Living in the connection between heaven and earth

Meme image as heading which says "Heaven on earth" is a choice you must make, not a place you must find".

Church calendar readings for Sunday, August 26, in Bible order

Prepare for Sunday by reading the Bible passages beforehand – read again to reflect on Sunday’s teaching

1 Kings 8:1,6,10-11, 22-30, 41-43 » God presences himself in the glory cloud

John 6:56-69 » Jesus promises Himself as food for eternal life

Ephesians 6:10-20 » How we position ourselves in the spiritual battle

Theme: Living in the connection between heaven and earth

SUMMARY  The three readings all speak of how the presence and purpose of God and the heavenly host affects events in our lives – and how choices we make, and the spiritual position we take, affects the spiritual reality behind what we experience. Yahweh’s presence was visible to the Israelites in the pillar of fire and cloud, on Mount Sinai and in the desert wanderings, and then at the consecration of Solomon’s temple. Jesus taught how He was the bridge between heaven and earth in a way that had to be spiritually discerned. And Paul, writing to the church in Ephesus, teaches them that the struggles against evil that we all face are spiritual battles won in the place of holiness and prayer, not human argument and political strength.

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OLD TESTAMENT READING

1 Kings 8:1,6,10-11, 22-30, 41-43 » God presences himself in the glory cloud

The reverent placing of the ark in the temple

Then King Solomon summoned into his presence at Jerusalem the elders of Israel, all the heads of the tribes and the chiefs of the Israelite families, to bring up the ark of the Lord’s covenant from Zion, the City of David.

The priests then brought the ark of the Lord’s covenant to its place in the inner sanctuary of the temple, the Most Holy Place, and put it beneath the wings of the cherubim.

“Ark… to its place” – moved from David’s own shrine into the temple, probably in the 12th year of Solomon’s reign.

10-11 When the priests withdrew from the Holy Place, the cloud filled the temple of the Lord. And the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord, Yahweh,  filled His temple.

“The cloud” – The presence of the Lord appearing in a visible cloud, as at Sinai.

For further study, Exodus 24:15-18; Exodus 40:33-38; Numbers 11:24-25 and 2 Chron. 7:1-3.

22-23 Then Solomon stood before the altar of the Lord in front of the whole assembly of Israel, spread out his hands toward heaven and said:

“Lord, the God of Israel, there is no God like You in heaven above or on earth below – You who keep Your covenant of love with Your servants who continue wholeheartedly in Your way.

“No God like You” – Yahweh was quite different from the impersonal, fickle deities of other nations, directing events to fulfil His covenant promises. See Exodus 15:11, Deut. 7:9,12, and Psalm 86:8-10.

“Covenant of love” – Hebrew berith chesēd, covenant faithfulness, which made Yahweh unique and different. However, there was also responsibility on the other party to “continue wholeheartedly” in His way.

24 You have kept Your promise to Your servant David my father; with your mouth You have promised and with Your hand You have fulfilled it – as it is today.

25 “Now Lord, the God of Israel, keep for Your servant David my father the promises You made to him when You said, ‘You shall never fail to have a successor to sit before Me on the throne of Israel, if only your descendants are careful in all they do to walk before Me faithfully as you have done.’

“If only your descendants are careful” – a clear, unambiguous condition amplified in the “But as for you… but if you” statement of 2 Chron 7:17-22.

26 “And now, God of Israel, let Your word that You promised Your servant David my father come true.

27 “But will God really dwell on earth? The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain You. How much less this temple I have built!

“How much less this temple” – Yahweh could not be contained, but the cloud of glory and physical temple led to a false belief that God’s assistance was assured however people lived, Jer. 7:4-14, Micah 3:11.

28 “Yet give attention to Your servant’s prayer and his plea for mercy, Lord my God. Hear the cry and the prayer that Your servant is praying in Your presence this day.

29 “May Your eyes be open toward this temple night and day, this place of which You said, ‘My Name shall be there,’ so that You will hear the prayer Your servant prays toward this place.

Verses 30 and 40-43 in the longer reading speak of God’s mission to all peoples of the earth, that they might know His name and His ways.

30 “Hear the supplication of Your servant and of Your people Israel when they pray toward this place. Hear from heaven, Your dwelling place, and when You hear, forgive.

“Toward this place” – Israelites who could not pray in the temple directed their prayers to the temple, the place where God has promised to be present among His people, e.g. Daniel 6:10.

41 “As for the foreigner who does not belong to Your people Israel but has come from a distant land because of Your name –

“Foreigner” – not  an alien living in Israel but someone who has journeyed to Jerusalem to pray to Israel’s God.

42 for they will hear of Your great name and Your mighty hand and Your outstretched arm – when they come and pray toward this temple,

43 then hear from heaven, Your dwelling place. Do whatever the foreigner asks of you, so that all the peoples of the earth may know Your name and fear You, as do Your own people Israel, and may know that this house I have built bears Your Name.

“All peoples of the earth” – the wider intention of God’s mission, which we sometimes overlook in the OT, but plainly stated here.

IN PRACTICE  Solomon and the priests involved in the consecration of the new temple had never seen the glory cloud, but they knew about Moses entering the cloud on the top of Mount Sinai to receive the commandments, and the glory of the Lord filling the tabernacle tent. For the people of the Old Testament era, the relationship was remote, not personal, with prophets and priests speaking for God and acting as His intermediaries. However our relationship through Jesus is to be personal, not mediated through priests. The story sets out a scenario where we can see that the affairs of heaven and of earth are not compartmentalised, but closely linked.

QUESTION  How is God’s covenant of love distinct from other world faiths?

GOSPEL

John 6:56-69 » Jesus promises Himself as food for eternal life

By receiving Him totally our lives are transformed

Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in Me, and I in them.

57 Just as the living Father sent Me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on Me will live because of Me.

“Feeds on Me” – as John Wesley put it, Jesus becoming the meat and drink that feeds the soul. The Hebrew idiom ‘flesh and blood’ refers to the whole person.

58 This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.”

59 He said this while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.

“Whoever feeds…live for ever” –  clearly not to be taken literally, and at this point, no sacrament has been instituted. Eternal life comes from wholeheartedly believing in Him by internalising who He is.

60 On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”

61 Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you?

62 Then what if you see the Son of Man ascend to where He was before!

“Ascend” – to the realm He came from, and harder to comprehend than Jesus offering Himself for them to feed on spiritually.

63 The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you – they are full of the Spirit and life.

Jesus’ hearers, not discerning the spiritual truth behind His words, were shocked and offended. The Jews believed that study of Scripture and ‘doing works of God’ were enough for spiritual understanding. Jesus is patiently explaining to them that the Holy Spirit is needed to provide revelation that human reason cannot – refer back to John 5:39, 6:27-29.

64 Yet there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him.

65 He went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to Me unless the Father has enabled them.”

“The Father has enabled” – only those who seek on God’s terms, and not their own, will receive. Jesus knew some would choose not to believe, and would not allow themselves to be drawn by God – a fine balance between the free will choice to respond, and being drawn to a choice by the Holy Spirit. Different theological streams often give more emphasis to one or the other.

66 From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed Him.

“Many turned back” – Jesus is not surprised that many potential disciples have turned away at this watershed point in John’s gospel..

67 “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve.

68-69 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that You are the Holy One of God.”

“To whom shall we go” – the twelve disciples are beginning to get  this hard teaching, although for others it was too hard. They don’t want to transfer to another rabbi.

“Holy One of God” – God was called the Holy One of Israel, e.g. Psalm 71:22, Isaiah 43:3 and 54:5.

IN PRACTICE  Jesus reminded His hearers of the manna, God’s day by day provision from heaven for His people dwelling in a desert. Then Jesus challenged them with a steep step of logic – now God’s ‘manna’ from heaven was He Himself. He was God’s provision to them for life, and indeed eternal life and they were to feed on Him by taking Him to heart.

We live on earth in an awareness of God – and  through Jesus this becomes a real and personal relationship with Him. But we still see a gap between what happens in heaven and what happens, good or bad, in our earthly lives. This teaching of Jesus reminds us that He is the connection. To the extent our lives are lived in Him, and we are placing ourselves under His lordship, what is played out before our eyes is harnessed to the hope we have in the heavenly realm.

QUESTION  In a practical, day to day way, how would you explain what it means to you to feed on Jesus?

EPISTLE

Ephesians 6:10-20 » How we position ourselves in the spiritual battle

The real conflict behind events we experience, is won in a different way

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power.

“Be strong in the Lord” – being strong humanly is not enough. Recognise the need to summon God’s invincible power.

11 Put on the full armour of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.

“Put on” – earlier in the letter Paul has written, “Put on the new self” i.e. the new attitude of who we are in Christ, born anew into true righteousness and holiness. This is countering false witness and fear in the opposite spirit of integrity.

For further study, see compare with Ephesians 4:24 and Colossians 3:10.

“The devil’s schemes” – the Bible is clear about the present reality of the devil, a personal enemy, who deploys a few predictable strategies to exploit sin, fear and guilt by using accusation and division. Knowing those strategies is a key to recognising their origin, and then standing on who we are in Christ to overcome them.

12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

“Our struggle” – it is a mistake to resist human opponents or institutions without recognising the dark spirituality that is manipulating them, and taking a spiritual stand in the authority of Jesus. Even those who know the Lord may well have remaining vulnerabilities that the different levels of spiritual opposition are able to exploit.

13 Therefore put on the full armour of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.

“Full armour of God” – a picture of the ‘panoplia‘ of the soldier’s kit, but what is meant here is Yahweh’s armour and weaponry, Isaiah 11:4-5 and 59:17, made available to the believer. When evil seems to prevail, truth and righteousness are the spiritual ‘weapons of character’ that win through.

“Stand” – repeated four times in this passage for emphasis. Rather than invade the domain of evil, we are to firmly maintain the decisive victory already won by Christ, Eph. 1:20-22, 4:8, Col 2:15.

IN PRACTICE  The spiritual connection between heaven and earth is real and vital, and that is made explicit here. Struggles are real experiences — our lives are under attack, both in the fears and anxieties and negativities that assail our thoughts, and in all the practical difficulties, health issues, relationship conflicts, adverse weather and accidents. The devil and his minions are personal opponents, always working to steal our peace and cause division wherever they can gain a foothold. The world’s advice is to be strong. Money in the bank, a robust constitution, influential friends… life has taught us how to ‘tough it out’. And this is exactly what we have to ‘unlearn’. This clear lesson from Paul’s teaching is that to prevail, is to prevail spiritually. It requires us to put down our worldly ‘weapons’ in order to take up a very different set of spiritual ones, where growing holiness, integrity and trust in the face of difficulty are the very qualities feared most by our spiritual opponents.

QUESTION  What makes it difficult for us to take up spiritual weapons? What in Christian life and fellowship helps us to see the spiritual dimension?

PRAYER  We live in a cruel and difficult world but so, Lord, did You – and we put our trust in You. Help us to perceive more clearly the spiritual realities behind our lives and to constantly give You the Lordship, and praise for Your sacrificial victory. Amen.

Salvation: from God’s judgment by flood to come on the earth

Church calendar readings for the week leading up to Sunday, April 22

MONDAY  Genesis 7:1-5 and 11-18, Gen. 8:6-18, Gen. 9:8-13 – Saved from the flood of judgment

TUESDAY  Psalm 23 – Saved in the valley of the shadow of death

WEDNESDAY  John 10:11-18 – Saved as part of the flock of the Good Shepherd

THURSDAY  Acts 4:5-12 – Ministering in the only name under heaven by whom salvation comes

FRIDAY  1 John 3:16-24 – Demonstrating the authentic character of the saved

This week’s theme is clearly around God’s gracious salvation

MONDAY, APRIL 16
Genesis 7:1-5 and 11-18, Gen. 8:6-18, Gen. 9:8-13

 

Noah, who God found to be righteous in an evil generation, takes his family, livestock and other animals into a huge ark he had obediently constructed.

7:1-3  The Lord then said to Noah, “Go into the ark, you and your whole family, because I have found you righteous in this generation. Take with you seven pairs of every kind of clean animal, a male and its mate, and one pair of every kind of unclean animal, a male and its mate, and also seven pairs of every kind of bird, male and female, to keep their various kinds alive throughout the earth.

“Clean animal” – There was awareness of the correct animals for sacrifices long before the law concerning clean and unclean animals was given, Leviticus 11, Deuteronomy 14.

4 Seven days from now I will send rain on the earth for forty days and forty nights, and I will wipe from the face of the earth every living creature I have made.”

“Seven days” – seven is sometimes used for a closing period, so there is a degree of urgency expressed here.

“Forty days” – The number 40 is used in Scripture for receiving the law, Deut. 9:11 and the temptation of Jesus, Matt. 4:2. The wilderness wandering and King David’s reign over Israel are both stated as 40 years. This is a significant event and a significant time period.

5  And Noah did all that the Lord commanded him.

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11-12  In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, on the seventeenth day of the second month – on that day all the springs of the great deep burst forth, and the floodgates of the heavens were opened. And rain fell on the earth forty days and forty nights.

“Springs of the great deep… floodgates of the heavens” – evokes the creation and a reversing of the appearance of the land. The precise giving of the date is not symbolic, but evidence of an important fact well remembered by oral tradition.

13-16  On that very day Noah and his sons, Shem, Ham and Japheth, together with his wife and the wives of his three sons, entered the ark. They had with them every wild animal according to its kind, all livestock according to their kinds, every creature that moves along the ground according to its kind and every bird according to its kind, everything with wings. Pairs of all creatures that have the breath of life in them came to Noah and entered the ark. The animals going in were male and female of every living thing, as God had commanded Noah. Then the Lord shut him in.

Noah and his family were monogamous, and numbered eight in all, 1 Peter 3:20.

“As God had commanded Noah” – also v.5. At this early point of salvation history, righteousness is equated with obedience, and leads to salvation. Just when they could have been wiped out by judgment,  God shows a fatherly touch by shutting them in.

17-18  For forty days the flood kept coming on the earth, and as the waters increased they lifted the ark high above the earth. The waters rose and increased greatly on the earth, and the ark floated on the surface of the water.

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8:6-12  After forty days Noah opened a window he had made in the ark and sent out a raven, and it kept flying back and forth until the water had dried up from the earth. Then he sent out a dove to see if the water had receded from the surface of the ground. But the dove could find nowhere to perch because there was water over all the surface of the earth; so it returned to Noah in the ark. He reached out his hand and took the dove and brought it back to himself in the ark. He waited seven more days and again sent out the dove from the ark. When the dove returned to him in the evening, there in its beak was a freshly plucked olive leaf! Then Noah knew that the water had receded from the earth. He waited seven more days and sent the dove out again, but this time it did not return to him.

The raven and the dove are something of a parable. The raven is a patrolling presence, like a harbinger, whereas the dove flies out and comes back to Noah as his dove, and in its way communicates with him. Much later on, the Holy Spirit chooses to be seen as a dove, Matt 3:16; Mark 1:10; Luke 3:22; John 1:32

13-14  By the first day of the first month of Noah’s six hundred and first year, the water had dried up from the earth. Noah then removed the covering from the ark and saw that the surface of the ground was dry.  By the twenty-seventh day of the second month, the earth was completely dry.

Noah looked for signs of dry land from 40 days onwards. And looked, and waited. Land appeared and the dove did not return a year and 10 days after the rain started; read together Genesis 7:6, 11 and 8:13-14.

15-17   Then God said to Noah, “Come out of the ark, you and your wife and your sons and their wives. Bring out every kind of living creature that is with you – the birds, the animals, and all the creatures that move along the ground – so they can multiply on the earth and be fruitful and increase in number on it.”

Noah waited for God’s command before leaving the ark.

18  So Noah came out, together with his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives.

There are parallels here with the Creation story in Genesis 1, a picture of returning to “in the beginning”, but this time on the basis of covenant between God and man which is described at length, Gen. 8:20-9:17.

= = =

9:8-11  Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him:  “I now establish my covenant with you and with your descendants after you and with every living creature that was with you—the birds, the livestock and all the wild animals, all those that came out of the ark with you—every living creature on earth. I establish my covenant with you: Never again will all life be destroyed by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth.”

This covenant is a unilateral promise, established by God without any particular participation, not just to Noah and his descendants, but to “every living creature”. This is the forerunner to later covenants, which by contrast are mutual and relational.

12-13  And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth.

The geological data confirms a flood of the proportions described, over a large but limited area centred on Mesopotamia. However the account should be read and understood in its own terms – a judgment in which the entire living scene is destroyed. This informs the N.T. teaching of an impending greater judgment of the universe itself, 2 Peter 3:5-7.

Application

This is a remarkable account of one stubbornly righteous man, Noah, who obeyed God and not the cultural pressures of his generation, and it speaks down the millennia.

God wants us for Himself, and wants us to to be right with Him in our attitudes and intentions. Every conflict recorded in the Bible and in church history and every contemporary tension turns on this truth.

Wanton independence from God’s way does carry penalties – the severest penalties imaginable in this instance. On the other hand, the account demonstrates that keeping God’s way brings salvation, in the broadest sense.

For Noah, it is simply about obedience to God. For us the relationship is more nuanced; it would be better expressed in our knowing God in such a way that, what we want to do most, is to please Him by walking closely with Him.

There is also an early lesson here about waiting for God, and doing what He says, in His timing and not ours. Noah waited the best part of a year after the water started going down, before he knew – he heard from God – that it was time for him to lead the way out of the grounded ark, which had served its purpose.

For reflection and discussion

Think about an area of your life where you can see a way to move forward but you are still awaiting God’s release.

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p class=”p1″>When you see a rainbow, what do you sense God is saying to you or reminding you?

New covenant, new way

RECAP

Jeremiah 31:31-34   Jeremiah foresees a different kind of covenant entirely, a covenant of heart rather than statute.

Psalm 51:1-13  Selfishness and independence is inherited from mankind’s fallenness, but the mercy of God’s unfailing love and His Holy Spirit can create a new heart.

John 12:20-33  As the ‘prince of this world’ hears the announcement of his judgment, Jesus foretells that His death will draw all kinds of people to Him.

Hebrews 5:5-10  The new covenant is explained to Jewish Christians in terms of the new, enduring and entirely different level of priesthood now held by Christ Jesus.

FRIDAY, MARCH 16
New covenant, new way

The transition from obeying to partnering

Our Father God wants His children to know Him personally, to share in His values – such as drawing everyone to Himself – and to partner with Him in bringing transformation to this world.

That wasn’t always how it worked. In the desert, then in the Promised Land, with the influence of prophets, priests and kings, a people that would obey and stick to Moses’ Sinai covenant was what brought His favour. That is, when they did obey – when the ‘marriage’ was working. But more and more, the relationship began to fail.

Just as expectations in the partnership of marriage have changed, as the roles and relationships of men and women have changed, the whole basis for relating to God went through a ‘sea change’. Everything changed in Jesus. The Messiah was the True Light who fulfilled the Law – a huge change. His giving of the Holy Spirit, empowering and bringing revelation, inspiring the gospels and other NT teaching was an even more profound change. The Old Covenant was about doing what was right, doing good works and doing ‘good religion’. The New Covenant, which Jeremiah foresaw, was about being those redeemed by Jesus as the unique High Priest, with hearts changed by the Holy Spirit, resulting in good works and partnership in the mission of God.

In the workplace, it is common to start a new role with an induction to learn the new ways things are done. Have we fully caught on to the new way God is working – or still trying to do things the old way, to His consternation?

The stretch of faith that sees beyond

Readings this week focus on Sunday, February 25 (Second Sunday in Lent)

MONDAY – Genesis 17:1-7; 15-16
God appears and presents the Father of Many Nations with a condition and a promise

TUESDAY – Psalm 22: 23-31
From a background of anguish and apparent abandonment, the tone turns to praise and even revival

WEDNESDAY – Mark 8:31-38
God’s great plan of redemption is difficult for people to understand

THURSDAY – Romans 4: 13-25
The deep roots of the Good News of salvation by faith in Jesus which ‘credits righteousness’

FRIDAY – The Emerging Message

Abram receives the second part of the promise and a new identity

MONDAY, FEBRUARY 19
Genesis 17:1-7; 15-16

God appears and presents the Father of Many Nations with a condition and a promise

1 When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to him and said, “I am God Almighty; walk before Me faithfully and be blameless. 1  Hebrew El Shaddai. The exact meaning of Shaddai is debated. It amounts to ‘El’, Lord, ‘Sha’, who and ‘ddai’, ‘boundless sufficiency’. The ‘ddai’ part of the word has some connotations with ‘mountain’ or ‘great size’. It is a way of ascribing extraordinary power – hence Almighty.
2 Then I will make My covenant between Me and you and will greatly increase your numbers.”

2  This comes 13 years after the birth of Ishmael, and Sarai is now 89 years old.

Why did God need to make what appears to be second covenant? Better to see this as two aspects of God’s covenant with Abram in which God gives him the promise of the land, Genesis 15:18-21, and here in part 2 is the promise of an abundance of descendants.

2  Unlike the Genesis 15 covenant, this part of the promise is conditional on Abram’s commitment to God.  Abram has to “walk before God and be blameless”.

3    Abram fell facedown, and God said to him,

4  “As for Me, this is My covenant with you: You will be the father of many nations.

5  No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations.

3-5  This “father of many nations” statement is part of a threefold promise, unmistakable and memorable. This is an enduring covenant between God and Abram, whose name changes to reflect his new relationship with God, and who he is to become, according to that covenant. God changes his name to ‘Ab’, father, ‘ram’, high, ‘hamon’ (contracted to ham), nations. So from ‘Great Father’ to ‘Great Father of Nations, or Father of a great many Nations. See Romans 4:17.
6  I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you. 6  Not, as might be thought, one tribe or nation, the tribe of Abraham – but ‘nations’ and each nation has to have a king. So “kings will come forth from you” reinforces this part of the promise.
7  I will establish My covenant as an everlasting covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you. 7  The repetition around “everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you” emphasises that this covenant will have the same meaning and the same force for the descendants many generations down the line, as for Abraham himself. It is in effect a generational blessing as expressed later to Moses, Exodus 20:6.
8  The whole land of Canaan, where you now reside as a foreigner, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you; and I will be their God.”

8  “To be your God” is reinforced by the first person direct statement “I will be their God” in verse 8. This is a much-repeated saying in the prophets, and Jeremiah repeats it in his ‘turning point’ prophecy of the New Covenant written on hearts, Jer. 31:33. It is also quoted three times in the NT.

8  For God to say “I will be their God” and for Abraham and his descendants to repeat what God has said in the way of celebrating it, is more important than the detail of lands or offspring. Spiritually a covenant is established personally, God to man and man to God, in these words, rather like the “I wills” of the covenant made between bride and groom in the marriage ceremony.

15  God also said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you are no longer to call her Sarai; her name will be Sarah. 15  This name change is from “my princess” to the more regal and enduring “princess”.
16 I will bless her and will surely give you a son by her. I will bless her so that she will be the mother of nations; kings of peoples will come from her.” 16  The language does not state but implies “princess of nations” meaning “mother of nations” as the translators’ render it, parallel to “father of… nations”, verse 5.

 

Application

There is a controversial issue which comes out of this passage, and that concerns the present nation of Israel, and the land of Israel which is the cause of tension and even wars.

This goes with another controversial point, the nations which come from Abraham and the story that precedes this passage, of Hagar and Ishmael, Genesis 16:10-12. The angel’s prophecy to the fleeing Hagar is that she, too, will have many descendants, and strife is forecast in the prophecy!

The Bible gives us reasons for the present-day tension, but it doesn’t give us black and white answers of how to resolve that tension. How does that covenant play out today, in different people groups, many thousands of years later, with many different views of how instructive it is?

The teaching that we gain from this is about the nature of God’s covenants, which can be in the form of a unilateral decree that He will do (or in the case of Noah and the rainbow) not do something. Or it can be a statement that has conditions. Then we have to enter into what is said, and keep on demonstrating our commitment to the proposer of the covenant.

Our idea of commitments and even legal contracts can be quite situational. There is the concept in law of a “voidable contract”. As is often the case, our worldview and the worldview of heaven are rather different. God’s purposes and intentions are eternal, while ours tend to be more selfish and short-term.

For reflection and discussion

To what extent are we, as non-Jews, descendants of Abraham? As Christians living in the benefit of a new and better covenant established by Jesus, founded on better promises, how do we understand this original promise of one of the covenants: “I will be their God”?

Remembering God’s ways and trusting God’s ways

TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 13
Psalm 25:1-10

An appeal to the covenant and pledge to keep God’s ways even in the face of personal adversity

1  In you, Lord my God, I put my trust. More literally, I lift up my soul. Or set my heart on you.
2  I trust in you; do not let me be put to shame, nor let my enemies triumph over me. David was not perfect, but as we know his essential character was to be God-revering and dependent, walking closely with God and seeking His leading in everything.
3  No one who hopes in you will ever be put to shame, but shame will come on those who are treacherous without cause. David affirms that his actions have not been the cause of the hostility he faces.
4  Show me your ways, Lord, teach me your paths. “Show me your ways” and “teach me your paths” and v8, “instruct in [Your] ways” are phrases we can pray when we seek guidance. They remind us that God’s guidance is like Him — moral and righteous. We pray: God, show us the way! And He shows us to pray to learn and discover His way. So His guidance doesn’t always give us the answer. It may be to align us with His way, and to grow us as we work it out.

5  Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Saviour, and my hope is in you all day long.

6  Remember, Lord, your great mercy and love, for they are from of old.

7  Do not remember the sins of my youth and my rebellious ways; according to your love remember me, for you, Lord, are good.

See note to verse 3 above. Whether he has given cause or not, he gives the Lord permission to show him his fault, if he has taken an independent path or has not fully repented of former rebelliousness. His motto, which is worth following, is “repent anyway!”

8  Good and upright is the Lord; therefore He instructs sinners in his ways.

9  He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his way.

David, who is a king (and a great king at that), here identifies with sinners who need instructing and the humble who look for guidance.
10  All the ways of the Lord are loving and faithful toward those who keep the demands of his covenant. Being humble before the Lord (v.9) – acknowledging our dependence and lack of our own resources – is a first step in keeping the covenant.

Application

The attacks of slander experienced by David comes today when we put the kingdom of God over church-centred religion, or love for those outside a relationship with God above fellowship priorities. Strange though it may seem, our attacks often come from those near to us and professing the same beliefs. Reading the psalms, this seems to have been David’s experience.

David starts off by saying that he has given his enemies no cause for their malicious actions. We all start by justifying ourselves. But this is not what David is doing, as the verses that follow make plain. He appeals to the Lord on the basis of His mercy — not David’s sense of entitlement. That’s an important difference. If the Lord has a word of correction for him (vv.8-9) David is ready to hear.

In these verses, there are a good half-dozen requests for guidance, direct or indirect. David knows that God’s guidance will be guidance of attitude as much as action. In a way he has handed over the problem, declaring his trust that he won’t be put to shame, and that his enemies won’t exult over him (vv.1-3).

Then he positions himself as one who needs help, who needs guidance –– and this is likely to be guidance on how to stay in the Lord’s will, keeping a clean heart (forgive) and clean hands (no retribution) – help and guidance on how to keep reflecting the Lord’s love and mercy. We all need that. Psalm 24:3-5

For reflection and discussion

When we face a situation of hostility and perhaps people saying things that are not true about us, we all want to hit back, at first. How difficult is it for you to let go of your desire for a ‘solution’ and ask Him to show you His way according to His love and goodness?

God’s way of mercy, the first unconditional covenant with Noah

Readings this week, leading up to first Sunday in Lent, February 18
Genesis 9:8-17
Psalm 25:1-10
Mark 1: 9-15
1 Peter 3: 18-22

Theme of the week: God establishes His ways as an invitation for us to follow and so discover Him

 

MONDAY, FEBRUARY 12
Genesis 9:8-17

God’s way of mercy established in the first unconditional covenant with Noah

8  Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him:

9  “I now establish my covenant with you and with your descendants after you…

This is the first of a number of covenants in Scripture between God and His people, some unilateral like this one, others bilateral and participative.

God had already promised this covenant, Genesis 6:18.

10  …and with every living creature that was with you – the birds, the livestock and all the wild animals, all those that came out of the ark with you – every living creature on earth. This covenant has a wider scope than God’s providence for people. It includes “every living creature”, livestock and wild, and “all life” which can be understood as everything biological and made of cells.
11  I establish my covenant with you: Never again will all life be destroyed by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth.” This is the only recorded covenant where God undertakes not to do something.

Worldwide judgment at the end of the Last Times is not ruled out by this verse. It says there will never again be a worldwide destructive flood.

For further study read 2 Peter 3:4-13

12  And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: Covenants in the Bible often go with a particular sign, e.g. circumcision, the Sabbath observance, the bread and wine of the Lord’s supper.

For further study see Genesis 17:11; Exodus 31:13,17; Luke 22:20

13  I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. Literally “I have set My bow…” Hebrew uses the same term for bow and rainbow. One of the OT images of God is as a warrior who shoots arrows of judgment. This in Hebrew thought could be God hanging up his bow of judgment.

For further study see Psalm 7:12, Psalm 18:13-14, Habakkuk 3:9-11

14  Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds,

15  I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life.

16  Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth.”

Verses 12-13 and verse 16 together make an ‘envelope statement’ of emphasis.
17  So God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant I have established between me and all life on the earth.”

 

 

Application

From now on, in this new start, covenants will be an important feature of the relationship between God and His people. This is the first of five covenants which are called ‘Everlasting’ – looking forward to the end of time.

The other four main covenants which are everlasting are:
• The covenant with Abraham, Genesis 17:7
• The priestly covenant, Numbers 25:10-13
• The Davidic covenant, 2 Samuel 23:5
• The promised New Covenant, Jeremiah 32:40

The covenant with Moses, or the Sinai covenant, is rather different – a rule of life for the Jewish nation until the Holy Spirit was given. It was terminated on the Cross, Romans 6:14, Galatians 3:10-13. Jesus has fulfilled the Law and wants us to choose to live like Him, in the awareness of the Great Commandment, Matt. 22:36-40, rather than live under law. That choice that we make as Christians is both guided, and enabled, by the Holy Spirit, who trains us, “I will inspire them to fear (revere) Me” in the words of Jeremiah, to more than fulfil the objectives of the law (the 10 Commandments and much more) given to Moses – but willingly and intentionally and creatively, in other words, by grace rather than by rule and obedience.

This covenant with Noah makes no demands on Noah or on us. It is all down to God stating, and demonstrating His faithfulness. The seasons will take their course, and rainfall, perhaps heavy rainfall will be a part of that. But the ‘bow hung in the sky’ is a promise that God will keep. It is also a covenant we can go back to in prayer, ‘returning His word to Him’ Isaiah 55:11 whenever the natural order of things seems under threat.

For reflection and discussion

How do you hold on to the reality of God’s promises and faithfulness, while living in a fallen world where bad things happen to ‘good people’ and we are faced with so much uncertainty and unpredictability?

The connection between the heavenly realm and life on earth

FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 9
Recap, reflection – and the message that emerges

2 Kings 2: 1-12

Elisha succeeds Elijah, in a demonstration of utter reliance on the Lord and His anointing

Reflection 1: How do you work out the partnership between what God has made you uniquely capable of doing, and what He is uniquely able to do? What might Elisha’s example be teaching us in this?

Psalm 50:1-6

God calls the consecrated people to the court of His covenant – both heaven and earth together

Reflection 2: How do we, post-resurrection and relating to God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, celebrate and renew our covenant relationship with Him? What does God really want from us?

For further study, read the whole of Psalm 50 and the passages on ‘insincere sacrifices’ in Isaiah 1:11, Amos 4:4, Micah 6:6-8; NT and post-resurrection perspective Luke 22:20, Galatians 4:6.

Mark 9:2-9

Heaven appears to those on earth at the transfiguration of Jesus

Reflection 3: This was an encounter with God beyond the scope of imagining for most of us. Could you imagine being in a situation where you draw near to God and His glory becomes real to you?

2 Cor. 4:3-6

Heaven’s strategy in the good news of Jesus is contrasted with scheme that the god of this age, the devil, operates

Reflection 4: Where are you, along the line from a closed-mind unbeliever to a person of strong and open faith in God? Where are there pockets of ‘unbelieving’ which give the god of this world opportunities to block the light to that part of your heart?

The emerging message – how heaven and earth are connected

Although three of the readings show us how “God shines forth” in dazzling light, a light that shines in hearts to reveal the glory of Jesus, the real message that emerges is the close connection between the affairs of heaven and earth. How do we understand it, and how do we work with it?

It’s an important question. The lack of understanding of the interactions of heaven and earth, the spiritual world and our victories and setbacks, has left us, Jesus’ church, a lot less effective for Him than we should be.

The four strands of this teaching on interaction start with utter reliance on God in the handoff by Elijah to his pupil Elisha – the power and right to confer it belonged to God alone.

Psalm 50 teaches us about covenant and, unusually in a psalm where usually man speaks to God, God speaks to man about the responsibilities of covenant relationship and being ready to be called to account – for reward or for rebuke.

The Transfiguration is where we see the interaction most closely, as it seems that the top of the mountain is a ‘thin place’, so thin that Moses and Elijah are instantly recognisable conversing with Jesus in a scene that is both heavenly and earthly. This tells us that heaven is a real ‘place’, with real people. In heaven there are actions and conversations that impact ours, on earth. It’s not too big a jump to see behind the scene a strategy – and if we can join in that strategy, making our moves in step with heaven, that is a covenant relationship to strike fear into the devil and his minions.

That is really the point Paul is making in his second Corinthian letter. Not only has righteous heaven a plan and purpose being worked out, so the enemy of souls has a scheme. It’s always the same scheme – to keep people in fear, confusion and spiritual blindness. Knowing that scheme is the key to overcoming the scheme.

Many of us have grown up with the perception that there is a heaven, a kind of spiritual layer ‘above’, and we know all about the human realm on earth. We have believed that between these there is an ‘excluded middle’ like thick insulation keeping the two apart.

The reality is that the separation is caused by man’s pride and sin, but God’s mercy and our standing in Christ is such that we can bring the two back into a measure of connection by our praise, devotion, and especially repentance. Having an awareness of how the connection works, is a large part of making that connection. And that is where the kingdom of God, the major theme of Jesus’ teaching, begins to be manifest.

 

Read ahead – all the readings for Sunday, Feb 11

God’s word is His intention – then, now and for ever

TUESDAY, JANUARY 23
Psalm 111

The Lord’s precepts are not just trustworthy, but His heart is constancy and covenant – “for ever and ever”.

This psalm goes with Psalm 112, written by the same author (probably following the exile) and with the same acrostic structure following the Jewish alphabet on each half-line; so we can say they are intended to be read together.

1   Praise the Lord.
I will extol the Lord with all my heart
in the council of the upright and in the assembly.

  • The “council of the upright” is probably a more select group than the assembly and of proven godliness – similarly the “upright” of Ps. 112:2 and 4.
  • “With all my heart” a phrase associated with other psalms and in this context – perhaps what Jesus was alluding to when He gave the Great Commandment beginning “Love the Lord your God with all your heart”, Matt. 22:36-37.
  • Relating to God, heart to heart, is central to the theme this week

2  Great are the works of the Lord;
they are pondered by all who delight in them.

3  Glorious and majestic are His deeds,
and His righteousness endures forever.

4  He has caused His wonders to be remembered;
the Lord is gracious and compassionate.

5  He provides food for those who fear him;
He remembers His covenant forever.

  • “His righteousness endures forever…His wonders to be remembered… He remembers His covenant forever.” Three of about six expressions of the enduring, unchanging, unfailing quality of God’s decrees (see also note to verses 8-10).
  • God’s people serve a God who remembers; on our side, an important part of worship is our remembering publicly what He has done.

For further study: Psalm 42:6, 45:17, 71:16-18, Exodus 17:14, Joshua 4:7.

  • Testimony linked to the Good News (pondered by all who delight in them, v.2, His wonders… remembered v.4) is spiritually powerful. Good News is not a phrase used in the psalms, yet the psalms speak of declaring it: “The Lord has done great things for us, and we are glad” it says in Psalm 126. Therefore, according to Psalm 107, “Let the Redeemed of the Lord say so!” Psalm 126:3, Psalm 107:2

6  He has shown His people the power of His works,
giving them the lands of other nations.

  • “Shown His people…”: God reveals His purposes to His people Psalm 19:1-4, showing Himself to be worthy of complete trust (v.7 below)
  • Part of the promises of the enduring covenant concern “lands of other nations” given to His people, politically controversial or not!

For further study: Psalm 78:55, Genesis 12:7, 15:18

7  The works of His hands are faithful and just;
all His precepts are trustworthy.

  • “All His precepts are trustworthy…”: the theme about the particular authority and anointing on the Lord’s word emerges here.

8  They are established for ever and ever,
enacted in faithfulness and uprightness.

9  He provided redemption for his people;
He ordained his covenant forever
holy and awesome is His name.

10  The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom;
all who follow His precepts have good understanding.
To Him belongs eternal praise.

  • “…Established for ever and ever… ordained His covenant for ever… To Him belongs eternal praise.” Three more expressions of how God’s covenant is praiseworthy – and permanent.
  • The much-repeated, classic definition in the wisdom literature: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom”. True wisdom is living in the light of God’s nature and character. Willing submission to His ways is the key to seeing the Lord’s strategy.

For further study: Job 28:28, Psalm 112:1, Proverbs 1:7, 9:10.

Application

We have little personal experience of decrees that are enduring, in a world where the values are transient and situational – ‘if it fits, it applies – until the time that it doesn’t’. We are casual; God by complete contrast is constant and faithful to His decree. More recently there has been controversy over people taking more notice of social media ‘fake news’ than journalism which is properly researched, backed up and balanced; and the way assertions, even wild assertions, repeated often enough and loudly enough, are given credibility.

By contrast, God speaks in a way which is utterly true and totally trustworthy. He often refers back to what He has said before, and reminds us of promises which are still standing. His intentions, expressed in His Word, remain His intentions, and they go on and on. He may say more about them, or put them into a new context, but unlike a politician’s tweet, they have foundation and real substance.

God wants to receive our praise not as routine but from the heart, and He also wants us to catch His heart, which is about His constancy and love which is eternal, and never fickle.

Discussion starter

What promises has God made long ago which might help us reach people for Him more confidently?

Covenant and God’s faithfulness

The Living Word for week up to Sunday, December 24, 2017: Part 5 of 5

The emerging message

2 Samuel 7:1-11 and 16

Psalm 89:1-4 and 19-26

Luke 1:26-38

Romans 16:25-27

Do we sometimes doubt God, or wonder if we are in the right place for Him to see our needs or grant our requests? This week’s message is about God’s faithfulness to His purpose and to His people, told over a time span of over 1,000 years that saw following but also much failure.

David’s renown and kingly influence would continue, according to the covenant promise to David that emerges through the first reading. As we now know, the story of that succession, in the books of Kings and Chronicles, was a bumpy ride for the nation of Israel; there were some good and godly leaders, and there were far too many who were the exact opposite – they were covenant breakers. How could that prophetic word be fulfilled.

The psalmist of Psalm 89 writes 400 years later, at the time of the fall of Jerusalem, about how this unconditional covenant seems to have been abandoned. Standing in the ruins of a city broken down where most had been exiled, the psalm praises God while lamenting God’s apparent unwillingness to save them – the covenant was unconditional, but like any agreement, it was not unilateral. But, as the psalm asserts, God is always faithful to what He has promised. The anointing that was on David, and on David’s line, will be fulfilled.

In the angel’s appearance to Mary we begin to see how the covenant promise will be fulfilled in a different way. He sets out her special mission and responsibility, to give birth to the Son of God, whose ministry was to be the Good News that had been announced by the prophets so much earlier – the good news which was now for all mankind, Gentiles as well as Jews.

Our God combines being all majestic, all powerful and all holy – with being in all things faithful to His promises and loving with patience and longsuffering. The covenant with David and his successors was all but forgotten by the time Jerusalem, after many threats and constant appeals by the prophets, was finally sacked. Had the covenant been broken? No, but it had been abandoned by those it was supposed to protect. Nevertheless the Lord would maintain His covenant promises with His people, when there were people who regarded themselves as His. As we now know, it was worked out rather differently, as had long been foretold, in Jesus the Messiah and the Light to the Gentiles as well as Israel.

Wherever we are in life, wherever our level of faith may be, we can always come back, and there are promises for us particularly in the New Covenant in Jesus, but without losing the benefits of older covenants. He is our God and we are His people, and He desires His promises to be worked out in our lives even more than we do.

All the discussion starters

  1. What (verses 8-16) does David or his descendants have to do or to be, in order to comply with this promise? If it is not explicit, what might be implicit?
  2. Why is it important as church to begin worship with declaring God’s goodness in praise? What reminder does that embed in us?
  3. Is our heavenly or spiritual worldview separated from our everyday worldview and beliefs about how our world works, or are we able, at times, to connect them and see how God’s heavenly purpose seeks to influence our earthly lives? Quite a profound question to consider, but this is a season when we remember a profound miracle where heaven impacted the earthly order!
  4. To what extent have you received the gospel from someone else – and found that you needed to outgrow their perspective, as you grew in your own revelation of it, through your relationship with the Lord?
  5. We are made in God’s image, but do we try to relate to God as being like us? What have we learned about His way of being that is quite a lot different to ours and which challenges our understanding of His ways?