Posts tagged blessing
First of all, let me say congratulations. You have just completed reading the Old Testament! Two hundred and seventy-four days of our 365 day journey have been spent on the first 39 books of the bible. We will spend just 91 days on the other 27 books. There was a lot of content to cover in the Old Testament books and there will be a lot in the New Testament. But, for a moment, let’s pause in the space between and thank God for giving us such incredible writings from which to learn.
OK, now that we’ve done that (I personally said a prayer thanking God for giving us the Scriptures, which I don’t recall ever doing), let’s take a look at the book of Malachi.
They say that those who can’t remember the past are doomed to repeat it and much of the Old Testament seems to be designed to help us avoid that fate. The book of Malachi is no exception. In fact, it is one of the most straight-forward books in the Old Testament. In it, God levels a charge against the people, then explains what he means. He explains the actions of the people and then explains how those actions were received.
For instance, when they sacrificed a lame animal to God, the people probably thought they were being wise. They were able to find a use for an animal that was injured or harmed in some way and at the same time honor their commitment to God. But God didn’t see it that way. What he saw is that they were keeping the best of their livestock and giving him the part they didn’t want or need. In doing so, God says they were defiling the alter and showing contempt for his name.
So, if we don’t want to be “doomed to repeat” that mistake, what can we take away from this? We are no longer a livestock sacrificing society, so what is the application here? Well, I think there are probably many ways that we can show contempt for God in the ways that we give. Have you ever skipped a tithe check because you really “needed” that money for something? Have you ever committed to help at a church event only to bail when something more interesting came along? Is your commitment to God, prayer, church and serving others based primarily around the amount of spare time you have, rather than being at the center of your life and allowing everything else to fill in around those things?
I think these are all contemptuous things – they are ways that we put God at the bottom of the priority list, rather than the top. And yes, I’ve been guilty of all of these things. It’s easy to do, especially when we convince ourselves that we are the ones who know best or who care the most. When we forget that God cares more about us and knows more about us and our situation than we do, we can sometimes find ourselves in a place of trying to take control of a situation that he is much better equipped to handle.
But when we give him the place he deserves – when we show high regard for him rather than contempt – then the other parts of our life will be better off. When we give God control, he takes control. And he is much better at being in control than we are.
Today, we wrap up yet another book of the Bible – that’s 23 if you’re counting. We also get to wade a little into the realm of eschatology – of what will happen at the end of time. At the end of the book of Isaiah, there is a lot of talk about punishment and blessing and about the new heaven and new earth. And much has been made about these verses.
Some of them seem to affirm a traditional view of heaven and hell. Others, like the very last verse of the book, raise some questions about how most people view eternity:
“And they will go out and look on the dead bodies of those who rebelled against me; the worms that eat them will not die, the fire that burns them will not be quenched, and they will be loathsome to all mankind.” (Isaiah 66:24)
Now, remember, this is after the formation of the new heaven and new earth – after the “end of the world”. A lot of people believe that after that time, everything becomes “spiritual” – in other words, the word ends, everybody either goes to heaven or hell – eternal bliss or eternal fire – and that’s that. But that’s not what Isaiah says.
In Isaiah’s prophecy, you’ll notice that the world doesn’t just vanish. Instead, it is remade. In Isaiah’s vision, the physical world still exists (the new earth) as does the spiritual world (the new heaven). And, in Isaiah’s vision, the new earth is as God intended, but is not free from death. In fact, in this new earth will lie the dead bodies of those have rebelled against God. We are told that the righteous will “go out” (presumably out from the new Jerusalem) and see them. We will also see the worms that will not die and the fire that will not be quenched…right here on the the new earth. That’s not exactly the picture of heaven and hell I was taught in Sunday School classes as a kid.
Now, let me say that I’m certainly no eschatologist. In fact, there are many other parts of the Bible that I find much more intriguing than the “end times”. What I do know, however, is that God has a habit of blowing our minds – of going far beyond our limited understanding and even beyond our wildest imagination. He makes things simpler than we think they can be and he simultaneously navigates through complexities that we can’t even begin to comprehend. And so, as we read the Bible and try to understand what all of this end times stuff means, I think it’s probably best that we remember the words of Isaiah:
“These are the ones I look on with favor:
those who are humble and contrite in spirit,
and who tremble at my word.” (Isaiah 66:2)
A simple reminder in the midst of complexity. Those who follow God closely have no need to figure out exactly how it all will end. He’s got you taken care of.
Solomon seems like a pretty “black and white” guy. His proverbs – bits of wisdom he has learned throughout the course of his life – seem simplistic at times. Good stuff happens to good people. Bad stuff happens to bad people. Kind people are likeable. Hard work earns you money. Simplistic stuff.
The problem, of course, is that we know it isn’t really that simple. That’s why Solomon’s proverbs, though they are in the Bible, aren’t part of “The Law”. These are fail-proof, fool-proof words. These are wise sayings – things that are generally true in one way or another.
For example, I can say with confidence that those who follow God closely are blessed beyond measure. I can even say that if you stick close to God, he make you rich beyond your wildest dreams. But that doesn’t mean that you’ll be able to buy a Bentley and hire a butler. God gives his blessing and riches in different ways to different people.
The funny thing is, the closer you are to God, the more easily you will recognize his blessing in your life. You friends may not be able to see it as clearly, but you can see it. God is there and he is blessing you.
I have so many friends who I know are walking closely with God and who are experiencing his blessing. It doesn’t mean that they don’t face the same problems that the rest of us do. It doesn’t mean that their every desire is fulfilled. What it does mean is that when they look at their life, they wouldn’t have it any other way. That may be the true definition of blessing.
So, are you tired of reading genealogies yet? Well, it seems as though the writer of Chronicles was getting a little tired of his subject matter, too, or at least enough so to give us a few more details. I find it interesting that in these chapters, we’re given little snippets of information that, to us, mean very little. Why was GeHarashim called GeHarashim? Why was the birth order of Israel’s sons so messed up? It’s all in there. We’re told about the professions and misfortunes of some of these people. We’re given explanations as to why some tribes flourished and others didn’t. There is actually a lot of information packed inside of this written family tree, but none is more intriguing to me than the contrast between a guy named Jabez and the tribes of Reuben, Gad and Manasseh.
The Jabez snippet pops up in chapter 4, verses 9 & 10:
Jabez was more honorable than his brothers. His mother had named him Jabez, saying, “I gave birth to him in pain.” Jabez cried out to the God of Israel, “Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory! Let your hand be with me, and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain.” And God granted his request. (1 Chronicles 4:9-10)
Two verses. That’s all we read about Jabez in the entire Bible. In fact, until several years ago when a book came out about him, Jabez was about as anonymous of a figure in the Bible as there could be. There was nothing special about Jabez – just another name in a long line of names. And yet, the author takes a moment to note something about this man and his life. And while much has been made of the specifics of Jabez’s prayer, it is his life that stands out to the author first and foremost.
The little note about Jabez begins by telling us that he was more honorable than his brothers. It ends by telling us that God granted his request. Whatever happened in between – the “Prayer of Jabez” – was a direct result of the former and honored in the latter. God seems to listen a little closer to those who are living for him.
A contrasting outcome is brought up in chapter 5. The Reubenites, Gadites and Half-Tribe of Manasseh were unlike Jabez in just about every way imaginable. They were famous, not anonymous. They were numerous and strong. They had everything going for them. God even came to their aid in battle against the Hagrites. But, unlike Jabez, they ultimately weren’t honorable – they weren’t faithful to God. And so, their outcome looked very different from that of Jabez. God didn’t expand their territory, he took it away from them. He didn’t keep them from harm and pain, he led them into it.
There is a direct link between the lives we live and the outcome that we experience. And, though God has a LOT of grace in his dealings with us, the Bible makes it very clear that if we are determined to be miserable, God will let us be. If we are hell-bent on our own destruction, God’s not going to get in our way. In fact, he may even help expedite the process a little. There is a stark contrast between the honor of Jabez that led to God’s blessing and the dishonorable people of Reuben, Gad and Manasseh, whose actions led to their own defeat – a contrast that serves as a reminder that how we live our lives matters to God.
Perhaps, instead of focusing on the prayer of Jabez, we should focus on his life.
Whenever a new leader is installed, the pundits and political observers always look for some sign that he or she truly has been passed the baton – you know, not just on paper, but in reality. For Joshua, that meant not only having the blessing and following of the people of Israel, but also (and more importantly) the blessing of God himself. Fortunately for Joshua, he would receive both very shortly after he succeeded Moses as leader of his people.
First comes the encouragement of the people of Israel, after Joshua has commanded them to prepare for entry into the promised land:
Then they answered Joshua, “Whatever you have commanded us we will do, and wherever you send us we will go. Just as we fully obeyed Moses, so we will obey you. Only may the Lord your God be with you as he was with Moses. Whoever rebels against your word and does not obey it, whatever you may command them, will be put to death. Only be strong and courageous!” (Joshua 1:16-18)
This is just about as ringing of an endorsement as Joshua could have hoped for from the people of Israel. Of course, maybe he shouldn’t put too much credence in it, given the fact that they said, “Just as we fully obeyed Moses, so we will obey you.” A little revisionist history there, but I think their hearts were probably in the right place. But their allegiance may have been conditional. Look at the next phrase: “Only may the Lord your God be with you as he was with Moses.”
The people, as hard-headed as they were, realized that Moses had a special relationship with God – one that had benefited the people of Israel greatly. Now that Moses was gone, they were just hoping and praying that Joshua would have the same kind of relationship. After all, their biggest battles were in front of them. They would need a little extra God power on their side. They needed to know that God had granted Joshua the same kind of favor that he had granted Moses.
Of course, God was there to give them the answer. Just as he had done at the Red Sea as Moses was taking his place as leader, God once again parts the waters for his people to cross – this time the waters of the Jordan River. Now, I don’t think it’s any coincidence that these two miracles – so similar to each other – take place at the beginning of Moses and Joshua’s leadership. For Moses, he needed something big to happen – something that couldn’t be explained away and something that proved that God was for the Israelites and not just against Egypt. For Joshua, the burden of proof was different. What he needed was a spiritual link to Moses – some indicator that, in the eyes of God, Joshua had inherited something from Moses. And so, like a biological son receiving the physical appearance of his father, this “spiritual son” received a miracle from God that mimicked his spiritual father.
Interestingly enough, however, God may have been making a statement about the on-again-off-again relationship that the people of Israel had with him in the way the miracle happened. In the Red Sea parting, the Israelites crossed on dry ground and the Egyptians drowned – two statements about two different people groups. In the Jordan River crossing, however, the ark of the covenant had to remain in the river in order for the water to be held back. If the priests carrying the ark had moved on, presumably, the waters would have started to flow again. So, this time, in the midst of confirming his blessing of Joshua, God seems to be saying, “but you people of Israel don’t deserve this. You need a surrogate to stand in your place and hold back the water.”
What great prophetic imagery of the surrogacy of Jesus who holds back the torrents of death from us, the undeserving people.