The Haze, Half-face Particulate Respirators and Filter Masks, and International Relations

Singapore haze: half-face particulate respirators - Air + Smart Mask and 3M filter mask
Since the Indonesian forest fires have had Singapore and bits of Malaysia on choke-hold a few weeks ago, I’ve manage to cruise along without much protection. But the recent onset of stinging in my respiratory tract has finally convinced me to play the adult and acquire a mask or two.

Most of the usual pharmacy chains (Guardian, Watsons) carried both the usual 3M N95 variety (introduced to the general public during the SARS period) and the much newer and more design-conscious Air+ Smart Mask (S$7.20 for a box of 3, S$29.90 for the micro-ventilator.

Singapore haze: half-face particulate respirators - Air+ Smart Mask, large sizeAir+ Smart Mask, in large

The friendly (over-friendly! said LL) sales assistant warned us that the medium sized Air+ was far too small and suggested a large for all adults. Our chat turned a little to international relations with Indonesia, the home of the “transboundary haze”.

Regional Haze Map Source: NEA

The recent hesitation of Indonesian politicians to accept Singapore’s offer of help to control the fires (“yes they did“, “no we didn’t“) might be explained by the relationship between the countries and their self-perception in the regional arena.

…size could also be a reason for the failure to resolve conflicts between Singapore and Indonesia. Size, in this sense, can be interpreted literally as well as symbolically, as the self-images of both countries. Both the original conflict in 1968 as well as the current one in 2014 have been directly attributed to size. When then-Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew turned down a direct appeal by former President Soeharto to pardon the two Indonesian marines, in the words of former MFA Permanent Secretary Bilahari Kausikan, “he could not have done otherwise without conceding that the small must always defer to the big and irretrievably compromising our sovereignty.”

However, if Singaporeans are adamant that the small must not defer to the big, then the Indonesians are equally adamant that the big must not defer to the small. A few days ago, Indonesia’s Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Djoko Suyanto declared that “the fact that there is a different perception of Indonesian government policy by other countries, in this instance, Singapore, cannot make us backtrack or be uncertain about carrying on with our policy decision and implementing it.” Golkar MP Hajriyanto Thohari, deputy chairman of the People’s Consultative Assembly, went one step further, declaring “Let Singapore keep shrieking, like a chicken beaten by a stick.” (Singapore and Indonesia: An Uneasy Coexistence?, Yvonne Guo, The Diplomat, 2014)

In the aftermath of the Indonesian navy naming their warship KRI Usman Harun, after two Indonesian marines executed in Singapore in 1968 for a 1965 terror attack on MacDonald House in Orchard Road, there were rather self-righteous and dull comments about how Singapore should have spared those men.

These commentators seemed to forget to take into account (i) the context of that event in Singapore’s national history (1965 was the year of its independence; and (ii) the context of Singapore in regional politics.

Said Kausikan:

…the respected American scholar of Indonesia, the late Dr George McTurnan Kahin, wrote in 1964 while Konfrontasi was still ongoing, that episode of aggression towards its neighbours was the consequence of the “powerful, self-righteous thrust of Indonesian nationalism” and the widespread belief that “because of (the) country’s size… it has a moral right to leadership”.

Time may have given a more sophisticated gloss to this attitude but has not essentially changed it.

This attitude lies, for example, behind the outrageous comments by some Indonesian ministers during the haze last year that Singapore should be grateful for the oxygen Indonesia provides; it is the reason why Indonesians think Singaporeans should take into account their interests and sensitivities without thinking it necessary to reciprocate. (Indonesia’s naming of navy ship: Sensitivity is a two-way street, The Straits Times, 13 February 2014)

and so instead of just keeping quiet, Singapore needed to protest this and show our stand clearly.

Curious about this ambassador-at-large, I came across his warning that “foreign policy cannot be a tool for partisan politics”

already and all too often, I see the irrelevant or the impossible being held up as worthy of emulation…

…I see our vulnerabilities being dismissed or downplayed; and I see only a superficial understanding of how the real world really works in civil society and other groups who aspire to prescribe alternate foreign policies… (Foreign Policy Cannot Be ‘Tool of Partisan Politics‘, Today, 17 September 2013)

This parallels nicely with some discussions we’ve been having about how American, English, Australian evangelical models of what godliness looks like might/might not work in a Singaporean context. But that’s for another day.

If you have an old 3M mask, check its expiry here.

Other helpful sites:

National Environment Agency’s Haze website

Ministry of Health guidelines on the use of masks

The Day After Polling Day for the Singapore General Elections 2015

If we hadn’t stayed up to hear the results of the Singapore General Elections 2015, we’d have awoken this morning to the news that the People’s Action Party carried 83 of the 89 parliamentary seats. For the first time since Singapore’s independence in 1965, all parliamentary seats had been contested.

(I write this as someone how hasn’t paid much attention to politics until very recently, and am certainly not a supporter of any particular political party.)

SingFirst's Tan Jee Say on Channel NewsAsia SingaporeThere’s been much shock, anger, and bitterness at the results from those who were sure that the opposition parties would win big, based on the strength and volume of anti-PAP views online on social media, the massive crowds at Workers’ Party rallies, the complaints of their golfing buddies, etc. Some are in mourning:

wkNow there could be several reasons why sentiment was not an accurate predictor of the final outcome:

  • sample size issues: confirmation bias, echo-chamber effect of social media and search engine algorithms
  • disparity between speech and actions: perhaps it’s not so much the “silent majority”; they could in fact have been very vocal. But there is a difference between looking at the roadshows and experiencing the atmosphere at rallies, and agreeing with their disgruntled chums at coffeeshops…and making a secret private choice after Cooling-Off Day.
    This should not be too much of a surprise. In a sense, human decision-making is similar whether in relation to purchasing something or casting a vote. Alexander Osterwalder had this advice for entrepreneurs:
    “Once you have an idea of those customer jobs, pains, and gains you don’t want to rest until you’ve tested if what you’ve learned from talking to customers is actually real. Actions speak louder than words. There is a big difference between what people say and what they do. People might tell you they are excited about your new product, but when they are in a buying situation their behaviour might be totally different.”

Singapore General Elections: Polling Station tape in void deckWhat is quite disrespectful of both nation and one’s fellow countrymen are the following accusations:

alleging that the elections are invalid for not being free and fair:

    • that the polls were rigged

      Really highly unlikely since the fortunes of the PAP have gone up and precariously down since independence.

      Also, the procedure for the counting of votes is meticulous in its eagerness to ensure that there is no ballot-stuffing (by having serial numbers, which many mistake for a device for keeping track of people’s votes), no tampering with ballot papers, no inaccurate counting. See the Counting of Votes section of the Candidate’s Handbook for Parliamentary Election 2015, and the testimonies from people from all persuasions and parties who were involved in the process.

In relation to the secrecy of votes:

alleging that the outcome of democratic elections is not democratic:

  • that it is undemocratic to have a dominant party in parliament

    No it is not if that’s exactly what the people chose. And the converse would be true if a certain amount of seats had to be left to a certain party, regardless of what the electorate wanted.

alleging that the opposition was not able to communicate effectively with the public:

    • that the PAP controls the mainstream media, that the electorate is brain-washed
    • that it is because of all the fear-mongering
    • that the people who voted for the PAP believed falsehoods, didn’t do their due diligence

      Hardly, since the victorious opposition were lauding the “democratic” role of social media as a platform for alternative voices to be heard in 2011. Also, anyone on social media could not have hidden from the fact that the opposition was heard loud and clear on Facebook, on Youtube, in blogposts etc. Plus, the crowds at WP rallies?

      Being affected by fear-mongering, believing in falsehoods, and lack of due diligence, I think, are regrettably accusations that would be true of voters of every political party.

claiming that some fellow citizens should not have an equal voice:

  • that, see this confirms my xenophobia, it is the new citizens’ fault
  • that it is because of all the old people voting

    Erm, the democratic process means at least that every citizen gets an equal vote – including the elderly, and the wet-behind-the-ears-only-know-how-to-Candy-Crush, and the annoying neighbour, and your boss, and your subordinates, and your kopi uncle, and your CEO, and the people who don’t agree with you etc.

    Since our votes are secret, there is no evidence that new citizens do in fact vote for the PAP. But, it would not be an illogical assumption. To uproot from one’s homeland and migrate here must mean that Singapore is far better than wherever they’ve come from. Perhaps that should make us look at our country again with new eyes, new gratitude for our fortunate lot – be it security, opportunity, affordability of living, etc.

    I know that when I returned to Singapore after travelling quite a bit, I was absolutely shocked by the whiney-ness of Singaporeans. MRT trains breakdown for a few minutes, or even a few hours, and everyone is up in arms. If you lived in London for a week, a month, your planned journeys (sometimes to the airport!) would be foiled by the underground not working because of: signal failure (probably every day), person under a train (typically at peak hour), engineering works (almost every weekend), it being too hot in the summer, leaves on the track in autumn, it being too cold in winter.

Singapore General Elections: Polling Station tape in void deckAnd some are just too pessimistic. I don’t see why this is the end of the world.

  1. Assume the best of the people who have been given the “strong mandate” to govern. Until proven otherwise, trust that when they say they are humbled by the people’s choice, they do really want to serve the common good.
  2. If this is so, then raise your concerns in a reasonable manner with the party that will form the government, and work with them. If you are truly concerned about social justice (whatever that means for you), for the poor, the outcast, the elderly, the underprivileged, the disadvantaged, then you should not be concerned about political power, or partisanship, but will work with anyone to help your just cause/these people. Understand of course, that ministers and MPs would already have a lot on their plate and that there will be many voices vying for their attention. So make it easier by being persistent, by not throwing a tantrum if they appear not to have heard you the first few times, by presenting evidence for the problem and some constructive suggestions for solving the problem. These solutions should also assess the impact of carrying them out on the rights, responsibility, wants, needs of other interest groups in society.
  3. If you were merely hoping to vote in someone who would do all this work for you, don’t outsource. Roll up your sleeves and get to work. Start small initiatives. If you are concerned that people coming out of prison might have difficulty getting jobs, use social media for good instead of complaining: gather a group of businesses who would be willing to help them get back on their feet, find places that will allow them to stay for cheap and enjoy the company of others, collect old office clothes so they have something to wear to interviews etc.

Lee Hsien Loong being carried by supporters after victory in the Singapore General Elections 2015If this sounds at all pro-PAP, it isn’t meant to be. Rather, it is the acknowledgement that this is the political party now in power. Since they have been elected by due process (and even if they haven’t been!), we are obliged to give the authorities due respect. And this should be especially so for those who consider themselves God-fearers. For:

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgement. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honour to whom honour is owed. (Romans 13:1-7)

and

13 Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, 14 or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. 15 For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. 16 Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. 17 Honour everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the emperor. (1 Peter 2:13-17)

Before bemoaning the “oppressive authoritarian regime” Singapore is under as a get-out clause, remember that Paul and Peter were writing to Christians under hostile Roman rule. And this requirement to respect the authorities is not because they are any better than or more superior to anyone else, but because it acknowledges the God who has put them in their high position.

Remember what King Nebuchanezzar and King Belshazzar of Babylon had to learn, even while they had God’s people, the Israelites, in exile, and had their temple destroyed:

the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will and sets over it the lowliest of men (Daniel 4:17)

the Most High God rules the kingdom of mankind and sets over it whom he will (Daniel 5:21)

The Myth of the Rational Voter – Why Democracies Choose Bad Policies

Dipping into Facebook this last week has been repulsive. The thinly-veiled vitriol from all sides on so-called hot-potato issues like the AHPETC accounts and CPF.

Most annoying of course, is people button-holing you after church or at lunch to talk politics. But when asked to explain their anger about current policies or hostility towards the incumbent governing party (the People’s Action Party), they repeat rather selfish complaints (eg. I want money and I want it now) without any constructive alternative solution to the stated problem (probable failure to save for housing and retirement).

And just asking for more substantial views then gets you the accusatory finger of “oooohhh, someone’s pro-PAP”.

[In the spirit of “no link lei”, here are some gratuitous photos of food.]

hawker centre, Lorong 8 Toa PayohSo it’s Cooling Off Day. One day to think rationally about the choices we are to make at the ballot boxes for the Singapore General Elections 2015 tomorrow.

Amidst the thick haze, there is a cacophony of noise – and it sounds just like lemmings running at full tilt, blinded by biases:

anti-government, anti-authority bias

  • we are unhappy. Therefore, something, or everything!, about the government is making us unhappy.
  • we don’t have the power the government has. Therefore, they are oppressing us and we are marginalised (or we will find people who look like they are victims – single mothers, singles, self-identified LGBT, minority races, low wage earners). They are arrogant and out-of-touch, we are the people who really know what’s going on.

We find it easy to love those who are worse-off than us; who, conspicuously, have less power or money. For no substantial reason, they seem more authentic.

This is why José Mujica, the last president of Uruguay, acquired some international fame as the “world’s poorest president”. His austerity has been an inspiration to a world so engorged with possessions that “de-cluttering” is one of the newest fads. But governing a country requires more than that. New Republic tried to find out if he actually improved the lives of the Uruguayans, and discovered some disappointment. So Eve Fairbanks reflects, philosophically:

It’s a pattern: We keep creating saviors whom we expect to single- handedly restore lost values. Then we lash out at them when they inevitably fall short…

We’re searching for the one figure who can break the binds. We want someone simply different enough to plot a new direction for a world that often feels full of deadly momentum toward existential decay and harder to steer than the hurtling Titanic.

Because actual experience tends to reveal the limits of candidates’ power, we’re also drawn to heroes with less and less experience, blank slates onto which we can project our fantasies for change.

And what about Aung San Suu Kyi, once the icon for a liberal marketing basket of peaceful demonstrations, democracy, human rights, progressiveness etc? Now that she’s got some political power, the junta smirk as she too has been coming under fire – in the last few years, for her silence about the plight of the Muslim Rohingya in West Burma. Her halo has slipped, tarnished, said some. She’s acting just like a “any other politician: single-mindedly pursuing an agenda, making expedient decisions with one eye on electoral politics, the other on kingmakers in Naypyidaw and the domestic political economy”, say others. Oh and why not just accuse her of bad faith and say she’s “taken advantage of the perception of her as an unerring statesman and humanitarian and chosen to collude with tyranny against the people who need her most”.

Mellben Seafood, Lorong 8 Toa Payoh

In his book, The Myth of the Rational Voter, Bryan Caplan states four other major biases that affect the electorate’s rationality and critical thinking faculties. Courtesy of The Economist:

  • anti-market bias

People don’t understand that the pursuit of private profits often yields public benefits. There is the tendency to underestimate the benefits of the market economy.

Most people fancy themselves to be victims of the market to be preyed on by corporations (the “greedy monopolists”), rather than as they really are – participants in the market.

When asked why petrol prices have risen, the public mostly blames the greed of oil firms. Yet economists nearly all attribute it to the law of supply and demand. If petrol prices rise because oil firms want higher profits, why would they sometimes fall?

  • anti-foreign bias

People underestimate the benefits of interactions with foreigners. They tend to see foreigners as the enemies.

“Most Americans think the economy is seriously damaged by companies sending jobs overseas. Few economists do. People understand that the local hardware store will sell them a better, cheaper hammer than they can make for themselves. Yet they are squeamish about trade with foreigners, and even more so about foreigners who enter their country to do jobs they spurn. Hence the reluctance of Democratic presidential candidates to defend free trade, even when they know it will make most voters better off, and the reluctance of their Republican counterparts to defend George Bush’s liberal line on immigration.”

black pepper crab, Mellben Seafood, Lorong 8 Toa Payoh

    • make-work bias

People equate prosperity with employment rather than production.

“The make-work bias is best illustrated by a story, perhaps apocryphal, of an economist who visits China under Mao Zedong. He sees hundreds of workers building a dam with shovels. He asks: “Why don’t they use a mechanical digger?” “That would put people out of work,” replies the foreman. “Oh,” says the economist, “I thought you were making a dam. If it’s jobs you want, take away their shovels and give them spoons.” For an individual, the make-work bias makes some sense. He prospers if he has a job, and may lose his health insurance if he is laid off. For the nation as a whole, however, what matters is not whether people have jobs, but how they do them. The more people produce, the greater the general prosperity. It helps, therefore, if people shift from less productive occupations to more productive ones. Economists, recalling that before the industrial revolution 95% of Americans were farmers, worry far less about downsizing than ordinary people do. Politicians, however, follow the lead of ordinary people. Hence, to take a more frivolous example, Oregon’s ban on self-service petrol stations.”

    • bias towards pessimism

People tend to think economic conditions are worse than they are.

“The public’s pessimism is evident in its belief that most new jobs tend to be low-paying, that our children will be worse off than we are and that society is going to hell in a variety of ways. Economists, despite their dismal reputation, tend to be cheerier. Politicians have to strike a balance. They often find it useful to inflame public fears, but they have to sound confident that things will get better if they are elected.”

hawker centre, Lorong 8 Toa PayohAnd what does this all translate to at the ballot boxes on polling day?

Caplan says:

“Since delusional political beliefs are free [ie. cost them nothing], the voter consumes until he reaches his “satiation point,” believing whatever makes him feel best. When a person puts on his voting hat, he does not have to give up practical efficacy in exchange for self-image, because he has no practical efficacy to give up in the first place.”

“The same people who practice intellectual self-discipline when they figure out how to commute to work, repair a car, buy a house, or land a job “let themselves go” when they contemplate the effects of protectionism, gun control, or pharmaceutical regulation.”

Is a democracy (however defined) better than an authoritarian regime? Is living under an elected government better than being ruled by a sovereign?

At the end of the day, one thing is clear – we are all sinful people (voters, politicians, government types, rebels) who must try to regulate our societies the best we can under the circumstances of this fallen world. But even in the midst of the frustration of it all, we look forward to a day when the whole world will be ruled by Jesus who is God himself, who is perfectly just, perfectly loving, and perfectly wise, and to whom we can submit wholeheartedly.

hawker centre, Lorong 8 Toa Payoh

Showing the Londoners Around Singapore in One Long Day

Two batches of Londoners descended in Singapore over the last month. It was so great to see them, but it made me incredibly homesick for Old Blighty.

Where to bring foreign visitors in Singapore? How to give them a sense of what Singapore is like outside of the constructed tourist attractions?

Singapore as Financial Hub

We started from the Central Business District – the shiny skyscrapers full of hardworking office bees that made Singapore a “financial hub”.

Tour of Singapore: Starbuck matcha lattes at One Fullerton
Tour of Singapore: Starbuck matcha lattes at One Fullerton

Singapore as Tourist Hub

Then a visit to the amazing loos in Fullerton Bay Hotel or Fullerton Hotel to freshen up (a highlight of their trip said two of them), before sipping matcha lattes (“we don’t get this in London”) at Starbucks, One Fullerton, and catching up (and charging phones).

Then on to the necessary cheesy photos with the Merlion and the ArtScience Museum and Marina Bay Sands:

Tour of Singapore: cheesy photo pitstop with ArtScience Museum, Marina Bay Sands, Merlion

Singapore as Juxtaposition Between Old and New

After, a stroll contrasting the colonial buildings and new modernist ones, munching ice-cream sandwiches from the S$1.20 ice-cream uncle: the Victoria Concert Hall and Victoria Theatre, the Old Parliament House and current Parliament House, the Old Supreme Court and current UFO Supreme Court (a trip to the top allows a good view of the city – but no photography allowed in the building), a peek into the unopened National Gallery.

Singapore as Multi-Racial and Multi-Religious Society (and “Foodie Hub”)

Then a rest stop at St. Andrew’s Cathedral with the sun coming through its lovely stained glass, throwing colours all over the pews:

Tour of Singapore
Tour of Singapore: stained glass colours, St. Andrew's Cathedral
Tour of Singapore: St. Andrew's CathedralThen to Maxwell Market for delicious chicken rice and other “hawker delights” like char kway teow and chai tow koey, and refreshing ABC (apple, beetroot, carrot) and carrot-orange juices, before popping over to the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple:

Tour of Singapore: Buddha Tooth Relic Temple
Tour of Singapore: Buddha Tooth Relic Temple
Tour of Singapore: Buddha Tooth Relic Temple
Tour of Singapore: Buddha Tooth Relic Temple

We’d wanted to check out Lepark at Pearl Bank Centre as an example of how old buildings were being repurposed by young indie folk. Alas, they were closed that day:
Tour of Singapore: Pearl Bank Centre

Ah, some nasi padang washed down with bandung and teh tarik and milo dinosaur at Kampong Glam, off Arab Street

Tour of Singapore: teh tarik at the sarabat stall in Kampong Glam
Tour of Singapore
Tour of Singapore

before being kitted out with appropriate wear for the Sultan Mosque:
Tour of Singapore
Tour of Singapore
The visitors loved how friendly everyone in the temple and mosque was – how they didn’t have to worry about appropriate wear beforehand, and how willing to answer their endless questions. “Can we take photos here?” they’d nervously asked the docent at the mosque. “Only if you post on facebook!” came the cheeky answer.

A gander down self-consciously hipster Haji Lane, then we stopped off at Raffles Hotel for another freshening up (without a Singapore Sling in the Long Bar this time):
Tour of Singapore
Tour of Singapore

Before heading to Ku De Ta atop Marina Bay Sands to watch the sun set and the lights about town come on:
Tour of Singapore: Marina Bay Sands
Tour of Singapore
Tour of Singapore: Marina Bay Sands
Tour of Singapore

Tour of Singapore: view from Ku De Ta atop Marina Bay Sands

Across the bay for some satay and tourist touting on the street next to Lau Pat Sat:
Tour of Singapore: satay stick trophies next to Lau Pat Sat

Thence to Little India (a little too late for the Hindu temples, sadly), for gawking in amazement at the flower garland makers, some (erm, North) Indian on banana leaves:
Tour of Singapore
Tour of Singapore: Apollo Banana Leaf Curry
Tour of Singapore: Apollo Banana Leaf Curry - box of mints
Tour of Singapore: Apollo Banana Leaf Curry - after-dinner mints

A spin around the amazing Mustafa which had almost everything anyone was looking for, then to Geylang for pek at the red-light district and a dessert of the king of fruits – durian! and its friend the jackfruit:
Tour of Singapore
Tour of Singapore - Geylang jackfruit

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.

World Street Food Congress 2015

The World Street Food Congress 2015, Tan Quee Lan Street, Bugis, SingaporeWe were quite excited about the World Street Food Congress that had set up shop on that grass patch along Tan Quee Lan Street, across from Parco Bugis Junction.

The site map, that actually gave the location of all stalls, was a little more useful than the pamphlets that were handed out: Site Map, The World Street Food Congress 2015, Tan Quee Lan Street, Bugis, Singapore

Indonesian gudeg yu nap, a Bandung breakfast dish – young jackfruit stewed with pork, a braised chicken wing and half a boiled eggs in soya sauce, soft tempeh, and blubbery cow skin on white rice (S$10): Gudep yu nap stall, The World Street Food Congress 2015, Tan Quee Lan Street, Bugis, Singapore Gudeg yu nap, The World Street Food Congress 2015, Tan Quee Lan Street, Bugis, Singapore

East Side King food truck with Filipino-inspired American food: kinilaw (S$9. “Otherwise known as the Filipino Ceviche, it is made with sweet and succulent snake-head fish, red onion, coconut vinegar, fragrant Japanese Yuzu and Thai chilies. This delicious combination is Chef Paul’s signature raw seafood starter”) and chicken inasal taco with fried chicken skin (S$9):

East Side King food truck, The World Street Food Congress 2015, Tan Quee Lan Street, Bugis, Singapore East Side King: kinilaw and chicken insala with chicken skin in a taco. The World Street Food Congress 2015, Tan Quee Lan Street, Bugis, Singapore East Side King: kinilaw. The World Street Food Congress 2015, Tan Quee Lan Street, Bugis, Singapore East Side King: chicken inasal with fried chicken skin in tacos. The World Street Food Congress 2015, Tan Quee Lan Street, Bugis, Singapore Pepita’s Kitchen – lechon (roast suckling pig) on white truffle oil paella (S$13+): Pepita's Kitchen: lechon (roast suckling pig) on white truffle oil paella. The World Street Food Congress 2015, Tan Quee Lan Street, Bugis, Singapore BánhCăn 38’s banh can: Bahn Can from BánhCăn 38: The World Street Food Congress 2015, Tan Quee Lan Street, Bugis, Singapore Bon Chovie (facebook) from Brooklyn – deep fried shishamo (“anchovies”)(S$10): Bon Chovie from Brooklyn. The World Street Food Congress 2015, Tan Quee Lan Street, Bugis, Singapore fried shishamo: The World Street Food Congress 2015, Tan Quee Lan Street, Bugis, Singapore Bon Chovie from Brooklyn - deep fried shishamo, The World Street Food Congress 2015, Tan Quee Lan Street, Bugis, Singapore

Enjoyed the atmosphere and the idea of the event. But, speaking with neighbours on the communal table, the general consensus was that the food was far too expensive and the portions too small. The dishes on offer weren’t distinctive (or “exotic” as some would say) enough to warrant this.

After trying our best to get full, we decided to head down to Geylang and get a proper feeding.

PS: recipes from various cooks for sum lo hor fun and bak kut teh porridge, session hosted by Seetoh of makansutra:
Seetho. The World Street Food Congress 2015, Tan Quee Lan Street, Bugis, Singapore
Receipe for Sum Lo Hor Fun by Chun Kee. The World Street Food Congress 2015, Tan Quee Lan Street, Bugis, Singapore
Recipe for Bak Kut Teh porridge. The World Street Food Congress 2015, Tan Quee Lan Street, Bugis, Singapore