Isaiah Study: Looking Toward the Messiah

In Jewish communities, and many Messianic Jewish groups as well, there’s a tradition of reading through the Torah once a year. The first five books of the Bible (the Law or Torah) are divided into sections called parashot. Those are paired with selections from the Prophets, called haftarot, that link the Torah to events in Israel’s history. All around the world, synagogues read the same sections each week. They’ve been doing this on the same schedule every year since around 400-500 AD.

I already knew about the Torah portions from my time attending with a Messianic congregation, so that didn’t surprise me when I read about it in Reading the Bible with Rabbi Jesus: How a Jewish Perspective Can Transform Your Understanding by Lois Tverberg. But I was surprised to learn this tradition is based on one that’s much older. In 1806, thousands of early Jewish texts were discovered that included “multiple synagogue lectionary lists” splitting the Torah into “150-170 readings, likely taking about three and a half years to complete” (Tverberg p. 195-96). This older tradition read through the Torah just like people do today, but the selected readings from the prophets were different. In the older tradition, the readings are more focused on “a glorious future kingdom and a coming Messianic age” (p. 197).

So what does all this have to do with our ongoing study of Isaiah 40-66? While we can’t know exactly which passages from the Prophets Jesus and His followers heard alongside the Torah in their synagogues (the liturgy readings weren’t standardized until later) we can make a reasonable guess based on the early scripture lists we do have. In those lists, “over half of the prophetic readings came from Isaiah, especially chapters 40-66, which focus on promises of redemption and renewal” (Tverberg p. 199). Those are the same passages we’ve been studying. They’re also passages that Jesus quoted and Paul references in many of his letters (click here for a list of Isaiah quotes in the New Testament).

If you’re familiar with the Servant Song prophecies in Isaiah, the choice of these scriptures to point toward the Messiah shouldn’t come as a surprise. All four of these famous Messianic prophecies come from the last part of Isaiah. Those aren’t the only Messianic messages in the final 27 chapters, though. If you read the first post in this series, you’ll see I made a list of key themes that I want to study more extensively. The list included (among other things) a focus on redemption, deliverance, salvation, and restoration that are connected to the promise that God will call a Servant to redeem His servants. This is also related to God’s covenant faithfulness; the Messiah is coming because God is faithful to His promises.

Image shows an open scroll with Hebrew writing with a quote from Luke 4:16-19, NET version:  “Now Jesus came to Nazareth ... and went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor ... to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’”
Image by Marissa Baker

The Servant Songs

We’ve been talking about the Servant Songs for weeks now, but haven’t taken a close look at them yet. In my first post,  I mentioned you can find these prophecies in Isaiah 42:1–9; 49:1–13; 50:4-11; 52:13– 53:12. I also said these aren’t the only the only prophecies in Isaiah 40-66 and that God’s words in this section aren’t just for people who were anticipating the Messiah’s first coming. They’re also for us today, who are awaiting Jesus’s second coming. We can see that as we look through the four servant songs all together.

First Song

The first Servant Song speaks of the Messiah as a servant chosen by God (Is. 42:1–9). The Servant “will bring justice to the nations” without shouting or raising his voice. This prophecy also speaks of Yahweh (the name God applies to Himself in Ex. 3:15) holding the Servant’s hand and making Him “a covenant for the people, as a light for the nations.” Yahweh affirms this will happen; it’s one of the “new things” He’s declaring in this section of Isaiah. You’ll find this first Servant Song quoted in Matthew 12:15-21, Luke 2:26-32, and Romans 15:12.

Second Song

The second Song is written in first-person; the Servant is speaking (Is. 49:1-13). He says, “Yahweh has called me from the womb” to accomplish reconciliation by bringing God’s covenant people back to Him. Again, Yahweh calls the Servant “a light to the nations, that you may be my salvation to the end of the earth.” This passage speaks of the Servant accomplishing powerful deliverance, backed-up with Yahweh’s power and might. It’s quoted in Luke 2:28-32, Acts 13:47, and 2 Corinthians 6:2. In Acts 13:47, Paul and Barnabas apply part of this prophecy to their work as they follow in the Messiah’s footsteps. This indicates that while the Servant Songs are Messianic (they point to Jesus), at least part of this one can also apply to those following in Jesus’s footsteps.

Third Song

The third song presents the Servant more as suffering than triumphant (Is. 50:4-11). It speaks of Yahweh teaching the servant and giving Him wisdom for working with people. It also speaks of the Servant voluntarily submitting to suffering inflicted by other people, and affirms that “the Lord Yahweh will help me.” Like the second Song, this one is written from the Servant’s perspective and affirms His trust in Yahweh. According to SimplyBible.com’s list of Isaiah quotes, this song is not quoted directly in the New Testament. I suspect, though, that the gospel writers might have had this Song in mind when they wrote about people being astonished at the wisdom and authority of Jesus’s teachings (Matt. 13:54; Mark 1:22; Luke 4:32).

Fourth Song

The final servant song might be the most famous (Is. 52:13– 53:12). It’s certainly the one I’m most familiar with; in my church we read it every Passover. It’s also the Servant song that’s most often quoted in the New Testament (Matt. 8:16-17; Mark 15:27-28; Luke 22:37; John 12:37-38; Acts 8:32; Rom. 10:16; 15:21; 1 Pet. 2:22-25). And that list only includes direct quotes; there are other scriptures, like Christ’s discussion of servants ruling kingdoms, that likely allude to this passage (Luke 22:25-30).

In this Passage, God says that His Servant “will cleanse many nations,” but in the process He will suffer so much His face will become unrecognizable. This is one of the Messianic prophecies that speaks most clearly and graphically of the terrible things Jesus suffered to pay the price for our transgressions. Again, there are themes of justice and light, as well as inheriting a kingdom, but the focus is on the suffering of Messiah and what He means to accomplish with with His suffering.

Image shows two people's hands clasped together with a quote from Matthew 8:16-17, WEB version: “When evening came, they brought to him many possessed with demons. He cast out the spirits with a word, and healed all who were sick, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken through Isaiah the prophet, saying, ‘He took our infirmities and bore our diseases.’”
Image by Jantanee from Lightstock

A Mission of Redemption, Salvation, and Release

In the WEB translation for Isaiah 40-66, the word “redeem” shows up 24 times. “Salvation” is here 19 times and “save” 12 times. “Deliver” is used 12 times. “Help” 10 times. “Restore” is here 4 times, “release” 3 times, and “preserve” 2 times. (These numbers also include related words like “deliverer” and “redeemed”). These words related to God’s work in saving His people show up all through Isaiah 40-66; not just in the Servant Songs. Throughout these chapters, God is focused on the redemption, salvation, deliverance, and restoration of His people. He’s sharing His plans to help, release, and preserve us.

But now Yahweh who created you, Jacob,
and he who formed you, Israel, says:
“Don’t be afraid, for I have redeemed you.
I have called you by your name.
You are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you,
and through the rivers, they will not overflow you.
When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned,
and flame will not scorch you.
For I am Yahweh your God,
the Holy One of Israel,
your Savior.”

Isaiah 43:1-3, WEB

Break out into joy!
Sing together, you waste places of Jerusalem;
for Yahweh has comforted his people.
He has redeemed Jerusalem.
Yahweh has made his holy arm bare in the eyes of all the nations.
All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God.

Isaiah 52:9-10, WEB

The Lord Yahweh’s Spirit is on me,
because Yahweh has anointed me to preach good news to the humble.
He has sent me to bind up the broken hearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives
and release to those who are bound,

Isaiah 61:1, WEB

Passages like these are found all around the Servant Songs, sprinkled throughout Isaiah 40-66. They reveal God’s redeeming purpose and join the Servant Songs in pointing toward the Messiah. Jesus even quoted the passage from Isaiah 61 (with one line added from Isaiah 58:6) when He went into the synagogue to His hometown on the Sabbath day. It appears that He was reading the Torah portion and associated passage from the Prophets that day, and used Isaiah 61 to teach about His role as God’s servant (Luke 4:15-21). The way He read this passage might not seem too startling to us, but by saying that He’s fulfilling this prophecy Jesus boldly proclaimed Himself as the Messiah. It was such a startling claim that His hearers were “filled with rage” and threw him out of town (Luke 4:22-30).

If you read through Isaiah 40-66, you’ll see God is talking about deliverance on multiple levels. He’s speaking to Ancient Israel at the time, promising deliverance from captivity. He’s also pointing to a time when the Messiah would come with spiritual deliverance from sin–that’s what happened when Jesus came to this earth and died for us. On top of that, God’s revelations at the end of Isaiah look farther forward to a time when the entire world will be renewed and restored.

A New Thing

Image of a woman looking down a railway track holding a Bible. It is overlaid with the blog's title text and the words "Just as the Jewish people of Jesus's day looked for a Messiah and focused on prophecies of His first coming, we today can eagerly look forward to 
His second coming.
Image by Kristen McDow from Lightstock

It’s fascinating to see links between the New and Old Testament. Studying these patterns gives us a deeper appreciation for the Bible and a deeper understanding of Jesus. Sometimes, though, it might not seem all that relevant today since the prophecies are already fulfilled. But we can still learn from them, and not all of them are entirely done yet. Just as the Jewish people of Jesus’s day looked for a Messiah and focused on prophecies of His first coming, we today can look forward eagerly to His second coming. Let’s take another look at the end of the first Servant Song prophecy.

“I am Yahweh.
    That is my name.
    I will not give my glory to another,
    nor my praise to engraved images.
Behold, the former things have happened
    and I declare new things.
    I tell you about them before they come up.”

Sing to Yahweh a new song,
    and his praise from the end of the earth,
    you who go down to the sea,
    and all that is therein,
    the islands and their inhabitants.

Isaiah 42:9, 10, WEB

While the Servant Song seems to wrap up in verse 9 (though Yahweh also discusses “my servant” in verses 18-19 while rebuking those who trust in false gods), a new song continues in verse 10. It’s the first time in this part of Isaiah that God directly states He’s doing something new and exciting. As we’ll see more thoroughly in next week’s post, this “new thing” that He’s doing with the Messiah is the beginning of a larger project to make all things new.

We’re still waiting for the complete fulfillment of the Messianic prophecies in Isaiah. Reading God’s promises to send the Messiah back to redeem us mightily, establish His kingdom, and complete His “new” work can still encourage us as we await Jesus’s return.

Featured image by Inbetween from Lightstock

Isaiah Study: God is Incomparable and Irreplaceable

Last week, I started studying Isaiah 40-66. These are the last 27 chapters of the book, and they record an extended dialog where God speaks candidly about His feelings, desires, and plans. In this passage, He revealed His plans for ancient Israel’s immediate future at the time, for the Messiah’s coming (included the four famous Servant Song passages), and for events that are still in the future for those of us reading Isaiah today.

If you go back and read last week’s post, you’ll see I made a list of key themes that I want to study more extensively in this section of scripture. The list included (among other things) God’s defense of His reputation and His power to achieve all He’s promised. Another related point is that God is incomparable and sovereign, so trying to replacing Him with idol worship is foolish.

God shows so much emotion in this section of scripture, and much of it is related to the topic of who He is and how people ought to relate to Him. He’s angry and heartbroken when His people turn away, cutting off contact with Him. He’s confused by Israel’s forgetfulness about all He’s done in the past. He wants them to see Him for who He is and give up their foolish attachment to gods made from wood and stone. Though some of the specific wording is closely connected to Israel of Isaiah’s day, the passages also hold meaning for us today. The specifics of our struggles might be different but we’re not immune from developing an inaccurate view of the Lord.

Mi Chamocha

After God parted the Red Sea in Exodus, Moses and Miriam led the people in a song of joy that includes these words: “Who is like you, Yahweh, among the gods? Who is like you, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders?” (Ex. 15:11, WEB). In Hebrew, “who is like you?” is mi chamocha (which is where we get the names Michael and Michelle). You can hear parts of this Hebrew prayer in The Prince of Egypt’s soundtrack (click here for lyrics with a translation; click here for the song).

As I read through Isaiah 40-66, the phrase mi chamocha kept coming to mind. In the Exodus song, the question, “Who is like you, Lord?” is a rhetorical one. The answer should be obvious when we look at His creation and marvelous miracles, such as rescuing Israel from Egypt–there’s no one who can compare to the Lord. Many years later, though, the descendants of those people who once sang mi chamocha aren’t so sure of the answer. And so God asks a series of questions near the beginning of the passage we’re studying in Isaiah.

Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand,
and marked off the sky with his span,
and calculated the dust of the earth in a measuring basket,
and weighed the mountains in scales,
and the hills in a balance?
Who has directed Yahweh’s Spirit,
or has taught him as his counselor? …

To whom then will you liken God?
Or what likeness will you compare to him? …

“To whom then will you liken me?
Who is my equal?” says the Holy One.

Isaiah 40:12-13, 18, 25, WEB

Isaiah’s readers–past and present–need this reminder. In our modern world, it’s easy to forget how awe-inspiring God is. We’re jaded, tired, and distracted; often out-of-touch with the marvels of God’s creation and forgetful of His wonderful works. We need reminders of our insignificance and God’s mighty power (Is. 41:14-20). Yet like Isiah’s first audience, we’ve already witnessed God’s goodness. Now we need to remember it and worship Him accordingly, recognizing that there is no other god (Is. 43:10-13; 44:6-8; 46:5-11; 63:7-14; 64:4).

Image of a woman worshiping with her arms raised and a quote from Isaiah 42:8, WEB version: “I am Yahweh. That is my name. I will not give my glory to another, nor my praise to engraved images.”
Image by Ruby-Rose from Lightstock

Foolish Idolatry

When we turn away from God and put something else in His place, we’re guilty of idolatry. In ancient Israel’s case, this often took the form of literally worshiping other gods. My guess is that most of you reading this today aren’t tempted to carve a block of wood into a shape and bow down to it. Our idolatry temptations are more subtle. They’re still there, though, and it’s still important to be careful of them. The Apostle John makes this clear with the final admonition of his first letter: “Little children, keep yourselves from idols” (1 John 5: 21).

God’s feelings about idolatry take up huge parts of Isaiah 40-66. He keeps coming back to this topic. He seems genuinely puzzled by how a people to whom He’s revealed Himself and who’ve seen Him work wonders could turn from Him and bow down to images they made themselves. It’s simply absurd.

Everyone who makes a carved image is vain.
The things that they delight in will not profit.
Their own witnesses don’t see, nor know, that they may be disappointed. …

No one thinks,
neither is there knowledge nor understanding to say,
“I have burned part of it in the fire.
Yes, I have also baked bread on its coals.
I have roasted meat and eaten it.
Shall I make the rest of it into an abomination?
Shall I bow down to a tree trunk?”

Isaiah 44:9, 19, WEB

God is a logical, rational being and He gave humans the ability to think that way, too. Sometimes, though, understanding is clouded to the point that people can’t even figure out that the same wood they cook their food over doesn’t turn into a god just because someone carved it into a shape.

Over and over God and Isaiah come back to the topic of idolatry, challenging their readers to think about what they’re doing (Is. 44:9-20; 46:5-7; 57:3-11). If people really realized who and what God is, they’d know they could never replace Him. As such, proving who He is and that He’s the one responsible for what happens to His people is a key part of God’s purpose in this section of scripture. He even says one of the main reasons for prophecy is to disprove idols.

I have declared the former things from of old.
    Yes, they went out of my mouth, and I revealed them.
    I did them suddenly, and they happened.
Because I knew that you are obstinate,
    and your neck is an iron sinew,
    and your brow bronze;
therefore I have declared it to you from of old;
    before it came to pass I showed it to you;
    lest you should say, ‘My idol has done them.
    My engraved image and my molten image has commanded them.’

Isaiah 48:3-5, WEB

God is all-powerful. He created everything that exists and He determines the shape of the future. We can rest assured that, just as He accomplished His purposes in the past, so He will bring His future plans to pass as well. And if we ever start losing sight of Who God is and wondering if He has the power to follow-through on all the things He’s promised, we can come back to passages like Isaiah 40-66 for reassurance and reminders (Is. 41:20; 45:7; 46:9-10; 55:8-17; 59:1).

Image of a man praying while studying and a quote from Isaiah 49:23, 26, WEB version: “Then you will know that I am Yahweh; and those who wait for me shall not be disappointed.” ... “Then all flesh shall know that I, Yahweh, am your Savior and your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob.”
Image by WhoisliketheLord Studio from Lightstock

God is Incomparable and Sovereign

Have you ever noticed how much the Bible talks about names? That’s because names in Hebrew culture are connected to a person’s reputation. In an Eastern society, like the one where the people in the Bible lived, family connections, honor, and reputation are extremely important (for more on this topic, see Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes by E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien and Reading the Bible with Rabbi Jesus by Lois Tverberg).

God uses this cultural trait to emphasize how much He cares about the way people perceive Him. It is vitally important to Him that we remember who He is and realize that nothing and no one can compare to Him. Notice these words in part of God’s commission to Cyrus that’s recorded in these final chapters of Isaiah:

I am Yahweh, and there is no one else.
Besides me, there is no God.
I will strengthen you,
though you have not known me,
that they may know from the rising of the sun,
and from the west,
that there is no one besides me.
I am Yahweh, and there is no one else.
I form the light
and create darkness.
I make peace
and create calamity.
I am Yahweh,
who does all these things.

Isaiah 45:5-7, WEB
Image of a smiling woman worshipping with the blog's title text and the words "God’s reputation in our eyes affects our relationship with Him. The more we accurately we see Him, the more properly we relate to and respect Him. "
Image by Pearl from Lightstock

What people think of God doesn’t change who He is; He is the sovereign Lord and creator of all things whether humans believe it or not. Still, He cares about how people–especially His people–view Him. He puts His name on us and tells us not to misuse that Name (Ex. 20:7; Num. 6:27). His reputation in our eyes affects our relationship with Him; the more accurately we see Him, the more properly we relate to Him.

“Listen to me, O Jacob,
and Israel my called:
I am he.
I am the first.
I am also the last.
Yes, my hand has laid the foundation of the earth,
and my right hand has spread out the heavens.
when I call to them, they stand up together.

Isaiah 48:12-13, WEB

The world is full of distracting and worrisome things. That’s true for us today just as it was true in Isaiah’s day. We battle things that vie for our attention and hearts, offering to fill our time with comforting distractions rather than what really matters. We also hear and see constant reminders that the world is violent, unstable, and full of threats to our security and way of life.

God’s word cuts through that whole thick pile of distractions and worries like a sharp blade. How could we spend time in useless distractions when the Creator of the universe wants to speak to our hearts? How could we waste our time worrying about “what ifs” when the all-powerful Lord says He will deliver and preserve us?

God is incomparable and irreplaceable. Who is like the Lord? Only He Himself. There’s no one who can compare and nothing which can replace Him. We need to remember that. It will help keep our hearts in the right place and our eyes on the goal of eternal life with the Lord.

Featured image by Inbetween from Lightstock

Hearts of Shalom: Nothing Missing, Nothing Broken

I had a completely different post planned for today, but then I started looking more closely at 2 Chronicles 16:9 on Wednesday (it’s Day 19 of the Double-Minded scripture writing list that I brought up in last week’s post) and I just had to keep studying it. Here’s that verse in a few different translations to start us out:

“For Yahweh’s eyes run back and forth throughout the whole earth, to show himself strong in the behalf of them whose heart is perfect toward him.” (WEB)

“Certainly the Lord watches the whole earth carefully and is ready to strengthen those who are devoted to him.” (NET)

“For the eyes of Adonai move here and there throughout the whole earth, to show himself strong on behalf of those who are wholehearted toward him.” (CJB)

“For the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him.” (NIV)

2 Chronicles 16:9

I think it’s fascinating to realize God is actively looking to be strong in and on behalf of certain people. The description of those people is what I want to focus on today. Even though I’ve looked up the Hebrew words used here before I hadn’t really thought that deeply about what they mean, and I’ve found studying deeper into this topic of “perfect” hearts both fascinating and encouraging.

A short Hebrew study

As you can see, the description of the people who catch God’s eye is translated in several different ways–“them whose heart is perfect,” “those who are devoted to him,” “those who are wholehearted toward him,” and “fully committed to him” (and there are even more in other translations). In Hebrew, the word “heart” is leb or lebab, and it is “the richest biblical term for the totality of man’s inner or immaterial nature” (Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, entry 1071a). While leb can just mean the muscle that pumps blood through your body, in a context like this it means your inner person, mind, emotions, will, understanding, and soul (BDB lexicon, H3824). It’s because this word encompasses so much of our minds, wills, and natures that I think “whole-hearted” is the opposite of “double-minded.”

Though “heart” is a fascinating study, it’s the “wholeness” part that caught my eye this time. The word that’s behind the translators’ decision to use words like “whole,” “perfect,” “devoted,” and “committed” is shalem (H8003). If that looks a lot like shalom (the Hebrew word for peace, H7965), it should. They are both part of the same word family derived from the root sh-l-m (TWOT, 2401). Shalom is used most often (over 250 times); shalem is an adjective form used 26 times.

Of all those times that shalom is used in the Bible, it only means “absense of strife” about 50-60 times (TWOT, 2401a). Far more often, it means something that a single English word like “peace” is woefully inadequate to express. Trying to fix this problem, the King James Version used about 30 different words in the Old Testament to translate shalom.

The root meaning of the verb shālem better expresses the true concept of shālôm. Completeness, wholeness, harmony, fulfillment, are closer to the meaning. Implicit in shālôm is the idea of unimpaired relationships with others and fulfilment in one’s undertakings.

TWOT by Laird R. Hariss, Gleason L. Archer, Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke, entry 2401

My favorite short version of a definition for shalom is one I’ve heard used by a Messianic rabbi. Shalom is wholeness–nothing missing, nothing broken. That’s the kind of heart that God creates in us (filling in the missing things and healing the brokenness) and which He is looking for as His eyes roam the earth.

Hearts of shalom

All the times when shalem is paired with “heart” are found in discussions of Israel’s kings. As you read through the books of Kings and Chronicles (and one verse in Isaiah), you’ll see phrases like “his heart was not perfect with Yahweh his God, as the heart of David his father” (1 Kings 15:3, WEB) or sometimes “the heart of Asa was perfect all his days” (2 Chron. 15:17, WEB). Once, when talking about Amaziah, there’s even the curious phrase, “He did that which was right in Yahweh’s eyes, but not with a perfect heart” (2 Chr. 25:2, WEB). Apparently, you can “do what’s right” without actually being wholehearted (which makes sense when we think of the hypocrisy that the Jesus called-out the Pharisees on because they “say and don’t do“).

I find all this fascinating. First, I’m puzzled why a shalem heart is only used in very specific contexts. It’s used by a king talking to the next king (1 Chr. 28:9), the people in relation to a king (1 Chr. 12:38), a king instructing the people (1 Kings 8:55, 61; 2 Chr. 19:9), those keeping records about kings, or a prophet speaking to a king, which is where we started this post. Even David, the man after God’s own heart who was held up as the exemplar of what it meant to be a king with a perfect heart, doesn’t pair shalem or shalom with leb in his psalms (at least not in the same verse, see Psalm 4:4, 8 and 37:4, 11, 31, 37).

Still, though the use of this phrase is limited to one particular section of the Bible, we can see the benefits of having a whole, perfect, and complete heart. There’s great value in cultivating a relationship with God where nothing’s missing or broken. He wants that from kings serving Him, and Revelation tells us that God intends for us to become kings and priests (or in some translations a kingdom of priests; Rev. 1:6; 5:10). We might not be ruling monarchs of ancient Israel, but God still wants us to have hearts like David’s.

Characteristics of David’s heart

Though David doesn’t link hearts and peace directly, he does write extensively about the heart’s relationship with God. Since we know he had a shalem heart, reading his writing on hearts can help us develop hearts like this as well. According to the psalms, a heart like David’s is …

That’s quite a list. And this wasn’t even a super in-depth study (I ran out of time to study this topic any more before today’s post)–just a search on MySword Bible app for psalms attributed to David that mention “heart.” Still, it gives us a fantastic starting point for developing hearts that are whole, perfect, and complete in their relation to God. I also find it really encouraging that it’s David who’s held up as an example for us to follow. God doesn’t need to start with perfect people in order for us to have whole hearts with “nothing missing, nothing broken.” David was far from perfect–he even killed the husband of the woman he committed adultery with–and yet God still loved Him and kept working with him after David repented and asked for a clean heart.

If God didn’t give up on David, then I know He’s not going to give up on me. And He’s not going to give up on you. We just need to make sure we don’t give up on ourselves either and keep coming back to God, cultivating a heart that’s wholly focused on Him. Then, God will make sure to give us hearts full of shalom.

Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope, in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Romans 15:13, WEB

Featured image by Prixel Creative from Lightstock

Called by the Name of the Lord

Jesus’s prayer in John 17 gives us insight into where His mind was right before His crucifixion. If you’re reading this article the day I posted it, then today is the 14th day of the first Hebrew month–the anniversary of Jesus’s death. Following His instructions, we observed Passover last night in remembrance of Him.

The whole of Jesus’s prayer is an excellent thing to read this time of year, but for today’s post we’re focusing on the four times Jesus talks about His Father’s name. Here are those verses (click here to read them in context).

“I have revealed your name to the men you gave me out of the world. They belonged to you, and you gave them to me, and they have obeyed your word. …

“I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them safe in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one just as we are one. When I was with them I kept them safe and watched over them in your name that you have given me. …

“I made known your name to them, and I will continue to make it known so that the love you have loved me with may be in them, and I may be in them.”

John 17: 6, 11-12, 26, NET

There are two key points here: 1) Jesus revealed the Father’s name–who He is, what He is doing, and how to know Him (since in Hebrew thought, names have to do with character and reputation as well as identity). 2) Jesus kept His disciples safe in the Father’s name, and asked His Father to continue keeping them “safe in your name.” The first marked a deeper level of intimacy with God that’s available to New Covenant believers. The second continued a tradition going back to the Torah.

People Belonging To God

Numbers records a specific blessing the Lord gave to Moses and told the priests to use (click here to read my post about the Aaronic Blessing). After the text of the blessing, God says, “So they will put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them” (Num. 6:27, NET). The reason God stated for the priests blessing Israel like this was to put His name on them.

God’s name is used to identify His people and claim them as His throughout scripture. In 2 Chronicles 7:14, He describes them as “my people, who are called by my name” (WEB). Isaiah 43:6-7 talks about God gathering “everyone who is called by my name” (WEB). Jeremiah speaks of himself as someone “called by your name, Yahweh, God of Armies” (Jer. 15:16, WEB). We don’t use this phrase much in modern English, so another way to think of this idea is as us “belonging to” God (that’s the translation the NET uses).

There are incredible blessings in belonging to God. And, as James points out in Acts 15:13-21 (quoting Amos 9:11-12), God can choose to call anyone by His name who turns to Him. It’s not just a specific nation that gets to receive this blessing; even in the Old Testament people outside Israel were allowed to become people of the Lord, and the invitation is even more open now that Jesus came bringing salvation for all who will believe in His name (John 3:16-18; 20:31).

Oneness

There’s an incredible blessing of belonging that comes with knowing God’s name and being kept in His name. Jesus “gave the right to become God’s children, to those who believe in His name” (John 1:12, NET). We who have received God’s spirit get to call Him by the name, “Abba! Father!” (Rom. 8:15, NET). There’s family, belonging, and unity found in knowing and being known by God by name. Indeed, Jesus talks about that in His prayer as well.

“Holy Father, keep them safe in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one just as we are one. …

“The glory you gave to me I have given to them, that they may be one just as we are one—I in them and you in me—that they may be completely one, so that the world will know that you sent me, and you have loved them just as you have loved me. …

“I made known your name to them, and I will continue to make it known, so that the love you have loved me with may be in them, and I may be in them.”

John 17:11, 22-23, 26, NET

Jesus asked for unity–oneness–among the people called by the name of the Lord. That request is backed-up by the power of His Father’s name. It also contains a promise of oneness between us, Jesus, and our Father. Being called by God’s name means we are part of the family.

The Place for His Name

As I was studying the phrase “called by My/the Lord’s name,” several passages in Jeremiah caught my eye. God keeps referring to the “house, which is called by my name” (WEB), also translated “this temple I have claimed as my own” (Jer. 7:11, NET. See also Jer. 7:30; 32:34; 34:15-16). All these passages talk about Israel breaking covenant and defiling a place where God put His name. Today, we are that place.

Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you? If someone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, which is what you are.

1 Corinthians 3:16-17, NET

We belong to God. He puts His name on us, entrusting us with the reputation of His family as we carry His name into the world. There are incredible blessings associated with that, and also a lot of responsibility. Nothing we do can change who God is (e.g. His goodness and holiness don’t depend on anything we do). But as people called by God’s name, we can affect how other people see Him. Every time we say we’re “Christian,” we identify ourselves with the name of Jesus Christ and the way we live tells people something about Him.

Also, though it’s easy to forget because being Christian becomes such a familiar thing to us, we tell ourselves something about our faith when we identify as belonging to Jesus and the Father. We ought to live with a mindfulness of what it means to carry God’s name, to know His name, and to be kept safe in His name. Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Chag haMatzot) serve as a yearly reminder of that.

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Shine! Let the Light Come Into Your Life

The word began with darkness overcome by light. Millenia after that, Light once again entered a world that had become dark and chaotic to start another great transformation–a recreation that will ultimately result in God’s kingdom being fully present here on earth. The opening sections of Genesis and John’s gospel both describe God as an active creator bringing light into darkness, and they talk about that action as profoundly meaningful. The contrast between light and darkness, and God’s role as Light, is mentioned again and again in scripture from psalmists and prophets to New Testament letter writers.

If you’ve ever had the power go out at night and couldn’t find a candle or flashlight, or been in a cave and turned out the lights to experience the profound blackness of being underground, then you know what a relief it can be to have light suddenly available when you’d been in darkness. But you might also know that light can hurt, such as when you step outside into blindingly bright sunlight or you’ve been half-dozing in a dark room and someone walks in and flips the light switch. In many ways, this is also how Light works on a spiritual level. We’ve all been in spiritual darkness, some longer or darker than others but all characterized by a separation from God. He’s in the business of bringing light to darkness, though, and when He enters our lives with Light it can be a relief, a shock, or both.

“Let There Be Light”

In the beginning there was formless emptiness, darkness, and chaos. Then God said, “Let there be light.” There’s depth to that phrase even in English, and it gets a whole lot deeper when we look at the Hebrew. First, right before God calls light into existence, the Hebrew word used in the creation story for water changes from “watery deep” (tehom, chaotic abyss, salty ocean) to “water” (mayim, general word for life-giving water). Then, “the first thing God does is correct the darkness; without light there is only chaos” (NET footnotes on Gen. 1:1-3). There’s also wordplay in the Hebrew so that “let there be” expresses “both the calling into existence and the complete fulfilling of the divine word” (NET). It’s a profound transformation accomplished by God speaking Light.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was fully God. The Word was with God in the beginning. All things were created by him, and apart from him not one thing was created that has been created. In him was life, and the life was the light of mankind. And the light shines on in the darkness, but the darkness has not mastered it.

A man came, sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify about the light, so that everyone might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify about the light. The true light, who gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.

John 1:1-9, NET

Light and dark, order and chaos, life and death. The contrasts are sharp between what God offers and any other option available in this world. And just like God spoke light into existence at the beginning, so He’s offering to speak light into our lives today. The Word–the Light–“took up residence among us,” and those who come to Him will be God’s children (John 1:10-14). That’s just as true now as it was for all of Bible history.

Children of Light

One of the most well-known passages in the Bible is John 3:16. Keep reading after that verse, and Jesus talks about how He was sent to save the world and that people are condemned (or not) based on whether they believe in Him (John 3:16-18). Then, He talks about light.

Now this is the basis for judging: that the light has come into the world and people loved the darkness rather than the light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil deeds hates the light and does not come to the light, so that their deeds will not be exposed. But the one who practices the truth comes to the light, so that it may be plainly evident that his deeds have been done in God.

John 3:19-21, NET

When I read this, I think of that fantasy/sci-fi trope of having nasty, skulking, dangerous creatures that want to eat you being unable to walk in sunlight (think vampires, fyrnocks from Star Wars Rebels, and Tolkein’s goblins). Light can be scary and even painful for the sort of people we are apart from God. Even after we’ve started following God, I dare say most of us have felt that urge to shy away from His light and try to hide the more shameful parts of ourselves. But even if we’re scared, deep down the truest version of ourselves is not the sort of thing that light kills. God’s light only burns away the things that don’t fit with who we’re truly meant to be–people made in the image of God with glorious potential to be just like Him one day.

for you were at one time darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live like children of light—for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness, and truth—trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord.

Ephesians 5:8-10, NET

Arise! Shine!

If we want to live as children of light, we need to be the sort of people who come to the Light. That’s just another way of saying we need to believe in and follow Jesus, who said “I am the light of the world! The one who follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12, NET). It’s impossible to understate the importance of this idea; it’s at the center of the gospel.

Now this is the gospel message we have heard from him and announce to you: God is light, and in him there is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him and yet keep on walking in the darkness, we are lying and not practicing the truth. But if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.

1 John 1:5-7, NET

As I write this , we’re about a week away from Passover–the day commemorating Jesus’s sacrifice and the renewing of our commitment to follow Him. Before that day, Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 11 to examine ourselves. Here, in these verses about light, we have a question we can ask as part of that: “I say that I’m walking with Christ, but is my life more reflective of His light or the world’s darkness?” If we can’t honestly answer that we’re walking in the light, then we need to change some things.

Arise! Shine! For your light arrives!
The splendor of the Lord shines on you!
For, look, darkness covers the earth
and deep darkness covers the nations,
but the Lord shines on you;
his splendor appears over you.

Isaiah 60:1-2, NET

I don’t know about you, but it often feels like there’s chaos and darkness pressing in on me, and I certainly see it filling up the world. But there’s good news! Our God is light. We can choose to walk in His light, and as we do the blood of Jesus covers our sins. We are not helpless victims of the darkness. We’ve been rescued and empowered. We get to shine, like Jesus does, because we’re sharing His light.

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Fighting on the Battlefield of Forgiveness

Last week’s post was about how much God wants to forgive us. This week’s is about how much we need to forgive each other. There are plenty of Bible verses about this topic and so, like most Christians, I knew how important forgiveness is before writing this post. But something Paul said in one of his letters made me want to take a closer look at the subject.

The reasons Paul gives for forgiving someone in the Corinthian church provide us with a compelling reason for forgiving others. I’d never thought about forgiveness being a key part of spiritual warfare before, but I do now. Whether or not we choose to forgive is one of the things that determines whether Satan gets an advantage over us, or we get an advantage over him by drawing closer to God.

Don’t Give an Advantage to Satan

For background, in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, he told them they needed to put a man out of their church who was actively engaging in sexual sin (1 Cor. 5). Now, in the second letter, Paul has heard that this man repented and Paul tells the church to forgive him and accept him back.

This punishment which was inflicted by the many is sufficient for such a one; so that on the contrary you should rather forgive him and comfort him, lest by any means such a one should be swallowed up with his excessive sorrow. Therefore I beg you to confirm your love toward him. … Now I also forgive whomever you forgive anything. For if indeed I have forgiven anything, I have forgiven that one for your sakes in the presence of Christ, that no advantage may be gained over us by Satan, for we are not ignorant of his schemes. (2 Cor. 2:6-8, 10-11, all quotes from WEB translation)

Choosing to withhold forgiveness– even when someone has sinned so egregiously they were put out of the church; even when you’ve heard about their repentance from someone else instead of seeing it for yourself — would give an advantage to Satan. The Greek word pleonekteo (G4122) carries the idea of taking advantage of or  defrauding someone. The word for “covetousness” comes from this word (The Complete WordStudy Dictionary: New Testament, by Spiros Zodhiates Th.D.).

Talk of Satan (which means “adversary”) gaining an advantage over us also brings to mind the idea that we’re in a spiritual battle. If you don’t forgive, you’re giving the adversary a foothold in your life. And that ought to be a terrifying thought. However, it is something we can prevent because, as Paul says, we’re not ignorant of his schemes.

Armor Up With God’s Help

We are part of a spiritual battle. The adversary (ha Satan in Hebrew) is fighting against God’s family, and we’re part of that family. Every human being has the potential to become part of God’s family and those of us in covenant with God are already adopted as His children.

Beloved, now we are children of God. It is not yet revealed what we will be; but we know that when he is revealed, we will be like him; for we will see him just as he is. Everyone who has this hope set on him purifies himself, even as he is pure. (1 John 3:2-3)

God’s adversary hates what God loves. Satan accuses us before our God day and night (Rev. 12:10; Job is also an example). He tries to use his wiles against us, and he’s behind the “the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” that we wrestle against (Eph. 6:10-13). The last thing we should want to do is give Satan an advantage over us in this fight. Rather, we want to stay close to God, put on His armor, stand, and resist the devil.

Fighting on the Battlefield of Forgiveness | LikeAnAnchor.com
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Avoid Things That Separate You From God

The reason that unforgiveness is so very dangerous (I think) is connected to the wedge it drives between us and God. We’re more vulnerable to the adversary’s attacks when we are not sticking close to the source of our armor and strength. There are certain things that separate us from God, and we need forgiveness and reconciliation to heal the breach of relationship that sin causes. But we don’t get forgiveness if we’re not willing to give it.

For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if you don’t forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. (Matt. 6:14-15)

Jesus’s parable in Matthew 18:21-35 puts this in even more chilling language. In this parable, forgiveness that has already been given by a master to an indebted servant is withdrawn because that servant refuses to forgive someone who owes him a much smaller debt. Jesus caps this parable off by saying, “So my heavenly Father will also do to you, if you don’t each forgive your brother from your hearts for his misdeeds.” That’s quite a sobering statement.

God is merciful and good. He knows forgiveness can be so hard that sometimes it feels like fighting a battle. He doesn’t abandon us just because we’re struggling. But He does expect us to make an effort to deliberately, consistently forgive other people. Carrying bitterness, grudges, anger, and judgmental attitudes around will not help our Christian walk and can, in fact, hinder it.

Consider Jesus’s Example

Therefore let’s also, seeing we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, lay aside every weight and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let’s run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith (Heb. 12:1-2)

Fighting on the Battlefield of Forgiveness | LikeAnAnchor.com
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Whenever it becomes difficult to lay aside the weight of unforgiveness, look to Jesus. The book of Hebrews tells us to “consider him who has endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, that you don’t grow weary, fainting in your souls” Heb. 12:3). When we consider the example He set us, we see Him forgiving even in the worst of circumstances.

When they came to the place that is called “The Skull”, they crucified him there with the criminals, one on the right and the other on the left. Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:33-34)

If Jesus could forgive the people who tortured and killed him while He was hanging on the cross, surely we can forgive whatever it is that people have done to us. Especially because God has given us warnings and instructions through His Bible and help through His holy spirit. We know the dangers of unforgiveness and we have what we need to follow Christ’s example. Let’s resolve to forgive, and to keep forgiving as often as need be, following the example of Christ and resisting the adversary’s influence so “that no advantage may be gained over us by Satan, for we are not ignorant of his schemes.”

 

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