Friday: The Encircling Foe

By James Boice

Theme: Praying for Grace

From this week’s lessons, we see that when we are wrongly attacked, we are not to seek vengeance, but instead are to entrust ourselves and the situation to God.

Scripture: Psalm 83:1-18

The second thing we should notice about the way the psalm handles its desire for judgment on the Jews’ enemies is that it does not speak of them as the Jews’ enemies so much as the enemies of God. Notice verse 2, where it speaks of “your enemies” and “your foes,” that is, the enemies and foes of God. Even when it mentions the people themselves, as it does in verse 3, it is “your people” and “those you cherish.” When the plots of enemies are mentioned, as they are in verse 5, these plots are “against you.” In verse 12 the enemies of Israel are cited for trying to steal their land; but again, these are called “the pasturelands of God.” In every case, the psalmist says that it is God’s cause that is in danger, and therefore that it is God’s battle—not that of the people.

This perspective makes a tremendous difference in how one thinks of judgment. If the evil is thought of as being against one’s self, then the call is for revenge. But if it is thought of as being against God, then our response is to leave justice in God’s hands and trust him for whatever he sees fit to do. And we can trust him! God is not indifferent! He himself says, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay” (Deut. 32:35; cf. Rom. 12:19). When we understand that, we can be like the man who always turned to God whenever he was attacked and said, “They’re attacking your property, Lord.” He left judgment to God.

The final observation on the way the psalm handles the encircling danger and the need for God’s timely intervention and judgment is the most important of all. It is the way it ends. It calls for judgment—that is true—but it ends by stating the purpose for that judgment: “…so that men will seek your name, O LORD” (v. 16). And in the last verse, the psalmist writes, “Let them know that you, whose name is the LORD—that you alone are the Most High over all the earth” (v. 18). In other words, although desiring deliverance and judgment, the ultimate desire of the psalmist is that other people, even the Jews’ enemies, might come to know and obey the true God.

That is precisely why we do not rush to calls for judgment. Judgment will come. The God of all the universe will do right (see Gen. 18:25). But this is still a day of grace in which judgment has not yet come, when men and women may still repent of their sin and seek after God, that they might find him and be rescued from the wrath to come.

Let me end by going back to the beginning of the psalm and remind you of the greatest “non-answer” to that prayer in all history. The first verse of Psalm 83 says, “O God, do not keep silent; be not quiet, O God, be not still.” One day, many centuries after this was written, the Son of God was hanging on a cross in the city of Jerusalem, where he had been encircled and condemned by his cruel enemies, and he in a sense prayed this prayer. He cried to God, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me” (Matt. 27:46; Mark 15:34)? God did not answer. He did not intervene to save Jesus from his enemies or rescue him from the cross.

It was good God did not answer, for God’s silence to Christ’s forsaken cry meant our salvation from the Father’s wrath, and it meant that we have a gospel, and not just judgment, to proclaim.

Study Questions:

  1. Why is it important to distinguish between your enemies and God’s enemies? How does this distinction affect your actions and prayers against your enemies?
  2. What is the overriding desire of the psalmist? How can we learn from that pure desire today?

Reflection: Do you trust God to achieve justice, or have you fallen into the sin of wanting revenge?

Application: Confess any bitterness toward someone who has wronged you, and resolve not to desire revenge.

Key Point: If it is thought of as being against God, our response is to leave justice in God’s hands and trust him for whatever he sees fit to do.

 


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Think and Act Biblically from James Boice is a devotional of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Think and Act Biblically and the mission of the Alliance.

Tuesday: The Encircling Foe

By James Boice

Theme: Surrounded by Enemies

From this week’s lessons, we see that when we are wrongly attacked, we are not to seek vengeance, but instead are to entrust ourselves and the situation to God.

Scripture: Psalm 83:1-18

What is significant about the specific peoples listed in the ongoing flow of the psalm (vv. 6-11) is that they form an almost complete circle of entrapment around Israel. The Edomites (v. 6) were descendants of Esau, the twin brother of Jacob, Abraham’s grandson. The Ishmaelites (v. 6) had descended from Ishmael, Abraham’s son by Hagar. The Hagarites (v. 6) were a tribe against whom the Transjordanian tribes of Reuben, Gad and Manasseh fought at the time of the Jewish conquest of Palestine. These peoples, plus the tribal nations of Moab (v. 6) and Ammon (v. 7) were situated to the east of the Jews’ territory.

Identification of Gebal (v. 7) is uncertain. It might be a tribal area south of the Dead Sea linked with Edom, Moab, Ammon and Amalek. The Amalekites (v. 7) also lived in the area. Or Gebel might be a Canaanite and Phoenician port about twenty miles north of modern Beirut, known to the Greeks as Byblos. The modern site of ancient Byblos is called Jebeil (a variant of Gebal). As for Philistia and Tyre (v. 7), these areas were to the west of Israel on the Mediterranean coast. Philistia was south, roughly what we today call the Gaza strip; and Tyre was to the north.

The tenth and last tribal or national power mentioned is Assyria (v. 8), the great and later very formidable power which always came down into Jewish territory from the north. It was Assyria under the leadership of Shalmaneser that besieged, captured and destroyed Samaria, overthrew the northern kingdom of Israel and deported its people in 721 B.C. 

But that was later than when Psalm 83 was written. There was no time in Israel’s history, so far as we know, when these precise ten powers were actually arrayed against her. So the listing in verses 6-8 is probably a generalization. It is a way of saying that the Jews always seemed to be surrounded by enemies and in danger of being liquidated.

This has been the actual condition of Israel throughout history as many peoples and nations have arrayed themselves against her. We can start with Egypt. This is because the fierce efforts of the Pharaoh of the generation immediately prior to the birth of Moses to enslave and then kill the Jews is the first expression of anti-Semitism in world history, and supplies a pattern which has been repeated again and again. God had blessed the Jewish people in faithfulness to his ancient promises to Abraham. He had said, “I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (Gen. 12:2, 3).

This resulted in a striking growth in numbers of the people so that they literally became like “the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore” (Gen. 22:17). The growth created fear in Pharaoh, and he instigated a pattern of abuse and oppression that extended to the murder of the Jewish male children. However, the end of the persecution was not the destruction of the Jews but rather the destruction of Egypt by the plagues effected through Moses and eventually the death of Pharaoh and his soldiers when they tried to cross the waters of the sea that had parted to allow the Jews to pass over but had returned on their pursuers.

Even after the overthrow of their nation by the Assyrians in 721 B.C. and by the Babylonians in 586 B.C., persecutions continued. We know from the New Testament that the Jews were expelled from Rome in the days of the Emperor Claudius (Acts 18:2).

Jews were persecuted during the Middle Ages, both before the time of the Crusades and during them. Thousands were abused, attacked and murdered in Germany, France, Italy and England.1 In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries these earlier pogroms were repeated, only with greater intensity. In the fifteenth century, 510 Jewish communities were exterminated in Europe and more were decimated. When the Jews were driven out of Spain at the end of the same century, they relocated to Italy, Holland, Egypt and Turkey. But they were not allowed to stay longer than a few weeks or months in some places, and in others they were confined to a ghetto or Jewish quarter, as in Venice and Rome.2

Coming to more modern times, we remember with horror the systematic attempt to exterminate the Jews of Nazi Germany and German-dominated states in the period leading up to and during World War II. More than six million Jews perished in Adolf Hitler’s death camps.

1See Will Durant, The Story of Civilization, Vol. 4, The Age of Faith: A History of Medieval Civilization—Christian, Islamic and Judaic–from Constantine to Dante: A.D. 325-1300 (Norwalk, CT: The Easton Press, 1992), pp. 385-394.

2Will Durant, The Story of Civilization, Vol. 6, The Reformation: A History of European Civilization from Wyclif to Calvin: 1300-1564 (Norwalk, CT: The Easton Press, 1992), pp. 727-737.

Study Questions:

  1. Why does Dr. Boice call the listing of tribes a generalization?
  2. What conclusion can we draw about the time period from the evidence presented?
  3. How did Egypt respond to Israel’s blessing? What was the outcome?

Dictionary: Pogrom: An organized massacre, especially of Jews.


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Think and Act Biblically from James Boice is a devotional of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Think and Act Biblically and the mission of the Alliance.

Wednesday: The Encircling Foe

By James Boice

Theme: Preservation in the Midst of Persecution

From this week’s lessons, we see that when we are wrongly attacked, we are not to seek vengeance, but instead are to entrust ourselves and the situation to God.

Scripture: Psalm 83:1-18

In all the annals of recorded history there has never been a people so encircled by foes or as persecuted as the Jews have been. Yet surprisingly, the Jews have prospered. In 1836 a world census indicated that there were then three million Jews living in many countries. A century later, in 1936, in spite of severe persecutions in which many Jews were killed, particularly in Russia, a second census indicated that the Jewish world population had risen to sixteen million, an increase of thirteen million in a century. The Nazis killed more than six million Jews, as indicated above. But today there are more Jews in the world than before the Nazi era. The only explanation for this growth is that the hand of God has been on this people and that he has blessed them.

Why has there been so much hatred? The Egyptians feared and hated the Jews because of their numbers. Europeans hated them because they were prosperous, because they were different, and because of warped religious sentiments. Hitler hated them because they were not of Arian stock, and because he needed an enemy to focus the aggressive passions of his people.

Yet these are not adequate explanations in themselves. The ultimate and only full explanation must be found in God’s words to the serpent in the Garden of Eden, when he said, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel” (Genesis 3:15). Satan hates the Jews because God promised to send the Messiah through them, which is why he stirred up Pharaoh and his court and why he caused Herod to strike out against the Jewish babies at the time of Christ’s birth. In the face of such hatred, the preservation of the Jews throughout history, in spite of their persecutions and scattering, has been both a mystery and a miracle.

We should notice that this section of the psalm ends with a selah, or pause (v. 8). We cannot always tell why these selahs occur where they do, but this is an example of a pause well placed, for it is important for us to reflect on the terrible persecutions of these ancient people of God before going on to the prayer that God might judge their enemies.

The outline of Psalm 83 is easy. It consists in two main parts, the first describing thedesperate situation in which the Jews found themselves (vv. 1-8), and the second an impassioned appeal to God to overthrow and destroy their enemies (vv. 9-17). If we want to be particular, it is possible that the first and last verses should be separated out, the first as an introduction and the last as a conclusion.

It is the second part, the appeal to God to overthrow and destroy the people’s enemies that bothers us, of course. And the reason is obvious. It is because the prayer is so vindictive, and also because we have been taught to forgive our enemies rather than call down judgment on them. Most of us think of ourselves as being too nice to have such thoughts or to utter such a prayer, even though we are probably not actually that nice and often do wish for vengeance even though we may not actually pray for it openly.

Study Questions:

  1. According to Genesis 3:15, why have the Jews been persecuted?
  2. How have the Jews survived persecution through the ages?
  3. What are the two parts to this psalm? Describe the second part of the psalm and why it is troublesome.

Observation: Understanding the historical context of the Psalms helps us to bring both meaning to the text and application to today.

Reflection: Take time now to reflect on persecutions we have seen in our day. Where such persecution occurs because of one’s profession of faith in Christ, do we pray for our fellow believers as we ought?

For Further Study: To learn more about the Israelites as the covenant people, download and listen for free to James Boice’s message from the book of Joshua, “The Covenant People and the Covenant Sign.” (Discount will be applied at checkout.)

 


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Think and Act Biblically from James Boice is a devotional of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Think and Act Biblically and the mission of the Alliance.

Thursday: The Encircling Foe

By James Boice

Theme: Appealing for God’s Judgment

From this week’s lessons, we see that when we are wrongly attacked, we are not to seek vengeance, but instead are to entrust ourselves and the situation to God.

Scripture: Psalm 83:1-18

We are sometimes bothered by the second part of Psalm 83, which is an appeal to God to overthrow and destroy the people’s enemies. What are we to say about this? The first thing is an observation on the psalm itself, and it is that God had destroyed Israel’s enemies in this way from time to time in the past. Thus, whatever else the psalmist may be doing, he is at least appealing to an historical precedent. Two of these judgments are referred to in verses 9-12.

1. A victory over Midian recorded in Judges 6-8. The psalmist refers to this victory in verse 9 and amplifies on it in verse 11, where four of the Midianite rulers are mentioned: Oreb, Zeeb, Zabah and Zalmunna. This was a striking victory, because it was won by Gideon and only three hundred eager men. The Midianites had been pillaging the land and carrying off the harvests and were at this time encamped in large numbers in a nearby valley. Gideon started out with thirty-two thousand soldiers.

God said these were too many for him to use to defeat the Midianite armies. So Gideon told all who were afraid to go home. Twenty-two of the thirty-two thousand went back, which left Gideon with only ten thousand men. God said this was still too many. So the numbers were pared down even further to only three hundred, “Gideon’s band.” With these fearless men Gideon then surrounded the Midianite camp by night, had each of his men blow a trumpet and suddenly expose a torch that had been hidden in an earthen jar, and shout, “A sword for the LORD and for Gideon.” The enemy soldiers were so startled and so frightened that they jumped up in the darkness and fled for their lives, drawing their swords and killing thousands of their own men in the rout. Thus the soldiers that had encircled Israel were themselves encircled by the three hundred daring men and were destroyed.

2. The victory over Sisera recorded in Judges 4, 5. The second example of a sudden and thorough judgment on Israel’s enemies referred to by the psalmist is the victory over Sisera, recorded in the preceding two chapters of Judges, that is, chapters 4 and 5. Sisera was the commander of an army fortified by nine hundred iron chariots, and he had terrorized the land for twenty years. The Israelite commander was Barak, who defeated his army with ten thousand of the men of Israel.

In the rout Sisera was forced to abandon his chariot and flee on foot. He came to the tent of a man named Heber whose wife was Jael. Sisera was exhausted and asked to be taken in so he could rest. While he was sleeping, Jael, Heber’s wife, took a tent peg and a mallet, went to where he was lying and drove it through Sisera’s temple into the ground so he died. Thus, Israel was delivered by the armies of Barak and by a courageous woman. The triumphs of Barak and Jael are celebrated in the “Song of Deborah,” the prophetess, in Judges 5. The “Song of Deborah” ends, “So may all your enemies perish, O LORD! But may they who love you be like the sun when it rises in its strength” (v. 31).

Clearly, Asaph was drawing on this and other victory stories of Israel when he composed his psalm. He was saying, “O LORD, as you have delivered us in the past, so deliver us again. Show yourself to be as powerful in our day as you have been for the generations that have preceded us.” We may not pray exactly this way ourselves, but we can understand and sympathize with the prayer when we remember it in the context of Israel’s many and bitter persecutions throughout history. Would we not pray for the destruction of our enemies ourselves in such circumstances?

Study Questions:

  1. What is the historical precedent for Asaph’s request?
  2. What do the two accounts cited of victories over enemies have in common?
  3. How can we rightly pray like Asaph for God to deliver us again?

Reflection: Have there been times in your life when God’s way seemed unworkable? What did you learn?

Application: How do your current circumstances affect your prayers?

Prayer: Thank God for his protection in time of trouble.


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Think and Act Biblically from James Boice is a devotional of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Think and Act Biblically and the mission of the Alliance.

Monday: The Encircling Foe

By James Boice

Theme: When God Seems to Do Nothing

From this week’s lessons, we see that when we are wrongly attacked, we are not to seek vengeance, but instead are to entrust ourselves and the situation to God.

Scripture: Psalm 83:1-18

Edmund Burke was an Irishman who was a member of the English House of Commons, where he served from 1766 to 1794. He was known as an outstanding intellect and effective writer, and he was admired among other things for his brilliant essay on the French Revolution (“Reflections on the Revolution in France”) and his passionate speech on behalf of American liberties (“On Conciliation with America’”). It is interesting, Burke being a writer, that the sentence he is best remembered for is one that does not appear in his writings but which he is credited with by several sources. Burke said, “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.”

That is true, of course. We can think of historical examples. One that comes to mind immediately is the lack of resolve and blindness of the democratic nations in the years prior to World War II, which allowed Germany under Hitler to rearm. Winston Churchill described it in The Gathering Storm. In the face of such a threat we rightly deplore “doing nothing.”

But here is an even greater problem. How about when God does nothing? What should we think when he is silent when his people call to him in trouble? This is no small matter. It is a terrible problem, and it is what Psalm 83 is about. It tells God, “Do not keep silent; be not quiet…be not still” when we are surrounded by our enemies.

This is the last of the psalms of Asaph (Psalms 50, 73-83), a writer who consistently seems troubled by the wicked and who regularly calls on God to rise up and defeat their evil plans.

Asaph’s psalms are not all alike, of course. Some are personal, like Psalm 50. Others have a wider scope and deal with evil in general or with the dangers evil people present to the nation. This psalm is in the latter category. It deals with a time when the nations that surrounded Israel had united against her and threatened her survival.

Verses 2-8 describe it. After asking God to speak up and act in verse 1, the psalm continues: “See how your enemies are astir, how your foes rear their heads. With cunning they conspire against your people; they plot against those you cherish. ‘Come,’ they say, ‘let us destroy them as a nation, that the name of Israel be remembered no more.’ With one mind they plot together; they form an alliance against you.”

It does not seem possible to identify this conspiracy. There is an example of what it might have been like in 2 Chronicles 20, when Jehoshaphat was king and Israel was threatened by a coalition of Edom, Moab and Ammon. God saved the people by causing the three nations to fight among themselves. There was great destruction and a great deliverance. Some commentators have suggested that Jahaziel, a descendant of Asaph who is mentioned in 2 Chronicles 20 as having uttered a prophecy of the Jews’ victory, may be the actual author of this psalm. But this is mere conjecture.

Study Questions:

  1. How is this psalm typical of the psalms of Asaph?
  2. Though we do not know the setting of this psalm, how does 2 Chronicles 20 serve as an example of what the setting could have been?

Reflection: How do you tend to react in the face of danger or uncertainty? What does your reaction reveal about your view of God? Is your view of him consistent with what the Bible teaches?

Application: Are you going through a particular difficulty now in which God appears to be silent? What does the Lord want you to do in this?

For Further Study: We also see from the Psalms how to respond when people behave badly towards us. James Boice’s sermons on the entire Psalter provide clear explanation and also relevant application. Order your three-volume set and receive 25% off the regular price. 

 


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Think and Act Biblically from James Boice is a devotional of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Think and Act Biblically and the mission of the Alliance.

Friday: A Time to Enjoy and Give Thanks

By James Boice

Theme: Giving Thanks for All Things

This week’s lessons help us to celebrate Thanksgiving properly by impressing upon us the importance of continually expressing genuine thanks to the Lord for all his blessings.

Scripture: Nehemiah 8:10

In addition to our families and our homes, let’s be thankful for our health. One of our television advertisements used to say, “If you have your health, you have just about everything.” While that is an overstatement, physical health is still a very great gift from God. Many are sick. Many are terribly sick. If you are not sick, thank God for the good physical health he has given you.

Let’s thank him for our work. There are people without work. In our city, particularly in the inner city, the unemployment figures are staggering. Without work people have no resources. They cannot buy the necessary things you and I take for granted. But even worse than the lack of necessities is the loss of self-esteem being without a job entails. And it is not just people from the lower levels of society that suffer a loss of esteem when they are workless. Sometimes well-educated and highly skilled people lose their jobs too. If you have meaningful work—even if you just have work—be thankful. Employment is not universal.

Thank God for the little things too: the car you drive that you like so much, that new winter coat, the book you are reading and enjoying, tickets to the orchestra, your favorite restaurant, your garden, the comfortable chair in your study, your golf clubs, your piano.

Be thankful for friends. Some people literally have no friends. Their life is one long uninterrupted path of loneliness. Friends enrich our lives and fill them with many happy moments. If you have friends, be thankful for them. Even Jesus was thankful for the friends God gave him.

Let’s also be thankful for the wonderful blessings we enjoy as citizens of a democratic nation: freedom of speech and worship; helping to elect people to govern our cities, state and federal government; opportunities to travel freely; personal ownership of property; and other such items. We have been reminded recently of those who live behind the Iron Curtain who have been unable to enjoy any of these benefits until very recent days—and some they still do not enjoy. Do not despise your freedoms. You may lose them someday. Thank God for them.

Above all, thank God for your many spiritual blessings. We are thankful for our material blessings, or should be. But remember to keep them in perspective. A person may possess much and still perish miserably in the end. This is why Jesus asked the piercing question, “What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul” (Matt. 16:26)? As wonderful as our material blessings are, they are still far less important that our spiritual treasures.

If you belong to Christ, God has turned his wrath against you aside, and he now sees you as his very own beloved son or daughter. If you are Christ’s, you have been delivered from the cruel rule that sin has had over you. If you are Christ’s, you have the Holy Spirit to console, guide, bless and strengthen you. If you are Christ’s, you have the privilege of prayer. If you are Christ’s, you are an heir of God and a joint-heir with Jesus. All that he has is yours, and you are destined to enjoy it with him eternally in heaven. If you are Christ’s, he has gone to prepare a place for you and will come one day to bring you to where he is.

So enjoy! Enjoy your spiritual blessings, and your physical and material blessings too. Thanksgiving is a day for enjoyment. “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks.” But remember: “…send some to those who have nothing prepared.” And before you plunge in, say “thank you.” Amen.

Study Questions:

  1. Do your prayers include a proper focus on praise and thanks? What are some reasons why we do not render them as we should?
  2. Make a list of specific things for which to thank the Lord each day. Include God’s blessings toward other people.

Application: Pray for a greater spirit of thanksgiving, and seek to encourage others around you to do the same.


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Think and Act Biblically from James Boice is a devotional of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Think and Act Biblically and the mission of the Alliance.

Thursday: A Time to Enjoy and Give Thanks

By James Boice

Theme: A Time to Pray

This week’s lessons help us to celebrate Thanksgiving properly by impressing upon us the importance of continually expressing genuine thanks to the Lord for all his blessings.

Scripture: Nehemiah 8:10

There is one more thing this passage adds to our enjoyment of good things that sets the enjoyment of God’s people off from that of hedonists. It is the most obvious thing of all: the knowledge that all we have is from God and the heartfelt giving of thanks to him for it. That is why Nehemiah reminded the people that “this day is sacred to our Lord” and that “the joy of the LORD is your strength.”

Not long ago I did a study of how the words “thanks” and “thanksgiving” are used in the Bible, and I made an interesting discovery. I uncovered all kinds of texts about thanksgiving. Some were encouragements to be thankful. Some were themselves thanksgiving. There were even texts that dealt with the wrong kinds of thanksgiving. But here was the interesting thing: the single most common use of these words in any context was to describe the practice of the Lord Jesus Christ himself in giving thanks. I found no less than a dozen verses describing how Jesus gave thanks before meals, and these were in each one of the four gospels. Jesus gave thanks when he multiplied the loaves and fish and broke them in order to feed 5,000 people on one occasion (Matt. 14:19; Mark 6:41; Luke 9:16; John 6:11), and 4,000 people on another (Matt. 15:36; Mark 8:6). When the Emmaus disciples invited him into their home and they recognized him in the breaking of bread, it was after he had given thanks to God the Father for it (Luke 24:30). Most common of all are the accounts of the supper in the Upper Room where, as we read, “The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me’ (1 Cor. 11:23, 24; cf. Matt. 26:26, 27; Mark 14:22, 23).

I was struck by this because, although Jesus is himself God and is thus, in a certain sense, himself the author of this bounty, he nevertheless thought it right to be thankful to his Father for it. Clearly, we should do likewise.

So let’s be thankful. And when we are, let’s allow our thoughts to go beyond the food we are enjoying and remember things that are also from God and are even more important. What might that include? It will include all good things, for the Bible says clearly, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows” (James 1:17).

Let’s be thankful for our families first of all. The Bible tells us that it is God who “sets the lonely in families” (Ps. 68:6). If you have a family rather than being alone this holiday, this is from God and you should thank him for it. Thank him for your husband or your wife. Thank him for your daughters and sons. Thank him for the grandparents who add so much to a family—and for aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, cousins and even more distant relatives. Remember that some people are orphans—they have no one—and thank him for the family you have.

Let’s be thankful for our homes. The Lord himself had no home. He said, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head” (Matt. 8:20). Sometimes even the people of God are homeless. The Pilgrim’s Psalm, Psalm 107, speaks of those who wandered about unable to find a place “where they could settle” (v. 4). If you have a home, be thankful for it. Do not forget to praise God for your dwelling.

Study Questions:

  1. From our passage, how else does our enjoyment of good things differ from that of hedonists?
  2. In Scripture, how are the words “thanks” and “thanksgiving” used the most commonly? What do we learn from this?

Reflection: How have you discovered the joy of the Lord to be your strength?

 


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Think and Act Biblically from James Boice is a devotional of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Think and Act Biblically and the mission of the Alliance.

Wednesday: A Time to Enjoy and Give Thanks

By James Boice

Theme: A Time to Share

This week’s lessons help us to celebrate Thanksgiving properly by impressing upon us the importance of continually expressing genuine thanks to the Lord for all his blessings.

Scripture: Nehemiah 8:10

I suppose that about this time in our study one person at least (perhaps more) is getting restless and is thinking that this does not sound very Christian. He might be thinking, “How can you be a Christian and have such a good time too?” Or maybe she is putting it more philosophically: “What is the difference between the enjoyment of food you have just been describing and mere hedonism? After all, pagans can enjoy the “good life also.”

This is a fair question, and there are a number of answers to it—not least the fact that, although we can enjoy good things exactly as the heathen do, we do not live in order to do just that. That is, for Christians the good life is not the goal of our existence. Remember that we also believe in work, struggle, repentance, sacrifice and other virtues.

But that is not the answer the text gives us, and I am concentrating on it. What is it according to Nehemiah 8:10 that makes the enjoyment of good things by God’s people different from the enjoyment of good things by others? The obvious difference is in the clause which says, “and send some to those who have nothing prepared.” Isn’t that just like the Bible? It always does the unexpected. Knowing the Bible’s primary concern with such important spiritual realities as truth, righteousness, the gospel, the need for repentance, faith, eternal life and others, we are startled first of all to find it encouraging real enjoyment of material things. But then, no sooner do we adjust our thinking than we find it reminding us that, in the midst of our very proper enjoyment, we are nevertheless also to remember those who have not been as blessed by physical things as we are.

Enjoy? Yes, but also share with those who do not have anything to enjoy. Eat heartily, but also help those who are hungry. How should that be done?

One way is to invite people in need to enjoy the holiday with you and your family. Many of us do this. We invite relatives to join our family gathering. Sometimes we also invite people who are alone, those who have lost a husband or a wife or are living in a nursing home perhaps. Most of these people probably are not literally hungry, but they may be hungry for attention, friends or just companionship. Some are unable to leave their homes, and we are to help by visiting them and actually taking some of the abundance of what we have to them.

And yet, this text is not really talking about those who are emotionally starved, as we might say, those who are hungry for love or attention or friendship. It is talking about those who literally are without food, and it is linking our enjoyment of this day to the sharing of our abundance with them. In other words, to really enjoy Thanksgiving we need to find ways literally to help feed the hungry. This happens in many places in our country, as thousands of people actually do care about others and so donate to food kitchens, and sometimes even serve meals to the poor on such holidays.

You need to find a way to do this. If you have not done it yet for this Thanksgiving, then plan to make sharing with others a part of all your holidays from now on.

Study Questions:

  1. From the lesson, how is the Christian’s enjoyment of good things different from that of the unbeliever?
  2. Knowing that unbelievers also help others in need, how does the Christian’s efforts differ, not in terms of what is given, but in the motivation and meaning behind it?

Application: Find ways to include others in your times of thanksgiving.


The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals is member supported and operates only by your faithful support. Thank you.


Think and Act Biblically from James Boice is a devotional of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Think and Act Biblically and the mission of the Alliance.

Tuesday: A Time to Enjoy and Give Thanks

By James Boice

Theme: A Time to Weep

This week’s lessons help us to celebrate Thanksgiving properly by impressing upon us the importance of continually expressing genuine thanks to the Lord for all his blessings.

Scripture: Nehemiah 8:10

The most striking of all these good but untimely activities was the time for weeping over sin that had begun as the people had attended to the reading of God’s law and was yet to continue in what became a great national movement of revival.

After the wall had been completed, Nehemiah arranged for a public reading of the Scriptures. The returned Jewish exiles were summoned to Jerusalem and were assembled in a great square before the Water Gate. A platform had been erected, and at daybreak Ezra, the leading scribe, mounted the platform together with thirteen of the priests. These then read from the Law of God until noon, approximately six hours. Meanwhile, as the Bible was being read, thirteen of the Levites who were apparently dispersed throughout the congregation went about explaining what was being read so the people would understand it. One of the most impressive sections of the entire book explains this pastoral function. It says, “The Levites … instructed the people in the Law while the people were standing there. They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people could understand what was being read” (Neh. 8:7, 8).

And the people did understand it. They understood it so well that they were convicted by God’s law and confessed their sins with tears. A situation such as this would be any sensitive pastor’s dream—a people so moved by the Word of God that they were turning from sin to righteousness. It was the beginning of what turned out to be a pervasive genuine revival. Would that we had anything even approaching this today.

But here is the important thing. Even though Nehemiah unquestionably welcomed this repentance and desired the revival—later on in the story he encourages it—he did not take advantage of the moment to promote the revival of the nation at this time. Why not? Because it was a time to enjoy and give thanks. That is why he said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is sacred to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.” It is why the Levites also echoed his instructions saying, “Be still, for this is a sacred day. Do not grieve” (v. 11).

This is what I want to say to you on this week of Thanksgiving. Our lives are filled with many responsibilities, and our days are usually taken up with very useful activities. Much of our time is spent working. We have five days a week for that, and for many of us the other days are filled with work too. Sometimes our days are taken up with fighting, not physically, but for a cause or sometimes even against colleagues who want to cut corners or do something that is morally questionable at work. There is also a time for us to mourn, to weep for sin. Most of us avoid these times. They need to be urged upon us more often than they are. But Thanksgiving Day is not one of those times.

Work? Yes, but not on Thanksgiving Day. Fight? Perhaps, but not then. There will be time for that soon enough. Weep? By all means, but not on Thanksgiving Day. Thanksgiving is a day to enjoy what God has given.

And I do mean enjoy it! Really enjoy it! I commend the attitude of my youngest daughter, who has been at college this fall but who wrote to us this week in anticipation of coming home for Thanksgiving. She said, “My heart is surging toward turkey, stuffing, yams, corn and pumpkin pie.” She added, “And to think, I used to dislike Thanksgiving.”

When you carve that turkey I want you to say, “What a wonderful turkey this is. I have never seen a better turkey”—even if it is actually just a bit small. And when you eat your turkey, say, “What a wonderful taste. I have never eaten anything better than this turkey.” When you eat the stuffing, enjoy it. Forget that you are probably going to feel too full afterward. Enjoy the corn. Enjoy the sweet potatoes. Enjoy those special delicacies that only your own family really knows how to prepare properly. God has been good to you. He really has. Today is a day to enjoy what he has given.

Study Questions:

  1. Why did Nehemiah interrupt the repentance and weeping of the people? Why is there an emphasis on thanksgiving?
  2. After the wall was completed, they read from the Law of God for approximately six hours. What does that teach us about God’s Word?

Application: What special traditions do you have as part of your Thanksgiving Day that are a reflection of God’s goodness? Praise him for his love and faithfulness.

 


The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals is member supported and operates only by your faithful support. Thank you.


Think and Act Biblically from James Boice is a devotional of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Think and Act Biblically and the mission of the Alliance.

Monday: A Time to Enjoy and Give Thanks

By James Boice

Theme: A Time to Work

This week’s lessons help us to celebrate Thanksgiving properly by impressing upon us the importance of continually expressing genuine thanks to the Lord for all his blessings.

Scripture: Nehemiah 8:10

I do not know whether Nehemiah, the governor of Judah during the second half of the fifth century B.C., knew the writings of Solomon. He may have since Solomon lived several centuries before his time. If he did, he may have had Solomon’s wise words in mind when he instructed the people of his day about Thanksgiving. Solomon had said,

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven:

a time to be born and a time to die,

a time to plant and a time to uproot,

a time to kill and a time to heal,

a time to tear down and a time to build,

a time to weep and a time to laugh,

a time to mourn and a time to dance… (Ecclesiastes 3:1-4).

In our text Nehemiah tells the people, who had been listening to the law of God and had been convicted by it even to the point of tears, that although there is a time for sorrow, there is also a time to enjoy and give thanks. And this is it! He told them, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is sacred to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.”

This week is also a time to enjoy choice food (and give thanks). In fact, this is the very essence of Thanksgiving.

There were other “activities under heaven” for which there had been right times earlier, but it was not the time for these now, according to Nehemiah. One activity had been working. They had worked very hard. Nehemiah had come to Jerusalem from the Persian capital of Susa in 445 B.C., with the goal of rebuilding the wall of the city which had been destroyed by the Babylonians 141 years earlier. The wall had been extensive, a mile-and-a-half to two-and-a-half miles in circumference. But it had been utterly destroyed, and the opposition to rebuilding it had been so great, that several earlier attempts to reconstruct it had ended in abject failure. Nehemiah faced a monumental task, external opposition and a discouraged people. But his leadership was so effective that the exiles were rallied, and the project was completed in only fifty-two days.

There had been a time to build. There would be times to build again, as there always are. But for the present, work needed to be laid aside. This was a time to enjoy what God had given.

There had also been a time when Nehemiah had rallied the people to fight against a possible interruption of the work by the hostile provinces that surrounded Judah on all sides. These small kingdoms were threatened by the prospect of a resurgent Jewish state, and their leaders did what they could to intimidate Nehemiah and hinder his work, at one point spreading a rumor that they were about to attack the city suddenly. At this point Nehemiah turned Jerusalem into what was virtually an armed camp. The workers were given weapons and half were appointed always to be on guard while the other half continued working.

Time to fight? Yes, there had been time to fight, just as there are times for us to fight our battles. But this was not the time. The feast was a time for pure enjoyment.

Study Questions:

  1. Describe the situation of Nehemiah’s day. How had they demonstrated that there was a time for working and building?
  2. What was the nature of the opposition the Israelites dealt with?

Reflection: In view of Thanksgiving, what spiritual disciplines do you perhaps need to improve upon or strengthen? For example, are you growing in the need for humility and thanks for all the blessings you receive each day from the Lord?

For Further Study: To learn more about the book of Nehemiah, and the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s wall and revival among the nation, download for free and listen to two messages from James Boice, “A Nation under God, Part 1” and “A Nation under God, Part 2.” (Discount will be applied at checkout.)


The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals is member supported and operates only by your faithful support. Thank you.


Think and Act Biblically from James Boice is a devotional of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Think and Act Biblically and the mission of the Alliance.