Saturday Evening Meditations -Deuteronomy 32

Deuteronomy is Moses’ final address to Israel before they enter the Promised Land. He recounts the nation’s wanderings in the wilderness, the result of their unbelief. Now on the edge of entering, Moses recounts God’s faithfulness despite Israel’s continual rebellion and delivers the curses and blessings upon them; curses for disobedience, blessings for obedience.

Textual notes on Deuteronomy 32

Chapter 32 is somewhat the finalé of Moses’ life. This portion was written as a song, as songs were used to aid memory. It is sung as a series of blessings and curses, a summary of what had been previously recorded. One thing stood apart as I read it this morning. It is the name Moses ascribes to God. We first encounter this name is verse 4:

Deuteronomy 32:4 He is the Rock, His work is perfect; For all His ways are justice, A God of truth and without injustice; Righteous and upright is He.(NKJV)

This name for God is repeated a total of five times in this chapter alone. Verses 4, 15, 18, 30, and 31 use the metaphorical name. As I pondered upon this for a time I went to my Hebrew lexicons and commentaries to find the meaning of Moses’ use of Rock. Two resources in particular resonated. The first entry is from the Lexham Lexicon of the Hebrew Bible and the second is from the IVP Bible Background Commentary.

5. God⟺Rock — the God of Israel understood metaphorically as a rock or stone; perhaps with emphasis on strength and permanence. (Emphasis mine)


(2020). The Lexham Lexicon of the Hebrew Bible. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

rock metaphor. Used in 2 Samuel 22:3 as a divine epithet, rock could also carry the meaning “mountain” or “fortress.” It is used in Israelite names both as a metaphor for God (Zuriel, Num 3:35, “God is my Rock”) and as a divine name (Pedahzur, Num 2:20, “Rock is my redeemer”). It is used of other deities in Aramaic and Amorite personal names, and its application to other gods is hinted at here in verses 31 and 37. As a metaphor it speaks of safety and deliverance (Emphasis mine)


Matthews, V. H., Chavalas, M. W., & Walton, J. H. (2000). The IVP Bible background commentary: Old Testament (electronic ed.). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

God was the strength of Israel. He was meant to be their permanent Divine, the only God that should be worshiped. This would soon be a bygone concept once Israel conquered their enemies and settled down in the land. They would forget their Rock and seek to be acquiesced into the culture surrounding them. Later in the chapter (verses 10-15) God accuses them of their future idolatry, or rather the way He will rebuke them when they fail to obey His Law. He harshly condemns their offerings and sacrifices to other “rocks.” They are vain, and deaf, and powerless. God’s rebuke was justified and needed.

Law & Gospel in Deuteronomy 32

The Sorrowful Mother by James Tissot

Just as Israel sought after empty things to satisfy them, we too, often run after rocks instead of the Rock. We find solace in the temporal pleasures of this life instead of the Eternal God. In spite of God’s punishment of His chosen people, He was gracious and compassionate toward them. In the same chapter that He pronounced His judgment, He would also pronounce His mercy. Verse 36, along with verse 43 is this chapter’s pinnacle of the gospel in the Old Testament.

Deuteronomy 32:36 (NKJV) — 36 “For the Lord will judge His people And have compassion on His servants, When He sees that their power is gone, And there is no one remaining, bond or free… 43 “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with His people; For He will avenge the blood of His servants, And render vengeance to His adversaries; He will provide atonement for His land and His people.”

O, what mercy and grace! Yahweh would redeem His people despite their rebellion. He would redeem them and bring them back as His very own possession, and with the promise to circumcise their hearts so that they would love Him.

It is this same great mercy that has been extended to us through the perfect work of Jesus. His sacrificial and vicarious death has covered our sins; it has covered our idolatry, our greed, our sexual perversions, and every other sin that the Law continues to bring to remembrance. As the children of Israel gazed upon the bronze serpent to be healed of their fiery bites, so must we fix our gaze by faith on the One who took sin’s bite in our stead.

Rejoice in Christ’s work. Be joyful in His merciful offer of His invitation to come to Him and live.

Bible & Coffee-An Aid to Help With Bible Study

introduction

One of the greatest needs our culture has at this moment is understanding what the Bible says and the proper way to interpret and apply what has been read. Interpreting passages wrongly gives us a skewed perspective of who God really is and what He has promised us through the gospel. On the other hand, a close and careful reading allows us to see Him as Scripture proclaims.

One of the best tools to accomplish this is text flow diagramming. You may have heard this method referred to as block diagramming, semantic diagramming, text hierarchy, phrasing, or numerous other labels. The main gist of a text flow is to visually layout a passage of Scripture so that you can clearly see the main points of a passage. It is done through a several step process that includes careful reading of the text several times and then proceeding to allow the main clauses to stand at the left-hand margin while indenting the subordinating clauses and phrases under the main clause(s). The result is a visual stair step (or block) like aid that represents the flow of thought of the author. Below is an example from Galatians 1:1-5

Text Flow of Galatians 1:1-5

A brief glance at the diagram reveals the main thoughts of Paul and his companions writing and their desire that God would give them grace and peace through the person of Jesus. It doesn’t sound too spiritual but those are the main points in Paul’s introduction to the Galatians.

Some Words of Caution

It’s tempting to see a Scripture that really stands out and try to force it to be the main point. Text flow diagramming, although flexible and not as rigid as line diagramming, is bound by grammatical rules. How we “feel” about a particular verse does not automatically mean it should stand as the author’s main theme or the central focus of an entire pericope. Therefore, it is important to let the author’s meaning and the grammar (which will be discussed in a follow-up post) dictate what the main point is.

One last caution would be understanding that text flow diagramming is a starting point and should never be the only part of your Bible study. You need to put the work in and dig as deep as you can with other resources. You can see some of my favorite tools on this page.

how is text flow helpful?

Besides laying out the main points visually, text flows are useful as a study aid in several ways:

  1. Text flows give a bird’s eye view of an entire passage. Scanning the page will help you see the big picture of a pericope and the main topics the author is trying to drive home.
  2. Text flows provide a natural outline. Since the main points are available at a glance you can easily outline a passage. The subordinating clauses often serve as sub-points, helping to flesh out the main clauses.
  3. Text flow syntactical labels (discussed at a later time) help identify the connection of individual clauses and phrases to the main clause.
  4. Text flows when done properly, align closely with the grammar of the original languages. (this is mainly the Greek text. Hebrew is different.)
  5. Text flows are easier to learn than traditional diagramming.
  6. Text flows still force you to slow down and observe the whole text.

the tutorial outline

Our journey to understanding the Bible will be taken in steps. It is important to try and learn these concepts well. After every step, practice what you have learned by reading a familiar Bible passage and picking out the key elements you learned that day. Let’s get started by looking at the outline

Step 1 – Basic Grammar

We will identify the basic grammar essential to understanding the Bible. Scripture was written according to the grammar and syntax of the time and it is important for us to understand it, as well. This lesson will cover the following:
• How to find subjects, verbs, direct objects, and indirect objects
• Different types of verbs
• Apposition words

Step 2 – Clauses and Phrases

This lesson will focus mainly on how to identify clauses and phrases. And yes, they are different.
• What are clauses?
• What are phrases?
• Different types of phrases

Step 3 – Identifying Propositions

This is where we begin to dig into the text. Everything we’ve learned up to this point will come into play, so make sure you learn the previous lessons well.
• Finding propositions
• Splitting propositions
• when some propositions stay together
• Prepositional Phrases and their contribution to the text

Step 4 – Indenting Subordinating Clauses

This step will go into detail on how and where subordinating clauses should be indented.
• Two methods of indentation
• Extracting phrases
• “Testing” subordination for correct placement
• Using arrows to show subordination

Step 5 – Semantic Labels

We will identify and place semantic labels beside each subordinate clause.
• Categories of semantics
• Color coding schematic of labels

Step 6 – Final Touches

In the last step we will see what is done once we finish the text flow.
• Proof reading your diagram
• Internalizing your study (how is God’s word changing you?)
• Creating an outline
• Further study

I pray that text flow diagramming will be another useful tool in your Bible study belt. It will take practice and perseverance just like any other skill. But once you get the hang of it, I think you will find that it will be one of the most important steps in the observation phase of your study.

Saturday Evening Meditations – Psalm 77:1-3

1 I cried out to God with my voice—To God with my voice; And He gave ear to me. 2 In the day of my trouble I sought the Lord; My hand was stretched out in the night without ceasing; My soul refused to be comforted. 3 I remembered God, and was troubled; I complained, and my spirit was overwhelmed.

This Psalm of Asaph expresses a deep and abiding pain. Scholars place this Psalm in the time of Habakuk, the minor prophet. Habakuk is set in a time of uncertainty. The Chaldeans are among them and Israel’s residents are committing injustice and violence among them. Habakuk continually pleads to God to intervene as it seems that all these things will overwhelm him. Psalm 77 is written within this context.

Amongst the national unrest we are experiencing currently, we also deal with our personal anxieties and doubt. We are still wading through our own trials. Along with Habakuk we cry out to God for relief, “O Lord, how long shall I cry And You will not hear?” And like the Psalmist we express our sleeplessness and doubt that perhaps God has cast us out.

This Psalm has particular significance for me as I sit here and recover from a major life-changing surgery. I feel like a lump, just sitting and doing nothing. I complain to God, “How Long, O Lord?” I see His hand in guiding and still cry out to Him, patiently waiting for His reply.

And when I read verse 1 over and over I begin to be comforted: “I cried out to God with my voice–to God with my voice, and He gave ear to me.”

When I read Scripture of God answering His people in the midst of their troubles, my heart is encouraged. For I know that God will only delay so long before His loving answer comes to my ears. Christian, you also continue to cry out to Him. And when His reply comes, it will be sweet in your ears and sweeter in your soul. Then you shall exclaim, “He gave ear to me.”

5 Ways Bible Software Streamlines Your Bible Study

Teachers and preachers are often crunched for time. Many pastors are bi-vocational and must dedicate the necessary hours to their supervisors. At the same time, they have an obligation to God to tend the flock they have been charged with. But what do you do when you begin to run out of time and have to prepare your sermon on teaching lesson? This is where most Bible software shines. Most of them are geared towards streamlining your study. Here are my top five reasons for using Bible software:

  1. Programmed to help you get behind the English. A lot of pastors may not have the time to upkeep their language studies once they graduate seminary and step into ministry. Bible software can help quickly inform you of Hebrew and Greek words right along in the text with just a glance. Many software programs are also geared towards those who have little to no experience in the original languages, even going so far as to add sound clips of how the words are pronounced. Notice the bottom portion of the below photo. It follows along word-for-word with the English text, making easier to see which Greek words are being used.
Word-for=word translation

2. Go beyond simple word studies. Bible software is great for digging into the original languages. Most of the free ones allow you to access basic definitions along with the morphology of any given word. But sometimes you want to, you need to go further. Paid software will usually have these types of features. The screenshot below shows the Greek word logos with its basic definition as well as with the senses (how it is used in each verse) of each individual context.

Logos as used by basic definitions and its sense use

3. Built-in tools to help you exercise your understanding of a passage. It’s important to grasp the full meaning of a text you are studying to present to your class or congregation. One of the best methods of slowing down and meditating on a passage is diagramming. There are basically two types of diagrams: line diagrams, which take each word individually, and text flow diagrams, which take entire clauses and phrases into account. Both are vital for understanding a passage. Examples of both can be seen below.

Line diagram of John 3:16
Text flow of John 3:16 in Greek & English

4. Robust note-taking systems. You’ve studied and studied a passage and have lots of things in your head. You grab a piece of paper and begin to jot down insights about the passage as they come to you. Luckily, just about every software program, free or paid, has some form of taking notes. Most of these can be highly organized. The software I use, Logos Bible Software, allows me to not only create these notes but to create notebooks for each study. So if I am studying the topic of Personal Holiness, while at the same time studying through the book of 1Peter, I can create notebooks for both and place the notes in their proper places.

Notes with their notebooks

5. Helpful aids for time-saving study. The goal of Bible software is to make it as useful and time saving as possible. Many developers really pack in the the tools that allow you to look up and read a wealth of material within seconds. In Logos Bible Software these tools are called guides. They focus on two major aspects: (1)Passage Guides, bringing together all of your commentaries and dictionaries for whatever passage or topic you’re studying, and (2) Exegetical guides, which link to your original language texts, apparatuses, and lexicons. Having the power to pull this information up lightning quick is invaluable for those who may find themselves crunched for time. Check out these videos from Logos to see both types of guide in action:

Passage Guide

Exegetical Guide

Passage Guide of John 1:1. This is only a small portion of the guide as the entirety would not fit into one screenshot

While some people are adamant about studying with book and pencil the “old fashioned way,” the usefulness of Bible software should not be overlooked. We love in a day and age where technology is rapidly consuming our daily lives. As students of God’s unchanging eternal word we have an obligation to study and be prepared at our best to present these truths. Bible software is the tool, I believe, that God has gifted us with in order to faithfully serve and love Him while teaching and reaching out to our neighbors.

John 3:16 – The Gospel in a Single Verse

For God so loved the world…

It is a simple yet profound statement. Somehow my mind tends to skip over this verse when reading through the gospel of John. I always thought of it as too simple. I always said to myself, “Yeah, yeah, I know that!” This time, for no particular reason, I stopped to meditate on it. And I was astounded by the truth of Jesus’ statement to Nicodemus.

God’s love for sinners was so great, so astounding, so broad in its spectrum that He gave! Think about that for a moment. YOU had nothing to give to God except your sin, your rebellion, and your faithless wavering. God initiated the action because of His love for sinners. It was not because we were great or loveable. We had absolutely zilch to offer in return. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ. (Ephesians 2: 4-5). As I truly pondered the scope of this verse a few things stood out to me.

The Gospel in a Single Sentence

In Greek the very first word that stands at the head of this verse is the word houtōs, which is translated as ‘so’ or ‘in this manner.’ What follows is an explanation of how God loved a sinful wicked world. In short, the plain simple gospel is given within a single verse. Just as Lenski points out,

The “must,” the compulsion, lies in the wonder of God’s love and purpose. By telling Nicodemus this in such lucid, simple language Jesus sums up the entire gospel in one lovely sentence, so rich in content that, if a man had only these words and nothing of the rest of the Bible, he could by truly apprehending them be saved. 

Lenski, R. C. H. (1961). The interpretation of St. John’s gospel, p.259. Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House.

God’s Agape Love Stands As the Theme

It has been stated that agapē love is the highest form of love presented to us in the Scripture. John presents this love to us through Jesus’ discourse with Nicodemus. And this love is so important to John that he emphasizes it by causing it to stand at the head of the clause. Greek is a very flexible language and word order is not so important. Biblical authors used this to their advantage. Often, when they wanted to make a certain action or person emphatic they would do so by allowing to stand at the head of a clause.

Diagramming is a great way of seeing such construction. I’m kind of a geek and love to diagram so when I begin to meditate on this verse I did just that. Below is my diagram of the verse. The English is presented along with the Greek for easier reading. All nouns are in blue, verbs are in red, and direct objects are in green.

Diagram showing the main clause of God’s love for John 3:16

Notice how God’s love, not our believing, stands as the headpiece of this entire passage. Often, we are tempted to read the Bible and make it about ourselves. But this passage is very clear that the focus should be on the Father’s love for sinners not those whom He saved by sending His Son. St. John Chrysostom comments on God’s love for sinners.

Now he spoke at greater length, as speaking to believers, but here Christ speaks concisely, because His discourse was directed to Nicodemus, but still in a more significant manner, for each word had much significance. For by the expression, “so loved,” and that other, “God the world,” He shows the great strength of His love. Large and infinite was the interval between the two. He, the immortal, who is without beginning, the Infinite Majesty, they but dust and ashes, full of ten thousand sins, who, ungrateful, have at all times offended Him; and these He “loved.” Again, the words which He added after these are alike significant, when He saith, that “He gave His Only-begotten Son,” not a servant, not an Angel, not an Archangel. And yet no one would show such anxiety for his own child, as God did for His ungrateful servants

Schaff, P. (Ed.). (1889). Saint Chrysostom: Homilies on the Gospel of St. John and Epistle to the Hebrews (Vol. 14 pp 95-96). New York: Christian Literature Company.

God’s Great Agapē Love for Sinners Caused Him to Initiate an Action of Giving

It was God that sought us. We did not seek Him. We did not care to seek Him. We ran away and were happy to be left to our own vices and destruction. The apostle Paul tells us clearly that we were at enmity with God (Romans 5:10). In this same discourse Jesus tells Nicodemus that men naturally run away from the Light because we are evil (John 3:20). But because of His great love towards sinners the hõste (result) was that He did not leave us in that state. He initiated the action of seeking us through the giving of His Son. And what of our weak faith? Christ will cast out no one who comes to him with but the tiniest of faith. The Book of Concord, the Lutheran Confessions states,

As Christ says, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” [Matt. 11:28*], and, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick” [Matt. 9:12*]. “God’s power is made mighty in the weak” [2 Cor. 12:9*],206 and Romans 14[:1*, 3*], “Welcome those who are weak in faith …   p 606  for God has welcomed them.” For “whoever believes in the Son of God,” whether weak or strong in faith, “has eternal life” [John 3:16*]. Moreover, this worthiness consists not in a greater or lesser weakness or strength of faith, but rather in the merit of Christ, which the troubled father with his weak faith (Mark 9[:24*]) possessed, just as did Abraham, Paul, and others who have a resolute, strong faith.

Solid Declartion VII, 70-71, Kolb, R., Wengert, T. J., & Arand, C. P. (2000). The Book of Concord: the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press

The Result of God’s Agapē Love Is the Reason We Believe

There is nothing special that God sees in us. I know that goes against the popular modern Evangelical teaching. Scripture has nothing positive to say about man in his natural lost state. We are told that we are slaves to sin (John 8:34), dead in our sins (Ephesians 2:1), blinded by Satan (2 Corinthians 4:4), and a host of other things that make us altogether unlovely. The only reason we believe is because of God’s gracious love for us poor, weak, miserable sinners. It is He and He alone that calls us and draws us to the grace and forgiveness of sins through Jesus’ perfect atoning work.

And though we experience God’s great love for us we still fall short. We still sin and grieve the Holy Spirit. We still struggle with our flesh every day. Fear not! Look to the cross and know, weak one, that Christ died for sinners; Christ died for me…

And Christ died for you!

Saturday Evening Meditations – Manasseh

2Kings 21 and 2Chronicles 33 records the accounts of Manasseh the king who reigned after his father, Hezekiah. Both accounts relay that he was one of the most wicked kings Jerusalem had ever had, all the way to filling Jerusalem from one end to the other with innocent blood (2Kings 22:16). Manasseh as king was to lead his people in the worship of Yahweh. But he went after other gods and as the accounts tell us he sacrificed his own children to the detestable god, Molech, who required child sacrifices for appeasement.

Continue reading “Saturday Evening Meditations – Manasseh”

3 Reasons Western Christians Are So Ignorant of the Bible

Biblical Ignorance Amongst a Bible Flood

We are at a time in history when the Bible has never been more accessible. Typing in ‘online bible‘ in a Google search yields tens of thousands of results. Bible software is readily available, whether free or paid. Online Bible studies dominate the Internet and social media. And people pour into the pews of their churches on any given Sunday to hear a sermon. So why is there so much Biblical ignorance in Western Christianity?

You don’t believe me? A 2002 Barna research says otherwise. Though many of the core beliefs about the Trinity and the afterlife were intact, many were still quite heterodox. The research concluded that those who identify as Christian have many unbiblical beliefs. To name a few, Barna concluded:

  • 59% reject the existence of a real and personal Satan. They believe he is only a “symbol” of evil
  • 51% believe that praying to saints affects a person’s life positively
  • 35% believe they are able to communicate with the dead
  • A whopping 42% believe Jesus was a sinner
  • 50% hold that salvation is earned by good works

If some of these seem disturbing you’re not alone. How did Western Christianity get here? Below, I offer 3 reasons why I believe we are among a Biblical drought even though we have more accessibility to God’s word than ever before.

the bible is boring

If you ask any nominal Christian about their thoughts on the Bible you are more likely to hear that it is outdated and archaic. They believe many of the passages need to change or be reinterpreted in light of the cultural shift, especially those that address man’s sexuality. They are not willing to realign their own beliefs with that of Holy Writ, so therefore they forsake it altogether. The old boring book is not worth their time. Bored Christians are people that look elsewhere for the answers. They are seeking the excitement and adrenaline the Bible fails to give them. As a result they look for the latest, greatest method, that best selling self-help book on ‘fill in the blank’, or more relevant ways they can contribute to community and feel good about their self-worth. This spills over into their church lives as their new churches are more about cool music and pep talks rather than sound, Biblical preaching that properly divides the Law and the Gospel.

the bible seems irrelevant

When the Bible no longer seems to change with the culture people deem it as unnecessary and stray from its precepts. Psalm 119:4 says, You have commanded us to keep Your precepts diligently. Though culture would deem this unreliable, Christians know that that the Law of the Lord is a lamp to our feet (Psalm 119:06), a guide to point us to Christ and His Gospel (Galatians 3:24), and to show us our shortcomings before God (Exodus 20:1-17). The irrelevance only comes as more youth create their own paradigm shifts to fit their current situations. This seems to be founded upon another 2015 Barna poll which stated that only 35% of Millennials claim faith as an external factor in their lifestyles. Another poll conducted in January of 2018 found that the atheists among the newest generation has nearly doubled.

Why this sudden falling away? When asked, most youth stated the problem of God and evil. In other words, if God truly existed all of the suffering wouldn’t. This is simply another way of saying, “The Bible isn’t relevant to my culture.” Millennials and Gen Zers are fast becoming a majority part of the population. Considering the current trend it would not be surprising if the next generation wholly abandons God’s Word altogether.

the bible is no longer sufficient

Since the Bible is boring and irrelevant, certainly it cannot be sufficient as the standard for faith and life. Though research shows that many young people still hold a high view of Scripture, their beliefs and practices seem to state otherwise. For example, a study cited earlier in this post revealed that 50% of self-identifying Christians believe they can obtain God’s favor through their good deeds. And it isn’t just the younger generation. This is the trend of people of all age groups. People flock after an experience rather than take the time to find the answers in Scripture. They depend upon fresh revelations instead of the way in which God has chosen to reveal Himself and His will through the written word. They flock to those teachers that can promise them their next big breakthrough or the fulfillment of life-long dreams. The number of “ministries” geared towards this disgusting puke attests to this. Teachers such as Rick Warren, Joyce Meyer, Joel Osteen, Benny Hinn, Creflo Doallar, Ken and Gloria Copeland, Christine Cain, and myriads of others prey on those seeking some kind of physical or monetary relief. Ultimately those who follow these teachers must share in the blame as they have abandoned sound doctrine for doctrine of demons. Their hope appears to rest in what God can do for then rather than in God Himself. All of this can be directly linked to the abandonment of Scripture as the sufficient means in which God communicates to His people.

Hope Amongst Drought

There is hope, despite the odds of these statistics. Another research performed by Barna revealed that an increasingly number of adults are becoming dissatisfied with “doing church.”

Adults among the varying groups who are dissatisfied with the current church culture.

This could go either way. It could drive people away from church completely or it could drive then to seek out a more satisfying experience in worship. Whatever the case, it shows that people are thirsty! They crave more than the monotonous weekly ritual. Even their usual cool, hip relevant churches aren’t doing it for them anymore. This is encouraging as those who remain faithful to Scripture as the innerrant, infallible word of God can be a beacon to point them back to the sufficiency of Scripture. When we allow our beliefs to come in line with God’s word we rest much easier, knowing that all the minor details will be worked out in the end. This is not to say that we must possess an ignorant faith or never seek the answers we desire. It is simply means that we take God at His word and believe that what He has revealed to us is sufficient for our entire lives.

Considering Context – Matthew 18:19-20

The Context & Interpretation

Matthew 18:19-20 is often quoted in reference to church and prayer meetings.

19 “Again I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.”

This is one of the most quoted verses for used in declaring that Jesus hears the prayers of His people when they are gathered together. When we examine the context a little more closely we find that this verse really isn’t talking about prayer meetings or church gatherings, at least in the realm that most people believe it to be.

The immediate context of our passage goes back to verse 15.


“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” (emphasis are mine)

Surprised by Context

Jesus’ address is to one who has sinned within the Church. Verse 15 starts by Him telling the disciples how to handle one who sins. They are to approach the individual alone and confront the person’s sin. If the person refuses to acknowledge and repent of his sin then the first person is to take two or three other brothers with him as witnesses. This practice goes all the way back to Jewish law of having a testimony firmly established.

Deuteronomy 19:15 “A single witness shall not suffice against a person for any crime or for any wrong in connection with any offense that he has committed. Only on the evidence of two witnesses or of three witnesses shall a charge be established. (emphasis mine)

This is where we need to start reading a little more closely. Note what Jesus is saying. He is instructing the disciples how to perform Church discipline correctly by quoting the law from Deuteronomy 19.

At this point some may object that Jesus is not at all speaking about the Church but only about those sinning against others in a personal manner. However, the fact that Jesus uses the word ‘church’ when speaking to His disciples is evidence that Church discipline is indeed in view at this point. Further, the same law also carries over into the epistles as Paul instructs Timothy not to entertain any accusations brought against another elder unless there are at least two or three witnesses. (1Timothy 1:19). For this reason it is a safe bet to state that the outline of discipline that Jesus gives is specifically for Church discipline. Let’s move on to the actual interpretation of the passage.

What Is Matthew 18 Referencing?

Now that we have examined the context in full it’s time to start interpreting the text as to what it really means. I find the best way to do this is to ask questions of the text. Personally, I love the 5W-H method (who, what, when, where, why, & how). Not all of these elements will be present in all the texts you consider but there will always be enough of them to help interpret a passage correctly.

When we consider the full context of the passage, the first thing we should ask is who are the two or three gathered together in Jesus’ Name? Given the use of Jesus’ quotation of Deuteronomy we must conclude from the context that the two or three are those witnesses first mentioned in verse 16. You will note that I have bolded several portions including every time where the two or three or mentioned. This is to show how they are traced throughout the passage. Understanding the ‘who’ of the passage often aids in understanding the ‘what.’

The next thing to be considered is the ‘what.’ Jesus tells His disciples that if the unrepentant person will not listen to the first or the witnesses that he has taken then that person must be brought before the Church. The entire congregation is to implore his repentance and upon that refusal the instructions are to excommunicate the said individual and treat him as a tax collector and sinner. It is at this point that Jesus makes the mysterious remark about binding and loosing. This is the second part of the ‘what’ question that must be answered.

What exactly is loosing and binding in this context? This requires us to look into the original language to get the answer. The two words, δέω (deō) and λύω (luō) connote an authoritative use. According to the Mishnah, a Rabbinical commentary on the Law of Moses, the interpretations were in fact binding on the people. However, a person could be loosed or even bound under certain circumstances, especially with particular vows made. Consider a small portion of the Mishnah:

He who vows [abstinence] from meat may eat broth and meat sediment. But Rabbi Judah prohibits. Rabbi Judah said: it once happened that Rabbi Tarfon prohibited me from eating [even the] eggs boiled [with the meat]. They replied: That is so. When is this true? When he says “This meat is prohibited to me.” For if one vows [to abstain] from something, and it is mixed up with another thing, if there is a sufficient [amount of the prohibited food] to impart its taste [to the other] it is forbidden.

Mishnah Nedarim 6:6

Jesus uses this same idea of binding and loosing when He gives the apostles the authority to enact discipline on a wayward believer. The idea is that the apostles would “ask in Jesus’ Name” and the discipline of the sinner would be bound (authoritative) on Earth and have the backing of the authority of Heaven. Therefore, if two or three ask in Jesus’ Name He is there in the midst of them with His authority.

Application

How then do we apply this Scripture? It can only be applied by the leaders of the Church universal. That is, as ordained ministers chosen by God they must engage in church discipline whenever the need is presented. This verse cannot be applied in a personal manner or as a promise for Jesus to show up in your prayer meeting.

Dear brothers and sisters, let us always examine Scripture closely that we may be able to apply it in the proper manner. May the LORD continue to bless you as you seek to understand and apply the Truth of His Word.

Saturday Evening Meditations – Esther

During the Second Temple period Queen Esther was the prized beauty of King Ahasuerus. This book is infamously known as the only book of the Bible that does not mention God a single time. So where can we see the Gospel presented? Join us for this week’s Saturday Evening Meditations.

The Story of Esther

Timeline of Esther

The book of Esther is the story of God’s providential protection of His people. God’s people have been exiled into a foreign land for their persistent rebellion against Him. The land of Persia is strange, their language strange, and their customs vile and ungodly. Yet it is the will of God for them to stay there awhile.

Oddly enough Yahweh or any other variant name of God is found nowhere in the book. But when we read Esther we clearly see He is not absent but working through Esther’s uncle, Mordecai. The book opens as king Ahasuerus throws the feasts of feasts for his statesmen. He gives them permission of no limits in getting drunk and carousing. Over the course of the seven-day feast, Ahasuerus gets pretty drunk and orders his Queen, Vashti, to appear before him. His intention is to show her off and to please his guests. Vashti refuses to be his play toy and rebels against her king. He consults his administrators and they advise him that in order to save face he must dump Vashti and find a more obedient queen (1:10-22).

Of course, after the national wide beauty contest, Esther wins hands down and is chosen by the king as the new queen. She isn’t happy. Her uncle Mordecai, who has raised her tells her to take her place for now. And then the trouble begins…enter Haman. (3:1)

Haman receives a huge promotion from the king and demands that as he passes by that all should bow down to hm. Mordecai refuses—several times. Eventually, Haman decides on a plan. Instead of killing just Mordecai he will wipe out the entire jewish race (3:6). Eventually, he connives the king into making a decree, which was something that could not be overturned by even the king once it was law (3:12-13, 8:8). Of course the king has no idea that his beloved queen is a Jew. And when Mordecai discovers the king’s edict he pleads with Esther to go before the king and plead their case.

Esther pleads before the king

Esther is afraid. And with good cause. Anyone who enters the king’s presence without prior authorization will be put to death. Unless…

There is one chance. If the king is pleased with the person he may extend his golden scepter (4:11). The person who takes hold of the scepter will have the king’s ear. Of course, we know that this is what happened. Esther fasts and prays and invites Haman and the king for a feast. She persuades the king to establish a new decree that the Jews be allowed to defend themselves. The Jews are victorious, Haman is hanged on the very gallows he built for Mordecai, and the Feast of Purim is established for the Jewish nation.

It is exciting reading the book of Esther and seeing God’s hand throughout. Scripture testifies to God’s goodness but more importantly, it attests to the central figure, Jesus Christ. So, where can we find the gospel in Esther? And how can we apply the story of Esther to ourselves?

The Gospel in Esther

Just as Esther interceded for her own people before the king, so also Jesus intercedes for us. Without Christ’s intercession, we are damned to be destroyed by Satan, who, just like Haman has built his hellish gallows that he might doom us. Yet the Father in His goodness has allowed Jesus to enter into His throne room to plead our case before the Father. Ahasuerus’ edict could not be undone. There is nothing that could have reversed the death penalty for the Jews. In the same way, the Law had condemned us to die. It cannot be undone. It has been established by God Himself and He will not overturn it.

But praise be to God! He has given us an intercessor in Jesus Christ, who lives to make intercession for us (Romans 8:34, Hebrews 7:25). Because of Christ’s redemptive work the Father issued a new decree. That whoever looks to the Son and believes in Him shall escape the penalty of the Law (John 3:16-18). What a wonderful thought that we have One who intercedes and protects us with His own blood.

Personal Application

God is holy and transcendent. As natural men, we cannot enter into His presence standing upon our own merit. We will surely die if we do. God has a right to consume us with His wrath because of our sinfulness. Yet in His mercy, His Golden Scepter of Righteousness, Jesus Christ, is our only plea (Psalm 45:6). God freely extends this Scepter to all who will reach out and grasp Him. Then, and only then, may we boldly approach the Throne of Grace to make our petitions before the Father (Hebrews 4:16). Let us thank the Father, Son, and Spirit for their goodness towards us and may we ever be grateful and joyful in His presence.

Christ, The Sinner’s Once-for-All Rest

We may often find ourselves struggling with assurance. Jesus has promised rest for those who take His yoke.

Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. (Matthew 11:28)

Here, in the offer of Jesus exists an invitation like no other. Who of us can say that we are not weary? How many can boast that the Law does not make their consciences heavy laden? We are creatures of doing and we pursue that doing, usually until the day we die. But our pursuit of doing something, anything, is detrimental to our spirituality because Jesus has told us, “Come…”

We hear the invitation; yea, we long for it! But at the first, we look for a different way, a harder way, for resting surely cannot be the way to ease the Law’s ever-stinging accusations in our consciences. No! We must work to please God. We must pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and truck on through the muddy sin that continually plagues us. And in all our wanderings and turning aways we still hear, “Come…”

“Come…” is the invitation that Jesus offers. Yet the very next thing He speaks is the imperative of coming: “Take My yoke upon you.” But why a yoke? Will this not give us a burden as well? Jesus’ yoke is not a burden of the Law, but rather the yoke of grace which He freely offers through the Sacraments. As Lenski so eloquently states, Indeed, the gospel and the doctrine of faith are a yoke in that they are full of commands, all of them gospel commands, however, commands to take, to trust, to feast, to inherit, and the like. (Lenski, R. C. H. (1961). The Interpretation of St. Matthew’s Gospel. p 457. Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House.)


Salvation brought, my weary soul rejoices/the Law, with all its power o’er me hath lost/This Jesus, bless-ed Consolation; His love, His blood, hath nailed it to the cross.

The invitation stands for all. Those who come to Christ and find His rest will surely not be sorry. They will find that, just as He promised, the yoke that so many of us believed to be even heavier than the Law, is quite light as He carries the burden. To quote Lenski one more time, he says of this invitation

Here the good pleasure of the Father’s and the Son’s will is most delightfully voiced. Here the babes receive the revelation which, because it is distasteful to the wise, is lost and hidden from them because of this very folly…Christ is the end of the law to those who believe. He removes the sin and the guilt, he does the saving. All we need to do is to commit ourselves to Him.

Lenski, R. C. H. (1961). The Interpretation of St. Matthew’s Gospel, pp.456-457. Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House.

Sinners, let us find our once-for-all rest in the offer of Jesus. Until we do our weary souls will be burdened with a burden to heave to bear. May God bring you peace through His Gospel promises.