Is God or Man Responsible?

Autumn asked this question a few weeks back:

First of all, let me say that I very much appreciate your commentary. I use it weekly. It’s the first place I go when what I’m reading in the Bible doesn’t make sense. So, THANK YOU for such an awesome resource!

I just finished reading the book of Judges and in Judges 21:15 it says: And the people grieved for Benjamin, because the LORD had made a void in the tribes of Israel.

Yet, in your commentary for verses 2-3, you write as if it was the responsibility of Israel for this “void.”

To me, it appears that it WAS His responsibility. I’m sure there’s a reason why I’m wrong, but would you mind explaining?

In Judges 20, the tribe of Benjamin was judged for a terrible crime committed in one of their cities – the city of Gibeah. The judgement came through the other tribes of Israel. When they came to hold the people of the city of Gibeah to account, the rest of the tribe of Benjamin protected Gibeah, instead of giving them over to justice. The tribe of Benjamin committed a great sin when they put loyalty to their tribe before loyalty to God and His law.

This was an event we don’t often talk about – a short civil war among the tribes of Israel before they ever had a king. On the first day of battle, the soldiers from the tribe of Benjamin killed 22,000 Israelites (from the other tribes, of course). Apparently there were few men from the tribe of Benjamin killed, because they weren’t even mentioned.

After the defeat of that first day, the men of Israel sought the Lord. Yet on the second day of battle, they lost another 18,000 men. This was paying a very high cost for doing what was right – dealing with a tribe that was disobedient and covering for terrible sin.

After the second day of battle, and after 40,000 were lost in two terrible days – Israel sincerely repented, and God was with them on the third day of battle. The end of Judges 20 describes a tremendous slaughter, that left only 600 surviving soldiers from the tribe of Benjamin.

The tribe of Benjamin was undeniably guilty, but there was no need for the complete slaughter as described here. This too-severe judgment against the tribe of Benjamin would soon be regretted by Israel.

Then in Judges chapter 21, the tribes of Israel decided that they would refuse to intermarry with the people of the tribe of Benjamin. This would essentially mean that the tribe would die out, with so few men remaining and unable to intermarry with the other tribes.

That’s when Israel said (Judges 21:2-3):

Then the people came to the house of God, and remained there before God till evening. They lifted up their voices and wept bitterly, and said, “O LORD God of Israel, why has this come to pass in Israel, that today there should be one tribe missing in Israel?”

So, here is my comment on this:

They cried out to God, almost as if it was His responsibility that the tribe of Benjamin was on the edge of extinction. The question, “Why has this come to pass?” was easily answered: Because of the excessive vengeance of the tribes of Israel against the tribe of Benjamin.

But, Autumn’s question is about Judges 21:15:

And the people grieved for Benjamin, because the LORD had made a void in the tribes of Israel.

So, who was responsible for the almost-extinction of the tribe of Benjamin? Was it Israel, or was it the Lord? The answer is “yes.”

In some sense, both had responsibility.

Yes, this was the work of God – in at least two senses.

  • It was the work of God in the sense that nothing happens without God at least allowing it.
  • And in this case, it was also the work of God because He did direct the other tribes of Israel to bring judgment against the disobedient tribe of Benjamin.

Yes, this was the work of the tribes of Israel.

  • They did right in honoring God by bringing judgement against Benjamin. But (in my opinion) they were excessive. “Justice” may mean punishment, but it also means appropriate and proportional punishment.
  • We also can’t forget the original crime in Gibeah (in Judges 19) that provided the reason for judgement. Surely, that was the work of the men of Gibeah, not the direct work of God.

So, that’s why I say that it was kind of strange question for Israel to ask in Judges 21:3, “O LORD God of Israel, why has this come to pass in Israel, that today there should be one tribe missing in Israel?” They knew why; what they really wanted to know was “What should we do about it?”

They came up with something of a strange solution later in Judges 21. But all this reminds us:

  • In some sense, God is ultimately responsible – at least in what He allows.
  • In another sense – a sense often more important to us in our daily life – we are responsible for our sin, and for the discipline of the Lord or judgment of the Lord, that may rightfully follow our sin.

When will the tribulation saints and the 144,000 Jews receive their glorified bodies?

Will the 144,000 Jews that God seals and the tribulation saints get their glorified bodies at the end of the great tribulation or after the millennial reign of Christ?

I enjoy addressing these questions about biblical prophecy and eschatology. I must acknowledge that there is a divergence of opinion on these questions within the broader Christian world. I have no problem answering it from my understanding of eschatology or biblical prophecy, which is based on my understanding of what the Bible says. But I always want to acknowledge that there are a variety of perspectives on this within the broader Christian world.

In my perspective, those who survive the Great Tribulation will receive their glorified bodies at the end of the Great Tribulation. That’s my understanding of it. I don’t think the Scriptures are clear enough on it to be absolutely dogmatic, but I think the evidence weighs in favor of that. Either right before or at the exact moment of the glorious return of Jesus Christ, during the battle of Armageddon, they would receive their glorified bodies. I believe the resurrection described after the Millennial Reign of Christ is actually the resurrection unto condemnation which Jesus described in the Gospel of John. It’s not a resurrection unto eternal life in Heaven, but unto judgment for those who will go to the Lake of Fire.

My perspective is that those who survive the Great Tribulation – the 144,000 and the tribulation saints – will receive their resurrection bodies at the glorious return of Christ, coinciding with what we call the battle of Armageddon.

What does it mean that the wrath of God is revealed from heaven? (Romans 1:18-20)

Romans 1:18-20 communicates the idea that the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all kinds of sin. It is the judgment for sin in our present age. Now, there will be a greater revelation of the wrath of God and all the judgment which that entails. There will be a greater revelation of the wrath of God to come at the end of the age.

But make no mistake about it: the wrath of God is revealed in the present tense. Listen, people are not blessed by a sinful lifestyle. I know that there are some outliers out there. There are some people who live terribly sinful and rebellious lives, and by all outward observance, they have no problems, and they die in their sleep, and never seem to pay any penalty for their sin on this earth. But if there are such people, they are few and far between.

Most people experience the penalty of their sin in the here and now. Friends, the penalty for sexual immorality is all around us, in broken lives, in broken families, in ruined relationships, in jealousy, in wrath and anger. The penalty or the wrath for addictions is present all around us. The many cases of brokenness which pervade our world are vivid examples of the wrath of God against sin right now in the present. There are consequences which people bear for going against God’s order and God’s law.

God has built sin to where it has an inherent consequence within it. In that sense alone, if not in many other senses, the wrath of God against sin is revealed right now against sinners. Now, will it be revealed in a greater sense at the end of the age? Absolutely. But in at least one way, if not many other ways, the wrath of God is revealed against sin in the here and now.

How is the tongue “set on fire by hell?” (James 3:6)

James 3:6 – And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell.

I believe what James is saying is that people can speak on behalf of the devil yet have no idea that that’s what they’re doing. Now it could happen very casually. Somebody might speak words of slander, or criticism, or cover-up, or just ungodliness. Without even being aware of it, they are functioning as a spokesman of Hell itself, and of the Devil himself.

For a concrete example, think of Peter. Jesus revealed to Peter and the rest of the disciples that He was going to go to the cross, be crucified, be rejected by the religious leaders, die a painful and shameful death on a cross, and that He would rise again three days later. Peter told the Lord, “No, no, Lord, may it never be so.” Peter rebuked Jesus, and how did Jesus reply? He said, “Get behind Me, Satan.” Now, nobody thinks that Peter was demon-possessed at that moment, in the sense that we classically think of demon possession, yet in some sense, he was being an unwitting spokesman for the heart, thinking, and mind of the Devil himself in that moment. I think this is simply a way to say that we can unwittingly be the spokesman for Hell and Satan himself. We need to be very careful with the use of our tongue and the words that we say.

Let’s be honest about it. There is a lot of hellish destruction which happens by what we say, by what we post on social media, by the opinions that we pass on to other people. We need to take care that we are people of the truth, and that we are people who speak what is right and good and edifying. That doesn’t mean that every word is going to be easy and smooth for others to hear. No, sometimes the exposure of the work of darkness is hard for people to hear, but it’s right before God to do it. We just need to be careful that we are speaking truth and not lies, and that we are, to the very best of our imperfect ability, representing God in what we say, and not unwittingly being spokesmen of hell.

What is the difference between ordinances, statutes, commands, commandments, decrees, and laws?

First, here are the definitions of those words from my Bible Commentary on Psalm 119:

In this psalm there are eight basic words used to describe the Scriptures, God’s written revelation to us:

  • Law (torah, used 25 times in Psalm 119): “Its parent verb means ‘teach’ or ‘direct’; therefore coming from God it means both ‘law’ and ‘revelation.’ It can be used of a single command or of a whole body of law.” (Derek Kidner)
  • Word (dabar, used 24 times): The idea is of the spoken word, God’s revealed word to man. “Proceeding from his mouth and revealed by him to us…” (Matthew Poole)
  • Judgments (mispatim, used 23 times): “…from shaphat, to judge, determine, regulate, order, and discern, because they judge concerning our words and works; show the rules by which they should be regulated; and cause us to discern what is right and wrong, and decide” (Adam Clarke)
  • Testimonies (edut/edot, used 23 times): This word is related to the word for witness. To obey His testimonies “…signifies loyalty to the terms of the covenant made between the Lord and Israel.” (Willem VanGemeren)
  • Commandments (miswah/miswot, used 22 times): “This word emphasizes the straight authority of what is said…the right to give orders.” (Derek Kidner)
  • Statutes (huqqim, used 21 times): The noun is derived from the root verb “engrave” or “inscribe”; the idea is the written word of God and the authority of His written word: “…declaring his authority and power of giving us laws.” (Matthew Poole)
  • Precepts (piqqudim, used 21 times): “This is a word drawn from the sphere of an officer or overseer, a man who is responsible to look closely into a situation and take action…. So the word points to the particular instructions of the Lord, as of one who cares about detail.” (Derek Kidner)
  • Word (imrah, used 19 times): Imrah is similar in meaning to dabar, yet a different term. “The ‘word’ may denote anything God has spoken, commanded, or promised.” (Willem VanGemeren)

These are ultimately terms that describe the Word of God in different ways. I’ve heard an anecdote that the Inuit people, sometimes known as Eskimos, people who are natives of the far northern regions of Canada and Alaska, have something like 20 words for snow. I’ve been told that this isn’t actually true, but let’s take it as an analogy. They have 20 different words for snow. They can describe wet snow, dry snow, heavy snow, light snow, and so on, because they live with a lot of snow.

Similarly, the ancient Hebrews were so focused on the revelation of God, the Word of God, that they described the Word of God in many different senses. They described it with terms you mentioned, like ordinances, statutes, commands, commandments, decrees, and laws. Sometimes they use those terms in a very specific sense, such as a law being very similar to a statute or a command. But other times, they’re using them in a very general sense, to describe God’s authoritative revelation to us. All are synonyms for the Word of God. That’s the general sense used throughout the entirety of Psalm 119.

You might ask, “Why do they use so many words for the Word of God? Why did they just say the word, the word, the word, the word?” Well, it’s because God’s a good writer. Good writers don’t repeat themselves too often. They know how to use different words which mean the same thing, to give a bit of nuance for the sake of good writing. For the most part, these words are just synonyms, words that mean the same thing as the Word of God, the authoritative revelation of God, the Scriptures.

Could Judas have repented?

If Judas would have repented instead of committing suicide, could he have made it to heaven?

This is, of course, a hypothetical question. I find this hypothetical question intriguing. If Judas would have repented, could he have gone to heaven? I’m going to be very straightforward with you. I could answer that hypothetical question from either side. So let me answer it on both sides.

First, I’m going to answer it on the side that says, “Yes, Judas could have been forgiven, and made it to heaven, if he would have repented.” Sometimes we draw a contrast between Judas and Peter. Both denied their Lord in some sense. But Peter repented, and Judas did not. So, it brings up the question: “If Judas would have repented, could he have been saved and gone to heaven?”

There is a wideness to the mercy of God. Jesus says, “I will not refuse anybody who comes to Me.” We understand that means the one who comes to Him in terms of faith and repentance. Jesus says He will in no wise cast that one out. Therefore, we can say in that sense, yes, Judas could have been forgiven his sin, if he would have truly repented and truly believed. So yes, I can argue from that sense that Judas could have been forgiven and gone to heaven.

But let me argue it from the other side. Jesus called Judas by a very interesting title: “The son of perdition.” Perdition is a fancy word for destruction. In other words, he was destined for this destruction. And if I argue it from that sense, I say there’s no way that Judas could have ever made it to heaven. He was destined for this. He is the son of perdition or destruction.

I almost want to say, What side do you want to argue it from? Come on, we could do it from either side. I lean to the side of saying he could have been forgiven, but this is purely a hypothetical. It did not work out that way.

Do people reject God and the truth because the church is lukewarm and hypocritical?

I sometimes hear people say that the corrupt lifestyle of the world exists, because the Church is lukewarm; but if the Church was really on fire, the world would look different. But is that really true?

2 Timothy 3:13- “But evil men and imposters will grow worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived.”

I think your question touches on a very important issue. As Christians, we live with a painful sense that the Church is not all that it should be. You don’t have to persuade Christians about that idea. Is the Church all that it should be? No, the Church fails in many ways. The Church doesn’t love as it should. It’s not holy as it should be. It doesn’t reach out to the world as it should. There are many failings and weaknesses in the Church, which is the community of God’s people in the world today.

Sometimes Christians have this sense that if only we would get our act together, then the world would come to Christ. Now, there’s a sense in which that’s true. Jesus did say that a Church full of love would be a good witness to the world. We have examples in the book of Acts where a vibrant, living, holy Church was a good witness to the world. But we should never think that the only reason the world does not believe is because the Church doesn’t have its act together.

There is more than one reason why the world does not believe. In seasons when the Church was more loving, more unified, more holy, more outreaching to the world, even in seasons when the Church was better off than it is today, many in the world still hated them, and rejected what the Church offered to the world through the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Why? Well, as Jesus explained, and other passages in the New Testament explain, they love the darkness, because their deeds are evil.

This is an area in which we must be mature, rightly divide the Word of Truth, and understand that there is a sense in which both can be true. Would more people in this world today come to Christ if the Church was better, holier, more loving, more unified, and more outreaching than is? Yes. If the church was more faithful to the Truth and to its mission? Yes, I don’t doubt that at all.

But we must never simply blame the Church for the unbelief of the world. In this day and age, I think there’s too much of that. I think there’s too much handwringing and headshaking over the Church, saying that the world rejects Christ because we are so messed up. I’m not saying it’s irrelevant. There is a connection. But in the main, the Church represents the Lord imperfectly, but the world rejects the Gospel because their deeds are evil.

Will believers be raised from the dead at the Rapture?

Yes, there will be believers raised from the dead, raised in Christ. 1 Thessalonians 4 talks about the dead in Christ being raised first, then we who are alive on the earth being caught up together with the Lord in the air, meeting Him in the clouds. That’s where we get this idea of the Rapture, which is simply coming from a Latin word describing a “catching away;” it’s the coming of the Lord to catch away His Church.

Now, since 1 Thessalonians 4 also clearly connects that event with the resurrection of believers who are already dead, the two events are connected. What we don’t completely understand is the present status of those who die in the Lord right now. Here are some possibilities.

First, we know that they are with the Lord. Paul said, “To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.” Many passages talk about this idea. Make no mistake about it, to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. So, we know that those who die in the Lord today and all throughout history are with the Lord.

Now, are they with the Lord as disembodied spirits, or are they with the Lord in their resurrection bodies? The idea that they’re with the Lord as disembodied spirits means simply that they’re waiting for their resurrection bodies, which they will not receive until the end of the age, until the catching away of the church. Then, everybody who is in the Lord will receive the resurrection body at the same time. That’s a possibility.

Because of the way in which time interacts with eternity, it may also be that when a believer passes from this life to the next, it is the end of the age for them. That’s the explanation I lean towards. In some of the passages, when Paul speaks of the resurrection, he reveals to us that the status of being a disembodied spirit doesn’t seem to be so great. I would lean towards the idea that the believing dead receive their resurrection bodies right away, because of the way that the temporal or the world or time connects with the world of eternity. When they die, it is the appearing of the Lord, the catching away of the church, the Second Coming, in its broadest understanding, for them right then.

What is the difference between Christ’s peace and the world’s peace? (John 14:27)

The peace of Jesus Christ is founded on utter truth and reality. The truth of the matter, the reality of the matter, is that in Christ, God has reconciled His people to Himself, and that is the source of all true peace. We are no longer at enmity or battling against or in disagreement with God in any sense at all. We are truly reconciled with Him. And we can have peace in its fullest dimension. That is the peace of Christ.

Here’s another thing. Think about the peace, not only which Jesus gives on account of His reconciliation between God and man, but also think the peace that Christ has. That’s another way to understand the peace of Christ. Jesus Christ is not anxious about anything. He has complete peace right now in Throne at the right hand of God the Father on high in heaven. He has complete peace, complete satisfaction over everything. He’s not worried about a single thing.

The peace which Jesus gives us is not only the peace that He has made by His reconciling work at the cross; it’s also the peace that He enjoys. It’s a complete peace, knowing that God’s plan can never be thwarted. That’s the peace that Jesus gives.

Now, what kind of peace does the world give? Well, it gives the peace of having a lot of money in the bank. But how secure is that? It gives the peace of having a comfortable life around you. The things which mark the peace that the world gives can be taken away at any moment. Not only that, but they also only last as long as we are in this world; it is not a peace lasting unto eternity. The peace which the world offers is a very fragile and very temporary kind of peace. The peace that Jesus gives is eternal. It’s real. It’s everlasting. It’s founded on truth, the greatest truths ever. That’s the peace that Jesus gives.

I recently heard my pastor say that the unpardonable sin is to reject Christ. Haven’t we all rejected Christ at some point in some way?

I believe your pastor gave a true, but incomplete, description. The blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is to reject Christ, but it’s to reject Him finally, constantly, repeatedly, and without repentance. That is the sin which God will not forgive: to reject Jesus in a settled, consistent, eternal way.

We know that Jesus connected the unpardonable sin with what Jesus called the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. Jesus Himself said that the work of the Holy Spirit was to testify to the world about Jesus, and to convict the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment.

The Holy Spirit does His work of telling the world about Jesus and about our sin. To reject that testimony of the Holy Spirit, in a final, settled, repeated, constant way, is to reject Jesus and to commit the sin of the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. That’s why it is such a serious thing to have a settled, consistent, lasting rejection of Jesus Christ. It is the blasphemy of Holy Spirit, and it is the unforgivable sin.

Now, the great news is this. No one need fear that they’ve committed the sin of the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit, because you can fix that right now. How do you do it? Repent of your sins and put your trust in Jesus Christ. If you will listen to what the Holy Spirit tells you today through God’s Word, what the Holy Spirit tells you through the preaching of the gospel, what the Holy Spirit tells you by the witness to your own spirit, and what the Holy Spirit tells you about Jesus Christ and your need for Him, you can be forgiven today. You can be assured that your rejection of the Holy Spirit’s testimony regarding Jesus is not settled, because you’ve now accepted His testimony. It’s not constant, because you’ve changed that response; it’s not permanent because you no longer reject what the Holy Spirit says about Jesus Christ. I don’t want anybody to live under that terrible burden of feeling that they’ve rejected the Holy Spirit in a permanent sense, because you can change that today.

Why does the KJV use the “charity” instead of “love” in 1 Corinthians 13?

1 Corinthians 13 is the famous love chapter. First, I would say that the word “charity” was used in the King James Version for a poetic sense. Often, the King James Version translates the ancient Greek word agape as “love,” but sometimes it mixes it up, for the sake of good writing quality, and expresses it as “charity.”

When the King James Version was translated and published back in the year 1611, “charity” didn’t mean the same thing that we mean by it today. Its meaning was much closer to the simple meaning of “love” that we understand today.

When Paul said he was “a wretched man” in Romans 7:24, did he speak of himself as a converted or unconverted man?

Romans 7:24 – O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 

This is a bit of a controversial question. Other Bible teachers and commentators whom I respect might take a different position on this than I do, but here’s my opinion.

I believe Romans 7:24 refers to Paul as a converted man. There are some commentators and Bible teachers whom I respect who very strongly teach that Paul is writing this as an unredeemed man before he was a believer. But I think that when you take all of Romans 7 into account, Paul would only experience the struggle he has about it as a redeemed man; that’s my take on it. In other words, his earnest desire to walk rightly before God and to obey God sounds to me like the struggle experienced by a redeemed man or woman.

I would define Paul’s problem in Romans 7 as this. He’s a redeemed man, he’s a saved man. He wants to do the will of God. But he’s looking to self instead of Jesus. And friend, let me tell you, when you’re looking to self instead of looking to Jesus, that’s always trouble. We need to be men and women in Christ, who have our sights on Jesus and not on ourselves.

In Romans 7, the way in which Paul repeatedly refers to “I, me, my”, seems almost exaggerated, in order to give a sense of, “Paul, you’re so focused on yourself!” And really, Paul is saying, “That’s my problem. I am a believer. I am a redeemed man. But my focus is on myself. I will only find some measure of victory in my Christian life, when I put my focus upon Jesus Christ Himself, and not upon me myself.” I regard that as being Paul’s struggle as a believer, as a redeemed, converted man.