25. The Lord

Lessons from Israel: No.25 : It was the Lord

Ex 15:1 Then Moses and the Israelites sang this song to the LORD: “I will sing to the LORD, for he is highly exalted. The horse and its rider he has hurled into the sea.

There are mysteries about the acts of God. Sometimes His activities are very clear and other times not so clear. In Britain in this first decade of the twenty first century, Christians are rather coy or low key about speaking of the Lord’s acts for fear of being derided by the unbelieving majority, but it isn’t like that everywhere in the world. In fact it wasn’t like that at this point of history with Israel, for Moses and Israel knew without a doubt what had happened to them and so they made it into a song: God had delivered them and God had destroyed Pharaoh and his army. Of that they were quite sure.

It is a funny thing but the unbelief of sinful self-centredness always seems to be looking for explanations that rule God out and try to find a ‘natural’ reason. In today’s age atheistic scientists torture themselves mentally and do mental gymnastics to deny God. They have scientific laws that simply say for there to be movement there has to be an originating force. Then they try to explain the origin of the world by a ‘big bang’ but cannot climb over the intellectual impossibility of such a thing without an originating force because logically you cannot create a bang (of any size) that creates matter when there is absolutely nothing beforehand. The only logical answer is to acknowledge God made everything.

I used to have a friend who tried to explain away the fall of the walls of Jericho by pointing out that an army has to break step when crossing a bridge because of the vibrations set up by co-ordinated marching. The only problem is that Israel weren’t a trained or disciplined army, they weren’t marching over a rigid structure and Joshua wasn’t a trained army leader.

Then we have the people who maintain that the story we have recently read couldn’t have happened because, they maintain, the Red Sea or Reed Sea was only inches deep at that point. Well that just makes it an even bigger miracle that a whole army perished in a few inches of water! Why do we have to constantly try to deny these things, why do we have to constantly try to deny the Lord’s involvement. Merely because we understand a little of thermal movements causing changes in weather, do we have to try and explain away storms that the Bible say God brings to thwart the enemies of His people.

Sometimes the word of God is very specific about God’s activity, for example, the LORD had closed up every womb in Abimelech’s household because of Abraham’s wife Sarah.” (Gen 20:18) As a means of discipline to draw the king’s attention to something wrong, the Lord did this. How? I haven’t a clue. Sometimes the judgment or discipline of the Lord is stated without explanation, for example, “fire came out from the LORD and consumed the 250 men who were offering the incense.” (Num 16:35). Again, how that happened I don’t know, but some catastrophic fire or lightning killed these men and it was clearly attributed to the Lord. Perhaps we don’t like attributing it to the Lord because we don’t like talking about punishment or justice or thinking through the bigger picture, or simply we don’t like talking about people’s guilt or of being held accountable by the Lord. In a day when every man does what is right in his own eyes, such language is uncomfortable.

Sometimes in Scripture we have references to the Lord having closed the womb of a particular woman. We’ve already seen it as a form of judgment or discipline but sometimes it just is stated without any moral judgment – e.g. Hannah (1 Sam 1:5,6). At other times women were just barren and it is not attributed to the Lord – e.g. Sarai (Gen 11:30), Rachel (Gen 25:21), and Elizabeth (Lk 1:7), i.e. they are just things that happen in a Fallen World. Now there is the truth: sometimes God acts to bring discipline or judgment; sometimes He seems to act for much wider purposes that only become clear in the fullness of time, and sometimes things just go wrong in this world that has to cope with the presence of Sin and Satan.

Possibly, therefore, when things appear to go wrong we would do well to seek the Lord and ask, “Lord, why is this happening? Are you trying to teach me something? Have I brought this on myself, or is this just one of those things that happens in a world that goes wrong?”  And even more, “Lord, please grant me your grace and wisdom to cope with this as you would want me to.”

There are often cynical comments made by atheists about Christians who seem to have an open communication with God and who attribute a lot of ordinary things to God. Well, we are called to be childlike and I would much rather people attribute good things to God and praise and thank Him for them, even if He didn’t specifically move to bring them. James said that every good and perfect gift comes from God (Jas 1:17) and I would rather give thanks to God for everything that comes along that is good, rather than keep quiet. God has made this world and made us in such a way that we can enjoy it, so let’s thank Him for every time we have enjoyment – in whatever way it comes. I like the comment of a friend of mine many years ago: “I feel sorry for atheists who, when something really good happens, have no one to thank.” We are made to be thankful and we are frustrated when we cannot give thanks. We harmonise with heaven when we realise the goodness of God and praise and thank Him for being recipients of it. Let’s be a people of praise and thanks!

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Walk to Restoration

WALKING WITH GOD. No.41

Ezra 1:5 Then the family heads of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests and Levites–everyone whose heart God had moved–prepared to go up and build the house of the LORD in Jerusalem.

We now move from what you might have considered a very negative aspect of walking to a much more positive one. We have now moved on hundreds of years. Nearly seventy years have passed since the Temple was destroyed and Judah and Benjamin had gone into exile. Humanly speaking, it had been the end of the nation of Israel. They now only existed as a people being amalgamated into the life of Babylon. There was however an echo of hope from the past: “This whole country will become a desolate wasteland, and these nations will serve the king of Babylon seventy years” (Jer 25:11) That prophecy still hung in the air, brought years before by Jeremiah before he was carried off to Egypt.

Indeed there had been, centuries before, an even more amazing prophecy through Isaiah, (I am the Lord) who says of Cyrus, `He is my shepherd and will accomplish all that I please; he will say of Jerusalem, “Let it be rebuilt,” and of the temple, “Let its foundations be laid.(Isa 44:28) That had come long before the exile, leaving the listeners wondering what that was all about. Now, the Jews find themselves in Babylon under the reign of a king called Cyrus. Dare they hope? The hope is fulfilled: “In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the LORD spoken by Jeremiah, the LORD moved the heart of Cyrus king of Persia to make a proclamation throughout his realm and to put it in writing” (Ezra 1:1). Before they knew what was happening Cyrus made this proclamation: “Anyone of his people among you–may his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem in Judah and build the temple of the LORD , the God of Israel, the God who is in Jerusalem.(v.3)

Now to catch the full significance of this, we have to think about the significance of the Temple in the life of Israel. THE thing that marked Israel out from every other nation in the world, was the fact that God had made His dwelling in their midst. From Sinai onwards He had commanded them to build a Tabernacle: “Then have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them. Make this tabernacle and all its furnishings exactly like the pattern I will show you.” (Ex 25:8,9). Established in the land, it was Solomon who built the Temple in Jerusalem, which the Lord filled with His glory on completion (1 Kings 8:10,11). The Temple was thus the central point of focus for the Israelites, the place of encounter with God. When it had been utterly destroyed it was as if the Lord had cut off any means of communication with them (though of course He continued to speak through prophets such as Daniel).

When Cyrus made this proclamation to the Jews, it must have appeared beyond their wildest dreams. It wasn’t merely going back to Israel, it was going back to Jerusalem to rebuild the Temple, to re-establish the place of encounter with God. The Exile had been a terrible act of discipline, needed to shake Israel free from their godlessness and unrighteousness, but discipline only lasts for a while. God’s intent is not to pursue pain in His children, but to restore their hearts to Him and to restore the relationship with them. As the Jews prepared to return to Jerusalem this was a major walk of restoration. Their hearts were being restored to the Lord, the place of encounter was being restored and their relationship with the Lord was being restored.

Now how does this apply to us today? Well it happens in small ways and big ways. In small ways it probably happens fairly regularly for some. Every time we sin, we offend God and grieve His Holy Spirit and there is a break in our fellowship with Him. Yet He encourages our speedy return: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 Jn 1:9). Confession is the way back. Indeed Jesus has been praying for that to happen: “I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense” (1 Jn 2:1). That happens on in the short term, but sometimes there are times when our relationship with the Lord drifts and, in all reality, it is not very real. Then something seems to stir within us. (it is His Holy Spirit) convicting us, nudging us to return. The Lord’s desire is NOT that we have a half-hearted relationship with Him where we simply nod at Him on Sundays. No, He wants a daily, living, vibrant relationship with us. For some of us, we need to make the walk of restoration. It’s time to come home, to come to the place of encounter with God, to pick up a regular and real relationship. Perhaps this page is the equivalent of Cyrus’s proclamation for you. Come home; come back to the place of close encounter of the God kind.