M’Cheyne Bible Reading Plan, March 21

Today’s readings are from Exodus 32, John 11, Proverbs 8 and Ephesians 1.

Exodus 32 reveals Israel breaking covenant with Yahweh.  They had pledged their obedience, saying, “All that the LORD has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient” (Exodus 24:7) but here they reveal that, like us, our faithfulness is like the morning dew.

With Moses delayed upon the mountain, they impatiently desire a god to lead them onward.  Aaron plays along, offering to make an idol, a golden calf.

This ancient bronze bull figurine may have been covered in gold leaf

This ancient bronze bull figurine may have been covered in gold leaf.

Image result for golden calf mold

Dr. Curtis Ward thinks this may have been the mold used to make the calf idol.

The “calf” provided a visible symbol that the Israelites could and did identify as their “deliverer” (“This is your god, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt”).

“Throughout the remainder of the Pentateuch, the incident of the worship of the golden calf cast a dark shadow across Israel’s relationship with God, much the same way as the account of the Fall in Genesis 3 marked a major turning point in God’s dealing with humankind” (John Sailhammer, The Pentateuch, p. 310).

This is a serious offense against Yahweh, a betrayal of His redemption and covenant (cf. Acts 7:38-42).  He offered to destroy the Israelites and start over again with Moses (v. 10).  But Moses interceded (vv. 11-13) between Yahweh and the Israelites.  He reminded Yahweh of His actions for Israel in delivering them, how it would smear His name among the nations to destroy Israel now, and of His promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

So “the LORD relented.”  Some versions have “changed His mind.”  Does this deny God’s immutability or foreknowledge?  One way of looking at this is that it is an anthropopathism, a way of explaining God’s ways in terms of human emotions.  Another way of explaining it is that God didn’t really “change” His mind, but took a different path to reaching His foreordained conclusion.

Thomas Constable explains that approach…

Within the plan of God, however, He has incorporated enough flexibility so that, in most situations, there are a number of options that are acceptable to Him.  In view of Moses’ intercession, God proceeded to take a different course of action than He had previously intended.

Ephesians 1:11 says that God causes everything to work out the way He wants it to (cf. Rom. 8:28).  He foreordains what comes to pass, but Scripture doesn’t say that He foreordains how everything will come to pass, or when it will come to pass, or by whom it will come to pass.  Prayer and evangelism are two of the means that God has ordained, that is, human activity, whereby what He has foreordained comes to pass.  In these activities, people become partners with God in bringing His will to happen in the world.

Occasionally, my wife has called me at work and asked me to pick up a gallon on milk on my way home.  When this happens, I take a different route than I would normally, but I end up at home nonetheless.  Perhaps this is similar to how our praying affects God as He carries out His will.

That may not be satisfying to everyone, because the text does say, “God relented” or “changed his mind.”

See John Munro, “Prayer to a Sovereign God,” Interest 56:2 (February 1990):20-21; Thomas L. Constable, “What Prayer Will and Will Not Change,” in Essays in Honor of J. Dwight Pentecost, pp. 99-113; and Robert B. Chisholm Jr., “Does God ‘Change His Mind’?” Bibliotheca Sacra 152:608 (October-December 1995):387-99.

“In only two of the thirty-eight instances in the OT is this word used of men repenting. God’s repentance or ‘relenting’ is an anthropomorphism (a description of God in human forms [sic form]) that aims at showing us that he can and does change in his actions and emotions to men when given proper grounds for doing so, and thereby he does not change in his basic integrity or character (cf. Pss 99:6; 106:45; Jer 18:8; Amos 7:3, 6; Jonah 3:10; James 5:16). The grounds for the Lord’s repenting are three: (1) intercession (cf. Amos 7:1-6); (2) repentance of the people (Jer 18:3-11; Jonah 3:9-10); and (3) compassion (Deut 32:36; Judg 2:18; 2 Sam 24:16[; 1 Chron. 21:15])” (Walter Kaiser, Exodus, p. 479).

And Cole says…

“We are not to think of Moses as altering God’s purpose towards Israel by this prayer, but as carrying it out: Moses was never more like God than in such moments, for he shared God’s mind and loving purpose.”

So Moses confronts Aaron and Aaron makes excuses (32:21-24).  Moses offered the challenge, “Who is on the LORD’s side?” and the Levites responded.  They then went through the camp and killed 3,000 people.  Moses confronted the people with their “great sin,” offered to make atonement for them and went back to intercede with Yahweh (32:30-32).  God’s response is that He would deal with the sinners, but Moses was to lead them to the place they had been promised (32:33-35).

John 11

Although his close friend Lazarus was seriously ill (v. 2), Jesus did not immediately go to help him even though he dearly loved Lazarus and his sisters (vv. 3-5).

What does Jesus mean by “This sickness does not lead to death”?  If Lazarus was already dead (which is quite possible), this is still a weird way to say it.  Given the fact that Jesus will later promise a life that overcomes death (v. 26), He may have meant the “second death” (Rev. 20:6), eternal death.  Again, this is not a normal way to communicate this idea.

Spurgeon says that the Lord “speaks of things, not as they seem to be, nor even as they are in the present moment, but as they shall be in the long run.”

Jesus stayed another couple of days, so that Lazarus would be in the grave four days and this miracle would glorify God and the Son.

Why 4 days?  There was a Jewish custom that the spirit hovered around the body for three days, but left on the fourth.  In other words, Lazarus was REALLY DEAD.

When Jesus spoke of returning to Judea, His disciples thought it was a crazy idea (v. 8).  Jesus responded that He had time to do what needed to be done (v. 9) and that Lazarus would rise again (v. 10).  In this conversation, Jesus affirmed that Lazarus was dead.

“So we may learn that He often permits us to pass into profounder darkness, and deeper mysteries of pain, in order that we may prove more perfectly His power.” (G. Campbell Morgan)

So Jesus traveled to Bethany near Jerusalem.

When Jesus arrived, Martha expressed her faith that Jesus could have healed Lazarus, if he had gotten there sooner (vv. 21-22).  Jesus simply said…

23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”

Martha thought he meant the resurrection of the dead for all believers, but Jesus meant she would see him again in this life.  Jesus does, however, give the promise that all believers will rise.

“Death comes to the ungodly man as a penal infliction, but to the righteous as a summons to his Father’s palace: to the sinner it is an execution, to the saint an undressing.  Death to the wicked is the King of terrors: death to the saint is the end of terrors, the commencement of glory.” (Spurgeon)

When Mary came to meet Jesus, she was weeping and expressed her own faith that Jesus could have healed Lazarus (vv. 32-33).  When Jesus came to the tomb of Lazarus, he wept (11:35).

Photo from Gospel Devotions

This would be a typical tomb in the first century.  This would be inside a cave and bodies of family members would be wrapped and placed in one of the three burial chambers you see here.  After one year when the flesh has gone away, they would gather the bones in burial boxes (ossuaries) and put them on a “shelf” inside the family tomb.

In v. 33 we read that Jesus “was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled.”  Both words have the idea of a guttural but vocal response of deep emotion.

It means that Jesus wasn’t so much sad at the scene surrounding the tomb of Lazarus. It’s more accurate to say that Jesus was angry.  Jesus was angry and troubled at the destruction and power of the great enemy of humanity: death.  Jesus would soon break the dominating power of death.

Jesus was angry, but at what?  The context provides some help in identifying the cause of His anger.  Evidently as Jesus viewed the misery that death inflicts on humanity and the loved ones of those who die, He thought of its cause: sin.  Many of “the Jews” present had come from Jerusalem, where Jesus had encountered stubborn unbelief.  The sin of unbelief resulted in spiritual death, the source of eternal grief and mourning.  Probably Jesus felt angry because He was face to face with the consequences of sin, and particularly unbelief. (Thomas Constable)

But He did weep as well.

His weeping doubtless expressed outwardly the sorrow that contemplation of sin and its consequences produced in His heart.  Jesus’ “tears” are proof of His compassion for fallen humanity (cf. Luke 19:41).

He could not have been weeping over the loss of His friend Lazarus, since He was about to restore him to life.  Likewise it is unlikely that He was just weeping compassionately with Martha and Mary, since He was about to turn their grief into rejoicing.  Nevertheless empathy undoubtedly played some part in Jesus’ weeping.

In the resurrection of Lazarus we see the supreme power of Jesus Christ over death, the final stronghold of Satan.

This miracle illustrated Jesus’ ability to empower people with new life (cf. 14:6).  He had previously raised the widow of Nain’s son (Luke 7:15), and brought Jairus’ daughter (Matt. 9:25; Mark 5:42; Luke 8:55) back to life, but Lazarus had been dead four days!

Some note that Lazarus’ resurrection is similar to our regeneration, while needed to be loosed from the grave clothes approximates our sanctification.

The chapter ends with two responses to this astounding miracle–belief and unbelief.  It’s just not true that miracles definitely produce faith.

Proverbs 8 is a defense of wisdom. The sage returned to the figure of Wisdom that he used at the beginning of this part of Proverbs (1:20).

The argument of this section develops as follows. Wisdom would be every person’s guide (vv. 1-5; cf. Gal 5:18, 22-23).  She is morality’s partner (vv. 6-13), the key to success (vv. 14-21), the principle of creation (vv. 22-31), and the one essential necessity of life (vv. 32-36).  Chapter 8 contains the longest sustained personification in the Bible.

Though described as with God, wisdom is not asserted to be God.  Such a presentation is consistent with personification, a literary metaphor in which a thing or an abstraction is represented as a person. (Common examples of personification in our ordinary lives include Mr. Clean, Aunt Jemima, the Jolly Green Giant, etc.)  So “Lady Wisdom”  is not the female side of God, nor is she a feminine deity in her own right. Instead she praises God; she calls people to heed her teachings and so to find life.  Wisdom shows the character of God, and God will give wisdom to all who learn from the Proverbs.

Some believe that vv. 30-31 describes the co-creative work of the Father and the Son, delighting in the creation.  Although it represents what actually happened, it is best not to equate wisdom with the Son, because in v. 22 it was created.

Ephesians 1 begins with an amazing description of our spiritual blessings in Christ (1:1-14), followed by a prayer that our eyes might be opened to these benefits (1:15-23).

2nd and 3rd Missionary Journeys

Ephesus is in the center of the map, on the western coast (Aegean Sea) of Asia Minor.  Ephesus was a wealthy port city in the Roman province of Asia.  It was a center of learning and was near several key land routes.

Paul’s first visit to Ephesus was on his second missionary journey (Acts 18:18-21).  It was a short visit around 52 A.D.  On his third missionary journey he spent nearly three years in Ephesus (Acts 19), then later returned to say farewell to the elders of the church (Acts 20:17-38.  He had great fondness for the Ephesian church.

The apostle Paul wrote this letter to the churches in Ephesus and the surrounding region c. A.D.62 while imprisoned in Rome (Acts 28). During this time he also wrote Colossians and Philemon.  All three letters were sent with Tychicus and Onesimus.  He would later write 1 and 2 Timothy to Timothy, the pastor of the Ephesian church.  And John writes to them in Revelation 2:1-7.

Book Chart, Swindoll

Paul tells us that those “in Christ” (a key phrase) receive these spiritual blessings: being chosen (v. 4), being predestined to adoption (v. 5), redeemed and forgiven (v. 7), given an inheritance (v. 11), sealed by the Spirit (v. 13) and He is the pledge of our inheritance (v. 14).

Note both the presence of the Trinity–the Father (vv. 3-6), the Son (vv. 7-12) and the Spirit (vv. 13-14) as well as the repeated “to the praise of his glorious grace/to the praise of his glory” (vv. 6, 12, 14).

Ephesians and Colossians, as well as 2 Peter, all communicate the completeness of what we already have in Christ:

  • Ephesians 1:3, “who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” (ESV)
  • Colossians 2:10, “you are complete in Him” (NKJV)
  • 2 Peter 1:3, “His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life” (NIV)

Paul’s prayer in 1:15-23 reveals that we don’t need to ask for more, just ask that our blinders might come off in order to really see and experience all He has done for us.