The God Who is Able

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“…and who is the god that shall deliver you out of my hands?” Daniel 3:15

 
Of all the questions that King Nebuchadnezzar could have asked, this is the most appropriate. I have to thank the king for asking this question and setting up this whole situation to demonstrate the answer. Because there is no god who can deliver us. But there is one God who can. And it happens to be the same God who placed King Nebuchadnezzar on the throne for such a time as this, whether the king wants to give Him credit or not.

 
Now I have no idea whether this image, this grand idol, that he made was of himself or a god of his choosing. I’m not sure if that really matters. But to set oneself up as a god is a pretty dangerous image of oneself to have. And there will come a point when the one true God will show Himself just that. Hopefully, that’s before it’s too late for the self-elevated ones, that it’s while there is still time to turn to Him instead.

 
But there is more to this story than Nebuchadnezzar’s self-image or than setting up idols. It’s a story of a whole society falling down before a false idol at the command of a “strong man” because of fear. Why would the people fall down before this idol? Because they were afraid of being thrown into a fiery furnace. They were afraid of death. They were afraid of losing their life, their families, their wealth, their position. Rich or poor, they would lose it all by the power of death. So all the people fell down at the sound. Every people group represented bowed. All those people. All except three Jews.

 
Now there were other Jews who did bow down. I know that because there were representatives from every group, from every nation that was there, from every language that was represented there. That’s what was meant by all. And that makes me wonder. How long of a warning did Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego have to prepare? Did they lie awake at night knowing this moment was coming? Did they discuss what their response would be with fellow Jews? Did their stomachs turn thinking about it? I mean, even Jesus tormented over going to the cross so much so that He sweat drops of blood.

 

What of these men? Was it easy to remain standing when the whole world around them bowed down? I think I would have to be delusional to think this was easy for them.
Yet I do know that these men had made a resolve earlier in their lives, along with Daniel, to glorify the Lord. And it appears that the same resolve remained foremost in their lives. So, because of this resolve, it was told to the king that there were these particular Jews in high position, these three upstarts, who had disregarded the king, who didn’t serve his gods, and who would not bow down and worship the image per his command.

 
You just don’t do that or tell that to a king. He was enraged and commanded they be brought before him. “Is this true? I’m going to give you a second chance, but if you still don’t, it’s the furnace for you!” And I’m wondering why he would give them a second chance? Did he not truly trust the Chaldean accusers? Did he know the character of these three Jews? Even in his fury, did he actually care? Why didn’t he just throw them right in? Was truth and justice actually important to him?

 
The second chance was not accepted. Why not? I think to understand what is happening here, we have to jump back to chapter one and remember who these three young men are. These three young men are not Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. Those are their Babylonian names and we’re going to see how important that is. But even more important are their Hebrew names. Shadrach’s real name was Hananiah. It means God has favoured or God is gracious. Remember that. Meshach’s real name was Mishael which means “Who is like God?” And Abednego’s real name was Azariah, meaning “God has helped.” Hold those thoughts. See, names were very important in the ancient world. Names were a representation of who you were. This is what these young men had been brought up to believe and to live in their lives.

 
But now, enter captivity, and Babylon thought, “Ha, the jokes on you guys!” The goal was to meld them to the new culture. So they were given new names. Now pay attention here to the irony of the new names. Hananiah, “God is favoured” became Shadrach, “Command of the Moon-God.” Mishael, “Who is like God?” became “Who is what Aku is?” And Azariah, “God has helped” became Abednego, “Servant of Nabu (the Babylonian god of wisdom).” That’s a funny joke, isn’t it?

 
But the problem was that changing their names didn’t make them forget who they really were. They remained God’s children, regardless of their new names. Which brings me to their answer to King Nebuchadnezzar. I looked back at some of the Jewish translations of 3:17 as well as the King James Version, and do you realize it doesn’t say God is able to deliver us? It says, “If our God whom we serve is able to deliver us, He will deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and out of thy hand, O King.” (Daniel 3:17 JPS) At first I thought, I don’t like that. But now it makes so much sense.

 
It’s like they were setting up Nebuchadnezzar and all of Babylon. “Let’s see who is the god who is able to deliver. Is it yours? Or is it ours? Who is God? Let’s see. If our God whom we serve is God, He will be able to deliver us from the fire and from you. If your gods are god, then we are doomed. If you are god, then we are doomed. So let’s see who is the true God? Let’s see if the Moon-god, or Aku, or Nabu are able here or if only God is able. Let’s see who the joke is really on.”

 
Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, were doing more than taking a stand of faith here. This was about more than three young men being strong on the part of their God. This was about displaying who God was before a whole nation. This was taking back the glory of God who had been ridiculed since they arrived. This was giving God the chance to shine as God before and over this pagan nation and all those that were bowing down to it. It was an opportunity to see God for who He really is and not just what we want to make Him to be.

 
Nebuchadnezzar had asked, “who is the god that shall deliver you out of my hands?” “Our God, Sir, if He alone is God is the One who is able to deliver us. If He is the true God, then He will deliver us from the furnace and from you. If He is not God, He won’t be able to deliver us and we’ll burn. So throw us in, because we’re putting our whole lives into the belief that He is God. We’re willing for you to use us as the guinea pigs, we believe so strongly. Because if it isn’t so, we might as well burn in the furnace anyway, because what would there be to live for?” That’s my paraphrase. You can check out Daniel 3 for their recorded words.

 
The king was so infuriated that he heated up the furnace seven times hotter than usual. He had them thrown in right there. It was so hot that the three guards tossing them in, where killed by the heat. But in they went. And among those amazing circumstances, Nebuchadnezzar is alarmed because though he sent three men inside the furnace, there were now four walking around inside, not burning up! And the other advisors saw and acknowledged it also. And none of those inside were hurt, and “the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods.” In other words, the fourth man resembled divinity, specifically God as though he were the son of God. Now maybe, Nebuchadnezzar was just saying he resembled divinity as in any son of any god, but I don’t think so. Don’t forget the play on words that was going on, and they all realized the play on words. It wasn’t a mistake. The Babylonians were mocking the God of the Hebrews and now the God of the Hebrews was turning the tables.

 
At that realization, Nebuchadnezzar calls the three men out of the furnace. They come out without even a smoke smell and no evidence of having been in the fire. Their hair and cloaks and bodies were unscathed. And right away, the king speaks, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed’nego, who has sent His angel, and delivered His servants that trusted in Him, and have changed the king’s word, and have yielded their bodies that they might not serve nor worship any god, except their own God…because there is no other god that is able to deliver after this sort.” He didn’t know Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego’s real names but He saw their real God. He knew he hadn’t just seen any god. No god could do what God just did.

 
I guess here is what I get today, Lord. My outcome isn’t what I ought to look to. I ought to always be looking to Your glory.  How can I uphold You and Your image in the world around me when everyone else is bowing down before false idols? How I can I take my eyes off of me and focus them on You so that my actions shine You forth before people and draw them to You? How can I make my life and actions not point to me, but show You for all that You are? No matter what the world tries to feed me, do I really know who I am in You? Do I really know who You are? Do I really believe, “Who is like God?” Does my life demonstrate that? Am I willing to offer my life to give You opportunity to show who You really are? Would I be willing to die to not only my self, but to actually die if it would show the kind of God You are?

 
How long will I let the world use me as a pawn to mock You? Will I wear the name that the world gives me or will I display who I am in You by letting You be You at every opportunity no matter the cost? My name is important, but more important is Your name, God, because it’s all that You are. But You promise to give us new names, so special that only You and I know the measure of it, because it’s that personal. Listen, “He that has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says unto the called out ones; to him that overcomes will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knows except he that receives it.” It’s that personal, and so ought my relationship be with You God.

In the Moment of Turbulence

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Photo credit to renature.com

 

“…that they might ask mercy of the God of heaven concerning this secret.” (Daniel 2:18)

 
“It is the glory of God to conceal a thing; but the glory of kings is to search out a matter.” (Proverbs 25:2) And that’s exactly what is going on here. King Nebuchadnezzar is confronted with a dream that greatly troubles him. The meaning is concealed from him. So he calls in his “advisors” to interpret the dream. Only he isn’t going to tell them what the dream was in the first place. He requires that they tell him what he dreamed and interpret it.

 
“That’s impossible! We can’t know what you dreamed. You have to tell us that part. Then we’ll interpret what you tell us.” Well, it seems as though the king was pretty skeptical and figured it would be easy to make up any interpretation. So he was going to put the whole burden of truth on them. And if they couldn’t do it, what use where they as advisors? In disbelief the advisors answered, “No man on earth can tell you your dream, and there’s no great and powerful king anywhere who has ever asked this kind of thing of their magicians, or enchanters, or Chaldean. Do you realize what a hard thing you are asking? No one can tell the king that, except the gods, and they don’t live among us.” But that was not the answer the king wanted. He was infuriated and commanded all the wise men of Babylon to be destroyed.

 
Now, I know that King Nebuchadnezzar was mad and didn’t care for that answer. But I think it needed to be said. Because it’s true that only God is the revealer of secrets of our hearts and minds. And God does live among us even though He lives above us. But it’s true, gods don’t and gods can’t. But God does and God can. Their statement opened the door to show that.

 
The king was asking a hard thing. It was so hard and so rare that they couldn’t do it. In other words, no man could do that task. It would take something supernatural, something only the gods could do. To me, knowing these gods were made by my men’s ideas and men’s hands, it’s pretty much up to chance whether you get an answer or not. That’s a pretty sad state of affairs if that’s what your faith looks like. If I can’t interact with my “god” and expect him to interact on my behalf, if my “god” could care less about what troubles my soul, and his representatives have no help from him, then I’m in a pretty lonely, empty, meaningless place.

 
BUT there is a GOD! And Daniel finds out that they are going to be slain and the first thing he does is asks Arioch, the captain of the king’s guard, why? Arioch tells him how the king wanted his dream made known and interpreted and the answer of the advisors. But Daniel’s response was so different. He went straight to the king and asked him for time and told him he would show the king the interpretation of the dream. How would time help when everyone else said it was impossible?

 
Daniel wasn’t planning on knowing in his own strength. Daniel was depending upon the God who tabernacles with us, and God who manifests Himself among His people. He wasn’t any god; He is GOD. So Daniel enters his house and shares what is going on with his brethren Hannah, Michael, and Azariah. What would they do? Pray and seek the face of God. “…they would desire mercies of the God of heaven concerning this secret; that Daniel and his fellows should not perish…” And you know what happens when you seek a God who manifests Himself? That impossible secret that men can’t find out, well, it was revealed unto Daniel in a night vision.

 
So what did Daniel do first? Did he run right away to tell the king so that they would not be destroyed? Not at all. He blessed God. It’s like Psalm 103:1 being lived out. “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless His holy name.” It wasn’t like his soul was blessing and his body and mind doing something else. That Hebrew word for soul, nephesh, is about “me, all of me all at once.”(Skip Moen) It doesn’t distinguish or separate between mind, soul, body. This blessing God was an act of the whole person. It’s not just a “spiritual” reaction. It’s the whole me offering thanksgiving. It’s that going to bed and sleeping acknowledging my need for You and Your grace and mercy, it’s the waking up expecting it and living in it every moment of every day. It’s expressed in every thing that I am and every way that I am.

 
It’s when I begin to realize all the time that God is always God, that every bit of wisdom and might is found in Him. It’s when I comprehend and rejoice that the seasons change because of Him, or that kings, and kingdoms are put in place by His hand. It’s realizing and rejoicing that no wise man is wise without it being from Him, and that He has all the knowledge and understanding that we could ever need and is willing to share with us what we need. He reveals what needs to be revealed. He knows what no one else can see and brings it to light. He is worthy of praise every one of my breathing moments and beyond. He is worthy of my unceasing thankfulness.

 
And when we let You manifest Yourself in our lives, instead of relying on lesser things, You do because You created us for this, to be Your image bearers in the world. And so Daniel is able to go before the king with your answer. And he does not let the king forget the words of the other advisors. Neither does he claim ability of his own. “But there is a God in heaven that reveals secrets, and makes known to the king Nebuchadnezzar what shall be in the latter days…” Yes, no man can tell you, but the God who manifests himself to us can and will tell you when you seek Him. And Daniel revealed the dream and it’s interpretation to the king. And the advisors were saved from death and the king was satisfied and Daniel and his three fellow worshippers were blessed with high rank in the kingdom.

 
So how does this relate to me, to today? Life is hard. Things fly in and change our plans and our lives. It can be other people’s attitudes or actions or our own choices. It can be tragedy or loss or natural disaster that sweeps in and life is not what we once knew. Little things and big things that seem too heavy can flip our world upside down. And I can be like the advisors who relied on their own strength and knowledge or I can be like Daniel and rely on You. I can know that You have the answer because You are the Answer.

 
In all honesty, I’m not so sure how well I’m doing in this area. I’m certainly not under threat of being killed, and yet sometimes my stomach is uneasy, or I wonder if I’m grinding my teeth at night, or a moment hits and I’m weeping and feeling overwhelmed. And crazy me, at the same time, in the middle of all the chaos of me and my humanness, I’m thinking of how wonderful You are and how You provide all I need. I wonder if Daniel and the others wept before You, Lord? I wonder what was going on in his stomach or if he just slept peacefully? All I know is that You filled his thoughts and I want You to fill my thoughts. I want to choose to fill my thoughts with You.

 
I can’t help but think of the time that You and the disciples were out in that fishing boat in the middle of the sea when the storm arose. And there You were sleeping on a pillow in the back of the boat, nonplussed by the storm. You were not afraid of perishing. And You calmly rose to the moment in the turbulence and rebuked the turbulence with peace and stillness. And Lord, I pray that I would learn to rebuke the turbulence in my life and heart with Your peace and Your stillness today, just as Daniel did so long ago.

Spitting Image

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“…youths in whom was no blemish, but fair to look on, and skillful in all wisdom, and skillful in knowledge, and discerning in thought, and such as had ability to stand in the king’s palace…” Daniel 1:4

 
A prophet who doesn’t start shouting at us. But that doesn’t mean we aren’t being taught and aren’t being warned. Here’s a prophet that we get to do a little growing up with. We get to see him in his youth. We know part of the story of his beginnings. And maybe that will help us relate to what’s going on in his life.

 
The kingdom of Judah was still in existence with King Jehoiakim ruling. In the third year of his reign, Your judgment came, and Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, besieged Jerusalem. King Nebuchadnezzar ordered his chief officer to bring into his royal court select children and youth of Israel, offspring of the royal line and of the nobles. He wanted “youths in whom was no blemish, but fair to look on and skillful in all wisdom, and skillful in knowledge, and discerning in thought, and such as had ability to stand in the king’s palace.”

 
This makes me think about a lot of things. First, it made me think about bringing in the children of Israel. The first word for the children of Israel is the Hebrew word ben. That’s the word that says that you were born of someone, that you are an offspring. But then the word yeled is used for the children in whom is no blemish. What’s the difference? It can mean young child or even adults. Actually, Exodus 21:22 uses the same word to refer to an unborn fetus, acknowledging it as a child while still in it’s mother’s womb. Obviously, You are telling us that there is no distinction between a child in the womb or out of the womb in value as a living being. “A person is a person no matter where he or she happens to be.” (Skip Moen)  And here is this pagan king who happens to have at least understood that concerning the children and youth of this conquered people. Yes, he was selective, but he understood that there was worth in the offspring of this nation.

 
Now, where do you go to find children and youth with no physical or moral spots on them? Where do you find unblemished people at all? Well, you look at where they came from. You look at their appearance. You look at their character. Some have it “naturally.” Some have been raised in it. Some have been trained up in it. But still, you have to know it when you see it and you have to look throughout the land for it.

 
King Nebuchadnezzar didn’t just want any kids. He wanted well favored young people in his court. He wanted them beautiful in appearance and in their thinking. He wanted to be surrounded by well-shaped individuals on the inside and the outside. Why? Because these kids would one day help him to rule his kingdom well. He would benefit from their skill.

 
So here he was, asking his chief eunuch Ashkenazi to select young people who were circumspect and intelligent. He wanted advisors to be able to see things on all sides. He wanted people who were prudent, and would carefully examine all the “circumstances that might affect a determination, or a measure to be adopted.”(Webster) He was looking for young people who would be skillful and wise. The king wanted youth with “yada,” real knowing. They needed to be cunning.

 

Let’s stop here at cunning momentarily. Cunning isn’t used here like a crafty deceiver. Cunning is someone who had not just knowledge but skill to do and apply. They had the skill and dexterity of artificers or “artists” and knowledge acquired by experience. (Webster) They weren’t just talkers. They were doers who knew what they were doing. Having yada was being observant, careful, instruct-able, advisable, aware, comprehending, diligent, friendly, feeling, transparent, respectful, teachable, understanding-even of future events by present signs.

 
These were to be young people who used their knowledge, that cunning with wit. Does that mean they were wise guys? Were they class clowns? Wit means using the intellect, having real understanding. It’s being able to associate ideas the right way, the natural way, but also in an unusual and striking way, so that others are surprised and pleased. It’s about putting ideas together quickly and well. It’s about associating ideas in a new and unexpected manner. That’s what Nebuchadnezzar was looking for.

 
These youth were not only to distinguish and discern facts and life intelligently but they were to be firm, filled with vigor and strength. And I’m not thinking this is only physical stamina but stamina of character. And these youths had to be teachable.

 
So Ashpenaz made his choice and among those he chose was Daniel. So here is Daniel, snatched from his home and his land and most of his people and taken into another nation. This isn’t a certainty, but some people think he may have been castrated. Whether that was imposed upon him or not, he was placed in the king’s court to learn to serve this king for the king’s benefit and for the benefit of his kingdom, this kingdom who had conquered his people and thrown his world upside down. So how does he handle all this?

 
Daniel has three years to figure it out before he would stand before the king. He had three years of beginning training. But there was something special about Daniel. All those qualities that the king desired, were already at work in Daniel. As a matter of fact, the chief of the eunuchs, Ashpenaz, saw something precious in Daniel so that God had brought Daniel “into favor and tender love” with him. Ashpenaz delighted in who Daniel was and had true compassion toward him. I’m thinking that was because Daniel knew You, Lord, well enough that despite his circumstances, he showed favor and compassion to those around him, including Ashpenaz who was over him.

 
Yes, Daniel was strong, but that was because he was grounded in You, Lord. I know that because he “purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the king’s food, nor with the wine which he drank” and asked the chief of the officers that he might eat differently. And because of his favor with the officers, it was granted after a ten day test period. Now, here Daniel was, already favored, already chosen because of how he shone out among youths, and after this his countenance was even fairer, his flesh was fatter (a good thing here), than all the other youths eating the king’s food. But it didn’t stop there. His heart and actions found favor not only with man, but with You, Lord. And so You gave them even more knowledge and skill in all learning and wisdom; and gave Daniel understanding in all, not some, in all visions and dreams.

 

And when the three years were finished, Daniel’s wisdom and understanding were unequalled (except for his three Hebrew “brothers”) in the court and he surpassed the others by ten times better!   As if that’s not extraordinary enough. This character exemplified his whole life through the reign of Nebuchadnezzar and into the reign of Cyrus! This was no one time deal. This is who Daniel was. Daniel knew his God so well, that he could remain personally united with Him even in a kingdom of many gods where there was no one to keep him “on task.” So, I have to ask, what’s my excuse?

 
When the world looks around for people with character like this, will they find it in me? When they look at me will they see a “child in whom is no blemish.” Am I full of the things that the people around me really need for their true welfare? Do I have favor and skill and wisdom and cunning and knowledge and understanding and ability from the Lord? Or am I just sharing my own? Am I teachable, by God first and then able to put all other learning in it’s correct perspective according to Him?

 
Would I stand up not only for God’s character but for upholding it in me no matter how much it singled me out or what the consequences might be? Do I have such a pleasant but strong spirit that non-believing people of high character would be drawn to me, that I would warm people’s hearts in love? Would I have advocates who were even outside my faith? I mean, I just can’t get over how respectfully and lovingly it appears that Daniel treated his captors, that they would feel this way about him. And I think, what a picture of Christ! What kind of picture am I painting in the world?

 
Thinking about all these things and whether my life looks like Daniel’s isn’t a far fetched idea. Paul talks about what our lives out to look like in Ephesians 5:27. He could have even been thinking about Daniel as he thought about the sacrifice given at the temple and as he thought about what You are doing in us, Lord. Here’s what he said that Christ did for us by His life and sacrifice and resurrection. It was all about presenting us to Himself, this glorious people that were called out of the world and unto Him, these individuals who listened and answered that call and responded. And in Him, He does what He does so that we are spot free, wrinkle free, and free of any such things. Why? So we are holy and without blemish, not just like Daniel but like Jesus Himself who is like God Himself. And we can do this and be this and allow God to do this in us and we live life out in Him because of the precious blood of Christ, “as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.” (1 Peter 1:19)

 
God, You are the original real deal. You are the origin of Character. Paul tells us in Ephesians 5:1 “Be you therefore imitators of God, as beloved children.” This mimetes, this imitating, isn’t like a flat 1 dimension image in a mirror. We’re talking about the real deal here. We’re talking about a God who through His Spirit creates the real deal in us. I’m not a flat copy and neither was Daniel. Imitation here is a call to real live action. It’s not an idea or a theology or a concept. It means doing what our God does. It shows with my life, not just my thoughts, how I align with You, Lord. It’s about how much I am really like my Father. Is there even a family resemblance? How strong is it? I’ll never be God but do my actions, and does my life duplicate His behavior? Am I a living duplicate of Your character, God?

 
Daniel wasn’t conformed to his circumstances because he was busy daily being transformed by the reality of his relationship with You, Lord. Because You are real and tangibly respond in our lives, we respond in the same real and tangible ways. That’s what walking in love is all about, it’s all about walking and responding and living in those real, tangible ways that You have shown Yourself to us. And character remains despite every situation. Your character never changes so neither does mine have to either. Life is about continually exhibiting Your character in me. It’s exhibiting obedience from my heart, not just compliance, but willingness from the depths of my heart.
I wonder if Daniel ever had a powwow with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the beginning? I wonder if he might have said something like this, “Be imitators of me, just as I am of God”? I’ll never know. But I know that Paul said that this way, “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 11:1) Does that seem awful prideful of him to say? Does that mean I’m not supposed to try to imitate Christ myself? Is Paul my example now? Paul’s an example just as much as Daniel is. I guess sometimes a copy is so good we can see the original almost perfectly represented by it. And the truth is that we are not called to be partial copies. We are called to be exact copies.

 
Now I was making a color copy of something that needed a signature. I like to sign official things in black. But my family made this point. It’s hard to tell that the black is original when the other copied words around it are black. So they suggested I sign in blue ink instead. But I see from that how much a copy can be like the original so that it’s so hard to tell what was copy and what was actual ink. That’s the kind of copies we are called to be of Christ.

 
We’re called to represent and reflect all the beauty of God’s character. He’s the One Original that is laying down on the copy machine for us to be represented from. I’m to reflect everything that comes from You, Lord, so much so that if we were placed next to each other, people shouldn’t be able to tell the difference. Wow! Really? Isn’t that a far order?

 
It would be if it were all up to me. But it’s not. God’s heart desire is to produce Himself in me. He does that through His Holy Spirit. Like Jesus said, “With men it is impossible, but not with God: for with God all things are possible.” (Mark 10:27) We’re not just talking ability here, we’re talking power, power to do it. The power of the Spirit is strong enough to make us spitting images.

 
I pray that You would make my life that transparent, like Daniel and Paul who could make this kind of claim. “If you’ve forgotten what Jesus looks like, look at me and my life and you’ll see Him so clearly because my life is just like His. Watch me and you can see Him again and then, as you copy me, you’ll be copying Him.” Lord, may my heart be so tangibly tied to You that I become that transparent that people see You instead of me. May I make everything in my life about You, my eating and drinking and sleeping and thinking and doing. May my life be all about my Father’s business so that I am so filled with Your character that all I do looks like You. I’m not there yet, Lord, but bring me there. I know it’s doable because Paul and Daniel aren’t the only transparent images of You out there. I’ve seen others and I want to be one of them too. So my prayer today is , make me Your spitting image, Lord.

Destitute and Bereaved No More

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“…for in You the fatherless finds mercy.” Hosea 14:3

 
Since I was a young child, I have had a heart for the orphan. I remember probably being around five years old and somehow knowing that You, Lord, watch over, care for, and love and invite a kingdom of orphans in to Your presence. To me, it was like all your children were orphans caring for other orphans. And then my parents ( when I was about 13) adopted my first brother! He was an answer to my prayers, that chubby, brown baby boy. And after I was married, my parents adopted five more siblings. So I know that there are lots of ways one can become “fatherless.” And I also know that there are ways that people don’t have to remain “fatherless.”

 
But what are You talking about here, when You speak about the fatherless? I believe that there is that level of understanding that means what it says outright. There are people in the world who don’t have their fathers in the picture. And You are there for them. But what’s so bad about being fatherless? The Hebrew word is yathom. It means lonely or bereaved, like a fatherless child or orphan. But what does bereaved mean? Webster’s dictionary says it means “deprived; stripped and left destitute.” And what is it to be destitute? Again, Webster says it means “to set from or away, not having or possessing; wanting; needy; abject; comfortless; friendless; one who is without friends or comfort; forsaken; deprived.” It’s not even that you once had it and then lost it. It’s that you may not have ever had it in your possession.

 
Now I have to ask, why do You pay attention so much to the fatherless? Why do You “execute justice for the fatherless and the widow, and love the sojourner, giving him food and clothing”? Have You set Your heart like that of a Father over us? Are You the God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribes? (Deuteronomy 10:18) Why do You call Your people to feel the same way about the Levite, and the stranger, and the fatherless, and the widow? (Deut. 14:29) Why do You command us to all rejoice together? (Debt. 16:14) Why do You have us hold back some of our harvest for the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow? (Debt. 24:19)

 
The Psalmist tells us, “the poor commits himself unto You; You are the helper of the fatherless.” You care for the fatherless and the oppressed. You are a father of the fatherless, and a judge of the widows. You defend the poor and fatherless, and do justice to the afflicted and needy. You preserve strangers; relieve the fatherless and widow. And over and over again, like in Isaiah 1:17, we are called to do the same, “Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow.” James took this thought and reaffirmed it for us in the light of Jesus who was all about His Father’s business and heart.  Pure religion, pure worship that’s undefiled before God the Father, is this: to visit the fatherless (like God manifests himself to us, really coming to us!), and widows in their afflictions and troubles, right where they are in the reality of their lives and conditions, and to keep oneself unblemished from the “world view” by living out God’s view.” (That’s my “paraphrase.”)

 
So here’s the question I have. Who is really fatherless? Who is really the widow? Who is really the stranger? Aren’t we all? Until we surrender to God, until we know Jesus, we are on our own, alone. There’s something we are missing and something we are striving for that we can’t attain until we have You, Lord. But the good news is that You are just waiting to adopt us joyously into Your arms.

 
It’s like being the worst kind of orphan because we left You. It’s like we approached the law and said, “I don’t want to be His child. I want to be my own person.” And we got it. And some of us have learned what a destitute place that is to be outside of You. All our friends, all our doings, all our fame or fortune, all our adventures can’t fill the hole of what we are missing because that hole can only be filled with You. That’s why God used Hosea to call His people to return to Him. “Israel, you’ve fallen by your own choice, your own sin. Come back to me. Make it right. Don’t be alone any more. I am for you. I always have been. Only you haven’t always been for Me.”

 
“Come by your choice and your actions. Come by your words. Talk to Me. Speak to Me. Relate to Me. Admit you need Me to take care of you and your sin. Acknowledge that you understand. Use the “calves of your lips,” the sacrifice of your lips to praise Me instead of ‘dissing’ Me.” There needs to come a point where we understand that Asshur can’t save us, and our strong horses can’t either. There needs to come a point when we realize that it’s not by the work of our hands. Our hands only create worthless idols without You.

 
The truth is, without You I am fatherless. I am set far away. Without You I am wanting and destitute, needy, comfortless, and friendless. I am backslidden and need Your healing. I need a Father who loves me perfectly and wholly. I need You to grow me and bless me and make me fruitful for You. I need the safety of shade of Your shadow. I need Your revival. I need to give off Your fragrance as Your fragrance covers me. I need to hear You and observe You and receive my fruit from You. I want to be wise. I want to understand these things. I want to be prudent. I want to know and experience You. I want to walk in You and Your ways because You are right. I’ve been wrong. But I don’t have to keep being wrong. I can be right in You.

 
So, now that I think about it, before I ever thought about the fatherless, You were already reaching out. You are the Father of fathers. Our heavenly Father knew and knows our destitute condition and cared so deeply to get us back in His arms. “Behold, what manner of love the Father has bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God…” (1 John 3:1) John got it. He wants to help us get it. He shares, “Don’t love the world, or the things that are in the world. If a person loves the world, the love of the Father isn’t in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world…Who is a liar but he hat denies that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist, that denies the Father and the Son. Whosoever denies the Son, the same doesn’t have the Father: he that acknowledges the Son has the Father also.” Our Father fights for us. He sent us an advocate, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the way to fellowship with the Father so we will never have to be bereaved again. A father of flesh is one thing but isn’t it better to be “in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live?” (Hebrews 12:9) May God Himself and our Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, direct our way unto Him. And may we all, understanding what it is to be fatherless, widowed, and strangers, reach out in Your love to the destitute and bereaved around us.

Where Does My Help Come From?

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Photo credit to Brittany Cunningham.

 

“O Israel, you have destroyed yourself; but in Me is your help.” Hosea 13:9

 
Sometimes it’s so easy to forget where we came from. We live in a world of the “self-made” and the “self-proclaimed.” Somehow we think we got ourselves where ever we are. If we stop to think about it, how did we even get to be born and exist? Did we determine it? Did we choose the country we were born in, or our culture, or our parents, or our circumstances? But somehow we find ourselves thinking that I am in control of my own destiny. And in so doing, we are like Israel and destroy ourselves, because we miss out on the reality of life, that life is in God and that God alone is our help.

 
Funny thing is that even the name or word Israel means “he will rule as God.” Now that is not implying that Israel will make himself a god. That’s implying that Israel will rule just like God, that Israel will think like God, and love like God, and act like God, and have the mind and heart of God in what he does. It means that Israel was created to bear Your image before the world.

 
But here we have this image bearer who has destroyed himself and his image because he stopped trusting in the One who was every help he would ever need. What does God mean when He says “but in Me is your help”? How is He a help? Is a helper that important? So do we mainly do it on our own and then get a little “help” from God? Is that the idea here?

 
This word for help in Hebrew is ezer. Let’s look at how it is used in Scripture. Actually, the first two uses of this word for help are in Genesis 2:18 and 20. “And the LORD God said, ‘It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a help meet for him.’” And in verse 20, “And the man gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field; but for Adam there was not found a help meet for him.” Why was it so important to God that Adam have a helper corresponding to him? Why was this so important from the start? Why did the very first “perfect” man in the beginning still need help? Why was it not good for him to be alone? Alone how? Help from who? What kind of help? Why would God design Eve from the stuff of man to give the help he needed and to keep him from being alone? And why would God use a masculine word to describe Eve?

 
But those aren’t my only questions. Where did help really originate. I mean, Eve’s not masculine so maybe the origin is not in Eve. Maybe it’s origin, the origin of help itself, is in and from God and His alone to impart. What if ezer, that kind of help, is a “divine characteristic”? What if it has to do with God and Your relationship with Israel? How does that work? What does that look like? How are You a “help”?

 
It’s interesting. Hosea shares God’s words to Israel, “Yet I am the LORD your God from the land of Egypt; and you know no God but Me, and beside Me there is no savior.” This takes us back to Exodus 18:4 where we see ezer again. Moses named one of his sons Eliezer as a declaration “for the God of my father was my help [ezer], and delivered me from the sword of Pharaoh.” The ezer delivers from oppressors and rescues from danger. We have something similar in the next occurrence in Deuteronomy 33:7: “And this he said of Judah, “Hear, O LORD, the voice of Judah, and bring him in to his people. With your hands contend for him, and be a help against his adversaries.” What does this tell us of the ezer? “God assists, supports, and reinforces Israel against her enemies.” (Skip Moen)
The ezer doesn’t stop there. Psalm 33:20 declares, “Our soul waits for the LORD; He is our help and our shield.” What kind of help is that? He is the deliverer and the one who showers with loving kindnesses (hesed). He blesses and watches over. Armies don’t save kings, strength doesn’t deliver warriors, war horses don’t save or rescue but this God, this Help does! This ezer can deliver even our souls from death and fill us with gladness.
We hear an honest cry in Psalm 70:5, “But I am poor and needy; hasten to me, O God! You are my help and my deliverer; O LORD, do not delay!” Are we afflicted and in need? God provides. Why do we look elsewhere?

 
Why trust? Because only God is our help and our shield. “O Israel, trust in the LORD! He is their help and their shield.” (Psalm 115:9) The kind of help we need, the kind of shielding cannot come from anywhere else. Only God is mighty enough to save the way we need to be saved.

 
Why rely on God’s help? “Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD his God…” (Psalm 146:5) This is where all blessing, all true blessing and hope comes from. This is where it exists in reality. This is its origin and creator.

 
This, all of this, is help. This, all of this, is ezer. This, all of this, is God and God alone. If I am to be a help, then I can only be a true help if it is in the image of the One who IS HELP. Israel is not the creator of help and neither am I. The truth is that “My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth.” (Psalm 121:2) I didn’t make heaven and earth. I didn’t create life. Even when I gave birth to my daughters, the stuff that conception occurred from, someone else created it because there it was in my body without me putting it there. I mean, I didn’t even have a hand in forming myself. And it was the same story for my mother and her mother and her mother’s mother and on and on. How easily we exalt ourselves and give ourselves credit for things we have no power over.

 
Like Israel we sin more and more because we started giving credit to ourselves where it wasn’t due. We start seeing ourselves as our own helpers, even though it’s been You God all along. We design our own way, our own help, our own worthless idols. We think according to our own measly understanding. We become fickle and think of nothing past the here and now. We lose the eternal perspective. We create little minds grasping after air instead of great minds molded by a great God grasping after Your gloriousness and seeing and declaring greatness that is You.

 
Instead of bearing Your great image and helping like You help us, we hurt and destroy ourselves and others. We’re like morning clouds instead, that are here and then gone and leave no effect behind of any value. We’re like the worthless chaff blown away by the wind or smoke from a chimney that no one is benefitted by.

 
But the truth is that God is God. God delivered Israel from Egypt by His help. Israel was helpless on his own. Only God saves. Only God. Only God walked with Israel in the wilderness keeping the shoes and clothes whole over all those years and providing food and water. Only God fills. But the danger is in our filling and in our wanting to be filled when we want to be filled with anything other than You, God. When we hunger for other things, we help ourselves, and that’s trouble. Actually, that’s worse than trouble; that’s sin.

 
Israel isn’t the only one who has destroyed herself. You and I could be in the middle of destroying ourselves right now. Who is my help? Is it You alone, Lord? I want to be like the Canaanite woman who had the daughter who was troubled by a demon and she came to Jesus worshipping Him and said, “Lord, help me!” (Matthew 15:25) Or like the father whose son was tormented by demons who came to Jesus saying, “And often it has cast him into the fire, and into the waters, to destroy him: but if you can do anything, have compassion on us, and help us!” (Mark 9:22) I want to be like that father who then cried out to the Lord, “Lord, help my unbelief!” Yes, I want to come to where help originates and true help is found and given. I want to go to where Paul invited us with God. “Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16) Paul knew and I know that our help, every help we need, is only found in You and that is where I want to be found- in You, all the days of my life, for in You is my help.

Dust in the Wind

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“Ephraim feeds on wind, and follows after the east wind: he daily increases lies and desolation; and they do make a covenant with the Assyrians, and oil is carried into Egypt.” (Hosea 12:1)

 
The group Kansas said it was the same old song. The lyrics continue, “Just a drop of water in an endless sea/ All we do crumbles to the ground, though we refuse to see/ Dust in the wind/ All we are is dust in the wind.” Well, it is the same old song. Our life is brief and fleeting compared to eternity. And since it is so brief and fleeting, it would behoove us to learn how to make the most of this short life we’ve been given on this side of eternity.

 
It’s interesting to see here that the word used in Hebrew for wind is also the word used for the spirit. It can mean wind, breath, or spirit. In Genesis 1:2 we hear, “…And the Spirit of God (Ruach Elohim) moved upon the face of the waters.” In Genesis 6:17 it is used for the “breath of life.” In Genesis 8:1 it is the wind that passed over the earth that dried up the waters after the flood. Pneuma is the Greek equivalent found in the New Testament.

 
So how is it used in Hosea? And why is this important? Because “God’s Ruach is the source of life.” (gotquestions.org) You can deny that if you want, you can contradict the truth of it, you can refuse to grant it, you can neglect to acknowledge it, you can refuse to confess it, you can reject it and refuse to embrace it, but the truth remains no matter what you say. This Ruach, this Spirit of God, this Breath of God is the giver of life to all. He’s the One who put the “non-divine” ruach in each of us. We owe every breath we take in our life to His Creative Spirit. The God’s Word translation shares Moses’ words from Numbers 27:16 this way, “Lord, You are the God who gives the breath of life to everyone.” Job declared, “All the while my breath is in me, and the spirit of God is in my nostrils…” (Job 27:3) In his conversation with Job, Elihu shares, “The Spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty has given me life.” (Job 33:4)

 
This thought carries over into the New Testament in the word pneuma. We see it shared from the mouth of Jesus in John 3. “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” John is using intentional word play here with pneuma (wind) and pneumatic (Spirit). In writing it’s called an inclusion, “a rhetorical device that ties its contents closer together. In this case, the inclusion contains the comparison between the actions of the wind and being born of the Spirit.” (throughandto.com)  The metaphor becomes stronger. We see how the movement of the wind helps us see the movement of the Holy Spirit. There is an “‘other’ origin, destination, and power—like the wind” that is not “centered in human initiative.”

 
But Ephraim, God’s people were forgetting that. They were feeding on the wind but not feeding on the Wind that fills. They were feeding on air, the wind that blows to and fro and sometimes doesn’t blow at all. They were feeding on wind, on that air, that just blows and has no means of nourishing the body or soul. They were feeding on emptiness. And they were pursuing after emptiness all day long. They were adding lie after lie to their lives. It’s pursuit was bringing more wasting and more desolation and ravaging into their lives. It’s like they were choosing oppression.

 
Remember, God has made a covenant with His people. It was a covenant of love and care and provision. It was a covenant of His presence. It was a covenant of His Spirit with them. In truth, God’s covenant was all about them feeding on His Spirit and being blessed by that. It was about them following after Him by the power of His Spirit. They were to follow and be empowered by the wind, the breath that issued forth life and joy and strength and goodness from His Creative Being. But what did they choose? They chose to make covenant with the Assyrians and the Egyptians for temporary protection and temporary wealth. They broke covenant with the Breath of Life to establish covenant with that which is fleeting, simple dust in the empty wind.

 
Isn’t it the same old song today? God is calling us to covenant with Him. He has given His Son, Jesus Christ, to pay the penalty for our sin of turning away and wanting things our way instead of His. He has given us a way to come home by faith. He stands with His arms wide open. Just as He breathed the precious breath of life accompanied by His Spirit into Adam, so He wishes to breath His life-giving Spirit into each of us. Do you really believe that the complexity of human life and all of creation occurred by accident? Is that even logical or reasonable? Is that really intelligent? When was the last time that a house just fell into place with every brick, every piece of wood and nail, aligned just right? You really believe that? I don’t.

 
I believe the song that Jesus sang in the beginning with God when He breathed that breath of life into humanity and shared of His Spirit. I believe in a personal God who longs for His children to return to Him, to return to that relationship of fullness. I believe that we can choose to chase after the empty wind or we can choose to be filled with the wholeness of His Spirit. I think if we sit back and think about it, if we look and remember, we’ll see God’s hand in our life. If only Ephraim remembered Jacob and how God had a plan for him even in His mother’s womb. How He was there in the midst of his struggles. How Jacob wept before Him. If only we would remember. Remember what? That the LORD God of hosts takes time for us. That though You are God, You get close enough to breath Your breath of life into us. You come close enough to touch us and warn us and share with us and love us and guide us.

 
It’s true. I can’t explain the wind. And I can’t explain how You do what You do or how Your Holy Spirit can be or do what He does. But just as I know there is wind, not only when I fly my kite, but by so many other evidences, so I know that Your Holy Spirit is at work by His many evidences. I can choose to follow any wind. I can choose emptiness if I want to. But I want to turn to You. I want to keep mercy and judgment and wait on You continually, God, because You take this mere speck of dust that is me and give me a life that matters and is filled with Your Spirit. You give me an eternity that begins in the here and now. You give me meaning and purpose not just for today, but forever in You. You don’t just give me life, You give me LIFE, because You are LIFE. May I feed on You and follow You and increase in You all the days of my life. And may I live forever in covenant with You. I may be dust in the wind, but in the Right Wind, I will not crumble but I will rise with You, I will see LIFE and know LIFE and live LIFE forever with You. This dust matters. This dust, when surrendered to You, comes together with the other dusts surrendered with You, and we bring out LIFE, like You brought forth life when You gathered the dust of the earth and formed Adam and breathed Your LIFE into him. If all I am is dust in the WIND, there is no stopping me.

Mere Men

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“…for I am God and not a man…” Hosea 11:9

What would you do if you had a child who you loved and who you had rescued out of a bad place? What if he was in a bad place and you were calling him out, calling him into your love and protection and care and yet, the more you called the deeper he went away into that bad place? What if he engrossed himself in everything that stood against you?
What if you had taught this child to walk? What if you had lifted him up in your arms time and time again and even healed him? And what if all this went unnoticed and unappreciated? What if you had led them with all your kindness, and with all your love? And what if you had helped bear his burdens and even bent down to feed them? What if this is how you had loved and taken care of him and devoted yourself to him and he turned away from you and wouldn’t return? What then?

What if your child’s own counsel, his every thought was against you and causing all of this? What if when they called you it was because they wanted something from you and not because they wanted you at all? Would you stop loving that child? Would you stop caring?

Some mothers and fathers would write them off or disown them. Some mothers or fathers would be offended and angry. Some mothers and fathers would long for their child to return. Some mothers and fathers would try to force the child back. Some would search. Some would waste away in grief.

How would God react? How would You respond, Lord? How did You respond to Israel and Ephraim who did this? How are You responding as they still do this? How do You respond to us who do this and to us who are still doing this? What are Your words and what are Your feelings and what are Your actions?

“How can I give you up, O Ephraim? How can I hand you over, O Israel? How can I make you like Admah? How can I treat you like Zeboiim? My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender.” What does this even mean, like Admah and like Zeboiim? I have to run back to Deuteronomy 29 as Moses was speaking to the children of Israel. He had shared the blessing that would come by choosing to remain in the You and in Your way. But now he shares a warning of a curse. Now he shares the consequences of not living in You and Your way. And if we follow that route, we will come to Admah and Zeboiim.

Here was that child that You had rescued and delivered and loved and made Your own. Here is that child who was redeemed from Egypt. “Remember Who delivered you and what you were delivered from.” Why? Because it’s dangerous for a man or woman or family or tribe to let their heart turn away from their true deliverer and to turn back to serve that which is empty and dead like the gods of the other nations. Yet, even in the warning, some hear and choose to bless themselves in this way. Some choose to seek peace in that which cannot give peace. Some choose to walk in the stubbornness of their own heart and all the good that You have done for them is swept away.

This is sad because instead of receiving God’s love and provision, he will receive no pardon but only anger instead, and all that You said would befall One who is outside of Your care will come to pass. Worse yet, You say his name shall be blotted out from under heaven. He’ll be separated and not just separated but set apart to receive evil. He will receive hurt, and mischief, and grief and will not have a comforter. Why? Because this is what He chose. It’s not like God said, “I want to curse you. Go out and live so I can punish you.” Do we hear what God said? “Come unto me, all you that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”(Matthew 11:28) “Let the little children come unto me, and don’t stop them: for of such is the kingdom of God.” (Luke 18:16) It’s not God who chases us away into punishment. It is our own choice to separate ourselves.

The truth is that blessing and cursing are both part of covenant relationship. By keeping covenant with God, by keeping our relationship healthily intact, we receive the blessing of that relationship and in turn, bless God by our respect and love for Him. But to break covenant, to break relationship with You, God, is to enter into “sickness and death, barrenness in people and cattle, crop failure, poverty, defeat, and disgrace” instead. Our choice of what to do with our relationship with You determines whether we live blessed or cursed, not because You choose to curse us, but because life outside of You is accursed.

We’ve always been warned.  It’s written in Your word. It’s not like this is a surprise for anyone except those who have come in our footsteps, to those who we have lied to. There are those generations that have followed us from where we choose to live among the cursed things, and they look out at life and say, “Why are things so bad? Why has the Lord done this?” And one day we will have to answer truthfully in reply, “Because of us. Because we walked away from His covenant and we left His presence and protection. This is what happens.”

Our land and our hearts are of “brimstone, and salt, and a burning, that is not sown, nor bears, nor any grass grows therein, like the overthrow of Sodom and Gomorrah, Admah and Zeboiim, which the LORD overthrew in His anger and in His wrath.” Why? Because we forsook what was true and good and right and chose our own way, a way that caused those around us to fall and be sick and to hurt and to hurt others. Sodom and Gomorrah aren’t alone. Admah and Zeboiim went with them. Israel could go that way to and so could each of us. It will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for Sodom and Gomorrah than for those who won’t listen and respond to Your covenant now that You have demonstrated it through Christ, our living Example.

But we want to make our own choices and have our own way. And so some of us choose to face the sword and the Assyrians instead of facing God. We choose to be consumed instead of having our consuming God protect us and love us and care for us. We choose our own counsel instead of Yours. We backslide instead of walking forward in faith. We ignore Your calling and seek our own pleasure. And yet You don’t want to give us up. You don’t want to surrender us to the enemy. You don’t desire to make us like Admah or Zeboiim. Even when we feel nothing for You, Your heart is turned within You. You hold back from the fierceness of Your anger. You don’t respond like us. You respond like the Holy God that You are. You respond with Jesus. You respond by humbling Yourself for a people who don’t know to be humble before You. You love regardless of whether You are loved or feel loved. You receive pain to free us from our pain. You are hope when there seems to be none. You are ever faithful when no one else is. And You believe in us, that we will turn and return in covenant to You. You believe that we will walk with You. You believe that we will come to see You as You are and tremble before You, running to Your protection and love.

And all I can say is that I am so grateful that You are not a man, but that You are God. And I am so grateful that there is no god who could ever, nor will ever compare to You. You are God. You choose us. You equip us. You make us like You. You love us. You are for us. You believe in us because You know us and what You created us to be in You. You are good and true and faithful forever. You are blessing and anything outside of You is cursing. Maybe the question isn’t, “Why would a good God allow evil?” Maybe the appropriate question should be, “Why would I choose cursing? Why would I choose evil? Why would anyone? And then, why would I blame it on You, God?” I suppose it’s because we’re just men, but You, You are God, and You have a better plan for us then to just remain mere men.