Confidence

The result of being born again is an absence of guilt in the believer’s heart. It says in Hebrews 10:2 that sacrifices are no longer necessary “because that the worshippers once purged should have had no more conscience of sins.” The fact that Jesus’ death on the cross paid the penalty for every sin of every person from the beginning of time until God establishes his kingdom on Earth, means that “He has made perfect forever all those who are being set apart for God-like living” (Hebrews 10:14, NLV). Therefore, the writer of Hebrews concludes, “Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water” (Hebrews 10:22).

The Greek word translated full assurance in Hebrews 10:22, plerophoria (play-rof-or-ee’-ah) means entire confidence (G4136). The writer of Hebrews indicated that we can be frank or out spoken when we interact with God because our sins have been pardoned (Hebrews 10:19). This is important to note because prayer is essentially the only way we are able to communicate with God and therefore, what we say in our prayers to God matters. Hebrews 10:35-36 states, “Therefore do not cast away your confidence, which has great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise” (NKJV). Casting away our confidence basically means that we lose our nerve or hold back our true emotions when we talk to God.

The way that we talk to God should always be rational and respectful, but we do not have to pretend that we are happy when we are not. King David, who wrote many of the psalms that are recorded in the Bible, communicated in a very open and honest way when he was praying. Psalm 17 which is titled “A prayer of David” begins with these words, “Hear a just cause, O Lord, attend to my cry; give ear to my prayer which is not from deceitful lips.” (Psalm 17:1, NKJV). David asked for divine protection and prayed, “Show Your marvelous lovingkindness by Your right hand, O You who save those who trust in You from those who rise up against them. Keep me as the apple of Your eye; hide me under the shadow of Your wings, from the wicked who oppress me, from my deadly enemies who surround me” (Psalm 17:7-9, NKJV).

The writer of Hebrews suggested that boldness and confidence are essential for receiving the promises of God (Hebrews 10:1, 35). This might be true because our faith is activated through prayer and does not work without having genuine interaction or more specifically, a relationship with God. Communication is essentially the vehicle that enables a relationship to go somewhere. The more open and honest two people are with each other, the more deeply they get to know each other and become committed to their relationship. God doesn’t expect us to blindly follow his instructions. He wants us to grow closer to him through a process of ongoing communication that results in a deeper understanding of his way of living and a conscious choice to do what pleases him rather than alienating him through sin.

Fragments

Jesus had a way of using everyday, ordinary circumstances to teach his disciples powerful lessons about the kingdom of heaven. One of Jesus’ favorite metaphors for the word of God was bread, a daily source of sustenance for most people in the first century and an emblem of God’s physical presence in his holy temple. After the Pharisees and Sadducees had asked him for a sign to verify his deity, Jesus attempted to get his disciples back on track with a warning. He told them, “Take heed, beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the leaven of Herod” (Mark 8:15). Leaven was used to make bread rise and was a symbol of evil and corruption in the time of Jesus’ ministry. “The metaphor includes the idea of a tiny amount of leaven being able to ferment a large amount of dough. In this context it refers to the evil disposition of both the Pharisees and Herod Antipas” (note on Mark 8:15). Unfortunately, his disciples missed the point Jesus was trying to make because they were focused on the fact that they had forgotten to take bread with them when they got into their ship and departed for Bethsaida (Mark 8:14). In response to Jesus’ statement, Mark tells us, “And they reasoned among themselves, saying, It is because we have no bread” (Mark 8:16).

The Greek word that is translated reasoned, dialogizomai (dee-al-og-id’-zom-ahee) means “to reakon thoroughly that is (generally) to deliberate (by reflection or discussion)” (1260). As his disciples discussed among themselves what he meant by “beware of the leaven of the Pharisees” (Mark 8:15), Jesus tried again to get their attention, this time with a question. He asked them, “Why reason ye, because ye have no bread? perceive ye not yet, neither understand? have ye your heart yet hardened?” (Mark 8:17). Jesus went on to use the illustration of his supernatural provision of bread and asked, “Having eyes, see ye not? and having ears, hear ye not? and do ye not remember? When I brake the five loaves among the five thousand, how many baskets full of fragments took ye up? They say unto him, Twelve. And when the seven among four thousand, how many baskets full of fragments took ye up? And they said, Seven. And he said unto them, How is it that ye do not understand?” (Mark 8:18-21). The Greek word that is translated understand, suniemi (soon-ee’-ay-mee) means “to put together that is (mentally) to comprehend” (4920). The Greek word suniemi is derived from the word sun (soon), a primary preposition denoting union; with or together that is by association, companionship, process, or resemblance (4862). The word sun often appears in the context of Jesus’ twelve disciples being “with him.” In other words, Jesus was questioning whether or not his disciples had learned anything from him during the time that they had been together, probably around 1-2 years at this point in time.

The reason Jesus’ disciples didn’t comprehend what he was saying to them was most likely because everything he said came across to them as fragments, unrelated pieces of information that they were unable to piece together and make sense of. It was like they had ADHD (attention deficit disorder) which caused them to constantly be distracted when Jesus talked to them. Looking at his illustration of the basket of fragments that were taken up after the groups of 5,000 and 4,000 people were fed, it is possible that Jesus was telling his disciples that the fragments or bits of information he was giving them while they were with him needed to be collected and saved for later. Another way of looking at it would be that the fragments of bread represented bite size pieces of spiritual nourishment that had to be kept with the disciples at all times so that they wouldn’t be tempted to feast on the leavened bread or teaching of the Pharisees. Jesus’ question, “have ye your heart yet hardened?” (Mark 8:17) was a type of spiritual diagnosis that was meant to alert his disciples to their compromised condition. As much as the disciples wanted to learn from Jesus and grow spiritually, they were unable to process some of the information he gave them. It wasn’t until later, after Jesus’ ministry was concluded, that the twelve apostles had time to really reason through or “reakon thoroughly that is (generally) to deliberate (by reflection or discussion)” (1260) everything Jesus had told them and make sense of it all.

Israel’s watchman

Ezekiel was identified as a watchman for Israel. In that role, he was expected to keep a close watch on events leading up to the fall of Jerusalem. For seven years, from 593 B.C. to 586 B.C., Ezekiel delivered numerous messages from the Lord indicating that the end was near. In his final warning, Ezekiel’s role as Israel’s watchman was emphasized so that there would be no misunderstanding as to what was happening. He was told:

Son of man, speak to the children of thy people, and say unto them, When I bring the sword upon a land, if the people of the land take a man of their coasts, and set him for their watchman: if when he seeth the sword come upon the land, he blow the trumpet, and warn the people; then whosoever heareth the sound of the trumpet, and taketh not warning; if the sword come, and take him away, his blood shall be upon his own head. He heard the sound of the trumpet, and took not warning; his blood shall be upon him. But he that taketh warning shall deliver his soul. (Ezekiel 33:2-5).

God’s attempt to warn his people showed that he still cared about them, even though they had abandoned him. He told Ezekiel, “Say unto them, As I live, saith the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel” (Ezekiel 33:11). God’s plea for repentance was a sign that he still wanted to have a relationship with his people. His motive in bringing judgment was to restore, not to severe his ties with Israel. The only way God could reconnect with his people was through conversion. “The process called conversion or turning to God is in reality a re-turning or a turning back again to Him from whom sin has separated us, but whose we are by virtue of creation, preservation and redemption” (7725).

On August 14, 586 B.C., Ezekiel received word from someone that escaped that Jerusalem had fallen (Ezekiel 33:21). The news not only vindicated Ezekiel, but also validated him as being Israel’s watchman and a true prophet of God. At the start of Ezekiel’s ministry, when he was first commissioned as Israel’s watchman, God made him dumb, or unable to speak, except for the messages he received from God. In connection with the news of Jerusalem’s fall, Ezekiel said, “Now the hand of the LORD was upon me in the evening, afore he that was escaped came; and had opened my mouth, until he came to me in the morning; and my mouth was opened, and I was no more dumb” (Ezekiel 33:22). Ezekiel’s ability to speak indicated that he was no longer Israel’s watchman. From that point forward, Ezekiel would have a new mission, pastoral comfort or the job of a shepherd.

A visit from God

Ezekiel was a priest that was taken into captivity in 597 B.C. along with king Jehoiachin and several thousand citizens of Judah and Jerusalem. At the age of 30, Ezekiel saw visions of God while he was in the land of the Chaldeans by the river Chebar (Ezekiel 1:1-3). It says in Ezekiel 1:3 that “the word of the LORD came expressly unto Ezekiel the priest…and the hand of the LORD was there upon him.” What that means is that Ezekiel’s message came directly from God; an intermediary angel was not used to deliver it.

Ezekiel described what he saw in graphic detail using words such as likeness and appearance to convey what he knew to be supernatural manifestations of spiritual beings. In his account of what took place, it is evident that Ezekiel was both awestruck and curious about the vision. The first image that was seen by Ezekiel was a giant cloud that was blown in by a stormy wind, and then four living creatures that looked like men came out of the cloud and stood before him, as if they were trying to get his attention (Ezekiel 1:4-5).

Ezekiel’s description of the four living creatures makes it clear that spiritual beings function differently than human beings and yet, there are similarities that make it possible for us to understand each other. The most obvious difference between angels and humans is that angels have wings and can move about in much more efficient ways than we can. Also, angels are able to operate in a unified manner. The four living creatures were separate individuals, but they moved in unison with one another, as if they were joined together like Siamese twins (Ezekiel 1:9).

Depending on which direction they wanted to go, each of the four living creatures faced forward toward the north, south, east, and west, and led the others to their desired destination without having to turn or go backwards. They each had four faces that enabled them to act according to their circumstances without changing their expressions. The angels’ faces and wings were designed to not only improve their mobility, but also to guarantee they would not be hindered in performing their assignments. It seems as though the four living creatures were tasked with guarding the entry way to God’s throne room, or acting as guides to direct the cloud in which the throne was located to its desired destination.

I think one of the most interesting and important aspects of Ezekiel’s vision was that it came to him while he was in exile in Babylon. The sight of his visitation, the Chebar river was no doubt a busy spot where both Babylonians and Israelites congregated to collect water. Although Ezekiel’s vision was communicated to him alone, the information was made public so that everyone would know God had visited him in Babylon. The remarkable thing about it being there was no place off limits to God, he could transport himself wherever needed to communicate with his people.

A missed opportunity

The ambassadors of the princes of Babylon came to see Hezekiah king of Judah for a specific reason. They wanted “to inquire of the wonder that was done in the land” (2 Chronicles 32:31). A wonder is a divine act or a special display of divine power” (4159). In Hezekiah’s case, it was the healing of a sickness that would eventually cause his death. In other words, Hezekiah had a terminal illness and God cured him of it. The men that came to visit heard of Hezekiah’s illness and recovery and brought an offering as an act of worship.

The visit from the ambassadors of Babylon, was an opportunity for Hezekiah to share his faith with them. Their awareness of Hezekiah’s healing and their act of worship demonstrated their belief that Hezekiah’s God was real and could do things that no other god was capable of. In this situation, it says of Hezekiah in 2 Chronicles 32:31 “God left him, to try him, that he might know all that was in his heart.” God had shown Hezekiah mercy by responding when he prayed, “I beseech thee, O LORD, remember now how I have walked before thee in truth and with a perfect heart, and have done that which is good in thy sight” (2 Kings 20:3). Hezekiah’s claim of having a perfect heart meant that he had been totally obedient to God’s word (8003).

God’s testing of Hezekiah’s heart was intended to show whether he believed God’s mercy was responsible for all the prosperity of his kingdom or whether Hezekiah believed he had earned everything God had given him through his good behavior. When 2 Chronicles 32:31 said, God left Hezekiah, it was saying that God let him handle the situation on his own (5800). God didn’t tell Hezekiah what to do. When the men from Babylon came to visit, “Hezekiah hearkened unto them, and showed them all the house of his precious things” (2 Kings 20:13). The Hebrew word translated hearkened, shama means that he gave the men his undivided attention (8085). Hezekiah was listening to what the men had to say, following their directions, rather than the other way around.

A clue to Hezekiah’s motivation is found in 2 Chronicles 32:25. It says, “But Hezekiah rendered not again according to the benefit done unto him; for his heart was lifted up.” Seeing all of Hezekiah’s riches was not the purpose of the visit from the men from Babylon. They came because they had heard about the miracle God had done for him. Instead of taking them on a tour of his grand palace, Hezekiah should have been inviting the men to convert to Judaism.

Hezekiah didn’t understand that these men were not on his side. They were idolaters that needed to know how they could be saved. Hezekiah made it seem as if everything he had could be shared with the men from Babylon, but that wasn’t true. Only God’s people were under his protection and could share in the wealth of his kingdom. Because Hezekiah didn’t honor God and testify to his mercy toward his people, the men went away thinking God’s riches consisted only of silver and gold and it was theirs for the taking.

Turn it off

After my ex-husband told me he was having an affair, I was an emotional wreck for about a year. We spent many hours talking, going over the details of what had happened. In spite of our effort to straighten things out, I struggled to understand what had happened and why he had done it. At one point, my ex-husband told me I needed to just “get over it,” so we could move on.

Solomon said, “Therefore, remove sorrow from thy heart, and put away evil from thy flesh: for childhood and youth are vanity” (Ecclesiastes 11:10). The word translated remove, sûwr (soor) means “to turn off” (5493). The implication being that we can control our emotions if we want to.

Looking back at my situation, I can see now that my ex-husband’s advice was biblical. There was no way to make sense of what happened and understanding the reason why it happened didn’t lessen the pain, it actually made it worse. Although it seemed impossible at the time, I could have stopped thinking about  it and the emotions I felt would have eventually gone away.

Words

I’ve never been very talkative. As a child, I was extremely shy and spent a lot of time by myself. The only exception was when I got angry, then the words seemed to flow out of my mouth without any problem. Of course, what I said when I was angry wasn’t very good. In fact, most of the time, I wish I hadn’t said it. One time, when my ex-husband and I were in a heated argument, I told him I was going to leave him. Immediately, I knew I shouldn’t have said it, but the damage was already done.

It says in Proverbs 13:3, “He that keepeth his mouth keepeth his life: but he that openeth wide his lips shall have destruction.” The phrase open wide his lips is referring to the free flow of speech. There is no filter of what is being said. The words translated keepeth mean to guard or watch what is being said (5341, 8104). In other words, keeping your mouth shut instead of saying what is on your mind. The Hebrew word translated destruction is properly translated as a dissolution (4288). The idea being a breaking apart or breaking down of something.

In my relationship with my ex-husband, the threat of me leaving became like a self-fulfilling prophecy. Although we remained married for another ten years, our relationship began to slowly disintegrate after that argument. The lack of trust and insecurity undermined our ability to resolve our differences. When the topic of divorce came up, it was as if the matter had already been settled. There was no expectation that things would ever get better. The interesting thing about my relationship with my ex-husband was that he ended up leaving instead of the other way around, perhaps because he didn’t want to be the one left behind.

 

Going God’s way

“I will run the way of thy commandments, when thou shalt enlarge my heart” (Psalm 119:32). God’s commandments are meant to by signposts or directions that guide us on our journey through life. Going the way of God’s commandments means that you are following his directions, traveling along the course that has been laid out for you. When the psalmist said, “I will run the way of thy commandments,” he meant that he would travel quickly or charge ahead when God enlarged his heart.

The phrase “enlarge my heart” (Psalm 119:32) refers to the condition of the inner man. The Hebrew word translated heart, lêb (labe) includes not only the motives, feelings, affections, and desires, but also the will, the aims, the principles, the thoughts, and the intellect of man. In fact, it embraces the whole inner man” (3820). Basically, to enlarge the heart, means to make it grow, not necessarily in size, but in its capacity to think and initiate action.

In order for something to grow, it first has to be alive and then, it has to receive some type of nourishment. The psalmist said, “quicken thou me according to thy word” (Psalm 119:25) and “strengthen thou me according to thy word” (Psalm 119:28). The word translated quicken means to live or to cause to revive (2421) and the word translated strengthen means to arise or to stand up (6965). The reference to these terms in the context of God’s communication with man indicates that growth occurs when we hear God’s word.

The Hebrew word dâbâr (daw – baw´) in most cases “is a technical phrase referring expressly to prophetic revelation (1697). When the psalmist said, “according to thy word” (psalm 119:25, 28), he was most likely referring to a prophetic revelation that he had received from the LORD. The Bible contains numerous prophesies including the entire book of Revelation which covers some events that are still in the future. It is clear that God wants us to know what is going to happen ahead of time and uses prophetic revelations to encourage us in our walk with him.

The Hebrew word translated strengthen in Psalm 119:28 signifies empowering or strengthening, but “it is also used to denote the inevitable occurrence of something predicted or prearranged” (6965). One of the ways that I believe we can gain strength is by asking God to show us his way, to reveal to us the destiny he has planned for us. If you want to go God’s way, then it makes sense to ask him, Where am I going?