Digging Deeper: The Plague of One’s Heart

Author: Mr. Kenneth Frank | Faculty, Living Education

Did you know that there is a killer plague extant more dangerous than the novel coronavirus COVID-19 that will lead to, not only physical death, but spiritual death as well?

In recent months, the entire world has seen how quickly a before-unknown virus can work enormous suffering and death on defenseless humans. As tragic as this plague is, there is another even more deadly one. So insidious is this global pandemic that it has the potential of depriving people not only of mortal life but of eternal life in the kingdom of God. The good news is that there is a cure for it. Nonetheless, how difficult many will find its remedy.

King Solomon referred to this plague during his grand opening celebration of the first Temple. His father, King David of the United Monarchy, had arranged for the building materials but the project was completed by Solomon’s workers. The ceremony was held during the Feast of Tabernacles. In his dedicatory prayer, while he kneeled with his hands spread to heaven, Solomon blessed and thanked God, asked God to hear the prayers of the Israelites but he also accounted for the possibility that Israel would not always prove faithful in their covenant with Him, thereby incurring sin. 

Here is how he described each person’s guilt: “What prayer and supplication soever be made by any man, or by all thy people Israel, which shall know every man the plague of his own heart, and spread forth his hands toward this house: Then hear thou in heaven thy dwelling place, and forgive, and do, and give to every man according to his ways, whose heart thou knowest; (for thou, even thou only, knowest the hearts of all the children of men;) That they may fear thee all the days that they live in the land which thou gavest unto our fathers” (1Ki_8:38-40 KJV throughout). 

Ethelbert Bullinger in his Companion Bible explained that the word plague here also has a sense of “punishment” since it is a figure of speech for the sin that produces it. The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges noted that it was the “special infliction which is sent to him for his own correction, and for the relief of which he only can fitly pray.”

We have not only one account of this dedicatory prayer but two. The companion passage reads in part, “…when every one shall know his own sore and his own grief, and shall spread forth his hands in this house: Then hear thou from heaven thy dwelling place, and forgive, and render unto every man according unto all his ways, whose heart thou knowest; (for thou only knowest the hearts of the children of men:)…”(2Ch_6:28-30). In this account the words “his own sore and his own grief” parallel “the plague of his own heart” from 1 Ki 8:38. The Hebrew word for plague (neh’gah) at times bore the sense of “wound.” It is the same word rendered sore in 2Ch_6:29. In each case, the word is used metaphorically for a sore or wound that afflicts one’s conscience.

Albert Barnes’ Notes on the Bible explained the plague of his own heart as perceiving “one’s sinfulness, or recognize one’s sufferings as divine chastisements, and sin as their cause.” John Gill’s Exposition of the Bible noted that it means to “be sensible of his sin as the cause of his distress, and own it, though ever so privately committed, which none knows but God and his own heart; and which may be only an heart sin, not actually committed; as all sin is originally in the heart, and springs from it, that is the source of all wickedness; it may respect the corruption of nature, indwelling sin, which truly deserves this name, and which every good man is led to observe, confess, and bewail, Psa_51:4.” Gill acknowledges that sin, even sin committed only in the heart, has the power to afflict our conscience to bring us to confess it and repent of it so that forgiveness may occur. In His Sermon the Mount, Jesus too described sinning in the heart (Mat 5:27-28).  

Gill continues by commenting on the companion verse: “In 2Ch_6:29 it is what particularly affects him, and gives him pain and sorrow, as every man best knows his own affliction and trouble, and so can best represent his own case to the Lord…” If we are honest with ourselves, we will recognize our nagging conscience and take action, unless our conscience is seared (1 Tim 4:2).

During the confrontation between God and the Pharaoh of Egypt the Book of Exodus, God announced the seventh plague of hail to fall upon the Egyptians by stating, “For I will at this time send all my plagues upon thine heart, and upon thy servants, and upon thy people; that thou mayest know that there is none like me in all the earth” (Exo_9:14). God attempted to reach Pharaoh through his heart; however, repeatedly he and his servants hardened their hearts and sinned more (Exo_9:34).

Humans have been set apart from the animal kingdom by being afforded a conscience by their Creator. Pricking that conscience is one way God works on human minds to bring them to repentance of sin, as He did upon Saul of Tarsus who later became the Apostle Paul (Act_9:5). Solomon, who wrote and collected eastern proverbs, stated, “The heart knoweth his own bitterness; and a stranger doth not intermeddle with his joy” (Pro_14:10). 

David Guzik’s Commentary adds these further details about 1Ki_8:38: “Solomon recognized that some plagues are easily seen, but other plagues come from our own heart. Many are cursed by a plague that no one else can see, but lives in their own heart. Solomon asks God to answer such a plague-stricken man when he humbly pleads at the temple.” When people finally yield to their castigating consciences and repent before God they will find that “The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy” (Psa_103:8). Only He has the cure for the plague of one’s heart.

Second Thoughts: Blessed With Disruption

Author: Thomas White | Editorial Department, Living Church of God

Raise your hand if your 2020 hasn’t gone exactly according to plan.

If typing with one hand weren’t really annoying, I’d be raising mine even as I write. Wherever we are in the world, we all had plans for this year—but thanks to humanity’s insane proclivity to eat everything it can fit in its mouth (from bats, to squirrels, to Tide Pods), the majority of those plans have now been flushed down the worldwide toilet that is COVID-19. 

Mr. Rod McNair’s recent assembly, however, drew attention to the undeniable good that has come of this situation—more people seem to be taking the Scriptures seriously, for one thing, which is reason enough for just about any crisis to occur. Many are becoming more adaptable, too, and accounts of people being genuinely selfless toward one another in this time of nearly universal hardship prove that though this is definitely Satan’s world, “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5, The Scriptures 2009).

A Comforting Warning

And frankly, none of that good has been according to our shortsighted human plans either, which has me pondering the biblical truth that “A man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps” (Proverbs 16:9). We usually read that as a warning: “Don’t treat your plans like sureties, because God’s in control, not you.” We can also read it as the humbling reminder that “You might make plans, but you’re never the one who accomplishes them—only God has that power.”

But as we know (though probably not deeply enough), “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked” (Jeremiah 17:9). So if our heart is what plans our way, what does that say about our plans?

Jeremiah 17:9 actually lends profound comfort to Proverbs 16:9. Since the heart, which we use to make our plans, is actually deceitful and wicked, this proverb ends up reassuring us, “Your plans are pretty terrible, but don’t worry—God is going to completely disrupt them. He’s the one actually directing your life.”

His Plans Are Better

In the midst of a disruption of life as hefty as what we’re all going through right now, it’s hard to imagine that our plans being so thoroughly upended is actually a good thing. But when we peruse our pasts, almost all of us can recognize times when God mercifully rescued us from our own plans. I am nowhere near where I thought I would be five years ago—and I need to thank God for that, because looking back, His blessing my life with disruption after disruption was keeping me from making a horrendous mess of it all.

Does that mean we should never make plans? Of course not. Frankly, we couldn’t stop making plans even if we tried—it’s our nature to try to manage our futures in some capacity, and if we didn’t, we’d all basically end up as human furniture. From a big-picture perspective, we all have to plan on being in God’s Kingdom, and from a little-picture perspective, we all have to plan on getting out of bed tomorrow.

But amidst of all that essential planning, let’s try to remember that for the most part, we humans aren’t very good at it—and we usually only recognize how bad our plans are in hindsight. That being so, we can take comfort in the midst of trials like this, knowing that when our plans grind to a halt, what we’re seeing is the hand of our loving Father, subtly blessing our lives with disruption.

The Ghost Map

Digging Deeper: First Give Yourself to Christ

Author: Mr. Kenneth Frank | Faculty, Living Education

Did you know that several of the largely Gentile churches the apostle Paul established in Greece generously gave to needy Jewish brethren in Jerusalem and Judea even while they were in need themselves?

During Paul’s evangelistic journeys, he learned that the mother church in Jerusalem was in dire need. Paul communicated to his Greek churches during his third journey that it would be fitting if they donated their material things to the mother church as an act of unity and gratitude for all its spiritual gifts in sending out the apostles to preach the gospel to the world. This dire situation is first introduced in the Book of Acts by its author, Luke, one of Paul’s traveling companions. More is gleaned about this situation by reading Paul’s epistles to the Romans and the Corinthians. 

When Jews in Jerusalem accepted Jesus as the Messiah, they were often ostracized by their unbelieving relatives and friends. No doubt, some lost their jobs. To make matters worse, famine stuck their region. Many of God’s original church found it difficult to meet their daily needs. As time progressed, relations between the Jewish community and the Roman government were deteriorating, resulting in the First Jewish War in the 60s AD. Tensions built over many years, causing deprivation in the Jewish community. Because of their newly-found faith, many Jewish Christians suffered even more. Paul reminds the Greek brethren of their Christian duty to be generous in such a time of need. 

Macedonia was the northern Roman province in Greece. Here Paul established churches in the mid-50s AD in Philippi, Thessalonica, Berea, and probably other cities. The southern Roman province was called Achaia, where was located the Church of God at Corinth. From afar, Paul wrote his first epistle to this church in which he dealt with several church problems while also requesting that they donate to their needy brethren in Judea. Paul’s protégé, Titus, had begun organizing this donation in Corinth. However, a year later it still was not completed. Paul writes another epistle to them in which he says he will send Titus to them again to complete the collection. While doing so, he reminds them of the sacrificial generosity of their underprivileged northern brethren in Macedonia. The brethren in Corinth were faring much better than brethren elsewhere but had become negligent in this donation due to internal problems. Now that these were more under control, Paul urges them to finish the collection. 

2 Corinthians 8 provides an appealing account of Paul’s diplomacy and leadership to encourage the Corinthians to complete the job. Verses 1 and 2 describe the great trial of affliction, seemingly from persecution, that the Macedonians endured resulting in their deep poverty. Nonetheless, they found a way to give generously to their Judean brethren. Verse 3 explains they gave even beyond their ability  – they needed no prompting. They donated more than Paul expected (v. 5). So enthusiastic were they that they implored Paul to receive their gift so he could transport it to Jerusalem. Paul calls this “the fellowship of the ministering to the saints” (v. 4). 

The secret of their generosity was that they first gave themselves to Christ and then to Paul by God’s will (v. 5). V. 6 refers to their gift as a grace because one of the meanings of this word in the Greek New Testament text is a gift. In v. 7, Paul urges the Corinthians to abound in this relief gift as they do in other aspects of their Christian experience (v. 7). Paul does this as a result of the readiness of the Macedonians and to test the Corinthians in their expressed promise to contribute (v. 8). Paul reminds them of how Jesus left behind some of his divine traits to come to earth that through his humble condition we Christians might become rich by His grace (v. 9). Jesus’ self-emptying is known in theology as the kenosis (Phil 2:6-8).  In v. 11, Paul reminds the Corinthians they had begun this project about a year earlier – it was high time they complete it. Yet, Paul did not expect brethren to give what they did not have, but rather from what little they did have (v. 12), like the Jerusalem widow who gave her two mites (small coins) into the temple treasury, as described in the gospels. 

The secret of giving is depicted in v. 5, teaching us Christians to first give ourselves to Christ and to each other before we prepare our contributions for others in need, or when we prepare offerings to God and his Work. Offerings are not a set amount, in contrast to tithes, which are a set percentage of our earned income. Christians decide how much they will give in offerings. What moves us to be generous even in times when our incomes are reduced is reflecting on how much our Savior gave up coming to earth to provide us God’s salvation. Through His poverty we become rich (v. 9). Once we give ourselves to Christ and to each other, giving offerings naturally follow. 

Digging Deeper: Just and Devout Simeon

Author: Mr. Kenneth Frank | Faculty, Living Education

Did you know that when Jesus’ legal father and His birth mother brought him as an infant to the temple (probably in the court of women) for His presentation and animal sacrifice to the Lord (Luke 2:22-24) that an old man met them, held the child in his arms, and was moved by the Holy Spirit to not only bless God but also predict suffering ahead for Jesus’ mother?

Luke 2:25-35 provides us a moving account of this singular figure. His name was Simeon, meaning “God hears,” but just who he was is uncertain. However, there is a tradition that he was the son of the famous rabbi, Hillel, and that Simeon’s son was Gamaliel, the Pharisee at whose feet Paul studied as a rabbinical student in Jerusalem (Acts 22:3). Rabbi Simeon became president of the Sanhedrin in AD 13 but was alive and in Jerusalem at the time Luke describes. Whether he is the same Simeon no one knows for certain. Andrew Fausset in his Bible dictionary explained that this could hardly be the same person and that the name Simeon was a common name at the time. In any case, the Simeon who cuddled Jesus that day was described as just (in his conduct to others) and devout (pious at heart and faithful in his duties to God). 

Simeon was among the group of humble and devout searchers of the Scriptures including the prophetess Anna (vv. 36-38) who are introduced in the first couple chapters of Luke’s Gospel as patiently awaiting the fulfillment of God’s kingdom promises. Luke informed us that Simeon was waiting for the “consolation of Israel,” i.e., the coming of the Messiah. Ethelbert Bullinger in his Companion Bible wrote that “May I see the consolation of Israel!” was a common Jewish formula of blessing. The word consolation referred to Messiah’s comforting of Israel by His coming, Of such, the major prophet, Isaiah, prophesied beginning with chapter 40 of his Old Testament book. 

Verse 26 says that the Holy Spirit had informed Simeon in some unexplained way that he would not “see death” (a Hebraism for “to die”) before he had seen the Lord’s Christ, literally “anointed,” a pre-Christian Jewish title for the Messiah. Simeon was then satisfied this prophecy was fulfilled. Consequently, in verse 29 he assured God he was ready to die. When he referred to God as Lord, Luke uses the Greek word despotes meaning “absolute ruler,” which originally did not indicate whether this ruler would be good or bad. Our word despot comes from this same word. It is used of God infrequently in our New Testament but when it appears it means His absolute perfection of character would be reflected in His government. The usual New Testament word for Lord is kurios, which simply describes a “superior.” Often kurios was used as a term of respect such as “sir.” 

Verses 29-32 is Simeon’s hymn of praise that is sometimes called the Nunc Dimittis, from the Latin Vulgate translation of the Bible meaning “now dismiss.” He recognized his life would soon end so he informed God he was prepared for it. In verse 30 when he proclaimed he had seen God’s salvation he referred to God’s Savior, Jesus Christ, since the word Greek word soterion for “salvation” was used for God Himself, not merely of salvation as such. Jesus would lighten, or be a revelation to, the Gentiles (v. 32). This would have been especially meaningful to Luke, the author of this Gospel, who some propose was a Gentile. From its inception, God informed Israel that it was to be His representative before the nations of the world. This privileged position brought them glory (v. 32) but also responsibilities exceeding those of any other people. Many Old Testament prophecies spoke of God’s salvation being extended to all nations (Gentiles) by the appearance of the Messiah. 

Joseph and Mary marveled at the growing evidence that their son was slated for a unique divine task appointed by His Father in heaven (v. 33). They were probably surprised that a stranger like Simeon recognized Jesus’ destiny. In v. 34, when Simeon addressed Mary, he seemed by inspiration to have understood Jesus’ virgin birth since he only addressed her and not Joseph as well. He informed her that Jesus would be the cause of the fall and rising again of many in Israel. Jesus elsewhere is described as the “stone which the builders rejected” (Mat 21:42) and “a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense” (Isa 8:14-15). Additionally, He would be a sign, mark or token as God’s symbol of salvation. Tragically, Simeon informed Mary in v. 35 that a sword (the Greek word described a large sword) would pierce her soul (heart), no doubt predicting her abject horror when standing at the foot of Jesus’ cross many years later. Imagine the agonizing pain this faithful mother endured at the time when the sins of humanity were laid upon her son, the Son of God. 

Second Thoughts: One Hundred Billion Eternities

Author: Thomas White | Editorial Staff, Living Church of God

We’re often told to think about the “big picture” of Christ’s return and the soon-coming eternal Kingdom of God. But when you’re young, even the small picture seems absolutely enormous.

Learning to drive a car is terrifying when you’ve previously only driven—and crashed—a Mario Kart. Getting married is unbelievably, mind-breakingly immense when the whole of your existence has been not married. Young adults doing their best to meaningfully visualize eternity will probably be about as successful as preschoolers trying to ponder the theory of relativity, and I say that as a young adult.

Mr. Phil Sena’s recent assembly—delivered via the internet, due to this virus you may have heard of—addressed how difficult it can be, as a teenager or young adult, to focus your life on the Kingdom of God while also… you know, managing all of the really important, earthly milestones young people naturally have to deal with. Because you have to finish school. You have to get a job. You’d really, really like to marry someone and have children, and then you have to make sure you don’t neglect that spouse or those children. And in the midst of all of this, you have to remember how temporary everything is—even though right now it’s legitimately quite important—so you have to keep talking to God. You have to keep pondering His ways and commands. You have to keep fasting, you have to keep spending time with the Bible, you have to keep examining yourself.

Your Part of the Picture

That really is a big picture, and it’s legitimately difficult to keep up with everything. But it’s also a tiny picture—because it’s only about you. When you’re trying really hard not to make a physical mess of your life, and doing your best not to make a spiritual mess of it, either, it can be all too easy to miss the fact that you’re just one person. Yes, God cares so very deeply about you, and you should never, ever forget that, but even your eternity is just one eternity. 

You know what’s bigger than an eternity? Read the title again.

According to that nifty little internet we’re all using to maintain some semblance of normality these days, it’s estimated that around 100 billion people have lived on Earth up to this point. And hey, you’re one of them! Congratulations. That means the Kingdom of God is 0.000000001 percent about you. That’s how big a part of the picture your one eternity is.

Their Part

As Mr. Sena profoundly emphasized, the world needs God’s Kingdom. It’s about so much more than your personal salvation or mine, and it’s even about so much more than the collective saints of God being transformed in the first resurrection. It’s about rescuing everyone in the entire history of the world. It’s about redeeming not just our time, but the whole of time itself. It’s about one hundred billion eternities.

That’s a big picture. And if our first thought of the Kingdom is usually, “Oh boy, I sure hope I make it there,” we’re forgetting 99.999999999 percent of that picture. We should never stop striving to enter God’s Family, because that’s literally the entire point of human existence (Ecclesiastes 12:13), but when we’re trying to think of the big picture, let’s at least remind ourselves that the vast majority of that picture isn’t about us—and let’s thank God for the fact that regardless of any one of us, the Kingdom will come, creating an unfathomably joyful universe of one hundred billion eternities. 

Young Singles Virtual Weekend

Living Education is sponsoring a “Young Singles Virtual Weekend” involving a number of online get-togethers on April 10th and 11th. Register now!