The 1689 Baptist Confession exposition series is currently in chapter 22 – the chapter on worship and its elements. Two paragraphs here address the specifics of prayer – both corporate and private – and thus the 1689 study includes a mini-series on the elements of prayer. (Now I am caught up to the latest available message in the series; this will continue with future lessons as they become available on Sermon Audio.) A few thoughts here, regarding the issue of ‘praying according to God’s will,’ from this lesson (March 13, 2016) — three common errors, or points of misunderstanding, regarding interpretation of 1 John 5:14:
- The “Room Service” view interprets 1 John 5:14 with over-emphasis on the ‘ask.’ Asking is what matters, and therefore to ask about anything is in itself according to God’s will.
A well-known scripture example that refutes this error, is the apostle Paul’s request (three times) for God to remove the thorn in his flesh; the answer was no. Another incident I recall here, brought up in Tom Chantry’s recent Deuteronomy series: Moses’ pleading with God to be allowed to go into the promised land—that too was not allowed, and was not according to God’s will.
- The “name it and claim it” view, one we’re familiar with from all the false teaching on Christian television, takes the scriptural reference that “if two or more people agree” and concludes that therefore, if at least two people agree to pray about something, God will do it.
R. C. Sproul has referred to this idea as, God as our “celestial bellhop,” at our beck-and-call for anything we want. As Sproul observed (quote available at this blog link):
We are reminded of statements like “Ask, and it will be given you” (Matthew 7:7); “If two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven” (Matthew 18:19); and “Whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith” (Matthew 21:22). Shorthand summaries like these have provoked bizarre theories of prayer where people have violently isolated these passages from everything else Jesus and the Bible say about prayer. Distortions also abound when we approach these aphorisms simplistically. Consider the earlier statement about any two people agreeing. It would not be difficult to find two Christians who agree that ridding the world of cancer or wars would be a good idea. Their prayer in this matter would not automatically accomplish their desire. The Word of God indicates that wars, poverty, and disease will be present at the time of Christ’s return. To expect their absolute elimination before the appointed time is to grasp prematurely the future promises of God.
The third idea is not so much error, but partly true combined with a misunderstanding regarding God’s decretive versus perceptive wills. The “Submissive but unsure” doubtful view, submits to God’s will, but remains uncertain as to whether the request being made is according to God’s will. Here we consider God’s two wills: 1) His decretive will regarding everything that happens, everything that will occur; and 2) His perceptive will, that which is revealed throughout scripture as God’s precepts, God’s moral law, how we should live as Christians. When we pray for things regarding our future – things not specifically revealed in God’s word – we submit the request to God and His will, with that uncertainty as to what the answer will be. But when we pray for things that pertain to God’s perceptive will, we know that He will answer. Prayers for greater patience and endurance, for more peace, and other Christian “fruits of the spirit” ARE according to God’s will, prayers that we can have confidence that God will answer. Indeed it is so, as Hodgins related, that often we can look back at a particular situation and realize, that yes, in this situation, this time I was more patient, this time my temper didn’t flare up – continuing answers to prayers that are according to God’s will.
This particular story is mentioned in several places: the original event in Numbers 32, Moses’ reference to it here in Deuteronomy, plus follow-up in the book of Joshua. Study of the Deuteronomy text includes the original incident; this is a situation regarding “what Moses didn’t know.” Moses did not know that the Trans-Jordan should even be given to Israel — the promise was always about the land west of the Jordan River; and Moses did not know the heart motives of the men who came to him asking to have that land. Heinitially suspected them of their motives, as being like the previous generation that discouraged their fellow Israelites to not go in and take possession of the land. Were they really hoping to get out of helping in the conquest of Canaan? Or were they honest all along, planning to do as what they explained to Moses after his initial judgment? Moses, as well as us reading it, do not know their thoughts on this point. What Moses did was hold them to their words, their vow – and as the story later unfolded, they were true to their words and went out in the lead, at the front of the army.
Other considerations here: though Moses had not known it, clearly God had purposed for this part of the land — the trans-Jordan (east of the Jordan River) – to be a part of Israel, and thus it would be parceled out to some of the tribes. Yet the way in which it was distributed, did not come directly from God’s directive, but as a request from the leaders of those tribes. Looking at the overall situation, their desire to have that land was not really the wisest choice. They willingly put themselves geographically apart from the heart of Israel – on the frontier and fringe of society. The Jordan created a natural barrier; at certain times of the year – due to flood stage – the Jordan could not easily be crossed. These tribes isolated themselves, as further away from the place of worship – a situation that Chantry likened to our day in the case of Christians who are more distant and frequently not at church due to their past choices such as their occupation (having to work on Sundays).
Though not mentioned in this lesson, we do see the concern that these tribes later had when, in Joshua 22, they set up a replica of the altar to God on their side of the river, indicating that generation’s desire to stay connected to the rest of the nation. Later history of Israel, though, does confirm the overall problem, their unwise choice: this area was quick to apostatize, and 2 Kings 10:32-33 tells us that this land was the first area to be taken away by the Assyrians: In those days the LORD began to cut off parts of Israel. Hazael defeated them throughout the territory of Israel: from the Jordan eastward, all the land of Gilead, the Gadites, and the Reubenites, and the Manassites, from Aroer, which is by the Valley of the Arnon, that is, Gilead and Bashan.
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.