Saturday, March 7, 2009

Reading Another Person’s Mail

Why is it so hard for most people to understand the Bible, after all, we are instructed and encouraged to read it. Why is it that after years of formal education scholars still differ from one another in their opinions as to what God’s Holy Word says? It seems, if the Lord sent people to speak and write His Word, in order to communicate His will for us to obey, He would make it easier for us to understand. After all, if you were in a position to give people orders, to have them perform a task on a job, would you not try to be clear about what you wanted so they could perform that task as you wanted? If we see a need to be clear in our communications in everyday life, does it not seem even more important, to be clear in the things that pertain to the purpose, the meaning of that life?

I am sure some readers are thinking about Jesus using parables; His disciples came and asked him, “Why do you use parables when you talk to the people?” He replied, “You are permitted to understand the secrets of the Kingdom of Heaven, but others are not. To those who listen to my teaching, more understanding will be given, and they will have an abundance of knowledge. But for those who are not listening, even what little understanding they have will be taken away from them …” Some may claim that God wants only certain people, His People, to understand so He speaks in cryptic form allowing the Holy Spirit to give the person the understanding. That still does not answer why so many who claim to be Christians still do not understand and have a hard time reading the Bible. Still the scholars differ.

Yes, Jesus did use parables when talking with the people instead of being plain and clear but my concern is with the Bible over all. If the Bible speaks of God, man, sin, and salvation and communicates the meaning of life, which I believe it does, then why is it so hard to understand? I cannot say that it is just one thing or the only things I mention here; because we must admit, it is difficult. Knowing and understanding has to do with our attitude and belief, our obedience and zeal. There is another reason that I want to focus on in this article that is so obvious that most people do not even see it. That reason has to do with to whom the Scriptures where written. Let me start to explain by giving an example of someone who found a two hundred year old letter in their attic that was written to someone they did not know. The scene is two hundred years in the future.

Jan, Paul, and family.
We arrived home safely and tired but we enjoyed our stay with you very much. We are still laughing about the situation Joe got into. We still do not know if his reply was intentional or spontaneous but whatever, it was still hilarious. We are looking at one of those new GREEN SUVs because our old heap is on its last legs. Paul really enjoyed the card games but you know how competitive he is but at least he is a good loser. I just wanted to let you know we made it home safe and hope we can do it again only sooner. I will write shortly to you a longer letter, after we get settled in and rested. We hope Sue is feeling better but if not you should take her to see a doctor soon.

After finding a letter such as this one, it would be difficult if not impossible to know who the people are or what they meant in what they wrote. They would not know what was so funny about Joe’s situation and why they were still laughing about it. They might figure Joe had said something in response that caused the laughter. Did Paul lose playing cards or if he had lost he would have been a good loser. After two hundred years they may not be familiar with the expression GREEN so they could think they were talking about the color, missing the point of being fuel efficient and emission control friendly. There would be no need to think that when they said shortly it would mean a long time. The same with Sue’s illness, they should see a doctor soon not meaning a month or longer. So without having any background knowledge, anyone who found and read the letter could not understand about the few things mentioned.

The point I want to make is that the letter was written to a family long ago in a specific place and time. It was not written to anyone else and only those who were there could know and relate to everything that was written. Today many believe the Bible is written to us in the 21st century just like those who believed it in the 20th century. The idea being, this is God talking directly to us about Himself and Jesus and the salvation they brought to mankind and tells us about what happened in the past and what will happen in the future. Was the Bible really written to us? The first five books in the Bible are called the Pentateuch. It was the Law of Moses for Israel’s instruction. Did Israel understand what Moses wrote? Yes. Joshua, Judges, Ruth, I & II Samuel, I & II Kings, and I & II Chronicles are historical books that cover the history of the Jews from the time they entered the Promise Land until they were carried away into Babylon. Did they understand those books? Yes. The Old Testament prophets spoke to specific people throughout the Jewish history about both present and future events. The Old Testament was speaking to God’s people, the Jews, about His Christ, their Messiah, when He would come, and what He would do, always pointing ahead to Jesus. It was those prophecies that were not understood that pointed to the future. They had not yet been fulfilled and so they had not yet been understood.

We come to the New Testament and within the first chapter, we read, “Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: "Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a son, and they shall call His name Immanuel," which translated means, "God with us."

The time had arrived that the Old Testament prophecies would be fulfilled. The New was completing the Old, interpreting the types and shadows. In the time of that first generation of Christians, all things would be fulfilled and the mysteries would be revealed. From the book of Matthew through the book of Revelation, all was being explained. But if all prophecy was fulfilled then why is it still hard to understand? Let us look closely at the beginning of each epistle. We have, “Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, To all those in Rome” … “Paul, called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and our brother Sosthenes, To the church of God that is in Corinth” … “Paul, an apostle—not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead— and all the brothers who are with me, To the churches of Galatia” … “ Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints who are in Ephesus” … “Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons” … “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, To the saints and faithful brothers in Christ at Colossae” … “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus our hope, To Timothy, my true child in the faith” … “To Titus, my true child in a common faith” … “Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother, To Philemon our beloved fellow worker and Apphia our sister and Archippus our fellow soldier, and the church in your house” … “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes in the Dispersion” … “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who are elect exiles of the dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia” … “The elder to the beloved Gaius, whom I love in truth” … “The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John” … “John to the seven churches that are in Asia.”

I hope you see what you have not seen before. The reason it is so hard for us to understand the Holy Scriptures is that they were written to specific people at a specific time for a specific purpose. They were not written to us but preserved for us. Yet we read them and try to understand them as though they were written to us. As Paul said, “such things were written in the Scriptures long ago to teach us. And the Scriptures give us hope and encouragement as we wait patiently for God’s promises to be fulfilled”. The ‘us’ is not us today but them who lived in the time they were written. Their Scriptures were the Old Testament books and the New Testament epistles were showing them how those promises were being fulfilled in their day. Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation” and again “Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.” The prophecies spoken by Jesus and His disciples were not far-off events, things that are to happen in our day. The people of that generation were to look for those events as the Old Covenant promises and the New Covenant fulfillment.

Now to bring to mind the letter I used above as an example, I hope you can see that we miss much of our understanding because we were not involved, we were not there when the letters were written by those first century authors. There are cultural issues that do not apply to us. There is also the language barrier that no matter how literal we are in translating we cannot help but miss something of the intent of the writer. That is why it is necessary to read the Holy Scriptures over and over asking God for understanding. Try to look at large portions at a time so you may get the true intent of what the writer was trying to get across. It helps to have as much knowledge as possible about the period, history, culture, manners and customs.

When the scholars write about interpreting Scripture they speak about audience relevance. That is looking at the Word as though you were a first century saint hearing it read by the messenger that brought it and asking what did the author intend for them to know and understand? It is true what Peter said about Paul’s writing … “just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures …” The people did not study those letters as we do. They did not have to because they understood, for the most part, what the writer said and if they did have a question they could ask those with certain gifts from the Holy Spirit. It was their time, they were the chosen generation and that information and knowledge was to them and for them. They did not have a perfect knowledge of it, but it was a lot more than we have today. What happened to that knowledge? That is a great question to study.

When we read the Bible, it will help to ask God for understanding and to imagine what a first century Christian would think of as he heard it. If you know little or nothing about the Old Testament, chances are you will learn little or nothing of the New. Pay attention to how the authors in the NT quote portions of the OT. Study all of the one hundred plus prophecies that the NT claims had been fulfilled. Read some history about that time period and the fall of Jerusalem. Everyone is aware that the temple no longer exists but they fail to see the importance of what happened in AD 70 when Rome destroyed the city and the temple during its war against the Jews. That was the fulfillment of what Jesus prophesied in Matt 24, Mk 13, and Lu 21.

I have tried to present to you, the reader, something to think about and consider in hopes that it may help you profit from the Holy Word of God. The Majesty in Heaven is pleased to show His people what they need and to give wisdom and understanding to those who eagerly seek for it. Today very few are interested in the Holy Scriptures and in our culture there is a want for instant gratification. They want the Bible to be made easy to read and understand so it will not take so long to learn. I am all for making things easy for others but, we can get to the point where we begin to lose something of value because we have over simplified it.

For hundreds of years there was no need for countless Bible translations into the same language. People made good with what they had but even since becoming a Christian since the middle seventies, numerous new translations have come out with more on the way. With this increase in translations, I have not witnessed an increase in a more desire to read the Bible or an increase in one’s Bible knowledge. I fear the main ones to profit from this are the Bible publishers.

Viewing the Bible in the way I have described should not be a discouragement to us or form doubt about the Words of Life. It is God’s Word - inspired through the original authors. God still speaks to us through it and it should even become a greater encouragement. It makes much more sense when we read those many occasions that show the imminence of expectation by those first Christians. Those verses that speak of “soon” or “shortly” can now be taken literally, as intended; knowing what they were waiting for was fulfilled in that first generation. It helps us to see the complete story the Bible tells; God, from the beginning of His creation, fulfilling all of the promises He made. It is still “…useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the person dedicated to God may be capable and equipped for every good work.”

Written by Fred Robbins 03/07/09

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Endless Punishment

The following two positions will be admitted without question, it is believed, by all Christians.

1st. If the doctrine of endless punishment be, as affirmed by its believers, absolutely and indispensably necessary to the preservation of virtue, and to perfect obedience to the laws of God; if this be the salutary and saving influence of the doctrine, then it constitutes one of the strongest possible reasons for its being revealed to man at the very earliest period of the world's history.

2d. If endless punishment be true, it is terribly true to all those who are in danger, - wherein is found another powerful reason why it should have been made known in the clearest manner, on the very morning of creation! In the clearest manner: it should not have been left in doubt, and obscurity, by the use of indefinite terms; but it should have been proclaimed in language which no man could misunderstand, if he would. Rather than that there should even be the possibility of a mistake in a matter of such vast and fearful moment, it should have been graven by special miracle into every soul that God sent into the world.

Let us, then, proceed to inquire if we have any such revelation of the doctrine. When God created Adam and Eve, and placed them in the garden of Eden, did He announce to them any law for their observance, having attached to it the penalty in question? Surely justice demanded, if He had forced them into being subject to this awful peril, that He should set out before them both the law and its punishment in the most specific manner. Did He do this? Where is the record of it? Read diligently the first and second chapters of Genesis, and see if anything of this sort is recorded there, in connection with the creation of man.

In chapter ii 15-17, we have this statement: "And the Lord God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die."

This is the only record we have bearing on the subject; but there is no moral law here, which is declared as the future rule of life for them, and for all their posterity. They are simply commanded not to eat of the forbidden tree. Now, whether this is understood in a literal or allegorical sense, we cannot suppose that we have here the formal announcement of a divine law, which claimed the obedience of all mankind on the penalty of endless torment. We certainly cannot believe that God would open the great drama of our life on this earth, involving such infinite consequences, in such brief and doubtful language, and with so little specification where so much was needed.

As regards the penalty of disobeying the commandment, do we find any statement which can be mistaken for endless punishment? God says, "In the day thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die;" but this is very far from saying, "Thou shalt, after the death of the body, be subjected to the torments of an endless hell." We are told, to be sure, that this means "death temporal, death spiritual, and death eternal;" but where is the proof of it? So terrible a doctrine must not be assumed, but demonstrated by unquestionable evidence. Who can believe that God would reveal so frightful a punishment in language so easily misunderstood - by the single word "die," a term employed in such a variety of senses, capable of such a wide latitude of usage?

Would any earthly parent, if the immortal salvation of his children were at stake, have been so careless of his speech? Would he have chosen language so liable to be mistaken? Would he not rather have announced the awful truth in words which would admit of no possible doubt? Beside, if the terrors of this punishment are so effectual in preventing transgression, this was another reason for a specific declaration of the consequences of disobedience. If the argument on this point is good, a plain, open threat of endless woe at the very gate of Eden, as they entered, might have kept them back from the forbidden tree, and saved them and our race from the dreadful evils which followed the introduction of sin into the world.

But let us now turn to the record of their transgression, and of some other examples, where, if the doctrine is of divine origin and authority, we may surely expect to find it announced, and the weight of its awful curse brought down upon the guilty victims.

1. The first transgression. Gen. iiI 1-16. As this is the beginning of the sorrowful tragedy of evil, we may look for some distinct revelation of the doctrine in review, if it is of God; yet not one word is said in reference to it, nor is there any threat of punishment that can be mistaken for it!

The serpent is cursed, and the ground is cursed; but neither the man nor the woman! And observe carefully all the words of the sentence, and while mention is made of evils to be endured in this life, not the most distant allusion is made to any evil or punishment beyond this life. Now, if the doctrine of interminable torment after death be true, how are we to account for this? Can it be possible that God would be so careful to mention all the lesser evils, and wholly omit all mention of the terrible woes that are to have no end? Who can believe that a just lawgiver and ruler would deal thus with his people? And of all things who can believe that the divine Father would deal thus treacherously with His own children? But how differently the case stands, when we come to the doctrine of a present retribution for sin. In the very outset God warns our first parents against transgression, and in the most positive terms declares to Adam, "In the day thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die." Is not this clear enough? In the very day of transgression they should die, or suffer the punishment of their sin, and this surely, beyond question or doubt. And was this assurance of God fulfilled? Most certainly; for they had no sooner sinned, than the retribution began, and they died to the peace and joy of innocence. The day of transgression was the day of judgment. They found that the wages of sin were death, or, in other words, misery, fear, anguish, and all the direful consequences of wrong. And that their case may profit their posterity, a careful statement of the mournful consequences of the transgression is made up, and put on record as a warning to future generations.

2. Cain; or the murder of Abel. Gen. iV 1-16. Here we have an example of the greatest of all crimes, murder - the murder of a brother! Surely we may now expect the doctrine of endless punishment to be revealed; and it would seem that, if true, there is no possible way to avoid mention of it.

This was the first instance of this awful crime, and, Cain standing exposed to the fearful penalty, this was the time to roll the thunder of its terrors through the world, as a warning to all coming generations! This must have been done, if true; and yet in the whole account we have not a single word on the subject, not the slightest intimation that any such punishment was threatened. The whole record is as follows: "And the Lord said unto Cain, The voice of thy brother's blood crieth unto me from the ground! And now art thou cursed from the earth, which hath opened her mouth to receive thy brother's blood from thy hand. When thou tillest the ground, it shall not henceforth yield unto thee her strength; a fugitive and a vagabond shalt thou be in the earth." This is all we have in the way of punishment or threatenings; and is there anything here that looks like endless torments beyond this life? anything that would suggest the idea of such a judgment? Nothing at all; the guilty man is cursed from the earth, which is to refuse her fruits to his culture, and is driven out a vagabond; and there is the end of the account. And it is evident that Cain did not understand the threats of judgment as implying endless woe, for his fears are all confined to the earth - the dread of revenge, of being killed, and the horrors of the life of an outcast and a vagabond. "And Cain said unto the Lord, My punishment is greater than I can bear. Behold, thou hast driven me out this day from the face of the earth; and from thy face shall I be hid; and I shall be a fugitive and a vagabond in the earth; and it shall come to pass that every one who findeth me shall slay me." These are all the evils of which Cain makes mention; and in view of them he exclaims, "My punishment is greater than I can bear."

Now, we put the question, can it be that, beside the punishments here named, Cain was to be subjected to endless torments after death, and yet be left wholly ignorant of the dreadful fate that awaited him? And if the guilty and wretched man thought the punishment actually denounced greater than he could bear, what would he have said, if, in addition to this, there had been threatened the agonies of an endless hell? And is it possible to believe, if this was the purpose of God, that He would be wholly silent in regard to it? Was it right to be silent, if the terrible fate of Cain could have served as a warning and a restraint to all who should come after him? In verse 15, "Therefore, whosoever slayeth Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him seven-fold." If infinite, endless torment is the punishment of Cain, how can seven-fold more than this be inflicted on another? Yet so it is written, and, therefore, either Cain's punishment was not endless woe, or there can be such a thing as seven-fold endless woe!

3. The deluge, or the destruction of the old world. Gen. vi - viiI Here we have one of the most remarkable examples of wickedness and judgment recorded in the Bible; and if ever anything is to be said on the subject of endless punishment, we may look for it here with the certainty of finding it.

The description of the exceeding wickedness of the people who were destroyed in the flood may be seen in verses 5, 11, and 13, of chapter vi The heart was given to evil, and "only evil continually;" "the earth was filled with violence, and all flesh had corrupted his way upon the earth." Here, then, was precisely the time, here the circumstances, which required the revelation and preaching of endless punishment, if, as affirmed, its influence is retaining and saving. This was the occasion, of all others, to make it known, that, through its terrifying and subduing power, the depraved and corrupted people might be turned from their sins, and the world thereby saved from the overwhelming horrors of the flood. And yet here, too, not one word is said on the subject in the whole account. Noah, who was "a preacher of righteousness," was not a preacher of endless punishment. No mention is made of his ever having breathed a syllable in reference to it; nor is there a single line in the record of this event, showing that God threatened this, or that any attempt was made to restrain or reform the people through its influence. If the doctrine exerts the favorable influence ascribed to it, did God do all He might have done to reform and save them? But again; in the account of their judgment we are told that they were destroyed by the flood from the face of the earth, everything that had breath; and with this the record closes. - vi 11-17; vii 10-24. Now if, as asserted, they were not only destroyed by the flood, but were afterwards subjected to the tortures of the world of ceaseless woe, is it not passing strange that no mention is made of this - not even an allusion to it? Is it possible that everything else should be carefully related, even to the height of the waters above the mountains, and the number of days they prevailed, and yet that the endless and indescribable torments of hell, the most terrible part of the judgment, and the most important to the world and to us, should be wholly omitted, and that without one word of explanation?

4. Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Gen. xviiI, xix. Here we have another instance of remarkable wickedness, and of terrible judgment. Yet, on examination, we find no warning given to the Sodomites of an endless fire, to which the soul would be subjected, after the fire by which the body should perish.

The extreme wickedness of the people is set forth with graphic power, in the scene described in chapter xviiI 23-33; and it would seem a proper occasion for a revelation of endless punishment, if true; for such, if any, must certainly be its victims. But if we turn to the record, chapter xix. 24, 25, we find it contains no hint of the matter, neither in the way of warning to the Sodomites, nor of history for restraining future transgressors. If true, how is this omission to be explained in harmony with the acknowledged principles of justice, to say nothing of mercy? What would we say of a ruler who should publish a law, affixing to it the penalty of ten stripes forevery transgression; and then, having inflicted this, should proceed to burn the offender over a slow fire, till he sank under the torture and died? And what should we think, if, with devilish ingenuity, he should contrive to keep every one of his victims alive for a whole year, for ten years, in order that the slow torture might be lengthened out that time; and all this kept secret when the law was published, and the trivial penalty of ten stripes declared as the punishment? Yet this is precisely the state of the case in the judgment under review, if the Sodomites were sent into endless torments.

The difficulty is not removed by reference to Jude 7. For, in the first place, the expression, "suffering the vengeance of eternal fire," does not establish the point of endless suffering, - "eternal" fire and endless fire being two things, quite distinct from each other. The original word means simply indefinite time. In the second place, it is said, they are "set forth as an EXAMPLE, suffering the vengeance," &c. Now the very argument is based on the fact, that the history of the overthrow of Sodom does not furnish an example of endless torment, since not one word is said on the subject by Moses, from beginning to end of his account! Where, then, is the example?

Admitting the common interpretation of Jude to be correct, it is involved in inextricable difficulty; for, 1st. It states a falsehood, since the Sodomites were not set forth as an example of endless punishment in the invisible world, as no record of it is given by Moses, or the prophets, or any sacred writer. 2d. How is it that all mention of the matter should have been omitted until the time of Jude, and then be introduced, as it clearly is, incidentally, in the way of illustration? If there is any restraining power in the example, why was it concealed from the world more than two thousand years? Why was not the awful fate which awaited them revealed to the victims in the first place? It might have saved them. Why did not the sacred historian give account of it, that the millions who lived and perished between the event and the time of Jude, might have had the benefit of the example? If he was inspired, did he not know it? and if so, why was he silent? But, as an example of divine judgment on the wicked here, in this world, visible to all future generations of men, the destruction of Sodom was worthy of special note, and exactly to the point of Jude's argument. And it is under this light that it is seen by some of the best-informed orthodox commentators.

Benson, in his note on the place, says: "By their suffering the punishment of eternal fire, St. Jude did not mean that those wicked persons were then, and would be always, burning in hell-fire. For he intimates that what they suffered was set forth to public view, and appeared to all as an example, or specimen, of God's displeasure against vice. That fire which consumed Sodom, &c., might be called eternal, as it burned till it had utterly consumed them, beyond the possibility of their ever being inhabited, or rebuilt."

Whitby's remarks are similar: "They are said to suffer the vengeance of eternal fire, not because their souls are at present punished in hell-fire, but because they, and their cities, perished by that fire from heaven, which brought a perpetual and irreparable destruction on them... Nor is there anything more common and familiar in Scripture, than to represent a thorough and irreparable visitation, whose effects and signs should be still remaining, by the word aionios, which we here render eternal."

Gilpin says: "The apostle cannot well mean future punishments, because he mentions it as something that was to be a visible example to all." And others to the same effect: - see Paige's Selections on the place. And thus we might follow out the inquiry in regard to every case of exceeding wickedness, or of great crimes; and we should find a specific statement, in every case, of the judgments inflicted on earth, up to the article of death, but the same marvelous silence in regard to the additional judgment of endless torment after death. We have accounts of the Builders of Babel, Joseph's Brethren, the Destruction of Pharaoh and his Host, Lot's Wife, &c., but not a word in any of these of any judgment kindred to endless woe - not a word of any judgment after death. If these sinners were given over, after suffering the punishments recorded in the Bible, to infinitely greater punishments to be perpetuated without end, then the most studied concealment has been purposely maintained in regard to the subject by the Scripture writers, or else they were as utterly ignorant of the whole matter as we are. But no conceivable reason can be imagined for concealing this tremendous fact, if it were a fact, but every reason for revealing and affirming it to all the world. If they had known or believed anything of the sort, they could not have been silent. The only possible inference is, that the people before the Law certainly knew nothing about the doctrine of endless torments after death. If true, it had not been revealed in the long period of two thousand five hundred years, from the creation to the giving of the Law on Mount SinaI It is impossible to believe that, if true, God would have kept His children in the dark all this while; that no hint of it, no allusion to it, should have found place in His revelation to the Patriarchs; that He should never have threatened anything bordering upon it, in such cases of extreme wickedness as that of Cain, the Sodomites, and the corrupt inhabitants of the old world.

The just and inevitable conclusion then, is, that for twenty-five centuries, God had no design or thought of inflicting so dreadful an evil as endless punishment on His children. And, therefore, if we find it revealed in any subsequent portion of the Bible, it will be evident that it is a purpose which He has formed since the Patriarchal period; that it was not a part of His original plan of the world, but something which He has incorporated into it since.

I must make a disclaimer about this book. THE ORIGIN AND HISTORY

The author is a Universalist, which I do not agree with, but his argument made in this first chapter against eternal punishment was so strong and logical I felt compelled to use it in support of Annihilationism.

Fred Robbins January 17, 2008

Wednesday, May 2, 2007



Joshua was told to conquer all of the nations in the promise land. It did not happen and because of that, those surviving people corrupted God’s people over time. Israel took up idolatry and many pagan practices due to the heathen influence. So too, after the apostles and elders who taught and wrote the NT text where gone and the gospel was to advance farther into the world, those uninspired teachers did not keep the Holy Writings pure. They did not cast out pagan myth and philosophy as they should have but they mixed it with Christian tradition, which has caused the church to suffer from that time until now.

Since the time Israel entered the promise land, they experienced both blessings and corruption. Their actions depended upon who their leadership was at the time. If they had good leaders then they prospered but if their leaders were corrupt then the nation fell into corruption. I see this also in church history over the centuries when Godly men influenced the church it prospered but when influenced by corrupted leaders the church has suffered.

I fear almost all Christian doctrines are a mixture of truth and human belief. I think we need to strive to rid the Christian doctrines of error while we seek to understand the Word of God more deeply.

Titus 1:7-9 7 For the overseer must be above reproach as God's steward, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not addicted to wine, not pugnacious, not fond of sordid gain, 8 but hospitable, loving what is good, sensible, just, devout, self-controlled, 9 holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, that he may be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict.

James 1:27 27 Pure and undefiled religion before God the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their misfortune and to keep yourself unstained by the world.

Ephesians 4:14-16 14 The purpose of this is to no longer be children, tossed back and forth by waves and carried about by every wind of teaching by the trickery of people who with craftiness carry out their deceitful schemes. 15 But practicing the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into Christ, who is the head. 16 From him the whole body grows, fitted and held together through every supporting ligament. As each one does its part, the body grows in love.

James 3:17-18 17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, accommodating, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial, and not hypocritical. 18 And the fruit that consists of righteousness is planted in peace among those who make peace.

From what I have seen in books, publications and internet forums there is a huge lack of Godly fruit coming from what is proclaimed and promoted. People are too busy to prove themselves right instead of proving the Scriptures correct by their deeds. There is too much talk and not enough action. In Christian circles, what one accuses the other of; they too are guilty of the same. It is almost an atmosphere of animals biting and devouring each other.

1 Timothy 6:3-5 3 If someone spreads false teachings and does not agree with sound words (that is, those of our Lord Jesus Christ) and with the teaching that accords with godliness, 4 he is conceited and understands nothing, but has a sick interest in controversies and verbal disputes. This gives rise to envy, dissension, slanders, evil suspicions, 5 and constant bickering by people corrupted in their minds and deprived of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a way of making a profit.

Those actions are so obvious in the internet forums over the last few years. Few do what they say. There are too many hearers and proclaimers of the Word and not enough doers. Let us speak the truth in love and practice it toward one another.

Philippians 4:8 8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is worthy of respect, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if something is excellent or praiseworthy, think about these things.

By Fred Robbins May‘07

Tuesday, April 3, 2007


The Soul That Sins Shall Die

When the KJV translation was published the vocabulary was much different than today. There have been some minor revisions over the years yet many words were left that are out of date today. There has been much confusion and error created because of the word ‘soul’. When most people think of a soul today, they imagine a part of a person that is spiritual and can be separated from the body. They see that the body dies but the soul continues to live forever. This idea is due to the mistaken teaching about the soul. Many see man as a dualistic being made up of body and soul while others view man as a tripartite made up of spirit, soul and body. What does the Bible say about man?

Genesis 2:7 7 then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.

The modern translations have used the word person, creature or being unlike the KJV using the word soul instead. Several other translations use the word soul also. It was common at the time of these translations to call people souls. So it was used to interpret people or a person in the Bible. A more modern and correct translation would be creature or person. What this verse is saying is that the dust of the earth and the breath of God made a living person. The person is not made up of a body and soul but the whole person is called a soul. This cannot be denied if one looks at the text closely.

The Hebrew is nepesh and is used 751 times in the OT. It is translated soul 475, life 117, person 29, mind 15, heart 15, creature 9, body 8 and man 3 times with miscellaneous other translations.

There are a couple of things to notice in Genesis 2:7. The first is the breath of life. God formed man from the ground but he was first an inanimate figure. God breathed the breath of life in him and he became a living soul. It does not say man received a living soul but that he became one. That breath of life brought animation and consciousness to the figure or in other words, it was the life force. This same breath of life was also given to all of the animals.

Genesis 7:21-23 21 And all flesh died that moved on the earth, birds, livestock, beasts, all swarming creatures that swarm on the earth, and all mankind. 22 Everything on the dry land in whose nostrils was the breath of life died. 23 He blotted out every living thing that was on the face of the ground, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens. They were blotted out from the earth. Only Noah was left, and those who were with him in the ark.

Here we see this breath of life that was in all creatures. The same breath that was in man was in all creatures. The life force animated the bodies of clay. Man was formed from the dirt as so were the creatures. This life force is called a spirit and it is that spirit (life force that returns to God when the soul dies). Just as James said.

James 2:26 26 For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.

Secondly let us look at what man was made of, ‘DUST’.

Genesis 2:7 7 then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.

God formed man from the dust of the earth. When God pronounced judgment upon Adam for his sin, it included returning to the dust he came from.

Genesis 3:17-19 17 And to Adam he said, "Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, 'You shall not eat of it,' cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; 18 thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. 19 By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return."

The idea of being created by dust should be somewhat humbling.

Genesis 18:27 27 Abraham answered and said, "Behold, I have undertaken to speak to the Lord, I who am but dust and ashes.

Job 10:9 9 Remember that you have made me like clay; and will you return me to the dust?

Ecclesiastes 12:7 7 and the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.

Man was set apart from the other creatures in that he was created in the image of God. What that image is has been debatable for centuries and that is not what I want to get into here.

The understanding of the soul can be made simpler without all of the philosophical interpretations added to it. The idea that the soul is something that can be separate from the body comes from pagan philosophy.

“The doctrine of the immortality of the soul, according to this respected encyclopedia, came from pre-Christian Greek philosophers who acquired it from pagan Egypt and Babylon!

Notice what Herodotus, the famous Greek historian who lived in the fifth century before Jesus, admitted:
The Egyptians also were the first who asserted the doctrine that the soul of man is immortal. . . . This opinion, some among the Greeks have at different periods of time adopted as their own. (Euterpe, chapter 123)

It was the Greek Socrates who traveled to Egypt and consulted the Egyptians on this very teaching. After his return to Greece, he imparted the concept to Plato, his most famous pupil. Compare the present-day doctrine of the churches with what Plato wrote in his book, The Phaedo:

The soul whose inseparable attribute is life will never admit of life's opposite, death. Thus the soul is shown to be immortal, and since immortal, indestructible. . . . Do we believe there is such a thing as death? To be sure. And is this anything but the separation of the soul and body? And being dead is the attainment of this separation, when the soul exists in herself and separate from the body, and the body is parted from the soul. That is death. . . . Death is merely the separation of soul and body.
Sounds a lot like ordinary church teaching, does it not?” (From Forerunner Commentary)

Plato did not get his knowledge from God or a prophet of God. Plato’s knowledge was the supreme imagination of man, the pre-historic science fiction of those times. It was so powerful that it was believed upon throughout the ages and even those setup as Christian teachers were deceived by the influence. After years of being taught as truth, it became tradition.

Colossians 2:8 8 Be careful not to allow anyone to captivate you through an empty, deceitful philosophy that is according to human traditions and the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.

At this point, I would like the reader to consider what is being said in the light of the Holy Bible. This article is an overlap of the last one posted. I feel the ideas need discussion yet most are only willing to ridicule and insult what is being put forth instead of actually proving their point from God’s Word.

I can see the reluctance to try to Biblically disprove the ideas I have been writing down yet those who hold a traditional view of the immortal soul and hell should feel they could support it from the Scriptures to anyone who asks. If some thinks this to be such an important topic, I wonder why so few discuss it and not allow discussion of it. You may notice on many forums the topic of immortal soul or annihilation is not permitted.

With the strong emotional feelings that the traditionalists have about the immortal soul and hell I am surprised more are not speaking up.

The idea of an immortal soul is not Biblical. You will find that nowhere in Holy Writ because it is just a theological term made up by men. The title of this article should raise eyebrows if it is Biblically supported. It is because we find those words in Ezekiel 18.

Ezekiel 18:4 4 Behold, all souls are mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is mine: the soul who sins shall die.

The soul that is spoken about here is not separate from the person because it is the person. See how these other translations handle it.

Ezekiel 18:4 (NRSV) 4 Know that all lives are mine; the life of the parent as well as the life of the child is mine: it is only the person who sins that shall die.

Ezekiel 18:4 (NCV) 4 Every living thing belongs to me. The life of the parent is mine, and the life of the child is mine. The person who sins is the one who will die.

Ezekiel 18:4 (HCSB) 4 Look, every life belongs to Me. The life of the father is like the life of the son—both belong to Me. The person who sins is the one who will die.

People are not immortal, only God is.

1Timothy 6:16 16 He alone possesses immortality and lives in unapproachable light, whom no human has ever seen or is able to see. To him be honor and eternal power! Amen.

King Solomon makes some interesting observation about the natural man.

Ecclesiastes 3:19-20 19 For what happens to the children of man and what happens to the beasts is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and man has no advantage over the beasts, for all is vanity. 20 All go to one place. All are from the dust, and to dust all return.

Ecclesiastes 8:8 8 No man has power to retain the spirit, or power over the day of death. There is no discharge from war, nor will wickedness deliver those who are given to it.

The “spirit” in these verses is the life force, that ‘breath of life’ God gives to all living.

Ecclesiastes 11:5 5 As you do not know the way the spirit comes to the bones in the womb of a woman with child, so you do not know the work of God who makes everything.

I must qualify these verses by saying they do not refer to Christians. Solomon is simply reporting what he sees in mankind generally. The following verse is rather sobering in the sense that it is describing old age and death for the natural man.

Ecclesiastes 12:1-8 1 Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near of which you will say, "I have no pleasure in them"; 2 before the sun and the light and the moon and the stars are darkened and the clouds return after the rain, 3 in the day when the keepers of the house tremble, and the strong men are bent, and the grinders cease because they are few, and those who look through the windows are dimmed, 4 and the doors on the street are shut—when the sound of the grinding is low, and one rises up at the sound of a bird, and all the daughters of song are brought low— 5 they are afraid also of what is high, and terrors are in the way; the almond tree blossoms, the grasshopper drags itself along, and desire fails, because man is going to his eternal home, and the mourners go about the streets— 6 before the silver cord is snapped, or the golden bowl is broken, or the pitcher is shattered at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the cistern, 7 and the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it. 8 Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher; all is vanity.

There is really no support in the OT for the idea of a separate immortal soul that most Christians believe in so let us move to the NT to see what that has to say.

The word for soul in the NT is psychē which is rendered in the KJV as soul, life or mind. The KJV uses the word soul thirty nine times. The Greek word “psychē” is found one hundred and five times. The first time the word “psychē” is found in the NT we see it in the verse below.

Matthew 2:20 20 saying, "Rise, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child's “life” are dead."

The word “psychē” in this verse is translated life. This is an interesting word study to take through the NT.

The verses below speak about a soul dying and being destroyed.

James 5:20 20 let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.

Matthew 10:28 28 And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

I first want to point out in these two verses the death of the soul. If the soul is immortal, then how can it die and how can it be destroyed? If a soul is a living person then this makes plain sense.

Now looking at Matthew 10:28 some will say …aha… see the soul is separate from the body. Let’s look at the corresponding verse in Luke.

Luke 12:4-5 4 "I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more they can do. 5 But I will warn you whom you should fear: fear the one who, after the killing, has authority to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him!

The point is, do not fear one who can only kill you because God can kill you and never give you life again. You will have eternal death never to live again. This goes along with the promise of eternal life to those who believe in Christ and the gospel.

Romans 2:6-7 6 He will reward each one according to his works: 7 eternal life to those who by perseverance in good works seek glory and honor and immortality …

Eternal life is given to those who continue in good works and seek …immortality. If man already has immortality then why seek it?

1 Corinthians 15:50-55 50 Now this is what I am saying, brothers and sisters: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51 Listen, I will tell you a mystery: we will not all die, but we will all be changed-- 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53 For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality. 54 Now when this perishable puts on the imperishable, and this mortal puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will happen, "Death has been swallowed up in victory." 55 " Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?"

Here Paul is speaking about the resurrection and rapture stating that flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God. That should not be a problem if we had shed our bodies and we were just a soul but Paul is speaking about the body that will inherit the Kingdom. It is the person, a whole person that is saved not just part of them.

It is the body that is changed and the person receives immortality. If we are immortal then why put on immortality?
Paul quotes Genesis 2:7 in 1 Corinthians 15:45.

1 Corinthians 15:45-49 45 So also it is written, "The first man, Adam, became a living person; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit." 46 However, the spiritual did not come first, but the natural, then the spiritual. 47 The first man is from the earth, made of dust; the second man is from heaven. 48 Like the one made of dust, so too are those made of dust, and like the one from heaven, so too those who are heavenly. 49 And just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, let us also bear the image of the man of heaven.

Again, Adam did not receive a soul he became one and as more people see this it will help open a better understanding of the whole Bible. God does not want to just save a soul apart from the body, He wants to save the whole person. A part of me will not be saved but all of me will.

Fred Robbins April ‘07

Thursday, March 15, 2007


After Death - What?

Death is RealThere is no escaping the reality of death. When it comes suddenly, unexpectedly, as the result of an accident or heart attack, we are shaken. Similarly when someone still "in the prime of life" dies of cancer or kidney failure. Such events are so common that we all experience them. We are overcome by the sense of our own helplessness: we cannot reverse what has happened. All human resources are powerless to restore a dead person to life. The grieving relative is not easily comforted.

How do people react to the fact of death? The young frankly do not treat the matter seriously. When they have the occasional shock - a friend is killed in a road accident, for example - it is just "bad luck". The tragedy is soon forgotten. The middle-aged do not care to contemplate death. It is too far off yet to seem a real danger: "Better face it when it comes." Older people become more aware that here is a reality they will not escape. Their friends and relations pass off the scene. Failing eyesight and hearing, growing physical ailments remind them that the human frame eventually perishes.

Many people find some comfort in the idea of survival. A mysterious inner life called "the soul" is thought to pass out of the perishing body and to go to "heaven", where the personality continues to live--in bliss. This view is not so confidently or so widely held as once it was; it is now often more a pious hope than a strong conviction. And it is very vague, as is shown by the prayer uttered each Christmas Eve at the famous Lessons and Carols service in King's College, Cambridge. The leader prays that the congregation may be joined with those "who rejoice with us, but on another shore and in a greater light" - he means those who have died. If we were to ask, What is this "greater light"? Where is this "other shore"? we should be unlikely to get any very definite answers. The hope is vague.

The view which used to be held, as a necessary counterpart, that the "souls" of evil people go to "hell", there to suffer torments, is now very generally abandoned, except for the Catholic Church, which maintains belief in hell, purgatory, limbo and paradise. It must be said that there is a certain lack of reason in the popular attitude here. For if the "souls" of the righteous go to heaven, where do the "souls" of the wicked go?

An increasing number of people today are frankly pessimistic. They accept the fact that death is the end of life. "I shall soon be pushing up the daisies", as one acquaintance put it. The view has unfortunate consequences, for the person holding it is strongly tempted to argue that his life is all he has; it is his own to do as he pleases; and he may as well "eat, drink, and be merry", for tomorrow he will die. This view of life has a serious effect upon the kind of life to be lived, which can become self-indulgent and self-centered, with the disastrous results for society which we are seeing today.

Messages from the Dead?
The inescapable fact is that since the dawn of history millions upon millions of human beings have lived, died, and been laid in the grave. If they have in fact survived in some new form, would you not have expected to hear from them some word of consolation for the bereaved, some information about their state, or some warning for the living? Yet we never hear anything from them. Not a word. Is not this strange? And where are all these millions anyway?

There are people, called Spiritualists who believe in survival and claim to receive messages from
the dead. But thorough investigation will reveal how unconvincing the claims are. Years ago the present writer attended seances and read widely in the literature. The alleged messages from the dead were so trivial and commonplace as to require no "spirit" explanation. The descriptions of the after-life were filled with gardens, streams, fruit-trees and sweet smelling flowers, enjoyed in blissful idleness. Quite clearly this is just an idealised picture of human longings. C. E. M. Joad, a serious investigator in psychical research, commenting upon the poor quality of alleged spirit communications, robustly declared: "It is evident that if our spirits survive, our brains certainly do not!"

Then there is "the pity of it". Men and women sometimes living worthy lives, humanly speaking, being helpful, kindly and intelligent; some even learned and expert in their field. Need all this just be lost for ever? Is there no way in which the life and character which is of real value can be preserved? Naturally this raises the question, What is real value? We shall come to that later.

The Vital Question
How do we settle this question about what happens after death? Where do we go for a thoroughly reliable and truthful answer?

Do we trust to our own feelings or "intuition"? How do we know we are right? How could we expect anyone else to accept our view on our own authority? How can any man or woman anywhere tell us the answer? How do they know, anyway? Do we accept the views of religious leaders, either of individuals or of Councils or Synods? How do they know? And what are we to think when prominent religious leaders are seen to be divided among themselves on important issues? One prominent bishop has declared that Christ did not literally rise from the dead; others declare the Resurrection to be one of the foundations of the Christian faith. Who are we to believe-and why?

These questions, when sincerely faced, lead us to this inescapable conclusion: the opinion of one human mind is, of itself, of no more value than that of any other. In other words, human thinking cannot give us the answer. From this a very important conclusion emerges; since no human mind can pronounce with authority on what happens after death, then clearly we need an authority coming from outside and above mankind-that is a super-human authority.

The Answer
Such an authority exists among us. It is the Bible which from first to last declares that it is a message to the human race from God-the Creator of the heavens and the earth, and of mankind.

The Bible writers never claim to speak on their own authority, but only "the word of the Lord". "I have put my words in thy mouth", as God said to the prophet Jeremiah (1:10). Jesus accepted the writings of "the law and the prophets" (Our Old Testament) as the Word of God. He himself declared that the words he spoke were God's words. The apostles said the same thing: Paul declared that "all scripture is inspired of God" and used a term which means "God-breathed". The "breath" (or Spirit) of God is in what is written, and so what the Scriptures say is truth. The earliest believers in Christ, from those who knew the Apostles personally, accepted the Old and New Testaments as the true and reliable Word of God. For centuries the teaching of the Bible has been the foundation for Christian belief.

Just think what the Bible does. It records how the human race came into being and it explains in clear terms why there is evil, suffering and death in the world. It tells us positively what happens after death. And it also reveals the new kind of life which can be ours, if we will only pay attention to its message.

There is no other book in the world which does all this. In fact there is no book anywhere which shows so many signs of being produced not by human minds, but by the mind of God. Over 100 years ago Henry Rogers wrote a remarkable book entitled The Superhuman Origin of the Bible Deduced from Itself. He declared: "The Bible is not such a book as man would have written if he could, nor could have written if he would." The reason is that it is a message to us from God. That is why it deserves our sincere attention.

The Bible and Us
It is most important that we should understand what the Bible has to say about us, our origin and our nature. It is the only authoritative account anywhere of how we came to exist.

The book of Genesis is about our origin. It tells us clearly that man was a created being: that is, he depended upon a Creator for his very life. He was not responsible for his own origin. This is how it happened:

"The Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul" (Genesis 2:7).

Notice man's lowly origin: from the ground. Genesis tells us also (at 6:17 and 7:21) that the animals too share "the breath of life" with mankind. But it is the expression "a living soul" which claims our attention and teaches us the first and essential condition for understanding the Bible: we must understand Bible terms in its own sense, and not in ours. Now to many people "the soul" suggests some spirit within man which "survives the death of the body". But that is not at all how it is used in Genesis, where the word translated "soul" is used of the animals as well. In Genesis 1:21,24 it is translated "living creature". The Revised Standard Version (R.S.V.) renders "living soul" as "living being". So does the New International Version (N.l.V.). The New English Bible (N.E.B.) has "a living creature".

The conclusion is clear: Genesis is telling us that by origin and nature man was created a living being. Of course, he has greater powers of mind than have the animals, but basically his nature is the same as theirs.

The Coming of Death
The question as to how man's life might come to an end is treated very early in Genesis. Adam was told by God that if he disobeyed the commandment he had received, he would die. He did disobey, and this is the judgement which was pronounced upon him:

". . in the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art and unto dust shalt thou return" (3:19).

The record is devastatingly simple: death is not a door opening to a new life--it is a judgement for disobedience. Man returns to the ground. So in the Genesis record of the Flood, when "the earth was corrupt before God and filled with violence . . . for all flesh had corrupted his (God's) way upon the earth" (6:11-1 2), the waters of judgement came, and men and animals perished in the same way:

"All flesh died that moved upon the earth, both of fowl, of cattle, of beast . . . and every man; all in whose nostrils was the breath of life ...died" (7:21-22).

Man and Animals
The Bible frequently compares the nature of man to that of the animals. The Psalmist declares, speaking of both:

"Thou (God) takest away their breath, they die, and return to their dust" (104:29).

The writer of Ecclesiastes is quite categorical: he desires men to see
"that they themselves are beasts. For that which befalleth the sons of men befalleth beasts; even one thing befalleth them: as the one dieth, so dieth the other; yea, they have all one breath . . . All go unto one place: all are of the dust and all turn to dust again" (3:19-21).

Men and animals have by nature the same fate: they all return to the ground. Some may object that the next verse gives a different sense, but all modern versions (R.V., R.S.V., N.I.V., N.E.B.) put it thus:

"Who knows whether the spirit of man goes upward and the spirit of the beast goes downward to the earth?" (v.22).

That is, who can tell whether there is any difference? Incidentally, the word translated "spirit" here is the very same as is rendered "breath" in v.1 9; which shows that "spirit" here is the life resulting from breathing. It ceases when breathing stops.

So the "soul" can die. The Psalmist, speaking of the judgement God brought upon the proud Egyptians by the ten plagues, says: "He (God) spared not their soul from death"; and then immediately adds: "and gave their life over to the pestilence" (Psalm 78:50), showing that the soul and the life are the same thing.

Twice God declares through Ezekiel: "The soul that sinneth, it shall die" (Ezek. 18:3,20). Samson, in his final appeal to God, prays: "Let me die with the Philistines" (Judges 16:30). But the margin of the A.V. shows that what Samson literally said was: "Let my soul die . . ."

The soul then, is the person, the living being. When he perishes, the soul, or life, perishes with him.

Man in God's Image
Does this mean that men are no better than the animals? Not quite that, for Genesis 1:26 tells us that man was made "in the image" of God. In other words, the physical nature of mankind is just like that of the animals; but man has a superior mind, capable of understanding and responding to God. The Psalmist has this most valuable comment:

"Man that is in honour, and understandeth not, is like the beasts that perish" (Psalm 49:20).

So it is understanding which can make the difference between a man and the animals. When we ask, "Understanding what?", then the New Testament comes powerfully to our aid, as we shall see.

In view of the Biblical evidence so far reviewed, it is no surprise to learn that the dead rest, completely unconscious in the grave. Do not trust in princes or in man, says the Psalmist, for "his breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth; in that very day his thoughts perish" (Psalm 146:4).

David prays that God will deliver him, for "in death there is no remembrance of thee: in the grave who shall give thee thanks?" (Psalm 6:5).

Psalm 115 says the same: "The dead praise not the Lord, neither any that go down into silence" (v. 17).

The writer of Ecclesiastes is most emphatic:

"For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not anything . . . Also their love, and their hatred, and their envy, is now perished . . . Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave whither thou goest" (9:5-10).

The place of the dead is consistently described in these emphatic passages as "in his earth" (the dust of the ground from which man was made), "in the grave" and "in silence".

The Sleep of Death
Daniel has a remarkable statement on this subject. It is especially significant because of the use made of the same idea in the New Testament. His prophecy contains this reference to events in "the last days", when God will show His power once more in the earth, at "a time of trouble such as never was... Many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt" (Daniel 12:1-2).

Now that this statement refers in part to the faithful servants of God is clear from the assurance that they will receive "everlasting life". But look where they are until they receive this reward: they sleep "in the dust of the earth", a testimony entirely consistent with all we have seen so far.

At this point some readers may say: "So far you have been quoting the Old Testament. Surely the New Testament is a new revelation of Jesus and the Gospel? Does it not say something quite different?"

Jesus, the Apostles and the Old Testament
To answer this question it is essential to understand what was the attitude of Jesus, and the Apostles after him, to the writings now known as the Old Testament. The facts are clear and beyond question: they all accepted "the law, the psalms and the prophets", as the inspired Word of God. They quote from them constantly in support of their preaching; they never contradict or cast doubt upon any Old Testament passage, but rather seek to draw out the true significance of what was written. You would thus expect the New Testament writings to agree in their teaching with the Old, and so it proves. Here are a few examples.

There had been a tragedy in Galilee. Roman soldiers had killed a number of Jews in a religious riot. Some Jews came to Jesus to tell him of it. His response is very significant. Do you think, he asked, that those Galileans who died were greater sinners than all the other inhabitants of Galilee, because they suffered such a fate? Not at all, he said, but I tell you this:
"except ye repent ye shall all likewise perish" (Luke 13:1-31)

Now "to perish" in the Bible means just what it means to us: to cease to exist with no suggestion of survival. There is no escaping the teaching of Jesus here: all mankind will perish, unless they repent. This is just like Psalm 49: man is like the beasts that perish, unless he understands. Here we have the first hint of the answer to our question, "Understand what?" It has evidently something to do with repentance.

Jesus also agreed with Daniel, who had declared that "many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake" (12:21).

This is how John's Gospel records his saying:
". . . The hour is coming, in which all that are in the tombs shall hear his (Jesus') voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil unto the resurrection of condemnation" (John 5:28-29). (Jesus' "all" is the same as Daniel's "many": it is all who during their lifetime have "heard the voice of the Son of God", v.25.)

Look where the dead are: "in the tombs" ("sleep in the dust of the earth", Daniel); they "come forth" by resurrection ("they awake", Daniel); they come forth either to life or to judgement. The harmony between Jesus and Daniel is complete; the Lord is endorsing the teaching of the Old Testament on this important matter of the place, the state, and the fate of the dead.

The Apostles uphold the same teaching. John, in the best-known verse of the New Testament, declares:

"God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him, should not perish, but have everlasting life" (3:16).

The words we have emphasised are frequently ignored, but there is no escaping the verdict that those who do not "believe on" Jesus (in the way the Scriptures explain) will perish, that is cease to exist.

The Apostle Paul has the same message. Writing to the believers in Ephesus, he tells them that before they came to know and believe in Christ, they were "without Christ having no hope, and without God in the world" (Eph.2:1 2). This is a shattering saying. It tells us plainly that if we are not related to God through Christ, in the way He requires, we are "without hope". How precious must be that "understanding" which can save us from such a fate!

The Apostle James tells his readers not to make too confident assertions of what they will do at some future time. You never know what will happen tomorrow, he says; and then adds:

"What is your life? For ye are a vapour that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away" (James 4:14, R.V.). The R.S.V. and the N.I.V. have : "You are a mist that appears . . . and then vanishes."

Daniel's description of the dead as "sleeping" in the grave is reproduced by the Apostle Paul. The believers at Thessalonica were mourning the death of some who had believed in Christ:

"I would not have you ignorant, brethren, concernmg them which are asleep (he means in death), that ye sorrow not, even as the rest who have no hope .... For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven ... with the voice of the archangel and the trump of God, and the dead in Christ shall rise . . ." (1 Thess. 4:13,16)

Notice what this passage is saying: the faithful believers who have died are "asleep"; those who do not believe have "no hope"; Christ personally (note "himself") will descend from heaven; and the faithful dead will rise-from the grave of course. Here are basic teachings which are found throughout the New Testament. They are foundation truths of the Gospel.

The Resurrection of the Dead
It has always been hard for those who believe in survival after death by some immortal soul or spirit, to explain why the New Testament lays such great emphasis upon the resurrection of the

That it does so is beyond question. Jesus assumes that it is true, in telling the Jews not merely to invite their rich neighbours to a banquet, hoping to get a return invitation, but to invite those in need, "and thou shalt be recompensed at the resurrection of the just" (Luke 14:14). The faithful dead are to be raised from their graves; that is when they will receive their reward.

The Apostle Paul devotes a whole chapter to asserting that the dead will rise. He makes a special point of arguing that if Christ did not rise from the dead, then no one else can either. In that case, "they also which are fallen asleep in Christ have perished" (1 Cor. 15:18). (Note the implication here: if in this case even the believers in Christ have "perished", how much more those who have not believed!)

But there is no doubt about it, says Paul: Christ did rise from the dead (see his impressive list of actual witnesses in verses 3-8 of this chapter); and so Christ has "become the first-fruits of them that are asleep" (v. 21). Twice within three verses Paul has described the dead as "asleep". Such is his agreement with Daniel.

In the remainder of this chapter Paul declares that for the faithful dead there is to be, after their resurrection, a change of nature: "Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God." Our present nature is mortal and corruptible; but when the dead are raised, they are to be "changed": for "this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality". This is the way "death is swallowed up in victory" (vv. 50-54).

So we arrive at the clear Bible truth that the reward of the righteous does not consist of some "spirit existence" somewhere; it will be the granting of an incorruptible body, one that will not waste away and perish as our present one does, but will no longer be subject to death. The reason is remarkable: God has a work for the faithful to do in the future. Those who are granted resurrection from the grave will move about in the world as real, tangible people, engaged in the practical task of enlightening the nations of the world in the truths of God which they have either ignored or perverted for so many centuries. This will be the purpose of the rule of Christ over the nations when he returns, as the Bible says he will.

"But . . .?"
But are there not some passages in the New Testament which support the idea of survival after death? There are a very few passages sometimes quoted in this way. But when they are carefully examined, they will be found to be in harmony with the teaching of the Bible as a whole. We treat here some of the better known ones.

In the Old Testament the word translated "hell" means no more than a concealed or covered place. Translated as "hell" 31 times, it is also rendered "grave" 31 times, in passages like these:
(Jacob, mourning the loss of his son Joseph): "I will go down into the grave to my son, mourning.(Gen. 37:35). "In the grave who shall give thee (God) thanks?" (Psa. 6:5). ". . . there is no work nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave whither thou goest" (Eccles. 9:10).

Hence the prophecy about Christ: "Thou (God) wilt not leave my soul in hell...", means quite simply that God would not leave his life, or himself, in the grave, as is shown by the rest of the verse: "...neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption" (Psa. 1 6:10).

In the New Testament this passage is quoted by the Apostle Peter (Acts 2:31). He uses the Greek term usually translated "hell", showing that he understood it in the same way as the Psalm.

There is, however, in the New Testament another and very interesting word translated "hell", represented in English as "Gehenna". This was the name of a place just outside the city of Jerusalem. The following explanation from Grimm-Thayer's Greek-Engllsh Lexicon of the New Testament is very helpful:

"Gehenna: ... the valley of lamentation ... is the name of a valley to the South and East of Jerusalem, so called from the cries of little children, thrown into the fiery arms of Molech, an idol having the form of a bull. The Jews so abhorred the place after these horrible sacrifices had been abolished by King Josiah (2 Kings 23:10) that they cast into it not only all manner of refuse, but even the dead bodies of animals and of unburied criminals who had been executed. Since fires were always needed to consume the dead bodies, that the air might not become tainted by the putrefaction, it came to pass that the place was called 'Gehenna of fire'."

Now Gehenna is used 12 times in the New Testament, 11 of them by Jesus himself. Here is one case:

"If thine eye offend thee (cause thee to stumble, R.V.), pluck it out: it is better for thee to enter into the Kingdom of God with one eye, than having two eyes to be cast into hell (Gehenna), where their worm dieth not and the fire is not quenched" (see the whole passage, Mark 9:43-48).

Jesus' meaning is this:
If there is anything you are doing with your hand, anywhere you are going with your feet, anything you are seeing with your eyes, which is preventing you from entering the Kingdom of God, then stop doing it; for otherwise you will end up being destroyed with the wicked in death. The worm and the fire are symbolic agents of destruction. They are not everlasting, but they continue their work till all is consumed. So Gehenna becomes a type of the judgement upon the wicked in the last day.

All other uses of Gehenna will be found to contain the same idea.

The Soul:
The Old Testament passages already considered have shown that the "soul" means "the person" and his "life". It can sin and it can die.

The word so translated in the New Testament is used about 100 times. It is rendered soul 58 times, life 40, and mind 3. One of the sayings of Jesus is significant. Having told his disciples that anyone who desires to be one of his true servants must "deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me", he goes on:
"For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever shall lose his life for my sake shall find it. For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?" (Matt. 16:25-26).

The English reader would think two different words were being used here, "life" and "soul". Yet it is the same original word throughout, a fact which the R.V. and the R.S.V. versions recognise by translating "life" in all four cases.

Another passage often quoted is: "Be not afraid of them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul ..." This sounds very impressive, but the second part of the verse says: " . . but rather fear him (that is, God) which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell" (Gehenna-Matt. 10:28).

So the soul can be destroyed. Jesus' meaning is not hard to follow: If a faithful servant is put to death, he will get his life (or soul) back-at the resurrection of the dead, as we have seen. But the unfaithful servant will be totally destroyed in death, in the judgement symbolised by Gehenna. His "soul", or life, will perish with him.

The Rich Man and Lazarus:
If the reader is not familiar with this passage (Luke 16:19-31), he is recommended at this point to study it carefully.

Lazarus, the beggar, dies and is "carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom". The rich man dies, but when he is "in hell, in torments", he can see "afar off" Lazarus in Abraham's bosom. He begs Abraham to send Lazarus, "that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue . But the request is rejected-the former rich man must suffer his punishment. Besides, says Abraham, "between us and you is a great gulf fixed", so that no passing over from one place to the other is possible. The rich man then asks Abraham to send Lazarus to warn his five brothers, lest they suffer the same fate as he has done. This request too is rejected, in terms we shall consider further in a moment.

Now there are certain features of this narrative which make it impossible to take it literally. Abraham's bosom as the place of the righteous after death; the conversation between Abraham in bliss and the rich man "in hell"; the idea that one might be sent with water from the one place to the other "to cool the tongue" of a sufferer. The conviction that this is not a literal account of the states of the dead, but a kind of parable, or symbolic narrative, becomes a certainty when it is realised that all these details were part of the tradition of the Pharisees at the time, as Josephus, the Jewish historian of the first century, shows in his Discourse Concerning Hades. So Jesus was employing some of his opponents' own ideas to confound them.
But it is in the last few verses of the passage that Jesus' real point emerges. When the rich man requests Abraham to send Lazarus to warn his brothers, Abraham replies: "They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them." When the rich man says, "Nay, father Abraham, if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent", Abraham replies: "If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead."

Within a short time this saying was strikingly fulfilled. Jesus raised Lazarus-the real Lazarus-the brother of Martha and Mary, from the dead. The miracle created a sensation among the people, but far from "being persuaded", the leaders of the Jews were only the more resolved to kill him. Very shortly after that, Jesus himself rose from the dead. Despite the powerful evidence of witnesses, the Jewish authorities were determined to deny his resurrection and to reject his claim to be the Son of God. They had not really accepted the teaching of their own Scriptures, "Moses and the prophets", and they would not accept the claims of Jesus to be the expected Messiah.

This was the whole point of the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus. It perfectly conveyed the point Jesus wanted to make. It has nothing to teach us about the state of the dead. For that we must go to the evidence of the Bible as a whole.

The Thief on the Cross:
Luke 23:39-43 contains the account. Jesus hangs on the cross. One of the two thieves, crucified with him, confesses that he is being "justly condemned", but "this man (Jesus) has done nothing amiss". Then, turning to Jesus, he says, "Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom" (v.42).

This is an astonishing request. Look what it implies:
1. that to the thief Jesus was "Lord";
2. that the thief expected Jesus to survive the crucifixion;
3. that at some future time, Jesus would be "coming into his kingdom";
4. that at that time Jesus would be able to "remember him" and to restore him to life.

All these assumptions agree entirely with what the New Testament teaches. Now look at Jesus' reply:

Now that is just how the Greek letters appear in the oldest manuscripts: they are all capitals; the words are not separated; and there is no punctuation. So how do you understand Jesus' answer? Is it,
"Verily, I say unto thee, Today thou shalt be with me in paradise"?
Or is it,
"Verily, I say unto thee today Thou shalt be with me in paradise"?

It makes all the difference in the understanding of Jesus' promise. How are we to decide? Grammatically either sense is possible. Semeron (today) may be taken either with the first verb, or the second. But there are other considerations.

Jesus was using a familiar Hebrew form of statement commonly found in the Old Testament. Here are three examples from one chapter (Deuteronomy 4:26,39,40): "I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day . . . Know therefore this day, and consider it in thine heart . . . Thou shalt keep (God's) commandments, which I command thee this day . . ."To declare something "this day" (or today), was a form of solemn statement with full assurance of truth. Similar expressions occur 42 times in the book of Deuteronomy alone. So Jesus was using a well-known Hebrew form to underline the seriousness of his words, "I say unto thee today . . ". The thief could be assured that what Jesus promised would indeed come to pass.

Where was Jesus "that day" anyway? Not in glory, in heaven. He was in the tomb. As he prophesied himself to the scribes and Pharisees: "The son of man shall be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth" (Matt. 12:40). "Heart" is a Hebrew idiom for "midst"; he meant he would be in the grave.

What are we to understand by "paradise"? Once again we must be careful to get our understanding from the Bible itself, not from human traditions. The word was originally Persian and in the Old Testament is translated forest, orchards, and gardens. Isaiah declares that when the time comes for the Lord to "comfort Zion", He will "make her wilderness like Eden, and her desert like the garden of the Lord (51:3).

The Greek translators of the Old Testament (about 200 years before Christ) rendered the Hebrew "garden" here by paradeisos, the word used by Jesus in his reply to the thief. Now the reference in the Isaiah prophecy is to the prosperity and fertility of "the Land of Promise", the land occupied by Israel in the years before Christ. So "paradise" stands in the Bible for the new Kingdom of peace and joy which Christ will establish when he returns to the earth, when "he comes in his kingdom", as the thief believed he would. Thus understood, the passage owes nothing to Greek legends, but is quite consistent with the teaching of the whole Bible.

The small number of other passages which are sometimes brought forward to support the idea of survival of the soul after death will also be found, on careful examination, to be quite consistent with the rest of Scripture.

Why so Widespread?
The question may well be asked, If the survival of some soul or spirit after death is not taught in the Bible, how has it become so widely believed among religious people?

The explanation is simple. Some such idea of survival was common in all the pagan religions of antiquity, in all nations. It represented a common longing of the human mind. It was a distinctive mark of early Christianity that it rejected this false belief. The first Christians understood the perishing nature of mankind. They looked for the new life, promised through the Gospel, not at death but at the return of Christ when the faithful dead would rise from their graves. As time went on, however, "mass conversions" of formerly pagan nations occurred in the Roman world.

Inevitably many converts brought their pagan notions with them. Further, the leaders of the Christian Church tried to make its teaching harmonise with the ideas of the philosophers, derived from Greek sources. The immortality of the soul was common among them.

But wherever there has been a serious attempt to discover what the Bible is really saying, there has been also a return to the beliefs of the early Christians. Such a return occurred during the Reformation in Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries. The truth has been acknowledged openly in more recent times by distinguished theologians. Look at these quotations:
In 1897, B. F. Westcott, Professor of Divinity at Cambridge, commenting on 2 Timothy 1:10, wrote:

"The central fact of our creed . . . is not the immortality of the soul, but the resurrection of the body. Our Saviour brought life and incorruption (not immortality) to light. . . Bearing this truth in mind, we can see the force of Paul's words: 'The Lord Jesus shall fashion anew the body of our humiliation' (Phil. 3:21, R.V)" - Some Lessons of the Revised Version of the New Testament, p.192.

In 1924, Bishop Gore (of London) wrote:
"I think . . . that, in the doctrine of human nature, the proposition that the soul of man is in its essence incorruptible, and so necessarily immortal . . . is derived from Greek -philosophy and not from Scripture." - The Holy Spirit and the Church, p.288, footnote.

Appalled at the spread of irreligion in the war years, the Church of England set up a Commission under the chairmanship of the Bishop of Rochester. Members of many religious communities took part. The report, Towards the Conversion of England, published in 1945, contains this paragraph:
"The idea of the inherent indestructibility of the human soul (or consciousness) owes its origin to Greek, and not to Bible sources. The central theme of the New Testament is eternal life, not for anybody and everybody, but for believers in Christ as risen from the dead." - p. 23.
(The italics in these quotations are the present writer's.)

These are remarkable declarations indeed. All that we have been finding in Scripture is here confirmed. Men and women do not automatically survive death. By nature they perish in the grave. Those who are to attain to eternal life will do so as a result of resurrection from the grave at the coming of Christ.

The Vital MessageFrom our brief review of the teaching of the Bible on this important subject one thing becomes clear: the message it contains is vital to us all, for if we take no notice of it, we shall perish. That is why its message is called "the Gospel", that is "the good news". Just how essential it is Paul showed in reminding his readers in Corinth of "the gospel which I preached unto you . . . by which ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you . . . (1 Cor. 15:1-2).

To the Romans he wrote:
"I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth (Rom. 1:16).

How much our perishing race needs this "good news"! What a marvellous thing it is that this message of life still exists among us, for here it is, in the pages of the Bible, in the very words of Jesus and his apostles. Let us make it our aim to get to know this "word of life" while we still have the opportunity, for our very future is at stake.


Thursday, March 8, 2007


Does God Change His Mind?

When we think of God, sometimes we think of His excellent attributes such as justice, love, holiness, righteousness, all knowing, all present and His immutability. There are more but it is this last mentioned attribute I would like to comment on. We can say God is immutable or unchanging because of certain Scriptures found in the Bible.

Malachi 3:6 6 "For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed.

Numbers 23:19 19 God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?

Hebrews 13:8 8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever!
James 1:17 17 All generous giving and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or the slightest hint of change.

These verses above are used to show forth God’s immutability but taken alone as I have listed them here can distort the understanding of them in their context. It may seem that the title of this article is answered in Numbers 23:19. This verse was a prophecy Balaam made to Balak king of Moab. After Israel crossed the Jordan and captured Jericho the other nations feared them. Balak wanted Balaam to curse Israel so they might defeat them in battle but Balaam could only bless them. This verse was making a specific point that God wanted Balak to understand concerning the situation. In its context, this verse cannot be used to universally teach, God never changes His mind.

God’s immutability or unchangeableness is in His essence, attributes and counsel. God does not change for He is a rock that we can trust in. He is our true stable foundation unlike all other things in this world that change. What is it that we can truly depend on apart from our Wonderful Lord? Our faith is only in Him. God will not change in who He is or what He is for He will always be God. God will not change in His attributes for He will always remain just, holy, loving and all of the rest. God will not change in what He declares to be right and wrong and why blessings and punishments come about. His Word that we have in the Bible will always remain the same. How would you feel praying to a god who would grant a request one day and deny it the next?

In thinking about the immutability of God, some have gone too far in believing that God does not change His mind and whatever God says will happen. If God says such and such will happen then you can count on that because God does not lie. That does not mean God cannot change His mind because we are given many examples in Scripture where God did change His mind and other situations where His decision was determined by what people did. Moses steps in and intercedes for Israel just after they came out of Egypt.

Exodus 32:12-14 12 Why should the Egyptians say, 'With evil intent did he bring them out, to kill them in the mountains and to consume them from the face of the earth'? Turn from your burning anger and relent from this disaster against your people. 13 Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, to whom you swore by your own self, and said to them, 'I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your offspring, and they shall inherit it forever.' " 14 And the Lord relented from the disaster that he had spoken of bringing on his people.

There are many situations as this where God relented of the evil He was going to do. There was Jonah in Nineveh.

Jonah 3:4-10 4 Jonah began to go into the city, going a day's journey. And he called out, "Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!" 5 And the people of Nineveh believed God. They called for a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them. 6 The word reached the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. 7 And he issued a proclamation and published through Nineveh, "By the decree of the king and his nobles: Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything. Let them not feed or drink water, 8 but let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and let them call out mightily to God. Let everyone turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. 9 Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish." 10 When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it.

There was David and the destroying angel.

1 Chronicles 21:14-17 14 So the Lord sent a pestilence on Israel, and 70,000 men of Israel fell. 15 And God sent the angel to Jerusalem to destroy it, but as he was about to destroy it, the Lord saw, and he relented from the calamity. And he said to the angel who was working destruction, "It is enough; now stay your hand." And the angel of the Lord was standing by the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite. 16 And David lifted his eyes and saw the angel of the Lord standing between earth and heaven, and in his hand a drawn sword stretched out over Jerusalem. Then David and the elders, clothed in sackcloth, fell upon their faces. 17 And David said to God, "Was it not I who gave command to number the people? It is I who have sinned and done great evil. But these sheep, what have they done? Please let your hand, O Lord my God, be against me and against my father's house. But do not let the plague be on your people."

There was Isaiah and Hezekiah.

2 Kings 20:1-6 1 In those days Hezekiah became sick and was at the point of death. And Isaiah the prophet the son of Amoz came to him and said to him, "Thus says the Lord, 'Set your house in order, for you shall die; you shall not recover.' " 2 Then Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord, saying, 3 "Now, O Lord, please remember how I have walked before you in faithfulness and with a whole heart, and have done what is good in your sight." And Hezekiah wept bitterly. 4 And before Isaiah had gone out of the middle court, the word of the Lord came to him: 5 "Turn back, and say to Hezekiah the leader of my people, Thus says the Lord, the God of David your father: I have heard your prayer; I have seen your tears. Behold, I will heal you. On the third day you shall go up to the house of the Lord, 6 and I will add fifteen years to your life. I will deliver you and this city out of the hand of the king of Assyria, and I will defend this city for my own sake and for my servant David's sake."

What we are able to see in these events is God changing His mind on pronouncements that He had made. Now in the above examples it appears that men had changed the mind of God through their appeals to Him. This does not diminish God’s power or knowledge. Our Gracious God made it plain that if bad conduct was repented of and turned away from, He would turn away His wrath. Also if good conduct was turned into bad then the blessings would cease. When God changes His mind in His conduct toward someone, He does not do it grudgingly but He does it with compassion. He is always gracious in His blessings that He gives to His people.

Jeremiah 18:6-10 6 "O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter has done? declares the Lord. Behold, like the clay in the potter's hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel. 7 If at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, 8 and if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I intended to do to it. 9 And if at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it, 10 and if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will relent of the good that I had intended to do to it.

Jeremiah 26:2-3 2 "Thus says the Lord: Stand in the court of the Lord's house, and speak to all the cities of Judah that come to worship in the house of the Lord all the words that I command you to speak to them; do not hold back a word. 3 It may be they will listen, and every one turn from his evil way, that I may relent of the disaster that I intend to do to them because of their evil deeds.

Therefore, we see that in some cases God’s actions depended upon the people and the situation at the time. Some doctrines portray God as a ridged god whose decrees have already determined the future. That is not what these Scripture references reveal. These verses should inspire prayer and supplication. We should boldly go to God with the right and proper requests that stem from an honest and humble heart. On the other hand, let us not think we can tell God what to do as some teach or that He is waiting to act according to our desires. God is still a sovereign God who does listen to us and will give us help in time of need. Christians can become so confused about prayer because of the different teaching they listen to. Some teach that we cannot change God’s mind and that we should pray because we are told to. I do not get that from the Bible or my experience with the Lord. My experience with the Lord is personal and very real. He reveals His will to me and out of love toward Him I obey somewhat imperfectly. In my life, whenever I have needed help I have asked Him and He has given it. My prayers are not spoken from blind obedience but out of a heart felt need for His help either for me or others.

Jesus said, Matthew 7:7-11 7 "Ask and it will be given to you. Seek and you will find. Knock and the door will be opened for you. 8 For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. 9 Is there anyone among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11 So then, if you, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!

We need to be careful what we ask for and how we ask,

James 4:3 3 you ask and do not receive because you ask wrongly, so you can spend it on your passions.

We pray that our favorite team will win or our lottery numbers will be drawn. Most of us do not know what to pray for but if we bathe our self in the Word of God we will learn how and what to pray for. If we pray according to God’s will, He will hear us. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you, humble yourself and He will lift you up. Let us rejoice in the Lord and always give Him thanks for all of the great things He has done.

Fred Robbins March 2007