Monday, June 30, 2008

Judicial Laws of Moses (13) - Justice and Mercy

The remedy for a personal injury involves two principles:

  • Justice
  • Mercy.
The justice principle specifies that the person committing the assault should have done to him what he has done to his victim. This would be perfect justice, but would produce a lot of violence.

The mercy principle allows the person assaulted to make a payment sufficient to compensate the victim for the injury to his body. The principle is defined here with reference to a person whose actions have taken the life of another.
If a ransom is imposed on him, then he shall give for the redemption of his life whatever is imposed on him (Ex 21:30).
The Hebrew word for ransom is “kopher”, which means cover or shelter. The figurative meaning is ransom, price or satisfaction. The ransom is a money payment that that provides shelter from the justice principle. The person who has caused another die should really pay with his life, but the payment of a ransom protects him from the full consequences of his actions. The offender does not have physical harm done to his body, but will still have to pay a heavy penalty.

The family of the victim are better off, because they receive financial compensation for their loss. The money paid will improve their lives, whereas harming the other person would only produce emotional satisfaction. Justice is still achieved, but everyone still living is better off.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Judicial Laws of Moses (12) - Compensation for Injury

The meeting of the principle of justice with the principle of mercy is very clear in the case of fighting men striking a pregnant woman by mistake.

If men fight, and hurt a woman with child, so that she gives birth prematurely, yet no harm follows, he shall surely be punished accordingly as the woman’s husband imposes on him; and he shall pay as the judges determine. But if any harm follows, then you shall give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise. (Ex 21:22-25).
The justice principle in the second part of this passage describes what the offender deserves. If the woman or her baby is injured, justice demands the affliction of a similar injury on the offender. This is expressed in the commonly used, but misunderstood, expression: “life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.” The person who harms another deserves the same thing done to them.

The mercy principle is specified in the first part of the passage. The offender does not receive physical punishment, but must pay full financial compensation instead. If no harm comes to the baby, he shall pay what the woman’s husband demands. If the woman or the baby is injured, the compensation will be proportional to the injuries received. In each case the financial compensation must be approved by judges after listening to witnesses to the crime.

The financial compensation must be proportional to the loss. “An eye for an eye” is not a justification for personal revenge, but is the standard of justice to be applied by the judges when deciding compensation. They will decide the compensation for an injury to the eye by assessing the economic value of the eye. This involves estimating the loss of the income and enjoyment resulting from the lack of sight, just like the lump-sum compensation provided by some accident insurance companies. Loss of an eye could be worth $200,000 and loss of a hand might be worth $170,000, whereas a bruise might only be worth $1,000.

God could not define just compensation in terms of shekels, because inflation changes the value of a currency over time. By linking compensation back to the value of the specific limb or organ, God has provided a principle of compensation that is relevant in every culture, regardless of the currency in circulation at the time.

Exodus provides a humane way of making compensation to the victims of violence. Modern human justice makes offenders pay fines to the state, but very rarely provides financial compensation to the victims of violence. This is a good example of God’s standard of justice being better than human law.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Judicial Laws of Moses (11) - Personal Injury

The second half of Exodus 21 deals with protection from personal injury. The modern terms are assault and murder. Murder is the most serious form of assault. These laws are expressed in the same way as those that deal with protection of property.

If a man willfully attacks another to kill him by cunning… (v.14).
If men quarrel and one strikes the other with a stone or with his fist… (v.18).
If a man hits his manservant or maidservant with a rod… (v.21).
If men who are fighting hit a pregnant woman and she gives birth prematurely… (v.22).
If a man hits a manservant or maidservant in the eye and destroys it… (v.26).
If a bull gores a man or a woman to death… (v.28).
If a man opens a pit, or digs a pit and does not cover it… (v.33)
If a man's ox butts another's… (v.35).
These laws define the scope of assault. The most serious assault is murder. The more common assault is one person striking another with his fist or a weapon. The definition of assault includes a careless action that causes another person to come to harm. It extends to harm done to animals.

These laws against assault are universal in application. They are not directed to a particular people, but to all people everywhere.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Judicial Laws of Moses (10) - Restitution

Restitution is specified as the remedy in all situations where personal property is damaged or stolen. The Hebrew word translated as restitution is “shalam”. It is used 18 times in these verses about property, although this is sometime lost in the translation. Twice the word is doubled for emphasis. Its basic meaning is “be safe” or “be made complete”. By implication it can mean “reciprocate, make amends, end, finish, full, make good, repay, recompense, requite, make restitution, restore”.

The person stealing or damaging the property of another must “make good” the harm done. They must “restore” the situation to the way it was before they committed their crime. The well-known Hebrew word for peace (shalom) comes from Shalam, so it has a strong sense of restoring peace to a situation that has been disrupted. Everything harmed must be put right.

The seduction of a young woman is also a form of theft.

If a man seduces a virgin who is not betrothed, and lies with her (Ex 2:16).
He has stolen the most precious thing that she has. Loss of virginity might prevent her from finding a good husband. The man who has robbed her of this potential must compensate here financially for what she has lost. He must also compensate here for any physical or emotional harm as well. He must pay the full cost of restoring her to the position that she was in before he intervened in here life.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Judicial Laws of Moses (9) - Protection of Property

Exodus 22:1-16 deals with protection of property. These laws define the nature of theft and specify appropriate remedies. These laws are all expressed in the same way.

If a man steals an ox or a sheep… (v.1).
If a man causes a field or vineyard to be grazed over, or lets his beast loose and it feeds in another man's field…(v.5).
If a man gives to his neighbor money or goods to keep safe, and it is stolen from the man's house…(v.7)
If a man gives to his neighbor a donkey or an ox or a sheep or any beast to keep safe, and it dies or is injured…(v.10).
If a man borrows anything of his neighbor, and it is injured or dies, the owner not being with it… (v.14).
The structure of these laws is quite different from the “You shall not steal” in the Ten Commandments. The latter is limited to a particular group of people represented by the word “you”. The statements above are not limited and apply to any person who undertakes the action specified. These laws against harming property are universal and not limited to the children of Israel.

Taking something that belongs to another person is forbidden. The scope is not limited to theft, but includes any careless action that harms another person’s property. Breach of contract is also prohibited.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Judicial Laws of Moses (8) - Laws for Everyman

Recently I found the key I have been looking for. That key is a phrase in the book of Exodus. Whereas most laws in Exodus are addressed to Israel, I noticed that a section of laws in the middle of the book seem to be addressed to a universal man. They all begin with the expression, “If a man” (kiy ish). These laws are not addressed to Israel, but to all men. This set of universal laws begins at Exodus 21:12 and ends at Exodus 22:17.

This section of law also stands out as being different, because it is expressed in the third person. Most of the other laws in Exodus are expressed in the second person, ie you shall not steal, you shall not murder. Moses used ”you”, because he was addressing Israel and announcing laws for his listeners and their descendents. . The Ten Commandments are all written in the second person, as they were spoken to Israel.

The laws beginning at Exodus 21:12 are written in the third person, ie if he does something, he shall receive this penalty. This mode of speech is used to when referring to someone who is not part of the conversation. It points to a third person, who is not the speaker (I) and not the listener (you). Moses used the third person here, because this section of laws are for all people and not just for those who participate in the covenant made on Mount Sinai.

In Exodus 22:18-19 Moses switches back to the second person and stops using the expression “if a man”, which indicates that he changed back to speaking just to Israel. Therefore, the commands about witchcraft and bestiality in these verses are only applicable to Israel. They are not part of the universal judicial laws.

The third factor that distinguishes the section of laws between Exodus 21:12 and Exodus 22:17 is that the subject of the verb is always “a man” or “men”. There is no definite article, so the reference is not to a particular man, but to any man. These seem to be laws for all men or “everyman”.

The use of the third person and “man” or “men” as the subject of the command marks off a set of laws that apply to all people in all societies everywhere. These laws are not just for Israel. The penalties for failure to comply with these laws are specified in a timeless way. I will refer to them as the Judicial Laws, as God intends them to be applied by judges in every society and culture.
The Judicial Laws of Moses cover two areas of life.

  • personal injury
  • protection of property
This full series is here

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Judicial Laws of Moses (7) - Looking for the Key

God is our lawgiver. His law is found in the Bible. However, while some of the laws in the Bible have a universal application, others are just for Israel. The principles outlined yesterday are helpful, but they do not allow us to sort out the judicial laws that apply to all people in every age. We need a key to identify the laws that are still relevant now.

I searched many years for a key to identifying the universal, judicial laws in the Torah. I have learned to love the book of Moses. I obtained many wonderful insights into the ways of God. I identified much that was only applicable to Israel before the ministry of Jesus. I discovered that Leviticus is exclusively for Israel. Exodus and Deuteronomy are harder to handle, because they seem to be a mixture of laws for Israel and universal laws. A key is needed to separate these two types of law.

This is a really important question. My answer tomorrow.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Judicial Laws of Moses (6) - Principles of Interpretation

We need a principle of interpretation to help us decide which parts of the law still apply. Several of the principles that have been considered do not work in practice.

  1. One common approach is to say that only those parts of the Torah that are confirmed in the New Testament are still applicable in this age. This appears sensible at first glance, but it does not really resolve the problem. Some issues covered by the Torah are not dealt with in the New Testament.
  2. A common principle of interpretation is to raise the Ten Commandments above other laws. They are the very well known, but they are not very helpful for deciding what is relevant to our world. They hang on many courthouse walls, but they are mostly ignored. Very few Christians could list all ten, and fewer still would want them applied. They are not the key that we need.
  3. Some commentators have suggested that laws connected to land were nullified when Israel lost the land in AD 70. This criterion does not really work, because “connection to the land” is impossible to define.
Several principles help us to interpret the Torah.
  1. History has a Place. The creation account in Genesis is really important for understanding the origins of the world. The history of God’s dealing with the patriarchs and the children of Israel are important for our warning and encouragement (1 Cor 10:6,11).
  2. Significant parts of the Torah were specifically for Israel. Many of these were fulfilled by Jesus, so they are not binding on Christians. These laws were specifically for Israel, so they do not apply this side of the cross.
  3. Leviticus is not universal. The book was specifically directed to the nation of Israel. It begins with God directing Moses to speak to the Israelites.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Judicial Laws of Moses (5) - The Big Box

The five books of the Torah cover a variety of topics. It includes:

  • creation
  • history
  • exodus
  • civil laws
  • sacrifices
  • tabernacle design
  • covenants
  • infection control and hygiene
  • genealogies
  • blessings and curses
  • rules for priesthood
  • land distribution
The Torah is a big box. A lot of different stuff is all mixed up together and sometimes repeated. We need to be clear about which parts have been fulfilled, and which parts remain in force.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Judicial Laws of Moses (4) - Book of the Law

The first five books of the Old Testament are called the Torah. This Hebrew word is often translated as law, but a better translation would be “instruction” or “teaching”. The Torah contains God’s instruction to the children of Israel about the way they should live.

A common Old Testament expression is the “Words of the Law” (Dabar, Torah). Moses was told to write the Words of the Law.

After Moses finished writing in a book the words of this law from beginning to end, he gave this command to the Levites who carried the ark of the covenant of the LORD: "Take this book of the Law and place it beside the ark of the covenant of the LORD your God. There it will remain as a witness against you (Deut 31:24).
He read from this book to the people.
Assemble the people—men, women and children, and the aliens living in your towns—so they can listen and learn to fear the LORD your God and follow carefully all the words of this law (Deut 31:12).
Joshua also read from the Words of the Law.
Afterward, Joshua read all the words of the law—the blessings and the curses—just as it is written in the book of the Law. There was not a word of all that Moses had commanded that Joshua did not read to the whole assembly (Joshua 8:34-35).
Moses and Joshua taught the children of Israel from the Words of the Law.

Sometimes the Torah is called the “Book of the Covenant”.
Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it to the people. They responded, "We will do everything the LORD has said; we will obey" (Ex 24:7).
Another title is the “Book of the Law”.
Be very strong; be careful to obey all that is written in the Book of the Law of Moses, without turning aside to the right or to the left (Jos 23:6).
The Torah contains instructions for life.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Judicial Laws of Moses (3) - Which Law?

The choice is never between law and no law. The real choice is always “whose law?” Actually, there are only two options: God’s law or man’s law. Plenty of human law makers are putting up their hands, but if God is our Lawgiver (Is 33:22) his law will be better. In a choice between God’s law and man’s law, Christians should prefer God’s law to human law.

Deciding that God’s law is better than human law is easy. Defining the judicial laws that he wants applied in every human society is a more challenging task. This is my goal for this series of articles. It is a most important task, but I am encouraged by the promise of Psalm 119:97-100.

Oh, how I love your law!
I meditate on it all day long.
Your commands make me wiser than my enemies,
for they are ever with me.
I have more insight than all my teachers,
for I meditate on your statutes.
I have more understanding than the elders,
for I obey your precepts.

Fisk on Nationalism

Robert Fisk made the following comment on Radio New Zealand a couple of years ago.

A whole population of Arab Moslems are moving away from a nationalist type of politics towards a politics that is intregrally based on the religion of Islam.

The big difference between Moslems and the west is that Moslems have not lost their faith, whereas we in the West have. Our faith is human rights and secularism.
The second comment is correct. Faith is growing in Moslem nations, whereas faith is declining in the West.

The first comment is more interesting. Moslems may be going in the wrong direction, but they seem to be waking up to the dangers of nationalistic politics quicker than many Christians.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Judicial Laws of Moses (2) - Law and Judges

God’s system of government and justice is straightforward, but effective. It consists of wise judges applying God’s law. Understanding how judges are raised and how they operate is relatively easy. The challenge is to identify the universal laws that judges must apply. The problem is that God’s judicial laws are mixed up with a lot of other material and scattered throughout the books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. The universal judicial laws are hidden among instructions about the tabernacle sacrifices that were fulfilled in Jesus and rules that were only relevant while children of Israel were living in Canaan. Therefore, before attempting to apply God’s system of law and judges, we must identify the laws that that God intends for every human society.

Our challenge is to identify the instructions that applied only to Israel and distinguish them from permanent the laws that allow any human society to function peaceably. Searching through the stuff that is no longer relevant will not be easy, but we should be wise enough to handle the challenge.

Most Christians give up before they get this far. They acknowledge the need for law, but just assume that God’s law is irrelevant. His law is ignored, despite Jesus statement that it still stands and Paul saying that it is perfect. Rejecting God’s law and replacing it with human law is foolish. We cannot say that God’s law is unusable, if we have not attempted to discern which of his laws are relevant to the operation of civil society in the modern world.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Judicial Laws of Moses (1) - Searching for Wisdom

Many years ago, when I got really serious about studying political and economic issues from a Christian perspective, I started in the New Testament. I found some good stuff, but there was just not enough material there to do the job. The criteria and principles from which a political or economic theory could be developed were missing. Jesus made lots of comments with political implications and his comments about paying taxes are interesting.

He said to them, "Then give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's" (Luke 20:25).
This response was very clever, because it silenced his critics at the time, but it less clear what it means in terms of political theory.
Paul and Peter made some interesting comments about submission to political authorities (Romans 13:1-7, 1 Peter 2:13-17). However, they did not say which authorities are legitimate and which are not. It is uncertain whether they were giving universal principles or just acknowledging the reality of their current situation. These passages do not provide the basis for a political theory without the support of deeper analysis and reinforcing principles. The New Testament simply does not provide sufficient guidance for those attempting to develop a Christian approach to economics and political theory.

I then went back to the Old Testament Prophets. They were great at pointing out what was wrong with their own societies. However when it came to understanding what should be, there was just not enough there. None of the prophets describe an ideal political and economic system.

I actually had to go back to Exodus and Deuteronomy to find a complete political and economic system. Even in these books it is hidden, but a complete system is there. It just takes some digging out.

This full series is here.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Oil Proof

The sight of George W pleading with the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabi to pump more oil was pitiful. I bet they had a great laugh in the palace afterwards.

Recent events have proved that the world can cope with oil at $100 a barrel. We can be certain of one thing. OPEC will not let the price go below that level again. If I were the Saudi Arabian oil minister, I would reduce production, as soon as the price went below that level. They can afford to reduce production, because they have earned enough while the price was at $130 to last them for quite a while.

Actually the best thing that could happen for my great great great great great great grand children would be for the price of oil to go above $200 a barrel. That way there might be some oil left for them. I think they will appreciate having some oil, because it is so useful.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Oil Futures

Some commentators are accusing speculators of pushing up the price of oil. Before getting to worked up about this we should do some clear thinking. There are three ways that speculators came make money from a commodity like oil.

  1. Speculators can buy shares in the companies that produce the commodity. This is happening with oil companies. There shares have increased dramatically, but this does not change the price of oil.
  2. Speculators can invest in commodity future. They are guessing what the future price of the commodity will be in the future. Future prices do not feed into current prices. Unless they close out the contract before the settlement date, the parties to a contract must settle on that date. If the market price has diverged from the contract price, one of the parties will make a loss.

    The futures market must face reality when the future meets the market in the present. This means that the market price eventually dominates the futures price. Speculators may be pushing up the future price of oil, but if they are wrong, they will eventually take a bath.
  3. The only way that speculators can influence the current price of a commodity is to buy the commodity and storing it. This reduces supply while leaving demand unchanged, which should cause the current price to move up. Buying and storing is quite easy for many commodities. Gold coins can be purchased and stored in a vault or under the bed. Wheat can be purchased and store in a silo. The problem with purchasing oil for speculative purpose is that it is not that easy to store. The oil has to be stored in tank or a tanker, which is costly. Current reports indicate that the volume of oil in storage has not increased significantly, so it is unlikely that speculators are storing large volumes of oil to get a better price in the future.

    Buying a commodity for speculation only makes sense, if the price is going to go higher in the future. Most of those who own oil at the moment, will be selling it as quick as they can to get $130+ a barrel.
People like having someone to blame. Speculators are always an easy target. The real reason for high market prices is that the supply of oil exceeds demand. If the American economy goes into recession or American’s get out if their cars and walk, prices might fall again, but I am not holding my breath. The American economy still looks fairly strong and the American pedestrian is overweight, so I do not see either happening soon.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Waste Oil

The chief executive of BP has released a Statistical Review for 2008. He says that in the last century, the world has used a trillion barrels of oil. He says that oil companies know about another trillion barrels of oil and could possibly find another trillion with better technology.

What strikes me about this is that we have lived through a very selfish century. Three generations have consumed a third of all the oil that exists on earth. One generation will consume the next third.

Oil has a tremendous range of uses. It is one of the most useful resources in the earth. Burning oil in cars is really poor use of such a precious resource, yet about half of that oil produced so far has been consumed in cars.

The strange thing is that most of this oil has been used up by countries with a strong Christian influence. Paul taught that people without faith live for the present.

Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die (1 Cor 15:33).
He expected Christians to be future orientated.
When it comes to oil, Christians have outdone the pagans of Paul’s time. Our philosophy seems to be,
Drive and burn, because Jesus is returning next week.
Using up the total supply of oil on earth in the earth in one and a half centuries would be fine, if we are near the end of history. However, if life is going to go on for another couple of thousand years, as I expect it will, our descendents will look back and regret the way that we have wasted oil.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Rock of Offence (9) - The Big Question

I am convinced that a core obstacle to the gifts of healing is offence at God. As Christians have prayed earnestly for people that they love to be healed of sickness without success, their hope has gradually subsided into despair. Because they have not been taught about the danger of being offended at God, they have often asked the wrong questions. The big question most commonly asked is this.

Why did God allow this to happen?
This is a very dangerous question, because it puts God on trial. It assumes that he is responsible for what happened. If the grief is deep, the question can easily be tinged by accusation and blame.

The problem with this question is that God not allow Christians to die. By sending Jesus to suffer and die, he has provided the church with a solution for sickness. He has given the Church responsibility for healing sickness, so we must be very careful about assigning responsibility for evil back to him. Sickness was caused by the devil. We must be very careful that we do not blame God for the actions of the evil one.

If the big question is not quickly turned around, the questioner will be offended at God. A more dangerous question soon follows.
Can I trust God?
The motivation behind this question is offence at God. It kills faith and shuts up the Holy Spirits power. He cannot work in the midst of people who doubt his power or willingness to heal

We must learn to ask the right questions. When a Christian dies of cancer, we ask,
Why did God not heal him?
Why did God allow him to die?
Perhaps we should be asking,
Why is our Church so powerless?
Why do our elders not have victory over sickness?
Have we misunderstood the Gospel?
Have we misunderstood God’s promises?
Did we get something wrong?
We must deal with this issue, if we want to see the breakthrough in healing that many are seeking.

The full series is here.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Rock of Offence (8) - Zacharias and Mary

Disappointment and offence prevent us from hearing the voice of God. Zechariah and Elizabeth were childless and “they were both well along in years (Luke 1:7). No doubt they had prayed for a son, but their prayers were disappointed. While Zechariah was serving in the temple the angel of the Lord appeared to him beside the altar of incense and promised that he and Elizabeth would have a son and the Spirit of God would be upon him. Zechariah had Gabriel standing beside him in the Holy of Holies, but he still responded with a doubting question.

How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is well advanced in years (Luke 1:18).
Zechariah tested the word of God against his own situation. His disappointment and offence at unanswered prayer had produced unbelief that prevented him from hearing God’s voice. When his prayer was finally answered, he was unable to accept it. Gabriel rebuked his unbelief and silenced him to confirm his word.
But behold, you will be mute and not able to speak until the day these things take place, because you did not believe my words which will be fulfilled in their own time (Luke 1:20).
Disappointment and offence are dangerous because they produce unbelief.

Gabriel also visited Mary, but she responded with a humble question.
How can this be, since I do not know a man (Luke 1:34)?
When Gabriel said that nothing is impossible for God, Mary declared her faith.
I am the Lord's servant. May it be to me as you have said (Luke 1:38).
Mary’s heart was not wounded by disappointment or offence, so she was able to receive God’s word to her. The power of the Holy Spirit was able to come upon her overshadow with a miracle in her womb.

The contrast between Zechariah and Mary is challenging. Mary was young and immature, yet she responded in faith. Zechariah was upright before God and kept all the commandments, yet he responded in unbelief. This shows the danger of disappointment with God that is not quickly resolved.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Rock of Offence (7) - Dangerous Questions

  1. Turning a statement about the facts of a situation, into a statement about the nature and the character of God is dangerous. Sometimes when a respected Christian dies of a illness, Christians deal with it by saying, “God does not heal everyone”. That is true as a statement of fact, because this Christian was not healed. However “God does not heal everyone” is dangerous when it becomes a theological statement, because it suggests that God is capricious or fickle. The question insinuates offence at God. People do not say it out loud, but they are questioning the extent of his love, his goodness or his power. The following unspoken questions make this clear.
    Why would a good God allow this to happen?
    Why could a powerful God not prevent this from happening?
    Why would a loving God allow someone to suffer in this way?
    When we are offended by God, we tend to blame him for things that are evil.

  2. When things go wrong, it is good to ask God why. That was John the Baptist’s response. Likewise, the disciples asked Jesus why they were unable to heal the boy with the evil spirit (Mark 9:28). However, although it is good to ask why, we must be very careful about how we frame our questions. John’s question was dangerous, because it tested Jesus character and ministry on the basis John’s experience.
    Are you the one? (Matt 11:3).
    The disciples question was better, because it tested their experience, against the standards of Jesus.
    Why couldn’t we…(Mark 9:28)?
    Their question expressed humility, not offence at God.

    We should be careful to ask these questions without going into condemnation. We are human, so we will often get things wrong. All that God expects is that we learn from our mistakes and grow in faith.

  3. We must never ask our questions in a way that puts God on trial. We can confess our lack of faith, but we must never cast doubt on his love, or his goodness or his power. We must never ask a question that blames God. We must never accuse him of not meeting our expectations. The Bible defines these questions as being offended by God, and offence leads to unbelief.

    Our questions are often similar to those of the people of Nazareth. When our worship is a bit flat we say,
    Was the Holy Spirit here?
    The Holy Spirit is always there, so we should really be asking.
    Have we grieved the Spirit”?
    We should always ask our questions in a way that honours the Holy Spirit.

    The Bible defines any question that blames or accuses him as being offended by him. He wants us to talk to him about things that happen so we can learn, but we must never ask questions that put him on trial. God is love. God is good. Love and goodness are at the heart of his character. Questioning his love, or his goodness, or his power is and insult to his character. We must never shift the blame for our weakness to God.

    The following questions are dangerous because the reflect disappointment and could lead to offence at God.
    Why did God allow this to happen?
    Why did God not answer our prayers?
    He was a good man. Why did God not heal him?
    Why has God left this lovely family without a father?
    We could ask why the forces of evil would do these things, but the answer is so obvious that the question is hardly worth asking.
    Here are some humble questions that will enable us to learn.
    Why is my grief so painful? (Because you loved them of course.)
    Why was the church not able to heal the sick person?
    What is the reason for our lack of faith?
    Was there a root cause for this sickness that we missed?
    Why is our church powerless against sickness?
    Why are our elders unable to get victory over sickness
  4. This does not mean that we cannot be totally honest with God about what is happening to us. We can say
    This pain is tearing me apart
    My heart is so heavy that I feel it will break.
    I know how I should be responding, but I just cannot do it.
    We do not need to pretend. We can tell the Father about our feelings and our struggles. He can cope with honesty; but we must not tell God what he should be feeling or doing. Job is a good example. He let it all hang out, but one important thing that he did not do. He refused to accuse God.
    In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing (Job 1:22).
    When dealing with pain and death we can be honest with God about what is going on in our lives. He is glad when we are open with him and ask for help. However, we must guard our hearts lest our pain turn into disappointment or offence with him.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Rock of Offence (6) Lessons for Christians

This contrast between Nazareth and Capernaum has several important lessons for us.

  1. Many Churches and Christian have prayed earnestly for sick people, but they have still died. This has produced huge disappointment. If disappointment comes too frequently, people can get offended by God. The problem is that offence produces unbelief, which shuts out the power of the Spirit.

    I believe that one of the greatest obstacles to healing in the church is unbelief that comes through offence at God for not doing what we expected. We have used our disappointment in the person not being healed to justify our offence.

  2. Offence is a silent insidious sin that is mostly buried and hidden. When we are offended by someone, we often say nothing. The other person may not even know that we are offended. However, the offence still infects our relationship by eating away in our hearts and tainting everything we say and do.

    Most Christians who are offended at God over sickness have never said what they feel out loud. They just have this feeling of being let down by God. The wrong attitude is often buried so deep in our hearts that we do not know it is there. However, it taints our thoughts and words and spoils our relationship with God. Buried offence makes faith difficult.

  3. Christians can get offended at God over many issues. Sickness and lack of healing is the main cause of offence against God in churches that have been touched by the move of the Holy Spirit. The charismatic renewal created great expectations about healing that has never been fulfilled. Many who were disappointed have taken offence over this issue.

  4. Disappointment can also lead to apathy, especially for those who are young. While disappointment causes some people get stirred up and offended at God, others slip into apathy. They respond by saying,
    I don’t care. I never expected anything to happen any way.
    Apathy also kills faith, because apathetic people just give up expecting anything from God. In some ways this is worse. God can cope, if we are upset with him, but there is not much that he can do for those who do not care. Apathy also quenches the Holy Spirit.

  5. Jesus has earned healing for his body, so he expects the Church to put this victory to work. The main responsibility rests with elders and pastors.
    Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders (James 5:14).
    This is a challenging word for elders and pastors of churches with sickness. God has given them responsibility for healing his people. He does not mind them admitting their faith is weak, but they should be careful blaming him for their failure.
If pastors and leaders allow their people to get offended at God over sickness, they are letting them blame God for something, which they should be doing. This is a dangerous game, because if Christians stop blaming God, they might start blaming their pastors and elders. Allowing people to blame God seems to be easier than taking responsibility for dealing with their sickness.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Rock of Offence (5) - Capernaum

The people of Capernaum demonstrate the correct way to respond. When Jesus came they were also amazed. They asked some questions, but theirs were questions of faith, not questions of doubt.

Then they were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, “What is this? What new doctrine is this? For with authority He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey Him.” And immediately His fame spread throughout all the region around Galilee…. At evening, when the sun had set, they brought to Him all who were sick and those who were demon-possessed. And the whole city was gathered together at the door. Then He healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and He did not allow the demons to speak, because they knew Him.(Mark 1:27,28,33,34).
The pattern here is very different.
  • Amazement
  • Questions of faith
  • Focus on what God is doing
  • Acceptance
  • Faith
  • Healing and Deliverance.
There was no offence at Jesus in Capernaum, so the power of healing flowed.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Rock of Offence (4) - Produces Unbelief

When Jesus came to his own village the people were amazed at him, but their amazement soon changed to questions of doubt.

Is this not the carpenter, the Son of Mary, and brother of James, Joses, Judas, and Simon? And are not His sisters here with us?” So they were offended at Him (Mark 6:3).
The people of Nazareth did not get carried away by what has happened, but tried to assess Jesus. This is a sensible thing to do when a new Messiah turns up. Their problem was that they judged Jesus by their experience of him. The boy next door could not be the king of Israel. David had slain a lion and killed a Philistine giant while he was still young. Jesus had nothing to show but a few cupboards and benches. He could not be the Messiah.

Their statements about Jesus were true. He was a carpenter. He was the brother of James and the others. However, these true statements were limited to their knowledge of Jesus, so they gained a distorted view of him. They did not ask about what had happened in other towns. They gave greater weight to their own experience than all that Jesus had said and done.

Their mistake was testing Jesus against their expectation of the Messiah. Their expectations were wrong, so they were disappointed in him. Their disappointment led to their being offended by him. Offence led to unbelief, which shut down the power of God.
Now He could do no mighty work there, except that He laid His hands on a few sick people and healed them. And He marvelled because of their unbelief (Mark 6:5,6).
The people of Nazareth did nothing more than ask the wrong type of questions about Jesus, but the scriptures say they were offended by him.

Nazareth illustrates a dangerous downward spiral that can affect Christians.
  • Amazement
  • Judging God’s work against our expectations and experience
  • Disappointment
  • Offence
  • Unbelief
  • Holy Spirit quenched
  • No miracles
Offence at God produces unbelief, which limits the Holy Spirit’s power.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Rock of Offence (3) - Jesus and John

Jesus was tempted in every way that we are. When John the Baptist was killed, Jesus could have been disappointed. He had lost a cousin and a staunch supporter. Jesus had come to die for the people, but now John had died for him. It is interesting to see how he responded to a situation where he could have been disappointed.

John's disciples came and took his body and buried it. Then they went and told Jesus. When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick (John 14:12-14).
Jesus response to the message that John had died was to get away to a solitary place with his Father. When the crowds came, the power of God flowed, because he had dealt with any pain or disappointment.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Rock of Offence (2) - John the Baptist

When John the Baptist was in prison, he sent messengers asking Jesus if he was the messiah (Mat 11:2-3). John had seen the Holy Spirit come down and heard God speak when Jesus was baptised, so he knew who Jesus was.

Then John gave this testimony: "I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. I would not have known him, except that the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, “The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is he who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.' I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God."
John had given this amazing testimony, but now he was asking if Jesus really was the messiah. The reason for his doubt was disappointment.

Jesus had promised at the beginning of his ministry that he would “proclaim freedom for the prisoners” (Luke 4:18), so John had expected to be released, but now he was stuck in prison and would likely die. No wonder he was disappointed; but he had fallen into judging Jesus by his own experience.

Jesus response to John the Baptist is interesting.
Go and tell John the things which you hear and see: The blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he who is not offended because of me (Mat 11:4-6).
Jesus gave John a solution to his disappointment. He told him to look at what he was doing. We get disappointed when we focus on what we think God is not doing. The best way to deal with disappointment is to look at what God is doing. Seeing what he has done and is doing should dispel disappointment.

Jesus also gave a warning: “Blessed is he who is not offended because of me”. To be offended at someone means that we have a bad attitude to them. Jesus message seems quite a harsh, but John’s disappointment was dangerous, because it could have given him a bad attitude towards Jesus.

John did the right thing. When he felt disappointed, he went to Jesus and sorted things out. If we are feeling disappointed in God, we need to go him and resolve our issues. This is the best way to avoid taking offence.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Rock of Offense (1)

Several years ago a friend with prophetic insight challenged me to speak to the rock of offence. I did not have a clue what this meant, despite searching the scriptures over several years. However, it all came clear when I heard a message by Bill Johnson about John the Baptist. I began to understand the problem of disappointment and offence.

Many Christians have sought healing for a long time without success. In some churches these disappointed people have been prayed for over and over again, but nothing has happened. Most have a deep sense of disappointment and have given up all hope of being healed. Some have been hurt by accusations of lack of faith. This enormous backlog of hurt and disappointment with God has never been sorted.

The sad thing is that when disappointment is frequent and unresolved, the disappointed people get offended at God. Offence produces unbelief, which shuts out the power of the Spirit.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Forgotten Fellowship

Over the last century, the word "fellowship" has disappeared from common usage. Even among Christians the meaning of the word has been forgotten or lost its meaning. This is strange, because fellowship is a central aspect of the Christian life.

Something must be seriously wrong with our society, when the word for a basic human need drops out of existence, without any new word replacing it.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Interest Rates

The accepted wisdom is that we need a wise banker to set
interest rates
. This is nonsense.

In a free market, interest rates are determined by people's view of the future. Businesses need to know what people are thinking about the future, so interest rates are an important economic signal to them.

If people are saving so they can spend in the future, interest rates will fall. This is a signal to business to invest, as it tells them that people will be spending in the future. The lower interest rates also reduces the cost of investing.

If people want to spend now, they will stop saving and interet rates will rise. This is a signal that businesses should be careful about investing, because people will not be purchasing in the future. It also increases the cost of investment.

When the central bank sets interest rates, this important economic signal is deadened. The result is bad business decsions, because businesses do not know what consumers are planning to do in the future.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

The Great Depression

Many experts believe that the great depression was caused by a lack of consumption. If this was true, the consumption goods industry would have been worst hit. This is not the case. The capital goods industries were hit the worst. This shows that the depression was really caused by malinvestment.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Reserve Ratio

When studying economics, many years ago, we were taught about the monetary multiplier. This multiplier is the inverse of the reserve ratio. It means that a decrease in the reserve ratio will lead to an increase in the money supply.

Most governments do not enforce a reserve ratio these days. However over the last few years, banks have found numerous ways to increase the leverage of their capital. This effectively reduced their reserve ratio. The consequence was an increase in the money supply.

Over the past decade, there has been a vast increase in the supply of money. Most of this was the work of Alan and Ben, the banking men. However, the private banks multiplied their efforts, by using their leverage tricks to reduce their reserve ratios.

The credit squeeze had truncated leverage, so banks are now trying to increse their reserves. This will reduce the money multiplier and shrink the supply of money further.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Self Interest or Society's Interests

Some economists like to say that markets are not perfect. That is true. Only God is perfect.

What free markets do is allow people to exchange what they have for something they want more. Thus free markets make most people better off than they were, and no one worse off. There is nothing wrong with that. Free markets might not be perfect, but they do not harm free people.

Some economists are more precise. They say that free markets do not always promote society’s interests. The problem with this is that society’s interests cannot be measured, so no one except God can know what is in society’s best interest.

So when economist say that free markets do not promote society’s best interests, they are really saying that the markets do not comply with their view of what is in society’s best interests. This is quite arrogant. They are claiming that they are better at judging what is in the interests of other people than those people themselves. The implication is that if they were given political power, they could make better decisions about what advance society’s interest, than the millions of people participating in free markets.

I am always suspicious of people who think they know what is best for others. These people are hostile to self interest. Yet they claim for their self, the ability to decide what is in the best interests of others. This is just a twisted form of self interest.