Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘mercy’

turns

The book of Ezra opens with a heathen king fulfilling prophesy spoken by God’s prophet 150 years prior.  Cyrus had just been appointed king over Persia.  The Jews were living in exile as captives in Babylon which was under Persian rule.  They had been there for almost 70 years because of their disobedience to God.  Jeremiah had prophesied that their captivity would only last 70 years and Isaiah had prophesied that a man named Cyrus would be responsible for the rebuilding of his temple.

“In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom and also put it in writing.” ~Ezra 1:1

The ultimate reason this kind released the Jews and sent them home is found in verse number one: “…that the word of the Lord might be fulfilled…”  God, in order to accomplish his own purposes for his special people, “…stirred up the spirit…” of a king who didn’t even know or worship him as God.  God directed this man’s heart and he did exactly what God ordained.  Proverbs 21:1 says, “The hearts of kings are in the hand of the Lord, and, like the rivulets of water, he turneth them which way soever he will.”  Matthew Henry says, “It is said of Cyrus that he knew not God, nor how to serve him; but God knew him, and how to serve himself by him.  God governs the world by his influences on the spirits of men, and, whatever good is done at anytime, it is God that stirs up the spirit to do it, puts thoughts into the mind, gives to he understanding to form a right judgement, and directs the will which way he pleases.  Whatever good offices therefore are, at any time, done for the church of God, he must have the glory of them.”  

King Cyrus wasted no time freeing the Jews.  In his very first year as king, he made this proclamation throughout his entire kingdom:

“Thus says Cyrus king of Persia: The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever is among you of all his people, may his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and rebuild the house of the Lord, the God of Israel—he is the God who is in Jerusalem. And let each survivor, in whatever place he sojourns, be assisted by the men of his place with silver and gold, with goods and with beasts, besides freewill offerings for the house of God that is in Jerusalem.” ~Ezra 1:2-4

There is something to be said of a man who does right, right away.  When we are put into a position of authority or influence, righting wrongs and doing justice ought always to be first on our list.  One cannot make new plans or start new endeavors in any new context lest he first tie up the loose ends that the last guy left hanging.  Cyrus shows good leadership by attending to these exiles as his first priority when he is appointed king.

King Cyrus not only sends God’s people home, he tells them to rebuild the temple and commands everyone in his kingdom to give those going back to Jerusalem the materials to do it!  He commands everyone in his kingdom to give the Jews their silver, gold, goods, beasts, and offerings!

Imagine this now.  You’re living in a foreign land with no rights.  You are a prisoner of war.  Your people have been there held captive for nearly 70 years.  A new leader comes to power and he not only sends you home, he makes his own citizens give you all their valuables so you can rebuild your place of worship when you get there.  This kind of thing just doesn’t happen.  God is the only one who can orchestrate a deliverance like that.

Do you think some of the people returning went only to get the goods?  Do some today build and plant churches only to build their own kingdoms on the heels of others’ giving?  You bet.

Nevertheless, some leaders rose up from among the Jews to direct the people returning to Jerusalem.  The text says “…everyone whose spirit God had stirred to go up to rebuild the house of the Lord that is in Jerusalem…” went.

Who went?

Everyone whose spirit God had stirred up to go. 

The origin of a man’s action or inaction is always found in God’s purpose and direction for him, without which we would never choose right.  Proverbs 20:24 says, “A man’s steps are from the Lord; how then can man understand his way?”  

King Cyrus also returned valuable items that the previous king (Nebuchadnezzar) had taken from the Jews when he conquered them.  He had them count the goods returned and he sent them home.

God used a godless man to restore his people; to show mercy to his people.  Despite their rebellion and sin against him, God forgave.  They had endured 70 years of consequences for their disobedience, but God was faithful to completely forgive and restore them after he disciplined them.

We serve a God who overflows with mercy and abounds in love toward us.  He is able to turn the hearts of kings and stir the spirits of men to do that which he calls.  We serve a God who is altogether sovereign.  Take comfort.  He is in complete control of every last circumstance.

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

recommit

After finishing the project to rebuild the walls and gates of Jerusalem, the people of God spent a considerable amount of time praying, fasting, confessing, repenting, worshiping God, and looking intently at God’s law.  They were thankful for his mercy and providence and ashamed of their disobedience.  God used Nehemiah – the great, godly leader he had called to help them – to spur them on to rebuild not only their city and their homes, but also their very own lives.

After their time of reflection and repentance, the leaders drew up and signed a covenant with God.  The people all took an oath of commitment to carry out the terms of these promises.  They also risked a curse if they would fail to obey.  Matthew Henry notes that, “Every oath has in it a conditional curse upon the soul, which makes it a strong bond upon the soul; for our own tongues, if false and lying tongues, will fail, and fail heavily , upon ourselves.”  In other words, if we would make a promise to God or man, we best be prepared to do all within our own power to keep it.

With all this consequence for failing to keep such a pact, why did these people seem so forward to sign up?

The answer is that these people had been failing.  They had been in sin.  They had been exiled, enslaved, and their home had been devastated, destroyed, and left desolate. Yet God had burdened a man named Nehemiah to come and help them.  God had brought them back to rebuild and re-establish themselves.  Now, they recognize both their guilt and his grace and they feel obliged to make these promises and strive to keep them.  Here is a group of people who truly want to be right with God.  These are God’s people.

So, what was it that they bound themselves to do?

The people promised not to intermarry with foreigners as they had been doing, they promised to observe the year of jubilee and forgive all debts in the seventh year, they promised to tithe all they had to God first and to give him the very best of their possessions to use in his house.

What did they commit to God?  Family; money; food; assets; only…everything.

That is the kind of commitment we must make to Our Lord if we would seek to truly repent and follow him.  WE are the ever failing, exiled from the garden, living in the  broken world we call home, sinners.  When we recognize the things he has done for us in sending a Savior to rebuild and recenter our very lives around the truth and His righteousness, we cannot help but to commit our everything to the building of His house and His kingdom.  If that is not our attitude and desire, we have not yet seen him and we do not yet know him. Therefore, let us repeat the words of these restored sinners and do as they committed to do saying, “We will not neglect the house of our God.” ~Nehemiah 10:39b

Read Full Post »

give

Once Nehemiah has dealt with the oppressive infighting and division among his own people (Nehemiah 5:1-13), all the oppressors agree to repent and do good to their brothers.  Verse 13 says, “I also shook out the fold of my garment and said, ‘So may God shake out every man from his house and from his labor who does not keep this promise.  So may he be shaken out and emptied.’ And all the assembly said ‘Amen’ and praised the Lord.  And the people did as they had promised.”  Here is another reminder of how much influence a good, wise, and caring leader has to change things and turn the hearts of men to follow him in doing right.

Beginning in verse 14 , we find even more proof of Nehemiah’s earnest love and care for his people.  During the 12 years that Nehemiah ruled Judah as their governor, neither he nor his men took the food allowance of the governor.  He did not take the pay due the governor.  He acquired no land for himself, supplied servants to help at personal cost, continued to work diligently for the good of the people, and fed 150 men including guests and help at his own expense every day.

This kind of generosity was unheard of from a governor.  Why did Nehemiah give so much and take nothing for himself in this undertaking?  Consider verses 15, 18, and 19.

Nehemiah gave to God’s people and did not take for himself because of the fear of God.  Nehemiah had not only a deep love for his people, but a conscience that led him to do what was best for them at all times.  He knew these people could not afford to pay him and give him extravagant amounts of food.  He, unlike other rulers in the past, did what was right rather than what would burden the people and be most beneficial to him personally.

Secondly, in verse 18 we find Nehemiah giving this way out of mercy.  Again, he sees his people burdened and he has compassion for them.  His compassion leads not to pity toward them, but personal sacrifice and tangible action to relieve their suffering.

Lastly, Nehemiah treated the people better than they could imagine because of his great trust in God’s ultimate rewards.  In verse 19 we see Nehemiah asking the Lord to remember his goodness toward his people.  Nehemiah’s faith leads him to forfeit temporary, fleeting pleasures and comfort in exchange for eternal, permanent rewards.  While not-so-great leaders do the opposite out of complacency and selfishness, here we find what a true, noble, and loving servant of God’s people would really do to help them during trying times.

All of these actions of Nehemiah just remind us of Christ.  He comes from riches to live with and save those suffering on his own volition.  He protects and fights for them in the face of their enemies while reassuring and encouraging them to do the same.  He makes peace among brothers when they are divided.  He takes nothing and gives everything to all who are under his leadership for nothing more than their help, support, and growth.

Nehemiah is an amazing leader.  Because of his success and a big dose of jealousy, neighboring leaders hated Nehemiah.  Those who aren’t looking to grown, learn, and keep getting better generally hate to be shown up – especially by the underdog.  They did all they could to discourage and bring down his project and his morale.  Next we will look at chapter 6 where Nehemiah deals again with those who despise him and his success.

Read Full Post »

forgiveness-and-reconciliation

In Exodus 34:10-28. God and his people are reconciled.  Peace has been made after their sin.  God has not only forgiven them, but poured his love, mercy, and affections upon them saying, “…Behold, I am making a covenant.  Before all your people I will do marvels, such as have not been created in all the earth or in any nation.  And all the people among whom you are shall see the work of the Lord, for it is an awesome thing that I will do with you.” ~Exodus 34:10

Not only is God making a covenant with these newly restored people, he is sacrificing other groups for their advancement.  He has again made them the very apples of his eye.

We know this because God promises to drive out all of those living in the land they are about to inhabit.  He specifically instructs them to tear down their false gods and refrain from making friends of those who worship other gods.  He reminds them – doubtless due to their most recent failures – “for you shall worship no other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God,” and “You shall not make for yourself any gods of cast metal.” ~Exodus 34:14,17  Matthew Henry says, “Those cannot worship God aright who do not worship him alone…That they might not be tempted to worship other gods, they must not join in affinity or friendship with those that did….such is the corruption of nature that the bad are much more likely to debauch the good than the good to reform the bad.” 

God very specifically tells his people not to intermarry with idolaters.  The reason is that their covenant is with Him and not to be exchanged for alliances with them.  Let us remember these words anytime we are among unbelievers.

Next, God commands His people to keep feasts of remembrance, make sacrifices to him, honor the Sabbath, and come before him regularly three times per year. The reason for these feasts was to remind the people of God’s provision, to remind them to give their best to God, and to remind them to rest, obey, honor and remember Him as their only true God.

In verses 21-24, we find God all but saying, “Remember me.  Remember me.  Remember me.”  In verse 25 – Remember my provision (the manna in the desert), remember my salvation (the Passover), and in verse 26 – remember not to worship idols (The boiling of a calf in its mother’s milk was a pagan ritual and superstition.) Remember me; remember me; no idols.  Remember me; remember me; remember me.  Remember me; remember me; no idols.

Finally, he tells Moses to write it down for them.  Moses fasted forty days and forty nights and rewrote the Ten Commandments on the tablets.  How utterly amazing.  Our God is a God of reconciliation.  He is a jealous God and will stop at nothing to eradicate idols and idolatry from our lives.  He makes his people remember him that we might not sin against him.  Amen.

Read Full Post »

newstart

Chapter 34 begins with God’s mercy and grace on display.  He tells Moses that he will once again write on tablets and give the people His law.  Moses had broken the first tablets out of righteous anger at the people for their sin with the idolatrous golden calf.  But Moses interceded in prayer for them and forfeited personal advancement for the sake of these rebellious people.  Moses was a good leader who cared for his friends. Though there was discipline for their disobedience and not all of them escaped death because of their sin, God heard Moses’ prayer and honored it.  A remnant of God’s people were saved and received mercy because of Moses’ and God’s love for them.

The first thing I thought of when I read chapter 34 was how apart from chapter 33, we wouldn’t have a chapter 34.  In other words, Apart from God’s discipline for their sin, their leader’s earnest prayer and intercession for them, and the people’s genuine repentance, they would have had no opportunity for true reconciliation with God.  They would have had no new tablets; no second chance; no new start.  The guys who are left here as the remnant receiving grace are the guys who raised their hand in chapter 33:26 when Moses asked, “Who is on the Lord’s side?  Come to me,”  and subsequently had to execute judgment on all those who didn’t raise their hand – all the men who just so happened to be their own brothers, sons, and family members.

Matthew Henry writes an excellent summary of this event saying, “The treaty that was on foot between God and Israel being broken off abruptly, by their worshiping the golden calf, when peace was made all must be begun anew, not where they left off, but from the beginning.  Thus backsliders must repent, and do their first works, Revelation 2:5.”

All must be begun anew, not where they left off, but from the beginning.  In other words, anytime we sin, we cannot just expect time and inertia to excuse it and go on as if we did not commit treason against Almighty God and our brothers and sisters.  Many in the church adhere to this damning false doctrine.  We cannot ever just pretend that what we did to injure others and dishonor God didn’t happen or doesn’t need our full attendance and genuine repentance, both of which we are responsible to carry out to the very best of our ability.  We cannot just pick up where we left off with God or others after we sin.  We must not only stop sinning, but we must also humble ourselves and apologize to God and others, take full responsibility for what we have done, and make true reconciliation possible.

The people of Israel showed evidence of their repentance by obeying God, waiting on their intercessor in watchful diligence while he prayed outside the camp for them, and by worshiping while they waited.  All this happened in chapter 33.  Without these proofs of genuine repentance, there would be no chapter 34 – no true reconciliation between they and God and their good leader.  Neither will there be any new starts in our lives if we will not obey our intercessor, Christ, worship him only, and earnestly facilitate and desire true reconciliation after a fault.  If we will not do these things, we cannot move forward after sin.  We are stuck where we are in the wilderness until we repent with all seriousness and are willing to do whatever it takes to make things right with God and others.

So, Moses had to cut out the tablets this time, but God was giving the words.  God said, “I will write on the tablets…” but later we find Moses being called to physically record his words.  This is how the entirety of God’s Word is written.

Moses had to prepare himself and the tablets and go back up to Mt. Sinai to meet with God.  No one – not even an animal – was permitted to be anywhere opposite of the mountain where they met.  Notice how the things that they had complained and whined about before they sinned are the very things God tests them in before they move forward.  Firstly, they had to wait the same length of time they had complained about saying, “We don’t know what has become of him…” while Moses was up on the mountain getting the tablets (40 days).  God did not shorten the time to appease them or make it easier to obey the second time around.  Nor did he let them watch while they waited (they had to stay on the opposite side of the mountain) so they might “know what has become of him” this time.  They hadn’t seen before and they weren’t permitted to see now.  God was testing their faith in his display of extreme grace and mercy toward them in this second chance of sorts.

In verses 6-7, God expounds upon who He truly is.  He had already told them through the prophet who they were – stiff-necked, stubborn, sinful rebels with whom God is justly angry.  But now, in his great, inexplicable mercy, he tells Moses who HE is:

“The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” Exodus 34:6-7

Moses agrees about who the people are in verse 8 and asks for mercy.  God gives it.

Many wrongly believe that in the Old Testament God is a different God – a God of wrath – than the God they see in the New Testament – a God of mercy.  The truth is that God is both, always.  He is just and merciful and he carries out one or the other dependant on his own choosing and sovereign will at all times in both Old and New testaments.

Here, we find that even in the very giving of the law itself, extreme grace and mercy are being displayed.  Firstly, the very giving of the law to men is grace.  The law shows us our sin that we might avoid the judgment of breaking it.  That’s grace!  Think of a government who didn’t tell you what was illegal but charged and arrested you when you broke the law!  Not so with God.  These people had repeatedly been told what God expected through their prophet Moses, it had been written down, and they had publicly agreed to keep it all the way back in chapter 24!

Secondly, when they deliberately disobeyed God, broke the promises they had made to obey, and worshiped a different false god of their own making, God gives them a good leader’s love, intercession, and earnest care to save them from the punishment they rightly deserve!  Not only that, he gives them the gift of repentance, forgives them, and gives them a brand new start!  What an amazing, merciful, grace-filled God!!!  And that’s the Old testament, folks!

If this is beginning to sound like the gospel, that’s because it is!!!  God has always be merciful and longsuffering toward a remnant of people whom he has chosen and saved through an intercessor.  If you are part of that group, thank him for not giving you what you deserve today!

 

Read Full Post »

tent

As the remnant moved on from Mt. Sinai in the aftermath of their sin, God’s mercy finds them once again.  What an amazing God we serve!

Wherever they settled Moses would pitch a tent outside the camp and meet with God.  Moses called it the “Tent of Meeting.”  Not only Moses, but any one of the people could go out to this place and seek the Lord.  This is quite amazing because God had just told them how his presence among them, even for a moment, would rouse his anger and consume them because of their sin.  (Exodus 33:5) Yet God is full of mercy and bent on reconciliation if his people only humble themselves, repent, and seek him in prayer.

We, too, must be ready and willing to extend mercy and be bent on nothing less than reconciliation with one another after offense and injury.  This is truly how we live the gospel and glorify God among fellow sinners.  This is how we look like God; imago dei.

When Moses went to inquire of God and intercede for the people, the people would get up, stand at the doors of their tents and watch.  (Exodus 33:8) This demonstrated their willingness and interest in being made right with God after their sin.  They didn’t sleep in and let Moses worry about their standing with God.  No.  Anxiously and intently, they watched and waited for God to show up and their leader interceded on their behalf.

Likewise, we ought to learn to watch and wait on God with great respect and diligence at all times, but especially after we have fallen into sin.

Once Moses entered the Tent of Meeting, a cloud would descent and stay at the entrance of the tent.  When the cloud was present, God was speaking with Moses.  During this time, all the people would worship at their own tent doors.

When we see God moving in the life of our leaders, we, too, ought to stand, wait, and worship.

Amazingly, here, God spoke to this man, Moses, face to face.  Moses is the only person we know of that had this kind of experience with the Almighty.  Yet, today, God speaks to each and every one of his people through His Word and His Spirit if we only listen.

Moses was so concerned with listening to God that he left his apprentice at the Tent of Meeting to live just in case God spoke when he was away from the tent.

Lord, let me listen like that!  God is always speaking.  The Mighty One, God, the Lord, speaks and summons the earth from the rising of the sun to the place where it sets. ~Psalm 50:1  Lord, help me listen.

Read Full Post »

prayer

The people of God have just demanded new gods.  Aaron, their surrogate leader, has just fashioned an idol – a golden calf – out of the gold the true God had given to them from the oppressive enemies – the Egyptians – he had just delivered them from.  Moses is still up on the mountain getting instructions on how to serve and worship the living God as the leader of his chosen people.  Now, God informs Moses of their disobedience in his absence.  In Exodus 32:7-14, God and Moses have a conversation about what will become of these insubordinates.

God is angry.  He has just been sold out for the inanimate gifts he gave to his people.  He tells Moses about the conspiracy and idolatry.  He says he’s going to destroy the people, exalt Moses, and make a great nation out of Moses.

This is quite an offer.  Forget those infidels, Moses.  I’m going to give them what they deserve for their foolish, purposeful disobedience.  But you are my star.  I’m going to make you great.

Moses is not interested in his own glory.  Instead of accepting this self-serving (and, likely well-deserved) offer, Moses asks God why his is mad.  (Exodus 32:11)  Well, God had just told Moses exactly why he was angry – so angry, in fact, that he was willing to annihilate all of His own people save Moses.  Moses’ question was rhetorical.  He wasn’t literally asking the reason why God was mad.  The text tells us that he was “imploring” God.  He was desperately interceding on behalf of his people – people whom, at this point, God would not even own.  In Exodus 32:7, God refers to them as “your people” meaning Moses’ people, not his own.  In turn, in 32:11, Moses returns calling them “your people” meaning God’s.  Can’t you hear Moses’ desperate plea?  These ARE your people, God!  Save them!

Moses goes on.  He pleads with God to stop being angry; to save them.

Here is a lesson for us.  We cannot save people, but we can work to win souls.  However, we cannot work to win souls with whom we are actively angry.  It is a God-like attribute to be righteously angry when people sin.  But the only way to help sinners be saved from sure destruction – the rightful penalty for their/our sin – is to turn from our anger and to intercede on their behalf; to seek to save them from being lost.  This is what Moses does; it’s what he begs God to do.  He does it by denying the opportunity God gives him for his own glory and exaltation.  I believe this shows us that we cannot have it both ways.  We cannot desire self-promotion if our heart is truly set on bringing salvation to others.  We have to pick one or the other.  God exalts the humble in due time, but our agenda cannot have both self-promotion and others’ salvation written on it together.  They are mutually exclusive goals.  Pick one.

Moses uses God’s reputation as the catalyst for answering his prayers.  What will the Egyptians think, God? What will the world think, God?  When your people die because you have destroyed them?  That’s not who YOU are, God.

We ought to follow Moses’ example.  Because it’s not about those who are in need of mercy being deserving – none of us ever are.  It’s about the character, reputation, and integrity of the one giving mercy to the underserved.  We must turn from our own righteous anger over other men’s sins for the sake of our own good name.  We must intercede for them and implore God’s mercy on the unrighteous for the sake of his glory, not theirs.  And we, like Moses, must consider their salvation as of greater worth than our own advancement.  This is how a humble person leads.

Moses wasn’t looking out for number one.  Moses was always most concerned with God’s people and their welfare.  Matthew Henry says of him, “Had Moses been of a narrow, selfish spirit, he would have closed with this offer; but he prefers the salvation of Israel before the advancement of his own family.  Here was a man fit to be a governor.”

Because of Moses’ righteous actions in the face of others’ unrighteous actions, God had mercy on the unrighteous.  Let the same be said of us.

“And the Lord relented from the disaster that he had spoken of bringing on his people.” ~Exodus 32:14

 

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »