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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine Christology. In our last session we introduced what are called the offices of Christ. Namely, that he functions as a Prophet, Priest and King. And we then discussed his functioning as a prophet. Dr. Spencer, do you want to move on now to discuss Christ’s role as our Priest?

Dr. Spencer: Yes, but I think we will have to begin that discussion with a digression into why we need a priest.

Marc Roby: Well, in examining the Old Testament idea of a priest last week we noted that a priest is one who intercedes with God on behalf of the people. He is a mediator in other words. In the Old Testament this mediation was primarily accomplished through the sacrificial system established by God through Moses and it was the job of the Levitical priesthood.

Dr. Spencer: That’s all correct, but I think that as we get ready to focus on Jesus Christ as the ultimate high priest, we need to at least outline in more detail why a priest is needed and what he specifically accomplishes for us. Modern people, even many who call themselves Christians, are deeply offended at the idea of God requiring a sacrifice.

Marc Roby: Well, I have to admit that I have a difficult time with all of the blood in the Old Testament, and I’m very glad that I live at a time when we are not called to sacrifice animals on a regular basis.

Dr. Spencer: I share your city-boy’s aversion to blood! But it is critically important for us, and for all Christians, to understand why a sacrifice is necessary. In his excellent book Redemption Accomplished and Applied, the great theologian John Murray wrote that “sin evokes the holy displeasure or wrath of God. Vengeance is the reaction of the holiness of God to sin.”[1]

Marc Roby: Wrath and vengeance are not popular topics today.

Dr. Spencer: I don’t think they’ve ever have been popular topics.

Marc Roby: And most people, including those who identify as Christians, think of vengeance as a rather unseemly thing, certainly not something worthy of God.

Dr. Spencer: I think you’re right about that, and it is wrong for us to seek vengeance. But God declares in Deuteronomy 32:35 that “It is mine to avenge; I will repay.”[2]  And the word vengeance shows up 26 times in the 1984 NIV Bible that we are using. For example, in the same passage I just quoted from, which is called the Song of Moses, God declared to his people through Moses, in Deuteronomy 32:39-41, “See now that I myself am He! There is no god besides me. I put to death and I bring to life, I have wounded and I will heal, and no one can deliver out of my hand. I lift my hand to heaven and declare: As surely as I live forever, when I sharpen my flashing sword and my hand grasps it in judgment, I will take vengeance on my adversaries and repay those who hate me.”

Marc Roby: That is a terrifying passage.

Dr. Spencer: It most certainly is, but it is also the truth. The reality is that God is absolutely holy and he cannot allow his holy name to be profaned without taking action.

Marc Roby: Now we don’t often use the word profane anymore, so perhaps it would be good to define it. To profane something is to treat something that should be shown great respect or honor with great disrespect. It is to defile, or desecrate or degrade something that is holy.

Dr. Spencer: And that is what sin does. We are made in the image of God and are to be his representatives, ruling creation in his stead. Whenever we disregard his laws and sin, we profane his name. In Habakkuk 1:13 the prophet speaks to God and says, “Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrong.”

We must realize that every single sin we commit, no matter how minor, is an affront to the eternal, almighty, Creator of the universe. Every time we sin, we are, in essence, saying to God, “You have no authority to tell me what to do or not to do.” Every sin is nothing short of rebellion against the Lord of the universe, the One who gave us life and the one to whom we will all have to give an account.

Marc Roby: And the One who will either bring us into heaven or send us to hell for all eternity.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, exactly. Sin is serious. Our culture tends to minimize sin, but God does not. It must be dealt with. We all inherit a sinful nature from our parents and then practice sin every day of our lives. As a result, we have a serious problem. God’s anger is justly aroused.

Marc Roby: Which is never a good thing. When God is angry, painful things will happen.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. And the greatest calamity that came upon the Jewish people prior to the time of Christ was when Nebuchadnezzar, the King of Babylon, captured Jerusalem and took many of the people into captivity in Babylon. This exile occurred in stages. One deportation was in 597 BC, and one of the people taken captive was a 27-year-old priest named Ezekiel.

Now had things been normal, he would have begun his priestly duties, serving in the temple in Jerusalem, when he turned 30. But, instead, God called him to be a prophet to the people in exile in Babylon. And the people didn’t like his message. They were anticipating a short exile and were expecting to be returned to Jerusalem because they didn’t think God would allow his temple, which was in Jerusalem, to be destroyed as we read in Jeremiah 7:4.

Marc Roby: And they were encouraged in that belief by false prophets. In fact, the prophet Jeremiah was still in Jerusalem at this time and he wrote to the exiles. We read in Jeremiah 29:4-9 that he said, in part, “This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: ‘Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, … Increase in number there; do not decrease. … Do not let the prophets and diviners among you deceive you. Do not listen to the dreams you encourage them to have. They are prophesying lies to you in my name. I have not sent them’”.

Dr. Spencer: And, at the same time, God spoke to the exiles through Ezekiel as well. We read in Ezekiel 13:9-10 that God declared, “My hand will be against the prophets who see false visions and utter lying divinations. … Because they lead my people astray, saying, ‘Peace,’ when there is no peace”. Which should serve as a great warning to all modern ministers who preach and act as though God will simply wink at sin. As if he is no longer holy and no longer angry at sin.

Marc Roby: Yes, we have made the point a number of times that God does not change.

Dr. Spencer: God can’t change. He is perfect. If he changed, then he would either have not been perfect before, or would not be perfect after the change. So what God spoke to the people during the Babylonian exile is still important.

In Ezekiel 22:26 we read that God declared about the city of Jerusalem, “Her priests do violence to my law and profane my holy things; they do not distinguish between the holy and the common; they teach that there is no difference between the unclean and the clean; and they shut their eyes to the keeping of my Sabbaths, so that I am profaned among them.”

Marc Roby: And we are back to the idea then of sin profaning God, or profaning God’s name. It dishonors him.

Dr. Spencer: And as the perfect judge of the universe, he must deal with it. Sin is our problem. Because we are sinners in rebellion against a perfectly holy and just God we deserve hell.

Marc Roby: But the amazing truth of the gospel is that God chose to save some people from hell and bring them to heaven instead.

Dr. Spencer: And there is a very common misconception about how that salvation occurs. Many people, including some professing Christians, have the idea that God the Father is full of wrath, but Jesus came along, gave himself as a sacrifice and then pleads with the Father to have mercy on people for Jesus’ sake. John Murray puts it this way in speaking about the atonement, he says, “It has been charged that this doctrine represents the Son as winning over the incensed Father to clemency and love, a supposition wholly inconsistent with the fact that the love of God is the very fount from which the atonement springs.”[3]

Marc Roby: And when Murray says that “the love of God is the very fount from which the atonement springs”, he is speaking about the love of the triune God; the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Not just the love of the Son.

Dr. Spencer: Exactly. Look at one of the most famous verses in the Bible, John 3:16. It says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” Now think about that verse for a minute. It is Jesus Christ who is speaking, and he is explaining God’s plan of salvation to Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council. So when he says “God so loved the world”, he is talking about God the Father. That’s obvious when you realize that this God “gave his one and only Son”. It has to be the Father that Jesus is speaking about. So it is God the Father so loved the world that he sent his only Son to save his people.

Marc Roby: And, of course, God is one, so it is inconceivable that there would be any difference between the attitude or will of the Father and the Son. It makes no sense to think that the Father could be full of wrath toward people and the Son wouldn’t. Or that the Son could love people and the Father not.

Dr. Spencer: That’s absolutely true. We read in Revelation 6:16 about the wrath of the Lamb, which is speaking of Jesus Christ. So we know that he is wrathful toward sin just as the Father is. And so, the quote I read from John Murray earlier is completely biblical and, therefore, true; namely, “sin evokes the holy displeasure or wrath of God. Vengeance is the reaction of the holiness of God to sin.” That is why we need a Savior. And James Boice says much the same thing in different words. He wrote that “the wrath of God … is actually the unyielding and terrifying opposition of the holy God to all that is opposed to holiness.”[4]

Marc Roby: As much as people may not like the idea of a wrathful God, it makes perfect sense that the perfectly holy Creator would be wrathful against those who oppose his glorious being and works. And this isn’t just an Old Testament idea. The apostle Paul clearly states in Romans 1:18 that “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness”.

Dr. Spencer: And the word wrath is used 10 times in Paul’s letter to the Romans to speak of God’s just wrath toward sinners. Now, let me say that we will get into the topic of God’s plan of salvation in more detail later when we cover soteriology, which is the study of salvation. Nevertheless, it is appropriate to spend a few minutes on it here as we discuss Christology, because it has a huge impact on our understanding of Jesus Christ and his work. Jesus himself told us in Mark 10:45 that “the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” In other words, he came to die.

Marc Roby: He is called Jesus because he saves his people from their sins as we are told in Matthew 1:21. Jesus is the Greek form of the Hebrew name Joshua, which means “Jehovah saves”.

Dr. Spencer: And in describing our salvation we may say that Christ has atoned for our sins, or we may say that he has provided satisfaction for our sins.[5], Murray points out that there are four categories in terms of which Scripture sets forth the atoning work of Christ: sacrifice, propitiation, reconciliation and redemption. [6]

Marc Roby: I think we need to explain these four terms.

Dr. Spencer: Absolutely. But, as I noted a minute ago, I don’t want to get into them in great detail now, I just want to briefly present them so that we have a good understanding of what Jesus Christ came to do for his people.

The first category is that of sacrifice. And Murray explains that a sacrifice has reference to sin and guilt. He wrote that “Sin involves a certain liability, a liability arising from the holiness of God, on the one hand, and the gravity of sin as the contradiction of that holiness, on the other. The sacrifice was the divinely instituted provision whereby the sin might be covered and the liability to divine wrath and curse removed.”[7]

Marc Roby: Alright, what about propitiation? To propitiate means to appease someone’s anger and make them propitious, or favorably disposed, toward us.

Dr. Spencer: Well, Murray writes that “Propitiation presupposes the wrath of and displeasure of God, and the purpose of propitiation is the removal of this displeasure.”[8] Propitiation has to do with God’s attitude toward us, whereas sacrifice has to do with taking away or covering the cause of God’s displeasure in us.

Marc Roby: What about reconciliation? That also sounds close to propitiation. To be reconciled is to be restored to friendly relations.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, but in propitiation the focus is on removing God’s wrath, whereas in reconciliation the focus is on restoring right relations. In Romans 5:1 we read, “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ”.

Marc Roby: And that leads us finally to redemption.

Dr. Spencer: And, of course, to redeem something is to buy it back. We can redeem something that we have given to a pawn shop as collateral for a loan for example. Or you can pay a ransom to redeem someone who has been kidnapped or taken to be a slave.

Marc Roby: And unbelievers are described in Romans Chapter 6 as being slaves to sin. We read in Verses 16-18, “Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you wholeheartedly obeyed the form of teaching to which you were entrusted. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.”

Dr. Spencer: That is a very challenging passage. I don’t know any unbeliever who will admit to being a slave to sin. But the reality is that if you have not been born again, you cannot obey God’s law out of love for God. Therefore, everything you do is sin because the motive is wrong even if the action is, in itself, right. It is also challenging to Christians because it tells us clearly that are to be slaves to righteousness; in other words, we are to be obedient all the time.

Marc Roby: And none of us fulfill that requirement perfectly.

Dr. Spencer: No, we don’t. But that is what we are called to if we have been saved. Murray summarizes these four categories in the following way, he writes, “Just as sacrifice is directed to the need created by our guilt, propitiation to the need that arises from the wrath of God, and reconciliation to the need arising from our alienation from God, so redemption is directed to the bondage to which our sin has consigned us.”[9]

Marc Roby: Yes, that’s a great summary. We are nearly out of time, is there anything else you’d like to say for today?

Dr. Spencer: Yes. I’d like to wrap-up this discussion of the nature of the atonement by reading one last quote from Murray. He wrote that “Thought and expression stagger in the presence of the spectacle that confronts us in the vicarious sin-bearing of the Lord of glory. Here we must realize that we are dealing with the mystery of godliness, and eternity will not reach the bottom of it nor exhaust its praise.”[10]

Marc Roby: It is staggering to consider what God has done for us. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit chose to love us. Jesus agreed to become incarnate and live a perfect life in our stead and then die on the cross to pay for our sins, and the Holy Spirit applies that redemption to each Christian individually by bringing about new birth. Praise God!

And with that, we are out of time for today. So, let me remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org, we’d appreciate hearing from you.

 

[1] John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1955, pg. 30

[2] All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® (1984 version). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™.

[3] John Murray, op. cit., pg. 31

[4] James Boice, Foundations of the Christian Faith, Revised in One Volume, InterVarsity Press, 1986, pg. 315

[5] Hodge prefers the older word “satisfaction”, but newer theologies usually use the word “atonement”. See Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, Eerdmans, 1997, Vol. II, pp 469-470

[6] John Murray, op. cit., pg. 19

[7] Ibid, pg. 25

[8] Ibid, pg. 30

[9] Ibid, pg. 43

[10] Ibid, preface

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine God’s will. Dr. Spencer, in our previous discussion, you made the point that God truly desires that all people be saved, and yet he does not in fact save everyone because to do so would not serve his ultimate purpose of making his own glory manifest as well as the universe we live in does. Doesn’t this leave you open to the charge of somehow limiting God’s options?

Dr. Spencer: Well, I’m not limiting God’s options, but his options are, in fact, limited. God is not free to do absolutely anything. We mentioned this briefly before when we were discussing God’s Sovereignty and man’s free will in Session 65. For example, we are told in Hebrews 6:18 that “it is impossible for God to lie”. [1] But there are many other things God cannot do.

Marc Roby: I think John Frame has a useful discussion on this topic in his book The Doctrine of God.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, he does. He lists six kinds of actions that God cannot perform.[2] First, he cannot perform logically contradictory actions.

Marc Roby: Like making a square circle.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. And Frame makes an important point in this regard. When we say that there are things God cannot do, this is not to say that there is a weakness in God. God cannot do things that are logically contradictory because, as Frame says, “The laws of logic are an aspect of his own character.”[3] We could reasonably call logic one of God’s attributes, although that is not normally done. It is not a weakness that God is unable to go against his own character.

Marc Roby: What else does Frame say that God cannot do?

Dr. Spencer: He cannot do anything immoral.

Marc Roby: And, certainly, no one could rationally consider that a weakness. It is, in fact, a great strength. As you noted a moment ago, he can’t lie. And James 1:13 tells us that “God cannot be tempted by evil”. What else does Frame say God cannot do?

Dr. Spencer: He cannot do things that are appropriate only for creatures, like celebrating a birthday. He can do these things in the incarnate person of Jesus Christ, but not in his deity. But this inability is again an indication of his strength, not a weakness. He also cannot deny his own nature as God by, for example, ceasing to be God. God can’t commit suicide.

Marc Roby: Well, that seems pretty obvious, and certainly can’t be thought of as a weakness. What else?

Dr. Spencer: God can’t change his eternal plan. In a sense, to do so would be to deny his nature as the perfect, unchangeable God.

Marc Roby: Okay, I believe that is five things, but you said Frame listed six, so what is the last one?

Dr. Spencer: The last one is more interesting, although it sounds silly at first blush. It is the age-old question of whether or not God can make a stone so large that he can’t lift it.

Marc Roby: Okay, I’ll be honest and say that that does sound downright silly at first blush.

Dr. Spencer: Well, I’ll admit that I was surprised when I read in Frame’s book that philosophers have written about this question fairly recently. The problem of course, is supposed to be that if God can make such a stone, then he can’t lift it and is therefore not omnipotent. And, on the other hand, if he can’t make such a stone, then he again is not omnipotent. The question is an attempt to show that God’s being omnipotent is somehow a logical contradiction.

But I don’t think it presents a serious challenge to the idea of God’s omnipotence. We have already said that God’s omnipotence does not mean he can do anything, and we have already listed five kinds of things he can’t do. Frame suggests that this one fits into the category of God not being able to do things that are appropriate only for finite creatures. We, for example, are certainly capable of making things too heavy for us to lift without machines, just think of a bus or truck, or even an automobile.

Marc Roby: That is obviously true, but it is also true that we can’t create anything out of nothing, meaning no pre-existing matter, which is the kind of creating God has done.

Dr. Spencer: You’re right, and Frame doesn’t address that point. He uses the human example simply to show that the question does not fit into the category of logically contradictory actions. I’m not going to spend any time to get into the fine points of logic that I assume must be involved in the philosophical discussions about this question. I would simply say that since God can create this universe out of nothing, and is also capable of destroying it in an instant, it is pretty clear to me that he can’t create a stone too heavy for him to lift. But that is not a sign of weakness, nor does it challenge his omnipotence. It is, rather, a sign of his unlimited power.

Marc Roby: I completely agree. It’s amazing the lengths people will go to sometimes to try and disprove the existence of God. They really don’t like the idea of an omnipotent, omniscient, all holy and just God judging them at the end of their life.

Dr. Spencer: That’s true. But, as we’re told in Romans Chapter 1, they are suppressing the truth because in their heart of hearts they know that God exists.

Marc Roby: We got onto this topic of things that God cannot do because you were answering my challenge that you might have left yourself open to the charge of limiting God’s options when you argued that God didn’t create a universe without sin, even though such a universe would please him, because such a universe would not accomplish his main goal of making his own glory manifest as well as this one does.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. Even God is limited by his own perfect, unchangeable, eternal, holy nature. He can’t die, he can’t lie and he can’t do anything that contradicts his own nature. We’ve argued before that he is perfect and all he does is perfect. We are told in Deuteronomy 32:4 that “He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he.”

Marc Roby: We also read in 2 Samuel 22:31 that “As for God, his way is perfect; the word of the LORD is flawless.”

Dr. Spencer: And, perhaps most famously, in Matthew 5:48 Jesus himself told us, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” There are other Scriptures we could cite as well, but it is clear that God is perfect and all he does is perfect. Therefore, when he chose to create this universe for the manifestation of his own glory, that was the best possible purpose for creation.

Marc Roby: We have made that argument before, in Session 75. And since we are talking about God’s will, there is one more verse I would like to cite about God’s perfection because it tells us specifically that his will is perfect. In Romans 12:2 we are commanded, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

Dr. Spencer: That is a great verse for our present purposes. And the point I’m trying to make is that in accomplishing that purpose, even God is limited. Not by weakness, but by his perfections. Because all that he does is perfect, he was constrained to create the perfect universe to accomplish his perfect purpose, even if there were some things about that universe that he himself didn’t like.

Marc Roby: Now that’s a difficult concept to wrap your brain around.

Dr. Spencer: I agree. But I think that it is a necessary conclusion based on what we are told in the Bible. So, let’s get back to the verse that started this whole discussion and state our conclusions.

Marc Roby: You mean 2 Peter 3:9 of course, where we read that “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that’s the verse. And the problem we have been addressing is, if God wants everyone to come to repentance, then why don’t all people repent, trust in Christ, and be saved? And the answer is that this verse is speaking about God’s will of disposition as we saw last time. In other words, it is telling us something real and true about the nature of God, he does not take pleasure in the fact that people sin, refuse to repent and, as a result, go to hell. And yet, he is the one who sends people to hell. He does this because it is necessary to accomplish his overall purpose for creation.

Marc Roby: And, again, we struggle to grasp and accept this truth because it implies the necessity of evil and of eternal hell.

Dr. Spencer: Absolutely. But, as we have noted before, what I like doesn’t have any bearing on what is true. I don’t like the fact I’m growing old. I don’t like the fact that I get sick. There are all kinds of things I don’t like that are, nonetheless, true. The astounding thing is that we can conclude from 2 Peter 3:9 combined with the obvious fact that not everyone repents, that there are some things that God doesn’t like, but which are, nonetheless true.

Marc Roby: But, as you have been careful to point out, this is not because there is any weakness in God.

Dr. Spencer: No, it is definitely not because of weakness. There doesn’t need to be any weakness or imperfection in order to be constrained. God is constrained by his own nature, which includes his perfect mercy and love, but also his perfect justice and wrath. As human beings we understand the idea of being constrained by things outside of our control. And even in our case it is not always a sign of weakness or imperfection. I’ve spent most of my life as an engineer and engineers deal with constraints all the time. Some of those constraints are caused by our limitations, but others are not.

Marc Roby: It seems like the really important question would be then, which constraints are fundamental and therefore, insurmountable.

Dr. Spencer: That is an important question, and for us it isn’t always easy tell which is which. I’ve seen a number of technological advances in my lifetime that were at one time considered fundamentally impossible. So I’m not about to go out on a limb and say which specific constraints are fundamental and which are due to our own limitations, but it would appear, for example, that travelling faster than the speed of light is impossible. And, to be far more mundane, it is almost certainly impossible to build a comfortable, quiet car that uses water for fuel, goes 1,000 miles on a tank of water, and costs only a $1,000 to build.

Marc Roby: And the point we’ve been making is simply that even God is constrained in some ways, but not because of any weakness or imperfection in him. In fact, his constraints are the result of his perfections.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. Theologians talk about God’s decretive will, which is those things which God has decreed will happen. And his decretive will is not the same as his will of disposition, which is those things that God would like, at least in some sense, to have happen. You could truthfully say that God decrees some things that he doesn’t like.

Marc Roby: John Frame says something very similar. He notes that “there are some good things that, by virtue of the nature of God’s plan, will never be realized.”[4] And that “God’s broad intentions for history may exclude the blessing of a world existing without any history of evil.”[5]

Dr. Spencer: Frame also gives an important warning. He notes that “God’s will is, of course, one; but since it is complex, some have distinguished different aspects of it – different ‘wills.’ We should be careful with this language, but it does make it easier for us to consider the complications of our topic.”[6]

Marc Roby: That’s a good warning. We always have to keep in mind God’s simplicity – that he is not made up of parts. We can talk about his will of disposition or his will of decree as a way to help us to understand, but we must not think there are different parts of God that are somehow in conflict with each other.

Dr. Spencer: Absolutely true. God has one will and he has one overarching purpose for creation, which is the manifestation of his own glory. But there are also a number of other purposes that we could say are subordinate to his overarching purpose. Foremost among those subordinate purposes is his redeeming a people for himself.

Marc Roby: And these people comprise the church, the body and bride of Christ. They are those who have been chosen from before the creation of the world as we read in Ephesians 1:4, which says, “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.”

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. And all of those whom God has chosen either have been or will be called, regenerated, sanctified and glorified. We read an abbreviated description of this process in Romans 8:30, which says that “those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.” To achieve this goal, God has given man his revelation, which tells us how we should live.

Marc Roby: And theologians refer to that as God’s revealed will.

Dr. Spencer: Exactly. Although Frame prefers to call it God’s preceptive will, which refers to his precepts, or commands. There are other names used as well, but I don’t want to get into all of them at this time. The main point here is that God has revealed to us what we are to do. And he doesn’t tell us everything we might like to know, but he has told us what we need to know.

Marc Roby: We see the difference between God’s decretive will and his revealed will clearly in Moses’ statement to the Israelites on the plains of Moab, to the east of the Jordon river, just before he died and Joshua led them into the Promised Land. He was going over the laws God had given them and in Deuteronomy 29:29 he told them, “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law.”

Dr. Spencer: And “The secret things” refers to God’s decretive will, those things which he has foreordained should come to pass, which is also sometimes called his secret will. And notice that Moses says they “belong to the LORD our God”, meaning that we often don’t know them until they come to pass and, since they belong to God, we aren’t to pry into them. But then there are the “things revealed”, which “belong to us and to our children forever”. This is God’s revealed will, or his preceptive will, and Moses gives us the reason for God’s giving it to us; it is so that “we may follow all the words of this law.”

Marc Roby: And we should take a moment to point out that it is great mercy on God’s part that he has given us this revelation.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, we should all take time to meditate on God’s amazing goodness and mercy to us. But before we finish for today there is a major difference between God’s decretive will and his preceptive will that we should point out. Let me quote from John Frame again. He correctly states that “God’s decretive will cannot be successfully opposed; what God has decreed will certainly take place. It is possible, however, for creatures to disobey God’s preceptive will – and they often do so.”[7]

Marc Roby: But, praise God, he also decreed, from before the creation of the world, to send a Savior to redeem his people. We read about that in 1 Peter 1:18-20, “For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake.”

Dr. Spencer: That is wonderful. And it shows that God was not surprised by the fall. He planned all of creation and all of history before anything in this universe existed. He knew Satan would fall. He knew Adam would fall. He had it all planned. As you just read, Jesus Christ “was chosen before the creation of the world”. And what was he chosen to do? He was chosen to become incarnate, to be born to a virgin, to live a perfect sinless life and then to die a horrible death on the cross as a substitute for us. All of this was according to God’s decretive will.

Marc Roby: That’s astounding. And I look forward to continuing our discussion of God’s perfect will next time, but now it is time to remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org and we’ll do our best to respond to them.

 

[1] All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® (1984 version). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™.

[2] John Frame, The Doctrine of God, P&R Publishing Company, 2002, pp518-521

[3] Ibid, pg. 518

[4] Ibid, pg. 530

[5] Ibid

[6] Ibid

[7] Ibid, pg. 531

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine God’s communicable attributes. Today we are going to look at the fact that God is jealous. Dr. Spencer, most people think of jealousy as a negative trait and, therefore, not a trait that is befitting for God. How would you respond to them?

Dr. Spencer: I would point out that the word jealous, like most words, has a fairly wide range of meanings, and not all of them are negative even in our modern usage. I should, for example, be jealous to guard the exclusivity of my relationship with my wife.

Marc Roby: I’m sure she would agree with that statement.

Dr. Spencer: I am too. Our society seems to have lost the idea that being faithful to our commitments is important, and it has especially lost the notion that a marriage commitment is a sacred, life-long covenant commitment. In Malachi 2:16 we read, “‘I hate divorce,’ says the LORD God of Israel” [1], and God expects husbands and wives to be faithful to their spouses in marriage. We see clearly how important this is by the fact that adultery in the Old Testament was a capital offense and in the New Testament it is grounds for divorce. John Frame defines the biblical concept of jealousy in the following way: “Jealousy (Heb. Qin’ah, Gk. zēlos) is a passionate zeal to guard the exclusiveness of a marriage relationship, leading to anger against an unfaithful spouse.”[2]

Marc Roby: I want to point out that you correctly called marriage a covenant commitment, which means that it is a formal and serious commitment, not something casual. And God frequently alludes to the human marriage relationship as an analogy to the relationship his people have with him.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, he does. In fact, it is important to note God’s overall sovereignty and plan in this regard. Marriage is not a humanly contrived or instituted relationship. It was established by God and was intended from the very beginning to be part of his plan for creation. And, as we have discussed before, God’s purpose in creation is the manifestation of his own glory[3], so marriage contributes to that. We have also mentioned before that marriage between a man and a woman, and the children resulting from that union, do a better job of reflecting the glory of our triune God than individual human beings can.[4]

Marc Roby: And the marriage relationship is also used by God to teach us many things. We learn more about our own inpatient, selfish sinful nature, and as we work to make our families function properly, we learn patience, what it means to truly love others sacrificially, the importance of authority and many other things as well.

Dr. Spencer: And I’m sure we could come up with other reasons for the marriage relationship being important, but to get back to our topic of God’s jealousy, it is not a negative thing at all. It is in fact, a very good thing. We should be zealous to guard something as precious as our exclusive relationship with our spouse.

Marc Roby: I think part of the problem with people considering jealousy to be a negative trait is that human beings often corrupt that trait. For example, they can be irrationally and sinfully suspicious of their spouse without cause.

Dr. Spencer: That’s very true. And that is definitely not the kind of jealousy that God has. As with all of the communicable attributes we must be very careful to strip sinful human perversions of them from our thinking. I think it will be useful to quote again something I quoted in Session 42 when we were discussing the science of hermeneutics, or how to properly understand the Bible.

In his book Interpreting the Bible, A. Berkeley Mickelsen wrote that “Grief, anger, wrath, etc., are all genuine responses of God. The metaphorical element arises from the fact that human grief, anger, and wrath are a complex array of elements. Grief can involve self-pity; anger can be filled with an irrational obsession for revenge; wrath can be overlaid with a passion to return in kind. Yet these elements must be excluded from an accurate picture of God’s grief, anger, and wrath. God’s response is genuine; it is the human counterpart that is tainted by corrupt elements.”[5]

Marc Roby: And so, applying that thought to God’s jealousy, John Frame quotes from the Song of Solomon 8:6, which says, “Place me like a seal over your heart, like a seal on your arm; for love is as strong as death, its jealousy unyielding as the grave. It burns like blazing fire, like a mighty flame.” And then Frame notes about this verse that “Here, fiery jealousy is part of love, the prerogative of love that is as strong as death. It is the proper attitude of a man toward his wife (cf. Prov. 6:34). It is entirely right for him to be zealous for her purity and for the exclusiveness of her love for him.”[6]

Dr. Spencer: That’s a very good passage. Our society has greatly cheapened the institution of marriage, which is, I think, why so many people don’t even bother to get married today. But when marriage is given the respect and honor it should have, and people treat it with the seriousness they should, it is a truly beautiful and wonderful thing. In God’s plan marriage is the most intimate relationship two human beings can ever have. They should both come to it as virgins and the commitment they make to one another and to God is to be absolutely faithful to each other, forsaking all others, until death separates them.

Marc Roby: Not many people think about marriage that way anymore.

Dr. Spencer: And that is to their great loss. Real love is sacrificial and focused on the other person. It isn’t just a feeling, it is a firm commitment to do for someone else that which is best for that person. We only learn that to the fullest extent possible when we commit ourselves to working out whatever problems arise in a marriage. There cannot be any plan B. I can’t have in mind that I will stay married so long as we are both happy or so long as it makes me happy, or so long as I still “love” my wife.

Marc Roby: I think that anytime someone goes into a marriage with that kind of attitude, the probability of the marriage ending in divorce is about 100%.

Dr. Spencer: I completely agree. We’ve both been married to our wives for long enough to know that it isn’t always wonderful. I’m a sinner. And my wife is a sinner. And whenever two sinners live together there will be trouble.

Marc Roby: And our children are also sinners, which introduces even more trouble!

Dr. Spencer: That’s true. But as I said a moment ago, real biblical love is not something you can fall in and out of, it is a firm commitment to do what is best for the other person. When we get married, we make a vow before God to love our spouse, and we are to keep our vows. It is, as we noted earlier, a covenant commitment. Being faithful is extremely important.

Marc Roby: And the extreme value and importance of marriage shows why being jealous, in the proper sense, is a good thing.

Dr. Spencer: That’s exactly right. As I said earlier, God is the sovereign creator and everything he does works together to accomplish his purpose of making his own glory manifest. So I am quite sure that when God established the institution of marriage, he had in mind that it would, in addition to many other things, teach us something about our covenant relationship to him and the importance of our being faithful in that relationship.

Marc Roby: And God compares idolatry to adultery. For example, Jeremiah Chapter 3 uses adultery as a metaphor for the Jewish people being unfaithful to God.

Dr. Spencer: That’s a great chapter to make this point, so let’s take a moment to look at it.

Marc Roby: Let me begin by reminding our listeners of the history that they need to know to understand this chapter. Jeremiah prophesied in the late 7th-century B.C. Prior to this time the united Jewish kingdom of Saul, David and Solomon had been divided into two and the northern kingdom, here referred to as Israel, had already been destroyed and its people taken into captivity by the Assyrians in the late 8th-century B.C. The southern kingdom of Judah was all that remained and they were soon to be defeated and taken into captivity by the Babylonians. Jeremiah was one of the prophets God sent to warn his people of this coming disaster.

Dr. Spencer: And now, with that history in mind, let me read Jeremiah 3:6. It says, “During the reign of King Josiah, the LORD said to me, ‘Have you seen what faithless Israel has done? She has gone up on every high hill and under every spreading tree and has committed adultery there.’” The references to every high hill and every spreading tree refer to the pagan altars at which the Jewish people had been worshipping pagan idols.

Marc Roby: And God then refers to the destruction and captivity of the northern kingdom of Israel in Verse 8. Jeremiah tells us that the LORD said, “I gave faithless Israel her certificate of divorce and sent her away because of all her adulteries. Yet I saw that her unfaithful sister Judah had no fear; she also went out and committed adultery.”

Dr. Spencer: And that verse establishes the point I wanted to make perfectly. God compares sending his unfaithful people into captivity with divorce and he compares their unfaithfulness with adultery. God should be jealous of his covenant people. How wicked it was for them to forget all that he had done for them and to run off and worship false gods made of wood and stone.

Marc Roby: And God mocked these idols in the chapter just before this. We read in Jeremiah 2:27-28, “They say to wood, ‘You are my father,’ and to stone, ‘You gave me birth.’ They have turned their backs to me and not their faces; yet when they are in trouble, they say, ‘Come and save us!’ Where then are the gods you made for yourselves? Let them come if they can save you when you are in trouble! For you have as many gods as you have towns, O Judah.”

Dr. Spencer: Whenever any of God’s people trust in something other than God, the Creator and Lord of all creation, they and the things they trust in deserve to be mocked. God wants his people to be holy and blameless and able to worship and serve him properly, and that is absolutely impossible when they worship false gods.

Marc Roby: I’m sure that when you used the phrase “holy and blameless” you had Ephesians 5:25-27 in mind, where the apostle Paul commands us, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.”

Dr. Spencer: That is exactly what I had in mind. And those verses clearly indicate God’s jealousy. Remember that Frame said that God’s jealousy is “a passionate zeal to guard the exclusiveness of a marriage relationship”. And here in Ephesians 5 we see that. God uses the example of Christ as the husband and the church as his bride to explain to us how we should be concerned for the eternal welfare of our wives. Jealousy is an aspect of true love.

Marc Roby: And it is also related to wrath and judgment, because God will judge those who oppose his church and his people and he will pour out his wrath upon them. We read in Nahum 1:2 “The LORD is a jealous and avenging God; the LORD takes vengeance and is filled with wrath. The LORD takes vengeance on his foes and maintains his wrath against his enemies.”

Dr. Spencer: That is absolutely true. We read over and over again in the prophets about the coming judgment against God’s enemies. God is jealous for the glory and honor of his own name. We read in Isaiah 42:8 that God says, “I am the LORD; that is my name! I will not give my glory to another or my praise to idols.”

And God’s church, which is called the body of Christ in 1 Corinthians 12:27 and the bride of Christ in Revelation 19:7, is meant to bring him glory as well. Therefore, because God is very jealous to protect his own glory, he is also very jealous to protect the glory of his church.

Marc Roby: And that should be a great comfort to all members of God’s church. If the supreme Lord of the universe is jealous to protect our honor and glory, we are safe.

Dr. Spencer: Very true. And the Bible makes clear that God is jealous. We’ve already seen that in several verses, but there some others we have yet to share that are quite explicit about this being an important aspect of God’s being. For example, when God renewed his covenant with his people after their horrible apostasy in having Aaron create a golden calf to worship while Moses was still on Mount Sinai meeting with God, we read in Exodus 34:14 that God told the people, “Do not worship any other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.”

Marc Roby: And when God says his “name is Jealous” he is clearly saying that it is an essential part of his nature.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that is exactly what he means.

Marc Roby: And that episode in Israel’s history is a remarkable example of God’s gracious love and man’s terrible sin. God had brought the people out of their slavery in Egypt by doing mighty miracles among the Egyptians, and had established his covenant with them. We read in Exodus 24:7 that Moses, “took the Book of the Covenant and read it to the people. They responded, ‘We will do everything the LORD has said; we will obey.’”

Dr. Spencer: And the Book of the Covenant included the Ten Commandments. The second commandment is given in Exodus 20:4-6 and it says, “You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.”

Marc Roby: And, amazingly, it was right after the people had said “We will do everything the LORD has said; we will obey”, that they had Aaron make the golden calf for them to worship. How unbelievably gracious it is that God would not destroy them for their almost immediate violation of the covenant.

Dr. Spencer: It is amazing that God would be that gracious and would renew the covenant rather than destroying them for violating it. But his doing that was a result of his own covenant faithfulness and for his own glory. In Exodus 15 we read what is called the Song of Moses, which he sung after God had destroyed Pharaoh’s army when it came after the Jewish slaves who had left Egypt. In that song, in Exodus 15:13, we read, “In your unfailing love you will lead the people you have redeemed. In your strength you will guide them to your holy dwelling.”  The words “unfailing love” translate the Hebrew word hesed. We mentioned this word in Session 77 as well, it primarily refers to God’s covenant love for his people.

God’s covenant love, which includes his jealousy, is the reason he did not destroy his people. He will bring to fruition his plan of salvation. No one can thwart this plan, not Satan or his demons, not the world, and not even the sins of God’s own people. He will discipline us and he will work within us to be transformed, and ultimately, he will perfect us, but in his jealous zeal he will not allow the people he has chosen for himself to be lost.

Marc Roby: What great comfort that provides to us. As Paul wrote in Philippians 1:6, he was “confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

Dr. Spencer: And God will accomplish this for his own glory. He has chosen his people and he calls us his treasured possession. When the Israelites first arrived at Mount Sinai after leaving Egypt, one of the first things God said to them through Moses was, “Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession.” We read that in Exodus 19:5.

Marc Roby: And we noted in Session 67 that God’s people are called his treasured possession six times in the Old Testament. What an amazing thing that is.

Dr. Spencer: It is an astounding thing. But I want to wrap up our discussion of God’s jealousy by tying together all the strands we’ve been discussing. God’s purpose in creation is the manifestation of his own glory. God is loving and faithful and he will have a loving and faithful covenant people to be with him in heaven and display his glory. He is zealous for his glory and will not allow his plans to fail or an enemy to succeed, and that zeal for the honor of his own name is his jealousy. It is a wonderful attribute of God.

Marc Roby: That’s a good summary and with that we are out of time for today. As always, we invite our listeners to email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org and we will respond.

[1] All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® (1984 version). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™.

[2] John Frame, The Doctrine of God, P&R Publishing Company, 2002, pg. 458

[3] See Sessions 2, 67 and 74.

[4] See Session 29.

[5] A. Berkeley Mickelsen, Interpreting the Bible, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1974, pg. 185

[6] Frame, op. cit.

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Marc Roby: Before we begin today, Dr. Spencer and I want to wish all of our listeners a blessed 2019. It is our prayer that God will draw you to himself and build you up in the most holy faith. We’d love to hear how God is using this podcast in your life and invite you to email your questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org.

And now let’s resume our study of systematic theology by continuing to examine God’s communicable attribute of holiness. Last time we looked at God’s revelation to the prophet Isaiah. Dr. Spencer, how do you want to proceed today?

Dr. Spencer: I want to spend some more time on the revelation given to Isaiah, but with a different emphasis. Last time we focused on the impact God’s holiness has on us as sinful creatures.

Marc Roby: Which is that it should drive us to our knees in fear and trembling and cause us to cry out with the Philippian jailer, “What must I do to be saved?” [1] (Acts 16:30)

Dr. Spencer: That is exactly the response we should have. But today I want to focus more on what this attribute tells us about the being of God.

Marc Roby: We already know that his holiness means he is separate from his creation, and that he is morally perfect.

Dr. Spencer: In fact, as we discussed in Session 71, God is the ultimate standard for what is morally right, just as he is the ultimate standard for what is true or what is good. There is however, more that we can learn about the being of God from his holiness. But before we get into that, it is important to note that this is the only attribute of God ever repeated three times in the Bible. Remember that in Isaiah 6:3 the seraphs were crying out, “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty”.

Marc Roby: And that repetition is for emphasis, right?

Dr. Spencer: Absolutely. We do the same thing. For example, someone might describe a certain task as not just being difficult, but being very, very difficult. But here we have the word holy repeated three times, which is why you sometimes hear God referred to as the thrice holy God. It is a little bit like our printing something in bold italics and underlining it. We really want that thing to stand out. And so, God wants his attribute of holiness to stand out. The Bible never once refers to God as “love, love, love” or “wrath, wrath, wrath” or “mercy, mercy, mercy” for example. We need to be careful of course to not think that God’s holiness somehow diminishes the importance of his other attributes, but we clearly need to take it very seriously.

Marc Roby: One indication of the importance of holiness is that in 1 Corinthians 1:2 the apostle Paul describes those to whom he is writing as “those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy”.

Dr. Spencer: Very true. As we noted last time, Hebrews 12:14 tells us that “without holiness no one will see the Lord”. This is a common emphasis all through the Bible. God is holy and his people must be holy. And God is in the business of making us holy. In Ephesians 5:25-27 the apostle Paul commanded, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.”

Marc Roby: There is a lot packed into those two verses.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, there is. First, we see that Christ “gave himself up” to make the church holy, which speaks about his sacrificial death. Then, secondly, we read that he is cleansing his church “by the washing with water through the word”, which speaks about our being sanctified through reading and obeying the Bible, which is the word of God. And, thirdly, we see that Christ is going to present the church “to himself”. Interestingly, in John 10:29 and again in John 17:24 Christ refers to his people as being given to him by the Father. So both are true; God the Father gives us to the Son and God the Son purifies us to present us to himself. It is hard to grasp, but we are the Father’s gift to the Son.

Marc Roby: It is astounding grace that the Son would want such a gift!

Dr. Spencer: I agree. But it is a little easier to understand when you realize that he doesn’t want us just the way we are. He wants us the way we will be when he is done working in us. Jesus Christ will not be our Savior if he is not also our Lord. And as our Lord he is at work transforming us. In Romans 8:29 we read that “those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” This being conformed to the likeness of Christ is the process of sanctification, which all true believers go through. We will talk about this more in our next session, but for now I want to focus on this idea that Jesus Christ is Lord.

Marc Roby: Which is not something many modern churches talk about.

Dr. Spencer: You’re right about that. There is a completely unbiblical idea that is very common in the modern church, which says that I can accept Jesus as my Savior without also having him as my Lord. But there are two fatal problems with that thinking. The first is that Jesus Christ is the Lord of the universe whether we acknowledge that fact or not.

Marc Roby: And even if we don’t choose to voluntarily acknowledge that fact in this life, we will when it comes time for judgment. Philippians 2:9-11 tell us that “God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Dr. Spencer: That is a scary thought; if you reject Christ now, on the day of judgment you will confess him as Lord and then go to hell. But getting back to our topic, the second fatal problem with the thinking that Jesus can be your Savior without being your Lord is that the Bible makes it absolutely clear he must be your Lord or you do not belong to him and he did not die for you. In Matthew 7:21 Jesus himself told us that “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” We can call Jesus Lord, we may think he is our Savior, but on the day of judgment only those who have done the will of the Father enter the kingdom of heaven. In other words, only those who have obeyed.

Marc Roby: Jesus also said in John 14:15, “If you love me, you will obey what I command.”

Dr. Spencer: That is the same idea. We could go on, but we made this point before and will get to it again in our next session, so for now let me just say that the biblical case is so strong that if one of our listeners is struggling with the idea that obedience is necessary, my best counsel is to take a week and sit down and read through the New Testament, making note of how may times and in how many ways it says that you must obey if you are God’s children.

We are saved by grace alone through faith alone, our works play no part in earning salvation. But if we are not living a changed life, striving for obedience out of love for God, then we have not been changed. We are not born again, and we will not be in heaven.

Marc Roby: And that fact is intimately linked with the holiness of God since heaven is where God is in the fullest sense.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, it is. James Boice, in his book Foundations of the Christian Faith, points out that the Bible “calls God holy more than anything else. Holy is the epithet most often affixed to his name. Also we read that God alone is holy.”[2] Now, in saying that God alone is holy he is referring to the first meaning we have discussed for the word holy; namely, that of separation from creation. And that is why I wanted to spend some more time on this attribute, I want to emphasize this dominant aspect.

Boice points out that people tend to think of holiness mostly in terms of morality and, therefore, as something that admits to degrees. One person can be a little more or less holy than someone else.

Marc Roby: When we do that, it is our natural, that is to say sinful, tendency to pick particular behaviors to focus on so that we come out on top.

Dr. Spencer: That is exactly what we tend to do. If someone has no trouble with putting on weight, there is a tendency for that person to be judgmental toward those who are overweight. If we have been blessed with good jobs and financial security, it is easy to look down on someone who has troubles with personal debt. And the list can go on and on. I am not diminishing the fact that gluttony and fiscal irresponsibility are sins, but I think you get my point. Our natural sinful tendency is to minimize our own sins and to be more judgmental toward the sins of others.

Marc Roby: And such thinking leads to thinking less of other people and more of yourself, which is the opposite of true Christian character.

Dr. Spencer: And when people think about holiness only in these terms, they also tend to think of God as just better than they are, but not completely different than they are. But the reality is that he is radically different – it isn’t just a matter of degree. Which is why Isaiah was undone when he saw God as we learned in our last session.

Marc Roby: And while Isaiah’s experience may be the most exalted view of God given to anyone in the Bible, he was not the only person who had the experience of coming face-to-face, so to speak, with the holy God. I am thinking of Job’s confrontation with God, where Job declared, in Job 40:4-5, “I am unworthy—how can I reply to you? I put my hand over my mouth. I spoke once, but I have no answer— twice, but I will say no more.”

Dr. Spencer: That is another great example. Putting his hand over his mouth was a polite way of saying that he shut up. And in Job 42:5-6 he proclaimed “My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.”

We must come to grips with what is truly meant by the holiness of God, and when we do, we too will be quiet and repent. Boice writes that “in its original and most fundamental sense, holy is not an ethical concept at all. Rather it means that which is of the very nature of God and which therefore distinguishes him from everything else. It is what sets God apart from his creation. It has to do with his transcendence.”[3]

Marc Roby: And to be transcendent means to go beyond normal limits or to be beyond comprehension, or to not be subject to the limitations of our physical universe.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, those ideas can all apply. Boice goes on to say that holiness “is the characteristic of God that sets him apart from his creation. In this, holiness has at least four elements.” And he then goes on to present the four elements, which he says are: first, majesty, second, will, third, wrath and fourth, righteousness. The fourth element, righteousness, refers to the moral aspect of holiness and we don’t need to spend more time on that now.

Marc Roby: And majesty is also fairly clear. It refers to having sovereign power and authority, great dignity or grandeur. But what does Boice mean by saying one element of God’s holiness is will?

Dr. Spencer: I would summarize this point by saying that he is referring to the fact that God has personality. He wants to avoid any cold notion of holiness as an abstract concept. We must remember that God is personal. He has his sovereign will and he acts in accordance with it. For example, as we saw a couple of minutes ago from Philippians 2:9-11, it is God’s will that every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.

Marc Roby: Alright. What about wrath? I doubt that many of our listeners would have mentioned that as an aspect of God’s holiness.

Dr. Spencer: I’m sure that quite a few would have left that off of their list. But many others agree with Boice on this point. Wrath is, as Boice put it, “an essential part of God’s holiness”[4]. He also points out that we must guard against thinking of God’s wrath in human terms. It is not an emotional response to some personal affront. Boice writes that “It is, rather, that necessary and proper stance of the holy God to all that opposes him.”[5] R.C. Sproul wrote that “If there is no wrath in God, then there is no justice in God. If there is no justice in God, then there is no goodness in God. And if there is no goodness in God, then there is no God. A God without wrath is not God.”[6]

Marc Roby: That’s a very strong statement. But I see the logic. I think it could be rephrased by saying that in order to be just, God must punish sin, which means he must have wrath in the sense that Boice noted, namely that of being the “necessary and proper stance of the holy God to all that opposes him.”

Dr. Spencer: I think that’s a fair restatement. And it agrees with what God tells us in his word. In Romans 3:25-27 we read in part that “God presented him [meaning Christ] as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, … so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.” In other words, sin, which is opposition to God, must be punished for God to be just. Jesus Christ died on the cross as a substitute for his chosen people, which is called substitutionary atonement. He took the punishment that they deserved, which satisfies God’s wrath and allows God to declare those who are united to Christ by faith just, meaning that the penalty due them for their sin has been paid.

Marc Roby: I remember we mentioned these verses in Session 73 as a great example of God’s justice, love and wisdom all working together.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, we did mention them then. And we could have mentioned God’s wrath as well, because his wrath is not only an aspect of his holiness, but it is also obviously intimately linked with his justice. Sin must be punished by a holy and just God because it is opposition to him and he is the sovereign Lord.

Marc Roby: You mentioned before that Jesus is Lord whether people acknowledge that fact or not.

Dr. Spencer: And the lordship of God is a fundamental aspect of who God is, although that statement doesn’t do his lordship justice, it is far more than just an aspect of who God is. As the Creator and Judge of the universe he has created, he can’t be anything other than the Lord of his creation. The theologian John Frame writes that “God’s lordship is grounded in his eternal nature, and therefore in his attributes.”[7]

Frame has an interesting discussion about God’s attributes in The Doctrine of God. He writes that “We should think about God’s attributes as servants, within the covenant relationship.”[8] I don’t want to go too far off track here, but his point is that as creatures we think about God in language and concepts that we can understand, but at the same time these are based on God’s revelation to us, so they tell us things about God that are true.

Marc Roby: And, to stay on track with our current discussion, God certainly does reveal himself as holy, in fact thrice holy as we have seen in Isaiah 6:3.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that’s right. And although God’s lordship can be related to a number of God’s essential attributes, I think it is natural for us to talk about it in the context of his holiness because God’s holiness speaks about his being completely set apart from his creation, and by definition lordship also speaks about being completely set apart, to be more specific, to be above, to be in control.

Marc Roby: It sounds as though we are getting ready to switch topics. Talking about God’s holiness in terms of his being separate from his creation has led us to the concept of his lordship.

Dr. Spencer: We are about ready to switch, but we’ll have just a bit more to say about holiness next time first.

Marc Roby: Alright, I look forward to that, but we’re out of time for today.

[1] All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® (1984 version). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™.

[2] James Boice, Foundations of the Christian Faith, Revised in One Volume, InterVarsity Press, 1986, pg. 125

[3] Ibid, pg. 126

[4] Ibid, pg. 128

[5] Ibid

[6]R.C. Sproul, Truths We Confess: A Layman’s Guide to the Westminster Confession of Faith, P&R Publishing Co., 2006, Vol. 2, pg. 283

[7]John M. Frame, The Doctrine of God, P&R Publishing Company, 2002, pg. 388

[8] Ibid, pg. 390

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today with a special Christmas message based on God’s communicable attribute of love, which we saw last time can be considered an aspect of his goodness.

But before we begin I want to let our listeners know that we also have a Christmas present to offer to you. If you go to our website, whatdoesthewordsay.org, you can request a free copy of the book Rediscovering the True Meaning of Christmas, by Rev. P.G. Mathew. It is filled with great encouragement and hope for the people of God. This book will be available for free from now until the end of the month.

Dr. Spencer, we ended last time by introducing the context for what may be the most famous verse in the Bible, John 3:16, which says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” [1]

Dr. Spencer: Yes, we did start looking at that, and I pointed out that the first word in that verse is often ignored. That first word “for” tells us that this verse is providing some explanation for the verses that preceded it. In this case, Christ had been telling Nicodemus that a person has to be born again to enter the kingdom of heaven and concluded, in Verses 14 and 15, by saying, “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.” So, John 3:16 is explaining these verses.

In his commentary on John’s gospel, Mark Johnston writes this about John 3:16, “Why did the sinless Son of God have to suffer in such a way? John supplies the answer, and his answer is more staggering even than the brutalities of the cross. In what must be the best known words of Scripture, John says, ‘For God so loved the world…’”.[2]

Marc Roby: That statement is, as he put it, staggering. But Verse 14 mentions Moses lifting up the snake in the desert, and I suspect many of our listeners may not know that bit of history.

Dr. Spencer: You’re probably right. Jesus was speaking to Nicodemus, who was a religious leader in Jerusalem, so he knew that Nicodemus would be familiar with the history, but we should give the background for those of our listeners who don’t remember.

Marc Roby: Alright, well let me begin. Jesus’ mention of the snake in the desert refers back to events that took place during the 40 years the Israelites wandered in the desert after God had miraculously delivered them from slavery in Egypt. We read in Numbers 21:4-6 that “They traveled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea, to go around Edom. But the people grew impatient on the way; they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, ‘Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the desert? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!’ Then the LORD sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died.”

Dr. Spencer: And we see, as always, that sin brings trouble. And their sin was great. God had delivered them from slavery, was providing food daily in the desert and had previously provided water miraculously, so they had no good reason to doubt that he could do so again. Nevertheless, they weren’t satisfied with God’s provisions and grumbled against God and his representative, Moses.

Marc Roby: I fear that we too often think we somehow deserve more and fail to appreciate God’s blessings as well.

Dr. Spencer: I’m sure you’re right about that. But the people got one very important thing right; they properly understood that these snakes were sent by God as judgment against them for their sin. So, in Verse 7 we read, “The people came to Moses and said, ‘We sinned when we spoke against the LORD and against you. Pray that the LORD will take the snakes away from us.’ So Moses prayed for the people.”

And God was very gracious to them, although he didn’t simply take the snakes away. It is often the case that God does not take our troubles away, but he gives us grace to bear up under them and uses them to discipline, purify and strengthen us.

Marc Roby: The Bible often uses the metaphor of gold being refined by fire.

Dr. Spencer: And no one likes the fire of troubles, but even the secular world has an expression that admits the truth, there is no gain without pain.

Marc Roby: An unpopular truth.

Dr. Spencer: So it is. Numbers 21 goes on to tell us, in Verses 8-9 “The LORD said to Moses, ‘Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.’ So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, he lived.”

Marc Roby: That is a great display of God’s mercy to his people.

Dr. Spencer: It most definitely is. But we must recognize that there certainly wasn’t any magical power attached to the bronze snake itself, this was just God’s way of making the people realize that they had sinned and pointing them to the fact that they needed to look to him for forgiveness and healing.

Marc Roby: And yet, even though there wasn’t any power in the bronze snake itself, it is interesting to note that it later became a snare to the Israelites. Sometime in the late eighth century before Christ, during the reign of the godly King Hezekiah, we read in 2 Kings 18:4 that Hezekiah “removed the high places, smashed the sacred stones and cut down the Asherah poles. He broke into pieces the bronze snake Moses had made, for up to that time the Israelites had been burning incense to it. (It was called Nehushtan.)”

Dr. Spencer: It is a manifestation of man’s sinful nature that he seems to constantly be looking for a God that can be manipulated. We want some simple ceremony, or something we can do that is supposed to obligate God to bless us with a particular response. In other words, we want a vending machine god; you put in your 1-minute prayer, or you perform a particular religious ceremony and he is obligated to bless you in some way. But God will not be manipulated by us. He does offer unimaginable mercy and blessings, but we must be conscious of the Creator/creature distinction. God makes the rules, not us.

The original purpose of the bronze snake was to cause the people to see their sin and their need for God. The snake itself was only a symbol. And God was gracious in not simply removing the snakes from the people. Had he done that, it would have been much easier for the people to forget that God delivered them from this pain.

Marc Roby: We are all too quick to forget God’s mercies. It is also important to note that the snake was a type of Christ, meaning that it was a symbol that pointed to Christ in some way. We talked about typology like this in Session 44.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, we did. And this is one of the clearest examples of typology in the Bible. Jesus himself tells us that this event in the desert pointed to his sacrifice on the cross in the verses we’ve been examining. Remember that John 3:14-15 say, “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life”. And then, immediately after those verses, we read John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

Marc Roby: And we now have the necessary background to understand that verse correctly.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, we do. This is the gospel message, the good news. This is the real reason for celebrating Christmas. The birth of Jesus Christ is an amazing event, but the reason God sent his eternal Son into the world to be born of a poor virgin in the backwater town of Bethlehem was so that he could live a sinless life and then willingly go to the cross, bearing the wrath of God and dying to pay for the sins of everyone who will believe in him. As Jesus himself said in contemplating his crucifixion, in John 12:27, “Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour.”

Marc Roby: That is incredible. Christ’s willingness to die, and to endure the wrath of God in our stead, that’s something I will never understand, but for which I am eternally grateful.

Dr. Spencer: Christ’s love is impossible to fathom. And John 3:16 gives us the reason that God gave his one and only Son, it was because he, meaning the Father, “so loved the world”. It was the love of the Father that necessitated Jesus humbling himself and becoming incarnate, and then giving his life as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.

Marc Roby: Modern people don’t like this idea of God requiring a sacrifice.

Dr. Spencer: No, they don’t. But God is just and holy and cannot simply forgive sin by winking at it. His eternally perfect justice requires that sin be paid for, and that requires a sacrifice. There is an important word in John 3:14 that it is easy to overlook. The verse says that “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up”. That word must is critically important. It is the Greek word δεῖ (dei), and it means that it was necessary for this to be done. There was no other option. It was a divine necessity to satisfy God’s justice.

Marc Roby: Yes, Paul tells us about this divine necessity in Romans 3:25 and 26. He wrote that “God presented him [speaking of Christ,] as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished—he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.”

Dr. Spencer: That is the best verse to demonstrate this necessity. In order to be just, in other words to fill the demands of his own eternally perfect justice, and yet to justify those who have faith in Jesus, which here refers to a legal judgment that they are ‘not guilty’, it was necessary that Jesus Christ be presented as a sacrifice of atonement. The Greek word translated here as “sacrifice of atonement” is ἱλαστήριον (hilastērion), which means propitiation. As John Murray explains, “Propitiation presupposes the wrath and displeasure of God, and the purpose of propitiation is the removal of this displeasure.”[3]

Marc Roby: People also don’t like the idea that God is justifiably displeased with us and wrathful toward us.

Dr. Spencer: No, they don’t. This is the bad news that we must acknowledge before we can receive the good news of the gospel. We are sinners and cannot save ourselves. God is justifiably angry with us and we are, therefore, subject to his wrath. When people reject this bad news, they unwittingly reject the good news of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ along with it.

Marc Roby: Most people seem to think that God should simply forgive our sins without anyone being punished.

Dr. Spencer: That does seem to be the case. But P.G. Mathew explained the biblical idea of justification as presented in Romans 3, he wrote, “Justification is not amnesty, which is pardon without principle. It is not seeing bad people as good people. Justification is based on God’s justice demonstrated in the life and death of Christ. The wrath of God against elect sinners was poured out on God’s innocent Son, the spotless Lamb of God. Without the cross, the justification of the unjust would be unjustified, immoral, and impossible.”[4]

Marc Roby: Of course, we don’t like to admit that we are wretched sinners.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that is a serious problem. Our society tells us from the cradle on up that people are all basically good at heart. But that is a lie, which even a quick glance at the morning newspaper will confirm. That lie leads to people thinking of Jesus as just a good moral teacher. Christmas then becomes a time to celebrate the birth of this good moral teacher who gave us an example of a humble life. But that is not what the Bible tells us. It is not the truth. The truth is, as Paul wrote in Romans 3:23, that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” and as he wrote in Romans 1:18, “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men”. And because of these facts, we need a sacrifice of atonement.

Marc Roby: And Jesus Christ is that sacrifice of atonement.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, he is. But I think people sometimes view God the Father as this mean and angry God of wrath and then they picture Jesus as kind and gentle person and think that he comes along and cajoles the Father, perhaps even somewhat against the Father’s will, to not destroy his people. But that picture is completely and totally unbiblical. The Bible makes it clear that it is the love of the Father that is the ultimate cause of our salvation. It is the Father who gives his Son, so it is the Father that is referred to when John 3:16 says that “God so loved the world”.

Marc Roby: Now that is an amazing fact. That God would love rebellious sinners. And, of course, it is not just the Father, Jesus also loves us. In fact, he told us in John 15:13 that “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.”

Dr. Spencer: You’re right. And Romans 5:5 tells us that “God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.” So we conclude from this verse and the unity of the godhead that the Holy Spirit also loves us. We also know that it is the particular work of the Holy Spirit to apply to us the redemption which God the Father planned and God the Son accomplished on the cross. All three persons of the godhead are involved in our salvation.

Marc Roby: Now, when we celebrate Christmas we properly focus on Jesus Christ as our Redeemer, but we also need to remember the triune nature of God.

Dr. Spencer: That’s true. But let me go back to the verse you read from John 15 and put it in context. In Verses 12 through 14 Jesus tells us, “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command.”

I want us to note that we can’t think of Jesus Christ as a helpless baby in a manger, or just as a dying Savior on the cross. We need to remember that Jesus Christ is the Lord of the universe and he commands us to love each other as he has loved us.

Marc Roby: That’s an impossibly tall order.

Dr. Spencer: It is impossible for us in this life because we still have the vestiges of our sinful nature with us. But that is the standard to which we are to aspire. And notice that Christ said we are his friends if we do what he commands. Obedience is not optional. Our obedience does not earn our salvation in any way, but it is necessary to prove that we do, in fact, belong to Jesus.

Marc Roby: It’s a good thing that our obedience doesn’t earn our salvation, because our obedience is never perfect in this life.

Dr. Spencer: Which is why the great theologian Charles Hodge wrote that “As portrayed in Scripture, the inward life of the people of God to the end of their course in this world, is a repetition of conversion. It is a continued turning unto God; a constant renewal of confession, repentance, and faith; a dying unto sin, and living unto righteousness.”[5]

In other words, we don’t just confess and repent once, professing faith in Christ and then go on living the same old way. If we have been born again, we see our sin more and more clearly as time goes on and we see even more than before those things we need to repent of, and our need for faith, and we strive to put our sin to death and live righteous lives that please God.

Marc Roby: Just like the Israelites in the desert would see their need for God when they were bitten by a snake, and then they would then acknowledge that need by looking to the bronze snake on the pole.

Dr. Spencer: Exactly. That look demonstrated their confession, repentance and faith in God to heal them. And notice that when God brings trouble into our lives it is a great mercy if it causes us to see our need for God more clearly.

Marc Roby: And then, if we turn to him in repentance and faith, he shows us even greater mercy by forgiving our sin.

Dr. Spencer: And he does all of that on the basis of Christ’s atoning sacrifice on the cross. God is loving and merciful, but he is also just and holy. Our sins must be paid for; either by us, or by Christ. Most people focus on giving and receiving gifts at Christmas, but the real meaning is that God has offered to us the greatest gift that can ever be given to anyone, the gift of salvation. But we must see our need for it. If we think that our good works, or even our faith, will save us, we are as lost as Nicodemus was before Christ explained to him that he, and we, must be born again.

We need to receive the bad news that our hearts are “deceitful above all things and beyond cure” as the prophet Jeremiah wrote in Jeremiah 17:9. If we acknowledge that fact, repent and turn to Jesus Christ, trust in him alone as our Savior and obey him as our Lord, then God, in his rich mercy, will adopt us as his sons and daughters and bring us into his glorious presence for all eternity. That is the Christmas gift that God offers to us. And it’s my prayer that God will grant that gift to everyone who listens to this message.

Marc Roby: I join with you in that prayer. And that concludes this week’s podcast. As always, we encourage our listeners to email their questions or comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org. We’d love to hear from you.

 

[1] All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® (1984 version). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™.

[2] Mark Johnston, Let’s Study John, The Banner of Truth Trust, 2003, pg. 50

[3] John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1955, pg. 30

[4] P.G. Mathew, Romans: The Gospel Freedom (Volume 1), Grace and Glory Ministries, pg. 130

[5] Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, Vol. III, Eerdmans, 1997, pg. 247

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine God’s communicable attribute of goodness.

Dr. Spencer, we saw the goodness of God in providing us with Jesus Christ as our Redeemer in our previous session. What more do you want to say about God’s goodness?

Dr. Spencer: I want to look at God’s mercy, grace and patience. These three things are sometimes presented as separate attributes and sometimes as aspects of God’s goodness, which is how Wayne Grudem does it in his Systematic Theology, and I want to follow that plan as well.

Marc Roby: God’s mercy, grace and patience are a wonderful topic. And it makes me think of God’s response when Moses asked to see his glory. In Exodus 33:19 God said, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the LORD, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.” [1]

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that is a great passage. And the fact that God will have mercy on whom he chooses, which certainly implies that he doesn’t show mercy to everyone, clues us in to the important fact that mercy, grace and patience are not something we, as God’s creatures, deserve. They are all examples of God treating us in a way that we don’t deserve. They are closely related aspects of God’s goodness, and notice that God first said, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you”.

Marc Roby: How does Grudem define these terms?

Dr. Spencer: Grudem says that “God’s mercy means God’s goodness toward those in misery and distress. God’s grace means God’s goodness toward those who deserve only punishment. [and] God’s patience means God’s goodness in withholding of punishment toward those who sin over a period of time.” [2]

If we look at the definition he gives for God’s grace, that it is “God’s goodness toward those who deserve only punishment”, we see that God’s mercy and patience are both gracious acts of God as well. After all, if God’s mercy is his goodness shown to those in misery and distress, we have to ask, “Why are they in misery and distress?”

Marc Roby: And the answer is that they are in misery and distress because of sin. Sin is the cause of all misery and distress in this life.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. And then we must ask, “Whose fault is it that men sin, is that God’s fault or man’s fault?”

Marc Roby: And the answer to that would be that it is man’s fault. It certainly isn’t God’s fault.

Dr. Spencer: You’re right again. So, if misery is our fault, and God’s mercy is his showing goodness to us in our misery, it is certainly a gracious act. We deserve punishment for our sin, but God helps us in our resulting misery instead.

Marc Roby: I see your point. God’s mercy is certainly gracious.

Dr. Spencer: And so is his patience. Using Grudem’s definition, God’s patience is his “goodness in withholding of punishment toward those who sin over a period of time.” But clearly, sinning deserves punishment and so it is gracious of God to be patient. God himself emphasized his gracious nature in his self-disclosure to Moses. In the verse from Exodus 33 that you read a couple of minutes ago God emphasized his gracious nature and he went on to do so even more. He told Moses to chisel out a couple of stone tablets and come up on Mt. Sinai to meet with him.

Marc Roby: We should point out for those who don’t remember the history that these stone tablets were the ones on which God wrote the Ten Commandments. They were needed to replace the original ones that had been given to Moses, which he had thrown down and smashed in anger at the sin of the people, who were worshipping a golden calf.

Dr. Spencer: And the fact that God was willing to give the law again, after the terrible sins of his people, is a great demonstration of his mercy and grace. A.W. Pink took note of this fact and wrote that “The particular character in which Jehovah was about to reveal Himself to Moses is best perceived by noting the place and circumstances of this gracious manifestation of Himself. It was upon Sinai, in connection with the giving of the Law.”[3] God’s law is a revelation of God’s character and a guide for his people. The fact that he would do this after their horrible apostasy is an amazing demonstration of his mercy, grace and patience.

Marc Roby: He would certainly have been justified in simply destroying them all.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, he would have been fully justified. But let’s move on with what happened. Moses chiseled out the tablets and went up on Mt. Sinai to meet with God. And in the next Chapter, Exodus 34, we read of God’s fulfilling his promise to show Moses his goodness. In Verses 5 and 6 we read, “Then the LORD came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed his name, the LORD. And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, ‘The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness”. Now we’ll get to the rest of what God said in a moment, but for now let’s take a look at this opening statement. It begins with God saying “The LORD, the LORD”. And the word LORD there is in all capital letters in our English Bibles.

Marc Roby: Which means that the Hebrew word is the tetragrammaton, the holy covenant name of God. Usually represented in English as Jehovah, or Yahweh.

Dr. Spencer: Exactly. We discussed this name in Session 6. It comes from the Hebrew word that means “to be” and if spoken by God could be translated as “I Am”. This name emphasizes God’s self-existence – he is the only one who can say “I Am”. All other beings are dependent on him. But it is also the covenant name by which God revealed himself to Moses, so it speaks of his being the covenant Lord of his people. In any event, after repeating this covenant name twice for emphasis, the first thing God says about himself is that he is “the compassionate and gracious God”, or at least that is how our NIV renders it.  Other translations use the word mercy instead of compassion. For example, the ESV says “a God merciful and gracious”. According to Vine’s expository dictionary, the root Hebrew verb means “to have compassion, be merciful, [or] pity.”[4]

Marc Roby: That’s very interesting. When Moses asked to see God’s glory, the response he got, as we saw earlier, was this, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you” (Ex 33:19), and then in that revelation God says that he is merciful and gracious. It certainly looks as though the Bible would agree that mercy and grace are aspects of God’s goodness.

Dr. Spencer: I think it would. And the very next thing God said was that he is “slow to anger”, which is another way of saying patient. So it would be reasonable to conclude that the biblical teaching is that mercy, grace and patience are aspects of God’s goodness. Then Verse 6 ends by saying that God is “abounding in love and faithfulness”. The Hebrew word translated as love here is hesed, which is a very important word in the Old Testament. It refers primarily to God’s covenant love for his people. According to Vine’s it can be translated at various times as “loving-kindness; steadfast love; grace; mercy; faithfulness; goodness; [and] devotion”.[5]

The overall message is quite clear. When God showed his goodness to Moses, he showed him his gracious, merciful, patient, faithful and devoted love. God then finishes the sentence by saying “maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.” And the “thousands” here is probably thousands of generations, as in Exodus 20:6. The emphasis is again on God’s faithfulness. And then the sentence ends by mentioning the extremely important fact that God is forgiving.

Marc Roby: What a wonderful self-revelation by God.

Dr. Spencer: It is very wonderful. But I would be remiss if I didn’t also read the rest of the verse. Verse 7 goes on with another sentence. God says about himself, “Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.”

Marc Roby: I’m afraid that most people would not consider that good.

Dr. Spencer: I’m pretty sure that you’re right about that. But we have to remember that God defines what is good, not us. And we also need to be careful to understand what is meant by God punishing. It could be that the punishing here primarily refers to God’s punishment of unrepentant sinners, which is what John Calvin thought.[6] That would certainly be good because it would comport with God’s justice. Or, it could be that this includes God’s punishing his people, in which case it is referring to his disciplining us in love, for our good, as a father disciplines his children, as we read in Hebrews 12:10, which says, “Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness.”

Marc Roby: You also mentioned that in Session 75, that suffering can produce good fruit in this life.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, it can. It keeps us humble, it causes us to look to God and pray, it makes us more capable of comforting others, it drives out sin, it helps us to fix our eyes on Jesus and our heavenly home, and that is just a partial list of its benefits. A life of uninterrupted pleasure is not the best life. God loves us too much, and is too good, to allow that for his children.

Marc Roby: It’s interesting to note that these verses from Exodus 34 are quoted in part at least seven times in the Old Testament.[7] For example, in Psalm 103:8 it says, “The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love.” And, in Joel 2:13, the prophet says, “Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity.”

Dr. Spencer: Yes, these verses are quoted that many times because God’s goodness is so important. But we must also remember the warning that “he does not leave the guilty unpunished”. I think the primary reason that is mentioned here, including the fact that our children and grandchildren will reap the bitter fruit of our sins, is to prevent us from presuming upon God’s love. Far too many professing Christians today seem to think that personal holiness is an old-fashioned Puritan idea and is not important at all. But the Bible is very clear, as we are told in Hebrews 12:14, that “without holiness no one will see the Lord.” And it is absolutely impossible, given all that the Bible teaches on this subject, to interpret that as referring solely to the imputed righteousness of Christ.

Marc Roby: We must remember the simplicity of God again. We can’t think of any of his attributes in isolation. Therefore, his goodness to us, in terms of his mercy, grace, patience and forgiveness, must be considered in the light of his holiness and justice.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, they absolutely must be. The great Puritan John Owen wrote that “There is no imagination wherewith man is besotted more foolish, none so pernicious, as this, that persons not purified, not sanctified, not made holy, in this life, should afterwards be taken into that state of blessedness which consists in the enjoyment of God.”[8] And Joel Beeke and Mark Jones wrote that “If God is so concerned about holiness, and we have such need of it, then, dear friends, you will not feel at home in a holy heaven if you did not strive for holiness on earth.”[9]

Marc Roby: Those are serious warnings.

Dr. Spencer: They are very serious, but they are also necessary. Many modern Christians seem to think that they can be totally absorbed with this world, completely in love with its pleasures, and completely indifferent to the promises and demands of the Bible, and yet be saved. But the apostle John tells us, in 1 John 2:15, “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” Now John is not telling us that we are not allowed to enjoy the legitimate pleasures that God gives us in this life, that is not at all his point. But if earthly pleasure is what you treasure most, if there is no desire in your heart to be free from sin, to please God in this life and to see God face to face, you are not born again.

Marc Roby: That is, again, a very serious warning.

Dr. Spencer: And I think the seriousness of our sin problem is part of why we are told in Exodus 34:7 that God “punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.” However you interpret that verse, it is certainly a fact that my sin affects my children, grandchildren and so on.

If a man is a drunk, that definitely affects his family. If a man commits a crime and goes to jail, that definitely affects his family. And even if you take something much less drastic and look at a man who is lazy and uninvolved in raising his children and managing his home, that affects his family. This is an indisputable fact. And it should cause us all to be far more careful with how live our lives. Our sin affects those we love.

Marc Roby: And we should appreciate God’s goodness. His calling us up to holy living is really nothing more than calling us up to do what is best for ourselves and those whom we love.

Dr. Spencer: Exactly. And when we fail, and we all do in many ways, we can come to God in repentance and faith, and he is merciful, gracious and patient in his dealing with us. We must not presume upon his mercy, but it is still a great comfort. Our God is good.

Marc Roby: Are we done now with God’s goodness?

Dr. Spencer: Well, there is one more aspect of God’s goodness that we have yet to look at, and that is God’s love. This is also sometimes treated as a separate attribute, as Grudem does, but it doesn’t really matter whether we consider it as a separate attribute or not, in either case we need to spend some time looking at it.

It is interesting to notice that the Westminster Shorter Catechism mentions God’s goodness, but not his love, in its definition of God. Question 4 asks, “What is God?” And the answer is, “God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.” I haven’t looked into this, but I assume that the Westminster divines were including love under the rubric of God’s goodness.

Marc Roby: Alright, how do you want to proceed with examining God’s love?

Dr. Spencer: Well, first of all, I need to say that I can’t imaging a more appropriate topic for this time of year. The greatest expression of God’s love by far is his sending his own eternal Son to become incarnate and to be an atoning sacrifice to redeem his chosen people. Grudem defines God’s attribute of love this way; “God’s love means that God eternally gives of himself to others.”

Marc Roby: And God has given more than we can imagine. One of the most famous verses in the Bible of course is John 3:16, where we read, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

Dr. Spencer: That is an amazing statement. And people often forget that it begins with the word “for”, which implies it has something to do with explaining the verses that comes before it. In this case, Christ had been telling Nicodemus that a person has to be born again to enter the kingdom of heaven. He concluded, in Verses 14 and 15, by saying, “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.” So, John 3:16 is explaining why everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.

Marc Roby: And that is a wonderful message for Christmas, which is good, because we are out of time for today and we can look at that next time, which is our last session before Christmas. Let me remind our listeners that they can send their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org, and we will do our best to respond.

[1] All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® (1984 version). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™.

[2] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, Inter-Varsity Press, 1994, pp 200-201

[3] A.W. Pink, Gleanings in Exodus, Moody Press, 1981, pg. 350

[4] Vine, W.E., Merrill F. Unger, William White, Jr., Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, Thomas Nelson, 1996, pg. 43

[5] Ibid, pg. 142

[6] Calvin, John, The Four Last Books of Moses, In the Form of a Harmony, in Calvin’s Commentaries, Vol. III, Baker Books, 2009, pg. 387

[7] See also Nu 14:18, Ne 9:17, Ps 86:15, 145:8 and Jonah 4:2

[8] quoted in Joel R. Beeke & Mark Jones, A Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life, Reformation Heritage Books, 2012, pg. 528

[9] Ibid, pg. 535

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine God’s communicable attribute of goodness.

Dr. Spencer, at the end of our last session, you said that we need a proper biblical perspective to understand how a completely good and omnipotent God can allow evil into his creation. How would you like to proceed today?

Dr. Spencer: I want to spend more time on the topic of evil and its relation to the goodness of God because it is an extremely important and difficult topic.

I noted last time that many people in history have argued that the existence of sin and suffering prove that God must either not be good, or not able to prevent evil, in other words, not be omnipotent. I also pointed out that that argument is wrong because it assumes the unbiblical, that is to say, incorrect, idea that the purpose of creation is, or should be, to maximize our pleasure in this life.

Marc Roby: Perhaps we should mention that a defense of God’s goodness and omnipotence given the fact that evil exists, that’s called a theodicy.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, I think it’s good for people to know that term. And that is exactly what I want to do today. I want to explain, or justify, how it is possible for evil to exist in a universe ruled by an all-powerful, or omnipotent, and all-good, or omnibenevolent, God.

Marc Roby: You noted last time that a proper biblical perspective requires us to recognize that God’s purpose in creation is the manifestation of his own glory and that we also need to recognize that there is an eternal destiny for human beings. In other words, this life is not all there is.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that’s right, this life is definitely not all there is and we’ll deal with that more in a minute. But first, let me say a little more about the first of those two points, God’s purpose.

Marc Roby: Please do.

Dr. Spencer: We spoke in both Sessions 2 and 67 about God’s purpose in creation, but it would be good to give just a couple of Scriptures at this time to support the claim that his purpose is the manifestation of his own glory.

Marc Roby: I agree, what Scriptures would you like to cite?

Dr. Spencer: Let’s begin with the prophet Isaiah. God spoke through the prophet about his redeemed people, meaning the church, and in Isaiah 43:6-7 we read that God said, “I will say to the north, ‘Give them up!’ and to the south, ‘Do not hold them back.’ Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth—everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.” [1] There are many other verses as well that tell us God’s purpose in creation and redemption is the manifestation of his glory. But to give just one more example, Psalm 19 famously begins, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.” (Psalm 19:1)

Marc Roby: I think it is also helpful to remember one other thing you said before, that there is no better purpose for creation than the manifestation of the glory of God. He chose the best possible purpose.

Now, returning to the second point, that this life is not all there is, it’s also pretty easy to come up with Scriptures that support the idea that human beings have an eternal destiny.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, the first one that pops into my mind is the 25th chapter of Matthew.

Marc Roby: Where Christ describes the final judgment.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. And after separating the sheep from the goats and telling the goats that they must depart from him, he ends, in Verse 46, by saying, “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” And the same exact Greek word for eternal is used in both places in that verse, which makes it clear that it is exegetically impossible to believe in eternal heaven and deny the existence of eternal hell.

So, getting back to your statement that this life is not all there is, we can go further and say that that is, in fact, a gross understatement. When compared with eternity, this life is, quite literally, nothing. There really is only one important question to answer in life, and that is, “Where am I going when I die?” The Bible tells us that there are only two possible places. I will either go to eternal hell and suffer for my sins, or eternal heaven and live in bliss forever in the presence of the perfect God.

Marc Roby: Of course, not everyone is going to agree that those are the only two destinies.

Dr. Spencer: I’m well aware of that, but those are the only two destinies described in the Bible, which is the infallible Word of God, so I’m confident that that is the truth. And I would point out that even people who say they believe that we simply cease to exist when we die frequently speak and act in ways that make it clear they know it isn’t true.

Marc Roby: Yes, especially when someone close to them dies.

Dr. Spencer: Absolutely, that is the most common time. You will often hear them say something like, “Aunt Mary will be very pleased to see you graduate” or whatever. But, of course, if Aunt Mary is dead, and if people simply cease to exist, then Aunt Mary can’t possibly know that someone is graduating, let alone be pleased by it.

Marc Roby: I’ve certainly heard people say many things that would indicate they know there is some mode of existence beyond the grave.

Dr. Spencer: And not only do they know that, but they also know there will be a judgment. That is one of the major reasons people fear death. They know they will be judged, and they aren’t confident it will go well for them in that judgment.

Marc Roby: Although most people flatter themselves and think they aren’t really all that bad. They might admit that they deserve a mild rebuke for some things they have said or done, but they don’t believe they have done anything deserving of real wrath.

Dr. Spencer: I agree. And there are two reasons most people think they will get a passing grade. First, they grade themselves on a curve, in other words, they compare themselves to other people. But God doesn’t grade on a curve. Jesus commands us in Matthew 5:48, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Marc Roby: That is definitely not grading on a curve. What is the second reason people think they will get a passing grade?

Dr. Spencer: It’s because they only consider external sins, not sins of the heart. So, since most people have never murdered, or raped or committed grand theft or anything like that, they assume that they are relatively good. And, of course, they may actually be good in a relative sense. But there are two problems with that view.

Marc Roby: What problems are those?

Dr. Spencer: First, as I mentioned, they are ignoring the heart. We are told in 1 Samuel 16:7 that “Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” And in Hebrews 4:12 we read that “the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”

Marc Roby: That’s a problem for us.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, it is a serious problem. And Jesus illustrated just how serious that problem is when he told the people in Matthew 5:27-28, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Now many men can truthfully say that they have never committed the physical act of adultery, but how many can say that they have never once looked at a woman lustfully?

Marc Roby: I’d rather not answer that question.

Dr. Spencer: I think you just did. And, of course, adultery isn’t the only sin for which this applies. We are also told that unholy anger is committing murder in the heart and so on. When you apply the true standard, even most law-abiding people do not do very well.

Marc Roby: Alright. You said that there are two problems with the view that we really aren’t all that bad; what is the second one?

Dr. Spencer: The second problem is even more serious. It is that we misjudge sin itself. The worst sin of all isn’t something I do to other people, it is my attitude toward God. If I don’t consciously give him thanks for life and material blessings, and if I don’t live to please him, I am insulting the living God, my Creator. Even if I murder someone, the worst sin involved is not what I did to that person. The worst sin involved is that in murdering the person I rejected God’s law and his authority to command me to not murder. And, even worse, if I live as though I am independent and he doesn’t exist, that is a huge insult to God. Rejecting the sovereign Creator and Lord of all is a very serious offense, it is an offence that deserves God’s wrath.

Marc Roby: That makes perfectly good sense. In fact, the Bible tells us that anything not done in obedience to God and for his glory is sin.

Dr. Spencer: That’s true. In 1 Corinthians 10:31 we are famously told, “whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” And the Greek verb in that sentence is in the imperative mood, so it is a command. And in John 14:15 Jesus told us that “If you love me, you will obey what I command.” We can conclude therefore, that any disobedience is a lack of love for God, which is most certainly a sin because Jesus told us in Matthew 22:37-38 that the greatest commandment is to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” Therefore, anything that is not done in conscious obedience to God and for his glory, is sin.

Marc Roby: That is a very convicting, but true, statement. But we were justifying God’s goodness given the presence of evil. How does this all tie back into that topic?

Dr. Spencer: It ties back in in at least two ways. First, because there is an eternal destiny awaiting every human being, we can’t judge what is good in any meaningful ultimate sense by looking at what happens just in this short life. And secondly, if we recognize that the worst sin is not murder, or any thing like that, but rather is rejecting the sovereign God who made us, then we will understand that we all deserve punishment. And if we then receive what we deserve, that is certainly just and we must agree that is good. And when we consider those to whom God has granted repentance and saving faith, we see that they receive mercy, rather than justice, and spend eternity in heaven. And certainly we must agree that is also good.

Marc Roby: I think everyone would agree that bringing people to heaven is good. I’m not sure many people are willing to accept that hell is good, although the fact that guilty sinners deserve God’s wrath certainly argues that it is. But I suspect that many people would ask why God can’t simply show mercy and forgive. After all, God commands us to be merciful and to forgive others.

Dr. Spencer: That’s a great question, and we dealt with it in Session 24. I pointed out then that God cannot forgive sin without the penalty being paid because he is the judge of the universe. If I steal from someone who happens to be a judge, he can forgive me on a personal level. But, if the case comes before his court and I am found guilty of the crime, as judge he cannot simply say that he forgives me. Justice demands that I be punished and he must abide by the laws of the state and sentence me appropriately. As Judge of the universe, God must do what is just and right, and the just and right penalty for sinning against God is death—eternal death.

Marc Roby: That helps. And it is also important to remember the fact you pointed out in Session 72, that people in hell do not repent and seek God’s forgiveness, but continue to hate him and rail against him in their hearts, which actually increases their guilt every day.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. When you put all of this together, you realize that hell is good. It is not pleasant, but it is just and fair and right. And so, in a deep sense of the term, it is good.

Marc Roby: But, at the same time, God does show mercy to some and save them. And that brings up another problem for many people. It seems unfair for God to choose some people to be saved while leaving others to suffer for their sins.

Dr. Spencer: That is a very common complaint. You’re speaking about the doctrine of divine election, and we dealt with that doctrine back in Session 15, but we must say a few words again here. The basic problem is that we think we want to be judged based on our own effort. That somehow sounds fair to us because in terms of dealings with other human beings that is, in general, fair. But, as I noted a minute ago, when we consider the true nature of sin, and we judge the heart and not just the external actions, we find that we all have a serious problem. We are all sinners in need of a Savior. As Paul wrote in Romans 3:23, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”. So, if we think more carefully, we will recognize that we don’t really want to be judged fairly, or justly, we want mercy.

Marc Roby: And, of course, by definition mercy is not something we deserve, so God is not under obligation to show mercy to anyone.

Dr. Spencer: No, he isn’t. It would be completely just and fair for God to send all of us to hell. The huge surprise, the great mystery and amazing demonstration of God’s love and mercy is that he chose to save anyone at all. Especially when you consider the cost.

Marc Roby: Which was the sacrifice of Jesus Christ himself.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. And we find ourselves right back at John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” And this is good in the most profound possible sense of the word, even though perishing in this verse refers to eternal hell. And notice that it is only those who believe who will not perish. In fact, just two verses later, in John 3:18, we read that “whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.”

Refusing to believe in Jesus Christ is the most serious sin a person can commit it is, ultimately, the sin that sends you to hell. In 1 John 5 the apostle tells us about God’s testimony about Christ and he says in Verse10 that “Anyone who believes in the Son of God has this testimony in his heart. Anyone who does not believe God has made him out to be a liar, because he has not believed the testimony God has given about his Son.

Marc Roby: Calling the perfectly holy and just Creator a liar is a terrible thing. And I think we have made a good case for the fact that the existence of hell is actually good, given the fact that evil does exist.

We got onto this topic because of the importance of having an eternal perspective in understanding the presence of evil. Can we go back now and tie it all together somehow? Why is it good that God allowed evil to enter his creation?

Dr. Spencer: Because it allowed a more complete manifestation of God’s multifaceted glory. Without allowing evil to enter creation God would not have been able to demonstrate his just wrath against evil, nor would he have been able to demonstrate his astounding merciful love in redeeming some people. I don’t think we can understand it fully, but you have to consider the finished product so to speak. Years ago I read something very profound that is relevant to this topic in, of all places, a devotional my wife and I were reading with our children when they were young.

Marc Roby: What was that?

Dr. Spencer: The author used the analogy of a cake to illustrate Romans 8:28, which says, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

Now I don’t remember the story in detail, but it went something like this; a child had asked the mother about something that wasn’t good, and questioned whether God was good for allowing such a thing. The mother’s response in the story was great. She asked the child, “Do you like chocolate cake?” And, like most children, the child responded, “Of course.” And then the mother said, “Well, do you like to eat flour?” And he said, “No.” Then the mother asked if he liked to eat baking powder, and he said no. Then she asked if he liked to eat salt, and he said no. Then she asked if he liked raw egg and he said no. But she then told him that all of those things were used in making chocolate cake.

Marc Roby: That is a great illustration. The ingredients may not be good in and of themselves, but the final result is good.

Dr. Spencer: And so it is with God’s works. We do not know enough or have a wide enough perspective to properly judge his works. We know that evil exists and we know that evil is not good in itself. In fact, it is the opposite of good. But we know that God is not the author of evil and God is good. In fact, he is the standard of good. He is absolutely, perfectly and immutably good. And he is omnipotent. Therefore, we can conclude that the presence of evil was necessary for the accomplishing of God’s perfect eternal plan for creation, which is good.

Marc Roby: And I think that is a good place to end for today – pun intended. I want to remind our listeners that they can email any questions or comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org. We will do our best to answer.

[1] All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® (1984 version). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™.

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of biblical theology today by continuing to look at external evidence that corroborates the Bible. Last time we finished examining evidence to corroborate the Genesis account of creation and you made the important point, Dr. Spencer, that the Bible is not the result of an evolutionary development of religion, starting with myths to explain nature and ending in a monotheistic religion.

Dr. Spencer: Right. And, in fact, people often go further than that picture with regard to Christianity in particular. I’m sure you’ve heard someone say that the God of the New Testament is a kindler gentler version of the wrathful God of the Old Testament.

Marc Roby: Unfortunately, I have heard that.

Dr. Spencer: And, of course, their point is that the evolution of religion continued and God, as a result got nicer. But, this view is completely wrong for at least two major reasons. First, as you just reminded us, we saw last time that the Bible, and more particularly, the Old Testament is not the result of an evolutionary process that begin with primitive myths and moved on to the monotheism of the Bible. And, secondly, the God presented in the Bible is absolutely the same throughout; he did not change. So, this view that the God of the New Testament is a kinder, gentler more evolved version of the God of the Old Testament is nonsense if you actually read the Bible carefully.

We will see later in our series of podcasts that, in addition to speaking of God’s just wrath, the Old Testament is gracious from beginning to end. And, we will see, that in addition to speaking of God’s grace, the New Testament speaks of his just wrath continuously. So, such a view is simply not consistent with the facts.

Marc Roby: Very well. So, we have concluded our brief look at the Genesis account of creation, and we presented some extra-biblical evidence for the flood and the Table of Nations. Is it safe to assume that we are now going to move on to the next major section of Genesis?

Dr. Spencer: Yes, we are ready to move on. Remember that we are discussing the major divisions in Genesis as determined by the Hebrew phrase “These are the generations …”, which our listeners may remember was introduced last session and comes from the Old Testament Scholar E.J. Young’s book Thy Word is Truth.[1]

Our previous discussion actually covered several of the headings, although I didn’t say that at the time, so the next heading we come to now is in Genesis 11:27, where we read “This is the account of Terah. Terah became the father of Abram, Nahor and Haran. And Haran became the father of Lot.”[2] Now I suspect most of our listeners recognize the names Abram and Lot, although some may wonder why it says Abram and not Abraham.

Marc Roby: Of course, the name Abraham is the name that God gave to Abram when he established the covenant of circumcision with him as we read in Genesis Chapter 17.

Dr. Spencer: Right. This is the place in the Bible where God first calls out a special group of people, who will later become the nation of Israel. The name Abram means exalted father and the name Abraham means father of a multitude, so the name change is a reminder of God’s promise to him, that his descendants will be like the stars in the night sky or the sand on the seashore (Gen 22:17).

Marc Roby: Alright. So, returning to the account of Terah that begins in Genesis 11:27, we have the biblical history of what are usually called the patriarchs, simply meaning the fathers of the faith. So, what external evidence do we have to corroborate this account?

Dr. Spencer: There is one possible extra-biblical reference to Abraham in the topographical list of the Egyptian Pharaoh Shoshenq I, which many believe refers to “The Enclosure of Abram”.[3] But, that is not agreed upon by all and we have no other direct evidence in the form of inscriptions or artifacts that can be clearly traced to individuals noted in the accounts of the Patriarchs, nor should we expect any from events so long ago.

Nevertheless, we have a great deal of important indirect evidence as we already briefly mentioned in Session 7. There we mentioned that the price of a slave listed in Genesis 37:28, for example, is consistent with the price known at that time from the code of Hammurabi. We also noted that in Genesis Chapters 21 and 26, we read about Abraham and his Son Isaac both making separate treaties with Abimelech, and the forms of these treaties agree with the form for early 2nd millennium B.C. treaties known from extra-biblical sources. This evidence may not sound astounding at first blush, but I encourage the interested listener to consult the excellent book I’ve mentioned before, by Kenneth Kitchen, On the Reliability of the Old Testament.[4] We have several extrabiblical documents from that period and both the process of enactment and the form of these treaties is consistent with the extra-biblical examples, and they are not consistent with examples from other periods of history. I must also emphasize yet again that because archaeology is a relatively new science, and people in the ancient world did not have access to historical documents like we do now, this information simply would not have been available to someone trying to write this history significantly after Abraham’s time. So, there would not have been any way for a later writer to get such details right.

Marc Roby: It is amazing to see that we have so much information available now about human history from 4,000 years ago. What other evidence do you want to cite?

Dr. Spencer: Well, for one thing, the general social, geographic and political histories presented all fit the period and place too well to have been concocted by some later author. For example, the types of arranged marriage, the travel routes and times and so on all match.

One particularly interesting example mentioned by Kitchen has to do with the eastern alliance of Kings who attacked Sodom and Gomorrah and three other small kingdoms, defeated them, and carried off Abram’s nephew Lot and his family. We read about this in Genesis 14. Kitchen points out that the names for the eastern Kings are all known names for the regions they ruled and also, very interestingly, this was the only period in history when an alliance of kings like this could have existed in that region. Not only that, but this is the only period in history in which peoples in that eastern region got involved with the politics of Mesopotamia. Kitchen concludes, “in terms of geopolitics, the eastern alliance in Gen. 14 must be interpreted seriously as an archaic memory preserved in the existing book of Genesis.”[5]

Marc Roby: Very interesting. While we are dealing with this account in Genesis 14, let me ask you a question. We are told, in verse 14 of that chapter, that Abraham pursued these eastern kings “as far as Dan”, which some people have pointed out is an anachronism since the name of the town was Laish at the time of Abraham, and wasn’t renamed Dan until the time of the Judges, hundreds of years later. Do you think that is a problem?

Dr. Spencer: Not at all. Clearly Abraham himself didn’t write anything with the name Dan, nor did Moses since the name was changed after his time. But a later copyist could easily, and reasonably, have changed the name to make it understandable to readers at a later date. We do the same sort of thing now. For example, if you were writing a story about the Apollo 1 fire on the launchpad, no one would accuse you of being anachronistic if you said that the launch pad was at Cape Canaveral, even though the Apollo 1 fire occurred during the ten-year period when Cape Canaveral was known as Cape Kennedy. Or, as another example, I’ve heard people refer to movies made by President Reagan, but he was most definitely not president when he made movies.

Marc Roby: I see your point, it does look like a non-issue.

Dr. Spencer: As are most of the so-called errors in the Bible. As just one more example to bring up here – since it also comes from the Book of Genesis, some people have also accused Genesis of being anachronistic because it refers to Philistines in Genesis 21 & 26, even though the name Philistines was not used until hundreds of years later. But, this is again the case of a later copyist changing the reference to fit then-current usage. I think Kitchen gives a great modern example here. He notes that “we would say ‘the Dutch founded New York’ although they did so as New Amsterdam, the present name replacing the former under their British successors.”[6] We may get into more of these supposed errors in the Bible in later podcasts.

Marc Roby: OK, that gives us something to look forward to. What else do we have in the way of evidence to corroborate the patriarchal times?

Dr. Spencer: Well, since you’ve mentioned this reference to Dan, or Laish, it might be good to point out that Laish was clearly a prominent town at the time of Abraham. The archaeological evidence from there is extensive and includes a well-preserved arched gate into the city that is sometimes called Abraham’s gate, although it may not be quite old enough to have been there at the time of Abraham.

Marc Roby: Very well, what else do you want to mention from this period?

Dr. Spencer: Well, returning to the social customs, it is interesting to note that the story of Abraham and his heirs fits into this historical period quite nicely, even though such social norms have changed through time. Before Abraham had any children, for example, we read in Genesis 15:2 that he complained to God, saying “O Sovereign LORD, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?” In other words, he was intending to adopt this member of his household and make him his heir, which was a common practice in that time and place.

Then, further, when Sarah remained childless, she gave her maidservant Hagar to Abraham in order to produce an heir. This practice was also common at the time. Finally, when Sarah herself had Isaac thirteen years later, the Code of Hammurabi did not give her the right to send Hagar and her child away,[7] which explains, in part, Abraham’s reluctance to do so. He only did so when God told him it would be alright and he would make Ishmael into a nation as well (Gen 21:12-13).

Marc Roby: I’m amazed that we can say so much, even in terms of indirect evidence, for the life of someone who lived roughly 4,000 years ago.

Dr. Spencer: I share your amazement. And, we have to remember that most, if not all, of this information was not available to somone who live anywhere from a few hundred years after Abraham all the way up to about 150 or 200 years ago.

Marc Roby: That is astounding, and certainly puts the lie to the idea that the biblical accounts were created much later. How about Abraham’s descendants, do we have any more evidence for Isaac and his sons, Esau and Jacob?

Dr. Spencer: We already mentioned in Session 7 that the price paid for Joseph, when his brothers sold him into slavery in Genesis 37, is accurate for that time. In addition, we have more evidence of the same sort that we’ve gone over for Abraham in the sense that the travels, marriages, names of towns and people and so on are all historically accurate as far as we know.

Marc Roby: Alright, what about the use of camels? I’ve heard some claim that the use of camels, as described in the patriarchal narratives, is anachronistic. How do you respond to that?

Dr. Spencer: I’ve heard the same thing, but I would respond that they are simply in error. First of all, the biblical accounts of the patriarchs mention camels, but not as a common means of travel. Second, we do have evidence that camels were in use at this time. Kitchen lists a number of pieces of evidence.[8] For example, some bones from excavations for that time, a figurine of a kneeling camel from that time period, a cylinder seal from this time period with a picture of deities on a camel, mentions of camels in a Sumerian lexical work of the period, a figure of a kneeling camel loaded with jars and so on. His conclusion is worth quoting. He wrote that “the examples just given should suffice to indicate the true situation: the camel was for long a marginal beast in most of the historic ancient Near East (including Egypt), but it was not wholly unknown or anachronistic before or during 2000-1100. And there the matter should, on the tangible evidence, rest.”

Marc Roby: Do you have anything that you want to add about this period?

Dr. Spencer: We could say more, but I think we’ve said enough. The point is clear that even though we do not have a great deal of direct evidence for the Genesis history, we do have some direct evidence and a great deal of indirect evidence.

I find the indirect evidence conclusive that the Genesis account had to have been written at the time of the events. It is inconceivable that anyone writing at a much later time could have gotten all these details right. So, at a bare minimum, what we have, as I claimed back in Session 7, is significant evidence that the Bible itself is the best archaeological treasure we have. We can learn a great deal about the people of the ancient Near East. But, far more importantly, we see that it is a reliable document and should be listened to when it tells us about the God who created the heavens and the earth and before whom we will all, one day, have to give an account. The silly notions about the Bible being the end of some evolution process of human-contrived religion is simply nonsense that should not be accepted by anybody.

Marc Roby: I think that wraps up our time for today.

 

[1] E.J. Young, Thy Word is Truth, Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1957, reprinted by Banner of Truth Trust, 2012, pg. 121

[2] All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® (1984 version). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™.

[3] K.A. Kitchen, On the Reliability of the Old Testament, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2003, see pg 313

[4] Ibid, pp 323-324

[5] Ibid, pg. 321

[6] Ibid, pg. 340

[7] The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, Zondervan, 1976, Vol. 1, pg. 24

[8] Op. cit., pp 338-339

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