Concessions to Human Weakness 

 

Someone analyzing our community from outside would see a great variety of attitudes to the same Gospel. Some of us would seem to be more committed than others to the principles which we all believe. Those who feel that they are highly committed to the Truth often find it hard to live with and respect other believers who apparently are not so serious. For example, a sister may make great efforts to attend a Bible study: arrange a baby sitter, change her shift at work...only to find that another two brothers have decided to skip Bible study and go to a football match. It isn't difficult to imagine her frustration with them and her possible anger. It will be very difficult for her to get along with them in future. Or, more realistically, consider the divorced brother who feels that his first marriage (before baptism) was the only one valid in God's eyes. He may personally believe that if he has another relationship after his divorce, he will be committing adultery and will be excluded from the Kingdom. But then he is invited to the wedding of a brother divorced three times before baptism, who is now marrying a sister. It will be hard, very hard, for the first brother to see this brother get married, doing the very thing which he has bruised his very soul not to do. And then he hears brethren and sisters talking about " how sweet" the new couple are. It's very, very hard for him to live in such a situation. The usual Christian response to these dilemmas is for the hurt brother to get up and go, muttering things about apostasy and guilt by association as he does so. The two examples given may seem extreme; but there are many many such things going on all the time. A  brother may have given up smoking because of his conscience towards God; it must be very hard for him to see another brother smoking, with an apparently clear conscience. What we need is a way of understanding each other which enables us to cope with this kind of thing. I fain would wish whatever words now follow could provide this; but perhaps they will contribute something.

Concessions To Human Weakness

God makes concessions to human weakness; He sets an ideal standard, but will accept us achieving a lower level. " Be ye therefore perfect, as your Father in heaven is perfect" (Mt. 5:48) is proof enough of this. The standard is clear: absolute perfection. But our lower attainment is accepted, by grace. If God accepts our obvious failure to attain an ideal standard, we should be inspired to accept this in others. Daily Israel were taught this; for they were to offer totally unblemished animals. And yet there was no totally unblemished animal. There are many other examples of how God concedes to human weakness:

- Lot’s desire to flee to Zoar, albeit on irrelevant excuses (“is it not a little one?”), was accepted by the Angel. The original plan for Lot was amended in accordance with his appeal for a Divine concession. But later he realized his error and fled right away from any contact with the plain dwellers.

- God told Israel to totally destroy the spoil from the cities they attacked. But when they failed to do this with Jericho, God told them that with Ai, the next city on the agenda, they were allowed to keep the spoil (Josh. 8:2); even though Dt. 20:14-16 said that this was how they should treat their distant enemies, but not cities like Ai which were part of their inheritance. This was an undoubted concession to human  weakness. The same concession to human weakness applied to other cities apart from Ai; it became a general policy that " all the spoil of these cities...the children of Israel took for a prey unto themselves" ; and yet following straight on from this we are told that Joshua " left nothing undone of all that the Lord commanded Moses" (Josh. 11:14,15). God accepted those concessions to human weakness, this living on a lower level, as total obedience. The grace of all this is marvellous.

- It was evidently God's plan that Moses should be His spokesman to Egypt. But when Moses refused, God didn't just give up; He worked with what He had available, He didn't totally reject Moses, but instead put a 'plan B' into operation by conceding to Moses' stubbornness and making Aaron the spokesman (Ex. 4:10-17). The Exodus record is full of this kind of contingency planning by God. Pharaoh had real possibility to let the people go, and therefore Ex. 4:23 NRSV implies that God only therefore went ahead with the plan to kill Pharaoh's firstborn. If the people don't believe the first sign, they may believe the second; if they don't believe either of them then there will be a third sign (Ex. 4:8,9). Yet God states in Ex. 3:18 that the people will listen; and yet Ex. 4:8,9 accepts the possibility that they may not. In this we see not only the essential hopefulness of God for human response to Him, but His willingness to go along with our continued weakness and blindness in an open-ended manner. There is, therefore, the possibility of living before God on different levels. This connects with the whole concept of conditional prophecy of which we have written at length elsewhere.

- Rather similar language is used about the Passover: “Ye shall let nothing of it remain until the morning; but that which remaineth of it until the morning…” (Ex. 12:10 RV). This was a concession to human weakness.

- The Lord Jesus didn't come to destroy the Law of Moses. It still stood when He gave His teaching (Mt. 5:38). Yet He said that instead of insisting upon an eye for an eye in situations like a pregnant woman having a deformed child because of the violence of a man, she should instead try to forgive him (Ex. 22:22-24). He was not changing the Law, as some have wrongly thought. He was saying that the Law was capable of being lived on different levels, and that some aspects of it were a concession to human weakness. Thus the woman with a deformed child could legitimately express her anger by insisting on the physical deformation of the man who had attacked her during pregnancy; but this, the Lord was saying, can give way to a higher level: simply forgive the man.

- Lev.25:20 promised that if Israel had doubts about how they would survive in the seventh year when the land rested, God would provide them with bumper harvests in the sixth year. But when the Lord bids us take no anxious thought what we shall eat on the morrow, He is surely directing us to the higher level, despite His willingness to make concession to human weakness.

- Zech. 2:5 had prophesied that Yahweh would be a wall of fire around Jerusalem at the time of the restoration. But He allowed and even enabled the fearful Jews to build a human wall for defence in the time of Nehemiah. The higher level would have been for them to have set their trust in these words of prophecy.

- It was God's wish that Israel would not have a human king; hence His sorrow when they did (1 Sam. 10:19-21). Yet in the Law, God foresaw that they would want a human king, and so He gave commandments concerning how he should behave (Dt. 17:14,15). These passages speak of how Israel would choose to set a King over themselves, and would do so. Yet God worked through this system of human kings; hence the Queen of Sheba speaks of how God had set Solomon over Israel as King, and how he was king on God's behalf (2 Chron. 9:8). Israel set a king over themselves; but God worked with this, so that in a sense He  set the King over them. God's ideal was that the Levites would live from the tithes given by Israel (Dt. 14:27); but He foresaw that this ideal level wouldn't be reached by them, therefore the Levites were given land on which to grow their own crops for survival. However, it must be noted that by opting to make use of God's concessions to human weakness, real spirituality became harder to achieve. Thus it was harder to accept Yahweh as King if they had a human king demanding their allegiance. Josh. 23:7 made a similar concession regarding the nations left in the land. The ideal standard was to destroy them. But the concession was made that they should not socialize with them or worship their gods. But inevitably they did mix with those nations and learned their religions. Likewise the early Jewish Christians were allowed to keep the Mosaic law (in concessions to human weakness like that of Acts 15), but this really implied a lack of faith in Christ's sacrifice, with the result that many of them seem to have drifted back to Judaism.

- It seems that it is God's especial wish that a man conquer some specific human weakness in his life. If he succeeds in this, God may make concessions to his other areas of human weakness. It seems that the Thyatiran believers had none other burden put upon them than to resist the teaching and practice of the " woman Jezebel" amongst them (Rev. 2:24)- although it would seem there were other 'burdens' which the Lord could have put on them.

- And likewise with the idea of a physical temple. It was God's clearly expressed wish that He should not live in a physical house (2 Sam. 7:12-16; Acts 7:48; 17:24). Yet He accommodated Himself to human weakness in wanting a physical house in which to worship Him; He came and lived (in a sense) in just such a house.

- Jeremiah was commanded not to make lamentation for the punishment of his people (Jer. 16:5). But he did, and God inspired the record of them in Lamentations, and because they are inspired words, He spoke through those words to all subsequent generations.

- Ezra had the faith to make the long journey back to the land from Babylon with no armed escort, despite the fact he was carrying so much valuable material for the temple (Ezra 8:22). Yet Nehemiah seems to have taken a lower level- for Neh. 2:7,9 could imply he asked for an escort and was granted it. Yet it doesn’t mean he had no faith.

- The boundaries of the promised land and indeed the individual possessions of the tribes were changed by God in accordance with the weakness of Israel to actually drive out the tribes and take the inheritance (consider how the inheritance of Simeon and Judah was merged because of this inability to expel the Canaanites, Josh. 19:1). He “changed the portion of my people” (Mic. 2:4). Yet God worked with them in this progressive lowering of levels. When faced with the prospect of driving out the tribes, they procrastinated by asking " Who shall go up for us against the Canaanites first?" (Jud. 1:1). God could have responded: 'I have already gone before you, all of you have a duty to go up and possess the land, and to help your brethren. The question of who goes first is totally faithless and irrelevant!'. But He didn't say this. He told Judah to go up first (1:3). By contrast, if Israel had been obedient, then “the Lord thy God shall enlarge thy border” (Dt. 12:2). This “blessed be he that enlargeth Gad” (Dt. 33:20). Who knows the height and depth, length and breadth of what could have been for God’s people? And the same is true for us today. According to Israel’s perception of the land, so it was defined for them. It seems they perceived the land to the East of Jordan as “unclean”- even though right up to the Euphrates had been promised to them. They were told that if they considered it unclean, then they could inherit on the West of Jordan (Josh. 22:19). And so with us- as we define God’s working, so, in some ways, will it be unto us. Dt. 11:23,24 seem to imply that after God had driven out the seven nations which lived in Canaan, He planned- given Israel's obedience- to drive out yet greater nations from before them. I can only take that as meaning that His intention was to drive out the nations who possessed the rest of the land promised to Abraham, right over to the Euphrates. I see here a promise of ultimate victory against Babylon and Assyria, who controlled the Euphrates area. But the very opposite happened- even though potentially, those nations need never have developed and their empires were intended to be Israel's. These potential victories were to be because all the land Israel trod upon [Heb. 'to bend the bow against'], they would receive (Dt. 11:25). But they weren't ambitious enough to go much beyond their farmsteads. We too will be given all we tread upon, all we desire to inherit of God's Kingdom, if we go forward in faith. It's all potentially possible, if we bend our bow with ambition, we will receive are furthermost dreams and beyond. This line of thought inevitably connects with the incident where Elisha sees the shooting of arrows as a symbol of how far God would give Israel deliverance from Syria (2 Kings 13:17).

- The disciples literally did give up most of what they had and follow the Lord. And yet there were evidently others who responded to His teaching without doing this- Peter’s family (Mk. 1:29); Mary and Martha (Lk. 10:38); Simon the leper Mk. 14:3). They made use of the Lord's concessions to human weakness.

- Ex. 22:2,3 teach that if a man kills a thief while he is in the act of breaking in to a home, this is not to be counted as murder. But if some time passes and then the owner as an act of revenge murders the thief, this is seen by God differently. Surely this reflects the fact that God is more lenient to sins committed in hot blood than those more premeditated. Yet on the other hand, sin is sin. His law, as law, can appear to make no distinction between sins of passion and premeditated sins, if the same act is committed in the end. However, this and other examples indicate God’s willingness to concede to human weakness, and recognize sins of passion more leniently than others. And our judgment in ecclesial life should reflect this too.

- Some of the reasoning used to inspire us is (sometimes admittedly) human. Paul urges brethren to love their wives because the wife so belongs to the husband that he is loving himself by loving her (Eph. 5:29). This is a lower level of reasoning to a direct call for selfless love. It is a concession to human weakness. But it is nonetheless made by the Spirit. Likewise the appeal for obedience because the day of judgment will be so awesome and terrible (2 Cor. 5:5).

- Naaman was allowed to bow himself before Rimmon (2 Kings 5:18) for the sake of losing his position. Yet the higher level would surely have been, as Daniel’s friends, not to bow down to an idol. And when we ask what the rest of the Jews in Babylon did on that occasion, it seems hard to avoid the conclusion that they took the lower level which Naaman did- and bowed down.

- We all offend others (James 3:2), and he who offends his brother will be condemned. Those who are sleeping at the Lord’s coming will be found unworthy, so says the spirit in Thessalonians. But in the Lord’s parable, all the virgins are sleeping at His coming, wise and foolish alike. They were all living on far too low a level, and yet the Lord will save them [us] by grace alone. God accepts we aren’t going to make it as we should. There ought to be no schism in the body (1 Cor. 12:25), but He realizes that inevitably there will be (1 Cor. 11:19).

- There are concessions to our human weakness throughout Scripture, once we look for them. Ezekiel was told to bake his food with human dung in order to show the extent of uncleanness Israel would suffer. But his Levitical background made him ask for a concession here. And the Lord gave it, in telling him to use cow's dung (Ez. 4:15). The ideal is for a sister to have long hair; but Paul admits, " we have no such custom, neither the churches of God" (1 Cor. 11:16), as if to say: 'This is the ideal, but as you know, there is sadly no tradition of this among the ecclesias'.

- The Lord said that He didn’t receive witness from men; but, because He so wanted men to be saved, He directed them to the witness of John the Baptist (Jn. 5:33,34). This in essence is the same as the way in which some people believed the testimony of the Samaritan woman, but others said they only believed once they heard Jesus Himself, as they discounted the testimony of men / women (Jn. 4:42). And so in our day, the ideal witness is that of the Father and Son themselves directly through their word. And yet there are others who are persuaded not by that so much as by the testimony of others who have believed. This may be a lower level compared to the Lord’s ideal position of not allowing the testimony of mere men; and yet He makes this concession, for the sake of His burning desire for human salvation.

- There is such a thing as compromise in spiritual life. The compromise of Acts 15 about the demands placed upon the Gentile believers was an example. The Holy Spirit inspired Paul to write that the Mosaic food laws had no binding at all upon Christian converts; and yet "it seemed good to the Holy Spirit" to endorse the compromise reached in Acts 15:28. The laws agreed there as binding upon the Gentile converts in Acts 15:29 are in fact the so-called Noachic or Primeval Laws, considered by some orthodox Jews to be binding upon all the sons of Noah. That interpretation of what God said to Noah is itself stretched and hardly on a solid Biblical foundation- but God was willing to go along with it in order to make concessions required so that there would at least be some human chance of unity in the early church. Note that the Western Text [Codex Bezae] of Acts omits "things strangled", leaving us with three basic laws about idolatry, fornication and bloodshed. In this case we would see an allusion to an uninspired passage in the Mishnah (Aboth 5) which taught that the captivity in Babylon came about "on account of idolatry, fornication and bloodshed". In this case we would see God willing to compromise and accept the terms which were familiar to the orthodox Jewish minds, rather than merely telling them that their Mishnah was uninspired and so often hopelessly incorrect.