Gently In the Hand of God

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Photo credit to Stephen Cunningham

“For You will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let Your Holy One see corruption.” (Acts 2:27)

I’m not really sure where the connection started yesterday.  I just know that when I’m in the shower, if I’m not singing about or to You, Lord, I’m thinking about You.  Maybe it’s a weird place to worship, but it’s one of my best places to just get alone with You and rejoice in You and bear my heart to You and just meditate on You.  So yesterday, I got to thinking about You and Your sacrifice, and You and Your words, “Why have You forsaken me?”, and Your covenant with Abram (Abraham).

It made me start to think about some things I’ve been taught for years.  And maybe that I need to rethink them.  But more than that, it just wrapped Scripture up more tightly for me and wrapped You up even more tightly.  Not that I have this big handle on You, because I am constantly being amazed and constantly learning and I’ll never get to the end of You, but every deeper glimpse in itself, every little peek is so glorious!

So, here in Acts, Peter is boldy proclaiming about how You, Jesus were delivered up to be crucified.  But it was all according to God’s plan and foreknowledge.  You, God, raised Jesus up for this, and raised Him up to “loose the pangs of death, because it was not possible for HIm to be held by it.” (Acts 2:24)  And I was thinking about the darkness of Your death when You bore my sins, all our sins.  And it took me back to You and Abraham.

Here You are, making a covenant with Abraham.  A covenant like this was no trivial matter.  It was to the death.  In other words, You committed your life to it.  Yes, You really did commit Your life to it.  This was a blood sacrifice.  Abraham was to bring a heifer, a goat, a ram, a turtledove, and a pigeon, cut them in half, and lay them each on opposite sides with a path down the middle.  (Oh, but he wasn’t supposed to cut the birds in half.)  And while the carcasses were there, Abraham kept the birds of prey away from them.  That’s what Abraham’s part in this covenant was.  He brought the sacrifice and prepared it according to Your directions.  Then he protected what he had offered to You.  That’s it.

The sun went down and a deep sleep fell on Abraham.  Now, here’s what really got me.  A “dreadful and great darkness fell upon him.”  The King James Version says “an horror of great darkness fell upon him.”

And I wanted to understand that horror, that dread.  What was it?  It’s from the Hebrew “eymah” and it means fright, like a bugbear.  What in the world is a bugbear?  It’s a boogeyman.  You know, that feeling people give kids when they scare them about the boogeyman.  It’s dread and fear and horror and terrible foreboding and terror.  It’s like an idol that’s alive and frighteningly waiting to devour you.  This bugbear is “a cause of obsessive fear, irritation, or loathing.”

So why would Abraham feel like this?  Well, what was he really feeling?  Because I’m thinking there’s a lot going on here.  I’m thinking that as You, Lord, passed through the sacrifice, as You were present with Abraham, that Your loathing for sin was such a present and oppressive reality that Abraham felt it and experienced it.  Here was a picture of the sacrifice that You would be making for him and all mankind to bring them back into relationship with You.   Here was the promise of a promised child that would continue the heritage of faith forever.  This wasn’t just about Isaac.  This was about You.  This was about the Promised Child.  This was all about Jesus and our sanctification.

It’s a horrifying thing to realize our own sin.   It’s a horrifying thing to realize that I’m 200% guilty before You.  It’s a dreadful thing to realize what I deserve and that You deserve to give it to me.  It’s so terrifying to Abraham.  Here is this God who He trusts and who is leading him, yet here is this God who could crush him because of his sin.  Moses asked, “Who understands the power of Your anger and Your fury, according to the fear that is due You?” (Psalm 90:11)  And isn’t that what Abraham was experiencing here?  Maybe there’s a point where each of us needs to experience this reality.

Yes, You are good and You are benevolent.  You are sovereign and we rejoice in that.  But I can’t forget, and I must understand or risk my own peril, that “it is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”  (Hebrews 10 :31)  What’s the difference between Pharaoh and Moses?  What’s the difference between Pharaoh and Abraham?  What’s the difference between Pharaoh and me?

Now, I think of that loathing.  I think that as You, Lord, passed over Abraham, he felt that great loathing of Yours for sin.  I imagine myself lying there, in his place, and You pass over me and loath my sin.  You want to destroy it.  It’s putrid to You.  It’s everything You are not.  You abhor it.  It disgusts You.  And I am associated with it.  So where does that leave me?

Just like Abraham who had submitted His life to You in faith, I have also.  And though You feel that horrifying way about sin and want to wipe it off the face of creation, You cover Abraham with the love and promise and protection of Your covenant.  You cover Abraham and me by Your blood.  But here’s the amazing thing.  You walked in the presence of sin.  Abraham and I were in Your presence and we did not die?  Why?  Because You covered us.  See, You are able to handle sin, but we are not.

I’m not just a lucky one who has been rescued and redeemed from the fire.  I am continually rescued and redeemed every moment of every day.  Any moment “Your wrath [c]ould scorch the entire earth if it were not mollified by mercy.  Perhaps we should tremble at our deliverance along with our rejoicing.”  (Skip Moen)

“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the holy is understanding.” (Proverbs 9:10)  Skip Moen also says, “It is also the beginning of face-to-the-floor submission and humility.  No man can come face-to-face with His holiness and live.  And no man can come before the righteous anger of God’s power and survive…God invites me to walk hand-in-hand, but when I feel the grasp of His fingers, I am aware that He is touching me ever so lightly lest I be crushed.  I am a butterfly in His palm.  I depend entirely on His grace.”  Yes, it was so for Abraham.  And it is so for me.

I was formerly darkness.  Formerly.  “For you were formerly darkness, but now you are light in the Lord; walk as children of light.”  (Ephesians 5:8)  In Greek, dark and light were natural events as well as representing “forces of power and mystery”.  Darkness often represents “chaos, evil, and death.”  That’s nothing new.  But it’s all part of Your plan, Lord.  You created light and dark.  You created the light to overcome the darkness.  You are Lord over both.  Even in Hebrew thinking though, darkness represents “destruction, the realm of the dead, terror and punishment.”  Yes, that darkness often represents sin.  And that’s what Paul is referring to here.  And that’s what was present that day with Abraham.  But You cut through to the truth and shed light in the midst of darkness in our lives.

I wonder if Abraham was guilty of thinking he deserved a son?  I have no idea.  But I know I’m guilty sometimes of thinking I deserve good or right treatment.  Because the truth is, I deserve death by association with sin.  I’m blind to the truth unless You open my eyes, and unless You open my eyes continually by Your light, I’ll keep having blind spots.  And here’s the wonderful truth, that even in the midst of my loathsome sin, You come to me, You invite me into relationship with You, You cover me, and You protect me and make me Yours in love and faith.  I actually deserve to be destroyed, but Your love and mercy to me was so great that instead, You chose me, made me a royal priest, invited me into Your holy nation, made me a peculiar people so that I could show forth Your praises, the praises of the One who called me out of darkness into Your marvelous light!  (1 Peter 2:9)

Paul reminds us of Your character through Your words in Hebrews 13:5, “I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you.”  It’s from Deuteronomy 31:6, “He will not fail you, or forsake you.”  The funny thing about this Hebrew word for forsake, “azav” is that it comes from two roots.  One means “to leave, to abandon, to forsake” and the other means “to restore or repair.”  How can it mean both things?  Think of it in terms of a marriage covenant.  The man must forsake or cut off his prior familial responsibilities to attach himself to his wife.  He must forsake the one thing to turn to the other.  He now has a new place of security.  One tie is cut but a new one is established.  Something must be abandoned for something else to be restored.

The Greek is rendered by en, “a place”; kata, “down”; and leipo, “to leave behind.”  Egkataleipo is “to abandon by leaving behind in some place.”  It’s like He’s telling us twice He’s not going to do that to us.  And if David knew that God wouldn’t forsake His chosen One, than why would Jesus be forsaken?  Why would You, Lord, feel He had forsaken You?

Now, here’s my question.  You passed in the presence of Abraham.  He was terrified because of His sin before You, at least that’s what I think.  But You didn’t destroy him; You covenanted with him and covered him.  With Job, Satan came before Your throne and asked to prove a point with Your beloved.  Satan’s still walking for a time.  And I pretty much consider him sin incarnate, because his every desire is against You.  But then we have Jesus, on the cross, bearing all our sins.  Did You forsake Him?  David said You never would.  Did He all of a sudden become less God and forget what He already knew?  Or, out of the immensity, the immeasurable immensity of Your love and compassion for us, did You turn Your loathing toward Yourself, toward something that was everything You were not, and turn away from Your desire to destroy us?  Did You forsake Your own desires as You took on our punishment?  You had to be there.  You had to see.  You had to do it and experience what You loathed.  I put You through that.  Because of me, You had to take on what You loath.  You had to turn it from me so that I could turn to You.  You had to feel it all and bear it all for me.  You had to take on sin for me and attach it to Your holiness.  How could that be?  I can’t explain it.  Because You can’t ever stop being holy.  And You can’t ever stop being God.  And You can’t forsake Yourself.  But maybe, You can forsake Your desires long enough to save those You love.  What can I say?  This, yes this, is a covenant of love.  No greater love is there than this, that a man named Jesus, that my God, would lay down His life, and His desires for me.  Yes, You will never leave me nor forsake me,  You left if all for me, and Your covenant is binding, and I am bound in You.  May I leave all for You.

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