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Zephaniah: Summary of the Minor Prophets (James Boice)

August 31, 2020 Leave a comment

Among the minor prophets, Zephaniah seems to be a neglected and forgotten one in terms of commentaries and sermon series.  Indeed, S. Lewis Johnson’s series on the minor prophet books, which I listened to several years ago, included content for all of the minor prophets…. except Zephaniah.  Happily, the collection from James Montgomery Boice includes three lectures on Zephaniah, one for each chapter — a series apparently done right after Habakkuk, per the file number order, in the early 1980s.  As Boice mentioned, due to the strong theme of judgment in the minor prophets, he taught through the different minor prophets at different times, in between other Bible book series, for proper balance on the theme of judgment versus other more positive themes in scripture.  Still, a three set in-a-row of Habakkuk, Zephaniah, and then Zechariah, had enough balance and variety of themes.

Among the highlights from the Zephaniah study:  The timeline was early in Josiah’s reign, and it’s possible (and a nice idea) that Zephaniah was one of the prophecies used by God in Josiah’s revival a few years later.  This book is chronologically before Habakkuk, yet placed at the end of the first nine minor prophets — just after Habakkuk though before it in time, with the reason that Zephaniah serves as a summary of the first set of minor prophets, the nine pre-exilic books.  Zephaniah’s content is not at all original, but restates the major themes of the minor prophets: judgment upon the nation (Judah) including its leaders, judgment upon the surrounding nations, and then the wonderful message of redemption and hope.

Chapter 1 has the classic aspects of judgment: upon the priests, the nominal believers (with their syncretism), and outright apostates.  Here we see descriptions possibly exaggerated if in reference to Babylon, yet with reference to the final, future end-times judgment.  Zephaniah alludes to the Genesis flood, yet a situation far worse than it: total destruction, with no exceptions.

The next chapter employs a pattern similar to Amos 100 years before, with a geographic pattern to pronounce judgment upon the surrounding nations (without naming the specific sins) — though here with reference to Judah instead of to the northern kingdom of Israel.  Whereas Amos’ countries arranged in a circle, Zephaniah’s made a criss-cross double-X pattern back and forth, but both Amos and Zephaniah drive home the point by starting with the further-removed Gentile nations before coming closer and then hitting home, to the judgment upon Israel or Judah.  Zephaniah echoes the same idea as Amos 6:1, “woe to those who are at ease in Zion.”  The point brought home is quite applicable in our day; when the people of God as a group, like Judah in Zephaniah’s day, have become just like the ‘other nations,’ indistinguishable from the surrounding culture, and all incentives and warnings have been refused, what more can be done?  The only recourse left is judgment upon an evil generation.

Zephaniah, like the other prophets, follows the standard sequence:  news of judgment first, then the good news of deliverance and hope.  The third and final, great chapter, talks about the remnant and what characterizes them — reference Micah 6:8 and post-exilic Malachi 3:16 for a similar feature, the qualities of God’s people:  they call upon the Lord, their pride is broken, and they keep His commandments.  These are the ones who are to be joyful and sing, as we look to the future, which will bring a reversal of the Fall in the garden of Eden.

This was an interesting and helpful overview series on one of the lesser-known minor prophets, and I appreciate the studies available from Boice on so many of the prophetic books of the Old Testament.

James Boice on the Prophet Habakkuk (Part 2)

August 19, 2020 Leave a comment
As mentioned in the last post, James Boice did a 5 part series on Habakkuk (as well as teaching through all the other minor prophets).  Boice’s sermon dates are not that easy to determine, as he did not typically reference the year or specific events — unlike S. Lewis Johnson, whose sermons are fairly easy to date given the frequent date references.  Yet in this case, Boice mentioned a recent PCRT conference on the topic of Revival, and specifically that one of the messages was given by John Richard DeWitt.  It turns out that this conference was held in 1982, “Come, Change Our World”  (audio recordings available here) — which also explains Boice’s frequent references to revival, as what Habakkuk probably had on his mind.
Habakkuk 2:4 is a well known verse, cited three times in the New Testament:  Romans 1:17, Hebrews 10:38, and Galatians 3:11.  Here, James Boice pointed out the Greek construction with three parts — “the righteous” “by faith” “will live” — and that each of these New Testament texts provides an exposition of one of the three parts.  Romans provides the commentary on “the righteous,” Hebrews on the phrase “by faith” (with the great “hall of faith” Hebrews 11 soon after the Habakkuk reference in Hebrews 10), and Galatians adds the commentary on “will live,” how the righteous will live.
In the third chapter, Habakkuk has finally been brought from his earlier self-righteous angry attitude, to a God-ward focus.  Here we can see the value of a prepared composition and poem.  Yes, spontaneous prayer has its place and value, our daily talking with God, but Habakkuk’s prayer shows reverence for God, a focus on God that is not filled with the uncomfortable uhs and “ands” in our everyday speech.  Habakkuk’s earlier chapters included references to himself, and he considered God’s attributes.  But what really helps, to reorient our life back to God, involves more than just intellectually understanding God’s attributes.  What helps to get past the complaints, is to also remember and affirm God’s past actions, what God has done for His people in the past.  Habakkuk was terrified as he considered the coming judgment — verse 16:
I hear, and my body trembles;  my lips quiver at the sound;
rottenness enters into my bones; my legs tremble beneath me.
 and so now, what gets Habakkuk going again, is to remember God’s mighty acts of the past, and how God had delivered His people.  It is after this focus on God and recalling God’s actions for His people, that Habakkuk can truly trust and rejoice in the Lord, expressed in the final verses (17-19), a great poem and song of hope:
Though the fig tree should not blossom,
    nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
    and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
    and there be no herd in the stalls,
18 yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
    I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
19 God, the Lord, is my strength;
    he makes my feet like the deer’s;
    he makes me tread on my high places.

Lessons from Habakkuk

August 14, 2020 Leave a comment

I’m taking another look through the minor prophets, and particularly the book of Habakkuk.  Alistair Begg’s “No Simple Answers”, which I listened to last fall, provided great down-to-earth application.   Another good one is James Montgomery Boice’s 5 part series from a few decades ago.  Boice mentioned someone saying that he had never heard church sermons on Habakkuk; in our day sermons are more available, including more attention to this minor prophet.  A local-area PCA church is also currently doing a series on Habakkuk, a more detailed approach with 5 messages and still in progress. 

Boice’s series emphasized the overall theme of God’s Sovereignty, and God and History, and how we wrestle with problems and dealing with God’s answers.  Habakkuk was a deep thinker, and like us he remembered his nation’s better times — King Josiah’s brief revival, which turned out to be more from the top-down, an incomplete revival.  Habakkuk then saw the moral decline and wickedness of the nation, and wanted God to do something–very likely, he wanted God to send revival.  The answer was not what he wanted to hear; Boice likened it to God telling American Christians that His answer to American Christianity would be, “I’m not going to send revival, I’m going to send the communists.”  Ironically, a generation later, there is a lot of truth in that idea, as to the judgment that God has sent–though not in the obvious outward way that Boice, during the Cold War with the Soviets, probably thought of.

Referencing Martyn Lloyd Jones, who preached on Habakkuk in the years soon after WWII and later published a small book (which is unfortunately out of print, and used copies quite expensive), come these four points regarding history:

  1. God is in charge of history
  2. God causes history to follow His own plan, a divine plan
  3. History follows a divine timetable — “I am going to do something, in your day”; also Hab. 2:3.  God appointed the time.
  4. History is bound up with the divine kingdom.  The point here is that history was not about “the Babylonian problem.”  God is concerned with building His kingdom through His people.  Boice also referenced Matthew 24 and the general instruction to believers: watch out, do not be deceived; you will hear of wars and rumors of wars.

How did Habakkuk get to the point of Habakkuk 2:1, where he waits for God’s answer?  One view, from Martyn Lloyd Jones and shared by James Boice, demonstrates four steps in how we should approach all problems that we don’t understand:

  1. Stop, and think
  2. Restate the basic principles, the things you know; firm footing
  3. Apply the basic principles to your problem
  4. If, having done all this, you still don’t have answer to the problem: commit it to God and wait for Him to answer it in HIs own time. (Habakkuk 2:1)

The recent Habakkuk series (mentioned above) takes the view that Habakkuk in 2:1 is still in a hostile mindset, not really responding in faith.  Habakkuk uses a military term of watching, as though he is preparing himself to battle the Lord regarding this:  the judgment is so unfair.  When Boice gets to Habakkuk 3, he notes a similar thing (if perhaps less bluntly): Habakkuk at the end of chapter 1 had still been thinking in terms of himself, not yet seeing things from God’s viewpoint.  As brought out in the current series, Habakkuk 1 provides expanded lessons regarding the moral law of God and its three uses, the problem of self-righteousness, and judgment.  The wicked in Habakkuk 1:4 are a different group than the wicked in verse 13, showing Habakkuk’s comparative scale between his fellow countrymen and the pagan Chaldeans (Babylonians).  Habakkuk was among the righteous remnant, but it’s a small step to self-righteousness, when he complains (verse  ) “the law is paralyzed.”  Yet if the Law becomes the main thing, you’ll trip over it.

Both of these series are helpful, bringing in sound theology along with good illustrations and application to our time.  I look forward to the continuing lessons in the current Habakkuk series.  

Continuing through Revelation with James M. Boice

July 3, 2020 7 comments

Continuing in Seven Churches, Four Horsemen, One Lord, here are some highlights from Boice’s commentary.

Revelation 2 and 3 follow the standard overview regarding this generally narrative section:  the history and situation of each of the seven churches, and highlighting their strengths and weaknesses. The church at Ephesus, with the instruction to remember and repent, prompts a great summary about Paradise regained:

Ever since Adam and Eve lost Paradise because of their sin, sinners have tried to build their own paradise on earth.  Cain tried it first by constructing the city of Enoch in the land of Nod.  Some tried to do it at Babel by building a tower that they hoped would reach to heaven.  The Greeks tried to make Athens a paradise.  The Romans tried to do it in Rome.  We do it too, supposing that we can have our own paradise here on earth–even in our churches.  But the cities of men are doomed to destruction.  They will all fall away.  The only true paradise is in heaven, where it has been prepared only for those who love God.  For they alone are able to overcome, “by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony.” (Rev. 12:11)

Smyrna is noted as one of the two (out of seven) cities that still exist:  the modern-day Turkish city Izmir, and the home of Polycarp, the twelfth martyr in Smyrna—and one of the original Revelation 2 readers.

The exhortation to Thyatira (Rev. 2:24-25) (any other burden) has a reference to Acts 15:28-29 –the early church history and instructions that went out to the Gentile churches.  Here is presented again that same general advice:  Live free in Christ, but do not compromise with the idolatry or sexual immorality of the surrounding culture.  Verse 28 has a later reference in this same book (Revelation 22:16), where Jesus identifies Himself as “the bright morning star” – a likely allusion to Numbers 24:14-20 , the ‘star’ that would arise out of Jacob to crush God’s enemies.  Here in Revelation 2, this is applied to the saints who have already been promised to rule with Jesus on the basis of Psalm 2.

One of Sardis’ early bishops, Melito, is the first known commentator on the book of Revelation.  Boice, while teaching on the church in Sardis, also makes reference to 2 Timothy 3:5 (see this previous post) with application to the current-day church (now 20 years ago, a situation worsened another 20 years):

… here is the shocking thing.  Having described this evil worldly culture by its vices, Paul further describes its members in verse 5 as ‘having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power.’  This cannot be referring to pagans.  Paul would never have described the pagans of his day as having ‘an appearance of godliness.’  …. it must be describing the church.  In other words, the problem that Paul saw is not that the world will be wicked in the final days before Christ’s return but that the church will be like the world—as it is today.  The church will be indistinguishable from the world and will be equally corrupt—at least when you look beneath the surface.

In Revelation 4 and 5, Boice addresses the subject of worship, including songs in our worship.  Another interesting point is God’s throne–mentioned about 40 times in Revelation, and in 19 of the 22 chapters (all except chapters 2, 8 and 9).  Regarding the emerald rainbow description in Revelation 4:3, a quote from William Hendriksen notes a biblical reference:

the only biblical significance of the rainbow is that it was the sign of the covenant that God made with Noah following the great flood of Genesis 6-9.  It signifies a covenant of grace, and its reappearance in Revelation–coming at the very end of the Bible, as it did at the beginning–indicates that God is eternally the same.  He is and always has been a covenant-making, covenant-keeping God.

Another great quote from Hendriksen is shared in Revelation 5, in reference to John’s tears in verse 4    :

You will understand the meaning of these tears if you constantly bear in mind that in this beautiful vision the opening of the scroll by breaking the seals indicates the execution of God’s plan.  When the scroll is opened and the seals are broken, then the universe is governed in the interests of the church.  Then, God’s glorious, redemptive purpose is being realized; his plan is being carried out and the contents of the scroll come to pass in the history of the universe.  But if the scroll is not opened it means that there will be no protection for God’s children in the hours of bitter trial; no judgments upon a persecuting world, no ultimate triumph for believers, no new heaven and earth, no future inheritance.

In Revelation 6 commentary, Boice considers the identity of the rider on the white horse (the first of the seven seals).  After describing the two common views – the rider is Jesus Christ, or the rider is the antiChrist – Boice selected a third option, that the rider “merely represents the spirit of conquest or militarism that leads to the evils that are symbolized by the riders that follow him.”  His view on the seals overall is that they describe the general characteristics of this age (the last 2,000 years).  In exposition of the rest of the seals, Boice provides interesting commentary on the martyrs, including a section on Foxe’s Book of Martyrs and stories from the Huguenot martyrs of the 18th century.

Boice was able to complete all of Revelation 6, all verses – all of the seals, so exposition of everything up through the end of Revelation 6 and the question of the ‘end times’ events being symbolic or literal (he opted for the literal, the fuller meaning of these descriptions—relating what we already have experience with, the destructive power of even individual earthquakes and one volcanic eruption (such as Mount St. Helens in 1980).  Then the book abruptly ends, with brief end comments from Philip Ryken.

As shown in the afterword, this book is Ryken’s tribute to his predecessor, James Montgomery Boice. This commentary on the first six chapters of Revelation is readable and instructive, and the tribute ends on the positive note, of Boice’s last days with his congregation as God was preparing him for the worship of heaven.  This work, including Ryken’s ending tribute, is an enjoyable read, very informative with many anecdotes and treatments of several doctrinal truths.

Revelation, The Rapture, and James Montgomery Boice

June 25, 2020 3 comments

Continuing from the last post, which introduced Boice’s posthumous Revelation book (covering the first 6 chapters of Revelation) with a look at his comments on Revelation 1, I’m continuing through the later chapters (Revelation 2 through Revelation 6).  For this time, I’ll address a question/issue raised in the comments of my last post:  Boice’s pre-trib(?) eschatology.

I’m not aware of Boice’s teachings from earlier years, as to anything he said then regarding dispensationalism and the rapture.  As Donald Grey Barnhouse’s successor at Tenth Presbyterian Church, it’s likely that he at first continued with similar teachings.  As an interesting sidenote here, two great Calvinist Premillennial teachers of the mid-to-late 20th century were both directly influenced by Dr. Barnhouse:  S. Lewis Johnson and James M. Boice.

From the ‘next generation’ ministry, I’ve observed that SLJ retained more of Barnhouse’s dispensationalism, teaching at DTS in earlier years, and preaching at a Calvinist Dispensational Baptist church for many years (though in later years he moved away from some aspects of dispensationalism)—while studying Genesis on his own and changing his view to young earth, recent creation.  He appreciated his mentorship from Barnhouse, from whom he learned the Gap Theory Old Earth view–but respectfully disagreed and from scripture taught why the young earth view was true, rather than the Gap Theory.

James Boice, on the other hand, moved further away from dispensationalism, to the point of his very different teaching on the book of Revelation (more details below) – while retaining Barnhouse’s Gap Theory Old Earth teaching.  That is one area that I personally wish Boice would have reformed his view on, instead of continuing with the view he inherited from Barnhouse.  Yet even in this Revelation teaching from the last months of his life, Boice has over two pages (in Revelation 4) of commentary about astronomy with old-earth assumptions.  (As we all like to say about someone who has departed and now in heaven – Boice knows the truth now, as does S. Lewis Johnson in doctrinal ideas he was wrong about.)

Now to the chapter details regarding Boice on this topic, which reveal that Boice was not at all interested in teaching or promoting dispensational views, or even a pre-trib rapture.  For Revelation chapters 2 and 3, Boice’s commentary selections for quotes include G.K. Beale and John Stott.  In chapters 4 and 5 he quotes from William Hendricksen and G.E. Ladd.

Boice gives very little time to Rev. 3:10, not even mentioning the dispensational interpretation of this verse regarding the rapture.  By contrast, the late S. Lewis Johnson – in his later ministry years when he had moved away from dispensationalism, though still teaching at a dispensational church — taught two full messages,  providing both the “post-trib” and the “pre-trib” rapture arguments when he reached this text in his Revelation series (see this previous post).

The case is clearer in Boice’s commentary on Revelation 4:1, where he mentions and repudiates the dispensational view:

… the view of the dispensationalists, who see John’s being taken up into heaven as a picture of the supposed rapture of the church before the tribulation.  J.A. Seiss is quite dogmatic at this point, though not all dispensationalists are as certain as he is.  John Walvoord admits that the rapture is not explicitly taught in this passage, though he finds it represented as a type.  Why should dispensationalists see John’s being taken up into heaven in this light?

The obvious reason is that dispensationalists are committed to the idea of a rapture for other reasons, even before they get to Revelation, and this is the best place for them to insert it.  They interpreted the letters of chapters 2 and 3 as a preview of the history of the church and the judgements of chapters 6 through 16 as that final period of intense tribulation from which most of them believe the church will be delivered.  They argue that ‘after this’ means ‘after the church age.’

But there is no reason to interpret any of these words in that way.  John’s experience of being caught up to heaven is not the rapture of the saints—even assuming that there is such a thing as the rapture.

In Revelation 5, Boice presents five common views regarding the seven-sealed scroll in Rev. 5:1, himself preferring the fifth one – Ladd’s view that the scroll contains God’s total plan of judgment and redemption.  Here he shares Ladd’s description of this view.  The first view he mentions, that the scroll represents the “last will and testament of Christ,” may be the view favored by dispensationalism.  At any rate, both S. Lewis Johnson and John MacArthur, in their Revelation series, took this first view of the Roman last will and testament, expanding on the idea to include a contract.

I’m still reading, in the second half of Revelation 5, and overall very impressed with this publication: a lay-person reading, yet very thorough in exploring the lessons in the text.  Throughout, Boice brings out great truths:  the historical situation of the churches and their praise and rebukes from Christ; the attributes of God; theology of redemption and the atonement; God as the God of history; as well as worship and how we worship God through songs.  Seven Churches, Four Horsemen, One Lord: Lessons from the Apocalypse has all this and more, from the first 6 chapters of the book of Revelation.

The Apocalypse: Revelation Commentary from James M. Boice

June 3, 2020 11 comments
A lot of “stage-setting” for the end times scenario has occurred within the last several decades:  Israel back in the land (regathered in unbelief), and the worldwide travel and instant communication technology indirectly prophesied in Rev. 11:9-10 (see this previous post).  Very recent news is starting to look more and more apocalyptic:  a worldwide pandemic (the above two pieces were not in place during previous pandemics), killer hornets, riots and anarchy around the country, and even articles about the world leaders looking for someone to take charge and lead the world in dealing with covid-19.  (Note:  I am not saying that any of these things ARE end-times events; yet these events are interesting, in terms of what God is working out in this world, in His providence, in preparation for Christ’s Return.)
The Second Coming and our Blessed Hope  is always an important doctrine — oft-neglected, especially when the world appears to be stable and status-quo.  In the current world situation, the year 2020 which has turned out to be far from the normal life, resources that point us to the end times are especially to be appreciated.  One such offering, from Dr. Phillip Ryken and the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, is a newly published commentary from the late James Montgomery Boice on the first six chapters of Revelation.   Seven Churches, Four Horsemen, and One LORD is compiled from Boice’s last messages at Tenth Presbyterian Church, just before he learned the news of cancer; Boice went home to be with the Lord before completing the series.  I’ve been aware of Boice for several years, as a modern-times covenantal premillennialist, and have previously listened to and read some of his teaching, such as his Psalms commentary on book one, and a few other messages.  Recently I’ve also started listening to some of his lectures on the minor prophets, and it was refreshing to hear his very clear and sensible exposition of Zechariah 14, including his reference to David Baron.
As I’m reading the first chapters in this new commentary, on Revelation 1, the original plan to complete the series was in his mind, and thus comes a touch of sadness when reading page 21, where Boice mentioned the Hebrew number equivalents, noting “We will discuss this puzzle when we get to chapter 13 ….”  In this case as always, it was “if the Lord wills,” and clearly the Lord had other plans, to take Boice home before that point.
The commentary on Revelation 1 provides Boice’s two main guidelines, along with interesting connections between Revelation 1 and OT passages.  This Reformation21 post provides a good excerpt on the introductory material.  Another interesting part here is the count of OT allusions in the book of Revelation:  79 references to Isaiah, 54 to Daniel, 48 to Ezekiel, 43 to the Psalms, 27 to Exodus, 22 to Jeremiah, 15 to Zechariah, 9 to Amos, and 8 to Joel.  Of the 404 verses of the 22 chapters of Revelation, 278 contain one or more allusions to an OT passage.
Revelation 1 is interesting in many ways, including the numerous Old Testament allusions, such as these, pointed out by Boice:

Other interesting points:

  • the seven lamps in this vision are separate lamps, not attached to each other like the Jewish Menorah.  This represents the universal church.  Here, also reference Matthew 5:14-15, the city on a hill and a light set on a stand.
  • Revelation 1 portrays Jesus as a priest (standing among the lampstands and tending them) and as a prophet, who has come to impart the revelation to the apostle John

Boice was less concerned about the specific futurist/historicist/preterist interpretations, focusing instead on the pattern, repeated throughout the book of Revelation, of visions that show the scene in heaven, followed by scenes on earth.  The purpose of Revelation, something that is applicable to all believers in all eras of history, is to get Christians from all periods of history and in all circumstances to look at things from God’s perspective rather than from man’s and to draw comfort and strength from that perspective.

This quote from J.I. Packer (shared by Boice) well expresses the timelessness of God’s word, and the  immutability of our God:

Men sometimes say things that they do not really mean, simply because they do not know their own mind; also, because their views change, they frequently find that they can no longer stand to things that they said in the past.  All of us sometimes have to recall our words, because they have ceased to express what we think; sometimes we have to eat our words, because hard facts refute them.  The words of men are unstable things.  But not so the words of God.  They stand forever, as abidingly valid expressions of His mind and thought..  No circumstances prompt Him to recall them; no changes in His own thinking require Him to amend them.  Isaiah writes, ‘All flesh is grass … the grass withereth … but the word of our God shall stand for ever’ (Isaiah 40:6).

 

Psalm 13, Depression, and Feeling Abandoned

July 10, 2019 1 comment

I’ve been reading through volume 1 of James Montgomery Boice’s commentary on the Psalms (Psalms 1-41, book one of the Psalter), a past free monthly book offer from Logos software, usually two psalms per week.  (The commentary comes from Boice’s exposition of the psalms; for psalms after the 41st, I may return to listening to the original sermons.) This psalms commentary is a great combination of technical information and excellent application.

The commentary on Psalm 13 also ties in with another recently read book—from Christian counselor Ed Welch, another Kindle sale deal: Depression: Looking Up from the Stubborn Darkness.  (See previous posts of Welch’s books here and also here.)

Some highlights from Welch’s book:  our greatest need is forgiveness; having a purpose statement for our life; and recognizing that perseverance is one of the attributes of God.  Thus, our suffering and the consequent perseverance, is another way in which we are conformed more and more to God’s image.  The sovereignty of God, especially in suffering that comes from, at least in part, our own past choices, also has greater value and importance than the mere “academic” idea of it:

Although life before a sovereign God assures us that God is in control, accomplishing His good plans even through our poor choices, it is easy to lose sight of this reality.  When we do, we can feel as if an unwise decision has forever doomed us to a path that is second best.

Returning to Boice, it is interesting to see how much helpful material can be found within the context of a few pages of commentary on a particular text.  Here Boice addresses several considerations, examining the psalmist David’s feelings and the three parts of the psalm.  One interesting point is the feeling of abandonment described, and Boice (writing in the late 20th century) observed that among Christian authors dealing with the topic of depression, even Martyn Lloyd Jones, they don’t address the issue of feeling abandoned—perhaps because of the deeply ingrained idea that, of course, Christians are never abandoned and should never have such experience.  As Boice observes:

Although this is a common problem, I have not been able to find much helpful literature about it, particularly by Christians. Even D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones in Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Cure does not specifically deal with feelings of abandonment.

Why do you suppose this is? I think it is because we have been taught that Christians are not to experience such things, that we are only to have “life more abundantly” or to “live victoriously.” In the last chapter I quoted the dying French atheist Voltaire, who said, “I am abandoned by God and man.” We are not surprised to hear an unbeliever say that. But if any of us should admit to such feelings, many of our friends would look askance at us, shake their heads, and wonder whether we are Christians. Isn’t that true? Isn’t that the chief reason why you do not talk to other Christians about this or about many other problems?  How good then to find that David does talk about it! David is a giant in Scripture, a person “after [God’s] own heart” (1 Sam. 13:14). Yet described here is a time when David felt that God had left him entirely. And he doesn’t cover up his feelings.

Following the outline of Psalm 13, the commentary describes several reasons why people feel abandoned:

Prolonged Struggle

We still believe God is there. It is different when the short-term experience becomes a long-term pattern, and we begin to wonder whether God’s silence may endure “forever.”  … Andrew Fuller, another of the earlier commentators, said, “It is not under the sharpest, but the longest trials, that we are most in danger of fainting.”

Lack of Apparent Blessing

A second cause of depression, leading to feelings of abandonment, is an extension of the first: a prolonged period in which the blessings of God given in an earlier time seem to have been removed.

Boice lists several areas of such impact in our lives:  family relationships (“the happiness of the early days of a marriage has been replaced by the stress of trying to work out personality conflicts or other difficulties”), as well as in our work, our church life, and in our spiritual life and progress.

Dark Thoughts and Uncontrollable Emotions

The third time David asks, “How long?” he refers to a combination of what we would call dark thoughts and uncontrollable emotions. When we no longer sense that God is blessing us, we tend to ruminate on our failures and get into an emotional funk. And when our emotions take over it is always hard to get back onto a level course. This is because the best means of doing this—calm reflection and a review of past blessings—are being swept away.

You know that God deals with us by grace. But the lack of blessing has continued for so long that you have become morbidly introspective. You have been dredging up past sins and have been wondering, “Is God punishing me for what I did then? I confessed the sin and believed he forgave me. But maybe he is bringing it up again and putting me on hold because of it.”

Often what we learn comes from meditating upon God’s word and its application, from considering new information from multiple sources (such as Christian articles, books, and selections from Bible commentaries), and connecting it all together.  Both of the above resources – James Montgomery Boice’s commentary on the Psalms, and the Ed Welch book, Depression: Looking Up from the Stubborn Darkness, are helpful for study.  The Psalms study includes the lament type Psalms, and Welch teaches through many scripture examples and real-life examples of people applying scripture to their real-life problems.

James Montgomery Boice, Eschatology, and the Philadelphia Reformed Theology Conferences

September 19, 2018 1 comment

Another great Bible teacher I am coming to appreciate is the late James Montgomery Boice.  I had heard of him over the last few years, especially in reference to both dispensational and historic premillennialism, but had not yet listened to him or read any of his books.  Online discussions have considered the question of whether he left dispensationalism, and when he became historic premillennial, especially since his writings on the subject were more from the dispensational premillennial perspective.

Leaving that particular question aside, though, Boice provided some great teaching – and on other topics as well.  I’ve been perusing the archive of past Reformed Theology conferences available at the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals’ Reformed Resources, and the early Philadelphia Conferences include many lectures from James Montgomery Boice, including an interesting set from 1986 on eschatology (MP3 download set available here).  This set of 7 lectures includes two from Boice as well as an interesting lecture from Moishe Rosen, the founder of Jews for Jesus.  Of interest here, Rosen, in ‘Does Israel have an Earthly Future?’ addressed the very same doctrinal points that have been more recently popularized by John MacArthur’s “Why Every Calvinist Should Be a Premillennialist” and Barry Horner’s publication of Future Israel.  Over 20 years before these two events from 2007, Rosen taught the same:  God’s Sovereignty in Election, including national election of the Jews and God’s faithfulness to His promises; and the problem and inconsistency of appropriating the covenant blessings for Israel (from Deuteronomy) as spiritualized about the church while rejecting the covenant curses, such that the church only gets the blessings and Israel only gets the curses.

Boice’s lectures on “Where is History Going?” and “On Death and Dying” also were well-presented and very informative.  I especially appreciated his insights in the latter, in reference to three types of societies – death-affirming, death-denying, and death-defying.  The lectures address a timeless matter, and our society now is no different from a generation ago in its death-denial with emphasis on youth (even today as the famed “Baby Boomer” generation is no longer young but still trying to put off old age) and the euphemisms we use to refer to people who have died and no longer with us.

After starting off with a great Presbyterian joke for a good laugh, Boice described the three types of societies — the ancient Greeks an example of a death-accepting culture, and 1 Corinthians 15 the death-defying Christian view – along with exposition of the two deaths in Genesis 50, Jacob and Joseph.  The information about Elisabeth Eliot’s experience was interesting, how to cope with death, as she was twice widowed – the first case well-known, her husband Jim Eliot martyred, but also her second husband dying the slower death of cancer.   Genesis 50, especially Jacob’s death and the Egyptian burial customs, gives us great instruction as to how we honor the dead.  Joseph and family were in a pagan land, yet they still observed and showed respect to Egypt’s burial customs (embalming, and the lengthy time of mourning), as nothing objectionable for the people of Israel.  Yet Jacob was buried in the promised land, and Joseph’s remains left in Egypt provided them with the future hope of their later Exodus.

As noted in a recent online discussion in a historic premillennial group, Boice did not often speak on millennial views or Israel’s future, considering these as secondary matters, yet this 1986 Philadelphia Conference addressed some of these issues.  And the many other topics that Boice did address include good lectures and Bible study.  I plan to continue listening to more of James Montgomery Boice’s teaching, including his lectures at other Philadelphia Reformed conferences from the archives (available at ReformedResources.org, from the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals).

Praying the Psalms and Talking with God

December 6, 2017 1 comment

Continuing on the topic of the Psalms, I have found a few more helpful resources.

David Murray’s HeadHeartHand blog features Reformed-background biblical counseling authors including Bob Kellemen, a starting point that led to Kellemen’s website RPM Ministries, which has many resources including the ‘How to Have an Honest Conversation with God’ PDF.

Kellemen’s sermon series is easy to read, with hard-hitting (personal heart) content about how to relate to the Psalmist, as we learn from the Psalms how to relate to God, how to take our problems and many life difficulties to God.  The Christian life is not one of false joy, a stoic view that puts on a happy face and never complains to God about how hard life is.  The Psalmists are open and honest with God, and the point to learn is that we may not be happy with our circumstances, but to take our honest feelings to God – Ask, Beg, and then Thank God – and be happy in our circumstances.  I especially appreciate the references to Michael Card’s two songs (see previous post about Michael Card and the Psalms) from the Psalms (Psalm 13, ‘How Long?’, and Psalm 23, ‘My Shepherd’), as well as scripture references to other OT books such as Jeremiah and Lamentations.  Kellemen points out that the Psalms in fact contain more Lament type Psalms than any other type:

In Psalm 13, David begins his prayer life with the A of Asking God “Why?” and “How Long?” Now, immediately, some of us might respond, “No! You can’t ask God ‘Why?’ or ‘How long?’ That would be disrespectful.” That’s a fair question, so let’s ponder it biblically. Students of the Bible call Psalm 13 a psalm of lament or complaint. … there are more psalms of lament and complaint than psalms of praise and thanks. The first person I ever heard that from was the Christian songwriter, Michael Card. I love his music, but I had my doubts that he was right. I was sure there were more psalms of praise and thanks than psalms of lament.

… Here’s what Dr. Longman says. “Our spiritual songbook of Psalms does not contain 150 hymns of joy. As a matter of fact, a close look shows that the psalms of complaint and songs of accusation—the music of confusion, doubt, and heartache—significantly outnumber the hymns of joy. We may seek to flee from the feelings inside of us, but a look at the Psalms exposes them to our gaze.”

I still wasn’t convinced. So, I read and categorized every psalms. You know what I found? There are more psalms of lament, complaint, and asking God “Why?” than there are psalms of praise and thanks. I’d encourage you to do the same and see what you discover.

Sure enough, a googling of articles about the different types of Psalms (with some overlap) shows 67 of the lament type, compared to 52 psalms of the ‘praise’ (19) and ‘thanksgiving’ (33) categories, followed by other Psalm types: liturgical (35) and wisdom (11).

The variety within the Psalms itself indicates the variety and balance we need to keep — not completely focused on Lament, but not 100% focus on the joyful psalms to the exclusion of the other.  Kellemen’s series also reflects this, with consideration of the non-Lament psalms.  A podcast from Mortification of Spin also considers the Lament psalms within the broader context; churches that practice the singing of Psalms will, by the fact of using the Psalms, include both Lament and Praise within the corporate worship.  Churches that do not sing the Psalms, favoring non-Psalm hymns and contemporary songs, may neglect the Lament psalms with too much emphasis on the happy, joyful side — and should consider including Lament psalms, for a more biblically-balanced approach to corporate worship.