No Need to Choke on Our Own Words (Exodus 31)

Whereas many are comfortable saying God “rested” on the Sabbath, I think more would squirm to say He was “refreshed” in Sabbath (Exodus 31:17). Of course we understand all this to be anthropomorphic language. We understand this, because, if it wasn’t, we couldn’t understand it. Follow?

Some people make a fuss when Scripture speaks of the strong arm of Yahweh, arguing that all man-talk of God is meaningless. This has several problems. First, man-talk is the language we know best. Second, man talk is the best creaturely language that there is to speak about God as man is made in the image of God. In theology, Spanish trumps dolphin beeps every time. Finally, such talk about man-talk being inadequate to communicate truth about God puts the greatest limits not on man, but on God. It may sound humble to say that human language can’t convey truth about the divine, but it is just the opposite. It is arrogant to think that God cannot speak in such a way as to reveal who He is to us. God knows our language better than we. He knows our ears too. There is a problem, but it’s not that God has a speech impediment, rather, our ears are morally clogged with filth.

What then is God meaning to say with the word “refreshed”? We realize that “rest” simply means that God stopped His special work of creation ex nihilo. But what of “refreshed”? The word seems more problematic; too tied to man’s weakness. Indeed, creation didn’t exhaust or deplete God in any way. God didn’t need a nap. So some venture that such anthropomorphisms are merely meant to teach us about our stance to the Sabbath. No, the reason “rest” and “refreshed,” teach us anything about our stance to the Sabbath is because of what they first say about our Creator in whose image we were made.

If a job is done poorly or partly and then rest is attempted by anyone with a modicum of character, their time off is likely to cause more anxiety than refreshment. Have you ever been ready to take a vacation only to have a fresh load of work dumped on you last minute, knowing it will be waiting for you when you return? Or, say you botch up the last job before a trip that you know has to be redone, what will your mind be on? On the seventh day God looked at His completed work and saw that it was good. God’s refreshment derived from the completion and quality of His work. “Refreshed,” should not be take to mean that creation drained God, but rather just the opposite. He had joy in it. It was done. It was very good.

The Sabbath was good news to the Jew, not simply because they abstained from their work, but because God was inviting them to enjoy His rest. He invites us into this rest in Jesus Christ. The work is done. The work was perfect. The rest is therefore refreshing.

Holy Beyond Words Known by Words (Exodus 20:18–21)

God is holy. Israel was staggered by the manifestation of this truth at Sinai. It wasn’t just the production that jolted them, it was the propositions. God’s holiness was manifest not just in His delivery, but the content delivered.

Smoke and fire—we’ve seen these before at this mountain. At this mountain God declared His name to Moses, YHWH, built on God’s declaration, “I AM WHO I AM (Exodus 3:13–15).” The manifestation matched the declaration, and the declaration is the clearer and fuller revelation. The Words are not a less, but a more explicit and a more abiding revelation of the holiness of God. In His name are implications for many of God’s attributes, including His incomprehensibility, immutability, eternality, and aseity. The bush that burns without being consumed harmonizes with His name. The words give clearer perception into the manifestation. A picture is worth a thousand words they say, but Biblically, it’s words that give the clearest picture.

And so at Sinai, there is smoke and fire, thunder and lightning, trumpet sound and trembling earth, but the words, well, they are words from the fire. The propositions themselves, even more than the production, speak to God’s holiness. By this I do not mean that they simply reflect God’s moral purity as we are called to be holy as He is holy. No, holy fundamentally means that God is other. From the very first command we see that God is so other that there is not another. A NBA star stands out from many, but there are others. He is other, but there are others. God is so other, there is not another. He is God alone. Likewise with the other commands we see the majesty, glory, holiness, and beauty of God. The second table of the law is just as potent. The imago Dei is what underlies the seriousness of the commands to love our neighbor. Slaughtering an animal is different from murdering a man, because man is made in God’s image. Man’s uniqueness speaks to God’s uniqueness.

The words tell us that the flames and cloud, the flashes and crashes, the shaking of earth, and booming voice are not just a production. This isn’t pomp and ceremony for the sake of a special covenant ceremony, though this is a manifestation for a special covenant ceremony. My point is that God didn’t get all did up only to go home and let loose. God is holy. This is God all natural. We say clothes make the man, but when God puts on clothes, it is a veiling, a coming down, an expression of humility. This is who God is, or rather, it is a limited manifestation of His infinite glory. God is not less than this, He is more; and it is the words from the fire that more fully disclose just how Holy the God who is a consuming fire is.

It’s Easier to Split an Atom (Exodus 6:1–27)

The recipe of redemption:

  1. Take God’s covenant with Abraham.
  2. Cut along the present dividing the covenant past (Exodus 6:3–5) from the covenant future (Exodus 6:6–8). [NOTE: This step is impossible, God’s covenant faithfulness in the past cannot be separated from our present, not the future, but just pretend.]
  3. Add Yahweh at the beginning, end, and in-between. [NOTE: Again, this is just a mental exercise. God is the beginning, God is the end, and when you make your imaginary split between the past and the future, you’ll find that God is already there too.]

God’s name (Yahweh) and His covenant are linked together. In Exodus 6:3–8 if God isn’t saying “I am Yahweh,” He is saying something that regards His covenant. Four times, at the beginning, end, and betwixt all the covenant talk, God declares, “I am Yahweh.” God’s name speaks to who God is in Himself. Yahweh is the I AM, He has aseity, is immutable, incomprehensible, and holy just for starters. But His name isn’t merely tied to who He is, it also concerns what He does. God’s name is part of God’s redeeming covenant love. He redeems His people to Himself to know Him, and to know that all that He is, He is for them. They are redeemed to know that Yahweh is their God and that their God is Yahweh.

When God tells His people who He is, the definition isn’t theoretical and abstract, but practical and concrete. Yahweh delivers and redeems His people (Exodus (6:6), and then takes them to be His people, adopts them, so that they might know He is Yahweh their God (Exodus 6:7).

The patriarchs didn’t know God by his name, but in the title “God Almighty” (El Shaddai). This isn’t to say that they didn’t know God’s name, but that they didn’t know God in His name. If you looked in their mental dictionary the entry “Yahweh” was there, followed by a pronunciation guide, but the definition was blank. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob called upon the name of Yahweh. They knew the name, but God had not made Himself known in His name. Now God is giving the definition, and the definition isn’t a short one. God’s was just getting warmed up at the burning bush. God’s elucidation of His name continues throughout the whole of Exodus. Look up “Yahwah” in the dictionary, and the entire text of Exodus follows.

But even then God isn’t finished showing us how His name and covenant are forever linked. The definition isn’t really filled out until we come to Jesus, the Greek variant of Yeshua, meaning “Yahweh saves.” In the name and person of Jesus, we see God’s name and covenant fully intertwined and inseparable.

The Penning Pastor: The Most Unlearned Saint Knows More about the Stars than the Most Stellar Unregenerate Astronomer

But the book of creation is designed for the instruction of all believers. If they are not qualified to be astronomers or anatomists, yet from a view of the heavens, the work of God’s fingers, the moon and the atom, which he hath created, they learn to conceive of his condescension, power, and faithfulness. Though they are unacquainted with the theory of light and colours, they can see in the rainbow a token of God’s covenant love. Perhaps they have no idea of the magnitude or distance of the sun; but it reminds them ofJesus the Sun of Righteousness, the source of light and life to their souls. The Lord has established a wonderful analogy between the natural and the spiritual world. This is a secret only known to them that fear him ; but they contemplate it with pleasure; and almost every object they see, when they are in a right frame of mind, either leads their thoughts to Jesus, or tends to illustrate some scriptural truth or promise. This is the best method of studying the book of Nature ; and for this purpose it is always open and plain to those who love the Bible, no that he who runs may read. –John Newton, Works, Vol. 1

The Dogmatician: Nothing Is Atheistic

In an absolute sense, therefore, nothing is atheistic. And this witness of Scripture is confirmed on every side. There is no atheistic world. There are no atheistic peoples. Nor are there atheistic persons. The world cannot be atheistically conceived since in that case it could not be the work of God but would have to be the creation of an anti-god. …There is nobody able, absolutely and with logical consistency, to deny God’s knowability and hence his revelation. Agnosticism itself is proof of this point: like skepticism, it cannot maintain itself except with the aid of what it opposes. And precisely because the world cannot be conceived as godless, there are no atheistic and areligious peoples. —Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics

Paul Ain’t Carol Coleman or What is an Apostle? (1 Timothy 1:1-2)

You don’t have to get far into 1 Timothy in order to be able to preach a sermon. The first word will do, “Paul.” And I don’t mean a sermon that merely biographical. “This is Paul. Wow! Paul! Be like Paul!” I don’t have in mind the sermon that is repeated with every “hero” of the Bible that amounts to little more than a “baptized” morality; one of those “baptisms” where you say the person only got wet. No, I don’t mean a biographical, but a theological sermon. You can preach an expository sermon, faithful to the text, and only preach this first word, insofar as you are understanding how that word relates to the rest of the letter.

If this letter began “Larry,” it might be a great letter, doctrinally sound, and helpful in many ways, but one thing it certainly would not be is in the Bible. It is because of who Paul is that this letter is where it is, namely, in the Bible.

While I was at “Together for the Gospel” a pastor friend of mine happened upon a card, of a local, certainly not an attendee of the conference, with a picture of a woman who had taken the title, “Apostle Carol Coleman, End Time Prophetess, General in God’s Army.” We wondered what one has to do to carry the title “General in God’s Army.” But we do not have to wonder what Biblical title she should rightfully be given—“False Teacher.”

Apostleship is hand delivered by the nail-scarred hands of the resurrected Christ. Paul says that Jesus appeared to him last of all (1 Corinthians 15:8–9). When Jesus appeared to Paul He told him, “I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you (Acts 26:16).” And apostle is a sent messenger. Jesus appears to Paul not only to send, but to give Paul a message. The authority and the message were received simultaneously, for Jesus was the source, and subject of Paul’s apostleship. Paul says one who aspires to the task of an overseer desires a noble task (1 Timothy 3:1). He says nothing like this concerning apostleship, not because it isn’t a noble task, but because one may not aspire to it. The number is closed. 

In nine of Paul’s thirteen letters he mentions his apostleship in the greeting. In three of Paul’s letters (1 Corinthians, Galatians, and 1 Timothy) his apostleship receives special emphasis in the opening chapters. In the very greeting of two of those three (Galatians and 1 Timothy) the mention of Paul’s apostleship comes with a punch. Normally Paul would say something like, “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God,” but here we are told that Paul is an apostle “by command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus our hope.” He is commanded by the One he commends. Paul received his apostleship from the One who is his message, “God our Savior, Christ Jesus our Hope.” There are no other apostles. All teaching is to be compared with that of the apostles, and no teaching  is to be esteemed above it. If you want the truth about Jesus, go to His apostles.

So when you see “Paul,” at the beginning of his letters, think that no small word. Paul’s name at the beginning of the letters we have in the New Testament means, “God’s Word.” Oh, that we would realize what we have in the 1 Timothy, and in all the Scriptures; words from the King to us through His authorized messengers. 

The Dogmatician: Fresh Bread, Thousands of Years Old

It [the Bible] always speaks of the highest and holiest things, of eternal and invisible matters, in a human way. Like Christ, it does not consider anything human alien to itself. But for that reason it is a book for humanity and lasts till the end of time. It is old without ever becoming obsolete. It always remains young and fresh; it is the word of life. The word of God endures forever. —Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics