God’s Call to Repentance

Zechariah begins his series of visions and oracles with the fact of a nation steeped in sin and God’s call is for them Return unto Me, says Yahweh of hosts, that I may return unto you, says Yahweh of hosts.   The prophets spoke from the mouth of the Omniscient God, foretelling things to come; but to the current generations in which they lived they were chiefly preachers of righteousness, and their constant cry was, “Repent,” which in Hebrew is the command, “turn!”

Ezekiel 33:11:   “Turn ye, turn ye”; for why will you wander from the source of life and  blessedness, and die, O House of Israel?”

1 Chronicles 7:14:   “If my people . . . will turn from their wicked ways”

Isaiah 55:6-7:   “. . . let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts . . .”

Jeremiah 3:12, 13:   “Return, thou backsliding Israel . . . acknowledge your iniquity, that you have  transgressed against Yahweh your God.”

Ezekiel 18:30-32:   “Repent, and be turned from your transgressions . . .cast away from you all  your transgressions, and get a new heart and a new spirit . . .”

Hosea 14:1:   “O Israel, return unto Yahweh your God; for you have fallen by your iniquity.”

Joel 2:12- 13:  “Turn you, even to Me, with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping and with  mourning; rend your heart . . . turn to Yahweh for He is gracious . . .”

Amos 5:4-6:   “Seek Yahweh and you shall live”

Zephaniah 2:2-3:   “before the day of the Lord’s anger come upon you, . . . seek righteousness”

Malachi 3:7:   “Return unto Me, and I will return to you, says Yahweh:

And in the New Testament as well!  Repentance in the NT means a change of mind and heart; it means humbly confessing that God speaks the truth with regard to our sin, i.e. ‘facing it squarely’
“Repentance is,” as Richard Roberts puts it, “the first word of the Gospel.”

Matthew 3:2:   John the Baptist: “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

Matthew 4:17:   Jesus first message: “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is near.”

Luke 13:3, 5:   “. . . unless you repent, you too will all perish.”  (twice)

Luke 24:46-49:  “. . . repentance and forgiveness of sin will be preached in His name . . .”

Acts 3:19:   “Repent, then, and turn to God so your sins may be wiped out”

Acts 17:30:   “God commands all men everywhere to repent”

1 John 1:9:  “If we confess our sins (repentance is assumed here), He is faithful and just . . .”

Revelation 2 and 3:  5 times in 7 short letters comes the call to “repent”

Because we may be ‘hard of hearing’ (we assume it is not spoken to us or we are not careful ‘how we hear’, Luke 8:18) we may need to pray the refrain repeated three times in Ps. 80:3, 7, 19.  We must listen not just with our ears, but with obedient hearts!

Jacob and the Face of God

February 7, 2009

Jacob – Finding what is Important
Genesis 32

Jacob had treated Esau wrongfully, stole his birthright, cheated him out of the traditional blessing, then ran away to avoid the vengeance of Esau.  After several years he obeyed God’s command to return to Canaan.  His mother was dead and the years had only hardened Esau’s heart to ‘get even!’

Jacob saw the serious situation, prayed to God (32:9-12), reminding Him of the promise, and then immediately set about solving the problem of an estranged brother in his own way, who by the way was coming to meet him with 400 men (32:6).  I don’t think he needed that many men to say, “welcome home, brother,” do you?

So then, notice how Jacob’s mind was working to appease his brother: (32:13-19).  I have put the gist of the story in the verses below.  In the blank spaces write down the literal translation from the Hebrew, which in each case is “face.”

Jacob instructed his servants to “take these animals as a gift and say, ‘These gifts before your _____, are from your servant Jacob, and sent to my lord Esau’.”  He did this two more times thinking (see 32:20): “I will cover his _____ with these gifts I am sending before my ____; later, when I see his _____, perhaps he will lift up my ____.”

So Jacob was hopeful that the gifts would satisfy or appease his brother but God was
not satisfied with Jacob’s prayer or his preparation.  And we read in verse 24 that he wrestled with “a man” that night.  Jacob did not know with whom he was wrestling, but knew that he must persevere.  The ‘man’ blessed Jacob by giving him a new name – Israel and then blessed him again (32:26, 29).  Does that tell you Who ‘the man’ was?

Jacob knew and named the place ‘Peniel’ (which means Face of God) saying, I saw God _____ to _____ and yet my life was spared.

Thus we learn the real lesson in this story.  Jacob was in a crisis situation, concerned
about the evil revenge of Esau’s presence (face) and his own possible death – loss of face. 

Here is the point of this story: what he really needed was first and foremost to be affected by the face – the presence – of God.

That is true for us as well.  Things we are so concerned about in our daily lives may not be as important as our finding fresh relationship with our God.  When we do that, we might just find that our critical problems have been dissolved or that they no longer have the critical edge we thought them to have.

“Face” – An idiomatic Way to Talk of “Presence”

Before we look at some references on this word “face,” let me say this about the uses I make of a concordance study.  I think we all need to look up these verses and get a biblical word-picture in mind as we study these various words.  We need to understand them in their ancient and Hebrew context if possible and then apply that understanding to our 21st C American culture.

The word ‘face’ is used in a variety of ways (much as we do in English when, for example saying someone lost face when they were embarrassed or denied a position or place which they sought.)  But this word in the Hebrew Bible also has the idea of ‘presence’ as we might say, “It’s good to see your face.”  In fact the following references are from Strong’s Concordance under the word ‘presence.’  Look at these verses and translate ‘face’ in place of ‘presence.’

Gen. 3:8; 4:16
Ex. 33:14, 15
Lev. 22:3
2 Kings 24:20
1 Chron. 16:27, 33
2 Chron. 20:9; 34:4
Psalm 9:3;   16:11;   17:2;   23:5;   31:20;   51:11;   68:2, 8;   95:2;   97:5, two times;   100:2;    114:7, two times;   139:7;   140:13;  
Isa. 63:9;   64:1-3
Jer. 4:26;   5:22;   23:39;   52:3
Ezek. 38:20
Jonah 1:3, 10
Nahum 1:5
Zeph. 1:7

Again, these verses emphasize the ‘personalness’ and nearness of our God, combining and strengthening the other studies of God’s Name, the Angel and the many metaphors and anthropomorphisms we find in Scripture. 
In philosophy and much popular thinking, the concept of the Almighty is depersonalized as we might find in movies like ‘the Force’ in Star Wars, etc. 
Science, by in large, does not want to consider personal intelligent design because it is getting too close to what Richard Dawkins dreads, “allowing a divine foot in the door.”  But Scripture is quite clear here and we cannot afford to back down even an inch from this great truth!  And, of course, the New Testament everywhere assumes this grand truth of Who our God is.

We Christians often take the personalness of God for granted, but we cannot give even an inch as we share our faith in God.  God is He, NOT ‘it’ – even with a capital ‘It’!  I am not here getting into the gender debate, but rather emphasizing the personal rather than the impersonal.

The next post will focus on a Biblical story that uses this idiom in a rather unique story.

God’s Steadfast Love II

January 30, 2009

The steadfast love (chesed) of God is an absolutely awesome revelation of the character of God.  It is also the very foundation of our love for others as we live out life as a believer in the God who loves us with an everlasting love.  In Psalm 136, every verse of that historical Psalm ends with the line, “the steadfast love of the LORD (Yahweh) endures forever.”  It makes one ask, “Did the author want to emphasize history with those words for emphasis or was he illustrating the eternal chesed by interspersing bits of history in between?”  Regardless it sets a good precedent for thinking about our own histories! 

Homework assignment:  Write a paragraph or two from your history framed and focused on God’s chesed, His everlasting, steadfast love. 

This word is used for both man’s desired attitude towards man (see for example, Joshua 2:14;     1 Sam. 20:14; 2 Sam. 9:3), and most often of God towards man.  The latter outnumber the former by about three to one. 

The article on chesed in the New International Dictionary of OT Theology and Exegesis, vol. 2, pages 211-218, sums up the biblical data on this marvelous word in several characteristics.

1. Divine chesed saves people from disaster or oppressors.  This loving loyalty on God’s part is their only hedge against disaster (Gen 19:19).

2. Divine chesed sustains life (Ps. 6:4-5; 119:88, 149, 159).

3. Divine chesed counteracts God’s wrath (Isa 54:8; Micah 7:18; Lam. 3:31-32).  Wrath is a true word, a right word, sometimes an inevitable word, such passages seem to say.  But God would not have it be his last word.  That honor is reserved for his unfailing love (chesed).

4. Divine chesed is enduring, persistent, even eternal.  The biblical writers celebrate the everlastingness of God’s chesed (Ps. 103:17; 136 [every verse]; Isa. 54:10; Jer. 31:3).

5. But also, several texts witness to at least the hypothetical possibility of losing God’s chesed or of having it taken away (Jer. 16:5; 2 Sam. 7:15).  What should we make of such apparent contradiction?  Perhaps it is that temporary removal is necessary to a more lengthy (eternal?) continuation!  “Perhaps this very tension reminds us of the relational core at the center of this concept.  God’s steadfast love is not a mechanical tool to be used in a crisis, nor a philosophical absolute to be taken for granted.  Rather, it is a quality of relationship that is to be sought again, appropriated, and treasured in the covenantal partner’s every needy moment” (p. 216).

6. Divine chesed is regarded as the basis or motive for petition before God.  Sinners seek forgiveness on the basis of God’s chesed.  The pleas of the psalmists encourage the view that God can choose to remember either sin or his chesed, but not both! (Numbers 14:17-19; Neh. 13:22; Ps. 25:7; 51:1).

7. Divine chesed occupies a prominent role in the inner and communal life of God’s people.

8. Divine chesed is both abundant and great. (Ex. 34:6-7; Ps. 33:5; 36:5; 57:10; 119:64)

9. Divine chesed characterizes God’s rule and establishes his King and his kingdom.  (Psalms 89:14; 2 Sam. 22:51).

God’s Steadfast Love

January 29, 2009

God’s Steadfast Love

One of the great words of the Old Testament concerning the nature and activity of Almighty God is chesed, the Hebrew word which is variously translated as ‘lovingkindness’ (NASB), ‘steadfast love’ (ESV), ‘mercy’ (KJV).  The KJV translation is really not right, for there is another Hebrew word for ‘mercy,’ and this word chesed relates more closely to the nature of love and kindness.  However, as we will see below, it is used in context to give us the concept of ‘faithful’ or ‘loyal’ as modifiers for this love.  The NIV translation (quite often ‘love’) is inadequate because there is another word ‘ahab which means love and this word has the wider, richer idea of ‘faithful-love’.     I personally favor either ‘lovingkindness’ or ‘steadfast love.’

This word is used some 245 times in the OT and the vast majority of these tell us of God’s attitude and activity towards His people Israel.  Below are some of the verses which use this word and often in combination or in parallel form with other key words that describe the character and activity of our Living Lord, Sovereign of the universe.

1. Many times this word is joined with another noun such as ‘righteousness,’ faithfulness,’ ‘truth.’

  Gen. 24:27, 49;   47:29;
  Ex. 34:6 (one of the key words in the revelation of His Name)
  Josh. 2:14;   2 Sam. 2:6;    15:20    Psalm 25:10;    40:11;    57:3;    61:7;    85:10;   
  86:15;    89:2, 14

2. Sometimes it is with the word ‘covenant.’

  Deut. 7:9;    1 Kings 8:23;    Neh. 1:5;    9:32;   Dan. 9:4

3. Sometimes with the nouns ‘justice’ and ‘righteousness.’

  Ps. 101:1;    Prov. 21:21 (notice the challenge:  pursue these!); Hos. 12:6;
  Jer. 9:24

4. It is often used in parallel (in Hebrew poetry) with other mainstream words.

  Ps. 36:10;   88:11;   89:1-2;   92:2;   117:2
  Isaiah 16:5;   55:3;   Hosea 4:1;   Micah 7:20;   6:8

5. Then it is expanded with the adjective ‘great’ and coupled with God’s patience

  Ex. 34:6;   Num. 14:18;   Neh. 9:17;   Ps. 86:15;   103:8;   145:8;   Isa. 54:8
  Joel 2:13;   Jonah 4:2

6. Also, consider His great chesed as related to the ideas of mercy and forgiveness

  Ex. 34:6;   Num. 14:19;   Neh. 13:22;   Ps. 5:7;   69:13;   86:5;   106:7, 45;  
  Lam. 3:22

This great word used as above, strongly suggests God’s persistent, determined, character and nature was the foundation for the maintaining of His covenant with Israel.  Someone has said that the word involves, in almost every case, a substratum of fixed, determined, almost stubborn steadfastness.  Norman Snaith in his Distinctive Ideas of the Old Testament says,

“Wonderful as is His love for his covenant people, His steady persistence in it is more wonderful still.  The most important of all the distinctive ideas of the OT is God’s steady and extraordinary persistence in continuing to love wayward Israel in spite of Israel’s insistent rebellion” (p.102).

Or, consider the message of Hosea.  Through all the troubles which beat against and nearly broke the marriage covenant between Yahweh and Israel, there was one factor which never changed.  This was God’s sure love for Israel.  Because of this sure, unswerving love, the Covenant can never be finally and completely broken.  The Covenant, initiated by God, could only be broken by God.  Israel could sin, could rebel against God, but they were never to escape from that Covenant.  Rather, they would find themselves under the curse of that Covenant rather than enjoying the blessing.  Israel may have rejected God, but God had not, has not yet, and will not reject Israel because of His great faithful lovingkindness!  And so we read of God’s plaintive cry in Hosea 11:8-9 (although there the word chesed does not appear).

There is one further aspect of this study.  There is a cognate word chasid from the same root as chesed.  This word is translated in most English versions as ‘saint.’   One who lives under the chesed of God is described in the OT as a chasid.  He can be described as being

“One-living-within-the-circle-of-the-lovingkindness-of-God.”

Some of the verses where this word chasid is found include:

 1 Sam. 2:9;   2 Chron. 6:41;   Prov. 2:8;    Micah 7:2
 Psalms 30:4;   31:23;   37:28;   50:5;   52:9;   79:2;   85:8;   89:19;   97:10;   116:15;                  132:9, 16;   145:10;   148:14;   149:1, 5

Think about what the OT teaches us about the unsurpassable, immeasurable, awesome, wonderful love of God which knows no bounds of space or time!  And remember, these affirmations of love are in – of all places – the Old Testament! 
Could we with ink the ocean fill
And were the skies of parchment made,
Were every stalk on earth a quill
And every man a scribe by trade,
To write the love of God above
Would drain the ocean dry,
Nor could the scroll contain the whole
Tho stretched from sky to sky.

The Name YHWH is not something thought up by mankind, but given by revelation from God to us.  His self-revelation is our only source of knowledge about God and His character.  He employs human words, and makes comparisons on the basis of human understanding, language, relationships, etc. 

This use of the human situation (we cannot understand even one word of divine language unless He condescends or accommodates Himself to our level – this is pure grace!) and uses human words called anthropomorphisms – “ascribing human form or attributes to a being (God) not human” (Random House Dictionary).  The Bible contains not just a few scattered anthropomorphisms, but is anthropomorphic through and through.  God stoops down to His creatures, speaking and appearing to them in human fashion.  These things mentioned below are cited from the Bible by Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics Vol. 2, God and Creation, p.100 They add to our understanding that our God is a personal God!  Bavinck gives Scriptural references for each of the following items and I will gladly pass them on to you if you would like them.  (Trying to save on cyber paper or space or whatever)

While the Bible has no reference to God’s body (He is Spirit), there are many physical organs attributed to God.  For instance there is mention of his face, his eyes, his eyelids, the apple of his eye, his ears, nose, mouth, lips, tongue and neck; his hand, his right hand, his finger, his heart his intestines, his bosom and his feet.

Many human emotions are represented as present in God: rejoicing, sorrow, grief; provocation, fear, love in all its variations such as mercy, compassion, grace, long-suffering and so on; also zeal, jealousy, repentance, hatred, wrath, and vengeance.

Human actions are attributed to God: investigating, searching minds, know, intending, forgetting, remembering, speaking, calling, commanding rebuking answering, witnessing, resting working, seeing, hearing, smelling, testing, sitting, arising, going, coming, visiting, abandoning, writing, sealing, engraving, striking, healing, killing and making alive, wiping away, wiping out, washing, cleansing, anointing, adorning, clothing, crowning, girding destroying, killing, inflicting, judging, condemning, forgiving, and so forth.

God is frequently described by names that denote relationship, position, occupation: such as bridegroom, a man, a father, a judge, king, lawgiver, warrior, mighty hero, an architect and builder, a gardener, shepherd, physician, and so on.

Further God is, in Scripture, compared (using similes and metaphors) to many items – organic and inorganic such as a lion, a lamb, a bear, an eagle, a hen, the sun, the morning star, a rose and lily, a light, lamp, fire, spring and fountain, food, bread, drink, water, ointment; a rock, a refuge, a tower, a stronghold, a shadow, a shield, a road, a temple.  You can add to these lists.

Augustine wrote “All things can be said of God, but nothing can be said worthily of Him.  Nothing is more widespread than this poverty [of expression].  You are looking for a fitting name for Him?  You will not find it.  You try to speak of Him in some way?  You find that He is everything.”

How Great is Our God!

The two previous posts have shared something of the knowledge of God through the revelation of His Name Yahweh.  This post is to intentionally focus on a fruit-bearing life as a result of knowing Him.

When we trust Him who has such a Name, we will have what we might call a biblical lifestyle, a response that will honor the God who has made Himself known to us.  We can never forget that if He did not reveal Himself to us, we would have absolutely no knowledge of Him.  We would be like those who worship gods of wood and stone.  They can say nothing of him (it!) as to what their god is like.

But when we do listen to Him through His Word we can exhibit some of the following:  (Again this is more of a concordance study, finding what the Bible has to say about the Name.)

 A. Be a people called by His Name, 2 Chron. 7:14; Deut. 28:10; Isa. 43:7; 63:19
 B. We will worship in the Name, Gen. 4:26; 12:8; 13:4; Ex. 34:8; Job 1:21
  1. Sing praises, Ps. 7:17; 9:2; 18:49; 44:8; 61:8; 63:4; 66:4; 68:4
  2.  Give thanks in the Name, 1 Chron 16:8; Ps. 106:47; 122:4; 140:13
  3. Glorify the Name, Ps. 86:9, 12; 105:3
  4. Confess sin for His Name’s sake, 1 Kings 8:33, 35; Ps. 79:9
  5. Bless in the Name, Num. 6:27; Deut. 10:8; 18:5; 1 Chron. 16:2
 C. We will fear His Name, Neh. 1:11; Ps. 61:5; 86:11; 102:15
 D. We will love His Name, Ps. 5:11; 69:36; 119:132; Isa. 26:8
 E.  We will repent in the Name, 2 Chron. 6:24-26
 F. We will trust His Name, Ps. 33:21
 G. We will not take it in vain, Ex. 20:7
 H. We will not blaspheme the Name, Lev. 18:21; 19:12; 21:5; 24:16
 I. We will fight in the Name, Ex. 5:23; 15:3; 1 Sam. 17:45
 J. We will make the Name known, Ex. 9:16; Deut. 28:10, 58; 32:3; Jos. 2:8-11;   1 Kings 8:41-43; 10:1; 1 Chron. 17:21; Ps. 22:22; 52:9; 102:18-21; 106:8;   Isa. 63:12, 14; 64:1-2; Jer. 16:21

Looks like a pretty well-rounded picture of the life of a believer to me.  Does it describe our life?  If not, why not?  Jesus once urged (Luke 8:18) “Be careful therefore HOW you hear,” not just WHAT you hear.  Lord, please help us live biblical, wise, contagious Christian lives!

More on the Name Yahweh

January 22, 2009

Psalm 9:10 says “Those who know Your Name will put their trust in You” (NASB).  What I started in the last post, talking about God’s name, will be continued here as we think of (1) the greatness of His name and (2) some biblical expansions of that name to further describe His character.  What follows is really just a concordance study of the word “name” as it relates to God.  You can add to the list here, but just to get you started, here are a few references: 

 I. The majesty of the Name, Ps. 8:1, 9; 138:2; Micah 5:4
  1. It is eternal, Ps. 72:17; 135:13
  2. It extends everywhere, Ps. 48:10; Isa. 24:14-15
  3. It is holy, 1 Chron. 16:10, 35; Ps. 111:9
  4. It is ‘jealous’, Ex. 34:14; Deut. 4:24; Josh. 24:19; Nahum 1:2
  5. It is ‘wonderful’, Judges 13:18
  6. It is ‘excellent’, Ps. 148:13
  7. His Name is a strong tower, Prov. 18:10
  8. It is our protection, Ps. 21:1, 5, 7; 91:14
  9. It is our help, Ps. 124:8
  10. It is a great and terrible Name, Ps. 99:3
 II. According to His Name He is:
  1. Yahweh-jireh, Gen. 22:14, Yahweh provides
  2. Yahweh-rophe, Ex. 15:26, Yahweh heals
  3. Yahweh-nissi, Ex. 17:15, Yahweh my banner
  4. Yahweh-m’kaddesh, Lev. 20:8, Yahweh who sanctifies
  5. Yahweh-shalom, Judges 6:24, Yahweh is peace
  6. Yahweh-tsidkenu, Jer. 23:5-6, Yahweh our righteousness
  7. Yahweh-rohi, Ps. 23:1, Yahweh my Shepherd
  8. Yahweh-shammah, Ezek. 48:35, Yahweh is there
  9. Yahweh-sabaoth, Isa. 48:2; 51:15; 54:5; Jer. 10:16, Yahweh (and/or God) of Hosts appears about 285 times in the OT)

Now a brief homework assignment   Pick out several of the above references (be sure to read the context as well!) and then write a paragraph or two on the person and character of Yahweh God revealed in your reading.  Bless you as you think deeply on the wonders of knowing God.

God reveals Himself through His Name in the OT

God (translation of the Hebrew word ‘elohim) is the subject of the very first verse in the Bible and without any explanation is announced as the Creator of “the heavens and the earth.”  God is here revealed as what He is.  He is other than the material universe, other than anything of which we can conceive.  I do not introduce myself to a stranger with the sentence, “Hi, I am man.”  No, that is what I am, but I introduce myself as who I am – a person named Jerry. 

I emphasize that point to stress the next point which is to say that He reveals to Moses (Exodus 3:14f) not just ‘what’ He is, but who He is.  Moses asked what he should answer when asked by fellow Israelites, “what is His name?” (3:13)  In the Old Testament, to know one’s name was to (1) know something of that one’s character and (2) to have some kind of relationship with that one.  His question was not just to find out God’s ‘personalness’ but to inquire about His character as well.  God said “I am that I am,” . . . “I am” has sent you.  His Name is taken from that verb (I am) and the phrase (I am what I am) is a hint of His character.  I learned from J. Wash Watts, my Hebrew professor at New Orleans Baptist Seminary, that that phrase is best translated as

“I will be (in every situation) what I have always been (in every situation).”

This fits with the many times down through the pages of the OT we find revealed, “I am (or He is) the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob.  As if to remind us that He is YHWH who will be faithful and available to us in every situation He says ‘I am YHWH, the God who was faithful in all situations to Abraham, to Isaac, to Jacob,’ to Moses and Joshua and David and Jeremiah and Daniel and Peter and Paul and Timothy will be faithful to you and me.  What a marvelous word to dear friends who are heart-sick over a granddaughter on the streets and alone.  Join with me in trusting that our God will be Yahweh (or Jehovah or I AM or however we pronounce it) to be faithful in every day of that young lady’s life.  Why? Because we care about her life and because that is His Name

That name comes from what Hebrew students know as the tetragrammaton (4 Hebrew letters put together), transliterated YHWH.  Because of reverence for ‘the Name’ Hebrew readers read this 4 letter word as “Lord” but to distinguish it from another word which does mean “Lord, Master, Boss, Sovereign Ruler”, etc., they (most English translations) translate it as LORD.  Actually it is with a large upper case “L” and smaller but still upper case “ORD.”  Look at any place in your Bible (Ex. 6:3 for example) and you will see what I mean.  Everywhere you find that translation, you know it is His Name.  It appears about 6,828 times in the Hebrew Bible.  Exodus 3:16 tells us that “This is my Name forever.”  This is more that the times the word God is used, which, by the way appears about 2,570 times in the OT.

Now read Exodus 34:5-8 and learn more of the character of the great God whose name is YHWH.  More on this mighty, wonderful Name in the next posting.  In the mean time notice that Name by the translation LORD as you read your Bible in the days ahead.  Enjoy!