Therefore

The “therefore” at the beginning of the verse said to me, look at the context. And the context is very interesting.

Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel. Isaiah 7:14 (NASB)

At Christmas time we see this verse a lot on memes and Christmas cards and in sermons. But today the “therefore” at the beginning of the verse said to me, look at the context. And the context is very interesting.

Israel is under attack by two kings, and Isaiah is instructed by God to go to King Ahaz with a message. So, Isaiah tells Ahaz, one of the most wicked kings in Israel’s history, to “‘Be careful, keep calm and don’t be afraid. Do not lose heart because of these two smoldering stubs of firewood’” (Isaiah 7:4). He assures Ahaz that what these two kings have in mind for Israel will not happen. And then, Isaiah gives Ahaz a blank check to ask anything he wants as a sign that God is telling the truth:

“Ask the LORD your God for a sign, whether in the deepest depths or in the highest heights.”

But Ahaz refuses.

I will not ask; I will not put the LORD to the test.” (7:11-12)

I will not – Ahaz continues his rebellion against the will of God. And then he puts on a fake and hypocritical religious posture in order to cover his fear and lack of faith in God, and to make himself look good – I don’t want to put the Lord to the test. After all, he could have added, isn’t that what the law commands? “Do not test the LORD your God as you did at Massah” (Deuteronomy 6:16).

The word translated “test” in both these verses is the Hebrew word nasah (נָסָה), which means “to put to the proof or test.” In the wilderness God was asking them to trust Him to take care of them, but they refused to trust and demanded that He prove it. Here in Isaiah, God wants Ahaz to put Him to the test. This verse reminds me of Psalm 34:8 (NIV).

Taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in him.

But Ahaz does not want to taste, he refuses. God is offering Ahaz the world, anything at all, but Ahaz does not want to know the goodness, the power, the authority of this God. He doesn’t want to have his eyes opened to “see.” He wants to stick with his own ideas, his own feeble religion.

Doesn’t this kind of describe the whole human race from the beginning? Rebellion, fear, mistrust, unbelief, hypocrisy, self-righteousness, willful blindness. And yet, what is God’s response to all of this? Yes, Isaiah is more than a little irritated at Ahaz, exclaiming, “Is it not enough to try the patience of men? Will you try the patience of my God also?” But what does God say?

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.

What is God’s response? Mercy, redemption. God says, you don’t want to know me, you don’t want to see, you refuse all the good I long to give you, but I’m going to give it to you anyway! I will give you the deepest depths and the highest heights, I will give you Wonderful, I will give you Truth! I will give you Life! I will give you the Way out of your mess, the way back. I will give you all my love, all my goodness, all my power and authority! I will give you Myself. Me with you and you with Me – always!

Therefore, let us – all us rebels – take God up on his offer. Let’s put God to the test. Let’s taste and see that the Lord is good. Let’s open our eyes and see and receive how much he loves us. Here is the sign. Here is the miracle. Here is the Gift.

Immanuel!

 

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16 (NIV)

 

Image, photograph taken by ESA/Hubble Telescope, NASA

 

Am I Hostile to God?

Beyond all the chaos and failure and despair is a Truth, truer than what I see in the flesh.

Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Romans 8:5-7 (NIV)

Did you ever think that when you are crabby and despairing, unthankful and complaining, angry and resentful, that your mind is set on the flesh and that you are being hostile toward God? I woke up being all of those things the other day and read this verse in my daily devotions. I was shocked when the Spirit showed me I was hostile to God and his purposes. Why? Because what God desires, what God is all about is love and life, healing and redemption, peace and hope. God is always focused outward. But, my mind, set on the flesh, was focused inward, full of hopelessness and death. Death for me and death for those around me.

In Psalm 73 David complains that the wicked don’t seem to have any problems. Everything goes right for them. He concludes, “Surely in vain have I kept my heart pure; in vain have I washed my hands in innocence.” In other words, what’s the point? But then David realizes, “If I had said, ‘I will speak thus,’ I would have betrayed your children (dealt deceitfully, treacherously, unfaithfully).” He would have been hostile to God and God’s children.

But David turned himself around. He went back and repented in the Presence and there was able to set his mind not on the flesh, but on God. And then he was able to see as God sees. And he cried out one of my favorite verses in the Bible, “Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand.”  Yet! My life may be falling apart; the whole world may be crumbling, but yet (!) God is with me!

This is the mind governed by the Spirit. This is the mind of life and peace. For faith is knowing for sure that what we DON’T see is what’s real and true. That beyond all the chaos and failure and despair is a Truth, truer than what I see in the flesh. God is with me! God is always doing life and reconciliation and redemption, and I have a place beside him doing those things too if I keep my mind set on what the Spirit desires. If I “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”

Lord, help me to keep turning myself around, to keep coming back to your Presence. Help me to be focused outward toward your love, not inward. I don’t have the strength to do it myself, but You are with me. Help me to keep setting my mind on You. Help me say worthy not Worthless Words. Help me to keep my eyes fixed on Jesus.

And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds, yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach— if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel that you have heard, which was proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, was made a minister. Colossians 1:21-23 (NASB)

We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. 2 Corinthians 10:5 (NIV)

Then he said to them all: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. Luke 9:23 (NIV)

 

Image in the Public Domain

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

Happy to Be Odd

It is the Spirit who gives eternal life. Human effort accomplishes nothing. And the very words I have spoken to you are spirit and life. John 6:63 (NLT)

The Holy Spirit highlighted two verses to me this morning in my devotional time. One was the above verse and the other was Psalm 107:30 (NLT):

He calmed the storm to a whisper and stilled the waves. What a blessing was that stillness as he brought them safely into harbor!

I have been in a perfect storm of human effort lately trying to take care of hurting and helpless family members. So, these verses meant a lot to me. But there was more (always more grace from God!). After reading and praying each morning I then catch up on the blogs I follow. The following snippets are quotes from my inbox. Do you think the Lord is trying to tell me something? (A rhetorical question accompanied by a big smile.)

Lord, You will establish peace for us, for You have also done all our work for us. Isaiah 26:12 (NIV)

“Oddly, God loves to choose the most unlikely, untrained, and imperfect folks to accomplish amazing things … the actual work will be done by God’s Spirit through you and me doing things beyond our wildest imagination. It all begins when you offer yourself to serve.” Jim Cymbala, God Uses the Flawed

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 2 Corinthians 12:9 (NIV)

“This kind of love is not a patronizing love for the unlovable— it is His love, and it will not be evidenced in us overnight. Some of us may have tried to force it, but we were soon tired and frustrated.” My Utmost for His Highest

Yes Lord, I am tired and frustrated, but I offer myself to serve again today. Let me, odd and imperfect as I am, be the one you work through today. Let your power be made perfect in my weakness. Let me learn to rest in your safe harbor as you do all my work for me, for my human effort accomplishes nothing eternally. May your love and life pour out of me today to those you love. Thank you for your Word and for encouragement from your sweet followers.

 

Many thanks to Beholding Him Ministries, My Utmost for His Highest, and World Challenge.

Sticky-notes

It’s as if God is placing sticky-notes in our lives as daily reminders of His presence and provision. They’re everywhere. —  C.J. Mahaney

They said to him, “Lord, let our eyes be opened.” Matthew 20:33

 

Beat a Path

Both of these seek-words are two-way streets. We and the Lord are seeking each other.

Seek the LORD and His strength; Seek His face continually. Psalm 105:4 (NASB)

There are two different Hebrew words translated “seek” in this verse. The first one is darash– דָּרַשׁ, and means to resort to, frequent or tread a place, seek, seek with care, seek diligently, enquire, require.

“To frequent or tread a place” makes me imagine seeking out the Lord so often as to make a path. My husband likes to take a machete and create paths through our woods. He puts little benches along the way to sit and meditate and enjoy the beauty. As soon as the paths are established, they are followed by our woodland friends. We often walk along the trails with the footprints of deer, coyote, fox, raccoons, squirrels and possums. Hopefully, the paths we tread to God might show the way for others.

But the paths must be maintained. If you don’t walk on them for a while they return to their natural state. Sometimes my husband has to use a chainsaw to remove fallen trees and limbs. He blows the leaves in the fall and mows tall grass. Making and maintaining a path to the Lord requires similar diligence and effort — frequenting it daily, keeping it clear of debris, tripping roots and thorny vines.

The second word translated “seek” is baqash– בָּקַשׁ. It means to seek to find, to seek to secure, to seek the face or Presence of God, to desire, demand, require, exact, ask, request. Note that both words include the meaning “require.” At the end of the path we tread we find the place of His presence and there we ask, present to him our desires, requirements, requests, and sometimes foolish demands. And we listen and he opens our ears and hearts to also hear his demands, desires and requirements of us.

Both of these seek-words are two-way streets. We and the Lord are seeking each other.

Jesus said he came to “seek and save” the lost. He comes daily seeking us out, knocking on the door of our hearts. And we are commanded to “seek the Lord … seek His face” continually and diligently. We are instructed how to do this in another verse using both seek-words.

But from there [from a place of captivity and idol worship] you will seek (baqash) the LORD your God, and you will find Him if you search for (darash or tread frequently the path to, seek diligently for) Him with all your heart and all your soul. Deuteronomy 4:29 (NASB)

The other two-way street is the “require” part. We and God both have requirements of each other. But Jesus assures us that the burden of his requirements is light (Matthew 11:30).

He has told you, O man, what is good; And what does the LORD require (darash) of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? Micah 6:8 (NASB)

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Matthew 22:37-40 (NIV)

Our requirements of God are also simple: Everything.

Life, food, water, the air we breathe, shelter, grace, mercy, the strength to keep going, the ability to love and forgive. For all that God requires of us he gives the grace, even the very desire to seek him in the first place. A.W. Tozer wrote that, “We pursue God because, and only because, He has first put an urge within us that spurs us to the pursuit. ‘No man can come to me,’ said our Lord ‘except the Father which hath sent me draw him.’”[i]

As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God? Psalm 42:1-2 (NIV)

My heart has heard you say, “Come and talk with me.” And my heart responds, “LORD, I am coming.” Psalm 27:8 (NLT)

Come! Let’s beat a path into His Presence, and there find the strength from the Lord to go on.

[i] Tozer, A.W. The Pursuit of God. Wing Spread Publishers, 2006.

 

Image copyright 2019 Jack Bair

Mercy Seat

The ark was full of responses to doubt and fear and rebellion, but God covered it all over with His mercy.

Behind the second curtain was a room called the Most Holy Place, which had the golden altar of incense and the gold-covered ark of the covenant. This ark contained the gold jar of manna, Aaron’s staff that had budded, and the stone tablets of the covenant. Above the ark were the cherubim of the Glory, overshadowing the atonement cover (Mercy Seat). Hebrews 9:3-5 (NIV)

In the heart of the Israelite’s Tent of Meeting, behind a veil in the room called the Holy of Holies, or Most Holy Place, was a box covered with sheets of beaten gold which was called the Ark of the Covenant. Its lid, the Mercy Seat, was solid gold and depicted two angels in an attitude of worship. Inside the ark were three things:

1) a jar of manna, the “bread of heaven” or bread of angels which was given to the Israelites to eat in the desert

2) a dead wooden staff made from a branch of an almond tree which had come alive and produced flowers and almonds

3) the ten commandments written on stone tablets

I recently realized that all those things in the Ark were put there in a direct response to rebellion. The manna was given to the Israelites in response to their grumbling about having nothing to eat (Exodus 16: 3-4). God commanded Moses to put some in the ark as a reminder of His provision (Exodus 16:32).

Korah and company rebelled against Moses and Aaron as God’s chosen authority – “What right do you have to act as though you are greater than anyone else among all these people of the LORD?” they asked. Kind of like, “who made you the boss of me?” (Numbers 16:3). Aaron’s rod budded and produced fruit in direct response to the rebellion to confirm God’s choice, and God commanded Moses to include it in the ark as a sign (Numbers 17:1-10).

The stone tablets containing the ten commandments were the most important response, a life-preserver thrown out to all of us people flailing about trying to be our own god. His word is an anchor dropped into the world’s chaotic sea of sin and rebellion – an anchor that holds within the veil (Hebrews 6:19-20).

The ark was full of responses to doubt and fear and rebellion, but God covered it all over with His mercy and told Moses He would meet with him there.

“You shall put the mercy seat on top of the ark, and in the ark you shall put the testimony which I will give to you. There I will meet with you; and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim which are upon the ark of the testimony, I will speak to you about all that I will give you in commandment for the sons of Israel. Exodus 25:21-22 (NASB)

The Mercy Seat is where the blood of the sacrifice was sprinkled as an atonement for sin of the people by the High Priest once a year. This foreshadowed the death of Jesus, the Lamb of God, the final sacrifice for the sin of the world. It also foreshadowed Jesus as High Priest offering his own blood one final time in the heavenly Temple (Hebrews 9:11-28).

I also have been realizing that all those things in the ark represented Jesus, the Savior who was to come. He is the manna, the Bread of Life (John 6:48-51). He is the chosen High Priest (Hebrews 4:14), the Branch (Isaiah 11:1) that was dead and came back to fruitful life. He is the Word of God made flesh (John 1:14). God knew from the beginning how things would go and had a plan for our redemption. God’s response to the sin and rebellion of the world was Mercy. His response was Jesus.

… and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. Romans 3:24-26 (NIV)

The word translated “sacrifice of atonement” in the above verse means, in the Greek, both the atoning victim and the Mercy Seat itself. Jesus is our Mercy Seat. But, Jesus isn’t storing up all our sins – or even the reminders of our sin – in a box and covering them over with his blood. At the cross Jesus vanquished sin, he destroyed it, he wiped it out forever – we can be made just as if we had never done anything wrong. Yet we are still crabbing about what we want but don’t have to satisfy our cravings, arguing about who is the boss, who gets to make the rules. We have been doubters, grumblers, rebels from the beginning, but God is still waiting to meet us there, at the Mercy Seat. Come and meet him there.

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. Hebrews 4:14-16 (NASB)

If you would like, you can learn more about the Mercy Seat here https://www.bible-history.com/tabernacle/TAB4The_Mercy_Seat.htm

 

Photo replica of the Ark of the Covenant in the Royal Arch Room of the George Washington Masonic National Memorial. Photo by Ben Schumin on December 27, 2006

Uncommon Fragrance of Jesus

I stop trying to be “wonderful” but let Him be the Wonderful One. “Be still and know …” “Seek first the Kingdom.” Stop trying to gain approval, be somehow impressive, be something I am not. But just be what He made me to be – just be. And as that happens His love can flow through me and I will carry the fragrant aroma of his sacrificial love with me wherever I go.

But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him. For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life. And who is equal to such a task? (2 Cor. 2:14-16 NIV)

The word translated equal in this verse is the Greek word hikanos (ἱκανός), which means sufficient, enough, competent, ample in amount or fit in character, worthy. Who indeed is sufficient, competent, or worthy for such a task? What an amazing thing that we could bear, spread, be the fragrance of Christ. Duncan Campbell has written,

“This surely is the ultimate reality and the supreme wonder of human existence, that God can be glorified in us. In other words–we are to be ‘living epistles.’ After all, the greatest contribution you or I can make to the cause of Christ, is the impact of our unconscious influence, and that influence impregnated by the life of Jesus. We will have failed in our object, unless we bring back to our schools, our colleges, our homes and our common task, something of the uncommon fragrance of Jesus. So let us yield to His indwelling that Christ may be able to express His loveliness through us.”—The Price and Power of Revival, Duncan Campbell [emphasis mine]

“[T]he impact of our unconscious influence.” Isn’t it even more amazing, that God could do all this through us – spread the fragrance of Christ’s love and life – and we be unconscious of it! That His Presence, living in me, indwelling me, goes with me and leaves a fragrance of Jesus, inviting, welcoming, attracting – or, sadly, repelling.

Paul says in the above verse that God is spreading this aroma through us. No one is competent or worthy or sufficient in themselves. Jesus is the sufficient, enough, competent, ample in amount, fit in character, worthy One. As Paul says a little later, “Not that we are competent (hikanos) in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God” (2 Cor. 3:5 NIV). But rather it is Christ in me and you, the hope of glory (Colossians 1:27) as we “yield to His indwelling” and follow Him in the triumphal procession, a willing captive, captivated by His love.

Godliness is the mark of a person whose life is centred in God – a person who has become a vessel of the presence of God. Wherever such a person goes, the atmosphere is permeated by a faint, but unique and pervasive fragrance. There may not be any preaching or other religious activity. Yet people become strangely aware of eternal issues. Teaching Letter No. 24: The Fruit of the Holy Spirit, Derek Prince

It all comes back to the Presence. Abiding in the Presence, the Vine. He in me and I in him. My life centered in Him. My eyes fixed on Jesus, not on myself. I stop trying to be “wonderful” but let Him be the Wonderful One. “Be still and know …” “Seek first the Kingdom.” Stop trying to gain approval, be somehow impressive, be something I am not. But just be what He made me to be – just be. And as that happens His love can flow through me and I will carry the fragrant aroma of his sacrificial love with me wherever I go (Ephesians 5:2).

 “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin”— they simply are! Think of the sea, the air, the sun, the stars, and the moon— all of these simply are as well— yet what a ministry and service they render on our behalf! So often we impair God’s designed influence, which He desires to exhibit through us, because of our own conscious efforts to be consistent and useful. Jesus said there is only one way to develop and grow spiritually, and that is through focusing and concentrating on God. In essence, Jesus was saying, “Do not worry about being of use to others; simply believe on Me.” In other words, pay attention to the Source, and out of you “will flow rivers of living water” (John 7:38). We cannot discover the source of our natural life through common sense and reasoning, and Jesus is teaching here that growth in our spiritual life comes not from focusing directly on it, but from concentrating on our Father in heaven. Our heavenly Father knows our circumstances, and if we will stay focused on Him, instead of our circumstances, we will grow spiritually— just as “the lilies of the field.”

The people who influence us the most are not those who detain us with their continual talk, but those who live their lives like the stars in the sky and “the lilies of the field”— simply and unaffectedly. Those are the lives that mold and shape us.

If you want to be of use to God, maintain the proper relationship with Jesus Christ by staying focused on Him, and He will make use of you every minute you live— yet you will be unaware, on the conscious level of your life, that you are being used of Him. –from My Utmost for His Highest Updated Edition, Oswald Chambers

Image public domain, Bureau of Land Management California

Lead Me into Exile

The Hebrew word, nachah (נָחָה), translated “lead” or “guide” in this verse has an implication attached to it of being led into exile or as a colonist somewhere. Isn’t that what we are here on this Earth – exiles from our real home and colonists, strangers?

Search me (penetrate, examine intimately), O God, and know my heart; test (prove, try by trial, as with gold) me and know my anxious thoughts (from a word that means ambivalence, divided mind, wavering between two opinions, paralyzed by indecision). See (look at, inspect, perceive, consider, gaze at, look at each other, face each other) if there is any offensive (hurtful, painful, way of sorrow, idolatrous) way (road, distance, journey, manner, direction, path, manner, habit, course of life, moral character) in me, and lead (guide, bring, transport into exile, or as a colonist) me in the way everlasting (long duration, antiquity, unending future, forever, evermore, perpetual, old, ancient, from the beginning of the world). Psalm 139:23-24 (NIV)[i]

I have been meditating on God’s commandment to have no idol before him (Exodus 20:4). Anything can be an idol if it separates you from God or is more important to you than following God. Even greed can be idolatry (see Ephesians 5:5). But basically, idolatry is setting up your own god of your own making. A.W. Tozer wrote:

“The idolatrous heart assumes God is other than He is—in itself a monstrous sin—and substitutes for the true God one made after its own likeness … The essence of idolatry is the entertainment of thoughts about God that are unworthy of Him. It begins in the mind and may be present where no overt act of worship has taken place.”

Thinking about this led me to the above verse in Psalms. I have also been mediating on being in and dwelling in God’s presence and on the Mutual Gaze, so it’s interesting that the psalmist invites God to gaze at him or look at him in the face – that they face each other – as God inspects him for any offensive way.

The Hebrew word translated “offensive” here is otseb (עֹ֫צֶב), which also means idol. It is clear from the definition of otseb that idolatry is associated with pain and sorrow – to us and to God – for we don’t know him as he yearns for us to know him. We are off following another god and that affects the whole course and direction of our lives, the path we end up taking.

Also, very interesting is that the Hebrew word, nachah (נָחָה), translated “lead” or “guide” in this verse has an implication attached to it of being led into exile or as a colonist somewhere. Isn’t that what we are here on this Earth – exiles from our real home and colonists, strangers?

All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. Hebrews 11:13 (NASB)

Could it be that one way we are led into idolatry is wanting to belong here, to settle down here, to be accepted here, to follow the “cool” or comfortable path, not the old, ancient way from the beginning of the world? We don’t want to be exiles and strangers. We want security, even if it is of our own making.

Jesus had “no place to lay his head” and invited his disciples to cut their ties with this Earth and come follow him. Really, walking along with him on the path of exile, dwelling there in his presence, is the only thing I need in this life. In Luke 10:38-42 Martha is worried about the big meal she wants to serve to Jesus and the disciples, but Mary just sits at her Lord’s feet, listening. When Martha complains, Jesus says, “There is really only one thing worth being concerned about (or one thing that is necessary). Mary has discovered it (or chosen it)––and I won’t take it away from her” (NLT).

He who dwells (sits down) in the shelter (hiding place, secret place) of the Most High will rest (abide or lodge all night) in the shadow of the Almighty. Psalm 91:1 (NIV)

Send forth your light and your truth, let them guide me (lead me, transport me into exile); let them bring me to your holy mountain, to the place where you dwell. Psalm 43:3 (NIV)

I will instruct you and teach you in the way which you should go; I will counsel you with My eye upon you. Psalm 32:8 (NASB)

Lord, show me my sin, cut my ties with this world, lead me into exile, holding your hand and trusting in you, to where I can dwell with you all this dark night. 

“This disciple simply burns his boats and goes ahead. He is called out, and has to forsake his old life in order that he may “exist” in the strictest sense of the word. The old life is left behind, and completely surrendered. The disciple is dragged out of his relative security into a life of absolute insecurity (that is, in truth, into the absolute security and safety of the fellowship of Jesus), from a life which is observable and calculable (it is, in fact, quite incalculable) into a life where everything is unobservable and fortuitous (that is, into one which is necessary and calculable), out of the realm of finite (which is in truth the infinite) into the realm of infinite possibilities (which is the one liberating reality). Again it is no universal law. Rather is it the exact opposite of all legality. It is nothing else than bondage to Jesus Christ alone, completely breaking through every programme, every ideal, every set of laws. No other significance is possible, since Jesus is the only significance. Beside Jesus nothing has any significance. He alone matters.” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship)

[i] My amplification based on Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible

Image, The Internet Archive, from page 96 of “The life of our Saviour Jesus Christ : three hundred and sixty-five compositions from the four Gospels” (1899)

Prisoners of Hope

For a while now I have been having a hard time with the biblical concept of hope. I confess that at times hope seemed like a cruel joke. Paul said, “these three remain: faith, hope, and love.” Faith is important I could see and love, of course. But what’s so great about hope?

For a while now I have been having a hard time with the biblical concept of hope. I confess that at times hope seemed like a cruel joke. Paul said, “these three remain: faith, hope, and love.” Faith is important I could see and love, of course. But what’s so great about hope?

What if you hope and hope, and pray and pray, and nothing seems to change? Zechariah (9:12 NASB) says, “Return to your fortress, O prisoners of hope” and that is how I have felt – like a prisoner, hoping almost against my will only because I knew Him and knew that He is good. But now I see that I didn’t really know what hope was. It is not wishful thinking, like “I wish things would get better” or “I hope I can find a job.” That kind of “hope” only leads to depression because all you are looking at is what’s happening now, the situation at the moment.

David said, “Why are you in despair (sunk in depression, brought low), O my soul? And why have you become disturbed (disquieted, moaning and groaning) within me? Hope (be patient, be pained, stay, tarry, trust, wait) in God, for I shall again (yet!) praise Him For the help (Yeshua! salvation, deliverance) of His presence” (Psalm 42:5 NASB). Notice the “be pained” part. Yes, hope can be painful. But what is David saying here? “What’s wrong with you soul? Yes, things are terrible, but I will again – or yet – praise Him.”

That word translated “praise” is yadah in the Hebrew. Yadah means to shoot arrows, cast or throw down, give thanks, laud, praise, confess the name of God. What I saw was that David’s hope was not wishful, but his hope was in God – “the help of his Presence,” His word and His promise. So, yet!, he knew – he had hope – that someday he would shoot the arrows of praise for the salvation and deliverance that God was, even then, accomplishing. He looked not at the situation he was in, but forward to that day – that is hope.

Zechariah said, “return to your fortress.” Psalm 91:2 (NIV) identifies our fortress as God: “I will say of the LORD, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.'” So I am repenting, returning to my refuge, my fortress, to the Presence. I will hope, be patient (as possible), be pained (probably), wait and trust, while abiding, remaining present – meno (see The Art of Remaining Present).

Just a little end note. Right after this sweet revelation I found the sign shown above, a metal word Hope with an arrow shooting through it. It was made by an artisan in Haiti from an oil drum in the hope that its sale would help provide for a better future. It wasn’t until I got it home and hanging on the wall that it hit me – it is a reminder of hope for me too, that the arrows of praise will fly again. God is so good!

This blog is has also been published as a Bible study for free use in Hidden Treasure Bible Studies here Prisoners of Hope Bible Study