Strange Command

Q. I find 1 Kings 20:35-37 hard to digest. I don’t understand why the man who refuses to strike the prophet is punished so severely. Is there any other context that I should be aware of in understanding this? To simply have someone walk up to you and say “Hit me” is probably something I would refuse to do as well. And supposing that it was already known that the person asking was a man of God, wouldn’t the person being asked be even more fearful of punishment for striking the man that asked for that exact reason? How is the person being asked supposed to know that what he was being asked to do was permitted by God when it seemingly goes against how we are asked to treat each other?

A. This looked like a strange demand, until you examine the text carefully:
1 Kings 20:35 Now a certain man of the sons of the prophets said to another by the word of the LORD, “Please strike me.” But the man refused to strike him.
• 36 Then he said to him, “Because you have not listened to the voice of the LORD, behold, as soon as you have departed from me, a lion will kill you.” And as soon as he had departed from him a lion found him and killed him.

First, “another” in v 35 is literally “his neighbor”, not someone living next door, but another “sons of the prophets”. This is clearer in the ESV or NIV:
ESV And a certain man of the sons of the prophets said to his fellow at the command of the LORD, “Strike me, please.” But the man refused to strike him.
• NIV By the word of the LORD one of the company of the prophets said to his companion, “Strike me with your weapon,” but he refused.

So he is not asking a stranger, but a fellow prophet, who should know better.

Secondly, he asked “by the word of the LORD” i.e. at the LORD’S command. The text did not say how much he explained, but one can infer from v 36 “not listened to the voice of the LORD” that, as a minimum, he did say that his request is the LORD’s voice, not his own, otherwise he couldn’t pronounce judgment on his companion for refusing to obey God’s command. There are no punctuation marks in the Hebrew. This interpretation takes the translation to be:
1 Kings 20:35 Now a certain man of the sons of the prophets said to another, “By the word of the LORD, please strike me.” But the man refused to strike him.
This position makes it clear that the punishment was for disobeying God’s command.

In this connection, an earlier incident in 1 Kings 13:1-24 involving another prophet being killed by a lion for disobeying God’s command is instructive. There, the LORD commanded the prophet directly:
1 Kings 13:9 For so it was commanded me by the word of the LORD, saying, ‘You shall eat no bread, nor drink water, nor return by the way which you came.’
• 1 Kings 13:17 For a command came to me by the word of the LORD, ‘You shall eat no bread, nor drink water there; do not return by going the way which you came.’

Yet, despite his knowing God’s command, he listened to the lying old prophet and returned, with dire consequences:
1 Kings 13:21 and he cried to the man of God who came from Judah, saying, “Thus says the LORD, ‘Because you have disobeyed the command of the LORD, and have not observed the commandment which the LORD your God commanded you,
• 22 but have returned and eaten bread and drunk water in the place of which He said to you, “Eat no bread and drink no water”; your body shall not come to the grave of your fathers.’”

God’s commands sometimes are not what we expected e.g. His asking Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, but odd or reasonable, they are to be obeyed. They are not optional. So make sure whether what’s asked of us is from God or men. For that we need discernment, which God gives to those who seek for it:
Prov 2:3 For if you cry for discernment, Lift your voice for understanding;
4 If you seek her as silver And search for her as for hidden treasures;
5 Then you will discern the fear of the LORD And discover the knowledge of God.
6 For the LORD gives wisdom; From His mouth come knowledge and understanding.

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How God Judges

Q. I’ve known “Christians” whose behaviors do not measure up to what I expect of true believers. Are they saved? How will God judge?

A. I have written on related topics before, and refer you to previous posts:
https://raykliu.wordpress.com/2014/06/21/principles-of-judgment/
https://raykliu.wordpress.com/2014/09/13/seed-on-rocky-ground/
https://raykliu.wordpress.com/2014/10/12/lazy-wicked-servant-2-of-2/

I believe the key test of whether a person is truly saved is fruitfulness. The Lord expected fruit from the Jews:
Lk 13:6-7 And He began telling this parable: “A man had a fig tree which had been planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and did not find any. And he said to the vineyard-keeper, ‘Behold, for three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree without finding any. Cut it down! Why does it even use up the ground?’

And He expected it of His servants:
Mt 25:26-27 “But his master answered and said to him, ‘You wicked, lazy slave, you knew that I reap where I did not sow and gather where I scattered no seed. Then you ought to have put my money in the bank, and on my arrival I would have received my money back with interest.

However, unlike those who hold to “once saved always saved“, I do not believe one act of obedience once in a person’s life guarantees his/her salvation. Nor do I believe one act of disobedience cuts a person off from God’s grace, as the God of the Bible is:
Ex 34:6 The LORD, the LORD God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in loving-kindness and truth;
God is a God of second chances, proven time and again throughout the Bible, but there is a limit and we should not presume on His forbearance.

As I explained in the article on “Principles of Judgment“, I believe God’s judgment is cumulative and based on obedience. That is, God looks at everything in the individual’s lifetime to determine whether he/she is truly obedient. Everything will be taken into account. Nothing will be overlooked. That’s why only God can judge whether your friend is a true believer or not, because only He knows all the thoughts, circumstances, considerations the person went through in acting the way he/she did. We see only the surface, like the tip of the iceberg, and are in no position to judge our fellow-men.

What if a wicked man repents or a righteous man turns bad? Then the principles in Ezekiel 18 apply:
Ezk 18:21-22 But if the wicked man turns from all his sins which he has committed and observes all My statutes and practices justice and righteousness, he shall surely live; he shall not die. All his transgressions which he has committed will not be remembered against him; because of his righteousness which he has practiced, he will live.
• Ezk 18:24 But when a righteous man turns away from his righteousness, commits iniquity and does according to all the abominations that a wicked man does, will he live? All his righteous deeds which he has done will not be remembered for his treachery which he has committed and his sin which he has committed; for them he will die.

That’s why I believe it is the whole pattern of one’s life, not just single acts, that determine whether he lives or dies. God assesses all at the end, taking the beginning, the end, and everything in between into consideration. He bases everything on truth, according to what was done, and does not play favorites. That’s why He is fair and every mouth will be stopped.

One last thing. According to Jesus, our concern should be whether we are following Jesus, not what will happen to others, as all of us will have to give an account of ourselves to God.
Jn 21:21-22 So Peter seeing him said to Jesus, “Lord, and what about this man?” Jesus said to him, “If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow Me!
• Rom 14:4 Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.
• Rom 14:12 So then each one of us will give an account of himself to God.

So focus on your own discipleship. Don’t to nosy about what happens to others except to help them.

Knowledge of Good and Evil (1 of 2)

knowledge good evil 3

Q. What is the knowledge of good and evil in Genesis 2:17? What did the serpent (Satan) say it is in Genesis 3:5? In Genesis 3:7, after Adam and Eve ate the fruit, they realized they were naked and felt ashamed, this is not knowing good and evil. What did God mean in Genesis 3:22 ?

A. This is a good question, missed by many Christians. There are two levels of meaning. First, the literal. The knowledge of good and evil is moral knowledge to discern, to refuse evil and choose good, based on the following:

Discern good and evil:
2 Sam 14:17 Then your maidservant said, ‘Please let the word of my lord the king be comforting, for as the angel of God, so is my lord the king to discern good and evil. And may the LORD your God be with you.’
• 1 Kgs 3:9 So give Your servant an understanding heart to judge Your people to discern between good and evil. For who is able to judge this great people of Yours?”
• Heb 5:14 But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.

Knowledge of good or evil:
Deut 1:39 Moreover, your little ones who you said would become a prey, and your sons, who this day have no knowledge of good or evil, shall enter there, and I will give it to them and they shall possess it.
• Isa 7:15-16 He will eat curds and honey at the time He knows enough to refuse evil and choose good. For before the boy will know enough to refuse evil and choose good, the land whose two kings you dread will be forsaken.

Second, the figurative. Good and evil is a figure of speech, an antithesis, a contrast of two things which are direct opposites. Biblical writers use two extremes to represent everything in between. A well-known example is Rom 8:38-39 For I am convinced that:
• neither death, nor life, i.e. all physical beings;
• nor angels, nor principalities, i.e. all spiritual beings;
• nor things present, nor things to come, i.e. all time;
• nor powers, i.e. all forms of power;
• nor height, nor depth, i.e. all space;
• nor any other created thing, a catch-all phrase;
will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Here Paul used 10 things, including 4 pairs of antithesis, to indicate that nothing will be able to separate us from God’s love. Everything is included, with no exceptions. In Gen 3, good and evil is used as antithesis to represent all things in between; knowledge of good and evil therefore means all knowledge i.e. omniscience.

(To be continued)

Kidnapped!

kidnap 8

When you are a missionary, you deal with a whole new set of challenges that the average pastor in N. American would never have to contend with. Sure there is the usual preaching, teaching, reaching, counseling and leading, that’s just part of the job description of a pastor anywhere in the world. But if you are serving in a foreign field, then you encounter issues, e.g. exorcism or persecution, which you would rarely face in Canada.

kidnap hotspots 3

In the Middle East or Central & South America, one particular problem is kidnapping. According to SCR Ltd., a company which specializes in dealing with kidnap and extortion, Panama is not listed among the top kidnap and ransom (K&R) countries in the world generally. But to the local Chinese, K&R is a very real issue because they are often the target. Partly this is attributed to the perception that the Chinese are rich, as they are hard-working and many own their own store. As well, few of them would testify against their abductors for fear of retaliation, making them easy prey.

We visited one lady whose husband was kidnapped, apparently by local gangs. A Spanish-speaking man called and asked for a large sum of money. She wanted assurance that her husband was still alive and well, so they passed the phone to him and allowed him to speak to her in Chinese. He told her to give them the money right away, and that they would release him after they receive the ransom. She raised the money and dropped it off the next day, and waited. But weeks passed without any sign of him, nor further communication from the abductors.

She was superstitious and started consulting idol-worshiping mediums to appease the spirits to find her husband, but to no avail. It was then that we were introduced to her, nearly two months after the kidnap. What can a short-term mission team do under the circumstances?

The Bible has only four verses on kidnaps:
• Joseph was kidnapped from the land of the Hebrews (Gen 40:15);
• Kidnappers shall be put to death (Ex 21:16; Deut 24:7); and
• The Law is made for those who are lawless, including kidnappers (1 Tim 1:10).
The law will punish kidnappers if they are captured, but that is no comfort to her who is waiting anxiously with their three small children, running their store by herself and worrying about his safety.

We decided the best we could do in this situation is to lead her to Christ, so that she could lean on Him. One team member shared the gospel with her while the others prayed. Previously she would have rejected, as she had forbidden church members from taking her kids to Sunday school. But calamity could break down a person’s objections in a way no other means can, and she prayed quietly to receive Jesus as her Lord and Savior, entrusting everything, including her husband’s safety, into His hands. Since we will leave Panama in a few days, we asked her relative to follow her up.

Usually we would rather share more with her over a longer period of time, but these are not normal times. We just do what we can with the appointments the Lord gives us, and leave the results in God’s hands. Success in witnessing is sharing Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit and leaving the results to the Father. All He asked of us is obedience. Nothing more, nothing less. Hope you will do the same.

Cost-Effectiveness of Churches (2 of 2)

1 Sam 15 22 e

(Continued from yesterday)

Lk 13:6-9 And He began telling this parable: “A man had a fig tree which had been planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and did not find any. And he said to the vineyard-keeper, ‘Behold, for three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree without finding any. Cut it down! Why does it even use up the ground?’ And he answered and said to him, ‘Let it alone, sir, for this year too, until I dig around it and put in fertilizer; and if it bears fruit next year, fine; but if not, cut it down.’”

I know this parable probably refers to the Jewish nation since it follows Lk 12:1-5 where Jesus taught the Jews to repent. However, it clearly shows the owner’s expectation of fruit may also apply to individuals as well. Make no mistake about it, God expects more fruit:

Jn 15:2 Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit.

Nor is this an isolated incident, as both the parable of the Talents and the Ten Minas showed that God expects us to put what He entrusted to us to work and have fruit to show for it:
Mt 25:27 Then you ought to have put my money in the bank, and on my arrival I would have received my money back with interest.
• Lk 19:23 Then why did you not put my money in the bank, and having come, I would have collected it with interest?’

What am I saying? That it is neither “results alone” nor “faithful regardless of results” for all times, but being obedient to what God called you to do for that specific time. I believe I am not in a position to “judge” that senior and renowned pastor. Only he and God knew what God had called him to do, and whether he is obedient. I do not know what’s in the heart to say what he should have done. Does cost-effectiveness come into play at all? As stewards we are always accountable to God as to how we use the limited resources He entrusted to us, but pay attention to His call or special assignment which overrides the general call.

Philip the evangelist had a highly successful campaign in Samaria:

Acts 8:6 The crowds with one accord were giving attention to what was said by Philip, as they heard and saw the signs which he was performing.

But an angel of the Lord pulled him out in the midst of his campaign to speak to one Ethiopian eunuch (Act 8:26-27). Not preaching the gospel to many villages of the Samaritans (Acts 8:25), just one man. Was it cost-effective, not from our MBA mentality, but Philip was obedient and that is what counts.

If I have to make a choice, I would choose obedience over cost-effectiveness.:

1 Sam 15:22 Samuel said, “Has the LORD as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices As in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, And to heed than the fat of rams.

God knows better. We can use the best of our knowledge to serve Him, but be prepared for His changing our plans at any time. He’s the Lord, we are only unworthy servants. He sometimes asks us to leave the 99 to find the one going astray. Just listen carefully, as He may speak in a still small voice (1 Kings 19:12).