Tag Archives: God

Colossians: Pray and Keep on Praying

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Colossians 1:3-14

We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all God’s people— the faith and love that spring from the hope stored up for you in heaven and about which you have already heard in the true message of the gospel that has come to you. In the same way, the gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world—just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and truly understood God’s grace. You learned it from Epaphras, our dear fellow servant,[a] who is a faithful minister of Christ on our[b] behalf, and who also told us of your love in the Spirit.

For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives,[c] 10 so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, 11 being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience,12 and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you[d] to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. 13 For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

I did not write the lesson on this section in Colossians, but I would love to share some thoughts concerning this passage. I would encourage you to read through the passage above and record your own observations (noting key words, admonitions, tone of voice, connectives, and so on).

The first thing I noticed this time around is Paul’s very friendly and encouraging tone toward the Colossians. It reads quite differently from his letter to the Galatians for example. He also introduces us to a new name, Epaphras. New names immediately pique my interest and result in me following a rabbit trail that takes me hours to get back to my original path. In order not to take you on too many rabbit trails, I’ll simply choose a few ideas from the passage I found interesting (trust me when I say this is very hard to do for me. I’d like to pick apart every. single. verse.).

If we look at this section of the letter very broadly, we would note his common habit of giving thanks and praying for the recipients. It is a beautiful way to start a letter. I find that Paul teaches me about being thankful and how to pray for others simply by the way he writes his letters.

As I mentioned he’s very encouraging toward the Colossian believers, noting their faith and their love (v. 4, 7) which is a result of the hope (v. 5) they have in Christ {hmm…where have I seen those three qualities together before??}. He also comments on the gospel bearing fruit and increasing among them since the day they heard it and understood it (v. 5-6). I find the idea of an inanimate object being able to bear fruit very fascinating. The good news (gospel) which Epaphras spoke to the Colossians continues to produce good things among them.

I would like to look closely at the idea of faith. Webster’s 1828 defines it as “a full and affectionate confidence in the certainty of those things which God has declared and because He has declared them.” Another way to put it is an “affectionate, practical confidence in the testimony of God” or a “firm, cordial belief in the veracity of God, in all the declarations of His word.”

Perhaps it is best to point out that the power of faith depends not on the person who has the faith but on the One in whom the faith is placed. Christ is the object of our faith. Our faith has power because it is on Him, and He does not fail. C.F.D. Moule wrote this:

Regardless, the issue is not just the presence of faith, but a faith that resides in Christ. It gives the thought of reliance going forth to Christ, and reposing on Christ, so as to sink as it were into Him, and find fixture in Him; as the anchor sinks to the floor of the sea, and then into it, that it may be held in it.

To recap, Paul gave thanks for their faith and love because of hope (and this hope does not disappoint because it is also in the person of Christ who has secured glory/heaven for us). One of the ladies I teach with said this, “The validity of faith is not the fervency with which you believe, but the degree to which the object of your faith is true.”

It is in verse 9 when he switches to praying for these people he’s never even met. He asked that they would be filled with the knowledge of God’s will. I couldn’t tell you how this happens, I only know that if he asks for it, it must be something that can happen to any believer. We can know God’s will for our lives. Isn’t that such a comforting thought? I also happen to love that he prays this for them as a father would pray for his own children to know God fully.

Hopefully you had a chance to read my post detailing the background of Colossians. You see, there was a threat of false teaching in Colossae, and those opponents were promising spiritual fullness with things that were not Christ. Paul tells the believers that true spiritual fullness can only be found in Christ alone. Just look at these verses in the letter about fullness or being filled:

1:19 For in Him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell

1:25 …to make the word of God fully known

2:2 …all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ,

2:3 in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

2:9 For in Him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily,

2:10 and you have been filled in Him…

4:12 …stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God.

Christ is sufficient. (more on this later!)

Now on to verses 10-11. Paul had spoken of the gospel which was bearing fruit in the lives of the Colossians and now in verse 10 he tells them to walk in a worthy manner, being pleasing to God, bearing fruit in every good work…. One of my favorite teachings of Jesus (and which Paul continues) is this idea of the Vine and branches. We abide in the Vine (which is Christ), and He produces fruit in us (fruit of the Spirit for example). I realize this can be a touchy subject since too many people believe they must work really hard to be “good” and accepted by God (or whoever it is they believe they need to work for). I would clarify that it’s not so much that we work for God but that God works in us. {I feel a blog post bubbling to the surface so I had better stop at that.}

In verse 11 Paul tells them their strength comes from God. The words for strengthened and power come from the same word in our English language for dynamiteDunamei means “to make strong, strengthen” and carries the idea of making something strong that is inherently weak. Paul says this power helps us to endure and have patience with joy. Again, this is his prayer for the Colossians and gives me such encouragement knowing this can happen for me as well.

Paul wraps up this section in verses 12-14: we give thanks to the Father who has qualified us to share in His inheritance, He has delivered us from darkness and transferred us to His Son’s kingdom, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. Now those verses are truly packed with some dynamite!

What I learned from this passage is that the words used for delivered and transferred give the idea of military conquest. In Biblical times it was common to take a people who had been defeated, uproot them from their culture and environment, and re-root them somewhere else. That is exactly what God did for us! He broke the bonds of our past life (out of darkness) to assimilate us into a new life with Him (His kingdom of light – see also 1 Pet 2:9). It’s His grace to us, because we don’t deserve a single thing He did in those verses. We have been qualified, delivered, transferred, and redeemed.

Isaiah 1: The Consuming Fire

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I remember the first time I learned about God as the all-consuming fire. It was when I first heard about Moses (the un-cut version – not the nicey-nice children’s version). Take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy groundIt was such a strange and foreign image to my mind – God being a fire. But I was young and have since learned more about this consuming fire.

The next time I remember reading about fire in the Bible was when I read about the Hebrews in Babylon. They would not bow down, so they were thrown into the fire. But then there was a fourth person in the fire! And when the three men came out (yes, they walked right through the blazing inferno), not even a hair was singed on their bodies. Okay, make a mental note: not only is God an all-consuming fire, but He can rescue His faithful followers out of a fire. (You have no idea how much I want to continue talking about this amazing story…but I digress.)

In college my Old Testament professor drove home the image of fire as a metaphor for judgment. For some reason this concept has stuck with me more than all the others. It seems like fire is sprinkled all throughout the Bible: God as the pillar of fire. Elijah at Mount Carmel. Endless sacrifices. The refiner’s fire. The tongues of flame at Pentecost. The fiery pit of hell (and those are just the ones I could think of off the top of my head). Aside from these examples, the largest majority of references to fire actually pertain to judgment (whether from God or man). Frankly, I see why fire is used as a metaphor for judgment. The imagery is frightening. I can’t think of a worse way to die either – to be burned alive in a fiery blaze.

It’s with all these pictures in mind that I read through the first chapter of Isaiah. First my eye caught the words “Sodom” and “Gomorrah” (v. 9-10), and I recalled Genesis 19:24:

Then the LORD rained on Sodom and Gomorrah sulfur and fire from the LORD out of heaven. (ESV)

Terrifying reminder number one. Surely the Judahites’ ears perked up a little when they heard Isaiah speak the name of those two condemned cities. And then in Isaiah 1:10 he calls them “you leaders of ‘Sodom'” and “people of ‘Gomorrah.'” I’m sorry, did he just refer to us as the leaders of the worst cities ever? Why yes, I think he did.

He goes on to describe their self-centered approach to worship, calling it sinful and false (v. 13).  Now those are fightin’ words, Isaiah. We’re just doing what’s in the Law. We’re following our religion. And how’s that working out for you? God says He wants none of your sacrifices, He’s sick of your offerings, He gets no pleasure from your animal sacrifices, wishes you’d stop bringing your meaningless gifts, is disgusted by your incense offerings, hates your celebrations and festivals, believes all of this is a burden to Him and He cannot stand them (v. 11-14). He even refuses to look when they lift up their hands in prayer because their hands are covered with the blood of the innocent (v. 15). If we’re being honest, maybe Sodom and Gomorrah is a fitting description for them after all.

Following this laundry list of all the things appalling to God, Isaiah (God) tells them “Wash yourselves and be clean! Get your sins out of My sight. Give up your evil ways.” (v. 16, NLT)

Anytime someone says “get out of my sight,” it’s usually uttered with absolute contempt or disdain. And usually, the person isn’t joking around. It’s a serious matter and requires an immediate response. I suppose you could call it an ultimatum. Do X or else Y will happen to you. Isaiah goes on to tell them what they should do (v. 17) and in verse 18 we read a familiar passage:

Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD:
though your sins are like scarlet,
    they shall be as  white as snow;
though they are red like crimson,
    they shall become like wool. (ESV)

But we often miss v. 19-20, “If you will only obey Me…But if you turn away and refuse to listen, you will be devoured by the sword…” (oh boy, another judgment metaphor). He tells them, I don’t care for all your “religious”, lack-luster, disingenuous worship. I want your obedience. I want to take away your sins, and I want to make you holy. In v.24-26 Isaiah tells the people that God will use judgment or discipline to make this happen. He would even bring renewal through the appointment of godly leaders. Again in v. 27-28 He reminds them to repent (wash yourselves, be clean, give up your evil ways!) and if they don’t, they’ll be destroyed, consumed. And we finally arrive at the image of fire in v. 31:

The strongest among you will disappear like straw;
    their evil deeds will be the spark that sets it on fire.
They and their evil works will burn up together,
    and no one will be able to put out the fire. (NLT)

Their own sins will set them on fire, and no one will be able to put it out. It’s one thing to have a blazing fire that can be contained. It’s a completely other thing to have a devouring fire that can’t be extinguished. That’s complete destruction. That’s an all-consuming fire. And that‘s how God describes Himself on several occasions (Deut 4:24, 9:3, Is 30:27, 33:14, Lam 2:3, Heb 12:29). What do I even make of this?

The passage in Deuteronomy tells us that God is a consuming fire, a jealous God. He refers to Himself as a jealous God several times as well (Ex 20:4-5, Deut 5:9, 6:15, Ez 38:19 and it goes on and on), and it’s almost always coupled with anger (as burning or kindled or smoking – in other words, like a fire). Perhaps we have a hard time with this fiery, jealous anger, because when we respond with jealous anger, it’s sinful. I believe we could have moments of divine jealousy, but I think those are rare. But God does not sin. His jealousy is completely legitimate and founded. His jealousy is the Lover’s jealousy written in Song of Solomon 8:6:

Place me like a seal over your heart, like a seal on your arm. For love is as strong as death, its jealousy as enduring as the grave. Love flashes like fire, the brightest kind of flame.

When the Bible speaks of God’s jealousy, it is usually a jealousy for His holy reputation and for those things and people who belong to Him – 1) God is jealous for His name, 2) He is jealous for Jerusalem/Zion, and 3) He is jealous for us (Ez 39:25, Zech 1:14, James 4:5). First, He is unwilling to share His glory (Is 42:8, 48:11). Interestingly God’s glory is known as the shekinah glory, and when He manifests His glory on earth, it appears as a brilliant light that blazes like a fire (Ex 30:44-45; 1 Kings 8:10-11; Ez 1:28; Matt 17:1-8). It is something that no man can behold in its fullness and still live to tell about it (Ex 33:20). Secondly, God is jealous for the place where He has said He would make His name, eyes, and heart dwell (1 Kings 9:3, 11:36; 2 Kings 21:7). This again is connected to His reputation. And finally, like the jealous lover, God is not willing to share His people (who also bear His name) with anyone or anything (Ez 36:22-32). He will defend the holiness of His name wherever He has made His name to dwell. We are caught up in a love that is as fierce as a fire.

This jealousy, though it is a burning desire for His glory, somehow manages to be great news for us. Actually it is our only hope. In the Ezekiel 36 passage, God declares:

23I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the Lord God, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes.24 I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. 25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. (ESV)

His motivation is for “the holiness of [His] great name,” but we benefit from this jealousy as He makes us holy and gives us His Spirit who makes it possible for us to obey Him. The all-consuming fire came down to earth, but He didn’t devour and destroy. He came to save (John 3:16-17; 1 Tim 1:15). John 1:1-5, 14 tells us of the light that came down:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it….14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (ESV)

This is the greatest news! This is the gospel. The people spoken of in Isaiah whose own sin had set them on fire have a God who is greater than their sin. They have a God who is greater than the Law which they were trying so hard to follow (Rom 8:1-4). Come, though your sins are as scarlet, I will make them as snow. Come, I will cleanse you, giving you a new heart and putting My Spirit in youCome, I have set My name on you as seal, and I am the jealous Lover. You are Mine.

Having an Expectant Heart

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During my college days, I remember reading through the book of Isaiah, and I’m fairly certain that few lines were left unmarked. I have very fond memories of reading through this prophet of old, and so it was with great excitement and anticipation that I decided to read through it again. It has been that long (2004) since I last read through it, so it feels like I’m catching up with an old friend. Life has a way of going on even if you’re not entirely ready for it to move on, and my time in the book of Isaiah during college is one of those times I wish I could bottle up and re-open when I wanted to rekindle the joy of those moments.

Isn’t it all too easy to wish for the exhilarating times in God’s Word where it feels like your spiritual mind is opened up to behold the wondrous truths you had never thought of or known before? We get stuck thinking that these mountaintop moments are the only way we can approach the reading of God’s Word. Well, I get stuck in this thinking anyway. Can I tell you a secret? I was a little nervous about reading Isaiah again, because I didn’t want to “ruin” my favorite memories from my time in it during college. But then I got over it because God reminded me that His Word is living and active. When we get in the Word, the Word gets in us. The Living God actively reveals Himself to His beloved as they faithfully search for Him in His Word. He uses the Holy Spirit to reveal the truths of God as we need those truths. This is why I can read Isaiah thirteen years later and see it with fresh eyes.

Now what to do with that insatiable thirst for the mountaintop moment? I’m convinced that my motives aren’t entirely selfish (of course). I really really want more of God. I don’t want to settle for good when I can have great. This is why I beg and plead and stubbornly wait and feverishly search for that special word or message that’s just waiting to be found. I’m not searching for a high, I’m searching for the One who is higher than I (Ps 61:2). It’s the sentiment from Christy Nockels song “Waiting Here for You”:

If faith can move the mountains
Let the mountains move
We come with expectation
Waiting here for you, I’m waiting here for you
You’re the Lord of all creation
And still you know my heart
The Author of Salvation
You’ve loved us from the start
Waiting here for You
With our hands lifted high in praise
And it’s You we adore
Singing Alleluia
You are everything You’ve promised
Your faithfulness is true
And we’re desperate for Your presence
All we need is You
Waiting here for You
With our hands lifted high in praise
And it’s You we adore
Singing Alleluia
Singing Alleluia
Alleluia, singing alleluia, alleluia
Waiting here for You
It’s that child-like expectancy at Christmas. It’s that thirsty desperation that grips our parched throats. Only in this case, it’s our parched hearts that can only be quenched with the Living Water that is our God.  And I believe He really wants to fill us up.
But then what if He doesn’t? I have to remind myself that His filling may not look like I want it to look. I’m going to write a post about something I learned (or rather was convicted about) that wasn’t pleasant but oh did it fill my soul! It was a message that I sat and waited for and pondered over and read and re-read and underlined and circled and colored. I’m confident that I would not have received this message if I hadn’t been stubborn and refused to give up waiting. However, it should be noted that I am not waiting around in order to make the text say whatever I want it to say. I’m not stubbornly raising my fist to God and telling Him what I think He ought to say to me. I’m not begging for a message I want to hear or that might make me feel comfortable or happy. Far from it! It’s also not a rejection of a truth that’s hard to hear in order to wait longer for a “nicer” truth to come along.
What it really boils down to is patiently seeking to know God, even if it means I learn some ugly truths about myself. Fortunately it can also mean learning life-changing, perspective-shifting truths that enliven my heart and soul. I trust that He’s going to speak – the real question is, will I be humbly submitted in order to listen (hear)?
Perhaps I’ll never give up on this pursuit of the great. Maybe God sees me as a fool sometimes and maybe I’m wrong about this (maybe it’s not really great). I trust that as I’m getting in the Word, the Word will get to me.

Titus: Physical vs. Spiritual

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Titus 3:3-8 – For (F)we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another.But when (G)the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, (H)not because of works done by us in righteousness, but (I)according to his own mercy, by (J)the washing of regeneration and (K)renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he (L)poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior,so that (M)being justified by his grace we might become (N)heirs (O)according to the hope of eternal life. The saying is (P)trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful (Q)to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people.

Paul offers a nice contrast again, following on the heels of the last section of Scripture. In the last lesson, we learned that he wanted the believers to be submissive to authorities and to be ready for good works, displaying their faith in the crooked Cretan world. In this passage he reminds them that they (including himself) too were once depraved and enslaved to their passions. Perhaps this was his way of encouraging them so that they could see their new identity and not despair or be discouraged about their former life or habits. 2 Cor 5:17 tells us that we are a new creation. We were slaves to sin, now we belong to Christ. In Eph 2:1-3 Paul also writes about the believer’s former life. We used to be “children of wrath,” and we were dead in our sins. We lived out the passions of our flesh and carried out the desires of our body. It’s just not a pretty sight, folks. But there’s always good news right around the corner.

“But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared…” There’s that appeared word again (epiphaneo). God’s goodness and love broke through as the light of dawn. And when our Savior appeared, He saved us. Hallelujah, what a Savior!

To be certain that no one forgets what their role in salvation is, Paul writes that God saved us not because of works that we do, but He saved us in His mercy. This echoes his teaching in Eph 2:8-9 – it is by grace we have been saved through faith (not of ourselves). As if this weren’t great news already, God also uses the Holy Spirit to regenerate and renew us. Regeneration is basically new birth (after all, we were dead in sins and we needed to be made alive again). This Spirit has been poured out on us richly through Christ. I don’t know about you, but the image of the Spirit being poured out sounds abundant, and then he adds the word richly, which just accentuates the lavish abundance even further! The good news just got even better.

As we keep reading, it might feel like we’ve just won the lottery (actually it’s even better than that). First Paul speaks of being justified by His grace. To be justified meant to be pardoned or cleared from guilt; to absolve or acquit from guilt and merited punishment, and to accept as righteous on account of the merits of the Savior or by the application of Christ’s atonement to the offender (Webster’s 1828). What it boils down to is that we get something we didn’t deserve. We get Christ’s righteousness in exchange for our dead, sinful lives. It’s extravagant grace. And it makes no sense.

So God declares us righteous and then raises us as His heirs. Again, this makes no sense! We become children of the King. This is the hope we have, that He has promised us an inheritance of eternal life (See also 1 John 2:25, Heb 6:17-18, 1 Cor 1:22, Eph 4:30, Eph 1:11-14).

He closes with the call to good works again. He presents quite the case for why we should be devoted to good works. It only makes sense given the gravity of all Christ has done for us! They will know we belong to Him by our fruit (good works). The works are simply the evidence of our faith. It reveals our devotion to Him. And these things are excellent (because they bring glory to God) and profitable (because they bring others to God). May we be careful to devote ourselves to good works.

Titus: Adorning the Doctrine of God

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Titus 2:2, 6, 9-10 – Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, (B)sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness. Likewise, urge (J)the younger men to be self-controlled. (P)Bondservants[b] are to be submissive to their own masters (Q)in everything; they are to be well-pleasing, not argumentative, 10 not pilfering, (R)but showing all good faith, (S)so that in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior.

I was actually relieved that I didn’t have to teach this lesson due to the fact that I didn’t feel at all qualified to speak on this subject. In all reality, I didn’t feel qualified to teach any of this. But true to His nature, the Spirit speaks and reveals, teaching me as I teach others. Here’s what I learned about adorning the doctrine of God.

Older Men

I have decided long ago that I would never label who was an “older” man or “older” woman. From what I gather, men over 60 were considered “older men” on the island of Crete. I’m not sure how they determined this, but at least I didn’t come up with this number!

Paul exhorts the older men with six commands –

  • be sober-minded (calm, even, level-headed, reserved, temperate in the use of alcohol, free of selfish excess, mental alertness, vigilance)
  • be dignified (proper, reverent, respectful and respectable, honorable, above reproach, worthy of respect, noble, faithful)
  • be self-controlled (able to curb desire/impulses, disciplined, composed, sober-minded, prudent, sensible; emphasis on the application of the mind)
  • be sound in faith (steadfast in truth/Word, free from error, unwavering trust in God, pertaining to your relationship with God, under the influence of the Spirit, guided by truth)
  • be sound in love (firm love/affection, gentle, pertaining to love for God and others)
  • be sound in steadfastness (perseverance, endurance, hold firm in trials, dedicated/faithful, connected with trials/persecutions)

Sometimes it’s just as helpful to think about what these qualities do NOT look like –

  • sober-minded is NOT anxious/worried, high-stress, easily subverted by adversity, turbulent, lacking self-control, in bondage to sin
  • dignified is NOT unrefined, undignified/unbecoming, an embarrassment socially or in character
  • self-controlled is NOT out of control in mind/body, never able to say “no”, living only for pleasure, a “train wreck”
  • sound in faith is NOT unsure, doubting, questioning truth, walking in error, “tossed about”
  • sound in love is NOT harsh, unloving, hateful
  • sound in steadfastness is NOT giving up easily, buckling under affliction or pressure

I’m always curious about why Paul chooses certain qualities over others when giving a command to certain people. In this case, he chose these qualities just for older men. Why? As far as I can tell, these men are the role models in the society and must be an example of good character. Perhaps he lists these qualities to challenge the men who have trouble in these areas (being tempted to lose control or to be harsh rather than loving). Maybe their culture was one that had those kinds of temptations more so than other places. We cannot know for certain, but what we can know is that he wanted them to exhibit these qualities.

Younger Men

As for the younger men, Paul only gives Titus one command for them: urge them to be self-controlled. There it is again! Self-control. The image I was taught about the discipline of self-control is that of a race horse. The race horse has great strength, but it is bridled strength. It has the ability in its strength to run fast, but it remains submissive to its Master. Self-control, then, is not to be thought of weak but rather as bridled strength.

The believers at Crete were to look and act differently than their culture. I cannot help but think of the contrast between what the male believers should act like and what the false teachers acted like. Paul calls out the false teachers over and over again for their inability to curb their sinful appetites (problem of self-control). The people of Crete in general had a problem with self-control (liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons). Paul reminded them they all needed the Spirit’s work in their lives.

Bondservants

Most translations use the word bondservant in this passage, but this word is not one we use or have a concept of today. Other translations use the word slave. We definitely have a strong, negative connotation for that word in our culture. So what do we make of this section and this word in Scripture? It was helpful for me to see that Paul (Romans 1:1), James (James 1:1), Jude (Jude 1), Timothy (Phil 1:1), Peter (2 Pet 1:1), and John (Rev 1:1) all referred to themselves as a bondservant or slave of Christ. Other sources talk of the bondservant as being one who makes the choice to willingly submit to and stay with their master. Still others believe that the term slave is more appropriate, because it carries the idea of one who is not his own, one who belongs to someone else.

There are mixed views on slavery during the Roman times because slaves were treated differently depending on the master. Some masters were good and treated their slaves well, but just as there were horrendous slave masters in our country, many masters in Rome were harsh and unjust. Some sources said that roughly half of the people in the Roman Empire were slaves. Paul makes no commentary on the issue of slavery – whether it is right or wrong. Rather, he addresses the attitude and actions of those who found themselves in the situation of slavery (he expounds on this in 1 Cor 7:20-24 and 1 Pet 2:18). He also speaks to the slave master, Philemon, to be gracious to his runaway slave, Onesimus, when he returns to him. The issue was how these slaves would represent Christ who had made them slaves to God, freeing them from their enslavement to sin. It was about submission and obedience – both in action and in attitude. 

Paul writes that he wants the slaves to adorn the doctrine of God by being submissive and not being argumentative and so on. The word adorn is the Greek word kosmeo, where we get our word cosmetics. It meant to arrange jewels to best display their beauty. It was to make something attractive or to give credit to the object in view. The fact that Paul even mentions slaves in this letter showed everyone they had value and that their lives mattered. What is more, the way they lived their lives mattered greatly. They were to be “well-pleasing”, they should not argue or steal, they should submit. Above all, they should do these things even when their master was out of sight because as believers they had a Master who saw everything they did. Their good behavior was an adornment to display the beauty of the doctrines of God. Perhaps their good behavior would attract others to Christ.

Bridging Contexts

Whether you are an older man, younger man, or slave, your behavior should reflect the Master. This is true for the women as well. Right living matters. It matters for every person! Am I making Christ look attractive by the way I live? Would others be drawn to Christ by how I live? Does my life give credit or glory to my Master? 

Titus: More Than the “Titus 2 Woman”

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titus-bkgd

I sat down to lunch with my two mentors (and fellow teachers) at my favorite Greek bakery. We came together to discuss what we’d be teaching the women for the Fall semester at our church. I had no idea when I arrived that I would leave with the Book of Titus as our assignment.

I can think of MANY books of the Bible that I would love to study and teach. Titus was not my first choice. I was thinking more along the lines of Hebrews or even one of the prophets (Isaiah). All I really knew about Titus was what I had heard about the Titus 2 Woman and also that Paul addressed matters related to the Church. My view on Titus, to say the least, was narrow.

However, I am always up for a challenge and typically find that I learn the MOST when I am the one who has to do the teaching. Consequently, I could stand to learn a LOT about Titus. In my previous post, I detail the process that happens when we choose a topic or book of the Bible to study. In this post I am going to describe the insights I have learned from my fellow teachers about Titus. I will also publish my lecture notes in a separate post.

The very first thing I learned about Titus is that it is more than the “Titus 2 Woman.” This book is rich in theology and full of application. It is the perfect harmonizing of orthodoxy (correct belief) and orthopraxy (correct practice). You cannot have one without the other. Take out orthodoxy, and you have no foundation for why to live a godly life. Take out orthopraxy, and you have a religion devoid of heart or relationship. One leaves you feeling ignorant and misdirected while the other leaves you feeling puffed up and hypocritical. Our motto for Titus has become: Sound doctrine rightly applied produces sound living.

Let’s take a look at the passage now:

Titus 1:1-9 (ESV – taken from Biblegateway.com)

Paul, a servant[a] of God and (A)an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and(B)their knowledge of the truth, (C)which accords with godliness, (D)in hope of eternal life, which God,(E)who never lies, (F)promised (G)before the ages began[b] and (H)at the proper time manifested in his word[c] (I)through the preaching (J)with which I have been entrusted (K)by the command of God our Savior;

To Titus, (L)my true child in (M)a common faith:

(N)Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior.

{You noticed that I left every cross reference and footnote. I promise I wasn’t being lazy. I left them in case you wanted to check them out for yourself!}

The first four verses are Paul’s greeting. Typically we breeze right past the greetings (and likewise with the final greetings or closing) and yet there is so much in there that can enlighten us concerning the culture, author, audience, purpose of the letter and so on. Laura (our leader who taught this lesson) broke down these verses into five sections: His position, office, mission, motivation, and method.

First, Paul lists his position as a bondservant. This is quite a humble statement to make of oneself due to the nature of this service. A bondservant was a slave who had sold himself voluntarily to a Master. Exodus 21:5-6 describes what a servant would do in order to remain a slave of his master. The master would bore his ear through with an awl, leaving a mark to show he belonged to his master. Paul was indicating that he belonged to God! He was not his own. His Master was the Lord, and he would serve Him out of surrendered humility.

Next Paul gives his office as an apostle which meant “one who is called and sent out as a messenger.” This title indicates authority as well. He was able to call himself an apostle along with the Twelve (disciples/apostles), and this title is one that no one else can claim. Baker’s Dictionary explains the qualifications for apostleship:

…the essential qualification of an apostle is being called and sent by Christ. In the case of Matthias, additional qualifications come to light. In addition to the divine call, the person must have been a disciple of Jesus from John’s baptism to the ascension, and specifically a witness of the resurrection (Ac 1:21-22)…. Paul’s own claim to apostleship is likewise based on the divine call of Christ (Rom 1:1 ; 1 Col 1:1 ; Galatians 1:1Galatians 1:15 ; cf. 2 Col 1:1 ; Eph 1:1 ; Col 1:1 ; 1 Tim 1:1 ; 2 Tim 1:1 ; Titus 1:1). He is an apostle, “not from men nor by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead” (Gal 1:1). His encounter with the resurrected Jesus served as the basis for his unique claim to be an “apostle to the Gentiles” (Rom 11:13)…. The primary function of the apostles was to witness to Christ. The Twelve had intimate knowledge of his life, and a wider group had been witnesses to his resurrection…. Paul viewed apostleship as a gift of the Spirit (1 Co 12:28), which was often accompanied by miraculous signs and mighty works (2 Co 12:12). Such signs and wonders, however, were clearly secondary to the apostolic functions of preaching and teaching. (emphasis mine)

There is a distinction to be made between those who are disciples and the thirteen men who were called apostles. Though the apostles can also be called disciples, not all disciples of Christ can be called apostles.

Thirdly Paul describes his mission to preach the knowledge of the truth which accords with godliness. Knowledge is the apprehension of understanding and this has a target: godliness. It is not a knowledge for knowledge’s sake. It is a knowledge that is proven by your actions.

Fourth Paul’s motivation is his hope of eternal life. The phrase “in hope of” meant “resting on, with a view to.” You might say Paul was at peace with a view of the hope that has been promised by God. He was resting in the promises of God. 🙂 Interestingly this would be directly contrasted with the Cretans experience of their gods (the Greek god, Zeus, in particular). Zeus was known for his ability to deceive. But Paul tells his audience that we have a God who never lies. Because of this, the Cretans could know for certain that the promise they’d been given by God would stand true. We too can trust in this God who is free from falsehood.

Finally we learn about Paul’s method which was to preach (by command of Jesus). He speaks of being “entrusted” with the Word of God, and this has the idea of guarding carefully. Those who teach and preach the Word must correctly handle it (2 Tim 2:15). Guard it! Treat it with respect because it comes from the Ultimate Authority.

{Stay tuned for Titus 1:5-9}

Strength and Dignity

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I have a dear friend who posted this meme on Facebook the other day:

strong-woman

I love the message! Don’t you? When you think of a strong person, you imagine someone with great physical strength who can rip apart lions (King David) or wield a donkey’s jawbone in a heated battle (Samson). Strong people are capable of tearing right through their obstacles, right? A sign of strength is how easily you can defeat an opponent or enemy. A person who shows weakness is the one who is meek and bows out of the fight, right? Uh. no. Not in this case.

Why is it that we buy into the lie that in order to be a strong person, we need to make everyone else around us feel weak? A brother or sister in Christ is not an obstacle to tear right through. We do not need to try to defeat one another in an effort to show how strong we are. Likewise we do not show weakness when we are meek and defer to another. On the contrary, this is great strength indeed.

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. (Matthew 5:5)

12 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. (Colossians 3:12-13)

Both Moses (Numbers 12:3) and Jesus (2 Corinthians 10:1) are described as meek or humble. There’s no way anyone would consider either of these men as being weak.

You do not prove your strength by belittling another person. You actually prove that you have weak character for it is in the way you treat another that reveals your heart.

I am grieved by what I hear week after week about the way women treat one another. The comparison game is deadly. It’s more like Russian Roulette than Candy Land. What I’ve seen is a twisted form of religious pompousness rather than a real life relationship with another sister. {Don’t get me wrong, I’ve also seen the real life relationships that genuinely bring encouragement and love to each person.}

Here’s what I mean: convictions for an individual quickly become measuring sticks for spiritual maturity.Well, I’m a stay at home mom, and if you aren’t a stay at home mom, that means you’re not a good Christian” “I homeschool my children because it’s the best way to raise a child, and if you don’t homeschool then you must be a lesser Christian.” “You aren’t married? Why not? You don’t have children? Why not?” I am giving up all I know to be a missionary and if you don’t want to do missions that means you don’t really love Christ or the lost.” 

Do I need to go on? Now I doubt that any thinking person would actually say any of those statements. But attitudes can speak for themselves. None of these convictions ever need to be a badge we wear to reveal how spiritual or devoted to God we are. God forbid.

Another dear friend of mine used to always say “Comparison is the thief of joy.” Why do we compare ourselves at all? If we compare ourselves in order to puff ourselves up, we have failed. If we compare ourselves to heap guilt on ourselves, we have failed. Put your measuring sticks far away, and instead of spending your time scrutinizing yourself or another person, take the time to appreciate another sister or appreciate the gifts and path God has given to you.

You can have your convictions and still value another sister’s obedience to God, even if it looks completely different from your own! And let me not even get started on how utterly arrogant it is to think that you or I have anything to do with our holiness or acceptance before God. We don’t wear badges, we actually receive crowns and even then we acknowledge that those crowns deserve to be at the feet of Jesus.

And we sing,

Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created. (Revelation 4:11)

{So technically that passage is referring to the 24 elders, but you get the idea.}

He alone is worthy. And it is God who created us to the Body of Christ who serves one another with special gifts in order to edify the whole Church. Edify, not tear down. Nourish and lift up, not weaken or destroy.

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:10)

God prepared good works for each of us before we even knew we belonged to Him in order that we could walk around on His earth as the hands and feet of Jesus. We are His ambassadors with marching orders to reconcile people back to Him (2 Corinthians 5:18-20). To reconcile! Not to draw people away from Him with our selfish motives.

We don’t need to clamor for His attention, trying to draw His gaze toward us, hoping that He’ll take notice of how great we are. No! We humbly submit to the One who is worthy of all glory and honor and power. We can do this by walking in those good works that He’s prepared for us to do. And some of those good works involve building up our brothers and sisters in Christ.

25 Strength and dignity are her clothing,
    and she laughs at the time to come.
26 She opens her mouth with wisdom,
    and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue. (Proverbs 31:25-26)

A woman with strength and dignity is wise and kind. Ironically she also recognizes her own weaknesses and even relishes in them, knowing that when she is weak, [He is] strong (2 Corinthians 12:10).

My sweet friend reminded me too that we need to be women full of grace for ourselves and for one another. We’re all going to fall, sometimes in small ways and other times in large ways. Wouldn’t you want someone to come alongside you and help you along rather than be put to shame by a sideways glance or a disappointed shaking of the head?

In case you’ve ever been hurt by a careless statement, consider first to give that person the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps that woman did not mean to hurt your feelings nor make you feel like a lesser Christian. Sometimes people say stupid things, and those aren’t necessarily judgments about you. More often than not, that individual hasn’t considered the implications of her words and is simply expressing her (not-so-tactful) opinion or strongly held conviction.

Let us all be careful with our words for it is by those words that we will be judged (Matthew 12:37). Wouldn’t you rather spend your limited time here on earth using your words to build up and encourage? I thought so.

(P.S. I know more women who are getting this right than women who are getting this wrong. Christ has given us a beautiful and perfect example of love for His bride, and He’s called us to this same kind of love for each other. We are the bride of Christ, and the world will know we are His based on our love for each other! So go love!!) John 13:35

To Inhabit Our Praise

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Inhabits our praise - glory

My husband has been reading Psalm 22 recently which means I get to hear about what he’s discovered. 🙂 I love it. He has written a lesson about it, and I’ve heard it now three times. I still love it. He relates the Psalm to Matthew 27, but not before thoroughly discussing what it must have meant at the time David wrote it. It’s quite a fascinating study, and one I would recommend for everyone!

My favorite part of the Psalm (at least today) struck me right in the heart as if I had read it for the first time. The verse wasn’t even pertinent to the study at that moment, but it hit me hard nonetheless. Go ahead, read the 22nd Psalm for yourself. Something else might strike you.

But here’s the verse in all it’s glory:

Yet you are holy,
    enthroned on the praises of Israel.

David is clearly feeling forsaken (was it because of his first plight with Saul? or was it because of the Philistines? or perhaps one of his sons was out to get him?), but in verse 3 he writes, “Yet You are holy….” An emphatic statement made by a man who needed to remind himself who God is in the midst of his trials. I would surmise that David wasn’t feeling so certain about many things (whether or not he’d live, who his friends were, his role in Israel) yet he knew this truth about God. It’s a beautiful thing to recall God’s character for the encouragement of our aching, uncertain heart.

But this isn’t even my favorite part!

David tells us that God is “enthroned on the praises of Israel.” Another way to say this would be that God inhabits the praise of His people or that God dwells in the praise of His people.

Can we just pause for a moment and think about what that means??

I love how the Hebrew language is full of imagery at its core. This verse gives us an incredible mental picture of our holy God dwelling inside of our praise.

He dwells in our praise!

When I think of God inhabiting a place, I imagine every inch of that place being completely filled with Him. Think of what Isaiah saw when he had the vision of God in the temple:

In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple.Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said:

Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory!”

And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” Isaiah 6:1-5 (emphasis mine)

God was on His throne and the temple wasn’t filled with God, it was filled with only the train of His robe! Imagine the enormity of God! The most bottom piece of His robe is what fills the gigantic (to us) temple! The seraphim tell us that the whole earth is full of His glory (which makes sense why only the bottom of His kingly robe would fit inside of a teensy temple). Notice the reference to God as holy (only this time it is emphasized with the triple repetition). David knew God is holy. Isaiah knew God is holy (interesting fact about Isaiah: he refers to God as “the Holy One of Israel” more than any other prophet). The Holy One filled the temple with a piece of His robe revealing that the place was not only completely filled with Him, but it couldn’t even contain Him.

Now picture the Holy One taking up the space of our praise.

Doesn’t that send chills down your spine? We know God is Immanuel – He is God with us. We know that God made His Son come to dwell among us. We know that when Jesus ascended into heaven, He left His Holy Spirit to dwell in us. This Holy One fills up the space of our lives with Himself. More importantly, He inhabits the praise of His people.

What does this mean for us? If God fills up the space that our praise makes, how much space is full of God in our lives? It’s both sobering and break-taking. Can you envision the Holy One occupying the space in our churches and homes as we lift up our voices to Him in praise? Can you see Him hovering about in those teensy buildings just as He first hovered over the waters during creation? A sense of anticipation and joy as He readies Himself to give life to His creation.

The presence of God is in our midst, and He comes to dwell with us as we pour out our praise to Him. He lives in our praise.

How would this change our lives if we really believed it? If God lives in my praise, wouldn’t I take extra care to pour it out? And if I know He dwells in my praise, wouldn’t I want to speak it liberally so that others could see His presence here on earth?

How does the mood of our homes and churches change when we are intent on speaking His praise? Only His praise? I have a hunch that my words would not fall to the floor as often if I had His praise in mind. There would be less criticism, less angry words, and more love and grace.

Yet you are holy,
    enthroned on the praises of Israel.

May His praise ever be on my lips.

Gomer: A Heart Unfaithful (Part 2)

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Bind my wandering heart to Thee

Perhaps some time has passed between his last oracle and the next one. Hosea 2:2 stands out as a very stark picture concerning Gomer:

2Plead with your mother, plead—
for she is not my wife,
and I am not her husband—
that she put away her whoring from her face,
and her adultery from between her breasts;
lest I strip her naked
and make her as in the day she was born,
and make her like a wilderness,
and make her like a parched land,
and kill her with thirst.

Ezekiel 16:15 also says quite bluntly to Israel:

But you trusted in your beauty and played the whore because of your renown and lavished your whorings on any passerby; your beauty became his.

And again in Hosea 4:12,

My people inquire of a piece of wood,
and their walking staff gives them oracles.
For a spirit of whoredom has led them astray,
and they have left their God to play the whore.

How many times did Hosea have to plead with Gomer? How many times did she leave, wander away?

We know that tradition calls Jeremiah the weeping prophet, but I have to wonder how terribly sorrowful Hosea must have been. He didn’t just SPEAK God’s message, He LIVED it. If Israel was going to play the whore, Hosea was to play the husband to the whore. He was becoming very acquainted with God’s heart for His people, and it HURT.

You can hear the note of agony in his voice as he’s ready to do just about anything to bring her back. Strip her naked? Make her like the wilderness? Kill her with thirst? In other words, put her in a place of need so she can learn dependence on the One who loves her.

Bind her wandering heart to him.

God continues His tone of judgement for their sins in v.9-13. Gomer and Israel believed their lovers had given them the grain and wool and drink and gold so God would take it all away. He says in v. 9-11,

Therefore I will take back
my grain in its time,
and my wine in its season,
and I will take away my wool and my flax,
which were to cover her nakedness.
10 Now I will uncover her lewdness
in the sight of her lovers,
and no one shall rescue her out of my hand.
11 And I will put an end to all her mirth,
her feasts, her new moons, her Sabbaths,
and all her appointed feasts.

Isaiah also speaks to their feasts in 1:13-14

13 Bring no more vain offerings;
incense is an abomination to me.
New moon and Sabbath and the calling of convocations—
    I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly.
14 Your new moons and your appointed feasts
my soul hates;
they have become a burden to me;
I am weary of bearing them.

Hosea 2:12-13 continues,

12 And I will lay waste her vines and her fig trees,
of which she said,
These are my wages,
which my lovers have given me.’
I will make them a forest,
and the beasts of the field shall devour them.
13 And I will punish her for the feast days of the Baals
when she burned offerings to them
and adorned herself with her ring and jewelry,
and went after her lovers
    and forgot me, declares the Lord.

Micah 1:7 says of the harlot’s wages,

All her carved images shall be beaten to pieces,
all her wages shall be burned with fire,
and all her idols I will lay waste,
for from the fee of a prostitute she gathered them,
and to the fee of a prostitute they shall return.

God says His people, Israel, had gone after her lovers. They forgot God. The word forgot in Hebrew is shakach (shaw-kakh’) and means to forget, ignore, wither, to cease to care.

God had already forewarned them all the way back in Deuteronomy 8:11-14, 17-19

11 “Take care lest you forget the Lord your God by not keeping his commandments and his rules and his statutes, which I command you today, 12 lest, when you have eaten and are full and have built good houses and live in them, 13 and when your herds and flocks multiply and your silver and gold is multiplied and all that you have is multiplied,14then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery,15 who led you through the great and terrifying wilderness, with its fiery serpents and scorpions and thirsty ground where there was no water, who brought you water out of the flinty rock, 16 who fed you in the wilderness with manna that your fathers did not know, that he might humble you and test you, to do you good in the end. 17 Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’ 18 You shall remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your fathers, as it is this day. 19 And if you forget the Lord your God and go after other gods and serve them and worship them, I solemnly warn you today that you shall surely perish.”

Hosea, wanting to put a stop to Gomer’s adulterous lifestyle says in Hosea 2:6-7,

6Therefore I will hedge up her way with thorns,
and I will build a wall against her,
so that she cannot find her paths.
She shall pursue her lovers
but not overtake them,
and she shall seek them
but shall not find them.
Then she shall say,
‘I will go and return to my first husband,
for it was better for me then than now.’

It’s like he’s resolved to the fact that she is going to wander and continue to pursue those other men, but he still holds out hope that she will return to him. That she would bind her wandering heart to her husband.

He hopes she’ll realize that she really was better off with Hosea than with pursuing her passions. For God, His hope was that His bride would return to Him: Isaiah 54:5-6

5For your Maker is your husband,
the Lord of hosts is his name;
and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer,
the God of the whole earth he is called.
For the Lord has called you
    like a wife deserted and grieved in spirit,
like a wife of youth when she is cast off,
says your God.

Hear His words with all the anguish dripping from them. You have deserted me. You have forgotten your first love.

One of my favorite images is this one about the Hedge. One of my mentors, Jamy Fisher, wrote a Bible study on Hosea called Chains Falling. In it she writes about the hedge.

In Hosea this hedge is translated in NIV as “thorn bushes”. Its purpose was to keep Gomer from pursuing her sinful desires. It was placed as a boundary.

Elsewhere in Scripture, a hedge is used for protection. In Job 1:10 Satan tells God,

Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land.”

It was protection from harm, poverty, etc.  and was a blessing on his work and possessions. However, here’s how Job saw the hedge – as a barrier, keeping something good hidden from him. He didn’t see the purpose of the hedge in Job 3:23

“Why is light given to a man whose way is hidden, / whom God has hedged in?”

Sometimes those hedges God builds up for us that look thorny and seem to hide good things from our view, are really meant to protect us and to keep us from stumbling like Gomer.

Jesus Sought Me When a Stranger, Wand’ring from the Fold of God

If you don’t see God as a romantic, just read the next verses in Hosea. Hosea 2:14 says,

“Therefore, behold, I will allure her,
and bring her into the wilderness,
and speak tenderly to her.

The word allure in Hebrew is Pathah (paw-thaw’) and carries with it a note of deception and persuasion. To entice, even seduce.

The phrase “speak tenderly” is that same phrase used in Ruth of Boaz who “spoke kindly” to her (Ruth 2:13) and of David who spoke to Abigail to be his wife (1 Sam 25).

I wonder if Hosea tried to speak tenderly to Gomer, urging her to come home. Did he go out to find her, catch her in a shameful act, and respond with this gentle tenderness? How would her heart respond to him?

Poor Gomer maybe never knew (before Hosea) how a woman was to be treated. Did she know what it meant to be a wife? To be treasured and not abused? To be seen as beautiful and for that to be celebrated and not used for another’s pleasure? Did she know what it meant for a man to treat her with kindness, expecting nothing in return?

Even beyond this, could she have known that as much as Hosea loved her, the God who made her also delighted in her and desired to pour out His love on her? Did she know He had created her for much greater purposes than how she was currently living?

I imagine this picture of God bending down, stooping to whisper in His bride’s ear Come back to Me, My love.

He pursues His bride but in this case it is with romance and tenderness. It’s Your kindness, Lord, that leads us to repentance. (Rom 2:4)

However, recall the kind of bride Israel has been to her Groom. This bride has been unfaithful. Like Gomer, she has forsaken, forgotten, left her husband. And God’s response is KINDNESS?

His kindness makes absolutely no sense! His pursuit of His unfaithful bride is absurd!

Let me ask you this. How many times either in your relationship with a family member or in your relationship to God have you been forgiven or loved even though you didn’t deserve it? In fact, you probably deserved punishment or scorn?

How many times have you expected someone or God to really rip into you about something you did wrong and give you a good tongue lashing only to have just the opposite happen? God certainly brought judgement on His people and gives them plenty of reprimands and corrections. However, He responds in this passage with kindness.

How much more did you love that person or how much more did you love God in that moment when He gives you love and not discipline? In fact maybe you would have preferred the tongue lashing, knowing you deserved it, and felt like you had it coming? Doesn’t your heart melt with the deepest affection, knowing you deserved the punishment and yet He withholds it AND then pours on Love and Mercy?

She who has been forgiven much, loves much. (Luke 7 the Sinful Woman Forgiven)

As Hosea continues this image of hope, he writes in v. 15,

 And there I will give her her vineyards
and make the Valley of Achor a door of hope.
And there she shall answer as in the days of her youth,
as at the time when she came out of the land of Egypt.

Hosea speaks of the Valley of Achor in this prophecy. Achor meant “trouble”. God promises to make the Valley of Trouble a Door of Hope. But what’s the Valley of Achor? And why is it trouble?

Gomer valley_of_achor

It comes from Joshua 7 when Achan had kept some of the devoted items for himself which incurred God’s wrath and resulted in Israel’s military defeat against the city of Ai. Verses 24-26 tells us,

24 And Joshua and all Israel with him took Achan the son of Zerah, and the silver and the cloak and the bar of gold, and his sons and daughters and his oxen and donkeys and sheep and his tent and all that he had. And they brought them up to the Valley of Achor. 25 And Joshua said, “Why did you bring trouble on us? The Lord brings trouble on you today.” And all Israel stoned him with stones. They burned them with fire and stoned them with stones. 26 And they raised over him a great heap of stones that remains to this day. Then the Lord turned from his burning anger. Therefore, to this day the name of that place is called the Valley of Achor.

God’s promise was to bring Hope out of Trouble. Beauty from Ashes.

Next, (v. 15) God gives us this image of Israel as a young bride “in the days of her youth” when she had loved her God wholeheartedly. Jeremiah 2:2 words it this way:

Thus says the Lord, “I remember the devotion of your youth,
your love as a bride,
how you followed me in the wilderness,
in a land not sown.

He had caused them to wander in the wilderness so they could learn devotion and dependence to/on the One who chose them and provided for them.

But now, He tells them how He wishes they were like that blushing bride again, having a pure devotion and love for their God again.

Poor Hosea maybe never knew this devotion from his wife.

As we read of God’s bride responding to Him, Hosea says in v. 16-17:

16 “And in that day, declares the Lord, you will call me ‘My Husband,’ and no longer will you call me ‘My Baal.’ 17 For I will remove the names of the Baals from her mouth, and they shall be remembered by name no more.

My Baal meant my Master. It was a generic word for “lord”. The people were using this common term for their holy God. The people had mixed up their worship of the One True God with man-made, hand-carved idols.

The worship of Baal had become so common that God speaks of a time when that word will be removed from their mouths. Instead of the people forgetting their God, they would be forgetting the name of Baal.

Was Gomer accustomed to calling Hosea her master instead of her husband? Does this reveal her lack of relationship with her husband?

Do you call Him Lord because you think you have to? Or do you call Him My Love because you value that relationship with Him?

Is He too familiar? Too common to you? This is God in His holy place. He is not your master who lords His power over you. He is your Husband who pours out His love over you. (Rom 5:5 through the Spirit in us)

Hosea (God) goes on to speak of “that day” like He’s in a perfect day dream in v. 18-20:

18 And I will make for them a covenant on that day with the beasts of the field, the birds of the heavens, and the creeping things of the ground. And I will abolish the bow, the sword, and war from the land, and I will make you lie down in safety. 19 And I will betroth you to me forever. I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy. 20 I will betroth you to me in faithfulness. And you shall know the Lord.

I am very fascinated by all the marriage language in Hosea. Here, He writes about betrothing Israel to Himself forever. Remember how He had previously said, “You are not My people”? (1:9) And “…she is not my wife, and I am not her husband”? (2:2)

Was Hosea saying, even though you, Gomer, have left me for your lovers, I will betroth you to me forever? And Gomer, you will know the Lord!

Is God saying He will take them as His wife to love them in righteousness, justice, love, mercy, faithfulness. To be all these things to Him? I take you as My wife forever. In sickness and in health. In righteousness and in sinfulness. In justice and in perversion of justice. In love and in rejection. In mercy and in judgment. In faithfulness and unfaithfulness.

OR is He saying I will put a heart in YOU to be righteous, just, loving, merciful, faithful to ME? You’ve forgotten the Lord, but THEN you will know the Lord. You aren’t faithful now, but you will be faithful then.

Tune my heart to sing Thy grace.

Hosea 2:21-23 says,

21 “And in that day I will answer, declares the Lord,
I will answer the heavens,
and they shall answer the earth,
22 and the earth shall answer the grain, the wine, and the oil,
and they shall answer Jezreel,
23     and I will sow her for myself in the land.
And I will have mercy on No Mercy,
and I will say to Not My People, ‘You are my people’;
and he shall say, ‘You are my God.’”

Remember earlier in Hosea 1 Jezreel meant “God scatters”, but the word can also mean “God sows” which is the image we see here in Hosea 2. Whereas He had previously promised to punish them for the sin of Jehu there at Jezreel, He would (in that day) bring Israel back and “sow” her in the land. They would be removed for a time from the promised land (with the exile) and would be planted back in their land “in that day”.

In that day God would make this covenant to show mercy on those who had no mercy. To call those who were not His people, My people. In Jeremiah 31:33 the prophet writes,

For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.

We can look to Jesus, knowing He made it possible for us to know the Father. He writes His law on our hearts. He gives us the Spirit which sanctifies us and transforms us into the image of the Son. And through His Spirit we cry “Abba, Father”! (Rom 8:15; Gal 4:6)

In Romans 9, Paul writes about the Gentiles becoming a part of God’s people and he references Hosea! In v. 25-26 he says those who were not My people will be called My people.

There is such hope for us. We look to that ultimate fulfillment where Jesus will come and gather His people together to be with Him forever in peace and in the presence of God. In. That. Day.

Samson’s Wife & Delilah – Part 2

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The phrase “right in my eyes” (14:3) is significant because that same phrase (more or less) is repeated in Judges revealing that everyone was doing what was right in their eyes and not what was right in GOD’S eyes. Even Samson, who is one of the supposed Israelite leaders (appointed from inside his mother’s womb), had been doing whatever he wanted, seemingly without thought for God’s law, which clearly prohibited foreign marriages.

This foreign marriage, forbidden in the law, should have been a huge red flag for Samson, but the writer says it was of the Lord!! Judges 14:4:

…it was from the LORD, for He was seeking an opportunity against the Philistines.

Somehow God had allowed this to happen so that He would have more opportunities to strike the Philistines for the sake of His Covenant People. The same Covenant people who had strayed so far that they didn’t even bother crying out to their God when the oppressors came. Yet God pursued the faithless ones.

The Word Commentary asks, “why would this foreign marriage be ‘of God’? God retains freedom to accomplish His purposes through the people and means He chooses.” (p. 333)

Can you think of any other men of God whom the Lord determined would marry unsavory brides? Hosea! We’ll learn about his wife, Gomer, later on in our study.

It is good to remember that the Scriptures were not being written as the events were happening. The historian/writer has the advantage of hindsight to see how God was present in the situations that unfolded for Israel. Isn’t that how it seems for us sometimes? It feels like we can often see God more clearly after the difficult season is over. We can attribute God’s work in our lives more easily once we’ve passed through the trials. We see His work as protection or see His love in the way He withheld something we thought we wanted/needed. He is ALWAYS at work in our lives even though we may not always know how. And when we don’t understand His hands, we can always trust His heart.

This is one of those topics that is hard to address because it reveals how little we know about God’s sovereignty and our own will. I’m not going to get into free will and God’s sovereignty at this moment, because I don’t think anyone can fully understand how it all works. I am, however, absolutely certain that I need no help from God to commit sins. He is never responsible for my sin because He is perfectly holy. However, God is responsible for any good thing in me. He is the one who works in me, conforming me into the image of His Son.

Scholar R. G. Bowman describes this delicate theological issue: “The writer of Judges portrays God as a [god] who intervenes to punish the people for their sins and works with human leaders to deliver the people from their enemies, but refrains from using divine powers to prevent human failures. Bowman sees a fine balancing act between the divine exercise of power and the exercise of human freedom and will.” (More to the Eye Than Meets the Eye in Biblical Interpretation)

Although I have seen Samson painted as having a dull wit, not being too smart but completely driven by his own passions, I wonder if he didn’t make his choices, fully knowing the consequences. After all, perhaps he really was aware that his choices would cause trouble between Israel and Philistia, and maybe this is why he continues to make one “bad” choice after another. (The text doesn’t give any indication that he was aware at all, but I really want to give him the benefit of the doubt, because how could anyone be this bad??!)

Word Commentary notes, “Rather than gathering armies to fight the Philistines, Samson gathers girlfriends who create anger and violence between Samson and the [Philistines].” (p. 334)

John Milton writes in his poem about Samson (Samson Angonistes) that he takes personal responsibility for his actions: “Nothing of all these evils hath befall’n me / But justly; I myself have brought them on, / Sole Author I, sole cause. (375-76)

So was Samson an oblivious man of passions or a man in tune with God’s plans?

Then in verses 5-6 we have this weird story about Samson tearing apart a lion and they seem rather awkwardly and inappropriately placed in the middle of a wedding proposal and feast! (Not exactly a bride’s dream) But this story is important for understanding Samson’s riddle later on. It also represents something very important for Israel!

Back in Judges 13:5 it says of Samson,

for the child shall be a Nazirite to God from the womb, and he shall begin to save Israel from the hand of the Philistines.

I place emphasis on the word BEGIN for Samson did not finish Israel’s business with the Philistines. David is actually credited with ridding Israel of them (2 Sam 8:1).

So this scene with the lion is symbolic of the Philistines, coming out of nowhere, to attack Israel, but God had gifted Samson with great strength and he was able to tear the lion apart. Samson would begin to save Israel from the Lion Philistia. (The Symbolism of the Lion and the Bees by Martin Emmrich in Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society)

Then in verse 8 it says

he turned aside to see the carcass of the lion, and behold, there was a swarm of bees in the body of the lion, and honey.

Again we have this image of a lion, but now it is a dead, rotten carcass with bees and their honey inside of it.

Samson eats the honey and gives some to his parents. You might have picked up on the fact that this would have broken his Nazirite vow, defiling himself by having contact with the dead. But something more is at play because nothing is mentioned about the broken vow.

This narrative is what I call a “teaching sandwich” in the sense that something happens (Samson rips the lion apart), the scene goes on to a seemingly disconnected point in the story, then something else happens to connect the events all together (carcass). It’s just like what Jesus did in Mark when He cursed the fig tree, then drove out the money changers, only to return to a withered fig tree in order to teach about who His true disciples were (as opposed to the money changers). Mmmm take a huge bite and taste the honey!

First of all, it would have been unheard of for bees to settle into the carcass of a dead lion. This in and of itself would have been as miraculous as the defeat of the lion.

Block writes, “In a world of decay and decomposition Samson discovers a “community” of bees not only existing but producing sweetness to the world around. The [writer’s] choice of [the Hebrew word] cedâ, (ay – daw) “community,” rather than seres, the common word for “swarm”, is deliberate. Except for Ps 68:30 [Hb. 31], ceda always refers to a company of people, usually the Israelites as a faith community, called to be agents of grace and light in the decadent world.” (Martin Emmrich) (Also mentioned in Word Commentary p. 335)

It appears as though the writer of Judges is revealing how God would, starting with Samson, destroy Israel’s enemies, giving Israel back their home where they could again be a community enjoying the fruits (HONEY) of the land.

Martin Emmrich writes, “the divine blessing connected with Israel’s peaceful existence in the land is often described in terms of the sweetness of honey: “For Yahweh your God is bringing you into a good land … a land of olives and honey“(Deut 8:7-8).”

Likewise, just as a lion’s carcass is an unlikely place for bees to settle, so too was Canaan an unlikely land for the Israelites to settle with its idolatrous people riddled with sin’s defilement. Like the bees in the carcass, Israel would settle into the idolatrous land after the death of their enemies.  (Emmrich)

Next we have the wedding feast in verse 10. The word feast (mishteh) can mean drinking feast. (footnote in ESV) Most scholars believe that Samson couldn’t have avoided the drinking that would have taken place at this feast.

All throughout these chapters, we have no sense that Samson is even aware of his Nazirite vow. That is, not until he tells Delilah his secret. So even though we’re jumping ahead a little bit, it helps us understand that Samson had the knowledge of the vow. However, this knowledge didn’t seem to stop him from breaking it twice now, seemingly showing no care or honor for God’s calling on his life.

“Rejection of Knowledge”

They have neither knowledge nor understanding,
    they walk about in darkness…. (Psalm 82:5)

 My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge; because you [JUDGES] have rejected knowledge… (Hosea 4:6)

The supposed leader of the Israelites had rejected the knowledge of his high calling. So isn’t it ironic that he decides to try his hand at a riddle.

“Riddles in the Ancient World”

The use of riddles at feasts was popular in the ancient world. You may recall the queen of Sheba asking Solomon “hard questions”, very likely riddles (1 Kings 10:1; 2 Chron 9:1). Solomon later became the famous author of proverbs and riddles. Ezekiel was instructed to speak a riddle to Israel in 17:2. To know dark sayings was considered a mark of wisdom (Prov. 1:6).

So what does this say about Samson? He had some degree of intelligence about him that he was able to come up with this clever riddle which, by the way, his companions tried and failed to solve! It says in verse 14 that they tried to solve it for 3 days until they asked Samson’s wife to entice him to give her the answer. Their motivation for her? We’ll burn you and your father if you don’t find out.

I almost feel sorry for Samson’s new wife. Verse 17 tells us she cries for the 7 days that the feast lasted, no doubt terrified at the thought of being burned alive with her father if she failed to discover his secret. So much for a fun wedding party! Poor poor Miss Philistine.

The phrase in verse 17 “she pressed him hard” is the same wording in Judges 16:16 when Delilah “pressed him hard day after day”. The word carries a note of distress and oppression, enough to cause Samson to break down and give in to her “pressing”.

Or did he? Did he know all along what was happening, allowing his new wife to badger him for those 7 days, and then gave her the answer at the very last moment, ready for another skilled retort to answer the Philistines?

The men answer Samson in the form of a riddle, and you can almost taste the irony in their answer. “What is sweeter than honey? What is stronger than a lion?” Who was it that simply ripped a lion in half? Samson. So it appears as though Samson is stronger than the lion. He didn’t keep that part a secret for nothing!

But the true answer may well have been LOVE or a woman’s allure. (NIVAC) Samson may have been referring to the irresistibility of love. J (by Philip Nel The Riddle of Samson in Biblica). Love is sweeter than honey, Love is stronger than a lion.  Perhaps now you can see the irony in his riddle as he is overcome with “love” for these women of Philistia!

Samson gives his retort, another riddle in the Hebrew (v. 18), as if he had already planned how to respond, knowing all along that his wife was going to betray him. And then they get to find out just how strong this man is! The Scripture says he went all the way to Ashkelon to strike down these 30 men. To give you an idea of the distance here is a map showing Timnah and Ashkelon: It was approximately 30 miles southwest of Timnah!

Samson map clear

Verse 19 is the third time the Spirit of the LORD is mentioned in Samson’s life. There are four times in this narrative in which the Spirit plays a part in his exploits.

The first time, I already mentioned, was at the beginning of his “career” in 13:25, with the Spirit “stirring” Samson. Then in 14:6 with the lion, here in 14:19 when he kills 30 men at Ashkelon (Philistine city), and also in 15:14-17 when he killed 1,000 Philistines with the jawbone of a donkey. In the last three verses, the text says the same phrase: “The Spirit of the LORD rushed upon him”.

Here again we can assume that either Samson is aware that God is with him and this is one of those “opportunities against the Philistines” OR God uses this man’s hasty and violent actions to bring trouble on the Philistines.

Although his actions are violent, he makes good on his bargain by giving his 30 companions the promised clothing! There is absolutely no mention of Samson being angry with his new wife about giving him up. But he is definitely angry. Marching out in “hot anger” to be exact. Then verse 20 wraps up the passage with a little tid-bit of information about his wife who now belongs to his companion, or best man. This is beginning to sound like an episode of Jerry Springer.

Poor Miss Philistine gets shuffled around by her father, but perhaps she can look on the bright side, she didn’t die! And she still ended up with a husband! Taste the irony in our teaching sandwich.

Then we get to chapter 15. Here again we find a very strange story, that grabs our attention and leaves us with an empty pit in our stomachs. It’s the classic case of revenge and tragedy, resulting in our sympathy even for the enemy.

I want you to notice the description in verse 1 of the time of year. When you see descriptors like “wheat harvest” or other time references, they are almost always clues for understanding something else in the text. In this case we know that Samson dealt quite the blow to the Philistines when he burned up their ripe-for-harvest fields.

Beth Shemesh, Sorek Valley Area

To give you an idea of the importance of the grain crops in this region, here is an aerial view of the Sorek Valley. The Sorek River winds its way from left to right. The Sorek Valley continues to the left where it runs into Timnah. You can see the Judean Mountains at the top of the picture. The Israelite towns of Zorah and Eshtaol would be in the foothills of the mountains there (among the trees). Beth-Shemesh, which is also part of Israel, is on the right hand side of the valley.

You can see how fertile this area is and why both the Philistines and Israelites harvested their crops in the valley! To this present day the corn-fields in that part of the lowlands (known as the Shephelah) extend continuously for twenty or thirty miles.

Samson arrives to collect his bride but finds out she’s been given away to his best man and is then offered her younger, supposedly more beautiful, sister.

I pause now to ponder what Miss Philistine might have thought when her Israelite suiter came knocking for a second time. Did she have any affection for this man? Was she happy to see that he’d come back for her? Or did she only feel dread because she realized this man was reckless and bent on destroying her people? Was she happy to be with a man of her own people and bothered that Samson came back around? Was she afraid he might do something to put her life in jeopardy again?

Samson obviously refuses the second daughter and in verses 4-5 sets about with the task of trapping 300 foxes, tying torches to their tails, and setting them loose in the valley where their fields of wheat, corn, and olive groves are ready for harvest. Samson’s revenge with the foxes does not involve the Spirit of God this time. It seems to be all Samson. Another opportunity against the Philistines!

Block writes, “All [Samson’s] achievements are personal…Unlike the [other] deliverers, he never seeks to rid Israel of foreign oppressors, and he never calls out the Israelite troops. Samson is a man with a higher calling than any other deliverer in the book, [yet] he spends his whole life ‘doing his own thing.’” (p. 441 in NAC)

There are two interesting background stories at play in this account. First, him burning the fields would have been a violation of the Mosaic law according to Exodus 22:6:

If fire breaks out and catches in thorns so that the stacked grain or the standing grain or the field is consumed, he who started the fire shall make full restitution.

Secondly, the god of the Philistines was Dagon, and scholars now believe he was the god of grain!!! (NIVAC) So remember how God brought the plagues on Egypt? Each of those plagues was an affront against the Egyptian gods. (A big thanks to my friend Angela for sharing this chart with me!)

Samson plagues on Egypt

This time, God uses Samson’s actions to show that He is sovereign over Dagon, the god of grain. They would watch as the fire licked up the grain, vineyards, and olive groves – the 3 dietary and economic staples of ancient Palestine. (Word Commentary) And their god would be silent. You might even say He outfoxed them!

All joking aside, do you see God’s relentless pursuit of His people? He is unwilling to share His glory with anyone!

I am the Lord; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols. Isaiah 42:8 (also in 48:11)

And He is jealous for His people.

Then the Lord became jealous for his land and had pity on his people. Joel 2:8 (also in Zech 1:14, 8:2)

The LORD our God is a consuming fire, a jealous God. Deut. 4:24

He pursues the enemy in wrath and judgment and yet will stop at nothing to pursue His beloved with His love and mercy, and yes even judgement. FEAR and LOVE mingled together.

But then one bad turn deserves another? And the Philistines burn Samson’s bride and her father just as Samson burned their fields. An eye for an eye, a bride for a field? (No, Philistines, a bride for a field is not a fair trade.)

I almost hate to say it but she appears as a mere pawn in their game of war. She was an untimely interruption of the heart, having no happy interruptions from God, but only tragic interruptions involving the destruction of her and her people. She was a Heart Devoted for Destruction.

We have one vengeful act stacked on top of another. The phrase “struck them hip and thigh” (v. 8) is meant to intensify the words “with a great blow”. One scholar writes that this could have been a “wrestling idiom [MEANING] total victory.” (Word Commentary p. 341; also in Tyndale “originating in the art of wrestling”).

Samson map large

Then Samson retreats like an animal as he hides in the rock at Etam, in Judah’s territory. The map above shows where scholars believe Etam might be (although they admit they’re not even sure where it really is). It’s almost humorous the way in which Judah handles their fellow countryman, like Samson is their enemy. It seems that they want to avoid confrontation with the Philistines at all costs, and so they send a delegation the size of a small army (3,000 men) to Samson (Block p. 444 NAC). Then they actually talk him into giving himself up the Philistines. What follows is the famous story of Samson killing 1,000 Philistines with the jawbone of a donkey!

Unfortunately, our woman of Philistia meets a tragic end much too early in her life. Her people had been marked by God, devoted for destruction, because of their sins against Him and their cruel treatment of His people.

{Stay tuned for Part 3 of the story involving Miss Delilah!}