Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Two sisters

Two sisters from a dysfunctional home. Both married at 15, now in their sixties. Let’s call them Kathleen and Karen to keep things straight.

Kathleen’s husband was prone to drunken rages and she bore the brunt of those rages. She finally left, feeling her life was in danger, and took their children with her. She was divorced at 21, lived with several other men, had one more child.

One of those men sexually abused her daughter. The daughter died of cancer at the age of sixteen, her oldest brother came to the funeral handcuffed to a police officer. All the boys had scrapes with the law. None of them ever married, but all have children. Kathleen is unable to have any contact with the children of one of her sons. Neither is he.

Kathleen has lived on welfare most of her life. Her life is a shambles, yet she talks freely of how God has sustained her and occasionally goes to church. She feels she has done the best she could under the circumstances. Her only friends are people in the same circumstances as she is, or worse.

Karen is still married; her husband has provided well for them. They have two daughters, both happily married. Not long ago Karen was diagnosed with lung cancer. Her daughters and sons-in-law rallied around, providing rides to all her appointments and supporting her in every way. She is cancer free, now, but her husband is undergoing cancer treatment. Once again the family is there for them.

Karen never talks about God, but somewhere she got the idea that her life could be different from the life of her parents. Kathleen seemingly never did.

We wonder what made the difference. Could it be the three years that Karen spent in the home of her aunt and uncle before she started school? That wasn’t perhaps the best of homes, but it was light years better than her parents home. The acceptance she felt from her husband’s family must have helped, too.

Still, it is one thing to see that your life can be better than the life of the family you grew up in, It is quite another thing to make that difference happen. Karen was determined, she did what she could to make it happen.

We look at people like Kathleen and say “Don’t they know any better?” I don’t believe they do. I’m sure they have an inkling that things should be different, they wish things could be different, but they have no support, no one to turn to, if they would want to change. What are we to do?

Telling them about faith in the saving power of Jesus Christ is an important part of the answer. But is faith enough? Let’s paraphrase James:

“If a neighbour be forsaken, and destitute of love and affection, and one of you say unto them, depart in peace, be ye encouraged and filled with love; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to emotional wholeness; what doth it profit? Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.” (Adapted from James 2:15-17).

To better understand English, learn a little French

In its grammatical structure, English belongs to the Low German language family, a group of languages that developed from a common early Germanic root. The group includes Flemish, Dutch, Frisian, Afrikaans (the Dutch that is spoken in South Africa), Plautdietsch, English and Scots (not Gaelic but the variety of old English spoken by the lowland Scots, such as the poet Robbie Burns).

However, something like 40% of English words come from French. Oftentimes meanings, spelling and pronunciation have shifted to the point that the French roots are almost invisible. Take geezer for instance. This is a word that was originally applied to someone who went about in a disguise, or more simply, in the guise of someone different from himself. Since guise is a word of French origin it was originally pronounced geez. Over a few hundred years the meaning of geezer shifted to where it is now used only for an older person who has become a little different in appearance and mannerisms.

In many other words the French roots are plainly visible, though often not understood by English speakers. Take grammar for instance, which is what I want to talk about in this article.

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Image by Jan Vašek from Pixabay

All English grammatical terms are French, beginning with grammar itself. Grammar comes from grammaire in French, which comes from a Greek word meaning the art of reading and writing. A noun is the name of a thing, chair for instance, and comes from the French word nom, meaning name. Most other grammatical terms are spelled the same, or almost the same, in English as in French: verbe, adverbe, adjectif or adjective, préposition, article, objet direct or indirect, conjonction, etc.

It may be helpful for English speakers to understand the roots of terms like tense and mood. Both are mispronunciations of French words, which led to misspellings, making them homonyms of English words with completely different meanings.

Tense comes from temps, which means time. Past, present and future should be called times, not tenses. Obvious, eh? But the French pronunciation of temps is something that is beyond the capacity of the vocal apparatus of someone who grew up speaking English, so it drifted over to become tense.

There are three basic past tenses: simple past, imperfect and pluperfect. Perfect is another word of French origin that we often misunderstand. It simply means finished or complete, or, in the case of people, grown up or mature. Neither in grammar nor in the Bible does it ever mean faultless. Imperfect means incomplete and refers to an action that began in the past and is not complete. Pluperfect (plus-que-parfait in French) means more than complete and refers to an action that was complete in the past before something else happened.

For instance: I had gone (pluperfect) into Tim Horton’s and was ordering (imperfect) a coffee when my cousin walked (simple past) in.

Mood comes from the French word mode and should be mode in English also. Once again, a native English speaker cannot really duplicate the sound of mode in French. Nevertheless, the grammatical term mood in English refers to a mode of expressing one’s meaning.

The indicative mood (mode) is used for an action that has actually happened, is happening, or that we know will happen. The conditional mood (mode) is used for actions that could, should or would happen if some other condition is met, had been met or will be met.

Examples: The plane will be landing in fifteen minutes (indicative).
The plane should be landing in fifteen minutes if it left Toronto on time (conditional).

And then there’s the subjunctive mood, but that is going to require a whole article of its own.

More meanings from the margins

Here are some more examples of marginal readings that give a somewhat different sense than the reading in the main text. I have highlighted the words in the regular text in orange, and the reading from the margin in green and added my own comment on the difference.

Genesis 4:26 – And to Seth, to him also there was born a son; and he called his name Enos: then began men to call upon the name of the LORD.
Margin: to call themselves by the Name of the LORD
This is not when people first began to pray, but the time when there began to be a lineage of people who called themselves the people of the Lord to distinguish themselves from the lineage of Cain.

Psalm 121:1 I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.
Margin: Shall I lift up mine eyes to the hills? whence should my help come?
Hebrew has no punctuation; but this verse is a question. Our help comes from God, not from the hills.

Isaiah 2:12 -16 For the day of the LORD of hosts shall be upon every one that is proud and lofty, and upon every one that is lifted up; and he shall be brought low: . . .and upon all pleasant pictures.
Margin: pictures of desire
God is not against something just because it is nice to look at. But when our desire is set on a picture rather than on God, He will judge us.

2 Corinthians 10:5 Casting down imaginations, and every high thing
Margin: reasonings
This seems just a little stronger to me.

Colossians 2:18 Let no man beguile you of your reward
Margin: judge against you
in a voluntary humility and worshipping of angels,
Margin: Gr. being a voluntary in humility
Voluntary is of French origin and means of one’s own will. That is clearer in the marginal reading.

1 Peter 2:9 But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people;
Margin: a purchased people
Peculiar has shifted in meaning since the translation was made, purchased is still very clear.

There are not a lot of instances like this, and the meaning is usually not very different. The translators were men of great learning, had access to texts in the original languages and translations into many others. There is a portrait of Lancelot Andrewes, the lead translator, in my post of four days ago. Andrewes was fluent in 15 modern and 6 ancient languages. Even with all this learning, the translators were careful not to let their own opinions override the Word of God, thus the reason for the alternate readings in the margin.

What do you think? Do examples like this prompt you to take a closer look at these verses to consider what the message really is?

Some clarifications and an illustration

The Bible translation produced in 1611 was never given an official name. In England, Scotland and many other places it is referred to as the Authorized Version, but that name does not appear in the Bible itself.

The text now in common use dates from 1789. Typographical errors had crept into the various printed versions. Spelling of some words had changed, for instance in Old English a u was often used where we use a v, and sometimes a v where we would use a u. This was not a revision of the text, but a standardization of spelling and punctuation plus some modernization of spelling.

The text of this Bible is not copyright, except in England and Scotland. In England the copyright is a royal prerogative granted to Cambridge University Press and Oxford University Press. In Scotland it is Collins. The royal prerogative is more meant to guard the integrity of the text than to diminish competition.

I use two electronic Bible programs. The Online Bible, based in Canada with a European branch in the Netherlands, is the oldest. The other is e-Sword, based in the USA. Both apps are free and offer a multitude of Bible translations and supplementary material. The Online Bible offers the Authorized Version and includes the marginal notes in italics after the relevant verse. The e-Sword offers the King James Bible and the marginal notes are an option that one can download and they will appear in a window beside the text.

The marginal notes with alternate readings are not plentiful. There is no question about the text of most of the Bible. But there are places where the alternate reading should cause us to stop and reflect on what we may have assumed to be unquestionable fact.

To illustrate this, I will begin with the account of Jephthah in Judges 11 and 12. Children’s Bible Story books, Egermeier’s for example, try so hard to assure children that it was wrong for Jephthah to offer his daughter as a burnt offering that they have convinced generations of people that Jephthah was a horrible man who killed his daughter and got away with it. If that were true, it would make it kind of hard to trust the mercy a and righteousness of God.

We really shouldn’t need the marginal readings to tell us that there is something wrong with this version of Jephthah’s story. God used Jephthah to deliver Israel from the oppression of the Ammonites and then he judged Israel for the next six years until his death. Many years later, when Israel demanded a king, God told them that whenever they had been oppressed He had provided a deliverer, giving a short list of Jerubbaal (Gideon), Bedan, Jephthah and Samuel (1 Samuel 12:11). In the New Testament he is included in the list of the heroes of the faith (Hebrews 11:32).

Human sacrifice was anathema to God, how then can this man be named in the Bible in several places as a great man of faith, with never a hint of condemnation? Do you think perhaps the story books got the story wrong?

A close look at the account in Judges will show that it is never said that he offered his daughter as a burnt offering. Judges 11:39 says he “did with her according to the vow which he had vowed.” What was that vow? Verse 31 says “whatsoever cometh forth of the doors of my house . . . shall surely be the Lord’s, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering.” The marginal note says “or I will offer it.” A little more study reveals that there is no conjunction in the Hebrew text, one is needed for coherence in English, so the translators offered us a choice of and or or.

The end of chapter 11 tells us that it became a custom for the daughters of Israel to go once a year “to lament the daughter of Jephthah.” The reading in the margin is “to talk with.”

Here is what Adam Clarke says in his Commentary about Judges 11:40. To lament the daughter of Jephthah. “I am satisfied that this is not a correct translation of the original. Houbigant translates the whole verse thus: ‘But this custom prevailed in Israel, that the virgins of Israel went at different times, four days in the year, to the daughter of Jephthah that they might comfort her.’ This verse also gives evidence that the daughter of Jephthah was not sacrificed; nor does it appear that the custom or statute referred to here lasted after the death of Jephthah’s daughter.”

The real story here is that Jephthah sacrificed any hope of posterity (the daughter was his only child) in order to deliver God’s people from their oppressors. The daughter spent two months bewailing her virginity, the fact that she would never bear children. Then she was dedicated to the service of the tabernacle, much as Samuel was later.

Leviticus 27 gives detailed information for the redemption of a child when the father had made a vow. Both Jephthah and Samuel’s parents could have availed themselves of this provision, yet they had vowed to dedicate their child to the actual service of God, but certainly not as a burnt offering.

Why I do not read the King James Bible

I read the Authorized Version instead, of which Cambridge University Press is the main publisher. The text is identical to that in Bibles that are called the King James Version, except that the AV maintains the alternate marginal readings that were placed there by the translators 400 years ago.

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I suppose that if we would meet the members of the company of translators who produced the AV, we might find their manner of dress far too extravagant to consider them to be humble men. But if we can look past the clothing, we may see that they were far more humble than any who have come after them. They believed they were handling the Word of God and they had a holy fear of inserting their own opinions or preferences into the translation. Thus, when they came to a word or phrase that might be translated more than one way, they did not feel that they had a right to choose one over the other. They placed one in the text and the other in the margin. These marginal notes they considered to be an integral part of their translation.

The custom of calling this translation the King James Version originated in the USA. Our American friends do not seem to have had the same humility as the translators, as I don’t believe the marginal readings can be found in any KJV printed in the USA. There are plain text printings of the KJV with no notes at all, but in many editions they have inserted other notes, producing a great variety of reference Bibles that are of dubious usefulness and trustworthiness.

I am reprinting below an abridged excerpt from the long introduction to the Authorized Version which explains their reasons for placing alternate readings in the margin. You will notice that they did not believe there to be any confusion in things essential to our salvation, but felt that where there were different possible renderings we should seek the assistance of God’s Spirit by prayer and the aid of our brethren by conference.

Reasons moving us to set diversity of senses in the margin,
where there is great probability for each.

Some peradventure would have no variety of senses to be set in the margin, lest the authority of the Scriptures for deciding of controversies by that show of uncertainty should somewhat be shaken. But we hold their judgement not to be so sound in this point. For though whatsoever things are necessary are manifest, . . . yet for all that it cannot be dissembled, that partly to exercise and whet our wits, partly to wean the curious from loathing of them for their everywhere plainness, partly also to stir up our devotion to crave the assistance of God’s Spirit by prayer, and lastly, that we might be forward to seek aid of our brethren by conference, and never scorn those that be not in all respects so complete as they should be, . . . it hath pleased God in His divine providence here and there to scatter words and sentences of that difficulty and doubtfulness, not in doctrinal points that concern salvation, (for in such it hath been vouched that the Scriptures are plain) but in matters of less moment, that fearfulness would better beseem us than confidence, . . . it is better to make doubt of those things which are secret, than to strive about those things that are uncertain. There be many words in the Scriptures which be never found there but once, (having neither brother nor neighbour, as the Hebrews speak) so that we cannot be holpen by conference of places. Again, there be many rare names of certain birds, beasts, and precious stones, &c., concerning which the Hebrews themselves are so divided among themselves for judgement, that they may seem to have defined this or that, rather because they would say something, than because they were sure of that which they said. . . . Now in such a case, doth not a margin do well to admonish the reader to seek further, and not to conclude or dogmatize upon this or that peremptorily? For as it is a fault of incredulity, to doubt of those things that are evident, so to determine of such things as the Spirit of God hath left (even in the judgement of the judicious) questionable, can be no less than presumption. Therefore . . . diversity of signification and sense in the margin, where the text is not so clear, must needs do good, yea, is necessary, as we are persuaded . . . They that are wise, had rather have their judgements at liberty in differences of readings, than to be captivated to one, when it may be the other.

How well do you know God?

How well do you know your neighbour? Perhaps you think you know quite a lot about him, but do you really know him? Do you know what makes him tick, what things motivate him, what things give him joy or sorrow? Do you know what he’d like to tell you about how you could be a better neighbour?

How well do you know God? Perhaps you read the Bible and pray every day. Do you hear God speaking when you do that, or is it just something a good Christian is supposed to do? Do you hear God telling you what He’d like to make of your life? Do you hear Him telling you about things He really wishes you would do differently?

When you read the Bible, are you just wandering to and fro, picking the prettiest flowers, the shiniest stones? Do you ever wonder why some people seem to find so much more? Or do people sometimes tell you something they say they found in the Bible and it just don’t seem right, but you don’t know how to find out for yourself?

Let’s start from square one: the goal of reading the Bible is not to learn nice stories about God; it is not to learn about the future: it is not to discover a set of rules to guide our life; it is not to equip ourselves to argue or debate with others. The only purpose for reading the Bible is to get to know its author and to know what He wants us to do here and now in this time and place in which we live.

It has always been the people who were small in their own eyes who accomplished the most for God. Noah spent 100 years building a huge boat. Do we understand how ridiculous that was? Water falling from the sky – that had never happened in the entire history of the world. Yet here was this old guy saying that God was going to send rain to wash the world of all the sin that was happening. I imagine the people scoffed at his foolish words and actions.

Finally the boat was built and stocked with food for all the people and creatures that would ride out the flood. Just more foolishness. Then the animals started coming to the ark. I suppose those who saw thought it strange, but what did it prove? Noah did not exclude anyone from coming into the ark to be saved, but finally God shut the door. And the deluge came. We know a lot about this foolish old man who built the ark, and nothing at all about those who perished in the flood, however great they may have been in their own eyes.

King Saul started out small in his own eyes, but the romance of being king soon began to grow on him. He didn’t come to a good end, either. It is still that way – those who develop a sense of how important and needful they are for the work of God, cease to be useful to God.

The vitality, the purity and the growth of the kingdom of God depends on the vitality, the purity and the growth in faith and obedience of each individual member of the kingdom. “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). Let’s read it all, chapter by chapter, book by book, the whole Bible, over and over. Let’s read it in bite-sized pieces so that we can grasp what is happening; let’s read the whole story in sequence so that we can grasp the context and see the larger picture.

Let’s read it prayerfully, asking God to reveal to us step by step what He wants us to see, what we need to see for this particular moment and place in time. As we do so, we will develop an acquaintanceship and a relationship with God that grows deeper all the time. He will reprove us, instruct us and encourage us, as long as we are obedient in each small step of the way.

The Beatitudes in Braid Scots

Matthew Chaptir Fyve

  1. And, seeing the thrang o’ folk, he gaed up intil a mountain; and when he was sutten-doon, his disciples gather’t aboot.
  2.  And he open’t his mooth, and instructit them; and quo he:
  3.  Happy the spirits that are lown and cannie: for the kingdom o’ Heeven is waitin’ for them!
  4.  Happy they wha are makin their maen; for they sal fin’ comfort and peace.
  5.  Happy the lowly and meek o’ the yirth: for the yirth sal be their ain haddin.
  6.  Happy they whase hunger and drouth are a’ for holiness: for they sal be satisfy’t!
  7.  Happy the pitifu’: for they sal win pitie theirsels!
  8.  Happy the pure-heartit: for their een sal dwal upon God!
  9.  Happy the makers-up o’ strife: for they sal be coontit for bairns o’ God!
  10.  Happy the ill-treatit anes for the sake o’ gude: for they’se hae the kingdom o’ God!
  11.  Happy sal ye be whan folk sal misca’ ye, and ill-treat ye, and say a’ things again ye wrangouslie for my sake!
  12.   Joy ye, and be blythe! for yere meed is great in Heeven! for e’en sae did they to the prophets afore ye!
  13. The saut o’ the yirth are ye: but gin the saut hae tint its tang, hoo’s it to be sautit? Is it no clean useless? to be cuisten oot, and trauchl’t under folks feet.
  14. Ye are the warld’s licht. A toon biggit on a hill-tap is aye seen.
  15.  Nor wad men licht a crusie, and pit it neath a cog, but set it up; and it gies licht to a’ the hoose.
  16. So lat yere licht gang abreid among men; that seein yere gude warks they may gie God glorie.

Translated by William Wye Smith, a minister of the gospel in Scottish communities in Ontario over 100 years ago. He translated the complete New Testament.

Glossary
braid – broad
lown – quiet
cannie – gentle
een – eyes
misca – slander
crusie – small open lamp
cog – vessel for holding liquids

I don’t have a talent for baking bread

My mother certainly did. She baked the most wonderful loaves and buns of white bread, brown bread, rye bread. Her cinnamon rolls were the greatest. She baked with a wood stove, then a gas stove and finally an electric stove. The only time the bread didn’t turn out was the day she left for parents’ day at school and forgot she had bread in the oven. The chickens got those loaves.

I didn’t inherit her talent, yet I always wished for bread like Mom used to bake. The stuff we buy in the supermarkets just doesn’t cut it. There are little bake shops that make good bread, but they are an hour away and I longed for bread fresh from the oven.

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One day I saw a nearly new bread machine at Value Village for a ridiculously low price. Even better, it was seniors’ day and with the discount I got it for $11.00, tax included. All I had to do now was to dump in the ingredients, push the buttons for the right settings, wait a couple of hours and this wonderful machine would present me with a perfect, hot, tasty loaf of fresh bread.

I had better confess right here that I complicated things by using flour from Red Fife wheat, the 100-year-old variety that was the first wheat grown on the Canadian prairies. I knew that the gluten in this flour wasn’t the same as the gluten in modern bread wheat. But hey, that was supposed to be a good thing, wasn’t it?

I did manage to make some pretty good loaves of 50% whole wheat bread. But things started to go awry when I tried to get to 100% whole wheat. The dough rose just fine. Sometimes it even got a little over exuberant, overflowing the baking pan and oozing down onto the heat element. Smoke billowing out of the bread machine was not a welcome sight. I would air out the house, clean up the machine and try again. But I never succeeded in baking a decent loaf of whole wheat bread with that flour and that machine. The machine was calibrated to start baking at a precise time and that was too late for the gluten in Red Fife wheat. By then the dough had risen, and then fallen.

I gave the machine to my daughter, picked up courage and decided to try doing it by hand. I found a good recipe, actually a blend of several, and set to work, with some coaching from my wife. I kneaded the dough by hand, let it rise, kneaded it again and let it rise a second time. Then I kneaded it the third time, divided it in two and put it in bake pans. As soon as it doubled in volume, I put it in the oven to bake. And it was good.

I discovered that baking bread has nothing to do with talent, but everything to do with the right ingredients, the right timing and a lot of work.

Some people read an inspiring story or article and say that person really has talent. No, she doesn’t. What she has is the determination to work at her righting until it comes out write (that started out as a typo, but it makes the point).

I believe that it was Thomas Edison who said that the recipe for success is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. If we find that 99% part intimidating, we will never be anything but a mediocre writer. Talent, whatever we may imagine it to be, cannot take that inspiration and turn it into something a reader will understand and appreciate. Only work will get us there.

For both bread baking and writing we need to start with the right ingredients. But, as I discovered, you don’t get the greatest results from dumping them all together into a machine and pressing a button. You have to mix them together in the right way, you have to get the timing right and you have to work at it.

With bread dough, after I put the ingredients together, I need to begin with at least five minutes of vigorous kneading. Later, I knead it twice more for shorter periods to get the air bubbles out. Without that kneading, the loaf will have great big holes in it. Writing is just the same; we need to work it over and over again to get the holes out.

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Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Self-surrender

The story of Joseph is one of the most thrilling in the Bible. A misunderstood boy is rejected by his brothers, sold into slavery. Then he is falsely accused, put into prison and forgotten. Someone promises to help him, but he too forgets as soon as he is out of prison. Yet in the end this unfortunate lad is crowned with glory and power and becomes the benefactor and protector of his brothers.

It’s a wonderful story. But most of us are so dazzled by the pomp and glory achieved by Joseph that we completely miss another story happening in the shadows. Yet this other story is more important in the history of God’s people and in the story of redemption.

I am talking about the story of Judah. Judah was the fourth son of his father, the fourth son of Leah, the wife that Jacob hadn’t really wanted. Rachel, the mother of Joseph, was the great love of Jacob’s life.

But when the chips were down, when the ruler of Egypt had told them they needn’t bother coming to buy food again if their youngest brother wasn’t with them, it was Judah who laid his life on the line to save his family from starvation. He told his father he would do everything in his power to bring Benjamin home again, and if he failed he would bear the reproach forever. Jacob’s heart was touched, he trusted Judah and gave permission for Benjamin to go.

Then the ruler of Egypt declared that Benjamin was his hostage, he would not allow him to return to his father. Once again Judah stepped forward and put his life on the line. He told the ruler of Egypt to take him as hostage in place of his younger brother. He told of the promise he had made to his father and how it would be more than his father could bear if Benjamin did not return home. This melted the heart of the ruler of Egypt and he revealed himself as their brother Joseph.

And this is where Judah became the leader of the family. Just before he died, Jacob blessed his sons and said of Judah:

Judah, thou art he whom thy brethren shall praise: thy hand shall be in the neck of thine enemies; thy father’s children shall bow down before thee. Judah is a lion’s whelp: from the prey, my son, thou art gone up: he stooped down, he couched as a lion, and as an old lion; who shall rouse him up? The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be. Binding his foal unto the vine, and his ass’s colt unto the choice vine; he washed his garments in wine, and his clothes in the blood of grapes: his eyes shall be red with wine, and his teeth white with milk. Genesis 49:8-12.

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King David was of the tribe of Judah. Like his ancestor, he cared more for the well-being of his people than he did for personal honour and glory. Jesus was of the lineage of David and of the tribe of Judah. He went beyond the examples left by both in surrendering his life so that all mankind might be saved. The cross, the supreme sacrifice, was foreshadowed in the life of Judah. How can we overlook it?

Who is on the LORD’S side?

Then Moses stood in the gate of the camp, and said, Who is on the LORD’S side? let him come unto me. And all the sons of Levi gathered themselves together unto him. Exodus 32:26

Only a few weeks after being miraculously delivered from oppression in Egypt, the Israelites build themselves a golden bull, say it is a representation of the God who delivered them and begin a riotous celebration.

When Moses came down the mountain and saw what was happening he stood apart from the camp and called for those untainted with this heathenish abomination to come out to him. It appears that only the Levites had fully abstained from participation. He tells them “Put every man his sword by his side, and go in and out from gate to gate throughout the camp, and slay every man his brother, and every man his companion, and every man his neighbour” (verse 27).

It is not specified in the text, but it is to be assumed that the Levites had observed those who were the principal movers of this imitation of pagan worship. Three thousand people were slain.

This was a brutal lesson, but the only means of preventing this idolatry from taking hold of the whole people. We must remember that this was the very beginning of God calling out a people to be His representatives in a world where idolatrous abominations were the norm.

It wasn’t until the New Testament era that the Holy Spirit was given to all believers. During the whole era of the Old Testament the Holy Spirit was given to only a few. It was still possible for all the people to be led of the Spirit, providing they were obedient to the teachings of those prophets, priests and kings who were Spirit-led.

Believers of the New Testament era have a tremendous advantage, yet we are equally tempted to stray from the narrow way out of a misguided love for family, popularity, position or pleasure. Jesus still calls us to come apart from all these and consecrate ourselves fully to Him and to His cause. Sometimes He uses strong language, telling us we need to hate members of our own family, meaning that we must hate any pull from loved ones that would draw us away from Him.

He goes beyond even that and tells us to hate our own flesh. This is not to be interpreted as a life of severe asceticism; in another place He tells us to love our neighbour as much as we love ourselves. That is, inasmuch as we are concerned to provide for our own physical and spiritual needs, we should have the same measure of concern for those needs in those about us.

Who is on the LORD’s side? When we become followers of Jesus, we are enlisting in the service of the Eternal Creator, Lord and Saviour. It is a great and noble calling. Let us consecrate ourselves to His cause, laying aside all that would render our cause obscure and confusing to those around us and could eventually hinder us from reaching our heavenly home.

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