Closer to Thee, Lord

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I liked this image of these ladies leaping in joy and excitement…it reminded me of John leaping in the womb at the nearness of Jesus also in the womb!

Psalm 84:2 My soul longeth yea even fainteth for the courts of the Lord, my heart and my flesh crieth out for the living God.

Psalm 84  This is a prayer for closeness to God.  The person is acknowledging that those who are close to God are blessed and joyful and strong.  In verse 2 the musician states that his soul is faint with longing for God.

Prayer is a way to grow closer to God and understand His plans for your life, you should not only pray to have closeness to God for yourself, you should also prayer for others to grow closer to God so that they can have the joy of knowing Him.

Read Luke 1:5-25  This is the story of Zacharias the priest and Elizabeth his wife and the promise of their coming child who is to be John the Baptist.   God’s angel comes and tells Zacharias that his prayers have been heard.  This is a good lesson on waiting for answered prayer that even when we have prayed for years and don’t see the answer that God has heard us and will answer our prayers.

Luke 1:5-25  In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly. But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old.

Once when Zechariah’s division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense. 10 And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside.

11 Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. 12 When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. 13 But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John. 14 He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, 15 for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born. 16 He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. 17 And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

18 Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.”

19 The angel said to him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. 20 And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their appointed time.”

21 Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah and wondering why he stayed so long in the temple. 22 When he came out, he could not speak to them. They realized he had seen a vision in the temple, for he kept making signs to them but remained unable to speak.

23 When his time of service was completed, he returned home. 24 After this his wife Elizabeth became pregnant and for five months remained in seclusion. 25 “The Lord has done this for me,” she said. “In these days he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people.” (NIV)  

If you want to know more about the priestly divisions read 1 Chronicles 23 and 24.  The main thing to note about the priestly relationship of Zacharias is that the priestly division of Abijah was directly descended from Aaron, Mose’s brother, through his son Ithamar.  So was Elizabeth, Zacharias’ wife.  It is stated in Luke that both Zacharias and Elizabeth were righteous and blameless in the sight of the Lord; that they kept God’s commands and decrees. Now the fact that they kept his decrees does not mean that they never sinned, it is just that they were in their daily life and in their hearts devoted to God and doing everything that was required of them by law to the best of their abilities.  Blameless and righteous does not mean perfect and sinless.  God considered them righteous due to their faith, the same way that he considered Abraham righteous.  It was that they had a heart for God.

Now in the worldly view of things these people had no blessing of children and they were old.  This would have made the people of their world look down on them with pity, as carrying on the family name was of the utmost importance.  It was so important that when a man was married and died childless, his brother (if he had one) was commanded to marry the widow and raise up a child as if it were his brother’s child.  Apparently, Zacharias and Elizabeth were used to the idea that they were not going to have any children…after all they were old..they were probably resigned to the fact.  Most people would be when that much time had passed, wouldn’t they?!!

Yet, they continued to follow God in their daily lives.  Their faithfulness was not based on what God could do for them.  It was on the idea that, well, “God was God, and if he wanted them to have children he would make it happen, and if not then God was God; it wasn’t meant to be”

Their attitude of faith stood them in good stead and God recognized it and sent an angel to tell Zacharias that he and Elizabeth would be having a son.  Now, here is a hiccup for you…Zacharias didn’t actually believe the angel…he could not get past the idea that he and Elizabeth were too old to biologically have a child.  His doubt cost him.  He was struck dumb until the child was born and it was time for the naming of the baby.  Now, it doesn’t seem that he was deafened, as it says that he made signs to them, but that he could not speak.  The rest of the story is that he was not allowed to speak until the time came to name the baby and he said, “His name is John.”

John the Baptist was the cousin of Jesus the Christ…there is a lot more to this story.  As the story says John was filled with the Holy Spirit even before he was born, and that Holy Spirit recognized Jesus in the womb when Mary came to visit his Mother, Elizabeth right after she was told that she would bear a child….John the Baptist  “leaped in the womb.”  In other words, he was excited to see and be near Jesus even though neither of them had been born yet.  I find this to be a pretty awesome thing!  Holiness recognizing Holiness.

That is what we are to be to God, someone who can recognize him whenever we are around him or his people.  Someone who gets excited by being around and involved with God; by being in conversation and worship with him.  Just like John the Baptist in the womb recognizing Christ…we should endeavor to draw so close to God that we can recognize him by instinct before we even can work it out in our conscious thought processes.  We can know what God is asking of us and know that it is he who is speaking to us.

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Deborah’s Leadership – Make a Joyful Noise

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Psalm 66:1 Make a joyful noise unto God, all ye lands

Read Psalm 66  This is the psalm of praise of making a joyful noise to God. It is important to thank God for his gifts, and blessings, in the form of praying praises to God.  Just as you would thank a friend for a gift they have given you.  God gives you gifts and blessing all the time, you must thank Him in prayer.  God enjoys being appreciated.

Read Judges 4 thru Judges 5:3  This is the story of Israel being freed from captivity to Canaan, and take note of Deborah’s use of prophecy from God to bring this about, and that they praised God’s name for their deliverance.

Judges Chapter 4 – Judges 5:3  4 Again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord, now that Ehud was dead. So the Lord sold them into the hands of Jabin king of Canaan, who reigned in Hazor. Sisera, the commander of his army, was based in Harosheth Haggoyim. Because he had nine hundred chariots fitted with iron and had cruelly oppressed the Israelites for twenty years, they cried to the Lord for help.

Now Deborah, a prophet, the wife of Lappidoth, was leading[a] Israel at that time. She held court under the Palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim, and the Israelites went up to her to have their disputes decided. She sent for Barak son of Abinoam from Kedesh in Naphtali and said to him, “The Lord, the God of Israel, commands you: ‘Go, take with you ten thousand men of Naphtali and Zebulun and lead them up to Mount Tabor. I will lead Sisera, the commander of Jabin’s army, with his chariots and his troops to the Kishon River and give him into your hands.’”

Barak said to her, “If you go with me, I will go; but if you don’t go with me, I won’t go.”

“Certainly I will go with you,” said Deborah. “But because of the course you are taking, the honor will not be yours, for the Lord will deliver Sisera into the hands of a woman.” So Deborah went with Barak to Kedesh. 10 There Barak summoned Zebulun and Naphtali, and ten thousand men went up under his command. Deborah also went up with him.

11 Now Heber the Kenite had left the other Kenites, the descendants of Hobab, Moses’ brother-in-law,[b] and pitched his tent by the great tree in Zaanannim near Kedesh.

12 When they told Sisera that Barak son of Abinoam had gone up to Mount Tabor, 13 Sisera summoned from Harosheth Haggoyim to the Kishon River all his men and his nine hundred chariots fitted with iron.

14 Then Deborah said to Barak, “Go! This is the day the Lord has given Sisera into your hands. Has not the Lord gone ahead of you?” So Barak went down Mount Tabor, with ten thousand men following him. 15 At Barak’s advance, the Lord routed Sisera and all his chariots and army by the sword, and Sisera got down from his chariot and fled on foot.

16 Barak pursued the chariots and army as far as Harosheth Haggoyim, and all Sisera’s troops fell by the sword; not a man was left. 17 Sisera, meanwhile, fled on foot to the tent of Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite, because there was an alliance between Jabin king of Hazor and the family of Heber the Kenite.

18 Jael went out to meet Sisera and said to him, “Come, my lord, come right in. Don’t be afraid.” So he entered her tent, and she covered him with a blanket.

19 “I’m thirsty,” he said. “Please give me some water.” She opened a skin of milk, gave him a drink, and covered him up.

20 “Stand in the doorway of the tent,” he told her. “If someone comes by and asks you, ‘Is anyone in there?’ say ‘No.’”

21 But Jael, Heber’s wife, picked up a tent peg and a hammer and went quietly to him while he lay fast asleep, exhausted. She drove the peg through his temple into the ground, and he died.

22 Just then Barak came by in pursuit of Sisera, and Jael went out to meet him. “Come,” she said, “I will show you the man you’re looking for.” So he went in with her, and there lay Sisera with the tent peg through his temple—dead.

23 On that day God subdued Jabin king of Canaan before the Israelites. 24 And the hand of the Israelites pressed harder and harder against Jabin king of Canaan until they destroyed him.  

Judges 5 On that day Deborah and Barak son of Abinoam sang this song:

“When the princes in Israel take the lead,
    when the people willingly offer themselves—
    praise the Lord!

“Hear this, you kings! Listen, you rulers!
    I, even I, will sing to[a] the Lord;
    I will praise the Lord, the God of Israel, in song.

 

Footnotes:

  1. Judges 4:4 Traditionally judging
  2. Judges 4:11 Or father-in-law
  3. Judges 5:3 Or of

***NIV via Biblegateway.com***

Now, I have run across many people over the years who are completely ignoring that Deborah was a woman who was the leader of Israel.  Not only was she a woman, but also a wife, and a prophetess of God.  It is evident that she was well respected in that position from the fact that she was able to send for Barak and tell him how many men to take and what to do with those men.  The fact that Barak actually came when she called for him, and refused to go to war without her presence shows us that he probably considered Deborah’s presence as a prophetess of God and the leader of their people to be like having God along in endorsement of the venture.

Now, Deborah’s reaction to his insistence of her going with him was that God looked upon that as a lack of faith and would give the enemy, Sisera, into the hand of a woman.  In other words, Barak wouldn’t get the glory for vanquishing Sisera.  Despite this, Barak did what he was told to do, and went forward faithfully into battle.  It came about as Deborah had said, and a woman named Jael was used by God to vanquish Sisera.  However, Barak and his men did conquer the rest of the “900 chariots” belonging to Sisera, so Sisera was running away trying to find a safe place to hide.  Jael was to Sisera like the saying of the spider to the fly…”come right in and you will be safe.”

Personally, I find this story of Deborah to fly in the face of many of the commonly held misconceptions passed down in the church about only men can lead.  Certain denominations still hold to that idea, and many are so caught up in it that they sometimes make the feminine members of their congregants feel as if they are lacking something.  There are many examples in the Bible of how important women are in God’s plans.

While the New Testament books are certainly written by men, there are many women in them also whom Jesus interacted with, and who very clearly lead their people to Christ.

We don’t have to look far…the woman at the well was responsible for leading many in her village to know the Messiah(John 4:1-42), and Jesus told Martha that her sister, Mary was doing what was important.  That is listening to Jesus and learning from him. (Luke 10:39-42) 

There are many other women in the Bible who fulfilled critical roles…Esther, Ruth, Rahab to name a few, and of course, Mary, the Mother of Jesus.

The common thing that we find with these women is that they all loved God, and recognized what a huge gift God’s love, forgiveness/grace was to them.

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When I see this teapot it gives the idea of sitting down at the table with a friend and having a chat…I get a warm feeling from the image, just as I get a warm feeling from the idea of having a chat with God.

Even Martha in her own way was trying to edify and serve God by being a good hostess to Jesus in her home.   What Jesus wanted most from her, though, was for her to give him her personal time and attention. (Another thing to take note of was that the resurrected Jesus first appeared to two women, Mary and Martha.)

When we spend time thanking God for what he has done for us, and praising him through prayer and song we are also to spend time listening and communing with him.  We are actually celebrating not just what God has done for us recently, but also celebrating our relationship with him while we are doing this.

I know this blog entry put emphasis on the women in the Bible and their relationship with God, but the act of praising God joyfully through song and prayer applies to everyone regardless of gender…the point is that God created us all differently, but wonderfully and we should always celebrate with him whatever role he has called us to fulfill in life.

Celebrate that he has loved us and given us a purpose to fulfill — to be in close relationship with him, and to help draw others into relationship with him by sharing what we know about God with them.

Psalm 16:11 You make known to me the path of life;
you will fill me with joy in your presence,
with eternal pleasures at your right hand. (NIV)