Category Archives: Bible Study

The Balance between Despair and Hope


In a previous post, we looked at the tendency of believers faced with the circumstances of affliction who despair to the point of asking the familiar questions, “Why this happening?” or “Where is God?”.  There we suggested that although this was the course and pattern of Job’s response to his affliction, perhaps he lamented too far and too long, reaching the point of failing to properly recognize the consistent and righteous character of God in his afflictions.  It was not until God’s extended discourse in reminding Job that it is He who orders His creation as He sees fit, even those things which on the surface might seem contrary to nature and even those things which might seem impossible to the natural mind, that Job’s eyes were opened to properly stop asking why and start asking Who.

Lest we should walk away from that post thinking that our response in the face of affliction and despair should be one of resignation or stoicism, in this post we want to add balance to argument by looking at the much neglected practice of lament.  The Psalms provide for us this balanced approach through its inclusion of numerous laments.  Here we find that pouring out our hearts in agony and anguish before God, may indeed be a proper response to our most difficult circumstances, i.e. afflictions.  It may even be that God is working in our hearts to draw out the marrow of lamentation.  However, we must be reminded not to linger here, lest despair overtake us and doubt of God’s goodness begin to enter our minds.

Psalm 13 provides a typical pattern of a lament, maintaining the balance between despair and hope.

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
    How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I take counsel in my soul
    and have sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?

Consider and answer me, O Lord my God;
    light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death,
lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,”
    lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken.

But I have trusted in your steadfast love;
    my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
I will sing to the Lord,
    because he has dealt bountifully with me.

The breaks above, provided by the ESV translators, highlight the transitions of the Psalm.  In vs. 1-3, we hear the words of the lament through a series of questions, much like the aforementioned, Why is this happening? and Where is God?  In vs. 4-6, there is a shift towards an appeal by the Psalmist to God for a response to his situation.  Then, in the last two verses we see the psalmist rest in the character of God, namely His goodness.

Entering into a lament shows a dissatisfaction with our circumstances; a recognition that things are not supposed to be this way.  Ultimately it is a desire for God to reconcile all that has been corrupted by sin.  It is toward this hope of reconciliation that our minds must then turn if we are to undergo lamentation properly.  If we linger in our despair, if we allow our minds to sink with the waves of doubt and depression, we show evidence of lacking faith as Peter did when walking on the water to our Lord.

The duration for how long we allow ourselves to lament over our afflictions, in order to maintain this proper balance, cannot be answered with any certainty, as it depends on a number of factors, not the least of which is the person and circumstance.  Nevertheless, universally, we must continually give ourselves over to prayer and continually fix our minds on the hope that is set before us knowing that our circumstances are only temporary and one day Christ will return to establish an eternity in which there will no longer be any crying; one in which He will wipe away all tears.

In closing, we need only to look at the life of our Lord to realize that lament has a proper place in the life of a believer.  Turning to the Scriptures, we find that Christ lamented over the death of Lazarus.  He lamented over the hardheartedness of Israel.  He lamented over the the pressing reality of experiencing the cup of God’s wrath.  And He lamented with outpouring  cries at the temporary abandonment from the Father as He bore the sins of many.  Yet all the while, He knew a better day was coming when sin would no longer exist, darkness would be engulfed by the light, and death would no longer reign over man.

When the time comes that we must navigate the darkness of despair, let us follow this pattern of our Lord by shining the light upon the hope of glory.

Knowledge of God and Self


In the Scriptures we are often confronted with the Principal of Recognition.  First, we come to recognize who God is, e.g. “In the beginning God” and then we come to recognize ourselves, e.g. “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness” and “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” Genesis 1:26; 6:5

This is clearly on display in the Book of Job, particularly if we examine the latter chapters where Yahweh speaks, revealing more of His character in bringing Job to an increased knowledge of Whom he has to do (Hebrews 4:13).  Subsequently, Job’s eyes are illuminated to see himself now with respect to God; the creature in light of the Creator.

This principal is not limited to Job, but spans all of Scripture and the examples are many.  It is evident with Moses (Exodus 34:8); Isaiah (Isaiah 6:1-5); Ezekiel (Ezekiel 1:28); as well as in the New Testament with Peter (Luke 5:8) and the Revelation given to John (Revelation 1:13-17).  In each example, and there are others, we see how man is brought to a recognition of his own unworthiness, own sinfulness, in the light of God’s own holiness.  We may refer to this revelation as knowledge of God and it is with respect to this knowledge that we have a greater knowledge of self.

Writing in his Institutes of the Christian Religion, John Calvin comments

“man never achieves a clear knowledge of himself unless he has first looked upon God’s face, and then descends from contemplating him to scrutinize himself (Vol. 1, pg. 37).”

and again

“we must infer that man is never sufficiently touched and affected by the awareness of his lowly state until he has compared himself with God’s majesty (Vol. 1, pg. 39)”

Bringing the mind to a knowledge of God, through His general revelation (creation) and divine revelation (Scripture) should cause us to be struck with fear and reverence and then gratefulness that this same God would ever, by grace, condescend to call us (believers) His children.  Consequently, as Calvin says, this contemplation of God should cause us to consider ourselves, that we may humbled before him, realizing our sinfulness and weaknesses.

This was the path that God lead Job down, may it also be our path as we come to know more of God and more of ourselves.

Job 42:1-6

Then Job answered the Lord and said:

“I know that you can do all things,
    and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.

‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’
Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand,
    things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.

‘Hear, and I will speak;
    I will question you, and you make it known to me.’

I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,
    but now my eye sees you;

therefore I despise myself,
    and repent in dust and ashes.”

The Widow’s Mite


One of the challenges of growing up attending church in the Bible Belt is the familiarity with Scripture.  This might sound odd, but what I mean is that from a young age, certain passages and “stories” have become all too familiar, so much so that rather than reading these with fresh eyes, I automatically fall into the ditch of how a passage has traditionally been presented to me.

Case in point is the story of The Widow’s Mite.

How many times have you heard this story explained with praise for the widow’s sacrifice in giving all she had into the temple treasury?  She is then held up as an example for giving, often used as an argument for tithing, not out of our abundance, but out of our poverty.  This explanation makes the temple, leaders, and its institution equivalent with the church, her leaders, and institution.  Give til it hurts, we’re often told, for God loves a cheerful giver.

Let’s look at the context to see if the traditional view holds up.

21 Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box,and he saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. And he said, ‘Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.'” Luke 21:1-4

41 And he sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums. 42 And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny. 43 And he called his disciples to him and said to them, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. 44 For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” Mark 12:41-44

This story occurs in Luke 21 and Mark 12.  The scene from both accounts presents Jesus and His disciples sitting down opposite one of the temple treasury boxes, making observations of those who are putting in their offering.  The highlight is the offering made by a poor widow, whom we are told gives two small copper coins.  The observation made by Jesus is as follows, Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. 44 For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”

As mentioned earlier, traditionally this passage is held up as a model of sacrificial giving.  We are often taught that Jesus commends the widow for giving out of her poverty vs. giving out of abudance as the rich do.  Usually this passage is then applied to either tithing or an attitude of sacrificial giving to Christ.  But there’s a major problem here, and it assumes that Jesus is pleased with the temple treasury, the religious leaders, and the entire false institution erected in the name of God.

Context, as they say, is king.

In the passage immediately prior to this one, in both Mark and Luke, Jesus offers a strong warning to His disciples in condemnation of the scribes,

38 And in his teaching he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes and like greetings in the marketplaces 39 and have the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, 40 who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”

This is followed by the account of the widow’s mite, which itself is immediately followed by this passage

And as he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!” And Jesus said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” Mark 13:1&2

Just to summarize, the passage under consideration, The Widow’s Mite, is sandwiched between a warning against the scribes and the prophecy of the temple’s destruction.  How in the world does a passage so often described as an example of sacrificial giving fit here?

The answer is that the passage has nothing to do with sacrificial giving and everything to do with further judgment against the false institutional system of religion against which Jesus has so often spoken.  In fact, this observation of the poor widow bilked of her last two coins serves as the final straw to announce the destruction of the center of this false religious system, namely Herod’s Temple.

In Matthew 6, we are told by Jesus to avoid public displays of giving, sound no trumpet, and in fact, do not even let your right hand know what your left hand is doing (which makes it difficult to write a check!).  Instead, we are told to let our giving be done in secret.  However, the religious leaders had constructed 13 treasure-chests for giving around the colonnade in the Court of Women.  These chests were also called “trumpets” because of their narrow mouth and wide base.  What went in was literally imprisoned and the sound of the coins dropping in was easily heard.  So when Jesus says do not sound a trumpet when giving, in Matthew 6, there is a bit of irony that the treasure chests were shaped like a trumpet and sounded when the money was deposited.

It was into one of these trumpets that the widow gives her last coins.

Note next the warning given against the scribes in the passage just prior to ours,  who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers.”  Here we are told that the scribes devour widow’s houses.   Think about this.  The very passage before the widow’s offering, we are given a warning about scribes that devour widow’s houses.  It is not difficult to make the connection between the two mentions of widows; both being devoured by the religious leaders, exemplified by the widow giving all that she had to a corrupt religious system.  If she gives sacrificially to a corrupt religious system, is that worthy of a commendation?  What would we say today to the poor widow, duped by the televangelist into sending her last bit of money?  That is the scene in this first century story and it simply cannot be missed.  

The fact of the matter is that pure and undefiled religion is to care for widows and orphans (James 1:27).  This wasn’t something new, but Mosaic law created provisions for just that.  (Exodus 22; Deut. 10)  This poor widow shouldn’t even have been poor under Mosaic law, let alone be led to believe that she must contribute to the system that was failing to care for her.  She should have been cared for, under law.  But first century Judaism was an apostate form of Mosaic Judaism. There was no law mandating that a person give money to the temple treasury.  That’s man-made religion.  As John MacArthur notes in the sermon linked below, “The center of false religion is the treasury.  False religion is always about the money.  When you get to the treasury, you get to the heart of false religion.”

On the Wednesday of Passion Week, Jesus wasn’t taking a rest in the temple and marveling at the giving spirit of a poor widow.  He was watching the furtherence of a false religion built on the last, small coins of poor widows.  His next words in Mark 13 and Luke 21 would pronounce judgment on this system and its center of worship, the temple.

For more on this passage, see John MacArthur: Abusing the Poor