Snapshots: Day 77

Snapshots: Day 77

The Snapshot: “I will wipe them out” (Ex 23:23) How we fail so often to read our Bible completely. We grab a few words and complain without understanding. Here we have the source of so many complaints in God’s intent for Canaan – but read it in its entirety, read on to verse 30. See: the word ‘drive’ that follows. God will drive the enemy out – but not completely. “wipe out” = totally remove current existence. How? By driving them out. It will be their choice. Leave and survive. Stay and fight Israel and risk death. You will find the idea of ‘driving them out’ well over thirty times in the records. This is not genocide as so many foolish people say. This is God who says, “This is my land for my people, take your terrible and horrible pagan practices away – and stop them!”  Be understanding.

Further Consideration: How often we find the critics rolling out this complaint about a God who commands genocide. How such critics reveal both their own poverty of spirit and poverty of knowledge!  Check the facts and then speak. Note the options again.

Option 1: Leave and survive. This actually was the most sensible choice and perhaps a few took it. The records show that the fear of the Lord went ahead of Israel, the reputation of Israel’s early conquests in the south as they approached the land from the south and the east. These were a victorious people. It’s time to leave! Clearly the word went out ahead of them, followed by fear. Most people forget this.

Option 2: Stay and fight.  It says something about what holds you when a Tsunami bears down on you. You have to be pretty stupid to stay – but then that is the effect of the occult which bound this land, occult fueled by godless, merciless sacrifices of children and many other occult practices. The demonic always seeks to extend Satan’s desire to destroy mankind.

Option 3: Join Israel.  Again most people forget that Rahab and the Gibeonites were examples of those who responded wisely to the fear of God and aligned themselves with Israel and became part of them, part of the people of God.

So, ‘wipe them out’ actually means remove entirely this old life dominated by the world, by Satan and by Sin. It will be achieved initially by seeking to ‘drive out’ these things but where they refuse to capitulate, they will be put to death.  Failure to put them to death will mean they will remain as pockets of resistance that will cause ongoing problems, things which God will in fact make use of to discipline us. There is so much here, so many truths to be understood, so much that unfortunately we so often allow the enemy to cover with a smokescreen of self-righteous indignation built on our poverty of spirit and poverty of knowledge. Let’s resist, learn and be changed.

(As we consider these in blocks of ten, tomorrow we will move on to a new series on Parables)

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Snapshots: Day 65

Snapshots: Day 65

The Snapshot: “In the desert the whole community grumbled.” (Ex 16:2) A desert, a place of dryness, brings out the worst in us. How do we overcome that? Remember three things. First, the glory that got you here, the goodness of God that saved you out of ‘Egypt’ (the world). Second, the duration of this desert experience; it is supposed to be temporary. Don’t accept it as a permanent experience; expect and seek for better. Third, remember the goal, there is a better day ahead, a ‘Promised Land’, in the days to come here on earth and in the promised eternity that is our inheritance. Don’t let the enemy have cause to rejoice when he witnesses the children of God acting as less than those children. Bonus: fourth, remember who you are!

Further Consideration: Let’s consider in some more detail the three ways of overcoming the negative feelings that can arrive when we are going through a ‘desert experience’. But’s let’s be honest first of all and acknowledge that such an experience is normal. The teaching that the various experiences of Israel also act as ‘types’ of the experiences of believers, has us now in the Promised Land, a place where we inherit the goodness of the Lord and have to battle to remove the old inhabitants who still have a habit of rising up (e.g. anger?) Yet the truth is that even in the Promised Land Israel went through times of drought that made for desert-like conditions. Each of us will experience all of these things and, as we said above, they tend to bring out the worst in us – which is why the Lord allows them, so the work of sanctification can continue, a joint activity between Him and us.

So, first, remember where you came from, the facts of your new birth. That reminds us we are supernatural works of God and He is the One who now has plans and purposes for the long-term of our lives.

Second, this is a temporary experience and although it seems temporarily dry and barren, the Lord has not left you (declare the truth of Heb 13:5) and His grace is still available in this time of difficulty.

Third, the outworking of this time is a new day where we have learnt afresh the Lord’s grace and goodness and have come through into a place where light and love flow again.

But perhaps we should add a fourth thing: see this time of dryness as a testing time, a trial, an exam to be passed. Perhaps we have brought it on ourselves but it is still a time to learn lessons. The Lord has certainly allowed it; it is still a time to learn lessons. In other words, and you may consider this a fifth thing, we should view such a time positively. “Consider it pure joy… whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces…” (Jas 1:2) James adds perseverance but there may be many more benefits.

Snapshots: Day 63

Snapshots: Day 63

The Snapshot: “Do not be afraid. Stand firm.” (Ex 14:13) Israel are in a mess. The sea is before them and an angry and vengeful Pharaoh is coming behind them – and it’s all God’s fault! And Moses says, “Do not be afraid”? You’ve got to be joking! This is a scary situation. Just like being in a small boat on a capricious lake in a vicious storm, when God seems asleep (Lk 8:23). Why do we have crisis moments like this?   Why is it that sometimes the guidance of God appears to be going pear-shaped? Just so that we can learn that He is still with us, is still in control, is still working out His purposes which will succeed. Father wants His kids to learn to trust Him for all these things, but it is a process, often a slow process. Grumble or grow, are the two choices. Choose well.

Further Consideration: I feel almost in despair at times over the Christian world. A member of the church rings me up to ask me to pray for members of their family who are in a mess. Not wanting to be discouraging I say I will pray but deep down I know the only meaningful prayer for these people who have been living godless and unrighteous lives is, “Lord, please save them.” Then and then only will they start putting their lives straight and peace, order and blessing will start to flow. Until then, we may ask God to bless them – and He might well do that – but all that means is He will stick on a plaster and they will carry on living godless and unrighteous lives and getting in a mess.

This is very different from the mess that Israel are in at the present point of our meandering through the Scriptures. They have just received an amazing deliverance and are on their way out of Egypt but the cause of their past slavery threatens them yet again. In fact the present threat is worse than they knew before because Pharaoh is now determined to kill them. I say it is different and yet in both cases the past needs putting to death.

The New Testament is quite clear: when we turn to Christ we are to die to the old life, described by the apostle Paul as, “gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts,” (Eph 2:3) and in Rom 6 he uses the language of death and resurrection to describe what has happened to us. In Israel’s case Pharaoh is about to be put to death, that is the only way to completely free Israel from their past in Egypt. When Paul says, “count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus,” (Rom 6:11) he means, consider yourself dead to that old life – of godlessness and unrighteousness – but now tuned in to living with God. There can be no half and half. Be transformed, live it, experience it and stand firm in it for it is what Christ has earned for you on the Cross. Hallelujah!

Snapshots: Day 50

Snapshots: Day 50

The Snapshot: “I will bring you to the land…”  (Ex 6:8) When God says He will do things we so often jump to the conclusion that He means now, this minute, but His reiteration to Moses that He will take His people into the Promised Land first came to Abram, then Isaac and then Jacob. It first came over four hundred years back! He had warned Abram that it would take that time. Our problem is that we only read parts of scripture and rarely get the big picture which means we jump to wrong conclusions – God is not here, He’s changed His mind, He doesn’t love me anymore, He’s given up on me. All lies from the enemy. He is using the time to change you in the circumstances, so look again and rejoice.

Further Consideration: From the moment the Lord called Abram and the die was set for establishing a relationship with this family and then later with this nation, ‘the land’ was always a feature of His promises to the Patriarchs: “Go from your country….to the land I will show you,” (Gen 12:1) and then, “To your offspring I will give this land,.” (Gen 12:7) then, “All the land that you see I will give to you and your offspring forever…. walk through the length and breadth of the land, for I am giving it to you,” (Gen 13:15,17) and, “He also said to him, “I am the Lord, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it,” (Gen 15:7) then, “your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own and that they will be enslaved and mistreated there…. In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here,” (Gen 15:13,16) etc. until eventually, to Moses, “I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey—the home of the Canaanites.” (Ex 3:8)

‘The land’ was to be the place, the environment, in which the Lord would have dealings with Israel, revealing Himself to the world through them until eventually it would be the ‘God-zone’, prepared over the centuries, into which His Son would come and be revealed and become the Redeemer of the world.

Did the enemy realise the significance of all this? Probably not, and yet the fact that God was declaring this was His will for the Hebrews made the enemy stir up against them through Pharaoh. The battle isn’t merely to deliver them out of Egypt, as wonderful as that was, but was to deliver them into the new land, the land He has decreed will be theirs forever. Yet, as He warned, it would be ‘future generations’ who would receive it – the present generation. The time has arrived. It’s time to get them out to get them in, and however much Pharaoh might object, it WILL happen! Two lands, one to be left, one to be taken.

Snapshots: Day 48

Snapshots: Day 48

The Snapshot: “Pharaoh said, “Who is the Lord, that I should obey him and let Israel go?” (Ex 5:2) A hard heart is revealed by a “Why should I?” attitude. Why should I worship God? Why should I pray? Why should I read the Bible? Why should I go to church? Why should I do what I don’t want to do? Why should I obey him? Hard hearts refuse to listen to others. Hard hearts refuse to receive wise counsel. Hard hearts refuse to say sorry. Hard hearts continue to make excuses. A hard heart is simply any heart that has settled into a self-centred mode and refuses to change. Of course, all the refusals – pray, read, obey etc. – are irrelevant. It is the heart condition that is the critical issue. And it is critical because hardness turns into inactivity which becomes death.

Further Consideration: In the previous snapshot we sought to demonstrate how hard-heartedness, this resistance to outside pressure, can so easily mean we are operating against what can only be called common sense. It is that because any outsider looking in would see how foolish it was to pursue this course, a course that was doomed to failure and even likely to cause our demise.

But we see this same attitude in so many people around us who say, “Who is God, what is this religion, that should tell me what to do? Why should I obey the things your preachers say, who are you to say you are right and I am wrong?”

Increasingly I have to say, look at the way life, in the godless Western world, is working out. As they say, ‘the proof of the pudding is in the eating’, i.e. ‘the final results are the only way to judge something’s quality or veracity’, to quote an internet definition. The Bible puts it more simply:A man reaps what he sows.” (Gal 6:7)

But the hardness of people’s hearts means they plough on through life living foolishly, suffering all the repercussions that are being seen to follow. Obesity is almost an epidemic because of lack of self-control in eating, alcoholism or a whole range of antisocial behaviour is seen following intemperate use of alcohol, failing relationships, growth of STDs, unwanted pregnancies, guilt-laden abortions, etc. etc. are the clearly visible fruit of hardhearted refusal to listen to God.

But why is it? The apostle Paul wrote, “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” (2 Cor 4:4) How does he do that? Using what John called, “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life,” (1 Jn 2:16) or, “the world’s ways… the world’s goods… squeezing out love for the Father.” (Msg) These are the things that fuel a hard heart.

5. The Big Picture

Studies in Isaiah 54: 5. The Big Picture

Isa 54:6 “The Lord will call you back as if you were a wife deserted and distressed in spirit— a wife who married young, only to be rejected,” says your God.

Two Approaches:  As we look at this verse it appears that there can be two approaches to it. There is the approach that sees it in the context of the history of Israel and then the approach that sees it in the context of the history of the world. Put most simply we have a picture that portrays a wife who has been rejected, deserted and distressed, which can be either Israel or the world (and we will look at both) whom the Lord calls back to Himself. What follows in the ongoing verses is simply an expansion of that.

Israel, the wife: This has to be the primary meaning within a prophecy that comes from a Hebrew prophet to Israel in their time-space history. We must note the words in verse 6, “as if you were”. It is a picture, an analogy, to describe what they are like. The implication is that the Lord is like their husband. He had called them – through Abram and then later through Moses – to become a uniquely identifiable people with a uniquely distinct relationship with Him, a relationship likened to that of a husband and wife.

When? Now there is always a problem with prophecy: it may be spoken out of time, about a future time, a future time that is not yet identifiable, and it may be fulfilled more than once! So the Lord speaks of a time when He had apparently given them up: “For a brief moment I abandoned you,” (v.7a) and, “In a surge of anger I hid my face from you for a moment.” (v.8a) Now in Isa 36 we have an historical insert: “In the fourteenth year of King Hezekiah’s reign, Sennacherib king of Assyria attacked all the fortified cities of Judah and captured them. Then the king of Assyria sent his field commander with a large army from Lachish to King Hezekiah at Jerusalem.”  (Isa 36:1,2)

It was one of those numerous times when the Lord would discipline Israel – to bring them back to Himself – by using an enemy invader. The reality is that it happened so many times – the book of Judges is full of it – that it is difficult to suggest from our perspective when the Lord was referring to. The fact that Isaiah refers to Cyrus, who later becomes an instrument in the Lord’s hand for getting Israel back to the Land after the Exile, suggests it could be that this prophecy is yet to be also used for encouraging Israel in that later time as well as in the present when Isaiah is actually speaking out these words.

A Changed People:  The point of this word – in the present at least – is to reassure Israel that they were not utterly cast away. Now the truth is that the Lord does not just shrug his shoulders and pretend that sin has not happened; He always deals with it. The Exile, possibly many years later, was a time of purging Israel of their idolatry and of creating a new faithful heart in them. Thus when the remnant eventually started returning after some forty years, they came back with changed hearts. We need to realize this, that when the Lord speaks of restoring Israel after a time of disciplining, it is a purged people He will be restoring, a changed people.

He’s not going to just turn the clock back so that the old sinful attitudes are still there and He is doing nothing about it, He is going to change them. Previously, if He appeared to be doing nothing, it was simply that He was staying His hand of judgment to give them time to repent, and if they did not, then the judgment came to discipline them: 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)

So when we try to understand the ways of the Lord, we should always understand that even though discipline comes, it comes with the purpose of changing us and the end result is to be a restored and changed people, a people who have been cleansed by the judgment (discipline) and had their hearts changed and transformed. Perhaps we should also note the tense at the beginning of verse 6: “The Lord will call you back…” There is a future sense to this. It is the Lord declaring His intention of what is yet to come, but that is how it is so often with prophecy; it is not merely stating God’s will for the moment, it also so often declares it for the future.

The World:  But the second approach we said above is about the world. The big picture of salvation after the Fall is perhaps portrayed here. This is the big picture of God’s plans and purposes for the whole world. At the Fall we were cast away. His relationship with mankind – Adam and Eve – was fractured by sin. When I first studied this judgment of being cast out of the Garden, I marveled that this was not the end of the ‘God + Mankind’ equation. God did not totally abandon us, He gave us what we wanted, what Adam and Eve had revealed, autonomy, the freedom to live our lives as we will – with all the repercussions!  We would learn, we had a need, of someone to save us from the mess that we all make of life.  And thus it was that it was like He hovered in the background. It was clear that He spoke with Cain and Abel, had dealings with various others in the ensuing years, and eventually called Abram into relationship with Him.

The Anger of the Lord: The words of these verses that we are considering could equally be applied to the Fall and what followed it: “The Lord will call you back as if you were a wife deserted and distressed in spirit— a wife who married young, only to be rejected,” says your God.” (v.6) They had a relationship with the Lord to start with, but their sin meant that, “For a brief moment I abandoned you, but with deep compassion I will bring you back. In a surge of anger I hid my face from you for a moment.“ (v.7,8) The folly of sin evokes righteous anger; it is a right response to wrong.

In our defensiveness we so often fail to see this, perhaps only made clear when one of our children do wrong and provoke anger within us.  Anger is a rising of indignation, a rising of displeasure at what has happened. The thing should not have happened, it was pure folly for it to happen – and of course that is true of all sin, we should know better, but there seems to be this blindness that is part of sin, so that we don’t see the folly and so proceed with the sin. It is stupid and so any onlooker with an unbiased mind would feel a sense of anger that it ever happened. If we could see clearly we would feel it; God does see clearly and so feels it.

The Compassion of the Lord:  “I will have compassion on you,” says the Lord your Redeemer.” We may settle in anger and fume; God never does. It may be right to respond with anger at our folly but God never leaves it there. He looks upon us and anger is tempered by compassion. He is love (1 Jn 4:8,16, Ex 34:6,7) and love always looks for the best in everyone else. Anger is appropriate but it is overwhelmed by compassion and out of that God acts to redeem us.

There is a mystery here that C.S.Lewis sought to address, that God appears to stand outside of history, like He looks down on history, as seen as a road below that He can see from beginning to end, but also He steps into history and acts as if everything is new. So although the Scriptures are clear that the Godhead planned salvation, seeing the effect of free-will, even before they made anything, when the Fall took place God’s response to the moment was anger followed by compassion, and it was that compassion that moves Him to continue to interact with mankind. Never say God doesn’t care for us, He does. He may discipline us, “for a little while” (Heb 12:10) but it is that Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace.”  (Heb 12:11).

Thus in these verses we also have the wonder of our salvation. Whenever we fail the Lord and come under His discipline, always remember it is but for a moment and the compassion of God will be there to restore us to Him: “I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (1 Jn 2:1) God’s constant intent is to redeem us and that is what the whole of the Bible is all about. See it and rejoice in it.  Hallelujah!

2. Barren Women

Studies in Isaiah 54: 2. Barren Women

Isa 54:1 “Sing, barren woman, you who never bore a child; burst into song, shout for joy, you who were never in labor; because more are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband,” says the Lord.”

Ohhhhhh!: How easy it is to pass over words of Scripture and not let them impact you. The analogy here, of Israel (or perhaps Jerusalem), is one of a disheartened, broken woman. Few of us can understand the heartache of being childless, of the yearning to have that sense of fulfillment as a child-bearing woman but who has never yet conceived. But the Bible seems full of such women, key women in the plans and purposes of God, and so perhaps we need to note them to take in the awfulness of the picture that Isaiah now presents to us.

The Women of Anguish: The first of these is Sarai: “Now Sarai was childless because she was not able to conceive.” (Gen 11:30) When she seems unable to conceive, despite the number of times the Lord had promised a family that would grow into a multitude, she gave her servant girl to Abram, who promptly conceives; it is obvious the problem lies with her and not with Abram. (Gen 16:3,4) When God turned up and reiterated the promise that Sarah (as she now was) would conceive, she laughed, but it was laughter of unbelief, of derision, and the Lord pulled her up on it (Gen 18:10-15). When she does eventually conceive she laughs again but now it is of joy (Gen 21:6)

It almost seemed to run in the family. Isaac, Abraham’s promised son, marries Rebekah but she too remains childless for twenty years (Gen 25:21). We aren’t told what Rebekah felt but in the next generation the same thing happens to Jacob’s favourite wife, Rachel: “When Rachel saw that she was not bearing Jacob any children, she became jealous of her sister. So she said to Jacob, “Give me children, or I’ll die!”  (Gen 30:1) Perhaps this is seen most clearly in Hannah who became the mother of Samuel the judge-cum-first prophet: “In her deep anguish Hannah prayed to the Lord, weeping bitterly. And she made a vow, saying, “Lord Almighty, if you will only look on your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son.” (1 Sam 1:10,11)

Assessment: Children in the Hebrew culture (and in many others) were seen as a sign of God’s blessing: “Children are a heritage from the Lord, offspring a reward from him. Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are children born in one’s youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them.” (Psa 127:3-5) Thus the absence of children would have acted as a question mark over the spirituality of the wife if not the couple. The declaration of this barrenness that hung prophetically over Israel, as now declared by Isaiah, says six things: First it proclaims that bearing offspring was considered what was natural, what the Lord intended. Second, the absence of offspring was something to anguish over. Third, there must have been a reason for it.  Fourth, transformation was seen as only possible by the blessing of God, and that comes again later in Isa 66:7-11. Fifth, there is given an interesting comparison with others who are not barren but not blessed, which we will see shortly and, sixth, the end of their barrenness is expanded to reveal a much wider blessing on them.

Hannah’s Blessing:  When Hannah conceived, prayed and sang, she declared, “She who was barren has borne seven children, but she who has had many sons pines away.” (1 Sam 2:5) Whether she waited until years later to pray and sing, or whether she was declaring her anticipation of what would come, is unclear, but what is clear is the extent of her blessing, seven children, joy, and a sense of being loved (implied by the way her adversary now pined away). The releasing from barrenness in the present passage is similarly indicated in the same way that Hannah had prayed: “because more are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband,” says the Lord.”  (Isa 54:1)

Now Get Ready to Expand: She, Israel, now has (or is about to have) more children than other nations (whose husbands were idols, we might suggest), and is thus told to get ready to expand. (v. 1-3) Expansion in abundance and enlargement is what is coming. Previously, “you were ruined and made desolate and your land laid waste,” (49:19a) but now the land, with the Lord’s blessing, “will be too small for your people, and those who devoured you will be far away.” (Isa 49:19)

Forgetting the Past: As He now says in the present prophecy, You will forget the shame of your youth.”  (54:4) The history of Israel, right from the start of the Exodus, was never glorious, filled with grumblings and disobedience and as the years unfolded in the Land, in the period of the Judges, it never improved.  But the good news is that although the Lord requires us to confront the present, He does not hold the failures of the past over us; He is more concerned that we repent (Ezek 18:23,32, 2 Pet 3:9). Now the past will be forgotten in the light of the present blessings and, as we saw yesterday, those blessings can come to us because of the work of Christ on the Cross.

New Application: Under the New Covenant the apostle Paul took this present passage and applied it to the present reality.  (See Gal 4:24-27) So, Sarah was the barren woman who, though technically was Abraham’s wife, never had been previously able to fulfil the full outworking of marriage – bear children – and was replaced by Hagar. Yet we know that the desolate woman, Sarah, was enabled by God to bear Isaac, the child of promise. Paul applies all this to the Law and to slavery because although Hagar (representing the Law) had children naturally with Abraham, she was still a slave.

As the message version puts those first verses: “The two births represent two ways of being in relationship with God. One is ….a slave life, producing slaves as offspring. This is the way of Hagar. In contrast to that, there is an invisible Jerusalem, a free Jerusalem, and she is our mother—this is the way of Sarah.”  Through new birth, from heaven, from the city of God in heaven, the ‘invisible Jerusalem’, which acts as our mother, we are children of promise born to be free. The ‘mother’ of the old covenant was the Law but all those who sought to follow it found themselves slaves to failure and guilt. Born from above, we are now free, children born by the Spirit, empowered by the Spirit, who will one day return to our home – heaven. Hallelujah!