More loose ends

Chapter 18: More loose ends

In the previous chapter, I identified ten topics encapsulated in a single word that were to do with an important Bible theme that somehow related to the subject of the Prophets of the Bible and which the prophets if they were around today, may well be able to offer a valuable perspective. I recognized then that this was not the end of the matter but since I was keen to get to publishing the book, I left it there. Now I am able to produce a second edition and as it happens, I have come across ten further topics, also important and relevant, that I would like us to reflect on. I have decided to reflect on these in this chapter, adopting the same format as before, and keeping our thoughts to two to three pages:

  1. Covenant
  2. Fear
  3. Holiness
  4. Idolatry
  5. Trinity
  6. Suffering
  7. Eternity
  8. Prayer
  9. Faith
  10. Grace

Covenant

One of the major concerns of the Hebrew prophets, as they prophesied to Israel, was that of keeping the Covenant, notably the one God made with them through Moses, in giving them the Law on Mount Sinai, during their wilderness journey, and reminding them of the blessings and curses that would certainly follow as a result of keeping or not keeping the Law, something that inevitably came to pass even though God often showed mercy. The fact that God makes covenants and expects these to be kept is a vital consideration when it comes to trying to understand his dealings with humankind and in our understanding of the Bible.

The Christian Bible comprises Old and New Testaments (Testament is another word for Covenant), even though there are a number of covenants discussed in the Old Testament. The subject of “covenant” can be a contentious one but it is also very important. YHWH has always sought to make covenants with His creation, the nation of Israel, the Church or individuals. A covenant is more than a contract between two parties, since a contract suggests two equal parties. It is an agreement whereby God who is not obligated to or dependent on anyone, who can be 100% guaranteed to keep His part of any agreement arrived at even if that is not reciprocated (unlike when a contract is broken), makes promises and often expecting certain responses. As Israel found out and as the prophets often reminded them, their failure to keep God’s covenant has consequences. An example of a covenant that can be found in everyday life is that of marriage, the keeping of which imposes an obligation for both parties. 

While the New Covenant, such as symbolized when Jesus celebrated the Passover feast with His disciples (likewise also the cup after supper, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you – Luke 22:20), is the one that particularly interests Christian Gentile believers because of its obvious application, and it supersedes that of the Mosaic covenant in terms of personal obligations, most of the other covenants, which are discussed below (seven have been identified by this author), still apply. 

The Edenic Covenant (Genesis 1:28-30, 2:15-17)

The Bible begins with an account of God’s creation, the pinnacle of which was man, with who He wanted a relationship. He put Adam in a garden and told him to look after it and the rest of His creation. Adam effectively had free sway but the one thing he was forbidden from doing was to eat of a certain tree. Adam disobeyed and he was expelled from that garden and a curse followed. The mandate to look after planet Earth and its resources and inhabitants remains.

The Adamic Covenant (Genesis 3:14-19)

Following Adam’s Fall, while there was a curse, there was also a promise that in Adams descendants (Jesus) there will come a victory over the serpent (Satan) and along with it comes redemption and restoration.

The Noahic Covenant (Genesis 8:20-9:17)

Much of the story of humankind following Adam was one of rebellion toward God. Making man grieved him at His heart and as a result He sent a Great flood that destroyed all living creatures on the planet, except for Noah’s family and the animals to continue God’s creation. After the flood, He makes a covenant with Noah, representing humanity that was to follow, and gave a rainbow as a sign: “While the earth remaineth, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease”.

The Abrahamic Covenant (Genesis 12:1-3)

Following the Flood, humanity continued its downward trajectory and this was seen in God’s destruction of the Tower of Babel. Then He calls Abraham, a faithful man, and promised him the land known as Israel and promised that his descendants would be a great nation, who God will bless and they would bless other nations. The sign of that covenant was the practice of male circumcision.

The Mosaic Covenant

So the nation that followed, which was also called Israel, grew in numbers but found itself eventually enslaved in Egypt. God appointed Moses to lead them out of Egypt to take possession of the land He promised Abraham. During their Wilderness journeyings, God established His covenant with Israel and promised He would bless them, providing they obeyed the Law that God gave to them.  

The Davidic Covenant (2Samuel 7:4-17)

David, a man after God’s own heart, was Israel’s most important king. God promised that come what may (and what did come eventually was a divided kingdom and exile for both the Northern and Southern kingdoms) there would always be one of His descendants to sit on the throne of Israel.

The New Covenant (Hebrews 8:7-13)

As the specially chosen people of God were to go into exile, God promised they will return to the land He gave them and give them a new heart and make with them a new covenant. While this was promised specifically to Jews, Gentiles would also benefit and that was because the Messiah, Jesus, came from heaven to earth to die and atone for our sins and thus bring in the New Covenant.

Fear

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the holy is understanding” Proverbs 9:10.

We begin this section on fear with a verse (one of many) that points to the benefits that result when the Lord is feared. I do so mindful many Christians, including pillars of the church, downplay the role of fear in a believer’s life and rather we focus on love and grace that supposedly replaces and is superior to fear. But having gone through the 500 Bible references to “fear” and trying to understand its meaning in the original Hebrew and Greek, I believe it is a wrong view, often promoted to ingratiate church spokespeople to the very people who need to fear God and, as a result, dumbs down the gospel message that should be presented, done in order not to upset saved and unregenerate sinners alike.

I begin with a rather basic explanation, using an extraction from Strong’s concordance concerning one of the Hebrew and one of the Greek words that the KJV and others have translated as “fear”, which I understand tries to convey anything ranging from respect and reverence to terror and dread:

Hebrew: yârêʼ, yaw-ray’; a primitive root; to fear; morally to revere; causatively to frighten:—affright, be (make) afraid, dread(-ful), (put in) fear(-ful, -fully, -ing), (be had in) reverence(-end), see, terrible (act, -ness, thing).

Greek: εὐλάβεια eulábeia, yoo-lab’-i-ah; properly, caution, i.e. (religiously) reverence (piety); by implication, dread (concretely):—fear(-ed).

This lack of the fear is part of the reason why the church finds itself in an inept and powerless condition and, notwithstanding the many Bible exhortations not to fear or to be precise not to fear the wrong things, and the importance of grace and love in the Christian experience, there is a need to rediscover the fear of the Lord as the following text illustrates. We are told to fear a holy, praise a wonder working God: “Who is like unto thee, O Lord, among the gods? who is like thee, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders?” Exodus 15:11.

God’s desire is that His specially chosen people fear Him and thereby derive benefit: “O that there were such an heart in them, that they would fear me, and keep all my commandments always, that it might be well with them, and with their children for ever!” Deuteronomy 5:29.

A key characteristic attributed to one of the most righteous men to have ever lived is his fear of God: “There was a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job; and that man was perfect and upright, and one that feared God, and eschewed evil” Job 1:1.

A clear statement how to serve the Lord with fear, and with it comes joy, is: “Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling” Psalm 2:11.

Rather than having negative connotations, we discover: “The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring for ever: the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether” Psalm 19:9.

There is something precious to be got from fearing God: “The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him; and he will shew them his covenant” Psalm 25:14.

Naturally, there is much to fear but not if the Lord is the strength of our lives: “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? the Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” Psalm 27:1.

What blessings come from being released from our natural fears and replacing these with the fear of God: “I sought the Lord, and he heard me, and delivered me from all my fears. They looked unto him, and were lightened: and their faces were not ashamed. This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him, and saved him out of all his troubles. The angel of the Lord encampeth round about them that fear him, and delivereth them. O taste and see that the Lord is good: blessed is the man that trusteth in him.  O fear the Lord, ye his saints: for there is no want to them that fear him. The young lions do lack, and suffer hunger: but they that seek the Lord shall not want any good thing. Come, ye children, hearken unto me: I will teach you the fear of the Lord” Psalm 33:4-11.

In an invitation to worship God, fear comes into it: “O worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness: fear before him, all the earth” Psalm 69:9.

Blessings results from fearing God: “Blessed is every one that feareth the Lord; that walketh in his ways” Psalm 128:1.

The importance and rich rewards comes from fearing God: “My son, if thou wilt receive my words, and hide my commandments with thee; So that thou incline thine ear unto wisdom, and apply thine heart to understanding; Yea, if thou criest after knowledge, and liftest up thy voice for understanding; If thou seekest her as silver, and searchest for her as for hid treasures; Then shalt thou understand the fear of the Lord, and find the knowledge of God” Proverbs 2:1-5.

Fear brings confidence, refuge and life: “In the fear of the Lord is strong confidence: and his children shall have a place of refuge. The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life, to depart from the snares of death” Proverbs 14:26,27.

True treasure comes with the fear of God: “Better is little with the fear of the Lord than great treasure and trouble therewith” Proverbs 15:16.

A salutary warning is given us for when we are tempted to envy those who do not fear God: “Let not thine heart envy sinners: but be thou in the fear of the Lord all the day long” Proverbs 23:17.

Fear can be misplaced and when it is stumbles us: “The fear of man bringeth a snare: but whoso putteth his trust in the Lord shall be safe” Proverbs 29:25.

One way to summing up the whole duty of man is: “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man” Ecclesiastes 12:13.

The fear of God is a key attribute of the coming Messiah: “And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots: And the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord; And shall make him of quick understanding in the fear of the Lord: and he shall not judge after the sight of his eyes, neither reprove after the hearing of his ears” Isaiah 11:1-3.

Wisdom and knowledge and the stability that results are brought about when there is the fear of God, which is treasure indeed: “And wisdom and knowledge shall be the stability of thy times, and strength of salvation: the fear of the Lord is his treasure” Isaiah 33:6.

The fear of the Lord is something that unites His people and withstands the enemy: “So shall they fear the name of the Lord from the west, and his glory from the rising of the sun. When the enemy shall come in like a flood, the Spirit of the Lord shall lift up a standard against him” Isaiah 59:19.

One of God’s irrefutable promises is so the beneficiaries may fear Him: “And I will give them one heart, and one way, that they may fear me for ever, for the good of them, and of their children after them” Jeremiah 32:39.

Those of us who fear the Lord should be encouraging each other: “Then they that feared the Lord spake often one to another: and the Lord hearkened, and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before him for them that feared the Lord, and that thought upon his name” Malachi 3:16.

Another precious promise to those who fear God is: “But unto you that fear my name shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings; and ye shall go forth, and grow up as calves of the stall” Malachi 4:2.

Fearing God was an important characteristic of the early church: “Then had the churches rest throughout all Judaea and Galilee and Samaria, and were edified; and walking in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy Ghost, were multiplied” Acts 9:31.

Fear should be a factor in living our faith: “Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” Philippians 2:12.

Fear was not just an Old Testament matter: “And so terrible was the sight, that Moses said, I exceedingly fear and quake” Hebrews 12:21.

We should conduct ourselves in godly fear: “Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear” Hebrews 12:28.

Holiness to which we are called and fear of the Lord are irrevocably linked: “But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy. And if ye call on the Father, who without respect of persons judgeth according to every man’s work, pass the time of your sojourning here in fear” 1Peter 1:15-17.

One good motto for life includes in it the entreaty to fear God: “Honour all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king” 1 Peter 2:17.

Fear is a good thing when we consider how holy and worthy of worship God is: “Who shall not fear thee, O Lord, and glorify thy name? for thou only art holy: for all nations shall come and worship before thee; for thy judgments are made manifest” Revelation 15:4.

Fear is called for when Jesus comes again to judge: “And a voice came out of the throne, saying, Praise our God, all ye his servants, and ye that fear him, both small and great” Revelation 19:5.

In today’s culture, fear is often seen in negative terms, even if many succumb to it, one way or the other. Although sometimes there is a place, e.g. warning us of danger, but too often people fear the wrong things. As we have seen in the aforementioned texts, fear if properly directed is an excellent thing with many benefits, especially if it is the fear of the Lord. We round off our meditation with a text that reminds us how fear can play both a negative and positive part in our lives. I write at a time when a second lockdown has just been announced to combat the Coronavirus. Different people have different reactions to this.

Some see conspiracy theories being played out in society, just as did Israel in our text below, when the threat of invasion was all too real. Some who follow the rules religiously will tut tut at those who succumb to such theories. Yet criticism might apply to those who fear what happens if correct precautions are not taken but at huge cost, where the fear of death has been a factor in getting the populace to do what they are told and lose their freedoms in the bargain. Neither are correct responses, but to fear God, and that includes dread, is!

As we will see later, fear relates to grace. John Newton understood this when he wrote: “Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace my fears relieved. How precious did that grace appear the hour I first believed.” As for fearing God rather than conspiracies: “For the Lord spoke thus to me with his strong hand upon me, and warned me not to walk in the way of this people, saying: Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread. But the Lord of hosts, him you shall honor as holy. Let him be your fear, and let him be your dread” Isaiah 8:11-13.

Holiness

One of the major recurring themes of the Bible that the Hebrew prophets continually referred to was the holiness of God, and along with that was God’s demand that His people be holy: “And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation. These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel” Exodus 19:6 and “Speak unto all the congregation of the children of Israel, and say unto them, Ye shall be holy: for I the Lord your God am holy” Leviticus 19:2. A major reason for God’s displeasure with His people and for their demise was they were not living as holy people. An important principle and purpose in God’s dealings with his people is to make them holy.

For modern minds, the notion of holiness can often be looked on with suspicion because of negative connotations, such as an emphasis on the inconsequential things some concentrate on doing and ignoring consequential things some refrain from doing, and foreboding because holy people often come across as judgmental “holier than thou” and are not particularly nice people. There is also the claim such folk are joyless and legalistic, too heavenly minded to be any earthly good. In God’s eyes, holiness, at least in the biblically held sense, is a very good thing. To be holy is something that is worth pursuing. The same command given to the Israelites applies to the Church: “Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord” Hebrews 12:14.

There is a wide discrepancy among churches when it comes to how holiness is taught. For some, it is a matter of lots of dos and don’ts, often ignoring what it means to truly love thy neighbor, and has negative implications or it is taught at the expense of other important Bible doctrines. For others, it is something that is ignored because it is seen to be divisive, intolerant and judgmental and not to put off the assorted group of sinners who might take umbrage. Then there are some whose focus is on getting people saved such that what comes after and the call to live a holy life and encouragement to do so is too easily overlooked. Some will take a view that holiness will follow automatically once saved and talk of it is thus downplayed. Yet it is truth and balance that is needed.

While not perfect correlations or synonyms to the word holiness as used in the Bible, the following are near matches: set-apartness, separateness, devotedness, godliness, righteousness, piety, virtue, consecration, sacredness, sinlessness, sanctification. Yet none do full justice to this important aspect of God’s character and one we are called to emulate, as part of our own act of devotion and worship. It does involve ritual cleanliness and manifests itself, especially in Jewish religion, in the way God was worshiped and the things people did or did not do, but more importantly it is a matter of the heart: “Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? or who shall stand in his holy place? He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart; who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully. He shall receive the blessing from the Lord, and righteousness from the God of his salvation” (Psalm 24:3-5).

In preparing for this section on holiness, besides checking out OT prophets and NT writers e.g. Paul, Peter, John, I checked out what great men of God in the past, whose insights I particularly respect, said about holiness: Jonathan Edwards, John Owen, John Wesley, C.H.Spurgeon and J.C.Ryle (a personal favourite) as well as people who have lived during my lifetime: A.W.Tozer, Derek Prince, David Wilkerson, David Pawson and J.I.Packer. In all cases, I was blown away, not so much because of the gravity of what they shared but because what they shared was so important and that I had a long way to go. As I look around me and ponder on Gods dealing with humankind, past and present, the more I see a significant factor when it came to outcomes was God’s holiness. True God deals with us in judgment and mercy, but also to vindicate His holy name and make us a holy people. As we look with consternation at recent world events and try to make sense out of it all, it is worth bringing to that mix the notion that God, as ever, is seeking a holy people.

Before rounding off by quoting a few of the many significant verses of the Bible that contain the word “holy” or “holiness”, bearing in mind there are many more texts where those verses are not mentioned that are equally relevant, I would like to offer the following thoughts:

Ten holiness thoughts:

  1. An important theme of the prophets is the Salvation of God. For those of us who believe, we have been saved (justification); we are being saved (sanctification) and we shall be saved (glorification). Intrinsic in all three is to depart from sin and to pursue holiness.
  2. It is a grave truth: heaven is a holy place and if you are not interested in being holy on earth it is unlikely you will be able to experience the joys of heaven or the presence of a holy God.
  3. Anyone serious about God will want to be holy because they want to honour Him in all things. It is not just for those we call saints but it is something for all true children of God.
  4. Those who are truly saintly are invariably those most concerned about their sinfulness.
  5. Becoming holy is not something that occurs overnight. We come to God as sinners and while there should be a desire and expectation to overcome sin, it remains a lifelong exercise.
  6. A holy person is as much concerned with doing the right thing (e.g. in our dealings with others, such as the poor and suffering) as things that might cause us to drift away from God (and is why cultivating good habits and not doing things that might lead us into temptation is important).
  7. A holy person is more concerned about being holy rather than being happy, with the praise of God rather than the praise of men and doing the right thing rather than being successful. Yet often (as I have observed) true happiness comes when there is holiness.
  8. While a holy person may possess an aura of the presence of God and a sense of “the other”, often those who are truly holy are among the most empathetic, wholesome, and joyful examples of humanity.
  9. A holy person grieves for the sin that is all too apparent in those around him / her (as well as his / her own) and desires and wants to help such people to be saved and that means them becoming holy. 
  10. A holy person, above everything else, seeks to please God. Holiness is his / her mantra, and reason for living. Often it is the most unlikely people who are the most holy, although it is the Lord alone can pass judgement.

Ten “holiness” texts:

  1. Exodus 15:11: “Who is like unto thee, O Lord, among the gods? who is like thee, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders?
  2. Exodus 28:36: “And thou shalt make a plate of pure gold, and grave upon it, like the engravings of a signet, Holiness to the Lord.”
  3. Psalm 29:2: “Give unto the Lord the glory due unto his name; worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.
  4. Isaiah 35:8: “And an highway shall be there, and a way, and it shall be called The way of holiness; the unclean shall not pass over it; but it shall be for those: the wayfaring men, though fools, shall not err therein.”
  5. Obadiah 1:17: “But upon mount Zion shall be deliverance, and there shall be holiness; and the house of Jacob shall possess their possessions.”
  6. 2 Corinthians 7:1: “Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.
  7. Ephesians 4:24: “And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness”.
  8. 1 Thessalonians 3:13: “To the end he may stablish your hearts unblameable in holiness before God, even our Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all his saints.
  9. Hebrews 12:10: “For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness.
  10. Hebrews 12:14: “Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord:

Ten “holy” texts:

  1. Exodus 19:6: “And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation. These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel.”
  2. 1 Samuel 2:2: “There is none holy as the Lord: for there is none beside thee: neither is there any rock like our God.”
  3. Psalm 15:1: “Lord, who shall abide in thy tabernacle? who shall dwell in thy holy hill?
  4. Psalm 103:1: “Bless the Lord, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless his holy name.
  5. Isaiah 6:3: “And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory.”
  6. Habakkuk 2:20: “But the Lord is in his holy temple: let all the earth keep silence before him.”
  7. Romans 12:1: “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.”
  8. Ephesians 5:27: “That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.”
  9. 1 Peter 2:5,9: “Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ … But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.”
  10. Revelation 22:11: “He that is unjust, let him be unjust still: and he which is filthy, let him be filthy still: and he that is righteous, let him be righteous still: and he that is holy, let him be holy still.

Idolatry

Closely connected to the call to holiness is that of turning from idolatry, which when doing a dictionary search to find meaning we find that an idol is “an image or representation of a god used as an object of worship” or “a person or thing that is greatly admired, loved, or revered”.

The notion of bowing down to an inanimate object representing something animate is not one that modern minds particularly identify with. They might also concur with the scornful ridicule of the prophet: “They that make a graven image are all of them vanity; and their delectable things shall not profit; and they are their own witnesses; they see not, nor know; that they may be ashamed … He burneth part thereof in the fire; with part thereof he eateth flesh; he roasteth roast, and is satisfied: yea, he warmeth himself, and saith, Aha, I am warm, I have seen the fire: And the residue thereof he maketh a god, even his graven image: he falleth down unto it, and worshippeth it, and prayeth unto it, and saith, Deliver me; for thou art my god” Isaiah 44:9, 16-17.

But idolatry goes far beyond the obvious that Isaiah had observed. Besides making the observation that idolatry was widely practiced in the times of the Hebrew prophets and that practice as much as anything did cause Yahweh to punish his special people: Israel, it is evident that it is something that everyone of us could slip into, knowingly or unknowingly, because all too often its roots may be found in replacing God with self on the throne of our hearts. The first two of the Ten Commandments that most Christians, except for keeping the Sabbath, see as binding, tell us “You shall have no other gods before me” and “You shall not make yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything …”, which both encapsulate the notion of avoiding idolatry as being very important.

While most examples of idol worship can be found in the OT, it is clear in the NT God is angry with and judges ANY who practice idolatry, and this becomes a central plank in Paul’s argument as to why humankind stands condemned before an idol hating God: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness … And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things. Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves: Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever” Romans 1:8, 23-25.  

In terms of avoiding idolatry (fleeing, killing maybe better words) the NT writers are unequivocal in their exhortations, knowing full well from the OT what were the consequences when that did not happen. Notwithstanding, this is now the age of grace, there is a danger people can fall into practicing idolatry, even if momentarily or not all that deeply or even when the idol is something that is basically good. For example: “Wherefore, my dearly beloved, flee from idolatry” 1 Corinthians 10:14, “For this ye know, that no whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God” Ephesians 5:5, “Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry” Colossians 3:5, “Little children, keep yourselves from idols” 1 John 5:21 and “The fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death” Revelation 21:8.

As one might expect, if one were to check out some of the many sermons and meditations on the subject of idolatry, we would find many examples of idolatry given, including what is good, but somehow it usurps the place of God who tells us to have no other god before him. Success, prosperity, power, status, fame, ambition, prestige, family, things, hobbies, sports, science, knowledge, sex, persons come to mind. All may have their place, but if these come before the worship of the Almighty, it can quickly turn into idolatry as well as things we know we should not be doing – and as for images – in this modern age where self and sophistication is prized in the culture, these may seem not to feature.

When we turn back to the Old Testament, idolatry was something that seriously concerned the prophets, although it was evident idolatry was widespread outside the confines of Israel among its close neighbors. The building of and bowing to the Golden Calf while Moses was up in the mountain receiving the Law is an early example of what led a severe judgement on the idolaters. God was very clear “Ye shall make you no idols nor graven image, neither rear you up a standing image, neither shall ye set up any image of stone in your land, to bow down unto it: for I am the Lord your God” Leviticus 26:1, and yet repeatedly in their history, at least until after the Exile, we find the Israelites doing the very thing that God forbade and in doing so found to be reaping the consequences.

As for the Hebrew prophets and how God viewed idolatry, the following are some examples of how vehemently it was opposed: “Their land also is full of idols; they worship the work of their own hands, that which their own fingers have made” Isaiah 2:8, “A drought is upon her waters; and they shall be dried up: for it is the land of graven images, and they are mad upon their idols” Jeremiah 50:38, “Son of man, these men have set up their idols in their heart, and put the stumblingblock of their iniquity before their face: should I be enquired of at all by them?” Ezekiel 14:3, “What profiteth the graven image that the maker thereof hath graven it; the molten image, and a teacher of lies, that the maker of his work trusteth therein, to make dumb idols?” Habakkuk 2:18, and “For the idols have spoken vanity, and the diviners have seen a lie, and have told false dreams; they comfort in vain: therefore they went their way as a flock, they were troubled, because there was no shepherd” Zechariah 10:2.

In the Old Testament especially, many of these false gods / idols are named but two that keep cropping up and which I will focus were: Baal and Molech. “And they built the high places of Baal, which are in the valley of the son of Hinnom, to cause their sons and their daughters to pass through the fire unto Molech; which I commanded them not, neither came it into my mind, that they should do this abomination, to cause Judah to sin” Jeremiah 32:35. Baal crops up many times and notably in that great contest between Elijah and the prophets of Baal when the true God, Yahweh passed judgement over the false and when Elijah asked the Israelites why that were wavering between two opinions: whether to serve Yahweh or Baal? Molech crops up, as in this verse, with the sacrifice of children. Today people need to decide which god / God they are to serve. Much of the abortion industry and child sex trafficking is a sacrifice to Molech. Much of the hatred we are seeing directed toward Christians who oppose cultural norms such as with sexual identity and orientation, is linked to Baal worship.

Trinity

The Christian doctrine of the Trinity holds that God is one God, but three coeternal and consubstantial persons, each corresponding to its own hypostasis: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, as one God in three Divine Persons. The three persons are distinct, yet are one “substance, essence or nature” Wikipedia

I believe in one God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible. I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Only Begotten Son of God, born of the Father before all ages. God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father; through him all things were made …” Nicene Creed –  AD 325

“… we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; Neither confounding the Persons: nor dividing the Substance. For there is one Person of the Father, another of the Son: and another of the Holy Ghost. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, is all one: the Glory equal, the Majesty co-eternal. Such as the Father is, such is the Son: and such is the Holy Ghost. The Father uncreate, the Son uncreate: and the Holy Ghost uncreate. The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible: and the Holy Ghost incomprehensible. The Father eternal, the Son eternal: and the Holy Ghost eternal. And yet they are not three eternals: but one eternal. As also there are not three incomprehensibles, nor three uncreated: but one uncreated, and one incomprehensible …” Athanasian Creed – AD 500

The Christian doctrine of the Trinity has proved to be controversial ever since the Christian religion began 2000 years ago and in order to combat heretical teaching the two (of the three) main creeds adopted by Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican and major Protestant denominations, quoted above, were produced. There have been huge disputes concerning the person hood of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, down the ages, which continue, and this has often given rise to huge disruption and schism. As far as mainstream Christianity goes, belief in the doctrine of the Trinity is an essential tenet of faith, even more so perhaps than that of Justification by Faith. Yet the word “Trinity” does not appear in the Bible and arguably it is not something that is formulated so strongly as it is in the two creeds quoted above. But as far as this writer is concerned, the doctrine of the Trinity is not only essential but is a key to understanding the prophets. 

Our main focus has been on God the Father, followed by God the Son and God the Holy Spirit (dealt with in an earlier section because, even if only implied, the Holy Spirit played an important part in our story of the Prophets of the Bible). As far as Judaism is concerned there is only one God: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord” Deuteronomy 6:4. This message is continually reinforced by the prophets even though, without exception, the nations surrounding Israel worshiped other gods, sometimes many, and often Israel turned to such gods. While the Christian doctrine of the Trinity may be an anathema as far as much of Judaism is concerned, Christianity is monotheistic.

The expectation of the coming Messiah, which Christians see as having been fulfilled in David’s descendant, Jesus, who is also coming again to reign as king, was as we have discussed a major preoccupation of the prophets, harking back to God’s promise to Abraham: “in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed” Genesis 22:18, but whose expected coming intensified during and following the Exile. The Messiah was seen both in human terms e.g. “He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted” Isaiah 53:3-4 as well as bordering on the divine: “I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him. And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed” Daniel 7:13,14, but it is unlikely the prophets quite saw their Messiah as divine, as their belief was in the one God.

The point here is not to make a case for the Trinity in the way some Christian apologists have done so in the past. While some have pointed to verses in the Old Testament that might suggest the Trinity, e.g. as part of the creation story when we read “And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them” Genesis 1:26,27, when the word for God used, Elohim, suggests plurality, it may be rather stretching the point to affirm the Hebrew prophets embraced the Trinitarian view.

We need to consider the New Testament to find stronger evidence to support the Trinitarian position, and several verses can be cited. Perhaps one of the strongest, and is often used, is in the prologue to John’s gospel: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made … And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth” John 1:1-3,14. It is often said that the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke) focus on Jesus humanity, whereas John’s gospel focuses on Jesus divinity and gives several examples, with the blending of the two natures being one of the great wonders of the faith.

That wonderful unity can be seen in the giving of the Holy Spirit: “But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me” John 15:26. It is notable in the closing commission given to His disciples, mention is made of all persons of the Trinity. Jesus said: “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world” Matthew 28:19,20.

The doctrine of the Trinity is a hard one to swallow because of the impossibility of such in human terms and is one, especially those who are new to faith, may find difficult to come to grips with. But if we are to give Son and Holy Spirit the honour due to them and hold a balanced understanding of the unique parts played by Father, Son and Holy Spirit in the workings out of the universe, not least in the salvation of humankind, how each has a specific role yet ones that are beautifully complementary, an acceptance of this triune God is essential.

Suffering

The subject of suffering has occupied greater and lesser minds from the beginning of time, and where libraries are needed to contain all what has been thought, said and written.  Like many, I have been confronted by those who have either lost their faith or have made radical adjustments because of what they have seen and witnessed and in the light of the Bible has to say about suffering and related topics. It is also something I have personally had to deal with, e.g. when carrying a chip on my shoulder for perceived injustices that I have personally experienced or wanting to get back at those who do bad to those I care for. It is therefore appropriate to say something, while admitting I do not have many of the answers, to help set the record straight, noting that in the best part of a year researching this book, the subject of suffering in various guises has cropped up several times, even if only in passing. The background in which I operated with severe restrictions due to Covid-19 meant many have suffered. Suffering was introduced into the world following the Fall, when Adam and Eve disobeyed God. The result was they were expelled from their idyllic garden and this has been the experience of humanity ever since. The one thing the Bible does not do and that is to unravel in full the mysteries behind suffering.

There is a side of God which Christians, especially those of a more liberal persuasion, present: loving, kind, patient, merciful, gracious etc., all of which is true of course. But there is another side: holy, righteous, judgmental, vengeful, jealous etc. and that too is true. For the sake of balance, we need to recognise both sides. A few years back, I read Richard Dawkin’s “The God Delusion”. I was struck when Dawkins laid into those who believed in and followed God (even though he put God into the same category as fairies at the bottom of the garden) and made the point – how could they given the evidence of God’s cruelty that can be traced back to the Bible itself? After all, did he not command Joshua and Saul to wipe out whole cities – men, women and children? If it happened today, Joshua and Saul might be hauled before an international court on charges of genocide and few “right thinking” people would object. I should add, if Dawkins were to come to me, I could give more examples. While I may question his context, I can’t dispute his examples. There is a lot in the Bible, especially Old Testament, narrative when God does not make sense.

The proposition that has bothered many down the ages is while it may not be unreasonable to expect bad people to suffer, i.e. get their just desserts for their bad deeds, there are countless examples of good people who suffer (as well as the bad people who don’t). We can all think of examples of when that is the case and I will resist giving examples, but we can all think of examples in our own lives, or those we care about, when life has dealt them a poor hand.  It is tempting, like Job’s comforters, to question why this seemingly very righteous man should suffer as badly as he did, and that maybe he was not quite as good as he appeared to be. But we know from reading the book with that title they got it wrong and there was an eternal dimension involving God and Satan that no-one saw, not even Job. It was Job who said: “for I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God” Job 19:25-26 and as for being confident in God, he declared: “though he slay me, yet will I trust in him: but I will maintain mine own ways before him” Job 13:15.

If we were to read through the whole Bible, looking for examples of suffering, we would soon be inundated with examples.  Sometimes people suffered because of their own wrong actions and there are lessons that can be derived. Sometimes people suffered because of the wrong actions of others and can not be blamed. Both are universal experiences. Sometimes people suffered because they did the right thing. This book has furnished numerous examples of the prophets suffering, often as a result of being attacked by those who did not like their message. While we read about the prophets’ pain and sometimes bemusement, we also find they trusted God. For New Testament Christians, suffering was a common place experience. Perhaps the most profound of the prophetic books of the Bible was Revelation and its profoundness was not so much because of the number of prophetic statement but because it was addressed to those who had experienced and would experience persecution.

When it comes to suffering, however much we might try to arrange things (assuming we can – and many do not have that luxury because of the circumstances in which they live) suffering is still nigh unavoidable, for such are the vagaries of life and the best we can do is hope for the best and prepare for the worst (although often that is impossible because often we cannot predict what that “worst” is going to be). Persecution is a form of suffering that particularly impacts people of faith. It may be something that can be avoided by renouncing the faith. Going back to Revelation, the readers were encouraged to stand fast and look forward to an eternal reward for doing so. “And I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ: for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day and night. And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death” Revelation 12:10,11. Looking around the world about me at this time, as I write, I am astounded by the amount of persecution happening all over the world and the way things are heading, soon in my own country. The watchword is we must prepare to suffer.

I daresay it is easy to come up with pious platitudes in the light of suffering, especially if it is other people’s, and it is something that we should avoid. Rather we need to seek to encourage, pray for and give comfort and whatever limited practical help we can to those who do suffer, especially our brothers and sisters, some we do not know, who are suffering for Christ. We are reminded that it is our Lord “who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God” 2Corinthians 1:4.

We should see suffering in positive terms and character building: “we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope: And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us” Romans 5:3-5. Then there is the Day of Judgement and the Eternal State (covered in the next section) when true justice is served (“shall not the Judge of all the earth do right” Genesis 18:25) and mysteries around suffering are resolved. Finally, we should remember the amazing truth that God suffered on our behalf. Jesus the Son died on the Cross and was rejected by His Father, and all that was necessary in order that He could atone for our sins.   

Eternity

The subject of eternity is one that most of us, I have no doubt, have given much thought to. One of my earliest childhood memories was a sense of fear when I contemplated eternity – realising it has no beginning and no end. Along with this was the notion that God is eternal and, as for me, I was a mere infinitesimal speck in the timeline between no beginning and no end. The 1662 Book of Common Prayer captures some of these sentiments: “Man that is born of a woman hath but a short time to live, and is full of misery. He cometh up, and is cut down, like a flower; he fleeth as it were a shadow, and never continueth in one stay”. It was some years later that I gained the assurance this insignificant nobody could and would spend eternity with an infinite God, not on the basis of any intrinsic merit etc. but because I had been saved by grace.

These days I attend (at least before Covid lockdown) funerals on a regular basis. They tend to fall into two categories, depending on the deceased’s beliefs and those of his/her family, firstly: those that reflect on the delights that the one who is mourned is now experiencing or one day experience in God’s presence, often irrespective of the deceased religious beliefs or practices, and secondly: those that ignores such considerations, but with perhaps the rather whimsical hope that something of that persons life’s energy and qualities will continue with future generations. Whichever our position is, if we are to take the Bible seriously, the question of how one spends eternity remains an important one.

In my studies of the Hebrew prophets, it appeared that eternity was not a major pre-occupation. Rather, their major concern was the future of Israel, with only a passing interest in the destiny of other nations and that the people of YHWH be obedient to Him and leave a worthy legacy for their families and Israel. But a careful examination of the Law, e.g. Deuteronomy 31:16, the Writings, e.g. Psalm 16 10, Psalm 17:15, Psalm 49:14-15, Psalms 71:18, Proverbs 14:32, Daniel 7:18, Daniel 12:1, 13 and Job 12-13-14, as well as the prophets, e.g. Isaiah 25:8-9, 26:19, Ezekiel 37:12-14, Hosea 13:14, will dismiss the notion that the Old Testament was not concerned with eternity. Even what appears to be a euphemism often used when talking about someone’s death “he slept with his fathers” implied that death is not the end and there is something after death.

Perhaps one of the more sobering utterances from the mouth of the prophets, because it alludes to what we might equate to notions of heaven and hell, comes at the end of Isaiah: “For as the new heavens and the new earth, which I will make, shall remain before me, saith the Lord, so shall your seed and your name remain. And it shall come to pass, that from one new moon to another, and from one sabbath to another, shall all flesh come to worship before me, saith the Lord. And they shall go forth, and look upon the carcases of the men that have transgressed against me: for their worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched; and they shall be an abhorring unto all flesh” Isaiah 66:22-24.

What heaven and hell are like, who goes there and on what basis, the actual timelines between Old and New Covenants, the significance of the Day of Judgement, the New Heaven and New Earth, our ultimate destinies and where the royal we fits into all this are yet further huge questions that this chapter has been raising, because they are important and while hardly scratching the surface it opens up these subjects, encouraging further study, mindful that considerable false teaching abounds.  As far as the New Testament is concerned, toward the outset we are presented with two major and influential camps within Judaism: the liberal, rationalists, the Sadducees, who did not believe in the resurrection of the dead, and the sanctimonious, hypocrites, the Pharisees, who did. Jesus own theological position was clear when he declared “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live” John 11:25. One of the best known and loved texts in the whole Bible makes it clear: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” John 3:16.

In Paul’s teaching to the Romans, the pre-requisite for eternal life is clear:  “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus. Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith” Romans 3:23-27. Paul develops this theme: “What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found? For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God. For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness. Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness. Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works, Saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin. Cometh this blessedness then upon the circumcision only, or upon the uncircumcision also? for we say that faith was reckoned to Abraham for righteousness” Romans 4:1-9.

Even Gentiles who know nothing of the Law or the Gospel are not excluded: “For there is no respect of persons with God. For as many as have sinned without law shall also perish without law: and as many as have sinned in the law shall be judged by the law; (For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified. For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves: Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another;) In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to my gospel” Romans 2:11-16. While the above provides great hope and reassurance to the Christian believer, it is well to be reminded that “faith without works is dead” James 2:20 and it is “he who endures to the end shall be saved” Matthew 24:13.

The matter of Hell is a problematic one and I doubt few if any find the notion of eternal punishment for unbelievers a palatable one humanly speaking and most could name those close to them who we cannot, hand on heart say, died as believers and therefore they stand condemned. If we avoid the sentimentality that often surrounds loved ones who die, we cannot say with assurance we will be reunited with those who died as unbelievers. Harking back to the previous section on suffering, for some the idea of Hell is the most difficult example of suffering to stomach. But it was Jesus who called Hell (however we wish to describe it) a place “where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched” Mark 9:48 and “where there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth” Luke 13:28. One of the most sobering verses in the whole Bible because of its grave warning is what happens following the Day of Judgement: “whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire” Revelation 20:15.

Our eternal destiny should be a cause of great concern for self and others, including, however hard it is to fathom, what a person’s eternal destiny is, yet God will always do what is right and we leave it with Him. For our part, we are responsible both for making the right decision and not resting there but living a holy life, and for telling others how they stand before God and what they must do. Like the apostles, we must proclaim: “neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved. Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” Acts 4:12. “It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment” Hebrews 9:27. The question of where “after this” is of paramount importance. The idea of spending eternity with one’s Saviour, is one that should bring great comfort.

Since this book is about the prophets of the Bible, it is appropriate to give one of them the last word: “For since the beginning of the world men have not heard, nor perceived by the ear, neither hath the eye seen, O God, beside thee, what he hath prepared for him that waiteth for him” Isaiah 64:4, which Paul quotes, while explaining something of the wisdom of God and the true wonder and mystery of the gospel message (1Corinthians 2:1-9).

Prayer

I do not feel particularly well qualified to write on the subject of prayer, but since I am a Christian who prays, knows well most of the passages in the Bible that concern prayer, have been a participant in countless prayer meetings, many of which I have led, and have many times seen God answer prayer, I believe I have something to bring to the party. Just like “Bible”, discussed earlier, prayer is something even the humblest among us can participate in with great effect.

As an old dodderer who society consigns to sit on the sidelines and with no demand to contribute to the economy, I can do so knowing I must do my bit as a Watchman on the Wall, encourager of saints and sinners alike and as a Bible student and teacher, and share what the Lord has laid on my heart. I have long known this of course but my effectiveness is linked to my prayer life and I have no excuse for not praying, whether it is an individual (in secret as Jesus said) or part of a collective. The days of national emergency, such as during World War 2 when the King called the UK to pray, seem to have gone and yet we face an emergency now. While I don’t want to use this as an opportunity to bash church or government, I regret such calls don’t happen and my reading of the Bible is God allows calamities to wake His people up. An earlier topic was holiness, and it there is a connection, God (YHWH) wants both a holy people and a praying people and the one leads to the other. While we may stand in awe at saints of bygone days who prayed daily for hours on end, it remains true: “the devil trembles when he sees the weakest saint upon his knees”.

Before I give my list of areas to pray into, I offer some “qualifying” thoughts by way of a precursor:

  1. It is quite clear that the prophets of the Bible were men and women of prayer and that prayer and prophecy were linked. Often they had to wait a long time until they saw answers to their prayers or fulfillment of their prophecies but they persisted and were patient, and so should we.
  2. I often precede studies like this with a Bible search, in this case on the word “pray”, and feed this into my online Bible application (BibleGateway) and thus meditate. There are passages of the Bible, particularly the Psalms, that we do well to meditate on. I commend this practice. Besides studying the Bible, I have read many helpful books on prayer, which I commend, but confess the revolution and transformation that should follow is very much work in progress.
  3. There have also been many “heroes of the faith” to supplement those mentioned in the Bible, who took God at his word, and prayed, and as a result of their praying often saw wonderful, unexpected, unusual, miraculous, powerful answers to prayer. Like Elijah they were those of likes passions as we are. Reading their biographies can be inspirational.
  4. Prayer is no substitute for obedience to God, living a holy life, taking action and having a contrite heart and a penitent spirit. The practice of confession as a prelude to prayer is one I would also commend. “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me” Psalm 66:18.
  5. Prayer must lead to action. The likes of Wilberforce and Bonhoeffer prayed and it led to needful political action. The likes of George Carey and Hudson Taylor prayed and it led to fruitful missionary endeavour, like in the unchristianised lands of India and China. The likes of Mueller and Booth prayed and it led to much needed social action, like caring for widows and orphans. The likes of Bonnke and Prince prayed and it led to Pentecostal revival. The likes of numerous church planters down the ages prayed and it led to new churches being opened. The likes of many martyrs prayed right up to this present time, and it while it may have led to their deaths it brought new life to the wider church. So often, the likes of you and me have prayed and it did lead to wonderful breakthroughs in what were often small things.
  6. We must be careful not to pre-empt God – who while He will answer our prayers, it may not be in the way we hope of expect. We must be reliant on the Holy Spirit to help us to pray.
  7. We are beholden to pray and the subjects for our prayers are countless, but we must begin somewhere. It doesn’t require fancy words or well thought out schemes. God knows it all.
  8. Prayer, including supplication and intercession, should accompany worship, including praise and thanksgiving. In fact, worship God for who He is and praise for what He has done should be central to our prayer time. It also means we have to forgive those who have wronged us. It also involves spiritual warfare and is an weapon in this important undertaking.
  9. While our prayers are often general e.g. bless Aunt Soandso, we need to learn to go from the general to the specific and be like Jacob, not to let God go until he has blessed us.
  10. Prayer involves spiritual warfare and those who take prayer seriously, as opposed to a token exercise is a spiritual warrior. There is much that is happening behind the scenes, typically in the spiritual realm, we cannot see because we do not have the big picture but the Lord and his heavenly army does and delights when his earthly army engages in such warfare.
  11. As members of the Body (the Church), which is universal and includes people we may not like or agree with, we need to pray for them, and especially for the suffering church.
  12. Prayer, like so much in life is a discipline and it can happen at any time and in any place and take any form (including use of set prayers). It can be done privately and individually and publicly and corporately. It may accompany fasting. It needs to be done regularly and freely. Prayer is a sincere response of the heart to our loving heavenly Father who can and does give us far more than we can ever ask or imagine.

As for items of prayer, I offer here what is a halfway house between the general and the specific. I also have a view of world events as does the reader and will do my best not to force my view.

  1. There is so much going on in the world and the picture changes by the day and we don’t know half. As I write the USA is uncertain who has won the US Presidential election. The issue of voter fraud is a real one. The outcome will have huge implications, not just for the USA but for the world at large. Pray truth and justice prevail.
  2. 2020 has been the year of the Corona virus which has affected us all. For some the affects are devastating. As I write, we do not know how it will all end or what nefarious schemes are afoot. We pray God’s will be done.
  3. As far as my country, the UK, goes Brexit has overshadowed so much among its concerns. It is shortly due to completely leave the EU, and there remains uncertainty as to whether it is with a deal or no deal. Pray for a righteous transition and for the UK’s future outside of the EU.
  4. It has become increasingly evident that the Church (true followers of Christ) is not united and false teaching and unspiritual leaders holds sway. Yet Christ loves the Church and seeks a bride, pure and holy. Pray He will stir up His people and raise up leaders, like King David, after His own heart. Pray for revival in the church and be ready for it start with us.
  5. Many of our brothers and sisters in many countries across the world suffer severe persecution. Every day, the likes of the Barnabas Fund give examples of persecution for us to pray concerning.
  6. There are many mission agencies, including those known to and supported by us individually, who do sterling work, but under great pressure and all sorts of constraints, including financial ones. We pray, as overwhelming as these needs are, recognising “the fields are white for harvest” John 4:35 and that “the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest” (Matthew 9:37), and for those who are doing the work.
  7. We may have little confidence in the leaders of this world but we must pray for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.
  8. There is much to concern us in our own community, family, friends, neighbours etc. It is likely that included in their number are those who are unsaved. We must pray for them.
  9. In our own circle and fellowships there is the elderly, young, perplexed, lonely, disaffected, sick etc. There may be outreaches to these and the wider community to pray concerning.
  10. Israel remains God’s special people and is at the heart of so much happening in the world: “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem” Psalm 122:6.
  11. The call to love our neighbour, form the top of the societal ladder to the bottom, those who are key workers and those who aren’t, those who like and support us and the very opposite, the decision makers and influencers and those who aren’t; whatever age, gender, sexual orientation, race, religion, disability etc. There is enormous scope for prayer.
  12. Pray for the worldwide furtherance of the gospel and the extension of God’s kingdom, for true disciples of the Lord Jesus who disciple others.

Faith

When I did my customary Bible search on a word or idea I want to discuss, I found there to be 56 references in the Old Testament to the text “faith” and 280 in the New Testament. Most of the OT references were the words “faithful” and “faithfulness”, something that is intrinsically related to faith and is confirmed when doing a Strong’s Concordance check – someone with faith will be faithful, just as God is. Then there was the concept of faith, encapsulated in words like “trust”, “confidence”, “reliance”, bringing me to the view if I were to check out all such references, I would soon get lost down the rabbit holes.

What has become very clear is that faith is an essential element in our study of the Prophets of the Bible and without it we might well conclude the prophets were deluded or worse and we would be wasting our time and energy in pursuing such studies if God was not for real. The crux question concerning God is not does religion keep one civilized and happy or, as Karl Marx put it, act as “the opium of the people”, but is it true and if so which variant, given that if A contradicts B then either A or B or both are false? In an earlier loose end, on “Apologetics”, I argued given the weight of Bible prophecy that has been fulfilled, this is powerful reason why I know the God I have faith in, as revealed in the Bible, is for real. Another is the resurrection of Jesus. I concur with Paul (as a “fundamentalist” – do I have a choice?) “And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain” 1 Corinthians 15:17. 

Which brings me to “what is faith” and specifically faith in the God of the Bible? One basically sound online Bible dictionary defined faith thus: “belief, trust, and loyalty to a person or thing. Christians find their security and hope in God as revealed in Jesus Christ, and say “amen” to that unique relationship to God in the Holy Spirit through love and obedience as expressed in lives of discipleship and service” and in elaborating on the subject: “Faith is in general the persuasion of the mind that a certain statement is true. Its primary idea is trust. A thing is true, and therefore worthy of trust. It admits of many degrees up to full assurance of faith, in accordance with the evidence on which it rests”.

One of the great faith chapters in the Bible is Hebrews 11, which gives several examples of characters in the Bible who had faith and it was this that governed the way they lived. The writer of the Hebrews begins with Abel: “by faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain” (11:4) and ends considering the efficacy, trials and rewards of faith: “Who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions. Quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. Women received their dead raised to life again: and others were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection: And others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment: They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented; (Of whom the world was not worthy:) they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise: God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect” (11:33-40). 

As for why faith matters and what faith actually is, the Hebrews writer helpfully points out: “Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear… Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen… But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him” (11:1,3,6). The one verse that links OT and NT and is quoted by Paul when discussing the essence of the gospel, and is the doctrine more than any central to the Reformation, “Justification by Faith”, is: “the just shall live by his faith” Habakkuk 2:4. This is his central plank as he expounds the gospel in Romans, chapters 1-11. “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, the just shall live by faith” Romans 1:16,17.

It would be rather simplistic to say that when it comes to having a relationship with God, while the OT was more about obeying the Law and the NT was more to do with having faith, having faith and doing as God tells us go hand in hand. My own Christian background encouraged me to hang onto the notion that, when I had my conversion experience aged 15, that settled the matter of my eternal salvation. I was presented with texts like “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31) to support that assertion. The question “once saved, always saved!?” is one that has divided Bible teachers, including those I respect, like R.T.Kendal and David Pawson. They have both written books with that very title. Kendal concludes in answer to that statement – yes and Pawson no. While I am more inclined to the Kendal position, I continue to urge folk to read the Bible which teaches salvation is ongoing and of the need to be faithful. Faith manifests itself in actions and Jesus own solemn teaching “but he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved” Matthew 24:13. 

The subject of law and grace, faith and works, how this impacts on our prayer life and life’s decisions and whether or not one can lose one’s salvation are lofty ones and beyond the scope of a book which is primarily about the prophets. One might reflect on the use of the word “faith” by Jesus and His followers. On several occasions Jesus healed those who had faith. Jesus said: “If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you” Matthew 17:20 and the history of the church is full of examples of those who had faith, even as small as a grain of mustard seed, who accomplished great things for the Kingdom and whose exploits we should emulate, just as urged by the writer to the Hebrews when considering the OT saints. The implications are enormous as we examine the world around us and its many conundrums. 

When it comes to faith, one OT man of faith and a prophet, was Abraham, who was cited by Paul when tackling some of the great questions of his day (which still hold): “Even as Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness. Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham. And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed. So then they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham. For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them. But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, the just shall live by faith. And the law is not of faith: but, the man that doeth them shall live in them. Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree: That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith” Galatians 3:6-14. If nothing else, these verses demonstrate the importance of faith and it is this that saves us (and not our good works) and it is this that should govern how we live.

It is difficult to know how to wrap up discussion on a subject when there is so much more that could be usefully said. My own watchword and one that is strongly linked to my own church background is the call: “Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints” Jude 1:3. If there is anything I can usefully do, notwithstanding physical and circumstantial limitations, it is to be an exemplar of the faith I claim and be an encourager to others to have faith and hang in there come what may: “Here is the patience of the saints: here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus” Revelation 14:12. Which brings us to the faithful one we follow and one who as one by-product of faith we expect to return to Earth in glory: “And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that sat upon him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he doth judge and make war” Revelation 19:11.

When it comes to examples of persons of faith and given it is relevant to this book, we need go no further than the Hebrew prophets even though other than the Habakkuk reference given above the word “faith” is not to be found in the narrative. Yet faith and faithfulness oozes throughout their lives and ministries. While we stand in awe at the startling revelations the prophets received, it still required faith to be those who not just heard from God but who at any cost were prepared to pass on the message to those God directed them toward and live accordingly. This also brings us to faithfulness. The prophets were faithful just as the one in whose name they prophesied is faithful. Faith may seem a scary thing for we ordinary folk but, without it, however tiny the “it” is, we can never please God or doing anything significant for God. As for faithfulness, however ordinary we are, we can and should be faithful and it is that, as was pointed out to this once rather naïve, zealous young Christian, what truly matters.     

Grace

There are a number of attributes of YHWH God that ought to thrill us and on which Christians of different theological leanings broadly agree: love, mercy, goodness, faithfulness, compassion to name but five. Many of these attributes, it may be argued, can be found in other religions, as applying to their gods. Many have been touched on in this book because they were of interest to the prophets. But I want to add one more, and this some may argue is a precious truth that is unique to Judaism and Christianity. It is the word grace.

While the word translated as grace or gracious is used 124 times in the New Testament, it is far just a Christian concept because Christians are interested in grace and Jews law (John 1:17), for it is used 69 times in the Old Testament, including by several of the Hebrew prophets. Many have tried to explain and define “grace” but for this consideration I will define grace to be love, mercy and favour given to us by God because God simply desires us to have it and not because of anything we have done or are to earn it; it is an attribute of God that is especially manifested in the salvation of sinners. As far as giving examples of grace, I will cite four examples from the Bible, followed by twelve random verses, along with a brief explanation why I believe these to be relevant.

When Moses was communing with God on Mount Sinai, when giving the Law, and at the same time the Israelites misbehaved down below, Moses made an audacious request, which God granted, and in so doing Moses saw something, maybe just a glimpse, of the grace of God as well as His glory: “And he said, I beseech thee, shew me thy glory. And he said, I will make all my goodness pass before thee, and I will proclaim the name of the Lord before thee; and will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will shew mercy on whom I will shew mercy. And he said, thou canst not see my face: for there shall no man see me, and live. And the Lord said, behold, there is a place by me, and thou shalt stand upon a rock: And it shall come to pass, while my glory passeth by, that I will put thee in a clift of the rock, and will cover thee with my hand while I pass by: And I will take away mine hand, and thou shalt see my back parts: but my face shall not be seen” Exodus 33: 18-33.

One blessing a Jew may bestow on another and is found in the Bible and is how we may wish to bless those we care about is: “The Lord bless thee, and keep thee: The Lord make his face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee: The Lord lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace” Numbers 6: 24-26.

The prologue to John’s gospel is about the Word who was in the beginning, who became flesh, but it is also about Law and Grace and the Word who is full of Grace and Truth: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men …  And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.  John bare witness of him, and cried, saying, This was he of whom I spake, He that cometh after me is preferred before me: for he was before me. And of his fulness have all we received, and grace for grace. For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ” John 1: 1-4, 14-17.

Grace is an essential component of the Gospel, and is a point Paul strongly argued in his letter to the Romans: “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God … Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam’s transgression, who is the figure of him that was to come. But not as the offence, so also is the free gift. For if through the offence of one many be dead, much more the grace of God, and the gift by grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many. And not as it was by one that sinned, so is the gift: for the judgment was by one to condemnation, but the free gift is of many offences unto justification. For if by one man’s offence death reigned by one; much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ.) … Moreover the law entered, that the offence might abound. But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound: That as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord” Romans 5: 1, 2, 14-17, 20, 21.

The following are Bible verses to do with grace along with a simple application:

An example of one who possessed something that truly mattered: “But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord” Genesis 6:8.

Grace must not be an excuse for sin – on the contrary: “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?” Romans 6:1.

The grace of God can make us what God wants: “But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me” 1Corinthians 15:10.

What better example of grace is that which Jesus accomplished when dying for us sinners: “For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich” 2 Corinthians 8:9.

God’s grace is all sufficient to cope with the challenges of life: “My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me” 2 Corinthians 12:9.

Many feel that a “fitting” way to end a church service is to say the grace: “May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all” 2Corinthians 13:14.

It is grace that saves us: “In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace … Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;)” Ephesians 1:7, 2:5.

God’s gracious, eternal intention is clear: “That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus. For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God” Ephesians 2:7,8.

Grace should define how we live: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord” Colossians 3:16.

Grace is there for all those who seek it: “Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need” Hebrews 4:16.

We are called to grow in grace: “But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and for ever. Amen” 2 Peter 3:18.

A fitting way to end the Bible is as it invokes the idea of grace: “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen” Revelation 22:21.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was asked in 1943 how it was possible for the Church to sit back and let Hitler seize absolute power. His firm answer: “It was the teaching of cheap grace … Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ.” We live in a time and culture when all too often the church not only teaches cheap grace but praises it and is something we all need to repent of.

A fitting end to this section is some of the words of the much-loved hymn by John Newton: “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now I am found, was blind, but now I see … Through many dangers, toils and snares I have already come, ‘Tis grace has brought me safe thus far and grace will lead me home”. Newton also said: “I am not the man I ought to be, I am not the man I wish to be, and I am not the man I hope to be, but by the grace of God, I am not the man I used to be”. Many share these sentiments. Despite my many flaws, I am a trophy of God’s grace. I believe my life experience thus far, including some that has been painful, is evidence of God’s gracious workings. I therefore commend God’s grace to the wavering, anxious, perplexed, discouraged and disbelieving. It is what enables us to live as disciples of Jesus in an often hostile world and it is what will lead us home.

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The importance and rich rewards that come from fearing God: “My son, if thou wilt receive my words, and hide my commandments with thee; So that thou incline thine ear unto wisdom, and apply thine heart to understanding; Yea, if thou criest after knowledge, and liftest up thy voice for understanding; If thou seekest her as silver, and searchest for her as for hid treasures; Then shalt thou understand the fear of the Lord, and find the knowledge of God” Proverbs 2:1-5.

Fear brings confidence, refuge and life: “In the fear of the Lord is strong confidence: and his children shall have a place of refuge. The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life, to depart from the snares of death” Proverbs 14:26,27.

True treasure comes with the fear of God: “Better is little with the fear of the Lord than great treasure and trouble therewith” Proverbs 15:16.

A salutary warning is given us for when we are tempted to envy those who do not fear God: “Let not thine heart envy sinners: but be thou in the fear of the Lord all the day long” Proverbs 23:17.

Fear can be misplaced: “The fear of man bringeth a snare: but whoso putteth his trust in the Lord shall be safe” Proverbs 29:25.

One way to summing up the whole duty of man is: “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man” Ecclesiastes 12:13.

The fear of God is a key attribute of the coming Messiah: “And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots: And the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord; And shall make him of quick understanding in the fear of the Lord: and he shall not judge after the sight of his eyes, neither reprove after the hearing of his ears” Isaiah 11:1-3.

Wisdom and knowledge and the stability that results are brought about when there is the fear of God, which is treasure indeed: “And wisdom and knowledge shall be the stability of thy times, and strength of salvation: the fear of the Lord is his treasure” Isaiah 33:6.

The fear of the Lord that unites His people and withstands the enemy: “So shall they fear the name of the Lord from the west, and his glory from the rising of the sun. When the enemy shall come in like a flood, the Spirit of the Lord shall lift up a standard against him” Isaiah 59:19.

One of God’s irrefutable promise is so the beneficiaries may fear Him: “And I will give them one heart, and one way, that they may fear me for ever, for the good of them, and of their children after them” Jeremiah 32:39.

Those of us who fear the Lord should be encouraging each other: “Then they that feared the Lord spake often one to another: and the Lord hearkened, and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before him for them that feared the Lord, and that thought upon his name” Malachi 3:16.

Another precious promise to those who fear God is: “But unto you that fear my name shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings; and ye shall go forth, and grow up as calves of the stall” Malachi 4:2.

Fearing God was an important characteristic of the early church: “Then had the churches rest throughout all Judaea and Galilee and Samaria, and were edified; and walking in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy Ghost, were multiplied” Acts 9:31.

Fear should be a factor in living our faith: “Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” Philippians 2:12.

Fear was not just an Old Testament matter: “And so terrible was the sight, that Moses said, I exceedingly fear and quake” Hebrews 12:21.

We should conduct ourselves in godly fear: “Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear” Hebrews 12:28.

Holiness to which we are called and fear are irrevocably linked: “But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy. f ye call on the Father, who without respect of persons judgeth according to every man’s work, pass the time of your sojourning here in fear” 1Peter 1:15-17.

One good motto for life includes in it the fear of God: “Honour all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king” 1 Peter 2:17.

Fear is a good thing when we consider how holy and worthy of worship God is: “Who shall not fear thee, O Lord, and glorify thy name? for thou only art holy: for all nations shall come and worship before thee; for thy judgments are made manifest” Revelation 15:4.

Fear is called for when Jesus comes again to judge: “And a voice came out of the throne, saying, Praise our God, all ye his servants, and ye that fear him, both small and great” Revelation 19:5.

In today’s culture, fear is often seen in negative terms, even if many succumb to it, one way or the other. Although sometimes there is a place, e.g. warning us of danger, but too often people fear the wrong things. As we have seen in the aforementioned texts, fear if properly directed is an excellent thing with many benefits, especially if it is the fear of the Lord. We round off our meditation with a text that reminds us how fear can play both a negative and positive part in our lives. I write at a time when a second lockdown has just been announced to combat the Coronavirus. Different people have different reactions to this.

Some see conspiracy theories being played out in society, just as did Israel in our text below, when the threat of invasion was all too real. Some who follow the rules religiously will tut tut at those who succumb to such theories. Yet criticism might apply to those who fear what happens if correct precautions are not taken but at huge cost, where the fear of death has been a factor in getting the populace to do what they are told and lose their freedoms in the bargain. Neither are correct responses, but to fear God, and that includes dread, is!

As we will see later, fear relates to grace. John Newton understood this when he wrote: “Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace my fears relieved. How precious did that grace appear the hour I first believed.” As for fearing God rather than conspiracies: “For the Lord spoke thus to me with his strong hand upon me, and warned me not to walk in the way of this people, saying: Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread. But the Lord of hosts, him you shall honor as holy. Let him be your fear, and let him be your dread” Isaiah 8:11-13.

Holiness

One of the major recurring themes of the Bible that the Hebrew prophets continually referred to was the holiness of God, and along with that was God’s demand that His people be holy: “And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation. These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel” (Exodus 19:6) and “Speak unto all the congregation of the children of Israel, and say unto them, Ye shall be holy: for I the Lord your God am holy” (Leviticus 19:2). A major reason for God’s displeasure with His people and for their demise was they were not holy. An important principle in God’s dealings with his people is to make them holy.

For modern minds, the notion of holiness can often be looked on with suspicion because of negative connotations, such as an emphasis on the inconsequential things one concentrate on doing and ignoring consequential things one refrains from doing, and foreboding because holy people often come across as judgemental “holier than thou” and are not particularly nice people. There is also the fear such folk are joyless and legalistic, too heavenly minded to be any earthly good. In God’s eyes holiness, at least in the biblically held sense, is a very good thing. To be holy is something that is vital to pursue. The same command given to the Israelites applies to the Church: “Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14).

There is a wide discrepancy among churches when it comes to how holiness is taught. For some, it is a matter of lots of dos and don’ts, often ignoring what it means to truly love thy neighbor, and has negative implications or it is taught at the expense of other important Bible doctrines. For others, it is something that is ignored because it is seen to be divisive, intolerant and judgmental and not to put off the assorted group of sinners who might take umbrage. Then there are some whose focus is on getting people saved such that what comes after and the call to live a holy life and encouragement to do so is too easily overlooked. Some will take a view that holiness will follow automatically once saved and thus downplayed. Yet it is truth and balance that is needed.

While not perfect correlations or synonyms to the word holiness as used in the Bible, the following are near matches: set-apartness, separateness, devotedness, godliness, righteousness, piety, virtue, consecration, sacredness, sinlessness, sanctification. Yet none do full justice to this aspect of God’s character we are called to emulate, as part of our own act of devotion and worship. It does involve ritual cleanliness and manifests itself, especially in Jewish religion, in the way God was worshiped and the things people did or did not do, but more importantly it was a matter of the heart: “Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? or who shall stand in his holy place? He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart; who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully. He shall receive the blessing from the Lord, and righteousness from the God of his salvation” (Psalm 24:3-5).

In preparing for this section on holiness, besides checking out OT prophets and NT writers e.g. Paul, Peter, John, I checked out what great men of God in the past, whose insights I particularly respect, said about holiness: Jonathan Edwards, John Owen, John Wesley, C.H.Spurgeon and J.C.Ryle (a personal favourite) as well as people who lived during my lifetime: A.W.Tozer, Derek Prince, David Wilkerson, David Pawson and J.I.Packer. In all cases, I was blown away, not so much because of the gravity of what they shared but because what they shared was so important and that I had a long way to go. As I look around me and ponder on Gods dealing with humankind, past and present, the more I see a significant factor when it came to outcomes was God’s holiness. True God deals with us in judgment and mercy, but also to vindicate His holy name and make us a holy people. As we look with consternation at recent world events and try to make sense out of it all, it is worth bringing in that mix the notion that God, as ever, is seeking a holy people.

Before rounding off by quoting a few of the many significant verses of the Bible that contain the word “holy” or “holiness”, bearing in mind there are many more texts where those verses are not mentioned that are equally relevant, I would like to offer the following thoughts:

Ten holiness thoughts:

  1. An important theme of the prophets is the Salvation of God. For those of us who believe, we have been saved (justification); we are being saved (sanctification) and we shall be saved (glorification). Intrinsic in all three is to depart from sin and to seek holiness.
  2. It is a grave truth: heaven is a holy place and if you are not interested in being holy on earth it is unlikely you will be able to experience the joys of heaven or the presence of a holy God.
  3. Anyone serious about God will want to be holy because they want to honour Him in all things. It is not just for those we call saints but it is something for all true children of God.
  4. Those who are truly saintly are invariably those most concerned about their sinfulness.
  5. Becoming holy is not something that occurs overnight. We come to God as sinners and while there should be a desire and expectation to overcome sin, it remains a lifelong exercise.
  6. A holy person is as much concerned with doing the right thing (e.g. in our dealings with others, such as the poor and suffering) as things that might cause us to drift away from God (and is why cultivating good habits and not doing things that might lead us into temptation is important).
  7. A holy person is more concerned about being holy rather than being happy, with the praise of God rather than the praise of men and doing the right thing rather than being successful. Yet often true happiness comes when there is holiness.
  8. While a holy person may possess an aura of the presence of God and a sense of “the other”, often those who are truly holy are among the most empathetic, wholesome, joyful of humanity.
  9. A holy person grieves for the sin that is all too apparent in those around him / her and desires and wants to help such people to be saved and that means them becoming holy. 
  10. A holy person above everything else seeks to please God. Holiness is his / her mantra, and reason for living. Often it is the most unlikely people who are the most holy.

Ten “holiness” texts:

  1. Exodus 15:11: “Who is like unto thee, O Lord, among the gods? who is like thee, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders?
  2. Exodus 28:36: “And thou shalt make a plate of pure gold, and grave upon it, like the engravings of a signet, Holiness to the Lord.”
  3. Psalm 29:2: “Give unto the Lord the glory due unto his name; worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.
  4. Isaiah 35:8: “And an highway shall be there, and a way, and it shall be called The way of holiness; the unclean shall not pass over it; but it shall be for those: the wayfaring men, though fools, shall not err therein.”
  5. Obadiah 1:17: “But upon mount Zion shall be deliverance, and there shall be holiness; and the house of Jacob shall possess their possessions.”
  6. 2 Corinthians 7:1: “Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.
  7. Ephesians 4:24: “And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness”.
  8. 1 Thessalonians 3:13: “To the end he may stablish your hearts unblameable in holiness before God, even our Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all his saints.
  9. Hebrews 12:10: “For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness.
  10. Hebrews 12:14: “Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord:

Ten “holy” texts:

  1. Exodus 19:6: “And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation. These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel.”
  2. 1 Samuel 2:2: “There is none holy as the Lord: for there is none beside thee: neither is there any rock like our God.”
  3. Psalm 15:1: “Lord, who shall abide in thy tabernacle? who shall dwell in thy holy hill?”
  4. Psalm 103:1: “Bless the Lord, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless his holy name.”
  5. Isaiah 6:3: “And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory.”
  6. Habakkuk 2:20: “But the Lord is in his holy temple: let all the earth keep silence before him.”
  7. Romans 12:1: “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.”
  8. Ephesians 5:27: “That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.”
  9. 1 Peter 2:5,9: “Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ … But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.”
  10. Revelation 22:11: “He that is unjust, let him be unjust still: and he which is filthy, let him be filthy still: and he that is righteous, let him be righteous still: and he that is holy, let him be holy still.

Idolatry

Closely connected to the call to holiness is that of turning from idolatry, which when doing a dictionary search to find meaning that an idol is “an image or representation of a god used as an object of worship” or “a person or thing that is greatly admired, loved, or revered”.

The notion of bowing down to an inanimate object representing something animate is not one that modern minds particularly identify with. They might also concur with the scornful ridicule of the prophet: “They that make a graven image are all of them vanity; and their delectable things shall not profit; and they are their own witnesses; they see not, nor know; that they may be ashamed … He burneth part thereof in the fire; with part thereof he eateth flesh; he roasteth roast, and is satisfied: yea, he warmeth himself, and saith, Aha, I am warm, I have seen the fire: And the residue thereof he maketh a god, even his graven image: he falleth down unto it, and worshippeth it, and prayeth unto it, and saith, Deliver me; for thou art my god” Isaiah 44:9, 16-17.

But idolatry goes far beyond the obvious that Isaiah had observed. Besides making the observation that idolatry was widely practiced in the times of the Hebrew prophets and that practice as much as anything did cause Yahweh to punish his special people: Israel, it is evident that it is something that everyone of us could slip into, knowingly or unknowingly. The first two of the Ten Commandments that most Christians, except for keeping the Sabbath, see as binding, tell us “You shall have no other gods before me” and “You shall not make yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything …”, which both encapsulate the notion of avoiding idolatry as being very important.

While most examples of idol worship can be found in the OT, it is clear in the NT God is angry with and judges ANY who practice idolatry, and this becomes a central plank in Paul’s argument as to why humankind stands condemned before an idol hating God: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness … And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things. Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves: Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever” Romans 1:8, 23-25.  

In terms of avoiding idolatry (fleeing, killing maybe better words) the NT writers are unequivocal in their exhortations, knowing full well from the OT what were the consequences when that did not happen. Notwithstanding this was now the age of grace, the danger people can fall into who practice idolatry, even if momentarily or not all that deeply or even when the idol is something basically good. For example: “Wherefore, my dearly beloved, flee from idolatry” 1 Corinthians 10:14, “For this ye know, that no whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God” Ephesians 5:5, “Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry” Colossians 3:5, “Little children, keep yourselves from idols” 1 John 5:21 and “The fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death” Revelation 21:8.

As one might expect, if one were to check out some of the many sermons and meditations on the subject of idolatry, we would find many examples of idolatry given, including what is good, but somehow it usurps the place of God who tells us to have no other god before him. Success, prosperity, power, status, fame, ambition, prestige, family, things, hobbies, sports, science, knowledge, sex, persons come to mind. All may have their place, but if these come before the worship of the Almighty, it can quickly turn into idolatry as well as things we know we should not be doing – and as for images – in this modern age where self and sophistication is prized in the culture, these may not even feature.

When we turn back to the Old Testament, idolatry was something that seriously concerned the prophets, although it was evident idolatry was widespread outside the confines of Israel among its close neighbors. The building of and bowing to the Golden Calf while Moses was up in the mountain receiving the Law is an early example of what led a severe judgement on the idolaters. God was very clear “Ye shall make you no idols nor graven image, neither rear you up a standing image, neither shall ye set up any image of stone in your land, to bow down unto it: for I am the Lord your God” Leviticus 26:1, and yet repeatedly in their history, at least until after the Exile, we find the Israelites doing the very thing that God forbade and in doing so reaping the consequences.

As for the Hebrew prophets and how God viewed idolatry, the following are some examples: “Their land also is full of idols; they worship the work of their own hands, that which their own fingers have made” Isaiah 2:8, “A drought is upon her waters; and they shall be dried up: for it is the land of graven images, and they are mad upon their idols” Jeremiah 50:38, “Son of man, these men have set up their idols in their heart, and put the stumblingblock of their iniquity before their face: should I be enquired of at all by them?” Ezekiel 14:3, “What profiteth the graven image that the maker thereof hath graven it; the molten image, and a teacher of lies, that the maker of his work trusteth therein, to make dumb idols?” Habakkuk 2:18, and “For the idols have spoken vanity, and the diviners have seen a lie, and have told false dreams; they comfort in vain: therefore they went their way as a flock, they were troubled, because there was no shepherd” Zechariah 10:2.

In the Old Testament especially, many of these false gods / idols are named but two that keep cropping up and which I will focus were: Baal and Molech. “And they built the high places of Baal, which are in the valley of the son of Hinnom, to cause their sons and their daughters to pass through the fire unto Molech; which I commanded them not, neither came it into my mind, that they should do this abomination, to cause Judah to sin” Jeremiah 32:35. Baal crops up many times and notably in that great contest between Elijah and the prophets of Baal when the true God, Yahweh passed judgement over the false and when Elijah asked the Israelites why that were wavering between two opinions: whether to serve Yahweh or Baal? Molech crops up, as in this verse, with the sacrifice of children. Today people need to decide which god / God they are to serve. Much of the abortion industry and child sex trafficking is a sacrifice to Molech.

Trinity

The Christian doctrine of the Trinity holds that God is one God, but three coeternal and consubstantial persons, each corresponding to its own hypostasis: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, as one God in three Divine Persons. The three persons are distinct, yet are one “substance, essence or nature” Wikipedia

I believe in one God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible. I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Only Begotten Son of God, born of the Father before all ages. God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father; through him all things were made …” Nicene Creed –  AD 325

“… we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; Neither confounding the Persons: nor dividing the Substance. For there is one Person of the Father, another of the Son: and another of the Holy Ghost. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, is all one: the Glory equal, the Majesty co-eternal. Such as the Father is, such is the Son: and such is the Holy Ghost. The Father uncreate, the Son uncreate: and the Holy Ghost uncreate. The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible: and the Holy Ghost incomprehensible. The Father eternal, the Son eternal: and the Holy Ghost eternal. And yet they are not three eternals: but one eternal. As also there are not three incomprehensibles, nor three uncreated: but one uncreated, and one incomprehensible …” Athanasian Creed – AD 500

The Christian doctrine of the Trinity has proved to be controversial ever since the Christian religion began 2000 years ago and in order to combat heretical teaching the two (of the three) main creeds adopted by Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican and major Protestant denominations, quoted above, were produced. There have been huge disputes concerning the person hood of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, down the ages, which continue, and this has often given rise to huge disruption and schism. As far as mainstream Christianity goes, belief in the doctrine of the Trinity is an essential tenet of faith, even more so perhaps than that of Justification by Faith. Yet the word “Trinity” does not appear in the Bible and arguably it is not something that is formulated so strongly as it is in the two creeds quoted above. But as far as this writer is concerned, the doctrine of the Trinity is not only essential but is a key to understanding the prophets. 

Our main focus has been on God the Father, followed by God the Son and God the Holy Spirit (dealt with in an earlier section because, even if only implied, the Holy Spirit played an important part in our story of the Prophets of the Bible). As far as Judaism is concerned there is only one God: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord” Deuteronomy 6:4. This message is continually reinforced by the prophets even though, without exception, the nations surrounding Israel worshiped other gods, sometimes many, and often Israel turned to such gods. While the Christian doctrine of the Trinity is an anathema as far as much of Judaism is concerned, Christianity is monotheistic.

The expectation of the coming Messiah, which Christians see as having been fulfilled in David’s descendant, Jesus, who is also coming again to reign as king, was as we have discussed a major preoccupation of the prophets, harking back to God’s promise to Abraham: “in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed” Genesis 22:18, but whose expected coming intensified during and following the Exile. The Messiah was seen both in human terms e.g. “He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted” Isaiah 53:3-4 as well as bordering on the divine: “I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him. And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed” Daniel 7:13,14, but it is unlikely the prophets quite saw their Messiah as divine, as their belief was in the one God.

The point here is not to make a case for the Trinity in the way Christian apologists have done so in the past. While some have pointed to verses in the Old Testament that might suggest the Trinity, e.g. as part of the creation story when we read “And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them” Genesis 1:26,27, when the word for God used, Elohim, suggests plurality, it would be rather stretching the point to affirm the Hebrew prophets embraced the trinitarian view.

We need to consider the New Testament to find stronger evidence to support the Trinitarian position, and several verses can be cited. Perhaps one of the strongest, and is often used, is in the prologue to John’s gospel: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made … And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth” John 1:1-3,14. It is often said that the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke) focus on Jesus humanity, whereas John’s gospel focuses on Jesus divinity and gives several examples, with the blending of the two natures being one of the great wonders.

That wonderful unity can be seen in the giving of the Holy Spirit: “But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me” John 15:26. It is notable in the closing commission given to His disciples, mention is made of all persons of the Trinity. Jesus said: “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world” Matthew 28:19,20.

The doctrine of the Trinity is a hard one to swallow because of the impossibility of such in human terms and is one, especially those who are new to faith, may find difficult to come to grips with. But if we are to give Son and Holy Spirit the honour due to them and hold a balanced understanding of the unique parts played by Father, Son and Holy Spirit in the workings out of the universe, not least in the salvation of humankind, how each has a specific role yet ones that are beautifully complementary, an acceptance of this triune God is essential.

Suffering

The subject of suffering has occupied greater and lesser minds from the beginning of time, and where libraries are needed to contain all what has been thought, said and written.  Like many, I have been confronted by those who have either lost their faith or have made radical adjustments because of what they have seen and witnessed and in the light of the Bible has to say about suffering and related topics. It is also something I have personally had to deal with, e.g. when carrying a chip on my shoulder for perceived injustices that I have personally experienced or wanting to get back at those who do bad to those I care for. It is therefore appropriate to say something, while admitting I do not have many of the answers, to help set the record straight, noting that in the best part of a year researching this book, the subject of suffering in various guises has cropped up several times, even if only in passing. Suffering was introduced into the world following the Fall, when Adam and Eve disobeyed God and the result was they were expelled from their idyllic garden and this has been the experience of humanity ever since. The one thing the Bible does not do and that is to unravel in full the mysteries behind suffering.

There is a side of God which Christians, especially those of a more liberal persuasion, present: loving, kind, patient, merciful, gracious etc., all of which is true of course. But there is another side: holy, righteous, judgmental, vengeful, jealous etc. and that too is true. For the sake of balance, we need to recognise both sides. A few years back, I read Richard Dawkin’s “The God Delusion”. I was struck when Dawkins laid into those who believed in and followed God (even though he put God into the same category as fairies at the bottom of the garden) and made the point – how could they given the evidence of God’s cruelty that can be traced back to the Bible itself? After all, did he not command Joshua and Saul to wipe out whole cities – men, women and children? If it happened today, Joshua and Saul might be hauled before an international court on charges of genocide and few “right thinking” people would object. I should add, if Dawkins were to come to me, I could give more examples. While I may question his context, I can’t dispute his examples. There is a lot in the Bible, especially Old Testament, narrative when God does not make sense.

The proposition that has bothered many down the ages is while it may not be unreasonable to expect bad people to suffer, i.e. get their just desserts for their bad deeds, there are countless examples of good people who suffer (as well as the bad people who don’t). We can all think of examples of when that is the case and I will resist giving examples, but we can all think of examples in our own lives, or those we care about, when life has dealt them a poor hand.  It is tempting, like Job’s comforters, to question why this seemingly very righteous man should suffer as badly as he did, and that maybe he was not quite as good as he appeared to be. But we know from reading the book with that title they got it wrong and there was an eternal dimension involving God and Satan that no-one saw, not even Job. It was Job who said: “for I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God” Job 19:25-26 and as for being confident in God, he declared: “though he slay me, yet will I trust in him: but I will maintain mine own ways before him” Job 13:15.

If we were to read through the whole Bible, looking for examples of suffering, we would soon be inundated with examples.  Sometimes people suffered because of their own wrong actions and there are lessons that can be derived. Sometimes people suffered because of the wrong actions of others. Both are universal experiences. Sometimes people suffered because they did the right thing. This book has furnished numerous examples of the prophets suffering, often as a result of being attacked by those who did not like their message. While we read about the prophets’ pain and sometimes bemusement, we also find they trusted God. For New Testament Christians, suffering was a common place experience. Perhaps the most profound of the prophetic books of the Bible was Revelation and its profoundness was not so much because of the number of prophetic statement but because it was addressed to those who had experienced and would experience persecution.

When it comes to suffering, however much we might try to arrange things (assuming we can – and many do not have that luxury because of the circumstances in which they live) suffering is still nigh unavoidable, for such are the vagaries of life and the best we can do is hope for the best and prepare for the worst (although often that is impossible because often we cannot predict what that “worst” is going to be). Persecution is a form of suffering that particularly impacts people of faith. It may be something that can be avoided by renouncing the faith. Going back to Revelation, the readers were encouraged to stand fast and look forward to an eternal reward for doing so. “And I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ: for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day and night. And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death” Revelation 12:10,11. Looking around the world about me at this time, as I write, I am astounded by the amount of persecution happening all over the world and the way things are heading, soon in my own country. The watchword is we must prepare to suffer.

I daresay it is easy to come up with pious platitudes in the light of suffering, especially if it is other people’s, and it is something that we should avoid. Rather we need to seek to encourage, pray for and give comfort and whatever limited practical help we can to those who do suffer, especially our brothers and sisters, some we do not know, who are suffering for Christ. We are reminded that it is our Lord “who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God” 2Corinthians 1:4.

We should see suffering in positive terms and character building: “we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope: And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us” Romans 5:3-5. Then there is the Day of Judgement and the Eternal State (covered in the next section) when true justice is served (“shall not the Judge of all the earth do right” Genesis 18:25) and mysteries around suffering are resolved. Finally, we should remember the amazing truth that God suffered on our behalf. Jesus the Son died on the Cross and was rejected by His Father, and all that was necessary in order that He could atone for our sins.   

Eternity

The subject of eternity is one that most of us, I have no doubt, have given much thought to. One of my earliest childhood memories was a sense of fear when I contemplated eternity – realising it has no beginning and no end. Along with this was the notion that God is eternal and, as for me, I was a mere infinitesimal speck in the timeline between no beginning and no end. The 1662 Book of Common Prayer captures some of these sentiments: “Man that is born of a woman hath but a short time to live, and is full of misery. He cometh up, and is cut down, like a flower; he fleeth as it were a shadow, and never continueth in one stay”. It was some years later that I gained the assurance this insignificant nobody could and would spend eternity with an infinite God, not on the basis of any intrinsic merit etc. but because I had been saved by grace.

These days I attend (at least before Covid lockdown) funerals on a regular basis. They tend to fall into two categories, depending on the deceased’s beliefs and those of his/her family, firstly: those that reflect on the delights that the one who is mourned is now experiencing or soon to experience in God’s presence, often irrespective of the deceased religious beliefs or practices, and secondly: those that ignores such considerations, but with perhaps the rather whimsical hope something of that persons life’s energy and qualities will continue with future generations. Whichever our position is, if we are to take the Bible seriously, the question of where one spends eternity remains an important one.

In my studies of the Hebrew prophets, it appeared that eternity was not a major pre-occupation. Rather, their major concern was the future of Israel, with only a passing interest in the destiny of other nations and that the people of YHWH be obedient to Him and leave a worthy legacy for their families and Israel. But a careful examination of the Law, e.g. Deuteronomy 31:16, the Writings, e.g. Psalm 16 10, Psalm 17:15, Psalm 49:14-15, Psalms 71:18, Proverbs 14:32, Daniel 7:18, Daniel 12:1, 13 and Job 12-13-14, as well as the prophets, e.g. Isaiah 25:8-9, 26:19, Ezekiel 37:12-14, Hosea 13:14, will dismiss the notion that the Old Testament was not concerned with eternity. Even what appears to be a euphemism often used when talking about someone’s death “he slept with his fathers” implied that death is not the end and there is something after death.

Perhaps one of the more sobering utterances from the mouth of the prophets, because it alludes to what we might equate to notions of heaven and hell, comes at the end of Isaiah: “For as the new heavens and the new earth, which I will make, shall remain before me, saith the Lord, so shall your seed and your name remain. And it shall come to pass, that from one new moon to another, and from one sabbath to another, shall all flesh come to worship before me, saith the Lord. And they shall go forth, and look upon the carcases of the men that have transgressed against me: for their worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched; and they shall be an abhorring unto all flesh” Isaiah 66:22-24.

What heaven and hell are like, who goes there and on what basis, the actual timelines between Old and New Covenants, the significance of the Day of Judgement, the New Heaven and New Earth, our ultimate destinies and where the royal we fits into all this are yet further huge questions that this chapter has been raising, because they are important and while hardly scratching the surface it opens up these subjects, encouraging further study, mindful that considerable false teaching abounds.  As far as the New Testament is concerned, toward the outset we are presented with two major and influential camps within Judaism: the liberal, rationalists, the Sadducees, who did not believe in the resurrection of the dead, and the sanctimonious, hypocrites, the Pharisees, who did. Jesus own theological position was clear when he declared “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live” John 11:25. One of the best known and loved texts in the whole Bible makes it clear: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” John 3:16.

In Paul’s teaching to the Romans, the pre-requisite for eternal life is clear:  “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus. Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith” Romans 3:23-27. Paul develops this theme: “What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found? For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God. For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness. Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness. Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works, Saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin. Cometh this blessedness then upon the circumcision only, or upon the uncircumcision also? for we say that faith was reckoned to Abraham for righteousness” Romans 4:1-9.

Even Gentiles who know nothing of the Law or the Gospel are not excluded: “For there is no respect of persons with God. For as many as have sinned without law shall also perish without law: and as many as have sinned in the law shall be judged by the law; (For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified. For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves: Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another;) In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to my gospel” Romans 2:11-16. While the above provides great hope and reassurance to the Christian believer, it is well to be reminded that “faith without works is dead” James 2:20 and it is “he who endures to the end shall be saved” Matthew 24:13.

The matter of Hell is a problematic one and I doubt few if any find the notion of eternal punishment for unbelievers a palatable one humanly speaking and most could name those close to them who we cannot, hand on heart say, died as believers and therefore they stand condemned. If we avoid the sentimentality that often surrounds loved ones who die, we cannot say with assurance we will be reunited with those who died as unbelievers. Harking back to the previous section on suffering, for some the idea of Hell is the most difficult example of suffering to stomach. But it was Jesus who called Hell (however we wish to describe it) a place “where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched” Mark 9:48 and “where there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth” Luke 13:28. One of the most sobering verses in the whole Bible because of its grave warning is what happens following the Day of Judgement: “whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire” Revelation 20:15.

Our eternal destiny should be a cause of great concern, including however hard it is to fathom what our eternal destiny is, yet God will always do what is right and we leave it with Him. For our part, we are responsible both for making the right decision and not resting there but living a holy life, and for telling others how they stand before God and what they must do. Like the apostles, we must proclaim: “neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved. Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” Acts 4:12. “It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment” Hebrews 9:27. The question of where “after this” is of paramount importance. The idea of spending eternity with one’s Saviour, is one that should bring great comfort.

Since this book is about the prophets of the Bible, it is appropriate to give one of them the last word: “For since the beginning of the world men have not heard, nor perceived by the ear, neither hath the eye seen, O God, beside thee, what he hath prepared for him that waiteth for him” Isaiah 64:4, which Paul quotes, while explaining something of the wisdom of God and the true wonder of the gospel message (1Corinthians 2:1-9).

Prayer

I do not feel particularly well qualified to write on the subject of prayer, but since I am a Christian who prays, knows well most of the passages in the Bible that concern prayer, have been a participant in countless prayer meetings, many of which I have led, and have many times seen God answer prayer, I believe I have something to bring to the party. Just like “Bible”, discussed earlier, prayer is something even the humblest among us can participate in with great effect.

As an old dodderer who is once again been consigned to Covid lockdown and with no demand to contribute to the economy, I can do so knowing I must do my bit as a Watchman on the Wall, encourager of saints and sinners alike and as a Bible student and teacher, and share what the Lord has laid on my heart. I have long known this of course but my effectiveness is linked to my prayer life and I have no excuse for not praying, whether it is an individual (in secret as Jesus said) or part of a collective. The days of national emergency, such as during World War 2 when the King called the UK to pray, seem to have gone and yet we face an emergency now. While I don’t want to use this opportunity to bash church or government, I regret such calls don’t happen and my reading of the Bible is God allows calamities to wake His people up. An earlier topic was holiness, and it there is a connection, God (YHWH) wants both a holy people and a praying people and the one leads to the other. While we may stand in awe at saints of bygone days who prayed daily for hours on end, it remains true: “the devil trembles when he sees the weakest saint upon his knees”.

Before I give my list of areas to pray into, I offer some “qualifying” thoughts by way of a precursor:

  1. It is quite clear that the prophets of the Bible were men and women of prayer and that prayer and prophecy were linked. Often they had to wait a long time until they saw answers to their prayers or fulfillment of their prophecies but they persisted and were patient, and so should we.
  2. I often precede studies like this with a Bible search, in this case on the word “pray”, and feed this into my online Bible application (BibleGateway) and thus meditate. There are passages of the Bible, particularly the Psalms, that help. I commend this practice. Besides studying the Bible, I have read many helpful books on prayer, which I commend, but confess the revolution and transformation that should follow is very much work in progress.
  3. There have also been many “heroes of the faith” to supplement those mentioned in the Bible, who took God at his word, and prayed, and as a result of their praying often saw wonderful, unexpected, unusual, miraculous, powerful answers to prayer. Like Elijah they were those of likes passions as we are. Reading their biographies can be inspirational.
  4. Prayer is no substitute for obedience to God, living a holy life, taking action and having a contrite heart and a penitent spirit. The practice of confession as a prelude to prayer is one I would commend. “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me” Psalm 66:18.
  5. Prayer must lead to action. The likes of Wilberforce and Bonhoeffer prayed and it led to needful political action. The likes of George Carey and Hudson Taylor prayed and it led to fruitful missionary endeavour, like in India and China. The likes of Mueller and Booth prayed and it led to much needed social action, like caring for widows and orphans. The likes of Bonnke and Prince prayed and it led to Pentecostal revival. The likes of numerous church planters down the ages prayed and it led to new churches being opened. The likes of many martyrs prayed right up to this present time, and it often led to their deaths. So often, the likes of you and me have prayed and it did lead to wonderful breakthroughs in what were often small things.
  6. We must be careful not to pre-empt God – who while He will answer our prayers, it may not be in the way we hope of expect. We must be reliant on the Holy Spirit to help us to pray.
  7. We are beholden to pray and the subjects for our prayers are countless, but we must begin somewhere. It doesn’t require fancy words or well thought out schemes. God knows it all.
  8. Prayer, including supplication and intercession, should accompany worship, including praise and thanksgiving. In fact, worship God for who He is and praise for what He has done should be central to our prayer time. It also means we have to forgive those who have wronged us. It also involves spiritual warfare and is an weapon in this important undertaking.
  9. While our prayers are often general e.g. bless Aunt Soandso, we need to learn to go from the general to the specific and be like Jacob, not to let God go until he has blessed us.
  10. Prayer involves spiritual warfare and those who take prayer seriously, as opposed to a token exercise is a spiritual warrior. There is much that is happening behind the scenes, typically in the spiritual realm, we cannot see because we do not have the big picture but the Lord and his heavenly army does and delights when his earthly army engages in such warfare.
  11. As members of the Body (the Church), which is universal and includes people we may not like or agree with, we need to pray for them, and especially for the suffering church.
  12. Prayer, like so much in life is a discipline and it can happen at anytime and in any place and take any form (including use of set prayers). It can be done privately and individually and publicly and corporately. It needs to be done regularly and freely. Prayer is a sincere response of the heart to our loving heavenly Father who can and does give us far more than we can ever ask or imagine.

As for items of prayer, I offer here what is a halfway house between the general and the specific. I also have a view of world events as does the reader and will do my best not to force my view.

  1. There is so much going on in the world and the picture changes by the day and we don’t know half. As I write the USA is uncertain who has won the US Presidential election. The issue of voter fraud is a real one. The outcome will have huge implications, not just for the USA but for the world at large. Pray truth and justice prevail.
  2. 2020 has been the year of the Corona virus which has affected us all. For some the affects are devastating. As I write, we do not know how it will all end or what nefarious schemes are afoot. We pray God’s will be done.
  3. As far as my country, the UK, goes Brexit has overshadowed so much among its concerns and as I write the UK is shortly due to completely leave the EU, and there remains uncertainty as to whether it is with a deal or no deal. Pray for a righteous transition and for the UK’s future outside of the EU.
  4. It has become increasingly evident that the Church (true followers of Christ) is not united and false teaching and unspiritual leaders holds sway. Yet Christ loves the Church and seeks a bride, pure and holy. Pray He will stir up His people and raise up leaders, like King David, after His own heart. Pray for revival in the church and be ready for it start with us.
  5. Many of our brothers and sisters across the world suffer severe persecution. Every day, the likes of the Barnabas Fund give examples of persecution for us to pray concerning.
  6. There are many mission agencies, including those known to and supported by us individually, who do sterling work, but under great pressure and all sorts of constraints, including financial ones. As overwhelming as these needs are, we must recognise “the fields are white for harvest” (John 4:35) and we must pray “the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest” (Matthew 9:37), as well as for those doing the work.
  7. We may have little confidence in the leaders of this world but we must pray for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.
  8. There is much to concern us in our own community, family, friends, neighbours etc. It is likely that included in their number are those who are unsaved. We must pray for them.
  9. In our own circle and fellowships there is the elderly, young, perplexed, lonely, disaffected, sick etc. There may be outreaches to these and the wider community to pray concerning.
  10. Israel remains God’s special people and is at the heart of so much happening in the world: “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem” Psalm 122:6.
  11. The call to love our neighbour, form the top of the societal ladder to the bottom, those who are key workers and those who aren’t, those who like and support us and the very opposite, the decision makers and influencers and those who aren’t; whatever age, gender, sexual orientation, race, religion, disability etc. There is enormous scope for prayer.
  12. Pray for the furtherance of the gospel and the extension of God’s kingdom, throughout the whole world, for there to be true disciples of the Lord Jesus who will disciple others.

Faith

When I did my customary Bible search on a word or idea I want to discuss, I found there to be 56 references in the Old Testament to the text “faith” and 280 in the New Testament. Most of the OT references were the words “faithful” and “faithfulness”, something that is intrinsically related to faith and is confirmed when doing a Strong’s Concordance check – someone with faith will be faithful, just as God is. Then there was the concept of faith, encapsulated in words like “trust”, “confidence”, “reliance”, bringing me to the view if I were to check out all such references, I would soon get lost down the rabbit holes.

What has become very clear is that faith is an essential element in our study of the Prophets of the Bible and without it we might well conclude the prophets were deluded or worse and we would be wasting our time and energy in pursuing such studies if God was not for real. The crux question concerning God is not does religion keep one civilized and happy or, as Karl Marx put it, act as “the opium of the people”, but is it true and if so which variant, given that if A contradicts B then either A or B or both are false? In an earlier loose end, on “Apologetics”, I argued the weight of Bible prophecy that has been fulfilled is a powerful reason why I know the God I have faith in, as revealed in the Bible, is for real. Another is the resurrection of Jesus. I concur with Paul (as a “fundamentalist” – do I have a choice?) “And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain” 1 Corinthians 15:17. 

Which brings me to “what is faith” and specifically faith in the God of the Bible? One basically sound online Bible dictionary defined faith thus: “belief, trust, and loyalty to a person or thing. Christians find their security and hope in God as revealed in Jesus Christ, and say “amen” to that unique relationship to God in the Holy Spirit through love and obedience as expressed in lives of discipleship and service” and in elaborating on the subject: “Faith is in general the persuasion of the mind that a certain statement is true. Its primary idea is trust. A thing is true, and therefore worthy of trust. It admits of many degrees up to full assurance of faith, in accordance with the evidence on which it rests”.

One of the great faith chapters in the Bible is Hebrews 11, which gives several examples of characters in the Bible who had faith and it was this that defined the way they lived. The writer of the Hebrews begins with Abel: “by faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain” (11:4) and ends considering the efficacy, trials and rewards of faith: “Who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions. Quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. Women received their dead raised to life again: and others were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection: And others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment: They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented; (Of whom the world was not worthy:) they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise: God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect” (11:33-40). 

As for why faith matters and what faith actually is, the Hebrews writer helpfully points out: “Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear… Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen… But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him” (11:1,3,6). The one verse that links OT and NT and is quoted by Paul when discussing the essence of the gospel, and is the doctrine more than any central to the Reformation, “Justification by Faith”, is: “the just shall live by his faith” Habakkuk 2:4. This is his central plank as he expounds the gospel in Romans, chapters 1-11. “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, the just shall live by faith” Romans 1:16,17.

It would be rather simplistic to say that when it comes to having a relationship with God, while the OT was more about obeying the Law and the NT was more to with having faith, having faith and obedience to God go hand in hand. My own Christian background encouraged me to hang onto the notion that, when I had my conversion experience aged 15, that settled the matter of my eternal salvation. I was presented with texts like “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31) to prove the case. The question “once saved, always saved!?” is one that has divided Bible teachers I respect. R.T.Kendal and David Pawson have both written books with that title. Kendal concludes yes and Pawson no. While still more inclined to the Kendal position, I continue to urge folk to read the Bible which teaches salvation is ongoing, faith manifests itself in actions and Jesus own solemn teaching “but he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved” Matthew 24:13. 

The subject of law and grace, faith and works, how this impacts on our prayer life and life’s decisions and whether or not one can lose one’s salvation are lofty ones and beyond the scope of a book which is primarily about the prophets. One might reflect on the use of the word “faith” by Jesus and His followers. On several occasions Jesus healed those who had faith. Jesus said: “If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you” Matthew 17:20 and the history of the church is full of examples of those who had faith, even as small as a grain of mustard seed, who accomplished great things for the Kingdom and whose exploits we should emulate, just as urged by the writer to the Hebrews when considering the OT saints. The implications are enormous as we examine the world around us and its conundrums. 

When it comes to faith, one OT man of faith and a prophet, was Abraham, who was cited by Paul when tackling some of the great questions of his day (which still hold): “Even as Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness. Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham. And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed. So then they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham. For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them. But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, the just shall live by faith. And the law is not of faith: but, the man that doeth them shall live in them. Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree: That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith” Galatians 3:6-14. If nothing else, these verses demonstrate the importance of faith and it is this that saves us (and not our good works) and it is this that should govern how we live.

It is difficult to know how to wrap up discussion on a subject when there is so much more that could be usefully said. My own watchword and one that is strongly linked to my own church background is the call: “Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints” Jude 1:3. If there is anything I can usefully do, given physical and circumstantial limitations it is to be an exemplar of the faith I claim and be an encourager to others to have faith and hang in there come what may: “Here is the patience of the saints: here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus” Revelation 14:12. Which brings us to the faithful one we follow and one who as one by-product of faith we expect to return to Earth in glory: “And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that sat upon him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he doth judge and make war” Revelation 19:11.

When it comes to examples of persons of faith and given it is relevant to this book, we need go no further than the Hebrew prophets even though other than the Habakkuk reference given above the word “faith” is not to be found in the narrative. Yet faith and faithfulness oozes throughout their lives and ministries. While we stand in awe at the startling revelations the prophets received, it still required faith to be those who not just heard from God but who at all costs were prepared to pass on the message and live accordingly. This also brings us to faithfulness. The prophets were faithful just as the one in whose name they prophesied is faithful. Faith may seem a scary thing for we ordinary folk but, without it, however tiny the “it” is, we can never please God or doing anything of import for God. As for faithfulness, however ordinary we are, we can and should be faithful and it is that, as was pointed out to this once rather naïve, zealous young Christian, what truly matters.     

Grace

There are a number of attributes of YHWH God that ought to thrill us and on which Christians of different theological leanings broadly agree: love, mercy, goodness, faithfulness, compassion to name but five. Many of these ideas, it may be argued, can be found in other religions, as applying to their gods. Many have been touched on in this book because they were of interest to the prophets. But I want to add one more, and this some may argue is a precious truth that is unique to Judaism and Christianity. It is the word grace.

While the word translated as grace or gracious is used 124 times in the New Testament, it is far just a Christian concept because Christians are interested in grace and Jews law (John 1:17), for it is used 69 times in the Old Testament, including by several of the Hebrew prophets. Many have tried to explain and define “grace” but for this consideration I will define grace to be love, mercy and favour given to us by God because God simply desires us to have it and not because of anything we have done or are to earn it; it is an attribute of God that is especially manifested in the salvation of sinners. As far as giving examples of grace, I will cite four examples from the Bible, followed by twelve random verses, along with a brief explanation why I believe these to be relevant.

When Moses was communing with God on Mount Sinai, when giving the Law, and at the same time the Israelites misbehaved down below, Moses made an audacious request, which God granted, and in so doing Moses saw something, maybe just a glimpse, of the grace of God as well as His glory: “And he said, I beseech thee, shew me thy glory. And he said, I will make all my goodness pass before thee, and I will proclaim the name of the Lord before thee; and will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will shew mercy on whom I will shew mercy. And he said, thou canst not see my face: for there shall no man see me, and live. And the Lord said, behold, there is a place by me, and thou shalt stand upon a rock: And it shall come to pass, while my glory passeth by, that I will put thee in a clift of the rock, and will cover thee with my hand while I pass by: And I will take away mine hand, and thou shalt see my back parts: but my face shall not be seen” Exodus 33: 18-33.

One blessing a Jew may bestow on another and is found in the Bible and is how we may wish to bless those we care about is: “The Lord bless thee, and keep thee: The Lord make his face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee: The Lord lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace” Numbers 6: 24-26.

The prologue to John’s gospel is about the Word who was in the beginning, who became flesh, but it is also about Law and Grace and the Word who is full of Grace and Truth: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men …  And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.  John bare witness of him, and cried, saying, This was he of whom I spake, He that cometh after me is preferred before me: for he was before me. And of his fulness have all we received, and grace for grace. For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ” John 1: 1-4, 14-17.

Grace is an essential component of the Gospel, and is a point Paul strongly argued in his letter to the Romans: “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God … Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam’s transgression, who is the figure of him that was to come. But not as the offence, so also is the free gift. For if through the offence of one many be dead, much more the grace of God, and the gift by grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many. And not as it was by one that sinned, so is the gift: for the judgment was by one to condemnation, but the free gift is of many offences unto justification. For if by one man’s offence death reigned by one; much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ.) … Moreover the law entered, that the offence might abound. But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound: That as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord” Romans 5: 1, 2, 14-17, 20, 21.

The following are Bible verses to do with grace along with a simple application:

An example of one who possessed something that truly mattered: “But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord” Genesis 6:8.

Grace must not be an excuse for sin – on the contrary: “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?” Romans 6:1.

The grace of God can make us what God wants: “But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me” 1Corinthians 15:10.

What better example of grace is that which Jesus accomplished when dying for us sinners: “For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich” 2 Corinthians 8:9.

God’s grace is all sufficient to cope with the challenges of life: “My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me” 2 Corinthians 12:9.

Many feel that a “fitting” way to end a church service is to say the grace: “May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all” 2Corinthians 13:14.

It is grace that saves us: “In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace … Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;)” Ephesians 1:7, 2:5.

God’s gracious, eternal intention is clear: “That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus. For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God” Ephesians 2:7,8.

Grace should define how we live: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord” Colossians 3:16.

Grace is there for all those who seek it: “Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need” Hebrews 4:16.

We are called to grow in grace: “But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and for ever. Amen” 2 Peter 3:18.

A fitting way to end the Bible is as it invokes the idea of grace: “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen” Revelation 22:21.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was asked in 1943 how it was possible for the Church to sit back and let Hitler seize absolute power. His firm answer: “It was the teaching of cheap grace … Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ.” We live in a time and culture when all too often the church not only teaches cheap grace but praises it and is something we all need to repent of.

A fitting end to this section is some of the words of the much-loved hymn by John Newton: “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now I am found, was blind, but now I see … Through many dangers, toils and snares I have already come, ‘Tis grace has brought me safe thus far and grace will lead me home”. Newton also said: “I am not the man I ought to be, I am not the man I wish to be, and I am not the man I hope to be, but by the grace of God, I am not the man I used to be”. Many share these sentiments. Despite my many flaws, I am a trophy of God’s grace. I believe my life experience thus far, including some that have been painful, is evidence of God’s gracious workings. I therefore commend God’s grace to the wavering, anxious, perplexed, discouraged and disbelieving. It is what will lead us home.

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