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Week 24 September 9, 2022

What we are reading this week (beginning Friday, September 9, 2022):

· Deuteronomy 9-15

· Ezekiel 39-45

· 2 Corinthians 13 ~ Galatians 1-5

Notes on Deuteronomy

As Moses reflects on the past with the children of Israel right as they sit on the border of the Promised Land, it is so apparent to him that this entire ordeal was about God’s faithfulness to his promises, and totally in spite of the behavior of his Chosen People. Moses reminds them of their continual failures. “You have been rebellious against the Lord ever since I have known you” (9.24). Lots of key spiritual things are found in chapter 10: The Ten Commandments (second printing) were placed into the Ark of the Covenant (5); the actual time that God commissioned the tribe of Levi as the pastoral tribe is given (8); the path to salvation (Old Covenant style) is given in verses 12-13: Fear the Lord your God, walk in obedience, love him, serve him, observe his commands and decrees. Legalism was never a part of God’s plan, which Moses really nails down when he says, “Circumcise your hearts, therefore, and do not be stiff-necked any longer” (16). God makes it really clear in chapter eleven that he eagerly desires to lavish love and blessing on a people who simply would love him in return. How disappointed they would make him! In chapter 12, God informs the people that there will be one place of worship. Later, we will find that it is to be on Mount Moriah in the city of Jerusalem (the eventual location of the Temple). But at this point, Jerusalem is not on the radar of the people of Israel. We also find, in verse two, a stern warning against worship on the high places. You will notice in 12.3 a reference to Asherah poles. I had noticed, back when I used to watch television, that in virtually every detective show (and a lot of others), the characters always ended up in a strip club for part of the show, and there were invariably pole dancers. Why in the world do they always have to show these pole dancers, virtually always unrelated to the plot of the show?

I did some research on Asherah, since her name appears so many times in the Old Testament as a false god, and always in conjunction with the pole. I found that she is a goddess of fertility, a sex goddess. I made the connection that our strip club poles are actually a modern adaptation of the Asherah poles of the Old Testament, and are the current way we worship the sex goddess in America today. Would you agree? In chapter 13, there is a warning that even a false prophet may give an accurate prophecy sometimes. The test for a true prophet goes further than this. If he gets the prophecy right, but the prophet misleads the people to worship other gods, he must be put to death. Balaam seemed to fall into this category. The tithe is discussed in chapter 14. A key component of the tithe is that it directly benefits the tither. The people of God ate the tithe (animal sacrifices) along with the priests and Levites at the Temple. The tithe also sustained the priests and Levites to be full-time ministers for the people. Today in most churches, it basically works the same way. The tithe supports those who can minister full or part-time. Other benefits include building space with climate control, kitchen facilities, et al. These are not required for any church, of course, but are an example on how the tithe can and does often directly benefit the giver.

In 15.4, the Lord said that there was no need for anyone to be poor among his people, but in verse 11 says that there always will be poor people, anyway. Jesus said this as well in Matthew 26.11 (and Mark 14.7). God has much for us that we never claim, and most of us will always live with less (sometimes far less) than he would like to give us. The tithe was intended to supply not only for the needs of the priests in the Temple, but also for the Levites (who served basically as local pastors in the Jewish communities); as well as for foreigners, the fatherless, and the widows (see 15.27-29).

Notes on Ezekiel

These last nine chapters of Ezekiel are among the hardest reading to press through in all of the Bible. So buckle down and stay with it!

As we saw last week, Ezekiel prophesied to mountains. This week, we see that he also prophesies to hills, ravines, valleys, desolate ruins, deserted towns, birds, and wild animals (36.4 and 39.17). In 39.7, we see that God’s purpose is for his people to make his name known throughout the world. Israel failed at this, and now the church has the same commission. However, our message contains the part about how God came in human form to the world, gave his life for our sin, and has resurrection power to grant us eternal life. Like Israel, we have to ability to make God look good or bad to others. People can see a holy God working in us, or his name can be profaned if we walk in disobedience and unbelief. The nation of Israel ceased to exist in 70 AD when the Romans overran the place and burned down the Temple. The prophecy that the nation would be restored in 39.27-28 was made hundreds of years before this. Christian (and Jewish) theologians looked forward to the fulfillment of this prophesy, which occurred in 1948 when the state of Israel rose out of the ashes and once again became a nation. In the current generations alive today, we are not able to comprehend the improbability (humanly speaking) of this ever happening. This was a huge fulfillment of prophecy, which shook the entire world at the time.

There is such mystery regarding this third Temple that we come upon in chapter forty. It is not in the same location on Mount Moriah as the original and the rebuilt versions. Scholars are baffled as to whether or not it will ever actually exist, or is simply metaphorical. However, the detail is so… well, so detailed, that is seems that we have an actual temple. It seems to be an end-times Temple. However, the mention of sacrifices throws everything into confusion, since sacrifices are no longer necessary due to the cross and resurrection. However, I would argue that sacrifices were never any more necessary in the Old Testament times than now. They did not remove sin, they were simply reminders of the cost of sin as an object lesson of the future ministry of Messiah (see Hebrews 10.1-4). The idea of future sacrifices, as powerful reminders of the high cost of sin and the intense work of the cross, makes sense to me on some level. There is also reference to a prince throughout these chapters, a key figure in leading the people in worship. This is not referring to Jesus.

In the Old Testament, the word used opposite the word “holy” is not “unholy”; it is the word “common”. There is distinction between the holy and the common. See 42.20 and 44.23. This is not the first time in the Bible that we see this.

Notes on 2 Corinthians

Paul ends this very personal letter. Notice in chapter 13 how he speaks with great love, yet is not afraid to address outstanding sin issues in the body and his intention of dealing directly with them about it.

Notes on Galatians

After the Corinthian letters, I find that these other epistles go way too fast! Try to hang on the words and absorb them, because they pass by so very quickly.

Galatians is a wonderful treatise from Paul, and one I wish I had spent more time with over the years. The dynamic between law and grace is better spelled out here than anywhere else in the New Testament, I believe. There is also a heavy emphasis on salvation extending to Gentiles.

In 1.18, Paul talks about a three-year period apparently before he became involved directly with the church leadership. Not all of the gaps of time are overtly put into the historical sections of the Bible. In Acts, it looks like Paul immediately turned into a fiery evangelist right after salvation, but this is not the case.

Chapter three especially explains how the law was not put into effect to save anyone, but to show us how we would never attain salvation by observing it (because we can’t), and that we need a Savior. The law was there to lead us to the cross (and the empty tomb). Galatians 2.20 is a wonderful verse to add to your memory list: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” If you are friends with any Mormons, and want to reach them with the true gospel, here is another powerful tool from the Bible (and if you don’t really, really love them, please don’t even try this! And if you reach out to them, refer to them as being LDS, not Mormon. This is a tremendous sign of respect to them). I was talking to some LDS missionaries, and asked if they had a Book of Mormon with them. They could not pull one out of their bag fast enough! If you understand their theology, the angel Moroni appeared to Joseph Smith and gave him the text of the Book of Mormon. So I asked them, “What does it say, right there on the front cover, under “Book of Mormon”? They said, “Another Testament of Jesus Christ.” I then opened to Galatians 1.8 (in the King James Version, of course), and read this: “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse!” I said, “It sounds to me like God thinks that this is a false gospel!” They were stunned and could not respond at all. There was no intention to humiliate them, just an intent to open the door to understand that they have been badly misled.

Paul is going to re-establish the parameters of salvation. He is confronting those who not only have sought to change his message (1.6-9), but have tried to invalidate his authority as well (1.11-22).

There is so much emphasis in this book on understanding that grace saves us, not our works (e.g, 3.2-3, 11). This was the original plan that preceded the law and was clearly evident in the life of Abraham (3.7-9).

This is still the most difficult issue for many followers of Jesus today, as way too many believers continue to “try hard to be good Christians” and yet continually worry that they will not be good enough for God to accept them. This is a total misunderstanding of what God’s grace is all about (see also 5.4).

In 2.11, we find about a confrontation between Paul and Peter. What a sight that must have been! However, Peter remained a huge fan of his until his death (see 2 Peter 3.15-16).

In Galatians, Paul differentiates clearly between faith and works, the law and the promise, works and grace. His words of 3.28, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile…” were enough to stir some of them up to kill him. This inclusion of Gentiles was simply not on their radar.

The comparison of Sarah and Hagar in chapter 4 is very illustrative for us. Even in ministries, there are those that we design and build the ordinary way, and there are those that God initiates and breathes life into. Which type should we expect will bear lasting spiritual fruit?

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free” (5.1). Trying to earn our way will only bog us down and make us miserable. Attempts at our salvation through good works/justification by the law actually alienates us from Jesus, instead of bringing us closer together (5.4).

We are called to life in the Spirit, much more refreshing that being called into rigid adherence to rules and regulations. However, the human spirit easily defaults back into the habit of works, with the result of claiming our own victory. But we will never achieve victory that way.

Much as we may try through human effort, the end results of human effort are given in 5.19-20: Sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (5.22-23).

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