Don’t Be Afraid of Their Faces!

Be not afraid of their faces: for I am with thee to deliver thee, saith the Lord.” 

(Jeremiah 1:8)

There are several places in the Bible where God’s prophets were commanded to not be afraid of the faces of those who resisted their message. I believe there is some application to be made for us as believers who are called to witness? Consider first the experience of Moses, Jeremiah and Ezekiel.

Moses was one of God’s servant leaders who was told not to be afraid of the faces by those in opposition to his leadership. One of the instructions God gave to Moses as they prepared to occupy the promised land included these words: “Ye shall not respect persons in judgment; but ye shall hear the small as well as the great; ye shall not be afraid of the face of man; for the judgment is God’s: and the cause that is too hard for you, bring it unto me, and I will hear it.” (Deuteronomy 1:17) It was true in Moses’ time as well as ours. The rich and powerful expected special consideration that would not be shown to the poor. They could and would show that by frowns and threats. The Israelite leaders were not to be awed or intimidated by them when practicing justice.

Jeremiah was warned of the same problem. “Be not afraid of their faces: for I am with thee to deliver thee, saith the Lord .” (Jeremiah 1:8) These are the words of Jeremiah in the account of his call to the prophetic office God had for him.

Ezekiel was commissioned to be a prophet to Israel and he was forewarned of the things he would face. He knew what he would face from a disobedient and rebellious people. Twice in this verse he was commanded to not be afraid of their words. He could expect scoffs, jeers, reviling. They would make all kinds of threats with their weapon of words. Their looks could be the most confusing, and so God told Ezekiel to not be dismayed at their looks: “And thou, son of man, be not afraid of them, neither be afraid of their words, though briers and thorns be with thee, and thou dost dwell among scorpions: be not afraid of their words, nor be dismayed at their looks, though they be a rebellious house.” (Ezekiel 2:6)

When these verses made an impression upon me the first thing that came to mind was the old idiom: “If looks could kill…” I could only think of it as the result of the way someone looked with facial anger. Based on the way someone looks at you, if looks could kill you would be dead. Since looks or words do not actually kill, but we are still warned against them, what do they do? Why be afraid of their faces? Looks and words are closely associated in the face. In an age of persecution we can expect much of what the prophets did. In different areas of our world persecutions may be by words. In the worst areas opposition to Christians means beheading, execution, imprisonment and being driven from home. We like to think of America as the land of free speech. That is often expressed in public opposition to Christians in the media with no constraints and no similar treatment of other religions. We can expect more of that with a culture, education system and anti-christian government controlling our lives.

But this is where we live. Be not afraid of their faces! We do not run away from our mandates to change the culture and win the world to Christ. We expect scoffing and ridicule for our Christian beliefs. The presence of a believer disturbs the ungodly and makes them uneasy. A good man is an offense to a bad man. Expect the cold look.

The Christian leader or pastor can expect the worst looks. He is in the limelight. By his ministry he is influencing others in many different ways. A message that deals with sin can produce that hard cold look. The position on contemporary issues can do the same. Opposition to the pastor’s program will register the ice in the faces. The wealthy often expect favoritism to their views. I have witnessed it. I’ve been there, done that, and it is not a happy experience. As a pastor I lived by this verse in Proverbs: “To have respect of persons is not good: for for a piece of bread that man will transgress. (Proverbs 28:21)

 

 

 

The Justice of God

Justice and judgment are the habitation of thy throne: mercy and truth shall go before thy face.” Psalm 89:14

Justice and judgment are the basis of divine government. The throne, or God’s government, is founded upon these two pillars. The throne of God, is founded upon righteousness and judgment. Our sovereign God knows what is right, always does what is right, and is never unjust or unwise in His dealings. He is too holy to be unrighteous in judgment. His decisions are never reversed. The fact that God is a just sovereign should be a source of constant joy to every believer.

These two words demand an explanation. Justice refers to God’s attribute of righteousness and judgment refers to the exercise of that attribute. This implies that God is a law-giver for justice is a law term. God must enforce His law. If He did not He would not be just. A just man is one who is right in keeping God’s law; a just God is the God that enforces His law. Any conception of God that denies His justice is a false conception of God.

Justice demands the punishment of sin. Sin is the transgression of the law of God for which the penalty is punishment. Without a penalty attached there can be no law. It might be advice or exhortation but not a law. Violated law calls for punishment. What is the penalty of violating God’s law? DEATH. “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 6:23)

The sinner is under the curse of the law and is unable to deliver himself from the curse of the law: “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree:” (Galatians 3:13) There are two ways the law can be satisfied: (1) by obedience to its precepts, or (2) by suffering the prescribed penalty of eternal separation from God. The law has pronounced a curse upon all who have violated its commands, and unless delivered from its curse, the sentence will be executed in the day of judgment.

The justice of God closes the door to every plan of salvation except the plan of substitution. If men who have sinned escape the punishment for their sins, then for God to remain just someone else must be punished for them. This puts salvation in another one rather than the sinner himself. And the one who saves him must have no obligation to the law himself. If a sinless man could be found on this earth – a man who had never done any wrong – a man who had always been perfect – he could not save anyone else, because all his goodness was required by the law for himself. Therefore we have to go outside the human race for a Saviour. So, in saving sinners, God went into His own divine household and gave His Son – this one who was God and therefore could have no obligations under any law. This was absolutely necessary because there never has been a sinless person on this earth except Jesus. Without Him there wold be no salvation at all.

Salvation does not destroy the justice of God. To do away with the justice of God would be the same as doing away with God’s power. God is necessarily and essentially just, just as He is essentially and necessarily omnipotent. This truth is the death blow to a lot of religious ideas. It kills the idea that if one lives the best he can he will be saved. It kills the idea of salvation by rites and ceremonies and ordinances. It kills the idea of salvation by repentance alone. Judas repented but was not saved: “Then Judas, which had betrayed him, when he saw that he was condemned, repented himself, and brought again the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders.” (Matthew 27:3)

Justice pronounces our doom – but grace delivers us. Our just God is also a loving God and a forgiving God when there is both repentance and faith.

Bless the Lord

 “Bless the Lord, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless his holy name.

Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits.”  (Psalm 103:1,2)

This is a Psalm of personal praise to God as the giver of all things. It should never be read or recited in a listless sort of way, but in soul sincerity and bodily enthusiasm. None but a real Christian can do this. It is thought that David wrote this Psalm late in life. He had experienced many sorrows but he forgets them all, and is lost in wonder at the goodness of God. He realized he had a great God and celebrated such divine attributes as grace, mercy, patience, pity, and sovereignty.

To bless the Lord is to thank Him. When He blesses us He bestows benefits; when we bless Him we thank Him for His blessings. The command to be thankful has been referred to as the forgotten commandment. All of God’s blessings call for all that we have in the giving of thanks.

David selects some of the choice pearls of God’s attributes, strings them on the thread of memory and hangs them around the neck of gratitude. In verses 6-18, He speaks of righteousness, grace, mercy, patience and pity. He executes judgment for the oppressed. He is slow to anger. He does not become angry at the least provocation. He is patient and holds no grudges.

The Psalmist contrasts the brevity of human life with the everlasting mercy of God. In his days man is like grass which the hot wind dries up, but God’s mercy is eternal. (v.15,16) He illustrates the forgiving mercy of God which no human mercy can match. It is as high as the heaven is above the earth. (v.11) He removes sin as far as the East is from the West. (v.12)

In verses 1-5, David lists the blessings of God produced by His great grace:

(1) “Who forgiveth all thine iniquities.” Note the little word “all.” God does not forgive just some, or many of our sins, but all. His forgiveness reaches to the length of Christ’s atonement, and His atonement stretches to the length of our sins.

(2) “Who healeth all thy diseases: the character of God is many-sided. As judge He forgives; as physician He heals according to His sovereign will. The soul as well as the body has its diseases. Pride, anger, greed, lust and sloth are diseases of the soul. The may produce bodily disease if they are not dealt with in spiritual warfare. God cures of a sinful nature those whose iniquities He forgives.

(3) “Who redeemeth thy life from destruction:” David had faced many dangers- the jaw of the lion, the paw of the bear, the sword of Goliath, the javelin of Saul, the hatred of the Philistines, and the unnatural rebellion of his own son. None of these destroyed David, for God was with him.

(4) “Who crowneth thee with loving kindness and tender mercies:” God gives victory over all foes. His mercies are called “tender mercies.” God adorns our person with loving kindness and tender mercies such as only He can provide.

(5) “Who satisfieth thy mouth with good things:” The Hebrew word for mouth means ornament and stands for the soul or spirit as the ornament of our being, the body being vile and corruptible. God satisfies the soul with good things.

(6) “Thy youth is renewed like the eagle’s:” In moulting the eagle gets new feathers which makes it appear young. There can be soul strength when the body falls apart.

In 19-22, David dwells on the throne of God. God’s throne is fixed and secure. Human governments are breaking down; earthly thrones are tottering; administrations are changing hands, but God’s throne is immovable and everlasting. In God’s government there is no alarm, no disorder, no anxiety; no hurrying to and fro in changing plans; no surprises to be met, or threatened tragedies to be averted. God’s throne is higher than the angels. There are no areas where God does not reign. “His kingdom ruleth over all.”

Every verse of this Psalm expresses a great truth found everywhere in God’s Word. It is loaded with God’s grace and sovereignty. The Psalmist calls upon us all to bless the Lord. “Bless the Lord, O my soul.”

Bless the Lord, all his works in all places of his dominion: bless the Lord, O my soul. (Psalm 103:22)

“Don’t Count Your Chickens Before They Hatch”

This is an idiom with a long history. Aesop, who lived 620-520 B.C., used this expression in one of his fables, The Milkmaid and Her Pail. Thomas Howell, in 1570, also used this idiom in New Sonnets and Pretty Pamphlets. The poet, Samuel Butler (1663, 1664), is credited with the same sentence. I was raised by Christian parents who had to remind us often: “Don’t Count Your Chickens Before They Hatch.” This is what we do when we make plans based on assumptions.

The Apostle James had some better words for the same warning in James 4:13-16 (ISV):

Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a town, stay there a year, conduct business, and make money.” You do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead you should say, “If the Lord wants us to, we will live—and do this or that.” But you boast about your proud intentions. All such boasting is evil.

I am reminded of this scripture every time I see the TV commercial of a grown woman exulting as she strolls through the brush: “I’m only in my sixties. I have a nice long life ahead of me…” This is “counting your chickens before they hatch.” This is a good example of the arrogance James describes as “proud intentions” and evil boasting. Somebody needs to remind this lady, “if the Lord wills.”

I also recall the experience of a fellow pastor anxious for retirement age to come. His boast was: “I can’t wait to get that ‘sweet money’ which is how he referred to Social Security. As I remember, he died just before retirement or shortly after. He was making plans based on the assumption he had many years yet to live. I do not think that he got much, if any, of that “sweet money.”

James’ reprimand is first to some business men making their plans to make money without God and it is said so broadly as to include any one who assumes they are going to even have life. Life is a gift from God. God gave it and our sovereign God decides when it will end. John Piper reminds us,

The duration of our lives is in the hands of God. Or: God governs how long we will live. Or: God is ultimately in control of life and death. We may not know how long our vapor-like life will linger in the air, but God knows, because God decides how long we will live.” (from Desiring God website article, “If the Lord Wills.”)

There is another gift from God which is eternal life. It isn’t earned or deserved but it is yours when you accept Jesus as your personal Savior and Lord of your life. Jesus promised this with great emphasis in John 6:47 –

Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me hath everlasting life.

Worship Words

The LORD is known by the judgment which he executeth: the wicked is snared in the work of his own hands. Higgaion. Selah.Psalm 9:16

I was reading through the Psalms when this unusual word, Higgaion, popped up. It is joined by another worship word, Selah. I was acquainted with Selah, but Higgaion was a word I never noticed before. I guess when I was reading through the Bible I passed over it without a thought. As part of the God-breathed scriptures, I knew it had a purpose and meaning just as any other word in the Bible. So, does the word Higgaion have meaning? I decided to study it to know its meaning and why it is used in this one place in the Scriptures.

Context

I like to put these things in context with the nature of the Psalms as we seek an understanding of these two words. Psalms is the Hebrew hymnbook. David is the main author of the Psalms but some Psalms are ascribed to different writers. Some are written for different people or groups, such as “the chief musician,” and to Asaph, who also wrote some Psalms, as well as Solomon and the sons of Korah. Many are written for different purposes such as for special celebrations. It is obvious from the Psalms that worship utilized several musical instruments:

“Praise him with the sound of the trumpet: praise him with the psaltery and harp. Praise him with the timbrel and dance: praise him with stringed instruments and organs. Praise him upon the loud cymbals: praise him upon the high sounding cymbals.” (Psalm 150:3-5)

The Jewish people also had their choir and orchestra. The first worship choir was appointed by King David over 3000 years ago:  “And these are the singers, chief of the fathers of the Levites, who remaining in the chambers were free: for they were employed in that work day and night.” (I Chronicles 9:33) This choir was able to take their work more seriously than choirs today. They lived in the temple and were free from other duties. It was a full-time job for them. It seems from the following Scriptures the congregation had a great part in the worship music: “O sing unto the Lord a new song; for he hath done marvelous things:  Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all the earth: make a loud noise, and rejoice, and sing praise. Sing unto the Lord with the harp; with the harp, and the voice of a psalm. With trumpets and sound of cornet make a joyful noise before the Lord, the King.” (Psalm 98:1,4-6)

Meaning

What does all this have to do with word Haggaion? This is the only place it is found in the Bible. It means meditation. It is a musical term or sign occurring only in Psalm 9:16. It probably denotes an instrumental interlude which has the effect of a call to meditation. Combined with Selah, it appears to denote a pause of unusual emphasis and solemnity.

The context has to do with God’s retribution on the wicked. This was an instance of God’s wise and holy ordering where the musicians called for a pause to adore God and His judgment in wonder and faith. It is significant that the pause to meditate on this subject called for such unusual emphasis.

Selah is more familiar to us since it occurs seventy-one times in the Psalms. The only other place it is found is in the prayer of Habakkuk. It too has reference to musical activity. Several usages are suggested: a musical note to interpret the change in the song; an orchestral interlude; a pause; a repetition; a playing in full power. When we read it in the Psalms, it would do us well to pause and meditate on the verses before and after Selah.

When we look for contemporary worship words, we will find them in “praise,” “amen,” and “Alleluia.” The only place in the Bible where Alleluia is used, is four times in Revelation nineteen, where it is used in celebration of Christ’s victory over all His enemies. The Revised Version changed the word to “Hallelujah” and it is so used in music worship today along with Alleluia. “Alleluia” is another word for “praise.” “Amen” may be used in song at the end of the lyrics, or it may be assent to the written and preached word.