Surely Goodness and Kindness Will Follow Me

“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want” begins one of the most famous passages in scripture. For many, Psalm 23 is their favorite part of the Bible. The whole thing is absolutely beautiful, but today I just want to focus on a phrase at the end.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever. (Ps. 23:6, KJV)

The Hebrew word translated “mercy” here is often translated “loving kindness” in more modern versions of the Bible. And this isn’t the only place where God’s loving, kind mercies are linked with His inherent goodness.

O Give Thanks For Who God Is

The link between goodness and kindness is mentioned again and again in songs of praise. Ten times in the Bible we’re told to praise and thank Yahweh “for he is good, for his loving kindness endures forever” (1 Chr. 16:34; 2 Chr. 5:13; 7:3; Ezr. 3:11; Ps. 106:1; 107:1; 118:1, 29; 136:1; Jer. 33:11).

Goodness and loving kindness are an essential part of God’s nature and character. Yahweh (to use His proper name) “is good. His loving kindness endures forever, his faithfulness to all generations” (Ps. 105:5, WEB). This isn’t something that’s ever going to change. We can count on Yahweh — both the Father and the Son — being good, lovingly kind, and faithful forever and ever. And when we walk with them, we’ll get to experience Their goodness and kindness directly. Read more

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Make Pleasing God Your Lifestyle By Desiring What He Requires

Last Sabbath, I was at a young adult weekend centered on the theme “Desire What The Lord Requires.” All the seminars focused on Michah 6:8, which reads:

He has shown you, O man, what is good. What does Yahweh require of you, but to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God? (WEB)

One speaker mentioned something that really stuck in my mind. In this passage, God doesn’t tell His people to be just, merciful, and humble. He uses specific verbs instructing us to act, love, and walk in certain ways. This passage is focused on actions that come from developing God’s character. It goes beyond being like God to actively walking with Him. And though it doesn’t say so here, this should be something that we want to do rather than something we do just because it’s a requirement. God has always been concerned with the state of our hearts and the motives behind why we follow Him. We please Him when we do what He requires willingly and desire the same things He does.Make Pleasing God Your Lifestyle By Desiring What He Requires | marissabaker.wordpress.com

Act Justly

Matthew Henry’s and Adam Clarke’s commentaries says that to do or act justly means “to give to all their due.” Giving everyone what they are “due” from us includes giving God all our hearts, minds, souls, and strength, treating our neighbors as we would like to be treated, and also treating ourselves the way God intends.

Basically, acting justly is summed up in the two greatest commands (Matt. 22:36-40). That’s because the concept of justice is tied to God’s law, and the entire law hangs on the commands Jesus shared about how to love God and our neighbors. Read more

But What If God Scares Me?

So you’ve heard about the love and grace of Jesus and want to learn more. Maybe you even had another Christian lead you to Jesus and accepted Him as your savior. Then you sit down intending to read the Bible from start to finish and find something you weren’t quite expecting.

Genesis starts out with creation and the fall of man, then suddenly God’s wiping the whole earth out in a flood (Gen. 6:5-8). Next He’s scattering the people of Babel for building a tower (Gen. 11:5-9) and raining fire and brimstone down on Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen 19:24-25). Why does the God you know as forgiving and accepting seem so angry? Where is God’s love and grace here, in the Old Testament?

But What If God Scares Me? Bible reading for those who don't like the God they find in the Old Testament | marissabaker.wordpress.com

Many people give up on the Bible and/or their faith because God isn’t what they expect, or they go for a version of Christianity that highlights the New Testament and ignores any verses about uncomfortable topics like judgement and sin. But authentic Christianity demands something more of its followers. Jesus said, “Many are called, but few are chosen” twice in Matthew’s gospel (Matt. 20:16; 22;14). We don’t want to be the people who receive the seed of the gospel and then wither away because we have no root (Matt. 13:5-6, 20-21).

The lives of Christians are supposed to reflect the nature of our God. If we aren’t diving deep into His word, we won’t know who He is or what He requires, and we can’t grow roots into our faith. We can’t let misconceptions about or fear of His anger and expectations scare us away from getting to know Him. Read more

Weightier Matters

The scribes and Pharisees had a lot going for then. They were well-educated, well-respected, and held positions of authority in the community of believers. People thought they were important, and they were. Then this guy Jesus showed up and started condemning them for not following God correctly.

Can you imagine how this looked? Here are these men who’ve been the authority on worship tradition for years confronted by a young carpenter who just appeared out of nowhere. He didn’t even go to a good school! Worse, they know He’s right. But if they admit it, they lose their power.

weighty_matters
photo credit: Michael Coghlan “It Hangs in the Balance,” CC BY-SA

A similar thing can happen in our churches today. When leadership is focused on maintaining church tradition, there’s a danger of developing a Pharisaical attitude. A certain amount of resistance to change is needed to keep from forsaking sound doctrine, but often church tradition isn’t rooted in the Bible at all and if that’s the case it’s fair-game for reexamination. We can also, as the Pharisees did, error in emphasizing certain doctrines to the neglect of others. Read more

Covenants of Righteousness and Mercy

This isn’t the first time a Bible study has brought tears to my eyes. Usually that happens when I’m studying God’s love, but there’s also something inspiring, humbling and wonderful about His righteousness and mercy. They’re aspects of God’s essential character, and the more I learn about who the Father and Yeshua are, the more inclined I feel to just sit here in awe.

In Matthew 5:48 Jesus said, “you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.” We have a responsibility to grow toward perfection, developing God’s character inside us. If we’re going to mimic His character, we have to study and learn about who and what He is, so we can display those traits as well.

Covenants of Righteousness and Mercy | marissabaker.wordpress.com

I’ve already written many posts on this blog about “God is love” (there’s even a whole ebook free if you click here), so that’s not what we’re going to focus on today. Instead, I want to spend our time together this Sabbath focusing on two key character traits that are aspects of God’s love.

The Lord is Righteous

If you search for the phrases “the Lord is …” and “God is …” trying to find descriptions of His character, the first you come to is in Exodus.

And Pharaoh sent and called for Moses and Aaron, and said to them, “I have sinned this time. The Lord is righteous, and my people and I are wicked. (Ex. 9:27)

Even a pagan ruler on the receiving end of God’s judgement recognized that “the Lord is righteous.” In Hebrew, the word is tsaddiyq (H6662). For human beings, righteousness involves fulfilling the commands of God. It “consisted in obedience to God’s law and conformity to God’s nature” (Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, entry 1879). Like love, righteousness isn’t just something God shows toward us — it is one of His essential character traits. We define righteousness by pointing to God’s standard.

“Behold, the days are coming,” says the Lord, “That I will raise to David a Branch of righteousness; a King shall reign and prosper, and execute judgment and righteousness in the earth. In His days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell safely; now this is His name by which He will be called: THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS. (Jer. 23:5-6)

Covenants of Righteousness and Mercy | marissabaker.wordpress.comNot only is God Himself righteous, but all our righteousness is found in Him. This prophecy points to Christ’s role as the one who makes us righteous. Only by following in Yahweh Tsidkenu’s footsteps can we continue in righteousness.

As we’ve seen, God’s righteousness is closely connected to His law. It follows that as a Being of righteousness He must institute penalties for disobedience as well as rewards for obedience. Daniel recognized this in his prayer for the exiles.

As it is written in the Law of Moses, all this disaster has come upon us; yet we have not made our prayer before the Lord our God, that we might turn from our iniquities and understand Your truth. Therefore the Lord has kept the disaster in mind, and brought it upon us; for the Lord our God is righteous in all the works which He does, though we have not obeyed His voice. (Dan. 9:13-14)

It is righteous for God to let evil befall a nation that broke their covenant with Him. Covenants aren’t just about the good things both parties get out of the agreement — they also include consequences for breaking the covenant, which is what we do when we sin (Dan. 9:4-5). Because God is righteous, He keeps the entire covenant — including the part that stipulates consequences for sin.

The Lord is Mercy

Daniel also calls on another of God’s essential character traits; one that goes hand-in-hand with righteousness.

And I prayed to the Lord my God, and made confession, and said, “O Lord, great and awesome God, who keeps His covenant and mercy with those who love Him, and with those who keep His commandments, we have sinned and committed iniquity, we have done wickedly and rebelled, even by departing from Your precepts and Your judgments.

O Lord, righteousness belongs to You, but to us shame of facebecause we have sinned against You. To the Lord our God belong mercy and forgiveness, though we have rebelled against Him. (Dan. 9:4-5, 7, 9)

If God was not mercy as well as righteousness, we would be in grave straits indeed. We have all sinned, and if God righteously rewarded us for that we would all be dead (Rom. 3:23; 6:23). Yet Jesus Christ took on Himself the death penalty required by covenant. Instead of rewarding us as we deserve He offers mercy, as He did to “a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man” who became the Apostle Paul (1 Tim. 1:13).

But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved) (Eph. 2:4-5)

Mercy is as much a part of God’s being as love and righteousness, and it has always been this way. Back in the Torah, Moses makes a prayer for Israel very similar to Daniel’s plea. The people have rebelled, and Moses is asking for God’s mercy to mingle with His righteousness.

And now, I pray, let the power of my Lord be great, just as You have spoken, saying, ‘The Lord is longsuffering and abundant in mercy, forgiving iniquity and transgression; but He by no means clears the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation.’ Pardon the iniquity of this people, I pray, according to the greatness of Your mercy, just as You have forgiven this people, from Egypt even until now.” (Num. 14:17-19)

Covenants of Righteousness and Mercy | marissabaker.wordpress.comMoses is directly referencing God’s own description of Himself in Exodus 34:6-7. These are the character traits of “God is love” which back-up the covenant God makes with His people

In the Old Testament verses we’ve been quoting, “mercy” is translated from the Hebrew chesed (H2617). The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament points out that this word is often connected with covenant — most likely in that God’s covenant is a result of His chesed and includes the promise of His loving kindness. As those in covenant with God, we’re expected to show mercy as well.

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. (Matt. 5:7)

In Greek, “mercy” is elos (G1656). It’s different from grace, which is a free gift from God that consists of removing the penalty for sin. Mercy goes along with that and takes a step farther by alleviating the miserable consequences of sin (Zodhiates Key-Word Study Bible).

Jesus has compassion and mercy on us because He sympathizes with our weakness, having experienced what it’s like to be human even though He never sinned (Heb. 4:15-16). We, too, should exercise mercy towards others. As sinners ourselves, we’re in a unique position to respond to the suffering we see in others with loving kindness rather than condemnation. We must learn to follow God’s example of mingling righteousness and mercy. We never forget or ignore the covenant laws and our commitment to righteousness, but we also remember to always act out of mercy and love.

Mercy For My People (Hosea 1-3)

Of all the minor prophets, Hosea is probably the one I spend the most time reading. But I usually just focus on the first three chapters, where God is talking about His marriage covenant with Israel. I thought it might be interesting to look at the book as a whole and see what God has to teach us in the entire prophecy. I still only had time to get to the first three chapters today, but we can save the rest for a later post.

An Unfaithful Wife

Hosea’s book begins with God telling him to marry a prostitute. This rather unusual marriage was meant as an illustration of God’s relationship with Israel.

When the Lord began to speak by Hosea, the Lord said to Hosea: “Go, take yourself a wife of harlotry and children of harlotry, for the land has committed great harlotry by departing from the Lord.” So he went and took Gomer the daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son (Hos. 1:2-3)

The covenant established between God and Israel was like a marriage, to which Israel was unfaithful. To further illustrate God’s message to the people through Hosea, He gave Gomer’s children meaningful, specific names. The first child, which Hosea fathered, was named Jezreel. This name means “God will sow,” and is also a place name in the land of Israel.

Then the Lord said to him: “Call his name Jezreel, for in a little while I will avenge the bloodshed of Jezreel on the house of Jehu, and bring an end to the kingdom of the house of Israel. It shall come to pass in that day that I will break the bow of Israel in the Valley of Jezreel.”

And she conceived again and bore a daughter. Then God said to him: “Call her name Lo-Ruhamah, for I will no longer have mercy on the house of Israel, but I will utterly take them away. Yet I will have mercy on the house of Judah, will save them by the Lord their God, and will not save them by bow, nor by sword or battle, by horses or horsemen.”

Now when she had weaned Lo-Ruhamah, she conceived and bore a son. Then God said: “Call his name Lo-Ammi, for you are not My people, and I will not be your God.” (Hos. 1:4-9)

It’s chilling to hear God say He will not have mercy and will no longer call someone His people. This isn’t something we picture God ever saying in the New Testament church that we’re a part of, but Paul tells us that the things which happened to physical Israel were our “examples, and they were written for our admonition” (1 Cor. 10:11). We often think we’d never do anything like Israel did, turning away to worship other gods, but evidently the New Testament writers — and God Himself — thought there was a danger or they wouldn’t have given us warnings like John’s admonition “keep yourselves from idols” (1 John 5:21).

Oh, that you would bear with me in a little folly — and indeed you do bear with me. For I am jealous for you with godly jealousy. For I have betrothed you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ. But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. For if he who comes preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or if you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted—you may well put up with it! (2 Cor. 11:1-4)

Paul is worried about the Christians he’s writing to doing exactly the same thing Israel did. They went after something that was not in line with the truth which God had given them. This started at Mount Sinai, when they made a golden calf to replace God just a few weeks after promising, “All the words which the Lord has said we will do” (Ex. 24:3). They made a covenant with God Himself, and when Moses took a bit longer to come back than they expected, they “corrupted themselves” by turning away from God’s commands and trying to replace Him with something else (Ex. 32:7-8).

Justice and Love

God’s covenant with His people is consistently compared to a marriage agreement. Because of Israel’s conduct, however, when Hosea was told to model the relationship between God and Israel in his own marriage he had to marry a harlot. That’s how unfaithful Israel was to God.

Bring charges against your mother, bring charges; for she is not My wife, nor am I her Husband! Let her put away her harlotries from her sight, and her adulteries from between her breasts; lest I strip her naked and expose her, as in the day she was born, and make her like a wilderness, and set her like a dry land, and slay her with thirst. …

She will chase her lovers, but not overtake them; yes, she will seek them, but not find them. Then she will say, ‘I will go and return to my first husband, for then it was better for me than now.’ For she did not know that I gave her grain, new wine, and oil, and multiplied her silver and gold—which they prepared for Baal.” ( Hos. 2:2-3, 7-8)

You can read the full conversation in verses 2 through 13, but this gives the general idea. We might think these words sound excessively harsh coming from God. Isn’t He a God of love and mercy with loads of forgiveness to pour out on us when we do something bad? yes, but He is also justice (Ps. 89:14). And His justice involves consequences for sin. Is there any one of us who wouldn’t be upset, angry even, if our spouse used the gifts we gave them to entice other lovers? and how many of us would then die to pay the price for that unfaithful spouse’s transgression, and freely forgive them the way God already has died for and forgiven us?

Ammi and Ruhamah

Therefore, behold, I will allure her, will bring her into the wilderness, and speak comfort to her. I will give her her vineyards from there, and the Valley of Achor as a door of hope; she shall sing there, as in the days of her youth, as in the day when she came up from the land of Egypt.

And it shall be, in that day,” says the Lord, “That you will call Me ‘My Husband,’ and no longer call Me ‘My Master,’ for I will take from her mouth the names of the Baals, and they shall be remembered by their name no more. In that day I will make a covenant for them with the beasts of the field, with the birds of the air, and with the creeping things of the ground. Bow and sword of battle I will shatter from the earth, to make them lie down safely.

I will betroth you to Me forever; yes, I will betroth you to Me in righteousness and justice, in lovingkindness and mercy; I will betroth you to Me in faithfulness, and you shall know the Lord.” (Hos. 2:14-20)

Hosea acts out this redemption in chapter 3 by buying back his unfaithful wife. He says, “I bought her for myself for fifteen shekels of silver, and one and one-half homers of barley.” My study Bible notes that the price paid in verse 2 adds up to 30 shekels — the same amount Judas was paid to betray Jesus (Matt. 26:14-16). 30 pieces of silver to redeem an unfaithful wife, 30 pieces of silver to betray the One whose sacrifice made the ultimate redemption pictured by this transaction possible.

It shall come to pass in that day that I will answer,” says the Lord; “I will answer the heavens, and they shall answer the earth. The earth shall answer with grain, with new wine, and with oil; they shall answer Jezreel. Then I will sow her for Myself in the earth, and I will have mercy on her who had not obtained mercy; then I will say to those who were not My people, ‘You are My people!’ and they shall say, ‘You are my God!’” (Hos 2:21-23)

Remember the names God gave Gomar’s and Hosea’s children? This promise hearkens back to them, and reverses the decrees of “No-Mercy” and “Not-My-People” that were contained in the names Lo-Ruhamah and Lo-Ammi. This is was also addressed earlier in Hosea, in some verses we skipped over in chapter 1.

Yet the number of the children of Israel shall be as the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured or numbered. And it shall come to pass in the place where it was said to them, ‘You are not My people,’ there it shall be said to them, ‘You are sons of the living God.’ Then the children of Judah and the children of Israel shall be gathered together, and appoint for themselves one head; and they shall come up out of the land, for great will be the day of Jezreel!

Say to your brethren, ‘My people,’ and to your sisters, ‘Mercy is shown.’” (Hos. 1:10-2:1)

The King James translates this last verse, “Say ye unto your brethren, Ammi; and to your sisters, Ruhamah.” Essentially, dropping the “Lo-” prefix changes “not my people” into “my people” and “not having obtained mercy” into “having obtained mercy.” God’s plan is to bring Israel back to Himself, and reverse the judgement that separated her from Him. This process began with Christ’s sacrifice, and will be completed after His return.