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Bible verses about Merism
(From Forerunner Commentary)

Ecclesiastes 3:1-10

Because God is sovereign over time all the time, He will be overseeing and working to make the most and best of every situation for us. Time is important to us, but with God, it is not an overriding issue. There is time because He is involved and wants the most and best for us.

In listing the merisms (pairs of contrasting words used to express totality or completeness) in verses 2-8, Solomon is not saying everybody has to go through each of the fourteen pairs, though that would do us no harm. They do, however, give us an overview of major events of virtually every life. Once they are listed, verse 9 asks, “What is to be gained by experiencing these events?” The question is rhetorical at this point. Answers are to be gathered from what Solomon teaches within the larger context of the book.

By way of contrast, understanding verse 10 is quite important to our well-being. Solomon assures us that God is deeply involved in these issues and events of life. In fact, he writes that they are God-given, implying that God has assigned them as disciplines for our development as His children. The dominant fact here is not whether God personally put us in them, since we may have gotten ourselves into them through our choices. The important factor is that we are indeed in them, and God is involved in them with us because at the very least He allowed us to fall into them.

We must not allow ourselves to forget that He is our Creator (II Corinthians 5:17); we are not creating ourselves. Thus, we can be encouraged that He has most assuredly not abandoned us (Hebrews 13:5). Are we accepting and patiently rising to meet these challenges, or are we resisting them in despair and frustration?

John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part Three): Time


 

Romans 11:21-22

In his letter to the Christians residing at Rome, the apostle Paul is characteristically astute in his statement of dichotomies. To him, God's penchant to follow destruction quickly with restoration is summed up in the merism, “the goodness and severity of God.” He sees these traits, in essence polar opposites, as definitive of God's character, the operational definition of His interface with mankind. Not that God is bipolar, exhibiting radical mood swings. Rather, God is love, intrinsically so, unchangeably so, but He responds rigorously to sin because He understands how hurtful it is.

Furthermore, implicit in the merism, to Paul's way of thinking, is a stern warning not to abuse God's mercy, lest we incur His severity. The context is the mercy that God has shown some Gentiles by calling them into His church, and at the same time, His rejection of His (physical) people Israel—at least for a while:

If God didn't think twice about taking pruning shears to the natural branches [that is, physical Israel of old], why would He hesitate over you? He wouldn't give it a second thought. Make sure you stay alert to these qualities of gentle kindness and ruthless severity that exist side by side in God—ruthless with the deadwood, gentle with the grafted shoot. But don't presume on this gentleness. (Romans 11:21-22, The Message)

Here is the same dichotomy—punishment and restoration, stated in a New Testament context. Two translations of this same passage, quoted below, make it clear that God's severity and His goodness combine to make up two sides of a single personality. J.B. Phillips' paraphrase puts it this way:

You must try to appreciate both the kindness and the strict justice of God. Those who fell experienced His justice, while you are experiencing His kindness, and will continue to do so as long as you do not abuse that kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off. . . .

The Voice is quite clear. Notice the translator's turn, “simultaneous balance”:

Witness the simultaneous balance of the kindness and severity of our God. Severity is directed at the fallen branches withering without faith. Yet kindness is directed at you. So live in the kindness of God or else prepare to be cut off yourselves.

It is fair to say that this merism—the opposites expressed in God's goodness and His severity—articulate a central, informing theme of God's Word—from its beginning to its end. We see these opposites in narrative after narrative in the Old Testament. Here are just four examples:

1. The goodness of God toward Noah and his family, His protection of them through the cataclysm that destroyed the world that then was (compare Genesis 8:1 and II Peter 3:5-6).

2. The goodness of God as He delivered “righteous Lot” from the cities of the plain, which He promptly burned to ashes (see II Peter 2:6-7).

3. The severity He displayed to Job in order to teach him an important lesson, and the goodness He showed as He ultimately “blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning” (Job 42:12).

4. The severity He exhibited toward Joseph, a bit of a cocky 17-year-old lad, who basked in his father's favor. He found himself a slave in Egypt. Psalm 105:18 (Common English Bible) tells us that his “feet hurt in his shackles; his neck was in an iron collar. . . .” Relatively soon, however, Joseph became Pharaoh's vizier.

Charles Whitaker
The Goodness and Severity of God (Part Two)


 

Revelation 6:15

Juxtaposed against "the kings of the earth, the great men, the rich men, the commanders, the mighty men" is another group: "every slave and every free man" (Revelation 6:15). Who are they? What role do they play in the caves?

To understand, we first need to deal with those repeated words, every: "every slave and every free man." Does John mean that every slave and every free person in the world is addressing "mountains and rocks," asking that they fall on him? Does every free individual and every slave know about the Day of the Lord and about the Lamb at this point? That would be a lot of people.

Revelation 9 clearly indicates that the cave-dwellers represent only a segment—perhaps a small segment—of humanity. Many other people have refused to foreswear idolatry, not yet understanding what the cavemen know about God and His imminent anger:

But the rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands, that they should not worship demons, and idols of gold, silver, brass, stone, and wood, which can neither see nor hear nor walk. And they did not repent of their murders or their sorceries or their sexual immorality or their thefts. (Revelation 9:20-21)

So, the occurrences of "every" in Revelation 6:15 do not refer to every slave and every free person in the world. Rather, the phrase "every slave and every free man" is a merism, a rhetorical device wherein a single entity or action is described by opposites, as in "looked high and low" or "on-and-off enthusiasm." "Every slave and every free man" refers to a small subset of people, to a single class of person, one who is both free and bond.

The merism may refer to God's people—who are free and slave concurrently. Christ promises that, if we remain in His Word, we are free: "If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free" (John 8:32). Similarly, the apostle Paul writes:

There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death. (Romans 8:1-2; compare Galatians 5:1)

Yet, the same apostle calls us slaves, bought by God:

Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God's. (I Corinthians 6:19-20)

Paul also tells the Roman church: "But now having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life" (Romans 6:22). Peter provides yet further witness to our being God's slaves: "For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men—as free, yet not using liberty as a cloak for vice, but as bondservants of God" (I Peter 2:15-16).

In some ways, God's people are free, and in others, slaves.

We could look at this merism a bit differently. "Every slave and every free man" could refer to true Christians, those who know the truth and are therefore free (John 8:32) in God's sight, but who have become enslaved by man through end-time religious persecution. Slaves are expropriated and disenfranchised individuals, having lost personal and property rights. The Jews, taken in the Nazi pogroms, were slaves, told by their masters, "Arbeit macht frei" ("Work makes free").

Currently, chattel slavery is not a legal institution in Western civilization. However, under increased Islamic influence, it could become legalized and widespread as the result of religious persecution. So it might happen that God protects His people in caves, arranging to have them taken there as slaves in service to others.

Charles Whitaker
Post-Historic Cave-Dwellers


 

 




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