I thought of entitling this last chapter, “Drawing the ends together”
but as I thought about it I felt there was something more specific
with which we should finish. In the opening chapter of the book of
Proverbs, Solomon gives a number of reasons for taking in his proverbs.
There are two key important words there – wisdom and understanding
– and as I think of why I have written this book, it is hopefully
to develop wisdom and understanding when it comes to the writings
we call the Old Testament.
believe from every chapter there are things worth noting,
things worth learning, things which will help us grow in understanding.
In one sense this chapter will be a combination of all the ‘Recap'
pages, but the emphasis will be on what we can learn from
each chapter we have considered.
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Don't Speak from Ignorance
is the first lesson that I believe should come out of my experience
as recounted in Chapter 1. When it comes to criticising the Old Testament,
so many people, it seems, speak out of emotions and not out of knowledge.
Indeed I think I have only ever come across one critic on the Internet
who I felt really knew something of what he was talking about, yet
everything he said was shrouded in dark emotions.
we the Christian population may have got it wrong on many occasions
and there are many who are Christians who still get it wrong in their
understanding and, unfortunately, convey it. It is sad that the likes
of people like Richard Dawkins tell tales of those who had less than
a good understanding and who conveyed a very distorted form of the
Christian faith. But then when such people such as Bertrand Russell
and Charles Darwin conveyed ignorance of the biblical teaching, it
is perhaps not surprising that some of us lesser mortals don't do
very well either.
that is not an excuse. Whether a Christian, a seeker or a critic –
please, read and find out the truth. Don't argue
from ignorance, and don't argue from a little knowledge
for that too is a dangerous thing!
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Don't be Ashamed at Weighing the Evidence
to much public opinion Christian faith is not blind faith. It is built
on much evidence.
the evidence of the whole Bible,
is the evidence of Church history and
is the evidence of lives dramatically changed.
here our focus has been on the Bible.
have only laid out some very basic statements about how the Bible
came into being, about why we can trust the integrity of the writers,
but if you don't believe what I say, go and find some books on the
subject. There is an immense amount of scholarship on how the Bible
came into being and why we can trust what is there. We should be very
grateful to all the scholars who have gone before and done the work.
one warning though! Don't do what ‘you-know-who' does and quote from
weird, freaky out on the edge theologians. When you have one man making
money and a reputation out of ideas that run contrary to the vast
range of scholarship that is out there, check out your own
intellectual integrity and wonder why you prefer the strange
to the thoroughly researched.
and so ends Part 1….
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Check Teaching before Events
chapters 4 to 6 I have sought to show you how the Bible declares the
characteristics of love and goodness as being primary characteristics
of God. The point I have sought to make is that if this is
the overwhelming testimony of Scripture, when it comes to examining
the activities of God, then we should put aside our emotional prejudices
and look at them again to seek evidence of those two characteristics.
sought to show that when we use the word ‘love' we
don't have to go finding strange meanings for it. If it doesn't mean
what we usually take it mean in careful language usage, then it doesn't
mean love. Yes it does mean "selfless,
sacrificial, unrestricted good will towards all others”.
That IS what God expresses whenever He thinks, speaks or acts.
we often fail to realise that even that definition can be expressed
in a variety of ways, as I sought to show in respect of a father and
his child. So, no, it is not a mushy emotion. It is ‘selfless, sacrificial,
unrestricted good will' and it will always be that whenever it is
the expression of love, and that towards everyone.
that is one of the primary characteristics of God, then that is what
we will find whenever God expresses Himself, and so if we
cannot see it, it simply means we have to examine the circumstances
of the event more carefully, and then think more carefully about why
God is acting as he does. The same thing applies to goodness.
This is vital to understand in everything that follows.
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Don't be Afraid to Look Back at History Carefully
are not two worlds, the world of secular history and the world of
God and God's people. The Bible is written in broad brush strokes.
It tells us the ‘why' but not the ‘how'. For the ‘how' we have to
go to the study of science and history, but even there we are often
walking on uncertain ground.
it comes to the Bible we get into trouble when we jump to conclusions
and say more than it says. Thus we have got ourselves into deep water
over timing sometimes. Perhaps that isn't such deep water as scientists
and historians and biologists sometimes wallow around in, making massive
assumptions that may not live out their lifetimes. These worlds are
littered with people who have falsified evidence or jumped to wrong
conclusions. What we have in the ‘fact-files' today may be correct,
but maybe not.
don't have a problem with this. There are some basics that
I am absolutely certain about and everything else can flow
on from there. For instance:
I am certain that God created this world. I'm not certain about
how He did it, but it's enough to know He did it.
am also convinced that He knows best how it and, especially, how
human beings work best.
am also convinced that human beings have rejected Him and His design
and so make a mess of life.
am convinced we need His help to get back on the tracks.
am convinced the Old Testament is a record of His activities with
the nation of Israel seeking to draw mankind back to Himself and
to His design.
am also certain that it is a record of our lamentable failure to
appreciate these truths and to appreciate His love.
finally, I am convinced He sent His Son, Jesus Christ to reveal
His love and make a way back to Himself so that we can live at peace
throughout our years on this earth and then face the eternity with
Him that follows.
of the detail you may be fuzzy about but check out these certainties!
it is that we find a world where mankind starts out as largely
in primitive ignorance, a world where mankind slowly
develops through the centuries in knowledge and experience
(but sadly not in wisdom!) Similarly we see through the Bible, God
revealing Himself gradually. There are reasons for it, and
they are good reasons.
when we look at this history recorded in the Old Testament, realise
that although this is God seeking to draw all back to Himself as he
gradually reveals Himself to the world, it is also a testimony to
our folly or sinfulness, showing us that even having God setting up
the blueprint for a godly nation was not enough. For lives to be changed
and brought back to the original design, they must come one by one,
as they face up to who they are, realise their need and then realise
that God's love has made a way back.
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Understand the Law of Choice
we can only see this law in its clarity we might stop making silly
comments about God. This is a simple law that says God has
given us free will and He allows us to make choices –
but those choices carry with them consequences. Again and
again God warns about the choices and their consequences. He has laid
out a skeleton of understanding of how He has designed the world and
us on it. Through Moses He gave the Law that showed how to have a
society where peace and harmony could prevail, even in the face of
our sin which still gets it wrong.
after time, examples are given in the Old Testament of people and
nations who got it wrong and the consequences that followed. But there
were also examples of people who turned to God and got it right and
we saw the consequences that followed.
turned from God, He stepped back and allowed them to go their own
way, but it was without His protection, and so again and again their
society fell apart and invading neighbours came and took advantage
of them. Sometimes He specifically nudged the neighbours to take action
against Israel ,
to speed up the process and then, as soon as they cried out to Him,
He stepped in on their behalf and encouraged and stirred up a deliverer.
Israel lived according to God's law and in harmony with Him, they
found the Law ‘worked' and peace and harmony reigned
in their society, and He also stepped in and helped and guided
them into prosperity. David and Solomon were the classic
examples of kings who sought God and were blessed in abundance. Yet
even they both revealed their feet of clay and got it wrong. Yet still
God was there working for them, working to restore the nation to Himself.
People may have given up on God but He doesn't give up on us. Yes,
He lets us take the consequences we bring on ourselves, but He's there
all the time, waiting to just step in on our behalf the moment we
cry out to Him.
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Don't be Afraid to look God's Anger, Wrath & Judgment in the Face
we realise we are dealing with a God of love we realise that these
words take on a new sense. They are not the words that describe a
judge who is a capricious, nasty, changeable, self-centred ogre. That's
how most of us interpret these words because we can only see them
through the lenses of human experience and it was not pretty! When
we hear of God's anger we see in our mind's eye a parent or teacher
from childhood who seemed to almost spit hate at us through their
venom of unpleasantness.
these reasons we cannot see that anger is a legitimate expression
of indignation and displeasure, a natural and right expression
that counters and reacts against wilful evil. We cannot see that wrath
is a legitimate building of feelings of indignation and displeasure
because of the enormity of the evil being observed.
more we cannot see that ‘judgment' is a legitimate corrective
action to end wrong actions and restore right living according to
the Maker's design, which encapsulates goodness. Where the
judgment involves death we fail to see the restraint in the divine
heart, we fail to see the warning after warning after warning that
is given. And more, we fail to see that sometimes God allows us unfettered
restraint so we can charge down the path of self-destruction that
we wanted to go down, and we fail to see Him standing there ready
to catch us the moment we cry out to Him for help.
is quite legitimate for a judge to be utterly loving, for that will
not mean He waters down His judgments. It means He assesses everything
looking for good for each and every person but while honouring justice.
and so ends Part 2….
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Think about the Garden of Eden as History
more you look at the cold facts of Genesis 3 the more it makes sense
and the more it fits with reality as we know it. Adam and
Eve did what we do and they reacted just like we do. By giving
way to a temptation placed before them they reveal their needs
- of being looked after and being protected, of being helped
to appreciate God's love for them, and so on. The episode in the Garden
of Eden is all about revealing humanity as it is.
it was also a scenario where God did things as well which might be
summarised as we've already expressed it previously: He stepped away
from them (or prevented them coming close to Him) so they
would realise how much they relied upon God in every aspect of life.
When they are moved at a distance from Him, basic things like child-bearing
and working the ground to provide for oneself, takes on a new dimension;
it becomes hard and difficult as we do it without God's help.
part of the reason for it, is so that we will realise what
we are missing and we seek Him and seek to enter into a relationship
with Him afresh. But we come as sinners, as guilty failures and we
worry about our guilt, for in the background justice is lurking demanding
payment for the sin. At that point the Son of God steps forward and
says, “I've dealt with it. Come to me and receive a pardon on the
basis of what I've done.” We grasp at the offer and find we have been
given so much more that had been lost in Eden – Sonship and the presence
of God as close as is possible, and with it eternal life.
centuries God stood at a distance, appearing to only draw near to
the chosen individuals who He saw would respond to Him. Then He drew
near to the chosen nation and for centuries more, sought to reveal
Himself to them while not overshadowing them. Eventually into the
nation He brought His Son to restore us to the Garden. The Garden
was not the end, just the beginning.
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Understand the Capability of Unrestrained Humanity
Flood raises questions, the biggest of which is why? The only answer
can be that it was the ONLY way to deal with the situation
on the earth at that time. We weren't there, we don't know
how bad it was, we can only go by the record, and that was not good.
wasn't God ‘having a bad day'. If He was a human being we might have
thought that but the testimony of the rest of the Bible screams at
us that He is a loving, kind, just and caring God who is not hasty
and isn't easily provoked into action. If anything the testimony of
the whole Bible is that He is incredibly slow at moving to bring judgment.
else we see the corrective judgment of God it is always restrained.
Yes, it fits the purpose but it never goes overboard, it never spills
over in abundance. It deals with those involved and goes no further.
Indeed it waits and waits and waits while He brings warning after
warning after warning.
long it took Noah to build the ark, it was acting as a warning of
what was to come, yet mankind had ploughed their furrow and would
not turn from it. They were set in their way – except this one man
and his family who they mocked or ignored.
challenge to us over the Flood, is dare we consider how sordid, how
terrible, how vile, how evil humanity had become in Noah's time? Dare
we consider something so terrible that it would make God choose the
ultimate of judgments? Will we ignore the testimony of the
rest of Scripture and deny that God brought the flood with tears?
Will we then deny that it was the only path possible?
the end of chapter 5, I quoted William Barclay's comments about what
people reveal about themselves in their reaction to the person of
Jesus Christ. In the same way, I sometimes wonder if the account of
the Flood is included in Scripture to assess us, for our responses
to all I have been saying here, speak more about us than they do about
can do no better than to quote from the fifth Recap: ‘The Flood reminds
us of the awful depths that mankind can sink to, but we prefer to
take sin for granted and because we live in a world where the media
reveals wrong doing around the world on a regular basis, we take it
for granted.' The more we realise the awfulness of sin, the more the
words of condemnation of the world found in Genesis, chapter 6, will
bring anguish to our heart as they surely did to God's.
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Learn to Step back and see the Big Picture
of the dangers of looking at particular ‘bits' of Scripture is that
we focus on the one bit we want to use to make a point but we fail
to understand it properly because we do not see it in context, i.e.
we fail to see the big picture.
is no more true that in the story of Pharaoh and Moses. People usually
latch on to the verse or two that speak about God hardening Pharaoh's
heart, but fail to see the number of times Pharaoh hardened his own
heart, and fail to see that when God hardened it, He was hardening
an already hard heart and did it by prodding the man's pride – but
you only see that when you see the big picture.
other thing that people tend to do is focus on the deaths at the Passover,
focusing on this one little bit of a much bigger story, and thus fail
to see the incredible number of times Pharaoh was warned,
and the slow and gradual build up through the plagues that even a
blind man could not miss – but spiritually blind people do! They
fail to realise that God could have destroyed Pharaoh with a word
at the outset, but instead chose a slow and gradual way that
revealed to the whole world the stupidity of this terrible despot
who kept a million and a half people in slavery, and his people in
bondage to superstitious, idolatrous, occult fear. See the big picture
and understand; focus on small parts and be pedantic and critical!
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Learn to Respect People & Let Them take Responsibility.
the sake of creating ammunition to fire at God, we treat adults as
children and demand that God treats them as lesser beings. We live
in a relativistic day in which we seek to excuse people their sins;
we find excuses for murderers or thieves or delinquents but in so
doing we demean them. He had a difficult childhood and all his anger
against his mother built up to such a degree that he killed his wife
– poor thing. Who, him or his wife? Stop demeaning him. He is a human
being made in the image of God and that means he has the ability to
think through (or refuse to think through) choices and their consequences
and should thus be held accountable. We are quick to want to hold
God accountable for things we have against Him, but when it comes
to people we want to excuse their sin.
we don't when it comes to criminals who offend us personally. Then
we want them punished. Then, suddenly, we are not so liberal in our
views. Those thugs who killed my father, that man who raped my sister,
those vandals who scored the side of my new car, those thieves who
broke into my home, totally desecrated it, trashed it and wrote obscene
graffiti on the newly decorated walls, and ran off with my computer,
my HD TV and my super sound system – they need punishing, and in fact
some of them shouldn't be living still! We think lightly of crimes
as long as they don't come close to home.
stories of the Children of Israel in the desert before and after Sinai
are stories that prove this, no more so than the episode of the Golden
Calf. Applying the previous lesson, the big picture shows us a people
who acted like spoilt children in their travels from Egypt to Sinai,
despite the fact that they have just observed the most amazing deliverance
of any people in history, and have the visible presence of God leading
them in the form of a pillar of cloud in the day and a pillar of fire
was with them, of that there could have been no doubt. But they grumble.
They don't realise He loves them and will provide for them, so by
the time they arrive at Sinai they have witnessed a miraculous cleansing
of water, an ongoing miraculous provision of manna, and a miraculous
provision of water from a rock.
they arrive at Sinai, they are observers of startling manifestations
of God's presence on the mountain and can be under no illusions about
who it is who has delivered them and led them thus far. The fact that
within a month they can forget all this would be impossible to understand
if we didn't see it in the lives of people today.
is the person who almost loses their life, prays and asks God to spare
them, and are then miraculously delivered, and yet seen within a month
back living their self-centred, hedonistic, godless lifestyle again.
Such accounts could be multiplied hundreds if not thousands of times.
We have frightfully short memories. But that is merely a testimony
to our stupidity.
God does hold such people accountable, as in the case of the Golden
Calf and the various things that happened in the desert after Sinai,
His judgment is restrained to include only the guilty. Thus the vast
majority of the population were untouched. Instead of wiping them
all out, we find God preserving them so that the next generation could
enter the Promised Land and continue the plan. God comes out of this
we have said above could also be said in respect of the inhabitants
of the land of Canaan. We see Israel coming as land grabbers and fail
to see it as an act of God holding the inhabitants accountable for
their pagan worship that demeaned women and sacrificed children and
much else. We focus on the words about destruction, including the
all-inclusive words, “men, women and children” – which don't actually
appear in the text, although the sense does – and fail to see the
bigger picture that shows us that God's intent was to bring fear to
Canaan and to drive the inhabitants out of the land. Death came because
the inhabitants would not leave. Their stubbornness and determination
to hold onto the land and its Baals only confirmed the judgment brought
against it. Their remaining to face Israel was a personal choice,
a choice that disregarded the needs of their children and women. It
did not have to be, but that was the course they chose despite
the warnings. The examples of Rehab and the Gibeonites show
us that there was an alternative way!
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Don't be Afraid to Read the Law
The Law of God that He gave through Moses is not weird. Go through
the two Appendices and see how reasonable these laws were. These laws
reveal a society that could order its behaviour by God's design.
with Failure: The laws recognised that the sin in men or
women would mean they offended or harmed other men or women and so
guidance was given how to deal with such things. Where the sin was
expressly against God, the sacrificial law gave a way for the Israelite
to approach God through a prescribed way to receive His forgiveness.
Guidance was given to maintain health and a healthy life.
Reasons: Sometimes the laws were very obvious in the practical
outworking. Sometimes they were to keep Israel from becoming like
their pagan neighbours. On a few rare occasions the reason for a law
was unclear and we await scientific evidence to clarify what we don't
see at the moment. Some of the ceremonial law is repetitious as it
seeks to convey the details of what needed to be done to restore a
broken relationship with the Lord. For that reason it may not be the
most edifying reading, and because it no longer applies to us (because
Jesus has come and fulfilled the Law – see the New Testament) that
should not deny value in our studying it to see how it worked in the
lives of this embryonic people.
Some of the laws we find integrated within our own modern
laws. Some of them fly contrary to the philosophical position we have
taken today in the West (e.g. death penalty) and some of them would
no longer have any relevance in our modern Western societies (e.g.
laws on slavery, or the ceremonial or sacrificial laws).
These were God's laws for that society at that time. The
Ten Commandments span history in their ongoing application but it
is difficult to apply laws for a primitive agricultural society to
our modern, highly technological society. The value in examining them
is twofold: to see God's wisdom for that nation and to observe principles
that should under gird any society on this world that belongs to God.
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Don't be Afraid to Challenge the Critics
assessments of The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins and of
God is Not Great by Christopher Hitchens have convinced
me that we have nothing to fear from them – as long as we at least
know what we are talking about. Both books display a frightening
ignorance of the Bible. Both of them are also deceptive through
their styles of writing, sounding invincible to the ignorant. But
take them slowly, bit by bit and think through what such people say,
and you will realise there is little here to worry any intelligent
seeker. If you are ignorant of the Bible yourself, that me be a different
thing and hence I will conclude this part as I started the chapter
with a plea for you not to speak from ignorance. Please read
the Bible and read it intelligently! Perhaps it is worthwhile
reiterating the lessons we believe come out of checking the Dawkins'
queries that are so important for right understanding:
Learn to distinguish between cultural
practices and God-directed practices, and between human-inspired activity
and God-inspired activity. Don't blame God for cultural, human-inspired
recognise the primitive state of the
nation of Israel
in the early books of the Bible,
recognise the desire of the nation
to hold to God's laws and to be a nation that stood out for goodness
in an otherwise bad world,
distinguish between God-directed activity
and the activity of men trying on their own to be righteous and
sometimes falling short of perfection!
not blame God for the failings of
Not get their morals from all
of Scripture. The standard rule of interpretation is don't make rules
out of observed behaviour.