Archive for the ‘Israel’ Category

THE FULFILLMENT OF HANNAH’S VOW

The Fulfillment of Hannah’s Vow

The two books of Samuel in the Bible were written over a thousand years before Jesus Christ was born, when Israel was still a young nation. The book of First Samuel opens with a story regarding Hannah, a woman of Israel from the tribe of Ephraim, married to a man named Elkanah.

Hannah wanted to have a son very badly, but she wasn’t able to have one. Yet she remained faithful to God, and every year she went with her husband up to a city in Israel called Shiloh to make their yearly worship and sacrifice. Year after year she did this, hoping to have a son by the next year. Finally, one year while she was praying, she broke down and wept in the sight of the priest for her lack of a son. In her misery, Hannah prayed to God, making a promise to Him if He would show His kindness toward her by giving her a son. Her vow went like this:

O Lord, of hosts, if you will look on the affliction of your handmaid, and remember me, and not forget me, but will give to your handmaid a male child, then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life.”

After speaking to God, Eli the Priest blessed her, and she trusted God and was no longer sad when she returned home with her husband.

“And the Lord remembered Hannah. And she bore a son, and called his name Samuel, saying Because I have asked him of the Lord. And when she had weaned him, she took him up with her along with sacrifices to the Lord. And they brought the child to the priest Eli. And Hannah said, O my lord, as your soul lives, I am the woman who stood by you here earlier, praying to the Lord. For this child I prayed; and the Lord has answered my prayer which I asked of Him. Therefore also I have lent him to the Lord; as long as he lives he shall be lent to the Lord.

And he worshiped the Lord there.”

Hannah did as she had promised God: she left her son Samuel with Eli the priest to live with him and learn the deep things about God from him. Then Hannah prayed again, this time to thank God for His kindness toward her:

“And Hannah prayed, and said, My heart rejoices in the Lord, my horn is exalted in the Lord; my mouth is enlarged over my enemies, because I rejoice in your salvation. There is none holy like the Lord; for there is none beside you, neither is there any rock like our God. Talk no more so exceeding proudly; let not arrogancy come out of your mouth; for the Lord is a God of knowledge, and by Him actions are weighed. The bows of the mighty men are broken, and they that stumbled are girded with strength. They who were full have hired out themselves for bread; and they who were hungry no longer hungered; so that the barren has born seven; and she who has many children has become feeble. The Lord kills and makes alive; he brings down to the grave and brings up. The Lord makes poor and makes rich; he brings low and lifts up. He raises the poor out of the dust, and lifts up the beggar from the dunghill, to set them among princes, and to make them inherit the throne of glory; for the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s, and he has set the world upon them. He will keep the feet of his saints, and the wicked shall be silent in darkness; for by strength shall no man prevail. The adversaries of the Lord shall be broken to pieces; out of heaven He shall thunder upon them. The Lord shall judge the ends of the earth; and He shall give strength to his king, and exalt the horn of His anointed.

“And Elkanah went to Ramah to his house. And the child did minister to the Lord before Eli, the priest.’

Samuel was raised among the priests, where he learned much about God. Then God used him in a mighty way. He became a great prophet, one of the greatest in Israel.

The words that Hannah spoke in thanksgiving to God for His gift of Samuel are significant beyond her time: ‘The bows of the mighty men are broken, and they that stumbled are girded with strength.’ The message: God humbles the proud and lifts up the humble.

Hannah was a prophet herself. She foretold in the Old Testament another woman’s prayer, far into the future, in the New Testament. This other woman’s name was Mary. Hannah’s words are echoed in Mary’s ‘Magnificat’ in Chapter 1 of Luke’s Gospel, which she spoke after learning that she was to give birth to our Lord Jesus Christ:

“’And Mary said, My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. For he has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden, for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed. For he that is mighty has done to me great things; and holy is his name. And his mercy is on them that fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. He has put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree. He has filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he has sent empty away. He has helped his servant, Israel, in remembrance of his mercy; as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham, and to his seed forever.’

We can glean something from this. The Old Testament is very important in that it introduces to us the things about God that He describes more fully in the New Testament. Just about everything that Jesus said and did when He came in the flesh was done before in the Old Testament by people of faith who were willing to be directed by the Holy Spirit. The same is true of those who were the closest to Him, like Mary.

We also can learn something else from this. God is our maker, and He loves each of us with a very great passion. But He doesn’t like it when we puff ourselves up as important, or when we get upset with ourselves because we don’t always win. He made us how He wanted to make us. Perhaps we should think less about how God should make us as perfect as possible and more about how we can be used by God and for His purpose the best that we can with what He has given to us to use.

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THE MIGDAL EDAR STORY

 

During one Christmas season our pastor gave his Church a special treat. He began reading the familiar Christmas story from Luke 2:7:

“And she brought forth her first-born son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.”

Pastor looked up at us and said, “How sad that man couldn’t find a more appropriate place for the Son of God to be born. Plan B it was, then,” which echoed our own thoughts. But then, smiling, he continued at Luke 2:8:

“And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said to them, Fear not; for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign to you: You shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.”

As our pastor recited this oft-told story, I formed my own familiar mental imagery: a large grassy field with flocks of sheep mixed with cattle, and the barn where Mary, Joseph and Jesus dwelt surrounded by the usual barnyard animals: cows, donkeys and, yes, perhaps a sheep or two. My mind drifted into a contemplation of the poverty surrounding Jesus’ birth. Of course the setting was appropriate, given the humble character of Jesus’ sojourn in the flesh. But being born in a manger certainly couldn’t have been plan A for Joseph’s family.

But then our pastor embellished on the story. It wasn’t well known, he said, that the region near Bethlehem where Jesus was born was a rather special place. He quoted another familiar passage, the prophecy in Micah 5:2 foretelling of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem:

“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.”

Pastor didn’t stop there. He went on to read another passage out of Micah, verse 4:8, which is much less well-known:

“And you O watchtower of the flock [Migdal Edar], the strong hold of the daughter of Zion, unto you shall it come, even the first dominion; the kingdom shall come to the daughter of Jerusalem.

Before commenting further on the function of Migdal Edar, pastor took us back to Genesis 35:19-21:

“And Rachel died, and was buried in the way to Ephrath, which is Bethlehem. And Jacob set a pillar upon her grave: that is the pillar of Rachel’s grave to this day. And Israel journeyed, and spread his tent beyond the tower of Edar.”

Pastor put his Bible aside and looked at his congregation as if he had something momentous to tell us. And well he did. Finding his voice, he said that the region where Jesus was born was under the watchtower of the flock, a special lookout of the shepherds there because of the importance of that particular place. It was, he said with emotion, the place where lambs were born and raised for the Passover sacrifice. The manger of Jesus’ birth was, in fact, the birthing place for these special lambs, so maybe while it didn’t represent plan A for Joseph, it certainly did for God.

Pastor topped off that shocking disclosure by saying that, according to the Passover account in Exodus 12, the lambs had to be perfect in every way. When birthed, they tended to struggle some, putting themselves at risk to injury. There was a procedure in place to prevent this: upon their birth, these lambs were wrapped in swaddling clothes.

I was so enthusiastic about this revelation that I attempted to share it with other Christians, some of whom were rather cynical about it. It seemed that if this were to be true, they already would have known about it. Faced with that negativity, I pursued the topic on my own on the Internet, where I found a wealth of commentary regarding it, all of which was positive and some of which furnished excellent justification for accepting it as truth. I recommend the interested reader to do the same, simply by Googling “Migdal Edar”, or, alternatively, “Migdal Eder”.

RESTORATION OF THE LAND

 

When God gave his everlasting covenant of land to Abraham, as first described in Genesis 15:18 and later reaffirmed to Isaac and still later to Jacob, it amounted to the only land grant that ever came from God Himself. But the promise extended beyond mere land: the land was to be filled with the riches of life. Much later, when God appeared to Moses out of the burning bush, He spoke again about that land, as described in Exodus 3:7 and 8:

“And the Lord said, I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt, and have heard their cry by reason of their taskmasters; for I know their sorrows; and I am come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a large and good 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.”

After the Fifteenth Roman Legion under the command of General Titus destroyed the Jewish temple in 70 A.D., much of the land fell into disuse. Moreover, there came an extended period of drought that transformed many of the lush regions into barren wastelands.

That was the environment that greeted the first modern settlers out of the Zionist movement of the nineteenth century as they trickled back into their old homeland. They formed kibbutzim, farming communities wherein they struggled to restore small areas back to life, hoping for the restoration of the land that God Himself promised them in Joel 3:18:

“And it shall come to pass, in that day, that the mountains shall drop down new wine, and the hills shall flow with milk, and all the rivers of Judah shall flow with waters, and a fountain shall come forth from the house of the Lord, and shall water the valley of Shittim.”

That promise of Joel’s is not yet fulfilled in every detail. But it has been realized to an amazing extent. God Himself had a big hand in the land’s restoration, for when the Israelites came back to the land, the centuries-long drought came to an end. After 1800 years, from the first century to the twentieth, it began to rain again. The heaviest rainfall to date came in 1948, when Israel was restored as a nation, and in 1967, when Israel reclaimed Jerusalem. Adding to the rainfall, the Israelis have created a vast irrigation system, restoring much of what once was wasteland into extremely productive farms. The country now is a major exporter of food and flowers to Europe, and is considered a world leader in the production of milk. Its cows produce more milk per year than cows in America and Europe.

Recognizing the promise of Ezekiel 36:4-8, the settlers began to plant trees with a fervor.

“Therefore, you mountains of Israel, hear the word of the Lord God, Thus says the Lord God to the mountains, and to the hills, to the rivers, and to the valleys, to the desolate wastes, and to the cities that are forsaken, which became a prey and derision to the residue of the nations that are round about; therefore, thus says the Lord God: Surely in the fire of my jealousy have I spoken against the residue of the nations, and against all Edom, who have appointed my land into their possession with the joy of all their heart, with despiteful minds, to cast it out for a prey. Prophecy, therefore, concerning the land of Israel, and say to the mountains, and to the hills, to the rivers, and to the valleys, Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I have spoken in my jealousy and in my fury, because you have borne the shame of the nations; therefore, thus says the Lord god: I have lifted up my hand. Surely the nations that are about you, they shall bear their shame.

“But you, O mountains of Israel, you shall shoot forth your branches, and yield your fruit to my people of Israel, for they are soon to come home.”

Israel now boasts two hundred million trees. Thousands of acres are devoted to date palms, the ancient source of honey production from bees. Each tree is highly productive, yielding over three hundred pounds of dates per year. Over ten thousand tons of dates are exported each year.

Scripture links the fig tree to the nation of Israel. In His Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24), Jesus tells His followers to watch for the budding of the fig tree as a sign that the end of the age is very close. Many Christians consider the budding of the fig tree as a metaphor for either the reestablishment of Israel as a nation in 1948 or the retaking of Jerusalem in 1967. But there is a natural element as well to Jesus’ assertion: fig production in modern Israel amounts to five thousand tons – not a huge amount, but not insignificant, either, and growing.

Orchards of olive trees occupy eighty thousand acres in Israel. Olives and olive oil are major export items.

In Ezekiel 36:29, 30, 34 and 35, God promises to make the land productive again:

“I will also save you from all your uncleanness, and I will call for the grain, and will increase it, and lay no famine upon you. . . And the desolate land shall be tilled, whereas it lay desolate in the sight of all that passed by. And they shall say, This land that was desolate is become like the garden of Eden, and the waste and desolate and ruined cities are become fortified, and are inhabited.”

As of 2013, Israel grew 95% of its own food and exported $2.4 billion in food to other countries.

Now there’s talk of oil. Surely there’s incentive here, with all of Israel’s modern riches, for Russia to come into the land to take a spoil, as foretold in Ezekiel 38. Nevertheless, as noted by evangelist David Reagan, the burning bush from which God spoke to Moses was itself prophetic of the indestructibility of the Jewish people in the face of the flames of hatred and violence against them.

ISRAEL’S CAPTIVITIES AND DISPERSIONS

 

Moses foretold in Deuteronomy 28 two separate instances where Israel would be removed from her land as punishment for willful, prolonged disobedience to God’s commandments, particularly for turning away from Abraham’s God to the false gods of other nations. The first instance is highlighted in two parts: Deuteronomy 28:32-34 and Deuteronomy 28:36.

According to Deuteronomy 28:32-34,

“Your sons and your daughters shall be given unto another people, and your eyes shall look, and fail with longing for them all the day long: and there shall be no might in your hand. The fruit of your land, and all your labors, shall a nation which you know not eat up; and you shall be only oppressed and crushed always: so that you shall be mad for the sight of your eyes which you shall see.”

Quoting next from Deuteronomy 28:36,

“The Lord shall bring you, and your king which you shall set over yourselves, to a nation which neither you nor your fathers have known; and there shall you serve other gods, wood and stone.”

The second instance, which is highlighted in Deuteronomy 28:64-67, is more severe and lengthy, wherein the Jews are to be scattered among all the nations of the earth:

“And the Lord shall scatter you among all people, from the one end of the earth, even to the other; and there you shall serve other gods, which neither you nor your fathers have known, even wood and stone. And among these nations shall you find no ease, neither shall the sole of your foot have rest: but the Lord shall give you there a trembling heart, and failing of eyes, and sorrow of mind: and your life shall hang in doubt before you; and you shall fear day and night, and shall have none assurance of your life: in the morning you shall say, Would God it were evening! And at evening you shall say, Would God it were morning! For the fear of your heart wherewith you shall fear, and for the sight of your eyes which you shall see.”

The prophecies do not end here. In Deuteronomy Chapter 30, God shows His mercy toward Israel with the promise that they will not remain scattered among the nations. Instead, they eventually will be regathered and returned to their land.

The first instance of Israel’s removal from her land is in two parts because following the reign of Solomon around 950 B.C., Israel broke up into two separate kingdoms (1 Kings 12) wherein Israel (later known as Samaria) consisted of the northern ten tribes and Judah consisted of southern two tribes of Judah and Benjamin. Each of these kingdoms suffered defeat at separate times. The northern kingdom of Samaria was overthrown by the Assyrians under Shalmaneser around 730 B.C. (2 Kings 17 and 18). A few years later Shalmaneser’s son Sennacherib attempted to besiege Judah also (2 Kings 18-20) but his troops were wiped out by an odd natural catastrophe; Sennacherib’s attempt simply didn’t conform to the Lord’s timing. Judah would still be subject to the reign of good kings among the bad who would remain somewhat loyal to Abraham’s God. The kingdom of Judah was later taken captive by Nebudchadnezzar around 605 B.C., a little more than a hundred years after the fall of Samaria. The Books of 1 and 2 Kings are replete with the sordid details of this first falling away from God of Samaria and Judah following the reigns of David and his son Solomon.

As foretold by the prophet Jeremiah in Jeremiah 25:12, the captivity of Judah lasted for seventy years until 535 B.C. Samaria didn’t fare so well, as the people of the northern kingdom who remained behind after Assyria relocated a large group of Israelites, as noted in 2 Kings 17:6, were forced to intermarry, thus diluting and confusing their Hebrew bloodline. It was for that reason that, at the time of Jesus, the Jews looked down upon the Samaritans, having little to do with them. Most interestingly, the tribe of Judah was not subjected to this forced intermarriage, thus preserving the bloodline to Jesus.

Another interesting side issue is the nature of the blast that killed 185,000 of Sennacherib’s troops during his attempt to besiege Jerusalem. At the time of the blast the sun moved about ten degrees, indicating a planetwide catastrophe so enormous as to alter the rotation of the earth. Immanuel Velikovsky (Worlds in Collision, 1950 and Earth in Upheaval, 1955) and others have surmised that the cause of this disaster was a near collision of the earth with a planet-sized mass, probably Mars. He thought that it was this same event that evoked Homer’s Iliad (possibly an eyewitness account rather than myth) and reinforced the gentile practice of associating planets with gods. Recently-acquired data regarding the devastation of Mars, as well as the discovery in the Antarctic continent of meteorite ALH84001 that originated in Mars, the juvenile Argon-36 in the Martian atmosphere, and the synchronous kinematic features between Earth and Mars tend to support this hypothesis.

Two important events accompanied the end of the first captivity of the Israelites. The first of these was the proclamation of Cyrus, king of Persia around 535 B.C. under which a number of Israelites under Ezra were permitted to return to Jerusalem for the purpose of rebuilding the temple there. This event is recorded in the Book of Ezra.

Another interesting side point is that the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 44:28, 45:1) over 150 years earlier had called Cyrus by name as God’s servant in association with the rebuilding of the temple.

The second event associated with the end of the Israelites’ captivity was the decree by the Persian King Artaxerxes Longimanus allowing the Israelites under Nehemiah to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the city itself. This decree was issued in 445 B.C. and is the same decree predicted by the Prophet Daniel (Daniel 9:25) that was to initiate the countdown to the coming of Messiah after 69 weeks of (prophetic) years. Jesus made his triumphal entry into Jerusalem 173,880 days later, 69 weeks from the decree to the very day.

The second instance of the removal of Israel from her land occurred was also foretold by Jesus in Matthew 24:2 and occurred in 70 A.D., about 37 years after Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. The destruction was led by the Roman General Titus, but was accomplished with the use of soldiers recruited locally, which were presumably of Arab stock. The event indeed left not one stone upon another because of the soldiers’ furious scramble for the gold within, melted by the burning of the temple and which spilled into the cracks between the stones.

This time the dispersion of the Jews, called the Great Diaspora, was worldwide. But it, too, ended as foretold by Ezekiel (Ezekiel 36 and 37) as well as Moses (Deuteronomy 30) some eighteen centuries later with the creation of the state of Israel on May 15, 1948. This date also was foretold by both Hosea and Ezekiel, as was detailed in Volume 2, Chapter 5 of this book, entitled Ezekiel’s Prophecy of Israel’s Return.

PAUL

 

Perhaps, when Paul, known as Saul, was so down on Christians, he had an attitude toward God much like what the nominal Christian has today. Possibly, governed by what he had learned about God through the Jewish religion of the day, he saw God as rather remote, even alien, His attribute of transcendent majesty may have taken front place over any alternative understanding.

Paul in his unregenerate state was, in the words of modern conservatives, a defender of the faith. Zealous in his protection of God from the intruding Christian faith, he managed through this very devotion to see in himself a man worthy of the favor of God and the ultimate prize, heaven.

In his amazing transformation on the road to Damascus as described in Acts 9, Paul must have received from Jesus some profound insights into the real nature of God. Only an enormous shift in understanding could have led him to follow Jesus in such humble adoration thereafter. There is some evidence in Scripture that Paul was given an incredibly detailed picture of God that went way beyond what he had learned at the hands of men. It is generally accepted that when Paul spoke of a man who went to heaven in 2 Corinthians 12:2-4, he was speaking of himself, probably during the time after Jesus had approached him that he was temporarily blinded:

“I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago (whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knows) – such a one caught up to the third heaven. And I knew such a man (whether in the body or out of the body, I cannot tell: God knows) – How he was caught up into paradise and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.”

The most prominent feature of the Godhead must have changed in Paul’s mind and heart from magnificence to valor. What else could have led him to dote upon his baby Church so lovingly, and to willingly endure such trials as Jesus had promised him when He appeared to him on that road, becoming perhaps the greatest Christian outside of Jesus who ever lived?

“And Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest, and desired of him letters to Damascus to the synagogues, that if he found any of this way, whether they were men or women, he might bring them under arrest to Jerusalem. And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus, and suddenly there shone round about him a light from heaven; and he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying to him, Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? And he said, Who are you, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus, whom you persecute; it is hard to you to kick against the goads. And he, trembling and astonished, said, Lord what will you have me to do? And the Lord said to him, Arise and go into the city, and it shall be told you there what you must do. And the men who journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice, but seeing no man.

“And Saul arose from the earth, and when his eyes were opened, he saw no man; but they led him by the hand, and brought him into Damascus. And he was three days without sight, and neither did eat nor drink. And there was a certain disciple at Damascus, named Ananias; and to him said the Lord in a vision, Ananias. And he said, behold, I am here, Lord. And the Lord said to him, Arise, and go into the street which is called Straight, and inquire in the house of Judas for one called Saul of Tarsus; for, behold, he is praying, and has seen in a vision a man, named Ananias, coming in and putting his hand on him, that he might receive his sight. Then Ananias answered, Lord, I have heard by many of this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem; and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all that call on your name.

“But the Lord said to him, Go your way; for he is a chosen vessel to me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel; for I will show him how great things he must suffer for my name’s sake.”

Paul did suffer, and willingly, for a God whom he truly loved with all his heart. As he recalled in 2 Corinthians 11:22-31:

“Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they the seed of Abraham? So am I. Are they ministers of Christ? (I speak as a fool) I am more; in labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequently, in deaths often. Of the Jews five times I received forty stripes, save one. Thrice I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by my own countrymen, in perils by the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. Beside those things that are without, that which comes upon me daily, the care of all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is offended, and I am not indignant? If I must needs glory I will glory in the things which concern my infirmities. The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is blessed for evermore, knows that I lie not.”

COMPASSION

 

God often chided the Israelites for adhering to ritual worship while foregoing the far more important compassion and mercy embedded in the spirit of the law. In Proverbs 21:3, Isaiah 11:1-17 and Malachi 3:5, for a small sample, God speaks about this issue:

“To do righteousness and justice is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice.”

“To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices to me? Says the Lord; I am full of the burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts, and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he-goats. When you come to appear before me, who has required this at your hand, to tread my courts? Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination to me; the new moons and Sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot bear; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting. Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hates; they are a trouble to me, I am weary of bearing them. And when you spread forth your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; yea, when you make many prayers, I will not hear. Your hands are full of blood. Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; but away the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil. Learn to do well; seek justice, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow.”

“And I will come near to you to judgment; and I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, and against the adulterers, and against false swearers, and against those who oppress the hireling in his wages, and widow, and the fatherless, and that turn aside the stranger from his right, and fear not me, says the Lord of hosts.”

Jesus displayed His honor of compassion in His parable of the good Samaritan, recounted in Luke 10:30-37. He added further depth to the account by having the compassionate person a Samaritan, one who was looked down upon by the Jews, contrasting him with Jewish religious elites, who failed to follow the spirit of Jewish law.

“And Jesus, answering, said, A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, who stripped him of his clothing, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. And by chance there came down a certain priest that way; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side.

“But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was; and when he saw him, he had compassion on him, and went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. And on the next day, when he departed, he took out ten dollars, and gave them to the host, and said to him, Take care of him; and whatever you spend above that, when I come again, I will repay you.

“Which, now, of these three, do you think was neighbor to him that fell among the thieves? And he said, He who showed mercy on him. Then said Jesus to him, Go, and do you likewise.”

Jesus, of course, honored mercy and compassion in His own doing as well as His speaking by offering His own body as a substitutionary atonement for the wrongdoings of a helpless human race. He also showed compassion in other ways, such as His mercy toward Peter, who had denied Him three times during His incarceration. In John 21, Jesus forgave Peter three times for that, and Peter went on from there not only to fulfill Jesus’ parting commandment to feed His sheep, but also to become a giant of a Christian in the process.

The account of Joseph in Genesis 37 through 45 is an early portrait of Jesus’ compassionate nature. It foretells in detail the tender love that Jesus showed, even toward those who hated Him.

“Then Joseph could not refrain himself before all them who stood by him; and he cried, Cause every man to go out from me. And there stood no man with him, while Joseph made himself known to his brethren. And he wept aloud: and the Egyptians and the house of Pharaoh heard. And Joseph said to his brethren, I am Joseph; does my father yet live? And his brethren could not answer him; for they were terrified at his presence. And Joseph said to his brethren, Come near to me, I ask you. And they came near. And he said, I am Joseph, your brother, whom you sold into Egypt.

“Now therefore be not grieved, nor angry with yourselves, that you sold me here; for God did send me before you to preserve life. For these two years has the famine been in the land: and yet there are five years, in which there shall neither be plowing nor harvest. And God sent me before you to preserve you a posterity in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance. So now it was not you that sent me here, but God: and he has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house, and a ruler throughout all the land of Egypt.”

But the account of Joseph involves more than this central character. Joseph’s revelation of himself before his brothers was triggered by another compassionate event that pointed to Jesus as well, the offer of Judah, Jesus’ forefather, to offer his substitutional enslavement in place of his youngest brother Benjamin, just as Jesus died in our place on the cross.

God’s focus on compassion often links it with selflessness. But there is another factor in compassion: in its concern for others, it involves love of pure selflessness.

SHOWERED WITH BLESSINGS

 

Christian news outlets seem to have a common theme these days – a lamentation over the decline in Church attendance. This same theme can be seen in the frantic way that some Churches are trying to keep their flocks: daycare, latte machines, happy messages. Given the manner in which the Church seems to be falling away despite the almost hysterical attempts of pastors to stop the outward flow, it’s natural to wonder whether the exiting masses really ever understood what they had signed up for. Maybe those who evangelized them didn’t give them the big picture. Maybe the neophytes expected to get some blessings out of the deal, of the material kind.

Jesus’ parable of the sower comes to mind. In Matthew 13:18-23, Jesus explains this parable to His disciples:

“Hear, therefore, the parable of the sower. When any one hears the word of the kingdom, and understands it not, then comes the wicked one, and catches away that which was sown in his heart. This is he who received seed by the wayside. But he that received the seed in stony places, the same is he that hears the word, and immediately with joy receives it; yet has he not root in himself, but endures it for a while; for when tribulation or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he is offended. He also who received seed among the thorns is he that hears the word; and the care of this age, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful. But he who received the seed in the good ground is he who hears the word, and understands it, who also bears fruit, and brings forth, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.”

I see this falling away as a good thing. Those who had accepted a materialistic Jesus, expecting Him to come promptly down the chimney bearing goodies or handing them a check from Publishers’ Clearing House, were worshiping a different god than Jesus anyway. I’ve seen Church spokespersons leading such people astray with blatant misrepresentations of who Jesus actually is, and what He actually represents. You can still see them on television hawking their wares. I once attended a Church where a young couple participated with fervent prayers for the removal of a cancer that was afflicting the wife; when she eventually died, the husband refused to come back to Church.

Jesus never promised such things; rather, He treated the material world with disdain, focusing instead on the spiritual world to come. In John 18:36 and Matthew 6:24, Jesus made this clear:

“Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world; if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now is my kingdom not from here.”

“No man can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”

Those who received the Word of God in good soil are of a different sort. After the pseudo-Christians have left the fold, these others will remain, whatever the circumstances that try to draw them back into secular society. They see a more noble Jesus, and in their staying the course God in return is developing them into a people having a common trait, the possession of valor.

God will indeed shower them with blessings, but of a more spiritual nature. God will clothe them in riches of character, endowing them with an abundance of faith, courage, selflessness and compassion, those qualities that Jesus will treasure in His Bride, the Church. Just like Jonah, they will enjoy the spiritual companionship of souls that they have rescued with a true knowledge of God.

“And the word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time, saying, Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and preach to it the preaching that I bid you. So Jonah arose, and went to the city a day’s journey, and he cried, and said, Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown. So the people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them. For word came to the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, and he laid his robe from him, and covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes . . . And God said to Jonah . . .And should not I spare Nineveh, that great city, in which are more that one hundred twenty thousand persons who cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand; and also much cattle?”