How could God change His mind in Numbers 14? I mean, really!?

Everybody knows God knows everything. Past, present, and future, he has a lock on it. Yet, in Numbers 14 he seems to change his mind about striking the children of Israel with the pestilence and disinheriting them. Also, in Judges 2:181 Samuel 15:35, 2 Samuel 24:16, and 1 Chronicles 21:15, the observers got the same impression. For the past few years, this question hasn’t bothered me in the least. The only thing that has bugged me is how to explain it to non-believers. I have no problem with it because I know and love God, so I trust his Word not to contradict itself. In his book, Now, That’s a Good Question, R.C. Sproul gives an answer that seems credible to me.

Using a word like repentance with respect to God raises some problems for us. When the Bible describes God for us, it uses human terms, because the only language God has by which to speak to us about himself is our human language.

Strictly speaking, that’s not quite true; God’s Holy Spirit speaks to Christ-followers through his Word, allowing us to grasp by faith, spiritual truths that sail miles over the heads of non-believers. We may not be able to explain the concepts coherently, but if we listen to God with our faith-ears, we know that even apparently contradictory statements are true.

The theological term for this is anthropomorphic language, which is the use of human forms and structures to describe God. When the Bible talks about God’s feet or the right arm of the Lord, we immediately see that as just a human way of speaking about God. But when we use more abstract terms like repent, then we get all befuddled about it.

I love Sproul’s use of the word, “befuddled,” but if the “we” he refers to are Christ-followers, it only applies when we try to explain it to outsiders. I can do it with my fingers, on this keyboard, but when put on the spot I get all … well … befuddled.

What in Moses’ words and actions would possibly have provoked God to change his mind? I think that what we have here is the mystery of providence whereby God ordains not only the ends of things that come to pass but also the means.

The beauty of God’s sovereignty is, he doesn’t have to conform to our concept of cause-and-effect. Our issues with his actions have no effect on his purposes, and actually serve to bolster our faith in his loving wisdom.

God sets forth principles in the Bible where he gives threats of judgment to motivate his people to repentance. Sometimes he spells out specifically, “But if you repent, I will not carry out the threat.” He doesn’t always add that qualifier, but it’s there.

With God’s will, there are no if’s, and’s or but’s, and he never really changes his mind. It just seems that way to us. We must simply, “Trust and Obey.”

Psalm 13 — A Familiar Refrain

Like the sunrise,
Complaints follow a darkness,
But precede the day’s light.

Even though God referred to King David as, “A man after my own heart,” the good king didn’t always shine as an icon of virtue. Psalm 13 demonstrates his habit of complaining about his circumstances:

(1b) How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?
(2) How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?

Granted, he whined for good reason; first Saul, then Absalom unjustly pursued him with murder in their eyes. And the Philistines weren’t exactly his friends, either. The next two verses of Psalm 13 typify his initial response to those impending dangers:

(3) Consider and answer me, O LORD my God; light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death,
(4) lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,” lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken.

At least he didn’t just blubber about his perils. King David understood that God wants to bear all our burdens, so he delivered them right into his Lord’s capable hands. Then, even in his most dejected moments, David demonstrated his attitude of trust, gratitude and praise to God:

(5) But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
(6) I will sing to the LORD, because he has dealt bountifully with me.

Those three elements provide a model for our desperate prayers. Go ahead and gripe all you want; God, in Christ Jesus, experienced every temptation that plagues us, so he understands our need to whine and gripe. But he also requires us to follow the rest of King David’s example, by stating our needs as we understand them, requesting that he, “light up my eyes,” with his divine wisdom, and then trust his steadfast love for his answer to our need.

Encouragement From Psalm 119

They’s a whole lot of bowin’ goin’ on.

I normally think of Psalm 119 as the God’s Law-Psalm, as that’s pretty much what it’s all about. Today, however, BibleGateway dot com treated me to a surprise:

Psalm 119:165 Great peace have those who love your law;
    nothing can make them stumble.

For one thing, if you and I struggle against God’s Law—meaning his expressed will for your life—peace will be the last thing you experience. And if that’s the case, you won’t stumble because you’re already as low as you can go. Far better to find yourself on your face before God voluntarily.

Some religions require the faithful to prostrate themselves toward a holy city … or else! Or they might require you be circumcised. Or pray through a set of beads. Or any number of different religious mandates. Christ-followers have no such requirements. All we have to do is love our neighbors as ourselves, and bless those who curse us. Easy as pie, right?

Not right! Following the law of Christ is far more difficult than following all those religious formalities. You don’t have to do anything, other than keep your mind and motives pure and unstained by the world system. Oh, and the apostle James mentions religion in his New Testament book:

If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. (James 1:26-27)

And then there’s Apostle Paul:

20 If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— 21 “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” 22 (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? 23 These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh. (Colossians 2:20-23)

WOW! They said a mouthfull. But at least you don’t have to get on your knees and bow to Mecca three times a day.

Bringing Psalm 42 Home

Psalm 42 speaks to me today as balm to my depressed soul. It doesn’t counter this depression, but encourages me in it.

Depression always looks for a scapegoat, and as I refuse to allow my depression to place the blame on my faithful God and Savior, it falls on me by default. Why would I tend to blame God? Because for years I’ve begged him to motivate me, to grow me up into a true man, ie., a Christlike man, but I still wallow in my passive depression, unable to move against this mess I’ve created around me.

I’m talking about a literal mess, as interpersonal relationships evade me at present. I look around this apartment and see tons of stuff closing in on me, chores that I haven’t done, my body settling out of condition, and words not writing themselves (even though I now type away).

Is God not strong enough to overcome my lack of will? I know better than that! Does he not love me as his word leads me to believe? That cannot be, as I know his love experientially.

That leaves just one possible explanation; my loving, faithful, gracious Lord is working in the background, unseen and unfelt, and in his perfect timing this will all make sense to me.

Psalm 42 has two very similar verses that directly minister to me:

42:5 Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him for the help of His countenance.

42:11 Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him, the help of my countenance, my God.

God is who he is, and I shall yet praise him.

To The God of My Life

Psalms 42 blessed me this morning. And when I began a word-study on it the blessing multiplied. This psalm is a maschil (instruction) that King David designated for performance by the uber-talented sons of Korah. If that name sounds familiar, their father participated in a rebellion against Moses, God’s appointed leader.

This Psalm begins with, As the deer pants for the water brooks, so pants my soul for You, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God? 

We know King David was rich, both materially and spiritually; God considered David a man after his own heart, so if that lofty king hungered and thirsted after intimacy with God, should you or I do any less? As if to make sure we know that he sought only after the only true, living God, King David specified that fact.

We have all experienced something akin to unrequited love, so how must God feel when we take him for granted? If your soul doesn’t pant for intimacy with God, you just don’t know him.

My tears have been my food day and night, While they continually say to me, “Where is your God?” If you think no one has ever challenged you with that question, think again. The popular entertainment and news media ask it when they shove worldly values and philosophies at you. And what about the government schools, especially secondary schools? Their atheistic professors openly challenge anyone who professes faith in God. Many church kids who attend secular colleges have no problem adopting naturalistic ideas, but for the few who have seriously committed their lives to God, their “tears have been (their) food day and night.”

Christ-following students and workers in a secular environment can deeply relate to verse four: When I remember these things (in the first three verses), I pour out my soul within me. For I used to go with the multitude; I went with them to the house of God, With the voice of joy and praise, With a multitude that kept a pilgrim feast. The world has never catered to believers, and even less, now that most people subject themselves to a constant barrage of worldly influences. When speaking of faithful believers, the word “multitude” no longer applies. Even our churches are giving in to the world’s complacency; while worship-leaders often raise “The voice of joy and praise,” how many in the pews enthusiastically join them? You’ll find more joy and praise at sporting events and political rallies than in church.

Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him for the help of His countenance. Good question! This is the part of Psalm 42 that first cemented my attention. As King David reproved himself for entertaining discouragement in the face of God’s glorious might, I must follow suit. How often have David’s psalms opened my eyes to my pity-parties, and jerked me straight? Sure, the guy really knew how to praise God, but he also wasn’t afraid to reveal his weakness, which suggests to me Apostle Paul’s triumphant declaration in 2 Corinthians 12:9 And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

In verse six, the musician-king reiterates his discouragement, illustrating for my benefit the instability of his roller-coaster emotional ride: O my God, my soul is cast down within me; Therefore I will remember You from the land of the Jordan, And from the heights of Hermon, From the Hill Mizar. But immediately he runs back to his Source of victory: Deep calls unto deep at the noise of Your waterfalls; All Your waves and billows have gone over me. King David realized that God had allowed all his trials, his “waves and billows,” for his divine purpose. Now David cries out his triumphal statement: The LORD will command His lovingkindness in the daytime, And in the night His song shall be with me— A prayer to the God of my life.

In the daytime of God’s glory, and in the night of my discouragement, his song shall be with me, and so I utter my own prayer to the God of my life: Father, all praise and honor comes to you for your incomprehensible grace toward me through your Son’s blood and in his name.

Sanctified Bellyaching

Israel’s King David didn’t mince words about the trials he endured while hiding, first from King Saul, then from his own son Absalom. In some of his psalms he actually seemed to indulge in self-pity—hardly a kingly trait.

Rather than providing grounds for indictment, however, these psalms reveal King David’s honesty and the Scriptures’ credibility. If the Bible’s source-texts were, as cynics allege, nothing more than some religious guys’ imaginations run amuck, they wouldn’t include any stories involving their heroes’ dark-sides. Unlike King David, though, such critics are driven to find, or fabricate, any evidence that might besmirch the Bible’s reliability.

If you are inclined as I was to criticize David for his whining, think again. He balances all his complaining with the most heartfelt, beautiful praises to God. Psalm thirteen is a great example of his transparency:

Psalms 13:1-6 NKJV
(1) To the Chief Musician. A Psalm of David. How long, O LORD? Will You forget me forever? How long will You hide Your face from me?
(2) How long shall I take counsel in my soul, Having sorrow in my heart daily? How long will my enemy be exalted over me?
(3) Consider and hear me, O LORD my God; Enlighten my eyes, Lest I sleep the sleep of death;
(4) Lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed against him”; Lest those who trouble me rejoice when I am moved.
(5) But I have trusted in Your mercy; My heart shall rejoice in Your salvation.
(6) I will sing to the LORD, Because He has dealt bountifully with me.

King David, in all his psalms, exemplifies a right relationship with the Existing One(LORD), and how such a man after God’s own heart prays. We all would do well to engage in such bellyaching, including the praise that balances it.

Shout To the Lord

I titled a previous post, “SHOUT From the Lord,” noting that it is slightly different from the popular worship song by Chris Tomlin. Those lyrics are in part:

Shout to the Lord, all the earth, Let us sing
Power and majesty, praise to the King;
Mountains bow down and the seas will roar
At the sound of Your name.
I sing for joy at the work of Your hands,
Forever I’ll love You, forever I’ll stand,
Nothing compares to the promise I have in You.

From the very beginning I’ve had a problem with the refrain’s seventh line; it’s missing three words: By Your grace. They fit perfectly, with three syllables, just like “Forever.”

Okay, call me nitpicky, but isn’t the original wording just a bit presumptuous? I want to love God and stand forever. I hope to. I even need to. But I lack that mythical crystal ball to know if I will persevere.

You see, I know myself all too well to presume on the future. My greatest fear is that I might apostatize and bring a reproach on my Lord. So my fervent prayer is to glorify him in all that I do. One way to ensure that is to consume God’s Word through his Holy Spirit as I would a lean stake, with lots of chewing and savoring the flavor. Thing is, milk and pablum easily slide down the throat, but you can’t live on that alone.

Go ahead, SHOUT to the Lord! Sing his praises with joy. But remember:

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom;
A good understanding have all those who do His commandments.
His praise endures forever.

The Unseen

mansionThe realtor waited for the county building inspector to arrive and do his thing. Bev never wanted to take on the Crookshank mansion. Old rumors persisted … bad rumors, both about its history, and about the ghost that supposedly “lived” there. Fat chance Bev could ever move this white elephant, as whoever bought it would have to commit to renovating the overgrown shack. And as the building was included in the National Register of Historic Places, there was no way she could sell the land for its juicy commercial value.

And still she waited, as the winter Sun dipped over the hills for an early afternoon sunset. The mansion had seen better days, and now that the light was fading, its dismal facade transformed into a menacing—dare she think it?—spectre!

Bev tried calling the inspector again…was this the fourth, or the fifth time? Again, the infuriating voice mail message telling her what she already knew; he will be in the field this afternoon, and leave a message, etc. Fat lot of good that would do her. This inspection was scheduled three months ago. Pity the county couldn’t cut loose some funds for another building inspector.

All these unbidden thoughts coursed through her mind, even though, by faith, she was secure in her safety as God’s kid. Even if ghosts and such immaterial things existed, they wouldn’t have a chance against her Big Brother Jesus. Yet, she couldn’t shake the thought of menacing, unseen things waiting inside for the unwary intruder, be they living, or be they dead.

Bev switched mental gears to consider the positive side of the unseen, and recited aloud one of her many favorite Bible verses: “For we are saved by hope: but hope that is seen is not hope: for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for? But if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it. Romans eight, verses twenty-four and twenty-five.

Patience! What a rare commodity. Bev again searched her Bible memory bank. Didn’t King David have some choice bits of wisdom regarding Patience? Okay, there’s Psalms forty, verses one and two: “I waited patiently for the Lord; and he inclined unto me, and heard my cry. He brought me up also out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings.

Bev wracked her brain for more Davidic encouragement. She knew it was there somewhere … “Oh! Well, duh. Psalms sixty-nine, verses one through threeSave me, O God; for the waters are come in unto my soul. I sink in deep mire, where there is no standing: I am come into deep waters, where the floods overflow me. I am weary of my crying: my throat is dried: mine eyes fail while I wait for my God.”

She thought of how many times King David, the man after God’s own heart, fussed at his beloved Lord. Yet, he always ended his fussing with praise for God’s unending faithfulness and magnificent glory. So she recited the end of Psalms sixty-nine: “Let the heaven and earth praise him, the seas, and every thing that moveth therein. For God will save Zion, and will build the cities of Judah: that they may dwell there, and have it in possession. The seed also of his servants shall inherit it: and they that love his name shall dwell therein.

What a beautiful promise, and she reveled in it. She already knew she was a faith-child of Abraham, but she loved it when King David reminded her of the fact.

Twilight had faded quickly to blackness by the time the tardy building inspector drove through the wrought-iron gates and up the long, tree-shrouded drive to where Bev waited. She hadn’t even noticed the darkness and gathering ground fog with her mind so occupied by Scripture and praise. Why, she even found a cordial greeting for the inspector. So, into the “haunted” mansion, with God’s Spirit leading the way.

Why do the wicked prosper?

Steamed?

Righteous are you, O LORD, when I complain to you; yet I would plead my case before you. Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why do all who are treacherous thrive? (Jeremiah 12:1)

“Why me, Lord?” is a common question, but not a good one if left as is. The prophet Jeremiah and many of the Psalms ask the same question, but in every instance the author thought it through and finished with glorifying God. Jeremiah takes a slightly different tack, beginning with verse fourteen: Thus says the LORD concerning all my evil neighbors who touch the heritage that I have given my people Israel to inherit: “Behold, I will pluck them up from their land, and I will pluck up the house of Judah from among them.” By aiding his people Israel, God glorified himself.

That’s well and good, but it doesn’t answer the original question. Apostle Paul, writing by God’s Holy Spirit, dealt with that issue’s root cause: Ephesians 2:1-3 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins (2) in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience– (3) among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. The “sons of disobedience” are the greedy, the prideful, the deceivers, the lustful, and the violent, who gain worldly wealth while foregoing the infinitely greater inheritance God has in store for us.

God’s people — that’s us, if we faithfully follow Christ — still ask why misfortune plagues us, while nonbelievers are showered with what seem to be blessings. But God grants us grace, even when we plague him with such questions; he knows they are only natural, stuck as we are, albeit temporarily, in this mortal existence. Why, even Jesus questioned his Father at the end of his earthly life.

Calvary holds at least three crucial lessons for us, including the one I mentioned above. The two criminals who occupied the crosses straddling Jesus show us two truths: First, though they thrived for a while on ill-gotten gain, they paid the ultimate price. Second, the thief who became convicted by the righteous Jesus sharing his punishment, called out to him in his agony. Luke 23:39-43 One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” (40) But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? (41) And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” (42) And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” (43) And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

The truth is, the wicked never prosper in the long run, and by envying their prosperity we stand in danger of sharing their fate.

Like Math

Have you ever noticed that studying Apostle Paul’s letters are like studying math? Yes, math class requires some memorization of math facts—those are the annoying sums, times tables, axioms and theorems—but math’s heart lies in its concepts, which must be learned step-by-step. Miss one concept, and the rest won’t make sense.

To be understood, the church must teach God’s word in the same way. Isaiah, after decrying the tribe of Ephraim’s cavalier attitude toward teaching God’s word in chapter twenty-eight, declares to their shame how they would be taught by their enemies.

Isaiah 28:11-14 For by people of strange lips and with a foreign tongue the LORD will speak to this people, (12) to whom he has said, “This is rest; give rest to the weary; and this is repose”; yet they would not hear. (13) And the word of the LORD will be to them precept upon precept, precept upon precept, line upon line, line upon line, here a little, there a little, that they may go, and fall backward, and be broken, and snared, and taken. (14) Therefore hear the word of the LORD, you scoffers, who rule this people in Jerusalem!

We too, often treat God’s gospel in the same way, harping on John 3:16 til the world vomits it out as too much of a good thing. While they will never give us the opportunity to teach them systematic theology, our example of God’s love toward one another, and toward the unlovable, will win them over before mentioning Jesus’ beloved words.

Once they come to faith in Christ, can we then bomb them with all our Christian rules and regulations?

No way! After they’ve tasted the gospel’s milk and allowed it to bring them new life, we must first love them as advertised. Then we must spoon-feed them “precept upon precept,” until they graduate to God’s red meat.

Thing is, though large Bible study classes familiarize the church with God’s word, nurturing new believers through them is a logistical nightmare. That’s like trying to teach trig to first graders. Instead, we must disciple them individually or in small groups, beginning with God’s most basic truths and working through the hard teachings, til they are ready to disciple others. As that’s the way of both math teachers and Jesus, we’d do well to follow their example.