Formless and Void

God started in the beginning with an empty canvas – formless and void – and He, in love, started over again with a perfect empty canvas.  

God will stretch out over Edom the measuring line of chaos and the plumb line of desolation. Isaiah 34:11 

Reading in Isaiah recently two words in this verse jumped out at me – chaos and desolation. What does that mean a “measuring line of chaos” and a “plumb line of desolation”? 

The words translated chaos and desolation are in the Hebrew tohu (formlessness, confusion, unreality, emptiness) and bohu (emptiness, void). I was surprised to learn that there are only three places in the Bible where these two words are used together, and the first one is in Genesis, chapter one. 

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless (tohu) and empty (bohu), darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. Genesis 1:1-2 

Formless and empty or void. Like an empty or blank canvas. God, the artist, hovering over it with the pigments of creation. The third place this duo is used is in Jeremiah. 

I looked at the earth, and it was formless and empty; and at the heavens, and their light was gone. Jeremiah 4:23 

Both Isaiah 34 and Jeremiah 4 are warning of coming judgement. A judgement so passionate and powerful that the canvas would be wiped clean and the Creator would start over. “It was as if the earth had been ‘uncreated’ and reverted back to its erstwhile primeval chaos. Order seemed to return to confusion.”1 Like the Potter starting over with the marred pot in relentless love. Wiping off the canvas and starting over, as with Noah, a consuming fire, unchanging, passionately zealous, tireless, one-track, His focus on the goal.  

So I went down to the potter’s house, and I saw him working at the wheel. But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him. Jeremiah 18:3-4 

God is always creating, working, moving from chaos and desolation to something wonderful. But we always seem to want to turn back, turn away. In God’s great, mocking commentary on idols and idolatry in Isaiah 41, He calls the idols in our lives “less than nothing” and “utterly worthless.” And then declares, “Their deeds amount to nothing; their images are but wind and confusion (tohu).” 

Do we actually erase our real lives when we try to create them ourselves? Are we, in rebellion, wiping off God’s artwork from our canvases? Are we then painting with our own inferior, or even imaginary, pigments? 

I remember on the brink of surrendering my life to Christ, a terrible fear overwhelmed me. What would God make me give up? What would He take away? I didn’t see that my canvas was formless and void, already empty; I didn’t see that the pot I had been shaping was marred. But I sensed the Artist’s hand hovering over me, passionately waiting to make me a beautiful new creation, filled with a new Life. 

For it is by grace you have been saved through faith, and this not from yourselves; it is the gift of God, not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance as our way of life. Ephesians 2:8-10 

God saw that my canvas was ruined, that my pot was marred. And He saw that I could not fix it myself. And so, He started over for me – for all of us. God started in the beginning with an empty canvas – formless and void – and He, in love, started over again for us with a perfect empty canvas.  

Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus:  

Who, existing in the form of God,  

did not consider equality with God  

something to be grasped,  

but emptied Himself 

taking the form of a servant,  

being made in human likeness.  

And being found in appearance as a man,  

He humbled Himself  

and became obedient to death— 

even death on a cross. Philippians 2:5-8 

The word above translated “emptied” – Christ Jesus … emptied Himself – means “to empty out, render void.” Jesus became tohu, empty and void, so that, in Him, the Creator God could start over in our lives.  

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. 2 Corinthians 5:17 (ESV) 

We are His workmanship. He starts over from scratch with us when we receive Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross on our behalf. We are new creations in Christ. A blank canvas. Clay in His hands. Our lives are very much chaos and empty.  But then God. 

Nothing before, nothing behind; 
The steps of Faith 
Fall on the seeming void, and find 
The rock beneath.  

John Greenleaf Whittier
excerpts from the poem “The Soul and I”

See, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind. Isaiah 65:17 

Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. Revelation 21:1  

… so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it. Isaiah 55:11 

For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him. Philippians 2:13 (NLT)

If you want to start over as a blank canvas with God. If you want to be a new creation. Give yourself to Him. Salvation 

1Thompson, J.A. The Book of Jeremiah (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1980) 

Photo, MOMA: Empty canvases, by Dan Nguyen https://flic.kr/p/7PbhBC  

Patches of Joy

A couple of weeks ago I published a blog called Grace Recognized. That is the definition of the Greek word translated “joy” in the New Testament – just recognizing God’s working around us. And many times, just as His voice is not a loud shout, but a still, small voice, His works of grace are found in what C.S. Lewis called “patches of Godlight.” I hope these quotes will bless you and help you recognize these patches of joy. 

“We – or at least I – shall not be able to adore God on the highest occasions if we have learned no habit of doing so on the lowest. At best, our faith and reason will tell us that He is adorable, but we shall not have found Him so, not have ‘tasted and seen.’ Any patch of sunlight in a wood will show you something about the sun which you could never get from reading books on astronomy. These pure and spontaneous pleasures are ‘patches of Godlight’ in the woods of experience.” – C.S. Lewis, Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer, San Diego: Mariner, 2002. 

I have a friend who is so deeply connected with God that he can see joy where I expect only sadness. He travels much and meets countless people. When he returns home, I always expect him to tell me about the difficult economic situation of the countries he visited, about the great injustices he heard about, and the pain he has seen. But even though he is very aware of the great upheaval of the world, he seldom speaks of it. When he shares his experiences, he tells about the hidden joys he has discovered. He tells about a man, a woman, or a child who brought him hope and peace. He tells about little groups of people who are faithful to each other in the midst of all the turmoil. He tells about the small wonders of God. At times I realize that I am disappointed because I want to hear “newspaper news,” exciting and exhilarating stories that can be talked about among friends. But he never responds to my need for sensationalism. He keeps saying: “I saw something very small and very beautiful, something that gave me much joy.”  

The father of the prodigal son gives himself totally to the joy that his returning son brings him. I have to learn from that. I have to learn to “steal” all the real joy there is to steal and lift it up for others to see. Yes, I know that not everybody has been converted yet, that there is not yet peace everywhere, that all pain has not yet been taken away, but still, I see people turning and returning home; I hear voices that pray; I notice moments of forgiveness, and I witness many signs of hope. I don’t have to wait until all is well, but I can celebrate every little hint of the Kingdom that is at hand.  

This is a real discipline. It requires choosing for the light even when there is much darkness to frighten me, choosing for life even when the forces of death are so visible, and choosing for the truth even when I am surrounded with lies. – Henri J.M. Nouwen, The Return of the Prodigal Son (full quote here https://generositymonk.com/2020/01/27/henri-nouwen-learn-to-steal-and-lift-up-real-joy/

Lord, make me see thy glory in every place. — Michelangelo 

Rebuild Me

[Good morning all! Here is my first post with the change of name from Hidden Treasure to Wrestling Word.]

Create (choose, create as when You created the heavens and the earth) 

in me a pure (clean) heart (inner person, soul, mind, inclinations, resolutions, will, emotions, passions, thinking, reflection, memory, courage), O God,  

and renew (make new, rebuild, repair) a steadfast (established, stable, secure, enduring, securely fixed, directed aright, prepared, ready) spirit within me. Psalm 51:10 (my amplification from Strong’s Concordance) 
 

There are three words that reach out and comfort me in this amplification: choose, memory, and rebuild

Choose: There is an element of choice in the word translated “create” in this Psalm. The Hebrew word is the same one used in Genesis when God created the heavens and the earth. God chose, He was willing, to do that, knowing the pain and suffering it would cause Him. Yet, He was willing. For the joy. For the joy of my company. For the joy of a relationship with me. The thought is mind-boggling! In the same way God chooses, wills in me, creates in me a clean heart.

For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:2 

A man with leprosy came and knelt before him and said, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” Matthew 8:2-3 

Memory: Many of us have bad, clinging memories of trauma and abuse. They bring torment and lead to bitterness and anger and lashing out. God can (and does!) clean and purify them. And, in the end, He will wipe them away. 

When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered, I was senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beast before you. Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand. Psalm 73:21-23 

He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. Psalm 147: 3 

He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners. Isaiah 61:1 

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28 

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. Revelation 21:4 

Rebuild: He rebuilds my broken-down spirit, my wrecked life, making it stable, secure, enduring, securely fixed. He starts over from scratch with us, and in the end, He will make all things new. 

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 2 Corinthians 5:17 

For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. 1 Peter 1:23 

He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” Revelation 21:5 

After a second reading, I see that there are four, not three, words that speak to me. The fourth is “ready,” a ready spirit. Ready for what He has for me each day. Ready for His return. Ready, fixed, courageous. 

And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:1-2 

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you … 1 Peter 1: 3-4 (ESV) 

If you would be made new Salvation

Image, Wrecked House, Union Beach, NJ by Wavian https://flic.kr/p/dwz1PG  

Unchanging

Do you see how one-track God is?

The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Luke 1:35 

The two phrases in this verse – “come on you” and “overshadow you” – tell an amazing story. 

The phrase “come on you” is the Greek word epercomai (ἐπέρχομαι) which means to come upon, come to, arrive, come on. But more than just arriving, what comes upon “comes and leaves its appropriate, inevitable effects that build on the particular coming. (Note the prefix epi, showing the action as the ‘epi-center’ of what happens.)”i 

“Overshadow you” is the word episkiazó (ἐπισκιάζω) which means overshadow, envelop, to cast a shadow on, and leave “a natural (apt) result.” The word is “used in the NT of God’s over-shadowing presence – which always brings His boulē-plan to pass.” God’s boulḗ is “God’s immutable will for physical circumstances.” 

God’s coming causes something to happen! His coming upon and overshadowing of Mary was the epicenter of a history-splitting event, an inevitable effect, the natural result of the Most High God touching His creation and bringing His plan and purpose to pass. And the writer of Hebrews says that this plan and purpose of God is unchanging. 

Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose (boulḗ) very clear to the heirs of what was promised, he confirmed it with an oath. Hebrews 6:17 

When God overshadows something or someone His unchangeable, immutable, unalterable purpose is accomplished. This overshadowing, purposeful, building Presence calls to mind Genesis. In the beginning God overshadowed, hovered over, the world to accomplish this purpose. 

Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. Genesis 1:2 

What was God’s original plan and purpose? To have relationship; to have sons and daughters to communicate Himself to and to love. And so, He created the first man and woman, Adam and Eve. They were unfaithful to Him and rejected Him. But His purpose remained unchanged. So just as God hovered over the earth in the beginning and created the first Adam, he hovered over Mary to create the last Adam, Jesus Christ Son of God, who would bring God’s boulē-plan to pass. 

So it is written: “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit. 1 Corinthians 15:45 

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ. Ephesians 1:7-10 

For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. John 6:38-40 (ESV) 

“The Lord was never a passive or unconcerned God; rather, He was always actively intervening, even invading the affairs of men. His incarnation as one of us is the most spectacular example of the Lord’s lovesick and purposeful involvement in the earthly realm.” — Jill Shannon, A Prophetic Calendar 

Do you see how one-track God is? His purpose has always been to love us and to be loved back. And if we cooperate by turning towards Him, with even the feeblest opening of our hearts, He is there. When we crawl under the shadow of His wings, and let God overshadow us; when we hide ourselves in and cling to Him, then we put ourselves at the epicenter of His life-giving and creating and redeeming power. We allow Him to complete His passionate purpose in our lives. And nothing can come between us and God’s passionate, one-track, love and purpose for us. No matter the circumstance. No matter the storm. No matter the attack of the enemy. No matter even our own rebellious, struggling, wavering hearts – for even a faintly burning wick he will not snuff out (Isaiah 42: 3). God will fulfill His purpose for us. 

Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me, for in you my soul takes refuge; in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge, till the storms of destruction pass by. I cry out to God Most High, to God who fulfills his purpose for me. Psalm 57:1-2 (ESV) 

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. Philippians 1:6 (ESV) 

So now I live with the confidence that there is nothing in the universe with the power to separate us from God’s love. I’m convinced that his love will triumph over death, life’s troubles, fallen angels, or dark rulers in the heavens. There is nothing in our present or future circumstances that can weaken his love. There is no power above us or beneath us—no power that could ever be found in the universe that can distance us from God’s passionate love, which is lavished upon us through our Lord Jesus, the Anointed One! Romans 8:38-39 (The Passion Translation) 

iAll definitions from HELPS Word-studies, Discovery Bible (2021), and Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible. 

Image copyright by Derek Bair

He Will Fulfill

The Father is intent on fulfilling his purpose in our lives, on completing us and making us like his Son.

The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me; your love, O Lord, endures forever—do not abandon the works of your hands. Psalm 138:8 

I cry out to God Most High, to God who fulfills his purpose for me. Psalm 57:2 (ESV) 

The Lord will fulfill. What a glorious comfort in these falling-apart days! Sometimes we don’t know what is going on, what’s the point, why are we here? The Psalmist proclaims, God will fulfill his purpose for us. This is a comfort. There is a purpose for my life. God will fulfill that purpose. There is an echo of this promise in the New Testament. 

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. Philippians 1:6 (ESV) 

The word translated “fulfill” in the Hebrew (gamar גָּמַר), and the word translated “bring it to completion” in the Greek (epiteleó ἐπιτελέω) both mean the same thing: to complete, accomplish, perform, perfect or make perfect, do, finish. God will do it.  

This reminded me of the great promise in Isaiah. 

LORD, you establish (shapath) peace for us; all that we have accomplished you have done for us. Isaiah 26:12 

The word translated “establish” means, at its root, “to set on the fire.” It is only used five times in the Old Testament – three times referring to setting a pot on the fire to cook (2 Kings 4:38, Ezekiel 24: 3), once here in Isaiah, and once in the great Messianic Psalm prophesying the crucifixion, Psalm 22:15.  

My mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay (shapath) me in the dust of death

When looking at the root meaning “to set on the fire,” the first thing I thought of was laying the offering on the altar. The Lamb of God slain for the sins of the world. Jesus, who is our peace (Ephesians 2:14-18), was set on the fire as a sacrifice that we might have peace and fellowship with God. Jesus did it; he accomplished it, brought it to completion. 

It is finished! [completed, the debt discharged, accomplished, finished, performed] John 19:30 

And we were crucified with him (Romans 6:6). Set on the fire with him. 

When I latched on to these promises that God would fulfill his purpose, I grabbed on to them both for me in my struggle and for those whom I love who have fallen away (temporarily – Yes! Yet! But God … !). I never thought, but I should have realized, that the completion of God’s purpose in my life (and theirs) would lead me back around to overcoming, to “make every effort” to sanctification, to being crucified with Christ, to “count it all joy.” To being set on the fire. 

“There is a great difference which lies between this thing of doing and this thing of suffering and dying. Doing is delightful. It belongs to beginners in Christ. Suffering belongs to those who are seeking. Dying – dying to the self – belongs to those who are being completed in Christ.” — Miguel de Molinos, 1675 (emphasis mine)

The Father is intent on fulfilling his purpose in our lives, on completing us and making us like his Son. It all goes back to Jesus. It all goes back to the Cross. He has done it and he is doing his work in us. He will fulfill his purpose in our lives. He is faithful. He will keep his promise. Cling to that and keep praying, keep persevering. 

Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. James 1:4 

Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works (does it) in you to will (desire) and to act (do it) in order to fulfill his good purpose. Philippians 2:12-13 

May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it. 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24 

As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it. Isaiah 55:10-11 

They will proclaim his righteousness, declaring to a people yet unborn: He has done it! Psalm 22:31 

A Hardhat Kind of Love

This kind of love is a “hard hat, lunch pail, pick axe” kind of love.

Then Peter said, “Silver and gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up … Acts 3:6-8 

Usually, I focus on the first part of this verse, the silver and gold part. Peter and John didn’t have a lot of money but they had a real treasure – the power of the Name of Jesus. A power that heals and renews and repairs and restores. As Peter explained to the astonished crowd: 

And his name—by faith in his name—has made this man strong whom you see and know, and the faith that is through Jesus has given the man this perfect health in the presence of you all. Acts 3:16 (ESV) 

And as Paul encouraged the Corinthians, we have this treasure of the knowledge of God and what Jesus has done for us on the cross. 

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. 2 Corinthians 4:7 (ESV) 

Silver and gold most of us do not have, but we can have the most precious power in the universe. But this time as I read the passage above in Acts, I was drawn to look at the second part of the verse. The part where Peter reaches down and takes the man by the hand. And I saw that faith in the Name is the treasure, but love, or “works” as James put it, is its expression. 

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. James 2:14-18 

This kind of love is, as my pastor Troy Gentz put it in a recent messagei, “a hard hat, lunch pail, pick axe” kind of love.  It is a reaching down, taking by the hand, helping up kind of love. It is not philosophical. It is not just reading about faith and mentally, or even from the heart, assenting to what is written. It is not even just giving of our resources. It is giving ourselves. 

As I was searching for a way to express the love God requires, I came on this list of synonyms: “hands on, personally involved, front line, in the trenches, in amongst it.”ii  Yes, “in amongst it”! Just like Jesus is in amongst us – our Emmanuel (see Jesus in the Middle). 

Love cannot stay just in our minds or even in our hearts. It can’t remain as words on a page, no matter how adored. It was made to be – it exists to be – expressed in works of love that reach out and grasp people by the hand and pull them up and out. As Jesus said, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working” (John 5:17). 

In the same sermon Troy Gentz said, “The love of God is an ocean and it shouldn’t trickle down to a dirty little puddle that we share with people.”iii  What keeps the treasure we have from gushing out all over the place in refreshing, life-giving, good works of love? Fear, prejudice, self-preservation, selfishness, apathy – all things that Jesus addressed in his time here on earth (ex.: Matthew 5:43-48; Luke 10:30-37; Luke 12:15-21).  

“We should resemble God … look like God’s kids. It’s [love is] a family trait.”iv 

For I am the LORD, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you. Do not fear; I will help you. Isaiah 41:13 

By this we know love, that He laid down His life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. 1 John 3:16 

i Troy Gentz, Greatest Sermon series, Sunday June 6, 2021 https://youtu.be/D-6fr9HWDnw?t=1636  

ii Word Hippo https://www.wordhippo.com/what-is/another-word-for/down_and_dirty.html  

iii ibid, Troy Gentz 

iv ibid, Troy Gentz 

Image in the Public Domain from Wikimedia https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Hard_Hats_Required.jpg

Rest

“‘Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for him.’ Yes, for Him. Seek not only the help, the gift, seek Himself; wait for Him. Give God His glory by resting in Him, by trusting Him fully, by waiting patiently for Him. This patience honors Him greatly; it leaves Him, as God on the throne, to do His work; it yields self wholly into Him hands. It lets God be God.” — Andrew Murray, Waiting on God

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

Wineskin in the Smoke

Like David, I must choose hope.

Kaph 

 My soul faints with longing for your salvation, 

    but I have put my hope in your word. 

My eyes fail, looking for your promise; 

    I say, “When will you comfort me?” 

Though I am like a wineskin in the smoke, 

    I do not forget your decrees. 

How long must your servant wait? 

    Psalm 119:81-84a 

For years I have been reading that phrase “though I am like a wineskin in the smoke” and wondering what it means. It has been an enigma to me. But now I am starting to get an idea. Maybe, sometimes you have to be there in the dark smoke to finally understand.  

Each of the sections of Psalm 119 start with one of the letters of the Hebrew alphabet. This section starts with kaph. 

“Jewish writers state that kaph means ‘bent.’ It has a dual symbolism, standing for the palm of the hand serving as a container and, at the same time, as a measure for what it holds. Ibn Ezra states that kaph means ‘result through mental and physical effort.’ While yod stands for the hand indicating power and possession, kaph denotes productivity and accomplishment.” — Mick Mills, David Michael, Messiah and his Hebrew Alphabet. [emphasis mine] 

David used kaph as a word in Psalm 139:5: You hem me in—behind and before; you have laid your hand (kaph) upon me. “You have laid your kaph on me” – You are doing, producing, accomplishing something in me! 

The first word of this section of Psalm 119, kalah, starts with the letter kaph. Kalah means to be spent, be used up, to waste away, be exhausted, fail. My soul faints. My eyes fail. But it also means to come or bring to an end, to complete, finish, to accomplish, fulfill, bring to pass. On our side we are exhausted, spent, we have failed and are failing. On God’s side, he is bringing us to the end of our own strength, he is finishing, accomplishing, fulfilling his purpose and promise in us, bringing his Word to pass. 

What does that have to do with wineskins in the smoke? 

There are two things that I have found. Nomadic peoples would hang their skin-bottles in their tents which were full of smoke and they would become, over time, black and dried out, shriveled, and useless. Many commentators conclude that David is lamenting that he feels like such a skin in the hot, blinding smoke – suffering, helpless, waiting. (See, for instance, Spurgeon in The Treasury of David https://www.christianity.com/bible/commentary.php?com=spur&b=19&c=119&v=45

But there is another beautiful meaning here. Hanging skin-bottles over a fire, or in a smoky place, was an ancient method of refining the wine inside of them.i 

  “A bottle in the smoke. One object amongst the ancients of such exposure was to mellow the wine by the gradual ascent of the heat and smoke from the fire over which the skin was suspended; and thus the words teach us the uses of affliction in ripening and improving the soul.” — Ernst Friedrich Karl Rosenmüller, quoted in John Mason Neale, Richard Frederick Littledale, A Commentary on the Psalms 

“And in that custom the psalmist finds an illustration of the meaning, and of the mercy, of the afflictions to which he has been exposed. They have been sent to act on him like the warm smoke on the wine – to refine, mellow, and ripen his character; and because, under them all, he has refused to part with his faith in God and duty; because he has been true to God and God’s statutes, they have had their intended and proper effect upon him.” — Rev. Robert Tuckii  

How long must your servant wait?  

Yes, it’s the waiting that makes it so hard. I’m not good at waiting even for good things, let alone waiting in the suffocating smoke of misery, not knowing what is going to happen, how long it will last, helpless, not able to change or affect anything. Like David, I must choose hope. 

“To wait with openness and trust is an enormously radical attitude toward life. It is choosing to hope that something is happening for us that is far beyond our own imaginings. It is giving up control over our future and letting God define our life. It is living with the conviction that God molds us in love, holds us in tenderness, and moves us away from the sources of our fear.” — Henri J.M. Nouwen, Radical Waiting 

“What seems to be in mind is a long waiting-time, which was also a time of suffering and strain. The watching for God was prolonged; no response seemed to come; much had to be borne while he was waiting; he seemed to get dry, shriveled, and blackened, like the wine-skin in the chimney that had waited so long (and seemed to get tired of waiting, even as he did) for the moisture and refreshing of being used, and filled again with wine. But the question of supreme importance was this – What was he doing during this hard waiting-time?” – Rev. Robert Tuckiii  

What was David doing in the waiting? I have put my hope in your word … looking for your promise … I do not forget your decrees. He believed, because he knew God, he knew that all the time he was hanging there in the dark, hot, choking smoke – God was working, God was accomplishing his purpose, God was fulfilling his promise.

Lord help me do that too. When I’m hanging there, when despair and hopelessness swirl around me like the strangling, blinding smoke – give me that grace. 

Even when I don’t see it, You’re working 
Even when I don’t feel it, You’re working 
You never stop, You never stop working 
You never stop, You never stop working 

— from Way Maker by Osinachi Kalu Okoro Egbu 

Jesus said to them, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working.” John 5:17 

Photo, free download from Pixabay 

He Will Accomplish

It’s a relief to know that I don’t have to manufacture even the wanting, let alone the strength.

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.  And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. Ezekiel 36:26-27 

God is promising his scattered and backslidden people here that he will bring them back and give them a new heart to follow him. What I found interesting as I studied the Hebrew word meanings in these verses is that the words translated “move” and “keep” are the same word. It is asah and means to do, fashion, accomplish, make. So, these verses say something like, I will give you a new heart and put my Spirit there and cause you, fashion you, accomplish in you, the ability to follow my decrees and be careful to accomplish, to do, my laws. 

This reminded me of this wonderful verse in Isaiah 26:12:

LORD, you establish peace for us; all that we have accomplished you have done for us.

Only he has the power to change us, make us new, and give us the ability to follow and obey Him. This also reminded me of a New Testament verse promising the Church the same thing. 

Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed— not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence— continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. Philippians 2:12-13 

And, again, here as in Ezekiel, the words translated “works” and “act” are the same word. The word is energeo, which means to be active, efficient, do, be effectual, fervent, be mighty in, shew forth self, work effectually in. The New Living Testament translates verse 13 this way: 

For God is working (energeo) in you, giving you the desire to obey him and the power to do (energeo) what pleases him. 

Isn’t that amazing grace? God will move you, give you a new heart, work in you, the desire, the will, the strength and ability to do what he asks you to do. He doesn’t even require us to come up with the will or the desire. And that’s a good thing, because so many times we are overwhelmed, feeling defeated, depressed, sucker-punched breathless by this life. It’s a relief to know that I don’t have to manufacture even the wanting, let alone the strength. He will accomplish in me what he desires.  

Surrender to him today. We can’t be righteous ourselves, we can’t do good alone. Let him work in you a new heart, a renewed mind. Let him breathe into you his breath, his life, his strength – that you might do his mighty works, love with his unfailing love, accomplish his good will for you and this hurting world. 

May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen. Hebrews 13:20-21 

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! 2 Corinthians 5:17

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. John 14:27

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