Archive for October, 2012

The First Mention of Caves in the Bible

October 27, 2012 4 comments

Earlier this month on vacation, I visited Mammoth Cave National Park, and so the topic of caves was near to mind in my daily Bible reading this week when I came upon this first mention of a cave, Genesis 19:30 (speaking of Lot): “So he lived in a cave with his two daughters.”

One thing clearly brought out by the rangers doing the cave tours, concerning the history of man and caves, is the fact that – despite the common joke about men who “could live in a cave” — people don’t live in caves.  Men have explored caves for their treasures, and they have at times lived in the shelter overhangs of rocks, near the caves – but never in the caves, for several obvious reasons including lack of light and food.

From a quick look at all the references to caves in the Bible, the main idea associated with caves is as a place of hiding, when in great fear and distress.  Caves also are the place of the dead, the burial sites as described later in Genesis as well as John 11, Lazarus’ tomb.  In Gideon’s time the people built the caves and strongholds, meaning of course not actual caves themselves but places near the surface and among the rocks and caves.  David and his men often hid in the caves, as did Elijah in his flight from Jezebel.  Caves are also sometimes associated with judgment, as the place where the wicked go to in their attempts to evade capture and judgment: for instance, the Canaanite kings defeated by Joshua (Joshua 10:16-27); but especially during the future Great Tribulation (Revelation 6:15; Isaiah 2:19-21).

The first mention account of caves, near the end of Lot’s recorded life, adds this sad if seemingly trivial fact, that he lived in a cave.  After trying to have both the world and a godly life, and ending up with no influence in Sodom or even in his own family, the sad picture of Lot includes hiding and actually “living in” a cave: a fear so great, one difficult even to comprehend, that one should willingly dwell in a place of darkness, and a tragic testimony to what the fear of man can do.

J.C. Ryle’s observations concerning Lot, from Holiness, are well for us to remember:

Lot left no evidences behind him when he died. We know but little about Lot after his flight from Sodom, and all that we do know is unsatisfactory. His pleading for Zoar because it was “a little one,” his departure from Zoar afterwards, and his conduct with his daughters in the cave — all, all tell the same story. All show the weakness of the grace which was in him, and the low state of soul into which he had fallen.

We don’t know how long he lived after his escape. We don’t know where he died, or when he died, whether he saw Abraham again, what was the manner of his death, what he said or what he thought. All these are hidden things. We are told of the last days of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, David — but not one word about Lot. Oh, what a gloomy deathbed — the deathbed of Lot must have been!

The Scripture appears to draw a veil around him on purpose. There is a painful silence about his latter end. He seems to go out like an expiring lamp, and to leave an ill odor behind him. And had we not been specially told in the New Testament that Lot was “just” and “righteous” — I truly believe we would have doubted whether Lot was a saved soul at all!


Great Book Offer: Steven Lawson’s Pillars of Grace Series, Volume 2

October 24, 2012 Leave a comment

A great e-book offer available now for only 99 cents:  volume 2 of Steven Lawson’s “Pillars of Grace (A Long Line of Godly Men, Volume Two).”  – This second volume, 562 print pages, highlights the belief in the doctrines of Grace by the great Christian thinkers from the 1st through the 16th century.  From the patristic era to the Reformation, 23 men – from Clement of Alexandria through John Calvin –are highlighted, showing that the five points of what is sometimes called Calvinism have been affirmed throughout church history.

In honor of Reformation Day (October 31), the publisher is offering this special price from now through October 31.

From J. Ligon Duncan’s foreword:

as Dr. Lawson highlights some of the Church Fathers’ comments on the sovereignty of God, radical depravity, sovereign election, definite atonement, irresistible calling, preserving grace, and more, and as we see the church’s theology of grace develop across the boundaries of time, place, and culture, we gain a greater appreciation that the doctrines of grace are not the invention of the sixteenth, seventeenth, or nineteenth century, or the product of one narrow branch of the Christian tradition. Rather, they are part of a common and catholic (or universal) theological legacy. Yes, they were not always fully understood. Yes, they sometimes were obscured or ignored. But the cumulative testimony of history is a powerful witness to their universality.

Who is Sovereign in the Spread of the Gospel? The Amillennial Binding of Satan

October 19, 2012 4 comments

I’ve previously posted here and here concerning the Amillennial idea of Satan being bound now.  Michael Vlach’s article, Is Satan Bound?, is another great resource.  In this post, though, I’m looking at one particular feature of the Amillennial binding of Satan.   In answer to the very obvious fact that this world still abounds in evil, and the New Testament scriptures mention Satan as an active lion and someone to be on our guard against, a common amillennial claim is an altered meaning of Revelation 20:1-3:  that Satan is only bound now in one sense, that the gospel is not hindered and can be freely spread about throughout the world.  A friend’s amillennial pastor recently affirmed this amillennial explanation of the binding of Satan, adding that “If Satan’s power hadn’t been restricted (at the time of the cross), no one could have been saved after the cross.”

Aside from the fact that the binding described in Revelation 20 is quite forceful, nothing so limited as this idea, such an explanation poses some serious problems, including the very obvious fact that some parts of the world are very much still in Satanic bondage, places of rampant paganism, spiritual oppression, even Islamic dominance; the gospel has been hindered and not received in certain places and times throughout church history.

But going further to the heart of the matter:  the book of Acts directly tells us who it is that allows and prevents the spread of the gospel.  Acts 16:6-7 describes Paul’s attempts to go east into Bithynia and Asia.  First they went through Phrygia and Galatia, “having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia;” and then they went to Mysia and “attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them.”  Does this really sound anything like a present-day binding of Satan such that Satan is really the sovereign one who determines where the gospel can and cannot go?  As hard as it may be for some to accept, it really is God who sovereignly determines —  just as He does with the election of individuals — which nations and peoples get to hear the gospel at any given point in time, in this the Church age.

Then too, if Satan was only bound at the cross, thus no longer preventing the spread of the gospel, and “if Satan’s power hadn’t been restricted, no one could have been saved after the cross” is true, then how indeed were people saved before that point in time?  As Jonah proclaimed over 700 years before the cross, Salvation is of the Lord.  Salvation has always been sovereignly determined by God, who hardens who He will (such as Pharaoh) and saves who He will, in His sovereign purposes. The biblical record shows this was always the case, along with the fact that many non-Israelites were saved before the first century AD.

The Old Testament has numerous accounts of Gentile individuals who were God’s people: to begin with, the people who lived before there even was a nation of Israel:  Adam and Eve; Abel; Enoch; Noah and the other seven people with him in the ark; Job; not to mention the patriarchs (from whom the nation later came).  During the Mosaic period, certainly the other nations were left to themselves while God focused His attention on the nation Israel, and yet even during those centuries we find several references to individuals saved (through coming into contact with Israel).

Then we consider the historical record, the beginning of the times of the Gentiles and the years between the Old and New Testament, still the pre-Cross time (before circa A.D. 30).  Daniel in particular, and other Jews no doubt to some extent as well, had great influence among their neighboring Gentiles, such that a few centuries later we find the maji from the East looking for the Messiah at His birth in Bethlehem – men who evidently had some knowledge of the Hebrew scriptures and were actually more aware of the time and looking for Him, than did the Jews whom they questioned for further information.  Jewish synagogues had been established throughout the Greek/Roman empire, with many of them still living outside of Israel, and we also see historical indications of Jewish proselytization among those Gentiles: certainly not on the same scale as what took place later in the book of Acts, but there were at least some God fearers and converts to Judaism during this pre-Cross time.  John 12 describes the coming of some Greeks to see Jesus; this was still before the event of the crucifixion and resurrection and Satan’s supposed “binding.”

The gospel went forth with greater results (than previously seen) in the early years of the Church, as recorded in the book of Acts.  Yet even during Paul’s missionary journeys, Satan continued to obstruct and hinder, such that Paul even said that “Satan hindered us” (1 Thess. 2:18).  Even during that great early growth of the church, the same general pattern was observed as from ancient times: saving faith in a relative few within the overall population of each setting, while the majority did not respond.  The same God was sovereign over where He allowed the gospel to spread or not spread (again, as Acts 16:6-7 explicitly tells us), just as before the cross.  The spreading of the gospel message is not something that Satan has sovereignty over.

Psalms and Hymns: Confusing the Covenants and Testaments

October 11, 2012 Leave a comment

Recently a preacher, talking about church hymns, referenced an early hymn writer (perhaps Isaac Watts; or someone else from that time period) who argued for hymns beyond the words of the Psalms–by reasoning that the Psalms were “Old Covenant” and thus were limited in worship, because in singing only the Psalms we could not express the great New Covenant / New Testament truths about Jesus, including His name, and the greater truths we now have in this age.

That statement struck me as a bit off, as a misunderstanding of the definitions of the Old and New Covenants, which are not the same as the Old and New Testament of the canon of scripture.   After all, the New Covenant is mentioned in the Old Testament (Jeremiah 31 and Ezekiel 36), and the Psalms are not the Old Covenant (that is the Mosaic law of the Pentateuch, and not even all of those five books); and the Psalms have a great deal to say concerning New Covenant and New Testament ideas.  Rather than having “old covenant” content, the Psalms specifically include several references to the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants, while also referencing the doctrines of the kingdom (the idea of royalty, and the Lord God as King), creation, and many other Christian beliefs and concepts.  A recent Dr. Reluctant post addresses the specific error of conflating the Old/New Covenant with the Old/New Testament.  Here I especially note point 3:

When one reads about the contrasts between the “first covenant” and the “new covenant” in Hebrews it is clear that the former is equated with Moses’ Law (Cf. Heb. 7-10), which is inferior to the “better covenant” (7:22) and is “growing old and is ready to vanish away” (8:13).  This type of language cannot be used of the relation of the Old Testament books to the New Testament books.

Looking further into the Psalms and music issue, though, I found some interesting articles, both from the perspective of Psalms-only and a more moderate view that includes Psalms as well as hymns that strive to reflect scriptural language.  Yet here too, often the references were to “New Covenant” hymns as contrasted with “Old Covenant” Psalms.  I also observe that the Psalms-only advocate, as in this article, a review and criticism of Iain Murray’s work about hymns, shows greater understanding of what the Psalms contain and the problems that come from not using the Psalms as hymns  – along with proper use of the terms:

While the Psalter is not exhaustive in telling us everything in the Old or New Testament, neither are uninspired hymnals. In fact the Book of Psalms is far richer, better and more doctrinally complete, and balanced than any modern hymnal. Hymn writers historically have avoided the judicial aspects of God’s character in favor of love and heavenly bliss. They have avoided the important imprecatory aspects of praise which, contrary to Murray, is not inappropriate in the New Covenant era. Hymns do not contain warnings against trusting in princes (Ps. 146:3-4) and they certainly do not focus on the doctrine of creation in a manner that approaches the Psalter (e.g. see Ps. 146:6). Hymnals do not contain the many antitheses between the righteous and the wicked that are found in the Psalter. Neither do they contain such amazing statements about God’s holy law as found in Psalm 119. Such examples could be multiplied extensively. …  Even if a humanly produced hymnal contained no unorthodox doctrines, it still would be grossly unbalanced theologically by emphasizing popular doctrines while ignoring the less popular teachings.

Another article takes a more moderate position (include Psalms along with newer music, with the emphasis on music that closely agrees with scriptural language), and mentions the importance of progressive revelation.  Yet this work shows a few misunderstandings and misuse of the terms “covenant” and “testament,” as in this paragraph:

In addition to their pre-Christian stance of anticipation, the Psalms frequently reflect the struggle of faith that the OT saints had due to the seeming conflict between the promises of God and the reality of his providence.  On the one hand, God had promised the nation that they would have a king and a land. Yet in reality, they often had ungodly kings and at one point were removed from the inheritance during the exile. Thus the Psalms are full of the cry, “O Lord, how long?”And the cry largely goes unanswered. To sing only the Psalms without updating them with the Christological solution is to say that we are still living under Old Covenant conditions.

Does this author really think that in our New Covenant era believers know nothing of the Psalmist’s experience:  ungodly kings (rulers), and the “seeming conflict between the promises of God and the reality of His providence”? The New Testament writers themselves describe similar conditions of hardship and persecution, submitting to ungodly rulers, and still awaiting Christ’s return to fulfill what was not done at the First Coming (reference Acts 1:6; 3:20-21; 26:6-7; 1 Cor. 15:23-25).  In Revelation 6:9-11 (as explained in Revelation 4:1, this is in the section of things yet to be), the souls who had been slain for the word of God are still crying out, “how long?” and here again, in a New Testament book, in the New Covenant era, we find again the spirit of the imprecatory Psalms: the righteous rejoicing over the judgment done to the wicked.

I find that, ironically, it is the CT non-premillennial view that tends to find more division between the Old and New Testament and more tendency to misuse the terms covenant and testament.  After all (as in the above example), when people think that everything Christ set forth to do was accomplished at His First Coming, and we are now either living in the kingdom (amillennialism) or going to bring the kingdom into the world gradually before Christ’s return (postmillennialism), the result is a much sharper distinction between the “Old Covenant Church” experiencing struggles of faith and conflict between promises and reality, versus our golden, glorious triumphant age of the Church.

Also ironically, it is really the biblical dispensationalists, understanding the importance of the unconditional biblical covenants set forth in God’s word (the Abrahamic, Davidic, and New Covenants), who see the overall unifying theme of scripture: the Kingdom of God as that one uniting theme throughout, God’s Divine Purpose, including the work to be accomplished by Christ at His First AND Second Coming. Such emphasis brings about the understanding of the difference between the terms Old and New Covenant, and Old and New Testament.

To Whom Shall We Go? The Presuppositions of Science

October 8, 2012 14 comments

From S. Lewis Johnson’s observations concerning John 6:67-69, Peter’s confession “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have  the words of eternal life,and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”:

Shall we go to science?  The world today thinks of science as a neutral endeavor, but it’s not a neutral endeavor.  It begins with presuppositions.  People like to think well in religion you take things by faith.  But in science you deal with facts.  How foolish.  How foolish.  Let me just for a moment tell you why science is a faith endeavor just as much as spiritual things are a faith endeavor.  Science is supposedly grounded in the scientific method of observation, hypothesis, and conclusions.

Seven presuppositions in science:

  1. The universe can be understood by rational procedure.  Where has that ever been proved?  That’s never been proved.  That cannot be proved.  That’s a presupposition.
  2. Order exists in the universe and is discernable.  That’s a presupposition.  That’s never been proved.  That cannot be proved.
  3. That nature behaves in the same way whether we observe it or not, another presupposition.
  4. The phenomena that we observe here and now are valid there and then.  That’s a faith presupposition.
  5. The human mind is able to form descriptive concepts of the universe.  That’s a faith presupposition.
  6. That a direct correct correspondence exists between the events of the universe and man’s sensory brain responses.  That’s a faith presupposition.  That’s never been proved.
  7. That the scientist’s fellow workers do and report their work honestly; that’s been disproved many times.

Science is a faith endeavor.  When we say — religion we take by faith, science we look at facts — who is fooling who?  The scientists, if they have that idea, are the ones who are living by faith.  Shall we go to science built on induction?  You can never know anything from induction.  In fact science has done such a great job of propaganda that people say the way to study the Bible is by inductive Bible study.  Would anybody question that?  Well they ought to.  You can never know anything by induction.  You can never actually know anything by induction.  In the first place you can never know you have all of the facts necessary for the induction.  You can never know that your hypothesis is the hypothesis that explains the facts as you see them.  So, you can in never know that your hypothesis is the only possible hypothesis.  You can never know anything by induction.  People ought to know things like this, but they don’t, unfortunately.

Finally, a great illustration from the life of a chicken:

the man who fed a chicken everyday throughout its life, at last wrings its neck instead — showing that more refined views as to the uniformity of nature would have been useful to the chicken.  An induction of the facts would not have helped him a great deal when he lost his neck.  Shall we go to science?

Christians, Government, and the 2012 U.S. Election

October 3, 2012 2 comments

The current situation in the U.S. — a presidential election year in which both choices, Republican and Democrat party, are clearly not Christian — has brought out some rather interesting discussion, and several good sermons and articles (continue reading, a list of good resources follows).  It has also revealed the overall theological confusion of many Christians, including how they misapply Bible verses and blur the distinctions set forth in scripture concerning God, the nations, and secular government.

I find it alarming (though I really shouldn’t be surprised) that apparently some believers are so appalled at the idea of voting for a Mormon for a secular government office, even to the point that they will quote New Testament passages (which are about the church and its members, including qualifications for leadership in the church and how to handle false teachers) as their biblical reasons for not voting for a Mormon for U.S. President.

Beyond dealing with the obvious misuses of scripture texts, Fred Butler’s observations here are very helpful:

Indeed, it is true God is absolutely sovereign. He sets up and He tears down.  The Bible fully affirms God’s divine sovereignty over human governmental authorities throughout its pages.  However, it is equally true God uses means to establish those authorities as well as relinquish them. …

American Christians have been granted a special privilege within God’s sovereign decree.  We live in a nation that allows us to participate in the political process of electing our officials. How dare we squander that blessing by dismissively waving that responsibility away with a trite, theological platitude that says, “God doesn’t need me, He’s in control” just because the best candidate who reflects our American values makes us uncomfortable. Governmental rulers are supposed to be a terror to evil-doers (Romans 13:3).  Romney may be a Mormon, but at least he has the general idea of what is evil and what is good.

Jeremiah exhorted the Jews in Babylon to seek the peace of that nation where they had been carried captive (Jeremiah 29:7).  We are not in captivity, but I would think the exhortation would be the same to us none the less: seek the peace of that nation.  We seek that peace as American Christians by voting responsibly and righteously.  We are not voting for Romney to be our pastor, nor are we voting him in as director of a para-church ministry or a president of a Christian college.  He’s being elected as an official to a secular office.

Further Resources:

The Campaign for Immorality

John MacArthur’s recent messages concerning Romans 1 and the current political situation:

Al Mohler: The Great American Worldview Test — The 2012 Election

Specifically Concerning the Idea of Voting for Romney, a Mormon

Concerning America’s True Historic Roots

 The David Barton Controversy:

Fred Butler discusses the issue, and references the following two messages, from Gregg Frazer, at Grace Community Church this summer:

Also from Fred Butler:  Is Kirk Cameron Jumping the Shark?

Bad Hermeneutics:  Applying the Old Testament Prophecies to Modern-Day America

Can The Bible Ever Mean What It Never Meant? / Case Study: The Harbinger:  audio lesson and PowerPoint notes, from Pastor Eric Douma at Twin City Fellowship — concerning Cahn’s popular book The Harbinger

Gospel of John: Jesus the I Am, Walking on the Water

October 1, 2012 7 comments

Just a few interesting things to note from S. Lewis Johnson’s study of the gospel of John, now in chapter 6 — the account of Jesus walking on the water.

When Jesus speaks to the frightened disciples:  the expression “It is I” refers back to Exodus 3 and God’s words to Moses in the burning bush:  I am who I am.  Here we also note the time period, described by John, that it was near the time of the Passover.  The Jews’ Passover ceremony included emphasis on Isaiah 43:2: When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you.  Here the disciples were, literally passing through the waters and experiencing a storm on the sea of Galilee.  Jesus came to them, walking on the water, providing them a real-life picture of the promise from that Passover text in Isaiah.

This was the second incident of a storm in the boat.  In the first one, Jesus was with them, asleep.  But this time they were on their own, and terrified at seeing the figure walking on the water.  Here too is a picture of our growth as we experience the storms of life:  this situation as more difficult than the previous one, and a challenge to grow.  I have seen the spiritual application of this in my own life as well, that the challenges in my early Christian years were much easier than later experiences.

John’s account of Jesus walking on the water specifically mentions that immediately the boat was at the land to which they were going.” The other accounts do not mention this, and S. Lewis Johnson here observed that John is especially considered the apostle of love.  This description expresses John’s great love for His Lord. After all, when you’re in love, the time spent with that person passes by so quickly: the time after Jesus joined them on the boat went by so quick, that John describes it as immediately.

For a typology lesson, SLJ also notes the parallels between this incident and this church age followed by Christ’s Second Coming.  I never saw this in the text, and certainly do not base my belief and understanding on this typology alone (and we have plenty of other texts for doctrinal support of the Second Coming), but the observation is interesting to consider:

I think this story is not only history and it’s not only parable in the sense that we find spiritual principles in it, but it may also be designed to be something of a prophecy of the course of this age.  The disciples are on the sea, toiling in the midst of difficulties, the Lord Jesus is on the mountain praying; but there is a climactic triumphant conclusion.

Well, if you think for just a moment, that’s characteristic of this age.  We are in the boat in the midst of the storms of life.  The Lord Jesus is at the right hand of the Father, therefore living to make intercession for the saints of God; guaranteeing that they are all going to reach the predestined determination that the will of God has set for us.  The church is in the midst of the nations of the world and in a tremendous struggle.  We are in the world but not of the world, engaged in the struggle for the souls of men.

But the Lord Jesus is going to return at the fourth watch when things appear to be very difficult and as if there’s no true conclusion to be reached.  He is going to come.  And sad to say some are not going to recognize him when he does come.  Some are going to think perhaps that it is a ghost.  But he’s going to come and he’s going to still the storms of this human existence and he’s going to establish his kingdom upon the earth.