“Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom
or the strong man boast of his strength
or the rich man boast of his riches,
but let him who boasts boast about this:
that he understands and knows me,
that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness,
justice and righteousness on earth,
for in these I delight,” declares the LORD
(Jeremiah 9:23-24 NIV).
This is the third book I have opened with that scripture. I didn’t start out with it in mind, but it seems to have made itself my ongoing theme through all three books. It calls on me to understand that the creator is not only intelligent and powerful (as a deist might believe), but that he also possesses a character that can be known and understood. Moreover, he has a name. He is to be known as Jehovah, “who exercises loving-kindness, judgment and righteousness here on earth.”
This intensely personal God declares that the pursuit of understanding him, of knowing him, is a glorious pursuit, a rewarding pursuit. “But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that comes to God must believe that he is, and that he rewards them that diligently seek him” (Hebrews 11:6).
I started this book with the idea of right and wrong. The Hebrew word for righteousness is tsedaqah, and is derived from a verb that means, simply, to be right or to do right. Thus it is a glory for a man to come to understand that God is right and that what he does is right. The inevitable question that arises next is, “What is right?” What makes one action right and another wrong? Elsewhere, a psalmist answers the question: “May my tongue sing of your word, for all your commands are righteous” (Psalm 119:172 NIV). It is thus the Law of God that defines right and wrong for man.
But it seems to me that man has made a fundamental error in understanding that law. We tend to think of laws as regulatory and absolute because that is the way we encounter law in our world. Not so long ago, in a previous energy crisis, speed limits across the country were arbitrarily reduced from 70 to 55 miles per hour. The rationale was that gas goes further at 55 than it does at 70. It also goes further at 40 MPH, but no one believed the public would live with that. No one liked 55 very much either, because it increased time on the road. So the law was repealed. Every law that Congress passes is arbitrary and can be repealed.
This is what we are used to, so it is only natural to assume that the Law of God is likewise regulatory and at least somewhat arbitrary. One assumes that the sovereign God said, “Let’s consider what laws we can hand down for man.” Then he proceeded to give a set of laws to Moses. This is what I call “the arbitrary God theory.” And it follows as day follows night if you accept the idea that the Old Testament Law was abolished in Christ. If the law could be abolished, then it might not have been necessary in the first place. Where Congress is concerned, they are human. They make mistakes. They try to regulate things that can’t be regulated and end up having to repeal some of the laws they pass. When Congress repeals a law, it is a tacit admission that the law was a mistake.
But God does not make mistakes. Thus the law cannot be arbitrary. And on the heels of this comes a realization: If the law is not arbitrary, then perhaps it is not entirely regulatory either. This is not to say that the law cannot be used to regulate. It is merely to say that there is an underlying reality of the law that must be grasped before attempting to regulate man’s behavior.
Here is a short, contrasting idea about the law that we can lay out on the examining table: The law is not regulatory, it is revelatory. It is a revelation of the way things are. The law does not create right and wrong. It reveals what is right and what is wrong. The law says, “You shall not steal.” Stealing did not become wrong when the Ten Commandments were written on stone by the finger of God. Stealing was wrong from the day when there were men who could take things that were not theirs to take. The law is what it is because to be otherwise would be wrong. And for God to know that it is wrong and to fail to tell us would be, well, wrong.
Now, what lies beyond understanding and knowing God? There we find a relationship with God, a covenant. The archetype of all covenants in the Bible is the covenant God made with a man named Abraham. Later, God would make a covenant with a nation of people, Israel. Still later, Jesus would make a new covenant with his disciples.
You will not be reading dogma here. The subject is far too important for that. When you are trying to know and understand God, you can’t afford to be locked into one way of looking at things. God has taken pains to reveal himself in so many ways. Our problem is that we are too often inattentive to what he has had to say.
Years ago, in a moment of personal crisis, something truly profound dawned on me. I realized that I had absolutely nothing to fear from the truth. Truth is glorious. It is exciting. And it can set you free. It would be a shame to let fear keep us from pursuing truth wherever it leads.
In the pages that follow, we will follow these ideas and see where they take us. We may not follow a straight line, because that is not always the way understanding comes. Abraham did not know what Moses came to know. And neither of them knew what Jesus revealed to his disciples. And then there was Paul.
Take your time while you read this book. There will be times when you need to lay it down and stare into space for a while. Some ideas will require that you sleep on them. It is not my purpose to tell you what to believe. Rather, I want to walk alongside you and talk about things I am coming to see.
I will delight myself in thy statutes:
I will not forget thy word.
Deal bountifully with thy servant,
that I may live, and keep thy word.
Open my eyes, that I may behold
wondrous things out of thy law
Some notes: The chapters of this book are derived, in some measure, from sermons, radio programs, and essays. Consequently, there may be some repetition of themes. Also, from long habit, I read the King James Version, but paraphrase it as I go, changing “thee” to “you,” etc. I have frequently followed that practice in this book. Other translations are designated by abbreviations as noted on the copyright page. I encourage you to keep your own Bible handy so you can read the context of citations.
On the matter of the divine name, YHWH, in Hebrew is usually rendered in small caps, LORD, in most English versions. Written Hebrew has no vowels, thus it is not certain how the name should be pronounced. The consensus is Yahweh, but I lean toward the older Jehovah, because of long familiarity. In most cases, “Lord” is clear enough, but there are instances where the passage makes much more sense if we recognize that our Lord has a name. In Hebrew, names have meaning, and the translation of Jehovah is “I am.”
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