has it to do with us?

The lesson on this text (“There Be Giants”) first considers the issue of “giants,” with some interesting facts concerning the average heights of different people groups throughout history.  The “giants” were people of relative height compared to other groups of people.  Historical evidence such as uniforms on display at museums indicates that even at the time of the U.S. Civil War (150 years ago), people were overall shorter than today; medieval armor indicates the same regarding Europeans of a few hundred years ago.  Throughout history there have been very tall people, those close to 7 feet up to perhaps 8 feet; today we often see them as NFL football players, and Americans today on average are, compared to historical norms, at the higher end.  Because of the relative length of the ancient measurement, the cubit, we don’t know exactly how tall some of these ancient people were.  The bed (or possibly coffin) of Og the king of Bashan describes the largest recorded size, of a ‘giant’ who was not a ‘freak’ (such as Goliath in relation to the Philistines) but an actual ruler.

The more important lesson from this chapter, though, is that of God’s sovereignty over the nations.  Though the book of Daniel is more well known for directly addressing this, in God’s word we find the same truths taught in multiple places, the same teaching that affirms the unity of all scripture.  The Deuteronomy text especially points out that even nations of giants, those people especially gifted with physical strength, were defeated and no longer around.  The people of Israel needed to not fear the inhabitants of Canaan (as their parents of 40 years earlier, at Kadesh Barnea).  We likewise can learn from this: nations which appear as very strong and powerful, will yet topple.  It is God who raises up nations, and God who brings them down to ruin.

As Chantry well observed, as application for us, especially in reference to politics and government, in this (once again) U.S. election year:

The strength of men is meaningless in the face of divine sovereignty. Why did all of these nations fall? Because God said that it was time for them to do so…nations, just like men, live under the decree of God. We do NOT create our own future. Now that’s an important thing for us to contemplate in an election year, is it not? Because every candidate of every political stripe is going to sell that message one way or another. ‘We are going to create our future’, and they’re going to ask you, as a voter, ‘what sort of a future are we going to create?’ It’s a helpful thing for the Christian to sit back and say, no, no, we do not rule the future. God rules the future. God determines. Governments retain their power only so long as God permits. That’s not intended as a rabble-rousing statement. I’m not indicating that we or any other Christian ought to take up arms against the government. I’m merely observing a reality. It is a reality of scripture and a reality of history, that governments retain their power only so far as God permits. And when that power ends, it ends; and sometimes it ends with startling speed. We cannot put confidence in history. … We live under the decree of God, and God does with nations as He does with men. He does whatsoever He wills.

Martyn Lloyd Jones’ “Spiritual Depression” Book and Series

August 16, 2016 2 comments

I have often heard Martyn Lloyd Jones recommended, though in my studies so far had not yet read anything from him.  Recently I revisited a link to the MP3 collection of his “Spiritual Depression” series.  As noted at the beginning of the first message, the audio quality is not that great, restored as best as possible from old recordings – and so I’m reading the Kindle book version instead.

Dan Phillips provided a helpful review of this work a few years ago, and the ‘chronological qualifier’ comment is spot on, in reference to Lloyd Jones for the 20th century and Spurgeon from the 19th century.  I too have found Spurgeon helpful in this area, one he was so well acquainted with.  The foreward included in the edition that Phillips reviewed, can also be read here (Banner of Truth article).

The introductory chapter, General Consideration, is quite helpful.  As MLJ pointed out (and no real surprise here), some of us have the personality-temperament (of introverts) that is naturally more pre-disposed to depression.  He observed that sometimes depression has a physical cause—and attributed the well-known case of Spurgeon’s frequent depression to his physical problem of gout.  A closer look at Spurgeon’s life, though (see this article), tells us that Spurgeon’s experiences with depression began several years before the gout.  It is generally recognized today that Spurgeon’s depression came from a combination of factors, not just the  gout.  Another cause of depression is the “reaction” that comes after an especially intense moment: the familiar story of Elijah victorious over the priests of Baal, and then downcast and running away to hide is a classic example of this.  (I can also relate to this situation at various times in my life.)

From the biblical material, as well as Lloyd Jones’ experience as a pastor, the problem of spiritual depression is fairly common.  Psalm 42 is a guide to the experience, and provides the key to the cure.  When feeling down, I often sing the familiar scripture words to a well-known praise song, “Why so downcast, oh my soul?  / Put your hope in God.”    Going beyond just a simple song tune, though, the real point here is that “we must talk to ourselves instead of allowing ‘ourselves’ to talk to us.”

This is the very essence of wisdom in this matter. Have you realized that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself?  Take those thoughts that come to you the moment you wake up in the morning.  You have not originated them, but they start talking to you, they bring back the problems of yesterday, etc.  Somebody is talking.  Who is talking to you?  Your self is talking to you.  Now this man’s treatment was this; instead of allowing this self to talk to him, he starts talking to himself, ‘Why art thou cast down, O my soul?’ he asks.  His soul had been depressing him, crushing him.  So he stands up and says, “Self, listen for a  moment.  I will speak to you.’

The following chapters (different sermons) consider many different types of people that experience spiritual depression, relating each to a passage of scripture.  For some, the problem is due to an incomplete knowledge of the doctrines of God, or imbalance in the doctrines, and along the way Lloyd Jones makes strong statements regarding the sufficiency of scripture and the Christian faith, such as the following samples:

The gospel is not something partial or piecemeal: it takes in the whole life, the whole of history, the whole world.  It tells us about the creation and the final judgment and everything in between.

and

It is doctrine first, it is the standard of teaching first, it is the message of the gospel first.  We are not concerned simply to attract people emotionally or in the realm of the will, we are concerned to ‘preach the Word’. …. Truth comes to the mind and to the understanding enlightened by the Holy Spirit.  Then having seen the truth, the Christian loves it.  It moves his heart.  He sees what he was, he sees the life he was living, and he hates it.  If you see the truth about yourself as a slave of sin you will hate yourself.  Then as you see the glorious truth about the love of Christ you will want it, you will desire it.  So the heart is engaged.  Truly to see the truth means that you are moved by it and that you love it.  You cannot help it.

This work is well worth reading, for all Christians, as a great book about Christian living and appreciating the truth and greatness of the Christian life.

Biographies of Common Christians: The Young Cottager and the Dairyman’s Daughter

August 8, 2016 1 comment

From my recent Spurgeon sermon reading comes an interesting reference to then-popular Christian literature.  From this sermon in the 1865 volume  (text Psalm 113:7-8):

 Some of the sweetest biographies of Christians have been the lives of the lowly culled from the annals of the poor. Who has not read, The Young Cottager, and, The Dairyman’s Daughter?

Though generally unknown today, these books are available online now, the writings of Legh Richmond: his accounts of conversions among the young, rural poor in England – the Isle of Wight specifically – in the late 18th and early 19th century.  A brief biography on Legh Richmond, from Amazon:

LEGH RICHMOND (1772–1827) was born in Liverpool, England. He attended Trinity College in Cambridge and received his B. A. and M. A. degrees. The young clergyman entered the ministry at the Isle of Wight. When he read Wilberforce’s “Practical View of Christianity,” he had a spiritual awakening, and respectfully named his son Wilberforce. On the Isle of Wight he met ‘The Dairyman’s Daughter,’ ‘The African Servant’ and ‘Little Jane.’ After seven years he moved to London and then to Turvey, where he wrote, “The Fathers of the English Church.”

“The Young Cottager” and “The Dairyman’s Daughter” are each slightly over 100 pages; both are available free from Gracegems.org:  Young Cottager and the Dairyman’s Daughter (also available for free in Kindle version from Amazon, here).  Both of these are accounts of young women who came to saving faith in Christ, and then experienced the decline and slow death of consumption (now known as tuberculosis).   Both were very serious about their faith, and instrumental in the salvation of family members — parents as well as younger siblings.  The Young Cottager, “little Jane,” was twelve years old, one of a group of junior-high age students that the minister had been teaching on Sunday afternoons.  A point that some of us at least can certainly relate to: Jane was in the background, not one of the students that particularly stood out to the teacher.  Her absence, at the beginning of her sickness, was not even noticed by him; an adult neighbor came to the minister, and  and told him of Jane’s desire to see him.  The Dairyman’s Daughter (Elizabeth Waldridge) came to saving faith in her twenties, while working as a servant girl for another household.  She later came back to her parent’s home to assist her elderly parents.  (As an aside, the description of her very aged father at first glance would seem to us as that of a man in his 80s – he was not yet 70; the hard life of poor people, doing physical work in the sun, takes its toll at an earlier age, compared to modern-day city dwellers.)  The content of this book includes many actual letters from Waldridge, who lived some distance from the minister and often sent letters to him by personal messenger.

Wegh Richmond’s style includes many details of the scenery — an appreciation for the details of the natural creation as the setting for his meditations.  Occasionally he commented on the act of meditation and his style and approach to his writings, as with these excerpts from The Dairyman’s Daughter:

How much do they lose who are strangers to serious meditation on the wonders and beauties of nature! How gloriously the God of creation shines in His works! Not a tree, or leaf, or flower, not a bird or insect, but it proclaims in glowing language, “God made me.”

And

Do any of my readers inquire why I describe so minutely the circumstances of prospect and scenery which may be connected with the incidents I relate?  My reply is, that the God of redemption is the God of creation likewise; and that we are taught in every part of the Word of God to unite the admiration of the beauties and wonders of nature to every other motive for devotion.

The stories from both Jane and Elizabeth, regarding their conversion experience, their apprehension of divine truth, and their insights and maturity, are fascinating to read, and even humbling, in comparison to our modern-day life.  No superficial understanding, but very deep comprehension of God’s grace, is seen in these spiritual babes, recent converts, along with spiritual growth of a much quicker pace than is usual in our modern day Christian experience.  It is well here to remember, that not every person’s salvation experience is going to be exactly the same, or to the same level of growth within so short a time.  Indeed, Wegh Richmond himself observed this, that not everyone (even in his day) showed such spiritual maturity in the same way:

It has not unfrequently been observed, that when it is the Lord’s pleasure to remove any of his faithful followers out of this life at an early period of their course, they make rapid progress in the experience of Divine truth.  The fruits of the Spirit ripen fast, as they advance to the close of mortal existence.  In particular, they grow in humility, through a deeper sense of inward corruption, and a clearer view of the perfect character of the Saviour.

Richmond’s works include a third title, also free on Kindle:  Annals of the Poor, which includes the account of the African servant.  As Spurgeon said, these are sweet biographies, the stories about common Christians.  We are so familiar with the lives of the spiritual giants, the Luthers, Calvins, and Spurgeons, but these accounts remind us of the many other people we will meet one day.  So many Christians have passed through this world, unknown by all but a few.  It is nice to read about some of these poor saints, who were so rich in faith and serve as examples to us, of those who have gone before us.

Moral Law, Legalism, and the U.S. Presidential Race

July 28, 2016 6 comments

An interesting point brought out in Tom Chantry’s Ten Commandments series, which I recently finished: when people reject the moral law of God – that which is summarized in the Ten Commandments – they actually end up being legalists.  Anarchy doesn’t work; people naturally want some type of system and order in their lives – so if that system of order is not God’s moral law, something else must take its place.  An obvious example cited by Chantry:  why is it that the fundamentalism movement of the early 20th century went astray, putting emphasis on so many trivial and unimportant “rules” that became the dominant focus?  Another interesting and somewhat humorous story he told, was of listening to a church conference speaker some years before (and Chantry was speaking in 2009), a man who was very anti-law.  Throughout the course of his conference messages, this speaker kept saying how we’re not under law, to disregard God’s moral law, and that instead we have “the counsels of the Holy Spirit.”  People listening began asking “well, what are the counsels of the Holy Spirit.”  In the very last message, the speaker finally answered that question, by declaring that “there are thousands of them (counsels of the Holy Spirit).”

This tendency will come out in different ways with different people: for some, classic fundamentalism.  With others I know, morality (“the law of Christ”) is primarily focused on the exhortations in the New Testament epistles, and quickly becomes an external emphasis on our acts and deeds of charity: being nice and kind to others, giving to the church, and providing food for those in need, especially within the church family.  Such things are indeed proper to do, as fitting under the general category of application of the 8th commandment — yet God’s moral law encompasses so much more and is not limited to merely what we find in the New Testament epistles, but to all of God’s word.

Online conversations about the 2016 Presidential campaign (debacle) provide yet another example of those who set up some type of legalism in place of God’s moral law. I have observed (and sadly I’m not alone) people claiming that how we vote in the U.S. presidential race is a moral issue. The claim put forth is that not voting for either of the two parties is a “wasted vote” and “a vote for Hillary,” and further that to waste that vote by not voting for either of these two, is a moral issue.  As Tom Chantry well described it in a blog post this spring:

Every four years, American Christians are told that we have a moral obligation to vote.  It appears that this year one nominee for President will be a professional bandit with the ego of President Obama, the fidelity of President Clinton, and the honesty of President Nixon.  His opponent will most likely be an unindicted traitor who has already gotten U.S. security and intelligence personnel killed by setting politics over duty.  Will someone please explain to me which commandment requires me to participate in this choice?

Indeed, a study through the Decalogue and the full extent of each of the greater issues addressed in each commandment, provides a helpful guide to understanding which issues really are moral — and which ones are not moral but merely part of a nation’s civil law.  A republic form of government that provides every citizen with “their vote,” with two main choices provided, such that every citizen “must” vote for one of these two, is NOT a moral issue that falls within the scope of any of the commandments of God.

This insistence upon such voting as a moral obligation, actually classifies as legalism for two reasons.  The first one has already been noted: the legalism of putting another law in the place of God’s moral law.

As noted by Chantry, and in the 1689 Baptist Confession study, legalism also occurs when someone takes his or her own application of a moral precept and sets that up as a standard that everyone else ought to follow.  Reference this recent post from Tim Challies, which relates the case of a Christian who came up with his own “rule” for spending time in reading God’s word, of “no Bible, no breakfast” – and others later came along, declaring that all believers ought to follow this same practice.  The same has occurred with this issue (voting for a U.S. presidential candidate):  those who object to other believers not voting for Trump, are the legalists: taking their idea of a “moral” issue (which is actually not part of God’s moral law, but merely civil U.S. law) and making an “application” that everyone else is expected to abide by.

 

 

 

Conflating Preparationism With the Second Use of the Law

July 18, 2016 Leave a comment

I recently came across an online discussion that revealed some people’s misunderstandings about the law and another term, preparationism.  For consideration was the following quote from Spurgeon.  (The full quote is available in this sermon, from January of 1886.  The conversation included only the bolded parts of the full quote — but the excerpt still makes Spurgeon’s point well enough):

I do not believe that any man can preach the gospel who does not preach the law. The book of Leviticus and all the other typical books are valuable as gospel-teaching to us, because there is always in them most clearly the law of God. The law is the needle, and you cannot draw the silken thread of the gospel through a man’s heart, unless you first send the needle of the law through the center thereof, to make way for it. If men do not understand the law, they will not feel that they are sinners; and if they are not consciously sinners, they will never value the sin offering. If the Ten Commandments are never read in their hearing, they will not know wherein they are guilty, and how shall they make confession? If they are not assured that the law is holy, and just, and good, and that God has never demanded of any man more than He has a right to demand, how shall they feel the filthiness of sin, or see the need of flying to Christ for cleansing? There is no healing a man till the law has wounded him, no making him alive till the law has slain him.

Clearly, Spurgeon is here referencing the “second use” of the law (the pedagogical use): to point out to sinners what God’s holy standard is, to show that they are sinners and that they cannot keep God’s law on their own and they need a savior.  Yet the people in this conversation instead concluded (incorrectly) that this is an example of preparationism — which they defined as, that a certain “work” of preparation needs to be done in a person’s heart, or else the Holy Spirit is not able to bring conviction of sin to that person.

Such reasoning shows two problems: first, an incorrect definition of what preparationism is; and second, attributing that error (preparationism) to Charles Spurgeon.  As explained in this lesson in the 1689 Baptist Confession exposition series, as well as in this previous post about one of Spurgeon’s sermons, preparationism is the idea that a sinner must show a certain amount of repentance, a certain level of sorrow for his sin such as some of the “great saints” experienced, before he can come to Christ — an error that amounts to “justification by repentance” rather than “justification by faith.”

Quoting Spurgeon again on the error of preparationism:

In our day the evil has taken another, and that a most extraordinary shape. Men have aimed at being self-righteous after quite an amazing fashion; they think they must feel worse, and have a deeper conviction of sin before they may trust in Christ. Many hundreds do I meet with who say they dare not come to Christ, and trust Him with their souls, because they do not feel their need of Him enough; they have not sufficient contrition for their sins; they have not repented as fully as they have rebelled! Brothers and Sisters, it is the same evil, from the same old germ of self-righteousness, but it has taken another and I think a more crafty shape. Satan has wormed himself into many hearts under the garb of an angel of light, and he has whispered to the sinner, “Repentance is a necessary virtue. Stop until you have repented, and when you have sufficiently mortified yourself on account of sin, then you will be fit to come to Christ, and qualified to trust and rely on Him

The post about Spurgeon, linked above, includes additional quotes from Spurgeon in which he “named names” of specific Puritan authors who taught preparationism.  So it is established that Spurgeon did not teach preparationism; the original Spurgeon quote above is instead in reference to the second use of the moral law, that which is clearly taught in the New Testament – the law as our teacher, to teach us the knowledge of sin.

For some reason, many evangelicals today, especially of the New Calvinist group, dislike any mention of “law,” as though the gospel is all and only about grace; to suggest anything about “the law” gets a response of “legalism!” and rhetoric about how we’re saved by grace and “not under law.”  Much of this attitude, directed at those in the Reformed Covenant Theology camp, comes from failing to distinguish and to understand the difference between the second and third use of the law; an article from a couple years back well notes this problem as seen in actual posts from the Gospel Coalition blog (Tullian Tchividjian’s misunderstanding).

As seen with the above example conversation, some within New Calvinism are taking their anti-law idea even further, going to the extreme of rejecting not merely the third use of the law, but even the second use of the law – and equating it with the unrelated error of preparationism. To reject both the second use and the third use is to take a position outside of the Christian Protestant tradition.  For all evangelical groups – Reformed/Calvinist, Reformed/Lutheran, and even classic, revised and progressive dispensational Calvinists – have affirmed at least the second use of the law.  To reject the second use, and misunderstand what Spurgeon was saying as legalistic error, is to join company with the early Protestant-era antinomians and their leader John Agricola, a position described in this article about the 16th century antinomian controversy:

This Lutheran confessional consensus concerning mandata dei as guides for sanctified living nearly crumbled in the mid sixteenth century amid the Antinomian Controversy. Antinomianism, or a rejection of any use of the Law for Christians, found a prominent spokesperson in John Agricola. While serving as an instructor in Eisleben during the 1520s, Agricola taught that the mercy of God revealed in the Gospel alone suffices to cause a person to repent of his sins. In addition to rejecting the second use of the Law, he also discarded the third. Agricola, who had trouble accepting that Melancthon, rather than he, received an appointment to the new theology post at Wittenberg in 1526, criticized the distinction that Melanththon made on these points between Law and Gospel. “Agricola took an extremely antinomian position, virtually rejecting out of hand the whole Old Testament, as well as injunctions of the Law in the lives of the regenerate.” Confusion compounded the controversy when Melancthon’s followers noted that their teacher had, at times, ascribed a Law function to the “Gospel,” using that term in its broader sense to include both the Law and the narrow definition of the Gospel. “But Melancthon’s followers did not make this distinction. They insisted that the Gospel in its narrow, proper sense worked contrition and rebuked sin.” Luther and Agricola argued back and forth in print during the late 1530s. After Luther’s death, Agricola took major part in drafting the Augsburg Interim (1548), which forged a compromise between Rome and the Lutheran theologians by equivocating on the distinction between Law and Gospel.

 

John Calvin and the Early Church Fathers

July 13, 2016 2 comments

I’m reading Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion, now in book 2 (text available online here), the section on the issue of supposed “free will” and the true nature of the will.  The following observation from Calvin reminded me of a topic I have addressed before, such as in this post about Steve Lawson’s book concerning the history of the “doctrines of grace”  and this later post on historical theology:

Moreover, although the Greek Fathers, above others, and especially Chrysostom, have exceeded due bounds in extolling the powers of the human will, yet all ancient theologians, with the exception of Augustine, are so confused, vacillating, and contradictory on this subject, that no certainty can be obtained from their writings.

Throughout this chapter Calvin considers, at some length, what previous scholars believed concerning the human will, even addressing their sub-categories of different parts of what makes up the human will and mind.  After observing that the Greek (pagan) philosophers all held a high view of the human will and human reason, Calvin noted that the Greek early church fathers in particular held a high regard for Greek philosophy.  This agrees with what was brought out in an early church history (Reformed Theological Seminary iTunes University) lectures series, as summarized in this previous post:

Another factor was their background as Greek philosophers, pagan Greeks who only converted to Christianity as adults, and who highly valued Greek philosophy as what helped to bring people to Christianity.  They all had interest in knowledge, the “gnosis,” and at least some of the Greeks were influenced by gnostic and platonic ideas.

Yet, as another response to those who would project the extreme Pelagian view onto the early Church pre-Augustine, to those who bring forth Calvin’s quote about how they were all confused on the subject, later in this chapter Calvin does point out the positive contributions and overall understanding of the early church writers:

The language of the ancient writers on the subject of Free Will is, with the exception of that of Augustine, almost unintelligible. Still they set little or no value on human virtue, and ascribe the praise of all goodness to the Holy Spirit.

 

At one time they teach, that man having been deprived of the power of free will must flee to grace alone; at another, they equip or seem to equip him in armour of his own. It is not difficult, however, to show, that notwithstanding of the ambiguous manner in which those writers express themselves, they hold human virtue in little or no account, and ascribe the whole merit of all that is good to the Holy Spirit.

 

This much, however, I dare affirm, that though they sometimes go too far in extolling free will, the main object which they had in view was to teach man entirely to renounce all self-confidence, and place his strength in God alone.

For this topic, I still consider Luther’s “The Bondage of the Will” as the main “go-to” book, one with great detail concerning the natural human will as not free (Erasmus’ view) but in bondage.  Calvin’s Institutes is another lengthy study of its own, regarding many doctrinal points, and this section contributes good information to the topic, including summary of the views of unbelieving philosophers as well as Christian teaching up to Calvin’s time.

Exceptions to Truth Telling (Nazis Asking About Jews) and the Ninth Commandment

June 27, 2016 1 comment

Continuing through Tom Chantry’s Ten Commandments series, the section on the ninth commandment includes 14 lessons, encompassing the three issues addressed.  “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor” addresses more than merely “not lying” and always telling the truth, but encompasses and combines three issues:  truth, justice, and reputation.  Through many different scripture texts, Chantry connects this commandment to issues of truth versus relativism (the worldview of Pontius Pilate); reputation and biblical, true “self image” and concern for our own good name as well as that of our neighbor; and justice versus oppression.

This in-depth look at what the commandment is really about, the working together of these three important issues, provides the proper context for what some have called “ethical dilemmas”: the rare situations in which someone should lie and not tell the truth – such as what to say to Nazis when you’re asked about Jews that you have hidden.  As Chantry notes, these truly are “exceptions” to normal practice, so rare that most of us will never actually experience them, and yet the “standard” answer, given by many well-meaning Christians, is that we should always tell the truth regardless of the circumstance.  See the following posts, this one and also this follow-up post, from over a year ago at the Cripplegate blog, for examples of how many Christians approach the question of lying versus telling the truth.

Chantry’s series includes one full lesson on this topic, “Exceptions to Truthtelling,” in which he relates the well-known story from Corrie Ten Boom.  As I remember the details of the story, it was actually Corrie’s sister, and the question was regarding the whereabouts of a few men in their group who were hiding the Jews, not the location of actual Jews – but the main part of the story was that the people were hiding under a hidden trap-door that was under the floor, thus under the kitchen table.  When asked to tell where these people were, Corrie or her sister said “they’re under the kitchen table” – an answer that she reasoned was technically true and thus avoiding the problem of never telling a lie.

The problem with such reasoning, as Chantry points out, is that our understanding of normal language is such that to say “they’re under the table” would mean they were actually under the table itself.  To make such a statement and yet mean that they were really in a room underneath the table, is being deceptive – and deceiving and misleading in this way really is the same as telling a lie.

Instead, Chantry directs us back to what the ninth commandment is all about – the combination of upholding truth AND justice.  Normally, truth-telling and justice work together, and all societies recognize this, as seen in our laws concerning perjury.  The truth is necessary to determine and carry out right judgment and for justice to occur: to acquit the innocent and punish the guilty.  Sadly, though, history does present us with cases where an oppressor – someone working against justice – would demand the truth in order to carry out their injustice and oppression.

Scripture gives us a few cases where truth and justice are in conflict, of which the earliest one – Exodus 1:8-21 – is the clearest example of how God views this situation.  A wicked Pharaoh, desiring to oppress and carry out injustice –harming the innocent (infants) – tried to accomplish his purposes through the Hebrew midwives, and then asked them why they had not killed the baby boys.  On the surface of it, from our perspective, the lie that they tell Pharaoh seems incredibly bad – who would believe such a thing, that the Hebrew women really were stronger than the Egyptian women and could give birth to their children without a midwife’s assistance?  Yet, consider the actual situation and what the Pharaoh believed; this was someone who was rather paranoid and afraid of the Israelites, someone fearing them because they were so numerous, someone trying whatever he can think of to stop this threat of a numerous people, to keep them from spreading and growing – to the point of genocide.

The lie that the Hebrew midwives told was actually a brilliant one – it was a racist lie about the Hebrew people as a race, saying in effect that they were different from other people, that they were like the animals (which deliver their young on their own, without assistance).  It actually made sense to Pharaoh, he believed it – yes, he thought, there really is something different about these Hebrews, that I can’t do anything to stop them from multiplying.  It was the type of lie that Hitler would have fallen for.

If the Hebrew midwives had told the truth, they would have been killed – and Pharaoh would have brought someone else to do the work for him.  Contrary to the claims of the “no exceptions to lying” camp, the Hebrew babies were still in danger—it would have been an easy thing for Pharaoh to find someone who could replace the midwives and to start killing all future baby boys.  If all Hebrew babies were already safe, with no threat to future babies, Pharaoh would not have summoned the midwives to ask them this question.  The “no exceptions to lying” camp would also say, “well, God commended them for their faith, but He did not approve of their lying” — and yet scripture is quite clear that God approved of them.  The midwives feared God from the beginning, and nothing in the account suggests that God was in any way displeased with them, or that the midwives had committed a “lesser sin.”  To suggest that God commended them because of some aspects of what happened, but that He didn’t really approve of them lying, is going beyond what the text says–and injecting our own presupposition, that lying, in and of itself, in all situations, is always a sin.

If lying itself, regardless of the circumstance, were always a sin, then God could have communicated that truth to us easily enough.  The three commandments that immediately precede this one  – the sixth, seventh, and eighth – are worded in that terse, simple manner: “no murder,” “no adultery” and “no stealing.”  It would have been quite natural, if God wanted to communicate the same regarding truth and lying, for the ninth commandment to follow in that same pattern:  “no lying.”  Instead, the ninth commandment adds complexity—truth (and not lying) is within the context of justice and reputation: you shall not bear false witness (false witness is lying, not telling the truth, within a context of justice and a court system) against your neighbor.

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