Children grow up from infancy, to childhood, to adolescence and then to adulthood. At the beginning they are totally dependent on their parents and are not held accountable for their behavior. But as they grow up, they are trained to be responsible and accountable. The Bible teaches that everyone is answerable to God (Mt. 12:36-37; Rom. 3:19; Heb. 9:27). But when are children accountable to God?
The Bible says that both Christians and non-Christians are accountable to God. At the end of their lives, Christians “must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ” (2 Cor. 5:10NIV) when “each of us will give an account of ourselves to God” (Rom. 14:12). This is used to determine their rewards in heaven (1 Cor. 3:12-15). Non-Christians are “judged according to what they had done” at the “great white throne” (Rev. 20:11-15). This is used to determine their punishment in hell.
Is this fair? God has revealed Himself to everyone in at least two ways. First the natural world demands a Creator – complicated things, like animals and plants and people, don’t make themselves (Rom. 1:19-20). Second, we all have a conscience and so can know instinctively what is right and wrong and feel guilty when we do wrong (Rom. 2:14-15). If someone hasn’t heard about how God revealed Himself in history (in the Bible), then they are judged according to their response to these more general revelations of God. So God is fair and “people are without excuse” (Rom. 1:20).
The Bible teaches that we are sinful from birth (Gen. 8:21; Ps. 51:5; 58:3). We are all sinners (Rom. 3:10, 23). So children are never innocent in the sense of being sinless. This is serious because spiritual death leads to eternal separation from God (Jn. 3:16; Rom 6:23).
The Bible also teaches that because they do not yet know the difference between right and wrong or good and evil, infants are not accountable for their sin (Dt. 1:39; Num. 14:31; Isa. 7:14-16; Jon. 4:11). They are not yet aware of their sinful condition or God’s cure.
So very young children are not accountable for their sin. Their minds are not developed well enough to understand that things don’t make themselves or to feel guilty when they do wrong. But what about when they grow past this stage of life?
The Bible makes two types of statements about the sins of parents and children. First, with regard to the commandment given to the Israelites against idolatry, “You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me” (Ex. 20:5; 34:7; Num. 14:18; Dt. 5:9). As they lived in households that extended to three or four generations, this means that the temporal judgment for their rebellion against God was on themselves and their households. The Bible gives examples of households that experienced the consequence of God’s judgment of the sins of their patriarch (Num. 16:31-35; Josh. 7:24-25). Likewise, today the consequences of a parent’s behaviour can impact others in their household.
When the Jews used this statement to say that they were suffering for their ancestors’ sins, Ezekiel corrected them writing “The one who sins is the one who will die (Ezek. 18:4, 20). This is an example of the second type of statement, which relates to the death penalty. “Parents are not to be put to death for their children, nor children put to death for their parents; each will die for their own sin” (Dt. 24:16; 2 Ki. 14:6; 2 Chron. 25:4). So in the Israelite legal system, a penalty was to be imposed only on those who committed the crime, and not on those who were innocent. This meant that after children reached the age when they knew the difference between right and wrong, they were accountable for their behavior. Likewise, today when children are old enough to respond to their conscience they are responsible to God for their own behaviour.
So the statement that everyone is accountable to God doesn’t apply to young children or those whose minds are not developed well enough to understand that things don’t make themselves or to feel guilty when they do wrong.
But those who have grown past this stage of life and can understand these things are accountable to God. They have no excuse. That’s why it’s important to know that our sinful ways separate us from God, but Jesus died to take the punishment that we deserve (which is hell) and reconcile us to God. We need to take responsibility for our behavior and confess our sins, because God cannot forgive our sin until it is confessed.
Written, May 2014
Did you know that there is a full-sized replica of Noah’s ark in Dordrecht in The Netherlands? This post was inspired by a visit to this replica.
Many nations all over the world have flood stories. Even tribes that never heard of the Bible. The Biblical story in Genesis chapters 6 to 9 of the Bible is the only realistic flood story. In the Babylonian epic of Gilgamesh, for instance we find a brawl between gods and a cubic shaped ark, which is the least stable shape. However, the dimensions of Noah’s ark made it almost impossible to capsize. The ratio of 6:1 for length to width appears to be most stable and seaworthy and is still being used for unmotorised vessels.
When God decided to destroy the earth because of humanity’s corruption and violence, He told Noah to build an ark that was “three hundred cubits long, fifty cubits wide and thirty cubits high” (Gen. 6:15NIV). The length of a cubit was based on the distance from the elbow to the fingertips, so it varied between different ancient groups of people. Two types of cubit are mentioned in the Old Testament, with the older one being one handbreadth longer than the newer one (2 Chron. 3:3; Ezek. 40:5; 43:13). According to the NIV Study Bible, the old cubit was 7 handbreadths and the new one was 6 handbreadths.
Because it is not known what cubit Noah used, the replica uses a different definition of the cubit for each dimension! They call these the “three most famous cubit sizes” as follows:
• 45 cm (Hebrew) for the length, making 135 m
• 60 cm (Egyptian) for the width, making 30 m
• 70 cm (18th Century) for the height, making 21 m (but they state 23 m)
This means that the replica has a different shape to the original (being wider and higher for the given length). The original would have been about 140 m long, 25 m wide and 15 m high, which is shaped more like the barges that travel past the replica on the Rhine River.
Noah was told to “make yourself an ark of cypress wood; make rooms in it and coat it with pitch inside and out” (Gen. 6:14NIV). The Hebrew word translated “rooms” also means “nests”. There were to be rooms within the ark, which were pitched both inside and outside. The ark had a very solid construction. It was partitioned into many compartments, which led to extra strength. These rooms had different functions. Some were used to store food and if the rooms were large enough, they could be used as an animal cage. Furthermore, in the case of damaged compartments, the remaining rooms would maintain the buoyancy of the ark.
It is not known what type of wood was used to construct the ark – many translations call it “gopher wood” which is a transliteration of the Hebrew text. Pinewood seems to be the best option – this was used in the 1599 Geneva Bible and many modern translations render the Hebrew term as “cypress” (NET, NIV, NLT, NRSV). The ark was to be covered with pitch, both inside and outside. Pitch can be made from pinewood and is created by putting pinewood waste under a pile of sand and burning it to produce a think liquid pitch. Because of the large amount of resin present, pinewood is soft and flexible. After several years, the wood and resin become hard and strong. If the ark was made out of pinewood, it would have been very strong and durable. The replica ark was built out of 12,000 Scots pine trees from Scandinavia.
Cain’s descendant Jabal “was the father of those who live in tents and raise livestock. His brother’s name was Jubal; he was the father of all who play stringed instruments and pipes. Zillah also had a son, Tubal-Cain, who forged all kinds of tools out of bronze and iron. Tubal-Cain’s sister was Naamah” (Genesis 4:20-22NIV).
The Bible says that Tubal-Cain was a blacksmith and that there were stringed instruments at that time. The strings of a harp are made out of steel and are complicated to forge. Therefore, Tubal-Cain and his descendants must have been good blacksmiths. Tubal-Cain lived about 600 years before Noah. From this we can deduce that Noah probably had steel, hammers and nails for the construction of the ark.
Could all the animals fit in the ark?
Noah was told “You are to bring into the ark two of all living creatures, male and female, to keep them alive with you. Two of every kind of bird, of every kind of animal and of every kind of creature that moves along the ground will come to you to be kept alive. You are to take every kind of food that is to be eaten and store it away as food for you and for them” (Gen. 6:19-21).
A common criticism of the Biblical account is, “How can millions of species fit on the ark?”. But this fails to recognize that “every kind” does not mean “every species”. Instead, a “kind” is more like a “genus” than a “species”. Noah only needed a pair of every kind of creature, not of every species. For example, one kind of dog and one kind of horse, not many. Since the flood each kind has produced many species (variety within a genus). It is estimated that there were up to 8,000 genera, including extinct genera. This means that up to 16,000 mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians would need to be housed on the ark.
It is estimated that the median size of all animals on the ark would have been that of a small rat, while only about 10% would have been much larger than a sheep. As the animals were to repopulate the world after the flood, they would have been young and not old. The ark had three “decks”. If the smaller 90% of the animals were in two layers on one deck, each pair would have an average of 1 square metre. If the remainder of the animals were on another deck, each pair would have an average of 4 square metre. This indicates the feasibility of housing the animals in two thirds of the ark.
The Bible says that eight people survived the great deluge because they were on the ark. Noah, his wife, his sons, and their wives. However, there would have been more than eight beds on the ark. What is the reason for that? It took Noah about 120 years to build the ark. During this time he told the people that they could be safe on the ark (2 Peter 2:5). Unfortunately no one accepted the invitation.
Jesus said He is preparing a place for us in heaven, just like Noah prepared a place for the people of his age (Jn.14:2). In Noah’s time the ark was the only way to survive the great deluge. In the same way, Jesus came to earth to save us. Just like in Noah’s time, the Lord has a way to rescue people. Because God loved the world so much, He sent His Son Jesus Christ to the earth. Jesus died on the cross, to bear our sins and He rose again so we can be saved from the penalty of our sin; eternal death (Jn. 3:16). We are to tell the world of this salvation. Otherwise those places will stay empty (Mt. 28:19)!
Written May 2014
These words were spoken by Jesus to the disciples after he talked with a rich young man (Mt. 19:26; Mk. 10:27; Lk. 18:27). It occurred near the end of His ministry, after He began His last trip to Jerusalem (Lk. 17:11). The rich man wanted to do something to obtain eternal life. He thought he could obtain salvation by his own efforts, but was unwilling to acknowledge his sin of greed and covetousness. Because he wouldn’t admit his sinfulness, he was unable to obtain eternal life though faith in Christ. That’s why Jesus said it was difficult for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven. As prosperity was a sign of God’s blessing in Old Testament times (Dt. 28:1-14) and the man obeyed most of the commandments, the disciples were amazed and asked Jesus “Who then can be saved”? Jesus answered “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Mt. 19:26NIV). Or, “Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But with God everything is possible” (NLT). It has also been recorded as “What is impossible with man is possible with God” (Lk. 18:27).
As the context of the verse is salvation, the word “this” stands for salvation. It addresses questions such as, “Who can be saved to go to heaven?” and “How are they saved?”. It teaches that there is no human component to a person’s salvation. We can’t save ourselves, because we are sinful. God does it all. Salvation comes from God’s grace and mercy alone, and human achievement has no role in it (Eph. 2:8-9; Tit. 3:5).
The Greek word translated “all things” (Strongs #3956), is also used in verses 20 and 27. In verse 20 it means “all” the commandments mentioned in v.18-19. In verse 27 it means “all” the things the disciples left behind to follow Jesus. Therefore, in v.26 it means “all” the things to do with salvation or “everything” to do with salvation.
The “all things” refers to God’s unlimited power which makes salvation possible. But it doesn’t mean that God can do anything. He can’t sin and He can’t deny who He is (2 Tim. 2:13). Instead, He can do all things that are consistent with His nature.
Prayer requests (except prayers of confession and repentance) and other miracles are outside the scope of how the verse was used by Jesus. Another implication of this incident is that prosperity is no longer a sign a God’s blessing, something difficult for the Jews of the day to understand.
So, “all things are possible with God” means that everything to do with the miracle of salvation is only possible through God’s power.
Written, September 2013
There are many choices in life and difficult decisions to make. The Bible tells us how to experience God’s guidance at these times. Proverbs 3:5-6NIV was written by King Solomon to the Israelites about 3,000 years ago and is still true for us today. It says:
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to Him, and He will make your paths straight.”
This passage on God’s guidance mentions our part, which is to trust and submit to God; and God’s part, which is to guide us through life.
First it says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart”. Who do we trust in? It’s dangerous to trust in someone who is unreliable and foolish. Here the Israelites were told to trust in their God who made the universe and who had led them from slavery in Egypt to Solomon’s mighty kingdom. Solomon’s father, King David, said “In You our ancestors put their trust; they trusted and You delivered them” (Ps. 22:3). So they knew that God had answered their prayers for help and had kept His promise to make them into a great nation. We now know that God also provided a Savior for us in Jesus Christ, so today we can trust the Lord for both our eternal destiny and our daily lives.
How should we trust God? It says with all our heart or wholeheartedly like Caleb – five verses of the Old Testament say he followed the Lord wholeheartedly (Num. 14:24; Dt. 1:36; Josh. 14:6-14).
Second it says, “lean not on your own understanding”. It’s also dangerous to trust in no one except ourselves and act alone when making important decisions. Instead it’s better to consult with others. This applies even more with God because we don’t know what is best for us and others don’t have God’s insight and wisdom. If we make decisions without consulting the Lord, then we don’t allow Him to guide us.
Third it says, “in all your ways submit to Him”. We should not leave God out of our lives, but remember Him, acknowledge Him, seek His will and do it, and serve Him faithfully. This applies “in all your ways”, which is every area of our lives. Every day of the week, not just Sunday!
Summarising, our part is to trust and submit to God and not rely on ourselves. It’s to be a commitment like marriage.
God’s part is a conditional promise; if the Israelites did their part, God promised to do His part. Likewise; if we do our part, God will do His part.
The promise is given as a metaphor: “He will make your paths straight”. As paths lead to a destination, it means we will have direction and a sense of purpose as we progress towards His goals for us. There’s no doubt about it, “He will make your paths straight”. This promise is repeated in, “Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and He will establish your plans” (Prov. 16:3).
There are many options and paths in life. Have you ever followed a GPS that guided you along a long route rather than the most direct one? This is a promise that God will guide us past the detours, the side tracks and the obstacles on the pathway of life and bring us to our goal and destination. If we don’t trust Him, we add obstacles and side tracks to our daily path, which hinder us from achieving God’s will.
How does God guide us through life? He can use principles in the Bible (Acts 17:11), answered prayer (Jas. 1:5), advice from godly Christians, circumstances coming together, and an inward peace (Phil. 4:6-7, Col. 3:15) along the pathway.
Let’s do our part by trusting and submitting to God, so He can do His by guiding us through life. Let’s realise that we can’t live for the Lord in our own strength.
Written, May 2013
Based on a message given at my mother’s funeral on 3 April 2013
A funeral usually involves memories and reflections of the life of the person who has died. But the funeral of a Christian can also look ahead in anticipation of what lies ahead.
Help from God the Creator
The source of a Christian’s help and protection throughout life is described in Psalm 121NIV.
“I lift up my eyes to the mountains—where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot slip—He who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, He who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord watches over you—the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night.
The Lord will keep you from all harm— He will watch over your life;
the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.”
When this song was written about 3,000 years ago, God’s people knew that the only reliable help and protection comes from the God who made the universe – “the Maker of heaven and earth”. In this context the Hebrew word for “heaven” means the atmosphere and the stars and galaxies. A God with the intelligence and power to create the universe and populate it with living plants, animals and people was surely able to help them! The Bible says He was the source of life on earth whereas all other gods and philosophies are the product of the human imagination.
Unfortunately in our modern world we have largely lost this knowledge and this confidence. We have forgotten about God the Creator. Even though we have wonderful technology, science can’t explain how matter was created from nothing or how life originated, and we often replace God the Creator with the idea that things created themselves.
So when we struggle in life where does our help come from? Some people go to counsellors for help who encourage them to get help from outside themselves. Because people usually can’t solve their own problems, they need to get help from someone else. In a similar way, we all need “outside help” to sustain us and God the Creator is the ultimate outside help!
Psalm 121 ends with, “The Lord will watch your coming and going both now and forevermore”. Here those who trusted God the Creator were promised that God would protect them throughout life and into the future. They could live with assurance and confidence that God would continue to help them. Likewise Christians can have the assurance that God will sustain them during their life and afterwards.
A different world
You may ask if God created everything in the beginning, why is there so much suffering in the world? The world today is very different from the one God made originally. We live in a different world. In the beginning it was a perfect world with harmony between God, people and the natural environment. But when people turned against their Maker, it changed and sin, evil, suffering and death came into the world. This change was caused by people like us. We live in a world with consequences – an act has a consequence and an effect has a cause. Because people turned against God our relationships have been ruined. We ignore God and are separated from Him, we can’t get along with other people, and we exploit the natural environment. Another consequence is that the Bible says we are destined to eternal punishment. Because we are the cause of this problem, we need outside help. Because each of us is guilty, we can’t help each other. The only reliable help available outside humanity is God the Creator.
Help from God the Lifesaver
Fortunately, God didn’t only create the universe and the laws of nature in the beginning, but He also continues to sustain it. He is not only incredibly powerful, but He is also incredibly loving. We remember His special act of love at Christmas and Easter when we celebrate the unique birth and death of Jesus Christ. God knew that mankind was doomed to eternal punishment unless He provided them with outside help. He did this about 2,000 years ago when Jesus Christ lived on earth and died and came alive again. Jesus was unique; He was God living as a human being. He showed His power over our world by the miracles He did. When He died by crucifixion, He took the eternal punishment that we deserve. If we turn towards God by being sorry for our behaviour and accepting the fact that Jesus has taken the penalty for our sin, then He promises eternal joy instead of eternal punishment. This is called eternal life. So Jesus is like a lifesaver – He can rescue us from the eternal consequence of our selfish behaviour. In this way God is making a new creation and He gives us the choice of being a part of it. Although we spoilt God’s original creation, and there is now sin, evil, pain, suffering and death, these will be absent in God’s new creation. Instead we can be reconciled with God, we can love one another and we can look forward to the restoration of creation like it was in the beginning.
Because a Christian has accepted Jesus as their Savior they can have an inner assurance, joy and peace.
What happens when a person dies? Not only do the lungs stop breathing and the heart stops pumping. The Bible says that at death a person’s invisible soul and spirit is separated from their body. If they trusted in Jesus the Savior, their soul and spirit goes immediately to be with God in heaven. After death they are enjoying a perfect place. That is why Paul could say, “To die is gain” (Phil. 1:21) and that he preferred to be “away from the body and at home with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:8). So they are in a better place. Their death is a loss for us, but a gain for them.
But there is more! On Easter Sunday we recall that the body of Jesus was raised back to life after being buried in a grave. The Bible describes a coming day when the bodies of believers, who trusted in Christ the Savior will also be raised back to life:
“What I am saying, dear brothers and sisters, is that our physical bodies cannot inherit the kingdom of God. These dying bodies cannot inherit what will last forever. But let me reveal to you a wonderful secret. We will not all die, but we will all be transformed! It will happen in a moment, in the blink of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For when the trumpet sounds, those who have died will be raised to live forever. And we who are living will also be transformed. For our dying bodies must be transformed into bodies that will never die; our mortal bodies must be transformed into immortal bodies. Then, when our dying bodies have been transformed into bodies that will never die, this Scripture will be fulfilled, ‘Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’ For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its power. But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 15:50-57NLT).
This is also described in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18. As part of God’s new creation they will have new bodies which won’t wear out and die (1 Cor. 15:42-49; Phil. 3:21; 1 Jn. 3:2) and they will be transported to be with God in heaven – spirit, soul and new body. This will be a great victory over the sin, suffering and death of our world. That’s why Christians can look forward confidently to the coming resurrection. There’s victory ahead!
The hymn, “How great Thou art”, summarises the greatness of God and the reasons for our Christian faith.
The first verse is about God the great Creator and source of life on earth. It says “Your power throughout the universe displayed”. Do we see God’s power in His creation?
The third verse is about Jesus Christ the great Lifesaver and source of eternal life. It says “On the cross, my burden gladly bearing, He bled and died to take away my sin”. When we stand before God, will He be like a lifesaver or like a judge? If we turn towards God by confessing our sins we can be ready to meet Him.
The last verse is about the great resurrection when the bodies of those who have trusted in Christ will be raised and changed to be with Him forever. It says “When Christ shall come with shout of acclamation and take me home – what joy shall fill my heart”. Are you ready to experience this joy?
Written, April 2013
What did Jesus mean when He said He would not eat the Passover again until it was fulfilled in the kingdom of God (Lk. 22:16)?
This statement is included in a description of how Jesus celebrated the Jewish Passover festival with His disciples just before He was executed.
When the hour came, Jesus and His apostles reclined at the table. And He said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God”. After taking the cup, He gave thanks and said, “Take this and divide it among you. For I tell you I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” (Lk. 22:14-18NIV).
The Lord looked forward to this occasion because it was the last Passover that He would share with His disciples and the last Passover of His first advent on earth. He also looked ahead to the kingdom of God. The previous mention of the “kingdom of God” in the book of Luke is associated with a description of Christ’s second advent (Lk. 21:25-31). This means that the next time He would be on earth to celebrate such a Jewish festival would be during His millennial kingdom, after His second advent on earth (Rev. 20:1-6). Jesus would eat no more Passover meals until this time.
Link to outline of events associated with the second advent.
As He is talking about a physical meal (v.15-16) and a physical drink (v.17-18), the Lord is addressing a future physical kingdom and not a spiritual one. At this time, the temple will be rebuilt, the Jewish priesthood restored and the Israelites will occupy their promised land (Ezek. Ch. 40-48). They will also resume Jewish festivals like the Passover (Ezek. 45:21). So, the future Passover is also physical like it was in the Old Testament (OT) times.
In the New Testament Jesus is referred to as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” and “our Passover lamb” who “has been sacrificed” (Jn. 1:29, 1 Cor. 5:7). Through His sacrificial death on the cross He paid the penalty for our sin. In this way, Jesus was like the Passover lamb, which died as a substitute (Ex. 12:21-30). Furthermore, He was crucified on Passover day. But the fact that Christ has delivered sinners from hell and been victorious over Satan and the forces of evil will not be evident until He returns in great power to establish His kingdom on earth.
How is the Passover “fulfilled in the kingdom of God”? As the Israelites escape from slavery wasn’t realised until the Egyptians drowned in the Red Sea, so Christ’s victory over Satan will not be complete until Satan’s forces are defeated at the triumphant second advent (Rev. 19:11-21). The purpose of the Passover was so the Israelites could settle in Canaan as God’s people, living according to His commands. But because they disobeyed and rebelled against God over many years, God allowed them to be invaded and scattered to foreign countries. After this God predicted the Gentile kingdoms that would rule over the Jews, culminating with a promise to establish His eternal kingdom on earth (Dan. 2:44). So the victory that began with the first Passover in Egypt and was remembered whenever the Jewish Passover festival was celebrated will be ultimately finalised when Christ’s millennial kingdom is established on earth.
Soon after this passage in Luke, Jesus referred to the “kingdom of God” once again when He promised that the disciples would reign over the earth in the coming kingdom (Lk. 22:29-30; Rev. 5:9-10). So at this Passover, Christ looked ahead to the fulfilment of God’s purposes. Likewise, at the Lord’s Supper believers today look back to the Lord’s death and ahead to His coming again (1 Cor. 11:23-26).
At the Passover the OT Jews remembered their rescue from slavery in Egypt, whereas in the coming kingdom Jewish believers will remember that through the death of Christ, they have been rescued from the penalty of their sin.
In summary, Jesus hasn’t eaten the Passover since He ascended into heaven. Only after He returns to the earth as king to establish the kingdom of God on earth will He be able to celebrate the Passover again. The rescue mission that began with the Passover, which was a foretaste of Christ’s death, will be completed and evident to the universe at the second advent of Christ and in His subsequent kingdom.
Written, February 2013
Also see: An outline of future events
The idea of seven heavens is found in Islam, Judaism and Hinduism. In Islam and Judaism, the divine throne is said to be in or above the seventh heaven. In Hinduism, the god Brahma lives in the seventh heaven. However, none of these ideas are mentioned in the Bible.
It is thought that the myth of seven heavens came from ancient astrologists who could identify seven great heavenly objects (the Moon, Mercury, Venus, the Sun, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn) and assumed that each was moving in a separate heaven, in a series of layers above the earth. These were the only objects that people could see in the sky that moved with respect to the fixed stars. They gave us the names of the week: Sunday after the sun, Monday after the moon, and Tuesday to Friday after the Norse versions of Mars, Mercury, Jupiter and Venus, and Saturday after Saturn.
In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word “samayim” (Strongs #8064) is translated as “heaven” or “heavens” and has the following meanings according to the context in which the word is used:
- The earth’s atmosphere: “the rain had stopped falling from the sky” (Gen. 8:2NIV).
- The realm of the stars: “the stars in the sky” (Gen. 22:17).
- The dwelling place of God and the angels: “Hear from heaven, your [God’s] dwelling place” (2 Chron. 6:21).
Another expression representing the dwelling place of God is “the highest heaven” (literally the heaven of heavens): “To the LORD your God belong the heavens, even the highest heavens, the earth and everything in it” (Dt. 10:14). This expression doesn’t represent multiple heavens, but the uniqueness of God’s home compared to the atmosphere and the stars.
In the New Testament, the Greek word “ouranos” (Strongs #3772) is translated as “heaven” or “heavens” and has the following meanings according to the context in which the word is used:
- The earth’s atmosphere: “the birds of the air” (Mt. 6:26).
- The realm of the stars: “the stars in the sky” (Heb. 11:12).
- The dwelling place of God and the angels: “Father in heaven” (Mt. 6:9; 12:50).
- God: “I have sinned against heaven [referring to God, by metonymy] and against you” (Lk. 15:18).
Christ’s incarnation and ascension is described as: “He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens” (Eph. 4:10). This expression doesn’t represent multiple heavens, but the uniqueness of God’s home compared to the atmosphere and the stars.
Paul said that he was “caught up to the third heaven”, which was “paradise” (2 Cor. 12:2-4). If God’s dwelling place is the third heaven, then the other two heavens are the earth’s atmosphere and the universe beyond the earth.
So, the Bible refers to three different heavens, not seven heavens. These are three usages of the word “heaven”, not a series of layers above the earth. God dwells in the “highest heaven”, which is unique (Lk. 2:14). It is not necessarily physically uppermost or furthest from the earth, but it is superior and supreme. That is why Jesus is “exalted above the heavens”; He is greater than anything in the atmosphere and the rest of the universe (Heb. 7:26). Today, we mainly use the word “heaven” for God’s dwelling place.
Written, April 2012
We know very little about what was said to Adam and Eve before the fall into sin, but Scripture contains what we need to know about the past. God commanded Adam and Eve, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die” (Gen. 2:16-17NIV). With this choice, there is a consequence: disobedience leads to death. We know that Eve was aware of the command and the consequence because she repeated it to the serpent (Gen. 3:2-3). “When you eat from it you will certainly die” is a warning. She knew that it was something to be avoided. It was not trivial but important – a life and death matter. Obviously the disadvantages and impact of spiritual and physical death must have been explained to Adam and Eve at the time.
God gave them enough information so that they could make an informed choice, although we have no evidence that Satan was mentioned. If the warning had been more explicit, then their free will may have been eroded.
So God did warn them about not eating the fruit. He said, don’t do it!
Written, January 2012
The answer to this question depends on the source of temptation and the fact that angels and people have a free will.
Source of temptation
The steps from temptation to sinful behaviour and then to death are described as, “When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death” (Jas. 1:13-15NIV). So, a temptation to sin doesn’t come from God. Although God can test our faith, He never tempts us to sin. He has no dealings with evil. Temptation is described as our “own evil desire”, which comes from our inner sinful nature (Mt. 15:19). The temptation isn’t necessarily evil , unless we dwell on it until it leads to sinful behaviour, like conception leads to the birth of a child. Jesus was tempted, but He didn’t sin (Mt. 4:1-11).
But Adam and Eve didn’t have a sinful nature and lived in a perfect environment. So who was the source of their temptation to sin? Jesus was tempted although He didn’t have a sinful nature (Heb. 4:15). He was tempted by Satan (Mt. 4:1-11). In Adam and Eve’s case it was the serpent, which is one of Satan’s names (Gen. 3:1-5; Rev. 12:9; 20:2). So Satan tempted Adam and Eve and this lead to them disobeying God. Satan is the tempter (1 Th. 3:5).
But did God cause Satan to tempt Adam and Eve?
God commanded Adam and Eve, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die” (Gen. 2:16-17). They were given a choice to obey God or to disobey Him; they had a “free will”. In order to be free to follow or ignore God, we have to be able to make choices. A loving relationship requires the freedom to make choices. They chose to accept Satan’s temptation instead of rejecting it. This was their own decision, even though Adam blamed Eve and Eve blamed the snake (Gen. 3:11-13). God did not create evil, but He made people with a free will, and therefore with a potential for good and evil.
Angels, including Satan, didn’t have a sinful nature and lived in a perfect environment. So who was the source of their temptation to sin? Satan was created “blameless”; he was sinless (Ezek. 28:15). But because of pride and arrogance he desired to rule the universe like God (Isa. 14:13-14; Ezek. 28:17). Where did this pride and arrogance come from? He was made perfect, so God can’t be blamed: “You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created till wickedness was found in you” (Ezek. 28:15). It was his own choice. Angels were also given a choice to serve God or not; they had a “free will”. Satan was the first one to oppose God and he lead an angelic rebellion against God (Mt. 25:41; Rev. 12:7). God did not create evil, but He made angels with a free will, and therefore with a potential for good and evil.
Clearly God desired angels and people that would choose to follow Him. This also means that some angels and some people will choose to reject Him. Satan’s choice led to demons in the angelic world and evil in the universe. So God didn’t cause Satan to tempt Adam and Eve, it was Satan’s choice.
In God’s love and omniscience, He knew Adam and Eve would sin, and He already had a plan in place to restore them to fellowship when they did. Although God planned to send Jesus to die for their sin, He didn’t cause them to sin. Satan rebelled by choice, he then tempted other angels to rebel and then tempted Eve and Adam and they sinned by their choice. We in turn are also tempted by Satan and by our sinful nature inherited from Adam and Eve, but we sin by our own choice.
Written, January 2012
Recently the Large Hadron Collider near Geneva in Switzerland has been used to discover a new sub-atomic particle. The collider directs streams of protons around a 27 km circular tunnel so they collide head-on and records the sub-atomic debris that results.
A researcher reported, “Our new measurements are a great way to test theoretical calculations of the forces that act on fundamental particles, and will move us a step closer to understanding how the universe is held together”. So scientists are seeking to understand how the universe is held together. According to the Bible, what they discover will be secondary causes and not primary ones.
Primary and secondary causes
The Bible says that everything in the universe is held together by the powerful word of the Lord Jesus Christ. He is “sustaining all things by His powerful word” (Heb. 1:3) and “in Him all things hold together” (Col. 1 :17). God’s divine power sustains the mass, energy, space and time of our universe. It the primary reason the universe is held together.
The Bible also teaches that God spoke the universe into existence.
- “the universe was formed at God’s command” (Heb. 11:3).
- “By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, their starry host by the breath of His mouth … Let all the earth fear the LORD; let all the people of the world revere Him. For He spoke, and it came to be; He commanded, and it stood firm” (Ps. 33:6-9).
- With regard to the whole universe (visible and invisible, living and inanimate); “at His command they were created” (Ps. 148:5)
- “God said” is mentioned ten times in the description of the creation of the universe (Gen 1:1-31).
The orderly mechanisms and models of science reflect God’s nature. These mechanisms and models are secondary causes which describe how the universe operates. They are part of the creation over which God has dominion (Job 25:2; 38:33). The eternal omnipotent God who has massive intelligence is the original and ultimate cause because He determined how the universe operates.
God not only designed and created the universe, He continues to sustain it by His divine powerful word. He is both a Creator and a Sustainer.
Written, December 2011
When I read Job and Psalms recently, I realised that Job and David both suffered life threatening situations and went through times of anguish and despair. In this article we look at David’s trials and troubles when he was a fugitive.
David’s burdens as a fugitive
David was a shepherd who became the king of Israel in about 1010 BC. But he had good times and bad times before this happened. In the good times he became king Saul’s musician and armour-bearer. Then he killed the taunting Philistine champion Goliath, married Saul’s daughter and was given a high rank in the army. Because of his military victories, he became a national hero.
ButSaul became jealous of David and when this developed into hatred, he tried to kill him. First he hurled a spear towards him on three occasions, which would have been terrifying as Saul was a head taller than anyone else (1 Sam. 9:2). Then he gave him a military mission hoping that he would die in battle. After these attempts on David’s life failed, Saul remained David’s enemy for the rest of his life (1 Sam. 18:28-29). Next, Saul commanded his men to kill David. They ambushed David’s house, but his wife helped him escape that night.
David’s life had changed drastically. He now feared for his life and was a fugitive on the run from Saul and his men (1 Sam. Ch. 19-30). David said, “there is only a step between me and death” (1Sam. 20:3). He fled to Samuel in Ramah where he was given refuge among the prophets (1 Sam. 19:18). When Saul discovered David’s whereabouts, David escaped to Nob (1 Sam. 21:1-9), and then to Gath among the Philistines and from there to the cave of Adullam (1 Sam. 22:1-4; 1 Chron. 12:8-18) where 400 men joined him and accepted him as their leader. David’s parents joined him too, but for their safety he took them to Moab east of the Dead Sea. A prophet then told him to move to the forest of Hereth. Meanwhile, Saul was so desperate that he ordered the murder of 85 priests and their families who had innocently given refuge to David at Nob (1 Sam. 22:11-19).
For a while, David found himself in the bizarre situation of fighting Saul’s enemies and fleeing Saul at the same time. David and his men drove the Philistines from Keilah (1 Sam. 23:1-14) and then moved to the hill country of Judah to escape Saul in the deserts of Ziph and Maon. When Saul’s forces almost caught David’s men, they were called away to fight the Philistines. Then David escaped to En Gedi on the Dead Sea. After Saul arrived with 3,000 soldiers, David went to the region of Maon once again. David spared Saul’s life on two occasions when Saul was hunting him (1 Sam. 24:10, 26:9). He was still loyal to the king.
David and his 600 men and their families then returned to Gath and settled in Ziklag because he thought he was safer amongst the Philistines. As Saul stopped searching for them, they were able to stay there for 16 months until Saul was killed in battle against the Philistines (1 Sam. 27:1-6; 31:1-6). David was probably a fugitive for about 4-5 years; assuming he was about 16 years of age when he defeated Goliath (2 Sam. 2:2,10; 5:4).
When David was on the run as a fugitive, he hid from his pursuers; Saul and his men. His life was in danger because Saul feared and hated him. Instead of addressing the Philistine threat, Saul’s attention was diverted to the pursuit of David.
David’s songs as a fugitive
Today we see people walking and running around with headphones listening to songs. Well David also had songs in his head, but he didn’t need headphones because he was a singer, songwriter and musician!
Here are some songs that David composed when he was a fugitive, which show his feelings and responses to his burdens of life.
Psalm 59 is a prayer for deliverance when Saul’s men ambushed David’s house (1 Sam. 19:11-17).
“Deliver me from my enemies, O God;
be my fortress against those who are attacking me.
Deliver me from evildoers
and save me from those who are after my blood.
See how they lie in wait for me!
Fierce men conspire against me
for no offense or sin of mine, LORD.
I have done no wrong, yet they are ready to attack me.
Arise to help me; look on my plight!” (Ps. 59:1-4NIV)
He trusts in God in such times of trouble and the song finishes with praise.
“I will sing of Your strength,
in the morning I will sing of Your love;
for You are my fortress,
my refuge in times of trouble.
You are my strength, I sing praise to You;
You, God, are my fortress,
my God on whom I can rely.” (Ps. 59:16-17)
Psalm 7 is a prayer for deliverance from one of Saul’s men.
“LORD my God, I take refuge in You;
save and deliver me from all who pursue me,
or they will tear me apart like a lion
and rip me to pieces with no one to rescue me.” (Ps. 7:1-2)
The song finishes with praise.
“I will give thanks to the LORD because of His righteousness;
I will sing the praises of the name of the LORD Most High.” (Ps. 7:17)
In Psalm 56 David experiences waves of fear and faith as he seeks refuge from Saul amongst the Philistines (1 Sam. 21:10-15; 27:1-4).
“Be merciful to me, my God,
for my enemies are in hot pursuit;
all day long they press their attack.
My adversaries pursue me all day long;
in their pride many are attacking me.” (Ps. 56:1-2)
“When I am afraid, I put my trust in You.
In God, whose word I praise—
in God I trust and am not afraid.
What can mere mortals do to me?” (Ps. 56:3-4)
In Psalm 57 David fluctuates between faith in God and fear of his enemies when he is hiding from Saul in the cave (1 Samuel 22:1-2; 24:1-22).
“Have mercy on me, my God, have mercy on me,
for in You I take refuge.
I will take refuge in the shadow of Your wings
until the disaster has passed.
I cry out to God Most High,
to God, who vindicates me.
He sends from heaven and saves me,
rebuking those who hotly pursue me—
God sends forth His love and His faithfulness.
I am in the midst of lions;
I am forced to dwell among ravenous beasts—
men whose teeth are spears and arrows,
whose tongues are sharp swords.” (Ps. 57:1-4)
Even though God and his enemies were ever-present, the song finishes with praise.
“I will praise You, Lord, among the nations;
I will sing of You among the peoples.
For great is Your love, reaching to the heavens;
Your faithfulness reaches to the skies.
Be exalted, O God, above the heavens;
let Your glory be over all the earth.” (Ps. 57:9-11)
In Psalm 142 David is overwhelmed with stress when he is hiding from Saul in the cave (1 Samuel 22:1-2; 24:1-22). So, he prays for deliverance.
“I cry aloud to the LORD;
I lift up my voice to the LORD for mercy.
I pour out before Him my complaint;
before Him I tell my trouble.” (Ps. 142:1-2)
“I cry to You, LORD;
I say, “You are my refuge,
my portion in the land of the living.”
Listen to my cry,
for I am in desperate need;
rescue me from those who pursue me,
for they are too strong for me.
Set me free from my prison,
that I may praise Your name.” (Ps. 142:5-7)
Psalm 54 is a prayer for deliverance when the Ziphites betrayed David twice (1 Sam. 23:19-28; 26:1-4).
“Save me, O God, by Your name;
vindicate me by Your might.
Hear my prayer, O God;
listen to the words of my mouth.
Arrogant foes are attacking me;
ruthless people are trying to kill me—
people without regard for God.
Surely God is my help;
the Lord is the one who sustains me.
Let evil recoil on those who slander me;
in Your faithfulness destroy them.” (Ps. 54:1-5)
He then offered praise and thanksgiving.
“I will sacrifice a freewill offering to You;
I will praise Your name, LORD, for it is good.
You have delivered me from all my troubles,
and my eyes have looked in triumph on my foes.” (Ps. 54:6-7)
Some other songs may have been composed when David was a fugitive.
Psalm 13 is a prayer for deliverance from his enemies.
“How long, LORD? Will you forget me forever?
How long will You hide Your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?
Look on me and answer, LORD my God.
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,
and my enemy will say, ‘I have overcome him,’
and my foes will rejoice when I fall.
But I trust in Your unfailing love;
my heart rejoices in Your salvation.
I will sing the LORD’s praise,
for He has been good to me.”
So although David felt forgotten, depressed, humiliated faced the risk of death and defeat, he finished with praise.
Psalm 17 is a prayer for deliverance from enemies who had tracked him down.
“Keep me as the apple (or pupil) of Your eye;
hide me in the shadow of Your wings
from the wicked who are out to destroy me,
from my mortal enemies who surround me.” (Ps. 17:8-9)
Psalm 31 is prayer and praise for deliverance.
“But I trust in you, LORD;
I say, ‘You are my God.’
My times are in Your hands;
deliver me from the hands of my enemies,
from those who pursue me.” (Ps. 31:14-15)
Psalm 109 is prayer for God’s judgement of enemies.
“My God, whom I praise,
do not remain silent,
for people who are wicked and deceitful
have opened their mouths against me;
they have spoken against me with lying tongues.
With words of hatred they surround me;
they attack me without cause.
In return for my friendship they accuse me,
but I am a man of prayer.” (Ps. 109:1-4)
Psalm 35 is a prayer to be rescued from those who taunted him. As usual, he finishes with praise.
“May those who delight in my vindication
shout for joy and gladness;
may they always say, ‘The LORD be exalted,
who delights in the well-being of his servant.’
My tongue will proclaim Your righteousness,
Your praises all day long.” (Ps 35:27-28)
Psalm 120 is a prayer for deliverance from lies and slander.
“I call on the LORD in my distress,
and He answers me.
Save me, LORD,
from lying lips
and from deceitful tongues.” (Ps. 120:1-2)
Finally, in Psalm 22 David feels forsaken by God and rejected by people and surrounded by his enemies.
“Many bulls surround me;
strong bulls of Bashan encircle me.
Roaring lions that tear their prey
open their mouths wide against me.” (Ps. 22:12-13)
Lessons for the children of Israel
All these songs are recorded in Scripture for the benefit of God’s people. What was the lesson for the children of Israel in Old Testament times? As a fugitive, David’s life was in danger because he was outnumbered by Saul’s men and he was under continual stress. How did he handle this burden and the fact that his father-in-law hated him? He used the weapon of prayer to get God’s help; he said “Cast your cares on the LORD and He will sustain you” (Ps. 55:22). He dealt with his burdens by directing them to the Lord. So, he laid the situation before God, recalled who God was, what God was able to do, and his status before God. He requested God’s help, affirmed His power, and offered thanks and praise. It was a pattern of prayer and praise. After all, David said, “I am a man of prayer” (Ps. 109:4). He also said: “In the morning, LORD, You hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before You and wait expectantly” (Ps. 5:3). He prayed when his mind was clear and the temperature was cool. Being “a man after God’s own heart”, he was a model for the Jews to follow (1 Sam. 13:14; Acts 13:22).
David’s suffering was also prophetic of the suffering of the Messiah; they both felt forsaken by God (Ps. 22:1; Mt; 27:46) and they were both taunted with “let God rescue him” (Ps.22:8; Mt:27:43). Jesus was a descendant of David who suffered, yet was innocent. Like David, He responded to His burdens with prayer and endurance.
Lessons for us
First, are we like Saul or like David? Who do we trust? Saul trusted himself, but David trusted in God. David knew that God created the universe and rescued his nation from slavery in Egypt. Do we realise that God created the universe? Through trusting in Christ we can be rescued from the consequences of our sinful ways and have peace with God. That’s real security.
Second, if we are trusting God, we need to be careful when applying Old Testament verses to us today because since then Jesus has come and the church has formed. God’s people today are Christians whose sins have been forgiven by the death of Christ and who live under God’s grace, not the children of Israel who lived under the Old Testament laws (Rom. 6:14).
Is David’s pattern of surviving burdens by prayer, praise and endurance consistent with the New Testament? Yes it is, but with the following changes because of what Jesus and the apostles taught:
- Like Jesus, we are to love and pray for our enemies, instead of hating them like David (Mt. 5:44). Although David did respect Saul as king of Israel.
- We shouldn’t pray vindictive prayers or seek vengeance on others like David in Psalm 109, but leave such judgment up to God (1 Cor. 5:13; 2 Pet. 2:9). Although vindictive prayers were proper for a Jew living under the law, they are not for a Christian living under God’s grace. The time of God’s vengeance will come after the church is raptured to heaven.
- Also, we should be willing to endure suffering, taunting and slander like Jesus did and not react against it like David (Mt. 5:11-12; 1Pet. 2:20, 23; 3:9)
- Today people are not our enemies like they were for David; instead it is our sinful desires that war against our soul (1 Pet.2:1). Our enemies are within; they are internal not external (Mt. 15:11, 19). They are spiritual not physical. Keep that in mind when you read the Psalms.
There are two similarities to note between today and David’s time:
- As Saul’s men followed David relentlessly, so our emotional and spiritual burdens follow us around.
- Prayer is still important for New testament believers: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:6-7). Like David, let’s be people of prayer.
So although our burdens are ever present, remember that our God is also ever present and that prayer and praise are essential for surviving the burdens of life.
Written, October 2011
The Bible is a collection of books which were written over a period of over 1,500 years with unique origin and content.
We will look at three statements about the source of the Bible. “All Scripture is God-breathed” (2 Tim. 3:16NIV). When written in ~67AD by Paul, this statement mainly applied to the Old Testament as not all the New Testament books had been written. But when Paul quoted from the book of Luke, he called it Scripture (1 Tim. 5:18) and Peter referred to Paul’s letters as Scripture (2 Pet. 3:16). So today we can apply the statement to the whole Bible. This means that God is the source of every verse in the Bible.
“Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things (mind). For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pet. 1:20-21). The men who were given the message were called prophets. This passage emphasises that the words of Scripture were given by God via the Holy Spirit; and they didn’t originate from the prophet’s mind.
“This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words” (1 Cor. 2:13). Once again, the Bible contains God’s wisdom, not human wisdom (1 Cor. 2:6-15). It’s “the thoughts of God” and the amazing things that “God has prepared for those who love Him”, which can only be understood with the help of the Holy Spirit.
As the Bible is the only book with God as the author, it is unique. The Bible is God’s message to us. The supreme God who created the universe and continues to sustain it has communicated with us. This also means that:
- The Bible has authority – coming from the ruler of the visible and invisible universe.
- The Bible is infallible. It is “completely reliable” as the source of truth, being absolutely true (2 Pet.1:19). The original text was without error and only minor copyist errors have occurred over the passage of time. When interpreted correctly, it never deceives us, never contradicts itself and can be trusted.
- The Bible is profitable. God has told us what we need to know. It’s like our instruction manual for life.
The Bible tells us the history of the universe from beginning to end. It begins with the creation of the universe and contains a history of mankind from Adam and Eve to the end of history. It describes the global flood that has shaped the earth and gives a detailed history of the Jewish nation, which is confirmed by archaeology. There is also a history of God’s dealing with mankind, a history of human failures, an accurate record of human behaviour and information about heaven and hell.
The Bible answers difficult questions, such as the following. Why do we exist? Why does anything exist? What can we hope for in the future? What is our destiny? Where has humanity come from? Why are we male and female? Where does marriage come from? Why is there suffering?
The Bible deals with our greatest problem (being God’s enemy instead of His friend) and our greatest need (to be reconciled with God) and how that was addressed by Jesus. God’s plan of salvation through Jesus is the theme of Scripture. We learn the way of salvation through the Bible (2 Tim. 3:15). It also provides assurance of salvation.
The Bible tells us what to know about the unseen world, including: God, angels, Satan, and demons. It describes the interaction between the unseen and seen parts of our world. It reveals what is God like; what has God done; God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit. It also reveals that humans are comprised of spirit, soul and body.
As the Bible is the only reliable source of this information, it is unique (Eccl. 3:11).
The Bible uses the following powerful images to describe itself:
- A sharp sword that penetrates and judges our thoughts and attitudes (Heb. 4:12-13). It is the sword of the Spirit (Eph. 6:17).
- A light that shines in darkness (Ps. 119:105; 2 Pet. 1:19). It illuminates the way ahead and guides us.
- A mirror that shows our true condition (Jas. 1:22-25).
- Food (milk and solid food) that sustains us (1 Cor. 3:1-2; Heb. 5:12-14).
- Water that purifies us as we obey Scripture (Eph. 5:25).
- More precious than gold (Ps. 19:10).
- Sweeter than honey (Ps. 19:10).
So, the Bible is not just another book, it’s God’s unique powerful message to us. Let’s read it, study it, memorise it and obey it.
Written, September 2011
Also see: Read the Bible in one year
Life inevitably has its peaks and valleys; its good times and its bad times; its easy times and its hard times. We all experience burdens of some kind. Life doesn’t always go the way we would like it to. In this article, we look at what the Bible says about how to survive the burdens of life, which may be our circumstances, or our perceptions, or our fears and anxieties. In particular, we will focus on the example of Job who lived about 4,000 years ago, after Noah, the global flood and the ice age, but before Abraham, the father of the Jewish nation. He was a godly man with eight children who was wealthy with many animals and many servants.
One day his animals were stolen and destroyed by lightning, his servants killed, and his children all died in a tornado (Job 1:13-19). Next there was health crisis when his body was covered with painful sores. They itched so badly that he scraped himself with a piece of broken pottery (Job 2:7-8). Because his wife couldn’t bear to see him suffering so much, she said “Curse God and die” (Job 2:9NIV). He was tempted to give up on God; but he did not.
What a catastrophe! He lost his family, his possessions, his health and the support of his wife. His life was “full of trouble” and he suffered alone (Job. 14:1). He asked “Why me?” “What did I do to deserve this?”He put his questions to God. He called out to God for relief, but his prayers weren’t answered (Job 30:20). His suffering was so bad that he cursed the day he was born and wished that he had died at birth because then he would be resting in peace instead of being in misery and turmoil (Job 3:1-26). He longed for death to release him from his difficulties and troubles. He was haunted by depression, mockery and pain (Job 30:1-31).
Job had a big problem. He thought his suffering was undeserved and unfair. Job was doing everything right when suddenly everything went wrong. That’s why he protested to God. His burdens and emotional struggles raise questions such as: Why do godly people suffer? Will Job’s faith endure or will he give up on God?
Job’s friend’s response
Four of his friends seek to comfort Job. Their debate is given in Job 3-37. Their argument was: God is righteous; He punishes the wicked; if Job is being punished it proved that he is wicked. But this is poor logic. Evil isn’t always punished in this life and all human suffering is not a punishment from God. Not all suffering is a direct result of sin in one’s life. For example, God can use suffering to refine the character of the godly. Instead, his friends only thought of God’s justice and not His love and compassion.
But Job defends his integrity and strenuously claims his innocence (Job 27:1-6; 31:40). He is not a wicked person.
Finally God speaks. How will He deal with the problem of Job’s suffering? Instead of answering Job’s questions, God asks a series of questions that reveal His divine wisdom and power and Job’s insignificance.
The first series of questions address the fact that God provides the conditions for life on earth (Job. 38:4-38). The examples given include: He created the earth; He provided water in clouds, rain, hail, snow, the water cycle, and the sea; He provided light; and He provided the stars of the universe. Then God asked Job, “Were you there when I made this?”; “What do you know about the natural world?”; “Can you do what I have done?”. Scientists may understand aspects of how these components of our universe work, but God is their ultimate cause; He designed them and created them.
The second series of questions address the fact that God sustains life on earth (Job. 38:39 – 39:30): The examples given include: lion; raven, ostrich, hawk, and eagle; goat, donkey, ox, and horse. God asked Job, “Do you provide food for all these creatures?”; “Can you tame wild animals?”; “Did you design and create these creatures”; “Can you manage the creation as well as God does”? Of course, the answer is “no”! Job would have felt small and insignificant compared to God’s might.
Job’s first response
“Then Job answered the LORD: “I am unworthy—how can I reply to you? I put my hand over my mouth. I spoke once, but I have no answer—twice, but I will say no more” (Job 40:3-5). Overwhelmed by God’s divine greatness, wisdom and power, Job realised his insignificance. He couldn’t answer God’s questions, but he knew what the answers were. He felt so weak that he was speechless. But now that had no more to say, he was ready to listen to God.
God’s second response
Then God responded again by asking questions about two of the greatest creatures He ever made. People debate about whether these are mythical or real and living today or extinct. The Bible says that they were real and it is clear that was familiar with these giant creatures (Job 40:15). Their description matches those of the largest dinosaurs, which are now extinct. Contrary to what many scientists say, the Bible teaches that people were on the earth at the same time as the dinosaurs.
Behemoth, which lived on the land, marshes and rivers, was “first among the works of God” (Job 40:19). This means that it was God’s best, chief, foremost, greatest and supreme creation. Metaphors are used to convey that its skeleton seemed to be as hard as iron (Job 40:18). God asked Job, “Can you capture it?”. Of course, Job couldn’t control this monster; but God controlled the world.
Leviathan lived in the sea. “Nothing on earth is its equal—a creature without fear” (Job 41:33). “When it rises up, the mighty are terrified” (Job 41:25). Once again God asked Job, “Can you capture it?”. If no one can stand up against it, no one can stand up before its creator. After all God made everything and runs the universe! God is much greater than any of His creation.
Job’s second response
“Then Job replied to the LORD: I know that you can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted. You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge?’ Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak; I will question you, and you shall answer me’. My ears had heard of You but now my eyes have seen You. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:1-6).
Job was overwhelmed by God’s power and greatness and he repented of his arrogance in questioning God. He was ashamed and sorry for the things he had said. So through his suffering he gains an accurate impression of almighty God and his own failures and limitations. He thinks more of God and less of himself. He accepts his place in the universe and submits to God’s will for his life. His faith endured the test of suffering. It proved that Satan was wrong; Job didn’t curse God in his afflictions (Job 1:11; 2:5).
Although Job was, “blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil”; his trials led him to repent of his arrogance and pride (Job 1:8; 42:1-6). This domonstrates that pride is the root of all our sin.
The Christian view of suffering
Now we look at what the New Testament says about when God’s people suffer. “They (our fathers) disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in His holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it” (Heb. 12:10-12).
Christians are children of God; He is our spiritual Father. As human fathers discipline and train their children, so God disciplines and trains us. As fathers love their children and want the best for them, so God loves us and wants the best for us. Fathers train their children to become mature adults; but God trains us so that “we may share in His holiness”. His goal is that we may become mature as our life becomes purified and the fruit of the Spirit grows. The result of the discipline and training is pictured as a harvest. Crops are harvested when they are mature. Christians are mature when they practice love, joy, peace, forbearance (or patience), kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control and holiness (Gal. 5:22-23).
This discipline and training is painful like it was for Job. So the suffering that Christians endure isn’t punishment, it is training and education. In many ways it is “no pain, no gain”, because it is possible to go through trials and never have them do a thing for us if we complain all the time. But if we persevere, suffering leads to patience and hope: “suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope” (Rom. 5:3). Job persevered: “Brothers and sisters, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. As you know, we count as blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy” (Jas. 5:10-11).
Christians are to endure hardship and suffering because it is divine discipline, “God is treating you as His children” (Heb. 12:7). We are to “Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (Heb. 12:3). If we think of all the suffering that Jesus went through for us, then we won’t become weary and give up. It can sustain us through the burdens of life.
So, don’t give up in the tough times. Persevere and endure. Hang in there like Job and Jesus did. Remember it is training for your spiritual growth. Job said “He (God) knows the way that I take; when He has tested me, I will come forth as gold” (Job 23:10). So the Christian view of suffering is to never complain or give up in despair.
Lessons for us
What can we learn from this? Firstly, the burdens of life don’t necessarily cease at death. Although God has provided eternal life for those whose sins have been forgiven through the death of the Lord Jesus Christ, this is only available to those who have repented and turned to trust in God’s provision like Job did. That is the only way to survive the burdens of life in the long term. The future is dark for those without God in their life. They are not survivors.
Secondly, we need to normalise burdens and suffering. Job suffered as a godly man. Even the godliest people suffer; it’s part of the normal Christian life. We need to expect it and not be surprised when it happens. God doesn’t always explain the reason for our suffering. But we shouldn’t blame ourselves because suffering is not necessarily the result of our sins, although it is a characteristic of our sinful world.
Thirdly, suffering keeps us humble. By enduring the burdens of life we can realise that God controls the universe, not us. We need to submit to His will, rather that demand that God submit to our desires. So, the suffering of the godly has a purpose, even though we often don’t realise at the time.
Fourthly, enduring suffering can be a great witness for the Lord. Job suffered. Jesus suffered. As a result, God was praised and served because He deserved it, no matter the circumstances, and not because of how they benefited, but despite the trials of life. Likewise, if we persevere in suffering, we demonstrate God’s worth. We are given the privilege of suffering for Christ and demonstrating our faith in God by enduring life’s trials (Phil. 1:29). What a witness that can be!
Fourthly, suffering develops endurance and perseverance. God’s discipline and training also helps our growth towards spiritual maturity. So, don’t give up in the tough times.
Fifthly, suffering tests our faith. Are we only serving God on the good times? That is a weak faith. Strong faith also serves God in the tough times; when you can say to God, not my will, but Yours be done. Because Job didn’t give up on God, he was an example of great faith.
Don’t be misled by people like Job’s friends who say if we follow them we can be exempt from suffering. That we will be healthy, wealthy and wise instead of suffering the burdens of life. No one is exempt from the burdens of life, particularly the godly.
Finally, those who are suffering don’t need advice. They are on the road to maturity. So don’t feel sorry for them but join them and like Job we may learn more about God and more about ourselves in the journey.
That’s how the Bible says we can survive the burdens of life.
Written, September 2011
Divine revelation trumps human ideas
Some people think that religions such as Christianity are comprised of myths that were made up many years ago to explain phenomena which can now be explained by science. Their reasoning goes like this. Until a couple of hundred years ago, most people thought that a god or gods controlled everything. Why did the wind blow? Why was there lightning and thunder? Why did the sun, moon, and stars apparently go around Earth? Why did someone get sick and die? Why did anything happen? Well, obviously, God did it. If a person didn’t know how something worked or why something happened, they could say, “God did it.” This is known as the “god of the gaps”. But as we understand more and more about the universe, the gap where such a god might function grows smaller and smaller. Every time we learn more, these gods have less room to operate. When we learned what caused the sun to apparently move across the sky, there was no need for the Greek god Helios. When we understood what caused lightning, there was no need for the Greek god Zeus, the Roman god Jupiter, or the Norse god Thor. The same argument has been applied to Christianity.
In this article we address this topic by looking at the origin of Christianity. In order to be objective, I will define “Christianity” according to what is written in the Bible, not what is written or practised elsewhere. So we are not looking at Christian practices or traditions.
Was it Paul?
Paul was a pioneer missionary in countries around the Mediterranean Sea. He spread Christianity to the Gentile (non-Jewish) world. He probably spent about 15 years of his life on his main missionary journeys to modern Turkey, to modern Greece, to Rome as a prisoner and possibly to Spain. Most of his letters were written to churches he established on these journeys and there are at least 13 of these in the New Testament, including Romans, which is the most comprehensive description of the Christian faith. His core message was called the gospel:
“Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God—the gospel He promised beforehand through His prophets in the Holy Scriptures regarding His Son, who as to His earthly life was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was appointed the Son of God in power by His resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord ….
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith’” (Rom. 1:1-4, 16-17NIV).
Here we see that the God of the Bible is the source of this message, which was promised in the Old Testament. Since Adam and Eve disobeyed God, there has been a promise that one day people can be released from the consequences of their sin. It is the good news about God’s Son, Jesus Christ, who was the Savior for sinners. The gospel is God’s power for salvation: the God that raised Jesus from the dead promises to also raise those who trust in the Savior. Also, it is for everyone who believes; Gentiles as well as Jews. There are no national barriers to this salvation. It is obtained by faith alone; by accepting that Jesus took the punishment for our sins when He was crucified. He took our penalty and we receive His righteousness and eternal life.
Paul also said: “I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel I preached is not of human origin. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ” (Gal. 1:11-12). He emphasises the source of the gospel message: it’s “not of human origin”; he “did not receive it from any man”; he wasn’t taught it; it came “by revelation from Jesus Christ”. Therefore, Christianity was not an invention or a discovery, but it was a direct revelation from God. In fact he mentions the whole godhead as the source of the message, God the Father, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit (Rom. 1:1; 1 Cor. 2:10; Gal. 1:12).
Furthermore, Paul was a servant of Jesus who was sent to preach the gospel and he followed the example of Christ (Acts 26:16-18; Rom. 1:1; 1 Cor. 11:1). So although Paul preached the good news about Jesus Christ, he didn’t invent it. Instead he taught that the gospel was God’s idea.
Was it Peter?
Peter was a pioneer preacher to the Jews and on the day of Pentecost he preached the first gospel message after Christ ascended back to heaven. At Pentecost he quoted from the Old Testament and showed how Christ’s death and resurrection fulfilled prophecies about the Messiah. Peter witnessed the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. He urged people to repent to have their sins forgiven and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Did Peter invent his message? When he spoke he was “filled with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 4:8). As the Jewish religious leaders saw his courage and realized that he was an unschooled, ordinary fishermen, they were astonished and noted that he had been with Jesus (Acts 4:13). So Peter was given the words to speak by the Holy Spirit and he had been taught by Jesus. Although Peter preached the good news about Jesus Christ, he didn’t invent it. Instead the sources of His words were the Old Testament, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. The same applies to the other apostles.
Was it the Old Testament prophets?
Both Paul and Peter referred to the Old Testament prophets when they preached the gospel. As it was foreshowed, the gospel was not a completely new idea. For example, the promised Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, called Immanuel, meaning God with us, and would die 483 years after the command to restore and rebuild Jerusalem (Isa. 7:14; Dan. 9:25-26; Mic. 5:2). Also, the righteous lived by their faith (Hab. 2:4; Rom. 1:17).
There are also illustrations of the gospel in the Old Testament. The bronze snake that Moses made in the wilderness was used to teach Nicodemus that Christ must be lifted up on a pole (the cross), so that sinners looking to Him by faith might have eternal life (Num. 21:8-9; Jn. 3:14-15). The Jewish sacrifices for forgiveness of sin foreshadowed that Jesus was our sacrifice and High Priest (Heb. 4:14-16; 7:23-28). These illustrations of the gospel in the Old Testament are clearer in hindsight than they would have been for someone living at the time. However, we know that when Jesus was born Simeon and Anna were both prompted by the Holy Spirit to be waiting for the Jewish Messiah (Lk. 2:25-38).
Peter wrote about Old Testament prophecies, “you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own (mind) interpretation of things. For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pt. 1:20-21). Their message was divinely inspired, originating from God, not from humanity. This is consistent with Paul who wrote that: “all Scripture was God-breathed” (2 Tim. 3:16) and “This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words” (1 Cor. 2:13). The writers of the Bible were given their words by the Holy Spirit. They present spiritual truths in spiritual words. Although the Old Testament prophets promised a Messiah, they didn’t know the details of the gospel message. They didn’t invent it, but their information came from the Holy Spirit, who is God.
Was it Jesus Christ?
We have already seen that Paul said that he received the gospel message “by revelation from Jesus Christ” (Gal. 1:12). Also, it is the good news about God’s Son, Jesus Christ (Rom. 1:3). So, the Lord Jesus Christ is the core of the gospel, which is the foundation of the Christian faith. In fact, a Christian is a follower of Jesus Christ.
In one sense, Christ is the source of Christianity. But what did He say?
- He was sent into the world by God the Father (Jn. 17:3, 18, 23, 25).
- “My food is to do the will of Him who sent me and to finish His work” (Jn. 4:34).
- “By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but Him who sent me” (Jn 5:30). He always obeyed the Father.
- “I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do” (Jn. 17:4).
So everything He said and did was done in obedience to God the Father. Therefore, God the Father is the source of the gospel message. It was His idea.
Was Jesus Christ merely a man? This is an important question. The answer is no, because He claimed to be divine and this is supported by the evidence. First, His miracles, which included calming storms and consistently healing people instantly. He also gave His apostles the power to do miracles. Human beings don’t have these powers. Second, He resurrected from death and ascended into heaven. Human beings can’t do that. He appeared to more than 500 believers at the same time after the resurrection (1 Cor. 15:6). That’s a lot of witnesses. This is consistent with His claim to be equal with God. So, Christ was the divine God in a human body. He was unique.
Christianity is a revelation
We have seen that the gospel was God’s idea, which was revealed progressively to people over time from the brief promises of the Old Testament prophets, to the preaching of Peter to the Jews and then the preaching of Paul to the Gentiles. Because the gospel message seems foolish to people, it couldn’t have been man-made (1 Cor. 1:18). Instead, God achieves His purposes in ways that seem foolish. It was a divine invention, not a human invention or discovery. That is why Christianity is unique. All other faiths and religions are products of the human mind. The difference between the true God and false gods, religions, idols and ideas about the purpose of life is emphasised throughout Scripture.
The Children of Israel were told to destroy all the people in Canaan because they were idol worshippers (Deut. 18:9-12; 20:16-18). This was God’s judgment of their sinful ways and to stop the Israelites worshipping their gods (Gen. 15:16). If the Jews worshipped idols, they were told: “The LORD will scatter you among the peoples, and only a few of you will survive among the nations to which the LORD will drive you. There you will worship man-made gods of wood and stone, which cannot see or hear or eat or smell” (Deut. 4:27-28). Unfortunately because the Jews were unfaithful and didn’t destroy all the idol worshippers, they followed idols instead of the true God, and the consequence was that they were overrun by the Assyrians and Babylonians and Jerusalem was plundered and destroyed.
While the Assyrians threatened Jerusalem, “They spoke about the God of Jerusalem as they did about the gods of the other peoples of the world—the work of human hands” (2 Chron. 32:19). When the Jews were told that the Lord was the only true God, they were also told that idols are worthless and “Ignorant are those who carry about idols of wood, who pray to gods that cannot save” (Isa. 44:6, 9; 45:20).
Idols like Zeus, Jupiter and Thor are worthless because they are man-made and they are dead. They are the product of human minds and human technology and have no power to save people from their troubles. What a contrast to the God of the Israelites who was the living Creator: “For all the gods of the nations are idols, but the LORD made the heavens” (1 Chron. 16:26).
The difference between the true God and false gods, religions, idols and ideas about the purpose of life is also emphasised in the New Testament. Jesus said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mk. 12:30). It we do this, we should have no time for idolatry.
Unfortunately, most reject God’s revelation in creation and “exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles … They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator” (Rom. 1:23, 25). This sums it up. Are we worshiping and trusting a creation or the Creator of all? The creation can be something God has made or a human creation or idea. They are both dead and have no power to save people from their sins. On the other hand, John refers to the Creator as “the only true God” (Jn. 17:3). At Lystra, Paul said, “We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made the heavens and the earth and the sea and everything in them” (Acts 14:15). He is the living God.
Here we see there are two types of messages or faiths and two destinies. First Christianity, with a divine founder, the true God, the Creator and Redeemer, whose message is the gospel, God’s plan of salvation, which leads to eternal life with God. On the other hand, all other religions and ideas about the purpose of life are products of the human mind, whose message is a different gospel, which only has value in this life and leads to eternal suffering without God.
Of course, the Jewish faith as given in the Old Testament was also God’s idea, but it was superseded when the New Testament was given in the first century AD.
Lessons for us
So are religions such as Christianity comprised of myths that were made up many years ago to explain phenomena which can now be explained by science? This is not true for Christianity because the gospel is God’s idea, not a myth invented by people such as Paul or Peter or the Old Testament prophets. The “god of the gaps” is wrong because science has not replaced God, it has merely discovered more about God’s creation. Also, it doesn’t address our fundamental problem of sin and guilt before a holy God. Furthermore we should see God working everywhere, and not restrict Him to the areas we don’t understand.
We have seen that the Christian gospel is unique; it came from God and God is the main character. It is a revelation, not an invention or a myth. All other religions and ideas about the purpose of life are false; they are idols.
We need to be wary of modern idols of the human mind and human technology, which can occupy much of our time. They don’t help our deepest need and should be challenged like the prophets challenged pagan idolatry in the Old Testament. Above all, Paul says “flee from idolatry” (1 Cor. 10:14). So, let’s not get involved in the false ideas and religions that are merely the product of the human mind. Instead, let’s worship our living Creator God.
Written, June 2011
Recently a woman asked this question. Because of an abusive husband, she was frightened of men and never went outside at night. All her hopes and dreams had vanished. She was alone and couldn’t see any possibility of her situation improving. Also, I learnt that an elderly man had completed suicide. He chose death rather than life. He had no reason to live any longer.
The wisest person who ever lived, Solomon, found that a life which is not related to God is meaningless (Eccl. 1:2; 1:14; 12:8). It is like “chasing after the wind.” True fulfillment and lasting satisfaction are illusive. The things we do apart from God are hollow and futile because they can be destroyed and come to nothing. Hopes and dreams for this life can be shattered and wiped away. This was the case for these people.
According to the Bible, there are two main purposes of life: to know God, and to serve Him. Paul, a pioneer of the Christian faith, wrote: “I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things … I want to know Christ” (Phil. 3:8,10 NIV). He also wrote: “ For to me, to live is Christ” (Phil. 1:21). He gave up Judaism and all his personal achievements when he trusted Christ as Savior. He wanted to know the Lord personally and live for Him. .
The Bible tells us that people are “without hope and without God in the world” (Eph. 2:12). They have no lasting hope, no hope beyond death. This is because they don’t know the only true God, who was revealed by Jesus Christ. But if we truly know God, we have a lasting hope that looks beyond death. Paul said, “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Cor. 15:19). Because Christ was raised from the dead, we can look forward to the resurrection of our bodies, life forever with the Lord and God’s kingdom being established on earth.
People put their time and effort into the things that they think are important. Near the end of his life Paul said, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim. 4:7). He was a devoted servant of God who put all his energy into serving Him and doing His will. He had protected the Christian doctrine which had been committed to him, and he faithfully passed it on to others. God wants us to be faithful in His sight; not merely successful in people’s sight.
Paul was motivated by the fact that his service would be reviewed in heaven: “We make it our goal to please Him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad” (2 Cor. 5:9-10). Fancy being able to please God when we are “away from” the body after death! This is when believers stand before the Lord as He reviews their service. The only thing we can take with us beyond death is our reward for faithfulness to Him.
Can all our hopes, dreams, visions and goals be taken away? If the answer is yes, they are flimsy and not robust. That’s why people give up, get depressed, and think there is no purpose to life. Instead let’s be like Paul and make our most important priority knowing the Lord Jesus Christ and serving Him while we can.
Published, April 2012
Living under the curse & outside the garden
The 11 March 2011 earthquake and tsunami that ravaged the north-east coast of Japan, left more than 28,000 people dead or missing and knocked out the Fukushima nuclear plant’s cooling system. The reactor’s sea-wall, designed to withstand a 5.5 metre (18 feet) wave, was breached by a surge estimated to be 14 metre (46 feet) high.
Such devastating natural disasters change people’s lives forever. They are dreadful catastrophes which wreak destruction, and tragedies which overwhelm people with great distress and can cause a high death toll. People ask where is God when innocent people suffer and die? How can He allow such calamities to happen? Doesn’t He love people?
Disasters in the Old Testament
Many natural disasters are mentioned in the Old Testament. Most were God’s instrument of punishment. The Bible says that they were God’s judgment against sin. For example, the global flood was God’s judgement of the great wickedness on the earth and the people who rejected Noah’s preaching and continued in their sinful ways (Gen. 6:3-5). God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah because of their wickedness; there were fewer than ten righteous people in Sodom (Gen. 18:32).
God brought disastrous plagues on the Egyptians because they persecuted the Jews (Ex. 7:14 – 11:29). Once they escaped, if the Jews didn’t obey the law, God promised disasters (Deut. 28:61). This would be God’s punishment for their idolatry (Deut. 29:16-29; Jos. 24:20); the prophet Jeremiah confirmed this (Jer. 44:1-23). It was a disaster when the Jews were defeated, scattered and captured by the Babylonians. God also promised disasters on many ungodly nations (Jer. 46:21; 49:8, 32; 51:2, 64). And famines occurred, including the 7-year famine when Joseph was in Egypt (Gen. 41:53-57; 47:13-25).
Disasters in the New Testament
Disasters also occurred in the New Testament. There were earthquakes when Christ died, when He came back to life and when Paul and Silas were in prison.
In ancient times it was believed that disasters fell only on those who were extremely sinful. But Jesus taught otherwise when He mentioned “Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, ‘Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish’” (Lk. 13:4-5). The answer was not that they deserved punishment more that the others, as suffering is not directly proportional to sin. Disasters happen to us all. All are sinners who must turn to God or perish in hell. The massacre of the Galileans who had come to Jerusalem to worship and the collapse of the tower weren’t God’s judgement on their sinfulness; they were warnings to all that unless they repented of their sin, they were doomed to eternal punishment in hell. Disasters are not necessarily God’s judgement, but they are warnings of His coming judgement unless we get right with God.
Jesus also said that the weather doesn’t discriminate between good and bad people. When He taught the disciples to love their enemies He said that God “causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Mt. 5:45). The lesson was that God shows His love to people without distinction.
Revelation talks about the horrible disasters that will make life on earth miserable during the coming Great Tribulation (Rev. Chapters 6; 8-18). The Bible says that they will be God’s judgement on the sin of humanity.
Disasters follow sin
After God created the universe, the Bible says “God saw all that He had made, and it was very good” (Gen. 1:31). There were no disasters and no suffering or pain in the original creation. But after Adam and Eve sinned, God told Adam: “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return” (Gen. 3:17-19). A radical change took place: God’s good creation was placed under a curse. Weeds grew, and nature was out of balance. Adam had to work for food. Death was introduced. Animals and people aged and died. Because of this curse we have disasters such as earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, bushfires, and droughts today. The world is full of natural disasters because sin has polluted our once-perfect world. That’s not what God planned, but it is a consequence of our rebellion and sinfulness.
Paul described it like this: “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies” (Rom. 8:18-23). Here there are more signs of the curse: all creation is under “bondage to decay” and it is groaning and suffering like a woman in childbirth. The scope is “the whole creation” so it affects Christians and the rest of God’s creation.
When people say, “how could a loving God create such a world?” they show their ignorance of history. God didn’t create it that way! We are reaping what Adam and Eve sowed. Life is a struggle for all creation and there is much suffering because we live in a fallen world. It is not what God intended. Disasters are part of the trouble that is inevitable in the sinful world (Jn. 16:33).
God’s response to disasters
What has God done about disasters? He has done something about the sin, suffering and death in our world. He sent Jesus, so that we can have eternal life without these things (Rom. 6:23).
The big picture is visualized in the diagram. God created a perfect world where there were no disasters because there was no sin. This world was changed and spoiled when humanity sinned. We now live under the curse and outside the Garden where there are all kinds of disasters. We live between the fall and the restoration. But God sent His Son to take the punishment for sin by dying for us. Those who accept His rescue plan become part of His new creation where there will be no disasters because there will be no sin. As long as there is sin, there is the curse and there are disasters.
Why does God allow disasters and suffering, when He has promised a new creation without disasters or suffering? Peter wrote, “But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping His promise, as some understand slowness. Instead He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Pt. 3:8-9). Why the delay? What seems a long time to us is not a long time to God. Because He desires everyone to repent and enjoy the new creation, God has delayed judgment. He is being patient. During this time, we can avoid God’s judgment by confessing our sins and turning to Him, realizing that Jesus has already taken our punishment.
Meanwhile we Christians wait eagerly for the redemption of our bodies and look forward to the Lord’s coming reign over the earth (Rom. 8:19, 23). When He returns to set up His kingdom, creation will be released from the curse and will be “very good” once again. The Garden will be restored, the curse will be abolished and there will be no more suffering and disasters (Acts 3:21; Rev. 22:3).
What about Romans 8:28?
Romans 8:28 is set in the context of things to help us through difficult times, “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose”. This verse is addressed to believers. God’s purpose, given in the next verse, is to conform us “to the image of His Son”. God wants to make us like Jesus Christ, so we share His character. He wants our lives transformed (2 Cor. 3:18). Everything has this purpose, including disasters, suffering and tragedy. Disasters provide opportunities to grow in our divine nature and become more Christ-like (Eph.4:22-24).
But it can be difficult to balance the physical and spiritual aspects of life. Paul said that God “has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ” (Eph. 1:3). Here we see that the blessings that are promised to believers are spiritual, not physical. Although disasters, suffering and tragedy might destroy our physical possessions, they don’t take away our spiritual blessings. God gives us what we need, not what we want. After all, Jesus died to save our spirit and soul, not our body. Of course, at the resurrection He gives us new bodies. We know God loves us, not because of how our lives go, but because of Christ’s death at Calvary.
Are disasters a sign of the end times?
When Jesus was asked about the supernatural events (or signs) that would precede His second coming to the earth, He described events that will occur in the time of Tribulation after the Rapture. Some of these events “will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains” (Mt. 24:7b-8; Mk. 13:8; Lk. 21:11). They are not precursors to the Tribulation, but evidence of its presence. These earthquakes are also predicted in Revelation, culminating in devastating earthquakes in Jerusalem (Rev. 6:12; 8:5; 11:13, 19; 16:18). As the supernatural events associated with these earthquakes have not yet occurred, these earthquakes are future events.
So, although future earthquakes will be a sign of the end times, I am not aware of a Biblical passage that says that current disasters are a sign of the end times. Of course some people believe that we live in the end times and the Bible says that we need to be expecting the rapture at any moment. Also, we need to realise that no matter when we live, God can call us at a moment’s notice. How do we know that we’ll even be alive tomorrow morning (Lk. 12:16-20)? Our life could end suddenly like the rich fool.
Dealing with disasters
We all will face disasters of some kind, and death sooner or later. The Bible says, “people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment” (Heb. 9:27). Jesus said, unless we repent and turn to God, we will perish in hell. Like in First Aid, we need to look after ourselves before we can help others. Are we ready to face disasters and death? It is presumptuous for us to refer to any disaster as God’s judgment upon this earth. We can’t say this with certainty because God hasn’t told us. When Peter wrote about the end times, which are characterized by disasters, he advised us to keep praying, help the needy, and use our gifts to serve others (1 Pt. 4:7-11). Disasters provide opportunities to help, bring comfort and relief, and pray.
God is with us in disasters
When the Jews faced disasters in the Old Testament times, God said, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you” (Is. 43:2). David said, “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me” (Ps. 23:4). David was writing about the valley of the shadow of death–a time of great fear like a disaster, a tragedy, or a crisis. But when he realized that God was with him, he is comforted. Disasters don’t separate believers from God (Rom. 8:35-39). Nothing can “separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:35-39).
The worst is the best
Paul said that “the sting of death is sin” that is unconfessed and unforgiven (1 Cor. 15:56). Because the Lord has forgiven the sins of believers, the sting of death has been removed. That’s how to be ready to face disasters and death. Instead, for the believer, death is the beginning of eternal life. If we know that our sins are forgiven, we can face death with confidence. Like David, we know that God is with us through disasters and “the valley of death”. Death actually ushers us into God’s presence, which is the best thing that can happen! Paul said “to die is gain” because it means we’ll with Jesus (Phil. 1:21). But for unbelievers death is the beginning of eternal punishment and this is terrible. But God is giving plenty of time for people to turn to Him (2 Pt. 3:9).
Lessons for us
We have seen that disasters are a consequence of our sinful world and God is delaying the coming judgement and the perfect world without sin and suffering because He doesn’t want anyone to perish in hell, but everyone to repent so they can go to heaven.
Today disasters are God’s warnings of His coming judgment. They remind us of our need to be right with Him. They remind us that life can be taken away in an instant and there may never be a tomorrow. James warns: “You do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes” (Jas. 4:14). We live in an uncertain world. Disaster and tragedy could strike us at any time. Everything that happens, including disasters, is to bring us to Christ, and make us more like Him. Do we have a right relationship with Him? Live every day as if it will be your last. Those going to sacrifice in Jerusalem didn’t know that would be their last day; those working on the tower of Siloam didn’t know that would be their last day. Likewise, we don’t know if today will be our last. One day that will be true for each of us.
So where is God when disaster strikes? As usual, He is on the throne of the universe, ruling all creation, loving us and caring for us and preparing us for eternity.
Written, April 2011
In Scripture, the word translated “heaven” has three meanings: the atmosphere/sky, the universe, and the dwelling place of God and the angels. The meaning is determined from the context in which the Hebrew or Greek word is used. In this article we are looking at the heaven where God is.
Revelation 21:1 – 22:5 is the main Biblical passage about the eternal state, which we call heaven. This passage describes the change from time to eternity.
Everything is new
Chapter 21 begins: Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away (21:1NIV). Here we see that God will create a new heaven and a new earth. The creation of the first heaven and earth is described as the beginning of the Bible (Gen. 1:1-2:4). The change described in Genesis was from eternity to time, while that in Revelation is from our temporal world where there is past, present and future to eternity where time is meaningless. Of course, the heaven that will be renewed is not the place where God lives, but the universe that has been affected by the sin of mankind.
When we become a Christian, our soul is redeemed. It’s like a new life has begun – it has been called being born again (2 Cor. 5:17). It’s a new spiritual creation that is not completed until our bodies are also redeemed at the rapture. In fact all of God’s creation is looking forward to when Christ returns to the Earth when it will be changed and redeemed. In this part of Revelation we read about the final change into the eternal state. The old universe is transformed and replaced with the new. It will be free from death and decay, which are the results of sin (Rom. 8:20-21). It will be paradise, like in the Garden of Eden before sin entered. Also, believers will have new bodies, like that of the risen Lord (Phil. 3: 21).
God says I am making everything new! (21:5). Then He says It is done. When He has created the new universe, redemption is complete. God has finished His great plan of salvation. So, what is heaven like? It’s different to anything that we have experienced. One of the reasons it’s so hard to describe is that it is not just another place but another dimension, another creation.
No more …
The Bible says that in heaven, He (God) will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. (21:4) and No longer will there be any curse (22:3)
In heaven there will be no more: pain, crying, sorrow or death (21:4). No more sin or its consequences – the curse of God (22:3). Everything that caused pain and sadness on earth will not be present in heaven. The old sinful world has passed away, and Satan, his demons and those who chose to follow him will have been cast away from God’s presence (Rev. 20:10-15).
Besides no more crying, sighing, or dying; there will be: No hospitals or graves! No aging or wrinkles. Nothing will ruin, rot, or rust. There will be no thirsting, or hungering. No itching, no blindness, no deafness, no diabetes, no cancer, or heart attacks, or scars, no witchcraft, no drugs, no alcohol, or tobacco! No divorce, child abductions, accidents…and no more bills! What a place to look forward to!
So pain is replaced by peace and joy. Heaven is a place of relief. There will be no need to worry. As we found out earlier, it’s different to anything that we have experienced.
John wrote The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city (22:3) This is the city in heaven, which we will look at shortly.
“The throne” is mentioned four times in this passage and 39 times in Revelation. When John was taken to heaven, the first thing he saw was the awesome throne of God the Father (Rev. 4). The throne is central in heaven and in the book of Revelation. From it God reigns over the whole universe; both physical and spiritual. He is the Lord God Almighty (21:22).
“The Lamb” is mentioned four times in this passage and 26 times in Revelation. In heaven John “saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the centre before the throne” (Rev. 5:6). It symbolises that the Lord Jesus Christ was a sacrifice for our sin. He receives honor and praise because he died so that many people can be in heaven. He paid the price for their entry.
So heaven is God’s home.
The home of the redeemed
An angel told John, Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb (21:9)
“The bride” is mentioned twice in this passage and 4 times in this context in Revelation. It refers to “God’s people” or those whose names are written in the “book of life” (Rev. 19:7; 22:17). This metaphor illustrates the close intimacy we will have with the Lord in heaven, who is the bridegroom. They will see His face, and His name will be on their foreheads (22:4) – just as a bride bears her husband’s name and sees his face, the redeemed have a close relationship with the Lord.
This intimacy is also shown by Him calling us His children (21:7). God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and He will dwell with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God (21:3). Like in the Garden of Eden, they will be able to walk with God in the cool of the day (Gen. 3:8). It will be Immanuel, “God with us” and us with God; forever.
Paul wrote about the rapture: “After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever” (1 Th. 4:17). Heaven is being with the Lord forever.
So heaven is also the home of the redeemed, our common home with the Lord.
The new Jerusalem – city of light
Jesus told the disciples “I am going there to prepare a place for you” (Jn. 14:2). This place is described in our passage as a spectacular city. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband (21:2) and One of the … angels … came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb” And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God (21:9-10).
As the city comes down towards the earth from heaven where God lives, we see that in the eternal state the distinction between heaven and earth loses its significance. God now lives with the redeemed and the redeemed live with Him.
It (the city) shone with the glory of God, and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal (21:11). Is this literal or symbolic? I think it is both at the same time. God loves to use literal things as symbols. For example, the prophecy of Joel in the Old Testament opens with a vivid description of a plague of locusts that ate up every green thing. Joel describes them in dramatic and accurate terms but his description soon becomes a description of the invasion of a great army from Babylon that would come into the land. So the plague was also symbolic of the invasion.
God also pictures something invisible by means of a literal event. For instance, the sun is literal, but it can be a symbol of light, knowledge and truth. Likewise, fire is literal, but it can be symbolic of torment, torture and judgment.
Revelation is an unusual blending of the literal and the symbolic– many events and things in it are both literal and symbolic. Fortunately, most all of these symbols are given to us elsewhere in the Bible.
The New Jerusalem seems to be a great visible magnificent city which will also illustrate activities and relationships of the redeemed (21:12 – 22:3). What can it symbolise?
|City||A community; filled with people who interact with each other|
|High wall||Protection; separation from others; intimacy|
|Brilliant appearance (eternal light, no darkness)||God is light|
|12 Gates (entry and egress; always open)||None of God’s people will ever be shut out from His presence; Widespread service|
|Names of tribes of Israel on the gates||A reminder that salvation came from the Jews (Jn. 4:22)|
|12 layers of foundations||Stability; permanence|
|Names of the apostles on the foundations||Taught the gospel; enabled it to spread across the world.|
|Number 12||The number of government (12 tribes; 12 apostles)|
|Shape (maybe a pyramid; symmetry)||Perfect proportions; harmony|
|Building materials (precious gemstones)||Valuable|
|Pearl gates (beauty out of pain)||Christ sacrificed His life for the redeemed (a pearl of great value; Mt. 13:45)|
|River||Holy Spirit (Jn. 7:38-39)|
|Tree of life||Jesus; spiritual nourishment|
What a wonderful place! A place of great beauty.
What will we be doing?
You may wonder if we don’t have to work to pay the bills, what will we do in heaven? Here are three things that are mentioned in Revelation.
First, offering thanks and praise. Worship and praise to God characterise all the descriptions of heaven in Revelation (Chs: 4, 5, 7, 11, 15, 19). For example, after God has dealt with sin and the fall, He will be honored universally (Phil. 2:10-11; Rev 5:13). Second, serving the Lord (22:3). The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and His servants will serve Him (22:3). We will be active. Third, reigning with the Lord (22:5). As God reigns over the whole universe, I’m sure there is a lot to look after.
So in heaven we will be worshipping, serving and reigning.
Before the eternal state begins, Jesus promised to return for His people at the rapture and then to return in power and glory to judge the sinful world and usher in his millennial reign over the earth. Although believers look forward to this time, we don’t know when it will occur. Later in Revelation 22, Jesus says three times “I am coming soon”.
But you may think, John wrote Revelation about 1,900 years ago and the Lord hasn’t come yet. Remember, we have just looked at our destiny and the transition from time into eternity. For us, this transition happens the minute we die, which could be very soon. Although there may be some time before the events described in Revelation occur, it will not be long before each of us leaves time and enters eternity. In this sense, heaven and hell could be a breath away.
Lessons for us
John has given us a glimpse into what Heaven is like. In the Bible, future events are always foretold in order to bring about changes in our present actions. What does this mean to us today?
Firstly, will you be there? The Bible clearly states that heaven is only for God’s people; those who have trusted in Christ’s sacrifice for their sin. The rest are said to be outside suffering in the lake of fire. They are unbelievers and their names are not written in the Lamb’s book of life (Rev. 20:12; 21:27). If this is your case, please consider God’s gift of salvation and eternal life in heaven. The Bible says that God loved the people of the world so much that He gave His one and only Son, that everyone who believes in Him will not perish in hell but have eternal life in heaven (Jn. 3:16).
Christians have a wonderful destination. Knowing our destination is important because it provides direction for the journey of life, makes it meaningful, and fortifies us when the journey is difficult. It doesn’t matter what we face, if we have the hope of heaven, we don’t have to give in to fear.
All the above is a promised inheritance for the redeemed; it’s also called “the heavenly prize” (21:7; Phil. 3:14). Peter calls it a living hope for an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade (1 Pt.1:4).
Heaven means being forever with the Lord; Paul says it’s being “at home with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:6). Peter wrote: “we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells” (2 Pt. 3:13). Are we all looking forward to heaven?
Written, May 2010
See the other article in this series:
- What is hell like?
Written, July 2004
Temptation and its consequences
The first human beings, Adam and Eve lived as husband and wife in the garden in Eden. They were innocent and felt no shame. There was no sin and nothing to be ashamed about. God told them, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die” (Gen. 2:16-17NIV). In this article we look at the next episode in the early history of mankind in Genesis 3:1-19.
Here we see a new character introduced, which is “nachash” in Hebrew (v.1). Is this a mythical creature, or an animal called a snake or someone that was like a snake? The words associated with “nachash” in Genesis 3 are “wild animals” and “livestock”, which refer to animals (v.3,14); and “you will crawl on your belly” and “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel”, which could refer to snakes as we know them today (v.14,15).
“Nachash” occurs in six other verses written by Moses. The descendants of Dan are likened to a snake in a metaphor (Gen. 49:17). A staff became a snake when Moses and Aaron visited Pharaoh, and Moses made a bronze snake to heal the Israelites who had been bitten by venomous snakes (Ex. 4:3; 7:15; Num. 21:6, 7,9). So, Moses used the word in both a literal way and a symbolic way and he seems to make the meaning clear in each instance.
Paul treats it as a real historical event and not an allegory: “Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning” (2 Cor. 11:3). The only other occasion he used the Greek word for serpent “ophis”, was when he said the Israelites “were killed by snakes” (1 Cor. 10:9). Therefore, the meaning for the Israelites to whom Genesis was written was an animal called a snake. But this was a talking animal! Now that is unusual, but according to the Bible, God caused Balaam’s donkey to speak and Peter accepted this as truth (Num. 22:28-30; 2 Pt. 2:16). So, some amazing things have happened in the past!
John helps us to understand what is going on when he described Satan metaphorically as a serpent (Rev. 12:9; 20:2). In fact, snakes have become the universal symbol of Satan. So Satan appeared in the garden in Eden as an animal that talks. We don’t know what he looked like, but Eve was not afraid to have a conversation with him. This animal was more cunning than any other creature God had made (v.1). It was Satan in disguise, as an “angel of light” (2 Cor. 11:14). God allowed Satan into the garden and allowed him to tempt Eve because God made mankind with a free will to make moral choices. This was a part of being made in the image of God.
The tempter asked Eve a question, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” (v.1). He was trying to get her to doubt God’s word and distrust God’s love by thinking that such a command was not fair. She answered, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’” (v.2-3). Then the tempter said, “You will not surely die” (v.4). This is a lie; it is opposite to what God told Adam (Gen. 2:17). But he is cunning because it relates to a future event which she couldn’t verify herself. Of course, she could have checked with Adam or God, but she was deceived when the tempter backed up the lie with a distorted truth, “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (v.5). He mixed truth and error. Their eyes would be opened, but it would be to sin and shame. Also, they would know good and evil, but it would be through the harsh experiences of life lived apart from dependence upon God. The tempter implied that they would have great knowledge be able to see things like God does and do whatever they wanted to. He also questioned God’s motives for the command not to eat the forbidden fruit. With this in her mind, Eve looked at the tree and “saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom” (v.6). Here we see that she was mixing up what God had told them and what the tempter had told her (Gen. 2:6; 3:5). She was seeking knowledge and wisdom outside the boundaries that had been established by God. Satan had infiltrated her mind.
As she looked at the fruit of the tree she must have thought. It’s good for food and I’m hungry. It’s beautiful and pleasing to the eye, a pleasure to experience, so it must be good (Heb. 11:25). It’s desirable for gaining wisdom. Then “she took some and ate it” (v.6). The thoughts sown in her mind by the tempter resulted in an action; she ate some of the forbidden fruit. She acted independently of her husband and God. She should have consulted with them before acting on such an important matter. Where was Adam at this time? If Adam was with her during her temptation, he should have spoken up and taken his leadership role. It’s always more difficult to resist temptation when we are alone. But evil can triumph if another is silent.
Then “She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it” (v.6). It seems as though Adam ate the forbidden fruit when he was given it by his wife; he was not deceived by the tempter—“Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived” (1 Tim. 2:14). We don’t know what she told him, but the fact that he “was with her” implies that he knew what had happened. He deliberately disobeyed God’s command and acted independently of God. This is the origin of sin. We are all sinners because we are descendants of Adam.
Now we see a radical change in their world. “Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves” (v.7). But they had always been naked (Gen. 2:25). Something happened inside them. They felt naked, guilty and ashamed, so they fashioned some clothes out of fig leaves. This was the beginning of self-consciousness and clothing.
God visited the garden to talk with Adam and Eve (v.8). What a privilege for them to converse with the great Creator! But now they were so guilty and ashamed that they hid from God among the trees of the garden. Fancy trying to hide from the one who made themselves and the trees! It was impossible. This was not a game of hide and seek, it was a garden where joy and fellowship with God had changed into shame and fear and hiding from God. This is the first description of the human conscience.
Now we see how God addresses the situation, He takes the initiative. First He asked Adam, “Where are you?” (v.9). As God would have known their location, this was a rhetorical question. They had moved away from their position of close communion with God. God was asking the head of the human family to consider his new position. Adam answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid” (v.10). He was now afraid of God. God said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?” (v.11). So, God traces the source of their guilt and fear to their disobedience. Then Adam said, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it” (v.12). This is called blame someone else, or pass the buck! He blames God and Eve. But he did acknowledge that he had eaten the forbidden fruit. Then God asked Eve “What is this you have done?” (v.13). She said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate”. This is called ditto – blame someone else, or pass the buck once again! Here we see that when called to account by God, sinners excuse themselves. In this case they both ultimately blamed God, who allowed them to be tempted. But, like Adam, Eve did acknowledge having eaten the forbidden fruit.
Now that Adam and Eve have failed the test and acknowledged this to God, what will God do? After all, He had promised that they would surely die, although the tempter had denied this. Now we see some changes in His creation that was originally said to be “very good”. He addressed each of the characters in turn and described what life will be like for them.
God said to the tempter, “Because you have done this, cursed are you above all the livestock and all the wild animals! You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life. And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel” (v.14-15). God said that the tempter was the ultimate cause of the fall into sin. This curse can be taken at two levels. Firstly, the snake, which is symbolic of Satan, will crawl on the ground. That is the animal as we know it today. The implication is that previously it didn’t crawl on the ground. Eve would have hated this animal because of how Satan had used it to deceive her. This would have been the beginning of conflict between snakes and people. People often fear snakes and seek to kill them by crushing, while snakes generally attack the lower parts of the body. So, this was the beginning of conflict and hatred on earth.
Secondly, Satan and people who follow him will be the enemies of those who follow God. I believe that Eve followed God so she would have hated how Satan had deceived her. Here we have the first promise of the Messiah and a description of the battle between God and Satan. Christ’s victory over Satan is evident in “he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel”. The suffering and death He endured is like Satan striking at His heel. But Christ’s death and resurrection is said to crush Satan’s head, which indicates a decisive victory. Now the genealogies in the bible usually trace descent through men, not through women. The “he” in v.15 was a man who was the offspring of the woman. Jesus Christ was the offspring of Eve in special way; He had a virgin birth. This first prophecy would have only been known in general terms by the Israelites it was written for. But for us today, it sums up the gospel message of the Bible.
Then God said to Eve, “I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you” (v.16). He brings consequences in two areas of her life. Firstly she will experience pain in childbirth. It may also imply that bringing up her children would be painful at times. So, this was the beginning of pain on earth. Secondly, the relationship between husbands and wives seems to be clarified. It states that the husband is to “rule” over the wife. The Hebrew word is “masal”, which means to have dominion. The same word is used to describe mankind ruling over the rest of creation (Gen. 1:26,28). It means that the husband is to lead the wife and the family in a benevolent way. This is a responsibility that husbands should take seriously.
Then God said to Adam, “Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat of it’, cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return” (v.17-19). Here we see that Adam neglected his leadership role. He listened to his wife when he should not have taken notice. Only take notice when she gives good advice, but not otherwise! God made Adam accountable and spelled out what he had done which led to two consequences. Firstly, God cursed the ground. Adam’s work changed; now it would take painful toil and sweat to make a living. Nature changed and cultivation would be more difficult with the introduction of weeds such as thorns and thistles. This is the beginning of the “bondage to decay” and “groaning as in the pains of childbirth” in “the whole creation” (Rom. 8:21,22). It is a fallen universe. Secondly, mankind would die. This is the beginning of death for the animals and people of the earth.
How temptation can lead to sin and death
Like Adam and Eve, we are always tempted to go beyond the limits that God has placed upon us. James described the strategy that Satan uses when he tempts mankind: “… each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death” (Jas. 1:14-15). Sin brings death, including the eternal spiritual death of being separated from God. (Rom. 5:12, 14; 6:23).
God does not tempt us to sin. He will test us (Gen. 2:16-17; 22:1, Deut 8:2), but it is Satan who tempts us (Mt. 4:1; 1 Cor. 7:5, 1 Th. 3:5). In fact Paul called Satan “the tempter” (1 Th. 3:5). Of course he disguises himself and makes the temptation seem to be something good rather than something bad. It begins with our feelings (evil desire). Then James uses the illustration of conception and birth. The pattern is: a temptation (an evil desire based on our feelings) is planted like a seed in the mind, it grows and develops like a baby and leads to the birth of sin, which in turn leads to death. So the evil desire influences the mind and leads to an action which results in death. When the emotions are aroused first, we rationalize instead of thinking rationally. We don’t think properly, for example thinking of an immediate need but not a long term consequence. This is what happened in the garden in Eden and what happens to us as well. We all face temptation and battle the desire to yield to it. Then when we fail once again, we feel guilty.
How to handle temptation
Where is the battle lost? At the beginning, when the temptation is planted in the mind. Eve was defeated after Satan’s first question when she accepted the possibility that God could not be trusted. But God provides a way out for believers, “… He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it” (1 Cor. 10:13).
After 40 days of fasting in the desert, Jesus was tempted by Satan who tried to get Him to use His supernatural powers for selfish reasons (Lk. 4:1-13). Satan said: “tell this stone to become bread” – get food for yourself; If you worship me, all the kingdoms of the world will be yours – become a king without going to the cross; and, throw yourself down from the highest point of the temple – attract public attention. On each occasion Jesus answered with Scripture. He said: we should rely on God for spiritual nourishment; God is the one we should worship; and do not test God. To do this we must know the bible, so that the Holy Spirit can bring it to mind when we need it. God “has given us His very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires” (2 Pt. 1:4).
Fortunately God is greater than Satan and “is able to help those who are being tempted” (Heb. 2:18; 1 Jn. 4:4). We should occupy our mind with good things and call on God to help in times of temptation. (Prov. 18:10; Phil. 4:8).
Lessons for us
The fall into sin is the ultimate explanation for our struggles in life. This pattern of the temptation and the fall into sin occurs daily both individually and collectively. It is the ultimate explanation for the tensions, sickness, suffering, sorrow, heartache, misery, tragedy, fear, guilt, and death. Here is the reason for addictive behaviour, for the passion for power and the lure of wealth and the enticement of immorality. It is the key to understanding humanity and ourselves.
The fall into sin has made us sinners. We are victims of emotional urges. That is a part of human nature. Only God can open our eyes and help us distinguish between right and wrong (Rom. 6:23). We are either slaves to sin or slaves to God. If we stay sinners then death is the outcome, eternal separation from God. But if we accept God’s gift of Jesus Christ, then we have eternal life. So our destiny is either eternal life or eternal death.
In Eve’s case the tempter was a being outside herself as she was sinless and she began with no urge to do wrong. Since the fall into sin, the tempter is within our human nature and we always face the urge to do wrong. We carry a tempter within us wherever we go, he has access to us continually.
Like Adam and Eve, we have real choices in life. God gives us limits and boundaries as well. Are we willing to accept them? We often try and relieve our guilt by blaming someone or something by saying, “It wasn’t my fault; I’m a victim of circumstance”. We don’t like taking responsibility for our behaviour. As the ideal environment of the garden did not prevent the entrance of sin, we shouldn’t blame the surroundings or our situation on our problems. Instead, we need to take responsibility for our responses and behavior.
So, let’s be aware of Satan’s ways of temptation so he does not outwit us (2 Cor. 2:11). Follow Jesus and use the resources God has given us, such as the Bible.
See the next article in this series:
– In the beginning. Part 4: Living in a dying world
What happened in the garden in Eden?
In the previous article we saw that at the beginning of time the universe was created by an intelligent and powerful God. He did it in six days followed by one day’s rest to give us the pattern for a seven day week.
Genesis is divided into ten main sections, each beginning with the phrase “the account of”. The next section begins: “This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created. When the LORD God made the earth and the heavens” (Gen. 2:4NIV). Moses would have written Genesis from oral history that had been handed down through the generations and God would have shown him how to edit and record this on papyrus. Of course, as Moses’ birth is recorded in Exodus 2, he wrote the most of the second to fifth books of the bible from first hand experience. It this article we will look at Genesis 2:4-25.
Contradictory creation stories?
Because the creation story in Genesis 2 appears to differ from that in Genesis 1, some say that they were written by different people and not Moses. For example, in Genesis 1 God creates by simple command, but He used the ground in Genesis 2 (v.7,19). In Genesis 1 God is called “Elohim”, whereas in Genesis 2 He is called “Yahweh Elohim”. They say that these are conflicting versions of the same story. But what do we see when we look at the text?
Genesis 1 covers the creation of everything in the universe. It summarises the milestones of God’s creative work in the six days of creation and ends with a summary, “Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array” (Gen. 2:1). The Hebrew word for God, “Elohim”, is mentioned 29 times in this chapter. It is written from God’s perspective.
Genesis 2:4-25 focuses on events in the Garden of Eden during the sixth day of creation. It gives more detail on the creation of mankind and the roles of Adam and Eve. The topics covered are: the Garden of Eden, the creation of Adam and Eve, and Adam’s and Eve’s roles. The Hebrew phrase “Yahweh Elohim”, is mentioned 11 times in this passage. It is written from Adam’s perspective.
“Elohim”, refers to God as the Creator of the universe, the ruler of nature, and the source of all life. “Yahweh” (or Jehovah) is the personal and covenant name of God. It is used to stress God’s personal relationship with His people and the fact that He keeps His promises. Both “Yahweh” and “Elohim” occur numerous times in the book of Genesis, together and separately.
Accordingly, Genesis 1 correctly used the name Elohim, for God’s role as Creator of the whole universe and of all living things is what the chapter teaches. The subject narrows immediately in Genesis 2-3 where it describes God’s personal relationship with Adam and Eve. God is depicted as walking and talking with Adam in the Garden of Eden. Apparently Adam knew God by His personal name from the beginning—his family worshipped Yahweh (Gen. 4:26). Therefore Yahweh is appropriately joined to Elohim to indicate that the Elohim of all creation is now the Yahweh who is intimately concerned to maintain a personal relationship with humanity.
The literary pattern of Genesis is to present a brief sketch with a broad subject matter and follow it up with a longer more detailed account of the things that are more important to the central theme of the Bible. For example: looking at the first four main sections of the book that begin with the phrase “the account of”. The first section, which covers the creation of the universe, is brief in length and broad in scope (Gen. 1:1-2:3). This is followed by a section on the creation of mankind and their fall into sin, which is longer and more detailed (Gen. 2:4-4:26). This begins the history of mankind and sets the stage for redemption, which are central themes of the Bible. The third section presents a genealogy from Adam to Noah and is brief and broad in scope (Gen. 5:1-6:8). This is followed by a section on Noah and the flood, which is longer and more detailed (Gen. 6:9-9:29). This shows the consequence of sin and the fact that God rescues and protects His people.
So Genesis 1 and 2 are not contradictory accounts. Genesis 2 is a more detailed account of the creation of Adam and Eve on the sixth day of creation. They are complementary, just like each of the four gospels is different, yet complementary. In fact when He answered the Pharisees question concerning divorce, Jesus quoted from Genesis 1:27 and 2:24, so He accepted both accounts (Mt. 19:4-5; Mk. 10:6-8).
Some think the biblical stories of creation originate from other creation myths. Actually it was probably the other way around; some of the myths are corrupted versions of the biblical account of creation. If we say that early Genesis is mythical or symbolic, where do we say that it begins to be accurate history? We have the same problem if we say miracles are myths. Once we start rejecting some of the biblical account how can we trust the rest?
The Garden in Eden
Everything in this section of Genesis relates to mankind. It begins by stating that cultivated plants were not present until there was a “man to work the ground” and until there was rainfall (v.5-6). It seems as though at the beginning water came from beneath the earth instead of by rain.
God planted a garden in Eden for Adam and Eve (v.8). This was probably prepared on the third day of creation when vegetation was created (Gen. 1:1-13). It was the first garden. The trees in this garden were beautiful and their fruit was useful for food (v.9). Two particular trees are mentioned in middle of the garden. The tree of life seems to have had the power to convey immortality (v.17). In the book of Revelation the tree of life appears as a symbol of the person of Christ. All true Christians will “eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God” (Rev. 2:7). This is eternal life in heaven (Rev. 22;2, 14,19). The tree of the knowledge of good and evil was used by God to test the obedience of Adam and Eve (v.17).
A river watering the garden flowed from Eden and divided into four other rivers called the Pishon, Gihon, Tigris, and Euphrates (v.10-14). As the surface of the earth would have been different before the flood, we cannot compare this landscape with what exits today. Moses says it was east of Canaan (v.8). The present Tigris and Euphrates rivers were probably named after these original rivers. This is like names being transferred from one country to another. Many of the names in Australia come from United Kingdom because that is where many of the early settlers came from. For example my suburb is named after Ryde on the Isle of Wight and my state is called “New South Wales”.
Adam, the first man
The bible describes the origin of mankind: “the LORD God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being” (v.7). God formed his body from the “dust of the ground” and then gave him the breath of life. So Adam was created from the ground, not from an ape. Here we have the creation of life from non-living matter. It was a miracle. Adam was a perfect man in a sinless world.
The first man was named “Adam” or “Man” (v.20). The Hebrew word for “Adam” means “of the ground” or “taken out of red earth”, and it is also used in Genesis for males and for mankind. He is mentioned eight times in the New Testament as the first human being on earth (Lk. 3:38; Rom. 5:14; 1 Cor. 15:21-22, 45; 1 Tim. 2:13-14; Jude 14).
One of the curses on Adam after he sinned was, “By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return” (Gen. 3:19). Upon death the body returns to the ground. It is interesting to note that the animals and birds are also said to have been made out of the ground (v.19). But Adam was different because he was made in the image of God.
Then “the LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it” (v.15). Adam cultivated the garden. So work was a part of ruling over the rest of creation before the fall into sin.
Then we see that God set up a test of man’s obedience. “The LORD God commanded the man, ‘You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will certainly die’” (v.16-17). God made Adam and Eve with the power to make a choice contrary to their nature. He wanted creatures who loved him freely, even though it meant there was a possibility of evil. Real love must be free; it cannot be instinctive or compulsory. So they were commanded not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. God gave them a choice and told them of the consequence. Now the penalty for disobedience was not 10 minutes in the sin bin! Is was death—instant spiritual death and progressive physical death. When Adam sinned he immediately cut himself off from the source of life, but the dying process took 930 years. There is also the possibility of eternal death (2 Th. 1:9).
Next, Adam named the animals and birds, which was another part of ruling over the rest of creation (v.19-20). A name to the Israelites was not just a label but a description of the essential character of the creature. In this instance Adam would have named the each animal according to its character and nature. Adam would have also noticed that the animals were male and female, each had a mate that was similar yet different. But he didn’t have a mate (v.20).
Eve, the first woman
Up until now everything about creation had been good. Now God says that something is “not good”—“It is not good for the man to be alone” (v.18). It was not good because we are social beings that are not made “to be alone” and God had not yet finished His work of creation. Adam needed a helper (v.18, 20). He was lonely and needed a companion. Eve was to be his helper and companion in the secure relationship of marriage (v.24).
The Bible describes the origin of woman: “the LORD God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, He took one of the man’s ribs and closed up the place with flesh. Then the LORD God made a woman from the rib He had taken out of the man, and He brought her to the man” (v.21-22).
God made Eve from one of Adam’s ribs. So Eve was created from a part of Adam, not from an ape. Cloning is a genetic copy of an existing person, but this is different as it includes a change in gender. Here we have the creation of life from other living matter. It was a miracle. Eve was a perfect woman in a sinless world.
Adam recognised that she was his companion when he said “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” (v.23). Together they were called “man” (Gen. 1:26-27). “When God created mankind, He made them in the likeness of God. He created them male and female and blessed them. And He named them ‘Mankind’ when they were created” (Gen. 5:1-2). She was called “woman”, which means “taken out of man” (v.23). Later she was called “Eve”, which means “life” (Gen. 3:20).
This account teaches the unity of mankind. All people have a common ancestor in Adam—he’s at the beginning of the family tree.
Adam and Eve were the first husband and wife (v.25). I think they were married on the sixth day of creation. They had a perfect wedding, even though there were no other people there! It has the key elements of a marriage ceremony. God gave her to Adam; “He brought her to the man” (v.22). And God pronounced them husband and wife: the Creator said “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh” (v.24, Mt. 19:4,5). Adam and Eve were a perfect husband and wife in a sinless world.
Here God is establishing marriage as the basic institution of society. Jesus (Mt. 19:4-6; Mk. 10-6-9) and Paul (Eph. 5:31) quoted v.24 when they taught about the marriage of one man to one woman. Whenever Adam and Eve are mentioned together in the New Testament it is to illustrate the roles of husbands and wives in marriage (1 Cor. 11:8-9; 1 Tim.2:13-14).
Genesis 2 conveys four important aspects of marriage. Firstly,marriage is a new unity. The husband and wife are to leave their parents and start a new family unit and “become one flesh” (v.24, Gen. 29:14). They are bound together, not just individuals. What was once “his” and “hers” is now “ours” and “us”. One of the primary purposes of marriage is to provide companionship, a sharing of life together. As a “helper”, Eve shared Adam’s work and responsibilities as well. Husbands and wives were designed to work together. They should be a team and work together in bringing up their children. Marriage partners are dependent on each other—they are interdependent (1 Cor. 11:11-12). Divorce is painful because it is severing a unity that was once alive.
Secondly, marriage is a lifetime commitment. It is a permanent relationship that should not be broken until death (Rom. 7:1-3). The husband is to leave his parents and be “united to his wife” (v.24). The Hebrew word means to “cling” and “keep close”. It also conveys the idea of loyalty and devotion. Jesus said, “what God has joined together, let no one separate” (Mt. 19:6). Marriage partners are to be faithful to one another. Sexual immorality is a sin against God and against our own spouse (1 Cor. 6:15-18). God hates divorce, but 45% of marriages in Australia end in divorce (Mal. 2:13-16). What a sad lack of commitment. Jesus only allowed divorce in the case of adultery (Mt. 5:32; 19:9).
Thirdly, the husband is the head of the family. He is ultimately responsible before God for the nature and character of the home. In this passage Eve is described as a “suitable helper” for Adam (v.18,20). Paul shows that this responsibility applied before the fall into sin when he referred to Genesis 2, “For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; neither was man created for woman but woman for man” (1 Cor. 11:3,8-9). The “man” in this case is Adam and the “woman” is Eve. Here he mentions the order of their creation (Adam was first) and the purpose (Eve was to help Adam). The principle is that husbands should lead the family. Of course Paul also teaches husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the church (Eph. 5:25,28,33; Col. 3:19) and wives to submit to their husbands as to the Lord (Eph. 5:22; Col. 3:18). Paul also based the latter on the order of creation (1 Tim. 2:13).
Fourthly, there should be openness between husband and wife, with no secrets and nothing to hide—“The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame” (v.25). This first marriage was unique because there was innocence before the fall into sin. Openness does not mean always agreeing or feeling the same. It means a readiness to share with one another, completely, without insisting that the other reflect the same attitude. There is to be a complete freedom of communication, one with the other. Adam and Eve were relaxed and felt at ease with each other. There was no strain in their marriage. Otherwise, communication breakdown can lead to marriage breakdown.
Application to us
Genesis provides the foundation of the Christian faith. We have seen that Genesis 2 explains the origin of humanity and of marriage. As God designed and made the first man and woman, He knows all about our needs and desires. In order to get the best out of life, we should follow His guidelines and lessons for us in the Bible. In particular, we should follow Jesus, the last Adam, who brings life to those who trust Him (1 Cor. 15:22,45).
When Jesus was asked about marriage He went back to Genesis. Because the meaning of marriage is based on Genesis. Our society is based on families and families are based on marriages. We should also follow God’s guidelines if we want our marriage and our family to work well.
What happened at the beginning of time?
The best place to begin reading a book is at the beginning. It’s important to read the beginning in order to understand what happens later. This article begins a series that looks at the beginning of the bible. This helps us understand later events in the Bible, like when Jesus Christ came to earth.
Interpreting the Bible
As “all Scripture is God-breathed”, the original text contained no errors or mistakes (Prov. 30:5-6; 2 Tim. 3:15-17). The words in the original language were inspired by God as the human writers of the Bible were given the words by the Holy Spirit (2 Pt. 1:20-21). That is why it is often referred to as the Word of God. In fact Scripture is the only source of revelation that is not affected by sin (Gen. 3:17-19; Rom. 8:20-22). The Bible is our only reliable authority on the creation of the world—we have no other eye-witness account.
While Scripture is accurate, it is not exhaustive. However, it is sufficient to make us “wise for salvation” and “thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:15-17NIV). It is a concise book with no unnecessary detail. God gives us the important things that we need to know and we need to use our intellect to apply these to our situations in life.
God intended that ordinary people would be able to understand the Bible. For example, fathers were to teach the Scriptures to their children at home (Deut. 6:4-9; Eph. 6:4). Also, the Bereans “examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true” (Acts 17:11). They only need the help of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 2:14).
The meaning of scripture is the meaning the inspired authors intended to convey to their generation. The only exception to this rule is prophecies which also have another meaning when they are fulfilled at a future time. So, it is important to find out how the original readers would have understood the words. After all, it was their language being used in their circumstances.
The Bible is a theological book. It contains the message of salvation from the penalty of our sin. But this theology is set in a world of history and science. It uses the physical world to illustrate and reveal spiritual truths. Although it is not a history book, the history in the bible is accurate. Although it is not a science book, the science in the bible is also accurate. What it says is exactly true. Because it is the inspired word of God, its language communicated accurately to its original readers and a good translation communicates accurately to us today.
The interpretation of scripture requires consideration of the text and the context in which it was written. This includes knowledge of the language, culture and history of that time. For example, is the text a literal narrative or is it poetic? It should be taken literally unless there is ample reason to believe the text was meant to be taken figuratively, such as metaphors, symbolism and parables. Also, other passages of scripture may help to confirm the meaning of a difficult passage.
The Context of Genesis
The book of Genesis was complied and written by Moses in the 14th century BC from oral history and revelation from God (Acts 7:22; 15:1; Genesis 17; 2 Peter 1:21). Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible. Until he was weaned, his mother would have taught him the history of the Hebrew people. When he was older, Moses was “educated in all the wisdom of the Egyptians and was powerful in words and action” (Acts 7:22).
Moses wrote the first five books of the bible while travelling between Egypt and Canaan. The people in both of these lands worshipped idols. The forces of nature were personified as pagan gods. These mythical beings included the sun god, the river Nile, and the golden calf in Egypt and sun, moon and stars, Baal – the god of the rain and storm, Asherah – the goddess of the sea and fertility in Canaan. The ten plagues were directed against the gods of Egypt. On the way to Canaan they moved through lands where people tried to seduce them into idolatry and immorality. Middle Eastern creation myths usually involve how one of the gods triumphs in a mighty battle against the forces of chaos and then reigns over the other gods and creates order out of chaos.
Genesis was written to these Israelites to educate them about the true God and protect them from idolatry. Moses is declaring that God has revealed Himself in creation and in history; Baal is not the true god. The New Testament affirms this as real history. Jesus quotes v.27 in Mt 19:4 and Mk. 10:6 and Adam and Eve are mentioned several times (Lk.3:38; Rom. 5:14; 1 Cor. 15:22, 45; 1 Tim. 2:13-14; Jude 14).
Genesis is the foundation of the Bible. It is a book of beginnings; containing a selective history according to God’s purposes. The word “Genesis” comes from the Greek word meaning “origin” or “beginning”. The Hebrew name for this book was “in the beginning”. So Genesis describes the beginning of the universe, the earth and all its inhabitants of human beings, marriage, family, society, civilization, sin and redemption and how God relates to His creation. It contains the original and true account of creation and shows who God is, who we are, what our basic problem is and God’s solution to that problem. In this article we look at Genesis 1:1-2:3.
God is the Creator
The bible begins by saying, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen 1:1). So the answer to the question of the origin of the universe and of life is given in the first verse of the bible. The fact that God refers to Himself as “us” seems to be a reference to the trinity (Gen. 1:26; 3:22). This is confirmed in the New Testament, which says that Jesus created everything (Jn. 1:3; Col. 1:16).
How did God Create?
God created the universe in a series of creative acts over six days (Gen. 1:1-31). “God said” is mentioned nine times in this passage. For example, “God said, ‘Let there be light’, and there was light” (v.3). He spoke and light shone in a world that was previously dark. So the pattern is that God spoke and it happened (Psalm 33:6, 9; Hebrews 11:3). His creative acts are also described as “God created” (v.1,21,27), and “God made” (v.7,16,25). The outcome is stated, but few details are given of the process. After all, this was written in the 14th century BC to be understood by ordinary people. This helps understanding by readers with a wide range of linguistic skills and intellect. So, according to the Bible, God created everything out of nothing, whereas according to evolution, nothing organised itself into everything.
I believe that over this period God created a mature world that was fully functioning. For example, Adam and Eve were adults, not babies or children; they were called man and wife right after Eve was created (Gen. 2:25). Also, they and the animals needed food to eat from the very beginning of their creation. Of course, this was a miracle and Moses was familiar with miracles (Ex. 10:1).
God also created the laws of science which have operated since the creation. These laws do not include the act of creation itself. For example, the first law of thermodynamics states that energy and matter (remember e=mc2) is always conserved; it cannot be created or destroyed. We cannot apply these laws to the week of creation when energy and matter were made. This means that today’s operational science does not apply to origins like creation. It cannot explain miracles. We should be careful not to extrapolate to areas outside the area of our observations. Like Job, we need to be reminded by God that no-one was there in the beginning, “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?” (Job 38:4).
When did God Create?
It happened “In the beginning” (v.1). This was the beginning of time because God created time. God was all that existed before this occasion, because He is timeless (Psalm 90:2). Jesus said, “at the beginning of creation God made them male and female” (Mk. 10:6). So this first week when Adam and Eve were made was the “beginning of creation”. The Israelites knew it was only a few thousand years before their times. They had the genealogies from Adam to Noah; Shem to Abraham; Isaac, Jacob, Levi; Levi to Moses and then down to their generation (Gen. 5:1-32; 11:10-26; Ex.6:16-20,26-27). Luke supplies similar information in the genealogy of Jesus (Lk. 3:23-38).
Why did God Create?
Creation shows God’s power and divine character (Rom. 1:20). Like the universe, God exists, and is orderly and reasonable and good. God is also personal, like mankind. He greater than all other gods. As He has chosen to show His love through human begins such as us, God created the earth to be inhabited (Is. 45:18). Adam and Eve are described as being the last of God’s creative work (v.27).
Why did God take so long?
After each creative act, the bible says “And there was evening, and there was morning—the X day”, where “X” ranges from “first”to “sixth” (v.5,8,13,19,23,31). Then it says that God rested on the seventh day (Gen. 2:2-3). The instances in this chapter of the Hebrew word for day, “yom”, used in conjunction with “night”, obviously refer to daylight hours (v.5,14,16,18). What about the six times that “yom” is qualified by “evening and morning” and a number? What did this mean to the Israelites in Moses’ time? Is it daylight, 24 hours, some other period of time, a moment, or a theological category? A period of 24 hours is the only meaning that makes sense in this context. This is consistent with the fact that a Jewish day begins and ends at sunset, rather than at midnight. This means that a day is comprised of an evening (night) followed by a morning (daylight). Genesis 1 is also a sequence of events in time like the lifetimes in the genealogy of Genesis 5.
The sun, moon and stars are to “serve as signs to mark seasons and days and years” (v.14). Obviously this instance of the word “days” means periods of 24 hours. This phrase also shows the Hebrews had words for longer periods than day which could be used by the author if required. But the language used for the six days in Genesis 1 makes no suggestion of a longer period of time.
Why did God take six days? After all, He could have made everything in six seconds! God’s six days of work and one day for rest were an example for His people. According to the fourth commandment, they were to work for six days, but not do any work on the seventh day because God made the universe in six days and then rested on the seventh day (Ex. 20:8-11). This only makes sense if the days of the creation week were the same as those of the working week. God set the example of six days work and one day rest. The working week is based on the creation week. That’s why there is seven days in a week. The seven-day week has no basis outside Scripture.
Creation of the Universe
The clear intention of Genesis 1 is to give the Israelites an account of the origin of the universe. It shows God as the creator of time, matter and energy and everything within the universe. They needed to know why their God was greater than the gods and idols of the Egypt and Canaan. Many pagan creation myths were probably corruptions of the original account of creation recorded in Genesis.
Moses summarized God’s creative work as follows:
Day 1: Space, matter and energy, and light created (v.1-5).
Day 2: Matter and energy distributed across the cosmos (v.6-8).
Day 3: Dry land and vegetation were created on earth (v.9-13).
Day 4: The sun, moon, stars and planets provided light and their cycles provided measurements of times and seasons (v.14-19).
Day 5: Aquatic creatures and birds were created (v.20-23).
Day 6: Animals and the first people, Adam and Eve, were created (v.24-31).
On Day 7 God rested (Gen. 2:2-3). He had finished His work of creation. Now he would sustain His creation and after man’s sin He would change the universe and then reconcile and redeem (Col. 1:17; Heb. 1:3).
The fact that God created different kinds of organisms which reproduced “according to their kinds” is mentioned ten times in v.11,12,21,24,25. This implies that each “kind” of creature is distinctive, which is consistent with the statement that “All flesh is not the same: People have one kind of flesh, animals have another, birds another and fish another” (1 Cor. 15:39). Their descendants never change from one “kind” of life to another.
What is Moses saying to the Israelites? Our God supersedes all the others. He is a powerful Creator who made everything. He even made what other nations considered to be gods. The true God is separate from creation. This is the same message that Paul told in Romans 1.
People: In the image of God
The fact that mankind was made in the image of God is stated three times (v.26-27). It shows that people were in the image of God from the beginning. What did this mean to the Israelites in Moses’ day? They used the term to describe a likeness between parents and children—Seth was described as being in Adam’s likeness (Gen. 5:3). Also pagan idols were represented as images (Lev. 26:1).
To answer this question we will see what Adam and Eve do that is unique to humanity. First, the statement that is made twice with respect to humanity but to no other creature is that they will “rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground” (v.26, 28). For example, Adam was to tend and care for the Garden of Eden (Gen. 2:15). So mankind was to rule over the rest of creation: we are the link between God and creation. (Ps. 8:5-8). But due to sin “at present we do not see everything subject to them” (Heb. 2:8). We have great power and responsibility. Second, Adam was prohibited from eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 2:16). People are conscious of moral values: we call some things good and others bad. This moral nature of mankind is different to the instincts of the animal world. Third, Adam named the animals (Gen. 2:19-20). Mankind is creative and inventive: this involves imagination, the ability to think in conceptual terms (abstract thinking), and the ability to see a thing with the eye of the mind and then create it physically. Fourth, Adam and Eve talked with God (Gen. 3:8-13). People can communicate and use language to convey ideas and discuss issues. In particular we can communicate with God.
Elsewhere the Bible says that people are comprised of spirit, soul and body (1 Th. 5:23). No other creature on earth is a spirit. Our spirits live forever, but there is no mention of life after death for animals. Maybe it is the spirit that is made in the image of God.
Creation was very good
“God saw that it was good” is mentioned 7 times in Genesis 1 (v.4,10,12,18,21,25). This means that it is in line with His divine purposes and in accordance with His divine character. Also, “good” is the opposite of “evil” and fruit is “good” food (Gen. 2:9). It finishes by saying, “God saw all that He had made, and it was very good” (v.31). This is a strong indicator that the world originally had no death or disease.
It was an excellent creation that had not yet been spoilt by sin. Sin is never described in the Bible as being “good” and death is called the “enemy” (1 Cor. 15:26). This original creation is very similar to last two chapters of Revelation, where “there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” because “no longer will there be any curse” (Rev. 21:4; 22:3). Peter said that after Christ returns God will restore everything (Acts 3:21).
Because there was no sin, there was no death of animals or humans. In fact the animals and people were vegetarian at the beginning (v.29-30) and in the restored state (Isa. 11:6-9: 65:25). As people and animals faced no predators, they were in harmony and there was no fear. There was peace on earth.
Lessons for us
The Bible shows that the universe was created by an intelligent and powerful God. He did it in six days with one days rest to give us the pattern for a seven day week. There was no sin in the original creation and we can look forward to the restoration to this in the new heavens and new earth described at the end of the bible (2 Pt. 3:13). In the meantime we can praise God: “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honour and power, for You created all things, and by Your will they were created and have their being” (Rev. 4:11).
Adam and Eve were the climax of creation. They were made in the image of God to rule the rest of creation. They were also creative, with a moral nature and the ability to communicate with God. Even though our world has been spoilt by sin, people still bear the image of God. This gives them great significance.
Becoming a Christian is like being recreated in the likeness of God (Eph. 4:24; Col. 3:10). We become a child of God. Do we think and act like an image of God? Like an image of Christ? Are we using our personality and spirituality like God? Are we behaving in His likeness? Through Christ in our lives, believers are becoming more Godlike (2 Cor. 3:18).
 A day is the time for one rotation of the earth about its own axis. A month is approximately the time for one orbit of the moon around the earth. A year is the time for one orbit of the earth around the sun. There is no such physical relationship for the week.
Written, July 2004
See the next article in this series:
- In the beginning. Part 2: The first marriage
Psalm 139 describes some of God’s attributes. He knows everything (v.1-6), His Spirit is present throughout the universe (v.7-12) and each person is created by Him (v.13-16). The verse before and after Psalm 139:14 describe the development of a baby from conception. This caused David to praise God for His power and skill and exclaim that “I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (Ps. 139:14NIV). The Hebrew word that is translated “fearfully” is yare. In Vine’s Dictionary it means “to be afraid, stand in awe, fear”. When used of an exalted person it means “standing in awe”. This implies honor, reverence and respect for the person. To be “fearfully” made means to be “awesomely” made.
Other Psalms of David that mention yare as a response to God are: “fear(s) the Lord”, “those who fear You (God)”, “those who fear Him”, “see and fear (God)”, “have no fear of God”, “all mankind will fear (God)”, “fear Your name” (Ps. 15:4; 22:23,25; 25:12,14; 31:19; 34:7,9; 40:3; 52:6; 55:19; 60:4; 61:5; 64:9; 86:11; 103:11,13,17; 145:19). So David had a strong reverence for God.
What about Christians today? The New Testament says Christians should worship God “with reverence and awe” (Heb. 12:28). He is the ultimate authority over humanity; He observes us and will judge us (1 Pt. 1:17; 2:17). We will all give an account of ourselves at the judgement seat of Christ (Rom. 14:10-12; 2 Cor. 5:10). Those who reverence God will desire to honor Him with holy living and by submitting to one another (2 Cor. 7:1; Eph. 5:21). Living in the fear of the Lord was associated with numerical growth in the early church (Acts 9:31).
So, like David we should stand in awe of and God respect His great power and position. This is expressed in the song by Rich Mullins:
“Our God is an awesome God;
He reigns in heaven above
With wisdom power and love:
Our God is an awesome God”.
Published, July 2005
The Bible says that God loves the people of this world so much that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who has faith in Him will have eternal life and never really die. God did not send His Son into the world to condemn its people. He sent Him to save them (Jn. 3:16-17).
So, God loves people more than anything else in the world. This is true whether they follow Him or not. It is also true regardless of what their attitude and behavior toward Him may be.
Humanity is seen as the peak of God’s creation in the first two chapters of the Bible, where people are described as being made in the image and likeness of God (Gen. 1:26-27). They were also given the privilege and responsibility to care for the rest of the world and name “all the livestock, the birds of the air and all the beasts of the field” (Gen. 2:15,20 NIV).
In The Old Testament
After mankind sinned by disobeying God, God promised Abraham that his descendants would be a great nation and be of great benefit to everyone on earth (Gen. 12:1-3). This promise passed on to his son, Isaac, and then to his grandson, Jacob, whose name was changed to Israel (Gen. 28:13-14; 32:28). Consequently, the children of Israel were God’s special people in the Old Testament times. Through them He showed His great love and concern for humanity.
One of His promises to them was, “I will walk among you and be your God and you will be my people” (Lev. 26:12; Jer. 32:38; Ezek. 37:27). This promise is quoted in 2 Corinthians 6:16 to show that believers are God’s people today.
God said that the Israelites were “my people, who are called by my name” (2 Chr. 7:14). They were also referred to as “my people Israel” and “my people the Israelites” (1 Ki. 8:16; Ex. 7:4).
The term “my people” is mentioned frequently in the Old Testament to express the close relationship between God and the nation of Israel. This was demonstrated through history with the rescue from slavery in Egypt; sustenance during the desert journey; provision of laws for government, social and religious life; the conquest of Canaan; and protection against enemies, even when in exile. Finally, God’s Son, Jesus Christ, was born and lived in a Jewish family and His ministry was mainly to Jewish people.
Just as in the story of the tenants, the Jews failed as God’s representatives on earth and even killed His Son (Mt. 21:33-46). So, after this, God turned His attention to other people.
In the New Testament
The announcement of Christ’s coming was “good news of great joy … for all the people” (Lk. 2:10). One reason for this was that the benefits of being part of God’s special people were to be made available to everyone across the globe. This was endorsed by Jesus who instructed his followers to go to the people of all nations and make them His disciples also (Mt. 28:19).
This truth was given to Peter who learned that God “accepts people from every nation who fear him and do what is right” (Acts 10:34-35). It was also evident to the early believers when they noted that God was taking “a people for Himself” from all nations (Acts 15:14).
Today, all true believers are “the people of God” (Heb. 4:9), “a people that are His very own” (Ti. 2:14) and “God’s people” (Rom. 12:13; 1 Cor. 16:1; 2 Cor. 9:12; Eph. 2:19; Heb. 13:24; Rev. 22:21). The Christian’s position as “people of God” is most evident in 1 Peter 2:9-10, where we are told that they are “a chosen people,” “a people belonging to God” and “now you are the people of God.”
His Love Today
Of course such people are from every community, language, nation and race (Rev. 5:9). This means that God’s people are spread all across the earth, with believers following Jesus in every country. For example, even though there was opposition and evil in the city of Corinth, the Lord assured Paul that he was safe “because I have many people in this city” (Acts 18:10).
This reminds me of a song, written by Russell Fragar (Hillsongs, Australia, 1993), that says,
All over the world
… people just like us
… are calling Your name
… and living in Your love.
All over the world
… people just like us
… are following Jesus.
Isn’t it wonderful to know that God loves people more than anything else in this world! And that today, His people can be found all over the world. And that His work of saving people is still going on today. And that He is using His people to communicate the Good News to those who have not yet heard it.
If you are already one of His people, we hope you will engage in the good work He called you to with these words: “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation” (Mk. 16:15). We encourage you to begin right now, right where you live.
If you are not yet one of His people, we hope you will get in touch with His people and investigate the Good News of salvation through Jesus Christ.
Published, October 1997
“Whoever has My commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves Me. He who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I too will love him and show Myself to him” (Jn. 14:21 NIV).
John gives us the longest account of what Jesus told the disciples in the upper room on the night before He was crucified (Jn. 1317). A few verses before John 14:21 the Lord promised to send the Holy Spirit to indwell the disciples on the day of Pentecost. The key word “love” (“agapao” in Greek) appears 31 times in John 13-17. This self-sacrificing, unselfish love has a divine origin.
Two types of people are mentioned in John 14:15-24 – those who loved the Lord and those who did not. The first were believers, who were indwelt forever by the Holy Spirit, and who obeyed His commands. The others were unbelievers, who did not have the Holy Spirit and did not obey the Lord’s commands.
John 14:21 addresses believers, not unbelievers, in two sentences. The first sentence says that obeying the Lord’s command is evidence that one is a believer. For example, the disciples were told to “love one another” and this would show others that they were followers of Christ (Jn. 13:34-35). The second sentence says that the believer is loved by God the Father and God the Son, and they will make Themselves known to him in a special way: “We will come to him and make Our home with him” (Jn. 14:23-26). Of course unbelievers are also loved by God, but it’s a one-sided relationship as the love is not reciprocal: “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8; Jn. 3:16).
John 14:21-26 shows that because believers have a relationship with the Lord and are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, the Son reveals Himself to them in a way that is not possible for unbelievers. So, increased love for God doesn’t mean that He will love us more, but that we will know Him better.
Published April 2010