So that His fear…

And Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid. God has come to test you so that his fear will be before you so that you do not sin.” And the people stood at a distance, and Moses approached the very thick cloud where God was.” (Exodus 20:20–21, LEB)

Do we today truly fear God? Do we stand in awe and wonder at His amazing works? Do we tremble at His majesty and power? Do we fear the one who can destroy both soul and body in hell?

I have heard sermons and read articles where both ideas are given weight over the other but the one that has the most weight depends on the position of your heart.

When the Hebrew people get to the mountain of God, He tells them to prepare for 3 days and before He descends upon the mountain to speak to them directly. God was going to test His people to see the position of their hearts. He needed to drive out the world they had known and replace it with a desire to live a life pleasing to God. A life that moves away from sin and toward their savior. The day comes and God descends upon the mountain…

Now when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.”” (Exodus 20:18–19, ESV)

The people trembled and were fearful of death. A people still struggling with sin, now stand before a Holy and merciful God, hearing His words and experiencing His presence. They did not yet have the full word of God to guide them into a proper relationship with Him yet. So, the people cry out for Moses to mediate between them and God. This was the fear of the one who could destroy both soul and body in hell.

But God did not leave them there. His desire was to dwell amongst His people. So, he provided instruction on how to live and love the God of their salvation and how to love one another. But it was not the words alone that would change them, but the position of their hearts towards those words.

The people still struggled, but God had a plan and descended again and took the form of a man. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. He was crucified, died, and was buried. Then on the third day, He rose in fulfillment of the Scriptures and thus provided a permanent solution to sin and death. Paul would later pen these words….

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” (Ephesians 2:4–7, ESV)

Through Jesus we have life, and in that life, the fear of God has been transformed. We do not have to fear the one who can destroy both body and soul in hell, but that through Him our fear is transformed….

““So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied.” (Acts 9:31, ESV)

Through Jesus, the salvation of God, our fear is transformed from being afraid and trembling into awe and wonder.  Soloman, a man who wrote many wise things said it well…

My son, if you receive my words and treasure up my commandments with you, making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding; yes, if you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding, if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God. For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding; he stores up sound wisdom for the upright; he is a shield to those who walk in integrity, guarding the paths of justice and watching over the way of his saints. Then you will understand righteousness and justice and equity, every good path; for wisdom will come into your heart, and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul; (Proverbs 2:1–10, ESV)

To me, this drives it all home. Receive His words, treasure them up within us, be attentive to the wisdom that God provides, turning your heart towards understanding, calling out to God for insight and understanding, seeking out all the God has given us like seeking hidden treasure “For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.” (John 1:16–18, ESV)

Jesus is the wisdom of God, and it is through Him that fear is transformed!

Not everyone who says…Part 2

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter into the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and expel demons in your name, and perform many miracles in your name?’ And then I will say to them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Depart from me, you who practice lawlessness!’” (Matthew 7:21–23, LEB)

As I mentioned in part 1, this verse comes near the end of the sermon on the mount and is really tied together nicely with Matthew 7:24-27. These words Jesus is teaching are important to understand if we want to get at the heart of this verse.

Jesus opens the teaching on the mount with 9 statements that begin with the Greek word Makarios. This word has the idea of being happy and blessed. I really like how Stanley Hauerwas understood this section…

Too often those characteristics [of the Beatitudes] … are turned into ideals we must strive to attain. As ideals, they can become formulas for power rather than descriptions of the kind of people characteristic of the new age brought by Christ…. Thus Jesus does not tell us that we should try to become poor in spirit, or meek, or peacemakers. He simply says that many who are called into the kingdom will find themselves so constituted. 1

Skye Jethani comments on these words with his own synopsis…

Jesus is not prescribing how to be blessed, but rather describing who is blessed. While the world says the strong, powerful, and happy are “well off,” Jesus turns our expectations upside down by saying it’s the weak, sad, and overlooked who are well off in God’s kingdom. 2

As he continues to teach His disciples, Jesus tells them that they are to be salt and light to the world around them, for the simple reason that as the world sees your good works it will give glory to the Father in heaven.

Jesus then tells them that he has come not to abolish the Law and the Prophets but to bring them to fullness and completion.

So, with that foundation, he turns their eyes towards the Law and prophets and begins to unpack the true heart of God in this. He tackles anger, lust, divorce, oaths, retaliation, love of your enemies, giving, praying, fasting, where your treasures are, what concerns you each day, and judgment of others.

As he unpacks these things, he is not driving home that you must walk in perfect obedience to these things, but rather it is more about the condition of their hearts. Why is this so important to Jesus, and to the Father?

Back in Deuteronomy 30:15-18 Moses was telling the people about repentance and forgiveness and of the Lord’s circumcision of the heart. In the midst of this speech to the people, Moses says these words…

“See, I am setting before you today life and prosperity and death and disaster; what I am commanding you today is to love Yahweh your God by going in his ways and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his regulations, and then you will live, and you will become numerous, and Yahweh your God will bless you in the land where you are going. However, if your heart turns aside and you do not listen and you are lured away and you bow down to other gods and you serve them, I declare to you today that you will certainly perish; you will not extend your time on the land that you are crossing the Jordan to go there to take possession of it.” (Deuteronomy 30:15–18, LEB)

What is God’s concern? If their hearts turn aside and they refuse to listen. Moses even before he dies warns them again…

then he said to them, “Take to heart all the words that I am admonishing against you today concerning which you should instruct them with respect to your children so that they will observe diligently all the words of this law, for it is not a trifling matter among you, but it is your life, and through this word you will live long in the land that you are about to cross the Jordan to get there to take possession of it.”” (Deuteronomy 32:46–47, LEB)

Did you get that! The words of God are not a trifling matter, but life! But, God’s chosen people who literally had God’s presence in their midst have a repeating problem, a problem that God through the prophets warns the people of their condition…

Put to your lips the trumpet like a vulture over the house of Yahweh, because they have broken my covenant and rebelled against my law. They cry out to me, “My God! We, Israel, know you!” Israel has spurned the good; the enemy will pursue him. They appointed kings, but not through me; they made officials, but without my knowledge. With their silver and gold they made idols for themselves for their own destruction(Hosea 8:1–6, LEB)

They were doing lots of things, but they were not doing it through God. Later in Matthew Jesus would quote Isaiah while talking to the Pharisees…

and you make void the word of God for the sake of your tradition. Hypocrites! Isaiah correctly prophesied about you saying, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far, far away from me, and they worship me in vain, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ ”” (Matthew 15:6–9, LEB)

 Looking at all these things, Jesus is driving home how important God’s words are, but not as rules and regulations, not as religious things to do, but where our hearts are. In it is a stern warning for us not to repeat again what God’s people have done in the past.

  1. (Stanley Hauerwas, Hannah’s Child: A Theologian’s Memoir (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010), 38–39. Found in: Jethani, Skye. What If Jesus Was Serious? (p. 183). Moody Publishers. Kindle Edition.)
  2. .(Jethani, Skye. What If Jesus Was Serious? (p. 17). Moody Publishers. Kindle Edition.)

No Ordinary Worm

But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by mankind and despised by the people.” (Psalm 22:6, ESV)

Recently a friend of mine told me about a sermon he had heard on this passage in Psalm 22, he said that the Hebrew term used here for worm was not the normal word used for worm but had another meaning that I should look into. So the following is just a musing of what I have found so far…..

Psalm 22 is considered a Messianic Psalm, it is from this Psalm that Jesus quoted from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me”

A person that was familiar with scripture would have recognized these words and possibly have pondered through the meaning of this Psalm in light of all that was happening both at that moment and most likely in the days that would follow.

Of particular interest is this statement in the Psalm “But I am a worm and not a man”. The word for worm in this verse is the Hebrew word “tola’at”. In most of the Bible dictionaries where I looked it up the word could be used as we see here “worm”, but it is also a word that is used to describe the color crimson or scarlet. How is it that this word could have both these meanings?

If you do a word search for the places this is used, you will find it used as a scarlet yarn that was used in the crafting of the High Priest’s garments to be worn for ministering in the Holy Place, the curtains and other fabrics of the tabernacle, it was also used in the coverings of things inside of the tabernacle.

It is thought that the word is a reference to the worm or grub know as (coccus ilicis or Kermes illicis) or more commonly called the crimson worm. The Encyclopedia Britannica has this as a definition…

 A species of scale insect in the family Kermesidae (order Homoptera), the common name of which also represents the red dye that is obtained from the dried bodies of these insects. The dye was often part of the tribute paid to conquering Roman armies, and, in the Middle Ages, landlords accepted it as payment for rent. The oldest known red dyestuff, resembling but inferior in color to cochineal, it was used by the early Egyptians.

Some commentaries on this passage refer to this worm and how it was used in the making of crimson dyes in the Mediterranean area. What most of the commentaries miss though is the fascinating life cycle of this bug.

The male coccus ilicis has wings and is able to fly. Though I have yet to verify the information, in my research I heard a presentation that said that the male hovers over the female during mating but never actually touches the female.

The female will only give birth one time and begins the journey by climbing onto a particular type of oak tree, or wooden post where she attaches herself permanently.

She then creates a hard-outer shell to protect the eggs she lays under her.

When the eggs hatch the babies feed on the flesh of the living mother who is now providing them life.

After a few days the mother dies and at that moment a scarlet liquid leaks out and colors the baby worms and the wood of the tree that it is on. This covering of red dye stains the babies for life.

Three days after the death of the mother, her body shrinks up into a heart like shape that is waxy and turns white. It has the look of wool and flakes off and looks like snow falling from the tree.

If the mother is harvested during the 3 days, the crushing of her body produces the dye that was used for the yarn and fabrics in the middle east and most likely the same process was used in the materials of the Tabernacle. The wax could also be harvested and was used to make shellac.

So, it has been suggested and it is hard to ignore the connections of the symbolism that is represented here. Let’s break it down….

  • Flying male hovering over the female to impregnate her.
    • Luke 1:35 – “And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.
  • The female climbing onto a tree voluntarily knowing that she would die.
    • Jesus died on a wooden cross that he voluntarily allowed Himself to be nailed.
    • John 10:16–18And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”
  • The female worm secretes a hard shell to protect her offspring.
    • John 17:12 – “While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled.
  • The larvae stay alive by eating the flesh of their living mother.
    • John 6:51 – “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
  • The larvae are permanently colored red by the death of the mother.
    • Eph 1:3-9 “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ”
    • Heb 12:24 – “and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.
  • After the death of the mother she turns white and has the texture of wool and flakes off and falls to the ground like snow.
    • Mark 9:2-3 “And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them.
    • Isaiah 1:18 ““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.

It is interesting to note that in Isaiah the word used for crimson is the same root used in the word worm in Psalm 22.

Is this coincidence? Maybe we are reading into the passage more than what is really there? Or maybe, our God is so infinitely majestic and powerful that he gave unique symbolism throughout His Creation to point us to the work of His Son. I will let you decide, but it is all very interesting.

Enlightening the Eyes

“the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes;” (Psalm 19:8b, ESV)

The day that I am writing this is in the time of the counting of the Omer and in just a short while, we will have arrived at Shavuot, the day that it is believed that God gave the commandments from Mt Sinai to the people of Israel.

It is wonderful that the part of Psalm 19 that I am looking at today is focused on “the commandment of the Lord”.

What does this word commandment really convey to us? What does it mean that it is pure, and how does it enlighten the eyes?

The Hebrew word for commandment here is “mitzvah” and if we were to look at a handful of verses where the word is used, you should get a fairly good idea of what it conveys….

“Now this is the commandment—the statutes and the rules—that the Lord your God commanded me to teach you, that you may do them in the land to which you are going over, to possess it, that you may fear the Lord your God, you and your son and your son’s son, by keeping all his statutes and his commandments, which I command you, all the days of your life, and that your days may be long.” (Deuteronomy 6:1–2, ESV)

Know then in your heart that, as a man disciplines his son, the Lord your God disciplines you. So you shall keep the commandments of the Lord your God by walking in his ways and by fearing him.” (Deuteronomy 8:5–6, ESV)

“For this commandment that I command you today is not too hard for you, neither is it far off. It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will ascend to heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ But the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it.” (Deuteronomy 30:11–14, ESV)

Yet they did not listen to their judges, for they whored after other gods and bowed down to them. They soon turned aside from the way in which their fathers had walked, who had obeyed the commandments of the Lord, and they did not do so.” (Judges 2:17, ESV)

My son, if you receive my words and treasure up my commandments with you, making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding;” (Proverbs 2:1–2, ESV)

My son, keep your father’s commandment, and forsake not your mother’s teaching. Bind them on your heart always; tie them around your neck. When you walk, they will lead you; when you lie down, they will watch over you; and when you awake, they will talk with you. For the commandment is a lamp and the teaching a light, and the reproofs of discipline are the way of life,” (Proverbs 6:20–23, ESV)

At a top level, the word seems to be pretty strait forward. It is used in the sense of a father’s instruction to his son, or a king to his servants, and when we put it in perspective of the words of Jesus, that the Kingdom of God is at hand, then we see a structure for a culture where we are ruled by God’s instruction and in that, he desires that we walk in obedience to those instructions. What is very important to see, especially in light of Deut 30:11-14 is that they are not very difficult for us, and it would seem that the Lord provides all the means and ability to accomplish His instruction. If you continue to pour through the many verses that contain this word you will also notice that God desires to bless those who walk in obedience to His commands, and yet as in the Garden of Eden, rebellion against his instruction brings forth discipline. Again, the perfect model of a father-son relationship.[1]

So, what does it mean that God’s instructions are pure? The Hebrew word here is “bar” and at it’s root has the sense of being pure, radiant, bright, and clean. The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament speaks of the Arabic variation of the word having the sense of reverent, dutiful, devoted, kind, charitable, virtuous, and good. It also mentions that in Akkadian the verb form has the meaning of “to glitter” and as an adjective, the word means pure, as in a pure metal with no contaminates. Looking through the Psalms and Proverbs the adjective also has the sense of something pure or a quality of moral purity.[1]

The next word to consider is the word “enlightening” which has at its root the Hebrew word “or” which is the same word used for light. This word has variations that are translated as shine, give light, brighten, Glorious, shining brighter and brighter, and simply give light. The word can also mean “to become light”.

Finally, we must think about the word for “eyes”. It is the Hebrew word “ayin” and I really like what the Theological Wordbook provides as an opening to its explanation of this word…

More than the eye itself is implied by this word. Occasionally it represents the whole process of seeing and by extension, of understanding and obedience (Jer 5:21). However, in the ot it is the ear which is generally used in this figurative way. The eye is used to express knowledge, character, attitude, inclination, opinion, passion, and response. The eye is a good barometer of the inner thoughts of man.[1]

So, a good way to think about this verse is that God’s instruction is so perfect and pure that as we gaze upon its beauty, it will give us understanding, help us walk a life of obedience, it has an impact on our character, attitude, inclination, passions and ultimately, if the eye is a good barometer of the inner thoughts of a man, then God’s instructions should reveal when our thoughts are not where they need to be and bring us to a place of repentance.

Let us gaze diligently at the beauty of God’s instruction and let it transform our lives into lives that are full of understanding, and a desire to walk in humble obedience to our God.

[1] Schultz, C. (1999). 1612 עִין. R. L. Harris, G. L. Archer Jr., & B. K. Waltke (Eds.), Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (electronic ed., p. 662). Chicago: Moody Press.

Bible Study, The Gospel, Salvation and Discipleship

What is Bible Study? Why do believers struggle with Bible Study, or in-depth study of the word in a small group setting? How is this related to the Gospel and Salvation? I continue to examine my thoughts on this subject and maybe I can be of some encouragement along the way.

Let’s start with a simple definition of our western idea of Study from a standard dictionary…

“Study is the devotion of time and attention to acquiring knowledge on a subject.”

So, if we were to apply this definition to the study of the Bible, we would have something like Bible Study is the devotion of time and attention to the Bible to acquire knowledge on the subject. Essentially, we relate the study of the Bible to the same category as going to school to study a subject so we can fill ourselves with lots of facts and eventually have mastery of the subject in hand.

How would someone in a a Jewish world view the study of the Bible? They would consider study as the highest form of worship.  Most study of the scripture was also done in community or in family. Why? Most likely because it was part of their core understanding of what God desired as laid out in Deut 6:4-9…

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” (Deuteronomy 6:4–9, ESV)

At myjewishlearning.com there is a short article that is an excerpt from a book by Rabbi Harold Kushner which speaks of it this way…

“Jews worship God through study. The central moments of a Sabbath morning service are dedicated to reading aloud not merely a brief passage from the Bible but several chapters of the Torah, so that in the course of the year, the entire Five Books of Moses will have been studied aloud…….Why this emphasis on study? One of my seminary professors used to say, “When I pray, I speak to God. When I study Torah, I keep quiet and let God speak to me.” ……By immersing ourselves in Torah, we transport ourselves back to Sinai, to the presence of God…..When we exercise our minds and consciences by studying God’s word on how a person should live, when we occupy our thoughts with questions of how to carry out God’s will rather than with matters of finance, fashion, or sports, we feel that we are developing our uniquely human aspect.”[5]

Maybe part of the problem is that the study of the words of God is no longer based on a biblical model and that we look at learning the Bible as an activity that the church needs to do for our children just like school. We are just to busy to have to bother with teaching our children the word of God. Sure, we have recognized this problem, but instead of returning to a biblical model, we develop nice western techniques or programs to try and remedy the problem with more fact learning and fancy ways of motivation with something that is labeled new and shiny. Why don’t we just challenge the body to live out what scripture teaches and hold each other accountable to it.

As I mentioned in a previous blog,  I still wonder if 2 Timothy 3:1-7 is playing out more and more in our culture today?

But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth. (2 Timothy 3:1–7, ESV)

To me, it sure does sound a lot like our culture today. Lots of learning, lots of knowledge, but what is the “knowledge of the truth” that people can’t arrive at? Could it be related to what Jesus prayed in His high priestly prayer in John 17?

And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” (John 17:3, ESV)

The word here for know is “ginosko” and is a very broad term. In general use, it is a word that could mean intelligent comprehension and also emphasizes understanding. It is also a word that means the act of embracing every part of ourselves in seeing, hearing, and the investigation of people as well as things. It was also a term of intimacy to the level of sexual intercourse. Knowledge of God also meant an acknowledgement of his grace, power, and demand, not just as an intellectual exercise but in action and relationship. John uses the word in such a way as to drive us towards a deep personal relationship with the Father and the Son.

What distracts people from the deep relationship with the Father and son? I have heard many reasons and excuses and even blame, but could it be driven by what Paul said, that people would be “lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God”? I think about how much time people are willing to devote to pleasure and then give God about 5 minutes in the morning, a few hours on the weekend, and maybe some thought in the evening. Yet, we can play a video game all night long, watch hours and hours of sporting shows, binge watch a favorite series on Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon Prime, or anything else but find pleasure in God. I am not saying that those things are bad, but that our proportion of time devoted to them vs. God is out of balance.

These problems are not just something of modern culture, even Paul had to encourage Timothy in his day…

Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:12–17, ESV)

Then right after this amazing verse about the importance of Scripture in his life Paul says this…

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.” (2 Timothy 4:1–5, ESV)

This is why discipleship, a command given by Jesus to his followers, is so important. But even this simple command has been blurred. Discipleship seems to now be a much broader idea that brings together the Gospel message and Salvation as a major part of the process. But is that what we see in scripture? I do believe that all these things can happen very close together, but they are usually separate parts and functions of the body of Christ.

So, let’s take a few moments to just look at a ideas that bring these pieces together. First let’s think about the Gospel. In its simplest form it is essentially good news. But what is that good news. I really like the concluding definition found in the Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary…

The gospel in the NT can be summarized as the message about the kingdom of God established in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah, who is enthroned as Lord of all. This good news describes events to which all Scripture points and declares that all principalities and powers are defeated once and for all by Jesus the Messiah. Finally, all of humanity will be judged according to their reception or rejection of this good news.[1]

This is an excellent high-level definition of what the Gospel is, and the final sentence that humanity will be judged against their reception or rejection of this good news is vital to our understanding of Discipleship. Also note that the good news is found in the scriptures.

That brings us to the next piece of the puzzle, what does it mean for a person to be saved? Let’s start with a simple definition, I really like this synopsis from the Lexham Theological Wordbook…

In both Testaments, then, salvation deals with deliverance from danger and a restoration to wholeness and prosperity. It involves victory from forces that threaten wholeness and prosperity, such as enemies and sickness. The NT emphasizes the work of Jesus as the one who saves people from sin and death, but it is clear that salvation is holistic and involves the well-being of the whole person.[2]

Paul was a master at this process and even modified his message to the audience he was communicating with…

Consequently, the meaning of salvation tends to vary depending on how the problem is perceived. For example, if the threat is a guilty verdict on the day of judgment, then salvation entails forgiveness and justification. Where Paul describes people being enslaved to sin, the idea of salvation involves redemption or ransom. If the emphasis is on alienation from God, then reconciliation or adoption is the relevant sense of salvation. When the problem is impurity or defilement, a person is saved by being sanctified.[3]

So, when it comes to the gospel and to salvation, I think what Paul says in Romans 10 brings it all together…

14 How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” 16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” 17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. [4]

There are those who are sent out to preach the good news of the Kingdom and of Jesus and his work at the cross. It is the word that is spoken that God uses to reveal His Son to the hearts of those who hear the message. They then have a choice to either accept or reject that message. This is not a magic prayer or incantation, it is a genuine well thought out desire to believe the message of scripture and devote ones self to a life of submission to our King. Those who accept the message are the ones that we are called to make disciples of. We disciple the person that has committed to a life of following Jesus. This could be done by the same person, or it may be that God uses many different people to accomplish these things…

What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building.” (1 Corinthians 3:5–9, ESV)

So, how is all this related to the study of scripture?

Mark Dever in his Discipleship book (Part of the 9Marks of a healthy church series) said this about Bible study in light of Discipleship…

“God’s Word is the seed that ultimately bears fruit, even if we don’t see it in the short term. Sow the word now. Sow with your spouse and kids, sow with other members of the church. And trust that God’s word does not return void”

Discipleship is the process of transmitting the knowledge (this is not intellectual) of God and His word through every moment in life. It’s a dynamic relationship that applies Deut 6:6-7 in our families which includes the family of God.

Scripture seems to play a role in all of the process we have examined above. The word of God goes forth and is heralded, then that Good News is either accepted or rejected. Finally those who have chosen to follow Jesus are discipled by mature believers that can help them move towards a life that mimics that of our Lord.

Paul and his relationship to Timothy is a great example of this discipleship relationship. I imagine that Paul taught Timothy both by example, and also by teaching him as they walked, lied down, and rose up each day. Timothy would have also been present on the Sabbath with Paul as they would discuss and wrestle with scripture and its understanding in the light of Jesus the messiah with the community.

I personally think discipleship is best accomplished in a small group setting, Jesus provided the example, he lived the life of a teacher who made disciples that have gone out and changed the world.

Scripture is the character and will of God. Jesus was scripture embodied and lived out before us, and discipleship is moving people to follow that example.

Let’s not let the study of the breathed-out words of God become an institutional exercise that becomes a burden in our lives, but instead let us find delight in the fellowship of His word both in personal meditation, but more so in community and individual discipling.

[1] Mathis, D. (2003). Gospel. In C. Brand, C. Draper, A. England, S. Bond, E. R. Clendenen, & T. C. Butler (Eds.), Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary (p. 673). Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers.

[2] Hamme, J. T. (2014). Salvation. D. Mangum, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, & R. Hurst (Eds.), Lexham Theological Wordbook. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

[3] Morrison, M. D. (2016). Salvation. In J. D. Barry, D. Bomar, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, D. Mangum, C. Sinclair Wolcott, … W. Widder (Eds.), The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

[4] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ro 10:14–17). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[5]Kushner, Harold. “Torah Study as Worship.” My Jewish Learning, http://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/torah-study-as-worship/.

Rejoicing the Heart

The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes; the fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb. Moreover, by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.” (Psalm 19:7–11, ESV)

Precepts, Precepts, Precepts, what could this word mean and how in the world does it rejoice the heart?

Precepts is an interesting word. It is the Hebrew word piqqudim and is used only in the Psalms. In 23 of the 24 places it is translated “precepts”, the one other place it is translated “commandments”. Even more interesting is that 22 of the 24 verses come out of Psalm 119, a psalm that exalts the word of God and its impact on our lives.

What can we learn from just a quick look at some of those verses…

You have commanded your precepts to be kept diligently.” (Psalm 119:4, ESV)

Through your precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way.” (Psalm 119:104, ESV)

I will meditate on your precepts and fix my eyes on your ways.” (Psalm 119:15, ESV)

But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to children’s children, to those who keep his covenant and remember to do his commandments.” (Psalm 103:17–18, ESV)

So what kind of conclusion can we draw about “Precepts” from this quick examination of these verses? Seems “Precepts” are to be kept diligently, they provide understanding, they help us to fix our eyes on the ways of the Lord, and our one translation that is not “Precepts”, translated commandments, is tied to keeping the covenant by obedience. So, it seems that precepts are related to the commands of God. A quick check of the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament seems to confirm this idea…

פִּקּוּדִים (piqqûdîm). Precepts, statutes, commandments (used only in pl.) (RSV “precepts” in all twenty-four occurrences), used only in Ps (all but three of its occurrences are in Ps 119), is a general term for the responsibilities that God places on his people.[1]

OK, so how are the responsibilities that God places on his people able to drive us to the conclusion of the Psalmist – “rejoicing the heart”?

The Hebrew word here for rejoicing is “samah” and the Dictionary of Bible Languages has this for the definition…

8523 שָׂמַח (śā·mǎḥ): v.; ≡ Str 8055; TWOT 2268—1. LN 25.116–25.134 (qal) rejoice, be glad, delight in, be elated, i.e., have a feeling or attitude of joy and happiness, with a possible focus of making an outward expression of that joy (Dt 27:7), note: for Isa 9:16[EB 17] cj+, see 9022; (piel) bring joy, gladden, make merry, bring happiness (2Ch 20:27); (hif) make rejoice (Ps 89:43[EB 42]+); 2. LN 88.283–88.288 (piel) be merry, i.e., drink alcohol as a mood elevator, but apparently prior to the full stage of staggering drunkenness (Ecc 10:19+)[2]

Wow, this is really joyful, so much so that another form of the word is the feeling from drinking alcohol to elevate the mood. But that still leaves me the question, how does the responsibilities that God places on His people provide this joy to my heart.

So, in ancient Semitic cultures there were a lot of different Gods, I mean a whole plethora of God’s that people could potentially worship. These gods were not very friendly and generally one did not know how to please these gods or even understand what these gods even wanted. It was a guessing game and hopefully you might figure out just what one of these god’s might desire.

For the faithful Israelite who trusted in the one true God, this was simply not the case. They understood exactly what God desired of them, and what the impact would be for living a life that walked in obedience to them. Not only that, they were tied to a covenant. A covenant that showed a deep relationship between God and His people. To me, that is definitely enough to rejoice the heart.

But, you may be thinking…I don’t have other gods around that distract me from what God really wants – “my heart”.  Well, in our culture today we do have a lot of different gods (idols) we worship.  Idols like sports, drink, games, jobs….you get the picture. Anything that we exalt higher in our priorities than the one true God that deserves ALL of our priority.

I love the word picture that we get from the word Heart. The root Hebrew word for heart is “lev” and the word picture that is derived from these letters combine to give us a definition of “that which controls the inside”. Everything about us, our emotions, thoughts, and will, combined, control all that we are and do.  So God’s precepts brought great joy to the inner man, all that controls us, that overflowed at times into an outward expression….WORSHIP.

So, does the precepts of the Lord have that impact on your life? Or, does the idea of God putting responsibility on His people make us uncomfortable in a culture that says I am free to do anything I want? A culture in the end that seems more focused on how to bring myself joy, rather than finding that joy in a relationship with a God who loves us and want the best for His people.

 

[1] Harris, R. L., Archer, G. L., Jr., & Waltke, B. K. (Eds.). (1999). Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (electronic ed., p. 732). Chicago: Moody Press.

[2] Swanson, J. (1997). Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains : Hebrew (Old Testament) (electronic ed.). Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

The Testimony

The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes; the fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb.” (Psalm 19:7–10, ESV)

Recently I have been listening to an audio book by Dr. John Walton called “The Lost World of Genesis One”, where the basic premise of the book so far is that in the ancient world their cosmology was functionally based rather than materially based. As I was thinking over this and how it also fits in with the idea that Hebrew tends to lean towards being a language of actions and function, how does that play out in the verses that I have been studying?

In the previous blog we looked at how the instructions of the Lord can turn our inner being back towards God, and that the more we turn towards God, the more it can benefit our lives. What does it really mean to turn back to God? Our actions of meditating on those instructions, hiding them in our inner being, and most importantly putting those instructions into practice so that we begin to walk a life of obedience, transforms our inner being and turns us back towards God and the desire He has for us to be His image bearers. In other words, we return towards the function that God originally created us for.

Today, I examine the “testimony of the Lord”. What does this word mean, or maybe I should ask what is the function that this verse leads us towards?

Testimony is another interesting word. It is the Hebrew word “Edut” and is used about 50 times in the Hebrew Bible. The Theological Wordbook says this about the word…

This word is always used in reference to the testimony of God. It is most frequently connected with the tabernacle (Ex 38:21; Num 1:50, 53), resulting in the expression “tabernacle of the testimony,” and with the ark (Ex 25:22; 26:33, 34; 30:6, 26), resulting in the phrase “ark of the testimony.” In fact in several instances this word stands alone to indicate the ark (Ex 16:34; 27:21; 30:36; Lev 16:13). Moses was instructed to put the testimony in (“before,” Ex 16:34; 27:21) the ark (Ex 25:21) and he did so (Ex 40:20; cf. Heb 9:4). Here the meaning is made quite clear. It designates the two tables of stone upon which the Ten Words (commandments) were written (Ex 24:12; 31:18; 32:15; 34:29). These two tables represented God’s covenant with Israel (Ex 34:27, 28) and as such are called the “tables of the covenant” (Deut 9:9; 11:15). [1]

Testimony points us towards God’s covenant, a written agreement between two parties in which they agree to the actions that should be taken to maintain a good relationship between those parties. As pointed out above, the actions that we are to do consist of the 10 words that God spoke at Mt. Sinai. It says that this covenant, the Testimony, that it is sure. The root Hebrew word here is “aman”, which conveys a very important meaning, a basic idea of firmness or certainty, the foundation of our doctrine of faith. The Theological Wordbook of the OT (TWOT) has this as part of the definition of this word…

The various derivatives reflect the same concept of certainty and dependability. The derivative ʾāmēn “verily” is carried over into the New Testament in the word amēn which is our English word “amen.” Jesus used the word frequently (Mt 5:18, 26, etc.) to stress the certainty of a matter. The Hebrew and Greek forms come at the end of prayers and hymns of praise (Ps 41:13 [H 14]); 106:48; II Tim 4:18; Rev 22:20, etc.). This indicates that the term so used in our prayers ought to express certainty and assurance in the Lord to whom we pray.[2]

God’s Testimony, His covenant, expresses certainty and assurance for our lives as we enter into relationship with our Lord.

What does the Psalmist say is the effect of that assurance in our lives? “Making wise (hakam) the simple (peti)”. The Hebrew word “hakam” means generally to be wise, or better, to act wisely. The idea is that our manner of thinking, our skills, moral sensitivity, and our experiences are shaped and driven by our relationship with our Lord and the lives He desires us to live.

This ties in perfectly with the idea of “the simple”. Again, the definition from the TWOT…

The basic verb idea is “be open, spacious, wide,” and might relate to the immature or simple one who is open to all kinds of enticement, not having developed a discriminating judgment as to what is right or wrong.[3]

In other words, we are simply open to what God has to say about how we live in relationship to Him, we are not the judge of what is right or wrong, we simply trust that he has our best interests in mind and we faithfully follow in obedience.

Just like in the Garden, we are left with a simple choice, one of wisdom, and one of folly. This same choice that God had put before His people both in the Hebrew Bible…

“See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil. If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I command you today, by loving the Lord your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his rules, then you shall live and multiply, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to take possession of it. But if your heart turns away, and you will not hear, but are drawn away to worship other gods and serve them, I declare to you today, that you shall surely perish. You shall not live long in the land that you are going over the Jordan to enter and possess.” (Deuteronomy 30:15–18, ESV)

Then also in the writings of the Apostles….

He who comes from above is above all. He who is of the earth belongs to the earth and speaks in an earthly way. He who comes from heaven is above all. He bears witness to what he has seen and heard, yet no one receives his testimony. Whoever receives his testimony sets his seal to this, that God is true. For he whom God has sent utters the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure. The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand.

Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.(John 3:31–36, ESV)

[1] Schultz, C. (1999). 1576 עוּד. R. L. Harris, G. L. Archer Jr., & B. K. Waltke (Eds.), Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (electronic ed., p. 649). Chicago: Moody Press.

[2] Scott, J. B. (1999). 116 אָמַן. R. L. Harris, G. L. Archer Jr., & B. K. Waltke (Eds.), Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (electronic ed., p. 52). Chicago: Moody Press.

[3] Harris, R. L., Archer, G. L., Jr., & Waltke, B. K. (Eds.). (1999). Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (electronic ed., p. 742). Chicago: Moody Press.

WALTON, J. H. (2009). The lost world of Genesis One: ancient cosmology and the origins debate. Downers Grove, Ill, IVP Academic.

Circumcised Heart

“And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments and statutes of the Lord, which I am commanding you today for your good? Behold, to the Lord your God belong heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth with all that is in it. Yet the Lord set his heart in love on your fathers and chose their offspring after them, you above all peoples, as you are this day. Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn. (Deuteronomy 10:12–16, ESV)

This passage had been a puzzle to me in the past until just recently while I was studying Jeremiah chapter 4 and came across this verse…

If you return, O Israel, declares the Lord, to me you should return. If you remove your detestable things from my presence, and do not waver, and if you swear, ‘As the Lord lives,’ in truth, in justice, and in righteousness, then nations shall bless themselves in him, and in him shall they glory.” For thus says the Lord to the men of Judah and Jerusalem: “Break up your fallow ground, and sow not among thorns. Circumcise yourselves to the Lord; remove the foreskin of your hearts, O men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem; lest my wrath go forth like fire, and burn with none to quench it, because of the evil of your deeds.”” (Jeremiah 4:1–4, ESV)

This passage in Jeremiah is asking the people to return and relating it to the circumcision of the heart in a parallel passage. Ultimately what I started to see is that the desire of God for his people to circumcise their heart was ultimately asking the people to repent and return to a life of walking in God’s ways.

There is another place in Deuteronomy where God speaks of circumcising the heart of his people as they come into the land. Interesting enough God does this after he calls to mind the blessings and the curses that he had set before them after he had driven them among the nations and then desires for them to return (repent). It is upon this repentance that the Lord then declares that he will circumcise their heart and the heart of their offspring. (Deut 30:1-8)

It is a wonderful act of grace that the Lord brings back to the minds of his people the Torah and the great blessings that come with a desire to walk in the ways of the Lord. But it is contrasted with the curses that drove them out of the land and out among the nations. This is exactly what we see in some of the language that is related to the covenant God will establish through His messiah as we get a glimpse of in Ezek 36:24-27….

I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. 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. 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. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.” (Ezekiel 36:24–27, ESV)

That same grace and circumcision has now found its fullness in our Messiah and Lord Yeshua as Paul points out in his letter to the Colossians…

In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.” (Colossians 2:11–14, ESV)

By grace, the record of debt that stood against us (sin) with its legal demand (death) has been canceled and set aside. Through resurrection of our Lord we who were once dead, are now mad alive together with him.

God has acted, we must respond to this wonderful Grace. This is the good news that all started back when Yeshua began His ministry with the words “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand”. Then after the resurrection, the preaching of the word, the people who God had prepared to hear the message responded to that message…(Acts 2:37-39)

Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” (Acts 2:37–39, ESV)

Our response….Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Yeshua, the Messiah for the forgiveness of your sins!!!

Has the Lord prepared your heart, do you hear the message, Repent, be washed and believe in the name of our Messiah Yeshua and enter into an amazing relationship with our God.

On Your Heart

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. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”(Jeremiah 31:33–34, ESV)

When Yeshua inaugurated the New Covenant, which we believe then allows the Holy Spirit to write God’s Torah upon our hearts, what that really means? I have known a lot of good Yeshua following believers in my life and none of them suddenly knew all of God’s commands or understood what it means to walk with God the day the decided to walk a life with Him. In fact, it seems that many believers continue to wade in the mud pit.

I have seen changed lives, and people repent of sin, and walk away from habitual or destructive lifestyles. I have seen restored marriages, angry and hateful people become long-suffering and peace loving, and exhibit qualities of godliness, but even then many of them have very little understanding of God’s Torah.

I have also heard theologians come up with all kinds of excuses as to why, including one that I use to say, which is that we won’t fully have all the Torah written on our heart until he comes back and we get our glorified bodies. But, where does it say that? The prophecy in Jeremiah seems to say that when the new covenant is given, part of that new covenant will be God writing His Torah on our hearts now.

So, what do we do? We dig into the scripture and see if we can see a pattern to help us understand what Jeremiah may have meant.

First we must understand what the scripture means by the heart. The Hebrew word is “lev”. Here is a summary list of what the Theological Dictionary of the OT (1) says this about this word…

1. “heart” became the richest biblical term for the totality of man’s inner or immaterial nature.

2. the majority of the usages of lēb refer either to the inner or immaterial nature in general or to one of the three traditional personality functions of man; emotion, thought, or will.

3. The whole spectrum of emotion is attributed to the heart.

4. Thought functions may be attributed to the heart. In such cases it is likely to be translated as “mind” or “understanding.” To “set the heart to” may mean to “pay attention to” (Ex 7:23) or to “consider important” (II Sam 18:32). Creative thought is a heart function.

5. Wisdom and understanding are seated in the heart.

6. The heart is the seat of the will. A decision may be described as “setting” the heart

Point 6 could be said this way…The heart is the seat of your desires.

Another interesting aspect of the word “lev” is the idea that is presented when one looks at the potential meaning derived from the ancient pictograph letters of this word.  Rev. Kathryn S. Patterson M.Min., BCCC gives a nice breakdown of the meanings:

Another “lamed” word is “lev” which is Hebrew for “heart.”  The Hebrew spelling for “lev” is “lamed” with a letter sound of “L” with a word picture of a “staff, control or strong/strength,” followed by a “bet” with the letter sound of “V” (sometimes a “B” when it has a dagesh or dot in the center) with a word picture of a “house or inside.” Together these two Hebrew letters, “lamed” followed by a “bet” spell “lev,” which is “heart.”  The Hebrew word picture is that the heart controls what is inside.” (http://www.biblelandstudies.com/Lamed.html)

The most interesting use in the above definition was point 4 above which said to set the heart was to pay attention to, or consider important.

Now lets look at a couple of verses of scripture:

My son, do not forget my teaching, but let your heart keep my commandments, for length of days and years of life and peace they will add to you. Let not steadfast love and faithfulness forsake you; bind them around your neck; write them on the tablet of your heart.” (Proverbs 3:1–3, ESV)

A lot of Hebrew writing uses what is called parallelism. Where a thought is repeated but in another form. Here is Proverbs 3 the writer (Solomon) tells the son not to forget his teaching and to let his heart (that which controls the inside, the seat of emotions, the inner man) keep his commandments. He then tells him to “Let not steadfast love (chesed) and faithfulness forsake you” . The Faithlife study Bible (2) has this about steadfast love:

The word chesed describes a faithful covenantal love. Steadfast love and faithfulness preserve the rule of a king (20:28).

The idea of faithfulness and covenantal love is to preserve the rule of the King, or to say in another way, keep his commandments as a way of showing faithfulness and chesed.

The writer then says to “bind them to your neck and write them on the tablet of your heart”

The Faithlife Study Bible also says this about the idea to bind them to your neck…”A way to keep them close and ensure they will not be forgotten (Deut 6:8–9).” (2)

Here again we are getting parallel ideas, so that even to write them on the tablet of your heart is parallel to”do not forget my teaching” which also carries the idea of point 4 in our definition of the heart above. (“pay attention to” (Ex 7:23) or to “consider important”)

Proverbs 7 is similar in its structure, lets take a look:

My son, keep my words and treasure up my commandments with you; keep my commandments and live; keep my teaching as the apple of your eye; bind them on your fingers; write them on the tablet of your heart. (Proverbs 7:1–3, ESV)

Here we see the idea to “treasure up my commandments” and the parralel “bind them on your fingers; write them on the tablet of your heart”  giving us the same basic idea.

So in Jeremiah 31, the the writer may actually be telling us that what controls our inside, our desires, the inner man, is going to pay attention to or consider important the Torah. The one who is going to enable this is the Holy Spirit. Now, that makes more sense to me. The Holy Spirit living inside of me now gives me a passion and desire for God’s word.

This makes what James writes about in James chapter 1 about asking for wisdom, and testing our faith, and steadfastness, that we may be perfect and complete, contrasted by this verse:

But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.” (James 1:14–15, ESV)

Our desire, which is found in the heart, that which controls our inside is what can tempt us towards sin, so if God then puts into us a new heart, or writes his Torah upon our hearts, and the idea is to give us a passion and desire for His Word, then what controls our insides is guided by God’s Torah, which effectively is Yeshua the Living Word who we are told to Imitate!!!

This makes far greater sense to me, and also aligns more perfectly with what I see in true followers of Yeshua, and also in my own testimony. Before I committed my life to follow Yeshua I read the Bible but it was not that important or interesting. After I committed my life to walking with Yeshua, the Word of God came alive and I had so much passion and desire for His word.

What is even move interesting is that we still have free will, and can choose to disobey what God has placed in us. In doing so we quench or hinder God’s work in our lives. This also lines up with what the Lord said in Deuteronomy…

See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil. If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I command you today, by loving the Lord your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his rules, then you shall live and multiply, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to take possession of it. But if your heart turns away, and you will not hear, but are drawn away to worship other gods and serve them, I declare to you today, that you shall surely perish. You shall not live long in the land that you are going over the Jordan to enter and possess.” (Deuteronomy 30:15–18, ESV)

By the way, this verse follows on the heals of God telling His people that:

And the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.” (Deuteronomy 30:6, ESV)

Lord, thank you that you put your Spirit within us and give us a new heart that desires and is passionate about obedience to your word. May the words of the Apostle John ever ring truer in my life..

If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.” (John 14:15–17, ESV)

 

 

 

 

 

 

(1) Bowling, A. (1999). 1071 לָבַב. (R. L. Harris, G. L. Archer Jr., & B. K. Waltke, Eds.)Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament. Chicago: Moody Press.

(2) Barry, J. D., Grigoni, M. R., Heiser, M. S., Custis, M., Mangum, D., & Whitehead, M. M. (2012). Faithlife Study Bible (Pr 3:3). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

 

 

Rend Your Heart

“Yet even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments.” Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster.” (Joel 2:12–13, ESV)

Lately this verse has been showing up in a lot of different places in some form or another. Though it is a common desire of the Lord since the fall in the Garden of Eden for man to repent and return to the Lord, the message even today seems very strong. Do we hear it? Is this a message that God’s people need to hear as well?

In my blog I have talked a lot about repentance, but today I wanted to focus on what it means to “rend your hearts”. But, before we can understand what it means, we must first have a understanding of what the word “heart” means.

Often we think of the the heart in terms of emotions like love and kindness but a biblical view of the word “lev” (heart) has a much more rich meaning.

First, I really like the ancient word picture we get from the original pictographic definition of the word for heart. Jeff Benner describes it this way:

“The first picture in this Hebrew word is a shepherd staff and represents authority as the shepherd has authority over his flock. The second letter is the picture of the floor plan of the nomadic tent and represents the idea of being inside as the family resides within the tent. When combined they mean “the authority within”. (Jeff Benner, Ancient Hebrew Word Meanings)

I have also heard it described as “that which controls the inside”. This seems to line up with other descriptions that one can find in various OT dictionaries and word study books. A summary of these could read as the heart being the seat of emotions, the seat of thought, with fear, love, anger, joy, sorrow, hatred, all attributed to the heart. Important to understand is that scripture also describes the corruption of our human nature in connection with the heart. You can read of a heart that is hardened, that is wicked, that is perverse, godless, deceitful, and desperately wicked.

In our verse from Joel above the Lord asks us to repent (return to me) with all our heart. So that which is “the authority within” needs to turn back to the Lord. We must submit our authority to the authority of the Lord. But it requires something radical. It requires weeping, mourning, and fasting. It also requires us to “rend our hearts”. The word rend is an imperative verb which suggests a command or instruction with the idea to to break, shatter, smash, crush “the authority within”. Seems that David understood what this means:

“The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.” (Psalm 34:18, ESV)  

But, how can we do this, our heart is deceitful, and wicked. Lucky for us, Scripture does not leave us hanging. Let’s just explore some verses from both the OT and NT.

“Praise the Lord! Blessed is the man who fears the Lord, who greatly delights in his commandments! His offspring will be mighty in the land; the generation of the upright will be blessed…..his heart is firm, trusting in the Lord. His heart is steady; he will not be afraid, until he looks in triumph on his adversaries.” (Psalm 112:1–8, ESV)  

This verse starts with the fear of the Lord, and relates this awe and trembling reverence to one who delights in the Lords commandments. It then describes the benefits to this delight. One of the benefits is a heart (the authority within) that is firm and trusts in the Lord, and a heart (the authority within) that is steady and is not afraid.

David also knows how this must happen:

“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” (Psalm 51:10, ESV)  

It is a work that David knew must come from the Lord. Later the Prophet Jeremiah would write about this in terms of a new covenant:

“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. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”” (Jeremiah 31:33–34, ESV)

Thus we see in the New Covenant verses that being the same ideas forward…

“For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.” (Romans 10:10, ESV)

“For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:14–19, ESV)

“And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.” (Galatians 4:6–7, ESV)  

“And it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, and who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.” (2 Corinthians 1:21–22, ESV)  

Ezekiel describes the removal of a heart of stone and replacing it with a heart of flesh, what does that suggest? (I will let you ponder that one)

“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. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.” (Ezekiel 36:26–27, ESV)

There is a action of God in all of these verses that bring about the end result of a pattern of life that is careful to walk in obedience to the Lord. An interesting question still comes to mind, and the Lords instruction in Deuteronomy may help answer, what comes first – a desire to seek God, or God giving us the desire to seek him?

“And when all these things come upon you, the blessing and the curse, which I have set before you, and you call them to mind among all the nations where the Lord your God has driven you, and return to the Lord your God, you and your children, and obey his voice in all that I command you today, with all your heart and with all your soul, then the Lord your God will restore your fortunes and have mercy on you, and he will gather you again from all the peoples where the Lord your God has scattered you. If your outcasts are in the uttermost parts of heaven, from there the Lord your God will gather you, and from there he will take you. And the Lord your God will bring you into the land that your fathers possessed, that you may possess it. And he will make you more prosperous and numerous than your fathers. And the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live. And the Lord your God will put all these curses on your foes and enemies who persecuted you. And you shall again obey the voice of the Lord and keep all his commandments that I command you today.” (Deuteronomy 30:1–8, ESV)  

So, based on this pattern we could lay out this idea:

1. The Lord sets before us His pattern for living. His Word given both written and in the world around us. 

“For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.” (Romans 1:19–20, ESV)

2. We remember who He is, and the promises that He has given. He sets them before us.

“How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” (Romans 10:14–17, ESV)  

3. Return to the Lord (Repent).

“Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:37–38, ESV)  

The Holy Spirit is given AFTER they repent!!

4. By God’s Spirit he circumcises our heart and gives us the ability to walk a life of obedience.

“And the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live. And the Lord your God will put all these curses on your foes and enemies who persecuted you. And you shall again obey the voice of the Lord and keep all his commandments that I command you today.” 

“And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.” (1 John 2:3–6, ESV)  

Part of this whole process is the rending of the heart (the authority within) and then the Lord giving us the power through His spirit to walk in obedience to His commands. But it is a process, and until the Lord returns we must continue to turn to the Lord, and sometimes our old nature will require use to rend the authority within as we fall back into sin. The words our Lord had to the church of Sardis should be a sobering reminder that even the church must seek to “rend its heart”

“And to the angel of the church in Sardis write: ‘The words of him who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. “ ‘I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God. Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent. If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you.” (Revelation 3:1–3, ESV)  

Lord, help me to put away pride and self, and to submit “the authority within” to your will.