Posted in General

The Impressiveness of the Horse

[Note: This piece was first published by the Warren Christian Apologetics Center.]

I have from early days been passionate about horses. My father, Roy C. Deaver, had loved horses before me. I guess we can say that they were “in his blood.” He had planned on going to another college when he was very young and had finished high school in Longview, Texas. But when he learned that brother N. B. Hardeman in Henderson, Tennessee, liked horses, my father changed his mind, and went to Freed-Hardeman College. I think that must have been a providential matter in the light of what all transpired in his life later, and in mine. After leaving Freed-Hardeman for more college work in Abilene, Texas my father kept on working with horses, and broke them while attending school. Later he moved to Spur, Texas to do local work, and while preaching in Spur and teaching in the high school in the 1940s, my father learned that ranchers would pay more money for breaking their horses than he would receive for either preaching or teaching school. I guess I inherited my passion for horses from him. He and I raised horses together years ago, and now though he has passed on to glory, I still appreciate a good horse.

American history, Texas history, and even church history have all been impacted by the horse. It may be hard for the most recent generation of Americans to appreciate the contribution that the horse has made to our past. “Horse power” used to be real horse power! The horse was a most necessary instrument of family welfare and community prosperity and national strength. Before the age of the automobile, there were centers for the supply of horses and mules both for our nation and for the world. Before there was Detroit, there were large markets such as Fort Worth, Texas and Memphis, Tennessee that provided buyers with access to many mules and horses. Men would come from many places including foreign countries to purchase animals for hauling wagons, pulling plows, and for riding, as well as for use in war.

A man with a horse very much had the advantage over a man without. I once read that anyone who thinks all men are equal has never been a man on foot who met up with a man on a horse! Even cultures shifted in the way daily affairs were carried on when the horse became available. Some of the North American Indians changed their hunting habits and their sphere of activity when once they were exposed to the horse. Things could be done that could not have been done before, and distances now possible to cover were far, far more than what could be traversed before. It must have been something like a new world of opportunity opening up before their eyes. Many Comanches became excellent horsemen and have even been applauded as some of the best horsemen of their time. Some people, after all, do seem to have a natural affinity for the horse and know how to make the most of him.

And there is something prestigious about riding a horse compared to having to walk. There is so much more that can be accomplished by riding than by merely walking that the rider feels a new sense of power in new possibility. And with that new possibility comes a certain sense of pride. King Solomon would declare that he had in his own experience seen extreme reversals in human situations. And among those reversals that he had personally witnessed was the scene of “servants upon horses, and princes walking as servants upon the earth” (Eccl. 10:7).

In our day, much has been discovered with regard to training horses and to the value of the horse in therapy. “Horse whisperers” have become famous for their more gentle techniques in training horses. Men have replaced the harsher strategies of old for the more temperate handling of most horses today, having learned that rough methods are usually not all that necessary in bringing horses along under human control and training. And therapists have discovered that there is something very unique about the horse and the way that people can and do react to him when they are crippled by physical or emotional trauma.

It is not so strange that the Scriptures have a lot to tell us about the horse given the time when the Scriptures were penned. We know that on the same day that God made man, just before he did so, he made the animals including the horse (Gen. 1:24-28). Later when God administered a humbling test to Job, he asked him, “Hast thou given the horse strength? Hast thou clothed his neck with thunder?” (Job 39:19, KJV). The Maker of the horse himself did so knowing that such strength as located in one horse should be an impressive thing to a thoughtful man even though such strength is not all that impressive to the horse Maker (Psalm 147:10). But after all, no created and localized instances of power can compare to the power of the Almighty!

But regarding human history, the strength of the horse has been a most impressive thing to mere men. In studying the Old Testament we find that in the divine development of the scheme of redemption there are many references to the horse. Armies have made much use of the horse in the history of mankind, and it is an interesting truth to consider that God did not want the king of His people to rely on the horse for its national strength. God demonstrated a powerful truth to Israel when, after crossing the Red Sea on dry ground, God then collapsed the standing walls of water into moving fluid and drowned Pharaoh and his army, including his horses and chariots. We read, “And the waters returned, and covered the chariots, and the horsemen, and all the host of Pharaoh that came into the sea after them; there remained not so much as one of them” (Exod. 14:28). The Psalmist would years later declare that God “overthrew Pharaoh and his host in the Red Sea” (Psalm 136:15). It is hard to imagine the fear in the hearts of pedestrians being sought by men on horses or riding in chariots pulled by horses. How could men on foot possibly get away from men who have horses? At the Red Sea, among other lessons taught, this one was meant to impress God’s people that if they would but look to Him, they would see past the seeming triumph of warriors with horses and locate their victory in an altogether different kind of power. Power divine is far, far superior to power equine!

But still, to mere men the strength and the speed of the horse were and remain impressive. God would say to Jeremiah, “If thou hast run with the footmen, and they have wearied thee, then how canst thou contend with horses?” What a lesson! As children of God, we must learn to take on our problems and difficulties in life that are, relatively speaking, minimal in their power to impede in order that we might be in a better condition later to face the more difficult problems that occur. How can we hope to cope with monumental difficulty if small problems defeat us. Solomon wrote, “If thou faint in the day of adversity, thy strength is small” (Prov. 24:10).

And God knew, given the nature of the horse, and the purpose of the horse, that men would rely on him. But God’s people had to be different from those who trusted in themselves and in merely earthly instruments to gain victory over their fellow men. And while a horse was certainly useful, yes and even very useful, God wanted Israel to rely on the Maker of the horse rather than on the horse himself.

God was teaching this fundamental lesson of the necessity of complete dependence on God’s power long before we reach the days of David when the same lesson is taught again with David’s use of his sling and stone. “Then said David to the Philistine, Thou comest to me with a sword, and with a spear, and with a shield: but I come to thee in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom thou has defied…And all this assembly shall know that the Lord saveth not with sword and spear: for the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give you into our hands” (1 Sam. 17:45-47).

In one of Moses’ final speeches to Israel, God through Moses made it clear that in time to come, His people would want a king to be like the nations that would be around them at that time. And when that time came, God stated several prohibitions regarding the king. He could not be a man simply of their own selection (that is, God would choose him), and he could not come from another nation, and he could not multiply horses to himself, he could not multiply wives to himself, and he could not multiply silver and gold to himself (Deut. 17:14-17). These prohibitions are followed by the stated obligation that the king was to have his own copy of the divine law which he was constantly to read so as to learn it and to abide by it. Only in this way, God said, could the king prevent himself from becoming arrogant, and only in this way could he prolong his kingdom (cf. Josh. 1:7).

In the light of what God later said to David (2 Sam. 12:8), we conclude that the prohibition in Deuteronomy against the “multiplication” of horses, wives, silver, and gold was not a prohibition against the mere possession of these things, but rather a prohibition against the king’s focusing on or over-emphasizing the value of these things to himself. He was to count on God!

Indeed, Solomon had horses and chariots (1 Kings 9:19). In fact, he had a constant supply of horses and mules coming into his possession (1 Kings 9:25). At one time he had one thousand four hundred chariots and twelve thousand horsemen (v. 26). He got horses from Egypt in droves (v. 28). And Solomon exceeded all other kings in both riches and in wisdom (1 Kings 9:23). The wives became a problem, not because of their number, but because of their idolatry and their influence on Solomon. He had seven hundred wives, and three hundred concubines (slave wives) per 1 Kings 11:3. Sadly, Solomon’s idolatrous wives turned his heart away from complete devotion to God in his later life (1 Kings 11:4).

On one occasion when Israel’s enemies were as “the sand that is upon the sea shore” and who came against them “with horses and chariots very many,” God said to Joshua, “Be not afraid because of them: for tomorrow about this time will I deliver them up all slain before Israel: thou shalt hough their horses, and burn their chariots with fire.” It happened as God said, and Joshua did what he was told to do (Josh. 11:1-9). By houghing (i.e. hocking) the horses, Joshua rendered these war horses useless as military animals once and for all.

As a part of his strategy to promote himself into prominence and into the favor of his fellow Israelites, the devious and rebellious Absalom “prepared him chariots and horses, and fifty men to run before him” (1 Sam. 15:1). Likewise later Adonijah who would be king in David’s place “prepared him chariots and horsemen, and fifty men to run before him” (1 Kings 1:5). In order to show his approval of Solomon to be the next king, the aged and now near-death David called Zadok the priest and Nathan the prophet and Benaiah, and David said to them, “Take with you the servants of your lord, and cause Solomon my son to ride upon mine own mule, and bring him down to Gihon: And let Zadok the priest and Nathan the prophet anoint him there king over Israel: and blow ye with the trumpet, and say, God save king Solomon” (1 Kings 1:33-34). Notice the contrast between the horses of the rebellious men who would be king and David’s own mule (the product of a male donkey and female horse) on which the rightful heir to the throne, Solomon, rode. It reminds us of the Lord himself years later riding into Jerusalem on a donkey in fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy made with regard to another King that was coming (Matt. 21:1-17).

When Isaiah predicted the coming Babylonian captivity, one of the sins with which God’s people were charged was that in their rebellion, instead of taking counsel of God, they sought the help of Egypt with her horsemen and horses and chariots. God assured Israel that the Egyptians were mere men and that their horses were just flesh—not spirit (Isa. 30:1-7; 31:1-3). Can the lesson be any clearer? It has always been the case that a nation that trusts in its physical arsenal (including horses and chariots and airplanes and guns) rather than in God Almighty has wrongly invested its national confidence (Psalm 33:12; 127:1-2).

In 2 Kings 18:9-10 we learn that in the fourth year of King Hezekiah’s reign in Jerusalem that Shalmaneser, king of Assyria, besieged Samaria and at the end of three years Samaria was taken. The northern kingdom came to an end as the Israelites were deported to Assyria (v. 11). This happened because Israel “obeyed not the voice of the Lord their God, but transgressed his covenant, and all that Moses the servant of the Lord commanded, and would not hear them, nor do them” (v. 12).

Furthermore, in the fourteenth year of Hezekiah’s reign in Jerusalem, Sennacherib, king of Assyria, captured all the fenced cities of Judah, the southern kingdom (v. 13). Hezekiah, fearing the worst, sent word to the king that he (Hezekiah) had offended and promised now that if the king would leave that he would pay whatever fine the Assyrian king might impose. A heavy fine was imposed, and Hezekiah paid it, having taken all the silver and some gold from the temple and silver out of his own treasury (v. 14-15). The Assyrian king sent some soldiers on to Jerusalem with a message for Hezekiah. They warned Hezekiah about further rebellion and about trusting in Egypt for help. The messengers claimed that Egypt could not be trusted and that not even God should be trusted for they claimed (though wrongly) that Hezekiah had removed God’s high places and altars (v. 20-22). Hezekiah should not trust in the horses and chariots of Egypt he was told. If, however, Hezekiah will give pledges to the king of Assyria, two thousand horses would be sent to him if he could supply riders for them (v. 23). Fortunately, Hezekiah had sense enough and faith enough to inquire of God for help. He was not tempted by all those horses (ch. 19). God promised Hezekiah through Isaiah that the king of Assyria would not come into Jerusalem. In fact, he would hear a rumour, return to Assyria, and there die violently in his own land (v. 6-7). Two of his own sons killed him (v. 37). The psalmist would later write, “There is no king saved by the multitude of an host: a mighty man is not delivered by much strength. An horse is a vain thing for safety: neither shall he deliver any by his great strength. Behold, the eye of the Lord is upon them that fear him, upon them that hope in his mercy” (Psalm 33:16-18).

God through Jeremiah provides modern America with a timely lesson. As we watch the further deterioration of our country before our very eyes, we see our national failure to seek God and his will. It seems as though our country cannot handle the prosperity that God has provided. We should pause and reflect on God’s people in Jeremiah’s day. Jeremiah was sent by God to find a man who did justly and who sought the truth (Jer. 5:1). Jeremiah couldn’t find that man at first among what he later described as “the poor and foolish” (v. 4). So, he thought he would survey “the great men” (v. 5). But he could not find the good man among these great men either. In fact, what he found was men given to many transgressions and backslidings (v. 6). And then God asks, “How shall I pardon thee for this? Thy children have forsaken me, and sworn by them that are no gods: when I had fed them to the full, they then committed adultery, and assembled themselves by troops in the harlots’ houses. They were as fed horses in the morning: every one neighed after his neighbour’s wife. Shall I not visit for these things? saith the Lord: and shall not my soul be avenged on such a nation as this?” (v. 7-9).

“Fed horses” do not act like horses left to themselves to get their own feed. A non-fed horse spends most of his time in grazing in the effort to satisfy his hunger. But those fed by people do not have to fend for themselves and have plenty of time and will to exercise themselves in other pursuits given the opportunity. Many modern day Americans, because of their wealth, have plenty of time and plenty of opportunity to pursue evil. Many in our day have, in effect, “assembled themselves by troops in the harlots’ houses.”

Interestingly, the New Testament writer, James, compares the human tongue to a horse. Just as men put a bit in a horse’s mouth in order to control all that power, the human tongue is a tremendous power, too, that must be controlled (James 3:1-11). How much good can be done and how much evil is often done by the tongue!

In the book of Revelation, we read how that the apostle John was enabled to see things in heaven. And in one scene which his eyes were permitted to watch, John beholds the heaven opened. And he sees Jesus Christ himself sitting on a white horse. His garment is sprinkled with blood, and his name is called The Word of God. And on his garment and on his thigh is written “KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS” (Rev. 19:11-16). Jesus is not seated on a lowly donkey as he once was when he rode into earthly Jerusalem, but rather now the picture of him has him riding a horse suited for battle, but the horse is white. The battle the Lord wages is completely righteous (cf. 1 Tim. 1:18; 6:12), and the Lord in righteousness does judge and make war (v. 11).

Now, what have we learned from these various accounts that reference horses? (1) Horses are divinely made (they are not eternal, and they do not arrive by Darwinian evolution); (2) horses have speed and power, and that men should be impressed with such though God is not; (3) horses have been extremely useful in human history; (4) though impressive and powerful, horses are mere flesh and not spirit; (5) horses were never intended to be a substitute for the Maker of the horse; (6) men who lose faith in God will come to ultimately depend on the horse or the modern day equivalent as a source of power to deliver them; (7) men sometimes have used the horse to promote themselves and make themselves appealing to the populace; (8) and sometimes people who do not recognize God as the giver of legitimate prosperity and who refuse to acknowledge him become as fed horses neighing after their neighbors’ wives.

In the long ago, the time finally came for the courageous Old Testament prophet, Elijah, to leave this earth. But before going away, he asked his associate, Elisha, what he (Elijah) could do for him (Elisha) before he left. Elisha said, “I pray thee, let a double portion of thy spirit be upon me” (2 Kings 2:9). Elijah commented that such a request was “a hard thing,” but if Elisha was allowed to watch Elijah leave, then Elisha could know that his request had been granted (v. 10). “And it came to pass, as they still went on, and talked, that, behold there appeared a chariot of fire, and horses of fire, and parted them both asunder; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven. And Elisha saw it, and he cried, My father, my father, the chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof” (v. 11-12a).

Years ago, I was in graduate school with several other young gospel preachers including Dick Sztanyo. The other day Dick reminded me that I had told one of our professors in class one day that there would be no horses in heaven. But, you know, I was thinking about flesh and blood horses. I wasn’t thinking about the horses that carried Elijah to glory. Those “horses of fire” give me pause. If God permits them to be in eternal glory, when I get there by his marvelous grace, I would like to have some of them.

Posted in General

What Two Great Men Saw

In commenting on the prophets of olden times, the Lord once declared that they along with other righteous men desired to see things that the Lord’s contemporaries saw and heard, but they were never granted that privilege (Matt. 13:17). Peter informs us that the prophets made diligent search in their studies trying to find out the “when” of their prophecies regarding the Lord’s sufferings and the glories that would follow them (1 Pet. 1:10-12). Peter had earlier said that all the prophets from Samuel and those who came later prophesied with regard to the days when the Lord would be here on earth (Acts 3:22-26). All prophets spoke (Acts 3:24), and some prophets wrote (John 6:45), and some men, at least by their understanding of things revealed to them, saw remarkable things to come.

First, in John 8 we find the Lord in intense discussion with Jewish opponents who desired his death (John 8:37). They claimed to be the children of Abraham, and yet Jesus confronted them with the sad truth that they did not act like his children. In fact, they acted like their real father, the devil (v. 39-45). Jesus pointed out that if they were the genuine children of God, they would hear the words of God that Jesus spoke (v. 46-47). Just here in the dispute, as is so often the case in human history, when men are exposed for their error and they cannot justify their positions, they turn on their opponent and begin to attack him. And so, these Jews now claim that Jesus is a demon-possessed Samaritan. My! Doesn’t that just settle the dispute? They were in no position to falsify his words, and so they turned on him.

Of course, Jesus denied the charge and continued his discourse, and in his remarks he affirmed that if a man would keep the Lord’s word, that man would never see death (v. 51). The Jews thought they had him now, and were more confident in their claim that he had a demon because, after all, Abraham had died, and the other prophets had died, and Jesus’ words seemed to be at odds with history (v. 52-53). Jesus pointed out that though these Jews claimed to know God, they didn’t. It was God who was glorifying Christ whom they were rejecting. In their claim to know God, they were lying. And if he were to deny knowing God, he would be like them—a liar (v. 54-55). And then the Lord said, in one sense, an astonishing thing: “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day; and he saw it, and was glad” (v. 56). He admitted their physical relationship to Abraham (which he had never denied in the first place), but he now claimed a relationship between Abraham and himself that must have puzzled them.

In response, the Jews said, in effect, that such was impossible since Abraham had been long gone from the earth and Jesus was not yet fifty years old (v. 57). And then, more astonishingly, Jesus declared, “Verily, verily I say unto you, Before Abraham was born, I am” (v. 58). This was too much! And not having anything to rightly say to overcome the words of him who spoke like none other (John 7:46), they began to pick up stones to throw at him, but Jesus miraculously escaped (v. 59). But isn’t it interesting, that Abraham received gladness of heart over what he saw regarding the Lord’s day.

Second, in John 12 we find tension rising as Jewish religious leaders see their influence on the masses waning (v.19). Jesus knows that he is getting nearer to the cross (v. 23-24). He was wrestling with himself over the divine necessity of his death and normal human desire for the preservation of his own life (v. 27), but he resigns himself to the Father’s will, saying, “Father, glorify thy name” (v. 27-28). All of a sudden a voice comes out of heaven, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again” (v. 28). In response to the sound, the multitude thought it had thundered, and some said it was the voice of an angel that spoke to Jesus (v. 29). Jesus said that the voice sounded not for his benefit but for the benefit of the people (v. 30). Jesus then declared that the judgment of the world was come and that the prince of this world would be cast out, and that by his crucifixion he would draw all men to himself (v. 31-33). Some hearing these words were unknowing and confused in their ignorance, and Jesus encourages them to believe on him (who is the light) that they might become sons of light (v. 34-36a).

Not trusting himself to these people, Jesus was hidden from them (v. 36b). And then the writer, John, informs us that even though Jesus had already performed so many signs before them, “yet believed they not on him” (v. 37). And John then connects their unbelief to something that the prophet, Isaiah, had centuries before said: “Lord, who hath believed our report? And to whom hath the arm of the Lord been revealed? For this cause they could not believe, for that Isaiah said again, He hath blinded their eyes, and he hardened their heart; Lest they should see with their eyes, and perceive with their heart, And should turn, And I should heal them” (v. 38-40). This affirmation from John is based on the truth that Jesus had earlier declared that “the scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35). Since the Old Testament said it, it was true, and if the Old Testament predicted it, it predicted it because God knew that it would, in fact, occur. It was not that God was forcing the wills of men to act in opposition to what men would otherwise do, but it was a prediction of what would humanly and freely occur as a part of and in response to God’s providential will (cf. God and Pharaoh [Exodus 10:1, 20, 27 with 8:32], and cf. what Jesus said about Judas [John 6:64; 13:18]). Peter summarized the complex entanglement of divine will and human will in his statement regarding the crucifixion of Christ (Acts 2:23).

But then in John 12:41 the writer, John, says, “These things said Isaiah, because he saw his glory; and he spake of him,” and he contrasts the glory of Christ that Isaiah saw with the glory that so many of the Jewish rulers preferred. “Nevertheless even of the rulers many believed on him; but because of the Pharisees they did not confess it, lest they should be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the glory that is of men more than the glory that is of God” (v. 42-43). And just as Abraham was allowed to see the Lord’s day, Isaiah was allowed to see the Lord’s glory.

Posted in Expository, General

The World

It is insightful to realize that the word “world” in our English translations does not refer to the same thing all the time. There are several different meanings that surface as one contemplates the contexts in which the word is found. Let us consider this important English word in varying uses.

One, there is the “world” as universe. This is the world of “the heaven and the earth” of which Moses wrote. “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth” (Gen. 1:1). Years later Paul in Athens would assert that our Maker was “The God that made the world and all things therein, he, being Lord of heaven and earth…” (Acts 17:24). Our universe is most remarkable in its makeup and in its design. It is indeed a marvel. The psalmist would affirm, “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork. Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge. There is no speech nor language where their voice is not heard. Their line is gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world” (Psa. 19:1-4a). The world and its components testify clearly to the existence of our God (Acts 14:17). The evidence is so obvious that a man who in his own heart denies God is a fool (Psa. 14:1; 53:1).

Two, there is the “world” of sin. The apostle John wrote, “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the vainglory of life, is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world passeth away and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth forever” (1 John 2:15-17). Here the world of sin is described. It is the description of evil and how it comes about in the lives of men. The three categories or vehicles for the expression of sin in humans have always been limited to the three classes John gives. Moses had written long ago before John, “And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food (lust of the flesh, MD), and that it was pleasant to the eyes (lust of the eyes, MD), and a tree to be desired to make one wise (pride of life, MD), she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat” (Gen. 3:6). All of the sin of all of the people from Adam on down has come via these three routes. This is the world of sin.

Three, there is the “world” of sinners. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16). God did not send his son to die for the universe. And God doesn’t love sin. But he does love sinners in whose behalf he sent his son. But the sinners in whose behalf his son died were human sinners—not angelic ones (Heb. 2:16). I would offer the suggestion that the reason why Jesus did not die for sinful angels (2 Pet. 2:4), but did die for sinful men has to do with the nature of their sins. The free will of man was poised at the point of connection between flesh and spirit (Gal. 5:17). The free will of angels was not. And since there is an inherent weakness in flesh (Matt. 26:41), Adam’s sin was one of weakness while angelic sin has always been one of rebellion (cf. 1 Tim. 3:6). Jesus died for sinful men and in John 3:16 we are told that believers “should not perish” (not “shall not perish). The verb is in the subjunctive mood rather than the indicative. It is no promise that believers will be saved, but it is the affirmation that Jesus died so that believers could be saved, and that God wanted them to be saved.

Four, there is the “world” that is a period of time. When Paul affirmed that God made the world (Acts 17:24), he used a word that derives from “cosmos.” When John described the world of evil (1 John 2:15-17), he used the same word. The world that God loved (John 3:16) is identified by the same word. But when we come to Matthew 18:20 we find another word that is translated “world.” It is a Greek word that derives from aiown, which refers to a period of time or an era. When the Lord promised the apostles that he would be with them “even unto the end of the world” he was not telling them that he would be with them until he came again at the destruction of the universe (2 Pet. 3). What good would a promise like that be to them? By that time they would all have been long dead. In fact, right now they have already been long dead. The promise that he was making to them was that he would be with them to the completion of their work in carrying the gospel to the world. He said, “Go ye into all the world (cosmos), and preach the gospel to the whole creation” (Mark 16:15). The promise of Matthew 28:20 to be with them to the end of the “world” was a promise to be with them to the end of the “age.” The transition from Gentile-ism and Judaism to Christianity which began with the work of John the baptizer (Luke 16:16) would be completed only when the apostles finished carrying the gospel to every creature. Then that era of transition would be over. Jesus told his apostles that he would be with them until that work was completed. Notice Mark’s ending: “And they went forth, and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word by the signs that followed. Amen” (Mark 16:20).

Five, there is the “world” of mankind’s natural attachment to his physical environment. Consider carefully in the book of Ecclesiastes where Solomon points this profound truth out to us three times. Most of us are familiar with Ecclesiastes 3:1 where Solomon writes, “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven” but we aren’t as familiar with what follows in verse 11. “He (God, MD) hath made every thing beautiful in his time: also he hath set the world in their heart, so that no man can find out the work that God maketh from the beginning to the end.” Isn’t that something? God has so deliberately arranged our human situation so that there will always be things we cannot find out! Actually, the original word for “world” in Ecclesiastes 3:11 entails the concept of “time.” Man is by nature a finite creature who is limited by time. The reader likely remembers Deuteronomy 29:29 which tells us that “secret” things belong to God. So, God has withheld things from our knowledge by not revealing them either in the revelation of his word or in the revelation of his world. But Solomon in Ecclesiastes says that the impossibility of our knowing certain things is at least partially attributable to the fact that we are connected to the material or natural world by our creation. In it we fit. To it we are attached. And by it we are limited. God has set the world in our hearts.

Our divine limitation by time and boundaries is designed to lead us to search for God (Acts 17:26-27), but even after finding him, because of our attachment to the material world, there are things that we will never be able to comprehend about God’s activities. Later Solomon put it this way: “In the day of prosperity be joyful, but in the day of adversity consider: God also hath set the one over against the other, to the end that man should find nothing after him” (Eccl. 7:14). The exact “why” and the “when” of things in an individual’s life are open to interpretation. We cannot know for sure in many situations what God is exactly doing, though we can learn what our duty in regard to our experiences in those situations should be.

Solomon also wrote, “Then I beheld all the work of God, that a man cannot find out the work that is done under the sun: because though a man labour to seek it out, yet he shall not find it; yea farther; though a wise man think to know it, yet shall he not be able to find it” (Eccl. 8:17). The Bible clearly teaches all Christians to trust a loving and caring Father who can only wisely operate in the affairs of men. And though we cannot tell what God is doing and intending by the detailed events that become a part of our human experience, we do have his precious promises to us regarding his will for us and what awaits us (cf. Rom. 8:28). May God be praised that it is so!

Posted in Expository, General, Old Testament

The Lord Sent a Lion

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.

Posted in Books, General

A Preacher’s Library

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]

Posted in General

The Beginning of the End of God’s People

By Marlin Kilpatrick

The most blessed people who have ever lived are those people who have remained faithful to God. The downfall of Old Testament Israel was caused by their unfaithfulness to Him. There is a parallel between Israel’s unfaithfulness and what is happening today in the Lord’s church. In fact, in both cases the principle involved is precisely the same—a lack of respect for divine authority. When God’s people become unhappy with His way, it’s not long before they find a way to satisfy themselves. As with Israel, so it is today with more than a few congregations of the Lord’s church.

During some 450 years God ruled Israel through Judges. But the time came when his people wanted a king; they were unhappy with God’s way of ruling over them. Israel’s dissatisfaction with God and his way of ruling is quite revealing.

When the elders of Israel came to Samuel, who was the last of the Judges, they presented two “reasons” for their request for a king. The elders said, “Look, you are old and your sons do not walk in your ways” (1 Sam. 8:5a, NKJV). Both of these claims were true, but their real reason for wanting a king is revealed in their words, “Now make us a king to judge us like all the nations” (1 Sam. 8:5b). Israel’s having a king like the other nations may have made them more acceptable to their neighbors, but it started them down a path that, ultimately, led them away from God. No matter what man may think, he cannot improve on God’s way. God wanted his people to be a unique people. The uniqueness of God’s people brought glory to God and distinguished Him from the heathen gods of other nations. He also wanted a particular people through whom, eventually, the Messiah would come into this world. The coming of the Messiah, Jesus Christ, fulfilled a promise God had earlier made to Abraham that in “thy seed” all families of the earth would be blessed (cf. Gen. 12:1-3; Gal. 3:16).

The true church of Christ is the spiritual body of Christ (cf. Col. 1:18; Gal. 4:16). Israel wanted to be like the nations around them. The church, spiritual Israel, is, in many congregations, making the same mistake. We are losing our distinctiveness for which we have so long been known. We are becoming more and more like the denominational churches around us. God wanted Israel to be a distinctive people, and the Lord also wants His church to be distinctive. There is a line of demarcation drawn in the New Testament between the Lord’s church and all other organizations. We have a divinely given pattern which, when followed, will make us identical with the church which began in the 1st century (Acts 2).

Today it’s not uncommon to hear of certain congregations that now use instrumental music in their worship services (for which there is no scriptural authority). There was a time, not too many years ago, when the Lord’s church in any community was known for her stand on having scriptural authority for all that we do (cf. Col. 3:17). Now, the denominational churches smile at us and welcome us with open arms; they see little or no difference between us. The denominations see us as having finally arrived at what they’ve known for years—there’s no need for scriptural authority. How sad!

Brethren, where is the scriptural authority for the dedication of babies, the use of women in leadership roles in the church, children’s church, and a host of other practices? Why is there a lack of preaching on controversial subjects, e.g., marriage/divorce and remarriage? Why are we hearing very few sermons on the one church and her distinctiveness?

In closing, please look once again at the title of this article. The end of Old Testament Israel came when God sent them into captivity. The Northern Kingdom fell to the Assyrians in 722-21 B.C. and they were carried into Assyrian captivity. The Southern Kingdom, about 135 years later, fell to the Babylonians and they were carried into Babylonian captivity. As a nation, God’s people never again enjoyed the exalted position they once occupied. The captivities were the result of God’s people not being satisfied with His way.

It is past time that the faithful in the Lord’s church take a stand against the liberal element among us who are leading the church down a path that can only result in our spiritual ruin. Think about it.

Posted in General

Read the Bible in 2015

By Weylan Deaver

It is the only book God wrote. There is none like it. There is no substitute for what it says. The Bible’s take on every subject it touches is the truth. It will judge us all eventually. That being the case, we ought to be at least as acquainted with Scripture as we are with sports, movies, music, entertainers, hobbies, politics, local news or video games. It is vastly more important than all of those, combined. God’s book should not be a strange, unfamiliar object on the shelf. The New Testament has 260 chapters, and the Old Testament has 929 chapters, for a total of 1,189 chapters. If you begin in January in Genesis and read only four chapters per day, you will finish the entire Bible, with time to spare, before the year is over. Though Bible reading does not necessarily imply faithfulness to God, faithfulness does imply Bible reading. Or, put differently, a Bible reader may not be a dedicated Christian, but the truly dedicated are always Bible readers. It is, at least, a starting place. If you have not read it, you do not realize what you are missing. Regular readers know the Bible is never mastered, no matter how many times they have gone through it. God’s mind is deep, and his written revelation offers insights that are never exhausted. The Bible is given for our learning so that we might obey God. This makes it much more than just a collection of useful information. It is vital, essential, cannot-live-without-it information. We all owe it to God and our eternal well-being to study it diligently. So, determine to read the Bible in the new year. And, please visit us at the church of Christ, where the ancient word of God is always as fresh as this morning’s newspaper.

Posted in General

Long To Look

By Weylan Deaver

Speaking of Old Testament prophets’ predictions about Jesus Christ’s “sufferings” and “glories,” Peter wrote, “It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look” (1 Peter 1:12, ESV). Amazing, that angels “long to look” into God’s work regarding human salvation. In that verse, “long” is translated from a Greek word (epithumeo) which means to desire passionately. And, “look” is translated from a Greek word (parakupto) which conveys the image of someone stooping down to look at something. Thus, the “good news” of the gospel is so intriguing that angels have a keen desire to stoop down and see what God is doing for you and me as he offers salvation through Jesus’ blood. Perhaps even more remarkable is the fact that Jesus did not die to offer salvation to any angels who fell away from God, for “it is not angels that he helps” (Hebrews 2:16). So, even though the gospel is not for their own benefit, angels are interested. In point of fact, the gospel is all about saving men and women. Now, wouldn’t it be wonderful if every man and woman were as interested in the gospel as the angels are? God has done something so grand for humanity that angels take note. How sad, tragic, and without excuse that so many people for whom Jesus gave his life cannot seem to muster interest in the message of salvation. Visit us at the church of Christ, where we still “long to look” into God’s truth.

Posted in General, Restoration History

Reflections on a Handwritten Letter

By Weylan Deaver

Roy Deaver to Wilma, 1947
Roy Deaver to Wilma, 1947

When God wanted a message sent to Belshazzar, he did not type on the king’s Facebook wall. Rather, “the fingers of a human hand appeared and wrote on the plaster of the wall of the king’s palace” (Dan. 5:5, ESV). It was a post to be remembered! And, surely the “writing tablet” Zechariah reached for to let people know his son’s “name is John” (Luke 1:63) did not have a keypad or lithium battery—contrary to how we now think of a “tablet.” Every book in the Bible began as a handwritten document. “I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand” (1 Cor. 16:21).

Long before I was born my grandfather, Roy Deaver, penned a handwritten letter in 1947 to his wife and sons back home, while he was away preaching a gospel meeting. I would not see the letter until 2014—seven years after his death. It existed all the while, just not in view. So, to read it for the first time recently was almost to hold a piece of his life in my hand:

“We had five preachers present Monday night—a Nazarene preacher last night. I took a swat at him on modern miracles—Don’t know if he’ll be back or not…I had lunch on the Bennet ranch yesterday. I rode a Big Black stallion yesterday afternoon—chased a rabbit, started to stop the horse, broke a rein, he got excited and took off. Not having any way to stop him, I jumped off. Got scratched up a bit and I’m still getting thorns out. He has a white stallion that has never been saddled. I would like to ride him, but my insurance isn’t paid up.”

He was 24 years old, with courage in both pulpit and pasture. Since we do not often send or receive them anymore, perhaps it is useful to reflect on the significance of a letter handwritten.

Handwritten letters get read. We throw away junk mail in a heartbeat. We delete spam messages in bulk. If email from a friend is lengthy, we might skim for the gist of it. But, if that same friend sent the same words on paper in his own hand, we would read it in its entirety. The content is identical, but the delivery very different. In a day when there is too much information on our screens to absorb, and we become adept skimmers surfing from site to site for a useful morsel, our attention span suffers. Reading someone’s handwriting forces you to slow down. The words are not perfectly formed in Times New Roman. Some may even take a minute to figure out. Personality shines through, without the need for emoticons. You realize every letter’s curve and every imperfection are there because, at a particular moment, someone’s hand was on that piece of paper.

Handwritten letters get saved. Granted, not everyone who might send a letter is someone whose words you treasure, but a written note is more likely to be put away and read again than an email. A typed letter might get saved, depending on whom it is from, but it still lacks a quality in handwriting. Writing by hand tells the recipient he is worth taking time to address in your own unique script, even if it is more time consuming than typing. It takes longer to grow corn than to pop corn. An email is something to get out of your virtual inbox as soon as possible. Reply. Delete. But a letter in an envelope, that is something to slip in your jacket pocket for later reading in a quiet hour. Text messages do not get handed down to the next generation.

Handwritten letters arrive with their own special aura. Grabbing a stack of mail out of the box, you immediately notice that lone envelope that is addressed by hand. Even from a stranger, you will read it because it was addressed to you by hand. As you unfold a page filled with carefully crafted words, it already has the appearance of eloquence—justified or not—simply because it is so unusual. Handwritten words weigh more than the paper on which they rest. They can weigh more than digital words. In a day when most written communication starts as a computer generated font, handwriting stands out from the ordinary. Handwriting forces you to use real English, and that is a good thing. Emails and texts are conducive to abbreviation and carelessness—a thinly veiled effort to strangle proper grammar. Write with ink and suddenly an “LOL” or “TTYL” seems out of place, undignified, unnecessary. Good English opens new vistas for self-expression that go unexplored now. You might even come to frown on the ubiquitous smiley face.

Writing this kind of letter is a lost art, an art stolen by the nimble fingers of technology. So, if you want your words to stand out from what people are used to seeing all day every day, try long hand. You can convey a message in pixels on a screen. But, put ink to paper and you have something personal and tangible. Something that just might find its way to kinfolk years after you have gone, leaving in their hands the small trace of a life worth knowing.

Posted in General

Read Your Bible

By Marlin Kilpatrick

In years gone by, I have often emphasized the importance of reading the Bible. There’s no book like the Bible, and knowledge of its contents is basic to the living of the Christian life. But, is just reading the Bible all that’s necessary to the living of a life that’s pleasing to the Lord? If one is to benefit from reading the Bible, he must first understand some guiding principles that will assist him in coming to a deeper appreciation of God’s eternal word (cf. Matt. 24:35), and how the scriptures have an application in his own life.

The Bible is literature. Not all literature is interpreted in the same way. To further challenge our understanding of what we are reading, the Bible is comprised of different kinds of literature. When one reads the Bible he will encounter history, poetry (wisdom literature), biography, along with some apocalyptic writings. Each of these kinds of literature requires the reader to apply certain rules of interpretation. A mistake is made when we try to interpret all scripture the same way.

The Bible is a book. All books have a basic function which is to impart information. One who is trying to solve a mathematical problem would not seek help from a book about world history. He would seek a book that illustrates how to solve various kinds of mathematical problems. Likewise, the Bible, being a book, imparts all the information one needs to be able to obey the gospel of Christ and live successfully the Christian life. The Bible is unique among all books, because it is God-breathed (2 Pet. 1:20, 21).

Christians are supposed to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ (2 Pet. 3:18). The first step in our spiritual growth is to read the Bible. But more is required than just reading the scriptures; we must correctly handle God’s word (2 Tim. 2:15). If we correctly handle the scriptures, we will be able to “prove all things; hold fast that which is good” (1 Thess. 5:21). We will also be able to “prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of the God” (Rom. 12:2). The reading of the scriptures will make us “wise unto salvation” (cf. 2 Tim. 3:15).

Should we just read the Bible? No, but reading, studying, and applying the teaching of the scriptures in one’s own life will greatly enhance his life and lead him to that eternal home of the soul. Think about it.