The Fires of Edom

One of the greatest differences between Jacob and Esau was the immediacy of their passions.

One of the greatest differences between Jacob and Esau was the immediacy of their passions.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.
(Galatians 5:22-26 ESV)

Passions are powerful. Love has built kingdoms and lust has torn them down. Ambition has built industrial empires and greed has bankrupted them.

We’ve all known someone who consistently allowed their passions to lead them into bad decisions. I had a friend who went from relationship to relationship–even if relationship wasn’t always the right word–and made major purchases that he couldn’t afford the moment he got his head above the financial water. He wasn’t a bad guy; he was a good friend who was there when I needed him. Unfortunately, his passions made all of his major decisions for him. He rarely considered how his actions today would impact his life ten years in the future. Most of his decisions were only about right now.

Much like Esau.

Esau’s birth name means “hairy”, which conveys a bit of his rough character, but I think his other name, Edom, is even more apropos. It means “red” like the earth or like the fire of his anger, ambition, and lust. He wasn’t a farmer like his father, Isaac, nor a shepherd like his brother, Jacob. He was a hunter. He started quarrels, married impulsively, made bad deals in desperation and then promptly forgot about them.

Esau was a sort of reverse spiritual alchemist, turning the gold inheritance of his fabulously wealthy father into the lead of struggle and broken relationships. The inevitable end of the exceedingly passionate, those people who see what they want and go after what they see, is to be consumed by their urges.

Passion is a good and powerful force when checked by the Spirit, but when it is allowed to run free, it is crippling. The words Esau spoke at his father’s bedside when he finally realized what he had done in selling his birthright to Jacob are heartbreaking, but hardly unexpected:

As soon as Esau heard the words of his father, he cried out with an exceedingly great and bitter cry and said to his father, “Bless me, even me also, O my father!”
(Genesis 27:34)

Solomon described Esau’s state of mind in Proverbs 11:3: “His heart rages against the LORD.” The passionate fool rarely directs his rage where it belongs. He lashes out at anyone nearby–which is why Rebekah was wise to send Jacob away to Laban before Esau could catch him–and against God when no more convenient target is available, but his ruin was his own doing. Whatever conspiring Jacob and Rebekah did, only Esau was in a position to sell his birthright. Nobody tricked him. Nobody forced him. He lusted after what was before him in the moment and didn’t value at all those things that he couldn’t see and taste.

Esau, enslaved to his passions, spent decades learning just a small portion of the peace and prosperity that he could have attained in his youth by submitting desire and passion to a higher calling in his father’s house. Although he learned to master his passions enough to reconcile with Jacob and build a legacy of his own, but his passed his anger and envy on to his descendants whose uneasy relationship with Israel simmered for more than a thousand years. His grandchildren and great grandchildren carried on his pattern of willful and ignorant self-immolation for many generations.

Concerning appropriate behavior of spiritual brothers toward one another, Paul wrote:

Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.
(Romans 12:11-12)

In other words, be passionate about things that are not immediate and for which the ultimate rewards are more spiritual than physical, and restrain your passions concerning things that are physical. Be zealous, but not hasty; be passionate, but not vengeful.

Hunger will pass. God’s Word won’t, and neither will hell.

God can help you master your passions through prayer, study, and consistent practice. It’s not easy, but it can be done, and the earlier you start, the better. Your grandchildren will thank you.

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Father, Son, and Unnamed Servant

The betrothal of Isaac and Rebekah is a metaphor of the betrothal of Messiah Yeshua and Israel.In the Scriptures, unnamed servants are often symbolic of God’s Spirit. Although we know Abraham’s senior servant was Eliezer, he is not named in the story of the betrothal of Rebekah and Isaac, in which he takes a central role.

Abraham, whose name means “Father,” charged his Servant with the task of finding a wife for his son, Isaac. When he arrived at the well of Haran, he prayed that God would reveal the right woman by way of a test of selflessness. When Rebekah passed the test, she was given gifts and asked to accompany the servant back to Canaan to be with her new husband.

This story is an image of the Messiah and his Bride. Abraham represents God, the Father. He sends the Spirit into the world to find those who are qualified to be his people. When the Spirit has identified God’s people from among all the others at the well, he gives them an extravagant gift and asks if they will accompany him to the Messiah. The bride price was paid before the bride had even been asked. It was a down-payment, an “earnest,” of the covenant that was promised. (2 Cor 1:22, 2 Cor 5:5, Eph 1:13-14) The bride of the Messiah leaves the world of her own free will and follows the Spirit to the Messiah in the Promised Land, sight unseen. She joins the Messiah in faith that he is who he claims to be and has the power to deliver on his promises.

Important additional points to ponder:

  • Not everyone who is called to the well is chosen. There were many women in Canaan, more along the road, and even others at the well.
  • The defining characteristic of God’s people is selflessness, a willingness to put oneself out for the benefit of others.
  • Rebekah (aka the Bride of Christ or the Congregation of Israel) was not kidnapped in the middle of the night, but was asked to leave suddenly without time to make extensive preparations or say long goodbyes.
  • The Bride joins the Messiah in the Promised Land for Sukkot (aka the Feast of Tabernacles/Tents). How much do you want to bet that Isaac’s marriage was on the anniversary of Sukkot 400 years in advance?

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3 Steps to Prepare for Bible Study

Three steps to prepare for Bible study: Environment, Planning, and Prayer

I debated whether or not to include this post in my Common Sense Bible Study series, but I decided it’s better to include it than not. I can’t know who is going to be reading this nor where they’re coming from, and even the most veteran students need a refresher now and then. Preparation for study can be almost as important as the study itself. What’s the point of putting time and effort into something that you don’t get anything out of?

Create an Environment for Study

You will think and learn better in an environment free of clutter and distractions. An office, library, or other place you can go that will be free of distractions is ideal, but if you can’t escape, then rearrange your current environment with a goal of clean surfaces and no distractions.

If your cell phone is likely to tempt you, turn it off or put it in another room.

Some things will be different for everyone. I study better with music playing; silence invites my mind to wander. My wife studies better in complete silence; if she hears music, she’ll want to sing along or get up and dance.

Just as with background noise, Whether you use a stand-up desk, a lounger, or a chair and desk depends on what works best for you and what tools and books you will want to have at hand. I don’t recommend lying down, though. I can’t imagine that works for anyone.

Plan Ahead

Have your Bible, your computer, and any study materials collected before you start so you don’t have to get up and find them later. I use the Bibles & other tools built into e-Sword (must-have software!), the commentaries of a couple of teachers, and a few hardcopy books when I study. I don’t use all of those every time, but I do like to have them close at hand so I don’t have to hunt them down.

If you’re going to need some snacks or something to drink, try to have them ready before hand. If you know that you’ll need a break, know what’s available so you don’t have to spend a lot of time rummaging through the refrigerator.

I recommend having a regular time scheduled and set aside so that it’s easier to tell yourself that it’s study time, not television or play time. Make sure everyone knows that this is study time. Although I might do some Bible study on almost any day of the week, Saturday morning’s are especially set aside for that purpose. I almost never plan anything else for that time.

Know what you are going to be studying before you start. Go through the Bible chapter-by-chapter, create your own plan, or find a plan on the Internet. I have some thoughts on what kinds of reading/study plans are preferable, but I’ll tell you more about the plan I follow and what I recommend on that score later.

You’ll need to have some means to take notes. Even if you have a photographic memory, taking notes will be very useful.

When you read something, the information is processed one way. When you hear it read aloud and if you speak it, you process it in another way. And when you write down thoughts about what you have read or heard, you push those thoughts through yet another process involving arranging them into coherent sentences and logical structures that will engage other parts of your brain and possibly lead to greater insights.

Taking notes will help you to think through what you’re learning and to retain it better. I keep all of my notes in a computer file, but many people find that pen and paper works better for them.

The Fear of the Lord is the Beginning of Wisdom

When you are finally ready to begin, take some time to pray. Many very intelligent people have spent years studying the scriptures only to dismiss them as fairy tales or hate-filled bigotry. Intelligence, knowledge, and good study habits are all great, but real understanding of the Bible only comes through the Holy Spirit.

God knows what he told Moses to write on the stone tablets. He knows what he told the Prophets and what the Apostles meant when they wrote letters to the first Christians scattered across the Roman Empire. If anyone can open the Scriptures for you, God can.

There are no hard rules for how you need to pray. Jesus gave us a good pattern to follow in The Lord’s Prayer, and the Bible is filled with more examples, especially in the Psalms.

You can pray aloud or silently. You can sing your prayers or write them down. Whatever you find works best for you.

Some people find it helpful to start with written prayers, whether traditional and formal or something from a book of daily devotions. As you become more comfortable with regular prayer, it will become easier to express yourself in your own words. If you don’t know what to say, start with this:

  • Be grateful. Thank God for all the wonderful things he has created.
  • Praise God. Try to imagine our unimaginably awesome God and tell him how wonderful he is. Trust me. He likes it, and the fear of the Lord truly is the beginning of wisdom.
  • Ask for wisdom. Ask God to open your eyes, heart, and mind and to give you insight as you work.

Make prayer a habit in your daily life. The things you learn in your studies will come to mind throughout the week and daily prayer will help you stay on track and open to whatever revelations God has in store for you.

When you get your environment and your resources ready, you have a good plan, and you’re prayed up, then you’re really ready to get to work.

 

(Click here to return to the Common Sense Bible Study home page.)

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Common Sense Bible Study Ground Rules

The Ground Rules of American Torah's Common Sense Bible Study series

Who is this series for?

People who want more.

This series is for Christians, Jews, and Messianic believers who have had enough of being told what to believe, of going to church or synagogue to hear a sermon, just to go home, forget it all, and go on with life as usual. It’s for people who yearn to go a little deeper, but don’t know where to start. It’s for people who want more out of the Bible than you can get from casual reading, but don’t have time for college classes and language study.

People who have questions.

It’s for people who are tired of being told what to believe and want to find the truth for themselves. It’s for people who have heard an interesting, shocking, or just plain weird thing about what the Bible says and want to know whether it’s true or not. It’s for people who are confused by the thousands of denominations and conflicting doctrines and don’t know how to weigh the competing claims.

What are the prerequisites?

I know that there are all kinds of people out there who want to know more about the Bible and how to understand it: Catholics, Protestants, Hindus, Atheists, you name it. Unfortunately, I’m not sure I’m capable of communicating effectively with every possible student in the same study. I would approach the topic of Bible study very differently for a Hindu or atheist than I would for an evangelical Christian. So that I don’t waste everyone’s time, I have to set some minimum requirements for my readers. Of course, anyone is welcome to read this series, but if you don’t meet these prerequisites, you will get limited value from it.

I am going to assume that you believe in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. I don’t particularly care if you’re a unitarian or a trinitarian, a preterist or a premillenialist, a Catholic or a Coptic. What exactly you believe about God isn’t as important as that you believe he exists and that you want to worship him and know him.

I am going to assume that you believe all 66 books commonly included in the Bible were inspired by God and accurate in their original forms and languages. If you’re Catholic, Mormon, or of some other sect that holds additional works as authoritative, you will still be able to get significant value from this series. I’m not aware of any Christian* denominations that don’t accept the core 66 books, even if they might add a few others.

If you are Jewish and don’t accept the New Testament books as authoritative, you too can get significant value out of this series. Almost all of the principles of study that I will be discussing work equally well when applied only to the Tanakh. However, I will be assuming that my readers believe that Jesus, aka Yeshua, is the Messiah and that the New Testament is as authoritative as the Tanakh.

I am going to assume that you are willing to be wrong about some of your most tightly held assumptions about God and religion. If you think you already know everything, I doubt there’s anything that I can teach you. But you already knew that, right?

What will you get out of it?

Here’s what I hope you will get out of this series:

  1. Confidence that you can read and understand the Scriptures for yourself.
  2. The ability to decide whether or not a doctrine is solidly biblical, plausible, or completely nuts.
  3. The ability to weigh the relative importance of a doctrine, to tell what’s core to the faith, and what is peripheral.
  4. Confidence to stand up to Internet crazies who want to drag you into the theological weeds of irrelevancy or paranoia.

Most of all, I hope you will gain a better understanding of God’s Word and, through it, God himself. I hope that you will spend more time studying the Bible and that it will draw you closer to the Author of everything.

(Go here for the front page of the Common Sense Bible Study series.)

* Yes, I know different sects have different definitions of “Christian”.

What Purpose the Crucifixion?

In the eyes of God, Yeshua's blood erases our sins and his righteousness becomes ours.Someone on Twitter recently told me that he is still not sure why the Messiah needed to die. My reply (brief due to the limitations of Twitter) was something like this:

Something has to cover (atone) our sins before we can approach God. A precise understanding of how atonement works is probably beyond our comprehension, but I think of it like neutralizing a bad odor. God can’t stomach our stench, so he sent Yeshua whose blood covers and removes it. His good odor becomes ours in God’s nostrils, hence the repeated description of sacrifices as “a pleasing aroma” to God.

This interaction reminded me of another conversation I had with someone a long time ago, reproduced here:

Q: What purpose did the crucifixion and resurrection serve?

Among other things, the Crucifixion satisfied the requirement of the Law for the death of the sinner, and the Resurrection established Yeshua’s permanent mastery of death. The Law still requires death for certain offenses, but there is forgiveness apart from mere physical death. Yeshua’s crucifixion opened the door for grace at the final judgment and for eternal salvation.

Q: Did they change anything? If so, what, when, and for whom? Was the world a different place after the resurrection than before Christ’s death on the cross? In what way?

There was a change, but it was subtle (and dramatic at the same time, if that makes sense). Without Yeshua’s death and resurrection, nobody at any point in history, backwards or forwards, could ever be saved from eternal damnation or granted eternal life, but the method of salvation didn’t change after that event from what it was before. In other words, someone in 100 BC is saved the same way as someone in 100 AD: through faith in God’s mercy enabled by the blood of Yeshua. Salvation has always been available to anyone who asked and subjected themselves to God’s mercy. No one was ever saved by his own circumcision or obedience to Law, but by the grace of God in providing a substitutionary payment for the sins of all people who have ever lived.

Yeshua’s resurrection proved his innocence. He could not be condemned because he never violated a single point of the Law and so could not be held in the grave. Untainted blood acts as a sort of spiritual shield or mask that allows us to approach God (and vice versa) closer than we could as our natural, fallen selves. In the eyes of God, Yeshua’s blood erases our sins and his righteousness appears to the Father as our own if we willingly place ourselves beneath it. But since God exists outside of time and could look through that blood at Abraham and David as well as at you and I, this doesn’t really answer the question.

The world was a different place after Yeshua’s death and resurrection in three important ways.

First, our perspective changed. Abraham knew a redeemer must come and looked forward in faith to that day. We now know that the redeemer has already come, and we look back at that day in faith that his blood is sufficient to cover our sins. The ultimate fulfillment of redemption is yet to come, but the payment has been made in full. An earnest of delivery was given in the form of the Holy Spirit, and we now look forward to the reality.

Second, although God exists outside of time, our spirits do not. Before Yeshua, the Scriptures seem to indicate that the dead went to some place like the underworld common to most ancient mythologies: “Abraham’s Bosom” for the faithful and Hades for the unfaithful. They could speak and thirst and could sometimes even return to the land of the living. Yeshua changed something in that arrangement, although I won’t pretend to understand exactly what.

Third, Yeshua, who has become a man and the firstborn of the resurrection, can now operate as our high priest in the supreme tabernacle in Heaven. When we accept his kingship and covering of our souls, our obligation is transferred from the Law, which holds us in bondage as lawbreakers, to him, who sets us free by mercy. His priesthood is superior to that of Aaron’s and his forgiveness supersedes any condemnation we might have under the Law.

Q: Did He die only so that we wouldn’t have to go to Jerusalem every year and kill animals for God?

No. The sacrificing of animals never had anything to do with eternal salvation. They atoned for inadvertent or accidental sins. There has never been an animal sacrifice for deliberate sin. Having said that, I don’t know exactly what affect his death and resurrection has on animal sacrifices. Since they were never intended to save anyone’s soul and there is no altar on which to offer them anyway, it’s not something I’m going to worry about overmuch.

However, there are prophecies that appear to indicate there will be animal sacrifices offered up again on an altar in Jerusalem under Yeshua’s personal supervision. If that is a correct understanding, then his death could not possibly have negated all need or use for sacrifices. Perhaps no sin offerings will be made, but other kinds will. I’m not sure.

Q: The patriarchs of old, were they really saved through their faith that Yahweh would send a walking talking Messiah one day thousands of years in the future to walk and talk with their descendants, or were they saved through simple childlike faith that Yahweh would somehow make good on His word that He would redeem all of His people?

Both. They were saved by their faith in God’s mercy that he would give them life despite their sins. The mechanism of that mercy was the Messiah’s death, which some of them knew was necessary. I don’t believe they had to know the precise details of what form that mechanism would take, so long as they trusted in God to provide it. I believe the same is true today.

Q: Did they really know who the Messiah would be or what purpose He would serve?

Some of them, yes. I believe Abraham knew after God provided a sacrifice in place of Isaac. He prophesied of the Messiah when he told Isaac, “God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering.” (Hebrew for “burnt offering” is olah, which means “an ascending”. It implies something that burns and rises up in smoke, but it could be interpreted as anything that ascends to Heaven.) God actually provided a ram that day, not a lamb. The promised Lamb of God appeared centuries later in the person of Yeshua, was killed, rose from the dead, and ascended to Heaven.

Q: Christ said “believe on me and you shall be saved.” How about those who lived and died before Christ? Did Job appeal to his Maker or to his cousin Abraham’s seed?

Isn’t Abraham’s seed and Job’s Maker one and the same? In order to believe on Christ, no one needs to know the specific sounds that make up his human name (or any facsimile thereof) or even to know that he has already come. They only need to know that they are sinners and hopeless in themselves and to trust in (“believe on”) God to provide the means of their salvation. That means is Yeshua, but Job didn’t need to know the name of the Messiah nor the specific time or place of his birth. He just had to trust God to take care of it.

Q: Another very odd thing about the Scriptures is that they almost always, when properly translated (such as in the KJV, remarkably enough), say that the faith OF Christ shall save us, not our faith IN Christ. Now isn’t that strange?

The limitations of human language. We cannot possibly be really saved by any actions or thoughts of our own. Salvation is provided solely by God based on his own criteria. Fortunately, he has promised that salvation to us based on certain conditions which do not include physical obedience to any law.

Q: And what of Mark 9:24, where the man says “I believe. Help my unbelief.” How does a man need help believing if he is already fully convinced?

Is anyone ever fully convinced of anything? I trust and believe, but sometimes I still have doubts.

Romans 7:15-17 For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I. If then I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law that it is good. Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.

There are so many questions concerning spiritual matters for which we only have unsatisfactory answers, at least intellectually. But this is one of the greatest things about God and his plan for our salvation. It doesn’t matter how smart you are, how well you can wrap your mind around the incomprehensible details of an infinite God. What matters is that you are able to perceive and admit your own imperfections and to trust in Him, and our capacity to trust is not tied to our capacity to reason.

A Biblical Secret to Building Wealth that Lasts

Abram took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother’s son, and all their possessions that they had gathered, and the people that they had acquired in Haran, and they set out to go to the land of Canaan. (Genesis 12:5)

Abram (this was before God renamed him “Abraham”) was a very wealthy man when God first called him to leave his home in Haran. He had a wife, livestock, lots of stuff and even slaves, and as time went on he only got richer.

His herds continued to grow after he left Haran. When he was in Egypt because of the famine in Canaan, Pharaoh gave him many more possessions and slaves, and his herds continued to expand after he returned to Canaan again. Whatever happened, whatever Abram did, he only got richer.

It doesn’t appear that Abram set out to grow his wealth. He was generous with what he had, didn’t demand anything from anybody, and refused to accept gifts from unsavory characters. Yet at the end of his life, he had a large family and immense wealth.

Lot was a wealthy man too. We don’t know that he had anything at all when he left Haran with Abram, but we know that they both had large herds and servants sometime after leaving Egypt. So much so that Abram decided they needed to put some space between their households in order to reduce friction and competition for resources.

After they separated, Lot moved his tents close to the city of Sodom, eventually buying property within the city walls and even becoming a respected city leader. His herds and holdings in the countryside probably continued to grow during that time.

Unfortunately, Lot didn’t end life nearly so well as Abram did. Most of his family had died and what was left was extremely disfuctional. His herds and servants were all dead or scattered. His home and social life were destroyed in Sodom.

These two men came from the same family, had the same traditions, and spent many years traveling, living, and working together. They were both righteous men, so how did they end so differently?

I think there were two major differences between Lot and Abram:

  • Initiative
  • Faith

Initiative

Abram was active, while Lot was passive. An interesting factoid that might be intended to allude to this quality of their respective characters is in the way their children are described. Only male children of Abraham are listed in Scripture, although he almost certainly had daughters as well, while Lot is only said to have daughters.

When their two herds became too great to live comfortably together, Abram saw the problem and offered a solution. He built a godly community from scratch, while Lot joined a community that was already well established. When Abram saw the angelic visitors he ran to meet them, but when Lot saw them, he merely stood to greet them. Finally, when Abram learned of God’s plan to destroy the city, he tried to save the people, but when the men of Sodom surrounded Lot’s house, he only tried to get them to commit a lesser sin.

There were times when Abram allowed himself to be swayed by men (in Egypt and in the matter of Hagar, for example), but usually Abram followed God alone, while Lot usually followed other men. As long as he stayed with Abram, he did well, but his real problems began when the he exchanged Abram’s company for Sodom’s.

Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm. (Proverbs 13:20)

Faith

Abram didn’t set out to grow his wealth, but it grew regardless because he trusted in God who blessed him for it. On the other hand, despite Lot’s long relationship with Abram, he hadn’t learned that real wealth comes from a relationship with the Creator, not from how much of the creation he could control. By all the wisdom of men, better pastures and better markets ought to equal greater wealth, but there are different kinds of wealth of more or less permanence.

When Abram gave Lot first pick of grazing land, he chose a land rich in the physical but extremely poor in the spiritual. Abram moved his herds to the relatively barren hills, away from the corrupt cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, but closer to God. He grew steadily in both material and spiritual possessions, content to accept what God would give him in exchange for faithfulness and good stewardship. Abram’s material wealth evaporated upon his physical death, divided among his sons, but his spiritual wealth has continued to grow exponentially over the millennia.

Lot’s wealth, on the other hand, didn’t even last his own lifetime. One morning when he woke up hungover in a cave overlooking a once-lush valley, now smoking and ruined, he surely understood the meaning of Paul’s words to Timothy:

But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. (1 Timothy 6:6-9)

Surround yourself with people of faith and godliness. Their influence will elevate you. However, don’t be content with their mere company. Consciously work to emulate them so that when they are gone, you can stand alone with God and help to elevate someone else.

Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm. (Proverbs 13:20)

Enemies Within and Without

Every external trial is sent for an internal purpose.

The enemy within your gates must be defeated before you can effectively engage the enemy without, but sometimes the enemy outside is sent to expose and defeat the enemy hiding within.

In Psalm 86, David began with a parallelism that lays out a cause and effect relationship between the state of his heart and God answering his prayers.

  • V1 – Incline your ear, O YHVH. Hear me.
    • For I am sorrowful and destitute.
  • V2a – Preserve my soul
    • For I am pious.
  • V2b – Save your servant
    • Who trusts in you.
  • V3 – Be merciful to me, O Lord
    • For I cry out to you daily.
  • V4 – Gladden the soul of your servant
    • For unto you, O Lord, do I lift up my soul.
  • V5 – You, O Lord, are good and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love
    • To all who call upon you.

David went on to ask God to help him become a more righteous man, to thank Him and glorify Him for His steadfast love and deliverance. Only then did he come back to the problem at hand: A group of lawless and violent men were conspiring against David, and he needed divine protection.

This Psalm is remarkable for more than just the parallelism at the beginning. In it, David touched on every major point of The Lord’s Prayer as taught by Yeshua in Matthew 6 and Luke 11. I have listed some of the correlations here but I am sure there are more:

  • v8,12 : Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.
  • v9 : Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
  • v1 : Give us this day our daily bread, and
  • v5,6,15,16 : forgive us our trespasses,
  • v11,17 : as we forgive those who trespass against us, and
  • v2,11: lead us not into temptation,
  • v2,13,17 : but deliver us from evil.
  • v10,12 : For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever and ever.

Not only does David foreshadow the Lord’s Prayer, but also the Beatitudes of Matthew 5:

  • v1 : Blessed are the poor in spirit
  • v4 : Blessed are they who mourn
  • v2 : Blessed are the meek
  • v11 : Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness
  • v17 : Blessed are the merciful (David did not pray for their destruction, but their repentance.)
  • v2 : Blessed are the pure of heart
  • v17 : Blessed are the peacemakers (See above)
  • v14 : Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness

Is it any wonder that, despite all of his many sins and flaws, David is called a man after God’s own heart?

Like all of us, David continued to battle his sinful nature throughout his life, recognizing that he needed to have victory over the battle in his own heart before he could hope to have any real victory over external forces. This Psalm is an excellent pattern for every believer.

No matter how righteous we think we are, no matter how close to God we believe ourselves to be, our personal righteousness is a relative thing and will always be nothing compared to Yeshua’s. The trials that God sends are designed, in part, to remind us of this. The prayers of a righteous man are powerful, but righteousness that isn’t continually progressing becomes unrighteousness in time. This is a call to ever greater sanctity in our hearts and behavior, for there can be no victory in the world without victory in the heart.

“Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”

The Security of a Lean-To

Sukkot is that one week of the year when every Jewish neighborhood turns into a shanty town. The word “sukkot” is usually translated “booths” or “tabernacles”, but more literally means lean-tos, as in a temporary shelter assembled quickly from whatever materials happen to be close at hand.

You shall keep it as a feast to the Lord for seven days in the year. It shall be a statute forever in your generations. You shall celebrate it in the seventh month. You shall dwell in booths for seven days. All who are native Israelites shall dwell in booths, that your generations may know that I made the children of Israel dwell in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God. (Leviticus 23:41-43)

Traditionally, a sukkah (the singular form of sukkot) is a three-sided shelter made of tree branches with an open-lattice roof, but these days, you can see them built out of everything from PVC pipes and plastic to 2x4s and plywood. Some of us less conventional types put up a tent or borrow a portable bicycle sukkah for a few minutes.

Yes, that’s exactly what it sounds like: a small sukkah mounted on the back of a bicycle for feast keepers on the go.

There are two holiday seasons on God’s calendar: spring and fall, with one that’s set more-or-less in the middle. The spring feasts, collectively known as Passover are in the Hebrew month of Nisan, roughly corresponding to March/April. The fall feasts, including Yom Teruah, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot, are in the Hebrew month of Tishri, exactly six months later. Shavuot (aka Pentecost) is about 7 weeks after the start of Passover in the Hebrew month of Sivan.

One of the really interesting things about God’s feast days is that they primarily memorialize a series of divine actions that occurred within just a few months of each other. For example, Passover is about the final plague that God sent against Egypt and how He freed the Hebrews from slavery. Shavuot is the anniversary of God giving of the Law on Mount Sinai. Yom Teruah memorializes God’s voice as it was heard from Sinai, among other things.*

Sukkot breaks this pattern in that it’s not about something God did, but about something the people did.

But is it really?

Sukkot celebrates the love and protection of God in every circumstance.Starting from the very first night of the Exodus when the Hebrews built sukkot at a placed named Sukkot (Exodus 12:37), they slept undisturbed in a wilderness that was barren, but not uninhabited. They didn’t have guards except to keep unauthorized people from hurting themselves in the Tabernacle. They didn’t assign watches at night. They walked through the lands of Midianites, Amalekites, and and other semi-nomadic peoples who proved that they were more than willing to do the Hebrews harm despite the dramatic defeat of Egypt, yet they slept safely in the flimsiest of structures with nobody to watch over them except for that towering pillar of fire and smoke.

In the wilderness, Israel was completely under the protection of God Almighty and nobody but Israel could compromise that security.  The didn’t have to build fortifications or post guards because God kept watch of the camp of Israel. This is what Sukkot is really all about: the divine providence of God.

God said to live in sukkot for seven days every year not just because the Hebrews lived in sukkot in the wilderness, but because they lived and ate and slept in ultimate security in fragile structures with no locks or barred doors in a country peopled by hostile nations.

God said to live in sukkot for seven days every year so that we would never forget the central message of the Bible:

“I love you. Trust me.”

 

* All of the feasts look both backward and forward. They memorialize things that happened in the past and prophecy things that will happen in the future, especially where events center on the Messiah. That aspect of the feasts will have to wait for another post!

Everything Hinges on Faith

If you have faith as a mustard seed, you can move mountains.

Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen. (Hebrews 11:1)

We’ve all heard that quote many, many times. It’s one of the most instantly recognizable verses in the Bible. We repeat it like a mantra and cling to it like a baby’s blanket, but hardly anybody knows what it means.

I realize that might sound a little presumptuous. Faith is a thing of the heart, and I can’t see anyone else’s heart. Right?

Yes and no. Faith is the evidence of something unseen, but things that are seen are the evidence of faith.

Faith is not believing that you’re going to get what you want. It is not believing in the existence of God or Jesus or anything else. As James wrote, even the demons believe that. (James 2:19) Surely we need to do a little better than them!

Faith is believing in the person of Yeshua haMashiach (Jesus the Christ), believing in his name. That has nothing to do with how the personal label that we commonly refer to as “name” is spelled or pronounced. Faith is not believing that his name is Jesus or Yeshua or Yehoshua or whatever flavor you favor. “Name” in this context refers to his reputation, authority, and trustworthiness, as in “A good name is better than great riches.” (Proverbs 22:1) If you believe in the name of Yeshua, if you believe in the name of YHVH, then you believe that he is who he says he is, that he means what he says, that he isn’t capricious, that he never changes, and that he keeps his promises.

Faith is trusting in God’s word. Faith equals trust.

How does your behavior toward another person change if you have faith in that person? You listen to what he says. You take his advice. How does your behavior toward God change if you have faith in him? You obey him. This is what James meant when he wrote that faith without works is dead. (James 2:14-26) If your faith does not lead you to greater obedience over time, then your faith is a vapor. Nothing but hot air.

What else happens when you have faith? Mountains and trees start moving. Probably not literally, but in a manner of speaking.

“Truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.” (Matthew 17:20)

According to Scripture, the sick, injured, and disabled are made well by faith. It doesn’t say made well if it fits into God’s plan or if the stars are aligned. James wrote, “The prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up.” (James 5:15)

A couple more examples:

Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, “Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.” And instantly the woman was made well. (Matthew 9:22)

And Jesus said to him, “Go your way; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him on the way. (Mark 10:52)

There are a lot more where those came from if you need more.

This is a hard thing to accept. We all suffer. We are all sick. We all know of someone who died of an illness or injury. Nobody wants to believe that the only thing standing between wellness and suffering is a simple matter of trust, but the testimony of Scripture is crystal clear: “The prayer of faith will save the one who is sick.”

But we also know that many people of apparently great faith have suffered. Timothy had chronic stomach problems. King David grew feeble and died at a relatively young age. There is no question that these men had faith!

How is it possible for Yeshua to say that faith will make you well while we know that many great people of faith were not well?

I think here is where we encounter the problem of not being able to see into other people’s hearts. It isn’t necessarily that they don’t have faith–they might or might not–but that they have not yet attained the level of faith to which God is leading them in their current trial.

Personal trials–including sickness, persecution, and every other evil which the faithful suffer–are never without purpose, and that purpose is never to inflict pain simply for the sake of pain. Our God isn’t cruel or spiteful. Nothing can come against you unless God allows it, and “all things work together for the good of those who have faith in God.” (Romans 8:28)

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. (James 1:2-3)

The purpose of all trials is the building of faith. If you have given your life to Yeshua, then you will suffer trials, if not by the hand of men, then by the hand of God. God doesn’t enjoy your pain. He hates it! But very little spiritual growth comes without hardship of some kind.

Almost anyone who has accumulated a great deal of earthly wealth will tell you that it wasn’t easy, and if it came easily, it goes easily too. It follows then that anything of eternal value–I don’t mean salvation itself, but the rewards of the faithful in Heaven–must be that much more difficult to obtain, and “difficult” is a relative concept. Some people learn multiple languages easily, while others struggle with even one language. Some people understand computers instinctively, while others can’t tell a boot menu from a Cavender’s catalog. The things that are hard for me might not be hard for you, so that you would shrug off the trials that severely test my faith.

If you have faith like a mustard seed, you can command mountains to move, but a mustard seed and a mountain might look very different from one person to another. The faith required to overcome any given obstacle depends on the person doing the overcoming. Whatever trial you are facing, it’s the trial that God has decided you need in order to develop your faith to the next level, and it’s not the same trial that I’m facing even if it looks the same from the outside.

You will always have trials because God wants you to continue to grow throughout your life. When all your troubles end, you should wonder if God has given up on you. But your goal should never be to accept pain and sickness as your sorry lot in life. It absolutely isn’t! God wants you to be well. Yeshua has already paid the price for your healing, and if you reject it, you are rejecting what he has done for you.

Your goal should not be to learn to accept your pain but to overcome it, to grow in obedience, in your relationship with the Father, until your trust in him crowds out that metaphorical mountain, and you or your daughter or your neighbor gets up and walks as you command it in Yeshua’s name.

Faith isn’t a name-it-claim-it game. You don’t get to bend reality to your every whim just because you claim to be a “child of the King.” Faith doesn’t say, “I’m healed because I said so.” Faith says, “I’m healed because God promised healing to his obedient, faithful servants, and God doesn’t lie.”

The name of the LORD is a strong tower; the righteous man runs into it and is safe. (Proverbs 18:10)

There’s nothing wrong with wanting and praying for nice stuff, but that’s not the point of faith. If you have faith that you will get what you want, you might or might not get it, but you definitely won’t get what you need. No, your faith belongs in God and in his Word. Not just the parts you like. If you really trust God, you’ll trust his word on all of the less pleasant stuff too.

As you mature in your spiritual walk, you will continue to encounter more obstacles as opportunities for greater maturity, your heart will become more aligned with God’s, and your desires will be conformed to his. Your behavior will conform more and more to his unchanging standards. Your prayers will become more effective because you will pray more for those things that God wants you to have in the same spirit of humility as the centurion in Matthew 8 and less for those things that you want you to have in the spirit of pride that Saul evidenced in 1 Samuel 28.

The faith that gives substance to our hopes is substantial in itself. It is founded in the very name of God and results in obedience as surely as light follows the sunrise. The faith that gives evidence to our spiritual eyes that God’s promises are sure is a faith that is proven by a history of reliance on those very promises.

Just as the last time I wrote about faith, I am addressing myself more than anyone else, because my prayers aren’t always granted. Real healing is a very rare thing in my experience. I need greater faith, which means I also need greater faithfulness. If you haven’t read my blog post from last week on faith (or even if you have), I invite you to read it and join me in creating a plan for developing greater personal faith in God. And I want to add one thing to the 4-part prescription in that post: obedience. It is self-evident that if we trust God, we will do what he says. So I’m going to find something God said to do, that I’m not doing, and I’m going to do it.

The Plan

  1. Alter my environment in a way that promotes faith.
  2. Feed my faith with regular, positive input.
  3. Take some risks based on God’s word.
  4. Actively invite more of God’s light into my life and look for ways to reflect it back into the world.
  5. Identify something God said to do, that I’m not doing, and do it.

If you want to grow with me, leave a comment below. You don’t need to say exactly what’s in your plan, though you can if you want. Just tell me that you’re with me.

Faith Is Like a Seed. Make It Grow.

Four essential elements to growing stronger faith in God.

Faith is ubiquitous in Scripture.

  • Faith makes us well. (Matthew 9:22 & 29, Luke 17:19, Acts 3:16, James 5:15, etc.)
  • Faith makes great works possible. (Matthew 17:20, Luke 17:6, Hebrews 11, etc.)
  • Faith inevitably leads to good works. (Acts 20:21, Romans 3:31, Hebrews 11, James 2, etc.)
  • Faith makes our good works effective on the spiritual plane. (Hebrews 11, James 2, etc.)
  • Faith is essential to our eternal salvation. (Romans 3:28, Ephesians 2:8, Hebrews 11, etc.)

Over and over, the scriptures say, “If you had faith, you would be healed.” If you had faith, big things would happen.

Clearly faith is vital. Without faith, we are powerless. Without faith, we are lost.

Yet we all struggle with insufficient faith. We believe, but, for most of us, big things aren’t happening. As the desperate father in Mark 9 said, “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.”

Is it possible to develop faith, to start with a little and end with a lot? We know that God can simply give us greater faith–he is God, after all–but from long experience we also know that’s not how he usually operates. Yes, our faith can grow over time. Paul told the congregation at Thessalonika that he thanked God for their continually growing faith (2 Thessalonians 1:3), and Yeshua hinted at this fact when he compared faith to a seed. (Matthew 17:20) Seeds aren’t meant to be static. They were designed to sprout and grow into something much larger, which in turn produces many more seeds of its own.

The big question is how. How can we develop our faith from a mere seed to a plant? I know that this is a question that I have struggled with all of my life. Why aren’t people healed when we pray? The answer to that question can be complicated, but Scripture is very clear that, at least in part, people aren’t healed because they or the one praying for their healing have too little faith.

So how can we grow more faith?

Yeshua’s metaphor of the mustard seed implies that faith doesn’t grow only by virtue of its existence. No seed sprouts and grows without fertile soil, water, stress, and light. There are things besides faith itself, which we need to add to our little seed before it will grow to the piont of moving mountains and healing the sick.

Deep, Rich Spiritual Soil

Just as in the parable of the sower and the seed of the Gospel, the seed of faith also needs deep, healthy soil to prosper. It needs to be embedded in an environment which encourages long-term, meaningful maturity. The environment in which our faith sprout–or doesn’t sprout–includes the people, places, things, and habits with which we surround ourselvs.

We have all heard that you become like those with whom you spend the most time, and I believe it’s true.

Pessimists are like the weeds of the parable. Their constant negativity chokes the hope and life out of you until you can’t believe in that anything good could happen for you. They need love as much as anyone–more, evidently–but you can’t keep them as close friends. They will drag you down to keep company with their misery.

The proud and self-sufficient are like the rocks. On the surface, they might be very positive, but their hearts are hard. Why should they trust in God when they believe they already have all that they need. If you spend too much time with them, the seed of faith will have no opportunity to put down roots, and it will whither and die.

Maintaining and building faith requires keeping company with people of faith. Surround yourself with people who trust God. Be active in a community of faith. Be a friend to people who are where you want to be, and be careful not to speak negativity into their lives.

And not only company, but our home, work, and religious environments need to be conducive to developing faith. What kind of art hangs on your walls? What is the usual conversation like in the break room? Do your personal and spiritual habits focus on God’s faithfulness or on God’s wrath?

People like to denegrate religion, but ritual and tradition have always been very powerful instruments for building faith. Liturgy, rituals, annual observances, and the like will never save anyone. If your church teaches that they are necessary for salvation, that will tend to degrade faith. However, if they use these things to emphasize God’s dependability and mercy, they can be wonderful. The forms of traditional religion that unite people and build faith while honoring God’s commands are nearly endless. It’s important that your religion honors God by adhering to his standards, but don’t throw out all religion because some people and organizations have abused it.

If there are elements of your environment that discourage faith, consider how you can replace them with something more positive.

Good Spiritual Nourishment

Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. (Romans 10:17)

The Bible is full of God promises and stories of those who trusted him and also those who didn’t trust him. Memorize God’s promises and read those stories often. They are all through the Scriptures, but especially focus on Genesis, the historical books1 the Psalms, and the Gospels2. There are also many stories of faith and miracles outside the Bible. The biographies of missionaries are especially rich nourishment in this respect.

Entertainment and education should also be designed to promote a strong faith and relationship with God. If your favorite author writes disdainfully of the miraculous and if your favorite bands mock the promises of God, how can they do anything but discourage you? It’s counter-productive to read about divine Providence in the morning and listen to someone talk about how it’s all “me, me, me” in the afternoon.

Pay attention to what’s being fed into your life, and try to filter out those inputs that aren’t helpful. Replace them with books, videos, podcasts, conversations, etc., that will encourage you and reinforce your faith.

Spiritual Stress

Yes, stress. Just like children, all plants need some kind of stress to mature and produce good fruit. Some plants need a touch of frost. Some need a hard freeze. Some plants need a strong wind to scatter seeds and some need to be eaten. Almost all plants need pruning in order to reach their greatest heights and productivity.

Your faith will never grow if it is never put to the test. How do you learn to trust someone if you never need to trust them. You start by acting as if you have faith, whether or not you do. You make yourself vulnerable and take a chance.

Take risks. Get banged up a little. If nothing else, you’ll toughen up a bit and gain some life experience.

Shining Spiritual Light

In Yeshua was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:4-5)

Faith isn’t the belief that God exists. Faith is the belief that God is who he says he is, that he keeps his promises, that he loves you and will never abandon you. Faith is another word for trust.

How do you learn to trust a friend, your husband, your wife? Through experience. You trust a good friend because he has been there for you in the past. He stood by your side when everyone else disappeared. If you want to trust God more, then you need to spend more time with him. Set some time aside every day to read your Bible, to pray, and to listen.

Your prayers don’t have to be limited to any particular format. Kneel and pray aloud if that works for you. Or sit in a comfortable chair and sip your morning coffee. Go for a walk. Dance. Whatever language allows you to speak most freely is fine because God speaks that language too.

Corporate worship is also important. Liturgical and informal prayer, singing of hymns, blowing shofars, dancing, waiving banners, pilgrimages… Like intimacy in a marriage and shared experiences with friends, all of these things create mental and spiritual reactions in us that draw us closer to God, that strengthen our emotional ties to the one being worshipped. (And be careful that your worship is directed upward and not to a performer on stage or to an experience.)

Getting to know God isn’t limited to the proverbial prayer closet and time spent focusing vertically. We can also gain a deeper knowledge of God by focusing laterally, toward the people around us.

The King will answer them, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’” (Matthew 25:40)

Everyone around you–young and old, sick and healthy, good and bad–bears the image of God, and they are all the focus of God’s loving attention. If you want to know God better, go find someone with a need that you can meet and then meet it. Pay attention to the things that God pays attention to. Be kind. Be generous. Love your neighbor, and not just your wealthy and nice smelling neighbors. In showing love to people who desparately need it, you will learn something of God’s heart, of the love and the pain that God feels for each one of us, and God himself will draw nearer to you.

It’s not enough to let God’s love illuminate you, because you weren’t designed just to be a solar collector. You were designed to take the spiritual light of Yeshua and turn it into fruit full of good works meant to feed God’s people. If you want more faith, then you need to be the instrument through which God answers the faith of others.

Faith is a living, growing thing. It requires attention, care, and feeding. It needs a healthy environment in which to take root. It needs a constant stream of reinforcement and encouragement. It needs exercise. Most of all, faith depends on an ever-growing relationship with the King in whom we have faith and with his people for whom we ARE faith.

Gardens don’t spontaneously spring up from the ground. They take planning, deliberate action, and hard work. Even Eden needed a gardener.

When I sit down to write, I usually have an idea of what I intend to communicate, but sometimes God leads me in a direction I wasn’t expecting. This is one of those times, and this is a message I needed to hear. Using this structure of a seed needing good soil, nourishment, stress, and light, I’m going to develop a faith-growing plan for myself and my family.

I encourage you to do the same.

Evaluate your current environment and your life’s inputs and identify those things that would tend to discourage faith. Don’t try to fix everything right away. Remember that God told Israel only to drive the Canaanites out of the land as they were ready to advance and occupy it. Instead, remove a negative influence and replace it with a positive one. Then another. Have a plan with a definite goal in mind, and don’t be afraid to alter the plan as you go and circumstances require. As long as you continue to move forward, your faith will too.

 


1 Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1-2 Samuel, 1-2 Kings, 1-2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther.
2 Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and Acts.