Last Things: Jesus and the Saved

By Stephen Terry


Commentary for the December 22, 2012 Sabbath School Lesson


“Enoch walked faithfully with God; then he was no more, because God took him away.” Genesis 5:24, NIV

For thousands of years before the first words were written for what would come to be known as the Bible, God communicated with man heart-to-heart. He spoke to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. (Genesis 1-3) He continued to speak to their children after the fall and expulsion from the garden. (Genesis 4) Our verse from Genesis 5, quoted above, shows how very close and intimate this communication could be. We rarely hear about such a relationship, today. Why is that?

Perhaps the Bible contains the answer. One of those that God repeatedly spoke to was Abraham. Sometimes this conversation took place while Abraham was awake. (Genesis 18) At other times, God spoke to him in visions and dreams. (Genesis 15) In each instance, Abraham understood he was hearing from God. It is this knowledge that allowed him to have no doubts when God told him to sacrifice his son, Isaac, on Mount Moriah. No one needed to show Abraham anything from the Bible to justify his course of action. God spoke directly to him, and he knew God’s voice well. He may have doubted what God told him from time to time, but he never doubted that it was God speaking to him.

Doubt is a seed sown in the Garden of Eden by the Serpent, which is none other than the Devil. (Revelation 12:9) He caused Adam and Eve to doubt the truthfulness of what God had said to them. He did not try to convince them to doubt that God existed. After all they could speak with God and walk with Him in the garden. Since that original doubt, distrust spread through humanity to the point where only eight people still believed what God had to say. Those eight entered the ark, but even then, doubt entered with them.

It seems strange that after seeing the Noachian flood that anyone would continue to question anything that God would say to them, but they did. Even Abraham doubted that God could provide him an heir when he and Sarah were far beyond normal child bearing age. Nonetheless, in spite of the black thread of doubt woven throughout mankind’s interactions with God, there were shining moments of faith that shone all the more brightly because of their rarity. Of course Enoch was one, but we might also consider Joseph. He doubted nothing that God revealed to him. Betrayed by his brothers, and even left to languish in an Egyptian prison for a crime he was not guilty of, he never questioned God or doubted His purposes. This was all the more remarkable for much of the world had become people who “…exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator…just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God…” Romans 1:25, 28 NIV

Joseph brought his father’s family into Egypt, and they and their descendants dwelt for four centuries in a land that worshipped images and individuals that were considered gods. It seems remarkable that humanity could place greater faith in these things that cannot speak, but built upon a foundation of doubting God’s promises, it became possible. As a result they stopped listening to God, religion became about power and control rather than simple faith and a direct relationship with God. Powerful priesthoods arose that were more concerned about consolidating earthly power than humbly seeking divine guidance. We can see an example of this power in the special exemption granted to the Egyptian priesthood during the time of Joseph. (Genesis 47:22) Perhaps, as the Israelites descended further and further into servitude, the Egyptians saw this as confirming their choice for idolatry instead of the living God. As they pointed this out generation after generation to the Israelites, many may have succumbed to this argument and even chosen idolatry for themselves in an attempt to escape their loathsome lot. Maybe these individuals were rewarded with positions overseeing their fellow Israelites which further confirmed the desirability of abandoning the Hebrew faith for the idolatry of Egypt.

In any event, faith in God may have been nearly extinguished among the descendants of Jacob. Even Moses, the great deliverer, was at first tempted to see salvation in the strength of his own ability rather than through any divine intervention when he slew an Egyptian taskmaster. Later, in a moment of weakness, he even succumbed to this belief on the borders of the Promised Land and was then not allowed to enter in with the rest of Israel. He spent 40 years tending sheep in Midian under his Father-in-law’s tutelage before he was ready to hear the voice of God at the burning bush. Even then, when God spoke, Moses could barely overcome his doubts. The Word was no longer enough for mankind. Instead, men sought miracles to confirm the Word. In a concession to this lack of faith, God granted Moses some miracles he could perform to verify divine endorsement of his mission.

The opening chapters of Exodus are about the mighty confrontation between the power of God and that of the idolatrous Egyptians. Described as the Ten Plagues, some of the earlier miracles were replicated by the Egyptians, but eventually those same miracle workers admitted defeat and begged Pharaoh to free the Israelites. Pharaoh, who had been raised to believe in his own divinity refused to submit. Not until the death of his own son, who of course was also seen as divine, could he see where divinity truly was. But the door of his heart that had briefly opened to God was quickly shut again, and he attempted to reclaim the Israelite slaves with disastrous results.

After leaving Egypt, Moses was charged with returning the nation of slaves the Israelites had been to a nation that could hear and respond to God’s voice. To that end, he set in place the Aaronic priesthood which would replace the image and functions of the Egyptian priesthood in the minds of the people. He erected the wilderness tabernacle and wrote out the order of the sanctuary service which would re-orient the thoughts toward God and away from the sacred temples of the Egyptian panoply of gods. He also began to compile a written record of historical information, rites, and rules that would be instructive not just for the present generation but for future ones as well. Of all of these written records, the Decalogue, or Ten Commandments, came to be venerated above all the rest, perhaps because of a common understanding that these words were actually written by the finger of God.

Year by year, as the yearly liturgy of the sanctuary service was performed by the priesthood, the knowledge and understanding of God began to return. However, it would be over a thousand years more before the pervasiveness of idolatry as an integral part of worship was to be completely eradicated. It would take exile and rescue from another foreign land, Babylon, before the remnant finally had enough of worshipping these things. Having finally learned this lesson, they continued to struggle with another one that arose in Egypt as well.

Jesus encountered this particular problem during His ministry. While the people no longer worshipped carved idols, they continued to see the priesthood not as it was meant to be, but as a vehicle for power, domination, and political influence. This problem appeared early on in the ministry of Phinehas and Hophni, Sons of Eli and priests of the sanctuary. (1 Samuel 2:12-36) By the time of Jesus’ ministry the priesthood’s hold on power had become so important and so strong that they would sacrifice even the Messiah to maintain it. For this reason, they closed their hearts, minds and ears to God. Jesus spoke of these as being “…like children sitting in the marketplace and calling out to each other: ‘We played the pipe for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not cry.’” Luke 7:32, NIV In other words, they could not approve of a Spirit they could not control. Only if the Spirit danced to their tune would they acknowledge it.

Even today some try to define God politically for the purpose of power and control. For these, the power and authority of the priesthood is more important than the moving of the Holy Spirit. They cite the authority of the same Aaronic priesthood that confronted Jesus not in an honest search for truth and understanding but simply as a means to find substantiation for maintaining power and control. They find there a powerful political organization with a model for channeling vast resources into its control. The priesthood is often idolized as the only recognized channel of interpreted communication from God to man. Controlling the selection process for the individuals to be in that priesthood has resulted in a politically powerful and almost unassailable organization in many denominations that stands between mankind and God as gatekeeper and adjudicator of orthodoxy.

How can this be? Could it be simply because we doubt our own ability to come directly into the presence of God, covered with the grace of Christ, to speak with Him heart-to-heart as the saints of old? Does our doubt cause us to abdicate this relationship in favor of one imposed on us by those who may not have our spiritual welfare at heart as much as their own desire for control?  As God delivered the Israelites from the priesthood of Egypt, the Spirit is challenging this religio-political control as He seeks to speak directly once again to the hearts of men. Perhaps this time, there will be more than eight who are left who do not doubt their God or His promises and will faithfully respond to His still, small, but loving voice.



This Commentary is a Service of Still Waters Ministry


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