What the Bible says about
(From Forerunner Commentary)
Abraham knew his friend, God, pretty well: "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?" In a sense, he was throwing back to God the very understanding that he had of His holy, righteous character. He knew that in God's justice there could be no turning from what God is, and that His act toward Sodom and Gomorra would reflect what God is.
Well, there was probably never a more rhetorical question ever asked by a man on the earth. Even though Abraham knew a great deal about God, he may not have had a complete understanding of how far such an act like that is from God's character. There was never even a remote possibility that God would kill the innocent with the guilty in the city of Sodom.
God said, "Okay, I'll spare it for 50, 45, 40, 30, 20, 10. . . ." God could bargain like this because it is not in His mind to kill the innocent with the guilty. Why? Because for God to do that, He would have to cease being holy, and that is not possible. In essence, He would have to stop being God.
God is the supreme Judge of all the earth, and if He is unjust, there is no hope that justice will ever prevail. We know that human judges can be corrupted—they take bribes, they can be partial, they can be ignorant, and they can make mistakes. God, however, is never corrupt. No one can bribe Him. He refuses to show partiality. There is no respect of persons with Him. He never acts out of ignorance. He never makes mistakes.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Examples of Divine Justice
What did these men do that was so awful? They were priests, sons of Aaron, the High Priest, nephews of Moses. If anybody had a close relationship with God and would receive a measure of leeway in judgment, it was these two. Nevertheless, there was none; with God, there is no respect of persons in judgment (see Romans 2:11). He reacted swiftly and violently, wiping them out on the spot. This incident involved no Temple prostitutes, no human sacrifices, just "strange fire." Surely, such a little thing would not matter! God's reaction allowed no time for a trial; there was just a summary execution, a terrifying supernatural judgment by God.
Verse 6 contains an interesting sidelight to this violent event. Undoubtedly, Aaron was shocked into an emotional reaction that may have ranged from pitiful wailing to a consuming anger toward God, but Moses cautioned him to control himself and give no outward demonstration of his emotional state! Why? Moses understood that they had sinned grievously and got what they deserved. Aaron was told that, despite the shocking nature of what had happened, he should express no disagreement with God's judgment.
Consider this in a larger context. Beginning in Exodus 40:1, the Tabernacle, its altar, and the laver were erected and the interior furniture arranged, then all was consecrated in a solemn ceremony. At that point (verse 34), God came to dwell in the Tabernacle.
Leviticus 1 follows the sequence of events, showing God giving the sacrificial rituals to be performed at the Tabernacle. In Leviticus 8, Aaron and the priesthood are officially consecrated. In Leviticus 9:1, the priesthood's ministry formally begins. In verse 24, a startling occurrence takes place during that first offering: ". . . and fire came out from before the LORD and consumed the burnt offering and the fat on the altar." This signaled God's acceptance, showing that all had been done according to His will.
However, there is more to this story, giving us understanding of the term "strange fire" that follows in chapter 10. Within the instructions regarding the sacrifices, Leviticus 6:12-13 gives the priests an interesting charge:
And the fire on the altar shall be kept burning on it; it shall not be put out. And the priest shall burn wood on it every morning, and lay the burnt offering in order on it; and he shall burn on it the fat of the peace offerings. A perpetual fire shall burn on the altar; it shall never go out.
The term strange means "what is alien to." Foreigners are called "strangers" in Scripture because they are aliens to Israel and to the covenant (Ephesians 2:12). In this case, the fire used by Nadab and Abihu was alien to what God had commanded regarding fire. Together with Exodus 30:7-9, their infraction becomes clear. The priests were to make the morning and evening incense offerings only with the special incense mixture God commanded, and they were to take the coals for these offerings only from the continually burning fire under the altar of burnt offerings, which He started in Leviticus 9:24.
Aaron was undoubtedly confused and displeased, not understanding what happened, but Moses gave him God's answer. In Leviticus 10:3, the Lord says, "By those who come near Me I must be regarded as holy; and before all the people I must be glorified." Nadab and Abihu were among those chosen to come near Him in service. They revealed their disrespect for Him by treating His command regarding the fire as something common. They simply did not follow His instructions.
They added or subtracted to what God said and did, attempting to get by with what they carnally assumed was acceptable to Him. By this incident, holiness is defined. Among those who are consecrated to serve God, His instructions must be explicitly followed. Thus, this example appears especially pointed toward the ministry.
The instructions are not ambiguous. Each step and instrument in the process is designed to teach certain spiritual concepts. They had been completely instructed, so they blatantly twisted God's teaching. In response to Moses, Aaron remained silent, knowing the judgment was correct. This incident is of special importance to us because of the context and because of who we are. The context is the consecration of the priesthood in service to God, and we are, according to I Peter 2, a royal priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices. By this incident, God shows, perhaps more clearly than in any other place, what holiness is in relation to Him.
Holiness is not merely consecration or dedication to a god, but it is both moral and ethical as well. True holiness is what results from His consecration, but the consecration must be combined with our submission to His commands. In pagan religions, a person could be dedicated but not moral, as is clearly shown by the ritual prostitution practiced at their temples. The prostitute was indeed consecrated to her god, but she most certainly was not moral—nor were they who used her services.
Today, a person may claim that his god is the Creator God, but if he is not obedient to the Creator God's commandments, he is merely deluding himself. Sincerity is only part of the picture. We are to worship in spirit and truth (John 4:24). The closer one is associated with God's work, the more necessary it is to ensure that the relationship with God is not marred by spiritual blemishes. Otherwise, the person cannot function properly as a channel for God to work through. God will not be glorified before the people unless His servants submit to His commands.
A similar careless notion got Cain into trouble. If we add or omit with knowledge, it is presumption, and presumption springs from pride. It is as if we are telling God He does not know what He is doing. We have elevated ourselves to His level. Nothing more, nothing less, nothing else than His will must be our attitude.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Presumption and Divine Justice (Part Two)
Before Amos gives specific reasons for God's judgment on Israel, he explains His judgment on the surrounding nations in Amos 1:3—2:3. Some may question God's punishment of nations to whom He has not revealed Himself. But God's response is that every human being knows—to one degree or another—what is moral and immoral (Romans 2:14-15). Abimelech, a pagan king of the Philistines, knew that it was wrong to commit sexual immorality (Genesis 26:10). In like manner, God holds these surrounding nations guilty.
Man has learned to silence the voice of his conscience (Romans 1:18), which has led to his sinking into total depravity (verses 20-32). Though God does not hold man accountable for understanding every detail of Him and His way, God does judge him for suppressing the knowledge of Him that he does have.
God does not unfairly accuse anyone. When He judges the Gentile nations as guilty, He does it with good cause. David writes poetically in Psalm 19:1-4 that man has ample evidence in the creation to conclude that a great and awesome Creator God exists. In Lystra, Paul and Barnabas preached that God witnesses to the Gentiles through the many things He provides for them (Acts 14:12-17). Paul writes similarly in Romans 1:19: "What may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them." If he follows his conscience, man should bow down in reverence and awe to his Maker. Instead, mankind has worshipped things that God has made.
God's impartial judgment is important to this book. The nations around Israel in 760 BC had one negative common denominator: They had no revelation of God or His law, no priests or prophets from God. Yet Amos shows them as nations under judgment. Even without special revelation, they had a moral responsibility to God and to one another.
They were accountable to God to be good men, not depraved animals. He does not hold them responsible for their horrible and erroneous religious ideas, but He judges them for what they did or failed to do to other men. No human being can escape the obligation to be humanly moral as God intended, not even the Gentiles. Though God has never dealt directly with them, they know enough of His moral standards to be accountable to God.
If God requires this of men who have no revelation of Him, what does He require of us as Christians? The sobering fact is that we are held accountable for our relationship with both God and man. This underlines our need to listen to Amos.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Prepare to Meet Your God! (The Book of Amos) (Part One)
In one way or another, these Gentile nations took vengeance in retaliation for injustices that they believed other nations committed against them. God promises to judge their barbarity, but He does not say when. Many years may pass before He takes action because His overriding goal is repentance and a change in character.
He will execute proper judgment—true justice, and it is our responsibility to have faith in that. Fifty years passed before God avenged the depredating acts of Hazael, king of Syria, against Gilead (Amos 1:3; II Kings 10:32-33). God waited for the right time and place to act. But He did act with a punishment from which He will not turn back (II Kings 13:22-25). When He decides to act, He acts!
When He says that He knows our sitting down and rising up (Psalm 139:2), He is not speaking metaphorically. He is involved with His people. We must learn that sometimes God may not take action within our lifetime, but when He says, "I will repay" (Romans 12:19; Deuteronomy 32:35), He means it!
John W. Ritenbaugh
Prepare to Meet Your God! (The Book of Amos) (Part One)
1 Corinthians 7:14
The children of believing parents are "holy," meaning "set apart." God considers such a child to be "clean." That does not mean "sinless," but they are still legally clean in His sight. They are therefore acceptable in His presence and have the opportunity to have true success in life as a result. They have the chance to believe God, to cast their lot with Him, and to be spared the horror of having to face many of the evils in this world.
But, just as parents can lose their sanctification, so children who are set apart can also lose their status. Law plays no favorites. It does not care whether one is male or female, or thirteen, nineteen, or ninety-three. If a ninety-three year old male jumps off the 80th floor of the Empire State Building, which direction will he go? What if a 16-year old girl does the same thing? The law of gravity does not play favorites.
Law does not care what one's race, sex, or age are. If parents who are sanctified break the laws of God persistently, they will lose their sanctification. If a seventeen-year-old does the same thing, even though his parents are sanctified and a child is held to be clean because of God's judgment, he can lose his too.
For a child who is sanctified, even though unconverted, there is still a great deal that he will be held accountable for. "To whom much is given, much is also required." Jesus does not say that this only applies to converted parents.
The child's sanctification gives him the advantage of access to God. Because of that access, he has the guidance of God available to him, and from that guidance he can form a proper vision of what he wants to do with his life (Proverbs 29:18). This allows him to see what he wants to do in terms of conduct—what he wants to pursue, the way he wants to do work, the attitude he has toward other people, parents, neighbors, fellow-employees, etc.
We can tell from the conduct of people in this world that they do not have this guidance. But a sanctifed child has access to the knowledge of what God expects, and from that he can make it his goal in life to act that way. He can set his will to do the right thing. He is sanctified, and divine guidance is what he gains from it.
He has access to truth. Even if his parents fail to give it to him directly, every Sabbath that he attends church services he is receiving it through one of God's ministers. It is available, but he still must make choices. He must discipline himself to follow the information, the true knowledge, given to him. The advantage lies in the fact that he has access to truth about the way life is to be conducted and how he can please God. He can do it because he is not cut off from God. His lamp is not put out (Proverbs 20:20).
John W. Ritenbaugh
Sanctification and the Teens
In his epistle, the apostle James is combating the practice of showing favoritism toward the wealthy at the expense of poorer brethren. He asks in James 2:4, in doing so, "have you not shown partiality among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?" As converted children of God, we are supposed to be able to make righteous judgments through the gift of God's Spirit. However, when we show partiality or respect of persons, we have allowed evil thoughts to compromise our judgment.
The Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown Commentary emphasizes that "the sin in question [respect of persons] is peculiarly inconsistent with His 'faith.'" Christ died for all, rich and poor alike, and His doctrine consistently stresses the spiritual equality of believers and unity in a brotherhood of believers. Thus, preferring one person over another because of wealth or status introduces an element of wickedness into Christian relations: division.
Matthew Henry agrees:
The apostle is here reproving a very corrupt practice. He shows how much mischief there is in the sin of prosôpolepsía—respect of persons, which seemed to be a very growing evil in the churches of Christ even in those early ages, and which, in these after-times, has sadly corrupted and divided Christian nations and societies.
. . . You who profess to believe the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ, which the poorest Christian shall partake of equally with the rich, and to which all worldly glory is but vanity, you should not make men's outward and worldly advantages the measure of your respect. In professing the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, we should not show respect to men, so as to cloud or lessen the glory of our glorious Lord: how ever any may think of it, this is certainly a very heinous sin.
What about God's supposed favoritism for His chosen people? For many centuries, it seemed as if God was partial toward Israel in that only Israelites had an opportunity for salvation. From our perspective today, we know that He was working solely through Israel only for the time being, preparing a people for the coming of His Son in the flesh.
After Jesus' resurrection, God soon opened salvation to the Gentiles too, as related in the story of Cornelius in Acts 10. In verses 34-35 of this chapter, Peter draws a conclusion from his experiences with the vision of the animals let down in a sheet from heaven and with the conversion of the household of Cornelius: "In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality, but in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him."
In Romans 2:11, speaking of the righteous judgment of God, Paul repeats this point: "For there is no partiality with God," a truth Paul understood from the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 10:17). To the Galatians, the apostle makes the spiritual equality of Christians even more specific: "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:28; see I Corinthians 12:13; Colossians 3:11).
It is clear that God is not a respecter of persons, giving everyone an equal opportunity for salvation and judging all by the same standards. And certainly, we should want to be like God, respecting every member of the church as an equal brother or sister in Christ.
English playwright George Bernard Shaw wrote, "We educate one another, and we cannot do this if half of us consider the other half not good enough to talk to." The church of God is an educational institution, and every member has a part to play in helping to build up others as they prepare for God's Kingdom. Eliminating biases and prejudices will go a long way toward bringing unity and growth to God's church.
The Sin of Partiality
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