Questions and Answers (11:9)

Lou: One of our questioners writes, “God sent she-bears against the children who ridiculed Elisha (2 Kings 2:24). Just how does God come out looking good in that strange incident?”

Graham: Superficially He certainly doesn’t. He ran the risk of not looking very good in that situation. And the Devil would certainly like us to misunderstand. But if one reads the whole setting, in those days even the king of Israel was consulting Baalzebub, the god of flies (2 Kgs 1:16). There was very little reverence toward God. Elijah had just been translated to heaven. And these irreverent youths, following the example of their king, were mocking Elisha, “Hey Baldy, why don’t you go up too?” 2 Kings 2:23. When people are that irreverent, God has virtually lost communication with them. It’s that serious. But if we need she-bears, we’ll get she-bears.

Lou: Here’s a question along a little different line: “In reading about the sacrificial system, I get the impression that it was very messy, throwing blood on the Mercy Seat, throwing blood on Aaron and the other priests. Who cleaned the Mercy Seat off? Who cleaned the garments of Aaron and the other priests?”

Graham: Regarding how it was cleaned, there are many references to cleansing, water, scouring of pots, washing of garments. During the reign of Hezekiah there was even a complete housecleaning of the whole temple (2 Chr 29:15-19). But the most important implication of the question is the observation that the sacrificial system was messy. But if the system looks messy to us, how do you suppose it looked to God? The One who sees the little sparrow fall asked them to kill lambs. So yes, it was messy. It was painful. But God knew they needed it. It had to be that dramatic.
I think God hoped that they would always feel as sick as Adam must have felt when he killed that first lamb. He must have turned to God and said, “I can’t do it. It’s making me sick.” And I imagine God replying, “I hope it always makes you sick.” But it came to the place where people could kill God’s animals with hardly a thought. It was almost like a circus as they cut them up and burned them. The more, the better. Then God would bless them. So like other emergency measures, the sacrificial system was also misunderstood.

Lou: Could you comment on the role of the family and marriage in God’s overall plan for us? Also, is there special significance to our planet in having male and female, the two sexes?

Graham: Yes, I think God deliberately designed things this way; the sexes, the family, sharing with us the power to create little people in our own image. This whole process teaches us how difficult it is to bring children up safely and yet set them free. How can we keep them from hurting themselves when they’re little? Anyone who has had children, anyone who has been a teacher of little children, ought to be able to read the Bible very sympathetically. I think God gave marriage and the family as a very eloquent demonstration. Right there in Eden the family, the sexes, and the Sabbath became emergency measures. Some emergency measures can be very pleasant, you know.

Lou: Here’s another question: “Why would God choose circumcision as an emergency measure?”

Graham: I think it’s somewhat related to the previous question. If you don’t acknowledge that God is the Creator, then the mystery of life and reproduction may become the object of your worship. And that’s what happened with the fertility cults. One of the prevailing weaknesses of the Israelites was the temptation to go up into the mountains, and participate with the cult prostitutes. So an explanation that appeals to me is that God gave them circumcision to hold them back from such participation.
Suppose a young Israelite has followed his eyes up into the mountains and he’s there with a cult prostitute. At the last moment she looks down and says, “I see you are a Jew.” And the young man says, “I can’t do this,” and hurries home. I could see God doing something like that. Because that part of their bodies was very much involved in their greatest sins (Num 25:1-18), I think God chose something that would remind them of their identity.

Questions and Answers (11:8)

Lou: Someone has asked a practical question: “I want to know how to keep the Sabbath. Several people go out to eat after church is over with. I understand that they may be going out to eat because they don’t want their wives to cook. Is that wrong because they are making people work for them on the Sabbath, or does that just mean that we are judging them? I’m confused.”

Graham: That question reminds me of what Paul said, “Let everyone be fully persuaded in his own mind,” and “Who are you to judge another? Each one of us shall give account of himself to God” (based on Rom 14:5, 10). This day is ours, you know. It was given to us. Sure, it’s the Lord’s Day, it’s a day to remember the Lord, but it’s His gift to us for our best good. If I don’t observe it in the best way possible, I just lose, that’s all. So that I must decide for myself. We have no business deciding for other people. We’ve no business criticizing. Before the Damascus road, Paul would have said, “Shame on you for doing something like that. I’ll haul you into prison and maybe have you stoned.” But after the Damascus road he said, “Let everyone be fully convinced in his own mind” (Rom 14:5).
I also think, though, that Sabbath-keeping not only says something to ourselves and to God; it also says something to the community, the people looking on. The way we keep Sabbath can speak well or otherwise of our God, and I think we need to weigh that. What do people think about when they watch us Sabbath keepers try to keep the seventh day holy? The last two hours before sundown the saints are all trying to get home on time, so in the grocery store everybody’s pressing to the front with their baskets full. On any other day in the week a Sabbath-keeper might courteously let somebody with less in the basket go ahead, but you can’t afford to be courteous on a Friday afternoon. You’re going to keep Sabbath, even if you’ve got to break the other nine commandments to do so!
A store clerk in Loma Linda once told my wife, “We are very puzzled. Just as it begins to get dark on Friday afternoon, there is a tremendous increase in business here. In the parking lot people are rushing to and fro. We even have to put on extra clerks for a while. And then just as we’re settling into the rush, all of a sudden most of them disappear.” And the store can’t plan on the rush each Friday because it seems to come at a different time. She knows the people are religious and wonders why. If we gave her an explanation, would we say, “You know why we hurry like that? Because if we don’t get home before the sun goes down, you can’t imagine what our God would do to us.” If some of us said what we were thinking, we would not be speaking very well of God. And by the way, if we do see somebody hurrying on Friday afternoon, we have no business judging their reasons. The beauty of this whole thing is, in the larger view, you do not feel moved to condemn other people. God doesn’t condemn. He just says, “I’m so sorry; you lose.”

Lou: You mentioned in the previous chapter how important motive is. For example, with health care work, one person might do Sabbath work in a hospital because they can “get away with it,” another might see it as following in the steps of Christ.

Graham: You can’t read other people’s motives on this.

Questions and Answers (11:7)

Lou: Someone raised this question: “Was there no Sabbath before Creation Week? If the commandments are a transcript of God’s character, there must have been a Sabbath before the creation of our world. And is not the Sabbath going to be carried into the new earth and eternity (Isa 66:22-23)? Will not all creation keep the same day, the seventh day, the Sabbath day?” We’ve already touched on that—but please say a word more about it.

Graham: Well, I’m not an astronomer, but I do know that it would be a great difficulty even within our own solar system for this to happen. Our planets are different sizes and rotate at different speeds. Doesn’t Venus rotate about once every year? On Venus we would be keeping Sabbath every seventh year!

Lou: So it wouldn’t be very practical to get them all coordinated.

Graham: I am impressed that the Sabbath was made for humankind. And it serves particularly well for us in the emergency. What God has for His children elsewhere in the universe, we are not told. But Jesus Himself said, “It was made for you” (Mark 2:27). So it was particularly tailored to this planet of ours.

Lou: That in a way answers the next question: “Do you think the Sabbath is observed on the other planets, or did God create it for this earth because He knew that man would not be able to speak to Him face to face after sin?” Didn’t you mention that the Sabbath was intended to help us during the emergency?

Graham: Oh, very much so. I really see the Sabbath as an emergency measure that will turn into a great celebration. So it really is a foretaste of the hereafter (Heb 4:9). The beauty would be to begin the celebration now. The Sabbath, rightly understood, is not only a reminder of the truth about God, but a foretaste of the Sabbath-like security and trust that we will have in knowing Him throughout eternity.

Lou: You emphasized that the Sabbath was a matter of celebration, not just an arbitrary test that God imposed. So someone asked this question: “If it’s not a test, then why in Revelation does it mean so much to be a commandment-keeper? If you can’t command enjoyment of the Sabbath, why is it made clear that if you don’t enjoy it, you’re going to die?”

Graham: If you have a legal approach to the Sabbath you would be worried every sundown Saturday evening, “Did I enjoy Sabbath? What if the sermon was really heavy?” No, you’ve got to sit there and say, “I’m enjoying myself. I’m enjoying myself, if I don’t I’m breaking this day.” That kind of response doesn’t make sense. It just destroys human reason. No. In the next chapter we will explore what it means to keep the commandments. I believe the Ten Commandments describe the way trustworthy people will live together. And if I don’t want to be that kind of a person, it will be a serious thing, and God will have to let me go. So it’s not arbitrary. It’s no more arbitrary, really, than breathing and eating. In a way, eating is a test of obedience. But He won’t punish you if you don’t eat. You’ll just get in very bad shape, and if you abstain from food forever, you will die. So I don’t have to follow these rules, but if I don’t, I’ll be a different kind of a person, and eventually I will just ruin myself, and I would not be safe to save.

Lou: That’s a good way to put it. That means the commandments are a statement of the way God made things to work.

Graham: And the commandments express the best way to run the universe and keep it free. I hope He’ll never run it any other way. Mutual love and trust, as described in the Ten Commandments, is the only way to have a really secure, safe, and free universe.

Questions and Answers (11:6)

Lou: I want to go back to this matter of the law as an emergency measure. If I heard you correctly, you were saying that both the ceremonial law and the Ten Commandments were emergency measures. Now I can hear some Seventh-day Adventists saying, “Is that really the Adventist position? Haven’t we made a distinction in Galatians 3 and said `well, the ceremonial law was added, but the Ten Commandment Law is a transcript of God’s character; therefore, it’s eternal?’” How would you respond to that?

Graham: I’m including them all in the context of Galatians 3. But when one raises the question, “Is this the Seventh-day Adventist view?” then one has a right to say, “Who is authorized to say what the Adventist view is?” I would nominate the most influential person who ever helped shape this movement, and that would be Ellen White. When she was asked, “What law was added?” She responded, “Both the ceremonial law and the moral code of Ten Commandments” (based on Ellen G. White, Selected Messages, vol. 1, page 233). So I feel secure and in very good company when I take the same position.

Lou: It seems to me that you illustrated that very well when you spoke about the home and dealing with children and so on. It’s hard to imagine God having to say to the angels, “Now, angels, please don’t murder!” A commandment like that was an emergency measure in a sadly broken world.

Graham: While that is true, there is an aspect of the commandments which is universal. In the next chapter, where we talk about what the law requires, there will be an opportunity to show how the principles in the law are eternal. And I certainly hope they are, or this won’t be a safe universe to live in. While the giving of the law on Mount Sinai was an emergency measure, the principles of the law are also a transcript of God’s character.

Lou: Are there any other emergency measures that are still in use?

Graham: Yes, I think the fire and brimstone of the third angel’s message (Rev 14:9-11) is an emergency measure! That’s hardly “still, small voice” language. And then there is the Sabbath. We need this still. It speaks eloquently to us and reminds us of the truth.

Lou: That ties in with another question I wanted to ask. If the Ten Commandments were added, as you have suggested, then will there come a day when the fourth commandment, the Sabbath, won’t need to be kept anymore?

Graham: If it were merely a legal requirement or a test of obedience, that could be true. But I can see Isaiah’s point that for eternity we will keep Sabbath to celebrate the end of the emergency. We will keep it as a perpetual reminder of the price that was paid and the evidence that was demonstrated to establish peace and freedom in the family. Because the Sabbath is so eloquent with meaning rather than arbitrary, that’s the reason why it would be so widely observed for all eternity.

Questions and Answers (11:5)

Lou: This matter of emergency measures is a very interesting idea, and it sparked a really good question: “Why does an omniscient, omnipresent, omnibenevolent God allow Himself to get into a situation where emergency measures are needed? Why didn’t God plan better?” The impression this question leaves is that something happened that God wasn’t counting on. How would you answer that?

Graham: I think that’s why several times in the Bible we have to have things like the wheels within the wheels in Ezekiel. That picture suggests that God is calmly in control amidst all the complexities of human affairs. Books like Daniel and Revelation suggest that God foresaw all these complexities. He was not surprised, but in human terms an emergency has developed for which God has made adequate provision. That He would allow the emergency to occur, when He has the power to run the universe any way He wants, speaks very well of Him and speaks volumes about the value of freedom to our God. That He would allow the emergency says that an even higher value was at stake in the way God responded to rebellion in the universe.

Lou: But with the phrase “emergency measures,” are we saying that God is meeting a difficult situation in a way that runs the risk that we might misunderstand Him? Or that the Devil might use it to confuse us about God’s character?

Graham: Satan has very much used these things against God. That’s why Jesus said, “I haven’t come to destroy the law and the prophets” [the Old Testament], “I have come to explain” (Matt 5:17). For example, He set out to explain the Old Testament rule about “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” (Matt 5:38, cf. Lev 24:20). That’s an emergency measure. I suspect they didn’t like Jesus’ explanation very much (Matt 5:39-48). He also gave an explanation of the divorce rule in Deuteronomy 24:1-3 (Matt 19:3-10), and they didn’t like that explanation either. Remember even His own disciples said, “You’re taking away our only escape clause in the marriage ceremony! If that’s the case, it would be better not to marry” (Matt 19:10). And He responded to them, “Not everybody can take this” (Matt 19:11-12). So Jesus did come to explain—because these things could be misunderstood. On the other hand, there were Old Testament prophets that didn’t misunderstand. That’s what’s so impressive.

Lou: You’ve been speaking about an emergency and a time period of emergency. The question is this: “Has the emergency ended yet? When will it end? Are we still living in the emergency?”

Graham: If one thinks of the emergency as a legal problem, maybe it all ended at the cross. But look around us, we’re still in the emergency. I would say the emergency is not over until God’s last emergency measure is no longer needed. I would think of the last emergency measure as the veiling of His life-giving glory, lest we be consumed. That’s what Christ did when He came. “He veiled the dazzling splendor of His divinity that human beings might come to know God without being consumed” (Ellen G. White, Ministry of Healing, page 419). That’s an emergency measure. So not until the end of the millennium, when everything is done and no one will misunderstand, will God unveil His life-giving glory. Then the last emergency measure will be over, and everything will come to a natural conclusion. So we’re still looking forward to the end of these measures. That doesn’t mean the cross is somehow inadequate. You can’t add to the cross. The provision is totally adequate. But we’re still in the emergency period.

God’s Emergency Use of Mediation and Intercession (11:4)

There is a second emergency measure that has been seriously misunderstood. If God really is so gracious, and if He is love personified, why does the Bible picture the need for mediation and intercession–for someone to stand between us and the anger of an offended God? I believe that Satan would love to have us misunderstand this. For nothing can really distort the picture of God more than a misunderstanding of this most gracious of His provisions. Satan would love for us to believe that were it not for Christ’s constant intercession on our behalf, the Father could never find it in His own heart to forgive and to heal.

Is God, after all, unforgiving and severe? We know that isn’t true, yet priestly intercession runs all through the Scriptures, especially the intercession and mediation of our Lord. Could priestly intercession also be an emergency measure tailored to meet our needs until we come to know God better, until we realize there is no need for anyone to stand between us and our God? We have had an enemy between, no question, the damage has been devastating. But do we need a friend between? And if so, why?

God came down onto Mount Sinai to speak to His people, remember? There was such irreverence that God had to show His might and power, and the people were terrified. They turned to Moses and said, “Don’t let God speak to us lest we die. You speak to Him first and then you speak to us” (based on Exodus 20:19). They begged for an intercessor, for someone in between, though God wanted to speak directly to them. “They said to Moses, ‘If you speak to us, we will listen; but we are afraid that if God speaks to us, we will die.’ Moses replied, ‘Don’t be afraid’” (Exod 20:19-20, GNB).

Now actually, God had already been speaking to them and they had not died. They had noticed this, but they just didn’t want to run the risk any further. Look at what the people said in Deuteronomy:

And [Israel] said, “Today we have seen that it is possible for a man to continue to live, even though God has spoken to him. But why should we risk death again? That terrible fire will destroy us. We are sure to die if we hear the Lord our God speak again. . . . Go back, Moses, and listen to everything that the Lord our God says. Then return and tell us what He said to you. We will listen and obey” (Deut 5:24, 25, and 27, GNB).

You see, the people pled for a mediator. They pled for a friend between them and God. They needed him. God didn’t need someone in between. But Moses was such a friend. Was there anyone between Moses and God? Look at Numbers 12:

If any man among you is a prophet I make myself known to him in a vision, I speak to him in a dream. Not so with my servant Moses; he is at home in my house; I speak with him face to face, plainly and not in riddles (Num 12:6-8, Jerusalem).

Compare that with Exodus 33: “Thus the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend” (Exod 33:11, RSV). There was no one between. Years later, Jesus tried to encourage the disciples to believe that He wanted to speak to them as friends, the way He used to talk to Moses:

No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you (John 15:15, RSV).

When friends speak together, they speak plainly, face to face. Among friends there is explanation. There is understanding desired and achieved. It is quite apparent that Jesus didn’t want blind, do as you’re told, obedience. He wanted the understanding cooperation of friends. He wanted His disciples to obey because they agreed. He wanted them to admire God for His wise and gracious ways. That is the obedience of a free person. That is intelligent obedience, as the Bible describes it.

When we are friends, no one needs to come in between. When friends are talking together, no one needs to intervene, intercede or protect one friend from another. The disciples could see no need at all for anyone to come between them and Christ. On that they were clear. They weren’t afraid of Him. But they were not so sure about the Father. That is what led them to say, “Tell us more about the Father.” That is, tell us more about the One who requires all the sacrifices and the priestly intercession. “Jesus, could that God, the Father, be like You?” And you remember Christ’s stunning reply: “If you have seen Me, you have seen the Father” (based on John 14:9).

As to this whole matter of intercession, Jesus is the one who gave us that whole system because we needed it. But the time came, in the upper room, for Jesus to plainly tell them that there really is no need for this:

I have been speaking to you in parables— but the time is coming to give up parables and tell you plainly about the Father. When that day comes, you will make your requests to him (my emphasis) in my name, for I need make no promise to plead to the Father for you, for the Father himself loves you (John 16:25-26, Phillips).

Goodspeed translated the last part, “There is no need for Me to intercede with the Father for you, for the Father loves you Himself.”

Think of the implications of this passage! There was no one standing between God and His friend Abraham. There was no one between God and His friend Moses. And for three and a half years there was no one between God and the disciples. And no one stood between God and Judas as the Creator knelt and washed His betrayer’s dirty feet. Even though Judas had passed the point of no return, there still was no need for anyone to stand between him and his God.

For those who are still afraid of God, it is good to know we have a Friend between. God has made provision for your forgiveness, and He has provided a friend to stand between you and our just and holy God. And who is that friend anyway? “Thomas answered him [Jesus], ‘My Lord and my God!’” John 20:28 (RSV). So I say the following with all deference; if you still need a friend other than the Father, it means you still need emergency measures.

But in the larger, great controversy view of all sixty-six books, there is far better news for us than intercession from a mediator. There is no need to be afraid of God the Father. The Father is forgiveness personified. There is no need for anyone to stand between Him and His most wayward child. And, in any case, the Friend who came to win us back to God is none other than God Himself. This reality says so much about the quality of life in the hereafter. We are truly free to be friends with God now, and we will truly be friends of God in eternity.

God’s Emergency Use of Law (11:3)

The first of God’s emergency measures is the way He has used law as a model of salvation. Keep in mind, trust and love cannot be commanded or produced by force. But if it is true that God values nothing higher than our freedom, why has He made so much use of law? If all God asks is trust and love, why did He give us the Decalogue, which seems to demand our love and obedience under threat of execution? If He doesn’t wish to be seen as arbitrary, exacting, and severe, why has He surrounded us with innumerable rules?

Paul understood all about trust and freedom. He emphasized them so much that he was accused of doing away with God’s law. “No,” he said, “I intend no such thing. Faith does not abolish law. Faith establishes the law, by putting it in its proper perspective” (based on Romans 3:31). But what is the right perspective from which to view God’s use of law? “Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions” (Gal 3:19, RSV).

Paul goes on to explain why the law was added. In King James language he said, “The law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ” (Gal 3:25). The Greek word behind “schoolmaster” is paidagogos. Some of you can hear pedagogue in that, or the pedagogical method. But that word actually was the name given to a trusted slave whose duty it was to take the children to school, to make sure they got there and stayed there. Then it was his duty to bring them home. He was not the teacher. He was the guardian; he was the protector. Now can you see the reason for the translation in the next passage?

So the Law has been our attendant on our way to Christ, so that we might be made upright through faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer in the charge of the attendant (Gal 3:24, 25, Goodspeed).

Compare that with the New International Version of the same text: “So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith. Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law.”

Now which law is Paul talking about? Which law was added, because of transgression, to lead us to Christ? Was it the ceremonial law? Was it the moral law? Was it all law? Would you dare include the Ten Commandments? Perhaps it would help to consider how God gave the Ten Commandments. One day He gathered His misbehaving children together at the foot of Sinai. He announced, “I want all the murdering to stop, and all the hating to stop. I want all the stealing, cheating, lying, and immorality to stop. I want you to stop going after other gods.” What an emergency it must have been, that He had to ask His children to stop doing all those things! You recognize, of course, the Decalogue (Exod 20:3-17). It was added because of transgressions.

Have you ever had to do this in your home? What if some of you fathers had to say during morning worship, “Now Billy, let us see if we all can make this a very good day in our family. When you are at school today, do you promise not to murder any of your friends?”
“Yes, Daddy, if you insist.”
“And Mary, do you promise not to steal any more while you are in school?”
“Well yes, Daddy, if you insist.”
Then you turn to your wife and say, “And when I am at work, please do not commit adultery again. Do you promise, wife?”
“Well yes, if you insist.”

If you were to do this some morning, be sure not to leave your window open, or the neighbors will assume that terrible things are happening in your home. Imagine how the Devil must have mocked God for having to say to His children, “Please, I want all this to stop!” The law was added because of sin (Gal 3:19). There was no need before sin entered the universe to say such things to the loyal angels. They didn’t need a law to do what was right. They did what was right because it was right. It was on that awesome day when sin entered the universe that God first had to speak of law. Here on earth, as well, the law was added because of sin. And along with law, God had to say that sin, rebelliousness, and lawlessness result in death.

There are many dangers, however, in the use of law. Once law has been expressed, people will assume that doing right means merely obeying the rules. Or that sin is merely disobeying the rules. Or that the penalty for breaking the rules is execution by the Rule-giver. Or that if God forgives you He won’t have to execute you. Or that He can forgive you because someone else paid the legal penalty. But what if you turn down the offer? Will you then be painfully destroyed, perhaps even more painfully because of your ingratitude? That is the kind of understanding that can lead to the obedience that springs from fear.

But if one sees the bigger picture of all sixty-six books, you see that what God really wants is not mere obedience to the rules: He wants us to do what is right because it is right. He wants the obedience that springs from love and trust, and that is offered in the highest sense of freedom. In that view, what will happen if I choose to go my own rebellious way? He will sadly let me go, as He let His Son go. I will die, and He will cry. But there is no need to be afraid. God wishes that to be understood for all eternity.

But why then the law? It was added to protect us until we had better understanding and better motivation. So we can thank God for the rules He gave us. Some are very stern. We needed them. They were emergency measures. “Does this mean that by this faith we do away with the Law? No, not at all; instead, we uphold the Law” (Rom 3:31, GNB). Thank God for the Law because we needed it, particularly those of us who are misbehaving members of the family: “We know that the law is good if a man uses it properly. We also know that law is made not for good men but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful” (1 Tim 1:8-9, NIV). Note the same verse in the Phillips Translation: “We also know that the law is not really meant for the good man, but for the man who has neither principles nor self-control.”

If you have principles and self-control, you are led by the Holy Spirit, and you don’t need to be told to love God and to love each other. That is God’s ideal. Now the same understanding is true of the whole sacrificial system, which was certainly not against us (as was the “handwriting of requirements” in Colossians 2:14). It was to teach us things we needed to know. The sacrifices were especially given to remind us of how serious sin and its consequences are. “But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sin year after year. For it is impossible that the blood of bulls and goats should take away sins” (Heb 10:3-4, RSV).

The remedy was yet to come. But in the meantime the sacrifices reminded us of the seriousness of sin. Misunderstood, however, these very same sacrifices and ceremonies turned many people away from God. Think of what happened on crucifixion Friday, which also happened to be Passover weekend. The people who celebrated that Passover, and kept that special Sabbath, did not know the One who was represented in them. They did not understand the meaning of the ceremonies or understand God’s plan. Most of all they did not know God Himself, and nailed Him to the cross.

This was in spite of the fact that many Old Testament prophets had tried to make the meaning of the sacrifices clear, Jeremiah in particular:

For on the day that I brought your fathers out of the land of Egypt, I did not speak to them, nor give them command regarding burnt-offering or sacrifice; but this command I gave them, “Listen to My voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be My people“ (Jer 7:22-23, Smith/Goodspeed).

Jeremiah looked forward to the day when everything would be restored, and the ceremonies that God had added because of sin would have served their purpose. “In those days. . . men shall speak no more of the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord; they shall not think of it, nor remember it, nor resort to it; it will be needed no more” (Jer 3:16, RSV).

I do hope the Lord keeps the Ark of the Covenant in the heavenly museum. I would like to go look at it. It might remind us of the emergency measures God was willing to use in the past. But what was the purpose of all those ceremonies, and rituals and sacrifices? Jeremiah 31 tells us what God has always wanted:

I will put My law within them, and I will write it upon their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. And no longer shall each man teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know Me (Jer 31:33-34, RSV).

All God has ever wanted was to bring the family together again. This would happen when God’s law was written on their hearts and minds. And how eloquently Hosea not only taught this, but demonstrated it: “It is true love that I have wanted, not sacrifice; the knowledge of God rather than burnt-offerings” (Hos 6:6, Phillips). Look how well that has been put in the Good News Bible: “I would rather have My people know Me than have them burn offerings to Me” (Hos 6:6, GNB). To know God means to love Him, to trust Him, to be willing to listen. That is all God has ever wanted or ever will want for all eternity. All these emergency measures are designed to lead us back to that.

Establishing a Willingness to Listen (11:2)

God proposes to set right and to keep right all that has gone wrong in the universe. This requires first that He win us back to trust and a willingness to listen. Once that has happened, he can heal the damage done. Forgiveness alone would not repair all the damage that has been caused by this breakdown of trust and trustworthiness. It also would not secure the universe and keep it safe for all eternity. Heaven will not be peopled with pardoned criminals, but rather with trusting and trustworthy saints who have new hearts and right spirits (Psa 51:10; Ezek 36:26-27).

Granting all that, what if we are not willing to listen to God’s generous offer? What about those who have been so influenced by Satan’s lies that they have turned away to other gods, or to no gods at all? Or, much more seriously, what about those who seek to worship the true God, but worship Him as arbitrary, vengeful, and severe? And then how about all the people who live between those two extremes? How can God reach all of them?

It is no wonder that in the biblical record we see God in many and various ways (Heb 1:1) trying to reach us where we are in this emergency. He speaks a language that we can understand, leading us no faster than we are able to follow (John 16:12). He runs grave risks of being misunderstood as He has sought to gain our attention and hold it long enough to tell us the truth about Himself. When we have been hard of hearing, God has raised His voice, as on Sinai (Exod 19:16-21). When we were irreverent, He shook the ground beneath our feet (Exo 19:18) or even sent she-bears (1 Kgs 2:24), as in the days of Elisha. He also brought fire from heaven down on Mount Carmel (1 Kgs 18:38-39).

So many of the stories in the Bible illustrate God’s willingness to be misunderstood, just to lead us to that reverence that is the beginning of wisdom. When Israel was tempted to take sin lightly, the One who sees the sparrow fall (based on Matt 6:26) instituted that whole system of sacrifices that required the death of thousands of His creatures. When we were tempted to accept Satan’s lie that sin does not lead to death (Gen 3:4), God sent His Son to die that death and so demonstrate the truth.

The whole Bible is full of these emergency measures. In fact, I find it difficult to decide which texts to use as illustrations of the lengths to which God is willing to go. Fortunately, we have included some already in previous chapters. In fact, one could say that the whole Bible is an emergency measure. Since there are so many of these emergency measures, I thought it might be best to consider two of the most important ones, ones that are often seriously misunderstood.

“God’s Emergency Measures” (11:1)

Beginning today I continue the series of postings drawn from Conversations About God, a book in the making. These materials are based on a series of lectures/conversations between Graham Maxwell and Lou Venden that were delivered and recorded in 1984 at the Loma Linda University Church. I found these conversations profoundly insightful in relation to the character of God and its implications for human experience. I have been editing these casual conversations into written language, seeking to preserve, as far as possible, the voices of the original protagonists. The first half of each chapter (each blog is numbered according to its place in a chapter: 11:1, 11:2) is based on a lecture by Maxwell, the last half is based on a conversation between Maxwell and Venden about the topic. While my hand has been in every part of this process, the ideas from here on are largely those of Maxwell and Venden.

In this chapter we consider the extraordinary lengths to which God has been willing to go to hold His universal family together, as He demonstrates the truth about His character and government, and seeks to bring the whole conflict to a successful end. At infinite cost, God has sought to convince the universe that His government will forever be one of peace and freedom based on mutual and well-founded trust. But when Satan plunged the family into a crisis of rebellion and distrust, emergency measures were required to maintain a semblance of order and respect until the basis for real peace and freedom could be clarified and confirmed. In the end, as we have been discussing, God will settle for nothing less than peace and freedom, established upon mutual trust, based on all the evidence that He has provided for us through the years.

The emergency itself, of course, is the breakdown of this trust and trustworthiness that we have discussed in previous chapters. Our stubborn and suspicious unwillingness to listen has made it hard for God to heal the damage done by sin. The damaging consequences of this breakdown of trust in the family are very clearly portrayed throughout Scripture and history. And we can see them as well in society all around us.

Returning to Conversations About God

Yesterday the Seventh-day Adventist Church completed a quarter-long series of adult Sabbath School lessons on the book of Revelation. My former student, Ranko Stefanovic, helped to author the main lessons studied around the world and I helped to author the Teachers’ Edition. Through this blog, last quarter, Ranko and I were able to share with the world the editorial changes that occurred after we turned our manuscripts in. I believe this has led to a number of insights into what at least some in church leadership are thinking about Revelation today.

This week I return to a project that I began a couple of years ago, sharing the content of an upcoming book entitled Conversations About God. The book will be based on a series of twenty lectures by Graham Maxwell, each followed by a back and forth discussion with Lou Venden, then pastor of the Loma Linda University Church. I find this material inspiring, enlightening and comforting. As I prepared these “conversations” for print, I sought to retain Graham Maxwell’s unique voice while adding clarification and references to Scripture.

I have shared the first ten chapters on this blog site from April 2017 through the end of that year. I then suspended these postings to share material on Revelation, homosexuality and the political issues in the Adventist Church last Fall. I then posted summaries of the first ten chapters to refresh the blog audience in December 2018 before beginning the series on the adult Sabbath School lessons referenced in the first paragraph above. It is time now to complete posting of the Conversations About God with chapters 11-20. These will be posted in bite-sized pieces roughly every other day until the series is completed.

It is my hope and prayer that you will find this material life-changing as well as stimulating thoughts and questions. If travel permits, the first posting will occur on Tuesday, April 2 with the introductory portion of Chapter Eleven entitled “God’s Emergency Measures.”