The Perils of Cut and Paste (Jeremiah 11:1–17)

“The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD: ‘Hear the words of this covenant, and speak to the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem. You shall say to them, Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: Cursed be the man who does not hear the words of this covenant that I commanded your fathers when I brought them out of the land of Egypt, from the iron furnace, saying, Listen to my voice, and do all that I command you. So shall you be my people, and I will be your God, that I may confirm the oath that I swore to your fathers, to give them a land flowing with milk and honey, as at this day.’ Then I answered, ‘So be it, LORD'” (Jeremiah 11:1–5)

Covenant theologians of various stripes alike agree that there is both continuity and discontinuity as we move from the Old Covenant to the New. It’s my contention that whereas my presbyterian friends get too crazy with the glue, we reformed baptists play a bit wild with the scissors at times. Even so, I believe credobaptist covenant theologians are more mature with their scissors than their paedobaptist counterparts are with the glue.

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These are important matters but they pale in significance compared to a far more deadly hermeneutic of continuity and discontinuity—one of personal convenience. If you only see the stream flowing where you’re thirsty, and always damned up where you desire no flooding, I’m afraid you’ve drifted from the truth. If you only see continuity where it benefits you, and discontinuity where it could harm you, beware, because you’re probably off on both counts.

If you read a text like Jeremiah 11:1–17 and think, “Phew! I’m glad I’m not under the Old Covenant.” because this would be bad news for your idols, then you’re not grateful, but an ingrate. We should indeed be ecstatic that we live on the fulfilled side of the promises, but not that kind of happy. If you think that because you’ve heard the gospel, you need not hear the law, then I’m afraid you’ve heard neither the Old nor the New Covenant. If your concept of liberty involves liberty to sin, you’re not free. You’re still in bondage.

If you think the dark warnings and curses of the Old Testament have no application to you simply because the Son has risen, I’d advise you to listen to the New Testament and then take another listen to the Old.

“Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard…” (Hebrews 2:1–3, emphasis mine).

“Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says, ‘Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, on the day of testing in the wilderness, where your fathers put me to the test and saw my works for forty years. Therefore I was provoked with that generation, and said, “They always go astray in their heart; they have not known my ways.” As I swore in my wrath, “They shall not enter my rest.” ’ Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end” (Hebrews 3:1–6, emphasis mine).

Moody Bible Literacy (1 Peter 1:13–17)

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The Bible is moody, in a perfect way, and you need to know what sets off the mood swing. Sentences have moods. In the original language 1 Peter 1:3–12 is a single elephantine sentence. Some sentences really should run on. Clarity, brevity, and simplicity are virtues, but sometimes the subject is too grand to distill. Sometimes the matter really is that complex, deep, and wondrous. When we enter into salvation in all it’s fullness, I believe such run-on sentences of praise will be commonplace.

This whopping sentence is in the indicative mood. It indicates. It simply states the facts. But this is no stoic, “just the facts, ma’am.” This is good news. This is the gospel.

Following this hefty sentence are three lightweight ones in vv. 13–17. These sentences are in the imperative mood. They command. But the mood of this mood is still joyful.

When the Bible changes moods, you shouldn’t. For this to happen, it is essential that you see how the imperative and the indicative relate. A “therefore” lies between them. One mood produces the other, and it should always be the indicative first. The imperatives follow the indicative.

This is always the case for God’s people. Covenant, promise, and redemption came before Sinai. When God gave the law he prefaced it saying, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me.” Here you have the same two kinds of sentences and the same “therefore” is implicitly understood to lie between them.

As the commands of God are planted in the soil of God’s grace, they are a tree of life. Try to plant them somewhere else, and you’ll only get poison apples.

Sinner, if your life has been nothing but one long stuttering incomplete imperative sentence, hear this gospel exclamation. What you cannot do, Christ did. He kept the law and bore the wrath of God for sinners so that all who trust in Him might have their sins removed and His righteousness imputed to them. If the Spirit takes that sentence deep into your soul and causes you to be born again, then you’ll find that your mood has changed, a mood that loves all the moods of the Scriptures.

You Probably Think this Psalm is About You (Psalm 20)

We’re so vain.

God has written the hymnary of humanity and it has parts. Unfortunately, we don’t know how to sing parts anymore. But the problem is much worse than ignorance or a lack of musicality. Discontent to remain a member of the choir, we insist on a solo part.

Thus it is that we can’t read God’s music—the psalms. We think we’re speaking when we’re being spoken to. Likewise, we think we’re being spoken to when we are to be singing. We sing the wrong parts and we fail to sing the right ones. We sing the solo and fail to sing the choir’s chorus. When we read the psalms, we fail to make individual and communal distinctions and identifications. Who is the individual? Who is the group? When we do make distinctions, we invert them. To top it off, we’re so self-centered, we don’t even realize it—“of course this lyric must be about me.” We too easily identify with David as a king.

Read the 20th Psalm. Did you hear blessings being spoken to you or did you hear yourself blessing someone? In this psalm, the people pronounce blessings on David as He goes out to battle, knowing that Israel’s welfare is found in him. Save the solo part in verse 7, this is a song of the people for their king.

In Christ we have a King, not whom we bless, but who is blessed. He doesn’t need our blessing, this blessing is on Him. And so it is that we can be all the more confident exclaiming:

Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.
They collapse and fall,
but we rise and stand upright.

Make the Psalms all about you, and any “confidence” you sing with is a display of arrogance. Sing with humility, and you may belt this psalm out with true confidence. Your King is blessed. Your King is heard. His victory is established. Let us shout over His salvation!

Poorly Hung Church Doors (Colossians 4:2–6)

“At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison.” —Colossians 4:3 (ESV)

Paul’s “open door” has been installed in many churches incorrectly. This phrase has been hijacked in an attempt to sanctify a horrid way to seek God’s will. In his excellent little book, Just Do Something, Kevin DeYoung quotes a Lark New satire piece,

TUPELO — Walter Houston, described by family members as a devoted Christian, died Monday after waiting 70 years for God to give him clear direction about what to do with his life.

‘He hung around the house and prayed a lot, but just never got that confirmation,’ his wife Ruby said. ‘Sometimes he thought he heard God’s voice, but then he wouldn’t be sure, and he’d start the process all over again.’

Houston, she says, never really figured out what his life was about, but felt content to pray continuously about what he might do for the Lord. Whenever he was about to take action, he would pull back ‘because he didn’t want to disappoint God or go against him in any way,’ Ruby says. ‘He was very sensitive to always remain in God’s will. That was primary to him.’

Friends say they liked Walter though he seemed not to capitalize on his talents.

‘Walter had a number of skills he never got around to using,’ says longtime friend Timothy Burns. ‘He worked very well with wood and had a storyteller side to him, too. I always told him, ‘“Take a risk. Try something new if you’re not happy,” but he was too afraid of letting the Lord down.’

To his credit, they say, Houston, who worked mostly as a handyman, was able to pay off the mortgage on the couple’s modest home.

Do you know how Paul found open doors? He prayerfully tried a bunch of handles. When one opened, he went through.

What are the open doors Paul asks for? Opportunity for the gospel, to declare the mystery of Christ. Upon returning to Antioch following his first missionary journey, we read that, “when they arrived and gathered the church together, they declared all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles (Acts 14:27).” The open door for the word then isn’t just the opportunity to declare the gospel, but receptivity to believe the gospel. Listen to the same truth in different garb. In Acts 11 Peter reports of this same open door of faith for the Gentiles. When the church “heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, ‘Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.’ ” (Acts 11:18)

Paul desires prayer because He knows the work is the Lord’s. All opportunity and all receptivity for the gospel are gifts from God’s hand. Paul isn’t asking for prayer so that he might know who to marry, where to go to school, or what job to take. Paul’s personal request isn’t that personal at all. Paul doesn’t ask for an open door for himself, but for the gospel.

Why is Paul’s door installed incorrectly in so many churches? Because we are idolatrously bent in on ourselves. The crooked can’t hang straight doors.

A Call for Slavery (Colossians 3:22–4:1)

While some are repulsed by the command for a wife to submit to her husband, many ignore the command for slaves to obey their masters. They’d rather act like it’s not there, like dust quickly brushed under the rug as the guests approach. We wear the Bible’s slavery passages like a stain we got on our white shirt on the way to a job interview. We sit awkwardly trying to hide it.

The embarrassment goes as deep as our translations. It is as though a coverup is afoot made easy by a prior historical fumble. The Latin servus was used to translate the Greek doulos. The Latin then crossed over into the early English translations as “servant.”

Many modern English translations now used a mixture of slave, bondservant, and servant. When it comes to passages where cause for offense might be most intense, translators often waffle and default to servant or bondservant. Doulos, means slave. Every time. No exceptions. Murray J. Harris writes:

“In New Testament Greek there are at least six terms that are often translated or could be translated by the English word ‘servant.’ But only one New Testament word—doulos—has the distinctive meaning of ‘slave’, and this word occurs 124 times in the New Testament.”

The ESV translates this same word as “slave” in 3:11 and there is absolutely no reason to do otherwise in 3:22. At the close of chapter 3 Paul is speaking precisely to those just addressed as slaves and the free lords they serve.

The term slave should cause us to blush at our national heritage, but not at our Biblical heritage. Put shame where it belongs, on sinful men, not the Holy Word of God. Do not ever be embarrassed at the Scriptures. We shouldn’t blush to take any portion of God’s Word on our lips. If there is any right to embarrassment, the Word of God should blush to be on our lips. We are the stain. God’s Word is pure.

There is a radical difference between a slave and a servant. Most notably, servants are hired, whereas slaves are owned. Some argue for a translation of “servant” because ancient slavery was different from modern slavery and they fear an anachronistic reading of our ideas back into the text. Yes, it was different, but why is it any better to read our modern idea of servanthood back into the text? Modern slavery is a good deal closer to ancient slavery than modern servanthood is. Use the right words so that the right questions are asked. Making it easy doesn’t make it clear. Rather than making our translations soft, we need to do the hard work of teaching the sheep to be good readers of God’s good Word.

Follow the Tendons (Exodus 39)

As you study the anatomy of the Scripture, don’t be so wowed by its muscle that you fail to notice the ligaments and tendons. The connective tissue of the Bible is fascinating. Often it tells you what the muscle is there for—what it does.

Note the way this section (Exodus 39:1–32), which clearly deals with the priest’s garments, begins. There is no introduction. It seems abrupt and clumsy. In urging you to pay attention to the connective tissue of the Bible I am also asking you to pay little regard to chapter divisions. They’re helpful as addresses and pretty much detrimental otherwise. The chapter divisions often dissect the text unnaturally, separating muscle from tendon. Read from 38:21 forward, without the chapter division, and see if there is a flow. When you read about the records for the tabernacle, do you feel as though something is missing? Of all the things contributed for the tabernacle, we’re only told about the precious metals. What about the fabric?

So while Exodus 39:1–32 is different, it clearly has ties back to chapter 38. Here is why this is significant: it means that the priestly garments are part of the tabernacle. The making of them is included as part of “the records of the tabernacle (38:21).” This section ends speaking of the completion of “the work of the tabernacle (39:32).” These garments match the tabernacle curtains and the veil because they are one with it. The priest, clothed in holiness is linked to the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies as part of it. Vern Poythress writes, “The high priest himself is in fact a kind of vertical replica of the tabernacle.”

So, this is significant, because all of this is significant. All of this, altogether, inseparably, is a sign pointing to Christ. This is what the connective tissue of the Bible always tells us. Why is the muscle there? Follow the tendons. They always lead to Christ.

The Area 51 of Christendom (Exodus 25)

Concerning the tabernacle, Philo, the Jewish thinker of Alexandria, held that the seven lamps represented the seven then known planets, the four materials the four elements of earth, water, air, and fire, and the precious stones the signs of the Zodiac. Thus the tabernacle portrayed the cosmos. Silly ancient.

The tabernacle was a place of restricted access. Some Christians approach for this reason, others stay away. It’s like the Area 51 of Christendom. There are those who sneer and those who seek; neither approach is healthy. There are the conspiracy theorists who make every little detail of the tabernacle to be about something, and then there are those who stay away because they think all of this a tad weird.

So let me illustrate a healthier approach using a piece of furniture from the tabernacle. What does the gold lampstand mean? One could jump to John 12 where Jesus reveals Himself as the light of the world and trace that rich Biblical theme through the Scriptures, but when finished, he would have only shown that that theme was in the Bible without demonstrating that it was directly tied to the lampstand. In Zechariah 4 and Revelation 1 we see similar lampstands, but in each instance the lamps stand for something different. Further, in those passages we’re told what the lamps meant. Here we’re told nothing. Wisdom would dictate we say nothing. So what does the lamp mean? It means that with all those curtains, the tabernacle was dark and thus the priests needed light (Exodus 25:37).

Don’t miss the forrest for the trees. Don’t miss the word for the letters. We don’t read letters, we read words. Meaning is in words, not letters. The meaning of the tabernacle is in the big scope of things. When God begins to give instructions for the tabernacle, He starts with the core. Keep the core the core. Note what the New Testament makes a big deal out of, and make a big deal out of that. Read Hebrews 8 and 9 and don’t presume to be more insightful than its author. Or, as a friend of mine puts it, “Love Jesus. Don’t get weird.”