Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 12 October 2017

But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.  Hebrews 12, verses 22-24.

One of my favorite Christian songs is “Days of Elijah.”   There’s a particularly good version of it by Twila Paris that’s not saccharin, not too rock & roll, not too corny.   It’s just uplifting, and one of the verses in the song says “out of Zion’s hill salvation comes.”  Look up the geography of Jerusalem and you see that Zion is the hill on which the first and second temple’s were built.   It was literally God’s home address on terra firma.  It’s where the Temple was located, where King David reigned and is buried, where the Last Supper was held, and it’s not far from Calvary.   In contemporary usage, Zion refers to the land of Israel itself, and to the cause of establishing the modern nation of Israel.  Yet in days of old it was where God lived.

That’s a lot to draw from just a few verses.  Then again, Jerusalem has been ground zero for most of human history, and Zion is the spiritual heart of Jerusalem.   There’s a lot to consider with it.

The writer of Hebrews invoked Zion to symbolize heaven made possible by Jesus.   It is the new heaven, the new dwelling place of the living God.   You and I get to go there, to worship in His true temple, to make our home with Him (to tabernacle with Him).   Where Sinai symbolizes our need for Jesus before heaven, Zion symbolizes our heaven with Jesus both here in this world and in the next.  Sinai was a place of power and fear:   Zion is a place where the greatest power in the universe – God’s love – took root and grew.   Sinai was law:  Zion is love.   Sinai was remote:   Zion is connection.

I can hear Twila singing about “righteousness being restored.”

Read, too, about Abel.   The writer recalls Abel, invoking that the sacrifice of Christ means more than the sacrifice of Abel (both the blood of the animal Abel sacrificed as well as his own as the victim of history’s first murder).  Abel gave a representation of divine blood in a sacrifice about his personal faith; Jesus actually gave His own blood as the faith sacrifice for all persons.

Read, too (again) about the firstborn.   Recall the story of Esau and Jacob (or, for that matter, Cain and Abel, or any of the first-born sons of the patriarchs).   Jesus makes us all as if we are first-born.   We ALL get to inherit the best of the family.   We all get to be treated as special because of what Jesus did in dying on that rugged cross.

“These are the days of Elijah declaring the word of the Lord.”   Elijah declared God’s word to an unbelieving world.   You and I get to do the same, thousands of years after Elijah, thousands of years after the Word of the Lord Himself.

Finally, there is the new covenant.   We’ve discussed how a covenant is more than just a contract or an agreement.   It’s a blood oath, a God-affirming vow made in faith and justice.  God had made covenants with humanity all through the age of the patriarchs yet all of them were made to point us to our need for His redemption.   When Jesus came, He delivered that redemption and made it possible for men to speak directly with God.   He restored balance by making the perfect atonement.   He made a path for us to spend both now and eternity in God’s presence.  The Old Testament covenants pointed us to our need for God, yet the covenant made by Jesus points us to God in our lives.  God has always judged all people yet now we get to see His judgment more clearly, more as an act of loving justice instead of punishing vengeance.   We get to see that God’s holy law from Sinai was made perfect by His holy sacrifice from Zion.   That the covenant Jesus made by Zion is one to which we can still be bound today.

Go download Twila’s song.   I guarantee you’ll like it.

For further reading:  Isaiah 24:23, Revelation 14:1, Galatians 4:26, Exodus 4:22, Revelation 20:12, Genesis 18:25, Psalm 94:2, Philippians 3:12,Galatians 3:20, 1 Peter 1:2, Genesis 4:20, Hebrews 11:4.

Lord, thank You for so many messages in so few words.   In these days of Elijah, help me to declare Your Words to those around me.

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Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 4 October 2017.

See that no one is sexually immoral, or is godless like Esau, who for a single meal sold his inheritance rights as the oldest son. Afterward, as you know, when he wanted to inherit this blessing, he was rejected. Even though he sought the blessing with tears, he could not change what he had done.  Hebrews 12, verses 16-17.

Esau.   We’ve talked about Esau before, early on in discussing Chapter 11.   Refreshing your memory, Esau was Jacob’s brother who was rash, impetuous, and emotional.   He and his brother knew their father and grandfather had been promised by God Himself that He would make them into a blessed nation.   It was their family inheritance; it set them apart from everyone else on the planet.   It’s logical to assume Esau grew up hearing these accounts (first-hand even, from both Abraham and Isaac), yet Esau treated God’s promise with casual contempt.  One time, Esau’s emotions got the best of him and it had eternal consequences for mankind.   He traded his birthright – perhaps the most important thing a man of antiquity possessed – for a bowl of stew.   Later, following his brother’s trickery, he was subjected to being a second-place citizen in his own family even though he was first-born.

Admit it:   the reason Esau did this was that he was godless.   Specifically, he craved less God in his life except when it served his own purposes.

Then there’s his brother.  Jacob’s deceit was two-fold.  First was the verbal acquisition of Esau’s birthright by taking advantage of Esau’s own foolishness.  Then came the physical blessing of their father, Isaac, through active deception and playing on Isaac’s own loving words.  No objective analysis of Genesis 25 and 27 can reach any conclusion other than that Jacob was a crafty deceiver, maybe even dishonest.  He must have been a conflicted man, harboring deep, real faith in the living God while still clinging to the worldly ways of taking what you want.  Before the world was made, God had marked Jacob to carry His lineage and fulfill His purposes.   Even without Jacob’s participation, I’m sure God would have found another way to include him.  It’s amazing how God can turn human dysfunction into Divine glory.

Yet none of this excuses Esau.   Esau treated the gift of divine birthright as a cheap thing.  He didn’t regard it as important.   He didn’t consider the implications of rejecting it.   Instead of saying to himself “I’ll get a bite someplace else”, Esau demanded his weaker brother feed him.   Jacob pressed Esau with what must have seemed a silly demand, that Esau forswear his first-born birthright to property, blessing, and special status as God’s chosen vessel of the redemption promise.   Rather than taking this seriously, Esau flippantly signed away his birthright in exchange for a full stomach.   I hope it tasted good; I’m betting Esau didn’t give it a second thought.

And when the time came for their father to die, Isaac wanted to bless his sons respecting that birthright.   Jacob tricked Isaac and got the blessing that had been intended for his older brother.   But Isaac was a man of character, an upright and faithful follower of his Lord.   He couldn’t go back on his word even when his favorite son pressed him for something you and I might consider fair.   The firstborn blessing had been given and Jacob would become heir to all Isaac was and owned.   And it had happened because Esau had shamefully regarded God’s promise.

Moral of the story:  don’t treat God’s gifts cheaply.

I mentioned yesterday that it seemed strange that the writer of Hebrews would talk about the powerful concept of sexual immorality in only a few words before spending the next two verse talking about Esau’s immorality.   Those words were almost an off-hand comment.  Yet perhaps the message of these two subjects actually fits together.   It’s not about the sex; it isn’t about hunting for wild game.   It isn’t about the lust for flesh or the lust for status.   Immorality is immorality no matter what form it takes, and the writer cautions followers of Jesus to be on our guard against it.   If we, like Esau, treat God’s gifts cavalierly, it should be no surprise to us when all we receive in return are cavalier rewards.  If we, like Esau, think God-less thoughts from our hearts, is it any surprise we might find ourselves dis-inherited and at war with the world of our own making?

For further reading:  1 Genesis 25:29-34, Genesis 27:30-40.

My Lord, I pray You had mercy on Esau.   And I pray here for Your guidance that I might not treat Your many gifts flippantly.   Help me to appreciate Your value in all times.  

 

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 3 October 2017

See that no one is sexually immoral, or is godless like Esau, who for a single meal sold his inheritance rights as the oldest son. Afterward, as you know, when he wanted to inherit this blessing, he was rejected. Even though he sought the blessing with tears, he could not change what he had done.  Hebrews 12, verses 16-17.

If you were just skimming through the verses today, you might blaze past those first seven words:  “see that no one is sexually immoral.”  They jump out at you, but then most of them talks about Esau, presenting him as another example of immorality.  But did you know that the Bible says in over 25 different verses that we are to not be sexually immoral?   Most of those are in the New Testament, some of them (like Matthew 5:28) spoken directly by Jesus Himself.   Sexual behavior is something God wants us to understand in His way.

Now, I’m not here to preach to you or talk you down for your sexual sins.   You’ve got them; so have I.   For years, I put sex on a pedestal, thinking it was the thing you did if you wanted to show someone you cared for them.  That’s true, but it’s also cheap.   It’s that kind of thinking that gets you quickly in the sack, unless you were teenage me.   For years I had a low opinion of myself, and throughout school I only had one really serious relationship.   The whole “goin out” thing didn’t go for me.   Or at least the local girls didn’t.   By the time I finally did have sex, I didn’t know a thing about it, only that it felt physically great and emotionally torturous at the same time. I struggled with sexual identity, wanting to be attractive to the opposite sex but feeling that (no pun intended) I somehow didn’t measure up, that nobody would want me.  I kept sex up on that pedestal and in actuality valued it as “my right” or just something you do.   No wonder affairs resulted.

Asking for a “do-over” is usually a fool’s game.   We rarely get them in life, and I believe that’s a blessing from God.  He wants us to live in the here and now, relying on Him for our guidance in everything.   Yet if He ever asked me what do-over I’d like, I’d ask Him for a chance to re-do my attitude about sex.   I’d want the attitude the 51 year old Dave has to be the one 16 year old Dave lives by.   It’s not to be prudish:   it’s to seek God’s wisdom.   Middle-aged me looks at sex as a gift instead of just something physical or something to worship.

You know that sex is intended for marriage.   It is indeed intended to be the ultimate expression of caring for someone:   someone you’re committed to before God.   God made us as men and women to complement each other in how we live, including between the sheets.   He intended for physical union to be an expression of our relationship with each other and even with Him.  He intended it for procreation, for pleasure, for intimacy, for physicality, for love.   I know that in my own life I haven’t often asked God what He thought of my sexual life, of what I should think about sex.   If I could ask for that do-over, I’d want more of God’s input, more of His heart in how I give my heart and body to the woman He created just for me.

God wants us to value His gift of sex, to cherish how we take our pleasure from it by cherishing who we have sex with.   There is no “free love” and sex always carries emotional and even spiritual connotations.   God wants us to value those, so He commands us to steer clear from the easy morality that is, in fact, immorality.  That’s why the Bible mentions it so often.  Sex outside of marriage cheapens something that God gave us as an expression of the pleasure it is to be in union with Him.

Where yesterday we were talking about how to not be a bitter root (and thus abandon God’s peace), wouldn’t it be a thing of wonder if we all sought out God’s heart when we look at each other with more than just a passing interest?   My wife is hooked on watching shows about the Duggar and Bates families.   If you don’t know much about them, they’re very faith-based and live their lives by that faith.   One of the things these large families have taught their kids is the lost art of Godly courtship.   Of waiting for marriage to share any kind of physical pleasure, even a first kiss.   In a time and age when new TV shows like “The Deuce” seem to reach for the lowest sexual denominator, I find that refreshing.   These families live their lives in a way I wish I had.   I believe, perhaps, that I still would have chosen the wife I did because I believe she’s the woman God created specifically for me.   Yet perhaps our path to deeper intimacy wouldn’t have been as rocky or as full of heartbreak and hurt.

And on that note, tomorrow let’s talk about Esau.

For further reading:  1 Corinthians 6:18, 1 Thessalonians 4:3-5, Hebrews 13:4, Matthew 5:28, Ephesians 5:5, Genesis 25:29-34, Genesis 27:30-40, .

My Lord, thank You for sex.   Thank You for opening my eyes to how You view it.   Help me to cherish this gift and to share it thankfully with my spouse.  

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 10 August 2017

By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau in regard to their future.  Hebrews 11, verse 20.

Perhaps the story of Jacob and Esau is a good example of ‘mixed blessings.’  If you don’t know much about Jacob and Esau, they were twins born to Isaac and his wife, Rebekah.  Esau was born first, only minutes before his brother, but was the blood-born heir as firstborn.   Yet God wasn’t with Esau as He was with Jacob, and Jacob shrewdly talked his brother out of Esau’s birthright, then deceitfully gained his father’s first-born blessing by posing as Esau.  Shady story?   Perhaps, yet I’d ask you whether or not such things happen in our world today.   You know they do:  from families to nation-states, each of us acts in our own best interests.

Sometimes those interests are in line with how God is blessing us.  That was the case with Jacob.

When Isaac was old and nearly blind, he wanted to give his formal, ecclesiastical blessing to his first-born son.   In cahoots with their mother, Jacob and Rebekah schemed to deceive Isaac so that Jacob, and not Esau, would receive that blessing.   You’d be mad enough to kill if your younger brother had taken away everything that was supposed to be yours.   Esau was, and he swore to kill Jacob, then prepared to make good on that vow.  That’s what happened yet in being both fascinated and repulsed by this story, don’t overlook the miracle of it.

Isaac blessed his sons because he had faith his God would bless them accordingly.   What’s more, God blesses Jacob and Esau both after the deception.

Isaac lived his life knowing God, having seen God bless both his father, Abraham, and himself.  Isaac gave his blessing when he was old and while Abraham was still alive.   In doing this, Isaac is a witness to his belief that God was good and would bless and prosper the world as He said He would.   Such faith in adherence with worldly customs like birthright blessing shows trust in God and thankfulness for all that God has given us.  Isaac seems like a bit-player in Biblical history yet his faith is most important.   God made the covenant with Abraham to bless the world through him.  It is Isaac who puts that covenant into motion by passing on his faith-based blessing to his son.   God kept that covenant promise despite Abraham’s shortcomings (like lying about the identity of his wife) or Isaac’s (who did the same thing about his own).

And when the world (via Jacob) intervenes with the sin of deceit, God still uses that to make good on what He promised.  Hearing about Esau’s vow, Jacob, again with the help of his mother, flees to her homeland and is, himself, deceived by his uncle.   Jacob falls in love with his cousin, Rachel, yet is deceived by Rachel’s father into marrying her sister, Leah, in exchange for seven years of work.    Eventually, Jacob marries both Leah and Rachel and fathers twelve sons who will become the progenitors of the Twelve Tribes of Israel.

In the meantime, God blesses Esau by giving him wealth and a large family through his cousin Ishmael’s line.  Esau never forgot his vow to kill his brother, yet God blesses him with the spiritual gift of mercy.   Many years later, a wealthy Jacob returns home to submit to his brother’s will (itself an act of faith).   Instead of murder, Esau forgives his brother, and the families are reconciled.   When God sees Jacob’s willingness to submit to his brother’s punishment for the deceit of years before, His heart is moved and He renames Jacob “Israel.”   The rest, as they say, is history.

Read the story of Isaac, Jacob and Esau in Genesis; start in Genesis 27.   I’m hoping you see how yesterday’s themes of foreshadowing, devotion, reason and resurrection play out in all their lives because, in some ways, they are both the picture of the life of Jesus to come as well as a picture of the kind of lives even we live today.  Each of our lives is a bag of mixed blessings.   It’s my prayer you come to see how, mixed or otherwise, they’re all still blessings from above.

For further reading:  Genesis 27.

Lord, thank You for mixed blessings.   And thanks for the story of Isaac and his dysfunctional family.   May it be a blessing to my own.