God’s Faithfulness

‘God said to him, “Your name is Jacob; your name shall not be called Jacob anymore, but Israel shall be your name.’ So He called his name Israel” Genesis 35:10

More than twenty years had passed since Jacob left his father and mother in fear for his life from his twin brother, Esau. In that time his experiences with his uncle, Laban, and his meeting with the Lord on the return journey prior to meeting Esau had made him a much changed man.

Before he left the promised land the Lord appeared to him at Bethel and affirmed that the covenant He had made with Abraham would be fulfilled through Jacob in all three aspects; land, descendants and a blessing to the nations (Genesis 28:13-14).

At a time when Jacob was unsettled in his relationship with Laban and began to fear him, the Lord called him back to his father, Isaac. Interestingly it was again fear that disposed Jacob to have a listening ear toward God. That remains a provocation for people to have an ear toward God still. At this time the Lord reminded Jacob of their previous meeting and Jacob’s vow (Genesis 28:20-22; 31:13).

The incident at Shechem (Genesis 34) again stirred up fear in Jacob which apparently disposed him again to have an ear toward the Lord. By commanding Jacob to return to Bethel, the Lord was again reminding him of his vow (Genesis 35:1).

Jacob obeyed all that the Lord said and again the Lord affirmed that the covenant that he had made with Abraham would be fulfilled through Jacob and his descendants. The message to Jacob and to us is that God is faithful to His word no matter how circumstances may appear.

The seal of this affirmation came from the Lord in the new name given to Jacob. First mention of the change of name was given by the Lord after the night long encounter Jacob had with Him (Genesis 32:28) but it was not applied until Jacob had fully returned, built an altar to the Lord and removed all association with false gods. At this time the Lord now called him Israel (Genesis 35:10) and affirmed the three key aspects of the covenant made with Abraham. This name became the name for all Israel’s descendants and remains so to this day and forevermore.

The name means, “Prince with God” and that is what Israel is and shall always be (cf. Jeremiah 31:31-37). The very name, Israel, shouts the faithfulness of God to His word.

Awesome Majesty

“On this one will I look: On him who is poor and of a contrite spirit, and who trembles at My word” Isaiah 66:2

About twenty years ago I was in the co-pilot’s seat of a light plane flown by an MAF pilot. We were flying from Bokondini to Wamena in the central highlands of Papua, Indonesia. I knew nothing of how to fly the plane and it was my first light plane flight in the region. Fortunately there was no need of a co-pilot’s services and any uneasiness on the part of my friends on board was relieved!

For several days previously, we had been unable to fly due to smoke and fog. Now, we were soaring between huge steep mountains with cavernous gorges kilometres deep. We were awestruck at the scale. We might say that we trembled at the beauty and scale of what we were beholding.

Twice in Isaiah sixty six the Lord refers to trembling at His word (v 2 & 5). He does not mean the kind of trembling that demons experience (James 2:19). Theirs is a trembling of fear of God’s impending wrath and judgment that is hanging over their heads. The “tremble” in Isaiah is one that arises from being awestruck at the beauty, wisdom and holy magnificence of the Lord. In colloquial terms, we might say it is the “WOW factor”.

Who will stand in awe of the Lord and tremble, not from fear of wrath or judgment, but in seeing the greatness of His beauty, wisdom and majesty? The Lord tells us that it is the one who is poor in spirit and of a contrite spirit. In Isaiah 57:15 the Lord says that He dwells with the one who is of a contrite and humble spirit. The Psalmist writes, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart – These, O God, You will not despise” (Psalm 51:17). The “poor in spirit” in Isaiah equates with the first Beatitude in Matthew 5:3, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” That is, those who know that they are spiritually bankrupt with regard to righteousness.

Sometimes when we are out walking, riding, driving or flying, we see some amazing scenery and are moved in awe of great beauty. This, however, is only a subdued emotion compared with that of the tremble we may experience as the Lord allows us glimpses of Himself through His word and the experiences of life we have as we walk with Him. The next corner in our lives that we turn or the next page of the Bible that we read, may be the means by which He reveals Himself to us with more of His beauty, wisdom and awesome majesty and holiness.

We cannot demand that the Lord reveal Himself; but we can put ourselves in the right place so that, when He chooses, we will have the right spirit of heart that causes us to tremble in delight at His presence.

What Kind of Love

“Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord” John 20:20

The disciples were behind locked doors fearing for their lives. A few days earlier they had witnessed the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus Christ. Peter had denied knowing Jesus and the other disciples had fled when Jesus was taken. The reason for their fear was that they had not listen carefully enough to Jesus words and hence not taken them into calculation. On at least three occasions He told them about His coming death and resurrection.

When Christians fear it is for that same reason – in some matter we have not heard at all, not considered carefully enough, not believed or taken on board, something that Jesus has said. The cure of fear is to draw near to and see the risen Jesus. We have His word to read and consider as often as we desire.

Not many days before His crucifixion and resurrection Jesus said to His disciples, “I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go to prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also” and “I will come to you” (John 14:2-3, 18). Somehow these kinds of statements by Jesus were not on their minds while their hearts were in turmoil over His crucifixion and the perceived hostility against themselves.

Our lives will be in turmoil from time to time and we may have fears but just as the disciples were at rest in their souls and were glad in their hearts when they saw Jesus so will we.

What was it that they saw in Jesus that gave them this joy and peace? Was it just because they saw Him alive or was there more? The beginning of the verse gives us the answer: “He showed them His hands and His side” where the nails had penetrated and fixed Him to the cross and where the spear had caused His blood to pour out. When they saw His hands and His side they also saw His sacrificial and unconditional love. That is what brought peace and joy to their hearts.

When we see the nail prints in His hands we see His kind of love. His “perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18). To know Jesus is to love Him. If we are to experience this peace and gladness we must see Jesus. When we see the kind of love and magnitude of His love written in the nail holes and the gash in His side, we will no longer be in turmoil but trusting Him to care for us and our concerns for eternity. “Behold what manner [kind] of love the Father has bestowed on us that we should be called children of God” (1 John 3:1).

Vultures and Darkness

“It came to pass, when the sun went down and it was dark, that behold, there appeared a smoking oven and a burning torch that passed between those pieces. On the same day the Lord made a covenant with Abram” (Genesis 15:17, 18).

It is not difficult for us to put ourselves in Abram’s place and to share his experience in this great event in the history of God’s redemptive program. However, there was much that was needed to pave the way for this day. This chapter begins with the words, “After these things …”

There was the first step of obedience by Abram to leave his homeland without knowing his destination. Chapter twelve records his arrival in Canaan. He also had to be separated from his family. Chapter thirteen records his eventual separation from his remaining family member – the worldly Lot.

Abram showed that he wholly trusted the Lord to fulfil His covenant when he rejected the world’s offer of a reward (Genesis 14) and by offering a tithe to Melchizedek, king of Salem. There was still an important experience for Abram to endure, one that we would not desire ourselves but one that we can expect.

In Genesis 15:6 we read that Abram already had God’s righteousness accounted to him so what follows is subsequent to his believing – what we would refer to as subsequent to salvation.

God asked Abram to offer animal blood sacrifices. When they were placed as God commanded, instead of heavenly visions as we might expect, there came vultures. Instead of showers of blessings came the vultures of doubt (v 11). Instead of God’s peace came the thief to steal away that which Abram was offering to the Lord. There was also the great darkness of depression (v 12) that seemed as though it would consume him. We offer ourselves as a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1) but somehow it doesn’t go to plan and we feel doubt and depression.

The vultures, the deep sleep, the horror of the darkness all made Abram feel absolutely helpless. Doubt and depression may visit us and make us feel helpless. If we did not experience doubt we would not experience having the truth confirmed. If we did not experience the darkness of depression we would not be able to experience the joy of assurance. Out of Abrams’s experience the Lord confirmed all that He had said to him and gave him assurance. God alone passed through the sacrificed animals and Abram knew that the fulfilment of the covenant was based solely on God’s faithfulness and ability.

Our ultimate deliverance from sin and from this fallen world is dependent solely on Jesus Christ. Neither doubts nor fears will prevent Him from delivering us into the presence of the Father. Doubt and depression may at times infiltrate our lives, but they cannot steal away the Gift of God (cf. Romans 8:38-39). Peter writes that we “are kept by the power of God through faith” (1 Peter 1:5).

No Fear in Meeting God

“It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” Hebrews 10:31

Like all verses in the Bible it is important to understand the context and not assume a context. The immediate context is the quotes from Deuteronomy, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay” and “The Lord will judge His people” but the broader context of chapters nine and ten is a comparison between the temple sacrifices and Christ’s sacrifice of Himself.

We are discovering that many people groups have stories of a great flood and the survival of just a few ancestors in a vessel of some sort. We also have in many people groups the practice of offering blood sacrifices to appease their god. It would seem that both these have their origin in Noah and the ark. When Noah emerged from the ark he offered blood sacrifices (Genesis 8:20-21).

The law given through Moses also required sacrifices but the writer of Hebrews affirms that such sacrifices did nothing to turn away God’s wrath for sin. They were but shadows (Hebrews 8:5; 10:1). If I promised a new car to my son and only gave him a photograph of that car he would be disappointed. The photograph is useless for the function of a car. It may be cheap but it won’t take him anywhere. Likewise, shadows have no substance. They promise but do not deliver. Jesus Christ is the only sacrifice for sin and all others are mere shadows or representations to point to Him. Anyone holding onto the shadow is the subject of verse 31 quoted above.

Jesus Christ offered Himself “once to bear the sins of many” (9:28; 10:10, 12, 13) so any continuance in offering the shadow is to say that Christ’s death is insufficient or inadequate. It would also deny all the attestations of God that He is the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” In essence they are trampling the Son of God underfoot, counting the blood of the covenant a common thing and insulting the Spirit of grace (Hebrews 10:29). Not surprisingly, they have a fearful expectation.

We may also fall into this trap if we are not careful. It is possible that we may be offering sacrifices of service or money with a wrong motive. We read, “But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God … for by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified” (10:12, 14). When we offer service or money from the motive that seeks removal of guilt or to gain God’s favour we deny the sufficiency of Christ’s sacrifice. By doing so we call God a liar and no believer would want to do that.

Rather, we are not among those who are in fear of meeting our God, we are “those who eagerly wait for Him” for His second appearing “apart from sin, for salvation” (9:28).

No Need to fear

“I am determined to do good to Jerusalem and to the house of Judah. Do not fear” Zechariah 8:15

Just how determined is the Lord to do good to Jerusalem and Judah? The latter half of Zechariah’s prophecy gives us the answer. It describes some events leading up to and the Lord’s fulfilment of the covenant He made with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. In Genesis 12:2, 3 we read, “I will bless you and make your name great and you shall be a blessing … and in you all the families of the world shall be blessed.” In Zechariah 8:13 we read, “So I will save you, and you shall be a blessing. Do not fear, let your hands be strong.” This prophecy is about the Lord fulfilling His covenant promises with Israel. That He says twice, “Do not fear” (vv 13 & 15) is an indication that the process of fulfilment will give ample reason to fear.

This will be a horrific time for Israel in which the Lord says that two-thirds of the people will die (13:8). Only one-third will survive the lord’s refining fire (13:9). Only for those who love truth, justice and peace and love their neighbour (8:16-17), which are indications that they love the Lord and believe His word, is there comfort and no need to fear. Instead, they will trust the Lord.

They will know that their King entered Jerusalem on the colt of a donkey (9:9) and died on a cross (12:10) for their sin, rising the third day as the Scriptures foretold. They will not fear because they believe that just as Christ was pierced for their sin they will see Him come in glory just as Zechariah’s prophecy and other prophets and Jesus have said.

They will not fear because they know that there is a day soon coming in which the feet of Jesus Christ will stand on the Mount of Olives and the mount will split in two (14:4-5) creating a large valley through which they shall escape.

They will not fear because they will know that “The Lord shall be king over all the earth” (14:9).

They will not fear because in there is soon to be a day when the peoples and nations will not come to Israel for war but “to seek the Lord of hosts in Jerusalem, and to pray before the Lord” (8:22).

They will not fear because they know that “everyone who is left of all the nations which came up against Jerusalem shall go up from year to year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to keep the feast of tabernacles” (14:16). This is what Peter was thinking of when he suggested building tabernacles on the Mount of Transfiguration. He was thinking of this great era when everything will be engraved with HOLINESS TO THE LORD (14:20). Maranatha!

While the Bible reveals terrible times ahead for Israel and the world those who believe God’s word see a most glorious world on the horizon over which Jesus reigns as King of kings and Lord of lords. We have no need to fear. Who is able to withstand the determination of the Lord? No one!

Either by bodily death or by the calling up of His church we will be delivered from this corrupt and evil world into Christ’s presence. “We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8).

Fear or Faith

“As soon as we heard these things, our hearts melted; neither did there remain any more courage in anyone because of you, for the Lord your god, He is God in heaven above and on earth beneath.” Joshua 2:11

When anyone hears what things God has done it will produce either fear or faith in the hearer. This is why sharing personal testimony of what God has done in our lives will always produce a response. That response may not always be expressed immediately.

The people of Jericho had known of the miraculous escape of Israel from Egypt for forty years. They knew of the judgments against the Egyptian gods and of the Red Sea crossing with its destruction of the Egyptian army. They had also heard of the victories over other kingdoms on Israel’s way to Canaan. By the time Joshua sent in the two spies the people of Jericho were very sensitive to Israel’s presence..

When they received the news that Israel had miraculously crossed the flooded river Jordan without getting their feet wet, fear rose in their hearts. All the people of Jericho received the same news but not all responded to that news in the same way. Very likely they all responded in fear but for one family that fear turned to faith.

The people of Jericho knew that the might of Egypt and its gods had not been able to withstand Israel and the Lord yet they chose to trust in the gods, walls and military power of the city. Only Rahab turned from fear to faith. She chose to abandon the former objects of trust and trust the God of Israel of whom she had been hearing all her life. It is very likely she was born many years after Israel came out of Egypt.

Making this decision was not without risk. Rahab wanted her family to be safe as well. For that to happen she would have to tell them the covenant she had made with the spies. Anyone of her family could have turned her in and she would have been killed as a traitor. Further evidence of her new faith is seen in that she was able to keep all her family in her home for at least a couple of weeks. During all this time the scarlet cord hung from her window (2:21).

Rahab and her family were saved because they demonstrated their faith by doing what was asked of them. If they had not obeyed the terms of the covenant they would not have been saved. This is an oft repeated principle in the Bible. As James writes, “faith without works is useless” (James 2:20).

We know our faith is genuine when we are willing to risk all to obey the word of the Lord. Like Rahab we will risk even our lives in order that our loved ones might be saved. When we share the Gospel of Christ along with our own testimony it will produce fear in the hearts of the hearer but, in God’s grace, for some that fear will turn to faith.