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PSALM 63: Longing to Worship the LORD while in the Wilderness – Gordon Franz

PSALM 63: Longing to Worship

 the LORD while in the Wilderness

Gordon Franz

 

Introduction

Let’s be honest, we do not live in a perfect world, nor is our homeland Paradise. There is a Millennial Kingdom coming when King Jesus will rule from Jerusalem with justice and righteousness, but that day is still in the future. We live in the nasty, here and now where Murphy’s Law is the norm. “If anything can go wrong, it will go wrong!” This world we live in is far from perfect. It is a world where injustice is the norm and unrighteousness prevails.

King David was in a very inhospitable environment with disastrous circumstances beyond his control when he composed Psalm 63. His son, Prince Absalom, instigated a revolt against him. King David fled eastward from Jerusalem through the Judean Desert, most likely at the end of the summer (cf. 2 Sam. 16:1). David escaped to the Levitical city of Mahanaim, in the friendlier region of Gilead on the other side of the Jordan River (2 Sam. 17:24; CBA 109).

As we examine this psalm, we will see David’s desire to worship the Lord even though he had been cut off from access to the sanctuary in Jerusalem. He uses three metaphors from his own personal experience to convey this desire and how God might bring it to pass: (a) thirsting for the Lord in the wilderness, (b) satisfaction after a gourmet banquet in the sanctuary, and (c) following the Lord as his Shepherd and trusting in His protection so he can return to the sanctuary and worship the Lord.

 

Historical and Geographical Setting

This psalm’s superscription reads: “A psalm of David when he was in the Wilderness of Judah.” The Wilderness of Judah (Midbar Yehuda) is a specific geographical location within the tribal territory of Judah (Josh. 15:21, 33, 48, 61). It is situated to the east of the cultivated farmland of the Hill Country of Judah and slopes down to the Dead Sea with a vertical drop right before the sea. Its northern limit was the Hill Country of Ephraim, delineated by the present-day Wadi Auja to the north of Jericho, and it extended south about 96 kilometers (60 miles) to the Biblical Negev. The words wilderness and desert are used interchangeably in different translations of the Bible for the Hebrew word midbar. The same will be done In this paper.

The Wilderness of Judah is easily distinguished on a geological map because it is composed of Senonian soft chalk. The chalk formation is not conducive to agriculture, but grass and flowers do grow there during the rainy season, thus providing food for pasturage.

The prophet Isaiah describes the wilderness (of Judah) in his comfort passage (40:3-9). The Voice, John the Baptizer (cf. Mark 1:3, 4), was crying out: “All flesh is grass, and all its loveliness is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades, because the breath [ruach = hamsin winds] of the LORD blows upon it; surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever” (Isa. 40:6-8; all quotations from Scripture are from the NKJV). Isaiah is describing the phenomenon of the hot, dry hamsin winds that blow from the Arabian Desert soon after Passover in the spring. This east wind kills all the grass and flowers very quickly. David had used a similar word picture in Psalm 103:15-17.

Bethlehem, the hometown of David, was in the transitional zone between the agricultural land of the Hill Country of Judah and the pastures of the Wilderness of Judah. As its name, literally House of Bread, implies, there was plenty of fertile soil around Bethlehem in which to grow wheat and barley (cf. Ruth 2), and yet just to the east was the place for shepherding.

There are three periods in David’s life when he was in the Judean Desert. For each period in the wilderness, there were important lessons for David to learn.

For young David, the Wilderness of Judah was a place of growing and learning. While tending his family’s flock, he honed his hunting skills by killing a lion and a bear (1 Sam. 17:34-37). There was plenty of time to practice using his slingshot. His preparation paid off when he went big-game hunting in the Elah Valley and bagged the giant, Goliath. There was plenty of time to fine-tune his musical talent as well. The Lord used David’s skillful harp playing to calm the distressing spirit that possessed King Saul (1 Sam. 16:14-23). The Lord would also use David’s musical abilities to bless and instruct the souls of men and women throughout the ages as they sang his psalms, some of which were composed in the Judean Desert.

The wilderness also afforded David solitude and quiet times to contemplate the Lord, His ways, and His attributes. At night, while tending his flock, he saw the majestic starlit sky and sang, “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows His handiwork” (Ps. 19:1).

While in the wilderness, David also learned some lessons in shepherding that would be helpful when God called David to shepherd His people Israel (2 Sam. 7:8). Yet David realized it was the Lord who was his Shepherd and He was the One who provided for David, guided, protected, and comforted him until he dwelt in the House of the Lord forever (Ps. 23). The prophet Ezekiel tells us that, in the future, a resurrected David will be the shepherd over a united Israel (34:22-25; cf. Jer. 30:9).

The second time David spent time in the Judean Desert was during his flight from Saul (1 Sam. 19:18-27:6; CBA 92).

The final time David was in the Judean Desert was when he fled from his son Absalom (2 Sam. 15-19). The internal evidence of Psalm 63 suggests that the historical setting for this psalm was during this flight. The psalm was composed after David had become king (63:11) and after he had seen the Ark of Covenant (63:2).

 

Literary Structure

There is no consensus among Bible teachers as to the literary structure of this psalm. For the purpose of this exposition, one phrase (actually one word in Hebrew) that repeats itself three times in this psalm will be used as the touchstone for each stanza. That phrase is “my soul” (63:1, 5, 8). The word God (Hebrew El) is found only in verses 1a and 11 and it forms an inclusio (bracket) for this psalm.

The psalm begins with a superscription that is part of the inspired psalm and states where this psalm was composed. Unfortunately, it does not tell us the circumstance (the when), but the time frame can be discerned by examining the internal context of the psalm.

 

Theme

The psalmist longs to worship the Lord in the sanctuary in Jerusalem, but he cannot, because he is in the Wilderness of Judah fleeing from those seeking to kill him. His confidence is in the steadfast, covenant love (hesed) of God, because it is better than life itself. The psalmist trusts the Lord to protect him from his enemies so that he will again be able to rejoice and praise the Lord in the sanctuary.

 

Exposition

 

David’s Declaration of Faith and His Purpose in Life. 63:1a

David begins this psalm with a declaration of faith:

 

O God, You are my God;

Early will I seek You.

 

David declares his faith in the Lord as his personal God. For David, God was not an idol of gold, silver, wood, or stone. He was the living God who acted in history and was intimately involved in David’s life. David had a personal relationship with the Lord. Today, a person can have the same personal relationship with the Lord through His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Our personal relationship with the living God begins by realizing that we are sinners because we have offended a holy God. Our sin separates us from God. Yet God reached down to His creatures by sending His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, to earth to live a perfect life, not sinning once, and then dying on the cross outside the walls of Jerusalem in order to be the Perfect Sacrifice to pay for all our sins. The Lord Jesus did the hard part to reconcile us to God – He died. But three days later, He was bodily resurrected from the dead to demonstrate that all sin had been paid for, Satan had been defeated, and death had been conquered. Now He offers each of us salvation as a free gift, which one can receive by simply putting one’s faith in the Lord Jesus and trusting Him alone for salvation. When a person puts his or her trust in Christ alone, he or she is born into God’s family and becomes a child of God (John 1:12).

In this verse we also see David’s purpose and priority in life. He states: “Early will I seek You.” His purpose in life was to seek the Lord and His face. This he could do in the tent sanctuary that rested near his palace in Jerusalem. His priority was to do this early, apparently early in the morning. This passage seems to suggest that the first thing he did in the morning was to leave his palace and visit with the Lord in the tent sanctuary. This pattern can also be seen in the life of the Lord Jesus. He would rise up early in the morning for prayer (Mark 1:35).

 

David’s Soul Is Thirsting for God in the Wilderness. 63:1b-4

In the first stanza, David sings:

 

My soul thirsts for You; My flesh longs for You

In a dry and thirsty land where there is no water.

So I have looked for You in the sanctuary,

To see Your power and Your glory.

Because Your lovingkindness is better than life,

My lips shall praise You.

Thus I will bless You while I live;

I will lift up my hands in Your name.

 

David uses hyperbolic language to describe his longing for the presence of the Lord in His sanctuary. The Judean Desert is depicted as a dry and thirsty land where there is no water. David, when he was a shepherd in the Judean Desert, knew where all the springs and waterholes were. In the summertime, even when it is extremely dry, there is water in the desert. It may be scarce, but there is water nonetheless. Yet this language expresses the fact that David is totally cut off from the Lord and His sanctuary in Jerusalem. The people with David, however, were hungry, weary, and thirsty when they got to Mahanaim (2 Sam. 17:29).

In the rainy months (October to April), the Judean Desert gets between 100 millimeters and 350 millimeters (4-14 inches) of water. Most of the rain falls in the Hill Country; rainfall tapers off to about 100 millimeters near the Dead Sea (Rasmussen 1989: 42). There are five sources of water in the wilderness. Three of the sources are natural: rainwater, springs, and waterholes that collect run-off water. The other two sources are man-made: wells and cisterns dug by the inhabitants of the area (Hareuveni 1991:57-66).

I have the utmost respect for the sun and dry heat in the Judean Desert in the summer. The air is so dry that your perspiration evaporates almost instantaneously, which means that one may be unaware that he is dehydrating. Therefore, it is very dangerous to be in the Wilderness of Judah without adequate water.

The first summer I was in Israel, I experienced what David describes. Several fellow students and I walked the approximate 14 kilometers (8 ½ miles) down the Wadi Qelt from Ma’aleh Adumim to Jericho on Shabbat (the Sabbath). Each of us had brought one canteen of water. In the blazing summer heat, it was not enough. By the time we got to the oasis of Jericho, each of us had a headache and was very thirsty. I’ll tell you, freshly squeezed orange juice never tasted so good!

Later, when I was a field-trip instructor in Israel, I always encouraged my students to drink plenty of water. I informed them that I knew where all the toilets were in Israel and would be glad to stop if they ever needed to use them. I would quip, “It is easier to stop for toilets than it is to take you to the hospital because of dehydration!” Water is essential for survival in the Judean desert. Now, when I hike in Israel during the summer months, I leave early in the morning, wear a hat, and take two or three one-and-a-half-liter bottles of water with me.

In the second verse, David reminisces about the power and glory of God in the sanctuary. Early in his reign, after he had conquered Jerusalem, David brought the Ark of the Covenant up to Jerusalem from Kiryat Jearim (2 Sam. 6:12-23) and placed it in a tent dwelling (2 Sam. 7:2, 6). He had the desire to build a house for the Lord, but was not allowed to build it because he was a man of war and had blood on his hands (1 Chron. 22:8; 28:3). Yet God made a covenant with David that stated that his son would build a house for the Lord and that one of his sons would sit upon the throne of David forever and ever (2 Sam. 7:12-16). After this unconditional covenant was made, David went into the tent and sat before the Lord and prayed (2 Sam. 7:18-29). More than likely, David saw the Ark of the Covenant, God’s strength and glory, on this occasion (cf. Ps. 78:60-61; 96:6; 132:8).

When David fled from Absalom, the Levites brought the Ark of the Covenant out of Jerusalem. David insisted that they take it back. He said to Zadok: “Carry the Ark of God back into the city. If I find favor (chen) in the eyes of the LORD, He will bring me back and show me both it and His dwelling place. But if He says thus: ‘I have no delight (hephzati) in you,’ here I am, let Him do to me as seems good to Him” (2 Sam. 15:25-26).

David resigned his fate to the Lord but was fully confident in His sovereignty and lovingkindness. In verse three, David declares that the LORD’s “lovingkindness is better than life.” The Hebrew word for lovingkindness is hesed and it has a powerful word picture associated with it. Like a stork (hesedu) that lovingly watches over and guards its young so the Lord is lovingly loyal to the covenants that He made with His people Israel. He is faithful to His people, even when they are not faithful to Him. He watches over His people, provides for them, and protects them because He made unconditional covenants with Abraham and David. Because he understood this important attribute of God, David said that, even with parched lips, he would praise the Lord. He blessed the Lord by lifting up his hands and would do this for the rest of his life (63:4; cf. Ps. 104:33; 146:2; 1 Tim. 2:8)

 

David’s Soul Is Satisfied in the Lord as after a Gourmet Banquet. 63:5-7

In the second stanza, David sings:

 

My soul shall be satisfied as with marrow and fatness,

And my mouth shall praise You with joyful lips.

When I remember You on my bed,

I meditate on You in the night watches.

Because You have been my help,

Therefore in the shadow of Your wings I will rejoice.

Although David was thirsty because of the dryness of the wilderness, he was satisfied and content because his confidence was in the Lord and His promises. As the king lay awake that night contemplating the lovingkindness of the Lord, he was reminded of the sacrifices that were offered in the sanctuary. He said he was satisfied as with “marrow and fatness,” in other words, the best and richest food. David could be contemplating a banquet in his palace, but it is more likely that he was thinking about the sacrifices in the sanctuary. The “fatness” (chlev) was the result of the pleasant Bar-B-Q aroma of burning animal fat on the altar. The Mosaic Law prohibited people from eating any fat (Lev. 7:23-25) because all the fat was for the Lord (Lev. 3:16). Don’t worry; God does not have a problem with cholesterol! We do. David’s palace was not that far away from the sanctuary, and, if the wind were blowing just right, he could smell the sweet-smelling aroma of burning fat.

As David lay awake that night in the Plains of the Wilderness (2 Sam. 17:16) near Jericho, he was trying to sort out the day’s events. He was thankful to the Lord for His help in getting his family and followers out of Jerusalem before Absalom’s army was able to approach the city and do any harm to it. He remembered the goodness of God and meditated on the Lord Himself.

The word meditate is the same word used in Psalm 1:2: “But his delight is in the Law of the Lord, and in His Law he meditates day and night.” It is in the Torah (Genesis to Deuteronomy) that the Lord and His ways are revealed. The word meditate is a pastoral word that David gleaned from observing his sheep. Sheep have four stomachs. The sheep would eat the grass and flowers in the fields, and the foliage would go down into one stomach. Later, while the sheep was resting in the shade, it would regurgitate, which is the same word that is translated meditate, the foliage, chew it over again, and send it back down to another stomach.

I am sure David had large portions of the Torah memorized so that at night he could bring to mind those passages that spoke of the Lord and apply them to his present situation. God is an avenging God. “’Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord” (Rom. 12:19; cf. Deut. 32:35). When David heard that Ahithophel was conspiring with Absalom, David prayed: “O Lord, I pray, turn the counsel of Ahithophel into foolishness” (2 Sam. 15:31).

David rejoices in the shadow of God’s wings. Some commentators have suggested the wings were a reference to the cherubim above the mercy seat in the sanctuary. Moses used a similar word picture in Psalm 91:4: “He [the Almighty] shall cover you with His feathers, and under His wings you shall take refuge.” David uses this word picture in other psalms (Ps. 17:8; 36:7; 57:1). I think David’s word picture came from nature. Perhaps that evening David had seen a partridge in the wilderness gathering her young under her wings when she felt threatened by the people with David, or, in the heat of the afternoon, the young might have sought shade under their mother’s wings.

The Lord Jesus uses a similar illustration in His Olivet Discourse. He said: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who were sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!” (Matt. 23:37).

Twice in this stanza David praises the Lord with rejoicing in spite of his terrible circumstances. The Lord Jesus might have had this psalm and David’s circumstances in mind when He instructed his disciples: “Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matt. 5:11-12). David was a prophet (Acts 2:30). This was the same lesson that James the son of Zebedee recounted in the opening verses of his epistle: “Count it all joy when you fall into various trials” (1:2).

David, as he fled over the back side of the Mount of Olives, was cursed by Shimei at Bahurim (2 Sam. 16:5-14). David’s servants wanted to behead Shimei, but David forbad them. He said: “Let him alone, and let him curse; for so the LORD has ordered him. It may be that the LORD will look on my affliction, and that the LORD will repay me with good for his cursing this day” (16:11-12). When the revolt was over, Shimei sought forgiveness from King David and it was granted to him (2 Sam. 19:16-23). On his deathbed, however, David instructed his son Solomon to kill Shimei (1 Kings 2:8-9). Solomon eventually carried out this instruction when Shimei reneged on an oath he had made to the Lord at Solomon’s request (1 Kings 2:36-46).

 

David’s Soul Follows His Shepherd as a Defenseless Lamb. 63:8-10

In the third stanza, David sings:

 

My soul follows close behind You;

Your right hand upholds me.

But those who seek my life, to destroy it,

Shall go into the lower parts of the earth.

They shall fall by the sword;

They shall be a portion for jackals.

 

David turns to his younger days for the word picture of a defenseless lamb following close by its shepherd for protection. The right hand of God is always the hand of power and protection. David was advised by his commanders to stay within the walls of Mahanaim while they went out to fight Absalom’s army. The revolt ended with the slaughter of twenty thousand Israelites in the woods of Ephraim and the death of Absalom at the hands of Joab (2 Sam. 18:1-18, 28). The dead went into the “lower parts of the earth,” another description of Sheol, the place of the departed spirits (cf. Luke 16:19-31; Hades is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew Sheol).

The bodies of the dead were eaten by scavengers. The Hebrew word shaliem is translated foxes or jackals. In the context, jackals makes more sense because jackals are the vacuum cleaners, or scavengers, of the desert. On a number of occasions as he wandered in the Judean Desert, David would have seen dead animals. Later, when he walked past the same place, the animal carcass would be gone. Jackals had been there and cleaned up the mess, bones and all. The only thing to be seen was the jackal poop! David is saying that his enemies would not be afforded a proper burial with their families, as was the Israelite custom and practice.

Absalom’s body, however, was placed in a pit in the forest of Ephraim and covered with a huge pile of rocks (2 Sam. 18:17). This was to keep the jackals away, but it also symbolized the death of a rebellious son who should have been stoned to death (Deut. 21:18-21).

 

David’s Declaration of Praise because His Critics Are Silenced. 63:11

David concludes this psalm by singing:

 

But the king shall rejoice in God;

Everyone who swears by Him shall glory;

But the mouth of those who speak lies shall be stopped.

 

David speaks of himself in the third person as “the king.” His victory, however, was bittersweet. The revolt had been suppressed, but his son was dead. On a personal level, David mourned the death of his son (2 Sam. 18:33-19:7), yet he says in this psalm that, because the revolt was over, the king rejoiced.

David and his followers had sworn an oath to the Lord and were victorious because they feared Him (Deut. 6:13; 10:20). But those who had not sworn by the Lord were speechless (Ps. 38:12; 41:5-8). This is a euphemistic way of saying they died. Ahithophel hung himself and Absalom was killed by Joab and his men (2 Sam. 17:23; 18:14-15).

 

Singing Psalm 63

The songwriter David Strasser adapted the first part of this psalm in his composition of the lyrics for the song “Step by Step.”

 

O God, You are my God

And I will ever praise You!

O God, You are my God

And I will ever praise You!

I will seek You in the morning,

And I will learn to walk in Your ways.

And step by step You’ll lead me,

And I will follow You all of my days.

 

Lessons from the Psalm for Our Daily Life

There are several lessons that we can learn from this psalm that should encourage us in our daily walk with the Lord.

The first lesson is set forth by the eloquent late fourth century AD preacher, John Chrysostom (“golden-mouthed”) of Antioch-on-the-Orontes, when he commented: “That it was decreed and ordained by the Primitive Fathers that no day should pass without the public singing of this psalm.” Based on the phrase, “early will I seek you” (63:1), this psalm was sung on a daily basis during the morning liturgy of the Eastern Orthodox churches. Without being legalistic or ritualistic, perhaps this practice of singing, or reading this psalm, at the beginning of our daily quiet time would sharpen our focus on the Lord in spite of any adverse circumstances in which we might find ourselves. Also, David and the Lord Jesus set apart the early morning hours for prayer and communion with the Father. We should follow their example and set apart a portion of our day for Bible reading and prayer.

The second lesson we can learn from this psalm is that David resigned his fate to a sovereign God who was in control of the affairs of history. He was content with whatever the Lord had in store for his future; whether he lived or died he would be content because the lovingkindness of the Lord was better than life. He knew that if he died, he would be with the Lord forever. The Apostle Paul had the same attitude. When he wrote to the Philippian believers, he said: “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21; cf. Acts 20:24).

The third lesson we can learn from this psalm is that David rejoiced in the Lord in spite of his terrible circumstances. This he could do because he remembered the Lord and meditated on Him and His ways. Our contentment and joy is based on Christ’s unfailing lovingkindness and mercy toward us and is not based on our circumstances. The Lord Jesus is always faithful to us and can be trusted to get us through our difficult circumstances. Thus, we can live joyfully and triumphantly in the midst of unpleasant circumstances. We are reminded of the words of the Lord Jesus when He said to “rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven” (Matt. 5:12). Similarly, James tells us to “count it all joy when you fall into various trials” (James 1:2).

The fourth lesson to be learned is that God will eventually vindicate His children and set things in order. David was confident that those who sought his life would have a reversal of fortune and God would judge them. This lesson is probably the most difficult to learn because we have no control over our future. We see Christians being martyred for the cause of Christ, and God does not seem to act on their behalf. Ultimately, God will set things in order, if not in this life, then He will do so in the future. For those who are martyred, there is the crown of life (James 1:12; Rev. 2:10).

The final and probably most important lesson for the believer in the Lord Jesus who is walking close to the Lord is that there is no spiritual refreshment to be gained from watching most of the popular television shows or movies, listening to contemporary secular music, or even reading the latest fiction book if it is devoid of spiritual content and Biblical truth. Refreshment and satisfaction for the soul are found only in the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ as revealed in the Word of God. It is only when we are content and refreshed that we can come together corporately to truly worship and sing praises to the Lord Jesus Christ. Our sole focus must be on Him.

 

Works Consulted

 

Aharoni, Yohanan; Avi-Yonah, Michael; Rainey, Anson; and Safrai, Ze’ev

2002 The Carta Bible Atlas. Jerusalem: Carta [abbreviated as CBA].

 

Cerosko, Anthony

1980            A Note on Psalm 63: A Psalm of Vigil. Zeitschrift fur die Alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 92: 435-436.

 

Cohen, A.

1974 The Psalms. London: Soncino. 11th Impression.

 

Delitzsch, F.

1973 Commentary on the Old Testament. Psalms. Vol. 5. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans.

 

Har-el, Menashe

2003 Landscape, Nature, and Man in the Bible. Jerusalem: Carta.

 

Hareuveni, Nogah

1991 Desert and Shepherd in Our Biblical Heritage. Lod: Neot Kedumim.

 

Kidner, Derek

1973 Psalm 1-72. An Introduction and Commentary on Books 1and 2 of the Psalms. Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity.

 

Kissane, Edward

1953 The Book of Psalms. Vol. 1. Dublin: Browne and Nolan.

 

Perowne, J. J. Stewart

1976 The Book of Psalms. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

 

Rasmussen, Carl

1989 Zondervan NIV Atlas of the Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

 

Tate, Marvin

1990 Word Biblical Commentary. Psalms 51-100. Vol. 20. Dallas, TX: Word.

 

Van Gemeren, Willem

1991 Psalms. Pp. 3-880 in Expositor’s Bible Commentary. Vol. 5. Edited by F. Gaebelein. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

 

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Harold Camping and the Return of the Lord Jesus

HAROLD CAMPING AND THE

RETURN OF THE LORD JESUS

Gordon Franz

Harold Camping, the founder and president of Family Radio in Oakland, CA, is batting 0 for 2 in his predictions for the return of Christ and judgment day. In 1992 he published a book entitled 1994 (Vantage Press), in which he predicted that the Lord Jesus would return in October of 1994. That, of course, with 20-20 hindsight, did not happen. However, in the book he had an escape clause that predicted, if Jesus did not return in 1994, He would come back in 2011 (pages 494-495).

Harold Camping set the date of May 21, 2011 at 6 PM in whatever time zone you were in (I guess it would have been a “rolling rapture”!) as the day and the hour of Christ’s return. Again, with 20-20 hindsight, that day and hour came and went and nothing happened.

On Monday night, May 23rd, Camping discussed the non-event on his radio program. He commented: “On May 21, this last weekend, this is where the spiritual aspect of it really comes through. God again brought judgment on the world. We didn’t see any difference but God brought Judgment Day to bear upon the whole world. The whole world is under Judgment Day and it will continue right up until October 21, 2011 and by that time the whole world will be destroyed.” In his evasive non-answer he reaffirmed his prediction of the final Day of Judgment as October 21, 2011.

Mr. Camping can be very thankful he lives in America during the Biblical Age of Grace and not in a theocratic ancient Israel under the Mosaic Law. If he was living in ancient Israel today, he would be under a pile of rocks! He would have been stoned to death; not only for being a false prophet (Deut. 13:1-11; 18:20-22), but also for blasphemy (Lev. 24:10-16, 23). The Lord Jesus said: “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only” (Matt. 24:36, emphasis mine). In his arrogance, Mr. Camping predicted the day and hour of Christ’s return, something only the Father knows. Thus, Camping equates himself with the Father! Why would the Father reveal the date and time to Mr. Camping when He did not even tell His Son while He was in the flesh (Mark 13:32)?!

Fortunately for Mr. Camping, he still lives in the Age of Grace and still has time, at least until he dies, to admit the errors of his ways. He should confess his sins of arrogance and blasphemy before the Lord (1 John 1:9). Then he should apologize to his followers for leading them astray and also make restitution to those who gave money to his organization because of his false calculations. Finally, he should apologize to the Body of Christ for all the harm his false prophecies have caused because the unsaved world mocks the precious doctrine of the Blessed Hope of the return of the Lord Jesus (Tit. 2:13-14). But that should not surprise believers in the Lord Jesus because the Apostle Peter said that scoffers would mock this doctrine in the last days (2 Pet. 3:1-9).

Yet the Apostle Peter also holds out hope for all unsaved, including the scoffers, when he wrote: “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (3:9). In this Age of Grace, an unsaved sinner can still put their trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, God manifest in human flesh, as the One who died on the cross to pay for all sin and who bodily rose from the dead to prove that sin had been paid for, Satan defeated, and death conquered.

When people place their trust in the Lord Jesus, and Him alone and not their good works or their own righteousness; God forgives all their sins, declares them righteous before Holy God, clothes them with His righteousness, and gives them a home in Heaven. The offer of salvation is freely given to any and all who would put their trust in the Lord Jesus Christ as their own personal Savior (John 3:16; 6:47; Rom. 4:5; Eph. 2:8-9; Phil. 3:9; Tit. 3:4-7; 1 Pet. 1:3-5; 1 John 5:13).

The Lord Jesus, at the Last Supper, reassured His disciples that He would return to earth one day. He stated: “’Let not your heart be troubled; you believe God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s houses are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also. And where I go you know, and the way you know.’ Thomas said to Him, ‘Lord, we do not know where You are going, and how can we know the way?’ Jesus said to Him, ‘I AM the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.’” (John 14:1-6).

Even so, come Lord Jesus!

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WOULD THE APOSTLE PAUL HAVE BURNED A COPY OF THE KORAN? Gordon Franz

Introduction
Recently, a pastor in Florida burned a copy of the Koran (also spelled Quran). The stated reason was “to make an awareness of the radical element of Islam.” Unfortunately his actions led to tragic consequences. Riots ensued in Afghanistan with deadly results.
There is a popular bumper sticker on cars driven by some Christians: “WWJD?” that stands for “What Would Jesus Do?” What the Lord Jesus Christ, God manifest in human flesh, might have said was stated in His Sermon on the Mount: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you” (Matt. 5:43-44). Did this pastor follow these instructions of the Lord Jesus?
If the Apostle Paul were alive today, would he have burned a copy of the Koran? There were two events that took place during Paul’s third missionary journey that could be instructive in answering this question and setting an example for believers in the Lord Jesus to follow.
The Apostle Paul in Ephesus
The Apostle Paul had a very dynamic and fruitful ministry in the city of Ephesus in Asia Minor. This trade center was the location of one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the temple of Artemis/Diana. Tourists and pilgrims would flock from all over the Greco-Roman world to visit this magnificent edifice to the goddess of the hunt. Merchants hawked their wares trying to make money off the pilgrims visiting the shrine.
The gospel, the power of God unto salvation (Rom. 1:16), began to affect the economy of this tourist attraction. So much so, that the silversmiths who had a lucrative idol-manufacturing business making silver trinkets and shrines to sell to the pilgrims / tourists began to lose money because people were following the Lord Jesus and not worshipping Artemis. This defection occurred not only in Ephesus, but throughout the Province of Asia Minor because “all who dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks” (Acts 19:10).
The shop foreman of the silversmith trade union, Demetrius by name, organized a mob action in conjunction with other craft unions. They met in the large theater of the city, with seating capacity for 25,000 spectators, in order to protest their economic downturn. Demetrius incited the mob by reminding them that they made their lucrative livelihood off the tourists that visit the temple of Artemis. He pointed a finger at the Apostle Paul for turning people away from the temple because he said that those things made with hands are not gods.  Demetrius ratcheted up his rhetoric by defending the honor of the goddess and saying the temple of Artemis would be despised throughout the Greco-Roman world (Acts 19:24-27). The crowd in its frenzy shouted with one accord for two hours, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians”.
During the uproar in Ephesus, the union thugs manhandled Gaius and Aristarchus, co-workers of the Apostle Paul, and dragged them into the theater (Acts 19:29). Paul, in his holy boldness, wanted to confront the confused and unruly mob in the theater. His disciples, and friendly government officials (the Asiarchs), thought otherwise and strongly advised Paul not to venture forth into the theater for fear the mob might do him bodily harm.
The city clerk quieted the mob and said: “Men of Ephesus, what man is there who does not know that the city of the Ephesians is temple guardian of the great goddess Diana, and of the image which fell down from Zeus? Therefore, since these things cannot be denied, you ought to be quiet and do nothing rashly. For you have brought these men here who are neither robbers of temples nor blasphemers of your goddess” (Acts 19:35-37). The Artemis temple was the central bank of Asia Minor. Gaius and Aristarchus, and by extension the Apostle Paul had never stolen any money from the temple, nor bad-mouthed the goddess.
The Christians in Ephesus did not have to speak negatively of the goddess. They had a wonderful and positive message that was simple to proclaim. It was this: God loves the world! The Lord Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Triune God, left the glories of heaven, lived a perfect, sinless life, and died on a cross outside the walls of the Holy City of Jerusalem in order to pay for all the sins of humanity. He bodily rose again from the dead and ascended into heaven where He sits at the right hand of God. The complete forgiveness of sins, a home in heaven, and the perfect righteousness of God is freely given to any and all who put their trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, and Him alone, for their salvation. There is nothing an individual can do to merit or earn salvation. It is a free gift, simply by putting one’s faith in the Lord Jesus (John 3:16; Rom. 4:5; Eph. 2:8-9; Phil. 3:9; Tit. 3:4-7; 1 John 5:13).
Before the uproar in the theater of Ephesus, the Lord had done some unusual miracles through Paul in the city and many people believed in the Lord Jesus (19:11-18). After their salvation, some who had practiced sorcery burned their book on the subject that was worth a lot of money (Acts 19:19). This event can not be used as a precedent to justify the burning of copies of the Koran. In this account, it was magicians who burned their own books, of their own accord, after they came to faith in the Lord Jesus and became a new creation in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17). The results of this action was the “word of the Lord grew mightily and prevailed” (19:20).
The Conclusion of the Matter
If the apostle Paul were alive today, would he burn a copy of the Koran? The answer is simply NO! Instead, he would have proclaimed the greatest news in the world, the love of the Lord Jesus for all humanity and His invitation to any and all to forsake their false gods and trust Him alone for their salvation and the free gift of eternal life (1 Thess. 1:9). Have you trusted Him alone?
The Greek text of the Book of Acts records the Greek name for the goddess of the hunt, Artemis.  Some English translations give the Latin name, Diana, for the same goddess.
Interestingly, the word love never appears in the English translation of the Koran.

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The “Christmas Myth” as displayed by the American Atheists

THE CHRISTMAS MYTH AS DISPLAYED

BY THE AMERICAN ATHEISTS

 

Gordon Franz

 

Introduction

At the beginning of this Christmas season (2010), I was going into New York City to do some research at the New York Public Library. As usual, I took public transportation into the city (it’s less stressful than driving and you don’t have to worry about parking). As we were approaching the Palisades in the bus lane to the Lincoln Tunnel, I saw out the left-hand side of the bus a billboard that caught my attention. It had what looked like a scene from a Christmas card. I thought to myself: “That’s nice; somebody is wishing us a joyous Christmas.” As the bus got closer, I saw the three wise men riding their camels in the starlit night toward an open-sided shelter with a gabled thatched roof next to a couple of palm trees; a donkey was tied to the stall, a bight star overhead, and Mary and Joseph watching over the new-born Baby Jesus. Then I saw the words: “You KNOW it’s a Myth. This Season, Celebrate REASON!” It was signed by the American Atheists and said they were “Reasonable since 1963.” Their web address was also given.

 

The Unbiblical Christmas Myth

I had mixed emotions when I saw the sign. Should I laugh or cry? I would laugh because the Lord will have the last laugh with this sign. His Word says: “The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none who does good” (Psalm 14:1). The psalmist’s description perfectly fits the atheists and their sign! They have been foolish, not reasonable, since 1963! I would cry because they were mocking the precious truth of the incarnation of the Lord Jesus.

But when I looked at the picture and read the words again, I started chuckling. I said to myself: “They are absolutely correct; the picture on the billboard depicts a myth! The American Atheists are the unreasonable ones. They are ignorant of the Scriptures because there are at least three things Biblically wrong with that picture. The foolish atheists were propagating an unbiblical Christmas myth!”

 

The Mistakes of the American Atheists Myth

I wondered to myself: “If somebody had recounted the events of the birth of the Lord Jesus as the Bible actually presented it, would they have become atheists?” It is sad to consider that what is depicted on this billboard is also presented yearly in most Sunday Schools Christmas pageants in America!

The first mistake the atheists made was to put three wise men on the billboard. The Bible does not say how many wise men there were! We assume that there were three because there were three gifts: gold, frankincense and myrrh. We also sing “We Three Kings of Orient Are” every Christmas and there is a church tradition that says there were three wise men and even gives their names, but the Bible never records how many wise men there were.

The second mistake they made was to put the birth of the Lord Jesus in a shelter outside under the starlit sky. Dr. Luke says the Lord Jesus was born in a stable that was in a cave under a house because the guest chamber of that house was already taken by other relatives (2:7, 12; see Bailey 2008: 25-37 for a proper understanding of the cultural background to this passage).

 

http://www.biblearchaeology.org/post/2008/11/08/The-Manger-and-the-Inn.aspx

 

The final, and most glaring, mistake they made was having the wise men come to Jesus at His birth. The Gospel of Matthew says that the wise men appeared “after Jesus was born” and they inquired: “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews?” (2:1-2). When they find Jesus in Bethlehem, He is a “young child,” not a “babe wrapped in swaddling cloth” (Matt. 2: 8-14; cf. Luke 2:12, 16). Dr. Luke recounts the birth of the Lord Jesus and Matthew records the event of the wise men’s visit a year to a year and a half after the birth of the Lord Jesus. Unfortunately, the American Atheists billboard (and the Sunday School Christmas play), fuses the two events together. That is unbiblical.

 

“Come now, and let us REASON together,” says the LORD

The atheists want us to celebrate REASON this season. The prophet Isaiah set forth God’s challenge to His wayward people Israel when he proclaimed: “’Come now, and let us REASON together,’ says the LORD, ‘Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool’” (1:18). Just as God wanted to reason with His wayward people in the 8th century BC, so today, God welcomes the opportunity to reason with foolish atheists in the 21st century AD. The Lord has not changed and He is still long-suffering and is “not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). That includes every member of the American Atheists!

One of the ways God reasoned with His people was by predictive prophecy. Over 70 times the prophet Ezekiel, at the beginning of the 6th century BC, says that God gave predictive prophecy so that when the prophecies were fulfilled, the people, both Jews and Gentiles, may “know that I am the LORD.” Predictive prophecy was given because it demonstrates that the Lord Jesus is God who knows and reveals the future and is sovereignly acting in history. This might deflate the atheist’s ego because there is Someone greater than the human centered atheist. It would also show that they would have to be accountable to Someone greater than themselves. Humbling thought!

The events surrounding the birth of the Lord Jesus were foretold by the holy Hebrew prophets as they were borne along by the Holy Spirit hundreds of years before the Lord Jesus was born (2 Peter 1:19-21). The prophet Isaiah, who recorded that God wanted to reason with His people, gave some of the most powerful and profound prophecies about the Person and work of the Lord Jesus.

King David was also a prophet and the Spirit of God took him beyond himself and his own experience when he composed Psalm 40 (Cf. Acts 2:29, 30; cf. Matt. 22:41-46). In verses 6-8, David sang: “Sacrifice and offering You did not desire; My ears You have opened. Burnt offering and sin offering You did not require. Then I said, ‘Behold, I come; in the scroll of the book it is written of me. I delight to do Your will, O my God, and Your law is within my heart’.” The Divine commentary on this passage, written a thousand years later, is found in Hebrews 10:1-18. The Spirit of God changed the 6th verse of the psalm and said: “But a body You have prepared for Me” (Heb. 10:5). Thus the Son, not David, is speaking to God the Father and said He would do the Father’s will. The Father prepared a body for His Son in the womb of Mary. Her conception was by the Holy Spirit.

During the reign of King Ahaz, the prophet Isaiah challenged the king to test the Lord by asking for a sign. The king, with false piety, refused. Isaiah then turned to those in the royal court, including Prince Hezekiah, and announced a profound sign to the House of David: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and you shall call His name Immanuel. Curds and honey He shall eat [=  His humanity], that He may know to refuse the evil and choose the good [= His divinity]” (7:14). Matthew records the fulfillment of this sign when an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph and told him that Mary will conceive the Lord Jesus by the Holy Spirit while she was a virgin. When he quotes Isaiah 7:14 from the Septuagint, he uses the Greek word parthenos which can only mean a virgin (1:20-23).

There are actually three aspects to the nature of this Child in these verses. First, He would be virgin born. Second, He would have a humble beginning. And third, He would have a sinless nature, thus divine. The first part of verse 15 states: “Curds and honey He shall eat.” These are the foods of the poor, not a symbol of a royal diet (contra Young 1992:I:291). The sign to shepherds was that He would be born in poor circumstances (Luke 2:10-12), not royal surroundings. When Mary dedicated her first-born in the Temple, she offered two turtle doves, the offering of the poor (Luke 2:22-24; cf. Lev. 12:8). The wise men did not arrive until a year, to a year and a half after the birth of the Lord Jesus, before they presented Jesus with gold, frankincense and myrrh.

Verse 15 goes on to say, “that He may know to refuse the evil and choose the good.” In this passage Isaiah is pointing out the sinless nature of the Child. Unlike us (and Hezekiah and Isaiah’s children), who by nature are sinful human beings that choose evil and refuse the good (Rom. 1-3), this Child will have a sinless nature as demonstrated by the fact that He chooses good and refuses evil.

Later, Isaiah would prophesy the dual nature of the Lord Jesus and His names. He would be fully God and fully Man. “For unto us a Child is born [= His humanity], Unto us a Son is given [= His divinity]; And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (9:6).

J. A. Alexander so eloquently summarizes this verse: “These words are strikingly appropriate to Jesus Christ, as the promised child, emphatically born for us and given to us, as the Son of God and the Son of Man, as being wonderful in His person, work and sufferings; a counselor, prophet, authoritative teacher of the truth, a wise administrator of the church, and confidential adviser of the individual believer – a real man, and yet the Mighty God; eternal in His own existence, and the giver of eternal life to others; the great peace-maker between God and man, between Jew and gentile, the umpire between nations, the abolisher of war, and the giver of internal peace to all who being justified by faith have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ (Rom. 5:1)” (1981:134).

A contemporary of Isaiah, the prophet Micah, would predict the place of the birth of the eternal Messiah: “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth to Me the One to be Ruler in Israel, Whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting” (5:2 [5:1 Heb.]). There were three Bethlehems in the Land of Israel during the time of the prophet Micah. One was in the tribal territory of Zebulun (Josh. 19:15); another one was in Benjamin (Neh. 7:26); and the last in Judah (Josh. 15: 60 LXX). Micah singled out the tribal territory of Judah as the place where Messiah was to be born.

When the wise men visited Jerusalem after the birth of the Lord Jesus they inquired “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him” (Matt. 2:2). The paranoid schizophrenic King Herod heard this and was afraid, so inquired of the chief priests and scribes where the Messiah was to be born (2:3-4). They gave Herod the correct answer, Bethlehem of Judah, and even quoted the prophecy of Micah 5:2, yet they were oblivious to the Messiah because they did not act on their knowledge of Micah’s prediction in the Word of God!

The reason the Messiah, the everlasting Ruler in Israel, was to be born in Bethlehem was because He was to be from the House and lineage of King David (Luke 2:4).

 

The Attack on the Davidic Covenant

Ironically, in this year’s December issue of National Geographic there is an article about King David. It is a very subtle, and probably deliberately timed for the Christmas season, attack on the Person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is entitled “Kings of Controversy,” and casts doubts on the historicity of King David and his son Solomon. It begins by asking the question: “Was the Kingdom of David and Solomon a glorious empire – or just a little cow town?” The answer that is given is: “that despite decades of searching, archaeologists had found no solid evidence that David or Solomon ever built anything” (Draper 2010: 73). In other words, they did not have a glorious empire or magnificent buildings. They did not exist!

The article depicts those who take the Bible seriously and believe the historicity of King David as having an agenda or being politically motivated; they are engaged in an unscientific case of circular reasoning, and naïve. The story of David and Goliath is a metaphor made up around a campfire (2010: 75), and the accounts of David and Solomon were “probably written at least 300 years after the fact, by not-so-objective authors” (2010: 79). David and Solomon are “fictitious characters” (2010: 79), and Solomon’s existence “remains wholly unverified” (2010: 83).

If King David was a fictitious character and not a historical person, then God did not give the Davidic Covenant to a real person. In fact, the Davidic Covenant would be null and void. This covenant, however, promised a real King David that one of his descendents would sit upon a real throne of David forever and ever (2 Sam. 7:12-16). In fact, this covenant is the basis for the angel Gabriel’s promise to Mary: “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name JESUS. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1:30-33).

If King David was a fictitious character, then the covenant was also. The angel Gabriel, if he existed, would have lied to Mary. There would have been no virgin birth and Jesus would have been a mere sinful man, just like the rest of us. He would have had no divine purpose in life and no throne or a kingdom to rule.

 

The Son said, “Behold, I have come … to do Your will, O God”

The Holy Spirit gives a divine commentary on Psalm 40 in the Book of Hebrews and explains the purpose that the Lord Jesus came to earth (10:1-18). He was to do the will of the Father and replace the sacrificial system instituted by Moses, which could only atone for (or cover) sins, but could never take away sins or make the sinner perfect.

The Lord Jesus was a High Priest after the order of Melchizedek, thus His death on the cross was an infinitely perfect sacrifice that paid for all the sins of all humanity, once and for all and it was never to be repeated. There was no more need for any sacrifices after that. After His bodily resurrection from the dead, He sat down at the right hand of the Father and is waiting till His enemies are made His footstool (10:9-13; cf. Ps. 110).

The prophet Isaiah, looking down the corridors of time, saw the cross work of the Lord Jesus as well (Isa. 52:13-53:12). What this work would accomplish was the salvation of any or all who would put their trust in the Lord Jesus as their Savior. Isaiah writes: “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; and the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all” (53:6). Isaiah elsewhere tells us that all our righteousness, all the best we can do, is as filthy rags in God’s sight (64:6).

After David’s sin with Bathsheba, he confessed his sins before the Lord (Ps. 51), and trusted Him to forgive his sins. When David realizes that God had forgiven him, he rejoiced by singing: “Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man to whom the LORD does not impute iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit (Ps. 32:1-2).

The way of salvation, a home in Heaven, the forgiveness of sins, and peace with God is open to all who put their trust in the Lord Jesus Christ as their Savior. This invitation is as broad as “whosoever will may come” (even the American Atheists can come to Jesus), but narrow as Jesus’ statement: “I AM the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6). Have you believed on the Lord Jesus Christ as your Savior? (Acts 4:12; 16:30).

 

Jesus is the REASON for the Season!

On the New York City side of the Lincoln Tunnel there was another billboard. This time it had a picture of Joseph and Mary looking at the Baby Jesus and the sign said: “You Know it’s Real. This Season, Celebrate Jesus.”

That was a good response, but I think a more powerful and pointed response should have been: “You KNOW He’s the Truth. This Season Celebrate the REASON for the Season – the LORD JESUS CHRIST!”

 

Bibliography

 

Alexander, Joseph

1981            Isaiah. Translated and Explained.  Vol. 1.  Minneapolis, MN: Klock and Klock.  Reprint of 1861 edition.

 

Bailey, Kenneth

2008            Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes: Cultural Studies in the Gospels. Downers Grove, IL: Inter Varsity.

 

Draper, Robert

2010            Kings of Controversy. National Geographic 218/6: 66-91.

 

Young, Edward

1965            The Book of Isaiah.  Vol. 1.  Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans.  Reprinted 1992.

 

 

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Trevolt, Amos, Attwood Video

http://vimeo.com/user1987005/videos

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