Doing what is right in your own eyes

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Judges 21:1-25

George Carlin once observed a universal rule of the road: “every driver slower than you is an idiot.  And every driver faster is a maniac.”

You on the other hand…  You are the golden mean.  You are, because you say you are.  And who would dare to contradict!?

We all naturally “do what is right in our own eyes.”

This saying is an important one in the book of Judges.  The first 16 chapters describe the 13 Judges who ruled Israel in between Joshua and Saul.  There’s a cycle: oppression from foreign rulers; prayer to God for a deliverer; the raising up of a Judge; a generation or so of peace; and then a fall back into sin and oppression.  The cycle is repeated again and again.

These little rulers – miniature portraits of Christ, like Samson – gave a foretaste of the righteous rule of King Messiah.  But little christs sin and die. They cannot deliver.  Not finally.  And when they go, society falls into even deeper chaos.  Without such a judge above them, the people would judge themselves.  And their self-declared verdict was always “not guilty”.

In the final four chapters of Judges we read of the results, and it’s not pretty.  Rank idolatry, warfare, adultery, brutal rape and murder.  Finally there is a near total genocide.   These chapters are like a kick in the stomach.  We are left reeling by this vision of christlessness.

And the phrase which bookends the whole sorry tale is this:

In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes.  (Judges 17:6; 21:25)

Here is humanity in its natural state: christless man, if you like.  What is so chilling is that moral justification – readily self-bestowed – is married to utter wickedness.  It’s not just breaking the speed-limit that they deem “right in their own eyes.”  It’s rape, murder and genocide.

Yet who can deny that the very worst atrocities of history have not only been committed but justified by their perpetrators?  It turns out that sin makes us less likely to confess our badness, not more.  To sin is to love darkness.  You become even less prepared to “come clean” in the light.  Sin and self-righteousness go hand in hand.

This is well portrayed in the film, The Talented Mr Ripley.  Unbeknownst to his friend, Matt Damon’s character has committed a terrible murder.  But he explains how a murderer can “make sense of it” as a “good person.”

“Whatever you do, however terrible, however hurtful, it all makes sense doesn’t it?  In your head.  You never meet anyone who thinks they’re a bad person,” said the murderer.

And it’s not just the monsters of history and the murderers is it?  In myself I have an incredible capacity for self-righteousness that’s not dampened by sin but actually enflamed!  Without turning to Christ, the more I sin the less likely I am to face my badness.  Instead I dwell in the basement and declare all that I do “right in my own eyes.”

What is the solution?  We need a Judge above us to pass an objective verdict. The question is, how could that verdict ever be favourable, given our nature?

Well this Judge would have to take our well-deserved judgement rather than dispense it.  Rather than crush us, He’d have to be like Samson, crushed for our deliverance.  He’d have to shine His light upon us, without condemning us. He’d have to be a Judge who befriends even the guilty.  A Judge who justifies the wicked.

Only then we can throw open the curtains, come clean and confess to who we are.  And here’s the irony – when we acknowledge our sin to Christ, then we are justified by Christ.  Or to put it another way, we become right in His eyes.

Thus, the world divides into those who are ‘right in their own eyes’, and those who are wrong in His.  But the miracle of the Judge who justifies is this: Those who are wrong in their own eyes, become right in His.

Samson

Judges 13:1-25

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Ever since Adam, humanity has craved a good king to set the world to rights.  Adam was set over creation to rule but dragged it down to death and curse.  Yet from the beginning the Messiah was promised – in Greek it’s the word “Christ.”  It just means Spirit-filled King.  He would raise this world up to life and blessing.

In Genesis a line of kings are promised to come from the tribe of Judah.  Each of these human rulers would be a throne-warmer for the Messiah:

The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be.  (Genesis 49:10)

The sceptre would be passed from king to king to king, until the Messiah came.  Which meant every earthly king was a foretaste of the Messiah.  Either his goodness would inspire their hope, or his badness would make them desperate for the Righteous Ruler.

Samson is a brilliant mixture of the good and the bad.  You can read his story in Judges chapter 13-16.

On the bad side, Samson is a firebrand who wants what he wants when he wants it.  He quickly flies off into rages with foreign men.  At the same time he’s brought low by more than one foreign woman (the most famous being Delilah).  No man could mess with Samson.  But he was easily undone by his libido.  Though the LORD uses his life for good, his choices appear impetuous in the extreme.

On the plus side, Samson’s name means “Sunshine”.  And the Messiah’s reign is meant to be like sunshine, chasing away the darkness (2 Samuel 23:4Isaiah 9:2Luke 1:78-79).

From the earliest time, Samson is filled with the Spirit (Judges 13:25).  And Messiah means “Spirit-filled King.”

Samson is famous for his strength but of course that strength is not a natural endowment.  It is power from on high.  And those around Samson are constantly puzzled by it.  They repeatedly urge Delilah:

Entice him, and see wherein his great strength lieth  (Judges 16:5)

Such puzzlement would never arise if he were a barrel-chested gym-junkie.  No, the pictures of Samson which depict muscles on his muscles don’t get at the Scriptural truth.  Samson’s power is Spirit-dependent, God-ordained power. Just as Jesus claimed to do nothing by Himself, so Samson gives us a picture of the true strength that comes not from the flesh, but from the Father and by the Spirit.

Samson has a kind of wisdom too.  He is a teller of riddles which no-one can explain but he alone (Judges 14:12-20).  In this way he’s a forerunner to wise king Solomon, whose unanswerable wisdom was itself a picture of Christ’s.

Samson’s determination to win a bride at all costs – though pursued foolishly – is also a picture of Christ, who goes to every length to win His bride, the church.

And Samson was a ruler who saved his people and defeated God’s enemies.  Ultimately he brought victory through his own death.

Samson’s demise was a kind of tragic victory (Judges 16).  His beloved, Delilah, turns traitor.  His wisdom is defeated.  His strength is turned to weakness.  The lights go out for this man called “Sunshine” as his eyes are put out by the enemy (Judges 16:21).  And he is bound and taken away to the pit.  There he becomes an object of scorn – as they mock him and “make sport” of this once mighty man (Judges 16:25).

Yet in this tragedy comes the victory.  One day Samson is brought out from his prison cell to be humiliated before his banqueting captors.  But Samson has one last request of the LORD:

And Samson called unto the LORD, and said, O Lord God, remember me, I pray thee, and strengthen me, I pray thee, only this once, O God, that I may be at once avenged of the Philistines for my two eyes. And Samson took hold of the two middle pillars upon which the house stood, and on which it was borne up, of the one with his right hand, and of the other with his left. And Samson said, Let me die with the Philistines. And he bowed himself with all his might; and the house fell upon the lords, and upon all the people that were therein. So the dead which he slew at his death were more than they which he slew in his life.  (Judges 16:28-30)

We may choose to read Samson’s story as a whirlwind of passion and pride.  Perhaps we read it as an historical text, informing us of an ancient barbarism.  We might see it as a morality tale, perhaps cautioning against shady ladies… or haircuts.  But we won’t understand this story, and we won’t understand the Bible, unless we see it as a testimony to Jesus.

Christ is our Spirit-filled Ruler, Sunshine in our darkness, Strength in dependence, Wisdom beyond compare and Lover of His bride.  Yet, just as with Samson, the greatest accomplishment of this King of Kings was His death.  It was as He was mocked, despised and cast into darkness that He defeated His enemies.  He bowed Himself on that cross and submitted to an unimaginable crushing.  And He did it for us.

May every king – good or bad, or good and bad – lead you to Jesus.

Shibboleth

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Judges 12:1-15

Are you “in” or “out”?  “Bang on trend” or “out of fashion”?  “Up to the minute” or “behind the times”?  Life is full of exclusive clubs.  We discriminate by age, gender, race, wealth, strength, intelligence, looks, taste.  We can turn anything into a barrier to entry.  But the LORD is very different.  And two incidents at the Jordan river will show just how different He is.

Yesterday we considered how God had made a way through the Jordan river for His people to pass.  In a Red-Sea-like miracle, the new Israel “passed over” with Joshua (meaning “Jesus”), at their head.  This event proclaimed the way sinners can enter God’s rest: only through His initiative, only through a Passover-like salvation, only with Jesus at our head.  None of the Israelites deserved to enter into the promises, but in God’s mercy, sinners freely cross from wilderness to rest – from death to life.

In today’s story we again see sinners attempting to cross the Jordan.  But when this crossing is patrolled by humans, there’s a very different policy of border control.

It all comes about in the book of Judges – the book following Joshua.  The people have entered the land and have more or less settled down.  After Joshua dies Israel is ruled by “Judges”, and the book of Judges tells us of 13 of them.

One of them is called Jephthah. He’s from Gilead.  In Judges 12, men from the tribe of Ephraim pick a fight with Jephthah and the Gileadites.  That wasn’t smart.  The men of Gilead fight back ruthlessly and put many to the sword.  Crucially, they also control the escape routes back across the Jordan.  Fleeing Ephraimites would try to pass themselves off as locals, but the men of Gilead had a cunning test:

when those Ephraimites which were escaped said, Let me go over…  the men of Gilead said unto him, Art thou an Ephraimite? If he said, Nay; Then said they unto him, Say now Shibboleth: and he said Sibboleth: for he could not frame to pronounce it right. Then they took him, and slew him at the passages of Jordan: and there fell at that time of the Ephraimites forty and two thousand. (Judges 12:5-6)

We are shocked by the juxtaposition.  Such a simple test.  Such dire consequences.  Such immense blood-shed.  The river would have flown red with the blood of Ephraimites.  (See here for more modern examples of “Shibboleths” being used to distinguish friend from foe.)

But you can’t help but feel for the Ephraimites.  Put to the sword because of their accent!  They couldn’t say “sh” even if their life depended on it.  They paid a terrible price.  What a very different policy for border crossing!

But when it’s men who take charge of the entrance requirements, things invariably operate according to the “flesh”.  That is to say, we will look for human abilities and identities to qualify or justify ourselves.  The “in-crowd” will be distinguished from the “outsiders” by something in them: Nationality, Race, Tribe, Family, Gender, Achievements, Money, Looks, Status, Brains, Brawn, Something.  This being the case, the entrance requirements have to be discriminatory.

If this was God’s recruitment policy there’d have to be some kind of God ordained ‘ism’ – whether racism, sexism, intellectualism or accent-ism!

But thank God that Christ’s Kingdom is different.  Safe passage is not granted on the basis of anything in us.  We pass over on the basis of Jesus, our Forerunner, not because of any trait of our own.  Therefore His Kingdom looks very different.

In the book of Revelation we see the multi-national multitudes in heaven.  They have been saved by Jesus the Lamb and brought through to the promised rest:

After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands;  And cried with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb.  (Revelation 7:9-10)

Or to put it another way: Jesus is the end of all Shibboleths.

Jordan

Joshua 3:1-17

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The story is told of a wealthy man’s funeral at which “Guide me O thou great Jehovah” was the opening hymn.  It may have been a typo but the final verse read as follows:

“When I tread the verge of Jordan
Bid my anxious fears subside
Death of death and hell’s destruction
Land my safe on Canaan’s side.”

What is our hope beyond death?  That is the question for all who “tread the verge of Jordan”?

In the Bible, Jordan is the barrier we must cross as we pass from the wilderness and into the promised land.  It represents our transition from the testing of this life into the rest of the next. So, how can we be sure we will land safe on Canaan’s side?

In the book of Joshua, the one whose name is “Jesus” (Joshua) leads the people across the Jordan and into the land of milk and honey.  In Joshua 3 and 4, this transition is described as both a “passing over” and a “parting of the waters”.  This brings to mind the great salvation events of the Exodus.  The reader is being told: entering God’s rest is about salvation.  It’s about going death to life with Jesus at our head.

But as the Old Testament unfolds we see a bad people ruining a good land.  They had been called God’s son – His pride and joy (Exodus 4:22).  But far from living the life of God’s son, they “rebelled and vexed God’s Holy Spirit” (Isaiah 63:10).  They earned His curses – just as Moses had predicted they would (Deuteronomy 4:25-28).  They would be uprooted from the land and cast out.  But beyond the exile would come the true salvation (Deuteronomy 4:29-31).

Fifteen centuries later, there was another gathering of Israelites on the banks of the Jordan.  They had all come out to hear a wild and woolly preacher called John the Baptist.  He told them they needed to pass through the Jordan’s waters again.  They weren’t really the Lord’s people, they weren’t really at home with God – not spiritually.  Multitudes agreed, they confessed their sins and were baptised.  And then something extraordinary happened:

Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan unto John, to be baptized of him.  (Matthew 3:13)

Jesus is baptized!  The LORD of Glory joins the sinners, is numbered among the transgressors, and He “passes over” into God’s rest at their head.

Where we have failed to live the life of God’s son – the Son of God lives it for us. He is our spiritual Joshua, bringing us in to the Father’s rest.

So then, as death draws near – as it does to us all – we can take comfort in this: the Son of God has joined us in our predicament.  And He passed through the waters for us.  Jesus has taken on that final enemy, death, and burst out the other side.  If we belong to Him, He will bring us through to Canaan’s side:

When I tread the verge of Jordan
Bid my anxious fears subside!

Our hearts did melt

Joshua 2:1-24

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Think of “heart-melting” today and you imagine a pop-tastic love song.  But just as “going weak at the knees” can denote love or fear so it is with this phrase.

Here’s the context.  The Israelites are about to go in and take possession of the land.  Once again they send out spies, this time two of them.  Given that last time there were two good spies – Joshua and Caleb – we have high hopes for this expedition.  As it turns out, they’re not exactly a special-forces crack unit.  As soon as they get to Jericho they head for the brothel!

But the LORD turns even evil to good.  As it happens, the prostitute, Rahab, has heard of the Israelites and the God of the Israelites.  In fact all the Canaanites have.  This is what she says:

And she said unto the men, I know that the LORD hath given you the land, and that your terror is fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land faint because of you. For we have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red sea for you, when ye came out of Egypt; and what ye did unto the two kings of the Amorites, that were on the other side Jordan, Sihon and Og, whom ye utterly destroyed. And as soon as we had heard these things, our hearts did melt, neither did there remain any more courage in any man, because of you: for the LORD your God, he is God in heaven above, and in earth beneath. Now therefore, I pray you, swear unto me by the LORD, since I have shewed you kindness, that ye will also shew kindness unto my father’s house, and give me a true token: And that ye will save alive my father, and my mother, and my brethren, and my sisters, and all that they have, and deliver our lives from death. And the men answered her, Our life for yours, if ye utter not this our business. And it shall be, when the LORD hath given us the land, that we will deal kindly and truly with thee.  (Joshua 2:9-14)

The Canaanites could not claim ignorance of the true God and His people.  He had proved Himself unmistakeably to the whole world.  And any of these foreigners who ever approached the Israelites for terms of peace met with a favourable response (e.g. Joshua 9).  Rahab and her household were no exception.

She is given a “true token” by which the invading Israelites would know to spare her.  It was a “scarlet thread” which was to hang from her window.

In Egypt, judgement passed over the Israelites when the LORD saw the red of the lamb’s blood painted on the door-frames.  So here in Jericho, the Israelites would pass over Rahab’s house when they saw the red of the scarlet thread.  Rahab was being taught just what it takes to be spared judgement.  There needs to be a death – the death of the Lamb to avert destruction.  And Rahab not only learns this truth.  She too becomes a part of this story.

Having been adopted into the LORD’s people (because adoption always comes with salvation) Rahab becomes an ancestor of the true Lamb that takes away the sin of the world (Matthew 1:5)!

Rahab’s story is not simply “shady lady come good”.  She goes from an object of wrath, to a saved soul, to adoption into the covenant people, to royalty in the family of King Messiah!  Her story is the story of anyone who turns to the LORD Jesus and trusts in His blood: salvation, adoption and enthronement!

All the Canaanites’ hearts melted with fear.  But very few of them turned to seek terms of peace.  Rahab did and found grace upon grace.  May our hearts not simply melt with fear.  May they melt with a trusting devotion to Christ the Lamb.

Kiss of death

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Deuteronomy 34:1-12

We can’t credit the Authorized Version with this one.  But it is Biblical.

Its origins go back further than people think: not with Mafia bosses, nor even with Judas but with Moses.  Here’s how it came about…

Moses has finished the last of his Deuteronomy sermons to the Israelites.  Now it’s time for him to die.  You see, at a key point in the life of Israel, he “had not believed” in the LORD (Numbers 20:8-12).  Therefore, like the rest of his faithless generation, he had to perish in the wilderness.  Mr Law would fall short of the promised rest because of unbelief.  It would be Joshua (whose name means “Jesus”) who brought them in.

However, even though his death in the wilderness was a sign of the law’s inability to save, Moses himself is very dear to the LORD.  Moses himself is saved even if he symbolizes faithless perishing.

If we were in any doubt about the LORD’s enduring love for Moses, we should read the details of his death in Deuteronomy 34.  Before he dies, the LORD allows Moses to see the promised land from the top of Mount Pisgah.  Just as the law pictures the Good Life but can’t produce it, so Moses can see the Good Land but can’t enter it.

Once he has surveyed the land of milk and honey, Moses dies “according to the word of the LORD” (Deuteronomy 34:5).  That’s the King James translation.  But here’s a more literal translation: Moses died “by the mouth of the LORD.”  It’s this that the ancient Rabbis picked up on.  They claimed that the LORD gave Moses a “kiss of death.”

In this way kisses bookend the writings of Moses.  His five books are called the ‘Pentateuch’ or the ‘Torah’, meaning ‘Law’.  They begin with a kiss of life for Adam (Genesis 2:7).  But they end with the kiss of death.

If you have to die it’s the best death imaginable.  But it’s still death.  What a terrible tragedy that those created to share in the life of God, should perish in the wilderness.

This is where the Law takes you – Pisgah not Canaan.  It might get you a kiss of death, but it’s still death!

How do you face death?  How do you face the futility of a life lived in the shadow of death?  Mount Pisgah represents the height of earthly expectations.  Here is the best we can hope for in our own strength: to survey a lifetime of labour and achievement.  But still, it’s not enough. Even the greatest lives fall short.  We all end up buried in the plains of Moab.  If our story ends here it is a terrible tragedy.

Where is the hope?

Back in Deuteronomy 18 there was a promise of a Prophet like Moses (Deuteronomy 18:15-20).  He would accomplish what the law never could.

At the end of Deuteronomy, we see the demise of Moses.  So where will this Prophet like Moses come from?

Could it be Joshua?  Well Deuteronomy 34:9 reminds us of Spirit-filled Joshua.  But even though Joshua would picture the work of the Messiah, he was not the One.  You see the Law ends with this assessment:

There arose not a prophet since in Israel like unto Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face. (Deuteronomy 34:10)

Clearly Joshua was not the Prophet like Moses.  He was not the Accomplisher of the Law, the Bringer of Rest.  The Messiah was still to come.  And the people were still to look for Him.

Centuries later, the Prophet arose.  Moses’ LORD came in the flesh and, in many ways, He retraced the steps of Moses.  You see He too perished away from His community.  He too went up a mountain to die.  But it was not death-by-kisses for Jesus.  He would taste the full bitterness of death.  Curses were promised for our disobedience to the law.  And Jesus took the curses.  He drank down the cup of God’s wrath to its dregs. There was no face-to-face fellowship for Jesus as He called out to a black and silent heaven, “My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46).

If Moses’ death was the best way to go, his LORD’s death was the worst. But through it, we gain a face-to-face that is beyond death, and beyond imagining.

Thank God for the Prophet like Moses.  Through His death, He proves the true Joshua, bringing His people into the land of promise.  Jesus transforms life and death and the future.  Though we all deserve to perish – He takes the death; we get the kiss.

The apple of his eye

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Deuteronomy 32:1-44

It’s a saying that trip off the tongue.  It’s whispered by a doting father to his son; a protective husband to his wife; perhaps even a musician to their favourite instrument: “You’re the apple of my eye.”  We know that it means “my beloved”.  But for most of us, we’re not really sure why it means that.  What exactly is the “apple” of the eye anyway!

The phrase occurs a number of times in the King James Bible and was used in English translations prior to 1611.

It translates a Hebrew idiom that would mean, more literally, “little man of the eye.”  You could possibly also translate it “dark spot of the eye”.  And there you understand that it refers to the pupil.

In Old English, the pupil was called the apple of the eye as far back as the 9th century.  So between this Old English image and the Old Testament phrase we get “apple of the eye.”

The apple of your eye is incredibly vulnerable. It’s an area you are hugely protective of.  Our own eye sockets, eye lids and eyebrows surround this sensitive spot.  To lose an eye is not only incredibly disabling, but horribly shaming also (e.g. Judges 16:212 Kings 25:7).  Therefore protect our eyes at all costs.

So what does God treat as the apple of His eye?

For the LORD’S portion is his people; Jacob is the lot of his inheritance.  He found him in a desert land, and in the waste howling wilderness; he led him about, he instructed him, he kept him as the apple of his eye.  As an eagle stirreth up her nest, fluttereth over her young, spreadeth abroad her wings, taketh them, beareth them on her wings:  So the LORD alone did lead him, and there was no strange god with him.  He made him ride on the high places of the earth, that he might eat the increase of the fields; and he made him to suck honey out of the rock, and oil out of the flinty rock.   (Deuteronomy 32:9-13)

[O LORD] Keep me as the apple of the eye, hide me under the shadow of thy wings. (Psalm 17:8)

He that toucheth you toucheth the apple of His eye.  (Zechariah 2:8)

God’s people are the apple of His eye.  They are jealously loved, protected and honoured.

If you trust Jesus, you are the Lord’s Bride, Christ’s Body, the Vine’s Branches, the Father’s Children, the Spirit’s Anointed.  In short, you are the apple of His eye!

Man does not live by bread alone

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Deuteronomy 8:1-20

At the end of 40 years in the wilderness, the people come to the brink of the Promised Land.  This is the setting for the book of Deuteronomy.  Moses will not be going with the people into the land of milk and honey.  He is the leader of the old Israel and the bringer of law.  He will fall short of God’s “holy habitation.”  It will be Joshua (whose name means Jesus) who will bring a new Israel to the promised rest.

But before he dies, Moses preaches to the people.  The book of Deuteronomy consists of his sermons.  He tells the new generation where they have come from and what God has called them to.

In this famous passage we get a wonderful insight into the reasons for the wilderness years.  As we’ve seen before, we too are a wilderness people. We too have been saved out of slavery and await entrance to the promised rest.  So what is the LORD doing?  As Moses looks back on Israel’s experience, he will tell us the reasons behind it:

And thou shalt remember all the way which the LORD thy God led thee these forty years in the wilderness, to humble thee, and to prove thee, to know what was in thine heart, whether thou wouldest keep his commandments, or no.  And he humbled thee, and suffered thee to hunger, and fed thee with manna, which thou knewest not, neither did thy fathers know; that he might make thee know that man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the LORD doth man live. (Deuteronomy 8:2-3)

These are such precious words.  Let’s consider the verbs here:

Led – We must remember that the LORD is still guiding His people.  Though He judged them for their unbelief, He did not abandon them.  Even under the LORD’s chastening the people have His presence.

Humbled – this verb is repeated in verse 2 and 3.

It’s not pleasant to be humbled.  It’s a word that can sometimes be translated “afflicted.”  It’s sometimes associated with bruising, with violation, with oppression, with bringing calamity upon someone.  And here the Bible says that the LORD leads us through the wilderness to humble us! This will be painful.  So why will He put us through this?

Proved – the LORD wants to know “what’s in their hearts”.  As we saw yesterday, He wants a heart-to-heart with us.  And a wilderness is a place where our hearts are revealed.  Of course, what comes out is not very nice.  But, as they say, ‘Better out than in.’

Suffered to hunger – this is a fearful truth.  The LORD ‘suffers His people to hunger’.  This is what wilderness times are for.  We naturally crave certain satisfactions.  We demand to be full of certain joys.  We refuse to feel empty.  But we have a LORD who causes us to hunger.  Sometimes He starves us – even of necessities!  Bread is a necessity.  Nonetheless, sometimes He will starve us.  Why?  The final two verbs provide the answer:

Fed - the LORD’s ultimate will is not to famish but to feed.  He only starves us in order to provide us with something even better.  In this case it’s manna – bread not baked with human hands; the bread of angels!  This bread finds its fulfilment in Jesus – the true Bread of life.  When we are weaned off the junk food of this world, Christ will satisfy our souls all the more.

To make thee know – here is the original ‘school of hard knocks’.  But it’s a deep knowledge – the kind of knowledge you only get in a howling wilderness.  The people are to know that there’s a more basic necessity than bread for the starving.  We need the LORD more than we need food.

In the wilderness, humbled and hungry, every word from the mouth of the LORD becomes precious, because we don’t have anything else.  We’re not in Egypt anymore – we don’t have those securities.  Everything is now about dependence.  We depend on daily bread, daily water, daily guidance.  All we have is the LORD Jesus who is with us and His promise of the future.

Every word from Him is precious.  His words assure us of His love and promise us a better hope.  We eat those words like the starving eat bread.

And so Moses concludes this section:

Thou shalt also consider in thine heart, that, as a man chasteneth his son, so the LORD thy God chasteneth thee.  (Deuteronomy 8:5)

In our wilderness time we must realize that God is our Father.  He has not abandoned us.  The wilderness is not the sign He doesn’t love us.  It’s the sign He does love us.  And it’s the opportunity to discover just how precious His Son, the living Bread, really is.

Today, meditate on these verbs, and consider how they apply to your own wilderness time:

You are…

Led…

Humbled…

Proved…

Suffered to hunger…

Fed…

and

Made to know the true Bread…

Thou shalt love the LORD thy God

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Deuteronomy 6:1-9

“Feelings are feelings, they’re neither right nor wrong, it’s what you do with them that counts.”

How often have you heard this kind of sentiment?  (And interestingly, it is a sentiment!).

You’re as likely to hear it in church as anywhere else these days.  Even Christians will say that feelings are outside moral categories, what counts are acts of the will. According to this philosophy, all matters of the heart are ethically neutral.  Therefore the Christian life is about forgetting your feelings and getting on with the hard slog of discipleship.

But that’s not what we see in the Bible.  In fact throughout the Bible we see all sorts of expectations for our emotional life.  We’re meant to feel contentment  (Exodus 20:17), heart-felt love (1 Peter 1:22), peace (Colossians 3:15), zeal (Romans 12:11); sorrow and joy (Romans 12:12; Philippians 4:4), desire (1 Peter 2:2), gratitude (Ephesians 5:19,20), to name just a few.

And right at the heart of the Old Testament we have this saying, known traditionally as “the shema“.  To a Jew these are probably the most famous words of Scripture, the ones they are most likely to know by heart.  Jesus Himself quotes it, calling it ‘the first and greatest commandment’ (Matthew 22:37). But these words put a bomb under our cultural stoicism:

Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD: And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. (Deuteronomy 6:4-5)

There is a logic to the verse: Because of God’s oneness we are to love.  As we discussed when we thought about “one flesh” – the way God is one is like the way husband and wife are “one.”  They are united in love.  And as this verse says, “the LORD, our God, the LORD” is one.  God is one because God is love.  And God is love because God is Trinity.

Therefore “thou shalt love.”  That’s the logic.  To know God is to become godly.  And to be godly is to love.

The first and greatest commandment is directed emphatically at our affections.  We ought to be lovers of God, with our heart, soul and might.

The heart speaks of our innermost being.  It’s about what we treasure.  (Matthew 6:21)

The “soul” is the same word in Hebrew as “throat”.  It’s about what we thirst for.

Our “might” is, literally, our “muchness”.  It’s about our whole person given over to God.

The LORD does not want will-driven stoics but warm-hearted lovers.  This is the essence of the Good Life which God has for us.

Of course commandments can never make us love God.  Yet this is a true description of the Good Life.  And it’s not about grim-faced determination to do right.  It’s about love – heart-felt, thirsty, mighty love!

Have we settled for something less?  Have we relegated our emotions to the basement of the Christian life?  Perhaps we know that our feelings are there, we just don’t think of them as belonging to our discipleship.  Well allow the first and greatest commandment to challenge us, and to challenge us at the heart!  Love is central, vital, indispensible – the “heart and soul” of our walk with God.

To be clear – the law cannot whip up these feelings and neither can we.  It’s only when we see God’s love for us, expressed in Jesus, that our hearts are won:

We love him, because he first loved us. (1 John 4:19)

But when we appreciate His love, this is what is birthed in us – not strong-willed determination but heart-felt affections.  If love is not central to our gospel response, perhaps we’ve got the wrong gospel.  The Christian life is an affair of the heart.

What God hath wrought

Numbers 23:13-26

“What hath God wrought” was the first message Samuel Morse tapped out on his new invention.  It’s almost certainly that fact (more than its original appearance in Scripture) that lies behind its fame.

Interestingly, today if it’s said at all, it refers more to terrible tragedies than great discoveries.  (Perhaps that reflects a different view of God, or technology, or both!)

When we think of a mighty act of God we think of a disaster.  Morse thought of an invention.  But in the Bible God’s work is a whole lot more personal.  As we’ll see, what God “hath wrought” is a people – an unbreakable, forever-blessed people.

The phrase appears in Numbers chapter 23.  The Moabite, Balaam, has been contracted as a freelance prophet to curse the Israelites.  But when King Balak makes his second demand for a magical malediction, here’s what Balaam says:

Rise up, Balak, and hear; hearken unto me, thou son of Zippor: God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent: hath he said, and shall he not do it? or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good?  Behold, I have received commandment to bless: and he hath blessed; and I cannot reverse it.  He hath not beheld iniquity in Jacob, neither hath he seen perverseness in Israel: the LORD his God is with him, and the shout of a king is among them.  God brought them out of Egypt; he hath as it were the strength of an unicorn. Surely there is no enchantment against Jacob, neither is there any divination against Israel: according to this time it shall be said of Jacob and of Israel, What hath God wrought! (Numbers 23:18-23)

Balaam is stressing the resolute character of God.  There is a work to which God is immovably committed: He has determined to bless the seed of Abraham.  Nothing can undo this blessing.  No coercion from outside (an enchantment or divination) and no u-turn from within (God’s repentance) will thwart this.

What God hath wrought is a people.  He has blessed this people, saved this people, and even after all we’ve seen, He refuses to credit them with “iniquity” or “perverseness”!  No foreign power can ruin God’s work and not even their own sin can spoil it.  The LORD makes it His crowning achievement to create a people for Himself.

What is God’s great work?  The Grand Canyon?  The blue whale?  No His great work is to build a family.  The Father has blessed His Son forever, filling Him with His eternal Spirit.  And He has forever desired brothers and sisters for His Son (Romans 8:29).  His work of redemption is to sweep these up by His Spirit into His Son that they may be blessed in the Beloved.

If you belong to Christ you are a member of this uncurseable people (Galatians 3:29).  You are eternally secure.  God will not repent of His work.  Your sin will not cost you your position.  No dark art can dislodge you from your place.  You are some piece of work!

Behold, what God hath wrought!