Wednesday, November 24, 2010

"Rizpah: The Influence of Faithfulness"

"Rizpah: The Influence of Faithfulness"

At first glance here's a classic Hebrew scripture story of blood and guts that should be left where it is--consigned to the obscure bit of 2 Samuel 21 in which it is placed. It appears to portray God as sending famine on the land because of Saul's treaty violations with the Gibeonites; and, bloodthirsty, needing human sacrifice to appease His anger.

Is God like the Gibeonite pagan Baal god who needs the sacrifice of Mot by Anat in order to restore the fertility of the earth? If so, it calls into question the whole issue of how the atonement for sin is accomplished--by human sacrifice or God's sacrifice? Rizpah's faith provides the answer.

Recurring famines were a part of ancient agrarian life. When a particularly hard-hitting three-year drought ravaged Israel, David inquired of the Lord for the reason. He was told, "It is for Saul, and for his bloody house, because he slew the Gibeonites" (2 Sam. 21:1). Saul disregarded a treaty which the Gibeonites deceptively finagled with Joshua (Joshua 9:15, 16).

Instead of inquiring of the Lord for the remedy, David went to the Gibeonites for an answer to the dilemma. "... Wherewith shall I make the atonement, that ye may bless the inheritance of the LORD?" (2 Sam. 21:3). David's accommodation to the heathen in order to find a means of expiating God is striking. The assimilation of religious ideas indicates a lack of discernment on his part.

The Gibeonite response is that it's not a matter of money; nor that they have any power over the lives of others, for only the king has that right over his subjects. David asks, What do you need? They reply, "Seven sons of Saul." So David grants their request: two sons of Rizpah and five sons of Michal, Saul's concubine and daughter.

The Gibeonites took the seven to a high place and ritually sacrificed them by dismemberment "and exposed their bodies on a hill before the LORD" (2 Sam. 21:9, NIV). According to the pagan fertility rite, this sacrifice served to restore Baal to life, to cause the streams to flow, to rain down fatness, and to bring to an end the drought which reigned in the absence of Baal. Did it accomplish its intended purpose? No rain came. The only consequence of this kind of violence that could be expected was a spiral into more revenge slayings on the part of Saul's descendants against the Gibeonites or even David's household.

However, Rizpah appears suddenly on the scene of execution where the body parts have been left exposed to dishonor and indignity. She returns love and peace for vengeance and violence. She sets up a six-month vigil in honor of the dead, warding off predators and vultures. Her solitary mourning and repentance saved the king and the nation from the slippery slope of absorbing the pagan concept of the atonement.

The Gibeonites believed that they must offer human sacrifice on the high place in order to appease the angry Baal who has vanished. This alone will bring back the rains.

The idea of offering an expiatory sacrifice to an offended deity has been taken up into popular Christianity. The common view of the atonement is that since God is angry with sinners and His justice has been offended, Jesus takes the hit vicariously for sinners, and God's wrath is assuaged. The more near Protestant view is that God is angry toward sinners, but since He loves them He doesn't take His wrath out upon them, but takes it out on His Son. Either way the bottom line is a God who is angry with sinners and needs a target.

When God gave the covenant to Abraham (Gen. 15:9-21), the ancient practice of walking between the animal parts solemnized God's promise. First, Abraham "reverently passed between the parts of the sacrifice, making a solemn vow to God of perpetual obedience" (Patriarchs and Prophets [PP], p. 137). Then God was represented as a "smoking furnace, and a burning lamp that passed between those pieces" (vs. 17), "totally consuming them,"--"the severed victims" pointing to Christ (op. cit.)

God does not ask for our promises in order to enter into His covenant. Ellen White writes, "Your promises and resolutions are like ropes of sand" (Steps to Christ, p. 47). God found "fault with them" (Heb. 8:8) because Israel promised "all that the LORD hath spoken we will do" (Ex. 19:8)--egocentric-motivated faith. God's love compels us to believe His covenant "stablished upon better promises" (Heb. 8:6)--His own "better promises."

When Abraham passed through the victims, he represented Christ, the true Seed, through whom God's promise would be fulfilled (Gal. 3:16). In addition, Abraham represented his spiritual descendants. "And if ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed" (3:29). Abraham made the "vow to God of perpetual obedience" as the representative of the Seed. "For all the promises of God in Him are yea, and in Him Amen" (2 Cor. 1:20). The only promises worth believing in the everlasting covenant are the mutual promises of the Father and the Son.

Ellen White writes, "The Lord condescended to enter into a covenant with His servant, employing such forms as were customary among men for the ratification of a solemn engagement" (PP 137). The pagan custom for the violation of mutual promises entered into was for the party to be dismembered or ritually sacrificed in disgrace. However, God's covenant-promise to Abraham was a one-sided land grant promise. God took the forms of ritual dismemberment of the victims. Instead of conveying the pagan message of appeasing the angry deity, God communicated the gospel message by "totally consuming them" (ibid.). The animals that were sacrificed in connection with the worship of Jehovah in the Old Testament were consumed with fire. Thus the victims pointed to Christ who bore the "curse" of God-forsakenness on the cross, dying our second death (Gal. 3:13).

Christ made the choice to die apparently cursed of God and totally forsaken--the second death. The last temptation of Christ was to come down off His cross and be with His Father. The revilers said, "If thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross" (Matt. 27:40).
The Father did not abandon His Son in His greatest hour of need. He was there with Him. However, the great controversy with Satan would not permit Him to visibly support His Son, for Christ must endure the full wrath of sin which raged within and conquer by faith alone. As the world's Sin-bearer, He felt the condemnation that every sinner will feel when at last they feel God-forsaken because of their own choice to cut themselves off from Him.

Christ prayed, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" (Matt. 27:46). His prayer was heard. "For He hath not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; neither hath He hid His face from Him; but when He cried unto Him, He heard" (Psalm 22:24). He died victorious over all outward evidences of defeat to the contrary. He died victorious over temptations from within to preserve self at all costs by rejecting the will of His Father--the cross. He kept His promise to be the Surety for the human race. In the final moment His faith declared, "It is finished" (John 19:30).

Oh, what price Love paid to sinners! The Father and the Son paid the price to you. It is for the purpose of winning enemy hearts to God.

What motivated Rizpah? She understood God's everlasting covenant promise to pledge Himself the sacrificial atonement for the sins of the nation. She chose to respond by faith to God's great love. She never spoke a word, but her life and example of repentance on a lonely mountaintop in identifying with the king and nation who were sliding into paganism, caught the attention of a messenger who reported it to David.

In response to Rizpah's "sermon" the king repented. He demonstrated by his actions that he was truly sorrowful. The neglected corpses of Saul and Jonathan, in addition to the dismembered Saulides, were given a proper burial; and the nation mourned. Following Rizpah's corporate repentance "water dropped upon them out of heaven" (2 Sam. 21:10).
--Paul E. Penno
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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

"Joab: David's Weak Strongman"

"Joab: David's Weak Strongman"

The beginning of faith is believing the truth that "God's word" has inherent within it the power to create what it says. It is called the "beginning" of faith because one can believe this and still not act that way. One can believe that "God exists out there somewhere," that He is all-powerful, that He knows all things--even the number of hairs on one's head--yet act as if God is an impersonal Force in the universe that brought all the elements together to create the planet and set it in motion (through whatever means one chooses to believe). Therefore, it is now up to the human race to determine what is going to happen with it--thus hedging the concept of "God's word." However, believing that God exists and that His word has inherent within it the power to create what it says is the first step in the right direction.

That is the beginning of faith. But we don't want to stop short in any good thing. Let's take this one step further, that is, expecting God's word to do what it says. We are not going to be concerned about consequences if we do not expect anything to happen regarding our decisions, but when we believe God's promises to us, He can then bring His righteousness into our daily experience. So, if we believe that God's word has inherent within it the power to create what it says, to get the full benefit of that word, one can at least expect that benefit to come--that God will actually do something, even if it is only for somebody else. However, that still is not enough to cause us to do right. We need something more, for we are not capable, on our own, of making consistently correct choices, and we are not capable (on our own) of doing God's will. Psalm 14:3 says, "They are all gone aside, they are all together become filthy: there is none that doeth good, no, not one." And Isaiah 64:6, "But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away."

There must be something that will allow God to bring our lives into harmony with His will.
We can take a lesson from the centurion of Mathew 8 who told Jesus that He did not need to come to his house, that indeed he was not worthy of such a majestic honor from Deity Himself. If Jesus would simply speak the word only, his servant would be healed. Listen to the response elicited by such faith, "When Jesus heard it, he marvelled, and said to them that followed, 'Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel. And I say unto you, That many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven. But the [immature and self-centered] children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.' And Jesus said unto the centurion, 'Go thy way; and as thou hast believed, so be it done unto thee.' And his servant was healed in the selfsame hour."

So what did the centurion do? Did he offer Jesus expensive gifts? Did he ask Jesus for His "help"? (To ask the question this way would imply that the centurion could heal the servant himself, that he just needed that extra little "push" to "get him over the top.") Did he insist on some sort of fanfare excitement with the press available to take it all down and spread it all around? Did he try to manipulate Jesus through intrigue--or force Him against His will? No, nothing like this. He didn't even think it was necessary for Jesus to come to his house! Just speak the word, only. That is all. The centurion didn't do anything except to make his simple request.

He depended on God's word only to do what it says.

Now it becomes personal. To depend upon our own plans to hold us up, for example, involves a risk, for this implies that there is a "plan B" (our plan) if "plan A" (God's plan) should fail (in our own perception). I saw on a poster the other day the saying that life is all about how you handle "plan B," and that is good for general use because not everything goes the way we hope or expect. But when it comes to God's promise of righteousness, there is no "plan B," which means that there will come occasions when we see no human way out. It is God and His word only that will hold you up and carry you through--it will look as if you are going to fall, but you won't.

The only proper response is to say "Thank you," as Abraham did regarding the same promise from God in Genesis 17 by falling on his face, and also in Genesis 22 when he believes God's word, even as against God's own word itself expecting God to raise Isaac from the dead (Heb. 11:17-19; Daily Good News, vol. 2, #158). These are expressions from a heart-felt appreciation of the gift and its cost to God, for it cost Jesus the hope of His own eternal life. Israel's immature and self-centered response in Exodus 19 to God's promise (that is, His word only), was "All that the LORD hath spoken we will do." And God had to bring in the entire earthly temple and priestly services to remind man every time he sinned, which was inevitable with man's promise, that it is only through the sacrifice of God that man can do His will. [1]

When Jesus was hanging on that cross, He depended upon God's word only (John 5:19, 30) to hold Him when all evidence indicated that He was eternally separated from His Father--while He experienced that second death for us. He could not see through the portals of the tomb and there was no "plan B" for victory. He thought He was going to be lost--except for His faith that depended on the Father only to hold Him. His triumphant cry, "It is finished," "Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit" [2], gained the victory for you and for me and brought the whole human race to the Father. We don't need to worry about how all this will come out in the end, as Joab did, or try to force God's will, as Joab appeared to be doing, for we are already on the winning team. Don't make a contract with anyone or anything else, not even with yourself or with God, but cling by faith to God's promise and to His promise only.

--Craig Barnes

[1] Note the ratification of Israel's broken promise to God in Exodus 24:3. This precedes the earthly services introduced in chapter 25.
[2] John 19:30; Luke 23:46.

For Further Reading:
Lessons on Faith, by E. J. Waggoner and A. T. Jones.
Give Us This Day Our Daily Good News, vol. 2, Waggoner and Jones.
The Desire of Ages by Ellen G. White.
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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

"Abiathar: The Priest"

"Abiathar: The Priest"

In the Jewish sanctuary system, the priest was the appointed intercessor between God and man. One of the clearest ways God manifested His guidance for Israel through the high priest was by light or cloud appearing over one of two stones on the priest's breastplate, sometimes generally called the ephod. These stones were named urim and thummim. Abiathar, son of Adonijah, was a priest during most of David's lifetime, both before and after he became king. He was the priest on duty when David and his men entered the tabernacle and ate the showbread. Jesus mentions him in the New Testament when He used this event as an example of a seemingly unlawful act allowed because of extreme circumstances (Mark 2:26).

When Saul was anointed king, God provided guidance to him through the prophet Samuel and the temple priests. Saul's personality deteriorated during his kingship. Insane with jealousy, he felt sorry for himself imagining David was his enemy and everyone was in on the conspiracy. When Ahimelech rendered aid to defend David, Saul ordered the slaughter of him and 85 priests (1 Sam. 22:13-19). Abiathar demonstrated his loyalty to David by risking his life to tell him of the killing. Later, Abiathar (1 Sam. 23:6-12) brought the ephod to David who used it to seek God's guidance after Saul learned David's location and planned to attack and kill him.

By Saul's malicious act of killing the priests and their families, he deprived himself and his nation of God's guidance through this oracle and the priests who administered it. God used Abiathar to save the ephod and become a priest who could sympathize with David during most of his reign.

The intrigue and treachery of David's exploits make for interesting reading but remain just ancient stories unless we apply them to our lives today. God no longer uses priests and the urim and thummim to communicate with His church because He has given us His written word. In the late 1800s God selected two young men, A. T. Jones, and E. J. Waggoner, whom Ellen White described as having "heavenly credentials."* Over 350 times, this modern day prophet endorsed the message God gave them, yet she and they faced opposition wherever they went. While their battles were not physical as were David's, the intrigue and distortion of truth finds some parallel with David's story.

God chose Jones and Waggoner to present the actual message, but, like Abiathar, He used Ellen White to provide support. Frequently, her support came in the form of actual revelation settling various issues. A case in point would be her statement on the question of whether the law described as the schoolmaster in Galatians is the ceremonial or the moral law (Gal. 3:24). "I am asked concerning the law in Galatians. What law is the school-master to bring us to Christ? I answer: Both the ceremonial and the moral code of ten commandments" (The Ellen G. White 1888 Materials, p. 1725). Significantly, that letter was written in 1900 after the brethren struggled together to study the issue.

Another example of her clarification of the 1888 message: "Several have written to me inquiring if the message of justification by faith is the third angel's message, and I have answered, 'It is the third angel's message in verity'" (Review and Herald, April 1, 1890). The third angel's message is the sanctuary truth. Hence, the 1888 message is an understanding of justification by faith, which is parallel to and consistent with the cleansing of the heavenly sanctuary.

If we fail to use the advantage afforded us by the teaching of the prophet, are we in danger of repeating Saul's mistake? By keeping her endorsements of the message of righteousness by faith, are we in effect "killing" the prophet's message?

In David's declining years, because of political expediency, Abiathar changed his loyalty from his king to support Adonijah's bid for his father's throne. Abiathar knew that God had made his wishes clear that Solomon was to be king, but somehow he joined the conspiracy against Solomon. What kind of distortion did Abiathar invent to assuage his conscience and the consciences of his co-conspirators that God had made a mistake in selecting Solomon? When we distort both the actual message and the endorsements, do we join those who originally opposed the divinely credentialed messengers and the prophet? Do we not perpetuate the "conspiracy?"

An example of distorting the 1888 message is to say that the church accepted righteousness by faith and is teaching it, when in fact, it is teaching the evangelical Arminian concept of righteousness by faith. Ellen White maintains that the message was not accepted (Selected Messages, book 1, pp. 234, 235). To insist that the church accepted righteousness by faith, contrary to her eyewitness account, is to participate in a falsification of our history.

Truth never suffers from study and scrutiny by honest and humble investigators. Our duty of loyalty to the church should be equal to Christ's (John 12:20-25), but even Christ spoke of the church's indifference to her Bridegroom in the Song of Solomon (5:1-3). Because He rebukes and chastens those He loves, He warned Laodicea of her apathy in Revelation.

We can with confidence, examine not only the message, but our history of its reception. If we are to learn from the mistakes of ancient Israel, does it not make sense that God also wants us to learn from choices made by our more contemporary brothers and sisters in the church's relatively recent past? In doing this, we must never be directed by a spirit of criticism or debate, but our motivation must always be the Spirit of Truth.

By failing even to investigate the past, we risk perpetuating the errors of the past. God has preserved enough of the record to make a thorough examination possible. No explanatory "filter" is needed as the original sources speak to us from the pens of those who wrote them. When we study to understand and submit to the Holy Spirit's guidance, there is nothing to fear.

--Arlene Hill

* Review and Herald, March 18, 1890 and Sept. 3, 1889; Testimonies to Ministers and Gospel Workers, pp. 412, 413.

Resources for Further Investigation:
1888 Re-examined, Robert J. Wieland
Let History Speak, Donald K. Short
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Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Uriah: Faith of a Foreigner

Uriah: Faith of a Foreigner 

The story begins in 2 Samuel 11:1 where it says that it was the time of the year when the kings went out to battle, but David was in his palace and here is the first red flag pointing to the change in David. In the first part of David’s life, he was known as a man after God’s own heart, but not so any longer for David’s heart was knowing only self. 
David lusts after Bathsheba and has her taken from her home, and he commits adultery with her. Later Bathsheba sends David a message that she is pregnant. David’s mind begins to scheme to protect self and image.

He sent for Uriah, thinking that when he would go to his home and lie with his wife, the pregnancy would be covered up. Uriah appears. David encourages him to go home and wash his feet, eat, drink and lie with his wife. Uriah departs the king’s presence, goes just outside, and stays with the king’s servants—never once going near his house.

The next day David questions Uriah as to why he had not gone home, and Uriah said to David, “The ark and Israel and Judah are dwelling in tents, and my lord Joab and the servants of my lord are encamped in the open fields. Shall I then go to my house to eat and drink, and to lie with my wife? As you live, and as your soul lives, I will not do this thing” (2 Sam. 11:11).

Uriah’s words come from a man sincere in his love for God and His people. The natural human spirit has no such concern and is motivated only by what they want, when they want it and how they want it. Everything they do is centered in self and so their motivation is called an egocentric motivation. EGO stands for Easing God Out of the heart and life. The egocentric person finds the idea of a higher motivation too restrictive.

David was demonstrating an egocentric motivation – “Its all about me and what I want.” Uriah demonstrated a higher motivation than self – this higher motivation is the natural motivation of a converted person under the influence of agape.

“A higher motivation becomes realized in the close of time than has prevailed in the church in the past ages—a concern for Christ that He receive His reward and find His ‘rest’ in the final eradication of sin. All egocentric motivation based on fear of hell or hope of reward is less effective” (Robert J. Wieland, Ten Great Gospel Truths, #8, p. 27).

Uriah had an appreciation of the agape of God, which delivered him from egocentric motivation. We too can experience this change in motivation, providing we do not resist the drawing of the cross.

“Now as never before, we are to repent and be converted, that our sins may be blotted out, that an utter end shall be made of them forever in our lives” (A. T. Jones, The Consecrated Way, p. 127, Glad Tidings Publishers ed.).

This is the power and truth Uriah pointed out when speaking of the ark (sanctuary). While the ark and the congregation dwell in tents, David lounges in the palace shepherding his uncontrolled lusts with just as much concern as when he was tending his sheep.

Uriah rebukes David by asking, under the circumstances; shall I go home to eat and drink and lie with my wife? Then he takes an oath and says, “I will not do this thing.”

“Christ is a Good Shepherd who is seeking His lost sheep even though we have not sought Him. A misunderstanding of God’s character causes us to think He is trying to hide from us. There is no parable of a lost sheep that must seek and find its Shepherd” (Robert J. Wieland, op. cit., #4).

David the shepherd king is now only a lost sheep in a king’s palace.

“Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us” (1 John 3:15, 16). David then hated God and plotted His murder just as surely as he did Uriah’s.

The LORD sent Nathan to David—because the Good Shepherd always seeks His lost sheep—with the parable of the ewe lamb: “The light was flashed sharply upon the king, while he was in utter darkness as to what was thought of his actions in regard to Uriah. … The king was so completely wrapped in his garments of sin, that he did not see that he was the sinner” (Ellen G. White, Letter 57, 1897; Bible Commentary, vol. 2, p. 1023; emphasis supplied).

“Then David said to Nathan, ‘I have sinned against the LORD.’ And Nathan said to David, ‘The LORD also has put away your sin; you shall not die. However, because by this deed you have given great occasion to the enemies of the LORD to blaspheme, the child also who is born to you shall surely die’” (2 Sam. 12:13, 14).

“David awakens as if from a dream” (The Spirit of Prophecy, vol. 1, p. 379).

“The Lord draws us, but does not employ force. He calls, but does not drive. ... God has purposed salvation for every soul that has ever come into this world” (Ellet J. Waggoner, Waggoner on Romans, pp.140, 143).

David’s confession was deep and sincere. “Confession means, speaking the same thing; acknowledging that which is said; agreeing together. The confession of sin is the acknowledgment of sin that has been pointed out. The Holy Spirit comes as a convicter of sin, and says, ‘You have sinned in this thing,’ and we confess our sin when we speak the same thing, and say, ‘Yes; that is true.’ … Confession, therefore, means the acknowledging of what has been made known to us” (Ellet J. Waggoner, “Confessing Christ in the Flesh,” The Present Truth, March 8, 1894).

“Abraham believed [agreed with] God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness” (Gen. 15:6). This is righteousness by faith. Confession is the same thing as this for it is arrived at the same way. When the Holy Spirit points out our sin and we agree with Him that it is true, we are made clean—righteous. He believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness.

“The wrong was done to a man; the sin was against God; and to God the transgressor was accountable. ‘So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God,’ both for our sins against God and our wrongs to our fellowmen. All sin is, without qualification, against God” (A. T. Jones, “Divine and Human Government,” American Sentinel, July 16, 1896).

“Every act which shows a lack of love for our neighbor, shows a lack of love for God; the wrong which one may do to his fellow-man is only secondary; the greater wrong is against God” (Ellet J. Waggoner, “The Consequence of Pleasing God,” The Signs of the Times, April 20, 1888).
Daniel H. Peters