Something Missing

I don’t hear the echo of Joshua or Ruth or Esther or Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.

“Now LORD, God of Israel, keep for your servant David my father the promises you made to him when you said, ‘You shall never fail to have a man to sit before me on the throne of Israel, if only your sons are careful in all they do to walk before me as you have done.’” 1 Kings 8:25 

The above verse is part of the long prayer that Solomon gave at the dedication of the new Temple. It is the prayer that God responded to with the famous “if my people who are called by my Name” promise. 

As I was reading Solomon’s prayer this time, I realized that something was missing. God promised David that He would be with his descendants IF they were careful to walk before God as David had done. I was expecting a response to that. But the heartfelt response to God didn’t come. You know what was missing? Something like this: 

“… choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.” Joshua 24:15 

What I see instead is Solomon basically saying to God, “We are going to sin. But if we turn back and repent when that happens, please forgive us and bless us.” Yes, absolutely, we sin and we will sin and we need God’s mercy and strength to be victorious, and only the blood of the Lamb can save us. But what I don’t see here, in this prayer, is the I-will-follow-no-matter-what determination, the even-if-he-slay-me trust, the tenacious “nevertheless” decision to obey, the our-eyes-are-on-you commitment. I don’t hear the “yet.” I don’t hear the echo of Joshua or Ruth or Esther or Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.  

But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Ruth 1:16 

“Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my maids will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.” Esther 4:16 

“If we [Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego] are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” Daniel 3:17-18 

How did God reply to Solomon’s prayer? “You must serve me as your father David did” (1 Kings 9:4). And David certainly messed up many times. But David served God wholeheartedly. He did not leave room in his heart for idols, presuming that God would forgive him in the end.  

Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous (idolatrous) way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting! Psalm 139:23-24 (ESV) 

It seems to me that Solomon said the words, “May he turn our hearts to him, to walk in all his ways and to keep the commands, decrees and regulations he gave our fathers” (1 Kings 8:58), but didn’t follow through. He talked the talk, but didn’t walk the walk. He actually broke a lot of God’s decrees and regulations (see Deuteronomy 17:14-20). And he never fully committed to walk with God. 

Solomon showed his love for the LORD by walking according to the statutes of his father David, except that he offered sacrifices and burned incense on the high places. 1 Kings 3:3 

I know that everyone admires Solomon’s prayer and often repeats God’s answer to “hear from heaven,” but without the wholehearted part, without the complete commitment, the no-matter-what part, it seems presumptuous to me. “If I keep saying I’m sorry, surely you will keep forgiving, right? Even though I don’t submit, even though I don’t change, even though I don’t obey, even though I don’t follow.” 

And without that commitment to be careful in what he did and to walk before God as David had walked, what happened to Solomon? He kept his religious obligations to the Temple, sacrificing three times a year (1 Kings 9:25), but he ended up worshiping horrible idols associated with human sacrifice.i 

For when Solomon was old … his heart was not wholly true to the Lord his God, as was the heart of David his father.  For Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and after Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites. So Solomon did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and did not wholly follow the Lord, as David his father had done. Then Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the abomination of Moab, and for Molech the abomination of the Ammonites, on the mountain east of Jerusalem.etestable god of the Ammonites. 1 Kings 11:7 (ESV)

What a fall from grace! Lord, help me to pray David’s prayer. Show me the things in my heart that grieve you and give me grace to turn away from them. Give me grace and strength to follow after you wholeheartedly. Nothing missing. 

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” Matthew 16:24 

As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. Luke 9:51 

i New World Encyclopedia https://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/chemosh 

Image in the Public Domain 

Bread for the Eater

The character of God is to give life, to heal and restore and repair.

“For who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ. 1 Corinthians 2:16

1 Corinthians 2:6-16 talks about the difference between the natural thinking of people and God’s thoughts or wisdom. It ends by asking the “who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct him?” This is a quotation from Isaiah 40:13. In Isaiah’s day there was no answer to the question, or the answer was “no one.” But here Paul says, “But we have the mind of Christ.” The Amplified Bible translates it this way: “But we have the mind of Christ (the Messiah) and do hold the thoughts (feelings and purposes) of His heart.” Precious, amazing grace if we will receive it.

In 1 Corinthians 3:19 it says, “The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile.” The word translated futile means: empty, profitless, vain, vanity, an idol. This is another quotation from the Old Testament.

The LORD knows the thoughts of man; he knows that they are futile (empty, vain, a breath or vapor).  Psalm 94:11

The Hebrew word for futile also has behind it the meaning of idolatry. About this Hebrew word the TWOT says:

“Of particular interest here are the parallel verses Jer 2:5 and 2Ki 17:15; They went after vanities and “became vain.” (NIV: “They followed worthless idols and became worthless themselves.”) Two inexorable principles are illustrated here: (1) every man takes on to some degree the character and nature of the God he worships; (2) the characteristic of all false gods is that they destroy their worshippers.” — Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament

As the character of God is to give life, to heal and restore and repair, the character or essence of the idol is to destroy, not just the idolater, but also all those around – even those we are trying to “love.” So, it seems very important for us to have the mind of Christ that we might become like him – to pursue knowing God’s thoughts, what is important to God, what God desires and what pleases Him.

Do not deceive yourselves. If any one of you thinks he is wise by the standards of this age, he should become a “fool” so that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight. 1 Corinthians 3:18-19

And in this world, especially right now, we will seem like fools when we choose God’s thoughts and ways. But, I know that the only thing that God will destroy in us when we surrender to him is our destroying idols. To us he gives life, not just us only, but also life to all those around us, giving “seed for the sower and bread for the eater.

Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive (idol, pain, sorrow, wicked) way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. Psalm 139:23-24

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. 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 55:8-11

Lord, search me, destroy every idol. Make me like you. Be in me Bread for the eater. Give me the mind of Christ.

Image by Heartlight https://www.heartlight.org/articles/201703/20170304_worthy.html

Oscillation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

¹Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible

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

 

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

The Lord Looked

This verse has always struck me with such sorrow. What an opportunity lost! To be known fully and (yet!) loved by God – but walk away.

And he [Andrew] brought him [Peter] to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which, when translated, is Peter).  John 1:42 (NIV)

Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.  Mark 10:21 (NIV)

In both of the above verses Jesus “looked.” The Greek word is emblepo and means to look upon, observe fixedly or absolutely, to discern clearly, behold, consider. Jesus looked at these two men and saw into their hearts, discerning them clearly. He saw Peter’s full commitment, leaving all behind, flinging himself into the sea, stepping out of the boat. Knowing all the missteps and mess-ups that would come along the way, Jesus said, “Yes, this is the one. I’ll build my church here – on a heart that will give up all and follow.”

Emblepo is also the word used in Luke 22:61 when Peter denied he knew Jesus three times. “Jesus turned and looked at Peter” (see The Lord Turned). Jesus looked past Peter’s weakness and sin and saw his heart.

He also saw the heart of the other man (Luke calls him a ruler) and loved him. He saw the earnestness to follow God’s laws, to be holy and righteous, to please God. But, Jesus also saw his idol, the thing that entangled him, the slave-chains that pulled him away – materialism and greed, “He went away sad, because he had great wealth.” This is why Jesus warned against greed so much (Luke 12:15, 32-33).

This verse has always struck me with such sorrow. What an opportunity lost! To be known fully and (yet!) loved by God – but walk away. To turn and walk away from that pure love and fierce passion in the Face of God. How grievous that “stuff” – or anything else – would keep us from that zealous, longing love and life-giving presence. And he does love and long for us. Job declared:

You will call and I will answer you; you will long for (pine after, desire, be greedy for) the creature your hands have made.  Job 14:15 (NIV)

God is greedy for us! He desires for us to love and long for him the same way. To, yes, be greedy, but greedy for God and for him only. To be willing to throw down everything that would keep us from him – and follow.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders (every burden, weight, bulging load, encumbrance) and the sin that so easily entangles (skillfully surrounds, clings so closely, besets, thwarts) and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Hebrews 12:1 (NIV)

Whether we follow or not, he sees us, he knows everything about us – our sins, our idols, our weakness and doubts. And yet! Yet, yet, yet (hallelujah!) he loves us. Let’s love him back, wholly, undivided. Let’s be greedy for Him – and follow!

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

Teach me your way, O LORD, and I will walk in your truth; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name. Psalm 86:11 (NIV)

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. John 10:27 (NIV)

 

Image, detail from For He Had Great Possessions, by George Frederick Watts, 1894. Photograph by Martin Beek https://www.flickr.com/photos/oxfordshire_church_photos/413448324

 

 

 

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)