God’s Nature

The Sabbath school Quarterly my husband and I are studying is very interesting because the focus is on God.  It’s called Glimpses of God.  There are so many facets of the One we worship.  We are blessed to catch these glimpses of who He is and what He is like.

In last week’s lesson we examined God’s role as Redeemer.  There were some points that stood out for me which I will outline here.

In the account of Abraham offering up Isaac as a sacrifice in Genesis 22:1-9, we get a glimpse of the sacrifice Christ would make for humanity.  Isaac, the son of promise carried the wood while the father carried the instruments he would use for the sacrifice–the knife and the fire.  The lesson pointed out that as a young man, Isaac could have easily overpowered his father but the miraculous thing was not only was the father willing to give up his son but the son was willing to give up his life.

Hundreds of years later, another Father would offer His Son.  The Son would willingly give His life as a ransom for many but this time, no ram would be caught in the bushes and die in place of this Son.  This Son was to be the sacrificial Lamb–the Lamb who came to take away the sins of the world.  What happened on Mount Moriah was just a glimpse of the plan of salvation and the high cost God, our Father had to pay for our sakes.

The cry of Jesus on the cross recorded in Matthew 27:46 should give us an idea of what it cost Him to save us from sin.  Ellen G. White comments:  “And now the Lord of Glory was dying.  He was a ransom for all human sinners….Upon Christ as our Substitute was laid the sins of us all.  He was counted a law-breaker that He might save us from the punishment of the law….The Savior could not see if His death was good enough to be accepted by God as a sacrifice of sin….He feared that sin was so terrible to God that Their separation was to be eternal….Sin brought the Father’s punishment upon Jesus as our Substitute.  It was this sense of sin that made the cup Jesus drank so bitter and broke the heart of the Son of God” (The Desire of Ages, pages 752, 753).

It’s interesting to note that when Jesus cried out to God on the cross in Matthew 27:46, He called Him “My God” instead of “Father” as He always did when He prayed.  This is because He represented sin.  Hebrews 5:7 tells us that Jesus “who, in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications, with vehement cries and tears to Him who was able to save Him from death, and was heard because of His godly fear…”

The cry on the cross was the most painful cries Jesus ever made.  The Gospels of Matthew and Mark testified that Jesus cried out in a loud voice.  People thought He was calling for Elijah and waited to see if the prophet would come and take Him down.  They didn’t understand that if Jesus hadn’t died for us–if He hadn’t stayed on that cross–if He hadn’t the sins of the world placed upon Him, we would have paid the wages of sin which is eternal death–eternal separation from God.

We cannot and should never belittle the value of the cross.  We must always be humbled by the love of God who sacrificed His beloved Son for our sake.  Unlike Abraham, He didn’t provide a lamb to take Jesus’ place.  Jesus was the Lamb.  There was no substitute for Him.  He was the Substitute–for us.

I will never forget the first reading I had to do at church before the congregation for Sabbath School.  These verses are from Romans 5:7-11 and will remain with me forever.  They testify of God’s nature and the great lengths He would go to demonstrate His love for us.  “For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.  For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die.  But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him.  For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. And not only that, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation.”  While Abraham was going to sacrifice his son for God, God sacrificed His Son for us while we were still sinners–enemies.  We were undeserving of such a sacrifice.  What manner of love is this!

For this reason alone, God deserves our worship–the kind that He desires.  “Our worship is not just a matter of saying the right words or using the right form.  We must be sincere.  It must be the true expression of our hearts” (What is Worship, p.20, Discover Series).  What God has done through Jesus on the cross is so profound and amazing that we should offer praises and thanksgiving every day and proclaim it.  We were bought at a great price.  Let us always remember this and be humbled by it.

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Mount Horeb

A while ago I read Exodus 3 where Moses is on Mount Horeb tending his father-in-law’s flock and he comes across a burning bush.  What a sight that must have been.  A bush on fire but not burning up.  God called to him from the midst of the bush and thus began the first of many conversations Moses would have with the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

I read the passages where God revealed to Moses what He wanted him to do.  “I have surely seen the oppression of My people who are in Egypt, and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters, for I know their sorrows.  So I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up from that land to a good and large land, to a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanites and the Hittites and the Amorites and the Perizzites and the Hivites and the Jebusites.  Now therefore, behold, the cry of the children of Israel has come to Me, and I have also seen the oppression with which the Egyptians oppress them.  Come now, therefore, and I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring My people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt.”

God wanted Moses to return to the same place he had fled from after he killed an Egyptian.  I can imagine Moses’ heart skipping a beat and the fear he felt.  He fled from there because his life was in danger.  However, the Pharaoh who sought to take Moses’ life died.  God heard the cries of His people and wanted to deliver them.  It was time for Moses to fulfill his destiny.

Initially and not surprisingly, Moses had misgivings and questioned why he should be the one to go and speak to Pharaoh.  He seem to have trouble believing that he could accomplish these things.  God’s response jumped out at me.  He said, “I will certainly be with you. And this shall be a sign to you that I have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain.” He said three things that were meant to cast away Moses’ fear and strengthen his faith.  1) He promised that He would be with him.  Moses would not go before the Pharaoh alone.  God would be right there with him.  2) Moses will bring the people out of Egypt and 3) he and the people would serve God on that same mountain Moses was standing on.

God was telling Moses that his mission would be a success.  He would succeed in bringing the children of Israel out of Egypt.  He would bring them to Mount Horeb, the mountain of God to worship the God who delivered them from their bondage.  And the answer to Moses’ question “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and that I should bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?” God was giving Moses a sign.  He was basically saying to him, When you have brought the people out of Egypt and brought them here to this mountain to serve me, that’s your proof that I sent you.  This is your proof that my hand was in this–I was with you just as I promised.

True to His word, God was with Moses when he went to speak to Pharaoh, as the plagues fell upon the land and when the children of Israel crossed the Red Sea.  Moses and the people witnessed God drown the Egyptians in the same sea that moments ago had parted so that the children of Israel could cross on dry land with the water on either side of them.  The people make it out of Egypt safely and they are brought to the Mount of Horeb.  They stood before the Lord their God when He said to Moses, ‘Gather the people to Me, and I will let them hear My words, that they may learn to fear Me all the days they live on the earth, and that they may teach their children.’

Horeb is another name for Mount Sinai.  It was there God spoke to them out of the midst of the fire. They didn’t see Him.  They heard only a voice.   It was there that God wrote the Ten Commandments with His own finger on two tablets of stone and commanded Moses to teach the people statutes and judgments so that they would observe them in the land which they were about to cross over to possess.  It was in Horeb that God made a covenant with the children of Israel (Deuteronomy 4:10-15; 5:2).

Mount Horeb is another reason to trust in God and in His promises.  When He calls us to do something big, our automatic response is to panic and come up with excuses why we can’t do it.  God promises to do the same thing for us as He did for Moses.  He will be with us.  He will not call us to do something and then leave us to do it on our own.  He will provide us with the resources.  He will see us through.  And even when we can’t see the end result we must have faith in the One who sees the beginning and the end.

What a thrill it must have been for Moses when He brought the people out of Egypt and to the mountain where he first encountered the God of his fathers.  Sometimes God leads us right back to where we started.  And it is at that moment that we can fully appreciate the journey.

Be Careful

At the Lord’s command, a man of God from Judah went to Bethel, and he arrived there just as Jeroboam was approaching the altar to offer a sacrifice.  Then at the Lord’s command, he shouted, “O altar, altar! This is what the Lord says: A child named Josiah will be born into the dynasty of David. On you he will sacrifice the priests from the pagan shrines who come here to burn incense, and human bones will be burned on you.”  That same day the man of God gave a sign to prove his message, and he said, “The Lord has promised to give this sign: This altar will split apart, and its ashes will be poured out on the ground.”

King Jeroboam was very angry with the man of God for speaking against the altar. So he pointed at the man and shouted, “Seize that man!” But instantly the king’s hand became paralyzed in that position, and he couldn’t pull it back.  At the same time a wide crack appeared in the altar, and the ashes poured out, just as the man of God had predicted in his message from the Lord.

The king cried out to the man of God, “Please ask the Lord your God to restore my hand again!” So the man of God prayed to the Lord, and the king’s hand became normal again.

Then the king said to the man of God, “Come to the palace with me and have something to eat, and I will give you a gift.”

But the man of God said to the king, “Even if you gave me half of everything you own, I would not go with you. I would not eat any food or drink any water in this place.  For the Lord gave me this command: `You must not eat any food or drink any water while you are there, and do not return to Judah by the same way you came.’ ”  So he left Bethel and went home another way.

As it happened, there was an old prophet living in Bethel, and his sons came home and told him what the man of God had done in Bethel that day. They also told him what he had said to the king.  The old prophet asked them, “Which way did he go?” So they told their father which road the man of God had taken.  “Quick, saddle the donkey,” the old man said. And when they had saddled the donkey for him,  he rode after the man of God and found him sitting under an oak tree.

The old prophet asked him, “Are you the man of God who came from Judah?”

“Yes,” he replied, “I am.”

Then he said to the man of God, “Come home with me and eat some food.”

“No, I cannot,” he replied. “I am not allowed to eat any food or drink any water here in this place.  For the Lord gave me this command: `You must not eat any food or drink any water while you are there, and do not return to Judah by the same way you came.’ 

But the old prophet answered, “I am a prophet, too, just as you are. And an angel gave me this message from the Lord: `Bring him home with you, and give him food to eat and water to drink.’ ”But the old man was lying to him.  So they went back together, and the man of God ate some food and drank some water at the prophet’s home.

Then while they were sitting at the table, a message from the Lord came to the old prophet.  He cried out to the man of God from Judah, “This is what the Lord says: You have defied the Lord’s message and have disobeyed the command the Lord your God gave you.  You came back to this place and ate food and drank water where he told you not to eat or drink. Because of this, your body will not be buried in the grave of your ancestors.”

Now after the man of God had finished eating and drinking, the prophet saddled his own donkey for him, and the man of God started off again. But as he was traveling along, a lion came out and killed him. His body lay there on the road, with the donkey and the lion standing beside it.  People came by and saw the body lying in the road and the lion standing beside it, and they went and reported it in Bethel, where the old prophet lived.

When the old prophet heard the report, he said, “It is the man of God who disobeyed the Lord’s command. The Lord has fulfilled his word by causing the lion to attack and kill him.”

Then the prophet said to his sons, “Saddle a donkey for me.” So they saddled a donkey, and he went out and found the body lying in the road. The donkey and lion were still standing there beside it, for the lion had not eaten the body nor attacked the donkey. So the prophet laid the body of the man of God on the donkey and took it back to the city to mourn over him and bury him.  He laid the body in his own grave, crying out in grief, “Oh, my brother!”

 Afterward the prophet said to his sons, “When I die, bury me in the grave where the man of God is buried. Lay my bones beside his bones.  For the message the Lord told him to proclaim against the altar in Bethel and against the pagan shrines in the towns of Samaria will surely come true.”

But even after this, Jeroboam did not turn from his evil ways. He continued to choose priests from the rank and file of the people. Anyone who wanted to could become a priest for the pagan shrines.  This became a great sin and resulted in the destruction of Jeroboam’s kingdom and the death of all his family (1 Kings 13:1-34).

The message here is for all of us. We need to be careful who we listen to. The man of God got strict instructions from God Himself not to eat or drink in Bethel yet when an old prophet told him contrary he believed him. At first he refused but then the old prophet told him a clever lie which the man believed. When you look carefully at what the old prophet said, you can see a few interesting things:

  •  “I am a prophet, too, just as you are.
  • And an angel gave me this message from the Lord: `Bring him home with you, and give him food to eat and water to drink.’ 

He said he was a prophet so that made the man think he could be trusted. Many ministers and preachers teach things that are not biblical but people believe them because they say they are men of God. Eve got strict instructions from God not to eat the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. When she repeated what God had said, this is what she said, “We may eat the fruit of the trees of the garden;  but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat it, nor shall you touch it, lest you die.'” What God actually said was, “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” Eve added the words, “nor shall you touch it.” The serpent probably encouraged her to touch the tree and when nothing happened, he encouraged her to take a fruit.

The old prophet said that an angel gave him the message. In all accounts given by the prophets of the Bible, they all got their messages directly from God—not angels. It doesn’t make sense that God would speak to an angel, then the angel would speak to the prophet and then the prophet would speak to the person or persons. What is the point of having a prophet when the angel could give the people the message directly? The angel Gabriel approached Mary directly. He didn’t speak to a prophet and then the prophet spoke to her. In the Bible angels speak to the prophets directly to explain things that are to come to pass—this happened to Daniel and the apostle John in the books of Daniel and Revelation.

Note: it wasn’t until the man of God disobeyed God that the old prophet did receive a message from the Lord.

The Bible tells us about the Bereans, people who didn’t just take the word of Paul. “These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so” We should follow their example and read the Bible for ourselves and not just rely on the sermons of the Ministers. I know of pastors who encourage their members not to take their word but to read the Scriptures.

One more thought: If God had decided that He wanted the prophet to eat and drink in Bethel, it stands to reason that He would have told the man himself instead of giving the message to someone else. The man of God should have asked himself this question, “why is God now telling me that I could stay here and eat and drink when He had given me clear instructions not to do so? Why the sudden change and why didn’t He tell me Himself?” When God gives us clear instructions or guidance and then someone comes along and contradicts God, we need to really think before we act. People have paid dearly for disobeying the Word of God. Adam and Eve brought sin into the world and the man of God lost his life.  It wasn’t until the old man said that an angel gave him the message that the prophet agreed to go home with him.  The old man lied to the prophet just as the serpent lied to Eve. 

When you believe that you have received a message from God, search the Bible to make sure that the message is in harmony with the Scriptures. Pray about it too. You can be saving yourself a lot of trouble in the long run.  Remember God does not contradict Himself.  He wouldn’t tell you to do something today and then tell you to do the opposite. 

At All Times, Praise God

Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for Him– Psalm 37:7

What would have happened if David had asked God to remove the temptation or asked for forgiveness when he committed adultery or had told Uriah the truth instead of scheming?  In David’s case his weakness was his downfall.

How do we respond when there is adversity in our lives?  Do we try to handle it ourselves or do we turn to God for help or answers?  Do we blame someone else, try to escape from the problem or deny the problem, become depressed or do we pray?  How do the people in the Bible deal with Adversity?

 Job was a blameless and righteous man who feared God and shunned evil.  Job was tested.  He lost his possessions and he was covered in sores.  Those who were once close to him shunned him.  After his first test, Job said, “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.” – Job 1:21.  Job did not blame God for what happened.  When he was tested the second time, he still did not curse God.  His reasoning was, “Shall we accept good from God and not trouble?” (Job 2:10)

His friends rebuked him, judged him, and tried to convince him that these things were happening to him because he had sinned.  One said, “Does God pervert justice?  Does the Almighty pervert what is right?  When your children sinned against Him, He gave them over to the penalty of their sin.” (Job 8:3-4).  This friend is saying that Job sinned and that’s why these calamities were falling on him.  His children were killed because they sinned.  These friends didn’t believe Job when he told them that he had no idea why these things were happening to him—that he was innocent, blameless.  As Bildad argues, “Surely God does not reject a blameless man.” (Job 8-20a)

Job didn’t blame anyone for what was happening to him—all he wanted was for his friends to have pity on him, to take his word that he had done nothing to warrant such suffering.  And most of all he wanted answers.  He longed for the time when God was with him, when God blessed him and his household, when his children were still alive and when people respected him. 

Often when people are suffering, they look back on the times when they were happy and at peace.  They long for those times.  They try to understand what they did or didn’t do to bring this on themselves like Job does. (Job 31)  As far as he knew he hadn’t done anything wrong like denying the poor, justice to his servants, lusting after another woman or not sharing what he had.

When God speaks to Job, he learns that everything under Heaven belongs to Him. (Job 41:11)  He learns that God is in control—that He allows adversity in order to strengthen the person.  In Job’s case He wanted to prove the devil wrong.  He wanted to show that Job could still remain sinless, maintain his integrity in the midst of his suffering.  He did not curse God or confess sins he had not committed. 

Job realised that he was seeing things from his perspective and not God’s.  He realised that God can do all things and that He had a plan.  He would not have given Job more than he could handle.  God had a reason for allowing this to happen.  He could have stopped it anytime or He didn’t have to prove anything to Satan.  But, God wanted the devil to see that Job would be faithful to Him not just when things were good but also when things were very bad.

Also, in His speech to Job, God asked Job who was he to contend with Him.  It was as if Job is putting God on trial.  “I sign now my defence—let the Almighty answer me, let my accuser put his indictment in writing.” (Job 31-35)  God does not have to defend Himself to us.  He doesn’t want us to question Him about why things are not going well in our lives—He wants us to trust Him.

Also, the fact that He answered Job proved that He was there all the time.  He heard every word Job and his friends said.  God does not desert us when we are in pain and suffering but we assume that He has when He doesn’t answer us right away.  He wants to see how we will respond.  Do we wallow in self-pity or do we turn to Him for comfort?  Do we ask, “God, why me? Or do we ask, “God, will you help me get through this?

Job seemed to think that people suffer when they do bad things and he couldn’t understand why he who kept to God’s way without turning aside should be the one suffering.  “Why do the wicked live on, grow old and increasing in power?  They see their children established around them, their offspring before their eyes.  Their homes are safe and free from fear; the rod of God is not upon them.” (Job 21:7-9)  He goes on to say that he does not associate with the wicked yet calamity hardly seems to touch them. 

Job feels that as a righteous man who fed the poor, shared his wealth, and was kind to his neighbours should not be suffering while the wicked were continuing to prosper.  Nothing seemed to happen to them.  Job thought that this was unfair.  He couldn’t understand why God was nowhere to be found or why those who had no desire to know Him or follow in His ways were allowed to enjoy their lives while he, a man who feared God, suffered.

We too get upset and resentful when it seems that life is going smoothly for some people while others are struggling.  It seems unfair that people who are abusive, neglectful are able to have children while others who are loving, nurturing cannot.  Or people who are less qualified are promoted and those who are more qualified are forced to work for them.  All these things are unfair but, David advises us to, “Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for Him; Do not fret because of him who prospers in his way, Because of the man who brings wicked schemes to pass.” (Psalm 37:7)

What we have to remember is that God is almighty and that we should always praise Him no matter what our circumstances are.  David praised Him when the Philistines seized him, when he was in the desert, when he was fleeing from Saul who was trying to kill.  Not matter what he was going through, David never stopped praising God and trusting Him.

We should praise God in good times and in bad.  We should trust Him instead of questioning Him and remember that He is just and doesn’t allow events to take place in our lives without good reason. Job realised that God is in charge and that he was talking about things he didn’t understand—that he was focusing on the wrong things—the pain and the cause for his suffering instead of focusing on God.  He should have recognised that the same God who created the world and the beauty around him could easily bring him out of his misery.

In the end Job recognised the almighty power of God and he repented.  His eyes were opened to who God truly is.  He is the Almighty who is not to be contended with, rebuked or questioned.  Twice He said to Job, “I will question you and you shall answer me.”  We don’t demand answers from God.  When or if He wants to reveal them to us He will.  All we have to do is praise Him, trust Him and in the end we emerge stronger with more than we lost.  As a result Job was richly blessed.  He gained more than he lost. (Job 42:12-17)

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