A Closer Look At The Beatitudes

When Jesus delivered the Sermon on the Mount, He began at what we now call the Beatitudes. He says, “Blessed are” the sort of people who probably don’t feel all that blessed — those who are poor, mourning, meek, hungry and thirsty for righteousness, merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers, persecuted, and reviled. We don’t like being poor, or in grief, or humble enough to put others first, or attacked by the people around us. It’s hard work being a peacemaker, or showing mercy, or staying pure of heart, or constantly yearning to get closer to God’s righteousness.

It’s interesting that two of the beatitudes mention righteousness: “Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness” and “Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake” (Matt. 5:6, 10, KJV). This word refers to “the condition acceptable to God” and/or “the doctrine concerning the way which man may attain a state of approval by God” (Thayer’s G1343, dikaiosune). It relates to our state of being and the way we live. In fact, when you think about it, all the beatitudes relate to something we do and/or become as we follow God.

We Need A Relationship

Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matt. 5:3, KJV)

There’s more than one word that could be translated from Greek as “poor.” This one means “reduced to beggary” and “lacking anything” (Thayer’s G4434, ptochos). When we’re like that in our spirits, we’re really in a place to recognize how much we need a relationship with the Father and Jesus. We become the sort of person the Lord is talking about when He says, “to this man will I look, even to he who is poor and of a contrite spirit, and who trembles at my word” (Is. 66:2, WEB).

We Have Broken Hearts

Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted. (Matt. 5:4, KJV)

We all experience grief. The death of a parent, child, or dear friend. The loss of a hope held close to our hearts. The decay of a relationship. Betrayal from a friend. And even in the midst of that mourning, we’re blessed because God promises comfort (John 14:16-18; 2 Cor. 1:3-7). He can respond to our tears as powerfully as He did for David in the situation recorded in Psalm 6. Continue reading

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Make It A Spring

Sometimes we walk through a season of life that feels like a wilderness. Barren, lonely, forsaken. We might even feel like this is the end. That things are hopeless.

That’s where Elijah was when he fled Jezebel. He went out in the wilderness, sat by a tree, and asked God to let him die. Instead, God gave him food and water and sent him to Mount Horeb (1 Kings 19:1-8). There, Elijah made his complaint. “Then he said, ‘I have been very zealous for Yahweh the God of hosts, for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant. They have demolished your altars, and they have killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left over, and they seek to take my life'” (1 Kings 19:10, LEB).

Yahweh responds by showing His power, reassuring Elijah that he was not the only believer left, and giving him a job to do (1 Kings 19:11-18). Elijah thought things were hopeless but God had other ideas. He had a plan for Elijah and an even larger plan Elijah didn’t know about.

click to read article, "Make It A Spring" | marissabaker.wordpress.com

Photo Credit: “Spring Runoff” by Ian Sane, CC BY via Flickr

Transforming Your Wilderness

For all of us, it’s easy to feel like we’re insignificant to God’s plan. But no one is too small for God to do marvelous things with. In fact, God often chooses the poor, weak, and little because those are the ones easiest for Him to work powerfully in (1 Cor. 1:26-31; 2 Cor. 12:9-10)

When the poor and needy seek water, and there is none, and their tongue faileth for thirst, I the Lord will hear them, I the God of Israel will not forsake them. (Is 41:17, KJV)

Continue reading

God’s Message Through the Aaronic Blessing

At a conference this past December, I attended an excellent seminar by a gentleman named Hal exploring the depth of the Hebrew words used in the Aaronic blessing (I want to credit him, but not sure if he’d want his full name used here, so we’ll just stick with first names). You know the passage we’re talking about: “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face shine upon you, and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace” (Num. 6:24-26).

God's Message Through the Aaronic Blessing | marissabaker.wordpress.com

It’s lovely in English, but I was awed by how much more incredible these words are when you start digging deep into what they mean. At the end of Hal’s seminar, he paraphrased the blessing into more accessible language for modern English readers, and I’ll share both his and my take on that at the end. First, though, let’s dive into some word-study. Continue reading

Lessons From Joel

I recently heard that pastors tend to use the same set of scriptures over and over when speaking. It’s probably not even on purpose — you just naturally go to the verses you know well and are comfortable with when writing about a given topic. I wondered if I do that in this blog, and started trying to think of scriptures that I don’t regularly quote. The minor prophets came to mind. I spend time in Hosea, but not really any of the others. Maybe this will turn into a series of posts on the minor prophets. For now, let’s start with Joel.

Repent From the Heart …

Joel begins with prophecies of destruction. First, he warns Israel that locusts will sweep through and destroy the food crops. There wouldn’t even be enough harvest to supply the offerings in the temple (Joel 1:9).

Consecrate a fast, call a sacred assembly; gather the elders and all the inhabitants of the land into the house of the Lord your God, and cry out to the Lord. Alas for the day! For the day of the Lord is at hand; it shall come as destruction from the Almighty. (Joel 1:14-15)

Mercy triumphs over judgement (James 2:13), but that doesn’t mean God won’t punish sin. Sometimes, that’s the only way to get our attention and save us by turning us back to Him.

In chapter 2, the prophecy shifts to what is still for us future events (at least, that’s what it looks like to me. Zodhiates’ study Bible says there is some disagreement among scholars). It sounds a lot more like Revelation, though, than a famine caused by locusts. Regardless of the timing, the conclusion of both prophesies is the same — an immediate call to repentance.

“Now, therefore,” says the Lord, “Turn to Me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning.” So rend your heart, and not your garments; return to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness; and He relents from doing harm. Who knows if He will turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind Him — a grain offering and a drink offering for the Lord your God? (Joel 2:12-14)

We should stay close to God through both good times and bad, but if we have drifted away He is still ready to hear us as individuals and as a nation. Genuine repentance from the heart will always get God’s attention.

… And There Will Be Blessings

Joel tells us that when all the people — including the elders, youth and ministry (Joel 2:16-17) —  come to God with tears and a request for mercy, He will hear.

Then the Lord will be zealous for His land, and pity His people. The Lord will answer and say to His people, “Behold, I will send you grain and new wine and oil, and you will be satisfied by them; I will no longer make you a reproach among the nations.” … Fear not, O land; be glad and rejoice, for the Lord has done marvelous things! (Joel 2:18-19, 21)

Lessons From Joel  | marissabaker.wordpress.comGod promises to send so many blessings that they will make up for everything that was lost in the plagues described earlier (Joel 2:25). This makes me think of  a passage in Romans, where Paul writes, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Rom. 8:18). There’s certainly no reason Christians can’t be happy and joyful in their lives today, but often our walks are marked by trials and touched by sorrow. Either way, we have a magnificent future to look forward to, and focusing on that can help us endure as we follow in Christ’s footsteps (Heb. 12:1-3).

Then you shall know that I am in the midst of Israel: I am the Lord your God and there is no other. My people shall never be put to shame. And it shall come to pass afterward that I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions. And also on My menservants and on My maidservants I will pour out My Spirit in those days. (Joel 2:27-29)

Fulfillment of this prophecy began on the Pentecost where the disciples were given the Holy Spirit, which Peter points out as he quotes Joel 2:28-32 when he explains what’s going on (Acts 2:14-21). The remainder of the prophecy, and Joel chapter 3, relate to future judgement.

In Joel, we’ve already seen cycles of judgement, repentance, and blessing. Now, the subject turns back to the tribulation and wars before the coming of Jesus Christ. Though things look extremely bleak, once again it will ultimately result in blessing for the people who stay faithful to God (Joel 3:16-21)

The Lord also will roar from Zion, and utter His voice from Jerusalem; the heavens and earth will shake; but the Lord will be a shelter for His people, and the strength of the children of Israel. (Joel 3:16)

There is hope and help for us now, and in the future if we whole-heartedly draw near to God. That’s a main message of the book of Joel — bad things are going to happen because of sin, and therefore we need to draw near to God and repent so good things can happen to us in the end.

Praise and Worship: Words of Praise

The question of how we should praise and worship our God seems to be following me. It comes up at Messianic services where we sing, dance, blow shofars, clap hands and tambourines, and lift our hands in praise. It comes up in my local United Church of God group, where we sing a few hymns then sit quietly in our seats. It comes up in Facebook groups, comments on this blog, and private messages from friends and readers.

On the one hand, we have people who worry that physical manifestations of worship take away from our focus on God, and distract fellow believers. They say the Sabbath is not a time to entertain yourself, but a time to honor God. They’ve seen brethren who started exploring ideas from other church groups leave the faith, so to be safe they stick with tradition and shun anything new.

Praise and Worship blog series, "Words of Praise" | marissabaker.wordpress.comOn the other hand, we have people who think the best way to honor God is to involve the physical as well as the spiritual. The outward forms of worship are not to entertain us — they are the natural manifestation of our inward worship. They say if we see a president for something in the Bible as a good thing, throw out our church tradition and replace it with what we find in scripture.

I try to see both sides of an argument when considering most questions, and to be sensitive to other view points. I understand the reluctance to leave comfort zones, and the fear of change turning out bad instead of good. Still, I’m sure you can tell that I’m leaning toward the later argument, the one in favor of more enthusiasm in our service to God. But why? What does the Bible have to say about the subject of praise and worship, and how important is it to God that we do things one way or another? This will be the first in a series of blog posts on the subject.

Offering Acknowledgement

Often, a word in the Hebrew language will have several different meanings and you have to infer what is specifically being said from the context. Another language, like Greek or English, would use several different words to describe the same idea. This is not, however, the case with the subject of “praise.”

I count 7 different Hebrew words that are translated into English as “praise” in the King James Version. Some are only translated “praise” on occasion and have other related meanings, while others are exclusively used to describe a form of praise. There’s also a separate word for “worship.” What this tells me is that the idea and activity of praise was extremely important to the Hebrew people who worshiped God, and to God Himself. Since He is unchanging, praise is also vital for believers today.

The first time the word “praise” appears, it is spoken by a woman (not saying that’s significant; just interesting). After giving birth to another son, Jacob’s wife Leah says, “‘Now I will praise the Lord;’ therefore she called his name Judah” (Gen. 29:35). The word for “praise” here, and the root word of Judah’s name, is yadah (H3034). It means to acknowledge, recognize and declare a fact. It can mean confession, or to acknowledge the role of God in one’s own life and thereby five Him praise. Zodhiates notes it can also mean speak out, sing, or give thanks.

I will praise You, O Lord, with my whole heart; I will tell of all Your marvelous works. I will be glad and rejoice in You; I will sing praise to Your name, O Most High. (Ps. 9:1-2)

Here, yadah in verse one is paired with another word for praise in verse two. Zamar (H2167) is the word for musical praise, and playing instruments or singing in a praise celebration. It’s often translated “sing praise,” or with reference to stringed instruments.

Oh, give thanks to the Lord! Call upon His name; make known His deeds among the peoples! Sing to Him, sing psalms to Him; talk of all His wondrous works! (1 Chr. 16:8-9)

Singing is an integral part of several words for praise. Another, todah (H8426), “describes an offering of thanks or a sacrifice of thanksgiving,” which could be delivered in the form of a song (Baker and Carpenter). This was the purpose of the two “large thanksgiving choirs” appointed by Nehemiah (Neh. 12:27, 31, 38), the appears in other verses as well. Praising God involves thanking Him and acknowledging His goodness, often publicly with songs or spoken words.

But I will sacrifice to You with the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay what I have vowed. Salvation is of the Lord. (Jon. 2:9)

Offerings like this are part of the service God expects of His people. We’ve spent all our time in the Old Testament so far, but this is certainly part of New Testament Christianity as well. Let’s take a quick look at a verse from the book of Hebrew before going back to the Old Testament:

Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name. (Heb. 13:15)

Hallelujahs

The Hebrew word halel (H1984) is the word most often translated “praise” (closely followed by yadah). Baker and Carpenter’s dictionary says it comes from a root that means “to shine” or “to shout.” Both show up in the meaning of halal, which refers to praising God and is at the root of the word “hallelujah.” In the Old Testament, one of the things it is associated with is Levitical ministry as set-up by the righteous kings of Israel.

And he [David]  appointed some of the Levites to minister before the ark of the Lord, to commemorate, to thank, and to praise the Lord God of Israel (1 Chr. 16:4)

When Zodhiates defines this word, he says that “the idea of radiance” is key to understanding what halal means. We praise God to make His glory shine forth. It is from this word that we get “the connotation of the ebullience of rejoicing and praising God.” It involves cheerfulness, exuberance, and is full of energy. Praise is a powerful thing in the mouths of God’s people. It is an expected service, and can lead to amazing victories, as we see in the story of King Jehoshaphat.

And when he had consulted with the people, he appointed those who should sing to the Lord, and who should praise the beauty of holiness, as they went out before the army and were saying: “Praise the Lord, for His mercy endures forever.” Now when they began to sing and to praise, the Lord set ambushes against the people of Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir, who had come against Judah; and they were defeated. (2 Chr. 20:21-22)

Make-a-joyful-shout-toThese verses used halal, yadah, and another word, tehillah (H8416), which is derived from halal. It is used “of the adoration and thanksgiving which humanity renders to God” (Baker and Carpenter). It refers specifically to a hymn or song of praise, and is the Hebrew name for the book of Psalms (Zodhiates).

One of the main points I notice in all these definitions of words for “praise” is that it is impossible to keep silent. If you’re praising God, in the sense the words convey, you are talking about Him, singing to Him, and making known your adoration for Him all the time.

I will bless the Lord at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul shall make its boast in the Lord; the humble shall hear of it and be glad. Oh, magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt His name together. (Ps. 43:1-3)

The word for “bless” here is the last on our list of Hebrew words translated “praise” (in Judges 5:2). Usually, barak (H1288) is translated “bless,” and it means “to bless, kneel, salute, or greet.” It is used both of people blessing, praising, and acknowledging God, and of God giving blessings to us.

I realized just a short way into this study that it was going to require multiple blog posts to cover. Consider this word-study a foundation/introduction for a whole series on the subject of praise and worship. I’m looking forward to delving deeper into this subject with you in the next few weeks, and welcome any feedback you have. Suggestions for what to include in this study as it continues? Agree or disagree with anything I’ve said? Comment below!

 

Rooted In The Lord

After finishing last week’s Bible study, I opened my Bible at random and found myself in Jeremiah 17. Usually when I’m in this section of scripture it’s to quote verse 5 — “Cursed is the man who trusts in man” — or verses 9 and 10 — “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked.” But this time a different verse caught my eye.

Nestled in between these warnings against trusting in ourselves or other people is a lovely picture of what it looks like to trust in God.

Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, and whose hope is the Lord. For he shall be like a tree planted by the waters, which spreads out its roots by the river, and will not fear when heat comes; but its leaf will be green, and will not be anxious in the year of drought, nor will cease from yielding fruit. (Jer. 17:7-8)

This word translated “blessed” is baruch, the same word I wrote about in connection with the phrase “Baruch Hashem” — “bless the name [of the Lord].” In this context, it means to receive a blessing from God. The nature of this blessing is explained in verse 8, but first there are two prerequisites.

Trust and Hope

The verses we’re talking about start out by saying, “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord.” The Psalms also have quite a lot to say about this idea —  both the necessity of trusting in God and the fact that He doesn’t disappoint those who do trust in Him.

Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion, which cannot be moved, but abides forever. As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds His people from this time forth and forever. (Ps. 125:1-2)

This verse uses the example of Jerusalem to show how God protects His people. But Jerusalem has been a war-zone off-and-on for hundreds of years — what sort of protection is this?

God does not promise to shield us from every harm. We are in a battle, and “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” Trusting in God doesn’t mean we won’t have to battle. It means we have a hope of winning the battle using His strength and His armor (Eph. 6:10-18).

Speaking of hope, the next part of the verse in Jeremiah reads, “and whose hope is the Lord” (Jer. 17:7). Hope is an integral part of being a Christian. It’s listed with faith and love in 1 Corinthians 13:13. It’s connected with Christ’s indweling presence in Colossians 1:27. Hebrews 6:18-19 calls our hope “an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast.”

For we were saved in this hope, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one still hope for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance. (Rom. 8:24-25)

Hope’s even a part of our salvation process, described here in Romans much the same way faith is described in Hebrews 11:1. “Hope” in the Greek is elpis, (G1680), and it means “desire of some good will with expectation of attaining it.” That definition brings us right back to the idea of trust. We trust in God because we believe and have hope that He will be with us, and our sure expectation of that hope increases our trust.

Planted by the Water

Even before getting to a more thorough description of this person who is blessed by God, the words “trust” and “hope” are already giving us an idea of someone being firmly attached to God. They imply a focus on God, and an act of clinging fast to Him. Fittingly, the next phrase is, “he shall be like a tree planted by the waters.”

First, note that this person is “planted,” not growing there naturally or by chance. All of us who hope and trust in God have been personally selected by Him and purposefully “planted” into His family beside “the waters.” This isn’t physical water we’re talking about, any more than it’s a literal tree. This is what Jesus described as “living water” (John 4:10).

Jesus answered and said to her, “Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.” (John 4:13-14)

God is the source of the living, life-giving water that we need to flourish where He has planted us. If we forsake “the fountain of living waters,” we end up in a state opposite that of blessedness (Jer. 2:13). But if we stay close to Him, we will grow and thrive.

For I will pour water on him who is thirsty, and floods on the dry ground; I will pour My Spirit on your descendants, and My blessing on your offspring; they will spring up among the grass like willows by the watercourses. (Is. 44:3-4)

Willow trees have strong, fast-growing root systems that love water. When planted by a water source, the roots grow so quickly and densely that they actually help hold the banks of a stream or pond in place. That’s how firmly we must be attached to the source of Living Water. That’s also the next thing mentioned in Jeremiah, as the blessed person is compared to a tree that “spreads out its roots by the river” (Jer. 17:8).

As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him,  rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, as you have been taught, abounding in it with thanksgiving. (Col. 2:6-7)

When Heat Comes

This tree, firmly rooted by the Living Water, is next described as having no “fear when heat comes, but its leaf will be green.” When I think of “heat” in the Bible, my mind usually goes to the idea of fiery trials. We’re going through a refining process that involves heating us up and seeing how we react so bad things can be purged away and we can become pure.

Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is. (1 Cor. 3:12-13)

Walking through metaphorical fire is an inescapable aspect of being Christian (1 Pet. 4:12-13). If we’re firmly founded — or rooted — on Jesus Christ, though, passing through fire is not disastrous for us. In fact, it can draw us closer to Him and refine us to be more like He is. He doesn’t just abandon us “when heat comes.” He says, “Fear not, for I have redeemed you … when you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned, nor shall the flame scorch you” (Is. 43:1, 2). Like the bush God spoke to Moses in, we can be in the midst of fire and still be green and flourishing because the Lord is in us (Ex. 3:2).

Yielding Fruit

The phrase “will not be anxious in the year of drought” had me a bit puzzled (Jer. 17:8). Drought means a lack of water, which in this analogy we’ve been describing as the Holy Spirit poured out through Jesus Christ. So, does the mention of “drought” mean that something is going to happen that makes God’s Spirit generally unavailable, but will not affect those who are already firmly rooted in God?

“Behold, the days are coming,” says the Lord God, “That I will send a famine on the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord. They shall wander from sea to sea, and from north to east; they shall run to and fro, seeking the word of the Lord, but shall not find it. “In that day the fair virgins and strong young men shall faint from thirst.” (Amos 8:11-13)

This is the first scripture that finally came to mind for this idea of drought. In the United States, we’re used to living in a country where we can pick up a Bible in most stores, search translations and commentary online, and find a plethora of Christian churches to visit. But that hasn’t been the norm for most of history, or most of the world, and it might not stay that way here. And even if the words are available, they won’t make any sense unless God gives His Spirit of understanding. That’s why we need to seize every chance we have to draw closer to God, and be tapped into the source of Living Water.

The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your soul in drought, and strengthen your bones; you shall be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail. (Is. 58:11)

And when this happens, we can not only be unworried by drought, but also not “cease from yielding fruit” (Jer. 17:7-8). Being fruitful is the subject of the opening verses in John 15. Here, Jesus describes Himself as “the true vine,” and tells us the only way to bear fruit is to be connected to Him.

I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit …

Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. …

By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples. (John 15:1-2, 4-5, 7)

If we’re securely attached to Christ, our lives will yield fruit that reflects that relationship. We’ll be demonstrating the fruits of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23), and walking “in all goodness, righteousness, and truth” (Eph. 5:9). And then not only will we be blessed, but we’ll be a blessing to others. Not only will we have access to living water, but rivers of God’s Spirit will flow out from us as well (John 7:37-38). Blessings from God affect us wondrously, but they don’t stop with us — they’re designed to overflow us and spill out to bless others, and show that we are indeed Christ’s disciples.