Friday, May 30, 2008

never-changing commands

The Old Testament is rich with story and spiritual insight. We must resist discounting what we read as mere historical record, especially in light of what I came across recently.

A curious message is tucked into the account of an unnamed prophet in 1 Kings 13. He's simply called "the man of God," so I guessed that he was on target, so to speak, when it came to obedience, wisdom, righteousness and the like. The fellow travels to the northern Kingdom [Israel] in the early days of the divided monarchy and speaks a curse to the wicked king Jeroboam. Wanting to gain God's favor, the condemned king asks the man of God to stay for dinner. But, the prophet refuses because God has given him specific instruction not to "eat any food or drink any water" in the town where the king rules.

The man of God begins his journey home when he is intercepted by another "old prophet" [v. 11]. For reasons unknown, the older sage invites the younger prophet to come back to the city and have dinner. Once again, the first explains that God has given him a command restricting dinner plans in Bethel. The older prophet interrupts, "I am a prophet, too, just as you are. And an angel gave me this message from the Lord: 'Bring him home with you, and give him food to eat and water to drink'" [v. 18].

So, the first prophet has a dinner party with the second.

During dessert, the Lord speaks through the host to the first prophet and condemns his actions. Because he disobeyed the word of God, he wouldn't even make it home alive. Along the path, he was killed by a lion.

The dilemma of the story is that God seems to speak in contradiction. He restricts the prophet and then He gives him freedom. First He says "No" and then He says "Yes." But, as I considered the passage more carefully, three very important principles came to light:

First, God's commands are eternal. What He decrees, is true for today, tomorrow and a thousand years from now. This means that the 2nd Commandment that forbids the making of any image of God applies to golden calves as well as modern movie comedies. With this in mind, I want to know my Old Testament even more! God doesn't change His mind or His commands.

Second, God never contradicts what He has once spoken. Years ago, I realized an important implication of this principle: God will never set aside one of His commands in order to fulfill another of His commands. I heard a man once say that he wanted to follow God's command to "have joy" ["Rejoice always!"]. But, his marriage made him miserable. Only by divorcing his wife could he truly obey God's joy command. Poor thinking. God would contradict His own truth if the only way the man could have joy was to violate his marriage covenant through divorce. There had to be another way. God doesn't say "eat" and "don't eat" in the same breath.

Third, make sure God is speaking. I think the key to this passage is fact that "an angel" instructed the older prophet to invite the man of God to dinner. This isn't an "angel of the Lord" [a.k.a. The Lord]. It's just an angel. Perhaps a fallen angel. Perhaps a well-intentioned angel. However, no matter how angelic, the messenger got it wrong. Which makes me all the more careful to receive a word from God alone. Satan "masquerades as an angel of light" [2 Corinthians 11:14] and will work to convince us "thus sayeth the Lord" when the Lord never "thus sayethed."


Anonymous said...

Wow! Thank you for reminding me how important it is to pray for wisdom.
Blessings ~Rebecca

Suzy Finigan said...

~~Satan "masquerades as an angel of light" [2 Corinthians 11:14] and will work to convince us "thus sayeth the Lord" when the Lord never "thus sayethed."~~

It's kind of like playing that old game, Simon Says. Only this time you don't move until you're sure it's God Says instead.

In this Information Age, we are bombarded from all sides by so many voices, it can be hard to know which one is God. I'm slowly learning to be still and listen for God's quiet voice among all the shouting. Easier said than done, my friend.

David Daniels said...

Great analogy, Suzy! You're right....much easier said {written] than followed!

Andy said...

David, perhaps you could comment on Exodus 32, where God appears to change His mind:

"I have seen these people," the LORD said to Moses, "and they are a stiff-necked people. Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation."

Moses then pleads with God, and "the LORD relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened."

I view these events as education/training for Moses. Nonetheless, God does seem to say one thing and then shortly thereafter change His mind. What are your thoughts?

David Daniels said...

Andy, good question. First, I want to highlight Numbers 23:19--"God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill?" So, whatever I read that seems to suggest that God changes, must be interpreted in light of this principle (and other verses that talk about God not changing).

So, when I come to Exodus 32, I interpret it as God's "conditional will"--that is, the sapect of God's will where He declares that "x" will take place and intends to perform "x" conditioned on the response of human beings. When human beings respond in a certain way (i.e., Moses pleads, demonstrating a Gosdly heart), God appears to change His mind. On the one hand, God DID change from action "x" to action "y". On the other hand, either action was within God's conditional will. So, God never changed.

Clear as mud?