Provided

We might not be happy with all the things that God “provides” for us, but we have to keep in mind that God always has his heart and mind focused on something greater.

But the Lord provided a great fish to swallow Jonah … (Jonah 1:17 NIV) 

I was reading the book of Jonah again recently and that word “provided” in this translation caught my attention. Besides the whale, God also “provided” a vine for shade, a worm to kill the vine, and a scorching east wind and hot sun (Jonah 4:6-8).

It is kind of an amusing translation to me because the meaning of “provide” that I always think of is “to supply or make available (something wanted or needed).”i Kind of like the amenities offered at a hotel. But, the only thing here that Jonah I think wanted or thought he needed was the shade of the vine, which made him “very happy” (Jonah 4:6). Certainly not the whale or the discomfort of the blazing desert heat.  

But there is another, what Merriam Webster calls, archaic definition of this word which is closer to the actual Hebrew meaning. And that is “to prepare in advance.” The Hebrew word is manah (מָנָא), which means to count, reckon, number, assign, tell, appoint, ordain, or prepare. In this case, God assigned to Jonah, or appointed/prepared for him the whale, vine, worm and weather. Jonah is not too happy about most of what has been assigned to him – including his assignment, in the first place, to go to Nineveh and urge repentance. We also have assignments prepared in advance. 

For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. Ephesians 2:10 

Many times, it seems, the things that God provides for us are, as in Jonah’s case, the means to gently (or maybe it feels not so gently) change our attitudes and nudge us into these good works.  

The Hebrew word manah also can mean count or number, as in “counted among” or “numbered with,” as in this verse: 

Therefore I will give him [Messiah] a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors. Isaiah 53:12 

Messiah himself had an assignment; things prepared in advance for him to accomplish. We might not be happy with all the things that God “provides” or assigns to us, but we have to keep in mind that God always has his heart and mind – his very being – passionately focused on something greater. Something greater than our comfort or temporal happiness or personal preferences at the moment. And that is always the salvation of people (including us!). 

“Should I not have compassion on Nineveh, the great city in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know the difference between their right and left hand, as well as many animals?” Jonah 4:11 (NASB) 

Unlike Jonah, who ran in the opposite direction, Jesus, the Messiah, gave us the perfect example of accepting that which God has provided for us. He “for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame” (Hebrews 12:2), and resolutely set his face toward Jerusalem and the cross that awaited (Luke 9:51).  

Jesus commanded Peter, “Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?” John 18:11 

Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” Matthew 26:39 

Lord, I pray that you would work in me “to will and to act according to your good purpose,” that I might do the good works prepared in advance, and that you won’t have to “provide” for me very many whales – or worms. 

So [Jonah] complained to the LORD about it: “Didn’t I say before I left home that you would do this, LORD? That is why I ran away to Tarshish! I knew that you were a gracious and compassionate God, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. I knew how easily you could cancel your plans for destroying these people. Jonah 4:2 (NLT) 

i Merriam Webster 

Image attribution: Pieris rapae caterpillar, by James Lindsey at Ecology of Commanster 

The Treasures of Darkness

God’s love is always facing out.

I will give you the treasures of darkness and hidden wealth of secret places, so that you may know that it is I, The LORD, the God of Israel, who calls you by your name. Isaiah 45:3 (NASB) 

I blogged about this verse back in July1, but I see now that it was just a beginning. God has been leading me deeper into Isaiah 45:3. He is showing me, and hopefully, all of us, something amazing for this dark time. 

I will give you the treasures (storehouse, treasury, magazine of weapons in the armory of God)  

of darkness (misery, destruction, death, ignorance, sorrow, obscurity, night)  

and hidden wealth (hidden treasure)  

of secret places (the hiding place),  

So that you may know (perceive, recognize, comprehend, understand)  

that it is I, The LORD, the God of Israel,  

who calls (summons, invites, calls for, calls and commissions, calls and endows, appoints) you by your name. Isaiah 45:3 (NASB) 

There is a treasure to be found in our darkness. A treasure that can only be discovered there in the dark night. Encouragement and comfort and beauty, a light on the path through. Comfort and encouragement for us in our struggle and fear and pain, but also for others. Maybe mostly for others for God’s love is always facing out. 

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. 2 Corinthians 1: 3-4  

There are weapons to be forged in the darkness. It’s interesting that God’s treasure house or storehouse is also a magazine of his weapons. Weapons of the faith that shields, the love that overcomes, the joy that imparts strength, the song that crumbles walls and disperses enemies. Yes, we have these weapons from the first, but we don’t really fight well with them until they are tested – mostly in adversity. Like David, who tested his sling and stones against the lion and the bear.  

There is a commission to receive in the dark times. For in the dark times he calls, he invites, he appoints and commissions us to go out and share our testimony. A testimony birthed in the darkness. It is an awesome thing to be summoned, appointed, and commissioned by God. Isaiah 43:1 says: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.”  

It’s like that letter you get when you are drafted into the service, and you are no longer your own for a few years, but this summons is infinitely more. Unlike the draft letter, God gives you a choice in the darkness – you can give up in despair and anger at God, or you can pick up your weapons and step forward and sign on the line with that new name He has called you: Mine. 

“Be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet the hope of salvation” (1 Thessalonians 5:8). Paul instructs, “Arm yourself with faith build up your belief now, before the day comes. Learn your song, and you’ll be able to sing it in your fire. 

This is the hope of our most holy faith: our Lord causes a song to come out of the darkest of times. Start now to build up your holy faith in him and learn to praise his majesty quietly in your heart. When you sing your song, it will strengthen and encourage your brothers and sisters. And it will testify to the world: ‘Our Lord reigns over the flood!’” — David Wilkerson 

Photo by Jack Bair, 2020

1 see When You Are in Darkness https://wrestlingwordblog.wordpress.com/2020/07/11/when-you-are-in-darkness

The God Who Wants to Celebrate

He is always preparing, and calling for us to join in the preparation of this great party he wants to give.

But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ Luke 15:22-24 

“William Tyndale, the man who translated the Bible into English in the 16th century, said: 

Evangelion (what we call ‘the gospel’) is a Greek word, signifying good, merry, glad and joyful news, that makes a man’s heart glad and makes him sing, dance and leap for joy. 

A church without the gospel fails to be a church. It’s something else—a social club or political action committee or a rallying point for pet projects or hobby horse hermeneutics. Those are man-centered organizations. And they can’t last. They make us sad. Maybe not immediately, but ultimately. Every man-made institution ends in tears. But the gospel ends with a party. It’s good news of great joy.” — Adam McClendon, The Gospel is Big Enough for Your Church (blogged recently by Dr. Peter Cockrell https://pjcockrell.wordpress.com/2020/10/06/the-gospel-is-big-enough-for-your-church/ ) 

Henry J.M. Nouwen also writes that God’s irrepressible love is the “love that always welcomes home and always wants to celebrate … ‘Rejoice with me,’ the shepherd says, ‘I have found my sheep that was lost.’ ‘Rejoice with me,’ the woman says, ‘I have found the drachma I lost.’ ‘Rejoice with me,’ the father says, ‘this son of mine was lost and is found.’” i  

I love that God’s love always wants to celebrate, that his good news ends with a party. He is always calling out to us, “rejoice with me!” He is always preparing, and calling for us to join in the preparation of this great party he wants to give. 

Timothy Keller notes that “in his first public exercise of divine power, Jesus turned several large containers of water into wine. Amazingly, John the gospel writer calls this miracle a ‘sign,’ a signifier of what Jesus’s’ ministry was all about. Why would Jesus, to convey what he had come to do, choose to turn 150 gallons of water into superb wine in order to keep a party going? The answer is that Jesus came to bring festival joy … Jesus’s salvation is a feast …” ii 

It is not surprising that the first miracle done by Jesus in this great story of the gospel celebration was at a marriage. Even though Jesus told Mary that it was not really his time yet, I don’t think he could resist a celebration – especially one of a marriage. Because that is how, finally, the gospel story will end: 

Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. Revelation 19:7 

 “… his bride has made herself ready.” The word translated “ready” is hetoimazo, which means to prepare, to make the necessary preparations, get everything ready. We take part in the preparation by getting ourselves ready – working out our salvation, allowing the Holy Spirit to work in us, dying to self, becoming holy. But we also help prepare by going out and inviting others to the party and helping them prepare. 

The father in the parable of the two sons calls for the preparation of a great celebration. Mark recounts the beginning of the gospel – the joyful celebration – also as a preparation.  

The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God. It is written in Isaiah the prophet: “I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way — a voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’” Mark 1:1-2 

Jesus told another parable, that is called the Parable of the Great Banquet. Again, it includes an invitation to a party that has been prepared. 

Then he sent some more servants and said, ‘Tell those who have been invited that I have prepared my dinner: My oxen and fattened cattle have been slaughtered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet.’ Matthew 22:4 

If we are his servants, let us go out and proclaim the joyful news: There is a great party that has been prepared for you if you will come. Return! Come rejoice with the Father! Come in! You are invited to the wedding banquet of the Lamb! 

But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found. Luke 15:32 

I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent. Luke 15:7 

No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him. 1 Corinthians 2:9 

The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come. Revelation 22:17 

Photo by stainedglassartist, Cana detail jars, https://flic.kr/p/7bUyuv  

With

This seemingly insignificant Hebrew word – here humbly translated into English as “with” – carries within it the very heart of God.

He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with (beside, by, among, accompanying) your God. Micah 6:8

“… to walk humbly with your God.” That little word translated into English as “with” is the Hebrew word ‘im (עִם). Within this lowly word lies an amazing hidden treasure. It is related to the Hebrew word ‘am, which means people, nation, clan, tribe, family. According to the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, ‘am is “predominantly used to express two basic characteristics of [people] considered as a grouping: 1) relationships sustained within or to the group and 2) the unity of the group.”

Already, ‘im carries this meaning of relationship. The Wordbook goes on to say:

“‘im, the preposition, as ‘am the noun, expresses the concept of inclusiveness, togetherness, company … the basic conception conveyed is that of fellowship, companionship, common experiences of suffering, prosperity etc. … the term, as all other prepositions, may have definite theological implications. All prepositions indicate relationships, and ‘im in particular stresses a close relationship. This type of relationship should be maintained between God and man, man and man since it is essential for any person’s salvation, eternal life and the worship and service of God.”[i]

This little word translated “with” is the first part of the word Immanuel which is the “symbolic and prophetic name of the Messiah, the Christ, prophesying that He would be born of a virgin and would be ‘God with us.’”[ii]

This seemingly insignificant Hebrew word – here humbly translated into English as “with” – carries within it the very heart of God. His heart that we should walk with him in relationship, fellowship and companionship. That we would share in his sufferings here on earth. That we would be part of a people and a family as his children. That we should accomplish, bring about justice. That we should do, and love doing, good deeds of mercy and kindness. That we should grow more and more like him, walking humbly beside and among our brothers and sisters and our Lord, who accompanies us always.  

By this we know that we are in Him: the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked. 1 John 2:5-6 (NASB)

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma. Ephesians 5:1-2 (NASB)

Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. John 13:14-15

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. John 13:34

Lord, give us grace to walk humbly with You.

Photo copyright by Jack Bair 2019


[i] Archer, Gleason L., Jr., Harris, Robert, Waltke, Bruce K., Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament. Moody, 1980.

[ii] Gesenius, H. F. W., Brown, Francis, Robinson, Edward, Driver, S. R., Briggs, Charles A., A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament.

When You Are In Darkness

I will give you the treasures (storehouse, treasury, magazine of weapons in the armory of God)

of darkness (misery, destruction, death, ignorance, sorrow, obscurity, night)

and hidden wealth (buried treasure) of secret places,

So that you may know (perceive, recognize, comprehend, understand)

that it is I, The LORD, the God of Israel,

who calls (summons, invites, calls for, calls and commissions, calls and endows, appoints) you by your name. Isaiah 45:3 (NASB) 

Aurora borealis may be stunningly spread across the sky, but we may not be able to see because there is too much light. The darker the night, the better viewing … Your black clouds give the sun its chance. It is surprise, it is escape from darkness to light that makes life so rich. Your prison is also your paint box from which all the beauty you know is pouring. — Frank Laubach, Letters by a Modern Mystic 

The dark is not your fault, the dark is not about blame. The dark is about bravely being a canvas for light — about courageously letting your dark be a canvas for sparks of God glory, a backdrop for ambers of mercy in the midst of your fire. — Ann Voskamp[i]  

When you are in the dark, listen, and God will give you a very precious message for someone else when you get into the light. — Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest 

Slowly you will discover God’s love in your suffering. Your heart will begin to approve the whole thing. You will learn from yourself what all the schools in the world could not teach you-the healing action of faith without supporting pleasure. You will feel and understand the ministry of the night; its power to purify, to detach, to humble, to destroy the fear of death and, what is more important to you at the moment, the fear of life. And you will learn that sometimes pain can do what even joy cannot, such as exposing the vanity of earth’s trifles and filling your heart with longing for the peace of heaven. — A.W. Tozer, That Incredible Christian, pp. 124 

What to do with our losses? . . . We must mourn our losses. We cannot talk or act them away, but we can shed tears over them and allow ourselves to grieve deeply. To grieve is to allow our losses to tear apart feelings of security and safety and lead us to the painful truth of our brokenness. Our grief makes us experience the abyss of our own life in which nothing is settled, clear, or obvious, but everything is constantly shifting and changing. . . . But in the midst of all this pain, there is a strange, shocking, yet very surprising voice. It is the voice of the One who says: “Blessed are those who mourn; they shall be comforted.” That’s the unexpected news: there is a blessing hidden in our grief. Not those who comfort are blessed, but those who mourn! Somehow, in the midst of our tears, a gift is hidden. Somehow, in the midst of our mourning, the first steps of the dance take place. Somehow, the cries that well up from our losses belong to our songs of gratitude. – Henri Nouwen

When darkness overtakes the godly, light will come bursting in.  Psalm 112:4a (NLT) 

Image copyright Derek Bair


[i] Ann Voskamp, The Christian Church, Suicide & Mental Health: When It’s Down to the Wire & Things Are on Fire, blog September 10, 2019 

Friends

This completely turned upside down my thinking about John 21. I don’t think Jesus is settling for a lesser form of love from Peter. I don’t think this is another failure for Peter.

So when they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love (agapao) Me more than these?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love (phileo) You.” He said to him, “Tend My lambs.” He said to him again a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love (agapao) Me?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love (phileo) You.” He said to him, “Shepherd My sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love (phileo) Me?” Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you love (phileo) Me?” And he said to Him, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love (phileo) You.” Jesus said to him, “Tend My sheep.” John 21:15-17 (NIV)

Much has been written about this passage of scripture. Many have thought that it was Jesus’ way of reinstating Peter after his three denials on the night Jesus was arrested – the three declarations of love wiping out the three denials – and I believe that was part of it. And many have pointed out the two forms of the word “love” used in these verses and wondered about the possible meaning. Jesus uses the word agapao in his first two questions, but phileo in his last question to Peter. Peter replies, “yes,” but uses phileo in all three of his answers.

Agapao simply means to love in a social or moral sense. E. Stauffer[i] writes that agapao, or love, of God means total commitment and total trust. So, when Jesus asks Peter, “do you agapao me?” He may have been asking also, “are you totally committed now, do you trust me?”

Peter replies, “yes,” but then goes on, not answering with agapao, but with the Greek word phileo. Phileo means to be a friend to, to be fond of an individual or an object, to have affection for, to kiss, to love. It would appear at first glance that this is a lesser form of love. And some have thought that Jesus was prodding Peter to the higher form of love, but Peter, after his devasting failure in the denial episode, could only promise the lesser form of love – to be a friend. They have concluded, “that Jesus finally concedes defeat and accepts only the lower form of love which is all that Peter is capable of offering.”[ii] But, when I looked further into the meaning of this word, phileo, I was amazed.

Phileo is the verb form of the noun philos, which means friend, dear friend, associate, neighbor. But, it also means this: “one of the bridegroom’s friends who on his behalf asked the hand of the bride and rendered him various services in closing the marriage and celebrating the nuptials.” This friend is acting as the best man. This friend carries a huge trust and responsibility. He asks for the hand of the Bride on behalf of the Bridegroom! This is the word for friend that John the Baptist used in this verse.

The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. John 3:29 (NIV)

Jesus said, “You are my friends (philos) if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends (philos), for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you (John 15:14-15 NIV). This sounds like a greater call, a greater trust, a greater service to our Lord than to be a mere servant who is not privy to what his master is about. He’s calling us to be the friend, the best man, of the Bridegroom! To go out and ask for the hand of the Bride on His behalf. Isn’t that what evangelism is all about? What a precious thing this Bride! What an amazing responsibility and calling is given to us!

This completely turned upside down my thinking about John 21. I don’t think Jesus is settling for a lesser form of love from Peter. I don’t think this is another failure for Peter. I think Peter is saying, “Yes Lord, I love (agapao) you! I fully trust and am committed to you. But even more, I accept the calling and responsibility to go out and bring back to you your Bride.” That’s why Jesus can ask, in a way, the third time, Are you prepared to be my Best Man? Go find and take care my Bride.

Am I prepared? Are you? Can we say, Yes Lord, you know I phileo you!

The people I love (phileo, I am a friend to), I call to account–prod and correct and guide so that they’ll live at their best. Up on your feet, then! About face! Run after God! Revelation 3:19 (MSG) 

 

[i] E. Stauffer in Kittel, G., Friedrich, G., & Bromiley, G. W. (1985). Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans.

[ii] NetBible.org. Translator’s Notes.

Photograph of the bride with the best man and groomsmen by Caitlyn Brouwer. All rights reserved by Jessica Bair.

Keeping in Step

Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Galatians 5:25 (NIV)

Keep in step with the Spirit. How do I do that? It reminds me of a little kid trying to keep up with the Dad. And sometimes it does feel like that. He is relentless, focused, always moving, always working, alive, creating. If I stop a minute to dig in my heels, he’s down the path. And then I’m running to catch up.

But “keeping up” is different from “keeping in step.” I have always been deeply impressed by the heavenly creatures that Ezekiel saw in his vision that were so completely responsive to the Spirit of God.

Each one went straight ahead (with their faces straight forward). Wherever the spirit would go, they would go, without turning (not turning around or aside) as they went. Ezekiel 1:12 (NIV)

The word translated “went” is the Hebrew word halak (הֲלַךְ) which means “to walk.” Wherever the Spirit walked, they would walk, straight ahead, without turning. I have always been captivated by that vision – the instant response, without resistance, to the prompting of the Spirit.

“Keep in step” I think means to remain in his Presence, trying to be continually sensitive to his promptings – and to respond immediately, or more and more immediately. To walk the way he walked when he was physically on Earth, and to walk with him the way and where he’s walking now, today. To be so in tune with his great heart that, finally, there is no hesitation. Walk along beside him with my hand in his. Walk in love. Walk where he has always walked – where there is need and pain and the crying heart. Walk with him in the Way that his footsteps made for us to walk

Righteousness will go before Him and will make His footsteps into a way. Psalm 85:13 (NASB)

Jesus answered, “I am the way …” John 14:6 (NIV)

Lord help me keep my eyes on you. Help me keep in step with you on (and in) the Way.

 

Photograph by Jason Jones, Flickr, https://www.flickr.com/search/?text=Camping_FairOaks%20Farm_Sussex27

God is Not Silent

God is speaking to all of us with that still, small voice. Easy to ignore. Easy to deny. Easy to turn away.

God is not silent. It is the nature of God to speak. The second person of the Holy Trinity is called “The Word.” The Bible is the inevitable outcome of God’s continuous speech. It is the infallible declaration of His mind.– A.W. Tozer

God is always speaking to us. It’s just that most of the time we don’t like what he is saying. “Wait” (ugh!), “Hope” (yet!), “Forgive” (I can’t – or won’t), “Love” (but what if they don’t love back? What if I am hurt, mocked, ignored?). What God has said and says is in his Word – the Word written, and the Word made flesh. But even if you have never read the Bible, he is speaking to you. He is speaking to all of us with that still, small voice. Easy to ignore. Easy to deny. Easy to turn away. Frederick Buechner put it this way:

But he also speaks to us about ourselves, about what he wants us to do and what he wants us to become; and this is the area where I believe that we know so much more about him than we admit even to ourselves, where people hear God speak even if they do not believe in him. A face comes toward us down the street. Do we raise our eyes or do we keep them lowered, passing by in silence? Somebody says something about somebody else, and what he says happens to be not only cruel but also funny, and everybody laughs. Do we laugh too, or do we speak the truth? When a friend has hurt us, do we take pleasure in hating him, because hate has its pleasures as well as love, or do we try to build back some flimsy little bridge?  Sometimes when we are alone, thoughts come swarming into our heads like bees—some of them destructive, ugly, self-defeating thoughts, some of them creative and glad. Which thoughts do we choose to think then, as much as we have the choice? Will we be brave today or a coward today? Not in some big way probably but in some little foolish way, yet brave still.  Will we be honest today or a liar? Just some little pint-sized honesty, but honest still. Will we be a friend or cold as ice today? … And the words that he says, to each of us differently, are be brave . . . be merciful . . . feed my lambs . . . press on toward the goal.[i]

In every little choice we make all day long God is speaking. Do we join in the gossip? Do we turn our eyes away and walk by the pain and the need? Do we hide our brokenness and put on a happy mask? Or do we comfort others with the comfort we have been given. Do we surrender to the cleansing fire of his passionate love for us, or cling stubbornly to self-justification?

God is love. And love continually speaks. It cannot be silent for it has been sent out into the world to accomplish something and it cannot, and will not, and has not failed. His love spoke from the cross and speaks on through eternity. And what is Love saying? “I love you!” “My love is always with you” “Give my love away.”

This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. John 15:12 (NASB)

“… be brave . . . be merciful . . . feed my lambs . . . press on toward the goal.”

 

 

Image of sound waves from clipart-library.com

[i] Frederick Buechner. The Magnificent Defeat. 1985.

The Raven’s Croak

God didn’t choose a beautiful bird or a noble bird, or even a bird good for eating – but dirty, croaking ravens to feed Elijah – birds that probably had just been eating roadkill. I wonder what Elijah thought about that.

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 (croak, cry of a raven), “Abba! Father!” Romans 8:15 (NASB)

It makes me smile that the Greek word translated “cry out” here means to croak, like the cry of a raven. We croak like a raven, “Abba! Father!” I feel like I croak a lot.

Jesus told us to consider the ravens, alluding perhaps to Psalm 147.

Consider the ravens, for they neither sow nor reap; they have no storeroom nor barn, and yet God feeds them; how much more valuable you are than the birds! Luke 12:24 (NASB)

He gives to the beast its food, and to the young ravens which cry. Psalms 147:9 (NASB)

Why ravens? Why not something beautiful like a dove? The raven was on the list of “unclean” birds under the law of Moses (Deuteronomy 14:4, Leviticus 11:15). In Leviticus it says they are to be regarded as an abomination, as filth, detestable, disgusting. They eat dead things and maggots.[i] Yet (!) Jesus chooses this bird for his illustration of God’s care for us.

In a sermon called The Raven’s Cry, Charles Spurgeon wrote the following:

I can hardly leave this point without remarking that the mention of a raven should encourage a sinner. As an old author writes, “Among fowls He does not mention the hawk or falcon, which are highly prized and fed by princes. But He chooses that hateful and malicious bird, the croaking raven, whom no man values but as she eats up the carrion which might annoy him. Behold then, and wonder at the Providence and kindness of God, that He should provide food for the raven, a creature of so dismal a hue and of so untuneable a tone–a creature that is so odious to most men, and ominous to some.”[ii]

Encouragement for the sinner. Is this why Jesus chose the raven? To show us that no matter how disgusting, unclean – untuneable – that we think we are, or others think we are, or that we really are – God accepts us, God loves us, God takes care of us. What a picture of grace and mercy!

There is another amazing and curious mention of ravens in the Old Testament. It is in the retelling of Elijah hiding from Ahab. God told Elijah to hide at the Brook Cherith and that ravens would be sent to feed him (1 Kings 17: 3-4). Again, God didn’t choose a beautiful bird or a noble bird, or even a bird good for eating – but dirty, croaking ravens to feed Elijah – birds that probably had just been eating roadkill. I wonder what Elijah thought about that. And when the water ran out there at the brook, God sent Elijah to another sort of unclean raven, the Sidonian widow (1 Kings 17:9).

The Sidonians were idol worshippers. They worshipped “Ashtoreth the vile goddess of the Sidonians (2 Kings 23:13).” This worship included ritual prostitution (we call it human trafficking today) and child sacrifice. The notorious Jezebel was the daughter of King Ethbaal of the Sidonians (1 Kings 16:31).

So detestable were the Sidonians to the Jews, that when Jesus reminded them of this incident while speaking in a synagogue, He was almost thrown off a cliff (Luke 4:25-29). Yet(!), God sent Elijah there. And Elijah humbled himself to take food from the widow’s “unclean” hands – a widow, however, who was willing to give all she had for herself and her son to Elijah to obey the Lord God – and he ministered life and salvation to her and to her son.

Consider the ravens. Yes, we are all ravens. We are all Sidonians. For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. We all have eaten our share of the maggots of lies and idolatry, and maybe still are. Yet (!!) we are loved. And we have been called (even the ravens were called to feed Elijah at the brook!) and chosen to humble ourselves and minister His life and love to all the other fallen, unclean birds. We are not called to judge and condemn, but to love. And we can stand in the strength and grace that He gives. We can abide, we can rest in the assuredness that we are His and He will care for us. That we are His adopted sons and daughters, and that He hears, and is delighted, when we croak “Abba, Father!”

(Abba! Another good one-word prayer? See A Thousand Defects )

 

[i] Wikipedia, The Common Raven

[ii] Charles Spurgeon, The Raven’s Cry, A sermon delivered on Sunday evening, January 14, 1866 at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington. Reprinted in, The Power in Prayer. Whitaker House, 1996.

Image, Raven by Jim Bahn (background color changed) https://www.flickr.com/photos/gcwest/186088713/in/album-72157594158104053/ 

 

The Lord Turned

He sees us toddling toward him, not fallen flat on our faces. God is always looking ahead, seeing us at our best, at the end of the road.

The LORD turned to him and said, “Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?” Judges 6:14 (NIV)

The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: “Before the cock crows today, you will disown me three times.” Luke 22:61 (NIV)

I read a One Year Bible for my devotionals, which divides the Bible into 365 readings, one each from the Old and New Testaments, Psalms and Proverbs. Recently, the above two verses were facing each other on opposite pages, and I realized how alike the situations were. (Read Judges 6:11-22 and Luke 22:31-34, 54-62 for the full stories.)

Both Gideon and Peter were at their very lowest points. Feeling physically threatened and hiding – Gideon in a hole in the ground threshing his meager wheat, Peter crouching with the servants around a campfire, pretending he was somebody else. Both had a low opinion of themselves right at that moment. Both were denying the Lord – Peter outright and Gideon by his attitude. But worse, both felt let down and abandoned by their Lord.

“But sir,” Gideon replied, “if the LORD is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our fathers told us about when they said, ‘Did not the LORD bring us up out of Egypt?’ But now the LORD has abandoned us and put us into the hand of Midian.” Judges 6:13 (NIV)

Yet (!), in spite of their failings and weaknesses, both were being called to do great deeds and both needed strengthening. I had always imagined the looks and words of the Lord in the above verses as negative – a rebuke, a reproach, a look of disappointment.

However, all through the Bible the turning of the Face of God toward his people is a picture of favor and grace, encouraging and strengthening.

The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace. Numbers 6:23-26 (NIV)

“The picture is of divine favor – the beaming face of a parent for his beloved.” [i]

Turn to (turn toward) me and have mercy (be gracious, show favor, have pity) on me, for I am alone and in deep distress. Psalm 25:16 (NIV)

But the turning away, or hiding, of God’s face is a sign of rejection.

O LORD, why do you reject me? Why do you turn your face away from me? Psalm 88:14 (NLT)

But the Lord turned toward Gideon and Peter. Even in midst of Jesus’ great betrayal and passion, he turned in mercy and love, grace and encouragement toward Peter. “Come on, I know you can do it. Am I not sending you?” How that look of love must have pierced Peter’s soul!

“And the Lord turned Himself … and looked upon Peter; with his bodily eyes, with great earnestness, expressing in his looks concern and pity for him; for it was a look, not of wrath and resentment, but of love and mercy, and power went along with it.”[ii]

God calls us when we are in our holes and hiding places. He calls us out of doubt and despair, when denial and worthless words are spewing from our mouths. He calls us at our worst but calls us anyway. Like a father encouraging his little child to walk, “Come on, I know you can do it!” He sees us toddling toward him, not fallen flat on our faces. God is always looking ahead, seeing us at our best, at the end of the road. The Lord is asking you to turn to him. Gain strength and favor and guidance for your way. Turn and look full in his wonderful face, for he has already turned to you.

 

Image in the Public Domain. By Rembrandt – Web Gallery of Art:   Image  Info about artwork, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15417264

[i] NetBible Translator’s Note on Numbers 6:25

[ii] John Gill’s Exposition of the Bible