16. Redeeming Israel – the Promised Land

Reaching into Redemption Meditations: 16. Redeeming Israel – the Promised Land

Ex 6:6-8 ‘I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians….  And I will bring you to the land I swore with uplifted hand to give to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob. I will give it to you as a possession. I am the Lord.’”

 Redemption and the Covenant: In the previous study we considered the fact of the Exodus as an act of redemption. Now we focus more tightly on the wider act of the Exodus for, in the verses above, we see the Lord revealing a two-part plan: a) to deliver Israel out of the slavery of Egypt, and b) delivering them into the freedom of the Promised Land.  He also reveals that this will come about by ‘mighty acts of judgment’ – which we come to know as the ten plagues, and then the destruction of Pharaoh and his army in the Red Sea – and then He will enter into a new relationship with them as a people: “I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God.” (6:7) At mount Sinai He speaks about that as a “covenant”, a legal binding agreement.

Awareness and Cooperation: Now the question arises, why does this word ‘covenant’ arise so many times in the Bible? For instance, it is first used with Noah (Gen 6:18 – basically you build an ark, I’ll flood the world but will save you) then Gen 9:9-17 not to flood the world again. Next came the covenant with Abram (Gen 15:18 on) and with Isaac (Gen 17:21) and at various times God referred back to His promise to Abram. Now we have ‘covenant’ arising again but this time it is with the newly constituted nation, Israel, at Mount Sinai, to be a ‘treasured possession’. Now here is my question. We know from seven New Testament references that God’s plan of salvation through Jesus was formulated by the Godhead, before the foundation of the world. Now that plan was going to be operated, if I may put it like this, through the ‘environment’ that was the nation of Israel. So if this plan was in the mind of God from the outset and all the things we are observing are a part of that big over-arching plan, why did the Lord bother to announce it; He was going to do it anyway? The answer has to be because He wanted them and us to be aware of it and in being aware, be an active part of it, cooperating with Him in it all the way along.

Land and People: It is clear from the Lord’s original declaration in Ex 6:6-8 that His plan involves a) them as a people (Ex 6:6,7) and b) Canaan as the land He had promised to the Patriarchs (Ex 6:7,8). For us today that is expressed as a) the Church, the redeemed community of God’s people, and b) the kingdom of God, wherever and whenever and however His will is expressed on the earth through us today. People and purpose. The Promised Land was to be the environment in which Israel existed and revealed their relationship with God. Today we do not have a physical land because the ‘kingdom of God’ is revealed anywhere in the world where the people of God express the reign of God.

God’s Purpose for the Taking of the Land: It is clear from the Lord’s declarations that His intent in respect of the Promised Land also included bringing judgment on the inhabitants, the Canaanites. As the other aspect of it was to give Israel a home of their own, it meant that He wanted to use Israel to bring that judgment on the Canaanites.

Understanding the Judgment on Canaan: Now there is often so much mis-information, ignorance or even confusion about this, that we need to deal with it here. First of all, when we consider God’s instructions to Israel and His statements about His own involvement, we find there are 31 references to the Canaanites being DRIVEN OUT, and only 4 references to them being DESTROYED and only 4 to them being WIPED OUT. God’s overall purpose was that the Land be cleared of the Canaanites and their pagan practices, and that achieved by driving out those pagan inhabitants, so only if they resisted in battle would they need to be overcome and destroyed.

Possibilities: Now those pagan practices could be removed (and that is the objective of the judgment that is Israel on them) by a) the people leaving the Land (hence ‘driven out’) or b) they submit to Israel and become part of Israel – and that we see happening in respect of Rahab (see Josh 2) and the Gibeonites (see Josh 9). When God said He would drive them out, it is clear He means a) using fear (e.g. Deut 2:25, 11:25, Josh 2:9,11, 5:1) and b) using Israel themselves.

Failure & Discipline! Now when you study what actually happened, you realise a) Israel failed to do what they were commanded to do, AND b) the Lord accommodated their failure into His overall plan! This becomes clear when we move on into the book of Judges. Their failure is first recorded in Jud 1:27-36 and He holds them to account over this (see 2:3 which echoes Num 33:55 and is seen in Josh 23:13.) The warning had been clearly given that if they failed to clear the land of its people then, those you allow to remain will become barbs in your eyes and thorns in your sides. They will give you trouble in the land where you will live,” (Num 33:55) God had fulfilled His covenant with Abram etc. (see Ex 33:1, Numb 14:23, 32:11, Deut 1:35, 10:11, 31:20,21,23. 34:4, Josh 1:6) and Israel should have trusted Him but didn’t. That was their failure which was now seen in their failure to completely clear the Land. Now He declares, “I will no longer drive out before them any of the nations Joshua left when he died. I will use them to test Israel and see whether they will keep the way of the Lord and walk in it as their ancestors did.”  (Jud 2:21.22)

God’s Persistence: We will see the outworking of this in the next study but what is amazing is that, as can be seen in the way the people grumble leaving Egypt, the way they grumble in the desert on the way to Sinai, the way they turn away so quickly at Sinai, the way they grumble on the way from Sinai to the Land, and their refusal to enter the Land, CONSTANTLY they fail to apprehend the wonder of the Lord’s presence with them and trust Him, and CONSTANTLY they fail to be obedient to Him. Now in Ex 19:5, one of our starter verses above, “if you obey me fully,” is the crucial condition required of Israel but, as we’ve just seen, they fail to do that again and again.  So what is amazing is God’s determination in working this through with Israel. One way or another His is going to redeem them and bring them through to the place where they will indeed be a light to the nations.

Lessons for Us? We must, as we’ve said before, never be casual about sin and never settle for a path that leads us away from receiving all that the Lord has on His heart for us. It is important that we do not live our lives based on our emotions that will go up and down. Growing ‘in Christ’ means we come to rely on the truths of the Gospel, the things we are considering here. However, there are in all this, two things that are really encouraging.

Redeemed from godlessness: The first is that the Lord will not give up on us just because we make a mess of life. In fact the truth is that many of us came to Christ because we realized what a mess we were making of life on our own, and we recognized our godlessness – yet on our own we were incapable of changing that. It was when we called out to Him that we found He was there for us and all of our mess didn’t matter. He died to redeem us from our mess.

Redeemed from the failures: The second thing is that although we may continue to get it wrong, and we continue to ‘trip over our feet’, the Lord is there constantly working to get us through to the end where we can come confidently face to face with Him in eternity. Yes, this account of Israel entering the Promised Land and yet not fully taking it, so often epitomizes our lives. We’ve entered the new life in the kingdom of the Son (Col 1:13) and yet how imperfectly we live it sometimes. But not only does the Lord not give up on us, He perseveres in His project which is to change us and see us through to the end, and that is where discipline comes. He will, like Israel in the imperfectly taken land, use the things we tolerate – against us – to help change us! Those things we think are OK, so we don’t get to sort them out, He will use to discipline us until we see what is going on and take steps to completely remove them from our lives. This process is life-long, and it is what theologians call sanctification.

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10. Recap 1

Lessons in Growth Meditations: 10. Recap 1

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

Narrow Road requirement: Jesus’ illustration of the narrow and wide gates reminds us that many people go through the wide gate leading to destruction because the road leading through it is ‘broad’ and unrestricted and people want to do their own thing, ignoring God and running on ‘self’. We observed at the start that going God’s way – the narrow road and narrow gate – requires a dying to self and dying to the old self-centred and godless life, what the majority consider a restricted life, but the more we progressed, the more we saw the reasons why that is necessary.

‘Follow Me’ Requirements: When Jesus called Levi to “Follow Me”, it was a call to trust him, but in following Jesus it was also a call to submit to the sovereignty of God. Why? Very simply because God knows best – and we don’t. In fact it was our failure to think and act rightly that enabled the Holy Spirit to convict us and bring us to repentance. Part of that deal meant us giving up or dying to the old life we had lived.

People Problems:  As we looked further at this, we recognised that our ‘not getting it right before’ also meant not getting it right with people. In fact, if it wasn’t for people, this life would be easy, but the trouble is their ways and wants are different to mine, which can mean conflict, so if I am to walk the Jesus way of peace and harmony, it will mean I have to die to my desires and learn to understand others and have care and compassion for them. If I am to achieve that, I will truly have to die to my wishes.

Facets of Forgiveness: But that led us on to consider the difficult question of forgiveness, both our need for it when we have wronged others and to give it when others seek it of us. Perhaps this is one of the hardest areas where we need to die to self if we are to be like Jesus.

Modern Idols: But then we looked more widely at life and recognised that in our old life, although we would perhaps never countenance wooden images of eastern religions, we did, never the less, exalt people and we did rely upon methods, and both of these to the exclusion of God. Oh yes, idols are still very much alive in our modern society and wherever we put our trust in them, it means we will not be putting our trust in God, and therefore we cease to come to the fountain of all wisdom and understanding. We do indeed need to die to the alternative supports where they exclude God.

Aware of Anxiety: While we were looking at the world more widely, we recognised that living life on our own, so often meant that we were full of anxiety which, if we accept as the norm, will settle to become what I called angst, a more deep-seated anxiety which comes from not living in harmony and receiving the resources of The Lord of all. The attitude of self-reign leads so often to a short-fall of ability and that in turn leads to anxiety. The way to overcome that anxiety is to lay down the old life, lay down the self-reign and submit to the Lord of Glory.

‘Less’ or ‘Ish’: From there we considered the conflicting lives of the selfless versus the selfish, the godly versus the godless. We noted that the latter in each case was how we used to live but those lives brought us to failure. We noted how rejecting the selfish or self-centred life requires an application in every area of our lives and that in turn required a discipline and effort, often helped by others. The starting place is death to self and the continuing process requires the effort of me with help from the Holy Spirit. It is a continual challenge to die to self in every new situation or confrontation.

Pleasure: This brought us to the last one, a consideration of the wonder of pleasure that God has given us, while at the same time confronting the very real danger that is rife in our day, of making pleasure the beginning and end of all things. When we do that we are making it a substitute for God, but fortunately or unfortunately it soon creates a jaded feeling in us, together with a need for more and more. Satisfaction is illusory and flits away like a butterfly on a warm summer’s day. It is this recognition that we see results in a need to die to the old life that was pleasure and experience orientated and to the pleasure-seeking attitude that prevails so much today. Pleasure in its right place is a gift from God. When we make pleasure all-important, we stumble, feel jaded and become vulnerable.

Versus God: I want to finish this Part with something about which I have increasingly become aware in recent days. Where we fail to get to grips with these things, as I believe many Christians do, it means that we create both an anger and a yearning in God’s heart that desires to bring His people back to Himself. As the world increasingly (in the West at least) turns its back on God, it opens itself up to the leading of the enemy and so we see ever more strange, weird and, without doubt, ungodly and unrighteous behaviours, an increase in blatant unrighteousness as people reject God’s design and totter down the wide road towards self-destruction.

“Hands Off” Discipline: Romans 1 leads us to believe that this is God’s judgment on the Western world where He has “given them over” to more and more destructive behaviours. For the world, and especially for the Christians who may be drifting alongside this cultural collapse, His desire is for these things to act in a disciplinary manner, i.e. they act as agents to drive people back from the abyss and back to God. Now in the midst, the Lord allows Satan to act as a disciplining agent and we see it when Christians make themselves vulnerable by not dealing with the issues we have been considering throughout this first Part and failing to put them to death. I believe the strength of his activities has been increasing in recent years and I have watched Christians becoming more and more vulnerable to illnesses, problems, difficulties, stresses, anxieties and many other things that should not be in our lives.

Responses/Effects: Now a problem with this assessment is that most of us, the good, the bad, the indifferent, in the kingdom of God, often seem prey to these things. Now there are two responses to this. First, like Jeremiah being carried away to Egypt in the remnant, so we too can suffer the things of the age. Second, I believe it has been like the tide has been turning and so there is greater effort needed to stand and resist these things.

Answers?  So what is the answer? It is twofold. First, it is to do the thing we have been emphasising throughout this first Part – put to death all these things we have considered, that belong to the old life and should not be in the new life. Second, we are to live out the Christian life as it is portrayed in the New Testament, a resurrected life, empowered by God and living differently to the rest of the world, and that is what we will consider in the next Part.

(As we are in the period of Lent, we will pause up this present series four weeks while we do short meditations on the Cross and the crucifixion)

48. God who disciplines

Meditations in Hebrews 12:  48.  God who disciplines

Heb 12:5,6  “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.

The writer to the Hebrews earlier faced the fact that the Church had suffered under persecution and was constantly at war against heresies. He was aware that life was often tough for the Christian and in his encouraging his readers, he now acknowledges a further way that life sometimes seems difficult – when we are being disciplined by God.

Press on despite opposition: The context of this is a further encouragement to press on: “In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons.” (v.4,5) Yes, they may have suffered persecution but that had not resulted in deaths. But perhaps this is more than just persecution (as bad as that might be) for he speaks of it in the context of “you struggle against sin.”  Resisting temptation to sin is one of the struggles of the Christian life but so also is the struggle to counter lies, deceptions and false teaching. Behaviour and beliefs are both areas where the enemy attacks.

Now here is the strange thing: the enemy comes against us seeking to lead us astray in both our behaviour and our thinking and yes, the Lord does encourage us, as we have seen time and again in the book, but that is not all He does. When He sees we are slipping in behaviour or belief, this really means that we are drifting away from Him, and so He takes action to draw us back close to Him again.

Discipline from God: Now in verses 5 and 6 that we have above, he reminds us that a) the Lord does discipline and b) He does rebuke and c) He does these things to those He loves.  Verses 5 and 6 are quotations from Prov 3:11,12. The word discipline means ‘to train’ or ‘to bring about a change in behaviour’.  We usually hear about discipline in the armed forces and discipline is the first and foremost thing instilled in new recruits, to change their behaviour from self-centred, self-willed individuals into an authority-centred fighting force. Discipline changes their minds and their bodies. It is perhaps the biggest difference between a member of the armed services and a civilian.

The writer lays down some basic principles of discipline: “Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons.” (v.7a) Discipline is hard and requires you to persevere. For the Christian it means pressure of the Holy Spirit and of God inspired or God-allowed circumstances to knock out of you the ways of the world and to conform you to the image of Christ.  Discipline comes because you are a son or daughter of God and it is intended to drive you closer to Him. Now some of these seem hard words that I have used – knock out and drive – but they are necessary when we have allowed ungodly attitude or behaviour in, and it is only tough words or circumstances that will get us to deal with them, and because God loves us so much He will do what He sees will bring about that change.

Human Discipline: The writer appeals to human behaviour: “For what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness.” (v.7-10) In a day when fathers are abandoning their first families and children are being left without discipline, these may seem strange words. They are also strange because there is much confusion today over parenting. As a trained parenting trainer, may I suggest a summary: for us as a parent, all discipline must come in an environment of love. When our children know they are truly loved and their parents have proved it by laying down their lives for them, THEN discipline, which is correction with an aim, can be safely brought.

Failure to say no, accompanied by an explanation but backed by a strong action – in a context of loving care – may prevent your child a) from going wrong and b) from finding the law or an employer acting against them in later years in ways they find thoroughly uncomfortable. I will always remember a murder case, I think it was, where a judge said of a seventeen year old, “This young man has no consideration for others or for the Law because no one has ever said no to him before.”

The object of discipline, whether it be us with our children, or God with us, is to restrain wrong in us and develop self-control that can work to bring out good in us: “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” (v.11)

Balance Needed: I have been preaching for over twenty five years that “God loves you exactly as you are, but He also loves you so much that He has something better for you that he doesn’t want you to stay like you are.”  Now I have heard, and seen in books, the first part of that and it is right, but without the second part, we fall short of understanding God’s love for us. If sometimes it seems a bit tough, the verses we’ve read say, see it as a means of changing you for the better. That is the encouragement being brought here.

Some of us get caught up in ‘church life’ whether that is services and ritual or Bible Studies or Prayer Meetings. It may also mean a variety of other meetings or gatherings as we lay on activities that either build and strengthen the church or reach out to others. However God’s goal for us is first and foremost to change us to be more like Jesus in character – righteous and full of peace – and righteous in this context will mean full of love and goodness and grace and wisdom. Those are His goals for you and me and if He cannot get them into us by simple teaching, then he will take other measures that will result in us drawing closer to Him and become more like Him. That is what this is all about.

24. A Teachable Spirit

Meditating on the Will of God: 24:  A Teachable Spirit

Ex 4:12-15   Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say.” But Moses said, “O Lord, please send someone else to do it.” Then the LORD’s anger burned against Moses and he said, “What about your brother, Aaron the Levite? I know he can speak well. He is already on his way to meet you, and his heart will be glad when he sees you. You shall speak to him and put words in his mouth; I will help both of you speak and will teach you what to do.

We have said before that when you are considering these things it pays to be repetitive. We have also noted that when it comes to the will of God, it is not natural for us to know and understand it; it needs to come by revelation. Also at the heart of the experiences of Jesus’ followers was the call to be a disciple, a learner. But we have also considered the issue of having a hard heart (as in the case of Pharaoh) and so when you put all these things together we see that to be a Christian means to be a learner and to be a learner means we must deal with any signs of a hard heart within us. We’ve also noted that in the day in which we live, a self-centred attitude predominates, often heard in the words, “Don’t you tell me what to do!” Such a person is locked into a self-destructive lifestyle where the blindness of sin prevails.

          We have chosen the above passage from the Lord’s conversation with Moses, very simply because near the end of it twice the Lord says He will teach Moses. Yes, He is aware that He is sending Moses on a humanly impossible task but He will go with him, He will do miracles through Him and now, He will teach him what to say and what to do. Now if that was true for Moses, I suggest it is also certainly true for us. We blunder through life and we get it wrong. We say wrong things and upset people, we do things the wrong way and get in a mess. We do need help, we do need teaching how to do things better – and God delights in teaching us.

          James in his letter wrote, If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.” (Jas 1:5-8) I have included all those verses because they say so much about this. First of all, ‘wisdom’ is the ‘knowledge of how to…’ It is knowing how to speak or knowing how to act, that is appropriate for the situation. That is wisdom and the Lord says He will give generously (plenty of it) without finding fault (for He understands our shortcomings and that is why we are asking for help, after all).But the person asking must not doubt because if he does then he will not stick to what he has been told by God. If he doubts that it is God or doubts what God says, he will half-heartedly go about it and will end up all over the place like a boat tossed around in a storm. If he is a “on one hand this, but on the other hand that” sort of person that is being double minded and not a man of faith and so will be unstable. No, in summary, God delights in teaching us how to speak or act but we have to be open and obedient.

          Now what is interesting, and what we so often forget, is that those words in James follow other verses and really should be seen in the light of those verses: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (Jas 1:2-4) The context for needing wisdom is the context of trials, of difficulties, where our faith is tested as God works the process of sanctification out in us, that develops perseverance – stick-ability – and that will develop maturity. In those situations, and they crop up again and again in life, we need wisdom, we need God to teach us how to handle the difficult situation.

Elsewhere the apostle Paul wrote, “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” (1 Cor 10:13)  A temptation is the other side of the coin from a trial. God brings a trial and He may allow Satan to bring a temptation but the truth is, says Paul, that whatever temptation comes it is common to us all and God won’t let us be pushed further than that with which we can cope. Moreover (as we seek Him – implied) He will provide a way so we can stand in the face of it. It, so often, is simply knowledge (realization of what is happening) and understanding (coming to see the issues clearly) and wisdom (knowing what to do) that will see us through this test, this trial, this temptation.

But back to our starting place, we will only be able to do this if we have learnt to have a teachable heart, or a teachable spirit. If we have learnt that God knows best and God has the answers for us, then we need to be open to receive those things from Him, we need to let Him teach us. In the previous study we noted the Lord who corrects or chides us and teaching includes us being corrected and taught the right way to go. Solomon wrote, “A fool spurns his father’s discipline, but whoever heeds correction shows prudence.” (Prov 15:5).  Discipline is simply training and it is a foolish person who does not have an open heart to be taught. The heart is indeed deceitful (Jer 17:9) and so our inner self so often denies that we are not open to be taught, but when we do that we do it by making excuses that the form of correction that we see coming is coming from a person who is also less than perfect (because God so often uses people to teach us). But these are just excuses and they deceive us and cover up our lack of being open to being taught, to be trained, to being disciplined, to being corrected, and to being shown a better way to live than the way we are on at the present.  We need to be taught, and if anything rings true here, we need to go to the Lord for His wisdom as to how to deal with our lack. May it be so.

27. Unchanging God

Meditations in Malachi : 27.  Unchanging God

Mal 3:6,7   “I the LORD do not change. So you, O descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed. Ever since the time of your forefathers you have turned away from my decrees and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you,” says the LORD Almighty. 

The Bible is always full of hope. Some people, when they refer to the Old Testament say it is full of judgement. Well there are three things about that. First it is God’s discipline more often than not, seeking to bring Israel to their senses and back to Himself. Second it is a reminder of the sinfulness of mankind that is exhibited in Israel even though that had such amazing experiences of God. Third, there is always hope built in to whatever the Lord says.

Hope isn’t a guarantee that everything will be all right but, as we will see, shows there IS an opportunity for everything to be all right. Right, remember the context of what has been going on. Israel had been cynically saying, where is God?  The Lord had replied with a promise that He would send His messenger who would bring repentance to the people in preparation for the Lord Himself coming to them. That was a great hope, but now the Lord puts it in the form of various principles.

The first principle is that Israelare not destroyed because God doesn’t change. That may need unpacking. Within the Old Testament, again and again, are declarations of God’s love. The classic passage was Ex 34:6,7  “the Lord, compassionate  and  gracious  God,  slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.”  There are also many other references to God’s love. Within the Old Testament text there are also a number of instances where the Lord declares His plans forIsrael and for the world. These plans, although not obvious at the time, take into account the Lord’s knowledge that Israel will fail Him again and again. He is not going to give up on Israel.

That fact is patently obvious throughout the Old Testament. Simply read Judges and see how He uses other countries to bring Israel back to Himself.  Read the account of the Exile and even before it happens the Lord declares through Jeremiah that Israel will be back within seventy years.  This message resounds throughout the Old Testament for those who have eyes to see it.

Thus when we come to these verses we find the Lord reiterating this. First, “I the LORD do not change.”  It is the fact that is at the root of the hope we spoke about. God doesn’t change and so His plans will not change. The outcome of that fact:“So you, O descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed.”  That’s why they are still in existence. He doesn’t change; He is love and He does forgive.

Now none of this is new. It has always been like this: “Ever since the time of your forefathers you have turned away from my decrees and have not kept them.”  That has been seen in the life of Israel almost from the start. It’s like the Lord might say, “I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve had to step in to draw you back to myself and then forgive you.”

The same principle prevails: “Return to me, and I will return to you,” says the LORD Almighty.”  It’s how it was, how it is and how it always will be with the Lord. The other side of this coin is one that many people forget, that God will not forgive without repentance, but as soon as there is repentance, as soon as there is a turning back, the Lord will be there for them and will forgive them.

We need to remember this. Yes, there is overall forgiveness for our sins when we come to Christ so our eternal destiny is settled, but there are individual sins which, if the Lord sees we are not repentant about, He allows to bring discipline on us. The sins themselves and their effects become a rod of correction in His hand. Until you repent, you have an unresolved issue with the Lord and He will use it to discipline you and bring you back to a place of repentance. This does not affect your eternal destiny, but it does affect your walk with Him. He loves you so much that He will not let us just carry on. He is working to bring us to repentance, to bring us back into a place where there is nothing that keeps us from the Lord, so that His blessings may flow again in our lives.

1. Loved

Meditations in Malachi : 1. Loved

Mal 1:1,2   An oracle: The word of the LORD to Israel through Malachi. “I have loved you,” says the LORD. “But you ask, `How have you loved us?’

Studying Malachi comes as a challenge. I don’t think I would have written these meditations two years ago, but over the past two years I have come to realise something very clearly: God is a God of love (1 Jn 4:8,16)  The apostle John declared what the rest of the Bible testifies to, that God is love. In Ex 34:6,7 the Lord reveals Himself: “the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.” The truths there are reiterated again and again and again throughout the Old Testament and then the New. Many of us just don’t notice them but they are there. Now if “God is love” as John testifies it means that everything about God is love. Everything He thinks is love, everything He says is love and everything He does is an expression of love.

Now this has certain consequences. The first is that we need to read the Bible through this filter, and that would be a major change for many of us. It means that we need to learn to view everything but everything that we read throughout the Bible from this perspective – that God is love. and that what we read about Him and His activities is an expression of love. Now what follows from this is that love can be expressed through a number of ways. Imagine a human father. He works long hours to provide for his family. That is sacrificial love. He comes home and romps around on the floor with his young children. That is intimate love. He sits quietly and listens to the complaints of his teenager and makes helpful comments. This is caring and wise love. He lays down house rules that will be kept. This is orderly love with authority. On rare occasion he will punish one or other of his children because he wants to stop a potentially harmful pattern of behaviour developing in them. This is the love of discipline. Sometimes he stands back and simply watches from a distance as his children struggle and this is the love that gives space to learn. Sometimes he hands over the keys of his car to his teenager. This is the love of respect and acknowledgement of maturity. These are ALL different expressions of love, and we need to realise that even hard actions of God seen in the Bible ARE expressions of love.

Now I think it tends to be more of an American expression rather than a British one, but I am thinking of a father taking the son out to the woodshed where, traditionally, a beating would take place. Does the father love the son any the less because he is administering painful punishment?  No, if anything it proves exactly the opposite. Because the father cares for the son, cares what will happen to him unless this wrong behaviour is corrected, he takes this painful action.  Malachi has the feeling about it of a ‘trip to the woodshed’! The Lord is speaking to Israel because of what he starts out by saying: “I have loved you.”

Now the tense here is an ongoing one so it doesn’t mean, “I loved you once in the distant past.”  It actually means, “I have loved you always, right up to now.”  The problem isn’t with God’s love; it is with Israel’s  perception of Him, which we’ll go on to see in the next meditation. Why is the Lord speaking words that, the more they go on, the more they make us feel defensive? The answer to that is because He wants to restore the relationship that they once had, and that needs action on Israel’s part. The Lord has done everything He can and now it is Israel’s turn to do something – but hold that before you; it is because He wants to restore the relationship between Himself andIsrael.

Does the Lord want to punish them? Of course not! Does any father want to punish their child? Of course not, because on the negative side they don’t want to risk the child moving even further from them, and on the positive side they would much rather the relationship was restored to what it was before there was any disharmony caused by the child’s misbehaviour. What we have in Malachi is a simple list of things that Israel have done or are not doing that means the relationship has been broken, things which need remedial action.  It is as simple as that!

Why, therefore, do so many of us feel so negative and defensive when we come to Malachi?  Because guilt produces shame, fear and defensiveness. We don’t like being confronted with our imperfections but such ‘imperfections’ break down the relationship we have with the Lord. Indeed they may also be an indication of attitudes that have grown within us which go on to show that we have already moved away from the Lord. Remember, therefore, as we work our way through the verses to come, that this comes from a God of love who wants to reinstate a loving relationship between us. There is nothing onerous about being loved. It is not as if God is trying to reinstate an oppressive regime. No, He simply wants Israel to come back close to Him so that He can easily impart His blessing to them.

23. Humbled

Meditations in Deuteronomy : 23 :  Humbled, Provided For, Disciplined

(Focus: Deut 8:1-5)

Deut 8:2 Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands.

A casual reading of parts of these early chapters of Deuteronomy might conclude there is just a lot of repetition, but a closer reading shows that where there is repetition it is for a different specific purpose and it usually has different elements to it. This is what we find here.

So chapter 8 starts out with something that has been said a number of times before.  Be careful to follow every command I am giving you today, so that you may live and increase and may enter and possess the land that the LORD promised on oath to your forefathers.” (v.1)  Note again that there is a command and a promise so the promise is conditional on the command. The command is a simple call to obey all the laws being reiterated by Moses, and the promise is blessing on their lives and an enabling to go in and take the Land. Normally, previously, the promise has been to have long life in the land but the promise here is the ability to take the land. So the obedience to the Law needs to start right now for it impacts all that is going to follow.

But now it is followed by yet another call to remember the past, but this time it is a call not only to remember it, but understand it, understand what was going on and why! Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands.” (v.2) The basic facts of their recent history were that God had led them while they wandered for forty years in the desert having originally failed to enter the Promised Land. But what was going on while that was happened? God was humbling them and testing them.

When you look back on the records of that time they are limited mostly to different crises that occurred – lacking water, lacking food etc.   Now, says Moses, that wasn’t coincidental, that was God testing you to see how you would react. The crucial issue at every crisis was would they turn to the Lord, would they stick to what they had been told about Him, would they adhere to the Law?  Rather than just waste that forty year period, the Lord used it to teach and train Israel.  The most important thing was that they had to learn to trust the Lord and stick to Him.  Often they hadn’t done very well, but a learning process is like that, you don’t do very well initially but you get better as you learn.

But there was a specific aspect to this teaching: “He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.” (v.3) When they had eventually decided to enter the land on the previous occasion it was a pure example of self-confidence, not confidence in God.  They had to lose that self-confidence because it was not the thing that would see them through in the centuries to come, it was a confidence in the Lord, which is what the Sinai covenant of love was all about – about coming into a relationship of trust in God. So a number of times they had a crisis of provision and the Lord looked to see if they would turn to Him for provision – they didn’t, they grumbled instead, but nevertheless the Lord DID provide for them – manna.  They had to learn that their future lives did not simply depend on material provision, but also provision of the wisdom of God, every word that comes from Him!

He reminds them of what happened: “Your clothes did not wear out and your feet did not swell during these forty years.” (v.4)    Not only did the Lord provide manna, quails and water.   He also ensured that their clothes did not wear out.  One pair of sandal for forty years!!!  Then comes the key principle behind all this: “Know then in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so the LORD your God disciplines you.” (v.5) There it is! What had been going on throughout those years had been God’s disciplining. Now don’t misunderstand this.  So often we equate discipline with punishment but in the Bible, discipline is God training His people. Yes it does involve correction and yes sometimes it is painful, but the purpose is always good. It is that the people of God learn to trust God.

When crises happen today, how do we view them?  Panic?   Or do we turn to the Lord to hear from Him to see what provision He wants to bring us to cope with the present?  These are profound questions and they deserve some careful thought so that we may trust Him more and more.