Sheltering In The Almighty’s Shadow

I’ve been thinking about Psalm 91 quite a bit since the coronavirus became a world-wide concern. The rabbi at my Messianic congregation recently wrapped-up a six-part sermon series on this psalm, and none too soon since the very next week churches were asked to stop meeting. There are hospitals overwhelmed by patients, non-essential businesses being ordered to close, and “stay at home” orders coming from governments. It’s scary out there. But we don’t have to let fear take over our lives.

Psalm 91 contains some of the most stunning assurances of God’s care and protection in the Bible, and it’s a good reminder that we need not fear no matter how bad the things around us get. And things are going to get bad. None of us know when Jesus will return, but we do know we’re getting closer. As that time approaches, we were warned to expect “wars and rumors of wars … famines, plagues, and earthquakes” before the end comes (Matt. 24:6-8). None of what is happening now (or which has been happening for the past 2,000 years) should be a surprise for Bible-readers.

We’ve also been told how to handle it when things get bad. We should watch, be ready, pray, stay faithful, and fear not. Easier said than done, though, especially in these times when fear and panic are running rampant. One way to keep ourselves from getting swept up in unfruitful anxiety is by holding onto the promises in God’s word, like those found in Psalm 91.

God’s Power To Deliver

He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of Yahweh, “He is my refuge and my fortress; my God, in whom I trust.” (Psalm 91:1-2, all quotes from WEB)

Hebrew words often have a variety of meanings. The one translated “dwell” (H3427, yashab) can also mean remain, abide, inhabit, and marry. It’s that last one that seems out of place to us English speakers. How can marriage and dwelling mean the same thing? But if you think of marrying someone as giving a dwelling to them it starts to seem a little less unusual (Brown, Driver, Briggs Hebrew lexicon). The connection also makes sense as part of the recurring imagery of the Lord marrying His people and providing dwellings for them (Matt. 22:2; John 14:1-3).

This place spoken of in the psalm is a secret or “covered, hidden” location (H5643, sether) that belong to the Most High God. Dwelling here lets you rest under the shadow of the Almighty. Using these names helps remind us that God has all power and is perfectly capable of living up to the expectations the psalmist will speak of in the lines to follow. In addition, use of God’s personal name, Yahweh, demonstrates the closeness of relationship the psalmist has with Him and reminds us that He is the I AM who delivered Israel (Ex. 3:14-15). Read more

The Light From The Beginning, Part Two

Jesus Christ identified Himself as the light of the world. This would have been no surprise to people familiar with the scriptures, for God has always connected Himself with light. It’s a common analogy in scripture — light is found with God and whatever is not of God is in darkness. As I’ve studied this concept, I’ve been excited to realize the Light connection goes even deeper than I originally knew (and probably far deeper than I’ve yet discovered as well). To quote Paul, “Oh the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and the knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past tracing out!” (Rom. 11:33, WEB)

Last week, we started with a side-by-side comparison of the opening verses from Genesis and John’s gospel. As we learned in that post, John and several Jewish rabbis identify the Light spoken of in Genesis with the Messiah. We know this Messiah is Jesus (Messiah and Christ both mean “anointed, who says He came to this earth in human form as “the light of the world.” You’ll want to make sure you’ve read last week’s post before continuing with this one. Click here to go back and read “The Light From The Beginning, Part One.”

From Darkness to Light

God has “called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” for a reason (1 Pet. 2:9). God longs for a relationship with us, but “God is light” and we cannot enter the relationship that He wants to have with us if we are walking in darkness.

This is the message which we have heard from him and announce to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him and walk in the darkness, we lie, and don’t tell the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ, his Son, cleanses us from all sin. (1 John 1:5-7, WEB)

It is one of the central truths of the Christian faith that God loves us and wants us to be in relationship with Him. Light does not, however, fellowship with darkness (2 Cor. 6:14). Apart from the work of Jesus in us as the Light, we would not be able to draw close to God. Following Him is what takes us out of darkness to walk in Light. Read more

The Light From The Beginning, Part One

Let’s start today’s post by comparing two passages of scripture:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him. Without him, nothing was made that has been made. (John 1:1-3, WEB)

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and empty. Darkness was on the surface of the deep and God’s Spirit was hovering over the surface of the waters. God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. (Gen. 1:1-3)

In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness hasn’t overcome it. (John 1:4-5)

God saw the light, and saw that it was good. God divided the light from the darkness. God called the light “day”, and the darkness he called “night”. There was evening and there was morning, the first day. (Gen. 1:4-5)

Clearly, John meant us to connect the opening of his gospel with Genesis through his phrase, “in the beginning.” But that’s not the only connection. Light also links these two accounts. It’s not until later in the creation story that God makes the sun, stars, and moon, so this first Light must be something else. And it’s something powerful enough to cause Day and Night before any of the physical light sources we know of existed.

Messiah in Light

John identifies this Light at creation with the Messiah, Jesus (John 1:6-16). (Language note: Messiah is the Hebrew word for Christ. Both words mean “anointed”.) It’s not just Christians who’ve made this connection, though. Even Jewish rabbis who are still waiting for a Messiah other than Jesus recognize the Light in Genesis does refer to the Messiah.

God’s first words in the Bible are: ” ‘Let there be light!’ And there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good.” When we study the creation account closely we notice that it was not until the fourth day that God created the “two great lights”, the sun and the moon. The Sages understood this too to be a Messianic allusion, and so the Midrash known as Pesikhta Rabbah, which was read from the 9th century on in connection with feast days, asks, “Whose is this light which falls upon the congregation of the Lord?” and answers, “It is the light of the Messiah” …

The Rabbis considered the Aramaic word Nehora, ‘light’, to be one of the secret names of the Messiah, since we read in the Aramaic part of the book of Daniel that, “He knows what dwells in darkness, and light dwells with him” (2.22). (from “The Messiah In The Old Testament In The Light of Rabinnical Writings” by Risto Santala)

The Yalkut, a rabbinic anthology from the medieval period, says this:

‘And God saw the light, that it was good.’ This is the light of Messiah … to teach you that God saw the generation of Messiah and His works before He created the universe, and He hid the Messiah … under His throne of glory. (quoted in “What The Rabbis Know About The Messiah” by Rachmiel Frydland)

Even without knowing who the Messiah is, these rabbis understood that the Light in Genesis points to Messiah, whom they saw as the “center of all creation”

Read more

Growing in the Wisdom from God

We just wrapped-up a series of posts going through all the characteristics of “the wisdom from above” that James writes of in his epistle. That’s not all there is to say about Godly wisdom, however. I already wrote an introduction post to this series that’s about God’s definition of wisdom, but today as we conclude this series of articles I want to narrow in our focus on wisdom as it relates to Jesus Christ.

My dad’s the one who pointed out to me that Paul says “Christ Jesus … was made to us the wisdom from God” (1 Cor. 1:30). God — both Father and Son — are the starting point for true wisdom. It seems, though, that God the Son plays a special role in giving this wisdom to us, and I think that’s worth looking at more closely.

Glory in the Wisdom from God

One of the things Paul does in his writings is reference scriptures from the Old Testament as support for what he’s talking about in his letters. He doesn’t always quote the referenced passage in its entirety, though, leaving it to his readers to familiarize themselves with scripture and recognize the connection. That’s what he’s doing here in 1 Corinthians. He’s talking about God choosing the foolish, weak, lowly, and despised things of this world and then he says,

Because of him, you are in Christ Jesus, who was made to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption: that, as it is written, “He who boasts, let him boast in the Lord.” (1 Cor. 1:30-31, all quotes from WEB)

This phrase that Paul says “is written” comes from Jeremiah.

Yahweh says, “Don’t let the wise man glory in his wisdom. Don’t let the mighty man glory in his might. Don’t let the rich man glory in his riches. But let him who glories glory in this, that he has understanding, and knows me, that I am Yahweh who exercises loving kindness, justice, and righteousness in the earth,
for I delight in these things,” says Yahweh. (Jer. 9:23-24)

Paul talks about God choosing people who are the opposite of wise, mighty, and rich to make a point. None of us have room to glory before God based on our own merits. Read more

Wisdom Without Hypocrisy

I dare say we’re all familiar with the problem of hypocrisy in the church. For most of us, it’s something we’ve had close experience with. We’ve found ourselves disgusted with others who we identify as hypocrites and we may even have caught ourselves doing hypocritical things.

As we wrap up our study of how James talks about godly wisdom, we come to the last characteristic on his list. “The wisdom from above is … without hypocrisy” (James 3:17, WEB). In Greek, the words for hypocrisy and hypocrite have to do with someone playing a part, as if they were an actor on stage. They’re dissemblers, pretenders who simulate, feign, and pretend to be something they are not (Thayer’s dictionary, entries on G5273 and G5271). The opposite is what we find in wisdom — anupokritos (G505), something that is unfeigned, undisguised, sincere.

The Bible tells us “wisdom is the principle thing, therefore get wisdom” (Prov. 4:7, KJV). Wisdom is something God has in abundance and which He is eager to share with those who ask for it (James 1:5). As we grow in wisdom we will become people who are sincere, authentic, and live without hypocrisy.

Traits of the Hypocritical

Before we talk more about living without hypocrisy, let’s take a look at what a hypocrite is like. Jesus talked about this quite a bit in the gospels recorded by Matthew, Mark, and Luke (in fact, the word hupokrites, G5273, only appears in these three books).

  • Hypocrites call attention to the godly things they do in order to be seen and respected by other people (Matt. 6:2, 5, 16)
  • Hypocrites judge others before fixing up their own problems and repenting of their own sins (Matt. 7:5; Luke 6:42)
  • Hypocrites have double standards when applying God’s law (Matt. 15:4-7; Luke 13:14-16)
  • Hypocrites try to tempt others to sin (Matt 22:17-18)
  • Hypocrites block others from getting closer to the Lord (Matt. 23:13-15)
  • Hypocrites are greedy and have misplaced priorities (Matt. 23:16-19)
  • Hypocrites get distracted by minutia and neglect the things that are most important to God (Matt. 23:23)
  • Hypocrites appear righteous on the outside but are inwardly wicked (Matt. 23:25-28; Luke 11:44)
  • Hypocrites play lip-service to God but their hearts aren’t committed (Mark 7:6)

Read more

Wisdom Without Partiality

Balanced, impartial, unbiased views are going out of style in our culture today. While we like to think that we act with fairness and have a balanced way of looking at the world, I don’t think most of are as impartial as we’d like to be. We tend to prioritize emotional arguments over facts and logic (or vice versa, depending on our personality). We may favor certain groups of people when making decisions. Or perhaps we think that what’s “fair” should always work out in our favor. We’re partial to certain types of arguments, certain types of people, and to our own self interests. Those are very human reactions. In contrast, James tells us that godly wisdom operates without partiality.

But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceful, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. (James 3:17, all quotes from WEB translation)

Acting without partiality is a hard thing to do, but it is a godly thing and therefore worth doing. Part of growing to have the “wisdom that is from above” involves setting aside our automatic human reactions to situations and replacing them with how God would react.

Impartial Gift of Wisdom

Before we start looking at how we’re to be impartial, it’s important to note that God doesn’t show partiality regarding whom He blesses with wisdom. James writes, “if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” If you meet the basic requirements  — seek God and ask in faith (James 1:5-6) — then God will give wisdom regardless of your age, background, ethnicity, status, ability, etc. He is not a “respecter of persons” who shows favoritism or twists His rules based on who someone is (Deut. 10:17; 2 Chr. 19:7; Acts 10:34). Read more