7. God of Purpose: Introduction

Getting to Know God Meditations:  7. God of Purpose: Introduction   

Gen 12:2,3  “I will make you into a great nation,  and I will bless you; I will make your name great,  and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you,  and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth  will be blessed through you.”

Again?  We are sticking for the moment with references from that first book of the Bible, Genesis, and with the man, Abraham, who became known as the father of the nation of Israel. This is going to be the start, the introduction if you like, to this subject of the purposes that God has for the earth. Later we will go on and expand on this. When we understand the revealed purposes, we will understand something of God, and what we find may surprise some of us.

Abram is the first person in the Bible, the first historical figure, to enter into any form of long lasting relationship with God but, and here is the important issue, it is all initiated by God; this is a God-revealed thing that we are considering and what we are reading are words about God’s purposes, revealed to Abram. Look at the simplicity of what He says here to Abram: “I will make you into a great nation.” Why should that be? Why would God create a particular nation from this one man, why did Israel come into being? What was so important about them?

The Developing Revelation: A while after these opening words of chapter 12 of Genesis,  we find, in an ongoing conversation between Abram and God, the following: “God said to him, “As for me, this is my covenant with you: You will be the father of many nations. No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations.”  (Gen 17:3) In the Bible you will find explanatory footnotes, indicating that Abram means ‘exalted father’ and Abraham means ‘father of many’. We have said previously Hebrew names frequently have a purposeful meaning. Along the way Abraham first had a son Ishmael via his servant maid when his wife did not appear able to conceive, and then later Isaac, miraculously by his wife long after child-bearing age. Ishmael became father of the Arab nations, Isaac father of Israel. But is that all this meant?

A while later God reiterated this: “Abraham will surely become a great and powerful nation, and all nations on earth will be blessed through him.”   (Gen 18:17,18) How could that be – and yet it is God’s purpose declared, to bless the whole earth somehow via this nation that would come into being.  We see this promise stated yet again in Gen 22:15-18, and then to Isaac in Gen 26:2-6, and then to Jacob in Gen 28:13,14.   Moving on, Moses was aware that God’s dealing with Israel would be heard by other nations – Ex 15:14-16, Num 14:13-17, Deut 2:24,25.

Deuteronomy is Moses’ talks to Israel before they enter the Promised Land and in it he reminds them what has happened to them and then gives them instructions how they are to live once they have entered into the Promised Land, Canaan: “See, I have taught you decrees and laws as the LORD my God commanded me, so that you may follow them in the land you are entering to take possession of it. Observe them carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say, “Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.”  (Deut 4:5,6) He reiterates this in Deut 28:8-10.   When Joshua leads the nation he speaks to them similarly: “He did this so that all the peoples of the earth might know that the hand of the LORD is powerful and so that you might always fear the LORD your God.”  (Josh 4:24)  This awareness is seen in David and Solomon in subsequent years, it is their clear understanding of God’s purposes in respect of Israel.

Initial Goal: Let’s be quite clear what we have seen so far. It is clear that the first reason at least for the existence of Israel, and the way they are blessed by God, is to reveal something of God to the rest of the world. He constituted Israel as a nation and gave them ‘The Law’ which refers to the Ten Commandments plus a lot of other laws about how to live in peace and harmony as a nation.

Let’s make the note here that these laws were for them uniquely as an agrarian community but, even more importantly, a community that should be contrasted with the pagan communities surrounding it. This was not only by the fact they had a living relationship with God, but by the way they trusted Him and lived according to His guidelines and were blessed accordingly, and therefore some of the apparently really strange prohibitions that critics dig out, are against copying the cultic behaviour of those neighboring pagan nations.

An Early Fulfillment: The outworking of this ‘living according to His guidelines and being blessed accordingly’ is seen most amazingly in an incident in the reign of king Solomon.  The Queen of Sheba hears of all that is happening in Israel and so she comes on a state visit. Thus we see, “She said to the king, “The report I heard in my own country about your achievements and your wisdom is true. But I did not believe these things until I came and saw with my own eyes. Indeed, not even half was told me; in wisdom and wealth you have far exceeded the report I heard. How happy your people must be! How happy your officials, who continually stand before you and hear your wisdom! Praise be to the Lord your God, who has delighted in you and placed you on the throne of Israel. Because of the Lord’s eternal love for Israel, he has made you king to maintain justice and righteousness.” (1 Kings 10:6-9) What an incredible testimony. She is saying, I am amazed by all I see of your affluence and I can see that it is all what ‘The I AM God’ has done for you.

And Yet!  And yet, sadly, this is not typical and, in fact, this episode with the Queen of Sheba is almost unique occurrence (certainly in its impact on her). The tragedy is that so much of the time in the life of this nation – that became two nations – they turned away from God again and again and again and got into a mess. The book of Judges is the classic example of the record of this as we see a recurring cycle – Israel are at peace and are blessed by God, then they drift away from following Him and as a result they become vulnerable to enemy attacks from their neighbors, they get into severe difficulties, cry out to God, and He then sends them a deliverer, they return to peace and harmony, and so the cycle starts over again. It happens again and again. Years later, the prophet Isaiah would declare their failure: “We have not brought salvation to the earth, and the people of the world have not come to life.” (Isa 26:18)

A Second Goal? Now this isn’t stated but one cannot help wondering, from a human point of view, how this state of affairs could have carried on?  God has blessed this people, made them a strong nation, given them a wonderful fruitful land and done everything He could to establish them, and yet time and time again they mess up and turn away from Him and to idol worship and get into trouble. Why didn’t He just wipe them out and start with another nation? Well one of the things that the Bible teaches us is that God knows, He knows everything – He knows about everything and He knows what will come and how things will work out. So, we might ask, why did He create Israel if He knew they would mess up?

The obvious answer has to be so that we would have, under a microscope so to speak, an insight into human beings. It is not that Israel were uniquely bad or uniquely stupid – we all are! Israel only demonstrated what we are all like when we have the courage to be honest and face it.  The second goal, I may suggest therefore, is that God brought Israel into being to reveal to the world the sinful tendency of humanity in the world. Now that is the first time I have used that biblical word, ‘sin’ and so I had better explain it. Put most simply it means our propensity to be self-centred and godless which leads to wrong living, living contrary to God’s design for us (we’ll look at this more fully later).

Recap: OK, before we move on let’s just recap what I have suggested are the two initial goals for God creating the nation of Israel:

  1. To reveal Himself and His good intentions to the world,
  2. To reveal the sinful nature, tendency or propensity, of human beings.

Now these two goals lead on to an even bigger third goal, the ultimate goal that God has for mankind, not to condemn us but to save us from ourselves, but we will need more space for that so we’ll look some more at this in the next few studies. Stay with me as we continue to consider the God of Purpose!

Snapshots: Day 28

Snapshots: Day 28

The Snapshot: “so he proceeded to bless him.”  A blessing is a prophetic decree of good from heaven. It comes from God, touches a heart, is declared and applied by God. It is not a wish but a declaration of the good will of God and is, in one sense, general for all of us (His desire for good for His children) but in another sense unique (what He sees He wants to do for ‘me’ uniquely). We impart a blessing only as the Holy Spirit enables us; it is not a case of just wishing someone well, but an opening of the door of heaven for the good to be poured forth as he desires. How amazing that He wants to involve us, is limited by us, because He wants us to be the bringers of His good to His world. Lord, please make me sensitive of your will for those I love that I may bless them.

Further Consideration: Over the years I have had the impression that most Christians know little of blessings and curses. The classic passages of the Law that describe them are Deut 28 for blessings following obedience, then curses for disobedience. However, blessings start in Gen 1 when God blessed the living creatures (v.22) and then mankind (v.28). In each case ‘blessings’ are God’s decrees for good. In each case the blessing is “to be fruitful” and this is also seen when He blesses Noah (Gen 9:1). A beautiful outworking of this is seen in the case of Isaac: “Isaac planted crops in that land and the same year reaped a hundredfold, because the Lord blessed him.” (Gen 26:12)

Somehow this understanding has been communicated to Isaac and so it is no surprise when he blesses who he thinks is his eldest son, but turns out to be Jacob. He clearly holds a blessing in the highest degree for once he has spoken it, he knows he cannot either withdraw it or repeat it in respect of Esau (see Gen 27:34-37).

A blessing is thus equivalent to a prophecy and of course genuine prophecies always originate in heaven, in God’s heart, and not merely in our hearts. As we catch a sense of the Holy Spirit’s prompting we may then utter the blessing that we sense the Lord wants to impart to the person before us, and life is changed.

I will often simply say to someone, “The Lord bless you,” because I know it is the Lord’s desire to bless each one of us. My daughter reminded me not long ago that she grew up through a childhood that knew me bringing God’s blessing to them. Whenever we do that we are reiterating the Lord’s desire to bring good to that person, and that opens the way for Him to do just that. We don’t do it by habit or to control but simply when we are absolutely sure that God wants good for His people.  The more we know Him, the more sure we will be of that and be able to be His channels of blessing to others.

2. About Blessing

Reaching into the Psalms 1 to 4: 2. About Blessing

Psa 1:1-3 (ESV) Blessed is the man who(se) ….  delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.

Blessing: There is a difference between blessing and blessed. The first is an action, the second is a state. We see blessing first of all in the life of Esau when he blesses Jacob, thinking he is Esau (Gen 27:27-29), a prophetic declaration that cannot be repeated because it was inspired and has its origin in heaven. Jacob later learned this as we see when he blessed Ephraim and Manasseh (Gen 48:13-20) with a prophetic declaration that put the younger before the older. So blessing is an act of prophecy, declaring the good that heaven decrees.

Blessed: But then there is ‘blessed’ which is a state of being, a life with the goodness of God being worked out in it. For the Old Testament people of God the Law decreed a number of ‘blessings’ for obedience to God: “All these blessings will come on you and accompany you if you obey the Lord your God” (Deut 28:2) – sorts of blessing – in city & in country (v.3), fruit of womb including livestock (v.4), cooking (v.5), coming and going (v.6), victory over enemies (v.7), on your work (v.8).  In the New Testament, in the Sermon on the Mount we see Jesus declaring in the kingdom of God who will be blessed: Blessed are the poor in spirit …” (Mt 5:3) those who mourn (v.4), the meek (v.5), those who hunger and thirst for righteousness (v.6), merciful (v.7), pure in heart (v.8), peacemakers (v.9), when persecuted because of righteousness (v.10) and then he declares with each one how they will be blessed: “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 5:3) …they will be comforted (v.4)…they will inherit the earth (v.5) …. they will be filled (v.6)…they will be shown mercy (v.7)…they will see God (v.8)…they will be called children of God (v.9)….for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (v.10).

It is God! So we have all these ways that the child of God can be blessed but here is the thing, all of these things are because God has acted on our behalf. That is seen particularly in the Deuteronomy verses where it is seen as specific acts of God for good for God’s people. In the New Testament, the blessings come from being the children of God, saved by the work of Jesus on the Cross (as becomes clear later in the book).  Because I think we take these things so much for granted, we need to repeat what this is all about: in the Old Testament it is a state of being that is good because God is doing something to make it good. In the New Testament, for the church, it is God doing good within the individual by the presence of His Holy Spirt to turn apparent weakness into spiritual strength, it is God changing us.

Again, I believe this is something many fail to comprehend, that this is God working for us, God doing things for us, God changing things for us. The simplest illustration of this comes in the simple words in the story of Joseph in the Old Testament: “The Lord was with Joseph so that he prospered, and he lived in the house of his Egyptian master. When his master saw that the Lord was with him and that the Lord gave him success in everything he did, Joseph found favour in his eyes and became his attendant.” (Gen 39:2-4) and later, “while Joseph was there in the prison, the Lord was with him; he showed him kindness and granted him favour in the eyes of the prison warden. So the warden put Joseph in charge of all those held in the prison, and he was made responsible for all that was done there.” (Gen 39:20-22). It is probable this ‘favour’ came in the form of wisdom and insight received by Joseph from the Lord, and also the Lord speaking to first Joseph’s slave master and then his prison warder. But in each case we see specific good coming because of God acting.

Relationship: By why all these long preliminaries for considering the opening verses of Psalm 1? It is because we are so often tempted to think in mechanical terms: “If I do this, then that will happen.” However, it doesn’t work like that in the kingdom of heaven, it is all about relationship with God. The people of Israel fell into this way of thinking again and again: “As long as I perform the things the Law says, it doesn’t matter what else I do.” ”For day after day they seek me out; they seem eager to know my ways…. and seem eager for God to come near them. ‘Why have we fasted,’ they say, ‘and you have not seen it? ….Why have we humbled ourselves, and you have not noticed?’ “Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers.” (Isa 58:2,3) i.e. they were appearing very spiritual but at the same time being very unrighteous. Spirituality does not cancel out unrighteousness.

Thus we should never take these opening words of Psa 1 as ‘magic’, for they are to spring out of love for God, not be used to earn the love of God. There is a danger for those of us who can say we love the word of God that we elevate it almost superstitiously while not attending to all other areas of our lives. I have watched others (and I am sure I have been the same in the past), leaders who are great men with great knowledge of the word and yet certain character flaws were very obvious. It should not be so.

Outworkings: So as long as we put these verses in the context of them being expressions of our genuine love for God, we may indeed expect the things these verses say. We may indeed expect our lives to be, “like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither.” Our delight in His word and our meditating upon it, will be a resource that continually feeds us, enables us to grow and, at the appropriate times, bring forth fruit, while at the same time enabling us to remain bright and strong – not withering. I suspect our times of stress, strain, over-weariness, exhaustion etc. come when we do not pause up, spend time with Him, or slowly meditate and feed on His word, so our resources are being run down and not replenished. We all do it sometime!

It is all about relationship, the divine will of God for us and our response to Him. As we live out our Christian lives seeking Him, seeking His word and therefore His will revealed through it, and then live it, then we may expect that ultimate truth to be fulfilled: “In all that he does, he prospers.”  Contrary to the prosperity false teacher, prospering does not always mean financially. It can mean that but actually it is bigger than just money (as good as that may be!). To prosper means to flourish, to grow, to thrive. I love those verses at the end of Psalm 92: “The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon; planted in the house of the Lord, they will flourish in the courts of our God. They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green, proclaiming, “The Lord is upright; he is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in him.” (Psa 92:12-15) The word of God will help us be these sort of people, but it is the life of the Lord flowing in us that enables us to be like this.  As we delight in Him and in His word, so His life will flow in us, always to release the testimony above, and often to extend into our physical wellbeing as well. So, yes, let’s delight in His word as we delight in Him, and let’s let it have effect in our lives in all the ways we have considered earlier in this study.

2. It’s too big

Expectations & Hopes Meditations: 2. It’s too big!

Gen 12:2,3   I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”

An obvious starting place when thinking about ‘expectations’ has got to be the story of Abram and these first verses of Gen 12 in particular, and I believe they will say some very significant things to us.

The context of these verses is that Abram, later called a Hebrew, lived in Ur (Gen 11:28) in the area of Mesopotamia, the so-called ‘cradle of civilisation’, the location of the now-hidden Garden of Eden. We know his father’s name was Terah (v.27), that he had a wife named Sarai and that she could not have children (v.29). Terah had taken Abram and some of the family to travel to Canaan (v.31) but when they had arrived at a place with the same name as one of his sons who had previously died, they stopped there and settled there until Terah died there (v.31,32). After this Abram set out again for Canaan (12:4,5). It is into this context that we are told that The LORD had said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you.” (12:1) which implies that this word had come to Abram previously and had probably been the motivating force that started the family off for Canaan from Ur.

So much for the facts of the story; what does it suggest? Think of the background again. Abram is married but his wife appears not able to conceive. Having children would be the desire of every man who, at the least, would want his family name continued through him. (You only have to look back at the earlier chapters of Genesis to see that family lists were already a big thing.) And then – somehow – he hears God. We don’t know how but it is in such a clear way that he is convinced he’s getting divine guidance. What he hears impinges directly on his greatest heartache: it promises him children in abundance if he will go to the foreign land. He goes with great expectation. This is at the heart of Abram’s story. At this point ‘the land’ is only secondary to and the environment for ‘a great family’. Again and again both of these things – the land and the family – are spoken about by God. Why? We will see.

Now, as I have pondered this story, there is something that Abram ‘could’ have thought which I see reflected in contemporary Christianity again and again. I say he could have thought it but clearly didn’t. It is the thought that might well come in response to God’s words of the future, “Oh, come on, that can’t be it’s too big, it’s too impossible!” Now I read that on people’s faces sometimes when they are brought a prophetic word for their lives today. “Who me? Surely not!”

The starting thing I believe we should focus on about expectations and hopes, is that they aren’t automatically received. When God speaks the future into our lives – and this is what expectations are all about – we can either say with Mary, “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.” (Lk 1:38) or negatively respond like Zechariah, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.” (Lk 1:18) We choose whether or not to hold a faith stance, a position of expectation, when God has spoken.

Tomorrow we’ll consider times when He hasn’t spoken personally but circumstances say that expectations are natural, but the point here is that expectations are natural because God has spoken. Zechariah looked at his natural circumstances (both he and his wife were well beyond child-bearing age) but Mary looked to God and not her circumstances. Abram would have every reason to think he would go to his grave childless. When the years have passed, and you have tried again and again and again and still nothing happens, it is natural to give up. Then some bright character turns up and prophesies, “You will have a baby within a year,” (and I’ve had the privilege of doing it twice) and you can either respond with cynicism and mutter under your breath, “Insensitive slob!” or you can receive God’s word for what it is, and rejoice. Abram received it and started out for Canaan.

Now there is something else here than could be missed. Without doubt, as history shows, the Lord wanted Canaan, or Israel as we know it today, to be the home for His people, a place where He could interact with them as a people in their own right with their own land. The Lord thus used the fact of Abram’s childlessness as a spur to get him into that land. There are times when I believe the Lord uses what I will call ‘additional reasons’ to bolster our expectations. He knows we often need the encouragement. Something I have watched time and again (and became aware of it in my own life again just a week ago) is that when a vision is proclaimed, it often takes time to be fulfilled and the natural temptation is to allow it to dim, and so the Lord often speaks again and again, to remind us of it, to remind us we have a part to play. I have at the present time a vision of something I am to work into and I know it will be a long-term thing, probably at least a couple of years, and I also was reminded just this last week, that I had been allowing it to dim because the ‘thwarting circumstances’ of the present almost squashed it.

This is the thing about a vision from the Lord, a prophetic word that speaks of your future, so much of the time such a word cuts across the present stagnation of life and speaks of newness, about creating something that isn’t there at the present, and that is the challenge. When we have lived with the non-activity for so long, it takes real faith to believe that, yes, it can be changed, yes, God will do it, yes, I have a part to play in it, and that part will result in change. It is only as we step out in small steps that we see the change slowly beginning to take place. In many ways Abram’s story is a story of small steps, little episodes of faith, until eventually the Lord says, “This is it! You’ll have your child within a year!” (Gen 18:10)

But there’s one final thing we need to add: the expectation is real, the word was from God, He IS going to do it, but the end result may not be as you think at this moment of receiving it. Apart from Ishmael, Isaac was the only child of the promise, Abram never saw a family like sand on the seashore as promised. That picture would take centuries, but it did happen. (He did have six children through his concubine who he married, Keturah – Gen 1:2, 1 Chron 1:32 but they were not what became the Hebrew people – Israel, God’s chosen people.) The vision may not be fulfilled in exactly the way you anticipated but it will be the way the Lord anticipated and as such you may hold to such a word and live in that expectation and that, we will see, is what the Christian life is all about.

4.7 Testimony

Short Meditations in Psalms: 4.7 Testimony

Psa 4:7  You have filled my heart with greater joy than when their grain and new wine abound.

Quite often with David’s psalms they start off in plaintiff way, then have pleas and declarations of faith and then, and only then, conclude with testimony of the Lord’s answering him and blessing him. In a short psalm like this it is not so easy to discern that structure, so whether this verse is an outcome of the Lord answering him with reassurance or is just a general testimony, is unclear.

It is all about joy, and there are two things that are obvious about it. First it is a work of the Lord: You have filled my heart with… joy.” The Lord has done it.  I note in the New Testament when a person is filed with the Spirit, joy is invariably the first initial fruit and expression of that filling.  Joy is not the same as happiness. Happiness tends to be linked to a cause, say a sense of wellbeing because everything is going right. Joy can stand on its own and not have a founding cause – apart from the Lord, say. Joy is one of the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22,23) and so we should not be surprised that it is a primary expression of being filled with the Spirit.

Now this is so obvious that it should hardly need saying, but anyone who says that Christianity is a killjoy faith (note “killer of joy”) really displays their ignorance of the knowledge of the word of God and the experience of the Lord. Joy occurs many times in the word of God and is a key expression in the life of the believer: “You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand,”  was how David put it elsewhere (Psa 16:11). The apostle Peter in the New Testament put it, “Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy.”   (1 Pet 1:8)

Note in both those quotes the words ‘fill’ and ‘filled’. This speaks of joy in abundance – full up!  David says in this verse, “You have filled my heart with greater joy than when their grain and new wine abound.” The harvest time was a time of great joy when all the provision for the coming year was brought it.  Joy, thankfulness and reassurance about the year ahead was in the hearts of the harvesting farmers, almost certainly the time of most joy in the farming calendar – joy in abundance. But, says David, the Lord gives me joy in excess of that harvesting joy.

This reveals a relationship, for us a Christianity that is in no way miserable but to the contrary has got so many good things in it that joy is the natural overflowing emotion of it all. May we each know it.

16. Faith and the Past

Meditations on ‘Focusing Faith’ : 16.  Faith and the Past

Heb 11:21   By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed each of Joseph’s sons, and worshipped as he leaned on the top of his staff.

Although this may also be true of Isaac blessing his boys I believe it is much so applicable to Jacob’s situation later in life – that facing death he is faced with the fruit of his life and he still has something to do about it. It is the fact that he is dying that perhaps provokes this action although there may be other factors. Let’s look at the story.

As he is aware that he is reaching the end of his life, Jacob calls his son Joseph to him. You may remember they are living in Egypt and Joseph is the nation’s second leader next to Pharaoh, but old man Jacob (renamed Israel) is still the patriarch of the family. And yet Joseph is the one with the power so Jacob sends for him and gets him to promise that when he dies Joseph will take his bones back to Canaan and not allow him to be buried in Egypt (see Gen 47:29-31).

A little while later Joseph is informed that his father is ill (Gen 48:1a) and so he takes “his two sons Manasseh and Ephraim along with him,” (v.1b) presumably to say goodbye to the old man before he dies. There appears nothing significant about the two boys going along with him and what follows is promoted by Jacob. Jacob was nearly blind (48:10) but he could just see two figures with Joseph and when he is told they are his two grandsons he says, “Bring them to me so I may bless them.” (v.9) He had obviously learnt from his father Isaac something of the significance of a blessing, to be given to the oldest son, but more than that, even as in his own case he had learned that a blessing was to be a prophetic declaration of God’s will, not his.

Thus when Joseph brings the two boys to him and places his hands on their heads the right hand, (the hand of authority) on the older boy expecting him to get the greater blessing, Jacob switches hands and then, intriguingly blessed Joseph as their father but says, “May the God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, the God who has been my shepherd all my life to this day, the Angel who has delivered me from all harm –may he bless these boys. May they be called by my name and the names of my fathers Abraham and Isaac, and may they increase greatly upon the earth” (v.15,16) i.e. may God bless these boys and make them famous and may they increase in number on the earth. Now this switching hands annoyed Joseph but Jacob insists, “I know, my son, I know. He too will become a people, and he too will become great. Nevertheless, his younger brother will be greater than he, and his descendants will become a group of nations.” He blessed them that day and said, “In your name will Israel pronounce this blessing: `May God make you like Ephraim and Manasseh.’ ” So he put Ephraim ahead of Manasseh.” (v.19,20)  The lesson is clear: when you impart a blessing you impart God’s will, not what others think it should be, and the blessing is a truly prophetic word.

Note the time elements in all this. Jacob is old and about to die. Joseph had had two sons, first Manasseh and then Ephraim. The traditional expectation would be that the older son would inherit the family name and business and be better known, and so on. In other words, so often we let the affairs of the past govern what we think about the present. Very often we allow ourselves to be governed by our past but God knows what He wants and what will be and it is NOT determined by the past. You may have had negative things spoken over you in the past and you may be living in the light of those negatives.  When you were born again you entered a new time dimension, a heavenly one, an eternal one and the same rules no longer apply – only God’s will.

Your negatives can be thought of as a curse, things that decree bad for you. The apostle Paul wrote, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.” He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.” (Gal 3:13,14) Summarize that and you have, Jesus was cursed to take all our curses so that  now we can be inheritors of all the blessings God has for all people of faith.  Jesus has taken all your negatives; you do not have to be bound by them. More than that Jesus has opened the door to heaven for you so that all the blessings of God for His children may flow to you. It doesn’t matter what order in the family you were – you are a child of God. It doesn’t matter if your parents gave up on you, your heavenly Father will never give up on you. It doesn’t mater if you have felt lonely through life (for whatever reason), you have a big brother in Jesus who is totally for you. It doesn’t matter if you have felt utterly weak in your life, you are a container for the Holy Spirit, the very power of God.

Ephraim became probably the most powerful of the northern tribes and indeed the northern kingdom was sometimes referred to as Ephraim. Your future is not to be subservient to the expectations of others, the lies of Satan or whoever else, or even the events of the past or even traditional expectations;  you are a child of God, precious to Him and He has a great future for you. Accept it today, declare it and praise and thank Him for it. Go for it!

7. Families

Meditating on the Wonders of the Ten Commandments:  7. Families

Ex 20:12   Honour your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you.

Deut 5:16  Honour your father and your mother, as the LORD your God has commanded you, so that you may live long and that it may go well with you in the land the LORD your God is giving you.

Eph 6:1-3  Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honour your father and mother”–which is the first commandment with a promise– “that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.”

The fifth commandment moves from speaking about a right attitude towards God to having a right attitude towards people. Jesus summed up the Law with, 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 neighbour as yourself.” (Mt 22:37-39, being a combination quote of Deut 6:5 and Lev 19:18) The first four commands are about loving God and the latter 6 about loving everyone else (‘neighbour’ simply means everyone with whom you come in contact.)

But in starting to bring laws that protect humanity, this very first one is about the building block of civilization, which is under such attack today. If the Bible says Satan is a lair and a destroyer (and it does) then we should not be surprised that his strategy in the Last Days is to destroy the basic building block of civilization, families. How many families today in the West are missing a parent (mostly a father) and how many are torn by dissension as parents war against each other and children war against parents. We have ignored this command and we have ignored it at our peril.

The command is simple and straight forward: “Honour your father and your mother.” The big question is what does ‘honour’ mean? First of all it means to esteem or think highly of (see Prov 4:8). It is also in scripture linked with caring for or protecting (see Psa 91:15) and it certainly has a ‘respect’ element to it (Lev 19:3). Indeed the opposite of respecting and honouring might be considered to be cursing and the Law specified the death penalty for cursing your parents (Lev 20:9); that is how significant this is. Rank ongoing disobedience and rebellion also brought the death penalty (Deut 21:18-21), Those latter verses end with a significant, “You must purge the evil from among you. All Israel will hear of it and be afraid.” (Deut 21:21).

So honouring includes respecting, obeying, esteeming, caring for and protecting (these latter two apply more obviously in older age). Of course there are two sides to every relationship and parents are charged with loving and caring for their children and Paul’s instruction to fathers is not to be overbearing in disciplining them: “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” (Eph 6:4) In passing, it is interesting to note that in the past forty years, say, the roles of fathers appear to have changed dramatically, sometimes for the worse and sometimes for the better. For the worse, many fathers abandon their children through separation and divorce. For better, many fathers take a much greater part in looking after and caring for their children. Where the father stays with the family, the picture of the distant Victorian father who has little emotional attachment to their children, is rare.

Now we have already indicated how important this simple command is to God by the references to the death penalty for cursing parents and for ongoing outright disobedience and rebellion resulting in a dissolute life (that’s what the Law indicates) but the second part of the command further shows this. In the original impartation of this command on Sinai, it simply says, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you.” (Ex 20:12) The apostle Paul spoke of this as “the first commandment with a promise.”  The promise is of ongoing blessing in their new land IF they followed this law. We have already referred to the family as the basic building block of civilisation and it most certainly was, in God’s eyes, as they settled in the Land.

In repeating this on the plains before they entered the Land, Moses slightly changed it to, so that you may live long and that it may go well with you in the land the LORD your God is giving you.” (Deut 5:16) which separates the original, “so that you may live long in the land,” into “so that you may live long” AND “ that it may go well with you in the land.” Length of life indicates God’s blessing generally and reference to going well in the land also implies His ongoing blessing on their life and security in the Land. However you look at it, God promises blessing on those who hold to this command and, by inference, curses those who don’t.

The apostle Paul expands this double promise to apply to us who don’t live in the Land to, ““that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.”  When he says, “that it may go well with you,” he is referring to the daily lives we live, under God’s blessing, and of course the latter part of the verse refers to length of life.

The message is very clear: family division that comes from children breaking away from their parents is NOT God’s will. There is a message here that many modern children would do well to heed. The cry of the defence is always, “You don’t know my parents!” True, but psychologists tell us that when children reach their teenage years they start to sense their uniqueness, i.e. that they are distinct from their parents, and they seek to show their independence. How they do that is all important and it is also important that parents give them space for them to become themselves. They can rebond with us when they have done this, but they do need to do this, and this is the danger zone when it comes to this command which still applies today!

Learning who you are, young person, does not mean you have to demeans or reject your parents. Yes, they were less than perfect but so will you be this side of heaven. Nevertheless, they were there for you (hopefully). If they weren’t then you have much greater need of the Lord’s grace to cope with that. Something I have observed over the years, is that the revelation of what the parent was going through sometimes helps. It doesn’t excuse them leaving you, but it may help in understanding and if and when they seek your forgiveness, it makes giving it easier. Don’t ever say, “I will never forgive them,” for you step out beyond the Lord’s love at that point. With God’s grace you can, as and when they come seeking it. Honour them by seeking God’s grace to be able to say, “I do” if and when they should come asking for forgiveness. This is a minefield in the present age, so don’t let the strategy and works of the enemy ruin your life. God’s grace is there to enable you to comply with this law, as difficult as that sometimes seems. Confronting with grace and talking through the past with grace, may bring a healing to your relationship and his life (it is usually in respect of the disserting father) and healing within the whole wider community.

Thank the Lord that His grace is available to us today through Jesus to counter the lies and works of the enemy who seeks to destroy our lives and communities. May we receive that grace to do that.

12. History Rewarded

Meditations in Ruth : 12. History Rewarded

Ruth 2:10   At this, she bowed down with her face to the ground. She exclaimed, “Why have I found such favour in your eyes that you notice me–a foreigner?”

Boaz has shown great kindness in his approach to Ruth and this evokes the response in the verse above. There are times in our own histories where we go through life thinking it is not very significant and yet it is laying the ground for something that may happen even years later. That ‘groundwork’ can be either negative or positive. If we treat someone badly or have a bad break-up in a relationship,  that can so often come back to haunt us later in life. On the other hand, on a positive note, if we treat someone well and build a good relationship, that may come back to bless us in later years.

What is now happening to Ruth, we are about to see, is built on her behaviour in the years before now. But Ruth is amazed at how nice Boaz is being to her, especially as she is not part of the community of Israel, she is a foreigner. Perhaps back in her own country this would have been unusual behaviour. We do sometimes take for granted things that are culturally good in our own country assuming it is so worldwide, but it isn’t necessarily so; in fact it is often very different in other parts of the world. So Ruth wonders.

And so Boaz explains: Boaz replied, “I’ve been told all about what you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband–how you left your father and mother and your homeland and came to live with a people you did not know before.” (v.11) It is easy when casually reading a story to fail to realise the significance of things happening. We did note earlier on in these studies that common sense suggested that the two daughters-in-law returned to their own people, their own culture and their own familiar gods, but if they had done that it would have left now elderly Naomi entirely on her own and defenceless and prey to goodness knows what on the journey back.  Ruth had given up her past and committed herself to going with Naomi together with all that that might entail. That was no cheap commitment, and Boaz understands that. He recognizes that she had cared for Naomi – “what you have done for your mother-in-law” and that she had given up her old life to go with her – “you left your father and mother and your homeland and came to live with a people you did not know before.”   Those two things counted in his value system, and he appreciated her for it.

But he’s also a godly man and therefore he invokes a godly blessing over her: “May the LORD repay you for what you have done. May you be richly rewarded by the LORD, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge.” (v.12) i.e. may God do you good for the good you have done (to Naomi), and may coming to live in this land bring all of His goodness on you.

When invoking a blessing, it is always important that we  comply with the revealed will of God or spiritual principles that operate. Right from the outset in the Ten Commandments we find, “Honour your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you.” (Ex 20:12) The apostle Paul takes this command into New Testament Christianity: “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honour your father and mother”–which is the first commandment with a promise– “that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.” (Eph 6:1-3) Note how he refers to it as the first command that comes with a promise which he reiterates in a wider world context. Honouring parents may include honouring parents-in-law and Ruth has certainly done that.

Thus Boaz emphasises the principle that if you honour, protect, and care for your parents, you will receive God’s blessing, God’s goodness. Note also in passing the strong emphasis that Boaz is making. This is not just a rule or principle of life, it is something that God Himself specifically does to reward or honour those who comply with and conform to His will. It points to the Lord and emphasises to Ruth that because she is now in Israel and has been acting righteously, she can expect the One True God to cover her with His blessings or His goodness. It is easy to miss this but living in God’s kingdom isn’t just about us conforming to His will and following His leading, it is also about Him specifically acting into our lives to bring goodness. It is not chance and it is not some mechanical rule, it is God expressing His love in practical ways to us. He delights to do good for us and when we are living in accordance with His will, then opens the way for Him to come with His goodness and do and bring good to us.

For Ruth this started back in Moab when she chose to go with Naomi. That was a good starting point, but it continues when she comes into the land and goes out into the field to find provision for Naomi and herself. These are righteous acts and they will be rewarded by the Lord. This ongoing story about Ruth, is not just random chance, it is built upon her righteous responses to the circumstances before her. we should remember that the same applies to us: whatever the circumstances we find ourselves in, will we act righteously? Remember, those circumstances may appear quite negative, as they certainly were for Ruth, but the Lord looks to see if we will respond righteously in them whatever they are. As we look to Him and commit ourselves to Him, we will never be disappointed, for He will always bless us, He will always bring His goodness to our lives. Hallelujah!

17. Jesus’ Grace

Short Meditations in John 1: 17.  Jesus’ Grace

Jn 1:16  From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another.

Perhaps we might expand or paraphrase this verse: “From the complete and unlimited grace that came with Christ, each one of us Christians has receiving blessing after blessing after blessing.” Let’s examine the components of this verse.

“From” – out of. What we have has come from Christ’s supply. Never take it for granted or forget that all we have has come from someone else. What we have is not self-generated.

“the fullness of his grace”. The previous verse had John the Baptist speaking of Jesus and therefore the ‘his’ here must refer to Jesus’ grace. ‘Grace’ here is all the divine resources made available through Christ. These resources are unlimited and we have been granted access to this supply, not just to a bit of it, but the fullness or completeness of it, very simply “all of it!”

“we have all received.” These resources have been made available to every Christian through Christ’s work on the Cross. It is not about how good we are, or how hard we work, the focus is on the ‘store room’, the ‘warehouse’ that is full of all good things we need in life. Some of these things just flow into our lives as God pours them into us, and others have to be taken hold of, but they are all there for the taking.

“one blessing after another.”  What are these things, these resources that are now ours? First there are the declarations of ‘being’  – forgiven, adopted, indwelt by the Holy Spirit, things that occurred at the point we were born again. Then there are the resources for living – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, self-control, the things referred to as the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22,23). Then there the outworkings that produce growth and maturity – faith, goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love. (2 Pet 1:5-7)  Then we might include gifts and ministries given to enable us to serve in extending the kingdom (See 1 Cor 12:8-10, Rom 12:6-8, Eph 4:11,12)

All of these things have been made available to us by Christ’s work on the Cross and the Holy Spirit, made available to us, through whom all these things come. They are ALL the workings of God by His Spirit in us and they all come to us through Christ.

16. Prosperity

Meditations in the life of Abraham : 16. Prosperity

Gen 13:1-2   So Abram went up from Egypt to the Negev, with his wife and everything he had, and Lot went with him. Abram had become very wealthy in livestock and in silver and gold.

This is the third indication that we have read of Abram’s growing prosperity. The first was back at Haran: “He took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, all the possessions they had accumulated and the people they had acquired in Haran, and they set out for the land of Canaan.” (Gen 12:5) The second was in Egypt: “He treated Abram well for her sake, and Abram acquired sheep and cattle, male and female donkeys, menservants and maidservants, and camels.” (Gen 12:16) And we come to today’s verses which act as a summary of what has happened.

Previously we assumed that Abram had had cattle and sheep beforehand because they tend to be the currency of the wealthy in those days, but actually there was no actual mention of them until Egypt. So perhaps a more accurate picture (and we can’t be sure) of Abram’s change would be: leaving Ur as a traveling nomad, settles in Haran for a while and accumulates ‘possessions’ – moves on to Canaan – moves on to Egypt where he acquires sheep, cattle, donkeys, camels and more servants.

Now I don’t know if you have noticed something interesting in all of this. Twice Abram had apparently strayed from his calling, once when he settled in Haran, and second, when he went down to Egypt.  Moreover it was in those places that he gained riches! Is this to advocate straying from the Lord’s plan? Heaven forbid! No, but it does say that the Lord will use every opportunity to bless His new follower. Do you believe the Lord will only bless you when things are going well?  Be clear on what happened in both these times. First he settled in Haran because his father settled there and, I suggest, he honoured his father by staying there a while at least. He wasn’t there out of his own making. In the second instance, it was a famine in the Land that drove him south to Egypt. If there had been no famine he would not have gone. He did not go freely to either of these places. People and circumstances pressed him to go where he went.

But they weren’t the places of God’s calling for him. No, but that won’t stop the Lord blessing him. The Lord blesses him, not because of where he is but because of who he is. All the Lord requires is our obedience and when we are we find we are in the way of His blessing. When we wilfully disobey Him then things go wrong, but that isn’t His desire for us; He desires us to be in the place of blessing. We are afraid of this principle sometimes because we feel pastorally concerned for those who are not well off. Well, let’s change our approach. Let’s be positive and ask how we can bring them into blessing. Please note I didn’t say just make them well off. Blessing is good that comes from God. For good to come from God we have to lead people into a place of relationship with Him.

Is God going to bless those who have no relationship with Him? No quick answers here because even the unrighteous are often well off. There is possibly something her about God’s permissive will rather than His active will, i.e. He allows rather than brings affluence. But, again, go back to Deut 28 and there is no question but God promises blessing on His people who will obey Him, and that blessing can be seen in material terms.

At the very least when we come to the Lord, we want to check with Him that we are doing what He wants us to be doing in terms of career. Thereafter as we seek Him and seek His wisdom (Jas 1:5) we should expect our lives to improve. Now that may not mean money. Three times in my working life I made career changes and three times I took a third cut in salary to do it, but my quality of life greatly improved on each occasion. Money does not necessarily equate with quality of life.  But quality of life (and that may include material blessing) is something to concern us but the most important thing is to seek and do His will as He reveals it to us. Speaking about things or possessions, Jesus said, But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Mt 6:33)  Putting the rule of God first is key.

The apostle Paul was later to write, we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Rom8:28) Note the components of that well-known verse. What God is doing – working for our good. Where – in all things. Who is He doing it for – those who love Him. Why only them? Because He needs our cooperation to do so much in our lives and He has that in those who love Him. If someone disregards Him and refuses Him (and He sees that is how they will always be) how can He work with their cooperation? He can’t!  Don’t worry about them; focus on your own relationship with the Lord. Ensure your heart is open to Him and you understand His will for you and you live according to that – then leave the rest to Him. Amen?