Category Archives: Old Testament Studies
SERIES: GENESIS – PART 13
Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array. By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done. - Genesis 2:1-3
What does it mean, God rested on the seventh day? It does not mean that God closed his eyes and went to sleep. He did not take a nap. It does not mean that God rested in the sense that he became indifferent to what the man and woman were doing. We know God was not indifferent because when Adam and Eve sinned he was immediately there in the garden calling them to an accounting. He pronounced judgment and held out hope of a Redeemer to come. Rest is not to be understood in either of those ways.
What is involved here is what St. Augustine had in mind when, with his magnificent use of words, he contrasted the rest of God with our restlessness. He said, “Thou has made us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee.” Augustine was thinking of the turmoil of the human heart. He was saying that our true destiny is to find the rest that is found in God only.
Is it not the case that what is involved here is this kind of rest? God, having completed his work of creation, rests, as if to say, “This is the destiny of those who are my people; to rest as I rest, to rest in me.”
Rest and Restlessness
One thing that makes our lives restless is the pace of change. I wonder how many people have had the experience of watching a population clock. I did at the first of the world congresses on evangelism in Berlin in 1966 and can report that it is a very disturbing experience. In the Congress Halle in Berlin, where the meetings took place, there was a population clock display. It was a printout of numbers that kept increasing at the rate of the increase of the population of this planet. The numbers went by very rapidly. They were literally flipping by in front of our eyes—ten, twenty, thirty, forty, fifty, a hundred, two hundred, three hundred, a thousand, two thousand, three thousand. … That is the way they went. As I stood watching this clock, I was overwhelmed by the rapid pace of change. On this occasion even the clock was overwhelmed, because the mechanism was unable to keep up with the increase of the population and the poor thing began to slow down. Toward the end of the assembly someone had to announce from the platform that the clock was not keeping up with the population and if you wanted to know what it was, you had to upgrade the numbers by a certain amount.
If we fail to recognize how disturbing this is, we need to think of this further fact: not only are the numbers increasing, indicating that time is quickly marching on, but even the rate of increase is increasing. The population increases are accelerating. Instead of slowing down, the clock should have been speeding up. The speed at which it was going back in 1966 for the World Congress on Evangelism was much slower than it would have to be if it were keeping pace with the increase of the world’s population today.
Moreover, the problem is not just the increase in population. That would not be such a bad thing in itself. It is that everything is changing. This is why Alvin Toffler in his book Future Shock speaks of a pending monumental breakdown of people who live in industrialized lands. It is not a case, as some have said, of our choices being increasingly eliminated and industry forcing us into greater and greater uniformity. Rather, our options are increasing and at an ever faster rate of speed. People cannot keep up with the choices they are compelled to make. We look at such things and conclude, rightly and inescapably, that this is an age of great distress and restlessness.
However, we still have not come to the real cause of restlessness. If we were to go back in history before what we regard as the modern age and the quickly accelerating pace of modern life, we would still find people having the kind of restlessness about which St. Augustine wrote. He lived in an age of change. But if we could have asked him, “Augustine, how can it be that you, living back in what we regard as the early periods of western history, can speak of restlessness? We see our problem as having to do with the fast pace of modern life.” Augustine would have said, “It’s not the fast pace of modern life or the slow pace of life that is your problem; the basic problem is sin, which brings turmoil to the heart.” Perhaps he would have pointed us to those words of Scripture that speak of the wicked having lives that are like the churning sea that never rests. That is what sin causes.
The devil was the first one to sin, and he has as one of his names, Diabolos, which means “the disrupter.” The word diabolos is based on two Greek words: dia, which means “through” or “among,” and ballō, which means “to throw.” We get our word “bowling” from it. Together the words describe one who is always throwing something into the middle of things. He is the one who throws the monkey wrench into the machinery. He disrupts. And so does sin! If we were sinless, we would have the peace of the Lord Jesus Christ within. But because we do not, we are at odds with God (who has become our enemy), with others (with whom we are in constant conflict), and ourselves. Even when we sit by ourselves we are unable to be at peace. An author once said, “The greatest problem with men and women is that they do not know how to sit and be still.”
What is the cure for restlessness? It is interesting that these verses in Genesis are picked up by the author of Hebrews in a chapter that is entirely given over to this subject. He begins in chapter 3, but it is really in chapter 4 that he talks about what he calls “Sabbath-rest” (v. 9). He calls attention to the fact that although God has created rest for his people, we are not at rest. He points out that when God led Israel out of Egypt into the wilderness in their days of wandering, he had as a goal to bring them into the Promised Land. It was to be a place where they would find rest from their wandering. It was a symbol of heaven. But the people rebelled, as we do, and God judged that generation. The author quotes Psalm 95:11 in which God says, “I declared on oath in my anger, ‘They shall never enter my rest.’ ” The author asks how this can be. Here is God, who creates a day of rest and promises rest and yet swears that his people will never enter into that rest. He replies that we do not enter into rest because we will not come to God at that point at which rest may be found, namely, in the Lord Jesus Christ.
The author exhorts the people of his day. He says, in effect, “Don’t go on as those people did who perished in the wilderness, about whom these things were said. Rather strive to enter into God’s rest. Cast off sin. Cast off everything that keeps you from Christ. Come in the fullness of faith to rest in him.”
Jesus himself made that offer. Before his crucifixion when he was with his disciples in the upper room, he recognized that they were bothered by what was happening. They had heard his prophecies of his death, and although they did not understand them fully they knew that things were going to change. They were troubled, but he said, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me” (John 14:1). He went on to talk about heaven and the giving of the Holy Spirit and the privilege of prayer, and when he got to the end he gave them something that can rightly be regarded as his legacy: peace. He said, “My peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (v. 27).
How does that come about? It is by finding Christ who has done what we need. Sin is the basic cause of restlessness, and sin is the problem with which we must deal. We cannot handle it. We are the sinners. But the Lord Jesus Christ not only can, he does. He comes; he dies; he pays the penalty for our sin. He opens the door into the presence of God for all who believe in him. Then God, on the basis of the death of Christ, pronounces the believing one justified. That one now stands before the presence of God clothed in the righteousness of Jesus Christ.
As long as we live we will be troubled by sin. But we can begin to enter into God’s rest now and can look forward to that day when we will be made like Jesus and stand before God in holiness.
Holiness and Sin
That leads to the second point. God not only promises rest in these verses, he promises holiness as well. Holiness means to be set apart. So God sets the Sabbath day apart to teach that we are to enter not only into rest but also into holiness.
The two go together, because holiness is the opposite of sin, and sin is what makes us restless. Why is it that when we go out into the world with the gospel the world is not willing to respond to Christ’s teaching? Why is it that when we talk about rest, the world, which is restless, does not rush with open arms to embrace the gospel? The answer is that rest is connected with holiness and the world does not want holiness.
The attributes of God are always an offense to men and women. God is sovereign. That is offensive because we want to be our own sovereign. We want to be lords of our lives. We want to say, as one of the poets did, “I am the master of my fate; I am the captain of my soul.”
God is also omniscient. He knows everything. This is troublesome, too, because it means that God knows us. We do not want to be known, certainly not well. We want to be noticed. We want to be praised, built up. But we do not want to be known as we are because we are ashamed of what we are. Yet God knows us as no other man or woman will ever know us, and to be exposed in the sight of a holy God is frightening.
The most troublesome of all the attributes of God is holiness. God is absolutely holy. He has no place for sin. There is not a sinful thought, not a sinful wish, not a sinful deed or emotion in God. Yet everything we do is marred by sin. It says a little later in the Book of Genesis that the thoughts of people had become “only evil all the time” (Gen. 6:5). We may resist the judgment of God and say that this is not true, but this is the way God sees it. We tend to minimize sin. We say, “Of course, there are times when I do not do everything I should, but generally I’m pretty good.” God says, “Even those good times are so infused with sin that, if you could see as I see, you would abhor yourself in ashes.”
Men and women do not like God for his holiness, and it is this that makes the gospel so hard to preach. People need rest, yes. But they need it in the way it is to be found: by having sin’s penalty removed through the work of Christ; sin’s power broken through the power of the Holy Spirit; sin’s presence eradicated by Christ’s return, when those who believe on him shall be made like him in all his perfections.
For believers there is a sense in which the seventh day is fulfilled in us now. We enter by degrees into the rest and holiness Christ provides. But the ultimate realization of the Sabbath is to be at Christ’s return when we go to be with him and rest with him in holiness forever.
To the Work
In spite of the promise of the seventh day, it is nevertheless the case that the seventh day is succeeded by the first day, which also has importance for us. Donald Grey Barnhouse in his devotional study of the Book of Genesis has an interesting word at this point. Each segment of Genesis is followed by a devotional comment, and at this point, after the words “on the seventh day God finished the work which he had done and rested,” Barnhouse remarks, “But not for long.” Sin entered, and God was soon at work again in Christ to bring redemption. Jesus said, “The Father worketh hitherto, and I work.” That work is still going on. So if God the Father, the Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit are working, then we had better be working too, because there is much work to be done.
It is significant that the Christian day of worship is not the Sabbath day of rest (characteristic of the Old Testament period) but the first day of the week, Sunday, which is a day of joy, activity, and expectation. Why is it a day of joy? Because we see the culmination of the gospel in Jesus Christ. Before, God’s people lived in expectation. They looked for the coming of the Messiah. Now the Messiah has come, and we rejoice in him. Christ’s first word to the women after his resurrection was “Rejoice.” They were to rejoice because there was much to rejoice about.
Then let us be done with the long faces and solemn demeanors that so often characterize the people of God on the Lord’s Day. And let us be done with the type of worshiper who comes to church only to go home. If you do not enjoy the worship of God and the fellowship of God’s people, if you do not enjoy the preaching of the Word and the response of the congregation in word and song, stay home! In the early days of the church the apostles did not have to go around ringing doorbells to get people to come out to the service. They did not have to maintain every-member visitation plans to renew flagging interest. In fact, the opposite was true. We read in the second chapter in Acts that the Christians “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. … Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved” (vv. 42, 46–47).
These were happy Christians. Other people liked to be with them, perhaps most of all because they were happy. Friendships developed. Then on the basis of these friendships the Lord moved and added to the church daily those who were being saved.
The second characteristic of the Lord’s Day is activity. The first Lord’s Day was a day of activity: the women on the way to the tomb, the appearances of Jesus, the return to Jerusalem of the Emmaus disciples, the sharing of experiences, communion, the Lord’s commission. It is possible that if you have been working hard for the other six days of the week, Sunday might have to be a “day of rest” for you. But this is not an integral part of the Lord’s Day. The Sabbath was the day of rest. If you need to rest, try resting on Saturday. The Lord’s Day should be a day of activity.
This does not mean that just any old activity will reflect the fullest significance of the day. You may mow your grass, if you wish. You are not under law. But this does not have much to do with Christ, nor does it help to express your joy in his resurrection.
Worship is significant. It may strike some persons as strange to speak of worship as an activity; for in many minds worship is conceived in a passive sense, that is, sitting in a pew and letting the words of the day run through one’s head like water. But this is a travesty of real worship. The Lord said that real worship is done “in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24). Truth involves content. So worship is above all else an active, rational activity.
Why do we have Scripture readings in the speech of the people instead of in Hebrew, Greek, or Latin? Why are the words of music in common speech? Why does a sermon stand at the heart of each service? The answer is: to engage our minds.
“We must therefore beware of all forms of emotional, aesthetic or ecstatic worship in which the mind is not fully engaged, and especially of those which even claim that they are superior forms of worship,” writes John R. W. Stott, retired rector of All Souls Church in London. “The only worship pleasing to God is heart-worship, and heart-worship is rational worship. It is the worship of a rational God who has made us rational beings and given us a rational revelation so that we may worship Him rationally, even ‘with all our mind’ ” (John R.W. Stott. Christ the Controversialist. Downers Grove: IL.: IVP, 1978, 165).
Another activity that ought to characterize the Lord’s Day is witness. Jesus revealed this characteristic when he instructed the women, “Go tell my brethren,” and later informed the disciples that they were to carry the good news of his life, death, and resurrection into all the world. You can do that on any day, of course. It is of the essence of our day that anything done on Sunday can also be done (and perhaps should be done) on other days also. But do you at least bear witness on Sunday? This is a day on which to invite your friends to go with you to hear God’s Word. At the very least it is a day on which you should teach what you know about Christ to your children.
There is one thing more: the first day should be characterized by expectation. I love Sunday, and one of the reasons why I love Sunday is that I never know in advance what will happen. As I leave my house on the way to church I never know precisely whom I will meet. I never know who will be present in church or who will respond to the preaching. I never plan messages to preach at problems that I imagine to be present in the congregation, yet it is often the case that what I say is used of the Lord to speak precisely to some problem. Lives are changed. Not infrequently, the day is the turning point in someone’s entire spiritual experience.
We who know the reality of the rest and holiness of God should of all people be most joyful, active, and expectant as we take the gospel’s glorious message to a world that knows neither rest nor holiness, but needs them desperately.
About the Preacher
James Montgomery Boice, Th.D., (July 7, 1938 – June 15, 2000) was a Reformed theologian, Bible teacher, and pastor of Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia from 1968 until his death. He is heard on The Bible Study Hour radio broadcast and was a well-known author and speaker in evangelical and Reformed circles. He also served as Chairman of the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy for over ten years and was a founding member of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. James Boice was one of my favorite Bible teachers. Thankfully – many of his books and expositions of Scripture are still in print and more are becoming available. The sermon above was adapted from Chapter 13 in Genesis 1-11: An Expositional Commentary. vol. 1: Creation and Fall. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2006.
Under Dr. Boice’s leadership, Tenth Presbyterian Church became a model for ministry in America’s northeastern inner cities. When he assumed the pastorate of Tenth Church there were 350 people in regular attendance. At his death the church had grown to a regular Sunday attendance in three services of more than 1,200 persons, a total membership of 1,150 persons. Under his leadership, the church established a pre-school for children ages 3-5 (now defunct), a high school known as City Center Academy, a full range of adult fellowship groups and classes, and specialized outreach ministries to international students, women with crisis pregnancies, homosexual and HIV-positive clients, and the homeless. Many of these ministries are now free-standing from the church.
Dr. Boice gave leadership to groups beyond his own organization. For ten years he served as Chairman of the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy, from its founding in 1977 until the completion of its work in 1988. ICBI produced three classic, creedal documents: “The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy,” “The Chicago Statement on Biblical Hermeneutics” and “The Chicago Statement on the Application of the Bible to Contemporary Issues.” The organization published many books, held regional “Authority of Scripture” seminars across the country, and sponsored the large lay “Congress on the Bible I,” which met in Washington, D.C., in September 1987. He also served on the Board of Bible Study Fellowship.
He founded the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals (Alliance) in 1994, initially a group of pastors and theologians who were focused on bringing the 20th and now 21st century church to a new reformation. In 1996 this group met and wrote the Cambridge Declaration. Following the Cambridge meetings, the Alliance assumed leadership of the programs and publications formerly under Evangelical Ministries, Inc. (Dr. Boice) and Christians United for Reformation (Horton) in late 1996.
Dr. Boice was a prodigious world traveler. He journeyed to more than thirty countries in most of the world’s continents, and he taught the Bible in such countries as England, France, Canada, Japan, Australia, Guatemala, Korea and Saudi Arabia. He lived in Switzerland for three years while pursuing his doctoral studies.
Dr. Boice held degrees from Harvard University (A.B.), Princeton Theological Seminary (B.D.), the University of Basel, Switzerland (D. Theol.) and the Theological Seminary of the Reformed Episcopal Church (D.D., honorary).
A prolific author, Dr. Boice had contributed nearly forty books on a wide variety of Bible related themes. Most are in the form of expositional commentaries, growing out of his preaching: Psalms (1 volume), Romans (4 volumes), Genesis (3 volumes), Daniel, The Minor Prophets (2 volumes), The Sermon on the Mount, John (5 volumes, reissued in one), Ephesians, Phillippians and The Epistles of John. Many more popular volumes: Hearing God When You Hurt, Mind Renewal in a Mindless Christian Life, Standing on the Rock, The Parables of Jesus, The Christ of Christmas, The Christ of the Open Tomb and Christ’s Call to Discipleship. He also authored Foundations of the Christian Faith a 740-page book of theology for laypersons. Many of these books have been translated into other languages, such as: French, Spanish, German, Japanese, Chinese and Korean.
He was married to Linda Ann Boice (born McNamara), who continues to teach at the high school they co-founded.
Source: Taken directly from the Aliance of Confessing Evangelicals’ Website
James Montgomery Boice’s Books:
1970 Witness and Revelation in the Gospel of John (Zondervan)
1971 Philippians: An Expositional Commentary (Zondervan)
1972 The Sermon on the Mount (Zondervan)
1973 How to Live the Christian Life (Moody; originally, How to Live It Up,
1974 Ordinary Men Called by God (Victor; originally, How God Can Use
1974 The Last and Future World (Zondervan)
1975-79 The Gospel of John: An Expositional Commentary (5 volumes,
Zondervan; issued in one volume, 1985; 5 volumes, Baker 1999)
1976 “Galatians” in the Expositor’s Bible Commentary (Zondervan)
1977 Can You Run Away from God? (Victor)
1977 Does Inerrancy Matter? (Tyndale)
1977 Our Sovereign God, editor (Baker)
1978 The Foundation of Biblical Authority, editor (Zondervan)
1979 The Epistles of John: An Expositional Commentary (Zondervan)
1979 Making God’s Word Plain, editor (Tenth Presbyterian Church)
1980 Our Savior God: Studies on Man, Christ and the Atonement, editor (Baker)
1982-87 Genesis: An Expositional Commentary (3 volumes, Zondervan)
1983 The Parables of Jesus (Moody)
1983 The Christ of Christmas (Moody)
1983-86 The Minor Prophets: An Expositional Commentary (2 volumes,
1984 Standing on the Rock (Tyndale). Reissued 1994 (Baker)
1985 The Christ of the Open Tomb (Moody)
1986 Foundations of the Christian Faith (4 volumes in one, InterVarsity
Press; original volumes issued, 1978-81)
1986 Christ’s Call to Discipleship (Moody)
1988 Transforming Our World: A Call to Action, editor (Multnomah)
1988, 98 Ephesians: An Expositional Commentary (Baker)
1989 Daniel: An Expositional Commentary (Zondervan)
1989 Joshua: We Will Serve the Lord (Revell)
1990 Nehemiah: Learning to Lead (Revell)
1992-94 Romans (4 volumes, Baker)
1992 The King Has Come (Christian Focus Publications)
1993 Amazing Grace (Tyndale)
1993 Mind Renewal in a Mindless Age (Baker)
1994-98 Psalms (3 volumes, Baker)
1994 Sure I Believe, So What! (Christian Focus Publications)
1995 Hearing God When You Hurt (Baker)
1996 Two Cities, Two Loves (InterVarsity)
1996 Here We Stand: A Call from Confessing Evangelicals, editor with
Benjamin E. Sasse (Baker)
1997 Living By the Book (Baker)
1997 Acts: An Expositional Commentary (Baker)
1999 The Heart of the Cross, with Philip Graham Ryken (Crossway)
1999 What Makes a Church Evangelical?
2000 Hymns for a Modern Reformation, with Paul S. Jones
2001 Matthew: An Expositional Commentary (2 volumes, Baker)
2001 Whatever Happened to the Gospel of Grace? (Crossway)
2002 The Doctrines of Grace, with Philip Graham Ryken (Crossway)
2002 Jesus on Trial, with Philip Graham Ryken (Crossway)
1985 “The Future of Reformed Theology” in David F. Wells, editor,
Reformed Theology in America: A History of Its Modern Development
1986 “The Preacher and Scholarship” in Samuel T. Logan, editor, The
Preacher and Preaching: Reviving the Art in the Twentieth Century
(Presbyterian and Reformed)
1992 “A Better Way: The Power of Word and Spirit” in Michael Scott
Horton, editor, Power Religion: The Selling Out of the Evangelical Church?
1994 “The Sovereignty of God” in John D. Carson and David W. Hall,
editors, To Glorify and Enjoy God: A Commemoration of the 350th
Anniversary of the Westminster Assembly (Banner of Truth Trust)
SOURCE: from the Tenth Presbyterian Church, Philadelphia, website
“The Whole Old Testament is About Jesus”
Book Review By David P. Craig
There is currently a resurgence of interest on books on Jesus in the Old Testament. Many of these books are very scholarly and technical. Duguid’s primer is a welcome addition to this mix. He writes for the novice, or lay person with relation to how rightly interpreted, the whole Old Testament focuses on and prepares us for Christ’s sufferings and glories that will follow in the gospel.
Duguid points out first of all that the Gospel is the center of the Bible and as such three important implications result from this fact:
(1) This means that the gospel (the good news about Jesus’ death and resurrection is not merely the starting point of the Christian life from which move on, but that it is the very heartbeat of our lives as Christians – the central focus to which we must return again and again.
(2) Being gospel focused helps us realize that our sanctification is rooted in, and flows out of our justification. The gap in our understanding of Scriptures isn’t so much in our knowledge, but in our lack of obedience due to a faulty dichotomy of segregating the law from the gospel (i.e. “moralism”).
(3) Duguid writes, “Our aim in studying the Scriptures (both OT and NT) is not merely to know more ancient history or to learn useful life principles, but rather to be brought to see in a new way the glory of God in Jesus Christ and to bow our hearts before him in adoration and praise.”
Dr. Duguid goes on to give examples of several wrong ways we read the Old Testament and how this can be remedied by viewing each passage through the lens of the overall plan of God which is completely fulfilled by Jesus in the New Testament. One of the ways we can do this is by asking the some of the following questions of an Old Testament passage:
“How does this event our story advance God’s program and point us to the great work that God is accomplishing in this world, which is the work of salvation through the gospel?”
“How does this passage show us the sufferings of Christ and the glories that follow? For example, does it uncover the sins for which Christ had to come and die?”
“How does it demand our demonstrate the righteous behavior that Jesus came to perform in our place?
“How does this gospel then teach us to live in light of this specific portion of God’s Word, out of gratitude fro what God has done?”
In the bulk of Duguid’s book he gives us a history of the Old Testament and demonstrates how its incompleteness, and thus fulfillment can only be met in the Person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. He cogently demonstrates how all of history is the story of God carrying out his grand plan in this world for the redemption of his people in Christ. Jesus applies all of Israel’s history in the Old Testament to himself (Matt. 12:3). As a prophet, Jesus authoritatively declares God’s word to his listener’s (Matt. 5:27). As the archetypal wise man, Jesus embodies wisdom in human form (Matt. 6:28, Luke 2:40; Col. 2:3). In other words, as the Old Testament consists of law, history, and wisdom books – Jesus fulfills in himself all three divisions of the Old Testament: he is the ultimate sacred historian, prophet, and wise man. All the prophets, kings, and priests point to Him.
Duguid masterfully tells the story of redemption from the Old Testament and how it’s fulfilled in Christ in three primary ways: (1) Jesus comes first of all as the new Adam (Rom. 5:18-19; 1 Cor. 15:22); (2) Jesus is also the true son of Abraham (Matt. 1:1; 2:15); (3) Jesus is the new David (Acts 13:22). In talking about Jesus’ roles as Priest, Prophet, and King – Duguid writes, “The ministry of Christ in his suffering and resurrection is thus the central focus of the whole Old Testament: he is the one toward whom the whole Old Testament is constantly moving, the one for whom as well by whom it exists…the Old Testament shows us repeatedly why no one and nothing other than God himself in human form could possibly be the answer to our deepest need and provide deliverance from our sins.”
I highly recommend this book as an excellent primer that will give you the big picture of the Bible as the gospel is threaded from Genesis to Revelation making a continual bee line to Christ’s glorious Person and work for our redemption and restoration.
“THE TRUE GOD AS REVEALED IN THE SCRIPTURES”
DR. JAMES MONTGOMERY BOICE
It is evident that we need more than a theoretical knowledge of God. Yet we can know God only as he reveals himself to us in the Scriptures, and we cannot know the Scriptures until we are willing to be changed by them. Knowledge of God occurs only when we also know our deep spiritual need and when we are receptive to God’s gracious provision for our need through the work of Christ and the application of that work to us by God’s Spirit.
Having established this base, we nevertheless come back to the question of God himself and we ask, “But who is God? Who is this one who reveals himself in Scripture, in the person of Jesus Christ and through the Holy Spirit?” We may admit that a true knowledge of God must change us. We may be willing to be changed. But where do we begin?
“I Am Who I Am”
Since the Bible is a unity we could answer these questions by starting at any point in the biblical revelation. We could begin with Revelation 22:21 as well as with Genesis 1:1. But there is no better starting point than God’s revelation of himself to Moses at the burning bush. Moses, the great leader of Israel, had long been aware of the true God, for he had been born into a godly family. Still, when God said that he would send him to Egypt and through him deliver the people of Israel, Moses responded, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” We are told that God then answered Moses by saying, “I AM WHO I AM. . . . Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you’” (Ex. 3:13-14).
“I AM WHO I AM.” The name is linked with the ancient name for God, Jehovah. But it is more than a name. It is a descriptive name, pointing to all that God is in himself. In particular, it shows him to be the One who is entirely self-existent, self-sufficient and eternal.
These are abstract concepts, of course. But they are important, for these attributes more than any others set God apart from his creation and reveal him as being what he is in himself. God is perfect in all his attributes. But there are some attributes that we, his creatures, share. For instance, God is perfect in his love. Yet by his grace we also love. He is all wise; but we also possess a measure of wisdom. He is all powerful; and we exercise a limited power. It is not like that in regard to God’s self-existence, self-sufficiency and eternity, however. He alone possesses those characteristics. He exists in and of himself; we do not. He is entirely self-sufficient; we are not. He is eternal; we are newcomers on the scene.
Self-existence means that God has no origins and consequently is answerable to no one. Matthew Henry says, “The greatest and best man in the world must say, By the grace of God I am what I am; but God says absolutely — and it is more than any creature, man or angel, can say — I am that I am.”1 So God has no origins; his existence does not depend on anybody.
Self-existence is a hard concept for us to grapple with for it means that God as he is in himself is unknowable. Everything that we see, smell, hear, taste or touch has origins. We can hardly think in any other category. Anything we observe must have a cause adequate to explain it. We seek for such causes. Cause and effect is even the basis for the belief in God possessed by those who, nevertheless, don’t truly know him. Such individuals believe in God, not because they have had a personal experience of him or because they have discovered God in Scripture, but only because they infer his existence. “Everything comes from something; consequently, there must be a great something that stands behind everything.” Cause and effect point to God, but — and this is the issue — they point to a God who is beyond understanding, indeed to one who is beyond us in every way. They indicate that God cannot be known and evaluated like other things can.
A. W. Tozer has noted that this is one reason why philosophy and science have not always been friendly toward the idea of God. These disciplines are dedicated to the task of accounting for things as we know them and are therefore impatient with anything that refuses to give an account of itself. Philosophers and scientists will admit that there is much they don’t know. But it is another thing to admit that there is something they can never know completely and which, in fact, they don’t even have techniques for discovering. To discover God, scientists may attempt to bring God down to their level, defining him as “natural law,” “evolution” or some such principle. But still God eludes them. There is more to God than any such concepts can delineate.
Perhaps, too, this is why even Bible-believing people seem to spend so little time thinking about God’s person and character. Tozer writes,
Few of us have let our hearts gaze in wonder at the I AM, the self-existent Self back of which no creature can think. Such thoughts are too painful for us. We prefer to think where it will do more good — about how to build a better mousetrap, for instance, or how to make two blades of grass grow where one grew before. And for this we are now paying a too heavy price in the secularization of our religion and the decay of our inner lives.2
God’s self-existence means that he is not answerable to us or to anybody, and we don’t like that. We want God to give an account of himself, to defend his actions. Although he sometimes explains things to us, he doesn’t have to and often he does not. God doesn’t have to explain himself to anybody.
The second quality of God communicated to us in the name “I AM WHO I AM” is self-sufficiency. Again it is possible to have at least a sense of the meaning of this abstract term. Self-sufficiency means God has no needs and therefore depends on no one.
Here we run counter to a widespread and popular idea: God cooperates with human beings, each thereby supplying something lacking in the other. It is imagined, for example, that God lacks glory and therefore creates men and women to supply it. He takes care of them as a reward. Or again, it is imagined that God needs love and therefore creates men and women to love him. Some talk about the creation as if God were lonely and therefore created us to keep him company. On a practical level we see the same thing in those who imagine that women and men are necessary to carry out God’s work of salvation as witnesses or as defenders of the faith, forgetting that Jesus himself declared that “God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham” (Lk. 3:8).
God does not need worshipers. Arthur W. Pink, who writes on this theme in The Attributes of God, says,
God was under no constraint, no obligation, no necessity to create. That he chose to do so was purely a sovereign act on his part, caused by nothing outside himself, determined by nothing but his own mere good pleasure; for he “worketh all things after the counsel of his own will” (Eph. 1:11). That he did create was simply for his manifestative glory. . . . God is no gainer even from our worship. He was in no need of that external glory of his grace which arises from his redeemed, for he is glorious enough in himself without that. What was it moved him to predestinate his elect to the praise of the glory of his grace? It was, as Ephesians 1:5 tells us, “according to the good pleasure of his will.” . . . The force of this is [that] it is impossible to bring the Almighty under obligations to the creature; God gains nothing from us.3
Tozer makes the same point. “Were all human beings suddenly to become blind, still the sun would shine by day and the stars by night, for these owe nothing to the millions who benefit from their light. So, were every man on earth to become an atheist, it could not affect God in any way. He is what he is in himself without regard to any other. To believe in him adds nothing to his perfections; to doubt him takes nothing away.”4
Nor does God need helpers. This truth is probably harder for us to accept than almost any other. For we imagine God as a friendly, but almost pathetic, grandfather figure bustling about to see whom he can find to help him in managing the world and saving the world’s race. What a travesty! To be sure, God has entrusted a work of management to us. He said to the original pair in Eden, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth” (Gen. 1:28). God also has given those who believe in him a commission to “go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation” (Mk. 16:15). True, but no aspect of God’s ordering of his creation has a necessary grounding in himself. God has chosen to do things thus. He didn’t need to do them. Indeed, he could have done them in any one of a million other ways. That he did choose to do things thus is therefore solely dependent upon the free and sovereign exercise of his will and so does not give us any inherent value to him.
To say that God is self-sufficient also means that God does not need defenders. Clearly, we have opportunities to speak for God before those who would dishonor his name and malign his character. We ought to do so. But even if we should fail, we must not think that God is deprived thereby. God does not need to be defended, for he is as he is and will remain so regardless of the sinful and arrogant attacks of evil individuals. A God who needs to be defended is no God. Rather, the God of the Bible is the self-existent One who is the true defender of his people.
When we realize that God is the only truly self-sufficient One, we begin to understand why the Bible has so much to say about the need for faith in God alone and why unbelief in God is such sin. Tozer writes: “Among all created beings, not one dare trust in itself. God alone trusts in himself; all other beings must trust in him. Unbelief is actually perverted faith, for it puts its trust not in the living God but in dying men.”5 If we refuse to trust God, what we are actually saying is that either we or some other person or thing is more trustworthy. That is a slander against the character of God, and it is folly. Nothing else is all-sufficient. On the other hand, if we begin by trusting God (by believing in him), we have a solid foundation for all life. God is sufficient, and his Word to his creatures can be trusted.
Because God is sufficient, we may begin by resting in that sufficiency and so work effectively for him. God does not need us. But the joy of coming to know him is in learning that he nevertheless stoops to work in and through those who are his believing and obedient children.
Alpha and Omega
A third quality inherent in the name of God given to Moses (“I AM WHO I AM”) is everlastingness, perpetuity or eternity. The quality is difficult to put in one word, but it is simply that God is, has always been and will always be, and that he is ever the same in his eternal being. We find this attribute of God everywhere in the Bible. Abraham called Jehovah “the Everlasting God” (Gen. 21:33). Moses wrote, “LORD, thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting thou art God” (Ps. 90:1-2). The book of Revelation describes God as the “Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end” (Rev. 1:8; 21:6; 22:13). The creatures before the throne cry, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come” (Rev. 4:8).
The fact that God is eternal has two major consequences for us. The first is that he can be trusted to remain as he reveals himself to be. The word usually used to describe this quality is immutability, which means unchangeableness. “Every good endowment and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (Jas. 1:17).
God is unchangeable in his attributes. So we need not fear, for example, that the God who once loved us in Christ will somehow change his mind and cease to love us in the future. God is always love toward his people. Similarly, we must not think that perhaps he will change his attitude toward sin, so that he will begin to classify as “permissible” something that was formerly prohibited. Sin will always be sin because it is defined as any transgression of or lack of conformity to the law of God, who is unchangeable. God will always be holy, wise, gracious, just and everything else that he reveals himself to be. Nothing that we do will ever change the eternal God.
God is also unchangeable in his counsels or will. He does what he has determined beforehand to do and his will never varies. Some will point out that certain verses in the Bible tell us that God repented of some act — as in Genesis 6:6, “The LORD was sorry that he had made man.” In this example, a human word is being used to indicate God’s severe displeasure with human activities. It is countered by such verses as Numbers 23:19 (“God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should repent. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfil it?”); 1 Samuel 15:29 (“The Glory of Israel will not lie or repent; for he is not a man, that he should repent”); Romans 11:29 (“The gifts and call of God are irrevocable”); and Psalm 33:11 (“The counsel of the LORD stands for ever, the thoughts of his heart to all generations”).
Such statements are a source of great comfort to God’s people. If God were like us, he could not be relied on. He would change, and as a result of that his will and his promises would change. We could not depend on him. But God is not like us. He does not change. Consequently, his purposes remain fixed from generation to generation. Pink says, “Here then is a rock on which we may fix our feet, while the mighty torrent is sweeping away everything around us. The permanence of God’s character guarantees the fulfillment of his promises.”6
The second major consequence for us of God’s unchangeableness is that he is inescapable. If he were a mere human and if we didn’t like either him or what he was doing, we might ignore him knowing that he might always change his mind, move away from us or die. But God does not change his mind. He does not move away. He will not die. Consequently, we cannot escape him. Even if we ignore him now, we must reckon with him in the life to come. If we reject him now, we must eventually face the One we have rejected and come to know his eternal rejection of us.
No Other Gods
We are led to a natural conclusion, namely, that we should. seek and worship the true God. This chapter has been based for the most part on Exodus 3:14, in which God reveals to Moses the name by which he desires to be known. That revelation came on the verge of the deliverance of the people of Israel from Egypt. After the exodus, God gave a revelation on Mount Sinai which applies the earlier disclosure of himself as the true God to the religious life and worship of the delivered nation.
God said, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself a graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them or serve them; for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments” (Ex. 20:2-6). These verses make three points, all based on the premise that the God who reveals himself in the Bible is the true God:
- We are to worship God and obey him.
- We are to reject the worship of any other god.
- We are to reject the worship of the true God by any means that are unworthy of him, such as the use of pictures or images.
At first glance it seems quite strange that a prohibition against the use of images in worship should have a place at the very start of the ten basic principles of biblical religion, the Ten Commandments. But it is not strange when we remember that the characteristics of a religion flow from the nature of the religion’s god. If the god is unworthy, the religion will be unworthy too. If the concept of God is of the highest order, the religion will be of a high order also. So God tells us in these verses that any physical representation of him is dishonoring to him. Why? For two reasons. First, it obscures his glory, for nothing visible can ever adequately represent it. Second, it misleads those who would worship him.
Both of these errors are represented by Aaron’s manufacture of the golden calf, as J. I. Packer indicates in his discussion of idolatry. In Aaron’s mind, at least, though probably not in the minds of the people, the calf was intended to represent Jehovah. He thought, no doubt, that a figure of a bull (even a small one) communicated the thought of God’s strength. But, of course, it didn’t do so adequately. And it didn’t at all communicate his other great attributes: his sovereignty, righteousness, mercy, love and justice. Rather, it obscured them.
Moreover, the figure of the bull misled the worshipers. They readily associated it with the fertility gods and goddesses of Egypt, and the result of their worship was an orgy. Packer concludes,
It is certain that if you habitually focus your thoughts on an image or picture of the One to whom you are going to pray, you will come to think of him, and pray to him, as the image represents him. Thus you will in this sense “bow down” and “worship” your image; and to the extent to which the image fails to tell the truth about God, to that extent you will fail to worship God in truth. That is why God forbids you and me to make use of images and pictures in our worship.7
“My Lord and My God”
To avoid the worship of images or even the use of images in the worship of the true God is not in itself worship. We are to recognize that the true God is the eternal, self-existent and self-sufficient One, the One immeasurably beyond our highest thoughts. Therefore, we are to humble ourselves and learn from him, allowing him to teach us what he is like and what he has done for our salvation. Do we do what he commands? Are we sure that in our worship we are actually worshiping the true God who has revealed himself in the Bible?
There is only one way to answer that question truthfully. It is to ask: Do I really know the Bible, and do I worship God on the basis of the truth I find there? That truth is centered in the Lord Jesus Christ, as seen in the Bible. There the invisible God is made visible, the inscrutable knowable, the eternal God disclosed in space and time. Do I look to Jesus in order to know God? Do I think of God’s attributes by what Jesus shows me of them? If not, I am worshiping an image of God, albeit an image of my own devising. If I look to Jesus, then I can know that I am worshiping the true God, as he has revealed himself. Paul says that although some knew God they nevertheless “did not honor him as God or give thanks to him” (Rom. 1:21). Let us determine that this shall not be true of us. We see God in Jesus. So let us know him as God, love him as God, serve him as God and worship him as God.
- Matthew Henry, Commentary on the Whole Bible, Vol. 1 (New York: Fleming H. Revell, n.d.), p. 284
- A. W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy (New York: Harper & Row, 1961), p. 34.
- Arthur W. Pink, The Attributes of God (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, n.d.), pp. 2-3.
- Tozer, p. 40.
- Ibid., p. 42.
- Pink, p. 41.
- J. I. Packer, Knowing God, p. 41
James Montgomery Boice held a B.D. from Princeton Theological Seminary and a Doctor of Theology from the University of Basel in Switzerland. He was the pastor of the Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia and the author of many books, including the three volumes in the series, “Foundations of the Christian Faith”. This article is taken from volume one of that same series, entitled The Sovereign God.
On the basis of my less-than-scientific survey of Christians’ Bible reading habits, I would estimate that the Old Testament forms less than 10 percent of most Christians’ Bible reading. Remove the Psalms and Proverbs, and we’re probably down to less than 5 percent.
“So what?” many say.
“No great loss, is there?” others shrug.
Let me suggest seven reasons to stop shrugging and start studying the other 60 percent of our Bibles.
1. The Old Testament reveals Christ.
The Old Testament doesn’t just “point forward” to Christ; it reveals him. It isn’t merely a series of signposts to Christ; his revealing shadow falls on every page, exciting faith and love in believing hearts.
But why linger in the Old Testament shadows when we have New Testament sunlight?
Have you never found it easier to read and be refreshed in shade? Have you never admired the unique and wondrous beauty of the dawn?
Consider the unparalleled revelation of Christ’s substitutionary atonement in Isaiah 53. And although the Gospels describe Christ’s outer life, the messianic psalms disclose his mysterious inner life, the unfathomably deep emotional and mental struggles of his earthly suffering.
2. The Old Testament is a dictionary of Christian vocabulary.
How do we understand the theological words, phrases, and concepts of the New Testament? If we turn to a modern dictionary, we will import 21st-century Western meaning into ancient Eastern words. Greek lexicons will usually get us closer to the original meaning, but that still assumes the biblical authors were influenced exclusively by Greek culture.
Rather, when we come to a word, phrase, or concept in the New Testament, our first question should be, “What does the Old Testament say?” Remember, the New Testament was originally written by Jews, and much of it was written to Jews. It assumes knowledge of the Old Testament and builds upon it.
3. The Old Testament is a manual for Christian living.
While there is understandable debate over the continuing validity of a small percentage of Old Testament laws, there are 10 clear and unchanging moral principles that God applies in different ways in different contexts: to Israel in the wilderness (Exod. 20), to Israel about to enter the promised land (Deut. 5), and to Israel settled in the land (Proverbs). Jesus and the apostles continue this varied cultural application of these same 10 moral principles for their own generation (e.g. Matt. 5; Eph. 5). All these examples provide models for how to think about and apply these moral principles in our own day.
4. The Old Testament presents doctrine in story form.
God has not only given us laws; he’s given us lives. He’s incarnated his 10 moral principles in the lives of Old Testament characters, providing us with fascinating biographies to inspire and warn (1 Cor. 10:11; Luke 17:32).
We also see New Testament doctrines worked out in Old Testament believers’ lives: through typology we learn most about Christ’s priesthood from Aaron, kingship from David, and prophetic office from Moses. Abraham demonstrates justifying faith, Elijah portrays effectual and fervent prayer, Ruth and Naomi display the communion of saints, Job perseveres through the Lord’s preservation, and David exhibits how forgiveness and chastisement often go together. And it’s all in the vivid Technicolor and Dolby of flesh-and-blood humanity.
5. The Old Testament comforts and encourages us.
As we read the Old Testament narratives, we experience the beautiful comfort and hope that Paul promised would accompany such study (Rom. 15:4). We are comforted with God’s sovereign love, majestic power, and covenant faithfulness in his relationship with Israel.
When we know the Old Testament backgrounds of the “Hall of Faithers” in Hebrews 11, we’re encouraged to follow their Christ-focused faith and spirituality.
In the Psalms, we’re given songs that have comforted and encouraged believers throughout the world and throughout the centuries.
And when we see the way that hundreds of Old Testament prophecies are fulfilled in Christ, our faith in God and his Word is strengthened.
6. The Old Testament saves souls.
The apostle Paul had the highest regard for the Old Testament’s origin, nature, power, and purpose (2 Tim. 3:16-17). But the Old Testament wasn’t only helpful for Christian living; it gave Christian life. When Paul assured Timothy that “the Holy Scriptures [are] able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus,” he was speaking of the Old Testament (2 Tim. 3:15). Like the New Testament, the Old Testament also saved (and still saves) souls through faith in the Messiah.
7. The Old Testament makes you appreciate the New Testament more.
For all the Old Testament reveals of Jesus, and of Christian doctrine and experience, we must concede that it also conceals, that there’s a lot of frustrating shadow, that there’s unfulfilled longing and desire, that there’s often something—or rather someone—missing. The more we read it, the more we long for and love the incarnate Christ of the New Testament. The dawn is beautiful, but the sunrise is stunning.
About the Author:
David P. Murray is professor of Old Testament and practical theology at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Murray blogs regularly at Head, Heart, Hand: Leadership for Servants. Learn more about reading and applying the Old Testament from David Murray’s new book, Jesus on Every Page: 10 Simple Ways to Seek and Find Christ in the Old Testament (Thomas Nelson, 2013). The article above was adapted from http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tgc/2013/08/27/jesus-on-every-page-7-reasons-to-study-your-old-testament/
An Exposition of Daniel 9:1-23
Daniel’s Prayer for His People
In the first year of Darius the son of Ahasuerus, by descent a Mede, who was made king over the realm of the Chaldeans—in the first year of his reign, I, Daniel, perceived in the books the number of years that, according to the word of the Lord to Jeremiah the prophet, must pass before the end of the desolations of Jerusalem, namely, seventy years.
Then I turned my face to the Lord God, seeking him by prayer and pleas for mercy with fasting and sackcloth and ashes. I prayed to the Lord my God and made confession, saying, “O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, we have sinned and done wrong and acted wickedly and rebelled, turning aside from your commandments and rules. We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes, and our fathers, and to all the people of the land. To you, O Lord, belongs righteousness, but to us open shame, as at this day, to the men of Judah, to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and to all Israel, those who are near and those who are far away, in all the lands to which you have driven them, because of the treachery that they have committed against you. To us, O Lord, belongs open shame, to our kings, to our princes, and to our fathers, because we have sinned against you. To the Lord our God belong mercy and forgiveness, for we have rebelled against him and have not obeyed the voice of the Lord our God by walking in his laws, which he set before us by his servants the prophets.
All Israel has transgressed your law and turned aside, refusing to obey your voice. And the curse and oath that are written in the Law of Moses the servant of God have been poured out upon us, because we have sinned against him. He has confirmed his words, which he spoke against us and against our rulers who ruled us, by bringing upon us a great calamity. For under the whole heaven there has not been done anything like what has been done against Jerusalem. As it is written in the Law of Moses, all this calamity has come upon us; yet we have not entreated the favor of the Lord our God, turning from our iniquities and gaining insight by your truth. Therefore the Lord has kept ready the calamity and has brought it upon us, for the Lord our God is righteous in all the works that he has done, and we have not obeyed his voice. And now, O Lord our God, who brought your people out of the land of Egypt with a mighty hand, and have made a name for yourself, as at this day, we have sinned, we have done wickedly.
“O Lord, according to all your righteous acts, let your anger and your wrath turn away from your city Jerusalem, your holy hill, because for our sins, and for the iniquities of our fathers, Jerusalem and your people have become a byword among all who are around us. Now therefore, O our God, listen to the prayer of your servant and to his pleas for mercy, and for your own sake, O Lord, make your face to shine upon your sanctuary, which is desolate. O my God, incline your ear and hear. Open your eyes and see our desolations, and the city that is called by your name. For we do not present our pleas before you because of our righteousness, but because of your great mercy. O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive. O Lord, pay attention and act. Delay not, for your own sake, O my God, because your city and your people are called by your name.”
While I was speaking and praying, confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel, and presenting my plea before the Lord my God for the holy hill of my God, while I was speaking in prayer, the man Gabriel, whom I had seen in the vision at the first, came to me in swift flight at the time of the evening sacrifice. He made me understand, speaking with me and saying, “O Daniel, I have now come out to give you insight and understanding. At the beginning of your pleas for mercy a word went out, and I have come to tell it to you, for you are greatly loved. Therefore consider the word and understand the vision.
The reason I titled this message “How to Pray for a Desolate Church” is that I see much of the Christian church today as desolate. The ruin of Jerusalem and the captivity of Israel in Babylon are pictures of the church today in many places around the world. There are pockets of life and purity and depth and faithfulness and power and zeal around the world. God will never give up on his people and he will get his global purposes done, even if he has to use a remnant to do it.
But much of the Christian movement today has become a desolation of disobedience and disunity and dishonor to the name of Christ. So the way Daniel prays for the desolation of his people is a pointer for how we can pray for the desolation of ours.
Three Aspects of the Desolation of God’s People
Let me mention three aspects of the desolation of God’s people in this text to see if you won’t agree that it sounds like much of the Christian movement today.
1. The People Are Captive to Godless Forces
Two times, verses 11 and 13, Daniel says that this calamity of Babylonian captivity was warned against in the law of Moses. For example, in Deuteronomy 28:36 Moses says that if the people forsake God, “The Lord will bring you . . . to a nation that neither you nor your fathers have known; and there you shall serve other gods.” Now that had come true in Babylon.
In 1520, Martin Luther wrote an essay which he called “The Babylonian Captivity of the Church.” What he meant was that forces and powers that were foreign to Christ and to his Word had captured the mind and heart of the church. She was in bondage to godless forces.
That is the situation in much of the church today. Millions of church-goers today think the way the world thinks. The simple assumptions that govern behavior and choices come more from what is absorbed from our culture than from the Word of God. The church shares the love affair of the world with prosperity and ease and self. Many groups of Christians are just not that different from the spirit of Babylon, even though the Lord says that we are aliens and exiles and that we are not to be conformed to this age. So, like Israel of old, much of God’s church today is captive to godless forces.
2. The People Are Guilty and Ashamed
Daniel spends most of his prayer confessing the sin of the people. For example, verse 5: “We have sinned and done wrong and acted wickedly and rebelled, turning aside from thy commandments.” In other words, we have great guilt before God. And because of this real guilt there is real shame. This is mentioned in verses 7 and 8. The RSV has the phrase “confusion of face”—“To us belongs confusion of face.” Literally it means, “To us belongs shame of face.” What we have done is so terrible and so known that our face turns red and we want to cover it and run away. That is the way Daniel felt about the people of God. Their guilt and their shame were great.
Today in the church there is an uneasy conscience. There is the deep sense that we are to be radically different, living on the brink of eternity with counter-cultural values and behaviors of love and justice and risk-taking service that show our citizenship is in heaven. But then, we look in the mirror and we see that the church does not look that way. And the result is a sense of shame based on the real guilt of unbelief and disobedience. So we slink through our days with faces covered, and scarcely anyone knows we are disciples of Jesus.
3. The People Were a Byword Among the Nations
Verse 16b: “Jerusalem and thy people have become a byword among all who are round about us.” “Byword” (in the RSV) means reproach, or object of scorn. It means that the nations look at the defeated and scattered Israelites and they laugh. They mock Israel’s God.
That is the way it is with the Christian church in many places. She has made the name of Jesus an object of scorn by her duplicity—trying to go by the name Christian and yet marching to the drum of the world. So the world sees the name “Christian” as nothing radically different—perhaps a nice way to add a little component of spirituality to the other parts of life that basically stay the same.
So when Daniel prays for the desolations of the people of Israel, I hear a prayer for the desolations of the Christian church—captive to godless forces, guilty and ashamed, and a byword among the nations.
Four Ways to Pray for a Desolate Church
Now how do we pray for such a church?
1. Go to the Bible
First, we pray for a desolate church by beginning where Daniel began. We go to the books.
Verse 2: “In the first year of [Darius’s] reign, I, Daniel, perceived in the books . . . “ The books are the prophet Jeremiah and other biblical books. Prayer begins with the Bible.
George Mueller said that for years he tried to pray without starting in the Bible in the morning. And inevitably his mind wandered. Then he started with the Book, and turned the Book into prayer as he read, and for 40 years he was able to stay focused and powerful in prayer.
Without the Bible in our prayers, they will be just as worldly as the church we are trying to free from worldliness. Daniel’s prayer begins with the Bible and it is saturated with the Bible. Phrase after phrase comes right out of the Scriptures. There are allusions to Leviticus (26:40) and Deuteronomy (28:64) and Exodus (34:6) and Psalms (44:14) and Jeremiah (25:11). The prayer brims with a biblical view of reality, because it brims with the Bible.
What I have seen is that those whose prayers are most saturated with Scripture are generally most fervent and most effective in prayer. And where the mind isn’t brimming with the Bible, the heart is not generally brimming with prayer. This is not my idea. Jesus was pointing to it in John 15:7 when he said, “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you will, and it shall be done for you” (John 5:7). When he says, “If my words abide in you . . . ,” he means, “If my words saturate your mind . . . if my words shape your way if thinking . . . if my words are memorized and just as likely to come to your mind as advertising jingles . . . then you will pray so as to heal the desolations of the church.”
So the first way to pray for a desolate church is to go to the Book. Saturate your mind with the Bible. Pray the Scripture.
2. Confess Our Sin
The second way to pray for a desolate church is to confess our sin.
About 12 verses of Daniel’s prayer is confession: verses 4–15. This means being truthful about God and about sin.
It means recognizing sin as sin and calling it bad names, not soft names: things like wickedness and rebellion and wrong (v. 5) and treachery and shameful (v. 7) and disobedience (v. 10). It means recognizing God as righteous (v. 7) and great and fearful (v. 4) and merciful and forgiving (v. 9). It means feeling broken and remorseful and guilty (v. 8) before God.
Before God! There is a difference between feeling miserable because sin has made our life miserable and feeling broken because our sin has offended the holiness of God and brought reproach on his name. Daniel’s confession—biblical confession—is God-centered. The issue is not admitting that we have made our life miserable. The issue is admitting that there is something much worse than our misery, namely, the offended holiness and glory of God.
So we pray for a desolate church by going to the Book and by confessing our sins.
3. Remember Past Mercies Knowing God Never Changes
The way to pray for a desolate church is to remember past mercies, and be encouraged that God never changes.
Verse 15: “And now, O Lord our God, who didst bring thy people out of the land of Egypt with a mighty hand . . . “ Daniel knew that the reason God saved Israel from Egypt was not because Israel was so good. Psalm 106:7–8,
Our fathers, when they were in Egypt, did not consider thy wonderful works; they did not remember the abundance of thy steadfast love, but rebelled against the Most High at the Red Sea. Yet he saved them for his name’s sake, that he might make known his mighty power.
Prayer for a desolate church is sustained by the memory of past mercies. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8). If God saved a rebellious people once at the Red Sea, he can save them again. So when we pray for a desolate church, we can remember brighter days that the church has known, and darker days from which she was saved.
This is why church history is so valuable. There have been bad days before that God had turned around. The papers this week have been full of statistics of America’s downward spiral into violence and corruption. Church history is a great antidote to despair at times like this. For example, to read about the moral decadence and violence of 18th century England before God sent George Whitefield and John Wesley is like reading today’s newspapers. For example,
Only five or six members of parliament even went to church . . . The plague, small pox, and countless diseases we call minor today had no cures . . . Clothing was expensive, so many of the cities’ poor wore rags that were like their bedding, full of lice . . . The penalties for crimes seem barbaric today (hanging for petty thievery) . . . Young boys, and sometimes girls, were bound over to a master for seven years of training. They worked six days a week, every day from dawn to dusk and often beyond . . . If you were unlucky and starving, you might fall foul of the law and be packed off to the stench of New Gate Prison. From there, you might have the chance to go to the New World in a boat loaded with prisoners of all sorts . . . [Drunkenness was rampant] and gin was fed to the babies too, to keep them quiet, with blindness and often death as a result [did you think crack babies were a new thing?] . . . The people’s love of tormenting animals at bull-baitings was equaled only by their delight in a public execution. (“Revival and Revolution,” Christian History 2, pp. 7–8)
All that and more, including a desolate and corrupt and powerless church. Yet God moved with a great awakening. And to add hope upon hope for our prayers, he used two men who could not agree on some significant theological points and one of them was overweight and the other was 5′ 3″ tall and weighed 128 pounds.
We pray for a desolate church by remembering past mercies, past triumphs of grace. We remember that history is not a straight line down any more than it is a straight line up.
4. Appeal to God’s Zeal for the Glory of His Own Name
Finally, we pray for a desolate church by appealing to God’s zeal for the glory of his own name.
Look how the prayer comes to its climax in verses 18b–19: “We do not present our supplications before thee on the ground of our righteousness but on the ground of thy great mercy. O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive; O Lord, give heed and act; delay not, for thy own sake, O my God, because thy city and thy people are called by thy name.”
The people of God are known by his name. And God has an infinite zeal for his own name. He will not let it be reproached and made a byword indefinitely. That is our deepest confidence. God is committed to God. God is committed with explosive passion to the glory of his name and the truth of his reputation.
So that’s the bottom of our prayer for a desolate church. We are called by your name. We live by your name. Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory. For your name’s sake, O Lord, save. For your name’s sake, revive. For your name’s sake purify and heal and empower your church, O Lord. For we are called by your name.