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.

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6. Pondering on God’s Love

Meditating on the Gems of the Bible:  6. Pondering on God’s Love

Psa 48:9   Within your temple, O God, we meditate on your unfailing love.

I have spent quite a lot of the recent years pondering on God’s love and so perhaps I should not be surprised at finding myself anchored by the above verse. I am going to overcome the temptation to simply repeat again my many writings of the last few years about the meaning of love and key places it is found in the Bible.  Suffice it to say I am convinced that “God is love” and all else follows.  The other day I wondered how one might summarise the whole Bible in a single tweet with its limited number of characters. I came up with one offering: “God has come to us to give us better lives than we have at present,” and I realise that behind that over-brief summary of the Gospel is the love of God. The reason He has come down to earth in human form is because He loves us. The reason Jesus died on the Cross is that His love knew this was the only way to deal with our guilt problem and that had to be dealt with first if He was going to be able to come to us and lead us into new and better lives, which His love wanted for us.

But the psalmist found that when he went into the Temple and was confronted with the Lord’s presence or, at the very least, reminders of God, he found himself thinking back to all he knew of the Lord, and that all came through Israel’s history which had been passed down initially by word of mouth and then in written documentary records. And then, as he pondered on what he knew of God’s dealings with Israel throughout their history with Him, he was aware that that history revealed the loving nature of God. Yes, God had disciplined them and chastised them sometimes, but overall it was more a record of the good things God had done for Israel. Again and again when you read the records of the Old Testament you find God’s love or goodness is revealed through His actions and the psalmists and others realised that love through what He had done.

So he comes into the Temple and when he is not overwhelmed by the building (as Jesus disciples were – Matt 24:1), he simply reflects on the One before whom he stands and all this knowledge passes before him (how else would he have known about the Lord). He meditates on God’s love; he ponders on it perhaps marvelling at how wonderful it was, perhaps questioning why it was. We do this sort of thing when we meditate. We think on what we know and we chew it over in our minds and think about what we know and what we can conclude from what we know. We question and wonder and seek answers for our questions. There is no way of verifying this wondering, but I wonder how many Christians regularly (or even occasionally) sit before the Lord and meditate on His love, pondering over the wonder of it, chewing it over until it permeates their very being as the Holy Spirit within them brings them greater understanding and revelation.

But, says the psalmist, I ponder on God’s ‘unfailing’ love. He is so convinced about this love that he is sure that it will always be there for him. It will never run out or be held back from him while he seeks the Lord. (We lose our sense of being loved by God when we turn away from him and turn to our own ways – it is still there but we just don’t feel it. Perhaps this is what the apostle Paul had in his mind when he wrote that amazing passage about God’s love: Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?….. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom 8:35,38,39)

For the psalmist the place of this meditation was the stone temple in Jerusalem. It is just possible that it referred to the tabernacle than came before the stone temple built by Solomon because that was previously referred to as the Lord’s temple (see 1 Sam 1:9, 3:3) but it is more likely to refer to the stone building. Today there is no such building. Solomon’s temple was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar in the destruction of Jerusalem prior to the Exile and the temple that followed the Exile was enlarged by Herod but destroyed by the Romans in AD70, and has never been rebuilt.

But in the New Testament teaching, our bodies are referred to as the temple of the Holy Spirit who now indwells us (see 1 Cor 3:16,17, 6:19, 2 Cor 6:16, Eph 2:21). Thus we do not have to go to a specific building to be reminded of the Lord. We have His word (the Bible) and we have Him with us every minute of every day. Persecuted Christians in prison for their faith have been sustained by the word of God that they have memorized before imprisonment, and by the Holy Spirit’s presence reminding them, teaching them and even bringing further revelation for them within the cell. Truly, as Paul said, today nothing can separate us from God’s love. Wherever we are, He is there and as we meditate on Him so He feeds us and we are strengthened and encouraged. Hallelujah!   We will never run out of reflections as we ponder on this wonder – the love of God that has come for us and is with us and will always be with us.

1.2 God’s Loving Goodness

Meditating on the Judgements of God:  

1.2  God’s Loving Goodness

1 Chron 16:34     Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever.

In the first meditation we said, by way of laying a foundation to consider the judgments of God, that it is imperative that we consider first the character of God if we are to have any hope of understanding His judgments. In fact, I suspect that for many of us this will mean completely rethinking what we think about God because I have not seen these things written about much in the Christian press (and they certainly aren’t out there in the secular press!)

We started by noting that the apostle John declared that “God IS love” (1 Jn 4:8,16). Note in passing that this isn’t the same as saying love is God, but it does describe God’s nature. We didn’t say this in the previous meditation but it must mean that everything that God thinks, says or does is an expression of love. It has to be!  This means, therefore, that whatever we find God doing in the Old and New Testament has to be viewed through new glasses, so to speak, seeing that whatever He does is an act of love. Yes, this is really going to be a dramatic exercise that turns our thinking upside-down!  Please, we really must take this in and therefore we must repeat it: IF the apostle John was truly inspired to write what he did – and it complied with a teaching right the way through the Old Testament (even though we only looked at some starter verses in the previous study) – then everything about God is love and whenever He expresses Himself, by thought, word or deed, it is an expression of love.

Now I have written it in numerous other places but to build a complete picture here in this series, I need to bring this out yet again. What does love mean? What do we mean when we say God is love? Now love, according to a dictionary, might be described as  warm affection, attachment, liking, benevolence or strong benign feelings for us, and in God it shows “selfless, sacrificial, unrestricted good will towards us. Note that latter part – unrestricted good will towards us. God is for us (Rom 8:31) and wants good for us, all the time. In fact He is working in our circumstances all the time to bring good out of them (Rom 8:28)

We need to anchor that word ‘good’. A dictionary defines ‘good’ as “having suitable or desirable qualities; promoting health, welfare or happiness; benevolent, not troublesome” and goes on to give reams more uses of ‘good.’ ‘Good’ signifies in our thinking something that is pleasant, something positive that we are happy with. Moses declared of God, “He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he” (Deut 32:4) and all of that description could be summed up in, “He is good!”  This was Moses’ declaration. Everything that God thinks, says and does IS good. Moses knew God more intimately than any other man in the Bible apart from Jesus. He is good for a character reference.

David reminded himself of this truth when he needed lifting up: “according to your love remember me, for you are good, O LORD,”  (Psa 25:7) and “Taste and see that the LORD is good,”   (Psa 34:8) and “You are forgiving and good, O Lord, abounding in love to all who call to you,”  (Psa 86:5) and “You are good, and what you do is good,” (Psa 119:68) and  “Praise the LORD, for the LORD is good”  (Psa 135:3) David was described as a man after God’s own heart; he also is good for a character reference.  This testimony of God’s goodness is repeated again and again and again by a whole variety of people in the Old Testament.

Now our starting verse above – “Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever,” – links love and goodness. Goodness is an expression of love. In the many verses in the Old Testament that refer to God’s goodness, they always come out of a testimony about what God HAS DONE. We know He is good because of what He has done. If He wasn’t good He would not have done these things or, if you like, He wouldn’t have done these things if He wasn’t good.

We are starting to stack up a pile of data in respect of God which needs to be taken into account WHENEVER AND WHEREVER we observe God revealed in the Old Testament. So He’s a God of love and so everything but everything that He thinks, says or does is an expression of warm affection, attachment, liking, benevolence or strong benign feelings for us and “selfless, sacrificial, unrestricted good will towards us. He is also a good God and so whatever He thinks, says or does is “having suitable or desirable qualities; promoting health, welfare or happiness; benevolent, not troublesome”. Not troublesome???? In respect of destructive judgments?  We are going to have to do some serious thinking, but that is where this is going to have to lead us.  If these testimonies are correct, without distorting the English language, then somehow we are going to have to see that every act of God that brings death or destruction comes with selfless, sacrificial, unrestricted good will toward us and will be done to promote health, welfare and happiness!

Ready to do some serious thinking? Well there is one more description of God that we find in the Bible and if the definitions of love and goodness nearly blew you away, you won’t know what hit you with the next one. Hold on to your seat, and pray.

1.1 God’s Loving Forgiveness

Meditating on the Judgements of God: General Introduction

We start to move into a new area of consideration, possibly the most difficult area of meditation we have ever sought when writing these various series’. Yes, the heading is right; we are going to focus on God’s judgments.  Now when we put it like that it doesn’t sound as bad as if we had said simply, ‘The Judgement of God’ because so often when we speak of ‘the Judgement of God’ we have in mind the acts of death and destruction that apparently God brings about  – and He does! But when we speak about ‘God’s judgements’ I want to focus more on God’s ‘decisions’ and that is really what is more important, because every time in Scripture we witness an act of death or destruction, before that happens, something even more significant happens: God chose to do it and it is the thinking behind that decision of His that we want to look at, with His help.

Having paused at the end of Part 6 (and I will continue) I must confess that  working through the specific judgments has not always been easy and I am sure that I have not, when considering the individual judgments, examined them in the light of all the criteria you will find in this first Part. I am fairly sure that I will have to return here and revisit some of them again after further thought and prayer.

Perhaps from the outset we should ask the question that may arise in many, “Why study judgment? Isn’t it a miserable subject?”  My answers, and they have to be the reasons for this series are as follows:

  • first we need to consider the subject because death and destruction (apparently at the hand of God) DOES appear so often in the Bible and we need to understand it and,
  • second, we should not be afraid of facing up apparent contradictions, such as how a loving God can kill people and,
  • third, no it is not miserable to face and understand the grace, mercy and justice of God; it is actually freeing.

The structure of this series will be as follows:

  • Part 1 of this series will be studies that will focus on God Himself, on His nature or His character, the person behind the judgments we will go on to consider.
  • Part 2 will go on to consider aspects of judgment things, I am going to suggest, that we mostly don’t think about. There is bound to be a little overlap within these first two Parts.
  • In Part 3 we will start to work our way through specific judgments of God in the book of Genesis,
  • Part 4 will cover Exodus and Leviticus and
  • Part 5 covers the book of Numbers.
  • Part 6 will look in depth at the struggle for Canaan.

I hope eventually to continue and cover all the judgements of God in the Old Testament but time will tell if that is possible.

Crusading atheists pound at God for being a vindictive and destructive being (who they don’t believe exists!) and Christians tend to cower and hope that in some way they were wrong, while in their sub-conscious minds having this horrible feeling that perhaps God is a ‘hard man’ (Mt 25:24), and that He does do nasty things – and they don’t know why! Well, in these studies we are going to try to give some answers. To do that I may have to repeat what I have written in other studies, especially the more recent one on the Will of God.

Meditating on the Judgements of God: 1.1 God’s Loving Forgiveness

Prov 3:19,20     By wisdom the LORD laid the earth’s foundations, by understanding he set the heavens in place; by his knowledge the deeps were divided, and the clouds let drop the dew.

Our starting point has to be what we know of God or, rather, what the Bible tells us about Him. If you have never trodden this path before, I have to warn you that you are about to venture into an area that will challenge your mind and your faith like never before. We are going to look at the character of God and then the acts of judgement of God and struggle to see how the acts can possibly be the works of the One with the character we will see.

This is not a new struggle, it has gone on since the formation of the church and some early heretics answered the problem by creating two Gods, one of the Old Testament, and another of the New. But let’s be quite clear from the outset, philosophically and theologically, that doesn’t work. There is one Creator God who made all things, who brought Israel into being and who had dealings with Israel and eventually brought His Son into the world to save it and who still works to bless it. So what does the Bible tell us about God. Well I’m going to take them in the order they impressed upon me.

Well, this Creator God is all-powerful, all-wise and all-knowing, eternal and unchanging. Those are givens you will find in any basic book on theology and so we won’t take up space providing quotes for that. But then I found I was impacted by the apostle John who declared, “God is love” (1 Jn 4:8,16). Yes, he said it twice to make sure we took it in. Is that just a New Testament teaching I wondered?  No, definitely not. Listen! Moses caught something of this when he sung with Israel, In your unfailing love you will lead the people you have redeemed.” (Ex 15:13)  He saw the Exodus deliverance as an act of love, and that even before Israel had been constituted as a nation at Sinai.

It wasn’t a temporary, frail love but an “unfailing love” which suggests strong and enduring. But then later Moses has a particularly close encounter with the Lord and receives the Ten Commandments, and we find there is a ‘love element’ built into them at one point describing the Lord as, “showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.” (Ex 20:6). Now that offsets the verse before it that speak about God who is described as “punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me.” (Ex 20:5b) i.e. a God of judgment. He may punish up to four generations (and we will look at that in a later meditation) but He will bless a thousand generations.

At an even closer encounter a little later, the Lord describes Himself to Moses and we read, “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.” (Ex 34:6,7) So, yes, He is a God who deals with sins and brings judgement but the stronger emphasis is on His love. He abounds in love and He maintains His love. Somehow love and punishment sit together in this description, two aspects of the same God. In a later study we will look at why God punishes but of the moment we simply note that He does intervene in His world and bring punishment to sinners, those who are guilty and are unchanging in their Sin.

We should note that point in passing because it did just say that He forgives “wickedness, rebellion and sin.”  So how does forgiveness equate with punishment. The forgiveness is there for the repentant, the punishment is there for the unrepentant. As the Lord declared through 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
  • “Rid yourselves of all the offences you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit. Why will you die, O house 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. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, O house of Israel?” (Ezek 33;11).

THREE times there in Ezekiel the Lord makes this point. He does NOT relish death and would far rather Israel repented and were saved.  This is God who longs to forgive “wickedness, rebellion and sin.” All it needs is our repentance.

So here is our starting place. If we are going to talk about the judgements (decisions) and judgements (acts of punishment) of God, then we must first observe His character. This is vital and we will say something even more earth shattering about it in the next meditation. If you are new to this area of thought, read back through this one before continuing to the next.

May I state from this opening meditation what I am intending to do. I am suggesting we do something that is quite unusual: that we

  • see what the Bible says is the character of God and then
  • what thing LOGICALLY flow from that.

If the Bible says God is love, what LOGICALLY flows from that? What MUST flow from that if that description is accurate. Before we move into the next study, I am going to state four propositions as foundations for this book:

  1. We will see what the Bible states about the character of God
  2. We will consider what are the LOGICAL things that MUST flow from them if they are true
  3. We will examine the judgments in the light of both those things
  4. We will see that the end conclusion MAKES SENSE like nothing else does.