Does God determine the exact time of our death?

Q.  I have a question that is difficult for me to understand and I hope you can shed some light on it.  I trust in God’s incredible power and sovereignty, but wrestle with how our free will interacts with that.  Specifically, I recently heard someone say that God is sovereign and controls our time of death.  But I wonder about cases where a person takes their own life.  I struggle with how much God would be responsible for that. Additionally, how much can we control about our health to extend our life time?  It is well known that if I smoke and am overweight, my life will likely will be shortened.  So it seems  that we can make bad choices or good choices that will increase or decrease the odds for our longevity. So has God determined, in advance, the number of days we have on earth?

As I have explained in posts such as this one, I believe that the sovereignty of God means not that God directly determines every individual event of our lives, but rather that God works effectively with the free choices, good and bad, of human moral agents to accomplish His own purposes.

One illustration of this that I find in Scripture is when Joseph says to his brothers, referring to how they sold him into slavery, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good.”  In other words, God turned His good intentions towards what would otherwise be a human act of cruelty and betrayal and worked in that situation to bring about a good outcome that also advanced His larger purposes.

Accordingly, we may think of events as falling along a spectrum, with events that are largely determined by human free moral choices at one end, and events that are largely determined by God working with such choices at the other end.  Most events will be somewhere in between, so that it is difficult to discern to what extent they are determined by human choice and to what extent by divine sovereign working.  This is why we speak of the interaction between the two as a mystery of our faith.

When it comes to the time of a person’s death, I think we would say that when someone takes their own life, this is an event essentially determined by human choice.  I believe that God would want something different and better for that person and their loved ones.  (Ironically, however, the person may actually think they are making a good choice, because depression and other conditions can make a person believe, sincerely but tragically, that their family and friends would be better off without them.  So we need to have great sympathy and understanding in these situations.)

Let’s consider another kind of case.  In one of the churches I served as pastor, there was a woman who had fought a long and courageous battle with cancer.  It had gone into remission several times, but now it was back again and there was nothing more the doctors could do.  This woman was looking at many months of painful suffering before she could, as she put it, “move to my new home.”  But one night she died unexpectedly of a heart attack.  I have always seen this as an act of divine sovereignty and indeed divine mercy, God bringing her home much sooner than would have been humanly expected.

But as I said before, most events fall somewhere in between.  If we don’t take good care of our health, we may die sooner than we otherwise might have, and as a result we may accomplish less for God in this world than we otherwise might have, although many other factors, including God’s sovereign working, would be at play to determine exactly how long we did live.  So I think we need to do everything that depends on us, as free moral agents, to make ourselves available to God for His purposes, for as long as we might live, through the choices we make.  Everything beyond that depends on God’s sovereignty, in ways we won’t always understand.

But I would certainly not consider God responsible for a person’s choice to take their own life, as if “their time had come” in God’s eyes and this was the means God used. Many of us have lost a loved one to suicide and it is always a tragedy over which God grieves very tenderly with us, never something that God plans or causes to happen.

 

What is the definition of “soul”?

Q. Someone recently asked me to define “soul.” I gave an answer but I’d also like to hear what you have to say.

I would say that a person’s “soul” is the totality of everything in them that is not their physical body–that is, their mind, will, emotions, etc., working together as a whole that is greater than the sum of the parts.

There’s almost a definition of the “soul” (Hebrew nefesh) along these lines in the poetic parallelism at the start of Psalm 103:  “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, praise His holy name.”  The NIV translates this second phrase “all my inmost being,” and I think that’s a good way to think about the soul.

The “soul” in biblical terms is equivalent to what we often call the “self” today.  We find the psalmists especially addressing their “souls” in what we recognize as “self-talk.”  For example, in the chorus that occurs three times in Psalm 42-43: “Why are you cast down, O my soul? . . . Hope in God; for I shall again praise him.”

There’s some debate in Christian theology about whether the soul is mortal, and so dies with the body and is resurrected with the body, or whether the soul is immortal, living on after death.  I discuss that question in this post.

I hope these reflections are helpful to you. And may we all be inspired by the example of the psalmists and in the most difficult times talk to our souls (ourselves) to encourage them to hope in God, looking forward to the time when we will see His work on our behalf and praise Him for it.

Was the Israelite kingdom divided between David and Ish-bosheth, or was it only divided later?

Q.  After Saul dies, the narrative in Samuel-Kings says that “the men of Judah came to Hebron, and there they anointed David king over the tribe of Judah,” but that “Ish-Bosheth son of Saul . . . became king over Israel.”  I always thought that the official ‘division’ of the kingdom happened later, when Rehoboam rejected the elders’ counsel and Jeroboam led the northern tribes in revolt.  Can you reconcile these two accounts for me?

The rivalry between David and Ish-Bosheth was not a division of the ancient Israelite kingdom into two parts, it was a civil war to see which of these men would become king over all twelve tribes.

Samuel-Kings uses its characteristic “regnal notice” to describe how Ish-Bosheth succeeded his father Saul as king: “Ish-Bosheth son of Saul was forty years old when he became king over Israel, and he reigned two years.”  A similar notice does not appear for David until after the contest is settled and all of Israel accepts him as its king, even though the notice does acknowledge David’s time as king only of Judah: “David was thirty years old when he became king, and he reigned forty years. In Hebron he reigned over Judah seven years and six months, and in Jerusalem he reigned over all Israel and Judah thirty-three years.”  So in effect Ish-bosheth became king after Saul, but David eventually displaced him.

There’s actually a record in the book of Chronicles of the large numbers of warriors–hundreds of thousands–from all the other tribes who “came to David at Hebron to turn Saul’s kingdom over to him, as the Lord had said“–in other words, to help him win the war against Ish-bosheth.  Among them are 200 chieftains from Issachar who, we are told, “understood the times and knew what Israel should do.”  This might be said of all these warriors and their leaders from every tribe: They knew that David was God’s choice to succeed Saul and they gave him their allegiance and support even as he was in the process of defeating his rival.

The situation was different between Rehoboam and Jeroboam.  Because of Solomon’s disobedience (worshiping other gods!), the Lord told him that he would lose the kingdom, except that one tribe would be left to his family dynasty for David’s sake.  Solomon’s son Rehoboam adopted foolish, oppressive policies and wouldn’t listen to sound advice, and in response a leader name Jeroboam (one of Solomon’s former high officials) led a revolt that permanently drew the northern ten tribes into a kingdom of their own.  The original kingdom was never reunited and both parts, Israel in the north and Judah in the south, were eventually conquered and exiled by the great empires of the ancient world.

Hope this is helpful!

Does the reading of “sky” for “heavens” in the Genesis creation account rule out the creation of invisible, spiritual things?

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This question was asked as a follow-up to my post entitled “In the beginning, God created the sky and the land.

Q. I had never before noticed the relationships between the three pairs of days. Laying out the text in such a manner as to highlight these relationships is helpful. Thanks.

I wonder, though, whether the Hebrew word which I will transliterate as shemayim, traditionally translated in this passage as “heavens” and here translated “sky” (in contrast to “land”), must mean only “sky” in this passage. After all, the word translated “Spirit” also can mean mere “wind.”

What if we read the word translated “sky” to include both English meanings contained by the one Hebrew word? Could the meaning include not only the concepts that contrast with “land”(that is, sky), but also the concepts which contrast with that realm in which we humans are grounded and can touch (that is, heaven)?

My denomination’s catechism cites the Genesis creation account to support the assertion from the Apostles’ Creed, “I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth…”, and goes on to explain the meaning of “heaven” to include the unseen, which it identifies as the spiritual part of God’s creation.

I do note, however, that on Day 4 the sky is populated with items that are not spiritual (sun, moon, stars). Not, say, angels.

Limiting this scripture to refer merely to “sky” seems to diminish its meaning from that claimed by the catechism’s commentary on the Apostles’ Creed. Any thoughts on how I might reconcile this reading of the beginning of Genesis and my understanding of the historic catholic creeds of the church?

Thank you very much for this thoughtful question.  First, let me say that I do not feel that my reading and translation of the Genesis creation account limit its meaning to God creating the sky and nothing beyond it, whether physical (outer space) or spiritual (angels and the heavenly realm itself).

Rather, I would say that I see the Genesis author proclaiming God as the Maker of the entire created universe and depicting that creation as it was then perceived and understood.  We can join in this very same proclamation even though we would depict the creation much more extensively, beyond what appears to an earth-bound observer.

This is true not just of the visible, physical part of creation, but also of the invisible, spiritual part, because the Hebrew biblical writers tended to see the shemayim that God created as the location where God then established His throne.  Psalm 11 says, for example, that “the Lord‘s throne is in heaven” (shemayim).  Psalm 103 says similarly, “The Lord has established his throne in the heavens” (once again shemayim). These are just two of many examples that could be given.

However, this is not to say that the Hebrew word shemayim had two different meanings, “the sky” (in which we would now include “outer space”) and “heaven” (the abode of God and the angels).  Rather, the biblical writers were envisioning one physical place in which both the sun, moon, and stars, and the throne of God, were all located.

While it is true, as you noted, that some Hebrew words can mean more than one thing–ruach, to cite your example, means both Spirit and wind, as well as breath–that is not the case with shemayim.  It does not mean two different things, but one single thing, the physical realm above the earth.

But this is not an insurmountable problem.  I would simply make the same move as in the case of “outer space” and say that we now understand today that what the earth-bound observer who is speaking in the Genesis creation account understood as a single entity is actually a more complex entity.  Shemayim, we now realize, encompasses both sky and space, and since it is the site of God’s throne, it also encompasses “heaven.”  In this way we can see the Genesis creation account proclaiming God as the “maker of heaven and earth and of all things visible and invisible,” as the Nicene Creed puts it, once we translate the ancient understanding of the created universe into our own contemporary understanding.

(And I don’t doubt that centuries from now, our own limited understanding of the universe will have to be updated by later generations of believers!)

This photograph accompanied the text “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” on a recent Christian Post devotional. The photo, in my view, illustrates better what the Genesis author was envisioning than the “outer space” photos that often accompany that text.

Are dinosaurs described in the Bible, in the book of Job?

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Q. I heard that dinosaurs are mentioned in Job. If so, can you explain?

In His second speech to Job at the end of the book of Job, the LORD mentions two powerful and fearsome creatures, behemoth and leviathan.  Some interpreters have taken these to be dinosaurs.  However, here’s what I say about them in my study guide to Job:

The LORD’s first speech from the storm addressed two important concerns arising from Job’s opening speech. The LORD countered what Job said he wanted to do—un-create the day of his birth—by depicting the glories of the creation thriving and pulsating with life. The LORD also spoke to why Job wished he’d never been born. Job felt that his life wasn’t worth living if there was no coherence between his most deeply held beliefs and his actual experiences. The LORD showed him that his experiences were in fact coherent with a more profound and mysterious vision of the world, in which the cause and explanation of events within the human sphere may lie outside that sphere and may never be completely understood. Job responded to this first speech by admitting how limited a grasp he had of the world’s workings.

But there is still one more concern from Job’s opening speech that the LORD must address. There’s a serious problem with how Job wanted to accomplish his purpose. He called on those who could “rouse Leviathan” to unleash this chaos monster against the day of his birth so it would no longer be an ordered, bounded period of time and would dissolve back into nothingness. In response, the LORD describes two fearsome animals, behemoth and leviathan, and uses them to represent the chaos monster. He tells Job that no one should be foolhardy enough to rouse them. He asks, in effect, “Are you sure you want to turn such forces loose against my ordered creation? Once you got them started, how would you ever stop them?”

I explain further in the guide:

The LORD illustrates the limitations of Job’s power by describing two great beasts, which he calls behemoth and leviathan. Many interpreters believe that these descriptions are initially of the hippopotamus and the crocodile, two fearsome river creatures known from the Nile in Egypt. Simply by comparison with these, Job has to admit the limits of his own power. But the LORD then draws an even stronger contrast. Halfway through the long depiction of leviathan, after a significant transition in which the LORD warns against rousing such beasts and mentions Job’s case against him, the portrait moves from realistic to mythological. Leviathan now takes on the characteristics of a fire-breathing dragon and comes to represent the chaos monster. As the speech ends, the LORD describes humans trying every weapon they have against this monster—swords, spears, arrows, stones, clubs, etc.—to no avail. Leviathan swims powerfully off into the deep unvanquished, leaving the seas “churning like a boiling cauldron” in his wake. So how does Job think he can rouse this monster but then get it to stop destroying God’s creation after it has turned only one day of the year into chaos?

But even though Job believes that the chaos monster can be called upon selectively to undo specific aspects of the creation, the LORD explains that even behemoth and leviathan are not his eternal enemies, existing independently of him and forever opposed to his purposes. Rather, they are magnificent creatures of his own design and are under his power. God says that as behemoth’s Maker he can “approach it with his sword,” and he refers to leviathan as a “creature.” “Everything under heaven belongs to me,” he tells Job. The universe is not a battlefield where two opposing forces are locked in perpetual combat. Ultimately God controls everything, even forces of destruction that people are powerless to resist.

In other words, the descriptions of behemoth and leviathan are not of dinosaurs.  They begin as poetic but realistic descriptions of actual animals, probably the hippopotamus and the crocodile, and they then move into mythological symbolism to make points that serve the larger themes of the book of Job.  I hope this explanation is helpful to you.

Gustave Doré, “The Destruction of Leviathan,” 1865

Are there really “prayer bowls” in heaven?

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Q. I have been reading on various websites about prayer bowls in heaven, as described in the book of Revelation, and God’s willingness to send resources/power when the bowls are sufficiently full. I would be interested in your view of these passages.

To try to answer your question, I looked around a bit online myself, and found that this idea of “prayer bowls” seems to come from Jentzen Franklin’s book The Amazing Discernment of Women (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2006).  He writes (on p. 33):

 I believe we do not understand the effect our prayers have in the spirit realm. As I was reading Revelation one day, some verses seemed to leap off the page: “Golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints” (Rev. 5:8). “The smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, ascended before God . . . Then the angel took the censer, filled it with fire from the altar, and threw it to the earth” (Rev. 8:4-5).
     What a marvelous image! When you pray, you are filling the prayer bowls of heaven. In God’s perfect timing, your prayers are mixed with the fire of God (His power) and cast back down to earth to change your situation Your prayers don’t just bounce off the ceiling; they rise like incense before the throne of God.
     Even if you don’t feel like anything is happening in the natural world, when you pray, you are filling the prayer bowls in the spirit realm. When they are full, they will tilt and pour out answers to your prayers!

Now I appreciate Franklin’s emphasis on the effects our prayers have even when we don’t realize it.  Nevertheless, I see nothing in these passages in the book of Revelation to indicate that once “prayer bowls” in heaven are full, God will send blessings.

In fact, there is no reference to bowls at all in the second passage, just to incense.  And in the first passage, while the bowls containing incense are equated with “the prayers of the saints,” nothing is said about the bowls becoming full and God pouring out power and blessing as a result. This is instead a repeated image of prayer being like incense and ascending to God.

More generally, the idea that we need to pray enough to “fill up the bowls” reminds me of the wrong idea about prayer that Jesus corrected in the Sermon on the Mount: “And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”

Still, I think we can take encouragement from the idea that our prayers do ascend as incense before God; they don’t “bounce off the ceiling,” as Franklin notes, so we should persevere in prayer.  Some of the bloggers who have quoted his comments about prayer bowls have emphasized this as their main takeaway.  D. Delay writes on Called to Stand Out, for example, “The truth is, we’re guilty of not lingering in prayer long enough. . . . It’s not about how many words are prayed or the manner in which we pray, as long as our prayers are heartfelt, faith-filled, and authentic.”

So that is the encouragement I would take from these passages in Revelation.  God hears our every prayer, and so we can and should be faithful to commit all aspects of our situation to God in prayer, knowing that He loves us, He listens, and He will respond in His own wisdom and perfect timing.

Does the warning at the end of Revelation signal the closing of the canon?

This question was asked in response to my post, “Can more books be added to the Bible?

Q. Do you read the conclusion to the book of Revelation as an indication that the canon of divine-inspired writings was concluded at that point? I’m specifically referring to the strict commands about not adding anything or taking anything away from what has been written. I understand the historical arguments concerning canonicity of Scripture, but my question is different from that. What I’m specifically asking is whether, in your view, God’s special revelation to John at the end of the book of Revelation was God’s way of saying (in essence) to humanity,  “I will not be inspiring any more writings after this.” I’ve heard this argued before, but I’m undecided on it myself.

That statement in Revelation applies explicitly to “the words of the prophecy of this book,” so the original intention is not to close the canon of Scripture. It’s only when Revelation is placed last in the New Testament–where it does not always appear in the historical tradition–that the statement seems to take on this larger meaning.

I would be hesitant to endorse a position that requires a certain biblical book order, when that order was so fluid for so long, before the advent of printing.  As I explain in my book After Chapters and Verses: “The books of the New Testament also appear historically in a variety of orders. Bruce Metzger observes [in The Canon of the New Testament] that these books are typically gathered into five groups, in this sequence: the gospels; Acts; Paul’s epistles; the general epistles; and Revelation. But Metzger then notes, “Prior to the invention of printing, however, there were many other sequences, not only of the five main groups of books, but also of the several books within each group. . . . A sequence in which the book of Revelation follows the gospels, instead of concluding the entire New Testament, is attested several times.”

Richmond Lattimore actually revived this presentation in our own day in the first volume of his New Testament translation, The Four Gospels and the Revelation (London: Hutchinson, 1980).

So, once again, since the argument that the warning at the end of Revelation closes the canon depends on a certain book order, but NT book order has varied considerably throughout the centuries, I would not accept that argument.

 

Why isn’t the TNIV available on BibleGateway?

Q. Do you know why BibleGateway does not have the TNIV?

The TNIV (Today’s New International Version) was officially “folded into” the updated NIV in 2011. The TNIV, published in 2005 and produced by the same translation committee as the NIV, was essentially the third edition of the NIV, after the 1978 and 1984 editions. Previously Biblica and Zondervan were publishing the TNIV alongside the 1984 NIV, but now only a single edition of the translation, the 2011 update, is being published.

Harper Collins, which owns Zondervan, also owns BibleGateway, and in keeping with this policy it does not make the TNIV available on line. For those who still want to use the TNIV online, however, it can be found at BibleStudyTools.

I have to admit that the translation remains a favorite of mine for its accuracy, readability, and especially its careful work in the area of gender accuracy, and I use it often.  The Books of the Bible made its debut in the TNIV in 2007 before being reissued in the latest update to the NIV.  The TNIV was used for other notable projects such as The Bible Experience, an audio recording of the Scriptures by leading actors. The 2011 update to the NIV incorporates most of the changes the TNIV made to the 1984 edition.

 

 

Can we really pray with the psalmist, “Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord”?

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Q.  I find it very meaningful to “pray the psalms,” that is, to read through them and turn them into my own prayers.  But I always balk when I come to places like the one in Psalm 139 where David says, “Oh that you would slay the wicked, O God! . . . Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord? . . . I hate them with complete hatred.”  Aren’t we supposed to love our enemies?  I find it hard to make this kind of thing my own prayer, and I’m tempted just to skip over parts like this as I pray through the psalms.  Is that all right?

Each of the psalms is a complete composition in a specific genre or literary type, and so I would encourage all of us to read, study, and pray each of the psalms in their entirety, without leaving out or skipping over any parts we find difficult.  In fact, when we approach a psalm like Psalm 139 with an appreciation for the literary pattern it is following, the part you (and many others) find so troubling becomes much more understandable. Then I think we do become able to read it and pray it with integrity.

The psalms are of three main types.  Psalm 139 is a “psalm of supplication,” in which the psalmist asks God for help.  As I explain in this post, psalms of supplication are built out of a series of common elements.  Not every psalm has all the elements, and the ones that are used can be presented in a variety of orders, but a basic pattern can be recognized.

Psalm 139, for its part, contains just two of the typical elements of a psalm of supplication. It consists mainly of an extended “statement of trust.”  But at the end, there is a “petition” or specific request for assistance.  This is the passage in the psalm that you are having difficulty with.

We need to appreciate that such a petition may cite reasons why God should help the psalmist, and that these reasons may include a claim of innocence—that is, an “affidavit” that there’s no reason for God to punish the psalmist by allowing troubles to continue or adversaries to prevail, because the psalmist has not been pursuing an evil course.

One variety of this claim of innocence is an imprecation, an expressed wish that God would slay the wicked.  It needs to be understood that in the context of a claim of innocence, within a petition, within a psalm of supplication, the psalmist is actually saying, “God, if I’m really among the wicked myself, then slay me!”

This is what is going on in Psalm 139: “If only you would slay the wicked” is a petition equivalent to, “See if there is any offensive way in me.”  In essence, the psalmist is saying, “So far as I know, I haven’t been choosing any evil path; I’m so sure of this that if I have been, I’m asking you to slay me along with all of the other wicked.  But if there’s anything I’m not recognizing, please reveal it to me.”  I think all of us today could pray a prayer like this with integrity—but with great caution and humility, after serious self-reflection, because it is a very solemn thing to call down the wrath of God upon ourselves if we are being deliberately evil!

One other thing that should help is to recognize what is meant by “hatred” in this context.  It has been aptly said that love is properly not a feeling, but a commitment:  the commitment to act consistently in the best interests of another person.  Conversely, hatred is properly not a commitment, but a feeling.  It is that feeling of strong antipathy towards anything dishonoring to God that makes us want to have nothing to do with wrongdoing and not join in with wrongdoers.  Such a feeling is a valuable protection against temptation.  But if instead we are “out to get” somebody, that is, if we are committed to acting consistently contrary to their best interests, then this is not really “hatred” in the sense that the godly psalmists use the term.  It is instead bitterness or vengefulness—something we cannot in good conscience indulge.

I hope these reflections will help you pray through all the psalms, and Psalm 139 in particular, more meaningfully and wholeheartedly.

This post draws on the discussion of psalms of supplication in Session 2 of my Psalms study guide and the discussion of Psalm 139 in Session 7.

“Praying the psalms” is a time-honored spiritual discipline. In the Middle Ages, beautiful illuminated psalters such as the one shown here (the St. Albans Psalter) were created to facilitate and encourage this discipline.

Does the Bible promise that a couple who “belong to the Lord” will have godly offspring?

Q. In the Bible, the prophet Malachi says about marriage, “Has not the Lord made the two of you one? You belong to him in body and spirit. And why has he made you one? Because he was seeking godly offspring.”  Does this mean that we should expect the offspring of couples who “belong to the LORD in body and spirit” will naturally be “godly”? Or, since the translation note says, “The meaning of the Hebrew for this section is uncertain,” is the English translation still debatable?

It would certainly be wonderful if there were a promise in Scripture that a husband and wife who both belong wholly to the Lord will have children who grow up to be godly.  Unfortunately, as you note, there is some uncertainty about what the text actually says here.

In fact, it’s quite amazing how widely English translations of this statement by Malachi vary.  You quoted it from the TNIV (2005); in the latest update to the NIV (2011) it reads, “Has not the one God made you? You belong to him in body and spirit. And what does the one God seek? Godly offspring.”  So the translators who are responsible for both these editions have rethought things a bit:  no longer “God made you one,” but now “the one God made you.”  And look at how some other translations of this first part of the statement are even more different:

“Did not one God make her? Both flesh and spirit are his.” (NRSV)

“No one who has even a small portion of the Spirit in him does this.” (NET)

“And did not he make one? Yet had he the residue of the spirit.” (KJV)

“God wants husbands and wives to become one body and one spirit.” (ERV)

“Has not the one God made and sustained for us the spirit of life?” (RSV)

(These examples are all taken from the comparison feature on Bible Gateway; you will see even more variety if you visit the site.)

English translations differ so much because of a couple of ambiguities in the Hebrew original.  Its wording is quite sparse, so translators need to supply much of what they believe to be the meaning.  Its first phase reads either “Did not one make?” or “Did he not make one?”  The second part reads either “flesh spirit to him” or “remnant spirit to him” (the same Hebrew consonants provide the root both for the word “flesh” and for the word “remnant”).

So translators need to decide whether Malachi is saying that “the One” (God) made something (and if so, what?), or whether someone (who?) made someone or something to be “one.”  They also have to decide whether Malachi is talking about flesh and spirit (meaning the whole person?) or a remnant or residue of the spirit.

These ambiguities are inherent in the original Hebrew and I honestly don’t believe they can be definitively resolved.  English translations will continue to differ.  However, I think your question can still be answered in light of the context of this statement within the book of Malachi.

In this section of the book, the prophet is warning the people against divorce.  (That is why some translations say that what “the One” made was marriage.)  Whatever the first part of this statement means, the second part is clear:  God is seeking godly offspring—children who will grow up to know Him—and so “do not be unfaithful to the wife of your youth.”  (Translators are widely agreed that this is the meaning of the second part of the statement.)

In other words, even if we don’t have a promise here that godly couples will naturally have godly children, there is an encouraging explanation that God’s design is for faithfulness in marriage to promote faith in children.  Indeed, studies have shown that the single most important factor in determining whether the children of Christian parents will grow up to be Christians themselves is whether they perceive that their parents love one another and are committed to each other.  This is far more important than whether the children are homeschooled or go to public school, whether the church they attend has a youth pastor, what translation of the Bible the family reads, etc.

So even if there isn’t a promise or a guarantee here, there is certainly hope and encouragement, and a challenge for couples who do “belong to the LORD in body and spirit” to make sure that their marriage is strong and lasting, for the sake of the “godly offspring” they trust God will help them raise.

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