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Sunday, 19 October 2014

Sanctimonious Git! Really?

In the last blog, I called attention to one Old Testament character, Joseph son of Jacob. He was the one who saved the lives of all of Egypt as well as his Hebrew family, who were the fathers of the future nation of Israel, from a severe famine. After betrayal by his ten older brothers and sold to a passing camel-train of Ishmaelites, he spent a few years in prison before being promoted to the role of Prime Minister to Pharaoh, Egypt's king. But he also was a man of strong emotions, weeping and shedding tears to the intensity that his crying was heard throughout the palace he lived in, and even stirred the curiosity of the Pharaoh himself.

His endeavors earned him the respect from the priest of the Egyptian deity On, who gave him his daughter Asenath to wife, making Joseph the son-in-law to the priest, one of the most important figures of ancient Egyptian aristocracy. So here a pattern begins to emerge:
1. Joseph taught to look out for his brothers.
2. Rejected by his brothers and expelled from their company.
3. Marries a foreign wife.
4. Final acceptance of his rule by his family.

Another such example can be said of Jacob himself, Joseph's father:
1. He grew up as a Mummy's boy, loved by his mother Rebekah, and learned to cook and do the housework, in contrast to his twin brother, who his father Isaac loved for his skill in hunting and more masculine, outdoorsy lifestyle.
2. Jacob flees from his brother Esau after stealing both his birthright and his father's blessing.
3. Jacob marries two women in another country, Leah and Rachel.
4. He return to inherit his father's fortune.

Moses was born during the time the new king of Egypt knew nothing of Joseph the Hebrew, some four hundred years earlier. After he was discovered in a basket hidden from sight by the king's daughter, the boy grew up with the knowledge from his parents that his destiny was to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. The lad was adopted by the king's household, and grew up as a prince, learning all the wisdom of the Egyptians. But one day, as he looked out for his own Hebrew people, working as slaves for the Egyptians, he saw one of his own being beaten by an Egyptian guard. Looking this way and that, he went and killed the oppressor. The next day he saw two Hebrews fighting. When he tried to reconcile the two, the one in the wrong turned to Moses and asked,
"Who made you a prince and a judge over us? Will you kill me as you killed the Egyptian yesterday?"

So Moses fled Egypt and ended up in Midian, where he too married a foreign wife, Zipporah. It was forty years in the desert before God called him out of the burning bush to return to Egypt to lead his people out. It is an interesting statement from Hebrews 11:27 which says that Moses fled from Egypt, not fearing the king's anger. Then why did he travel to Midian? Was it because he was rejected by his own people, which deeply hurt him? This is backed up by the sheer reluctance to lead his own people, so narrated in detail in Exodus chapters three and four. In verses 24-26 of the fourth chapter, there is another proof that Moses was reluctant to help his fellow countrymen. So begrudged was he against his rejection forty years earlier, that he couldn't be bothered to circumcise his son. This wasn't out of forgetfulness, but willful rebellion on his part, as God was ready to kill him, and to have him stand at the Judgement seat of Christ, not to be judged for his sins, but to determine his eternal rewards.

Then there was the case of David. As a youth he was destined to replace King Saul's dynasty as the head of the kingdom of Israel. Like Joseph, David also delivers his people from a dire situation by slaying the oppressive Philistine giant, Goliath. But this led to Saul's jealousy, and David having to flee into exile, where he remained for the next twenty years. It was during that time that David married Maacah, daughter of King Talmai of a neighbouring state of Geshur. It was after King Saul and his son Jonathan were slain by the Philistines that David returned to claim his throne.

So the definite pattern emerges from the life stories of these Old Testament saints:
1. Rejection by his own people.
2. Marrying a foreign wife.
3. Returning to lead and rule over his people, who afterwards accepts him.

And so these men of faith were all shadows of Jesus Christ himself.

He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognise him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.
John 1:10-11.

Jesus Christ came not only into the world, but specifically to his own people Israel. Jesus came presenting himself as the King of Israel, and rightful heir of David's throne, according to Matthew 2:3-6 and Luke 1:29-33. But his people rejected him and had him crucified instead. After his death, they all thought that was it, he was done away with for good. But they didn't reckon on his resurrection three days later. It was after his ascension that his Church, the Bride of Christ, began to be built on the foundation stone of Jesus Christ himself, who is also her head. And history has shown that the Christian Church has always been almost entirely Gentile, that is to say, people not of Israeli or Jewish origin.

Jesus Christ, having been rejected by his own people Israel, is now "in exile" so to speak, from the throne of David in Jerusalem, while building a Gentile Bride for himself. Then one day he will return to Jerusalem to reign on David's throne. At his future coming, it is said that the whole of Israel will mourn for what they have done to him, like a father mourning over his own son, as they see the One whom they have pierced standing on the Mount of Olives.

What richness and power of Holy Scripture! Which brings to mind of the prophet Habakkuk. This fellow is classed as a "minor prophet" due to the shortness of his book, with only three chapters. It can be easily missed while flicking through the pages of the Old Testament. But it was through Christian music that I became acquainted with him. Back in the 1970's, I had a library of spiritual songs on cassette tape which I played at home. One of them was my favourite, and it was called Scripture in Song. I played it so often, that eventually the tape was chewed up by the player mechanism, and it became useless. But I will never forget one of the songs which featured on the tape:

Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither fruit shall be in the vines; the labour of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls:
Yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation, The LORD God is my strength-

The song ended there, before repeating itself several times, but in the Bible the verse goes on: -and he shall make my feet like hinds' feet, and he shall make me to walk upon mine high places.
Habakkuk 3:17-19 AV, from which the song was composed.

When I first read this back in the day, I thought: Get real, man! You live in a agricultural land with a hot dry climate, you have your own home without a mortgage or a bossy, rent-demanding landlord. You never have to worry about having to pay fuel bills on time, let alone telephone and other utility costs. Then you work the fields at your own leisure, without the constant noise and dirt of factory machinery, where I have to reach on time by travelling in the rain amid noisy, air-polluting traffic, or stuck on a platform waiting for a delayed train at one end of the line, and a scowling boss at the other. On top of this, you most likely had never experienced bullying or stress from work colleagues much imposed by a faster pace of life at present than in your day. So your fields are barren. An application of some fertilizer should do the trick. What a sanctimonious git you look to be, Habakkuk!

But by reading the whole book, then doing some research on his environment, political and current situation, then quite a different picture emerges. Habakkuk lived about the same time as the prophet Jeremiah, or maybe a little earlier. His beloved nation of Judah was about to be besieged by the Babylonians under a powerful but cruel king Nebuchadnezzar. Habakkuk knew of the coming destruction of his beloved city Jerusalem and its Temple, built by King Solomon centuries earlier, along with the barrenness of the land, as Habakkuk had already known, was owing to God seventy years of Sabbatical rest. This rest, when no crops were to be sown and harvested, were to have taken place for one year out of every seven years (see Leviticus 25) along with a Jubilee year every fifty years. As Israel was a kingdom under the reign of a monarch for the past five hundred years, without the sabbatical year ever being observed throughout that period, Habakkuk knew of the resulting seventy years of sabbatical rest the land owes to God, and the necessity of the removal of all its people to Babylon, so the land can have its rest. The prophet also knew of the kingdom coming to an end with the beginning of the diaspora, which will continue right up to the Second Coming of Christ, still future even from our standpoint in time.

I also believe that Habakkuk knew of the coming Messiah, and his future ministry to Israel, and how he would be cut off from the earth while still in the prime of his life. During his lifetime, a lot of what we call Biblical prophecy (from Isaiah to Malachi) weren't yet written, but more than likely had access to Isaiah's writings, and from these, along with the knowledge of history of the nation's founding fathers, he would have a good idea of what was to come. Yet he was very distressed on how the universal unbelief and wickedness of his own people were to bring about the fall of the kingdom. Yet despite of all this, he also knew of the goodness of God as well as his sovereignty.

Like with me, Habakkuk spent his life seeing the glass half-empty rather than half full, as with all the prophets in the Old Testament, tending to have a pessimistic view of the world, which is quite a contrast to the apostle Paul's optimistic view, along with Peter's. Yet despite his despair, his demonstration of having faith in God, rather than seeing him as conceited or even cynical, his testimony in such adverse conditions has made an excellent model on how I too can have the same faith in the Lord as he did.

Like this weekend, having learnt that one of our church elders has arrived safely in Mumbai, India to volunteer in a Christian youth festival, their equivalent of our Newday Bible week. On top of this, another great friend I have in the church will be flying off to Uganda within the next eight or nine days, and will spend the rest of Autumn out there. Another mate of mine has been to both the USA and Germany in a space of two or three months. Then in addition, some of my clients had, in the last couple of weeks, passed through the airport terminal, resulting in a loss of income. As one who was, and will always be, a travel fanatic, feeling trapped in the UK due to health reasons of both my wife and myself can be distressing. But if Habakkuk can believe, why not I? In the next few weeks I'll be attending hospital appointments in preparation for a major open heart operation to fit a new aortic valve. It is a great comfort to know that I have a wonderful God I can trust, and together with the knowledge of his sovereignty and omniscience, I can rest assured in him for the rest of my life, knowing that there will be better things to come, both in this life and in the next.

Thanks for your testimony, Habakkuk. It has even made it into the charts!


  1. Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding Frank. The scriptures are discerned spiritually and the Lord shows us exactly what we need to encourage us to trust in Him at the time that we need it, as He has done with you by giving you this lovely revelation. He will carry you through this as you set your mind upon Him.
    God bless you and Alex

  2. So many have the same attitude to scriptures you initially displayed because they haven't taken time to learn what was really involved. As a result they are quite disparaging of the scriptures. Fortunately, you cared enough to find out the facts, and see what they really said. Isn't god wonderful when we take time to really understand what he says?

  3. Very interesting parallels, Frank! Thanks so much for the historical context that really brings the Habbakuk passage to life. Praying for your upcoming operation, for complete and rapid healing by the Great Physician.
    God bless,