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Greatly is Yahweh to be Praised!

“A Song. A Psalm of the Sons of Qorah. 

Great is Yahweh and very much to be praised — 

In the city of our God and on his Holy Mountain.”

(Psalm 48:1-2 [verse 1 in English])

The greatness of the city of God is not found in the construction of human hands; it is not a work of men. We may admire the works of a man’s hands or the designs of his mind, but if such works drive us to worship, we are idolaters indeed. God has erected his city, kept safe from defilement, imperishable and unfading (1 Peter 1:4) until that time and day when our Lord returns again, condemns the wicked to eternal judgment, and reestablishes the heavens and the earth…then the New Jerusalem of God’s making will descend upon the redeemed earth of God’s remaking (2 Peter 3:10; Revelation 21:9-11). Then the Bride — the Church redeemed through the ages — will indeed sing praise to God in the city of our God on his Holy Mountain.

In the meantime, we are given a foretaste. The Sons of Asaph writing praises to God for his redemption even of their own family and indeed, in light of their own service in the Tabernacle and in the Temple. Jerusalem in the days of Solomon was meant as a picture…a foretaste…even a “type” of what this new creation and the New Jerusalem would be like. Yet, like all shadows, they dissolve under the light of day — in this case, under God’s judgment on the people for sin and idolatry.

The sad thing is that many, in their quest to experience the source of the type, fall in love with the type itself, settling for the picture and placing their hope in that which can and will never reveal the glory of God. Indeed, though the city was a special place even to this psalmist, it was not special in and of itself; it was special to him for that is where God dwelt. It is God’s presence that made Jerusalem glorious and that made Mount Zion holy. And when God removed his presence, the glory of the city faded fast.

Where now then does God dwell? Certainly he no longer dwells in temples made of stone or in churches made of brick and mortar — he is the creator of the universe, what house shall we construct to contain him (Isaiah 66:1). No, we are told that the Holy Spirit dwells in believers…indeed, making us even temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 3:16; 6:19). No longer do we need a physical temple to mark the worship of God and no more do we need to make sacrifices — Jesus has done so once and for all time (Hebrews 10:10). Our sacrifices of praise are not constrained to the locality of a building and our lives lived out as living sacrifices, people consecrated to God’s service, take place in all of the world. Our lives are lives to be lived out in worship because God dwells within us as believers in Jesus Christ.

And, thus, when we gather to celebrate as a holy convocation on Sundays, we exalt like the psalmist here not because of the beauty or location of our building, but we exalt because God is with us and in our midst…little mobile Tabernacles and Temples gathering to give praise to God’s holy name and to remember the mighty works of our God. Indeed, Great is Yahweh and greatly is his name to be praised…but no longer just in the holy temple, but whenever God’s people gather in his name and especially when we mark that great and glorious day when our Lord and Savior raised from the dead as a promise and as a downpayment, that we too will also one day emerge victorious from the grave to the praise of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Enemies shall Perish!

“For behold your enemies, Yahweh!

For behold your enemies shall perish!

All those who do iniquity shall be scattered!

(Psalm 92:10 [verse 9 in English])

 

Indeed, in the end, all of God’s enemies will be tossed into the lake of fire where they will be tormented forever…bringing an end to their torment of God’s own, their mocking of God’s name, and their flagrant sin and wickedness. In that end, all the enemies of God will know and intimately understand the finality of God’s wrath. And in that time, we will not weep. We will not mourn. We will not grieve. We will celebrate the victory of our Lord and the destruction of his enemies.

Yet, these words are not purely words that speak of the end times. Even in this life, God brings his hand of judgment upon the wicked and scatters them just as he scattered the wicked people who built the tower of Babel. For a season, from our perspective, they seem to prosper, but they are bereft of life and truth. They suffer their own sorrow and loneliness as they seek to find satisfaction in anything but the one who can bring satisfaction to their life. God even gives them over to their wickedness and allows them to become so mired in their wretchedness that they cannot see anything but their sin before their eyes. He robs them of satisfaction and he robs them of rest.

Beloved, we are all so often tempted to envy the wicked and their abundance. Do not be tricked into doing so. Their pleasure is fleeting and their satisfaction is empty. But in Christ, satisfaction is full and pleasure is eternal. Though we may suffer for a season, there is an eternal weight of glory before us that is beyond compare.

Yahweh is Lifted Up!

“But you are elevated eternally, Yahweh.”

(Psalm 92:9 [verse 8 in English])

 

God is lifted up! He reigns on high! There is no god like our God, he is the great Yahweh, who sets his throne in the heavens and makes the earth his footstool. Can we not praise him highly enough? Will we ever exhaust the praises that our God deserves even in the light of eternity? Never! Our God reigns and he does so from on high.

What is amazing, wonderful, and remarkable about our God is that he condescends to us in relationship. Yet, in light of this relationship, let us never lose sight of the total “other-ness” of our God. It is my concern that, in the emphasis on a personal and intimate relationship with God that we downplay his elevation…in other words, we treat him as casually as we might treat a friend or neighbor and thus forget who he is and the reverence that he rightfully deserves. Indeed, is it not the “Fear” of the Lord that brings knowledge and wisdom? Where there is no fear, will not foolishness multiply? Is that not the plight of the church in our age today?

In many circles, God is merely treated as one of many gods rather than the God above all others and in a class entirely of his own. To borrow from the Medieval theologian, Anselm, he is “The being greater than whom no other being can exist.” There is none like him and it ought to give us goosebumps to draw near to him while at the same time we do boldly draw near to the Holy One of Israel in our midst. What a glorious gift, but in our worship, let us be drawn up to him and not seek to draw him down to us.

So, friends, as you pray this day and in the day to come, may you be altogether aware that it is the God who is lifted up who has given you permission to come into his presence. Celebrate that, but do so with a holy fear as well, for in that fear you will find knowledge and wisdom.

Rejoice the Lord is King!

“God has gone up with a shout of jubilation; Yahweh with the voice of a shofar.”

(Psalm 47:6 {verse 5 in English Translations})

 

God has indeed ascended to his throne for he is the true King over Israel and Ruler over all creation. And, just as we find such language here we should not be surprised when we see similar language in the New Testament that speaks of Christ’s exaltation and his enthronement at the right hand of God the Father almighty (see Ephesians 1:20; Hebrews 1:3; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2; 1 Peter 3:22). He indeed has “gone up.” The term itself that is employed by the psalmist, hDlDo (alah) reflects the context of worship. With humans it reflects the idea of going up to Jerusalem or to the high places to make a sacrifice — for God it means to his holy Temple and to his throne in Heaven. It is language that must be accompanied by jubilation — and that is exactly what takes place. Not only are there shout of jubilant worship, but there is also the playing of the shofar — the trumpet made from a ram’s horn — which again implies a context of worship in the temple of God.

The verses that follow will be verses of praise and adoration that flow naturally from the lips of the psalmist. Sadly, I wonder how naturally they fall from our own lips. I wonder how naturally they flow out of our own lives. May our words and actions be consistent with this psalm. May our heart rejoice in the knowledge that God is our king and that he will rule our lives (whether we like it or not!). And may we rejoice in the rule of our king, ordering our days through good times and through trials to his glory and praise (it is not about us anyway!).

Rejoice, the Lord is King! Your Lord and King adore;

Mortals give thanks and sing, and triumph evermore;

Lift up your heart, lift up your voice;

Rejoice, again I say, rejoice!

-Charles Wesley

The Great King is to be Feared

“For Yahweh Elyon is to be feared — Great King over all the earth.”

(Psalm 47:3 {verse 2 in English Translations})

 

As kids we were always told that it wasn’t nice to call people names — at least bad names… Yet, there is a practice of scripture of attributing names of honor to God. These names are names that reflect the attributes and character of our God, not the progressive development of a religion like some of the liberal “scholars” would suggest. And what we find in this verse is a grouping of three names that are bound together.

Yahweh is a name we are used to seeing. This is the “I am that I am” name that God gives to himself and provides to Moses, recorded in Exodus 3:14. It is a name that reflects God’s covenantal character of God as well as the eternal nature of his being. God always was, God is, and God always will be. While our existence is measured and bounded by time; time is a creation of God and has no bearing on his being — time has a beginning…God does not. Thus he tells us that we are to know him by Yahweh and by that name he is to be remembered throughout the generations (Exodus 3:15).

The name that is attached to Yahweh is Elyon (pronounced with a long “o”). Usually we render this “Most High,” and that is an accurate rendering of the title. I chose to leave the word untranslated, rather, to help set it apart as part of God’s glorious title of honor here. Elyon was a term reserved for God himself and was not to be given to men. It reflects that God is not the greatest in a set of like beings, but he is a being par-excellence — one of kind and incomparable to others. God stands alone as God. He is mighty and true and if you are going to fear any, this is the one you should fear. Jesus echoes this when he states: “do not fear the one who can kill the body, but fear him who can destroy both body and soul in hell” (Matthew 10:28) — Yahweh Elyon is the one of whom Jesus is speaking.

The final title is that of “Great King.” Many translations render this as, “a great king,” and that would be a legitimate translation were the subject being spoken of God himself. God is not just one of many great kings, but he is the great king — he is King over all the earth. While the definite article “the” is not present in the text, the context of the text sets this phrase apart as being a title attributed to God, thus neither article (“the” or “a”) is necessary and we see this again as a title of glory and honor.

You know what is interesting, though… As Christians, we are usually very quick to proclaim that Jesus is indeed the King of all Kings and the King over all the earth, but we rarely act as if he is the King over our lives. Kings make rules and Kings demand the obedience of their subjects. Yet how often we go about our lives acting as if we are our own and making decisions based on our preferences rather than on the basis of obedience to God’s command? I think that there is an explanation for our behavior, though — we do not obey our king because we do not fear him… A double-whammy — a double sin.

Loved ones, our lives are not our own. If we call ourselves Christians, then our lives belong to the one whose name we have taken and into whose name we have been adopted. The house rules demand that we obey if we love Christ (John 14:15). Will we? Will you? Do you fear your heavenly Father in a holy and reverent way that motivates you to a lifestyle that will honor him? In the end, such is the mark of a believer. May we indeed be able to sing the words of the psalmist from the bottom of our hearts in the deepest sincerity in our life here and eternally.

Camels, Water, and Revival

“And he caused the camels to kneel outside of the city near the well of water; the time was evening, the time when those come out who are drawing water. And he said, ‘Yahweh, the God of my lord Abraham, please ordain success for me in my presence this day and demonstrate covenant faithfulness to my lord Abraham.’”

(Genesis 24:11-12)

 

Abraham’s servant stops outside of the gate, a place to where visitors would come and a place where the animals could be watered at the end of the journey. A typical baggage camel can travel about 40 miles per day, so here they close about a 2-week journey from the wilderness of Canaan to the city of Nahor. This would be a typical place for a traveler to stop, water the camels, and inquire as to a place to stay for the night.

Though most of our English translations speak of the time of the evening as the time when women come to draw water, this is inferred from the feminine use of the term for those drawing. More specifically, we should state that these ladies coming out to draw would typically have been servant girls and young daughters in service of their mothers, not so much that all of the women of the community were coming out to draw at this time. Indeed, this sets the stage for  the introduction of Rebekah, but before introductions are made, Eliezer goes to the Lord in prayer.

What is particularly interesting in this prayer is that he addresses it to “Yahweh, the God of my master (or lord) Abraham.” Here he does not say, “my God,” but only speaks of Yahweh as the God of his master. There are several things that can be implied by this choice of language. The first is that of the Federal Headship of his master, Abraham. As he is in the service of Abraham, he has chosen to submit to the authority of Abraham’s God in this task. Arguably, as second aspect is that Eliezer was a circumcised member of Abraham’s household (Genesis 17:12-13), and in submission to Abraham’s headship over his life and household, Eliezer himself has made Yahweh his God, but is praying in this way to reflect the authority of Abraham in his own life.

This is worth noting because in our modern, individualistic and pluralistic society, this idea of submission to authority and covenantal headship is something that has been all but forgotten. Rarely are fathers recognized as the spiritual heads and authorities in their homes and often families take the attitude that it is perfectly fine for children to choose their own religious preferences. Neither of these attitudes are Biblical, nor are they healthy to society, which is based on the Biblical institution of the family. If you don’t have a strong base of families upon which a society is built, you will not have a strong or vibrant society — and strong families are built on and around the idea of headship and authority…with the ultimate authority being God himself.

Loved ones, as Christians we often pray that God will bring revival to our land, and that is a good prayer that needs to be prayed. Yet often, those who pray for revival are unwilling to do the hard work of heart-work to prepare themselves for such a revival. Jesus told a parable about a sower casting seed and the seed falling on various types of ground, but only that which fell on fertile ground bore fruit (Matthew 13:1-23). Yet, we forget that it is preparation that makes fertile ground fertile in the first place. It has been cleared of weeds and rocks, fertilized, tilled, and irrigated — this takes the work of many hands. In terms of preparing our individual souls for the seed of the Gospel, this is work done through the Holy Spirit, though often the Spirit uses people as tools in that process. But for the soil in churches and in communities to be changed the Holy Spirit clearly demands that Christians order their lives according to God’s law and put away their evil practices. Are we willing and ready to do that? Sadly, I am not convinced that we are. One thing is for sure, though, God will never let go of those he has claimed as his own; yet when his own stray, he draws them back to himself and that process is not always a pleasant one. May God bless America with revival once again, but may he also bless the church with reform such as that his people reorder their lives in a way that would prepare them as a community to receive the anointing of his reviving grace.

The Continual Blessing of God

“And it came to pass that Abraham was old, toward the end of his days, and Yahweh had continually blessed Abraham in everything.”

(Genesis 24:1)

 

What a wonderful way in which for a life to be marked: “And Yahweh had blessed Abraham in all things…” How often we feel as if God has withheld the blessings we desire; yet if we look at life in this fashion, we miss the point that is being made here at the end of Abraham’s life. By human standards, there is no question that God had withheld the blessings that Abraham desired. Abraham had to wait until he was very old to see children and never saw his grandchildren. He never had an estate or a piece of property in the promised land that God had promised him, save for a plot of ground into which he buried his wife, Sarah. And, he had to leave behind his kinsmen when he traveled from Ur to Canaan to be in the land that God had promised him. He never established even a city after his own name and after his death his family would continue to be wanderers and eventually become refugees (and later slaves) in Egypt.

Yet, when we remove ourselves from the earthly way of measuring things and look to heavenly blessings, we see a different picture. God walked with Abraham. In fact, the Bible remembers Abraham as being called “the friend of God” (James 2:23). Abraham got to witness and participate in mighty miracles, from the routing of armies to the humbling of kings. God provided for his every need, gave him the wealth of the nations, and even preserved his nephew from the judgment that rained down upon Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham received the covenant of God and the promise to make his children like the stars of the sky and the sands of the seashore is still being fulfilled today as more and more people come to faith in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior (Galatians 3:29). There is but one people of God (those who come to him in faith) and we all partake of the inheritance that God gave to Abraham.

Ultimately, God blessed Abraham with his presence. The promises would be partially fulfilled in Abraham’s life though the fullness of the promise was to come, but the greatest and most wonderful of all blessings is found in his presence with Abraham. How nearsighted we often become when we only think of God’s blessings in terms of our personal comfort. God blesses us first and foremost with himself and that makes us blessed by God in all things. Anything else that God may bring into our life and experience is secondary to this great truth. Thus, when God gives to Aaron the great benediction to be pronounced on the lives of his people, these are the words that he is to say:

May Yahweh bless you and may he keep you;

May Yahweh make his face to shine like a light upon you and may he be gracious to you;

May Yahweh turn his countenance (his presence) toward you and bring you peace.

(Numbers 6:24-26)

Notice, the language is all about God’s presence with you and covering for you. There is not one word about worldly riches or comforts mentioned. Funny how quickly we can mix that up.

Shema! (Mark 12:29)

“Jesus answered, ‘The first is: ‘Hear, O’ Israel, the Lord, your God, the Lord is one!’’”

(Mark 12:29)

 

To answer this question, Jesus quotes what is known in Hebrew as the “Shema” (Deuteronomy 6:4).  The Shema is easily the single-most important text in the Hebrew Bible; it defines the Hebrews as a people and perpetually reminds them of their place in relationship to God.  Many scholars have argued that the book of Deuteronomy itself is essentially a constitution for the Israelite nation when they enter into the promised land, and if this is the case, the Shema is the Preamble to that constitution.  It is the first prayer that a Jew prays in the morning when he awakens and the last prayer that he prays before bed; in times of distress, like during the oppression of the Jews in Nazi Germany, it was the Shema that was used as a means to identify oneself as a Jew to the Jewish community in hiding.  It is also the first prayer that is prayed (normally sung or chanted) at the beginning of a typical synagogue service.  And here, Jesus uses this prayer, this statement of faith, to sum up what it means to obey the law. 

The Shema begins with an imperative statement:  “Hear!”  The word in Hebrew that this is derived from is the term [m;v. (shema), which is where it gets its name.  More importantly, though, the term [m;v. (shema) does not simply mean “to listen,” but it also carries the connotations of obedience and submission to what follows.  It is a command to the people to hear the words that are being said, to internalize them, to submit to their authority, and then to live in obedience to what is being commanded of the listener.  There is no room for ambiguity in this command—you must hear is the idea that this command is conveying.

The second word that is found in the prayer tells us to whom the prayer is addressed:  Israel.  We, as Christian believers, must be reminded here that the name Israel applies to us today.  Paul reminds us in Romans 9:6-8 that one is not a member of Israel simply because of genealogical descent, but through the promise of God—through faith.   In Galatians 3:29, Paul also reminds us that we are counted as Abraham’s offspring—heirs according to the promise and members of true Israel—through faith in Jesus Christ.  Thus, this command of “hear, O Israel,” is a command that is set before our very ears today and must be laid upon our own hearts as well. 

Yet, what is significant about this language of “Israel” is not simply that we are part of the promise (though that is a great and a wonderful thing), but it is a reminder that we are bound together as one people in Jesus Christ and we have been given a name.  Israel was not a name that Jacob chose for himself, but it is a name that was given to him after he wrestled with the Angel of the Lord (Genesis 32:28).  The name means, “One who has striven with God.”  Now, we usually think of striving as a totally negative thing, yet let us never forget that while striving against God is not an act of submission, it does mean that God’s hand is upon your life.  The reprobate and pagan who has rejected the things of God does not need to worry about striving with God in his or her life—Paul reminds us that God has given them up to their sinful ways—allowed them to pursue the sinful things that will destroy them (Romans 1:24-25).  God’s hand is only upon his people, rebuking us when we sin, drawing us toward himself in righteousness.  In our sin we strive against God; we wrestle with his calling upon us, yet his calling is upon us; his hand is in our lives.  Israel is a name given to us as God’s people to set us apart from the rest of the world, to remind us of our corporate unity as God’s people, to remind us that it is a name given to us by our God (only the Master has the authority to give a name to those in his service), and it is a reminder that God’s hand is upon our lives.  It is a reminder that we should rejoice in as gentiles, for once we were not a people, but now we are God’s people—once we had received no mercy, and in Christ Jesus we have received mercy (1 Peter 2:10—a fulfillment of Hosea 1:23).

The next words that are pronounced are, “the Lord,” or kurio/ß (kurios) in Greek.  In Hebrew, this would be pronounced, “Adonai,” which means “Lord of Lords.”  Yet, Adonai is not the Hebrew word that is used in Deuteronomy 6:4, hwhy (Yahweh) is.  Yet, out of reverence for God’s covenantal name, the Hebrew people developed a practice of never pronouncing it and saying “Adonai” instead.  That practice carried over into the Greek writing, and thus, kurio/ß (kurios), or “Lord,” was used instead.  What is important about this language is that this is the covenantal name of God that he gave to Moses in Exodus 3:14, which is a statement of his eternality and uniqueness.  “I am who I am,” is how we often translate this name into English; that God is, he always has been, and he always will be.  God is eternal and there never was a time when God was not—nor will there ever be a time when God will cease to be.  All things that are had a beginning and this beginning is found in the creative work of our God.  Yet, this God, as great and mighty as he is, chose to condescend to fallen man and have a relationship with them, and in doing so, has given us his name that we might know him by that name for all generations (Exodus 3:15).  He is a God that is knowable, and is ultimately knowable in the person of his Son, Jesus Christ, who is answering the scribe in this case.

Jesus continues his quote of the Shema with the words “our God.”  In the Hebrew, this is one word, Wnyheloa/ (Elohinu), which is the Hebrew word, “Elohim” with the first person plural pronoun as an ending, thus, it does not read, “the Lord God,” but it reads, “the Lord, our God.”  This is important on a number of levels.  First of all, we must remember that these words were recited by the Hebrew people at least twice daily.  Thus, every day men and women were professing that this Yahweh was their God, personally and individually.  To call Yahweh, “our God” is also a reminder that we are bound as part of a covenantal community and not isolated, “Lone Ranger,” believers.  We are in a covenantal relationship as the church with one another and with God himself, and these words form a concise reminder of that fact.

In addition, the name, “Elohim” carries with it a variety of connotations.  We must remember that there are many names for God used in the Old Testament, and these names all are designed to reflect different aspects of his character.  The name Elohim reflects two ideas: God as creator and God as lawgiver.  To speak of God in this way, then, reflects the idea that the people are confessing God to be their creator and their lawgiver.  A creator has ownership over that which he has created and a lawgiver has the right to establish the rules and guidelines that his creations must live by.  These are words that remind God’s people of our submission to his authority and to his laws.  It is God who defines who we are and sets up the parameters as to how we go about doing what we do.

Finally, the Shema ends with the language, “The Lord is one.”  This reflects not only that God is one, monotheistic, God, but that he is alone in his Godhead.  God has no rivals, he is unique and infinitely wonderful.  Nothing in creation even comes close to his perfection.  This reflects the immutability of God’s perfections, and as the great and wonderful God, he is the source of all true wisdom and knowledge.  This language also reflects the language of the first commandment: “Thou shalt have no other Gods before me.”  God is God alone in our lives; he will not share his authority or place with any other.  There is no room for idols of any kind (even modern ones like our careers, wealth, status, etc…) in the lives of God’s people.  God is God alone.

And this is how the Shema closes, although the language of the larger passage explicates how the believer is to go about living this out.  Jesus will touch on this as he continues, but let us not overlook the importance of this first statement.  It is the credo, if you will, of God’s people; it establishes our identity and reminds us of our proper relationship with God.  In fact, in most traditional editions of the Hebrew Old Testament, the last letter of the first and last words are written in bold case and a larger font.  These two letters spell the Hebrew word d[e (ed), which means testimony or witness.  How often we are guilty of seeking to distort that relationship.  How often we are guilty of trying to set ourselves up as lawgiver in our own lives.  Oh, beloved, we are men and women in submission, but we are in submission to a good and wonderful God; let us live happily in submission to God’s laws and God’s providence in our lives, and let these words always remind us that we are God’s people and he is our covenantal God.

Liberation!: Isaiah 61:1f

“and to the ones imprisoned—liberation!”

(Isaiah 61:1f)

 

            This final clause in Isaiah 61:1 naturally follows the previous statement.  With the coming of the Messiah, the chains of bondage to sin are released, they are broken, and the prison cells of death have been opened wide.  Indeed, our Lord proclaimed just that message:

“Truly, Truly, I say to you that an hour is coming and is now, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and the ones who hear will live.”

(John 5:25)

The final clause in this verse, which I have translated as “liberation,” is a Hebrew idiom comprised of two similar ideas for release, or delivery from prison:  x;Aq-xq;P. (peqach-qoach).  The key to remember here is that the language reflects the idea of being released by someone else from something that you could not free yourself of.  In other words, it reflects the idea of being liberated and not the idea of escape.  Indeed, there are many human bonds and constraints that we may be able to throw off on our own strength, but sin and death are the two things that have bound us as a race in a way that we are helpless against apart from a divine act of liberation.  And indeed, dear friends, this is the liberation that is worked by Christ Jesus!

            It is worth pointing out that the language of “liberation” has been used by some in our culture to promote an un-Biblical political theology.  “Liberation Theology” as it has been called, takes passages like this and argues that the purpose of Christ’s life and death was to open up avenues for relief from political oppression.  This theological model has then been adapted to meet the specific needs of particular groups.  Thus, there has been Feminist Liberation Theology, Black Liberation Theology, Hispanic Liberation Theology, etc…  And while genuine Christianity lived out does seek to lift people from their oppressed conditions (the abolishment of the slave-trade, for example), this particular theology seeks to reverse the roles, placing the oppressed in a position where they can now oppress their former oppressors. 

            Not only does this theology blend political Marxism with a mis-interpretation of scripture, but it also departs from the witness of historical Christianity, where believers have regularly sought to evangelize their oppressors.  More importantly, it misses the whole point of Christ’s atoning and liberating work.  Jesus did not come to serve a political agenda, he came to redeem us from our sins.  He did not come to make it possible for us to throw off our earthly oppressors; he came to redeem us from the eternal judgment of God.  It misses the point when Jesus says, “blessed are those who have been persecuted in the name of righteousness…” (Matthew 5:10).  In addition, does not Peter also teach us that it is of no merit if we suffer for our sin (1 Peter 2:20)?  Instead of repaying evil for evil, are we not to repay evil with good (1 Peter 3:8-9)?

            Beloved, rejoice in the liberation that you have been given, but understand what Jesus is liberating you from.  You are being liberated from sin and death; you are being liberated from the fate of eternal judgment!  How much greater and more wonderful is this liberation than anything that men can work in this world! How much more permanent this liberation is!  Don’t be fooled, loved ones, by the false teachers that surround you—search the scriptures and guard your heart, for there are many who would lead you astray.  Be like the noble Bereans (Acts 17:10-11) and do not follow the lies of those who would manipulate God’s word to serve their own ends.

“For this is no empty word for you, but it is your life.  And in this word your days will be made long upon the ground which you are passing over the Jordan to inherit there.” (Deuteronomy 32:47)

Release to the Captives: Isaiah 61:1e

“To preach release to the captives…”

Isaiah 61:1e

 

            In the context of Isaiah’s ministry, this statement would have had a very specific promise, recognizing that at this point in history, the northern Kingdom of Israel has fallen and the people had been taken and scattered throughout the Assyrian Empire.  In addition, the southern Kingdom would, within 100 years, fall as well.  To those who would hear this prophesy, that would speak of the hope of the return of the people from exile with the advent of the Messiah’s coming.  When Jesus spoke these words of his own ministry, the people would have responded in a similar way, not only thinking of the return of the various Jewish people who had been scatted all over the Roman Empire, but also of the lifting of Roman oppression in the Holy Land.  Yet, Jesus had an entirely different bondage in view—one that was far more dangerous than the taxation and oversight of the Romans.  Jesus was dealing with our bondage to sin. 

The language used by Isaiah echoes this great promise that Jesus has come to fulfill.  The word that we translate as “release” or “liberty” is the Hebrew word, rArD> (deror), which specifically has in view the release that God commanded in conjunction with the Sabbatical Year and the Year of Jubilee (which is where verse 2 picks up—also see Leviticus 25:10).  Essentially, God commanded that every 7th year was to be a Sabbath year set aside for himself.  During this year the fields would be left fallow, Jewish slaves would be set free, and debts would be considered satisfied.  In the Year of Jubilee (every 50th year), even the family lands that had been sold to pay off debts would be returned to their rightful owners for the purpose of preserving the family in the land.  It was to be a time of celebration and deliverance from economic and social bondage.  Yet, do not miss the purpose of the Year of Jubilee and Sabbatical years, or you will miss what Isaiah is doing by referencing it and you will miss what Jesus is doing by applying it to his own Messianic ministry. 

Leviticus 25, a chapter devoted to the release that was to be associated with the Sabbatical Year and with the Year of Jubilee, ends with God’s explanation for instituting these events:

“Because, to me, the sons of Israel are servants;

they are my servants which I brought out of the land of Egypt.

I am Yahweh, your God.”

(Leviticus 25:55)

In other words, God is saying that the reason for these Jubilees is because the people of Israel belong to no one other than to himself.  He did not share them with Egypt, but delivered them, and he will not share them with those who would exploit them in their own land.  God’s people are God’s servants and a perpetual bondage means that he is forced to share with one who is an illegitimate owner.  God brought his people from Egypt to be his own; he is not going to let them go.

            Do these words not also ring true with the language of our Lord? 

“All that the Father gives me will come to me; I will definitely not cast out.”

(John 6:37)

“Also I give them eternal life, and they shall never be destroyed; no one will snatch them from my hand.”

(John 10:28)

Yet, this language echoes even more strongly with the language of the writer of Hebrews:

“Remember those who are bound as ones bound with them; and the ones who are tormented, as they are in the body.  Let marriage be precious to all, and the marriage bed be morally pure; for the sexually immoral and adulterous God will judge.  Let your lifestyle not be covetous, being content with what is at your disposal.  For he has said: “I will never send you back, nor will I ever leave you behind.”  Thus we can say with certainty, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear.  What can man do to me?”  (Hebrews 13:3-6)

Okay, let’s put the puzzle pieces together in light of what the writer of Hebrews teaches.  We know from Leviticus that God has delivered his people from their bondage in Egypt for the purpose of making them his own servants.  In light of that, God instituted the Sabbatical Year and Year of Jubilee in Israel’s governmental law for the purpose of ensuring that the people would not sink back into bondage.  The writer of Hebrews builds on this idea and asks us as Christians to look at several things that will lead us into different kinds of bondage.  We are to remember believers who are in actual chains—why?  Because God hears the cries of his persecuted people (Exodus 2:23-25).  We are to preserve the sanctity of our marriages—why?  Because in marriage, one man and one woman are bound covenantally together to the point that they are seen by God as one flesh (Genesis 2:24).  Thus, this binding must always be a holy one—one that does not detract from the couple’s ability to serve God, but instead aids it (1 Corinthians 7:2-7, 26-28).  We are not to defile our marriage bed with sexual immorality or adultery, why?  Because not only does this sinful activity ruin the holy nature of the marriage, but it also enslaves the person who entered into such sin to the sin and to the one with whom he or she has committed said immorality and adultery (1 Corinthians 6:16).  Our lifestyles must not be covetous (more than just the love of money, but the 10th commandment includes coveting your neighbor’s house, wife, servants, and/or property—Exodus 20:17).  Why?  Because this places you in bondage to the lust of material things—things that belong to this world, and not to the things of God (1 John 2:15-17).  All of these things that the writer of Hebrews mentions are things that binds us in servitude and slavery to things or persons other than being bound in service to God.

            Thus, it is in this context that the writer of Hebrews quotes Jesus as saying, “I will never send you back, nor will I ever leave you behind.”  While this is likely a reference to Jesus’ promise to his Apostles in John 14:18, it picks up the language of the passages quoted above from John above as well as other promises of Jesus that he will be with us always, even to the end of eternity (Matthew 28:20).  All of these statements must be understood in the context of God’s calling of us to be his own.  Why will Jesus not allow us to be left behind?  Because in being left behind, we are left in bondage to the things of this world, to sin, and ultimately to death.  As the Apostle Paul writes:

“You were bought with a price; do not become slaves to men.”

(1 Corinthians 7:23)

            So, we return back to Isaiah 61:1 and to Jesus’ proclamation that he is the fulfillment of this prophesy (Luke 4:21).  Our Lord came to proclaim, and thus the Gospel of Jesus Christ proclaims, that we are released from our bondage to the world—Egypt has no more claims on us; sin has no more claims on us; the kingdoms of the world can do nothing to us for we are eternally bound to the risen Christ.  Oh, beloved, how is it that we so often bind ourselves to the world even in light of this great truth!  Loved ones, let us live in service of Christ, for he is our only master—the chains of this world have been loosed, and we have found our freedom in him!

Redeemed how I love to proclaim it!

Redeemed by the blood of the lamb;

Redeemed through his infinite mercy,

His child and forever I am.

-Fanny Crosby

 

The Shattered Heart: Isaiah 61:1d

“He has sent me to bind the heart which has been shattered…”

Isaiah 61:1d

 

            When I read this part of the verse, my mind cannot help but to think back to the promise that was made by God earlier in Isaiah 35:4:

“Say to those whose hearts are hasty; be strong and you must not fear.

Behold, your God of vengeance will come in the recompense of God—

He will come and save you.”

And indeed, now, those whose hearts have caused them to run ahead, chasing after their own plans and dreams instead of chasing after holiness, will find that God, in his might and in his power, will come to save them—save them by sending his Son, Jesus Christ.  And Christ will be the one who takes their hearts, as broken, war-torn, and shattered as they are, and bind them back together.  Note the power of this great and wonderful promise, Jesus is not simply one to put back together a heart that has been fractured, like a bone that is broken might be set in a splint or a cast, but the Hebrew word used here is derived from the Hebrew verb, rb;v’ (shavar), which means “to shatter.”  Any human doctor can mend a fractured bone, but it takes God to mend that which has been shattered beyond recognition.  And note that when the Hebrews were speaking about the “heart,” they were not speaking simply in terms of one’s emotional well-being or of one’s passions as we often do; when the Hebrews spoke of the heart, they had in mind the intellect and the personality—that which makes you, you. And this is the work of Christ.  Jesus is more than a family counselor or a psychologist helping you to get your emotions in check.  And he does more than to nurture bruised egos—Jesus mends lives!  And Jesus does far more than mend lives that have been beaten around and bruised by the world, but he mends lives that have been blasted away, shattered, demolished, and utterly crushed, and he restores us whole!

            I am reminded of the story of Humpty Dumpty.  Indeed, all of the kings horses and men could do nothing to patch that shattered egg and to restore him to strength.  Yet, Christ is far more than a servant of a human king; he is the King of Kings, Son of the Living God and creator of the universe.  Indeed, there is no life, no person who is too broken and shattered that he is beyond the ability of our Lord, Jesus Christ to put back together.  Yet, there is another difference.  When Jesus puts a life back together, he does not simply restore one to health, but he restores one slowly into the image of himself—we are remade not for a fallen world, but Christ’s remaking is designed to prepare us for glory!  What a wonderful promise that we find in our great and glorious Lord!

“He is the one who heals a shattered heart;

and the one who binds their sorrows.”

Psalm 147:3

 

Into Thy gracious hands I fall,

And with the arms of faith embrace;

O King of glory, hear my call!

O raise me, heal me by Thy grace!

-Wolfgang Dessler

Good Tidings: Isaiah 61:1c

“to herald good tidings to the meek”

Isaiah 61:1c

 

            These words should immediately bring to mind the language of the angels in proclaiming the good news before the shepherds (Luke 2:10).  Indeed it was the role of the angels to proclaim the birth of the one who would bring such good news and glad tidings to the world—who would emboss onto the history of mankind the great hope and promise of redemption that would be brought by this Jesus.  In Christ, men and women no longer need to live in darkness and fear, but could dwell forever in Christ’s marvelous light.  Indeed, there are no better tidings than the reality that God has come into the world to dwell with men, to bear the sins of those whose faith is in him, and to face the mighty wrath of God on behalf of his own.  The one who needed no redeeming came to earth, took on flesh to identify with us as his people, and did the mighty work of redemption on behalf of we who needed redeeming, yet could not even begin to do that work on our own.

            And it is important to see the way in which this message of good tidings is proclaimed to those who are meek.  It’s root is the word rv;B’ (bashar), which means, “to bear good news.”  Yet this verb is found in what is called the Piel stem in the Hebrew language.  The Piel stem is used in Hebrew to point to a repeated action.  In other words, the idea of the good news borne or heralded by Christ is not just a one-time deal, but it is good news that is repeatedly proclaimed in the hearts and in the lives of God’s people.  How true this is indeed!  The good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is news that bears repeating in the lives of those who know him and before the waiting ears of those who do not.  How often God’s people need to be reminded of the wonderful good news of the hope that is found in a relationship with Jesus Christ. 

            But look at to whom this proclamation is directed.  It is directed to the meek or to the poor, depending on your translation.  The term that Isaiah uses here is wn”[‘ (anaw), which is related to the word ynI[‘ (ani).  Literally, wn”[‘ (anaw) refers to one who is bowed down or dejected, one who has been humiliated and broken under the oppression of outside forces.  Its cousin, ynI[‘ (ani), picks up the idea of one who has become poor and afflicted as a result of oppression.  It is not to the proud or to the powerful that this message is proclaimed, but to the poor, to those who have suffered under the oppression of the world and under the oppression of sin and who understand that there is no place to look for a redeemer other than to God.  This language is reminiscent of the Israelites in Egypt, crying out for God to deliver them from Pharaoh’s hand (Exodus 2:23).  And indeed, it is this idea that Jesus picks up on in his Sermon on the Mount when he says, “blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven” (Matthew 5:3).

            The proud, the arrogant, the haughty, those trusting in their own strength or righteousness, these are not the marks of those being drawn to God faith (James 4:6; 1 Peter 5:5).  Indeed, the first step in coming to faith is genuine, heart-felt repentance, and in repentance there is no room for the pride of men.  Loved ones, do not picture yourself approaching God with trumpets blaring and shouts of acclamation; do not picture yourself because you have earned an audience with the Almighty King.  Understand that we come before him on our knees, pleading forgiveness and mercy, and in His undying grace, to all who come into His presence through faith in his Son, Jesus Christ, to them—to us—he has given us eternal life, no longer seeing us as rebels, but adopting us as sons and daughters.  Loved ones, oh, what a day of rejoicing that will be!

“See the kind of love that the father has given to us, in order that we might be called children of God; and we are.  Because of this, the world does not know us:  because it did not know him.” (1 John 3:1)

 

“And as it says in Hosea:

I will call those who are not my people, ‘my people.’

And she who is not beloved, ‘beloved.’

And it will be in the place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ there they will be called, “Sons of the Living God.”

(Romans 9:25-26)

 

Because Yahweh has Anointed Me: Isaiah 61:1b

“Because Yahweh has anointed me…”

Isaiah 61:1b

 

Oh, what an amazing statement this is in itself, that this Messiah is not one anointed by man, but by the covenantal God, Yahweh, himself!  How much more significant this becomes when you realize that this construction is only ever used three times in the Old Testament.  It is used first in 1 Samuel 10:1 of God’s anointing of Saul, it is used secondly here, of the Messiah, in Isaiah, and thirdly, it is used of Jehu, who destroyed the house of Ahaz (2 Chronicles 22:7).  There are many instances where God asks a prophet or a priest to anoint someone as he did with Samuel’s anointing of David—but these are the only instances where Yahweh is said to have anointed.

There are several things that we can learn from this.  In each case, this was a kingly anointing.  Saul was the very first human king over Israel—Jesus was the last.  Saul was rejected by God because he did not execute God’s judgment upon Agag, the king of the Amalekites—one of the great persecutor of Israel.  In contrast to Saul, Jehu was anointed king for the express purpose of executing God’s judgment upon the house of Ahaz (Ahaziah) in Judah and upon the house of Ahab in Israel—both kings which promoted pagan idolatry.  Of course, Jehu’s downfall is that he did not go far enough in the purging of Israel of its idolatry and wickedness.  Christ is the greater fulfillment of that which both Saul and Jehu failed to complete.  Jesus is the greater king that not only redeems his people, but also promises complete and final judgment upon God’s enemies—upon all those who would devote themselves to idolatry. 

The second thing that we can learn from this is the very nature of the Kingship of the Messiah.  The verb, “to anoint” in Hebrew is the word xv;m’ (mashach) and is the very word from which we get the word “Messiah,” literally meaning, “the anointed one.”  Not only then, is Isaiah pointing toward the very reality that this promised Messiah will be God himself, but also that he will fulfill the promise that God gave to David, in that a king will be raised up from his household who would have an eternal kingdom (2 Samuel 7:12-13). 

Thirdly, it is an ever-present reminder of the nature of Jesus’ Kingship.  Jesus himself said that he did not come to peace but division (Luke 12:51).  John the Baptist describes Jesus as one who comes as with a winnowing fork to separate the wheat from the tares (Matthew 3:12).  And what is the purpose of all this division?  It is salvation (John 12:47).  How is it that both can be true?  The wrath of God being poured out upon his enemies is the means by which God saves the world for he brings her to purity only after he has separated the distillates out of her in the refining process.  Refinement is done with fire, thus fire is brought by Christ to both redeem and destroy—both go hand in hand.  In the case of Saul and Jehu—the destruction of God’s enemies ended their idolatrous influence (at least for a time).  In the case of Jesus, the destruction of God’s enemies means a promise of the eternal end to the idolatrous influence of the world upon our lives—oh praise be to God that our Lord would come in this way!

The Spirit of the Lord Most High: Isaiah 61:1a

This passage is one that is very familiar to us because of Jesus’ use of it during his first sermon back in his hometown of Nazareth.  Notice the unambiguous nature of this statement—“the Spirit of the Lord Most High, Yahweh, is upon me.   To begin with, when x;Wr (ruach), which can mean “spirit” or “wind”, is used in construct with the personal name of God (Yahweh) and is used in the terms of being placed upon someone, it is consistently used in terms of God’s power, and that power being placed upon an individual to complete God’s design.  It is used of Othniel (Judges 3:10), Samson (Judges 14:6), of David (1 Samuel 16:13), and of Elijah (1 Kings 18:12).  Most importantly, it is used of Jesus at his baptism (Luke 3:22).  How this shines light on passages like Colossians 2:9, which speaks of the fullness of God being pleased to dwell in Christ.  How so it is that the Spirit rushed on these Old Testament saints in part and for a time, yet came upon Christ in full and remained upon him for eternity.  What is more is that same Spirit rushed upon Peter and the other apostles at the time of Pentecost and likewise remained upon him for the length of their ministry.  And that same Spirit—the third member of the divine Trinity has shown himself to be pleased to dwell in you and within me both for the purpose of accomplishing God’s work in this world and for the purpose of drawing you and I more closely to himself in intimate fellowship.  This is not a change of state for Jesus, but it is a promise.  It is a promise that in Christ all of the promises of deliverance that are contained within the words of the Old Testament find their fullness in Christ and in his work.  And it is a promise that it is the very Spirit of God that will bring about God’s designs in your life and mine.  What a wonderful way for Jesus to announce his ministry to the community that thought they knew him best.  Oh, how much greater a sin it was for these townsfolk—those who knew Jesus from childhood—to reject him in the way that they did.

Yet, we must not stop there.  It is not only the x;Wr (ruach) of Yahweh, but we are told that this is the x;Wr (ruach) of the yn”doa] (adonay) of Yahweh.  The Hebrew word !Ada’ (adon) means lord in the generic sense (much like we would use the word “sir” in English as a term of respect), but when you add the Qamets-yod ending (the “ay” sound), that intensifies the word, which communicates the idea that this Lord is the most high of all Lords—a term never employed of anyone in the Old Testament but God.  Finally, we should not neglect to note the covenantal name of God, Yahweh, that is employed in this Statement.  We can be left with no doubt of what Isaiah is seeking to communicate within this passage.  The messiah of whom he speaks will have the fullness of the covenant God of Israel upon himself—that he is the fullness of God—and that is a statement that can only be made of God.  This messiah of whom he speaks will be, and can only be, the covenant God of Israel, having taken on flesh and come to redeem his people.  It points to and can only point to Jesus Christ, the very Son of the living God.  By declaring that this prophesy was fulfilled in himself as he did before the people in the synagogue of Nazareth, he declared himself to be none less than God in the flesh.