Digging Deeper: God’s Two Books

Author: Mr. Kenneth Frank | Faculty, Living Education

Did you know that God has provided humankind two revelations of His character and plan?

Christians are familiar with His written revelation called the Holy Bible. But what many do not realize is that long before a written record was provided for His people, God revealed Himself another way. This one has been available to all people, believers or non-believers alike no matter what language they speak. Throughout the centuries, avid Bible students have referred to these as “God’s Two Books.” Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible on Psalm 19 explains: “There are two excellent books which the great God has published for the instruction and edification of the children of men; this psalm treats of them both, and recommends them both to our diligent study. I. The book of the creatures, in which we may easily read the power and godhead of the Creator (Psalm 19:1-6). II. The book of the scriptures, which makes known to us the will of God concerning our duty. He shows the excellency and usefulness of that book (Psalm 19:7-11) and then teaches us how to improve it [our duty] (Psalm 19:12-14).” Both of these books reveal the glory of God!

Psalm 19 provides us a description of both of these revelations of God. The first one is creation itself, covered in Psalm 19:1-6. God has provided a theology through the natural world. By definition, theology is the study of God. Theologians have referred to this as “general revelation,” “natural revelation” or “natural theology.” The second revelation is described in Psalm 19:7-14, commonly called “special revelation,” “written revelation” or “supernatural theology.” All believers want to know more about the God they serve. They need to be diligent Bible students. However, they may be missing out on an entire second revelation because of a misunderstanding that there is today a war between science and religion. There is no such war between true science and biblical religion. God is the greatest scientist. Many famous human scientists have been dedicated Bible students such as Louis Pasteur, Isaac Newton, Johann Kepler, Isaac Newton, Michael Faraday, and Francis Bacon (The Henry Morris Study Bible, Appendix 7). God’s word holds us accountable for knowing God through what he has created. Notice Romans 1:19-20 (KJV throughout): “Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse.” 

During the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, many people worldwide have been sheltering at home or are quarantined under orders from civic officials. A report from a recent newsletter from the NPR radio program, Living On Earth, stated that “Americans spend more time inside than some whales spend time underwater. In many ways, we are an indoor species.” This study by Joe Allen, who is Director of the Healthy Buildings Program and Assistant Professor at Harvard’s T. H. Chan School of Public Health stated that “By the time we reach 80 years old, we will have spent 72 years of our lives indoors. However, these homes, offices, schools, and hospitals often lack fresh air and have an outsized impact on our wellbeing, health, creativity, and focus.”

After several weeks of this seclusion, many are now experiencing cabin fever with detrimental psychological effects. One of the most often recommended remedies from mental health experts has been to get outdoors, even onto one’s property or (if with safe distancing) to a local park. Indoors we are surrounded by things that humans have made. But outdoors, we are surrounded by what the Creator has made, much of which we often take for granted. Go outside and notice the blue sky, white clouds, and the various flora and fauna of our world. On a clear night, admire the astral bodies – even through common light pollution in many urban areas. Allow your mind to reflect on the biggest questions of life: Who are we?, How did we get here?, Where are we going?, What is wrong with the world?, and How may it be redeemed? By doing so, we free our minds even temporarily from our constant mundane concerns and pause to admire all that God has made for us to inherit once His redemption plan culminates. 

Psalm 19:7-9 describes an even greater revelation: God’s sacred word contained in the Holy Bible. In these few verses, God describes His word with six titles, six attributes, and six effects. As beautiful as are the manifestations of God’s glory seen in the heavens, still more beautiful and more magnificent is God’s sacred word. These descriptions deserve our closer, personal study as we approach Pentecost, which commemorates God’s giving His law (Exodus 20) and His Holy Spirit (Acts 2.) Putting these into graphic form would look like this:

Titles for God’s WordAttributes of God’s WordEffects of God’s Word
law (Torah Hebrew word often translated “law” but more fully referring to “instruction,” “teaching,” or “doctrine”)perfectconverting the soul
testimonysuremaking wise the simple
statutesrightrejoicing the heart
commandmentpureenlightening the eyes
fearcleanenduring forever
judgmentstruerighteous altogether

Psalm 19:11-14 reach into our innermost beings to challenge us to deal with known and unknown sins. It assures us that keeping God’s word provides a great reward (v. 11). Then v. 12 asks God to cleanse us from secret faults – things we may try to hide from God or even sins of which we are yet unaware. The spiritual lessons of the Days of Unleavened Bread challenge us to continue this cleansing process. We need God to show us where we are yet falling short of his grace (Romans 3:23). Then in v. 13 we consider the extremely dangerous presumptuous sins – sins that people commit deliberately. Only God can thoroughly cleanse us of secret faults and keep us from presumptuous sins (vv. 12-13). Living by God’s Two Books then enables us to pray sincerely, “Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O LORD, my strength, and my redeemer (Psalm 19:14).”

Digging Deeper: Why could the widow give only two mites?

Author: Mr. Kenneth Frank | Faculty, Living Education

Did you know that Jesus’ story about the widow who deposited two mites (smallest of Roman coins) into the Temple treasury may have suffered from clerical abuse?

Throughout the centuries, people have admired the self-sacrificing widow who gave all she had to God. However, you may have wondered: “Why did she have only two mites to give?” There is a backstory that could explain why she was so destitute. This story has a piercing message for religious leaders.

The Temple treasury was in the court of the women in Jesus’ day. Albert Barnes’ Notes on the Bible explains: “In that court there were fixed a number of places or coffers, made with a large open mouth in the shape of a trumpet, for the purpose of receiving the offerings of the people; and the money thus contributed was devoted to the service of the temple – to incense, sacrifices, etc.” Luke 21:4 records that this widow contributed all she had: two mites (Greek lepta). A mite (lepton) denoted a small coin of brass, the smallest in use among the Jews. In today’s US currency, a mite is estimated at about 1/8th of a cent! Editor J.R. Dummelow in A Commentary on the Holy Bible explains why she gave both instead of only one: “The widow offered two, because the rabbis forbade a single lepton to be placed in the almschest.”

The account of the destitute widow is found in two of our four gospels (Mark 12:41-44; Luke 21:1-4). Many have read these verses and understood the primary lesson being the widow’s sacrificial generosity. However, there is a background to this story that explains the widow’s extreme poverty (penury Luke 21:4). That background is also given in two of the four gospels (Mark 12:38-40; Luke 20:45-47). In each case, Jesus rebuked the scribes; however, notice in particular the words that they “devour widows’ houses.” Bullinger in his Companion Bible explained, “Being occupied in making wills and conveyances of property, they abused their office.” Albert Barnes in his Notes on the Bible added: “This they did under pretence of counseling them in the knowledge of the law and in the management of their estates. They took advantage of their ignorance and their unprotected state, and either extorted large sums for their counsel, or perverted the property to their own use.” 

Another abuse is explained in Word Pictures in the New Testament by A.T. Robertson, “They inveigled widows into giving their homes to the temple and took it for themselves.” Vincent’s Word Studies goes even further, “People often left their whole fortune to the temple, and a good deal of the temple-money went, in the end, to the Scribes and Pharisees. The Scribes were universally employed in making wills and conveyances of property. They may have abused their influence with widows.” The Pulpit Commentary by Exell explained the scribes’ influence over women: “Josephus specially alludes to the influence which certain of the Pharisees had acquired over women as directors of the conscience.”

David Guzik in his Enduring Word Commentary explained the widows’ poverty: “In that day, a Jewish teacher could not be paid for teaching – but he could receive gifts. Apparently, many scribes used flattery and manipulation to get big gifts from those who could least afford to give them – such as widows.” The scribes were highly respected in their society whether they deserved it or not. Jesus explained that at least some were less than honorable in their teachings that encouraged people to financially support them generously. Guzik continues: “The Jews of Jesus’ day taught that teachers were to be respected almost as God; they said that they deserved more honor and respect than any other people in life did. They taught that the greatest act someone could do is give money to a teacher. Of course, it was the teachers themselves who taught this!” 

Jesus commended this widow for giving more in proportion to the treasury than all the wealthier donors who gave of their abundance (literally, “superabundance”). According to the Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges, “These rich men do not seem to have been observing the injunctions both sacred and Talmudic to give secretly, Mat. 6:4; Mat. 6:18.” By contrast, Jesus warned in His Sermon on the Mount against a loud, public display of one’s generosity: “Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward (Matthew 6:2).” Jesus’ words “do not sound a trumpet before thee” are explained by The Jamieson, Fausset and Brown Commentary: “The expression is to be taken figuratively for blazoning it, Hence, our expression to ‘trumpet.'” These religious hypocrites did all they could to create an ostentatious display when they contributed to the treasury. 

No wonder Jesus denounced such hypocrites. Albert Barnes in his Notes on the Bible declared, “If there is any sin of special enormity, it is that of taking advantage of the circumstances of the poor, the needy, and the helpless, to wrong them out of the pittance on which they depend for the support of their families; and as God is the friend of the widow and the fatherless, it may be expected that such will be visited with heavy condemnation.” These sobering words warn every religious leader against uncaring fund-raising from impoverished donors, especially if the leader’s income depends on it.  We all will be wise to remember these words of the Psalms, “Sing unto God, sing praises to his name: extol him that rideth upon the heavens by his name JAH, and rejoice before him. A father of the fatherless, and a judge of the widows, is God in his holy habitation (Psalm 68:4-5).” 

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.

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. 

The Temple: Its Ministry and Services as they were at the time of Jesus Christ

Jerusalem’s temple represented not only the glory of Israel’s past but the splendor of its future, when the Messiah would come and reign over God’s people. To recapture the essence of the temple’s significance, both in the life of Israel and in the life and theology of the early Christians….