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Speak, O Lord, Till Your Kingdom Comes: Church Praise Songs

July 28, 2011 Leave a comment

How common it is for wrong biblical ideas to enter through songs.  From church history I’ve heard that the error of Arianism spread easily through simple songs, such as one with the line “There was a time when the Son was not.”  That is a more extreme example, but even within American churches, many of us can recall the songs about having “a mansion” in heaven — whereas the reference — John 14:3 — is referring to many “rooms” in my Father’s house.

The general theme of church replacement / supremacy is of course well represented in the classic hymns, if in a subtle way:  all the refernces to Zion, as in “we’re marching to Zion, beautiful beautiful Zion” and “Glorious things of thee are spoken, Zion city of our God,” or other songs where the word Zion, or even Beulah land, is used as a reference to heaven.

By contrast, apparently the only hymns with biblical reference to Israel and its great future, come from historic premillennialist Horatius Bonar.  He wrote seven such hymns, but I have never seen the sheet music that goes to those songs, nor seen these hymns in any church hymnal.

Among contemporary praise songs, the church-supremacy trend continues, as in the recent song (sung often at the local Reformed amillennial church) “Speak, O Lord.”  Most of the words are fine, and overall it is a great hymn, but the last verse includes the words “Speak, O Lord, till Your church is built and the earth is filled with your glory.” 

Of course, most people just sing the words and don’t really think about the words, or ask “is this biblical?”  The reference to the earth being filled with the glory of the Lord is in Habakkuk 2:14 — in the great chapter with the words “the just shall live by faith,” where we are also told of a vision that “awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end-it will not lie,” and describes both judgment to come as well as the great promise in verse 14:  For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.  Even amillennialist John Reisinger has expressed his doubts, realizing that this verse contains more than just the influence of the church in this age.  To say “till your church is built and the earth is filled with your glory” of course suggests that the church, or the gospel going forth, is going to bring this about (classic postmillennialism), and of course is not scriptural, as something never taught explicitly or implicitly in the Bible.

As shown in this blog’s title, though, I suggest a scripturally correct wording, that fits the rhythm and syllables for the song:  Speak, O Lord, Till Your Kingdom Comes, and the earth is filled with Your glory.

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Haggai’s Prophecy: First or Second Coming?

July 25, 2011 Leave a comment

From my studies through the minor prophets with S. Lewis Johnson, some interesting points  from Haggai 2:1-7.  This prophecy contains a familiar passage, since verse 6 is cited in Hebrews 12:26-27:

At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” 27 This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of things that are shaken-that is, things that have been made-in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain.

Haggai 2:7 contains a well-known phrase — or rather, the incorrect King James translation of it:  “the desire of all nations.”  This mistake in the grammar, a singular noun instead of plural, goes back to the Latin Vulgate, and from that translation (in the KJV as well as the NIV) has come the common misunderstanding that this passage is talking about the First Coming of Christ.  Indeed I always understood it as such, that “the desire of all nations” and the promise that this temple would be greater than the previous (Solomon’s), referred to Christ coming to that temple a few hundred years later.  The traditional emphasis at Christian churches no doubt reinforced that, with the emphasis that everything in the Old Testament refers to Christ and the New Testament era.  Along with this, many see the citation of the passage in Hebrews, and (as with so many other NT citings of the OT) distort the plain words to conclude that the very fact of the citation means that the quoted passage must have been fulfilled in the first century, Christ’s First Coming.

First, though, the original Greek, properly translated in all modern translations (excepting the NIV) — NASB, ESV, HCSB, NLT, etc. — has a plural noun.  The ESV translates the passage as:

For thus says the Lord of hosts: Yet once more, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land. 7 And I will shake all nations, so that the treasures of all nations shall come in, and I will fill this house with glory, says the Lord of hosts.

Thus, this prophecy in Haggai is actually an indirect Messianic prophecy, to Christ’s Second Coming.  Another Old Testament passage that relates to this one, is Isaiah 60 , a great chapter concerning the restoration of Israel. Consider especially verses 5-7, a clear parallel to the idea here that the nations will bring their treasures to Israel and the millennial temple:

Then you shall see and be radiant;
your heart shall thrill and exult,
because the abundance of the sea shall be turned to you,
the wealth of the nations shall come to you.
6 A multitude of camels shall cover you,
the young camels of Midian and Ephah;
all those from Sheba shall come.
They shall bring gold and frankincense,
and shall bring good news, the praises of the Lord.
All the flocks of Kedar shall be gathered to you;
the rams of Nebaioth shall minister to you;
they shall come up with acceptance on my altar,
and I will beautify my beautiful house.

Habakkuk the Minor Prophet: How to Solve Our Problems

July 21, 2011 Leave a comment

From S. Lewis Johnson’s four-part series through the minor prophet Habakkuk, I offer the following overview of the book Habakkuk and its major themes.

This three chapter book teaches two great ideas:  individual salvation (the just shall live by faith, Habakkuk 2:4), and the problem of history — God’s dealings with His chosen people and His dealings with the non-elect.

Habakkuk chapters 1 and 2 records a colloquy, a conversation between God and Habakkuk, and chapter 3 gives a theophany.  Or, Habakkuk contains a dialogue in the first two chapters, and a song of God’s intervention in history in the third chapter.

Habakkuk can also be called the great book of faith:

  • Habakkuk 1:  Faith is Tested
  • Habakkuk 2:  Faith is Taught
  • Habakkuk 3:  Faith Becomes Triumphant

Habakkuk’s problem is expressed in simple terms of “how long?” and “why?”  It is the age old question, often asked by Job and the psalmists:  why do the evil prosper, why is the law ignored, and why does wickedness rule?  God’s ways are often mysterious, and His inaction puzzles us.  His instruments are unusual; in Habakkuk’s case He uses the wicked Chaldeans to accomplish His purposes. Yet we observe Habakkuk’s manner, that he gets away from everyone and everything else, and spends time with the Lord.  We take our problems to God (not to others).

From Habakkuk 2:1 we can learn how to solve problems

    1. Put away panic.  Don’t start talking and get upset.
    2. Reflect upon the basic principles, the fundamentals.
    3. You are the eternal God, the Lord Jehovah, the Creator of All, the Holy God, and my God, the covenant keeping God.

    4. Put to use the principles that we learn.
    5. Reference James 1:22 — prove yourselves doers of the word and not merely hearers.

    6. Leave it in the hands of the Lord, and expect an answer.

    The ultimate example from scripture is our Lord’s prayer to His father, in the garden of Gethsemane.  Also, the answer may be yes, no, or even wait.  Sometimes we don’t receive the answer to our prayer in this lifetime.

    Other relevant scripture:  Philippians 4:6-7 expresses this attitude of prayer and dependency on God.

    The Old Testament shows examples of the wrong and right ways of dealing with our problems: Jacob meeting Esau is an example of the wrong way, and Daniel 6 (Daniel in the Lions Den) the right way.

The Prophet Micah’s Lament: Hermits Can Never Please the Lord

July 18, 2011 Leave a comment

Continuing in the study through Micah with S. Lewis Johnson, the beginning of Micah 7 contains a lament:  verses 1 through 6.

About 1/3 of the Psalms are laments, as also shown in the Psalms chart in the MacArthur Bible Commentary, which lists 49 Psalms in this category.

From the text in Micah, we can learn the following.  A lament has two purposes:

  1. It functions as a prayer: the one who writes the lament unfolds his own heart’s burden in his role as a mediator.
  2. It makes plain the divine view of their corruption, of what God thinks about the condition of the land — which     was not at all good towards this apostate nation.

Micah 7:2 tells us that “​​The godly has perished from the earth, and there is no one upright among mankind.”  In this terrible society, honest and upright men don’t exist: men who meet the requirements of the things that the Lord required (reference Micah 6:6-8).  Another observation to make here, is that hermits can never please the Lord, hermits can never do the will of God.  In S. Lewis Johnson’s words:

By the way, this lets us know that hermits never can do the will of God.  Isolation never would produce moral and social concern in fruit.  So the hermit is a kind of picture of a spiritual man that the Bible condemns.  The Bible expects a spiritual man not to be a man of isolation, but a man of biblical separation.  That is a holy man in the midst of unholy people doing the will of God, such as our Lord.  Hermits, therefore, are individuals who cannot, by virtue of their very manner of life, cannot please the Lord.

Verse 6 is a passage that became popular among Jews in the apocalyptic literature during the inter-testamental time.  Jesus also quotes this verse, in Matthew 10:35-36

(Micah 7:6)  ​​​​​​​​for the son treats the father with contempt,
the daughter rises up against her mother,
the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;
a man’s enemies are the men of his own house.

This description of families will be true in the Tribulation era, the main focus of this passage.  Yet it has application to some past time periods as well, of people living in particularly harsh situations:  for instance the Communist Soviet Union, or Hitler’s Germany, societies where people could not openly speak their beliefs even in their own home, with their own family.  I think of a scene from an old movie, The Counterfeit Traitor, that portrays such at least politically: a father living in Nazi Germany is having secret meetings with William Holden’s character (an Ally spy pretending to be a Nazi), but the young son is committed to the Nazi cause and stirs up trouble.  To a certain extent even believers married to unbelievers, or married to professed believers who nonetheless oppose certain truths set forth in scripture, experience this too, and often to keep peace in the house must follow the words of Micah 7:5, “guard the doors of your mouth from her (or him) who lies in your arms.”

In verse 7 the tone changes, from pessimism to optimism, as Micah affirms his hope, that he looks to the Lord, the God of his salvation, the God who will hear him.  Micah’s response is how we all should end our laments, in looking to our God, in eagerly awaiting His coming and His Messianic Kingdom.

The Prophet Micah and The Remnant

July 14, 2011 Leave a comment

From S. Lewis Johnson’s Micah series, a look at Micah 5 and the description of the remnant.

The very word “remnant” suggests the tragedy of apostasy. So many are gone, only a few left.  Yet after apostasy, the very fact of a remnant also suggests the hope of a return.  God’s electing purpose continues.  In Micah 5 it is further called “the remnant of Jacob” and so we think of the weakness of the man Jacob, but also of the great covenant promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

The book of Micah contains three prophecies concerning the remnant:

  • Micah 2:12-13 — a prophecy of being taken into exile
  • Micah 4:6-7 — rescued and transformed, safe from attacks,  and
  • Micah 5:7-9  — the remnant a blessing to the nations

In Micah 5:7-8, the remnant “in the midst of many peoples” is described in two comparisons that may not mean much to us in modern city life, yet which had great meaning to the people of Micah’s day.  In verse 7, the remnant will be “like dew from the Lord, like showers on the grass.”  In verse 8 the remnant is “like a lion among the beasts of the forest, like a young lion among the flocks of sheep.”

We don’t especially think of dew as all that important, but it turns out to be very significant for Israel, a rather dry and arid place.  Israel has a rainy season and a dry season, and the dry season lasts from spring until fall.  The crops can only grow there because of the night-time breezes that come in from the Mediterranean Sea, which comes over and pours a very thick dew onto the land during the night, when the land is cool and thus benefits from dew.

Dew is also mentioned a few other places in the Old Testament.  The story of Gideon and the fleece is the best known one, in which Gideon gains assurance from the Lord through signs from God:  dew on all the ground except the fleece, and then dew only on the fleece and not the ground.  Even earlier, though, comes Genesis 27:28 — Isaac’s blessing to Jacob includes the line “​​​May God give you of the dew of heaven and of the fatness of the earth and plenty of grain and wine.”

Showers further remind us of God’s providence and blessing.  We cannot make it rain.  The dew and the showers have their source in the Lord and His sovereign grace.

Now to verse 8, the lion and young lion:  whereas dew is a silent blessing of the Lord God, a lion suggests irresistible power.  Israel will be the aggressor among the nations, and the other nations like the weak beasts of the forest.  For the lion theme we can also look back to Genesis 49:9, Jacob’s final words to his sons:

​​​​​Judah is a lion’s cub; from the prey, my son, you have gone up.
He stooped down; he crouched as a lion and as a lioness; who dares rouse him?

Numbers 23 and 24, Baalam’s prophecies, also speak of God’s people Israel as a lion.

  • Numbers 23:24  ​​​​​​​​Behold, a people! As a lioness it rises up and as a lion it lifts itself;
  • Numbers 24:9 — ​​​​​​​​He crouched, he lay down like a lion and like a lioness; who will rouse him up? Blessed are those who bless you, and cursed are those who curse you.”

Within the lion theme, and this “blessed are those who bless you, and cursed are those who curse you” statement in Numbers, we again find reference to the Abrahamic covenant in Genesis 12:3:

I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

Micah 5:8 concludes with “none to deliver” and here we see the power of the remnant of Jacob, as the representative of the Lord God upon the earth.  Verse 9 concludes with a command, “Thy hand be lifted up over your adversaries, thy enemies be cut off.”

In the prophecy of Micah we again see the recurring theme of God’s covenant with Abraham and His covenant people Israel, and we eagerly await the day when this prophecy, part of all the prophetic word, comes to fulfillment in our Lord’s Second Coming and the restoration of Israel.

Psalms At the Passover: Matthew 26:30

July 11, 2011 Leave a comment

From S. Lewis Johnson’s Gospel of Matthew series, an interesting item from Matthew 26:30 (“And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.”)  I had never really thought about that brief statement and what it referred to, but here we have more background concerning the Passover and the Psalms that were sung.

The Great Hallel, Psalms 113-118, was sung at every Passover:  Psalms 113-114 at the beginning, and Psalms 115-118 at the end of the service.  This set of psalms is also called the “Egyptian Hallel” according to the MacArthur Bible Commentary, which also mentions two other Hallels in scripture, Psalms 120-136 “The Great Hallel” and Psalms 145-150 the “Final Hallel.”  All agree that Psalms 113-118 were sung at the Passover service.

So reading through Psalms 115 through 118 help us focus on the thoughts of the Lord Jesus and his disciples that night.

  • Psalm 115 begins with focus on God’s glory:  Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, But unto Your name give glory.
  • Psalm 116 is the story of a passing through death to life and service.  Consider the following great verses:

The snares of death encompassed me;
the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me;
I suffered distress and anguish.
Then I called on the name of the Lord: “O Lord, I pray, deliver my soul!”

and verses 15-16:

Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.
​​​​​​​​O Lord, I am your servant; I am your servant, the son of your maidservant.
You have loosed my bonds.

  • Psalm 117 (only two verses) is the psalm of universal praise following upon that passing through death to life and service.
  • Psalm 118 has the refrain, “His steadfast love endures forever,” and ends on that note.

As G. Campbell Morgan observes, “Thus the King came to the darkness of the Cross singing of the enduring loving-kindness of GOD.”

A Follow-Up on Theological Triage

July 7, 2011 2 comments

This is a follow-up from a recent post concerning Theological Triage.  Following are a few points I made in the follow-up comments, for clarification on my overall broad definition of eschatology and how it really is an issue of importance (not on the level of food and drink), very similar to the overall issue of Arminianism versus Calvinism and related to the believer’s level of overall maturity and doctrinal understanding.  Since comments are often lost and buried, I decided to repost it here as a separate post, with a few revisions and additions.

(Regarding the relative importance of eschatology, historically)… Just because it wasn’t an issue historically, is not valid reason to say that differences in understanding of eschatology are no obstacle or limitation on fellowship. Arminianism as I understand is also a relatively recent development, and yet differences in understanding DO limit the level of fellowship there, and thus Arminians fellowship separately, and Calvinists tend to feel uncomfortable in Arminian churches.  This is especially true when the Arminian preacher speaks against Calvinism, but even in the general handling of ideas concerning election and God’s sovereignty.  Calvinist preachers I know have said the same thing I’m saying here: we should not be too harsh and say that Arminians are not saved, but rather we acknowledge that Arminians are saved yet have an incomplete understanding of these issues, and so our fellowship is limited.

I would agree that among those believers who have not fully studied eschatology and don’t think it’s important, fellowship is unhindered. They are at the same level in their walk and maturity. Yet when some believers have studied the matter and have greater understanding, that DOES LIMIT the level of fellowship with those who either a) haven’t given it much thought or b) have contrary ideas. To those who do fully understand premillennialism, though, differences in preaching do come out when listening to non-premillennarians. I can notice the differences in the preaching of many different parts of scripture, since understanding of the church and Israel and the coming literal kingdom come out in so many scriptures, not just in the “classic” eschatology passages that everyone thinks of like Daniel or Revelation etc. So I contend that these differences in how we interpret various scriptures, have far greater impact on church fellowship (including what is being taught at that church), at least as much as differing views concerning baptism and communion. Again, since so few passages actually touch on those doctrines, those doctrines really don’t come up all that often in a particular church’s sermons or other teaching; yes, they come up in a particular church’s practices of actual baptism and communion, but not as much in the sermons.

Finally, consider this matter logically:
Correlation idea put forth:
1.  Christians really didn’t make much of an issue over such-and-such doctrine (doctrine A) for the majority of church history.
2.  Christians have studied and come to differing conclusions concerning doctrine doctrine A.
Therefore:
1. Therefore, doctrine A must be somehow unclear and speculative in nature, and
2.  Therefore, doctrine A must be unimportant.

Now, substitute “Doctrines of Grace” (i.e., the 5 points of Calvinism) for “doctrine A” above.

Christians historically did not question this matter, generally, until more recent times (Reformation and later, not really until the 18th century), and it wasn’t an issue.  Yet when Christians have studied the Doctrines of Grace they have come to very differing conclusions: Calvinism, Arminianism, even mid-range points such as Calminianism and Amyraldianism.

Therefore, the “Doctrines of Grace” must be somehow unclear and speculative in nature, and the “Doctrines of Grace” must therefore be of third-tier level, unimportant, and something we should not divide fellowship over.

Does this really make sense?