Monday Encouragement

We spent the afternoon traipsing through Singapore’s CBD, gently sauna-ing in our office attire, looking for a venue for Easter lunchtime talks.

A late lunch was in order at the famous Hock Lam Beef Noodles (22 China Street, Far East Square), where we chatted about the church scene in Singapore, how small churches lack of economies of scale and contacts for “productive” and “efficient” ministry, and how bible teaching here somehow gets itself mired into a possibly distinctly Asian swamp.

Traditionally, teachers were held in high regard. And disciples were expected to be loyal to their teachers and identified themselves by whom they were taught. Although this is no longer the case in the modern Singapore school system, there are vestiges of that practice in the sports, martial arts, piano, violin, etc. worlds, and in evangelical Christian circles.

So it is a temptation for teachers to gather around themselves high-caliber individuals because that enhances their prestige and of course, then attracts other high-flyers. This success rate is then the basis for much foreign investment – churches in other (usually Western) countries see the statistics and rate of return, conclude that “good work” is being done and are eager to contribute talent and money to such ventures.

Hock Lam Beef Noodles, 22 China Street, Far East Square, SingaporeThe downsides of this would be:

1. that faithful Bible teaching is now an idol. In a success-driven society like Singapore, Christians merely replace climbing the corporate/career ladder with climbing the evangelical circle ladder. How sharp you are at Bible exegesis and preaching are your tools for upward mobility. Your ability to tease out nuances in a book or passage is what people respect and commend you for;

2. that good Bible training is something kept within certain circles (although some crumbs are thrown out, so as not to appear selfish) and even if outsiders are let in, they are those who would be exceedingly grateful and show loyalty to the teachers;

3. that people who are not “good value” are neglected. Time is limited, say the teachers, so they will only nurture those who have potential to teach others. The rest are dropped like hot potatoes if they don’t fit the bill. Ill people or those struggling with their faith in difficult circumstances are prayed for and discussed, but not deeply cared for or pastored. And naturally, their disciples model such priorities in their own groups;

4.that the method of attracting good caliber people is to be dismissive of the faithfulness or godliness of the teachers/leaders of other churches. This is endemic in Singapore’s sports and arts circles where there is much bitching and cat-fighting, all subtly and elegantly done. Such self-righteousness is of course quite dangerous for the souls of Christians;

5. that whole generations (usually in their 20s) suddenly leave their churches to flock to whichever the current in-vogue church is (because they are persuaded that it is right and godly to do so), discouraging the younger generation (usually in their teens or in tertiary education) and causing dismay to the older generation.

Thankful for elder brothers who buy lunch and remind me that God is sovereign in human history and absolutely just in judgement.

Reading Psalm 119 with a flat white, Food for Thought, National Museum of Singapore.

At dinner, after chatting through Psalm 119:29-56, the John Smyth scandal came up.  Having led on Titus Trust camps, we knew how intense they could be, what deep friendships could be formed, and so what wonderful opportunities for personal work (“a deep work in a few”) they presented. Yet living in this fallen world as still-sinful beings means also that these great opportunities for good are also great opportunities for evil.

In recent years, complaints of bullying and abuse were also made against the leader of a camp modelled on the Titus Trust ones. The trustees (who were all in other countries) dismissed the allegations without further investigation, suggesting that it was just a facet of that leader’s personality.

It seems, said my dinner companion, that where gospel work is being done and seems to be succeeding (ie. bringing in the numbers), others are reluctant to hold the goose that lays the golden egg accountable, afraid that any action will “bring the gospel into disrepute”.

But that fails both to (i) distinguish between the one who waters and the One who gives growth; and (ii) understand the implications of the gospel that one claims to value so much.

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Controlled by the Illusion of Control

Amidst the noise of a hipster gastropark and a hipster HDB cafe, straining my club-deafened ears, I was grateful for life-chats with dear friends.

At Timbre+ (it calls itself a gastropark), before a tenuously-pitched band came on,
Timbre+, one-north, Singapore
Timbre+, one-north, Singaporeover a trendy beef rendang bowl with onsen egg, salted egg fried chicken, and a bottle each of Brewdog‘s Dead Pony Club and Archipelago Brewery‘s Singapore Blonde Ale,

beef rendang, onsen egg, Brewdog's Dead Pony Club, Archipelago's Singapore Blonde Ale. Timbre+, one-north, Singapore
Timbre+, one-north, Singaporea brother spoke honestly about his difficult childhood, his resulting need to please male figures of authority and the inevitable fall when these men (some even church leaders) manipulated him to their own selfish power-hungry ends. Succumbing to disappointment, he now tried to find satisfaction in work, pounding away at his laptop at all hours of the day and all days of the week, glorying in the exceptional quality of his reports and presentations. It gave him some semblance of control over his own life.

Yet, he knew it was folly. He just wanted it all to become better, just to snap out of it. But he wished people would stop asking him to read the Bible. When a colleague invited him to a retreat that promised an easy encounter with the Spirit that would free him from this habit, he was keen to go.

Sin Lee Foods, 4 Jalan Bukit Ho Swee, SingaporeAt Sin Lee Foods (facebook), at the foot of a block of HDB flats along Jalan Bukit Ho Swee, a sister shared how her regular episodes of binge-eating* too gave her some satisfaction of control over her life. She’d grown up in a loving family and did not understand how she started to compulsively overeat. It shamed her to be found doing so, but she knew herself that the reluctance to change was too great. There was a comfort in being in control.

How lovely it would have been to be able to magick away their addictions. But that’s not how it works in this life.

Sin Lee Foods, 4 Jalan Bukit Ho Swee, Singapore

There are some quick (and not very thought-through) thoughts:

1. Illusion of control

Work, the praise of humans, binge-eating, any addiction – anyone can tell, even with a casual glance, that none of these things even remotely suggests that a person is in control. In fact, the converse is true – they are being controlled by their compulsions.

2. Motive for change

Since both friends are Christian, I’ve wondered about the efficacy of them seeing non-Christian psychologists, mainly because there is a fundamental disjunct in worldview. As Christians, we live our lives under God. Therefore:

  • we would not want to change to prove anything to ourselves (no “Oh look, I am finally really in control of myself.”);
  • we would not want to change to prove anything to other people;
  • we should not even want to change to prove anything to God! It is precisely because we are such wretched people that God sent his Son to die for our sins.
  • rather we should want to change because we have already been freed from slavery to sin and brought into a relationship with God. Why continue to wallow in the mud and eat rotten peels when a hot bath has been prepared and a feast after?

3. Method of change

We do not need a fresh experience of the Spirit to change. When we trusted in Christ, God gave us the Spirit – He broke our inability to do anything good, He dwells in us, and conforms our lives to Christ’s. Therefore, what we really need is a constant reminder of God’s truth:

  • God is the only God, so we are not god – we can’t be in control of everything (or, ultimately, anything);
  • God is a perfectly good God, so we will not be able to find satisfaction in anyone/anything else. fact.;
  • God is an unimaginably powerful God, so He is the only one who can change us deep down inside where self-help and positive-thinking fluff can never reach;
  • yet, in a beautiful both-and way, a sovereign God works through human will, human skill (reading God’s word), and human reliance on Him (expressed in prayer) to effect this change.

Sin Lee Foods, 4 Jalan Bukit Ho Swee, Singapore

*she tried to describe what binge-eating was. And later, I found Emma Scrivener’s posts here and here to be very helpful.

The Past Weekend – Genesis Cliffhanger, Daniel’s Non-Nightmare, Psalm 119 – word!, Fat Boy’s Burger Bar, 3D Latte Art

Where did the weekend go?, you wonder tritely as you arrive rudely at Monday with a raccoon nest on your head, last Thursday’s dust still on your shoulders.

Let’s see:

Friday was spent reading the first bit of Genesis (Genesis 1-11) with M. In Genesis 1-2, the world is perfect and Adam and Eve live in perfect relationship with God and each other and the rest of the world. Far too quickly, they rebel against God and suffer the consequences of their sin (Genesis 3) – broken relationship with God and each other and the rest of the world, and death. In the next few chapters (Genesis 4-5), the wonderful proliferation of mankind in the world (their creational mandate) unfortunately means the proliferation of sin: violence and more rebellion against God.

Ah Genesis 6:1 – 9:17. Erroneously famous for the animals lining up in pairs to get into Noah’s ark. If any one ever thought this world’s multitude of problems could be solved by destroying it all, and leaving one righteous man (en familia) to start it all again, well, they have another think coming. Noah the righteous man was given a clean world to do his best, but before anyone could say “fermented grape juice”, sin entered again (Genesis 9:18-29).

More humans populated the world from Noah’s progeny, but t’was the same old story – mass rebellion against God culminating in the building of the Tower of Babel to usurp God (Genesis 10-11).

What a cliffhanger…what would God do now? Wipe out the whole of humankind after giving one chance too many?

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Shovelled down a bit of lunch before legging it to a thankless Thanksgiving Service which started badly when the speaker declined a Bible, and proceeded to speak for the next hour about how God had blessed and disciplined him, rather than focusing on the glories of God himself.

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Arrived late for the Friday Bible Study, where Daniel 9 was the passage being discussed. Both Nebuchadnezzar (king of Babylon and most of the known world then) and Daniel had had dreams before about the rising and falling of nations, and the persecution of God’s people, but ending with God’s king ruling over God’s everlasting kingdom. Daniel had always gotten an adverse reaction to his night visions, but seemed much less agitated with Gab’s message this time. Not because God’s people were now going to be saved from suffering, but perhaps because there was the promise that would be a finishing of transgression, an end to sin, an atonement for inquity (Daniel 9:24). But how would this happen?

A continuing cliffhanger…if one did not sneak a look at the Gospels…

Got home past midnight.

Psalm 119 at Artease, Serangoon CentralWoke up with some semblance of the sun on my face on Saturday, with half an hour to spare before meeting S at Artease Serangoon (facebook. Blk 261 Serangoon Central. Salted caramel ) to start a read-through of Psalm 119. How does this fit into the book context of Psalms, I wanted to know. Why all the rich vocabulary for God’s word (precepts, laws, decrees, commandments etc), S wanted to know.

Then hurried a few roads away for a study on Revelation 12-14 that was not to be because one person had taken ill at home and another was stuck in a planning meeting for Christmas. G and I had a good chat about present struggles and found comfort depending on God in prayer.

Fat Boys Burger, Far East Plaza, Singapo re Fat Boys Burger, Far East Plaza, Singapore

Fat Boys Burger, Far East Plaza, Singapore Fat Boys Burger, Far East Plaza, Singapore

Full of joy for the day well-spent but relieved to get a little alone time at Fat Boy’s The Burger Bar (facebook. Far East Plaza). A fantastic gobstopper. The fresh buns were buttered and grilled – so tasty on their own. I usually like my patties with a little more bite, but could not fault this well-seasoned charred-edge wagyu-beef-texture tender meat piece. And the whole handful of happiness (with pickles and cheese and bacon) worked together – well-assembled so you wouldn’t be distracted from your meal by being made far too aware of the individual parts of each bite.

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Stumbled into church on Sunday, chatted some, and stayed on for prayer meet. This month, we were praying for Wycliffe Bible translators’ precious work in getting God’s word into the hands of different language groups all around the world.

Your Prayers Help People Get the Bible from Wycliffe USA on Vimeo.

Does correlation always mean causation, asked a group member. Indeed not, but we pray knowing that we will be heard by a good and loving God, and also knowing that the solely sovereign God does whatever he wants.

More chatting into the afternoon, then a light dinner with the usual dinner gang at Changi Village food centre without the morose brother we’d asked to join us.

Latte Foam Art, Chock Full of Beans, Changi Village
Latte Foam Art, Chock Full of Beans, Changi Village
Latte Foam Art, Chock Full of Beans, Changi VillageOh, what childish joy was wrought by this simple 3D latte art (sculpture?) creation at Chock Full of Beans (facebook. Blk 4 Changi Village Road). A nice end to the weekend.

Singapore Skyline from the Sea, and Social Justice

On an Indonesian island, I asked some teenaged girls what they thought the biggest problems were, in the world.
“No money!”
“No job, no money!”
“No wisdom for victory!”
“No marriage!”
“No peace in family…”

I suspect their answers were partly a reflection of their own cares and concerns, yet also astutely, what the world thinks its problems are: poverty, employment rates, lack of expert opinion, no sex or marriage, domestic conflict.

Singapore skyline from the seaYet, God says there is a far larger problem:

23 …all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23)

and if all have sinned, with no exceptions, Western or Eastern, liberal or conservative, rich or poor, and

23a…the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23a)

then everyone, whether in first world or third, in developed country or developing, oppressor or oppressed, exploiter or exploited, has the same problem – we all face the certainty of death in this lifetime, and the prospect of eternal death thereafter.
Singapore skyline from the sea

…but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:23b)

This is the gospel (good news) that Christians are so eager to proclaim to the world. This is why that proclamation is ultimately more important than merely attempting, unsuccessfully, to alleviate poverty now or to put right perceived injustices.

Bible Overview – God Dealing with the Cause and Effects of the Fall, and Butter Coffee and Kaya Toast at Heap Seng Leong Coffeeshop

Dr. Michael You’s talk to the St. Helen’s Bishopsgate Student RML Leaders is a masterful overview of the Bible. An incredibly exciting and rewarding 3.5 hours, some part of which might have been spent drinking butter coffee and nibbling on kaya toast at Heap Seng Leong Coffeeshop (10 North Bridge Road).

Why a Bible Overview is Necessary

The Bible is one story, but even though it has a plot, it doesn’t go linearly from the beginning to the end. There is also a development through the Bible, but not always – some things get superseded and some don’t. Unless you see the plot, it’s hard to work out what has changed and what has not. You need to see the plot to be faithful to what God is saying.

So the point is not to jump forward to Jesus. It might have something about Jesus but that might not be the point of the story, and you miss what God is saying.

This really revolutionises how we understand God and what he plans to do with the world:

  • If the Fall is in Genesis 3, why didn’t God send Jesus in Genesis 4? Because until we understand sin and God, we won’t properly understand Jesus. We know that Jesus is the answer but we are normally confused about the problem – is it poverty? ill-health? Then you get social justice, liberation theology, health-and-wealth gospel.
  • You need to understand what is big in the Bible and what is not. Alot of confusion comes about because of a failure of this. And heresies come about not just because of adding to the Bible or subtracting to it, but also by distorting things in the Bible.
  • Good for the biggest theological challenges of our time. (See end of talk.)

This is not just an academic exercise: understand what God/Jesus is actually doing all the way through the Bible.

Heap Seng Leong, 10 North Bridge Road, Singapore

In Short, the Story of the Bible and the World

In Genesis 1-2, God creates the world effortlessly. Everything is very very good. Humans are the pinnacle of his creation – he relates to Adam and Eve in a special way. He loves them, cares for them, gives them responsibility for ruling the world. In Genesis 3, it goes horribly wrong. Adam and Eve rebel against God and throw his love back in his face, the relationship is broken. Instead of blessing them, God punishes them and sends them away from the Garden of Eden.

16 To the woman he said, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing;     

in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be for your husband,

and he shall rule over you.”

17 And to Adam he said,

“Because you have listened to the voice of your wife     

and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you,     

‘You shall not eat of it’, cursed is the ground because of you;     

in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life;

18 thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;    

 and you shall eat the plants of the field. 19 By the sweat of your face     

you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground,     

for out of it you were taken; for you are dust,     

and to dust you shall return.” (Genesis 3:16-19)

Whereas in Genesis 2, God is for humankind, now God is against them. Thorns on the ground, childbirth will be painful, they will die.

14 The Lord God said to the serpent,

“Because you have done this,     

cursed are you above all livestock     

and above all beasts of the field; on your belly you shall go,     

and dust you shall eat     

all the days of your life. (Genesis 3:14)

17 And to Adam he said,

“Because you have listened to the voice of your wife     

and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you,     

‘You shall not eat of it’, cursed is the ground because of you;     

in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; (Genesis 3:17)

Creation is clearly cursed, MY argues that humans are effectively cursed as well, even though the word “curse” isn’t used. If all this isn’t curse, what is curse? Instead of living forever, humans now die and have no access to the Tree of Life (Genesis 3:19,24).

4 categories where things go horribly wrong because Adam and Eve rebel against God:

  1. relationship with God – ruined, broken
  2. land – Eden – lost
  3. curse
  4. death

It’s worth holding in your mind that there is a problem, and there are 2 sides to the problem:

  • our sin
  • God’s response to our sin – seen in the 4 categories of how the world is wrecked because of our sin

Then we go to the Revelation 21-22, and we see that all the things that went wrong in the Fall have been put right in the new creation.

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:3-4)

And God has given them a wonderful new home to live in, a new heaven and new earth, a second Garden, but it is better. And there is a difference – it is a city:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.We see that God is once again for his people. (Revelation 21:1-2)

There will be blessing not curse:

No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. (Revelation 22:3)

And there will be no death. Where at first they were precluded from access to Tree of Life, now tree is slapbang in middle of the city, where they will have access to it at all times:

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away. (Revelation 21:4)

 through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. (Revelation 22:2)

And there is nothing sinful in the city.The cause of the Fall has been dealt with:

27 But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life. (Revelation 21:27)

Here we have explicit opposites at the end of the story. That’s where it’s heading. (There are other things that happen as well – but in the overview, lots of things will be left out.)

So we read the Bible with two questions:

  1. how does God put everything right? and
  2. how does Jesus end up slapbang in the middle of new creation?

It is a story of victory, the ultimate happy ending, the true happy ending.

Heap Seng Leong, 10 North Bridge Road, Singapore

The Pentateuch

But it takes the whole Bible to get there. Let’s go back to beginning, lots of twists and turns and unhappiness. In Genesis 4-11, sin is universal. God’s verdict is that people are evil all the time. And they are all the way through the Bible, and in the world today.

In Genesis 6, God responds by punishing the whole world, and starts again with Noah. Noah is popular in Sunday school with the animals going into the ark two-by-two. But we should ask how this functions in the plot rather than on its own. Here there is a change of society, change of environment, social engineering, so things will be better. It is the ultimate act of social engineering. God gets rid of everyone but most righteous man in the world. It is a washed world, with no bad influences. But it doesn’t work.

Abrahamic Covenant

In Genesis 12, God chooses one man and gives promises to him. Before, with Noah, there was no chance of improvement; it was just about survival. What is promised to Abraham and how does it compare with what went wrong before?

Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonours you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

So Abram went, as the Lord had told him, and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. And Abram took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother’s son, and all their possessions that they had gathered, and the people that they had acquired in Haran, and they set out to go to the land of Canaan. When they came to the land of Canaan, Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. Then the Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built there an altar to the Lord, who had appeared to him. (Genesis 12:1-7)

And also:

14 The Lord said to Abram, after Lot had separated from him, “Lift up your eyes and look from the place where you are, northwards and southwards and eastwards and westwards, 15 for all the land that you see I will give to you and to your offspring for ever. 16 I will make your offspring as the dust of the earth, so that if one can count the dust of the earth, your offspring also can be counted. 17 Arise, walk through the length and the breadth of the land, for I will give it to you.” (Genesis 13:14-17)

and

Then Abram fell on his face. And God said to him, “Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you. And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God.” (Genesis 17:3-8)

There will be restoration of relationship with God, land as everlasting possession, blessing…and there will still be death but people will live on in their descendants. This is the first sign that things might get better. But Canaan is a scrubby bit of land, nothing compared to Eden. And there is no sign of what to do with sin. So this is a partial restoration, but the beginning of solution.

We are left asking: how will promise of partial restoration turn to full restoration? How will gap between promise and experience be bridged? How will sin be dealt with? Who will benefit from all this? Everyone was affected by the Fall, but it seems Abraham’s family will benefit primarily, though blessing will go to the nations indirectly through them.

Mosaic Covenant

For the next 400 years, nothing much happens, then things get worse: they are slaves in Egypt, leading miserable lives, no land, not much relationship with God (Book of Exodus). What they do have is a lot of descendants. God intervenes again at beginning of Exodus – just a promise but he is beginning to act. (We need to keep the two – promise and act, separate.) He rescues them through Moses and leads them to Mount Sinai, where he gives them the Mosaic covenant – how they can inherit the Abrahamic covenant.

God is rescuing them from something, to something – the fulfilment of promises. Quite different from Noah, who was merely rescued. So even now, we are rescued from sin and judgement – rescued for eternal life, new creation, everything put right. God re-promises all the categories:

“If you walk in my statutes and observe my commandments and do them, then I will give you your rains in their season, and the land shall yield its increase, and the trees of the field shall yield their fruit. Your threshing shall last to the time of the grape harvest, and the grape harvest shall last to the time for sowing. And you shall eat your bread to the full and dwell in your land securely. I will give peace in the land, and you shall lie down, and none shall make you afraid. And I will remove harmful beasts from the land, and the sword shall not go through your land. You shall chase your enemies, and they shall fall before you by the sword. Five of you shall chase a hundred, and a hundred of you shall chase ten thousand, and your enemies shall fall before you by the sword. I will turn to you and make you fruitful and multiply you and will confirm my covenant with you. 10 You shall eat old store long kept, and you shall clear out the old to make way for the new. 11 I will make my dwelling among you, and my soul shall not abhor you. 12 And I will walk among you and will be your God, and you shall be my people. 13 I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that you should not be their slaves. And I have broken the bars of your yoke and made you walk erect. (Leviticus 26:3-13)

and

The Lord will command the blessing on you in your barns and in all that you undertake. And he will bless you in the land that the Lord your God is giving you. The Lord will establish you as a people holy to himself, as he has sworn to you, if you keep the commandments of the Lord your God and walk in his ways. 10 And all the peoples of the earth shall see that you are called by the name of the Lord, and they shall be afraid of you. 11 And the Lord will make you abound in prosperity, in the fruit of your womb and in the fruit of your livestock and in the fruit of your ground, within the land that the Lord swore to your fathers to give you. (Deuteronomy 28:8 – 11)

This is not just a re-promise, but extends the Abrahamic promises; it spells out and extends the promises – especially, the promise of a relationship with God is made much more clearly (Lev 26:11-12). He will walk with them like in Eden.

“And if you faithfully obey the voice of the Lord your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the voice of the Lord your God. (Deuteronomy 28:1-2)

13 And the Lord will make you the head and not the tail, and you shall only go up and not down, if you obey the commandments of the Lord your God, which I command you today, being careful to do them, 14 and if you do not turn aside from any of the words that I command you today, to the right hand or to the left, to go after other gods to serve them. (Deuteronomy 28:13-14)

However, conditions now attached. They will need to obey all God’s commandments to receive the blessings.

58 “If you are not careful to do all the words of this law that are written in this book, that you may fear this glorious and awesome name, the Lord your God, 59 then the Lord will bring on you and your offspring extraordinary afflictions, afflictions severe and lasting, and sicknesses grievous and lasting. 60 And he will bring upon you again all the diseases of Egypt, of which you were afraid, and they shall cling to you. 61 Every sickness also and every affliction that is not recorded in the book of this law, the Lord will bring upon you, until you are destroyed. 62 Whereas you were as numerous as the stars of heaven, you shall be left few in number, because you did not obey the voice of the Lord your God. 63 And as the Lord took delight in doing you good and multiplying you, so the Lord will take delight in bringing ruin upon you and destroying you. And you shall be plucked off the land that you are entering to take possession of it. (Deuteronomy 28:58-63)

If they disobey, no only will God not give any more blessing, but even what God has given them he will take away. This would be how much the relationship with God would have broken down. This is shocking. If they disobey, he will make them worship other gods, and send back to Egypt. This will be even worse than the first time, because now, no one will want them. Right at the bottom.

In the Abrahamic covenant, sin wasn’t a big deal; now it is. so not curse but blessing. It’s not that God left it out the first time, but that he hadn’t got there yet. Now he is saying that the cause of the Fall (sin) must be dealt with, not just the effects of the Fall (curses).

Here in the Mosaic covenant, it is 50:50 responsibility – man’s responsibility to sort out the cause, and God will do something about the effect. The sacrificial system will deal somewhat with sin, but not all the way.

The Mosaic covenant was not a mistake – it was just not the way God will use to reverse the Fall; it will not work. And God knew this:

16 And the Lord said to Moses, “Behold, you are about to lie down with your fathers. Then this people will rise and whore after the foreign gods among them in the land that they are entering, and they will forsake me and break my covenant that I have made with them. 17 Then my anger will be kindled against them in that day, and I will forsake them and hide my face from them, and they will be devoured. And many evils and troubles will come upon them, so that they will say in that day, ‘Have not these evils come upon us because our God is not among us?’ 18 And I will surely hide my face in that day because of all the evil that they have done, because they have turned to other gods. (Deuteronomy 31:14-18)

God is using this to teach us. The whole of the Old Testament is to teach. So that when Jesus comes, we will understand. The Old Testament doesn’t achieve anything – it explains and teaches:

  1. cause of the Fall must be dealt with if God will fulfil promises;
  2. Israel is incapable of dealing with sin herself since the golden calf incident – God must do something;
  3. sacrifice goes some way in dealing with God’s wrath;
  4. about God himself – powerful god, etc.

The Mosaic covenant doesn’t contradict the Abrahamic covenant. If Israel did obey, they would get the promises; if they didn’t obey, they won’t, but the Abrahamic covenant still stands. butter coffee (kopi), Heap Seng Leong, 10 North Bridge Road, Singapore A lot of the rest of the Bible is about first 250 years of the Mosaic covenant.

Because of Israel’s sin, they end up wandering in the desert for 40 years.

Joshua then leads Israel into Canaan. Things look pretty good, but Israel keeps sinning, so this doesn’t last, and they don’t inherit the promises. There is no peace, and God is hostile towards them. It looks like curses are kicking in.

10 And all that generation also were gathered to their fathers. And there arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord or the work that he had done for Israel.

11 And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and served the Baals. 12 And they abandoned the Lord, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt. They went after other gods, from among the gods of the peoples who were around them, and bowed down to them. And they provoked the Lord to anger. 13 They abandoned the Lord and served the Baals and the Ashtaroth. 14 So the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he gave them over to plunderers, who plundered them. And he sold them into the hand of their surrounding enemies, so that they could no longer withstand their enemies. 15 Whenever they marched out, the hand of the Lord was against them for harm, as the Lord had warned, and as the Lord had sworn to them. And they were in terrible distress. (Judges 2:10-15)

The big problem is sin: not obeying the terms of the Mosaic covenant. Until sin is dealt with, they won’t inherit all the promises.

Looking for a leader

What we learn here is that a good leader can help. How did they get out of Egypt and into the Promised Land? Moses, Joshua. And in the first 200 years, whenever Israel repents, God’s solution is to raise a leader. The leader helps, the judges help people keep the law, but they always die.

What’s the answer to a leader dying? In a monarchy, the line doesn’t die. Judges implies the need for a king:

25 In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes. (Judges 21:25)

A king not to fight for them but to get them to obey God’s laws. Saul was not much use. David gets the land and peace with neighbours. Under Solomon, life is good:

20 Judah and Israel were as many as the sand by the sea. They ate and drank and were happy. 21  Solomon ruled over all the kingdoms from the Euphrates to the land of the Philistines and to the border of Egypt. They brought tribute and served Solomon all the days of his life. (1 Kings 4:20-21)

25 And Judah and Israel lived in safety, from Dan even to Beersheba, every man under his vine and under his fig tree, all the days of Solomon. (1 Kings 4:25)

10 And when the priests came out of the Holy Place, a cloud filled the house of the Lord, 11 so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord. (1 Kings 8:10-11)

Yet, David sins with Bathsheba, and Solomon sins even more by marrying non-Israelite women who lead him to worship other gods.

Davidic Covenant

But a king seems the way forward – God makes a third big covenant: David’s descendant will inherit all that God promised Abraham.

10 And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may dwell in their own place and be disturbed no more. And violent men shall afflict them no more, as formerly, 11 from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel. And I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover, the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house. 12 When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom for ever. (2 Samuel 7:10-13)

David’s descendant will build God a house which will enable God to dwell with Israel. There will be peace, a home, a kingdom. This implies land and lots of descendants, blessing. And the descendant will reign forever, so all that has been promised will be Israel’s permanently. There are no conditions attached – this is important. Even if king fails, God won’t take his love away.

Israel is now under 3 covenants – they are not terminated or superseded.

The sin of the kings

The Davidic covenant is a promise for the future. The experience under her kings is far from this. And David and Solomon’s successors sin even more. In 1-2 Kings, Israel and Judah’s kings keep sinning. We are constantly disappointed.

The effects of sin

Because of Israel’s sin, God punishes Israel. Over the next 350 years, there are 3 great disasters: after the sin of Solomon, the kingdom splits – Judah and Israel.

922 B.C. –  because of sin, the southern kingdom (Israel) gets exiled

200 years

722 B.C. – 150 years exile of Judah

597/587 B.C. – two waves bring Judah and Israel to an end. By the exile, the temple had been destroyed, the land taken away, they were no more a people, they ceased to be a nation. The curse of Mosaic covenant had come into play.

In the fifth month, on the seventh day of the month—that was the nineteenth year of King Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon—Nebuzaradan, the captain of the bodyguard, a servant of the king of Babylon, came to Jerusalem. And he burned the house of the Lord and the king’s house and all the houses of Jerusalem; every great house he burned down. 10 And all the army of the Chaldeans, who were with the captain of the guard, broke down the walls round Jerusalem. 11 And the rest of the people who were left in the city and the deserters who had deserted to the king of Babylon, together with the rest of the multitude, Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard carried into exile. (2 Kings 25:8-11)

David, Solomon could have been the ones through whom fulfilment would have come, but they didn’t obey. This reinforced that sin is the big problem. Israel split because of sin; the exile happened because of sin. When you teach sin as doctrine, it doesn’t seem so bad. Read the story and understand that sin is really a bad problem.

The Prophets and the Promise of Full Restoration

But nothing has gone awry from God’s perspective. He has made unconditional promises and he will fulfil them. God speaks through prophets and reveals that he will make a new prophet. The exile and what God is saying through exile is important – God’s revelation in and around time of exile in the second half of the Old Testament.

25 “I will make with them a covenant of peace and banish wild beasts from the land, so that they may dwell securely in the wilderness and sleep in the woods. 26 And I will make them and the places all round my hill a blessing, and I will send down the showers in their season; they shall be showers of blessing. 27 And the trees of the field shall yield their fruit, and the earth shall yield its increase, and they shall be secure in their land. And they shall know that I am the Lord, when I break the bars of their yoke, and deliver them from the hand of those who enslaved them. 28 They shall no more be a prey to the nations, nor shall the beasts of the land devour them. They shall dwell securely, and none shall make them afraid. 29 And I will provide for them renowned plantations so that they shall no more be consumed with hunger in the land, and no longer suffer the reproach of the nations. 30 And they shall know that I am the Lord their God with them, and that they, the house of Israel, are my people, declares the Lord God. (Ezekiel 34:25-30)

24 “My servant David shall be king over them, and they shall all have one shepherd. They shall walk in my rules and be careful to obey my statutes. 25 They shall dwell in the land that I gave to my servant Jacob, where your fathers lived. They and their children and their children’s children shall dwell there for ever, and David my servant shall be their prince for ever. 26 I will make a covenant of peace with them. It shall be an everlasting covenant with them. And I will set them in their land and multiply them, and will set my sanctuary in their midst for evermore. 27 My dwelling place shall be with them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 28 Then the nations will know that I am the Lord who sanctifies Israel, when my sanctuary is in their midst for evermore.” (Ezekiel 37:24-28)

What has been promised compared to the Abraham/Moses categories is the restoration of God’s relationship with the people (Ezekiel 37:27). And the land will be a good land – many problems of land won’t be there.

The land will be a new creation:

17 “For behold, I create new heavens
    and a new earth,
and the former things shall not be remembered
    or come into mind.
18 But be glad and rejoice for ever
    in that which I create;
for behold, I create Jerusalem to be a joy,
    and her people to be a gladness.
19 I will rejoice in Jerusalem
    and be glad in my people;
no more shall be heard in it the sound of weeping
    and the cry of distress.
20 No more shall there be in it
    an infant who lives but a few days,
    or an old man who does not fill out his days,
for the young man shall die a hundred years old,
    and the sinner a hundred years old shall be accursed.
21 They shall build houses and inhabit them;
    they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
22 They shall not build and another inhabit;
    they shall not plant and another eat;
for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be,
    and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands.
23 They shall not labour in vain
    or bear children for calamity,
for they shall be the offspring of the blessed of the Lord,
    and their descendants with them.
24 Before they call I will answer;
    while they are yet speaking I will hear.
25 The wolf and the lamb shall graze together;
    the lion shall eat straw like the ox,
    and dust shall be the serpent’s food.
They shall not hurt or destroy
    in all my holy mountain,”
says the Lord. (Isaiah 65:17-25)

The people will be blessed – this takes the form of peace (Ezekiel 34:26) and prosperity (Moses) death.

  the burning sand shall become a pool,
    and the thirsty ground springs of water;
in the haunt of jackals, where they lie down,
    the grass shall become reeds and rushes.
And a highway shall be there,
    and it shall be called the Way of Holiness;
the unclean shall not pass over it.
    It shall belong to those who walk on the way;
    even if they are fools, they shall not go astray. (Isaiah 35:7-8)

He will take away death; they will actually be resurrected. He promises of full restoration of everything that went wrong. The first mention of new creation is Isaiah 65. Before Abraham, at best, nothing will get worse. This is the first inkling of full reversal of everything that has gone wrong.

Promise to Deal with Sin

How can this happen? Why unconditional? Because sin is the cause of the problem and man cannot deal with it, God has committed himself to dealing with problem of sin.

35 And they will say, ‘This land that was desolate has become like the garden of Eden, and the waste and desolate and ruined cities are now fortified and inhabited.’ 36 Then the nations that are left all around you shall know that I am the Lord; I have rebuilt the ruined places and replanted that which was desolate. I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it.

37 “Thus says the Lord God: This also I will let the house of Israel ask me to do for them: to increase their people like a flock. (Ezekiel 36:35-37)

But he was wounded for our transgressions;
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
    and with his stripes we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
    we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
    the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:5-6)

God describes what he will do in different ways. But God will do it all. In Ezekiel, God will wash away all our sins and put a new heart in us to change us, and give us the spirit. In Isaiah, he will provide a sacrifice that will actually work. Dealing with sin is a big deal.

These different ways are complementary, not mutually exclusive. And they will have the everlasting Davidic king:

25 They shall dwell in the land that I gave to my servant Jacob, where your fathers lived. They and their children and their children’s children shall dwell there for ever, and David my servant shall be their prince for ever.  (Ezekiel 37:25)

For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
    and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace
    there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
    to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
    from this time forth and for evermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this. (Isaiah 9:6-7)

 A king who is going to be God himself.

Summary of the Old Testament

Let’s summarise what God has promised.

In the first half the Old Testament God promises that everything that went wrong will be put right. There are 3 great promises. God promises a full reversal of the effects of the Fall. This is the first time this has happened – massive step forward. God will deal with cause as well as results; not 50:50 mosaic covenant. God will deal with both halves. He will deal with sin and effects. They will definitely get it, and their king will be God himself.

This is an astonishing statement in the middle of the Old Testament. A human being in line of David will be almighty God, everlasting Father. Which is why in Revelation 21, the Lamb is sitting on throne. That is why the New Testament is so adamant that Jesus is god. Only because Jesus is God that he can do it all.

By end of exile to end of bible, no new promises are made. In exile, they have been promised everything but have gotten nothing.

This is why if you don’t read the Old Testament, then won’t understand the New Testament. Israel is a complete deadend. It achieved as little as the flood.

Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to the Lord say,
    “The Lord will surely separate me from his people”;
and let not the eunuch say,
    “Behold, I am a dry tree.”
For thus says the Lord:
“To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths,
    who choose the things that please me
    and hold fast my covenant,
I will give in my house and within my walls
    a monument and a name
    better than sons and daughters;
I will give them an everlasting name
    that shall not be cut off.
“And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord,
    to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord,
    and to be his servants,
everyone who keeps the Sabbath and does not profane it,
    and holds fast my covenant—
these I will bring to my holy mountain,
    and make them joyful in my house of prayer;
their burnt offerings and their sacrifices
    will be accepted on my altar;
for my house shall be called a house of prayer
    for all peoples.”
The Lord God,
    who gathers the outcasts of Israel, declares,
“I will gather yet others to him
    besides those already gathered.” (Isaiah 56:3-8)

When they return from exile, do they get what they were promised? They returned in 540 B.C. under the Persians. But still remain part of the Persian empire. They were under rule. They had no king of any sort, far less Davidic king. Israel still sins.

23 In those days also I saw the Jews who had married women of Ashdod, Ammon, and Moab. 24 And half of their children spoke the language of Ashdod, and they could not speak the language of Judah, but only the language of each people. 25 And I confronted them and cursed them and beat some of them and pulled out their hair. And I made them swear in the name of God, saying, “You shall not give your daughters to their sons, or take their daughters for your sons or for yourselves. 26 Did not Solomon king of Israel sin on account of such women? Among the many nations there was no king like him, and he was beloved by his God, and God made him king over all Israel. Nevertheless, foreign women made even him to sin. 27 Shall we then listen to you and do all this great evil and act treacherously against our God by marrying foreign women?” (Nehemiah 13:23-27)

This is the very last reference to Israel. They are still sinning. Nehemiah comes 100 years after the end of the exile. A century after, they are still in this position. How little has actually happened.

Nehemiah 1:3 – Jerusalem is still a ruined wreck. 4:2-3 – not a great wall, absolutely not glorious return. 5:1-5 – back in land, but famines, slavery, in debt – not prosperity, peace, happiness. They are sinful people still.

We are waiting for God to rescue his people as he has promised. Old Testament – massive revelation, no fulfilment. Wisdom literature – even when you get what this world offers, doesn’t satisfy. This world doesn’t work. Don’t think you can get fulfilment in this world. Prophets – God will solve it. There is a shift from this creation to the new creation.

And Isaiah 66:22-end: a book of new creation and resurrection, ends on note of hell.scraping off burnt bits of toast with cover of condensed milk tin. Heap Seng Leong, 10 North Bridge Road, Singapore

The New Testament and Fulfilment of the Promises of Dealing with Sin and with Restoration

The New Testament opens by saying that Jesus is coming to fulfil the Old Testament testaments.

68 “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
    for he has visited and redeemed his people
69 and has raised up a horn of salvation for us
    in the house of his servant David,
70 as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
71 that we should be saved from our enemies
    and from the hand of all who hate us;
72 to show the mercy promised to our fathers
    and to remember his holy covenant,
73 the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us
74     that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies,
might serve him without fear,
75     in holiness and righteousness before him all our days. (Luke 1:68-75)

God is now coming to fulfil the promises. Notice references to the promises to Abraham, David, prophets, not Moses. There are no conditions, all the blessings instead.

In what way does Jesus fulfil all that God has promised? We all still sin, we are not in new creation. Jesus’ fulfilment is two stage affair:

1. first coming – 4 key promises fulfilled:

(i) Davidic king who is God himself. when the king comes, that’s when God will bring about all that he has promised.

(ii) sacrifice that fully cleanses us from sin:

26 for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. 27 And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgement, 28 so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him. (Hebrews 9:26b-28)

Jesus’ blood dealt with sin.

(iii) inaugurates the promised new covenant:

20 And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. (Luke 22:20)

The Old Testament prophets don’t actually make a new covenant. There is promise of new covenant rather than a new covenant actually made. The new covenant was actually made at cross.

For he finds fault with them when he says:

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord,
    when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel
    and with the house of Judah,
not like the covenant that I made with their fathers
    on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt.
For they did not continue in my covenant,
    and so I showed no concern for them, declares the Lord.
10 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel
    after those days, declares the Lord:
I will put my laws into their minds,
    and write them on their hearts,
and I will be their God,
    and they shall be my people.
11 And they shall not teach, each one his neighbour
    and each one his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord’,
for they shall all know me,
    from the least of them to the greatest.
12 For I will be merciful towards their iniquities,
    and I will remember their sins no more.”

13 In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away. (Hebrews 8:8-13)

The new covenant replaces the covenant made when Israel was brought out of Egypt, the one that depended on Israel obeying. This depends on God doing it.

Our enjoyment of it will only be at the second coming. Jesus will judge the whole world and punish God’s enemies. Will not tolerate rebellion forever.

28 so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him. (Hebrews 9:28)

Sin and salvation have been dealt with.

In second coming, the results of the Fall will be dealt with. The cause-effect penalty has been dealt with, the real me has been transformed.

just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”?

Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith. (Galatians 3:6-9)

The Bible gives us pictures of what the new creation will look like with Jesus as king, shepherd, priest. We don’t compare him with the Queen of England – the Bible tells you what king really is.

butter kopi and kaya toast, Heap Seng Leong, 10 North Bridge Road, Singapore Applying the Overview

We are not David, Moses, and not even Israel. They needed to keep sacrifice, not work on sabbath. Many things no longer apply to us. This is revolutionary and transforming.

The Overview applies on most fundamental level – it challenges what the world is about and where it is going. If i tell you that you need a QT every day, it’s a discipline. If you realise what a privilege it is to have a relationship with God, and really begin to get that, QT is not a hardship, but a joy. We’re looking at the heart level. See world differently, see world that God sees.

Right from Two Ways to Live, people think that we rule the world, the crown on my head is the big thing that non-Christians are focused on – my comfort, my prosperity, contentment, security, peace. Or our comfort, prosperity, contentment, security, peace. Everyone is concerned about this world.

The Bible tells us that God is not concerned about this world but concerned about the new creation. This is the most fundamental change. All the stuff that you are living for – exam results, careers, fun, popularity, are irrelevant in eternity. That matters infinitely more than anything, everything in this world.

Leaders don’t have to tell members that you have to give up things for the gospel – they will. What happens here doesn’t work. Relationship with God from fall onwards is a big deal. If people realise how relationship with God is a privilege, not ought to do but want to do. The puritans call this the changing of affections, changing what you want. This should happen in all bible studies.

Theological Challenges

What big theological challenges are there? Postmodernism is opposed to one plan for the whole of history. God has a plan for the whole world, he made it, he will judge it, he will rescue it. The world hates the idea that the world is not the centre of everything. God’s focus is not on this world but the next. Not on this world whether health and wealth, charismatic, social justice. This world vs new creation.

The first 500 years since Christ have been about the nature of god – is Jesus truly God? The next 400 years were about how am i saved? Faith not works. The 300 years since enlightenment – where is truth? Postmodernism is part of that. The last 50 years have been about this world vs the next – materialism.