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In Greek, Ephesians 1:3–14 is one long sentence. Perhaps that is one of the reasons why even the best English translations are a little condensed and not simple to unpack. Here I shall focus on the first part, Ephesians 1:3–10, and reflect on how three themes come together: God’s predestining sovereignty, God’s unqualified grace, and God’s glorious purposes.
The passage is a doxology, a word of praise, “to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ”—and the following verses provide the reasons why we should praise this God and why his Son Jesus Christ is integral to his praiseworthy deeds. This God, Paul immediately says, is the One “who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ” (Eph. 1:3). The “us” refers to Christians; the blessings we have received are “in Christ”; and the sphere of these spiritual blessings is “the heavenly realms.” In Ephesians, “the heavenly realms” or “the heavenlies” refers to the heavenly dimension of our ultimate existence, experienced in some measure right now. So already we are being introduced to the third theme, God’s glorious purpose.
If the description of God in Ephesians 1:3 already exposes the reader to at least some of the reason why God is to be praised, the “for” at the beginning of verse 4 introduces the formal reason: even before the world was created, God chose us in Christ (God’s predestining sovereignty) “to be holy and blameless in his sight” (God’s glorious purpose). Indeed, “In love he predestined us” (God’s unqualified grace and his predestining sovereignty) “to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ” (God’s glorious purpose), “in accordance with his pleasure and will” (God’s predestining sovereignty)—all of this “to the praise of his glorious grace” (both God’s glorious purpose and his unqualified grace), “which he has freely given us in the One he loves” (God’s unqualified grace). “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins” (God’s glorious purpose), “in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding” (God’s unqualified grace) (Eph. 1:4–8).
Read through the rest of this passage and work out these themes (and there are others) for yourself.
The themes hang together in important ways. The more clearly one sees how sovereign is God’s choice, the more clearly does his unmerited grace stand out. But sovereign “predestination” is irrational without a “destination”: God’s purposes in his sovereign sway are thus inescapably tied to his sovereignty and his grace. The more we glimpse God’s wonderfully good purposes, the more we shall be grateful for his sovereign sway in bringing them to pass.
Exodus 32 is simultaneously one of the low points and one of the high points in Israel’s history.
Only months out of slavery in Egypt, the Israelites prove so fickle that the delay of Moses on the mountain (a mere forty days) provides them with all the excuse they need for a new round of complaining. Moses’s delay does not prompt them to pray, but elicits callous ingratitude and disoriented syncretism. Even their tone is sneering: “As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him” (32:1).
Aaron is revealed as a spineless wimp, unable or unwilling to impose any discipline. He is utterly without theological backbone — not even enough to be a thoroughgoing pagan, as he continues to invoke the name of the Lord even while he himself manufactures a golden calf (32:4–5). He is still a wimp when, challenged by his brother, he insists, rather ridiculously, “Then they gave me the gold, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf!” (32:24). Despite the covenantal vows they had made (24:7), many in the nation wanted all the blessings they could get from Yahweh, but gave little thought to the nature of their own sworn obligations to their Maker and Redeemer. It was a low moment of national shame — not the last in their experience, not the last in the confessing church.
The high point? When God threatens to wipe out the nation, Moses intercedes. Not once does he suggest that the people do not deserve to be wiped out, or that they are not as bad as some might think. Rather, he appeals to the glory of God. Why should God act in such a way that the Egyptians might scoff and say that the Lord isn’t strong enough to pull off this rescue (32:12)? Besides, isn’t God obligated to keep his vows to the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Israel (32:13)? How could God go back on his solemn promises? His final appeal is simply for forgiveness (32:30–32), and if God cannot extend such mercy, then Moses does not want to begin a new race (as angry as he himself is, 32:19). He prefers to be blotted out with the rest of the people.
Here is an extraordinary mediator, a man whose entire sympathies are with God and his gracious salvation and revelation, a man who makes no excuses for the people he is called to lead, but who nevertheless so identifies with them that if judgment is to fall on them he begs to suffer with them. Here is a man who “stands in the gap” (cf. Ezek. 13:3–5; 22:29–30).
Idolatry isn’t just worshiping a false God. It’s also worshiping the true God falsely.
While Proverbs certainly offers wisdom for daily life, the early church read it primarily as a book about Wisdom himself—the Lord Jesus.
32:1 When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered themselves together to Aaron and said to him, “Up, make us gods who shall go before us. As for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” 2 So Aaron said to them, “Take off the rings of gold that are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” 3 So all the people took off the rings of gold that were in their ears and brought them to Aaron. 4 And he received the gold from their hand and fashioned it with a graving tool and made a golden1 calf. And they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” 5 When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it. And Aaron made a proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a feast to the LORD.” 6 And they rose up early the next day and offered burnt offerings and brought peace offerings. And the people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.
7 And the LORD said to Moses, “Go down, for your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves. 8 They have turned aside quickly out of the way that I commanded them. They have made for themselves a golden calf and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it and said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!’” 9 And the LORD said to Moses, “I have seen this people, and behold, it is a stiff-necked people. 10 Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them, in order that I may make a great nation of you.”
11 But Moses implored the LORD his God and said, “O LORD, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you have brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? 12 Why should the Egyptians say, ‘With evil intent did he bring them out, to kill them in the mountains and to consume them from the face of the earth’? Turn from your burning anger and relent from this disaster against your people. 13 Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, to whom you swore by your own self, and said to them, ‘I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your offspring, and they shall inherit it forever.’” 14 And the LORD relented from the disaster that he had spoken of bringing on his people.
15 Then Moses turned and went down from the mountain with the two tablets of the testimony in his hand, tablets that were written on both sides; on the front and on the back they were written. 16 The tablets were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God, engraved on the tablets. 17 When Joshua heard the noise of the people as they shouted, he said to Moses, “There is a noise of war in the camp.” 18 But he said, “It is not the sound of shouting for victory, or the sound of the cry of defeat, but the sound of singing that I hear.” 19 And as soon as he came near the camp and saw the calf and the dancing, Moses' anger burned hot, and he threw the tablets out of his hands and broke them at the foot of the mountain. 20 He took the calf that they had made and burned it with fire and ground it to powder and scattered it on the water and made the people of Israel drink it.
21 And Moses said to Aaron, “What did this people do to you that you have brought such a great sin upon them?” 22 And Aaron said, “Let not the anger of my lord burn hot. You know the people, that they are set on evil. 23 For they said to me, ‘Make us gods who shall go before us. As for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.’ 24 So I said to them, ‘Let any who have gold take it off.’ So they gave it to me, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf.”
25 And when Moses saw that the people had broken loose (for Aaron had let them break loose, to the derision of their enemies), 26 then Moses stood in the gate of the camp and said, “Who is on the LORD's side? Come to me.” And all the sons of Levi gathered around him. 27 And he said to them, “Thus says the LORD God of Israel, ‘Put your sword on your side each of you, and go to and fro from gate to gate throughout the camp, and each of you kill his brother and his companion and his neighbor.’” 28 And the sons of Levi did according to the word of Moses. And that day about three thousand men of the people fell. 29 And Moses said, “Today you have been ordained for the service of the LORD, each one at the cost of his son and of his brother, so that he might bestow a blessing upon you this day.”
30 The next day Moses said to the people, “You have sinned a great sin. And now I will go up to the LORD; perhaps I can make atonement for your sin.” 31 So Moses returned to the LORD and said, “Alas, this people has sinned a great sin. They have made for themselves gods of gold. 32 But now, if you will forgive their sin—but if not, please blot me out of your book that you have written.” 33 But the LORD said to Moses, “Whoever has sinned against me, I will blot out of my book. 34 But now go, lead the people to the place about which I have spoken to you; behold, my angel shall go before you. Nevertheless, in the day when I visit, I will visit their sin upon them.”
35 Then the LORD sent a plague on the people, because they made the calf, the one that Aaron made.
Idolatry isn’t just worshiping a false God. It’s also worshiping the true God falsely.
While Proverbs certainly offers wisdom for daily life, the early church read it primarily as a book about Wisdom himself—the Lord Jesus.
11:1 Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill. 3 So the sisters sent to him, saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” 4 But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”
5 Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. 6 So, when he heard that Lazarus1 was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. 7 Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” 8 The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone you, and are you going there again?” 9 Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. 10 But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.” 11 After saying these things, he said to them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him.” 12 The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” 13 Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that he meant taking rest in sleep. 14 Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus has died, 15 and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” 16 So Thomas, called the Twin,2 said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”
17 Now when Jesus came, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. 18 Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles3 off, 19 and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them concerning their brother. 20 So when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, but Mary remained seated in the house. 21 Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” 23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life.4 Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” 27 She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”
28 When she had said this, she went and called her sister Mary, saying in private, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” 29 And when she heard it, she rose quickly and went to him. 30 Now Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was still in the place where Martha had met him. 31 When the Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary rise quickly and go out, they followed her, supposing that she was going to the tomb to weep there. 32 Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” 33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved5 in his spirit and greatly troubled. 34 And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Jesus wept. 36 So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” 37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?”
38 Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. 39 Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.” 40 Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” 41 So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.” 43 When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” 44 The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”
45 Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him, 46 but some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. 47 So the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the council and said, “What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. 48 If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.” 49 But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all. 50 Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.” 51 He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, 52 and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad. 53 So from that day on they made plans to put him to death.
54 Jesus therefore no longer walked openly among the Jews, but went from there to the region near the wilderness, to a town called Ephraim, and there he stayed with the disciples.
55 Now the Passover of the Jews was at hand, and many went up from the country to Jerusalem before the Passover to purify themselves. 56 They were looking for6 Jesus and saying to one another as they stood in the temple, “What do you think? That he will not come to the feast at all?” 57 Now the chief priests and the Pharisees had given orders that if anyone knew where he was, he should let them know, so that they might arrest him.
8:1 Does not wisdom call?
Does not understanding raise her voice?
2 On the heights beside the way,
at the crossroads she takes her stand;
3 beside the gates in front of the town,
at the entrance of the portals she cries aloud:
4 “To you, O men, I call,
and my cry is to the children of man.
5 O simple ones, learn prudence;
O fools, learn sense.
6 Hear, for I will speak noble things,
and from my lips will come what is right,
7 for my mouth will utter truth;
wickedness is an abomination to my lips.
8 All the words of my mouth are righteous;
there is nothing twisted or crooked in them.
9 They are all straight to him who understands,
and right to those who find knowledge.
10 Take my instruction instead of silver,
and knowledge rather than choice gold,
11 for wisdom is better than jewels,
and all that you may desire cannot compare with her.
12 “I, wisdom, dwell with prudence,
and I find knowledge and discretion.
13 The fear of the LORD is hatred of evil.
Pride and arrogance and the way of evil
and perverted speech I hate.
14 I have counsel and sound wisdom;
I have insight; I have strength.
15 By me kings reign,
and rulers decree what is just;
16 by me princes rule,
and nobles, all who govern justly.1
17 I love those who love me,
and those who seek me diligently find me.
18 Riches and honor are with me,
enduring wealth and righteousness.
19 My fruit is better than gold, even fine gold,
and my yield than choice silver.
20 I walk in the way of righteousness,
in the paths of justice,
21 granting an inheritance to those who love me,
and filling their treasuries.
22 “The LORD possessed2 me at the beginning of his work,3
the first of his acts of old.
23 Ages ago I was set up,
at the first, before the beginning of the earth.
24 When there were no depths I was brought forth,
when there were no springs abounding with water.
25 Before the mountains had been shaped,
before the hills, I was brought forth,
26 before he had made the earth with its fields,
or the first of the dust of the world.
27 When he established the heavens, I was there;
when he drew a circle on the face of the deep,
28 when he made firm the skies above,
when he established4 the fountains of the deep,
29 when he assigned to the sea its limit,
so that the waters might not transgress his command,
when he marked out the foundations of the earth,
30 then I was beside him, like a master workman,
and I was daily his5 delight,
rejoicing before him always,
31 rejoicing in his inhabited world
and delighting in the children of man.
32 “And now, O sons, listen to me:
blessed are those who keep my ways.
33 Hear instruction and be wise,
and do not neglect it.
34 Blessed is the one who listens to me,
watching daily at my gates,
waiting beside my doors.
35 For whoever finds me finds life
and obtains favor from the LORD,
36 but he who fails to find me injures himself;
all who hate me love death.”
1:1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God,
To the saints who are in Ephesus, and are faithful1 in Christ Jesus:
2 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5 he predestined us2 for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, 8 which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight 9 making known3 to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
11 In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, 12 so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. 13 In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the guarantee4 of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it,5 to the praise of his glory.
15 For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love6 toward all the saints, 16 I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, 17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, 18 having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might 20 that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. 22 And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.