13 March 2008

"It won't work" doesn't work

by Dan Phillips

(13:30 PST—See addendum below.)

It always irritates me when folks think they're smarter than God. (You may have noticed.)

One of the subtler forms is folks who, though faced with a directive from Scripture, "reason out" how they aren't obliged to obey because "it won't work." It's usually buried under a lot more verbiage than that, and made to sound deep and wise and plausible. But that's what it amounts to: "Sure, God says to do ___, but I've figured out that that won't work. So I don't have to do it. And I won't. Because I'm too smart."

In that light, ponder this interchange from Scripture.
Then the LORD said to Moses, "Go to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart and the hearts of his officials so that I may do these miraculous signs of Mine among them...." (Exodus 10:1)
"For" = because, the Hebrew conjunction kî. Simple causal conjunction. B, because A.

"Go in to Pharaoh and talk to him, for I have hardened his heart and the heart of his servants, that I may show these signs of mine among them" -- now, there's a verse worth pondering. Go in, because I have hardened his heart (and so, he won't listen to you). Can you imagine the dialogue a modern autonom might launch?
"Go in, because I've hardened his heart."

"But — You've hardened his heart!"

"Go in."

"But —"

"What 'but'? I have my purpose, you have your orders. You don't need to know the former. You do know the latter. Go."
Now, Yahweh does do for Moses what He does not always do for us. He gives him a peek at His grander purpose. It is so that He can show His wonders (v. 1), and "so that you may tell your son and grandson how severely I dealt with the Egyptians and performed miraculous signs among them, and you will know that I am the LORD" (v. 2).

God was not committing Himself to nightly miracle-displays, like some Las Vegas magician. Those living at Moses' time were to see the miracles, and tell their sons and grandsons. Generation after generation would be in the position in which we find ourselves (pace our signs-'n'-wonders friends): the Word of God was to be sufficient. Miracles were to be transmitted verbally, not repeated endlessly.

And as Yahweh said it would be, so it was.

But this didn't make hardened cynics out of Moses and Aaron. They
went in to Pharaoh and told him, "This is what the LORD, the God of the Hebrews, says: How long will you refuse to humble yourself before Me? Let My people go, that they may worship Me. But if you refuse to let My people go, then tomorrow I will bring locusts into your territory" (10:3-4)
What God would do, God would do. That wasn't the brothers' immediate concern. They had their marching-orders. That was their immediate concern. They didn't need polling, a focus-group, or slick marketing. They knew both what to do and what to say.

And, most of the time, so do we.
For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men (1 Corinthians 1:21-25)
Dan Phillips's signature

Note from Phil: I'm not really a fan of "The Steve and Kathy Show," but this video cracked me up, and since it touches obliquely on the problem of pragmatism, and that was Dan's theme in this post, I'm going to do something I almost never do and add this PS: to Dan's entry. Thanks, Dan. The rest of you: Enjoy.
Phil's signature


FX Turk said...

"What 'but'? I have my purpose, you have your orders. You don't need to know the former. You do know the latter. Go."

That's it. That's all there is.

And here's the radical thing: that kind of obedience comes from faith. That's how you see faith.

KRG said...

Moses' response is not only an example of how Christians should respond when things seem like they are “not going to work,” but also an example of the proper Christian response to the sovereignty of God. One of the accusations leveled against Calvinism is that such an absolute view of God's sovereignty dissuades any attempt to follow through with The Great Commission. Though this may be true of the practice of some Calvinists, it is clearly not true of the doctrine. We can see that the Biblical response to a clear exertion of God's sovereignty is OBEDIENCE. Therefore, whatever your view of the roles of election and the depravity of man there is a clear command to evangelize the world, therefore the only proper response is obedience.

rpavich said...

This was such a great post...I love these passages!

This idea touches so much of our life...it answers so many questions and stops so many arguments (such as KRG has brought up)


Jerry said...

God has recently been speaking to me about obedience and humility:

Luke 17:10

Gordon Cheng said...

Why do you have the words of God in red!

DJP said...

(It has everything to do with blog-color-scheme, Gordon, and nothing to do with red-letter Bibles, which I personally despise.)

DJP said...

Exactly right, KRG. It's the intent of Deuteronomy 29:29 which I find cited more often than applied.

Anonymous said...

At the close of my ladies Bible study on Monday evening a 60 year-old sister in Christ unloaded on the class that she wanted to divorce her husband of 42 years. She wanted an affirmative from the class, someone to tell her that it was okay with God because He'd want her to feel loved.

Then the youngest lady in the class, only 22 years-old, spoke up.

"God wants you to be obedient," she said boldly. "You made a vow, a commitment. God won't bless disobedience."

Seems that age doesn't necessarily equal wisdom.

DJP said...

That is pretty powerful. What was the aftermath?

Messyanic Jew said...

Sometimes the toughest thing to do when God comes calling is simply to say "Hineni, Lord ... Here am I."

Billy Rhythm said...

Just out of curiosity, was there something that happened recently that spurred this post?

And DJP, what have you against red letter Bibles?

Joe Blackmon said...

Isn't it amazing how God is so paitient with us. I know there have been times that I've wanted to know where I was going when He sent me before I set out. I'm just thankful that in spite of my lack of faith sometimes that He still chooses to use me.

Boaly said...

Joe Blackmon, Amen!
God's patience with us is amazing!

Strong Tower said...

The king's heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will... Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand... Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled... For you shall not go out in haste, and you shall not go in flight, for the Lord will go before you, and the God of Israel will be your rear guard... If this fixed order departs from before me, declares the Lord, then shall the offspring of Israel cease from being a nation before me forever...

Brooks might babble, rivers might roar, and even the oceans crash the shore, yet all obey the boundary set when the Lord says go here and no more.

Thank God, that we have been given the life of Christ as Moses was, so that even when we mature another girds us about and causes us to go where we would not. And this is the life: that he came not to do his own will but to do the will of him from whom he was sent, who declares the things that will be in the end from the beginning.

For I, the Lord your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, “Fear not, I am the one who helps you. Fear not, you worm Jacob, you men of Israel! I am the one who helps you, declares the Lord; your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel.

When the road is too narrow to navigate and the road ahead is blocked, remember that it is Balaam's error to talk back as if the Lord were a dumb ass.

edm- we should be so bold

DJP said...

Billy, not really, though I certainly could tie some experiences to it. It was spurred by my reading that passage recently. Often I'll get an idea, jot it down, save as draft, develop later. (Others are spurred by occurrences.)

Red-letter Bibles:

1. I think they look dumb

2. When you highlight them, they're orange-letter, which is even dumber.

3. No matter how many times and how sincerely one denies it, it does create the impression that Jesus' words are somehow set apart from the rest of the Word.

Stefan Ewing said...

Re Frank's opening comment:

By faith he left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king, for he endured as seeing him who is invisible.

Considering how he started out as the world's Second Most Reluctant Prophet (after Jonah), God brought about an amazing revelation of His redemptive plan through Moses—not to mention preserving a holy nation unto himself, into the midst of which would come the incarnate Christ, Jesus.

Anonymous said...

I'm just finishing up reading C S lewis' "That Hideous Strength", the last in his Space Trilogy. In the book he refers to a new device for making scientifically and reason-based decisions, named the Pragmatometer. the device aggregates all the opinions of the brightest minds on a given topic and produces the pragmatic result, the one that will work. Your post made me think of that device, and how there are so many of us, even Christians, who tend to make decisions via some form of Pragmatometer rather than by the revealed will and Word of God.

S.J. Walker said...

I think Dan is a Red Letter Christian .

We need to pray for him.

Seriously Dan, me and two other brothers were talking about this very thing this morning. I think Someone (notice capital letter)is trying to tell me something...

Thanks for being faithful fellas,
you're alway welcome at my fire.

A Lion Has Roared!

Stefan Ewing said...

S.J. Walker:

Except Dan's Red Letter version would include all the words of Jesus Christ in red—things like Luke 12:51, Matthew 23:33, Matthew 24:28, and so on—not just the feel-good stuff.

S.J. Walker said...


Ah! Of course.

How very "unprogressive" and "unmissional" of you Dan...because we all know that the black letters "don't work" and even some of the red ones don't either as Stefan has pointed out.

Okay. That's enough sarcasm. Pray that I reach someone with the Gospel today--the whole thing--because it works. Whatever happens, God will work. He will move them, or He will move me.

How great and mighty is He!

A Lion Has Roared!

Stefan Ewing said...

They "don't work," so of course they're not authentic. The Pragmatometrized Bible (TM).

Bill Lonas said...

"What 'but'? I have my purpose, you have your orders. You don't need to know the former. You do know the latter. Go."

Its strange how I expect my children to obey without question sometimes but I tend to ask the same questions with the Sovereign God of the Universe.

Lord, that I would be so obedient...

Point # 2 had me laughing.

Good observation on point # 3.

God bless.

Colin Maxwell said...

"The duties are ours - the consequences are God's."

Stonewall Jackson

A good post.

donsands said...

Reminded me of "a certain disciple at Damascus named Ananias" who the Lord told to go to Saul.

It can be incredibly difficult to go to someone, who you know is going to most likely be nasty. It's one of the hardest things for me to do, but when I have done it, the grace is always sufficient.

There are times when I have avoided confrontation as well, but it usually finds me in another place and another time.

Drew said...

I agree with your post completely.

I've found that most of the time, Christians get "pragmatic" when it comes to God's command to welcome the alien and the stranger, or be a peacemaker.

"But they want to kill us!"

"I have my purpose, you have your orders . . . Go."

Rileysowner said...

I have heard the "but that won't work" response a lot. More often I hear the "that was for that time and culture, but not for today." Then when I point out that it is for today, the response is that we neglect a lot of commands so I should start kissing all Christians in greeting. You can probably guess what they are arguing with me about.

LeeC said...

I always think of Gideon with things like this.

"2 The LORD said to Gideon, "The people with you are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hand, lest Israel boast over me, saying, 'My own hand has saved me.' 3 Now therefore proclaim in the ears of the people, saying,'Whoever is fearful and trembling, let him return home and hurry away from Mount Gilead.'" Then 22,000 of the people returned, and 10,000 remained.

4 And the LORD said to Gideon, "The people are still too many. Take them down to the water, and I will test them for you there, and anyone of whom I say to you, 'This one shall go with you,' shall go with you, and anyone of whom I say to you, 'This one shall not go with you,' shall not go." 5So he brought the people down to the water. And the LORD said to Gideon, "Every one who laps the water with his tongue, as a dog laps, you shall set by himself. Likewise, every one who kneels down to drink." 6 And the number of those who lapped, putting their hands to their mouths, was 300 men, but all the rest of the people knelt down to drink water. 7And the LORD said to Gideon, "With the 300 men who lapped I will save you and give the Midianites into your hand, and let all the others go every man to his home." 8 So the people took provisions in their hands, and their trumpets. And he sent all the rest of Israel every man to his tent, but retained the 300 men. And the camp of Midian was below himin the valley."

Our omnipotent God has no need for pragmatism. "lest Israel boast over me, saying, 'My own hand has saved me."

Hey Messyanic Jew, is that Matt?

Just checking. ;-)

Mike Riccardi said...

That video is PRICELESS!

Chris said...

Are we surprised? I mean, in this day and age of wholesale, active emergent rebellion, heresy, and/or apostasy--in which the authority of scriptue is entirely subjective or "reader-response" and Truth claims are mocked outright and scripture is maligned to conform to leftist politcs (if you can visit without vomiting, check-out the blaspemous and reconstruvist two-part article posted at the ooze on Sodom and Gomorra), then are we really surpised when an atmosphere of passively (by contrast) selecting which scripture to believe/follow and which ones to ignore emerges around us?

Yes, that video was classic!

DJP: prosperity teachers might want to consider creating "green letter" Bibles??

DJP said...


Prosperity Jesus-verses in green
+ Other Jesus-verses in red


donsands said...

I just received my new Reformation Bible ESV, and it doesn't have the red letters.

Never had a Bible like this. Takes some getting used to, but I believe it's a good thing. Not a big deal, but I like what you said about it, "does create the impression that Jesus' words are somehow set apart from the rest of the Word."

Chris said...

Or, just like they have done with monopoly--adapting the game to every imaginable theme known to man--they could do Bibles that way too. This would be great for the postmods who "want to have it their way"

Anonymous said...

DJP - I'll bet Rev. Creflo Dollar would like that green letter thing goin' on.

Chris said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Strong Tower said...

The Money Bible Blues

Chris said...

Thanks Strong Tower for a real-life example of what I could only imagine...with a few differences.

Warren Chua said...

thanks so much for this post. its just what i needed! sometimes we think that we're failures because we couldnt convince others efficiently about the Word of God. But no, the issue is not about how efficient we can convince others, the issue is our obedience. thanks again!

DJP said...

Thanks for the encouraging word, Warren. That means a lot to me.

Billy Rhythm said...

Thanks for the reply, DJP.

Anonymous said...

Something I have to keep reminding myself in ministry, that I think should be on the wall of every pastor's office"

God doesn't reward results, only faithful obedience.

Warren Chua said...

@the doulos: ...in every Christian's office as well! that would be a great idea. i have a whiteboard here in my office and just put the phrase: "no buts, just obey!"