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Wordwise Insight, Issue #040
April 14, 2008
WORDWISE INSIGHT is the free, informative monthly newsletter of Wordwise-Bible-Studies.com
IN THIS ISSUE...
BIBLE INSIGHTS. Thoughts on Psalm 81, and more
READER Q & A. Do Christians believe in ghosts? and more
MEDIATIONS ON OUR HYMNS. Have You Any Room for Jesus
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BIBLE INSIGHTSDISCUSSION BIBLE STUDIES ON THE BOOK OF JOB! There are 12 lessons in this unique series on an oft-neglected book. These will challenge your thinking in many ways. There is nothing else quite like this currently available on the book. Take a look at Job Studies.
NEW LAST MONTH! An analysis of the novel In His Steps, by Charles Sheldon, showing points at which it is not true to Scripture. In view of the fact that the book is still popular, it is important to consider what it is saying. In His Steps--A Critique of the Novel
THOUGHTS ON PSALM 81
There is some refreshing food for the soul in this psalm, as well as lessons on the nature and purpose of language, related to vs. 5. The latter three stanzas (vs. 8-16) describe a definite and instructive progression, reminiscent of some aspects of the father-son relationship in the parable of the Prodigal Son (Lk. 15:11-32).
1) God’s Appeal–“Hear, O My people” (vs. 8). If they would listen, turn from their idols, and return to the Lord, all would be well. They would find that He would meet their needs as no false god ever could (vs. 8-10). Like baby birds excited by the mother bird returning to the nest with food, they would discover the truth of the promise, “Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it.”
2) The People’s Response–“But My people would not heed My voice” (vs. 11). As a result, the Lord “gave them over to their own stubborn heart, to walk in their own counsels” (vs. 12). Sometimes, God’s corrective discipline involves letting us have our own way, so we can discover firsthand the folly of it!
3) God’s Heart-desire–“Oh, that My people would listen to Me” (vs. 13). The door is still open for repentance. And if the people would willingly turn to Him again, He would put down their enemies, and meet their needs in an abundantly satisfying way (vs. 13-16). In every age and time, the inability to live in victory accompanies self rule, and a dependance on the flesh instead of on the Lord.
Vs. 5. This He established in Joseph as a testimony, when He went throughout the land of Egypt, where I heard a language I did not understand.
It is a prime effect of sin, and judgment for sin, that there will be a breakdown in fellowship and communication. As the Lord told Israel, “Your iniquities have separated you from your God” (Isa. 59:2). That was experienced first in Eden, after Adam and Eve disobeyed (Gen. 3:8-9). And it was a part of the judgment of God at Babel, where He dealt with rebellion by “[confusing] their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech,” thus driving the rebels apart (Gen. 11:1-9). A common language is the bridge that connects us. Without it, there is division and social fragmentation.
It was a prophesied judgment upon Israel, if they forsook God: “The Lord will bring a nation against you from afar...as swift as the eagle flies, a nation whose language you will not understand” (Deut. 28:49). This is likely a reference to the invasion of the Babylonians around 605 B.C. (cf. Hab. 1:6-8, where they are called Chaldeans). Nearer to the time, this warning of judgment was repeated: “Behold, I will bring a nation against you from afar [Babylon]...a nation whose language you do not know, nor can you understand what they say” (Jer. 5:15). And a similar judgment had fallen earlier (in 722 B.C.) on the rebel Northern Kingdom, at the hands of the Assyrians–“For with stammering lips and another tongue He will speak to this people...yet they would not hear” (Isa. 28:11-12).
That is also the explanation for the confusion of languages at Pentecost (Acts 2:1-13). It was a sign of judgment. When the church was born, we read that “they [possibly meaning the twelve apostles, cf. Acts 1:26]...began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance” (Acts 2:4). To some, what they said seemed like mere drunken babble (vs. 13). But many were in Jerusalem from other nations (vs. 9-11), who exclaimed, “We hear, each in our own language in which we were born...the wonderful works of God (vs. 8, 11).
Israel had rejected her Messiah-King, and had Him crucified. In judgment, the Lord turned from His unbelieving people, and prepared to extend the gospel to other nations. In commenting on the purpose of this miraculous gift, the Apostle Paul quotes from Isaiah 28:11-12 referenced above, explaining, “Therefore tongues are for a sign, not to those who believe but to unbelievers” (I Cor. 14:21-22). The miracle demonstrated that the Lord, for a time, was setting aside His program for faithless Israel.
But we must note the element of grace in this. Though it was a judgment upon the Jews, it was an opportunity for the Gentiles to hear the gospel of grace. Compare what happened at Babel. It was a judgment, in that the confusion of languages drove the rebellious community apart. But there was grace in it too. Being united in their evil purpose, they would have sinned more and more, bringing destruction upon themselves (Gen. 11:6). By separating them, the Lord slowed the advance of sin’s corruption, and also fulfilled His original intent of populating the earth (cf. Gen. 9:1; 11:4, 9).
Concerning the millennial kingdom we read, “Then I will restore to the peoples a pure language, that they may all call upon the name of the Lord, to serve Him with one accord” (Zeph. 3:9). Some take the prophesy of Zephaniah to indicate that a universal language will be restored in the Millennium. Though others see this promise simply as a picturesque way of referring to the spiritual renewal experienced by all, it is logical to suppose that barriers of communication that separate earth’s peoples today will be removed, just as the curse upon nature will be removed (Gen. 3:17-19; cf. Isa. 35:1; 51:3), when Christ comes to reign.
Vs. 10. I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt; open your mouth wide, and I will fill it.
Vs. 12. So I gave them over to their own stubborn heart, to walk in their own counsels.
Vs. 16. He would have fed them also with the finest of wheat; and with honey from the rock I would have satisfied you.
The point of the poetic image is that God is able to bring blessings out of some very barren and difficult situations, if we will but trust in Him. Hard times, unyielding obstacles, coldness, and even death–all of these might be pictured by the rock. But sweetness and soul-refreshing nourishment can be found, even there, by the child of God, as he looks to his gracious heavenly Father.
“O my brother, do you know the Saviour, / Who is wondrous kind and true? / He’s the “Rock of your salvation!” / There’s Honey in the Rock for you. / Oh, there’s Honey in the Rock, my brother, / There’s Honey in the Rock for you; / Leave your sins for the blood to cover, / There’s Honey in the Rock for you” (Frederick Arthur Graves, 1895).
THE LEARNER-SERVANT PRINCIPLES. 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.
READER Q & AQuestion: Amy asks, “Do Christians believe in ghosts?”
Answer: What a fascinating question! And I have to approach the answer from at least a couple of angles. To answer your question as it’s worded, yes, I’m sure there are some Christians who believe in ghosts. But Christians can believe a lot of things, both true and untrue. They can be correct, or they can be mistaken. A better question is: Does the Bible teach that there are such things as ghosts? Rather than taking a poll of what others think, it’s good first of all to build a foundation of truth from Scripture.
The simplest answer, based on the Bible’s teaching, is that there are no such things as ghosts–if we are talking about spirit visitations from human beings who have died–though this needs to be qualified a bit. (I’ll get to that in a moment.) If we are talking about the spirits of dead people lurking around graveyards, or causing mysterious noises in old houses, the answer is no. And the reason there are no after-death appearances of the dead is because death is a gateway into our eternal destiny, not a revolving door through which people commonly come and go.
DEATH FOR THE SAVED. For the saints of God (believers), “the valley of the shadow of death” (Ps. 23:4) leads to eternal blessing in the presence of the Lord (Ps. 23:6; cf. Jn. 14:2-3; 17:24). Paul is confident that death means “to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord” (II Cor. 5:8). Because of that, he was able to testify “to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” He had “a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better [better than this present mortal life]” (Phil. 1:21, 23). When the dying thief on the cross next to Jesus expressed faith in Him, the Lord said, “Today you will be with Me in Paradise” (Lk. 23:43).
Everything God reveals in His Word about life after death for the Christian indicates that we move on to a new life with Him. There is no suggestion that we ever come back as disembodied spirits to haunt the living! (Who would want to forsake the perfection of heaven for that?!) There are a few times in the Bible when the dead are resurrected, by the supernatural power of God. (Lazarus is one example, Jn. 11:1-44). But that is quite different. Lazarus and the others were not ghosts. They came back temporarily in their mortal bodies, and died again later. Their restoration to life was, in effect, a brief resuscitation, after which they died as we all do, and did not return again.
DEATH FOR THE UNSAVED. Of the unsaved God’s Word says, “It is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment” (Heb. 9:27; cf. Ecc. 12:14; Matt. 25:46), and “it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb. 10:31). Even though unbelievers do not receive their final sentence and consignment to “the lake of fire” (hell) until a future time (Rev. 20:11-15), they begin their eternal punishment immediately after death. The day of opportunity to be saved has come and gone, and they are under God’s condemnation. Jesus describes a man in that condition who wanted someone to go back and warn his five brothers. This would have been a perfect job for a ghost. But none was sent. Instead, the answer came back, “If they do not hear Moses and the prophets [if they don’t believe the Bible, in other words] neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead” (Lk. 16:19-31).
A couple of times, the Lord Jesus appeared suddenly and unexpectedly in the midst of His disciples and they were terrified, thinking maybe it was a spirit being (Matt. 14:22-27; Lk. 24:36-37), but they were mistaken. In the latter instance, Jesus specifically says, “Handle me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have” (Lk. 24:39). We cannot make of these appearances any ghostly notions.
TWO UNUSUAL INCIDENTS. There are a couple of instances in the Bible where the appearance of people who had previously died, one in the Old Testament and one in the New, may have involved some kind of spirit visitation, but they are both unique situations, and nothing like the common claims about ghosts. (Note too that in both instances the people involved were believers, and special servants of God during their lifetimes.)
1) One incident comes at the end of the life of Saul, Israel’s first king. He had rebelled against God, and the Lord had withdrawn from him. For years, the prophet Samuel had been God’s spokesman, delivering His word to the king. But now Samuel was dead. Saul wanted guidance about fighting the Philistines, but God gave him none (I Sam. 28:6). In desperation, Saul (in disguise) consulted a witch, who conducted a seance for him. She claimed she saw “a spirit ascending out of the earth.” It was apparently Samuel, who then said to Saul, “Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?” and he prophesied that the army of Israel will be defeated by the Philistines, “and tomorrow you and your sons will be with me [in other words, they would be killed]” (I Sam. 28:7-20). (And it happened exactly that way.)
What are we to make of this? Some commentators refuse to believe this was actually Samuel, insisting that a holy God would not use such a pagan practice to communicate with Saul. They say the apparition was either a fake, or it was some kind of demonic counterfeit. However, my own thought is that this argument is weak. Certainly God did not need to use this unusual means to pronounce Saul’s doom. But we do know the Lord at times, worked through some unusual instruments to deliver a message (including Balaam’s donkey, Num. 22:21-31). It is possible that in this unique situation the Lord sent Samuel back to express His final condemnation of the wayward king.
Saul had sought out a woman who had what the King James Version calls “a familiar spirit” (I Sam. 28:7) meaning that she was a medium, who claimed to have regular communication with a demonic spirit (a practice forbidden in Israel, Deut. 18:9-14). It seems the woman was startled by what happened, likely because, instead of her expected “familiar spirit,” Samuel actually appeared, causing her to shriek in terror (vs. 12). She calls what she sees “a spirit” (vs. 13). The Hebrew word is elohim. It is a common word used for the true God, but occasionally of men and of spirit beings. She was saying what appeared was a god, or a mighty one (a spirit). But again, we do not know for sure what is going on here. Certainly the unusual circumstances prevent us from jumping to conclusions about the reality or common appearance of ghosts.
2) The second instance occurs on what is known as the Mount of Transfiguration (Matt. 17:1-8). There long-dead Moses and Elijah appeared, talking with the Lord Jesus (vs. 2). But again, the situation was absolutely unique. During His time on earth, the Son of God veiled His heavenly glory. But He needed to prepare His disciples for ministry after He returned to heaven. This incident gave them a brief glimpse of what the Lord will be like when we stand before Him in eternity. Matthew says “His face shone like the sun.” And the presence of Moses and Elijah shows us something more about heaven–that we will recognize one another, and be able to converse with one another, and with the Lord Himself. But again, this was an unusual situation, and nothing like the ghostly visitations some claim today.
SOME POSSIBLE EXPLANATIONS. So, what about those who say they have seen ghosts? Or who say that they have held seances and dear departed Aunt Betsy has come back to talk with them? (And they’re sure it was Betsy because she knew things that only that person would know.) What about that? If the dead do not reappear as ghosts, what explanation can be given for such things? Let me offer three possibilities.
1) Maybe those who think they have seen a ghost (or have "felt" something spooky in an old building) are simply mistaken. An overactive imagination and superstitious presuppositions may fuel such things. As with UFO’s, the actual explanation may be quite different from what is supposed. Or they may have dreamed something, and confused the dream with reality. Or they may have had a hallucination, either rooted in mental illness, or perhaps the appearance was drug induced.
2) The ghostly visitor may have been a clever fake and a fraud, perpetrated by dishonest “mediums” to bilk the gullible of their hard earned money. A century ago, magician Harry Houdini used to routinely debunk these quacks and show them for what they were. Today, James Randi and Chris Sarantako (stage name, Criss Angel) do the same. Over the years, they have failed to find any legitimate examples of ghostly manifestations.
3) There is a third possibility that cannot be ignored: That the manifestations have a demonic origin. The Lord Jesus declares the devil to be a liar (Jn. 8:44). And the Bible warns that “deceiving spirits” will be at work in the last days (I Tim. 4:1), and that the Antichrist of prophecy will delude people with “all power, signs and lying wonders... according to the working of Satan” (II Thess. 2:9). Satan is able to disguise himself as an angel of light (a good angel, II Cor. 11:14), so would he not also be able to imitate Aunt Betsy or someone else? While I do not believe in ghosts in the usual use of that term, I do believe it is possible for evil spirits to take on a visible form and imitate and counterfeit the dead. Their inside knowledge of some details of the person’s life may give an air of credibility to this, but it is a deception.
The purpose of this is to give the unsaved a comforting (but false) view of the afterlife. To give the impression that all is peaceful on “the other side,” and they have nothing to fear from death is a dangerous lie of the devil. From the beginning he has tried to cast doubt on God’s Word. When God said that sin would bring death (Gen. 2:17), the devil said boldly, “You will not surely die” (Gen. 3:4). He told Adam and Eve that God was jealous of His power, but if they would reject His warning and make their own rules, they could be just like God (vs. 5). It was a lie, intended to bring them to destruction.
BOTTOM LINE. : No, I do not believe there are such things as ghosts, dead people in spirit form coming back to haunt the living. But for obvious reasons this is a dangerous area with which to be involved. My counsel is: Focus on the living, not the dead–whose destiny is sealed. And make sure of your own salvation by accepted Christ's sacrifice on the cross as the full and only payment for your sins (Jn. 3:16). Base your convictions on the clear teaching of the Word of God, and don’t dabble in things that will only cause confusion and lead you astray. “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but those things which have been revealed belong to us and to our children” (Deut. 29:29). “To the law and to the testimony [the Scriptures]! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no light in them” (Isa. 8:20).
The Bible is very clear. Our soul’s salvation can only come God’s way. Specifically, today, outside of personal faith in Christ there is no salvation, no eternity of bliss (Jn. 14:6; Acts 4:12). “He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him....He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the only begotten Son of God” (Jn. 3:36 and 18). “He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life” (I Jn. 5:12).
NEXT MONTH: Two more intriguing questions from our readers! Are all sins equal? And did Christ die spiritually on the cross?
MEDITATING ON OUR HYMNS
We are familiar with the story of how Joseph, and Mary (expecting the birth of her Child), arrived in Bethlehem. They found it a beehive of noisy confusion, and we’re told, “There was no room for them in the inn” (Lk. 2:7) The poor innkeeper has long been criticized and berated for turning them away. But of course he had no idea who they were, or of the wonderful event that would transpire during the night. And, in reality, he did not turn them away. He apparently found them a place that was warm and dry, out in the stable.
But while we point our fingers at the innkeeper--perhaps unjustly--we must attend to our own response to Christ. Is it possible that in our own lives we have turned Him away, that we have made no room for Him? Or is it possible that where there was once a generous place for Him, other things have begun to crowd Him out?
In the book of Revelation, we read of the Lord Jesus saying, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me” (Rev. 3:20). Sometimes, that verse is used as an individual call to trust Christ for salvation. However, in the context, the words are directed to a church. In John’s day, the church at Laodicea was wealthy and self-satisfied. But its wealth was material, not spiritual. Spiritually, the Lord describes the congregation as “wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked” (vs. 17). About the things of God, they were merely “lukewarm” (vs. 15-16). Though they may have had all the right ceremonies, and clearly were impressed with themselves, they had shut Christ out. His name may have been found in their rituals, but He had ceased to be a living presence in their church life.
Major Daniel Webster Whittle (1840-1901) was a veteran of the American Civil War, who later went into evangelistic work. In 1878, he revised a poem from an unknown source, and turned it into a hymn. His hymn is based upon Revelation 3:20, and in it he raises the crucial question, “Have You Any Room for Jesus?” The song begins, “Have you any room for Jesus, He who bore your load of sin? / As He knocks and asks admission, sinner, will you let Him in?”
Though Whittle intended it as an invitation to salvation, it remains a question worth asking by every child of God as well. Our lives sometimes bustle with even more hectic activity than the inn at Bethlehem. Not that the things that occupy us are necessarily wrong or sinful. More often, it is a case of the good crowding out the best. And for that reason, we need to periodically assess our priorities. Perhaps we have made room for family and friends, room for hobbies, room for what we desire to do, but what about the Saviour? The second verse of our hymn says, “Room for pleasure, room for business, / But for Christ the crucified, / Not a place that He can enter, / In the heart for which He died.” What a tragedy!
Perhaps the Lord Jesus has been shunted off into a corner of our busy days, to a spot labeled “Church Stuff,” or something of the kind. Perhaps we expect Him to be content with being a part of our Sunday morning tradition, between eleven and noon, then letting us do our own thing the rest of the time. What an insult to the One whom Scripture says is “Lord of all” (Acts 10:36). Every aspect and area of our lives should be open and accessible to such a One. His lordship ought to extend to every part. That is justly His right. It is not for us to say to the Lord, “No room!”
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.
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