How do we explain the stricter punishments of the nation of Israel?

If we are honest with ourselves, some of the punishments that took place in the nation of Israel give us pause. Not only were people regularly called out for their sin, often times death was the punishment. When we look at the church today, we don’t see folks being killed by the congregation for their sins. So why the change? How do we explain the stricter punishments in the nation of Israel?

Adultery Then and Now

For instance, in Deuteronomy 22 we read,

“Then they shall bring out the young woman to the door of her father’s house, and the men of her city shall stone her to death with stones, because she has done an outrageous thing in Israel by whoring in her father’s house. So you shall purge the evil from your midst. “If a man is found lying with the wife of another man, both of them shall die, the man who lay with the woman, and the woman. So you shall purge the evil from Israel.” (Dt 22:21–22)

The punishment for adultery in Old Testament Israel was stoning, but in the New Testament the punishment is different. Consider 1 Corinthians 5:1-2

“It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife. And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you.” (1 Co 5:1–2)

While the sin was the same, the punishment was different. Instead of death, they were excommunicated. The differences, however, don’t stop there. Not only were their lives spared, but it was hoped that they would repent and enter back into the community.

Why the Change?

I believe the change can be explained in several ways.

(1) We no longer live in a Theocracy

We have to remember that Old Testament Israel lived with God as their ruler. He set the laws for the nation. God acting as the governing authority of a nation is generally referred to as a Theocracy. 

Now we live as the church in many different countries ruled by Kings, Governments, Dictators, etc. The rules of each country dictate how we are to live and what the punishment for certain sins will be, or if they will be punished.

(2) Our camp no longer has to be purged of evil

When the nation of Israel began, God tabernacled among the people. His presence was in the Holy of Holies, which is the innermost part of the Tabernacle. In order for God, who is holy, to live in the same camp with an unholy people, sacrifices had to be performed daily and yearly. As well as the evil unrighteous person had to be removed from the camp. One way they were removed was through death.

Death not only removed the unrighteous sinner from the camp, it also reminded the people that a holy God lived in their midst, and that He required them to be holy in order to continue to have a relationship with them.

In the church age, however, God no longer tabernacles in the holy of holies. His presence isn’t present in our churches like it was in the Tabernacle. Instead, God tabernacles among us, as He lives in our hearts. Each and every believer is indwelt with the Holy Spirit. We are, then, the Temple of God.

God is able to dwell in us because of Jesus’ death on the cross. When Jesus died on the cross the Temple and the sacrificial system associated with it, was made obsolete. His death served as the ultimate sacrifice for our sins. His blood now covers us making us righteous and holy, which allows us to have a relationship with a holy God.

Since we are the Temple and the ultimate sacrifice for our sins has been paid, we no longer have to purge the evil from us in order for God to remain in our lives. The evil has already been purged during Jesus’ death on the cross.

(3) Jesus has taken the punishment for sin

The punishment for willful sin in the Old Testament was death. In the New Testament, however, the punishment for sin, specifically unrepentant sin is excommunication from the church with the ability to repent and return to be a part of the community.

While our punishment for sin has changed, the ultimate punishment for sin has not changed. It is still death. Jesus has taken that punishment for us when He died on the cross.

So while there has been a change in practice – we are no longer killed for sin in the church age – the severity of sin is still the same. Sin equals death.

Return to the Question

To return to our question: How do we explain the stricter punishments of the nations of Israel? We explain it by saying that

  • The punishment wasn’t necessarily stricter. It was the same. Sin has always and will always equal death. We don’t experience that death now because Jesus has taken the punishment of sin for us.
  • As well as we don’t live in a Theocracy. We are governed by the state, who sets the laws and punishments.
  • Furthermore, God no longer tabernacles in the holy of holies in the midst of a camp, but in the hearts of individual believers, who have been made righteous by the blood of Jesus.

Question for Reflection

  1. Do you agree with the argument above? I would love your feedback.

Resources

Image

How Should We Motivate Those We Lead?

Old Brick Church

How should godly leaders motivate those they lead? The first king of Israel, Saul, provides a good case study.

Why Saul?

Saul, along with David, Samuel, and Jonathan are the main characters of the books of 1 and 2 Samuel. After reading through these two books, you might wonder why I chose Saul for a case study on leadership instead of Samuel or David. After all Saul is the inadequate leader the Lord rejects for David, who is the man after His own heart. I chose Saul not for his positive example, but for his negative. In other words, his actions show us how we shouldn’t lead.

Goliath’s Challenge

In 1 Samuel 17, Israel faces off against the Philistines. As they are set for battle, a man from the Philistine camp emerges who is 9 feet tall, decked in armor weighing 121 lbs, carrying a spear that is 15 lbs and as thick as the fat end of a baseball bat. Goliath is his name, and he is calling Israel to send a man to fight him in a winner take all match.

Goliath’s challenge is met with fear, anxiety, and distress. Not a man in Israel is willing to fight Goliath. Knowing the hesitancy of his men, Saul does what any leader would do. He attempts to motivate a man to take up the challenge.

How does he motivate his men?

In 1 Samuel 17:25, Saul promises the man who defeats Goliath great riches, his daughter’s hand in marriage, and freedom from taxes. Essentially, Saul motivates his men with worldly possessions.

Saul’s rewards were extended to all the men in Israel, not just a special group. Everyone in the army knows what Saul is offering, but none are willing to risk their lives against Goliath.

Saul’s motivation shows us what not to do

Saul’s actions show exactly why he was rejected as the king over Israel. He doesn’t trust God, nor does he lead his people to trust God. Instead he attempts to exploit his people’s idolatrous hearts.

Saul’s action are exactly the opposite of what a godly leader should do.

Godly leaders don’t push their people toward idolatry. Godly leaders pull their people away from idolatry toward God.

Why did Saul lead in this way?

He didn’t trust God. He focused on the challenge in front of him instead of remembering the Lord’s promises and His past victories. Not only had God promised them the land, but He had defeated the Ammonites, Amalekites, and Philistines under Saul’s rule already. Instead of reflecting on these things, he allowed his fear to take over.

What we learn

When we don’t trust God and lead out of fear, we start planning and thinking in worldly terms. We leave God out of the picture, and we attempt to lead guided by our own fallen intellect, which is woefully inadequate. Turning within and leading our people by exploiting their idolatrous hearts is not the answer. Instead we must turn ourselves and our people to God.

Question for Reflection

  1. How do you lead? Do you turn your people to God, or to the world?

What Does the Exodus Reveal About God’s Mission?

The Exodus Event serves as a model of holistic redemption. The event itself is a type, pointing forward to the redemption Jesus brings to all those who believe in Him as their Lord and Savior. Not only is it a type, but it also tells us the scope of God’s mission.

What is the Scope of God’s Mission?

When we look at the Exodus event, we see a four-fold scope in God’s mission:

(1) Political

In Exodus 1:1-22, we learn Israel were refugees in the land of the Egyptians because of the great famine. They originally were protected and lived by themselves in the land of Goshen, but after Joseph died they faced political oppression by the Egyptian’s. They were afflicted with heavy burdens because they were too many of them and they were too mighty for the Egyptians to handle. For fear that the Israelites might overthrow them, or band with another nation in war against them, they enslaved them. They made them work with brick and mortar, building store cities for them, as well as they were forced to serve in the fields, tending to the Egyptian’s crops.

(2) Economic

In Exodus 1:11-14, we also see that they were not allowed to care for their own well-being. Through forced labor, they had to care for the Egyptians by building them store cities and working their fields. This would have left no time for them to care for their own flocks and to work their own land. The prosperity they once knew was gone because of economic oppression.

(3) Social

In Exodus 1:8-22, we learn Israel was oppressed by Egypt because they were Hebrews. More than forced labor was dealt out to them, Pharaoh ordered that their midwives kill all male sons that were born to the Hebrew women. So then, the Hebrews were not only treated as slaves, but a state-wide genocide was ordered against their male sons simple because of who they were.

(4) Spiritual

Not only was the oppression Israel faced political, economic, and social, but it was also spiritual. They were kept by Pharaoh from journeying into the wilderness to worship their God (Ex. 4:22-23; 5:1-9).

God Heard their Cry

God heard the groanings of the Egyptians and He remembered His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Ex. 2:23-25). He then raised up Moses and paired him with Aaron to go and confront Pharaoh (Ex. 3-4). Moses and Aaron’s initial request was denied by Pharaoh, so God sent plagues on the land of Egypt with the final one resulting in the Israelites release in the Exodus event (Ex. 5-12).

Through the Exodus Event, God delivered Israel from political, economic, social, and spiritual bondage. They were given their own land, God made them to be His people, and He defeated their enemy by drowning them in the Red Sea (Ex. 6:6-8; 14:26-31). While God did deliver Israel from this four-fold bondage and gave them these blessings, He did more than that. He delivered them from sin. Not so much their own sin, but the sin of Pharaoh, who was their oppressor [1].

So we see the scope of God’s missions involves deliverance from political, economic, social, and spiritual bondage, as well as deliverance from sin.

Connecting it to Jesus

The Exodus event becomes a motif, a recurring event that has significance in a story. It is used over and over throughout the prophets as they look forward to a final exodus (Eze. 20:32-38; 37:15-28; Jer. 16:14-15; Isa. 35:8-10) [2]. One that is led by Jesus, known as the New Exodus.

The New Exodus occurred during Jesus’ death on the cross, where He defeated Satan and his kingdom releasing those who believe in Him as their Lord and Savior from the bondage and slavery that oppresses human life and well-being and opposes God.

All those who believe in Jesus, form a new community, which is freed from the bondage of sin and the rule of Satan over their lives. One day, when Jesus returns, this new community will also be ultimately freed from all political, economic, social, and spiritual oppression, completing the New Exodus event. At this time, God’s glory will dominate (Isa. 40:5, 9-11; 60:1-22), Jesus will reign in justice and righteousness (Isa. 11:1-9), and everything will be restored back to its originally intended way of life as sin, which is the reason for all forms of oppression, is ultimately removed from the world (Isa. 65:17-25).

Conclusion

As we look at the Exodus Event, we see that it serves as a type pointing to the New Exodus that is led by Jesus Christ. It also serves to tell us the scope of God’s mission, which includes release from all political, economic, social, and spiritual bondage, as well as a release from the bondage of sin and the rule of Satan over our lives, so that we can worship God.

Questions for Reflection:

  1. If God’s mission involves the ultimate removal of all political, economic, social, and spiritual bondage, should we, as God’s people, who have taken up God’s mission, also work for these things?
  2. If we are to take up God’s mission, how might you propose we work for political, economic, social, and spiritual freedom?
  3. Have you witnessed others helped, or been helped yourself, by Christians to be released from political, economic, social, or spiritual bondage? If so, how did they accomplish this task?

Resources

  • [1] Christopher Wright, The Mission of God, 278.
  • [2] Zephaniah, Zechariah, as well as Matthew, Mark, and Luke recognize the New Exodus as a motif and use it in their writings.
  • Post adapted from Christopher Wright, The Mission of God’s People, 100-107.

Image

Abraham: A Model For World Missions

Have you ever thought about how Abraham, a Jew, serves as a model for the Gentiles mission? I have been doing some reading and thinking in this area lately. Here is what I have discovered.

No Distinction Between Jews and Gentiles

In Galatians 3:27-29, we learn that there is no distinction between Jews and Gentiles. All who put their faith in Christ are offspring of Abraham. They are kingdom citizens who are grafted into Israel, and, as such, are heirs to the promise God has made to Abraham (Rom. 11:11-24; see also Eph. 3:1-6; Rom. 4:13-17).

This means the kingdom of God is a multinational community of faith, which includes Jews and Gentiles alike. That means us, all those who are non-Jews. We are apart of God’s kingdom. We are the offspring of Abraham. As his offspring, we are apart of God’s mission to bring redemption to the world.

Abraham: Our Model

In Genesis 12, Abraham teaches us how we might accomplish our mission. God comes to Abraham and tells him that He will bless him if he would leave his country and go to a land that the Lord would show him. In Genesis 12:4, we are told that Abraham listens to the Lord and leaves. In doing so, he exercises faith and obedience to God (Rom. 4; Gal. 3:6-29; James 2:20-24; Heb. 11:8-19).

If we use Abraham as our model, we learn that to be successful in, and apart of, God’s mission, we too must exercise faith and obedience. This means that Abraham’s faith and obedience to God are not merely models for personal piety and ethics. They are also the essential credentials for effective participation in God’s mission [1].

Christopher Wright says,

“Those whom God calls to participate in his redemptive mission for the nations are those who exercise saving faith like Abraham and demonstrate costly obedience like Abraham” [2].

He continues by saying,

“So then, what God promised Abraham becomes the ultimate agenda for God’s own mission (blessing the nations), and what Abraham did in response to God’s promise becomes the historical model for our mission (faith and obedience)” [3].

Questions for Reflection

  • Why do you think it is true that the faith and obedience of Abraham is a historical model for our mission?
  • Do you believe, like Abraham did, that God will use you as His kingdom agents to bring redemption to the nations?
  • How are you doing with exercising faith that God will use you?
  • How are you doing at being obedient to God’s command?

Resources

[1] Christopher Wright, The Mission of God’s People, 80.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.

Image

God’s Heart for the Nations

Did God’s plan for Israel fail resulting in Him creating another plan that included the nations? Let me say right off I believe the answer is no.

God’s Plan Has Always Included the Nations

Even though the Old Testament is primarily focused on the nation of Israel, we see a glimpse of God’s desire to save all nations. Resulting in His mission as always being focused on, and including, the nations.

Since God’s mission has always been focused on the nations, we, as God’s ambassadors, are to take up His mission to reach all peoples with the gospel.

With that in mind, let’s look at some key verses that I believe shows God’s heart for the nations.

Key Verses Showing God’s Heart for the Nations

Genesis 12:1-3

Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.

God tells Abraham that all the families of the earth will be blessed in Him. He then is the source of blessing. From him comes the Messianic seed, Jesus, who is the Christ. It is Jesus who will bring redemption to all nations and all peoples (Gen. 22:18; Gal. 3:17; Matt. 1; Acts 3:26).

In Psalm 22:27-28, we are told that the Lord will rule over all nations and all nations will worship Him. Granted some will bow down unwillingly, but many will bow down willingly to God as their Lord and Savior.

All the ends of the earth shall remember
and turn to the LORD,
and all the families of the nations
shall worship before you.
For kingship belongs to the LORD,
and he rules over the nations.

In Psalm 67, the Psalmist prays that God would bless the nation of Israel, so that His blessing on them would cause all the nations to know He is the one true God and worship Him.

May God be gracious to us and bless us
and make his face to shine upon us,
that your way may be known on earth,
your saving power among all nations.
Let the peoples praise you, O God;
let all the peoples praise you!

Let the nations be glad and sing for joy,
for you judge the peoples with equity
and guide the nations upon earth.
Let the peoples praise you, O God;
let all the peoples praise you!

The earth has yielded its increase;
God, our God, shall bless us.
God shall bless us;
let all the ends of the earth fear him!

In Isaiah 56:3,6-7, the foreigner is not kept from joining Himself to the Lord. Rather, he will be brought into God’s holy mountain. His  sacrifices will be accepted, and he will experience the joy of the Lord.

Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to the LORD say,
“The LORD will surely separate me from his people”;
and let not the eunuch say,
“Behold, I am a dry tree.”

And the foreigners who join themselves to the LORD,
to minister to him, to love the name of the LORD,
and to be his servants,
everyone who keeps the Sabbath and does not profane it,
and holds fast my covenant—
these I will bring to my holy mountain,
and make them joyful in my house of prayer;
their burnt offerings and their sacrifices
will be accepted on my altar;
for my house shall be called a house of prayer
for all peoples.”

In Zechariah 2:10-11, we are told that many nations will join themselves to the Lord.

Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion, for behold, I come and I will dwell in your midst, declares the LORD. And many nations shall join themselves to the LORD in that day, and shall be my people. And I will dwell in your midst, and you shall know that the LORD of hosts has sent me to you.

So then, after reading the verses above, we are not surprised at what Paul writes in Ephesians 3:1-6

For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles—assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for you, how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly. When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

As well as we are not surprised that in Galatians 3:28-29, Paul tells us that all those who believe in Jesus Christ will be saved, and that all those who believe in Jesus by faith are Abraham’s offspring.

Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.

Conclusion

The nations were not an afterthought. The Gentiles were not God’s Plan B. He has always had a concern for the nations. His desire has always been for them to experience salvation.

While Israel is God’s special people, experiencing special privileges, they are not God’s only people. Rather, they were the way in which God deemed right to bring salvation to all peoples. In short, Israel was God’s first ambassadors. They were how God manifested Himself to the nations. They were God’s light to the world.

Through God working in Israel the gospel has been made known to the Gentiles. As well as the gospel has been believed by the Gentiles because they were also foreordained to be God’s people.

So then, God has always had a heart for the nations. It has always been His plan to bring salvation to both Jews and Gentiles alike.

Application

Now that we know God’s mission, we are to take up His mission. We are to be His ambassadors, bringing the message of the gospel to all nations, so that all nations will experience salvation.

Questions for Reflection

  1. How are you doing at being a light for God where you work, live, and play?
  2. If we took our mission seriously, do you believe there would be more people reached with the gospel?
  3. Are you allowing the world’s comforts to stop you from sharing the gospel with others?

Resource

image

God Doesn’t Need Our Worship

In the Bible Belt, it’s easy to say you are a Christian. There is relatively no persecution or monetary cost for claiming to be a follower of Jesus. In most places it is even expected by our friends and family that we be a Christian. As humans, we often do outwardly what our family and friends expect of us without changing inwardly, but this is not the type of change the Lord desires.

Israel was the First

Bible Belt Christians are not the first ones to perform religious acts without an inward change. There were many in Israel who did the same. They offered sacrifices to God because it was expected of them, not because they were truly broken and thankful for God’s salvation.

In Psalm 50, the Lord rebukes those who offered sacrifices to Him out of duty rather than thanksgiving. He says in verses 16-21:

16  But to the wicked God says:
“What right have you to recite my statutes
or take my covenant on your lips?
17  For you hate discipline,
and you cast my words behind you.
18  If you see a thief, you are pleased with him,
and you keep company with adulterers.

19  “You give your mouth free rein for evil,
and your tongue frames deceit.
20  You sit and speak against your brother;
you slander your own mother’s son.
21  These things you have done, and I have been silent;
you thought that I was one like yourself.
But now I rebuke you and lay the charge before you.

22  “Mark this, then, you who forget God,
lest I tear you apart, and there be none to deliver!
23  The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me;
to one who orders his way rightly
I will show the salvation of God!”

What Does the Lord Desire Then?

Instead of offering sacrifices for sacrifices sake, the Lord desired that they be offered in thanksgiving for their salvation, as well as those offering them be living in a way that honors Him (Ps. 50:23).

For the Lord desires sacrifices from a broken spirit and a contrite heart.

In other words, He does not want the sacrifices of those who are proud, believing they can bring about their own salvation. Rather, He desires sacrifices from those who know they are guilty and need atonement for that guilt. He wants sacrifices from those who realize they are sinners, and as such, cannot, on their own, repair their relationship with God, because they cannot cover their own sins (Ps. 51:17).

We are No Exception

The Lord desires the same from us today. Even though we do not go to a temple to offer sacrifices, the same principle applies. The Lord does not desire those who have no thought of Him to pile into churches each Sunday because their family and friends expect them to be there. Rather, He desires those who know they can’t provide their own salvation to worship Him.

It is Not Enough Just to Show Up to Church

It is not enough to just show up to church. We are not doing God any favors. He does not respect us for attending, if we have not first given our heart to Him, knowing He is the One, who alone provides us with salvation. As He told the Israelites, He does not need their sacrifices, He is the ruler of the universe, every beast of the field is His (Ps. 50:7-11).

Likewise, He does not need us in church to make Him feel better about Himself. He does not really need us at all. We are the ones who need Him, and when we realize that, then and only then is He glorified by our worship. 

Questions for Reflection

  1. Do you attend church because it is expected of you? Or do you go because you really desire to worship God?
  2. Do you believe God needs your worship? If so, why?