June 23 - 29
Tiny Sins, Huge Results
READ FOR THIS WEEK'S STUDY: Gen. 19:26; Lev. 10:1, 2; Judg. 16:17; 2 Kings 5:20-27; 1 Chronicles 13.
MEMORY TEXT: "Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth!" (James 3:5b).
KEY THOUGHT: All sinsmall, medium, or largeoffends, even greatly. Although in the memory text James refers specifically to the tongue, elsewhere he stresses the necessity of abstaining from all sin: "For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it" (2:10, RSV).
TEENY, TINY SINS? A tempting fruit, a soothing voicebut out Eve went, thrust from the Garden. Was that fair? A rowdy mob, a rock struck in angerand out Moses went, dying on a lonesome mountain, denied his consuming passion of Canaan's possession. Was that fair? A hidden golden wedge, some buried silver shekels, and a concealed Babylonish garmentand out Achan went, stoned to death and then burned. Was that fair? Such "insignificant" trespasses, such extreme effects? Who gets pardoned? Who gets death? Sometimes it's hard to understand.
"All the world's a stage, And all the men and women merely [sinful] players."Shakespeare, As You Like It. All are sinners, so why are some graciously forgiven, others instantly punished? How can the same Jesus say to the adulterous woman "Go and sin no more" but say to Eve, Moses, and Achan "You're out of here!"
As you analyze this week's examples, perhaps you will get some clear answers, perhaps not. However, as we look at these stories, even the harder ones, we need to always understand them in the context of a loving and merciful God who proved His love and mercy at the Cross.
"Then the Lord rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the Lord out of heaven; . . . But his [Lot's] wife looked back from behind him, and she became a pillar of salt" (Gen. 19:24, 26).
"For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?" (Mark 8:36). It profits him nothing.
One of the most vivid illustrations of this axiom lies in the Genesis account of Lot's wife, who looked back to the citywhere her home and possessions and some of her family remainedand refused to give it all up. As a result she lost not only what she coveted but everything else, as well.
How does the experience of Lot's wife relate, in principle, to this hard saying of Jesus: "For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he bath"? (Matt. 13:12).
As God will lead but not force us in the path of righteousness, in like manner, the angels led Lot's wife out of the city but would not change her heart. Physically, she had left the city, but emotionally she was still a citizen. "Fifteen words in the Old Testament tell the story of Lot's wife. . . . The fifteen words are, 'But his wife looked back from behind him, and she became a pillar of salt' (Gen. 19:26). . . . Can we not conjecture that the fifteen-word Old Testament biography of Lot's wife was written for those who love the things of the world more than the things of the spirit, those who do not possess the pioneering courage to leave a life of ease and comfort and position for a life of sacrifice, hardship, and loneliness? Does not her biography also speak a message to those who are unwilling to flee from iniquity when all efforts to redeem iniquity have failed?"Edith Deen, All of the Women of the Bible (San Francisco: HarperCollins Pub., 1955), pp. 17, 18.
|God doesn't demand that we give up everything we have in order to serve Him, because not everything we have is bad. What He does demand is that we be willing to give up everything. Why is that willingness so crucial to the Christian life? Hint, see John 14:30.|
"And Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron . . . offered strange fire before the Lord, which he commanded them not. And there went out fire from the Lord, and devoured them, and they died before the Lord" (Lev. 10:1, 2).
Notice the impressive company Nadab and Abihu kept: "And he [God] said unto Moses, Come up unto the Lord, thou, and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel; and worship ye afar off" (Exod. 24:1). These two men had been especially honored by the Lord, having been permitted with the seventy elders to behold God's glory in the mount.
"They had heard the voice of God; they had been with Moses and Aaron in the mount of God; they had seen the God of Israel, and 'did eat and drink' (Ex. 24:9-11). They had been greatly favored; but had not profited by their opportunities."The SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 1, p. 749.
Did their exalted status, high position, and great privileges have something to do with the extreme punishment they faced for their grievous sin? If so, what does that tell us about the responsibility any of us who have been given light, honor, or privileges have before the Lord?
For the modern, twenty-first century, it's hard to understand why these two men should have faced such a radical punishment. After all, fire is fire. What is the difference?
The answer stems from the sacred nature of the sanctuary service and the crucial mission God had given to ancient Israel. Important and solemn truths were taught by the sanctuary service (indeed, the whole plan of salvation was contained in it!). God, therefore, gave specific instructions regarding its services. Had Nadab and Abihu, priests who were drunk (see Patriarchs and Prophets, pp. 361, 362), not been punished for their sins, then the whole nation could have questioned whether God was that serious in the commands He gave them. On the other hand, if He would punish these men over the strange fire, certainly He meant business with other commands, as well! No doubt, after this incident, Israel understood that the Lord meant what He said.
|The idea is sometimes pushed that spiritual principles alone are important, not specifics. God cares just about the principle, nothing else. Does the story of Nadab and Abihu debunk that notion? Give reasons for your answer, either way.|
" . . . And [Samson] said unto her [Delilah], There hath not come a razor upon mine head; for I have been a Nazarite unto God from my mother's womb: if I be shaven, then my strength will go from me" (Judg. 16:17).
Distinguished as one of only sixteen to be named in Hebrews 11, the faith chapter, Samson had in fact been groomed for greatness from before birth. His mother had been instructed to be temperate in order to pave the way for Samson's calling. "For, lo, thou shalt conceive, and bear a son; and no razor shall come on his head: for the child shall be a Nazarite unto God from the womb: and he shall begin to deliver Israel out of the hand of the Philistines" (Judg. 13:5).
How did someone so destined for greatness end up as he did, a blind slave to the very people he had been raised up to help conquer?
In his famous play, Samson Agonistes, British poet John Milton depicted Samson, blinded and enslaved by the Philistines, sitting in the open air on a festival day and bemoaning his fate and the nasty turn of events in his life. Instead of fulfilling the promise that he "should deliver Israel from the Philistian yoke," he instead finds himself "eyeless in Gaza" and lower "than a bond-slave."
Yet, amid his sorrow, Milton's Samson says that he will not "rashly call into doubt Divine prediction." Instead, he asks w[h]ether or not all that had been foretold would have been fulfilled, except "through mine own default." In other words, though the Lord had destined him for greatness, by his own bad decisions, that greatness had not been achieved. Though God could have great plans for us, we canby disobediencekeep those plans from being fulfilled.
The story of Samson, in many ways, seems to depict the principle regarding conditionality. God will do wonderful things for us, but only if we allow Him to work in us "both to will and to do of his good pleasure" (Phil. 2:13).
Thus, how careful we all need to be, especially those who believe that they have been called by God to work for Him. God can fulfill our potential only as far as we allow Him to.
|What other Bible characters had great potential to do wonderful things for the Lord but ruined it, or hampered it, by bad decisions? How can we learn from their mistakes in order to avoid these same pitfalls?|
"The leprosy therefore of Naaman shall cleave unto thee, and unto thy seed for ever. And he went out from his presence a leper as white as snow" (2 Kings 5:27, KJV).
Naaman, a Syrian leader, is miraculously cured by the power of Israel's God. "And he [Naaman] returned to the man of God, he and all his company, and came, and stood before him: and he said, Behold, now I know that there is no God in all the earth, but in Israel" (2 Kings 5:15). What a powerful testimony from a pagan ruler!
As a result of his being cured, Naaman wanted to pay Elisha. "Now therefore, I pray thee, take a blessing of thy servant," the Syrian said to him (vs. 15). Naaman had, in fact, in anticipation of healing, brought with him some material goods as payment (see vs. 5).
How did Elisha respond to the offer? Why do you think he responded that way? Would it have been wrong for him to have taken it?
Elisha was quite adamant about not taking the silver and gold. "As the Lord liveth, before whom I stand, I will receive none" (vs. l6). Meanwhile, Gehazi, his servant, saw Elisha's response, yet he believed they should have been paid. As a result, he goes to Naaman, lies to get some payment, then goes back and lies to Elisha about what happened.
It's not that hard, however, to understand Gehazi' s rationale. He probably justified in his mind numerous reasons why they should have been paid. After all, is not there the principle that "the labourer is worthy of his reward"? Besides, Naaman had plenty of wealth, and they didn't. Why shouldn't they get something for all the hard work they did?
|Look at the insight that Ellen White gave regarding this
"The course of Gehazi was such as to place a stumbling block in the pathway of Naaman, upon whose mind had broken a wonderful light, and who was favorably disposed toward the service of the living God. "Prophets and Kings, p. 252.
|Though Gehazi's lies could not be justified, the greater sin lies in how his actions could have been, as Ellen White said, "a stumbling block" to Naaman. How crucial is it that all those who seek to witness for the Lord be careful not to do anything that could cause someone to question their motives.|
"And the anger of the Lord burned against Uzzah, and God struck him down there for his irreverence; and he died there by the ark of God" (2 Sam. 6:7, NASB).
What was Uzzah's act of irreverence? See vs. 6.
Of all the "insignificant" sins with high results we have studiedno punishment seems less justified than what happened to Uzzah's. What's going on here?
To bring the ark back to Jerusalem and have this powerful symbol of Divine presence in the city, David assembled 30,000 men. His enthusiasm over the ark ignited a celebration. The ark, placed upon a new cart and drawn by oxen, led the group: "David and all the house of Israel played before the Lord. . . on harps, and on psalteries, and on timbrels, and on comets, and on cymbals" (vs. 5). Suddenly, the exuberance ceased. Uzzah lay dead, struck down by God for touching the ark. A sudden pall of fear must have fallen upon the throng.
|"To those accompanying Uzzah it might have seemed as if Uzzah 's intentions were perfectly honorablehe was only trying to assist when he stretched forth his hand to steady the ark. But his heart was not right with God. His act of touching the ark was one of presumption. . . . Uzzah 's death served as a warning to many that the Lord is a righteous God, who requires strict obedience from all. "The SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 2, pp. 625, 626.|
Fortunately, the story of Uzzah is not the only story in the Bible. If it were, one might really have cause to question God's fairness. The fact is, however, that time and again the Lord has shown to humanity his infinite love, mercy, grace, and care for fallen humanity. The same God who struck Uzzah dead was the same God who suffered at Calvary. Thus, when incidents like Uzzah are depicted in the Bible, without much explanation, though it is not wrong to have questions, it's wrong to use something like this to doubt God's love, justice, or fairness. In most of these cases, there are simply many facts that have not been revealed to us. We have to go on faith.
How does one respond to skeptics who use incidents like this in Scripture to raise questions about God's love, justice, or fairness? And, however good the answers we might be able to give, why do we need to realize that many things will remain a mystery to us for now? See 1 Corinthians 4:5.
FURTHER STUDY: Read the chapter in The Great Controversy, "The Origin of Evil." Contrast that to the last chapter "The Controversy Ended" in the same book.
Who directs your life?
Saints and sinners, slaves and sovereigns, princes and paupers, pagans and prophets, lovely or loathsome, major or minor, courageous or cowardly, they've all been looked at this quarter.
And though many lessons can be learned from these studies, perhaps the most important is this: You, alone, are the key in determining your destiny. You have, really, only two choices in whatever ultimate destiny you face: either Christ and what He has planned for you or Satan and what he has planned for you. There's no middle ground.
Pray that these lessons can help you see how crucial the right decision is as we move toward the final scenes of this drama called Planet Earth.
SUMMARY: To conclude these thirteen lessons, reviewing the lives of dozens of Bible personalities, Paul's admonition seems particularly relevant: "Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God" (Heb. 12:1, 2, RSV).
While attending a birthday party for her brother, Jasia saw a book that caught her attention. She asked her brother what the book was about.
"I have not read it," he answered. "But I think it is some kind of history book.
Jasia borrowed the book, The Great Controversy, and began reading it. She was amazed to learn that most Christian churches had drifted away from the teachings of the Bible. When she finished reading the book she started over, this time checking each Scripture reference in her own Bible.
One day Jasia saw a man selling books at a table. She saw a book with a familiar title, The Great Controversy. She picked up the book and asked the man, "Who publishes this book?"
The man told her the book is published by Seventh-day Adventists. Then he added, "I am a Seventh-day Adventist."
"Where do you people meet for worship?" she asked. The man gave her the church's address. She wanted to visit the church, but she was afraid to tell her husband. Finally she said she was going shopping, then she set out to find the church. After her first worship service she decided to return.
When her husband learned that she was going to church, he reacted so violently that Jasia had to call the police to restrain him. Jasia took her two daughters to church with her, and in time all three of them were baptized.
The publishing house in Poland has struggled to keep up with the demand for books by Ellen White, including The Great Controversy. More than 40,000 copies were sold in just a few months, while in previous years only about 2,500 copies were sold in a year.
One man traveled 250 kilometers (about 160 miles) to visit the publishing house and buy more books by Ellen White. Asked about his interest in these books, the man answered, "This book, The Great Controversy, saved my life. I have found so much help from reading this book, that I have decided to share it with others who have similar problems." The man purchased 300 books.
The books that have been scattered across Poland, some long forgotten, promise to bring a rich harvest as thousands of people search for truth.
J. H. Zachary, coordinator of international evangelism for The Quiet Hour and a special consultant for the General Conference Ministerial Association and the Trans-European Division, contributed to this report.
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