The Self-disclosure of God (Part 1)

untitledSelf-disclosure is one of God’s favorite things in the Old Testament.

Moses is shown “the Glory of the Lord” on Mt. Sinai. (Exodus 33.12ff.)  He is watching the power of God, the goodness of God, the glow of God.  He walked away radiated, with a glowing face. (Exodus 34.29)  What is most striking, is how God narrates the event.  God describes Himself like this:

The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness…(Exodus 34.6)

This proclamation of identity would stick with God throughout the Old Testament.  I had an identity once.  At a birthday party in 4th grade (I don’t even remember who it was for), I was reaching for something in the pool at a hotel.  The party was at ice cream and cake phase so I had already changed out of my swimming suit.  I fell into the pool with all my clothes on.  I never lived it down.  It came up in 2 different graduation speechs, favorite memories from school portions of yearbooks and school news papers, and one reunion.  I will always be the guy who fell in the pool with his clothes on.  God will carry this identity through all his dealings with man.

It’s fascinating, however, how this phrase is used.

It’s worshipful.  Psalm 145 uses this phrase like a link in a chain.  Each link is a different letter of the Hebrew alphabet.  Verse 1 begins with aleph.  Verse 2, with a bet and so on until verse 8 when chet is the letter that is the letter of focus.  The verse begins with the word “gracious” (chanoon).  It’s just another link in the chain of attributes describing God in this Psalm.  Count the “God is…” statements:

  • “Great is the Lord…” (3)
  • “The Lord is good to all…”(9)
  • “The Lord is trustworthy…” (13)
  • “The Lord is righteous…and faithful…”(17)
  • “The Lord is near…” (18)

David will extol and praise the Lord for all that He is. (145.2)  But it’s a bigger chain than that.  Psalm 145 is also a part of a chain that ends the book of Psalms. The last 5 Psalms all begin with the word “Praise” (hb. hallel).  In the Hebrew text, the Psalm titles are considered the first verse of the Psalm.  So Psalm 145 begins like this: hallelujah.  which translates to: “Praise the Lord”.

David loves this word.  Back in Psalm 103, he writes:

The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. (Psalm 103.8)

Here he attributes it to Moses, but until he makes his own purposes for the verse known.  Six times in Psalm 103 he begins a sentence with hallelujah.  I guess if you get stuck on repeat, that’s a great word to get stuck on.  Both are Psalms of Praise.

There is another type of Psalm that David wrote.  It’s called a Psalm of Lament.  These are Psalms that are written from deep despair and anguish.  They deal with the dirty issues of life.  He writes in Psalm 86:

But you, Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God,
    slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness. (Psalm 86.15)

It’s honest.  David is piecing together a prayer of quotations from other places: Exodus 34, Psalms 25, 26, 27, and others.  He is lamenting his current predicament.  Which predicament that is exactly is undetermined.  Is it the pursuit of Saul?  Is it the isolation?  Is it the Philistines?  Time and location aside, David prays and worships.  This is the prayer of a desperate man.  The Psalm begins:

Hear me, Lord, and answer me,

   for I am poor and needy.

Guard my life, for I am faithful to you;

   save your servant who trusts in you.

You are my God; have mercy on me, Lord,

   for I call to you all day long. (Psalm 86.1-3)

and ends with this:

Turn to me and have mercy on me;

   show your strength in behalf of your servant;

save me, because I serve

   you just as my mother did.

Give me a sign of your goodness,

   that my enemies may see it and be put to shame,

   for you, Lord, have helped me and comforted me. (Psalm 86.16-17)

David is struggling to put together a few concepts and ideas.  The beginning and end of the Psalm is works-oriented: “save me because I served” (17), “guard me for I trust in you” (1).  In the middle, the Lord is a “gracious” and “compassionate” God.  It’s a question of justice.  Why are bad things happening to a good person?  He’s served and trusted, why are things going badly.  It is the exact opposite question posed in Jonah’s prayer.

Jonah 4 begins with Jonah in a bad place.  Verse 5 let’s the reader know that he went east of the city.  That’s code for “bad times”.  Anyone going east in the Bible is not having a good day.  So he is east.  And when he is east, he prays.

Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home?  That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish.   I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.” (Jonah 4.2-3)

God did not destroy Nineveh for their sins and Jonah is upset.  It’s not that he has been tremendously faithful to God either; but it’s always easier to see the sin in others than in yourself.  Jonah laments about God’s justice.  Why do good things happen to bad people?  Jonah wants the Lord to know that he knew all along that this was going to happen.  So, in what I imagine would be a mocking tone, Jonah quotes Exodus 34.6 and part of verse 7.  Why is it mocking you may wonder?  Notice what Jonah leaves out at the junction of 6 and 7?  The “faithfulness” (’emet) of God.  In Jonah’s thinking: if God is for the Ninevites, He can be for Jonah/Israel.  Jonah is putting God perjury alert.  He is questioning God’s honesty…to be continued…

Keep Choppin’ Wood in 2015

DSCN2531In my experience, trees never fall where convienient.  A windstorm a few weeks back dropped an elm on a picturesque 5-strand barbed wire fence of mine.  In the couple week break from school, I took the initiative to clean up the fallen trees from my pasture and cut some new fence posts.

I don’t burn wood at all, but I know people who do and people who burn firewood are always willing to take a chord of wood.  At the same time, splitting firewood is a whole lot cheaper than a gym membership.  So I cut up the elms that had destroyed my fence and began splitting.  There are a few realities that come with chopping wood:

  1. It wears you out.  Shoulders, back, arms, core…it is a full body workout especially for a skinny armed, outta shape guy.
  2. Time slows down and drags on…Einstein must have been chopping wood when the Theory of Relativity hit him.
  3. Activity and Achievement aren’t necessarliy synonymous.  You can wander around, stack wood, pet the dog, move the truck, but none of these things makes the pile any smaller…what does?  Every swing of the axe…only when splitting wood are you actually splitting wood.

There have been times when chopping wood, that the job seemed endless, the destination seemed unlikely, and the ending point unattainable.  The people of Isreal felt that way about their expedition.  Fresh off their march through the Sea and into the desert where Pharoah had no jurisdiction, the People of God experienced their first freedom in years.  They were on their way to the Promised Land, but they didn’t know how fast they were going to get there.  When they were following a cloud and fire, the Presence of God, but didn’t know the route He was taking them.  They were one of Heisenberg’s particle’s, knowing where they were or how fast they were going, but never both.  This uncertainty (lack of trust on their part) and desire for comfort, led to some tense moments on the way.  For three months (Ex. 19.1) they marched and camped trying to learn the concept of “chopping wood”.

When chopping wood its best not to think about how much is left, how fast (or slow) your going, or when you are going to get done.  The way to go about it is to just keep chopping.  Through the cold wind, blistered hands, sore back, and tired limbs…just keep chopping.  If it doesn’t get done today, you will still have to chop tomorrow.  Its going to get done sometime and its going to be you who does it.  May as well be today as tomorrow, so just keep chopping.  Its a phrase Bill Snyder uses to teach his football team, its a phrase my grandfather would tell me, and its a phrase I had to keep telling myself this past year.

Israel was coming out of the Red Sea and began marching South into the Sinai Peninsula where they:

  • Grumbled [lun] against Moses about water. (Ex. 15.24)  Five times before they reach Sinai in Exodus 19, the people would grumble about their situation.  Every step of the way they would have a problem with what was happening.  This word comes up constantly in their 40 years of wandering as well.  God turns the bitter water, the cause of their grumbling, sweet by having Moses throw a piece of wood into it (the word for “showed” [yara] indicates God gave Moses directions about the piece of wood).  God heard their cry and provided.  But then He did one better.  He led them to Elim where they would have spring water to drink…an oasis on their trip.  They wanted sweet water…he gave them abundant spring water.
  • Grumbled [lun and telunnot] about food.  Eight times in chapter 8 the Israelites were either grumbling or being described as grumbling.  They had plenty of food in Egypt (Ex. 16.3) but now in the desert they were hungry.  Again God answered and gave them quail and manna.  But even with His provision, some of the Israelites refused to obey God’s instructions.  They either kept the manna overnight (Ex. 16.29), an instance of not willing to trust God’s provision for tomorrow, or tried to gather manna on the Sabbath (16.27), an instance of not following instructions.
  • Quarreled [rib] with Moses about water, but this time its not bitter water, but the lack of water.  They’ve been on their own for 2 1/2 months and things are a little rougher than they thought it would be.  It was here, at Meribah, that Israel “tested” [nasa] the Lord.  In the same way God asked Abraham for his son Issac (Gen 22.1), Gideon “tested” God with his fleece (Judges 6.39), and the cheif official of Nebuchadnezzar “tested” Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah with the vegetalbes, so here does Israel test the Lord.  Questioning and Observing who God is.
  • Battled and fought the Amalekites and won because the arms of Moses were held up.  It was such an incredible victory that the Lord told Moses to “write this on a scroll as something to be remembered [zakar]…” (Exodus 17.14)  To remember is something that will become vital to these people, as is evident from the use of the word zakar in Deuteronomy, especially as take control of the promised land.
  • Learned to act in accordance with God’s law.  Moses had been carrying the people ever since he returned from Midian.  When his father-in-law showed up and saw all that he was doing, he advised Moses: “What you are doing is not good.  You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out.  The work is too heavy and you cannot handle it alone…Teach [zahar] (or warn) them the decrees and laws, and show [yada] them the way to live and the duties they are to perform.” (Ex. 18.18-20) For Moses it was about learning to let go and for the people it was about taking hold.

So many lessons to learn in the three month journey of the infant nation.  At Sinai, Israel would get the brunt of their teaching from the Lord, but the lessons would stick with them for the next 40 years.  The main lesson that would serve the People would be this: keep chopping wood, keep moving forward, keep learning, keep growing.  It was clear they couldn’t go back, so ahead was the only option.  Keep chopping wood.

Looking back 2014 was a wood choppin’ season for me.  Getting let go from the church, being lied about and too, losing friends and relationships that were 7 year investments, and the shame of both made for a very long year.  But the only thing to do was to keep chopping wood.  Somethings went incredibly well like getting to speak at camps, the buckle that I received from the kids and families of the CY, and the chance to fight bulls at some really cool places and with some awesome people.  Even when things are going well, keep chopping wood.  In the best of times and the worst of times, the infant nation of Israel shows us to keep chopping wood.

Perhaps 2015 will bring the end of the stack, the bottom of the wood pile.  Maybe not.  But it doesn’t really matter because all you can do is keep choppin’ until you arrive!

 

A Prepositional God

DSCN0997From the back of the chuck wagon

Was a beacon to show the path

Through the darkness, storm, and wind

To give direction through nature’s wrath.

A simple flame of kerosene

A flicker ‘gainst blackest hue

A lantern light to fight the dark

Was all I needed to get through.

The lantern that hung from the back of the Chuck wagon saved many cattle drives. During the toughest times on the prairie, the lantern gave light as it swayed along with the wagon.  It bounced along, piercing the darkness and giving direction to the men.  Its a story older than the days of the cowboy.

The Israelites marched out from Egypt loaded down with plunder and arms.  God led them away from the land of Goshen and right up to the edge of the desert at Etham.  As a way to both display his character and his presence, the Lord “went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night.” (Exodus 13.21)  God was out infront of His people.  Leading them to their next encampment, showing them His character, reminding them that He was there…IN FRONT,

When Pharaoh heard that his slave force had “fled” (more on this later), he and his officials were not happy.  He ordered his chariot ready and took off after the fleeing slaves, catching up with them at Pi Hahiroth. (Exodus 14.9)  The Israelites cried out to the Lord (more on this later too), wishing to go back to Egypt.  God’s preposition then changed.  Instead of being in FRONT, the Lord went BEHIND the people (Exodus 14.19-20), shielding them from the advancing Egyptian Chariots.  Pharaoh was stuck in darkness, yet the way for the Hebrews was illuminated.  God’s protection of His people, meant he stood BEHIND His people and BETWEEN them and their enemies.

Fourteen hundred years later, on another dark night, God wasn’t IN FRONT or BEHIND, but WITH.  And in that darkness, “the true light, that gives light to every man was coming into the world.” (John 1.9)  The darkness was pierced that night, not by a pillar of fire or an illuminating cloud, but a “light” sent from heaven to be WITH His people.  His name was Immanuel meaning “God With Us”.(Matt. 1.23)  It is a powerful prepositional change.  WITH conjurs up images of suffering alongside, feeling the same pain, understanding this world the same way we do, and feeling both the highs and the lows of life.  WITH means he filled his diapers, cried when hungry and hurt, celebrated birthdays, and learned to crawl, walk, and run.  WITH means he worked, relaxed, worshiped, and suffered: Oh the power of WITH.  And on this night, Christmas Eve, we celebrate “God WITH us” and how incredible a preposition is!

But “God WITH us” would change for the better 33 years later.  His words, not mine.  Jesus would tell his disciples: “I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away.  Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.” (John 16.7)  The Counselor is the Holy Spirit that Paul says “lives IN us”.  (1 Cor. 3.16; 1 Cor. 6.19; 2 Tim. 1.14)  The Spirit who lives IN us gives us comfort, courage, conviction, guidance, peace, and so much more.  What the presence of God did BEFORE the Hebrews, BEHIND the Hebrews, AMONGST the Hebrews; what Jesus did WITH us, AMONGST us, and ALONGSIDE us; is now what the Holy Spirit does IN us.  All because Jesus, God WITH us, went to a cross in our place (which is also a preposition), the Holy Spirit can dwell IN us.

The power of a Prepositional God.

The Hands of the Lord

ImageWhen God made cowboys, with a dash ADD,

He knew their kind were just like Him, and needed kept busy.

So He gave a mind to contemplate, the troubles of the time,

And gave’em hands to operate, on the problems that they find.

So cowboys hands over years, have done a lot of chores,

When the sun arrives each morning, there are many works in store.

A cowboys hands tell a story, of all the labors that he’s done,

In every weather pattern, in snow and burning sun.

They’ve laid rope to tree, pulled calves in twelve below,

Stretched barbs on wire, stacked hay a-many load.

They’ve thrown a thousand loops, a great loop perhaps one,

They’ve worked from dawn to dusk, they’d hate to slow down some.

Braided strips of leather, carved designs in hide,

Planted posts to keep his stock from rangin’ the country-side.

A fine touch with the reins, a hard touch with a quirt,

Steady work with a rifle, unfaltered by his work.

They’ve forged a hardened shoe, set it solid on the hoof,

Keep their family fed, in clothes and under roof.

The cowboy’s hands are often hidden, beneath the dirt and grime,

Remains in them power to act, to work and pen a rhyme.

My grandfather ran about 15 head of cattle when I was growing up.  I realize that’s not much to many, but it was the closest think I knew to a ranch.  Around most of his acreage ran a single strand of electrified barbed wire.  This hot-wire ran through some pretty nasty terrain in some places, so every night it was necessary to do a once around to check the fence.  Some nights, if I arrived at just the right time, I would get to go up and water the cows and check the fence with him.  Grandpa for years made tires at Goodyear and ran some cows.  Both jobs were very hard on hands.  I was always amazed at the way he could manhandle barbed wire, stick a post in the ground, out muscle the water trough, and twist balin’ wire.  His hands were the roughest I had ever seen.  I still remember him, wrenching loose staples, wielding a hay hook, and twisting wrenches.  Grandma kept a dried out bar of lava soap next to the sink that Grandpa used to wash his hands…it hurt my soft hands to use that rough soap.  In his hands was the capability to tackle any job.

The last post discussed the differences n the names of God (‘elohim v. Yahweh).  ‘Elohim testified to Creator and Power, whereas Yahweh spoke to the personal, relational God who was in regular contact with his people.  It is the personal relationship Yahweh had with his people that caused the authors of scripture to speak in poetics and ascribe to Him human attributes.  To be fair, ‘elohim is occasionally linked to physical characteristics, but not nearly with the regularity of Yahweh.  One of the major attributes to Yahweh are His hands.

  The hand [hb. yad] of Yahweh showed the Lord’s power in action.

Without equal, the biggest event in Hebrew history was the Exodus.  The night that a nation of slaves walked out of the greatest nation one earth, carrying their wealth, and taking from them their honor (Exodus 12.31-42).  That night was special.  That day of victory would be remembered for generations.  Every year the Israelites would celebrate the night that they routed Egypt, became their own people, with their own identity, because of the work of their God, the work that He accomplished with His own hands.

When Israel was to celebrate this day, it was for one reason: to remind them that the Lord brought them out of Egypt with His mighty hand. (Ex. 13.3, 9, 16)  When their kids ask what the celebration is for, the Israelites can tell them about the mighty hand of God that brought them out of Egypt (Ex. 13.14).  The hand of God is God’s power in action in the lives of His people.  Four times in 13 verses, God’s hand is at work, actively involved in bringing the people out of Egypt.  There is no way they could have done it on their own, but the hand of Yahweh is more than capable.

The Hands of Yahweh are never idle.  It was His hand that brought the plagues upon Egypt (Ex. 6.1).  His hand would be so heavy, so mighty in dealing with the Egyptians, that Pharaoh would drive them out of the country.  In the same way that God will force out the Canaanites before Israel, Egypt will so badly want to be done with them, that they will drive [hb. Garas] them out of Egypt.  It is God’s activity that will bring about the event that would forever be remembered as the greatest act in the history of the people.

The hands of Yahweh, are not just God’s power in action, but his mighty ability on display.  The word for mighty [hb. hazaq] is a word reserved for only the strongest, hardest, and resilient powers.  The verb form of hazaq is the word used for the ’hardening’ of Pharaoh’s heart.  The power and supremacy found in the Lord’s hand is unequaled in the universe.  In the battle between Pharaoh’s hardened heart and the Lord’s mighty hand.  God had already warned Moses that only the most powerful action would free his people, the Lord’s hand. (Ex. 3.19)

Yahweh’s hands, His power in activity, brought the Israelites redemption from the land of Egypt (Deut. 7.8).  But 1500 years later it would be Jesus hands, pierced by nails, that would provide for our redemption.  Jesus hands held him on the cross to pay for our sins.  It was the Lord’s power in action by sending Jesus that would provide salvation for us today.  The hands of the Lord, a picture of His ability and activity, would save his people from slavery in Egypt and our slavery to sin. (Rom. 6.6-7)  God has the power to work in situations we deem hopeless, the ability to accomplish things we never can imagine, and the strength to act where we can’t.

Is there a time when you have seen the Lord’s hands and his power in action?  What thoughts come to mind when you think of God’s power?