The HESED of God in Psalm 136

  • NIV – his love endures forever
  • KJV – his mercy endureth for ever
  • ESV – his steadfast love endures forever
  • MESSAGE – his love never quits
  • NLT – his faithful love endures forever
  • NASB – his lovingkindness is everlasting
  • HCSB – his love is eternal

All these are translations of the phrase, kiy l’olam hesedo, which creates the refrain of Psalm 136.

It is hard to take a robust word like hesed and condense its meanings to one word in the English language. There are parts of the word with which these different translations do well. Hesed involves kindness, and surely when it is described of God, his kindness to us, a sinful creature, must involve mercy and we know its motivation is his love for us. There are examples of its use in the Bible that relate to its enduring quality, which is fitting here given that it is coupled with the word olam, which means everlasting or without end.

It is kindness, but it is more than that. It is love, but more. There is more than just the action and orientation, it brings in a commitment, such as the covenant God has made with us. When speaking of God it conveys the steady faithfulness he has to his undeserving people, and is descriptive of one who has done so much to save and shepherd his own. We could never remain faithful as he has, nor could we maintain the covenant. But God, with his great hesed, goes beyond what we deserve to forgive us and lavish his love upon us.

Hope Fulfilled Around the Throne of God

We see a powerful image of what life with God will be like, and in these verses are wonderful promises of Jesus truly fulfilled. Jesus, the bread of life, told us that if we come to him we won’t hunger and if we believe, we’ll never thirst. He said that he is our good shepherd. He offers us living water. Our lives are hidden within him, finding shelter there. Such hope is wrapped up in the scene around the throne in chapter seven:

They are before the throne of God
and serve him day and night in his temple;

and he who sits on the throne
will shelter them with his presence.
‘Never again will they hunger;
never again will they thirst.
The sun will not beat down on them,’
nor any scorching heat.
For the Lamb at the center of the throne
will be their shepherd;
‘he will lead them to springs of living water.’
‘And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.

In Defense of Learning Our History

Perhaps I’m biased given that I was a history major, but I think there’s something to it. There is something about history that makes it important for us to know. So much of our Scripture is our history, the history of God’s chosen people. There is a reason that God has it in his word. I think it is valuable for us.

There may be times when genealogies are taxing on our attention. It is hard to press through the seemingly endless battles and changes of leadership. But take a step back and look at what God has done and is doing. David sings a song of thanks in 1 Chronicles 16 because of what God has done. Read his words and think how much of that is history.

David Playing the Harp, Jan de Bray, 1670

If David did not know his own past and the story of God’s faithfulness, what would his songs and psalms look like? What would become of his trust in God continued provision for the people? I’m sure he was supported in his belief because he could look back into past generations and see the faithfulness God has toward his people and the long-suffering that God displays as his people turn from him.

Knowing our history also gives us perspective about our place in this world. We’re not the only ones to have struggled or question, nor are we the first to have great victories for God. We are very much like God’s people throughout time, and thankfully God is the same, too.

Our God is always faithful and always deserving of songs of praise. We ought to reflect on our individual histories and recognize God’s work in our lives. But don’t forget the way in which you fit into God’s greater history and offer him thanks and praise for his goodness that extends backward beyond our own entry into life.

Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!
1 Chronicles 16:24

Golden Calves of Jeroboam, 1 Kings 12

One of the sins that stood out to me among the rest was when Jeroboam made the two idols to replace the worship of God in 1 Kings 12. He cast two golden calves and if that wasn’t enough, the way he introduces them to the people is a great offense to the name of God.

If you’ve noticed through reading the Old Testament there are a couple of ways that God is frequently named. One is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and the other is a reference to one of the defining moments in the history of God’s people. God is the one who delivered his people out of Egypt.

Setting up one golden calf worked so well for Aaron that Jeroboam thought he’d double the number of idols for even better results.

Jeroboam is fearful that if the people worship the true God at Jerusalem that they will turn from him and that he will lose his power. He cares more for his own security than the honor of God and he will do anything to keep it that way, even offending God with some divine identity theft.

And Jeroboam said in his heart, “Now the kingdom will turn back to the house of David. If this people go up to offer sacrifices in the temple of the Lord at Jerusalem, then the heart of this people will turn again to their lord, to Rehoboam king of Judah, and they will kill me and return to Rehoboam king of Judah.” So the king took counsel and made two calves of gold. And he said to the people, “You have gone up to Jerusalem long enough. Behold your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.” And he set one in Bethel, and the other he put in Dan.

1 Kings 12:26-29

Jeroboam makes dead idols to build up his power, to steal Israel’s worship from God, and he then takes the truth of God and projects it onto two calves of gold.* The truth is that their God, Yahweh, is the one who with his mighty hand delivered the people from Egypt. If not for God’s choosing of Israel there would be no land for Jeroboam to rule. God is the one who has won for his people the victory and built them up into a nation to rival any in the land. But in a selfish play for power Jeroboam will turn from truth and instead ascribe God’s work to idols, and seek to bring Israel to worship them.

He is not only sinning against God by turning away from him, he is offending God’s name by saying these idols are the redeemers of Israel, and then he leads his nation into this sin. Those who have such influence are held accountable and this sin does not go unnoticed.

*Taking a page out of Aaron’s playbook in Exodus 32.

A Book of Grace

Mr. T says, “I Pity the Foolish Galatians”

Paul’s style throughout Galatians is great. He has been a servant of Jesus Christ for years but still writes with such passion and urgency as if he is just coming back from meeting Christ on the way to Damascus. He knows what is at stake with the churches in Galatia who have fallen prey to false teachers and have subsequently turned from the gospel, and in so doing, have turned from the one who has called them.

He make God’s grace an emphasis of the letter–that God has called us, that Christ gave himself for our sins, that he has delivered us, and that any work that is required of us has been accomplished, therefore our works can not contribute to our being saved. He emphasizes grace through and through. Sometimes it is bold and confrontational as he challenges these churches, like when he quickly jumps into the meat of the letter with words like “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ” or when he calls them “fools” for now trying to bring in some sort of works righteousness into a gospel of grace.

But sometimes his lifting up of God’s grace, his movement to us and for us when we cannot merit it, is more subtle. It sounds almost offhanded in 4:9. Paul writes about the difference between where we all once were, enslaved to false gods, compared to being heirs of God. He writes, “But now that you have come to know God, or rather be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, who slaves you want to be once more?”

I love this verse. We are reminded even in knowing God that he has initiated. He is the one who has begun all things and he is also the one who has done all things for us. We have not come to know God, but to be known by him. How humbling is the verse, and for that matter, this whole book? We can never measure up to God nor can we ever merit his love. But he has called us by name, he has made us his own. Because of the death of Jesus Christ we can be freed from slavery to false gods and embrace the free grace of God.

Week in Review, Quarter 2, Week 2

Joshua Commanding the Sun to Stand Still

The following verses are the most well-known of the book of Joshua:

“Now therefore fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

Joshua 24:14-15

We’re missing out if we think this statement is only for a past time, a time of Joshua. We still today have foreign gods, idols that seek to take a place in our lives that only God should occupy. To be a disciple of Christ and follow him is a choice that is for God, and by necessity is then a choice against other gods. It is a choice that excludes possibilities from our life. We are to turn from those lesser things in this world, the false gods and idols. We must stop worshiping them or worshiping self and make a stand for God.

Joshua reminds the people before this statement of who their God is and all that he has done. Having read Mark we’ve been reminded of who God is and we see him most clearly in Jesus Christ. We know what he has done for us. God has done it all. Jesus Christ died the death we deserve so that we may be with him. Christ tells us as well what marks the life of a disciple. A life of sacrifice, death to self, service, witness, love of neighbor, and obedience to the will of the Father.

In response to God’s good news and his invitation to follow Christ, will we cast off the false gods of the land in which we dwell serve the Lord?

 

Kicking Off Quarter Two, Week One

Year in the Bible, the BIG story so far

Today we had a lunch after church to celebrate the end of our first quarter of Year in the Bible. Looking back it is a great amount of reading that has been finished and so many of the big stories of the Bible have been covered. You’ve really accomplished a lot in just a few months.

Noah Ark – One of the many well-known stories of quarter one.

We’ve gone from creation to God’s people readying themselves to enter the promised land. In between God has shown himself to be faithful and true, strong and mighty, full of grace and mercy, as well a God of judgment who does not tolerate sin. God has chosen a people for himself, beginning with Abraham, and has provided all that was needed. But God’s provision and sufficiency ironically never seem like enough and Israel always turns away. God meets this faithlessness with his grace. There is judgment, like 40 years of wandering, but God never ceases being a God for us.

God is never revealed more clearly as for us than in Jesus Christ, of whom we read about in the New Testament. We read John and Luke who present to the reader the gospel, and that is the story of Jesus Christ. God is for us and has stopped at nothing to make us his own, and this means that God came to earth in Jesus Christ and took our sin upon himself, dying the death that we deserve, so that we can be reconciled. Now we a sinful people can be with a holy God.

In response to such an amazing, world-changing event, the lives of the disciples of Christ can never be the same. In the book of Acts we see the way in which the church exists in light of the death and resurrection of Christ, as empowered by his Spirit.

Now in quarter two we take up both of these strands and follow the story further along. The promised land, which has been held out before Israel, is finally occupied in the book of Joshua. We’ll then see Israel move from prophets and judges to a nation that wants and gets a king for itself, just like all the other nations. This summer quarter will also give us a chance to read all of the minor prophets who speak against the nation, calling for its people to return to God and to his ways.

The church that finds its footing in the Roman empire is still in need of help and encouragement and we’ll read many letters that were circulated to do just that. These are the letters of Paul and Peter, who sought to build up the people and strengthen the small group of believers who would one day rise up from under the oppression of a hostile culture to be a force for the kingdom of God.

That’s what we’ll have to look forward to this summer quarter of Year in the Bible, starting this week. Hope you can stay with it. I’ll be praying for you and for your time spent with God in his word.