Meaningless things

IMG_5655Ecclesiastes 1:2  “Meaningless!  Meaningless!”says the Teacher.  “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.” (NIV)

Read: Ecclesiastes Chapters 1 and 2  The book of Ecclesiastes is thought to have been written by King Solomon and when you see verse one of Chapter one it seems to bear that thought out…as we also know that Solomon prayed for wisdom from God.  When I first read these two chapters I thought, “Well, how depressing can you get?  Solomon must have really been having a bad time of it when he wrote this.”  Then as I thought of it more there is a lot of truth in this.  We do all live and we all die..no matter how we live our lives…either foolishly, miserably, happily, contentedly, in anger, or in love…we all have a limited life span, and a physical death to look forward to in the end.  For some of us, the end comes sooner, and some much later, but we all have that ending to this physical life.

IMG_0996Also, it is true that we are generally forgotten once everyone who knew us is also dead.  We become just a name on an ancestral chart, or if you are one of those people who actually change the lives of a lot of other people your name may appear in a history book to torment students for many generations to come as to who you are and what you did…when you think of it that is pretty funny.  Names like Marie Curie, Sister Teresa, Jonas Salk…then there are other names that are more infamous…Stalin, Hitler, Mussolini we only wish we could forget those last three…unfortunately if we forget them, then we may not learn the lesson about humanity’s cruelty to humanity that we should remember and be aware of so we can guard against it and others who may appear who are like them.  So, as the writer of Ecclesiastes says, is it all meaningless?  Well it might seem to be if you leave out the most important thing in life….your Creator, God!

The thing is that in 1:15 Solomon tells us that 15 What is crooked cannot be straightened; what is lacking cannot be counted.”  Now, if we are looking at our ability to straighten things and count what is not there, then this is absolutely true.  However, God can see what is not there in a person, and also has the power to straighten up crooked things.  Only the power of God can do that.  God sees the potential in a person that is not readily visible to others.

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Ecclesiastes 1:18 18 For with much wisdom comes much sorrow;
the more knowledge, the more grief.

Ecclesiastes 1:18 also gives us a bit of truth…as we age we generally can look back and see what we did wrong, and then when we see a young person making the same mistake and cannot influence them with the wisdom we have acquired it does cause sorrow to us.  However, it is good if we can remember that we got through our unwise state and in many ways we are still unwise in our thoughts and actions.  Yet we can take comfort in knowing that God is also working on that youngster’s path in life, as he does on ours. We need to turn our griefs over to God and let him help us through them.  Jeremiah 29:11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

 

Ecclesiastes 1 New International Version (NIV)

Everything Is Meaningless

The words of the Teacher,[a] son of David, king in Jerusalem:

“Meaningless! Meaningless!”
    says the Teacher.
“Utterly meaningless!
    Everything is meaningless.”

What do people gain from all their labors
    at which they toil under the sun?
Generations come and generations go,
    but the earth remains forever.
The sun rises and the sun sets,
    and hurries back to where it rises.
The wind blows to the south
    and turns to the north;
round and round it goes,
    ever returning on its course.
All streams flow into the sea,
    yet the sea is never full.
To the place the streams come from,
    there they return again.
All things are wearisome,
    more than one can say.
The eye never has enough of seeing,
    nor the ear its fill of hearing.
What has been will be again,
    what has been done will be done again;
    there is nothing new under the sun.
10 Is there anything of which one can say,
    “Look! This is something new”?
It was here already, long ago;
    it was here before our time.
11 No one remembers the former generations,
    and even those yet to come
will not be remembered
    by those who follow them.

Wisdom Is Meaningless

12 I, the Teacher, was king over Israel in Jerusalem. 13 I applied my mind to study and to explore by wisdom all that is done under the heavens. What a heavy burden God has laid on mankind! 14 I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind.

15 What is crooked cannot be straightened;
    what is lacking cannot be counted.

16 I said to myself, “Look, I have increased in wisdom more than anyone who has ruled over Jerusalem before me; I have experienced much of wisdom and knowledge.” 17 Then I applied myself to the understanding of wisdom, and also of madness and folly, but I learned that this, too, is a chasing after the wind.

18 For with much wisdom comes much sorrow;
    the more knowledge, the more grief.

Footnotes:

  1. Ecclesiastes 1:1Or the leader of the assembly; also in verses 2 and 12

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In Ecclesiastes 2 Solomon starts talking about how meaningless Pleasure and work are in life.  He tells us that he thinks that laughter is madness and what does pleasure accomplish?

Well, as far as I am concerned…I think that Solomon may have forgotten that God invented laughter and pleasure and work.  God knows that laughter is good for us and wants us to have pleasure in the things in life, and have meaning in our work.

After all, God gave Adam a job right away in the Garden of Eden…he was told to name the animals, and care for the Garden.

Genesis 2:15  The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.

Genesis 2:20 So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds in the sky and all the wild animals. But for Adam no suitable helper was found.

God tells us to have some rest and worship on the Sabbath Day…so God knows that rest is important to the renewing of ourselves to continue the work he has given us.

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The thing is that Solomon tells us a few things about his pursuit of pleasure and work and it is pretty plain that he was not including God in his pursuit of pleasure or in his work.  That is why he came to the conclusion that it was all meaningless.

When we get down to the end of Ecclesiastes 2 we find that Solomon ended up with this very same conclusion…if you do everything in service to God, then God rewards that service with a sense of satisfaction in life.

Not so, for the person who is not serving God…they continue to run through life like a rat on an exercise wheel…until life runs out on them.

Solomon’s thoughts in 2:24-26 may be hard for some to accept, especially if they are running away from God.  It just comes down to one thing…either a person can have a fulfilling and meaningful life with God….or they can choose to run their own life…without God..which means that there is no more life after life…all that person has is the here and now and whatever satisfaction they can find in it.

Personally, I am happy that I have chosen not to live life without the inclusion of the Almighty God, my creator….because this means that not only do I have an after life to faithfully look forward to, but I can also share in God’s joy here on earth by doing the work he has given me to do.  I have assurance that there is meaning to life!

I am hoping and praying that all of you have that assurance also…that is how we all share in God’s joy…the joy of a sinner saved, and the joy of fellowship with God and with fellow believers.

Ecclesiastes 2:24-26

24 A person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their own toil. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, 25 for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment? 26 To the person who pleases him, God gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness, but to the sinner he gives the task of gathering and storing up wealth to hand it over to the one who pleases God. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.

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Ecclesiastes 2 New International Version (NIV)

Pleasures Are Meaningless

I said to myself, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure to find out what is good.” But that also proved to be meaningless. “Laughter,” I said, “is madness. And what does pleasure accomplish?” I tried cheering myself with wine, and embracing folly—my mind still guiding me with wisdom. I wanted to see what was good for people to do under the heavens during the few days of their lives.

I undertook great projects: I built houses for myself and planted vineyards. I made gardens and parks and planted all kinds of fruit trees in them. I made reservoirs to water groves of flourishing trees. I bought male and female slaves and had other slaves who were born in my house. I also owned more herds and flocks than anyone in Jerusalem before me. I amassed silver and gold for myself, and the treasure of kings and provinces. I acquired male and female singers, and a harem[a] as well—the delights of a man’s heart.I became greater by far than anyone in Jerusalem before me. In all this my wisdom stayed with me.

10 I denied myself nothing my eyes desired;
    I refused my heart no pleasure.
My heart took delight in all my labor,
    and this was the reward for all my toil.
11 Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done
    and what I had toiled to achieve,
everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind;
    nothing was gained under the sun.

Wisdom and Folly Are Meaningless

12 Then I turned my thoughts to consider wisdom,
    and also madness and folly.
What more can the king’s successor do
    than what has already been done?
13 I saw that wisdom is better than folly,
    just as light is better than darkness.
14 The wise have eyes in their heads,
    while the fool walks in the darkness;
but I came to realize
    that the same fate overtakes them both.

15 Then I said to myself,

“The fate of the fool will overtake me also.
    What then do I gain by being wise?”
I said to myself,
    “This too is meaningless.”
16 For the wise, like the fool, will not be long remembered;
    the days have already come when both have been forgotten.
Like the fool, the wise too must die!

Toil Is Meaningless

17 So I hated life, because the work that is done under the sun was grievous to me. All of it is meaningless, a chasing after the wind. 18 I hated all the things I had toiled for under the sun, because I must leave them to the one who comes after me. 19 And who knows whether that person will be wise or foolish? Yet they will have control over all the fruit of my toil into which I have poured my effort and skill under the sun. This too is meaningless.20 So my heart began to despair over all my toilsome labor under the sun. 21 For a person may labor with wisdom, knowledge and skill, and then they must leave all they own to another who has not toiled for it. This too is meaningless and a great misfortune. 22 What do people get for all the toil and anxious striving with which they labor under the sun? 23 All their days their work is grief and pain; even at night their minds do not rest. This too is meaningless.

24 A person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their own toil. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, 25 for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment? 26 To the person who pleases him, God gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness, but to the sinner he gives the task of gathering and storing up wealth to hand it over to the one who pleases God. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.

Footnotes:

  1. Ecclesiastes 2:8 The meaning of the Hebrew for this phrase is uncertain.
New International Version (NIV)Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Praying to God’s Glory

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I like this image as it shows the idea of people of all types being connected through prayer.

 

Psalm 96:3 Declare His glory among the nations, His marvelous deeds among all peoples.

Read 1Kings 17:17-24 Elijah prayed for God to bring the boy’s soul back to his body or bring him back to life, and God did so.  This was when Elijah was staying with the Widow woman and her son, and her meal jar and oil cruse, never went dry during the entire drought.

God’s answering Elijah’s prayer gave this woman proof that Elijah was a man of God.

The prayer in this story was answered simply to give God glory and to build this woman and her son’s faith.  The woman in this story which has more to it if you read all of Chapter 17 you will see…she was a woman at her wits end.  She was ready to die and felt that both she and her son would die.  She had given up….then, in walks Elijah on God’s instruction…he is bold to ask her to make him a meal.  She looks at him and says, “What?  This is the last of our grain.  I am getting ready to prepare my son, and myself our last meal, then we will die as we have nothing left to eat!”  Elijah tells her that if she will do as he says that they won’t run out of food.  So she did as he asked, and God edified her faith by making sure that she did not run out of food.  

Then we have the seeming twist in the plot…the woman’s son falls so ill that he stops breathing…so of course the woman is very upset.  I mean, who wouldn’t be, right?!!  God just saved her and her son, and has been feeding them while she feeds Elijah, God’s prophet….now suddenly after she is thinking that things will be all right and they are going to live….her son just up and dies!  Her reaction is that it was some twist of fate that Elijah essentially came to call her sins to light and punish her for them by killing her son.  No doubt as a parent, the worst thing would be to live to see your child die!  

Before Elijah came into their lives she was going to be dying with her son, now she believed she would be living without him!  In her time period a woman who had no son, and no husband was in dire straits to find a way to live and feed herself. The options were very limited.   In her mind, this must have seemed like some cruel punishment from God.  I mean, she has already lost her husband, nearly starved to death, and now when things have been looking up, suddenly her son dies.

So the woman took her concern straight to Elijah, and Elijah took it straight to God.  Elijah asks God about this, and then prays that the boy’s soul will return to his body.

 I find it interesting that he stretches himself out over the boys body 3 times…honestly, I am pretty sure that Elijah didn’t know CPR which the mouth to mouth portion of didn’t exist in records until the 1700’s, but reading this it reminding me of that…so just for the record even when a person is revived from a medical procedure or any intervention of man..it is still God who is doing the reviving and it is miraculous…just as miraculous now as this story of Elijah and the widow’s son.  I am sure that person and any relatives who witness this kind of revival would agree that for them it was miraculous.  Well, I suppose there are always going to be folks who “don’t have the eyes to see” a miracle when it is there, but by and large most people in the situation of this widow who get their loved one back, would be shouting hallelujahs and praising God for his act of grace!

Anyway, the fact is that God showed this woman his character, his love, and his mercy again, by reviving her son.  He showed her that she was wrong, that he was not a God who would punish her for her past sins when she was following him.  We know that this woman was following God because she acted in faith when Elijah showed up…even on the brink of death from starvation. (Now, who knows what sins this woman had, but we all are guilty of something, and some sins do have earthly penalties for us.)

Now God edified her act of faith, but he also wanted to show her that she could trust him in all the circumstances of her life, even when things were dire.  The last line shows us that she knew from this miraculous act that Elijah was “truly” a man of God.

This may sound funny, considering that Elijah told her as we read in verse 14 For thus saith the Lord God of Israel, The barrel of meal shall not waste, neither shall the cruse of oil fail, until the day that the Lord sendeth rain upon the earth. (KJV) So, we would think that she knew it was God who did the saving of her and her son by not letting them starve?!!  This makes you think, why would God need to further show her who he was?

Simply because she still didn’t understand his character of love, she still didn’t understand that God loved her and her son, and wanted the best for them.  Another thing to consider, is that in the Old Testament time period there were “seers” who were not necessarily people of God, but who were respected as mystical, wise men types…like the witch of Endor in the story of Saul and Samuel, and like the Pharoah’s wise men, and the King Nebuchadnezzar’s (Babylon) wise men.

God did not want Elijah to be mistaken for any of these types of people…he wanted this woman and her son to know without any doubt, that Elijah was representing the One True God!  The God who can be trusted in issues of both life and death!  The God to whom all glory is due!  Her prayers and those of Elijah were answered so that God would be glorified, respected, loved, honored and understood as the God of undying and unending love!

Prayers are answered just for that reason and that reason only to show the love of God to us and others, and to glorify him.

Read Psalm 65: This Psalm is about praising God, and God answering prayer and blessing people, God is the hope of all the ends of the earth.

God wants us to glorify him and love him sincerely, he wants us to praise him and call on him for everything….he wants us to have a relationship with him that is close and personal.

God does not want us to have empty mottos and slogans that say we glorify him, yet mean nothing because we do not obey him and love him in our hearts.  We are told that our actions strongly reflect what is in our hearts…or in other words, our faith shall be known by our deeds…what best glorifies God is our love for him and for others.

Matthew 7:15-20 15 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. 16 You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thorn bushes or figs from thistles? 17 Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit.19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Therefore by their fruits you will know them. (NKJV)

John 14:23  Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. (KJV)

James 2:14-19 14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? 15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

18 But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”

Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. 19 You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.

When we are praying to God’s glory we should be praying for God’s blessings to fall on those whom we are praying for, very specifically.  Just as Elijah was very specific to the person he was praying for when he was speaking to God.  Elijah wanted to show this widow God’s love for her and her son, who God was, and through his prayer life, and God’s intervention…this was done and God was glorified by it!  Elijah’s every action in this situation was in obedience to God and for the glorification of God!

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God is the Great Comforter

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Christ Church Cemetery Philadelphia, PA

 

Psalm 35:13-28 Yet when they were ill, I put on sackcloth, and humbled myself with fasting. When my prayers returned to me unanswered, I went about mourning as though for my friend or brother, I bowed my head in grief as though weeping for my mother…

Read 2 Samuel 1:17-27 David laments or mourns the deaths of Saul and Jonathon, basically telling God that he thinks there should be no rain, no crops, not even dew.  That this would be justified.  David is basically in this and in some of the Psalms airing out his grief over something he felt shouldn’t have happened at all, or at least not in the way it did happen.  The injustices of the world. 

Sometimes bad things happen to good people due to other people’s sinful actions, or in the case of Saul due to his own sinful actions.  David loved Jonathon like a brother, and loved Saul too, although Saul’s actions were those of a madman in later years, due to his separation from God through his sin.  God is with us always, especially when we are grieving.  So when I say that Saul was separated from God by his sin, it was his inability to reach out and ask for forgiveness which was separating him.

Another thing to consider is that even while Saul was worrying about his throne, and he went to the witch of Endor (not to be confused with the place in the movie “Star Wars”) to call Samuel back from the grave…it wasn’t to reunite himself with God.  It was so that he could have his throne back.  Saul was not asking for forgiveness.  It seems that Saul was just trying to get God’s endorsement back so that he could continue to be King.  

I am sure that God would have taken Saul’s heart back, and forgiven him if he had asked, but even when God forgives us there are consequences to our actions which have to be dealt with.   Saul had mislead and misrepresented God to others while he was in a place of authority over those people.  God takes that seriously.  Instead of asking for forgiveness he continued to try to manipulate and force the situation.  He didn’t bow his head to God and humbly say, “Your Will Be Done, Lord, in this matter and any other!” No, Saul kept his pride.  The Bible tells us that God hates pride…not the kind of pride that goes with a sense of accomplishment where you have met a goal and you feel satisfaction from it.  The kind of pride where you forget that God is the one who gave you the talents and skills to accomplish that goal, and you start getting full of yourself.  God hates that kind of pride.  That kind of pride causes all kinds of problems.

Any way, back to Saul…his pride caused him nothing but grief.  It also caused others great grief as well.  His pride quite literally cost his sons their inheritance, and their lives.

His pride also caused David all manner of pain and suffering too. Matthew 5:4  Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. God is the great comforter, even though he will not erase our grief, he will comfort us and make it more bearable.  It is hard to pray when you are grieving, but that much more important to do, as you need comfort the most. 

Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that all grief/suffering is due to someone’s sin. Though in a manner of speaking it is…the Garden of Eden was a perfect place, and there was no sin in it, until Satan the Serpent tempted Eve and Adam to sin.  At that point the earth was cursed.   It is hard to imagine the earth being cursed, but if we understand that this is why we have pain and suffering, and thorns, and bugs, and poisonous things in the world, natural disasters and such…then even though there are so many beautiful things on this earth one can also recognize the curse.  Genesis 3:17 To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’ “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life.

The main thing is to not get caught up in blaming someone for your grief!  That is a worldly thing to do.  The world is always looking to answer “why” something has happened, and looking to blame someone.  One of the most often asked questions is, “why me?  why did this happen to me?” The more realistic thought is, “Why not me?  It has to happen to someone, right? This kind of thing happens all the time, who is to say it can’t happen to me?!!”   Once you have faced your grief with that kind of questioning instead of looking for someone to blame then you can start to realize that God is there for you to lean on…he is there to comfort you and help you to get through the grief.  Especially when it is the kind of grief where you get up in the morning and are praying, “God, please just help me to get through this day…that is all I can deal with…and I can’t really deal with even this day, so please just help me to get through this day…”

If you are a Christian, then you should start to see this grief/suffering experience as a “Job” experience.  If you read the story of Job in the Bible in the Book of Job, then you see this man who was very Godly and went to a lot of effort to make sure that his children even were kept from sin.  He made sacrifices on their behalf.  Job lost his whole family, and all of his wealth, and his health, yet he never cursed God.  He kept his faith throughout.  Job didn’t do anything wrong..nothing to “deserve” what was happening to him.

It is heartless to say that someone deserves what is happening to them.  God does not want us to have this attitude toward people….God sometimes has the attitude of someone who is giving discipline to his children, but he is never joyful at their need for discipline or their suffering!  God wants us to be compassionate and loving even to the worst offenders…those whom we see as the worst of the worst….even them!  God loves them too! A person can never be too bad to come back to God’s arms and have salvation…the Bible is full of people that the average person would think was beyond redemption.  Yet those people were redeemed! As Paul says in his letter in 1Timothy 1:15  This is a trustworthy saying, worthy of full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the worst.  

So when I say grief/suffering is a “Job” experience, what I mean is that you are a Christian going through one of the hardest experiences of your life…you have a decision to make…either go through the experience holding on to your Christianity, your faith, your very personal relationship with God and be like Job…

OR The other option is to throw it all away and go through it with God next to you, but separated from you by your lack of faith in him.  Your lack of faith in the goodness and mercifulness of God.  In that case, what you are essentially doing, is curling up in a ball and shutting God out while wallowing in your misery.

There is a difference between wallowing (which we all do to some extent) and humbling ourselves before God and asking him for relief and comfort.  We are miserable, and God gave us emotions to help us express ourselves to him and to each other.

Psalm 145:9 The LORD is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made.  We can trust in God to help us in times of misery and trouble and grief and suffering.  There is simply no comfort as great as the comfort that God offers to us.   We simply have to put our focus on him and keep it there and God is compassionate to help us through all trouble.

Psalm 34:17 When the righteous cry for help, the LORD hears and delivers them out of all their troubles.

The most important thing for us to remember when dealing with things that happen around us that seem unfair or unexplainable is that God is a God of Justice.  Justice not the way the world gives it, but real and true justice…and God is also a God of love…not as the world loves, but real and true love that transcends our understanding.  After all, he sacrificed his son for us.   God is trustworthy in all things as we are told in Proverbs 3:5-6 Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him,  and he will make straight your paths.

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Moses Intercedes with God

IMG_0579Exodus 32:14 Then the Lord relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened.

Read Exodus chapter 32:  The Israelites made a Golden Calf, and God was going to destroy them in his anger, then Moses prayed an intercessory prayer to God that he not destroy them that the world would then think that the only reason God brought the Israelites out of Egypt was to destroy them.  God listened to Moses and changed his mind about destroying the Israelites.  In this story God was angry and Moses prayed on behalf of his people that God’s anger would be calmed and that God would not be so angry.  

When I look at God’s righteous anger over the idolatry of his chosen people it tells me that God has a limit to his patience.  Here we have God who has taken this group of people out of slavery, using Moses as their leader.  Moses goes up the mountain to speak with God and because he is gone a while these people get all worried that he has abandoned them, or God has killed Moses, or something.  So they decide that they cannot worship what they cannot see, and demand that Aaron make them a new god.  This same Aaron, who was Mose’s brother and the spokesperson whom God gave to Mose’s because of his stumbling tongue, or other difficulty with words.  This Aaron who should have been large and in charge and reassuring the people tells them to get him their gold and then proceeds to give the people what they wanted…a Golden Calf to worship.

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When Moses gets back down the mountain, and finds all of Israel worshipping this Golden Calf, he asks Aaron what happened.  Aaron’s response is to deny his own responsibility!  This is a typical response we find in our own society today….”it’s not my fault…they/he/she did/wanted/said…therefore…it’s their fault that this (fill in the blank) bad thing happened!”  Most of us want to throw up our hands whenever we encounter this response from a person when we are trying to find out what happened…or how a situation came about.  It is most frustrating, isn’t it!  We should ask ourselves…why is it like this?  Well, in the case of the Israelites they had been slaves…so they were living in fear for their lives at all times.  If they did something wrong and they were at fault the circumstances could be dire either beating or death, or both.  They were not used to being allowed to take responsibility and it not end very badly.  They were literally, as far as life went, and as far as following God went…children in their level of maturity.

That being said, in God’s eyes what they had done would be the equivalent of a child running out into the road, or sticking their hand into a fire!  This situation of idol worship was not something to take lightly, it was not just a life threatening problem….it was a soul threatening problem.  God had chosen these people to teach them about who he was in order that they would worship him and only him, so that they could show the world who God truly was…that God was a loving and caring God who was worthy of worship; but also that God was a jealous God who did not allow for the worship of any other Gods besides him!

Moses had just received these rules and before he could even deliver them to the children of Israel they had already broken the first and second rules!  No wonder he threw them to the ground and broke them, they were already broken! How frustrating that these people who supposedly had Mose’s right hand man there to keep them straight couldn’t hang out and wait patiently  until Moses returned without getting into trouble.  They were led out of Egypt, but they had not really left emotionally, as the calf was one of the gods of the Egyptian people.  They were sticking with what they knew.

How many of us do that all the time…we give up a bad habit, because to do so sounds like a good idea, but then the first time we have an idle moment we fall right back into that same habit.  In my case, I have a sweet tooth, and so I decide to diet, then immediately am confronted with someone flashing a sweet in front of me, and it is “abandon all hope” of not eating it!  lol!  I do love sweets!  It takes a lot of effort to turn it down.  We all have weaknesses like this.

So we look back at Moses who grew up around these people and he knew what they were doing, but he had a bad temper and had frustration from the situation.  God tells Moses that he is just going to destroy these people as they are hopeless, and stiff necked…essentially that they cannot be taught.  God says, “Hey! Moses!  I think I will destroy them and just start over again with you…I will just use your offspring to make a great nation instead of this group!”

This might have been pretty tempting to Moses.  Don’t you think?  Maybe that was why God said it…to get Moses to take a look at himself and see if  Moses was really that fed up with the people he was leading…essentially with his own relatives!  Sometimes, when you are upset and someone says something really outrageous that is a bit further than you would ever really go with your thoughts, that can snap you right back to your senses, can’t it?!!!  I think this is what happened to Moses….Moses was upset and tossed the first set of the ten commandments tablets to the ground and God jumped in there and went right along with Mose’s thoughts and said that he was fed up himself, and that they were stiff necked and unteachable and he would just wipe them all out and start over with Moses!  How shocking…so Moses then says, “Oh, No!  You can’t do that, God!  If you do that, then the whole world will believe that you led these people out of Egypt just to kill them in the desert!  What would that say about you?  Is that the kind of God you want to be known as?  The whole world will believe that you brought them out for an evil purpose.”

Another way to look at this is that Moses was telling God that the world would be thinking that he was a God of evil and not good!  I find it wonderful how Moses was immediately looking out for God’s best interests rather than his own!  This really tells us a lot about Moses’ character, doesn’t it?!!

Now Moses, standing in front of the people tells them that whoever among them is for the Lord to come and stand next to him.  All of them, but 3000 did so, and then Moses ordered that those who had come back to the Lord kill the group who were not willing to turn away from their sin.  We are told that the penalty of sin is death…that is still true today…those who do not turn away from sin and turn toward the Lord suffer the penalty of death, and those who turn to the Lord gain everlasting life.  It is just that in Mose’s time this group suffered from a painful lesson about how real the God who led them out of Egypt was and how immediate the penalty of turning away from him.  There was no “king in the land” no “parliament” no “congress”…judgement and justice were swift and final.  Moses was their leader and he was trying to get God’s anger to subside…so that only the unrepentant were slain.

When Moses approached God again after this slaying of 3000 of his brethren, his words to God were, “Oh, what a great sin these people have committed! They have made themselves gods of gold. But now, please forgive their sin—but if not, then blot me out of the book you have written.”

Moses was saying that if after all of this that his brethren who were guilty were forced to slay those who were also guilty, but who were unrepentant, if after all of this, then if God would not forgive them, then to just take Moses name out of the book of life also!  Moses was saying to just blame him because he had not led them well enough.   Moses, who was with God the whole time and hadn’t done anything wrong, was telling God to just put the blame on him too!

This was Mose’s powerful intercessory prayer with God for his people….Moses is a type of savior, to his people.  He offered himself in intercessory prayer to God in the place of his people.  Interestingly, on the day that God handed the Law down to Moses 3000 people were killed, and on the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit was sent to live in the hearts of God’s people 3000 people were saved!

God did not kill the entire group, but said that whoever sinned against him would be blotted out of his book, and when the time comes to punish he would punish for sin.

Now, this could be taken that God was telling Moses that his method was wrong because although in Exodus 22:20 Moses had already heard the penalty of idol worship…the people of Israel had not.  After all, Moses still had a lot to learn about God’s character himself, even if he was their chosen leader.   God sent a plague on them, but it doesn’t say that any of them died from that plague.

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Sometimes a plague may just make people miserable…you know plagues of locust, plagues of boils, etc.  About 45 min. or so North of us there was the outbreak of the 17 year locust….now many of those people would call that a plague.  One of my cousins was very plagued by them, they were on her car, on and in her house…they were every where…they were a pain, but no one died from them!

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Due to Mose’s intercessory prayer and willingness to lay himself out before God on their behalf, God was willing to forgive.  It tells us that God relented…God changed his mind.  You could say that God decided to go with his original plan and being a God who comes through on his promises…he continued to follow through with the promise he made to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph to make them a great nation.  We learn so much from this story of Mose’s and the Golden Calf….God is gracious to show us our own faults and to help us to recognize who he is, and to be swayed by our prayers for others….but there are also God given penalties for unrepentant people and those God given penalties will not be avoided without repentance.

There are also man made penalties for breaking the law of the land, which are separate from God given penalties. Ex. If someone steals money from another person, and asks God with a repentant heart for forgiveness God would forgive them. The same person  usually cannot avoid the legal penalty for their earthly crime against society.

Purim – A Celebration of God’s Infinite Grace

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This is a mirror inside the Topkapi Palace Harem in Istanbul Turkey.  The picture is a little blurred, but notice the mirror reflected back and forth in the mirror…this is realistic picture of infinity…as each mirror continually gives a reflection of another mirror on and on infinitely uncountable. You might even say this was an example of mathematical pi in a way. Just as God’s grace is also infinite.

1Peter 5:10-11, Give God the glory and credit for the grace he extends to you, and for all of the gifts he has given you in your life.

 

Read the story of Esther part 3 – Esther Chapters 8 thru 10 In this final portion of the Book of Esther after Haman’s death, we find that Esther and Mordecai are rewarded by the king, and the jews get permission to defend themselves on the day that according to Haman’s treachery the jews were to be put to death.  They are victorious.  The celebration the Jews have after the battle is called Purim, and is still kept today.  During this celebration the Book of Esther is read, and the people dress up in costume as the people who are in the Book of Esther, and they are supposed to drown out Haman’s name every time he is mentioned with noise to the point where no one can understand that his name has been said, and they are to cheer Esther and Mordecai’s name greatly.  Interestingly, Esther is only one of two books in the Bible where God’s name is not actually mentioned, the other one is the Song of Solomon.  In spite of God’s name not being mentioned, Esther is still a wonderful story of grace and faith, and illustrates God’s love for his people.  Even though the reason for Haman’s existence is that the Jewish people were disobedient to God, God still put Esther and Mordecai in the right place at the right time to save the Jewish people. The Purim celebration is a celebration of victory and of God’s grace through others.

Note of interest:  King Saul’s father was named Kish, and Mordecai is listed as a Kishite in the Book of Esther.  According to Jewish writings Mordecai’s lineage can be traced back to Benjimen through Shimei and King Saul on his father’s side, so it is presumed that he is related to Judah on his Mother’s side.  Saul is the one who disobeyed God, and then along comes one of his descendants who is given a task related to correcting the fallout from Saul’s disobedience.  Isn’t God good!

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Inside the harem in Topkapi Palace in Istanbul is a sitting area

The above map gives you an idea where the city of Susa was in relation to Babylon the city of modern day Isfahan is about where the word Persia is on the map.  I find it is sometimes helpful to look at a map and try to picture where things were in relation to a modern place.

 

Strengthened by Grace

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This is the archway going into the ancient Olympic Stadium in Greece  It was built around 776 BC and Samson lived hundreds of years before this during the time of the Judges from 1200-1000 BC.  

1Cor 1:8 He will keep you strong til the end so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.

1Cor 1:4-9 I always thank God for you because of His grace given you in Christ Jesus for in Him you have been enriched in every way.  In all your speaking and in all your knowledge because our testimony about Christ was confirmed in you.  Therefore, you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for your Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed.  He will keep you strong til the end so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.  God who has called you into fellowship with His son, Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful.

Read 2Corinthians 12:9-10, Ephesians 3:7,Hebrews 4:16  This says that we are to glory in our weaknesses, because when we are weak, God’s able to use us to demonstrate his power and glory through grace, by strengthening us.  For example, if you are afraid of something, this is a weakness, and if everyone knows you are afraid, but then you face your weakness in spite of your fear, and overcome it, then everyone will know that God is with you and has strengthened you.  You are responsible to give God the  glory when this type of strengthening occurs in your life. 

Read Judges Chapter 16 The story of Samson and Delilah.  Samson is a very interesting person.  He is a bit tricky. (The full story of Samson actually starts in Chapter 13 and is certainly worth reading, as he is a very interesting person…reading the rest of the story will tell you why the Philistines hated Samson so much, but for the purpose of this lesson I focused on the part of his story about Samson and Delilah.)

Okay, so there are some things about the story of Samson and Delilah that really catch your attention.  They each treat the other as if they were a fool, and they both actually act toward the other in a foolish manner.  Delilah is relying on Samson’s infatuation with him to try and make some money on the side…that tells us that she really doesn’t love Samson at all…she is trying to make use of him.

The incredible thing about this is that Samson seems at first to realize it and plays with her by continually giving her misinformation about the source of his physical strength.  Each time she fails to guard the information he gives her and tries to use it against him in order to get the Philistine’s money….incredibly he keeps playing, then his pride makes him give in to the temptation at first to give her a little bit of the truth….he tells her that if she weaves his hair into the loom and puts a pin in it that he will lose his strength.  He is telling her that it is his hair, but not giving the whole story, and then even after she betrays him time after time he still ends up telling her the real truth  because of her nagging day after day.  The thing is that he really was very prideful, he was proud of his ability to trick her time after time, and so he gave him due to his pride, and he never actually gave God the credit for his strength.  His relationship with God was the true source of his strength, this caused God to give Samson over to his own foolish pride.

When we take a look at the Philistines after they have captured him, they also suffered from pride…and if they knew that the source of his strength was his hair they were foolish to let it grow back.  They thought that since his eyes were gouged out and he was tied up and had become their prisoner that they could just display him without a worry because he was weak. They were guilty of underestimating their enemy, Samson.

In the end, Samson is humbled after being the Philistine’s prisoner, and wants to get justice for the loss of his eyes.  Samson is a person who was vengeful and very definitely believed in meeting out his own version of justice on those who wronged him.  Looking at the other chapters about his actions we can see that.  However, in the end, when Samson is up there being displayed by the Philistines he prays to God that he can get justice on them for the injustice they perpetrated against him!  The Philistine’s pride in disregarding Samson because he was their prisoner became the source of their undoing.  When he asked to be lead to lean against the pillars that held the roof of the building someone led the poor blind man over there and then Samson said his prayer to God for strength “one last time” in humbleness, and requested to die with the Philistines.  God was gracious and granted Samson the strength to push those pillars apart and cause the roof to collapse and kill them all.

It wasn’t until Samson was too physically weak to take care of it all on his own that he became humble enough to rely on and acknowledge that his strength came from God.  At that point God was gracious to Samson and demonstrated his love for him by giving him enough physical strength to mete justice out on the Philistines.

God hates the prideful and will humble them, but loves the humble and will strengthen them.  There are over 100 verses in the Bible that mention the words Pride, Proud or Haughty and they are all mentioned in the context of it being a sin.  Pride is one of the easiest sins to fall into also because there is a fine line between being satisfied with a job well done, or a talent well used, and starting to think that you, yourself, are the author and maker of those talents.  So we have to be ever on our guard against it, because pride is a very sneaky sin…you can have it before you even realize it!  We need to always be careful to acknowledge as the song “Jesus Love Me” tells us, “We are weak, but he is strong, Yes, Jesus, Loves me!” We need to acknowledge our weakness and glory in it because God uses the weak to show his strength.

Grace for Everyone

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Peter Preaching at Pentecost by Benjamin West 1738-1820

Romans 4:16 Therefore the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all of Abraham’s offspring, not only to those who are of the law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, he is the father of us all.

Read 1Timothy 1:13-15, Romans 5:1-2, Romans 5:14-21, Titus 2:11  God’s grace is extended to all of humanity not just the Jews. You gain access to God’s grace through your faith in Jesus.  All of mankind were condemned through the sin of Adam, who was one man, and all mankind can be saved through the righteousness and obedience of one man (God in the flesh) Jesus Christ.  Where there is no sin, there is no need for grace.  Where there is no law, there is no sin.  The law was given to show us that we are sinful, if we didn’t know of our sin, then we wouldn’t ever feel the need for grace. Grace came about through the righteousness of Jesus.  In the old testament, God’s grace was demonstrated through sacrifice and cleansing from sin was by sacrifice. 

It’s not that anyone could actually be cleansed by the blood of an animal…(Hebrews 10:2-23) it was that God loved his people so much that he gave them a method by which they could obediently do an atonement so that they wouldn’t live feeling guilty.  After all, once a person feels their guilt, the first thing they want to do is do something to get rid of that feeling of guilt.  Until the Messiah came, God gave them a method that would allow to regularly face their guilt and acknowledge that sin had a penalty, and that penalty was death.

Think about it, each time that person had to go and do a sin offering at the temple they were required to think about their guilt during the time of picking out the “perfect” animal, then when they went to the priest to have the offering made they would naturally see the horror of death that their sin guilt brought about.  (Hebrews 9:22, Leviticus 17:11)All of those temple sacrifices in the Bible were precursors to the perfect last sacrifice which would actually atone for the sins of man.

Jesus was the ultimate sacrifice, so any other sacrifices we make now in the belief that they are going to do anything to earn us salvation are insulting to God, because they belittle Jesus’ sacrifice. After all, God gave his son, how can anything that we sacrifice be compared to that sacrifice.  If you have experienced being a parent you know that there is nothing that you wouldn’t do for your children.  You would rather die yourself than to have them suffer.  Yet God allowed his son to die for us because he loved us so much that he wanted us to be cleansed from sin and drawn close to him.

Note: To use the time period before Easter known as Lent as an example; Many times we chose to give up something that is important to us, or that we spend a lot of time doing.  We are doing this not to make an atonement to God, but in honor and remembrance of Jesus’ sacrifice for us.  It is also to give us a feeling of what sacrifice is all about, and how hard it can be.  Therefore if you choose to give something up for Lent, it should be something which is challenging to give up, otherwise giving it up is not much of a sacrifice. You can chose to give something up in honor of God at any time of the year and for any period.  That is just a traditional time period.  The thing about doing this is that if the thing that you give up is something that you really enjoy, each time you are faced with the temptation of it you are also faced with the thoughts of God.  For my part, I have thoughts like, “oh, no, I can’t eat this right now”…then it goes through my head, “Why not?”  Then, “Oh, yeah, because I promised God that I will give up eating this item that I really crave for this particular time period, and I need to honor my promise to God!”  So you see how it is that each time you are confronted with temptation you are also confronted with thoughts of God.  It becomes a way to also put your focus more on God during that time period, all the while understanding more clearly how hard it is to give something up, and how hard it is to resist temptation.  And we are only tempted a little bit.  Jesus was tempted completely and thoroughly day in and day out for 40 days in the desert, and he was by himself. There was no one there to help him by talking to him and advising him how to overcome the temptation.  Ultimately, when we are being tempted we are alone, as we are the only ones who can decide whether to give in to a temptation or not.  What did Jesus use to overcome the tempter?  He used the word of God.  He battle the Devil with scripture.  An important reason to have God’s word written on our hearts and minds.

Read Genesis 17:1-18:15, Genesis 21:1-7  The story of God’s Covenant with Abraham.  This could alternately be called the first covenant, or the covenant of the Old Testament.  It is the covenant of Circumcision.  The Gospel is under the new Covenant which is a Covenant of grace, whereas the Covenant with Abraham was one of the flesh.  The continuation of that covenant of the flesh was passed down with the 10 commandments in the Old Testament after the Exodus from Egypt that became the covenant of the Law.

The God of the Living is the God of 2nd Chances

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Angel statue in the ruins at Ephesus, Turkey

Exodus 33:12-23 Moses found grace in God’s sight and told God that he would like to know him personally, and that if God will go with him he will leave that place, but if God won’t be with him, he will stay where God is.  God assured Moses that He was with him, and knew him by his name.  Also God, let Moses see his backside, when he went to get the ten commandments the second time, after the Golden Calf incident.  The second set was obviously the one which was put into the ark of the covenant.

Read Exodus 32 This is the story of the Golden Calf.  Notice that God allowed everyone a chance to repent and come back to him, and if they did then he forgave them, but those who didn’t accept his grace were put to death.  This is symbolic of Christianity’s grace, in which you live your life, and if you accept God’s grace, and recognize your sin, and ask for forgiveness, God is faithful to forgive you, and accept you back to Him.  However, if you don’t repent and accept God’s grace, then when your life is over it is too late, and you will die the eternal death,  instead of living in Heaven in the presence of God.  That is why we have this phrase:  “Where there is life…there is hope.”  Hope for redemption…hope for a return to the side of God.  There is all manner of hope when we are alive.

Truly death is a hopeless state of being, unless you are dead in Christ.  Mark 12:26-27 tells us that God is a God of the living and not the God of the dead.  Jesus says this in answer to the Pharisees’ question about the the woman who was married to one brother after another, so when they would be resurrected whose wife would she be?  Jesus starts the statement about God being a God of the living and not the dead with the statement that God spoke to Moses at the burning bush and said “I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob.”  Then Jesus makes the statement that “God is the God of the living and not the God of the dead.”  Reading that line in the Bible,  there is a detail that I always missed…  The statement made by God to Moses is in the present tense…not the past tense.  How does this fit with what Jesus is saying?  Jesus is saying that these people who in Moses’ time had been dead from the earth for more than 400 years were still alive in God and with God.  God was telling Moses the same thing, that although Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were no longer alive on this earth, they were yet alive with Him.  We know this is what God meant because of Jesus statements in Mark 12:26-27…Logically speaking…God cannot be the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the present tense if they are already dead…because He is not a God of the dead!

There is no other way to take this statement when they are combined like this because otherwise they would be in conflict.  Usually, when we read that God is the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob..we don’t really hear the tense.  We think of this as God stating that he is an eternal and generational God.  We think that he is simple identifying himself to Moses in terms of: “I am the God of your ancestors…”

While it is true that God is the God of Moses’ ancestors, that is not what God was trying to convey to Moses.  As Jesus tells us, this is one of those “ears to hear, eyes to see, and heart to understand” moments.  A moment when you go…”ah ha!  So that’s what he means!”  or in Sherlock Holmes version, “By jove, Watson!  I think I’ve got it!”

So this is what it means when we are promised “eternal life in Christ Jesus” John 3:16.  Right about now, you are probably thinking, but Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were dead before Jesus was born, so how does that work for them?  Well, they lived under the old covenant, which was a covenant of the law…they followed what God had told them to do faithfully, and were obedient to him…they were saved and considered righteous by their faith.  (Genesis 15:6)  As the Apostle Paul said, they lived and died and never saw the promise fulfilled, but their faith was credited to them as righteousness…(Hebrews 11) Jesus said that the disciples were those who had seen and believed, but so much more honored is the person who has believed, but has not seen. (John 20:29)

We can rejoice in the fact that God is the God of the living…so much so that in the fact of our death we need have no fear as long as we are in Christ during our life…we will continue to be in Christ in our death.  My favorite verse in the Bible is this:  1Philippians 1:21  For me to live is Christ and to die is gain!  Paul goes on to explain that while living this life we can serve Christ, and when we are dead to this life we will be living with Christ so that as Christians we have nothing to lose either way.  This is the grace and promise of God.