Author: Mark Johnson

MY RIGHTS (?)

Many people in this country (both liberals and conservatives) are currently in an uproar regarding “our rights” and not losing “our freedoms.” The way these statements are made leaves one with the impression that “our rights and freedoms” are one of (if not the top) priorities in life. In other words, it seems that “our rights and freedoms” has become an idol for some (many).

The apostle Paul addresses the subject of idolatry in at least four ways in 1 Corinthians 8:1-11:1. The first two ways are not surprising, and we expect them. First, Paul affirms that “There is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist” (1 Corinthians 8:6) and the exclusive nature of being God’s covenant people (Exodus 20:2-6; Deuteronomy 5:6-9; 1 Corinthians 10:16-22). A second way that Paul attempted to curb idolatry in the Corinthian church was to issue a command to “flee idolatry” (1 Corinthians 10:14).

Third, Paul brings up examples from the Hebrew Scriptures to demonstrate that just because one enters into covenant with God does not mean that one is no longer subject to evil desires. Paul draws on the examples of “our fathers” who entered a covenant relationship with God, pursued idolatry, and incurred God’s displeasure (1 Corinthians 10:1-10). Paul understood the Hebrew Scriptures to be applicable and crucial for the disciple of Jesus to remain faithful (1 Corinthians 10:11-12).

The fourth way that Paul addressed idolatry is the most challenging (in this writers’ opinion). Paul was willing to sacrifice his “rights” and “freedoms” for the sake of the family of God. Paul uses himself as an example in chapter 9 in response to the Corinthians’ insistence on their own “rights” (exousia, 8:9). “Paul presents himself as one who did not use his rights. Indeed, he became a slave to all (9:19) and a model for the Corinthians (cf. 10:33-11:1). … As the selfless one who defines his identity by the cross, Paul offers the countercultural example that is necessary for the moral formation for which he prays (1:8).”[1]

Richard Hays wrote:

Paul’s self-description serves as a model for the conduct that he is urging upon the strong: like him, they should be willing to surrender their exousia for the sake of the weak in order to promote the gospel. This is not explicitly stated until the very conclusion of the larger argument (10:32–11:1), but it is clearly implied by the thematic links between chapters 8 and 9 (exousia in 8:9 and throughout chapter 9; the example of Paul in 8:13, taken together with 9:12 and 9:22). We may be sure that, whether they liked what Paul had to say or not, the Corinthians would have seen what he was driving at. … Paul says, in effect, “No, for the sake of the gospel you must exercise self-restraint. You must discipline yourself for the sake of the greater good of building up the community in love.”[2]

Community responsibility is a higher priority for Christians than one’s own “rights” and “freedoms.” One must use one’s “rights” and “freedoms” to “build up” and “not destroy” (1 Corinthians 8:7-13; 10:23). When one uses their own “rights” for “self-serving behavior,” it is the opposite of the exercise of love (which builds up).[3] In the context of 1 Corinthians 8:1-11:1, love is defined “in sacrificial terms, as the denial of one’s rights and the concern for the weaker sibling.”[4] This definition of love is clear by Paul’s illustration of the destructive results of individualistic behavior in 1 Corinthians 8:10-11.

In response to some of the Corinthian saints asserting their “rights” (exousia, 1 Corinthians 8:9), Paul insists that he has chosen not to use his “right” in the gospel (1 Corinthians 9:4-6, 12, 18). By relinquishing his “rights,” Paul “exemplified the love that Jesus enacted at the cross. His conduct is the model for the Corinthians” (1 Corinthians 11:1).[5]

Paul exemplifies freedom that relinquishes “rights” for the sake of others (1 Corinthians 9:19). True Christian freedom is exercised in service, not demanding one’s rights. Unfortunately, the Corinthian saints who insisted on exercising their rights “have become paradoxically captive to the agenda of their own exousia: they are not free to act in the interest of their brothers and sisters. To put it bluntly, 1 Corinthians 9 suggests that if we find ourselves campaigning on the party platform of defending our own rights and privileges, we have lost sight of the gospel.”[6]

Paul’s example to the selfish saints at Corinth is patterned on the model of Christ. When Paul wrote to the saints at Philippi, he encouraged them to have the mindset that Jesus demonstrated when he wrote: “who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:6-8). Paul followed Christ’s example of giving up one’s rights, which is why he could write, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1).

The mindsets and examples of Jesus and Paul are still applicable for the followers of Jesus today. So may Christ be “formed in” us.

Mark Johnson

[1] James W. Thompson, Apostle of Persuasion: Theology and Rhetoric in the Pauline Letters (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic: A Division of Baker Publishing Group, 2020), 89.

[2] Richard B. Hays, First Corinthians, Interpretation, a Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Louisville, KY: John Knox Press, 1997), 148.

[3] James W. Thompson, Moral Formation according to Paul: The Context and Coherence of Pauline Ethics (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2011), 163.

[4] Ibid., 164.

[5] Ibid., 165.

[6] Hays, 157-158.

DO NOT FEAR … IN ORDER TO FEAR

God revealed Himself to the Israelites and the Egyptians by sending the plagues on Egypt (Exodus 6:5; 7:5, 17; 8:9-10, 22; 9:13-14, 29; 10:1-2) and deliverance through the waters of the Red Sea (Exodus 14:4, 18; 15:2-13). When Israel grumbled in the wilderness concerning the lack of food, God sent manna and quail so that they would learn who God is (Exodus 16:6, 12).

When Israel was camped at the foot of Mount Sinai, God instructed Moses to prepare the people to meet Him (Exodus 19:9-15). On the third day, Israel experienced an awe-inspiring theophany (manifestation) of God (Exodus 19:18-19; 20:18-19) “so that they may learn to fear me all the days that they live on the earth, and that they may teach their children so” (Deuteronomy 4:10-12).

“Moses said to the people, ‘Do not fear (יָרֵא, yārēʾ), for God has come to test you, that the fear (יָרֵא, yārēʾ) of him may be before you, that you may not sin’” (Exodus 20:20). What did Moses say? Do not fear but fear? What is going on?

“The aspects of fear encompassed by יָרֵא  (yārēʾ) include terror, respect, and worship” (Willem VanGemeren, ed., New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology & Exegesis, Zondervan, 1997, 528). Thus, the fear of the Lord is a continuum (terror ” dread ” trembling ” astonishment ” awe ” reverence ” devotion ” trust ” worship) we move along when we accurately perceive God and the world He has made.

Moses calls on Israel not to have a “tormenting fear” of God with the first “fear” in Exodus 20:20. “Terror” is a natural reaction to the powerful manifestation of God in fire and smoke on Sinai. The “terror” and “dread” side of the “fear continuum” can result from being confronted with mysterious supernatural phenomena (feeling threatened in one’s very existence), conscious guilt, or unwarranted alarm. Moses encourages the people not to be afraid because that reaction would demonstrate that they misunderstand what God is trying to do (“to prove or test them” – Exodus 20:20).

The “fear of the LORD” that Moses calls for with “that the fear of him may be before you” (Exodus 20:20) is “salutary fear.” Fear that promotes or is conducive to a beneficial relationship with LORD. It is the presence of an attitude that encourages and demonstrates complete trust and belief in God (Genesis 22:12). This type of “fear” will keep us from sinning and is at the heart of the Hebrew scriptures’ wisdom books (Proverbs 1:7; Ecclesiastes 12:13). Holy awe of God manifests itself in “obedience to God (or the LORD).”

God revealed Himself at Sinai to give Israel so vivid and unforgettable an experience of Himself, including His statement of His principles for life in relationship with Him (the Torah), that they will follow His way as the priority of life. The point of the Words (Exodus 20:1-19) and the theophany is to encourage Israel to walk in obedience to God (“fear of Him”) which will remove the dread of God’s presence. Obedience to God through the words (“instruction”) will result in not continuing in sin, which allows God’s presence to dwell among them. An awareness of the incredible power, glory, and majesty of God ought to make them think twice before choosing to sin against God. This awareness of the holy God and its appropriate response is what is meant by “the fear of God” in the Bible.

Boundaries

God accomplished creation by using boundaries, separating the land from the water, the light from the darkness, between kinds of creatures, and between humans being male and female (Genesis 1:1-31). Likewise, boundaries were set at Sinai (Exodus 19:12, 23), protecting people from death and distinguishing between God and humanity.

Virtually every person and entity has boundaries.

Identity is established by difference, by recognizing what we are and what we are not, and that is based on boundaries, whether geographical, social, religious, occupational, or other. I am me, not you. I am human, not God. Identifying others or oneself is a means of differentiation, and at the boundary between what we are and what we are not we know who we are (Klyne Snodgrass, Who God Says You Are: A Christian Understanding of Identity, Eerdmans, 2018, 176–177).

We live in a time when many vilify and think of boundaries as a form of oppression. In the zealous contemporary pursuit of rejecting boundaries, we run the danger of “falling into the abyss of non-order in which the struggle against exclusion implodes on itself because, in the absence of all boundaries, we are unable to name what is excluded or why it ought not to be excluded” (Miroslav Volf, Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation, Abingdon, 2010).

According to Volf, “The absence of boundaries creates non-order, and non-order is not the end of exclusion but the end of life” (ibid.). The lack of boundaries results in a lack of purpose, clarity, and identity. No boundaries mean no distinctions. “Boundaries are part of the creative process of differentiation” (ibid.).

A recent student walkout and protest at a private educational institution in the Denver metropolitan area concerning the dismissal of two people on its faculty for their chosen lifestyles demonstrates this kind of cavalier attitude about not having boundaries. Although this academic entity has a “Statement of Beliefs” that all staff, faculty, and volunteers must adhere to, these students think those boundaries are oppressive and unloving.

The Bible itself has boundaries because some documents were included, and many documents were excluded. The Bible is filled with boundaries and discloses God as a God who makes boundaries. The revelation that God makes distinctions (Exod. 9:4; 11:7) and calls on His people to make distinctions (Lev. 11:47) inherently contains the idea of boundaries.

“A Christian understanding of boundaries involves both boundaries of inclusion and boundaries of exclusion. Some things must be embraced … and some things must be excluded” (Snodgrass, 181). Thus, Paul sharply demarcated the churches that he planted from other entities that have alternative narratives.

They are the insiders in contrast to “those outside” (hoi exō, 1 Cor. 5:12–13; 1 Thess. 4:12) or to “the rest” (hoi loipoi, 1 Thess. 4:13; 5:6). As the “children of light in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation” (Phil. 2:15; cf. 1 Thess. 5:5–8), they have their citizenship (politeuma) in heaven (Phil. 3:20). They are being saved (sōzomenoi, 1 Cor. 1:18; 2 Cor. 2:15) in contrast to those who are perishing (apollymenoi, 1 Cor. 1:18; 2 Cor. 2:15). They are “the believers” (1 Cor. 14:22; 1 Thess. 1:7; 2:10) in contrast to the “unbelievers” (1 Cor. 7:12; 10:27; 14:22–23). Like Diaspora Jews who live as minority communities with a sharply defined identity separating them from their environment, Paul’s communities learn to think of themselves in terms of the group identity that separates them from others (James Thompson, Moral Formation according to Paul: The Context and Coherence of Pauline Ethics, Baker, 2011, 46).

Paul calls for a “radical separation” from one’s former non-Christian identity (1 Cor. 6:11) and strict maintenance of boundaries from the surrounding community (Ibid.).

PERSONAL RELATIONSHIP WITH JESUS?

Have you noticed that the terminology of having a “personal relationship with Jesus” never occurs in the New Testament? That should give those who want to be biblical in our Christianity some pause before using this terminology.

Author Joel Miller researched the expressions “personal relationship” and “personal savior” (Joel Miller, “Why you need more than a personal relationship with Jesus,” http://web.archive.org/web/20141006220205/http://blogs.ancientfaith.com/twocities/personal-relationship-jesus). Miller discovered that the phrases, rather alarmingly, were largely unknown barely exist before the 1970s. At that point, they take off like pair of rockets.

These phrases have been popular during the adult lives of most of us, so we think they are normal. “Personal relationship” and “personal Savior” are the ways many communicate Christianity in our time. But does usage make the phrases correct?

Whenever we speak about faith being personal, the tendency is to convey the idea of what applies primarily (or even only) to me. “Personal” puts in the realm of “tastes” and “preferences,” but faith applies universally (Acts 17:30).

Miller correctly comments: “So faith in this sense is most certainly not personal. And neither is it impersonal. It’s a problematic adjective to apply because while it pertains to an individual, the faith is far larger than the individual.”

If we sense the need to use the phrase “personal relationship,” it is more in line with the Bible to speak of a “kingdom relationship.” Instead of referring to a “personal Savior,” we ought to speak of the universal King and Savior (Acts 2:36; 5:31; Philippians 3:20; 2 Timothy 1:10; Titus 1:4; 2:13; 2 Peter 1:1, 11; 2:20; 1 John 4:14).

Testing

Virtually no one likes taking tests. Yet, tests seem to be an inevitable part of life because tests reveal competency; this is true at all education levels and professional certifications. The Hebrew word for “test” (nissah) often refers to putting something (or someone) under scrutiny, usually to determine its value or usefulness, quality, or attribute. The piel form of nissah occurs more than 30 times in the Hebrew Bible.

Whatever is being tested is stretched to its limits. When people test God, they test His patience (Exodus 17) or His faithfulness (Numbers 14:22). When people test other people, they test something such as their wisdom (1 Kings 10:1). There is always some implied (though rarely specified) object to the verb beyond the direct personal object.

When God tests, He tests some value, quality, or attribute by stretching it to its limits. In most cases, He tests the faith and faithfulness of individuals or Israel by expecting them to obey under challenging circumstances. Sometimes “test” refers to God’s testing of a person (Abraham in Genesis 22:1 and Hezekiah in 2 Chronicles 32:31), but more commonly, it speaks of God’s testing of the Israelites as a group (Exodus 15:25; Deuteronomy 6:16; Judges 3:1).

God often tests our faith for a positive purpose (Exodus 20:20; Deuteronomy 8:16); He tested the Israelites to determine whether they fully trusted in God alone (Deuteronomy 13:3). So, likewise, God tests to identify His people, discern who is serious about faith, and know in whose lives He will be fully God.

A test similar to Abraham’s would not be primarily concerned with investigating whether we love our children more than we love God. Likewise, it would not examine whether we will trust God with our children. Instead, the test seeks to discover the motivating factor in our relationship with God: Is it God Himself, or is it the benefits He provides and the hope He offers? The subject of the testing of Job is whether he fears God for who God is or the “goodies” God gives (Job 1:8-10).

Jesus challenged the rich young ruler on this same point in Luke 18:18–23. What the young man is asked to sell would have included his land and his goods. The land is the covenant benefit shared by all the people of Israel. Possessions represent the prosperity that was believed to come to those who earned the favor of God. By asking him to sell all of this, Jesus is asking this man to be willing to jettison all of those things in his life that he considers the perquisites of God’s favor. This is the type of test set before Abraham: Are you willing to follow God if there is nothing in it for you?

This testing is not a game for God. On the contrary, it lies at the heart of God’s call to keep covenant with Him. He creates us free, for His goal is love, and love must be chosen. It cannot be preprogrammed. From the very beginning (Genesis 3), God’s call to covenantal faithfulness has involved testing. God is seeking to determine whether the people He calls will lovingly choose him above all else.

PRACTICE FOR THE NEW HEAVEN AND EARTH

We do many activities in this life as Christians that we will not do in the new heaven and earth. For example, We will never evangelize anyone in the new heaven and earth. We will never share the gospel or hand out a tract. We will not pray for needs in the new heaven and earth; there will be no reason to.

However, there is one activity we will continue to do in the new heaven and earth: worship. We will worship God forever. Given this, we can look at worship in this life as a kind of “practice” for the new heaven and earth. Paul Engel wrote, “That’s how important it is to get it correct, here and now, in preparation for what’s coming. Our focus on worship in this life will reap eternal dividends (Paul Engle, When God Draws Near, 19).

The English word “worship” means “to ascribe worth to something.” We worship God for who He is and because He is worthy. “HOLY, HOLY, HOLY is THE LORD GOD, THE ALMIGHTY, WHO WAS AND WHO IS AND WHO IS TO COME” (Revelation 4:8).

We worship God not only for His character, but also for His conduct (not only for His attributes, but also for His actions): “Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed and were created” (Revelation 4:11). Thus, God is worthy of worship because He did what no one else could ever do: He created all things, and He continues to sustain all things.

But more than that, He also redeemed us through His Son, Jesus Christ. “Worthy are You . . . for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood” (Revelation 5:9). That’s what God did for us, and He deserves never-ending praise and worship because of it.

Worship involves the physical and emotional aspects of human personhood, which can be expressed through song. But fundamentally, worship is an acknowledgment of who God is and what He has done. Worship incorporates our bodily and emotional responses and has an intelligent expression that involves the mind. Jesus said we should love the Lord our God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength (Mark 12:30). This means our worship should fully engage everything within us as we dwell on the greatness of God. Fundamentally, worship is “consciously drawing close God.” It is not something that one does all the time. It is not something that one does thoughtlessly. Worship is a person actively connecting to God in and through the avenues that God has prescribed. Since God is the one to be worshipped, we do not choose how to draw close to God. Thankfully, God has revealed to us in His word how He desires for us to worship Him.

God is worthy to be praised! As the psalmist wrote, “Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the Lord our Maker. For He is our God” (Ps. 95:6–7). Likewise, C. S. Lewis wrote: “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world” (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, 106).

THE PLACE OF THEOLOGY IN DISCIPLESHIP

I realize that our brotherhood has generally had a deep suspicion (if not outright hostility) of theology from the beginning of the Restoration Movement. There have been good reasons for those suspicions. Many of the “theologies” (Dogmatic, Liberation, Feminist, etc.) often promote ideas that do not cohere with the Bible. Theology can lack practicality (abstract thinking for “ivory tower” intellectuals). Sometimes, theology promotes confusion instead of clarity (it obscures the truth of the Bible). Some methods of theology supported oppressive church authority and tradition. For these reasons and more, many do not want to have anything to do with theology.

The problem with “stiff-arming” theology is that we are all theologians. We do not have the choice to be theologians or not. Our choice is to whether to be good or bad theologians. As Michael Weed wrote, “The only true alternative is whether one will have an examined theology or one which is unexamined . . . One’s option is not whether theology but rather what kind of theology” (Michael Weed, “The Layman, The Theologian, and the Church,” Restoration Quarterly 23 (1980), 25). In other words, we cannot free ourselves of theology if we are going to deal with God, God’s revelation, and God’s things.

I recently read an article entitled “7 Ways Biblical Theology Transforms Bible Study.” The premise of the article is that “biblical theology transforms personal and group Bible study.” The following two items are edited and enhanced from this article.

Biblical theology makes Bible study God-centered, not me-centered. Most Bible study techniques move quickly to “how am I going to apply this to my life?” without considering the intended message for the first audience. The Bible is God’s story, not my story. One of our first questions about a biblical text or passage ought to be, “what does this tell me about God?” After we ask these kinds of questions that we position ourselves to make applications for our lives.

Biblical theology urges us toward union with Christ, not merely imitating Jesus. Union with Christ is the very essence of what it means to be a Christian. Biblical theology serves to show us the beauty, the necessity, and the sufficiency of being joined to Christ by faith. Just trying to follow His example is not the goal. Think about Paul’s writings and all of his uses of “in Christ,” “into Christ,” “with Christ,” “through Christ,” and the metaphor of the “body of Christ.” Union with Christ is not just about “justification” (“being saved”) but also includes Christian living (living out the death and resurrection of Christ).

There is often a desire for group studies or teaching to be “practical.” We tend to want simple, manageable, consumer-friendly tidbits about God that we can use in our faith walk. However, the most practical thing that can take place in our study of the Bible is that it kindles a desire to know and walk with God. Desiring God is the foundation each one of us needs for life-transforming obedience.

Mark’s Remarks

I had a good week at Yellowstone Bible Camp. It was not a very large camp, which helped to have a more relaxed atmosphere. The lessons from Isaiah were well received and appreciated. I even spent some time in Yellowstone National Park and saw bison, elk, deer, a black bear, a grizzly bear and cub, and seven wolves.

I appreciate Jakie Gibbs and Lorn Benson for preaching and teaching in my absence. I also appreciate Mike Ewing for taking over the online access to the worship assembly.

We are embarking on a short series concerning “desire.” As I delved into the subject, the direction of my study took some turns that I did not expect. Those turns challenged me, and I will share some of them with you. The plan for the desire series is:

July 11          The Realm Of Desire

July 18          The Desires Of God

July 25          Human Desires

The Bible uses several Hebrew and Greek terms to express both good and evil desires. Two Hebrew roots shape the concept of desire in the Old Testament: אוה (ʾwh) generally expresses a neutral or good desire, whereas the numerous terms derived from the root חמד (ḥmd) describes the desirability of an object or person. The Old Testament often deems desire expressed through the root ḥmd as a negative form of desire. In addition, the Old Testament employs other verbs and nouns to specify the nuances of desire in relationships with both humans and God (חָשַׁק [ḥāšaq, “to desire”] and שָׁאַף [šāʾap, “to pant for”]). In the New Testament, the concept of desire is frequently communicated through Greek terms related to the will or wishes of a person or God. The verbs θέλω (thelō, “to will”) and βούλομαι (boulomai, “to wish”) frequently occur regarding the concept of desire. Desire can be morally positive or negative based on the context. The New Testament authors typically employ the verbs ἐπιθυμέω (epithymeō) and ἐπιποθέω (epipotheō) to illustrate the positive aspect of desire. At the same time, the noun ἐπιθυμία (epithymia) often refers to the destructive effect of lustful desires.

The Bible mentions all kinds of desires and longings that are fundamental to human existence. The biblical texts characterize some of these desires as good and thus to be pursued, while others are viewed as sinful and therefore to be avoided or resisted. When uncontrolled, passion can become overwhelmingly excessive or misdirected, turning people away from the Lord and toward selfish and harmful thoughts and actions.

As we think about “desires,” let us adopt the mindset the psalmists communicated in the following texts:

Psalm 40:8 I desire to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart.

Psalm 73:25 Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.

Psalm 119:174 I long for your salvation, O LORD, and your law is my delight.

Mark Johnson

THE “I AM” STATEMENTS IN ISAIAH

“I am” occurs fifty-six times in forty-nine verses in the English Standard Version translation of the book of Isaiah. Several of the “I am” occurrences refers to humans (Isa. 6:52; 19:11; 21:32, 8; 33:24; 38:10, 14; 44:5, 16; 47:8, 10; 56:3; 58:9; 65:5), there is one occurrence of “I am” which refers to the Servant (Isa. 49:5), and all of the other “I Am” occurrences in Isaiah refer to God (Isa. 1:14; 13:17; 28:16; 41:4, 102, 13, 14; 42:6, 8; 43:3, 5, 10, 11, 12, 13, 15, 19, 25; 44:6, 24; 45:62, 7, 18; 46:4, 92; 48:123, 17; 49:5, 23, 26; 51:12, 15; 60:22) refer to God.

God’s “I Am” statements that are recorded in the book of Isaiah indicate that God wants people to know and understand that “I Am He” (Isa. 43:10; 45:6-7). “I am the LORD; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols” (Isa. 42:8). “For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior” (Isa. 43:3). “I am the LORD, your Holy One, the Creator of Israel, your King” (Isa. 43:15). “Thus says the LORD, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the LORD of hosts: ‘I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god’” (Isa. 44:6). “Thus says the LORD, your Redeemer, who formed you from the womb: ‘I am the LORD, who made all things, who alone stretched out the heavens, who spread out the earth by myself’” (Isa. 44:24). “For thus says the LORD, who created the heavens (he is God!), who formed the earth and made it (he established it; he did not create it empty, he formed it to be inhabited!): I am the LORD, and there is no other” (Isa. 45:18).

God wants people to know Him and walk with Him (Isa. 41:10, 13, 14; 43:5; 46:4; 51:12). Walking with God does not mean doing many rituals (Isa. 1:14) without conformation to His instruction (Isa. 48:17). Knowing and walking with God means realizing that there is no one and nothing else like Him (Isa. 41:4; 43:12; 45:5; 46:9; 48:12).

Realizing that God is the LORD means acknowledging that He is the only savior (Isa. 43:11) and that people need to turn to Him to be saved (Isa. 45:22). God can and will save because He has the power to save (Isa. 43:13; 51:5) and is the only one who can “blot our transgressions” (Isa. 43:25). Being in a saving, covenant relationship with God includes practicing righteousness and being a light to those around us (Isa. 42:6) and “waiting for” (trusting) God.

God has revealed Himself to humanity. Thank you, God.

CREATE (bārāʾ)

One important word in the Old Testament is bārāʾ (create). Bārāʾ has the basic meaning of creating, separating (as by cutting), creating, cutting, forming, fashion by cutting, pare a reed for writing, and initiating something new.[1] Although one of the most respected Hebrew lexicons states, “ברא is a specifically theological term,”[2] this claim is not supported by the evidence.[3] When bārāʾ is used in the Qal and Naphil verbal forms, the subject is always God and refers to God’s activity (a theological term in these two verbal forms).[4]

Bārāʾ occurs six times in the first creation account (Genesis 1:1-2:4) to claim that the God of the Hebrews (the God of the Bible) is the mighty Creator. This verb occurs only four more times in Genesis (Genesis 5:1, 22; 6:7) and does not often appear in the biblical text until the book of Isaiah.

Isaiah uses bārāʾ nineteen times and almost exclusively in chapters 40-55 (Isaiah 4:5; 40:26; 41:20; 42:5; 43:1, 7; 45:72, 8, 12, 182; 48:7; 54:162; 57:19; 65:17, 182). One of the primary objectives for Isaiah’s use of bārāʾ is to create and sustain trust in God. Isaiah seeks to accomplish this goal by contrasting God to the idols (Isaiah 40:21-26; 45:5-7). As the Creator, God declares the things that have come to pass (“former things”) and the “things to come” (Isaiah 41:20-23; 42:9; 43:7-11; 48:3-7). A third way Isaiah uses bārāʾ is to call God’s people to consider creation so that we will appreciate His power (Isaiah 40:26; 41:20; 45:7-8, 18). Isaiah uses bārāʾ culminates in God’s declaration to create “new heavens and a new earth” (Isaiah 65: 17-18).

Some also claim that the term bārāʾ never appears with explicit mention of preexisting material[5] (in other words, the claim is that bārāʾ means “to make something out of nothing”). This claim may be valid for some of the occurrences of bārāʾ, but several texts demonstrate that this assertion is not always true. For example, the psalmist calls on God to “create (bārāʾ) in me a clean heart, O God” (Psalm 51:10). The psalmist is calling for a “change of heart,” which is further explained by “renew a right spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10). Psalm 51:10 is a call for God to rework the psalmist’s preexistent heart/spirit.

Mark Johnson

[1] Francis Brown, Samuel Rolles Driver, and Charles Augustus Briggs, Enhanced Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (BDB), Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1977, 135; David J. A. Clines, The Dictionary of Classical Hebrew (DCH), Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1993–2011, 258; Thomas E. McComiskey, “בָּרָא,” in Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (TWOT), ed. R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke, Chicago: Moody, 1999, 127; Willem VanGemeren, New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology & Exegesis (NIDOTTE), Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 1997, 728.

[2] Ludwig Koehler et al., The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (HALOT), Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1994–2000, 153.

[3] Bārāʾ occurs in the Piel verbal form in Joshua 17:15, 18; Ezekiel 21:19; 23:47 with the meaning of cut and the subject who is doing the “cutting” is not God. When bārāʾ occurs in the Piel verbal form, the typical subject is humans (NIDOTTE, 731–732).

[4] TWOT, 127.

[5] McComiskey states, “the word never occurs with the object of the material,” TWOT, 127.