Presents or Presence?

The fickle children of Israel quickly traded in the true and living God who delivered them from slavery for a golden calf formed from their own hands.  Before we are too critical, let us remember the multitude of times that we substitute gods of our own making for the God who truly delivers.  We all seem to prefer gods we can control over the God before whom we must bow.

Moses and God had the type of relationship where “the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend” (Ex. 33:11).  May we all have this type of relationship with Him!  God confided in His friend, expressing His deserved anger: “I have seen this people, and behold, it is a stiff-necked people.  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” (Ex. 32:9-10).

Rather than enjoying God’s new, Moses-centered plan, Moses spoke to his Friend, reminding Him of the covenant promises that He made to the nation He called to be His own, and asked Him what the Egyptians would think of a God who delivered His people from slavery to let them perish in the desert.  “And the LORD relented from the disaster that he had spoken of bringing on his people.”

The relationship between God and His rebellious people was still fractured.  The LORD said to Moses, “Depart; go up from here, you and the people whom you have brought up out of the land of Egypt, to the land of which I swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, saying, ‘To your offspring I will give it.’  I will send an angel before you, and I will drive out the Canaanites, the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites.  Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey; but I will not go up among you, lest I consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people” (Ex. 33:1-3).

God was promising the people the benefits of their deliverance from slavery with one stipulation – God, the Deliverer, would not be with them.  He was offering the Hebrew people His presents, but not His presence.  God would be true to His promises and give the Jewish people what He promised them, but because of their rebellious hearts, a righteous, holy God could not dwell with them.

I think many people today would love this deal.  Get the blessings of God without having to be accountable to God?  Enjoy the stuff without having to listen to His commands?  Many would jump at the chance.

But Moses understood that this life having the stuff of God without the presence of God is really no life at all, because God does not just give us life, He IS our life.  Here is Moses’ response:  “If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here. For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I, and your people? Is it not in your going with us, so that we are distinct, I and your people, from every other people on the face of the earth?” (Exodus 33:15-16).

Moses knew that what makes the people of God the people of God is not the blessing God gives to His people, it is having God, Himself.  Do we understand this?

For Me?

Say to all the people of the land and the priests, ‘When you fasted and mourned in the fifth month and in the seventh, for these seventy years, was it for me that you fasted? And when you eat and when you drink, do you not eat for yourselves and drink for yourselves? (Zechariah 7:5-6 ESV)

Every time I read this Scripture I am reminded to ask the Holy Spirit to show me what my motives are as I work, worship, and just plain live.  Why do I do what I do?  This question is especially applicable to my religious life, as it was to the Jewish people addressed here.  Why do I sing songs of praise, to honor God, or to make myself feel a certain way?  Why do I do “up front” ministry, to get everyone gathered to focus on Jesus, or to see me?  I can do these things – good things – with selfish motives.  When I do, I rob God of His glory.

In the original Hebrew, the “for me” is repeated.  “Was it for me that you fasted – for me?”  What a haunting echo.  Why do I do what I do?  One question helps when asking this question.  What would I do if no one said anything to me about my up-front ministry?  About my singing?  (Actually, I really hope no one ever listens to me sing.)  About my religious activity?  If I was never noticed, never thanked, never complimented, would I still do what I do?  People who are doing things for themselves rather than Jesus tend to give up if their actions don’t gain the personal attention they seek.

I am not saying that we should not thank others for what they are doing.  Thank them!  Encourage them!  It is sinful if you don’t.  What I am not saying is that it is your job to keep others humble by your silence about what they do.  What I am saying is, “What is your response when people are silent to you?”

Envy

Rob Reimer, in his wonderful book, Soul Care, writes, “Envy starts with the question, ‘What about me?’ and ends with the accusation, ‘God isn’t fair.'”

Do you struggle with this self-centered question that then leads to the ultimate false accusation?  Note how envy is completely selfish.  It is all about what you think you deserve and how unfair God is to you because you feel He should give you more (or at least “different”).  You look at how God is blessing others and you think you deserve better than they are receiving.

Of course, the key to being set free from envy is to understand God’s amazing grace.  Grace is God’s “unmerited favor.”  It is when He doesn’t give you what you deserve (separation from Himself because of your sin), but instead lavishes upon you blessings you would never deserve (life forever with Him).  This is the Christian gospel – the God of this universe who should punish all of us because of our rebellion and sin, instead becomes a man like us to live the perfect life we could never live and die the death we deserved to die.  “For our sake, he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”  2 Corinthians 5:21 ESV

When we truly understand what we deserve, and what God offers instead (based on what Jesus has done for us), envy disappears.  We no longer demand justice from God.  Instead, we thank Him that He doesn’t give us what we deserve.

The Scriptures tell us a lot about envy:

A tranquil heart gives life to the flesh, but envy makes the bones rot.  Proverbs 14:30 ESV.  How many of you have experienced this?

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant…  1 Corinthians 13:4 ESV.  Note how this passage about God’s self-giving love implies that envy is anything but self-giving.

Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.  Galatians 5:19-23 ESV.  Again, the life of selfish men is contrasted with the life of God, which is completely self-giving.  Which category is “envy” in?

Here are a few tips to help you deal with envy:

  1. Be thankful! Always be thankful to God.  Express your thanksgiving aloud.  Thank Him for all He does for you.
  2. Be thankful – for the things you see in other’s lives that make you envious. Thank God, again aloud, for how He is blessing them.
  3. Pray for more of God’s blessings to be given to those you are envious of. If we are to pray for enemies, and bless those who persecute us, certainly we can bless those we are envious of.  In our own selfishness we struggle with this, but as we are filled by the Spirit, His fruit and His life will enable us to be and do what we could never be and do on our own.

Figs

On the following day, when they came from Bethany, he was hungry. And seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to see if he could find anything on it. When he came to it, he found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. And he said to it, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard it. 

As they passed by in the morning, they saw the fig tree withered away to its roots. And Peter remembered and said to him, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree that you cursed has withered.”   Mark 11:12‭-‬14‭, ‬20‭-‬22 ESV

Earlier, we explored the story of Jesus cleansing the temple during the “passion week.”  An interesting story story takes place before and after that account.  It takes place on the mountain ridge road overseeing the Kidron Valley, which Jesus  walked many times that last week as He entered Jerusalem during the day but stayed on mountain at night.  In addition to the Mount of Olives, this ridge was also home to two villages.  Bethany was the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus.  Bethphage was very close to Bethany.  Interestingly, both of these villages mean “house of figs.”  Bethany refers to figs that are ready to eat.  Bethphage refers to figs that are not yet ripe.

As Jesus was walking from Bethany into Jerusalem on the Monday after “Palm Sunday,” He became hungry and noticed a fig tree.  He saw that it had leaves, but found no fruit.  Even though Mark explains, “it was not the season for figs,” Jesus curses the tree by saying, “May no one ever eat from you again.”  

On the next day, Jesus and His disciples again passed by that tree.  The disciples noticed that the tree was “withered away to its roots.”  Did Jesus unfairly judge the tree?  Did  He in anger kill the tree because He was hungry?

This story makes sense when we understand that fig trees in this part of the world begin to have early, somewhat smaller figs that would grow from the previous year’s sprouts each spring.  These early figs and leaves would fall off, giving way to another set of leaves and figs, which would come in abundance (usually after August) and would then be harvested.  The smaller figs were not much good for harvest, but were sometimes used to give the poor some sustenance as they traveled.  This tree had its spring leaves suggesting it had these early figs, but was fruitless.  Jesus cursed the tree for its hypocrisy.  It looked like it was fruitful, but was not. 

The fig tree in the Scriptures was often a symbol for Israel.  During Jesus’ day the Jewish people claimed to be living for God, but in fact were living lives of hypocrisy.  Their lives bore no spiritual fruit, even though they “looked good” on the outside.  Luke tells us that at this same time, Jesus wept over the people of Jerusalem, mourning their lack of spiritual life and prophesying about​ their upcoming destruction. 

I pray that my own life is not all leaves but no fruit!  May we not be hypocrites, but bear fruit for God’s glory. 

House of Prayer

And they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold and those who bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. And he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. And he was teaching them and saying to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.” And the chief priests and the scribes heard it and were seeking a way to destroy him, for they feared him, because all the crowd was astonished at his teaching. And when evening came they went out of the city. (Mark 11:15-19 ESV)

Every year during the Passover feast, thousands of Jews traveled to Jerusalem to offer the sacrifice of a Passover Lamb, along with other sacrifices, at the Jewish temple.  They were joined by God-fearers – Gentiles who while not Jewish, worshiped the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  Rather than bring the animals for sacrifice the many miles they had to journey, these pilgrims often found it more convenient to purchase animals in Jerusalem.  It just so happened that the high priestly family had a bazaar set up in the Court of the Gentiles at the temple, where they would sell you preapproved animals.  They also had “booths of approval” set up where they would see if the animals the worshippers brought with them on their journey were “good enough” for sacrifice, and just in case they weren’t, they could point you to their booth of preapproved sacrifices.  The high priestly family also was aware of the many coming from far-off lands who had images of graven images like the bust of Caesar on their coins.  Knowing that these were blasphemous and could never be used in the temple courts, they conveniently set up tables for currency exchange.  Of course, these “services” were provided with substantial fees attached.

Imagine a Jewish family entering the temple courts after a long, exhausting journey, intent on celebrating the deliverance God gives His people, and they were greeted by this.  What would they think the worship of God looked like?  Picture the Gentile family who travelled mile-after-mile at great expense, knowing they would only get as close to God’s throne as the outer Court of the Gentiles, but did so anyway because their hearts were intent on communing with the true God.  How could they meet with God surrounded by those intent on making money off God’s holy Name?

No wonder the gospel writers share the story of Jesus rightly and angrily shaking things up!  The temple was supposed to be a place where people could meet with God (a “house of prayer for all the nations”).  The priests, those who were supposed to help people draw near to God, set up a system that filled their pockets but actually kept people from meeting God!  My prayer has always been, “Lord, may what I do in your Name (and may what my church sets up as our system of worship) NEVER keep people from you, but always help people find you.”

Remember, John the Baptist proclaimed that Jesus was “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”  Jesus is the Lamb, preapproved by the Father as being perfect and suitable as a sacrifice that frees us from death.  Him we proclaim this Easter season!  May we never do things or set up religious systems that benefit us in some way, but keep others from God.  May our homes and churches truly be “houses of prayer” where people of all nations can come to meet with Him.

Come

1 “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.  2 Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.  3 Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live; and I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David.  4 Behold, I made him a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander for the peoples.  5 Behold, you shall call a nation that you do not know, and a nation that did not know you shall run to you, because of the LORD your God, and of the Holy One of Israel, for he has glorified you.  6 “Seek the LORD while he may be found; call upon him while he is near;  7 let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.   – Isaiah 55:1-7

Four times in the first verse of Isaiah 55 alone, the Creator of the Univese invites His fallen creation to “come” to Him so they can enjoy a relationship with Him, free of charge.  God, Himself has paid the price necessary for the relationship to be restored (see Isaiah 53).  Even though no better offer could ever be extended or received, man in his foolishness still spends all of his resources trying to purchase things that he thinks will fill his empty heart, which God alone can fill.  Oh, that we would listen to the invitation to come!  It is in God that we find that which delights and satisfies.  Only in Him can we find an eternal covenant of blessing and steadfast love.  Why don’t we come?  Why don’t we run to HIm to accept such an offer?  Could it be that we do not want to forsake our wicked ways and unrighteous thoughts?  Could it be that we love our fallen selves and our sin more than the One who offers comassion and pardon?  How foolish can we be!

Gospel

Who has believed what he has heard from us?  And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?  For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.  He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.  Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.  But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.  All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:1-6 ESV)

This beautiful fourth “Servant Song” in Isaiah is sometimes called the “fifth gospel.”  We once again see the Servant who suffers on behalf of others.  This prophetic picture of Jesus Christ portrays Him as a Man with no physical beauty that would draw us to Him, yet we know Him as the Creator and Giver of all things beautiful.  He was despised, rejected, a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, and makes a way for us to experience none of those things.  He was pierced and crushed for our transgressions and iniquities, even though He committed none Himself.  He took our chastisement so we could experience His peace.  He was wounded so we could be healed.  We were the wandering sheep, He was the obedient Son, yet He took all our waywardness, rebellion, and iniquity (and all the consequences) upon Himself.  What love!

Israel

Listen to me, O coastlands, and give attention, you peoples from afar.  The LORD called me from the womb, from the body of my mother he named my name.  He made my mouth like a sharp sword; in the shadow of his hand he hid me; he made me a polished arrow; in his quiver he hid me away.  And he said to me, “You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified.”  But I said, “I have labored in vain; I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity; yet surely my right is with the LORD, and my recompense with my God.”  And now the LORD says, he who formed me from the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob back to him; and that Israel might be gathered to him—for I am honored in the eyes of the LORD, and my God has become my strength—he says: “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” (Isaiah 49:1-6 ESV)

Yesterday, we began to explore the idea of Jesus being the “Servant” in Isaiah who delivers the oppressed not with sword and political might, but through humble service.  Today, we will continue to look at the “Servant” by exploring another of the “servant songs” of this prophetic book.

What God has to say in today’s passage is so great, the whole world needs to hear (verse 1).  The LORD called His Servant from before His physical birth to bring deliverance to the suffering, not with a physical sword wielded by a warrior, but with the sword of His mouth – His words.  While the Servant brings a greater deliverance than can even be imagined, the nation Israel, doesn’t see it and doesn’t accept it.  Yet, God knows this deliverance being offered is so incredible, it is made available not only to the nation, Israel, but to all the nations (peoples) of the world!  This deliverance is offered by another Israel, the Man, the Servant, who was rejected by the nation, Israel.  Praise God that one day the people of Israel will have their eyes opened to the truth of who Jesus really is.  Until then, the question is, “Have the eyes of your heart been opened to see who He is?”

Servant

Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations.  He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice.  He will not grow faint or be discouraged till he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his law.  Thus says God, the LORD, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people on it and spirit to those who walk in it: “I am the LORD; I have called you in righteousness; I will take you by the hand and keep you; I will give you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.  I am the LORD; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols.  Behold, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare; before they spring forth I tell you of them.” (Isaiah 42:1-9 ESV)

In the previous chapters of Isaiah, the people of Israel are told repeatedly that they turn to the wrongs things for justice, righteousness, and even life itself.  They turned to idols that could never save.  But now, in this first “servant song” in Isaiah, we see where they should have been turning – to the “Servant” of God.

This doesn’t make sense.  To usher justice into the world, don’t we need someone in power to raise a mighty army to thwart the oppressors?  Shouldn’t we get a charismatic leader who can rally the people into some major protest movement to get the common folk to rise as one against their foe?  In other “servant songs” that follow in Isaiah (49, 50, 52, 53, 61) we see that this “Servant” brings deliverance by suffering.  He represents the people by His sacrificial service, which ends in His own suffering and death.  His death is not a martyr’s death that brings people into the cause.  Typically, people follow a martyr because they see that now that he is dead, someone else must rise and take up the mantle the martyr left behind.  No, the Suffering Servant in Isaiah dies a death where the death itself brings deliverance to the oppressed.  Remember that on the cross, Jesus was not just an example to follow or a martyr that needed someone to keep his movement going.  He died a death that defeated all enemies, including the greatest enemies of all – sin and death.

Amen!

For he delivers the needy when he calls, the poor and him who has no helper.  He has pity on the weak and the needy, and saves the lives of the needy.  From oppression and violence he redeems their life, and precious is their blood in his sight.  Long may he live; may gold of Sheba be given to him!  May prayer be made for him continually, and blessings invoked for him all the day!  May there be abundance of grain in the land; on the tops of the mountains may it wave; may its fruit be like Lebanon; and may people blossom in the cities like the grass of the field!  May his name endure forever, his fame continue as long as the sun!  May people be blessed in him, all nations call him blessed!  Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel, who alone does wondrous things.  Blessed be his glorious name forever; may the whole earth be filled with his glory!  Amen and Amen! (Psalm 72:12-19 ESV)

This “last of the prayers of David” (72:20) is the type of prayer/blessing used when a king would begin to lead his people.  This makes sense, with the superscription of  the Psalm being “of Solomon.”  David’s prayer and dream for his son and successor was that he would not only receive justice, but extend it to his subjects as he ruled in righteousness (72:1-2).  Like today, the people of David’s day looked to their “politicians” and leaders to rule in such a way that would be a blessing to the people.  The people often looked to the king for deliverance and protection to the weak, since he had the appearance of being strong.

Solomon did not live up to these prayers and the desires of his father.  No earthly king can.  Some leaders are better than others, and their godly lives can be a blessing to others, but ultimately putting our trust in fallible men is misguided.  Only one king can live up to these hopes and dreams and bring true blessing, deliverance, and protection to his followers – King Jesus.  No wonder this Psalm looks past the reign of Solomon as it praises the ultimate King with these words:  May his name endure forever, his fame continue as long as the sun!  May people be blessed in him, all nations call him blessed!  Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel, who alone does wondrous things.  Blessed be his glorious name forever; may the whole earth be filled with his glory!  Amen and Amen!

Amen!  So be it.

Deliverer

O God, when you went out before your people, when you marched through the wilderness, the earth quaked, the heavens poured down rain, before God, the One of Sinai, before God, the God of Israel.  Rain in abundance, O God, you shed abroad; you restored your inheritance as it languished; your flock found a dwelling in it; in your goodness, O God, you provided for the needy.  The Lord gives the word; the women who announce the news are a great host: “The kings of the armies—they flee, they flee!” The women at home divide the spoil—though you men lie among the sheepfolds—the wings of a dove covered with silver, its pinions with shimmering gold.  When the Almighty scatters kings there, let snow fall on Zalmon.  O mountain of God, mountain of Bashan; O many-peaked mountain, mountain of Bashan!  Why do you look with hatred, O many-peaked mountain, at the mount that God desired for his abode, yes, where the LORD will dwell forever?  The chariots of God are twice ten thousand, thousands upon thousands; the Lord is among them; Sinai is now in the sanctuary.  You ascended on high, leading a host of captives in your train and receiving gifts among men, even among the rebellious, that the LORD God may dwell there. (Psalm 68:7-18 ESV)

God delivered His people in the past, as is seen in the deliverance of His people from centuries of slavery in Egypt.  God delivers His people in the present, as is seen in the experience of David as He writes about the victory God gives over his enemies.  God delivers so fully that the deliverance of God’s people will culminate in that future day when God brings His people home to His holy mountain.

This is my testimony since I met Jesus.  He delivered me from all my past sin and the guilt and shame those sins carry.  He deliverers me today as the many enemies I face (and yes, deliverance in this life does not mean I no longer have enemies today) are just obstacles that remind me to trust wholeheartedly in my deliverer.  And I look forward to that day, when I will see my Deliverer face-to-face and will no longer need to look at the enemies of my past and my present anymore.

 

 

 

Prophecy

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?  Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?  O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest.  Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel.  In you our fathers trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them.  To you they cried and were rescued; in you they trusted and were not put to shame.  But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by mankind and despised by the people.  All who see me mock me; they make mouths at me; they wag their heads; “He trusts in the LORD; let him deliver him; let him rescue him, for he delights in him!”  Yet you are he who took me from the womb; you made me trust you at my mother’s breasts.  On you was I cast from my birth, and from my mother’s womb you have been my God.  Be not far from me, for trouble is near, and there is none to help. (Psalm 22:1-11 ESV)

All the prosperous of the earth eat and worship; before him shall bow all who go down to the dust, even the one who could not keep himself alive.  Posterity shall serve him; it shall be told of the Lord to the coming generation; they shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn, that he has done it. (Psalm 22:29-31 ESV)

These words were written by David to describe his own experience 1000 plus years before Jesus, but when Jesus died on the cross, He quoted the first verse as His own.  The rest of the Psalm proclaims the faithfulness of God.  God delivered David’s forefathers who trusted in Him.  He rescued those who cried out to Him.  Those who trusted were not put to shame.

What is amazing is that on the cross, Father God did not deliver His Son.  He did not rescue.  On the cross, Jesus suffered the ultimate shame.  Jesus’ words truly described His experience – on the cross, full of my sin, Jesus was momentarily abandoned by the Father.  He became the “curse” for His people, which made a way for me to be “redeemed” from the curse of the law.  Because He was forsaken during that awful moment, I will never be forsaken by the Father for all eternity.  Because Jesus cried those words of abandonment, I can proclaim God’s faithfulness and righteousness to all generations.

Praise

But you, O GOD my Lord, deal on my behalf for your name’s sake; because your steadfast love is good, deliver me!  For I am poor and needy, and my heart is stricken within me.  I am gone like a shadow at evening; I am shaken off like a locust.  My knees are weak through fasting; my body has become gaunt, with no fat.  I am an object of scorn to my accusers; when they see me, they wag their heads.  Help me, O LORD my God!  Save me according to your steadfast love!  Let them know that this is your hand; you, O LORD, have done it!  Let them curse, but you will bless!  They arise and are put to shame, but your servant will be glad!  May my accusers be clothed with dishonor; may they be wrapped in their own shame as in a cloak!  With my mouth I will give great thanks to the LORD; I will praise him in the midst of the throng.  For he stands at the right hand of the needy one, to save him from those who condemn his soul to death. (Psalm 109:21-31 ESV)

The psalmist describes himself as “poor and needy”, with a “stricken heart”, “gone like a shadow at evening”, “shaken off like a locust”.  Because of his awful circumstance, even his body is in agony.  While the exact source of his suffering is not known, he is journeying through this pain with the added difficulty of having accusers “wag their heads” at him.  Instead of trying to help him and bless him, they speak nothing but curses toward him.  While the psalmist wants relief from his suffering, he also wants his troublers to “get theirs.”  This poor man wants relief – and justice!

God is always just, and always deals with evil.  God is always merciful, and hears the cries of the suffering and pours our His compassion.  How can God do both?  Don’t even those crying out for mercy deserve God’s justice to be dealt out to them, for their own sins and mistreatment of others?  Who among us can claim to always be the victim, and never the perpetrator?  When we ask God to bring justice, don’t we really mean we want others to get what they deserve while we get what we don’t deserve – God’s compassion?

Jesus was the only Man ever to be perfect in how He treated people.  He was the only “perfect” victim.  Yet, as he suffered upon the cross, He did so to satisfy God’s justice toward sinful man by taking the judgment they deserved upon Himself.  In doing so, He also offered God’s compassion, deliverance, and salvation to those who were suffering.  For those of us forgiven by His grace and recipients of His blessing, may we “give thanks to the LORD” and “praise him in the midst of the throng.”  Why not do so today?

Humiliation

Save me, O God!  For the waters have come up to my neck.  I sink in deep mire, where there is no foothold; I have come into deep waters, and the flood sweeps over me.  I am weary with my crying out; my throat is parched.  My eyes grow dim with waiting for my God.  More in number than the hairs of my head are those who hate me without cause; mighty are those who would destroy me, those who attack me with lies.  What I did not steal must I now restore?  O God, you know my folly; the wrongs I have done are not hidden from you.  Let not those who hope in you be put to shame through me, O Lord GOD of hosts; let not those who seek you be brought to dishonor through me, O God of Israel.  For it is for your sake that I have borne reproach, that dishonor has covered my face.  I have become a stranger to my brothers, an alien to my mother’s sons.  For zeal for your house has consumed me, and the reproaches of those who reproach you have fallen on me.  When I wept and humbled my soul with fasting, it became my reproach.  When I made sackcloth my clothing, I became a byword to them.  I am the talk of those who sit in the gate, and the drunkards make songs about me. (Psalm 69:1-12 ESV)

If you are reading this, I hope that you can never understand David’s deep feelings of abandonment, betrayal, and loneliness.  The shepherd-turned-king was once the revered subject of the songs of the masses, after he killed the giant, Goliath.  Now, something has happened to change the tune.  For some reason, all his friends and family have left him and the only songs sung about him are songs of derision sung by drunks around the campfire (verse 12).

What amazes me about this Psalm is that David does not just cry out to God so he can be relieved of his pain.  David is concerned about any dishonor that his actions may have brought to God’s house and God’s holy Name.

David’s phrase, “For zeal for your house has consumed me” is quoted by Jesus’ disciples in John chapter 2 to describe why Jesus cast the money-changers from the temple courts.  Jesus had the same concern for the integrity and respect of the Father’s house and His Name.  Jesus also experienced the adulation of the crowds and the abandonment and ridicule that followed.  Unlike David, Jesus, the Son of David, did nothing wrong to deserve any of this.  Instead, He experienced the betrayal by a friend’s kiss, the abandonment by all those closest to Him, and even execution between two criminals, for the crimes against God’s Name that you and I committed.  He experienced the ultimate humiliation so I could experience His glory.

True Wisdom

In the study of the Hebrew Scriptures, one sometimes runs across the genre of “wisdom literature.”  A distinction is often made between knowledge (facts and information) and wisdom (the ability to use knowledge to live life).  Wisdom literature includes Proverbs, the Song of Songs, Esther, Job, Ecclesiastes, and parts of the Psalms.

The Bible tells us that the “fear of the LORD” is the beginning of both wisdom (Psalm 110) and knowledge (Proverbs 1:7).  This fear describes having a healthy and accurate idea of who God is, and then responding to Him with wonder, awe, and obedience.  (For further treatment, see A Season of Fear.)

A wise person knows who God is and how that knowledge of God helps him live life.  In contrast, “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’” (Psalm 14, 53).  The “fool” in ancient Hebrew thinking was not one who was an atheist.  Atheism really didn’t exist in a culture where the starting point was, “In the beginning, God…”.  The fool in Hebrew culture was one who, despite knowing there was a God, lived life like there wasn’t any God.  In a way, fools were “practical atheists.”

When wisdom literature reminds the reader that having a proper concept of God (along with a proper response to Him) is the beginning of really understanding the world and knowing how to live in it, a new definition of wisdom arises.  Wisdom is, “living life with God at the core.”

It is interesting that wisdom literature was written during times of great transition for the Jewish people, when they had many questions as to how to live life as everything around them was changing.  Examples include when Jewish society became a monarchy, when the Jews started to have settlements based in cities rather than in tribal villages, and when the Jews changed from being a monarchy to being a people in living in exile.

Why does wisdom literature describe such practical living, as is presented in the Proverbs?  Why give people filled with questions about their changing and uncertain lives practical advice in areas such as finance, speech, marriage, and child-rearing?  Why is Job considered wisdom, when Job has so many questions and so few answers?  Why is Esther included, when the name of God is not even mentioned in the book?  Why is Ecclesiastes a wisdom book, when the main topic is “meaninglessness.”  And why is the Song of Songs, a book about romance and sex given to people struggling with change?

The main question the Jewish people were really asking was, “Where is God in times of change and suffering?”  Wisdom literature gives the answer – He is there.  Always there.  He is in your marriage and family, in your work, and in the daily struggles of life.  The message of Job is that He is there when you have unanswerable questions.  Esther shouts at us that even if God is not mentioned, He is there, saving His people and working behind the scenes setting up and taking down kingdoms.  (Esther, by the way, is a Persian name that sounds like the Hebrew word for “hidden”.)  The Song of Songs reminds us that if God is anywhere, He is present in marital love, which shows us what His love for us is like.  When everything around us is falling apart, when we have many questions, when we wonder where God is, and how we should live in such times of transition, wisdom literature helps us out.  It has a message we all need to remember – He is there even when you cannot see Him.  Look for Him.  And live like He is there.  This is wisdom.

Rejection

The LORD is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation.  Glad songs of salvation are in the tents of the righteous: “The right hand of the LORD does valiantly, the right hand of the LORD exalts, the right hand of the LORD does valiantly!”  I shall not die, but I shall live, and recount the deeds of the LORD.  The LORD has disciplined me severely, but he has not given me over to death.  Open to me the gates of righteousness, that I may enter through them and give thanks to the LORD.  This is the gate of the LORD; the righteous shall enter through it.  I thank you that you have answered me and have become my salvation.  The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.  This is the LORD’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.  This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. (Psalm 118:14-24 ESV)

As we prepare our hearts for our Easter celebration, we have explored how Jesus is the King who sets up God’s everlasting Kingdom, the Priest who brings sinful men and a holy God into relationship, the Housebuilder who gives us an eternal home and makes His own home in our hearts, the Giver of Children to the barren, the Passover Lamb who is our sacrifice and pays the penalty for our sin, and the Covenant-maker who fulfills the covenant-relationship responsibilities for both God and man.  It is Jesus who is the Promise Maker who enables us to enjoy God’s promise and blessing, even though we don’t deserve either.  Jesus is incredible!

Yet, today’s passage reminds us that while Jesus is the perfect Cornerstone upon which to build our lives, we don’t want Him.  We don’t want the promises He offers.  We don’t want any part of His Kingdom where we would have to bow before His Kingship.  He is everything we need, but we reject Him.

Jesus quotes Psalm 118 in Mark 12, where He tells the story of a wealthy landowner who makes all the investments needed to make his land a fruitful vineyard.  He then hires workers who will tend to the vineyard in his absence.  When he sends various servants to collect his share of the crop, the tenants beat them or kill them.  When the owner in desperation sends his own son to solve the problem, they kill him, too.

Jesus is this rejected Cornerstone.  He is the Son sent by the rightful Creator and Owner of all things who is killed by those rejecting His authority.  Jesus is rejected and killed, but then on the third day rises again, defeating all enemies who would rise against Him.  May we repent of our rebellion and rejection toward our Creator, and embrace the forgiveness and life that the rejected One, Jesus, offers us despite our rebellion and sin.

Royal

Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain?  The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and against his Anointed, saying, “Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.”  He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision.  Then he will speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury, saying, “As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill.”  I will tell of the decree: The LORD said to me, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you.  Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession.  You shall break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.”  Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth.  Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling.  Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled.  Blessed are all who take refuge in him. (Psalm 2 ESV)

This “royal Psalm” describe the Kingship of the Son, Jesus Christ.  The Jewish people had their hopes that one of the kings of the line of King David would somehow usher in the kingdom they hoped for.  One descendant of David could set up the Kingdom we all hope for and need, Jesus Christ.  The reason that Jesus could do for us what no other king could do is because He is also the Son of God.  Jesus’ Kingdom is eternal, and allows us to be free from all the enemies we now face, including sin and death.  Which kingdom today boasts such claims?

Some see a problem in being part of a kingdom – there is always a king.  The peoples and rulers of this world reject Jesus the King and His wonderful Kingdom, simply because they don’t want to accept His Kingly rule over their lives, despite how wonderful His rule and reign would be for their well-being.  We are so proud, we don’t want anyone else to tell us what to do, even if it is best for us.  Let’s heed the wisdom of this Psalm – serve the LORD and take refuge in Him!

King

The LORD says to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.”  The LORD sends forth from Zion your mighty scepter.  Rule in the midst of your enemies!  Your people will offer themselves freely on the day of your power, in holy garments; from the womb of the morning, the dew of your youth will be yours.  The LORD has sworn and will not change his mind, “You are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.”  The Lord is at your right hand;    he will shatter kings on the day of his wrath.  He will execute judgment among the nations, filling them with corpses; he will shatter chiefs over the wide earth.  He will drink from the brook by the way; therefore he will lift up his head. (Psalm 110 ESV)

A few days ago, we explored how all earthly priests fell short of their calling – to be mediators between and holy God and sinful men.  Perhaps the fact that all such priests are sinners themselves makes such a task impossible.  We also saw how the sinless God-Man, Jesus, is the perfect priest, not of the tribe of Levi but from the order of Melchizedek (Hebrews 4-7, Genesis 14).  He alone can truly bring holy God and sinful men into relationship.

Today’s reading highlights the priestly role of Jesus, but also clearly portrays Him as King.  How do we know that this Psalm, the most quoted Old Testament passage by the New Testament, is prophetically referring to Jesus?  One hint is that no earthly, Jewish king can be both priest and king.  Jesus is both the One who brings God and man together in relationship, and the One who rules and reigns on high for all eternity!  Jesus is at God’s right hand – the place of ultimate authority.  Jesus rules over all His enemies, including the greatest enemies of all, sin and death.  Jesus has all power and is dressed in holiness.  Jesus rightly executes perfect justice among the nations.  Jesus alone is the perfect Priest and King.  Who better to give your life to than He!

Dwell

Now when the king lived in his house and the LORD had given him rest from all his surrounding enemies, the king said to Nathan the prophet, “See now, I dwell in a house of cedar, but the ark of God dwells in a tent.” And Nathan said to the king, “Go, do all that is in your heart, for the LORD is with you.”  But that same night the word of the LORD came to Nathan, “Go and tell my servant David, ‘Thus says the LORD: Would you build me a house to dwell in? (2 Samuel 7:1-5 ESV)

…from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel. And I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover, the LORD declares to you that the LORD will make you a house. When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men, but my steadfast love will not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you. And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.’” In accordance with all these words, and in accordance with all this vision, Nathan spoke to David. (2 Samuel 7:11-17 ESV)

King David built a comfortable palace for himself, and felt a little guilty that His God still had a “house” that was a tent called the tabernacle.  Of course, trying to place God, a Spirit who is everywhere at once, in a little tent is rather absurd.  But God, wanting a relationship with men where they could have a home with Him, condescended to man’s finititude and told the Jews to build a tent where God could dwell with man.

The tabernacle was patterned after the heavenly dwelling place of God.  It is that heavenly home where He invites all who belong to Him to dwell with Him for all eternity.  The portable structure seemed to be appropriate for a God who was “wild” and not controlled by man’s restraints.  YHWH (lit. “I am who I am, I will be whom I will be”), the God of the Jews, would go wherever He wanted to go whenever He wanted to.  It certainly helped the Jews to have this tent to meet with their redeeming God as they wandered through the wilderness and as they settled into the promised land.  But now the land was settled.  The King had a palace.  And God still had a tent.  This did not sit well with David, so He asked His God if he could build Him His own palace – the temple.

God’s response was that David’s son (Solomon) would indeed build God a temple.  And while David would not build God a house, God would build David’s “house” – his royal family line.  From David’s royal family line would come the greatest King ever, the Messiah, or anointed One.  The Messiah would build God’s Kingdom that would inhabit the entire world, not just a palace.  But the Kingdom of the Messiah was not just a physical place for man and God to dwell together, it would also be an internal, spiritual home.  The Messiah will ultimately provide an entire new heaven and new earth in which God’s subjects will dwell with Him as family.  But He also gives His subjects new hearts, in which the infinite God would dwell.  Man and God both have a new home.  The question is, does God feel at home in your heart?

 

Mediator

And there came a man of God to Eli and said to him, “Thus says the LORD, ‘Did I indeed reveal myself to the house of your father when they were in Egypt subject to the house of Pharaoh? Did I choose him out of all the tribes of Israel to be my priest, to go up to my altar, to burn incense, to wear an ephod before me? I gave to the house of your father all my offerings by fire from the people of Israel. Why then do you scorn my sacrifices and my offerings that I commanded for my dwelling, and honor your sons above me by fattening yourselves on the choicest parts of every offering of my people Israel?’ Therefore the LORD, the God of Israel, declares: ‘I promised that your house and the house of your father should go in and out before me forever,’ but now the LORD declares: ‘Far be it from me, for those who honor me I will honor, and those who despise me shall be lightly esteemed. Behold, the days are coming when I will cut off your strength and the strength of your father’s house, so that there will not be an old man in your house. Then in distress you will look with envious eye on all the prosperity that shall be bestowed on Israel, and there shall not be an old man in your house forever. The only one of you whom I shall not cut off from my altar shall be spared to weep his eyes out to grieve his heart, and all the descendants of your house shall die by the sword of men. And this that shall come upon your two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, shall be the sign to you: both of them shall die on the same day. And I will raise up for myself a faithful priest, who shall do according to what is in my heart and in my mind. And I will build him a sure house, and he shall go in and out before my anointed forever. And everyone who is left in your house shall come to implore him for a piece of silver or a loaf of bread and shall say, “Please put me in one of the priests’ places, that I may eat a morsel of bread.”’” (1 Samuel 2:27-36 ESV)

Hophni and Phinehas, being part of the Jewish Levitical priesthood, were to fulfill the duties of priest.  These include: “to go up to my altar, to burn incense” and “to wear an ephod before me”.  At the altar, the priests would act as intercessors, mediators who would help a holy God and sinful men to meet by performing various types of sacrifices.  Burning incense had to do with sending up the worship and prayers of God’s people before His heavenly throne.  Wearing an ephod was part of the priests’ role to seek God’s wisdom and guidance for a people who wanted to be obedient to Him.  This is what priests were to do.  But Hophni and Phinehas instead performed their duties for personal gain.  They served God and His people to fill their own bellies for their own satisfaction.

God rebukes their sin and pronounces their punishment but also gives a prophetic message of hope to His people.  He promises to one day send a “faithful priest” who would truly bring God and man together.  This priest will do what is in God’s heart and mind.  Of course, this faithful priest comes not from the tribe of Levi, but from the “order of Melchizedek” (see Hebrews 4-7).  This priest is named Jesus, and is the only One who can reconcile sinful men to a holy God.

Barrenness

And Hannah prayed and said, “My heart exults in the LORD; my horn is exalted in the LORD.  My mouth derides my enemies, because I rejoice in your salvation.  “There is none holy like the LORD: for there is none besides you; there is no rock like our God.  Talk no more so very proudly, let not arrogance come from your mouth; for the LORD is a God of knowledge, and by him actions are weighed.        The bows of the mighty are broken, but the feeble bind on strength.  Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread, but those who were hungry have ceased to hunger.  The barren has borne seven, but she who has many children is forlorn.  The LORD kills and brings to life; he brings down to Sheol and raises up.  The LORD makes poor and makes rich; he brings low and he exalts.  He raises up the poor from the dust; he lifts the needy from the ash heap to make them sit with princes and inherit a seat of honor.  For the pillars of the earth are the LORD’s, and on them he has set the world.  “He will guard the feet of his faithful ones, but the wicked shall be cut off in darkness, for not by might shall a man prevail.  The adversaries of the LORD shall be broken to pieces; against them he will thunder in heaven.  The LORD will judge the ends of the earth; he will give strength to his king and exalt the horn of his anointed.” (1 Samuel 2:1-10 ESV)

In ancient Israel, there was no greater shame and pain a woman could experience than being barren.  In a day when ladies did not pursue careers outside the home, and when their identities were found exclusively in their families, to no have a child was a great disgrace.  If a couple remained childless, and specifically had no male heir to carry on the family name and inherit the family fortune, it was as if they had never lived themselves.  Their name, their heritage, must carry on.  In addition, the greatest hope of every Jewish mother was that she would give birth to the promised Messiah, the Great King that God would send to set up His Kingdom in this world.

In chapter one, Hannah was childless, without hope and full of shame.  Others preached that having children was a blessing and that barrenness was a curse.  Did her neighbors whisper behind her back, wondering what great sin she committed to deserve such a punishment?  While loved by her husband, her heart was still as empty as her womb.  To make matters worse, her husband had a second wife who had children, making their home an impossible competition Hannah could not win.  So, in utter desperation Hannah went to the house of God to sacrifice and to pray.  And God heard her prayer.  Her son Samuel was born.  Not just any son, Samuel grew up to be a mighty prophet of God!

No wonder she now prays again, this time with lips filled with praise to a God who takes care of His people.  It is the Lord who makes low and raises up. Our lives don’t always respond up to our attempts to control them, but God always remains in control.  He is to be praised!

Hannah’s song reminds me of another song (Luke 1:46-56) from the lips of another mother named Mary, a young girl who unexpectedly and miraculously gave birth to a Son, Jesus.  Her song also was a song of praise and a reminder of God’s power, mercy, and sovereignty.  Mary, of course, was that one Jewish mother who experienced the blessing to be the mother of the Messiah.  And because He was born, God’s Kingdom can be experienced by all desperate people who cry out to Him in prayer.

Passover

The LORD said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, “This month shall be for you the beginning of months. It shall be the first month of the year for you. Tell all the congregation of Israel that on the tenth day of this month every man shall take a lamb according to their fathers’ houses, a lamb for a household. And if the household is too small for a lamb, then he and his nearest neighbor shall take according to the number of persons; according to what each can eat you shall make your count for the lamb. Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male a year old. You may take it from the sheep or from the goats, and you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month, when the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill their lambs at twilight.

“Then they shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. They shall eat the flesh that night, roasted on the fire; with unleavened bread and bitter herbs they shall eat it. Do not eat any of it raw or boiled in water, but roasted, its head with its legs and its inner parts. And you shall let none of it remain until the morning; anything that remains until the morning you shall burn. In this manner you shall eat it: with your belt fastened, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand. And you shall eat it in haste. It is the LORD’s Passover. For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the LORD. The blood shall be a sign for you, on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt. (Exodus 12:1-13 ESV)

After centuries living as slaves in Egypt, the Jewish people are about to embark on their miraculous, God-led journey into freedom and ultimately into the land and new life God had promised them.  Their exit from the land of their captivity was not welcomed by their captors, who made quite a profit having slave labor at their disposal, so God had to “convince” Egypt’s king and its people that they should let God’s people go.  He did so through a series of awful plagues, each showing how the God of the Hebrew people was vastly superior to the gods the Egyptians settled for.  The last plague was the worst.  The firstborn son of each family would die.

The Jews did have one way of deliverance – if they sacrificed a lamb and placed the blood of that sacrifice on the doorpost of their home, death would “pass over” that home.  Notice that the Jews weren’t more deserving of any escape from death than their captors were.  Their firstborn would also die, unless they obeyed.  It was only through an act of trustful obedience to God’s instruction that God provided a way of escape.

The same is true of all of us, who deserve death (separation from the One who is life, itself) because of our sinful rebellion toward our Creator.  We aren’t deserving of deliverance from our punishment.  But God still graciously provides a sacrifice for us, the death of His Son, who’s blood applied to our sinful lives frees us from death and enables us to experience life.  We must simply trust that His blood is enough for our deliverance.

Ruler

“Judah, your brothers shall praise you; your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies; your father’s sons shall bow down before you.  Judah is a lion’s cub; from the prey, my son, you have gone up.  He stooped down; he crouched as a lion and as a lioness; who dares rouse him?  The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until tribute comes to him; and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.  Binding his foal to the vine and his donkey’s colt to the choice vine, he has washed his garments in wine and his vesture in the blood of grapes.  His eyes are darker than wine, and his teeth whiter than milk. (Genesis 49:8-12 ESV)

The last two days, we explored the promise given to Abraham that his descendants would become a great nation that would bless the entire world.  In this passage, Abraham’s grandson, Jacob, prophetically foresees some of those descendants – those coming to his son Judah’s family.  Judah was one of twelve brothers who made some very poor choices in his lifetime (see Genesis 38), but was still chosen by God to be one held in a position of prominence and power.  His descendants would be the rulers of the nation coming from Abraham, the alpha-lion that would rule Abraham’s tribe.  Judah’s family would be truly blessed, despite their ancestor’s sin.

David was one of the well-known kings from the tribe of Judah who is still beloved and held in high esteem among the Jewish people.  But another Lion from the tribe of Judah is portrayed in Revelation.  In chapter 5 of John’s visionary book, we meet a Lion ruling and reigning Who alone is worthy and able to open a scroll which begins the process of God’s kingdom coming fully into our world.  But when John sees the Lion, He is a Lamb, slain for sacrifice.  How can the ruling Lion be a sacrificed Lamb?

Of course, this descendant of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Judah is Jesus Christ, the One who is truly the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, and who will rule and reign in His Glorious Kingdom for all eternity!  How does the Lion bring this kingdom of blessing into the world of sinful men?  By being the Lamb, slain to pay for the sins of those sinful men, so their hearts can be changed and so they can then enter God’s holy Kingdom.  Unless our King became the Lamb, there would be no way for us to be part of His rule and reign.

Sacrifice

After these things, God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 2 He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” 3 So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac. And he cut the wood for the burnt offering and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. 4 On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place from afar. 5 Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you.” 6 And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son. And he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So, they went both of them together. 7 And Isaac said to his father Abraham, “My father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” He said, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” 8 Abraham said, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So, they went both of them together.

9 When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built the altar there and laid the wood in order and bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son. 11 But the angel of the LORD called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 12 He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” 13 And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14 So Abraham called the name of that place, “The LORD will provide”; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the LORD it shall be provided.”  (Genesis 22:1-14 ESV)

Yesterday we focused on God’s covenantal promises to Abraham, which included descendants of Abraham being the instrument of God’s blessing to the world.  There was one problem with that promise – Abraham was 99 years old, and his wife, Sarah, was 90 and well past childbearing when the promise of Genesis 15 was given.  They had no children.  How could their descendants bless the world if there were no descendants?

God miraculously gave this couple a son, Isaac, the “son of promise.”  Now, in Genesis 22, God makes a strange demand to Abraham – “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.”  The question now is like the first.  How can Abraham’s future descendants bring God’s blessing to the whole world if the only direct descendant of Abraham is killed?  And how could a father sacrifice his beloved son?

Abraham must have struggled with these questions, but being a man of faith and trust in his Heavenly Father, he obeys.  Isaac dutifully carries the wood for his sacrifice up a mountain and is placed on the altar of sacrifice.  Abraham takes his knife to sacrifice his son, but before he plunges it into Isaac’s heart, God stops him and provides a ram to be sacrificed as a substitute for Isaac.  What a gripping story!  What an incredible ending!  What faith Abraham displayed?  What love the Heavenly Father exhibited!

About 2,200 years after this event, another Father sent His Son to carry wood up this very same mountain for the sacrifice of His Son.  This time, God did not cry out, “Do not lay your hand on the boy,” because this Son, God’s only begotten Son, was the substitute sacrifice.  Jesus, “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world,” died in our place, taking the penalty we deserved to pay because of our transgression against the Giver of Life.  What an incredible ending!  How could a Father sacrifice His Beloved Son?  He did so, and Jesus obeyed, so we could also become sons of the Father.

Covenant

7 And he said to him, “I am the LORD who brought you out from Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to possess.” 8 But he said, “O Lord GOD, how am I to know that I shall possess it?” 9 He said to him, “Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” 10 And he brought him all these, cut them in half, and laid each half over against the other. But he did not cut the birds in half. 11 And when birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away. 12 As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell on Abram. And behold, dreadful and great darkness fell upon him.

17 When the sun had gone down and it was dark, behold, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. 18 On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your offspring I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates, 19 the land of the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites, 20 the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, 21 the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites and the Jebusites.”  (Genesis 15:7-12, 17-21 ESV)

Yesterday, in looking at the story of Noah, we were introduced to an important biblical concept called “covenant.”  We said, “A covenant is simply an agreement that binds two parties together and lays out what is expected of each party if they are to have a relationship.  It also describes what the relationship will look like if the parties live up to their end of the agreement, and lays out the consequences if a party does not live up to the terms of the covenant.”  Today’s story continues with this theme.

Sometime after Noah, a man named Abram (later Abraham) was given a promise from God (Genesis 12) that includes the prophecy that God will make Abram a great nation and from this nation God will bless the entire world.  God reaffirms that covenant in our reading for today.  Abram is told to bring various animals and cut them each in half.  He then is to divide the halves.  Many scholars believe that this “cutting of a covenant” is a picture signifying what will happen if a party to the covenant does not live up to their end of the bargain.  In other words, even God is promising that if He doesn’t fulfill His covenant responsibilities, He will become like the dead animals (see Jeremiah 34:18-19).  What a picture!

Then something incredible happens.  Normally, both parties would walk through the cut-up animals together, showing that each is committing themselves to the consequences of not fulfilling the covenantal terms.  But in Genesis 15, God makes Abram fall into a deep sleep, where he is unable to walk through and make such promises.  God walks through alone.  As we saw yesterday, mankind has always failed to live up to his end of the deal when it came to having a relationship with a holy God.  God understands our inability to do so, so He walks through and makes the promise for both parties.  As we saw yesterday, this is what Jesus did when He became a Man – He entered the world to live a perfectly righteous life (thus living up to our end of the bargain for us) and taking the punishment for not being able to live up to the covenant upon Himself (thus, being crucified in our place).  Because He did what He did for us, we are now truly able to have a covenant relationship with God!