The Incomplete Sin of the Amorites? (Gen. 15:16)

 I was studying 1 Thessalonians 2:16 this morning where Paul says this about those Jewish opponents of the Messiah and the gospel: “…they always fill up the measure of their sins” (NASB).  There is a lot going on in the context of this phrase; too much to summarize here!  However, the phrase itself is probably an allusion to Genesis 15:16, where Yahweh tells Abram that “the iniquity of the Amorite is not yet complete” (NASB).  One reason we can say that Paul might be alluding to Genesis 15:16 is that in the Septuagint (LXX) the Greek word for “complete” (ἀναπληρόω) is the same word as “fill up” in 1 Thes. 2:16.  If Paul is indeed alluding to Genesis 15:16 in 1 Thes. 2:16 it’s quite a heavy statement – putting the NT Jewish opponents of the gospel in the same category as the Amorites, who were Canaanite enemies of Israel in the OT!

But back to the phrase in Genesis 15:16: “…the iniquity of the Amorite is not yet complete.”  What does this figure of speech mean? Here are two helpful descriptions of it:

The last clause of the verse [v. 16] explains why God was not giving them [Abram’s offspring] the land right away: the wickedness of the Amorites has not “reached its full measure” (v. 16b). “Amorites” fluctuates in meaning either designating the whole of Canaan’s populations (v. 16; Amos 2:10) or one of many diverse groups inhabiting the land (v. 21; see vol. 1a, pp. 446, 456). The prophecy implies that the returning Hebrews will be instrumental in God dealing with the sin of the Amorites. The reference to the “fourth generation” may be a double entendre; the notion of a completed exile converges with the idea of the Amorites’ complete moral decay. The extent of Amorite depravity is condemned in Mosaic legislation (Lev 18:24–25; 20:22–24; Deut 18:12; cf. 1 Kgs 14:24; 21:26; 2 Kgs 21:11) and illustrated by the violence and sensuality of their religious myths (e.g., Baal cycle from Ugarit). By delaying his judgment against the Amorites, the Lord expresses forbearance toward the nations. Retribution against their sins only at “its full measure” attests that judgment is neither capricious nor unwarranted (cf. 18:20–25). Nevertheless, divine temperance toward their iniquity reaches an appropriate point of intolerance. [K. A. Mathews, Genesis 11:27–50:26, vol. 1B, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2005), 175.]

Here’s an excerpt from the UBS Translator’s Handbook on Genesis:

For the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete: this clause suggests a reason for God’s action against the Amorites that is not explained in detail but must be stated explicitly in translation to make it clear. The sense is that the Amorites are evil, but their sin has not yet reached the point where God has decided to drive them out of the land. The nature of the wickedness of the Canaanites is described in Lev 18; see particularly verses 24–28. tev provides a model that places God’s action at the beginning and end, “because I will not drive out the Amorites until they become so wicked that they must be punished.” Various translations use different expressions to convey the idea of iniquity becoming *complete; for example, “because the bad behavior of the Amorite people who live here now has not reached its full mark yet” and “This will happen when the Amorite people who live here now have become really bad; when they become really bad, I will punish them and I will bring back.…”  [William David Reyburn and Euan McG. Fry, A Handbook on Genesis, UBS Handbook Series (New York: United Bible Societies, 1998), 344.]

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

Why Does God Allow Sin to Remain in His Children? (Boston)

The Whole Works of Thomas Boston (12 vols.) (This is a re-post from May 2016).

“Why do I keep struggling with the same sinful thoughts?”  “Why can’t I just gain victory over lust and pride?”  “Why in the world does God allow sin to remain in his people?”  These are questions Christians ask from time to time.  We think of how nice it would be if we didn’t have to struggle with sinful thoughts, words, and deeds.  But, in his sovereignty, God has a reason for allowing sin to remain in his children.  Thomas Boston (d. 1732) gave some helpful answers to the question of why God allows sin to dwell in his elect while on earth.  Here are some of Boston’s answers (which I’ve edited and summarized):

  1. God has ordered the matter of the believer’s sanctification, that sin is left to be active in their souls while here on earth, for their further humiliation.  For example, God gave Paul a thorn in the flesh to keep him low.  And so we find David, after his grievous fall, grows in the grace of humility.
  2. The Lord allows sin to remain in his people so they are stirred to the frequent exercise of prayer.  The soul feels the continual need of pardon, and therefore must be much lying at God’s footstool.  When his children grow remiss in their duty, the Lord sometimes allows them to fall into some grievous sin to awaken them and wound their conscience, so they cry to Him like a child who falls into a small fire.
  3. The sin left in us makes us more watchful of our hearts which still are prone to wander.  When a prisoner escapes, and they catch him, they will put him in more close custody than before.  We walk through a world filled with many snares; if we were not watchful, we would be caught in them.
  4. Just like God allowed some Canaanites to remain in the land to try his people, so he has left remains of natural corruption in them for their exercise and trial.  Therefore Christ’s soldiers know whom they fight against, and by whose strength they may overcome.  God gives his people armor at their conversion; is it reasonable that it should lie beside them rusting?  Indwelling sin makes us lean on Christ’s strength and use God’s armor in the battle.
  5. Through sin left in us, we are made more and more to feel our need for Christ, and his precious blood for the removal of our guilt daily contracted anew, and for the strengthening of our souls in our Christian course, so that we come out of the wilderness resting upon our Beloved.  So we see that our security is not in our hand; if it were, we would be quickly lost.
  6. It is God’s ordinary way to bring about a great work by degrees – including the great work of the believer’s sanctification.  God could have created all things in one moment; instead, he was pleased to take six days to do it.  He could have sent Christ immediately after Adam fell, but he instead let thousands of years pass.  He could have brought Israel to the Promised Land immediately; instead it pleased him that they should wander in the wilderness for forty years.  So it is with sanctification.
  7. Finally, through the indwelling sin that remains, Christ is glorified.  While the enemy (sin) does dwell in us, Christ’s grace and Holy Spirit are at work in us so that the enemy cannot overcome, domineer, or destroy us.  Because of indwelling sin we know that we cannot justify ourselves, but can only be justified by the perfect obedience of Christ, which we lay hold of by faith.  In this, Christ is glorified.

After noting these seven points, Boston wrote, “To see how God makes such an excellent medicine of such poisonous ingredients cannot be but very delightful.”  The struggle against indwelling sin is difficult for sure.  But when we remember God’s sovereign use of indwelling sin in his people for their good and his glory, it helps us press on in the faith with our eyes fixed on Jesus.  He will one day graciously give us the full victory over sin.

Near the end of the treatise, Boston wrote this:

“Finally, to summarize all; it is plain, that the more difficulties the work of man’s salvation is carried through, the free grace of God is the more exalted; our Lord Jesus, the author of eternal salvation, hath the greater glory: but in this way it is carried on over the belly of more difficulties, than it would have been, if by the first grace the Christian had been made perfect.”

Thomas Boston, The Whole Works of Thomas Boston: Sermons and Discourses on Several Important Subjects in Divinity, ed. Samuel M‘Millan, vol. 6 (Aberdeen: George and Robert King, 1849), 124.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI

Man Abandoned To Himself (Pascal)

 Blaise Pascal (d. 1662) is one of those Christian authors I can read over and over.  His writing has a depth to it that is both profound and thought-provoking – two things that are not so common in much of today’s Christian literature.  Here’s a section of Pascal’s writing I was reflecting upon this afternoon.  You might have to read it a few times – but it is worth the effort!

…What religion then will teach us to cure pride and lust? What religion will in fact teach us our good, our duties, the weakness which turns us from them, the cause of this weakness, the remedies which can cure it, and the means of obtaining these remedies?

All other religions have not been able to do so. Let us see what the wisdom of God will do:

“Expect neither truth,” she [God’s wisdom] says, “nor consolation from men. I am she who formed you, and who alone can teach you what you are. But you are now no longer in the state in which I formed you. I created man holy, innocent, perfect. I filled him with light and intelligence. I communicated to him my glory and my wonders. The eye of man saw then the majesty of God. He was not then in the darkness which blinds him, nor subject to mortality and the woes which afflict him. But he has not been able to sustain so great glory without falling into pride. He wanted to make himself his own centre, and independent of my help. He withdrew himself from my rule; and, on his making himself equal to me by the desire of finding his happiness in himself, I abandoned him to himself.

And setting in revolt the creatures that were subject to him, I made them his enemies; so that man is now become like the brutes, and so estranged from me that there scarce remains to him a dim vision of his Author. So far has all his knowledge been extinguished or disturbed! The senses, independent of reason, and often the masters of reason, have led him into pursuit of pleasure. All creatures either torment or tempt him, and domineer over him, either subduing him by their strength, or fascinating him by their charms, a tyranny more awful and more imperious.

Such is the state in which men now are. There remains to them some feeble instinct of the happiness of their former state; and they are plunged in the evils of their blindness and their lust, which have become their second nature.

Blaise Pascal, Thoughts, Letters, and Minor Works, p.140.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

Helpless and Hopeless Humankind (Motyer)

Prophecy of Isaiah: An Introduction and Commentary If you’ve used Bible commentaries even a little bit, you know that they are quite often hit or miss.  I’ve had it more than a few times that I purchase a highly recommended commentary and was disappointed with it so much that I turned around and sold it. Such is how it sometimes goes!

However, I’ve always been happy with Alec Motyer’s commentaries.  I was reminded of that today when studying the pretty tough and dark prophecy in Isaiah 13, where Yahweh uses the Medes to brutally wipe out the Babylonians.  It’s the Day of the Lord in all it’s fury!  Isaiah 13:14 notes that on that day (the day of Yahweh) the people (of Babylon) will be like “gazelles that are chased” [וְהָיָה֙ כִּצְבִ֣י מֻדָּ֔ח] and “like sheep that no man gathers” [וּכְצֹ֖אן וְאֵ֣ין מְקַבֵּ֑ץ] (JPS).  What does this mean? Obviously, it has to do with the Babylonians trying to escape the merciless slaughter of the Medes.  But what’s with the imagery?  Motyer comments briefly but well:

‘Like a hunted gazelle’ and ‘like sheep without a shepherd’ are complementary similies.  The first animal is endangered by the attentions of the people, the second is endangered without their attentions. So, finding the Lord as their enemy and losing him as their shepherd, humankind is indeed helpless and hopeless, with everything to flee from and nowhere to flee too.”

There’s more to this passage for sure.  But Motyer picks up the poetic imagery very well.  It also reminds us that rejecting the Lord is not the path of joy, peace, and comfort.  Instead, it’s a path full of hopelessness and helplessness.

J. Alec Motyer, The Prophecy of Isaiah, p. 139.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

The Biblical Understanding of Sin (Horton)

Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology For Pilgrims on The Way When it comes to the topic of sin, we for sure want a biblical view of it. We want to understand sin in the way that the Bible defines and describes it. It is a big topic, of course, since the Bible talks about it very often. The following paragraph from Michael Horton’s The Christian Faith is a helpful brief summary of a bigger topic:

“The tendency of fundamentalism is to reduce sin to sinful acts and behaviors, while liberalism reduces sin to evil social structures that impede the realization of the ethical kingdom. In contrast to both forms of reductionism, the biblical understanding of sin is far deeper in its analysis. Sin is first of all a condition that is simultaneously judicial and moral, legal and relational. Accordingly, we sin because we are sinners rather than vice versa. Standing before God as transgressors in Adam, we exhibit our guilt and corruption in actual thoughts and actions. If we cut off one diseased branch, another one – pregnant with the fruit of unrighteousness – grows in its place.”

Michael Horton, The Christian Faith, p. 427.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54105

Self-glorification and Sin (Bavinck)

Reformed Ethics: Created, Fallen, and Converted Humanity In the second chapter of the first volume of Reformed Ethics, Herman Bavinck discussed the organizing principle and classification of sins.  He mentioned, of course, that sin is disobeying God’s law and is the opposite of the good.  He also gave a good explanation of how sin is an attempt to dethrone God and enthrone the self:

“…Who now is humanity’s god?  They must have gods for whom they live and to whom they dedicate themselves.  Sin consists concretely in placing a substitute on the throne.  That substitute is not another creature in general, not even the neighbor, but the human self, the ‘ego’ or ‘I.’  The organizing principle of sin is self-glorification, self-divination; stated more broadly: self-love or egocentricity.  A person wants to be an ‘I,’ either without, next to, or in the place of God.  Turning away from God is simultaneously a turning to self.

Prior to this, God was the center of all human thought and action; now it is the person’s ‘I.” Humanity not only surrendered its true center but also replaced it with a false center.  On the one hand, sin is a decentralization of all things away from God, a loosening, an undoing of bonds with God – atomism, individualism.  On the other hand, it is at the same time also a concentration of everything around the human self, an attempt to subjugate everything to an individual ‘ego.’  Thus sin is not only a matter of turning away from the existing order – in effect, undermining order – but also an establishing of another order, which actually is a disorder.  Sin produces not only an alternative or counterorder but an anti-order; in a word: revolution.”

Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, vol. 1, p, 105.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

To Thy Grace I Ascribe It (Augustine)

The Confessions of Saint Augustine Many of us have heard the story about Augustine stealing pears when he was a teenager.  Indeed, he stole them not because he was hungry or poor, but simply because he wanted to sin (he “lusted to theive”).  Afterwards Augustine even said that he didn’t even really enjoy the pear but he did enjoy the theft and sin itself.  Only a few pages after he talked about stealing pears he wrote these words in his ConfessionsWhenever we hear the pear story, we should remember these words too!

Behold my heart, O God, behold my heart, which Thou hadst pity upon in the bottom of the bottomless pit. Now, behold, let my heart tell Thee what it sought there, that I should be gratuitously evil, having no temptation to ill, but the ill itself. It was foul, and I loved it; I loved to perish, I loved mine own fault, not that for which I was faulty, but my fault itself. Foul soul, falling from Thy firmament to utter destruction; not seeking aught through the shame, but the shame itself!

What shall I render unto the Lord, that, whilst my memory recalls these things, my soul is not affrighted at them? I will love Thee, O Lord, and thank Thee, and confess unto Thy name; because Thou hast forgiven me these so great and heinous deeds of mine. To Thy grace I ascribe it, and to Thy mercy, that Thou hast melted away my sins as it were ice. To Thy grace I ascribe also whatsoever I have not done of evil; for what might I not have done, who even loved a sin for its own sake? Yea, all I confess to have been forgiven me; both what evils I committed by my own wilfulness, and what by Thy guidance I committed not.

 Saint Augustine Bishop of Hippo, The Confessions of St. Augustine, trans. E. B. Pusey (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1996).

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015