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The Psalmist’s plight is dire in chapter seventy-three. Even though “God is good to Israel” (v. 1, ESV), the writer’s “feet had almost stumbled, my steps had nearly slipped” (v. 2). Spiritual catastrophe has come too close for comfort. How? The Psalmist has begun to envy the wicked (v. 3-12), who are “always at ease” and “increase in riches.” His thinking grows so skewed he begins to ponder that “in vain have I kept my heart clean” (v. 13). Surveying the scene of prospering sinners is leading him toward the conclusion that serving God is not worth the effort.
Trying to figure out why the wicked are blessed “seemed to me a wearisome task” (v. 16), that is, “until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I discerned their end” (v. 17). Thankfully, a more accurate perspective sets in. The writer realizes that the apparent success of evil is fleeting, and that God will “set them in slippery places” and “make them fall to ruin” (v. 18). The unrighteous will be “destroyed in a moment” disappearing swiftly as “a dream when one awakes” (v. 20).
Then the Psalmist gets brutally honest about his own bad behavior. He humbly confesses to God that “my soul was embittered” (v. 21), and that “I was brutish and ignorant; I was like a beast toward you” (v. 22). But, in spite of the author’s shortcomings, God is still holding onto his hand (v. 23). His salvation will be God’s doing, in spite of the writer’s painful flaws.
At this point the Psalmist pens a striking passage (v. 24-26):
24 You guide me with your counsel,
and afterward you will receive me to glory.
25 Whom have I in heaven but you?
And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
26 My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
Compared to the New Testament (which is rife with discussions of the afterlife), Old Testament passages teaching the soul’s immortality seem few and far between (there are several scattered verses, but they will not be considered here). What does the Psalmist mean by asserting, “and afterward you will receive me to glory”? Since God is “in heaven,” and the Psalmist desires “nothing on earth” (v. 25), to be received “to glory” is an apparent reference to heaven. This is reinforced by the writer’s statement that “My flesh and my heart may fail” (v. 26)—evidently referring to the eventual death of his physical body. Nevertheless, after he has been guided with divine counsel (v. 24), and after his flesh fails (v. 26), he will be received “to glory” (v. 24) because God is “in heaven” and nothing remains “on earth” to be desired (v. 25). This hopeful outlook is possible only because, with flesh failing, “God is the strength of my heart…forever” (v. 26).
Could Psalm 73:24 be a bold Old Testament claim on the soul’s immortality and eternal destiny? On this Scripture Keil and Delitzsch comment that, even though the “heavenly triumph of the church” had not yet been foretold, faith in God “had already a transparent depth which penetrated beyond Hades into an eternal life…It is just this that is also the nerve of the proof of the resurrection of the dead which Jesus advances in opposition to the Sadducees (Matt. 22:32)” (Commentary on the Old Testament, vol. 5, pp. 493-494). Craig C. Broyles notes, “If verse 24 does point to some kind of resurrection, it is interesting to note how the writer arrived at this conclusion. He did so not by virtue of a supposed immortality of the soul but by virtue of God himself and the kind of relationship he establishes. Because ‘God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever (v. 26), I shall therefore live on with God’” (New International Biblical Commentary on Psalms, pp. 304-305). It is worth observing that the Hebrew verb for “you will receive” in v. 24 is “identical to that found in Psalm 49:15 (‘But God will redeem my soul from the grave; he will surely take me to himself’) and Genesis 5:24 (‘Enoch walked with God; then he was no more, because God took him away’), both of which seem to point to a divine act that transcends death” (ibid., p. 304). The Pulpit Commentary weighs in by quoting a professor who remarked about Psalm 73:24 that “the poet has that religious intuition which forms the kernel of the hope of immortality” (vol. VIII, p. 72).
The New Testament leaves Christians in no doubt about the afterlife, judgment, heaven and hell. But we need not think that people in Old Testament times had no clue about the soul. They had far less information than we, but God made sure they still had access to certain spiritual truths, including Psalm 73:24 and “the kernel of the hope of immortality.”
About 1100 B.C. the Philistines were enemies and subjugators of God’s people, and Israel had sadly grown accustomed to the sorry status quo (Judg. 15:11). His chosen people having charted a path to self-destruction by plunging headlong into Canaanite paganism, God had to take action to preserve Israel — in spite of themselves — and the bloodline through which would come the Messiah. So the Lord in his providence sought an opportunity for Israel to begin throwing off the yoke of Philistine oppression (Judg. 14:4). Deliverance came in the form of Samson, a colorful paradox of a judge: a Nazirite who routinely violated the vow; a man motivated by what pleased his eyes who had his eyes gouged out; a man of divinely given superhuman strength who melted like butter in the hands of scheming women; a man who prayed to God and then consorted with a prostitute; a man whose greatest victories over the enemy were private acts of murder and revenge; a national deliverer who was no national leader; a fighter fit to slaughter a thousand, but unable to resist a solitary Delilah.
Samson’s final blow to the Philistines came at the cost of his own life when, as a blind, humiliated prisoner he broke the two pillars of Dagon’s temple, bringing 3,000 pagans to a crashing, crushing death. God did, indeed, find a way to strike at his people’s enemy. How it transpired is a fascinating study of divine providence, as events are traced backwards in Judges chapters 14-16.
- Samson demolished the Philistines’ temple because they brought him there as a prisoner (16:25).
- Samson was taken prisoner because Delilah had his head shaved (16:19).
- Delilah coaxed Samson into telling his secret because the Philistine leaders bribed her (16:5).
- The Philistine leaders bribed Delilah because they hated Samson.
- The Philistines hated Samson because he slaughtered 1,000 of them with the jawbone of a donkey (15:15).
- Samson killed the 1,000 when the Philistines were coming to take him prisoner (15:14).
- The Philistines were going to arrest Samson because he attacked them (15:8).
- Samson attacked them because they burned his wife to death (15:6).
- They burned his wife because Samson had burned their crops (15:5).
- Samson burned the crops because his wife had been given to a Philistine (15:2).
- Samson’s wife had been given away because Samson had left her at the wedding feast (14:20).
- Samson left the wedding feast to slay 30 Philistines and take their garments (14:19).
- Samson needed their garments because his 30 companions had solved his riddle (14:18).
- The companions solved the riddle because Samson’s wife told them the answer (14:17).
- Samson’s wife knew the riddle’s answer because she pressed him continually after she had been threatened with death by the companions (14:15).
- The death threat came after Samson gave the companions an impossible riddle (14:14).
- The riddle was impossible because it seems to have involved the supernatural: bees and honey found in a semi-fresh animal carcass that no one knew about but Samson (14:8).
- The honey was in the lion’s carcass because Samson had recently killed it with his bare hands (14:6).
- How did this chain of violent events begin? The Lord sent a lion (14:5).
True, scripture does not explicitly say that God caused the lion to attack Samson. But, in light of the facts, can there be any doubt that the unseen hand of Providence was pulling strings, bringing to pass events that, when coupled with the freely made choices of men, would culminate in the will of “the Lord, for he was seeking an opportunity against the Philistines” (14:4)? God had to get the ball rolling, because Israel was not going to do it on her own.
Even today the Lord needs to spur his children on from time to time, perhaps in a direction they otherwise would never have taken. As we age, we may be able to look in retrospect at our lives and see watershed events which we afforded no special significance at the time. What things is God placing in our lives so that we can help bring about his will? Over that answer is drawn a veil which will remain until we get to heaven. In Samson’s case, the Lord sent a lion.
Thanks to many hours by Cheri Deaver digitizing a stack of decades-old audiotapes, this four-night debate from 1991 is now available for free listening here.
Mac Deaver affirmed (and Farrell Till denied): “The alleged moral atrocities ascribed to the God of the Bible are not actual moral atrocities and, therefore, constitute no proof that the Bible is not inspired of God.”
Farrell Till affirmed (and Mac Deaver denied): “The alleged moral atrocities ascribed to the God of the Bible are actual moral atrocities and, therefore, constitute proof that the Bible is not inspired of God.”
If you want to prepare yourself for the kinds of things skeptics use to attack the Bible, this is a good introduction to that field. If you prefer to read this debate, it is available for purchase here.
In the future, we hope to make more old debate recordings available. If you’ve not already, take a look at the archives where we have hundreds of sermons you can listen to on a morning walk, while driving to work, mowing the yard, etc. Please do share our content on social media and encourage your friends to subscribe. Thanks!
Recently, a young minister asked for recommendations on “must have” books. My reply was more explanation of my philosophy of books than a list of particular titles to get. After sending it, I thought it might be good to work into a post. Libraries have seen a seismic shift since I was in school, with many preachers now preferring digital volumes on a tablet to hard copies on a wooden shelf. I haven’t gone that route, but perhaps these ideas could apply to both digital and paper book libraries.
My library is in sections. One is comprised of religious debates. I like as many of those as I can get that involve gospel preachers. You never know when you’ll have to deal with a particular thorny issue, and debates are a good way to bone up on controversial subjects. Plus, debates are historic (some, more than others) and you ought to know some church history.
Which brings us to the church history section. Get Earl I. West’s four-volume Search for the Ancient Order. Collect biographies of preachers from the Restoration era (1800’s) in American history. Many a self-taught, or formal education-deprived preacher of days gone by, somehow managed to learn far more Bible than too many present day college and preaching school graduates. Today’s church has preachers trying to pull us into the dark pit of error that preachers in the 1800’s were crawling out of and exposing with the gospel’s light. That saying about those failing to appreciate history being doomed to repeat it is more than a platitude. The church’s immediate future—at least in America—seems precarious. What will motivate us to fight for her uniqueness now if we’re ignorant of the ground gained in hard fought battles of the past, through the debating and preaching of men who could discern truth from error? Get some good books that cover church history in its early centuries, medieval times, and the Reformation. But, remember, God’s true church has always been a minority, and history is written largely about those who made the biggest splash. That means the history of the church after New Testament days is mostly a study of apostasy in its many forms.
Stock your library with good apologetics books. Have at hand major arguments for the existence of God, the deity of Christ, and inspiration of the Bible. Get a book or two on issues raised by skeptics, and on harmonizing alleged Bible contradictions. If you’ve never taken a class on logic, buy a good textbook and familiarize yourself. Preachers who are not good thinkers easily become misleaders of others.
Depending on your level of interest and ability, have at least a few Greek reference works. At minimum, know your way around an interlinear New Testament, Thayer’s lexicon, Vine’s dictionary of Bible words. If you can do more with the original languages, great.
I’ve got a number of brotherhood lectureship books, old and newer. Lectureships themselves seem a dying phenomenon (like public debates and gospel meetings), at least in comparison to the number that used to be held. The books published from such events are of uneven quality, by nature, since not all preachers are equally adept at thinking, researching, writing—skills requisite for composing a great chapter (and a great book needs multiple great chapters). Few brotherhood lectureship books, in my estimation, are towering contributions to the subject covered. That said, they can be helpful, and a book may be worth having for a single chapter by a certain author. After you’ve preached long enough, glancing through the writers in an old lectureship volume is a trip down memory lane.
Good commentaries are vital. My approach is eclectic, rather than monolithic. That is, I’ll buy a single volume from a particular set of commentaries because of who wrote it, and another volume from a different set, and so on. Thus, my Old and New Testament shelves are a hodgepodge from here and there, with many series represented, but very few series complete. An entire set, composed of an impressive row of identically clad volumes, looks nice on a shelf, but aesthetics is not the goal. Plus, that approach does not comport with my preferred method of arranging commentaries. I put commentaries on the shelf in Bible book order. I have a couple on Leviticus, and nearly a dozen on Revelation, but I can go right to them because, for example, the Revelation commentaries are all next to each other at the end of my New Testament section, and the Leviticus commentaries are right after the ones on Exodus.
A word on commentaries: never let your guard down. If you can find a scholarly commentary by a member of the Lord’s church, consider it. Denominational scholars will always outnumber those of the Lord’s church. Precious few are our brethren, such as J. W. McGarvey in his day, who are known and respected outside the church of Christ. If you limit yourself to books by brethren, you’ll cut yourself off from a great deal of conservative scholarship. At the same time, books by brethren can be just as wrong on a given point as something from an academic at a Baptist seminary (in fact, many books from our own professors these days may as well have been penned by denominational writers, given their ecumenical outlook and disregard for the uniqueness of the Lord’s church). If I know an author rejects the verbal inspiration of Scripture, that’s a non-starter for me: why spend time and money on that? For any given book in the Bible, there are commentaries which, at least, respect the Bible’s origin and nature.
The lion’s share of my commentaries are by denominational scholars. Before letting yourself be overly influenced by the learning, reputation, or seeming erudition of such a writer, remind yourself that he likely wouldn’t have the right answer to the most basic question: “What must I do to be saved?” Read denominational writers with that in back of your mind, and it should foster a healthy perspective. I think of a late denominational academic who has very helpful things to say in his Old Testament commentaries. Yet, he compromises with theistic evolution. The works of man are often a mixed bag, so keep a weather eye. Never believe everything anyone says just because of who wrote it. Likewise, don’t discount something simply because the author is not a member of the Lord’s church. Always, if it comes to it, let Scripture be correct, and every commentator a liar.
I’m not a fan of broad, general commentaries (such as a one-volume treatment of the Bible, or a two-volume set covering the New Testament). These may help those without a background in preaching school, but more depth is called for if you’re preparing to teach an adult Bible class. Matthew may take up less than 40 pages in your Bible, but you should read hundreds of pages during class prep. Get the best commentary you can find that’s just on Matthew. Make it a habit to read at least one good commentary (if not two) when teaching through a Bible book (if you don’t know more than the rest of the class on the subject at hand, why are you teaching?).
Decades ago, in preaching school, I wanted as many books as I could get hands on. Age and experience reversed that thinking. Now, I don’t want as many books as money or space allow. I have a lot of shelving in my office, and a lot of that is empty, by choice. After decades having them in possession, not long ago I threw away dozens of books I never use (and didn’t want others to have, for example, due to error they taught). Dozens more, I donated to the church’s library. These days, basically, I want as few books as will give what I need for preaching and teaching. Whatever books you include in your own library, in the end, as my grandfather would say, there is no substitute for being familiar with the actual text of Scripture.
[Note: This article was first published by Tennessee Bible College on Sept. 8, 2020]
This four-night debate is about how the Holy Spirit helps the faithful Christian. It was held at the building of the Fort Sam Houston church of Christ in San Antonio in July 2019.
Joshua Rodriguez (Fremont, California) affirmed: “According to the scriptures, the Holy Spirit only indirectly influences the heart of the faithful Christian.”
Mac Deaver (Sheffield, Texas) affirmed: “According to the scriptures, the Holy Spirit directly influences the heart of the faithful Christian.”
All eight hours are available to view for free at this link.
A four-night public debate is scheduled for July 2019 at the building of the Fort Sam Houston church of Christ in San Antonio, between Mac Deaver and Joshua Rodriguez. At issue is whether the Holy Spirit helps Christians directly, or only indirectly. Make plans to attend, if you can, and please let others know about it. For additional information, see the attached flyer.
By Weylan Deaver
Celebrations of Thanksgiving in America trace back to an October 1621 banquet of the Pilgrims in Plymouth Colony, Massachusetts, along with about ninety Wampanoag Indians. After God had so richly blessed the colonists’ efforts, Governor William Bradford declared a day of public thanksgiving that stretched out over three days.
Governor Bradford proclaimed a second public thanksgiving c. July 30, 1623. After a twelve week summer drought that threatened disaster, the colonists held a day of fasting and prayer, after which, the very next day, a rain came that lasted two weeks. The life giving rain revived both crops and spirits and the colonists were more than happy to give God the credit.
During the Revolution, after the victory at Saratoga, the Continental Congress issued the First National Proclamation of Thanksgiving on November 1, 1777. It read, in part,
…That it may please Him, to prosper the trade and manufactures of the people, and the labour of the husbandman, that our land may yet yield its increase; to take school and seminaries of education, so necessary for cultivating the principles of true liberty, virtue and piety, under His nurturing hand, and to prosper the means of religion for the promotion and enlargement of that kingdom which consisteth ‘in righteous, peace and joy in the Holy Ghost’ (William J. Federer, America’s God and Country, p. 147).
After the discovery and thwarting of Benedict Arnold’s plot to deliver General Washington’s army to the British, the Continental Congress issued a Proclamation for a Day of Public Thanksgiving and Prayer on October 18, 1780.
…It is therefore recommended to the several states…a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, that all the people may assemble on that day to celebrate the praises of our Divine Benefactor; to confess our unworthiness of the least of his favours, and to offer our fervent supplications to the God of all grace…to cause the knowledge of Christianity to spread over all the earth (Ibid., p. 148).
To celebrate victory and the end of the Revolution, Massachusetts Governor John Hancock issued A Proclamation for a Day of Thanksgiving on November 8, 1783.
…I do by and with the Advice of the Council appoint Thursday the Eleventh Day of December next (the Day recommended by the Congress to all the States) to be religiously observed as a Day of Thanksgiving and Prayer, that all the People may then assemble to celebrate…that he hath been pleased to continue to us the Light of the Blessed Gospel; …That we also offer up fervent Supplications…to cause pure Religion and Virtue to flourish…and to fill the World with his glory (Ibid., p. 277).
On October 3, 1789 President George Washington proclaimed a National Day of Thanksgiving.
…And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations, and beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions…to promote the knowledge and practice of the true religion and virtue… (Ibid., p. 165).
Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a National Day of Thanksgiving for the last Thursday of November 1863.
No human counsel hath devised, nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the most high God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy…It has seemed to me fit and proper that God should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged, as with one heart and one voice, by the whole American people (Ibid., p. 385).
Though Thanksgivings continued, it was not until 1941 that Congress ratified Public Law 77-379, whereby the President officially proclaims the fourth Thursday of November A National Day of Thanksgiving.
Reading over such pious declarations of American history, one cannot help but be impressed with the humility, sincerity, and religious devotion that characterized our presidents, governors, and legislators. To their credit, they were not embarrassed to discuss, in front of the world, their indebtedness to God, their acknowledgement of national sin, the need for virtue, their desire that God take America’s schools under “His nurturing hand,” their wish that Christianity spread the world over, and their praise and thanks for all the Lord had done for America.
We concur with President Lincoln that “…God should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged, as with one heart and one voice, by the whole American people.” Anything less is too little.
As you gather with family to dine on a Thanksgiving feast, remember to “let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to the which also ye were called in one body; and be ye thankful” (Colossians 3:15).
Simons’ final negative speech (and all previous speeches) are at this link.
The latest speech, as well as all previous ones, is available at this link.