My distress fell upon the Ears of the Lord

"Moment of Impact" Cushenberry Memorial Bullfight 2010
“Moment of Impact”
Cushenberry Memorial Bullfight 2010

His horn ripped through my shorts and slammed into my hip.  That is when I came back to reality.  The bullfight had started out bad and now gotten to the point where it was both embarrassing and painful.  He scooted me through the dirt with his forehead firmly planted into my waist.  The only thing I knew to do was yell. Just prior to this my head had met the base of his horn and the blow had dazed me, but wasn’t enough to knock me out.  I was just delusional enough to try one more pass at him.  He didn’t bite on the fake, and his head hit my hip and pinned me to the ground.  I didn’t have all my faculties, but was able to yell the words: “Get me out, Get me out!” I wasn’t but 20 yards from the fence and I knew help was there.  It wasn’t my proudest moment, but as my drawers filled with dirt from being pushed by his head, I thought it might be my only chance for salvation. My call didn’t fall on deaf ears, as a couple of the guys jumped in and pulled the bull off of me. In the same way that my buddies were waiting with attentive ears for my (inevitable) call of trouble, the Lord’s ears are attentive to those in distress.

The ears [hb. ‘ozen] of the Lord have heard from people in the darkest of places and in the worst of times. Israel during their wandering in the desert wailed [hb. baka] to Yahweh because the wanted bread to eat.  They even wondered why they had left Egypt (Num. 11.18).   The Lord heard with his ears all of this wailing. As Sennacharib, King of Assyria, surrounded Jerusalem, “caging” the people in their city like birds (Sennacherib’s Prism) and threatening them with his words and armies, Hezekiah begins a simple, desperate, and powerful prayer like this: “O Lord…give ear, O Lord, and hear; open your eyes, O Lord, and see; listen to the words Sennacherib has sent to insult the living God…” (2 Kings 19.15-19; Isa. 37.17)  The most powerful army in the world has camped probably about 200,000 strong, just outside the walls of the city with conquest and capture on their mind, a despairing situation to say the least, for Hezekiah and his people. Israel’s struggles, as told and personified by Jeremiah in an acrostic poem, depict a nation at the end of its rope.  Hunted like birds (Lam 3.52), weighed down with chains (3.7), and mangled by beasts (3.10-11), Israel is having a rough go of it and soon their land will be destroyed by the Babylonians, and their people deported and conquered.  Jeremiah writes of their struggles: “I called on your name, O Lord, from the depths of the pit.  You heard my plea: ‘Do not close your ears to my cry for relief.” In the deepest pits, the most dire straits, the darkest hours, Yahweh’s ears are listening for the cries of his people.

David was one who truly understood what it meant to be heard by the ears of the Lord.  When he called out, he was heard.  Psalm 18 and 2 Samuel 22, is David’s praise song about the goodness and faithfulness of God. It starts out “I love you O Lord…” (Ps. 18.1)  With the entangling cords of death (4) and confrontations of death (5), David was under duress many times in his life.  From his state of distress, he calls out to the Lord.  The word for distress, sar, is the same word used in Numbers 22.26, where the Angel of the Lord stood in the narrow path, blocking the way of Balaam and his donkey. It brings up the image of having nowhere to turn, of being squeezed and constricted.  Have you ever been squeezed, crushed, or confined? Bills stack up on your table that financially you can’t swing? Ever been hurt or betrayed by family members or friends?  Fired from a job? Failed a test? Lost someone close?  Ever worry about your kid? Cancer found in someone close? Ever been in a place where it felt like life was dealing a crushing blow or you were being squeezed like a toothpaste tube?  David knew this feeling all too well.  Whether on the run from King Saul, his son Absalom, hiding in caves, living amongst his sworn enemies, on the run, in battle, or leading a people, David knew distress (both from his own doing and from others).  This is a song about the deliverance of the Lord.  David writes:

“In my distress I called to the Lord; I cried to my God for help. From His temple He heard my voice; my cry came before Him, into his ears.”  Psalm 18.6

David cried out for help [hb. sawa] during this distress and His cry fell upon the listening ears of the Lord. It wasn’t a foreign thought for David to be heard by the Lord.  Psalm 5, 17, 28, 34, 71, and 116 reference the Lord hearing David. Every time the Lord’s ears hear words of desperation from David in the midst of a struggle. With words of rescue, mercy, and deliver, David implores the ears of Yahweh for intervention.  The ears of the Lord are listening for the cries of His people.

When have you cried out to Him?   Maybe it has been recently.  Cancer, bankruptcy, death, foreclosure, job loss, betrayal, abandonment, divorce….in the midst of our distress we have a God who hears us and our cries. When times of struggle arise, there is one who hears our calls.  The one who saved David from attacks, Hezekiah from Sennacherib, and the Israelites from starvation, is the same Lord who listens to our calls of distress.  Let us call out to His ever-listening ears.

Failure is part of the Journey

Terry Holland aboard Mr. T.

At Kemper arena in Kansas City, Terry Holland had his first real shot at the big time.  He had drawn the bull Y-93, a great big red bull with large upturned horns.  His usual trip was a few jumps out and around the right.  The bull had a tendency to pull riders down into the well, inside the spin, which would usually bring the rider into contact with the horns of the bull.  This was Terry’s first real big PRCA rodeo and he was looking to win it, but doing so would require him to master Y-93.

A few jumps into the ride, Terry found himself down in the well.  His temple made contact with one of the bulls massive horns and he was knocked unconscious.  He remembered someone telling him that bulls wont hit a stationary target, that like the T-Rex in Jurassic Park, they wont see something that is stationary.  To this advice, Holland says:

It’s amazing how perfectly still you can lie when you’re knocked unconscious.  I wasn’t twitching a muscle, yet Y-93 spun around, spotted me, and gathered me up with those big horns of his before the bullfighters could get there.   He threw me across Kemper arena. (Terry Holland, What a Ride, 47)

His first big rodeo and this is the experience he had.  Later on in his career he would compound fracture his leg, begin the year 2nd and finish just outside of the top 15 (those who would make the finals), break his collar bone, fracture ribs, and be let down many times in the sport of rodeo.  But in all these things he said this:

I came to realize there’s a Y-93 in everybody’s life.  Sometimes a person draws that bull again and again.  He dislocates a collarbone, hits you smack-dab in the middle of the nose, breaks your leg, or takes the little bit of money you have and leaves you empty, devastated, and alone in a San Francisco hotel room.  After frustration knocked me to my knees, reality seeped in.  Yes, it is happening.  And through the muddiness of loss, truth pierced my heart.  I love my work and it doesn’t love me back.  I need something that loves me whether I’m winning or losing.  It dawned on me. I’ve got it.  And I’ve had it all along…Starting that day, I took him with me for the rest of y bull riding career and I continue to take him with me each day.  Things became different from then on.  More importantly, I was different.  Even when I failed. (74)

I can’t help but wonder how many men in scripture viewed themselves as failures.  Certainly Jeremiah, Elijah, David, Moses, and Peter come to mind.  There are probably many more.  Failure seemed to be a big part of these men’s lives.  Failure not necessarily in their walk with God, although sometimes (think Bathsheba with David, and the campfire with Peter), but failure in the tasks given them on this earth.  Jeremiah wasn’t that great of a preacher by worldly standards, no one listened.  Elijah spent a lot of time hiding in a cave because people were chasing him.  Moses, as far as leading a people, wasn’t very good a keeping them happy.  But then again, none of these were the things that these men we asked to do, they were asked to be faithful to God in all that they did.

I can relate to these guys.  I have failed at many things.  Failure is a common part of life.  Many (and i) would point to the last couple years of my life as one repeated failure after another.  A meeting with Y-93 that was constant in my life.  The sad thing is that I will fail many times more in this life that God has given me.  But I know that each of these men grew closer to God after their failure.  The refused to let their failure define them.  The Bible says:

“You see, at just the right time, when were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.  Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die.  But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners Christ died for us.” (Romans 5.6-8)

While we were failures (failing to live up to God’s standard, called sin), He sent His son to die for us.  Our failures are erased, scrubbed out, removed.  Failure is not final in God’s eyes.  Terry Holland is thankful for that.  I am thankful for second, third, and fourth chances.  Opportunities to give God the glory, chances to live for Him, and the gift of salvation.  Failure is just part of the Journey.

The Searching Eyes of the Lord

Jimmy Schumacher inventor of the walking clown barrel

“Wisdom comes from good judgment, and a lot of that comes from bad judgment.”  The cowboy proverb is never truer than when you get a bunch of college guys together.  One night during spring semester boredom had set in.  We headed out to Lucas’ house, built a bon fire, and ideas for entertainment began to swirl.

Lucas had come to posses a bullfighting clown barrel.  As with most things that come into his possession, zebu’s, musket’s, miniature horses, vehicles, it was known only to him how it became his.  The rest of us just knew it was cool.   Late one night around the campfire, the clown barrel was brought up as a form of entertainment.  We weren’t really sure what we were going to do with it, but it was steel, round and in close proximity to a hill.  I can’t remember who it was that climbed in first, and I can’t really remember who suggested we roll down the hill, but it was probably Lucas on both accounts.  As we hauled the barrel up the hill, there wasn’t a single ounce of pause in our brains that we were about to embark on one great night.  Matt jumped in the barrel atop the hill.  With a short countdown, the rest of us gave him a shove.  As the moonlight reflected off the barrel careening down the hill, we were mesmerized at the pace in which it rolled.  Then we noticed the moonlight reflecting off the creek at the bottom of the hill.  The barrel was not a flotation device and as it splashed into the cool waters of the creek, we who were on top of the hill sprinted down to the bottom attempting to free Matt from the clown barrel as it came to rest on the bottom of the creek.  He got out, no one died, it was a good night.  Needless to say our judgment may have been poor that night.  Dorm life is just as detrimental to good judgment.  Taking a shot to the back with a water-ballon launcher form 15ft away, chair-jousts at 2 in the morning, office chair racing on asphalt, in a place of higher learning, wisdom can be scarce as jackalopes.

Judgment is the ability to make a decision about something, good or bad, the capacity to take information and make a decision.  Often times we think of God’s judgment as a negative thing, which it very well can be.  But God’s judgment can be a favorable one as well.  Scripture speaks of the eyes [‘ayin] of the Lord [Yahweh].  The eyes of the Lord is His judgment of man’s actions.  The Lord looks at what we do, what we offer, what we live, and makes His judgement.

The eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth (2 Chron. 16.9; Zech 4.10) searching, watching, and observing the attitudes and actions of humanity. They act on behalf of those committed [salem] to Him. This Hebrew word for committed, salem, is the word for completeness, wholeness, and lavish.  A heart that is lacking nothing undevoted to God. Think about Noah, in Genesis 6, he found favor [chen…grace] in the eyes of the Lord because of his righteousness, blameless actions and his relationship with God (Gen. 6.8-9).  It was King David (1 Kings 15.5) and great Kings of Judah, like Asa, Jehosophat, Joash, Uzziah, Jotham, Hezekiah and Josiah.  Kings that led their people in truth and commitment to the Lord.  They did good in the eyes of the Lord.  The stood for truth, acted on their faith, and walked with the Lord.  The were judged as having done good in His eyes.

His eyes not only judges things as good, but see the wicked as well (Prov 15.3).  Seven times in Judges the people of Israel did evil in the eyes of the Lord.  They served the Baals, forsook God, and sinned against the Lord.  The Kings of the Northern Kingdom did nothing but evil in the Lord’s eyes.  They served other gods, prostituted themselves in idol worship, trusted in other nations, and refused to listen to the prophets.  They did so much evil in the eyes of the Lord, Amos would prophesy about them: “Surely the eyes of the Sovereign Lord are on the sinful kingdom.  I will destroy it from the face of the earth—yet I will not totally destroy the house of Jacob.” (Amos 9.8)  The Southern Kingdom of Judah managed to do right in God’s eyes for many years, but their ultimate down fall was disobedience as Judah did evil in the eyes of the Lord (Jer. 7.30-8.3)

When God looks upon this earth, when His eyes wander over this planet, what does he see and what will his judgment be?  When His sight falls upon us, will He see truth (Jer. 5.3), those who fear Him, hope in Him (Psalm 33.18), and those who are righteous (Ps. 34.15)?  Men like David and Noah.  Or does his eyes fall upon the wicked? Those that bow down to other gods, that place created things above the Creator, that take advantage of and exploit their neighbors? When it comes to us, are we serving the Lord faithfully? Are we honoring the Lord with our service, our work, our family, our worship, our life?  When God looks upon our actions will he judge that it is good, or does He watch in horror as we are careening down the hill of sin with nothing to stop us?

Keepin’ Score: a Lesson from Contract Personnel about Marriage

A PRCA Judge At Estes Park

The men in stripped shirts in the arena, are some of the most important people at a rodeo.  They are part rule enforcers, scoreboard, recorders, critics, and manual labor.  They are the guys busting their backs setting up the arena, marking the patterns, assembling the barrier, and every other odd job that needs to be done for the perf to go on.  They know the rule book forward and backward in order to make sure that a breakaway rope is attached to the horn right, a goat was tied correctly, a bull riders rope was complete with knuckle-pad, a pole pattern went unbroken, or a mark-out completed.  They keep the official score on their note pads that dangle over the fence.  They award points on what they see on the rough stock end and stop the timer on the timed event end.  When it comes down to it, they are the final say for everything that happens in the arena…and I couldn’t do their job.

Cowboy race judges have the same problems.  Line up 40 horses in a row, and I couldn’t find one conformation problem with any of them.  Have them lope off, spin, lead change or side pass, and I couldn’t pick out a single reason one is better than another.  I am a sucker for color, so the first grey horse I saw would be the winner.  This is the problem with judging, you have to know your stuff.  I clearly don’t.

But there is one area of life that I could compete with their job on every level and its described in 1 Corinthians 13.

“Love is patient, love is kind.  It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It is not rude, it is not self-seeking.  It is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Loves does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”

When it comes to love, I often choose the judge route.  The judge’s job is to enforce rules, keep a tab of the inadequacies, and do everything in order to accomplish the task of running a rodeo or competition.  When it comes down to it, my wife would probably say I do the same thing with my marriage.

In a fight or argument, the first thing that comes to my mind often is a list of her transgressions…because I’m like a judge. Exemplified in keeping a record of wrongs.

When we are getting ready to go somewhere or traveling, often times the time matters more to me than her well being….because I’m like a judge. Resulting in impatience, unkind words, and anger.

In my quiet thoughts our relationship is often compared to others (financially, romantically, familiarly, etc.) and when this happens I often want what others have…because I’m like a judge. Exemplified in envy (I want what you have), boasting (I have what you want), and pride (You need what I have).

If a choice is going to benefit one of us, my first inclination is to make it me…because I’m like a judge.

The rodeo judge serves his purpose so well, but when it comes down too it that is not the role God wants us to play in marriage.  Jesus love for us was explained in his life, exemplified on the cross, and entrusted to his followers.  Ephesians 5 says:

“Husbands love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…In the same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies.  He who loves his wife, loves himself.”

When comparisons and lists creep into marriages, we begin playing the role of judge.  When our tasks cover up love, we play the role of judge.  When our marriages struggle most is when we put the stripped shirt on and start calling the shots.  I want to be the protector, the one who leads in trust, the hopeful one, and the one who stands with perseverance for our relationship…this cant happen when I assume the role of the judge.

Our Long-Nosed Lord

Penny the dog
Penny the dog

When I was first training Penny, I couldn’t find a leash to use, so I used a 30’ lasso.  She mastered the simple commands real quick.  Sit, stay, down, roll, were all things that she could do.  I had just bought a book about training stock dogs, so I set out to work on some stock training with her.  Penny and I set out to work with a few sheep just to see how she would do.  When I let her go the first time she freaked.  Instead of herding the sheep she took off straight towards the herd and lept over the back of one of them.  I began yelling at her from across the pen.  She did a great job of pretending to not hear me.  Three laps around the pen later she came to a sliding stop at my feet.  I attached my lasso to her collar and let her take off again.  I commanded “down” and she felt a quick jerk as she neared the herd.  I didn’t have too many problems with her during this phase of her training because I was in position to enforce my commands.  She had the freedom to act, a 30’ check cord, but accountability in her actions.  This is the same relationship we have with our big-nosed God.

The Hebrew word for “nose” is an ambiguous word.  In the same  way that “hand” and “power” of the Lord are inter-changeable, the “face” and “presence” of the Lord can be substituted for one another, the “nose” and “anger” of the Lord are semantically connected.  It makes sense really.  Have you ever seen someone’s nose and face turn red when they get angry.  If not, just come visit me when I’m working on my truck or playing golf and in thirty seconds, you will have a clear picture.  The authors of Scripture, when talking about anger, knew this human phenomenon of blood rushing to peoples faces at times of rage so the Hebrew writers used the same word and nuance for nose and anger.

The Lord is described multiple times as having a long-nose.  In the NIV this expression is translated as “slow to anger”.  The first time the phrase appears in scripture, it comes in the Lord’s description of himself.  God had just passed by Moses on Mt. Sinai, showing off his glory. (Ex. 33.14-23)  Moses next experience is to chisel another 2 stone tablets (Ex. 34.1) on account his breaking the last two. (Ex 32.19)  The next morning, Moses carried the new tablets up on the mountain and the Lord descended in a cloud.  There on Mt. Sinai, Moses and the Lord stood and had yet another conversation.  This one would begin with God, as he passed by Moses, describing himself:

The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger [lit. long of nose], abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.  Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished…”

The Lord, in his own words, is ‘long of nose”.  Presumably, and I’m only speculating here, it seems to be a reference to the time it take’s God’s long nose to turn red.

Regardless of the explanation of the origin of the idiom, the meaning is clear: long of nose is equated to slow to anger.  This is a central aspect of the Lord’s character.  It surfaces at key times in His relationship with his people.  After the people rebel, grumbling against Moses and God about bringing them out of Egypt, it was Moses who reminded God of His strength in being “long of nose”. (Num. 14.17-18)  As most can attest, there is considerable strength in not blowing your top!  When the people had returned from exile, to resettle Jerusalem, they spend ¼ of the day confessing their sins, and another ¼ of the day worshipping and reading from the Book of the Law.  At this time, the Levites preached to them a message of their history, quoting God’s self-description (Neh. 9.17) to remind the people of God’s worthiness of praise.  David, leading the way for the Levites, used it as a declaration of praise (Psalm 103.8;145.8).  When we see God for who he really is, worship is our natural response.  David affirms God, in the same way, amidst his prayer times (Psalm 86.15).  Joel and Jonah both latch on to the “long nose of the Lord” during their own messages and trials (Jonah 4.2; Joel 2.13).  All of these references were rooted in the Lord’s revelation of His character in Exodus 34…but why would the size of the Lord’s nose really matter?  Moving from semantics to theology…

The context of this phrase, “long of nose”, provides some coloring to its significance.  Yahweh also “maintains love to thousands and forgives wickedness.”  Just because God gets angry, sometimes its even with his people, it doesn’t change the fact that he loves us and forgives us.  The next phrase, “et he does not leave the guilty unpunished” shows his justice and his hatred of sin.  Our love of something is only proportionate to our hatred of that which opposes that love.  A dad’s love for his daughter, is shown in the lengths he will go to defend her.  As a buddy of mine says, “he’s got a gun, a shovel, and land….I doubt anyone would find you!”, when a young man arrives to take his daughter out.  Yahweh’s slowness to anger is the balancing act between showing love and dishing out wrath.  Where as I can let others get away with too much at the expense of those I love, I sometimes am too quick to anger in dealing with others.  My “nose” is often too short.

The size of God’s nose shows us his passion, his desire, for us.  He loves us so much that he doesn’t wipe of off the face of the earth at every mis-step, but he hates sin so much that he acts upon it with vengence for what it has done to us.  Sin doesn’t define us nor does it become our identity…sin is something we as those that were created in the image of God, struggle with, get bound too, and enslave ourselves too.  God is slow to anger, meaning he does act, but the leash is long.

If you were listing God’s attributes, where would you put ‘slow to anger’ on the list?  What is one specific example of a lesson that it took you a while to learn from God?

Looking Where You Land: Bronc Bustin’ and Water Walkin’

Dougie Aldridge on a Bronc
photo by Kara Hackney

My saddle bronc career was short-lived and plagued by lack of talent.  Others were made for it.  This month’s Western Horseman Magazine contained a picture of a young man being lifted into the blue sky by a powerful and picturesque paint horse.  His spurs were up in the neck of the horse and his hand held the split reins out in front of his tucked chin and eyes fixed on the neck of the horse.  He was in the middle of the corral so I assumed this was an unplanned bronc ride, which is partially what amazed me at the pose which he such on such a quick notice.  This picture will forever go down as one of my favorites and also the exact opposite of what my bronc ride looked like.  I will spare you the complete story (partially for fear that I may someday need a story to tell here) but it was my first time on a saddle bronc horse.  After a few hours of training (it seemed shorter than that as I was lowering myself into the saddle), my horse was in the chute and a friends Association Saddle rested on its withers.  I measured out the correct amount of rein and fished it through my quivering hand and fingers.  When I lowered myself into the saddle, I couldn’t get my feet into the stirrups on account of two reasons: 1) I was holding my hack rein with my right hand, my left hand is virtually worthless in all endavors and 2) my legs were shaking so bad it was like trying to get a drink of soda through a straw while jumping terraces in a Ford Fairmont…too much movement and to small a target.

I finally got situated and nodded my head.  Even at half speed on the video the ride only lasted a second.  We barely made the end of the chute gate as partners, when the horse and I made for our separate ways.  I came off to the right, landed on all fours, and crawled around the edge of the chute gate.  My first words were, “Did I make the whistle?”  What can I say, I was ambitious.  After talking with the instructor, he wasn’t surprised I hit the ground so quickly.  He said, “You landed where you were looking!”

I get the opportunity to fight bulls at a lot of camps and schools and one thing I have seen for certain…”You always land where you look!”  In Matthew 14, without tying himself ot a large herbivore, Peter gets this same lesson.

Jesus sends the disciples ahead of him on the sea while he dismisses the crowd (Matt 14.22).  The disciples hop in the boat and head across the sea while Jesus goes away by himself to pray (14.23).  When he finishes his devotional time, he catches a glimpse of the boat, out a ways from the shore, struggling against the wind (14.24).  Jesus wraps up his prayer time and heads out at 3 a.m. to catch them on the lake (14.25).  His disciples freak (as anyone would probably do), but Jesus gives them a pep-talk to calm them down (14.26-27) and here’s where the story gets really good.

Peter, doing the thing that Peter always does, speaks up and says to Jesus: “Lord, if it’s you, tell me to come to you on the water.” (14.28)  The disciples in the boat have to be getting their phones out to put this on vine or the cultural equivalent.  You can almost imagine them elbowing one another: “Would you get a load of Peter?”“; This guy…smh!”; “He’s joking, right?”  They have seen him speak up at the wrong times before but this is all kinds of stupid.

Then Jesus tells him “Come!”  and Peter’s world suddenly gets a lot bigger because his trust got a lot bigger.  How often is it that the box we live in is that size because our faith has never been challenged enough to move them.  So Peter toes the water, then steps, then walks (14.29).  Things are going well UNTIL…

“Peter saw the wind, and he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out “Lord, save me!”  He looked where he landed.  His eyes moved from the task at hand, to a place to land.  I don’t really know what Peter was looking at, the insurmountable waves and wind, back to the boat, down at his feet.  Some have said it was the sheer fact that he took his eyes of Jesus that caused him to sink.  I can’t really say that from the text, but I do know from personal experience that when your eyes come off of the task at hand, things start to go wrong.  Jesus catches his hand as he is pulling a “Jack Dawson” and sinking in the lake, and says “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”

The greek word that Jesus uses for doubt, distazo, is only used on other time in scripture.  Matthew uses it at the very end of his book, when he tells of the resurrected Jesus visiting the disciples on the mountain.  Standing there before them was Jesus, still some doubted.  Both times, people are standing in front of the Son of God who is actively proving who he is and that he can be trusted, yet doubt comes into the picture.

How has Jesus shown you that he can be trusted?  What words or experiences has he given to show you that he is capable?  When is the last time you stood before him, saw what he was capable of, and trusted him?

I learned my lesson the hard way of looking off a bronc, but have been more hard headed when it comes to Jesus.  It took Peter a couple review lessons to get it as well.  Make today the day when you tuck your chin, set your spurs, and keep your eyes focused on him and him alone.

Seeing the Face of the Lord


Getting the attention of middle school students is a common fight, but I didn’t think I would have trouble getting the attention of a horse.  A few years back, I was starting a colt for an older gentlemen.  He told me that this horse was hard headed, but most of my interactions with it had gone real well.  I stepped into the round pen one day expecting to continue with the training as planned. I began by running him around the round pen, first to the right and then the left.  After 15 minutes of keeping the horse moving, I stepped back, taking the pressure off the horse.  I caught his eye as he turned and faced me.  He stood, 20 feet from me, collected, attentive, and ready.  The second his gaze broke from me, I sent him to the right again.  After repeating this story for another 40 minutes, my patience had been tested to its end.  I stepped back in exhaustion, and sent the horse around the pen one last time.  This time the second I took the pressure off, he turned and faced.  And for the first time, for just a couple seconds, he waited for my command.  I took a step towards him and he lowered his head, but kept his eye on me. What I was looking for out of that horse was a connection.  I wanted him to be ready for whatever I asked him to do.  When his face turned toward me, his eyes connected with mine, I knew that he was present and ready to work.

Last post was about the hand of the Lord.  The hand was the power of God in action.  When the OT writers conveyed God’s power, they could say “power” or “his hand” and it would mean the same thing.  The face of Yaweh then is about His presence with His people.  After the “hand of Yahweh” had delivered Israel from Egypt (Ex. 13), the face of the Lord was Presence with his people.

The “Face of the Lord” [hb. paneh] is a picture of his intimacy, relationship, and presence with his people.  Moses spoke to Yahweh, the Lord, “face to face” [paneh] at the Tent of meeting, as the Israelites were camped after leaving Egypt (Ex. 33.11).  It was in the same way that you or I would talk to a friend, just two buddies hanging out.  God’s Presence was there.  Then 3 verses later, after Moses had asked the Lord who would go with him, Yahweh replied, “My Presence [paneh] will go with you, and I will give you rest.” (Exodus 33.14)  The same word translated “face” in verse 11 was translated “presence” in verse 14.  The face of the Lord was the presence of God with His people.  Nearly a year later, his presence would need to be remembered and celebrated.

The book of Numbers isn’t a really exciting or positive book.  The book starts at Sinai and ends on the plains of Moab, just across the river from their final destination.  The problem lies in how they arrived there.  It has been a struggle for Israel as they traveled, a struggle documented in the book of Numbers.  The journey from Egypt to Canaan, was plagued with complaints, 9 times the nation of Israel Complained to God on the trip.  “We’re hungry? We’re thirsty? Someone’s touching me?” you remember car trips with your kids…This was their journey.  On top of complaints, people were killed on the journey.  The ground split open under Korah and his sons for their sins (Num. 16.31) and fire consumed the 250 who were offering incense (Num 16.34).  Their punishment also came in response to a negative report on the land of Canaan.   When the spies returned they scared the people with a report of impenetrable walls and giants.  When God heard his people grumbling about the land, He answered by declaring that this generation would fall in the desert in a 40-year wandering (Num. 14.26-35).  Just before these events would happen, God wanted his people to know something very important.

Camped in the desert of Sinai, the Lord said to Moses:  “Tell Aaron and his sons, ‘This is how you are to bless the Israelites.  Say to them: ‘The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face [paneh] shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord turned his face [paneh] toward you and give you peace.”  This is actually, the oldest piece of Biblical text that archaeology has uncovered (The Silver Scrolls and Numbers 6).  Dating to the seventh century B.C.E. and written on a silver amulet in paleo-hebrew script, is the text of Numbers 6.24-25.  This shows that these verses were at the forefront of the Jewish mindset.  The Hebrews, based on this verse understood that life is to be lived gazing upon and acting before the face of the Lord and living in his presence.  God is telling his people that during this journey to Canaan, that a blessed life is one that God face is before.  The blessing, to be given to all the Israelites, is to remind them of God’s presence with them.  The presence that was shown in the quail and manna (Num 11); the shoes and clothes on their journey (Deut 8.4-5); the pillar of fire and cloud above the tabernacle (Ex. 40.36-38); a simple reminder that the Face of the Lord shone upon the nation of people.  When the face of the Lord was there, communication was possible, action was possible, and comfort was given.

In the book of Matthew, Jesus arrives on the scene as Immanuel, “God is with us” (Matthew 1.23); a gift to Earth of the Lord’s presence.  When Peter and the disciples see Jesus walking on the water and call out to him, Jesus responds, “Take courage! I am. Don’t be afraid.” (Matthew 14.27); a reminder of His presence in the midst of the storm.  The book ends with Jesus’ Great commission, “and surly I am with you always to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28.20); a reminder of his presence forever.  In each case, the face of the Lord turned to His people.  In a tangible picture of God’s words in Numbers, the “face of the Lord” shinned upon us!

The blessing of Numbers 6, was central to Israelites throughout their history.  A reminder that God’s presence was vital to their survival.  How vital is the “face of the Lord” to us today?  How often do we go one with life, without a second thought to His presence?  In what ways does he communicate with us that he is present?  Where will you see his “face” today?