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 

In the Middle

Maybe we can be meta too, naming each other as our mission – beloved, neighbor, brother, sister.

There [at Golgotha] they crucified him, and with him two others—one on each side and Jesus in the middle. John 19:18

Jesus in the middle. This verse struck me a different way as I read it today. Jesus was suffering there in the middle of fallen humanity at its worst. In Matthew the two men on either side of Jesus are called thieves. The word is lestes and means robbers, plunderers. According to NetBible Study Notes, Josephus used the term lestes for the Zealots who revolted against Roman rule. Barabbas was a lestes (John 18:40).

In Luke the two men crucified on either side of Jesus are called criminals, evildoers malefactors. Here, in John, they are just “others.” I think John is saying it doesn’t matter what they did. What matters is how they responded to Jesus as they hung there dying with Jesus in the middle.

The word translated middle is mesos = in the middle, in the midst, among. Jesus came and lived and died in the middle. He lived with them, ate with them, walked with them. Loved them. He had compassion on them. He wept with them. “This man welcomes sinners.”

Mesos comes from meta, which means “with, accompanying, amid.” Meta-data is the data or information that accompanies something – the name and ingredient list of a product. The “about the author” blurb on a book jacket. The track list accompanying an audio file.

Jesus is mesos, in our midst. Always there. Suffering with us. Jesus is meta. He is with us. He accompanies us all the way. He names us – Child of God. He tells us what we are made of, what is in us. When we respond as the man on the cross beside Jesus did, in repentance and faith, we are a new creation. We have the mind of Christ. We have a spirit given us not of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline. We become part of his body. We have the Holy Spirit indwelling us. The Kingdom of God is within us. His word is in our mouths. His love in our hearts

He lived and died with us, and he wants us to die – be crucified – with him, and with all the thieves and criminals and the others. All the messed up, hopeless, dying ones. And he wants us to be resurrected as a new person and live loving them just as he did – to be mesos alongside Jesus as he is alongside them. Maybe we can be meta too. Naming Him as our testimony – Emmanuel, God With Us, Savior, Redeemer. And naming each other as our mission – beloved, neighbor, brother, sister.

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. Galatians 2:20

You know what is very cool? The word translated “crucified” in this verse is a different word from the word translated “crucified” in John 19:18. Jesus was crucified=stauroo. We are crucified=sustauroo. Stauroo means to impale on a cross, to stake, drive down stakes. Sustauroo means to impale in company with, crucify with. In company with Jesus. With Him alongside. Jesus in the middle.

Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with [meta] me in paradise.” Luke 23:43

Image from FreeBibleimages.org

Except

I’m fighting down fears right now. But that “except” is there, holding me on the Rock.

I assigned the hill country of Seir to Esau, but Jacob and his sons went down to Egypt. Joshua 24:4

This unassuming sentence is tucked into a long account of the history of God’s people at the end of Joshua’s life. But the verse jumped out at me this last time I read it. At first it would seem that Esau got the better end of this deal. God gave Esau the hill country of Seir, but Jacob and his sons went down to Egypt – and we know what happened to them there.

Esau missed out on 400 years of slavery and 40 more years in the desert wilderness. He became very rich and great, with many chiefs. Genesis 36 is the account of Esau and his greatness, his many descendants, and their many chiefs. Esau had “kings who reigned in the land of Edom before any king ruled over the Israelites” (Genesis 36:31).

A commentary on Genesis 36 notes, “As F. Delitzsch says[i], ‘secular greatness in general grows up far more rapidly than spiritual greatness.’ In other words, the progress of the world far out distances the progress of the righteous who are waiting for the promise.”[ii]

Yes, it would seem that Esau got the better deal. Except. Except Esau also missed out on:

  • Deliverance from slavery
  • Redemption by the blood of the Passover lamb
  • Miraculous rescue from the enemy
  • Pure water from the Rock
  • Bread from Heaven
  • Hearing God’s voice from the mountain
  • Comfort and protection of the cloud and the pillar of fire
  • The giving of the Word of God
  • The refining as silver
  • The testing as gold
  • Learning dependence on God alone

I know that I would have been right there with the panicked Israelites heart and soul as they grumbled against Moses saying, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to make us and our children and livestock die of thirst?” (Exodus 17:3) … “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to this terrible place? It has no grain or figs, grapevines or pomegranates. And there is no water to drink!” (Numbers 20:5).

Yeah, I’m pretty sure I would have been with them because I’m fighting down similar fears right now. But that “except” is there, holding me on the Rock. Except, I want to be part of the Story.

Esau didn’t just miss out on the hunger and the thirst, the fear and uncertainty, the hardship and the trials. He also missed out on being part of the great Story of Salvation. Esau missed out on being part of Jesus’ story. The Story of the Savior.

For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. 1 Corinthians 10:1-4

So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.” Matthew 2:15

Lord, bring me out. Bring me through. Bring me into the wilderness with you. Write me into your great Story of Salvation.

Jesus
Write me into Your story
Whisper it to me
And let me know I’m Yours

–Rich Mullins

 

Watch out for the Esau syndrome: trading away God’s lifelong gift in order to satisfy a short-term appetite. Hebrews 12:16 (MSG)

[i] Franz Delitzsch. New Commentary on Genesis, 2:238.

[ii] NetBible Study Notes

Image by Jack Bair, all rights reserved

The Arm of the Lord

Isn’t this just like God? The last, first, the meek victorious, overcoming evil with good?

The Arm of the Lord

“Therefore, say to the Israelites: ‘I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment.” Exodus 6:6

A footnote in a book I am reading recommended a word study of the arm of the Lord. So, I decided to do it, and found some amazing hidden treasure.

The Hebrew word translated arm, as in “outstretched arm” and “arm of the Lord,” is zerowa or zeroa (זרוֹע). It is defined as the arm as stretched out, and figuratively, as force, help, mighty, power, strength.

Zeroa comes from zara which means to sow or scatter seed. Sowing seed was done by taking a handful of seed and scattering it with an outstretched arm. It is the same word as used in Psalms 126.

Those who sow in tears shall reap with joyful shouting. Psalm 126:5 (NASB)[1]

God’s outstretched arm bringing deliverance, but also sowing the seed of life. This is wonderful in itself, but what really stunned me was the other meaning of zeroa. It also means the shoulder or foreleg of an animal sacrifice. This meaning is still used today for the sacrificed lamb in the Passover celebration. From Wikipedia:

“(Hebrew: זרוֹע) is a lamb shank bone or roast chicken wing or neck used on Passover and placed on the Seder plate. It symbolizes the korban Pesach (Pesach sacrifice), a lamb that was offered in the Temple in Jerusalem, then roasted (70 CE) during the destruction of the Temple, the z’roa serves as a visual reminder of the Pesach sacrifice; in Ashkenazi and many Sephardi families, it is not eaten or handled during the Seder.”[2]

The Arm of the Lord, his might and saving power, is also the sacrifice lamb. Isn’t that just like God? The last, first, the meek victorious, overcoming evil with good?

Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. Isaiah 53:1-2 (written between 701 BC and 681 BC)

This verse begins the famous chapter in Isaiah prophesying the Messiah. “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows … Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows … he was led like a lamb to the slaughter” (Isaiah 53:3, 4, 7).

Who is this “message” referred to in Isaiah 53:1, and who is the “arm of the Lord”? Jesus, Messiah, is both the message (the Word become flesh) and the revealed Arm of the Lord (the sacrifice Lamb).

God’s arm, his strength, might, power, help, was revealed in a sacrificed lamb, submissive and obedient to death.

And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross! Philippians 2:8

The next day John saw Jesus coming towards him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” John 1:29

Then came the day of Unleavened Bread on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and make preparations for us to eat the Passover.” Luke 22:7-8

For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. 1 Corinthians 5:7b

 

[1] All quotations from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zeroa

Thank you to Ian Livesey for the photo of the lamb from Flickr.

The Pressing of Grapes

The amazing story of Redemption is hidden in these verses.

Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. Matthew 7:13-14 (NIV)

This is a well-known saying of Jesus and I have read it many times. But, this time I decided to take a look at the Greek meanings and roots of the important concepts – narrow, wide, broad. I would like to share with you what I discovered and some related verses that help reveal the amazing story of Redemption hidden in these verses.

Enter through the narrow (stenos) gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small (stenos) is the gate …

The word translated “narrow” in verse 13 and the word translated “small” in verse 14 are the same Greek word, which is stenos. Stenos means narrow or strait, and it comes from the root word histemi, which means to stand, abide, continue, covenant, to be of a steadfast mind which does not hesitate or waiver.

I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. John 15:5 (NASB)

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. Hebrews 10:23 (NASB)

But small is the gate and narrow (thlibo) the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.

The other word in verse 14 also translated “narrow” (or hard, difficult) is thlibo, which means to press like grapes, press hard upon, be crowded, afflicted, suffer tribulation and trouble. There are two breathtaking roots to this word: tragos = a male goat; and trauma = a wound or wounds.

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world. John 15:33 (NIV)

Then Aaron shall lay both of his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the sons of Israel and all their transgressions in regard to all their sins … The goat shall bear on itself all their iniquities to a solitary land; and he shall release the goat in the wilderness. Leviticus 16:21-22 (NASB)

He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption. Hebrews 9:12 (NIV)

He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. 1 Peter 2:24 (NIV)

For wide (platus) is the gate and broad (euruchoros) is the road that leads to destruction

The word translated “wide” is platus. Its origin is the root word plasso, which means to form, mold, fabricate, or shape.

Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. Romans 12:2 (NIV)

Finally, the word translated “broad”, or spacious, is euruchoros. It comes from chora which means and empty expanse or the space lying between two places or limits. Interestingly, the root of both these words is chasma, from which our English word chasm comes.

But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear. Isaiah 59:2 (NIV)

For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Romans 5:10 (NIV)

Enter through the narrow gate, where you can abide in me, holding fast your confession without wavering. For wide is the gate where you are formed by the molding of the world, and broad is the road that leads to destruction and separation from God, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road, where you are pressed hard upon like grapes, afflicted, suffer tribulation and trouble for my sake, but that leads to life, and only a few find it.

I [Jesus] am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. John 10:9 (NIV)

Captured

During a bible study at the jail I mentioned to a woman that we are all the same in God’s eyes, for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. She responded, “Yeah, we just got caught.”

“No man’s really any good till he knows how bad he is, or might be; till he’s realised exactly how much right he has to all this snobbery, and sneering, and talking about ‘criminals,’ as if they were apes in a forest ten thousand miles away; … till he’s squeezed out of his soul the last drop of the oil of the Pharisees; till his only hope is somehow or other to have captured one criminal, and kept him safe and sane under his own hat.” Father Brown in G.K. Chesterton’s The Secret of Father Brown, 1927

The above quote reminded me of a conversation I had with a woman at the jail recently. During a bible study I mentioned that we are all the same in God’s eyes, for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. She responded, “Yeah, we just got caught.”

Funny, but true. Jesus made it clear who the criminals are.

“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.” Matthew 5:21-22 (NIV)

But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. Matthew 5:27 (NIV)

In our natural selves we are all caught. Caught in the act. We are all criminals. But Jesus came to capture us in our captivity to sin. He told Peter, “Do not fear, from now on you will be catching men” (Luke 5:10). That word translated “catching” is zogreo (ζωγρέω) and literally means to capture or take alive. At its very root is the Greek word ago (ἄγω ) which means “to lead by accompanying to (or into) a place.” “To take alive” sounds fearful, but his heart is always mercy and love. He captures us to lead us to that place of salvation and peace.

When he ascended to the heights, he led a crowd of captives (he led captivity captive), and he gave gifts to his people. Ephesians 4:8 (NLT)

He led captivity captive. He captured the captives – we who are captured by our sin, slaves to the enemy of our souls. Yes, it’s true we are all criminals that need to be captured, but Father Brown was wrong about one thing. We can’t do it ourselves. There is only One who can. There is only One who can keep us “safe and sane under our own hats.” Jesus – who was considered a criminal, though he never sinned outwardly or inwardly. He loved us and allowed himself to be captured and executed that we might be captured and set free as new creatures. We must surrender, wave the white flag, and let the Lover of our souls lead us away.

Lord, let me be in that crowd of captives. Captured by your grace.

A thousand times I’ve failed
Still your mercy remains
Should I stumble again
Still I’m caught in your grace

From the Inside Out by Joel Houston

Turn thou us unto thee, O Lord, and we shall be turned; renew (repair, make new) our days as of old.  Lamentations 5:21 (KJV)

Can plunder be taken from warriors, or captives rescued from the fierce? But this is what the LORD says: “Yes, captives will be taken from warriors, and plunder retrieved from the fierce; I will contend with those who contend with you, and your children I will save. Isaiah 49:24-25 (NIV)

For it is by grace [God’s remarkable compassion and favor drawing you to Christ] that you have been saved [actually delivered from judgment and given eternal life] through faith. And this [salvation] is not of yourselves [not through your own effort], but it is the [undeserved, gracious] gift of God. Ephesians 2:8 (Amplified Bible)

For more on being caught in his wonderful love read Imprisoned

Photo by Jack Bair copyright 2019

Imprisoned

Instead of vaporizing us rebels he put us in protective custody. He gathered us into his loving net.

For God has imprisoned all people in their own disobedience so he could have mercy on everyone. Romans 11:32 (NLT)

God has imprisoned all people in their own disobedience – that really struck me. Another way you could say that is that God has made disobedience a prison for all people. It might not seem like it, but he did this because he loves us and wanted to have mercy on us. He could have set up the universe so that disobedience resulted in – boing! – being flung out into space. Or he could have made it so that disobedience resulted in immediate vaporization. Zap! You’re gone.

But instead he made it so that disobedience to God becomes a prison. We have all experienced that prison – addictions, compulsions, obsessions, uncontrollable emotions and urges, those loud voices in our heads building razor-wire-topped walls. Romans 7:24 (NLT) cries out, “Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin?” But what does the next verse answer? “Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord.” The way out of our prison is surrender to the one who loves us and died for us that we might be set free.

Because the amazing thing is that God did not fashion our disobedience into a prison to have a “so there!” retribution for our turning away from him, or so that he could have some kind of “see I told you so” triumph over us. But, he did it so he could have mercy! God is love and he longs to love us, he longs to have mercy on us. Instead of vaporizing us rebels he put us in protective custody. He gathered us into his loving net.

That Greek word translated “imprisoned” in the above verse is sugkleio. It means to shut up together, embrace in a common subjection, enclose. It is used to describe fish caught in a net, as in Luke 5:6 (NIV).

When they had done so, they caught (sugkleio) such a large number of fish that their nets began to break.

Yes! Hallelujah! Instead of flinging us away into annihilation he has embraced us, enclosed us, caught us in his loving net. If right now you feel like you are flopping around, trapped, gasping for breath, surrender to the one who loves you, who came and died that you might be set free.

So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. John 8:36 (NIV)

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

My eyes are continually toward the LORD, For He will pluck my feet out of the net. Psalm 25:15 (NASB)

 

This post is also a Bible study available for free use at Imprisoned Bible Study

 

Image by Melanie Dabovich, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Sunrise to Sunset

Sing

unto the Lord, the Existing One, The Eternal

all, every one, the totality, altogether, in every place, every thing

howsoever, whatsoever, whosoever,

the whole earth;

shew forth, bear the good news, the glad tidings, announce, tell, publish, preach

from day to day, sunrise to sunset,

his

Salvation

deliverance

help

aid

saving intervention

victory

Yeshua

 

 

Photo by Sheila Bair