What We Can Learn From Our Prophets

Here is another paper I wrote a couple of years ago, in July 2013.  It was a stretch for me, as I really did not know much about the exile.  Doing the research was prophetable . . .

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I. Introduction

The purpose of this paper is to present a lesson to the Israelites near the end of their exile in Babylon to remind, motivate, and challenge them as they prepare to re-enter the land.

By the end of this lesson, believers will be able to:

    • Understand Yahweh’s reasons for the exile
    • Remember Yahweh’s faithfulness to His established covenants
    • Humble themselves and consistently repent from sin
    • Anticipate the day when a new covenant will be established
    • Pursue knowing Yahweh and learn His ways
    • Participate in Yahweh’s plan for the nations

II. Cognitive Objectives (To Know)

A. Understand Yahweh’s Reasons for the Exile

As we are about to head back to our homeland, it is important for all of us to totally comprehend why we had to go through this terrible time of captivity. We were disobedient and rebellious towards Yahweh; we did this to ourselves (Jer. 3:12, 5:17). Why should we complain when we were punished for our sins (Lam. 3:39)? The whole house of Israel was stubborn and hard-hearted (Eze. 3:7). We defiled the land by what we did, so Yahweh took it away from us (Eze. 36:17-19). Our offenses against Him were great; we did not treat our fellow man as He had said: we oppressed the righteous, took bribes, and deprived the poor of justice (Amos 5:12). We disobeyed the simplest of commandments; we cursed, lied, murdered, stole, and committed adultery (Hos. 4:2).   We had forgotten Yahweh (Eze. 22:12). More importantly, we did not acknowledge that it was Yahweh who gave us grain, new wine, oil, silver, and gold, which we then gave to worthless idols (Hos. 2:8). In wickedness, we have forsaken Yahweh and worshipped what our own hands made (Jer. 1:16).

Yahweh was only being faithful to the covenantal cursings (Dt. 28). “Its basic message is that when Israel breaks the covenant she will suffer sanctions for falling away from Yahweh” (Dumbrell 2002, 67). We had a choice; we chose death. We must now accept that Yahweh did what He had planned for us and fulfilled His word that He said years ago (Lam. 2:17).

B. Remember Yahweh’s Faithfulness to His Covenants

Despite the anger that Yahweh displayed toward us (which we deserved based on what we did and failed to do), His mercy, lovingkindness, and covenant faithfulness (which we did not deserve) has always continued towards His people (Jer. 3:12, 31:3). How can we forget how Yahweh brought us up out of Egypt and led us through the wilderness (Amos 2:10; Hos. 12:9; Jer. 2:6, Eze. 20:10)? We must always remember our journey so that we may know of Yahweh’s righteous acts on our behalf (Mic. 6:5). Despite our long exile, Yahweh still has a hopeful word of comfort for us; because we are His people, He has plans to prosper us, to give us a future (Jer. 29:11) (Longman and Dillard 2006, 338). He longs to be gracious to us; His unfailing love for us will remain solid (Isa. 30:18, 54:10). It is because of His unfailing love that we are not totally destroyed; His compassion never fails and His faithfulness is ever true (Lam. 3:22-23).

III. Affective Objectives (To Be)

A. Humble Yourselves and Repent Consistently

Now is the time to humble ourselves before Yahweh as a nation and as individuals. Yahweh has shown us what He requires, to walk humbly with Him (Mic. 6:8). Although He has punished us, He will heal, revive, and restore us that we may live in His presence (Hos. 6:1-2). Acknowledging Yahweh is a continuous process; we must press on to acknowledge Him from here on out (Hos. 6:3). Yahweh values those who are contrite in spirit (Isa. 66:2). We must repent in sincerity, with our hearts, not just go through the motions (Joel 2:12-13). Yahweh has had enough of meaningless sacrifices (Isa. 1:11, 13). He wants mercy from us, not just our sacrifices; He wants us to acknowledge him, not just offer burnt offerings (Hos. 6:6).

B. Anticipate the New Covenant

There will come a time when Yahweh will make a new everlasting covenant with us. “The new covenant is a fulfillment of the Sinaitic covenant . . . In the past, God graciously delivered his people from Egypt and, through the covenant, took them as his own people. Now, in a parallel situation, he again promises deliverance, restoration and a new relationship based upon a new, eternal covenant” (Routledge 2008, 269). He will put His law in our minds and hearts; all will know Him, and He will no longer remember our sins (Jer. 31:31-34). This internal law will bring the inner transformation that makes obedience possible (Routledge 2008, 270). Plus, this renewed heart will be accompanied by the very Spirit of God, who will guide us to carefully follow His laws (Eze. 36:26-28) and will be poured out on all of the servants of Yahweh (Joel 2:28-29). “Under the new covenant, everyone will have direct access to God, and may enjoy personal, intimate fellowship with him.” (Routledge 2008, 271).

IV. Behavioral Objectives (To Do)

A. Pursue Knowing Yahweh and Learn His Ways

In the past, we were destroyed because of lack of knowledge; we rejected it (Hos. 4:6). We must seek Yahweh and call on Him; He is near (Isa. 55:6). Yahweh said that He will give us shepherds after His heart who would lead us with knowledge and understanding (Jer. 3:15) and would give us a heart to know Him so that we would be His people and that He would be our God (Jer. 24:7). When we seek Yahweh with all our heart, we will find Him (Jer. 29:13-14). As individuals and as a nation, we must go up to Yahweh’s “mountain” and to His “house”, where He will teach us His ways (Isa. 2:3-4; Mic. 4:2). In contrast with the grass and flowers which fade, His word will stand forever (Isa. 40:8); it will accomplish what He desires (Isa. 55:11).

B. Participate in Yahweh’s Plan for the Nations

In the past, we had forgotten Yahweh’s purpose for us with respect to the nations. Abraham was told by Yahweh that He would bless all people on earth through us (Gen. 12:3). Instead of being a blessing to the nations that surrounded us, we stubbornly wished that we were like them (1 Sam. 8:19-20) and we worshipped their foreign gods which were not gods at all (Eze. 20:32). We too easily entered into foreign alliances to solve our problems (Hos. 5:13), rather than trusting in Yahweh who promised to protect us (Longman and Dillard 2006, 407). Our mission was to be a light to the Gentile nations (Isa. 42:7, 51:4), but instead, our unrighteousness profaned the name of Yahweh among the nations (Jer. 34:16; Eze. 36:20-23).

“Israel has been brought into a relationship with God and been guided and blessed through her history, in order to draw others into that same relationship so that they too may submit themselves to God’s authority and share the blessings of his kingdom . . . This was God’s intention from the start, and is to be achieved through the witness of a restored and renewed Israel” (Routledge 2008, 325-6). Now, we are to bring Him honor before the nations when they hear all the good things He has done for us (Isa. 61:9; Jer. 33:9). They will know that Yahweh has made us holy with His presence among us (Eze. 37:28, 39:7). Even though Yahweh is indeed the God of Israel, He is also King over all the nations (Longman and Dillard 2006, 336). The whole earth will eventually be full of the knowledge of Yahweh (Isa. 11:9), and his plans will stand (Isa. 14:24). His house “will be called a house of prayer for all nations” (Isa. 56:7).

Bibliography

Dumbrell, William J. The Faith of Israel: A Theological Survey of the Old Testament. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002.

Longman III, Tremper, and Dillard, Raymond B. An Introduction to the Old Testament. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006.

Routledge, Robin. Old Testament Theology. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2008.

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Immanuel Labor: God’s Presence with Us in our Profession

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The concepts presented below are taken from a two-hour seminar I developed as a final project for an independent study I did on the Theology of Work as a Grand Rapids Theological Seminary student in January – April 2015.  This was my last class for my Master of Arts in Biblical Studies program I completed in May 2015.

I was able to give this seminar to several groups, including a lunch Bible study where I work, a small group of Christian college students, and my Sunday School class.  I posted six short videos from my college presentation on YouTube; the first one can be found here:

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The first part of my title, “Immanuel Labor” came to me when I was working in my kitchen last September. With hammer and chisel I had to remove 132 ceramic tiles which were cemented to a concrete slab with grout that was over 20 years old, in preparation for wood laminate flooring which was being installed on the first floor of our house.  What I was doing was dirty, dusty, sweaty, difficult manual labor, that which is done by hand.

While I was engaged in this activity, I came up with a brilliant pun – “Immanuel” Labor. The word Immanuel comes from the narrative of Christ’s birth found in Matthew 1:23: “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”, which means, “God with us.” We most often think about this word at Christmas-time. In this context, I had chosen to remember that God was with me at that moment as I was attempting to do this hard job for His glory – in His way and for His good purposes – in making my home a little bit nicer.

Without looking too hard, I have seen a repeated connection in Scripture between God’s presence and our work. The concept of Immanuel Labor is indeed biblical – God is truly with us in our work! God’s presence in the midst of our human work is well-grounded in God’s Word in a vast number of places. Here are some examples from the Old Testament:

  • Adam and Eve – God made men and women in His image; He calls them both to be His co-workers over creation, to care for and cultivate it (Gen. 1:26-28, 2:15)
  • Jacob – God was with him, enabling him to work for his father-in-law Laban with all his heart (Gen. 31:3-7, 40-42)
  • Joseph – God was with him in Egypt; He gave him success in all of his work, which was a blessing to his employer (Gen. 39:2-5, 20-23)
  • Moses – He asked God, “Who am I that I should go?” God replied, “I will be with you.” God’s presence was more important than Moses’ qualifications for the job (Ex. 3:10-12)
  • Tabernacle – The detailed construction of the tabernacle, its components, and the priests’ attire would require a variety of skilled craftsmen.  Their work would enable the priests to serve as Yahweh required so that He would dwell among them (Ex. 25:8 – 31:11)
  • Solomon – David told him that God would be with him as he built the temple; this building would be the place of God’s presence for the nation of Israel (1 Chron. 28:20)
  • Rebuilding the Temple – Yahweh told the leaders to be strong and to work, for He was with them (Hag. 2:4)

There are several examples found in the New Testament as well:

  • Mary – Clearly God was present with her during the virgin conception and in her labor to deliver the deliverer named Immanuel; God was also with her in her dedicated, loving work as Jesus’ mother
  • Jesus’ Disciples – Jesus sent His disciples to preach the gospel and expand His kingdom; He empowers them by giving the Holy Spirit to provide His presence with them in their work (Mark 16:20; John 20:21-22; Acts 1:8)
  • The Great Commission – Jesus said to go and make disciples, and that He would be with them always; His presence would enable them to do this difficult task (Matt. 28:18-20)
  • The Church – Every believer is a temple of the Holy Spirit; we are all “walking tabernacles” of God’s presence wherever we go, including going to work (1 Cor. 6:19)
  • Paul – Paul recognized that he is what he is based on the grace of God; he worked really hard as an apostle, but it was God’s grace that was with him while he worked (1 Cor. 15:10)

The second to last bullet from 1 Cor. 6:19 hit me like a ton of bricks. Nelson, in Work Matters, states, “When we embrace the gospel and experience the new birth of regeneration, our physical bodies become indwelling places for the Holy Spirit and are temples of God . . . As a result, when we go to work every day, we bring a temple of God with us” (pp. 107-108).

Here is how I see it.  Just like the tabernacle, which was a portable temple where God’s presence rested that the Israelites carried through the wilderness for 40 years until they entered the Promised Land, we too can experience the presence of God with us as we enter into the wilderness of our workplaces over a 40-year career. (Coincidence? I don’t think so!)

Nelson echoes the same: “The Holy Spirit brings the power and presence of the triune God with the believer to work every day. The Holy Spirit works in the worker through his or her vocation and permeates the workplace with the fragrance of Christ (2 Cor. 2:14-15)” (p. 149).

Having a good understanding of what it means to be a co-worker with God as He works through us to meet the needs of our customers, fellow employees, subordinates, and supervisors, makes all the difference in how we approach our jobs every day, no matter what job we currently have.

 

Thorns and Thistles

ThornsThistles

 

 

 

 

 

I have been thinking a lot lately about one of the most important concepts of a theology of work: the effects of the Fall of Adam.

It is important to note that work itself is not what was cursed.  The work that God gave Adam and Eve to do as found in the creation or cultural mandate in Gen. 1:26-28 was a blessing, and obviously came well before Adam sinned in the garden in chapter 3.  Yahweh made men and women in His image and calls them (and us) to be His co-workers over creation: to rule, be fruitful and multiply (filling the earth), and to subdue (care for, cultivate, and manage) all that He made.

You know the story.  After Adam sinned, God did pronounce a curse on Eve’s labor (birth pains), and Adam’s labor (work).  Specifically, God cursed the ground because of Adam’s sin (Gen. 3:16-19, 23, 5:29).  In addition to the crops that were planted, the ground would produce “thorns and thistles”.  Most of us are not farmers, so what do thorns and thistles mean to us?

As I was reflecting on this passage this spring, I came up with a good summary of what that meant to them and what it means to us now.  From this point forward, work is going to be:

  • Painful, frustrating, and stressful
  • More difficult and time-consuming than necessary
  • Unpredictable, unproductive, fruitless, sweaty
  • Full of interpersonal conflict (with sinners)
  • Set in a challenging environment

To flesh out the second to last bullet above, this means that we will have conflicts with our spouses at home, with customers, co-workers, bosses on the job, and even ourselves.  This is true even if we work in ministry.  And, if we happen to be self-employed, I guarantee we will think our boss is an idiot from time to time!

Nelson, in Work Matters, reminds us, “Daily we are confronted by a sobering reality that our work, the workers we work with, and the workplaces in which we work are not as God originally designed them” (p. 30). He adds, “Work can make us want to curse” (p. 36)  (Why else would we call it the curse?)

To illustrate, here are a few of the thorns and thistles I personally experienced at my job in just the last couple of days: disgruntled employees (I prefer that they be gruntled, whatever that means), boring meetings, printers and copy machines not working properly, forgetting to move a meeting on my calendar, making a silly spelling mistake on a Power Point slide, people not responding to my emails in a timely manner, time pressures, unmet expectations from my boss, and people not reading requirements closely enough.

Keller, in Every Good Endeavor, puts it simply: “Sin runs through the heart of every worker and the culture of every enterprise” (p. 167).

Ecclesiastes 2:17-23 gives a vivid description of the effects of the curse on our work and how meaningless it seems to be. Nelson puts it in modern context, “It all too often feels like we are one big meaningless cog in a giant global wheel” (p. 41).

This sad state of affairs in our collective workplaces began from that very moment in the garden, and will continue through the ages everywhere men and women work until Christ returns (Rom. 8:19-22; Rev. 22:3).

Sherman and Hendricks, in Your Work Matters to God, give us some hope: “Work is not our enemy.  Sin is our enemy.  And only Christ is adequate to deal with sin.  His strategy for dealing with sin, however, is never to remove us from the jungle, but instead to make us adequate to live in the jungle. . . Sin may make the work world a jungle.  But we must never forget that Christ is the Lion of Judah, the King of the jungle!” (p. 107).

I trust these insights will give you strength to get through the trials and temptations you experience at work, and that you anticipate the day when there will be “no more curse”.

Here is a short video clip of this message that I gave to a small group of college students in March 2015.