Sunday, December 20, 2015

Merry Chiristmas 2015

Dr. and Mrs. Paul Manuel
Christmas 2015

Dear Family and Friends,

This past year has marked a significant change for us: retirement. Many of the activities that gave life regularity because we did them every week are no longer part of our routine. We have had to develop new patterns. Although we miss some of the old activities (e.g., choir), we realize that such change is inevitable. Nevertheless, it is good that some things do not change, that some things continue to be a regular part of life. If everything changed at once, it would be too unsettling, too confusing. Christmas is one of those things that does not change, and though we may bemoan the “holiday creep” as seasonal music and store decorations seem to manifest earlier every year, we can still appreciate the regularity this day brings as it recurs each December 25. In a way, the regularity of Christmas reflects the immutability of God, that He does not change:
Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. (James 1:17)
Yet it was not always so. There was, after all, no Christmas before the first Christmas. God introduced a measure of regularity into the lives of His people by marking significant occasions of His intervention, like Passover, that celebrates the physical redemption of God’s people from slavery. Fifteen hundred years later, He marked another significant occasion of His intervention, with Christmas, that celebrates the spiritual redemption of God’s people from sin. As the angel said to Joseph about Jesus, “he will save his people from their sins” (Matt 1:21).

Some think of regularity as boring, and they wait for a new experience to excite their senses, like Jesus’ return: 
They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.” (2 Peter 3:4)
Predictability is not the kind of regularity that God employs. On the contrary, despite appearances He will disrupt the status quo (our schedule) when it suits His purpose. That is what He did when Jesus appeared the first time. It was not according to someone else’s expectations but “when the time had fully come” (Gal 4:4) according to God’s plan. That is also when Jesus will appear the second time. It will not be when people are saying “peace and safety” (1 Thess 5:3) but at a time “the Father has set” (Acts 1:8).

Even though God’s schedule is different from our schedule, and even when time marks significant change for us, His program still possesses a regularity upon which we can depend, and Christmas is an annual reminder of that regularity. May the stability of the season be an ever-present reminder of the love God expressed when He sent Jesus to “save his people from their sins.”

Merry Christmas!
Pastor and Linda

Friday, December 18, 2015

The role of the Law

An excerpt from The Soul Set Free: Recounting Redemption in Romans
Dr. Paul Manuel—2011

There are four stages in a believer’s life during which the law plays different roles, from some to none.

Stage #1: The process of conversion is a person’s gradual awakening to his need for God’s pardon. Whether it takes years or minutes, the person becomes increasingly aware of his sinful condition. In that process, the law plays a convicting role, showing God’s standard and exposing man’s deficiency.1
Rom 3:20b …through the Law [comes] the knowledge of sin.
Stage #2: The moment of justification is God’s declaring a person to be righteous.2 It is immediate, occurring the instant a person turns to God in repentance and faith. At that moment, the law plays no role; justification is entirely and exclusively by God’s grace.3
Rom 3:24a being justified as a gift by His grace…
Stage #3: The process of sanctification is a person’s gradual aligning of his life to God’s perfect standard. It is a long-term undertaking by which the person becomes increasingly godly. In that process, the law plays a conforming role (instructing the believer about the righteous lifestyle he should adopt).4
Rom 6:19 …present your members as slaves to righteousness, resulting in sanctification.
Stage #4: The moment of glorification is God’s transforming a person to perfection. It is immediate, occurring the instant a person receives his resurrection body. At that moment, the law again plays no role; glorification is entirely and exclusively by God’s power.5
Rom 8:30c …these whom He justified, He also glorified.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

The Trinity and Creation

Dr. Paul Manuel—2006

The standard trinitarian formulation describes God as three persons in one essence, co-equal and co-eternal.2 When the Bible mentions them together, they are distinct individuals yet having the same status (i.e., deity).
Matt 28:19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,
2 Cor 13:14 May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
This is most clearly stated with the person of Jesus, who identifies himself with the Father.
John 10:30 I and the Father are one.
The predicate nominative is literally “one thing,” not the same person—they are distinct personalities—but the same substance (“god stuff”). As John writes,
John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
The Father and the Son are separate individuals, but they consist of the same material, they possess the same qualities, and they pursue the same agenda.3 Despite their similar make-up, Father and Son do not have the same role. Jesus became subject to the Father in order to fulfill his redemptive mission.4
Phil 2:6 [Jesus], being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!
Likewise, the Holy Spirit’s activity is also subject to the Father’s direction.5
2 Cor 5:5 Now it is God who has made us for this very purpose and has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Dreams and Visions

Dr. Paul Manuel—2015

When God wants to communicate with man, He uses a variety of ways.2 The most common method is verbal, as when He speaks to His people through an angel or a prophet.3 In addition to what is then recorded in scripture, God employs other means of revelation,4 both natural and supernatural.

I. Natural means of revelation
 A. Stellar creation5
Rom 1:20 …since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.
B. Human conscience
Rom 2:15 …they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.

II. Supernatural means of revelation
A. Angelic visitation6
Gen 19:15 With the coming of dawn, the angels urged Lot, saying, “Hurry! Take your wife and your two daughters who are here, or you will be swept away when the city is punished.”

Luke 1:13 But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to give him the name John.”
B. Prophetic inspiration
Isa 7:7 Yet this is what the Sovereign LORD says: “‘It will not take place, it will not happen,’”

Mic 4:4 Every man will sit under his own vine and under his own fig tree, and no one will make them afraid, for the LORD Almighty has spoken.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The worship service

Dr. Paul Manuel—2008

Pastor Manuel served the German Seventh Day Baptist Church in Salemville. Pennsylvania.  In 2008 he published this summary for the congregation of their worship experience over that time. The appendices (available on this pdf) contain many resources for worship.

Over the past ten years, we have held more than 500 services in obedience to the oft-repeated command in scripture to worship God.1 Most of those services have been thematic, focusing on the many divine attributes and actions that call forth our praise. Through those various themes, I hope that you have come to know better the One we serve2 and that you have been able to draw closer to Him. Because any increase in your understanding of God should also increase your devotion to God, I hope you have seen growth in your relationship with Him as well, growth that is manifest by a greater desire to please Him in what you say and do. Moreover, worshiping God now prepares you to meet God later, when you will see Him face to face.3 Hence, in addition to focusing what we do on Sabbath morning, these services have been part of your orientation for that heavenly appointment.

What follows is a summary, reviewing some of the manifold reasons we have employed to worship God. They are certainly not exhaustive, but they are illustrative of why He is worthy of our constant devotion. There are many reasons the LORD deserves our worship, far more than we could list.4 Some of these service themes we have used more than once, which is appropriate of course, given the greatness of the God we serve. Ultimately, however, the fact that He is God is sufficient reason to worship Him.

Each service begins with a meditation passage and a meditation hymn (which is also the closing hymn) that introduces the theme and allows people to prepare for their time of adoration before God. What follows is a biblical passage that calls the congregation to worship, an invocation in prayer, and three more sections of scripture and hymns that explicate the theme. In most cases, this constitutes the worship service before the sermon. Depending on the time for preliminary matters (e.g., announcements, offering, children’s message, prayer concerns) and the length of the sermon itself (average 20-30 minutes), the whole session together should be about one hour. Although it is certainly possible to abbreviate the service by shortening the biblical passages or singing fewer verses of the hymns, most often the pressures of time constraints arise because we give more attention to our interests than we give to God’s interests, more attention to what we have to say than to listening for what God has said, more attention to satisfying us than to seeking God. Of all that we do on Sabbath morning, however important those other activities may be, by far the most important activity is what prepares us for what we will be doing for all eternity: worshiping God.

The Appendices contain a selection (50+) of the thematic services we have used at the German Seventh Day Baptist Church. The NIV is the Bible translation throughout, unless noted otherwise. The congregation has two hymnals: Favorite Hymns of Praise (FHP) and The Worshiping Church (WCh).5 The verse portion in italics below the hymn selection is what connects the hymn to the preceding scripture. All service themes begin with, “We worship God because He….”

Monday, December 14, 2015

A suffering God?

Dr. Paul Manuel—2004

God’s attributes and actions offer many reasons to worship Him. Those occasions do not, however, include the supposition that we worship God because He suffers or (at some point) suffered for us. While Jesus in his incarnation certainly suffered, God the Father, the proper object of worship, did not, and assertions to the contrary anthropomorphize God beyond what the scriptures support. Passages that allegedly buttress such a claim actually indicate a different divine attitude, one an English translation (e.g., NIV) does not always represent. As in all such cases, context controls meaning.

About God the Father…
1. It is not true that He suffered because of us.
Gen 6:5-6 The LORD saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time. The LORD was grieved [regretted] that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain [annoyed].
N be sorry, console oneself; LXX = ponder
HtD (2x, also Gen 34:7) provoke, annoy; LXX = consider (Gen 34:7 = strike, stun)
1 Sam 15:10-11a [T]he word of the LORD came to Samuel: “I am grieved [regret] that I have made Saul king, because he has turned away from me and has not carried out my instructions.”
N be sorry, console oneself; LXX = call > (be) comforted
Ps 78:40 How often they rebelled against him in the desert and grieved [annoyed] him in the wasteland!
H (1x) cause pain or grief; LXX = provoke to anger
Isa 63:9b-10 In his love and mercy he redeemed them; he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old. Yet they rebelled and grieved [annoyed] his Holy Spirit. So he turned and became their enemy and he himself fought against them.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

The focus of our devotion

An excerpt from yesterday's "What Does It Mean to Worship?"
Dr. Paul Manuel—2011

Contrary to the character of most hymns,1 the focus of our devotion should be on God the Father,2 rather than on Jesus3 or on the Holy Spirit (i.e., theocentric not christocentric or pneumocentric).4 This is the clear and consistent teaching of scripture, where “[t]he normal manner [is to worship] the Father, on the merits of the Son, in or through the Holy Spirit” (Thiessen 1979:304).5 As Paul says,6
Eph 2:18 …through him [Jesus] we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.
Eph 5:18b …be filled with the Spirit…. 20 …giving thanks to God the Father…in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
This order does not negate the deity of Jesus or of the Holy Spirit; it simply recognizes the hierarchy and respective responsibility that exists in the Godhead, that each member (though equal to the others) has a different role, and that it is the role of God the Father to receive worship.

For the Bibliography and Endnotes, see the pdf here.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

How should we worship?

Examining the Biblical Model for Expressing Devotion to God
Dr. Paul Manuel—2011

“Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.”
Westminster Shorter Catechism (1647)


I. The People Involved in Worship
A. Who worships?
B. Whom do we worship?
Clarification: Who is the proper object of worship?
II. The Purpose and Content of Worship
A. Why do we worship?
B. What is worship?
Query: Does God help us to worship?
III. The Time and Place of Worship
A. When should we worship?
B. Where should we worship?
IV. The Method Involved in Worship
A. How should we worship?
Query: Should there be a fear of God in the worship of God?
B. How do we worship?
Chart: The Development of the Worship Service
Conclusion: Erroneous Assumptions and Essential Attitudes about Worship
Handout: Using the Psalms to Worship


The Westminster Shorter Catechism (1647) states, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.”1 Indeed, worship is the most important thing we do, individually and collectively.2 In this study, we will consider what it means to worship. As a way of organizing our discussion, I have chosen the reporter’s traditional inquiries using the five W’s—who, what, when, where, and why, with the addition of how.

Perhaps more than any other subject, it is essential that we apply what we learn about worship to worship, particularly to what we do collectively. Toward the end of each session, we will discuss specific ways that we can use what we have studied to improve our worship. According to the OAD (Ehrlich 1980:803-804)…
  • As a noun, worship means…
  • Reverence and respect paid to God or a god
  • Acts or ceremonies displaying this
  • As a verb, worship means…
  • To honor as a deity; to pay respect to
  • To take part in an act of worship
  • To idolize; to treat with adoration
We will enlarge and refine our understanding of worship beyond this definition, but it provides us with an initial idea and a point of departure for our study. The first question pertains to…

Because of its length (84 pages) the complete study isn't available online. "What Does It Mean to Worship" along with its Bibliography and Endnotes, can be downloaded as a pdf here.

Friday, December 11, 2015

"Son of God"

Dr. Paul Manuel—1995

The title “Son of God,” as it is used of Jesus, is often considered to be a reference to his deity. Indeed, there is ample evidence for this doctrine on other grounds.2 Nevertheless, an examination of the grammatical and historical data does not support such a definition of this phrase.

The Hebrew construct “son(s) of” with other objects suggests that such specificity in meaning is more than the phrase will bear. The bound form of stands in a relationship to whatever free form that follows in one of six ways, several of which appear in Matthew (marked by asterisks). Only context can determine which way the author intends, and some of the examples offered below may fit in more than one category. Rarely, if at all, does the meaning remain the same without the bound form (only in IV.B. and IV.A.). That is, “son(s) of X” is not, as a rule, the equivalent of “X” alone.
I. Physical
A. Related by immediate descent3
  1. Eleazar, son of Aaron
  2. * Zacharias, son of Barachias
  3. * James and John, sons of Zebedee
B. Related by distant descent4
  1. Mephibosheth, (grand)son of Saul
  2. * Jesus, son of David
II. Temporal
A. Age of the father5
  1. Son of (one’s) youth
  2. Son of (one’s) old age
B. Age of the person or thing6
  1. Son of 500 years
  2. Son of a night (= 1 night old)

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Old Covenant and New

An excerpt from "A Study of Law and Grace"
Dr. Paul Manuel—2011

Many Christians read Jesus’ statement during the Last Supper—“This cup is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:20b)—and they assume that he is identifying the new covenant with his death, that his vicarious sacrifice is the new covenant or, at least, an integral part of that agreement. Those two elements of God’s plan are, in fact, quite distinct. Deliverance from sin is not a provision in the new covenant any more than deliverance from slavery was a provision in the old covenant. Deliverance of either kind is, rather, a prerequisite to the contracts God makes.

To most Christians, this may seem an overly fine distinction. What difference does it make if Jesus’ sacrifice is a provision in or a prerequisite to the new covenant? Either way, believers still benefit. …While the advantage is the same, the attending obligations are not.
  • If Jesus’ sacrifice is a provision in the new covenant, part of that contract, then gentiles who avail themselves of the pardon his death affords are party to this agreement and must keep its terms. Thus, gentile believers have to obey the laws God gave to Israel.
  • If Jesus’ sacrifice is a prerequisite to the new covenant, separate from that contract, then gentiles who avail themselves of the pardon his death affords are not (automatically) party to this agreement and are not (thereby) required to keep its terms. Only when gentile believers subsequently choose to enter the new covenant must they obey the terms of that contract—the laws God gave to Israel.
God makes the Messianic covenant, like its Mosaic predecessor, with the people of Israel. Also like the earlier agreement, the later one allows non-Jews to participate but does not obligate them. The primary difference between the two contracts is that the first admits anyone, whereas the second admits only certain ones: Whoever would enter the new covenant must first experience the new birth.

Israel has not yet realized the New Covenant fully, for God has not yet gathered all the exiles to the land as He will when the messiah returns, and many of Abraham’s descendants do not yet have the intimate knowledge of God they will possess when the messiah returns. In this sense, Jews who are faithful to God but who do not consider Jesus to be the messiah, still regard themselves as operating under the Old Covenant. For Jews who are faithful to God and who do consider Jesus to be the messiah, his death ratifies the New Covenant and enables them to appreciate the unfolding of God’s plan even before Jesus’ second advent. This overlap of the two covenants accords with the statement in Hebrews that indicates there will be a gradual transition from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant as more Jews recognize Jesus to be the messiah:
Heb 8:13 By calling this covenant “new,” he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and aging will soon disappear.
For some Jews, that transition happens sooner rather than later.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Sermon: A new creation (II Cor 5:16-21)

(II Cor 5:16-21)
Dr. Paul Manuel—2015

Some people will make a career change not necessarily for greater remuneration but in order to do what they enjoy.
Bumping into an old girlfriend, Tom told her that he had given up a boring and unfulfilling accounting job to do what he loved: writing. “That’s terrific!” she said, “I really admire a person who follows his dream. Tell me, have you sold anything yet?” “Sure have,” Tom replied…. “My house, my car, my stocks and bonds.”
Some career changes come at a price, but they are still fulfilling. Paul made a career change when he switched from opposing Christ to promoting him.i It was a change that cost him dearly, but it was a change he found ultimately fulfilling, and it resulted in God’s Extreme Makeover.ii

In chapter 5 of Paul’s second letter to the church at Corinth, the apostle presents life in stark, either/or contrasts. He talks about…
  • Our earthly tent (mortal body) versus our heavenly home (glorified body vv.1-4),
  • Being in the body versus being with the Lord (vv. 6-10),
  • What is plain to God versus what is plain to us (v. 11),
  • The old that has gone versus the new that is coming (v. 17).
It is the old versus the new that Paul treats in this passage, and in three sections he emphasizes what is new about the provision God offers that the apostle himself has experienced.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Sermon: "If you love me..." (John 14:23)

The Father's Affection (John 14:23)
Dr. Paul Manuel—201
Raising teenagers poses a particular challenge to parents, and a teenage girl can pose a particular challenge to her father, especially as his daughter begins to attract male suitors. It is a challenge a father must meet with measured affection, allowing her the freedom to make certain choices, while not allowing those choices to exceed certain boundaries.
A father grew increasingly displeased as his teenage daughter and her boyfriend studied in her room late one evening. Finally losing patience shortly after midnight, he knocked sharply on her door. The boyfriend immediately opened it and inquired if something was wrong. “I have to ask you to move your car,” the girl’s father told him. “Oh, sure. Is it in someone's way?” “No,” the father replied… “it’s at the wrong address.”
Raising teenagers poses particular challenges to parents and, I suspect that raising us poses particular challenges to God, challenges He, too, meets with measured affection.

During his last Passover with the disciples before the crucifixion, Jesus has an extended discussion with them about how they will fare in his absence. Jesus has told them that he is going away to be with his Father, and they are puzzled because Jesus describes his future as if it is not the end for him. Peter and Thomas want to know why they cannot follow him. Philip wants to know if they can meet the Father. Jesus says they must remain but that he will send the Holy Spirit in his place. This is all very confusing. Jesus also says they will be privy to special revelation as he makes his messianic identity known to them.
John 14:22 Then Judas (not Judas Iscariot) said, “But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?”
Jesus’ reply, though, does not seem to answer the question but raises yet another issue:
John 14:23 If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.
Love is a prominent topic in John’s gospel, and he uses the word (56x) more than all other gospel writers combined (44x).1 It is also a prominent theme in his three epistles (33x), and John repeatedly calls his readers to contemplate the extent of The Father’s Affection for His people.2 For example, the apostle writes in…
1 John 3:1a-b How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!
The reason this is such an important topic for John is because Jesus emphasizes it in his instruction.

The teacher-student relationship is an important one in first century Judaism, being the primary means of education outside the home. Jews would seek a teacher with whom they could study, and they would meet whatever requisites that teacher demanded, whether academic (the candidates’ already having reached a certain level of learning) or financial (the candidates’ being able to pay for their lessons). Jesus’ expectations from his disciples were different. He seems to care little about their academic background, accepting students with some education, as was likely the case with the taxman Matthew, as well as students with little education, as was likely the case with the fisherman Peter. Jesus also seems to care little about his students’ ability to pay, as his group often operates on a shoestring budget, relying on the generosity of a few benefactors. Jesus is more concerned with his students’ grasp of the subject matter.3 Do they understand what he is teaching them?

One of the important lessons he taught was about the meaning of love. We tend to think of love as an emotion, and it certainly includes that element. As Jesus describes it, though, love is also, perhaps primarily, an action.4 However insistent or persistent may be our declaration of love for a person, more important and compelling is our demonstration of love for that person. This applies to our love for the savior as well.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Sermon: Prayer (Matt 26:36-46)

A Demanding Discipline (Matt 26:36-46)
Dr. Paul Manuel—2015

When you talk to God, are those sessions generally long or short? …The answer probably depends in part on how much you have to say and how urgent the situation is.
A young boy was “acting up” during the morning worship service. His parents did their best to maintain some sense of order in the pew but were losing the battle. Finally, the father picked up the little fellow and walked sternly up the aisle on his way out. Just before reaching the safety of the foyer, the little boy called loudly to the congregation… “Pray for me!”
When you talk to God, are those sessions generally long or short? When Jesus talked to God in the garden, the situation was urgent, so he kept the conversation relatively short.

The author of Genesis records that Jacob “wrestled” with an unidentified man (Gen 32:24), which incident an early Jewish commentary treats as referring to prayer. Paul commends Epaphras because he wrestled in prayer on behalf of the church (Col 4:12). These two passages do not describe literal altercations but figurative contact with the numinous, though contact that is more strenuous than having a simple conversation. These verses also indicate that prayer is more than positive thinking, that it entails more than the common but essentially empty assertion: “I’ll be thinking of you.” Prayer is engaging with God in a way that involves more than just words. It is an activity that is potentially demanding. Too often we are content with a brief “shout out” to the Lord, as if He is satisfied when we simply acknowledge His existence.

While it is true, as the common dictum states, that prayer changes things, an equally important effect is that prayer changes people, specifically the ones who engage in it, by bringing them into conformity with God’s expectations. Jesus’ experience in the Garden of Gethsemane illustrates the potentially demanding nature of prayer.
Matt 26:36 [After their last Passover together] Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.”1 37 He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. 38 Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” 39 Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup2 be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”3 40 Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Could you men not keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter. 41 “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.” 42 He went away a second time and prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.” 43 When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. 44 So he left them and went away once more and prayed the third time, saying the same thing. 45 Then he returned to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Look, the hour is near, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. 46 Rise, let us go! Here comes my betrayer!”
In this episode, at the close of Jesus’ ministry, he illustrates several principles that we should bear in mind when we pray.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Sermon: When Jesus will reign (Zech 10:6-12)

(Zeck 10:6-12)
Dr. Paul Manuel—2015

When you are engaged in a particularly tedious or repetitious activity, how do you pass the time?
Fred, a trucker, was often caught in commuter rush-hour traffic. One morning when everything came to a standstill, he sat high up in his 18-wheeler singing and whistling. The driver of a nearby car, frustrated by the delay, yelled up at him, “What are you so happy about?” Cheerfully, Fred replied… “I’m already at work!”
Do you ever whistle while you work?

There is a song various characters sing in the Disney film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, entitled, “Whistle While You Work.” The point of this little ditty is that whistling is a light-hearted, entertaining activity often used to distract one from an otherwise labor-intensive or dreary activity. The Bible refers to God’s working, especially at creation,1 but without any mention of His whistling in the process. Nevertheless, there are three passages that do refer to God’s whistling. Isaiah mentions it twice, both times during His judgment of Israel, not a lighthearted activity:
Isa 5:25a …the LORD’S anger burns against his people; his hand is raised and he strikes them down…. 26a He lifts up a banner for the distant nations, he whistles for those at the ends of the earth.
Isa 7:17 The LORD will bring on you…the king of Assyria. 18 In that day the LORD will whistle for flies from the distant streams of Egypt and for bees from the land of Assyria.
Zechariah mentions God’s whistling once yet in a very different situation, which we will consider today, not during retribution but during redemption, the redemption of Israel.

Some of what God does is labor-intensive, not for Him of course, but it would be for us (if it were even possible for us). Still, why might He whistle? He does not need to entertain Himself during or distract Himself from any activity we might think is tedious. So, is the Disney song in any sense true of Him: Does God Whistle While He Works?2

Zechariah addresses the post-exilic community during the reign of Darius. The prophet is especially concerned for Jews who returned to the land and wondered if their struggling experience in rebuilding the Jewish community there was all God intended. The resettlement and temple reconstruction projects have both made progress, and peoples’ attention is turning to the future: What more does God have in store for them?3 In chapter ten the prophet describes some of what lies ahead, not in the near term but in the distant future, when God will whistle again, not in retribution but in redemption.
Zech 10:6 “I will strengthen the house of Judah and save the house of Joseph. I will restore them because I have compassion on them. They will be as though I had not rejected them, for I am the LORD their God and I will answer them. 7 The Ephraimites will become like mighty men, and their hearts will be glad as with wine. Their children will see it and be joyful; their hearts will rejoice in the LORD. 8 I will [whistle] for them and gather them in. Surely I will redeem them; they will be as numerous as before. 9 Though I scatter them among the peoples, yet in distant lands they will remember me. They and their children will survive, and they will return. 10 I will bring them back from Egypt and gather them from Assyria.4 I will bring them to Gilead and Lebanon, and there will not be room enough for them. 11 They will pass through the sea of trouble; the surging sea will be subdued and all the depths of the Nile will dry up. Assyria’s pride will be brought down and Egypt’s scepter will pass away. 12 I will strengthen them in the LORD5 and in his name they will walk,” declares the LORD.
In this passage, whistling is a signal for Jews to return home.6 When will this particular summons take place?