Sunday, September 27, 2009

A desire to stay free: Antiquities 3.1.4 vs 19

"That they ought to reason thus: that God delays to assist them, not because he has no regard to them, but because he will first try their fortitude, and the pleasure they take in their freedom." Josephus, The Antiquities of the Jews. 3.5.4 vs 19
It is not often that I cite secular sources in this blog and, in this case, I am not seeking to elevate the writings of Josephus to those of scripture, yet in this passage Josephus makes some interesting observations about the Israelites departure from Egypt. When I've read the story of Israel's exodus, I have always concerned myself with how the Jews relationship with God must have changed as a result of His miraculous deliverance which He worked on their behalf. However, Josephus, as a first century Jewish historian, writes not of their relationship with God but of their new found freedom; a freedom that was physical, civil, and political. As such, Josephus sees the purpose of the trials they endured in the wilderness as a test of their desire to be free, not merely a test of their love for God. Whether or not this is the case in this instance, Josephus brings up a significant point when he refers to the "pleasure" in being free, and it has some important lessons for us who have found freedom in Christ.

While freedom is never cheep, often its price is paid by others on the behalf of those who are enslaved. In the case of the Jews, their freedom from Egypt did not cost them much personally, but it did require the death of countless sheep whose blood was to be shed and placed on the doorposts of every Jewish home. So to, our freedom in Christ was not the result of any labor, effort, or act of our own, it was purchased entirely by the offering of Jesus upon the cross; His death purchased our freedom. However, while freedom is sometimes obtained with minimal personal cost, it is rarely maintained without personal involvement, cost, and often sacrifice. Because of this, after having first become free and subsequently facing the trials and struggles to remain free, we are often faced with the temptation to surrender our freedom and return to a life of captivity. This was continually the case for the Israelites.
"The rabble who were among them had greedy desires; and also the sons of Israel wept again and said, 'Who will give us meat to eat? We remember the fish which we used to eat free in Egypt, the cucumbers and the melons and the leeks and the onions and the garlic, but now our appetite is gone. There is nothing at all to look at except this manna... Oh that someone would give us meat to eat! For we were well-off in Egypt... Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would that we had died in this wilderness! Why is the Lord bringing us into this land, to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become plunder; would it not be better for us to return to Egypt?' So they said to one another, 'Let us appoint a leader and return to Egypt.'" (Numbers 11:4-6, 18, 14:2-4)
When faced with difficulties, many in Israel desired to return to their land of bondage; to return to Egypt. Our fight to stay free is often a battle to choose between comfort and liberty; to chose from a life of ease, though it may include bondage, and a life of trials and struggles, even though accompanied with freedom. We see this in the history of the Jews and we see it even in our own modern history. In my country, many have become willing to surrender their personal freedoms for the security and ease of a cradle-to-grave "protection" promised by the government. We also see this temptation in the christian life. Once having become free, we can easily fall pray to the temptations of the world, the promise of ease and comfort, but also the shackles of sin and unrighteousness.
"But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how is it that you turn back again to the weak and worthless elemental things, to which you desire to be enslaved all over again? You observe days and months and seasons and years. I fear for you, that perhaps I have labored over you in vain. It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery." (Galatians 4:9-11, 5:1)
It is one thing to be set free, it is another to remain free. I think Josephus was right, that sometimes our trials and tribulations are, at least in part, meant to test the firmness of our fortitude and our desire to be free. Do we really desire the freedom that is found in a life lived in Christ, or are we willing to settle for ease and comfort? Paul was clear, if we desire to go back, there will always be opportunity. "And indeed if they had been thinking of that country from which they went out, they would have had opportunity to return." (Hebrews 11:14-16) However, if we desire a life of freedom in Christ, then there is grace to overcome the trials of life and to walk in the pathway of freedom.
"Now may our Lord Jesus Christ Himself and God our Father, who has loved us and given us eternal comfort and good hope by grace, comfort and strengthen your hearts in every good work and word." (2 Thessalonians 2:16-17)
David Robison

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Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Tassels? Dt 22:12

"You shall make yourself tassels on the four corners of your garment with which you cover yourself." (Deuteronomy 22:12)
I love when you are reading along in the Bible and all of a sudden God says something completely out of the blue, like "Don't forget to put tassels to your clothes." Like, where did that come from? Fortunately, we have the whole of scriptures to explain such passages.
"Speak to the sons of Israel, and tell them that they shall make for themselves tassels on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and that they shall put on the tassel of each corner a cord of blue. It shall be a tassel for you to look at and remember all the commandments of the Lord, so as to do them and not follow after your own heart and your own eyes, after which you played the harlot, so that you may remember to do all My commandments and be holy to your God." (Numbers 15:38-40)
The tassels were simply a mnemonic device to help the children of Israel remember the Lord and their covenant with Him. Everyday when they got dressed, they would remember. As they walked through out the day, the tassels were a constant reminder. Even as they got undressed at the end of the day, the tassels would remind them. There were to be reminded that God was their God and they were to be His people. In this new covenant in which we live, God has given us two things to help us remember Him.
"These things I have spoken to you while abiding with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you." (John 14:25-26)
God has given us His Holy Spirit to remind us of Jesus and His words. The Holy Spirit is not like a mere angle, simply a messenger from God, but He is God Himself and has comes to live and abide in our hearts. As we grow in our fellowship with the Holy Spirit so will our knowledge and understand of God grow and become increasingly fruitful. In difficult times we will find ourselves being reminded of the love of God, of His promises, and of His power in our lives. As we face difficult decisions in our lives we will be reminded of His word and instructed by His council. The Holy Spirit has come, in part, to remind us of Christ. "He will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose it to you." (John 16:14)
"This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me." (Luke 22:19)
The early disciples regularly partook of the Lord's Supper. "They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart." (Acts 2:42, 46) The Lord's table was more than a sacrament to them, it was a remembrance of Jesus and His finished work on the cross. The breaking of bread also represented the one body to which they all belonged. "Is not the bread which we break a sharing in the body of Christ? Since there is one bread, we who are many are one body; for we all partake of the one bread." (1 Corinthians 10:16-17) The history of the New Testament church is a history of community. The New Testament church was communal in it lifestyle and its relationships with one another. As we fellowship with His body, we are also reminded of Him. In our Christian walk we are not only called into fellowship with God but also with His body. Both are needed to live a life that is filled with the remembrance of God.

David Robison

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