Taking Refuge In the Lord

There is a Hebrew word which means “to take refuge” that is consistently translated “to trust” in the King James Version.  There is a difference in meaning between the two ideas. So, you can imagine my surprise to find such a rarity.The word “trust” has a long history signifying a sense of security originally based on the economy (the “haves” had security; the “have nots” didn’t) and then eventually for those devoted to God, on knowing Him who—as we say—owns the cattle on a thousand hills. Knowing that the Lord provides (Jehovah-Jireh) brings a sense of peace.

Even the common term “Peace” (SHALOM) was tied to ones’s health and prosperity, not just a time of no war.  The ancients were tied to the land. They had a natural inclination to rely on natural resources—not the Lord—for any sense of personal security.  National security included an army, whether their own or through an alliance with another nation.

Even with us, devoted to God as we might be, “trust” in God could be just a religious concept that during times of prosperity we do not need to learn.  Our faith in God might be more a belief or a commitment to church than a genuine and necessary dependence on God for sustenance and support.

Isaiah gave these terms new meaning when he tied our trust and peace solely to a relationship with the Lord. This is a lesson often learned in times of want when we are absolutely dependent on God.

You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you. Isaiah 26:3

We also are dependent on certain emotional/spiritual resources like “being loved,” “christian fellowship,” and the “encouragement/support of others to remain faithful to God.” We require these even if our finances are comfortably in order.

So I was surprised to read even in the NIV of Nahum 1:7 the word “to trust” instead of “to take refuge.”

The LORD is good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust in him.

A far better translation would be the NASB:

The LORD is good,
A stronghold in the day of trouble,
And He knows those who take refuge in Him.

The word is found 37 times in the Old Testament and each time the King James Version translates it “trust” when it means “take refuge”

Psalm 91:4 reads in the KJV:

He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust: his truth shall be thy shield and buckler.

but the NIV reads better:

He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.

The NIV reads more naturally, metaphorically calling God’s protection his wings. (Like a mother eagle protecting her eaglets or a hen her chicks.) This is the point: This word speaks of fleeing to the Lord for protection from circumstances that might otherwise harm or ruin us.  The context of both Psalm 91 and Nahum’s prophecy is fraught with danger and trouble.  It isn’t a statement of faith alone that is required here but an action: fleeing to the Lord for protection.  We flee to Him because we trust Him, but flee we must to survive spiritually as well as in any natural sense.

Isaiah 30:1-2 makes this point clearer:

“Woe to the obstinate children,” declares the LORD, “to those who carry out plans that are not mine, forming an alliance, but not by my Spirit who  go down to Egypt without consulting me; who look for help to Pharaoh’s protection, to Egypt’s shade for refuge!” [KJV: to trust in the shadow of Egypt!]

Judah didn’t just hope that Pharaoh would come to the rescue, they didn’t just trust in Egyptian military might to shoo away the Assyrians.  They went to Egypt and formed an alliance, etc.

God wants us to form that alliance with His Spirit, with Him. Trust is a passive idea, while taking refuge for a believer is active: praying, remaining faithful to God, and living a Christ-centric faith: Christian love in action.

You might want to call “taking refuge under His wing” an active trust or active faith. ..and rightly so…

God … is a shield to those who take refuge in him. Proverbs 30:5

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Nahum

The prophet Nahum, scholarship informs, “celebrates the wrathful judgment of YHWH” (the Lord) [against the city of Nineveh].  The second verse uses the Hebrew word translated “vengeance/avenging” 3 times.

The LORD is a jealous and avenging God; the LORD takes vengeance and is filled with wrath. The LORD takes vengeance on his foes and vents his wrath against his enemies. Nahum 1:2



Did God let his anger get the better of him? Did He  flail about in a vengeful, ‘I’ll-get-even-with-them-if-it’s-the-last-thing-I-do‘ rage? Is retribution attributable to God or have we misread the truth?

In Aristotle’s Rhetoric, he philosophized:

“All anger has a certain pleasure in the expectation of retribution.”

Did God feel “good” to get even with a city He once forgave?

I argue, “No!”

How might a God of love, then, explain His decision to destroy the city?

His wrath is poured out like fire; the rocks are shattered before him. Nahum 1:6-7

Perhaps, many Christians share David’s sentiment: Any enemy of God is an enemy of mine.  Our zeal to see sin come to an end is only a reflection of God’s greater zeal to do so.

Do I not hate  those who hate you, LORD, and abhor those who are in rebellion against you? I have nothing but hatred for them; I count them my enemies. Ps 139:21-22



Theologically we may have disregarded the heart of God while showing a greater interest in what His counsel deemed necessary to end the evil that separated us from Him.

In Ezekiel, vengeance correctly includes “comfort”  (Not Aristotle’s “pleasure” but a compassion for one that requires justice to be administered as judgment on another).  [The Hebrew word from which the prophet Nahum gets his name, all commentators agree means “comfort.”]

“Then my anger will cease … and I will be avenged [comforted]. … they will know that I the LORD have spoken in my zeal….” Ezekiel 5:13



The word “zeal” in Ezekiel 5:13 is elsewhere translated “jealous.”  The unfaithfulness of God’s creation has stirred the great heart to action! God has been “zealous” for renewing the relationship with us He shared with Adam in the beginning. God’s creation through idolatrous practices had abandoned the God who gave them life and His pain has been outside our imagination.

In Nahum [Nahum 1:3], God is not “losing it” in rage as much He is “zealous” to come to the aid of His people, Israel.  And this also puts His great heart at ease.  There is a sense in which anger comforts when it is administered as a form of justice.

God’s jealousy, His unrequited love for His creation, drove Him to so much grief that He could not do nothing.  His sole source of comfort was self-comfort.  In Nahum’s prophecy we have in microcosm God moving against such evil to bring to an end the atrocities inflicted on His people by Nineveh. In the larger context, this is the spirit in which God brings salvation and eradicates all evil.

He saw that there was no one, he was appalled that there was no one to intervene; … so my own arm achieved salvation for me, and my own wrath sustained me. Isaiah 59:16; 63:5



Another less talked about point is how much grief God endures before He has had “enough”

I am tired of holding back. Of having compassion Jere 15:6

God’s compassion does not have a short fuse but inevitably He must address sin.  [Psalms 86:15; Lamentations 3:22]

The LORD is slow to anger [but eventually, He must have] His way is in the whirlwind and the storm Nahum 1:3


The Apostle Paul, in referring to this word vengeance in Isaiah 63:4 translated it to mean “justice.” [Hebrews 10:30]  What gives it an avenging character is not because God is getting even. (There is no such connotation with this word.)  It is vengeful because it is intense.  It is full of a pathos, a zeal, that needs to see sin finally dealt with.  It is a matter of justice not rage.  Sharon Baker in her book, “Executing God” (Louisville, KY: John Knox Press) explaining Calvary calls Jesus’ death a “… restoration without retaliation [which] demonstrates the most profound level of justice.” [p. 95]



On the Cross God’s throbbing heart tore at the world with every beat—the guard at the cross saw the earthquake [Matthew 27:54]—not out of vengeance but the co-lateral effect of how intensely God was in the moment. Sharon Baker wants us along with the centurion to look up at Jesus and exclaim, “Surely, God does love His creation!”

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The Heart of the Matter

In reading the story of Jonah in the Bible I was struck by the peculiar emphasis given to God’s compassion toward the city of Nineveh.  At a time when the prophets were preaching  woe and exile in Israel, Nineveh was being shown the gentler side of God. Five of the six Old Testament words for compassion are found here.

 He prayed to the LORD, “…I knew that you are a gracious [Ps 116:5] and compassionate [Ps 145:8] God, slow to anger and abounding in love, [Ps 51:1] a God who relents [Ps 119:76] from sending calamity. …

God”s response: And should I not have concern  [Ps 72:13 grieved] for the great city of Nineveh…? Jonah 4:2, 11


If my reader is waiting for a profound explanation (in 800 words!) they expect too much; for, these words expose the heart of God in dealing with His creation.  And how do we fathom this depth!? It has been noted that trying to define God’s grace is like marking out the boundaries of a lake only to discover that we have come to the immeasurable sea.

  • We know that grace, according to the Apostle Paul, is undeserved favor: For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God. [Ephesians 2:8].
  • We know it is unending:  in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace. expressed in his kindness to us  [Ephesians 2:7].

(Toward sin, He went to war [Colossians 2:15] but toward us He shows His gentler side.)

  • We also know it is relational, something harder to explain since we live in the age of consumerism where gifts are ‘things:’ blessings, healings, financial miracles.  In contrast, the gift of God is ultimately nothing more nor less than the Gift of God HIMSELF. [John 3:16]


But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us [Romans 5:8]. The whole idea of God’s compassion toward us—which we accept through repentance—is built grammatically on the idea of something called the “passive.”  In English, the passive idea means: accepting or allowing what happens or what others do, without active response or resistance.  In other words, whatever happens to us is in no way because of us. The Classical Hebrew language and Old Testament theology do not represent this idea clearly. [Job 34:11; Matthew 16:27; John 9:2] One Hebrew scholar, Gesenius, teaches that grace in Ancient Israel comes to mean a passive idea “in consequence of a looseness of thought.” [Gesenius’ Hebrew Grammar (Oxford, England:Oxford at the Clarendon Press. 1909), 137.]

The Old Testament word for “grace” does not have the New Testament emphasis for the same word, requiring the prophets to replace it with the word Mercy. A study of this word shows that it refers only to God. The New Testament word for “compassion” likewise only refers to Christ and His church.  The Word for “love” [agape] is new to Scripture and is descriptive of who God is according to the Apostle John [I John 4:8]. 2 Timothy 1:9 would sound confusing in Old Israel: For God saved us … not because we deserved it, but … to show us his grace through Christ Jesus.


So what about Nineveh?  Jonah understood.  He was depressed because as he said, “I knew it!  They repent and you, God, go to mush and forgive them!  And they are our enemy!  … Leave me alone to die!!

I come from ‘Nineveh’—and so do you (If you are not Jewish)!

Jonah was invited to participate in God’s grief [our word; concern], to have a glimpse of God’s great heart of compassion and love.  Someday the Apostle Paul would declare this truth as mysterious as it was glorious, when Jesus, God’s Son, would be “…preached among the nations, … and believed on in the world…” [I Timothy 3:16]

Walter Brueggmann, an Old Testament scholar, spoke of “a revolutionary shift in God’s will,” “the language of amazement,” and “God’s radical freedom” to describe this moment to all Jonah’s who still do not get it, that God will show mercy on whomever He wants. [Exodus 33:19]

“When Jesus died on the cross the mercy of God did not become any greater. It could not become any greater, for it was already infinite. We get the odd notion that God is showing mercy because Jesus died. No–Jesus died because God is showing mercy. It was the mercy of God that gave us Calvary, not Calvary that gave us mercy. If God had not been merciful there would have been no incarnation, no babe in the manger, no man on a cross and no open tomb.” [A.W. Tozier The Attributes of God: A Journey Into the Father’s Heart]

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Bored

I’m bored.  I am not depressed, though, perhaps, a tad discouraged.  But I am clearly bored! I wake up around 4:00 each morning and l lie there wondering what I want to do this day of my retirement, but I come up with nothing.

I looked up the word “bored” in the Bible and got this:

But Jehoiada the priest took a chest, and bored a hole in the lid of it…. – 2 Kings 12:9

I found this, though, in the Message translation:

“Instead of honoring me, you profane me. You profane me when you say, ‘I’m bored—this doesn’t do anything for me.’ You act so superior, sticking your noses in the air—act superior to me! … This is God speaking to you! = Malachi 1:12-13

Hmmm!

I’m still bored.  Is it the medication? I got a hormone shot and 20 pills plus my “markers” [injections before radiation for treating my cancer].  I don’t even find the young women on the news particularly attractive anymore.  I do know I love my wife but beside the occasional hug … nothing. [‘nough said.  Too much said!!]

I’m bored.

I don’t want to return to work. Each time I visit any place of business shopping or just cruising stores I am thankful I don’t have to do that for a living.

I am reading a book which is interesting (I have many such books) but I don’t know why I choose this one over the others and when I finish this book, if I finish this book, will I reread another from my library?  I spend time fishing in my study for a good book with no bites.

I got excited about studying the minor prophets—our pastors are into these on Sunday mornings.  So, I decided to study along which is a great idea for a guy like me (a former pastor), but I ran into a road block—my brain cell count.  You see: I study from the classical Hebrew but I am running into new words “up-the-wazoo” and my brain cannot keep up.  (I wish I were at least 20 years younger.)  And there are so many exceptions to some rule of grammar that even the commentators are in total disagreement as to the translation.  Well, that’s that.

I am not depressed.  I still cling to life.  I discovered this about myself this past week while in recovery in the hospital (I had a “procedure” in the O.R.) when my blood pressure nose dived to 60 over 40.  I could feel myself losing consciousness.  I had my finger on the buzzer like in a quiz show and the doctor and nurses were right there to address the situation.  I am O.K.—now—but I didn’t “feel” ready yet to leave this sphere.  I firmly believe that when the time comes God’s grace will herald the glorious moment and all will be peace.

We dropped Netflix …nothing to watch!  There are movies to watch except none that interest me and I am through for now looking down lists.

Facebook?  Social networking?  Not really interested right now.  I watched a little YouTube.  I like the old hymns I find out there.  And I watch old episodes of “Gunsmoke” on DVR, prerecorded. (I used to watch these as a kid with my uncle.) But I delete most of them without watching.

The news!? Yuck!  I get a little bit of news first thing in the morning.  I “catch up” then but I am embarrassed by the childishness that passes for congressional activity these days.

I like  walking but not in the rain or bitter cold. (Guess what kind of weather we have been having?)

There is one thing I enjoy …PEOPLE!  I like talking to the wife and an occasional phone conversation with a friend.  But is boredom contagious? I don’t need to wear out my welcome with them.

Well, I am bored typing and I don’t know what I want to do next ….  Maybe another cup of coffee.

Oh, count the words. there are 666.

I’m still bored.

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Amos

God, through Amos, writes the words to His dirge, [“lamentation” Amos 5:1], which we might be loathe to study because it is so grim.  Israel is seen here as a wasteland, desolate and forsaken.  “Professional mourners” [Amos 5:16] walked the devastation.  There was no hoped for tomorrow described here.

Lying hidden within this sacred text is the message of a heartbroken God.  Amos’ words have relevance to our time and should stir the soul and awaken us to consider its woeful cry. Though dark and foreboding there is much in this prophecy that parallels the current age in a postmodern world; so, we do good to review this book with the heart not just the head, with a look at the pain Israel has caused God through their faithless wanderings into idol worship.  We need to empathize with His efforts to win them back rather than only have an eschatological [book of Revelation] perspective.

God has feelings—deep feelings. He knows jealousy [Exodus 34:14]. And sinful man lacks the empathic understanding to discern the spiritual significance of this at their own peril. But God has shared His thoughts with those of faith who love Him.

Surely the Sovereign LORD does nothing without revealing his plan [in familiar and intimate converse] to his servants…. [Amos 3:7]

So when Amos asked, “Do two walk together unless they have agreed to do so?” [Amos 3:3] God is alerting us to the appointment He has made with His church, as He once did with Abraham, to provide opportunity for us to intercede in prayer for those who are strolling cockily into His crosshairs. The commentator correctly calls this “more than a trivial truth” [Keil Commentary of the Old Testament, vol X. p260.]

In this ancient picture of Israel’s maverick indifference to an impassioned God we see in microcosm the direction and end of all humanity. Amos’ question, “Does a lion roar .. when it has no prey?” [Amos 3:4], is an aphoristic way, perhaps, of alerting all of us to God’s roar [Hosea 11:10].

Amos’ prophecy is a description of a spiritual darkness [Amos 5:20] deeper than the blackness of a sunless earth in the beginning [Genesis 1:2] Here is the record of a people who abhorred God’s correction [Amos 5:10] as though He had no right to His desire to have them back.  His longing after us would inevitably cost Him; for, no effort short of Calvary was sufficient to create a people capable of being faithful to Him.

Amos’ picture was bleak. Israel’s spiritual and political leaders were sprawled out on couches comfortably gorging themselves, banqueting [Amos 6:4].  Thinking themselves like David, who wrote many a psalm in praise of God’s faithfulness and mercy, the wealthy in Amos’ day were composing and singing “frivolous nonsense” tunes [Keil, p300], pure “noise” [Amos 5:23 KJV] as they bragged on about their religious commitments (to idols).  They boasted of their giving [Amos 4:4] and their attendance at the required festivals. They sacrificed leavened meal [Amos 4:5] in violation of the ceremonial law while the poor were dying of starvation [Amos 8:4].  The “cows,” the elite ladies of Israel, demanded of their husbands, “Bring us a tall, cool drink!” [Amos 4:1 MSG] in total disregard for what was happening in the real world outside. And justice could be purchased for a price [Amos 2:6]; she was not blind.

…And what was happening in the heart of God? God resists the proud, now [James 4:6] as then [Amos 6:8].  He lamented, “yet have you not returned unto me” [oft repeated, Amos 4:6, 8, 9, 10, 11].  Then God trumpeted the alarm, “Therefore this is what I will do to you, … Israel, prepare to meet your God.” [Amos 4:12]

How does Israel, or this present age, “prepare” to “meet” Him! I thought the church might have an answer but Amos seemed to discourage dialogue:

Those who are smart keep their mouths shut, for it is an evil time [Amos 5:13 NLT]

“Warnings are of no avail,” interprets the commentator [Keil, p. 284]. The time for talking,  is past?

In a complete or final sense, historically, we are not there yet.  But there are a few for whom our words are meaningless chatter and prayer is the only recourse.

If you think about it: The Bible is the story of God’s, how-be-it, broken relationship with His creation and the pain He carried through the centuries of human history because of it. Mankind was always religious but somehow we needed our props and relics to have a sense of the divine. We were too tightly tied to the physical or natural world (and some through science still are) to understand that God could be accessible through faithful worship of Him and Him alone.

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The Assembly

Hiding in plain site when we read the Bible devotionally are countless nuggets of truth that await that prayerful moment to be revealed.  Sometimes it’s a word; sometimes it is in the language.  And sometimes we might look at the punctuation.

Look at Hebrews 12:22-23:

But you have come to Mount Zion, …. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly….


In the original: assembly is a single word. The original word is not “assembly” but “joyous assembly.” The word speaks to a festive occasion, a celebration where there’s dancing and singing. The translators of the Old Testament into the Greek language used this word in Isaiah 66:10 to describe the Hebrew word “to dance and leap for joy.”

Isaiah descriptively adds: “rejoice greatly.”  The word “rejoice” in the Hebrew suggests a horselike “prancing,” an almost giddy, fidgeting where the participants are too overjoyed to stand still.  The praise of God is on their lips and in their feet!

This in not just an assembly; it is a festive one. It is heaven’s version of a New Year’s Eve at the start of all new beginnings in Christ, a celebration heightened by the appearance of Jesus and the saints of previous spiritual victories.  It undoubtedly highlights the songs of praise to God for Calvary.

Jesus spoke of this excitement among the angels over a single person coming to faith.

In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents – Luke 15:10

How much greater should we suppose their joyous celebration now that the innumerable company of the saints is assembled!  Oh, how we have longed for this moment!!


But who is in this “assembly”?  Are they just the angels?  Or does this assembly include the church? It is not clear who the “angels” are in verse 22.  In Matthew 11:10 John the Baptist is called an “angel” because the word means “messenger”.  If these are the “cloud of witnesses” in verse 1, the saints who have preceded us, dare we expand this group to include the entire (verse 23) “…church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven”?

It is in part a question of punctuation (punctuation is not inspired) whether our word “assembly” is the last word of verse 22 or the first word of verse 23.  If it belongs in verse 23, it is better understood to refer to the church.  If it is part of verse 22, it refers to the thousands of messengers (angels?) in attendance.

So, who exactly is celebrating God’s achievements among His people?


The entire twelfth  chapter is a caution to remain faithful, to be holy, to stay on the straight and narrow even if persecuted. Writing to the church, the  writer’s tone changes to that of a solemn warning when he reminds us of unfaithful Israel’s lost opportunity under Moses.

The writer of Hebrews (may I say, Paul?) rolls back the curtain. We have the privilege here to be in attendance at—from our present perspective—this unimaginable and glorious festivity on Mount Zion in contrast to Israel’s experience (in the Old Testament) at the foot of Mount Sinai on fire.  That scene was so terrifying that even Moses was “trembling with fear.” [verse 21] 


Paul, then, speaking to us,  adds:

 See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks.  … let us be thankful, and … worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, — verse 25, 28.

(We should put this verse on a  plaque hanging on our bedroom wall.)

Be thankful, and …
worship God acceptably
with reverence and awe.

The words reverence and awe take on a more somber tone.


There is no room here for the fear of persecution or shame from living outside a life of holiness.    This is a celebration of the grace of God!

… throw off … the sin that so easily entangles – verse 1


Worship includes service—an idea common in Paul’s writings.  This is not the church service but the church in service—non-compulsory service.  We serve Him because we love Him.


This is a pious fear of God.  Piety, yes!  But also a fear, a respect, a profound acknowledgment of His omnipotent love.  It is a devotion to God resolved to forevermore honor Him.


This word, scholarship says, describes a “repugnance” (a shame) to doing anything that might dishonor God. Our awe speaks to a lasting humility that must never lose sight of what God has done for us.

It behooves us, especially when our faith is most tested or the cross we carry feels heaviest, that we, as Paul began, “run with perseverance the race marked out for us.”

To those who overcome: There is a great victory celebration coming!

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Hosea

When my mom was living in a nursing home there was a certain amount of sorrow that came with each visit. She would beg me to take her out of there, something we all know I couldn’t do.  There were living with her persons she would never meet—dozens of forgotten souls lining hallways or abandoned out of sight and mind somewhere asleep.

I discovered that, as humans, we have a tolerance level for heartache.  When I could, I did visit, but I could understand why some people might depersonalize the elderly and tend to them like one might empty a cat pan. I won’t justify this level of indifference but I can understand how the human capacity to empathize with another’s pain has limits. We sometimes do what is required of us by ethical standards, as an expression of a tearless love, but the ability to ‘feel’ is severely restricted.

When someone’s spouse confessed unfaithfulness to me as a pastor I observed at times a level of suffering for which I was speechless.  One of them might have been called the victim but both were. The path to reconciliation, if one could be found, was probably a long, windy road through harsh feelings, unscheduled confrontations, and not a few sleepless, tearful nights. Adjusting or learning to accept or understand what had happened is a fragmented process, broken promises mingled in with the debris of accusations, fault finding, and ultimatums.  As a counselor I could not feel sympathy as they perhaps hoped I would.  My marriage was not hanging by an emotional thread over this abyss.

Now, this last example, for those astute enough to see it already:  I am talking about Hosea and Gomer in the Bible and they simply are a microcosm of God and the “Children of Israel.”  This was the pastor’s topic in church recently and I want to believe I would have presented the prophet’s thoughts the same as he did. Unfortunately, we anesthetize  the text before operating on it.  We send the Lord’s thoughts to the taxidermist.  Our remarks sound good but there is no life in them, no tears, no agony. Yet the text is overflowing with deep, churning feelings, God yelling out His pain.

As he [the Lord] says in Hosea: “I will call them ‘my people’ who are not my people; and I will call her ‘my loved one’ who is not my loved one,” – Romans 9:25

she is not my wife,     and I am not her husband. – Hosea 2:2

My heart is changed within me; all my compassion is aroused. They will follow the Lordhe will roar like a lion. – Hosea 11:8, 10

No congregation is prepared to ‘feel’ the hurt God must be exhibiting in the original language.  We are probably afraid to profile a prostitute, for one.  We are too ‘holy’ to even discuss such things.  The very nature of the subject is restricted and there are children seating in some of those chairs.

We have also done God an injustice here because a major subject in the entire Bible is the burden of this prophet, of which he now has a personal understanding.  We not only ignore the fact that a lack of faithfulness toward the God that loves us grieves Him, but when we sought a theological description of Him we invented names that fit our interests and desires and not His!  We call Him ‘Jehovah-Jireh’ which was the name Abraham gave to a place not God, while God’s name ‘Jealous’ never made the theology book.

Do not worship any other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God. – Exodus 34:14

There is also a concern that any attempt at describing God’s heart on this subject of idolatry (in any form) has to be done in the spirit God Himself wrote it.  It does not necessarily serve inspiration’s cause when we yell from the pulpit. Volume without the correct passion would not honor the message we purport to herald.

When Israel melted down some jewelry and molded the liquid gold into a calf, idol worship was obvious, but we might have a few people trying to expunge from their daily routine some perfectly good activity.  Maybe some will feel guilty for no reason, which is never good. We have struck a rock we should have spoken to—if you know what I mean.

At least now you know why a forty minute sermon takes all week to prepare.  It has to be slow cooked in an atmosphere of prayer before some truth is tender enough to feed the soul.

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Hidden Treasures

I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you. Psalms 119:11

Many scholars maintain the author of the 119th Psalm is a youth, based on verses 99-100:

I have more insight than all my teachers, for I meditate on your statutes. I have more understanding than the elders, for I obey your precepts.

Beside the blatant disrespectful reference to his elders, the author shows a presumption of holiness that is more the thoughts of a first year bible student than an aged saint.

If a young man had said verse 11, it seems more likely that he expressed his heart’s desire than a principle his experience taught him. If this was David, as many want to believe, his commitment to Holiness—we should admit—was on sabbatical during his dalliance with Bathsheba.

I am not railing on the psalmist but my experience with temptation has taught me that my earlier resolve, as a lad, to live a holy life, to give myself wholly to the Lord’s service, would eventually find the devil challenging it. As a young adult, then a married man, then a father, then a pastor, I had no idea what life had in store for me. I need not confess: I wasn’t perfect in my commitment to sinlessness.

If David did write this psalm and if he wrote it after his affair (which is possible since parts of the psalm suggest later events in his life), if he had lived a while and had a time of introspection along with a little added instruction from Nathan, the prophet, then verse 11 becomes a serious lesson forged, so to speak, in the furnace of a self-imposed misery. Life taught him that saying it was far easier than living it!

But the bigger lesson, now having been there and regrettably done that (whatever “that” means for each of us), is that a commitment to holiness requires first a love for God’s Word. The psalmist thought he loved the Word because he enjoyed singing it and studying it, but he found that he needed to “hid it” in his heart—something an aged saint would have spoken with far more meaning and conviction that a young and arrogant theologian. We used to sing a song in church that began: “years I spent in vanity and pride” Even the children learned this hymn but, for obvious reasons, with far less meaning, far less heart.

We could dissect this verse, learn the meanings of the Hebrew words and study the historical and theological context, but do we really need to? I backed away from such a diagnosis of this verse, for starters, because I couldn’t be sure exactly what the psalmist meant by “your word.” To begin with he didn’t have my bible which includes Paul’s letters and the gospels. Even most of the prophets followed him and if he had the “law of Moses” most of this was ceremonial and probably more oral tradition than written down.

As a youth, if it’s David, he probably sat quietly on some hill side practicing the presence of God while his flock grazed peacefully nearby. His heart never stopped panting deer like after God-even though he lived through some very bad personal decisions.

But I will say that “hid” means to “treasure” because we tend to wisely hid things that we don’t want to flaunt. “Treasure,” though, is a better translation:  treasure and guard. Hiding God’s word means cherishing it.  We don’t hid God’s Word in the sense of not wanting to share or  declare it but in the sense of prizing it above all other possessions.  We also tend to guard what we treasure [same Hebrew word]. Job taught us that we cannot say we treasure or guard God’s Word unless we are also living it!

I have not departed from the commands of his lips; I have treasured the words of his mouth more than my daily bread. – Job 23:12

We are praying: Help me live this truth, Lord! Be my sponsor.  Intervene, intercede, interrupt, however and whatever, in my life that I might learn verse 11.  And now look out! A cry for holiness God takes very seriously!

And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. Matthew 6:13.

We used to warn about praying for patience and then some humbling experience makes us want to die rather than face our public. And the assumption was that God was behind this embarrassing lesson in humility.

What might God do or allow if we pray for the hidden treasures of Psalm 119:11?  Lord, may I love and cherish all you say to me in your written Word and in life that I listen.  I cherish your Word and know that following you is my heart’s cry.  Help me live it out.  Amen.

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Prayer

A distraught and desperate father made his way through pressing crowds to bring his possessed son to Jesus’ disciples for deliverance. They seemed powerless to help.  They had yet to know that spiritual warfare requires a prayer life that knows how to fight.  Little then did they realize the importance of a prayer life that could meet this challenge.

Master, I have brought unto thee my son, which hath a dumb spirit Mark 9:17

When Jesus arrived on the scene, His instructed the helpless nine:

This kind can come out only by prayer Mark 9:29.

There are 8 different New Testament words for prayer and scholarship teaches us that these are all the same prayer, They have varied translation: request, petition, supplication, prayer, .. and even a vow. but

…on the distinction between these words…when all has been said, it will still to a great extent remain true that they will set forth, not different kinds of prayer, but prayer contemplated from different sides and under different aspects.⁠1

Our word here for prayer calls our attention to the spiritual warfare for the souls of men. Scholarship calls our word here: “a pious conversation⁠2with God.  And we are quick to add: in the New Testament is  found, too frequently to be ignored, the phrase:  in the Spirit.     Whether we are seeking God on our own behalf or that of another (after an Old Testament use.)⁠4   this aspect of our prayer life recognizes that prayer is not a matter of words nor is it simply an emotional outlet. Prayer is a spiritual reality we enter into because here we meet with God.

Our christian walk and our faith are the spiritual side of this life and we are not paranoid in knowing that there is armed against us a spiritual opposition.

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. – Ephesians 6:12

And it is because the battle is spiritual, our prayer life must be spiritually empowered. Our prayer for one another is the primary weapon we wield against the foe, the devil.

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. – Ephesians 6:18.

“Praying in the Spirit” is an oft used phrase in a number of epistles which indicates it was already theologically significant.⁠5

The injunction to pray in the Spirit, according to the Apostle Paul, follows on his description of the armor of a believer against assaults of evil.  Dr. J Vernon McGee referred to this as  “lay[ing] hold of God for spiritual resources.” Spiritual warfare requires spiritual praying to have an effective offensive strategy against all that challenges our faith. Paul recognized “the sufferings of this present time” [Romans 8:18] were not to be passed off as just  the price of discipleship.  Suffering impacts faith and it needs to share in our victory with faith.

I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings – Philippians 3:10

Let us also glory in our sufferings, … because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, – Romans 5:3,5

The connection between suffering and empowered ministry is “laying hold of God” in prayer.

There are times perhaps prayer may begin as words we stumble over, burdens we cannot begin to carry.  We are hurting souls whose pain is beyond the reach of all that we think we knew about life. Life’s circumstances seem out of control—but not God’s.  Our  cry has no language.  In desperation we may collapse in tears.  The heart is overwhelmed.  We recognize that we need to meet with God. We need to talk to Him, We must pray in the Spirit.

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes [meets with God] for us through wordless groans. – Romans 8:26.

 

One more thing from the Beatitudes: Jesus’ instruction to his disciples in response to persecution on the day He gave them the secret to their happiness as believers.

“But I tell you, love your enemies and pray [meet with God] for [the benefit of or with regard to ] those who persecute you. –  Matthew 5:44.

This who persecute us are the same who verbally abuse us, ridicule and insult us.  It is not clear if Jesus enjoined us to prayer for them or simply because of them but does it matter?  We are meeting with God to revitalize our resolute commitment to follow Jesus.  And this, too, should be our prayer.

Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. – Acts 4:29

 


1 Richard C. Trench.Synonyms of the New Testament. (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1975) p 19
2 Gerhard Kittel. Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B Eerdmans Publ. Co., 1974). Vol II p 807.
The Hebrew Word for prayer [וָֽאֶתְפַּלֵּ֛ל] the the reflexive means intercessory prayer   Deuteronomy 9:20 And the LORD was angry enough with Aaron to destroy him, but at that time I prayed for Aaron too. Brothers and sisters, pray for us. – I Thessalonians 5:25.
Jude 1:20 praying in the Holy Spirit.  Pentecostals see this as a form of speaking in tongues but “wordless groans” is also a possible description.
I Corinthians 14:15 I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my understanding; I will sing with my spirit, but I will also sing with my understanding.
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Supplications

The word “Supplications” (some translate “petitions”) is found only once in our New Testament but well worth the study. It was said of Jesus that

During the days … on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions [our word: supplications] with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.⁠1

Scholarship calls this word “the olive-branch bound round with white wool, held forth by the  supplicant.⁠2  “…suppliants approached the one whose aid they would implore holding an olive branch entwined with white wool and fillets, to signify that they came as suppliants.⁠3 The olive branch is used to denote a request for protection.⁠4 Another scholar adds, “…approaching the one whose aid they would implore.”⁠5  Supplication is, therefore, the defining moment when the supplicant surrenders unconditionally to one that is sought for their help.  The battle for them is over.  Their resources spent, their resolve to hold on in their own strength now past, they give themselves over to another for protection.

The context of the Savior’s prayer is not only necessary to understand its meaning   but to understand why it is never used in the New Testament in reference to our praying.

Reverend Chuck Smith calls Jesus’ prayer here  “a reference to Jesus’ experience in the Garden of Gethsemane when He wept before God.”⁠6 This is not meant to be a study of Jesus’ passion, but the more we understand His agony, the more we will understand his supplication.  It was as a supplicant He cried “Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me.’⁠7 According to the Apostle John’s witness, His soul was “heavy.”⁠8  John Mark, who might have recorded the Apostle Peter’s recollection, recalled Jesus adding, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.”⁠9

Words fail us here.  The Apostle Matthew recalled that our Savior was in pain and distress.  Jesus’ reaction in that moment seemed desperate to find another way, a plan ‘B’ for our Salvation.  But there was none.  The Apostle John remembered Jesus remarking, “It was for this hour that I came into the world…..”⁠10

This word for “supplication” is not used to signify our prayer life because He suffered so we would never have to suffer for our sinfulness. Jesus came to the end of His resources so that our supply would be infinite and eternal.⁠11

(It is believed by some, including myself, that Jesus’ death was inevitable at this point.  His strength and endurance was spent. His heart physically ruptured on the cross.)  He now collapsed into the Father’s will for our Salvation. He came to the end of His road so that a road would be eternally laid before us to walk down.⁠12  Jesus, as we know, was providing for our redemption.

This does not mean we should not pray for God’s protection or that we should not surrender unconditionally to God’s grace.  We should.  But God’s protection for the believer is a given⁠13 because of Jesus’ death and resurrection.   If we feel that circumstances have made us a supplicant, God would understand that, too. As a supplicant we recognized that our own resources are depleted, our strength exhausted, and our tolerance to suffering exceeded and we now live or die on  an absolute dependence on God.  David adjured,

Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him [LXX 36:7: supplicate Him] ; do not fret when people … carry out their wicked schemes.⁠14


1 Hebrews 5:7.
2 Aeschylus, Eumen. 43, 44; compare Virgil, aen. viii. 116: ‘Paciferaeque manu ramum praetendit olivae;’  κλάδος ἀπὸ τῆς ἱερᾶς ἐλαίας ἐρίῳ λευκῷ κατεστεμμένος – holding an olive-branch entwined with white wool.
The only references in the Old Testament worth looking into do not draw out the meaning of this word as clearly and emphatically as does this reference in the Gospels.
And God speaking to Job scolded.
Job 41:3  (LXX 40:22) Will it [Leviathan]⁠ keep begging you for mercy [make supplication to you]?
Now just what the leviathan is, they’re not quite sure. Some think that it is perhaps a crocodile, some think that it’s perhaps even a dragon, while others think that it perhaps is a hippopotamus with a hefty hide. And so those are some of the opinions.
3 see https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G2428&t=KJV
4 see Gerhard Kittel. Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B Eerdmans Publ. Co., 1974). vol III.. p 297.
5 Joseph Thayers. Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon. (Hendrickson Publishers, 1996) p 301.
6 Chuck Smith. https://www.blueletterbible.org/Comm/smith_chuck/c2000_Hbr/Hbr_005.cfm?a=1138007
7 Matthew 26:39.
8 John 12:27-28.
9 Mark 14:34.
10 John 12:27.
11 Ephesians 2:7 in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.
12 Isaiah 35:8 And a highway will be there; it will be called the Way of Holiness; it will be for those who walk on that Way. The unclean will not journey on it; wicked fools will not go about on it.
13 Psalms 91:1 Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
14 Psalms 37:7.
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