24. My right hand

God in the Psalms No.24

Psa 16:8 I have set the LORD always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.

There are probably many times when we read Scripture but just don’t take in what it means. What does he is at my right hand mean?  Perhaps we’d better look, first of all, at general references to the right hand:

Gen 48:14  But Israel reached out his right hand and put it on Ephraim’s head, though he was the younger.” Israel put his right hand to make a special blessing. The right hand was seen as the hand of authority. Joseph saw what his father was doing and recognized its significance.

Ex 15:6 Your right hand, O LORD, was majestic in power. Your right hand, O LORD, shattered the enemy.” Israel saw God’s destruction of Pharaoh as an act of His right hand. It is seen as the hand of power. See similarly Psa 17:7, 20:6, 21:8 etc.

Ex 29:20  Slaughter it, take some of its blood and put it on the lobes of the right ears of Aaron and his sons, on the thumbs of their right hands”. The right side was the side designated hold, to be cleansed. The right hand was to be holy.

Psa 110:1  The LORD says to my Lord: “Sit at my right handJesus is seated at God’s right hand in heaven. It is the place of intimacy with the Father and a place of rule. This intimacy is seen also in Psa 73:23, Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand.” Have you seen pictures of little children holding the hand of their parent? There is a safety and security and intimacy there.

It is this last reference that perhaps impinges most on our verse from Psalm 16. It is first a sense of safety, closeness or intimacy. He first says, I have set the LORD always before me, which is an act of will on David’s part, a determination of attitude. It’s like that which Paul says,Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things (Col 3:2). For David, his heart is open to the Lord at all times (v.7), he seeks to have a God-awareness or, if you like, a God-consciousness, at all times.

When he knows the Lord’s presence is with him, he knows that God’s authority, power and rule are there, working on his behalf. Because of this he will not be shaken, and he will rest secure (v.9). Because of this he knows that the Lord will not let death come prematurely (v.10). When he knows the presence of the Lord, he knows there will also be joy (v.11), because the Lord isn’t just there, He’s there to bless. That’s what David means when he speaks of the Lord who has eternal pleasures at your right hand (v.11). God’s right hand is also a hand of provision.

Do you see the two sided aspect of this?  We have been considering all these pictures conveying all these things at God’s right hand, but David is referring in our verse above to his own right hand. He has an awareness that in all these aspects, God is there close to Him. When it comes to his own authority and power, his own safety and security, his own provision, they all exist because of the intimacy that He knows – the closeness of the Lord to Him. He purposes to ensure this: I have set the LORD always before me. He puts the awareness of the Lord in the foreground of his life, to ensure that he is always conscious of the Lord’s presence.  Yet, to give the whole picture, his psalms indicate the reality of life – sometimes we lose that sense of God’s presence and have to step aside, be quiet, wait on Him, until we regain it. He is what he is, because God’s there, close!

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3. Chosen

Ephesians Meditations No.3


3.
Chosen & Predestined

Eph 1:4,5 For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ.

There is a simple word at the beginning of these verses that tells us something significant: “For”. A longer way of putting it would have been, “Because of this…”. ‘For’ takes us back to the previous verse that we saw in the previous meditation: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.” (v.3). We saw then that Paul praised God because God had blessed us. Now he expands on that blessing. He goes right back to fundamentals. Let’s look at these fundamentals.


First of all, “he chose us”. We are what we are as Christians because God chose us. It wasn’t the other way round, as we so often think it is. But it isn’t that He just chose us a week before we turned to Him. Oh no, He chose us “before the creation of the world.” This is amazing. This is God who Created this world and before He created it He looked into the future, saw what would happen, saw sin, saw the need for the Cross, saw us coming into the world and (I suggest) saw that we would be those who would respond to the good news of Jesus Christ and at that point said, “Yes, they will be my children.” We see this sense of God’s planning before the world came into being, a number of times in Scripture – Jn 17:24, 1 Pet 1:20, Rev 17:8, Rev 13:8, 2 Tim 1:9, Tit 1:2.


But there are two crucial words that we have missed, “in him” – “he chose us in him before the creation of the world.” Jesus is the way God chooses who will be His. As we noted above, it is those who will respond to the good news of Jesus who are saved. Therefore in the planning before God made the world, He looked into the future and saw that when you heard about Jesus, you would respond. THAT was the crucial means of assessment. Right back then, God had it in mind that you would become His child at this point in history and your response to Jesus was the way that would happen.


But there is a further explanation. We were called with a purpose: “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.” That is the end product of the work of Jesus and you responding to the wonderful news that he has died for your sins, guilt and punishment, means that God may declare you holy and blameless in His sight! Because you have surrendered your will to God, declared your belief that Jesus has died for your sins, and sought His forgiveness and lordship, He has declared you forgiven
AND cleansed so you ARE holy and blameless in His sight. Yes, we know there is a practical day by day righteousness to be worked out and that will be a process of change that goes on until we die and go to heaven, but as far as God and justice is concerned, you ARE holy and blameless NOW . That is the wonder of this salvation of ours. Yes, we know there is an ongoing work of change to be continued throughout our lives but we are not having to focus on getting right in God’s sight, we are not having to earn His approval, because He has declared it already. That is why the Gospel is GOOD news! How wonderful”


But Paul isn’t content with saying it once; now he repeats it: “ In love he predestined us.” Now because the original didn’t have punctuation, you will find a note in your Bible that the words “in love” may come at the end of the previous sentence. It doesn’t really matter where they come because both sentences say the same thing, but it is important to note that this work of God is a love work, something He does because He is love (1 Jn 4:8,16). This is all about God’s love being expressed to whoever will receive it.


But now he uses the word ‘predestined’. Some of us get very caught up in the sovereignty of God with the use of this word. Yes, the Lord is sovereign but, I suggest, the Bible does include our free will in this. There’s no room for boasting in this. I have no idea why I responded to the Gospel and a friend didn’t, but free will is suggested when Peter uses the expressions about God knowing beforehand: “God’s set purpose and foreknowledge.” (Acts
2:23) and “who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God.” (1 Pet 1:2). Predestination, we suggest, therefore is more about God choosing the ‘method’ of choice and knowing who would respond, rather than making people believe or not believe, which would lead us into a cruel God scenario.


The things we have been starting to consider (and they will come up again) are seen widely in the New Testament, e.g. “we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you.” (1 Thess 1:4), “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose . For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son.” (Rom
8:28 ,29) and, “from the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth.” (2 Thess 2:13). So there we are, chosen by God, for a purpose and it’s all about blessing and love. How wonderful!

12. A Holy God

(We resume our series in Isaiah that we started several weeks ago)

MEDITATIONS IN ISAIAH – No.12

Isa 6:5 Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.”

Part of our task, you may remember, in this set of meditations, is to see the same God in the Old Testament as is described in the New, especially in the light of the apostle John’s assertion that “God is love” (1 Jn 4:8,16). Now when we read Isaiah, chapter 6, you may think that is not immediately discernable, but I want to suggest otherwise. Come with me and see.

Isaiah 6 is one of the relatively few instances in the Bible when we are given a deeper insight into God or into heaven. It happened as a clear event at a particular point in history: “In the year that King Uzziah died.” (6:1a). Historians tell us that this was 740BC. In that year something very special happened to Isaiah: “I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple.” (6:1b). Now we have to assume this was a vision because we are not told he was lifted up into heaven, but nevertheless it is very clear. We don’t need to go through the details of the vision here except to note that the emphasis that comes through the vision is God’s holiness.

Now the concept of ‘holy’ or ‘holiness’ is unique to God. It has no meaning outside of God. God, the Bible tells us, IS holy. In respect of Him it suggests being utterly different, perfect, entirely without flaw in any way. When it is used in respect of a person or thing, it means given over to or dedicated to God so that it may take on His characteristic of perfection.

It is this idea of holiness that produces in Isaiah such a strong response: “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.” (6:5). Something about the presence of the Lord, conveyed to Isaiah the Lord’s perfection and his own absence of perfection or, to put it another way, his uncleanness. Now this is a similar reaction to that which we find in Simon Peter when he realises something about Jesus in his boat (Lk 5), a sense of unworthiness to be in the presence of this One.

Now I don’t know if you ever watch adventure or sci-fi films but every now and then the hero finds himself (and it tends to be a man) before some great being, and the thing that is always conveyed is a sense of fear of what this great being might do to the hero. They have it in their power to, at the very least, kill the hero. That is quite a different experience from what we have here. Isaiah is filled with a sense of his own doom, certainly, but it is because of his own inadequacy, his own failures, his own sin – especially in the light of the perfection of the One before him. This guilt is what so many of us struggle with and, despite the protestations of atheists who don’t like this talk, it is the biggest problem that we wrestle with, as so many therapists or counsellors will testify.

So here is Isaiah with a problem. He is a sinner in the presence of a holy and perfect God and he realises that he is guilty of having said wrong things (his lips) which reveal what he is like on the inside. He is guilty. There is no question about it; justice demands his punishment, he feels. It is an instinctive response within him. He is doomed! But what do we find? “Then one of the seraphs flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.” (6:6,7). One of the angelic beings, who do the bidding of God, does something so that his guilt is taken away. Note that Isaiah didn’t do anything. It was done for him.

Now fire in the Old Testament has a double meaning. It is first the wrath of God that destroys sin but, second, it is also the work of God burning up and dealing with sin so that the sinner is freed. Thus we have in this vision a burning coal taken from the altar that was there, which is clearly a place of meeting with God where sin is dealt with. Thus the coal from this altar is taken to Isaiah and he is cleansed. An altar in the Old Testament is a place of sacrifice where a life is given up, a substitute for the sinner, and his or her sin is visually and graphically destroyed before their eyes. Thus Isaiah’s guilt is dealt with and he is freed from this feeling, so that now he can stand before God guiltless and is now available to be used by God to go and speak to His people, which is what follows.

Now of course in the Old Testament, there was no more explanation given than we have mentioned above, but the picture was very clear. Part of God’s design-rules (the Law) told the sinner who felt guilty how to deal with their sin. Take an offering and sacrifice it at the Tabernacle or Temple, as a substitute for their own life, and God would see it as a sign of their repentance and He would grant them forgiveness. It is only when we come to the New Testament that we see the eternal sacrifice offered for every person who wants to avail themselves of it, Jesus Christ the Son of God. He stood in as our substitute when he died on the Cross at Calvary. Only an eternal being could do that for the sin of every person who has existed and will existed, who want to avail themselves of this method of being freed from sin.

What do we have here in both Old and New Testaments? A picture of a loving God who realises, having given man free will and knowing man would exercise that free will wrongly, that man would be helpless to deal with his own guilt and for the sake of eternal justice, that guilt could only be taken by God Himself in the form of His Son. Thus we have possibly the most famous verse in the Bible: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (Jn 3:16) What we have here, is the God of love who is more concerned to reconcile sinners to Himself than He is to judge or destroy them. As He said through Ezekiel, “I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent and live!” (Ezek 18:32. THIS is the God of both the Old and New Testaments, a God who reaches out to remove our guilt and reconcile us to Himself, a God who seeks to draw us into relationship with Himself so that we can be re-established in His blessings to enjoy the life and the world He has provided for us to enjoy! Hallelujah!

11. A Righteous God

MEDITATIONS IN ISAIAH – No.11

Isa 5:16 But the LORD Almighty will be exalted by his justice, and the holy God will show himself holy by his righteousness

If you want to be blessed and encouraged, there are certain areas of the Bible that do that very obviously. This is not one of them. Within parts of the Bible there is scripture that needs very carefully looking at. In these first five chapters of Isaiah we find words that are largely of condemnation. We don’t like being told off; we don’t like having our faults exposed, and so it is possible that we might have negative responses to these chapters for that reason – though we may not like to acknowledge that. In these meditations so far we have sought to face the uncomfortable truth, that here we find Jerusalem and Judah exposed and God’s warnings of what will happen if they do not change. It is not pleasant or comfortable reading. Yet, all Scripture is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.” (2 Tim 3:16).

Before we look at the detail of where we have got to, let’s ask what, in general, these chapters tell us. Well, I believe they scream loudly to us that God has standards, design-rules I have called them, that reflect the way He has designed us to work best. He made those design-rules known to Israel through Moses and they accepted them. Unfortunately they failed to keep them but their failure was more that they failed to be faithful to God, and then failure to keep the rules followed. Godlessness always comes before unrighteousness. Now part of the equation was that God wanted Israel to be a light to the rest of the world, to reveal Him to the rest of the world, and reveal His desire to draw people back from sin (godlessness and unrighteousness) and re-establish them in a relationship with Him, out of which they could order their lives according to His design rules and receive His blessing.

When Israel turned from Him, this meant that, being known as God’s people, they would now be conveying a very confused and distorted picture of the Lord, and therefore the Lord had to draw them back to Himself and His ways for them, that the rest of the world might receive a true picture of Him. For those reasons the Lord acts against Israel in such a way as designed to remove the wrong elements and at the same time preserve the right elements, while at the same time giving more people opportunity to turn from the wrong to the right. That is what these chapters are all about!

Thus in the ‘song’ that Isaiah wrote, we find a picture of the Lord removing the security from the nation (5:5) and leaving it barren (5:6) and just in case they were slow in understanding he clearly identifies the vineyard as God’s people (5:7).

From verse 8 to verse 23 we find a series of ‘woes’. These are expressions of distress about Judah’s state and what will happen to them. They are materialistic (v.8), carousers forgetting the Lord (v.11,12), who rejoice in sin, deceit and wickedness and decry the law of the Lord (v.18,19), who distort and reverse the truth (v.20), who think they are smart (v.21), who are big drinkers (v.22), and who distort justice (v.23). Tragically they are exactly the same as seen in so much Western society today. These do not portray the Lord’s people as He has designed them to be, and so he will take action against them.

We see that He will bring down their fine houses which they use to boost their image and their ego (v.9), bring down their crops, which is their source of wealth (v.10), allow an enemy to come in and wreak havoc (v.13,14,26-30) so that their pride will be humbled (v.15). If this is the only way that He can bring this people to their senses, He will do it for the sake of the rest of the world. That is what our reading of wider Scripture tells us is behind this.

Now when our home or car has been broken into, we demand that the police do something about it. We want them to catch the offender and punish him. That is justice and we expect it, yet when many of us read of the Lord dealing with Judah, we suddenly take on different standards. How terrible this is, the hypocrites say. Excuse me? Surely what we have been considering and reading about is simply justice. Yes, these people have “rejected the law of the LORD Almighty and spurned the word of the Holy One of Israel.” (v.24) and although some of us aren’t bothered by that, we would be bothered by the outworking of that as far as it concerns human rights abuses: “he looked for justice, but saw bloodshed; for righteousness, but heard cries of distress.” (v.7) and those “who acquit the guilty for a bribe, but deny justice to the innocent.” (v.23). THAT is how they spurned God’s design rules, and any civilized person should agree that that outcome was bad – criminal in fact!

Justice demands that this people be dealt with. God is dealing with them. At the end of it all of these injustices are removed, all these human rights abuses are ended. At the end of it, there is peace and right living in the land. It has been purged of the evil, the wickedness and the deceit for which it had been known previously. When that happens the world may look on and wonder and realise that THIS God is different from any idol they have worshipped. This God is the One who designed the world, and passed on to His people the rules for living that conformed to that design, and He even enforced it, so that goodness and peace should return to it. It is only the foolish or the petty who quibble against this outcome and if you don’t like it, one might ask, have you got a better way that would produce that good outcome from this messy state?


(Because these particular meditations are rather on the heavy or serious side, we will pause up for a week or so and come back to them after we’ve had a ‘New Testament break’.)