The Play’s the Thing

“As surely as the LORD lives, I can tell him only what my God says.”

The messenger who had gone to summon Micaiah said to him, “Look, the other prophets without exception are predicting success for the king. Let your word agree with theirs, and speak favorably.” But Micaiah said, “As surely as the LORD lives, I can tell him only what my God says.” 2 Chronicles 18:12-13 

Micaiah had been summoned to give the word of the Lord to two kings – Ahab, who was very wicked, and Jehoshaphat, who “did what was right in the eyes of the LORD.” They were trying to decide if they should go into battle. 400 of Ahab’s prophets were declaring he would be victorious. But Jehoshaphat was not so sure.  

But Jehoshaphat asked, “Is there no longer a prophet of the LORD here whom we can inquire of?” The king of Israel answered Jehoshaphat, “There is still one prophet through whom we can inquire of the LORD, but I hate him because he never prophesies anything good about me, but always bad. He is Micaiah son of Imlah.” “The king should not say such a thing,” Jehoshaphat replied. 2 Chronicles 18:6-7 

This peevish complaint would be funny if it wasn’t so sad. It reminds me of 2 Timothy 4: 3 

For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. 

So, Micaiah was called and was pressed by the messenger to stick with the script and agree with the other prophets that the kings would be victorious. As Micaiah steps on the stage of this bizarre play scripted to please the wicked King Ahab, the kings are in costume, “dressed in royal attire,” and one of the prophets is acting out the goring of the enemy with a costume of iron horns on his head. And all 400 prophets are repeating their lines correctly: “Attack Ramoth Gilead and be victorious,” they said, “for the LORD will give it into the king’s hand.” This whole drama always makes me think of Hamlet’s famous line, “the play’s the thing wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the King.” (Act 2, Scene 2) 

God is not averse to using some street theater to get his message across. I have always been intrigued by how much theater there is in the Bible. God directed Ezekiel to act out packing up his belongings for exile and digging a hole in the city wall (Ezekiel 12:4-6). God also told Ezekiel to act out a siege of Jerusalem, laying down on the ground and bearing their sin for 390 days (Ezekiel 4)! God directed Jeremiah to smash a jar before the people to act out the shattering of the nation (Jeremiah 19:10). God also had Isaiah walk around naked and barefoot for three years (yikes!) as “a sign and portent against Egypt and Cush” (Isaiah 20:2-4). 

But in all these cases it was God who wrote the script and gave the direction. When I was taking acting class in high school our teacher used the quote, “the play’s the thing” (i.e., Shakespeare’s written words were the thing) to emphasize that we could NOT improvise with Shakespeare. We had to know and say the words exactly accurately. Everybody knows Shakespeare wrote it and many know it by heart and would catch any deviation from the original words. “As surely as the LORD lives, I can tell him only what my God says.”  

“The Word of God is our Script. That’s why we call it Script-ure. We are not just memorizing lines. We are learning a character (Jesus). We are immersing ourselves in a plot and narrative. We are becoming players in the story. When we get our eye off of that ball, we so easily slip into a comedy of errors.” — J.D. Walt i 

And it turns out that Jehoshaphat did not stick with Ahab’s script after all and it saved his life. As they went into battle Ahab changed out of his kingly costume, hedging his bets that maybe Micaiah was right, but still directing his own play, still writing his own script. He told Jehoshaphat to keep his kingly costume on though. Jehoshaphat may have been feeling uneasy about this time, and with good reason. 

Now the king of Aram had ordered his chariot commanders, “Do not fight with anyone, small or great, except the king of Israel.” When the chariot commanders saw Jehoshaphat, they thought, “This is the king of Israel.” So they turned to attack him, but Jehoshaphat cried out, and the LORD helped him. God drew them away from him, for when the chariot commanders saw that he was not the king of Israel, they stopped pursuing him. 2 Chronicles 18:31-32  

I always think that maybe the attackers realized that this guy in the king costume wasn’t the king that they were after, because the king that they were after would never have cried out to the Lord – at least not the capital “L” Lord, not to the Lord of Lords and King of Kings. Crying out to the Lord God Yahweh was not in Ahab’s script. And if you read the whole story, you know that, even though Ahab changed his costume and had 400 actors shouting his script, he was still killed in the battle, just as Micaiah prophesied.  

Jehoshaphat made a mistake that day aligning himself with a wicked king, but he learned something. Because this is the same Jehoshaphat who later when a great army came against him, cried out to his God, “Our God, will you not judge them? For we have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.” And God answered him, “Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God’s.” ii And, there was a great rout of the enemy. 

The battle is not ours. The script is not ours. It belongs to God. Let us cry out to the true Lord. Let us fix our eyes on Him. He is the one with the power to overcome impossible odds. He sustains “all things by his powerful word” (Hebrews 1: 3). He is our glorious God, the Author of the Script, the Word. The Word made flesh, Jesus, who came to show us God’s character that we might learn it. 

Obeying God is hard. The narrow way is narrow. God’s word cuts to the heart of our self-deception, self-preservation and promotion, our efforts to be in control. Let’s decide right now not try to write our own script. Let’s let God be the director of our life story. Let’s stick with God’s script. Let’s memorize it. Let’s learn our character, immersing ourselves in Jesus, clothing ourselves in His kingly garments. 

… clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ … Romans 13:14 

… fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:2 (NASB) 

i J.D. Walt, The Word of God and the Comedy of Errors  https://www.seedbed.com/the-word-of-god-and-the-comedy-of-errors/ 

ii2 Chronicles 20:13-15 

Image, Hamlet by Kevin Houle https://flic.kr/p/8U8hv  

Even If

You cannot say 

“but” or “except” 

to God’s Word 

for you will be sitting down 

at the dusty, choking side  

or veering off  

on the rocky, deadly way 

You can only say 

“yet” and keep going 

but not alone 

You can only say 

“even though” 

but hand in hand 

You can only say 

“even if” 

Even though the fig trees have no blossoms, and there are no grapes on the vines; even though the olive crop fails, and the fields lie empty and barren; even though the flocks die in the fields, and the cattle barns are empty, yet I will rejoice in the LORD! I will be joyful in the God of my salvation! Habakkuk 3:17-18 (NLT) 

If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up. Daniel 3:17-18 

… sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything. 2 Corinthians 6:10 

Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand. Psalm 73:23 

Image by Sheila Bair

Provided

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

i Merriam Webster 

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

Crucified with Christ

Here is a compilation of what the Spirit has been saying to me this week through the blogs and daily devotionals I receive. May it encourage you too.  

Jesus took the Twelve aside and told them, “We are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled.”  Luke 18:31  

In our Lord’s life, Jerusalem was the place where He reached the culmination of His Father’s will upon the cross, and unless we go there with Jesus we will have no friendship or fellowship with Him. Nothing ever diverted our Lord on His way to Jerusalem. He never hurried through certain villages where He was persecuted, or lingered in others where He was blessed. Neither gratitude nor ingratitude turned our Lord even the slightest degree away from His purpose to go “up to Jerusalem.” — Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, updated edition 

In every Christian’s heart there is a cross and a throne, and the Christian is on the throne till he puts himself on the cross. If he refuses the cross he remains on the throne. Perhaps this is at the bottom of the backsliding and worldliness among gospel believers today. We want to be saved but we insist that Christ do all the dying. No cross for us, no dethronement, no dying. We remain king within the little kingdom of Mansoul and wear our tinsel crown with all the pride of a Caesar, but we doom ourselves to shadows and weakness and spiritual sterility. ― A.W. Tozer, The Radical Cross: Living the Passion of Christ 

Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. Matthew 7:21 

The glory of God is the love of God, which we see in its fullest expression on divine display at the cross of Jesus—unfathomably full of grace and truth. While his entire life is the cross, Jesus’ finest hour comes on Good Friday. In the hour of his greatest glory, he wears human sovereignty as a crown of thorns. On the darkest day of human history, the Light of the World shines brightest. On the day when the Son of God is emptied of his life, grace and truth are poured out in their fullest measure. In the hour when all of the vitriolic hatred of the human race is unleashed on this sinless suffering servant, the love of God reveals itself as the very essence of divine sovereignty. — J.D. Walt, Why the Glory of God is Not What We Think http://www.facebook.com/sharer.php?u=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.seedbed.com%2Fwhy-the-glory-of-god-is-not-what-we-think%2F          

Like Jesus and David, Christians, the ‘royal priesthood’ (1 Peter 2:9) also have to go through a Mount of Olive experience. An experience where we are stripped of all we know, face conspiracy and unspeakable anguish. This is our make or break moment. A moment where we are hanging in the balance- between life and death, faith and fear, and victory and defeat. What makes a difference is what we do when we are up that mountain. When darkness reigns and we can’t see God, we ought to relinquish our wills to Him regardless. Once we surrender to God while at the mountain, He strengthens us for the battle ahead. — Mulyale Mutisya, Something about the Mountain https://carolynemutisya7.wordpress.com/2020/09/25/something-about-the-mountain/#like-1465  

One thing taught throughout the Bible, and particularly in the New Testament, is that the Christian life is a progression, a journey of the redeemed soul toward God. Another is that Satan stands to resist every step and to hinder the journey in every way possible. To advance against his shrewd and powerful opposition requires faith and steadfast courage. The epistles call it “confidence.” 

In his Philippian epistle Paul declares his own determination to advance against all obstacles. He says in effect that while he is not yet perfect and has not yet attained unto the goal set before him, he is putting the past behind him psychologically as well as chronologically that he may go on to find in Christ his all in all. “I press on toward the goal,” he says, “to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14). Then with a fine disregard for apparent self-contradictions he urges, “All of us who are mature should take such a view of things” (3:15). — A. W. Tozer, Sermon: Keep Growing 

Graham Cooke said, We’re saved once, but we get redeemed from our old ways every single day! We’re learning how to be a new creation.” This is critically important to understand if we’re going to walk in what God intends for us. While Paul said “it is by grace you have been saved, through faith” (Eph.2:8), he also said, “continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” (Phil.2:12). — Mel Wild, https://melwild.wordpress.com/2020/09/22/walking-out-our-redemption/#like-39182  

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.  Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Galatians 5:22-25  

[M]aturation in a spiritual sense is a growing willingness to stretch out my arms, to have a belt put round me, and to be led where I would rather not go (John 21:18). — Henri Nouwen, A New Vision of Maturity, Daily Meditation, September 20, 2020 

This is a true saying: If we die with him, we will also live with him. 2 Timothy 2:11 (NLT) 

Photo by Jack Bair

Breathing After

Maybe we were never meant to breathe on our own.

I am the LORD your God, who brought you up out of Egypt. Open wide your mouth and I will fill it. But my people would not listen (shama) to me; Israel would not submit (abah) to me. Psalm 81:10-11

The phrase translated above as “you would not submit” consists of the two Hebrew words for not + willing, many times translated “unwilling” in the Bible. You were unwilling. Unfortunately, those two words mostly come together in the Bible.

The willing part of the phrase is the Hebrew word abah, which literally means to breathe after. Figuratively, it means to acquiesce, consent, rest content, will, be willing, to desire. Two other Hebrew words come from abah – the word for “longing” and the word for “reed or papyrus” in the sense of bending toward. It’s one of those passionate Hebrew words. To breathe after – like panting after – longing for, desiring.

The word translated “listen” above is shama. It means to hear, listen to, obey. It is the first word and command of the verse Jesus identified as the most important: Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. (Deut. 6:4-5). Abah and shama come together a lot and while their meanings are complimentary, G. J. Botterweck[i] defines the difference.

“The difference seems to be that ‘aba denotes the first beginnings of a positive reaction, whereas shama’ indicates complete obedience.”

Abah, the first beginnings of desire, of longing for God, the bending toward God to catch that still, small voice. Shama, hearing God’s voice and obeying with all. The Spirit of the Lord in the Old Testament means the breath, mind, or spirit of God. If we are willing to obey, we “breathe after” God, or breathe his breath after him. We are one mind and spirit with him. His breath, his command, his Word becomes part of us.

It reminds me a lot of the practice of the presence of God. Breathing His breath; breathing in tandem with the Spirit. Or maybe like God blowing his breath into us, as at creation, and us breathing it out (Genesis 2:7). The Word, the Breath, the Life. Like mouth-to-mouth respiration. Open your mouth and I will fill it! Maybe we were never meant to breathe on our own. But, isn’t that amazing? The idea that being willing and obeying God is to breathe his very breath? Isn’t the image of opening your mouth, like a baby bird, the ultimate in trusting and yielding?

Why don’t we breathe after God? In the above verse it was because of stubbornness. Sometimes it’s because of fear, caring about what people think more than pleasing God, pride, the choking need to be in control. We keep our mouths tightly shut.

Bend toward. Breathe after.

 

This is the air I breathe

This is the air I breathe

Your holy presence living in me

And I, I’m desperate for you

And I, I’m lost without you

–Michael W. Smith

 

I open my mouth and pant, longing for your commands. Psalms 119:131

 

[i] G. J. Botterweck in The Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, I, p. 25.

Image copyright by Jack Bair

 

God is Not Silent

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Image of sound waves from clipart-library.com

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

The Raven’s Croak

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

[i] Wikipedia, The Common Raven

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

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

 

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

Running from His Heart

God’s love and purposes were, and are, relentless. You might say he is one-track when it comes to the salvation of the world.

The Lord gave this message to Jonah son of Amittai: “Get up and go to the great city of Nineveh. Announce my judgment against it because I have seen how wicked its people are.”
But Jonah got up and went in the opposite direction to get away from the Lord. He went down to the port of Joppa, where he found a ship leaving for Tarshish. He bought a ticket and went on board, hoping to escape from the [presence of the] Lord by sailing to Tarshish. Jonah 1:1-3 (NLT)

I don’t know why this always makes me laugh. OK, I do know why. Go ahead and put your name in the blank:

But ____ got up and went in the opposite direction in order to get away from the LORD.

See what I mean? We all have done it. We have all tried to run away from God, with the emphasis on the word tried. In Jonah’s case, God was sending him to the city of Nineveh to call them to repentance, and Jonah didn’t want to do it. God said to Jonah, “Get up and go.” Instead, Jonah got up and ran; the word means “to bolt.” God told Jonah to get up or arise. Maybe, as a prophet of God, he was on his knees worshiping in the Presence and received this call. His reaction wasn’t exactly what God had in mind.

It seems nearly every person in the Bible called by God to do something started their reply with an excuse. But, I can’t talk very well (Exodus 6:30). But, I am too young (Jeremiah 1:6). But, I am too weak and unimportant (Judges 6:15). Except Jonah, he just bolted. Apparently, David tried to escape God too.

Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. Psalm 139:7-10 (NIV)

David concluded that it is impossible to run from God. After all, His very name is Immanuel, God with us.

There are always so many reasons why not to answer the call to get up and go. When we look only at ourselves, we see weakness, sin, fear and doubt. But there may be just as many excuses when we look at God. As in Jonah’s case, he didn’t want what God wanted: the salvation of thousands. Especially these particular thousands. “Knowing well the lovingkindness of God, he anticipated that He would spare the Ninevites on their repentance, and he could not bring himself to be the messenger of mercy to heathen, much less to heathen who (as the Assyrian inscriptions state) had already made war against his own people, and who as he may have known were destined to be their conquerors.”[i] Another commentary explains, “he feared God’s compassion would spare the Ninevites on their repentance, and that thus his prediction would be discredited.”[ii]

So what were Jonah’s reasons for bolting? Prejudice, personal pride, and self-preservation. Prejudice: the Assyrians were Gentiles, reprobate, the enemy. Pride: he had a reputation to maintain. He had been publicly calling down horrible judgements on these people. Self-preservation: the Assyrians had attacked Israel before and were prophesied to do it again (Hosea 9:3; Hosea 11:5).

But God doesn’t care about any of that. Jesus showed us what God is like and what he expects us to be like. Jesus loved everybody the same. Jesus was completely humble. Jesus determinedly and obediently walked right into his own death. God’s love and purposes were, and are, relentless. You might say he is one-track when it comes to the salvation of the world. After Nineveh repents Jonah exclaims, “I knew you were going to do that God!” (Jonah 4:2). That always makes me smile too – Jonah knew God was going to save those people because he knew God well enough to know who God is, what God is like, and to know God’s heart. We may not be so honest with ourselves as Jonah, but when we run from God isn’t that what we are running from? His heart? His relentless love? His good, life-giving, excruciating purpose for our lives?

Kurt Bennett points out, “There’s only one place in the bible where we see God running.” That place is the picture of God shown in the parable of the prodigal son. In it, Jesus describes a loving father running toward another fugitive. If you are running from God and his call for your life, turn around and run back. You will run right into His relentless love.

Grace that chases me
O relentless Love
Morning faithfully
Brings mercy to me
Your sweet mercy

—James Mark Gulley, Stephen Gulley

 

[i] Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges

[ii] Pulpit Commentary. Hendrickson Publishers

 

Image in the Public Domain

 

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