Posted by: Heather | January 17, 2011

The Reality of Revival

 

 

II Chronicles 34:19  When the king heard the words of the Law, he tore his robes.  (NIV)

The new year, as it often does, brings to the surface a need to evaluate my life…where I’ve been in the last year, and where I want to go this year.  It seems to do that for many of us, but during this time of soul-searching, my fingers have been largely silent.  I’ve been told that the word ‘wilderness’ in Hebrew literally translated means ‘the place where God speaks’.   Although God has been doing some speaking to my heart during this time, it’s mostly been about personal things…attitudes, habits and personality quirks that need the touch of the Master’s hand.    For this reason, words have not come easily for me the past couple of weeks.   But now, the subject of revival is something that has been pressing more and more heavily upon my heart, as I strive to come into line with the changes I feel the LORD is prodding me to make.   And it probably doesn’t hurt that our church is having revival this week either.  🙂

Revival is a totally different concept in my mind than it used to be.  As a child, my mind was always focused on the joyful aspects.  Clapping, singing, listening to good, fiery preaching, and fun fellowship were the mainstays of my attention.  Not that these things are bad…in fact, they are very good, in my opinion.  But, this verse in II Chronicles now reveals to me a more accurate picture of what I believe revival looks like.

II Kings 22-23 and II Chronicles 34-35 tell us the story of King Josiah.  He was king of Judah (southern Israel).  He began his reign at 8 years old, and scripture tells us that he began to seek the LORD at about the age of 16.  Judah had been ruled by kings that practiced idolatry for nearly 60 years before Josiah began to rule, so the land was literally riddled with idol worship.  During this fairly early part of his kingship, he had men overseeing the repair and cleansing of the temple in Jerusalem.  Hilkiah, the high priest, found the Torah (which we call the book of ‘law’) in the temple.

When Josiah was notified about this find, and the Torah read in his presence, the Bible says he tore his robes.   In that day, the tearing of ones clothes was a sign of great grief and distress, or righteous anger.  Josiah was so cut to the heart that Judah had neglected their covenant with God, that he immediately sent men to Huldah the prophetess to receive a word from the LORD.  She told them that God was going to pour His wrath upon the people, but because Josiah’s heart had been tender toward the Word of God, he would be spared from seeing the destruction that was to eventually come.

What happened next was cleansing on a grand scale.  Josiah had every pagan altar and high place destroyed, removing the Asherah poles and every vestige of idol worship.  The items used to worship Baal and Asherah were totally destroyed, and burned when possible.  What I failed to realize until recently is what perversion was actually taking place, even in what was originally the temple of God Himself, and how widespread it was.  Baal was considered the god of water, and Asherah of fertility, and they were thought to be a couple.  Those that worshiped them believed that if Baal and Asherah had good ‘relations’ that year (please read into that what I mean without me saying it outright), that the soil would be fertile and crops plenteous.  They believed they could cause that to happen by ‘having relations’ openly near these Asherah poles.  Male prostitutes stayed at the pagan temples solely for this purpose.

Molech was also a god of focus for pagan worship.  Those that worshiped him practiced what the Bible calls causing children to ‘pass through the fire’.  This literally means they believed in sacrificing their own children as part of their worship.

So, we can see exactly what Josiah was up against.  This gross perversion was everywhere, and Josiah was a very young man at the time…not much older than 20 or so.  To help myself understand, I began to think about what it would be like if the president of our country decided to bring the United States into covenant with God.  The backlash would be immediate and staggering.  There would be many that would threaten to kill the ringleader of the effort on sight.  I imagine Josiah may have experienced the same.  But, his heart moved him to action.  The living Word affected him to the point that he would risk all to bring Judah back into covenant with their God.

Three things about the account of Josiah have etched themselves in my brain, and they pave the way for what I see as true revival.  Josiah first heard the Word of the Lord.  He couldn’t be responsible when he didn’t know.  But, once he was made aware of the commandments of God, there was a decision to make.  Second, after he heard, he had to respond one way or the other.  He chose to follow the commandments, rather than put them on the back burner.  And last, he took action on his decision.  He laid fear and doubt aside, and just followed.  As a result, Judah came back to the LORD, and served Him as long as Josiah lived.  What started out as painful grief and anger ended up once again saving a nation.

Although I love the joyful aspects of a church ‘revival’ meeting as much as the next person, the things we see there are not the barometer that measures the presence of God in our meetings.  We believe that if we see someone healed, delivered, or generally see God behave in a way we think He should, that we’re in the presence of God.  Now I’m more inclined to believe that we first find Him by discovering (or rediscovering) His Word, making the decision to follow it, and then following through on that decision.  As we allow Him to use His Word to destroy all of our spiritual ‘high places’ and idols, we then find His joyful presence within.  As a jealous God, He cannot share His temple with idols.

As we begin to corporately experience true revival from within, we will then see that all of the joyful aspects of revival meetings follow as an outward manifestation of the inner change.  They are not the change itself that we are to seek for, but an outgrowth of the change going on inside of us…and heart change is the true definition of revival.   Let us all endeavor to experience the true reality of revival…it’s painful at first, but the end result is well worth the cost.

Posted by: Heather | December 31, 2010

Have You Been Brainwashed?

 

 

Rom 12:1-2  (ESV)  I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.  Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

It never fails.  In December, immediately after the holidays, we’re ready to bid farewell to another year, along with all of the mistakes and frustrations that went with it.  As a new year begins, we often begin to evaluate what we’ve done that worked, and what didn’t, and decide which areas in our lives need improvement.  Then comes the usual result…resolutions.  For about 90% of the population, New Year’s resolutions go out the window within 2-3 weeks, leaving us in the same rut for the next 11 and a half months until it’s time to do it all over again.

Again, at this time of year, I find myself back again to ponder on the same scripture.  This scripture in Romans continually brings me back to a bit of wisdom my flesh just does not want to accept…resolutions are usually destined to fail.  This is because in using resolutions to affect change, we try to take control of our flesh by the power of our flesh.  The problem is, our flesh has no power.  It’s unstable and always wavering.

The context of Romans 12 is the body of Christ…how there are many members, but all do not serve the same function.   Each of us is different, and have different gifts to contribute to the body.  But we will never discern the will of God in our lives unless our minds are continually washed and cleansed (renewed) by the Word of God.

The daily practice of getting in the Word will change us from the inside out.  There is no resolution that can do that.  We all carry burdens and heartache from the past, and if we will allow our minds to be continually washed by the Word of God, we will begin to see ourselves overcome in areas we thought we never could.

As we bid farewell to 2010 and usher in 2011, there is one wish I have for you.  I do wish you all would be healthy and prosperous in the new year, but you can attain heaven without those earthly things.  Wisdom however, comes from above, and allowing the Word to cleanse and strengthen your mind will have a far greater impact in your life, even in the areas of health and prosperity, than any resolution will possibly be able to achieve.

I made a new friend, Emma, through my blog this week (check out her blog at http://emmamarlow.org/ …you might be challenged, and/or laugh a lot!).  She wrote something to me in an email that was so profound, it was a keeper;  Our scars tell us where we’ve been…they shouldn’t tell us where we have to go.  Ponder this statement, and realize that only you can allow your past scars to hold you back from your future.  Some scars never go away completely, but they serve as simple reminders of what the LORD has brought you through.  They can also lead you into avenues of future ministry that you may not expect.

If we make no other change in 2011, let us desire to be ‘brain-washed’ by the Word of God…the only cleanser that can fade the scars and do the miraculous…change us from the inside out, cleanse our thoughts, and help us start anew with fresh optimism for the upcoming year.  Now that’s brainwashing I can agree with!

God bless each of you, and I pray you have a very blessed 2011.

Posted by: Heather | December 23, 2010

Bring Him Gifts

 

Matthew 2:11  And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him.  And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him:  gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

Quite a few years ago, I attended a ladies meeting at church.  The hostess of the meeting presented us with a quiz and a pencil, and asked us to complete the questions on the paper.   I thought we were playing a game.  But this quiz was different than most.  It was meant to reveal misconceptions we had about the biblical account of the birth of Jesus.   I realized two things that day.  First, I had many misconceptions about parts of the story that were not biblical.  Second, I realized some women would get into a literal shout-down to defend their view, even when their views couldn’t be proven biblically.  That day, I found out how deeply held some of our views are, even when the Bible paints a different picture.

As we went through each question, I realized there were some things I believed to be true that could be proven by the Word of God.  But, other pictures had been painted in my mind by tradition…Christmas plays, books, and other literature.  Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not against these things.  Sometimes in books and movies for instance, ‘creative liberties’ are taken to add details to make a story flow smoothly.  The problem is that many of the details that were added to tell the story have become so ingrained in our minds that the line between biblical fact and  fiction has become very blurred in some areas.

The thing that stood out the most was my picture of the wise men.  I used to think of these three men in their dignity, hanging out in the stable with the shepherds and animals, worshiping the newborn king.    It’s a pretty picture for Christmas cards or plays, but not an accurate one.

To interpret this story correctly, we have to merge two different accounts of Jesus’ birth…Matthew 2 and Luke 2.  Each account relates different details about the event, because they’re written to different audiences, each of which would find some details more significant than others.

The wise men were not actually at the place of Jesus’ birth.  Scholars are divided as to how long after the birth they arrived, but we know it was after.  In Matthew 2, the wise men went to Herod after Jesus’ birth to ask where He is.  Herod sent them to Bethlehem to find the child.

The wise men found Jesus in a house in verse 11.   There the ‘open their treasures’ and offer him 3 gifts…gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  This is where we get the idea there were 3 wise men.  But the Bible doesn’t say that.  In reality, it was more likely there were many of them, traveling in a caravan to get there. Carrying such valuables would make three men traveling alone an easy target for bandits.  Caravans were a common way to travel then for protection.

Each of the gifts given to Jesus was significant, not only in a prophetic sense, but also in a practical sense.  God knew of the family’s upcoming flight to Egypt, and He met their needs completely, before they ever knew they were going.

Gold is a very precious treasure, and represents royalty and kingship.  Not only would this gift represent that Jesus is the King and worthy of a gift of royalty, but it would provide much-needed funds for the family’s soon-coming journey to Egypt.   When the gift was received, Joseph had not yet been warned to take the family to Egypt until Herod died.  The Kingship of Jesus is clear in I Timothy 6:15 …He who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings and Lord of lords…

Frankincense was a tree resin used as the primary ingredient in the incense burned in the holy place.   This same incense was used when the high priest went into the holy of holies once a year to make atonement for the people.   The incense could only be used by the priests in their service to God.

Incense is also used as a picture to describe the way our prayers go up before God.   Jesus is not only the King, but our High Priest.  Only He can bring our prayers like incense before God as our mediator.  We see in I Timothy 2:5  ‘For there is one God, and one Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.’

Myrrh  is also a tree resin, and the primary ingredient in the holy anointing oil.  This is the oil that was used to anoint the tabernacle, priests, and kings.  Myrrh helps with wound healing, and was a major component used in the embalming process.    This was one of the spices brought for the burial of Jesus (John 19:39).   Myrrh represents not only that Jesus is the Anointed One, but that He would also suffer and die for all of us.  Paul relates in Philippians 3:10 ‘that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death’,

The wise men gave gifts to Jesus.  I’d like to challenge us to bring gifts to Him as well.  As we give our bodies over to Him, which are precious but temporary (gold), our spiritual connection to Him by prayer and worship (frankincense), and our soul, our minds and emotions, with our inner suffering and pain (myrrh), we will then become the living sacrifice that Paul speaks of in Romans 12:1  I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.

As we approach this season, let’s not forget to bring the gift of ourselves, and a life fully committed to Him.  Then we can bow and offer ourselves to worship Jesus as our Prophet, Priest, and King.

May God bless you abundantly as you celebrate Jesus!

 

Posted by: Heather | December 14, 2010

Migdal Edar – The Anointed One of Israel!

 

Micah 4:8  (ESV) And you, O tower of the flock, hill of the daughter of Zion, to you it shall come, the former dominion shall come, kingship for the daughter of Jerusalem.

Preparations for the holiday season are upon us.  Ask me if this is so, because I just realized I haven’t posted a blog in several weeks!  I am often guilty of allowing my ‘to do’ list rule my days with ‘urgent’ things instead of slowing down and enjoying this time of year and everything it means.  This year is no different.  Although we say the season is about Jesus…the slogan continually rings ‘Jesus is the reason for the season!’, I’m afraid if we truly stood back and looked objectively at our lives, we might find we spend much more time on holiday preparations than we do spending quality time with the One they are truly about.  I want to change that.  So, today our study will be a different twist on the birth of Jesus you may or may not have considered before.

The book of Micah is a prophetic book, both about the judgment of wicked nations and the restoration of God’s people.  Tucked between all of these verses are references to the coming Messiah and the place He would be born.  Micah 5:2 specifically mentions the town of Bethlehem as the birthplace of Jesus.   However, Micah 4:8 contains an often overlooked reference to another place that is likely just as significant as the town in which the Savior would make His appearance on earth.

The tower of the flock (Hebrew ‘Migdal Edar’) was  a watch tower located on the road at Bethlehem.   One of the main roads in Israel at that time was often called ‘the kings’ highway’.  It was a road that followed the top of the mountains, and for good reason.  If you were traveling that road, you would have the advantage of knowing where an enemy was located, because they would be below you.   It was a much more advantageous position than being in the valley, trying to see above.  Watch towers were located along that road…at times used for the safety of country, but also used to watch over large flocks of sheep.

Migdal Edar (the tower of the flock) is mentioned earlier in the Bible.  We see in Genesis 35:19 that Rachel gives birth to Benjamin, dies, and is buried ‘in the way to Ephrath’.  Ephrath, also translated ‘Ephratah’, is an ancient name used for the town later called Bethlehem.  Genesis 35:21 relates that Israel (Jacob) makes his camp beyond the tower of Edar.  This is the watch tower of Migdal Edar.

This tower was used by shepherds to keep watch and protect their flocks.  The flocks in Bethlehem were raised for very special purposes.  The shepherds that cared for these flocks would have been specially trained for their job, because their task was enormous.  You see, the sheep that were born here were destined to become sacrifices to the LORD.  Bethlehem was the birthplace of these lambs, and since their final destination was being offered to the LORD in the temple at Jerusalem, special care had to be taken that they were not blemished.  Only a perfect lamb would be acceptable.

Temple ritual would have required the birthing place for these lambs be ceremonially clean, so a lamb used for sacrifice would likely not be born in a dirty environment as we would think of a stable in our Western mindset.  According to historic writings, underneath the watch tower itself was a cave-like lower portion.  This is where the ewes would be taken to be protected and cared for while they delivered their newborn lambs.  When the new babies arrived, they were wrapped in swaddling clothes (described historically as strips of cloth) to keep them from injuring or otherwise blemishing themselves.  Then at some point they would be examined by a priest to ensure they were fit for use as a sacrifice.

Luke 2:7-18 tells us explicitly about the shepherds and what happened when they heard the announcement of the birth of Christ.  Verse 8 says they were ‘in the same country’.  This doesn’t mean they happened to also be in Israel.  It literally means the rural area surrounding a town, or a tract of land.   So, according to this, they would have already been nearby when they received the glorious announcement.  Verse 12 alerts us to the sign by which the shepherds would know him…“And this shall be a sign unto you;  Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.” A sign is defined as something by which a thing or person is known.  So the angel told them they would know the Messiah because they would find Him wrapped in swaddling clothes.

No where in this passage of scripture does it tell us that the shepherds needed directions on where to find Him.  I believe they knew exactly where He was!  Since they would have been familiar with the process of caring for sacrificial lambs, and they would have also likely been aware of the prophecies about the birth of Christ, it would have made perfect sense to them that the newborn Jesus would be born in the birthplace of lambs destined to be sacrificed for the sin of man.  He, the ultimate sacrificial lamb, fits perfectly one translation of Migdal Edar, given in an historic document…”The Anointed One of the flock of Israel”!

God’s accuracy is stunning!  May we all slow down enough this season to contemplate what a gift we have received.  May God bless you abundantly!

Posted by: Heather | November 21, 2010

No Private Interpretation

 

II Peter 1:20  Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation.

Would someone please fill me in on how children get so logical at the most inopportune times?  There are times I ask my children to do something, and they may follow to the letter, but add somewhat of a twist to what I said.   They have an amazing ability to turn things around to suit their own benefit.  Oh wait…was I talking about my children?  Oops…I just realize that everyone, including even myself at times, has that same ability.

For example, one day I caught one of my children taunting another one.  I thought I could step into this situation and display a bit of my parental wisdom by using some inspirational words to make the offending child realize they were doing wrong.  Of course an apology would follow, and all would be well again…or so I thought.   I used the well-known paraphrase of Matthew 7:12:  ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you’.  The Golden Rule…perfect!   That would surely solve this problem.  What I got was totally the opposite of what I expected.  The child looked me squarely in the eye with these words:  ‘Well, he was doing this to me, so that means he wants me to do it back to him!’  OK, so it didn’t work so well that time…live and learn.

I recently heard a term that was unfamiliar to me.  I met a dear young lady after she started reading my blog on Facebook.  She asked me if I would address the subject of ‘proof-texting’.  This was a term I hadn’t heard before, so I dutifully looked it up to find out what it meant.  Proof texting is taking a verse of scripture out of context to make it fit our circumstance or our thoughts on a subject.    When I saw that, I immediately realized I had been guilty!

You see, the major platform of my ministry is to encourage others to read and interpret scripture in its proper context.   Yes, I too have been guilty of taking a lone scripture and using it to fit the mold I thought it should.  And, I probably still do it occasionally, although I don’t mean to.  I figure most of us that have done it meant no harm.  We know the scripture and want to apply it.  There’s nothing wrong with wanting to apply what we know.  However, there is a problem when we apply it in a way it’s not meant to be applied.  In the last couple of years or so, I have had a new, passionate desire to make sure the scripture I know and desire to apply is done within the true meaning of the passage.   I once heard someone say,  ‘Scripture has one interpretation, but many applications.’   Oh how true this is!

At its most dangerous, proof texting is one way fringe religions and cults ensnare people.  If one doesn’t know the scripture and its context, it’s easy to become the victim of spiritual abuse.  Spiritual abuse is not committed only by malicious leaders that wish to eventually kill their followers in the name of God.  Sometimes, well-meaning leaders are also guilty of spiritually abusing those they are supposed to be servants to, by taking scriptures and using them out of context to keep the laymen ‘in line’.  I believe most leaders fall into the category of those that truly want to help people.   But if a leader will use scripture to heap guilt on you so you’ll stay in their congregation, there’s a foundational problem with this picture.   The Bible teaches the sheep belong to God, not to the under shepherd.   As an example of this practice, the subject ‘touch not mine anointed’ is one scripture that is heard more often outside of its proper context than it is inside, and is, in my opinion, probably one of the most abused verses in the Bible.  See my article on this subject here.  Thinking about someone becoming involved in a cult seems extreme.  But, it happens all the time.  One thing leads to another, and before the unsuspecting prey knows it, they’re caught in the trap and don’t know how to get out.

Although becoming involved in a cult might be the more extreme side, there is still danger in taking scripture out of context, because the meaning in our minds can be radically altered from the original intent of the writer.   A young minister I know gave an excellent example of this in a recent sermon.  He asked the congregation what they would think if they went to someone’s house and saw a note lying around.  The note reads ‘Kill them all…the babies too.’  When he said this, I immediately thought of what it must have been like for the children of Israel when the decree came from Pharoah to kill all of the baby boys.  The horror and pain of that would have been almost unbearable.  Then, my friend shared that the note was left there for the exterminator, who was coming to treat the house for termites that day.  The context of that note totally changed when we knew the situation and the setting in which it was left.

This is exactly how it is when we study the Word of God.  We don’t usually think about all of the aspects that are important to gaining a thorough understanding of any passage of scripture.  Sure, the words themselves are extremely important.  But, the words take on so much more meaning when the setting, culture, language, and even geography of the area are considered.   There’s a whole new world to be gained by taking the time to search out these matters.   I’ve been amazed at the verses I’ve carefully read in context recently that were completely different than I once imagined they were.

Searching the scripture requires more of us than taking verses out of context, but the rewards are huge.  May we take Paul’s admonition to Timothy seriously…“Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman who needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth”  (II Timothy 2:15).  (Just to make sure I don’t take this out of context, ‘study’ here means to ‘give diligence to’.  🙂  )  May we give the utmost diligence to studying out the context of the scripture that we may be able to encourage and teach others the full truth of God’s Word.

Posted by: Heather | November 18, 2010

Psalm 23 – Dwelling with the LORD

 

 

Psalm 23:6  Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life:  and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.

As we end this study on Psalm 23, I’ve been spending some time going over the entire passage and the lessons I’ve learned from it.  I never dreamed this few verses of scripture could be as rich and full of revelation as it has been to me during this time of study.  Now, it has a depth greater than my previous understanding…much more than we, God’s people, pictured as sheep and Jesus as the Good Shepherd.  Although that is one of its wonderful pictures, there is so much more to gain from it.

As I began to see this chapter in a totally new way, in my eyes it became a masterful piece of artwork that illustrates our entire journey with Jesus Christ.  Because He physically experienced the death, burial, and resurrection, He is able to lead us on that same journey spiritually (Part 1).  He leads us from a life of sin, and brings us aside to a place of stillness and rest with Him (Part 2).  Our soul is able to be restored to right relationship with Him as we begin our journey toward our ultimate destination; eternity as His bride (Part 3).   When we come into true fellowship with Jesus, we go on to be buried with Him in baptism (Rom 6:4), as our ‘old man’ is done away with, symbolizing the death of our sinful ways (Part 4).   He also uses the rod of correction and the staff of kindness to evaluate and inspect our hearts (Part 5).  As we continue in our daily lives, submitting to His call, He anoints us with the Holy Spirit to the point that our lives overflow.  We are blessed beyond measure, and are able to bless others out of the abundance of that anointing (Part 6).

This final verse in Psalm 23 explains to us what happens as we continue on the path chosen for us by God Himself.  To this point, He has constantly guided us in the right path, and rescued us when we’ve deviated from it.  As we pass through times of trials so dark we can’t see our way, our character flaws and innermost needs are laid bare before Him.  It is during these times He is inspecting us and lovingly helping us confront issues that keep us from walking more closely with Him.

Throughout this whole chapter, the Shepherd has taken the responsibility of doing the majority of the work.  Each verse tells us the things He does for us.  Our responsibility is to follow the path He has placed before us.  As a result, verse 6 says that ‘goodness and mercy will follow us all the days of our lives’.  When we think of the word ‘follow’ in English, we simply think of a person or pet that comes behind us where ever we go.  In Hebrew, the language is more aggressive.  It actually says that goodness and mercy will pursue me all the days of my life.  I won’t have to worry about whether they are nearby, because as I seek to please the LORD, they will find me and be near me as constant companions.

As I studied these lessons, I saw Psalm 23 as the picture of our journey with Christ from the lowest place of sin to the highest point of eternity.  One day, I was looking at a map of Israel in my Bible atlas, and realized this journey has an interesting parallel to an ancient path that led from the Dead Sea to Jerusalem.  On this particular map, there was a route mapped out that went from the edge of the Dead Sea around En-Gedi, northwest and then northeast through the Valley of Hinnom, and up the mountain to Jerusalem.  I began to see how Jesus takes us from the depths of sin, represented by the Dead Sea (the lowest point on earth), and symbolically takes us on the journey toward Jerusalem, the place He has chosen to write His name (Where God’s Name is Written).  What a wonderful God we serve!

This path we follow on our journey with the LORD leads us to many places.  Some will be still and tranquil.  Some will be dark and tumultuous.  Others still will be on the mountaintop.  But, through it all, our final destination is eternity with Him.   We will dwell with Him forever as His bride.  If you ask me, I think that’s a pretty wonderful way to end my life here on earth as a lowly sheep.

 

Posted by: Heather | November 11, 2010

Psalm 23 – A Table Prepared

 

Psalm 23:5  Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies:  thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.

(Here are links to the previous parts of this series:  Verse 1, Verse 2, Verse 3, Verse 4 – Part 1, Verse 4 – Part 2 ).

In the previous two lessons, we’ve been studying how Jesus, our Good Shepherd, takes care of us during the darkest times of our lives.  He brings us through trials even when we can’t see Him, and He uses adverse conditions to draw us closer to Him and bring defects in our character to the surface to be dealt with.  As we go through the deep valleys, we learn to gain more and more trust in the Shepherd that attends to our every need…in good times and bad.

Sometimes it seems the days of traveling the valley will never end.  But, there will come a time when we can leave the valley behind, and begin the ascent to the mountaintop.  When we have overcome that deepest, darkest place, the road will begin to go up again, taking us toward the summit of the highest peak.  We’ve left our enemy in the valley, and this is where God spreads a table before us…a feast of His blessings and provision after the storm.

Verse 5 is a very interesting passage.  Hebrew is a language that is based in word pictures.  We don’t generally think this way in English.  But, Hebrew is a very pictorial language, so when we can see the pictures behind the words, it brings a much clearer meaning to the scripture.  In Hebrew, when this verse says ‘he preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies’, it goes much further than it sounds in English.  The picture behind this phrase is that we have left our enemy in the valley below, and we are then able to feast on this great smorgasbord put before us.  We’re able to eat even in the presence of our enemy.  He can still see us, but we’re able to eat near him because he is doubled over in pain (as in cramps), and is unable to touch us any more.  The pain has disabled him, and therefore he’s lost his ability to prevent us from enjoying the banquet God has prepared for us.

The definition of ‘before’ is face-to-face.  God prepares a table ‘face to face’ with us.  This is the relationship God has ordained His children to have with Him…face to face.  We’re not to have anything else face to face with Him.  When believers give in to any type of idol worship, it’s the same as putting another god face to face with the true God, which is in effect a dysfunctional spiritual relationship.  This banquet is also a wonderful picture of the wedding supper…the great banquet prepared for the bride of Christ at the end of the age.

Verse 5 also speaks of how He anoints our head with oil when we come into a face to face relationship with Him.  Anointing was a specific process in biblical times.  When a high priest or king was anointed, they didn’t just get a little smudge of oil on their head, like we think of anointing in the church world today.  The olive oil was poured over the head, and ran down the face, signifying the fact that this person was set apart for a specific task and purpose.  They were to be used in the service of God.  Olive oil is used many times in scripture as a foreshadowing of the anointing of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers.

As the oil flows over my head, ‘my cup runneth over’.  ‘Cup’ here refers to a glass full of wine that is full to the point of overflow.  Wine is another biblical symbol of the Holy Spirit.  As the anointing of God’s Spirit flows over and out of us, our lives overflow in every area.  There is enough of God for all we need, and plenty to spare.  Giving and ministering to others is the natural outflow of a life in close relationship with and anointed by God.

As we continue to climb the mountain, we look forward to our final destination, which is eternity with Jesus.  The path keeps leading upward.   There is even more to look forward to as we continue our journey on the path with the Good Shepherd.

The next post will be the final segment in this series on Psalm 23.  God bless you!

Posted by: Heather | November 7, 2010

Psalm 23: Thy Rod and Thy Staff

 

 

Psalm 23:4b “…thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.”

(You may read previous discussion on Verse 1, Verse 2, Verse 3, and Verse 4 here.)

For a shepherd to do his job well, he would need to carry a minimal load, especially in biblical days when they didn’t have the luxury of power equipment, like technology affords us today.   The rod and the staff were the instruments of choice in the profession.  Each had a very specific function, and both were necessary to carry out the responsibilities assigned to these young boys, only one of which is assuring the safety of the flock.

Each shepherd boy chose his own wood for both pieces of equipment.  A sapling tree or a piece of wood of comparable size was chosen.  The size of the wood was determined by the size and strength of the boy that would use it.  After the wood was chosen, it was carved into a rod that fit the size of the young man’s hand exactly.  This piece of wood became almost like the right arm of the shepherd.  He would practice with it for hours on end to learn how to use it with great speed, and throw it with precision.

When out in the field, if danger was to approach, such as a wild animal, coyote, or some other threat, the shepherd would quickly and almost effortlessly use the rod to strike and kill, or scare away the intruder.  It was likely the rod that David used to kill the lion and the bear in scripture.

The rod was also used as a tool for discipline.  If a sheep decided to wander away, the shepherd would quickly throw the rod toward the straying one to startle it, so it would run back to the flock.  If any were approaching danger, such as poisonous weeds that might be mistaken for food, or going toward a dangerous place, the rod could be used to jab it, so it would move away.

There is a term in scripture called ‘passing under the rod’.  This term is associated with counting the sheep.  As the sheep would pass under the outstretched rod of the shepherd, they would be counted to make sure all were present.  But, there is another reason for this.  Every so often, the shepherd would need to examine the sheep for wounds, disease, or other problems.  Because their wool is so thick, it’s difficult to see if there are any problems on the body, or underlying issues that need to be addressed.  As the sheep passes under the rod, it is stopped.  The shepherd will take the rod, and use it to part the wool.  This way, he can see if there are any problems with the sheep’s skin, and run his hands over the body to be sure there are no issues that would not be detected otherwise.  It was a very thorough process to check each one completely.

Because of the fleece’s thickness, it was possible for owners of sheep that took them to shows to disguise problems by cutting the coat in a way that would mask the underlying problem.  However, if a judge was wise, they would part the wool and check underneath it.  This is where we got the term ‘to pull the wool over someone’s eyes’.

The staff has a totally different use altogether.  This is the piece of equipment most of us associate with shepherds.  The staff is a long stick, also chosen specifically by the shepherd.  It is shaped just for him, and how he needs to use it.

The staff has a crook at one end.  The interesting thing about this is that the staff is only for sheep.  It is shaped and sized in such a way that it fits no other animal.  It can be used to draw a fearful or timid sheep to the shepherd for care.  When a sheep begins to wander off the path, the shepherd may use the staff to put pressure on its side to guide it back to the right way.  It can be used to rescue a sheep from a place of danger, or free it when it gets its wool caught in a thorny hedge.  It is also used if a newborn lamb becomes separated from its mother.  Because some sheep can reject lambs that have been handled by humans, a shepherd will lift the baby on his staff and place it back with its mother.

These are two very different instruments with two very different purposes.  The rod represents discipline, authority, and protection from danger.  The staff, in contrast, represents kindness and gentleness.

Although both are used for different reasons, they are both a comfort to the sheep.  The rod is used for safety purposes, and to check the sheep for problems on its own body that may go undetected.  The staff is used for gentle guidance and reassurance.

This section of Psalm 23:4 is the 2nd part of the verse.  It is on the heels of ‘though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me’.  The rod and the staff are intimately associated with the darkness of the valley and the trials we go through.  As sheep, these trying times show the LORD and us what we’re made of.  All of the wounds, disease, and imperfections in us become bare before Him when we’re in times of dark trial.  He must examine us to ‘see what we’re made of’, and suffering will bring it out, for good or for bad.  We must trust that it’s for our own good, and He only does it because He loves us.  If these things are never brought to the surface, they can’t be dealt with and overcome.

Even though this part of going through trials might be unpleasant, it is a great comfort to know that He wouldn’t do it if He didn’t love us.  Even during the times of inspection and examination, He gently guides us, and reassures us of His presence through it all.  Even when we can’t feel it, He draws us close to Himself.

Jesus, our Good Shepherd, can hold the rod of authority and discipline in perfect balance with the staff of longsuffering and kindness.  It is He alone that brings us comfort through all of our times of trial and testing.

Posted by: Heather | November 4, 2010

Psalm 23 – The Valley of the Shadow of Death

Psalm 23:4a  Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil:  for thou art with me; …

In the previous lessons on Psalm 23 (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3), we’ve studied how this Psalm not only relates to Jesus as the Good Shepherd, but also how it relates to our salvation and walk with the LORD.   He takes us from a life of sin and filth to dining in beautiful pastures and watering in cool, clear streams.  In the process, He turns us from our own way (repentance), and then leads us in the well-worn paths of making correct decisions.

But, sometime along the way, circumstances become very dark.  It may seem as though the ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ will never appear.  ‘Will I ever make it to the end of this trial?’ you may ask.  If you’re going through a time of distress and testing, this is the verse for you.  I think out of the entire chapter, the study of this verse was the most fascinating to me in an odd sort of way… maybe because I’d never seen some of the things I’m about to share until I studied this.

In biblical times, when traveling to Jerusalem from the south, one had no choice but to pass through the Hinnom Valley.  It is southernmost valley of three that make up the letter ‘shin’ carved in the land of Israel, where God has chosen to write His name.  (Deut 12:5, 21).  (You may also see the post Where God’s Name is Written for more information.)  This route to Jerusalem would be the one that Abraham and Isaac took when they were headed to Mount Moriah for Isaac’s sacrifice.

Photo from Holman Bible Atlas – Pg 111

The map above shows the Hinnom Valley in the south.  The temple mount of Jerusalem is on Mount Moriah, where the green area is.  The Hinnom Valley is also nicknamed the Valley of Burning, and for good reason.  This was the area where horrific things took place in biblical times.  Pagans worshipped the god Moloch here, and as part of their worship they would take their babies and children to sacrifice them.  This is the practice the Bible calls ‘passing through the fire’ (Deut 18:10).  The children were either burned alive or sacrificed and then their bodies burned.  Great evil took place here on a regular basis, and fires were constantly burning to keep the waste under control.

After the Jews returned to Israel from the Babylonian exile, the valley was no longer used for child sacrifices.  Rather, it became the garbage dump, where anything considered unclean was thrown.  Dead animals and even the bodies of convicted criminals would be put there, along with all of the trash.  Again, fires had to be burned here non-stop so the waste would not take over.

Because of the smoke and the darkness, this valley was difficult, and I imagine quite scary to pass through.  It was often so dark in the deepest places, it is said one could not see their hand in front of their face.

As rain came down, the waste from the Hinnom Valley flowed toward the Dead Sea.  The filth and contamination caused an interesting phenomenon as it traveled down the valley.  This is an area where mustard trees thrived, because they liked the contaminated water.  It’s interesting to note this when we talk about having ‘faith as a grain of mustard seed’, because faith works the best during the worst and darkest of circumstances.   This would also be an area that shepherds would keep their sheep away from.  Since mustard trees were known to thrive in unclean conditions, this would not be a place suitable to graze or water sheep.

‘Hinnom’ in Hebrew is translated ‘Gehenna’ in Greek.  The word ‘Gehenna’ is where we get the English translation ‘hell’.  The Hinnom Valley is a picture of hell…darkness, torment, and constantly burning fire.  It is the picture we draw in our minds of the final destination of the wicked ones that refuse Christ.

It’s during those times of the darkest circumstances, when we can’t feel Him, that Jesus is near.   He is always with us.  Personally, the hardest time in my life was when we lost our daughter Hope in 1999.  (You may read the story here.)  During that time, all I could feel was pain, anger, and deep hurt.  But, at the same time, I couldn’t tell you how many times people commented that I had a glow about me.  I sure didn’t feel it…I felt alone and wrapped up in my grief.  But, even during that time, when I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face (spiritually, that is), He never left me.  Others could see He was with me, even when I couldn’t.

In an earlier post, I likened green pastures, still waters, and the restoration of soul to repentance, and beginning our journey with the LORD.  In our relationship with God, we go through a spiritual death, burial, and resurrection just like Jesus did physically.  I could see this valley as a picture of baptism…the washing away of all our sin, and the contaminated life we once lived.  The old man, in all of his darkness, is put away, washed clean, and fit for use by the King of Kings.

When we’re in our most fearful, scary moments, and we feel like we can’t bear it anymore, that’s the time to remember the Good Shepherd is always with us.  He has never left us and never will.  We need not fear that we’ll be overcome by any evil, for He is leading us.  Although we may be frozen with fear, it’s not new to Him, because He’s walked this road before.  We can take comfort in the fact that our Shepherd can keep us from all danger, and through the darkness.

Posted by: Heather | October 31, 2010

Psalm 23 – He Restoreth My Soul

 

Psalm 23:3  He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

(If you’d like to read the first 2 posts in this series, you can find them here:  Part 1, Part 2 )

Although parenting has to be one of the greatest joys of life, it can also be the source of some of the greatest frustrations.   My firstborn was a fairly easy child in the scheme of things.  He was (and still is) a very easy-going young man.  Although he’s had his ‘days’, as all of us do, he was usually very easy to get along with as a young child.

I now find myself with another budding young man who, at the opposite end of the spectrum, has quite a strong will.   He is easily one of the most tender-hearted of all my children on the occasions he chooses to let that side of himself show.   But at the same time, he is the one that has the strongest desire to have his own way in every situation.  Of course, that is a tendency inbred in all humans.  But, his desire to do what he likes, coupled with the fact that he enjoys ‘pushing the buttons’ of his other siblings makes him a young man who tries my patience on a regular basis.  But, wait!  I don’t think I remember praying for patience…I know the result of that prayer!  🙂

Some days, it seems as if I never catch a break.  I must continually remind myself that this boy must have the makings of a great leader, because there are many days that my frustration level surges off the charts when trying to turn him toward the correct way of doing things.

Although I know Jesus, as the Good Shepherd, probably doesn’t get frustrated like I do at times (OK, far too many times!).  But, something in the parent/child relationship seems amazingly similar to the shepherd/sheep relationship when speaking about this verse in Psalm 23.   The word ‘restoreth’ here literally means that He ‘turns me from my own purposes’.   I look at myself, and see how many times I’ve gotten completely off the right path, or simply made a wrong turn.  Although some of the tendencies of a stubborn child have left me as I’ve grown older, many are still yet to be worked out.

I remember often when my babies were very small, I would literally have to take them by the hand, or lay my hands on their shoulders and physically steer them to get them moving the direction I wanted them to go.    Just as a young child cannot be left alone to his own devices, neither can we.  Without the constant guiding hand of our Shepherd, we would continue to wander aimlessly down our own path, pursuing only our own interests and desires.

God, in His grace, lovingly allows us to see this same relationship at work between us and our children.  As a mother, I get frustrated and angry during the times I seem to speak and nobody listens.  This brings a team of ideas into play that usually don’t agree with my young ones…training and discipline.   Both are necessary, because they teach our children to turn from their own way to the right way.

As training and discipline are undertaken, the goal of parenting is to teach the child to make right decisions for life…in other words, to practice righteousness.   When the scripture says He leads us in paths of righteousness, ‘paths’ refers to a well-worn, easily followed path.  We have a beautiful black lab puppy.  She lives in a fenced-in area of our backyard where she enjoys running and chasing things from the safety of her enclosure.  As she has run over a period of time, she has successfully killed all of the grass in a path along the side of the fence.   Her track is easily distinguishable.  We’ve tried to plant grass there, and cover the track with cedar shavings.  But, she has become so used to running that path it doesn’t matter what we do.  The covering we apply just won’t stay there.

Training seeks to form the child’s will before discipline is needed.  But even when children have been trained, discipline is still needed at times, although hopefully not as often as it would be if training were not attempted first.  Although necessary, discipline is quite unpleasant.   Most children I know don’t usually ‘get it’ the first time either.  They tell me repetition and consistency is the key.  I have found that to be true, although it’s not easy to guide them to the same path over and over again through years of time.   Worth it, but not easy…   This is the kind of path we desire our children to walk on…one that has been so well-worn by training and discipline, that they don’t think about it anymore.   They just follow it, and do it willingly because of the relationship we’ve forged with them.

The definition of righteousness in this passage is ‘good decisions’.   I said at the beginning of this series that I began to see a new picture forming in the 23rd Psalm.  Verse 3 essentially says that God turns me from my own purposes, and leads me in an easily followed path of right decisions.  This is the perfect picture of us when we come to Jesus in repentance.   It is the first stepping stone in the lifetime journey we call salvation…the experience with our LORD that will last us from the day of initial repentance, to the day we spend eternity with Him.

Repentance is not a one-time act.  It is a lifestyle…a day to day realization that when we make wrong decisions, we need to allow Jesus to turn us away from our own purposes back to His.  Just as a good parent will show concern for a young child’s safety, and do whatever becomes necessary to intervene, the Good Shepherd will guide His sheep on the right path to keep them from self-destruction.  We may not always listen the first time, the second time, or even the third.  But His hope is that with time, patience, and by gently leading us in a well-worn path, we will cheerfully follow where He leads.

I see my own resistance at times, and my seeming inability to make correct decisions, just like my young children.  But Jesus is always loving me and turning me from my own self-destructive ways.   As I learn to follow, our relationship grows stronger and stronger.  Likewise, I pray that as my son grows, our relationship will be so strong, and the path worn so well, that leading him will become more joyful daily.  After all, one day, if the LORD tarries, he will be leading his own little ‘sheep’, and learning what it’s like to turn them from their own ways…just as I’m doing for him right now.

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