Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Trustworthy sayings

Dr. Paul Manuel—2014

"To Save Sinners" (1 Tim 1:15)       
pp. 02-07
"A Noble Task" (1 Tim 3:1-7)
pp. 08-12
"Value for All Things" (1 Tim 4:8-9)  
pp. 13-17
"If We..." (2 Tim 2:11-13)
pp. 18-22
"He Saved Us" (Tit 3:4-8a)
pp. 23-28
pp. 29-30
pp. 31-43

We live in a world of uncertainty where, despite our often careful planning, matters may not turn out as we expect or hope. Some times, the disappointment is simply annoying, as when the service we receive from a business is less than it should be.
A teacher was having trouble with her bank. Neither the bank's accuracy nor its mode of expression lived up to her standards. The last straw arrived in a form letter from the anonymous Delinquency Department that read: "It appears your account is overdrawn." She replied with an equally brief note: "Please write again when you are absolutely certain." (adapted from Hodgin 1994:43)
Other times our doubt reflects some urgency because disappointment would have serious consequences.
An American astronaut lay strapped in his capsule, awaiting liftoff, when a reporter asked via radio that typically annoying and irrelevant question: "How do you feel?" "How would you feel," the astronaut replied, "if you were sitting on top of 150,000 parts, each supplied by the lowest bidder?" (adapted from Hodgin 1994:309)
In this world of uncertainty, are there things of which we can be sure, especially in matters where disappointment would not merely be annoying but disastrous? Paul addresses this very question in a series of what he calls Trustworthy Sayings.
Most of Paul's thirteen letters he wrote to various churches, but four of them he sent to individuals. Those to Timothy and Titus are called the Pastoral Epistles because these men served as pastors in Ephesus and Crete. These men were Paul's protégé and were known among other churches.[1] He urges them to warn people against false doctrine and to stress the importance of sound teaching.[2] Paul quotes five "trustworthy sayings,"[3] so-called because, in the sea of competing ideas, these are "a faithful presentation of God's message" (Knight 1992:99). They appear just in the Pastoral Epistles and may have been theological confessions or the words of songs. Paul repeats them in these letters because they represent important truths for the believing community, truths a pastor should stress in his ministry and communicate to his congregation, and they will be the texts for our series.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Job — Lesson 4

The Helping Hand Sabbath School Series
Dr. Paul Manuel—2004
William Blake 1823

Lesson #4: Job Chapters 38, 40

What Does It Mean?

However long Job's suspense and God's silence last, they eventually come to an end. Surely, Job should welcome the relief, but when the Lord finally speaks, it is not what Job expects and actually increases his anxiety. Instead of comforting Job, God confronts Job, berating him for challenging the divine will.

Lessor mortals might interpret God's chastening as the final insult, the ultimate proof that this deity cares only for Himself and has no concern for His creatures. They might say that Job's wife, despite her apparent cynicism, actually gave him the best counsel (Job 2:9). No matter how low Job seems to have fallen, though, he rises even to this occasion, maintaining his integrity in God's presence.

In chapter thirty-eight...
Much of God's earliest communication to man came through dreams and visions (Num 12:6), which could be quite terrifying (Dan 4:6), as Job attests (Job 7:14). Occasionally, God would make contact more overtly, couching His appearance in the form of a storm (Ezek 1:4, 28). As if hearing the voice of God were not unnerving enough, when accompanied by extreme weather—thunder and lightening—the experience is even more frightening (Exod 20:18-19). Add to this tumultuous setting the purpose of God's manifestation (theophany) to Job, not revelation but condemnation, and the effect is undoubtedly overwhelming.
Whatever Job may have assumed (Job 13:24; 23:3; 30:20; 31:35), God has not been inattentive either to Job's condition or to his complaint. When God finally does speak, it is to 'answer' (Job 38:1; 40:6). God makes no excuses for His earlier silence ("I was distracted by something else") and gives no explanation for Job's extensive suffering ("You really did deserve this because..."). Instead, He says that Job has no business questioning the creator ("Who...darkens my counsel...?") without having been present with Him at the creation ("Where were you when I...?"). What God has in mind when He refers to Job's absence at the beginning of things and to his ignorance about the origin of things is unclear. It may mean that Job is not allowed to challenge God's current activity or that he is simply not able to comprehend God's current activity. Either way, Job's charge, "God has wronged me" (Job 19:6), is an assessment man is not qualified to make.
While Job did not witness the creation, there were others who did and who celebrated that event. God uses parallelism, a feature common in Hebrew that relates the idea from one line to the idea in the next line by repeating certain elements. For example, in Ps 117:1, the two lines say essentially the same thing, with each part in the first line having a corresponding part in the second line.
Praise—the LORD—all you nations
Extol—Him—all you peoples.
Job 38:7 also seems to use synonymous parallelism.
The morning starssang together
All the angelsshouted for joy

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Job — Lesson 3

The Helping Hand Sabbath School Series
Dr. Paul Manuel—2004

William Blake 1823

Lesson #3: Job Chapters 27, 31

What Does It Mean?

Because it is possible to read the book of Job in a single sitting, we may lose some perspective on his situation. What is for us a matter of minutes may have been for Job a matter of months (Job 7:3; 29:2; perhaps longer). Initially, Job just sat (Job 2:8), probably in confusion as well as in pain. At some point, though, he may have tried to pull himself together and move on. Even so, Job still faced challenges to his integrity in everyday life.

In chapter twenty-seven...
Although Job continues to lament his plight and his friends continue to doubt his innocence, he refuses to become paralyzed or demoralized. He will not stop living and, equally important, he will not stop living righteously. He may have tasted "bitterness of soul," but he does not become embittered in spirit, angry at God and at the world. For Job to do otherwise would be to admit defeat and prove his detractors right (Job 27:5).

Job certifies his intention with an oath: "As surely as God lives" (Job 27:2). A speaker uses this formula to impress his listener(s) with his resolve to act according to his word.
  • Boaz certifies with an oath his intention to redeem Naomi's property if the next of kin refuses (Ruth 3:13).
  • Micaiah certifies with an oath his intention to speak the truth regardless of the threats against him (1 Kgs 22:14).
  • King Zedekiah certifies with an oath his intention to protect Jeremiah despite the political pressure to execute him (Jer 38:16).
The seriousness of the oath is that it calls upon God to hold the speaker accountable for his promise and, should he renege or otherwise fail to keep that promise, invites God to punish him.

Job's malady precludes him from pursuing the active lifestyle he once enjoyed. His movement is now limited and painful. He is still able to speak his mind, however, and his words have become the chief indication of his spiritual condition (Job 27:4). If Job fails to demonstrate his righteousness in his speech, he invites God to make his suffering worse. It is a bold assertion that Job does not make lightly, for he has already experienced what he assumes is a taste of God's displeasure.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Job — Lesson 2

The Helping Hand Sabbath School Series
Dr. Paul Manuel—2004

William Blake 1823

Lesson #2: Job Chapters 9, 13, 19, 23
What Does It Mean?

The author of this book does not indicate how long Job's condition lasted. It was certainly not a momentary affliction, like a bout with the flu. As his suffering dragged on, with no diagnosis of the cause and prognosis of a cure, Job longs to find a reason for his trouble. The four passages in this lesson depict four stages in Job's struggle, all of which testify to his integrity in seeking God.

Job knows nothing of Satan's involvement. Moreover, God has said nothing to Job, and that silence has only increased Job's misery. All Job has to work with are his own assertion of his innocence (Job 6:10, 24; 7:20; 9:20) and his friends' assumption of his guilt (Job 4:7-8; 8:6).

In chapter nine...
Job thinks that God has afflicted him and wishes that he could appear before God to resolve the problem. If only there were a judicial body to oversee such matters, a forum where Job could face his accuser and defend himself against whatever charge God has leveled against him.

Elsewhere in scripture, especially in the prophets, God uses the courtroom motif when accusing people of sin. Most of those examples depict God as the judge, ready to issue a guilty verdict (Isa 3:13-14). Occasionally, He may call for testimony on behalf of the plaintiff (Isa 41:21; 43:26), or He may call His own witnesses to certify the accuracy of the charges (Mic 6:1-2).

Job wants an independent body to adjudicate his case, one that is not predisposed against him, one that can stay God's hand until the problem is resolved. He seeks a higher authority, before which he and God could both appear and argue their respective positions. Alas, there is no such authority, for nothing is greater than God.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Job — Lesson 1

The Helping Hand Sabbath School Series
Dr. Paul Manuel—2004

William Blake 1823

Lesson #1: Job Chapter 2
What Does It Mean?

The book of Job parts the curtain, as it were, that separates the physical realm from the spiritual realm, the world in which men and women dwell from the world in which God and His angels dwell. It offers a rare glimpse of the heavenly court and of the proceedings there. Other Old Testament texts mention the existence of such a place and of those who populate it (Isa 6:1-4; Ps 89:6), but only a few passages portray the interactions that happen beyond our normal ability to perceive (Gen 1:26; 1 Kgs 22:19-23). This book also illustrates the contact that may occur between the two realms, as heavenly beings enter our world (Gen 28:12; 32:1; Zech 1:10-1 1) and influence events here (Gen 19:1; Judg 6:12), sometimes (perhaps often) without our realizing it (Num 22:34; 2 Kgs 6:17). One of these supernatural beings, Satan (also "called the devil" Rev 12:9), is a main character in this book and the chief antagonist. The name is actually a title (Hebrew ha-satan) that means "the adversary" or "the accuser," and his appearance in other Old Testament books marks him as one who opposes God's people (1 Chr 21:1; Zech 3:1-2).

The text for the lesson is chapter two of Job, which opens in the heavenly court where "the sons of God," another term for angelic creatures (Job 38:7; cf. Gen 6:2), report their activities. One of those present is Satan, who states that he has been "roaming through the earth" (v. 2). By this, Satan does not mean that he has been on vacation or sightseeing. It is, instead, a general reference to his undirected activity, that he goes where he pleases rather than where God directs. This accords with Peter's description of the devil, who "prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour" (1 Pet 5:8). Despite this apparent freedom, though, Satan must still give an account of his actions to God.

When Satan finally has his audience, God raises an issue they had discussed earlier, in chapter one: the character of a man named Job. In both chapters, God describes Job in similarly laudatory terms. "There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and turns from evil" (Job 1:8; 2:3; cf. 1:1).
  • To be "blameless" (Hebrew tam) is to have sound moral character. Noah is the only other person in scripture to have this title (Gen 6:9).
  • To be "upright" (Hebrew yashar) is to do the right thing. David and several of his successors to the throne of Judah bore this title because they heeded God's law (1 Kgs 15:5, 11; 2 Kgs 12:2; 15:3, 34; 18:3; 22:2).
  • To "fear" (Hebrew yare) God is to consider Him with a mixture of dread and awe. Abraham and the Hebrew midwives had this attitude, which enabled them to perform exceptionally difficult tasks (Gen 22:12; Exod 1:17,21).
  • To "turn" (Hebrew sar) from evil is to choose a different path and, thus, to avoid taking the wrong path. According to Solomon, the primary incentive for avoiding evil is another attribute (the previous one in this list): fearing God (Prov 3:7; 16:6).
While others in scripture possess one or more of these qualities, Job is the only person God describes so fully, which is probably why Job presents such a tempting target to Satan. If the devil can bring a man of Job's exemplary character to the point of forsaking God, then those of lessor character will surely fall as well, and with less effort.

In their previous discussion, Satan questioned Job's devotion to God and received permission from God to test that devotion. Satan caused Job to suffer the sudden loss of his great wealth and of his beloved children but discovered that Job was virtuous, for "In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing" (Job 1:22). When next in the heavenly court, Satan refuses to admit defeat and insists that a more direct assault will surely topple the virtuous Job (2:4). God agrees to lift His previous restriction, preventing Satan from harming Job himself (Job 1:12) and, this time, Satan causes Job to suffer the loss of his health (Job 2:7).

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Lessons of loyalty — Ruth 1:8-22

Ruth to Naomi (daughter-in-law to mother-in-law) — Ruth 1:8-221
Dr. Paul Manuel—2017

There was a time when most marriages were arranged by parents or by someone other than the couple. Today the hunt for a prospective spouse commonly uses the dating method, which does not always go well,
After being with her all evening, the man could not take another minute with his blind date. Earlier, he had secretly arranged to have a friend call him to the phone so he would have an excuse to leave if something like this happened. When he returned to the table, he lowered his eyes, put on a grim expression and said, "I have some bad news. My grandfather just died, and I have to leave." "Thank goodness!" his date replied. "If yours hadn't...mine would have had to."
There was a time when most marriages were arranged. It may have been that way for the sons of Elimelech who managed to snag two good women, at least according to Naomi, the sons' mother. Unfortunately, the three men died, leaving Naomi and her daughters-in-law bereft of their father and their husbands. In this sermon series entitled Old Testament Lessons of Loyalty, we come to the loyalty of one daughter-in-law to her mother-in-law, the loyalty of Ruth to Naomi, of how one woman followed another despite the bleak prospect of their future.

Israel was not alone in the Ancient Near East; there were several other people groups.2 Some, like the Amalekites, were hostile and opposed Israel's passage in the wilderness.3 Others, like the Moabites, were wary of Israel but were generally friendly, yet they attempted to corrupt Israel as the people traveled through the wilderness. The Moabites had an advantage before God over other Canaanite groups in that they were descendants of Lot who lived just outside the Promised Land (east of the Dead Sea) and off limits to the Israelite conquest.4 In any case, Israel and Moab were geographically and politically separate.5 Please turn to the book of Ruth, and we will consider the first chapter together:
Ruth 1:1 In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land, and a man from Bethlehem in Judah, together with his wife and two sons, went to live for a while in the country of Moab. 2 The man's name was Elimelech, his wife's name Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Kilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem, Judah. And they went to Moab and lived there. 3 Now Elimelech, Naomi's husband, died, and she was left with her two sons. 4 They married Moabite women, one named Orpah and the other Ruth. After they had lived there about ten years, 5 both Mahlon and Kilion also died, and Naomi was left without her two sons and her husband. 6 When she heard in Moab that the LORD had come to the aid of his people by providing food for them, Naomi and her daughters-in-law prepared to return home from there. 7 With her two daughters-in-law she left the place where she had been living and set out on the road that would take them back to the land of Judah.
The setting for this story is the time of the judges (c. 1200-1020), a period of domestic uncertainty as there was no national political structure in Israel. This meant there was no centralized army, no national protection from invaders: