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ASPECTS

a monthly devotional journal
by David Lampel
Issue No. 111
February 2000

THE BOOK


The first time I read through the Bible I proceeded cover to cover: Genesis to Revelation. The second and third times I read through the Bible I used a packaged version that broke each day's reading into portions from the Old Testament, the New Testament, Psalms and Proverbs. The fourth and current time through the Bible I am reading it in chronological order.

The foregoing information is passed along not with pride over my accomplishment in reading through the Bible several times, but rather with shame that those times have been so few. At my age I should have already read through God's word, from beginning to end, at least twenty-five or thirty times.

Reading through the Bible in chronological order begins, not surprisingly, with Genesis 1:1

"In the beginning..."

But from Genesis 50 the reader moves to the sorrowful book of Job, before returning to the traditional sequence of the Pentateuch. Along the way, the various Psalms are inserted when they were written: Psalms 90 and 91 in Numbers, and most of the rest in First and Second Samuel, with the remainder tossed in with First and Second Kings or the Chronicles. The words of the Prophets are read in the order in which they lived, and the Epistles are intermingled with the historical text of The Acts.

God's written word is a very human book. Through its Author, its Enabler, its scribes and its characters, we come to learn of holiness, righteousness, and evil; overwhelming obedience and faith, and cynical betrayal; honesty and deceit; purity and depravity. The Bible is a bottomless well of knowledge and insight into the truths of God. In it we learn of His personality and methods, His vocabulary and reason. We discover through both proclamation and narrative the qualities of God that make Him unique: His omnipotence, His omniscience, His Holiness and power.

God's word was written to be read--not just listened to. It was meant to be consumed unfiltered. The teacher or commentator is an invaluable help, but nothing will replace the experience of the saint in solitary communion with God through the reading and studying of His word. There He speaks, while we reverently listen.

A GOD BUILT OF WISHES AND DREAMS

It takes nothing away from the absolute holiness and grandeur of God the Father to learn, in His Word, that He is more than the sum of this world's vain suspicions regarding Him. If God--even as Spirit--is more human than this world gives Him credit, He loses none of His deity. If God is tougher, grittier than this world understands, He loses none of His purity. God the Father is all of this and more--and more than mortal man will ever comprehend. We need not waste time and energy recreating or adding to God from our temporal toolkit, for He is already more multidimensional and complete than we can ever imagine.

In spite of this, there are those intent on recreating God in their multicultural, "big tent," all-inclusive image.

God doesn't require our understanding--even recognition--to be who He is. But so that we can, if we care to, He's given us His Book.

On Thin Ice

In a mild winter, one doesn't walk across a frozen pond. In a normal winter one could drive a 4-wheel drive beast across the ice, but in a warm season, the tread of a solitary boot can shatter the deceptive surface.

Most people's faith is as thin as the skiff of ice across a mild-winter pond. One step with the full weight of their beliefs and they go crashing through the film of misconceptions they hold about God. Thoroughly dunked, wet and humiliated, they haul themselves out of the cold bath of reality--only to turn their back on a God that would so deceive them. But the deception is of their own making.

Working through the Bible in its entirety brings the reader smack against the truth about God the Father--His truth; in His own words. The reader learns that His immensity will not fit into the one-dimensional cubbyholes created by man for His dwelling.

THINGS THEY NEVER TAUGHT ME IN SCHOOL

Learning about God through the words of someone else, while potentially worthwhile, is like getting to know Him through snapshots sent through the mail. Reading His Word through, however, from beginning to end, is like living with Him. You begin the journey at the point of His first moment with this world and man: the Creation. You end the journey at the moment at which this world, as we know it, ceases to exist, and a new relationship with God begins. Between these two epochal end caps lies a fascinating tapestry of deity creating, shaping, and mingling with the grind of life upon this earth.

A Bloodbath

Those who have the habit of uttering the standard line after a natural disaster: "A loving God would never have done this."--or those who ascribe holy impotence to their God after a human disaster by proclaiming: "God is weeping."--should read through the Bible some time. His Book--especially, but not limited to what we refer to as the Old Testament--is literally drenched in blood and death.

God declared early on that the life force of a living thing was held in its blood. He also declared that blood would be a required stand-in for the sins committed by a people born into depravity. Blood would be required to atone for sin. God's specific, detailed instructions for sacrifice under the Mosaic covenant describe a system of consecration, atonement, and corporate purification that was a virtual bloodbath.

For page after page in His Word, God tells Moses how the imperfection of human life is to be systematically reconciled before His presence.

The modern mind cringes at all the slaughter. It's hard to read of it and not wonder why--why would God require all this carnage? Why would He require individuals to bring a pure, spotless lamb or goat--an innocent one at that; the lamb had done nothing to deserve death--and sacrifice its life for their sin?

The first answer, made clear when reading through God's Word, is that God does as He pleases because He is God. Modern man doesn't like to be reminded that there is a supreme God who may do as He pleases, without answering to anyone. He is God; there is none other; He has no peer.

The second answer--also a message for modern man--is found in the portion of the Bible we refer to as the New Testament. Jesus, the Son of God, came into this world as a new covenant--to replace, once and for all, every one of those innocent four-legged animals that had given their blood in place of man's.

God requires a sacrifice of blood for sin. He always has. Even so, with this requirement so unseemly and gross to our modern sensibilities, is He nonetheless a God of love and mercy?

A CONTEXT OF HIS OWN

Most people's first mistake is to cast God in their own image.

The flower child of the '60s, with dope in her lungs and the forbidden fruit of free love in her senses, will expect a God of sweet, absolving license, one who smiles a lot, surrounds Himself with naked little children with daisies in their hair, and who blushes even at the thought of jealous wrath.

By contrast, the European child of the '40s is rather expecting a God of wrath. He is all too familiar with the sound and fury of anger dropped from the sky, of the acrid stench of hell wafting across a scorched earth, bodies tortured and twisted in their dance of death. He knows the hard sweetness of revenge and retribution that lies like a cold lump in his breast. He knows the full flowering of hate, and he knows the words of prayers that beseech God's wrath upon a hateful foe.

But then the American child of the '50s is more comfortable with a God of sterile order, one slightly distant and detached, but one who is logical, clean, well-spoken, and, above all, sensible. His God relies upon church tradition--well-established, orderly--to hold sanity against the rigors of madness flitting all about. Everything on the fringes may be slipping horribly into the abyss, but, for this one, there is the reassuring constant of a Sunday morning suit, Sunday morning Sunday School, and a Sunday morning message followed by Sunday noon pot roast and baked potatoes. His God is in charge. He doesn't know much about Him, but he depends on Him, and sleeps well at night knowing He is there.

When asked to give His name, God told Moses, "I AM THAT I AM." Swimming freely through the full depth of that succinct description (for it is a description), is the tacit recommendation that we not try to change who God is. He is everywhere, He holds everything in His hand, and He does not depend on the fantastical imagination, or context, of His created ones for definition.

Those who care to read of Him can be surprised by some of the things God has said and done. For no matter what decade or century crafted one's image of the Almighty, He is at once none and all of the above. What we do know of Him is little more than a thimbleful in the ocean of His personality, and what we don't know of Him can be shocking--even scandalous to moderns.

A Plan of His Own

Most people on the planet are familiar with the Exodus story in which the Israelites, long in laborious bondage to the Egyptians, are at last set free by God through the leadership of Moses. Through the tales of Sunday School and C.B. DeMille, most of us know at least the high points of God's process to free His people and establish them in their Promised Land.

Most people also know about how the king of Egypt refused to let the Israelites leave--how he, in fact, made life even more miserable for them for a while, before releasing them only after a series of disgusting plagues were visited upon him and his nation--the last being the deaths of their own first-born.

What some people don't know, however, is that the pharaoh was only following orders. He had little choice in the matter, since it was God Himself that was causing the king to be so obstinate.

Some might ask today, "Why would a 'loving God' do this? Why would He compound misery when it would be so easy for Him to have simply let the people go in the beginning?" Then one might ask further, "Why did He even permit His chosen people to be placed into bondage in the first place?" The answer is given in the end of verse 4:

No human convention or tradition, no mortal discomfort will stand in the way of God receiving His due glory.

SURPRISING THINGS

William Cowper's venerable hymn begins, "Sometimes a light surprises / The Christian while he sings." And the same can be said for the Christian's experience in reading through God's word. Sometimes the page illumines the truth about God in ways both marvelous and disturbing.

One of the more remarkable discoveries made by reading through the Bible is how a perfect, holy God repeatedly uses rather ordinary, imperfect people to accomplish His plan for this earth. In fact, one may deduce from Scripture that it is God's chosen method to employ the most disreputable, conniving, contemptible characters He can find.

Few professions are as low as that of the prostitute, yet one of the surprises discovered in the Bible is that God chose to include one in the family line that would lead directly to a lowly stable in Bethlehem.

Grace

The time was about 1406 BC. The Israelites were just wrapping up their forty-year period of desert exile. It was now time to cross the Jordan and move from the barrenness of Moab into the relative paradise of Canaan. There remained only one small detail. The already ancient city-state of Jericho sat on a plain near the western bank of the Jordan; its destruction would have to be the first real campaign of Joshua's push into the Promised Land.

In the fortified city was a prostitute and innkeeper who welcomed strangers of every ilk and nationality. Her house was conveniently situated against the inside of the city wall: convenient for commerce--and convenient for the Israeli spies who would need a fast and private exit from their mission of reconnoitering Jericho for the advancing troops.

Almost immediately their presence in the city was discovered and reported to the king. He demanded that the prostitute Rahab give up her house guests at once, but she lied, saying that they had already departed the city. This was no harmless falsehood; if she had been found out, she certainly would have been punished under the ancient Code of Hammurabi, which stated "If felons are banded together in an ale-wife's [prostitute or innkeeper's] house and she has not haled [them] to the palace, that ale-wife shall be put to death."

This woman, however, was not only fearless but wise. She had been paying attention to all the news reports of what the Israelites had been accomplishing in the surrounding regions. She knew that their God--the one who carried them to repeated victories--was the one, true God of heaven and earth. She had made the conscious decision to turn her allegiance from the old ways of Canaan to the new ways of Israel. She knew who would win the coming battle.

Rahab struck a bargain with the two Israelites, and, keeping their agreement with her, the spies subsequently returned and spirited Rahab and her family out of the city even while it was being burned to the ground. She was saved, and continued on with the Jews, eventually settling with them.

Later Rahab, because she was living among the Jews, met a Jewish man and they were wed. This man's name was Salmon, of the house of Judah. One of their sons was Boaz, who lived in Bethlehem and became the grandfather of Jesse. Jesse had a young shepherd son named David who became King of Israel--and of his house would be born Joseph, who would take for his wife a young maiden by the name Mary.

Rahab passed from this life to the next not knowing the full extent of the Lord's grace. In this life she never knew--nor did she dare to dream--that she, a lowly woman of the street, would play a part in the very lineage of the long-awaited Messiah.

There is a fountain filled with blood drawn from Immanuel's veins; And sinners plunged beneath that flood, lose all their guilty stains: Lose all their guilty stains, lose all their guilty stains; And sinners plunged beneath that flood, lose all their guilty stains.

The dying thief rejoiced to see that fountain in his day; And there may I, though vile as he, wash all my sins away: Wash all my sins away, wash all my sins away; And there may I, though vile as he, wash all my sins away.

Dear dying Lamb, Thy precious blood shall never lose its power, Till all the ransomed church of God be saved, to sin no more: Be saved, to sin no more, be saved, to sin no more; Till all the ransomed church of God be saved, to sin no more.

When this poor lisping, stammering tongue lies silent in the grave, Then in a nobler, sweeter song, I'll sing Thy power to save: I'll sing Thy power to save, I'll sing Thy power to save; Then in a nobler, sweeter song, I'll sing Thy power to save.

THE SOURCE

It always seems to offend when anyone forms an inaccurate opinion of me by inquiring with someone else. I feel like confronting them, grasping them by the collar, saying, "Here I am! Why don't you come directly to the source?"

The Lord God may not be so easily offended as I, but I wonder how He feels when the people of this earth--whether believers or no--try to learn of Him exclusively through second-hand sources. The faithful pastor will have valuable things to say about God--but he's not the source. The commentator or writer may contribute good insights to our understanding of God--but they're not the source. The teacher, evangelist, or friend may add special colors to our picture of how God works among us--but they're not the source.

God has said in His Word, "Here I am! Come directly to the source!"

Though all three members of the Godhead inhabit the entirety of the Bible, the Old Testament is mostly concerned with God the Father, while the New Testament is mostly about His Son: Jesus Christ--which will be our subject next month, in the March issue of Aspects.


COPYRIGHT & SUBSCRIPTION INFORMATION

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Issue No. 111
Feb. 2000

COPYRIGHT INFORMATION

All original material in Aspects is Copyright © 2000 David S. Lampel. This data file is the sole property of David S. Lampel. It may not be altered or edited in any way. It may be reproduced only in its entirety for circulation as "freeware," without charge. All reproductions of this data file must contain the copyright notice (i.e., "Copyright (C) 2000 David S. Lampel."). This data file may not be used without the permission of David S. Lampel for resale or the enhancement of any other product sold. This includes all of its content. Brief quotations not to exceed more than 500 words may be used, with the appropriate copyright notice, to enhance or supplement personal or church devotions, newsletters, journals, or spoken messages.

Unless otherwise indicated, all scripture is from the New International Version. NIV quotations are from the Holy Bible: New International Version, Copyright 1973, 1978, 1984 by the International Bible Society. Used by permission. NASB quotations are from the New American Standard Bible © 1960, 1962,1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977 by The Lockman Foundation.

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