What the Bible says about
(From Forerunner Commentary)
Theologians have long discussed a general or public revelation that anyone with eyes and a brain could figure out for himself. Zophar, one of Job's counselors, alludes to this empirical revelation.
The American pamphleteer and propagandist, Thomas Paine, wrote a book entitled The Age of Reason, in which for his thesis he attempted to answer Zophar's double-pronged question. To the first part, he answered unequivocally in the affirmative, citing the order and design of the cosmos. Paine, a practicing Deist, points to Psalm 19:1, "The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows His handiwork" as affirmation of the general or public revelation.
Romans 1:20 more definitively substantiates the idea of a public or general revelation: "For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and [divine nature], so that they are without excuse." Even with such an overwhelming testimony, some hapless fools, having immersed themselves in evil behavior, have deluded themselves into rejecting this general revelation, refusing to see God (Psalm 14:1). Even the public or general revelation cannot penetrate the darkened minds of those whom, because of their addiction to sin, God has given over to a reprobate mind (Romans 1:21).
Thomas Paine responded to Zophar's second question, "Can you find out the limits of the Almighty?" with a resounding, "No." Largely, Paine is right on target. The carnal mind, because of its propensity to sin and lawlessness, is enmity against God (Romans 8:7). Knowledge of God's intent or purpose has always been conditional, linked to obedience to His holy law. He promises to those He has scattered for disobedience:
But from there you will seek the LORD your God, and you will find Him if you seek Him with all your heart and with all your soul. When you are in distress, and all these things come upon you in the latter days, when you turn to the LORD your God and obey His voice. . . . (Deuteronomy 4:29-30)
Consequently, the answer to Zophar's second question has strings attached. We may see God's intent and purpose for our lives more clearly if 1) we yield to His will, and 2) we actively and tirelessly seek for Him as we would for buried precious minerals.
David F. Maas
Why Does God Keep Secrets?
In Matthew 13:10-17, Jesus explains the purpose of parables. It is not to expand the meaning, but to hide the meaning from the people whom He did not want to understand. Only with the Spirit of God can we really understand the parables, but He has to give us the understanding. Certain keys unlock parables, and if we do not have the keys, we will miss the meaning, and the interpretation will be wrong, off track.
Other parts of the Bible tell us that it takes the Holy Spirit to give us "ears to hear" (see I Corinthians 2:6-14). To understand spiritual things, we must have the Spirit of God in our minds - we must have the mind of Christ - that in turn opens up the Bible's "mysteries." Of course, the other major key is the Book itself, because the interpretation of the parables is within the Bible. It is not necessarily just the scriptural context of the parable; rather, the entire Bible contributes to opening up the parable's meaning. In other words, a parable does not stand alone. It must "fit" within the Bible's revelation.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Parables of Matthew 13 (Part 1): The Mustard Seed
The woman in the Parable of the Leaven is interesting because in all the other parables a man is the main character. What is "a woman" in Scripture?
In Revelation 12, a woman is symbolic of the nation of Israel, and in Revelation 17 and 18 she represents the false system of Babylon. In Isaiah 47, a woman is again symbolic of Babylon (whether the nation or the system of Babylon). In Galations 4:21-31, Paul uses "women" to symbolize the Old Covenant and the New Covenant. In Ezekiel 16, God uses a woman to symbolize Israel: "Aholah" is the kingdom of Israel and "Aholibah" is the kingdom of Judah.
What can we understand from this? Every time a woman is used as a symbol, the common denominator is the idea of a system of beliefs and practices that influence other people. A church or religion is a system of beliefs and practices. A nation has a character and way of doing things. This world as a whole has a system of beliefs and practices that go contrary to God. To find out what kind of system is being referred to, we must look at the context to see how the system works, how it reacts, and what it does.
What are the characteristics of this woman in the parable? First, she took leaven. This is the common word used to mean "to come into possession of." It is a common Greek word, but it can also have the connotation of "to seize," "to take by force." The text does not say which connotation is correct here.
The next verb is "hid" (Greek, enkrupto), an interesting word. It means "to hide in" or "to mix." Enkrupto is used only this way here. Enkrupto is the same word from which we get our word "encrypt." A general tells his lieutenant, "Encrypt this message and take it to the colonel at the front line." What does the lieutenant do when he encrypts it? He mixes up the letters according to a code, and only a person with the key to the encryption knows what the message is saying.
The root word for enkrupto is krupto, which means "to cover, to conceal, to keep secret." Its major connotation is "to be sneaky" or "to be secret, covert, or surreptitious." It seems from the usage of these words that this woman is up to no good whatsoever. First, she takes something, then she hides it. She is a bad lady, a bad system.
She hides the leaven "in three measures of meal." That Jesus uses the very phrase "three measures of meal" is quite interesting—and it is a key, because this told His Jewish audience something that He did not have to explain, as they were familiar with it. It was a normal practice and meant something to them.
It has been suggested that He used this amount because it is the average quantity of meal a housewife would employ in her daily baking. This suggestion is pretty ridiculous when we consider that three measures of meal equal about two gallons of meal (7.3 liters)! That seems like a lot of bread each day.
An average loaf of bread contains about three cups of flour. Two gallons of meal, which is the equivalent of about eight quarts or thirty-two cups, would make nearly eleven loaves! Even the most bread-gorging family on this earth would not eat eleven loaves each day. Normally, one loaf would suffice for one person for a day, if he ate nothing else. Jesus, then, is probably speaking of a special occasion.
Genesis 18 contains the first biblical usage of "three measures of meal." This is the occasion when the One who became Jesus Christ and two angels came to Abraham, and he made them a meal. Jesus tells him in verse 5, "Go ahead and make a meal." "So Abraham hastened into the tent to Sarah and said, 'Quickly, make ready three measures of fine meal'" (Genesis 18:6).
What was "three measures of meal"? There is a principle of Bible study (the law of first mention) that says, "The first time a thing—a word, a phrase—is mentioned in the Bible influences how it should be interpreted throughout." Here, "three measures of meal" is used in the context of a fellowship meal—giving hospitality, in this case, to God—so it has a spiritual connotation.
The law of grain offerings in Numbers 15:8-9 provides some instruction. We need to learn a little bit about Israelite dry measures. The smallest unit of measure is an omer. Three omers equal one about one seah. This seah is what is translated "measure" in Matthew 13:33, except it is in Greek saton. There is also the ephah, which is ten omers. Three seahs made up of about three omers equal one ephah. These verses show that the smallest meal offering that could be given was one seah, one-third of an ephah. It had to be of fine flour. Abraham gave three seahs, three measures. He went above and beyond what was required for the meal offering.
Judges 6:18-19 shows Gideon's offering to the Lord. How much did he give? Gideon gave an ephah, three measures of meal. I Samuel 1:24 tells of Hannah's thank offering. How much? Hannah's offering was one ephah, three measures of meal. In Ezekiel 45:24 and 46:5, 7, 11 are the offerings given at the Feast during the Millennium. How much is given? An ephah, three measures of meal, is given.
With these examples in mind, we can understand that Christ's use of this phrase would have made His Jewish audience think immediately of the meal offering in Leviticus 2, and they would have been absolutely shocked out of their shoes to find that someone had the audacity, the blasphemy, to put leaven in a meal offering! That was not kosher! It simply was not done! A person who did so could expect to be zapped by the next lightning bolt out of heaven. It was sin. What, then, would the normal Jew have thought? He would have understood immediately that the Kingdom of Heaven would be subverted. Something good had been corrupted.
"Three measures of meal," the meal offering, represents the offerer's service and devotion to fellowman, and it is typified by what Christ did throughout His whole life by offering Himself in service to fellowman. Symbolically, it represents the second great commandment, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." It is devoted service toward others.
If "three measures of meal" represents our love, service, and devotion to fellowman, this parable warns us that the false system will make a concerted and covert effort to corrupt the true church through false doctrine aimed at how we treat each other. It will lunge directly at the church's jugular—how we treat one another.
The "three measures of meal" represents the church's teachings. This squares with our understanding of what Christ is. He is the Word, and one of His titles is "the Bread of life." The church's teachings come from the Word of God, which is our daily bread. Fine meal is the major component of bread. Satan would try to corrupt the word, the teaching, so that church members would not treat each other well, offend one another, and maybe some would lose their salvation.
And the woman succeeds! Jesus says, ". . . till it was all leavened!" Sobering, is it not?
The church has been fairly successful in guarding the major doctrines that have to do with its identity: the Sabbath, the nature of God, the identity of Israel, the holy days, God's plan. Where has the church shown its greatest weakness? In the area of personal relationships. What do we hear about among and within the congregations? Distrust, offense, marriage problems, disunity, selfishness, gossip, rumor, tale-bearing, judging and condemning, comparing ourselves among ourselves, giving place to wrath, etc. These are the works of the flesh—they reflect how we treat one another. All of these are part of the meal offering—our service and devotion to each other. In these areas we need to focus our greatest attention, overcoming how we treat each other, growing in our devotion and service. We must get along with one another as God intends, or we might not be around to enter His Kingdom.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Parables of Matthew 13 (Part 2): Leaven
1 Corinthians 2:6-9
If mankind had seen Christ, if they had clearly identified with Him, the history of the world would be exceedingly different. They did not see because, as Paul writes here, they were not mature. Mature, in this context, means "converted." He contrasts those who are able to see and those who are not able to see. Those who are able to see are those who are spiritually mature.
Even though Christ quoted—and lived—the scriptures with which most of His audience were familiar, the people did not see God working through Him. So it has always been with God's servants. Christ was not the only one. Jesus Himself testifies that these people also "kill[ed] the prophets" (Matthew 23:34-37). It is unlikely that they would have killed the prophets if they clearly saw them as God's messengers. If they believed in God and were fearful of His authority and sovereignty over His creation, they would not have dared to do it! Nevertheless, it has always been this way: Some see and some do not see.
Paul says in I Corinthians 2:7 that God's ministers "speak the wisdom of God in a mystery." This mystery is not a puzzle that is difficult to solve but "a secret impossible to penetrate." As the apostle goes on to say in succeeding verses, the world is not "all there" upstairs because they do not have God's Spirit to help them penetrate the secret. Without this vital ingredient, it is no wonder that it accepts its own and rejects the truths of God.
Paul writes in verse 9, "But as it is written: 'Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.'" Many in the world believe that the things of God are "too great" for mere humans to comprehend. We really cannot "get it" or see it. Yet, the truth is so simple to those whose eyes are open that a child can understand. The carnal mind, however, is so blinded by traditions and habits of thinking that even Christians tend to reject the things of God—even though God has converted us.
The effect of this is something like the story about the three blind Indians who were led up to an elephant. Each man touched a different part of the great beast. One held the elephant's trunk, and when asked what it was, he said, "This is a snake." The second man, holding the elephant's tail, said, "This is a rope." The third man, feeling the elephant's leg, said, "This is a tree."
This is analogous to what happens in the world. The world can perceive bits and pieces of the truth, but they cannot put it all together and see the glory of God in its whole. They cannot see God as an intrinsic—absolutely necessary—part of a person's life. They cannot see how necessary the spiritual is!
If it is seen and if it is understood, then life begins to make sense. We begin to be able to see ourselves—a single, unique individual—as a part of the whole, the awesome plan and purpose that God is working out! Then, being able to see God gives direction to our life. So our eyes have seen and our ears have heard, and "the things which God has prepared for those who love Him" has entered into our hearts.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Do You See God? (Part Two)
1 Corinthians 2:6-10
How plain! What we have in the gospel is a revelation. We must tie this concept of God's revelation to the word "mystery" (verse 7).
In English it does not mean exactly the same thing as in Greek. In English, mystery means "a puzzle that is difficult to solve," but in Greek, it means "a secret that is impossible to penetrate." So, the Word of God, His purpose and plan, is a mystery, a secret that is impossible to penetrate. Paul is implying that man would never find out what God intends, except that God gives it to us by revelation.
We have in no way earned this revelation. We have it because it pleased God to give it to us. He withholds it from others, but He has given it to us. He is in no way beholden to us, as if He owed us something. We could dig in His Word over our entire lifetimes and never come to what He freely gives to us for His purposes, for His own reasons.
Brilliant men like Adam Clarke have dug into God's Word through the centuries. It took him forty years to produce his famous commentary. Considering that the man was unconverted, it really is a magnificent work, done with all sincerity and dedication. Yet, at the end of his efforts, he did not fully penetrate the mystery of what God is doing among men. A brilliant man and a brilliant work, yet he emerged from his studies not understanding the divine purpose that God gives to us without our earning it. On the other hand, it is very likely that many of us never cracked the pages of a Bible before God began to open our minds. Some have, some have not. But God called many of us in that situation, and though we did not deserve it, He revealed His way to us.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Grace Upon Grace
1 Corinthians 2:7
The word "mystery" is not the same as our English usage of the word. "Mystery" to the Greek meant not a puzzle that was difficult to solve, but a secret impossible to penetrate. It was something that was hidden and unintelligible to those who were not initiated, as into a secret society or as into a religion.
Most of you have heard of the mystery religions. What they did was unintelligible to those who were on the outside, but to those who were on the inside, what was being said or enacted in their ritual made clear sense.
This is the idea here: a secret impossible to penetrate, not a puzzle that is difficult to solve. What is crystal clear to those on the inside is unintelligible to those who are on the outside.
In like manner, to those who have received the Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit has joined with the spirit in man, adding a dimension to their lives that they previously did not have (I Corinthians 2:11-12). So then, things that are crystal clear to them are unintelligible to those who do not have this added dimension. Thus, Paul says, the things of the Spirit have been revealed by God.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Satan (Part 3)
1 Corinthians 2:10
The "us" are the members of the Corinthian church, and in its broad application the "us" is also those of us who have the Spirit of God, because Romans 8 says that those who have the Spirit of Christ dwelling in them are the children of God.
So the revelation of God, the Word of God, has been revealed to God's children through His Spirit, "for the spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God." God has revealed the mystery to us by His Spirit so that we can understand the things of God with the same clarity that we understand human things.
Paul uses the word "reveal." The English word comes to us out of the Latin, and it is used here to translate a Greek word that means "to uncover." Webster's first definition of "reveal" is quite interesting: "to make known through divine inspiration." It also means "to open to view" or "to make something secret or hidden publicly or generally known."
This is what I Corinthians 2:10 says: "God has made them known to us." We could say God has disclosed, divulged, or told these things to us.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Image and Likeness of God (Part 1)
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