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The Kindlers of Strife

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Most of us don’t like causing controversy and stirring up trouble.  However, some do.  In Proverbs 25:21, Solomon warns, “As charcoal to hot embers and wood to fire, so is a quarrelsome man for kindling strife.”  To use a more modern metaphor, people like this are a spark to gunpowder.  With seemingly little effort, they cause an explosion.

Certainly, Christians should not be quarrelsome.  Especially in our dealings with brethren, but also in our dealings with everyone, we should seek to unite and reconcile.  If that means keeping our lips clamped down on personal opinions that others find offensive, so be it!  Romans 12:18 urges us to live peaceably with everyone so far as it is possible with us, and even if limiting our self-expression may not be pleasant, it is certainly possible.

Indeed, the only inflammatory views that Christians should express are those that come from the law of God.  Like Paul, we are to declare the whole counsel of God, even knowing that it will prove divisive. 

Too often, though, brethren shy away from proclaiming the gospel while freely expressing their provocative personal views on any number of topics.  They get the Biblical pattern exactly backwards. 

The sources of this problem are obvious.  There are many in our society, of every political and philosophical persuasion imaginable, who do not honor the Bible’s teachings on the importance of peace.  Instead, their goal in life is to stir up strife. 

This is often quite calculated.  They know that if they take a loud, obnoxious stand on some contentious issue, they will get lots of attention.  Half the people will hear them, get infuriated, and start screaming back.  The other half will hear them, applaud them for “telling it like it is”, and scream in the opposite direction. 

Page views and video clicks skyrocket.  Blood-pressure readings elevate.  Our poor, divided country becomes even more divided, as suspicion of the other increases.  People become more cynical, more embittered, less warm and loving. 

Incalculable spiritual damage is done, but the instigators don’t care because they got money and attention out of the deal.  Next week, they will try to do the same thing again and recklessly cause even more damage.  Only God knows where it will end, but the outcome won’t be good.

As Christians, we need to be very, very suspicious of the professional disturbers of the peace.  They want to manipulate us too.  They want to use fear and anger to enroll us in their hateful little tribes.  Even though it’s true that fear and anger leave no room in our hearts for the love of Christ, they’re not concerned about that. 

We need to be concerned.  Paul points out in Romans 13:8 that love is something we owe to everybody.  To Christians, there is no “them”, other than the devil and his angels.  We are on everybody’s side, even the side of the people who aren’t on our side.  When we stop listening to Christ’s call to service and self-sacrifice, we become less than the disciples He wants us to be.

Watch out for the strife-kindlers.   Watch out for the people who want us to look at others with anything less than love.  When they provoke enmity in our hearts, it is not the work of God that they are doing.  It’s the work of someone else.

Summaries, Psalms 79-81

Monday, August 12, 2019

Psalm 79 laments the destruction of Jerusalem.  The psalmist begins by enumerating several woes:  the temple has been defiled, the city has been ruined, its inhabitants have been slaughtered, and the survivors are being mocked by their neighbors.  He asks God to reveal how long this horrible state will continue and encourages Him instead to punish the heathen kingdoms that are responsible for Jerusalem’s destruction. 

The psalmist then implores God to forget their sins and rescue them for three reasons:  because of the magnitude of their suffering, for the glory of His name, and to rebut the nations who doubt His power.  He encourages God to hear the cries of the captives and punish Judah’s enemies instead so that they can glorify Him.

Psalm 80 expresses similar sentiments.  It opens with an appeal to God to save His people.  V. 3 contains a refrain that is repeated in vs. 7 and 19.  In the second “verse”, the psalmist observes that God has made His people suffer, figuratively feeding them their tears. 

The third “verse”  (which is considerably longer than the others) begins by contrasting God’s past behavior to current conditions.  He established Israel in Canaan like a vine in a vineyard, but now the vineyard wall has been broken down and Israel’s enemies are ravaging it.  Then, the psalmist appeals to God to have compassion for His vine, and particularly for “the son of man”, who is probably the king.  If God will rescue His people, they will praise Him.

Psalm 81 is a contrasting psalm of praise.  It encourages God’s people to praise Him with various instruments during a feast day.  Then, the psalmist looks back to the historical origins of that feast day.  It stretches all the way back to God’s deliverance of His people from Egypt.

After this, the psalmist considers God’s words to His people at Meribah.  In exchange for their rejection of idolatry, He promises to bless them.  However, they ignored Him.  God then laments their decision, because if they were to listen to Him, He would defend them from their enemies and feed them with the best food.

Summaries, Psalms 75-78

Tuesday, August 06, 2019

Psalm 75 praises God for the way that He brings order to His creation.  He keeps the earth from tottering, and he rebukes the boastful and wicked.  No one else but God can be relied on to judge righteously, and the wicked cannot escape drinking the cup of His wrath.  In addition to bringing the wicked low, He will exalt the righteous.

Psalm 76 contrasts God’s power to the power of an earthly army.  He took Jerusalem for His dwelling place, and there he broke an enemy army’s weapons and rendered its troops unable to fight.  As a result, it is God, rather than they, who is to be feared.  No one on earth can oppose Him.  As a result, it is appropriate for mankind to worship Him because of the judgments He brings against even the rulers of the earth.

Psalm 77 expresses the psalmist’s confidence that God will hear him.  His trouble is so great that he is practically fainting.  At night, instead of sleeping, he finds himself asking whether God has abandoned him. 

He finds the answer to the question in God’s past works.  He has always worked wonders to deliver His people.  In fact, His power and determination to save them are so great that He even parted the Red Sea to save them. 

Psalm 78 explores the paradox of God’s faithfulness to Israel and Israel’s unfaithfulness to Him.  The psalmist begins by explaining his purpose, which is to teach the children of God’s people about the stories of God’s power that the fathers taught him.  Indeed, God established His law so that His people could hand that law down from generation to generation, so that they would not fall into the faithlessness of the Israelites of old.

The psalmist cites the Ephraimites as the foremost example of this faithlessness.  They did not walk according to His will, despite the power He displayed in parting the Red Sea and giving them guidance and water in the wilderness.  They doubted that He would be able to provide food for them too.

In response, God provided them with manna and quail, but their sin made Him angry, so that He struck down many of them as they ate.  Nonetheless, they continued in sin, only repenting briefly when He punished them.  However, He was merciful and did not destroy them altogether.

Their repeated sin was particularly offensive because of all that He had done to deliver them from Egypt.  He struck down the Egyptians with a multitude of plagues, but He led His people safely to Canaan. 

Even there, the Israelites continued to sin.  They provoked God with their idolatry.  As a result, God rejected Israel and abandoned His dwelling place at Shiloh, allowing His priests to be struck down.  Instead of continuing to dwell among the Ephraimites, He selected Mount Zion in the midst of Judah, to be His new dwelling place, and the Judahite David to be the new king of His people.

 

Summaries, Psalms 71-74

Monday, July 29, 2019

Psalm 71 is an appeal to God for protection in a time of trouble.  In the opening segment of the psalm, the psalmist says that only God in His righteousness can save him.  As usual, the problem is wicked people who are oppressing him.  He observes that he has trusted in God since he was young and that he always has praised God for His deliverance.  Now that he is old, he wants God to continue to deliver him. 

The problem is that his strength has declined with age, so that now his enemies think they can exploit him.  Instead, the psalmist hopes that they will fail and be humiliated, and that he will be able to continue to praise God. 

In fact, the psalmist always has been interested in glorifying Him, and he wants Him to spare him so that he can continue to do so.  He is confident that God will do exactly that, so he anticipates the rejoicing that he will offer Him as a result.

Psalm 72 is the last psalm that David ever wrote, and it asks God to bless the reign of the king (presumably Solomon).  First, David wants God to help the king be a righteous judge and a protector of the poor.  Next, he asks for the king to be respected and have peace as a result.  Similarly, he hopes that the dominion of the king will extend across the known world because God will bless his goodness and righteousness.  The psalm also expresses the wish that the king will prosper along with Israel.  All of this will lead to God being blessed and glorified.

Psalm 73 contains the psalmist’s reflections when confronted with evil people who appear to prosper.  He begins by acknowledging that his envy of such people almost led him into sin.  He reflects on how prosperous and carefree such people appear—they’ve literally gotten fat on evildoing.  What’s worse, their freedom from judgment leads others to question the justice of God.

Next to them, the psalmist finds himself wondering why he has bothered being faithful.  However, he recognizes that giving expression to these concerns would have undermined the faith of others.  Besides, after meditation in the temple, he found himself reassured.  The time would come when God would destroy them.

He concludes by reflecting on his relationship with God.  He treated God badly in his ignorance, but he sees that God always has been with him.  People who reject God will be destroyed, but those who seek Him will prosper.

Psalm 74 is a lament after the destruction of the temple by the Babylonians.  The psalmist asks God why He has apparently abandoned His people and invites Him to consider the ruin of the sanctuary.  The enemies of the Jews have gone through and destroyed everything.  They feel abandoned by God and wonder how long this intolerable state will continue. 

However, the psalmist also acknowledges God’s power.  He always has defeated His enemies and provided for His people.  The psalm concludes with an appeal to Him.  First, the psalmist wants God to remember the Jews’ enemies and punish them for their crimes.  Second, he asks God to remember His covenant.  Finally, He appeals to God to respond powerfully to the scoffing of those enemies.

Summaries, Job 32-36

Monday, July 22, 2019

 

Job 32 begins with Elihu the son of Barachel deciding to speak up.  Though apparently he’s been around for the whole debate, he hasn’t said anything because of his relative youth.  However, Eliphaz, Zophar, and Bildad have failed to make any convincing arguments, and it has become obvious that none of them have anything to say in reply to Job’s final declaration.  In these circumstances, Elihu finds himself compelled to say something, and he promises to be impartial in doing so.

Job 33 opens Elihu’s remarks to Job specifically.  He again avows his own sincerity, and he encourages Job to rebut him if he can.  He criticizes Job’s assertion that God is punishing him unjustly.  From what Elihu has seen, that isn’t the way that God operates.  Instead, God warns man in one of two ways:  dreams and afflictions.  Both of those are supposed to produce repentance.  In this, Elihu is implying that Job’s suffering shows that he has sin in his life somewhere that he is refusing to confront.

Job 34 contains Elihu’s words not to Job, but to Job’s friends.  They too (he thinks) need the young guy to straighten them out!  He encourages them to show good judgment, to notice the difference between the righteousness that Job claims for himself and his wicked conduct and speech.  He insists that God’s actions are always just and righteous.  He is impartial, and according to His will, even the most powerful wicked people are destroyed. 

God knows everything that everyone does, and He renders to them according to their works.  No one has the right to appeal His decisions.  When Job ought to be acknowledging his evil, he instead speaks like a rebel against God, defiantly insisting that he has done nothing wrong.

Job 35 marks the return of Elihu’s attention to Job.  He quotes Job as asking how his righteousness has benefited him (since he is being treated by God like a sinner).  However, says Elihu, because God is so great, neither righteousness nor wickedness has any particular effect on him. 

When the wicked suffer, they might cry out to God for help, but they don’t truly honor Him or recognize Him.  As a result, God doesn’t hear them.  Job needs to recognize himself as one of these arrogant people rather than continuing to insist that he deserves a hearing. 

Job 36 is the continuation of Elihu’s words to Job.  He insists that he has it all figured out.  Once again, he touts God’s perfect understanding and justice.  He strikes down the wicked, and He exalts the righteous.  Those who listen to Him will be blessed; those who refuse to hear will be destroyed in shameful ways. 

Next, Elihu claims that Job’s big problem is his arrogance.  He keeps on demanding justice, even though it’s not going to help him.  In insisting that he has been wronged and only wants to die, he runs the risk of judging God.  Rather than judging God, he ought to glorify Him for His power and provision.

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