You’ll never walk alone
June 11th 2020.
Genesis 46:1-4 (NIVUK)
46 So Israel set out with all that was his, and when he reached Beersheba, he offered sacrifices to the God of his father Isaac. 2 And God spoke to Israel in a vision at night and said, ‘Jacob! Jacob!’ ‘Here I am,’ he replied. 3 ‘I am God, the God of your father,’ he said. ‘Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for I will make you into a great nation there. 4 I will go down to Egypt with you, and I will surely bring you back again. And Joseph’s own hand will close your eyes.’
Jacob’s long life was drawing to a close. He had been careful to obey the Lord’s instruction and had not strayed beyond the boundaries of the land God had promised him. God had indeed blessed him but like many of us it was through the many trials, the ups and downs and sorrows of life. Joseph, the son he had loved so much had disappeared and as far as Jacob was aware he had been taken by a wild animal. We know that he had been sold into slavery by his brothers but in God’s hand and by his sovereign will had become in effect the Prime Minister of Egypt. Now, in God’s providence Jacob was to be taken with the entire family to safety in Egypt. At God’s instruction Jacob had settled at Bethel but now as they made their way south to Egypt the family came to Beersheba where both Abraham and Isaac had settled, and before he left the land of his ancestors Jacob stopped uncertain what to do. He had no instruction from God about this journey and he is clearly uneasy about the venture despite the anticipation of seeing Joseph and so there he worships God and seeks his presence and perhaps permission to leave the land which God had promised to him and his forefathers.
What a reassurance he received, “Do not be afraid..., I will make you a great nation there....I will go down to Egypt with you.” This is not a departure from but the outworking of God’s plan and even there in Egypt the promise is the same..... I will be with you.
At those major turning points in life how do you decide on your course? Is it by depending on your wits, going on your feelings, balancing the pros and cons, or do you like Jacob stop to seek wisdom and guidance from the Lord. You see our reasoning is often flawed, our feelings are an unreliable guide, and often the attraction of the material rewards outweighs what we know is best for us spiritually and what honours Jesus. Many times of course the Lord has had to intervene in the lives of his people to save them their failed reasoning, misdirected gut reactions and the stupidity of their own decisions. So, is it not better to seek guidance in advance, and to be cautious when it comes to diverging from the last bearings given by God? As disciples of Jesus we are called to follow where he leads, as those commissioned in his service we are to go where he sends. It’s at the very least a reversal of roles to expect him to follow where we go. The advice of the psalmist surely warrants attention Psalm 37:- “ 4 Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. 5 Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will do this.” Or better still the word of Jesus, “But seek first his Kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.” Luke 12:31
Genesis 31:1-3 UK (NIVUK)
31 Jacob heard that Laban’s sons were saying, ‘Jacob has taken everything our father owned and has gained all this wealth from what belonged to our father.’ 2 And Jacob noticed that Laban’s attitude towards him was not what it had been. 3 Then the Lord said to Jacob, ‘Go back to the land of your fathers and to your relatives, and I will be with you.’
Jacob must have felt that he was between the proverbial rock and a hard place. On the journey to Paddan Aram God had met him and announced he was with him and that indeed had been the case. He had acquired wives and a family and many flocks despite his father in law’s attempts to swindle him. He had become rich but he was increasingly unwelcome in Laban’s home, and his brothers in law were evidently jealous at the wealth he had accumulated under God’s favour. Two circumstances though must have kept him in place, one natural and the other spiritual. Jacob was a man without a home he was an unwelcome guest with his uncle but an enemy as far as his brother was concerned. There was now no place where he was welcome.
God however, had directed him there and the question must have bothered him should he leave Paddan Aram of his own choice, would it represent disobedience to God and more to the point, would God still be with him as he had so clearly been. Well, this issue at least was resolved when the Lord again spoke to Jacob and told him it was time to go home, and again he answered Jacob’s fears, unspoken as least as far as we are concerned with the words, “and I will be with you.”
I think there are a couple of important lessons for us in this. Despite his growing discomfort Jacob would not leave his adopted home until the Lord indicated he should. You may say but it was fear that caused him to remain and yes, that may have been a factor, fear of losing God’s blessing and fear of his brother. The fact remains though that he did not make plans to leave until God said go and I will be with you. At least one problem was resolved this time by Jacob’s obedience, and he went this time despite of his fears of a confrontation with Esau. He did not have the answer to that dilemma but he trusted God who sent him on his way and that was enough.
Leaving what is familiar, be it a job, a home or a country in which we have become comfortable and known the blessing of God is never easy, and it is not always a straightforward matter to discern if it is God’s will or our whim to leave. Those decisions must be considered in prayer and faith, but when a conviction is formed by the Holy Spirit we must follow it in obedience regardless of the potential cost or difficulties. The future may be unknown to us, as it was for Jacob on that homeward journey, but that can be exciting as well as troubling and the future is always known to God. The one who trusts in Jesus today has his promise I am with you always. That includes in taking the hard decisions, and stepping out in faith. He is with us because he dwells within to instruct, to guide, to strengthen and to bless whatever the challenges living as an obedient disciple might bring. He is faithful.
Genesis 28:12-15 (NIVUK)
12 He (Jacob) had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. 13 There above it stood the Lord, and he said: ‘I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. 14 Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring. 15 I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.’
What we now call dysfunctional families have not emerged in the last 30 years and families that just don’t get on together that are divided by jealousy are as old as humanity itself, certainly since the fall. Jacob is well known as a cheat having diddled his older twin Esau out of the blessing and deceived his father Isaac in the process by taking advantage of his failing eyesight. The result, he had to flee for his life to Paddan Aram and his uncle Laban. On the way God revealed himself in a dream at Bethel in which he assured Jacob in the words “I am with you”. That didn’t of course mean that Jacob’s action at home was approved by God but God had chosen to work through Jacob’s line rather than his brother’s. That said he was in God’s academy and his life now would be shaped by God’s blessing and discipline. There after initial kindness he was subject to the same kind of trickery and deceit that he had dished out to his brother. Just deserts you might say and few would disagree that he deserved it. He agreed to work free for seven years to marry his uncle’s daughter Rachel, only to find on his wedding night that he had been deceived into marrying the “plain Jane” sister Leah which meant that he had to agree to work another seven years with no wages to marry the girl he loved in the first place.
The following years were years of sibling rivalry intrigue and deceit, and if Jacob had thought deeply about it he may have wondered what had become of the blessing of God, and his promise to be with him. The bitterness of one generation seemed to have spilled over into the next and life was just as messy.
We often expect God to work above the circumstances of life and straighten out everything for us. We forget that this is a fallen world, that people are imperfect and self centred and often we’re as bad as the next one. It is in this world and in these circumstances that God has chosen to work. It is through people and events, through trials and joys that God shapes the lives of those he calls and loves, teaching them by his word and Spirit, conforming them to the pattern of Christ thus fulfilling his purpose in their lives, and working their lives into his overall plan of redemption.
A few years ago I came across a hymn written by John Newton previously unknown to me and certainly in my experience little if ever used. It’s certainly not on the “happy clappy” play list and probably that’s why I’m thinking you’ve never heard it.... until now! It is deep but have a listen and perhaps it will put a different face on your trials for in them God’s providence might just be working out for you. A promise though is a promise and another name of Jesus, Immanuel, reminds us that in him God is with us.
Genesis 26:1-5 (NIVUK)
1 Now there was a famine in the land – besides the previous famine in Abraham’s time – and Isaac went to Abimelek king of the Philistines in Gerar.
2 The Lord appeared to Isaac and said, ‘Do not go down to Egypt; live in the land where I tell you to live.
3 Stay in this land for a while, and I will be with you and will bless you. For to you and your descendants I will give all these lands and will confirm the oath I swore to your father Abraham.
4 I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and will give them all these lands, and through your offspring[a] all nations on earth will be blessed,[b]
5 because Abraham obeyed me and did everything I required of him, keeping my commands, my decrees and my instructions.’
Another famine and once again eyes turned to Egypt as the food store of the region. We can guess that Isaac had gone to king Abimelek looking for food but we know with certainty that his intention was to take his family and household to Egypt. Few of us would disagree that it was the logical and responsible thing to do given the circumstances. However, once again we find that God is not ruled by circumstances or by human logic, and that his call to faith sometimes flies in the face of all human sense. So it is here, we find that the Lord appears to Isaac, calls him to obedience and faith and confirms all the blessings he had promised to Abraham. The key to this lies in verse 3, and gives us our theme for coming days. “Stay in this land for a while, and I will be with you and will bless you.” Isaac is called to trust God and demonstrate it by his obedience, but the promise is “I will be with you.”
We cannot see as God sees, it is just impossible for us. We see the immediate circumstances, we assess the dangers and make our decisions based on our experience and reasoning. As in everything else though our knowledge is limited and our reasoning is sometimes flawed. In another sense we do not reckon on the power of God to do what we consider impossible, we are limited very much by our experience. Here, despite the evidence of his eyes, and the concerns of his heart no doubt, Isaac was called to believe God and do the opposite to what logic commanded and in return he was given the assurance that whatever was, to him, the unknown future he would not walk alone and in the end his little family would become a great people and a descendent would be a blessing to the entire world.
The circumstances we face and the trials we may encounter change from day to day and week to week and we are not all given the experience or the promises Abraham and Isaac received. That said we ought to have greater confidence because we see God’s plan fulfilled from this side of Calvary, and we have the promise of Jesus, “and surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Whatever life may throw up, whatever challenges you face as Christian that promise is sure, you’ll never walk alone!
“For the king trusts in the Lord; through the unfailing love of the Most High he will not be shaken.”
Verse 7 ends this part of the psalm and rounds off our brief study of Psalm 21. It ends appropriately by summarising the relationship between God and his king.
First, notice here that it is a current and continuing relationship of faith, “the king trusts in the Lord.” This is not some relationship gone cold, but one that’s living and vibrant, it is a daily walk with the Lord. Unlike many who entered a relationship with Jesus once upon a time having put their hand up at a rally who are now pinning their hope on “a faith” gone cold without any assurance that is was ever genuine, David the king is in a living relationship with the Lord.
That brings an assurance and a practical outworking in day to day life. Through God’s unfailing love he will not be shaken. In all the challenges and dangers faced as God’s king he may rest assured that God ultimately will not let him fall. He is secure in a loving relationship and those themes of love and security are clarified a bit by alternative words used in other translations of the bible. The English Standard Version for example talks about the steadfast love of Lord; steadfast is a word that suggest unshakable, unmovable even in storms and those familiar with the Boys’ Brigade will think immediately of the BB motto “Sure and Stedfast” taken from Hebrews 6:19 (AV). Another translation speaks of the loving kindness of the Lord. Whatever may befall him David then is secure in this living relationship of faith with the Most High.
The commentator John Goldingay in fact suggests that David’s ongoing trust is the result of God’s deliverance. God has proved his faithfulness! Faith itself is a gift of God. Take time to maintain your relationship with the Jesus the Lord. Like any friendship when there is no ongoing contact between the parties it will wither and die. It’s amazing how things you’ve forgotten a long time ago suddenly come to mind as just now with this old hymn “Take time to be holy, speak oft with thy Lord; Abide in Him always, and feed on His Word. Make friends of God's children; help those who are weak, forgetting in nothing His blessing to seek.” Its language is more than a wee bit century before last (and no I wasn’t around when it was written) but it makes a point. As far as it depends on you don’t let your relationship with Jesus die for it won’t happen from his side.
Today give thanks to God for his steadfast love, and thank him for specific times when he has held you firmly. Pray that by his Spirit he will strengthen your faith day by day, and pray for power to live for him.
Surely you have granted him unending blessings and made him glad with the joy of your presence.
The 2011 version of the NIV quoted above seems to me to have weakened the sense of verse 6 from that in the 1984 edition, and of other more recent translations like the English Standard Version and older such as the Authorised Version. David had enjoyed the temporal blessings the Lord had given him in granting the desire of his heart, a long life, victory over enemies and so on and here now the praise turns to “eternal blessings” or of God blessing him “forever” both of which seem stronger to me than “unending blessings” used above. OK I’m splitting hairs but it’s the confidence expressed here that God’s blessing of David will most certainly spill over into eternity that is central I think.
For the present though he enjoyed the presence of God which gladdened his heart. It’s funny in the sense of peculiar how your life turns over in 10 or 15 years. A dozen years ago when our house was full with the family and TV’s, radio’s and hair dryers (not for me of course) were going endlessly I found that I could often pray better in the church building than at home, the quietness just seemed conducive to prayer. Often though prayer fizzled out after a time and I found myself just sitting without saying or necessarily thinking anything. What I thought was a lack of concentration troubled me until I realised that it was prayer in a different sense, I was enjoying the presence of God and that was spiritually refreshing.
When we are nervous or trying to impress someone we tend to chatter on or feel that we have to fill every silence with words. Silence makes us uncomfortable yet, when two people are comfortable in each other’s presence and know one another well they can readily enjoy their company in silence. Perhaps when we have said what we need to say in terms of praise and confession and supplication we need to learn to enjoy the presence of God in silence, a presence which makes us glad with joy.
Give thanks to God for the everyday blessings you have received and for the eternal spiritual blessings that are ours in Christ. Perhaps meditate on these blessing and on his word and then enjoy his presence.
"Through the victories you gave, his glory is great; you have bestowed on him splendour and majesty.”
We know that one word sometimes has several shades of meaning, and here something similar happens, one word in the original language is translated in 2 ways by bible translators as victories in the NIV or salvation in the ESV and AV. They are not in opposition but to me show the same events seen on the one hand from a historical perspective and on the other from a spiritual perspective. In the end though they speak of the same thing, to David God’s salvation, total blessing, was experienced as victories on the battlefield which ensured the safety of Israel and secured his rule. The important point is that he attributes his victories and the glory they brought to him firmly to God. Few of us will ever be in a position of real prominence outside perhaps our local scene or achieve fame on a national scale, but how we understand and deal with success and the fame or the material blessings that sometimes follow is really important and says a lot about our faith.
As a successful sportsman or woman would pride and recognition, the acclaim of people go to our head and would we end up believing that others owed us deference in some way? Though you can’t always believe what you read in the papers we have read stories of arrogance from famous people and behaviour that really didn’t fit their position of influence especially over the young. Is someone successful in business? Maybe not you of course but you never know who in the providence of God reads these things; has success tended to fill you with gratitude and make you appreciative of those who helped you along the way, in other words work colleagues and the workforce?
The rewards of these and other forms of success, even in moderate careers, how should they be seen as “all my own work or ought we acknowledge the help of others and more importantly the help of God? Well, to help us answer that let me ask another question, (nothing like answering a question with a question) who does David, though speaking as a third person, acknowledge as the author of his success or victories and the blessings that came from them, salvation which is from God’s perspective total blessing? The answer is simple, in the second part of the verse he acknowledges God as the giver and author of his success, “you have bestowed on him splendour and majesty.”
We have recently remembered the victory over a great evil represented in VE Day. I was interested to hear the address to the nation and commonwealth of King George VI on that day which began with the words. “Today we give thanks to Almighty God for a great deliverance...” and ended like this... “In the hour of danger we humbly committed our cause to the hand of God and he has been our strength and shield. Let us thank him for his mercies and in this hour of victory commit ourselves and our new task (which was building the peace) to the guidance of that same strong hand.” That is not something we would tend to hear a head of state say today.
In your employment or business, in whatever role, from giving “humble” domestic help, to chairman of a multinational company and everything between remember and acknowledge that God has granted you success in his grace.
Give God thanks for all the ways in which he has blessed you and given success to you in your daily work or employment.
“He asked you for life, and you gave it to him - length of days, forever and ever.”
We’ve been thinking for the last few days about Psalm 21:1-7 and today we’ve come to verse 4. I imagine, without exception all of us want to live a long, happy and fulfilled life and at the end to die peacefully and pain free. Yet, it has to be said that however long this life may last most of us have even a little bit of apprehension about the process of dying.
Though sickness and death is part and parcel of life in a fallen world and it’s all fine in theory, when it becomes personal it’s a different matter. Death whilst it comes to all seems strangely un-natural and feels very much that life has been cut short, as if we’ve been robbed in some way and we feel that with almost every fibre of our being. The writer of Ecclesiastes explains it in this way... “He (God) has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” Eccl. 3:11
Set against that background, David’s request seems perfectly natural and more than that is understandable given that kings in the day might not be around too long given the battles they fought and the threats to their life and reign even from within their own families. Did David however ask for more than that or was it implied in his request. Some people see the second part of the verse – which tells how God abundantly answered the prayer request simply relating to the promise given to David that there would always be a descendent to rule on his throne. Really, does that seem an adequate explanation or does this point to the hope of eternal life?
Well cards on the table.... that’s how I see it and the theme comes up in other psalms of David; Ps 23:6 for example “and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever” or Ps 121:8 “the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forever more.” David asked for life, and the Lord gave him length of days forever and ever. It sounds like he knew what that meant to me; everlasting life. The Lord gave David more than he asked for. It was by design not accident that the one who fulfilled the promise to David concerning his dynasty, the descendent who would always reign, Jesus, is the one who also gives life, “I have come that they may have life and have it to the full.” John 10:10. Today if you have put your trust in Jesus your life forever is already underway.
Give thanks in Jesus name that the gift of God is eternal life. Ask for help to grasp that this gift begins now in this life and continues in eternity, and if you are troubled today ask for peace.
Psalm 21 vs 3
“You came to greet him with rich blessings and placed a crown of pure gold on his head.”
In relation to the verse we looked at yesterday the commentator John Goldingay holds that the desire in David’s heart was to rule, in contrast I suppose to Saul his predecessor who was hiding among the luggage when he was sought. I think we can take from that David’s desire to serve God rather than to embark on a course of self aggrandisement.
The link to this verse then and God’s granting of his desire is that rather than waiting to receive him, he comes to meet him, and gives to him the rule of Israel in the form of a crown of pure gold. Ian White in his sung version, remember it a few days ago, puts it in memorable form, “you welcomed him with all your richest grace.” It brings to mind the character of God rather than the worthiness or otherwise of David.
God knew this man like all others except one would fail, but he knew also David’s heart. Our God is a God of compassion, a God who treats us with mercy we do not deserve because of our failings and cannot earn despite our many attempts. It is the character of God and his unchanging nature that gives us assurance that we like David will be welcomed when we seek God humbly.
This morning as I thought about this verse the parable of the prodigal son came flooding into my mind and with it the striking similarity to the picture we have here. There, if you remember the foolish boy went and squandered what his father had given him on riotous living with good time friends keen to help him spend it. Those friends abandoned him in need and at his lowest point the young man came to his senses and went home to earn a place as servant in his father’s home. His father though spotted him a long way off and overcome with compassion and love ran to welcome him put a ring on his finger and the finest robe on his back and threw a party. You can read the story in Luke 15:11-24.
If you are on the run from God, or afraid that you’ve done something too terrible to receive mercy or be greeted with anything other than the richest welcome take heed. If that’s your concern do these examples of grace not reassure you or the consistent witness of the bible convince you that God is compassionate and gracious to those who look for him humbly and sincerely?
In your own words tell God of you failures and you sins. Tell him your concern and the things that trouble you. Be honest, open your life and heart and let him deal with you in love.
Psalm 21 vs 2
“You have granted him his heart’s desire and have not withheld the request of his lips.”
At first glance this looks like a charter for asking anything you’ve set your heart on, but not so fast! Can that be right? It’s obvious, too obvious, to give the example of wanting that new Merc, or the highly paid job, or the big house as evidence that this way of approaching the verse just won’t work. On the other hand suppose you want something good or that you really need, well, as far as you and maybe others see it, can you pray for it and since it’s your heart’s desire should you expect to receive it?
Prayer is never that simple and don’t we know it! We’ve been there many times asking for things we didn’t get, and usually we brand those requests unanswered prayers when maybe the answer was no. Let’s think about King David, the author of Psalm 21 for a moment, he was of course a man with faults like the rest of us, sometimes worse than the rest of us, but preaching in Pisidian Antioch (Acts 13:22) Paul talks about God appointing David, “a man after his own heart”. Whatever false and wrong steps he took, David’s heart was inclined to God and underneath it all he wanted what God wanted.
Before we ask for something in prayer perhaps we should first try to understand our own motives for asking and then pray that God would incline our hearts to his will and give us wisdom in our asking so that we ask according to his will and to his glory. In that way we can ask in confidence and faith. Don’t imagine though that it’s easy to give up our dreams that too is a matter of trust that even though we can’t see the outcome God will act for our ultimate good and his glory.
Today as you search your heart take on board Jesus advice to seek first God’s kingdom (Matt 6:33) then make your requests to Him.