How do we handle and relate to his judgments and grace, his righteousness and mercy?
This blog is meant as an introduction for an out-of-the-box consideration and a more accurate understanding... for a greater freedom in our relationship with him as well as a clearer interest in what He sovereignly does.
The Scriptures give us a deep insight in quite phenomenal sequences of events recording some of God's effectful decisions and moves in the global community of nations.
The famous stories about Israel's exit out of Egypt, the journey through the wilderness and the re-conquest of the land given by God the their forfathers, are not the narratives focused upon in this document. Neither it is the supenatural assignmnts given to the judges or the unusual lives of the kings and their spectacular regimes. The attention of the reader will be led to the much more famous 'christian' celebrations: Christmas, the resurrection and the ascension of Christ, and Pentecost. These are recorded in our calendars, at least in the Western nations.
Christmas is celebrated by the millions every single year and maybe therefore it is a true challenge to look away from the presents, the Christmas tree, the carols, and the joyful family-gatherings. And all of this is definitely dear to our hearts and represent fundamental stones in Western civilisations. To challenge their presence and even to remove them for our minds and cultures would have unexpected and deep effects. Maybe irreversible so our coming generations would wander around in life without the spiritual and moral compasses essential to a society built on hope, justice and compassion. Neither Halloween, Valentine’s Day or Black Friday come close to fill the absence of these celebrations. Actually their increasing success is a symptom exposing their absolutely hopless poverty and emptiness.
Easter is also a wellknown event: the death of Jesus on the cross and the following resurrection. We know quite well the big lines. Maybe we are not in the same state of mind as in the case of Christmas, but we do have the invasion of rabbits, eggs and a dream about better weather linked with a legitimate longing for true Spring and Summer.
When it comes to Pentecost we might be even less clear. Both in our contemporary society and in quite substantial parts of the Christian church.
There is not much to say about the Ascension... well... He left them and went back to Heaven.
However there is a challenge in cleaning up the mess, filling the holes in our insight and addressing superficial knowledge. New understanding must replace previous understanding. There must be some serious adjustments and corrections made in the light of the new or updated insight. It is an expected scenario in normal life. Continuous evaluations, adjustments and corrections are necessary.
It is a tremendous help to consider Christmas at a totally different time than Christmas. Otherwise the tree, the decorations, the presents, the good food and our excited descendants might distract us from the core and reality of the matter.
Then there is the barn, the animals, the star, the men from the East, the incense and myrrh, and the gold. In our pursuit for understanding it is definitely helpful to separate Christmas from the celebrations in family and church.
The same is the case when it comes to Easter and its scenario in the garden of Getsemane, the walk from Herod to Pilate, the open-air trial, the horror of the Roman torture and the bestiality of crucifixion. Then the empty tomb and what followed. Our minds can easily get overwhelmed and our emotions overstimulated by pictures we have seen and movies we have watched.
We are familiar with the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, the sound of a mighty wind in the upper room, the discples' speaking in tongues, Peter's words which cut the hearts of many. Of course we especially love to know about the thousands who were born into the Kingdom.
These absolutely outstanding events with their different scenarios and similarly differents components inspire, stir and tell us a lot. They are extremely rich in details and meaning. They speak so loud that it is difficult to hear and see anything else. But we have to. I had to and I did. The discoveries are liberating.
"IIn the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. Then God said, "Let there be light"; and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good; and God divided the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness He called Night. So the evening and the morning were the first day. Then God said, "Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters." Thus God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament; and it was so. And God called the firmament Heaven. So the evening and the morning were the second day. Then God said, "Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear"; and it was so.” Gen 1,1-9
A lot happens in this passage, to say the least. Light is created. The waters were separated, og the continents appeared. Powerful events, but nothing unexpected though. Everything is created as God speaks it into existence. No big bang, physically or spiritually. We don't even know if God shouted or spoke loud. why should He? There was no audience and therefore no ovation or cheerings even though God does have ‘talent’. The Spirit and the Word were the central combined forces at work and all that had to come to existence, be shaped, function and develop did so immediately. No special effects to add to this cosmic drama and explosive firework of creation. God ‘worked’ and the earth stopped being empty and void. A world was created. Meaning and destiny were manifested.
In Exodus we find a second breathtaking story:
"In the third month after the children of Israel had gone out of the land of Egypt, on the same day, they came to the Wilderness of Sinai. For they had departed from Rephidim, had come to the Wilderness of Sinai, and camped in the wilderness. So Israel camped there before the mountain. And Moses went up to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain, saying, "Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the children of Israel: 'You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles' wings and brought you to Myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine. And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.' These are the words which you shall speak to the children of Israel." So Moses came and called for the elders of the people, and laid before them all these words which the Lord commanded him. Then all the people answered together and said, "All that the Lord has spoken we will do." So Moses brought back the words of the people to the Lord. And the Lord said to Moses, "Behold, I come to you in the thick cloud, that the people may hear when I speak with you, and believe you forever." So Moses told the words of the people to the Lord. Then the Lord said to Moses, "Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their clothes. And let them be ready for the third day. For on the third day the Lord will come down upon Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people. You shall set bounds for the people all around, saying, 'Take heed to yourselves that you do not go up to the mountain or touch its base. Whoever touches the mountain shall surely be put to death. Not a hand shall touch him, but he shall surely be stoned or shot with an arrow; whether man or beast, he shall not live.' When the trumpet sounds long, they shall come near the mountain." So Moses went down from the mountain to the people and sanctified the people, and they washed their clothes. And he said to the people, "Be ready for the third day; do not come near your wives." Then it came to pass on the third day, in the morning, that there were thunderings and lightnings, and a thick cloud on the mountain; and the sound of the trumpet was very loud, so that all the people who were in the camp trembled. And Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. Now Mount Sinai was completely in smoke, because the Lord descended upon it in fire. Its smoke ascended like the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mountain quaked greatly. And when the blast of the trumpet sounded long and became louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him by voice. Then the Lord came down upon Mount Sinai, on the top of the mountain. And the Lord called Moses to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up.” Ex 19,1-20
"And God spoke all these words, saying: "I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before Me. "You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments. "You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain. "Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it. "Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the Lord your God is giving you. "You shall not murder. "You shall not commit adultery. "You shall not steal. "You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. "You shall not covet your neighbor's house; you shall not covet your neighbor's wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor's." Now all the people witnessed the thunderings, the lightning flashes, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking; and when the people saw it, they trembled and stood afar off. Then they said to Moses, "You speak with us, and we will hear; but let not God speak with us, lest we die." And Moses said to the people, "Do not fear; for God has come to test you, and that His fear may be before you, so that you may not sin." So the people stood afar off, but Moses drew near the thick darkness where God was.” Ex 20,1-21
Here we witness God's accurately planned and strategic intervention in the life and journey of the people, an extremely decisive moment, because the israelittes are presenty out of Egypt, but still not yet in the land of promise, the territory God had given to Abraham and his descendants. He did have something on His 'heart' and he wanted to instruct the nation, from the highest to the lowest, so to say. And when it took place, it was truly explosive. Moses recorded the picture:
- The mountain and and events, ...was to stand wrapped in smoke
- God came down in a fire
- The smoke rose like from a furnace
- The whole mountain shoke in a terrifying way
- The sound of trumpets was heard, and they become louder and louder
- There was thunder, lightnings, sounds and smoke.
What effect did it all have on the people, who were gathered before the mountain and were spectators to this stunning 'show', when the forces of nature manifested? They watched from a distance, the Scriptures tell us. And they gave Moses a sad message:
"You speak with us, and we will hear; but let not God speak with us, lest we die."
At creation we see God intervene and a whole universe is created. But at Sinaj we see God intervene and everything created was shaking. Even the people witnessing it are shaking. In both events God spoke. He didn't set up a show to impress or convince Man. In the first narrative Man didn't witness His creation. But in the second he did, and reacted in stead pf responding to His presence and words.
The reaction of the people was fear and their response was: Don't speak to us, not understanding that this very kind of Word and Spirit which had created a whole universe for God, could also create a nation for Man. And Man under God. Just a nano percentage of this was physical, but the rest was spiritual and had unprecedented national perspectives. The whole event was set up to start a conversation with the nation. God wanted to lift them up and take them into a partnership with Him. Therefore they had to know Him, hear His voice and discover the magnitude of His resources,... exactly what both Moses and Aron were introduced to years previously.
The first project was fragile but succeeded. The second attempt tragically failed.
Then a third story to settle the matter:
"And Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, also how he had executed all the prophets with the sword. Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, "So let the gods do to me, and more also, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by tomorrow about this time." And when he saw that, he arose and ran for his life, and went to Beersheba, which belongs to Judah, and left his servant there. But he himself went a day's journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a broom tree. And he prayed that he might die, and said, "It is enough! Now, Lord, take my life, for I am no better than my fathers!"« 1Kg 19,1-4
"And there he went into a cave, and spent the night in that place; and behold, the word of the Lord came to him, and He said to him, "What are you doing here, Elijah?" So he said, "I have been very zealous for the Lord God of hosts; for the children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword. I alone am left; and they seek to take my life." Then He said, "Go out, and stand on the mountain before the Lord." And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore into the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice. So it was, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood in the entrance of the cave. Suddenly a voice came to him, and said, "What are you doing here, Elijah?" And he said, "I have been very zealous for the Lord God of hosts; because the children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword. I alone am left; and they seek to take my life." Then the Lord said to him: "Go, return on your way to the Wilderness of Damascus; and when you arrive, anoint Hazael as king over Syria. Also you shall anoint Jehu the son of Nimshi as king over Israel. And Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel Meholah you shall anoint as prophet in your place. It shall be that whoever escapes the sword of Hazael, Jehu will kill; and whoever escapes the sword of Jehu, Elisha will kill. Yet I have reserved seven thousand in Israel, all whose knees have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him."” 1Kg 19,9-18
Here again we witness God’s intervention, different in nature and goal though. At creation there were no human audience, at Sinai a whole nation was brought together. But here at the mountain to which God had brought him, God came and addressed Elijah's situation. Again we are eye-witnesses of an explosion of nature forces:
- A great and strong wind
- Mountains shook
- Rocks broke in pieces
- Earthquake and fire
- And finally an unexpected mild breeze, or a still small voice
All of this was truly unusual, but this was not the most important issue. The core of the matter (like at creation and at the Sinaj-summit) is God's voice.
Where does all this take us?
People can witness God's mighty interventions on Earth and at the same time totally misinterpret the situation and ultimately miss, overlook and overhear its substance, which leaves the rest absolutely and empty. Man is an island in the cosmos.
At Mt Sinai people are paralised by the free expression of nature forces, and totally overheard God’s voice, which brought a precise instruction and definition of their ultimate destiny, His longterm will for the nation, a plan which reaches all the way to us living in the 21st century:
- You shall be my possession,
- My peculiar people of all the nations, as the whole earth belongs to me af alle folkene,
- You shall be to me a kingdom of priests,
- You shall be to me a holy nation
They were amazed and scarred by the physical effects of God’s presence, but totally unimpressed and unoverwhelmed by the governmental preeminence of the Word and Spirit.
What about Elijah? Same scenario. But he acted differently than his forfathers. Actually God helped him and asked him to stand in His presence, fearless and attentive so He could speak to him. Og He did speak to Elijah words of hope in stead of suicide, words of detailed perspectives in stead futurelessness:
- He was far from being alone... there were 7.000 of his caliber,
- God had a hidden and well-trained workforce ready to be mobilized and deployed,
- His life and spirit would be tripled, when Hazael, Jehu and Elisa would succeed him.
There is an onvious and direct link between powerful actions and events, and powerful Word and Spirit.
""For ask now concerning the days that are past, which were before you, since the day that God created man on the earth, and ask from one end of heaven to the other, whether any great thing like this has happened, or anything like it has been heard. Did any people ever hear the voice of God speaking out of the midst of the fire, as you have heard, and live? Or did God ever try to go and take for Himself a nation from the midst of another nation, by trials, by signs, by wonders, by war, by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, and by great terrors, according to all that the Lord your God did for you in Egypt before your eyes? To you it was shown, that you might know that the Lord Himself is God; there is none other besides Him. Out of heaven He let you hear His voice, that He might instruct you; on earth He showed you His great fire, and you heard His words out of the midst of the fire. And because He loved your fathers, therefore He chose their descendants after them; and He brought you out of Egypt with His Presence, with His mighty power, driving out from before you nations greater and mightier than you, to bring you in, to give you their land as an inheritance, as it is this day. Therefore know this day, and consider it in your heart, that the Lord Himself is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath; there is no other. You shall therefore keep His statutes and His commandments which I command you today, that it may go well with you and with your children after you, and that you may prolong your days in the land which the Lord your God is giving you for all time."” Deut 4,32-40
In this passage we meet these two components.
First in verses 32 to 35, where fire, struggle, signs and wonders, wars, strong spirit and lifted arm, great and fearful deeds are mentioned. All this happen on earth and should help them to be extremely attentive... on what? On what He speaks. In verse 36 instructions are given, and heard in the fire. It means heaven and earth do work together.
Then: verse 37 to 39 speak about great power, mighty and bigger nations, the conquest and possession of huge territories taken from their enemies. Immediately after this description they were challenged (verse 40) to keep His commandments and instructions.
"He is your praise, and He is your God, who has done for you these great and awesome things which your eyes have seen. Your fathers went down to Egypt with seventy persons, and now the Lord your God has made you as the stars of heaven in multitude. "Therefore you shall love the Lord your God, and keep His charge, His statutes, His judgments, and His commandments always. ” 5Mos 10,21-22 and 11,1
And 11,2-7 about actions and 8-9 about words.
The same pattern again and again... mighty works which can easily fill us with fears, but also draw our hearing and attention to His word following His deeds.
Look at this as well:
"Know today that I do not speak with your children, who have not known and who have not seen the chastening of the Lord your God, His greatness and His mighty hand and His outstretched arm - His signs and His acts which He did in the midst of Egypt, to Pharaoh king of Egypt, and to all his land; what He did to the army of Egypt, to their horses and their chariots: how He made the waters of the Red Sea overflow them as they pursued you, and how the Lord has destroyed them to this day; what He did for you in the wilderness until you came to this place; and what He did to Dathan and Abiram the sons of Eliab, the son of Reuben: how the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up, their households, their tents, and all the substance that was in their possession, in the midst of all Israel - but your eyes have seen every great act of the Lord which He did. "Therefore you shall keep every commandment which I command you today, that you may be strong, and go in and possess the land which you cross over to possess, and that you may prolong your days in the land which the Lord swore to give your fathers, to them and their descendants, 'a land flowing with milk and honey.'
'And it shall be that if you earnestly obey My commandments which I command you today, to love the Lord your God and serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul, then I will give you the rain for your land in its season, the early rain and the latter rain, that you may gather in your grain, your new wine, and your oil.
"Therefore you shall lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul, and bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall teach them to your children, speaking of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. And you shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates, that your days and the days of your children may be multiplied in the land of which the Lord swore to your fathers to give them, like the days of the heavens above the earth. "For if you carefully keep all these commandments which I command you to do--to love the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways, and to hold fast to Him - then the Lord will drive out all these nations from before you, and you will dispossess greater and mightier nations than yourselves.
"Behold, I set before you today a blessing and a curse: the blessing, if you obey the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you today; and the curse, if you do not obey the commandments of the Lord your God, but turn aside from the way which I command you today, to go after other gods which you have not known. ” Deut 11,2-28
Do you see the pattern?
The life of Peter provided a very relevant and instructing example. When God showed him a vision three times, Peter reacted and didn’t respond. Actually a challenging one... he simply rejected God’s talk. Reaction but no response and resistance. The leson was simple:
"What God has cleansed you must not call common." Acts 10,15
It could be understood as an ordinance valid for the jewish dietary laws, but it went significantly deeper than that. It dealt with absolutely everything God calls ‘clean’. When He does, the case is closed. Peter had to align because there would many issues and situations in the future when this lesson would settle the matter.
But the case was not solved for Peter. The text tells us, that he was confused and ‘wondered for himself’ (Acts 10,17) for a certain period of time. But God moved on and let him handle the mental and theological tornado alone. Then he heard his name called by somemen who stood outside his house. God drew him out of the purposeless meditation. There was definitely a purpose, but God had closed the case and He led him into a process initiated and monitored taking him to a place of re-consideratiom and new alignment. All this mist be seen in the context of his future journey with God and role in the nation.
Peter is stretched to his limits, but he moved:
Peter: “Not so, Lord…” Acts 10,14
Ånden: “Arise therefore, go down…” Acts 10,2
Ånden: “Go with them, doubting nothing.” Acts 10,20
Peter: “For what reason have you come?” Acts 10,21
Svar: “To summon you to his house, and to hear words from you…” Acts 10,22
Peter: “God has shown me…” Acts 10,28
Peter: “In truth I perceive…” Acts 10,34
“And those of the circumcision who believed were astonished…” Acts 10,45
Peter: “And he commanded them to be baptized…” Acts 10,48
From mental reluctance and theological resistance, the Spirit led Peter to clarity ad conviction. He is so settled that all weakness and undecisiveness have left him. Now he gives orders, he leads the congregation with a firm attitude. And they responded with the same conviction and strength:
“Then they asked him to stay a few days.” ApG 10,48
Let’s walk together. Let’s have these narratives in mind as we look into Easter, and later into the ascencion, Pentecost...and ultimately Christmas.
Keep en eye on my blog as a new manual will be published Spring 2019. In that manual I will go through these four major events: Christmas, Easter and the Ascension as well as Pentecost. Stay tuned, keep udated, walk with Him. Listen until you hear. Hear and hear and hear... until you really hear!