Rather than reading the Bible through the eyes of modern secularism, this provocative six-part course teaches you to read the Bible through its own eyes—as a record of God’s dealing with the human race. When you read it at this level, you will discover reasons to worship God in areas of life you probably never before associated with “religion.”
© Charles A. Clough 1998
Charles A. Clough
Biblical Framework Series 1995–2003
Part 4: Disciplinary Truths of God’s Kingdom
Chapter 3: Kingdoms in Decline: The Discipline of Cursing
Lesson 86 – Review Covenants, Announcement of Israel’s Future
09 Apr 1998
Fellowship Chapel, Jarrettsville, MD
Turn to page 46 in the notes; I want to start by reviewing the covenants. The period of Old Testament that we are studying I have characterized as revelation of the discipline that God gave toward these people Israel over the centuries. It’s preserved for us in the text of the Bible many, many, hundreds of pages of reading. So obviously God must have a purpose in revealing that and even though we tend to neglect that portion of the Bible it has a lot of emphasis. If you look on the right side we’ve listed the events and then we’ve listed the doctrines that are implied and revealed in those events, you see that again and again it’s the same doctrine, over and over, the same area of truth, sanctification, sanctification, sanctification, which deals with Christian growth.
We dealt with it in the Solomonic period, the time when the kingdom was divided, and the kingdoms in decline which we’re finishing up. The next event we’re going to move to is the exile, and that introduces a whole new ball game because now there is no nation Israel left, and the Jews are living in Gentile domains. In that area you’re going to have the issue of Daniel, the issue of the four great kingdoms, so we’ll get into the Gentile part of history then. We tend to look less and less on Israel and more on the Gentile world. Then we’ll deal with the restoration period. In the fall we’ll pick up with the New Testament and get into the Gospels.
On page 47 I’ve tried to summarize the covenants. What I’m trying to demonstrate is that the Bible insists that God controls history by means of contracts between Himself and man. Dr. Albright, who for many years was Dean of American Archeology at Johns Hopkins, in one of his books mentioned a very interesting point. He said that the Hebrew people are the only people in all the history of man whose God ever made a covenant. The pagan religions have no covenant making God. That’s very important for us. Why do people make covenants; why do we make contracts? Why when you buy a house or a car do you make a contract? The contract specifies a meeting of the minds that two parties agree to certain behavior. There are certain expectations. That’s what contracts are all about. Contracts presuppose character. That’s why one of the marks of a pagan society, according to the Apostle Paul, is that they will be covenant breakers and contract breakers, and we see this all though our society today.
God, in these covenants, entered into a meeting of the minds, with a verbal revelation between Himself and certain people, makes certain promises and as the centuries go by the Bible records the behavior of God and the behavior of man, answering the question of who is faithful to the covenant. So the covenants are vital because they establish the rules, they set up the framework.
Let’s review some of the covenants we’ve covered.
The first covenant we studied was the New World Covenant or the Noahic Covenant. The parties to the covenant, God, the Noahic human race, and animals, they were part and parcel of the covenant. The sign of the Noahic Covenant still exists in our atmosphere, the rainbow. The legal terms of that covenant are that there will be an eternal survival of the human race and there will be no more global flood. The human race will not go to extinction because of some asteroid. God’s Word says that the human race will survive forever, obviously it’s going to in resurrected form, but the human race will survive. These covenants, because they are made between a holy God and a fallen human race are always instituted on the basis of a blood covenant. So we have Noah’s sacrifice, that’s the founding sacrifice of that covenant.
Then the Abrahamic Covenant, that’s the anchor, you can asterisk that covenant because that’s the anchor covenant for history or redemption. The New World Covenant is the anchor covenant for the physical environment of the human race. All of the ecological questions that people talk about, the environment, ecology, etc. it’s really controlled by the Noahic Covenant. That spells out, so to speak, the room. The Abrahamic Covenant spells out what God is doing inside the room. The Abrahamic Covenant is redemptive, the Noahic Covenant is preservative. There’s no direct redemption in the Noahic Covenant; there is in the Abrahamic Covenant. The parties to the covenant are God and the Abrahamic progeny, whoever they may be. That’s a matter for revelation as to who the Abrahamic progeny are, but we know at least it started with Abraham, so God and Abraham. The sign of that covenant was God’s oath; remember the oath of malediction, if you look at the Hebrew language it’s very intense when He comes to Abraham and says may I be damned if this covenant is not kept. It’s exactly that kind of thing, the oath of malediction. The second sign of the covenant was circumcision. Circumcision was given because of certain metaphorical implications of out theology as far as propagation goes, as far as reproduction, the sin nature of man, etc. The legal terms: the land, the seed and the worldwide blessing. The founding sacrifice: God’s sacrifice, remember Abraham, Isaac, etc.
The Sinaitic Covenant, God and the tribes of Israel; please notice the parties to the contract. It’s going to be very important when we get to the last one. These contracts are made with a defined group of people. The sign of the Sinaitic Covenant is the Sabbath, the keeping of the seventh day. The legal terms, there are hundreds of them, all had one goal, to show loyalty to Jehovah God or Yahweh as the Hebrew would say. The founding sacrifice was Moses and elders conducted the sacrifice at the point of the Exodus.
The Davidic Covenant, the parties to the contract, God once again and on the human side it was David and his progeny. The sing was the survival of the royal line. The legal terms of that covenant, it specified there would be a Father-son relationship between God and David and his progeny. It’s important, and this is going to come out more and more and it’s been behind the last two chapters of these notes, chastening but not rejection … chastening but not rejection! The Davidic Covenant theologically introduces a new idea, it’s not new obviously it was truth that was there before, but new in the sense that now God talks more about it, makes it clearer. What’s new about the Davidic Covenant is that there’s a difference between being a believer and being in fellowship with God. You can be a believer and lose fellowship with God and you do not lose your salvation. This is a dynamic that’s embedded in that covenant because the progeny of David would be saved because God’s Spirit would not depart. On the other hand, they would be chastened with the rod of men for their disobedience, and fellowship with God would be broken, which obviously introduces the issue of restoration, etc. A third point in legal terms of that Davidic Covenant is that Jerusalem will be the center of the Davidic reign in power and glory. Jerusalem has a great future ahead of itself. The problem is that we can’t find a founding sacrifice for the Davidic Covenant. It’s missing, and the only hint you get is in Psalm 16 when David says that he would not see corruption, and that would imply a sacrificing death, etc.
Last time we came to the New Covenant, and we want to look at two passages of Scripture, once again to see the structure of this covenant. Deuteronomy 30 tells us how Moses looked forward to it centuries before it happened. The date of Deuteronomy 30 is about 1400 BC. Jeremiah 31 is the giving of the New Covenant. So we’re talking about the time from 1400 BC on down to the vicinity of 700 BC, seven centuries have gone by. That’s a long time. We Americans think our country has only gone on 200 years and at the rate it’s going it’s not going to last much longer. We’re talking about seven centuries, three times the duration of America’s existence, between Deuteronomy 30 and Jeremiah.
We’re going to compare sections, starting with Deuteronomy 30:3-5, “Then the LORD your God will restore you from captivity,” God is looking forward, even though this is back then, it’s looking forward by centuries of time, and God is saying … we introduced this, we said in 30:1, “So it shall be when all of these things have come upon you,” the “you” is Israel, all of the things that “have come upon you” are all the cursings of chapter 29, so “when all of these things have come,” past tense, they’ve happened, they’ve occurred, when they’ve all come, “the blessing and the curse which I have set before you, and you call them to mind in all the nations where the LORD your God has banished you,” there’s the exile. So whatever this prophecy is, it’s talking about something that occurs after the exile. Verse 2, “And you return to the LORD your God and obey Him with all your heart and soul,” etc.  “Then the LORD your God will restore you from captivity,” beginning in verse 3, and 4 and 5, this is the restoration and the resolution of Old Testament problems. The Old Testament showed the fact that men cannot obey God consistently; we constantly fail, so how is history ever going to get resolved? That’s why prophecy looks down the corridor of time to the point when history does get resolved. We’ll look into that more.
Verses 3-5, “Then the LORD your God will restore you from captivity, and have compassion on you, and will gather you again from all the peoples where the LORD your God has scattered you.  If your outcasts are at the ends of the earth, from there the LORD your God will gather you, and from there He will bring you back.  And the LORD your God will bring you into the land which your fathers possessed,” that’s only one area of real estate that qualifies for that phrase, it’s the literal land of Israel, eretz Yisrael, “into the land which your father’s possessed, and you,” that is the group of Jews that will return in the future to that land, “shall possess it; and He will prosper you and multiply you more than your fathers.”
That’s the future of Israel, and it’s predicated upon resolution to the problem of their sin. Their sin was what excluded them from the land, and it says in verse 2, you will “return to the LORD your God,” and that’s the mystery, how are they going to return to the Lord. But they will in some future time. Whenever that happens then the regathering occurs, and you’ll notice the regathering occurs after verse 2, not before verse 2, so the regathering in verses 3-4 cannot be the gathering of the Jews today into the land. That’s a prelude to this, but what we’re seeing today, since 1948, is not a fulfillment of these particular verses. This happens; they come back into the land.
Turn to Jeremiah 31:23, when Jeremiah, led by God the Holy Spirit, starts to talk about a new covenant that God is going to make in history. “Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, Once again they will speak this word in the land of Judah and in its cities when I restore their fortunes. ‘The LORD bless you, O abode of righteousness, O holy hill!’” So whatever is going to happen, the people are back in the land, but the difference is, “O abode of righteousness.” Somehow the necessary righteousness that qualifies them for God’s blessing will be available, like it wasn’t in Jeremiah’s day. Verse 24, “And Judah and all its cities will dwell together in it, the farmer and they who go about with flocks,  For I satisfy the weary ones and refresh every one who languishes.” We have here a promise of God toward these people. That’s coming into the land.
Verse 33-34, “But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” notice when the covenant is made, the covenant is made with Israel “after those days, declares the LORD, I will put My law within them, and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.  “And they shall not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, Know the LORD, for they shall all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” so this prophecy is talking about the regeneration of the nation Israel. It’s not talking about the church, the church hasn’t happened yet. We’ll get to the church next year, but right now we’re in the Old Testament and the church isn’t here, this is Israel.
Let’s read it the way it was originally intended. This is looking forward to the future of Israel. Verse 34 implies that evangelism is not going to be needed because they shall all know Me. So we have the land, they’re back in the land, verses 22-24; verses 33-34 they are obviously the seed of the Lord. If we drop down in the same chapter to verses 36-37, we have their security and the fact that they rule. Verse 36, “‘If this fixed order departs from before Me,’ declares the LORD, ‘Then the offspring of Israel also shall cease from being a nation before Me for ever,’” eternal promise.  “Thus says the LORD, ‘If the heavens above can be measured, and the foundations of the earth searched out below, then I will also cast off all the offspring of Israel for all that they have done,’ declares the LORD.” The idea there is that history comes to resolution—finally!
That’s the New Covenant, and that’s the covenant that promises the restoration of Israel to the land. The question we’re going to deal with is this restoration; this restoration at the end of the Old Testament is a fulfillment of that ultimate restoration.
Moving on to some of the issues that we want to look at that are going on in all these sixteen prophetic books, looking at the chart on page 47 again, we’re looking at this New Covenant which we just saw in Jeremiah 31, and the parties to the covenant are God and the future nation of Israel. What is the sign of this New Covenant? It’s not given in the Old Testament, but we know what the sign is because what did Jesus do in the Last Supper? He held up the cup and He said “this is My blood of the New Covenant.” So with that the Lord Jesus Christ revealed something that had hitherto been kept in the councils of God Himself. Nobody in the Old Testament knew how this New Covenant was going to come into existence. They dynamic of the whole thing was kept hidden from man and when Jesus Christ in the Last Supper got up and made that dramatic announcement… we read it because we are so familiar with it, every communion service we go through the same thing, we hear it again and again and because we’re so familiar with it the drama of it being a surprise… that was a surprise announcement that happened in that first communion service. Nobody ever heard those words before Jesus uttered them. He was claiming that He was the One who would bring in the New Covenant.
But we just got through reading in Jeremiah that said that I will make a new covenant with them “in those days,” the days when Israel is going to repent and come back into the land. There’s no mention in the communion, when the Lord Jesus Christ got up and said that, He didn’t say that the New Covenant was coming into force at that point. What He said was that the blood of the New Covenant is Mine. Obviously there’s a reason why the New Covenant of Jeremiah 31 couldn’t be fulfilled in Jesus’ day? Why was that? Was the nation repentant? Was all the nation turning to the Messiah? On Palm Sunday it looked that way, but what happened only a few days after Palm Sunday? They were crying to crucify Him. So the nation had not accepted the Messiah. Now we have a problem that the New Testament has to deal with theologically. The Messiah has come, He has called the nation to repentance, the nation rejects Him, and the very rejection causes a crucifixion that sets up the New Covenant. So the New Covenant is there, it’s ready, but it’s unactivated because the nation Israel isn’t ready.
A funny kind of thing happened and the New Testament is coming to grips with that. That’s what all the epistles are talking about, what do we do here, what’s this new thing that’s happened. Before we were clear, we were all of Israel, all of Israel, all of Israel, all of Israel, and those are the Gentiles out there, now all of a sudden we have Jesus rejected by His own people and we’ve got a new thing happen. Then Pentecost happens and all kinds of things happen. That’s all new. But that is not really seen here yet in the Old Testament.
On our chart the sign of the New Covenant is Jesus’ blood. The legal terms of the covenant, notice, national regeneration of Israel, the post-dispersion regathering and worldwide dominancy. They will reign with God. The founding sacrifice appears to be the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ. So the covenant is kind of half here and half not here. That’s the difficulty in reconciling the Old Testament and the New Testament; we’ve got a theological thing going on here. Those are the covenants; we’ve added a covenant to that chart, the land covenant; that was Deuteronomy 29-30, the promise of the Palestinian Covenant.
We’ve come now to the end of this section that ends on page 48 of the notes, and we conclude: “This third approach of the Old Testament prophets to Israel, then, created a forward-looking hope toward Yahweh’s future work to deliver the nation from its sin. History, interpreted covenantally by the prophets,” what do we mean “interpreted covenantally?” What did these guys do? They were students of history.
I’ve said this many times, when we’re taught in school in history classes, you probably get a quiz question that says who the first historians were and the answer is always Herodotus and Thucydides because they were the Greeks and these guys sat down and started writing history. Sorry, that’s not true. The first historians were the prophets of the Old Testament, and it’s very important that we believers understand this. This is not just a fine trivia point for a history course; this is more than that. The reason you want to be clear as to who the first historians are is because we want to know why bother with history, period. The original motivation to study history was I want to observe the God of creation work out the promises of His covenant. That was the motive to study history and you’ll never get that in a secular classroom. Most teachers never have the theology to teach it because they weren’t taught it. You’re not going to get it on Dan Rather’s CBS News. The only place you’re going to get this is in the Bible, because that’s the only place that reveals it. And there are so few people that study it any more who even understand the language, let alone the ideas.
We have in the Old Testament history interpreted covenantally; it is not a series of marbles. I can remember as a non-Christian going to high school, being terribly bored in history class because all it ever appeared to me was memorizing a bunch of dates for the quiz next week, and then I could forget them and wait for the next set of dates for the next quiz. After I became a Christian I realized wait a minute, history has a pattern to it, God doesn’t administer history randomly, this is not a crap shoot. History has a pattern and a schema behind it, and we’ll see why that’s important is because our lives and the details in our personal lives, are embedded in this historical structure, so the prophets interpret covenantally and they are models for how you and I should interpret events around us personally during the week. We should be interpreting the events of our lives using the same mentality as the prophets of the Old Testament interpreted their nation’s history; it’s interpreted in sense of a framework.
“History, interpreted covenantally by the prophets, showed clearly” two things, “the unchanging faithfulness of God and the widespread disobedience of man—both the people and their leadership.” Why do we say that? The book of Judges, was that people or leaders? It was basically people, how did the book of Judges end? “Every man did what was right in his own eyes.” Why? Because there was not yet a king in Israel, no leader. Then all the other books that we’ve studied from Solomon on, what does that show about the leadership? It shows you leadership wasn’t any better than the people. So kings have all been sinners because people are sinners. That’s why we say that demonstrated in this history is the sin of all levels of society. Every once in a while we get in this democratic spirit; we’re going to knock all the leaders. The leaders are sinful, yes, but it’s a reflection on us. Where do leaders come from? The body polity. So this is a demonstration of mans’ failure to adhere to God’s laws. That’s the lesson of this period. Then we say, “The chosen nation was being horribly chastened by the ‘rod of man’ under the sovereign control of Yahweh with no appeal left for survival on the basis of the Sinaitic Covenant.” Once the Sinaitic Covenant curses went into effect the nation lost its legal standing, it couldn’t appeal on the basis of the Sinaitic Covenant. “Yahweh had divorced his queen-nation, yet He would somehow remarry her in the future.” That’s the whole story.
Now we come to the unresolved tension left in the Old Testament. We want to spend some time on this because it applies to us. I want to show you how it applies to us in a very practical area by showing you this chart that we’ve studied again and again. The critic of the Christian faith loves this one because inevitably you get into a discussion and somebody will say I don’t believe God can exist because there can’t be a loving God who is also omnipotent because if God were able and He had the strength and He had the love He would put away all suffering from history. And if He isn’t, then He’s not omnipotent, He’s not able to do it; either He’s willing and unable, or He’s able and unwilling, so you’ve got a contradiction in your God. This is a major problem in the Christian faith in the sense that it is an apparent difficulty. Frankly, if I were a non-Christian where I would attack the Christian faith is right here, I wouldn’t bother with evolution; I’d attack here because this hits at the very nature of God Himself and our faith.
Here’s the Christian view of history, here’s the non-Christian pagan view of history, and at any given moment we’re operating in one of these two frameworks. There is no such thing as a neutral person. Everybody holds to one or the other. The non-Christian holds that history is full of good and evil together, so he’s got a problem. Because they don’t believe ultimately in a creation of the biblical kind, and they don’t believe in a consummation of the biblical kind, this goes on forever and ever. It always has been and always will be. So we have good and evil, I’ve used the emblem on the Korean flag, it’s the yin yang symbol from the Orient, and that symbol is saying that all of history is darkness and light. It’s a symbol of both; you have to have both of them to have reality. That’s a false idea because up here, what’s the difference between the Christian and non-Christian position? On the bottom chart you only see one level of existence. On the one above you see two levels, you see Creator and you see creation.
So because we have two levels of existence, this makes all the difference in the world. Now we have a Creator who is always good, forever and ever. So we have our eternality, which the pagan says the universe is eternal because he can’t separate the Creator from the creation. The universe came, in the beginning was gas, that’s basically what the pagan view is, so there’s always matter, just eternally existing, death eternally there, if there was life on another planet you’d have death there too, etc. if you went out a million years in the future you’d still have death, if you went back 40 million years you’d still have death, death, death, death, you never get away from it. This is why in the naïve areas of our country where people think this is hot new stuff, called New Age, and they like to mimic the Oriental, they really show the lack of depth of thinking about this.
In the Orient they understand this. Do you know where this leads? This leads to an aversion to reincarnation. In the Orient the idea is you can be reincarnated, reincarnated, reincarnated, they thought it through far more than the Americans. They’ve thought it all through and said hey, wait a minute, if I’m reincarnated and I’m reincarnated and I’m reincarnated, what do I come back to all the time. Every time I’m reincarnated what do I come back to? Death. I’m reincarnated a third time, what do I come back to? I die again. And I die again, and I die again, and I die again. So I never, no matter what happens, reincarnation doesn’t solve the problem it just repeats it. In the Christian position we have an answer, but in the pagan position there is no answer and that’s why in the Orient salvation in Buddhism, and the other religions there, they’re smart enough to see that they’ve got a problem, so they answer the problem by saying that salvation is nirvana, salvation is the dissolution of your existence, a drop goes into the ocean. What is that? That is spiritual suicide. That is ultimate salvation from a pagan viewpoint. In America though, we’re so naïve when we picked up this think we think reincarnation is cool, you read all of this in the New Age literature, on the internet, etc. Those people are stupid, it’s a stupid idea, and the people who have had centuries to think through know it’s stupid. It’s only the idiots that think that reincarnation is cool, because they haven’t thought it through, that on the 1018th time you’re reincarnated you’re still suffering and dying. Who wants to do that 1018 times? Once is enough for me.
Now we come to the Christian position, and God is eternally good. The creation, when it left His hand was good, and there was no death and there was no sorrow. Then the fall came and the fall is not equated to creation, the fall was the point when the creature rebelled against the Creator and that started it, it started physical death in the Garden of Eden. You have to take these stories literally. If you don’t take them literally you might as well kiss off the whole thing because you just lost the answer. If the Bible cannot be read in normal linguistic fashion, you ought to just chuck it. From the fall toward us, yes, now we have good and evil mixed. And we call this period of history abnormal. The pagan calls it normal. Normal existence to the non-Christian is both; normal existence to the Christian is only good. We are always upset by death, sorrow and suffering. Everybody really is because all men are created in God’s image, even the non-Christian knows deep in his soul there’s something abnormal about little kids shooting each other.
Then we come to the judgment, that’s the other end of history; you can’t have one without the other. Christianity brackets evil between the fall and the judgment and from the judgment on God rips the good and evil apart. Now we have a solution, we don’t have 1018 reincarnations; we have an eternal separation of good and evil. People say that’s horrible, that means some people go to Hell. That’s right; it’s great, because it separates good and evil. If you don’t believe that, then you go back to paganism. You have to choose, it’s one or the other view, there’s no in between.
My point in reviewing all of this from the fall is that in the Christian position to walk in faith that this view is true demands something. Let’s look at what it demands. The Old Testament prophets knew how to deal with this. I want to show you what we have to deal with every day when we walk like this. God is sovereign, He is holy, He is love, omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, immutable, and eternal. Those are His attributes. Those attributes answer to things in our soul, because we’re made in God’s image. Human choice answers to God’s sovereign. Human conscience answers to His holiness. Love answers to His love. Human knowledge answers to His omniscience, human knowledge. Let’s look at human knowledge. The problem with human knowledge is that it’s always limited. This is a diagram of all of human experience, whether you’re a scientist or an ordinary person, no matter what experience you have you’re always inside the box. There are always further things further out that you’ll never ever experience. So you’re always limited, that’s human knowledge.
If human knowledge is always limited, then how do we answer the dilemma that we’re walking by faith and not being irrational? That’s the charge brought against believers, that “you people” are naïve, because you are walking about and when you say you believe something, what you’re really saying is I don’t know. In one sense that’s true, for example, I don’t know why these two kids went out and shot someone, we may never know. We never know why a baby sits there and breathes for two minutes and then dies. We don’t know exactly the particulars, we know the big scheme though, we know the frame of reference, and we can bracket that. The problem here is that human knowledge is limited. So all men, whether believers or unbelievers have to deal with this. The smart unbelievers in the west argue that faith equals irrationalism, i.e. in order to believe you have to accept that there is no answer, because human knowledge has just admitted you don’t have the answer, so therefore when you say you walk by faith you believe in an irrationalism.
Let’s answer that. If you just consider human knowledge this is correct, because if we don’t have access to the answers and by definition we are the only ones who do the knowing, then isn’t it true that belief is walking in irrationalism. But the answer is we’re not the only knower. Who’s the other “Knower?” God is, the Creator. Who is omniscient and has infinite knowledge? God does. Therefore, our limited knowledge does not force us into an irrationalism. We can say I can deal with this suffering situation because I know behind it there is a loving God who has planned it. I’m not just saying hocus-pocus words, I believe that, I believe God is omniscient and He’s thought it all through. I believe can’t know the details, maybe someday I’ll know more of them, but the point is, when I walk by faith I am not believing in irrationalism. Faith is not a weakness. It is viewed by the public that when you believe you’ve retreated, you can’t know it for sure so you just believe it; in other words believing is viewed as weak knowledge. That’s the unbelieving idea, but that’s not a biblical idea. Faith recognizes the limitations of human knowledge and accepts the fact that we have a verbally revealing God contractually revealing Himself, giving us terms in His covenants that bracket the situation and tell us the big picture.
Back in the notes on page 30 I want you to see how this whole thing is so neatly answered by the way the Old Testament ends and moves in to the New Testament. [blank spot] That’s not meant to be a totally final word, that’s just a summary of Scriptural data. There are six reasons or patterns in Scripture why we suffer directly for what we do. There are also at least five reasons that aren’t at all related to what we do. You say well, that’s not very fair. We live in a fallen world, and suffering is not always in one to one relationship to your personal choices; sometimes it is. The six choices of Scripture are: (1) the effect of the fall, whose choice? Adam and Eve. What’s the result? Physical and spiritual death, sickness and natural disturbances in the creation. (2) The effect of personal sin, this is self-induced misery and it’s the fruit of foolishness, and we all suffer from that one, bad choice. (3) Shared suffering within families and nations, a nation ruled by idiots suffers.
Many of the African nations suffer; talk to missionaries. I just read another the other day, finally Jimmy Carter and some of his people went over to Ethiopia and they found out that the Ethiopians, in spite of all the drought, could feed themselves and have a grain surplus. Do you know what the problem was? They had a group of scientists working on their own and they figured out the kind of grains that were drought resistant. But because they have kind of a class distinction, the guys in the laboratory couldn’t stand the guys who were the farmers so they never told them about it. So the farmers were importing western seed that’s not supposed to grow in the drought. They said how about taking the seeds that you’ve grown that grow in the drought, plant them and see what happens. Now we’ve got a grain surplus in Ethiopia. Big discovery, but how many Ethiopians starved while these guys were playing social caste system. That’s an example.
(4) Eternal suffering in the Lake of Fire. People who die and do not trust in the Lord Jesus Christ are swept aside, and it’s not because God’s a meany. What is God’s objective in history? To separate good and evil, to solve the evil problem.
(5) Fatherly chastening of believers. You can asterisk number five because number five is the pattern we have studied for the last three months in the Old Testament. It’s the chastening that God gave to His people, the king’s discipline. We have that in the New Testament and it can be very severe, including death. God will kill believers, Hebrews, 1 Corinthians, death can be administered by the Father, and I’ll show you examples of this when we get into the doctrinal section.
(6) Denial of rewards, 1 Corinthians 3 where believers have rewards and then they lose them because of carnality, because of rebellion, because of rejection of the Lord, because if you get out of the grace mentality, go over to works, and you find out that works don’t work because God isn’t interested in works, He’s interested in grace-borne activities.
Six sobering reasons. On the other side there are other reasons why we suffer. In an average situation all these are mixed together, so you’d have to be an inspired prophet to pull them all apart. (7) An evangelistic wake-up call. How many of us can give testimony to the fact that we’re Christians today because God hit us over the side of the head with a 2 × 4, woke us up. That’s an evangelistic wake-up call. Many of us can give testimony to that kind of suffering.
(8) A nudge to advance spiritually, and some of us have to suffer because of that, we’re taking things for granted, or God wants to accelerate our spiritual growth, so He’ll kick us in the rear end a couple of times to make us move.
(9) Evidence for furthering evangelism. What do I mean here is that because God will introduce suffering into our lives because He thinks that we can handle it. We don’t know why it’s happening, we take it right, we take it to the Lord, we walk by faith, and we’re in the middle of this catastrophe, we say gee, poor me, and go through all this not realizing that over here, over here, and over there are unbelievers watching. We don’t even know who they are, but they’re watching, and they suddenly say how the heck does this person take all this stuff, they must have something I don’t, and that attracts them to the Lord Jesus Christ. That’s a pattern, evidence for further evangelism, God allows it to happen because we become an evidence piece to some unbeliever that we may not even know of that’s watching our lives.
(10) Evidence for edifying other believers. Sometimes we suffer, and many of them in the Old Testament did, David’s a good example of that, of suffering after he confessed his sin. Before he confessed his sin it was number five, after he confessed his sin it could be number ten, that suffering was allowed because that’s a demonstration to encourage us. How many of us have been encouraged by David’s Psalms. Would he have ever written the Psalms if he hadn’t suffered?
(11) This is a spooky one, the New Testament also reveals that you can suffer, and God allows it to happen in your life and it seems utterly unrelated, there’s nothing you consciously know that you’ve done wrong but a pile just got dumped on you all of a sudden. The Bible tantalizingly mentions, it’s oblique, not direct, but angels are also watching, unseen principalities and powers that watch and they watch, and they watch and they learn. There are passages in the New Testament that talking about them watching what goes on in a church service; they’re present, walking around. Well, I never saw one, but they’re there because Corinthians says they’re there.
These are patterns. Why the word “pattern” in this chart? The word “pattern” is there because it goes back to God who is omniscient. God is omniscient and He has a pattern to history, including our personal histories. Do you see? Make this translation from what we’ve observed in the macro scale of Old Testament history, that these guys are sitting there, they’re looking at all the stuff that’s going on, but they’re looking at it with a very careful spiritual eye. They’re asking, what is God doing in the middle of all this? They are models for us because we have our own personal histories and we can do the same thing. We don’t have the direct illumination necessarily, but here we’ve got eleven possible reasons to deal with a suffering situation. You can review those and say okay, I see the big picture, the big picture is the diagram that we’ve given, that evil is bracketed, that one day it’s going to be ripped aside and separated from good. We know that’s the big picture, that’s the ultimate answer. But then we have these fine scale features that we can apply.
In all of this we haven’t answered one question and the alert non-Christian will say excuse me, but there’s one question you haven’t answered. Why did God allow this to happen? We don’t know why God allowed that to happen, we can only give the biblical answer which is: I did it for My glory. That sounds harsh. Do you mean to say that God created history in which millions of people would die, innocent babies, people would die of all kinds of diseases, and He did it for His own glory? Yes, that is the biblical answer. Let’s not be shy about it, let’s not back off and say well, we really don’t mean that. Yes, we really do mean that, that’s what the Scripture says and that’s where the Scripture leaves it. So you salute, say Yes Sir, and move on. That’s all the answer we’ve got right now.
Now we’re ready to go back to page 48 and turn to Romans 3. The Old Testament saints knew less than we do and they had a mystery that we no longer have. I want you to see that these guys handled themselves magnificently when faced with a problem that God has solved for us and He didn’t solve for them. We’ll use the analogy from the argument from the lesser to the greater. I’m going to argue that God resolved this Old Testament mystery in the New Testament, therefore our mystery, i.e. the mystery of evil, will be resolved in the future to our satisfaction and God’s. It will be resolved. The answer to the problem of why did He make the universe, we don’t know what the answer is this hour, but one day we will see why and we will be able to praise Him for creating the history in which there was Hell, suffering, death and sorrow, some way He’s going to show us that He was right after all, and it was for His glory. We don’t know what this answer is, but I’ll take you to a smaller problem, the Old Testament mystery and watch how He solves it.
On page 48: “The Unresolved Mystery Left by the Prophets: The ‘dual track’ ministry of the prophets had emphasized the tension between Israel’s sin and God’s election. The prophets announced that a solution was forthcoming to resolve this tension. What they did not do, however, was spell out just how the holy, righteous Yahweh would reconcile the rebellious, sinful nation to unbroken, eternal fellowship with Himself.” That sentence is carefully constructed; it’s got a contradiction in it. How can you have a “holy righteous Yahweh” coming into eternal unbroken fellowship with a sinful nation? It’s the reverse of the question, how can a loving God send people to hell? Do you know what the answer to that is? How can a holy God send people to heaven? That’s the other side of the coin. And in the Old Testament they had this problem.
But in Romans 3:25, let’s see how Paul says that there was an Old Testament mystery that the saints of the Old Testament never could figure out. It is talking about the death of the Lord Jesus Christ for our sins, “whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God,” this sentence, the end of verse 25 is Old Testament forbearance of God, this is how Old Testament saints were saved, “to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over” past tense, “the sins previously committed.” Somehow that was happening in the Old Testament, and it caused great pondering by godly saints. How can this holy God forgive me? How can he forgive me!! How can He forgive our nation? How does He pass over sins committed?
Paul answers that in verse 26, “for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus Christ.” Here’s the deal, what Paul says is that the cross of Jesus Christ answers the Old Testament question. In the Old Testament the question was, if I am a sinner and I merit death, and God would punish me forever and ever because I am a sinner, how if God is righteous, He’s holy and righteous, and one of his other attributes is immutability, He can’t change, and He’s eternal … let’s take those three attributes together and think about them for a minute. If He’s holy, and He never can change, and He eternally exists, how do you get that together with this guy down here? That’s the mystery. How can God be just, that was the question, how can He be holy or “just and the justifier,” the guy who declares righteous the sinner? How does this happen? The New Testament answers it in the cross, because on the cross the Lord Jesus Christ takes the sin of the sinner upon Himself, and dies on the cross and trades His righteousness for the sin of the sinner. It’s a transaction, we don’t know all the details but the cross solves the unresolved dilemma in the Old Testament.
What is my argument? The argument is this: that the Old Testament saints had to walk, really with two of these mysteries, and probably the pagans ha-ha-ha-ha you believe in this holy Yahweh, well I know what you’re like, how do you have the right to claim that you’re going to be in eternal fellowship in the kingdom of God forever and ever and I go to Hell, how can you say that? The Old Testament saint said I don’t know how, He’s going to do it; I’m convinced He’s going to do it. He’s got to because what does the covenant say? The seed of Abraham is going to be with Him forever, I’m the seed of Abraham, I believe like Abraham, so I’m going to be with Him forever. How is He going to do it, I have no idea. Oh, well, you just believe in irrationalism, that’s just hocus-pocus stuff. No, it’s not because God has it on His mind, He just hasn’t told me yet.
So the idea of rational reason does exist, it’s located not here, it’s located there, so it’s a debate over where the omniscience is to be located. Is it with man or is it with God? And if omniscience exists with God, then we have a plan. In the New Testament the plan comes into fruition in the historic cross outside the city of Jerusalem in a dramatic moment. And what Paul argues is that now we know what the Old Testament could never have known, therefore, he concludes, verse 27, “Where then is boasting?” In other words, it’s done in such a magnificent way that human works are excluded, period. Not one work that you and I do amounts to a hill of beans in this solution. This has nothing to do with your personal good works, doesn’t add a thing to this. This is Jesus Christ’s atonement on the cross and His righteousness given to us, and that’s the basis of my security with God. It has nothing whatsoever to do with any good works, any merit on my part.
What Paul’s arguing is that not only did God resolve this mystery He did it in such a stunning way, Satan didn’t even know it by the way, the most brilliant creature never knew what was being pulled off. Who was it that set up the scheme to kill Christ? Do you think Satan would have done that if he knew what was going to happen? No, he got aced; he set the deal up with Judas Iscariot to get rid of Jesus, thinking he was going to be solving a problem. Yeah, he solved the problem all right, solved everybody’s problem.
So in a magnificent chess game maneuver Satan got out maneuvered and out of this comes our salvation. Once again the argument; God resolved this by a few more centuries, in 700 BC this was a mystery. By AD 40 it was no longer a mystery, it only took seven and a half centuries and that mystery was cleared up. I dare say that we are at the point in history where only a few more centuries will clear up the other question, because God, when He reveals it to us, our hearts will rejoice and say yes, this is a stunning answer, I would never have thought you could have done it this way, because that’s what’s happening in the New Testament. We never envisioned the God of the Old Testament able to do this, it’s stunning, and we must never take it for granted.
Next week we’ll get into some of the doctrinal fallout of all of this in the doctrine of sanctification.
Question asked: Clough replies: In the Corinthian correspondence to Paul he mentions that had the prince of this world known, he wouldn’t have done it. So it represents a momentous miscalculation, a brilliant plan but brilliantly wrong. It was so brilliantly executed; here Satan basically uses Judas Iscariot, one of the inner circle. He meticulously weaves a schema of conspiracy with the ruling class, he has people of his own circle betray Him, it was very skillfully done. The problem was that C. S. Lewis in The Chronicles of Narnia always points out, he has two chapters, I think it’s The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, in which one of the chapters is entitled Magic From the Dawn of Time, and then he has the next chapter, Magic From Before the Dawn of Time, and that’s his way of saying Satan is the magic from the creation but God has magic from prior to the creation. So the cross has all kinds of intrigue. If you really want to get into intrigue, there’s a lot of it in that drama.
But what I wanted to emphasize tonight was that the revelation was not known. Prior to the cross no living Old Testament saint, David, Solomon, Jeremiah, Isaiah, none of those guys, as godly as they were, had a clue to how you could reconcile God forgiving sinful people so there could be eternal unbroken fellowship. There’s nothing. It’s always said that He will do it, but you don’t have a clue how He will do it. That’s important for us because that meant that Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, David, and all those guys, they weren’t stupid, they were just as smart as we are, they had just the same kind of questions we have, but they had to resolve it and they had to walk by faith.
You can’t walk by faith if you have nagging questions, in the sense that you can’t rest. Faith has to rest in confidence. Where do you get the confidence? God has to reveal it to you, open your heart to it, but faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God, so we have the Word of God and the Holy Spirit somehow works the truth out of the Word of God into our hearts. But if He doesn’t do that, we can sit here and go through all kinds of religious hoopla and it still doesn’t amount to a hill of beans because it’s all put on stuff. It’s got to come by an encounter with the Holy Spirit, through the gospel of Christ. So that’s one of the things that the Old Testament saint … those guys had fantastic faith to live through the destruction of their country; Jeremiah, the weeping prophet.
In the next big event that happens in the Old Testament, the exile, these guys were prisoners of war. Daniel as a young teenager, gets taken hostage, he’s basically part of a hostage group of noble children taken out of Israel, over to a Gentile court and kept there so that the Jews would behave themselves. If the Jews didn’t behave themselves they’d kill them. It was just part of a little hostage arrangement. Here’s Daniel and what happens? God works in Daniel’s life so he turns into basically what we would call the foreign minister of Iraq and Iran, the foreign minister of both of those countries. It’s an amazing story how those people, the believers, in the Old Testament put up with what they had to put up with. In Elijah’s day they put up with a totally corrupt monarchy, they put up with a phony religion that was state sponsored, they had to hide, and they were in the nation that was God’s chosen nation, they had to hide inside the nation to avoid the police, to avoid the politicians who were after them and they had to flee, 7,000 of them had to live underground lives, just like the believers in China and the Sudan today. We’re graced out that in this country we still can open our mouth for the Lord, but there’s a lot of places…
Chuck Colson said more Christians have been killed in the 20th century than in all nineteen centuries of church history. We forget that. Right now in Sudan you can buy a Christian slave for twenty-five bucks. It’s going on. We tend to not see it because we’re in America, but the Old Testament saint lived through all that horror and he did it with faith. That’s Paul’s point in the New Testament, these guys didn’t do it by their works, they didn’t do it because they were getting goody-goody points for keeping the Mosaic Law, because most of them knew very well that they couldn’t kept it. Yet, they knew in the Psalms, “I delight in Your Law.” Why would a person say I delight in Your law when they were constantly thwarted by not keeping it? Because their confidence must have been in the fact that they really were acceptable to God. David says “Blessed is the man on whom God imputes righteousness,” and He forgives him. Paul quotes that in Romans 4. So David knew that. The Old Testament saints knew that. It’s an amazing point.
Question asked: Clough replies: All I’m saying there, by leaving it at “I did it for My glory’s sake,” what I’m trying to avoid there is a problem comes up sometimes when we say that that’s the only way God could have done it in the sense that He was constrained by something external to Himself. We would say that that’s the only way He could do it with respect to His own character, but we have to be careful that God was not constrained by something external to Himself, and that’s all we intended to say. So if He wasn’t constrained by anything external to Himself, then it was His choice, and He freely chose to create the history He did. Nobody twisted His arm to do it this way; He chose to do it this way. He chose to do it in a magnificent way that makes use of responsible creatures. I hesitate personally to use the word “free will,” not because I don’t believe in personal responsibility but because down through church history the word “free will” has been used by non-Christians in an autonomous sense, that man has the freedom to do anything, and that’s not what we mean either. We’re constrained by our creation design.
Question asked: Clough replies: We’re not ever converted into robots. Remember when we talked about creation, we said man is made in God’s image. Part of being made in God’s image is that we carry choice within ourselves, and it’s a finite replica of what His sovereign is like. But since we’re made in His image, we carry that. If you have a dog or a cat, or an animal of any sort, they have instinct. The area of human behavior that’s instinctive for us is very small. Most of our behavior, if you think about it, is learned behavior. Why does the human being have this massive area of what we have to learn? For example, we have to learn to drink water. An animal doesn’t, an animal intuitively knows when it’s dehydrated. So there are all areas of our lives where we are constantly having to learn and it’s part of God’s design. He’s deliberately made us in poverty in instinct. Animals are preprogrammed to do lots of things instinctively and we lack that. I think it’s the very part of His design that He wants us to live our lives in conscious obedience to Him. We have to go through the choices because it’s going through the choices where we learn about ourselves and Him.