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Nineveh experienced God’s mercy and justice

The ancient city of Nineveh was located on the east bank of the Tigris River near the site of the modern city of Mosul in northern Iraq. Nineveh was an important junction for commercial routes crossing the Tigris on the great highway between the Mediterranean Sea and the Indian Ocean, thus uniting the East and the West. It received wealth from many sources, so that it became one of the greatest of all the region’s ancient cities, and the capital of the Assyrian Empire.

According to the Bible, Nineveh was established in about 2000 BC (a round number) by Nimrod, a great-grandson of Noah (Gen. 10:11). It or Assyria are mentioned in the Bible books of Psalms 83 (~980BC), Jonah (~750BC), Hosea (~720BC), 2 Kings 19 (~700BC), Isaiah (~700BC), Micah (~700BC), Zephaniah (~630BC) and Nahum (~620BC). The Assyrian kings mentioned in the Bible reigned between 745BC and 627BC.

As Assyria is only mentioned in a list of nine enemies, it seems that it wasn’t a major threat to Israel in the 10th century BC (Ps. 83:5-8). But from 900 to 600 BC the Assyrian Empire expanded, conquered and ruled the Middle East, including Mesopotamia, Egypt, the eastern coast of the Mediterranean, and parts of today’s Turkey, Iran and Iraq. They were famous for their cruelty and fighting prowess and they used war chariots and iron weapons, which were superior to bronze weapons.

Assyria is not known to have come in contact with Israel until the reign of Jehu, who paid tribute to Shalmaneser II in 842BC. But Assyria was a major enemy of Israel and Judah in the 8th century BC. According to the Bible, the Assyrians threatened and attacked the kingdoms of Israel and Judah from ~790BC (2 Ki. 15:19) to ~710BC (2 Ki. 20:6) and to ~690BC (2 Chron. 33:11).

The Assyrians invaded the kingdom of Israel and after the fall of Samaria in 722BC, they brought people from Mesopotamia and Aram (Syria) to settle in Samaria (Ezra 4:2). God used the Assyrians to capture the kingdom of Israel.

Sennacherib nearly captured Jerusalem in 700BC but “the angel of the Lord went out and put to death 185,000 in the Assyrian camp” (2 Ki. 19:35) followed by the assassination of Sennacherib (2 Ki. 18:13 – 19:37; Isa. 36-37).

But in 612BC Nineveh was destroyed  by the Babylonians (Ezek. 32:22-23). And the Assyrian empire then came to an end by 605 BC when they were defeated by the Babylonians in the battle of Carchemish.

As the word “Nineveh” occurs most frequently in the books of Jonah (7 times ) and Nahum (9 times), we will now look at their messages.

Jonah’s warning

In about 750BC, God sent Jonah to Nineveh to warn it of the imminent danger of divine judgment. Jonah was commanded, “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me” (Jon. 1:1NIV). Nineveh was called a “great city” because it was the largest city if its day, having more than 120,00 inhabitants (Jon. 4:11). But Jonah went in the opposite direction and went through a bad experience! After God got his attention, he was told again, “Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you” (Jon. 3:2). This time he obeyed and went to Nineveh and proclaimed “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown” (Jon. 3:4). Then all the people, including the king repented of their wicked ways (see Appendix). After this God “relented and did not bring on them the destruction He had threatened” (Jon. 3:10). This shows that God’s mercy can extend to all people. The repentance of wicked Gentiles was an example for the Israelites to follow.

Jonah was angry that God showed compassion to the Assyrians who lived in Nineveh. But later God told Judah, “I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live” (Ezek. 33:11).

We know from history that Nineveh continued for about 140 years before it was destroyed by the Babylonians. So, God’s mercy was shown for 140 years before justice prevailed.

Nahum’s warning

But a while after Jonah’s warning, the people of Nineveh returned to their wicked ways of idolatry, cruelty and pride. The sins of Nineveh included plotting evil against the Lord, cruelty and plundering in war, prostitution, witchcraft, and commercial exploitation (Nah. 1:11; 2:12-13; 3:1, 4, 16, 19).

The book of Nahum, written in about 620BC, is comprised of detailed predictions of the destruction of Nineveh. It says, that God “will not leave the guilty [Assyria] unpunished” (Nah. 1:3). The book ends with the destruction of the city for her oppression, cruelty, idolatry and wickedness. Nahum predicted that the city would never be rebuilt, “Nothing can heal you [Nineveh]; your wound is fatal” (Nah. 3:19). Nineveh was destroyed in 612BC and never rebuilt and within a few centuries it was covered with wind-blown sand. Zephaniah also predicted the Babylonian invasion of Assyria “leaving Nineveh utterly desolate and dry as the desert” (Zeph. 2:13-15). Even the site of Nineveh was lost until it was found by archaeologists in 1845.

Prior to Jonah and Nahum, in about 740-680BC, Isaiah also predicted the demise of Assyria.

Isaiah’s warning

Isaiah said that God would use the Assyrians to devastate the land of Judah as punishment for their sinfulness (Isa. 7:17-25; 10:5-6). And Aram (Syria) and Israel would be invaded as well (Isa. 8:6-10). And that’s what happened in the late 8th century BC.

But God promised to destroy the Assyrians because of their arrogance (Isa. 10:5-34; 14:24-27; 30:27-33; 31:8-9; 37:36-38). And that’s what happened in about 610BC.

Archaeology of Nineveh

In about 700 BC, Sennacherib made Nineveh a truly magnificent city. At this time, the total area of Nineveh comprised about 7 square kilometres (1,730 acres), and fifteen great gates penetrated its walls. An elaborate system of eighteen canals brought water from the hills to Nineveh, and several sections of a magnificently constructed aqueduct were discovered at Jerwan, about 65 km (40 miles) distant. Sennacherib also built a magnificent palace with 80 rooms and incredible sculptured walls. Assyrian rulers celebrated their military victories by having representations of these carved into the walls of their palaces.

The ruins of Nineveh are surrounded by the remains of a massive stone and mudbrick wall dating from about 700 BC. About 12 km in length, the wall system consisted of an ashlar (squared building stones) stone retaining wall about 6 m (20 ft) high surmounted by a mudbrick wall about 10 m (33 ft) high and 15 m (49 ft) thick. The stone retaining wall had projecting stone towers spaced about every 18 m (59 ft). The stone wall and towers were topped by three-step merlons (upright sections of a battlement). There were 15 monumental gateways in the city wall.

Archaeologists unearthed the library of Ashurbanipal in Nineveh with its 22,000 cuneiform inscribed clay tablets in the Akkadian and Sumerian languages and Sennacherib’s annals, which were written on clay hexagonal tablets.

The Bible says that Sennacherib  king of Assyria “attacked all the fortified cities of Judah and captured them” (2 Ki. 18:13). This included Lachish, the second largest city in Judah. The Bible also says that Sennacherib’s forces besieged Jerusalem, but didn’t capture it. Instead “he withdrew to his own land in disgrace” (2 Chron. 32:21). This was confirmed by the records in Sennacherib’s annals, which mention his victories, but not his defeats. The historical records of Assyrian kings and their conquests matched the biblical account. These archaeological discoveries showed that the historical accounts in the Bible were about real kingdoms and real historical figures.

Jesus’s warning

When Jesus rebuked the Jewish religious leaders in about AD 30 He said, “The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation [the Jewish religious leaders] and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now something greater than Jonah is here [Jesus]” (Mt. 12:41; Lk. 11:32). After Jonah preached, the Ninevites repented (Jon.3:5-10). But the Jewish leaders criticized Jesus rather than accepting what He said. Because of this at the coming day of judgment the Ninevites will condemn these Jewish leaders for failing to receive someone who was greater than Jonah. As Jesus and His ministry were “greater than Jonah”, they were more worthy of acceptance.

Discussion

In Jonah’s time, the people of Nineveh experienced God’s mercy when they repented of their sins. But a later generation experienced God’s judgment because they failed to repent of their sins.

Peter preached to Jews saying, “Repent, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out” (Acts 3:19). Repentance is a change of mind arising from sorrow for sin and leading to transformation of life. It is the right response to Christ’s death and resurrection and leads to forgiveness of sins (Lk. 24:46-47).

A children’s song says,

Repent, and turn to God,
Repent, and turn to God,
Repent, and turn to God,
And your sins will be wiped out.

Doesn’t matter how many,
Doesn’t matter how bad,
Doesn’t matter how often,
Doesn’t matter how sad,
If you turn to God with a heart that’s true,
This is what He says to you.

Repent, and turn to God,
Repent, and turn to God,
Repent, and turn to God,
And your sins will be wiped out.

Today we all have the choice to either experience God’s mercy (salvation and heaven) through Jesus or God’s judgment (punishment and hell) through ignoring or rejecting Jesus. Meanwhile, God is patient, “The Lord is not slow in keeping His promise [to judge the ungodly], as some understand slowness. Instead He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Pt. 3:9). God is delaying this judgment to give people more time to repent of their sinfulness. The judgment of God is inescapable unless we repent and are forgiven (Rom. 2:3). But this judgment can be delayed (Rom. 2:4). It’s wise to accept God’s mercy through Jesus, but dangerous to ignore or reject it.

Here we see two contrasting aspects of God’s character, “Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God” (Rom. 11:22). God’s mercy, patience and salvation is an example of His kindness. And God’s justice and judgment is an example of His sternness.

Lessons for us

How would people respond today if someone like Jonah urged them to repent and turn to God? That is what Israel Folau did, and he was criticized, rejected and banished. That’s how the Jewish religious leaders treated Jesus.

Who are we like, the Ninevites or the Jewish religious leaders? The repentance of the Ninevites is an example for us to follow. It also shows that God’s mercy through Jesus extends to everyone. But it’s only available to us while we are alive! Let’s access God’s mercy through Jesus today and avoid God’s coming judgment.

Appendix: When the Ninevites repented (Jonah 3)

1Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.”

Jonah obeyed the word of the Lord and went to Nineveh. Now Nineveh was a very large city; it took three days to go through it. Jonah began by going a day’s journey into the city, proclaiming, “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” The Ninevites believed God. A fast was proclaimed, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth.

When Jonah’s warning reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, took off his royal robes, covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the dust. This is the proclamation he issued in Nineveh:

“By the decree of the king and his nobles:

Do not let people or animals, herds or flocks, taste anything; do not let them eat or drink. But let people and animals be covered with sackcloth. Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from His fierce anger so that we will not perish.”

10 When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways [repented], He relented and did not bring on them the destruction He had threatened.

Written, July 2019

Also see other articles on places in the Bible:
Bethlehem, God’s solution to our crises
Gehenna – Where’s hell?
Where’s Zion?
Babylon, center of humanism and materialism
Lessons from Egypt
Lessons from Sodom
Massacres and miracles in Jericho

Rebellion and deception at Samaria

Jesus gives life to the full

There are so many wonderful things in life. The joy of love, family, satisfaction in hard work, the thrill of the race, or the game, admiring the astonishing beauty of nature, the prospect of a new adventure. It is truly a remarkable world.

Yet in all of these things, there’s always a blemish. And the blemish lies in us and in each thing we experience. For example our own cynicism and doubts prevent us properly enjoying goodness in love and work and family. And, as for the objects of our joy and desire – they always let us down in some measure. So, families fracture and fall out. Children forget their parents and live selfish lives. We chase a project with all our energy only to find it wasn’t worth the chasing.

In every part of life there’s always dissatisfaction. Any number of things can intervene to undermine success… from accidents, to mismanagement, to petty politics, injustice, corruption… even our own boredom, or doubts, or distractions.

The greatest enemy to fulfillment in this life is the knowledge that death awaits. It means that whatever we pursue is futile. Nothing can escape it… even the material universe. Everything must pass away.

If only there were a thread of hope dangling down for us from eternity. In the song, ‘Into my arms’, Nick Cave, the Australian songwriter, speaks of an, ‘interventionist God’ who might prevent his beloved from being harmed. Yet he can’t bring himself to believe that such a good God might exist.

But such a good God does exist and the Bible describes His character and ‘interventions’ in human history in great detail. As creator of the world He made us so that we might relate to Him closely. But since creation we’ve resisted this purpose. Yet no matter how hard we resist, He still loves us and wants us to be with Him. The Bible says that God has ‘planted eternity in the human heart’ (Ecclesiastes 3:11). Clearly, He meant us to spend it with Him.

When our purpose is eternity with God. How did we ever think we could find it in movies or architecture or holidays or skin cream? Whatever we do apart from God is doomed and destined for disgruntlement.

So give way. Give yourself to God’s ambassador, Jesus Christ, whose mighty intervention on your behalf at the cross means you can have life with God forever. Accept Jesus and the immortal words He offers all people.

I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.  

Prayer: Dear God, I pray that I may have life to the full with You through Jesus.

Bible verse: John 10:10 Jesus: “I have come that they may have life and have it to the full“.

Acknowledgement: This article was sourced from Outreach Media, Sydney, Australia.
Images and text © Outreach Media 2019

Posted July 2019

Continual Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is a North American holiday celebrated in November. It’s a day of feasting, family and football that began as a day of giving thanks for a successful harvest. The Thanksgiving meal often includes seasonal dishes such as roast turkey with stuffing, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie.

The healing of Namaan in 2 Kings 5 is an example of thanksgiving in the Bible. Namaan was a commander in the Syrian army who was healed of an incurable skin disease like leprosy when he followed instructions given by the prophet Elisha. It’s an illustration of the gospel (good news about Jesus). The disease is like sin (our main problem). The healing is like having one’s sin forgiven and peace with God. Namaan received God’s blessing even though he was a Gentile and not an Israelite. He changed from being an enemy of Israel to worshipping their God. The good news about Jesus is that sinners can have their sins forgiven and live forever with God.

It’s interesting to see Namaan’s response to being healed. The Bible says,
Then Naaman and all his attendants went back to the man of God [Elisha]. He stood before him and said, “Now I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel. So please accept a gift from your servant” (2 Sam. 5:15NIV)

Namaan acknowledged the one true God. And offered Elisha a gift that he refuses. Elisha didn’t want to accept payment for what God had done. Also, it illustrates that salvation is free. Then Namaan asked for some soil from Israel that he could take back to Syria to use when he sacrificed to the God of Israel. In ancient times each nation had their own gods and maybe it was thought that a deity could be worshipped only on the soil of the nation to which it was bound. Or maybe the soil was used to make an earthen altar as the Israelites were commanded (Ex. 20:24). Anyhow, it showed his allegiance to the God of Israel.

After he was healed, Naaman changed from worshipping idols to worshipping the true God. He offered thanks and praise to the God who delivered him from a major problem. Namaan was grateful and thankful. Do we as believers regularly thank and praise God for delivering us from the penalty of our sin?

There are other examples in the New Testament of Gentiles (non-Jews) praising God. When Jesus healed ten lepers, one returned “praising God on a loud voice” (Lk. 17:15-16). He was a Samaritan. And Cornelius and his family praised God after they believed in Peter’s message about the forgiveness of sin through Christ’s death and resurrection (Acts 10:34-46).

Like Namaan’s sacrifices to the God of Israel, believers are to offer thanks and praise for all that God has done for them through Jesus Christ. The Bible says, “Through Jesus, therefore, let us [believers] continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips [words] that openly profess His name” (Heb. 13:15). And believers are to be “always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Eph. 5:20) and “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Th. 5:18). Do we praise God regularly, or only occasionally? It’s a personal sacrifice to praise God in difficult times. Paul and Silas praised God when they were imprisoned (Acts 16:23-25). Their praise wasn’t limited by their circumstances. Do we praise God when we don’t feel like praising Him?

Believers are commanded to praise God “continually”, “always”, “for everything” and “in all circumstances”. Not just once a year.  Have we praised God today?

Written, July 2019

Also see: A major problem

More discrimination against Israel Folau

Israel Folau’s appeal for financial assistance for his legal fight against Rugby Australia has been shut down by GoFundMe Australia.

On 18 June 2019 a crowdfunding campaign was launched to fund Folau’s legal fight against Rugby Australia. Folau said, “I decided to take legal action when Rugby Australia terminated my employment contract and ended my playing career after I expressed my religious beliefs on social media. Sadly, Rugby Australia have said that they will devote significant resources to fight me in court. This shows I have a long and hard battle on my hands, which is why I am asking for your support.” (Also see, Appendix).

Today (24 June 2019) the crowdfunding campaign was shut down by GoFundMe after raising more than $750,000 in a few days. They said, “We are absolutely committed to the fight for equality for LGBTIQ+ people and fostering an environment of inclusivity”. The company also said it would not tolerate the promotion of discrimination or exclusion. Except (in this case) the promotion of discrimination or exclusion against Bible-believing Christians!

Culture watch

According to Bill Muehlenberg’s blog, this is “a full-fledged war on Christianity, and on any believers who boldly stand up for their faith.” There have been relentless media attacks designed to vilify and demonise Folau. There is hatred of Folau and God. And the media continue to attack both him and his wife with false information.

The legal significance of this case is very high. This case is our case if we are Christians, or people who have politically incorrect beliefs. It is unjust, and it threatens to set a precedent which could bring about the same injustice upon many employees, professionals, and others in the Australian community. Folau did no wrong, but he is being punished as a wrongdoer.

Religious freedom

It is ultimately about religious freedom – and the war against it. It’s a crackdown on Christianity. To what extent is religious expression protected in Australia?

NSW One Nation MP Mark Latham, who defended Folau in his maiden speech to parliament earlier this year, said GoFundMe’s decision was “excessive use of corporate power”. He tweeted: “Lefties scoffed when I said the absence of religious freedom protections would lead to a reign of terror against Christians. In all aspects of the Folau matter, it’s easy to see what’s happening.”

New funding page

After GoFundMe shut down the crowdfunding site, the Australian Christian Lobby offered to host Folau’s online appeal for funds to pay for his legal case. Over $1 million was raised on the first day! The target is $3 million.

The main point

If you can’t express your religious beliefs without losing your job, then you don’t have freedom of religion.

Appendix: Statement on crowdfunding site

“Thank you to all those who have given to my Legal Action Fund so far. I am humbled and overwhelmed by the support I have received, for which I am very grateful. Unsurprisingly, I have been criticised by Rugby Australia and some sections of the media overnight.

I decided to take legal action when Rugby Australia terminated my employment contract and ended my playing career after I expressed my religious beliefs on social media. I have received thousands of messages from supporters who believe discrimination in the workplace is wrong and has no place in Australia or anywhere else.

Sadly, Rugby Australia have said that they will devote significant resources to fight me in court. This shows I have a long and hard battle on my hands, which is why I am asking for your support. The money that is donated will be used to fund my legal battle, which could take years. While the attacks against me have shown I have a big fight on my hands, I will stand strong.

Your support and my faith will give me strength. For those of you who have chosen to donate within your capacity, I am very grateful of your support for my legal case. For those not in the position to donate, I value your prayers and messages of support so much. Every little bit will help.” Israel Folau.

Acknowledgement

This post includes comments from Bill Muehlenberg’s (Culture Watch) blog.

Written, June 2019

Also see: Selective tolerance: Folau verses Rugby Australia
Is the Bible “hate speech” because it’s not “inclusive”?
Protection of religious freedom

Who should praise God?

Psalm 148

In the Christmas carol, “Joy to the world”, “heaven and nature sing” at the coming of the King (Jesus Christ). But how can nature sing?

The final five psalms in the book of psalms (146-150) have a theme of praise. Each of them begin and end with “Praise the Lord”. In this post on Psalm 148 we see that all creation (nature) praises God.

Psalm 148 has been categorized as a nature psalm. These psalms praise the Lord as the creator and sustainer of the physical universe. God is separate from nature because He created it. This made Jewish beliefs different to the common beliefs of ancient times that various objects in nature are divine. Just think about the gods of Egypt, Canaan, Greece and Rome. The theological description is that God is “transcendent”, which means He is independent of the creation. But the creation (nature) is also sustained by His mighty power; He sustains “all things by His powerful word” (Heb. 1:3NIV). And the creation (nature) declares (shows) God’s greatness (Ps. 19:1). Psalm 148 says,

 “1 Praise the Lord.

Praise the Lord from the heavens;
praise Him in the heights above.
Praise Him, all His angels;
praise Him, all His heavenly hosts [angels].
Praise Him, sun and moon;
praise Him, all you shining stars.
Praise Him, you highest heavens
and you waters above the skies [clouds].

Let them praise the name of the Lord,
for at His command they were created,
and He established them for ever and ever—
He issued a decree that will never pass away.

Praise the Lord from the earth,
you great sea creatures and all ocean depths,
lightning and hail, snow and clouds,
stormy winds that do His bidding,
you mountains and all hills,
fruit trees and all cedars,
10 wild animals and all cattle,
small creatures and flying birds,
11 kings of the earth and all nations,
you princes and all rulers on earth,
12 young men and women,
old men and children.

13 Let them praise the name of the Lord,
for His name alone is exalted;
His splendor is above the earth and the heavens.
14 And He has raised up for His people [Israel] a horn [king?],
the praise of all His faithful servants,
of Israel, the people close to His heart.

Praise the Lord.”

The psalm is framed with “Praise the Lord”, which is like a refrain (chorus). The key words in the psalm are “praise” (13 times) and “all” (10 times). It’s an inclusive song of praise as it includes everyone.

The key feature of Hebrew poetry is parallelism. The first section gives examples of praise “from the heavens” (v.1-4). While another section gives examples of praise “from the earth” (v.7-12). These verses say who is praising God.

The other verses (v.5-6, 13-14) give the reasons for the praising. Who are they praising? The Lord who created everything at His command (Ps. 148:5).

Context

The psalm was probably written when there was a king in Judah (Appendix). It seems to be a time when the Israelites were a distinct nation and not in disarray. It’s written to Jews who were probably living in Judah.

Praise from the heavens – v.1-4

The heavens are described as “the heights above” the earth. From this section we see that the psalmist uses the term “heaven” to describe the atmosphere, the universe, and the abode of angels. This is consistent with the rest of scripture.

Who is praising God from the heavens? The angels (v.2). The universe of the sun, moon and stars (probably including the planets) (v.3). And the clouds (v.4).

Angels are God’s invisible agents. They praised God at Christ’s birth (Lk. 2:13-14). They continually praise God’s holiness and eternity (Rev. 4:6-8). And after they have finished their earthly ministry, numerous angels will encircle God’s throne and sing in a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb [Christ], who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!” (Rev. 5:11-12).

The universe of sun, moon and stars can praise God because He made it immensely huge to demonstrate His massive power. From the Bible we know that the cosmic world didn’t begin very small and simple and grow to be more complex like in the idea of the big-bang. God “stretched it out” when He created it. So it was created to be mature and well-developed from the beginning, and not primitive.

Praise from the earth – v.7-12

In ancient times, the other part of the universe was called the “earth” or the “land” – either English translation of the Hebrew word erets (Strongs #776) is appropriate depending on the context. In this passage it includes the ocean, the atmosphere, the landscape, vegetation, animals and people. It seems  unusual to include the atmosphere as part of the earth as elsewhere in the Bible, the sky (atmosphere) is included as part of the heavens. But of course events in the atmosphere can have a significant impact on the earth and its inhabitants.

Who is praising God from the earth? The marine life and the ocean depths (v.7), lightning, hail, clouds, and strong winds (v.8), mountains, hills and trees (v.9), animals (v.10), rulers (v.11), and people (v.12).

The landscape can praise God because He sculpted it during the flood in Noah’s day, rearranging the surface of the earth by laying down thick layers of sedimentary rock, and then displacing, distorting and eroding them by lifting up parts to form mountains and causing other parts to descend to form the floor of oceans. And there was also horizon movement that formed continents (continental drift). Then volcanoes formed more mountains. After this, ice carved out glaciers in the ice age.

The atmosphere of clouds and storms can praise God because in the beginning He made the gases that comprise it. And He made the laws that govern it’s motion across the earth (the winds) and the laws that control the water cycle (clouds, lighting, hail, and snow).

The plants, animals and ecosystems of the earth can praise God because He created them to be mature and well-developed from the beginning, and not primitive. From the Bible we know that the biological world didn’t begin very small and simple and grow to be more complex like in the idea of evolution.

Together the heavens and the earth describe everything in the universe. Every created thing is invited to praise the Lord. Nature is to praise God.

A person went to a restaurant. They sat down and admired the décor, including the lighting and the paintings on the wall. They were pleased with the table settings; the delicious smell of the food; the well-dressed waiters; and how efficiently the restaurant was being run. But they didn’t have a meal, which is the main reason to visit the restaurant! Many enjoy the décor of the universe, but they don’t enjoy the God who made it. Our purpose is to offer thanks and praise to God (v.11-12). To miss out on this it to miss everything.

Why praise God? – v.5-6, 13-14

There is praise from the heavens because God created them (v.5) and their existence is secure (v.6). Verse 6 probably refers to the boundaries or limits God placed on all creation. The laws of nature are constant and reliable. (God’s moral laws are also constant and reliable.) It’s predictable (rather than chaotic) and science is possible.

There is praise from the earth because God’s splendor is above the splendor of the universe (v.13). He is greater than His creation. He is unique. And God is praised because “He has raised up for His people [Israel] a horn [king?]”. This figure of speech can mean that Israel was strong or that it was ruled by a king (Appendix). It also shows God’s saving power (He saved faithful Israelites) and could be a prophecy pointing to Jesus Christ.

Personification

Personification is a figure of speech in which a non-human thing is given human attributes.

In this psalm animals (great sea creatures, wild animals, cattle, small creatures, birds), topographical features (ocean depths, mountains, hills), meteorological parameters (clouds, lightning, hail, snow, stormy winds), celestial bodies (sun, moon, stars), and trees (fruit trees, cedars) praise God. This is an example of personification that covers all the main spheres of God’s creation. Of course, angels and people also praise God (v.2, 12).

Personification of nature occurs in 15 psalms (19, 50, 65, 66, 69, 76, 96, 97, 98, 100, 104, 121, 145, 148, and 150). This includes four nature psalms (19, 65, 104, and 148). Two other nature psalms don’t have personification (8, 29).

The Bible says that the heavens (sun, moon and stars) show God’s glory to us by fulfilling their God-given roles (Ps. 19:1-4a). Extending this principle to the rest of creation – each part of God’s creation shows God’s glory to us by fulfilling its God-given role (Job 26:14). By their order, complexity (intricacy), fine-tuning, power and splendor, each part of creation (nature) alludes to the far greater intelligence, power and splendor of their Creator.

When will they praise?

Obviously not all nations and peoples praised God when this psalm was written. And not all nations and peoples praise God today. Maybe this psalm looks ahead to Christ’s return to establish His millennial kingdom on earth. Certainly in a coming day everyone will praise the Lord when, “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:10-11).

Meanwhile, all creation praises God by being what He’s made them to be. Similarly we can praise God by being who He’s made us to be, where He’s put us and by doing what He’s given us to do.

Discussion

What has changed since Psalm 148 was written? Since then Jesus has come and fulfilled the promises in the Old Testament of a Messiah. And we have the New Testament. So believers have some new reasons to praise God.

And at the end of the psalm it alludes to God’s care for His people (v.14). At that time it was Hebrews living in the kingdom of Israel or Judea. Today it’s salvation of believers through Jesus Christ.

But in future God will still be praised in heaven because He created all things at the beginning of time (Rev. 4:11). And at the end of time, “every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them” will praise God (Rev. 5:13).

Why not join the rest of creation and choose to praise God while you can? Don’t be shown-up by the rest of creation!

What else can we learn from Psalm 148? The folly of worshipping nature instead of the true God by attributing creative powers to nature. That’s worshipping creatures instead of the Creator (Rom. 1:25). The psalmist says that nature praises and worships God! So we should do likewise (v.11-12).

Conclusion

In Psalm 148 everything in the cosmic world, the atmospheric world, the oceanographic world, the topographic world, and the biological world praises God. This means that all creation praises the Creator. They can do this by expressing their order, complexity, fine-tuning, power and splendor, which alludes to the far greater intelligence, power and splendor of their Creator.

Let’s do this voluntarily now before it’s compelling.

Appendix: What does “horn” mean in Psalm 148:14?

The Hebrew word qeren (Strongs #7161) is translated “horn”. It occurs 13 times in the book of Psalms. The 12 occurrences of this word outside Psalm 148 mean:
– the physical horns of the altar (118:27)
– A symbol of a Davidic king (132:17)
– A symbol of strength (18:2; 22:21; 75:4, 5, 10twice; 89:17, 24; 92:10; 112:9). In ancient times the horn of the wild ox was frequently a metaphor for military strength. If an ox is charging, you want to stay away from its horns!

Psalm 148:14 says, “And He [God] has raised up for His people [Israel] a horn [king?],
the praise of all His faithful servants,
of Israel, the people close to His heart.” (NIV)

In this context, “horn” couldn’t mean the horns of the altar.

Could “horn” symbolize a Davidic king? Yes, because the horn is established by God as in 132:17.

Could “horn” symbolize strength? Yes, because the NIV text note says, “Horn here symbolizes strength”. And the NET translation notes say:
Hebrew: “and He lifted up a horn for His people.” The horn of an ox underlies the metaphor (see Dt. 33:17; 1 Ki. 22:11; Ps. 92:10). The horn of the wild ox is frequently a metaphor for military strength; the idiom “exalt/lift up the horn” signifies military victory (see 1 Sam. 2:10; Ps. 75:10; 89:17, 24; 92:10; Lam. 2:17). Another option is to take the “horn” as a symbol for the Davidic king, through whom the Lord gives His people military victory.

And the NET version of Psalm 148:14 is:
“He has made His people victorious,
and given all His loyal followers reason to praise – the Israelites, the people who are close to Him.”

So “horn” can mean that Israel was strong or that it was ruled by a monarch. In each case, God was protecting the nation of Israel. As the Jews were weak after going into exile in 586BC, this implies that this psalm was probably written before this date. So I disagree with the academic view that Psalm 148 is postexilic because of its location near the end of the book of Psalms.

This figure of speech also shows God’s saving power for His people – He provided leadership and strength to the nation of Israel. And, with hindsight, it could be a prophecy pointing to Jesus Christ, a descendant of king David (Lk. 1:69). Today God’s saving power is shown when someone is forgiven from their sin, rebellion and indifference toward God by trusting in what Jesus has done for them. They then have a special relationship with God.

Written, June 2019

Three reasons to praise God

Psalm 65

Telling somebody in public they are doing a good job when in fact they are doing a bad job is worse than saying nothing at all. Other blunders are to offer praise for something that’s unimportant and praising the wrong person. These are all wrong reasons to praise someone.

When do you praise of God? What reminds you of Him? When David was the king of Israel in about 1,000BC, the nation depended on agricultural production for food and many resources. So David praised God for lush pastures, flocks of sheep and bountiful harvests.

In this post we see that David had three main reasons to praise God. But did you know that these reasons have now been superseded?

Psalm 65 has been categorized as a nature psalm. These psalms praise the Lord as the creator and sustainer of the physical universe. God is separate from nature because He created it. This made Jewish beliefs different to the common beliefs of ancient times that various objects in nature are divine. Just think about the gods of Egypt, Canaan, Greece and Rome. The theological description is that God is “transcendent”, which means He is independent of the creation. But the creation (nature) is also sustained by His mighty power; He sustains “all things by His powerful word” (Heb. 1:3NIV). And the creation (nature) declares (shows) God’s greatness (Ps. 19:1). Psalm 65 says,

1 Praise awaits you, our [Israel’s] God, in Zion [Jerusalem];
to you our vows will be fulfilled.
You who answer prayer,
to you all people will come.
When we were overwhelmed by sins,
you forgave our transgressions.
Blessed are those you choose
and bring near to live in your courts!
We are filled with the good things of your house,
of your holy temple.

You answer us [Israel] with awesome and righteous deeds,
God our Savior,
the hope of all the ends of the earth [or land]
and of the farthest seas,
who formed the mountains by your power,
having armed yourself with strength,
who stilled the roaring of the seas,
the roaring of their waves,
and the turmoil of the nations.
The whole earth [or land] is filled with awe at your wonders;
where morning dawns, where evening fades,
you call forth songs of joy.

You care for the land and water it;
you enrich it abundantly.
The streams of God are filled with water
to provide the people with grain,
for so you have ordained it.
10 You drench its furrows and level its ridges;
you soften it with showers and bless its crops.
11 You crown the year with your bounty,
and your carts overflow with abundance.
12 The grasslands of the wilderness overflow;
the hills are clothed with gladness.
13 The meadows are covered with flocks
and the valleys are mantled with grain;
they shout for joy and sing.

The psalm begins with God being praised and ends with creation (nature) being joyful. In fact, the songs of joy are widespread – extending from the east to the west (v.8).

The key words in the psalm are “you” (14 times) and “your” (7 times). It’s all about God.

Context

This harvest song may have been sung during a harvest festival like the Festival of Tabernacles. It gives three main reasons to praise God, which can all be related to a harvest. The Israelites are gathered near the tabernacle or the temple (v.1, 4). All the men of Israel were to attend three festivals a year in Jerusalem (Ex. 23:17; Dt. 16:16-17).

What about us? When do we gather together to praise God corporately with other Christians?

The three reasons for the Israelites to praise God are.

God answers prayer – v.1-4

David says that God answers prayer (v.2, 5). But what did they pray for? Maybe for a good harvest (v.9-13). And for forgiveness of their sins (v.3).

What about us? Do we have confidence that God will answer our prayers when they are in accordance with His will?

God’s power over creation – v.5-8

David acknowledges God’s role in forming the large-scale landscape of the earth. Mountains are massive examples of God’s power. As most of these mountains are composed of sedimentary rock, they were uplifted by huge tectonic forces in the recessive stage of Noah’s flood. Then the huge volume of flood runoff sculpted the earth’s topography.

The evidence of mountain ranges and large-scale erosion is visible across the globe. Last month I visited central Australia where the mountains are mainly comprised of sedimentary rock layers that have been severely deformed and eroded.

What about us? Do we recognize God’s power, strength and wisdom in designing and creating the universe? Or do we say it made itself via a big bang and evolution?

God’s care of creation – v.9-13

David says that at this time the earth was well-watered (v.9-10) and they had good harvests (9-13). He calls this an act of God. So God didn’t create the world at the beginning of time and then leave it to its own devices. Instead He continued to sustain it.

What about us? Do we thank God when we experience the benefits of a harvest? Do we thank Him for the food we eat (Mt. 15:36; Acts 27:35)?

Discussion

Israel didn’t always have bountiful harvests like those described in Psalm 65. For example, when they followed false prophets and idols instead of the true God the harvest was feeble because of drought and famine (Jer. 23:9-15). This punishment for disobedience was promised in the law given to Moses (Dt. 28:22-24).

What has changed since David wrote Psalm 65? Since then Jesus has come and fulfilled the promises in the Old Testament of a Messiah. And we have the New Testament. So believers have some new reasons to praise God. Now they can praise God the Father, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit because of all they have done (Eph. 1:3-14). And they can praise God because of His mercy in sending Jesus to be their Savior (Heb. 1:1; 1 Pt. 2:9-10). They can praise God because eternal life through Jesus is secure (Heb. 12:28). And believers can praise God for the “living hope”, an eternal inheritance in heaven, they have through Christ’s resurrection (1 Pt. 1:3-7). So the main reason to praise God today is to express our gratitude and thanks for all He has done through Jesus (Eph. 5:19-20; Col. 3:16).

Christ’s sacrificial vicarious death is the main reason for praise in heaven (Rev. 5:6-12). And at the end of time, everyone will praise Jesus for being “obedient to death” (Rom. 14:11; Phil. 2:5-11). But God will still be praised in heaven because He created all things at the beginning of time (Rev. 4:11).

Conclusion

The Israelites praised God for three main reasons – because He answered their prayers, because His power was shown in the universe He created, and because His care was shown in how He continued to sustain them and the creation. And today God answers a believer’s prayer, and is still a great Creator (Rom. 1:20) and a great Sustainer of creation (Col. 1:17; Heb. 1:3). So we can still praise God for these same reasons.

But the main reason to praise God today is to express our gratitude and thanks for all He has done through Jesus Christ (Eph. 5:19-20; Col. 3:16). And this will also be the main reason to praise God at the end of time and in eternity.

Written, June 2019

Protection of religious freedom

“NSW needs freedom of speech laws, even for its own MPs. And also new laws for the protection of religious freedom”, Mark Latham claimed in his first speech to the New South Wales Parliament.

“Many migrants came to Australia to escape religious persecution. Now they are saying the problems in their home country have followed them here.

I’m not a Christian but I recognize the vital contribution of Christianity to our civilization: its vast social and charitable work; its teaching of right and wrong in civil society.

I stand with Israel Folau. In his own private time away from his job playing football, he’s a preacher at his community church and naturally, he quotes the Bible. He believes, as millions of people have believed for thousands of years, that sinners go to Hell. As per his valid religious faith, he loves the sinner but condemns the sin.

Yet for his beliefs, his Christianity, he is not allowed to play rugby, to chase the pigskin around the park. How did our State and our nation ever come to this?

I was on Folau’s list of sinners, more than once actually. But as I don’t believe in Hell, there was no way I could take offence. Those claiming outrage have fabricated their position solely for the purpose of censorship.

This is not an argument about diversity. The Wallabies (Australia’s rugby union team) have no female players, no disabled, no elderly, no middle aged. They are selected from a tiny fraction of the young, fit, athletic male population. By excluding a committed Christian, they are making their game less inclusive.

And as for Folau being a role model for young gay men, one only needs to state this proposition to understand its absurdity. Footballers are not role models for anyone, other than in enjoying their sporting ability. I say to any young person: if you are looking for guidance and inspiration in life, study Churchill, Lincoln, Ronald Reagan and Roosevelt, not Todd Carney (a rugby league footballer).

I believe that no Australian should live in fear of the words they utter. No Australian should be fearful of proclaiming four of the most glorious words of our civilization: “I am a Christian”. No one should be sacked by their employer for statements of genuine belief and faith that have got nothing to do with their job.

The Folau case exposes the new serfdom in the Australian workplace: how big companies, the corporate PC-elites are wanting to control all aspects of their employees’ lives – their religious and political views, how they speak and think, how they behave, even in their own time away from the workplace. This is a stunning intrusion on workers’ rights. Yet far from condemning the new serfdom, Labor and the trade unions have been cheering it on.

As per our One Nation election commitments, I will be moving legislation for the protection of free speech, religious freedom and the privacy rights of workers.”

He also blogged: “Quoting the Bible should not be a workplace crime. The ARU should respect the rights of those who preach valid religious beliefs. They cannot make their game more ‘inclusive’ by excluding committed Christians. I will be moving Protection of Religious Freedom Laws in NSW Parliament later this year. The culture war on Christians must end.”

His motion on religious freedom –
“The House agreed to:
(a) support the basic human right of NSW workers to express political, cultural and religious opinion in their private time, away from their place of work, without suffering employment penalties; and
(b) support Article 18 of the International Covenant of Civil and Political rights, covering the right of each citizen to have freedom of religion.”

Acknowledgement: Extract from a speech by Mark Latham (Member of the Legislative Council) to NSW Parliament, Australia, on 8 May 2019.

Posted, June 2019

Also see: Selective tolerance: Folau verses Rugby Australia
Is the Bible “hate speech” because it’s not “inclusive”?
More discrimination against Israel Folau

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