How Long?

He knows that a thousand years may seem like a day to him, but it sure seems like a long time to us.

How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
    How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
    and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
    How long will my enemy triumph over me?

Look on me and answer, Lord my God.
    Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,
and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”
    and my foes will rejoice when I fall.

But I trust in your unfailing love;
    my heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing the Lord’s praise,
    for he has been good to me. Psalm 13

The beginning words of this Psalm are familiar to me. I have said them a lot in the past 48 years. “How long, Lord? Feeling like I am forgotten, that God has turned away. Especially the “wrestling with my thoughts” part. These verses seem almost scandalously unfaithful – Charles Spurgeon called this the “How long Psalm,” or the “Howling Psalm.” But the words are real. It is how we feel many times. I am so glad that God let them stay in the Bible.

There are many other places, especially in the Psalms, where the Holy Spirit includes these scandalous thoughts and cries. Our being real with God does not bother him. In fact, he loves it when we turn to him and cry out to him, even with doubts in our hearts. Because he knows that a thousand years may seem like a day to him, but it sure seems like a long time to us. And he will respond. His father-heart cannot help but respond. And we can trust in his unfailing love, his chesed. The Psalmist always, somehow, comes back to that trust.

It made me smile when I saw that the Hebrew word chesed, which tries to encompass the kindness and mercy and goodness of God, is translated into Greek as Bethesda – the House of Mercy. This is the name of the pool where they would lay the many disabled people – lame and blind and paralyzed – and they would wait. Wait for the chesed. One man had waited 38 years when Jesus came and healed him. I imagine he may have wondered many times “How long, Lord?”

But sometimes God has to wait for us. Jesus asked the man, “Do you want to become well?” I can hear him adding to himself, “now? Yet? Are you ready?” Because we have much to wrestle with – me in particular. Much anger and resentment and pride and rebellion to fight through and howl about.  But God is there. And he is working in us, whether we can see or feel it or not. He won’t give up on us, even if it takes a thousand years. So, we can say:

But I trust in your unfailing love;
    my heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing the Lord’s praise,
    for he has been good to me.

Say Anything

One bold message in the Book of Job is that you can say anything to God. Throw at him your grief, your anger, your doubt, your bitterness, your betrayal, your disappointment. He can absorb them all. As often as not, spiritual giants of the Bible are shown contending with God. They prefer to go away limping, like Jacob, rather than to shut God out … God can deal with every human response save one. God cannot abide the response I fall back on instinctively: an attempt to ignore God or act as though God does not exist. – Philip Yancey[i]

I loathe my own life; I will give full vent to my complaint; I will speak in the bitterness of my soul. I will say to God … why?  Job 10:2-3 (NASB)

Why, then, did you bring me out of my mother’s womb? Why didn’t you let me die at birth?  Job 10:18 (NLT)

O Lord, why have You brought harm to this people? Why did You ever send me? Ever since I [Moses] came to Pharaoh to speak in Your name, he has done harm to this people, and You have not delivered Your people at all. Exodus 5:22-23 (NASB)

Why is my pain unending and my wound grievous and incurable? Will you be to me like a deceptive brook, like a spring that fails? Jeremiah 15:18 (NIV)

Why do You forget us forever? Why do You forsake us so long? Lamentations 5:20 (NASB)

I counted on you, God. Why did you walk out on me? Psalms 43:2 (MSG)

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Matthew 27:46 (NIV)

So let us come boldly (with free speech, with courage, to speak the truth, unreservedly, openly, frankly, bluntly, without concealment, freely, fearlessly) to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it. Hebrews 4:16 (NLT)

 

[i] Philip Yancey, Disappointment with God

Image in the public domain

 

Excavation

I’m sure God feels like it has been an excavation project to get through to me.

Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but my ears you have pierced; burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not require. Then I said, “Here I am, I have come—it is written about me in the scroll. I desire (take pleasure in, delight) to do your will, my God; your law is within my heart.” Psalm 40:6-8 (NIV)

In the old testament if a slave came to love his master and wanted to stay and serve him for life, the master would bore a hole through his ear as a sign.

But if your servant says to you, “I do not want to leave you,” because he loves you and your family and is well off with you, then take an awl and push it through his ear lobe into the door, and he will become your servant for life. (Deut. 15:16-17 NIV)

The words in Psalms 40 prophesy the coming Messiah, the one who came to be the Servant Savior, “my ears you have pierced … I delight to do your will.”

God doesn’t long for our sacrifices and all the offerings required by the law, but our love and surrender (not all those who say ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the Kingdom). He wants us to hear his voice and know him, to delight to serve him. The word translated “pierced” in the Hebrew means “to dig, excavate, dig through, to bore or open.”

I think it is kind of funny that it means “to excavate.” I’m sure God feels like it has been an excavation project to get through to me. One of the meanings of excavate is to uncover buried remains – perhaps remains of my first love? The burning passion to do His will? Digging down through the many rocks and bitter roots, to the buried remains of my first love, down to the “fountains of my soul” as Charles Spurgeon wrote in his commentary[i] on Psalm 40:6-8.

Our Lord was quick to hear and perform his Father’s will; his ears were as if excavated down to his soul; they were not closed up like Isaac’s wells, which the Philistines filled up, but clear passages down to the fountains of his soul. The prompt obedience of our Lord is here the first idea. There is, however, no reason whatever to reject the notion that the digging of the ear here intended may refer to the boring of the ear of the servant, who refused out of love to his master to take his liberty, at the year of jubilee; his perforated ear, the token of perpetual service, is a true picture of our blessed Lord’s fidelity to his Father’s business, and his love to his Father’s children. Jesus irrevocably gave himself up to be the servant of servants for our sake and God’s glory.

Yes, Lord, I need you to excavate me. Let the fountains of my soul burst forth again with your spring of Living Water. Grant me grace, each day, to irrevocably give myself up to be your servant. I will delight to do your will.

Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. (Philippians 2:5-7 NASB)

I delight to do Your will, O my God. (Psalm 40:8 NASB)

[i] Charles Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, Psalm 40 http://archive.spurgeon.org/treasury/ps040.php

 

Image in the Public Domain

Hope Continually

Especially when things are really bad, hope feels like a sacrifice, a laying on the altar. 

But as for me, I shall always have hope (hope continually); I will praise you more and more. Psalm 71:14 (NIV) 

 In the above verse the psalmist declares, “I will hope continually.” Hope is hard enough without expecting it to be continual – at least it was for me. God has been speaking to me about hope (see Prisoners of Hope) and this verse brought a continuation of the revelation and healing. The Hebrew word translated “continually” is tamiyd – תָּמִיד. It means continually, continuously, constantly, perpetual, uninterrupted continuity. It is used to describe the daily sacrifice in the temple. And continuous hope – speaking it out as praise – is a daily sacrifice to the Lord. Hosea 14:2 speaks of offering the calves or bulls of our lips as a sacrifice, “Take words with you and return to the LORD. Say to him: Forgive all our sins and receive us graciously, that we may offer the fruit (calves, sacrificial bulls) of our lips.” Especially when things are really bad, hope feels like a sacrifice, a laying on the altar. 

But this word, tamiyd, is also used for the Bread of the Presence, or shewbread, that was to be continually in the temple.   

Over the table of the Presence they are to spread a blue cloth and put on it the plates, dishes and bowls, and the jars for drink offerings; the bread that is continually there is to remain on it. Numbers 4:7 (NIV) 

Literally it means the “’bread of continuity’ meaning the bread that was always there. i Jesus is the bread that was always there – Jesus, the Bread of Life (John 6:48). He is continually, continuously, constantly, perpetually, in uninterrupted continuity there. He is here, with me, with you. Always. I have a reason to hope continually because He is with me continually – no matter what. I have reason to praise Him more and more, and offer the daily sacrifice of my lips because He is the Bread that is always there. I will lay my sacrifice on the altar. I will hope in You.  

 Yet(!) I am always (tamiyd) with you; you hold me by my right hand. Psalm 73:23 (NIV) 

And be sure of this: I am with you always (all manner, all means, daily, every one, every way, as many as, thoroughly, whatsoever, whosoever), even to the end of the age. (Matthew 28:20 NLT)  

 i Theological Workbook of the Old Testament 

I want to give acknowledgement and thanks to Beholding Ministries. So often the Bible verses they post are just what I need to hear and are such a blessing. This post is based on: https://beholdinghimministries.org/2018/11/08/hope-for-today-hope-and-praise/

You Are Missed

And when they heard that the LORD was concerned about (cared about, attended to, sought, missed) them and had seen their misery, they bowed down and worshiped. Exodus 4:31 (NIV)

When I read this I thought immediately about the women at the jail we visit. Unstoppable tears stream down their faces as they realize somebody cares about them, God cares and has not forgotten them in their misery. The Hebrew word translated “concerned about” here is paqad – פָּקַד. It means to care for, attend to, be concerned for, but, wonderfully, it also means to seek, look about for, to seek in vain, miss, lack. It means to number or muster the troops, or to be missing from the number or muster. When Saul mustered the troops (1 Samuel 14:17) Jonathan and his armor bearer were missing (paqad). Jonathan told David he would be missed (paqad) from the dinner table (1 Samuel 20:18).

Isn’t that amazing? God missed the Israelites. And when they heard, in their misery and slavery, that the Lord cared about them, was looking for them, missing them, they bowed down and worshiped. God is concerned about you, cares about you, seeks you. If you have wandered far away, he misses you. If you have gotten yourself stuck in a prison and slavery to sin, he has not forgotten you. He wants you in the muster of the great army of God. He wants you there at the banquet table with him. He is always missing, seeking, caring about you.

What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off?  And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. Matthew 18:12-13 (NIV)

He is wooing you from the jaws of distress to a spacious place free from restriction, to the comfort of your table laden with choice food. Job 36:16 (NIV)

 

Image in the Public Domain from the Library of Congress. https://www.loc.gov/pictures/collection/matpc/item/mpc2010007606/PP

I still dare to hope

But (Yet!) this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope (I still dare to hope):

The steadfast love (unfailing love, loyal love) of the Lord (indeed!) never ceases (is never completed, never finished, never fails), his mercies (compassions, tender love) (indeed!) never come to an end (are never accomplished, cease, consumed, determined, end, fail, finish, completed, be ended, be at an end, be finished, be spent); they are new (fresh, new thing) every morning; great (much, many, abounding, abundant, enough) is your faithfulness.

Lamentations 3:21-23

Hostile combatants two

Wrestling with the Word implies making an adjustment – changing our thinking and doing to match Jesus’ commandments. It is not a one-time event, but a continual, daily effort.

You must be ready (adjusted, prepared) all the time, for the Son of Man will come when least expected. (Luke 12:40 NLT)

Wrestling with the Word implies making an adjustment – changing our thinking and doing to match Jesus’ commandments. It is not a one-time event, but a continual, daily effort. David said, “I have set (shavah) the Lord continually before me; Because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken” (Psalm 16:8 NASB). Shavah (ָׁש ָׁוה) means to level, to agree with, resemble¹ (I always think of a carpenter’s level, with the bubble in it, between me and the Word). This implies changing myself – by attitudes, thinking, words and deeds – to line up with the Word, and the Psalm says this is a continual, constant, daily effort.

The Parable of the Sower is told in Matthew 13:19-23, Mark 4:14-20, and Luke 8:11-15. In each, Jesus essentially tells the same story – until the last sentence, which describes the fruitful hearer of the Word. In Matthew 13:23 this hearer understands or wrestles with the word he has heard, in Mark 4:20 he accepts (admits, delights in, receives) the word, and in Luke 8:15 he retains (holds fast, keeps from getting away, keeps in memory) the word and by perseverance (hupomone) produces a good crop. The word translated “retains” is the Greek word katechó (κατέχω). It also means to “check a ship’s headway i.e. to hold or head the ship”², to keep it on course. Hebrews says, “We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away” (Hebrews 2:1 NIV). This retaining the Word, keeping the course, holding the ship from drifting away implies constant effort. It is only possible by “keeping the Lord continually before me” or “fixing our eyes on Jesus.” The key to this perseverance, or hupomone, is hidden in the Greek word itself. But, more on that next time.

Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (James 4:1 NIV)

“Go back?” he thought. “No good at all! Go sideways? Impossible! Go forward? Only thing to do! On we go!” So up he got, and trotted along with his little sword held in front of him and one hand feeling the wall, and his heart all of a patter and a pitter.” Tolkien, The Hobbit (chapter 5)

Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 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 12:1-2 NASB)

¹ Brown-Driver-Briggs http://biblehub.com/hebrew/7737.htm
² Thayer’s and Smith’s Bible Dictionary

Hostile combatants

Have you ever felt that you and the Word of God were hostile combatants? Like you didn’t like the truth and you had to wrestle or fight with it until you could agree with it and become one mind with God? I have many times.

      

“When anyone hears (akouo) the message about the kingdom and does not understand (suniemi) it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is the seed sown along the path. The one who received the seed that fell on rocky places is the man who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since he has no root, he lasts only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away. The one who received the seed that fell among the thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful. But the one who received the seed that fell on good soil is the man who hears (akouo) the word and understands (suniemi) it. He produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.” (Matt. 13:19-23 NIV)

In the parable of the sower everyone heard (akouo) the word, but only the last one understood (suniemi). This one was also the only one who bore fruit. Akouo means to hear, consider, and even to understand[i]. But the Greek word suniemi (συνίημι) takes it further – it means to bring together, or join together in the mind. It also has a meaning of bringing together opposing or hostile combatants.

In the Greek world it was used for the bringing together of two hostile combatants and letting them duke it out (Homer, Illiad 1,8; 7,210)[1]. The scripture says that we are naturally hostile to God. “… the sinful mind is hostile to God” (Romans 8:7), but “while we were enemies (hostile ones, opposing) we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son” (Romans 5:10). I think this implies that three of the hearers in the sower parable did not make the effort to adjust themselves to God’s word, to wrestle with the word, until it changed them and became part of them. But, they let the worries and temptations and ultimately the enemy of our souls wipe it out, and they went on unchanged and unfruitful. They looked into the mirror of the Word and then walked away (James 1:23-25).

Have you ever felt that you and the Word of God were hostile combatants? Like you didn’t like the truth and you had to wrestle or fight with it until you could agree with it and become one mind with God? I have many times. I know that I can read the Word or hear the Word and understand perfectly well what it means, but until I wrestle with it, until I can agree with God about it, line up my thinking with His, I will not bear fruit. Even worse, I run the risk of losing the truth altogether.

Praise God! He is not offended when we wrestle with Him, but rather He is pleased. Lord help me not to merely hear but to suniemi.

Continued Hostile combatants two

[1] Thayer’s Expanded Greek Definition, Electronic Database https://www.studylight.org/lexicons/greek/4920.html

[i] All definitions are taken from Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible unless otherwise noted.