To bring them back to the Lord

Now after the death of Jehoiada the princes of Judah came and paid homage to the king. Then the king listened to them.And they abandoned the house of the Lord, the God of their fathers, and served the Asherim and the idols. And wrath came upon Judah and Jerusalem for this guilt of theirs. Yet he sent prophets among them to bring them back to the Lord. These testified against them, but they would not pay attention. (2Ch 24:17-19)

It's always tragic when you read the account of a good king who turns bad. Joash after doing such great work in restoring the house of the Lord falls under bad influence when his good influence, Jehoiada the priest, is gone.

Yet here we read of the mercy and forbearance of God. He did not act in wrath straight away, but sent prophets among them, with the purpose of bringing them back to the Lord.

This is a simple phrase, but it communicates a lot about the purpose and nature of the prophetic gift. The prophets were not sent to write new scripture, as some suppose is the inevitable outcome of prophetic utterance. Nor were they sent to make bizarre and fanciful predictions about the future. They were raised up, from among the people themselves, to turn the hearts of the people to the Lord.

This is the true nature, not just of prophecy, but of all the gifts that the Holy Spirit distributes to his people. They operate among the people and they point them to the Lord.


Believe his Prophets

And they rose early in the morning and went out into the wilderness of Tekoa. And when they went out, Jehoshaphat stood and said, "Hear me, Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem! Believe in the Lord your God, and you will be established; believe his prophets, and you will succeed." (2Ch 20:20)

Very often the test of our commitment to the Lord is worked out in our relationships to others. It's easy to say we love the Lord, give him our all, are submitted to his rule and believe his word. But our loving, giving, submitting and believing are not tested when we are in isolation.

John says we cannot truly love the Lord, unless that love is demonstrated towards our fellow man.

Offering God all we have is, in one sense, easy. It is in the specifics, when God asks us to give sacrificially above any beyond what we normally set aside that that commitment is really tested. And it is when those whom God has placed in spiritual authority over us make a decision that we disagree with, that the measure of our submission is truly revealed.

Equally, it is easy to say we believe God's word, when what we really mean is we believe in our own interpretation, emphasis, and outworking of that word. Our own exegesis of the word rarely challenges us out of our comfort zones, because we so often see what we want to see, read what we want to read, emphasise what we want to emphasise, and outwork that which is already familiar to us.

We all, as believers, have the same Word of God, yet the interpretations and emphasis throughout the body of Christ differ dramatically. How do we know that our emphasis is the emphasis that is important to the Lord?

Our belief in God's word is most often challenged, not through our own reading of the Scriptures, but in response to the prophetic word. When the prophetic word challenges our emphasis, shakes our comfort, and demands we engage our faith, we have a choice: to accept it and embrace it as the word of God, or to reject it.

A counter example to the one of Jehoshaphat above, is that in Jeremiah 42, where the people claimed to have total commitment to do whatever God commanded them, and that they would obey whatever word Jeremiah brought to them, but they had already decided in their hearts what they expected God to say. When Jeremiah brought them a word that was contrary to what they wanted to hear, they rejected it.

For you sent me to the Lord your God, saying, "Pray for us to the Lord our God, and whatever the Lord our God says declare to us and we will do it.’ And I have this day declared it to you, but you have not obeyed the voice of the Lord your God in anything that he sent me to tell you. Now therefore know for a certainty that you shall die by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence in the place where you desire to go to live." (Jeremiah 42:21-22)

The prophetic word always demands a response from us. It is the response of faith that leads to success.

Believe in the Lord your God, and you will be established; believe his prophets, and you will succeed.


The Law of First Mention

I received this anonymous question via my "Off the record" box:

The Law of first mentions? Where on earth did this come from? And does it extend beyond "Genesis has special details"? Because what about Job? Does that count as a first mention, seen as it could be older than genesis (in terms of being written) or do we just rely on the abilities of some old monks to put the bible in order for us. ; ) I have heard a number of teachers refer to this, but I cannot yet make use of it myself. So what better place to clear it up than where thousands of people can read it!

I'm flattered that this reader thinks I am able to give a definitive answer, (and that they think I have thousands of readers!)

Well, I'm more than happy to offer my thoughts on the subject, and to open up the comments section so that others with wisdom on the matter can chip in with their contributions too.

First, what is the Law of First Mention?
It is a principle in Biblical Hermeneutics (The framework for understanding and applying the Scriptures) that states that the first mention of something in the Scriptures is especially significant and sets the stage for how it is to be understood in the rest of the Word.

I have to say here, that I think "Law" is a misnomer, as it implies that it is something fundamental that can be appealed to to establish other truth. I think that the reader is right to challenge and question this. I think it is better to think of it as a "principle" or a "rule of thumb", because more often than not, the fist mention of something in the Word is highly significant. Not because there is an inviolable law that says it has to be so, but because that is what we observe to be the case.

Why should first mentions be significant?
So, what is the principle behind this principle? Why should there be special significance with how something is introduced in the Word?

Whatever you think about the first-mentions principle, one thing that is clear from the Scriptures is that Origins are important. The Bible begins with Genesis - the book of origins. And in this book are the origins, not just of the Universe, but of every major theme of Scripture: Sin and Redemption, Covenant, Prayer, Worship, God's people, God's ultimate purpose for his world, and even the Gospel and Christ himself, if you know how to look.

God begins at the beginning for a reason. We have to understand where we have come from if we are to appreciate where we are going. For example, you need to understand the problem of sin and the fall of man in Adam, if you are to appreciate forgiveness and our redemption in Christ. We see that God's commission to the Church is fundamentally the same as his commission to Adam - to go out into all the world and fill it with people in the image of God who will represent the Kingdom rule of God on the earth just as it is in heaven. God does not have many plans for this world, but one eternal unchanging plan. That is why origins are important, because what God purposed from the beginning is exactly what he will accomplish at the end.

Thus the first mention is significant, because more often than not, it is also the point of origin.

What constitutes a first mention?
In this context, we understand that it is the origin, rather than textual position in a compiled book, that is significant. Although the events of Job predate much of Genesis, Job deals with the issue of suffering rather than the issue of origins. To carry maximum significance, the first mention should be traced to the Book of Origins itself - Genesis. This is not to say that first mentions elsewhere are insignificant, but they certainly carry less weight.

There are other passages outside Genesis that deal with origins. Acts 2, for example, which is highly significant as a reference of origin when considering the nature of the Church. [Which in turn is the New Testament expression of God's called-out people, which can be traced back to Genesis.]

Usage and Abusage
Like any other principle, the First Mention principle can be both used and abused. It is absolutely right and proper, when studying any theme in Scripture, to make sure you trace it back to its first mention, to ensure you understand and grasp the context in which it is introduced, and any significant light that this sheds on the subject. However it is totally wrong to use this principle like a law that can be applied in isolation without reference to the rest of Scripture, to give a distorted emphasis to a verse of first mention, and to make it mean something that is not borne out by how the progressive revelation of Scripture fills out the details on this subject.

There is a wise old saying that goes: If all you have is a hammer, every problem starts to look like a nail!

The principle of first mention is just one of many tools we have in understanding and getting the most out of the Scriptures. Used correctly it can help frame our understanding of Biblical themes. Misused it can distort verses beyond what was ever intended.


The Belt of Truth

Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth (Eph 6:14)

I'm no expert in Greek, but I do know how to use the resources over at studylight.org! In the Greek having-fastened-on-the-belt is all one word. So the emphasis here is not about some mysterious object, "the belt of truth", but on an action: "belting-ourselves" with truth. So here, as well as in the rest of the passage concerning the armour of God, is not about some metaphysical protection that we have to don to engage in spiritual warfare (found here and nowhere else in the word), but about how we apply the spiritual principles clearly laid out in the rest of the Scriptures.

Another interesting fact from the Greek is that the word for belt, the root for the word used here, is "zone", from which we get the English word... erm... Zone! So we could also understand this instruction as "zone yourself in the truth".

Some limitations are bad. When we limit our faith or our expectations in God, these are limitations we were never meant to have. But other limitations are good. It is good to have proper boundaries. Proverbs says: "A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls." (Pr 25:28). Self-control is setting up good and righteous boundaries for our behaviour. Even God is "limited" in this way: it is impossible for him to lie. Why? Not because it is too difficult for him or beyond is power, but because it is outside the "zone" of his perfect nature.

In this context to belt-ourselves with truth, means to confine ourselves, in thought, in behaviour, and in confession, to the truth. And the ultimate truth, of course, is the truth of God's word.

It's not about being "honest" about how I feel, or how I assess my circumstances (that might lead to a whole other set of confession and behaviour), but to refuse to think of myself or act in a way that is outside of what God declares me to be. That is the truth that I "zone myself" with. So that to use an expression of Keri Jones, "I am framed by the word of God," and anything that comes in (what I receive) and anything that goes out (what I confess) has to pass through the filter of the Word of God and what he declares me to be.