The Gift of Love

I have been struck by the revelation of Christ in the book of Hosea.

I have been reading Ann Spangler’s “Praying the Names of God,” and was struck by this phrase, “Praise God because he is not power, knowledge, or wealth, but he is love.”

I have been struck by the revelation of Christ in the book of Hosea.

Contextually, Hosea is a prophet and God gives him a terribly difficult assignment to marry a prostitute who is adulterous and will bear children out of her unfaithfulness. Hosea is to deliver a prophetic judgment against Israel and Judah for their spiritual adultery in departing from the Lord.

Hosea 1:2

2 When the LORD first spoke to Hosea, He told him, “Go, take a prostitute as your wife and have children of adultery, because this land is flagrantly prostituting itself by departing from the LORD.”

Most readers and commentators will make this book as historical regarding the judgment of Israel, of which it is, and yet they miss Christ in the text. I believe if we look a little closer, the text has very clear language about promises that are fulfilled in Christ. Charles Spurgeon once said “A sermon without Christ in it is like a loaf of bread without any flour in it.”

Let’s look at the meaning of the names of our cast and finish with words of redemptive fulfillment.

Gomer

1) Gomer, the name of Hosea’s unfaithful wife comes from the Hebrew word ‘gamar’, meaning complete! What? I think many times people are given names which signify their calling in spite of how their lives seem to be anything but. For example, my name Timothy means Honoring of God. I’m still working on that one, lol! In the beginning of our story, Gomer is far from complete, looking for love in all the wrong places. Yet, with salvation offered to her through Christ (Hosea is a type), she can become complete through sacrifice, mercy (Hosea bought her back for fifteen shekels, the number of mercy), and everlasting love.

Aren’t we all like Gomer, continually running after the things that we think will make us complete, but leave us empty?

Jezreel

2) Jezreel, their first son’s name means “God sows.” I have been to the Jezreel valley which has become the breadbasket for modern day Israel. It’s now lush and fruitful. Yet, there’s more. God would sow a seed which would make the promises given to Abraham come to pass.

Hosea 2:22-23a (NASB)

And the earth will respond to the grain, to the new wine and to the oil, And they will respond to Jezreel.

I will sow her for Myself in the land.

Hosea 1:10

Yet the number of the children of Israel shall be like the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured or numbered. And in the place where it was said to them, “You are not my people,” it shall be said to them, “Children of the living God.”

This first portion of Hosea 1:10 was a prophetic promise given to Abraham and fulfilled in Christ.

Galatians 3:29

And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise.

Lo-Ruhamah

3) Gomer’s second child is a daughter, named Lo-Ruhamah, meaning not loved or no mercy. We don’t know if the child was conceived out of unfaithfulness or not. What kind of name is that for a child? And yet, there’s something here for all of us who have felt like we weren’t loved or times where we received no mercy.

Hosea 1:6-7

6 She conceived again and bore a daughter. And the LORD said to him, “Call her name No Mercy,a for I will no more have mercy on the house of Israel, to forgive them at all. 7 But I will have mercy on the house of Judah, and I will save them by the LORD their God. I will not save them by bow or by sword or by war or by horses or by horsemen.”

Mercy did come through the house of Judah through Christ, and the salvation that has come did not come through military might but through Jesus as Lord and the one who offered himself up as a gift of love and the way to salvation.

In the day of Christ, we can assure our brothers and sisters in Chris that they have received mercy and they are no longer unloved, but fully accepted and loved (Eph 1:6).

Hosea 2:1

Say to your brothers, “You are my people,”and to your sisters, “You have received mercy.”

Lo-Ammi

4) Lo-Ammi was the name Gomer was to give to her second son, meaning not my people. While slightly less egregious than Lo-Ruhamah, we all have a need to feel like we belong. People even join gangs out of this strong need to belong.

Hosea 1:9

9 And the LORD said, “Name him Lo-ammi, for you are not My people, and I am not your God.

Wow, this is the language of disownment, and yet, God promises that this will be reversed.

Hosea 1:10

10 Yet the number of the Israelites will be like the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured or numbered. And in the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not My people,’ they will be called ‘sons of the living God.’

This is the language of covenant and the phrase ‘not my people’ is a phrase that prophetically points to the time of the Gentiles. Apostle Paul writes the following:

Romans 9:22-26

22 What if God, intending to show His wrath and make His power known, bore with great patience the vessels of His wrath, prepared for destruction? 23 What if He did this to make the riches of His glory known to the vessels of His mercy, whom He prepared in advance for glory— 24 including us, whom He has called not only from the Jews, but also from the Gentiles? 25 As He says in Hosea:

“I will call them ‘My People’ who are not My people,

and I will call her ‘My Beloved’ who is not My beloved,”

26 and,

“It will happen that in the very place where it was said to them,

‘You are not My people,’

they will be called

‘sons of the living God.’”

Hosea

5) Hosea comes from Hoshea or Joshua and means salvation. In the story, Hosea’s marrying an unfaithful bride is a picture of Jesus offering the gift of love and redemption to those who accept this offer.

The Hebrew word will look at here is ‘Ish’ meaning husband. ‘Ishi’ is first person for ‘my’ husband. In the day of Christ, our relationship has gone from knowing God as master or Lord to one that’s much more personal, my husband.

Hosea 2:16-17, 19-20

16 “And in that day, declares the LORD, you will call me ‘My Husband,’ and no longer will you call me ‘My Baal.’ 17 For I will remove the names of the Baals from her mouth, and they shall be remembered by name no more.

19 And I will betroth you to me forever. I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy. 20 I will betroth you to me in faithfulness. And you shall know the LORD.

Hosea still has to keep running after his wife, even after providing for her and giving her children.

Hosea 3:1-2

1 And the LORD said to me, “Go again, love a woman who is loved by another man and is an adulteress, even as the LORD loves the children of Israel, though they turn to other gods and love cakes of raisins.” 2 So I bought her for fifteen shekels of silver and a homer and a lethecha of barley.

What kind of husband is this that goes after us in our adultery and unfaithfulness, and buys us back in love and out of his mercy? His name is Jesus.


Conclusion

If I look to the end of Hosea, I see language referring to a ‘He’, whereas Israel is always referred to as a woman in the scriptures.

Hosea 14

1Return, O Israel, to the LORD your God,

for you have stumbled by your iniquity.

2Bring your confessions

and return to the LORD.

Say to Him: “Take away all our iniquity

and receive us graciously,

that we may present

the fruit of our lips.

3Assyria will not save us,

nor will we ride on horses.

We will never again say, ‘Our gods!’

to the work of our own hands.

For in You the orphan finds compassion.”

4I will heal their apostasy;

I will freely love them,

for My anger has turned away from them.

5I will be like the dew to Israel;

he will blossom like the lily

and take root like the cedars of Lebanon.

6His shoots will sprout,

and his splendor will be like the olive tree,

his fragrance like the cedars of Lebanon.

7They will return and dwell in his shade;

they will grow grain and blossom like the vine.

His renown will be

like the wine of Lebanon.

😯 Ephraim, what have I to do

anymore with idols?

It is I who answer and watch over him.

I am like a green cypress tree;

your fruit comes from Me.

9Whoever is wise, let him understand these things;

whoever is discerning, let him know them.

For the ways of the LORD are right,

and the righteous walk in them,

but the rebellious stumble in them.

The shoots of Christ have sprouted and have spread. His fragrance is the spirit of salvation available to all who take it in. It’s the gift of love.

In the Name of the Father

In my last post, I discussed the Song of Hallel, where Psalms 113-118 were sung as part of Jewish Passover tradition. There’s an interesting phrase in the middle of Psalm 118:

Psalm 118:26a
“Blessed is he who comes in the Name of the LORD.”

What does that mean?

Scholars point to two things which are true and yet I believe somehow insufficient to capture the essence of this verse.

First, Jewish scholars point to the Aaronic blessing in Numbers 6, where Aaron is told how to bless the people of Israel.

Numbers 6:23-27(NKJV)
23 “Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, ‘This is the way you shall bless the children of Israel. Say to them:
24 “The LORD bless you and keep you;
25 The LORD make His face shine upon you,
And be gracious to you;
26 The LORD lift up His countenance upon you,
And give you peace.” ‘
27 “So they shall put My name on the children of Israel, and I will bless them.”

Essentially, as a priests, Aaron and his sons are being given authority to bless the people of Israel in the LORD’s name. God is giving the priests authority to speak to the people on His behalf.

Secondly, scholars point to this verse being a Messianic prophecy. Based on the gospel accounts, this also appears to be true. These are the words being spoken upon Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, on Lamb selection day in preparation of the Passover.

Matt 21:8-9
8 And a very great multitude spread their clothes on the road; others cut down branches from the trees and spread them on the road.
9 Then the multitudes who went before and those who followed cried out, saying:

“Hosanna to the Son of David!
‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!’
Hosanna in the highest!”

and

Mark 11:9-10
9 Then those who went before and those who followed cried out, saying:

“Hosanna!
‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!’
10 Blessed is the kingdom of our father David
That comes in the name of the Lord!
Hosanna in the highest!”

Hosanna originally meant God save me, but the phrase had turned into some kind of cheer. From the context of what people were cheering, we see a connection to the son of David and a coming Kingdom. The people expected that Jesus was going to be the anointed redeemer of the nation of Israel (Messiah), only that wasn’t God’s plan for this time in history.

What’s in a name?

We live in an age where personality or charisma is considered more important than character. It has been said that in America in the 1800s, your name was associated with your character. Your character was who you were when things mattered, and not about putting on a good show. American culture shifted in the 1900s with the focus on how you presented yourself and how to sell (e.g. Dale Carnegie – “How to win friends and influence people”). Essentially we learned how to pretend.

Proverbs 22:1 (NIV)
A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold.

So what does it mean to use someone else’s name? That is a concept that may feel somewhat foreign to most of us now, since we don’t live in kingdoms in this world. Yet, examples are still present.

South African minister and writer Andrew Murray suggests that using someone else’s name occurs legally (in business), in life (family blood lines and adoption), or in love (taking the name of a spouse).

While use of someone’s name granted authority like the priestly example above, the greater understanding was that a name represented someone’s character or what they were like.

One of the most profound revelations that I have personally received was that Jesus came to show us the Father. Specifically, He came to show us what the Father was like.

John 14:7-9
7 “If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; and from now on you know Him and have seen Him.”
8 Philip said to Him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is sufficient for us.”
9 Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and yet you have not known Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father…”

Jesus would go on in this dialogue to invite His disciples to ask for anything in His name.

Come ask me for the things you want or need:

John 14:13-14
13 “And whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.
14 “If you ask anything in My name, I will do it.

This also shows the character of a good Father. A good father want their children to be able to come and ask them for the things that they need or want. Even if the answer is no, good fathers want their children to be comfortable enough in their relationship with to come and ask. It’s about children being able to express their hearts in the context of a loving relationship and trust.

To be clear, Jesus wants relationship versus being used for power. For instance, the sons of Sceva got their proverbial lunch taken when using His name without a relationship (Acts 19:13-17).

The following verse is one of my favorites in scripture, not that I have obtained understanding yet, but it gives me a sense of direction:

Jeremiah 9:23-24

23 “Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom,
Let not the mighty man glory in his might,
Nor let the rich man glory in his riches;
24 But let him who glories glory in this,
That he understands and knows Me,
That I am the LORD, exercising lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness in the earth.
For in these I delight,” says the LORD.

“You have seen me, you’ve seen the Father.”

I would suggest to you that Jesus was blessed because he came in the name and character of His Father. He did what His Father would do. In every reference to God except one, Jesus referred to God as My Father (Avi in Hebrew, Abba in Aramaic). The Hebrew for Avi (translated my Father) is shown below:

אָבִ֑י

You won’t find that kind of relationship anywhere in the Tanakh (old testament). No wonder the Pharisees wanted to stone Him.

The one exception to Jesus calling God His Father was when he felt abandoned by God on the cross bearing the weight of the sin of this world, along with the shame and scorn of his crucifixion (Matt 27-16). Here, he only called him, “My God.” Jesus came to know our feelings of what it felt like to feel cutoff or abandoned by God. Most of us can relate to this feeling in some season of our journey, whether it’s really true or not.

I want to give you some examples in scripture of how Jesus showed us the character of the Father.

I came to serve, not be served, and I will love and embrace those considered least:

Mark 9:35-37

35 And He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “If anyone desires to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all.” 36 Then He took a little child and set him in the midst of them. And when He had taken him in His arms, He said to them, 37 “Whoever receives one of these little children in My name receives Me; and whoever receives Me, receives not Me but Him who sent Me.”

I reward the smallest things done for the sake of my name which exhibit my heart:

Mark 9:41

41 “For whoever gives you a cup of water to drink in My name, because you belong to Christ, assuredly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.

I will never abandon you and will teach you the things of the Spirit:

John 14:16-18

16 “And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever–
17 “the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you.
18 “I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you.

I am gentle and humble, learn from me:

Matthew 11:29

29 “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.

This morning, we had a mourning dove just sitting on the railing of our back deck. It was resting peacefully even as my wife and I moved around in our kitchen. Normally doves are easily startled and fly off.

Much has been written about the I AM statements of Jesus. They too show us the heart and character of Jesus (e.g. I AM the good shepherd), but they also show us the heart of Jesus’ Father.

I want you to know that I love you and want you as my own child:

John 1:12
12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name:

1 John 3:1
1 Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God!

My personal challenge to you is to ask for an understanding heart to know the heart and character of Jesus, and by inference, that of His Father. When we do things by the spirit and with the heart and character of God, then we too, are truly blessed.

Blessed is the one who comes in the name and character of Jesus and our Father.

אָבִ֑י

Song of Hallel

Passover has already passed this year (is that redundant?). That being said, I can’t wait another year to share what I’ve recently learned!

Matthew 26:30 (HCSB)
26As they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take and eat it; this is My body.”
27Then He took a cup, and after giving thanks, He gave it to them and said, “Drink from it, all of you.
28For this is My blood that establishes the covenant; it is shed for many for the forgiveness of sins.
29But I tell you, from this moment I will not drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it in a new way in My Father’s kingdom with you.”
30After singing psalms, they went out to the Mount of Olives.

In the scriptures, you will find a song for Moses, Miriam, and Mary, but you won’t find one for Yeshua or Jesus. Yet it’s right here in front of our noses.

Jesus being fully a Jew would have taken Passover with his disciples as prescribed in the Mishnah (oral traditions) unless He, being the Word incarnate, was doing something new.

The bread:

Three Matzot were used, symbolizing the trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), made from unleavened bread (not puffed up). In Jewish tradition, the middle piece was broken which we now know represented the Son. Half of it is hidden for little children to find it.

Do you think Jesus was giving them Himself, the middle matzah, broken for them? I do.

I wonder if the tradition of sending children to seek the broken matzah relates to this verse?

Matthew 18:3 (HCSB)
3″I assure you,” He said, “unless you are converted and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

The wine:

Part of the Jewish Passover tradition was four cups of wine.

The first cup was the cup of sanctification (I will bring you out). The second cup was the cup of plagues, drunk before the meal and not mentioned here (I will free you from slavery). The third cup was the cup of redemption which is the one mentioned here (I will redeem you). The fourth cup was the cup of completion which is not shared, but referred to. Here, Jesus redefines the tradition to show that the completion is when we drink wine with Jesus after he comes again and the wedding feast takes place – Revelation 19:9 (I will take you as my own).

Jesus is also redefining the cup of redemption to show that redemption comes through accepting and taking in His blood shed for the forgiveness of sins along with his sacrifice (matzah, body) being broken for us that we might become whole and holy.

The song:

The reference is small, yet profound. Which Psalms did they sing together? I didn’t even know Jesus sang, did you? Of course he would, being a Rabbi. As part of the Passover tradition, Jesus would have been singing the Psalms of Hallel which traditionally cover Psalms 113-118.

Hallel is one of many Hebrew words to praise.  I was taught that this word is accompanied by an action of extending both hands high in the air (faith without deeds is dead from a Jewish perspective).

While I won’t be looking at all the references, I want to focus on the pinnacle of Hallel, Psalm 118.

If you study the text carefully, you may discover like me that this Psalm is really pointing to Jesus. I wonder if Jesus’ disciples got that the song they were singing was right in their midst? I wonder if they understood the references that described what Jesus was about to do, or did that understanding come when they were walking with Jesus after His resurrection (Emmaus walk – Luke 24:32)?

I want to highlight some verses from the Psalm:

Psalm 118 begins and ends with the same text as bookends. A common literary device in scripture is a chaism that has the meat in the middle.

1 “Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his faithful love endures forever.”

The Hebrew word for love used here (checed), sometimes translated as mercy, can be described as a the intersection of faithfulness, loyalty, and steadfast love.

Psalm 118:14-29 (NKJV)
14 The LORD is my strength and song,
And He has become my salvation.
15 The voice of rejoicing and salvation
Is in the tents of the righteous;
The right hand of the LORD does valiantly.
16 The right hand of the LORD is exalted;
The right hand of the LORD does valiantly.
17 I shall not die, but live,
And declare the works of the LORD.
18 The LORD has chastened me severely,
But He has not given me over to death.
19 Open to me the gates of righteousness;
I will go through them,
And I will praise the LORD.
20 This is the gate of the LORD,
Through which the righteous shall enter.
21 I will praise You,
For You have answered me,
And have become my salvation.
22 The stone which the builders rejected
Has become the chief cornerstone.
23 This was the LORD’s doing;
It is marvelous in our eyes.
24 This is the day the LORD has made;
We will rejoice and be glad in it.
25 Save now, I pray, O LORD;
O LORD, I pray, send now prosperity.
26 Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD!
We have blessed you from the house of the LORD.
27 God is the LORD,
And He has given us light;
Bind the sacrifice with cords to the horns of the altar.
28 You are my God, and I will praise You;
You are my God, I will exalt You.
29 Oh, give thanks to the LORD, for He is good!
For His mercy endures forever.

In verse 14, Jesus has just become their song and their salvation (Jesus is LORD). Wow!

In verse 19, I don’t find the word ‘the’ in the Hebrew, instead I see first person references. I believe it would read more like ‘open my gates of righteousness, I will enter them, thank you God.’ Jesus is returning to the Father.

פִּתְחוּ־לִי שַׁעֲרֵי־צֶדֶק אָבֹא־בָם אוֹדֶה יָהּ

In verse 20, it has been translated ‘this is the gate of the LORD, but the lamed prefix is usually translated ‘to’. This could be paraphrased as ‘This is the gate to the Father (I am), the righteous will enter through me.’  I wonder if His disciples picked up on Jesus calling himself the ‘gate’ to salvation and that righteousness had to come through Him?

זֶה־הַשַּׁעַר לַיהוָה צַדִּיקִים יָבֹאוּ בוֹ

In verse 24, this verse is often taken out of context. Which day were they to rejoice? The day of Passover which begins at sundown. Why? It’s proscribed in Exodus 12:14, because it marked their day of deliverance, but what else might it be saying in a new covenant? I believe that this new Passover is to celebrate the love that is the culmination of this song of praise. The love is demonstrated in verse 27.

In verse 27 in the language of symbols, light is a metaphor for truth, illumination, or understanding.

I believe another way that the Hebrew could read is as follows: The LORD God has become light to us (I am the light of the world). Bind the festival sacrifice with cords to the horns of the altar.

אֵל יְהוָה וַיָּאֶר לָנוּ אִסְרוּ־חַג בַּעֲבֹתִים עַד־קַרְנוֹת הַמִּזְבֵּחַ

This song was about Jesus becoming the sacrificial lamb of God to be sacrificed as a Passover lamb, once and only once for the sins of the world. It is the greatest expression of love the world will ever know. The altar was in the shape of a cross.

Wow, imagine singing this song with Jesus after sharing the Passover meal, rich with symbolism! The symbolism that they had previously learned had just been turned upside down.

This is the song of Hallel or we might call it the Jeshua or Jesus song. He has become our song and our salvation (Yeshua in Hebrew).

1 John 3:16a
By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us.

For God so loved the world…

Resurrection

We are going to look at one of the most confounding and embarassing narratives in the Bible, and I’m going to make some suggestions on how we are to understand the story. As a back drop, Abraham has already been promised by God to have numerous offspring through Isaac. These promises came through angels as well as a dramatic experience of covenant in Genesis 15. Abraham has been growing in faith and trust in his relationship with God. Earlier in the scriptures, Abraham is called a friend of God.

Genesis 22:1-18 (ESV)
1After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 2He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” 3So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac. And he cut the wood for the burnt offering and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. 4On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place from afar. 5Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you.” 6And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son. And he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So they went both of them together. 7And Isaac said to his father Abraham, “My father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” He said, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” 8Abraham said, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So they went both of them together.
9When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built the altar there and laid the wood in order and bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son. 11But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 12He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” 13And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14So Abraham called the name of that place, “The Lord will provide”; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.”
15And the angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time from heaven 16and said, “By myself I have sworn, declares the Lord, because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, 18and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.”

What? This is a crazy story, and if we’re honest we have trouble fathoming God testing Abraham like this. If we take an objective look at this, it appears that God is asking Abraham to murder his son. It’s premeditated. He has intention. He has the knife in his hand. Why would God do this, and what kind of God is this? It seems monstrous on the surface. For those of us with children, it’s really unthinkable. We could intellectually rationalize that this event occurred before the law of Moses was given which said do not murder, and therefore no transgression (violation of a law) was being committed. However, God makes it clear in Genesis, chapter 4, that murder is not OK. Later, in the book of Leviticus, we learn that child sacrifices to a foreign god like Molech are an abomination. We also have scriptures that say God doesn’t tempt anyone to sin, yet that seems exactly what God is asking of Abraham.

The other crazy thing in this narrative is that Abraham doesn’t question God at all. I would ask questions like “Is this you, God?”, “Am I hearing you right?”, “Are you sure about this?”, “Why?”, “Isn’t this the son of promise where our blessings are supposed to come from?” Most of us would ask these questions, even of our spouse or best friend. In the account with Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham bargained with God. Why wouldn’t he do this now, when the son whom he loves and his future offspring are on the line? ‘Olah’ is the Hebrew word used for burnt offering and really means whole burnt offering, but it can also mean to ascend. Did Abraham understand God’s instructions?

I read recently that Abraham’s obedience demonstrated the level of Abraham’s friendship with God, but that doesn’t help me understand it any better. What kind of friend would ask me to murder my son?

Additionally, what about Ishmael? God doesn’t even acknowledge him as being a son in this narrative even though he technically would be a first born. Didn’t Abraham love him, too? He seemed to care for him. I believe that the language is deliberately used to point us to something bigger and more important.

I believe there are three concepts that help us get any kind of resolve in this story.

1) Cultural context.
2) Abraham believed that God could raise him from the dead.
3) The central character of the story is God (not Abraham)

Let’s look at the first concept:

Cultural context

Abraham is in a culture from at least 3500 years ago which seems very foreign to ours. For example, how did Abraham know that he was to use a knife for a burnt offering? The instructions given to Moses in the book of Leviticus wouldn’t come until at least 400 years later. For that matter, how did any of the people before Moses know to bring an offering to God? Culturally, making offerings to appease their gods was common in ancient cultures. Sacrificing children was also common in this age, which is perhaps why we don’t see Abraham arguing with God. He was born into culture, as are we.

Let’s look at the procedure that was prescribed to Moses in Leviticus for preparing a burnt offering (Lev 1:1-9).

1) The offerer was to bring an unblemished male
2) The offerer was to lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering so it can be accepted on his behalf to make atonement for him.
3) The offerer was to slaughter the male before the LORD.
4) The priests were to present and sprinkle blood on the four sides of the altar.
5) The offerer was to skin the burnt offering and cut it into pieces.
6) The priests were to prepare a fire, arrange the wood and pieces.
7) The offerer was to wash the entrails with water.
8) The priests were to burn all of it as a burnt offering as a pleasing aroma to the LORD.

I don’t know about you, but I would venture a guess that most of you haven’t done anything like this. Deer hunting is about as close to this as most of us get. I don’t even like preparing a turkey. This kind of procedure was fairly common to the culture.

As mentioned, ‘olah’ is a Hebrew word for whole burnt offering. How is the burning of animal flesh pleasing to God (it wasn’t bacon)? 🙂 In ancient cultures, animals were provision and a reflection of what you owned. You might say meat was money. This offering was essentially setting their money on fire and watching it burn and go up in smoke. This seems ridiculous to the world, but the kingdom of God is upside down. ‘Olah’ as mentioned, also means to ‘go up.’ In the book of Leviticus, when this burnt offering was made to God, the offerer would “watch the smoke and sparks ascend heavenward and know that God had accepted him as he identified himself with the sacrificial animal.” (Hebrew Word for the Day, Dr. J.D. Watson, p.110).

While our culture is now very different, the matters of the heart remain the same.

The burnt offering showed their love for God. They gave up something of value (essentially their money) for God, and in turn believed that God would accept their sacrifice as an expression of that love.

If you believe and follow Jesus, a new covenant has been presented where we don’t have to slaughter animals anymore to believe that God will accept our sacrifice. Jesus is the only sacrifice needed (by faith) to be acceptable and pleasing to God. Scripture also writes that obedience is better than sacrifice (Jesus was sacrificed once for all time).

That said, there are things we can do in this present age and in light of a new covenant.

‘Qorban’ is the Hebrew word for any general kind of offering (Lev 6:13).

I believe we bring an offering to God whenever we walk in faith, hope, and love. Especially if it costs us something.

Obviously, we can bring an offering to God with how we give (with our money, time, resources, and gifting).

We can love God by how we steward our hearts, how we spend our lives, and our choices with our bodies.

Romans 12:1 (HSCB)
Therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your spiritual worship.

A sacrifice costs us something, but when directed by the spirit, brings God pleasure.

In a cultural context, perhaps God was inviting Abraham into a familiar experience (child sacrifice) to teach him first hand that child sacrifice is not the way any more, and that God will provide the Lamb needed to make atonement.

Secondly, let’s look deeper beyond the culture and the sacrifice. This is really about faith in a resurrection.

Abraham believed that God could raise Isaac from the dead.

The writer of Hebrews is speaking to a Jewish audience and writes this:

Hebrews 11:17-19 (ESV)
17By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, 18of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” 19He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back.

How do we know that Abraham knew that God could restore Isaac from the dead in the book of Genesis? We don’t, but I would suggest that it is only through Christ, that we see the possibility of a resurrection from this text.

Jesus suggests that Abraham actually was looking forward prophetically to the time of the lamb coming as a substitute.

John 8:56
Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.

In the 1970s there were toys for little kids called “Weebles”. Their tag line was that “weebles wobble, but they don’t fall down.” If you knocked a weeble over, it would wobble, but bounce right back up. Abraham somehow believed that God would make things right. Abraham had faith that God had resurrection power. Even toward the very end, Abraham is expecting God to provide a lamb in his place. He has to look “up” in order to see it.

One of the characteristics of God that we don’t hear much about any more is that God is a jealous God. He wants relationship with us above everything else. Jesus was angry with the Pharisees because of how difficult they were making it to have any kind of relationship with God. Above the people and things we love, and even above our understanding of the promises He’s made, God wants relationship with us.

Finally, let’s look at the even more profound idea that God is the main character of the story and not Abraham.

The central character of the story is God (not Abraham)

In this story, we will substitute our heavenly Father for Abraham and Jesus for Isaac.

In the Genesis 22 account, Abraham doesn’t finish the slaughter. In the case of God with his son Jesus, he does finish the slaughter, allowing him to be crucified. Rather than just being a burnt offering, Jesus is the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Through this sacrifice, relationship with man can be restored.

John 1:20 “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world!”

Abram means exalted father. Abraham roughly means father of a multitude. Our Heavenly Father wanted to move from exalted Father to Father of a multitude.

John 1:12 (ESV)
But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God,

Isaac means laughter in Hebrew. I wonder if God the Father had to sacrifice the laughter and mirth He had with His Son in order to redeem mankind from his sin and in three days get it back.

In Genesis 22:2, the echoes of the “only son whom you love,” point to God’s love towards Jesus as revealed in the New Testament (Mark 1:11, Matthew 17:5). God reveals this in the baptism of Jesus (as well as his transfiguration), highlighting his divine nature and the quality of the relationship between them.

Mark 1:11 (NLT)
And a voice from heaven said, “You are my dearly loved Son, and you bring me great joy.”

We know Jesus wasn’t offered up as a burnt offering, but rather for the sins of the world (John 1:29, John 3:16). Additionally, Jesus was placed on an altar in the shape of a cross. Like Isaac, Jesus didn’t open up his mouth to complain (Is 53), and like Jesus, he seems to be innocent. While Jesus was innocent, we aren’t told of any sin that Isaac commited to warrant the death penalty.

Genesis 22:12 – “for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me”

It was God’s obedience to fulfill his word. Does God fear God in this context? It’s an interesting concept to think about. We know from Isaiah 11, that Jesus would delight in the fear of the LORD and would even have this as a double portion (Isaiah 11:3).

God, in obedience did not withhold his only son from the slaughter (in the form of a brutal crucifixion) (Gospel accounts, Romans 8:32).

We are blessed because of this obedience and what the sacrifice made possible.

In Christ, the New Testament reveals that we are grafted into being part of Abraham’s seed and part of the blessing.

Galatians 3:29 (HCSB)
And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, heirs according to the promise.

Did Abraham have to sacrifice Isaac to receive this blessing? Studying out the previous chapters in Genesis, the blessing that God had already promised to Abraham was already pronounced, with one exception. The additional blessing reads “And your offspring will possess the gate of his enemies and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.” We have these as an additional blessing because of Abraham’s obedience and God’s fulfillment of this blessing through Christ.

We are blessed because of Abraham’s faith in God’s ability to raise his son from the dead. We are blessed because Jesus’ resurrection made a way for us to be grafted in to the seed of Abraham, regardless of lineage.

In Christ, you are blessed. Your family name is blessed because of it. You are blessed because of Abraham and God’s obedience (yes, I know that sounds funny). You have authority over entry points of the enemy (gates). Give thanks for the blessings you have received. Walk in them. Use them for His glory. In realization of the blessings that we have received, we can go and be a blessing to others. That is our calling.

The 4 C’s of Love

I don’t know about you, but I have wrestled with how to define love and how to know what love is.  I believe everyone must work out their understanding of love through scripture and through the lessons of life.

When looking for a quality diamond, there are four aspects (4 C’s) to consider – color, clarity, carats, and cost.  In a similar manner, I have learned what I call the 4 C’s of love, and that they are in progressive measure – compassion, caring, commitment, and covenant.

Compassion:
The first level of love (compassion) is situational, but it does not necessarily involve any kind of relationship, great cost, or commitment.  Nevertheless, the recipient will often feel cared for as a result.

Mark 1:41
Moved with compassion, Jesus reached out His hand and touched him. “I am willing,” He told him. “Be made clean.”

Compassion is represented by the Greek root spl├ñ’nkh-non meaning from the spleen or bowels (G4698), and by the Hebrew root racham (H7356), meaning from the womb (as if cherishing a fetus), from the bowels, having pity or mercy on someone.

Most of the healing and miracles that were recorded in scripture were done out of compassion.

I am not someone who has a natural bent towards mercy or compassion, but if my heart is soft, the LORD’s compassion can flow through me from time to time.

I am learning to try to be more available for the LORD’s compassion to move through me.

Caring:
The next level of love is caring.  This goes beyond being compassion towards someone in a moment of need.

Last year, I had been wrestling inside with the probing question of whether I loved or cared for people.  Shortly after that time of wrestling, a situation came up affecting my rheumatologist whom I had known for the past sixteen years.  We had gotten to know about each other’s lives, families, and she had let me share my faith with her.  I had prayed for her and her family daily.  She had recently been diagnosed with a rare immune disorder of the blood, was in the hospital, and nobody knew if she would be coming back.  I was furious.  I was ticked off at SatanΓÇÖs strategies to steal, kill, and destroy.  He couldn’t have her or take her life.  Out of this, I realized that I do care.  I stepped into the gap and stepped up interceding for her for a period of six months.  After that season, the burden lifted, and sadly, she has since gone to be with the LORD.  I believe she came to know Jesus before she passed on.  She was a blessing to me.

I can think of no better example of caring in the scriptures than the parable of the Good Samaritan.

Luke 10:33-36
33 But a Samaritan on his journey came up to him, and when he saw the man, he had compassion.
34 He went over to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on olive oil and wine. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him.
35 The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him. When I come back I’ll reimburse you for whatever extra you spend.’

Commitment:
The third level of love is commitment.  It is easier to say I love you and much harder to do.  Spend three days with me and then see if you still love me.

Commitment has an element of loyalty.  Most of us have limits of how long we will be loyal to a person, institution or cause.  In the Hebrew, the word ‘chesed‘ (H2617) sometimes translated as mercy is best described as the intersection of kindness, goodness, and steadfastness.

Long-term friendships, children, and marriage are good examples of loving commitment.

In a marriage which is a long-term commitment, one of the ways we show our love for one another is our commitment, fidelity, and our faithfulness to one another.  Marriage is God’s design for sexual expression, faithfulness, and commitment.  There is a level of commitment in a marriage (how many times must I forgive?), that aren’t in most relationships.  Jesus had the following to say:

Matthew 19:4-6
4 “Haven’t you read,” He replied, “that He who created them in the beginning made them male and female,”
5 and He also said: “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh?
6 So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, man must not separate.”

In the new covenant scriptures, the Greek word ‘agape‘ is introduced.  It is commonly described as unconditional love.  However, when love is tested, this is really difficult to do.  ‘Agape’ is also described as God’s kind of love, for loving anyone unconditionally often becomes impossible when the going gets tough.

John 13:34-35
34 “I give you a new command: Love (agape) one another. Just as I have loved (agape) you, you must also love (agape) one another.
35 By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love (agape) for one another.”

For example, I can purpose in my heart that I will always love my daughter.  However, there are times as a teenager that my love and respect are tested and for a while seem to disappear.  I have learned that I need the power of the Holy Spirit for me to forgive, to soften my heart, restore the relationship, and to love again.

When Jesus over on the earth as Son of Man, He demonstrated love in different ways and measure.

John 21:15-17
15 When they had eaten breakfast, Jesus asked Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love (agape) Me more than these?”  “Yes, Lord,” he said to Him, “You know that I love (phileo) You.”  “Feed My lambs,” He told him.
16 A second time He asked him, Simon, son of John, do you love (phileo) Me?” “Yes, Lord,” he said to Him, “You know that I love (phileo) You.”  “Shepherd My sheep,” He told him.
17 He asked him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love (phileo) Me?”  Peter was grieved that He asked him the third time, ‘Do you love (phileo) Me?’ He said, “Lord, You know everything! You know that I love (phileo) You.” “Feed My sheep,” Jesus said.

Peter had previously learned that his efforts to be faithful, ultimately would fail (he previously denied knowing the LORD three times).  When Jesus asked Peter, will you love me without condition (agape), Peter knew in his heart that loving him as a friend (phileo) was the best he could offer.

It has been said that it takes God to love God.  There will be life events that we go through where we are disillusioned or disappointed.

I would also submit to you that it takes God to love someone without condition.  There are ways we are treated (e.g. disrespect, betrayals of trust, disappointment, unmet expectations, harsh words, sinful behavior, being condemned) that on our own we simply can not tolerate.  All that we can do is to forgive and pray for those who mistreat us.

Covenant:
Covenant is the fourth and greatest level of a love commitment.  Covenant requires the shedding of blood to ratify it.  It goes beyond a contract which is legally binding; it is to be a commitment that is to last for the life of the one making the commitment.  Marriage is to be an example of this kind of loving relationship.  At an even more profound level, Jesus offers his own blood to bind our hearts to His as an everlasting covenant.

Many books have been written on the subject of covenant.  I recommend studying the book of Hebrews.  I would suggest the following to summarize the covenant that Jesus offers to us, knowing that any attempt will be complete.

1) The forgiveness of sins

Matthew 26:28 (HCSB)
For this is My blood that establishes the covenant; it is shed for many for the forgiveness of sins.

2) Establishment as a first-born son (there is no gender in the spirit), and being considered, and called family

Hebrews 8:10 (HCSB)
But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws into their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be My people.

3) The faithfulness of God

2 Timothy 2:13 (HCSB)
if we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself.

Hebrews 10:23 (HCSB)
Let us hold on to the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.

Hebrews 13:5 (HCSB)
Your life should be free from the love of money. Be satisfied with what you have, for He Himself has said, I will never leave you or forsake you.

Conclusion:
Like a good diamond, love has different facets, ways of expression and ways of considering value.  I believe that Jesus showed different levels of love commitment, depending on the context that He was in.  He demonstrated the 4 C’s of love (compassion, caring, commitment, and covenant), and invites us to do the same.

 

The Heart of a Servant

 

Phillipians 2:4-7

4 Everyone should look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.
5 Make your own attitude that of Christ Jesus,
6 who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be used for His own advantage.
7 Instead He emptied Himself by assuming the form of a slave, taking on the likeness of men.
 

Susan Cain writes in her book “Quiet”, that in the early 1900s we shifted from an age of character to an age of personality.  It takes time to get to know someone’s character and understand their heart.  I’ve found that those who inspire me are either authentically thankful people, or they demonstrate their genuine love for Jesus and desire to serve him with their lives.

 

Recently, I learned of a common misunderstanding in scripture from Pastor Dave Love (Calvary Castle Rock).  This misunderstanding comes from a poor translation of Hebrew into English.  The context is that the Hebrew people were in slavery in Egypt for 400 years and that Moses was to be their ambassador for God’s deliverance.  Moses is instructed to speak the following to Pharaoh:

 

Exodus 7:16
16 Tell him: Yahweh, the God of the Hebrews, has sent me to tell you: Let My people go, so that they may worship Me in the wilderness, but so far you have not listened.

 

 The word poorly translated as “worship” numerous times in the book of Exodus does not mean to worship, but rather comes from the Hebrew word “avad” meaning to “serve“ [H5647].  The word has common undertones of bond-service and a master/slave relationship, including the ear as a symbol of their allegiance.  The picture of a bond-slave was given right after the commandments were given to the Israelites in Exodus 21, which I believe emphasizes their importance (i.e. now that I’ve set you free, this is the kind of relationship I want with you).  However, the heart of the instructions come out more clearly in Deuteronomy.

 

Deuteronomy 15:12-17
12 “If your fellow Hebrew, a man or woman, is sold to you and serves you six years, you must set him free in the seventh year.
13 When you set him free, do not send him away empty-handed.
14 Give generously to him from your flock, your threshing floor, and your winepress. You are to give him whatever the LORD your God has blessed you with.
15 Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt and the LORD your God redeemed you; that is why I am giving you this command today.
16 But if your slave says to you, ‘I don’t want to leave you,’ because he loves you and your family, and is well off with you,
17 take an awl and pierce through his ear into the door, and he will become your slave for life. Also treat your female slave the same way.

 

What was offered to the Hebrew in trouble and what is offered to us is this:  You have tried to go it alone, but are not doing very well.  Do you trust me to take better care of you as your master than you can do for yourself?  This is what God offered the Hebrew people after setting them free from slavery in Egypt (the world).  The same offer is given to us.

 

I can set you free from your slavery to sin and the world (Egypt).  I can give you a better life, although the way may not always be easy.  Do you trust me to be your master (Father) and provide for your needs?  If you have seen my goodness, will you trust me to care for you?  Will you pledge your allegiance to me?  Will you try to do what pleases me (serve)?

 

I get it.  If we haven’t seen the goodness of God due to life circumstances, we may not be ready to trust (Exodus 6:9).  Recently, God did a miraculous change in my heart and marriage, which has given me hope for the future.  Before this, I didn’t have this hope as an anchor for my soul.  If God can heal my heart and enable me to love, He can do anything.

 

In our self-sufficient culture, the term slave is foreign to us, and yet affects us all with the choices we make on a moment by moment basis.

 

Romans 6:16-18
16 Don’t you know that if you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of that one you obey – either of sin leading to death or of obedience leading to righteousness?
17 But thank God that, although you used to be slaves of sin, you obeyed from the heart that pattern of teaching you were transferred to,
18 and having been liberated from sin, you became enslaved to righteousness.

 

The point of this article is not merely about choices and serving, but rather that out of love and gratitude, we can give or serve cheerfully.  We can look at the character and the heart of Ruth in scripture as an example.

 

Ruth 2:11-13
11 Boaz answered her, “Everything you have done for your mother-in-law since your husband’s death has been fully reported to me: how you left your father and mother and the land of your birth, and how you came to a people you didn’t previously know.
12 May the LORD reward you for what you have done, and may you receive a full reward from the LORD God of Israel, under whose wings you have come for refuge.”
13 “My lord,” she said, “you have been so kind to me, for you have comforted and encouraged your slave, although I am not like one of your female servants.”

 

Peter after his restoration, James, and Jude all called themselves slaves to Christ.  Peter eventually recognized that it wasn’t about his efforts but trusting God to do what only He can do.  Peter learned to trust.

 

Going back to our original text, Jesus took the form of the lowest slave in the household when he offered to wash his disciples’ feet.  The servants with the better positions would do things like prepare food and serve the master’s immediate needs.  The doorman would be responsible for cleaning the feet of the “important people” who got dirty with dust and the dung of walking in this world.  A lot of people don’t recognize that Jesus laid down His right to be God and God-like when He walked this earth.  He wasn’t omniscient, wasn’t omnipotent, and wasn’t omnipresent.  Even more importantly, he didn’t come to be served, but came to serve, which isn’t very God-like at all.

 

Jesus modeled a new concept of what God is like.  That God is love.  That God came to serve the needs of people out of love.  I told some friends of mine recently, that if I get to the end of my life and I am all alone and have failed to love, I have failed at life.  My life would be nothing more than a clanging gong.  A number of prophetic messengers have said that there is only one question that will matter in eternity, “did you learn to love?”

 

Serving is a picture of love.

 

Meaning of Christmas

 

I know I am in the minority, but for a number of years, I have struggled with Christmas.

First of all, let us be clear. Jesus was a Torah keeping Jew. There are no ordinances described in scripture for keeping either Christmas or Easter. In fact, both of these Holidays have pagan roots with respect to their origin and traditions. There is an ordinance about keeping Passover, but the church has lost touch with its Hebraic roots, in my opinion.

I have learned that I am not one who easily goes along with traditions without understanding the reasons why we are doing something. I have always needed to know the “why” before I can be onboard.

I have learned that I don’t want to be a “Scrooge,” nor do I want to be negative or critical. However, I do want to be authentic and I do want to be sincere.

Philippians 4:8 teaches us to focus on what is true, what is good, and what is worthy of praise. So does love for that matter.

8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

As I have wrestled this internal conflict this year, I have come to understand that the cross of Christ is the central event of scripture. His supernatural entry into Mary’s virgin womb made a way for that to happen, but this is an entryway into the incarnation of God for humanity and not the culmination of God’s story.

If I can’t give praise for trees, ornaments, gifts, and shopping, what can I give genuine praise about?

I can be thankful that God sent his Son into the world for me. That is the greatest gift I can ever receive. God cared enough to give me the greatest gift of all. The gift of love.

Of course, this gift is not for me alone, but for you, too. Will you discover this gift this year?

John 3:16-17
16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

I believe that this is the message we should be focused on. 1 John 4:19 teaches us that we love because He first loved us. In knowing how much we are loved, we will care more for ourselves and for one another.

What could be more important than that?

I don’t know what day of the year, his birth actually fell on, but that isn’t that important when compared to love entering the world in order to redeem it.

If Christmas is to be about anything, I want it to be about being thankful. I want to be thankful for the Father’s gift of life for me. I want Christmas to be a time of reflection and thanksgiving, focused on Jesus. When our focus is there, we can love out of an overflow, not out of meeting or managing the expectations of others.

Take the time to know that you are loved. When you get it, please pay it forward.

Be loved this Christmas…