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Studies in Deuteronomy — I: The Giants

August 25, 2016 1 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.

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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.