Posts Tagged ‘Bible’

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An Evil Job Well Done: The Book of Job, an introduction…

July 6, 2012

One might wonder why we should seek an answer to the existence of evil in the world.  In attempting to find an answer it is impossible not to deal with some very difficult concepts and even painful, corrupt imagery.  However as rational beings created in the image of an orderly God we seek orderly explanations for the chaos which confronts us.  So into the darkness we peer; but as theists, furthermore as Christians, we learn most about the darkness by studying the attributes of light.  To put it into different terms we are best served to gain an understanding of evil through gaining an understanding of the God which evil opposes.  Fundamentally we seek to answer the age-old question of compatibility and consistency: how can the God revealed to us in attributes of love, kindness, mercy, justice and fairness co-exist with the mystery of lawlessness at work in this world?[1]  There are many approaches to this question.  Atheists, by their very nature, must simply deal with the evidences of evil laid out before them without the slightest ability to define, contain or confront the problem absent the contrast of God.  Absent the God of light, atheists have only shadows amid darkness.   Thus evil must and can only be answered, with satisfaction, by theists.

Among theists there exists a number of theories attempting to reconcile the existence of God with the presence and activity of evil.  For Christians the task remains to examine their world in light of God’s revelation to them in His word.  Within the pages of Scripture is revealed the character and attributes of the God who created all things, all things were created by Him, and apart from him nothing came into being that has come into being.[2]  The truth underlying that statement is easy to gloss over, but one does so at great peril to his understanding of God and the created realm.  One must bring against the existence of evil and suffering the recorded truth that God created all things in existence.  This may be done with cool reflection in the pages of commentaries and systematic textbooks, but when this truth intersects human life and experience the task becomes painfully difficult.

When seeking to understand evil against the backdrop of God’s recorded character few venues exists with the relevance of the book of Job.  This obscure book about an little known man from an unknown time provides the Christian with perhaps the greatest opportunity outside of the gospels to gain a picture of God in relation to the activity of evil and the result of man’s suffering in the world .

The reader of Job is provided with an outsiders perspective “that a sophisticated story-teller is at work, teaching us something about the nature of human life: while life for Job on the inside is hell, life viewed from above seems to have some kind of structure and purpose.”[3]  We shall now examine the books structure and purpose.

Overview

            The book of Job does not lend itself to concise review.  While not the longest book in the Old Testament, its complexity and depth of meaning and form have defied consensus.  Is it a narrative? Yes.  Is it a book of ANE poetry? Yes.  Does it belong in the genre of Biblical wisdom literature? Yes.  Is it Hebrew in origin? This is unknown, “the atmosphere of the book is non-Israelite and patriarchal.”[7]  There is a strong Aramaic flavor to the vocabulary and more hapax legomena and rare words than any other book in the Bible.[8]  For some, the book is an indispensable tool for addressing theological/philosophical issues such as suffering and pain.  For others the book is merely a story of a man, his loss, his search and his discovery.[9]  Regardless of the viewpoint or interpretation, there lies within Job a truth which seems to connect with the human condition.  Moreover, Job gives us a glimpse into the inner workings of God’s interaction with the created order that is unequaled.  In light of this we shall proceed to outline the book for our purposes.  Job can readily be broken into three segments of dialogue: the prologue (1:1-2:13); the poetic dialogues (3:1-37:24) and the Divine speeches (38:1-42:6).[10]

The Prologue

In the prologue we meet Job and learn of his situation and meet most of the characters of importance.  Job, his wife, children, and servants occupy the earthly realm.  God, the sons of God, and the Adversary occupy the divine council presumably in the heavens.  From the opening lines evil begins to factor into this story.  Job is described by the narrator, and later by God, as a man “blameless, upright, fearing God and turning away from evil.”[11]  Despite Job’s efforts to flee evil, evil is in pursuit of him.  When the divine council convenes in chapter 1, we see the one called the adversary come among the sons of God into His presence.  The Adversary or “הַשָּׂטָ֔ן”[12] is addressed by God and posed with a question, from this we learn that the adversary goes to and froe about the earth.  The next question is all the more relevant to the story,” הֲשַׂמְתָּ  לִבְּךָ  אֶל־עַבְדִּי אִיֹּוב ” literally ‘have you set your heart on my servant Job.’[13]  God seems to be inquiring about the desire of the Adversary, not merely about his consideration.  We are not informed as to whether or not Job has been desired previously by the adversary;  but it is now clear that Job is in his sights and the game is joined.  In a very crucial step, God grants the adversary permission to strike Job’s possessions.  Which the Adversary does, eliminating via murder Job’s servants (1:15; 1:17); theft Job’s livestock (1:14; 1:17); fire from heaven for Job’s sheep and servants (1:16); and wind for Job’s family (1:19).  Here we see the proliferation in Job’s life of three elements of what is considered evil; metaphysical evil, moral evil, and natural evil.

Metaphysical evil was manifest in the out-stretched hand of the Adversary, who un-benounced to Job and all surrounding parties was manipulating the various hardships befalling him.  Moral evil was present in the acts of theft and murder committed by the Sabines and Chaldeans who raided Job’s flocks and killed his servants.  Natural evil was present in the fire, which consumed Job’s sheep and the great wind which obliterated his children.  This triad of trauma leaves Job with only four servants and his wife.  The testing is continued and escalated in the next chapter.

The prologue concludes in chapter 2 with a resumption of the divine counsel, a second inquiry concerning Job and a second permission granted the adversary to advance Job’s suffering just short of death.  The adversary strikes Job with what are literally “evil sores” covering his entire body.[14]  Job, despite his loss and affliction has yet to curse God, and as a result, has maintained his character.  That character will be tested and show signs of strain as he begins, intellectually, to come to grips with his condition and interact with the next four characters entering the scene.  The prologue sets the stage for the dialogue to follow in the subsequent chapters.  In an ironic twist the reader is made aware of facts that Job and his friends will struggle in vain to discover.  The reader enters chapter 3 and the poetic dialogues knowing three pertinent facts, One. Job is blameless; Two. All suffering “falls within the sweep of God’s sovereignty;” and Three. Some suffering is related to sin and some suffering is “not directly related to any sin.”[15]

The Poetic Dialogues

Chapters 3 through 37 contain, next to Isaiah, the greatest concentration of biblical poetry outside of the Psalms.  The poetry is embedded in a series of speeches.  These speeches form a verbal interplay between Job, his three friends Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar and the young man Elihu.  Having been denied access to the heavenly court envisioned in chapters 1 and 2, Job essentially sets up a tribunal sitting at the city gate, surrounded by his friends, holding court.[16]  But if it was his intent to try God, he soon finds that he himself is the defendant.  His friends rather than coming to his defense serve as witnesses for the prosecution; and Elihu seems more than willing to offer some unsolicited closing arguments indicting Job and his friends while defending God.

If we gained an insight into the Divine interaction with evil in the prologue then the poetic dialogues will provide an illuminating picture of human conceptions of evil, wickedness and suffering.  Job initiates the dialogue with a critique of creation and his placement in it.  Job’s lament in the face of such meaningless suffering is the manifests itself in the cry to be uncreated.[17]  In the midst of these cries and demands for justice, Job repeatedly affirms God’s existence and His character.  Job’s lament is that his own experience is not lining up with the way God is supposed to act toward the righteous.  D.A. Carson in his book, How Long O Lord, describes Job’s speeches in this way:

Job’s speeches are the anguish of a man who knows God, who wants to know Him better, who never once doubts the existence of God, who remains convinced, at bottom, of the justice of God–but who cannot make sense of these entrenched beliefs in the light of his own experience.[18]

While Job attempts to reconcile reality with God, his friends are determined to redefine that reality based on the human condition.

Each of Job’s friends seeks to educate him on the human condition and the proper response to misfortune. In regards to this condition, Eliphaz addresses the role of the innocent in chapters 4-5.  Zophar follows in chapter 11 with a discussion on judgment that rightly befalls the wicked, and resumes in chapter 20 affirming that suffering awaits the wicked.  Bildad continues in chapter 13 describing the necessity of punishment and in chapter 25 the depravity of man.

Each also addresses the proper human response to what appears to be the judgment of God.  Bildad argues for repentance in chapter 8.  Eliphaz promotes a healthy fear of God in Chapter 15 and the necessity of humility in chapter 22.  Throughout this barrage of instruction Job listens and responds.  Rather than capitulating to their reason he uses their arguments to build his case for his own innocence.[19]  These speeches serve as stepping stones amidst the stream of Job’s thought; he will use each to slowly make his way to a right understanding of God.  But before he can achieve closure, he must contend with Elihu.

Elihu provides a lengthy and nuanced, if not original, line of reasoning.  He is above all concerned with two things, establishing his own authority to speak and defending God against charges of injustice.  For Elihu, God is blameless and sovereign able to do as he pleases for loving-kindness or correction.[20]  In this line of reasoning he is slightly more Theo-centric in his arguments than the previous speakers.[21]  But overall his purpose seems to be as a lead up; setting the stage for God’s appearance and a general change in tone during the divine speeches.

The Divine Speeches

Few passages in scripture are more profound, and from the standpoint of the reader more anti-climactic, than God’s dialogue with Job in Chapters 38-42.  As with all trials the judge is the last to speak and His words carry the greatest weight.  What is often found objectionable by readers of this book, is the apparent lack of empathy and lack of justification God provides in His address to Job.  “God does not answer Job’s questions about the problem of evil and suffering, but He makes it unambiguously clear what questions are unacceptable in God’s universe.”[22]  God, in a series of eighty rhetorical questions[23], gives Job a glimpse of the universe which far exceeds his capacity to understand.  Job did not have National Geographic, most likely very little understanding of the world outside his own region.  Yet God uses the world as His schoolroom, granting Job a greater knowledge of himself, his world and of God.[24]  The “poem that God speaks out of the storm soars beyond anything that has preceded it in the book.”[25]  God displays his mastery of the heavens above in chapter 38; and the earth below in chapter 39.  God describes his mastery of what is feared on earth through the taming of Behemoth in Chapter 40.  And He assures Job that that which is not seen in the chaos of the sea, leviathan likewise, is under His control in chapter 41.  This display reduces the once proud and verbose Job to the simple confession of repentance.  Whether Job gained a point-by-point refutation of his complaint or not seems meaningless to him.  That God has spoken is enough for Job.[26]  Job is subsequently renewed by God, his friends are rebuked, and Elihu is relegated to silence.

Ultimately the book closes by proving of God’s intent to show “that a human being can love God, fear God, and pursue righteousness without receiving prompt reward.” [27] Indeed the pursuit of God may occur and may be made all the more meaningful through the experience of evil and suffering.  Through all God is sovereign and in control over the suffering that man experiences and the evil which instigates it.

In part Two of the introduction we shall continue our discussion of evil in the book of Job by exposing the book to three forms of theodicy, with the purpose of gaining a clearer picture of God’s purpose behind evil and suffering.


[1] The Mystery of Lawlessness as described by Paul in 2 Thessalonians 2:7. “for the mystery of lawlessness is already at work…”

[2] John 1:3

[3] Craig G. Bartholomew and Ryan O’Dowd. Old Testament Wisdom Literature: a Theological introduction. Downers Grove: IVP Academic. 2011. 135.

[4]The belief that the source of evil is the given ability man possesses to choose freely, and that suffering results consequently from the sinful exercise of the free-will.

[5] The belief that source of evil is found in the lack of God’s good creation, evil itself does not exist but rather is merely the absence of good, suffering is then seen as merely an incidental part of God’s creation.

[6] For our purposes the text of Job can be broken down into three primary segments: the prologue (1:1-2:13); the poetic dialogues (3:1-37:24) and the Divine speeches (38:1-42:6).  Bartholomew, 136.

[7] William Dumbrell. The Faith of Israel: a Theological survey of the Old Testament. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic. 2002. 254.

[8] Ralph L. Smith. Introduction to the book of Job. Southwestern Journal of Theology 14, No. 1 (1971): 6.

[9] Francis Anderson. Job: an Introduction and Commentary. Downers Grove: IVP 1976. 64.

[10]Bartholomew, 136.

[11]Job 1:1; 1:8; 2:3 The evil mentioned in each is the Hebrew word ” רע ”  rah’ which appears 15 times in the book of Job, 6 times within the two chapters of the prologue. “ רע   ” among its 663 different uses it is translated some 442 times in the Old Testament as “evil” including Genesis 2:9 in the “tree of knowledge of Good and evil”  the discovery of which heralded the fall of man and the beginning of sin on earth. (BDG)

[12]Much has been written on whether or not this is in fact the one described in the New Testament as Satan.  The fact that the noun has the article would seem to suggest that it is in fact a definite title rather than a name.  However, the actions of this adversary speak much larger than his title.  For he seems to thrive on opposing God and His creation, seeking to see the creation renounce its creator, which is consistent with the role of the serpent in Genesis 3.  Even his movements seem consistent with that of the devil who is also described as roaming about the earth seeking whom he may devour. (1 Peter 5:8)

[13] The interrogatory phrase ,לִבְּךָ   הֲשַׂמְתָּ  or “Have you set your heart?” is often translated “have you considered,” combining the two words into one abstract meaning.  However, לִבְּךָ or ‘leb’ is translated some 508 times in the Old Testament as heart.  It seems more literal to see this as the workings of the heart rather than the conideration of the mind.  Seeing the adversary’s apparent relishing of his task in returning a second time into the divine council and provoking God yet a second time, seems to point perhaps to some desire on his part to see Job curse God.

[14]  “מִכַּף רָע ” Here ‘ra’ is used again, translated literally as ‘evil boils’.

[15] D.A. Carson. Job; Mystery and Faith. The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology Vol. 4 No.2 (Summer 2000): 41.

[16] Robert Fyall in his book  Now my Eyes have seen You: images of creation and evil in the book of Job. (Downers Grove: IVP. 2002.)  posits  that there exists within Job a host of legal imagery which serves as a major “literary device which integrates the narrative procession and theological motif.” (31)

[17] “Chapter three is Job’s lament: like Jeremiah (20:14-18), he wishes he had never been born.” Carson, Job. 41.

[18] D. A. Carson. How Long of Lord: Reflections on Suffering and Evil. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic. 1990, 2006. 146.

[19] One could argue that by the end of their dialogue they had reached such an impasse, as “the three men stopped answering Job, because he was righteous in his own eyes.” (Job 32:1)  Carson, How Long… 147.

[20]Job 37:13

[21] Even though Elihu appears to be more orthodox in his arguments, the irony is that his arguments “continually contradict the threefold affirmation in the prologue (1:1, 8, 2:3) and God’s confirmation of Job in 42:7” Bartholomew, 143.

[22] Carson, How Long.. 151.

[23] Bartholomew, 144.

[24] Anderson, 269. The two, knowledge of self and of God, “always go together in the Bible.”

[25] Robert Alter. The Art of Biblical Poetry. New York: Basic. 1985. 87.

[26] Anderson, 269.

[27]Carson, Job., 43.

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Evil Opposition in Scripture: A Series…

May 25, 2012

Part 1. Introduction…

From the moment of the Fall there has been a tension present in history.  Adam and Eve felt it and hid themselves in response to it.  God described it in the curse of the serpent and the promise of the Seed.  Cain displayed it with the murder of his brother.  From Cain on, there were a long line of those who embodied it and fell victim to its effects.  The “tension” in question is presence of evil opposition to God’s anointed.  The tension of messianic opposition is rooted in Genesis 3, and branches out through scripture.  Present along with the proto-euangelion in Genesis 3 is also a proto-opposition that bears witness to the type and fate of those who will seek to oppose the seed of the woman.

Where the allusion to the messiah is present, so too is the specter of His opposition.  The presence of these two forces together creates a palpable tension that pulses through the narrative of the Bible.  Each side is marked by characteristics that point forward to their ultimate fulfillment.  Messianic characteristics found in individuals within the text point us to Christ as judge, lawgiver, king, and Immanuel.  Likewise the characteristics of the opposition point us to their ultimate fulfillment in Satan as adversary, deceiver, self-exalting murderer, and defeated one.

This evil opposition and its characteristics can be seen in individuals throughout the text as they seek to oppose the will of God, often as they oppose His chosen people Israel.  As the types for Christ become more pronounced and specific within the text so does the type for Satan.  Our purpose here is to examine this character of evil opposition, its source, its mean and its in end the text.  We shall attempt to prove that there is a link between three passages of scripture that inform our understanding of the presence of evil opposition to anointed of God.

First we will examine the story of Absalom and his rebellion against his King in II Samuel.

Second we shall center on the figure represented in Israel’s taunt of Isaiah 14, “the son of the dawn” and I will argue that Isaiah has Absalom in view in this passage.

Third we will see how both of these Old Testament texts point forward to Judas’ opposition to the Messiah King in the gospels.

Finally we shall draw these texts together and try to make sense of their common characteristics.  By looking at these texts we desire to increase our understanding of both the opposition; Satan, and the One being opposed; Christ.  To that end, as we peer into the darkness may the marvelous light of God may be more pronounced; that we might gain hope by seeing the futility of those who oppose God.

In the Next Post, Part 2, we will discuss the characteristics of evil in Scripture.

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Mastering Mammon… Part III

March 23, 2012

We wrap up our focus on this passage of the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 6:22-24 by examining on of the most quoted verses of the Sermon.

24 “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth. What are some  modern examples of trying to serve two masters?

Is it possible to serve two masters?

Yes, in a sense, you can serve two masters.  You can have to jobs, you can have two hobbies, and you can have multiple careers over the course of your lifetime.  Jesus is not saying that you cannot serve two masters in the sense that you can not do two things at once.  Jesus IS saying that you cannot serve both God AND mammon.  You cannot serve both God and material desires, greed, lusts or treasures.  God has called for us to be holy, because He is holy (Lev 19, 1 Peter 1:16).  He has bought us.  We are no longer our own, we are God’s, bought with the precious blood of His son.  Therefore we are not slaves to the flesh, or to unrighteousness we are slaves to Christ. (1 Corinthians 7:22)  If you are not saved, if you are not one of God’s children, then you can have and serve as many masters as your flesh will allow you to serve; and your evil eye will deny you the light of God’s truth and your body shall be full of darkness.  But if you are saved and believe on Christ, then you are His and you can only serve Him and prosper.  With that single clear focus, you seek first His kingdom, and everything else shall be added to you.

Some Modern examples of serving two masters:

Driving and texting:  this is a really simple analogy but appropriate.  When we drive we are being called upon to keep our eyes on the road.  This is both prudent and necessary to travel the journey set out before us.  But if we allow our eyes to drift, if we focus on a text message and texting instead of the road that tragedy can occur.

Marriage versus pornography:  Ultimately Jesus is addressing our own selfishness and greed in Matthew 6:22-24.  We are not to store up treasures but rather trust in God, if so we will not be anxious but rely on Him and seek His Kingdom, it is what we should be committed to do.  Likewise we are committed in a marriage.  We are to focus on that marriage and serve our spouse, submitting to one another “as Christ served the church.” (Eph 5:25)  We are to give to our spouses sacrificially and selflessly; but when one of the partners is engaged in pornography, it soon becomes his (or her) master.  It saps a marriage of intimacy and is a perfect example of greed and selfishness.  Porn slowly obscures the light of God’s glorious plan for sex and marriage and fills the addict with darkness.  Soon the only light in their lives is the glow of the computer screen before them.  They seek after pleasure and love, but they end up being denied both.

Sports versus the church:  This one might get a stronger reaction than pornography.  Parents have to make a decision; are we going to allow our children’s sports to separate us from the gathering together of believers in God’s church.  The fellowship of believers is something that is displayed in scripture and we are commanded not to forsake it.  And yet how many Sundays are missed a year because of sports games, practices, tournaments etc.  Your kids will value what you display to them as valuable.  This is not legalism, this is not old fashioned, this is the word of God.  Are you willing to sacrifice your children’s future on the altar of Sports (or fill in any entanglement that keeps them from church, or following Christ.)

 

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The gaze of the Godly… Part II

March 22, 2012

We continue looking at the Sermon on the Mount by examining the difference between the two types of eyes that Jesus mentions in the passage of 6:22-24.

22 “The eye is the lamp of the body; so then if your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light. 23 But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! 24 “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.

 

What does Jesus mean when he talks about clear eyes and bad eyes?

We often use terminology an idioms involving the eyes to denote how someone is feeling or acting.  They might be “dreamy-eyed” in love, or “bleary-eyed” if they are tired.  Someone may even be “cock-eyed” in how they look at situations.  Here we are coming up against two common Hebrew idioms.  The “clear” eye or “single” eye and the “evil eye.”  Key to understanding the meaning of both of these is to look at the context into which they are placed.  Jesus is in the middle of a discussion of material processions and their effects on the life of the believer.  So the “good” eye and the “evil” eye here is referring to matters pertaining to material possessions and one’s attitude toward them.

The clear eye “Words that are closely related to “haplous” mean “liberality” (Ro 12:8; 2, I Cor. 9:11) and “generously” (James 1:5). The implication in the present verse is that if our heart, represented by the eye, is generous (clear), our whole spiritual life will be flooded with spiritual understanding, or light. If our eye is bad, however, if it is diseased or damaged, no light can enter, and the whole body will be full of darkness. If our hearts are encumbered with material concerns they become “blind” and insensitive to spiritual concerns.”[1]  The single or clear eye is “one that does not allow the allurement of wealth and possessions to distract him from God.”[2] Those who seek to divide their loyalties and focus on both “things” as well as God are blinded by a type of double vision.  In trying to look at two items at the same time, the vision becomes blurry and hence useless.  The “Good” or “Clear” eye is one “whose vision is not blurred by focusing on two objects at the same time, God and possessions.”[3]  It represents “single-minded” devotion to God, with one’s heart set on God alone.[4]

The Bad eye  The Greek word here is “Poneros (bad) usually means evil, as it is translated here in the King James Version. In the Septuagint  (Greek Old Testament LXX) it is often used in translating the Hebrew expression “evil eye” a Jewish colloquialism that means grudging, or stingy (see Deut. 15:9, Pr. 23:6 “Do not eat the bread of a selfish man [literally an “evil eye”]). “A man with an evil eye” for example, is one who “hastens after wealth” (Pr. 28:22 “A man with an evil eye hastens after wealth, And does not know that want will come upon him.”).”  The eye that is bad is the heart that is selfishly indulgent. The person who is materialistic and greedy is spiritually blind. Because he has no way of recognizing true light, he thinks he has light when he does not. What is thought to be light is therefore really darkness, and because of the self-deception, how great is the darkness! The principle is simple and sobering: the way we look at and use our money is a sure barometer of our spiritual condition.”[5] “An “evil eye,” conversely, was a stingy, jealous or greedy eye; yet it also signifies here a bad eye (Mt 6:23), one that cannot see properly.”[6]

So let’s tie all this together.  Jesus is instructing His disciples on how to lived the blessed life of one who is called the child of God. What distinguishes the children of God is not that they pray, fast, give and serve; but that they do these things for God alone.  Essential to living this life is having a singular focus on God.  We are to pray only to God. (6:9)  We are to fast and give for God alone. (6:3-4;16-18) We are to Serve God alone . (6:24) And we are to seek only Him and His Kingdom first. (6:33)  So in this passage (6:22-23) Jesus is making the point that those who are full of light have “good” eyes, clear eyes that generously seek and direct their attention on God.  Those who have evil eyes, place their gaze on the things of the world; mammon and treasures on earth.  They shall be full of darkness; unable to serve themselves or God.


[1] MacArthur, John: Matthew 1-7 Macarthur New Testament Commentary. Chicago: Moody Press 1985.

[2] Quarles, Charles. The Sermon on the Mount 249

[3] Ibid.

[4] Keener, The Gospel According to Matthew, IVP. 232.

[5] MacArthur, John: Matthew 1-7 Macarthur New Testament Commentary. Chicago: Moody Press 1985.

[6] Keener, The Gospel According to Matthew. 232

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The eyes have it…Part 1.

March 21, 2012

 

As we continue on in our look at the Sermon on the Mount, we come to a section that has fostered much speculation and much disagreement. When Jesus states that the eyes are the lamp of the body, what does he mean? How can the body be full of darkness, even though there is some light from the lamp? Below we will begin to look at these questions in several parts. First we will look at the different schools of thought concerning the eyes, we will then look at how this applies to serving two masters in 6:24.

Matthew 6:22-23

22 “The eye is the lamp of the body; so then if your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light. 23 But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!

What does he mean when he says, “the eye is the lamp of the body”?

Generally there are two schools of thought here:

One school says that the eyes are the lamp of the body because it shines out onto what the heart desires. “A lamp emits light”[1] The eyes radiate the light that resides within a person, “the light source is the heart– where a persons treasure is (6:21)”[2] Therefore a good eye would land on things that were pleasing to God and beneficial for the person; a bad eye would focus on displeasing, even idolatrous things, that were bad for the person. If one had lust in the heart, their bad eyes would find objects to lust after and eyes would bear witness to the darkness inside of them; whereas if one is pure of heart one would focus on God, and their eyes would bear witness to God’s light inside them.

The second school of thought says that rather than emitting light onto objects the eyes serve to let light into the body, revealing the condition of the heart, allowing light in and dispelling darkness. “The majority of commentators understand verse 22 to mean that the eye is the instrument by which external light passes into the body.”[3] So what the eye takes in, the body becomes. If one lusts after “things”, and the eyes seek after “things”, then “things, material possessions etc.” begin to fill the body. Whereas if one focuses on God, looks to God alone, then one is filled with His light.

Regardless of which school you subscribe to, it is clear that “Jesus is referring to the universally recognized truth that the eye is the organ that makes sight possible.”[4] “Since the eye is the source of light for the body, the condition of the eye is important.”[5] “God’s Word often uses the eye to represent the attitudes of the mind. If the eye is properly focused on the light, the body can function properly in its movements. But if the eye is out of focus and seeing double, it results in unsteady movements. It is most difficult to make progress while trying to look in two directions at the same time. If our aim in life is to get material gain, it will mean darkness within. But if our outlook is to serve and glorify God, there will be light within. If what should be light is really darkness, then we are being controlled by darkness; and outlook determines the outcome.”[6] The eyes stand between our hearts and the outside world; ready to be directed by the desire of our hearts and taking in everything we place them on. It’s like placing a lamp on a windowsill; the lamp shines out onto the world illuminating what’s outside, but it also shines inward letting light into the dark places of the house. So Jesus’ point here is to focus our attention, not so much on the function of the eyes, but rather the condition of the eyes. Is the light bright? Is it good and illuminating? Or is the light evil, bad and adding to the darkness?


[1] Dockery, Seeking the Kingdom, The Sermon on the mount for today. 90

[2] Dockery, 90

[3] Quarles, The Sermon on the Mount 244

[4] Quarles, 246

[5] Ibid.

[6] Wiersbe, Warren: Bible Exposition Commentary. Victor Pub: 1989.

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Matthew 6:16-18 Fasting, What is Jesus Saying?

February 29, 2012

“And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

(Matthew 6:16-18 ESV)

What is Jesus trying to communicate in this passage?

There were three pillars of Jewish religious practice that Jesus addresses in the SoM.  Almsgiving, Prayer and Fasting.  Fasting was a common part of life for faithful Jews.  The Pharisees fasted twice a week on Mondays and Thursdays.  Their practice was to “disfigure their faces and look dismal”, most likely they spread ashes on their beards in order to look pale and somber.[1]  They wanted to be noticed and to draw attention to the fact that they were fasting.  Jesus is directing this teaching to contrast with those who would act in such manner, to contrast with those who fasted primarily so that others would know that they were fasting.  Thus Jesus begins, “when you fast, do not look somber…”  Like with every element of the Sermon Jesus is drawing the hearer’s attention toward the condition of the heart.  What is the hearts motive for fasting?  Is it to seek God and deny oneself out of devotion to God or commemoration of His deeds?  Or is the motive of the heart to garner the praise and admiration of men?  Would we rather hear from men, “look how spiritual he is.” ? Or would we rather hear from our Father, “well done, good and faithful servant.”  Giving to the poor, praying and fasting are all good endeavors and none of them is wrong in and of themselves.  But each can be perverted and used to steal glory that rightfully belongs to God.

“To use good things to our own ends is always the sign of false religion. How easy it is to take something like fasting and try to use it to get God to do what we want…Fasting must forever center on God. Physical benefits, success in prayer, the enduing with power, spiritual insights—these must never replace God as the center of our fasting.”[2]  This is the key to what Jesus is saying.  Whether we give, whether we pray, or whether we fast, God must be our focus, so we do these things for the benefit of His eyes alone.  If we seek others approval we have made their approval, in essence, our god.

As with almsgiving and prayer, Jesus’ followers could and would practice fasting as an act of private piety. His main concern was their inner spirit with which fasting was performed. They were to be pure in motive as they fasted and not to fast as a means of gaining approval from others.

Ultimately Jesus is continuing to inform His followers of God’s preference for the affections of their heart rather than the public display of their worship.  Those who pursue God, do so effectively by having a pure heart that hungers for more than food and thirsts for more than attention.  The Christ-follower hungers and thirsts for righteousness and in the end gains a vision of God and the abundance of His Kingdom.

Read the Reasons Why We Fast… Here.
Read How Fasting informs our Past, Present and Future… Here…

[1] Dockery, Seeking the Kingdom. 82

[2] Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline: the discipline of Fasting.

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How Fasting Informs our Past, Present and Future…

February 27, 2012

 

Fasting informs us about our past.

When we undergo a fast, we begin the process of denying our body something that we have always relied upon.  As the meal times pass, and the hours and days go on, we begin to experience hunger.  We soon realize how much we have focused on food/drink/technology (whatever you’re fasting from) in the past.  The countless snacks we used to sneak throughout the day, the large meals we used to enjoy, suddenly draw our attention to the amount of time, energy and money that we spend pursuing our own appetites.  No one can undergo this process without experiencing a little conviction about how much they have loved and sought food in the past; in comparison to how much they loved and sought after God.  Fasting exposes our appetites and makes us aware of past idols we may never have noticed.

Fasting informs us about our Present.

As our fast continues, we experience the weakness of our bodies and the fatigue of our denial.  As it should, fasting makes us turn toward God and rely heavily on Him.  We can no longer rely on food for strength, or the next meal to get us through the day.  We must seek God for the strength to carry on.  This reliance, brought about by fasting, exposes a need that we have everyday, we need God to make it through the day.  Too often this need is deafened under the sound of chewing and crunching and the energy produced by coffee and caffeine.  When we are tired, we drink espresso; when we are fatigued, we eat an energy bar.  Fasting removes all our crutches and forces us to lean on God to accomplish the most menial tasks.  In truth this should be our attitude everyday of our lives, for it is through Him that we live, move and have our being. (Acts 17:28)  This is true every present day, whether we are fasting or not.

Fasting informs us about our future.

As we near then end of our fast, our thoughts are drawn both to God’s work of sustaining power and the promised feast that awaits us.  We look forward to eating once again, and have a new-found appreciation for the gift of food which God provides.  The beauties and fragrances of our favorite foods seem all the more intense and desirable after a period of deprivation.  We have tasted food before, and now we look forward to the time when we shall again feast to the glory of God.  Fasting informs our future, in that it mirrors the intense desire we should have for the future presence of God.  We have had but a taste of Him now, but soon we will see Him face to face, and sit with Him at the marriage supper of the Lamb.  Fasting develops our reliance on God but is also builds anticipation for the time when our fasting shall cease, and our feasting shall begin.