Gilgal: rolling


Scripture: Joshua 5:9

The children of Israel came out of Egypt, and they were rebellious. They built an idol while Moses was on the mountain speaking with God; they complained and rose up against Moses and Aaron, challenging their authority; ten of the spies disheartened their countrymen when they returned from Canaan; then, when the Lord instructed them not to go up in battle, they went up anyway. In Joshua 5, we learn one more way they did not obey God–they failed to have their children circumcised, which had been the sign of the covenant since Abraham.

When all of that rebellious generation had died, Joshua led those children, now grown, into the promised land. But when they crossed the Jordan, God pointed out to Joshua a problem: the people did not have the sign of the covenant. They then took the time and made the effort to do so. The Scripture does not dwell on this event, but surely it was an unforgettable one for the men of Israel simply because of the dread and pain involved. Once this was accomplished, the Lord told Joshua, “Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you.” Interesting choice of words, beautiful in its imagery. More on that shortly. The Scripture goes on to say that the Israelites celebrated the Passover, then ate of the produce of the land of Canaan the following day, after which the manna–their fare for the last 40 years–ceased. This was a great moment for Israel! The Lord had long ago promised Abraham that his descendants would inhabit the land of Canaan–now they were here; 40 years earlier, the children of Israel had been trapped in a state of bondage that had gone on for generations–now they were free; for the last 40 years, the children of Israel had been eating the same bread day after day after day–now they fared on the yield of Canaan. It must have seemed to the Israelites that the curse of Egypt would never end–but here in this moment, on the west side of the Jordan, with bodies marked by the covenant of their God, eating fresh food that had grown in a land that would soon be theirs to work and inhabit, perhaps the nightmare that was Egypt finally began to lose some of its grip on them.

It’s interesting that God chose to say that He had “rolled away” the reproach of Egypt. There may be more than one other place in Scripture where that phrase is used, but there’s one that immediately comes to my mind, and should to any follower of Jesus Christ. When Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to look at the grave of Jesus one Sunday morning, an angel of the Lord “rolled away” the stone that they supposed held the Lord’s body inside. That stone, in a couple of ways, was intended to be a barrier.

First, it was supposed to keep God’s Son from getting out. The devil and all of his thought that stone represented the accomplishment of their designs–it was their crown of victory over the One they rejected. As long as that body stayed behind that stone, they had achieved their desire–the condemnation of all of mankind, and the ceasing of all the works the Son of God was accomplishing in His human form. But when the stoned was rolled away, their trophy was gone.

Second, it was supposed to keep the disciples from getting in. The soldiers, of course, thought the disciples would steal the body, so their primary purpose for the stone was to prevent that from happening. But as long as the stone remained sealed, the disciples’ hope was cut off. If the Messiah was going to restore the kingdom to Israel as they had hoped, that hope was gone. And even though that was a misunderstanding of what Jesus actually intended to accomplish, it seemed to them that the past three years may have been a waste, since He had been eliminated. But the stone was rolled away, and they found nothing–which meant everything!

Satan gets a grip on us through the sin we commit. We fall into his trap, and we are enslaved, much the way the Israelites were in Egypt, with no way to escape. But God heard our cries for help long before we even uttered them, and He does some “rolling away” in our own lives. When we are immersed in the blood of Jesus, He “rolls away” our sins, freeing us from bondage to slavery. We then enter the Wilderness that is the remainder of our life here on this earth, where we daily feed on the manna that is His Word. Unless Christ returns beforehand, we will die a natural death; but God will “roll away” the stones from our own tombs when Jesus comes again. Slowly but surely, that stone representing all the evil consequences of our sin is being rolled away. If we are living in Christ, we are growing closer to Him, sin is losing its grip on us, and hope is growing as we near our own promised land. One day we will cross our own Jordan, no longer needing the manna of the written word of God, for we will speak to Him face to face; no longer weighed down by bondage, but enjoying the fruit of our new inhabitance; no longer suffering the reproach of Egypt, for all things will be new, and the tears will be wiped from our eyes.

Roll That Stone Away!


Joshua 4


For 430 years, the Israelites were in Egypt. For most of that time, they had served the Egyptians as slaves. By the end of that time, they were suffering quite badly. Their cry arose to God, and He heard them. Through a series of plagues on the Egyptians, He let both the Egyptians and the Israelites know that He is God and His will stands. The culminating event of this series of miracles was the parting of the Red Sea, which allowed the Israelites to cross on dry ground, after which the Egyptians, attempting to do the same, perished as the waters returned to their place.

The children of Israel would have then quickly entered the Promised Land, but their disobedience lost them the favor of Jehovah, and He allowed all of that generation to die, save Caleb and Joshua. When it was time, God prepared Joshua to lead the people into Canaan. Again, there was a body of water to cross. This time it was the Jordan River. Previously, Moses had stretched his staff over the waters of the Red Sea and they parted. This time around, men bearing the ark of the covenant stepped into the River, and the waters ceased flowing from upstream. The people crossed, building a small memorial of 12 stones as commanded by God when they exited the other side.

God does some mighty things. He does not want His people to forget those things. Thus the stones:

When your children ask their fathers in time to come, saying, ‘What are these stones?’ then you shall inform your children, saying, ‘Israel crossed this Jordan on dry ground.’ For the Lord your God dried up the waters of the jordan before you until you had crossed, just as the Lord your God had done to the Red Sea, which he dried up before us until we had crossed, that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the Lord is mighty, so that you may fear the Lord your God forever.‘ (Joshua 4:21-24)

The people eventually would forget, after Joshua and the elders of his time died and the people entered the period of the judges. It seems to be a characteristic of human beings that we fail to hold on to something great. Time heals wounds, but it also dulls the memory of our highest moments. God, however, would have us fight against this.

Under the new covenant, according to Paul in his letter to the Romans, all of us sin and fall short of God’s glory. From the first time we do this, we are officially under bondage to sin, and it only gets worse. Like the children of Israel in Egypt, our spirits cry out in desperation because of the burden of our guilt (whether we acknowledge it or not). Those of us fortunate enough to hear the gospel and willing to accept it were buried with Christ in the grave of immersion, where our sins were washed away in His blood, making us “white as snow.” No longer are we slaves of sin–rather, we walk in newness of life. However, we find ourselves in an unsatisfactory place–we no longer feel at home amongst the sinful pleasures of the world. Yet despite the blessings to be found as members of Christ’s body on earth (the church), we long for a better place: a place where there is no Tempter; a place where Christ is, and all the host of people who have obeyed God since He spoke the earth into being. We find ourselves in a kind of wilderness–free, praise God, from the bondage of sin, but a long ways away from the spiritual home of those who dwell in Christ. That place is on the other side of the Jordan, and just as we needed Christ’s help to cross the Red Sea, we will need His help crossing Jordan.

All those phenomenal things God accomplished in the past were done so that people would realize they cannot save themselves–it takes the miraculous work of God Almighty, completed when we obey His command. We must remember this on a daily basis. Otherwise, we begin trying to earn our salvation, forgetting that it was God’s mighty hand which redeemed us, and it will be God’s mighty hand that lands us safely on the far bank of Jordan.

How can we know the mighty hand of the Lord? What will motivate us to serve Him forever? Remembering the waters we could not (and will not) cross without Him.

Manaen and Herod: one lump, two pots



Now there were at Antioch, in the church that was there, prophets and teachers: Barnabas, and Simeon who was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. (Acts 13:1)

If one continues to read the passage, Simeon, Lucius and Manaen are quickly forgotten because the following verses describe Saul and Barnabas’ call to travel with the gospel. We ooh and ah over their missionary journey–as we should, since the Holy Spirit inspired Luke to spend the next couple chapters detailing it. But we give not a thought to the men whose charge was to stay in Antioch and feed the flock there. This was no meaningless task, and God-willing, all three of these men are enjoying comfort in the bosom of Abraham with the assurance of a reward to be granted to them (and their brothers and sisters in the 1st-century church at Antioch) upon the Lord’s return.

Interestingly, the text points out that Manaen was brought up with Herod the tetrarch. By Herod’s name, there is a reference to Matthew 14. When you turn there, you learn that Herod was not a very impressive guy. In the first 7 verses, we learn 1) he was superstitious (verse 2), 2) he had John arrested for selfish reasons (v3), 3) he was sleeping with his brother’s wife (v3), 4) he was easily swayed by the multitude (v4), 5) he pursued ungodly forms of entertainment (v6), 6) he was rash with his words (v7), and 7) he had no regard for justice (v10). A couple other things could be inferred from the passage, but this is enough to realize that the man had no spine. He was driven by love of himself, pursuit of pleasure, a hunger for power, and a need for high approval ratings. One would surmise that he had little or no spiritual guidance in his youth. Yet it is possible that is not the case. The passage in Acts 13 says Manaen was brought up with him. What does this mean exactly? Did they go to school together? Were they friends as children? Were they related somehow? Was there some connection between them that is totally unrelated to any of these guesses? It’s hard to say. But they must have either known each other or been connected to each other in some way; otherwise, why the phrase in Acts 13:1?

So how is it that one turned out to be a mouse of a man, holding a high position for which he was ill-suited, having no sense of justice or righteousness, while the other ended up being entrusted with a leadership role in the Lord’s church, almost certainly exhibiting the traits of humility, meekness, impartiality, faithfulness, gentleness, selflessness, patience, kindness, goodness, and self-control? How could one be so focused on himself, while the other was so focused on Christ? Consider these words from Paul:

Who are you, O man, who answers back to God? Will the thing molded say to the molder, ‘Why did you make me like this’? Does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use? What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? And He did so to make know the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory, even us, whom He also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles? (Romans 9:20-24)

God, grant us the good fortune of knowing Your will and the strength to obey it. May we be like Manaen, who followed Your call to a life of righteousness–and may we avoid the plight of Herod, who found himself in difficult situations because of poor choices and wrong motives.

what must i do to be saved?

The title of the article, undoubtedly, is the most important question a human being can ask. There is a lonely, fiery lake of condemnation to be avoided and a gorgeous city of jewels, precious metals, fellowship, feasting, and the glorious presence of Almighty God to be gained; the stakes are high. But there’s a problem: depending on who you ask, you get different answers to this question. The two most prevalent ones seem to be:

1) Believe in Jesus Christ, and you will be saved the moment you believe in Him.

2) Believe in Jesus Christ, and you will be saved the moment you are immersed in His name.

A website entitled Stand to Reason has an article posted by Greg Koukl entitled “Is Baptism Necessary for Salvation?” Koukl argues that it is not. His argument is roughly described below:

He begins with an exegesis of John 3–Jesus’ late-night discussion with Nicodemus. He argues that Jesus is not teaching Nicodemus about Christian water baptism in this text. I do not pretend to be a scholar capable of handling this passage the way it should be handled, and I confess that this text still is a bit beyond my comprehension. Koukl says, “John 3 is not a good proof text for the doctrine of baptismal regeneration.” I think we can agree there. His next sentence:

Acts 2:38 would be a better example, where Peter says, “Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

I believe we can agree on this one as well. Koukl now pauses for a moment in his article to give some advice (good advice, in my opinion) on how to approach this topic when doing Bible study. He recommends finding all the verses in the Bible that talk about baptism, writing them down on index cards, and separating the index cards into piles representing the different kinds of baptism. Koukl mentions four: 1) baptism of John, 2) baptism of trial, 3) baptism of the Holy Spirit, 4) Christian water baptism.

His next paragraph is a short one, and it explains the purpose behind the index card process he encourages. I could writhe with words all evening and never say what he means as beautifully as he pens them, so I will allow them to speak here.

This allows you to construct a balanced teaching on the issue, drawing instruction from the full counsel of God on the subject. You can see the full range of teaching in the New Testament on baptism, and you can watch how the teaching takes form.

He then concludes, based on his study using the aforementioned approach, “It becomes clear that baptism–Christian baptism–is not exalted in the Scripture as a necessary element of salvation. In fact, it’s rarely even mentioned.” Later he will explain that there are 71 references to a form of the word “baptism” in the New Testament. Only 19 of them, he says, refer to Christian baptism (emphasis mine), and “over half of these are simply references to people being baptized.” He suggests that only 8 of these give theological content about Christian baptism. He then offers a question and his opinion on the matter: “Do these few verses make it clear that baptism is necessary for salvation? I don’t think so.” The eight passages that Koukl says give “theological content” about baptism are quoted at the end of the article.

So, let’s take stock for a moment. Koukl has introduced the question: “Is baptism necessary for salvation?” He has recommended that we consider all the New Testament verses about baptism in order to answer that question. He has found 71 New Testament references to “baptism,” and identified 19 which refer to the type of baptism in question. These 19 verses are the ones Koukl has in mind when he says that Christian baptism is “rarely even mentioned.” Of those 19, he designates 8 as having relevant “theological content.” EIGHT references with theological content, according to Koukl, is NOT ENOUGH to establish that baptism is necessary for salvation. I am quoting him a little out of order here, but I don’t think I’m being unfair to his argument or twisting it at all. I’m simply trying to put it in a logical sequence.

Back to Acts 2:38. Koukl quotes the verse, then spends no less than 17 paragraphs getting around to saying that the phrase “for the forgiveness of sins” is a reference to the word “repent,” not “be baptized.” He suggests:

A more precise rendering might be, “Let all of you repent so all of you can receive forgiveness, and then each who has should be baptized.” (emphasis mine)

So how did he spend those 17 paragraphs? Three of them covered the aforementioned concept of considering all of Scripture’s teachings on a topic to make an informed decision about what it means. The rest imply that to understand Acts 2:38, you first must consider 4 other passages: 1) Romans 8:9, 2) Ephesians 1:13, 3) Acts 10:44-48, and 4) Acts 11:17-18. It is interesting to note that only one of these passages refer to baptism in any way. According to Koukl, we must interpret the baptism passage of Acts 2:38 in light of the non-baptism passages just listed.

The argument flows this way: according to Paul in Romans 8:9, “If anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him.” How do we get the Spirit, then? Enter Ephesians 1:13: “In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation, having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise.” Recap before moving on: we must possess the Spirit before we can be Christians, and we possess the Spirit when we believe. Therefore, believing = possessing the Spirit = being saved. Koukl then guides us to Acts 10, where non-Christian, Gentile Cornelius and family break out into tongue-speaking and prophesying while Peter preaches to them. The tongue-speaking and prophesying imply the presence of the Holy Spirit, which according to Romans 8:9 and Ephesians 1:13 means they are saved. Peter then asks, “Surely no one can refuse the water for these to be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we did, can he?” According to Koukl, “Peter is saying that these people were now Christians just like he and his companions.” They are then baptized because they had already received the Spirit. Koukl’s next checkpoint is chapter 11:17-18, where Peter is giving an account of the event to the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem. Peter asks them:

“If God therefore gave to them the same gift as He gave to us  also after believing in the Lord Jesus Christ who was I that I could stand in God’s way?” And when they heard this, they quieted down, and glorified God, saying, “Well then, God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life.”

Koukl points out that baptism is not used in this passage. Instead, it is only the “salient details of regeneration: repentance, faith and salvation…. Baptism isn’t necessary for salvation.” Interesting that he chose to quote the passage beginning with verse 17 instead of verse 16, which records Peter saying:

I remembered the word of the Lord, how He used to say, “John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”

… But this passage contains “no mention of baptism.” Granted, it would be difficult to use this portion of Acts 11 to argue that baptism is required for salvation. However, it is unfair for Koukl to quote the two verses following a reference to two types of baptism, then tell his readers that the passage says nothing about baptism.

Long story short: in Acts 2:37, thousands of men convicted of sin asked Peter, “What shall we do?” Peter said, “Repent and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Seems rather plain. But Koukl claims that this passage is ambiguous. To understand it and interpret it correctly, you must know Romans 8:9 — “If anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him” (a passage Paul wrote to a group of Christians who had been baptized “into Christ” [Rom. 6:3], the place where one encounters the blessings given by the Spirit [Rom. 8:1-2]); you must also be familiar with Ephesians 1:13 — “In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation–having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise” (a passage also written to baptized Christians, cf. Acts 19:1-10); you must know that in Acts 10, Cornelius’s household received miraculous gifts from the Holy Spirit upon hearing Jesus preached to them (from this you must conclude that their receiving the gift of speaking in tongues implied they were forgiven of their sins before Peter commanded them to be baptized); finally, you must be aware that when Peter reported this event to the church in Jerusalem, part of his statement did not include the word “baptism.” These FOUR loosely connected passages are supposed to provide the foundation on which we interpret Acts 2:38. However, Koukl offers no explanation of how these passages affect Acts 2:38, other than that they provide a seeming contradiction to it. He then argues that the grammatical construction of the verse is what makes it deceptive, causing it to sound like baptism is necessary for salvation.

Koukl then uses the Cornelius incident to dismiss 1 Peter 3:21–“Baptism now saves you.” I’ll forego the discussion of this segment and get to the point.

Koukl’s FOUR passages outlined in the last several paragraphs supposedly provide a solid ground on which to believe that the Holy Spirit is granted to someone upon their belief in Jesus Christ, and this receiving of the Holy Spirit is equal to their sins being forgiven. Cornelius and company received the gift of the Spirit, manifested by their speaking in tongues, and this supposedly meant they were saved already, before Peter commanded them to be immersed. Then, when Peter told the Jews about it, part of his response did not include the word “baptism.” Any verses about baptism must be interpreted through the lens of these FOUR scriptures that are not about baptism. FOUR scriptures, then, we must conclude, are enough to give us a clear picture, a balanced teaching, an understanding of the full counsel of God on this subject.

The following EIGHT Scriptures, however, according to Koukl, are NOT sufficient to establish baptism as a necessary step in the plan of salvation:

  • Acts 2:38 — “Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and let each one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.'”
  • Acts 22:16 — “And now why do you delay? Arise, and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name.”
  • Romans 6:3 — “Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death?”
  • Galatians 3:27 — “For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.”
  • Romans 6:4 — “Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, in order that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.”
  • Ephesians 4:5 — “One Lord, one faith, one baptism…”
  • Colossians 2:12 — “… having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.”
  • 1 Peter 3:21 — “And corresponding to that, baptism now saves you–not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience–through the resurrection of Jesus Christ…”

You do the math.

Eliezer: God is my help

In Hebrew: El-ezer

Scriptures: Exodus 18:4

The context of this Bible name comes from the passage where Moses’ father-in-law comes to visit the camp of Israel, bringing with him Moses’ wife Zipporah and his two sons, Gershom and Eliezer. Interestingly, the text pauses to explain the meanings of their names. According to the text, Moses gave Eliezer his name because “the God of my father was my help, and delivered me from the sword of Pharaoh.” By “father,” I’m not sure if Moses is referring to his actual father or Abraham. To my knowledge, we are not given the name of Moses’ biological father. His statement about deliverance, though, is quite rich in its references. When Moses named Eliezer, he had at least two events in mind, and a third was to come very soon.

First, God delivered Moses from the sword of Pharaoh as an infant. As a population control measure, Pharaoh had commanded that all the male children be cast into the Nile. Thanks to the convictions of some God-fearing Hebrew midwives, the tenderness and careful planning of a mother, the watchful care of a sister, the compassion of a princess, and the providence of God, Moses was spared. Talk about a story that highlights the role women play in God’s plan! No testosterone in this tale. Just some strong women determined to care for a helpless child. God, grant us the same concern for infants in America today, for our culture would have us follow Pharaoh’s example instead.

Second, God delivered Moses from the hand of Pharaoh as a young man. When Moses saw an Egyptian beating a fellow Hebrew, he stepped in to defend him, killing the Egyptian. After burying him in the sand, he thought he would get away with his crime, but word eventually made its way to Pharaoh’s ears, and Pharaoh tried to kill him. Again thanks to God’s guiding presence, Moses escaped and fled to Midian, where he met the woman who became his wife and bore his children Gershom and Eliezer. So these two events at least were part of Moses’ psyche when he named Eliezer. He realized that, were it not for the help of God, he never would have made it to the place he was at the time.

Little did he know how God planned to help him next–He would not only deliver Moses, but the entire house of Israel from the sword of Pharaoh.



It has been cold in Tennessee lately–down in the single digits for large portions of the day. I’ve never worried about this much before, but then, I’ve never been a homeowner during winter–until this year. So far, my central unit (which is at least to its middle age if not a little north of there) is working like a champ. It has not balked on me even once yet. But having worked as an aid to heat and air repairmen a few times, I’m aware of at least one thing: the bigger the difference in temperature that the unit has to maintain between the outside and the inside, the harder it has to work. With that in mind, I’ve turned the stat down a couple degrees and donned a sweatshirt over the last day or two (like that’s gonna’ help a whole lot…).

Many things we use are effective because of their ability to maintain some kind of difference between what’s inside and what’s outside. Refrigerators keep what’s inside cold without working against the air conditioner. Ovens keep what’s inside hot without working against the air conditioner. Airplanes have to maintain a certain amount of pressure in the cabin to create an acceptable atmosphere for the passengers. Submarines have to be careful about how deep they go because the water pressure outside a vessel increases as its depth increases. Another danger of cold winter nights is keeping the water pipes from freezing. If any one of these things fails to keep up the difference between what is outside and what is inside, a highly inconvenient (or dangerous) situation arises.

Our souls are no different.

The things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders. These are the things which defile the man (Matthew 15:18-20)

As a man thinks within himself, so he is (Proverbs 23:7)

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect (Romans 12:2)

Do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord (Ephesians 5:18-19)

Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world (James 1:27)

Let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near (Hebrews 10:24-25)

hymn references

I have always enjoyed knowing what Scripture or Scriptures a particular hymn makes reference to. Below I have begun a list of those Scriptures that hopefully will grow quickly. Some may be coincidental, but if the Scripture makes me think of a song and it’s not too big a stretch, I’m recording it. If you’re aware of one or more of these, please leave me a comment with the song name and Scripture reference and I’ll add it when I get a chance. The entries are in order of appearance in Scripture, not song title.

More coming soon!