17. God of Under-girding Love

Getting to Know God Meditations:  17. God of Under-girding Love

1 Jn 4:8,16   God is love

Ex 34:6,7 “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.”

God is Love?  The apostle John said it most simply: “God is love”. Notice He IS love, not love is God, but He IS love, everything about Him is love. It has to mean that everything He thinks, says or does is an expression of love.  This love under-girds everything that happens to do with God! When He revealed Himself to Moses (one of the early revelations about the character and nature of God) see the descriptions above, especially “abounding in love”. Abounding suggests overflowing with, excessively so. Now this is a challenge when we come to read the Bible because it means we need to read what happens through this filter and sometimes ask, “How is what is happening here, an expression of love?” and when we do that we will start thinking more intelligently and with much more understanding, not only of God but of ourselves, the human race.

But what about…? Now let’s face the elephant in the room, as they often say today, the big thing lurking in the background that we prefer to ignore. Christians try to ignore this ‘elephant’, this enormous thing in the background, which is the complaint of the atheistic skeptic, “If your God is a God of love, how come He is involved in genocide, wiping out whole nations, men, women and children?” I confess I struggle with the hypocrisy of this in the light of a period of recent history where it was recognized that for the greater good, whole cities were bombed into extinction almost, by both sides (Coventry and Dresden), and entire populations wiped out twice by H-bombs in Japan. But that is a bigger story but the lesson is still basic: in this fallen world we sometimes have to choose the lesser of two evils. Evils yes, but the only path through horror to reduce it.

Misunderstandings: Part of our confusion – the negative question above – comes from an inability to read scripture comprehensively. For example, the above accusation arises again and again in respect of the incident that was part of the whole Exodus scenario where Israel are told to oust the occupants of Canaan. Now I have never yet come across a critic who has carefully read the entire Pentateuch (the first five books, and for good measure add Joshua) for if they had they would know that the instructions from God to Israel contain the words “drive out” over thirty times and the words about ‘wiping out’ less than half a dozen times. The full picture is that God’s intent was for the land to be cleared. Most people in the area heard of the might of this people (over a million) moving through the lands and fear went ahead of them, fear that was designed to get the enemy to flee. God’s primary intent was that the occupants would be driven out of the land and only if they resisted and fought Israel would the normal effects of war follow (death for all involved – talk to people who experienced the Blitz in London in the last World War!).

Discipline or Judgment: Again another aspect of this same cavilling criticism comes in the form of, “Is the God of the New Testament different from the God of the Old Testament, one a God of love, the other a God of judgment? The Old Testament seems full of His judgments!” Well, actually so is the New, but let’s examine the language that is being used. ‘Discipline’ means to bring about correction. Discipline may or may not be part of so-called ‘judgement’. Now I researched for a book entitled “The Judgments of a Loving God” and investigated every judgement in the Bible that originated with God (be careful, some acts of destruction were not God originated, but people originated). Let me tell you some of my careful conclusions.

First, we may categorize judgments in two ways: a) as ‘disciplinary judgments’  that are designed to bring about change of behaviour, and don’t focus on death, and b) terminal judgments or judgments of the last resort, that bring death.

Disciplinary judgments: These, I would suggest from the record, showing the principle in Rom 1:24-32, where we find such words as “God gave them over to” which implies God lifted off His hand of restraint or protection (that we so often take for granted) from mankind or a part of it. The result is that either i) the sin that was running rampant is allowed total free reign so that it implodes upon itself until people repent (which is happening in the West at the present), or ii) His hand of protection is removed from His people so that they stand on their own, as their current behaviour indicates they want to, and become vulnerable to attacks from surrounding enemy neighbours, until they repent. We see this latter cycle again and again, we’ve already noted, in the book of Judges. Note in both cases the pain that comes in such instances is not from God but from increasing sin or the behaviour of other sinful people. We so often blame God in such situations but the reality is that He just steps back and lets the effects of our own sinful behaviour run amok.

Terminal Judgments: These are ones where people die, apparently at the hand of God. People do die at the hands of other humans sometimes in disciplinary judgments but that is the work of sin and not God. Where there are terminal judgments, apparently brought by the hand of God, I have given these a sub-label of ‘judgments of the last resort’ because it appears that nothing else God could do would restrain or control the situation to halt the destruction that mankind was already bringing on itself. Again and again in such cases we need to investigate carefully what was going on and see the awfulness of the pagan practices or behaviour that God was acting against to limit the self-destruction that was going on – and which was spreading like a cancer.

Over-riding Principles: Because these criticisms seem to arise again and again, even among the poorly read Christian community, I find I have to write these things again and again, and again and again I have to declare Scripture and say, think about what it says. Where there are general criticisms against the God of love, just think of the wonderful world He has given us (which we abuse) and observe in Scripture the wonderful things He did for His people, despite their constant failings. Where there is a song of praise and expressions about God’s love, they are so often linked to His acts of redemption and salvation generally, for example, “Show me the wonders of your great love, you who save by your right hand those who take refuge in you from their foes,” (Psa 17:7) or  “Who among the gods is like you, O LORD? …. “In your unfailing love you will lead the people you have redeemed.” (Ex 11:13,15).

However, the big declarations of God’s intent come through the mouth of the great prophet Ezekiel: Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign Lord. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?” (Ezek 18:23),  and, “Why will you die, people of Israel? For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent and live!” (Ezek 18:31,32) and, “‘As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live.” (Ezek 33:11) which perhaps is also captured by the apostle Peter in his second letter: “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Pet 3:9) supported by his later words, “Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation.” (v.15)

And So? The Bible speaks of God as a God of love. That love is often shown by restraint, is always shown by His grace and His provision (both of which we need to consider more fully in the days ahead), is sometimes seen in the way He steps back and allows us to do our own thing until we come to our own senses, and rarely by His acts where life is forfeited for the good of the greater population (always after much time has been given for change of behaviour and attitude to come about after many warnings had been given).

Always at the conclusion of such a study as this, I feel we need to remind ourselves of Jesus’ amazing parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-24) where the son demands his rightful inheritance, goes and wastes it until he is left envying the pigs in his care for the food they have. There are two primary aspects of the parable: first the son, representing us and our folly in rejecting the Father, and then the amazing father, representing God, who allows the son his demands, allows him to ruin his life, but welcomes him back with open loving arms the moment he decides to return. THAT is the God of love we see throughout the Bible.

Snapshots: Day 44

Snapshots: Day 44

The Snapshot: “God said, “I will be with you.”  (Ex 3:12a) Is just knowing He is here enough? If everything the preachers say is true, it is not. If He is love, I want to sense that love, if He is comfort, I want to sense that comfort. If He says I will provide for you, I want to know that sense of provision. If He says I am the healer, I want to know healing. If I don’t know these things, why not?  What is missing? What am I missing? What? I must “believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” (Heb 11:6) That I need to remember to come near to him? (Jas 4:8) I can keep it in my intellect that He will never leave me (Heb 13:5) or I can wait upon Him, desiring to draw near to Him, until I sense He is here. That is a possibility; I’ve known it, so why don’t I do it more often?

Further Consideration: In the previous snapshot we considered some of God’s attributes about His being, His existence, but there are more that pertain to His character which leads to His words and His actions:

He is Faithful, He is Good, He is Just, He is Merciful, He is Gracious, He is Loving. If these things are true – and they are – if my heart isn’t yearning to experience them, there must be something wrong with me!

Thus when God says, “I will be with you,” then all of these things will be part of that experience, knowing His presence in the days that follow. We know that we can trust Him because He never changes in His attitude towards us, we can be assured of His goodness, that strange description that is so difficult to grasp, yet when we do, we have a feeling that it is right, pleasant, enjoyable and we need have no doubts about Him in any shape or kind. And so it goes on; these are the things about God that the Bible is clear about and which make knowing Him not only worthwhile but essential in life.

The apostle Paul wrote, “If God is for us, who can be against us.” (Rom 8:31) which could be equally said, “Because God is for us, who can be against us.” That is the truth, He is for us. He is with us, indwelling us by His Holy Spirit, working around us by His sovereign power, and ruling from heaven over the affairs of mankind, working them together for our benefit (Rom 8:28). That is almost too good to be true – but it is! But my experiences of Him being “with me” will vary.

There will be the relatively rare times that I referred to previously when His presence is virtually manifest and there is such an awareness of Him there; there will be other times when we have no sense of Him there (although He still is), and there are a multitude of experiences in between. Sometimes He seems very active in our lives, sometimes it seems like He is waiting and still – but He is still there!   Rest in that.

75. What sort of God?

Meditations in Exodus: 75. What sort of God?

Ex 34:6,7  And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The LORD, 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. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.” 

We come to what I believe must be one of the most significant revelations of the Old Testament, but first the Lord instructs Moses to “Chisel out two stone tablets like the first ones, and I will write on them the words that were on the first tablets, which you broke.(v.1) He doesn’t chide Moses for breaking them but simply gets on with the process of rewriting them. Moses is to come up the mountain again, on his own (v.2,3).  So Moses does this and goes up with the two tablets in the morning. (v.4)

Then the LORD came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed his name, the LORD. (v.5) A cloud surrounds Moses and so he can see nothing but then he hears the Lord’s audible voice declaring, “I AM WHO I AM”, the name he had originally heard at the burning bush. He senses the Lord moving in front of Him and the Lord speaks again beginning with, “I AM, I AM” and then going on to describe Himself. Now bear in mind that with all the revelations and experiences of the Lord that the Patriarchs and then Moses had had, there had never been a time when the Lord described Himself. This is a first! So, He describes Himself as the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation. (v.6,7)

We need to note the various elements of this description because certain silly crusading atheists never seem to have read this description and have said stupid things about God. These verses counter the folly of the grumbling atheist. “Compassionate and gracious”.  A God who feels for us and exudes good feelings towards us. Wow! “Slow to anger”. Not capricious, prickly, quick to jump down our throats. Wow!  “Abounding in love.” Not just loving but abounding in love, full of love, overflowing with love. WoW!

The apostle John was to write many centuries later, “God is love.” (1 Jn 4:8,16) IS love, not just has love. As I have pondered this in two books it always hits me: everything God thinks, say or does is an expression of love. Start looking at everything you read in the Old Testament through that lens. Then, to take a snippet from my book, ‘The Judgments of a Loving God’, remember that the Bible teaches that God is perfect. My definitio0n of perfect is ‘cannot be improved upon’ and so everything that God thinks, says or does cannot be improved upon. Grab hold of the contents of this paragraph and you will never be the same again!

But He is also “abounding in… faithfulness.”  He remains utterly true to Himself, He never changes He will always be love, always be perfect, and this, extended to His people, means He will always be loyal (although I do not like that word), He will remain true to us, there for us.

But now see the corporate dimension to this love: “maintaining love to thousands and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.”  This is about people groups, about nations and this takes us beyond love for a few individuals, the Patriarchs, this takes us to the nation of Israel and then to the world. In the Ten Commandments we read, “I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.” (Ex 20:5,6) Our present thousand may therefore be a thousand generations meaning God’s love will be there for as long as humanity exists; it can be utterly relied upon.

But that love is always expressed love (because love is never merely abstract, it is always expressed in practical ways) and God cannot express it to those who turn their back on Him, hence it is love for “those who love me and keep my commandments,” i.e. those who follow the Lord. And therein, there is another side to God, who is also a God of truth and justice. Where there is generational sin (as it often tends to be, one son following his father and so on) the Lord will pursue wickedness down the generations. His word clearly declares He will not judge those who are not guilty, only the guilty (see Ezek 18) but let the guilty be aware, they cannot presume on His love. It is there for them when they turn to Him to receive it, but while they turn away from Him and live in their wickedness, they will find themselves in line for His disciplinary or even terminal judgment.

This is a most dynamic revelation. It is both profoundly reassuring – He loves us and is for us as we turn to Him – and a profound warning – wickedness will be dealt with. There is here a revelation of the wonder of God’s love and grace as well as His justice. For us the justice of God is satisfied through the death of His Son, Jesus Christ, on the Cross. Having surrendered our lives to Him we can live with the certain knowledge of His abounding love being there for us. Hallelujah!

2. No Other

Lessons from the Law: No.2 : No Other God

Ex 20:1-3 And God spoke all these words: “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before (besides)  me.

Starting from basics, if there is a God, how would your describe Him? The simplest definition is usually given as The Supreme Being. If there is a God He has to be greater than anyone or anything else. The Romans and Greeks had ‘gods’ but they were simply super-beings with human foibles, who frequently seemed to squabble. No, if there is going to be a God He has to be One Supreme Being. Now the only logical alternative is that there is no such being and that, of course, is the position taken by atheists, yet the Bible is built on the consistent belief throughout that there is this One Supreme Being who revealed Himself to individuals and then to what became the nation of Israel, and finally through His Son, Jesus Christ. The Christian concept of the Trinity does not mean three Gods but simply three expressions of the One. Moreover, while we are at it, the God of the Old Testament is exactly the same as the God of the New Testament.

I suspect there are two reasons why atheists don’t like the concept of God. The first is that their sinful nature (as the Bible describes it) doesn’t like the thought of being answerable to someone seriously superior to them and, second, they don’t bother to really read the whole Bible and catch the descriptions of this One Supreme Being. For example, consider this early description of God, “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.” (Ex 34:6,7) I recently asked a group of seekers that if this was a true description of God (and it is consistently shown throughout the Bible) how would they feel about Him, and they all replied, good, safe and secure!

But here in this first of the Ten Commandments we find,You shall have no other gods before (besides) me.” It is a call by God for us to have a uniqueness of thinking about Him, to hold to the belief in just One Supreme Being and not to let anyone or anything else compete for our affections. Indeed it is a call that is repeated in various forms again and again, for example, “Be careful to do everything I have said to you. Do not invoke the names of other gods; do not let them be heard on your lips.” (Ex 23:13) Furthermore when the Lord spoke about Israel taking the Promised Land He declared, “My angel will go ahead of you and bring you into the land of the Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Canaanites, Hivites and Jebusites, and I will wipe them out. Do not bow down before their gods or worship them or follow their practices. You must demolish them and break their sacred stones to pieces. Worship the LORD your God, and his blessing will be on your food and water.” (Ex 23:23-26) The call was to completely wipe out all signs of idol worship and to worship Him the One Supreme Being, the “I AM” or the Eternal One.

Again He warned, “Do not make a covenant with them or with their gods. Do not let them live in your land, or they will cause you to sin against me, because the worship of their gods will certainly be a snare to you.” (Ex 23:32,33). The reason for this is thus made clear: if you leave them, the superstitious side of you will turn to these things of wood and you will start doing the things that their ‘followers’ do, like sacrificing your children for example. In his closing words in Deuteronomy, Moses warned, “And when you look up to the sky and see the sun, the moon and the stars–all the heavenly array–do not be enticed into bowing down to them and worshiping things the LORD your God has apportioned to all the nations under heaven.” (Deut 4:19). In other words, don’t become like the Egyptians, for instance, who worship the elements in their fearful superstition. Then came a further warning: “Fear the LORD your God, serve him only and take your oaths in his name. Do not follow other gods, the gods of the peoples around you; for the LORD your God, who is among you, is a jealous God” (Deut 6:13-15) It is superstitious nonsense to fear idols made by the hands of men, but it is right and wise to have an awesome respect for the One Supreme Being who is all-powerful, all-knowing and all-wise. Moses’ father-in-law understood reality: “Jethro was delighted to hear about all the good things the LORD had done for Israel in rescuing them from the hand of the Egyptians. He said, “Praise be to the LORD, who rescued you from the hand of the Egyptians and of Pharaoh, and who rescued the people from the hand of the Egyptians. Now I know that the LORD is greater than all other gods, for he did this to those who had treated Israel arrogantly.” (Ex 18:9-11)

In the various plagues God challenged the superstition of the Egyptians: I will plague your whole country with frogs”. (Ex 8:2) The frog (or toad) was deified in the goddess Heqt, who assisted women in childbirth. “The hand of the LORD….. terrible plague on your livestock.” (Ex 9:3) The Egyptians worshiped many animals and animal-headed deities, including the bull-gods Apis and Mnevis, the cow-god Hathor and the ram-god Khnum. “Darkness will spread over Egypt.” (Ex 10:21) The darkness was an insult to the sun-god Ra (or Re), one of the chief deities of Egypt.

Why this first commandment? Because this is the truth: there is only One Supreme all-powerful, all-wise, all-knowing Being and all else is superstition which leads people to do terrible things, as we’ll see even more or we go on in these studies. The crucial issue here is that people follow in their lives, the ways of their God or gods. History shows that followers of ‘gods’ do terrible things. Beyond cleansing the Promised Land of such things, there is simply order and blessing and goodness seen accompanying the worship of the One Supreme Being. We will see more of what He is like as we work our way through the Law and, I hope, agree that any alternative is really unthinkable to the thinking person.

Walk in God’s Ways


1 Kings 3:14 And if you walk in my ways and obey my statutes and commands as David your father did, I will give you a long life

There are phrases in the Bible that we come across and, I believe, mostly take for granted. In our verse today we have one of those phrases: if you walk in my ways. What do the ways of God mean? It is a highly significant phrase. Moses at a crucial point asked of God, “If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you” ( Ex 33:13). In the Law of God we find the same reference: “Observe the commands of the LORD your God, walking in his ways and revering him” (Deut 8:6) and then, “And now, O Israel, what does the LORD your God ask of you but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to observe the LORD ‘s commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good?(Deut 10:12,13). Indeed it became a condition of blessing: “If you carefully observe all these commands I am giving you to follow–to love the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways and to hold fast to him ….” (Deut 11:22)

Touching on this phrase goes to the very heart of the whole concept of these meditations about walking with God. As we’ve said previously, when you walk with someone you start to learn about them. There is a mutual sharing and a relationship grows. At the heart of relationship is learning about one another, about how each other thinks, about what they like or dislike, about what they enjoy doing, about how they do different things in life. The ways of God are personal things about Him. Moses father-in-law instructed him to, “Teach them the decrees and laws, and show them the way to live and the duties they are to perform” (Ex 18:20). That sounds very impersonal, a set of rules to be followed – and that is what many Christians today would prefer to have, an impersonal set of rules to follow, but we are called to personal contact with the Lord so that we learn His ways, the things that please Him, the things that grieve Him, the way He does things. In a sense all of these meditations are about different facets of the ways of the Lord, the different way He deals with different people and different situations, which then reveal what He feels. That is the most intimate level of fellowship, when you understand what the person you are walking with feels.

When we spend time with the Lord, and when our heart is turned toward Him, so that He is the first person we think of or turn to, when we either have cause to be thankful or cause to be concerned, He starts sharing His heart with us. First of all he shares through His word, the Bible. This is our greatest source of starting to learn His ways. As we read and as we ponder on His dealings with those we encounter in the Bible, we begin to catch something of His heart and the way He acts. But actions are simply the outward thing. So, we also start to learn how He thinks, but thinking is purely a mind thing and so, as we go deeper, we begin to catch what He feels. The Bible is His book. If you look up the word LORD you will see it is used nearly seven and a half thousand times! It’s all about Him!

How might we sum up the ways of the Lord? An almost impossible task! Yet perhaps the Lord’s own words do it: “And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The LORD, 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.” (Ex33:6,7). When it comes to God expressing Himself through His Son, Jesus, the apostle John perhaps encapsulated it by describing Jesus as: “full of grace and truth.” (Jn 1:14). Yet even these descriptions, as wonderful as they are, seem to fall short and the only way to describe His ways, is to say, you read the Bible, you read and study it and see what you see. If you want a short cut, read of Jesus who described himself as “the way and the truth and the life” (Jn 14:6). Jesus is the perfect expression of the ways of the Father and as much as he does that he becomes THE way. Is it any coincidence that the Christian faith was referred to as the Way? (Acts 9:2, 22:4). Living on the Way we are called to walk in the ways of God, learning to see what He does, learning to think as He thinks and, yes, learning to feel as He feels. What an amazing walk!