An Example of Man’s Best Guesses

We see a fascinating event happen when Paul was shipwrecked on the island of Malta. The people gather wood and build a fire to warm the bedraggled passengers. And a thing happens to Paul that adds some level of insult to injury. And in that happening, we can see a solid example of why we ought not trust human conclusions without divine revelation.

Acts 28:3-6 – 3 When Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks and put them on the fire, a viper came out because of the heat and fastened on his hand. 4 When the native people saw the creature hanging from his hand, they said to one another, “No doubt this man is a murderer. Though he has escaped from the sea, Justice has not allowed him to live.” 5 He, however, shook off the creature into the fire and suffered no harm. 6 They were waiting for him to swell up or suddenly fall down dead. But when they had waited a long time and saw no misfortune come to him, they changed their minds and said that he was a god.

OK, Paul is bitten by a snake. The thing just latched on. Paul shakes it off, and he lives. All things considered, this is a rough day.

But watch the assumptions made by the observers. First, the people draw a conclusion from the evidence they see. They assume that Paul is a criminal getting justice. Even though he survived the wreck of the ship, he is still going to die from the poison of the snake. HE is getting what is coming to him. This is what the natives assume.

Then, after Paul does not die, the people amend their assessment of the situation. He survives a shipwreck and the bite of a viper. Now the people assume that Paul must be a god.

The fact is, the people of Malta were wrong, badly wrong, twice. They used their best guess based on the evidence available to them and their understanding of the world. And what we discover is a simple truth. Mankind, apart from the perfect revelation of God, will misinterpret the world around him time and time again.

Christians, let a passage like this one cause you to give God great thanks for Scripture. After all, without God revealing himself in his holy and inspired word, you too would interpret the world around you wrongly. Either you would have superstition all over you like the people of Malta, or you would be given into the folly of a naturalistic worldview. Either way, you would be very wrong. Thank the Lord for speaking to us in his word. Thank the Lord for speaking to us in the person and work of Jesus. It would be totally just of God to simply destroy us for our sin without ever speaking to us in any way whatsoever. Thank God for choosing to tell us who he is, who we are, and what we must do to be made right with him. Thank God for the Bible.

Two Types of Prophets

Examining the claims of those who claim faith, we find that the message is not consistent. This makes it hard for people from outside the church to understand our claims. After all, one group will say one thing and one another. Who is to say who is right? One group claims a gospel of salvation by grace through faith in Christ. Another proclaims a gospel of liberation, of financial prosperity, of throwing off of all restraints. Who is telling the truth? Or do we just get to pick and choose?

In Jeremiah’s day, not long before the fall of Jerusalem in the early sixth century BC, there were contradictory claims coming from the religious. And this is important for us to see. You see, God was only putting forth one message, no matter what multiple groups were claiming.

Jeremiah 14:13-16 – 13 Then I said: “Ah, Lord God, behold, the prophets say to them, ‘You shall not see the sword, nor shall you have famine, but I will give you assured peace in this place.’ ” 14 And the Lord said to me: “The prophets are prophesying lies in my name. I did not send them, nor did I command them or speak to them. They are prophesying to you a lying vision, worthless divination, and the deceit of their own minds. 15 Therefore thus says the Lord concerning the prophets who prophesy in my name although I did not send them, and who say, ‘Sword and famine shall not come upon this land’: By sword and famine those prophets shall be consumed. 16 And the people to whom they prophesy shall be cast out in the streets of Jerusalem, victims of famine and sword, with none to bury them—them, their wives, their sons, and their daughters. For I will pour out their evil upon them.

Jeremiah was carrying the word of God to the people. He was warning against the coming judgment of God. He warned the people to turn from their sin. He warned them to prepare for the invasion to come and the captivity to follow.

But other prophets were assuring the people that there was no judgment they would face at all. These prophets told the nation that soon prosperity would overtake them. These men were gaining personal wealth and social status by telling the people things the people already believed and wanted to hear. They were preying on the people’s greed and lust and idolatry to gain influence. And God promised that these men and their followers were in big trouble.

But how do we know? How can we tell who is right? How can we know who speaks the real message of God and who is misleading us? Notice what Jeremiah tells us about himself.

Jeremiah 15:16

Your words were found, and I ate them,
and your words became to me a joy
and the delight of my heart,
for I am called by your name,
O Lord, God of hosts.

Jeremiah tells us that he has the words of God. But, in our world today, who now has the word of God? Who has a genuine message from God? Let me make it simple for you. The one who has a true message from God is not the one claiming personal, supernatural, spiritual revelation. The one who is talking to us from God is not the one who claims that the word of God and the ways of God have changed. The person with the message from God is not the person who is trying to shape Christianity according to the present culture or according to the modern intellectual theories of oppression and power playing. No, these are not and have never been the voice of God.

What is the voice of God? Scripture, Holy Scripture, the Bible is the word of God. The same Scripture that was completed in the first century, that has been preserved for generations, that has been translated for our ability to read it, that is the word of God. And the one who is bringing us the message of God is the one who loves the word, communicates to us the word, and is faithful to cleanly handle and interpret the word. The one bringing us the voice of God is the one not telling us new things, but the old, old story of the holy God who rescues sinners in Christ, God the Son. The one telling the truth is the one who lets Scripture speak for itself, who upholds God standards for justice, for faithful living, for kindness, for marriage, for sexuality, for honesty, for worship, and for all that God commands.

Do you want to know who is telling the truth? Do you want to hear the voice of God? Open the Bible. Study it faithfully and prayerfully. Do not look for hidden codes and secret mysteries. Do not look for ways to make it say the opposite of what it actually says. Just love the word and you will be loving the voice of God. Do not fall for those who claim to speak for God while ignoring or inverting the word of God. But follow the counsel of those who honestly, simply, clearly, and faithfully open the word to the people.

Are You Hearing God’s Voice?

How often do we deal with a person who says that they do not believe in the existence of God? It seems, of course, to become more common from day to day. But that unbelief, or at least that claimed unbelief, has nothing to do with the revelation of God. Scripture is clear that God reveals himself to all people everywhere. Nature itself, the heavens and the earth, communicate to humanity something of the power and grandeur of God. No person on earth is beyond this language that speaks without words and reveals that we are creatures beneath a Creator (cf. Psa. 19:1-6). And honest people also recognize that we have fallen short of perfection.

But there are people who claim that God is unfair and unkind, because he will not speak to individuals and prove himself to them. Many are angry with God, because he has not answered their questions to their satisfaction. Like job, there are people who demand that the Lord explain himself and his ways to them. Unlike job, many are waiting that revelation before they will determine whether or not they approve of the Lord.

In the case of Job, in the midst of his suffering, God allowed Elihu to help Job to remember that God is good, and God is always telling us things we need to hear. Look at the words of Elihu in response to Job’s feeling unfairly treated or that God is too silent.

Job 33:12-14

12 “Behold, in this you are not right. I will answer you,
for God is greater than man.
13 Why do you contend against him,
saying, ‘He will answer none of man’s words’?
14 For God speaks in one way,
and in two, though man does not perceive it.

Why accuse God of not speaking? He speaks to us all the time to show us things we need to know. IN the rest of the chapter, Elihu will point to a couple of ways that God speaks to us. These are fascinating. They are part of what we call general revelation. General revelation is the revelation of God that is available to mankind generally. General revelation is not enough to reveal to a person the true gospel, but it is enough to convince a person that there is a God who made us and that we need his favor and forgiveness.

Job 33:15-18

15 In a dream, in a vision of the night,
when deep sleep falls on men,
while they slumber on their beds,
16 then he opens the ears of men
and terrifies them with warnings,
17 that he may turn man aside from his deed
and conceal pride from a man;
18 he keeps back his soul from the pit,
his life from perishing by the sword.

Verses 15-18 show us that God speaks to humans in our dreams. This is not Elihu pointing to a form of charismatic dream prophecy. Instead, he seems to simply be pointing to night terrors. In our dreams, the things that make us afraid are there to remind us of the evils that we deserve if we are not forgiven by the Lord. In truth, we ought to learn from our dreams that the wrath of almighty God is far more frightening than any terror our imaginations can stir up. Nightmares should cause a human being to be humbled, to be reminded of our frailty, and to turn to the Lord for mercy before it is too late.

From verses 19-22, Elihu speaks of painful illnesses like the one Job is facing. Elihu points out that these are messengers of God to remind us that we are mortal, and we need to be rescued. In verses 23-25, the argument is that a man healed from a disease, restored from the doors of death, should see this as the kind favor of God.

Job 33:26-30

26 then man prays to God, and he accepts him;
he sees his face with a shout of joy,
and he restores to man his righteousness.
27 He sings before men and says:
‘I sinned and perverted what was right,
and it was not repaid to me.
28 He has redeemed my soul from going down into the pit,
and my life shall look upon the light.’
29 “Behold, God does all these things,
twice, three times, with a man,
30 to bring back his soul from the pit,
that he may be lighted with the light of life.

Elihu has a grasp on salvation. Hard circumstances and pains in life exist to remind us of our need for salvation and our lack of power on our own. They remind us that we must cry out to God for mercy. We are sinners before a holy God, and we need his mercy to live.

Elihu said that Job complained that God would not answer his complaints. But then he told Job that God had been speaking all along. God has spoken in creation to display his glory and power. God has spoken in Job’s nightmares to remind us of the wrath we face for our sin. God has spoken in Job’s hurts and illness to remind him of his mortality. God has used all sorts of circumstances to check Job, pulling him back from the danger of diving headlong into bitterness against the Lord and certain destruction.

Do you hear the voice of God? Do you realize that the created world around you shows you his power and artistry? Do you see that your worst fears are but tiny reminders of the deeper horrors of falling under the judgment of God? Do you understand that our pains and sicknesses remind us that we are mortal and in need of God to rescue us? Will you let that voice of God call you to turn from sin and cry out to him for mercy?

IN God’s special revelation, the Bible, he has shown us that our salvation is completely bound up in the person and work of Jesus. If you wish to be forgiven, believe in Jesus. Turn your heart from all that God calls sin. Cry out to Jesus for mercy. Surrender lordship of your life to him. God promises that all who will repent and believe will be saved.

No dispensation for Disobedience

“I know this is wrong, but…” “I know the Bible says, but in my case…” “I know that Scripture says not to, but I’ve been praying about it, and…”

WE love to look for ways to get around clear commands of God. In general, we are pro-Scripture. But what do we do when those verses call us to sacrifice? What do we do when those verses show us that the thing we want to do, the thing we desire, is wrong? How often do we look for a loophole? How often do we try to find a way to excuse what we want, in our circumstances?

I can think of a woman, a believer, who was in a marriage that had become frustrating. She was not abused. Her husband had not committed adultery. She just was not getting all she wanted out of the marriage. The wife let others around her know that, she had prayed about the situation, and God had given her a peace about divorcing her husband to marry another man she thought would satisfy her more. She claimed that the Lord had told her, in prayer, that his commands about marriage, divorce, and remarriage simply did not apply, and he was giving her special permission to do something else.

In many cases, we want such a dispensation for disobedience. We want to be able to go our own way and have God tell us, “Oh, it’s OK for you.”

This all came to mind in my reading through 1 Kings 13. There is a really odd little passage here about an unnamed prophet who went from the southern to the northern kingdom to prophesy against Jeroboam. God gave that prophet a clear command not to eat or drink within the borders of the northern kingdom. But then along came another man who said he had heard something different.

1 Kings 13:15-18 –

15 Then he said to him, “Come home with me and eat bread.” 16 And he said, “I may not return with you, or go in with you, neither will I eat bread nor drink water with you in this place, 17 for it was said to me by the word of the Lord, ‘You shall neither eat bread nor drink water there, nor return by the way that you came.’ ” 18 And he said to him, “I also am a prophet as you are, and an angel spoke to me by the word of the Lord, saying, ‘Bring him back with you into your house that he may eat bread and drink water.’ ” But he lied to him.

The unnamed man of God knew he was not allowed to eat while on this mission. The other prophet flat lied. The unnamed man of God knew what his marching orders were. But he decided that he would rather have his restrictions lifted. So he chose to believe a lie.

What happened next? The unnamed man of God was killed by a lion as a result of his disobedience. And we all feel it was not fair. But we have to learn that God is showing us all that his actual commands are binding. His word is our command. And we do not get a special dispensation from him to disobey him when we find it convenient.

Thankfully, we live in the era of a closed canon of Scripture. That means that God is never, no not ever, going to speak to a Christian a command that contradicts anything that he has already commanded in his word. During the days of the unnamed man of God, new revelations were still forthcoming. It would have been tremendously hard to know if someone might have a new word from God. But, thanks be to God, we are not getting new words from God today. His perfect, completed, inspired words have already been written. Our job is to know, love, and obey those written words of Scripture, and not let anybody throw us off by claiming that God has given them permission to disobey the word.