Engraved on His Palms

(Today I would like to share an entry from 3-Minute Devotions with Charles Spurgeon¹ that has meant a lot to me.)

“Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands.”— Isaiah 49:16 KJV

No doubt a part of the wonder which is concentrated in the word “Behold,” is excited by the unbelieving lamentation of the preceding sentence.

Zion said, “The Lord hath forsaken me, and my God hath forgotten me.” How amazed the divine mind seems to be at this wicked unbelief! What can be more astounding than the unfounded doubts and fears of God’s favored people?

The Lord’s loving word of rebuke should make us blush; He cries, “How can I have forgotten thee, when I have graven you upon the palms of my hands?”

We know not which most to wonder at, the faithfulness of God or the unbelief of his people. He keeps his promise a thousand times, and yet the next trial makes us doubt him.

He never fails, yet we are as continually vexed with anxieties, molested with suspicions, and disturbed with fears.

“Behold,” is a word intended to excite admiration. Here, indeed, we have a theme for marveling. Heaven and earth may well be astonished that rebels should obtain so great a nearness to the heart of infinite love as to be written upon the palms of his hands.

The name is there, but that is not all: “I have graven your person, your image, your case, your circumstances, your sins, your temptations, your weaknesses, your wants, your works; I have graven you, everything about you, all that concerns you; I have put you altogether there.

Will you ever say again that God has forsaken you when he has graven you upon his own palms?

Lord, You have written my very existence on the palms of Your hands. I am forever grateful for Your love. I will trust in, rely on, and lean into You today—and always! Amen.

(A full sermon by Spurgeon on this topic can be read here Neither Forsaken Nor Forgotten)

¹ Published by Barbour Publishing Inc. Used by permission. Copyright 2015.

Photo by Jack Bair 2019, all rights reserved.

 

 

The First and the Last

He was there at the beginning and he will be there at the end, he has gone before us on this road. And all along the way he walks with us. Stretching out under all the great expanse of history are His Everlasting Arms as he carries his children.

When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last.” Revelation 1:17 (NIV)

I have read this verse many times but this last time it literally vibrated in my spirit like a giant bell, like a mighty shout, like the sounding of the shofar. The answer to the cry of a desperate and fearful heart.

Being at the end of the year in my One Year Bible, I am reading Revelation. And, it caught my attention that Jesus calls himself the First and the Last three times in Revelation. When the Lord repeats something it is important, so I looked further into it and found that this declaration is also made three times in Isaiah (see them all below). Four of the six times it is accompanied by the admonition, “do not fear” or “do not be afraid.” Once it is preceded by, “Listen to me.”

Isaiah 41:4 says it slightly differently and wonderfully.

Who has done this and carried it through, calling forth the generations from the beginning? I, the LORD—with the first of them and with the last—I am he … So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed (gaze about in anxiety, look away), for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. Isaiah 41:4, 10 (NIV emphasis mine)

This is the ringing cry I hear: Listen to me. I am the first and the last. I am He. I am the only God. I am the One who looks out for you, helps you, loves you. The One who is always with you. Do not gaze about in anxiety. Look at me. Do not fear.

And it came to be as a revelation, a clear vision, in my heart – not just in my head. He was there at the beginning “delighting in mankind” (Proverbs 8:30-31)  and he will be there at the end, he has gone before us on this road. And all along the way he walks with us. Stretching out under all the great expanse of history are His Everlasting Arms as he carries his children.

As a baby in arms, looking up into the eyes of her father, does not see where she is going, Lord I do not know where we are headed here in this hard and pain-filled place. But, I will rest and trust in your loving arms and fix my eyes on You.

You both precede and follow me. You place your hand of blessing on my head. Psalm 139:5 (NLT)

The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms. Deuteronomy 33:27 (NIV)

 

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Who has done this and carried it through, calling forth the generations from the beginning? I, the LORD—with the first of them and with the last—I am he … So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. Isaiah 41:4, 10 (NIV)

This is what the LORD says—Israel’s King and Redeemer, the LORD Almighty: I am the first and I am the last; apart from me there is no God … Do not tremble, do not be afraid. Did I not proclaim this and foretell it long ago? You are my witnesses. Is there any God besides me? No, there is no other Rock; I know not one. Isaiah 44:6, 8 (NIV)

Listen to me, O Jacob, Israel, whom I have called: I am he; I am the first and I am the last. Isaiah 48:12 (NIV)

When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last.” Revelation 1:17 (NIV)

“To the angel of the church in Smyrna write: These are the words of him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again. I know your afflictions and your poverty—yet you are rich! … Do not be afraid …” Revelation 2:8-10 (NIV)

I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End … Amen. Come, Lord Jesus. Revelation 22:13, 20 (NIV)

 

Image, Safe by Barbara W https://www.flickr.com/photos/barbasia/15537309689/

 

Middle of the Story

Ann Voskamp wrote, “Faith thanks God in the middle of the story.”[i] The middle of the story is the hard place, where behind me, and at my feet, is the stumbled-over rubble of past mistakes, rebellions, regrets. And before, is the obscured darkness of unknown hazards and hopes. Faith thanks God amid the wreckage. Faith asks me every day to turn from fear and trust the One who has promised. How do I do that? Hebrews 11:1 (NKJV) says:

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

The amazing Greek word translated “substance” is hupostasis.  It partly means “steadfastness of mind, firmness, courage, resolution, confidence, firm trust, assurance,” and it is mostly translated that way as “confidence.” It literally means “a setting under”[ii] as in setting under a support, a substructure, a foundation, that which is firm. Faith is the setting under me of the foundation that makes or causes me to stand and be confident. Jesus is that foundation[iii] under me. He is the Rock on which I stand.

Thinking of it this way helps me, because it makes me realize that faith is not so much something that I “have,” something I am required to manufacture or come up with. But faith is something I do. I simply step onto the Rock. I place my faith and hope, not in my ability to produce faith, not in something that may or may not happen, but in Jesus – his faithfulness, his truth, his Word, his love and care.

But, the hidden treasure in this word is another facet of meaning. Hupostasis also means “actual existence, substance, real being, essence.” It is used in this sense in Hebrews 1:3.

The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being (hupostasis) sustaining (bearing up, upholding, keeping from falling) all things by his powerful word.

Faith is the essence of hope as Christ is the essence of God – His exact representation. When I step onto the Rock, I am sustained, upheld, kept from falling by the very essence of God, which is love. God is love; his real being is love. I will thank God here in the middle of my story, confidently standing on Jesus, the Rock of my salvation, supported and sustained by his Love that was proven at the cross.

My hope is built on nothing less
than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
but wholly lean on Jesus’ name.

On Christ the solid rock I stand,
all other ground is sinking sand;
all other ground is sinking sand.

And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. 1 John 4:16 (NIV)

He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. Psalm 40:2 (NIV)

There is so much in Hebrews 11:1! I will look at the second half of the verse next time. Read more about faith in the blog Faith, Part Two

[i] Ann Voskamp, The Broken Way

[ii] All translations from NetBible.org and Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible

[iii] 1 Corinthians 3:11 

 

Point of View Two

God starts by looking at the relationship, at us and our broken hearts, our wounds and need.

When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? Psalm 8:3-4 (NIV)

He heals the broken-hearted and binds up their wounds. He determines the number of the stars and calls them each by name. Psalm 147:3-4 (NIV)

I was looking at these two verses lately and noticed something. They both relate the same wonder – that God, the Creator of the vast universe, loves and cares for us! – but from two very different points of view.

In Psalm 8 David starts by looking at his situation, at the world around him, at the immensity and scariness of the universe and feels overwhelmed and out of control. He feels small and insignificant. He wonders how God could care anything about him.

But in Psalm 147 God starts by looking at the relationship, at us and our broken hearts, our wounds and need. It’s as if he points us to the universe only to encourage us, as if to say, “Look!  I’ve got all of this under control. I know every star by name. Surely, I know you. Surely, I am able – I have the power, I am Mighty – to care for you. Don’t worry, I’ve got you. I won’t drop you.”

In these turbulent, chaotic, and frightening days we can feel very small, insignificant, maybe even forgotten – if our eyes are on the situation. Keep your eyes on the relationship child of God. Remember who and whose you are.

The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Romans 8:16 (NIV)

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him (that’s you and me!) endured the cross … Hebrew 12:2 (NIV)

Just as a father has compassion on his children, So the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him. For He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust. Psalm 103:13-14 (NASB)

God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore, we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging. Selah.   Psalm 46:1-3 (NIV)

Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. 1 Peter 5:7 (NIV)

The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms. Deuteronomy 33:27 (NIV)

You (yes you!) matter to God.

 

 

Image in the Public Domain. Taken from the Hubble Space Telescope, nasa.gov

Oscillation

From that strangling fear to give my trust – to joyful confidence in God my Rock. From fear of what people may think – to the desire to only please God. From futility to expectation. From fear that my life has been for nothing – to trust in the Faithful One who works all things together for my good.

For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!” Romans 8:15 (NASB) 

The word translated “again” in this verse is the Greek word palin, meaning repetition of action, once more, back anew.  Strong’s¹ concordance lists it as probably coming from a word that means to wrestle or struggle “through the idea of oscillatory repetition.”

Oscillatory motion repeats the same movement over and over, like an oscillating fan. The Oxford Dictionary² defines oscillate (among others) as:

  1. To swing backwards and forwards; to move to and fro between two points
  2. To alternate between two states, opinions, principles, purposes, etc.; to vary or fluctuate alternately between two limits.

That definitely sounds like slavery to me. Being stuck in that back and forth, back and forth. Sometimes between two states – standing and falling. Sometimes between two limits – righteousness by works and righteousness by faith and the new life in the Spirit. Sometimes between two opinions – faith and fear, doubt and confidence.  From that strangling fear to give my trust – to joyful confidence in God my Rock. From fear of what people may think – to the desire to only please God. From futility to expectation. From fear that my life has been for nothing – to trust in the Faithful One who works all things together for my good. Back and forth. Back and forth.

There are a lot of verses in the Bible about oscillating or wavering.

Elijah went before the people and said, “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.” 1 Kings 18:21 (NIV)

Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded (two-spirited, vacillating). James 4:8 (NASB)

Without wavering, let us hold tightly to the hope we say we have, for God can be trusted to keep his promise. Hebrews 10:23 (NLT)

Show mercy to those whose faith is wavering. Jude 1:22 (NLT)

I love that last one. God is merciful to those who waver! We can ask Him, as David did, to help us in our oscillating.

Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive (hurtful, idolatrous, painful, sorrowful) way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. Psalm 139:23-24 (NIV)

The Hebrew word for “anxious thoughts” in this verse denotes a kind of oscillating. The word is saraph, and that comes from caiph, the word that means ambivalence, division, divided opinion or divided in mind. Wavering, oscillating comes from anxiety and fear. But the root of both of those words is caaph, which means to cut off, lop off boughs. So, you could say that the root meaning is that my wrong (idolatrous?) thinking is dividing me, cutting me off from God. I still think my problems are a little too big for God. I am still not completely trusting him. But there is grace hidden here. For, what does lopping off boughs remind you of?

I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes (cleanses) so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. John 15:1-4 (NIV)

I can’t remain in the Vine and bear fruit if I am jumping back and forth between faith and doubt, fear and trust. But amazing grace! The Father lops off those oscillating, unfruitful boughs, the doubt and fear that cuts me off from relationship with Him. The Father cleanses me if I surrender to him. But that takes courage. It takes stepping out of the boat, staying on the path with Jesus, abiding in the Vine. And I will by His grace! Because He is with me and I have not received a spirit of over-and-over-and-over again fear, but I have been adopted by my Abba Father and He is pruning me, caring for me.

Lord, help me to stop oscillating for I know that you can be trusted. Help me to abide and rest in You. Help me to turn off the fan.

Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth. Psalm 46:10 (NIV)

 

¹Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible

²Oxford English Dictionary. 2nd ed. Oxford University Press, 2000-

 

Image by Fred Barr https://www.flickr.com/photos/145458916@N04/46457248094/in/dateposted/