The Jerusalem Council

The Jerusalem council (or conference) occurred c. 50 or 51 A.D.  The reason for this meeting concerned a controversy in the church.  Did gentiles need to be circumcised and keep the law (of Moses) to be saved?  (Acts 15:1-5).  Some Judean believers of the sect of the Pharisees were teaching that they did.  Paul and Barnabas, who had recently completed what is commonly referred to as Paul’s First Missionary Journey (Acts 13-14), were in strong opposition to this.     Acts 15 mentions three speeches.  (1) Peter spoke (Acts 15:7-11).  He reminded them that God had sent him to the gentiles (Cornelius’ house cf. Acts 10-11).  Yet, he was not instructed to bind circumcision or the law of Moses on them.  (2) Barnabas and Paul (Acts 15:12).  They spoke of how God had worked miracles and wonders by them among the gentiles.  Yet, they were not instructed to bind circumcision or the law of Moses on the gentiles.  (3) James spoke (Acts 15:13-21).   He pointed out that the prophets of old spoke of gentile inclusion (e.g., Amos 9:11-12).  Yet, it was not said that they had to first become circumcised and keep the law of Moses.  However, he did point out four things that the gentiles should be taught to abstain from: (a) things polluted by idols; (b) sexual immorality; (c) things strangled; (d) blood.  These are things which have been taught in every dispensation [Patriarchal – (1) idols (Gen. 35:2); (2) fornication (Gen. 38: 24; 39: 7-9; (3) blood (Gen. 9:4).  Mosaic (1) idols (Exodus 20:3, 23); (2) fornication (Leviticus 20; Deuteronomy 22:13-ff); (3) blood (Leviticus 17:10-11; Deuteronomy 12:16, 23). Christian – (1) idols (1 Corinthians 5:11; 10:14; 1 John 5:21); (2) fornication (Galatians 5:19; 1 Corinthians 6:9, 18; Ephesians 5:3; Colossians 3:5; 1 Thessalonians 4:3; 1 Peter 4:3); (3) blood (Acts 15:20; 21:25)].  Why these things?  James Burton Coffman comments, “These prohibitions do not imply that other sins of dishonesty and immorality were permitted.”  Instead, this probably refers “to sins ‘which were so common among the gentiles that they were not even recognized as wrong until Christian teaching denounced them’” (Coffman Acts p. 299 quoting Orin Root). 

The meeting concluded with the apostles, elders and the church united.  A letter was written showing this unity.  It was sent to the gentile brethren in Antioch, Syria and Cilicia (Acts 15:22-29).

All of this is background to the real subject that I wish to address.  Some today use Acts 15 to justify church councils, synods, and conventions to settle disputes and to set a uniform position for all the local churches.  This is what I wish to address. 

Consider these points: (1) It should be recognized that if Paul’s authority had been properly recognized, the meeting would have been unnecessary (cf. Galatians 1:1, 11-12; 1 Thessalonians 2:13). Paul’s teaching was from God.  (2) It should be recognized that while it is true that the church at Antioch wanted Paul and Barnabas to take the issue to the apostles and elders at Jerusalem (Acts 15:1-2), Paul actually went up by revelation (Galatians 2:1-2).  God revealed to him that he should go up to this meeting.  (3) The decision that was stated in the letter was made by the authority of the Holy Spirit and inspired men (Acts 15:28).  (4) The decision did not come by a vote of uninspired men.  There was unity expressed.  The Holy Spirit and inspired men provided the statement.  The record does not speak of the matter being decided by a majority vote.  In fact, it does not speak of a vote. 

Why did God instruct Paul to attend this meeting?  I believe that the meeting provided the opportunity for a show of unity.  Consider: (1) Those who taught that the gentiles must be circumcised and keep the law of Moses were claiming to be in agreement with (and authority from?) James and the apostles (Acts 15:23-24 cf. Galatians 2:11-12).  Their claim was that Paul was the one teaching false doctrine.  (2) The meeting demonstrated and declared that Paul was one with James and the apostles.  James, Cephas, and John gave Paul and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship (Galatians 2:9-10 cf. Acts 15:22-29).

What about today?  There may be times when it is beneficial to meet with others and discuss doctrine.  However, here are some things that should be understood: (1) Right and wrong is not determined by a vote (e.g., Exodus 23:2).  (2) One local church has no authority over another local church (Acts 14:23 cf. 1 Peter 5:1-4).  There is no direct statement, account of action, or implication which teaches otherwise.

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John’s Baptism and New Testament Baptism

Through the years, I have been asked various questions about John’s baptism.  Here are a few: (1) What was the purpose of John’s baptism?  (2) What is the difference between John’s baptism and New Testament baptism?  (3) Did those who were baptized with John’s baptism need to be later rebaptized with New Testament baptism?

Here are my thoughts.

1.  What was the purpose of John’s baptism?   

John’s baptism was “a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins” (Mark 1:4; Luke 3:3).  (1) It was a baptism of repentance.  The wording “of repentance” is in the genitive case.  It describes in some way baptism.  Daniel B. Wallace comments, “There are various possible interpretations of this phrase: ‘baptism is based on repentance’ (causal), ‘baptism that points toward/produces repentance’ (purpose or production), ‘baptism that symbolizes repentance.’  In light of such ambiguity, it may well be best to be non-committal: ‘baptism that is somehow related to repentance” (Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond The Basics, p. 80).  He is correct concerning the grammar.   However, the full context helps.  John taught, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” (Matthew  3:2) and “Bear fruits worthy of repentance (Matthew 3:8).  John’s baptism was to accompanied by repentance. (2) It was a baptism for the remission of sins.  The word translated “for” (eis) also appears in Matthew 26:28 and Acts 2:38, two passages worth comparing.  The basic meaning of the word is “into,” or “in” (William D. Mounce, Basics of Biblical Greek, p. 62).  Vine’s says, “of a place entered or of entrance into a place, into… used metaphorically… (it) retains the force of entering into anything.”  Wesley J. Perschbaucher says, “into… in order to, with a view to… to become, result in” (The New Analytical Greek Lexicon).  John’s baptism was for the purpose of forgiveness of sins.

2.  What is the difference between John’s baptism and New Testament baptism?

Part of the reason that some are confused is due to the fact that they had certain things in common.  (1) Both are to be accompanied by repentance (Matthew 3:7-8/Acts 2:38).  (2) Both involve a confession (Mark 1:4-5; Matthew 3:5-6/Acts 8:36-37).  (3) Both are for the remission of sins (Mark 1:4; Luke 3:3/Acts 2:38).  (4) Both involve water (Mark 1:8-10; John 3:23/Acts 10:47-48).

However, there are also some significant differences which should not be overlooked.  (1) The view of the Messiah is different.  John’s baptism looked forward to the Messiah being fully revealed.  John taught, “that they should believe on Him who would come after him, that is on Christ Jesus (Acts 19:4 cf. Mark 1:5-8; Matthew 3:11; Luke 3:16; John 3:28-30).  New Testament baptism looks back to the fact that the Messiah has come and also to the abiding results of His work.  New Testament baptism symbolizes the death, burial, and resurrection of the Messiah who came (Romans 6:1-5).  Jesus is preached before New Testament baptism (Acts 2:36-38 cf. 3:14-19; Acts 8:12; Acts 16:30-34).  New Testament is based on the acceptance of Jesus as Lord and Christ (Acts 2:36-38).  It is in the name of Jesus Christ (Acts 2:38), that is “on the authority of.”  (2) The confession is different.  John’s baptism involved a confession of sins (Mark 1:4-5; Matthew 3:5-6).  New Testament baptism certainly acknowledges sin (Acts 2:36-38; 3:19; 22:16).  But there is more. It includes belief in the Messiah. It includes another confession.  New Testament baptism involves belief in Jesus (Acts 2:36-38; Acts 8:12; Acts 8:35-38) and confession of this belief (Acts 8:36-38; Romans 10:9-10, 13.  See also – Matthew 16:15-18; 1 Timothy 6:12; Hebrews 10:23 cf. 1 Timothy 1:1). 

3.  Did those baptized with John’s baptism need to be later rebaptized with New Testament baptism?   

I am not convinced that they did. (1) At least some of Jesus’ disciples were first disciples of John (John 1:35-42).  Yet, I do not find clear indication that they were rebaptized. It is certainly possible that they were. However, there is no clear indication that they were. (2) In Acts 2:41, we read, “Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them.”  The words “to them” are supplied in the NKJV.    However, whether it is “to them” or “to the church” ( cf., Acts 2:47) they were added to something.  Let us remember that the church is composed of people. Guy N. Woods remarked, “One does not add something to nothing” (Guy N. Woods Question and Answers, Freed-Hardeman College Lectures Open Forum, Vol. 2, p. 135). (3) My theory is this.  Just as David gathered the materials to be used in the Temple prior to Solomon building the Temple (1 Chronicles 29), even so John also gathered materials to be used in the Temple (church) prior to Jesus actually building (erecting) it.  It seems likely to me that those who had been baptized with John’s baptism and who accepted Jesus as the Christ were a part of the church that was established on Pentecost.  This theory was first shared with me by Johnny Ramsey.  It makes sense to me.  Guy N. Woods also taught this position.  He said, “the body of disciples which became the nucleus of the New Testament church on the day of Pentecost consisted of John’s disciples, plus those garnered by the Lord and his associates prior to the day of Pentecost” (ibid). {It is worth pointing out that John and Jesus preached much the same things. Notice: (a) Both preached the coming Kingdom (Matthew 3:1-2/ Matthew 4:17). (b) Both preached the need for repentance (Matthew 3:1-2/ Matthew 4:17). (c) Both baptized (Mark 1:4/ John 4:1-2). Jesus did not personally baptize, but his disciples did [John 4:1-2 is ambiguous in English. Did Jesus baptize only His disciples or did the disciples do the baptizing? It is not ambiguous in Greek, since disciples is in the nominative case and not the accusative]}

What about those rebaptized at Ephesus (Acts 19:1-7)?  In the previous chapter, Apollos was still preaching the baptism of John (Acts 18:24-26).  It was only after Aquilla and Priscilla explained things more accurately to him, that we are told that of Apollos preaching Jesus (Acts 18:26-28).  I believe that those rebaptized at Ephesus had been baptized with John’s baptism long after New Testament baptism had gone into effect.  Guy N. Woods said, “The twelve who were baptized by Paul at Ephesus (Acts 19:1-ff) were these who had submitted to John’s baptism after the day of Pentecost, after the baptism of the Great commission became effective, after the beginning of the Christian dispensation” (ibid). 

Here are a couple of other things to consider.  (1) John’s baptism was spoken of in the past tense during Jesus’ life (Matthew 21:25).  (2) There is no record of anyone being baptized in Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John after John’s imprisonment.

Whether you agree with my answers or not, let us remember something.  None of us have been baptized when John’s baptism was in effect.  It does not directly affect us. 

However, there is an application to us today.  If we have been baptized in a way or with an understanding that is not consistent with the New Testament baptism, there is precedent for rebaptism.



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Listen to Both Sides

He who answers a matter before he hears it, it is folly and shame to him” (Proverbs 18:13).

The first one to plead his cause seems right, until his neighbor comes and examines him” (Proverbs 18:17).

These verses are cautioning one not to rush to judgment.  Both sides should be heard in a controversy before passing a judgment on a matter.  Aesop is credited with saying, “One story sounds good until another is told” (Aesop, The Man and the Lion).  Thomas L. Seals comments, “A cross-examination often puts the plaintiff’s case in a different light.  We note here also that truth is many-sided.  Even if one person may be right, it is highly possible that his fellow man, who rebuttals against him, may not be entirely wrong.  It is imperative, therefore, that caution be utilized in all courtroom decisions.  Sometimes our narrowness prevents us from seeing various facets of truth.  In all controversies we must learn to openly listen to both sides as we strive to bracket, or set aside, all preconceived ideas” (Thomas L. Seals, Proverbs: Wisdom For All Ages, p. 101). 

The application goes beyond the courthouse.  (1) News and World Events – If one listens to only one viewpoint, then one might not get a complete and accurate representation of the facts.  Some news sources offer up little more than partisan talking points. At times, I have found that I can find more news about what is going on in my own country, and less politics from foreign news sources. I have at times consulted multiple news sources, and even foreign news sources on a matter.  I believe that there is wisdom in this. (2) Religious Controversies – If one is trying to understand a religious controversy it is best to hear the evidence from both sides, and not just one side.  Intentionally or unintentionally, sometimes one side will misrepresent the other side.  For example, some have taught that we, in the church of Christ, believe in a works based, and not grace based, salvation because we believe that we must be baptized.  This is a misunderstanding and/or misrepresentation.  If we want to study with others, we should first seek to accurately understand their position.  Reading denominational material may be helpful.  Note of Caution: I only recommend this to those already mature and well-grounded in scripture.  Reading or watching debates is a great way to see both sides.  I believe that it is one of the best ways to truly see both sides under the light of cross-examination. I try to watch, listen to, or read one short (one day debate) religious debate each week, or a longer debate (multiple days debate) each month. I find this very helpful in understanding the thinking and arguments of others. It is my experience that the more one accurately understands the doctrine position and terminology of others, the easier it is to have productive studies with them. Note of caution: Again, I only recommend this after one has a firm grasp of the scriptures. 

(3) Relationships With Others – It happens all the time.  Someone whispers or openly circulates an accusation against another.  We should not be quick to believe such.  Sometimes misunderstandings occur.  The children of Israel almost went to war over a misunderstanding (Joshua 22).  Eli misunderstood Hannah (1 Samuel 1).  Sometimes people lie.  Potiphar’s wife lied about Joseph (Genesis 39).  Naboth was put to death on false accusations (1 Kings 21).  Nehemiah was lied about (Nehemiah 6:5-ff).  Some lied about Jesus (Mark 14:57-58; Matthew 26:60b-61 cf. John 2:19-21).  Paul was misrepresented (Acts 17:6-7; 21:20-21; cf. 16:1-3; 21:28). Elders and preachers are often misrepresented, sometimes unintentionally, and sometimes intentionally. This has been my experience. We should make sure that we have all the facts.

[A preacher’s rant: The preacher’s biblical duty is to “Preach the word.” It has been said that job of a preacher is to comfort the afflicted (i.e., provide comfort for those hurting emotionally, or spiritually) and to afflict the comforted (i.e., make those comfortable in sin uncomfortable with their sin, and challenge those comfortable in their complacency to do more). While I do not believe that this saying fully sums up the role of a preacher, it does contain some truth. However, I have found that some do not want to be challenged. Some seem to believe that the role of the preacher is to comfort the afflicted and to keep the comforted comfortable. When this is not done, sometimes there is a storm of controversy, and some even resort misrepresentation, or have an ear for misunderstanding]

Paul wrote, “Do not receive an accusation against an elder except from two or three witnesses” (1 Timothy 5:19).  Those in public positions and/or leadership positions are often magnets for criticisms and accusations. The passage is warning against rushing to judgment without adequate evidence [Note: Evidence Can Serve as a Witness (John 5:31-36; 1 John 5:9; 2 Peter 1:18-19)].

What if after nearing the evidence, one still is unsure of the truth?  One does not have to decide every matter.  God will.  “Some men’s sins are clearly evident, preceding them to judgment, but those of some follow later.  Likewise, the good works of some are clearly evident, and those that are otherwise cannot be hidden” (1 Timothy 5:24-25 cf. Ecclesiastes 12:14; Romans 2:16).

Many problems could be avoided if we would practice The Golden Rule (Matthew 7:12).  Consider the poem, Before You Gossip (from J.J. Turner’s commentary on James) –

If you have heard a bit of gossip I tell you what to do;

That before you tell another, Just suppose it had been you.

Just suppose that the latest scandal had been on your love or you

And only half the details, Really had been partly true.

Circumstances strange and new, All conspiring to mix-up…

Just suppose, my friend, ‘twas you. Would you wish folks to repeat it…?

So, before you tell another, Just suppose it had been you

By Edith Dahliby

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Eternity in the Heart

He has made everything beautiful in its time.  Also, He has put eternity in their hearts, except that no one can find out the work that God does from the beginning to end” (Ecclesiastes 3:11). 

1.  Time

“He has made everything beautiful in its time.”  Some believe that this refers to creation.  God made everything.  “Then God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good” (Genesis 1:31).  Time, as we know it, began with creation. 

However, contextually, the words seem to refer to the cycle of life.  “To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven” (Ecclesiastes 3:1-ff).  Nothing under heaven is permanent.  People are born, and people die.  The seasons change.  There is a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted.  Still, there is beauty in this life. 

Consider what the writer said about the joys of this life: (1) Work – “I made my works great, I built myself houses, I made gardens and orchards… my heart rejoiced in all my labor” (Ecclesiastes 2:4-5, 10).  (2) Family – “Live joyfully with the wife whom you love…” (Ecclesiastes 9:9).  (3) Life and Nature – “Truly the light is sweet, and it is pleasant for the eyes to enjoy the sun” (Ecclesiastes 11:7).  (4) Youth – “Rejoice, O young man,  in your youth…” (Ecclesiastes 11:9). 

2.  Eternity

“Also, He has put eternity in their hearts.”  There is in the heart of man a longing for something more than this temporal world can provide. Consider the words of the writer: (1) Work – “Then I hated all my labor in which I had toiled under the sun, because I must leave it to the man who will come after me.  And who knows whether he will be wise or a fool?  Yet, he will rule over all my labor in which I have shown myself wise under the sun.  This also is vanity.”  (Ecclesiastes 2:18-19).  (2) Wealth – This did not provide lasting satisfaction.  “He who loves silver will not be satisfied with silver; Nor he who loves abundance, with increase. This is also vanity” (Ecclesiastes 5:10).  (3) Family – “Live joyfully with the wife whom you love all the days of your vain life…” (Ecclesiastes 9:9).  Family is good (Genesis 2:18; Proverbs 18:22; 31:10; 10:1; 15:20; Psalm 127:3-5).  However, something is still missing without eternal hope.  (4) Life and Nature – “But if a man lives many years and rejoices in them all, yet let him remember the days of darkness, for they will be many.  All that is coming is vanity” (Ecclesiastes 11:8).  (5) Death – “As it happens to the fool, it also happens to me, and why was I then more wise? Then I said in my heart, ‘This also is vanity.’  For there is no more remembrance of the wise than of the fool forever, since all that now is will be forgotten in the days to come.  And how does a wise man die?  As the fool!” (Ecclesiastes 2:15-16).  “For what happens to the sons of men also happens to animals; one thing befalls them: as one dies, so does the other.  Surely, they all have one breath; man has no advantage over animals, for all is vanity” (Ecclesiastes 3:19). 

Is there more? (1) Abraham, we’re told, “Waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (Hebrews 11:10 cf. 11:14-16).  (2) David spoke of a deceased son, “I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me.” (2 Samuel 12:23).  (3) Solomon, in this book of Ecclesiastes (his authorship is inferred from Ecclesiastes 1:1; 1:12; 1:16; 2:8-9), spoke of judgment to come (Ecclesiastes 3:17;11:9; 12:13-14). (4) Martha believed in the resurrection (John 11:23-24).  (5) Things are more fully revealed and become clearer under the New Testament.  Life and immortality have been brought to light through the gospel (2 Timothy 1:10). 

3.  God

“No one can find out the work that God does from beginning to end.”  The Hebrew word (matsa’) occurs in several other places in this book (Ecclesiastes 7:14, 24, 26, 27, 28, 29, 8:17).  The word can mean “figure out, comprehend by study” (ESV Study Bible). 

In context, a distinction is being made between God and man.  While man may long for, and seek, eternal life (Ecclesiastes 3:11; Romans 2:6-11), man is not God.  Man may find out certain things in this life (e.g. Ecclesiastes 7:29).  However, he does not know or control the future (Ecclesiastes 7:13-14; 8:17).  God is in control (Ecclesiastes 8:13).  God’s thoughts are much higher than our thoughts (Isaiah 40:12-14; 55:8-9; Job 41:11; Romans 11:34-35).  He has prepared amazing things for us, and these things are only known through revelation (1 Corinthians 2:9-10).

While we do not know the future, the faithful can take comfort in the fact that God is in control.  John Waddy comments, “The faithful servant of God can console himself in the recognition that somehow God is working all things together for his good” (Romans 8:28).  The man trying to live life apart from God has no such consolation” (John Waddy, Ecclesiastes and Song of Solomon, pp. 23-24). 


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Our Great God

Proverbs 25:2 reads, “It is the glory of God to conceal a matter, but the glory of kings to search out a matter.”  What is the meaning?  One writer comments, “The roles of God and the King are compared.  God, whose knowledge is above all human knowledge (cf. Psalm 92:5; Ecclesiastes 3:11; Isaiah 46:10; Acts 15:18; Hebrews 4:13), and whose ways are unsearchable (cf. Job 5:9; Psalm 145:3; Isaiah 40:28), keeps things to Himself because He needs no counsel (see Romans 11:34).  On the contrary, kings should seek to know what they must know in order to rule righteously” (John MacArthur, The MacArthur Bible Commentary).  I do believe this to be the meaning. 

However, let’s approach this another way.  Nature reveals the glory of God (e.g., Psalm 8:3; 19:1; Romans 1:20).  When Kings (or rulers) look into creation it reveals God’s glory (whether they understand it or not). The micro search reveals the glory of God.  Think about DNA.  Wayne Jackson writes, “Though the DNA contains a very definite code for the production of living things, the message per se does not reveal its origin… The important point here is this: a programmed message is not self-explanatory in terms of origin.  One must assume that someone write the initial program.  A program does not write itself!” (Wayne Jackson, The Human Body: Accident or Design? p.10-11).  Norman Geisler and Frank Turek write, “Richard Dawkins… admits that the message found in just the cell nucleus of a tiny amoeba is more than all thirty volumes of the Encyclopedia Britannica combined, and the entire amoeba has as much information in its DNA as 1,000 complete sets of Encyclopedia Britannica.  Now we must emphasize that these 1,000 encyclopedias do not consist of random letters but of letters in a very specific order – just like real encyclopedias.  So, here’s the key question… if simple messages such as ‘take out the garbage -Mom’ ‘Mary loves Scott’ and ‘Drink Coke’ require an intelligent being then why doesn’t a message 1,000 encyclopedias long require one?” (Norman Geisler and Frank Turek, I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist, p. 116).

DNA evidence has changed some minds.  Antony Flew renounced his atheism, after considering DNA evidence.  “DNA research, he said, ‘has shown, by the almost unbelievable complexity of the arrangements which are needed to produce life, that intelligence must have been involved’” (Antony Flew, Philosopher and Ex-Atheist Dies at 87 by William Grimes, April 16, 2010, 

The macro search also reveals the glory of God.  Think about Voyager 1 and Voyager 2.  They were launched in 1977.  I was 12 years old at the time.  Their primary missions was to fly by Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune.  They have now been traveling through space for more than 44 years.  Voyager 1 left our solar system and entered interstellar space in 2012.  Voyager 2 entered interstellar space in 2018.  Voyager 1 is reportedly traveling at 38,000 miles-per-hour.  Voyager 2 is reportedly traveling at over 35,000 miles-per-hour (Voyager.jpl.nasa-gov).  Voyager 1 is reportedly over 14 billion miles from earth or more than 155 AU.  Voyager 2 is reportedly over 12 billion miles from earth or nearly 130 AU (ibid).  AU or Astronomical Unit is a unit of length equal to the mean distance between Earth and the Sun (astronomical unit,

Space is vast.  The moon is an average of about 240,000 miles from earth.  The sun is an average of about 93 million miles from earth.  However, these things are relatively near.  “If we drew a map of the milky way galaxy, and represented the earth and the sun as two dots one inch apart (thus a scale of one-inch equals 93 million miles…) We would need a map at least four miles wide to locate the next nearest star and a map 25,000 miles wide to reach the center of our galaxy (Bert Thompson and Wayne Jackson, The Case of the existence of God, p. 19). 

Think of the number of stars.  It is estimated that the unaided human eye can potentially see 3,000 stars in the night sky under the right conditions.  However, there are far more.  Carl Sagan estimated that there could be 10 billion trillion stars (Carl Sagan, Billions and Billions, p. 3) Whatever the number, it is large.

What are we to make of this?  Some claim that this shows man’s insignificance.  Others claim that this suggests that there may be other life out there.  I believe that the lesson to take away is: How great our God is! (cf. Psalm 8:3; 19:1). 

   Oh Lord my God, when

I in awesome wonder

consider all the works

Thy hands have made,

I see the stars, I hear

the rolling thunder,

Thy pow’r thruout

the universe displayed!

Then sings my soul,

My Savior God, to Thee;

How great Thou art,

how great Thou art!

Then sings my soul,

My Savior God, to Thee;

How great Thou art,

how great Thou art!

(How Great Thou Art by Carl Boberg)

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Be Still And Know

It is easy to become myopic (nearsighted) in one’s view of life.  There are the cares and concerns of this world.  There are current events and the issues of the day.  There is the steady stream of information and news, much of it bad.

However, there is a bigger picture.  Sometimes, we need to be reminded of this.  God says, “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” (Psalm 46:10).

1. Be still

The Hebrew word is raphah.  It has been defined to mean “sink, relax, abate” (BDBG).  It is translated different ways by translators of this passage.  Some translate it “Be still” (KJV, ASV, NKJV, ESV).  Some render it “cease striving” (NASB), or “stop your striving” (NET).

Who is addressed, and what is meant?  (1) Some believe that this is addressed to the enemies of Israel.  These nations were being told to cease their warring against Israel (cf. Psalm 46:5-6, 8-9).  (2) Others, including me, believe that this is addressed to Israel.  They were to stay calm and not panic, but trust in the LORD (cf. Psalm 46:3, 5, 7, 11).    In times of crisis, we need to stay calm and remember that God is in control.  “We know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).  “Yet in all things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us” (Romans 8:37). 

2.  Know that I am God

Israel needed to keep God before their eyes.  In context, they were to consider what He had done in the past (cf., Psalm 46:6, 8).  Moreover, the writer affirmed that God was with them (cf. Psalm 46:7, 11).

In times of crisis, do not forget God.  Remember the big picture.  Continue to trust Him.  “For He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’ So we may boldly say: ‘The LORD is my helper; I will not fear.  What can man do to me?’” (Hebrews 13:5-6 cf. Deuteronomy 31:6, 8; Joshua 1:5; Psalm 118:6).  “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31). 

Leroy Brownlow has written on Psalm 46.  He said, “Though the earth gets bumped out of orbit and spins endlessly through space, though the mountains be carried and dumped into the seas.  We will not fear.  When everything is stripped from us (mate, child, career, health), when life gets as bad as it can be, when times are as tough as they can get – we have a refuge, a strength, we have God!  While we must never forget that God is our refuge, we must firmly believe that he is my God, my strength, my helper.  Unless the promises of God become personal to me, they lose their power for me.  With these assurances, maybe we can stop relying so heavily on earth-made tranquilizers and trust more on heaven made tranquility” (Leroy Brownlow, A Psalm In My Heart, Psalm 46:1).

3.  I Will Be Exalted

Twice this is stated in the verse.  First, He says that He will be exalted among the nations.  Then, He says that He will be exalted in the earth.  This is parallelism

What is the meaning?  Albert Barnes suggests, “The defeat of the armies of Sennacherib were eminently fitted to make a deep impression on the world that the true God of the Hebrew people was the true God” (Barnes Notes, Psalms Vol. 2, p. 45).  The ESV Study Bible suggests, “He will indeed see to it that the mission of Genesis 12:1-3 is accomplished.”  Likely, this does refer to God’s work which will exalt or glorify His name on the earth.

However, we should seek to be instruments through which He is glorified on earth (Matthew 5:16; 1 Corinthians 6:20; 10:31; Philippians 1:20; 1 Peter 2:11-12).  Even in times of crisis, this should be our desire.  We have a work, a purpose, to be accomplished in life.  May we remember the big picture.

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Spiritual Growth: (#3) Motivation/Necessity

Johnny Ramsey was one of the instructors when I attended Brown Trail School of Preaching.  One of his classes was General Epistles (James – Jude).  He taught us to remember each chapter by one key point.  He provided the following key points for the book of 2 Peter: (1) Ingredients of Spiritual Growth; (2) Opponents of Spiritual Growth; (3) Motivation and Necessity of Spiritual Growth.

In this lesson, we will consider the last point.  Let us notice.

1.  Motivation

But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat: both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up” (2 Peter 3:10).

The day of the Lord will come.  The phrase “the day of the Lord” refers to “the day of judgment” (2 Peter 3:7).  This phrase occurs many times in the Bible, with some judgment in view (e.g. Isaiah 2:12; Joel 1:15; 2:1; 2:11; 2:31; 3:14; Malachi 4:5; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-2; 2 Peter 3:10). 

The day of the Lord will come as “a thief in the night.”  A thief does not ordinarily announce the exact date and time that he will come (cf. Matthew 24:42-44).  We do not know when the day of the Lord will come.  We need to be ready for it, whenever it comes.

The day of the Lord will be an awesome day that changes life as we know it.  (1) The heavens will pass away with a great noise.  The term “heaven” is used of the earth’s atmosphere (Genesis 1:20; Jeremiah 4:25).  The term “heaven” is also used of outer-space (Genesis 1:14-17; Psalm 19:1-6).  (2) The elements will melt with fervent heat.  The word “elements” (stoicheion) means “any first thing from which the others belong in some series or composite whole takes their rise… the elements from which all things have come, the material cause of the universe” (Vine’s).  (3) The earth and the works in it will be burned up.  There is a textual variant.  Some translations follow manuscripts which read katakaio, which is translated “burned up” (KJV, ASV, NASB, NKJV).  Some translations follow manuscripts which read heurisko, which is translated “laid bare” (NIV) or “exposed” (ESV).  Brian Kenyon comments, “Even if the latter is what Peter actually wrote, it does not change the meaning of the overall context.  ‘Will be exposed’ would have reference to the fact that the earth will not offer any hiding place… for the ungodly to escape judgment (cf. Hebrews 4:13; consider also Revelation 6:12-17).  Again, the overall context is complete destruction of the entire created order…” (Editor Tommy J. Hicks, A New Heaven and A New Earth, p. 327, Lubbock Lectureship Southside Church of Christ).  Let us point out, 2 Peter 3:12 reads, without variant, “The heavens will be dissolved, being on fire, and the elements will melt with fervent heat.”

Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved, being on fire, and the elements will melt with fervent heat?  Nevertheless, according to His promise, look for new heavens and new earth in which righteousness dwells.  Therefore, beloved, looking forward to these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace without spot and blameless” (2 Peter 3:11-14).

Righteousness matters.  Since it is the case that: (1) The day of the Lord (Judgment Day) is coming; (2) The material things of this universe will not endure; (3) However, a new heavens and new earth have been promised [The phrase new heavens and new earth appears four times in the Bible (Isaiah 65:17; 66:22; 2 Peter 3:13; Revelation 21:1).  The phrase is used of a new realm of existence following a major event] – holiness and godliness, spiritual things matter.  It has been said (credited to H.G. Wells), “If there is no God, nothing matters.  If there is a God, nothing else matters.”  C.S. Lewis is credited with saying, “Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance.  The only thing that it cannot be is moderately important.” 

2.  Necessity

Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18). This is in the present tense and in the imperative mood. It seems to be a command. “The imperative mood serves a two-fold function.  It is the mood used in commands, and it is the mood employed in petitions (e.g., prayers)” (Wayne Jackson Treasures from the Greek New Testament, p. 16).  “The imperative mood is the mood of intention… The imperative is most commonly used for commands… with the aorist, the force generally is to command the action as a whole… with the present, the force is generally to command the action as an ongoing process” (Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond The Basics, p. 485).  Christians are to continue to grow.

Some things continue to grow throughout their lives.  One site lists 25 animals that never stop growing: (1) Goldfish; (2) Timber rattlesnake; (3) Lobster; (4) Rougheye Rockfish; (5) Crocodile; (6) Galapagos Tortoise; (7) Small Mouth Bass; (8) Goliath Bird-eating Spider; (9) Green Anaconda; (10) King Crab; (11) Shark; (12) Kangaroo; (13) Quahog Clam; (14) Blanding’s Turtle; (15) American Bison; (16) Lungfish; (17) Labord’s Chameleon; (18) Reticulated Python; (19) Komodo Dragon; (20) Tuatara; (21) Coral; (22) Yellow-legged frog; (23) Desert Turtle; (24) Cottonmouth; (25) Chinese Giant Salamander (25 Animals That Never Stop Growing,  Furthermore, some plants likewise never stop growing.  One site says of trees, “At some point, their height is more or less fixed… But trees continued to add width to their trunks” (Do Trees Ever Stop Growing?  One study suggests that tree growth increases with age (An Old Tree Doesn’t Get Taller, But Bulks Up Like A Body Builder, January 16, 2014 NPR,  Christians should continue to grow (cf. 1 Thessalonians 4:9-10; 2 Thessalonians 1:3). 

We are to grow in grace (favor) and knowledge.  To grow in knowledge means to continue to learn and understand more.  To grow in grace means to grow in one’s walk with God.  Albert Barnes comments, “‘to grow in grace’ is to increase in that which constitutes true religion” (Barnes’ Notes,  Adam Clarke comments, “Increase in the image and favour of God” (Clarke Commentary,  There is always room for growth. 

Spiritual growth is so important.  Peter warned that some untaught (unlearned, KJV; ignorant, ASV, ESV) and unstable people twist (wrest, KJV, ASV) the scriptures to their own destruction (2 Peter 3:16).  May we be cautious, “rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15, ESV), and may we continue to grow.

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Spiritual Growth: (#2) Need/Opponents

The book of 2 Peter puts a premium on knowledge.  The word knowledge appears in some form 16 times in this book.

Why such an emphasis and value on knowledge?  One source provides this answer, “Just as 1 Peter warned of the threat to the church from the outside, namely persecution, 2 Peter suggests a more subtle, but no less dangerous threat from the inside, namely false teaching… If the antidote to persecution in the first epistle is hope, the answer to heresy in this, the second epistle, is knowledge” (Editor, Don Shackleford, New Testament Survey by the Faculty of Harding University School of Religion, p. 431). 

2 Peter 2 mentions three opponents of spiritual growth.  Let us notice…

  1.  False teachers

But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies…” (2 Peter 2:1).

In the first clause, Peter reminds the reader that there were false prophets in the Old Testament.  An example is Balaam (2 Peter 2:15).  Balaam “taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit sexual immorality” (Revelation 2:14). 

The first clause is closely connect with 2 Peter 1:20-21.  Guy N. Woods comments, “The word ‘but’ with which this verse begins put it in contrast with matters dealt with at the close of the preceding chapter.  There the apostle had emphasized the fact that the prophetic word is a product of inspiration… Lest from this his readers should conclude that all who affected to be prophets were thus influenced, he hastened to add… false prophets had risen to lead the people astray (Deuteronomy 14:1-5; Isaiah 9:15; Jeremiah 14:14; Ezekiel 13:3; Zechariah 13:4)” (Guy N. Woods, A Commentary on the New Testament Epistles of Peter, John and Jude, p. 163). 

In the second clause, Peter considers the present age.  He affirms that there also would be false teachers during the New Testament age.  Other writers also warn of this (2 Timothy 4:1-5; 1 John 4:1; Jude 4, etc.).

In the third clause, Peter describes the work and fruit of these false teachers.  They sometimes work “secretly.”  The word (pareisago) literally means “to bring in beside… Strabo, a Greek historian… uses the word of enemies introduced secretly into a city by traitors within” (Vine’s) their teachings are described as “destructive heresies.”  It is destructive because it leads to spiritual destruction.  Being taught wrong is not an excuse (Genesis 3; 1 Kings 13; Jeremiah 5:31; Matthew 15:14; 23:15; Galatians 5:4, 7; 2 Peter 2:19-21, et. al.).  It is heresies because it is opposed to “the way of truth” (2 Peter 2:2) and produces unnecessary and unscriptural division (cf. Romans 16:17; Jude 19). 

Biblical knowledge is helpful to overcoming false teaching.  It helps one “discern both good and evil” (Hebrews 5:14).  It helps one not to be “tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine” (Ephesians 4:14). 

2.  Desires

By covetousness they will exploit you with deceptive words” (2 Peter 2:3).

False teachers exploit by covetousness.  The word covetousness (pleonexia) literally means “a desire to have more” (Vine’s).  It is sometimes used of material possessions (e.g. Luke 12:15).   It is sometimes used of fleshly desires (e.g. Ephesians 4:19).

False teachers are sometimes motivated by covetousness.  This was true in the Old Testament (Jeremiah 6:13-14; 8:10-11; 2 Peter 2:15; Jude 11).  It is likewise true today.  Paul writes of those, “teaching things which they ought not for the sake of dishonest gain” (Titus 1:11 cf. 1 Timothy 6:5).  He also writes of those “whose god is in their belly” (Philippians 3:19). 

Furthermore, false teachers sometimes draw people by appealing to their desires: (1) Desires of the flesh or the lust of the flesh.  “They allure through the lust of the flesh, through lewdness…” (2 Peter 2:18).  They “turn the grace of our God into lewdness…” (Jude 4).  (2) Desires of ego or the pride of life.  Jude writes of those, “flattering people to gain advantage” (Jude 16).  Paul writes of some, who “by smooth words and flattering speech deceive the hearts of the simple” (Romans 16:18).  (3) Desires of the ears.  The desires of the people shaped the message of false prophets in the Old Testament (e.g., Isaiah 30:10; Jeremiah 5:31; 6:13-14; 8:10-11).  This occurs in the New Testament, as well.  Consider: “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth and be turned aside to fables” (2 Timothy 4:3-4).  The reason many are attracted to false doctrine is because they do not love the truth, but have pleasure in unrighteousness (2 Thessalonians 2:9-11).

Since it is the case that not all who claim to be preaching God’s truth are actually doing so, one should seek to personally know God’s word.  What one hears should be tested by the word of God (Acts 17:11; 1 Thessalonians 5:21). 

3.  Self-will

“…those who walk according to the flesh in the lust of uncleanness and despise authority.  They are presumptuous, self-willed.  They are not afraid to speak evil of dignitaries” (2 Peter 2:10).

Of whom does this refer?  These words seem to describe the false teachers which Peter has in view (cf. 2 Peter 2:12, 18; Jude 8, 16). 

They are described as: (1) Presumptuous (tolmetes).  The word means, “daring… shameless and irreverent” (Vine’s).  (2) self-willed (authades).  The word means “‘self-pleasing’… denotes one, who dominated by self-interest, and inconsiderate of others, arrogantly  asserts his own will, ‘self-willed’” (Vine’s).  (3) Not afraid to speak evil of dignitaries.  By comparing 2 Peter 2:10-11 with Jude 8-9, it seems that they speak from their own authority and not the Lord’s, and they have contempt for those in authority. 

I want to focus in on “self-willed.”  This is a great opponent to spiritual growth.  Jesus taught, “If anyone desires to come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me” (Luke 9:23).  He prayed, “Not My will, but Yours, be done” (Luke 22:42).  Paul said, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no long I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). 

Do we really want to know and do His will?  Or is it about what we want?  Be honest!  

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Spiritual Growth: (#1) Ingredients

The key word in the book of 2 Peter is “knowledge.”  It appears in some form 16 times [knowledge (1:2, 1:3; 1:5; 1:6; 1:8; 2:20; 3:18); know(s) (1:12; 2:9; 3:17); knowing (1:14; 1:20; 3:3); known (1:16; 2:21 x2)].  Value is placed on knowledge.  Christians are commanded to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18).

Many come into Christ knowing little but having faith in Christ.  They are described as “babes” (1 Peter 2:1-2 cf. Hebrews 5:12-14).  However, one should seek to grow, and mature (2 Peter 3:17-18; Ephesians 4:11-16; Hebrews 5:12-14; 1 Thessalonians 4:9-10; 2 Thessalonians 1:3). 

2 Peter 1 sets forth seven or eight areas in which a Christian should be growing (the count depends on how one understands the word “faith” to be objective, i.e., the system of faith, or subjective, i.e., personal faith).  Let us title this chapter, “Ingredients of Spiritual Growth.”

1.  Faith – “But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith…” (2 Peter 1:5).

The words “for this very reason” points us back to verse 3 and 4.  God has given to us great and precious promises.  He has provided us with the knowledge necessary for life and godliness.  He did this so that you may partake of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4 cf. Philippians 3:20-21; 1 John 3:1-2) [Notice the pronouns.  “Us” seems to refer to  the apostles.  “You” seems to refer to those to whom Peter writes.  It is similar to Ephesians 3:3-5].

The words “giving all diligence” indicates that effort should be made to grow.  Other translations read: “Make every effort (ESV, NIV, RSV); “spare no effort” (McCord’s).  The word “diligence” (Spoude) means “earnestness, zeal” (Vine’s).  The word appears three times in the book of 2 Peter (2 Peter 1:5; 1:10; 3:14).

“Add to your faith.”  The word “faith” is actually articular (the faith), being preceded by the definite article.  Is personal faith in view, or the system of faith?  It seems most natural to understand this as personal faith.  Personal faith comes from the word of God, or system of faith (Romans 10:17).  It starts with God’s word and faith.

The word “add” or “supplement” (ESV) literally means “to bring in besides” (Vine’s).  Faith is not to be left alone.  It is to be accompanied by or supported with other graces.  Guy N. Woods comments, “The graces which adorn the Christian’s character are to be chorused into a grand symphony.” (Guy N. Woods, A Commentary on the New Testament Epistles of Peter, John and Jude, p. 150). 

2.  Virtue – “add to your faith virtue” (2 Peter 1:5).

The word “virtue” (arete) has a wide range of meanings.  Arndt-Gingrich says, “In its usual meaning moral excellence, virtue” Guy N. Woods comments, “courage and soul vigor, the manliness and the determination to do that which is right” (ibid).  Wayne Jackson comments, “moral fiber” (Wayne Jackson, A New Testament Commentary, p. 546). 

3.  Knowledge – “to virtue knowledge” (2 Peter 1:5).

The word “knowledge” (gnosis) seems to refer to greater knowledge.  I conclude this because one cannot have faith without possessing some knowledge (cf. Jeremiah 31:34; John 6:45; Romans 10:17).  Faith and knowledge go together (John 6:69; 1 Timothy 4:3).  Guy N. Woods comments, “‘Knowledge’ (gnosis) is the discrimination indicated in Ephesians 5:17 and Hebrews 5:14” (ibid). 

4.  Self-control – “to knowledge self-control” (2  Peter 1:6).

The word (egkrateia) means “self-control… the virtue of one who has mastered his desires and passions, especially his sensual appetites” (Thayer).  Guy N. Woods comments, “The word is derived from en and krates, ‘one who holds himself in.’  It denotes self-government, control his own life” (ibid, p. 151).  The King James version read “temperance.”

5.  Perseverance – “to self-control perseverance” (2 Peter 1:6).   

The word (hupomonen) means “steadfastness, constancy, endurance” (Thayer).  Other translations read: “patience” (KJV); “steadfastness” (ESV); “endurance” (Zondervan’s Parallel New Testament).

6.  Godliness –to perseverance godliness” (2 Peter 1:6).

The word (eusebeia) literally means “well devout.”  It “denotes that piety which characterized by a Godward attitude, does that which is pleasing to Him” (Vine’s).  Guy N. Woods comments, “humble reverence and deep piety toward God” (ibid).  The word occurs four times in this book (2 Peter 1:3, 6, 7; 3:11).

7.  Brotherly kindness – “to godliness brotherly kindness” (2 Peter 1:7).

The word (philadelphian) means “brotherly love” (Thayer).  Other translations read: “love of the brethren” (ASV); “brotherly affection” (ESV).  Guy N. Woods comments, “As God is our Father, his children are our brethren, and the obligation to love them is clear and explicit… (1 John 5:1)” (ibid).

8.  Love – “and to brotherly kindness love” (2 Peter 1:7).

The word (agape) is difficult to define.  Vine’s says of the verb (agapao), it is “not an impulse, from the feelings, it does not always run with the natural inclinations, nor does it spend itself only upon those for whom some affinity is discovered… In respect to God, it expresses the deep and constant ‘love’ and interest of a perfect Being towards entirely unworthy objects” (Vine’s).  Agape love “seeks the highest good of others… It is not something which simply happens and we cannot help it.  Agape is something into which we must will ourselves” (Nelson M. Smith, What Is This Thing Called Love? p. 14).

This type of love is owed to all.  This includes: (1) Family (Ephesians 5:25, 28, 33; Colossians 3:19); (2) Christian brethren (John 13:34; 15:12, 17; 1 Thessalonians 4:9; 1 Peter 1:22; 2:17; 1 John 2:9-10; 4:20) (3) All of humanity (Romans 13:8-10; 1 Thessalonians 3:12), including enemies (Matthew 5:43-48). 

For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:8).

Those who have these Christian graces abounding in them will be productive Christians.  Are we productive, bearing fruit to the glory of God?

If you do these things you will never stumble; for so an entrance will be supplied to you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:10-11).

Heaven is assured if one develops and continues to possess these Christians graces.  How are we doing?

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Pharoah’s Hard Heart

Pharoah’s hard heart resulted in much destruction.  It was his hard heart which brought the plagues upon Egypt.  It was his hard heart which brought about the death of his first-born son.  It was his hard heart which lead to the destruction of many in the Egyptian army.

Hard hearts can still bring sorrow and destruction.  We do not want a heart like Pharoah.  Let us consider the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart with the desire to learn from Pharaoh’s mistakes.  Let’s avoid the things which led to his disgrace. 

1.  Who hardened Pharaoh’s heart?

The Biblical record sometimes credits God as the one who hardened Pharaoh’s heart.  It does this eight times by my count (Exodus 4:21; 7:3; 9:12; 10:1; 10:27; 11:10; 14:4; 14:8).

The Biblical record sometimes credits Pharaoh as the one who hardened his own heart.  It does this four times by my count (Exodus 8:15; 8:32; 9:34; 1 Samuel 6:6).  It appears that one has a choice in the matter (1 Samuel 6:6).

The Biblical record sometimes states the fact of Pharaoh’s heart being hardened without saying who did it.  It does this six times by my count (Exodus 7:13; 7:14; 7:22; 8:19; 9:7; 9:35). 

The record seems to indicate that both God and Pharaoh had a role to play in the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart.  It is not an either/or situation.

2.  Why did God harden Pharaoh’s heart?    The answer is supplied for us in the Bible.  (a) He did this to multiply signs and wonders in the land of Egypt, so that the Egyptians would recognize Him as the LORD (Exodus 7:2-5). (b) He did this to show His power, so that His name would be declared in all of the earth (Exodus 9:16).  There would be an effect beyond Egypt (cf. Exodus 15:16; 18:11; Joshua 2:8-10; 9:9).  (c) He did this to show signs among them, so that the Israelites would recognize Him as the LORD (Exodus 10:1-2).  (d)  He did this to gain honor over Pharaoh and his army, so that the Egyptians would know that He is the LORD (Exodus 14:17-18).

The ten plagues demonstrate God’s power.  He has power over all of creation.  He is in control, not the gods of Egypt.  Each of the ten plagues seem to attack belief in specific Egyptian gods (see: Questions About The Exodus by B.H.). 

3.  How did God harden Pharoah’s heart?

There are two possibilities.  He could have done so directly (immediately, with nothing between God and Pharaoh’s heart); or, He could have done so indirectly (mediately, by means, indirect causation).

It seems to me that the latter is the answer.  If God had directly hardened Pharaoh’s heart, then how did Pharaoh sin?  (Exodus 9:34-35; 10:16-17).  Why are we told that he refused to humble himself (Exodus 10:3). Why is he called stubborn (Exodus 13:15)?

Have you ever noticed when it is that Pharaoh’s heart hardens?  (1) His heart hardens after his magicians imitate the signs of Moses and Aaron (Exodus 7:10-13; 7:19-23).  (2) His heart hardens after God lifts the plagues (Exodus 8:12-15; 8:29-32; 9:33-35).  His heart is humbled and softened while the plagues were occurring (Exodus 8:8; 8:24-25; 9:27-28; 10:7-8).  (3) His heart hardens after learning that the Israelites were not touched by a plague (Exodus 9:1-7).  Israelites seem to have been protected from the fourth through the tenth plagues (Guy N. Woods, Questions and Answers, Vol. 2, p. 162; Questions About the Exodus by Bryan Hodge). 

4.  Why did Pharaoh harden his heart?

My answer is based upon my findings in the previous point.  (1) He did not want the message.  Therefore, he received imitation evidence from the magicians which allowed him to dismiss the true evidence.  (2) He was willing to submit to God in the bad times, but not in the good times, or when things get better.  (3) He was envious of others.

These reasons still exist.  (1) If one does not want the message, then God will allow one to believe a lie (2 Thessalonians 2:9-12).  (2) If one submits to God, or turns to God only to get out of a bad situation, then when things improve, he may return to a hard and rebellious heart.  In some ways, the good times are as much a test of character, as the bad times are.  Israel turned to God in bad times, but often neglected Him in the good times (cf. Judges).  (3) If one is filled with envy and/or hatred, then one is focused on the wrong thing.  Jesus told Peter, when Peter asked about John, “If I will that he remain till I come, what is that to you?  You follow Me” (John 21:22).  Envy can lead to bitterness, and a hard heart. 

It has been said, “The same sun which melts butter, hardens clay.”  “The same hammer which shapes metal, shatters glass.”  How we react to God’s message reveals much about our hearts.

5. There is an interesting theory.

There are different original words in the record for “hard” and “hardened.” One word is chazaq. It appears in nine passages (Exodus 7:13; 7:22; 8:19; 9:12; 9:35; 10:20; 10:27; 11:10; 14:8). This word means to “strengthen” or “obstinate” (Strong’s). The other words are kabad and kabed. They appear seven passages (Exodus 7:14; 8:15; 8:32; 9:7; 9:34; 10:1; 1 Samuel 6:6). These words mean ” to be heavy” or “to make heavy” (Strong’s). Garry Brantley has proposed the theory that the last two words are a play on Egyptian beliefs. “The heart, according to Egyptian belief, was the seat of emotion, and represented the integrity and purity of an individual. According to the papyrus Hu-nefer (1550-1090 B.C.), the jackal-headed god, Anubis, weighs this organ against a feather in the balance of truth. If the deceased’s heart weighed more than a feather, he or she would be judged a sinner and eaten by Amenit, the Devouress. If, however, the heart weighed no more than a feather, the deceased gained eternal life … It (the use of kabed B.H.) possibly suggests that contrary to the Egyptian belief that Pharaoh was a divine being whose heart was the epitome of purity, and therefore light as a feather, the Egyptian monarch was a sinner unworthy of eternal life … This would serve, as did the plagues, to demonstrate Yahweh’s supremacy over the Egyptian god-king (Garry K. Brantley, Pharaoh’s Heart Weighed In The Balance, Reason & Revelation Vol 15, No. 7, 1995; also see, Weighed In The Balance by Garry K. Brantley, revised by Darren Mays, This is an interesting theory. However, I cannot prove that this is the intended meaning.

6. It is not only Pharaoh.

Others are also said to be hardened by God. This includes the Egyptians (Exodus 14:17), king Sihon of Heshbon (Deuteronomy 2:30), and the Canaanites (Joshua 11:18-20). I do not believe that any of these passages imply a direct hardening. James Burton Coffman commenting on Joshua 11 wrote, “God’s judicial hardening of unrepentant sinners is a phenomenon conspicuously evident in both the O.T. and the N.T. God’s hardening the hearts of evil men does not exonerate or excuse their wickedness or rebellion. It just means that when a human being has morally rejected God’s claim upon his life and persists in a course of wickedness, that God retaliates against that person by … enabling the wicked one to walk in the way he has chosen without further restraint” (

Leighton Flowers suggests that there are two kinds of hardening in the Bible. (1) One is self-hardening (e.g., Zechariah 7:11-13; Hebrews 3:12-15). This is one grows stubborn or callous in his sinful ways. (2) The other is judicial hardening (e.g., Genesis 50:20; Exodus 7:3; 9:12; Deuteronomy 2:30; Matthew 13:10-11; Acts 2:23; 4:28; 1 Corinthians 2:8) He suggests that judicial hardening is when God enters into the hardening process to accomplish His purpose. This does not mean that the person or people are not guilty sin. It does not mean that God makes them sin. However, God allows it and does not stop it. He provides two analogies. (a) A police officer hides his presence in order to catch speeders. He does this for the public’s safety. He says, “by hiding the truth of his presence he is ensuring that those who want to speed will continue to do so…The police officer does not determine the speeders desire to speed … he simply hides the truth so as to ensure the speeder will continue to speed.” (b) A parent tells a child not to take cookies from the cookie jar. In another room the parent sees the child in the kitchen looking at the cookie jar. The parent could step into the kitchen and thereby prevent the child from reaching into the jar. The parent could also choose not to step into the kitchen and thereby not prevent the act. Perhaps to catch the child in the act and then teach the child a lesson. In both types of hardening, the person hardened has culpability (Leighton Flowers, Judicial Hardening: God’s sinless use of sinful action, These analogies are helpful, but not proof of how God hardens. The proof can only be found in the evidence of the written record. It seems from the Biblical record that Pharaoh’s heart was hardened indirectly. He was culpable.

“O do not let the word depart. And close thine eyes against the light; Poor sinner, harden not thy heart: Be saved, O tonight” (song: O Why Not Tonight? by Elizabeth Reed)





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