Daily Devotional

Learning the Lessons of Jonah in the Deep

“Salvation is of the Lord.”
Jonah 2:9

Charles H. Spurgeon

Salvation is the work of God. It is he alone who quickens the soul “dead in trespasses and sins,” and it is he also who maintains the soul in its spiritual life. He is both “Alpha and Omega.” “Salvation is of the Lord.” If I am prayerful, God makes me prayerful; if I have graces, they are God’s gifts to me; if I hold on in a consistent life, it is because he upholds me with his hand. I do nothing whatever towards my own preservation, except what God himself first does in me.

Whatever I have, all my goodness is of the Lord alone. Wherein I sin, that is my own; but wherein I act rightly, that is of God, wholly and completely. If I have repulsed a spiritual enemy, the Lord’s strength nerved my arm. Do I live before men a consecrated life? It is not I, but Christ who liveth in me.

Am I sanctified? I did not cleanse myself: God’s Holy Spirit sanctifies me. Am I weaned from the world? I am weaned by God’s chastisements sanctified to my good. Do I grow in knowledge? The great Instructor teaches me. All my jewels were fashioned by heavenly art. I find in God all that I want; but I find in myself nothing but sin and misery. “He only is my rock and my salvation.” Do I feed on the Word? That Word would be no food for me unless the Lord made it food for my soul, and helped me to feed upon it. Do I live on the manna which comes down from heaven? What is that manna but Jesus Christ himself incarnate, whose body and whose blood I eat and drink? Am I continually receiving fresh increase of strength? Where do I gather my might?

My help cometh from heaven’s hills: without Jesus I can do nothing. As a branch cannot bring forth fruit except it abide in the vine, no more can I, except I abide in him. What Jonah learned in the great deep, let me learn this morning in my closet: “Salvation is of the Lord.”
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Knowing the Enemy, Part III

Perpetual Warfare and the End Times

Bernard Haykel is a Princeton scholar and a leading exponent upon ISIS theology.  He is contemptuous of the Western tendency to deny the authentically Islamic features of ISIS.

A good comparison at this point is to consider the Irish Troubles.  The violence of the Provisionals or the Ulstermen may have been identified as genuine and consistent, not deviant, expressions of Roman Catholicism or Protestantism, but such a view would run into the brick wall of the Scriptures themselves.  Many in the West want to make the same case with respect to ISIS–it is deemed a deviant, novel version of Islam.  But the argument falters when one reckons with the fact that ISIS theology and doctrine closely adheres to Islamic history: to the Koran, to Muhammad, to the hadith and to sharia law.

Graeme Wood, writing in The Atlantic, cites Haykel as follows:

Every academic I asked about the Islamic State’s ideology sent me to Haykel. Of partial Lebanese descent, Haykel grew up in Lebanon and the United States, and when he talks through his Mephistophelian goatee, there is a hint of an unplaceable foreign accent.

In Haykel’s estimation, the fighters of the Islamic State are authentic throwbacks to early Islam and are faithfully reproducing its norms of war. This behavior includes a number of practices that modern Muslims tend to prefer not to acknowledge as integral to their sacred texts. “Slavery, crucifixion, and beheadings are not something that freakish [jihadists] are cherry-picking from the medieval tradition,” Haykel said. Islamic State fighters “are smack in the middle of the medieval tradition and are bringing it wholesale into the present day.”

According to Haykel, the ranks of the Islamic State are deeply infused with religious vigor. Koranic quotations are ubiquitous. “Even the foot soldiers spout this stuff constantly,” Haykel said. “They mug for their cameras and repeat their basic doctrines in formulaic fashion, and they do it all the time.” He regards the claim that the Islamic State has distorted the texts of Islam as preposterous, sustainable only through willful ignorance. “People want to absolve Islam,” he said. “It’s this ‘Islam is a religion of peace’ mantra. As if there is such a thing as ‘Islam’! It’s what Muslims do, and how they interpret their texts.” Those texts are shared by all Sunni Muslims, not just the Islamic State. “And these guys have just as much legitimacy as anyone else.”

All Muslims acknowledge that Muhammad’s earliest conquests were not tidy affairs, and that the laws of war passed down in the Koran and in the narrations of the Prophet’s rule were calibrated to fit a turbulent and violent time. In Haykel’s estimation, the fighters of the Islamic State are authentic throwbacks to early Islam and are faithfully reproducing its norms of war. This behavior includes a number of practices that modern Muslims tend to prefer not to acknowledge as integral to their sacred texts. “Slavery, crucifixion, and beheadings are not something that freakish [jihadists] are cherry-picking from the medieval tradition,” Haykel said. Islamic State fighters “are smack in the middle of the medieval tradition and are bringing it wholesale into the present day.”

But ISIS is not just going back to the seventh century.  It is also going back to the future.  ISIS theology is apocalyptic in that it proclaims the last days to be upon the world.  A core component of its version of the last days is a battle to end all battles in Syria, when the armies of Islam (ISIS) will meet the armies of Rome (possibly referring to the West).

The Islamic State has attached great importance to the Syrian city of Dabiq, near Aleppo. It named its propaganda magazine after the town, and celebrated madly when (at great cost) it conquered Dabiq’s strategically unimportant plains. It is here, the Prophet reportedly said, that the armies of Rome will set up their camp. The armies of Islam will meet them, and Dabiq will be Rome’s Waterloo or its Antietam.

“Dabiq is basically all farmland,” one Islamic State supporter recently tweeted. “You could imagine large battles taking place there.” The Islamic State’s propagandists drool with anticipation of this event, and constantly imply that it will come soon. The state’s magazine quotes Zarqawi as saying, “The spark has been lit here in Iraq, and its heat will continue to intensify … until it burns the crusader armies in Dabiq.” A recent propaganda video shows clips from Hollywood war movies set in medieval times—perhaps because many of the prophecies specify that the armies will be on horseback or carrying ancient weapons.

Now that it has taken Dabiq, the Islamic State awaits the arrival of an enemy army there, whose defeat will initiate the countdown to the apocalypse. Western media frequently miss references to Dabiq in the Islamic State’s videos, and focus instead on lurid scenes of beheading. “Here we are, burying the first American crusader in Dabiq, eagerly waiting for the remainder of your armies to arrive,” said a masked executioner in a November video, showing the severed head of Peter (Abdul Rahman) Kassig, the aid worker who’d been held captive for more than a year. During fighting in Iraq in December, after mujahideen (perhaps inaccurately) reported having seen American soldiers in battle, Islamic State Twitter accounts erupted in spasms of pleasure, like overenthusiastic hosts or hostesses upon the arrival of the first guests at a party. . . .

The biggest proponent of an American invasion is the Islamic State itself. The provocative videos, in which a black-hooded executioner addresses President Obama by name, are clearly made to draw America into the fight. An invasion would be a huge propaganda victory for jihadists worldwide: irrespective of whether they have given baya’a to the caliph, they all believe that the United States wants to embark on a modern-day Crusade and kill Muslims. Yet another invasion and occupation would confirm that suspicion, and bolster recruitment.

This is a battle ISIS eagerly anticipates.  Victory is certain because supernatural help is expected.  ISIS wants to provoke this battle, not avoid it.  In the meantime, there is an obligation to fight for Islam everywhere.  The caliphate must be expanded by conquering the immediate enemies of Islam.  Local Muslims in countries far removed must engage in their own versions of jihad, killing as many kaffirs as possible.

ISIS has an ideology of perpetual war:

In London, Choudary and his students provided detailed descriptions of how the Islamic State must conduct its foreign policy, now that it is a caliphate. It has already taken up what Islamic law refers to as “offensive jihad,” the forcible expansion into countries that are ruled by non-Muslims. “Hitherto, we were just defending ourselves,” Choudary said; without a caliphate, offensive jihad is an inapplicable concept. But the waging of war to expand the caliphate is an essential duty of the caliph.

It must not recognise the borders of other nations; it may not enter into permanent peace treaties, only temporary ones, which are more like temporary cease-fire truces than a peace treaty.

These factors alone mean that it will likely become odious in the eyes of its near and wider neighbours.  If given enough rope, ISIS will hang itself neatly.  Smart Western strategies would consider giving neighbours the tools so that they can finish the job. 

In conclusion:

Properly contained, the Islamic State is likely to be its own undoing. No country is its ally, and its ideology ensures that this will remain the case. The land it controls, while expansive, is mostly uninhabited and poor. As it stagnates or slowly shrinks, its claim that it is the engine of God’s will and the agent of apocalypse will weaken, and fewer believers will arrive. And as more reports of misery within it leak out, radical Islamist movements elsewhere will be discredited: No one has tried harder to implement strict Sharia by violence. This is what it looks like.

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God, my victory

March 2015  (3)

Isaiah 12:1-6

1 And you will say on that day, “I will praise you, Yahveh, because you had been angry with me, your anger turned, and you comforted me. 2 See! God, my victory; I will trust, and I will not be afraid, for my strength and might is Yah, Yahveh; and he has become victory for me.” 3 And you will draw water from the wells of victory in joy. 4 And you will say on that day, “Give praise to Yahveh; call on his name. Make his deeds known among the peoples; make it known that his name is exalted. 5 Sing praises to Yahveh, for he has done a glorious thing; it being known in all the land. 6 resident of Zion, shout out and sing for joy, because the holy one of Israel is great in your midst.”

God, my victory

Isaiah encourages his people to look beyond the present crisis and trust God to bring them victory in it, and deliverance from it. Yahveh, not some earthly king with some earthly army – is to be the deliverer, and bring victory. The end result will be praise for who God is. So, Isaiah encourages his people do start praising God already. The purpose for this praise is not the victory, because that has not come yet. The purpose for the praise is that the holy one of Israel is great in their midst. The being and nature and works of God are the reasons for praise and worship.

LORD, give us the faith to praise you for who you are, knowing that you are the one who will bring victory to us. You are our victory.


Letter From Australia (About Going Nuclear)

Nuclear Power Now a Hot Option 

South Australian inquiry ordered

Herald Sun
February 12, 2015

ALARMISTS like Jay Weatherill now finally admit nuclear power isn’t actually a terrifying mass-killing menace. 
Now they say we need nuclear to stop their latest terrifying mass-killing menace — global warming.
Can you believe these guys? Nuclear power has switched from our greatest threat to greatest saviour. Yet none of these hypesters has said sorry for having peddled such baseless scares.

Take Weatherill, South Australia’s Labor Premier. As a budding politician he was “­opposed to nuclear power, all elements of it”, but this week said he’d changed his mind.  Now he is calling for a royal commission to “consider what role our state can potentially play in the fuel cycle for the peaceful use of nuclear energy”.

See, Weatherill reckons a nuclear industry might help save his struggling state.  The most obvious money-spinner would be a nuclear waste facility, like one Pangea tried to sell in 1999 that would have earned us $2 billion a year.

. . . anti-nuclear protesters are shameless. When the Fukushima reactor was smashed by a tsunami in 2011 they were at it again, with Crikey’s Guy Rundle predicting “the Japanese crews (at the reactor) will … bleed out internally under the full glare of the world’s media”. In fact, not one person died from the radiation and the WHO doubts any will.

It makes sense. We have the stable geology and stable government to store the world’s nuclear waste, safe from earthquakes and terrorists.  But such facts never used to count with the likes of the unapologetic Weatherill. Such alarmists instead mounted the usual scare against Pangea and ran it out of town. Pangea couldn’t even get interviews with the young Howard government.

Few have dared to defy anti-nuclear activists and their self-righteous media mates. For instance, singer Peter Garrett, later a Labor environment minister, would rant unchallenged that the nuclear industry would leave us just “a scarred wasteland”.  As Australian Conservation Foundation president, Garrett even got away with claiming the 1986 explosion at the shambolic reactor at Chernobyl — the world’s worst nuclear accident — killed “more than 30,000 people”.

Wait, said other ACF urgers, “250,000 people have died”.

No, no, insisted anti-nuclear hysteric Dr Helen Caldicott: “Nearly a million” died.

In fact, in 2005 the Chernobyl Forum, representing the worst-affected countries as well as the World Health Organisation and International Atomic Energy Agency, calculated the known deaths at 65.  It found there was actually no “clear and convincing evidence for a radiation-induced increase in general population mortality” other than thyroid cancer in children, now treatable.

But anti-nuclear protesters are shameless. When the Fukushima reactor was smashed by a tsunami in 2011 they were at it again, with Crikey’s Guy Rundle predicting “the Japanese crews (at the reactor) will … bleed out internally under the full glare of the world’s media”.

In fact, not one person died from the radiation and the WHO doubts any will.

This circus of fear could have rolled on for years but for one thing: global warming. The new green scare has driven out the old.  True, this new scare is just as exaggerated, given there’s been no significant warming for 16 years, but it’s forced many old hipsters to rethink their once-fashionable anti-nuclear hype.

Weatherill himself says “a very considerable element” of his backflip was that he was “gravely concerned about the threat of climate change”.  He knows we cannot slash the emissions we’re told cause dangerous warming unless we scrap the coal and gas generators that give us electricity — and there’s no practical way we can without going nuclear.

Last December, two warmist professors, Tasmania University’s Barry Brook and Adelaide University’s Corey Bradshaw, warned that wind or solar power were simply too expensive and unreliable to save us.  No, they said in an open letter signed by 75 equally green experts: “Nuclear power … must be deployed to replace the burning of fossil fuels, if we are to have any chance of mitigating severe climate change.”

Many of global warming’s greatest gurus have now gone nuclear, too.  Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, who keeps predicting warming will kill the Great Barrier Reef, announced last year that he’d “definitely changed my position” on nuclear power, which for “too long … has been the butt of scaremongering”.  In fact, “nuclear power can provide low-cost, carbon-free electricity improving the lives of billions of people”.

James Lovelock, inventor of the “Gaia” principle, likewise urged “my friends in the movement to drop their wrongheaded objection to nuclear energy”.  Leading popularisers of the warming panic such as James Hansen, George Monbiot and Mark Lynas have made the same switch.

So who could be against nuclear now? Against the science? Against the planet?  Well, federal Labor leader Bill Shorten, who this week refused to back Weatherill’s royal commission.

Such boneheadness is not leadership but its craven opposite — the kind of pandering to the stupid and scared that’s left us poorer.

Surely we’re better than this. At last.

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What is Genesis 6:1-4 talking about?

In asking the question, is Genesis 6:1-4 about ETs?, Steve Hays makes the following observation:

To me, the text invites a far more mundane explanation. Isn’t this a familiar scenario? Raiding parties to abduct women from a neighboring tribe or village. That happens in lots of primitive cultures. An invading army where officers have the pick of the women. Sex-starved sailors who discover the Polynesian islands and help themselves to the bounty, including–or especially–native women.

If it weren’t for one or two enigmatic designations (nephilim; “sons of god[s]), surely we wouldn’t take it any other way.

For the sake of reference, here’s the passage in question from the LEB:

And it happened that, when humankind began to multiply on the face of the ground, daughters were born to them. 2 Then the sons of God saw the daughters of humankind, that they were beautiful. And they took for themselves wives from all that they chose. 3 And Yahweh said, “My Spirit shall not abide with humankind forever in that he is also flesh. And his days shall be one hundred and twenty years.” 4 The Nephilim were upon the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God went into the daughters of humankind, and they bore children to them.

Now, it should go without saying that I think the ancient aliens thesis is pure garbage. Entertaining, but utter tripe. You need to have a few screws loose or be deliberately misinformed to take it seriously. So Steve and I agree at least on that much. But I think his reasoning about this passage in general is poor. And it’s a pretty interesting passage; so now seems as good a time as any to make some hermeneutical and exegetical observations. I’m not going to fully develop my view here, but I will try to explain why I think the sons of God are not human, and why this passage is teaching something which has been widely depopularized in modern evangelicalism due to it being “kooky”, “unscientific”, or a bit too reminiscent of ancient aliens conspiracy theories:

1. Some initial hermeneutical observations


To quote Michael Heiser, “if it’s weird, it’s important”. This is not to make our subjective credulity or lack of understanding a benchmark for deciding which passages to hang doctrines off; but rather to suggest that when there is something in Scripture which strikes us as weird, often it is because we have lost the background information that makes it sensible. And often that information turns out to shape the biblical worldview in surprising ways. So enigmatic references might well be important.


We also have to be quite careful not to impose our experience of the world onto Scripture as a normative principle. Just because we do not have experience of the spirit world—with possession or demonic activity or hauntings for example—does not mean the spirit world doesn’t exist, or that these events are inherently implausible. It takes very little reading of missionary reports from any time period at all to realize that the spiritual realm is much wilder and more active than we typically experience in the West.


There’s also the question of how much is experienced in the West. How many credible reports are dismissed as kooky on the basis of scientific modernism—which needless to say is not a Christian worldview—or hard cessationism—which needless to say is not a Christian theology?

2. “Enigmatic designations” in Genesis 6:1-4

Steve’s comment that if it weren’t for the enigmatic designations, we wouldn’t take the passage in a supernatural way, seems decidedly odd, since it is precisely because of these designations that people like me do take it that way. Now, I get that Steve is reacting against the ancient aliens theory, which mutilates the terms in question. But the fact that some people leap to bizarre conclusions about these “enigmatic designations” doesn’t imply that sensible people should conclude that they indicate nothing. They are enigmatic and seem to demand explanation.

So, about those terms…

2.1. With regard to the “sons of God” (beney ha-elohim)


This precise term only appears three times in Moses’ writings: Genesis 6:2; Genesis 6:4 and Deuteronomy 32:8.* In the LXX, Deuteronomy 32:8 reads “angels of God” rather than “sons of God”, illustrating the understanding that spiritual beings are in view. That is also certainly how the term is understood in Job 1:6; 2:1; 38:7. Now, you can argue that Job’s Hebrew is idiosyncratic, which it is—but “sons of God” was a common religious term in Hebrew and in Canaanite usage. It referred to the divine beings who comprised the family of the sovereign God. This is evident in the extremely similar usage in Psalms 29:1; 82:6; 89:6. Obviously Canaanite religion diverged from Hebrew religion because it was largely based on false, man-made monistic philosophy rather than God’s revealed word. But the basic idea with respect to the sons of God was the same.


You can argue that God calls both Israel and its king his son (Exodus 4:22; Jeremiah 31:9; Psalm 2:7 etc). But obviously Israel does not exist in Genesis 6. Moreover, while ancient Near Eastern cultures often considered kings divine or semi-divine, there are no known parallels for the term “sons of God” referring to human rulers; the closest parallel terms refer to divine beings. And taking the sons of God to be human kings also fails to account for their apparently unusual offspring, the Nephilim. (More on that below.)


Augustine first proposed that the sons of God were not human kings, but rather the line of Seth. So Genesis 6:1 is describing the propagation of the line of Cain, and 6:2 how the line of Seth found their daughters attractive. But aside from the same criticisms as ad (b), notice also:

  1. Not only does the text not imply this, but it implies the opposite; verse 1 does not draw such a differentiation. It simply speaks of mankind in general. But in that case, verse 2 is naturally understood to refer to the daughters of mankind in general also.
  2. Nowhere does the Bible speak of the Sethites as the sons of God; this simply has to be assumed in the teeth of the competing evidence for the sons of God being angelic.
  3. In the previous chapter, Genesis 5, it is daughters born to Seth who are mentioned. This puts tension on the theory in terms of the thought sequence Moses is creating. We would expect him to mention the daughters of Cain, if they are the characters in Genesis 6:1-4. But if the daughters of man are just human women generally—even those descended from Seth—this tension is resolved.
  4. The Augustinian view seems to make the text imply that the sons of Seth shouldn’t have been interbreeding with the daughters of Cain. But why? Jews and Christians have such obligations because of their covenant relationship with God. But there’s no indication that God had covenanted with a particular line of people at this point.
  5. Apropos (iv), this theory then seems to imply some sort of genetic distinction between the godly line and the ungodly one. Seth’s line only produced “sons of God” (ie, godly people), while Cain’s only produced ungodly “daughters of men”. But again, not only is this absent from the text, but it makes no sense whatsoever in view of the Bible’s clear teaching that salvation is not based on who your parents are (John 1:13; Romans 9:16 etc).
  6. Apropos (v), the fact that Noah is noted for being godly militates against thinking that all Sethites were godly. Indeed, this view makes no sense of how Steve says we would read the text absent the “enigmatic designations”. If the sons of God are so-called because they are godly, they would hardly be making a widescale and concerted effort to “help themselves” to the “bounty” of evil men’s wives. So there is an internal contradiction here.
  7. You can relieve this contradiction by saying that “sons of God” is a designation of God’s favor, rather than of individual holiness. But if God’s favor doesn’t result in individual holiness, it has to be something like a covenant loyalty based on lineage. And again, this runs aground by basically reading God’s covenantal activity with Israel back into the antediluvian world with utterly no biblical warrant whatsoever. It is not until Babel, well after the flood, that God disinherits the nations and chooses just one line to covenant with for himself (cf Deuteronomy 32:8).


On top of this is the odd contrast between the sons of God and the daughters of man. The LEB I think rightly emphasizes this by translating “man” (adam) as “humankind”. The point of verse 1 is that mankind, generally, is multiplying and having daughters. Obviously they were having sons too, but the daughters are the focus because they become an object of desire. For whom? Well, apparently not for the sons of humans, since that would merely reiterate what verse 1 has already indicated! It’s a no-brainer that people multiplying happens when sons of men find daughters of men attractive. If there was nothing more going on in verse 2 than human males finding human females attractive, it’s hard to make sense of the passage at all.

2.2. With regard to the “Nephilim”

Steve also observes:

The syntax is ambiguous. It doesn’t say the Nephilim were the offspring of union between the “sons of god[s]” and human females.


Again, strictly speaking this is true—but although the text can be read otherwise, it certainly implies very strongly that the Nephilim were the offspring of a union between the sons of God and daughters of man. It could be simply marking a chronological correlation—ie, “the Nephilim were on the earth at the time that the sons of God went into the daughters of man who bore them children”—but it seems much more plausibly to be offering a causal explanation—ie, “the Nephilim were on the earth due to the sons of God going into the daughters of man who bore them children”.


When I teach writing, one of the key points I emphasize is the connectivity of ideas. How thought sequences work. One idea relates to another nearby. When we write, we link ideas in various ways—but usually at least by proximity. Sometimes when we link ideas only by proximity, our reasoning seems clear to us, but not as obvious to our readers (or at least our readers 3,500 years later). But even if the exact link between two ideas in proximity isn’t clear, the reader can certainly infer that there is a link intended. So the question is, what is the probable link that Moses intended between the Nephilim being on the earth in those days, and the sons of God going into the daughters of men? Why mention those two things together? The only likely reason I can see is that the Nephilim are the product of this union.


Numbers 13:33 and the Septuagint rendering of Genesis 6:4 take the Nephilim to be giants. Even allowing for exaggeration from the spies in Numbers 13 (which is not indicated in the text), clearly the Nephilim were intimidating people of unusual stature and skill in warfare. They were, according to Numbers 13:33, the sons of Anak—namely, a people “great and tall” (Deuteronomy 9:2). Now, how big a “giant” was is up for grabs—the average height of a man in the ancient Near East, to my understanding, was around 1.5 meters (5″). So the Nephilim might not have been taller than some modern basketball players. Nonetheless, they were physically unusual.


The evidence for the sons of God being divine beings meshes naturally with the evidence for the Nephilim being giants. A seamless picture emerges of spiritual beings taking on bodily form, cohabiting with human women, and producing unusually mighty children. The picture that emerges from competing theories is either ad hoc, or ends up denying biblical data.


An interesting sidenote is that the Jews believed demons (as found in the New Testament) to be the spirits of dead Nephilim. While I wouldn’t dogmatically assert this, it certainly makes sense, given that the rebellious sons of God seem limited in number, and are either imprisoned (see below) or in charge of political realms (cf Deuteronomy 32:8; Ephesians 6:12 etc). Inhabiting people to cause trouble seems beneath them given that they are described as gods (Psalm 82:6 etc); and demons seem to be legion (pun intended).

3. The pedigree of the various views


Apropos (2.2d), 2 Peter 2:4-11 and Jude 1:6-7 mesh seamlessly with the traditional “divine beings” understanding of Genesis 6:1-4. 2 Peter 2:4 refers to the angels who sinned; verse 5 places this in the context of the flood; verse 6 gives Sodom as an example of judgment for the kind of sin in question; verse 10 names the sins as the lusts of defiling passion and despising authority; Jude 1:6 elaborates that these angels did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling. Moreover, there is also the intriguing reference to the “glorious ones” in 2 Peter 2:11 and Jude 1:8—which illustrate a distinction between glorious ones, angels, the Lord, and possibly also archangels. Because of the broad way that the term “angels” is used in the New Testament, it’s hard to be sure what is going on here, but it is at least plausible to suppose that the glorious ones are the angels who left their proper dwelling; ie, they are spiritual beings greater than “typical” angels—what we might call archangels, and what the Old Testament would call the sons of God.


Understanding the sons of God to be divine beings is not a fringe view, nor a modern one. In fact, it was the exclusive view until about the second century AD. It is reflected in 1 Enoch 6, Jubilees 5, the Septuagint, Philo (De Gigant 2:358), Josephus (Ant. 1.31), the Dead Sea Scrolls (1QapGen 2:1; CD 2:17–19), Justin, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, and Origen, among others. This is not to say that these sources cannot err; rather, that this is a venerable understanding of the text. It wasn’t until theologians started to take Matthew 22:30 as normative for what angels cannot do rather than how they naturally are (an obviously unjustified equivocation denied by Old Testament examples), that competing views began to arise.

For an evangelical, the only reason I can see to discount the traditional view is non-textual—ie, Western incredulity.

* Deuteronomy 32:8 in the medieval Hebrew Masoretic Text reads “sons of Israel”. This is obviously a late corruption, since there was no Israel at the time of the event it describes (Babel). The correct reading is preserved in the LXX and Dead Sea Scrolls, as reflected in the ESV, NET and others.

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Daily Devotional

Final Escape From the Jaw of the Lion

“Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil.”
Matthew 4:1

Charles H. Spurgeon

A holy character does not avert temptation–Jesus was tempted. When Satan tempts us, his sparks fall upon tinder; but in Christ’s case, it was like striking sparks on water; yet the enemy continued his evil work.

Now, if the devil goes on striking when there is no result, how much more will he do it when he knows what inflammable stuff our hearts are made of. Though you become greatly sanctified by the Holy Ghost, expect that the great dog of hell will bark at you still.

In the haunts of men we expect to be tempted, but even seclusion will not guard us from the same trial. Jesus Christ was led away from human society into the wilderness, and was tempted of the devil. Solitude has its charms and its benefits, and may be useful in checking the lust of the eye and the pride of life; but the devil will follow us into the most lovely retreats. Do not suppose that it is only the worldly-minded who have dreadful thoughts and blasphemous temptations, for even spiritual-minded persons endure the same; and in the holiest position we may suffer the darkest temptation. The utmost consecration of spirit will not insure you against Satanic temptation.

Christ was consecrated through and through. It was his meat and drink to do the will of him that sent him: and yet he was tempted! Your hearts may glow with a seraphic flame of love to Jesus, and yet the devil will try to bring you down to Laodicean lukewarmness. If you will tell me when God permits a Christian to lay aside his armour, I will tell you when Satan has left off temptation. Like the old knights in war time, we must sleep with helmet and breastplate buckled on, for the arch-deceiver will seize our first unguarded hour to make us his prey.

The Lord keep us watchful in all seasons, and give us a final escape from the jaw of the lion and the paw of the bear.
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Public Health Warning: Guard Against Deadly Glossa Attacks (James 3:1-12)…. Shedding Light on the Epistle of Straw: finding a faith that works in the Book of James (Part 7).

If you are planning a trip over to Australia in the near future you might not want to hear or see this promotion being suggested to the Australian tourist board…
Who knows if your an adrenaline junkie Australian flora and fauna might just be for you… But the song is satire, about all the dangerous animals over the ditch…just waiting to kill you. But this morning I want to be serious and issue a Public Health Warning about a very dangerous animal … because while we see all these vicious and deadly animals we seem to be unaware of what is possibly the most dangerous animal in the world. In actual fact more harm and damage is done by this animal that shark bite, snake bite, spider bite, and even hippo attack all put together. It’s so dangerous that a single bite can actually affect a whole community of people. We do tend to think that we are safe from most dangerous animals here in New Zealand, and our bio security people are vigilant to keep pests out,  but you may be surprised that we actually have a lot of these animals in this country, and they do a lot of damage. The animals name is the Glossa… and at great personal risk I have gone out and got a close up photo of a Glossa in its natural habitat.

Ok by now you may have worked out that the Glossa is the tongue. In fact Glossa is the Greek word for tongue. Perhaps we needed to start with a bit of humour because what James has to say about the tongue and how we use words is quite serious and challenging. James applies a whole array of amazingly vivid metaphors to prove his point that while the tongue is capable of great fetes it is also if left unguarded the source of a whole lot of evil.  While we have managed to tame all kinds of wild animals says James we have not been able to tame the tongue.


ames starts by focusing on the root problem that had manifest itself in showing favouritism in the church and a faith that had more to do with simply holding to a belief rather than living out a faith, false teaching. James warns that not many of us should be teachers because a higher standard is expected of teachers than other believers.  He goes on to use the illustrations of a horse being lead about by a bit in its mouth, a boat being steered  by a small rudder and a forest fire being started by a small spark as illustrations of what he means. They all show how a small thing like a teacher in a church can influence where a larger entity, like a ship or a horse or in this case a church, goes. That is a good thing if it is under control. A rudder can direct a boat through the storm, A bit or bridle can harness the horses great strength to a beneficial task,  a spark can start a fire that warms and sheds light in the dark… But if out of control of the Spirit of God it can well run amok, burn it all down, run aground.   Controlling the tongue says James is a sign of maturity in Christ. And Praise God James is very honest as he says that we all suffer from foot in mouth disease at times.

But on a wider scale this is not just about teaching it is a challenge to all of us about the dangers of tongue and our words. They can be both loving and uplifting and life bringing  but also devastating and destructive.

Like with favouritism and faith without works, James uses a concrete example from within the church to bring it home. How can we worship God with our mouth and then curse Human beings, who are made in his image. To put down someone is to put down the one who made them. At the heart of holding all human life as valuable and sacred is the fact that we were made in God’s image and designed for a relationship with him. Disrespect for humanity is disrespect for God. It is hard to praise God when we mistreat or write off what he has made as junk… God does not make junk.  Again we head back to the words of Jesus and the royal law that we are to love the lord our God with all our mind and soul and strength and love our neighbour as ourselves… and words are works, our faith is shown in our faith words as well as our faith deeds.  In fact says James combining both praise to God and cursing people, ripping them down verbally, is as incongruous and irrational as salt and clear water coming out of the same spring, Or a fig tree bearing olives or a grape vine producing figs. Go figure.

How does this passage apply to us today?

Firstly, if James is focusing specifically on teachers in the Church, It says we need to be careful who we let teach us and have influence. It may be that as James was writing to a church that had been scattered amidst the diaspora because of persecution that they hadn’t been able to develop a proven and tested leadership, so error had been able to creep in. teachers were easily mislead to think in the same way about status and how the church should be as the society around them. They used words to maintain and build their own power to the detriment of the church itself.

I’m very aware that I am standing before you today as a teacher preacher and can I say I often maintain “the fact that I am a Presbyterian Minister is a sure sign that our denomination is in trouble”.  But James words are a constant challenge to have integrity between what you say and how you live. It is a constant wrestle to be faithful to God’s words in what is said and in life, and as Paul calls us all to do speak the truth in love.

 It is easy to equate success with God’s blessings and just recently a Mega church that I had some admiration for has been blown apart because of the behaviour of its minister. It’s a good example of what James is talking about here… The pastor was known as a fiery prophetic teacher, and you know he could preach he really could… But that word fiery is a two edged sword…  It started to come out that he had said many angry and hurtful things that displayed what many saw as a character flaw. Words such as bigot and misogynist were bandied about, about him. The way staff and leaders were spoken to and treated began to surface on the internet and media. Because of this even when he talked about repentance and changing his ways started to be doubted.  Other issues started to come to light about the use of money and misuse of power. The pastor resigned and the church that was over 10 000 strong and impacting millions round the world closed its doors at the end of last year.  This passage is a constant challenge and a timely reminder for all in church leadership about our words and our heart attitudes.

Secondly, for all of us, we need to acknowledge that scripture says words have power: The power to heal and make whole and the power to hurt and even to maim and kill. We are used to the saying sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me… we tell it to our kids like we would give them a rain coat. To keep off the harmful things that people might say to them, like a rain coat can keep them dry.  But we know at a heart level that that is a lie. James has a more realistic view of words; they can do a whole heap of damage. They can impact and affect the human heart and they can impact and infect and implode a whole community of faith.

While James does not go into how to tame the tongue the bible has some very good tips for training the tongue. Here are three real quick tips…

The first is that it needs to be housed properly… That is its best keep in a dark moist cave with a guard outside. Proverbs 21:23 says …Those who guard their mouths and their tongues keep themselves from calamity. Now this is not a passage suggesting we all need to hire a minder when we go out although sometimes my kids will tell you they think it would be a good idea for me and shopping trips with me have now become known as elder care. But the verse in proverbs asks us to consider our words and weight them before we speak. When I was young my father would always quote the Disney film Bambi to me. He say what did Thumber’s father tell him… “if you can’t say nothing nice don’t say anything at all.”

Here are two tips about what to do with our tongue the first is we should kiss… yes I’m saying Kissing is good exercise for the tongue.   And no it’s not what you are thinking, although that is very nice, rather Proverbs 24:26 says an honest answer is like a kiss on the lips. The kind of words that benefit us and a community are words of truth. The ultimate example of that is God’s word of truth, but also for us to speak honestly but just like someone would resist a sudden lunge and lip lock, it needs to be speaking the truth in love.

I also have found that the way I hold my tongue, really helps when it comes to using a hammer to hit in a nail. Towards the end of his first letter to the Thessalonians Paul encourages his hearers to build one another up and this is a great way to look at how we use our words in a Christian community. To ask the question am I doing this to encourage the other person, am I saying these things to honour God. It is the exact opposite of what James says in this passage about using words to curse another person, or to bring them down.  I like the way the New Zealand Cricket team handles press interviews at the moment. They are reluctant to talk about their own great achievements but will acknowledge the good  performances of team mates. Bowlers will acknowledge that while they have got the wickets  the pressure that lead to that was because of the pressure asserted on the opposition by the batters getting a high score or the other bowlers drying up the run rate.  Batsmen will acknowledge their partners and others who have contributed to the score. This culture is lead by the captain Brendan McCullum, and helps to build up the team as a whole, in a sport where it has been said its about individuals who just happen to be in a team.

I went to the film Selma with James (my Son not the writer of the letter of James) for my birthday treat a couple of weeks ago. It tells the story of the civil rights marches in Selma Alabama, to insure that African Americans had equal access to the right to vote. It’s an amazing movie. I think David Oyelowo deserved an Oscar for his portrayal of Martin Luther King Jr, or at least a nomination. The film contains several of Kings Speeches ad sermons as well as a profound and liberating speech by President Lydon Johnson. They are speeches that not only stir the soul but lift the human spirit because of the justice and truth they expound. King applies the gospel to the plight of his people, oppressed by a wrong system with power and dignity. They acted like a rudder for a whole nation.


James says that our words and gospel teaching can do great things… great good things… they can encourage the depressed, bring out the deepest of human emotions, give voice to the powerless, rouse the careless, stir men and women to noble action, welcome the wayward, give hope in the darkest of night, give solace, point to the saving power of Jesus Christ. And sadly great harm…It is why here James warns us to be careful with our words.  Like a horse to place our reigns in the hands of the one who can be trusted to lead and guide, like a boast to know that the one who is at the helm is to be trusted, that our words and our lives are in the hands and responding to the leading and guiding of the spirit of God.

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Monday quote

Monopolists, apparently, can conceive of only one way of making money, which is bullying consumers and competitors to put up and shut up. Furthermore, it also appears to mean that past mistakes have to be repeated at a larger, and ever more ridiculous, scale.

Michele Boldrine and David K Levine, Against Intellectual Monopoly.
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Knowing the Enemy, Part II

Beware Uniting the Entire Family Against You

Whilst the West is failing miserably to come to terms with ISIS, remaining confused and bemused, ironically ISIS is no shrinking violet.  It boldly declares itself and wants everyone in the West to understand it and what animates it.  But because its roots are theological and religious, the Western Commentariat–wilfully ignorant of all things religious–has gone into an “It does not compute” mode. 

Graeme Wood, writing in The Atlantic, nails the essence of the issue.

In fact, much of what the group does looks nonsensical except in light of a sincere, carefully considered commitment to returning civilization to a seventh-century legal environment, and ultimately to bringing about the apocalypse.

Returning civilisation to the seventh-century and helping to engineer the last days, the Apocalypse, are beliefs and objectives so ludicrous to the modern Western secularist that ISIS cannot be taken seriously.  Consequently the West invents objectives and beliefs for ISIS that make them more understandable.  To the Western mindset ISIS exists because of oppression and exploitation (by whom, no-one is quite sure); it is a native reaction to systemic injustice and poverty–and so forth.  In other words, the West constantly attempts to fit ISIS into its peculiar narrative and perspective upon the world.  Yet how foolish is this:

In the past, Westerners who accused Muslims of blindly following ancient scriptures came to deserved grief from academics—notably the late Edward Said—who pointed out that calling Muslims “ancient” was usually just another way to denigrate them. Look instead, these scholars urged, to the conditions in which these ideologies arose—the bad governance, the shifting social mores, the humiliation of living in lands valued only for their oil.

Without acknowledgement of these factors, no explanation of the rise of the Islamic State could be complete. But focusing on them to the exclusion of ideology reflects another kind of Western bias: that if religious ideology doesn’t matter much in Washington or Berlin, surely it must be equally irrelevant in Raqqa or Mosul. When a masked executioner says Allahu akbar while beheading an apostate, sometimes he’s doing so for religious reasons.

We presume Wood is being sarcastic in the last sentence. 

Imagine how foolish and naive it would have been if Neville Chamberlain and the appeasers had sought to placate Hitler on the grounds that Germans in the nineteen thirties were suffering from systemic injustice and poverty and oppression, and that as Hitler’s panzers advanced, the appropriate response would be to roll out the Marshall Plan. Yet that is pretty much where the West is today with respect to Islam in general and ISIS in particular. Sure we need to drop a few bombs to tickle them up a bit and get their attention, but the real solution lies in redistribution of global wealth, from the West to the poverty stricken Middle East (Israel excepted, of course.) Hence the New Zealand Labour leader saying the real challenge presented by ISIS is not military in nature, but how we will manage to teach them New Zealand farming techniques. 

The reality is that the Islamic State is Islamic. Very Islamic. Yes, it has attracted psychopaths and adventure seekers, drawn largely from the disaffected populations of the Middle East and Europe. But the religion preached by its most ardent followers derives from coherent and even learned interpretations of Islam.

Virtually every major decision and law promulgated by the Islamic State adheres to what it calls, in its press and pronouncements, and on its billboards, license plates, stationery, and coins, “the Prophetic methodology,” which means following the prophecy and example of Muhammad, in punctilious detail. Muslims can reject the Islamic State; nearly all do. But pretending that it isn’t actually a religious, millenarian group, with theology that must be understood to be combatted (sic), has already led the United States to underestimate it and back foolish schemes to counter it. We’ll need to get acquainted with the Islamic State’s intellectual genealogy if we are to react in a way that will not strengthen it, but instead help it self-immolate in its own excessive zeal.


In the second place, ISIS is necessarily at odds with other streams of Islam, most noticeably Shia Islam and its offshoots.  “At odds” in this context means opposed to the point of killing Shia adherents for their apostasy and unbelief.  But, faced with the real world–that is, Shia adherents demonstrate their godlessness by drinking a bit of alcohol or the odd bit of shaving the beard–these practices become reasons for execution.  The end result is that ISIS is more committed to killing Shia Muslims than it is to killing Christians and Westerners.

Denying the holiness of the Koran or the prophecies of Muhammad is straightforward apostasy. But Zarqawi and the state he spawned take the position that many other acts can remove a Muslim from Islam. These include, in certain cases, selling alcohol or drugs, wearing Western clothes or shaving one’s beard, voting in an election—even for a Muslim candidate—and being lax about calling other people apostates. Being a Shiite, as most Iraqi Arabs are, meets the standard as well, because the Islamic State regards Shiism as innovation, and to innovate on the Koran is to deny its initial perfection. (The Islamic State claims that common Shiite practices, such as worship at the graves of imams and public self-flagellation, have no basis in the Koran or in the example of the Prophet.) That means roughly 200 million Shia are marked for death. So too are the heads of state of every Muslim country, who have elevated man-made law above Sharia by running for office or enforcing laws not made by God.

Following takfiri doctrine, the Islamic State is committed to purifying the world by killing vast numbers of people. The lack of objective reporting from its territory makes the true extent of the slaughter unknowable, but social-media posts from the region suggest that individual executions happen more or less continually, and mass executions every few weeks. Muslim “apostates” are the most common victims. Exempted from automatic execution, it appears, are Christians who do not resist their new government. Baghdadi permits them to live, as long as they pay a special tax, known as the jizya, and acknowledge their subjugation. The Koranic authority for this practice is not in dispute.

The ISIS strategic priority of killing fellow (deviant) Muslims ought to give the West its clearest clue to a winning strategy.  If Islamic nations have more at stake that Western nations in the defeat of ISIS, then Western front line engagement is never going to succeed.

As the old adage has it, never step in to stop a fight between brothers, unless you are prepared for the entire family to unite and turn upon you. 

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next exodus

March 2015  (2)

Isaiah 11:10-16

10 And this will happen on that day: Gentiles will seek the root of Jesse, who will be standing as a flag to a people, and his resting place[1] will be glorious. 11 This will also happen on that day: The Lord will again reach out his hand a second time to get the remnant of his people that is left, from Assyria, Egypt, Pathros, Cush, Elam, Shinar, Hamath, and the coastlands of the sea, 12 and he will raise a flag for the Gentiles. And he will gather the outcasts of Israel, and he will gather the scattered ones of Judah together from the four wings of the land. 13 And Ephraim’s jealousy will go away, and the enemies of Judah will be cut off. Ephraim will not be jealous of Judah, and Judah will not be an enemy of Ephraim. 14 But they will fly over the Philistine shoulder, toward the sea. Together they will plunder sons of the east. Edom and Moab will be reached by their hand, and the sons of Ammon their conquered people. 15 And Yahveh will utterly destroy the tongue of the sea of Egypt and he will wave his hand over the river with his scorching wind; and he will strike it into seven streams, and he will enable someone to walk through it with the sandal. 16 So there will be a highway from Assyria for the remnant of his people that remains, just like there was for Israel in that day he went up from the land of Egypt.

next exodus

In this amazing passage, Isaiah predicts that the Messiah will stand as a flag to a people, and they will be drawn to that flag as they experience a second exodus. Just as God had struck the Red Sea to make a way for the Jews to escape Pharaoh, he will also make a way for this people to escape back to the promised land. They will be coming from both the south and the north, so God will strike both the tongue of the sea of Egypt (the gulf of the Red Sea) and the river (Euphrates). The resulting highway will make it possible for Israelites, no longer at enmity with one another, to return to the holy land. But this people who look to the Messiah as their flag also contains Gentiles, people from other nations.

So this passage not only predicts a physical restoration of Israel, it also speaks of a spiritual restoration which will include Gentiles. Both groups together will seek the root of Jesse as their leader.

LORD, we seek to follow the root of Jesse. Lead us to your promised inheritance, a blessing you have in store for all who seek you.

[1] The word for resting place is very similar to a word for sacrificial gift. There may be a word-play here.