Love God, Love Others

Help For The Theologically And Otherwise Confused Christian

There is a perplexing scenario in the Bible (1 Kings 22) where God sends a lying spirit to deceive a group of prophets. The prophet Ezekiel also says that God deceives a prophet who speaks falsely and then punishes that prophet for speaking falsely! WOAH! Why would God do that? Does that make God responsible for sin? These verses can send us into a tailspin of confusion and misunderstanding. So what do we do? Let’s ask some questions!

Why would God do that?

Looking at these verses should cause us to ask, “Why would God do that?” The problem here is twofold. First, looking at individual verses alone will almost always lead to misunderstanding. While attempting to understand individual verses we need to place them within the story. Second, whether it's Zechariah 11:16-17, 1 Kings 22, or Ezekiel 14:9 we shouldn’t assume the individuals being judged are innocent or that God has predetermined their evil before judging them.

How should we read these verses?

We must read the Bible as if it were a normal story. Admittedly this can be difficult for us to do for several reasons. First, we aren’t trained to read our Bibles like a story. Many pastors teach topically from the pulpit and thus teach their congregation to read topically. How often are we guilty of piecemealing our bible study – reading one verse here and another there without considering the greater context or understanding? How often do we substitute real bible reading with devotionals with little or no biblical text? Reading the Bible like a story is hard because we have been taught that each verse is a life application. However, when we hit the genealogies we’re tempted to give up and read “the good stuff”. The problem is that when we read passages like 1 Kings 22 or Ezekiel 14:9 misunderstanding can hit us like a ton of bricks. So, before you question God’s character, ask yourself if you are reading the bible like a story that has a clear storyline. That will completely change your interpretation of the text!

What is the storyline of the bible?

In the Beginning God created everything. He is the sovereign king and no one can thwart his plan to have human imagers who live in relationship with him. God is love and because God is love he gives us a choice to give our allegiance to him. But, we were deceived and chose to reject God which started us on a downward path toward sin and death. What was God going to do? He chose a man named Abram (later renamed Abraham) and he committed themself to him in a covenant. God committed that he would be a blessing to Abraham so that Abraham would be a blessing to the world.

Abraham’s family was supposed to be a kingdom of priests that would point the nations back to the one true God. His family began as slaves in a foreign land and God rescued them by splitting the red sea and ‘birthing’ a new people. God’s children had been in a foreign land for a long time, and they had trouble trusting in God. Instead, they chose to trust in gods they could see. Because God is love he judges in love. So, even though it was harmful to God’s heart and harmful for his children God gave them the very things they wanted. They wanted to worship false gods so God gave them over to their evil desires. (Roman 1:24) They followed their false gods and at their worst, they even sacrificed their children in worship to false gods.

So, God gave them the consequences of their evil. He sent the nations of these false gods to conquer Israel and to carry them off into exile. Israel wanted to act like the nations around them and God punished them by giving them exactly what they wanted. Abraham was supposed to be a blessing to the world; instead, his people became just like the world. What was God going to do?

He would become the Israel that Israel couldn’t be, and he would enter into the world he made so that he could take back what he lost. Jesus the Messiah, the second person of the triune God, emptied himself and became a truly human servant. (Phil 2:6-11) He conquered sin and death on the cross. (Rom 8:3) He became our substitute by dying on our behalf. He conquered death to ensure our bodily resurrection. He did what Israel could not do and destroyed the boundary between Jew and Gentile. Finally, He invites all to enter into his chosen nation Israel as sons of Abraham (Gal 3:29), not by obedience to the law, but by grace.

Why would God send a lying spirit to the prophets?

What does this have to do with God sending lying spirits? When we remember to put the text into its proper place within the story we clearly see that God is not sending a lying spirit into the mouths of innocent people so that he can punish them. In 1 Kings 22 king Jehoshaphat sees the 400 prophets and asks, “Is there not here another prophet of the LORD of whom we may inquire?” He knows immediately that they are not true prophets of God. Likewise, Ezekiel is written during the height of Israel’s rebellion. They are sacrificing their children to the false god Molech. Ezekiel tells us that these false prophets are regularly lying to accomplish their selfish motives. Therefore, God has every right to punish his people by giving them over to their desires. Translator notes in the New English Translation say, “If a prophet allows himself to be influenced by idolaters, then the Lord will use deception as a form of punishment against that deceived prophet.” (See NET notes here).

Can God send lying spirits and remain Holy?

Several points need to be made here. First, deception is not always sinful. There may be specific instances where the most loving thing to do is to conceal the truth. A doctor shouldn’t express the totality of their patient’s suffering to a grieving family member. They should conceal the truth as an act of loving mercy. While an adulterous husband may wish to conceal his affair his heart is more concerned with the consequences of his actions than his wife’s feelings. His lie is sin. What matters is the heart behind the concealment.

The spirit coming is simply bringing judgment from God by giving the prophets what they desire – false prophecy. God’s judgment, maybe even his main use of judgment, is to judge the wicked by allowing them to fall into their own wicked schemes. Consider Psalm 7:14-16, “Behold, the wicked man conceives evil and is pregnant with mischief and gives birth to lies. He makes a pit, digging it out, and falls into the hole that he has made. His mischief returns upon his own head, and on his own skull his violence descends.” Also, see Psalm 9:15, “The nations have sunk in the pit that they made; in the net that they hid, their own foot has been caught.”

So what do we do?

Therefore, if we can understand the “lying spirit” to be pushing the false prophets into the pits they have made then God remains completely Holy in his actions. This may be the most frightening lesson in the Bible, God can punish us by giving us what we want. Therefore, let us desire to submit ourselves to God and to be transformed by the renewal of our minds.

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. Romans 12:2 ESV

What does the olive tree represent in this passage?

The olive tree represents all of believing Israel who are connected to the root that provides the nourishment of holiness (John 15, Rom 11:16). It also represents those who are in the family of Abraham. In the Old Testament the family of Abraham exclusively included citizens of Israel by blood or immigration (foreigners who believe in God and immigrate into Israel). God chose to reveal himself to Israel and to give them special access to his presence. However, Israel abandoned their God and chose to worship the false gods of the nations. So the question is who are the children of Abraham? Or bringing it back to romans, who is part of the olive tree and who isn’t?

The first surprising thing (for an ancient Israelite) to notice about Paul’s letter is that it’s not only Israelites that are included in this olive tree. It’s both believing Jew and Gentile. It’s important to remember that God’s promise of salvation was originally to Abraham, the father of Israel.

“For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith.” Romans 4:13

Therefore, just like Abraham was marked out by his faith, Abraham’s children are marked by their faith because the promise is also to his offspring.

So, what does the olive tree represent? The offspring of Abraham!

Again, the question is who are children of Abraham? Jesus fought with the Pharisees about this very question.

They answered him, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham's children, you would be doing the works Abraham did, but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did. You are doing the works your father did.” They said to him, “We were not born of sexual immorality. We have one Father—even God.” Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father's desires. (John 8:39-44)

For Jesus, the children of Abraham are those who “do the works that Abraham did” presumably the act of believing and loving Jesus the One God has sent. So who are the children of Abraham according to Jesus? Those who love the One God has sent. Therefore, the Gentiles are grafted into the nourishing root that is the triune God, a root that believing Israelites have been attached to for thousands of years. After all, the promise to Abraham and his offspring came through the righteousness of faith.

If there is any more confusion about this Paul makes it clear when he says,

“Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham.” (Galatians 3:7)

Believing Gentiles are grafted into Israel, the cultivated olive tree, as Abraham’s children. Therefore, if anyone is receiving the nourishing sap of the root they are members of God’s elect family. We are chosen because we’ve given our allegiance to Christ as King and as a result we’ve been adopted into God’s family.

Additional evidence for this is seen in Ephesians 2 where Paul speaking to Gentiles, saying they were,

“at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.” (Eph 2:12)

Gentiles were separated from the community of Israel, but we are no longer “far off” because we’ve been invited into God’s family.

“So then you are no longer foreigners and noncitizens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of God’s household.” Ephesians 2:19

Like the olive tree and family metaphor Paul also likens the corporate elect to the temple of God that grows. So, if God’s kingdom is a growing temple, can election be about God saving his stagnant list of individuals? Something to think about!

God has chosen his Church and everyone is invited. Election isn’t about you. God has chosen His church to be his servant, to be a kingdom of priests who represent Him to the world, and preach the good news to fellow orphans who need to be adopted into the family of Abraham. 

Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. Galatians 3:7

 

What are the all things in Ephesians 1:10-11? Hint: Blue

Paul explains the idea that God’s plan for the fullness of time is to unite all things through the Messiah. But what are all things? Are they events or places? Thankfully Paul tells us that all things refer to all things in heaven and on earth. However, God is not simply uniting heaven and earth arbitrarily. All things in heaven and on Earth are summed up in Christ. It is in Christ that there is unity of heaven and earth. Christ is the already and not yet that collides heaven and earth. His kingdom has come, continues to come, and will come fully in the eschaton. The counsel of God’s will that God has predestined, and what he works everything out to accomplish is the unification of heaven and earth. Why is God interested in uniting heaven and earth? For the same reason God chose to create, because God is love. (1 John 4:8) God first chose to love the world, and in love God gave his son so that whoever believes will have everlasting life. (John 3:16) Anyone who believes will be in Christ and adopted into his family. God doesn’t need an adopted family, he wants one. “God, for no other reason than that he is a loving God, chose to adopt people into his family through Jesus Christ.” God’s love drives Him to create, and to recreate. Psalm 96:11-12 reaffirms this truth, “Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; let the sea roar, and all that fills it; let the field exult, and everything in it! Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy.”

God is interested in a united heaven and earth because not doing so would be a defeat by forfeit. God will not lose. Our decision to hand over the truth for a lie was in direct rebellion to God’s relational goals for His imagers. Though God knew his imagers would rebel against him he chose to create nevertheless. Any parent can relate to God’s decision. We know our children will rebel against us. But we procreate regardless because the experience of loving, knowing, and experiencing our children is worth the risk.

What is our guarantee or confidence that God’s people will receive an inheritance? Hint: Orange

God has predestined that anyone who has given their allegiance to king Jesus will obtain an inheritance. What is their inheritance? It is the land originally set apart for God’s people, the garden of Eden – Expanded into the whole of the earth and united with all of heaven. Our inheritance is the not only an Edenic land united with heaven, but also unencumbered relationship with the triune God. Paul is encouraging us that our allegiance to king Jesus will result in an inheritance because it has been decreed by God. not because God has decreed all events.

What can we conclude? If we conclude that “all things” refers to all events, we will miss the grand narrative of the scriptures, the hope of the new heavens and new earth, and the wonderful inheritance of life with our creator. We may also give Satan a rebellion inducing foothold in our minds by blaming God for sinful events. God hasn’t predestined your sin. He hates your sin more than you do and he will hold us responsible for what we do. God works out all things, not with you in mind, but with God works out all things, the unity of the new heavens and new earth, according to the counsel of his will because it is his plan set forth in Christ. Paul tells us more about God’s plan in Romans 8:28, “And we know that all things work together[a] for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose,” (NET) It is tempting for some to view sinful events as being predestined by God for the good of the victim. Instead I would like to propose a different idea. All things work together for the good of those who love God because despite all of the groaning and hardship we experience in this life, we know that God’s sovereign plan is to restore Eden. We can mourn the hardship we experience because of sin and the curse while we trust in the one who will provide a new inheritance. Though we have not seen the restored heaven and earth, we hope for a new reality that God has promised.

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.’”

The Culmination of God’s Work and Will: All Things United in The New Heavens and The New Earth as Seen in Revelation 21:1-4