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Leviticus 26:14-39; Curses for Disobedience

04/30 Leviticus 26:14-39; Curses for Disobedience; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20170430_leviticus-26_14-39.mp3

Leviticus is a covenant document between God and his people. Leviticus 26 gives the terms of the covenant agreement. Verses 1-2 are a reminder of the central demand of the covenant, that by entering into this covenant, Israel is promising to have no other gods but the one LORD. They are to trust him by honoring his time and his place. God’s instructions are to be kept and his presence is to be feared. Verses 3-13 list the blessings that accompany obedience; blessings of produce and peace and progeny and most importantly the gift of God’s presence with his people.

But the blessings of the covenant are conditional:

Leviticus 26:3 “If you walk in my statutes and observe my commandments and do them, 4 then I will give you …

Verses 14-39 are the consequences of a refusal to follow the terms of the agreement.

Leviticus 26:14 “But if you will not listen to me and will not do all these commandments, 15 if you spurn my statutes, and if your soul abhors my rules, so that you will not do all my commandments, but break my covenant, 16 then I will do this to you:

Notice in both cases, it is God himself who is active in fulfilling the terms of the covenant. If you do what I command, I will give you… If you will not listen to me and do… then I will do this to you. God takes his covenant seriously, and will personally bring about either blessings or the curses.

Notice the blatant disobedience that is warned against in these verses; “if you will not listen to me and will not do all these commandments, if you spurn my statutes, and if your soul abhors my rules, so that you will not do all my commandments, but break my covenant” A refusal to listen to God’s instructions, a refusal to do what he commands, is followed by an emotional reaction against God’s truth; ‘if your spurn my statutes, and if your soul abhors my rules’. This revulsion at God’s commands results in a refusal to obey, and a violation of the covenant contract.

This chapter is essential for understanding the rest of the Bible. This passage provides essential context for the rest of the Bible. It gives the covenant context for the history of God’s judgment on Israel. What happened under Joshua, and then in Judges when ‘everyone did what was right in his own eyes’ and ‘the LORD gave them into the hand of’ their enemies, and ‘they cried out to the LORD and he sent’ a deliverer; what happened under the kings who disobeyed and under those who tried to turn the people back to the LORD, what was spoken by the prophets who were sent to confront idolatry and turn the hearts of the people back to the LORD, what happened in the Assyrian and Babylonian conquests and captivities, what was said in the prayers of the captives like Daniel and Nehemiah, even what we today enjoy as New Covenant believers, all find their root in the terms of this covenant agreement between God and his people.

This section of consequences for covenant treason is structured in 5 cycles of escalating discipline. Each section begins with ‘if you will not listen; then I will…’

14-17 general curses – illness, famine, defeat

18-20 Drought and bad harvest

21-22 Wild animals

23-26 War, leading to plague and famine

27-39 War, leading to cannibalism, devastation and deportation

First Stage

Leviticus 26:14 “But if you will not listen to me and will not do all these commandments, 15 if you spurn my statutes, and if your soul abhors my rules, so that you will not do all my commandments, but break my covenant, 16 then I will do this to you: I will visit you with panic, with wasting disease and fever that consume the eyes and make the heart ache. And you shall sow your seed in vain, for your enemies shall eat it. 17 I will set my face against you, and you shall be struck down before your enemies. Those who hate you shall rule over you, and you shall flee when none pursues you.

God promises to visit the covenant breaker with panic, disease and fever, with stolen productivity, with defeat and oppression, with paranoid fear. God says ‘I will visit you …I will set my face against you.’ God is not absent in the sense that he has merely withdrawn his hand of protection and is allowing bad things to happen; no, he promises to be actively engaged in bringing about these consequences. Hell is not the absence of God; God is everywhere present. Hell will be the presence of God in righteous anger and punishment against those who have rejected him.

Second Stage

Leviticus 26:18 And if in spite of this you will not listen to me, then I will discipline you again sevenfold for your sins, 19 and I will break the pride of your power, and I will make your heavens like iron and your earth like bronze. 20 And your strength shall be spent in vain, for your land shall not yield its increase, and the trees of the land shall not yield their fruit.

God here promises to escalate the punishment for continued disobedience. Notice, ‘If in spite of this you will not listen to me.’ There is a hope held out here. At any stage in this discipline, if his people will turn to him and listen to him, the discipline does not have to go any further.

Discipline

This is discipline; discipline is meant to teach, to train, to correct. Discipline is meant to confront, to protect, to restore, to bless. God is saying ‘I want to bless you, but I cannot bless your disobedience, so I promise to do whatever is necessary to bring you around and create in you a heart attitude that I can bless.’ Remember, God loved Israel. God chose Israel. Not because of anything in her, but rather because he loved her (Deut.7:6-8; 9:6). Proverbs reminds us:

Proverbs 3:11 My son, do not despise the LORD’s discipline or be weary of his reproof, 12 for the LORD reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights.

Discipline is rooted in love. Moses tells the generation about to enter the land that God:

Deuteronomy 8:3 And he humbled you …that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. …5 Know then in your heart that, as a man disciplines his son, the LORD your God disciplines you. 6 So you shall keep the commandments of the LORD your God by walking in his ways and by fearing him.

Psalm 94 tells us:

Psalm 94:12 Blessed is the man whom you discipline, O LORD, and whom you teach out of your law,

Blessed, happy, is the one you discipline; because discipline is for our greatest good. Hebrews 12 lays this all out.

Hebrews 12:5 And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. 6 For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” 7 It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? 8 If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. 9 Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. 11 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

Discipline is not pleasant, but it is for our good. The things in this chapter are horrific, but that is intended to teach us that there is something worse. A slap on the child’s wrist is painful, but it is nothing compared to the pain of the emergency room visit that it is intended to prevent. The things in this chapter; disease and death and cannibalism and captivity are nothing compared to what they are meant to keep you from; an eternity separated from a good God who loves you.

Greater Accountability

Notice, the discipline of this chapter is promised to God’s covenant people, not to the nations. God has a special relationship with his own people, and these are the consequences for treating carelessly that relationship. Those who have experienced grace; those who have seen the truth and rejected it are judged much more severely than those who have not; Peter warns:

2 Peter 2:21 For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them.

Because those who have been offered grace will be held more accountable, God relentlessly pursues us with his discipline in order to bring us back.

Pride

In this second section, to those who have refused to respond to the first stage of discipline, God promises to ‘discipline you again sevenfold for your sins’. This is an escalation of discipline toward those who refuse to listen. God says ‘I will break the pride of your power’. He will prevent the land from producing. So often our hardness toward God is a result of pride. The prayerless person is a proud person. I will not cry out to God for help, because I can handle this without him! God did not create us to be independent, but dependent. We are not to stand on our own; we are to rely on him, to depend on him, to lean into him, to trust him. We are not self-sufficient; he alone is self-sufficient. We are to lean on his all-sufficiency. Repeatedly we hear the warning, when things go well for you, do not thing it is because of your own greatness, but because God has blessed you. Do not become proud, but recognize that every good thing is a gift from God.

O Lord, whatever it takes, break our foolish pride!

Third Stage

Leviticus 26:21 “Then if you walk contrary to me and will not listen to me, I will continue striking you, sevenfold for your sins. 22 And I will let loose the wild beasts against you, which shall bereave you of your children and destroy your livestock and make you few in number, so that your roads shall be deserted.

The third stage is an escalating progression in disipline. If you will listen, I will use the least severe means of discipline available. If you choose to harden your heart, I will be required to use more severe forms of discipline. ‘Then,’ after the first two stages, ‘if you walk contrary to me and will not listen to me.’ I will let loose the wild beasts against you’ bereave you of your children. This is opposite of the blessing in verse 6 ‘I will remove harmful beasts from your land’.

‘Wild beasts which shall bereave you of your children’ seems severe, but remember, this is the third stage of rebellion, having refused to listen to the first two rounds of discipline.

Fourth Stage

Leviticus 26:23 “And if by this discipline you are not turned to me but walk contrary to me, 24 then I also will walk contrary to you, and I myself will strike you sevenfold for your sins. 25 And I will bring a sword upon you, that shall execute vengeance for the covenant. And if you gather within your cities, I will send pestilence among you, and you shall be delivered into the hand of the enemy. 26 When I break your supply of bread, ten women shall bake your bread in a single oven and shall dole out your bread again by weight, and you shall eat and not be satisfied.

Here the goal of all this is clearly stated; ‘if by this discipline you are not turned to me.’ Hear God’s heart in all of this. His heart is toward you, not against you. He knows that there is no good apart from himself. So he intends to turn your heart back to him, whatever it takes.

This is a response to active disobedience. ‘If you walk contrary to me, the I also will walk contrary to you. I myself will strike you sevenfold for your sins.’ ‘I will …execute vengeance for the covenant’. This is a breach of a covenant that they agreed to. Going after false gods is both foolish and treasonous. God must defend the honor of his glorious name. He will execute vengeance for the covenant. Sword, pestilence, famine. Ten women shall bake your bread in a single oven. It seems polygamy is a curse, not a blessing. You shall eat and not be satisfied. True satisfaction comes only through walking with God, enjoying the good of his presence. Seeking satisfaction anywhere else will leave us eating without ever experiencing satisfaction.

Fifth Stage

Leviticus 26:27 “But if in spite of this you will not listen to me, but walk contrary to me, 28 then I will walk contrary to you in fury, and I myself will discipline you sevenfold for your sins. 29 You shall eat the flesh of your sons, and you shall eat the flesh of your daughters. 30 And I will destroy your high places and cut down your incense altars and cast your dead bodies upon the dead bodies of your idols, and my soul will abhor you. 31 And I will lay your cities waste and will make your sanctuaries desolate, and I will not smell your pleasing aromas. 32 And I myself will devastate the land, so that your enemies who settle in it shall be appalled at it. 33 And I will scatter you among the nations, and I will unsheathe the sword after you, and your land shall be a desolation, and your cities shall be a waste.

‘If in spite of this,’ having hardened your hearts through the first four stages of discipline ‘you will not listen to me, but walk contrary to me, then I will walk contrary to you in fury, and I myself will discipline you sevenfold for your sins.’ This is escalating discipline due to the callousness of the people’s hearts. It takes severe consequences to rip the callouses off and expose their hard hearts to the gravity of their situation. Cannibalism. When Syrian king Ben-Hadad beseiged Samaria and caused a great famine,

2 Kings 6:26 Now as the king of Israel was passing by on the wall, a woman cried out to him, saying, “Help, my lord, O king!” … 28 And the king asked her, “What is your trouble?” She answered, “This woman said to me, ‘Give your son, that we may eat him today, and we will eat my son tomorrow.’ 29 So we boiled my son and ate him. And on the next day I said to her, ‘Give your son, that we may eat him.’ But she has hidden her son.” 30 When the king heard the words of the woman, he tore his clothes—now he was passing by on the wall—and the people looked, and behold, he had sackcloth beneath on his body—

This is a heart-wrenching story, and the king tore his clothes. Tearing clothes is a sign of repentance and mourning. But even this horrific event did not turn the kings heart back to the LORD. Instead he sent messengers to kill the LORD’s prophet Elisha, who had been calling Israel to repentance.

God says ‘I will destroy your high places and cut down your incense altars and cast your dead bodies upon the dead bodies of your idols, and my soul will abhor you.’ The way to desecrate a place of worship was to scatter it with bones. This is an ironic promise that God will desecrate the false worship of his people with the corpses of those who trusted in these false gods. And he says ‘my soul will abhor you’. We often hear it said that ‘God hates the sin but loves the sinner.’ But here God himself says to the one who persistently violates the terms of the covenant and refuses to repent after extended discipline ‘my soul will abhor you’.

All this sounds horrific, but remember, the punishment fits the crime. The level of horror we have at these punishments, should alert us to the gravity of disregarding the word of the LORD, and turning away from God, spurning his patience and discipline that is meant to bring us to repentance.

Sabbath Rest and Hope

Leviticus 26:34 “Then the land shall enjoy its Sabbaths as long as it lies desolate, while you are in your enemies’ land; then the land shall rest, and enjoy its Sabbaths. 35 As long as it lies desolate it shall have rest, the rest that it did not have on your Sabbaths when you were dwelling in it. 36 And as for those of you who are left, I will send faintness into their hearts in the lands of their enemies. The sound of a driven leaf shall put them to flight, and they shall flee as one flees from the sword, and they shall fall when none pursues. 37 They shall stumble over one another, as if to escape a sword, though none pursues. And you shall have no power to stand before your enemies. 38 And you shall perish among the nations, and the land of your enemies shall eat you up. 39 And those of you who are left shall rot away in your enemies’ lands because of their iniquity, and also because of the iniquities of their fathers they shall rot away like them.

God promised that the land would enjoy its Sabbaths while his people are in captivity. God’s people ought to have enjoyed the Sabbath rest God provided for them. Instead the land would enjoy that rest without them. We read in 2 Chronicles

2 Chronicles 36:15 The LORD, the God of their fathers, sent persistently to them by his messengers, because he had compassion on his people and on his dwelling place. 16 But they kept mocking the messengers of God, despising his words and scoffing at his prophets, until the wrath of the LORD rose against his people, until there was no remedy.

…20 He took into exile in Babylon those who had escaped from the sword, and they became servants to him and to his sons until the establishment of the kingdom of Persia, 21 to fulfill the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had enjoyed its Sabbaths. All the days that it lay desolate it kept Sabbath, to fulfill seventy years.

But even in this there is hope. There is an end in sight. The prophet Isaiah writes:

Isaiah 54:7 For a brief moment I deserted you, but with great compassion I will gather you. 8 In overflowing anger for a moment I hid my face from you, but with everlasting love I will have compassion on you,” says the LORD, your Redeemer.

Law and Gospel

God’s heart is to turn the hearts of his people back to himself. In the Old Testament this was rare. Except for a small remnant, the people persisted in their disobedience, hardened their hearts, and refused to respond to his loving discipline. Although there were amazing blessings promised, the law brought a curse. We read in Galatians 3:

Galatians 3:10 For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” 11 Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” 12 But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.”

The law is based on performance, perfect performance, and because no one can ever keep the law perfectly, we are all under the curse. Everything written in this chapter addressed to covenant breakers belongs to us, because we are covenant breakers. None of the promises belong to us, because we have failed to walk in obedience. But once we feel the weight of this, there is amazingly good news here for us!

Galatians 3:13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— 14 so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.

On the cross, Jesus experienced the curses of Leviticus 26 for us. God executed vengeance for the broken covenant on Jesus; The Father turned in abhorrence from the one who had been made sin for us. Why? So that all the promised blessings might come to us who believe in Jesus!

Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org

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May 2, 2017 Posted by | Leviticus, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Leviticus 24:10-23; Blaspheming The Name

03/19 Leviticus 24:10-23; Blaspheming the Name; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20170319_leviticus-24_10-23.mp3

Leviticus 24, like Leviticus 10, reminds us that the five books of Moses are words from God given in a historical context. We think of Leviticus as a book of laws, and it is that, but these are laws given by God to his people in a particular context. God set his people free after 400 years of slavery and oppression in Egypt. He had demonstrated unmistakably his awesome power and unrivaled superiority over the false gods of the Egyptians. He brought his people out with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. He displayed that he alone is worthy of worship, and he is not to be treated lightly. He brought them out to worship him, to belong to him. He gave them the rules in Leviticus so that his people would understand what it meant to be in relationship with God, how a holy God could live in the middle of a sinful people, how their sins could be dealt with, how this holy God was to be approached.

Leviticus 24 switches from instruction to a narrative. Like Exodus 32, where Moses was on the mountain, receiving God’s words, and in the camp the people grew impatient, made a golden calf to worship, and broke all of God’s commands. Here, God has revealed to Moses that holy time is to be set apart to celebrate him, that light and bread are always abundant in his presence, and in the camp a fight breaks out.

Blasphemy of a Half-Israelite

Leviticus 24:10 Now an Israelite woman’s son, whose father was an Egyptian, went out among the people of Israel. And the Israelite woman’s son and a man of Israel fought in the camp, 11 and the Israelite woman’s son blasphemed the Name, and cursed. Then they brought him to Moses. His mother’s name was Shelomith, the daughter of Dibri, of the tribe of Dan. 12 And they put him in custody, till the will of the LORD should be clear to them.

Notice it is not the fact that a fight broke out that is the problem here. Wherever there are people, there will problems. There will be differing opinions, conflicts, tension, strife. In a camp of well over 600,000 men, this was surely not the only fight in Israel. We know there were disputes. In Exodus 18, Moses’ father-in-law encouraged him to appoint elders to help arbitrate disputes because people were standing around waiting from morning until evening for Moses to judge between one and another. The fight was not the issue. If the fight were the issue, both parties would have been apprehended. The issue was blasphemy of the Name.

Neither was the question what should be done with a blasphemer. That was laid out in no uncertain terms already. The third command said:

Exodus 20:7 “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.

and

Exodus 21:17 “Whoever curses his father or his mother shall be put to death.

If one who cursed father or mother was to be put to death, clearly one who committed the greater crime of cursing the Lord God himself was to be put to death.

Exodus 22:28 “You shall not revile God, nor curse a ruler of your people.

The question here in Leviticus 24 is not what should be done with a blasphemer. The question is how this law should be applied to someone who was not a full Israelite. This was an Israelite woman’s son, but his father was an Egyptian.

Parenting and Discipline

Notice, we are not given the name of the blasphemer. We don’t know the name of the father. But we are given the name of the mother, and the genealogy of the mother. We aren’t given any of the dynamics of this family. We don’t know if the Egyptian dad had escaped Egypt with the family and was still involved, or if he was a slave owner who fathered this child and took no responsibility, or if he may have been part of Pharaoh’s army who was drowned in the Red Sea. Whatever the background and family dynamic, the mother carried the responsibility for how she raised her child. And her name and family line has been preserved for us for thousands of years as the mother whose son was a blasphemer.

Let me use this opportunity to share with you a few verses of parenting wisdom from the Proverbs.

Proverbs 22:6 Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.

Proverbs 23:13 Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you strike him with a rod, he will not die. 14 If you strike him with the rod, you will save his soul from Sheol.

Hear me carefully. This is not a license for child abuse. Do not become so angry or frustrated with your child that you are tempted to injure your child. If that is where you feel you are at, you need to get some help and allow others in the church family to come along side you and speak wisdom and hope into your situation. Don’t be afraid to ask for counsel. But do not allow your children to do whatever they want to do. As a parent you have a responsibility to lovingly nurture and train your children. The Proverbs encourage parents to physically discipline their children. Think of it this way. The goal of loving discipline is to use a small amount of pain or discomfort administered carefully to prevent a much greater amount of pain later on. A slap on the hand or the back side stings a bit, but if it is applied consistently to prevent a small child from touching the hot stove, it may spare them from a trip to the emergency room. Loving discipline is hard work, and it is not meant for the convenience of the parent, but for the good of the child.

Proverbs 29:15 The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother.

In this case, apparently Shelomith failed to discipline her son, and he ultimately suffered the consequences. By his actions he brought shame on his mother, but notice, his mother was not held responsible for his behavior. Even if you had parents who failed to train you, that is not an excuse for your current behavior. You are accountable and will be held responsible for your own sins.

The Native and the Sojourner

The congregation understood the gravity of taking lightly the Name of the LORD. God, our Creator, our Rescuer, our Provider, is not to be dishonored. But what about this half-Israelite? Was he to be held to the same standard that a full Israelite was held to? He was held in custody until the LORD’s will was made known.

Leviticus 24:13 Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 14 “Bring out of the camp the one who cursed, and let all who heard him lay their hands on his head, and let all the congregation stone him. 15 And speak to the people of Israel, saying, Whoever curses his God shall bear his sin. 16 Whoever blasphemes the name of the LORD shall surely be put to death. All the congregation shall stone him. The sojourner as well as the native, when he blasphemes the Name, shall be put to death. 17 “Whoever takes a human life shall surely be put to death. 18 Whoever takes an animal’s life shall make it good, life for life. 19 If anyone injures his neighbor, as he has done it shall be done to him, 20 fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth; whatever injury he has given a person shall be given to him. 21 Whoever kills an animal shall make it good, and whoever kills a person shall be put to death. 22 You shall have the same rule for the sojourner and for the native, for I am the LORD your God.” 23 So Moses spoke to the people of Israel, and they brought out of the camp the one who had cursed and stoned him with stones. Thus the people of Israel did as the LORD commanded Moses.

God makes it clear that the sojourner was to be held accountable in the same way as a native Israelite. Throughout Leviticus, we have seen provision made for the sojourner, the stranger, the alien. In Exodus 12:38 told that a mixed multitude left Egypt with Israel. God revealed himself to be the only true God. Any Egyptian who decided to leave the false gods of Egypt and align with Israel and her God was welcome. In Exodus 12 the sojourner that desired to celebrate the Passover was invited to be circumcised and keep the Passover. In Exodus 20:10 the sojourner was to benefit from the weekly day of rest. Leviticus 17 and 22 allow the sojourner to bring sacrifices to the tent of the LORD, and he was also held accountable for appropriate handling of blood. Leviticus 18 and 20 hold the sojourner living among Israel to the same standards of morality as the native Israelite. Leviticus 19 and 23 command the Israelites to care for the sojourners by leaving food in the fields for them to glean.

Leviticus 19:33 “When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. 34 You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.

The sojourners were invited to enjoy the benefits of the covenant relationship with God. But as such they were also held accountable for appropriate covenant conduct. This passage makes it explicitly clear that the foreigners who partook of the covenant blessings were also held accountable to the covenant.

We see this emphasis in the symmetry of the passage. [outline – G. Wenham]

16 blasphemy; the sojourner as well as the native shall be punished

17 take a man’s life

18 take an animal’s life

19 whatever injury he did must be done to him

20 whatever injury given must be given to him

21a kill and animal

21b kill a man

22 blasphemy; the same rule for the sojourner and the native

Verses 16-19 are mirrored in verses 20-22 Verses 16 and 22 require the same standard for the sojourner as for the native Israelite regarding blasphemy. Verses 17 and 21b deal with murder. Verses 18 and 21a deal with killing someone’s animal. Verses 19 and 20 deal with injuring another person. From the lesser offense to the greatest offense the punishment is to fit the crime, and the punishment is to be the same for the sojourner as for the native. There is to be no favoritism.

We also see in the structure of the passage an increasing degree of seriousness for different crimes. Working out from the center, verses 19 and 20 deal with the least serious, injury to another person. The eye for an eye and tooth for tooth provides a reasonable limit to compensation. This does not mean that if you knock out my tooth, I get to send you to the dentist to get your tooth extracted. What it means is that if you knock out my tooth, I am not allowed to go after you with a club and knock out all your teeth, as in the flesh most of us would be inclined to do. You are to compensate me appropriately for the loss of my tooth.

Moving out from the center, if you take the life of my animal, which would be a significant part of my livelihood, you are to compensate me appropriately. The life of an animal is valuable, but it is not as valuable as human life. If you pay me appropriately, I can buy another ox, or another tractor.

But the life of a person is more valuable than the life of an animal. When we move out to verses 17 and 21b, we see that no compensation can substitute for the life of a person. Humanity was created in the image of God, and in murder the life of the murderer is required in return for the life of the one murdered.

The Seriousness of Blasphemy

As we understand the structure of this passage, we begin to appreciate the extreme gravity of the offense. An even greater offense than murder is blasphemy. It is a great offense to deface the image of God in man, but it is an even greater offense to directly attack the character of God. This word ‘blaspheme’ literally means ‘to puncture, to pierce, to hollow out, to strike through’ The word ‘curse’ literally means ‘to make light of.’ If you remember, back in chapter 10, when God’s fire consumed Aaron’s sons who disobeyed God, he said “

Leviticus 10:3 Then Moses said to Aaron, “This is what the LORD has said: ‘Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.’” And Aaron held his peace.

This word ‘glorified’ means literally ‘heavy or weighty.’ God is to be taken as weighty, substantial, with gravity. He is not to be taken lightly. We might be tempted to read this passage and think ‘Wow, that seems excessive. Murder, sure, that’s serious, but saying some words against God, what’s the big deal? How is that hurting anyone? And they stoned him to death?’

This is where we need to allow Scripture to correct our thinking. We tend to assume that suffering and death are the worst things that can happen to a person, and that a long life is better than a short one. This passage teaches that to make light of God is so serious a crime it is worthy of death. Why? If we understand that we are created to glorify God, and that true human fulfillment and joy can only be found in his presence, then if we make light of him we deceive others to their eternal harm. If God is our eternal good, and those near to him act as if the things of this life are more substantial, more weighty than God himself, we invite others to disregard God and exchange his glory for created pleasures that will not ultimately satisfy. This is what Romans 1 calls ‘suppressing the truth’ about God, or Romans 3 calls ‘falling short of the glory of God,’ and it is worthy of ‘the wrath of God being revealed from heaven’. We must understand and guard ourselves against blaspheming God, lying about his character, and leading others astray by our attitudes.

The Law and the Gospel

Something very interesting to see as we step back from this passage is that this is one of only two narratives in Leviticus. The first, in Chapter 10, God’s glory is revealed and two priests who disobey are consumed by the flame of God. Here in chapter 24, a half-Israelite makes light of God’s name, and he is stoned to death by the people. In both narratives we see death and judgment in connection with God’s holy law. This is exactly what Romans teaches.

Romans 4:15 For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression.

Romans 7:10 The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. 11 For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me.

Romans 3:19 Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20 For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.

The law brings wrath. The commandment proves to be death to me. The law stops every mouth and makes every person accountable to God. The law makes no one righteous; rather the law shows us our utter sinfulness, and our desperate need.

And in this need, we find good news!

John 1:17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.

Paul reflects in 1 Timothy

1 Timothy 1:13 though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, 14 and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 15 The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. 16 But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.

We have all sinned and failed to live in a way that displays the weighty awesomeness of God. The wages of our sin is death. But even blasphemers can receive mercy. The grace of our Lord overflows to us. Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners!

Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org

March 22, 2017 Posted by | Leviticus, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2 Peter 2:3-10; God’s Rescue and Punishment

http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20100131_2peter2_3-10.mp3

01/31 2 Peter 2:3-10 God’s Rescue and Punishment

2:1 But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. 2 And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. 3 And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep. 4 For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment; 5 if he did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a herald of righteousness, with seven others, when he brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly; 6 if by turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes he condemned them to extinction, making them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly; 7 and if he rescued righteous Lot, greatly distressed by the sensual conduct of the wicked 8 (for as that righteous man lived among them day after day, he was tormenting his righteous soul over their lawless deeds that he saw and heard); 9 then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment, 10 and especially those who indulge in the lust of defiling passion and despise authority.

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Peter is warning his readers against the dangers of false teaching. He says at the close of his letter:

2 Peter 3:17 You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability.18 But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.

Peter has contrasted the reliability of God’s word and the apostolic witness with the false prophets of old and the false teachers of today. Their heresy was moral. They would argue that there is no coming judgment and we will not be held accountable for our action, so we can indulge the flesh any way we like. In effect, this false teaching was denying the authority of Jesus Christ over all those he bought with his own blood. Peter warns that these heresies are destructive- they will bring swift destruction. And he gives us three Old Testament examples of the certainty of God’s judgment on those who live ungodly lives as a guarantee that it is coming. As Paul said in Romans:

Romans 15:4 For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.

Paul points the Corinthians to the Old Testament events as motivation for holy living:

1 Corinthians 10:1 I want you to know, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, 2 and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, 3 and all ate the same spiritual food, 4 and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ. 5 Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness. 6 Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did. 7 Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.” 8 We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. 9 We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, 10 nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer. 11 Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. 12 Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. 13 No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. 14 Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry.

Peter points us to the Old Testament history of God’s dealing with his creation to give us confidence of the coming judgment and encouragement to stand firm against false doctrine that would tell us that morality doesn’t matter. God does not change. What God hates, he always hates. He is the same yesterday, and today and forever [Heb.13:8; cf. Heb.1:12; Jas.1:17]. He will certainly punish those who do evil just as he has been faithful to do in the past. God has consistently judged the wicked throughout history. It may seem that God is letting sin slide, but Peter warns that condemnation has been pronounced on those who do evil, and that was not an idle threat. Their destruction is not asleep. God will surely do what he promised to do.

Peter’s three Old Testament examples are the angels that sinned, the ancient world God destroyed with the flood, and the sin saturated cities of Sodom and Gomorrah that were destroyed by fire..

4 For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment;

Peter here refers to the traditional understanding of Genesis 6:1-4. The Genesis text reads like this:

Genesis 6:1 When man began to multiply on the face of the land and daughters were born to them, 2 the sons of God saw that the daughters of man were attractive. And they took as their wives any they chose. 3 Then the LORD said, “My Spirit shall not abide in man forever, for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years.” 4 The Nephilim [giants] were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of man and they bore children to them. These were the mighty men who were of old, the men of renown.

We are told that the sons of God mated with human women and produced a race of mighty men. “Sons of God” appears to be a reference to angels in Job [1:6; 2:1; 38:7]. Some angels sinned by violating the boundary between species and taking human wives and producing superhuman children.

Jude gives us more detail on his understanding of this event when he compares the sin of these angels with the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah, who “likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire” [Jude 7]. Peter simply states that God did not spare these angels when they sinned, but imprisoned them in hell to be held until the final judgment. He summarizes the sins of his three examples in verse 10 as “those who indulge in the lust of defiling passion and despise authority.”

The word translated ‘cast them into hell’ in our text refers to being sent to ‘Tartarus’, the lowest part of the underworld in Greek thought. Peter’s point is that even their position of power and prestige did not spare angels from God’s justice. The false teachers may have claimed exemption from judgment because of their prosperity and popularity. But this would offer no safety to them. Even angels were not spared when they sinned.

The narrative in Genesis continues:

Genesis 6:5 The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. 6 And the LORD was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. 7 So the LORD said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.” 8 But Noah found favor [grace] in the eyes of the LORD. …11 Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence. 12 And God saw the earth, and behold, it was corrupt, for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth. 13 And God said to Noah, “I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence through them. Behold, I will destroy them with the earth.

Peter uses this as his next example:

5 if he did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a herald of righteousness, with seven others, when he brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly;

He did not spare angels, who are powerful privileged beings, and he did not spare the whole ancient world. Often we feel there is safety in numbers. If everybody is doing it, God surely grades on some sort of a curve. God would not destroy everyone, would he? God did not spare the ancient world. Only 8 people were preserved when God brought the flood on the world of the ungodly. We are inclined to presume on God’s grace and love – a loving God wouldn’t really send anyone to hell, would he? Jesus said:

Matthew 7:13 “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many.14 For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few. 15 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.

Peter gives his third example from God’s destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah:

6 if by turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes he condemned them to extinction, making them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly;

We find the record in Genesis 19:

Genesis 19:24 Then the LORD rained on Sodom and Gomorrah sulfur and fire from the LORD out of heaven. 25 And he overthrew those cities, and all the valley, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and what grew on the ground.

In Genesis 18, God had visited Abraham and

Genesis 18:20 Then the LORD said, “Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great and their sin is very grave, 21 I will go down to see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me. And if not, I will know.”

Two angels visited Sodom and found hospitality in the house of Lot.

Genesis 19:4 But before they lay down, the men of the city, the men of Sodom, both young and old, all the people to the last man, surrounded the house. 5 And they called to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us, that we may know them.” 6 Lot went out to the men at the entrance, shut the door after him, 7 and said, “I beg you, my brothers, do not act so wickedly. 8 Behold, I have two daughters who have not known any man. Let me bring them out to you, and do to them as you please. Only do nothing to these men, for they have come under the shelter of my roof.” 9 But they said, “Stand back!” And they said, “This fellow came to sojourn, and he has become the judge! Now we will deal worse with you than with them.” Then they pressed hard against the man Lot, and drew near to break the door down.

Even after this, the angels literally had to drag Lot and his family out of the city so they could destroy it. This was in response to Abraham’s prayer in chapter 18:

Genesis 18:23 Then Abraham drew near and said, “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? …25 Far be it from you to do such a thing, to put the righteous to death with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?”

And this answers another objection of the false teachers. They could say that God cannot judge the world, because the righteous would be punished along with the wicked. But from the examples of the flood and Sodom we see that God can and does distinguish between the righteous and the wicked.

7 and if he rescued righteous Lot, greatly distressed by the sensual conduct of the wicked 8 (for as that righteous man lived among them day after day, he was tormenting his righteous soul over their lawless deeds that he saw and heard);

It is staggering that Lot is called ‘righteous’ three times in this text. This is a grand demonstration of the unmerited grace of God. Reading Lot’s story, we see him selfishly choosing the best land for himself, we see him living in Sodom without making even one convert, we see him offering his two virgin daughters up to appease a sex-crazed mob intent on homosexual gang rape, his sons-in-law to be don’t take him seriously, he literally has to be pried away from Sodom by angels, and even then he bargains for compromise with his rescuers, his own wife is so enamored with the Sodomite culture that she turns back to her own destruction, and after their escape his own daughters get him drunk and sleep with him because they think the end of the world has come. This is the man Peter describes as ‘righteous’ three times. This can only be the imputed righteousness of Christ, not the intrinsic moral character of Lot himself. Peter started his letter pointing us to this:

2 Peter 1:1 …To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ: 2 May grace and peace be multiplied to you…

We receive a righteousness not our own as a gift by the grace of God through faith. Paul describes us as:

Romans 5:17 …those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness …

This is truly abundant grace to give Lot [and us] the free gift of righteousness.

Romans 3:21 …the righteousness of God has been manifested… 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,

Even in Lot’s life there is evidence of God at work transforming him. We may question when we look at his choices and his witness and his family, but Peter points us to the conviction of the Spirit and his inner turmoil over sin:

7 and if he rescued righteous Lot, greatly distressed by the sensual conduct of the wicked 8 (for as that righteous man lived among them day after day, he was tormenting his righteous soul over their lawless deeds that he saw and heard);

Lot was saved as through fire, and all his works were burned up, but he was saved [1Cor.3:12-15]. His born-again conscience was tormented daily by everything he saw and heard. He was in the world but not of the world. There was genuine evidence of God’s new creation work in his heart.

Peter has laid out these three Old Testament proofs in an extended ‘if – then’ statement. He says ‘if God did not spare angels, the world, or Sodom in the past…’ and we might expect him to conclude ‘then the Lord will not spare these immoral false teachers today’. Instead he interjects the great mercy of God in rescuing sinners before he describes the certainty of divine judgment.

9 then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment, 10 and especially those who indulge in the lust of defiling passion and despise authority.

As in the case of Noah and Lot, God is able to rescue the godly today. Jesus told his disciples:

Matthew 26:41 Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

And he taught his disciples to pray:

Matthew 6:9 Pray then like this: …13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

But the conclusion is certain. Just like the angels and the ancient world and the sinful cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, the Lord knows how to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment.

Galatians 6:7 Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. 8 For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.

His judgment is particularly certain against those who indulge in the lust of defiling passion and despise authority. The words translated ‘who indulge in the lust of defiling passion’ can literally be translated ‘those who go after flesh in defiling passion’. The phrase ‘those who go after’ is a common phrase to describe those who go after other gods or pagan deities. These teachers turned desire into their god and devoted themselves to a pursuit of their passions. And they despised authority. They disowned the Master who bought them.

This is sobering truth. God did not spare angels when they sinned. God did not spare the ancient world. Romans 11:21 tells us that God did not spare the unbelieving branches of natural Israel and he will not spare the gentiles grafted in if they are proud. But there is one more that God did not spare, and this brings us great hope:

Romans 8:32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?

Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org

January 31, 2010 Posted by | 2 Peter, podcast | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

1 Peter 3:18-22; Christ Triumphant!

http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20090503_1peter3_18-22.mp3

05/03 1 Peter 3:18-22 Christ Triumphant!

18 oti kai cristov apax peri amartiwn apeyanen dikaiov uper adikwn ina umav prosagagh tw yew yanatwyeiv men sarki zwopoihyeiv de pneumati 19 en w kai toiv en fulakh pneumasin poreuyeiv ekhruxen 20 apeiyhsasin pote ote apexedeceto h tou yeou makroyumia en hmeraiv nwe kataskeuazomenhv kibwtou eiv hn oligoi tout estin oktw qucai dieswyhsan di udatov 21 o kai umav antitupon nun swzei baptisma ou sarkov apoyesiv rupou alla suneidhsewv agayhv eperwthma eiv yeon di anastasewv ihsou cristou 22 ov estin en dexia yeou poreuyeiv eiv ouranon upotagentwn autw aggelwn kai exousiwn kai dunamewn

18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, 19 in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, 20 because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. 21 Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.

Today we’re going to tackle a difficult passage. I Peter 3:19-21 is one of the most difficult texts to interpret in the bible. Martin Luther said “A wonderful text this is, and a more obscure passage perhaps than any other in the New Testament, so that I do not know for a certainty just what Peter means.” [Luther, p.166]; I have to say ‘Amen’ to Luther. In studying this passage I changed my own view at least four times. But I’m excited for the opportunity to study this text with you today. I’m excited because ‘All scripture is breathed out by God and profitable’ [2Tim3:16] so this text is profitable. All scripture is profitable, but not all scripture is equally clear. Peter himself said:

2 Peter 3:15-16 … as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, 16 as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures.

And I’ve got to ask ‘Peter, have you read your own stuff?’ Paul is sometimes hard to swallow, but most of it is not hard to understand. People don’t like what Paul says so they try to explain it away, but this passage is just plain difficult to understand.

But here’s where we can profit from a passage like this. It teaches us we don’t have to understand it all. I’m not 100% sure what Peter is talking about here, and that’s OK. I don’t need to understand everything the bible has to say. I will be helped the more I understand of the bible, and you should:

2 Timothy 2:15 Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.

Part of rightly handling the word of truth is being able to discern the primary teachings from the secondary teachings. The part of what Peter says here that is open to various interpretations is definitely secondary in importance – it doesn’t have anything to do with who Jesus is, the nature of God, or salvation by grace. We are free to hold different opinions on issues of secondary importance. I’m not going to call someone a heretic or question their salvation because they disagree over who ‘the spirits in prison’ in verse 19 are. I will raise serious questions if someone disagrees over verse 18 which teaches the substitutionary sacrifice of Christ on the cross paying the penalty for our sins to reconcile us to the Father. Another aspect of rightly handling the word of truth is the ability to discern the obscure from the clear. Maybe Peter’s readers knew exactly what he was talking about, but living 2000 years later, we have to piece together as best we can what he meant by what he said. But there are certain things this passage cannot mean, because there are clear teachings elsewhere in the bible that contradict that interpretation. Here’s an example: Some interpret this passage to mean that after Jesus died, he went and preached the gospel to people in hell, offering them a second chance for salvation. That interpretation contradicts the clear teaching of scripture.

Hebrews 9:27 And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment,

2 Corinthians 6:2 …Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.

Romans 2:4-5 Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? 5 But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.

John 3:18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.

Jesus described the rich man who was in torment in Hades

Luke 16:24 And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.’…

26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’

Jesus described hell:

Mark 9:48 ‘where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’

Matthew 25:41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels….46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Revelation 14:11 And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, …

The clear teaching of the bible leaves no room for a second chance at salvation after death. We cannot take an obscure passage and make it say something that contradicts the clear teaching of the rest of the bible.

Here’s what we’re going to do today. I don’t want to miss the forest for the trees, so we’re going to look at the big picture of the context of this passage to see what Peter is doing. Although some of the details can be variously understood, the big picture is clear.

Then we will look at some of the different views and evaluate their strengths and weaknesses. And we’ll finish up by coming back around to the big picture and seeing how the details contribute to what Peter is saying.

The Big Picture

Peter is writing to encourage believers who are suffering because they are following Jesus. There is no need to fear, because Jesus also suffered and he was ultimately victorious. He will ensure that we who are suffering for him will be brought victoriously to God. The passage concludes with a view of Jesus seated at the right hand of the Father having conquered every spiritual power by his resurrection from the dead. He uses the situation in the days of Noah and the rescue of Noah’s family to illustrate the triumph of Christ and the preservation of his people. The questions come when we try to understand the details of the illustration.

The Different Views:

The main questions we have to answer are: Who are the spirits in prison? What did Christ preach? and When did he preach? There have been various answers to these questions. Here are some of the main ones:

1. Some understand the spirits in prison to be the evil angels who sinned in Genesis 6 before the flood, and Jesus after his resurrection made a proclamation of victory over them.

2. An old interpretation going back at least to Augustine is that Christ ‘in spirit’ was preaching repentance through Noah to the unbelievers who died in the flood and are now ‘spirits in prison’ in hell.

3. Others have understood the spirits in prison to be Old Testament saints who were kept in a place of waiting until Jesus went and liberated them between his death and his resurrection.

3. The Descent into Hell

This last view finds support in the apostle’s creed, an early creed which gradually took shape from around 200 A.D to 750 A.D.

I believe in God, the Father Almighty, the Maker of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord:

Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; He descended into hell. The third day He arose again from the dead;

He ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead….

It is interesting to note that the earliest forms of the creed did not include the line ‘he descended into hell’. Even though this is very old, it is not infallible scripture. But some see support for this in passages like:

Ephesians 4:8 Therefore it says, “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.” 9 (In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower parts of the earth? 10 He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.)

But the descent mentioned in these verses most likely refers to the incarnation, not a descent into hell. Jesus told the thief on the cross:

Luke 23:43 And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

Jesus died around 3pm. The two thieves died later, after their legs were broken. That day ended at sundown, about 6pm. If Jesus went to hell between his death and his resurrection, it was a very short trip!

The other two views are much more plausible.

2. Christ Preaching through Noah

We could paraphrase the passage to explain this view: ‘in the spiritual realm of existence Christ went and preached through Noah to those who are now spirits in the prison of hell. This happened when they formerly disobeyed, when the patience of God was waiting in the days of Noah while the ark was being built’ [Grudem, p.239]

In support of this view, 2 Peter 4:5 mentions Noah as a ‘herald of righteousness’, using the noun form of the same word we find here translated ‘proclaimed’. We find support for the idea that the pre-incarnate Christ could be seen as empowering Old Testament prophets in:

1 Peter 1:10-11 Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully,11 inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories.

But this doesn’t fit well with Peter’s phrase that Christ ‘went and proclaimed’. If he is talking merely about the spirit of Christ in Noah preaching, it would seem out of place to picture him as ‘going’.

Another major obstacle of this view is ‘spirits in prison’ is not a normal way to refer to unbelieving people now in hell. ‘Spirits’ in the plural in the New Testament almost without exception refers to angelic beings, not human beings. The term used for ‘prison’ is used in scripture for evil angels, but it is never used to refer to the place of punishment for human beings after death.

1. Victory over Fallen Angels

Genesis 6 describes the time leading up to the judgment of the flood:

Genesis 6:1 When man began to multiply on the face of the land and daughters were born to them, 2 the sons of God saw that the daughters of man were attractive. And they took as their wives any they chose. 3 Then the LORD said, “My Spirit shall not abide in man forever, for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years.” 4 The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of man and they bore children to them. These were the mighty men who were of old, the men of renown. 5 The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. 6 And the LORD was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. 7 So the LORD said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.” 8 But Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD.

These ‘sons of God’ could be the angels that Jude refers to:

Jude 6 And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day––

Peter may also be referring to the same incident when he says:

2 Peter 2:4 For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment; 5 if he did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a herald of righteousness, with seven others, when he brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly;…9 then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment,

This understanding fits the language ‘spirits in prison’ much better. This view fits the time sequence well; Jesus

18 …put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, 19 in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison,

And it fits the conclusion:

22 who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.

The question with this view is ‘what did Jesus preach?’ This word is not the word ‘evangelize’ that is common to the New Testament. This is the word for a herald to make proclamation. It is also used of the preaching of the gospel in the New Testament. But this cannot be an invitation for the fallen angels to repent.

Hebrews 2:16 For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham.

Rather, the same message – the message of good news of eternal life in Jesus – is a message of death to those who are perishing (2Cor.2:16). In this context, Jesus after his resurrection would herald his victory at the cross to these fallen angels imprisoned and awaiting their final condemnation.

Parallels between Noah and the Readers

Regardless of which view you take, the illustration Peter uses of the days of Noah would hit home with Peter’s readers. They, like Noah are a small minority of believers surrounded by hostile unbelievers. Noah witnessed boldly to those around him; Peter’s readers are encouraged to give reason for the hope that is in them, even suffering if necessary. In the days of Noah, God was patiently awaiting repentance; God is now patiently waiting for the repentance of unbelievers, but he will surely bring judgment on the unrepentant. Noah was finally saved with only a few others. Even if the majority does not convert, we will be saved because Christ has triumphed and we will share in his victory.

Baptism Now Saves You

Peter now draws a parallel between the waters of the flood and the waters of baptism. The flood waters represented God’s judgment and fury at sin. Noah and his family were rescued from the judgment of sin because of God’s grace. The waters of the flood brought death. Baptism pictures that immersion into the waters of death and judgment on sin. We have been crucified with Christ. Our sin nature has been put to death. But because we are united with Christ, in his resurrection we come safely through the waters of judgment. Because Jesus triumphed over death, we can now walk in newness of life.

Peter is careful to clarify so that he is not misunderstood to teach that the outward act of baptism has any saving effect. It is NOT the removal of dirt from the flesh. It is the appeal to God for a good conscience. Facing the waters of judgment and wrath against our sin we cry out to God as sinners in need of a savior and he wipes away our guilt through the substitution of Jesus for us. It is the spiritual reality that the outward act pictures that is significant. Because of our resurrection with Christ, we are empowered by the Spirit to live new lives. It is through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

But that is not all. Jesus suffered to bring us to God.

through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.

Jesus is now at the right hand of his Father. He was victorious over everything. His work finished, he sat down:

Hebrews 10:12 But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God,

And yet he never tires of applying his work to us sinners day after day after day:

Romans 8:34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died––more than that, who was raised––who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.

And his victorious resurrection power is at work in us who believe:

Ephesians 1:19 And what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us–ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power, 20 that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. 22 And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org

May 7, 2009 Posted by | 1 Peter, podcast | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment