Observations on life; particularly spiritual

Posts tagged “deliverance

Facing slander – Psalm 27

What’s the source for our confidence?

How do you cope with your fears and anxieties? Some take time out, or use breathing techniques, or face their fears, or imagine the worst, or look at the evidence, or don’t try to be perfect, or visualize a happy place, or talk about it, or have a meal, a walk and a good night’s sleep, or reward themselves. David, the shepherd who became king of Israel, experienced many dangerous situations. What can we learn from the poem that David wrote when he was facing slander (Ps. 27ESV)?

1 The Lord is my light and my salvation;
whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life;
of whom shall I be afraid?

2 When evildoers assail me
to eat up my flesh,
my adversaries and foes,
it is they who stumble and fall.

3 Though an army encamp against me,
my heart shall not fear;
though war arise against me,
yet I will be confident.

4 One thing have I asked of the Lord,
that will I seek after:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord
and to inquire in His temple.

5 For He will hide me in His shelter
in the day of trouble;
He will conceal me under the cover of His tent;
He will lift me high upon a rock.

6 And now my head shall be lifted up
above my enemies all around me,
and I will offer in His tent
sacrifices with shouts of joy;
I will sing and make melody to the Lord.

7 Hear, O Lord, when I cry aloud;
be gracious to me and answer me!
8 You have said, “See my face.”
My heart says to you,
“Your face, Lord, do I seek.”
9     Hide not your face from me.
Turn not your servant away in anger,
O you who have been my help.
Cast me not off; forsake me not,
O God of my salvation!
10 For my father and my mother have forsaken me,
but the Lord will take me in.

11 Teach me your way, O Lord,
and lead me on a level path
because of my enemies.
12 Give me not up to the will of my adversaries;
for false witnesses have risen against me,
and they breathe out violence.

13 I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord
in the land of the living!
14 Wait for the Lord;
be strong, and let your heart take courage;
wait for the Lord!

Context and chiastic structure

The context of Psalm 27 is given in Appendix A. The psalm is a prayer for deliverance from David’s enemies, who were liars that wanted to destroy him (v.12). The prayer (v.7-12) is preceded by saying that he relies on God (v.1-6) and is followed by confidence that His prayer will be answered (v.13-14).

According to Terrien (2003) Psalm 27 has a chiastic structure. However, I am not convinced by his subdivision of v.4-9a. Instead, I think that this modified version of the chiasm is more robust.

v.1 The Lord’s deliverance
   v.2 David’s enemies
        v.3 David’s confidence
             v.4-9a The Lord’s presence
        v.9b-11 David’s confidence
   v.12 David’s enemies
v.13-14 The Lord’s goodness

This pattern suggests that the Lord’s presence (as the central thought) is the source of David’s confidence of deliverance over his enemies.

A more detailed chiastic structure has also been proposed.

v.1 No need to fear
   v.2-3 Deliverance from enemies
        v.4 David’s request
             v.5-7 The Lord will lift me high
                     v.8 I will seek your face
             v.9-10 The Lord will take me in
        v.11 David’s request
   v.12-13 Deliverance from enemies
v.13-14 Wait for the Lord.

And a broader chiastic structure has been proposed.

v.1-3 David’s confidence
       v.4-6 David’s search for the Lord
       v.7-12 David’s search for deliverance
v.13-14 David’s confidence

Or,

v.1 Life
    v.2-3 Enemies
            v.4-6 Seek the Lord
            v.7-10 Seek the Lord
    v.11-12 Enemies
v.13-14 Life

So the theme of Psalm 27 is David’s confidence that the Lord will deliver him from his enemies. Although slander is the particular issue he is facing, the psalm could be applied to other difficulties and struggles people face.

Here’s an outline of what David is saying in this poem.

David’s security is in the Lord (v.1-3)

Although he is in a dangerous situation, David is not afraid because He trusts in the Lord of Israel. The Lord had a covenant with Israel and also made a covenant with David. Because of these covenants, the Lord provides David with guidance, deliverance and protection (v.1). He is confident that, no matter what the circumstances, his enemies will not be allowed to destroy him. David is confident because the Lord has rescued him from dangerous situations before (v.2). And because of David’s confidence in the Lord, he is not afraid. This section is a poetic expression of  David’s confidence.

The tabernacle is David’s stronghold (v.4-6)

At this time, God dwelt in the tabernacle (a special tent) in Jerusalem. It was the visible expression of God’s presence. David expresses a desire to live with the Lord in the tabernacle. But he is not speaking of literally dwelling in the tabernacle since only the priests could enter it. He wanted to be near God. His enemies will not be able to reach him because God will protect him. And when he triumphs over them, he will offer sacrifices and praise to the Lord.

David’s prayer for deliverance from his enemies (v.7-12)

After expressing his trust in the Lord, David prays for deliverance from the lies and malicious accusations being made by his enemies. God has helped him before, and now he needs that help again. Even if his parents and friends don’t help him, he trusts that God will protect him. He wants to know how God wants him to live and he wants to obey the Lord. So he wants protection, acceptance, and guidance.

David’s confidence is in the Lord (v.13-14)

David repeats his confidence that God will deliver him from his enemies. Meanwhile, he will rely on the Lord.

So the psalm testifies to the experience of God protecting David from worldly attackers, prays for God to do so again, and urges David to keep expecting God to do that (Goldingay, 2006). The lesson is that there is deliverance from danger (and fear) by trusting in the Lord. David trusts the Lord to help in the storms of life.

How do David’s poetic techniques help people to understand the message of Psalm 27?

The message in Psalm 27 is expressed in poetry rather than in prose. The poetic techniques used in Psalm 27 include, parallelism, repetition, metaphors, word pairs, and other figures of speech (Appendixes B-F).

Synonymous parallelism repeats the message using different words. It provides alternative versions of the message and so makes it easier to understand. Parallelism also makes the message more memorable and so easier to recall. The fact that it was sung would also make it more memorable and so easier to recall.

Repetition is when the message is duplicated, for emphasis. If different words are used, it also makes it easier to understand the message.

A metaphor is where one thing is compared to another by stating they share the same qualities. Metaphors help to clarify the meaning of the message and conjure up images, thoughts and feelings in a reader’s mind. Metaphors can also help the reader to visualise the situation.

So David’s poetic techniques help people to understand the message of Psalm 27 by making the message more memorable and easier to recall, and by clarifying the meaning of the message, and by conjuring up images, thoughts and feelings in a reader’s mind.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, how much is a poem (or song) worth? They say that memories last forever. As poems (and songs) can lodge in our memories, maybe a poem (or song) can be worth more than a picture!

The psalms were Israel’s pop (popular) songs. They reflected the history, culture and moods of the nation. These songs became embedded in their minds. I can remember the words of songs sung at least 50 years ago by the Beatles and Elvis Presley. When we hear some words or the tune of a song, we can recall the rest of the song. This shows how poetry in the form of songs can be remembered better than prose.

Lessons for us

But David lived about 3,000 years ago! What can we learn from a poem written so long ago? Despite our technological progress, we still face similar problems to David. Life can be a struggle. And we all face difficulties and injustice.

But there are some differences. We now live under the new covenant that began after Christ’s death and resurrection. And we have the extra revelation given by God through the Old Testament prophets and the New Testament writers. Today God doesn’t dwell in a building, but in the life of each believer. In this way, we can live permanently in God’s presence. Our body is the temple (dwelling place) of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 3:16). God has promised never to leave us or forsake us (Heb 13:5).

David’s greatest fear was losing fellowship with God. And sin can come between us and God. But if we confess our sin, our fellowship with the Lord can be restored (1 Jn. 1:9). A victorious life is based on a constant relationship with the Lord. Like David, our greatest desire as Christians should be to seek God’s presence, and to submit to His guidance.

Today we are promised deliverance from our problems and troubles in the afterlife, not necessarily in this life on earth. For example, Paul wasn’t delivered from his “thorn in the flesh” (2 Cor. 12:7-9). But like David, we can pray in times of trouble. The Lord is the only reliable support when we face difficulties.

Nothing can separate a believer from God’s love (Rom. 8:31-39). This includes any difficulty or problem they face. Through Jesus we can have confidence over our fears. This is a God-centered confidence, and not a self-centered confidence. It teaches us to trust God so that we don’t have to fear.

Today, we can rely on the promise that God is with us in every situation, supporting us through the Holy Spirit. He helps us survive the storms of life and resist wrong responses to them by giving us supernatural power, love and self-control (2 Tim. 1:7). The Spirit provides the patience and courage we need to keep going and to follow God’s leading in our lives.

The lesson for us is that there is deliverance from danger (and fear) by trusting in the Lord. We can trust the Lord to help in the storms of life. That’s the best source of our confidence.

Appendix A: Place of Psalm 27 in the book of Psalms

Psalms is a book of prayer and praise in the form of poetry. They were Israel’s songs of praise and worship. It has been divided into five books:
– Book 1 (Ps. 1-41)
– Book 2 (42-72)
– Book 3 (73-89)
– Book 4 (90-106)
– Book 5 (107-150)

Psalm 27 is within a group of Psalms that have a chiastic structure (25-33).

Ps. 25 An alphabetic (22 verse) acrostic prayer
  Ps. 26 Prayer for vindication for living a blameless life.
    Ps. 27 Prayer for deliverance from enemies.
      Ps. 28 Prayer for deliverance from enemies.
        Ps. 29 Praise to the Lord for strength and peace in the storms of life.
      Ps. 30 Praise for being healed.
    Ps. 31 Prayer for deliverance from enemies.
  Ps. 32 Celebrates the blessedness of those with confessed sins & forgiveness.
Ps. 33 A 22 verse hymn of praise

Psalm 27 matches Psalm 31 in the following ways:
– The theme of both is an appeal against false accusers.
– His enemies are spreading lies (27:12; 31:18).
– He takes refuge in the shelter of God’s presence (27:5; 31:20).
– He mentions the “goodness” or “good things” of the Lord (37 ;13; 31:19).
– It concludes, “Be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!” and “Be strong, and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the Lord!” (27:14; 31:24).

But this chiastic structure across several psalms is subjective, as another chiastic structure has been proposed for Psalms 18-34.

Psalm 27 continues and fulfils the “I have trusted in the Lord without wavering” theme of the previous psalm (Ps. 26:1). And it shares a devotion to the tabernacle with Psalms 26 and 28.

Appendix B: Parallelism in Psalm 27

Parallelism is a feature of Hebrew poetry where the second line (colon) either repeats the same thought (that is in the first line) in different words (synonymous parallelism), or it has an opposite thought to the first line (contrastive parallelism), or completes the thought in the first line (synthetic parallelism). The pair of lines (bicolon) is called a poetic unit. Sometimes a poetic unit can be longer, say 3 (tricolon) or 4 lines (tetracolon).

For example:
The Lord is my light and my salvation;
whom shall I fear?” (Ps. 27:1a)
is synonymous parallelism.
And, “For my father and my mother have forsaken me,
but the Lord will take me in” (Ps. 27:10)
is contrastive parallelism.

Psalm 27 has the following instances of parallelism:
– Seven pairs of lines in synonymous parallelism (v. 1a, 1b, 2, 3, 7, 8, 13).
– Eight three-line poetic units in synonymous parallelism (v. 4, 5, 6, 9a, 9b, 11, 12, 14).
– One pair of lines in contrastive parallelism (v.10).

The determination of the parallel poetic units is somewhat subjective being dependent on the Bible translation. For example, John Goldingay identified 21 2-line parallel poetic units, one 3-line parallel poetic unit, and one 4-line parallel poetic unit. This was based on his personal translation of Psalm 27. For example the Masoretic text has two tricola in v.11-12, whereas Goldingay has three bicola.

So the dominant structural technique used is synonymous parallelism. This means that most of the thoughts are repeated.

Appendix B: Key words in Psalm 27

The following key words occur in Psalm 27:
– His “enemies” and its synonyms (v.2, 6, 11, 12).
– “The Lord” or “O Lord” (v.1, 4, 6, 7, 11, 13, 14).
– The “tabernacle”, “house of the Lord”, “temple”, shelter”, or “tent (v.4, 5, 6).
– “fear”, with regard to his enemies (v.1, 3).
– “seek”, with regard to the Lord (v.4, 8).

So the key words relate to David not “fearing” his “enemies” because he seeks a relationship with “the Lord” (whose presence was expressed by the “tabernacle”).

Appendix C: Repetition in Psalm 27

The following examples of repetition occur in Psalm 27:
– “whom shall I fear” and “of whom shall I be afraid?” (v.1) and “fear” (v.3).
– “stumble and fall” are synonyms for the enemy’s failure (v.2).
– “seek” (v.4, 8 twice).
– “evil doers”, “adversaries” and “foes” (v.2) are synonyms for his enemies (v.6, 11).
– “sing” and “make melody” are synonyms (v.6).
– “Cast me not off” and “forsake me not” are synonyms (v.9).
– “Wait for the Lord” (v.14 twice).

These words are emphasised in the poem.

Appendix D: Metaphors in Psalm 27

The following examples of metaphors occur in Psalm 27:
– “light” refers to deliverance from fear of his enemies, who were like darkness in David’s life (v.1).
– “salvation” (v.1) refers to deliverance from fear of his enemies.
– “Stronghold” (v.1) refers to a refuge or safe place from his enemies.
– “stumble” (v.2) refers to being unsuccessful.
– “fall” (v.2) refers to being unsuccessful.
– “my heart” and “your heart” (v.3, 8, 14) means one’s innermost being or soul/spirit.
– “army” and “war” may be metaphors for great danger (v.3).
– “beauty of the Lord” refers to the attributes of the Lord.
– “the house of the Lord” (v.4) refers to the tabernacle, God’s earthly throne.
– “His temple” (v.4) refers to the tabernacle.
– “His shelter” (v.5) refers to the tabernacle.
– “His tent” (v.5) refers to the tabernacle.
– “hide me”, “conceal me”, and “lift me high” (v.5) mean to protect by putting him outside the reach of his enemies.
– “look upon” (v. 13) means “experience”.

Appendix E: Other figures of speech in Psalm 27

The following examples of other figures of speech occur in Psalm 27:
– “whom shall I fear?” is a rhetorical question (v.1). The answer is “No-one”.
– “of whom shall I be afraid?” is a rhetorical question (v.1). The answer is “No-one”.
“eat up my flesh” (v.2) compares his enemies to dangerous, hungry predators, like lions.
– “My heart” means “I”, which is a synecdoche.
– “all the days of my life” means as long as I live (v.4).
– “my head shall be lifted up” (v.6) refers to triumph over his enemies.
– “seek my face” (v.8) refers to praying to the Lord.
– “Your face, Lord, do I seek” (v.8) refers to him praying to the Lord.
– “Hide not your face from me” (v.9) means “do not reject me” or “do not forget me”.
– “Turn not your servant away in anger” means not ot deny justice to an innocent man (v.9).
– “my father and my mother have forsaken me”(v.10) could mean total abandonment.
– “The Lord will take me” means that the Lord will accept him as a son (v.10).
– “your way” (v.11) means “how you want me to live”.
– “a level path” (v.11) means to live a life that is pleasing to God in order to be blameless before his accusers.
– “In the land of the living” (v. 13) means during his lifetime. It means that he would survive the attacks of his enemies.
– “wait on the Lord” (v.14) means to rely on the Lord and wait for his answer to the prayer in v.7-12. Like Joshua he would receive divine aid to have victory over his enemies (Dt. 31:7).

Appendix F: Word pairs in Psalm 27

The following word pairs occur in Psalm 27:
– “stumble and fall” (v.2) describe the enemy’s failure.
– “my father and my mother” (v.10) describe his parents or family.

References

Goldingay, J (2006), Psalms, Vol. 1: Psalms 1- 41 (Baker Commentary on the Old Testament Wisdom and Psalms).

NET Bible notes.

NIV Study Bible.

Terrien S (2003), The Psalms: Strophic Structure and Theological Commentary (Eerdmans Critical Commentary).

Acknowledgement

This post was inspired by an Assessment Task in Dr Theron Young’s Australian College of Christian Studies course, “Wisdom and Poetry in Israel”.

Written, March 2019


Songs in the Bible

Singing 2 400pxSinging is good for you. It can have physical and psychological benefits and help you to feel good. Singing improves the memory and can alleviate depression. It involves the mind, the emotions and the body. It’s been said that, “Words make you think. Music makes you feel. A song makes you feel a thought”. In ancient times, when few people could read or write, stories were passed down through song, because songs are memorable.

Group singing has three benefits. It enables the expression of our emotions, which can increase our confidence. It requires a flexible mind in order to make the correct sounds, which can make us more creative and adaptable to life’s challenges. And it connects us socially to others with a common purpose. So group singing can enhance our wellbeing.

In this post we look at some songs in the Bible. We know that Jesus sang with His disciples and Paul and Silas sang in prison (Mt. 26:30; Mk. 14:26; Acts 16:15). And there are songs throughout the Bible.

About one third of the Bible is poetry. For example, the Wisdom books of Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Songs and the Prophetic books of Isaiah, Jeremiah and Lamentations are all poetic. Some of these poems are the lyrics of songs. For example, Psalms, Song of Songs and Lamentations. There are 150 songs in the book of Psalms. It was the Israelites song book. They must have been passionate singers. In all, there are about 185 songs mentioned in the Bible. Let’s look at a few of them.

The first song – after a great victory

The first song mentioned in the Bible happens after one of its greatest miracles. God delivers the Israelites from slavery in Egypt by parting the Red Sea, allowing them to escape from Pharaoh’s army. When the Egyptians pursue them, the sea flows back over them, washing away their chariots and horsemen. Not one of them survived. This was a display of God’s power over nature and a picture of salvation.

What was the people’s response? The Bible says, “when the Israelites saw the mighty hand of the Lord displayed against the Egyptians, the people feared the Lord and put their trust in Him and in Moses His servant” (Ex. 14:31NIV). They then had a great celebration that included music, singing and dancing. It was like after victory in battle (1 Sam. 18:6-7; 2 Sam. 1:20). The lyrics of the song they sang are in the Bible. It had five parts.

The chorus is (Ex. 15:1, 21):
“Sing to the Lord,
for He is highly exalted.
Both horse and driver
He has hurled into the sea”
Here they are summarizing and praising God for what He had done.

Who God is (v.2-3). They praise God as a strong warrior and say “He is my God”.

What God has done (v.4-12). They retell the defeat of the powerful Egyptian army. How they “drowned in the Red Sea”. Only their God had such power.

What God would do in future (v. 13-17). They predict that God will lead them in the conquest and occupation of Canaan. When the Edomites, the Philistines and the Canaanites hear what God had done, they would be terrified. This was later confirmed by Rahab (Josh. 2:9-11).

Conclusion (v.18). “The Lord reigns for ever and ever”. His powerful rule is eternal.

So the first song in the Bible celebrated a great military victory over their enemies. The lesson for us is that as God delivered the Israelites from slavery, through Jesus He can deliver us from the slavery of our sinfulness.

The last song – anticipates a great victory

The last song mentioned in the Bible happens in heaven when there is a time of great tribulation on earth. It’s sung by those who were martyred for their faith in God. They sang the song “of Moses and of the Lamb”.
“Great and marvelous are your deeds,
Lord God Almighty.
Just and true are your ways,
King of the nations.
Who will not fear you, Lord,
and bring glory to your name?
For you alone are holy.
All nations will come
and worship before you,
for your righteous acts have been revealed” (Rev. 15:3-4).

The song is comprised of quotations from the Old Testament. The context is God’s judgement of the ungodly. Those martyred in the tribulation are celebrating God’s coming victory over the ungodly. When Jesus returns in power and glory, He will right the wrongs on our world (2 Th. 1:6-9). Justice will be administered by our mighty God (“Lord God almighty”) over all the nations (He’s “King of the nations”).  He is unique (“You alone are holy”). And in the millennial kingdom, He will be worshipped by all nations.

Because of His sacrificial death, Jesus is worthy to execute judgment, as described earlier in Revelation in the new song also sung in heaven:
“You are worthy to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
because you were slain,
and with your blood you purchased for God
persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.
You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God,
and they will reign on the earth” (Rev. 5:9-10).

So the last song in the Bible celebrates the final victory over Satan and those who oppose God. They anticipate deliverance from the presence of sin. The lesson for us is that in future all the wrongs and injustice in our world will be made right through Jesus and justice will be done.

The longest song – All about the Bible

Psalm 119 is a massive acrostic poem of 176 verses. There are 22 stanzas, one for each letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Moreover, the eight verses in each stanza begin with the same Hebrew letter.

The theme of Psalm 119 is the Hebrew Bible which is called by names such as: “law”, “statutes”, “precepts”, “commands”, “laws”, “decrees”, “word”, and “promise”. It’s mentioned in almost every verse. For example, Psalm 119:89-96 can be titled “God’s enduring word”:
89 Your word, Lord, is eternal;
it stands firm in the heavens.
90 Your faithfulness continues through all generations;
you established the earth, and it endures.
91 Your laws endure to this day,
for all things serve you.
92 If your law had not been my delight,
I would have perished in my affliction.
93 I will never forget your precepts,
for by them you have preserved my life.
94 Save me, for I am yours;
I have sought out your precepts.
95 The wicked are waiting to destroy me,
but I will ponder your statutes.
96 To all perfection I see a limit,
but your commands are boundless.

This stanza begins by saying that God’s word is eternal and ends by saying that it’s boundless. So, God’s word is a reliable enduring foundation for our faith. God also established and sustains creation. Through exposure to the Scriptures we can be saved from the penalty of sin. Peter wrote, “you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God” (1 Pt. 1:23). An acquaintance with God’s word reminds us to confess our sins a daily basis in order to maintain our relationship with God (1 Jn. 1:9).

So the longest song in the Bible celebrates God’s word, which is available to us in the Bible. The heading that I’ve given it is “All about the Bible”. It’s about how important the Bible is and how it can guide and help us in our daily life. The lesson for us is that we can trust God’s unchanging word.

The shortest song – God keeps His promises

The two shortest songs in the Bible, which are comprised of five Hebrew words, are in 2 Chronicles.

After Solomon built the temple in Jerusalem (about 958 BC), the priests carried the ark of the covenant into the Most Holy Place of the temple. Then “Accompanied by trumpets, cymbals and other instruments, the singers raised their voices in praise to the Lord and sang:
‘He is good;
His love endures forever’
Then the temple of the Lord was filled with the cloud, and the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the temple of God” (2 Chr. 5:13-14). So they celebrated the ark’s transfer from the tabernacle to the temple with this song. God had kept His promise to bring them into the Promised Land.

About 100 years later, Jehoshaphat was king of Judah (860 BC). When the Moabite and Ammonite armies came to attack, Jehoshaphat prayed to God for help. He was told to go to the pass of Ziz near the end of the gorge in the desert of Jeruel. “You will not have to fight this battle. Take up your positions; stand firm and see the deliverance the Lord will give you, Judah and Jerusalem. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Go out to face them tomorrow, and the Lord will be with you” (2 Chr. 20:17).

Early the next morning they set out and Jehoshaphat “appointed men to sing to the Lord and to praise Him for the splendor of His holiness as they went out at the head of the army, saying:
‘Give thanks to the Lord,
for His love endures forever’” (2 Chr. 20:21).
So the army was led by the singers! As they began to sing and praise God, the Lord caused the enemy to kill themselves. So the Israelites showed they trusted God to deliver them from their enemies by singing this song.

A verse based on these two short songs occurs six times in the Bible (1 Chr. 16:34; Ps. 106:1; 107:1; 118:1, 29; 136:1). It says,
“Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good;
His love endures forever”.
Two reasons are given to give thanks to the Lord. First, “He is good”. That’s a part of God’s nature. Second “His love endures forever”. Under the old covenants, God promised to love the Israelites (Dt. 7:8-9, 12-13; 23:5; 2 Sam. 7:15). So this covenant love never ends. It goes on and on.

The last sentence of this verse, “His love endures for ever” occurs 43 times in the Bible. 26 of these are in Psalm 136 where it is repeated as a chorus or refrain. Under the old covenant, the Israelites knew that God loved them eternally.

So the shortest songs in the Bible reminded God’s Old Testament people that God keeps His promises and He helps them. Today Christians live under the new covenant of God’s grace. Likewise, He will keep His promises to us and help us as His New Testament people.

Summary

Songs are a powerful way to express our Christian faith and to remind us of what God has done for us.

The first and last songs in the Bible are songs of deliverance from enemies and the ungodly. They are songs of salvation. So let’s sing songs of Jesus as our Savior and Redeemer.

The longest song in the Bible emphasised the importance of God’s word. Let’s use the Bible to guide and help us in our daily life. So let’s sing songs that remind us of Scriptural events and Scriptural truths.

The shortest songs in the Bible were reminders of God’s covenants with His people. So let’s sings songs about God’s promises to us.

Christians are told to sing “to God with gratitude in your hearts” (Col. 3:16). So, let’s “Give thanks to the Lord (our Creator and Redeemer), for He is good; His love (shown by Christ’s sacrifice) endures forever”.

Written, April 2016


How to find hope in a hopeless situation

Jeremiah’s letter to the exiles

Recently a friend of ours died of leukaemia. His family cared for him while he was in palliative care. It was a hopeless situation. They knew he wasn’t going to be healed. Yet they prayed for God’s will to be done and the funeral was a celebration that he had been delivered from his suffering and was now with the Lord.

Jeremiah’s letter to Jewish exiles in chapter 29:4-23 shows that for God’s people, the situation is never helpless or hopeless because He promises ultimate deliverance and restoration.

Context

Jeremiah prophesized during the last 40 years of the nation of Judah (626 – 586 BC). At this time Judah was influenced by three foreign powers: Egypt, Assyria, and Babylonia. There was tension between these super powers for world supremacy (like between USA, Russia and China today). Power shifted from Assyria and Egypt to Babylonia when Assyria was conquered in 612BC and Egypt conquered in 605BC. These large nations dominated the smaller ones. The Assyrians and Babylonians used their overwhelming military force to terrorize the people of the lands they invaded. They also took heavy tribute and deported masses of people into slavery. So Judah was a weak nation that was surrounded by many enemies.

Jeremiah prophesized during the reign of five kings: Josiah, Jehoahaz, Jahoiakim, Jehoichin and Zedkiah. All of these kings except Josiah “did evil in the eyes of the Lord”.

Jeremiah was part of a line of Old Testament prophets. At the beginning he was a contemporary of Zephaniah and Nahum and later of Obadiah and Habakkuk.

The prophets before Zephaniah announced God’s judgment and God’s restoration of Judah. This was also Zephaniah’s message. Nahum predicted the destruction of Nineveh, the largest city of the time. This would have been good news for Judah who had been threatened by Assyria since the fall of Samaria in 722 BC. It showed that God judges His enemies.

Later in Jeremiah’s period, Obadiah pronounces judgment on Edom, one of Judah’s closest enemies and predicts Israel’s restoration. Habakkuk complains to God because He’s doing nothing about the terrible violence, wrongdoing, destruction, strife, and injustice in Judah. He is perplexed when told that the pagan Babylonians were going to invade Judah. But God reassures him that the Babylonians will eventually be punished as well.

In the book of Jeremiah, he speaks out against the sins of Judah (Ch. 1-38). He warned them for at least 23 years (Jer. 25:2-3). The punishment for these is that they will be invaded by Babylon and taken captive. Chapter 29 is a letter that Jeremiah wrote to all the Jewish captives in Babylon (Jer. 29:4). After chapter 29, Jeremiah predicts that the Jews will be released from captivity and able to return to re-establish their lives in their homeland. He also predicts living under the Messiah with a new covenant.

The letter, written by one of God’s prophets, is comprised of commands and promises (Jer. 29:45-23). This means that it was a command to be followed by the Jewish exiles and promises they were to believe.

The Babylonians attacked Jerusalem three times. On the first occasion in 605 BC, Judah became a vassal state and paid tribute to Babylon and a group of people including Daniel was carried off to Babylon (2 Ki. 24:1-2). Then they laid siege to Jerusalem in 598-597 BC, replacing the king, taking tribute, and taking about 10,000 Jewish captives to Babylon (2 Ki. 24:8-17). Then they laid siege to Jerusalem again in 588-586 BC, destroying the city and taking more Jewish captives to Babylon, including the king (2 Ki. 25:1-21). Instead of being a nation, Judah was now a province of the regional superpower. The remaining Jews, including Jeremiah, fled to Egypt for safety (Jer. 41:16 – 44:30). This wasn’t unexpected because it was the ultimate punishment for breaking their covenant with their God (Lev. 26:31-33; Dt, 28:49-68). Everything that God had done for them since they left Egypt would be destroyed. The goal of the punishment is their repentance (Lev. 26:40-41).

Judgment

So after being warned for at least 100 years, Judah has finally been punished for their sins. The captives in Babylon were suffering grief and loss, forced relocation and slavery. They probably feared the worst and thought their fate was similar to that of Israel in 722 BC. Over 136 years ago, the Assyrians invaded and destroyed the kingdom of Israel and took captives and the people were scattered to other nations. That was the end of the kingdom of Israel and there was no way it could be restored. It seemed the same when Babylon invaded Judah. So the Jews in Babylon thought this was the end of their nation. They cried in despair as they were in a helpless and hopeless situation (Ps. 137:1). Jeremiah also lamented because he saw the destruction of Jerusalem (Lamentations).

Jeremiah also predicts the destruction of those who didn’t go into exile (v.15-19). It’s punishment for their disobedience. They didn’t deserve God’s protection like those sent into exile (Jer. 24:5-7).

What a surprising letter from Jeremiah! They are told to prepare for a long captivity (v.4-7) by settling down to live for a long time in Babylon. To establish families and raise children among themselves; but don’t intermarry with foreigners. God wanted them to grow in number, not dwindle.

WW2 POWs 400pxUsually captives hate their captors. But the Jews are told to pray for Babylon! To pray for their enemy! To seek Babylon’s peace and prosperity so things will go well for them as well. To pray for the prosperity of their enemy!

What did the exiles think of Jeremiah? Whose side was Jeremiah on, first he says to surrender to the Babylonians and now when they are prisoners of war (POW) he says this? Has he lost his marbles?

Australian POWs in World War 2 endured hard labor working on roads and battling to survive the harsh Austrian winter. Under their German masters, it seemed a hopeless situation. But after 12 months they began receiving Red Cross packages with food clothes and medicine, which were like a ray of light in a sad, dark part of the world. These helped many POWs to survive.

Through the fall of Jerusalem, the exiles learnt that God eventually judges sin (many died, others were POWs, some escaped and their capital city was destroyed). Also, what seemed to be the worst to the captives (being POWs), was actually the best because they would be kept safe in Babylon (most of the rest died). Also, they were to accept the situation that God had placed them in and not hope for something better.

Warning

Then God warns the exiles not to be deceived by false prophets who were prophesying lies in God’s name (v.8-9, 21). They contradict the words of Jeremiah (Jer. 27:16-22; 28:3). The captivity was to be 70 years, not two (Jer. 25:11-12; 28:3, 11; 29:10)! God’s prophets predicted disasters, but the false prophets predicted peace (Jer. 14:13-16; 23:17; 28:8). One of them sent a letter to the priests rebuking them for not putting Jeremiah in prison (v. 24-27). Because of their lies and adultery, Jeremiah predicted they would be put to death by the king of Babylon (v. 21-23).

Jeremiah tells the captives to not be gullible by believing their lies. Instead, they should ignore them and not listen to them.

After the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over the Ukraine in 2014, the Russians claimed that the missile was fired by a Ukrainian fighter jet. They were telling a lie.

So the lesson for the exiles to learn was to be discerning and listen to God’s prophets and not the false ones. They needed to know the difference between the two.

Deliverance

Next Jeremiah predicts deliverance and restoration for the exiles. He says that God will bring them back to their homeland after 70 years of exile. Those still alive at the time and their descendants would be able to return to Judah and rebuild Jerusalem, including the temple and the city walls. This restoration was predicted over 900 years beforehand (Dt. 30:3-5).

“For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,’ declares the Lord” (Jer. 29:11-14NIV).
God hadn’t forgotten them. In fact He had planned their future lives. These plans were for their collective good, to prosper them collectively and give them a hope and future to look forward to. There was hope for their nation after all. But the benefits wouldn’t come for 70 years! In the meantime they were POWs.

God’s plans to prosper the exiles and give them hope and a future (v.11) are described as their return to Judah from exile (v. 10, 14) and these plans were fulfilled with the decree of Cyrus in 538 BC (Ezra 1:2-4; Jer. 29:11). So this promise has already been fulfilled.

God also predicts that by that time they will return to following Him once again. This implies that they will confess and repent of their sins. The Bible teaches that their restoration was conditional on their repentance (Dt. 4:29-31). This shows God’s mercy and His commitment to the covenant made with their ancestors.

Al Jazeera journalist Peter Greste has just been released after 400 days in an Egyptian prison. He said the experience was a “baptism of fire” that helped him learn more about himself. It felt like a “near-death experience”, but also like a “rebirth” because he was given an opportunity to look back at his life.

So the lesson for the exiles to learn was that repentance was the way to a restored relationship with the Lord and to their release from being POWs in Babylon. This repentance was essential for their deliverance and the restoration and rebirth of their nation.

They also learnt that their situation is never helpless or hopeless because God promises ultimate deliverance and restoration from whatever situation they are in. The way to optimism is to remember that God has plans for their future. But there was no shortcut; they had to go through suffering along the way.

What are the lessons for us today?

What’s changed since then? We are God’s people today, but we are not a nation with their own home-land like the exiles. Jesus brought a new covenant. He prayed for His enemies (Lk. 23:34) and taught His followers to love their enemies (Mt. 5:44-45). Paul taught that we are to never take revenge, but leave that up to God (Rom. 12:19-21). Because, doing good to one’s enemy, instead of taking revenge, may bring about repentance.

The lesson that God eventually judges sin applies to us as well. People say, what’s God doing about the evil in the world? He seems absent. But the Bible says that He is patiently waiting for more people to turn to Him before He brings judgment (2 Pt. 3:9).

Also, what seems to be the worst for us may be the best because He knows us better than we know ourselves and He ensures that everything that happens to us is for our benefit (Rom. 8:27-28). That’s why God doesn’t always answer our prayers in the way we would like it.

The lesson to accept the situation that God had placed us in and not hope for something better applies to us as well. Paul gives an example of this for marriage (1 Cor. 7:17-20). He also wrote, “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Th. 5:16-18).

Do we believe all we see on the internet? How gullible are we? How do we know what to believe? Do we compare what people say and write with Scripture? Because there are false teachers out there. In Jeremiah’s day they ignored gross sinfulness and said, God’s not going to judge us. They wanted God’s blessing without going through the suffering of the captivity. But the Bible teaches that suffering precedes blessing and glory, with Jesus the greatest example (Rom. 8:18; 1 Pt 3:18, 22). Christians should expect to suffer for their faith (1 Pt. 4:12-19). We should be skeptical of those who teach an “easy” Christianity that brings lots of benefits because our benefits are largely spiritual (Eph. 1:3-14). Also, beware of false hopes.

The lesson that repentance is the way to a restored relationship with the Lord applies to us as well. In the New Testament, God doesn’t promise to release us from our physical problems (if this happens it is a mercy), but deliver us from our spiritual ones. The steps of repentance include “Come near to God and He will come near to you” (Jas. 4:7-10).

As God’s plans to prosper the exiles and give them hope and a future was fulfilled in 538 BC, this promise isn’t for us today. But what sort of plans does God have for us? We can ask God in prayer (Jas. 1:5). Of course, He wants us to be faithful to Him in everything we do by following the commands and principles He gives for believers in the New Testament. We can begin by being faithful where we are (Mt. 25:21). As we do this, God usually reveals the next step. It’s one step at a time, not a jump to our final destiny.

The lesson that our situation is never helpless or hopeless applies to us as well. However, our ultimate deliverance and restoration is spiritual, not physical. When there’s despair, discouragement or bad news our hope is the good news of Jesus. Heaven is the ultimate hope for Christians, though we may have to go through suffering along the way.

Conclusion

We have seen from Jeremiah’s letter to the Jewish exiles that God judges sin (which is why they were POWs), and cares for His people and warns them not to be deceived by false prophets.

It shows that for God’s people, the situation is never helpless or hopeless because He promises ultimate spiritual deliverance and restoration.

Written, February 2015


What is God warning us about?

Cliff warning 2 croppedA few weeks ago a Victorian woman died when she fell down a cliff in the Blue Mountains. She had ignored the warning signs and climbed over the safety fence. The police said it was a tragic warning for people to obey warning signs. Last week a British man also fell to his death off a cliff in Sydney after climbing a fence. It’s dangerous to ignore warnings.

In this article we are looking at the book of Zephaniah where the Jews are warned of an impending terrible destruction. We will see that, because of the sins of humanity, judgment is coming, but deliverance is promised for the repentant.

Context

The Israelites were God’s special people who He rescued from Egypt so they could live in Canaan. The laws He gave them to follow are given in the books of Exodus to Deuteronomy of the Bible. After peaking in the days of King Solomon, their land was divided into Israel and Judah. Then in 722 BC, the Assyrians destroyed the northern kingdom of Israel.

Zephaniah was written about 630 BC during the reign of king Josiah (Zeph. 1:1). At this time Judah was a weak nation; surrounded by many enemies including the superpowers of Egypt, Assyria, and Babylonia.

Josiah’s father Amon and grandfather Manasseh were wicked kings who spread idolatry across Judah. They worshipped Baal, Asherah, and the stars and planets with child sacrifice to Molech and ritual prostitution (2 Ki. 21:6-9; 2 Chr. 33:6-9) and the righteous were martyred. Josiah turned back to God and repaired the temple, restoring temple worship in 622BC.

Zephaniah was part of a line of Old Testament prophets. He lived about 70 years after Isaiah and Micah and was a contemporary of Nahum and the young Jeremiah. He is recognised as the last prophet before the exile.

Zephaniah diagramBefore Zephaniah, Isaiah proclaimed God’s judgement and deliverance. He warned that Judah’s wickedness would be punished by the Babylonians. The judgment is called “the day of the Lord”. But they would be restored when the Messiah would reign. Micah also proclaimed God’s judgement and deliverance. He lists their sins, and predicts a ruler from Bethlehem and the restoration of a remnant. The main theme of these prophets was God’s judgment and God’s restoration of Judah. We will see that this is what Zephaniah prophesied as well. So he may have been already familiar with the content of his message from these earlier prophets.

When Zephaniah prophesised, the Judeans were threatened by foreign enemies and idolatry and sinfulness was prevalent. They were no longer following the laws given to Moses. So Zephaniah warns them of the consequences of their behavior.

Zephaniah’s themes

God is the central character of the book of Zephaniah. At the beginning He is a merciless judge. But by the end He shows mercy and pardons people. The story is that God wants Judah to serve Him. But this is prevented by their sins. Through the judgment of “the day of the Lord”, Judah is restored to serve Him and they are joined by believing Gentiles.

Zephaniah diagram resizedThe two main themes of Zephaniah are predictions of God’s judgment and God’s deliverance, which show His justice and mercy. Judah and other nations are to be judged and punished because of their sinfulness (1:2-3:8). This is to be followed by the restoration of a Jewish remnant (3:9-20). So an imminent threat is balanced by the hope of ultimate deliverance. The themes of judgment and restoration are linked by a call to repentance (2:1-3).

Looking at these linkages shown in the schematic diagram, four major themes can be identified: Humanity’s sinfulness, God’s warning, God’s judgment, and God’s deliverance. We will now look at each of these in turn.

Humanity’s sinfulness

Zephaniah shows that human sinfulness is a universal problem; it affected both Judah and the other nations.

The sins of Judah included: idolatry, syncretism (where God is worshipped through or alongside other gods), apostasy, violence, apathy, pride, love of money, oppression, rebellion, self-sufficiency, unruliness, ungodliness, greedy and corrupt leaders, lying, deceit, and thinking that God doesn’t punish sins or reward repentance. They didn’t “seek the Lord” or “inquire of Him” via prayer or the Scriptures (1:6). The sins of other nations included: pride, self-sufficiency, and insulting, mocking and threatening God’s people.

This sinfulness was the reason for God’s judgment. God had given His people standards to live by in the Mosaic law. So they should have known better.

Now we come to God’s response to their sins.

God’s warning

The prophets warned God’s people about the consequences of their sinfulness. They were breaking the covenant with their God. Instead of living like God’s people, they were living like pagans. They were breaking most of the ten commandments. The punishment for disobeying the covenant is given in the Pentateuch (Lev. 26:14-45; Dt. 28:15-68). It included being defeated by their enemies, having their cities besieged, plundered and destroyed and their people captured and scattered to other nations.

Zephaniah calls for repentance (2:3). “Seek the Lord, all you humble of the land, you who do what He commands. Seek righteousness, seek humility; perhaps you will be sheltered on the day of the Lord’s anger.” There is deliverance for the repentant who trust God. But Jerusalem is unrepentant (3:6-7). They didn’t learn from the mistakes of the northern kingdom about 100 years earlier that lead to them being captured by the Assyrians and destroyed as a nation. So God is merciful, He warns His people of the consequences of their behaviour. And we know that king Josiah did repent.

There are two possible responses to a warning. The first is to ignore it.

Now we come to the major theme of God’s judgment.

God’s judgment

Judgment is predicted for both Judah and other nations for their ongoing sinfulness.

First for the Jews. The “day of the Lord” is a time of great judgement for Judah. The judgment is directed to the unrepentant, those who don’t seek the Lord (1:6). Zephaniah gives three pictures of God’s judgement: a devastating flood (1:2-3), a great sacrifice (1:7-8), and a great battle (1:14-18). Everything on the ground will be devastated (1:2-3, 18). But, where will it occur? Both Judah and Jerusalem will be attacked (1:4). Jerusalem will be devastated (1:10-13) because of her sinfulness (3:1-5) and unrepentance (3:7). It was a judgement of the land of Judah.

When will the judgment occur? “The great day of the Lord is near—near and coming quickly” (1:7, 14). It’s imminent. It describes the desolation after an army invades Judah and Jerusalem (1:4-18a). Nothing will be able to save the Judeans (1:18a). It will be “a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and blackness” (1:15). A time of wailing (1:11). This prediction was probably given at least 30 years before Babylonia invaded Jerusalem. That’s when the judgment occurred. In the meantime, the purpose of the distress was so Judah would repent.

Secondly, judgment is also predicted as total destruction for nations around Judah (2:4-6, 8-11, 12, 13-15). As there is judgment in all directions, no one can escape. God also promised to judge all the wicked Gentiles (3:8). This is when other nations experience “the day of the Lord”. It was announced by Zephaniah to call Judah to repentance (3:6-7). All these judgements occurred within 100 years of Zephaniah’s predictions. They have already been fulfilled.

God’s judgment in “the day of the Lord” shows that justice comes to all. Today we don’t see God’s justice and likewise in Zephaniah’s day he didn’t see God’s justice, but it did eventually come to all.

The other response to a warning is to take notice and change your behavior so as to avoid the consequences. Now we come to the other major theme of God’s deliverance.

God’s deliverance

Zephaniah wasn’t just a prophet of doom, but of doom and hope. After all God is characterized by both justice (when He punishes sinners) and mercy (when He restores the repentant). God’s judgment and His deliverance is an example of “the kindness and sternness of God” (Rom. 11:22). These are two aspects of God’s character. The kindness is for those who repent, while the sternness is for the unrepentant. So deliverance is predicted for both Judah and other nations.

First for the Jews. Jewish believers would be protected during “the day of the Lord” (2:3). Then God promises to restore a Jewish remnant (2:7; 3:10-13, 18-20). Deliverance and salvation follow judgment. The scattered Jews will return to the land of Judah. They will seek the Lord, trust in Him, obey Him and be humble (2:3; 3:12). They will resume the temple offerings. Their enemies will be punished and there will be peace and honesty in their land. Shame and wickedness will cease (3:11-13). The Jews will be praised and honored around the world – praise and honor has replaced their shame. This leads to joyful celebration in Jerusalem under God’s leadership (3:14-17). Singing has replaced their wailing (3:14), because the punishment has been taken away, the enemies turned back and God is with them (v.15). There is joy and singing in heaven as well. God “will rejoice over you with singing” (3:17).

When will the deliverance occur (Zeph. 3:10-20)? A Jewish remnant returned to Judah after 70 years of exile in Babylon. Although Gentiles called “on the name of the Lord” when they became Christians (Zeph. 3:9; Rom. 10:13), I don’t think that the deliverance described has been completed yet. Did Judah have peace (3:13)? No! After Jerusalem was rebuilt, Judea was ruled by the Greeks, Egyptians, Syrians and Romans. In 70 AD, the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and in 134 AD the Romans attacked again and the Jews were killed, enslaved and dispersed to surrounding countries. Since this time, Judea has been ruled by other nations and the Jews were persecuted and driven out of many regions culminating in the holocaust. Also the Jews have not yet been praised and honored in other lands (3:19-20).

Secondly, deliverance is also predicted for believing Gentiles. When God destroys Judah’s enemies: “Distant nations will bow down to Him, all of them in their own lands” (2:11) . When they realise the awesomeness of God, they will repent and worship Him. They will also seek His help in prayer and serve Him (3:9). This has been fulfilled to some degree in the Christian church, but it seems as though the full deliverance is yet to come.

God’s warning today

Just as God used Zephaniah to warn the Jews of his day, He uses the Bible and godly people to warn us today. Our warnings are different because we live in a different era to Zephaniah. Since Zephaniah wrote his book, Jesus came and died for our sins, the New Testament has been written and the good news of deliverance has gone out to all nations across the world. We aren’t God’s nation living in the promised land. Today, God’s people are those who have confessed their sins and chosen to follow Jesus Christ. They comprise the global church.

What is God warning us about today? As the Bible is God’s main warning sign to us, we will take some examples from Paul’s letters to various churches.

First, what did he warn unbelievers about? Paul preached about the need to repent and turn to God so we will not spend eternity in hell. We are all sinners (Rom. 3:23). Because of this we all deserve God’s punishment and God is going to judge everyone (Acts 17:31; Rom. 6:23). But forgiveness of sins and eternal life is available through Jesus (Acts 13:38; Rom. 6:23). When we confess our sins, God provides His unconditional forgiveness. So God is merciful. In the Bible He warns us of our situation and our need to repent. Jesus took the punishment for us when He was crucified.

When Paul addresses the sins of the self-righteous moralist, he writes “because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when His righteous judgment will be revealed” (Rom. 2:5). Also, Peter warns that God’s final judgment of the universe is coming as “the day of the Lord” (2 Pt. 3:7-10). So God warns people today of a coming judgment.

Some people ignore tornado warnings in the US because they may wait until they can see or hear it coming. Or they may think the probability of it affecting them is very small. Or they aren’t paying attention. Or they don’t realize the devastation it can cause. They don’t realize how serious it is. Do we realize the importance of God’s warnings?

Second, what did Paul warn believers about? Believers are those who have repented of their sin, whose sins are forgiven and they are redeemed to worship Christ as their Lord. Christians will not be judged for our sins because Jesus paid that judgment price on the cross for us when He died in our place. But we will be judged on the basis of how faithfully we have served God since we became Christians—and be rewarded accordingly at the judgment seat of Christ (2 Cor. 5:10). God wants us to serve Him. But this is hindered by our sins. In 1 Corinthians 10 Paul gives a warning from Israel’s history. He describes their sins (v.6-10) and the fact that they were punished for these (v.5). Then he makes the application to us: “These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come. So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall” (1 Cor. 10:11-12).

It’s a warning to the self-confident. We can also be tempted like they were. They failed and sinned. We can also fail and sin. But a remnant repented. Let’s be a part of that remnant today.

Unconfessed sin hinders our daily fellowship with God. When we confess our sins they are forgiven by God because Christ’s death paid the penalty for all our sins and our daily fellowship with God our Father is restored. This confession should occur regularly in a believer’s life so we can experience God’s conditional forgiveness (Mt. 6:12, 14-15; 1 Jn. 1:5-2:2).

Of course Paul gives other warnings to believers in his letters. He warned against things like false teachers, false teaching, syncretism (mixing Christianity with other ideas and ways of living), factions, divisive people, misusing wealth, immorality, legalism, liberalism, pride, and giving up the faith.

Conclusion

We have seen that Zephaniah told the Jews that because of humanity’s sinfulness, God will judge the Jews and the Gentiles in the “day of the Lord”. And God did judge them. But God is merciful. He warns them of their situation and their need to repent. After this a Jewish remnant will be restored and they will worship Him as King of Israel.

The Jews should have known about this because the Pentateuch contains rewards for obedience and punishment for disobedience. God wanted them to repent – to turn back to following Him once again.

God still warns us today. Examples like this from the Old Testament warn us that we face the choice of whether to obey or disobey the Lord. Unbelievers are warned of the need to confess and repent of their sins in order to be delivered from God’s judgment. Whereas believers need to keep confessing their sins in order to maintain their daily fellowship with the Lord.

Even though it was written over 2,600 years ago, Zephaniah’s book is relevant to our times. We can apply the four main themes to ourselves. What are our sins? What are our gods? Are we apathetic? Are we materialistic? Are we selfish? How loyal are we to God? There is deliverance and salvation for the repentant who trust in the death of Jesus Christ for their sins. Do we have the hope of heaven? The hope of a better time to come.

So because of the sins of humanity, judgment is coming, but deliverance is promised for the repentant.

Written, December 2014


God’s warning

Zephaniah’s themes

The Islamic State is killing minorities in Iraq and Syria who won’t convert to Islam. It’s genocide. Women and children are taken as sexual slaves. People are fleeing to save their lives. How would you feel in the face of this onslaught if you were one of the Turkmen, Shabaks, Yazidis or Christians? Terrified? Shocked in unbelief? Wanting to escape?

This article looks at the book of Zephaniah where the Jews are warned of an impending terrible destruction. We will see that, because of the sins of humanity, judgment is coming, but deliverance is promised for the repentant.

Context

Zephaniah prophesised “during the reign of Josiah” (Zeph. 1:1NIV), who was king over Judah in 640 – 609 BC. At this time Judah was influenced by three foreign powers: Egypt, Assyria, and Babylonia. There was tension between these super powers for world supremacy (like between USA, Russia and China today). Power shifted from Assyria and Egypt to Babylonia when Assyria was conquered in 612BC and Egypt conquered in 605BC. These large nations dominated the smaller ones. Judah was a vassal state of Assyria during much of the 7th century BC. So Judah was a weak nation that was surrounded by many enemies.

Zephaniah time line resizedJosiah’s father Amon and grandfather Manasseh were wicked kings who spread idolatry across Judah. They worshipped Baal, Asherah, and the stars and planets, with child sacrifice to Molech and ritual prostitution (2 Ki. 21:6-9; 2 Chr. 33:6-9). There was occultism and the righteous were martyred. Josiah turned back to God and repaired the temple, restoring temple worship in 622BC.

Zephaniah was part of a line of Old Testament prophets. He lived about 70 years after Isaiah and Micah and was a contemporary of Nahum and the young Jeremiah. He is recognised as the last pre-exilic prophet.

Before Zephaniah, Isaiah proclaimed God’s judgement and deliverance. He warned that Judah’s wickedness would be punished by the Babylonians. The judgment is called “the day of the Lord”. But they would be restored when the Messiah would reign. Micah also proclaimed God’s judgement and deliverance. He lists their sins, and predicts a ruler from Bethlehem and the restoration of a remnant. The main theme of these prophets was God’s judgment and God’s restoration of Judah. We will see that this is what Zephaniah prophesied as well. So he may have been already familiar with the content of his message from the earlier prophets.

During the time of Zephaniah, Nahum predicted the destruction of Nineveh, the largest city of the time. This would have been good news for Judah who had been threatened by Assyria since the fall of Samaria in 722 BC. It showed that God judges His enemies. At this time, Jeremiah (Ch. 1-38) denounced the sins of Judah. He predicted that because of these they would be defeated by the Babylonians and be exiled for 70 years. But he also predicted their restoration and life under the Messiah with a new covenant.

So, at the time when Zephaniah prophesised, the Judeans were threatened by foreign enemies. Idolatry and sinfulness were prevalent; they were no longer following the laws given to Moses. So Zephaniah warns them of the consequences of their behavior.

Literary structure

Apart from the first verse, the book of Zephaniah is poetry, not prose. It teems with figures of speech such as metaphors, similes, metonymy and synecdoche.

God is the central character. He is a God of action. At the beginning He is a merciless judge. But by the end he shows mercy and pardons people. Zephaniah is a humble spokesman: he speaks about God and not himself.

The story is that God wants Judah to serve Him. However, this is prevented by their sins.
Through “the day of the Lord”, Judah is restored to serve Him and they are joined by believing Gentiles.

Zephaniah’s themes

The two main themes of Zephaniah are predictions of God’s judgment and God’s deliverance, which show His justice and mercy. Zephaniah mainly concerns the coming judgment and punishment of Judah and other nations because of their sinfulness (1:2-3:8). This is followed by the promised restoration of a Jewish remnant (3:9-20). So an imminent threat is balanced by the hope of ultimate deliverance.

Zephaniah diagram resizedThose who “have sinned against the Lord” (1:17) will be judged and those who obey and trust the Lord will be restored (2:3; 3:12). The themes of judgment and restoration are linked by a call to repentance (2:1-3).

Looking at these linkages shown in the schematic diagram, four major themes can be identified: Humanity’s sinfulness, God’s warning, God’s judgment, and God’s deliverance. We will now look at each of these in turn.

Humanity’s sinfulness

Zephaniah shows that human sinfulness is a universal problem; it affected both Judah and the other nations.

The sins of Judah included: idolatry (1:3, 4), syncretism (where the true God is worshipped through or alongside other gods) (1:5; 2 Ki. 17:41), apostasy (1:6), following foreign (pagan) customs and culture, which compromised their identity as God’s special people (1:8-9), violence (1:9), apathy and pride (1:12; 3:11), love of money (1:18), oppression (3:10), rebellion (3:10), self-sufficiency, unruliness and ungodliness (3:2), greedy and corrupt leaders (3:3-4, 7), lying and deceit (1:9; 3:13), and thinking that God doesn’t punish sins or reward repentance (1:12). They didn’t “seek the Lord” or “inquire of Him” via prayer or the Scriptures (1:6).

The sins of other nations included: pride (2:10, 15), self-sufficiency (2:15), and insulting, mocking and threatening God’s people (2:8, 10).

This sinfulness was the source and reason for God’s judgment. God had given His people standards to live by in the Mosaic law. So they should have known better.

Now we come to God’s response to their sins.

God’s warning

The prophets warned God’s people about the consequences of their sinfulness. They were breaking the covenant with their God. Instead of living like God’s people, they were living like pagans. They were breaking most of the ten commandments. The punishment for disobeying the covenant is given in the Pentateuch (Lev. 26:14-45; Dt. 28:15-68). It included being defeated by their enemies, having their cities besieged, plundered and destroyed and their people captured and scattered to other nations.

Zephaniah calls for repentance (2:3). There is deliverance for the humble who trust God. But Jerusalem is unrepentant (3:6-7). They didn’t learn from the mistakes of the northern kingdom about 100 years earlier that lead to them being captured by the Assyrians and destroyed as a nation.

So God is merciful: He warns His people of the consequences of their behavior. And we know that king Josiah did repent.

There are two possible responses to a warning. The first is to ignore it. Now we come to the major theme of God’s judgment.

God’s judgment

Judgment is predicted for both Judah and other nations for their ongoing sinfulness.

First for the Jews. The “day of the Lord” is mentioned at least eleven times in the book of Zephaniah (1:7, 8, 9, 10, 14 (twice), 15, 18; 2: 2 (twice), 3). Each occurrence is associated with a message to Judah. According to the NET Bible the concept of “the day of the Lord” may have originated in the ancient Near Eastern idea of the sovereign’s day of conquest, where a king would boast that he had concluded an entire military campaign in a single day. In the Old Testament the phrase first appears in the book of Amos (Amos 5:18-20).

It is a time of great judgement. But when and where will it occur? The book begins with God declaring (1:2-3): “I will sweep away (“destroy” NET) everything from the face of the earth,” declares the Lord. “I will sweep away both man and beast; I will sweep away the birds in the sky and the fish in the sea—and the idols that cause the wicked to stumble.” “When I destroy all mankind on the face of the earth,” declares the Lord.

At the end of chapter 1, Zephaniah comments (1:18): “In the fire of His jealousy the whole earth will be consumed, for He will make a sudden end of all who live on the earth.”

So everything on the ground will be devastated. Where will it occur? It is clear from the next verse that both Judah and Jerusalem will be attacked (1:4). He calls it “the day of the Lord” (1:7, 14) and “the day of the Lord’s wrath” (1:18; 2:2). Jerusalem will be devastated (1:10-13) because of her sinfulness (3:1-5) and unrepentance (3:7).

But why does the NIV say the judgment is on “the face of the earth” (1:2, 3), “the whole earth” and “all who live on the earth” (1:18)? It seems to me that these phrases are translated poorly by most modern translations of the Bible. Click the link to see my reasons. A better translation is: “the land (of Judah)” (1:2, 3), “the whole land (of Judah)”, and “all who live on the land (of Judah) (1:18).

The judgment is directed to the unrepentant, those who don’t seek the Lord (1:6). Zephaniah gives three pictures of God’s judgement, “the day of the Lord”: a devastating flood (1:2-3), a great sacrifice (1:7-8), and a great battle (1:14-18).

As it described total destruction of living things and idols, yet there are survivors (a humble remnant), the description of the judgment seems to include hyperbole (1:2-3, 18b, 2:3; 3:11-13). Some resolve this dilemma by assuming that the verses on deliverance (3:9-20) were written after the time of Zephaniah. But this isn’t necessary because the combination of the themes of judgement, deliverance of a remnant and a new life of blessing for the faithful is an old as Noah’s flood. So the day of the Lord includes both punishment and purification. Zephaniah wasn’t just a prophet of doom, but of doom and hope. After all God is characterised by both justice (when he punishes sinners) and mercy (when he restores the repentant).

When will the judgment occur? “The great day of the Lord is near—near and coming quickly” (1:7, 14). It’s imminent. It describes the desolation after an army invades Judah and Jerusalem (1:4-18a). Nothing will be able to save the Judeans (1:18a). It will be “a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and blackness” (1:15). A time of wailing (1:11). This prediction was probably given at least 30 years before it was fulfilled when Babylonia invaded Jerusalem. That’s when the judgment was to occur. In the meantime, the purpose of the distress was so Judah would repent.

Secondly, judgment is also predicted as total destruction for nations around Judah. Philistia in the west (2:4-6), Moab and Ammon in the east (2:8-11), Egypt in the south (2:12) and Assyria in the north (2:13-15). As there is judgment in all directions, no one can escape. God also promised to judge all the wicked Gentiles (3:8). This is when other nations experience “the day of the Lord”. It was announced by Zephaniah to call Judah to repentance (3:6-7).

About 50 years later Ezekiel also prophesied the destruction of Ammon, Moab and Philistia (Ch. 25) (Assyria had already been invaded by the Babylonians). Ammon and Moab would be invaded by Babylonia. God would take vengeance on Philistia. Also, Egypt and its allies would be invaded by Babylonia (Ch 29-32). After this it was invaded by the Persians. So all these judgements occurred within 100 years of Zephaniah’s predictions.

God’s judgment in “the day of the Lord” shows that justice comes to all.

The other response to a warning is to take notice and change your behavior so as to avoid the consequences. Now we come to the other major theme of God’s deliverance.

God’s deliverance

Deliverance is predicted for both Judah and other nations.

First for the Jews. Believers would be protected during “the day of the Lord” (2:3). Then God promises to restore a Jewish remnant (2:7; 3:10-13, 18-20). Deliverance and salvation follow judgment. The scattered Jews will return to the land of Judah. They will seek the Lord, trust in Him, obey Him and be humble (2:3; 3:12). They will resume the temple offerings. Their enemies will be punished and there will be peace and honesty in their land. Shame and wickedness will cease (3:11-13). The Jews will be praised and honored around the world – praise and honor has replaced their shame. They will occupy Philistia, Moab and Ammon (2:7, 9c). This leads to joyful celebration in Jerusalem under God’s leadership (3:14-17). Singing has replaced their wailing (3:14), because the punishment has been taken away, the enemies turned back and God is with them (v.15). There is joy and singing in heaven as well (3:17). God “will rejoice over you with singing”.

When will the deliverance occur (Zeph. 3:10-20)? A Jewish remnant returned to Judah after 70 years of exile in Babylon. Although Gentiles called “on the name of the Lord” when they became Christians (Zeph. 3:9; Rom. 10:13), I don’t think that the deliverance described has been completed yet. Did Judah have peace (3:13)? After Jerusalem was rebuilt, Judea was ruled by the Greeks, Egyptians, Syrians and Romans. In 70 AD, the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and in 134 AD the Romans attacked again and the Jews were killed, enslaved and dispersed to surrounding countries including Europe and North Africa. Since this time, Judea has been ruled by the Byzantine Empire, the Islamic Empire, the Crusaders, the Mamluk Empire, the Ottoman Empire, and the British Empire. The Jews were persecuted and driven out of many regions culminating in the holocaust. Have the Jews been praised and honored in other lands (3:19-20)? It says “never again will you fear any harm” (3:15), yet Jerusalem, was destroyed by the Romans in AD 70.

Secondly, redemption is also predicted for believing Gentiles. When God destroys Judah’s enemies (2:11): “Distant nations will bow down to Him, all of them in their own lands”. When they realise the awesomeness of God, they will repent and worship Him. They will also seek His help in prayer and serve Him (3:9). This has been fulfilled to some degree in the Christian church.

Conclusion

We have seen that Zephaniah told the Jews of the 7th century BC that because of humanity’s sinfulness, God will judge the Jews and the Gentiles in the “day of the Lord”. And God did judge them. But God is merciful. He warns them of their situation and their need to repent.
After this a Jewish remnant will be restored and they will worship Him as King of Israel.

So Zephaniah’s main themes are: Mankind’s sinfulness, God’s warning to repent, God’s judgment (the day of the Lord) for the unrepentant, and God’s deliverance for the repentant (the remnant). This is an example of “the kindness and sternness of God” (Rom. 11:22). These are two aspects of God’s character. The kindness is for those who repent, while the sternness is for the unrepentant.

The Jews should have known about these themes because they come from the Pentateuch. It contains rewards for obedience and punishment for disobedience. It also says if they confess their sins with humility, then God would remember their covenant (Lev. 26:40-45). So their repentance is the goal of their punishment. God wanted them to turn back to following Him once again.

Zephaniah also implies that God is the God of all nations. In those days each nation had their own gods. People were polytheistic. Here we see that Judah’s God is sovereign and supreme over other nations. He will destroy all the other gods (2:11). Therefore, He was sovereign and supreme over their gods. So the fact of one true God as expressed in the first two commandments is another theme of Zephaniah.

Furthermore, it implies that God intervenes in history (1:12). They thought He wouldn’t intervene, but God says He will search Jerusalem (2:11). So the fact that Judah’s God intervenes in human affairs and history is another theme of Zephaniah.

In order to apply Zephaniah’s prophecy to our modern world, we need to take of account of what God has revealed since then. Today we know that the New Testament teaches that because of humanity’s sinfulness, we all deserve God’s punishment. But God is merciful. In the Bible He warns us of our situation and our need to repent. Jesus took the punishment for us when He was crucified. Those who repent are redeemed to worship Him as their Lord.

When Paul addresses the sins of the self-righteous moralist, he writes “because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when His righteous judgment will be revealed” (Rom. 2:5). So God warns people today of a coming judgment. Also, Peter warns that God’s final judgment of the universe is coming as “the day of the Lord” (2 Pt. 3:7-10). In the meantime, we are to be faithful followers of Christ (2 Pt. 3:11-14).

Even though it was written over 2,600 years ago, Zephaniah’s book is relevant to our times. We can apply the four main themes to ourselves. What are our sins? What are our gods? Are we apathetic? Are we materialistic? Are we selfish? How loyal are we to God? They had a choice. So do we. Will we confess and repent of our sins in order to maintain our relationship with the Lord? There is deliverance and salvation for the humble who trust in the death of Jesus Christ for their sins. Do we have the hope of heaven? The hope of a better time to come.

Because of the sins of humanity, judgment is coming; but deliverance and salvation is promised for the repentant.

Written, November 2014

Also see: What is the meaning of adamah and erets in Zephaniah?


What does God want us to remember?

At the “real” start of the third millennium

This is the first month of a new year and of a new millennium. As the first year was 1 A.D., so 1000 A.D. was the last year of the first millennium. Likewise, the last year of the second millen­nium was 2000 A.D., which means that 2001 is the first year of the third millennium. So the celebrations that were held twelve months ago should have been called the beginning of the 2000s, not the beginning of the third mil­lennium, which actually begins this month.

Although one day, month or year is not necessarily more important than another (Rom. 14:5), we all like to celebrate important dates such as birthdays and wedding anniversaries. These are milestones that remind us of significant events along the road of life. Let’s look at some important events that God wants us to remember and celebrate.

Remember the Creator

After the universe was created in six days the Bible says, “By the seventh day God had finished the work He had been doing; so on the seventh day He rested from all His work. And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it He rested from all the work of creating that He had done” (Gen 2:2-3 NIV). This is not the rest that follows weariness, but the rest of satisfaction and comple­tion of a job well done (Gen. 1:31).

The Sabbath was to be observed by the Israelites as a day of rest from everyday work, as a reminder of their God who rested after His work of creation (Ex. 31:14-17). The principle of one day’s rest in seven was estab­lished in Old Testament times for the benefit of individuals, fami­lies, employees and even animals (Ex. 20:10; Mk. 2:27). Its establish­ment in the account of creation implies that it is meant for every­one, not just for Israel.

It is said that God “blessed the seventh day and made it holy” (Gen. 2:3; Ex. 20:11). This indicates two purposes for the Sabbath rest –as a gift (or blessing) from God for the well-being of humanity, and a special (or holy) day for God. Besides physical rest, it also means remembering the Creator and praising God for His provision for us. He had given us life and time, and on this day we are to give some time back to Him.

So, the Sabbath rest is God’s milestone pointing out His good­ness to everyone as their Creator as we pause for a regular weekly break from work. Remember, the wisest man that ever lived said, “Remember your Creator in the days of your youth” (Eccl. 12:1). Creation reveals the Creator’s eternal power and divine nature .(Rom. 1:20). But this is less evi­dent when life becomes more troublesome and less enjoyable. Unfortunately, those who reject this revelation, choose to worship idols instead of “the God who made the world and everything in it” (Rom. 1:23,25; Acts 17:24).

Remember the Redeemer

The Israelites were given a sec­ond reason for observing the Sabbath day: “Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the LORD your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm” (Dt. 5:15). It was a weekly reminder of their miraculous deliverance from slavery in Egypt. This act of God is called “redemption,” which means “buying back” or “ransoming from captivity.” Christ was a “redeemer” in that by His sacrificial death He paid the ransom for our sinfulness and so delivered us from slavery to sin and its penalty (Eph. 1:7).

So, the Sabbath is also God’s milestone pointing out His mercy toward His chosen people as their redeemer. As the Sabbath rest included employees, the Israelites were to show a loving concern to others (Dt. 5:14). This was con­firmed when Christ healed the man with a shrivelled hand on the Sabbath (Mk. 3:1-5).

Jesus said that He was Lord of the Sabbath and demonstrated this as the Redeemer of the world (Mt. 12:8; Lk. 4:16-21). The Sabbath was “a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in. Christ” (Col. 2:17). After the day of Pentecost, it was more important to remember God’s great salvation for mankind’s sins than to remember the deliverance of the Jews from Egypt. Consequently, the early Christians met for worship and the collection of monetary gifts on the first day of the week in memo­ry of Christ’s resurrection (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 16:1-2). Christian wor­ship on Sunday replaced Jewish observance of the Sabbath. It is interesting to note that according to Leviticus 23:15, the day of Pentecost (Acts. 2:1) may have been on the first day of the week. However, some authorities state that the Pharisees believed that the Sabbath referred to here is the holy day of Passover which fell on a different day each year.

The Jews also celebrated their release from slavery in the first month of each year. As God’s peo­ple in Old Testament times, they were given a series of annual reli­gious festivals by God. These festi­vals commemorated occasions when God had reached out in power to intervene for the Jews or had provided for them in a time of distress. It reminded them of God’s presence and activity among them.

The first and most important of the festivals was the Passover, which was celebrated in the first month of the religious year (Ex. 12:1-30; Lev. 23:4-8). The Hebrew calendar is based on the 29.5 day lunar cycle. Their first month commenced after the spring equi­nox and is equivalent to March/April inour calendar. As their months began at new moon and the Passover began on the fourteenth of the month, the Passover corresponded with a full moon. Easter is its direct equivalent in our calendar, being the Sunday after the first full moon on/after March 21.

The Passover corresponded with the beginning of the grain harvest (Dt. 16:9) and it commem­orated the deliverance and exo­dus of the Jews from slavery in Egypt during the reign of Pharaoh Neferhotep 1 (Ex. 12). This was achieved in a miraculous way through the death of a lamb and smearing the lamb’s blood on their door frames. The plague of death to all the first-born sons in Egypt “passed over” the Jewish households with the sign on the door frames. Soon afterwards the Egyptians urged the Jews to leave their country.

Like the Sabbath, these reli­gious festivals were said to be “a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ” (Col. 2:17). Paul referred to Christ as “our Passover Lamb” (1 Cor. 5:7). So the Passover was an illustration of Christ’s sacrifice for us. As the death of the Passover lamb saved the Jews from death, so Christ’s death can save us from the pun­ishment of eternal death in hell. The similarity is emphasized by the fact that Jesus was crucified at the time of the Passover celebra­tion (Jn. 18:28; 19:14).

When Jesus Christ celebrated the Passover with His disciples, He instituted the Lord’s Supper by relating the breaking of bread and the drinking of wine to His coming death (Lk. 22:7-20). His followers were told to do this in His remembrance (1 Cor. 11:23­26). Believers are told, “Whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes” (1 Cor. 11:26). So, the annual Passover was replaced by the weekly Lord’s Supper (Acts 20:7).

Now and forever

It’s obvious that God wants us to remember and celebrate His great achievements in creation and redemption. This can be done by a regular weekly break from work and by a regular par­taking of the Lord’s Supper. These are two of the most impor­tant things we can do this week, month, year and millennium –and they will refresh us physical­ly and spiritually.

Such celebrations are not only for now but are for eternity, as the role of God the Father and the Lord as Creator and Redeemer is the theme of the great future cele­bration in heaven: “You are wor­thy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for You created all things, and by Your will they were created and have their being … You are wor­thy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because You were slain, and with Your blood You pur­chased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Rev 4:11; 5:9).

Published, January 2001


What is a deliverance ministry? Is it scriptural? Should I get involved?

What is a deliverance ministry?
A deliverance ministry is an activity or group that aims to release people from the influence of demons (Mt. 25:41). It is based on the belief that problems are caused by demons influencing the body or soul. These problems include: physical infirmities, emotional problems, abuse, torment, mental illness, recurring sins, addictions, financial problems, fear, anger, depression, suicidal thoughts, lust, pornography, and homosexuality.

A deliverance session usually involves a team of people taking authority over Satan and his demons, using the name of Jesus Christ. It often includes prayer: to bind the demons; to loose God’s plans for deliverance; for the blood of Jesus to provide protection; for guidance; to invite the Lord to heal and deliver. It also includes: confessing and renouncing specific sins; taking authority in Christ over demons and commanding them to depart; reading passages from the Scripture that support the believer’s authority over evil; asking the Lord to heal past emotional, spiritual or physical wounds that may be footholds for the current oppression; and prayer for severing sinful connections with other people, demons or objects. Deliverance may also involve the use of spiritual gifts such as prophecy, tongues and a word of knowledge.

Deliverance ministries became more prevalent after the release of the film “The Exorcist” in 1973, as it created interest in casting out demons. Also, interest in casting out demons came with the rise of the charismatic movement.

Is it scriptural?
Jesus and the twelve apostles certainly cast out demons: “When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick” (Lk. 9:1-2 niv). Philip, the evangelist, and Paul cast out demons (Acts 8:7; 16:18; 19:11-12). There are no examples in the Bible of Christians being possessed by a demon, although they may be afflicted by Satan and demons (Lk. 13:16; 2 Cor. 12:7). The woman who had been bound by Satan for 18 years was healed, whereas Paul’s “thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan” (2 Cor. 12:7) was not healed. There is no indication in the New Testament that Christians might have to deal with their own sin or the sin of another Christian by casting out a demon and there are no examples in Scripture of Christians casting demons out of other Christians.

Deliverance ministries are usually based on instances of exorcism in the gospels and Acts. Three verses that are commonly used to justify them are as follows:

“Calling the Twelve to Him, He sent them out two by two and gave them authority over evil spirits” (Mk. 6:7).

“These signs will accompany those who believe: In My name they will drive out demons” (Mk 16:17).

“Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective” (Jas. 5:16).

It is not clear that the signs, wonders and miracles described in the gospels and Acts are available to Christians today. Instead, they were God’s confirmation of the ministry of Christ and the early Church (Heb. 2:3-4). Also, in context, the verses above do not support deliverance ministry. For example, Mark 6:7 was addressed to the apostles, who were a distinct group among the early believers (1 Cor. 12:28-29). The statement in Mark 16:17 is followed by, “they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all” (Mk. 16:18). Clearly, this occurred in the early Church, but we should not expect it today. The context of James 5:13-20 is the restoration of a backslider. In this case, physical healing is connected with forgiveness of sins, so presumably this sickness was a result of a sin, not demon influence. The meaning of James 5:16 is that when we sin against someone else, we should be prompt to confess this sin to the person we have wronged.

The idea of needing deliverance from demons goes against the fact that demons have no power other than that given them by God (Job 1:6-12; 2:1-6). We are commanded to fear God, not demons. God controls the world, demons do not (Mt. 4:8-11). They can’t separate us from God’s love (Rom. 8:38).

As Christians we should not become obsessed with Satan or demons and blame outside influences for our problems instead of our own sinful nature. This makes it difficult to take responsibility for our behavior and leads to seeking deliverance instead of repentance. It also makes us feel incapable of resisting our spiritual enemy and needing to rely on others for deliverance.

Should I get involved?
If we wish to live victorious lives and overcome Satan, we need to obey the Scriptures and apply their principles with wisdom to our lives (Rom. 16:19-20). Satan is not crushed under our feet by miracles or a deliverance ministry.

In the Old Testament, God prohibited His followers from seeking to make contact with demons (Lev. 19:26,31; 20:6,27; Dt. 18:9-13; Jer. 27:9-10). According to the New Testament, every Christian is capable of resisting Satan through the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 10:13; Eph. 6:11; 1 Pet. 5:6-11). “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you” (Jas. 4:7).

Instead of relying on a deliverance ministry to bring wholeness to our lives, we should pray daily that God may “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one” (Mt. 6:13), and stand against the enemy by living in the power of the gospel (Rom. 1:16; Eph. 6:10-20).

Published, April 2009