Dealing with a Guilty Conscience

13 07 2009

Most understand the concept of “let your conscience be your guide.” As we make decisions we listen to that little voice telling us what to do. In cartoons, this idea is depicted as an angel sitting on one shoulder and a devil on the other. The conscience can be a great tool. It enables us to make quick decisions. When there is a decision that involves a sin, your conscience should make you feel squeamish.

But what happens when we go against our conscience? What happens when we get that squeamish feeling, but we plow ahead? Usually, we walk away with a guilty conscience, upset that we did what we knew to be wrong. This article is not about the proper training of your conscience. This article is about how to fix a guilty conscience. There are four ways to fix a guilty conscience: we can try to justify ourselves, we can blame others, we can try to hide our action, or we can confess our sin.

Luke 10 tells the parable of the Good Samaritan. This was to deal with a lawyer who was trying to justify himself. The lawyer wanted to know what to do to inherit eternal life, but he already knew (love God and your neighbor). Jesus told him to do these things. This man had obviously not been a good neighbor and Jesus pricked his conscience; so the man tried to justify himself by asking, “Who is my neighbor?” With the parable, Jesus thumped his conscience even harder and left the man unjustified!

We can also deal with a guilty conscience – as Adam and Eve did – by blaming others. We talk about “passing the buck” – this was the original instance in which a buck was passed. Adam is confronted, not just by his conscience but, by God. To deal with this guilt, Adam blames Eve (and in so doing, he blames God – “the woman YOU gave me”). Now, Eve is on the chopping block and to deal with her guilt she blames Satan. We must understand that while Satan wants us to sin and encourages us to sin; we are the ones who sin. In James 1, we see the act and result of sin equated to sex and the conception of a child. James says that we sin because we wanted to sin. In this great passage on sin, James says nothing about Satan. Ezekiel 18:20 says “the soul that sins shall die.”

David tried to deal with a guilty conscience by covering it up. He tried to hide from his guilt. The lesson in David’s story is that God knows our guilt – we cannot hide it from Him. Proverbs 28:13 teaches that the one who hides his transgression will not prosper. As David states in Psalm 32, when we hide our sins we “waste away.”

However, David is also the example of how to properly deal with guilt. When Nathan confronted David with his sin, David did not try to justify himself; he did not blame anyone else; he was done hiding. He simply confesses, “I have sinned.” Psalm 51 is David’s plea to God for forgiveness and mercy. He asks God for a “clean heart” and a “right spirit.” That is all we can do when we have sinned. This is the proper way to deal with a guilty conscience. Psalm 32 is David’s praise about the blessedness of forgiveness. Before he confessed his sins he was miserable. After he confessed his sins, he was ecstatic with forgiveness.

The conscience is a great tool when trained properly. When you trump your conscience, when you ignore it, there is only one way to deal properly with the guilt you feel – confess your sin to God and seek His forgiveness.

Dark, but Lovely

16 05 2009

Before reading this article, I encourage you to open to the Song of Songs and read verses 5-11 of chapter one.

This article covers the second, third, and fourth poems of the book (23 total). The woman begins by speaking of her color. She is black, or (a better translation) dark. This is not a reference to race. The next verse explains that she has dark skin because of her work under the sun. It is interesting to see how opinions of the shade of one’s skin have changed through the centuries. Depending on time and location, to be tan may be exotic (as it is today). But in 1:5 the woman is obviously upset about it. In her society to have a tan meant to work under the sun. The higher classes enjoyed the shade; the lower classes endured the heat of daily labor. The references to the “tents of Kedar” and “the curtains of Solomon” are a bit problematic. The “tents of Kedar” could be a reference to the Bedouin tribes whose tents had to endure the harsh desert elements. But like the curtains of Solomon, she was still beautiful.

She blames her condition on the sun and her brothers as they made her work in the vineyard. She references them as “her mother’s sons.” This could be a designation for stepbrothers or a simple way of distancing herself from them. Throughout Biblical poetry, vines and vineyards are often references of sexuality. Notice that her brothers kept her from working in her own vineyard – possibly keeping her from fulfilling her desires for her love.

In verse seven, she directly addresses her man (this is why verse seven is seen as starting a separate poem). In these two verses, some scholars see some teasing – a poetic game of hide-n-seek. She wants to know where he will have his flock so she can find him. If she has to go looking for him, she will have to put on a veil so others do not know who she is – she will look like a prostitute. His advice to her is to follow his trail. She should act as if she is shepherding her flock and as their flocks graze, they can spend time together. Some scholars want to push the imagery further here – some argue that it is the woman who is going to be laid down in their midday rendezvous.

Verse nine starts the fourth poem as he begins to praise her beauty. His metaphor would not get a man very far in today’s culture – try telling a woman she has a horse face! But notice that he does not just call her a mare, but a mare among chariots. This imagery is interesting because chariots were pulled by stallions. M. H. Pope refers to a battle in which a mare (in heat) was released into a chariot charge – it drove the stallions crazy. The overall strategy did not work because one of the charioteers killed the mare. But what this man is saying is that she drives the men crazy.

In verses 10-11 he talks about her jewelry. Jewelry is sometimes condemned in the Old Testament but only when it is a symptom of a larger problem; when the women are more concerned with their gold than their gifts and devotion. It is this idea that carries over in the New Testament’s warnings about jewelry. But in this context, the man is saying how her jewelry only enhances her beauty and he is going to aid in getting her more.

It is neat to see these three poems in succession: she is concerned with her “darkness” – he does not care and we see this flirtatious exchange: where will you be – come and find me. As husbands and wives, a playful attitude can keep the youthfulness in the relationship. And even in the 21st century, women are afraid their dresses make their hips look big while their husbands say, “You look great!”

The Maiden Speaks First

10 05 2009

“Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth! For your love is better than wine; your anointing oils are fragrant; your name is oil poured out; therefore virgins love you. Draw me after you; let us run. The king has brought me into his chambers. We will exult and rejoice in you; we will extol your love more than wine; rightly do they love you.”

Song of Solomon 1:2-4

Before we get into the images that are used in this first song, we need to address the sexual language that is used throughout the book. We must accept the fact that our author is using sexual language and sexual imagery and we also must accept that the book belongs in the Bible. However, we all understand that there are numerous ways to talk about sexual things. We can look at sexual intimacy from a medical standpoint. When we go to the doctor, they use “clinical” language in describing sex and the body. However, if a young man were to take his fiancé to dinner and compliment her zygomatic bone (cheek bone) structure, she would not feel the butterflies in her stomach. On the other side of the spectrum, there is crude language or “locker room” language. Sadly, this type of language is slowly infiltrating every aspect of our lives. There is no place for it anywhere, much less to describe a woman. It is demeaning and will get a man as far as “GET AWAY.” Then there is the language of love – romantic language. I will be the first to admit I do not have a good grasp on how to speak like this, but it is this kind of language that is employed in the Song of Songs. “Your love is better than wine” sounds better than “Your brain’s response to certain endorphin chemicals is better than fermented grape juice,” yet it does not debase the feelings into the language of a seventh grader in a locker room.

The first thing that should come out of this text is the aggressive nature of this woman. She is in love and she is going to encourage him to act. In fact, the woman speaks 53% of the time in the Song, while the man speaks only around 35% of the time. There is an obvious connection between kisses/love and wine. Both are pleasurable on the lips and both can cause one to feel intoxicated.

The woman also talks about his aroma. She makes the connection between his aroma and his reputation. Just as cologne causes one to be smelled before they are seen, so a reputation causes one to be known before they are seen. And this man’s reputation is good – all the young women love him. This shows the quality of the man – everyone loves him, not just this one woman.

The speaker then refers to the king. This should not be taken literally. Again, it is the language of love. He is HER king; he is the most important and honored man in her life. This phrase should be considered in relationship to a wedding night – the first time that he brings her into his chamber/bedroom.

Notice that the speaker now turns to the third person plural. She has spoken in the first and second person as well. Does this mean that there is more than one speaker? It does not have to. This is a common literary device called “enallage” – where a speaker or writer changes between “I”, “you”, and “us” or “we”. This has many parallels in Egyptian love poetry.

In the last few phrases we are introduced to a group of women – the “young women” or the “daughters of Zion”. The woman has interaction with them throughout the Song and they could be considered the ideal audience as the man and woman show what it means to be truly in love.

Sunday Sermon and The Holy Spirit

7 05 2009

I just posted the sermon from this past Sunday on the “Lessons” page. It was a lesson based on Paul’s verbiage “Redeeming the time.” It was not a detailed discussion on the two passages in which that phrase occurs (Ephesians and Colossians) but a lesson on how Christians should make good use of their time. We must remember, time is a gift from God – how are we using it.

I also posted our study of the Holy Spirit from last night. We discussed the promise of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament from such passages as Joel 2 and Isaiah 44. We also discussed the teaching of John the Baptist and Jesus on the Holy Spirit and how so much of that discussion comes down to Acts 2.

The Song of Songs as 23 Love Poems

1 05 2009

We have been introducing the various topics surrounding the Song of Songs. This week I want to look at a breakdown of the book into 23 individual love songs. This specific breakdown is provided by Tremper Longman in his commentary on the Song of Songs. Please sit down with your Bible and look at some of these divisions and see what you think.

  1. The Woman’s Pursuit – 1:2-4
  2. Dark, but Beautiful – 1:5f
  3. An Invitation to a Tryst – 1:7f
  4. A Beautiful Mare – 1:9-11
  5. Intimate Fragrances – 1:12-14
  6. Outdoor Love – 1:15-17
  7. Flowers and Trees – 2:1-7
  8. A Poem of Spring – 2:8-17
  9. Seeking and Not Finding – 3:1-5
  10.  A Royal Wedding Procession – 3:6-11
  11.  The Man’s Sensuous Description of the Woman – 4:1-7
  12.  The Invitation – 4:8f
  13.  Eating in the Garden of Love – 4:10-5:1
  14.  To Search and Not Find, Again – 5:2-6:3
  15.  Awesome as an Army under Banners – 6:4-10
  16.  A Surprise in the Nut Grove – 6:11f
  17.  A Description of the Dancing Shulammite – 6:13-7:10
  18.  I Will Give You My Love – 7:11-13
  19.  Yearning for Love – 8:1-4
  20.  Like a Seal – 8:5-7
  21.  Protecting the Sister – 8:8-10
  22.  Who Owns the Vineyard – 8:11f
  23.  Be Like a Gazelle – 8:13f

A couple of things should jump out at you. First, this breakdown ignores the editor’s comments about who is speaking. In most Bibles, the editor has added “by lines” to each conversation to show the dialogue. This is usually in conjunction with a dramatic “two person” view. Secondly, this breakdown often ignores the chapter divisions. Remember, these, too, were added by men, not the original authors. And finally, this breakdown is according to context and poetic style. Do these 23 individual songs mean that there are no underlying themes or traits? Absolutely not. As one reads through these songs they should notice the repetition of certain ideas that give the entire song some unity.

Next week we will begin to look at these individual songs. Remember, we are not trying to force a story or some hidden meaning. We simply want to understand what the author intended for us to learn through this poetic book of wisdom.

The Holy Spirit

30 04 2009

We are enjoying a study of the Holy Spirit on Wednesday nights. Last night we had our third lesson – The Holy Spirit in the Old Testament. These lessons are available in mp3 format on the “Lessons” page. The recording of the second lesson was lost and we are trying to recover it – it should be available soon. I hope these lessons will be of benefit to you as you strive to serve our risen savior!

Title and Author of the Song of Solomon

28 04 2009

We have been discussing the Song of Solomon and its many interpretations. Last week we summarized and ended that discussion with some comments on the poetic nature of the book and its relationship to much of the wisdom literature in the Bible. Today we want to get closer to the text as we discuss the title of the book and its author.

The song begins with the phrase “the song of songs.” In Hebrew, as well as many other languages, this type of phrase expresses the superlative. In other words, this is the best of songs – it is the number one song of all songs. It is similar in nature to “the holy of holies,” “Lord of lords,” and “King of kings.” What should we call this book? The Song of Songs? The Song of Solomon? Just as a reference note the more common title in scholarly literature is Song of Songs. The more common phrase used in congregations and by preachers and teachers is Song of Solomon. Does it matter? No. I usually refer to it as the Song of Songs – maybe because it is shorter.

Back to the introductory phrase – “the song of songs which is Solomon’s.” The most natural reading of this would imply that Solomon is the author. And while I do think Solomon is the author, the phrase does not have to mean Solomon is the author. It could be that the book had been dedicated to Solomon. It could imply that Solomon is the subject of the book (which he certainly seems to be). And it could be an indication that the Song is Solomonic in nature – that is, it is of the same nature as some of Solomon’s other material.

The overwhelming tradition is that Solomon is the author and I have found no modern argument to convince me otherwise. The Midrash Rabbah (a type Jewish commentary) took the three main contributions of Solomon (Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and The Song of Songs) and applied them to the three stages of his life. Young men write love songs, fathers pass along wisdom, and old men talk about the vanity of their past life. If one took this view then the Song of Songs was composed before his falling away from God – something motivated by his illegitimate lust for foreign women!

Some argue that there is too much feminine influence in the book for it to have been written by a man – surely some sections were written by a female poet. This argument can be answered by two points: (1) nowhere does the book indicate or imply a female author and more importantly (2) whoever makes this argument forgets that Solomon’s wisdom was a gift from God. Maybe most men fail to understand some of the intricacies of the female mind – how they feel and their desire for romance – but Solomon was not your average man. His wisdom was from God, the maker of man and woman.

Next week we will look break the book down into 23 individual songs

The Excuses of Moses

20 04 2009

For the man to play such a pivotal role in Biblical History, it is interesting that Moses did not really want to do the job that God asked of him. In fact, all Moses could do was offer excuses. God asked Moses to do something yet Moses gave four excuses before just saying, “Please send whomever you will.” God expects us as Christians to be messengers of the good news. This is not something that is solely left to the preacher or elders – everyone should WANT to tell others about their salvation. Yet we so often make excuses. This lesson (audio on the “Lessons” page) is about God’s responses to Moses and how they apply to us today.

The Song of Solomon as Poetry and Wisdom

20 04 2009

            Over the past two weeks we have discussed how we should read the Song of Solomon. Should we read it as an allegory – God’s great love for Israel or Christ’s great love for the church? Or should we take the dramatic approach – the song is a story between a man and a woman or a woman torn between two men? With each discussion we have presented (hopefully) strong arguments against these two views. Nothing in the text indicates that the song should be read as anything but poetry. But before we look at the “love song” approach, I briefly want to mention three other views that are worth noting but are not widely held.

            The first is the political interpretation. It states that the song dates back to the time after the exile and that Solomon is representative of the glory days of David and Solomon and the Shunamite is representative of Israel. This, however, is susceptible to the same flaws as the allegorical approach, because it is, in reality, another allegory. A second view is the psychological interpretation and it views the song as a glimpse into the psyche of a man and woman who are in love. The advocates of this view push a great deal of Freudian psychology back onto the song. This is a common mistake in Biblical studies. We take ideas or motives that we have today and push them on the literature from a different time and a different people who had different ideas or motives. A final and very wrong interpretation is that the song is a love song between Yahweh and His female counterpart and that the song was used in sexual cultic practices. First of all, the Old Testament is very clear about Yahweh’s opposition to His people having any ideas about any other gods. Secondly, where does one find any indication of ACCEPTIBLE sexual cultic practices?

             I read a comment concerning the poetic nature of the Song of Solomon that put the Song into, not only, the correct genre (i.e. poetry) but also into a relationship with other Old Testament scripture. The collection of Psalms is often referred to as the Psalter. Tremper Longman refers to the Song of Solomon as an “erotic Psalter.” I think that it is an accurate designation. The poetry of the Song is not that different from the Psalms, although the subject matter is.

            A second classification for this book is Wisdom. Some have argued that the Song is Solomon’s explanation of a subject he brings up in Proverbs 30:18. The proverb states that there are certain things that are too wonderful to understand and the final one (almost the exclamation point) is “the way of a man with a maiden.” Therefore, one can see the Song of Solomon as Solomon’s instruction on this subject. A final note concerning this song as wisdom literature is the relationship between the woman and the “chorus.” Throughout the song it is as if she is sharing what she has learned from experience with these other ladies – the same thing that Solomon does with his sons in the book of Proverbs.

            As we go through the text of the Song, we will try and stay away from assigning meanings to every detail and from trying to develop a story. We will read the Song as it is written – poetry – and we will try and learn the lessons that God intended for us to learn concerning the love between a man and his bride!

Introduction to the Holy Spirit

16 04 2009

Last night we began our study of the Holy Spirit. We first talked about some things that have possibly scared people away from a study of the Holy Spirit. We introduced the various topics that we are going to cover in this study. We also discussed some of the preconceived notions in dealing with the Holy Spirit (i.e. Calvinism, Pentecostalism, and Emotionalism). This was followed with some introductory facts about the names given to the Holy Spirit and the prevalence of the Holy Spirit in both the Old and New Testaments. The audio for this class can be found on the “Lessons” page. I trust that you will benefit from our study of the Holy spirit!