1. Genesis (1)

Meditations of Old Testament Highlights:    1.  Genesis (1)

Gen 12:1,2  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. “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 need to be honest. I have come to another of those points in life where I need to feed on God and on His word. I have written studies or meditations for well over thirty years on a daily basis. It is how I feed, but with the awareness that others listen or watch (because I save the studies) the temptation is to become too aware of others. As I have prayed I have a picture of browsing in different fields and each field is a book of the Old Testament (we may do the New later). I don’t know the verses yet but my intent it to take one or two verses from one or (maximum) two places in each book of the Old Testament so it’s going to be a fairly long series. I don’t intend to be academic but just chew over God’s word and feed. Starting with Genesis two sets of verses stand out to me and so, taking the first of those two sets, our starting place is Abraham who stands out like a beacon.

Look at these verses above. How bizarre they are! The book of Genesis has not been written and indeed it will be at least four centuries before it is written down by Moses. Any knowledge of God, the Creator of all things, has come down through hazy history, through word of mouth, and it is vague at the very least. It will only be brought into focus as Moses spends hours, days, weeks, months and years in the Lord’s presence, that the word of mouth history will be brought into sharp and distinctive history.

But for now there is this wanderer from the north from somewhere up in the area known in history as the ‘cradle of civilisation’, Mesopotamia. He is going to become known as a ‘Hebrew’ (Gen 14:13), thought by some to mean ‘one from across the Euphrates River’ who becomes a family who become a tribe who become a nation, so that nation watchers would eventually describe Hebrews as “any member of a group of Semitic peoples tracing their descent from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” who become Israelites or, in modern terms, Jews.” But for the moment it’s just one man and his family. His family?  Well he has a wife who is barren (Gen 11:30) which must have been a cause of anguish for him. When he had started his travels from the north and journeyed towards Canaan, he had been accompanied by his father, but he had died along the way (Gen 11:32), another cause of sorrow.

And why is he here in this foreign land full of random tribes of pagan worshippers? Because our verses above start, “The LORD had said to Abram….” Somehow, and we don’t know how, this man had ‘heard God’ and so clear was it that he stopped doing whatever it was that he did back there in his home country, and left to go to a land of promise. But it is so vague and he’s so unsure of himself that he only half obeys what he hears. He’s told to leave his father’s household but instead they come with him. So his father dies along the way and it’s just him. Not quite, his nephew Lot has come along and he’s going to be the source of problems in the days to come.

What was it that got him moving? Was it the fact that part of this ‘word’ was, “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.”  Now I am sure he didn’t have half an understanding of all that but it spoke of something better than he had at the moment. This is particularly so when at that moment his wife appeared barren and years had passed so that it seemed a ‘set-in-concrete’ type of situation. This word offered an answer to his anguish from childlessness. So having painted the scene (which was necessary, rather like setting a meal down in front of us) what does it say to us? What is there for us to chew on?  Some very obvious and maybe some not so obvious things.

First it brings God right into the arena of the world which is where mankind operate. This is God speaking to a particular man, a God who communicates and implies that He can operate in this man’s life to bring amazing changes. The impossible (childbearing) need not remain impossible. Second God puts this into a particular historical and geographical context. For reasons that will not become obvious for a little while, He wants Abram in this particular land. This is the place He has chosen to focus His attention in the millennia to follow; it’s going to be a demonstration place to answer the big questions of life, it will reveal Him and His ways to the world, and it will reveal to mankind what we are like. Abram knows nothing of this but that is what history eventually reveals. Third, God knowingly takes a man who is far from perfect through whom He will start to reveal to mankind so much about Himself. The nation of Israel that will eventually be formed will look back on Abram, or Abraham as he becomes, as their father (see Jn 8:39). That is why these verses stand out like a beacon in Genesis, if not in the whole Bible because they say, God has a plan and it involves a man!

But scripture must be grounded in my everyday life, otherwise it remains merely academic words, so what does it say to me?  First, it says to me that God is there but He doesn’t want to remain at a distance, that He is a communicator and wants to speak to me. But what about? He has a plan for my life. Nine tenths of the time I don’t understand most of it, but He has a plan and He reveals bits of it to me, bit by bit. I probably won’t understand most of it until I get to heaven but my life has a purpose – His plan.

Second, it also says to me, encouragingly, that He knows I am far from perfect but that won’t exclude me from it. As long as I seek to be as obedient as my faltering faith that is often unclear, allows me, that is sufficient. But there’s something more, if this story of Abram is to mean anything, and it is that, whatever God has for me, and maybe others through me, it is for my good, my blessing, probably far more than I can hope or believe.

Third, if I hold on to the story of Abram, I need to remind myself that with God nothing is impossible. Abraham was childless but the promise was of a great nation. I may feel weak and inadequate but I need to remind myself that the outcome is down to Him. All I can do is seek to be as available as possible, thereafter it is what HE will achieve, and there are not limits to that!

But fourth, when he died that ‘great nation’ comprised one son, Isaac, but that was enough for the plan to be fulfilled. Huh? That says I am not to worry about the outworking, God will do as much or as little as He wants with my availability; I am only a part of His plan, but an important part, big or small! Hallelujah!  Those four things are simple but profound and I need to hold on to them and live by them. Amen!

7. To Gideon

“God turned up” Meditations: 7 :  To Gideon

Judg 6:11,12 The angel of the LORD came and sat down under the oak in Ophrah that belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, where his son Gideon was threshing wheat in a winepress to keep it from the Midianites. When the angel of the LORD appeared to Gideon, he said, “The LORD is with you, mighty warrior.”

There are, I think, three sorts of people: the people who live in the past, the people who struggle in the present, and the people who live for the future. The people who live in the past tend to be those for whom the past has been painful and the pain or even, perhaps, the guilt of the past blights the present. They just cannot seem to let go the past. A good dose of amnesia might help!  Some people live in the past because it was better than the present and they have difficulty letting go the past and living in the present. The people who struggle in the present tend to almost be overwhelmed by the problems of life in this fallen world. Every day is hard graft. The people who live for the future have caught a vision and are going for it. It is probably true that some of us have elements of past, present and future motivating us. Gideon was a past and present person and God was just about to make him a future person.

When we first encounter Gideon he is definitely a present person. He’s threshing wheat in a winepress. Now normally you tread grapes in a wine press; it is a hollowed out area where you collect juice. A threshing floor was an open place where the husks could be blown away. The reason Gideon wasn’t threshing his wheat in the open was because the country kept getting invaded by Midianites. It was one of those down times for the nation that are recorded in Judges, when the people had turned from God and so He had stepped back and let them be disciplined by enemy invaders. When they cried out, the Lord raised up a new leader-deliverer.

In response to the angel, Gideon shows he is also a past-person: But sir,” Gideon replied, “if the LORD is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our fathers told us about when they said, `Did not the LORD bring us up out of Egypt?’ But now the LORD has abandoned us and put us into the hand of Midian.” (Judg 6:13). The trouble about looking back to the past is that so often we forget bits of it and only have a distorted view of it. Gideon knows that in the past the Lord did great things for Israel, which makes the present seem even worse. It is good to remember what God has done in the past if we use it to generate faith for today but the feeling Gideon was left with was, the Lord has abandoned us. Hold on Gideon, that’s only half the picture. If you knew all your history you would know that God had spoken of blessings and curses for Israel (Deut 28), the former following obedience and the latter following disobedience, and it’s easy to move from one to the other.

But we haven’t yet picked up on a most crucial thing, the angel’s description of Gideon: “The LORD is with you, mighty warrior.” Hold on, there must be a mistake; I’m not a warrior, let along a mighty one! No, but you are going to be. Ah, there’s that future dimension which only the Lord tends to see. We just see ourselves in the light of our past failures and present struggles but the Lord sees what He can do with us, and in Gideon’s case He can take this cowering, fearful individual and turn him into a mighty warrior.

Gideon is going to take some convincing of this. “The LORD turned to him and said, “Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?” (v.14) What is the Lord saying? Go with the strength you have? “But Lord,” Gideon asked, “how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.” (v.15) But I haven’t got any strength? No, but you will have as soon as you start doing what I tell you because I will equip you. That is what is implied behind the words, “Am I not sending you?” i.e. if I send you I’ll give you everything you need to do the job. It’s not a case of what you have now, but what the Lord will give you as you get on what He’s given you to do. Yes, it’s all in the future and so, yes, that’s what faith is about – getting on and doing what He said in the confidence that those the Lord calls, He equips.

Surely this is what is behind every first encounter with the Lord. He comes to a nobody but He sees that He can make this person a somebody. The Lord knows the future and He knows what He can achieve given the human He has before Him.  Moses might have argued and argued why he wasn’t up to it, but he did end up actually doing it. Abram might have tripped over his feet half a dozen times, but he got there in the end. Jacob might have been a twister for a long way along the path, but he got to the place of faith in the end. Joseph might have completely misunderstood the message, but God’s plan got him there in the end. So if you’re in hiding from the enemy, it may be time to come out and have an encounter with God – if you want Him to use you that is! You may not think it, but He can get you ‘there’ in the end!

35. Joyful Presence

God in the Psalms No.35   – God of joyful presence

Psa 21:6 Surely you have granted him eternal blessings and made him glad with the joy of your presence.

There are two bad attitudes expressed within the human race. The first is to deny the existence of the Lord (that’s the atheist), and the second is to attribute to Him wrong or bad attributes. It is the latter one we want to deal with here. There are many people, and this really does include Christians, who have a negative view of God. They see Him as a hard God (Lk 19:21) or a harsh God (Mal 3:13). They are contemptuous about God (Mal 1:6) by the way they live, indicating they believe He is an absent Lord, and they’re glad.

Wrong understanding of God is very common and it may be that we have such attitudes because of the things that happened to us before we came to know Him, things that harmed or hurt us, things that came from a fallen world, or things that came through our own sinful foolishness, and because of that sinful foolishness, we never (then) turned to the Lord for help. Thus we had a bad view of life and subsequently (and subconsciously) of God. We even attribute the way we think to the way we think God thinks. We are not charitable and so we cannot understand God being charitable. We are not forgiving so we find it difficult to believe that God is forgiving. We expect people to work to achieve acceptance, so we believe God wants us to work to achieve His acceptance. In all these ways, we have wrong ideas!

The truth is displayed here by David and it needs thinking about. First of all he says, Surely you have granted him eternal blessings, referring to himself. Eternal blessings? Yes, things from heaven that are unlimited in their life. If we give a Christmas present it normally has a limited life and may be broken or thrown away within months or years. The good things that God gives, do not have a ‘shelf life’, they go on and on and on and on. They are eternal because they come from an eternal God.  Because of who they were, Israel were automatically blessed as God’s covenant people (Deut 33:29 & Psa 33:12). Blessing, goodness from God, was part of the package of their relationship with the Lord. Many times in the Old and New Testaments we come across the words, Blessed is the man who….” e.g. Psa 89:15 – Blessed are those who have learned to acclaim you, who walk in the light of your presence”. To be blessed means to have received all the goodness of God, and that comes over in Scripture many times as we just said. Many times the Bible tells us we can receive this goodness that makes us happy, and the Psa 85 quote tells us that we will be really happy when we walk in the light of God’s presence, and that has echoes of our verse above – glad with the joy of your presence.

These verses tell us that it is a wonderful thing to be in the Lord’s presence, a joyful thing. We sometimes use C.S.Lewis’s book ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’ to illustrate spiritual truths, with Aslan the Lion picturing Jesus. When three of the children first hear Aslan’s name mentioned, they each have lovely thoughts and feelings, even though they don’t know who he is yet. Lewis understood this truth we see in this verse, that actually knowing God, being in His presence, even thinking about His presence when you have a right understanding, is a most wonderfully joyful thing. Why? Because He is love, He is utterly good, and so it’s a lovely thing to be in the presence of such a Being – well it is if you have turned your heart to love and goodness and towards Him – then it will be THE most wonderful thing possible – this ‘being in His presence’!