A Precarious Affair



Early in Exodus 30 we are given wonderful words indeed. They are words, to be sure, that sound much like the rest of their lot: what I mean is that they repeat much of the measurements and material specifications that are used to describe the sanctuary Moses is to build. I do not mean to show that they are different in tone or import from this large body of text. No; it is a wonderful body of text. God in precise detail outlines the means and modalities of His communion with the Israelites, in a way that is both reminiscent and prophetic of his meticulous plan for the redemption of fallen humankind.

In these first verses of Exodus 30, the instructions concern the altar of incense. Mark the words:

Ex. 30:1   And thou shalt make an altar to burn incense upon: of shittim wood shalt thou make it.  2 A cubit shall be the length thereof, and a cubit the breadth thereof; foursquare shall it be: and two cubits shall be the height thereof: the horns thereof shall be of the same.  3 And thou shalt overlay it with pure gold, the top thereof, and the sides thereof round about, and the horns thereof; and thou shalt make unto it a crown of gold round about.  4 And two golden rings shalt thou make to it under the crown of it, by the two corners thereof, upon the two sides of it shalt thou make it; and they shall be for places for the staves to bear it withal.  5 And thou shalt make the staves of shittim wood, and overlay them with gold.  6 And thou shalt put it before the vail that is by the ark of the testimony, before the mercy seat that is over the testimony, where I will meet with thee.

We will not belabour the much-repeated significance of the parts and their dimensions and materials. We will not even exhaust the symbolic significance buried in them. All I mean to do is touch on the special place that God has in His heart for prayer, for communion, and for meeting with us.

Thou shalt make an altar to burn incense upon. If the incense is our prayer then our prayer is sweet in the ears of God, for such is the fragrance of incense. The Hebrew economy would have supported the making of incense with sweet spices, and God picked them Himself: frankincense, stacte and onycha and galbanum (v 34). It would have been a sweet smoke to smell, but it was the smoke of sinful men. Marvelous thought, that God counts our communication so dear, given our fallen – and indeed often unsanctified – lips and hearts.

Where Art Thou?

When God came walking in the garden six thousand years ago, that terrible day when man ceded his dominion over to wickedness itself, God was likely to have come to the place where time after time, day after day, he came to meet with them. It is reasonable to expect this. God is a God of special things, and loves to give places and beings and times and things special significance. I can easily see Him say to Adam and Eve, I will meet with you here each day. Possibly more than once. Let’s make it nice and keep it clean. Perhaps a special grove of the loveliest trees, perhaps a cool and sparkling stream running by the side, perhaps the tree of life close-by or in the view. It may have been here that Adam was born; for God loves to continue where special things begin. It may have been here where God formed every beast of the field and “brought them to Adam to see what he would call them.” They must have shared many a laugh, for I wonder at what Adam would have named some of the animals. The giraffe and sloth would have been particularly interesting.

It may well have been the place where God anaesthetised Adam with a deep sleep, and formed from his rib the woman of his dreams, if dreamed, and “brought her to the man.” If so then it is here that Adam named her, for his declaration was swift upon the encounter. “She shall be called Woman, because she was taken our of Man.”

Here dreams came true, prayers were answered, and perfect love enveloped the human-divine family. But one day, God came into the garden, walking in His usual manner on His usual paths, “in the cool of the day”, and Adam and Eve were not to be found.

The timeless call belongs not just to Adam. “Where art thou, O reader?” Where are you when God comes to meet with you? In the breaking of the dawn, in the cool of the day, or in the dim of twilight? The Jewish prayer pattern of thrice daily is an old mirror not of when man chooses to meet God, but of when God appoints to meet him. The divine schedule has space blocked out for us, and not only these three times, but continually. But where are we?

Before The Veil

Prayer is the master key, we sing. If it is a key, then it is the key to a very important door. Moses and Aaron offered up the prayer of the people with clouds of incense, and by that means gained access to the most sacred chamber on Earth. They may not have entered themselves, but their hearts, and the hearts of the people, were admitted in their daily contrition.

The veil did not hide the Lord from them so much as it shielded sinful man from the consuming presence of a holy God. And the veil went across the arc of the Testimony, and stood before the mercy seat, the covering of grace, that was over the Testimony. You see the picture is beautiful. God sits upon His throne, which is called the mercy seat because He rules in the spirit of restoration, forgiveness and grace. His mercy endureth forever, as the Psalmist declares. This is so because His throne in turn is seated above the Testimony, the law, the “Ten Commandments” of God. The government of God is founded upon the tenets of divine law and order. Without the law, there is no lawgiver, no authority, no government, no throne, no God. Those who teach that the law has vanished from the equation of salvation will reach a wrong sum, for they eliminate from it the denominator of mercy and grace. These two are only ever meaningful in the context of transgressed law, and punishable guilt.

Precarious

Prayer is needful because such a state is a precarious one, and yields precarious others. How many sorrows, calamities and confusions bedevil us today because of sin! Few realise that the two words “prayer” and “precarious” share a linguistic stem. They both derive from an old Latin stem, “precaria”, the feminine form of “precarius” meaning “obtained by prayer”. That stem in turn derives from “precari“, meaning, “to ask or beg”.

When Peter shouted on his way down the depths “Lord, save me!” that was precari. When Nehemiah shot up a silent prayer before presenting his momentous intentions before a heathen king that was precari. When Daniel inquired about the end of a seventy-year long bondage of Israel that was precari. Of prayer, William Cowper has penned the couplet:

“Satan trembles when he sees

 The weakest saint upon his knees.”

When we pray, speaking with God “as friend to friend”, it is a precarious situation for our enemy.

I Will Meet With Thee. Better Believe It!

The promise is certain and sure. God declared that his presence was assured when the priest came to the altar. The veil may separate us that you are not consumed, but I will meet you still in prayer. How is this to be? Paul tells of a supernatural transference of meaning that is worked out for us by God through His Holy Spirit: “or we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.” Romans 8:26.

God’s promise is that He will meet us in our prayer. If we believe it, we believe Him. We must pray “believing that we receive the things we ask for” Mark 11:24, and it shall be. Nothing is more displeasing to the Lord than that we doubt His promises. Do doubt His word is to doubt Him. “Hath he said, and shall he not do it? or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good?” Numbers 23:19.

One old man was taught a signal lesson in this regard. He was a man who ought to have known better. Not only was he a priest in the temple of God, standing at the altar and bearing the people’s prayers up with sweet incense, but he also had a prayer of his own, a longing of his heart. His name was Zacharias. It was his turn to serve in the temple, according to the calendar of priestly ministration. Even if God would not meet Him in person, He would meet him another way.

Luke 1:

10 And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside.

11 Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. 12 When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. 13 But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John.

 

18 Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.”

19 The angel said to him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. 20 And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their appointed time.”

God has often sent angels in answer to prayer. To Daniel, to Lot, to John, to Zacharias, and indeed, if you will believe it, to you and to me. For Hebrews 13:2 declares that some have entertained angels without knowing it. But the divine condescension is beyond angelic. Of united prayer the Lord Himself declares: “Where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.” Matthew 18:20. In our preaching of the gospel of peace He promises: “I am with you always.” Matthew 28:20. And of our secret and silent prayers, His commitment is to reward you for what is done in secret (Matthew 6:6), no doubt with and answer to the prayer. Well did Luke sum up the Lesson of Christ’s parable of the persistent widow: “Men ought always to pray, and not to faint.”

Amen.

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Authenticity


There’s a store near me that I visit fairly often. A couple of times I’ve had some interesting experiences there. Here are two related ones.

The first time, I went to buy some lemon. I asked, “Do you have lemon?” The lady responds, “Lemon what?” I repeated “Lemon.” She said “No.”

The second time, which was just this morning, I went for ginger. Here’s the discourse that ensued:
Me: “Do you sell ginger?”
Lady: “Ginger biscuits?”
Me: “Ginger.”
Lady: “Ginger beer?”
Me: “Ginger!”
Lady: “Daabi, daabi.” Translated: “No, no.”

Again I walked away empty-handed, but not empty of thought. I scanned her store and noticed she sold nothing natural. Everything she sold came out of a factory, at least as far as my eyes could tell. I thought to myself; Hmm, here’s a store keeper so used to selling every alternative version of natural things but the thing themselves. So trained on the lookalike that she forgets the look, and so comfortable with the copy she forgets the original. Lemon had to be lemon tea or lemon toffee or something other than just lemon, and ginger had to be ginger biscuits or tea, or – as she suggested to a teetotaler like myself, ginger beer.

I wonder If we’re much different from her, of if we’re guilty of the very same things with the less fruity/spicy aspects of our lives. It’s not altogether uncommon for us to seek genuine happiness in the things that most look like them, but are never quite the thing itself. Be it the sense of genuine intimacy in illegitimate affairs, the heights of bliss in the high of drugs, or the sense of a transcendent Being in our lives in the philosophy of all the religions of the world, we’re all guilty, I think.

But we’re all also aware that the lookalike we get is never really the thing itself; we’re all still able to feel the unstopped void, the unfilled hole, the unoccupied vacuum of our own deception. You will only ever be all you really want to be if you start to pursue that and nothing else. Though it will remain much less difficult to obtain the semblance of your success, ultimately it will not give you the reward you seek, the joy you yearn for, or the peace you covet.

“Man, know thyself,” has become the maxim that the contemporary, post-modern philosopher would recommend to you, if you are going to attain your truest joys and reach the greatest heights. Yet most are unaware that there is a nobler, more effective – yes, more authentic – maxim. The resounding call of the Bible is “Man, know thy God.”

For instance:
1 Chronicles 28:9 –  “As for you, my son Solomon, know the God of your father, and serve Him with a loyal heart and with a willing mind; for the Lord searches all hearts and understands all the intent of the thoughts. If you seek Him, He will be found by you; but if you forsake Him, He will cast you off forever.

Psalm 37:4 – Delight yourself also in the Lord, and He shall give you the desires of your heart.
John 14:6 – Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.

Know thy God then, and He who made you will give you true self knowledge. This is the sure way to the real you, and the starting point of the journey to all your most authentic fulfillments in life.

Calvary at Carmel: Elijah’s Bullock, God’s Lamb

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Based on 1 Kings 18:21 – 39

Elijah on Mt Carmel

Elijah on Mt Carmel

One of Elijah’s great monuments in Scripture is the victory God gave him and Israel over the god Baal and his priests on Mount Carmel. The event is often recounted for the great show of strength God made in sending down fire to consume the sacrifice. It is also remembered for the boldness of God’s prophet in challenging the confident ministers of the heathen god.

While these are important aspects in and of themselves, I would like to explore a layer often unexplored, that weaves all these wonderful pieces of the story into the greater fabric of God’s plan to redeem His people from the bondage and allure of sin. The story is a beacon call to revival and reformation amongst God’s people.

21 And Elijah came unto all the people, and said, How long halt ye between two opinions? if the LORD be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him. And the people answered him not a word. 
During the period of about 931 BC to 875 BC, that is from King Jeroboam of the newly separated kingdom of Israel to Ahab, the nation of Israel was led steadily into a rejection of their faith in God. Influenced by a succession of idolatrous kings, they were led to accept and adopt the gods of the surrounding nations. The gods Baal and Ashtoreth featured prominently as the objects of their worship, and even amidst the pleading of God’s many prophets, they insisted that not the God of Elijah, but Baal, should receive the adoration of the people, for it was Baal, they said, who “brings forth the harvest in its season and provides for man and beast.” {Prophets and Kings, pp 124}

It is instructive that the story begins with a call to revival and reformation. Elijah’s challenge is not merely aimed at demonstrating an empirical truth,  but at turning the hearts of the children back to their Father. There was as much the wondrous love of God at play that day as there was his awesome power and detest of sin. The stoic philosopher Seneca said that “A large part of mankind is angry not with the sins, but with the sinners.” God showed Himself completely opposite to that vein of thought, and we will explore how, at Carmel, the same hand of reconciliation that was outstretched at Calvary is plainly to be seen.

Jesus’ earthly ministry was aimed at leading the people to a decisive decision for God. No longer should the nation of Israel continue in a feigned acknowledgement of God through empty ceremonies and vain ritual. Jesus sought to rekindle the living spirit of faith within their hearts, and to produce once more a worship that could be wholly consumable by the fire from heaven; a worship pleasing to the Father, offered in spirit and in truth.

22 Then said Elijah unto the people, I, even I only, remain a prophet of the LORD; but Baal’s prophets are four hundred and fifty men.  23 Let them therefore give us two bullocks; and let them choose one bullock for themselves, and cut it in pieces, and lay it on wood, and put no fire under: and I will dress the other bullock, and lay it on wood, and put no fire under: 

Elijah’s challenge was simple. The claim of the Jewish religious establishment was that God was truly satisfied with the state of their religion. The prophets of Baal thought similarly that they had an efficacious faith, and a god who would listen and act at the beckoning of his priests. Elijah’s choice of bull (or bullock) is highly significant. Besides the lambs and goats, bulls were offered as a sin offering on behalf of the entire nation (Leviticus 4: 3 – 12). In the atonement service the priest offered a bull as a sin offering for himself before atoning for the nation with the blood of the goat. Elijah stands as typifying the priest that the people needed. He asks for the bulls because he intends to impress upon the people their national transgression and show, not only that God endorses his ministry as a prophet, but that the sin of the nation is still forgivable.

24 And call ye on the name of your gods, and I will call on the name of the LORD: and the God that answereth by fire, let him be God. And all the people answered and said, It is well spoken.  25 And Elijah said unto the prophets of Baal, Choose you one bullock for yourselves, and dress it first; for ye are many; and call on the name of your gods, but put no fire under.  

“… and the God that answereth by fire….” Elijah uses the Hebrew word Elohyim for God, which likely suggests a tacit jab; Elijah certainly did not believe that Baal or any other pagan gods would be able to consummate the heathen sacrifice. He seemed to say that only the one true God, Elohyim, would answer this call and show Himself mighty before them all.

26 And they took the bullock which was given them, and they dressed it, and called on the name of Baal from morning even until noon, saying, O Baal, hear us. But there was no voice, nor any that answered. And they leaped upon the altar which was made. 

From morning until noon. Long did the priests of Baal cry out to their god. Exasperated with the silence, they burst into that same cacophony that belies the faithless worship of our day. A good friend once told me that if people think that shouting rancorously in church is the way to get God’s attention then they have never shouted loudly enough. Their display was a frenzied, excited, exhausting one. They leaped upon the very altar on which they expected the fire of Baal to suddenly descend. The same disrespect for holy places and things, the same presumptuous entry in the presence of Divinity is manifest today, so that the movement of charisma almost succeeds in replacing the power of the gospel with the gospel of power.

It was the prayer of the Jewish leaders to get some sort of approval from God for their actions in crucifying Jesus. They thought not only to do this but also to win back the respect and favour of the people and the Roman authorities, and thereby secure their positions and great prosperity. Theirs was as much a frenzied attempt to demonstrate the power and rightness of their religion as any, and with much public rioting and general confusion they sought to push and nudge the Saviour to the cross.

The Jews that gathered to condemn Jesus were many indeed. There were unions forged between factioning sects such as the Pharisees and Sadducees, old foes such and Pilate and Herod, and different economic and demographic classes. There was a general consensus that Jesus should die, that the national religion should be preserved, as prophesied by the high priest, and that the old order of godless, self-righteous and Earth-centered religion should continue.

Indeed, the Jewish nations chose, and dressed their bullock well. Yet unknown to them, it was not they who chose, but Christ who lay down His own life willingly (John 10:18), and it was not a huge, feisty bull, but a small and servile Lamb, Whom Heaven lay upon the alter for the salvation of the nation of God.

27 And it came to pass at noon, that Elijah mocked them, and said, Cry aloud: for he is a god; either he ist alking, or he is pursuing, or he is in a journey, or peradventure he sleepeth, and must be awaked.  28 And they cried aloud, and cut themselves after their manner with knives and lancets, till the blood gushed out upon them.  

It appears that the people had gathered at some point in the morning to witness this great event. All the way up to noon, Baal had been prayed to, shouted to, sang to, danced to, self-mutilated to, and all to no avail.

The Jews had two daily sacrifices. The morning sacrifice, and the evening sacrifice, which were to be offered continually, day after day (Exodus 29:38-42, Numbers 28:3, 1 Chronicles 16:40, etc). It appears that on this day the people were to observe which of these competing deities was the true confirmer of the covenant of peace mediated by priests through sacrifice. Baal and God claimed the same powers and the same right to the worship of the people, and the same sacrifices. In effect, Baal claimed the office of atoner for sin, the very position of Christ, and therefore claimed sacrifice in recognition of this, much like God did through the sacrificial system established in Eden.

If Baal was really such a God, then surely he could consummate the morning phase of the daily sacrifice. Surely, he could smell the sweet savour, and answer with fire from Heaven.

29 And it came to pass, when midday was past, and they prophesied until the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, that there was neither voice, nor any to answer, nor any that regarded. 30 And Elijah said unto all the people, Come near unto me. And all the people came near unto him. And he repaired the altar of the LORD that was broken down.  

Elijah, in true Divine inspiration, then goes through a sequence that so strongly typifies the action of God in the saving of humanity that it is breathtaking to behold. After the tired priests of Baal have all but given up, Elijah calls out with that same call that Jesus gave and gives to all who turn from Him: “Come near unto me.” Once the people had gathered closer, the prophet begins to repair and old, long abandoned altar, on which once upon a time, a pious people, a royal priesthood, and a holy nation used to sacrifice to the Lord. Elijah does not construct a brand new altar. He repairs a forsaken one. The Hebrew term employed here carries the idea of “mending”, “curing”, as by a physician, “healing thoroughly”, and “making whole”. Can one fail to notice the idea of reconciliation, redemption and restoration?

The act of repairing this abandoned altar is significant. Jesus’ entire mission, and particularly his time on the cross, was meant to repair the foundation of true worship: the heart. He came to heal the broken heart. Is He not called the Great Physician? He says “These people serve me with their lips but their hearts are far away from me” (Matthew 15:8). But in love He declares, “Behold, I stand at the door (of your heart) and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens, I will come in to him” (Revelation 33:20).

All along God has sought the circumcision of our hearts (Deuteronomy 10:16, 30:6). This is to say that His greatest desire has been that we freely, committedly bind ourselves to Him. Up there on the cross, the process had already begun. Satan and his minions were at a complete shock as to what was happening. Even they could see, however blind the Jewish authorities were to it, that God, whom they had accused of tyranny, vindictiveness and lovelessness, was in Christ, reconciling man to Himself (2 Corinthians 5:19).

31 And Elijah took twelve stones, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, unto whom the word of the LORD came, saying, Israel shall be thy name:  32 And with the stones he built an altar in the name of the LORD: and he made a trench about the altar, as great as would contain two measures of seed.  

Expectedly, Elijah is not arbitrary in his methodology. He reconstructs this altar with twelve stones, one of each tribe of Israel, representing the entire nation of Israel. He does this despite the division of the kingdom, with Israel now only comprising ten and Judah to the south the other two (1 Kings 11:31). To God, it was still one nation spiritually, special to Him, and needful of holistic salvation.

1 Peter 2:5 intimates a similar idea. The Christian church is made of us, living stones, used to build up a temple in which a spiritual sacrifice acceptable to God is made. What can this sacrifice be? Well, just as Elijah was called to bring the people back from disobedience and apostasy, so are we admonished by the penitent Psalmist, that the sacrifice of the Lord is a broken and contrite spirit (Psalm 51:7); a heart that returns from the pits of sin to the bosom of Christ, as the prodigal son to his sweet, long missed home and his welcoming father (Luke 15:11-32).

33 And he put the wood in order, and cut the bullock in pieces, and laid him on the wood, and said, Fill four barrels with water, and pour it on the burnt sacrifice, and on the wood.  34And he said, Do it the second time. And they did it the second time. And he said, Do it the third time. And they did it the third time.  35 And the water ran round about the altar; and he filled the trench also with water.

Here we seen in striking colour the image of Calvary merging with that of Carmel. The sin offering is slain, and lies bloody on the alter. Four barrels of water are filled, and poured on the sacrifice, three times. That is twelve barrels of water, again significant of the twelve tribes. The sublime lesson is that God is able to save entirely and utterly, though an entire nation should become so steeped in its sins. Indeed He is able to save to the uttermost those who come to God by Him (Hebrews 7:25).

While often understood to mean the drenching of the sacrifice and altar so as to make the burning more theoretically difficult, I venture to suggest that there was more to it than just that. The water must also symbolise something more. The priests of Baal, Elijah and the people had not gathered to witness a sacrifice ignited by men through whatever means of fire starting existed in their day. Elijah’s challenge was clear: there was to be only one evidence of Divinity that day: the descent of fire from the heavens and its consummation of the burned offering. Surely no one would have expected gods who could send down fire from heaven to be deterred by twelve barrels of water.

Water symbolises cleansing. Not only was the sacrifice drenched but also the entire alter of twelve stones as well as the surrounding trench. The entire nation of Israel was symbolically invited to be cleansed in this act, much like they were when they crossed – indeed as Paul shows, when they were baptised in – the red sea (1 Corinthians 10:1). The water of baptism is the symbol that the sins are washed away, and this was a public invitation to the nation of Israel to return to God and be cleansed.

As the water mingled with the blood of the sacrifice, so it mingled with the blood of the greater Sacrifice on Calvary. The water and the blood are both seen flowing out of His pierced side (John 19:34), a token of life wrapped around the signal of death. By the blood we are purchased by the King, and by the water we are washed, dressed up, and sanctified to dwell eternally in His presence.

 36 And it came to pass at the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, that Elijah the prophet came near, and said, LORD God of Abraham, Isaac, and of Israel, let it be known this day that thou art God in Israel, and that I am thy servant, and that I have done all these things at thy word.  

Once again, only as a result of the direction of He Who fashions history for the accomplishment of His divine plan, it is not until the time of the evening sacrifice, the ninth hour, 3pm as we know it today, that the event reaches the climax. Elijah stepped forward toward the alter, like Moses stepped forward into Sinai, like Aaron stepped forward into the tabernacle of meeting, to call upon the name of God, to offer sacrifice.

We will do well to be reminded what the entire purpose of sacrifice was in the first place. Sacrifice was necessary because of transgression (Hebrews 9:22), and transgression was there as a result of straying from the terms of covenant (1 John 3:4). It is no wonder that at this time, with the interest of Israel excited, and the man of God in intercession, that Elijah calls upon the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the patriarchs through whom, at the founding of the nation, the promise was made, and the covenant of peace was established between God and his people.

God was ever willing to bring Israel back that day at Carmel, as He was that day at Calvary, and at the time appointed for the evening sacrifice, which was to be a daily admission of sin and prayer for forgiveness (Exodus 29:38-42), Elijah stepped forward to make the intercession, as did Christ about a millennium and a half later, when He spoke those eternal words about the consummation of the covenant of peace and reconciliation between God and man: “It is finished.”

At about noon, the sixth hour, Elijah begins to repair the alter. At the ninth hour, at the time of the evening sacrifice, the offering is ready to be offered up. These three hours were a climaxing of the plan of salvation: a climaxing of the reconciliation of God to man. In this time, the people’s attention would have turned from the tired priests of Baal, and would have been fixed with interest of Elijah and the bull that was being prepared to be sacrificed.

The corresponding period in Christ’s day was marked by a period of darkness. Matthew 27:45 tell us that darkness covered the whole land. Heaven, in mixed sadness and anticipation, was preparing to receive the greatest Sacrifice ever offered by the hand of men. And about the ninth hour, Christ cried out with a loud voice gave up his spirit, and died.

37 Hear me, O LORD, hear me, that this people may know that thou art the LORD God, and that thou hast turned their heart back again.  38 Then the fire of the LORD fell, and consumed the burnt sacrifice, and the wood,and the stones, and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench.  

Total consummation. God accepted Elijah’s sacrifice in spectacular fashion. It was not merely a show of strength. It was not merely a declaration of His superiority over Baal; it was a genuine reminder to the people that if they did right, they would be accepted. The message went to them as it went to Cain: “If you do what is right, will you not be accepted?” (Genesis 4:7).

We must also note carefully the prayer that Elijah offers, in answer to which this great manifestation is made. He asks God to demonstrate to the people that He has “turned their heart back again”, once again echoing the invitation to repent and turn from their wicked ways. This is the great work of God, His great mystery, and this is the very mission of His Son: Christ in us, the hope of glory (Colossians 1:27).

An equally wonderful spectacle greeted the passing of the Lamb of God upon the cross. The heavens grew dark, and there was a great earthquake that shook the land upon His death. This was testament to both the grief of God, and of His acceptance of the sacrifice made by the Son. That this sacrifice is efficacious to the redemption of fallen mankind was evidenced by the immediate resurrection of many dead saints who stormed into Jerusalem and proclaimed the good news of new life in Christ (Matthew 27:52, 53). This was His great fire of consummation. Should God have chosen real fire to consummate this sacrifice, I dare say none who was in the vicinity of Calvary would have survived, for like Elijah’s altar, surely the entire mountain, and perhaps more, would have been consumed by the great size and intensity of that divine flame.

As Elijah finished his service at Carmel, so did Christ on Calvary. As Elijah’s was a demonstration of God’s power over evil, so was Christ’s a demonstration of His victory over sin. As Elijah’s was a judgment against the worshipers of Baal, so Christ’s is a condemnation of Satan and his minions. As Elijah’s was an invitation to turn back the wayward heart to God, so is Christ’s the means by which we may accomplish this, and as Elijah’s was the answer to a pastoral, prophetic and timely prayer, so Christ’s is the fulfilling of the greatest desire of all ages: that God Himself would abide in the hearts of His children.

39 And when all the people saw it,they fell on their faces: and they said, The LORD, he is the God; the LORD, he is the God.

What more apt response? What more inspired declaration? What clearer word, what simpler truth could have been offered? The people were struck and awed that God has moved in a mighty way before them, and they were convicted. Four centuries ago their fathers had seen His dark clouds upon Mount Sinai and heard His voice, and trembled. Today they once again saw a glimpse of His awesome majesty and mighty power. The people who had hitherto sang the praises of Baal, and praised him for the dew and the rain, now turned their hearts to God, or rather, had their hearts turned by God, so that they acknowledged Him as above all, and over all.

God was true to His word: “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:14)

How shall we respond when we see the bruised, battered and killed Messiah upon the cross? Can it be with indifference? Can it be a passing sight we soon forget? Or is it an indelible vision, a Damascus encounter? As Elijah prayed that God would remember and renew His covenant with the people, so Christ has died to ensure that the covenant is fulfilled in each life, and established in each heart. Yet unlike Elijah’s bull, which is dead to this day, the wonderful news is that Christ ever lives to make intercession for us (Hebrews 7:25). He is the true priest, of which Elijah that fateful day was the type.

Above all the Baals that lure us in these final days, may Christ be central. I invite you to look again upon Calvary. Look again upon the slain Christ, who hangs there because of none other but you. I invite you to allow your heart the entrance of His love, turn from your sin, and be reconciled with He Who loves you like no other person can. Like those convicted children of Israel, let our settled declaration be, that above every alluring pleasure, beyond every selfish ambition and, over every worldly impulse, The LORD, he is the God our lives and the Author and Finisher of our faith.

Photo credit: davidtlamb.com

The Manna


Manna from Heaven

Manna from Heaven

The Israelite nation, while in the wilderness of Sin, complained to Moses about hunger. Is it not interesting that they had just recently complained about thirst in Mara? There they had seen God intervene and change the bitterness into sweetness so they could drink it. Isn’t it interesting still that just a little earlier they had composed and sang a song of rejoicing to the Lord for having saved them from Pharaoh and his army?

These are two very vivid miracles, performed almost back to back for their immediate relief, and also for their long term assurance of the leading of God. Why did they not just pray? Why did they not plead with Moses to intercede? Why does the record reveal such a hostile, complaints oriented stance? I find it most interesting that even at the edge of the Jordan, they complained rather than prayed.

Continue reading

The First Day


Written in response to a call to explain the occurrences of the first day of the week in the New Testament.

I must admit that while I have had the opportunity to variously address the numerous references to Sunday (usually rendered ‘first day of the week’) in the New Testament  I have not until now been called upon to do so in a systematic, unified manner. So thank you for the invitation, and as I am particularly primed this quiet Sunday (how fitting) for writing, allow me to make a humble addressing of the relevance of Sunday from a Scriptural point of view, based primarily of the eight occurrences of it. Continue reading

Old Testament Prophecy for the Avid Seeker


1.0 History of the Old Testament

It is well known that the Old Testament’s first book, chronologically, is not it’s first canonically. That is to say, the book of Job is widely accepted as pre-dating that of Genesis. It is also known that the volume is an extensive record of the history of the ancient nation of Israel. The Old Testament was written over a period of about 2000 years, from Moses down to Malachi.

The Pentateuch, comprising Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy, are well known accounts of Jewish history. The book of Judges connects that theological period of beginnings to the reign of kings that began with Saul, right through to the division of the northern and southern regions of the land into Israel and Judah as rendered in the books of I and II Samuel and I and II Kings.

Anecdotes and proverbs are the theme of Solomon’s writings, while various biblical themes are explored in the inspired Psalms of David. Prophecy is ubiquitous throughout the volume, and outstanding are the Messianic prophecies that were to be the grand theme of discussion for Israelites throughout the 400 year long intertestamental period.

It spans the history of the Earth from creation, through the entry of sin and the life and experience of the Jewish nation and associated nations up till the time of the Messiah and the apostles, detailing the plan of salvation expressed largely in type by the ceremonies of the Old and the actuals of the New Testament. Continue reading

The Rise of Spiritualism and the Prerogatives of Righteousness


I was in the University of Ibadan, Nigeria, in 2008. They have a lovely campus over there, and the students and faculty were even more so. I took many walks around the campus admiring the greenery and the birds. The memory I left with, however, was that of many sign boards promoting an anti-occultism campaign.

While I was intrigued to find such an open, frank approach to the problem, I was not ignorant of the severity of the problem. In Ghana I have never seen such signs anywhere, but have not been naive enough to interpret that as an absence of occultism or spiritualism in a more general sense.

We are often taken aback by stories of witchcraft and wizardry, and every now and then a newspaper publishes that a witch had a flight accident and crash-landed into the matrimonial bed of a sleeping couple. The bizarre seems to be what stands out, what captivates. However, in times like these, the keen Bible student will see spiritualism in many more areas of life than are generally reckoned. Indeed, the keen Bible student will see it in its most sinister form, the form which is perhaps most fearful, and which is the subject of this brief discussion.

The Bible says, friends, that in the last days there will arise false Christs and false prophets, who will perform great miracles to the effect that if it were possible, the chosen ones of God would be deceived (Matthew 24:24). Unfortunately many are not heeding this warning. What is the message? What is the point the Saviour is carrying across?

And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover – Mark 16:17-18

Clearly, then, the miraculous is an accompanying feature of the ministry of a Christian, and a servant of God. Christ expressly intimates that the miraculous will attend the work of His servants. This is key. The trouble is not that the point has been neglected, but that it has been utterly misconstrued. How so??

Unfortunately many today take Christ’s words to mean that the defining or identifying characteristic of an authentic prophet is to be found in the performance of great signs and wonders, and in the speaking of new tongues, and in the miraculous immunity from poisons.

But is this what Christ meant? Or did He mean that He would aid the work of His followers with the spiritual assistance they will require? I submit that the latter is the case, and further stress that the promise extends to us in this last generation, confirmed by the Saviours own word in the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19, 20), when He promised to be with us to the end of the World, which end we are to work tirelessly towards.

But can this position be substantiated? How do we know that Mark 16:17-18 do not describe the defining characteristics of genuine Christianity? Well the earlier verse we saw settles the matter (Matthew 24:24). False prophets can also produce miracles.

The second way we know is that Christ unambiguously declares the defining characteristics of His children in John 13:35, when He declares that we should love each other as He has loved us, by which love it shall be known that we are indeed His disciples. That’s it. Love is the defining characteristic of the disciples of Christ, not miracles, which are but necessary accompaniments to the work that these authentic disciples must do upon the Earth. Is this vague? Can “love” be variously and ambiguously interpreted?

Well, not if one gets their advice from the Scriptures. Love for man can only be true if it springs from a heart that first loves its Maker, and love for one’s Maker is easy to prove. John 14:15 says that If we love Him, we will keep his commandments. Pure and simple. As we say in Ghana, “No curve, no bend.”

The prophet Isaiah beautifies the point most appropriately: “To the law and the testimony: if they speak not according to this word it is because there is no light in them.” Isaiah 8:20

The apostle John reiterates: “Here is the patience of the saints: here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus.”Revelation 12:14

If a prophet looks away from the commandments of God, teaching that they have somehow been obliterated by the atoning sacrifice of our Lord, then they fail the test of Biblical authenticity. It’s that simple. Love is the fulfilment of this law, and is demonstrated by obedience to it. To deny this law then is to assault the every foundation of love.

But why have we spent so much time on making this distinction? Well because most of the spiritualism in the church today (the sinister form we talked about), comes from such false prophets: people who utterly repudiate the Divine law yet (and most ironically) make the loudest claims to piety. Their leadership is a smear on Christian mission, and they are at the very root of the reason why many in the world today have turned their ears from the pleadings of God’s true missionaries. They pervert the gospel by removing the power of its effect: holiness, and subvert the work of true disciples by setting shameful examples of worldliness and extravagance, at the heads of large congregations of the poorest of the poor. Their leadership is capable of no more than the gospel of power that has become such a key feature of their work. If they will not find legitimacy in the clear testable words of Scripture, then many of them have resolved to find it in undeniable manifestations of spiritual power, thus the increasing spate of spiritualism over spirituality, and thus the seeming preference of the contemporary Christian world for the gospel of power to the power of the Gospel.

The Gospel of Power

While much of the Christian world is getting swayed by this unfortunate trend, it must be noted that the problem has come to the attentions of many noteworthy ministers of the Gospel. Discussions on the subject are ever more frequent, and there is enough light shed upon the issue for the truly penitent soul to be nourished by. However, not one of these makes the case for true worship and discipleship better than the Bible.

We will consider a few of the principles and presumptions behind this growing sinister movement and test their Biblical validity, and using the Bible, point the way to a better, straiter, narrower path.

Come and let Me Pray for You

Prayer is the water where Bible study is the food for a Christian. Prayer is therefore to be encouraged whenever and wherever possible. While intercessory prayer is potent and effective, even encouraged by our Lord Jesus Christ, it can also be a source, when emphasised to the neglect and detriment of personal communion with God, of dependence and personal weakness.

I was in a vehicle recently, commuting to work. While the driver waited for his car to be boarded, he conversed with a man about a health condition they both suffered. While they did not name it, I deduced it was hypertension, as they repeatedly made reference to ‘bringing it down’. The other man was advising constant and religious adherence to medication, while the driver could only go on and on about how miserable the condition is, and how he had recently been made as weak as a child by it. Then he added: “Some pastor says he can cure it.”

“What?” was the quizzical response of his interlocutor.

“I said some pastor says he can cure it. And you know, when these things happen, better to go and give it a try. You already have the disease, so nothing to lose. This may just be an opportunity for your deliverance. You never know.”

There wasn’t much of a response, and we soon took off. I cite this scenario only to make the point that as Christians, it is not pastors who can cure diseases (if indeed they can) that we should be searching out and running to, but He who can not only heal all our diseases, but even more, save our souls. It is the life giving Saviour, we should seek out, not mortal men. There is never insufficient power in the prayer of an honest, God fearing heart to save or to redeem or to heal. There is never inadequate strength for the voice of the weakest child of the King to ascend to His Heavenly throne and reach the audience of the Heavenly courts.

“A pastor says he can cure it,” he said. Any real pastor would have known and intimated that it is God who heals and saves. Any real pastor would know their lowly position as a vessel in relation to the infinitely exalted station of the Master. Any real pastor would know to exhort their congregations to exercise the tremendous power that Christ has bestowed upon each of us, to come boldly before the throne of grace, to find mercy and grace in the time of our need (Hebrews 4:16).

By all means, let the Pastors and elders pray for you, but more frequently, more ardently, more fervently, more urgently, pray for yourself: We require no proxy to reach the Lord.

The minute a human being is given the station of one who possesses some personal ability to perform any sort of miracle, spiritualism is at play. Of course, many will claim to acknowledge that the power of today’s apostles and prophets comes not from them but from God. If this were true how much more quickly would they run to the very Source of the power, than to these mortals, and how much more certain would be the redemption of these, from whom the Lord will demand nothing but repentance and righteousness, ass opposed to doles of cash and other emoluments.

No Tongues, no Christian

In the charismatic movement, and increasingly in orthodox Christian circles, spiritualism is dictating doctrines that take their root from outside the Scriptures, such as that the gift of tongues is the mark of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and therefore the sign of the true Christian, and that without it, one has not received the Holy Spirit.

Without going into the extensive theology of the gift of tongues (see On Supposed Revelations from Hell for such), let us point out what the Spirit expressly says in His word.

Follow after charity, and desire spiritual gifts, but rather that ye may prophesy. For he that speaketh in an unknown tongue speaketh not unto men, but unto God: for no man understandeth him; howbeit in the spirit he speaketh mysteries. But he that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort – 1 Corinthians 14:1-4.

Clearly, if any gift is preferable or superior in any way, it is that of prophecy, rather than of speaking in tongues. In fact, in the rendition given of the spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12:7-10 , the gift of tongues is the last mentioned:

But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal. For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit; To another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit; To another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues – 1 Corinthians 12:7-10.

How ironic that men have turned the list upside down and given it undue supreme prominence. Why? Because the devil can more easily deceive with his own counterfeit gift than with the plain, unbridled word of God.

The Spirits of the Dead

It may seem strange that this comes up, given that Scripture very clearly and particularly teaches that the dead know not anything (Ecclesiastes 9:5). It is however widely believed in Christendom today that the dead are alive, and are either burning in hell perpetually or are praising God in Heaven.

For a more comprehensive discussion on the state of the dead, please see A Few Points on the Gift of Tongues Suffice it to say for now, that this belief is at the root of the increasingly popular emergence of clairvoyance in the church. Clairvoyance is the act of supposedly talking to the dead.

The dead are exactly that – dead. Even well known Bible verses like John 3:16 emphasise the point that eternal life is only for those who believe. Romans 6:23 restates this and emphasises that everyone else suffers death. Death is death. Ecclesiastes 9:6 shows:

Also their love, and their hatred, and their envy, is now perished; neither have they any more a portion for ever in any thing that is done under the sun.

That’s right, people. They cannot give visions, appear to relatives, or anyone else for that matter, or participate in anything under the sun among the living. Theirs is to wait for the coming judgement of the Lord:

The Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptations, and to reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment to be punished1 Peter 2:9

You will go! – I won’t go. – You will go! – I won’t go.

Exorcism is an important work. It entails the expulsion of a demonic presence from the life of an individual. It requires the effective, fervent prayer of righteous children and servants of God.

In this area, as in all others, the example of Christ becomes the rule of thumb for the genuine Christian. Many times Christ cast out demons. Every single time, it was with a command, and every single time the demons responded with obedience. This is how it should be.

There are stronger demons than others, as the disciples found once while attempting to exorcise a demon from a young boy (Matthew 17). The Lord advised that that kind of demon could only be expelled with fasting and prayer.

This is how we can expel even the strongest and stubbornest of the enemy’s agents.

Instead, however, many have replaced “fasting and prayers” with long, loud and rancorous tugs of war.

Some have entered physical battles with supposedly possessed people, exchanging slaps and insults and worse. If the idea is to fight demons out of people by fist and fury, then the idea has been lost.

The name of the One in Whom we come is mighty to the pulling down of strongholds. It is a name that imparts the authority with which we can issue a simple command, as Paul did to the demon in the woman in Macedonia: ...But Paul, being grieved, turned and said to the spirit, I command thee in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her. And he came out the same hour – Acts 16:18.

When exorcism descends from this to a huff and puff affair, then the exorcist lacks the authority and credibility of one who comes in the name of the Lord, and either unpreparedness or deception is at play. In the latter case, we are dealing with spiritualism, orchestrated by those who employ the most sinister means to deceive the elect by means of signs and wonders. Let all that are Christ’s beware.

In Sum

There are many areas in which the genuine has become corrupted, and in which men will have us believe that the demonstration of supernatural accomplishments must procure them our followership, but we must follow none but the Lord.

Always remember, that the Bible is the surest defense against their sophistries. Be reminded, that in the last days “...there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect” (Matthew 24:24), and that the greatest testimony that we are in Christ, is not that we possess the gift of tongues or healing or even prophecy, but that we have love one to another (John 13:35, John 15:14, John 14:15).

Let us test the spirits, whether they be of God, and test the prophets by whom they speak (Isaiah 8:20, Revelation 14:12, 1 John 4:1-3).

As always, Maranatha.

Android App Ideas


PreachDroid
An app that will listen to a sermon at church and pull up the Scripture texts on the fly. Can be used by congregation to follow sermon without flipping through Bible pages and getting distracted. Can also be used for quick reference purposes in different scenarios.

App can also read out the texts.

Will use: keywords: names of books, “chapter”, “verse”, “verses”, keyphrases: “verses x to y”, etc

Andrkola
App to ping traders in Makola (or any other market, for that matter) with shopping requests, receive best price offers, and allow user to place order with best offer and get delivery within arranged period.

SafeStreet
This app will allow users to send instant reports to a database encountering adverse road situations (bad driving, obstruction, etc), or commendable drivinig Reports can be used for investigation, prosecution, rewards”

App will use SMS (free) or other messaging protocol.

Before sending report, a user can broadcast a request (bluetooth, wireless network, eitc) to other users around (free app, so hopefully ubiquitous) to sign the report, increasing its credibility.

A Few Points on Tongues


The following is reproduced from a letter written in response to questions on the subject of tongues. While much elaboration has been made on the subject, it remains necessary to clarify these issues for the contemporary situation, with particular regard to the Ghanaian Christian community in Accra, from which region the questions came to me.

Pentecostal Prophesying

The first record of the use of tongues is found in Acts 2. There, the brethren are gathered on the day of Pentecost, fifty days after the resurrection of Christ, in one accord. Suddenly the Holy Spirit filled them in a most expressive way, and they began to speak in tongues.

The chapter records that these tongues were intelligible to Jews and converts from all over the empire. In fact, these observers noted that they heard and understood that the apostles were speaking the wonderful works of God.

An important truth then is that tongues are human languages. They can be spiritually induced, and will be intelligible to speakers of that language and to people whom have received the gift of interpretation.

NB: The tongues were used to testify about God, not to pray.

The Gifted Centurion

The second case is in the tenth chapter of Acts. Here, the story of Cornelius is related. Cornelius was a centurion. He no doubt spoke Latin. Peter, who was sent to minister to him, was doubtless a Jew, who spoke Hebrew. How was Peter to perform his task?
Well, Christ had earlier intimated a very important fact related to understanding tongues. In Mark 16:17, He revealed the following:
And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; – Mark 16:17, KJV.

Peter had no need to worry, and as he discovered, God was faithful when he went to do the work. As he shared the word of God with Cornelius, they began to speak in tongues, magnifying the name of the Lord. This convinced Peter that they had no doubt understood his Hebrew, and were now expressing in new tongues, various spiritual truths about God in confirmation of this.
We must only show that here as well, the tongues are of the same nature as the apostle experienced at Pentecost. The fact that Peter and those who came with him understood that they magnified God in these tongues indicates this.
But more finally, Peter’s report to the brethren back in Jerusalem seals the matter. In Acts 11:15 he reports that the Holy Spirit fell on Cornelius and his household “as on us at the beginning”.

The Ephesian Disciples

The last instance of the use of this gift is found in Acts 19, where Paul visits the Ephesian disciples. These had earlier been baptized unto John’s baptism, that is, John the Baptist’s, baptism. The following extract from Matthew Henry helps clarify this point:

They own that they were baptized unto John’s baptism– eiv to Iwannou baptisma that is, as I take it, they were baptized in the name of John, not by John himself (he was far enough from any such thought), but by some weak, well-meaning disciple of his, that ignorantly kept up his name as the head of a party, retaining the spirit and notion of those disciples of his that were jealous of the growth of Christ’s interest, and complained to him of it, Joh 3:26. Some one or more of these, that found themselves much edified by John’s baptism of repentance for the remission of sins, not thinking that the kingdom of heaven, which he spoke of as at hand, was so very near as it proved, ran away with that notion, rested in what they had, and thought they could not do better than to persuade others to do so too; and so, ignorantly, in a blind zeal for John’s doctrine, they baptized here and there one in John’s name, or, as it is here expressed, unto John’s baptism, looking no further themselves, nor directing those that they baptized any further.MHC

Paul instructed that they receive the baptism that any disciple of Christ would have baptized them unto: that unto the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. After this, Paul laid his hand on them in prayer, and God heard and answered, and they received the Holy Spirit and spoke in new tongues, prophesying, or preaching. Again, Matthew Henry gives useful commentary:

God granted the thing he prayed for: The Holy Ghost came upon them in a surprising overpowering manner, and they spoke with tongues and prophesied, as the apostles did and the first Gentile converts, Ac 10:44. This was intended to introduce the gospel at Ephesus, and to awaken in the minds of men an expectation of some great things from it; and some think that it was further designed to qualify these twelve men for the work of the ministry, and that these twelve were the elders of Ephesus, to whom Paul committed the care and government of that church. They had the Spirit of prophesy, that they might understand the mysteries of the kingdom of God themselves, and the gift of tongues, that they might preach them to every nation and language. Oh, what a wonderful change was here made on a sudden in these men! those that but just now had not so much as heard that there was any Holy Ghost are now themselves filled with the Holy Ghost; for the Spirit, like the wind, blows where and when he listeth.MHC

I have endeavoured to stay completely away from what tongues are not. This is indeed what they are:

  • A gift of the Holy Spirit;
  • Consisting the spiritual impartation of languages not already spoken by the gifted;
  • Whose purpose is for preaching (prophesying) unto others and testifying to the power and goodness of God;
  • Which can be interpreted by gifted people and understood by speakers of the language (1 Corinthians 14:13, Acts 2:7 – 11).

It should suffice then to make clear what they are not, vis-a-vis what they are:
They are not:

  • Non-human languages (this concept has no Biblical origin)
  • Whose purpose is for     praying to God (ostensibly so that the Devil and his minions can’t     understand, a not very intelligent view, given that the Devil carried our his early obedience and subsequent rebellion in heaven in the heavenly, angelic tongue, and subsequently attended heavenly meetings and spoke in that same tongue [Job 1:6 – 12]. If tongues are angelic languages, the devil knows them, who disputed Michael over the body of Moses [Jude 9]);
  • Which can be spoken simultaneously by more than three people, let alone by thousands (1 Corinthians 14:23, 27);
  • Or left uninterpreted (1 Corinthians 14:27, 28);
  • And which form the defining characteristic of true Christians (1 Corinthians 12:7 – 11, 1 Corinthians 14:5).

I hope that this brief outline will help to clarify the matter of what the authentic gift of tongues is.

References:

King James Bible
Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible

On Supposed Revelations from Hell


I have recently been made aware that there are videos making the rounds in the University of Ghana concerning supposed revelations that God is giving to people on hell and the ‘hereafter’. I undertake to share with you Biblical reasons for my disappointment with this situation. The children of light must be seen to bask in its rays, yet professed Christians shun their Bibles for the destructive inventions of false prognosticators and unbiblical philosophy.

The discussion is adapted from a letter I wrote in reply to questions on the matter.

The letter is reproduced below.

Hi, Adwoa.

I hope you’re doing well by God’s grace despite your recent exasperations.

I’d like you to know that the righteous indignation that you have for what’s going on around you is getting rarer and rarer. If you have it then it is certainly because God has laid it upon your heart to bring others into His light. I just want you to not ignore that, but to persevere in the search for truth so that you can be more deployable by God in that regard.

Now to answer your questions, I must first confess that I’m really surprised to hear that people are getting supposed revelations from hell of the state of the dead and of the rapture at Legon. Not that it is not to be expected in the last days, but I’ve not yet been aware of it, so thank you. It is worth investigating.

Like you know, hell is not a presently existing location. Hell is an English translation for four words used in the Bible, all referring to the state, not place, of death. The farthest the Bible ever goes to a geographic description of hell is the six-foot deep hole we call the grave. In fact one of the four words I mentioned, shoel, refers exactly to this. It means grave.

Shoel is used ubiquitously in the Old Testament. It finds particularly plentious use in the book of Job, in which we are shown something important.

In Job 14:13, Job asks God to remember him while he is in sheol, that is, in the grave. Job asked this in hope of the resurrection, praying that God, when he comes to receive the faithful unto Himself, will not forget that He has a servant, who served Him long long ago in the Earth, and who lies in a grave somewhere in the Earth. If Job, a righteous man, goes to sheol, then it cannot be a place of evil torment, so the English translation “hell” cannot refer to this.

The second word that is translated as hell is Hades. If you read any Greek mythology as a child (I regret that I did), you would easily recognise this to be the Greek word for the underworld. In the Greek pagan religion it was understood that people died and went to Hades, which was the realm of the evil god Pluto or Dis (Roman) or Hades (Greek). It is clear that Bible writers used it simply because it was the Greek word used to refer to the state of the dead, and not because they agreed with the pagan philosophy.

For example,in Revelation 20:14, Hades is cast into the lake of fire. If Hades is a place of torment then the Devil and evil people would rather be cast into it. Rather, Hades is cast in, with them, into the real place of torment, the lake of fire. This is the end of sin (the Devil and the wicked) and of death (Hades).

The lake of fire is the only proscribed place of torment given in Scripture. It is never even referred to as hell, and it is an event that will take place in the future. This fire will burn upon the earth, not under it in some cavernous crevices deep down below.

The other word translated to hell is Tartarus, used only once in 2 Peter 2:4 in the Greek rendition. A basic understanding of the Great Controversy between good and evil includes an appreciation of what happened when Lucifer dissented from the courts of Heaven. He was cast down. Where? Onto the earth (Revelation 12:12)!

So Peter refers to Satan’s banishment from the realms of Heaven and from any possibility for redemption (chains of darkness), as death. Does Christ not say that those who do not believe in Him, though they live are dead (John 3:18)? So Satan and his angels are chained to their fate. They are already condemned, that is why they are reserved unto judgement. It’s interesting that Revelation 12:12 makes the same allusions, saying that he (the Devil), knows that his time is short. So Tartarus is no place of present torture as the Devil presently lives so freely among us, causing trouble and giving fake visions of a false hell. It is his present state of permanent condemnation. Remember, only the lake of fire will be used to punish or torment anyone.

The last word has posed some the most difficulty: Gehenna. In Mark 9:43, Christ says it’s better to enter life maimed that to enter hell whole, where the fire is not quenched.

Here, for hell, the Lord used Gehenna. Why? Because he was painting a graphical picture for the hearers. He often did that with parables. As it happened, right outside Jerusalem, there was a city dump called Gehenna.

Here, all the city’s trash was taken and was burned. As can be expected, it was a constantly maintained fire as there was daily refuse to take care of. A cloud of smoke rose continually out of it signifying the flame even when it was at its lowest.

As a symbol of the lake of fire, Christ warned the people to cast off the desirables that eventually lead to punishment and prefer to enter Heaven carrying their cross. Pure and simple.

The fire in Gehenna, like I said, was kept perpetually alight, and was not quenched. This is so only because there was always something for it to burn. Like any fire, when the object of consumption is consumed, the fire dies.

In much the same way, the lake of fire will not be quenched by anyone, but it will die when it has consumed the last object. The Bible teaches this ubiquitously: Matthew 3:12, Isaiah 47:14, Malachi 4:1, etc.

In Revelation 14:11 and 20:10 say the wicked will burn for ever. If for ever is understood to mean ad infinitum then it would appear the Scriptures contradict themselves. But this is not so. For ever in scripture can also mean ‘until the natural end of the thing in question’ or ‘as long as a thing or person lives or exists’. It comes from the Greek ‘enon’ from which we get ‘eon’, meaning an unspecified (not an unending) period of time. See Jonah 2:6, Exodus 21:6, 1 Samuel 1:22, 28.

How do we know which way to understand for ever in Revelation 14 and 20? Easy.

Jude 7 teaches that Sodom and Gomorrah were burned with eternal fire, yet they are clearly not burning today, and Jude says those cities are set forth as an example of how things will happen in the future. Their ‘eternal’ fire therefore was a fire that burned ‘for as long as they existed’, not ad infinitum.

Fundamentally, however, it is easy to tell, as Christians, that there are only two choices available to each person: life and death. John 3:16 is well known but apparently little understood. Those who believe in Christ have life everlasting. Those who do not, perish. They don’t live eternally in fire.

Romans 6:23 is also well known: for the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

We only have the one or the other. Even the angels can be killed by God, and some of them certainly will (Satan’s evil ones, of course). Only God, and it must be emphasised, only God, is truly immortal (1 Timothy 6:15, 16).

There are those who say that death is only the separation of the wicked from the presence of God. This is a sad and most hypocritical if not ignorant position to hold. What then happens to God’s omnipresence? Men have to discard the very fundamental nature and attributes of God to defend indefensible man made traditions.

The modern confusion about the state of the dead and of hell was born in the Dark Ages, within the period of the 1260 year prophetic period in which the true church had to hide from the dragon and its church (Revelation 12). They invented the idea that man had an immortal soul which would go into punishment in purgatory to pay for his sins and attain perfection before moving on into heaven. They then proposed that if the relatives of the dead made good enough financial contributions to the the church then these tormented could be prayed for and their torment shortened. It was this evil that procured massive amounts of currency for the apostate church, that little horn, spoken of by Daniel the prophet (Daniel 7).

It is interesting also to note that this invention was not altogether novel. It finds its root in the very first deception that the dragon spewed into the ear of man, that unlike God had warned, if you of the fruit, “Ye shall not surely die.” (Genesis 3:4).

This idea that man is immortal comes from the Devil, and it is only this devilish philosophy that can support the idea that when people die their immortal souls go into some place immediately, whether Heaven (which has no place for such devilish theories), or hell (which is a silent, dark six feet deep hole in the ground).

Just a thought: If the righteous rise only on the last day (John6:39, 40, 44, 54, 11:24) then how much more the dead, who are reserved unto eternal punishment (see final verses)?

Your friends can be rest assured that all such revelations come from the one who has to defend and reinforce this deception, not from the One who says that He knows how to reserve the righteous unto the resurrection and the unrighteous unto damnation( 2 Peter 2:9, 3:7, 1 Thessalonians 5:3).

The dead will have their day of resurrection, on which to receive their judgement and punishment (see Revelation 20).

Until then, let man content himself with his mortal soul, prepare for death, in which there is no knowing or working or writhing (Ecclesiastes 9:10), and hope to make the first resurrection of the righteous or else to live to see the second coming of Christ (1 Thessalonians 4:15 – 17, 1 Corinthians 15:51 – 58). Otherwise let them prepare for sudden destruction on that day, (2 Peter 3:10,11, 1 Thessalonians 5:2,3), and for the horrible second resurrection of the wicked (Revelation 20:5, 12 – 15).

As hard as it might be for some to say, Amen.

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As a University community it must be the hallmark of our avowed intellectualism to pursue the truth. We must search the Scriptures, as Isaiah advices, For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little (Isaiah 28:10).

As long as we follow Christ in this manner, His reward for our diligent search will be the blessing of light, and truth. May God bless you who choose so to do, and inspire those yet uncommitted to this way, for the truth sets us free.

Photo credit: orthodox-christianity.com