Tag Archives: Luke 7

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.

Grace for WHO?

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Anointing-His-Feet-2 pharisees

As we’ve been studying Jesus’ encounters with different women in the gospels, I can’t help but notice that we miss so much because our culture is worlds apart from their culture. All the legalism of their man-made rules, all the stigma surrounding women in the 1st century, all the no-no’s both in religious and civic life. It makes my head spin just thinking about the issues they faced that I never even have to worry about today.

We learned about the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4. She had three strikes against her. 1. She was a woman. 2. She was a Samaritan. 3. She was a sinner! And yet Jesus stops by this well where she had strategically planned to be during the heat of day (when no one else would be there). He asks for a drink and ends up weaving together the most beautiful conversation with this woman to reach her heart. With neither condemnation nor judgment, He gets to the heart of her spiritual thirst. And He pours her a tall glass of Living Water by the end of their exchange.

Then we read about the sinful woman who anointed Jesus’ feet in Luke 7. Frankly, I think the story is as much about her as it is about the Pharisee with whom Jesus had been invited to dine. We tend to see this story with our 21st century eyes and stare aghast at Simon, the Pharisee, who seems to be quite judgmental of this woman. “If this man were really a prophet he would know what sort of a woman this was who was touching him,” he says to himself. “Wow, how rude!”, we think to ourselves.

But what does Jesus do? First of all, He let this woman touch Him. Don’t miss the scandal in this! She was a well-known sinner! She was called an “immoral woman” in some translations. We assume this means she was sexually promiscuous. Sinner=Unclean. If an unclean person touches you, in that culture, that means YOU become unclean. And these Jewish people took their ritual cleanliness seriously! They didn’t risk becoming unclean for just any reason, and especially not for a SINNER. Like I said, they had their man-made rules, in addition to the Law, which were far more strict (and not at all necessary!) that they followed to avoid becoming unclean.

Jesus, however, risks being religiously (politically) correct to give this woman His forgiveness. To give her dignity. He saw past her reputation, and although He was the only One who could have judged her, who could have condemned her, He speaks the words she had been dying inside to hear, “You are forgiven. Go in peace.”

We see this extreme demonstration of love and forgiveness for a sinful woman, one who receives grace because that’s how Jesus responds to sin. [That and dying for it.] But we don’t always see the other story playing alongside the woman’s redemption story. When Jesus either hears or perceives Simon’s comment about the woman, He starts in with a parable of a moneylender. There were two debtors. TWO of them. One owed 500 denarii and the other owed 50. TWO of them had debt. The moneylender forgave BOTH of them of their debt because NEITHER of them could pay it off. TWO debtors. Two UNABLE to pay back their debt. [Forgive my obnoxious all caps. Emphasis soon to be made clear…]  Jesus asks the Pharisee who of the two debtors loved the moneylender more. He doesn’t go into why they had piled up so much debt or ask who is more deserving of the forgiveness. Nope. He asks about love.

And why? Why does He make the moral of the story about love? He looks at the woman and speaks to Simon, revealing to him that her act of anointing His feet, in addition to the tears and wiping His dusty toes, is a greater example of love for Him than Simon’s hospitality toward Him. She had been forgiven much, so she loved much. It just makes sense.

But what is even more baffling to me is how Jesus chose to respond to the hypocritical and self-righteous attitude which Simon displayed on that day in his home. Just as Jesus did not condemn the sinful woman, neither does He condemn the Pharisee in his holier-than-thou approach toward the woman. Simon was the debtor! The one who owed 50 denarii. The one with the lesser debt, but still a DEBTOR nonetheless! Simon couldn’t pay his debt any more than the sinful woman could. All of us are sinners. Not one of us can pay the debt we owe to God. Even the most righteous of Pharisees needed the forgiveness of the only Righteous Judge. Yet the Pharisee could not love the way the greater debtor did. But Jesus treated him with dignity and helped him to see that God’s forgiveness is for all people. There is grace for the sinner, and there is grace for the self-righteous Pharisee.

*Sigh*

That Jesus. I love Him.

We are hopelessly lost in our sin whether we owe 50 or 500. Debt is debt. Our inability to pay up means we have need of a forgiving God. May we never forget. And may we see ourselves as the sinful woman because we realize we’ve been forgiven much.

Widow of Nain: A Heart that Mourns (Part 2)

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This is the video of my talk at our church. Below you will find the text and pictures from the lesson. Enjoy!

widow's son and jesus

 

The widow of Nain.

She mattered to Jesus.

This nameless woman in an obscure, tiny town in Israel caught His attention. Out of all the people Jesus could have spoken to or healed or served, He chose this poor widow. And I mean, “poor” in the most literal sense.

This chance meeting would have taken place in about the middle of Jesus’ ministry.

When reading in any of the gospels, it is helpful to know a few things about the writer in order to gain a fuller picture of the particular text you’re reading. For instance, Matthew often wrote about how Jesus fulfilled the Scriptures, showing that Jesus is the Messiah for whom the Jewish people were awaiting.

Because the story of this widow is only found in Luke, it is even more exciting to dig into the peculiarities of his gospel. Luke was a doctor and wrote his account in a very thorough way, researching facts and laying out a systematic view of Jesus. God uses the human individual, with all of the intricacies of his personality and life’s trade, to present His word to us.

The first thing I want you to know about Luke is that he likes to write about the downtrodden of society – the outcast, the unclean, etc.- and how Jesus reached out to them to relieve their distress. Think about who prophesied over Mary in the temple in Luke’s gospel. A widow named Anna, the poor of society. Think about who Luke writes are the first to see the baby Jesus. Shepherds, the outcasts and unclean of society. Think about who inherits the kingdom of heaven in the Sermon on the Plain. It’s the Poor (not the “poor in spirit” as Matthew writes).

Over and over, you’ll find Luke writing from a slightly different perspective concerning those who gain the attention of the Messiah. It goes completely against the grain of their culture, and this is exactly what happens for this nameless widow of Nain.

Luke includes her story in his gospel, one which didn’t get any mention in the other 3 gospels. And by the way, the city of Nain doesn’t get mentioned anywhere else either! The important story for the city of Nain involved a widow. Their one moment of fame is found in a simple widow.

Now, the city of Nain was very tiny. Some resources I read disagree on exactly where it is located. But most of them believe it was about 20 miles from Capernaum and looked out over the Plain of Jezreel. Here is a picture of a Franciscan church that is supposedly the site of the healing.

Nain

To get a better idea of the profound oddity if would have been for Jesus’s followers to watch Him spend time on a woman, much less one who was a widow, let me take you into a bit of history regarding the widow in ancient Israel, and leading up to Jesus’ time on earth. If you do a study in the Old Testament using the word “widow”, you’ll find words like “weeping”, “mourning”, “desolation”, and “poverty”.

A woman held minimal rights to an inheritance because most often the inheritance passed from father to son, rarely passing from man to wife. And if the woman’s husband died, that bond was severed which meant there would be no connection for her to his family or his inheritance. In addition, she had already left her father’s home to marry this man, so she would have to live in a state of poverty or else depend on people’s charity.*

So to be a widow in ancient Israel meant social and economic tragedy as you learned in your personal study this week. No inheritance means no land which means no money and no food! But then at least you’d have sons who could work the land if your husband died. And at least they’d provide for your needs as a woman in a patriarchal society. But oops, our widow of Nain just lost her only son. The future is bleak and hopeless, 50 times worse than simply being a widow! You may recall Ruth and Naomi, who were both in the same predicament this widow of Nain found herself. No husbands, no children, seemingly no hope.

Remember also that Jesus, when dying on the cross, charged John the Apostle to care for His own mother, a widow.

Weeping. Mourning. Desolation. Poverty.

That is the widow’s reality now.

Then enter Jesus.

Soon afterward he went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a great crowd went with him. 12 As he drew near to the gate of the town, behold, a man who had died was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow, and a considerable crowd from the town was with her. Luke 7:11-12

In Bible times it was customary for the widow to express her grief very outwardly and publically.

mourning clothes

Then she arose and went away, and taking off her veil she put on the garments of her widowhood. Genesis 38:19

And Joab sent to Tekoa and brought from there a wise woman and said to her, “Pretend to be a mourner and put on mourning garments. Do not anoint yourself with oil, but behave like a woman who has been mourning many days for the dead. 2 Samuel 14:2

Extra-biblical texts also include information regarding the widow in ancient times:

Judith 8:5-6 4 As a widow, Judith stayed inside her home for three years and four months. 5 She had had an upper room built for herself on the roof. She wore sackcloth next to the skin and dressed in widow’s weeds. 6 She fasted every day of her widowhood except for the Sabbath eve, the Sabbath itself, the eve of New Moon, the feast of New Moon and the joyful festivals of the House of Israel.

Now, that is an extreme view (and far-fetched if you ask me) of what happened for the widow. The grieving process was typically 7 days long and though it starts publicly with the funeral procession, it finishes in the person’s home. You will notice in the verses from Luke that a considerable crowd from town was with her. When reading in the Jewish documents*, you will find that the community of people were expected to stop everything and join in the funeral procession. The family of the deceased would often have professional wailers, eulogizers, and flute players. (Can you imagine what their resume read? Professional Mourner. Will not do rainy days.) It appears that the town just kind of stops for the mourning procession and joins in.

Now let’s look back at Jesus. He has His disciples and a “great crowd” with Him. As they come to the city gates, they see the dead man on the plank being carried out (this was because the dead were considered unclean and would need to be buried outside of the city walls).

And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said to her, “Do not weep.”

And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said to her, “Do not weep.” Luke 7:13

We naturally think of this scene and go “aww, He’s so sweet.” The Scripture says He SAW her.

Anyone would have known who it was that was most impacted by the deceased person’s passing because they would be closest in proximity to the wooden plank on which he was being carried.

Anyone could have guessed that this widow was devastated by her loss based on her outward expression of mourning. Anyone could have patted her arm in a comforting way as if to say, “I’m so sorry for your loss.”

But Jesus didn’t need to see the procession to know this woman of Nain had just lost her son. He IS the God Who Sees. He knew about it before they approached the city walls. He knew what was happening before the wailing cut through His ears. And He was the only One who could do anything about it.

Jesus saw her. Don’t pass over that statement. Jesus is the God who SEES. He is El Roi in the flesh. He saw with His divine eyes and perceived with His supernatural mind all that this poor widow was. And He KNEW her situation because He’s God. Jesus never has an accidental meeting. Do you really think that He ended up in Nain by chance? No way! Nain was so tiny that no one else even writes about it much less visits such a small, insignificant place! No, He knew that He would encounter this widow on the darkest moment of her life. And He knew He would have COMPASSION on her.

We typically speak of our emotions in terms of our heart. It was different for the 1st century folks.

The word compassion in the Greek is Splagchnizomai which has its root in Splagchnon. {I know what you’re thinking. You hoped for a prettier word for “compassion”. Well it gets even more interesting!} This word splagchnon referred to bowels, intestines, (also the heart, lungs, liver, etc.). The bowels were regarded by the Greeks as the seat of the more violent passions, such as anger and love; but by the Hebrews as the seat of the tenderer affections, esp. kindness, benevolence, compassion; hence our heart (tender mercies, affections, etc.).****

It also meant a heart in which mercy resides. This word probably came from the word “splen” or spleen {it makes sense why it sounds like a gutsy word, eh?}

I want to key in on the definition which mentioned mercy. Many times we think of mercy as God not giving us what we actually deserve (which is definitely true!). But there’s another side to mercy that is absolutely beautiful and displayed perfectly in this story of the widow of Nain.

Mercy is kindness or good will towards the miserable and the afflicted, joined with a desire to help them. It is not just passive, it is also active!

Jesus SEES the widow and moved with compassion (moved by His guts!), He extends mercy or kindness because of His desire to help her out of her misery and affliction. So His reply “do not weep” sounds, well, sweet. Like He was going to reach out and wipe her tear away with a look of genuine concern and care. That’s how I always pictured it anyway.

There was something very interesting though that the community of mourners would say to comfort those who mourned over their deceased relative. This is from Jewish rituals:

The gathered community lines the path, ideally from the grave to the [home], and as the mourners pass between these lines, they are greeted by each individual with the formulaic wish, “May God comfort you among all the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.“… But the wording of this prayer carries significance too. Its assurance of future comfort simultaneously acknowledges and validates the mourner’s present personal grief. On the other hand, its communally oriented content (among all the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem) both indicates that the comforters do indeed know what grief is and points out that the divine promises of the messianic healing of communal grief establish God as a comforter also concerned with healing the immediate personal grief. (**Ruth Langer)

Did you catch what happened? People were supposed to say “May God comfort you among all the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.” What did Jesus say? “Don’t weep.”

Weeping was precisely what the widow was SUPPOSED to do as was proper in the Jewish custom of mourning. (And those people took their mourning seriously! I mean, if you are hiring professional mourners, you’re invested.)

In addition, Jesus was SUPPOSED to say “May God comfort you…” but they weren’t greeted by just another man. The nameless widow of Nain was staring right into the face of the Messiah who had come to bring healing from all of their grief. There was no longer a future promise that God would be her comforter, He was the present reality of the comfort she needed. He wasn’t simply going to validate her grief. He was going to remove it! That’s why He told her “Don’t weep.”!

Cambell writes:

The words were actually a prophecy of the miracle soon to occur. Indeed, Jesus had done something so bold as to necessitate either an explanation of His words or a removal of the cause of the tears.***

Don’t you just love Him? 🙂

14 Then he came up and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” 15 And the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother.  Luke 7:14-15

There are three occasions recorded in which Jesus raised a person from the dead. Here in Luke 7, and also in Mark 5 with Jairus’ daughter, and in John 11 with Mary and Martha’s brother, Lazarus. Two accounts involve Jesus’s touch and all three involve His command to arise or get up or come forth!

Remember when I said that the dead were considered unclean? Numbers 19:11 says that anyone who touches a dead body would be unclean for 7 days. But Jesus reaches out His hand and tells the man to rise up.

It’s fun to imagine what the look on the faces of the pall bearers might have been. “First He tells her not to weep and now He’s going to touch the dead guy!” Maybe this is why they stood still. 😉 Remember, they don’t know that Jesus is the Messiah! But we know differently.

John records Jesus’ teaching just before He raised Lazarus:

25 Jesus said to [Martha], “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.  John 11:25-26

Here in the city of Nain, a seemingly insignificant widow, received her once dead, now very much alive son back into her arms. Death, where is your sting?

I sometimes am disappointed that it was men who wrote the gospel narratives. Women give so much more detail! But alas, we get no response from the widow in this passage. Not once does she speak. Nor do we see if she got to have further conversations with Jesus. What we do get, however, is the response from all of the people standing there having just witnessed the miracle.

16 Fear seized them all, and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has arisen among us!” and “God has visited his people!” 17 And this report about him spread through the whole of Judea and all the surrounding country. Luke 7:16-17

As we come to a close on this passage, we can glean some clues as to the reason behind the crowd’s response if we look in the Old Testament.You may recall that God raised a widow’s son in 1 Kings 17:17-24 at the request of Elijah, who is moved by the mother’s tears (much like Jesus was moved with compassion for this widow of Nain). God also raised the son of the Shunammite woman when Elisha interceded for them in 2 Kings 4:18-37. It is not too far to assume that this Jewish community would have connected the dots between the accounts with Elijah and Elisha and Jesus raising the widow’s son from the dead.

In fact, the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament) in 1 Kings 17:23 “and he gave him to his mother” is the same wording in Luke 7:15. This may be why they believed Jesus to be a “great prophet”, just as Elijah and Elisha had been great prophets, performing miraculous resurrections.

Jesus certainly made a big splash in this little town, and it was all for one woman. Time and again we see Jesus elevate women to a higher status than their culture gave them. He took notice of the widow from Nain. He saw her. He relieved her misery. And the day she thought she would be burying her son turned into a day where God literally showed up and did the miraculous!

But what about you? How can you relate to this widow? She woke up that morning, fully knowing her son was dead, with no hope that he would ever be with her again. There are times of waiting, times of struggle, times of pain for all of us, where it seems that there is no hope for us. A situation that seems impossible and unlikely to be changed. But with God, there is no impossible. There is no such thing as hopeless. We know that He can, but we also know that He might not. And if He doesn’t, He is still good. Thanks be to God that He knows our need. He sees us. And His mercies are new every morning.

May God comfort you among all the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem. And may you know that the Messiah has indeed come and has taken away your grief. Amen.

 

[*This information came from Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology.

**From Jewish Funerals: A Ritual Description by Ruth Langer.

***From The Prince of Life at Nain by Donald Campbell.

****From http://www.biblestudytools.com Interlinear Bible (click on the word “compassion” in Luke 7:13).]

 

 

Widow of Nain: A Heart that Mourns

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widow's son and jesus

Desolate. Weeping. Poverty-stricken. Hopeless.

“Call me Bitter.”

Not exactly words you’d like to be said of you. But that is exactly how a widow in 1st century Palestine would be described. This is where we find the widow from Nain. Nameless, without a husband, and now childless too.

It was for these very reasons that God commanded His people to look after the widow and the orphan. It was also for the reason that the Israelites had once been desolate and like widows/orphans, enslaved in Egypt, that God commands them to care for the widow. Exodus 22:21-22 – “You shall not wrong a sojourner or oppress him, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt. You shall not mistreat any widow or fatherless child. If you do mistreat them, and they cry out to me, I will surely hear their cry.”

God never stopped listening. He most certainly heard the cries of this widow from Nain; they rang in His ears as He walked up to the gates. She did not simply experience a miraculous healing—she experienced restoration. She learned that the Messiah came to restore life, not just bandage wounds.

Think back to the story in the book of Ruth. Naomi, much like this widow of Nain, had no hope of a full life without a redeemer. She had lost her husband and then her sons. The future was bleak. She requested that people stop calling her “Naomi” and instead call her “Mara” or “bitter”. Then Boaz enters the picture, becoming the archetype of Christ, the kinsman-redeemer. In Ruth 4:14-15 the women of Israel spoke a blessing over Naomi saying, “Blessed be the Lord, who has not left you this day without a redeemer, and may his name be renowned in Israel! He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age, for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has given birth to him.” God saw her. He heard her. And He did something about it.

Restored. Joyful. Full of Hope.

That’s more like it.

{Stay tuned next week for Part 2! This was my intro to the Bible study on the widow of Nain. Feel free to read Luke 7:11-17 for the story.}