God needs nothing … but …

God, as God, needs nothing. He is above all things. He is Creator of all things. He is self-sustaining, self-sufficient. He needs nothing.

Nor is He served by human hands, as if He needed anything, because He Himself gives all men life and breath and everything else. (Acts 17:26)

Think of this. As man, Jesus needed everything. As a babe He needed protection when his life was threatened. (Matthew 2:13). He needed shelter, the milk from His mother, the fostering of His father. He was weak, He grew strong. (Luke 2:40). As an adult, He needed sleep, food, rest. (John 4:6, Mark 11:12, Mark 4:38).

I’ve read and enjoyed the Prince and the Pauperand other switcheroo type stories, where the privileged character (usually royalty) accepts reduced circumstances either willingly or unwillingly and learns much from the experience, while the elevated one learns lessons too.

In life we are “upwardly mobile.” We’re standing on the provision and achievements of our parents, who give us opportunities and life-lessons. We then strive to exceed theirs. When we grow to adulthood we turn around and give a helping hand up to our children. We almost never willingly thrust it all aside and reduce our circumstances, just because.

Jesus did.

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. (Hebrews 4:15).

Jesus knows hunger, weariness, grief, joy, stress. He knows our need because He needed too.

What a great Savior we have.

Christ In The Wilderness by Briton Riviere

Do you know how fast God can run?

I’m reading through Jeremiah. It’s been about ten years since I read through and so it’s time again. What a blessing God’s word is! I am overfilled and overwhelmed with just the first 11 verses in chapter 1.

And the word of the LORD came to me, saying, “Jeremiah, what do you see?” And I said, “I see an almond branch.” 12Then the LORD said to me, “You have seen well, for I am watching over my word to perform it.”

I enjoy the natural history aspects of scripture. As I read verse 11, I stopped to learn more. The first chapter deals with Jeremiah’s call to his fifty-year-plus long prophetic office, almost all of which was difficult, depressing, and discouraging.

The word of the LORD came to Jeremiah, opening with the famous line-

Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations.

This is an example of foreordination, where God does not merely react to events on earth, but ordains them from before He created the world. He not only knows the end from the beginning, He authored it, ordained, it and performs it.

I was curious about the linkage of the almond tree with God’s word. What it is about an almond tree that I need to know so I can understand this verse better? How is an almond tree like God’s word? Why is an almond branch being used as a promise from the LORD that He will perform His word?

Spurgeon helped here, preaching an entire sermon on just verse 11. (sermon #2678, THE LESSON OF THE ALMOND TREE)  His sermon is ripe with meaning, insight, and background. It was extremely illuminating.

The almond tree is the first tree to awaken in the winter, hastening to put out leaves and then ripe fruit before any other tree. Spurgeon said that the Hebrew word for almond is wakeful.

Observe, first, that THE ALMOND IS A WAKEFUL TREE. The Hebrew word which is rendered “almond” comes from a root signifying to be wakeful, so this passage might be read thus, “I see the wakeful rod.”

Now, to my question about the linking of the almond tree with God’s word. In the section of his sermon explaining the almond tree with God being quick in performing His promises, Spurgeon said in part,

“Oh, but!” says one, “There are often long delays before peace is enjoyed.” Then it is because you make them, for God does not. “But sometimes we have to wait,” says one. Yes, yes; I know all about that waiting. Do you remember, in the parable of the prodigal son, where he waited? Why, with the harlots and others with whom he wasted his substance in riotous living, or with the swine, when he was feeding them with the husks with which he would gladly have filled his own empty belly. That is where he waited; but when did he end his waiting? When he said, “I will arise and go to my father.” He did not wait any longer, for we read, “And he arose, and came to his father;” and then it is written, “When he was yet a great way off, his father saw him,

and”—”and”—”and”—”and stood still, and waited for him to come”? No, no; I know that God waits to be gracious; but, according to the teaching of that parable, “when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran.” Do you know how fast God can run?

But again I ask, can you tell me how fast God can run? No, you do not know, you cannot tell; but you do know that He is all on fire with love to embrace a poor penitent sinner, and He speeds towards him at an amazing rate. … Swift as the lightning’s flash is the glance of divine compassion that brings life to a penitent soul.

I’ve always been slain and humbled by this fact. In my own conversion, I was in a dire spiritual circumstance, at very rock bottom. My next stop was the pit to be lost forever. At the end of myself, the only place I had to look was up. I was 42 years old, having pursued sin all my life. Yet when I cried out to Him for “help”, He helped me immediately. He didn’t say, ‘Wait, you decades-old sinner.” He did not say “Let me think about it.” I pled for my soul and He answered immediately. He ran!

He is a good God, a just God. I would have deserved my place alongside other sinners in hell. Yet he hastened to fulfill my appeal. Do I know how fast God can run? Yes, I do. I am eternally grateful.

There’s no such thing as tragedy in a Christian’s life

This will be among the shortest blog essays I’ve ever written, but it will be one of the most powerful. At least, it was for me. I pray it is for you as well.

John Gerstner was a Professor of Church History at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and Knox Theological Seminary and an authority on the life and theology of Jonathan Edwards. He produced many edifying works in his life, most famously, his “Handout” series. Handout Church History, Handout Theology, and Handout Apologetics are among some of the most wonderful series of lectures and handouts he ever produced. They are easily available online, foremost at Ligonier.org but also in books and videos elsewhere.

Anyway, in his Handout Theology series I’m watching at Ligonier, he did several lectures on the Doctrine of Providence, which is my favorite doctrine. He referenced Romans 8:28 which I’ll post. Then his comment below.

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)

I was once asked, ‘what is tragedy?’ It is whatever happens to the unconverted. No matter how great a blessing, it is a curse to the unconverted because he does not receive it with gratitude to the Giver. On the other hand, no matter whether a snake bite, or whatever, it is a blessing to God’s children for whom all things work together for the good. ~John Gerstner, Handout Theology lecture on Providence, part 2

When we focus on Jesus in His heaven, it changes our perspective. When our worldview changes, we settle into the peace that Jesus gives us, the peace that passes all understanding.

———–

Further reading

John Gerstner, Handout Theology lecture on Providence, part 1

John Flavel: The Mystery of Providence

Spurgeon sermon: Providence

Our compassionate Lord

This world is so depraved it shocks me still, sometimes. The depravity of my own heart shocks me, especially as I recall the person I was before salvation. Ow! What weight of memory burdens my soul! What dark corners leap out to poison my psyche!

Yet the Light of Jesus’ salvation is the balm to a poor, aching soul. He ministers peace and joy to us in abundance. If I focus on Him, all is well. His endless and infinite qualities bear pondering. His love is something in which we delight, like birds at the fountain or children on the playground. As the song says, the things of earth grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace.

More and more I feel the Spirit’s growth in me. I know this because I am more patient with the lost, and I feel a burden for them increasingly. This is not due to any natural capacity I possess for loving other people. I opened the essay reiterating my own depravity. Such patience and compassion are entirely due to the Spirit. Ultimately, the wellspring of such compassion comes from Jesus. See how many scriptures refer to his longing to save, His compassion for those who wander in the dark. Yes, we’re all aware of His wrath upon such poor souls. I speak of His wrath often. But His compassion is magnificent also. Let’s see what the Savior says.

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! (Luke 13:34)

When He stepped ashore and saw a large crowd, He had compassion on them and healed their sick. (Matthew 14:14)

As Jesus approached Jerusalem and saw the city, He wept over it. (Luke 19:41).

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. (Matthew 9:36).

Barnes’ Notes says of the KJV of the verse (i.e. fainted v. harassed)

Because they fainted – The word used here refers to the weariness and fatigue which results from labor and being burdened. He saw the people burdened with the rites of religion and the doctrines of the Pharisees; sinking down under their ignorance and the weight of their traditions; neglected by those who ought to have been enlightened teachers; and scattered and driven out without care and attention. With great beauty he compares them to sheep wandering without a shepherd. Judea was a land of flocks and herds. The faithful shepherd, by day and night, was with his flock. He defended it, made it to lie down in green pastures, and led it beside the still waters, Psalm 23:2. Without his care the sheep would stray away. They were in danger of wild beasts. They panted in the summer sun, and they did not know where the cooling shade and stream was. So, said the Saviour, is it with this people. No wonder that the compassionate Redeemer was moved with pity.

We serve a great and compassionate King. He is not distant, nor is He uncaring. As much as we are longing to see Him, He is longing to see us, to bring His Bride Home safe as a hen gathers her chicks.

Praise God from whom all blessings flow.

Earthly Footsteps of The Man of Galilee: the thorny fence

I love the old book, Earthly Footsteps of The Man of Galilee and the Journeys of His Apostles.

The book contains 400 original photographs by Robert E.M. Bain, taken in Egypt, Israel, Syria, Lebanon, Turkey, Greece, and Italy. Descriptions for each photograph are written by James Lee. These photographs depict the life of Christ and the influence of his ministry—the locations where Christ was born, baptized, crucified, as well as scenes from his prayers, miracles, and sermons. This resource also contains photography of sacred sites between Jerusalem and Rome.

In these photographs taken in the late 1890s, not much had changed in Palestine from the time of Jesus until then. When one sees the vintage, sepia photo of a lone colt tied to a tree in front of a house, one can easily imagine the scene when Jesus told the disciples to go find the young donkey so He could ride into Jerusalem. When one sees a cracked and browned picture of an oil or a flour mill, we can easily imagine commerce and trade as Lydia had with her business of purple.

Here below is a fence in Palestine. The caption explains what the reader is seeing and also contains thoughtful ponderings about Jesus and His Gospel. What I think of when I see this photo, is the impenetrable aspect of the fence and the strong deterrent of thorns. The verse from the Parable of the Sower springs to mind.

Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. (Matthew 13:8)

The agricultural and localized references written in the Bible are so much better appreciated by us in our day when looking at photos like this, or when I seek to learn about the plants and animals of the region.

Sadly, the book is out of print and very rare and expensive, but fortunately, it has been digitized and I can look at the photos on my Logos 6 software. By the way, if you are reading this before noon on this day, Tim Challies has a Free Friday Giveaway that runs until noon on Saturday, raffling off a Logos 7 Silver package. A hefty gift, if you sign up and become the lucky winner.

Earthly Footsteps of The Man of Galilee and the Journeys of His Apostles caption-

‎The thorny cactus abounds in Palestine. It forms a most secure fence, growing sometimes to a height of twelve feet. Beyond this wall are fig trees and olive trees, pleasant vines and fragrant flowers. The man in the picture with white head dress and staff held behind him is the dragoman of the photographic company of 1894.

We linger at Dothan because, besides the memories of Joseph and his brethren, there is an Old Testament picture which must have been recalled by Mary on her pilgrimage to Bethlehem. The prophet Elisha lived here for a time, and it was to Dothan that the Syrian King sent an army to surround and to capture him. By night they came—”horses and chariots and a great host.” And they “compassed the city.”

In the early morning, when Elisha’s servant arose from his bed and went forth “behold, a host compassed the city both with horses and chariots.” Then the prophet’s servant was afraid and he said: “Alas, my master; how shall we do?” And the prophet answered: “Fear not, for they that be with us are more than they that be with them. And Elisha prayed and said: Lord, I pray thee open his eyes that he may see. And the Lord opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw; and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha.”—2 Kings 5:13–18.

The reality of the invisible realm, of God and His angels, of life immortal, of the protecting influence of heaven in all the struggles and endeavors of earth—these are doctrines which the Man of Galilee came to proclaim to the race of man. These are doctrines which gave strength and comfort to Mary in her pilgrimage from Nazareth to Bethlehem.

Jesus is utterly fascinating. These long-ago glimpses into the lands upon which He walked are endlessly interesting and encouraging. I hope you find them encouraging also. Of course, nothing can compare to the lands that await us, a renewed earth and domicile in New Jerusalem. Jesus is worthy to be praised, for His earthly sinless life, and His holy sovereign reign over all the earth and universe beyond.

I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” (Revelation 1:8)

The Nile River, the Nile in the Bible, and the Nilometer

Rivers figure prominently in the Bible, in the people’s economic life, in their well-being, and in prophecy. The first rivers mentioned in the Bible are the four rivers crossing the Garden of Eden.

A river flowed out of Eden to water the garden, and there it divided and became four rivers. 11The name of the first is the Pishon. It is the one that flowed around the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold. 12And the gold of that land is good; bdellium and onyx stone are there. 13The name of the second river is the Gihon. It is the one that flowed around the whole land of Cush. 14And the name of the third river is the Tigris, which flows east of Assyria. And the fourth river is the Euphrates. (Genesis 2:10-14).

The River Euphrates is also known later in the Bible as the Mighty River.

The Nile River is (likely reference) mentioned in Genesis 15:18-

In the same day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, Unto thy seed have I have given this land, from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates:

In the 5th century Herotodus said that without the Nile, there is no Egypt. Its importance is clearly seen. Where the river has its sway, there is green. Where there is no river, the desert begins. The Egyptian people have always depended on the Nile for life.

ATS Dictionary explains,

As rain very seldom falls, even in winter, in Southern Egypt, and usually only slight and infrequent showers in Lower Egypt, the whole physical and political existence of Egypt may be said to depend on the Nile; since without this river, and even without its regular annual inundations, the whole land would be but a desert.

The Nile has two branches, the White and the Blue, and its overall length is 4,000 miles! About 900 miles of the great river flows through Egypt proper.

The Egyptians lived by the annual flooding of the Nile. When the floodwaters receded, it left behind fertile silt, which added greatly to the nutrient level of soil for crops.

Smith’s Bible Dictionary explains the specifics, and you will rapidly come to understand the Nile’s importance for the region.

“With wonderful clock-like regularity the river begins to swell about the end of June, rises 24 feet at Cairo between the 20th and 30th of September and falls as much by the middle of May. Six feet higher than this is devastation; six feet lower is destitution.” –Bartlett. So that the Nile increases one hundred days and decreases one hundred days, and the culmination scarcely varies three days from September 25 the autumnal equinox. Thus “Egypt is the gift of the Nile” – [as Herodotus first stated].

Thise are the agricultural and geographical facts. As for the Nile in the Bible, Moses was indirectly named due to his having been found in a basket in the Nile River. Exodus 2:10-

When the child grew older, she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, and he became her son. She named him Moses, “Because,” she said, “I drew him out of the water.”

The name Moses is Hebrew from the word mashah; drawing out (of the water), i.e. Rescued; Mosheh, the Israelite lawgiver — Moses, according to Strong’s Concordance.

We read of the Nile again in Exodus 7:21. One of the plagues of Egypt against Pharaoh involved the Nile.

And the fish in the Nile died, and the Nile stank, so that the Egyptians could not drink water from the Nile. There was blood throughout all the land of Egypt.

There is an interesting article at Atlas Obscura revealing the locations of and history behind the “Nilometer.”

In ancient Egypt, the behavior of the Nile could mean life or death each harvest season. So, long before the Aswan Dam was constructed to manage the flooding of the great river, Egyptians invented an instrument to measure the waters in order to predict the Nile’s behavior: the nilometer.

There were three kinds of nilometers, and examples of all three can still be seen around Egypt. The simplest was a tall column housed in a submerged stone structure called a stilling well. One of these nilometers can be seen on Rhoda (or Rawda) Island in Cairo, an octagonal marble column held in place by a wooden beam at the top that spans the width of the well. The stilling well included a staircase so that priests, who were in charge of monitoring the nilometers, could walk down and examine the column.

Measuring shaft of the Nilometer on Rhoda Island, Cairo. Baldiri/CC by SA 3.0

The remainder of the article at Atlas Obscura is interesting. Check it out!

Sadly, the Nile also figures prominently in biblical future prophecy as well.

The third angel poured out his bowl into the rivers and the springs of water, and they became blood. (Revelation 16:4).

This evokes the former plague we read about in Exodus 7. J. Orr’s Commentary reminds us of the impact it had on the people.

The first of the series of plagues which fell on Egypt was of a truly terrific character. At the stretching out of the red of Aaron, the broad, swift-flowing current of the rising Nile suddenly assumed the hue and qualities of blood. The stroke fell also on the reservoirs, canals, and ponds. Whatever connection may be traced between this plague and natural phenomena (see Hengstenberg) it is plain that it stood on an entirely different footing from changes produced under purely natural conditions.

1. The water was rendered wholly unfit for use.
2. It became deadly in its properties (ver. 18).
3. The stroke was instantaneous.
4. It was pre-announced.
5. It descended on the river at the summons of Moses and Aaron.
6. It lasted exactly seven days (ver. 25).

An event of this kind was palpably of supernatural origin. Contrast Moses with Christ, the one beginning the series of wonders by turning the river into blood; the other, in his first miracle, turning the water into wine (John 2:1-12). The contrast of judgment and mercy, of law and Gospel.

The smiting of the Nile was – 1) A proof of the power of Jehovah, 2) A blow at Egyptian idolatry, 3) A warning of worse evil to come, 4) The removal of the plague at the end of seven days betokened the unwillingness of God to proceed to extremities.

Those extremities will come to full fruition and power during the Tribulation. In Isaiah 19 we read of the Burden of Egypt and God’s plans for the people.

And the waters of the sea will be dried up, and the river will be dry and parched,

Barnes’ Notes interprets the as-yet-unfulfilled prophecy this way:

Shall be wasted – This does not mean “entirely,” but its waters would fail so as to injure the country. It would not “overflow” in its accustomed manner, and the consequence would be, that the land would be desolate. It is well known that Egypt derives its great fertility entirely from the overflowing of the Nile. So important is this, that a public record is made at Cairo of the daily rise of the water. When the Nile rises to a less height than twelve cubits, a famine is an inevitable consequence, for then the water does not overflow the land. When it rises to a greater height than sixteen cubits, a famine is almost as certain – for then the superabundant waters are not drained off soon enough to allow them to sow the seed. The height of the inundation, therefore, that is necessary in order to ensure a harvest, is from twelve to sixteen cubits. The annual overflow is in the month of August. The prophet here means that the Nile would not rise to the height that was desirable – or the waters should “fail” – and that the consequence would be a famine.

What a disaster looms for Egypt (and the rest of the world!) Our God is creator and Sovereign over all. He will do it. One way to ensure that you are not present on earth for the coming Tribulation disaster of famine and judgments is to repent and place your faith in Jesus. Sins will keep you here but faith in the resurrected Son of God, in whom salvation is found in no other, will rescue you from the day of wrath.

Shall not the land tremble on this account, and everyone mourn who dwells in it, and all of it rise like the Nile, and be tossed about and sink again, like the Nile of Egypt? (Amos 8:8)

I hope you’ve enjoyed this quick natural history overview of the Nile River in the Bible. The Lord made the Nile. It has sustained people for thousands of years. It’s been a border, a life’s blood, and a symbol. It’s been used as a judgment and it will be used so again.

The Bible is rich with things to study. The best part is that all studies lead us back again to the same source: Jesus. He is the wellspring of life, all water flows from Him.

but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life. (John 4:14)