Posts

Conclave 5: Special Edition

The WFS crew celebrates our 100th episode by answering listener questions.  From circuit riding to streaming services on the internet, we tackle a wide array of topics.  Here’s to the next 100!

Hosts: Rev. Willie Grills and Rev. Zelwyn Heide

Regular Guests: Rev. Adam Koontz, Rev. David Appold, and Rev. Aaron Uphoff

Episode: 100

Join our Facebook group Word Fitly Posting to discuss this episode or any other topic. Follow us on Twitter: @wordfitly. Send us a message: [email protected] Subscribe to the podcast: RSS Feed, iTunes, Spotify, or your favorite podcasting app.

The Discipline of the Lord (Psalm 6)

The ancient Christians classed Psalm 6 as the first of the seven penitential psalms, for good reason.  In it, the psalmist calls upon God to turn away from His burning anger and to look upon him with favor.  Whatever may be causing such distress in the psalm itself is somewhat beside the point.  Physical sickness, the attack of enemies, fear of the final judgment, fear in the midst of disaster, all of them in the end boil down to the same basic cry:  “Lord, do not rebuke me in your anger!”

Psalm 6 opens with a clear petition:  “Lord, do not rebuke me in Your anger, and do not chastise me in Your wrath.  Favor me, Lord, for I am frail.  Heal me, Lord, for my bones are terrified.  And my soul is exceedingly terrified.  But you, Lord, how long?”  It is most likely that the psalmist is being assaulted by enemies, judging by the end of the psalm.  But this is a cry of a soul suffering under God’s wrath, not merely suffering at the hands of men.  It is the Lord who rebukes and chastises David.  The terror in his bones emphasizes the depth of this fear:  it is not merely a formality or psychological, but a deep and abiding fear of the wrath of God.  How long is this going to go on, Lord?  It seems like God is distant and turned away from him in anger.

Note, however, that David does not ask God to stop rebuking or chastising him.  Rather, “do not rebuke me in Your anger,” that is, in wrath visited upon sin.  The Lord rebukes His elect, but for a different reason.  “It is for discipline that you have to endure.  God is treating you as sons.  For what son is there whom his father does not discipline” (Hebrews 12:7)?  Through such discipline, the Lord teaches.  “I gave you cleanness of teeth in all your cities, and lack of bread in all your places, yet you did not return to me, declares the Lord” (Amos 4:6).  Therefore, we should not flee away from suffering as if it was repulsive and necessarily bad, and this includes the experience of God’s discipline.  A God who only gives us positive experiences, or negative ones that quickly give way to positive ones, is not the God of Scripture.  Through the experience of God’s discipline, the Lord teaches us to rely upon Him above all things.

“Return, Lord, rescue my soul.  Save me on account of your steadfast love.”  David has no recourse before the Lord except His steadfast love.  If God were to turn away from His elect, His honor and glory would perish.  But the Lord is steadfast, even in the midst of intense trial.  He turns away His face from His sons to show them that He will not forsake them.  “For his anger is but for a moment, and his favor is for a lifetime.  Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning” (Psalm 30:5).

“For in death there is not remembrance of You.  In Sheol, who will praise you?”  This cannot mean that the dead are insensible or nonexistent, for the souls cried out from under the altar, just as the blood of Abel cried out from the ground (Genesis 4:10; Revelation 6:9-11).  Rather, “remembrance” may also be translated as “mention.”  Remembering the Lord is not simply recollection, but calling to mind before the whole congregation what the Lord has done.  God does not, after all, simply think about Noah when He remembered him and those with him in the ark, but sent the winds to push away the waters of the flood!  If remembrance implies action, then those who are dead are no longer able to do what only the living can do:  praise God by recounting His glorious deeds out loud.

“I am weary with my sighing.  I cause my bed to swim the whole night.  With my tears I flood my couch.  My eye has become dark with grief.  It grows old from all my attackers.”  David emphasizes the intensity of his contrition.  Not only do his tears flow without ceasing in grief over his sin, but he also “grows old” under the strain.  I think this should be understood in the same way we use expressions like “this will give me gray hairs.”  David’s contrition and the desire to see God’s face again is more than he wants to bear.  It drives him back to the Lord and causes him to call upon Him without ceasing.

But at this point, there is a remarkable shift.  Something has occurred.  “Go away from me, all you doers of wickedness, for the Lord has heard the voice of my weeping.  The Lord hears my pleading.  The Lord accepts my prayer.”  His enemies can no longer trouble him, because he knows that the Lord has heard his cries.  It may be that his weeping has turned to trust, recalling the steadfast love of the Lord.  It may also be that he has heard the voice of another, just as Hannah heard the voice of Eli, causing her to rejoice that she had been heard (1 Samuel 1:15-18).  Whether internal or external, the psalmist leaves behind his weeping and knows that the Lord remains with him, even in the midst of distress.

“Ashamed and exceedingly terrified are all my enemies.  They will turn back and be put to shame quickly.”  It is rather remarkable here that everything has turned around.  The Lord has turned from facing away from David to facing toward him.  His enemies turn away from facing him and now face away in terror.  David’s terror has passed, and his enemies are terrified before the Lord.  While the reversal did not happen in an instant or the course of a few minutes, the Lord turns everything around.  Even the last sentence shows this with wordplay that cannot be translated into English.  The words for “turn back” and “be put to shame” share the same basic letters in Hebrew, but the order flips around here.  Even the words themselves emphasize this great reversal!

Christians should therefore pray this psalm in the midst of all their troubles.  “For the Lord will not cast off forever, but, though he cause grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love; for he does not afflict from his heart or grieve the children of men” (Lamentations 3:31-33).  Though we suffer justly for our sin, the fire of God’s discipline purifies rather than consumes, and through it we will offer up sacrifices of prayer and praise in righteousness (Malachi 3:3).

Twenty-Second Sunday after Trinity: Micah 6:6-8

“Arise, plead your case before the mountains, and let the hills hear your voice. Hear, you mountains, the indictment of the Lord, and you enduring foundations of the earth, for the Lord has an indictment against His people, and He will contend with Israel” (Micah 6:1-2). Moses, like Micah, had also called heaven and earth as witness against Israel. Choose life, that you and your offspring may live (Deuteronomy 30:19)! But Israel has not chosen life, but rather the way of death.

The language of “indictment” is, of course, a legal term. The Lord has brought a suit against His faithless people. Assyria must come as a punishment, which Micah clarifies in the previous chapter, but now the legal reasoning of this judgment is laid bare. God brought His people out of Egypt, out of the iron furnace (Deuteronomy 4:20; 1 Kings 8:51). He sent Moses and Aaron (Psalm 106:26-36), and their sister Miriam the prophetess (Exodus 15:20). When Balak sought to curse, Balaam spoke a word of blessing contrary to his will (Numbers 22-24; Deuteronomy 23:4-5; Joshua 24:9-10; Nehemiah 13:2; 2 Peter 2:15), despite his idolatry which even later proved a snare (Numbers 31:16; Revelation 2:14). But what has Israel done in return? She has whored after idols, from the Baal of Peor in Shittim (Numbers 25) to their godless and false worship in Gilgal (Hosea 12:11).

Micah, under the weight of this great accusation, therefore asks the question of a soul realizing the depths of sin: “What must I do to be saved” (Acts 16:30)? His three questions, increasing in severity, point to the fruitlessness of any manmade way. Burnt offerings, though commanded by God, will not take away sin (Hebrews 10:4). They do not save in and of themselves, in some magical fashion, but point to the blood of Christ which alone takes away sin. Even thousands upon thousands of rams and ten thousand rivers of oil cannot accomplish this. Nor can sacrificing even what is most dear, a child, count for anything when it comes to righteousness before the all holy God. “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul” (Matthew 16:26)?

Micah’s injunction to do “what is good,” therefore, is not a call to make amends with God through obedience. He has just expressly rejected such a conclusion with the three previous questions. Rather, he calls Israel as a defendant to do what she should already be doing. It is not a word spoken to an unbeliever, but one who knows the will of God already, though he is not following it as he ought. It is a call to return to the way things should be already, for “If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:6-7).

Fourth Sunday after Trinity: Genesis 50:15-21

The reading for the Fourth Sunday after Trinity comes from near the very end of Genesis as well as the end of the “generations of Jacob” which began in Genesis 37:2.  Joseph’s brothers continue to feel guilty about how they treated him.  When Joseph revealed himself to his brothers earlier, he emphasized that “God sent me before you to preserve life” (Genesis 45:5).  However, after they had settled in Egypt and Israel died, their guilt returns, imagining that Joseph had been biding his time out of respect for his father.  They even attempt to frame their plea as if Jacob had commanded it, which does not appear to be the case.

Their fear, however, is faithless.  Joseph had already forgiven them when he revealed himself to them, but they have forgotten.  It is not groundless, to be sure, considering their horrific conduct toward their own brother, but to return to such fear of punishment after hearing a word of forgiveness is to treat that word as false.  As John says, “Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son” (1 John 5:10).  “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test, as you tested him at Massah” (Deuteronomy 6:16).  In a similar way, Joseph’s brothers are treating him like a liar, which moves him to tears.

Joseph, nevertheless, reaffirms the word of forgiveness, because the sinful soul is often tempted with memories of past sins.  “If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared” (Psalm 130:3-4).  “A bruised reed He will not break, and a faintly burning wick He will not quench; He will faithfully bring forth justice” (Isaiah 42:3).  A Christian troubled by doubts should be pointed to Christ, rather than to himself, and he will see that Jesus is indeed faithful.  Joseph’s brothers have forgotten and have returned to their fear, but they are pointed again to that mercy.

Because Joseph reiterates the same word of comfort from before, he also re-emphasizes the Providence of the Lord.  Paul’s affirmation “that for those who love God all things work together for good” (Romans 8:28) demonstrates that God is not limited.  The temptation is to regard Providence as using primarily those things which we regard as “good” or perhaps focusing on God’s direct actions in history.  Evil, in that sense, tends to be treated as a problem to be dealt with or acted against.  The Lord, to be absolutely sure, is not the author of sin.  But God is not limited in His options.  God will accomplish what He chooses to do without fail, even if He wills to use an evil as the means to that end.  Adam fell because of his own sin and became a lawbreaker, but the Lord uses the Fall toward His purpose of sending Christ into the flesh.  “I form light and create darkness; I make well-being and create calamity; I am the Lord, who does all these things” (Isaiah 45:7).

In Joseph’s case, the Lord uses the evil which his brothers intended against him as the means for providing for many people.  History does not just happen and the Lord somehow reacts to it.  God is the Lord of history, and all things fall under His Providence.  The reason why this can be so difficult for us is that we only have a small part of the picture and imperfect knowledge.  We are caught up in the moment and cannot see how everything is working together.  Very often, this becomes clearer in hindsight, though not always, because only God knows all things.

But this should not cause us to fear.  Joseph comforts his brothers by pointing to the Providence of God.  Yes, their action was very evil, but they recognize it as the sin that it is (1 John 1:8-9).  However, despite their wickedness, God uses it for a far greater good.  Not as an afterthought, not as a reaction, but as the means through which many lives were spared in the famine which it pleased the Lord to send.  If the Triune Lord could use even that evil as a means for good, will He not much more give you the good which He promises to give?  “So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones” (Genesis 50:21).