Snapshots: Day 40

Snapshots: Day 40

The Snapshot: “Moses saw ….  the bush was on fire.”  (Ex 3:2) Curiosity is often the key to opening the door to the future. How often, I sometimes wonder, does God bring about something in our lives that we fail to see came from Him, was Him trying to catch our attention. It wasn’t just that this bush was on fire, it was that it ‘did not burn up’ that caught Moses attention. There will always be something slightly out of the ordinary with God, but so often we allow the thoughts and worries and cares of our lives to blot out awareness. This isn’t to say we should spend our lives looking for the unusual, but that when it does come along, we need to be alert enough to spot it. It may be in the Bible (if we read it), it may be in the day’s circumstances, it may be people.  Are we alert to God’s activity for us?

Further Consideration: I wonder how many of us potter through life without ever having a sense of communication with God? Ok, perhaps we pray but it is probably a one-way communication. We aren’t told how the Lord actually spoke to Moses but it seems like it was an audible voice. Now I remember a teacher saying in my hearing many years back, if you hear the audible voice of God it is serious business because He doesn’t often speak like that. Well I can go along with that because a calling to go and confront the world’s leading megalomaniac is pretty serious stuff!

But, of course, most of us don’t get such a high calling. For most of us it is just to be a witness to the world around us and most of the time we don’t need lots of additional input to do that. There is that need of wisdom, of course, that is often needed, how to go about it, and James was quite clear that if we ask without doubting, God will give it generously (Jas 1:5,6). I find, so often, that simply comes through thoughts in my mind as I am waiting on Him.

For much of this witnessing thing though, the apostle Peter simply suggests that the sort of lives we live will be sufficient to provoke people to ask about our faith (1 Pet 3:15) and when we do, we are to do it with gentleness and respect. There may even be times when we come across Ethiopian-eunuch-type-people who are searching and just need a bit of help understanding before they tumble into the kingdom (see Acts 8). So much of the time it would surprisingly seem we don’t need a daily input of God’s encouragement – except we will get it every time we open His word with an open heart. Indeed, the more open-hearted we are, the more likely we are to hear the so often still small voice of God (1 Kings 19:12). It is always possible that the Lord wants to speak to us more than we want to listen. If that is so, we perhaps miss out much in our faith.

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19. To Elijah

“God turned up” Meditations: 19 :  To Elijah

1 Kings 19:11-13 The LORD said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.” Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.

We are not told when the Lord first ‘turned up’ for Elijah. The first we read of Elijah is, Now Elijah the Tishbite, from Tishbe in Gilead, said to Ahab, “As the LORD, the God of Israel, lives, whom I serve, there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word. (1 Kings 17:1) These are the words of a confident prophet, a man who knows God and who knows his calling. He’s a pretty powerful character!

After that we read, “Then the word of the LORD came to Elijah: “Leave here, turn eastward and hide in the Kerith Ravine, east of the Jordan.” (v.2,3).  He clearly hears God’s directions – and follows them.  But it continues, “Some time later the brook dried up because there had been no rain in the land. Then the word of the LORD came to him: “Go at once to Zarephath of Sidon and stay there.” (v.7-9)  So he does that.  The story continues: “After a long time, in the third year, the word of the LORD came to Elijah: “Go and present yourself to Ahab, and I will send rain on the land.” So Elijah went to present himself to Ahab.” (1 Kings 18:1,2)  What followed was the amazing incident on Mount Carmel (see rest of chapter 18) where the Lord sent fire to burn up his sacrifice and shame the false prophets who were subsequently killed.  This was a most incredible encounter and conflict.

Now the upset this caused is quite obvious: “Now Ahab told Jezebel everything Elijah had done and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. So Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah to say, “May the gods deal with me, be it ever so severely, if by this time tomorrow I do not make your life like that of one of them.” (1 Kings 19:1,2) Now that’s an odd thing because surely it would have been easier for Jezebel to just send some soldiers and kill Elijah.  No, perhaps she is scared of him and this is just scare tactics to get rid of him.  It works: Elijah was afraid and ran for his life” (v.3)  Eventually he ends up in a cave at Mount Horeb.

There the Lord confronts him: “And the word of the LORD came to him: “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (v.9) Elijah explains and the Lord instructs him, “The LORD said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.” (v.11) The Lord is about to turn up in a big way. “Stand…. in the presence of the Lord” simply means the Lord is going to come there in a very obvious way. The Lord confirms that by “for the Lord is about to pass by. i.e. I’m not staying but just turning up for a specific reason – you need help and encouragement (implied).

Now I think if we were Elijah we might not like the sound of that. The Lord has spoken to us and guided us and empowered us a number of times, but if He is using this sort of language He is saying I am about to ‘turn up’ in a significant way. For what reason we are not sure, but when He talks about making His presence known, He obviously intends to create a stir and impact on Elijah. Elijah, brace yourself, this is going to be something!

Then, “a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD. Wow! This is awesome. The power of God is here, but hold on, “but the LORD was not in the wind.” So what was that about? The Lord just demonstrating His might? Next, “After the wind there was an earthquake.” Awesome!  The whole earth shakes. This is mighty power, “but the LORD was not in the earthquake.” What? Where is the Lord then? Why the earthquake?  Just showing a bit more of what He can do! Then, “After the earthquake came a fire.” Whoops, this is getting close and personal. The earthquake was shaking but the fire could burn me up! But where is the Lord? I’m seeing all these demonstrations of power but the Lord still isn’t making His presence known here. He’s still holding off. Then, “And after the fire came a gentle whisper.” He’s here! To be able to hear a whisper means that the person is close. Then comes the conversation between them.

Yet as we read on there is no manifestation of the Lord; Elijah simply hears a voice. Now I don’t know about you but I find this both awesome and encouraging.  I mean, if I suddenly heard this audible whisper coming from behind me as I am typing these words, it would scare the life out of me because I know there is no one else in the room beside me – or at least there hadn’t been until that moment, but someone is now there – and close! Scary! Awesome!

But then if this is the Lord turning up, especially after He’s given warning that He’s coming, it must mean that He is trying to convey something particular to me. To me it seems like He is trying to convey intimacy. He’s actually not here in a mind-blowing vision that would probably knock me over; He’s here quietly communicating His presence to me in a way that is not overwhelming. Suddenly I realise that this is how He does mostly turn up. So often when He’s spoken to me it’s been in a quiet whisper, so quiet I could have almost missed it. This is Almighty God who loves us and understands us and so often comes so quietly and gently we might almost miss Him. How amazing. He comes intimately and close and He’s there for us. Wonderful!

30. Tongue Burnt

Meditations in James: 30 : Burnt by the Tongue

Jas 3:5,6 Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.

There are two sorts of TV programme that don’t excite me. One is the morning TV where there is a studio full of people talking about a contentious part of life.  The other is so-called soap operas.  Imagine both of them without any sound.  First of all imagine the contentious couples debate if they, and the other participants, were dumb.  Nobody would watch it, would they, because it is the angry words spoken that stir people’s interests.  Imagine soap operas as real life dramas and imagine again the people being dumb.  Most of the ‘difficult situations’, that go to make up the interest of these ongoing television fillers, are what they are because of what the various people say.

Oh yes, the tongue is the instrument that has this devastating potential for causing upset and upheaval. Having just written about how the tongue guides our life, James now goes on to warn us of the tremendous power of the tongue.  Solomon was aware of this when he wrote Proverbs: With his mouth the godless destroys his neighbor (Prov 11:9) andThrough the blessing of the upright a city is exalted, but by the mouth of the wicked it is destroyed.” (Prov 11:11) and A fool’s lips bring him strife, and his mouth invites a beating.” (Prov 18:6) and A lying tongue hates those it hurts, and a flattering mouth works ruin.” (Prov 26:28).  Note the things in that short list that the tongue is capable of doing: destroying a neighbour (presumably by slander), destroying a city (presumably by lies, deceit, and generally leading into unrighteous business deals), personal strife (probably by rudeness and verbal attack which invites retribution), and general hurt and ruin by harshness and flattery which deceives.

If you are a watcher of these “sort out the problems” morning TV programmes or of soap operas, next time think about what all the people are saying.  Observe where there are words that are attacking, words that are demeaning, words that are violent, and think how different the situation would be if the exact opposite sort of words were spoken instead.  James says, Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark and so watch and see how a few words can ignite a situation and cause hostility and upset and division and hurt and anger and….. the list goes on!  In families there are words that should never be spoken: “I hate you!” or “I wish I’d never been born!” or “You’re ugly” or “You’re stupid!”  Each one of these is a small spark that has devastating effects.  Once said they cannot be withdrawn and they set a fire of passion blazing which is not easily put out.

But James pushes it further.  He says, The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. That sounds awful!  Why is he using the analogy of a fire?  Because a fire is something out of control and capable of spreading destruction.  But why does he say that this fire is a world of evil among the parts of the body? Well we sometimes speak about how we ‘compartmentalise’ our lives, and he’s saying imagine our bodies like different compartments.  If you imagine the tongue as one ‘department’ in the running of your life, it seems that in so many people it is a department that is evil.  It may be the expression of the heart, but it is the visible, or rather audible expression of evil.  The mouth is the propaganda machine of the human body, that is able to reach out and influence or harm others by the words that come out.  It is seen in many people as evil, speaking out hurtful, harmful words.

But he goes on, It corrupts the whole person. If you corrupt something you spoil or mar it, you taint it or pollute it.   Speaking out words is very influential, and tragically most of us don’t realise this, so that when we put something into words it’s like it strengthens something in us.  While it only remains a thought, it is fairly powerless, but once we speak it out, it seems like it has the effect of spreading that negative right through us, so it is something that becomes more established in us.  If our lives were like a glass of clear water, when we speak negative, unkind, hostile, impure, unrighteous words, it is like black ink is being dripped into that clear water and it is polluted and no longer clear.  The words have the ability to change the life.  The heart was wrong, but the words established that wrong in a deeper, firmer way.

But James then piles on further pictures: It …sets the whole course of his life on fire. If the tongue is a fire, then the words are like flaming pieces that soar up into the air and where they land they spread the fire. As we’ve just suggested, when the words are spoken they affect the rest of the life. We used the analogy of clear water; James uses the analogy of fire.

Then he finishes with a strange expression: and is itself set on fire by hell. Can I use an analogy that I use often, that of anger? A person may use anger to get their own way, but that is unrighteous. Now if a person uses unrighteous anger regularly, then they open themselves up to Satan’s influence and he can press in on that person so that their anger flares up and is completely uncontrollable. Now the same thing is true of the tongue. Some people use the tongue to put down others, as a means of having influence over them, but this is unrighteous.  So what happens is that when they do this they make themselves vulnerable to Satan (and hell is just shorthand for ‘the powers of darkness and all that they bring’) and so Satan takes the fire (emotional words) that they have used, and blows on it so they become completely out of control.  What this person finds is that no longer can they control what they say; they are motivated or driven by these emotions which are beyond their control, and the fire burns and burns and burns until the person is destroyed. Did you realise the terrible power that is there in the use of the tongue and the forces of destruction that can be released by it?  Well think about these things.

36. Anger

God in the Psalms No.36  – God of anger

Psa 21:9 In his wrath the LORD will swallow them up, and his fire will consume them.

There are some things about the Lord that make us do a double-take. Is the Lord really like this? On one hand we’re told that God is love (1 Jn 4:8), so how, we wonder can He also be a God of anger, a God of wrath who destroys people? This needs thinking about!

Let’s start with that incredible man of God, Moses: 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.” (Ex 4:14,15).   This is where looking at the context is important, for this comes near the end of a long conversation where the Lord has answered all of Moses’ questions, explained what would happen, given two miraculous signs and still Moses says, send someone else to do it.” There is nothing more that God could say or do more than He has already done in this conversation. Moses’ response is now just selfish obtuseness and there is no excuse for it. God’s anger has been slow to come but anger is the only response to it.

So what is anger?  A Bible dictionary definition is, “a feeling of displeasure resulting from injury, mistreatment, opposition, etc.” It is a natural, right and just response in certain circumstances. We so often link anger or wrath with a quick, hasty and selfish response to an offence, but with God it is the exact opposite. It is a slow, measured and concerned response of justice. It is slow (Psa 103:8) because God doesn’t just react to people, He gives a fully measured, perfect response to the situation. The anger or wrath of the Lord is not a capricious self-concerned response, but a slow concerned response. We might nod at someone’s sin and excuse or ignore it  but God knows that unrestrained sin spreads and destroys so He first speaks against it, speaks and speaks again, and then acts against it. A willful ignoring of His calls is just that, a willful ignoring! It is an act of stupid rebellion; it is pure folly. Stop and think what emotions you could express: happiness at it. Well that is obviously stupid! Neutral and unfeeling?  How can you remain unfeeling about a gross crime?  Our problem sometimes is that we simply don’t feel enough, we don’t think enough about the crime. If you were a husband and father and your house was invaded by an armed gang and you were tied up and your wife and daughter raped in front of your eyes, what would you be feeling? Happiness? Don’t be silly!  Passive neutrality? You’ve got to be joking! It will be absolute, total, hostile anger. Everything in you will be blazing against them – and rightly so!

So why do we wonder, when perfect, beautiful God who calls out and calls out and calls out and has to watch increasing (because it is increasing before He acts) stupidity, eventually expresses anger?  The answer has to be because we simply are blind to the awfulness of the stupidity. Why does God judge and destroy?  To stop the spread of destructive sin. As someone has said, the incredible thing is not that God destroys one or two individuals, but that He doesn’t destroy all of us!  That is the wonder of the Cross! It is God’s means of diverting His righteous anger over sin. Why does He ever act against sinners then?  So save the situation getting worse, to save others from the spreading destructive nature of what this person or people do.

21. Negligence Laws

Lessons from the Law: No.21 : Laws of Negligence

Ex 22:5,6 If a man grazes his livestock in a field or vineyard and lets them stray and they graze in another man’s field, he must make restitution from the best of his own field or vineyard. “If a fire breaks out and spreads into thorn bushes so that it burns shocks of grain or standing grain or the whole field, the one who started the fire must make restitution.

In modern law a duty of care arises when a person is in a position to foresee that an action or lack of action of theirs is likely to cause to others injury of damage or wrong reliance upon them, and negligence occurs when there is a breach of that duty and as a result another has suffered damages (loss). This is law that has only become clear in the last hundred years.  What we now come to are laws of negligence that applied over three thousand years ago in the Law of Moses and they run from verse 5 to verse 15 of chapter 22 of the book of Exodus.

Verses 5 & 6 are about restitution for loss caused by the carelessness of a land owner. Both of these come more under the law of Strict Liability that we recently considered earlier where, if you have something dangerous on your land you will be liable for the damage it causes if it escapes because of your carelessness. If livestock escape, of course they will eat the grass on neighbouring ground. If fire breaks out and is not contained, of course it will cause damage on neighbouring land. In both cases the original land owner is liable for the dame to his neighbours land.

Verses 7 to 9 are about restitution if a neighbour’s goods, generally, are stolen while in the care of another: If a man gives his neighbor silver or goods for safekeeping and they are stolen from the neighbor’s house, the thief, if he is caught, must pay back double. But if the thief is not found, the owner of the house must appear before the judges to determine whether he has laid his hands on the other man’s property. In all cases of illegal possession of an ox, a donkey, a sheep, a garment, or any other lost property about which somebody says, ‘This is mine,’ both parties are to bring their cases before the judges. The one whom the judges declare guilty must pay back double to his neighbor.” (Ex 22:7-9). If the goods are stolen the original law of theft applies (Ex 22:4) but if no trace of a thief is found it may be that the neighbour may have taken the good for himself and so it must be taken to court, and if the court determines the neighbour has taken the goods for himself then the normal law of theft applies.

Verses 10 to 15 are specifically about animals left in the care of another.  “If a man gives a donkey, an ox, a sheep or any other animal to his neighbor for safekeeping and it dies or is injured or is taken away while no one is looking, the issue between them will be settled by the taking of an oath before the LORD that the neighbor did not lay hands on the other person’s property. The owner is to accept this, and no restitution is required. But if the animal was stolen from the neighbor, he must make restitution to the owner.” (v.10-12) The law appears at first sight to be the same as for personal property left in safe keeping but the difference is that rather than go to court to settle it, it is settled by a solemn oath before God which is seen as sufficient to deter untruth, and no restitution is required when the animal has simply died or injures itself. The reference to it being “taken away while no one is looking” would seem, to suggest it was taken either from his own property or without the knowledge of the person caring for it, because in this case the other person is required to make restitution for it

When it is in the care of another, “If it was torn to pieces by a wild animal, he shall bring in the remains as evidence and he will not be required to pay for the torn animal.” (v.13) i.e. if a marauding wild animal got in and destroyed the animal being cared for, as long as there is evidence of the remains there are no repercussions.

There is one further stipulation: “If a man borrows an animal from his neighbor and it is injured or dies while the owner is not present, he must make restitution. But if the owner is with the animal, the borrower will not have to pay. If the animal was hired, the money paid for the hire covers the loss.” (v.14,15) This is a case where an animal is borrowed (?possibly a horse or a donkey) and it is injured or dies while with the other man. The outcomes depend on whether the owner was present or not. If he was (and can see there was no mistreatment – implied?) there is no come back, but if he wasn’t then the borrower must make restitution. If it happens when the animal was hired, then it is assumed that the hire cost covers such eventualities.

Again, in an agricultural economy, these things would happen and were therefore very important. God gives the guidelines that are quite reasonable and they operate to protect each person involved.