Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Forsaken, Drawn, Loved

 "And it shall be at that day, saith the LORD, that thou shalt call me Ishi; and shalt call me no more Baali." Hosea 2:16

Photo by Esther Wechsler on Unsplash
The mocking laughter of the men caused her to clench her jaw and straighten her spine. How could she have been so drawn to them? She turned and marched from the alley toward the apartment she let above the other prostitutes' rooms. 

Her daughter and sons had warned her, but when her husband had stripped her naked and cast her out.... She snorted. The children had warned of his coming, that she'd be caught in her adultery, and he'd have no mercy.

Her blue linen skirt caught on the cornerstone of the house. She tugged it free and groaned at the tear. 

The men that now mocked her had promised her much, in the heat of passion, now that she thought of it. They each had given her gifts for her...favors. They assured her, if she'd leave her husband, they'd provide for her, give her whatever her heart desired. Comforts. Herbs and oils and wine to heal whatever ailed her. She'd have no need for anything, as long as they could...as long as she would....

She sighed as she put her foot on the step to her apartment. She'd chased after them. She thought for sure she'd overtake them, because they would embrace her. But they had had their fill. They mocked her as they went where she could not. 

Her muscles ached by the time she'd reached her apartment. She'd rented it with the last of her money, thinking the men would provide. Now, hunger burned through her. Pushing the door open, she glanced around the room and swallowed away the fear that threatened to close her throat. Her husband had been a good provider. He owned...well, he owned everything. He'd never failed to ensure she not only had all she needed but seemed to gift her with whatever she wanted without her even asking...sometimes without her even knowing it was what she wanted.

She walked across the room and lifted the wool cloak with the gold clasp from the stool by the window. Her husband was a merciful man. Forgiving, kindhearted. "I will go and return to my first husband; for then was it better with me than now," she spoke to the walls around her. 

***

He lifted his gaze to the road, prompted by his spirit. And what he saw caused his heart to turn to stone. It was her. Her, with nothing in her hand, nothing but the clothes on her back. Clothes, no doubt provided by her lovers. But apparently, as thin as she looked, that is all they provided. 

He snorted and spun on his heel. Growling, he said to the wind, "Therefore will I return, and take away my corn in the time thereof, and my wine in the season thereof, and will recover my wool and my flax given to cover her nakedness." He snarled as he thought of how she had treated him. "And now will I discover her lewdness in the sight of her lovers, and none shall deliver her out of mine hand." It would be impossible for them to do so for they were nothing, and he was mighty. Not another could stand before him.

He marched to his house, passed the vineyard he'd given her and the fig trees, now a forest unattended. 

"My husband!" She called after him. 

"I am not your husband and you are not my wife," he spat at her. 

***

Days passed, and he caught sight of her by the path to the forest. She sat, head in her hands, broken in spirit, no longer asking, no longer begging. He squeezed his eyes shut, and his heart ached. He had wanted to punish her, wanted her to want him, not what he could give her. That was what he had always wanted. 

The anger no longer consumed him. She'd dressed herself in sackcloth and ashes this last week. She'd worked with her hands, seeking food from the forest and whatever she could find...no seducing of others for food. No begging even. She'd changed. Could she?...Would she see him differently now? Would it be possible for her to love him, as she once claimed to?

He walked toward his house, his pace quickening. He pushed through the door and paused. He wanted to bless her. Had always wanted that. "Therefore, behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak comfortably unto her." He grabbed his cloak and shouted for a servant to prepare a wagon, then rushed to the window to look across the fields. "And I will give her her vineyards from thence, and the valley of Achor for a door of hope: and she shall sing there as in the days of her youth, and as in the day when she came up out of the land of Egypt." He ran out the door to speed the servants along with the wagon, a smile spreading across his face at the thought of a new beginning with the wife he'd chosen.

***

The book of Hosea reveals the shattered relationship of God and Israel, and God's plan to restore it. Israel had committed adultery by chasing after other gods. God gave the prophet Hosea a very real picture, telling him to marry a prostitute. 

We are often quick to dismiss our own form of spiritual adultery, claiming we are faithful when we so quickly give our attention to another. God wants us to be wholly His. 

Perhaps our greatest lover is ourselves. A.W. Tozer gives us a list of self-sins in The Pursuit of God (1): "self-righteousness, self-pity, self-confidence, self-sufficiency, self-admiration, self-love and a host of others like them." 

What caught my eye in the first two chapters of Hosea was the pattern of God's work with a backslidden nation. God, who loved Israel, redeemed her from Egypt, had spent a time of courtship with her in the wilderness before the entry to the Promise Land. During that time He lovingly met her needs, told her who he was by expressing to her the laws, statutes, and precepts of worship He wanted from her. God allured her in that wilderness. Thrilled for her to know Him. 

"For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings." Hosea 6:6

If she would but understand that how He wanted her to live in His land was an expression of Himself, much as a man tells his bride-to-be of his dreams, of how he envisions their home life to be.  

 But Israel was unfaithful even before they crossed the Jordan. Can you imagine how brokenhearted God must have been? His bride, all His passion and enthusiasm, and anticipation of a life of close intimacy with Israel, and she gives herself to the golden calf. And then later, after they are in the land, after their first victory, they committed again the sin of adultery when Achan, having coveted the good things of Jericho more than obedience and the favor of God. In the valley of Achor, Achan and his family are stoned for the sin, to purify Israel once more. A picture of redemption. The door of hope given to Israel as God mentions in Hosea 2:15. 

The pattern of God in dealing with the backslidden nation:

  1. A pleading to return to Him
  2. Warning of the judgment coming if they do not repent
  3. Rejection and thrust from His Presence (like Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden)
  4. Determination that the return of the backslider be not merely for what she might receive, but in humility, with a desire to truly know Him, to love what He loves, to see His laws and statutes and commandments and precepts not as shackles, not as rituals, but as pictures of Him of Who He is.
  5. A drawing back to Him, the tender mercy, the comforting words.
  6. Forgiveness and a restored relationship, better perhaps for the redemption experienced.

"And it shall be at that day, saith the LORD, that thou shalt call me Ishi; and shalt call me no more Baali." Hosea 2:16.

"Ishi" means husband and "Baali" means lord. The picture is of the close relationship, the intimacy that God longs for us to have with Him. Nothing between us. The relationship is not one of a master lording over a servant, but of a husband loving, cherishing, protecting, providing for, treasuring his wife, and a wife so closely drawn to her husband that she does not obey simply out of service but out of love and honor and desire for her husband.

Oh Dear Lord, let me not come to You with greed for what You can give me, but out of a desire to know You, truly, wholly. Cause my spirit to be so intimately knit with Yours that I cannot stand anything to come between us, whether it be from my inner self-sins or from outward disobedience. Help me each day to desire to live in Your Presence, to walk with You with the faithfulness of a wife to her beloved husband, to experience the intimacy of Your Spirit closer to me than my very soul. Let me KNOW You more and more each day, deeper and deeper each moment.

"Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ." Philippians 3:8

__________________________

1. Tozer, A.W., The Essential Tozer Collection, (Bloomington, Minnesota: Bethany House Publishers, 2013), 48.

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

The Fear of People

 "Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?" Galatians 3:3

I couldn't believe my ears. Rubbing my sweaty palms on my tunic, and blinking several times, I listened to Bro. Paul verbally strike down the Apostle Peter in front of all those people...well, it was somewhat private, done in the hall leading to the great room. Still. The Apostle Peter, of all people. Peter, who walked with Jesus, who people called the pillar or rock. 

But, as Bro. Paul continued, the Holy Spirit struck me. And I felt as though a dagger was thrust into my heart. I collapsed on the cushions beside the other members of the group that came from Jerusalem. I too, had fallen into the trap of trying to please the men that came from James and withdrew myself from the Gentile believers. As Bro. Paul said, "Fearing them which are of the circumcision." 

That's been my downfall all my life, trying too hard to please people. I don't believe Peter was intentionally preaching the need for circumcision. It was a simple case of his actions speaking...and I followed his actions, not his words. Although, I do feel that he was being so careful in what he said, one might almost call it double-speak. But who am I to judge? Like Peter, I so easily get caught up in things and the 'air about the situation'. When James' men arrived, I followed Peter into the far end of the courtyard and chose to eat with them. Dear Lord, forgive me.

This I do know: I am saved by grace through faith and that not of myself but of Christ.

I've struggled often with the concept of sanctification, of setting apart myself for God. It seems a moving target, as flighty as a deer. I do believe we are to walk in Christ and that means obeying His Word. But obedience, without compassion and grace, without an understanding of mercy and judgment...well, I'm not sure that is aligning oneself with God. 

Did not the prophet Hosea say, "Sow to yourselves in righteousness, reap in mercy; break up your fallow ground: for it is time to seek the LORD, till he come and rain righteousness upon you"? and then again, "Therefore turn thou to thy God: keep mercy and judgment, and wait on thy God continually"? Surely to live in the character of Christ, our strict obedience must be tempered with mercy and judgment...and sometimes, as I believe was the case with Peter and myself, the obedience isn't even consistent with the Lord's commandments, but rather man's interpretation of the law. Yada, Yada. If we only knew God more, we'd know better each moment what to do.

There will come a time, Paul teaches us, when all Christ's teaching will be available, the revelation of Christ complete. But I digress.

I watched from the room as Peter's chin dropped to his chest. He was stricken. And so was I. He nodded in agreement with Paul. Then he stepped from the hall and motioned the rest of us to follow him. Then, with true Peter-style, he took his goblet and a piece of bread, and joined the Gentile believers in the feast, begging their forgiveness for his rudeness and inconsistency.

Later, I sat on my cushion and watched the shift in the spirit of the evening. Rather, in the movement of God's Spirit in the room. Sanctification, I concluded after watching the joy and close fellowship shown in this mixed group, is a relationship with God which pours over and into our relationship with others. A relationship so close that what others do will not pull us from God and draws those who have eyes to see and ears to hear to God. I do things to please the Almighty Lord, my Holy Father, and to bless Him. That is it. No one else need be pleased.

Truth be told, I live a certain way because blessings come from living in obedience to my Lord. Do my works change me? hmm. I think perhaps only if those works cause me to know more of Christ can they make me more Christ-like. But if those works are merely to obtain the blessings, whether it be the praises of men or some other blessing, then I think Christ may not be in it. It is possible, as Peter, myself, and the others found, to live a 'righteous' life in the eyes of men, only to do harm to our relationship, or nearness to Christ. 

But the other side of the coin is that discipline can change me, can cause me to form habits that are good, that bring God glory. The inner man--my wishes, desires--they are formed by my relationship with Christ. If first my inner man is shaped by the Holy Spirit, then the outer man will more readily conform to the discipline that pleases God. 

That night, Bro. Paul asked me to close the fellowship in prayer. My prayer was short. "Lord, please help me, help us, to walk in Your ways for Your glory." For how else could I sum up the day?


"I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me." Galatians 2:20

Tuesday, August 3, 2021

Kinsman Redeemer

 "And he said, Blessed be thou of the LORD, my daughter: for thou hast shewed more kindness in the latter end than at the beginning, inasmuch as thou followedst not young men, whether poor or rich." Ruth 3:10

Boaz took a deep breath and smiled at the rising sun. Who would have thought when Naomi returned from Moab she'd bring with her a most virtuous woman from the Moabites? But Boaz was not a young man. He did not expect anything more than to bless Elimelech's family. Elimelech may not have been...Boaz frowned. Well, Elimelech may not have been the most astute in business, but he was a kind man and did choose wisely when he married Naomi. 

Turning to the gate, Boaz shook his head. How had the Lord blessed him, that Ruth would have favored him over his brother. He was a more settled man than his brother. Not the man of valor, valiant and strong, as the closer kinsmen was. He pulled on his beard. Not as handsome either. 

There, the man who had every right to claim Ruth drew nigh. Boaz rose his hand to him. "Ho, such a one!" 

His kinsman smiled as though life were nothing but a jolly. 

"Turn aside, sit down here." Boaz motioned him into the gate. He then caught the eye of ten elders milling about, no doubt wondering why Boaz had ventured in today. "Sit, you men, down here."

Joseph and Ephraim nodded to him before lowering themselves to the ground. Hezron grunted before following them, as did Pharez and Amminadab. The others followed, like the sheep they were. 

Boaz cleared his throat and looked at his brother. "Naomi, that is come again out of the country of Moab, sells a parcel of land, which was our brother Elimelech's." And shaped his face into a bored expression, though his heart told him his words would determine the future of his life. "And I thought to advertise you, saying, Buy it before the inhabitants, and before the elders of my people." He turned his back to his brother and casually through his hand in the air. "If you will redeem it, redeem it." He turned on his heel and glanced at the man. "But...if you will not redeem it," he shrugged, "then tell me that I may know, for there is none to redeem beside you." He turned away and tilted his head to the side. "And I am after you."

Of course his brother would grin. Since youth, he was impetuous. "I will redeem it." He spoke with just a bit too much enthusiasm.

"Hmm." Boaz tapped his lips with his finger. "What day you buy the field of the hand of Naomi, you must buy it also of Ruth the Moabitess, the wife of the dead, to raise up the name of the dead upon his inheritance."

His brother's eyes widened to twice their size, and his back stiffened. He pushed off from the ground and threw his hands in the air. "I cannot redeem it for myself lest I mar mine own inheritance." Yes, that was what Boaz thought. His brother had eyes on another wife to have sons with and would not want to entangle their inheritance. Greed had always been his main motivation in life. His brother smiled and stuck his hand toward Boaz. "Redeem you my right to yourself, for I cannot redeem it." 

Boaz' smile spread wide across his face. Indeed this was good day to be among the living and among the blessed of the Lord.


Boaz is a picture of Christ, our Redeemer. And I think, his brother (whether truly his brother or merely a kinsman, we don't know) is the 'hero' we often run to when we are in trouble. We're visual people and tend to seek comfort and the physical presence of someone. When we are in the midst of the argument, we want the favor of one we deem worthy of our respect. When failure occurs, we seek the comforting words of someone who might build us up again. Every time we seek someone else to fill our need, and not seek God, we are seeking the man who like the kinsman Boaz spoke with, the man least likely to help us. 

Boaz already demonstrated he would be both provider and protector to Ruth. He already demonstrated he respected her and held her in esteem. These are all elements of the love Christ has for us. Simply because Boaz had already taken these actions and attitudes toward Ruth, he proved himself a more worthy redeemer than his kinsman. So Christ does for us over any human.

People will disappoint. They will more often choose to care for their own needs, their own family needs, than another's. People are inherently selfish and greedy (greedy of course is an element of selfishness). Even the best of friends will fail another.

But Christ never fails. We might not be as faithful as Him, but He is always ready to be faithful to us, if we but lay at His feet and ask Him to cover us. He redeemed us for the price of our sins (which is death) by the death He paid on the cross (where we should have hung). To Him be glory and honor and power forever more.

"And I wept much, because no man was found worthy...And I beheld, and, lo, in the midst of the throne and of the four beasts, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as it had been slain,...Thou are worthy...for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation:" Revelations 5:4,6,9

Fasting? Oh Lord, Help Me.

 "Then shalt thou delight thyself in the LORD; and I will cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth, and feed thee with the ...