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Wordwise Insight, Issue #031
July 14, 2007

WORDWISE INSIGHT is the free, informative monthly newsletter of


BIBLE INSIGHTS. Who rules your life? A sudden turning to idols, and more

READER Q & A. Is Sunday the Christian Sabbath? and more



When Pilate brought the Lord Jesus before the raucous crowd he said, “Behold your King!” The response of the people was, “We have no king but Caesar” (Jn. 19:14-15). That startling statement needs due consideration. It is true that there was no king on the throne of Israel at the time (cf. Hos. 3:4), and that the Jews were ruled by the Roman Caesar (however reluctantly!). But they did have other masters that controlled their lives. We may, as well! How many of the following hidden rulers dominate our own?

The evidence shows they–especially the Jewish leaders--were ruled:

1) By Satan, as a part of his kingdom of darkness (Jn. 8:44; Acts 26:17-18; cf. Col. 1:12-14)

2) By self-centred pride (Lk. 18:11-12; cf. Paul, Phil. 3:4-6)

3) By tradition and empty ritual, claiming thereby to be righteous (Matt. 23:3; Mk. 7:6)

4) By expediency, because they saw an opportunity to be rid of Christ, freeing Barabbas instead (Jn. 18:39-40). So much for their loyalty to Caesar; Barabbas was an insurrectionist (Mk. 15:7)!

5) By materialism, as they refused to believe the spiritual and eternal message of Christ (Matt. 23:14; Mk. 7:11-12)

6) By a lust for power and position, as they saw their control of the people threatened (Matt. 23:5-7; Jn. 9:33-34; 11:9-11)

7) By sinful rebellion, because they rejected God’s Anointed (Jn. 1:11; 19:15)

The Israelites were delivered from bondage in Egypt by the mighty power of God. Then the Lord led them to the foot of Mount Sinai, where Moses ascended to receive the Law of God. But after he had been absent from the camp for days, the people got tired of waiting. They not only rejected Moses’ leadership, but rebelled against the God who had been so gracious to them, saying to Aaron, “Come, make us gods that shall go before us” (Exod. 32:1).

Sadly, Aaron went along with this folly. He collected gold earrings from the people, melted and molded them into the image of a calf–which was further enhanced by engraving (vs. 2-4). Then he built an altar before it and proclaimed a day of feasting–which became unrestrained drunken and immoral revelry (vs. 5-6, 18-19, 25).

Meanwhile, up on Sinai, the Lord told Moses to return to the camp, saying the people had “corrupted themselves” and, “They have turned aside quickly out of the way which I commanded them. They have made themselves a molded calf, and worshiped it, and sacrificed to it, and said, ‘This is your god, O Israel, that brought you out of the land of Egypt’” (vs. 8).

Consider the multiple sins in this.

1) They turned aside from (transgressed) God’s law. Since idolatry is clearly condemned throughout the Word of God, any form of idolatry is a departure from Him and His righteous standard.

2) They did so quickly, seemingly without careful thought (cf. their recent vow, 24:3, 7). The devil wants to hurry us into sin. And we see where impatience can lead us!

3) Rejecting Jehovah God, they demanded new gods. They felt the need to fill the “worship vacuum” with something--as we all must.

4) Under Aaron’s leadership, they made themselves a golden calf, a self-made god which was likely a remnant of Egyptian idolatry (cf. Apis, the bull god of Egypt).

5) They worshiped the golden calf, violating the first and second commandments (Exod. 20:1-6).

6) They offered sacrifices to the idol and “played” before it. W. C. Kaiser says that word refers to “drunken immoral orgies and sexual play,” with music and dancing to suit the mood (vs. 18, 19). The NKJV says the people were “unrestrained” (vs. 25). The old KJV uses the word “naked.” The Hebrew literally means a casting off, either of clothing or of self-discipline.

7) They blasphemously identified the idol as the god that had delivered them from Egyptian bondage (cf. 20:2). How could this be? Note that Aaron proclaimed, “Tomorrow is a feast to the Lord” (vs. 5). Either that he realized things were getting out of hand, and he wanted to include Jehovah in their worship; or he wanted them to see the idol as a physical representation of the true God!

An idol is anything in our lives which is so admired and desired that it begins to dominate the use of our resources, our priorities and our decision making. And no compromise with idolatry is possible. When Moses arrived on the scene, he did not...

1) Redefine the idol as a “worship aid”

2) Refashion it into something more attractive and benign.

3) Relocate it where it would be less of a temptation

Moses destroyed the idol, reducing it to powder (vs. 20). The act of mixing the powder with water and having the Israelites drink it was a way of forcing them to face their responsibility, graphically illustrating that their inner attitudes were the source of the problem,. With the hymn writer we say, “The dearest idol I have known, / Whate’er that idol be, / Help me to tear it from Thy throne / And worship only Thee.”

On the website there is an article about discipleship called The Learner-Servant Principles. Extensively referenced to Scripture, and with many diagrams, this material will give you a unique perspective on the subject. The seven basic principles are interconnected. They show the essence of discipleship as it is revealed in God’s Word, four key things God expects of us, and how sin contrasts with the four. As well, you will gain a helpful understanding of what it means to be filled with the Holy Spirit, and walk in the Spirit. The framework described can also be used to analyze passage after passage in the Bible. Please study the material, put it to use, and pass it on!

TRUTH IN OUR TRIALS. Check out the extensive outline study on the subject of suffering at Truth About Suffering.


Question: Is Sunday the Christian Sabbath?

Answer: In response, we need to consider the Jewish Sabbath versus the Christian Lord’s Day. They are different.

First of all, not a single Scripture calls Sunday “the Christian Sabbath.” Nor does any verse tell us the Sabbath has been switched from Saturday to Sunday, and that Christians are to keep the Sabbath. Popes and church councils may have claimed that, and the occasional hymn may mix the two (e.g. “Safely Through Another Week,” by John Newton) but that does not make it so. The two days are utterly distinct and different. Trying to change one into the other, or combine the character of the two, only creates confusion.

1) Saturday, the 7th day of the week was ordained of God to be the “Sabbath” for the nation of Israel (Exod. 20:8-11). (Shabbath is the Hebrew word for rest.) It was given to them in their wilderness journey, with no indication it was celebrated by anyone before that (Exod. 16:23-30).

On the other hand, Sunday, the 1st day of the week, came to be designated as the Lord’s Day in the early church. Christians seem to have chosen the day by consensus, not by God’s command, as a time to assemble. (The only time the Bible uses the expression is in Rev. 1:10, where it may refer to Sunday, or perhaps to the prophetic Day of the Lord–the day of His end-time intervention in world affairs.)

2) The Sabbath followed the example of God resting on the 7th day after creation (Gen. 2:2). It was to be a sign the Israelites were under the Mosaic Covenant (Exod. 31:12-17; Deut. 5:15; Ezek. 20:12-13, 20-21).

Likely Sunday was chosen by Christians because it was the day of Christ’s resurrection (Matt. 28:1-6). Thus it became a reminder of our finished redemption (cf. Ps. 118:22-24). The Sabbath belonged to the old creation and pointed backward (Exod. 31:17). The Lord’s Day symbolizes our new creation in Christ, and points forward to the resurrection of which He is the firstfruits (I Cor. 15:20; II Cor. 5:17).

3) In Jewish observance, the Sabbath extended from 6:00 p.m. Friday to 6:00 p.m. Saturday. (That is why Joseph of Arimathea wanted to get Jesus’ body buried Friday before the Sabbath began, Mk. 15:42-43.)

The Sunday Lord’s Day (i.e. resurrection day) began early in the morning (cf. Mk. 16:1) as other days of the week normally begin.

4) The Sabbath was observed by legal obligation (with the death penalty for violation of it, Exod. 31:14; 35:2-3; cf. Num. 13:32-36). Failing to observe the Sabbath was a key cause of God’s judgment falling on Israel (Ezek. 20:23-24). The Lord said He would cause their Sabbaths to cease (Hos. 2:11)–which they have, as far as being a God-ordained day. They will apparently be reinstated during the future Millennial Kingdom (Isa. 66:23; Ezek. 46:1).

Significantly, the Sabbath law is the only one of the Ten Commandments not repeated in the New Testament epistles, or declared to be binding on the church. The Lord’s Day is observed voluntarily, and we are specifically told not to judge others who believe differently from what we do with regard to how we keep certain days (Rom. 14:4-5; Col. 2:16-17).

5) The Sabbath symbolized the Law principle (works first for six days, then rest enjoyed afterward as a blessing earned).

Sunday symbolizes the Grace principle (rejoicing in free grace on the Lord’s Day, then a week of works to follow expressing our love for the Lord). We are not under law, but under grace (Rom. 6:14; Gal. 3:24-25).

6) Israel was to cease from all work on the Sabbath. It was a day of rest, not a day of worship and religious activity under the Law.

Nowhere is Sunday commanded to be a day of rest for us. In the New Testament, it was a day of activity for the church, a day involving fellowship, worship, and busy ministry, as it usually is for believers today (cf. Acts 20:6-7). The Jew was to remain in his tent on the Sabbath (Exod. 16:29); Christians are to assemble and serve the Lord.

7) Under the Law, the Sabbath rest for Israel was physical, involving the ceremonial keeping of a day of the week in a certain way.

The Christian’s rest under Grace is spiritual, as we stop trying to earn God’s acceptance by works, and trust fully in the work of Christ (Heb. 4:3, 9-10; cf. Eph. 2:8-9). Our rest involves a way of life applicable to every day, as we walk by faith. The Sabbath was a test of Israel’s spiritual condition and their willingness to abide by God’s Law. The Lord’s Day provides a time for the celebration of the Christian’s position in the risen, glorified Christ.

A couple of closing observations. Bodily rest, as a basic principle of health, is valid in any age. Times of rest and recreation need to balance other times of labour. But we are left to decide when those times of rest will take place, according to individual circumstances and the leading of the Lord. Because of heavy responsibilities on the Lord’s Day, busy pastors often try to take Monday off. Office workers who work Monday through Friday may find Saturday best. It is a matter of personal choice, not of divine law.

Much as there may be social benefits to having our society shut down for one day a week, it is not likely to happen. Life has become too complex for that. And we have no right to enforce a “Lord’s Day Act” on unbelievers. It is dedicated to the “Lord” by those who recognize Him as Lord. Thus it is fitting for Christians to make Sunday a different day, and set some limits on activities, so that there is time for believers to assemble and minister. That can also be a testimony to unbelieving friends and neighbours (as long as it is not flaunted as an expression of spiritual superiority!). But what activities are curtailed, and to what extent, is again a personal matter.

SEEKING A NEW PASTOR for your church? Check out the Pastoral Questionnaire.

BIBLE STUDY: Available now on the Wordwise website is a discussion Bible study on The Lord's Prayer. Why not check it out at The Lord's Prayer.


What exactly is a “hymn”? The word is used several times in the Bible (e.g. Col. 3:16), where it identifies a song that praises God. Our Christian hymns are fundamentally poetry, a lyrical blending of devotion and doctrine. At times they capture profound truths with colourful imagery or a neat turn of phrase. When the words are set to an appropriate and singable tune, they have the ability to stick in the memory, refreshing the soul again and again.

Most hymns that have stood the test of time have such qualities. They are part of our Christian heritage. Reflecting on them can broaden our spiritual vocabulary, giving us fresh ways to commune with God, and share with one another. A case in point is a gospel song given to the world over a century ago.

The winter of 1857-58 witnessed the igniting of revival fires, especially in the city of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. At the centre of this great work was a 33-year-old servant of God named Dudley Tyng. Yet the spiritual harvest was clearly the Lord's doing, not the result of one person's ability. Working men used to gather, day after day, during the noon hour, to hear the Word of God. One day, 5,000 men packed into a local hall. They listened as Mr. Tyng preached a powerful message of commitment.

In the course of his sermon, he made this declaration: "I must tell [fulfil] my Master's errand. And I would rather that this right arm were amputated at the trunk than that I should come short in my duty to you in delivering God's message." When the service reached its close, over a thousand men committed their lives to Christ.

Shortly after, Mr. Tyng went to visit a local farm, where he watched the operation of a corn-shelling apparatus worked by mule power. But suddenly, as he was standing near, the sleeve of his coat caught in the gears, and his arm was pulled into the machine. He was severely injured, and soon infection set in.

In those days before antibiotics, that was a life-threatening condition. Several days later Tyng died. His friend, Pastor George Duffield was at his bedside. He asked the dying man if he had any message for the men back in the city. "Tell them to stand up for Jesus," he replied.

It was for a memorial service in honour of Dudley Tyng that George Duffield wrote the hymn poem that echoes that phrase. It begins, "Stand up, stand up for Jesus, ye soldiers of the cross, / Lift high His royal banner, it must not suffer loss; / From vict'ry unto vict'ry, His army shall He lead, / Till every foe is vanquished and Christ is Lord indeed."

The third verse includes an allusion to the strangely ironic accident: "Stand up, stand up for Jesus; stand in His strength alone: / The arm of flesh will fail you; ye dare not trust your own: / Put on the gospel armour, and watching unto prayer, / Where duty calls, or danger, be never wanting there."

Duffield’s hymn provides a soul-stirring reminder that the Christian life involves a battle against the forces of wickedness. If we are to have victory, we will need "the whole armour of God" (Eph. 6:10). Further, we cannot expect to succeed by relying on our own wits and our own efforts. We must "be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might" (Eph. 6:10). "For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal [the arm of flesh] but mighty in God" (II Cor. 10:4).

A century and a half later, there is still a need for Christians who will stand up and be counted. But it can only be done as we live by faith. In the words of Paul, "Not that we are sufficient of ourselves...but our sufficiency is of God" (II Cor. 3:5).

2) THE BEST BIBLE STUDY TOOL EVER. At least, the best one I have ever discovered, is fully described on the website. Strictly speaking, this is not an idea for your church program but for you, personally. However, if you try it, you may want to share it with your Sunday School class or Bible study group. If a number of you begin using it and trading insights, you may be amazed at what will happen! See Best Bible Study Tool.

3) Is your church thinking of purchasing A NEW HYMN BOOK? Check out Choosing a Hymnal for Your Church on the website, for nearly three dozen excellent tips and ideas to help you make your choice.

4) Check out EXPLORING CHRISTIANITY, a Wordwise Bible study series to help seekers, or new Christians! A wonderful "review" for long-time believers as well! The free 10-part series is now available at Exploring Christianity.

If you have a question or an idea to share, please go to the Wordwise website and use the question form.
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