The Lord’s Prayer (1)

After this manner therefore pray ye:
Our Father who art in heaven / Hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come.
Thy will be done, as in heaven, so on earth.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And bring us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one (Matthew 6:9-13).

The Lord’s prayer is extremely familiar to many people, profoundly simple in presentation, yet profoundly compelling in its substance.

Jesus, in the middle of what has been popularly deemed the Sermon on the Mount, condemned those forms of Israelite “religious” behavior, almsgiving, prayer, and fasting, which is done to be seen by men; such people have received their reward, but it does not come from His Father (Matthew 6:1-17). In terms of prayer Jesus warned against both praying so as to be seen as holy by others and using vain repetitions presuming to be heard by uttering many words, the latter of which was a common practice among the Gentiles (Matthew 6:5-8). Jesus commended praying in secret, encouraging people to remember that God knows what they need before they ask Him (Matthew 6:6, 8). He then provided what has become known as the Lord’s prayer in Matthew 6:9-13 as a model prayer.

Jesus offered His prayer as a model prayer: He encouraged His disciples to pray “like” this, not necessarily this precisely (Matthew 6:9). There is no transgression in praying the Lord’s prayer as written or as liturgically set forth (as we will discuss below); but it is not required to pray the exact words of the Lord’s prayer. In many respects Jesus provided the types of things for which we are to pray as much as actual words to pray.

Jesus began His prayer by addressing the Father in heaven and the holiness of His name (Matthew 6:9). Jesus encouraged direct petition and appeal to God in the name, or by the authority, of Jesus Himself (John 16:23-24). He is our “Father in heaven,” not an earthly father, although the parallel account of the Lord’s prayer in Luke 11:2 makes no reference to heaven. To “hallow” is to make or declare something as holy; Christians do well to proclaim God’s name as holy, and to show appropriate reverence before Him (cf. 1 Peter 1:15-17). Prayer demands a balancing act: God would have us speak with Him as our Father, and thus in great intimacy in relationship, but also as the Holy One worthy of honor and reverence, thus not glibly or casually. To emphasize God’s holiness so that people are afraid to even address God in prayer warps what ought to be a strong relationship; to emphasize the intimacy in relationship so as to justify speaking or addressing God as if a good buddy disrespects the sanctity of the Name. In prayer we do well to thank God for all His blessings and provisions for us, and ground our expectations from Him in that light (cf. Colossians 3:17, 1 Thessalonians 5:18).

Jesus asked for God’s Kingdom to come (Matthew 6:10). Matthew has Jesus speak of the “Kingdom of Heaven” throughout (cf. Matthew 4:17, 23); His words here indicate how “heaven” in such verses is a way of speaking about the God who dwells and reigns from heaven (cf. Mark 1:15, Luke 4:43). A kingdom is that over which a king reigns; the Kingdom of God, therefore, would involve the coming of the reign of God. What would it mean for God’s reign to come? As Jesus continued: that the will of God be done on earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:10). Jesus would thus have Christians pray for God’s will and reign to be manifest on earth as fully as it is in heaven; as long as evil and sin reign on earth, this prayer proves necessary. Yes, the Kingdom was established in Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension (Colossians 1:13, Revelation 5:9-10); and yet it does not take long to recognize that God’s will is not being done on earth as it is in heaven. Christians should pray for more people to hear the Gospel and obey it (Romans 1:16); we should pray for God to strengthen His people to better discern His purposes in Christ and to realize them (Ephesians 3:14-21).

Jesus asked for God to give us our “daily bread” (Matthew 6:11). “Daily” translates Greek epiousion; the term connotes the needful thing, being for today. In this way Jesus expects believers to give voice to ask God for the basic needs of life: food, drink, shelter, etc. Far too often people take these things for granted, or might presume that God is too busy or great to be bothered by such trifles. God is the Creator of all; everything we are and have ultimately came from God, and thus we are totally dependent on God for everything (James 1:17). We should ask God to provide for us the things needful for the day, being careful to delineate what proves needful from what proves superfluous.

Jesus exhorted people to pray for forgiveness as they have forgiven others (Matthew 6:12). Jesus spoke literally of debts (Greek opheilema), yet referred to trespass or transgression (cf. Matthew 6:13-15). Asking God for the forgiveness of sin is a crucial element of prayer: we continually fall short of God’s glory, we continually transgress or not do the right even as we grow in holiness and sanctification, and we remain dependent on God’s forgiveness (Romans 3:23, 1 John 1:8). God is faithful to forgive us if we truly and fully confess what we have done wrong and when we have not done what is good and right (1 John 1:9). Yet Jesus has also inserted a bit of a “poison pill” in how He framed forgiveness: to ask God for forgiveness of sin as we have forgiven others may prove problematic for us if we have not proven willing to forgive others of their sins against us. We might end up not really praying for forgiveness at all!

Jesus concluded His prayer with an appeal to not be led into temptation but to be delivered from the Evil One (Matthew 6:13). We should not imagine that Jesus suggested God Himself leads people into temptation: God tempts no one in such ways (James 1:13). The appeal instead is for God to not allow us to be led into temptation, to either intervene Himself for us against the forces of evil or to strengthen us to endure them. The traditional liturgical form of the Lord’s prayer asks to be delivered from evil; the presence of the definite article indicates that it is the Evil One, Satan or the Devil, under discussion, not evil in the abstract. In this way Jesus encourages Christians to pray to resist the temptations of sin and for strength to overcome the forces of evil (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:13, Ephesians 6:10-18).

The liturgical form of the Lord’s prayer concludes with “for thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen,” present in many manuscripts of Matthew, but not in the most ancient authorities. It is right and appropriate to give God such glory, as it is present in many doxologies throughout the New Testament (cf. Ephesians 3:20-21, 1 Timothy 6:16); but here it is a later addition, inserting into the text a doxology which would have been used when the Lord’s prayer was recited as part of the daily office.

Jesus’ words in the Lord’s prayer are few, but they say quite a lot. They provide a paradigm by which we may understand the types of things for which we ought to pray. May we continually pray to the Father in the name of the Lord Jesus in ways consistent with the Lord’s prayer, and obtain the resurrection of life!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Called Out of Egypt

When Israel was a child, then I loved him, and called my son out of Egypt (Hosea 11:1).

Israel had been quite unfaithful to God, serving other gods and acting immorally. Through Hosea God has been appealing to Israel to repent and change their ways lest judgment break out against them. Many illustrations have been used, including Hosea embodying God’s experience through his own faithless wife Gomer (Hosea 1:1-3:5). God has made His legal case against Israel (Hosea 4:1-19). He would heal them and redeem them, yet they would not be healed or redeemed (Hosea 6:1-3, 7:1, 13-16). He has chastised Israel for playing the whore (Hosea 2:1-23, 9:1-4). And now, beginning in Hosea 11:1, God uses a tender description for Israel, that of His son.

Sons were to give glory and honor to their parents; if they did, they would live long in the land God gave them (Exodus 20:12). Yet Israel, as God’s son, did not give Him appropriate honor, instead sacrificing to the Baals and to other gods (Hosea 11:2). God lifted Israel up, sustained him, but he rebelled against his Father (Hosea 11:3-4). Therefore, for a time, God will reject His son Israel, handing him over to Assyrian captivity, and to the sword (Hosea 11:5-6). Yet God takes no pleasure in this judgment; He has too much compassion on His son Israel to turn him into another Sodom or Gomorrah, Admah or Zeboiim (Hosea 11:8; cf. Genesis 14:1-3, 19:1-29). Even though He will judge them, He will have compassion on them, and will restore them to Him (Hosea 11:9-11).

This is one of the few times in the Old Testament in which God identifies Himself in terms of a Father, and Israel as a son. The Israelites would understand this description: they expected honor from their children by virtue of having given them life and sustaining them in their youth. God desires the same honor out of Israel, since He called Israel out of Egypt and rescued them with a strong hand when they were dependent and had no other to protect them (cf. Exodus 1:1-15:21). Likewise, God’s tender care for Israel was like that of a father for his son, never wanting to have to chastise, judge, or condemn, and ever looking for the opportunity to forgive, show compassion, grace, and mercy (Hosea 11:8-9). And God’s appeal to His people Israel is frequently rooted in His original saving act, redeeming them from bondage in Egypt, the basis upon which Israel was to know that YHWH is God of Israel and God of all (Exodus 20:1-2).

Unfortunately, Hosea’s words fell upon deaf ears. Israel refused to repent and turn back to YHWH their God; within a generation of Hosea’s prophecy, the condemnation spoken of in Hosea 11:5-6 had come to pass, the Kingdom of Israel ceased to exist as a political entity, and the people of Israel began to suffer exile in Assyria (2 Kings 17:1-24). Within another 140 years, Judah would experience the same fate at the hands of Babylon (2 Kings 25:1-21). Yet God did have compassion upon His people Israel; in 539 BCE, Cyrus king of Persia overthrew the Babylonian Empire and encouraged the Jewish people to return to Judah and to restore Jerusalem and the Temple (Ezra 1:1-4). Israel was back in its land, but Israel did not truly feel free. They suffered under imperial authority: the Persians, then the Ptolemies and Seleucid Macedonians, and then the Romans. Israel continued to experience bondage, yet now in their own land!

This situation was acutely felt during the days of the Romans. The Romans had established Herod, a half-Idumean, or Edomite, as a client king to handle Israel (cf. Matthew 2:1). He was well-known for his building projects and his largesse, but all of that was only possible because of the harsh taxation he imposed upon Israel. He was always concerned about threats to his rule; three of his sons, Alexander, Aristobulus, and Antipater, were all killed for conspiracy, true or alleged; one of his final acts involved a slaughter of babies in Bethlehem in an attempt to extirpate Israel’s Messiah (Matthew 2:1-8, 16-18). Herod certainly seemed to be as cruel to Israel as Pharaoh was. And while Herod had tried to eliminate the Messiah, the Father of the Messiah had looked out for Him, and told His mother and step-father to flee to Egypt to deliver Him from Herod (Matthew 2:13-14). After Herod’s death, God called the step-father and mother of the Messiah back since the danger, for a time, had passed; they went to Nazareth of Galilee, ruled by a different descendant of Herod, Herod Antipas (Matthew 2:19-23, Luke 3:1). This would not be the last run-in between a scion of Herod and the Messiah of God; yet it provided the means by which the prophecy had been fulfilled:

And he arose and took the young child and his mother by night, and departed into Egypt; and was there until the death of Herod: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, “Out of Egypt did I call my son” (Matthew 2:14-15).

Matthew’s reference to Hosea 11:1 might seem puzzling to some readers; as we have seen above, in context, Hosea is speaking about Israel as God’s son, lamenting how Israel has not been faithful as a son. Hosea speaks of Israel’s exodus from Egypt out of bondage and slavery; Jesus, the Messiah, went to Egypt for protection against a Pharaoh-like ruler, and was returning to Israel. Is Matthew just proof-texting, desperate to find any and all linkages between the Old Testament and Jesus?

The difficulty is only on the surface, for the association between Jesus the Messiah and Israel runs deep. In Hosea’s imagery, Israel is God’s son, expected to be faithful and to serve the Father in all respects, yet proves disobedient, either through outright rebellion or through heartless obedience (e.g. Luke 15:11-32). God brought Israel out of Egypt to be His special possession, yet they just wanted to be like all the other nations (e.g. 1 Samuel 8:1-18). Jesus is the ultimate Son of the Father, fully obedient, glorifying and honoring the Father in all He does (Matthew 26:39, John 5:19-20). And while it may seem like the identification of Jesus’ sojourn in Egypt with Hosea 11:1 might be a stretch, it serves an important aspect in Jesus’ story as the embodiment of Israel: as Israel started in Canaan, sojourned in Egypt, was tempted in the wilderness, entered the land, was exiled, yet was restored, so Jesus begins in the land, sojourns in Egypt, was tempted in the wilderness, ministered in the land, died, and was raised again in power, able to now be the fulfillment of all of God’s plans and intentions for Israel (Luke 24:41-50, Acts 1:1-8, 3:18-26)!

As Jesus is God’s Son, the true Israel of God can surround Him in His Kingdom, and receive the promised inheritance and restoration (Acts 3:18-26, Hebrews 7:12-9:27). Israel would not find deliverance from their bondage through military power, through rebellion against Rome, or through any political or “secular” means; they tried it in 68-70 CE and saw their city and Temple destroyed again just as in the days of their forefathers (fulfilling Matthew 24:1-36). Yet God’s compassion remained for His people: those who would follow His Son could receive adoption as sons and daughters of God, co-heirs of eternal life and glory in the resurrection of life (Romans 8:11-25).

God loved His son; that is why He first called Israel out of Egyptian bondage, and then He called Jesus out from Egypt to return to the land of Israel in order to call all people out of the bondage to sin and death (Romans 8:1-10). Let us find deliverance and rescue through Jesus of Nazareth and obtain the promises and inheritance which come through restoration to God!

ELDV

Relational Unity

“I and the Father are one” (John 10:30).

It is perhaps one of the most sublime and mysterious concepts– the idea of the Triune God. The arguments regarding how it was possible for God to be One in Three Persons consumed much of Christianity for the first three hundred years after the death of the Apostles– and again in the past two hundred. If there is one doctrine that people have difficulty understanding, it is this one indeed!

The challenge is evident. From Deuteronomy 6:4 on, YHWH uniquely identified Himself as God– not just any god, not one of many gods, but the One God. YHWH our God YHWH one is the literal concept behind Deuteronomy 6:4b. The idea of the unity of God is essential to Judaism, Islam, and indeed also to Christianity.

But then we have Jesus making these divine declarations. John speaks of Him as the Word, not just with God, but being God (John 1:1). Jesus will declare Himself the I AM in John 8:58. He declares His unity with the Father in John 10:30 and fully in John 17:20-23. Both Paul and the Hebrew author declare that Jesus represents the fullness of the Godhead in bodily form, the exact imprint of the divine nature (Colossians 2:9, Hebrews 1:3). Peter will also include the Holy Spirit in such a framework (1 Peter 1:2, 2:21). Beyond all this, both Paul and Jude strongly intimate that when the Old Testament speaks of YHWH acting regarding His people in the wilderness, that Christ the Son is involved (1 Corinthians 10:1-9, Jude 1:5). So how can God be One yet Three?

All kinds of answers have been suggested. Some answers try to argue that Jesus really was not God like the Father was God. Other answers try to argue that God really is one person, and just manifests Himself in three modes or forms. Yet when we look at the textual evidence, these answers do not work. All three Persons are present at Jesus’ baptism (Matthew 3:15-17). Jesus declares that there are two witnesses, Himself and the Father (John 8:17-18). There are too many Scriptures confessing Jesus’ full deity and His unique Personhood.

The problem with these answers is that they assume that when God is One, that unity must be in personhood. But neither Deuteronomy 6:4 nor any other passage so limits the understanding of God’s unity. Instead, we can suggest as a feasible answer that the unity of God is not based in personhood but in other factors– they are unified in substance, essence, and will. In short, God is One in relational unity.

God Himself testifies to this within His creation (cf. Romans 1:19-20). Humans are given a glimpse of this idea of relational unity in marriage. From the beginning God has intended for a man and woman to come together and become one (Genesis 2:24, Matthew 19:4-6). Paul will later attribute the same unity as existing between Christ and the church (Ephesians 5:31-32). How are people one in marriage? They are of the same substance and essence, for one. And the marriage that lives up to God’s ideal is one where each mutually submits to one another, respecting their roles, but becoming as one in terms of purpose, intention, direction, and whatnot (cf. Ephesians 5:21-33). The goal is to see that while they do remain two people, for all intents and purposes, they are one. They are tied together by their reciprocal, mutual love.

So it would be within the Godhead. We must never emphasize the distinctiveness of the Persons of the Godhead to the neglect of their unity. Think about it for a moment– the Three Persons of the Godhead are so unified in will, intention, and purpose, that we can speak of God entirely in terms of a unity. We speak of God Himself doing, acting, working, even though it is really the Three in One, and that is possible only because of the intense relational unity amongst the Three. This is how God is love (1 John 4:8)– for God to be love as one person would make God the ultimate narcissist. Instead, God maintains sacrificial love within Himself amongst the Three, and the blessing bestowed upon us is that He wants us to join in that love.

And that is why understanding God as the Triune, Three in One and One in Three, is so essential. It is not merely some abstract, academic concept that is irrelevant to life. Quite the contrary– God’s nature informs God’s work and purpose for mankind. And John 17:20-23 describes this perfectly.

As the Father is in the Son (and in the Spirit), and the Son is in the Father (and in the Spirit), so Jesus prays for all believers to be one with the Father and the Son as the Father and the Son are one, and likewise to be one with one another (John 17:20-23). Our existence, redemption, and hope of ultimate glory, therefore, are inextricably bound up in God’s own relational unity amongst the Three.

Why did God create all things and make us in His image? Love’s greatest joy is to share in love, and so the Godhead wished to share the love within Himself with all of us (cf. 1 John 4:8).

Why did God prove so willing to redeem us even though we did not deserve it? It is love’s essence to suffer loss for the advantage of the beloved; as the Son does for the Father, so the Father, Son, and Spirit do for all of us (Hebrews 5:7-8, Romans 5:6-11).

What is God’s ultimate goal? To extend the association, love, and relational unity that exists within Himself with His creation, and to maintain that unity for all eternity in glory (cf. Romans 8:17-24, Revelation 21-22).

We are called to seek after God and that relational unity with Him as it exists within Himself (Acts 17:26-27, John 17:20-23). In so doing, we must develop that unity with one another if we are really going to reflect the image of the Son (Romans 8:29, 1 John 1:4-7). The path is clear: as the Father and Son are one, so must we be one with each other, and that requires not just some level of mutual understanding of truth but also willingness to suffer loss for one another, humbling ourselves so as to seek each others’ advantage, just as the Son did for the Father and for us (Philippians 2:1-8).

God is love; God manifests love within Himself; that love overflows toward the creation; we have the opportunity to share in the blessing of a relationship with God so that we can become conformed to the image of the Son so as to return to the blessed state of full, unbroken association with God. How wonderful! How praiseworthy! Let us always praise and thank God for our opportunity to maintain association with Him and to enjoy that association for all eternity!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Honor Father and Mother

Honor thy father and thy mother, that thy days may be long in the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee (Exodus 20:12).

The fifth commandment brings about a shift in focus. Whereas the first four commandments involved an Israelite’s relationship with his God, the last six involve his relationship with his fellow man. One could say that the first four commandments are the means by which the Israelites would “love the Lord [their] God with all [their] heart, and with all [their] soul, and with all [their] mind” (Deuteronomy 6:4-5, Matthew 22:37), and the last six commandments are the means by which they would “love [their] neighbor[s] as [themselves]” (Leviticus 19:18, Matthew 22:39).

Therefore, as we turn from man’s relationship with his God toward his relationship with his fellow man, what would we emphasize? What would be the first command that we would establish for how people ought to work with one another? In the Ten Commandments, the first command dictating the relationship of man with his fellow man is to honor his father and his mother (Exodus 20:12).

This might seem strange to us– we would more likely than not emphasize the later commandments to not murder, to not commit adultery, to not bear false witness, and to not covet your neighbor’s goods over the need to honor father and mother. Why, then, is the command to honor father and mother at the head of the list?

We can discern part of the reason in the “promise” noted by Paul as he provides the same command to the Ephesians (Ephesians 6:2-3): “that thy days may be long in the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee” (Exodus 20:12). How is it that one’s days are longer if they honor their parents?

In a few circumstances there is a very good reason for it: the person who curses his parents or strikes his parents is to be put to death (Exodus 21:15, 17). If parents have a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey, they are to bring him before the elders, and if the charge is true, the son is to be stoned with stones (Deuteronomy 21:18-21). It is hard to “live long” in a land when you have been executed for rebellion against your parents!

Yet this is not really what God is envisioning when He makes this promise. While it is entirely possible that God provides a supernatural blessing or benefit on children who honor their parents, we can also understand this promise in completely natural ways. A child who listens to his or her parents has some level of respect for them as authorities. When the child becomes an adult, he or she is more likely to respect other authorities, including God and the government, and are more likely to be law-abiding citizens. If, on the other hand, a child does not honor his parents, it most often is due to stubbornness and rebelliousness. As that child grows up and becomes an adult, that stubbornness and rebelliousness continues against authorities. They are more likely to engage in illegal behaviors and have no respect for divine or human authority. Such people are more likely to die on account of their bad habits or at the hand of the law or men. Therefore, those who honor father and mother will have it go better for them and they will have a better opportunity to live long in the land God gave them. There are other factors in play that might hinder that– war, famine, pestilence, accidents, and the like– and there are also times when people live long lives despite being rebellious and stubborn. Nevertheless, the general premise holds weight, even to this day.

Hopefully we can better understand why God places the command to honor father and mother in the forefront of man’s relationship with other people. All of us first learn about life and how we should live from the home. Sadly there are many times when the home is not a good place in which to learn about life– some parents neglect and/or abuse their children, and this is not at all God’s intentions for the conduct of parents (Ephesians 6:4). Thankfully, a good part of the time, parents want the best for their children– to raise them to be good, productive, law-abiding citizens, if nothing else (cf. Hebrews 12:9-11). While some parents may not always have the best understanding of what God expects out of people, and not all parental advice and direction is good, most parents most of the time attempt to direct their children toward what is good and to help them avoid what is evil.

It is in the home where children first learn about authority. They are to understand that their parents have the authority over them to raise them as they see fit, ideally to raise them in the discipline and admonition of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4). If a child respects his parents’ authority, he or she will be more likely to respect the authority of God and to be law-abiding citizens. If a man or woman honors father and mother, it will be easier for them to avoid committing murder, committing adultery, bearing false witness, and coveting. If a child does not learn about authority, or disrespects the authority of parents, then the temptation to commit those sins will be greater.

We must note, however, that while this command has applicability to children, God is speaking to the adult Israelites at the base of Mount Sinai and throughout their generations (cf. Exodus 19:1-20:2). Respect toward parents is not to end the minute a child is no longer under their authority. The wise man quickly discerns just how important and valuable his parents’ advice and counsel about life can be. Challenges and issues in the world, in the workforce, in marriage, with children– one’s parents have already endured all of these things and have gained experiential knowledge about them. In many instances children end up respecting and appreciating their parents far more as adults than they ever could have when they were younger!

How, then, do we honor father and mother? Honor certainly involves respecting them, appreciating the sacrifices they made for us, and being a source of strength and encouragement for them. But “honoring” father and mother goes much further than this– children are expected to take care of their parents and provide care for them in their older age, as Jesus makes clear regarding this commandment in Mark 7:10-13.

This value is not well understood in our society. Sure, people still understand that parents and grandparents should be honored; if there are reports of parents abusing children or children abusing parents, we understand that such are terrible things and should not be done. Sadly, however, in our push toward individualism and individual fulfillment, far too many children cannot be bothered with the expectation to provide and care for their parents or grandparents. Therefore, far too many parents and grandparents languish in nursing homes and other assisted care facilities, often all but forgotten, seemingly unloved, without comfort or encouragement.

Yes, there are times when the medical needs of a parent or grandparent are too great for their children to provide, and we must be sensitive toward these situations. Nevertheless, we must remember that God has charged children and even more extended family members with the obligation to care for the elderly and widowed within their family (Ephesians 6:1-3, 1 Timothy 5:16). Even if the parents’ medical needs are great, children can still remain involved in their parents’ lives. There is no excuse or justification for parents and grandparents to be physically and emotionally cast off in old age– such is extremely dishonorable!

There may be times when it seems burdensome to care for parents or grandparents; there were times, no doubt, when it was burdensome for them to care for us. God expects His children to honor their earthly father and mother, not just to show them respect, but to take care of them just as their parents had taken care of them. Let us honor God by honoring our parents!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Jealous God

Thou shalt not bow down thyself unto them, nor serve them, for I, the LORD thy God, am a jealous God…(Exodus 20:5ab).

God is not just providing commands for Israel on Mount Sinai– He also gives reasons as to why the commands exist. But the reason behind the second command may seem rather baffling. The Israelites are not to make an image of any thing in all the creation to bow down and serve it because YHWH is a jealous God. A similar declaration is made in Exodus 34:14 in a similar context– the reason that Israel is to not make a covenant with the inhabitants of Canaan is because they are all to be destroyed, lest they intermarry and begin serving other gods.

This statement, then, is clearly not an aberration. But what does it mean? How should we understand the idea that God is a jealous God?

Many people place the most negative spin imaginable on the idea. They make God out to be a very insecure and domineering deity, unable to stand the idea that Israel would shower another with affection because it would significantly dampen His self-image. In this view, all of the negative aspects of jealousy are highlighted. Such a view is a direct descendant of the Gnostic view of the God of the Old Testament– they imagined that “Yaldabaoth,” the “Creator God” of the Old Testament, was a minor deity, unaware of the existence of greater deities beyond him, who acted like a tyrannical despot, from whom the Logos came to set men free. Little wonder, then, that many who seek to challenge and question the faith turn to a passage like this and demand answers as to how God can be righteous and just while being jealous.

But there is no real need for us to imagine God as jealous in such a negative way. After all, in the very next verse, YHWH declares how He will show lovingkindness to those who love Him (Exodus 20:6). God loves Israel– that is why He led them out with a mighty hand from the bondage of Egypt (cf. Exodus 20:2). And, as Paul will later declare, love does not seek its own and is not provoked (1 Corinthians 13:5). Thus, perhaps God’s jealousy has less to do with God Himself and more to do with His desires for His people Israel.

Illustrations can be instructive. One of the prevailing images used in the Old Testament to describe the relationship between God and Israel is that of marriage (e.g. Hosea 1-3). Correspondingly, bowing down to other “gods” and serving them is described with the image of adultery (Jeremiah 3:1-3).

Therefore, an element of God’s jealousy for Israel does likely involve a desire on the part of the Husband to be the sole Beloved in the sight of the wife. But this jealousy is based more in a desire for the benefit of Israel than for the benefit of God.

Paul will later describe in Romans 1:18-32 the descent of man that begins with making gods out of the creation as opposed to serving the Creator. It is not a pretty picture, and it was graphically illustrated in the case of Israel in Ezekiel 16. Idolatry leads to sexual perversion, perversion among other human relationships, and the general degradation of society. Hosea 4:1-3 paints a dismal picture of Israel’s condition. And it all started because Israel did not respect the first and second commandments. It all went downhill from there.

In the New Testament, the prevailing image describing the relationship between God and Christians is that of Father and child (cf. Luke 15:11-32, Romans 8:14-17, etc.). There is also an natural jealousy in that relationship, and everyone who has ever been a parent can understand it. Good parents always want what is truly best for their child, and they earnestly desire that their children follow in that path. If that is the case with earthly parents, how much more so is that the case with our heavenly Father (Hebrews 12:5-11)? Is this desire not a form of jealousy? As it is written,

Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? (James 4:5 ESV)

To what end is this jealousy? Our betterment. God is jealous for us not because He is some insecure, megalomaniacal God, but because He wants what is truly best for us. Just as earthly parents beam with joy when their children follow in the good paths in which they directed them, so God rejoices when His children follow in the good path in which He has directed them (cf. 1 John 2:3-6). Likewise, just as earthly parents mourn when their children prove rebellious to their own hurt, God mourns when people rebel against Him to their own hurt and disadvantage, both in this life and in the next (Romans 1:18-32, 2 Thessalonians 1:6-9).

The same temptations exist then as now to divinize that which is less than God and to descend from there. Evidence of this is pervasive in our society, and tragically, even in our own lives. This is why God is a jealous God– He is jealous for us and for our betterment, so that we can have that which is truly life, both in this life and in the life to come. We must humbly understand that God loves us and seeks our own good even when we do not understand or prove to be rebellious. We should be thankful that God is jealous, earnestly desiring us to lead us in the good path that leads to life. Let us follow that path, serve God, and experience true life!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Unity

“Neither for these only do I pray, but for them also that believe on me through their word; that they may all be one; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be in us: that the world may believe that thou didst send me” (John 17:20-21).

Jesus’ petition for unity among His followers as part of His “High Priestly prayer” has reverberated throughout the generations. Many who confess the name of Christ seek that unity, even though it has proven to be quite the challenge throughout time.

Normally, when people consider what Jesus is saying regarding unity, they immediately think of matters of doctrine. It is true that God desires for believers to be one in doctrine and judgment (1 Corinthians 1:10). This unity must be real and substantive unity, for the standard of the unity is the Father and the Son. As far as we are aware, the Father and Son are not one despite significant disagreements about the means of salvation, the nature of the church and its work, or regarding other such matters of doctrine! Real, significant doctrinal unity must exist for fellow believers to work together and be one as Jesus intends for them.

Yet it is important for us to recognize that the unity under discussion involves far more than doctrine. Jesus, after all, did not say, “that they all may believe the same things, as You, Father, and I believe the same things.” Instead, Jesus said, “that they may be one, even as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You” (John 17:21). Doctrinal unity is certainly included in that, but just because you have a group of people who believe the same things does not mean you have a truly unified group. As those who enjoy happy and successful marriages know, unity involves much more than belief (cf. Genesis 2:24, Matthew 19:4-5)!

How, then, are believers to be “one”? We are given the standard: just as the Father and the Son are one (John 17:20-22).

The Father and Son are one in nature and substance, and we must recognize that as fellow human beings, we are all of the same nature and substance (Galatians 3:28, Colossians 3:11). The Father and Son are one in purpose and will (cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:18, etc.), and believers ought to have the same purpose and will: to do the will of God and to be conformed to the image of Christ (Romans 8:28-29, Galatians 2:20).

This unity was only possible because of the godly characteristics of the Son: He was willing to humble Himself to do the will of the Father, becoming a man and dying on a cross (Philippians 2:5-11). In all things He sought the will of the Father and not His own will (cf. Matthew 26:39). The Son understood His role relative to the Father and did all things for the glory of the Father, because the Son loves the Father (John 14:31). And, lo and behold, the same commandments are given for us so that we may be able to work together. We are to humble ourselves and seek to do good for our fellow man (Philippians 2:1-4). We must be willing to subordinate our own desires and intentions in order to work with others. We must know our role within the group, and be satisfied with it (1 Corinthians 12:12-28). We do all these things because we love God, our fellow man, and especially our fellow believers (Romans 13:8-10, 1 John 4:7-21).

Becoming one as the Father and Son are one, therefore, is a trying task indeed! It does mean that we must all accept God’s truth and be one in our belief. Yet it also requires humility, hard work, seeking the best interest of our fellow Christians, and being content with our place in the whole. If we are able to do those things we will have true unity, and the world will be forced to confess that there is something special and different about those Christians, and realize that there is a greater power at work with them.

Let us work diligently to obtain the unity that God desires– not just in teaching, but also in attitude and conduct– so that the church may be built up, and God be glorified (cf. Ephesians 4:15-16)!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Older Brother

“Now his elder son was in the field: and as he came and drew nigh to the house, he heard music and dancing. And he called to him one of the servants, and inquired what these things might be.
And he said unto him, ‘Thy brother is come; and thy father hath killed the fatted calf, because he hath received him safe and sound.’
But he was angry, and would not go in: and his father came out, and entreated him.
But he answered and said to his father, ‘Lo, these many years do I serve thee, and I never transgressed a commandment of thine; and yet thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends: but when this thy son came, who hath devoured thy living with harlots, thou killedst for him the fatted calf.’
And he said unto him, ‘Son, thou art ever with me, and all that is mine is thine. But it was meet to make merry and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found’ (Luke 15:25-32).

The “Parable of the Prodigal Son,” which we have discussed previously, is one of Jesus’ most well-known and beloved parables. Yet, in context, a good argument can be made that the parable is less about the prodigal son and more about another character: the older brother.

The older brother stands in contrast with the prodigal. He did not take his share of the inheritance and live riotously. He has been faithful and dependable throughout. In contrast to his brother, he has followed the will of his father.

But this does not mean that he has an excellent character. When his brother returns, his heart is not filled with joy. He, instead, is resentful. He cannot believe the largess of his father toward his brother. He feels deprived, and it stings him a bit.

This parable is one of three which Jesus spoke against the Pharisees and scribes who murmured against Him regarding His eating with sinners (Luke 15:1-2). Jesus is first and foremost attempting to show these opponents how God feels about “sinners” in these three parables; yet, here at the end of the third parable, we have a figure that represents these Pharisees and scribes in the older brother. Sure, they may have not done the things that the sinners have done. But that does not make them right!

The older brother is focused on himself despite his service to his father. He cannot stand his father’s reaction to his brother because it injures his cause. He can only think about how he has been “deprived” despite the “honor” shown to his terribly sinful brother. There is no mercy or compassion in his heart.

The older brother– and the Pharisees and scribes he represents– are to serve as warnings for those who believe and strive to be faithful servants of Jesus Christ. It is easy to develop the “older brother syndrome” when one works hard in the Lord’s vineyard and hears of the repentance of a sinner. We might have been working quite diligently toward serving God while such a one has been living a dissolute life, and now we hear that we both will share the same reward? It is easy to wonder: where is the honor for us?

Such thinking is not of God; it comes from the self. According to God, there is joy whenever anyone turns from their sin. God’s love and compassion can come to all of us, and we should be showing that love and compassion to others. In the end, it is not about us; it is about God our Father. If He rejoices when a prodigal returns, we should also. If He would show mercy toward terrible sinners, who are we to judge or condemn?

The Pharisees and scribes found themselves far from the Kingdom because of their lack of love and compassion toward their fellow man. Let us not be like them or share their fate!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Prodigal Son

And he said, “A certain man had two sons: and the younger of them said to his father,
‘Father, give me the portion of thy substance that falleth to me.’
And he divided unto them his living. And not many days after, the younger son gathered all together and took his journey into a far country; and there he wasted his substance with riotous living. And when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that country; and he began to be in want. And he went and joined himself to one of the citizens of that country; and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat: and no man gave unto him.
But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many hired servants of my father’s have bread enough and to spare, and I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight: I am no more worthy to be called your son: make me as one of thy hired servants.”‘
And he arose, and came to his father. But while he was yet afar off, his father saw him, and was moved with compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him.
And the son said unto him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight: I am no more worthy to be called thy son.’
But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring forth quickly the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet: and bring the fatted calf, and kill it, and let us eat, and make merry: for this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’
And they began to be merry (Luke 15:11-24).

He was a young man who was likely raised well and had a comfortable living. When he comes of age, it is time for him to get up and have a good time; he obtains his share of the inheritance, and goes off. He has a great time “living it up” in the world. That is, until the difficult days came.

The money ran out. A famine happened. Desperate times called for desperate measures. This Jew now stoops to the level of feeding unclean swine, yearning to be fed with the food he provides for them. In the Jewish mind, there was no further to fall.

He finally comes to his senses. Even if he humiliates himself and degrades himself before his father, and becomes a servant, he will at least have food. Humiliation with bread is better than pride with starvation! So off he goes, back to the house of his father. His father sees the change of heart in his son, and is willing to receive him back as a son!

This, the parable of the prodigal son, resonates with many people. In some sense or another, we have all played the part of the prodigal. We all have taken our share of the inheritance of our Father– the blessings of this world– and used them to satisfy our own desires and lusts, regardless of what God said. Things may seem great for awhile, perhaps even for many years. Blessings abound.

But then the difficult days come. Perhaps the money runs out, the spouse leaves us, a loved one dies, or some other disaster. Maybe our habits finally catch up with us. What are we going to do?

We could remain in our pride, refusing to admit error. We could stubbornly hold on to the ways that got us to where we are. But how well has that gone for us?

Perhaps we know that we should humble ourselves and return to our Father, but we fear that He will be harsh and cruel with us. We ought not to fear: God makes it clear that He will pardon us and redeem us (Romans 8:1-17).

We would do well to be like the prodigal son in this story: come to our senses, humble ourselves, and return to our heavenly Father as a servant, so that we can be adopted as sons (Romans 8:14-17). Humiliation with eternal life is far better than pride with eternal condemnation, no?

We all, at some point, are the prodigal son. Will we remain in our uncleanness, and never bother to consider our fate? Will we have that moment when we come to our senses and realize what we have done? And if we do, will we be willing to humble ourselves and turn to God? God stands willing to receive you again and forgive– but only if you will come!

Ethan R. Longhenry

God and Us

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not also with him freely give us all things? (Romans 8:31-32)

Many people hold to a rather negative impression of God the Father. He is often seen as a bearded old man who sits up in Heaven, waiting to catch you in your next sin so that He can smite you. Sadly, many people have suffered under an abusive earthly father, and therefore believe that their heavenly Father is also trying to find ways to “get” them or to condemn them.

Yet this is not the picture of God that is presented in the Bible. While it is true that God is no justifier of sin, and calls upon mankind to repent of sin and serve His Son (Acts 17:30-31), God is not out to “get” anyone. God is not the enemy– the Adversary, the devil and Satan, is the enemy (cf. 1 Peter 5:8, Revelation 12:9)! Instead, God is quite the opposite– He has worked to save mankind, not condemn him! After all, if He sought to “get” us, He would have to do nothing but wait, and we would provide plenty of reasons for our own condemnation (cf. Romans 3).

But God loves mankind (John 3:16), and has done what is necessary to allow men to be redeemed from those sins and to be restored in their relationship to God (cf. Romans 8:1-17). God does not want anyone to be lost in their sins (cf. 1 Timothy 2:4, 2 Peter 3:9)! God, therefore, is not out to “get” us condemned, but to “get” us saved!

Yet Paul’s message here in Romans 8 is directed primarily at those who already believe in the Lord (cf. Romans 1:7). They are to consider these rhetorical questions– if God is for us, who can be against us? If He did not spare His own Son, will He not provide many other gifts?

Why is there a need to ask such things? It is easy to become discouraged on the road of life. Sometimes, even when you believe in God and strive to serve the Lord Jesus, you can feel that God is either not there or perhaps even set against you. Some despair of any divine assistance– sure, Jesus came to redeem mankind, and will come again someday, but in the meanwhile, they think, we are out on our own.

When we feel this discouraged or have these feelings, we would do well to consider Paul’s questions. Is God for us? If we serve the Son, He is indeed for us (Romans 8:1-17). If that is the case, who can stand against us? Even if the forces marshaled against God seem great, and the trials and temptations are many, as long as God is on our side, those with us are stronger than those against us (cf. 1 John 4:4). We can overcome and have the victory (cf. Revelation 22:3-4)!

And let us not feel as if the only gift God has ever given us is His Son. Instead, let us ponder the great mystery: if God was willing to give up the Son so we could have life, what else is He willing to give? Why would God give someone so beloved and yet “skimp” on more “minor” issues? If God’s love for us meant that He was willing to see His own Son die, can we really think that God is against us, not with us, far from us, or unwilling to help us?

In the days of Israel, God delivered Israel with a mighty hand from the power of Egypt. Then, in the wilderness, Israel had no faith that God would provide food and drink, despite the great salvation wrought on their behalf. That generation died in the wilderness because of their faithlessness, and their sons inherited the promised land. If we believe that God has delivered us with a mighty hand, and has wrought a great redemption through Jesus Christ, shall we not have faith that God can see us through the wilderness to the Promised Land, providing the necessary sustenance and direction on the way? Or, despite God’s great faithfulness, will we stand faithless? Let us never doubt God’s love and devotion to us!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Seeing God in Jesus

Philip saith unto him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it sufficeth us.”
Jesus saith unto him, “Have I been so long time with you, and dost thou not know me, Philip? he that hath seen me hath seen the Father; how sayest thou, Show us the Father? Believest thou not that I am in the Father, and the Father in me? the words that I say unto you I speak not from myself: but the Father abiding in me doeth his works” (John 14:8-10).

We live in a very visual and “concrete” culture. Imagination takes a back seat to entertainment. People declare that they will only believe what they are able to perceive.

In many ways, people have always been like that. For humans to understand things they must have it “broken down” or communicated at their level. That which is concrete is always preferable to abstractions.

How does God, therefore, describe Himself to mankind? He decided to do so fully through Jesus the Christ. As it is written,

No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him (John 1:18).

For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily (Colossians 2:9).

He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high (Hebrews 1:3).

How can we understand the love of God? We see how Jesus emptied Himself of His station to serve mankind, suffering abuse and dying for sin (Philippians 2:5-11, Isaiah 53).

How can we understand the power of God? We see Jesus peforming miracles, healing the sick, raising the dead, and being raised Himself (Matthew 11:5, Matthew 28).

How can we understand the wisdom of God? We see Jesus speaking in parables, setting forth profound truths in easily communicated stories (Matthew 13).

Small wonder it is that Jesus represents the Mediator between God and man (1 Timothy 2:5)– He came as a man, bearing the image of God!

Christianity is often maligned for its “exclusionary” and “intolerant” teaching: Jesus as the only way to the Father. Perhaps it is better to consider the issue differently: if Jesus indeed is the image of God, and when we see what Jesus says and does, we see what God says and does, why would we want to look at anyone else? Where else would we turn to find out about God than the Man in whom God dwelt bodily?

Our belief and confidence, therefore, involves seeing God in Jesus Christ. We learn about the Father through the life and teachings of the Son, and thus be able to devote ourselves to godly living. Thanks be to God for His wonderful gift!

Ethan R. Longhenry