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.

crooked-forest-866294_1280

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

*************************************************************************************

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.

img_0654b

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.

 296-1220233331pbar

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.

Seven Things God Detests

calvin_arguing

Proverbs 6: 16-19 There are six things the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies and a man who stirs up dissension among brothers.

Read: Genesis Chapter 39  This is the story of Potiphar’s wicked wife who pretty much did all of these things which God detests.  Although she did not shed Joseph’s blood she did cause him to go to prison, which could have resulted in the shedding of his blood for sure…yet, he was innocent of all the things she had charged him with.  She is not a person of good character.  Despite her actions, and the harm 13 “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.  Joseph being imprisoned…Joseph did not sin.  He did not say, “Well, whatever, everyone in the world is against me, so I might as well be the person that they have decided that I am!”  He did not engage in a self-pity party.  He decided to stick with God and just make the best of his circumstances.  In the end, his attitude of doing his best despite his circumstances turned out very well for him.  God blessed him for his determination to follow the Lord’s will with his character.

Now, although this is not a popular view in the eyes of the world…let’s consider Potiphar’s wife for a moment…she did all of these bad things.  The Bible clearly tells us that God hates these things….so can it be inferred that God hated Potiphar’s wife?  Absolutely not, God has a hatred of the things that she did, but not of the person of Potiphar’s wife.  She was still a person who was a well loved creation of God.

Most of us, as we go through life,  meet at least one or two people who have done the things that God hates.  It may even be ourselves at one time or another who have done these things…though we like to think not.

Yet look at these things one by one:

captionshesgotbettedaviseyes1.) Haughty eyes….this is someone who thinks too much of themselves, they think they are above others, and that the same tules don’t apply to them as to the “other folk”…that is the sin of PRIDE!  I believe that it can be said that we all at some point in our lives suffer from this sin.  If you have ever judged another person in a condemning way, then you have been prideful. That may seem harsh, but think about it…God did not make you the judge…Jesus Christ is the judge….

Matthew 25:31-46

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory and all his angels are with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 The people of every nation will be gathered in front of him. He will separate them as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right but the goats on his left.

34 “Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, my Father has blessed you! Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. 35 I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat. I was thirsty, and you gave me something to drink. I was a stranger, and you took me into your home. 36 I needed clothes, and you gave me something to wear. I was sick, and you took care of me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’

37 “Then the people who have God’s approval will reply to him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you or see you thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you as a stranger and take you into our homes or see you in need of clothes and give you something to wear? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’

40 “The king will answer them, ‘I can guarantee this truth: Whatever you did for one of my brothers or sisters, no matter how unimportant they seemed, you did for me.’

41 “Then the king will say to those on his left, ‘Get away from me! God has cursed you! Go into everlasting fire that was prepared for the devil and his angels! 42 I was hungry, and you gave me nothing to eat. I was thirsty, and you gave me nothing to drink. 43 I was a stranger, and you didn’t take me into your homes. I needed clothes, and you didn’t give me anything to wear. I was sick and in prison, and you didn’t take care of me.’

44 “They, too, will ask, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or as a stranger or in need of clothes or sick or in prison and didn’t help you?’

45 “He will answer them, ‘I can guarantee this truth: Whatever you failed to do for one of my brothers or sisters, no matter how unimportant they seemed, you failed to do for me.’

46 “These people will go away into eternal punishment, but those with God’s approval will go into eternal life.”

GOD’S WORD Translation (GW)Copyright © 1995 by God’s Word to the Nations. Used by permission of Baker Publishing Group

snake_tongue2.) Lying Tongue…well we don’t need an explanation of this do we?  We have all done this….told a lie when the truth would do…sometimes, the lie is as simple as answering, “NOT ME!” when asked if you know who did something. (This particular answer is prevalent in all households with children…in fact, I was once cleaning one of my customer’s houses and one of the children had written it on the wall…I thought, “Oh, so “Not Me” lives here too!”)

3.) hands that shed innocent blood….now it is hoped that we are not guilty of this for sure…though..if it were applied to the blood of an innocent animal instead of a person..it would probably be more than likely that again a vast majority of us would be guilty.  After all, if you drive a vehicle then at some point you are going to probably hit one of those “Kamekaze Squirrels” (or some other animal) that runs out in front of you when they are already across the street…they turn back and go and run under your car’s wheels!

I do not know if God would apply that thought to animals, and I will leave it up to you to decide it.  I, personally, feel mighty upset when I know an animal is killed, though it doesn’t stop me from eating meat.  Scripturally, there is a basis for the idea of the animal’s blood being innocent blood as the sacrificial system of Judaism used animals to represent atoning sacrifice.  Though it was also understood that animal blood did not actually clean away anyone’s sin…it was a representation of the act of how bad sin was to God that blood had to be shed to atone for it. It was also a means to see to the feeding of the priests and their families.  Anyway, I will leave that to each person to decide whether this applies to the blood of animals or only humans.

4.)  A heart that devises wicked schemes…Wow! This is another doozy!  Have you ever decided to do something that you knew was wrong?  Well, here it is…a simple version of the heart that devises wicked schemes.  A wicked scheme is a plot to do something wrong…either to yourself or to someone else….it is a plotting out of a sin before hand.  For instance:  You decide that you want to go into an adult book store after work.  There you have it….you are at work, and you have decided to go and do something later that God would not approve of your doing!  That is a simple example of devising a wicked scheme!  In the world’s eyes there is nothing wrong with that action, but as a Christian you have to look at things from God’s perspective, and he tells us to avoid sexual immorality.  Our culture is full of it….and it is very popular…the television shows are full of all of these issues.

public-domain-images-free-stock-photos-shoes-walking-feet-grey-gravel-1000x6665.)  Feet that are quick to rush into evil… This is talking about a person who hears an idea that is to do something wrong, but jumps right into doing it anyway…not taking time to consider how that wrong will affect themselves or those around them.

It could be as simple as deciding to temporarily “borrow” something that is not yours without asking first even with the intention to return it.

There are many ways to be “quick to rush into evil” but the main thing is that we need to be alert to what God considers to be evil..even things that seem at first to not be evil can become so at times.  Gossip is a prime example of a way to be quick to rush into evil.

Gossip…is a very common weakness…a person or group of people can start discussing someone in what seems and has the intention to be a caring manner and it end up being a gossip festival instead.  Whenever, it goes from how is someone doing? into “he said,” “she said,” or “they said” or “I heard”…then it pays to be alert this may be turning into a gossip festival…instead of a caring conversation….gossip harms people because it is not the truth…it is a bunch of speculation…yet many times people don’t give it a thought and rush right into it instead of stopping and thinking first.

adorable-20374_1280

6.)  A False Witness – who pours out lies….Well, when I picture a person who does this…it is a very untrustworthy person.  After all, a person who lies once is hard enough to deal with, but picture how hard it is to deal with a person who lies so easily that the lies just run out of their mouth like water in a river.  This is a person who not only lies, but they lie in order to ruin someone’s character….they are uncaring about other people altogether. The thing is that one lie leads to another in order to cover up the first lie…after a while it is hard to keep up with all the lies that have been told.  At some point, the lie used to protect oneself can end up being a lie that hurts another person.

Have you ever worked for a company and had the managers tell you to  “tell this person or that person…that I am not here right now!”  whenever a person they didn’t wish to take time to speak with would call.  Now, I am sorry, but no matter how you look at it, this is telling someone to lie and that is not right behavior for a Christian at all.  We are not to lead others into sin.  The thing is when you look at this particular lie…it is an easy one to do…many people don’t think about it….it rolls right off the tongue as it seems harmless, doesn’t it?  Funny thing is that this kind of a lie can be altogether avoided and the situation taken care of very kindly by telling the person on the phone, “I’m sorry, that person isn’t available right now.  May I take a message?”  See, there is an absolutely truthful way to handle the same situation that doesn’t require anyone to do something that God hates.  There are always very truthful ways to handle things that people might lie about, and not even make the person feel bad.

1-dress

I once heard someone suggest that it is hard to tell a friend that their dress is very ugly when they are of the opinion that it is because they don’t wish to hurt their feelings.  The thing is a person either likes an outfit, or they don’t.  You can always say that you are sure it will look good in the right setting, or that you don’t think it is quite their style.  Again, no lie needed, right?  You can be truthful without being as blunt as a rock with people.  The thing is to be considerate of other folks and make sure you protect their character and feelings as much as possible without lying.  That is just a way of loving someone.

Notice, that God mentions lying as two of the seven things that he doesn’t like?!!  That is because God is a God of Truth…so of course he hates lies of any kind!

IMG_45817.)  A man who stirs up dissension among his brothers…(now this applies to women who stir it up amongst their sisters also)…Dissension is discontent, and disharmony, disunity, and disagreement…God does not like people who sow those seeds amongst others.  This is another situation you see quite often.  There is another way to say this…one bad apple ruins the barrel.  This is to say that you can have a group of people who are really in unity and they are working together with a common goal and a common loving spirit and in comes one person who doesn’t like something or someone.

Let’s use a clear example:  You have a club and they all have a common goal…to enjoy a certain activity together.  Each year you get people in the club who volunteer to be the officers.  One year you get a person who volunteers for one of the offices, and really seems very nice, and helpful and then one day they blow a gasket in the middle of a club activity.  What happened was that they had overloaded themselves, but didn’t gracefully know a way to back out of all they had volunteered to do and it was too much for them.  So after blowing a gasket and quitting in a very public way that person goes home and then sends out email, or gets on the phone and starts calling all the other members to bad mouth everyone else that they were working with in their club….pretty soon…everyone in the club is very upset…especially those who have been unfairly bad mouthed…then a lot of the club members quit…others have hard feelings…it takes years for that club to recover.

The person who blew a gasket was not causing dissension up until they started calling and emailing the other members and bad mouthing others…then they were stirring up dissension.  They were actively, purposefully, working at making others to be discontented within a group.

A person who goes about stirring up dissension is like a poison to a group of people.  It is an active wrecking of the peace which God is wanting us to have with each other.

There are certainly times when we disagree with each other, but there are correct ways to handle that situation.  Going behind a person’s back that you are in disagreement with and talking badly about them is not the correct way to deal with that.

Proverbs 16:28

28 A perverse person stirs up conflict,
    and a gossip separates close friends.

Matthew 5:23-24 (NIV)

23 “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.

The thing about making peace with someone is that you cannot do that behind their back…the only way to make peace with a person is in front of their face and talking to them.

851-yeshua-hand

To see how God promises to care for you when you have a right attitude, an attitude and behavior that glorifies him….read Matthew 5:1-16

Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them.

He said:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
    for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
    for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
    for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
    for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
    for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
    for they will be called children of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.13 “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.

14 “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

Now, if we are to be the light of the world, then we cannot do things that are done in darkness….otherwise, the light goes out!  All these things that God hates…they are things of darkness that are not done on the up and up with a good attitude…they are all done with the attitude of pride and hatred…not with humbleness and love of our fellow man.  Yet at any one time, we have all been guilty of at least some of these actions…haven’t we?!!  God still loves us, even then.  Just as he loved Potiphar’s wife, yet hated her actions.  So what can we do when we are guilty of these things?

Well, the answer is listed for us in the Bible, over and over…”repent and turn back toward God.”

Acts 3:19 19 Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord,

Honest Prayer

phylactery-on-yemeni-jew-1914-wikipedia-us-public-domain

Psalm 99:5 Exalt the Lord our God and worship at his footstool; he is holy.

Read Matthew 23 

A Warning Against Hypocrisy

Matthew Chapter 23 Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them. 

“Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries[a] wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called ‘Rabbi’ by others.

“But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers.And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven.10 Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah. 11 The greatest among you will be your servant. 12 For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.

Seven Woes on the Teachers of the Law and the Pharisees

13 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to. [14] [b]

15 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are.

16 “Woe to you, blind guides! You say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it means nothing; but anyone who swears by the gold of the temple is bound by that oath.’ 17 You blind fools! Which is greater: the gold, or the temple that makes the gold sacred? 18 You also say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it means nothing; but anyone who swears by the gift on the altar is bound by that oath.’ 19 You blind men! Which is greater: the gift, or the altar that makes the gift sacred? 20 Therefore, anyone who swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. 21 And anyone who swears by the temple swears by it and by the one who dwells in it.22 And anyone who swears by heaven swears by God’s throne and by the one who sits on it.

23 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. 24 You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.

25 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.

27 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. 28 In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.

29 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous. 30 And you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ 31 So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. 32 Go ahead, then, and complete what your ancestors started!

33 “You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?34 Therefore I am sending you prophets and sages and teachers. Some of them you will kill and crucify; others you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town. 35 And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. 36 Truly I tell you, all this will come on this generation.

37 “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. 38 Look, your house is left to you desolate. 39 For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’[c]

Footnotes:

  1. Matthew 23:5 That is, boxes containing Scripture verses, worn on forehead and arm
  2. Matthew 23:14 Some manuscripts include here words similar to Mark 12:40 and Luke 20:47.
  3. Matthew 23:39 Psalm 118:26

(From Bible Gateway.com… the NIV)

 

In Matthew 23 we find that Jesus is very condemning of the actions of the teachers of the law and the Pharisees.  He tells his Disciples to learn from them by following what they say because they know the law well..(they are sitting in the seat of Moses).  However, Jesus warns his Disciples not to act the way these men act.  These particular Pharisees and teachers of the law whom Jesus was talking about (Jesus and Paul the Apostle were both Pharisees by the way)  were men who failed in their responsibility to God.  They were supposed to be teaching the people about who God was, that he was a God of Justice, Mercy and Faithfulness.  

Instead they were teaching people the letter of the law, but not the Spirit of the Law.  The Spirit of the Law is supposed to bring you closer to God.  Following the Spirit of the Law also brings you closer to your fellow man.  Just look at the characteristics of God given by Jesus, Justice, Mercy and Faithfulness.  If we use those characteristics in dealing with each other we also draw closer to each other in love.  It is nearly impossible to understand Justice, Mercy or Faithfulness without having love involved also.  I am not talking romantic love here, but the love of your fellow humans..compassion.  I mean who doesn’t want to be around and spend time with someone who is compassionate and gentle, merciful and forgiving, and fair?  That is God and those are God’s character traits…we are told to be like that to each other.

garden-of-eden

(Now there are some people who want to judge God and say that God is not always fair…but for those people ask yourself…are you really qualified to judge God?…if you are…then doesn’t that mean that you are taking on the position of God?  Just think about that a bit…it is a hard thing to wrap your mind around…but either Jesus is the Lord of your life….or he’s not..if he’s not, then that means you are trying to be the Lord of your own life…that never actually works out well. -Just refer back to the story of Adam and Eve and see how it worked out for them)

Jesus wanted his Disciples to follow both the letter and the spirit.  He wanted his Disciples to know that the law was not just something to be talked about and taught to others.  It was to be followed by his Disciples too.

The Pharisees were telling everyone else to follow the law, and making it so hard on the average Jew that they were having trouble following them all! However, they, the Pharisees themselves, were not following all of the laws that they were putting upon others.  They were sinning themselves, the sins of pride, and self indulgence, and hypocrisy.  Yet they were busy bodies who were constantly telling other people how they should live, and criticizing what others do.

Jesus tells them that they are all shine, and no substance…they look nice on the outside, but the inside is rotten.  (I think we have probably all met people like this.)  I really love the phrase used about the white washed tomb filled with the bones of rotting corpses (unclean things)…slight paraphrase there, but the meaning is very clear.

The Pharisees in question were clearly hypocrites (aka actors) they were putting on a constant show of “whoo, my poop don’t stink because I am so very Godly..it wouldn’t dare stink….I always look and smell like roses!”  That is what is meant when Jesus says talks about their garments and phylacteries….he is saying that they are making them larger and longer to make them seem like they are more important to them and make themselves seem more holy.  Kind of like if you see someone who is carrying around a Bible and quoting scripture  all the time, but then you hear them tell a whopping lie to someone.  That would probably be the equivalent situation in our time.

If you think about it there are a lot of people who are running all over telling everyone how Christian they are, but then they just don’t act like they know God at all when dealing in their day to day life.  They are just giving God the nod of their head on Sunday and the rest of the week doing whatever they want.  In other words they are not taking God seriously, are they?

Jesus gets on them about the importance they place on the gold in the temple instead of the sacredness of temple itself, and why the temple is sacred.  Now that happens a lot even now.  People put more emphasis on the building they are worshipping in than they do God whom the building is for, or God’s people who are in the building.  That is a sad situation for sure….if a person takes their focus off of God for a second or two, then it is easy to end up with your focus on the wrong thing.  People get panicky whenever they are trying to hold onto something that they perceive that they may lose….at times like that it is easy to get side tracked from God.

This idea of “swearing on the gold in the temple” has carried over into more modern days, and is still around now.  Back in the time of Martin Luther the monk (not Martin Luther King Jr.) the church sold “penance” to people.  Martin Luther did not agree with this and was verbal about it. The church allowed people to buy forgiveness and many rich men took advantage of this to use their money to get away with doing whatever they wanted. 

Today, there are still many Christians who have wealth and believe that as long as they tithe enough money or spend enough on charities they are excused from their actions. 

Jesus did not agree with this and he condemned people who where praying or acting holy  for the sake of pretending to be Holy, while having the education about God to know that this is wrong. They are ignoring what they know in pursuit of themselves and their own glorification on earth. 

Jesus states that these Pharisees are greatly damned for their actions. In other words, the more they know, the more they are expected to represent God to the people, so the greater their damnation when they misuse what they know for their own gain.   It is really important to be honest in your dealings with God and with others. 

Keep in mind that God knows what you think and what you are doing, what your real motivations are.  The only person you are fooling with your behavior is yourself.  The Pharisees fooled themselves.

The God of Everyone

IMG_1963
The Areopagus where Paul preached the Unknown God to the people of Athens…Paul knew what it was to be cleaned by God!

Mark 11:17  And as he taught them he said, Is it not written, my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations, but you have made it a den of robbers.

This statement about God’s house being a house of prayer for all nations first appeared in Isaiah 56:7.  This angered the chief priests and scribes so they wanted to destroy Jesus because he threatened their way of life.  The main idea is that everyone no matter what nation or race can talk to God through prayer, that He is the God of everyone, not just the God of the Jews.  God also accepts anyone who repents and turns to him.  

I learned the extent of God’s forgiveness myself in a rather shocking way.  I was sitting in a church once and a guy shouted out to the pastor that he was sure that God would never forgive him because he was a mercenary and killed people for a living.  Now I was pretty young in my knowledge of God, and really still thinking that this was probably true…after all, why would God forgive someone who hurt people for money?!!  So I was pretty shocked to hear the minister tell him that yes, God would forgive him, if he asked for forgiveness sincerely!  Then, an interesting thing happened to me, the idea was so shocking, that it got me thinking…really thinking…is this the truth…and you know what…I had been limiting God’s forgiveness…many times we go along and we limit God’s forgiveness based on what we think is bad or worse, or not so bad.  The fact is that we are saved by the grace of God, and God doesn’t limit that…as Peter saw in his vision!  What God makes clean is clean indeed….therefore…who are we to hold a person’s past over them?!!  We are not to do that…if a person is steadfast and fruitful in their faith, as Cornelius the Centurion was, then we are to treat that person as a brother or sister in Christ with us….an equal to us…equally loved by God.  God equally listens to their prayers…the Bible is full of sinners who have done terrible things, and some in our human judgement who have done some not so bad things, but God forgives and he forgives absolutely!  We would do well to remember that and not fall into the trap of thinking like the world view that some people are too bad to be forgiven..after all…the Bible tells us that God would have no one be lost!

2Peter 3:9 The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

Read Acts chapter 10.  This is the story of Cornelius the Centurion whom God used to pour the Holy Spirit out onto the Gentiles also.

Acts Chapter 10 At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion in what was known as the Italian Regiment. He and all his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly. One day at about three in the afternoon he had a vision. He distinctly saw an angel of God, who came to him and said, “Cornelius!”

Cornelius stared at him in fear. “What is it, Lord?” he asked.

The angel answered, “Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God. Now send men to Joppa to bring back a man named Simon who is called Peter. He is staying with Simon the tanner, whose house is by the sea.”

When the angel who spoke to him had gone, Cornelius called two of his servants and a devout soldier who was one of his attendants. He told them everything that had happened and sent them to Joppa.

About noon the following day as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. 10 He became hungry and wanted something to eat, and while the meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance. 11 He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. 12 It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles and birds. 13 Then a voice told him, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.”

14 “Surely not, Lord!” Peter replied. “I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.”

15 The voice spoke to him a second time, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”

16 This happened three times, and immediately the sheet was taken back to heaven.

17 While Peter was wondering about the meaning of the vision, the men sent by Corneliusfound out where Simon’s house was and stopped at the gate. 18 They called out, asking if Simon who was known as Peter was staying there.

19 While Peter was still thinking about the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Simon, three[a] men are looking for you. 20 So get up and go downstairs. Do not hesitate to go with them, for I have sent them.”

21 Peter went down and said to the men, “I’m the one you’re looking for. Why have you come?”

22 The men replied, “We have come from Cornelius the centurion. He is a righteous and God-fearing man, who is respected by all the Jewish people. A holy angel told him to ask you to come to his house so that he could hear what you have to say.” 23 Then Peter invited the men into the house to be his guests.

The next day Peter started out with them, and some of the believers from Joppa went along.24 The following day he arrived in Caesarea. Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his relatives and close friends. 25 As Peter entered the house, Cornelius met him and fell at his feet in reverence. 26 But Peter made him get up. “Stand up,” he said, “I am only a man myself.”

27 While talking with him, Peter went inside and found a large gathering of people. 28 He said to them: “You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with or visit a Gentile. But God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean. 29 So when I was sent for, I came without raising any objection. May I ask why you sent for me?”

30 Cornelius answered: “Three days ago I was in my house praying at this hour, at three in the afternoon. Suddenly a man in shining clothes stood before me 31 and said, ‘Cornelius, God has heard your prayer and remembered your gifts to the poor. 32 Send to Joppa for Simon who is called Peter. He is a guest in the home of Simon the tanner, who lives by the sea.’33 So I sent for you immediately, and it was good of you to come. Now we are all here in the presence of God to listen to everything the Lord has commanded you to tell us.”

34 Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism35 but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right. 36 You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, announcing the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. 37 You know what has happened throughout the province of Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached— 38 how God anointedJesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.

39 “We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a cross, 40 but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. 41 He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen—by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.42 He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. 43 All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

44 While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. 45 The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles. 46 For they heard them speaking in tongues[b] and praising God.

Then Peter said, 47 “Surely no one can stand in the way of their being baptized with water.They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.” 48 So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days.

Footnotes: (NIV by way of Bible Gateway)

  1. Acts 10:19 One early manuscript two; other manuscripts do not have the number.
  2. Acts 10:46 Or other languages  

Respect for God’s House

1659c7886fac3d744e20e23a08360317

Matthew 21:13 It is written, he said to them, My house will be called a house of prayer, but you are making it a den of robbers.

God’s house is a house of prayer, and needs to be treated as a Holy place.  Nothing ungodly should be taking place there.

Read Mark 11:15-19 Jesus overturned the tables of the moneychangers in the temple, and stated that His house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations, and that they had turned it into a den of thieves.

Read Acts chapter 3 One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the time of prayer—at three in the afternoon. Now a man who was lame from birth was being carried to the temple gate called Beautiful, where he was put every day to beg from those going into the temple courts.When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he asked them for money. Peter looked straight at him, as did John. Then Peter said, “Look at us!” So the man gave them his attention, expecting to get something from them.

Then Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong. He jumped to his feet and began to walk. Then he went with them into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God. When all the people saw him walking and praising God, 10 they recognized him as the same man who used to sit begging at the temple gate called Beautiful, and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.

11 While the man held on to Peter and John, all the people were astonished and came running to them in the place called Solomon’s Colonnade. 12 When Peter saw this, he said to them: “Fellow Israelites, why does this surprise you? Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk? 13 The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob,the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus. You handed him over to be killed, and you disowned him before Pilate, though he had decided to let him go. 14 You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you. 15 You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this. 16 By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong. It is Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through him that has completely healed him, as you can all see.

17 “Now, fellow Israelites, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your leaders. 18 But this is how God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Messiah would suffer. 19 Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, 20 and that he may send the Messiah, who has been appointed for you—even Jesus. 21 Heaven must receive him until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets. 22 For Moses said, ‘The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you must listen to everything he tells you. 23 Anyone who does not listen to him will be completely cut off from their people.’[a]

24 “Indeed, beginning with Samuel, all the prophets who have spoken have foretold these days. 25 And you are heirs of the prophets and of the covenant God made with your fathers. He said to Abraham, ‘Through your offspring all peoples on earth will be blessed.’[b] 26 When God raised up his servant, he sent him first to you to bless you by turning each of you from your wicked ways.”

Footnotes:

  1. Acts 3:23 Deut. 18:15,18,19
  2. Acts 3:25 Gen. 22:18; 26:4

The disciples John and Peter go to temple to pray during the time of prayer.  Although you are to pray without ceasing, this is more that you should be mindful of God during the course of your day.   There are times when you should spend time only thinking of God and talking to God through prayer, without doing anything else at the same time.  Life can get in the way of our prayer time if we let it.  We can become guilty of treating our prayer time with God as an after thought…you know, something you do in a half minded kind of way…just putting it right in there while you are multi-tasking and never giving him the personal one on one attention that we need to really be fully in God’s presence.  

When I was growing up a lot of attention was paid to not “setting anything on the Bible.”  This was an act of respect in my parents eyes for the fact that the Bible is the living word of God…that it is Holy scripture.  I don’t find anything wrong with this stand on things, but for me I feel that the ultimate respect that you can pay God’s word is to read it and learn it and have it written on your heart.  All the other treatments of God’s word become empty things if you don’t have a relationship and have it in your heart.

Personally, I do set things on my Bible as I am usually carrying a lot of things in my arms when I am coming and going from my home with the Bible to church and back.  It is really hard to not have anything on top of it…it doesn’t really bother me much because I do have it written on my heart and I am using that Word.  When you use something it usually gets a bit of wear on it.  You can tell folks who really use their Bibles because unless they just bought a new one..it is usually full of stuff that is falling out of it, and quite worn looking.  I think God would rather it look that way than to keep it crisp and new and sitting on your coffee table.  Now I am not saying that everyone “must” memorize chapter and verse and be able to recite scripture and include where it is located in the recitation.  The idea of writing it on your heart is more like knowing it so that if you are in a situation where you are tempted or don’t know how you should handle things…then you can have a scripture pop into your head…the Holy Spirit can remind you of it and help you to know what to do and how to act in any given situation and remain in a Godly position.

Jesus did this when he was being tempted in the desert…Satan would say something to tempt Jesus, and Jesus responded to Satan using scripture to refute what Satan was saying.  If you don’t read it then you cannot truly have it written on your heart…you cannot truly be a doer of the Word as well as a hearer of the Word.  (James 1:22-25)

***********************

Now if we go back to the stories above of Jesus over turning the money changer’s tables in the temple courts and the contrasting story of the newly healed lame man who entered the temple courts “walking and jumping and praising God” some people would be very upset at the idea of the man jumping around in the temple courts and say it was disrespectful.  I don’t believe that God would see it that way at all….this man was so grateful for his healing that he could not contain his joy!  It was flowing out of him with childish excitement.  It was so pronounced that it attracted attention…this caused people to come running to see what was going on there.

Peter looked at them, and took the opportunity to remind them of who God was, and that they should not be surprised at God’s ability to heal….and that the healing came through the promised Messiah that they had rejected.  Peter acknowledged that their rejection was done in ignorance of who they were rejecting and he told them that they should change their hearts and turn away from that ignorance and embrace who Jesus truly was…that Jesus was the author of life and that in their ignorance they had “killed the author of life”…now if someone is the author of life, then certainly they would be able to heal would they not?  It would be a little thing to them to do so.  Peter was quick to give the credit to God and not to take it for himself.  That is so important when you are doing something that God has given you to do…be sure to give God the glory and honor for using you to do that deed just as Peter did in this situation.  Knowing God, acknowledging him, obeying him and giving him the glory for all the blessings in your life is the ultimate paying of love and respect to God.  At least that is my thinking…because the word says that if you love God then you will obey his word, and God will come to make his “home” with you….essentially when I read this I understand it to be that you become the “house of God”  in a much more literal and important way than a building will ever be.

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.

1 Corinthians 6:19 Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own;

Shouldn’t the “house of God” have the “Word of God” inside of it? Isn’t that just respectful?

1643502_orig

As for the money changers…they didn’t understand this concept at all because if they had understood then they would have known that God wanted us to love each other, not cheat each other. Jesus was walking among them in living flesh and they still didn’t get it!

Worthless Prayer

christ_at_the_cross_-_cristo_en_la_cruz
Look at this picture of Jesus on the Cross and the people at the foot of his cross…they are being depicted with the dedication that the Bible shows us they had..suffering the sight of the death of their savior…unknowing that he would rise again. By Carl Heinrich Bloch

Proverbs 28:9  He that turneth away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer shall be abomination.

Read Jeremiah 7, and Jeremiah 11 These chapters illustrate how God feels about people who turn away from Him, then God doesn’t like that person’s prayers. However, God still loves us, even when we are in sin…He will  love us straight to the gates of Hell and if you go through those gates, then God will still love you; but the separation is eternal. I think that permanent separation from God is what hell is actually all about.  (That’s just my personal opinion to be sure.)  

Just as a parent will allow their adult children to do the wrong things, and not approve, and also won’t stop them but still will love them. Even as you read these two chapters everything in them seems very harsh, doesn’t it?  This tells us how much God wants us to show our love to him through obedience to his word.  How much God hates the actions of those who say that they are his people, yet, don’t follow what he says to do.

Now, this is not about being legalistic in how you view God.  There is absolutely nothing that you can do to gain God’s approval besides accepting his son.  However, to accept his son, you also have to accept his son’s “yoke” or his son’s teachings. (Matthew 11:28-30) You cannot accept the blood sacrifice of Jesus and then go on about your merry way as you always have.  If a person has really and truly accepted Jesus as their savior then there will be changes in them.  Now, that does not mean that they are suddenly going to spring forth into perfection…no, but it does mean that they have a change of heart where they realize that they have been doing things that are (as my Pastor is fond of saying) “off the mark” of where they should be.  Another way of saying that they are not on target for what God wishes in their lives.  God is the one who changes the person by the Holy Spirit’s presence within them.

So, how does a person know what God wants of them?  Well, Jesus stated it clearly: (Matthew 22:36-40)

1.) Love God with all your heart, mind and soul.

2.) Love your neighbor as you love yourself.

If you follow those two commandments, then you don’t have to worry about all of the rest of God’s law because you cannot follow those two commandments and still break any of God’s law at all.  That is what Jesus’ taught.

Why is that?  Well, because if you love God, then you won’t disrespect him or any of his creation in any way. That includes yourself and others.

If you love yourself (most people love themselves the most if they are honest…we see it all of the time…), then you want the best for yourself.

The best marriage, best home, best children, best friends, best of everything, right?!!

So it follows that if you love your neighbor as you love yourself, then you will want the best for them also:  The best marriage, the best home, best children, best friends, best of everything, right?!!!

Now, in loving that person you also want them to have the most important thing…the best relationship with God that they could possibly have.  You wouldn’t want that person to have anything bad in their lives, right?!!

This means that in loving them you celebrate with them, and mourn with them as they go through life, and you help them whenever they need it to the best of your ability.

It also means that you recognize that your neighbor may have different needs than you do when it comes to home and family life.  After all, we are not clones of each other.  We have individual desires in many respects, but there is one thing we all have in common on this earth.  It is the desire to have the love and companionship of family and friends.  We all want to be loved, and to be able to tell that we are loved.

Sometimes when we are “loving” others in the Christian way, we end up not so much loving them as “judging” them. We end up telling them what they should and should not do.  Most people have enough people telling them how to live their lives…that is not what they need.  People need the chance to make their own decisions and to realize that they will still be loved.  That is the example that God gives us of loving.

God did not put us in charge of making the rest of the world behave.  He told us to follow him…follow his example of loving others.  God wants us to love people beyond their faults.  Jesus shows us that example time and time again.  He shows people that he recognizes that they have faults, but that he loves them anyway and that he cares about their needs.  God is the one who will work on that person’s faults and bad decisions with them.  We can help them with this, but we cannot condemn them..that is not our job or our responsibility.  We have different responsibilities when dealing with another Christian who we see going astray as we are to correct each other..but for those who do not know Christ we are responsible to simply show them the love of Christ by our love for them and how we live that love out in our lives. (Matthew 18:15-17)

2d05f923f8b04379e1637e9c187cbe94

There is one time that we see Jesus demonstrating some anger to us…the context of that anger is simple…there are people in God’s very house, his temple, who are taking advantage of other people who are coming to worship God.  They are giving them unfair exchanges for their money when they are coming from out of town, and they are charging them unreasonably high prices for the animals that they are buying for sacrifice in the temple.  Jesus actually quotes Jeremiah 7:11 while he is overturning the money changers tables.  Jesus is referring to the time when God proclaimed that empty worship is worthless worship, and telling those who are taking unfair advantage of others that God is watching them and sees what they do.  The people whom Jesus was talking to most likely fully understood the reference…it probably scared them spitless!  They knew that they were guilty in the eyes of God! (Matthew 21:12-13) (Now John 2 calls it a market place and focuses on the disrespect shown to God’s house by buying and selling in it.)

To put this in more blunt and modern terms…if you are just going to church and warming a pew so that you can tell the world how great you are that you go to church…that is worthless in God’s eyes.  If you do not include God in your every day life then your actions of worship are worthless.  God wants relationship with you, that is the way in which God will bless your life the most.  Relationship with God on a day to day basis can get you through anything that happens in your life.  It gives you an inexpressible strength.

Jeremiah Chapter 7 This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Stand at the gate of the Lord’s house and there proclaim this message:

“‘Hear the word of the Lord, all you people of Judah who come through these gates to worship the Lord. This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Reform your ways and your actions, and I will let you live in this place. Do not trust in deceptive words and say, “This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord!” If you really change your ways and your actions and deal with each other justly, if you do not oppress the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow and do not shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not follow other gods to your own harm, then I will let you live in this place, in the land I gave your ancestors for ever and ever. But look, you are trusting in deceptive words that are worthless.

“‘Will you steal and murder, commit adultery and perjury,[a] burn incense to Baal and follow other gods you have not known, 10 and then come and stand before me in this house, which bears my Name, and say, “We are safe”—safe to do all these detestable things? 11 Has this house, which bears my Name, become a den of robbers to you? But I have been watching! declares the Lord.

12 “‘Go now to the place in Shiloh where I first made a dwelling for my Name, and see what I did to it because of the wickedness of my people Israel. 13 While you were doing all these things, declares the Lord, I spoke to you again and again, but you did not listen; I called you, but you did not answer. 14 Therefore, what I did to Shiloh I will now do to the house that bears my Name, the temple you trust in, the place I gave to you and your ancestors. 15 I will thrust you from my presence, just as I did all your fellow Israelites, the people of Ephraim.’

16 “So do not pray for this people nor offer any plea or petition for them; do not plead with me, for I will not listen to you. 17 Do you not see what they are doing in the towns of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem? 18 The children gather wood, the fathers light the fire, and the women knead the dough and make cakes to offer to the Queen of Heaven. They pour out drink offerings to other gods to arouse my anger. 19 But am I the one they are provoking?declares the Lord. Are they not rather harming themselves, to their own shame?

20 “‘Therefore this is what the Sovereign Lord says: My anger and my wrath will be poured out on this place—on man and beast, on the trees of the field and on the crops of your land—and it will burn and not be quenched.

21 “‘This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Go ahead, add your burnt offerings to your other sacrifices and eat the meat yourselves! 22 For when I brought your ancestors out of Egypt and spoke to them, I did not just give them commands about burnt offerings and sacrifices, 23 but I gave them this command: Obey me, and I will be your God and you will be my people. Walk in obedience to all I command you, that it may go well with you. 24 But they did not listen or pay attention; instead, they followed the stubborn inclinations of their evil hearts. They went backward and not forward. 25 From the time your ancestors left Egypt until now, day after day, again and again I sent you my servants the prophets. 26 But they did not listen to me or pay attention. They were stiff-necked and did more evil than their ancestors.’

27 “When you tell them all this, they will not listen to you; when you call to them, they will not answer. 28 Therefore say to them, ‘This is the nation that has not obeyed the Lord its God or responded to correction. Truth has perished; it has vanished from their lips.

29 “‘Cut off your hair and throw it away; take up a lament on the barren heights, for the Lordhas rejected and abandoned this generation that is under his wrath.

The Valley of Slaughter

30 “‘The people of Judah have done evil in my eyes, declares the Lord. They have set up their detestable idols in the house that bears my Name and have defiled it. 31 They have built the high places of Topheth in the Valley of Ben Hinnom to burn their sons and daughters in the fire—something I did not command, nor did it enter my mind. 32 So beware, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when people will no longer call it Topheth or the Valley of Ben Hinnom, but the Valley of Slaughter, for they will bury the dead in Topheth until there is no more room. 33 Then the carcasses of this people will become food for the birds and the wild animals, and there will be no one to frighten them away. 34 I will bring an end to the soundsof joy and gladness and to the voices of bride and bridegroom in the towns of Judah and the streets of Jerusalem, for the land will become desolate.

Footnotes:

  1. Jeremiah 7:9 Or and swear by false gods

The Covenant Is Broken

Jeremiah chapter 11 This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Listen to the terms of this covenant and tell them to the people of Judah and to those who live in Jerusalem. Tell them that this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘Cursed is the one who does not obey the terms of this covenant— the terms I commanded your ancestors when I brought them out of Egypt, out of the iron-smelting furnace.’ I said, ‘Obey me and do everything I command you, and you will be my people, and I will be your God. Then I will fulfill the oath I swore to your ancestors, to give them a land flowing with milk and honey’—the land you possess today.”

I answered, “Amen, Lord.”

The Lord said to me, “Proclaim all these words in the towns of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem: ‘Listen to the terms of this covenant and follow them. From the time I brought your ancestors up from Egypt until today, I warned them again and again, saying, “Obey me.” But they did not listen or pay attention; instead, they followed the stubbornness of their evil hearts. So I brought on them all the curses of the covenant I had commanded them to follow but that they did not keep.’”

Then the Lord said to me, “There is a conspiracy among the people of Judah and those who live in Jerusalem. 10 They have returned to the sins of their ancestors, who refused to listen to my words. They have followed other gods to serve them. Both Israel and Judah have broken the covenant I made with their ancestors. 11 Therefore this is what the Lordsays: ‘I will bring on them a disaster they cannot escape. Although they cry out to me, I will not listen to them. 12 The towns of Judah and the people of Jerusalem will go and cry out to the gods to whom they burn incense, but they will not help them at all when disaster strikes.13 You, Judah, have as many gods as you have towns; and the altars you have set up to burn incense to that shameful god Baal are as many as the streets of Jerusalem.’

14 “Do not pray for this people or offer any plea or petition for them, because I will not listen when they call to me in the time of their distress.

15 “What is my beloved doing in my temple
    as she, with many others, works out her evil schemes?
    Can consecrated meat avert your punishment?
When you engage in your wickedness,
    then you rejoice.[a]

16 The Lord called you a thriving olive tree
    with fruit beautiful in form.
But with the roar of a mighty storm
    he will set it on fire,
    and its branches will be broken.

17 The Lord Almighty, who planted you, has decreed disaster for you, because the people of both Israel and Judah have done evil and aroused my anger by burning incense to Baal.

Plot Against Jeremiah

18 Because the Lord revealed their plot to me, I knew it, for at that time he showed me what they were doing. 19 I had been like a gentle lamb led to the slaughter; I did not realize that they had plotted against me, saying,

“Let us destroy the tree and its fruit;
    let us cut him off from the land of the living,
    that his name be remembered no more.”
20 But you, Lord Almighty, who judge righteously
    and test the heart and mind,
let me see your vengeance on them,
    for to you I have committed my cause.

21 Therefore this is what the Lord says about the people of Anathoth who are threatening to kill you, saying, “Do not prophesy in the name of the Lord or you will die by our hands”—22 therefore this is what the Lord Almighty says: “I will punish them. Their young men will die by the sword, their sons and daughters by famine. 23 Not even a remnant will be left to them, because I will bring disaster on the people of Anathoth in the year of their punishment.” (NIV via Bible gateway.com)

Footnotes:

  1. Jeremiah 11:15 Or Could consecrated meat avert your punishment? / Then you would rejoice

Prayer in Action

golden-wheat-field-1354390133xga2Samuel 24:24 No, I insist on paying for it. I will not sacrifice to the Lord my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing….

Read 2Samuel 24  and 1Chronicles 21 This is the story of David taking a Census of his men against God’s wishes and the penalty of doing so.  This chapter is a good story to demonstrate that when you pray, you must listen to God’s answer, and that sometimes, there is some action you must take for the answer to take place.  Note:  There is confusion in these two verses, but when you realize that in 2Samuel God is angry against Israel then you can see that what is described in 1Chronicles 21 as Satan inciting David to take a census and in 2Sam 24 as God inciting David to go and take a census is simply two ways of saying that God is sovereign and everything that happens is at his control/command…God does have control of Satan also and when God’s wrath burned against the people of Israel he used Satan to tempt David to sin by taking a census of his people.  David always had the option to not yield to temptation, which also would have lessened God’s wrath.  However he chose to go ahead and sin.  Then he had to pray to God for forgiveness to lessen God’s wrath.  God gave him a task to do to show his sincerity of repentance.  Let me be clear…the task is not what gained him the forgiveness…it was simply a demonstration of his sincerity and an obedience to God.  God does not “need” us to do anything, but does sometimes require us to do things…not for the sake of repentance (beyond accepting Christ), but for our own sake so that we can “feel” (for lack of a better word, though faith is a decision that you make, not a feeling that you have) that we have repented or that we have connected closely with God and rebuilt our faith in God.  Everything that God does or asks us to do has one goal….to bring us closer to him…to help us understand him better, and to bring others closer to him and to help them understand him better through us.  God does these things out of his extreme love for us.  After all, he is God why else would he bother with us, if he didn’t love us?!!

For example:  There is a story (not in the Bible) of a man who was living in a place where a flood was coming.  He was warned by the news, but he told his friends and neighbors who were packing up their cars to evacuate that he was going to wait for God to answer his prayer.  He was praying about it and that God would make everything all right.  After a while, the police came by and told him that he must evacuate that the water was rising quickly and he was losing time.  He assured the police that he was praying and that God would take care of the situation.  (I know that sometimes the police will force an evacuation…but this is an illustration.)   More time went by and the water had risen to the point where the man was having to go to his upstairs room.  Someone came by with a boat and offered to let him join them in the boat and get him safely away.  The man answered that he was waiting on the Lord that the Lord would rescue him as he had been praying about this situation.  The man in the boat left.  A couple hours later the man was forced to move up to his roof.  A helicopter came by, and dropped a rope for him, and told him to climb up.  The man repeated that he had been praying and was waiting on the Lord to answer him.  He refused to climb up.  You can probably guess the fate of the man, right?!!  He drowned.  Then he is standing in front of the Lord, and he asked, “Lord, I prayed to you and you did not answer me.  Why not?  Why didn’t you listen to me?”

The Lord responded to the man, “Son, my child…I did answer you, when you first prayed, I sent you the news that there was a need to leave because it was dangerous for you there.  Then when you did not leave, I sent you some police officers to make certain that you saw the authority in the order to leave.  You still did not listen.  So as things became more dangerous and perilous for you, I tried to rescue you once more in the form of a man with a boat, but you refused to get into the boat.  Finally, I sent some other rescuers with a helicopter and they practically begged you to cling to the ladder and be flown out of there.  Son, I made four attempts to show you my answer and provide for your safety, but you were so stubborn that you were only looking for the answer that you wanted.  You were not really looking for the answer I was providing.  I love you and it saddens me that you valued your home more than your life and more than your relationship with me.  That is why you perished.”

Sometimes, we just don’t recognize the answer that God is giving to us.  We are either too stubborn (in wanting our own way) to recognize it, or our prayer life and our relationship with God is taking a back seat to other “idols” in our life.  An idol can be anything in a person’s life which interferes with your relationship with God.  In the illustration above, the idol of the man’s life seems to be his home.

The illustration is an extreme example of someone who the Bible would describe as “stiff necked”.  Think for a minute about what it means to be stiff necked.  I have had a stiff neck at times, and it makes it really hard to look around.  A stiff necked person in spiritual terms is someone who refuses to turn back from their own agenda, and follow God.  There are many times that the people of Israel were called a “stiff necked people”.  Set in their own ways, and unable or unwilling to see the truth that God reveals for them.  Now a days we would call that person stubborn and unyielding.

Think about yourself…is there a time that you have been too stiff necked about what you wanted?  That you haven’t been able or willing to understand that God has answered your prayer perhaps because the prayer’s answer was not what you wanted it to be?  I know that I have had times in my life like that.  Then there may have been times when you take an action to make something turn out the way you wanted it…ask yourself..how did that turn out for you?  I know that for myself the answer would be that it usually didn’t turn out too well.  In the Bible it also didn’t turn out well when God promised something, and then told them to wait upon him….there are many examples of that…King Saul, Abraham and Sarah just to name a couple of examples.

Genesis 16:1-2 Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. But she had an Egyptian slave named Hagar; so she said to Abram, “The Lord has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my slave; perhaps I can build a family through her.”

In the case of Sarai/Sarah she came to regret her decision because it caused her to have trouble in her home and she suffered from jealousy and her slave, Hagar, started looking down upon Sarah.  Sarah tried to rush the God, instead of waiting on him.

This is in contrast to David, who was told to go and make an offering to God.  David had to buy the threshing floor where he was told to make the offering.  How great the temptation must have been to accept the place for free when it was offered.  However, David sets an example to us…if we are going to make an offering to God it should be something that belongs to us, or costs us in some way.

Sometimes we simply need to do something in order for a request to be fulfilled.  If you are looking for a new home, or a new job, and you pray for God to help you with that…you cannot expect the Lord to magically beam you to the new job or the new home, right?  You still have to go out and look for that new home or new job.  God will guide you to the place that will fulfill the desires of your heart.  He actually knows better than we do what the desires of our heart really are in life.

Psalm 37:4  Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.

The key thing about this verse is that you need to delight yourself in the Lord first….that way your desires will line up with the Lord’s wishes for your life and happiness.

IMG_1164

Upholding Man’s Freewill

d9bbe19b9a5fe3ed41db435783f43079

John 8:34-36 Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (NIV)

Read John 8:34-36 and 1 Samuel Chapter 8, Jesus talks about being a slave to sin and how to escape that slavery. The people of Israel wanted a king, so Samuel took it to God in prayer, and God told him to give them a king, and sent him to anoint Saul.  God upholds mankind’s freedom of choice, even when we are wrong. 

Why do you think that the Israelites asked for a King? I mean they already had God personally available to them through his prophets and through prayer. If you think about it, the only thing they didn’t have was the Holy Spirit living within them and salvation through Christ.  However, when Jesus came he died for all who accept him, whether they died before he was born and was sacrificed or not.  

I know, you are say, “How does that work?”  “How could they have accepted Jesus as their savior if Jesus had not been born yet?!!”

I know it seems a difficult concept, but if you realize that God is timeless, and that time is not an issue for Him, then it becomes more easily acceptable.  The main thing is that the Jews were living with the prophets and the prophecies that were being made about the Messiah and they accepted that there would be a Messiah who would come to save them.  Although for the most part they didn’t understand what to expect from that Messiah, and believed that he would form an earthly kingdom in the there and then when he came.  The most important thing is that they had faith that what God said would happen would happen, so they accepted the Messiah, Immanuel – God with Us, would come and save them.  God gave them “credit” for following him and believing in him and his promises.

We are told that God justified those in the Old Testament who followed and believed in Him by their faith.  Habakkuk 2:4 Behold the proud, His soul is not upright in him;
But the just shall live by his faith. (NKJV) and Galatians 3:11 quotes Habakkuk in this to reiterate what is said in the Old Testament  But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith. In Romans 4:3 For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” we are further told that it is faith that justifies not anything that we can physically do for God.  However, to show that we love God we are told that the way to do that is to be obedient to him…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.

7f9f2a89bdff86c08e620e25cc4149e9

 

So now, back to the idea of a King…why would anyone want one?  If you look at all the things that God had Samuel tell the Israelites would happen to them when they got a King it is a daunting list of undesirables.  Samuel was heartbroken about them wanting a King, but God told him that it wasn’t his fault..that the one who was being rejected was God himself, not Samuel who was only God’s prophet.  The person who conveyed God’s words to the people.  

So looking at the Bible we were told that the primary reason the Israelites wanted a King was “so that we can be just like everyone else around us….just like our neighbors”  1Samuel 8:4-5 Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah, and said to him, “Look, you are old, and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now make us a king to judge us like all the nations.” (NKJV)

So if we look at what they are saying, 1) they wanted to be just like the people around them in the neighboring nations, and 2)  they didn’t trust God to provide another good prophet for them.

After all, just because Samuel’s sons were the sons of a prophet and Samuel appointed them to be judges over the people, does not necessarily mean that God would make them his prophets…or let them remain the corrupt judges that they were.  Samuel should have understood that from what happened with Eli’s sons.  They didn’t get to take over for him either…God took care of that situation.  Apparently, Samuel wasn’t any better at parenting and teaching his sons to be honest and Godly than Eli was…they were bribe takers.

Now God, chose Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and the people of Israel to be his people so that they could be different from the nations around them.  He wanted them to be in close contact with Him so that they could be living examples of God’s grace and love to the other nations.  So that they could show the other nations the character of God and bring the other nations closer to God.  God wanted them to trust Him and let Him lead them.

By asking for a King they were failing to trust God in all circumstances.  They were not trusting God for the future…they were trying to plan around Samuel’s sons.   They should have done that by praying and then asking Samuel to tell them what God was going to do about the future when he, Samuel, wasn’t there to lead them anymore.  That would have been the correct response of trust in God.  However, they didn’t and so we have the Israelites distancing themselves from God instead of drawing closer to Him.

God is kind enough to warn them of the consequences of their actions…but they don’t listen.  This is kind of like when a parent tells the kid not to eat too much candy, that it will make them sick to their stomach.  Then allowing the kid to eat too much candy anyway because they keep insisting on more candy.  This is a case of the parent allowing the kid to learn their lesson the hard way.

God was doing the same thing, allowing the Israelites their “freewill choice” of accepting or rejecting God.  He was allowing them to have a King and see that it was just as bad as He said it would be.

How many of us in our various nations are still looking for that next “leader” who will “fix” everything?  I know that my own nation is doing that.  Every time there is an election everyone talks about the candidates and what they are and are not going to do.  Although they are elected instead of appointed, they are still our leader….in a smaller vein we find in work places and churches and groups when things are not going so well that people are more likely to look to finding a new work place, church, or group, or finding a new “leader” for that work place, church, or group, than they are to sit down as a group and pray and look to God to see how the group can be made to be functional and unified and Godly again.  So it appears that it is rather hard to sit in “judgment” on the Israelites in this case, as man has not changed…people are still looking in the wrong place for leadership.  God keeps allowing that, because He wants us to voluntarily without reservation choose to follow him. He doesn’t want servants who are reluctant, God wants his people to love him and obey him because they want to do so!  God does not want people who are obeying him because someone else made them do it, but by their own free will.  The choice is always up to us.

Philippians 4:6-7 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (NIV)

Hebrews 12:2 Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (NASB)

eyes-2

Forgiveness through Prayer

pexels-photo-290951 Samuel 7:3 And Samuel said to the whole house of Israel, if you are returning to the Lord with all your hearts, then rid yourselves of the foreign Gods and the Ashtoreths and commit yourselves to the Lord and serve Him only, and he will deliver you out of the hands of the Philistines.

1Samuel 7:3-10 Samuel told Israel to turn away from the false Gods, and humble themselves before the Lord and ask forgiveness from God and be obedient to God and that God would protect them from the Philistines.  The Philistines came after them, and the Israelites told Samuel to keep praying for God to save them.  Samuel not only continued to pray for them he also made an offering of a lamb.

God heard him, and caused the Philistines (who were the enemies of Israel) to be terrified by thunder and let the Israelites chase them off and kill them. Isn’t the idea of God scaring off your enemies by thundering at them kind of amazing?!! Since God created nature making a little convenient thunder is not a chore for him at all!  

Proverbs 9:10-12 (NIV – Bible Gateway website)

10 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,
    and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.
11 For through wisdom your days will be many,
    and years will be added to your life.
12 If you are wise, your wisdom will reward you;
    if you are a mocker, you alone will suffer.

Note:  The people of Israel were doing wrong and had a crisis which caused them to turn their attention back to God.  Think about occasions when people are far from God, and have a personal crisis in their life (or an emergency situation) which causes them to turn back towards God. 

Isaiah 55:6  Seek the LORD while he may be found; call upon him while he is near. (NASB)

img_0654b

When those crisis occasions come about in a person’s life it is awfully nice if your relationship with God is really close and in good standing.  It’s a case of, “Why wait for a crisis?”  to turn your focus back to God.  Also think about how important it is to be in good standing (meaning have a good close personal relationship or friendship) with God when talking to him through prayer. Think about how you feel about friends who are fair weather friends, and only are nice to you when they want something.  Do you feel like giving that person what they want?  How do you think God feels when we don’t give  him a thought unless we need something? 

Think about God’s overwhelming forgiveness in this story, and how they gained forgiveness through prayer and obedience to God’s command. To get the maximum impact in your prayer life, you must have a good relationship with God.  Just as you must have good relationships with your friends for them to be there for you in your time of need.

This does not mean that you will never have troubles, but that you will never be alone in your troubles.  If you are in close communication with God, then your troubles are easier to bear.

Psalms 119:67-68  Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep your word. You are good and do good; teach me your statutes. (NASB)

Hannah’s Son – Prayer for God’s Blessing

IMG_5655
This is a dress in a window display in a mall I saw on vacation it is made with the pages of books (it was a book store).  It just seems very cheerful, and it kind of gave me a mental lift of our prayers winging their way to God!

 

Roman’s 9:15-16 For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. So then, it does not depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy.

Read 1Samuel 1:10-11 Hannah prayed for the Blessing of a son, and promised God that she would give him back to God for all the days of his life, and his hair would never be cut. God answered her prayer and Samuel was born and given to Eli the Priest at the Temple after he was weaned (1Samuel 1:22, 26-28)  God blessed Hannah with many more children after Samuel. (1Samuel 2:5)  Note that Hannah’s prayer was answered and she was blessed with more children for her faithfulness to her promise.  Hannah’s prayer included an offer of personal sacrifice of the thing wanted most.  Sometimes when a prayer is really important we can fast and sacrifice our meals or give up fun activities in order to honor the seriousness of the prayer.  We do this most often either for healing of someone or ourselves, or during the season of Lent in an effort to experience a small part of Jesus’ sacrifice for us.  Sometimes when a matter of prayer is crucial to you, you feel that just prayer alone is not enough, then it is appropriate to fast so that you can concentrate on God more.

who 3

Read Judges 11  Here is the story of another person who wanted a blessing from God, and made a vow to God.  However, this is a case where there is a lot of controversy.  We can learn a lot from Jephthah’s wild seemingly ill considered vow.  He vows that if God will let him win a war, then he will offer to or sacrifice to God whatever first comes out of his house when he returns safely.

Have you ever made a vow or promise that you wish you had never made?  I don’t think there is a person alive who hasn’t.  I am sure that Jephthah had regrets…as his one and only child…his daughter is the one who first came out to meet him.  Now there is controversy among scholars about whether he actually burned his daughter as a sacrifice, or if she was just offered as in the case of Hannah offering Samuel to God as a servant in the temple, or maybe she was just set aside and never allowed to marry, but stayed in her father’s house.  I am going with the idea that Jephthah was known to be a man of God and knowing that God had prohibited human sacrifice he would never go against God.  (Deuteronomy 12:29-32) After all, he was chosen as a leader of his people by God.  That is why he is mentioned in Judges in the first place.

Also his daughter mourns her virginity and it tells us she never knew a man. So her mourning of her virginity in this case would be the never having a husband and children.  For a Jewish woman of her time, that was a horrible fate to have.  A woman’s worth as told to us in the story of Hannah and many other women throughout the Old Testament was based on whether she could provide sons for her husband so that his lineage could continue.  The same could be said of a Jewish man, having a son was his top obligation.  So much so that if his brother had a wife and died without a son, then he was to marry the widow and raise up a son as his brother’s child so that he would have a son to carry on his line. (Deuteronomy 25:5-6)

So when we see this story of Hannah, she was miserable and she wanted a son to validate her worth.  Jephthah had only a daughter and he, undoubtedly loved his daughter as we can see from his response to her appearance.  Jephthah was someone who had no proper family when he was growing up, and was actually rejected and ejected from his father’s house, so family was probably doubly important to him over others who were raised in a family where their Mother was respected and loved.  Saying this, it seems to me that his vow to God really was a painful burden to him.  As his daughter would not be able to provide him with a continuation of his family line, and she was his only child.

Unlike in the story of Hannah and her son, Samuel, we are not told that Jephthah suddenly started having other children.

So both of these people prayed for a blessing and tried to give something to God in return.  Hannah ended up with the greater blessing, as the scorn she received from her husband’s second wife was abated and she had many children.  The way I feel when I read Hannah’s story is that she is a woman in misery, and is praying for God with all the humbleness of her heart to remove her misery.

On the other hand, when I read of Jephthah, he seems like a person of great pride.  He is a person who is a bargainer.  When his family called him back he bargains with them to become the head of the family if he fights for them and prevails.  Then he offers God a bargain, that he will give God a sacrifice of whatever comes out of his house first if God will just let him win against his enemies.  Jephthah was not miserable in the sense that Hannah was, but he was also looked down upon by members of his family and community.  He was a “can do” type of person, his relationship with God was almost completely different from Hannah’s.  Hannah was a “can’t do anything about it” person.  She was humble and laid her problem out to God.  Jephthah on the other hand probably would have gone into battle anyway, and hoped for the best; but felt that if he offered God something that maybe God would make certain of his victory.

The thing is in both cases, God did bless these people with the desires of their hearts.  Jephthah in the end needed and desired the respect of his family after the way he had grown up.  By offering his daughter to God, he also gained more community respect.  We are told that for four days a year the Jewish girls would go into the desert to lament his daughter’s virginity.  In this case, to honor it, as well as mourn her sacrifice of having no family.  Another thing about not having a son, is that there was no one to care for her in her old age….though, as she was a “living sacrifice” to God I am sure that God made sure she was cared for.  Just as he will care for us if we make ourselves into “living sacrifices” to him. For us to be living sacrifices means that we are living our lives fully invested in following God’s plan for our lives.  We are setting aside our selfishness and our need to control things, and allowing God to work in us.

The thing is that there is nothing other than ourselves that we can offer to God…God does not do bargains.  He listens to our prayers and our repentance of our sins, and he wants to give us the desires of our hearts.  Just like any parent wants to give their children the desires of their hearts….without any bargaining!    God does not bargain…he blesses whom he will bless and he curses whom he will curse.  Generally, he blesses those who love him…maybe not the way they wish to be blessed on the surface, but he gives what the person really needs to help them grow closer to him, and to fulfill their plan.  The thing is we don’t always understand the actual blessing that God has given us when it is given to us.  Sometimes, we have to have time to see it.

Jesus tells us in Matthew 5:33-37 Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’34 But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36 And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37 Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil. (ESV)