12B. The Older Brother

Meditating on the Parables of Luke: 12B. The Older Brother

Luke 15:25-32: “Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’  “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’ “‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”

Purpose & Context: So we have a continuation of that most famous parable about the ‘prodigal son’ but there is this addition to it that goes beyond the younger son and picks up the negative attitude of the older son of the family. Remember we noted that the starting point of these three ‘lost’ parables was, “But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” (v.2) In the three previous parables Jesus makes the point that God is concerned for the lost and there is great rejoicing in heaven when that which was lost is found. That sought to show the value God placed on reaching out to these lost ones in their society, but that still left the Pharisees and teachers of the law with a bad attitude towards all this, and it is towards that attitude that Jesus now directs this story.

Content:

  • the older son, working in the fields, comes in and sees what is going on (see previous parable).
  • this upsets him and so his father goes out to him and pleads with him to come in and join in the celebrations.
  • the older son pours out his feelings: he has always worked hard for his father, always obeying him, yet he had never received any reward, and yet when this wastrel comes back he gets this amazing reception – it is unfair!
  • the father defends what had happened: the older son always had what was the father’s and it had been as if the younger son had died but was now alive again. Wasn’t that worth celebrating?

Two Applications: There are two things to be observed here, first our attitude to ‘wastrels’ repenting and then, second, our attitudes towards our relationship with God.  I use the word ‘our’ here several times because surely the older son represents the established Christian community. Having said that we perhaps need to see a further two applications of this: first the older brother representing the Pharisees etc. and then, as I have said, how he represents us, the established Christian community. Both the former two issues apply to both of the applications.

Jesus and the Pharisees: First the attitudes towards the ‘wastrels’ as I have called them. Jesus showed concern for the tax-collectors and sinners. Later Jesus was to declare, the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Lk 19:10) Matthew records, While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’  For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Mt 9:10-13)

The other side of this particular coin is that the Pharisees clearly were not concerned about the ‘sinners’, in fact they felt hostile towards them.  I have used the word ‘wastrel’ several times to describe sinners because I believe that is often how we think of such people, they are profligate, spendthrifts, wasteful – all of which describe the younger son away from home. The Pharisees saw them as the ‘opposition’ to God’s kingdom, Jesus saw them as potential citizens of the kingdom, potential children of God.

The other aspect is that of their attitude in respect of their relationship with God. They saw themselves as ‘good people’, people who would surely be approved of by God and they were not getting any praise from Jesus for being like that. In fact he was constantly finding fault with them. Their relationship in respect of God was hard and legalistic, based on law-keeping. Love did not come into it, only duty. It was a relationship that fell far short of that which was on Gods heart.

Jesus and Us: In this day when boundaries are falling and there are early signs of society crumbling, it is easy for us who are Christians to feel very negative towards those who are around us. I keep hearing stories of young people misbehaving on the streets and ‘the flesh’ in me wants to rise up and organise vigilantes to do what the police are obviously not up to doing with their shortage of numbers. But as I do that I recognize the ‘older brother attitude’. Yes, this behaviour is wrong but why are they acting like this (dysfunctional families where love is absent) and how can we help them? The first step is to stop being defensive and where there is hostility, get the grace of God, smile and say, “How can I help?” That needs a lot more thinking about but this is not the place for that.

But how do we feel about the ‘low life’ of our towns and cities? Older brother attitude or Jesus’ attitude? And when they turn to the Lord and the Christian world celebrates and makes heroes of them (which does them no good in the long run) do we feel gritty from our righteous high ground – after all I have sought to be a righteous child of God for the last forty years! What is all the fuss about? The fuss is about one who was lost but now is found, one who was dead but is now alive. That IS worth celebrating!

12A. The Prodigal Son

Meditating on the Parables of Luke: 12A. The Prodigal Son

Luke 15:11-24: Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them. “Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything. “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ So he got up and went to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’  But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.

Comment: The Parable of the Prodigal Son is, I suspect, one of the most famous of the parables that Jesus told. It does go on to include the response of the older brother but for the sake of these studies we will consider that latter part as a separate study.

Context: This is the third of the three parables about something that was lost and all of them are in respect of the negativity that is seen in the Pharisees to Jesus meeting with tax collectors and ‘sinners’. Whereas the parable of the lost sheep and the parable of the lost coin are short and to the point, this parable is more a full-blown story, and yet it makes the same point except more strongly.

Content:

  • a man has two sons, one who wants his share of his inheritance – now.
  • so the father divides the property between the two sons and the younger took his wealth and left.
  • he spends all his tangible assets and when a famine hits the land where he now lives, he can only find a job feeding pigs.
  • eventually he realizes what a foolish state of affairs this is and determines to go home in contrition.
  • while still some way off from home his father sees him and runs to greet him.
  • the son confesses his folly but the father simply has him dressed, with a ring on his finger, and holds a feast to celebrate his return.

Simplicity:  The content is quite simple isn’t it. A young man rejects the comforts of home, wants his inheritance to spend on himself, does just this and is left in penury, comes to his senses and returns home where he is wholeheartedly welcomed by his father, without condition. The two things that stand out are the young man’s bad attitude and subsequent folly, and then the wonderful grace of his father.

Application: 1) Us: Although Jesus does not spell out the meaning of this parable, the intent is pretty obvious.  First of all, surely, the young man has to represent us, the human race in our unsaved state. We were ungracious about the world God had given us and we disdained Him and simply wanted to grab whatever we could for ourselves.  i.e. we were self-centred and godless. Now the process that follows may initially be common to all, but not all ‘come to their senses’. The truth is that before we turn back to the Father we live dysfunctional lives that are very far from what God originally designed them to be, and most people tolerate this and live like this without realizing the awfulness of it. However for those who are ‘chosen’ (seen by God before the foundation of the world to respond like this) the Holy Spirit is able to convict them of their pride and their general folly so that they come to recognize that they have sinned against God and are unworthy to be called anything great. Nevertheless, we return to the Father in contrition, in sorrow, with repentance and we come expecting nothing really, we have no rights, no ability to make demands; the folly was ours, one hundred per cent!

Application: 2) God: The Father of the story has to be God and yet for some He seems almost too good to be true. We might expect Him to chide the returning prodigals and lay have strictures on them for their future behaviour if He is to accept them back, but no, there is nothing like that. Instead He does everything He can to make us welcome, to feel part of the family again.  This is, I believe, one of the most powerful evidences of the wonderful love of God. We can read the statement, “God is love” (1 Jn 4:8,16) but it is only when we see it in action in this parable that we start to fully appreciate the wonder of it.  Read the parable again and worship the One who loves us like this

Snapshots: Day 13

Snapshots: Day 13

The Snapshot: “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid….”  Failure means guilt; guilt means fear. Fear means we run in shame to hide, or we kneel in need. Hiding and denial or honest acceptance; I need saving from me.  This is the place that would reveal my need for God’s salvation to save me from myself – if I dare face myself honestly.   God knew it would be like this, God was not surprised, and so when He banishes from the garden it is not the end but the beginning, the beginning of a self-centred life, a godless life where it is now God who hides only to come when we call. The life to come was to teach me, will I face me and be honest and call on Him, or will I still pretend and hide?  Lord, help me be honest.

Further Consideration: We finished yesterday saying the wisest course when we fail is to own up to it, but the trouble is that so often we are so unsure of the wonders of the Bible and of God, or we listen to the distorted truths of the enemy or his outright lies, that we fear retribution, we fear what He is going to do to us.

There are those preachers of the past who have majored on the awfulness of God’s wrath, completely misunderstanding it (and we’ll consider it later in the Bible) and ignoring the wonder of the truth that the apostle John declared, “God is love” (1 Jn 4:8,16), so clearly demonstrated in Jesus’ wonderful parable we refer to as ‘the Parable of the Prodigal Son’. The harsh and legalistic preacher would have the son starve to death at the pigsties, fearing to return home to the anger of the father. Instead the son clearly knows something about the father still, and risks returning home and all that might follow.

What followed? The father was out looking for the son and when he saw hm on the horizon he ran to meet him with open arms, welcomed him and reinstated him into the family and threw a celebratory party for him. So how can God the Father do that for His sinful, failing children? Because of what Jesus has done.  It’s not a case of ignoring the sin but of consigning it to the Cross where the eternal Son dealt with the guilt by taking the punishment. It defies rational thought but that is what happened.

When we truly hear this and understand it, we can come in repentance and, yes, contrition, and seek the forgiveness that is readily available to the repentant who own up to their misdeeds. That can come more easily in the security of the gospel, in the security that God is for us, but still wants us to ‘own up’ so we can then receive the forgiveness that is waiting for us. Maturity, for the Christian, is learning to ‘own up’ – quickly! We said it before but it bears repeating. Don’t let fear keep you from God, instead receive His perfect love. (see 1 Jn 4:18)

44. Accepting Love (3)

Focus on Christ Meditations: 44.  Accepting Love (3)

Lk 15:20    So he got up and went to his father. “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

Having observed how Jesus expressed the Father’s love by acceptance in the past two studies, we now move on to see how that love is reflected in his teaching or even in his general conversation.  Now something that I confess I have found somewhat surprising is that Jesus rarely spoke of his own love for people. It is the writer John who picks up such references, but they only occur in the closing hours in the upper room.

First Jesus teaches, A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (Jn 13:34,35). The basis of his command for us to love one another is the fact that he has first loved his disciples. The fact that they are ’disciples’ means they should replicate the life of ‘the Master’ and that means they will love as Jesus has loved.

Second, a little later, he teaches the same thing: As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you.” (Jn 15:9) to which he then adds, “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” (v.12,13) with the clear implication (seen retrospectively) that his death will also be an expression of his love for them, in addition to what he has shown them so far.

It is John who adds commentary to this effect, but it comes in what Jesus said earlier: “It was just before the Passover Feast. Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love,” (Jn 13:1) and then goes on to show Jesus washing the feet of the disciples, but perhaps John’s meaning was deeper than that and referred to the coming ordeal of the Cross.

As we have shown in the previous two studies, Jesus’ love was best demonstrated. One such time we have not noted previously was when he came to the tomb of Lazarus: “Jesus wept. Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” (J 11:35,36) The words here suggest this was not the weeping that so often accompanied death, better described as ‘wailing’ but was a spontaneous outpouring of grief; certainly for Lazarus but maybe even more for Mary and Martha and all the other affected by the death of Lazarus. Just prior to this Jesus had seen Mary weeping and we read, “When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled.” (v.33) Even though Jesus was completely in control and knew what the outcome was going to be, he nevertheless was moved by all the anguish he observed that was caused by death.

But what about his teaching? Doesn’t he teach about his own love? The answer has to be, mostly not. Yes, he taught about us loving God but strangely there is little the other way round, though of course John makes the famous declaration, “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son.” (Jn 3:16) and others picked up on it, e.g. “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.”(Eph 5:25) and “The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Gal 2:20)

So why this absence? It is, I suggest, similar to the fact that the Bible never defends God; it always simply states what He said or did and leaves us to draw our own conclusions. He is, if you like, big enough and great enough not to need any defense. So, similarly, with Jesus, his actions – coming to earth from heaven, living in a limited human body, ministering the authority and power of heaven to bring healings, deliverances and other ‘miracles’, then giving his life to death on the Cross, all of this speaks of his love more eloquently than any words could do. It is a challenge to us – don’t talk about it, do it!

John himself clearly felt loved when he makes oblique references to himself – “When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby.” (Jn 19:26) and “she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved.” (Jn 20:2) Surely Jesus loved them all and yet John particularly felt it. Perhaps that is how it is with us – we are all loved by God but some of us are particularly aware of it.

Jesus’ teaching rarely spoke of the Father’s love for us, as such, but the exception must be hidden in the Parable of the Prodigal Son. The father surely has to be God, and when the son returns we find, “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.” (Lk 15:20) What a beautiful picture – God on the lookout for the returning prodigals (us) and the moment He sees us coming back to Him He runs to hug us and welcome us back to be part of His family, as we were intended to be from the outset.

And so, as a teacher I feel challenged by this. It is easy to teach using words but Jesus did it mostly by example. He rarely spoke about his love except near the end to bring a sharper focus, but instead throughout his three years of ministry, he just loved and loved as he accepted people as they were, chiding sometimes, challenging sometimes, rebuking sometimes, but all because he loved and longed for us to receive and enter into the best that he desires for us. So will others speak about me as a teacher or as an example of love? I hope both, but I think it will be the latter that will touch hearts while the former touches minds. For each of us, do the world around us know us as people of love, loved by the Father, loved by the Son, pouring out the Spirit (of love) and therefore people who express love?

19. Given Over

Meditations in Romans : 19 :  Given over by God

Rom 1:24. Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another.

So often in life there are two ways of looking at things and this is no more true than in the spiritual realm. Over the past thirty or forty years in the West we have seen a loosening up of sexual morals, heralded by some as a great freedom. That is how they see it, but in reality it is something completely different. It is the disciplinary judgment of God. Now back in Meditation 15 we observed that when God brings discipline or judgement, it is a form of remedial action. It is either to stop permanently a course of action by removing the person who God sees will not change whatever they say or do, or it is corrective in the way it stops a person following the course they are following so that they follow a new path that is not hurtful, harming or destructive.

The story or parable of the Prodigal Son told by Jesus is a classic illustration of this. The son wanted to leave home and do his own thing. Now the father could have stopped him and given him nothing to prevent him going but he didn’t. Instead he gave him his share of the inheritance and let the son go away and do whatever he wanted. As we hear the parable unwind, we hear of the son going away, spending all he has and ending up feeding pigs who he considers better off than himself. It is that at this point that he comes to his senses and goes back to his father who welcomes him with open arms.

What people have not realised is that God does restrain us, does restrain society, probably by speaking quietly into our hearts and pointing out the folly of our thoughts, but when God sees that our hearts are strongly turning away from Him and desiring to go into wilful disobedience, He stops any restraining activity and gives them over to the behaviour that they have thought about. In other words He removes any restrictions and allows Satan to encourage them into their folly so that, like the prodigal son, they will go to the depths in their folly until they come to themselves and realise their stupidity and return to God. Of course not everyone does but through this strategy God gives them every help towards coming to their senses, and so they can never say He didn’t warn them!

But note in our verse today the starting word, “Therefore.” This links the verse with what has gone before. It is God’s response to what has gone before, i.e. because people had turned away from God and gone into futile thinking, the Lord stepped back and gave them over to, or simply allowed them to go into all of the weird things their minds could dream up. Of course we are sensual beings and so sexual desire is perhaps the most obvious way their thoughts will turn – why can’t we do that?  It was because they were turning their minds to the ways of futility, that God allowed their desires to rise up under the power of sin to do things that would become self-destructive.

But what did God give them over to? God gave them over ….  to sexual impurity.” At this stage Paul is speaking in generalities. To understand “sexual impurity” it might be easier, first of all, to consider what sexual purity might mean. Surely God ‘designed’ sex for both procreation and for pleasure and, within the confines of the teaching of the Bible, it is within a stable, committed relationship as an expression of love between a man and a woman. That would be ‘pure’ sexual activity. ‘Impure’ would thus be any sexual activity outside of a stable, committed relationship and which does not flow from love between a man and a woman, hence some versions translate it as ‘sexual immorality’ indicating sexual activity outside of such a relationship.

Modern TV in the West at least, trivializes sexual activity and makes it no more than another physical activity like, say, eating and drinking. If you feel like it and you have someone else who feels like it, then do it. This demeans it or as Paul puts it, ‘degrades’ it. It is no longer an expression of love but of pure personal self-gratification. Bizarrely it has made the forming of real and meaningful relationships more difficult. That has been one of the negative aspects of ignoring the divine design.

Of course it has also led to the breakdown of committed relationships through adultery which is common today. The hurt, pain and rejection and hostility that so often follows, are simply spin-offs of the inability to exercise self-control. It is also, surely, no coincidence that teenage pregnancies are at an all-time high, as are STDs. The fruits of this casual approach to sexual activity are clear and obvious in the twenty-first century. Our society is certainly demeaning or degrading itself, in the name of freedom, while all the time it does not realise that it is the work of God allowing this unrestrained ‘freedom’ to wreak the fruits of this folly to bring people to their senses. This is a subtle form of disciplinary-judgment that will eventually bring destruction if not heeded, but which gives every opportunity for repentance to come as people see the folly of this godless lifestyle. May we understand this!

60. Lessons in Love

Meditations in Job : 60. Lessons in Love

Job 33:14,17,18 For God does speak…… to turn man from wrongdoing and keep him from pride, to preserve his soul from the pit, his life from perishing by the sword

Now I know the word ‘love’ is not mentioned in this chapter but I would suggest that everything the Elihu says about the way God works, describes God as a God of love.  Elihu has listened (33:8) and heard Job say that he is pure and without sin (v.9) yet Job has blamed God for finding fault with him and for making him an enemy (v.10), the way He has dealt with him (v.11), and with this Elihu has a problem (v.12)

Now the truth we know from earlier in the book is exactly the opposite: God hasn’t found fault with Job, He has praised him for his righteousness and there is no way that God considers Job an enemy.  In fact, without realising it, he is God’s emissary, displaying faithfulness on behalf of God in the face of Satan’s attacks.  There has been a wrong assessment of the situation by Job.

But then comes Elihu’s second complaint: Job says he’s cried to God but the Lord hasn’t answered him. Elihu launches into a declaration that God does speak again and again, “though man may not perceive it.” (v.14b)  The Lord speaks in a variety of ways (v.14a), in dreams or visions (v.15) or directly into our ears (v.16).  The REASON God speaks is then given: to turn man from wrongdoing and keep him from pride, to preserve his soul from the pit, his life from perishing by the sword.” (v.17,18)  When God speaks He is trying to get man to turn away from those destructive attitudes and ways of behaving so that he will be saved.  If we refuse to heed his voice we may simply end up in hell, and we may even go there through a violent means brought on by our own folly.

Another way that the Lord ‘speaks’ to us is through personal suffering that brings us to the edge of death (v.19-22), yet Elihu is aware that God sends angels as personal messengers “to tell a man what is right for him” (v.23c) and also to remind the Lord that He has provided a ransom to save this man (v.24) so that this man might be saved and restored (v.25).  Now whether that ransom is reference to the sacrifices made for sin (see 1:5) or whether it is a prophetic reference to the Lamb of God, Jesus, is unclear.  Such a man will pray and be restored (v.26) and then he will go and confess to others that he had sinned but had not received what he had deserved (v.27) because God has redeemed him (v.28).

He reiterates that God does this sort of thing, “twice, even three times– to turn back his soul from the pit, that the light of life may shine on him.” (v.29,30)  Yes, God uses this sort of thing to bring people to their senses.  We see this exactly in Jesus’ parable to the Prodigal Son (Lk 15:14-17) where the bad circumstances drive the son to his senses.

Elihu concludes this chapter with a call to Job to answer up if he has got an answer.  Now the only trouble with all this is that, of course, Job doesn’t have an answer because neither he nor Elihu know what has gone on in the courts of heaven (ch.1 & 2) and they don’t know that this actually has nothing to do with Job’s sin.  Everything Elihu has said has been absolutely correct – except it doesn’t apply to Job, because he is a special case and he is going through trials for no other reason than God has chosen him to go through them – and that because he IS righteous!

So, having looked at this chapter, there are various things we need to check out in ourselves.  Elihu maintains that God does speak to us in a variety of ways.  Are we open to believe that?  Do we believe that the Lord speaks to us personally – and if so, what have we done with what He has said?

Second, are we aware that in God’s sanctifying processes, making us more like Jesus, He uses physical suffering and circumstances generally?  Can we, therefore, when things aren’t going well, be open to learn from Him?

Third, do we realise that whenever God ‘speaks’ it is to extend our experience of salvation and keep us away from things that would harm us or draw us away from Him?  Are we so aware of God’s love that we can be utterly secure in all that happens to us, secure in the knowledge that He loves us and is working to bless us?

Finally, can we learn that lesson that we have observed previously but which arises again here, that unless we have had revelation from God we should be slow in assessing people negatively (judging them).

Moses asked the Lord, “teach me your ways so I may know you.” (Ex 33:13). In this meditation new have been touching on the ‘ways’ of God, the way He works and why He works as He does. May we learn these things!

4. Promise of Transformation

MEDITATIONS IN ISAIAH – No.4

Isa 1:18 Come now, let us reason together,” says the LORD. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool

I have lived long enough to have heard a variety of sermons interpreting this verse in a variety of ways. However, I am going to argue as logically as possible to obtain the simplest possible understanding of its meaning. It starts with the Lord’s invitation to talk out their situation. Very often when we are not in a good place we hide away from the Lord and from other people, just like Adam and Eve did (Gen 3:8), but the Lord takes the initiative, as He so often does, and invites us to talk. It is when we talk that we can come to a place of fresh understanding. The communications slogan, “It’s good to talk,” really does apply when you are hiding away, cowed by the enemy into believing lies about yourself and about God. We also hide away when we feel we will be condemned for our sin, but the Lord’s intent is very different.

He brings two contrasting pictures. The first is of their sin which He describes as scarlet or crimson. The second is the Lord’s intended outcome, what He intends to do with their sin, and their end outcome is simply described as white as snow or as wool, which is also white. Now whatever clever applications we try and see in this, I would simply suggest that this is a picture of total transformation. One minute their sins are like a bright red colour, the next they are pure white. This is a complete transformation. Let’s just see it like that!

Now of course we do tend to use the expression, “Pure as the driven snow” and the whiteness described does suggest purity. What is there to suggest our understanding is correct? Well the first part of the chapter is clearly a negative assessment of Israel’s state and so the next verse comes as a complete surprise in the light of those earlier negatives: If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the best from the land.” (1:19). The Lord never blesses sin and so this offer of goodness must accompany the picture of complete transformation. What is it that will bring this transformation? Willingness and obedience! The matter is in their own hands. The Lord intends them good (as He always does), but it is only their sin which stops that happening. Now we shouldn’t see this as some magic formula or even as a means to criticise the Lord. There are those somewhat unthinking people who speak negatively of the Lord in these sort of situations. Look, they say, He just looking for an opportunity to judge them. How silly is that! It is exactly the opposite; He is looking for an opportunity to bless them but their foolish behaviour prevents that.

Now it is not that the Lord is inadequate and cannot bless people, but if they are harming themselves and He won’t force their wills, then it is only going to be bad coming into their lives because they are bringing it on themselves. Consider the godless person who lives a completely promiscuous life, say. This person just happens to express their godlessness in promiscuity. It could have been in a number of ways, but they chose to be promiscuous – and then they caught a sexually transmitted disease. If I jump from an upper storey window I am going to seriously hurt myself. I can’t blame God for not catching me. He would have been speaking to me previously encouraging me not to jump. Thereafter He respects my free will and allows me to make sovereign choices – as harmful as they may be. To talk about Him blessing me when I am having to live with the consequences of my sovereign choices is just plain silly. Remember the willful child I used as an example in the previous meditation? Away from the family home they cannot receive all the goodness of the home. Like the prodigal son in Jesus’ parable he ends up eating with the pigs (Lk 15:16). We really have to take responsibility for our own actions and realise that we reap what we sow (Gal 6:7).

One side of the coin is the blessing the Lord offers us, by living in accordance with His design-laws, so that he can add blessing to us. The other side of the coin, as we have seen, are things going wrong, “but if you resist and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword.” (1:20). Why? Is this the Lord being nasty or is it a natural outworking? I suggest first the latter. If they disregard the Lord, then they will be spiritually, morally, socially and militarily weak, and being weak they will become a prey to the surrounding nations. Now the Lord isn’t being ‘nasty’ but sometimes He does bring discipline by either stepping back and allowing the neighbours to invade Israel, or even at times provokes them to invade, but it is always with the intent of turning Israel around and back to the place of blessing. The father who refuses to bail his child is allowing them to feel the full weight of the Law to help them come to their senses. The mother who allows her children to hurt themselves by way of the learning process (without serious danger) is allowing them to learn that we reap what we sow, dangerous things cause harm and are to be avoided. The society that overprotects erodes personal responsibility and we are poorer for it.

These are the lessons that the wise parent knows the child needs to learn, and God is the wisest of all parents! Thus we will find again and again, when Israel stray they get into trouble, but that is how life is in a Fallen World, and this no way detracts from God’s love that will always be there working to bring good to us out of every situation (Rom 8:28). Let’s learn the lessons.