The Uzzah Fallacy

July 6, 2018

David desired to bring the ark of the covenant to Jerusalem. The ark had been left at the house of Abinadad for decades since its return by the Philistines (1 Samuel 7:1). They approached this task with great joy and sincerity (2 Samuel 6:5). A new cart was acquired for this purpose. Two men, Uzzah and Ahio, took pains to see that it was properly guided, but the whole enterprise ended in tragedy:

And when they came to the threshing floor of Nacon, Uzzah put out his hand to the ark of God and took hold of it, for the oxen stumbled. And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Uzzah, and God struck him down there because of his error, and he died there beside the ark of God. (2 Samuel 6:6–7, ESV)

David frightened and angry returned to Jerusalem without the ark. But David doesn’t remain dejected. Something wonderful took place — the scriptures were searched, and a valuable lesson was learned. When the Levites were prepared for the second attempt to get the ark, David shared the painful truth he had learned.

Because you did not carry it the first time, the LORD our God broke out against us, because we did not seek him according to the rule. (1 Chronicles 15:13, ESV)

Amazingly, David and his associates had either failed to read the regulations concerning the transport of the ark (Exodus 25:10-22, 37:1-9, Numbers 4:15-20, 7:9) or failed to obey them. The death of Uzzah was avoidable and in a sense predictable.

What is bothersome about this episode is that we know the king was commanded to have his own copy of the law that “he shall read in it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the LORD his God by keeping all the words of this law and these statutes” (Deuteronomy 17:19, ESV). The priest was “to teach the people of Israel all the statutes that the LORD has spoken” (Lev 10:11, ESV). Both failed. The second time they transport the ark it is a different story.

And the Levites carried the ark of God on their shoulders with the poles, as Moses had commanded according to the word of the LORD (1 Chronicles 15:15, ESV).

Uzzah is a warning example to our confused and confusing religious world. Many seem to commit the Uzzah fallacy. They approach religious faith with enthusiasm but fail to take seriously the question: how does the Lord want this to be done? Let us remember to inquire of God for what he would have us to do.


The Interrupted Jesus

March 23, 2018

Jesus preached in the open where crowds would gather, so it is not surprising that he might be interrupted by someone in the crowd. Luke 11:27 depicts a woman shouting out this interruption: “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you nursed!” It’s a nice compliment to Jesus’ mother, but Jesus is quick witted and has the last word. He counters with this beatitude: “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!”

The blessing of hearing God’s word is great. The Book of Revelation also begins with a blessing on the one who reads and the one who hears the words of “this prophecy.” It takes humility on our part to hear the word of God as we should. The challenge is expressed in Isaiah 55:8-9.

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:8–9, ESV)

God’s word convicts us. It makes demands on us.

I believe hearing and reading God’s word is a blessing. I’ve come to see it as “sweeter than honey” (Psalm 119:103) and as “a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105). God’s commandments are for our good (Deuteronomy 6:24). But we have to become oriented to this library of books. It takes effort. We begin by understanding little, but with diligence the Bible becomes clearer to us, so that it becomes a source of comfort and strength.

So, if you believe that hearing God’s word is a blessing, what are you doing about it? Are you reading your Bible regularly? Are you a part of the Bible studies when the church assembles? It is an empty thing to say it is a blessing and then not partake of the blessing.

But notice that the beatitude Jesus gives is not just on hearing the word of God, the blessing only comes if we hear and keep it. In fact, the blessing in Revelation is the same: “blessed are this who hear, and who keep what is written in it…” (Revelation 1:3, ESV). Notice in Luke 11, it is not enough to be Jesus’ mother as great a privilege as that was. One needs to hear and keep. When his family came seeking him, he made the same point: “For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother” (Mark 3:35, ESV). James also warns about being “hearers only.” He compares being merely a hearer to looking in a mirror and then walking away and forgetting what we are like (James 1:22-25). Scripture is profitable to us only if we allow it to teach, reprove, correct, and train us in righteousness (see 2 Timothy 3:16-17).

The interrupted Jesus is not gotten off track. He provides a wise beatitude for us to ponder: “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!”


When Is a Foot not a Foot?

April 16, 2015

My wife made an unusual discovery during a sewing project. Her tape measure was off ¼ inch per foot. Since her project involved cloth that was to be over 100 inches long and was to fit something measured with an accurate tape measure, the project would have been ruined if she hadn’t discovered the problem. She did the only sensible thing she could. She threw away the tape measure and used a more accurate rule.

Her tape measure was an expression of an ideal. A standard for one foot actually exists. When a particular tape measure doesn’t measure up to that standard, it is time to get a more accurate tape measure.

This experience in real life has a spiritual application. The questions for each of us go something like this. If what you believe about God isn’t true, would you want to know? If what you believe about God isn’t true, would you be willing to change?

The Bible gives us examples of people who are confronted with these questions. In Acts 26, Paul is making his defense before King Agrippa, but Paul places Agrippa on the defense by sharing the good news about Jesus. Paul asserts that Agrippa is a believer in the prophets. Most understand Agrippa’s question as a deflection: “In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?” (Acts 26:28, ESV) The audience with Agrippa is over. Agrippa apparently doesn’t want to know.

Paul’s experience in Berea was different. When Paul preached in that city’s synagogue, Luke records this about the Bereans. “Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (Acts 17:11, ESV).

What happens when the ideas we have for faith and daily living don’t measure up to God’s word? I suspect it is much easier to throw away tangible tape measures, but it is more important to conform to the word of God even if it is harder to do. So the questions remain for each of us. If what I believe about God isn’t true, am I willing to know? If what I believe about God isn’t true, am I willing to change?


Grumbling vs. Groaning

November 14, 2014

We live in a time of groaning according to Paul in Romans 8. Paul’s view of the world includes the fact that Christians may undergo hardships and distress. We are not alone, for God is with us, but hardships will still come. The issue then becomes one of how will we face difficulties. Will we conquer them, or will they break us? Romans 8 gives us the confidence that there are resources available in God to help us through the difficulty and bring us into a time of glory. But difficulty presents us with a change and a danger: will our groaning turn into grumbling?

It may seem at first that there is a thin line between groaning and grumbling, both after all both are responses to the problem of suffering in our world. But there is a world of difference between the two. Our groaning is an expression of pain, grief, and stress. Grumbling is also a reaction to pain, but it packs into its response an arrogance, a harshness, and an attitude of rebellion that spoils one’s view of life. In Romans Paul tells us that we groan, but in Philippians 2, he warns us not to grumble.

Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. (Philippians 2:14–16 ESV)

If we want to know what grumbling can do to people and how displeasing it is to God, we only need to take a look at Israel as they wandered in the wilderness. They forgot God’s past deliverances and failed to trust in their current crisis. They tested the Lord: “Is the Lord among us nor not?” Surely the God who brought the plagues and delivered through the Red Sea could quench their thirst in the wilderness (see Exodus 15-17)! Psalm 106 sums up the grumblers’s experience with these words:

Then they despised the pleasant land,
having no faith in his promise.

They murmured in their tents,
and did not obey the voice of the LORD.

(Psalms 106:24–25 ESV)

Israel in the wilderness wandering is our prime example of grumbling and a clear warning of God’s displeasure about it. Their grumbling lacked faith and obedience. We may groan in the midst of life’s problems while casting our anxieties on God. We may groan and still trust and obey. Faith and obedience are the primary differences between grumbling vs. groaning.


Work Out Your Own Salvation

April 27, 2012

Paul’s statement in Philippians 2:12-13 is sometimes regarded as a difficult passage. People are troubled by the phrase, work out. Doesn’t Paul say we can’t be saved by works of the law (Romans 3:20) or that the one who works, his wages are counted as his due rather than as a gift (Romans 4:4)? The answer is yes, but Paul can use the word, work, in more than one way. It can mean merit, and Paul clearly teaches we can’t merit or earn our salvation (Ephesians 2:8-9) . But it can also be a way of talking about deeds of obedience (Ephesians 2:10). Faith clearly leads to obedience (Romans 1:5), so Christians are created for good works. What does Paul want us to learn from this statement?

Paul wants us to lead a life of obedience (work out) because we are Christians. Obedience is our God-given purpose (see Philippians 1:9-11, 1:27). We were always meant to let God be Lord in our lives. We were always meant to obey. By the way, obedience isn’t tested when what God wants and what we want are the same. Obedience is true obedience when we are willing to say with Jesus, not my will but yours be done. Obedience is also tested by the people around us. Obedience shouldn’t depend on our human audience. Paul indicates that when he says “in my presence, but much more in my absence.”

Paul wants us to accept and live a life of individual responsibility — “work out your own salvation.” Paul is reminding them of their individual responsibility to continue in the path to salvation. There are things others can’t do for you. I can’t build your character for you. I can’t make your moral choices for you. Yes, each of us can receive guidance, but even that is something we must choose to accept or reject.

Paul wants us to live a life of perseverance (work out your own salvation). Louw and Nida give this insight into the word: “to do something with success and/or thoroughness.” A.T. Robertson in his, Word Pictures in the New Testament, notes for this passage to “work on to the finish.” We see this even in Paul’s example:

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. (Philippians 3:12, ESV)

Paul’s statement is consistent with grace. Work out has to do with the obedience which is our purpose. Because of our status as Christians, Paul wants us to live lives of obedience, responsibility, and perseverance.


The Personal Answer

May 26, 2010

Have you ever been with a friend just talking? Maybe it is conversation over a cup of coffee. You discuss all the world’s problems. You and your friend exchange theories. It is lively and entertaining conversation, and in the end you part ways, and maybe one of you says, “We’ve solved all the world’s problems.” Such conversations are long on talk and short on deeds.

Jesus had set his face towards Jerusalem (Luke 9:51). Luke clearly lets us know the journey is “for him to be taken up.” Jesus’ crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension are ahead even if the disciples failed to grasp it. Jesus predicts, but they dimly understand.

In the midst of this journey, someone says to Jesus, “Lord, will those who are saved be few” (Luke 13:23)? I can imagine in a tedious, walking journey that conversation on an interesting topic would be welcome. Who better to engage in conversation or teaching than Jesus? And it is such a wonderful theoretical question. It could have led to lively conversation. It could have been bandied about, and in the end, someone could say, “We’ve solved all the world’s problems.”

Jesus’ answer is direct: “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able” (Luke 13:24, ESV). Jesus immediately brings the question down to the level of personal responsibility and not just abstract speculation.

Jesus uses an uncomfortable word – strive. The word means to do something with great intensity and effort. It was a word used of athletic contests as well as fights with weapons. Someone might ask, “If I can’t merit salvation, what’s all this talk about ‘striving’?”  We must strive to understand the message. We must strive to discern truth from error in a world with multiple messages. We must strive to respond to the message. “Striving” in this sense is certainly necessary, but it is not meritorious. It is the response to what God has given and done for us.

Jesus gives us another uncomfortable truth. We must seek a narrow door. Our culture wants many paths all leading to a good place. All spiritual truths are to be regarded as equally valid. Jesus will have none of this. There is an absolute truth, and a necessary way.

Jesus also lets us know that the clock is ticking: “When once the master of the house has risen and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us,’ then he will answer you, ‘I do not know where you come from’” (Luke 13:25, ESV). There is a deadline. The deadline means our opportunity to enter is limited.

I enjoy theoretical conversations. They don’t make much in the way of demands. Jesus reminds us that some issues cannot remain theoretical. We must give a personal answer.


Pleasure’s Sting

March 21, 2009

This is the way of Pleasure:
She stings them that despoil her;
And, like the winged toiler
Who’s lost her honeyed treasure,
She flies, but leaves her smart
Deep-rankling in the heart.

Boethius, The Consolation of Philosophy, Book III , Song VII.