The Lord Delights in Those Who Fear Him

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Isaiah 61:10-62:3

Galatians 3:23-25; 4:4-7

John 1:1-18

Psalm 147

 

Fear.

Is that really what the psalmist wanted to say? He opened the psalm with, HalleluyahCJB which is the same as, Praise the LordESV The whole psalm praises the good things he does for us. And then verse 11, the Lord delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love. NIV

The key to understanding this verse is in knowing the meaning of the Hebrew word translated as fear. The word has two main meanings, really combined meanings—fear and reverence. He takes pleasure in those who honor himGNT That is closer. This nails it. His joy is in those who reverence himTLB

And yet, that leaves out the fear factor. My personal opinion (I do not read Hebrew) is that the verse should read something like this: the Lord delights in those who fear and reverence him. The old Wycliffe Bible reads, the Lord is well pleased with those who fear him/with those who revere him. (The Wycliffe Bible first appeared in 1382, nearly a century before the birth of Martin Luther. This quote came from Biblegateway.com.)

To get an idea of how we should think of God, consider King David. Whenever he gave an order, it was carried out. Even when he ordered Uriah to certain death, the faithful servant obeyed. The king is always feared and often revered.

Or look at Henry VIII of England. When Catherine of Aragon failed to give him a son—having provided Mary who became queen upon his death—Henry divorced her and in the process, broke away from the Roman church. They were married for 24 years.

Over the next ten years, Henry married five more women, beheaded two, divorced one, had one die after giving him his son (who died a few years later), and left the last one a widow. He also executed two of his First Ministers for failing to do what he wanted.

People revered Henry early on but only feared in his last decade.

God is more powerful than any earthly king. He deserves to be feared. He allows us to live even though we do not deserve it. He lavishes his grace upon us, often when we are at our worst. God deserves our devotion, reverence, adoration, allegiance, and veneration. But also, our respect. He made the universe. He made us from the dust of the universe. Respect is one side of fear.

Imagine being a parakeet flying freely in the house of your master. You receive food, water, and affection. Life is good as long as you don’t think about the fact that you are 4 inches tall and the master is 72 inches tall; that he can hold your entire body in his hand; that he can kill you in an instant; that he can allow the cat to eat you. But, you trust your master.

We show less reverence for God than we should, and probably less love and respect as well.

 

Read my earlier comments on this theme here.

 

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

My Servant David

Photo credit: archer10 (Dennis) 104M Views via Foter.com / CC BY-SA

Fourth Sunday of Advent

2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16

Romans 16:25-27

Luke 1:26-38

Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26

 

If we go all the way back to 1 Samuel 1, we will read a familiar story. It is very much like the story of Sari in Genesis. Hannah was one of two wives. The other wife had many children, but Hannah had none. She prayed in the Tabernacle that God would give her a child. The child was named Samuel.

Samuel was dedicated to the Lord and served the prophet, Eli, until God called Samuel to replace Eli. Samuel became a great leader of his people until God agreed to select a king to be their ruler. God told Samuel to anoint Saul.

For centuries, the Chosen Ones of God had followed the lead of prophets and judges, always chosen by God as the need arose. For Saul to be the first king was a big deal.

That is the background for today’s readings regarding David. Saul had gone off the rails, so God chose David to replace him. They struggled for some time until Saul committed suicide. David then spent time defending the nation from their neighbors.

At the start of chapter 7, David could relax in his new palace, secure in the knowledge that he had taken care of all the threats to the kingdom.

David decided to build a Temple for God to replace the tents of the Tabernacle. But God said no. It seems a strange response to the king who would be the forerunner of the Messiah.

Yet, that is the very reason for saying no. David was to represent the Messiah, not the Temple. Look at the words of God starting in verse 12 of the chapter.

When your days are over and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, your own flesh and blood, and I will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be his father, and he will be my son. When he does wrong, I will punish him with a rod wielded by men, with floggings inflicted by human hands. But my love will never be taken away from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you. Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established foreverNIV

A thousand years later, another baby born in Bethlehem would lay claim to the throne.

 

Read my earlier comments on this theme here.

 

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

The Spirit of God is Upon Me

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

Third Sunday of Advent

Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11

1 Thessalonians 5:16-24

John 1:6-8,19-28

Psalm 126

 

Luke, in chapter 4, records the story of Jesus’ visit to Nazareth not long after he began his ministry. He was invited to read the day’s scripture, a common practice when visitors of note were in town. After the reading, Jesus said, Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearingNIV

He read the following from Isaiah:

 

The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,

Because the Lord has anointed me;

He has sent me as a herald of joy to the humble,

To bind up the wounded of heart,

To proclaim release to the captives,

Liberation to the imprisoned;

To proclaim a year of the Lord’s favorJSB

 

By the First Century, all synagogues followed a standard daily reading throughout the year. There would have been a reading from the Torah not recorded by Luke. It is also possible that Jesus read more of Isaiah, but the verses above are the important ones for Christians.

The spirit of the Lord God is upon me. The me was understood in Jesus’ day to be the Messiah. Therefore, Jesus claimed the title for himself. Notice in the Luke passage that the other people had no problem with, Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing. Only when Jesus pointed out that both Elijah and Elisha performed miracles on non-Hebrews did they get cranky.

The story in Luke is worth keeping in mind as we consider the passage in Isaiah.

The first phrase, The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, or similar expressions is used throughout the Bible to prove that the individuals were chosen by God for specific tasks. People live without the control of the Spirit most of the time, but God will step in when needed. To say it another way, I may choose to do what God wants, but if there is a special challenge that I’m not aware of, God will fill me until I can’t refuse. (Don’t take that too literally. We always have the right to refuse God.)

Jesus had a job, to be a herald of joy to the humble, or the more familiar, to proclaim good news to the poorNIV We Christians are too eager to talk about the sacrifice Jesus made to save us. We cannot forget that he spent three years delivering the Good News, the Kerygma.

Who are the poor? The hard answer is anyone with less than I have. Easy to see if I’m listed by Forbes, or in the highest tax bracket, but it is also true if my family of four brings in $20,000 per year.

Does that mean that Bill Gates at $89 billion net worth should give $88.9 billion to the poor? No. Nearly all that money is in shares of Microsoft and other companies. The super-rich don’t have vaults filled with cash. That means if Bill wants to buy a couple of Koenigsegg CCXR Trevitas for he and Melinda to drive around Seattle, he might have to sell a few shares to come up with the $9.6 million price tag—not counting tags and taxes.

Bill and Melinda did put $28 billion into their foundation, mostly in shares of stock. Warren Buffet added another $8 billion, and others have joined in. The foundation operates on the money that is paid to the foundation as shareholders. That alone would give them half a billion dollars for 2017 on just the original startup amount.

Are the Gates’ doing enough? I don’t know. What I do know is that I have a responsibility as a follower of Christ to offer as much help as I possibly can. When I say, responsibility, I do not mean that I have no choice; it is not a tax. Jesus did what he could, so should I.

By the way, the tithe is a requirement for all Jewish men to pay every year to the Temple. Since there is no Temple, there is no tithe.

We Christians have latched onto the word and attached the 10% amount to it and pushed the idea of the tithe as an obligation. If a congregation wants to use that idea to support the church, then they should realize that giving to the poor, etc. is extra and totally voluntary, given with a glad heart.

When we look at Jesus as our example to follow, we see him speaking to the poor, offering them comfort, often just looking at them. How often do we walk past the poor and those who are suffering without even looking? While it is not polite to stare at someone in a wheelchair, it is worse to avoid all eye contact. A smile can go a long way.

Read my earlier comments on this theme here.

 

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

Grass Withers

Second Sunday of Advent

Isaiah 40:1-11

2 Peter 3:8-15a

Mark 1:1-8

Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13

 

Isaiah gives us some good news—grass withers. When we couple that with the earlier statement that humans are grass, that does not give us much comfort. But read closely.

God says to Judah that their 70 years of punishment is over. The power of Babylon may be great on earth, but it is of humans, and humans are grass—grass withers.

We also live in a world where terrible and powerful people rule over others in brutal ways. Even in the United States, we have had such rulers. Witness Al (Scarface) Capone in Chicago. Nearly every President has had people who considered them to be brutal rulers; Lincoln perhaps the worst in the minds of the most people.

In every case, the grass withers. Comfort, oh comfort My peopleJSB

God wants us to remember His Mercy. We will suffer the results of evil, but God is always in our midst. We will be carried away, but God will never leave us. Clear in the desert a road for the Lord!… The Presence of the Lord shall appear. JSB

God, through Isaiah, promised that He would walk on earth and that a messenger would prepare the way for Him. At that time, He did not specify that He would come in the form of a human, that He would take the form of the Son of God. Nor did He say that the messenger would be an earthly relative, one John bar Zechariah (Yochanan bar Z’kharyah), cousin to Jesus bar Joseph (Yeshua bar Yosef). Nor did God hint at the absence of any DNA from Joseph in the body of Jesus. We cannot say as certain that any of Mary’s DNA was or was not in his body. It seems likely that God provided the complete egg and that Mary was a surrogate mother. Either way, Jesus was born in the same way that most of us are born—through intense pain and blood.

There is a beauty in that—that Jesus entered our world in much the same way he left it. He experienced all the pain we experience, and he willingly paid the bill for all that suffering, giving us a future life of joy and comfort.

 

Read my earlier comments on this theme here.

 

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence