When Good Things Happen to Bad People

Genesis 21:17 And God heard the voice of the boy, and the angel of God called to Hagar out of the heavens, and said to her, What ails you, Hagar? Do not fear, for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is.

Hagar was ungrateful and spiteful. Proverbs 30:22 could have been written about her. Ishmael was arrogant and cruel. The situation was so bad that God told Abraham to send them out of his house into the wilderness alone.

How are we to reconcile this with Genesis 21:17 which says that God heard Ishmael’s cries and sent an angel to Hagar? Or with Genesis 21:20 which says that God was with Ishmael as he grew up?

God had to rescue them because of his promise to Abraham and because Ishmael had a role to play in God’s plan, but why did he take such a personal interest? Why did he send the “angel of God”?

See “God Knows Why You Suffer” at AmericanTorah.com.

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The Three Angels at Sodom

In the stories of Abraham and Lot we can see two sides of a single prophecy. On the one hand is Abraham, through whom would come Israel, the Torah, and the Messiah. The whole world would be blessed through him and a portion of it would ultimately be saved. On the other hand is Lot, through whom at least Sodom could have been saved. But instead of preaching righteousness, he tried to be one of them without being like them. God had given him an opportunity to build the Kingdom through the witness of his words and righteous life, but he squandered the opportunity and lost even his own family.

See The Roles and Fields of Righteous Men for more on the contrast between Lot and Abraham.

There are some interesting patterns in the behavior of the three angels who came to judge and execute Sodom.

Genesis 18:1-2 present us with one mystery.

Recall the pattern of Genesis 1 and 2. In Genesis 1, Moses gave us a broad overview of the 7 days of creation. In Genesis 2, he zoomed into a subset of events that took place within those 7 days. They aren’t two contradictory accounts, but a single account told from two perspectives. The same thing happens in here. Verse 1 says that YHWH appeared to Abraham, and then verse 2 says that three men appeared to him. There aren’t four men here. Moses gave us a summary first, saying that YHWH appeared. Then he zoomed in and gave us another perspective on the same event: YHWH appeared to Abraham as three men. There is only one God; he is not three separate Gods. So what are we to make of this?

We will have to be content with a certain amount of mystery; we can never fully comprehend God. When he appears to men, we only see part of him. If we were to see him in all his glory we would die. So when we see him, we see him as the ten blind Indian men saw the elephant: a small part at a time, seeming to be one thing when he is really something greater. So Abraham saw God as three men, and we understand him in terms of Father, Son, and Spirit, even while we know that God is One: Hear, O Israel, YHWH our God is one YHWH. Shema, Yisrael, YHWH elohenu YHWH echad. When God reveals a part of himself, sometimes he appears as fire, sometimes as cloud, sometimes as a man, and sometimes as three men. He is still the One True God. None of these perspectives can define him.

God never does anything without purpose. He might be arational–meaning his actions might have no reason that we can know or understand–but he is never irrational. So when God appears to us as three men or as two men or as one man, then there is something we can know about him through it.

Here are the things that the character called YHWH does in these interactions with Abraham and Lot when he is referenced distinctly from the three, two, or one angels:

  • 18:1: Appears
  • 18:10: Prophesies
  • 18:13: Questions
  • 18:15: Judges
  • 18:17: Questions
  • 18:19: Prophesies
  • 18:20: Judges
  • 18:22: Stands
  • 18:26: Judges
  • 18:33: Leaves
  • 19:13: Judges
  • 19:24: Judges

Here are the things that the three men (with Abraham) or two men (with Lot) do together:

  • 18:8: Eat (three)
  • 18:9: Question (three)
  • 18:16: Rise and look (three)
  • 18:22: Turn and go (two)
  • 19:1: Come to Sodom (two)
  • 19:2: Inform (two)
  • 19:3: Turn, walk, and eat (two)
  • 19:4: Prepare to sleep (two)
  • 19:10: Rescue and protect (two)
  • 19:11: Blind attackers (two)
  • 19:12: Question and command (two)
  • 19:16: Compel to safety (two)
  • 19:17: Commands to safety

There is only one action ascribed to a singular angel who is not identified directly as YHWH:

  • 19:18: Extends mercy

In these three views of God we see three distinct roles:

  1. YHWH as investigator and judge.
  2. Three or two men together as friends, protectors, and guides.
  3. One man as giver of mercy.

How can anyone not love Torah!?

One question remains: Why were there three angels with Abraham and only two with Lot? The answer is in the pattern I showed above. Remember that every capital crime must have at least two witnesses and a judge, and the judge cannot also be a witness. So  one sperately referred to as YHWH stood back while the two angels went down to observe the crimes of Sodom and to see if any might be saved. As soon as they had brought God’s people to safety, judgment was executed.

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The Roles and Fields of Righteous Men

Four of the great patriarchs of Torah were faced with the deserved destruction of unrighteous people, and the all reacted differently.

When God told Noah that he would destroy the entire world by a great flood, he spent his days building an ark to save his family according to God’s command, but also in preaching to the lost. Even though God had told him the world was beyond saving, he meant to try it anyway. God did not rebuke him for it, and the Apostles even praised Noah for his great work as a preacher. Even so, his efforts seem pointless. I doubt that he gained anything useful from them except for a greater understanding of the debased nature of man. God killed every living person on the planet outside of Noah’s small family.

A few hundred years later, God told Abraham that he was about to destroy Sodom. The people there had never done anything for Abraham, and in fact had caused him a considerable amount of trouble. The only thing in Sodom that Abraham valued was his nephew Lot. Yet he dared to bargain with God to save the whole city. The remarkable thing is that God entertained this negotiation. Like Noah before him, Abraham’s efforts went unrewarded beyond the personal gain of a greater understanding of God and man. God heat sterilized Sodom, saving only Lot, his wife, and two daughters from the fire.

Lot too, tried to save more than were only in his house. He tried to save his married daughters and their families as the angels told him, but he couldn’t even save those whom God had told him to save. He should have been working to save the people of Sodom all along, but he waited until it was too late, and then he couldn’t even save what was once his own. Even those family members who had escaped with him would be taken, his wife by her own disobedience, and his daughters by his own wickedness. Lot, too, learned something of God and human nature, but he couldn’t save anyone.

Later, Moses would be given the opportunity to save others multiple times. He tried to save Pharaoh and the people of Egypt through preaching, but he already knew that they wouldn’t listen and would be crushed beneath God’s wrath. However, the outcome in Moses’ other opportunities was different than all those previous. He called Israel out of Egypt, and they followed him and the pillar across the Red Sea to safety. He interceded on Israel’s behalf several times in the wilderness, even offering his own life, and caused them to be spared each time.

No one can argue that Moses was a better man than Abraham or Noah. (A strong argument could be made concerning Lot, however.) They were all great men of God. So why did Moses succeed where his ancestors had failed?

The answer is the same that must be given to the man called to be a shepherd who would rather be a traveling evangelist, to a prophet who would rather be a king, and to a hand that would rather be an eye: It wasn’t their job.

Noah’s job was to clear the land. He uprooted trees, cut sod, and tilled the soil. It didn’t matter how long he preached to the blades of grass; they would never become wheat. Abraham planted seeds the soil Noah had prepared. He weeded, watered, and fertilized. And Lot…well, Lot tried, but in the end, all he could do was transplant a few questionable wild plants from one garden to another.

Moses harvested. He appeared on the scene at just the right season, and he reaped where he hadn’t sown. That was simply his role to play. It doesn’t mean that Moses was greater than Abraham. Where would the reaper be without the sower? Moses just had a different job to do.

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Behold the King in His Glory!

Anti-Christian forces are advancing everywhere. Muslims are pouring into Europe and America nearly unopposed. Bankers and financiers rob their creditors, debtors, and stock holders, and are rewarded from the accounts of the unaffiliated public. Politicians promise to give their constituents everything, while plotting to take everything. Unemployment, public debt, and inflation are all high. Wages and public morality are low. Times are hard, and they are likely to get much harder.

But there is something waiting beyond whatever darkness lies ahead.

Isaiah 33:17-22 Your eyes shall see the king in his beauty; they shall behold the land that is very far off…. (20) Look on Zion, the city of our holy meetings; your eyes shall see Jerusalem a quiet home, a tabernacle that shall not be taken down; not one of its stakes shall ever be removed, nor shall any of its cords be broken. (21) But there the glorious YHWH will be to us a place of broad rivers and streams, in which no galley with oars shall go, nor shall mighty ship pass by it. (22) For YHWH is our judge, YHWH is our lawgiver, Jehovah is our king; He will save us.

Beyond the waiting, the struggles, and the transient illusions of loss and failure lies peace, fellowship, learning, and prosperity. But to get there, we must repent, commit to obedience, and arm ourselves with whatever weapons are appropriate to the battle. We must be prepared to stand and fight against whatever evils may be, but we must never pretend that victory will come by our own strength. Victory is inevitable in the end–whether we see it or some future generation–but it is only inevitable because God will fight for us when the time is right.

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Foreigners Bought with Silver

We gentiles grafted into the tree of Israel are the foreigners bought with Abraham’s silver (Genesis 17:12). Silver is a symbol of blood, and we have been bought by the blood of Abraham’s son and promised heir, Yeshua.

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Law and Grace, Circumcision and Passover

You have no doubt heard all your life about how Grace and Law are polar opposites, how you cannot be saved by Grace if you are committed to obeying the Law. This is directly contrary to the overall witness of Scripture. I will show you Grace and Law are not only not incompatible, but are absolutely necessary to each other.

Let’s start in Ezekiel 16:6:

And when I passed by you and saw you squirming in your blood, I said to you in your blood, Live! Yes, I said to you in your blood, Live!

Albert Barnes wrote,

In thy blood – may be connected either with “I said” or with “Live.” In the latter case, the state of blood and defilement is made the very cause of life…

So that the last phrase in the verse could be rendered, “Yes, I said to you, ‘Live through your blood.'” In other words, the blood brings life. But why does God say it twice?

In “Circumcision: The Individual’s Covenant with God” Rabbi Yohanasan Gefen wrote that each iteration of this statement refers to a different shedding of blood. The first statement refers to the circumcision of Abraham, while the second refers to the Passover Lamb.

The Calvinists will take issue with what I have to say next, but here it is anyway: Circumcision represents our decision to commit ourselves to God, while the Passover Lamb represents God’s decision to commit himself to us. Without both commitments, we are lost.

Circumcision was a physical manifestation of Abraham’s faith in God’s promises. He circumcised his flesh  and the flesh of all of the males in his house, including Ishmael, as an outward sign of his complete trust in God’s faithfulness.  However, circumcision in itself was not the means of Abraham’s salvation. It didn’t replace his faith, and the act of cutting himself did not cause God to keep his promise of an heir and a great inheritance.

Consider Ishmael. He was circumcised also, but he did not inherit the covenant. Many years before the circumcision, God promised Abraham a son. When he began to doubt, he tried to force God’s promise through his own power. Ishmael was conceived through his father’s mistrust of God and a reliance on works to earn God’s favors. Obedience alone will never be enough to warrant inclusion in the covenant with Abraham; one must also have faith.

But faith in what? In the Messiah Yeshua, our Passover Lamb whose blood covers us and takes away our sins. This is the ultimate inheritance of the children of Abraham, and the ultimate reason we must keep God’s Law.

We do not (cannot!) obey to earn God’s favor or to bribe or force him to keep his promises. God is faithful whether we are or not. No, we obey because we believe. If we believe in God’s faithfulness to provide an atonement for us and to forgive us our sins, then we will obey him. Obedience follows true faith, and there are only two reasons why a a person would not keep God’s Law:

1. Ignorance of his requirements, such as is the case with those many Christians who have been deceived their entire lives to believe that God didn’t mean what he said.
2.  Lack of faith. As James said, “Show me your faith without works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” There is no such thing as faith without works. A lack of works always indicates a lack of faith.

As I have said over and over, this does not mean that anyone is saved by their works. Abraham did not circumcise himself before his faith, but because of it. We do not keep God’s Law to earn salvation, but because we are saved. Likewise, a person can be perfectly obedient to every point of the Law and still be eternally lost because they put their hope for salvation in obedience instead of in God’s faithfulness.

I can’t tell you how many sermons I heard growing up in the Assemblies of God about how the Law was replaced by Grace. Even at the time it all seemed a little hypocritical. If the Law was done away (or “fulfilled” away) why did Jesus, Paul, Peter, James, and others spend so much time talking about it? Why do we put the Ten Commandments up on the Sunday School walls?

The Bible was very little help. James clearly wrote that the Law was still in effect, and Peter wrote that you had to have a good foundation in the scriptures (the Law and the Prophets) in order to understand Paul’s letters. But why should an understanding of the Law be important to understand someone who spent so much ink telling us to forget the Law?

“Don’t take James so literally,” I was told. “He’s talking about a new spiritual law that has replaced the old written law.”

OK, but what about Peter? He couldn’t have been writing about spiritual scriptures. Scriptures means “writings”. If they only exist on a spiritual plane, how can they be written? And how could one study writings that aren’t written?

As I have demonstrated through numerous arguments, that was all so much hot air and wishful thinking. Grace and Law were never in opposition, but were always complementary. You cannot be saved by Grace unless you are first convicted by the Law, and you cannot be saved by God’s Grace unless you are also committed to obeying God’s Law. How can a person claim to believe in someone else if they refuse to believe what the other person has said?

Law and Grace are not opposed to one another, but are merely two sides of the same coin. If you are not committed to obeying God’s commandments, then you cannot be heir to his promises. And if you are not under God’s Grace, then all the obedience in the world will earn you nothing but damnation.

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Finger Guns Are Good for America

Many of the teachers and administrators at America’s schools are obviously not mature enough to be allowed to supervise children. They need to be fired immediately and barred from ever working with children again. Unfortunately, I doubt that’s going to happen. Instead, I recommend the following act of civil disobedience to all of America’s school children from kindergarten through high school. Maybe college too.

So here it is: Greet each other with a finger gun. Ham it up. When you walk into a classroom, make a double quick draw and blast away, blow the smoke from your fingertips, and then re-holster them. At every opportunity, point your finger at someone and say “Bang.” If you’re a girl say, “Pyooo!” if you prefer. Throw in a “Zap!” now and then, too.

This act, if performed widely and consistently, will help calm a little of the hoplophobic hysteria that has liberally infected the halls of academia by demonstrating over and over again how silly it really is. Repetition is the mother of learning, after all. The hysteria will rise to a crescendo at first, but they’ll adjust. I’ve been told that repeated exposure to the object of an irrational fear is a well-proven cure for phobias of all kinds.

This could be exactly what America’s teachers need to help them begin catching up to the maturity level of their students.

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Are You a Liberal, or What?

I just took the 2013 Political Quiz at isidewith.com. The results weren’t surprising.

ISideWith.com 2013 Political Quiz

ISideWith.com 2013 Political Quiz

What can we tell from this?

  1. Barrack Obama is as far from being “my” president as anyone could be. Stalin might score better on the issues that are important to me.
  2. The people who wrote this quiz don’t know Mitt Romney’s actual positions on the issues. He should be somewhere around 30-50%.
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“Educating” Lunatics

From Fox News, two six-year-old boys have been suspended for pretending to shoot someone with their fingers.

“They’re saying he threatened a student, threatened to shoot a student,” the boy’s father, Rodney Lynch Sr. said after the suspension. “He was playing.”

A child psychologist told WJZ-TV that the minds of most 6-year-olds are not developed enough to understand why adults might be sensitive to the gesture.

Why does it matter if they understand it or not? If an adult is so distraught by children shooting finger guns at each other then there is something very wrong with the adult, not the child! This is perfectly normal & healthy behavior for little boys and they should never be punished for it.

On the other hand, the teachers and school administrators responsible for this bit of insanity should never be allowed to supervise children again. They obviously aren’t emotionally or psychologically mature enough to handle the responsibility.

Yet another reason to homeschool.

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God Sees Ishmael

Genesis 16:7-15 And the angel of the LORD found her by a fountain of water in the wilderness, by the fountain in the way to Shur. (8) And he said: ‘Hagar, Sarai’s handmaid, whence camest thou? and whither goest thou?’ And she said: ‘I flee from the face of my mistress Sarai.’ (9) And the angel of the LORD said unto her: ‘Return to thy mistress, and submit thyself under her hands.’ (10) And the angel of the LORD said unto her: ‘I will greatly multiply thy seed, that it shall not be numbered for multitude. (11) And the angel of the LORD said unto her: ‘Behold, thou art with child, and shalt bear a son; and thou shalt call his name Ishmael, because the LORD hath heard thy affliction. (12) And he shall be a wild ass of a man: his hand shall be against every man, and every man’s hand against him; and he shall dwell in the face of all his brethren.’ (13) And she called the name of the LORD that spoke unto her, Thou art a God of seeing; for she said: ‘Have I even here seen Him that seeth Me?’  (14) Wherefore the well was called ‘Beer-lahai-roi; behold, it is between Kadesh and Bered. (15) And Hagar bore Abram a son; and Abram called the name of his son, whom Hagar bore, Ishmael.

God sees you. He knows who you are, who you will be. But he sees much deeper than that. He sees your children and your descendants. He knows who they will be 3500 years later.

God knew from the beginning that Ishmael would be at war throughout his generations, and by including this otherwise private interaction in the Torah, he has given the world fair warning.

There can be no peace with Ishmael.

In the collective sense, Ishmael neither understands nor desires peace. He will not be satisfied with democracy, land, prosperity, or the violent death of every Jew in the world. The sooner we believe what God has plainly told us, the sooner we can forget about ridiculous ideas of nation building and exchanging land for peace and focus on strong borders and containment.

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