Oh, To Be Greatly Beloved

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“At the beginning of your supplications a word went forth, and I am come to declare it; for you are greatly beloved; therefore look into the word, and understand the vision.” (Daniel 9:23)

 
Can you imagine God sending Gabriel, an angel who stands before Him waiting for His command, coming to you and telling you that God has heard your prayers and made a declaration according to them and, to top it all off, that you are greatly beloved? Now I’m going to leave arguments over the prophesy to others today. But I want to examine Daniel’s heart. I want to see what it is that causes God to delight in someone like that.

 

Why? Because I want to be that kind of a person. I want God to experience shear delight in me. Isn’t that what we were created for? Isn’t that part and parcel with glorifying God?
The Westminster Shorter Catechism starts off by asking this question, “What is the chief end of man?” And then it answers, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever.” Where did they get this from? Well, you can read Psalm 86, Isaiah 60:21, Romans 11:36, and 1 Corinthians 6:20 and 10:31 to see. But don’t forget to look at the clincher in Revelation 4:11, “You are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power: for You have created all things, and for your pleasure they are and were created.” Am I bringing God pleasure with my life? Am I fulfilling my God-given purpose on this earth? Or have I given myself some other foreign purpose? And if I have adopted some foreign purpose for my life, is that really even living at all?

 
I can’t help but think how fully alive Daniel was. He’s lived through at least two kingdoms being overthrown, probably the death of his parents or at least total separation from them and another nation trying to wipe away his identity. But how does he respond? He holds on to his identity, but not with bitterness, and clings to You God and Your ways in a nation where it was anything but easy. But it’s as though he were living for You and living to please You in all he was. He wouldn’t eat what would be unpleasing to You. He wasn’t rude to those around him or why would they find favor in him? Was that a typical Jewish response to Gentiles and overthrowers? That was a God response in a young man or boy who cherished You.

 
He didn’t stop there. As a man, he not only wanted to save his life and that of his Jewish brothers, but cared for the lives of the other “wise” men and trusted You for the interpretation of the king’s dream. But he was not self-confident. He asked his brothers to pray and fast and did likewise because His confidence was in You, the One he delighted in. Even fear of the king’s anger at the outcome of a dream did not hold him back from sharing Your truth.

 
How boldly he stood before Belshazzar when summoned, probably in his 70’s and yet he had not forgotten all that You had done before. He held Belshazzar accountable before You and the people for not remembering and being moved to action by what he knew about You. He was so delighted in You that he cared nothing for the rewards offered by the king.

 
On the other hand, You were so delighted in Daniel that when the kingdom was overthrown, You gave those rewards and more to Daniel anyway. Because of You and his love and honor of You in everything, Daniel’s character stood out in every reign and he was continually chosen as a leader and advisor even to the kings. Which brings me back to this saying, “It is the glory of God to conceal a thing: but the honor of kings is to search out a matter.” (Proverbs 25:2)

 
I can’t help bringing up this verse again and again. What does it mean, especially in context today? I mean, God, You are continually concealing things and giving us, like Daniel and the kings, things we need to search out but that You know the answer to. And maybe that’s the point. It is the glory of God to conceal a thing. You carry the weight of knowing everything and when is the right time to reveal it and who are the right people to reveal it to lest it be like pearls trampled by the swine. But is it really only for kings to search it out? Or do we receive the honor of a king, are we acting like a king ought to act, when we, whoever we are, like Daniel search out every matter according to You and in You? Daniel was not a king and yet he received the glory of a king by kings and from You. Why?

 
Could it be because Daniel delighted in the King of kings? It’s so hard for us to grasp this since we live in a democracy because Your kingdom God is not a democracy. You are King. If Your thumb is up we live, if down, we die. What You say goes, despite what we say. Skip Moen shares, “It is the King’s right and prerogative to involve himself in any aspect of any life under His authority. Furthermore, since God is the King of all the earth, everything belongs to Him. He doesn’t have to prove ownership in a court of law. He cannot be stripped of His property. What He decides to do with His possessions (including you and me) is entirely up to Him. And He holds everyone under His domain accountable for their treatment and stewardship of His resources. There are consequences for refusing to live according to the will of the King. In the days when we are awash in political rhetoric and the promises of leadership, it is well to remember who the King really is. No matter who we choose to lead us, they must answer to Him. So must we for our choosing. If we choose leadership that does not honor Him, we will pay the price. There is only one King, and He is not on the ballot.” And Daniel shows us how to live according to the True King who is not on the world’s ballot.

 
Kings would be wise to search out matters God’s way who conceals and reveals. But it’s not just for kings. We can reap the honor of kings, and especially our King, to live as the kings aren’t living, to love the One the kings aren’t loving, to honor the One the kings ought to honor. Earthly kings and kingdoms are temporary. Come on, look at history. But the True King and His Kingdom are forever. Like Daniel, I better learn how to live under and for Him now. Like Daniel, I want to love and enjoy service under my King all the days of my life.

 
Daniel’s heart was so sensitive to You Lord. He not only thought of himself but of those around him. He lifted up the whole nation and advocated for them, identifying in their sin against You. He set his face unto You. You alone were His source of help and sustenance and answer to the things he didn’t understand. He was serious about hearing from You, so serious he fasted and prayed. He knew You and knew Your word. He sought You out everywhere, looking for Your evidences all around him. There was confusion and shame where You were not, but righteousness with You, and that, or rather You were what he sought. From You and in You were the mercy and forgiveness he sought. He understood that they belonged to You and weren’t just things You gave out. To find them, one must be in relationship with the One who emits mercy and forgiveness because they are part of His essence.

 

Daniel had been doing the job the kings should have done, seeking answers from God. But they weren’t. But since he was, God delighted in his delighting and gave him the answer of kings from Himself, the King of all.  And You send Gabriel to bring the answer to this man who has been spending his life delighting in You, to this man who You hold as beloved. You send this angel named Gabriel from Your presence into his, to share a prophecy. Now, whether that was concerning “Messiah the Prince,” search it out like a true king, I won’t tell you. But the next two times that Gabriel shows up, he’s telling Zacharias that his son will be a forerunner before the Lord, and he tells Mary that her son will be called “the Son of the Most High.”

 
There are a lot of things in our lives that aren’t clear to us, a lot that is concealed before us. If I want to know the truth about it, I need to seek it out from one Source, God alone. I need to stop living like the world and start living like You and loving like You and delighting in You above everything else around me. I need to be willing to sacrifice my comfort in this world, to be comforted by and in You. If You aren’t my most beloved then how can I expect to be Your beloved? We reap what we sow, right? How much of myself am I truly sowing in You? When I think of all that You have sown into people who continually fail You and disregard You, I am amazed and shocked. Because I have been one of those. And yet You love me, and gave Your Christ to return me into Your glory that I might love and serve You again and be loved by You. I guess we’ve always been loved. But it’s maybe greater to be beloved because it’s a reciprocal relationship experienced and treasured by both parties. That’s the kind of relationship Daniel had. And that’s the kind of relationship I want, no matter the cost.

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.

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.

My Shepherd Farmer

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Photo credit to Herdwick Shepherd.

 

“Sow for yourselves righteousness; reap steadfast love; break up your fallow ground, for it is the time to seek the LORD, that He may come and rain righteousness upon you.” Hosea 10:12

 
This is the standard, but this is not the reality for us all. “Sow to yourselves righteousness, reap in mercy…You have plowed wickedness, you have reaped iniquity.” Yes, that is the standard and it’s the possibility but it only becomes a probability when we follow and do what the words say.

 
“Sow to yourselves righteousness (tsedaqah), reap as mercy (hesed).” First, how do we determine what righteousness is? Is it just doing good things? By whose standards? Tsedaqah is more than doing good things. Tsedaqah is about everything that God does. He is the standard setter and the standard bearer. It’s everything right, pure, true, good, just and more. Think of the heart of God, think of the actions of God and you have tsedaqah. I think of the widow at the temple who put her last coin in the offering box (a form of tsedaqah). She put all her trust in God and His care. She put all her tsedeqah in God’s tsedeqah which is a bigger box than that offering box outside the temple. I think of Jesus who was made unto us wisdom and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption. (1 Corinthians 1:30) I think of the Son of God, Jesus, who God made “to be sin for us, [He] who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.” (2 Corinthians 5:21) I think of how Paul declared “the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.” (Romans 14:17)

 
I think of those things and see that righteousness is more than being good. Righteousness is a relationship with the heavenly father. It is a joy in all the things that bring Him joy and a distaste for all the things that are distasteful to Him. It is a joining in with Him in what He is doing and an absence of desire for what He is not delighting in. It’s self-sacrifice for the benefit of others. Sometimes it’s painful but it is always good and always the best. It always glorifies God and never glorifies self. It always thinks of others.

 
Tsedaqah or righteousness isn’t about speaking in tongues, or having prophetic powers, or understanding mysteries, or having knowledge. It’s not about having faith that moves mountains or giving everything up or delivering ourselves over to death for the sake of something good. It’s about pure, unadulterated love from God and love of God. It’s letting the character of God flow through me and out to others. It’s what each of us was created for, to be vessels of God’s character, image bearers of our Creator in this world.

 
Because His love is patient and kind, we realize that which was planted in us and we plant that around us. We realize it’s not about us and it never was but it was always about You, God, and our boast that we plant, is in You. I’m not puffed up or rude but the humility You displayed is what I plant. You could have had Your own way in every life. You guide and You invite but You don’t insist. I plant those same seeds and give people the choice to choose righteousness or wickedness, life or death. You didn’t treat me with irritability or resentment, but love and forgiveness and I plant those seeds for the sake of others. You never rejoiced in doing wrong even if I deserved it, but You rejoiced in the truth and doing it and being it and living it and sharing it. So I sow, no matter what someone else might deserve. Your righteousness bore all my wrongs and all my injustices to You and yet You still loved me. I must sow the same to others. You believed in me before anyone else. I must do the same. You endure no matter how hard things are and so must I. Your love never ends and neither must mine if it is in You and from You. This is righteousness. This is only attained in relationship with You. But I cannot sow without it. At least, I cannot sow and reap hesed without You sowing in me first.

 
If I want hesed to spring forth from my life and its influences, If I want “mercy, lovingkindness, unwavering care and concern, goodness” and more to flow from my life I have to sow Your conduct and Your integrity. It takes my sowing the seed and breaking up the hard ground to give nature the chance to put the rain and sun and warmth and air together in such a way as to grow the seed and produce that which nourishes me as I eat it. But if I don’t sow, I don’t grow food, and I don’t get fed. Sowing righteousness doesn’t just feed others; in feeding others, I am fed. No man lives by that kind of bread alone.

 
What does that mean? Of course if all I ate was bread and no other nutritional source I would die because of lack of adequate nutrition. But what was Jesus trying to tell us by that? What did He mean when He said He was the Bread of Life? Am I not just to look to sowing? Am I in need of the reaping? Does the reaping and accepting from others feed me? Am I in need of being sown in myself? Do I need to know that I am not sufficient in myself and that I must be fed from You, Lord, and from what You feed others? Just a thought…

 
It’s time to seek the LORD, that He may come and rain righteousness upon us. I can sow, but I can’t make it rain. I can sow, but I can’t make the sun shine and make it warm enough. So I can’t sow rightly without seeking You first, Lord. I sow, but You provide. I mean, You’re even the One who gives me the seed. I mean, unless I’m planting healthy, good seed, I’m not going to have a healthy, good crop. That’s got to come from You too.

 
But there’s a problem. I can plow iniquity. I can turn the soil and plant tainted seeds. I can plant seeds that are foreign to You. I can plant seeds of hate and distrust, of anger and shame, of pride and apathy. I can choose to plant those things. But then I will reap them in greater measure. And those around me will reap them. I mean, what do I want to feed on and feed others? Injustice? Lies? Is it really worth it to trust in my own way and in all the people around me instead of trusting in You, my Creator and the Lover of my soul?

 

Everyone will plow something. Everyone must harrow for himself. But what will it be?
You can blame it on God if you want to. But He didn’t invite injustice into the world. We did. We have the choice to sow righteousness or not. Why do bad things happen? Is it because God does not love? Or is it really because we don’t love enough to practice what God practices, to let Him have His way in us and in the world? Do we have injustice because it’s the logical consequence of sowing wickedness? Well, if we don’t like injustice, why not choose to sow righteousness in Christ instead?

 
I can plow wickedness by having a total disregard and contempt for Your ways, Lord, or I can sow righteousness by loving and adhering to Your ways. I can follow my false heart or follow You God who is always true. I can declare “We have no king, for we do not fear the LORD; and a king-what could he do for us?” I can do things on my own, my own way, but I better be ready for the outcome.

 

On the other hand, I can declare, “You are my King! Not only do I fear You, Lord, but I love You with every part of my being. You can do everything for me. You sing over me. You give me life. You give me purpose. You give me You. Yes, You can do everything for me for You are my Everything!” Lord, I want to sow everything I have in You. I want You to teach me to sow You in my life so that what is brought forth nourishes me and those around me in You. I love Your righteousness, Lord, and I want to live in it and draw others to it. You are the most amazing King I know. You are King, yet You are humble Shepherd and Farmer as well, and You are unashamed of teaching me step by step all that I need to know to follow in Your footsteps.

Unwrapping the Knowledge

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Photo credit to Minden-Press Herald.

 

“My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge…” Hosea 4:5

Not just any people, but God’s people are perishing, are dumb, are silent, are failing, are being cut down and undone utterly. Why? For lack of knowledge. I’m wondering if “lack” here is the best interpretation of the Hebrew beliy. I mean, the truth is that Paul tells us “that unto them were committed the oracles of God.” (Romans 3:2) So there was no “lack” of “knowledge” as we think of these terms. It was there. They had it. So what was the problem?

You tell us the heart of the problem with your subsequent words, “because you have rejected knowledge, I will also reject you.” Therefore, I see, that one can have knowledge right there in their grasp and yet still not have knowledge. I can have a “form” of knowledge, yet it be totally worthless to me because I don’t acknowledge the knowledge for what it truly is.

The Psalmist in Psalm 101:3 says, “I will set no worthless thing before my eyes; I hate the work of those who fall away; it shall not fasten its grip on me.” But this is just the problem. The people of God turned their hearts to focus on worthless things and in so doing, treated their relationship with You as worthless and might I say, worth less. Your pleasure, Your will, Your image became to them good for nothing compared to the other things that lured them. They treated Your ways as garbage or trash and went after other gods who offered them things the way they wanted them. In treating You like garbage they fell into worshiping that which was garbage and that which couldn’t deliver anything but lies and harm.

That word translated as lack here is a strong emphatic word in Hebrew. It’s a pronouncement about the character of a thing and in this case, of a people. It’s usually about moral character. It’s about people choosing to “practice and promote disobedience to God and man” even though they have all the knowledge to know better and do better. But You look at their life and call it worthless, not because You see no value in them, but because they are depriving themselves of their own worth and their own purpose upon this earth. These people were choosing to defy God and practice and promote what was totally against Him. They would choose to defy their very purpose in creation. Now that’s a sticky situation.

So, what kind of knowledge was lacking or made worthless by the people? The knowledge of God. It’s the heart of all true knowledge. Solomon shared, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction.” (Proverbs 1:7) That doesn’t just mean that we can know about things because we are afraid of God. It’s not just about a proper perspective on life. It’s about respecting and honoring God for who God is, for all the magnitude of who He is. And then it goes beyond respect and honor into a personal, intimate relation with Him as someone who is alive and cares and shows that care.

Do I know that God cares for me? Do I know the depths of Your caring? Later in Hosea, he will use the term “knowledge of God,” daath Elohim. And the truth is that knowledge in the Hebrew sense always means more than knowing with Your head or having a strong theological background. It’s all about being human, every range of it. Knowing, really knowing involves every aspect of the emotions, the will, and the intellect. The head and the heart work together. Head knowledge effects heart knowledge and, I suppose, vice versa. It’s not just cognitive. It’s not just rationalized thinking.

When examining the Hebrew word most often used for knowledge, yada, Heschel suggests it this way, “an act involving concern, inner engagement, dedication, or attachment to a person. It also means to have sympathy, pity, or affection for someone.” It’s the farthest cry from correct doctrine. It’s greater than obedience. It’s far greater.

“Hear the word of the LORD, you children of Israel: for the LORD has a controversy with the inhabitants of the land, because there is no truth, nor mercy, nor knowledge of God in the land.” (Hosea 4:1) God’s broken heart is crying out to his children. We see Your heart in the image of the marriage analogy. How would our hearts feel if that were to happen to us? Wouldn’t we feel it? Well, God feels it too because it’s not just reading about a relationship, it’s an actual real living relationship with real live attachment and commitment and hearts involved. God feels everything, all the hurt, the humiliation, the sorrow, the betrayal, and more. He knows the consequences of His lover’s choice. He knows what she is missing and what she will receive instead. Her problem is she is lacking a heart knowledge. She doesn’t get it. She doesn’t know Him at all or she would never leave His side. She didn’t even know what she had when she was there with Him. How tragic.

Knowledge is not about information. It’s about reciprocal feelings. It’s about reciprocal sympathy. It’s about feeling the way God feels, understanding how God understands, loving as He loves, acting as He acts, enjoying what He enjoys. And it’s not even about us each doing it on our own. It’s about doing all this along with You, God. It’s about a relationship of enjoying You as much as You desire to enjoy us. Knowledge is knowing You intimately and enjoying You intimately and personally as much as You enjoy us. It’s delighting in You as You delight in us.

But Israel and Gomer aren’t the only ones not weeping over the intimacy they are missing. Many nations and many of us in the nations are not weeping over the love we’ve thrown away and wasted and lost. We’ve numbed ourselves to the pain of separation. We no longer agonize over You, who ought to be our dearest One. There is no heart for You. And that’s the saddest part.

And then we read and hear about the divorce rate skyrocketing today. But here we have the contrast of God’s love. Because He holds on to the people of His own choosing. He refuses to let them go and give up even though they don’t even care about how He feels. They make love to everything You hate, and yet You continue to love and call them back. They choose to become animals instead of the Beloved. But You don’t give up hope.

No, it wasn’t because Israel lacked information. And it’s not that we lack information either. It’s that we lack “sensitivity, empathy with God.” (Skip Moen) Are we any different? Do I feel what You feel, Lord? Do I share the same sensitivity? Do I cry with You? Do I agonize over what You agonize over? Do I care enough about You to be willing to die to more than myself? Do I care enough about You to be willing to just die to whatever I had to, even if it meant death itself? Because this Husband gives more than I could ever imagine. His life, through Christ, was spent for mine, not out of duty, but out of immeasurable love. He owed me nothing, yet gave everything. And this is GOD who did that. This is GOD. This is the ONLY GOD who has ever and would ever go to those extremes for the love and redemption of His people, His own creation.

I can run around in the midst of my own lies, living any way I want, but it would just be an utter waste of my life. There is absolutely nothing that compares to You and Your love God. Absolutely nothing. I can choose my own way and disregard You and start perishing today. Or I can regard You in Your fullness and know You better than I know myself. I can delight myself in You, the only God who delights Himself in me. And in that kind of knowing and experiencing and living it out, I can see the desires of Your heart come to life in mine as Your love blossoms in me. It would be a shame to be destroyed for lack of knowledge when you held that knowledge right there all along and never experienced it because you never even opened it up and looked inside.

Love Your Wife Again

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Photo credit to Alamy.

 

“Then the LORD told me: “Go love your wife again, even though she is loved by others and has committed adultery. Love her as I, the LORD, love the Israelites, even though they have turned to other gods and love to eat raisin cakes.” Hosea 3:1

 
This is such an amazing life story that is being shared through Hosea. Just in this one verse there are so many questions to be asked and things to think about. And I wonder if we need to look back at Hosea 1:2.  We hear the the LORD speaking to Hosea and saying, “Go, take unto you a wife of harlotry and children of harlotry; for the land does commit great harlotry, departing from the LORD.” Now, here is the thing. Did Hosea just run out and choose any old prostitute out there? Or had Hosea chosen a woman that he was attracted to and wanted to bestow his love upon, only to come to find out that this would be a part of her nature? This is a question I have been posed with and I think it matters.

 
Because if Hosea was to take a wife of harlotry unto himself then that must make me think of how he would be choosing children of harlotry, because the children weren’t to be produced until after the marriage. Therefore, if the children yet to be produced would be children that choose harlotry after their conception and birth, then it would appear that the wife would be one that chose harlotry despite her marriage relationship after it was consumed. But why does that matter?

 
It matters because Hosea already loved Gomer. When he had set his eyes upon her she was not a harlot. That expression “a wife of harlotry” is from the Hebrew words “esheth zenunim.” Skip Moen, who has more knowledge of the Hebrew than I do, says that if she had already been a prostitute, the Hebrew words would have been “ishah zonah.” But using esheth with the adjective zenunim tells us more of what she became according to the desire or propensity of the leaning of her heart. Gomer became a harlot by choosing unfaithfulness. She had this hidden propensity when she married Hosea, but God already knew her propensity and told Hosea to keep on with the marriage and go with his heart because God could use this for His glory. This was the perfect picture of what was happening with the hearts of Israel in their relationship with God Himself. While claiming Hosea as her husband, Gomer desired other men. And raisin cakes aren’t at all about the snack of choice. That’s what one ate when one was involved in the fertility cults. Gomer’s originally hidden heart was already deeply entrenched in unfaithfulness though Hosea was entrenched in love and faithfulness from the start.

 
Isn’t it funny that this talk of unfaithfulness makes me think about what faithfulness looks like. And if esheth zenunim is connected with idolatry, adultery, and unfaithfulness, it makes me think of another combination of Hebrew words which is quite the opposite, “esheth hayil.” Esheth hayil is that valiant woman that is found in Proberbs 31:10 and Ruth 3:11. And the truth is it’s not true of “everywoman.” This is a woman who has “risen above others.” (Jacqueline Vayntrub) Only Jacqueline feels she’s unrealistic. I think she has done more than rise above others. I think she has learned to rise above herself. And I don’t think she is unrealistic. I think I have seen her represented in women who choose the good of God and the good of others before themselves. I see it in women who desire the joy of God as their heart’s desire. And they are not perfect but they are in the perpetual process of being perfected. They weren’t born here. They made many choices that brought them to Proverbs 31 or Ruth 3. And they were not easy choices. They were self-sacrificial and hard choices. They were the kind of choices that Jesus made for us. It’s the kind of love choice that Hosea made for Gomer and God made for Israel and us. It’s the kind of choice any man or woman can make for God and those under their influence.

 
Gomer was presently incapable of love. Why? Did Hosea or God make her that way? No. She chose false love instead of true love. She chose unfaithfulness instead of faithfulness. What she valued was a lie and so she couldn’t understand the depth and breadth and height of the love that was just waiting to be lavished upon her. The sad thing is that we have a tendency to do the same to God. Gomer is not the only one.

 
This isn’t just a story of Hosea and Gomer. This is a love story. This is a story of the measure of God’s love for His bride, His people. He loved us before we ever loved Him. “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His son to be the sacrifice by which our sins are forgiven.” (1 John 4:10) Hosea didn’t just run out and grab any prostitute. God didn’t just run out and grab some sinful, idol worshippers. He loved us before that was who we were. He loved us before our hearts turned away. He loves us through the turning of hearts. And he loves us all the way back to the return of our hearts to Him. But until we come to the realization of the immensity of Your love for us, that You loved us first so much, then how can we know how to love? You set the example. And just like You showed us what love looks like through Christ’s life and death and resurrection and obedience and joy and excitement, You showed us what love looks like through Hosea’s faithfulness to Gomer.

 
Here was Gomer, unfaithful to a faithful husband who loved and desired her. Hosea had fallen in love with her. He wanted the best for her. He was her friend, yet she looked to others. But Hosea didn’t let His love die. Why not? Didn’t he have every right to? Only by man’s standards. But that’s not the way that God loves. You give up Your rights and choose instead to love fully. And that’s what we’re called to. We’re called to give up our rights and our will and our pride to shine forth a picture of You in this world that gives hope and light and love and joy where this world is lacking. You are faithful to Your slaves. Gomer was purchased back for the price of a mere slave. But instead of despising Gomer or us, You lavish us with Your love. If only we would see and understand and accept it.

 
There is so much more to this story. There is so much relation to today and to our lives if only we would ask You to help us see. There are so many ways we need to change our thinking, so many ways that our thinking has been warped by this world we live in. Lord, let us stop reading stories and realize that we are reading the truths of life, that this all relates to today and to my heart right now. Help us to understand the depth of Your love for us and help us to live in that love and not be lured by lesser things that will never satisfy.