The Synodical Conference not only broke over issues of fellowship, but also over a different understanding of the Word, which would lead to further problems in the Missouri Synod leading up to the walkout in 1974.  Dr. Braun joins us to talk about issues of Scripture, the breakup itself, and where the Wisconsin Synod has gone since the 1960s.

Dr. Braun’s book, A Tale of Two Synods, may be purchased here.

Host: Rev. Zelwyn Heide

Regular Guest: Rev. Adam Koontz

Guest: Rev. Dr. Mark Braun, Professor of Theology, Wisconsin Lutheran College, Milwaukee, WI

Episode: 55

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Sometimes the most difficult problem isn’t open acts of evil, but hypocrisy.  When it seems like all the world runs on deceptions and lies, even in the Church, where is a Christian to turn?  Where can we find certainty in a duplicitous world?  David addresses this very problem in Psalm 12.

This psalm has three main divisions in its thought progression.  The first section, verse 1-4, describes the problem and the occasion for the prayer.  The second, verse 5, is a direct response from the Lord.  The last, verses 6-8, describe the confidence which David experiences as a result of this revelation.

[To the choirmaster.]  According to [the eighth].  A Psalm of David.

Regarding the expression, “to the choirmaster,” see the study on Psalm 4.  “The eighth,” or the Sheminith, is also an uncertain term.  It could be a tune name, but the specific number may suggest a musical direction, such as an octave.  It occurs here and in Psalm 6.

Save, LORD, for the godly one has come to an end.  For the trustworthy one has diminished from the sons of Adam/men.

They speak worthless things, a man to his fellow.  A lip of smoothness, with heart and heart they speak.

May the LORD cut off all lips of smoothness, a tongue speaking boastful things,

those who say, “According to our tongue, we are strong.  Our lips [are] ours.  Who is lord to us?”

The issue facing David, and all Christians in every time, is that hypocrisy seems to prevail.  The godly seem to be few in number, while those who claim to be Christians despite not living like one grow in number.  One can carry this spirit too far, of course.  Elijah imagined himself to be utterly alone, yet God preserved 7000 in Israel (1 Kings 19).  The word translated “diminished” occurs only here in the Old Testament, but the Greek Old Testament renders it with a word meaning “to lessen.”  The godly, despite Elijah’s despair and perhaps ours, may be hidden, but they are still there.

However, hypocrisy is still a real problem.  A hypocrite speaks “worthless things,” things which are inherently empty, because they are only external.  Like painted tombs, they are outwardly beautiful, but they hide the inward reality (Matthew 23:27).  Their lips are smooth, because they attempt to smooth away all difficulties and present their lies as truth.  They also have two hearts, because they have a double reality.  They are double-minded, unstable in all their ways (James 1:8).  They have two different sets of weights, one accurate, the other not (Deuteronomy 25:13-14).  The Old Testament even describes faithful soldiers as not having a heart and a heart in 1 Chronicles 12:33, because to have a single heart is to be simple, straightforward, honest.  There is no deception when one presents the truth of their soul.

Hypocrites speak “boastful things,” or literally “great things,” because they claim far more power for themselves than they really have.  Their forked tongue is their power, for they use it to tear down the godly, whether directly or through deception.  They imagine that they have no lord, because they have deceived themselves.

For the oppression of the afflicted, for the sighing of the poor, I will get up, says the LORD.  I will put him in the salvation/safety he [sighs] for.

David is not giving himself a false hope here.  David hears the voice of the Lord in answer to his prayer.  The psalmist has become the prophet.  Asaph, another common writer of psalms, is referred to as a “seer” in 2 Chronicles 29:30, which 1 Samuel 9:9 clarifies as being an ancient word for prophet.  1 Chronicles 25:2 also says that Asaph and his sons prophesied under the direction of the king.  The psalms are not merely religious poetry.  They are the living Word of God, the voice of God speaking through His prophets to His people then and now.

That word He brings is a word of comfort.  He has seen the hypocrisy of the wicked and how they have oppressed the godly.  When Israel put away their double-minded ways, the Lord became impatient over the misery of Israel (Judges 10:16).  So it is also now.  God hears our groaning and remembers his promises (Exodus 2:23-25).  He will give us the salvation we long for.  The name Jesus, which means God saves (Matthew 1:21), is related to this, and for good reason.  Our Lord Jesus Christ is our salvation and our safety in every distress and trouble.  God’s salvation is not a generic one, but is to be found in His Son.

The word translated as “sighs” here is the same word as “snorts” in Psalm 10.  Yet this is not a sigh of contempt, but of longing.  The word itself at its root involves breath in one form or another.  Whereas the wicked huff at God, the righteous sigh for Him.  The one breaths in contempt, the other breathes in longing.

The words of the LORD [are] pure words, silver refined in a [crucible] in/on the ground, purified seven times.

You, LORD, will keep them.  You will protect him from this generation forever.

Round about, the wicked walk back and forth.  For [vileness] is exalted among the sons of Adam/man.

Having heard the Word of the Lord in answer to his prayer, David is now confident.  This confidence is not a false bravado, putting on the same painted face as the hypocrites.  Rather, this is the answer to his initial question.  When the world seems full of wickedness and hypocrisy, it is not to be trusted.  The Lord alone speaks words which are absolutely trustworthy in every time.  Friend or foe, man may lie, but God will never lie.

God’s Word is compared to refined silver.  The word translated as “crucible” occurs only here, but it seems clear enough from the context that a smelter of some kind is in mind.  Solomon ordered the casting of the bronze utensils of the temple near the Jordan River using the clay there (1 Kings 7:46).  In those days, and even in some parts of the world today, a furnace may be built of clay and fired even for casting metals.  It is possible that this crucible could be in the ground, but the point is the same.  The silver is melted, the slag is removed, and the process begins again.  A seven-fold purification would remove, even in the imprecise methods of ancient days, virtually all of the impurities.  God’s Word is like pure silver, which we still value above many things today.  How much more then the words of the living God?

God also will protect His saints from the assaults of the wicked.  The wicked walk back and forth, like an animal stalking prey.  “Vileness,” another unique word, is exalted.  The world loves its own, even the hypocrite.  Yet the righteous has no reason to be afraid.  The psalm is not ending on a dark note.  Frequently in the Bible, the main thought of a passage comes in the middle.  If you compare the last verse with the first of this psalm, you can see a similar idea at play.  The middle, and therefore the main point, is the prophecy of the Lord in verse 5.  God will arise and defend His Church, and both foe and traitor will receive the due reward of the evil when He comes to judge the earth.

How do the prophets become prophets?  What do pastors and prophets have in common?  How does God’s calling affect us today?  Join us to learn about how God sends the prophets in every age.

Hosts: Rev. Willie Grills and Rev. Zelwyn Heide
Regular Guest: Rev. David Appold
Episode: 44

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Pure water is clear and simple. In this episode we talk about how important clarity is for Christians and how simple and powerful Scripture’s teaching is on what baptism is, whom we should baptize, and how baptism should happen.

Books for further reading: Pastoral Theology, and Suelflow’s biography Servant of the Word.

Hosts: Rev. Willie Grills and Rev. Zelwyn Heide
Regular Guest: Rev. Adam Koontz
Episode: 20

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The Psalms are the prayerbook of the Church, meant to instruct, comfort, and build up in every situation.  Stretching from the days of David until Israel’s exile, they glorify and praise God, the heavenly King.  The first Psalm forms a fitting header, not only for the first book of the Psalms (1-42), but also for the Psalter as a whole.  It has no inscription, but its position in the whole book suggests that it may have been written close to the time when the Psalter as we have it was put together.  Since I personally think that this happened near the days of Ezra and Nehemiah, Psalm 1 fits with Ezra’s emphasis on the renewal of the Law (Ezra 7, for example).

Psalm 1 opens with a common division found in the books of wisdom: the way of righteousness and the way of wickedness (Proverbs, written largely by Solomon, frequently calls these ways wisdom and foolishness, as in Proverbs 1:7).  Thus, the psalm reflects on the differences between these two ways, comparing one against the other in a way that leaves no middle ground.  One is either in the way of the righteous or in the way of sinners.

The righteous man does not go in the way of wickedness, described first by the psalm writer in a series of verbs:  “walk,” “stand,” and “sit.”  To “walk in the counsel” of the wicked suggests listening to their foolish words and to base one’s actions around them.  It may also have the sense of beginning to listen to their words, since the movement of these three verbs slows to a stop.  “Standing in the way of sinners” would therefore mean leaving the way of righteousness, followed closely by “sitting in the seat of scoffers,” implying that the transition is complete.  Instead of passing by, this man has taken a seat among the chatterers, the scoffers and mockers, and is now fully within their assembly.

But this is what the righteous man does not do!  He is happy or blessed (related to the name Asher in Genesis 30:12-13), because his delight, his treasure is in the Law of the Lord.  Torah, which is often translated as Law, is not an imposing structure hanging over us, the way the idea of law is frequently presented.  Rather, it is closely related to a word either translated as “to throw or to shoot” (1 Samuel 20:36, for example).  Like an arrow, then, the Law has a direction or trajectory.  It is a description of the way of righteousness as a whole.  Delighting in the Law, then, is not rejoicing about a set of rules, but a joy in the way which leads to life rather than death.  The commandments of the Law are part of this way, studied by all who delight in them.

This study of the Law shows itself in meditation, or rather, reading aloud.  The verb translated here as “meditates” in many translations means something like muttering, the kind of voice someone uses when they read aloud to themselves.  Since the same word is translated as “to plot” in Psalm 2:1, it also has the idea of quiet talking, the way the conspirators there would mutter and talk among themselves.  For the righteous man, however, this muttering day and night reflects a constant reading aloud of the words of the living God.  He is not thinking about them in an abstract way, but has the very words of God on his lips constantly.  To meditate on the Law means to be in the Scriptures.

When he is in the Scriptures like this, he is like a tree planted by streams or canals of water.  The tree thrives and prospers, not because it is a tree, but because it is by the water.  Being away from this water means withering and drying up.  He also bears fruit at the proper time, suggesting growth and maturity.  His fruit, his good works, created and sustained by the Word, come according to the will and the timing of God (Ephesians 2:10).

His success is a direct contrast to the image of the wicked rather than a worldly success.  The wicked man is like chaff, separated from the wheat and fit only to be burned or blown away.  It is impermanent and quickly forgotten.  Even if the wicked seems to prosper in this life, his end will come to nothing.  The one rooted in the waters of Scripture, however, endures, because the Word of the Lord endures forever.

The psalmist closes with an important warning.  Those who walk the way of wickedness will perish, because the judgment of the Lord is coming which will sweep them away.  They will not be able to endure the day of His coming and will be separated from the congregation.  Woe to those who scoff at the way of the Lord!  Yet the righteous find comfort, because the Lord knows them.  They are in His hand, and no one can take them out of it (John 10:28-29).

Psalm 1, therefore, is a fitting prayer for a Christian for two reasons.  It emphasizes, on the one hand, the delight of remaining in Christ and His Word.  Jesus endures as the one who gives us living waters.  Whoever hears the Word of God and keeps it will never see death!  It also emphasizes, on the other hand, the importance of guarding against evil and the way of death.  “Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips! Do not let my heart incline to any evil, to busy myself with wicked deeds in company with men who work iniquity, and let me not eat of their delicacies” (Psalm 141:3-4)! Thus, the Lord sets us in the way of life, and the Lord brings us to Himself, strengthening us through His holy Word.

Holy Scripture is entirely sufficient and needs no other authority, because it is the Word of the Living God. We discuss what it means for Scripture to be authoritative as well as defending the sufficiency of Scripture against the twin problems of external authority in Roman Catholicism and personal authority in Charismatic circles. Afterward, we offer practical advice for reading the Scriptures regularly as well as encourage fathers to be the spiritual heads of their family.

Hosts: Rev. Willie Grills and Rev. Zelwyn Heide
Episode: 1

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Part 3.1 of this series.

It is not enough to remain in theory. Piety must exhibit itself in concrete and often specific examples. My aim is not to lay out a specific plan, as if one could mechanically engage in a predetermined course and end up with a certificate of piety. Rather, I descend to particular examples in order to encourage. Generalities rarely touch the heart.

Paul says to Timothy: “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:14-15). Gaining a familiarity with the Scriptures happens in several ways, one of the most important of which is in the public service. Hearing the Scriptures read and explained is an important aspect. Christ saves His Body, the Church, not a group of individuals who all happen to be Christian. Regularly receiving the Word as a part of what may be called public piety also helps us avoid the temptation of making ourselves the sum and measure of interpreting Scripture. We should never be too proud or fear to learn from those wiser than ourselves. If we feel that we can “gain more” elsewhere, we ought to seriously question our motives. Even Paul in Romans 1:12 could find a “mutual encouragement” among the believers at Rome, and he heard the voice of the Holy Spirit directly! Going to church is part of learning the Scriptures.

Though we may avoid the danger of pride, it is also possible to make too much of the public reading of Scripture. I do not mean that it is useless. It is always profitable. I mean that some may be tempted to go the other way and make hearing the Scriptures publically their only time that they spend in the Word. I do not need to read the Bible, the argument goes, because I hear it on Sunday. I have to attend to other things in the week. This is equally dangerous for two reasons: (1) man does not live upon bread alone, but on every Word that comes from the mouth of God. To cut yourself off is to lay down your spiritual sword for most of the week, perhaps the time it is needed the most! (2) The public reading of Scripture is by necessity limited in scope. Whether a lectionary is used or a continuous reading of a single book (lectio continua), only so much of the Bible can be covered even in the course of a year. A real familiarity with the Word occurs when one engages in all three modes of piety: public (especially in the Church), private (involving a few people, especially the family), and secret (alone).

Begin every reading of Scripture with prayer. Pray to the Holy Spirit to guide your reading and to teach you what He wants to teach. Make time to spend time in the Word. A thoughtless glancing over will hardly leave an impression. The Scriptures do not work magically, as if the act of reading were enough in itself. The living Holy Spirit is speaking. Let us be attentive!

Do not be afraid to take notes here and there, especially about things which you do not understand. Take such questions to the teachers of the Church. If you have time, consulting teachers of the past can also be helpful, but avoid the temptation to leave it lingering or imagine that you can form an answer all on your own. “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17). Study Bibles can also be helpful for this, but the temptation there is to either treat the footnotes as inspired or to spend more time in them than in the Word itself. Nor are all study Bibles created equal. Choose such Bibles with care.

As for translations, it has been well said that the best translation is the one you actually read. Every translation has its strengths and its weaknesses. All translation is interpretation in one degree or another. For that reason, it is best to avoid ones which are largely paraphrase. What those translations gain in clarity, they often lose in being more and more conformed to the translator. Some translations have proven themselves with time, such as the King James Version. Others aim at word-for-word translations and can become clunky and wooden at times. Perhaps the best answer is to choose one with advice and use it consistently. You could also vary which one you use from time to time. But above all, pick one and run with it.

Set a specific time to be in the Scriptures. Letting it happen “whenever” is an easy way to not do it at all. Satan will always bring up things that “must be done” to make you push it off. Set a schedule for reading as well. I think that there are three major ways to approach reading the Scriptures.

The first is what I call “whole book reading.” When you have the opportunity, sit down and read an entire book of the Bible. Every book of the Bible can be read within the timeframe of an average movie. Even if your reading speed is slow, the books range in length from the Psalms to Obadiah. The great advantages of this method are: (1) the Bible is composed of books, not groups of passages. Reading the whole book treats it as a unified message, exactly as it was originally written or read aloud. (2) I know of no better way to gain a basic familiarity with the Bible. Some questions which pop up in one passage are often answered clearly in a later passage or in other books. There are, of course, a couple of disadvantages: (1) Time is a factor. It is a method which does call for a larger block of time, and this is not always possible. I do not mean this as a way of encouraging carnal security. We often find no problem finding time for a two hour movie, but more than 5 minutes of reading seems tortuous. That is a problem with priorities, not the method. However, work schedules and demands of the home often present obstacles for two or three hours blocks of uninterrupted time. It is not at all impossible, just more difficult. (2) Reading the whole Bible in this way can breed the proud notion that “I have read the Bible, so I’m done.” Avoid the temptation to pride once the Bible has been read from cover to cover! (3) A general familiarity can also make it more difficult to find specifics. Do not let the “big picture” be a substitute for specifics, but let them compliment one another.

The second is “chapter reading.” This is probably the most common and for good reasons. (1) It is both broad enough to see a portion of the forest and specific enough to see the individual trees. (2) It can also take less time overall, though this should not be the primary factor. It does run the risk of making the Bible seem disjointed, though this can be overcome.

The third is “intensive reading.” While it is most suited for studying the original languages, it is more or less taking a handful of verses at a time and carefully working through them bit by bit. The Bible is, after all, inspired even in its word choices. It runs the greatest risk of losing the general context, but it is instructive in considering every aspect of the Scriptures.

Choose a method and stick with it. You can vary which one you use, though chapter reading is probably the best for most people. As for scheduling, many people try to read from Genesis to Revelation. There is nothing wrong with any particular schedule, but the Pentateuch can be hard to work through for someone who has not developed a consistent habit. My recommendation for a Christian just beginning to work through the Scriptures is to start with the New Testament and then the Old Testament. One could also read passages from both Testaments every day. The exact schedules may be left to individual preference, though one should be consistent in whatever you choose to do.

Make reading the Bible a part of family prayer. Whether reading as a family or alone, examine yourself to see what you have learned. Pray after reading the Word, perhaps wording a prayer based on what you have read. But above all, I cannot encourage you enough to read it and read it consistently. Three to five chapters a day is enough to finish the whole Bible in a year. Electronic gadgets can provide you with reminders to do it, even giving you the exact schedule. If you find it unnecessary or too difficult even for so small a schedule as that, “Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God” (Revelation 3:2).

Part 2 of this series.

Biblical piety lives in the Word.

As noted in the previous section, piety begins and ends in knowledge. However, knowledge is not an empty concept, as if one could know something without content. Knowledge deals in particulars, even if knowledge is never complete.

The fountain and source of the knowledge of God is what He has said about Himself. Absolutely nothing else can say the same. We do not know God fully through His self-revelation in His creation. It is not because this revelation is imperfect; indeed, Paul says that it is perfect (Romans 1:19). Rather, sinful suppress the truth in unrighteousness (Romans 1:18). Creation declares clearly and perfectly that the Lord is the Creator, but men do not honor Him as their Creator. This self-revelation therefore leaves them without an excuse in the day of judgment. It is not imperfect, though it is incomplete, because it does not speak of Christ. The two ideas are not synonymous.

We do not know God through any kind of private revelation. We are called to test the spirits “to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1). A prophet whose word does not prove to be true is not from God, no matter how impressive it seems (Deuteronomy 18:22). Should a revelation pass the test, it is only repeating what has already been said in the Scriptures. If it does not pass, it is not from God. If it refuses to be tested, it shows itself by its fruits (Luke 6:46). These things have not been done in a corner (Acts 26:26). “Or was it from you that the word of God came? Or are you the only ones it has reached” (1 Corinthians 14:36)?

We also do not know God through any writing other than the Holy Scriptures. This is true of any writing which claims to say something about God. There is no other Gospel than the one delivered through the prophets and the apostles (Galatians 1:6-9). There is salvation in no one other than Jesus Christ (Acts 4:12; John 14:6). Such writings must be tested against the Scriptures, and anything which must be tested is no authority.

Something worth noting, however, is that even those writings which are rooted in the Bible are not a means by which we know God. I need to clarify that so that I am not misunderstood. All human writings, no matter how venerable or orthodox, are not the Bible. They all without exception speak about the Bible. If they accomplish their task well, they will lead back to the Bible. If they fail in this respect, they will wander off into myths or draw attention to themselves. Such works about the Bible are like a sign by the road, which help us to go the way that others have gone before. It would be a strange piety indeed that spent more time looking at the sign than travelling along the road. Metaphors are imperfect, but men should listen to human authorities when they agree with the Word of God. “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).

Therefore, we know God through what He says about Himself in His holy Word. “Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105). “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:14-15). “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68). “Man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord” (Deuteronomy 8:3).

The Scriptures also form the basis for all of the other forms of piety. Preaching, for example, is a proclamation of the Word. The Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper flow out of the Word which attaches the promises to them. Prayer, worship, and the other forms are grounded in the Word itself. Apart from the Word, there is no foundation for Biblical piety. “If you abide in My Word, you are truly my disciples” (John 8:31).

The Bible, of course, clearly identifies Jesus Christ as the Word (John 1:1-5). It is entirely possible to read the Bible and miss Jesus who is the whole point (John 5:39; 2 Corinthians 3:12-16). But one must not draw a sharp distinction between the Bible as the Word of God and Jesus as the Word of God for that reason. Such a division, however well-intentioned, tends to disparage the Bible. But how will we know about God in any other way? The Bible is the very Word of the living God to His people, the way through which we know Him. To use an metaphor, it would be strange to receive a letter from the king, only to protest that the letter is not the king himself. Would an earthly king be impressed with such an argument? But the Bible is more than a letter from a king. It is the very voice of God the Holy Spirit.

In the next article, we will focus on practical suggestions regarding the Scriptures. This will be the pattern for the other forms of piety as well.

The context of the First Sunday after Trinity’s gospel is an encounter of Jesus with the Pharisees, whom we told are “lovers of money” (Luke 16:14). Doubtless Jesus tells this account (or parable?) of the rich man and Lazarus for their benefit as well as ours.

Two things stand out as the overarching themes of this reading. The first is the finality of death. When Lazarus and the Rich Man die there is no changing their station after death. The rich man goes to hades and Lazarus goes to the bosom of Abraham (Luke 16:22) a Hebraic euphemism for heaven.  Though in the story there is verbal communication between the rich man and Abraham, there can be no passage between heaven and hell, no moving up or down. A great chasm is fixed between father Abraham and the rich man in hell (Luke 16:26).

We can speculate here a great deal about the spatial set-up of the afterlife, and many have. But the account is meant to teach us something regarding repentance and faith, not the exact parameters of heaven and hell.  We must rest in what is revealed to us here and not delve too deeply into what is not revealed. The eternal things of the afterlife, those things outside of time and space are put here by Jesus in temporal and spatial terms in order that we would have some grasp of the story, like a father teaching his children in simple words things that are beyond their comprehension.

The second theme which Jesus teaches is the sufficiency of the word of scripture. The scriptures are sufficient for the conversion of men to the good news of the gospel. The rich man wished to send his brothers, still living, a spiritual encounter with the dead Lazarus (much like Jacob Marley in Dickens’ “Christmas Carol” was sent to Ebenezer Scrooge) in order to scare them straight, that they would turn from their evils and do good. Abraham says to the rich man “they have Moses and the Prophets, let them hear them” (Luke 16:29).  Abraham, who came before Moses, points to the writings of Moses and the prophets as that which will teach, convert, and sustain the brothers, as it had Lazarus in his earthly life.

Jesus teaches that the scripture alone is able to convert hearts and minds, not miracles (Luke 16:31). The one who hears the scripture and takes it to heart is the true son of Abraham. The rich man though bodily descended from the patriarch is not a son of Abraham, for he will not hear the scriptures. The word of the proverb comes to mind “Whoever despises the word brings destruction on himself, but he who receives the commandment will be rewarded” (Proverbs 13:13).

The rich man rejected God’s purposes in the preaching of the word, even in death. His emphatic “no!” (Luke 16:30) to what Abraham told him across the great chasm perfectly reflected what he believed in his earthly life: He would not hear preaching and instruction. He rejects God’s means of grace. Lazarus, though poor and beggarly hears the word of God, clings to the promises that it makes to him and is accounted righteous, sharing the faith of his father Abraham (Romans 4:16).

We as Christ’s Church not only have Moses and the Prophets in the Old Testament scripture, but Christ and the Apostles the New Testament which bear witness to Jesus’ life, death and resurrection for us men and for our salvation.  Let us hear them and believe “For faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17).

Some parts of Scripture seem easier to preach on than others.  When the Lord called Abram to leave Ur behind to go to Canaan, He practically wrote the outline:  “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” (Genesis 12:2).  Jesus clearly identifies Himself as the ladder of Jacob in the Gospel of John (Genesis 28:12; John 1:51).  Several of the parables include their interpretation (Matthew 13:1-8, 18-23; among others).

But what about those parts of Scripture that do not seem so easy?  Why would it please the Holy Spirit to have those parts written down?  Joshua 13-21 is a perfect example of this.  The author of the book records in painstaking detail the inheritances of the tribes of Israel, down to the village.  This does not seem like the sort of material that would be of much use to Christians.

However, “all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).  Paul does not say most of Scripture, but all of Scripture is profitable, including parts like Joshua 13-21.  “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4).

Understanding the context will help understand why it pleased the Holy Spirit to record this.  Joshua is near the end of his life, having spent many years wandering with Israel.  The first twelve chapters of the book set out the beginning conquest of Canaan under Joshua’s leadership.  The Lord commands Joshua to divide up the land among the tribes of Israel.

13:8-32 sets out the inheritance of Reuben, Gad, and half of Manasseh.  They recognized that they had come into their inheritance while Israel still stood waiting to enter the land on the west (Numbers 32:19).  They received their inheritance first in Israel.  Chapter 14 is the beginning of the main body of this section, and includes the inheritance of faithful Caleb among the sons of Judah.  Chapters 15-19 then divides up the land in great detail to the sons of Judah, Ephraim, the other half of Manasseh, Benjamin, Simeon, Zebulun, Issachar, Asher, Naphtali, and Dan.  Joshua also receives his reward among the sons of Ephraim.  He then establishes the cities of refuge and gives to the sons of Levi their cities among their brothers, because the Lord was their inheritance.

All of this seems like it no longer applies to Christians.  However, note well the passage at the end of chapter 21:

Thus the Lord gave to Israel all the land that he swore to give to their fathers. And they took possession of it, and they settled there. And the Lord gave them rest on every side just as he had sworn to their fathers. Not one of all their enemies had withstood them, for the Lord had given all their enemies into their hands. Not one word of all the good promises that the Lord had made to the house of Israel had failed; all came to pass.  Joshua 21:43-45

Here is the reason for the great detail.  Here is why the Holy Spirit saw fit to record every last city of the Holy Land.  God is keeping His promises.  The promises He had made to Abraham, the promises He had made to Isaac, the promises He had made to Jacob, the promises He had made to Israel:  all of them came to pass.  “And as for your little ones, who you said would become a prey, and your children, who today have no knowledge of good or evil, they shall go in there. And to them I will give it, and they shall possess it” (Deuteronomy 1:39).

This is the good news of En-hazor, the good news of Aijalon, of Hazor-hadattah, of Megiddo, of Chephar-ammoni.  This is the good news of all of the cities of Israel and their pasturelands and their villages.  Every last one of them is physical, tangible proof that the God of Jacob is faithful and true.  They are evidence that the Lord is the Lord our God.  If God kept His promises then, He will certainly keep His promises now.