Isn’t this just like God? The last, first, the meek victorious, overcoming evil with good?
The Arm of the Lord
“Therefore, say to the Israelites: ‘I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment.” Exodus 6:6
A footnote in a book I am reading recommended a word study of the arm of the Lord. So, I decided to do it, and found some amazing hidden treasure.
The Hebrew word translated arm, as in “outstretched arm” and “arm of the Lord,” is zerowa or zeroa (זרוֹע). It is defined as the arm as stretched out, and figuratively, as force, help, mighty, power, strength.
Zeroa comes from zara which means to sow or scatter seed. Sowing seed was done by taking a handful of seed and scattering it with an outstretched arm. It is the same word as used in Psalms 126.
Those who sow in tears shall reap with joyful shouting. Psalm 126:5 (NASB)
God’s outstretched arm bringing deliverance, but also sowing the seed of life. This is wonderful in itself, but what really stunned me was the other meaning of zeroa. It also means the shoulder or foreleg of an animal sacrifice. This meaning is still used today for the sacrificed lamb in the Passover celebration. From Wikipedia:
“(Hebrew: זרוֹע) is a lamb shank bone or roast chicken wing or neck used on Passover and placed on the Seder plate. It symbolizes the korban Pesach (Pesach sacrifice), a lamb that was offered in the Temple in Jerusalem, then roasted (70 CE) during the destruction of the Temple, the z’roa serves as a visual reminder of the Pesach sacrifice; in Ashkenazi and many Sephardi families, it is not eaten or handled during the Seder.”
The Arm of the Lord, his might and saving power, is also the sacrifice lamb. Isn’t that just like God? The last, first, the meek victorious, overcoming evil with good?
Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. Isaiah 53:1-2 (written between 701 BC and 681 BC)
This verse begins the famous chapter in Isaiah prophesying the Messiah. “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows … Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows … he was led like a lamb to the slaughter” (Isaiah 53:3, 4, 7).
Who is this “message” referred to in Isaiah 53:1, and who is the “arm of the Lord”? Jesus, Messiah, is both the message (the Word become flesh) and the revealed Arm of the Lord (the sacrifice Lamb).
God’s arm, his strength, might, power, help, was revealed in a sacrificed lamb, submissive and obedient to death.
And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross! Philippians 2:8
The next day John saw Jesus coming towards him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” John 1:29
Then came the day of Unleavened Bread on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and make preparations for us to eat the Passover.” Luke 22:7-8
For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. 1 Corinthians 5:7b
 All quotations from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.
Thank you to Ian Livesey for the photo of the lamb from Flickr.
God carries everything. He carries the sparrows; He carries the fields that grow the seed they eat. But He carries us a different way.
Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Matthew 6:26 (NIV)
More valuable. Looking deeper into this verse I found a surprising and wonderful hidden treasure. That Greek word translated valuable – diaphero – doesn’t just mean valuable. It also means to bear or carry through a place, to carry a different way, in a different direction, to a different place, to differ, to be more excellent.
To carry a different way. We are carried a different way. God carries everything. “He is before all things, and in him all things hold together (Col. 1:17).” He carries the sparrows; He carries the fields that grow the seed they eat. Underneath are the Everlasting Arms. But He carries us a different way.
And he’s carrying us to a different place. He’s carrying us through this valley of the shadow, through this alien place, to the place prepared for us, to the City whose architect and builder is God. He carries us as precious cargo.
Think about when you transport stuff, like when you move. Some things you just throw into the back of the van. Other things get special packing, special boxes and bubble wrap. But some things are too valuable and fragile to trust even to bubble wrap and the back of a van. Some things you carry yourself. And if you are transporting your children, the most valuable of all, you strap them carefully into a state-of-the-art, safety-approved, facing-the-right-way car seat. But, of course, God doesn’t need a car seat. “O LORD God Almighty, who is like you? You are mighty, O LORD, and your faithfulness surrounds you … Your arm is endued with power; your hand is strong, your right hand exalted.” (Psalm 89:8, 13 NIV)
Child of God know you are precious cargo. You might feel like you are bumping around in the dark in the back of the van right now, but know you are valuable to Him. And because you are valuable and precious to him, he is carrying you a different way.
There you saw how the LORD your God carried you, as a father carries his son, all the way you went until you reached this place. Deuteronomy 1:31 (NIV)
Praise the Lord; praise God our savior! For each day he carries us in his arms. Psalm 68:19 (NLT)
Even to your old age and grey hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you. Isaiah 46:4 (NIV)
Image in the Public Domain. Thanks to the North Dakota Department of Transportation.
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
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 )
[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/
Now to Him who is able (has the power)
to keep (guard, watch, protect) you
from stumbling (falling, failing, sinning, erring),
and to make you stand (stand immovable, stand firm, stand unharmed, stand ready, stand prepared)
in the presence of His glory
blameless (without blemish, faultless, unblameable)
with great (exceeding, extreme) joy,
to the only God our Savior (Deliverer, Preserver),
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
before all time and now and forever.
Jude 1:24-25 (NASB)
Jesus words here, that sound almost like “Oh, well, she did what she could,” make it seem like no big deal, like anybody could do that. Like I could do it.
She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. Mark 14:8 (NIV)
She did what she could. That phrase stopped me in my tracks. Here is a deed that has been viewed over the centuries as this wonderful, saintly, sacrifice. And it was. An action that Jesus said would never be forgotten. And yet Jesus words here, that sound almost like “Oh, well, she did what she could,” make it seem like no big deal, like anybody could do that.
Like I could do it.
She did (poiemo) what she could (echo). The first word is poiemo and means to create, make, work, do. It is the word used of God when He created the universe. Our English word, poem, comes from poiemo. The second word is echo, which means to have, i.e. to hold, to have or hold in the hand, to own or possess.
She hath done what she could (ὅ ἔσχεν ἐποίησεν). Literally, what she had she did.[i]
Jesus in Mark 14:6 called what she did, or created, “a beautiful (kalos) thing” – beautiful, handsome, excellent, eminent, choice, surpassing, precious, useful, suitable, commendable, admirable. That sounds like a creation, doesn’t it? Like a beautiful poem.
What she had she did.
What this woman had was a very expensive jar of perfume. Most of us do not have that kind of thing. We all have something though. Some may have houses and land, gifts and talents, educational degrees and possessions. And that is good. But we all have a hug, a smile, an encouraging word. We all are empty jars that God can fill with his love, healing touch, prayers.
Whatever you have, do it.
Then the LORD asked him [Moses], “What do you have there in your hand?” “A shepherd’s staff,” Moses replied. Exodus. 4:2 (NLT)
(For more about this beautiful deed see The Best Gift)
[i] Vincent’s Word Studies. Marvin R. Vincent.
Image in the Public Domain
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.
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
What joy for those who can live [abide] in your house [dwelling place],
always [still, yet (!), again, continually, persistently] singing your praises [praising, celebrating, glorying, shining, flashing forth light]. Interlude [Selah]
What joy for [blessed are] those whose strength [boldness, security] comes from [is in] the Lord,
who have set their minds [hearts] on a pilgrimage [on the journey] to Jerusalem [place of worship].
When they walk through [pass through] the Valley of Weeping,
it will become [they will consider, regard, make it] a place of refreshing springs [fountains, source of satisfaction].
The autumn rains [the archer, the shooter of arrows] will clothe [cover, fill] it with blessings [pools, gifts, praise to God]. Psalm 84:4-6
Remember, you are just passing through this valley of weeping. Set your heart on the journey. Keep your eyes on the destination, on Jesus. Keep, always, continually persistently shooting your arrows of praise, shine forth your light. Make this sad place a source of blessing, refreshing, life – both for yourself and for others.
“ … the highway to Your city runs through my heart.” [i]
[i] From How Lovely Is Thy Dwelling Place by Ted Sandquist