Civilization

And Cain went out from the presence of the LORD, and dwelt in the land of Nod, on the east of Eden. And Cain knew his wife; and she conceived, and bare Enoch: and he builded a city, and called the name of the city, after the name of his son, Enoch (Genesis 4:16-17).

There are certain things that are almost universally accepted as good, right, beneficial, and the way things “should” be, and few such things have such power over us as the idea of civilization. Ever since the Greeks looked upon themselves as “civilized” and everyone else as “barbaric,” our history and our language assumes the overwhelming benefit of civilization over any substitute. We are all expected to conduct ourselves as if we had been civilized; barbaric behavior is frowned upon. Our history books tell a story of the development of civilization out of– and often in the face of as well– the forces of chaos, primitivism, and barbarism. Since civilization seems to be so wonderful, we might think, the Bible would commend such a message. Surprisingly, the Scriptures are a bit more ambivalent about civilization than we might imagine.

Civilization means cities: centralized locations wherein different people maintain different tasks to the benefit of all. The Scriptures do not reveal that Adam, Noah, or Abraham build cities. Instead, the first person to build a city is none other than the brother-murderer Cain!

The story is told in Genesis 4:1-17: Cain is Adam and Eve’s first child. He grows up to be a farmer; his brother Abel becomes a shepherd. They each bring the produce of their work as sacrifices before God, but God only accepts Abel’s sacrifice. Cain, angered and jealous, kills Abel. As a consequence for this crime, God condemns him to be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth which will not produce its fruit as a response to his toil. Cain expects that his fellow man will kill him if they find him; to this end, God provides some type of mark upon him so that this would not happen. Cain therefore departs from God’s presence, heads east of Eden to the land of Nod, marries, has a child Enoch, and builds a city named Enoch in honor of his son.

So many questions about this story center on what the Genesis author has not told us: who are all of these other people? Where did Cain’s wife come from? What was the mark placed upon him? While we understand that Adam and Eve had other children (Genesis 5:4), and Cain’s wife and these other people likely came from that union, most of these questions remain unanswered. We should not miss the story that the Genesis author is trying to tell us while wondering regarding all the matters he has left unrevealed.

In his punishment, Cain was separated from the presence of God, went east of Eden, and built a city. To build a city is to reject wandering as a fugitive on the earth; to build one while separated from God, separated from the Garden in which God placed man and from which man was expelled, is quite telling.

The Genesis author consistently demonstrates a level of ambivalence with cities and civilization. The next city of note mentioned features the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9): Babel, or Babylon, will develop into a civilization and empire that will become paradigmatic for the godless oppressive power against God and against God’s people. The next cities of note are Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 14, 18, and 19, which also become paradigmatic for sinfulness. Later, when Jacob buys some land and settles down a bit near Shechem, his daughter is there defiled, and his sons take vengeance upon the whole city (Genesis 33:18-34:31). Meanwhile, God calls Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to live in tents, maintaining a far more “primitive” lifestyle than provided by the big city. Abraham, after all, was called out of the big city of the day– Ur of the Chaldeans– to go to Canaan (Genesis 11:27-12:1).

It would be tempting to roundly condemn civilization on the basis of these and other texts, but such would be going too far. Egypt, its cities, and its civilization provide refuge from famine in Canaan. The Israelites will eventually live in a settled, civilized existence in the land which God promised Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The city of Jerusalem will become paradigmatic for the location of God’s presence among God’s people, ultimately becoming the image of the glorified church at the end of Revelation. Even though the Roman Empire would be chastised for its opposition to the Kingdom of God, such chastisement never extended to many of the benefits of civilization provided by the Romans.

One can serve God in the city; one can serve God in the fields. One can be “civilized” and serve God; one can be “primitive” and a “barbarian” and serve God as well. The Bible’s critique of civilization, however, remains a good reminder for all of us that whereas we might think of civilization in purely glowing and rosy terms, there are hazards involved as well. “Culture” in cities tends to magnify man over God; certain sins are easily found within cities. Cities and civilization may bring some people together but all too often pulls people apart, both from each other as well as from the earth that sustains them. God has often worked among the shepherds, summoning Abraham from the city to the hinterlands; God Himself became flesh and dwelt among us, growing up far from the big city in the rural hinterland of Israel.

Civilization has provided us with innumerable benefits; our current population and way of life is entirely impossible without it. But let us not be fooled into thinking that civilization is the be all and end all of everything; it comes with a price. Let us continue to live in our civilization, keeping its challenges in mind, and praise and honor God!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Serpent’s Deception

And the serpent said unto the woman, “Ye shall not surely die: for God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:4-5).

Genesis is a fascinating book, especially in its first few chapters. The narrative is elegant in its simplicity; thousands of questions could be asked, even more thousands of details could be given, but the author has a story to tell, and he will tell you what you need to know. This means that we are left with all kinds of questions left unanswered; it also means that when the author does provide detail, the subject matter is quite important, and we do well to pay attention.

The description of the temptation of Eve in Genesis 3:1-6 is such a story. The story is rich in detail, and for good reason: this is where everything goes wrong for God’s creation because of the transgression of mankind. From this point on, creation is subject to futility and decay (Romans 8:20-23); from this point on, man suffers because of sin, following in the path of Adam and Eve’s choice (Romans 5:12-18). Little wonder, then, why the Genesis author places great emphasis on the exchange between the serpent and Eve. The first temptation is as much a model for unfortunate future behavior as is the first sin itself!

Later details have colored our understanding of this event. John equates the serpent with Satan in Revelation 12:9; Jesus declares Satan to be the “father of lies” and that there is no truth in him (John 8:44).

Many have noted how Satan turns truth into a lie: they show how the serpent speaks 80% of God’s words in Genesis 3:4, adding only one word– 20%– as the lie (although in Hebrew it is only three words– hence, 66% truth, 33% lie). Nevertheless, on the surface, everything the serpent says in Genesis 3:5 is true: God knows that on the day Adam and Eve eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they will be as God in terms of knowing good and evil. But Jesus says that Satan has nothing to do with the truth, and is the father of lies! How can this be?

In Genesis 3:5, Satan does not lie by what he says; it is what is left unsaid that deceives. He understands the human condition– and the weaknesses of the human spirit– quite well. His temptation is an attempt to undermine Eve’s trust in God’s goodness toward her. His whole intent is to cast aspersions on God’s character and His intentions toward His creation. He succeeds in getting Eve to question God: what is God hiding from us? Why does God not want us to know good and evil? Is He concerned that we will become like Him and thus too powerful? It all appeals to human vanity: I want to know more. I want to be independent. I will not let anyone pull the wool over my eyes.

Notice that the serpent did not say much of this; he is more subtle than that. But he left Eve to think it and let Eve draw the conclusions he wanted her to draw. In so doing he deceived Eve (1 Timothy 2:14): she imagined that the serpent was more trustworthy than God, was willing to question and challenge God’s goodness and character, and the sin was complete before she ever bit into the fruit.

Satan/the serpent knew better. God cared for His creation; God sought to preserve the innocence of the man and the woman, and was really seeking their best interest. Eve really had no good reason to question God: He had made her, He provided the Garden of Eden for her with no lack of food and drink (cf. Genesis 2:4-25). Yet Satan made it all about power and the vanity of being like God; as he is, so he wanted to see God’s creation to be.

We all live with the same challenge as Eve. All sin, when it comes down to it, is rebellion against God, deliberate rejection of His ways, and thus a declaration of a lack of trust in God (Isaiah 59:1-2, Romans 6:16-23). He has made the world and everything in it and wants to bless us with every spiritual blessing in Christ (Acts 17:24, Ephesians 1:3); His standards of right and wrong are holy, profitable, and for our own good (Galatians 5:17-24). God never gives us a reason why we should doubt His goodness and love toward us.

Yet, as with Eve, so with us: we are easily deceived. We often find His standards bothersome, in practice if not in words. We struggle with difficult questions in life, wondering how God could allow us to be in whatever difficult condition in which we find ourselves, wondering how God can allow things to go on as they do, and so on and so forth. These temptations erode our trust in God; in any circumstance in which we stop trusting God and start trusting anything else, the sin is complete before we even act upon the impulse. We have rebelled against our Creator.

Eve would soon learn the folly of her actions; we can be sure that if she really understood the situation and what was at stake, she would not have made the same decision. And, whether we want to admit it or not, we find ourselves in that same position: if we really understood our situation in life, the way sin really is, the consequences of sin, and so forth, we would also likely not make the same decisions as we do.

It all comes down to trust. Do we trust God, that He is the good Creator God who loves us and seeks our best interest? Or do we trust the lie, believing ourselves better than God, trusting what we see and the creation and not the One who created it, willingly deceived by the father of lies? None of us will ever really be “as God”; ultimately, we will have to put our trust into something or someone. Life may not always make sense; there may be times when the circumstances in which we find ourselves are not very conducive to trusting God. But we should always remember what Eve in the Garden forgot: we do not understand the whole situation or our real condition. We are easily prompted to forget God’s goodness and focus on problems and challenges, let alone our propensity toward conceit and vanity.

We do not know everything; we cannot know everything. Our perspectives are slanted, biased, and distorted. Let us resist the voice of the serpent, questioning and challenging God’s character and goodness toward His creation. Let us maintain our trust in God no matter what may come, glorifying His name no matter the circumstance!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Word

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 through him; and without him was not anything made that hath been made (John 1:1-3).

In the beginning…

Even to this day, thousands of years after it was written, most people know the line: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). It is the foundation of all that will follow in Scripture: God is the Creator of the universe and of mankind, and that is why everyone should heed Him and what He says.

In the first century, this text was well-known to all of the Israelites. They would tell you how, “in the beginning,” YHWH created all things. No great cosmic upheavals and battles among gods; the creation was a very powerful but orderly affair. YHWH spoke, and it was so (cf. Psalm 33:6).

As John begins his Gospel, he evokes the same language: “in the beginning…”. The mind is immediately transported back to Genesis 1:1.

Yet here, “in the beginning” was the Word. The Word was with God, yet the Word is also God (John 1:1). The Word existed before the creation did, for He was in the beginning with God (John 1:2). Furthermore, all things were made through Him– thus, nothing that exists was created apart from Him (John 1:3).

This passage is as controversial as it is powerful. Many want to make much of the use of the “Word,” in Greek, Logos, and the many different possible meanings for Logos: speech, reason, account, and so on and so forth. Others are as offended as many Jews were at the suggestion that the Word was with God and yet was God (cf. John 8:58-59); they thus want to minimize the idea that the Word was God.

Yet there is an elegant simplicity to what John has presented, just as there is elegant simplicity in the creation account in Genesis 1:1-2:3. We should not allow the controversies and the argumentation to lead us to miss the force and impact of what John is trying to say here. He intends for us to never understand the creation account in Genesis– the beginning story of mankind– in the same way ever again.

God creates by speaking, and it happens– “Let there be light,” and there was light (cf. Genesis 1:3). We are to now understand that when God “speaks,” that which God speaks is the Word, and the Word effects what God has intended. How this process works is not described and is most probably beyond our understanding; it is very challenging for humans to comprehend how that which God speaks has life and personality in and of itself, and is to be reckoned as God along with God. And yet this is how the Word is active in the creation of all things (John 1:3).

This understanding helps to melt away a lot of the controversy. Yes, there may be different meanings of the word Logos, but we can understand what John means because of the referent in the Genesis story: that which God has “said,” or communicated, is done by means of the Word. There is no justification for turning “the Word was God” into “the Word was a god”; the constitution of the Greek text simply does not allow it, and the testimony regarding the full divinity of Jesus can also be found in Colossians 1:15-17, 2:9, and in other places. That which God “spoke” was as much God as the One “speaking” it, and this understanding is designed to transform how we view not just the account of Creation but also every other time in Scripture when God “speaks.” Little wonder, then, how early Christians connected all of God’s communication with mankind to the Word, the Son of God (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:1-12, Jude 1:5)!

Ultimately, however, John is setting the tone for the rest of his Gospel. The Word will be speaking to mankind again in the first century as had happened in the past; this time the Word has become flesh and speaks as Jesus of Nazareth (John 1:14). That which Jesus says about Himself throughout the Gospel of John is to be understood in terms of the Word through whom God created all things and has communicated His message.

John is making it clear that the message of the Gospel and the life and work of Jesus of Nazareth are not some mere appendage, “update,” or “fix” to the story that had already been presented; it is the fulfillment of that story, the unveiled revelation, making sense of all that came before and demonstrating that the whole story of creation points to the creative act that took place through the Word and how the Word would redeem that which was created. God sending His Son was not an aberration in the plan; it was the plan (cf. Ephesians 3:10-11). Despite all the sin and evil in the world, God is still in control.

In the beginning, God spoke, and the Word which He spoke effected the creation. In the first century, God “spoke,” and the Word which He “spoke” effected redemption for mankind and communicated the very nature of God to mankind in bodily form (John 1:18, 23). As the Word brought forth life, so now we can only find that which is truly life by trusting in that Word. Let us follow after God our Creator and be saved!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Enoch

And Enoch lived sixty and five years, and begat Methuselah: and Enoch walked with God after he begat Methuselah three hundred years, and begat sons and daughters: and all the days of Enoch were three hundred sixty and five years: and Enoch walked with God: and he was not; for God took him (Genesis 5:21-24).

It is not long after the events surrounding Adam and Eve that we start to get the beginning of the genealogies of the Bible. While some of Cain’s descendants are listed in Genesis 4:17-24, the real focus begins in Genesis 5 with the descendants of Adam through Seth.

We are first struck by the ages of the people involved– they start having children when most people today are dead or dying (cf. Genesis 5:3-9)! They themselves live for hundreds of years (cf. Genesis 5:1-20).

But we are supposed to be noticing a depressing monotony at work: X lives y years, begets z child, also other children, lives a years afterward, and dies. People live, they beget children, they die. Adam, Seth, Enosh, Kenan, Mahalalel, and Jared.

And then there is Enoch. And we notice quickly that something is different with Enoch.

Enoch lives, begets Methuselah, but then it is said that he “walked with God” for three hundred years after begetting Methuselah (Genesis 5:22). The text says he has other children, and then reiterates that he walked with God (Genesis 5:23-24). Where we would expect to hear, “and he died,” we see no such thing; instead, we are told that “and he was not, for God took him” (Genesis 5:24).

That is all. The text moves on to Methuselah down to Noah. In the Old Testament, his name is mentioned again only in 1 Chronicles 1:3, in another genealogical passage.

The Hebrew author provides a bit more information about what happened in Hebrews 11:5:

By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and he was not found, because God translated him: for he hath had witness borne to him that before his translation he had been well-pleasing unto God.

This is a sensible explanation of what Genesis 5:21-24 means. Enoch “walked with God”; he was found well-pleasing before God. He lived his life by faith, and on account of that faith, he never needed to taste death. Jude indicates that Enoch prophesied to some extent as well (Jude 1:14-15). He spoke for God; he lived for God; he received a great reward.

People have been speculating in all sorts of ways about Enoch based on these few verses. What was so special about him? Why did he get translated, and why is it that he and Elijah are the only ones who have received the honor of being translated without having to experience death?

We cannot know for certain. But we can know that Enoch was distinctive for his day. Others before him lived, had children, and died. Others after him would live, have children, and die. But he lived, had children, walked with God, and after 365 years, was not, for God took him.

Odds are that we will not be translated; unless the Lord returns first, we will most likely experience physical death like everyone else. But the promise of Enoch still holds true: if we walk with God, we have the opportunity to obtain eternal life and glory (John 3:16, Romans 8:17-18, Revelation 21:1-22:6). We have the opportunity to be distinctive people in our own day and age. Let us be encouraged by the example of Enoch and walk with God in faith!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Jesus the High Priest

Wherefore also [Jesus] is able to save to the uttermost them that draw near unto God through him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them (Hebrews 7:25).

What is a priest?

It seems like a very easy question, but it might take us a minute. It is a lot easier to describe what a priest does, particularly in the Old Testament, than it is to actually define him. He is the one who offers the sacrifices, maintains the Tabernacle/Temple, and instructs the people (Leviticus). How can all of these be brought together?

We can settle on a fairly basic definition: a priest is a designated man who stands between God and the people. The people bring their sacrifices for God to the Temple; the priests offer them. The priests enter the places the “regular people” cannot go.

In that sense, Jesus, by definition, is the ultimate priest– He is the Mediator between God and man (1 Timothy 2:5). He stands between God and us in a most powerful way.

The Hebrew author describes Jesus as the High Priest in the order of Melchizedek (Hebrews 5:10) based on the prophecy found in Psalm 110:4. Jesus, like Melchizedek before Him, is both King and Priest (cf. Genesis 14:18, Hebrews 7:1-3), itself an extraordinary matter and responsibility.

Yet Jesus fulfills this task to an extent not seen before. Priests, by virtue of their work, sacrifice animals. They themselves cannot be the sacrifice– in fact, the high priest must first sacrifice for his own sins before he can enter in and make sacrifice on behalf of the people (Leviticus 6:6, 11; Hebrews 7:27). Jesus, on the other hand, offers up Himself, the perfect, unblemished Lamb who can take away the sin of the whole world (John 1:29, Hebrews 7:27-28).

He is able to do this because He was sinless, holy, undefiled, and separate from sinners, but is not really distant– He can sympathize with our weaknesses, having been tempted Himself in all points, yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15) and having learned obedience through the things He suffered (Hebrews 5:8).

This ought to leave us breathless, really. A perfect mixture of holiness and humility, righteousness and love, separation and sympathy. Jesus is never sanctimonious, for He upholds the right while being willing to suffer with people, sympathizing with their plight. His ministry is all the more excellent because He was willing to suffer death so that we might be reconciled to God and live (Romans 5:6-11, Hebrews 5:6-9)! Thus Jesus is able to save us to the uttermost, inaugurating a new and superior covenant!

It is immediately apparent that no matter how righteously we might live we will never be anywhere near reaching the perfect ministry of Christ. That high priesthood in the order of Melchizedek is properly suited for One and only One, and we are not Him! We ought to thank God continually for such a perfect and wonderful High Priest!

Nevertheless, in establishing the new covenant and being the High Priest in the order of Melchizedek, Jesus changes the nature of priesthood entirely (cf. Hebrews 7-9). Much is often made of the description of all Christians as priests in 1 Peter 2:5, 9, but consider what is being said in those passages. In 1 Peter 2:9, Peter uses many descriptions of physical Israel to describe the spiritual Israel– Christians are as much an “elect race” and “holy nation” as a “royal priesthood.” Furthermore, what do we find in 1 Peter 2:5? Christians are being built up into a holy (spiritual) Temple, to be a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices. And what is that spiritual sacrifice but ourselves (Romans 12:1)? A strange priesthood this is– we are as much the sacrifice as the priest!

This is all because of Jesus’ example. Jesus did not offer up some other person or animal; He offered up Himself, and thus established Himself as the High Priest in the order of Melchizedek. The New Testament does not emphasize “priesthood” at all– servants, disciples, brothers and sisters are more appropriate images– but when it does, it focuses on that idea of the priest offering up himself as the sacrifice like Jesus did.

Therefore, as we are able, we do well to follow Jesus’ example. Today He is the only One who stands between God and the people (1 Timothy 2:5); we point to Him to show people the face of God and how to live as redeemed believers made in His image (Genesis 1:27, John 1:18). Our ministry is to offer up ourselves, spiritual sacrifices well-pleasing to God. Let us praise God for and serve our Risen Lord and High Priest!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Messiah: King and Priest

The LORD hath sworn, and will not repent: “Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek” (Psalm 110:4).

It is important for us to remember that while “Jesus Christ” is used as a name today, it was not always so. His name was Jesus. His title, or His office, is that of Christ– the Messiah. Both words (“Christ” is Greek; “Messiah” from the Hebrew) mean “Anointed One.” David was anointed by Samuel as God’s choice for King of Israel (1 Samuel 16:12-13); his promised Descendant would thus also be anointed (Isaiah 61:1, Luke 4:17-21). But Aaron, the High Priest, was also anointed by Moses to reach his office (Exodus 30:30, etc.). The image of the two “anointed ones,” one king, one priest, seems to be behind Zechariah 4:11-14. It also seems to have impacted the author of the Damascus Document, writing within the hundred years before Jesus, who seems to speak of two Messiahs– one of Aaron, one for Israel (CD 9b:10, 29, 15:4, 18:7).

It seems that most Israelites in the first century looked forward to the Messiah who would come as king to defeat the Romans and re-establish the glory and power of Israel. Not a few Israelites also sought some kind of divine reformation and restoration of the priesthood and the Temple, imagined by some as a “Messiah from Aaron.” But there does not seem to be the expectation that the Messiah in the line of David would have the concern for ministry or the priesthood that belonged to the Aaronic line. Furthermore, the Jews had recently experienced the reign of priest-kings with the Hasmoneans– but they certainly were not the fulfillment of the predictions of the prophets, since they were not of David and Judah, but from Aaron and Levi!

Then we come to Jesus of Nazareth. He is without a doubt a descendant of David and Judah according to the flesh (Matthew 1:1-17). The throne of His father David is promised to Him (Luke 1:31-33). But in His life He never raises so much as a finger against Rome and its authority. Instead, He preaches a message of the imminent Kingdom of God and dies on a Roman cross– an event His followers understood as the sacrificial offering for the atonement of sin (Matthew 4:17, 23, Romans 5:6-11, Hebrews 9:1-15). He certainly does not fulfill the expectations of the Jews in terms of the rule of the son of David, but He certainly is engaged in functions of ministry, sacrifice, and atonement, the realm generally reserved for Aaron and his descendants.

This challenge was understood by the author of the letter to the Hebrews. He understood that Jesus was of Judah, a tribe concerning which Moses spoke nothing about the priesthood (Hebrews 7:13-14). But he also understood that the Aaronic/Levitical priesthood was imperfect, offering up animals that could not really atone for sin (Hebrews 7:11, 10:4). Jesus’ sacrifice of Himself, however, was perfect, able to atone for any and all sin, and thus speaks of a better ministry, a better mediation, and thus a better priesthood (Hebrews 7:15-28, 1 Timothy 2:5). But how could Jesus be a priest when He was not from Aaron but from David through Judah?

God’s great plan for salvation was predicted before the events took place, and the Hebrew author highlights a psalm of David to demonstrate how Jesus is a priest– Psalm 110.

That this is a “Messianic” psalm, written by David and inspired by the Spirit is without a doubt; Jesus asks the religious leaders about Psalm 110:1 and how David can say that “YHWH said to my lord…” if the Messiah is David’s son (Matthew 22:41-46/Mark 12:35-37/Luke 20:41-44). And then we have the promise in verse 4: God has sworn, and it will not be revoked– David’s Lord would be a priest forever according to the priesthood of Melchizedek?

Who is Melchizedek? We read of him in Genesis 14:18-20, and the Hebrew author describes him in Hebrews 7:1-10. His name means “King of Righteousness,” and he was king of Salem (“peace”; the city is later named Jerusalem) and priest of God Most High. Abraham gives him a tithe of everything carried back from the victory over the foreign kings, and the Hebrew author points out that thus Levi and the Levites, still in the “loins of Abraham,” gave tithes to Melchizedek. He did not receive his position as priest by genealogy or nepotism, and in him the roles of king and priest were truly intertwined.

Even if the Jews believed that there would have to either be two Messiahs or that the Messiah would focus entirely on his role as King of Israel, David in the Spirit knew better– the Messiah would mean the end of the old system (cf. Hebrews 7:12). The Messiah would be King, yes, but also a priest in the order of Melchizedek. The Messiah would be the King of Righteousness over the City of Peace (cf. Isaiah 61:1-4, Hebrews 12:22-24, Revelation 21:1-22:6). He would accomplish this through His priesthood– the High Priest in the order of Melchizedek, providing Himself as the perfect offering, a ministry in every way superior to what came before (cf. Hebrews 7:11-28).

There would be only one Messiah, and He would provide the satisfaction for everything. Yes, He would reign as King, but only after He accomplished His ministry and His priesthood on the cross. In the resurrection He receives the authority and the throne promised Him, and the message of the prophets is satisfied. Let us praise God for Jesus the Christ, King of Righteousness over the City of Peace, High Priest, our Advocate!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Living by our Faith

Behold, his soul is puffed up, it is not upright in him; but the righteous shall live by his faith (Habakkuk 2:4).

Habakkuk has been complaining to God about the sinfulness of Judah. God tells him about the terrible enemy that He is raising up against them, the Babylonians, and the fate that awaits Judah. It is not a pretty picture; one wonders how anyone could survive or be saved in such circumstances!

God then makes a contrast between two sorts of people. There are those whose souls are puffed up inside of them. They have all sorts of confidence about their standing before God and their own “righteousness,” but their confidence is entirely unfounded. Their souls are not upright within them.

And then there are those who will live– those who are truly righteous. They are righteous because they live by their faith.

When Paul makes his grand theological treatise in his letter to the Romans, Habakkuk 2:4b is the centerpiece of his argument regarding justification by faith. The righteous shall live by faith. In the Roman letter Paul effectively demonstrates how no man or woman could ever be justified in the sight of God by their merits or their works since all have sinned (Romans 1:18-3:20). He demonstrates how Abraham received the promise through faith, and therefore those who inherit the promises are those who are children of Abraham by faith, sharing in the same trust in the One True God (Romans 4:1-25, 9:6-13). Paul quotes Habakkuk 2:4b again in the Galatian letter to demonstrate that no one has ever been justified before God on the basis of the Law of Moses (Galatians 3:11). Moses, David, and the prophets themselves lived by faith. Throughout time, therefore, those who belong to God and please Him are those who live by faith. It was not a matter of ethnic identity, as the Jews vainly believed; it was that trust in God, that confidence in His existence and His rewarding of those who seek after Him (Hebrews 11:6).

The righteous, indeed, will live by faith. Nevertheless, there is a minor detail present in the original Hebrew of Habakkuk’s words that was not carried over by Paul that remains important. Yes, the righteous live by faith. But “faith” is not just anyone’s faith. The righteous one lives by his faith.

We all know of people who are able to make it through life on account of the efforts of others. We often call this “riding on coattails.” Many children in this world will never have to worry about money or work; their parents are so unbelievably wealthy that they will never have to work. Many people rise to prominence less because of their own talents and abilities and more because of the fame of their parents or other such relatives.

There are some people who try to do this in their faith lives. They may have a parent or grandparent who was mighty in faith in God’s Kingdom, and they try to “ride their coattails.” They may start in life accepting what they have been taught. Sure, they believe in God; they have their own faith; just ask them. In reality, too many try to get by with their father’s faith or their grandfather’s faith. They have not yet made the faith their own.

Jacob is a great example of this. Few had his pedigree– the son of Isaac, the grandson of Abraham. He certainly did not deserve to be the son of promise, but that was God’s choice for him (Genesis 25:23). When Jacob was fleeing to Paddan-Aram, God appeared to him in a dream and promised that He would be with him and that he would inherit the promises (Genesis 28:12-15). Jacob was astonished; he understood that God was present (Genesis 28:16-17). He certainly believed in the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac. But notice his vow– if God will fulfill His promises, then He will be my God (Genesis 28:20-22). Jacob had faith in the God of his father– but he did not yet have his own faith.

In reality, while some people might get the luxury of “riding the coattails” of their parents, grandparents, or whomever else in their physical lives, no one can truly ride the coattails of anyone else spiritually. It will not work. The faith of your father, mother, child, spouse, preacher, elder, or anyone else cannot sustain you. It cannot stand up for you. Sure, it may remain for awhile, when it remains unchallenged and undisturbed. But then the day of adversity comes.

Maybe the adversity comes from a television show, a friend, or an educator who challenges the validity of faith in the God of the Bible and in Christianity. Maybe the adversity comes in the challenges of life– a harrowing illness, failure in various endeavors, unemployment, betrayal by others. No matter who we are, no matter how much money we have or do not have, regardless of our status in life, days of adversity will come that will cause us to question who we are and how we are to be sustained. And it is in those days that faith grows or dies (James 1:2-4, 1 Peter 1:6-7).

So it was with Jacob. He made it to Paddan-Aram and began working for his deceitful uncle Laban. He faced terrible adversity and there was no human that was there to advocate for him. He clearly perceived how it was the “God of his father” who sustained him, protected him, and blessed him throughout those twenty years (Genesis 29-31; cf. Genesis 31:5-9). As Jacob was returning home, having been delivered by God from Laban his uncle and petitioning for deliverance from Esau his brother, Jacob literally wrestles with God (in the form of an angel; Genesis 32:24-31). He is given the name Israel at that time. And after meeting with his brother Esau, Jacob/Israel moves to the area around Shechem. He builds an altar there, and names it El-Elohe-Israel: God, the God of Israel (Genesis 33:20). Jacob now had his own faith.

The Scriptures make it clear that we cannot ride the coattails of our spiritual ancestors. Time would fail us if we talked about how for every Gideon there was an Abimelech, for every Hezekiah a Manasseh, and for every Josiah a Jehoiakim. Sadly, the children of some of the most righteous people in the Bible end up being some of the most wicked. The faith of their parents could not save them.

Instead, we must be like Jacob. We must make the faith of those who came before us our own faith. We must believe in God and His truth because we have made our investigations and our inquiries and we have been satisfied (Acts 17:11-12). We must be able to make our own defense of our own hope that should be in us (1 Peter 3:15). We must have our own belief, deeply rooted within our own being, so that when we are shaken by trial, we have the resources of faith within us to continue to turn to God for sustenance.

The spiritual world around us is littered with the corpses of those who never developed their own faith, and their profession of acceptance of the faith of their ancestors failed them when the difficult times arose. Let us not be like them, but develop our own faith, and live by it!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Children by Faith

But it is not as though the word of God hath come to nought. For they are not all Israel, that are of Israel: neither, because they are Abraham’s seed, are they all children: but, “In Isaac shall thy seed be called.”
That is, it is not the children of the flesh that are children of God; but the children of the promise are reckoned for a seed (Romans 9:6-8).

People have a passion for family. Pride in children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren is a common denominator among all types of different people– even regardless of the conduct of those descendants. We also can appreciate our genealogy. How many have spent time in archives learning more about their ancestors! For some reason, if we are able to discover long-lost relatives who either participated in momentous historical events or just lived in a particular historical era, those past events and times become more meaningful and personal to us. That they knew nothing of us and that our knowledge of them may be little is irrelevant; they are our ancestors, we are their descendants, and there is power in that relationship.

The Jews very much felt this power. They have Abraham for a father (Luke 3:8). The genealogies of the Old Testament, far from being the “boring parts” of the story that we often gloss over today, were a source of pride, for all Jews could find somewhere in that genealogy some relatives who took part in their national story. Ultimately, they could all trace their ancestry back to Abraham through Isaac and Jacob, and that was the reason for their distinctiveness. Everyone on earth could trace back their history to Noah and Adam, but the Jews were the ones who inherited the promises. They were the ones to whom the One True God revealed Himself; He gave them the Law of God; from them would come the Deliverer of mankind (Romans 9:4-5). They could feel like they were part of God’s purposes for mankind in ways that the other nations just could not understand.

All of this was true, but it was not properly directed. Too many Jews took comfort in their genealogy. They became blind to their sin, convinced that since they were children of Abraham that their place in God’s Kingdom was already reserved (cf. John 8:33). They thought it was their status– their election– that would save them.

Jesus makes it clear that this is not the case– He speaks out candidly about how the Jews were following after their father the Devil, not Abraham (John 8:34-47), and declared how many “sons of the Kingdom” would be cast out into the outer darkness (Matthew 8:11-12). As can be imagined, the Jews did not take too kindly to this.

It is Paul who drives the point home in a way that should have truly shamed Israel into obedience. Paul points out that there were other children of Abraham (Romans 9:7)– they just were not the children of promise. History would be quite different if the Muslims were right and that Ishmael was the child of blessing!

Paul’s point is that the promise was received through faith, and that the children of the promise do not merit that promise by anything they could have done, and does it all through Genesis. By working backward we can start with Jacob. Did he deserve the promise? He was the younger, and by all rights, had no claim on anything. Esau “should have” been the child of promise since he was the eldest, and yet God had foreordained that the elder would serve the younger (Genesis 25:23, Romans 9:10-12). Neither Esau or Jacob had done anything yet, but God made His purpose known in a providential way. Where would the Jews be had God not made such a provision, and Esau became the inheritor of the promise?

What did Isaac do in order to obtain the promise that he would pass along to Jacob? Absolutely nothing. He was just born, and none of us gets to choose the circumstances of our birth. The circumstances of his birth were quite miraculous and amazing (cf. Genesis 21:1-7, Romans 4:13-25). In fact, had Abraham gotten his way, Isaac would have never needed to come into existence or to receive the promise, for Abraham desired for Ishmael to live before God as the child of promise (Genesis 17:17-18). If God had honored Abraham’s wish, where would that have left Israel and the Jews?

We then get back to Abraham himself. What did he do in order to merit the call? As far as we can tell, his family was idolatrous, and Abram would have no reason to know that it was Yahweh who would call him or that Yahweh was the One True God (Genesis 11:27-32, Joshua 24:2). What stature, therefore, did Abram have before God? None whatsoever. If God had not bothered calling Abram out of Ur, what would have been Israel’s fate?

Paul’s entire point here is that God elected Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob according to His will and His purpose, not based on any kind of past or intrinsic merit or the Law or any such thing. Therefore, the Jew has no reason to “boast” in his Judaism, as if his ethnic identity provides him merit or status in God’s sight. God could have just as easily chosen another nation, and Israel would have been entirely out of luck!

Why, then, did God choose Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? The choice was based in God’s knowledge of their faith (cf. Romans 8:29-30, James 2:14-26). God knew that Abraham would go to Canaan, to believe in Him, and be willing to even sacrifice Isaac if so commanded (Genesis 12-22). God knew the type of person Esau would turn out to be, and He knew how Jacob would be the man of faith (Genesis 25-35). They received the promises because they trusted in God and obeyed His voice (Genesis 22:15-18, 26:2-5), and God was willing to be known as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob (cf. Matthew 22:32).

Paul makes it clear, therefore, that the true children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are not necessarily those who are genealogically related to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. That is not the way the promise works. The promise is inherited by faith, and therefore, all who believe and trust in God through His Son Jesus Christ are reckoned as children of Abraham (Romans 4:11-13, 9:24, 30-32, Galatians 3:29). They have the same “spiritual heritage,” joined not by blood that decays but by a shared obedient faith in God that endures forever.

Thus we can see that God is not unjust by casting off those who were unfaithful in Israel and bringing in those who would obey in faith among the nations. In fact, this is precisely what should have happened, and it represents God’s persistent message throughout time. Believers should learn from Israel’s example. We cannot place our trust in things. We cannot trust in status, ethnicity, parents, children, genealogy, or any such thing. Instead, our trust must be in God Himself, and we must be His obedient servants (Romans 1:16-17, 6:1-23)!

No one deserves salvation because of their ancestry, their status, their identity, or for any such reason– no one ever has or ever will. God’s choices say more about God accomplishing His will than they do about the persons chosen, and all must obey to receive the inheritance. Let us be children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob by faith, and represent the Israel of God today!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The End of the Beginning

And the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them (Genesis 2:1).

When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, “It is finished”: and he bowed his head, and gave up his spirit (John 19:30).

We humans seem to be hard-wired for stories. We like stories with beginnings and endings. We often feel cheated or in despair when we engross ourselves in a story that may not have much of a beginning and provides little, if any, resolution in the end.

As readers or hearers we try to be expecting the “beginning of the end” of a story. But what about the end of the beginning?

The end of the beginning is the moment of great hope in a story. In some way, the reader or listener is now introduced to the main characters and/or theme. Possibilities here abound; soon enough, the story will be fixed into a given channel toward its ultimate end.

We have that pause at the “end of the beginning” of the creation. In six days God created all that exists– He provided the beginning for everything (cf. Genesis 1:1-31). The sixth day was the culmination of creation– the creatures of the land and the man and woman in God’s image (Genesis 1:24-31). The possibilities abounded. God rested on the seventh day (Genesis 2:1-3), and soon enough the story of His creation would unfold.

And then, in a darker semblance, we have the “end of the beginning” with the death of Jesus the Son of God. Jesus had been active in His earthly ministry, healing the sick, casting out demons, and proclaiming the message of the upcoming Kingdom (cf. Matthew 4:23-24). He did this for approximately three years. Over a six day period Jesus was in Jerusalem during the Passover festival, teaching about the Kingdom while the hopes and dreams of Israel burst forth (cf. Matthew 21-27). The culmination of His time in Jerusalem and His entire ministry came again on the sixth day– scourging, a crown of thorns, derision and mockery, and ultimately death on a cross (Matthew 27:1-50, etc.). And then, on the seventh day, God the Son rested (Luke 23:56).

While there is some controversy over the day of Jesus’ death, the evidence from Luke 23:54-56 and John 19:31 provide strong indications that Jesus did indeed die on what has often been called “Good Friday.” In the Jewish calendar, Friday (really Thursday sunset to Friday sunset) is the sixth day of the week. God created the heavens and earth in six days, with the creation of humans on the sixth day, and rested on the seventh (cf. Genesis 1:1-2:3); Jesus completed His task of fulfilling the Law and the prophets and reconciling God and man on the sixth day (John 19:1-30). In each case, we have the end of the beginning.

Since God rested on the seventh day, so Israel was commanded to rest on the seventh day (cf. Exodus 20:10-11). It should not be surprising to us that the full day of Jesus’ rest in the tomb would be on such a Sabbath.

But then the sun would rise on a new week, the first day of the week. In Genesis this meant the real beginning of God’s Lordship over His newly-formed creation; He would not again be active in the work of creation, but He would rule over what is His and seek its best interest.

God’s reign over the creation continued as it were week after week, year after year, millennium after millennium, until that fateful Passover week in 30 CE. When the sun arose on the first day of the week after Jesus’ death, the end of the beginning had its full consummation: Jesus had been raised from the dead in power by God, now to rule over the heavens and earth as Lord (Matthew 28:1-18).

While it may have seemed as if nothing had changed in the way that the world operates, in reality, everything had just changed. In many respects, it was the “eighth” day of the week: a breaking out from the old paradigm and the beginning of a new creation (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:17). The Kingdom and Reign of God was coming to earth through those who would follow Jesus Christ. As the Resurrected Lord, He represents the firstfruits, the basis of the hope and expectation we all share in Him for resurrection and rebirth (cf. Romans 8:17-25, 1 Corinthians 15:1-58). Jesus’ followers would no longer rest on the seventh day, for the work of God in advancing the Kingdom and bringing in the new creation is not satisfied until we obtain the resurrection (Hebrews 4:1-11). Our greatest loyalty is to the new creation, not the old, and thus Christians came together– and should still come together– on the first day of the week, commemorating the end of the new beginning: remembering the death of the Lord on the day when He arose (Matthew 28:1-10, Acts 20:7, 1 Corinthians 11:23-26).

God has told us the beginning of the story of creation, and He has forecast for us the picture of the end (cf. Matthew 25:1-46, Revelation 21:1-22:6). Those who are willing and obedient will obtain the ultimate reconciliation with God (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, Revelation 21:1-22:6). In doing so, according to God’s most profound story, believers will find themselves back at the end of the original beginning thanks to the end of the new beginning– man living in full association with God as in the Garden (cf. Genesis 2:4-24, Revelation 21:1-22:6), all thanks to the reconciliation that was made possible through Jesus’ death on the cross (Romans 5:5-11) and the new life that is found in the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:20-57).

We have heard the story of the beginning, both old and new; the beginning has ended, the end may be upon us soon. Our lives, physical and spiritual, are sustained by the beginning of the stories and the end of those beginnings. Let us participate in God’s story so that we may obtain life in the end, be reconciled to God, and enjoy eternal life in the Son!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Faith Counted as Righteousness

And [Abram] believed in the LORD; and he reckoned it to him for righteousness (Genesis 15:6).

It is lamentable how this verse has become the focal point for the controversy regarding the roles of faith and obedience based on its quotation in both Romans 4:3 and James 2:22-23. Paul uses the incident to show how Abram’s faith here justified him without any works; James speaks of how it is fulfilled when Abram demonstrates his obedience to God by being willing to offer Isaac his son upon the altar (cf. Genesis 22). Abram’s example does not teach either that faith only saves or that works save– Abram’s example shows us that we must have faith and be obedient to God in order to obtain the blessing.

Such controversy often overshadows the great depth of faith put forward by Abram. Abram here is in his eighties; Sarai his wife is in her seventies. She has borne him no children, and he has no biological heir. God has made all of these promises regarding Abram’s offspring inheriting the land, yet Eliezer of Damascus, Abram’s servant, currently stands to inherit what remains to him (Genesis 15:2-3). Yet God promises that he will have a son, and his son will be his true heir (Genesis 15:4-5).

On what basis should Abram believe God? After all, he is well over the age most people have children, and women do not often have children in their seventies! According to the human, earthly perspective, there is no reason to believe God. On a physical level alone, Abram is doomed to have no descendants if he is waiting on Sarai.

But Abram knows that what is impossible with men is possible with God (cf. Matthew 19:26). He and 318 men just defeated four Mesopotamian kings whom the five kings of the valley could not best (Genesis 14). God had brought him from the land of Ur and Haran and had blessed him so far (Genesis 12:1-4). Abram was willing to trust God, and God counted it as righteousness.

Abram’s faith teaches us what faith should be. Faith is trust and confidence, even if there is no good earthly or physical basis on which to base that trust or confidence! The Hebrew author speaks of faith as “assurance of things hoped for, a conviction of things not seen,” (Hebrews 11:1), and this was certainly true in relation to Abram and his children. Abram had every reason not to trust in God’s promise, and he trusted anyway.

God proved faithful to Abram even when Abram was not as faithful to God. The very next chapter shows what happens when Abram and Sarai attempt to meddle in God’s purposes– Abram fathers Ishmael through Hagar, but he is not the chosen one (cf. Genesis 16). Instead, God waits another 15 years, and Sarah bears to Abraham a son, Isaac, in his old age, she at 90, he at 100 (Genesis 21, Romans 4:18-22)! What is impossible with man is possible with God.

Are there good earthly, physical reasons to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, crucified for our sin, and raised on the third day in power? Upon what basis should we accept that God will raise us also from the dead and provide glory and eternal life if we are found faithful? Why should we think that God loves us and is willing to give us all things, especially when things do not look so good for us? According to an earthly, human perspective, there are no good reasons. That’s why faith is so critical– no mere intellectual assent to a proposition, but a willingness to trust and cling to God no matter how implausible or impossible His promises may seem.

If God is able to create the universe as we know it and allowed a woman of 90 years to give birth, He is certainly able to redeem us from sin and gather us to Him for all eternity. Will we be willing to believe what is impossible according to men? Can we trust in things hoped for and show conviction despite not seeing? And are we willing to obey and serve, even if it costs us everything? If so, we will have a faith that God will count for righteousness, and we can share in all those “impossible” promises!

Ethan R. Longhenry