Just Say the Word…the Proper Course of Power

“He sends His orders to the world—how swiftly His word flies!”  Psalm 147:15

The power of His word created the world.  The officer in Matthew understood this power instinctively:

When Jesus returned to Capernaum, a Roman officer came and pleaded with Him, “Lord, my young servant lies in bed, paralyzed and in terrible pain.”  Jesus said, “I will come and heal him.” But the officer said, “Lord, I am not worthy to have You come into my home. Just say the word from where You are, and my servant will be healed.  I know this because I am under the authority of my superior officers, and I have authority over my soldiers. I only need to say, ‘Go,’ and they go, or ‘Come,’ and they come. And if I say to my slaves, ‘Do this,’ they do it.”  When Jesus heard this, He was amazed. Turning to those who were following Him, He said, “I tell you the truth, I haven’t seen faith like this in all Israel!  And I tell you this, that many Gentiles will come from all over the world—from east and west—and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob at the feast in the Kingdom of Heaven.  But many Israelites—those for whom the Kingdom was prepared—will be thrown into outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”   Then Jesus said to the Roman officer, “Go back home. Because you believed, it has happened.” And the young servant was healed that same hour. ”  Matthew 8: 5-13

It’s an easy faith to admire from afar, isn’t it?  Looking back from the distance of 2,000 years, it’s easy to forget the context surrounding this scene–that Christ had not yet died, risen and his power over sickness, death, creation was not fully evident at this point.  But the officer readily transferred his understanding of how authority works in his world to how power works in the spiritual world.

Some people seem to be given a greater measure of this kind of faith than others.   Me?  It’s definitely not an area of strength for me–I could learn a lot by meditating upon this officer’s response.  I should be quicker to recognize His hand over the weather, animals, plants, and humans of this world.   It all comes from Him and it is ALL under His ultimate authority.  The Lord reminded Job of this when Job became too stuck in his own pity party.   It should be at the forefront of our minds, so that we are also quick to say “Lord, I am not worthy” and “Just say the word from where you are.”

Corks and Lead…hope and fear

Psa 147:11  but the LORD takes pleasure in those who fear him, in those who hope in his steadfast love.

“Them that fear him, those that hope in his mercy.” Patience and fear are the fences of hope. There is a beautiful relation between hope and fear. The two are linked in this verse. They are like the cork in a fisherman’s net, which keeps it from sinking, and the lead, which prevents it from floating. Hope without fear is in danger of being too sanguine; fear without hope would soon become desponding. – George Seaton Bowes, in “In Prospect of Sunday,” 1880.

“Fear” and “Hope” are the great vincula of Old Testament theology, bracketing and including in their meaning all its ideas. – Thomas Le Blanc.

More on this fear and hope from Spurgeon’s commentary this morning:

“It is a striking thought that God should not only be at peace with some kinds of men, but even find a solace and a joy in their company. Oh! the matchless condescension of the Lord, that his greatness should take pleasure in the insignificant creatures of his hand. Who are these favoured men in whom Jehovah takes pleasure? Some of them are the least in his family, who have never risen beyond hoping and fearing. Others of them are more fully developed, but still they exhibit a blended character composed of fear and hope: they fear God with holy awe and filial reverence, and they also hope for forgiveness and blessedness because of the divine mercy. As a father takes pleasure in his own children, so doth the Lord solace himself in his own beloved ones, whose marks of new birth are fear and hope. They fear, for they are sinners; they hope, for God is merciful. They fear him, for he is great; they hope in him, for he is good. Their fear sobers their hope; their hope brightens their fear: God takes pleasure in them both in their trembling and in their rejoicing.

Is there not rich cause for praise in this special feature of the divine character? After all, it is a poor nature which is delighted with brute force; it is a diviner thing to take pleasure in the holy character of those around us. As men may be known by the nature of the things which give them pleasure, so is the Lord known by the blessed fact that he taketh pleasure in the righteous, even though that righteousness is as yet in its initial stage of fear and hope.” -Spurgeon

I particularly like that last paragraph as many environmentalists are quick to marvel at the beauty of nature, but equally as quick to throw darts at the evil nature of their fellow man who fails to care for the creation.  They marvel at an unfolding leaf while rejecting the worth of a life unfolding in the womb.

On His Providential Care, Birds, and Psalm 147

This morning I came across this poem during my devotional time.  I love it when the Lord effortlessly connects my different worlds together through a passage.  This morning, He did so through Psalm 147 and Spurgeon’s commentary on the psalms:

“He gives to the beasts their food, and to the young ravens that cry.” -Psalm 147:9

Lately we have been studying birds at our feeder.  David has become particularly fascinated with them, so we are reading about John James Audubon, looking through our field guides, observing birds, and coloring pictures of different types.

This verse in the psalms brought to mind some of Jesus’ comments on birds, which are some of  my favorite passages in scripture:

“Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?  Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”  -Matthew 6:26-34

and this one….

“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered.  Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.”  -Matthew 10:29-31

I think his point here is not to devalue birds in any way, but to point us to His meticulous providential care over all aspects of His creation.  Clearly He is a God of great specificity and detail–DNA, the architecture of snowflakes, the marvelous way that our bodies are put together, all of these things, for me, point to His care over the details of His creation.

Shakespeare saw it too, which is why he put these words in Hamlet’s mouth:

Horatio:
If your mind dislike any thing, obey it. I will forestall their
repair hither, and say you are not fit.

Hamlet:
Not a whit, we defy augury. There is special providence in
the fall of a sparrow. If it be now, ’tis not to come; if it be not to
come, it will be now; if it be not now, yet it will come—the
readiness is all. Since no man, of aught he leaves, knows what is’t
to leave betimes, let be.
Hamlet Act 5, scene 2, 217–224

I’m so thankful to serve such a God–His hand and eye is over ALL of the earth, including our own little worlds.  He certainly does not always act in ways that we can comprehend, and His ways are not  always easy ways, but all the same present, He is present–the buck stops with Him.

Oh–I almost forgot the poem from Spurgeon’s commentary that got me on this jag to begin with– and then I’ve got to go teach those children ; )

Behold, and look away your low despair;
See the light tenants of the barren air:
To them, nor stores, nor granaries belong,
Nought but the woodlands and the pleasing song;
Yet, your kind heavenly Father bends his eye
On the least wing that flits along the sky.
To him they sing when Spring renews the plain;
To him they cry in Winter’s pinching reign;
Nor is the music, nor their plaint, in vain.
He hears the gay, and the distressful call,
And with unsparing bounty fills them all.
Will he not care for you, ye faithless, say?
Is he unwise? Or, are ye less than they?
James Thomson, 1700-1748.

Ordering within the Creation (Ps 147:8)

Psalm 147:8 “He covers the heavens with clouds, provides rain for the earth, and makes the grass grow in mountain pastures.

In the order of the world there is an excellent chain of causes, by which all things hang together, that so they may lead up the soul to the Lord. – Thomas Manton.

I like what Thomas Manton says here about how the world should lead us to lift our eyes to God.  Instead of looking for God literally within His creation (as a pantheist would) we are to marvel at the intricately woven chain of dependency and then marvel at God.

What does this mean for an earth increasingly burdened by “broken links” in the chain (environmental problems, eradication of species, etc)?  I’m not sure.   Also, isn’t it sad that evolutionary theory has done its best to turn God’s glory as revealed by His creation upon its head?  Instead of seeing His handiwork as a source of praise, we end up burdened with a head full of questions about how to reconcile carbon dating, fossils, and plate tectonics with His word.  Sad.

Outcasts

Psa 147:2  The LORD doth build up Jerusalem: he gathereth together the outcasts of Israel.

We are studying India in homeschool and in our Missionary Adventures class at church.  Wednesday, I was trying to give the children an overview of India–how many people live there, how many are Muslim, Hindu, Buddist, Sihk, Jain, and Christian.  They had many questions about the caste system, which though illegal in India today, still exists.

What a different mindset our Lord and our faith has!   I thank God that He doesn’t reject the outcast, but even gathers them together.   How different from their concept of caste, karma (which in my mind is just a hip word for “works”) and reincarnation.  I’m so thankful we don’t have to work our way up any ladder, Christ did it all–for the outcasts too!

There are none of his people so despicable in the eye of man, but they are known and regarded by God. Though they are clouded in the world, yet they are the stars of the world; and shall God number the inanimate stars in the heavens, and make no account of his living stars on the earth? No; wherever they are dispersed, he will not forget them: however they are afflicted, he will not despise them. The stars are so numerous that they are innumerable by man; some are visible and known by men, others lie more hid and undiscovered in a confused light, as those in the milky way; a man cannot see one of them distinctly. God knows all his people. As he can do what is above the power of man to perform, so he understands what is above the skill of man to discover. – Stephen Charhock.

Selfishness makes long prayers, but love makes short prayers, that it may continue longer in praise. – John Pulsford, 1857.

“Praise.” There is one other thing which is a serious embarrassment to praising through the song-service of the Church, and that is, that we have so few hymns of praise. You will be surprised to hear me say so; but you will be more surprised if you take a real specimen of praising and search for hymns of praise. You shall find any number of hymns that talk about praise, and exhort you to praise. There is no lack of hymns that say that God ought to be praised. But of hymns that praise, and say nothing about it, there are very few indeed. And for what there are we are almost wholly indebted to the old churches. Most of them came down to us from the Latin and Greek Churches There is no place in human literature where you can find such praise as there is in the Psalms of David. – Henry Ward Beecher.

I wonder if I agree with Henry Ward Beecher—I think I do.   Why is it that just praising without talking about praising is such an obstacle.  It’s a form of procrastination to go on and on about praise without just getting into the thick of it.   It is easier and requires less commitment  to think about doing something than to go ahead and do it.



Star Numberer, Wound Binder

He healeth the broken in heart, and bindeth up their wounds.
He telleth the number of the stars; he calleth them all by their names.
-Psalm 147:3-4

I like this picture of our Lord, so intimate that He heals our broken places, yet numbers the stars and calls them by name.  He is an exacting and compassion God!

Here is the word “heal” as defined by Strong’s:

râphâ’  râphâh
raw-faw’, raw-faw’
A primitive root; properly to mend (by stitching), that is, (figuratively) to cure: – cure, (cause to) heal, physician, repair, X thoroughly, make whole. See H7503.

What a beautiful picture that makes in my mind, the God who created the universe, who holds our hearts in His hands and lovingly stitches them back together.  And here is the entry for “binds” as in “He binds our wounds…”

châbash
khaw-bash’
A primitive root; to wrap firmly (especially a turban, compress, or saddle); figuratively to stop, to rule: – bind (up), gird about, govern, healer, put, saddle, wrap about.

The greatest Physician of all holds us in His hands.   I like Spurgeon’s fleshing out of wounds here:

As a man that hath a barbed arrow shot into his side, and the arrow is plucked out of the flesh, yet the wound is not presently healed; so sin may be plucked out of the heart, but the scar that was made with plucking it out is not yet cured. The wounds that are yet under cure are the plagues and troubles of conscience, the sighs and groans of a hungering soul after grace, the stinging poison that the serpent’s fang hath left behind it; these are the wounds. -Spurgeon

Commentary from Treasury of David on this:

Mighty encouragement to trust in God. God takes care of the universe; may I not entrust my life, my soul, to him? Where he rules unquestioned there is light and harmony; let me not resist his will in my life. – C. A. D.

kind of like the “lilies of the field” imagery, except here He is the grand Orchestrator of both big and small.   So why is it so hard for us to trust at times?

Another lovely interpretation here:

“I dwell with him who is of a contrite heart.” The more abundantly will he manifest the kindness and the glory of his power, in tenderly carrying it in his bosom, and at last binding up its painful wounds. “He healeth the broken in heart.” “O thou afflicted, tossed with tempest, and not comforted, behold, I will lay thy stones with fair colours, and lay thy foundations with sapphires.” Weeping Naomi said, “Call me Mara, for the Lord hath dealt very bitterly with me.” Afterwards, happy Naomi took the child of her own Ruth, and laid it in her bosom, and sweetly found that the days of her mourning were ended.
My dear friend, this new gash of deep sorrow was prepared for you by the Ancient of Days. His Son – and that Son is love – watched over the counsels of old, to keep and to perform them to the minutest circumstance. – John Jameson, 1838.

The two extremes are difficult to accomodate in my mind at the same time—the omnipotent ruler of the universe and the intimate compassion of the Savior.  A contrast?  A fullness?  What a comprehensive God.  I love that last bit….”to keep and to perform them to the minutest circumstance.”  God never sleeps nor slumbers.  He is meticulously loving and just, an exacting force over all of His creation.

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Here’s yet another comment on that image—it is striking that the Lord cares for such diverse things, yet they are all His.  I find continual comfort in His providential care of creation:

“O Holy Spirit, with lowly reverence we venture yet to say that never hast Thou collected and put side by side two more exquisite statements than these: “He healeth the broken in heart, and knoweth the number of the stars.”

With His healing hand on a broken heart,
And the other on a star,
Our wonderful God views the miles apart,
And they seem not very far.
—M. P. Ferguson


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I’ve been looking through the cross references on the Treasury of Scriptural Knowledge.  I like this passage from Isaiah on the stars…

Look up into the heavens. Who created all the stars? He brings them out like an army, one after another, calling each by its name. Because of His great power and incomparable strength, not a single one is missing.  -Isaiah 40:26

and David’s great wondering….

“When I look at the night sky and see the work of Your fingers—the moon and the stars You set in place—what are mere mortals that You should think about them, human beings that You should care for them?” -Psalm 8:3-4

Every time I look at the stars for more than a few seconds, I think of this passage from David.  How much more time did he have to meditate and appreciate the stars while tending his sheep?   No city lights to detract, no electronic things to check–just the stars and the earth beneath him.  I envy him that.

This “checking of ourselves” against the stars goes all the way back to Abraham.   The Lord showed Abraham the stars as a way to impress upon him the sheer number of his future descendents.  God’s essential point was “I’m about something big here….bigger than you….bigger than your ability to comprehend it.”   And Abraham found his right position within all of that—he had faith enough to act upon the promise even though he did’n’t (and who could) fully understand it at the time.

“Then the LORD took Abram outside and said to him, “Look up into the sky and count the stars if you can. That’s how many descendants you will have!”  And Abram believed the LORD, and the LORD counted him as righteous because of his faith.” -Genesis 15:5

God designed the universe in such a fashion that it prompts us to humble ourselves in light of the grandeur of His creation.  Who has not looked into the night sky and felt very very small?  But God turned that very smallness around by connecting it to Abraham, which connects it to Isaac, Jacob, Judah, and through Christ, ultimately to ourselves.  When we look at the stars, we should remember the Lord’s promise to Abraham, and be humbled, yes…but heartened as well.