When the Trees in the Fields Clap Their Hands

We tend to see the world through modern eyes colored by the Enlightenment, rationalism and reductionism


“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it. ‘For you shall go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall break forth into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress; instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle; and it shall make a name for the Lord, an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.’”
Isaiah 55:10-13 ESV

The language in these verses from Isaiah 55 are figurative. Will the mountains and hills really break forth into singing? Will the trees of the field clap their hands? (What hands do trees have?)

The language isn’t meant to be taken literally, but the language still conveys a truth: the world was created in response to God and awaits the fulfillment of God’s purposes for which He created it.

Just as the rain and snow produce the intended results of watering the earth, sprouting the seeds that grow up and produce grain, allowing the sower of the seed to produce bread, God’s word goes out and accomplishes the purposes for which it was intended. This is true from the beginning to the end.

God spoke the world into being. He set the heavens and the earth (the universe) into motion by His word. (2 Peter 3:5) The world came into being in response to God speaking. And the ultimate ends God has purposed will sprout (and have sprouted) into the seed that produces the material from which the sower ultimately accomplishes His end purpose.

Continue reading “When the Trees in the Fields Clap Their Hands”

Inerrancy and the Spirit of the Age

Paul encountered the risen Lord Jesus in person, and that personal experience eclipsed “doctrine” and forever infused all that he knew into a living faith.


When I was in college, I was one thesis away from being a religion major. I took the thesis class, did the research and even wrote the paper. I just didn’t turn it in.

I graduated with an English Literature major. I didn’t need Religion for the double major. I wasn’t satisfied with the product, so I didn’t turn the paper in.

I’ve recalled these things before, but I haven’t really addressed the subject of that thesis paper. It was biblical inerrancy.

I recall the religion major that fell short now, and the topic that derailed it, following some comments that NT (Tom) Wright made to Justin Brierley on the podcast, Ask NT Wright Anything (episode #8, I believe).

I chose the topic, of course, but I felt I bit off more than I could chew. It turns out there may be good reason the topic was so difficult for me, a new believer at the time. NT Wright sheds some light on the subject.

Continue reading “Inerrancy and the Spirit of the Age”

Interplay of the Word and the Spirit

God works through “the word” He gave us through the writers of the New Testament, along with His Spirit working in us to guide into truth.

Depositphotos Image ID: 36662225 Copyright: alexraths

I recently heard a Sermon on Matthew 3:15. The verse was posited for the proposition that believers in Christ should be baptized as a public expression of faith in obedience to God. This is a pretty fundamental proposition that most Christian denominations would advocate in some form or another.

In Matthew 3, John the Baptist has been preaching repentance, turning to God and baptism to make the way for one who “is coming soon who is greater than I am – so much greater that I’m not worthy even to be his slave and carry his sandals”.[1] This was Jesus, of course. Then we are told that Jesus went to Galilee to the Jordan River to be baptized by John, and John tried to talk him out of it, saying, “I am the one who needs to be baptized by you….”[2] This is the context in which Jesus makes the statement that was the focus of the sermon.

The New Living Translation of the Bible was used for the textual reference. I tend to use the ESV and NASB translations because they are more literal. They are word for word translations, rather than phrase for phrase (or idea for idea) translations, like the NLT. The word for word translations tend to be considered more accurate and more authentic to the original text. These are things I was thinking as I listened to the message, and I wondered what difference a more literal translation would make.

Continue reading “Interplay of the Word and the Spirit”

When the Bible Comes Alive – What is Your Story?

If God made us, He would know how to communicate Himself to us in a way that we could understand.

depositphotos Image ID: 61118525 Copyright: 4masik

How many people have experienced reading the Bible, or trying to read the Bible, before “becoming a Christian”? I did.

I took a World Religion class as a freshman in college. In that class I read the Bible for the first time, and I have distinct memories of of some of my initial impressions.

I am not unintelligent. I was second in my law school class. I say that not to boast, but to make a point. Human intelligence is limited, and in particular, it is limited by our perspective. What I mean by that is that the human perspective is that of a finite being who lives a very, very short amount of time and, then, dies.

What can we really know of an infinite God?

On our own, given our limited perspective, on a very small planet, in a small solar system, in a vast universe, what can we understand of the Maker of it all?

In our 80 some years of life, if we are fortunate to live that long, what we can we really know and understand of the 13.7 billion years of the existence of the universe? Over the combined lifetimes of all the human beings that have lived on this planet, we have learned a great deal, but compared to what?

We have only to compare to ourselves – other people with limited perspectives in common!

If there be a God of this incredibly vast universe, this God would have to be greater still. He would have to be “other” than the universe to have created it. Things don’t create themselves. This material universe filled with matter and space and existing in time would have to have been created by a timeless, space-less, matter-less (immaterial) God who exists on a “plane” or realm or dimension other, outside of, and beyond the material world we live in.

The words and thoughts we have to define what that other existence might be like are wholly inadequate to describe it because it is completely unfamiliar to us. We can only describe it in terms of our experience that is bounded by time, space and matter.

Still, we have some sense of transcendent reality, something beyond us. Like prisoner who spent his whole life in a small cell, who sees the sunlight streaming in through the bars of the window above him, but has never seen the sun, we “know” that something lies “out there” beyond us.

So what does this have to do with reading the Bible?

I realized as I read the Bible for the first time in that World Religion class in college that, if God did exist, He would have to reveal Himself to us. We could not reason or research or experiment our way to knowledge of God. That would be like trying to find a painter in the canvass of a painting.

God would have to reveal Himself to us.

And, if God made us, He would know how to communicate Himself to us in a way that we could understand. I sensed this “possibility” as I read the Bible for the first time.

My backstory is that I tried to find the truth in everything I read. I tried to find God or what reality there might be in everything. From the Bhagavad-Gita to the Bible, I looked for evidence of truth and evidence for God – whatever “God” or truth might look like.

I am not going to recount my impressions of the various holy books of the major world religions that we studied in that class in this article. That isn’t the point of it. I have done a little bit of that elsewhere. Really the point of this article is my before and after experience with the Bible.

Continue reading “When the Bible Comes Alive – What is Your Story?”

Love of God and Wrath of God though the Filter of Human Experience

If we draw near to God, we experience His love and His grace. When we move away from God, we do not feel His love or grace, because there is no love apart from God.

by Treasure Noel Tatum
photo by Treasure Noel Tatum


This is the fourth segment in the series, Putting the Wrath of God in Perspective, beginning with Warming Up to the Wrath of God, then moving to The Wrath of God in History, and then to The Wrath of God and Eternity.

The idea of the “wrath of God” comes with a certain amount of discomfort, but we should never be afraid to confront the most difficult questions or statements. Truth is truth, and God and truth must necessarily be harmonious. Richard Dawkins says,

“The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”
― Richard DawkinsThe God Delusion

The angry God of the Old Testament problem is often a line of first defense (or is it offense?) for those who do not believe in God, or at least do not believe in “the God of the bible”. It is a problem that believers wrestle with too.

The sermon in church today was on the book of Ezra. Ezra 8:22 reads,

“The gracious hand of our God is on everyone who looks to him, but his great anger is against all who forsake him.”

This is the kind of thing that people like Richard Dawkins criticize, but they do so without any understanding (and likely with no desire to understand) what they are criticizing. Continue reading “Love of God and Wrath of God though the Filter of Human Experience”