Our Indescribable and Inexplicable God

15 Now as I looked at the living creatures, I saw a wheel on the earth beside the living creatures, one for each of the four of them. 16 As for the appearance of the wheels and their construction: their appearance was like the gleaming of beryl. And the four had the same likeness, their appearance and construction being as it were a wheel within a wheel. 17 When they went, they went in any of their four directions without turning as they went. 18 And their rims were tall and awesome, and the rims of all four were full of eyes all around. 19 And when the living creatures went, the wheels went beside them; and when the living creatures rose from the earth, the wheels rose. 20 Wherever the spirit wanted to go, they went, and the wheels rose along with them, for the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels. 21 When those went, these went; and when those stood, these stood; and when those rose from the earth, the wheels rose along with them, for the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels.

22 Over the heads of the living creatures there was the likeness of an expanse, shining like awe-inspiring crystal, spread out above their heads. 23 And under the expanse their wings were stretched out straight, one toward another. And each creature had two wings covering its body. 24 And when they went, I heard the sound of their wings like the sound of many waters, like the sound of the Almighty, a sound of tumult like the sound of an army. When they stood still, they let down their wings. 25 And there came a voice from above the expanse over their heads. When they stood still, they let down their wings.

26 And above the expanse over their heads there was the likeness of a throne, in appearance like sapphire; and seated above the likeness of a throne was a likeness with a human appearance. 27 And upward from what had the appearance of his waist I saw as it were gleaming metal, like the appearance of fire enclosed all around. And downward from what had the appearance of his waist I saw as it were the appearance of fire, and there was brightness around him. 28 Like the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud on the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness all around.

Such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. And when I saw it, I fell on my face, and I heard the voice of one speaking. – Ezekiel 1:15-28 ESV

For centuries, artists have attempted to recreate the fantastic scene described in Ezekiel’s vision, and their efforts have resulted in a host of ethereal, otherworldly depictions that almost defy the range of man’s imagination. Their depictions border on the surreal and illustrate man’s incapacity to understand or explain the glory of God. But in their defense, each of them based their artwork on the words of Ezekiel. They simply illustrated what Ezekiel attempted to elucidate. But this young priest was at a great disadvantage because he was trying to describe the indescribable and explain the inexplicable. Hampered by a finite human mind and a limited vocabulary, Ezekiel did his best to recreate his vision with words. But his efforts would prove futile because he was attempting to describe “the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord” (Ezekiel 1:28 ESV).

While Ezekiel appears to be describing a series of different individuals and objects, the scene is meant to illustrate the glory of the Lord. This entire chapter should be viewed as a depiction of the majesty and magnificence of Jehovah, the Creator-God who rules and reigns over all. The all-mighty, transcendent God of the universe was providing Ezekiel with a composite picture of His essence that was intended to engender a response of awe and reverential fear. And it worked, because Ezekiel claims, “When I saw it, I fell face down on the ground” (Ezekiel 1:28 NLT).

Ezekiel got the big picture. He correctly viewed the entire scene as a divine depiction of his God. And, as a priest, Ezekiel would have known that it was impossible for any human being to see God and live to tell about it. He would have been well versed in the words that God spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai. The man whom God had chosen to liberate His people from their captivity in Egypt had expressed his desire to see God’s glory. Moses had seen God’s glory displayed in the burning bush and had repeatedly spoken with Him, but he longed for something greater.

Moses said, “Please show me your glory.” – Exodus 33:18 ESV

But God let Moses that his request was not only impossible, but it would also be suicidal. So, He provided Moses with a viable alternative.

…and he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The Lord.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.” – Ezekiel 33:19-20 ESV

Like Moses, Ezekiel would see God’s glory and live to tell about it. He would see indescribable things and attempt to explain them with words that could never do them justice. The four living creatures, the wheels within wheels, the crystal expanse, and the sapphire thrown were all intended to depict God’s glory. Ezekiel was being given a rare opportunity to see the Almighty but in a way that produced awe and wonder instead of death.

It was the apostle Paul who described Yahweh as “the blessed and only almighty God, the King of all kings and Lord of all lords” (1 Timothy 6:15 NLT). And he went on to explain God’s transcendent, unapproachable nature.

He alone can never die, and he lives in light so brilliant that no human can approach him. No human eye has ever seen him, nor ever will. All honor and power to him forever! – 1 Timothy 6:16 NLT

It is impossible to know exactly what Ezekiel saw but that has not stopped artists from trying to depict it. But no painting, engraving, or illustration will ever be able to capture the glory of God.

Every aspect of Ezekiel’s vision was meant to reinforce the greatness and glory of God. The four different faces of the four living creatures reveal that God is sovereign over all creation. He rules over humanity, the wild beasts, domesticated animals, and the birds of the air – because He made them all. And the wheels within wheels were intended to depict God’s omnipresence; completely unhindered by time or space. According to Ezekiel, the wheels “went in any of their four directions without turning as they went” ( Ezekiel 1:17 ESV). The rims of the wheels were covered with eyes, illustrating the omniscience of God. He knows all because He sees all.

And He accomplishes all this while sitting on His throne above the great expanse. Ezekiel’s focus becomes fixed upon “a figure whose appearance resembled a man” (Ezekiel 1:26 NLT). But He is far from human in nature.

From what appeared to be his waist up, he looked like gleaming amber, flickering like a fire. And from his waist down, he looked like a burning flame, shining with splendor. All around him was a glowing halo, like a rainbow shining in the clouds on a rainy day. – Ezekiel 1:27-28 NLT

This is no ordinary king seated on a man-made throne. It is the King of kings and Lord of lords. Ezekiel is being given a glimpse of God Almighty, but it is a representation and not the real thing.

“It was a deeply-held tenet of Israelite religion from Moses onwards that God could not be visibly expressed, and for that very reason idolatry was out. But given the possibility of a theophany, no form but the human form could conceivably have been used to represent the Deity. It was, however, no mere human that Ezekiel saw: His radiance was surrounded by the glory of a rainbow, and the prophet could show his awe in no other way than by falling on his face in the dust before his God.” – L. E. Cooper Sr., Ezekiel

It is interesting to note that Ezekiel does not attempt to describe God’s face or countenance. All he writes about is the appearance of gleaming metal, fire, and brightness. According to Paul, God “dwells in unapproachable light” (1 Timothy 6:16 ESV). The psalmist states that God “wraps Himself in light as with a garment” (Psalm 104:2 BSB). The prophet Daniel was also given a vision of God and he described it in similar terms.

…the Ancient of Days took his seat; his clothing was white as snow, and the hair of his head like pure wool; his throne was fiery flames; its wheels were burning fire. – Daniel 7:9 ESV

Both Daniel and Ezekiel were given the privilege of seeing God’s glory, and both found it nearly impossible to put it into words. They were struck by the brightness of His very presence. He emanated light so bright that it could only be described as burning fire. It was intense and virtually unapproachable. This imagery reflects the holiness and purity of God. It was the apostle John who wrote, “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5 ESV).

This majestic, all-knowing, holy, omnipresent God of the universe was reminding Ezekiel that He was still on His throne and well aware of the fate of the people of Judah. He had not turned His back on them. His power had not diminished and His love for them had not faded. The all-powerful, ever-loving, always-faithful God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob was about to deliver a message to His chosen people and He had chosen Ezekiel as His messenger. God had gotten Ezekiel’s attention, and now Ezekiel was ready to listen to what his glorious God had to say.

Such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. And when I saw it, I fell on my face, and I heard the voice of one speaking. – Ezekiel 1:28 ESV

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Don’t Mess With Jehovah

1 Then the people of Israel set out and camped in the plains of Moab beyond the Jordan at Jericho. And Balak the son of Zippor saw all that Israel had done to the Amorites. And Moab was in great dread of the people, because they were many. Moab was overcome with fear of the people of Israel. And Moab said to the elders of Midian, “This horde will now lick up all that is around us, as the ox licks up the grass of the field.” So Balak the son of Zippor, who was king of Moab at that time, sent messengers to Balaam the son of Beor at Pethor, which is near the River in the land of the people of Amaw, to call him, saying, “Behold, a people has come out of Egypt. They cover the face of the earth, and they are dwelling opposite me. Come now, curse this people for me, since they are too mighty for me. Perhaps I shall be able to defeat them and drive them from the land, for I know that he whom you bless is blessed, and he whom you curse is cursed.”

So the elders of Moab and the elders of Midian departed with the fees for divination in their hand. And they came to Balaam and gave him Balak’s message. And he said to them, “Lodge here tonight, and I will bring back word to you, as the Lord speaks to me.” So the princes of Moab stayed with Balaam. And God came to Balaam and said, “Who are these men with you?” 10 And Balaam said to God, “Balak the son of Zippor, king of Moab, has sent to me, saying, 11 ‘Behold, a people has come out of Egypt, and it covers the face of the earth. Now come, curse them for me. Perhaps I shall be able to fight against them and drive them out.’” 12 God said to Balaam, “You shall not go with them. You shall not curse the people, for they are blessed.” 13 So Balaam rose in the morning and said to the princes of Balak, “Go to your own land, for the Lord has refused to let me go with you.” 14 So the princes of Moab rose and went to Balak and said, “Balaam refuses to come with us.”

15 Once again Balak sent princes, more in number and more honorable than these. 16 And they came to Balaam and said to him, “Thus says Balak the son of Zippor: ‘Let nothing hinder you from coming to me, 17 for I will surely do you great honor, and whatever you say to me I will do. Come, curse this people for me.’” 18 But Balaam answered and said to the servants of Balak, “Though Balak were to give me his house full of silver and gold, I could not go beyond the command of the Lord my God to do less or more. 19 So you, too, please stay here tonight, that I may know what more the Lord will say to me.” 20 And God came to Balaam at night and said to him, “If the men have come to call you, rise, go with them; but only do what I tell you.” 21 So Balaam rose in the morning and saddled his donkey and went with the princes of Moab. Numbers 22:1-21 ESV

God was leading the people of Israel ever closer to the borders of Canaan. The day was drawing nearer when they would be expected to cross over the Jordan River and begin their conquest of the land promised to them by God as their rightful inheritance. And all the battles in which they had recently been engaged had been meant to prepare them for the confrontations they would face in the conquest of their new homeland. While God had designated Canaan as their future home, it would not come without a fight or apart from faith in the power and providence of God.

News of the Israelites’ recent victory over the Amorites had begun to spread and the surrounding nations began to grow wary of this new kid on the block. The reputation of the Israelites had begun to change. They were no longer viewed as just a large but seemingly harmless group of former slaves and sheep herders. They had proved themselves to be a formidable fighting force that could easily overwhelm the small nation-states that occupied Canaan and the surrounding lands. With their conquest of the Amorites, the Israelites had become a real and present danger.

The Jordan River formed the eastern border of the land of Canaan, so when the Israelites set up camp on the plains of Moab, they were within “spitting distance” of the promised land. But news of their arrival soon reached the ears of Balak, the king of Moab, and he was not pleased.

Balak son of Zippor, the Moabite king, had seen everything the Israelites did to the Amorites. And when the people of Moab saw how many Israelites there were, they were terrified. The king of Moab said to the elders of Midian, “This mob will devour everything in sight, like an ox devours grass in the field!” – Numbers 22:2-4 NLT

The Israelites had descended upon Moab like a plague of locusts and Balak feared the worst. He realized that a group this large would need a source of food and envisioned them plundering the surrounding farms, orchards, and vineyards in order to fill their stomachs. Motivated by his growing sense of dread, Balak reached out to the elder of nearby Midian in an attempt to form an alliance against their newfound enemy.

When the Israelites had first appeared within the borders of Moab, the Moabites had extended a degree of tolerance, accepting payment in return for food and water. They probably assumed the Israelites would move on to greener pastures. But when Balak heard that the Israelites had set up camp on the plains, he became more than a bit concerned about the long-term implications of this latest report.

Unwilling to take on the Israelites in a head-to-head battle, he came up with a less risky plan. He sent for a diviner named Balaam. This man was some sort of pagan magician or soothsayer, and he had a reputation for being able to issue curses. This led Balak to send emissaries to Balaam with the following message:

“Please come and curse these people for me because they are too powerful for me. Then perhaps I will be able to conquer them and drive them from the land. I know that blessings fall on any people you bless, and curses fall on people you curse.” – Numbers 22:6 NLT

Nowhere in the text does it indicate that Balaam was a worshiper of Yahweh, the God of the Israelites. But he was believed to have supernatural abilities that allowed him to pronounce blessings and curses at will. And Balak wanted this powerful “wizard” to work his magic and call down a curse on the host of Israelites camping on his doorstep.

Balak is not specific regarding the nature of the curse he has in mind, but it seems that he was hoping for some kind of spell that might weaken the Israelite forces and make their defeat easier. In a sense, he was looking for a miracle. And he was willing to pay for it. No doubt, Balak believed that Balaam would invoke the assistance of some kind of deity or supernatural power. He seemed to understand that the defeat of the Israelites would require divine intervention.

When the envoys delivered the money and Balak’s message to Balaam, this so-called diviner agreed to consider the king’s proposition. But first, he asked for time to consult “the Lord” (Numbers 22:8 ESV). What’s interesting about this statement, is that Balaam used the proper name of Israel’s God – יְהֹוָה (Yᵊhōvâ). This doesn’t mean that Balaam was a worshiper of Jehovah, but may simply indicate that he knew the name of Israel’s God and was going to begin by seeking that deity’s permission to issue the curse. Rather than pit one god against another, Balaam was going to attempt to turn Israel’s God against them. But Balaam never got a chance to solicit an opinion from Jehovah because God came calling on him.

That night God came to Balaam and asked him, “Who are these men visiting you?” – Numbers 22:9 NLT

God was already aware of the situation but He went ahead and asked Balaam to summarize what was going on, beginning with the identity and mission of the visitors. This nocturnal encounter must have caught Balaam by surprise. There’s even a question of whether Balaam had ever intended to seek a word from Jehovah. It seems much more likely that Balaam would have returned to the messengers with some story he had concocted overnight. But instead, God showed up and provided this self-proclaimed prophet with a message meant solely for him.

“Do not go with them. You are not to curse these people, for they have been blessed!” – Numbers 22:12 NLT

Balaam was to show these men the door. And God made it crystal clear that the last thing Balaam should consider doing was to issue a curse on the people of Israel. It’s not that God feared Balaam’s curse, but that Balaam needed to know that Israel was under God’s blessing. It was Balaam who needed to be afraid because God had promised to curse anyone who treated Abraham’s descendants with contempt.

I will bless those who bless you and curse those who treat you with contempt. All the families on earth will be blessed through you.” – Genesis 12:3 NLT

Even a fake curse would be met with God’s vengeance. If Balaam had decided to make a quick buck by going with the men and pronouncing a curse on the Israelites, he would have come to regret it. And Balaam didn’t take this word from Jehovah lightly. He may have been a false prophet but he recognized a real prophecy when He heard one. So, the next morning, he delivered to Balak’s messengers some disappointing news.

“Go on home! The Lord will not let me go with you.” – Numbers 22:13 NLT

But when the envoys returned with the bad news, Balak refused to accept. Desperate for divine help, he sent an even larger contingent of dignitaries to persuade Balaam and they were armed with an even greater offer of reward. Yet, Balaam remained adamant and refused to accept their bribe.

“Even if Balak were to give me his palace filled with silver and gold, I would be powerless to do anything against the will of the Lord my God. But stay here one more night, and I will see if the Lord has anything else to say to me.” – Numbers 22:18-19 NLT

At this point, it appears as if Balaam has had a “come-to-Jesus-moment.” He now refers to Jehovah as “my God.” Something has happened. This pagan prognosticator has suddenly realized that Jehovah is the one true God. Unlike all the other times Balaam had sought divine help, this time he had gotten an actual answer. Jehovah, the God of Israel had spoken, and Balaam was not about to risk angering an actual, bonified deity.

As before, Balaam invites the men to spend the night and agrees to seek additional insight from Jehovah. And during the night, God spoke to Balaam again.

That night God came to Balaam and told him, “Since these men have come for you, get up and go with them. But do only what I tell you to do.” – Numbers 22:20 NLT

And having heard from the Lord, Balaam did just as he was told.

the next morning Balaam got up, saddled his donkey, and started off with the Moabite officials. – Numbers 22:21 NLT

Yet, as the next verse will point out, “God was angry that Balaam was going…” (Numbers 22:22 NLT). This pseudo-prophet was about to learn a painful lesson on the sovereignty and omniscience of Jehovah. The God of the Israelites was not some figment of man’s imagination but the all-powerful, all-knowing God of the universe. He had seen into Balaam’s heart and knew exactly what this pride-filled and profit-hungry man was thinking. Balaam was still hoping to cash in on this opportunity and was already formulating a plan to give Balak what he wanted while lining his own pockets.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

A Dangerous Loss of Perspective

1 For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:

a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.

What gain has the worker from his toil? 10 I have seen the business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. 11 He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. 12 I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; 13 also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God’s gift to man.

14 I perceived that whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it. God has done it, so that people fear before him. 15 That which is, already has been; that which is to be, already has been; and God seeks what has been driven away. Ecclesiastes 3:1-15 ESV

In just eight short verses, there are 29 instances of the word “time.” You might conclude that Solomon is trying to make a point about the topic. The Hebrew word he chose to use is ’eth and of the 300 times it appears in the King James Bible, it is most often translated as “time.” And it seems that Solomon is using this particular word to drive home the contrast between life as we know it on this temporal plane, and the timeless dimension of eternity.

Solomon’s dilemma, like every other human being who has ever lived, is that he is restricted in his ability to discern anything beyond what he can see. He makes the very astute observation that God “has put eternity into man’s heart.” In other words, we have an innate awareness that there is something beyond this life, but we can’t perceive it. It lies beyond our limited vision.

As Solomon puts it, man “cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.” The New Living Translation puts it this way: “people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end” (Ecclesiastes 3:11 NLT). We are temporal creatures, living our temporary lives on this earth, hamstrung by the limitations of our human senses and incapable of seeing what lies beyond the day we take our last breath.

It is important to remember that Solomon wrote this book sometime near the end of his life after he had veered from the course established for him by God. He had surrounded himself with wealth, women, possessions, and pleasures of all kinds. He had set up idols to false gods all over the kingdom and had become distracted from his faithfulness to the one true God. His ability to see things from a godly perspective had been harmed and hindered by his love affair with material things, worldly pleasures, and his man-made replacements for God.

Solomon’s worldview had become heavily influenced by the secular rather than the sacred. So, 29 times in these verses, he speaks of life in terms of time. And he does so by providing 14 stark contrasts that reveal his rather limited perspective. From Solomon’s vantage point, a life lived on this earthly plane and viewed from a human perspective is nothing more than a series of polar extremes.

The hope and joy of birth are contrasted with the sadness and seeming finality of death. Planting produces an eventual harvest, but then the relentless cycle only repeats itself, season after season. Killing is an inevitable reality in life, and starkly at odds with the need for healing. One takes away life while the other attempts to prolong it.

There are times when tearing down follows a season of building up. Why? Because nothing in this life is meant to last forever. Everything has a life cycle and an expiration date. Even the extravagant palace that Solomon built for himself was eventually destroyed and replaced by another.

Even weeping and laughter, as disparate and dissimilar as they may be, share a strange coexistence, equally impacting the lives of men for good or bad. There are times when frivolity is the appropriate reaction, but there are other times when tears are the proper response. They are aspects of human existence that, without a God-focused perspective, create a dissonance in the heart of man that can’t be understood or explained. Without an eternal perspective, we can’t comprehend or appreciate the necessity for times of sorrow. We long for full-time happiness and see sorrow as a setback to our personal agenda. And Solomon uses these two extremes as just another example of the cyclical, repetitive, and meaningless nature of human existence “under the sun” when God’s eternal viewpoint is left out of the equation.

Solomon acknowledges that God “has made everything beautiful in its time.” There are those moments in life when we can enjoy the birth of a baby, the joy of laughter and dancing, the blessings of the harvest, the experience of loving and being loved, and the presence of peace in our lives and in the world. But that doesn’t keep him from asking the question: “What gain has the worker from his toil?” In other words, what benefit does a man enjoy from all the effort and energy he puts into his life?

Whether he likes it or not, there will come a time when he has to replace the harvest he reaped. His wheat will run out. His wine vats will run dry. And he will be forced to sow yet again. He may one day be forced to watch the death of the child whose birth he witnessed and rejoiced over. He will experience the pain that comes when love turns to hate and gain turns to loss.

And Solomon summarizes all these things as “the business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with” (Ecclesiastes 3:10 ESV). So, based on his secular-based viewpoint, Solomon concludes that the best outcome human beings can hope for is “to be joyful and to do good as long as they live” (Ecclesiastes 3:12 ESV). In light of the inevitability and futility of life, the most logical response is that of resignation. Since you can’t do anything about it, just give in and do your best to enjoy it.

So I concluded there is nothing better than to be happy and enjoy ourselves as long as we can. And people should eat and drink and enjoy the fruits of their labor – Ecclesiastes 3:12-13 NLT

And while this approach may seem a tad pessimistic, Solomon explains how he reached this conclusion.  

…this is God’s gift to man. – Ecclesiastes 3:13 NLT

What Solomon really seems to be saying is that if anyone can experience any semblance of joy and pleasure in the midst of all the meaninglessness of life, they should consider it a gift from God, and enjoy it while they can.

Solomon displays a strong belief in the sovereignty of God. He readily acknowledges that God is in control of all things, but his admission is tinged with a hint of sarcasm and resentment. Look closely at how he describes God’s preeminence and power.

…whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it. God has done it, so that people fear before him. – Ecclesiastes 3:14 ESV

While this speaks of God’s sovereignty and providential control over all things, Solomon’s tone is far from positive. He doesn’t exude a spirit of peace and solace at the thought of God’s omnipotence and omniscience but instead, he displays a hopeless resignation. He further qualifies his view by saying, That which is, already has been; that which is to be, already has been; and God seeks what has been driven away” (Ecclesiastes 3:15 ESV).

Here is yet another reference to the repetitive and futile essence of life lived under the sun. No sense of eternity. No expression of hope in what is to come. It is almost as if Solomon is painting God as some kind of cosmic puppet master in the sky who toys with man, determining his destiny, and relegating him to a hopeless existence featuring equal parts toil, trouble, joy, and pleasure.

But Solomon had a warped perspective. He had lost his ability to see life through the lens of God’s love and faithfulness. His abandonment of the eternal God had left him with nothing but a temporal view of life. He had become blinded to the sovereign will of God that is always accompanied by the loving mercy of God. His sense of purposelessness was the direct byproduct of his lack of faithfulness. God was not the one who had changed. God was not the one who had moved. Solomon’s loss of hope was due to this loss of his trust in God.

The Lord God had become a distant deity to Solomon, but it was not because He had abandoned His servant. No, Solomon had been the one who walked away from the relationship. He had failed to remember and take seriously the promise that God had made to him years earlier.

“…if you will walk before me, as David your father walked, with integrity of heart and uprightness, doing according to all that I have commanded you, and keeping my statutes and my rules, then I will establish your royal throne over Israel forever, as I promised David your father, saying, ‘You shall not lack a man on the throne of Israel.’” – 1 Kings 9:4-5 ESV

Somewhere along the way, Solomon had lost sight of eternity and had become fixated on the here-and-now. It had become all about him – his kingdom, his pleasure, his reputation, his own life “under the sun.” But God is eternal and His focus is always on the future. He had great things in store for Solomon but His real emphasis was on the One who would come and sit on the throne of David and rule in righteousness “forever.”

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Our Know-It-All God

22 He reveals deep and mysterious things
    and knows what lies hidden in darkness,
    though he is surrounded by light.
Daniel 2:22 NLT

13 Nothing in all creation is hidden from God. Everything is naked and exposed before his eyes, and he is the one to whom we are accountable. – Hebrews 4:13 NLT

3for the Lord is a God of knowledge… – 1 Samuel 2:3 ESV

God knows everything. This attribute of God is what the theologians refer to as His omniscience, which simply means “all knowing” (omni = all; science = knowledge). To be omniscient is to have “complete or unlimited knowledge, awareness, or understanding; to perceive all things” (Dictionary.com).

So, as we begin our task of getting to know God, we will begin with the mind-blowing concept that God knows everything. He never requires instruction because He has no gaps in His knowledge. There is nothing He does not know. He has perfect and complete knowledge of the past, the present and, amazingly, the future. God knows what is going to take place long before it happens. Something the theologians refer to as His foreknowledge. But more about that later.

God’s knowledge is so great that He knows the thoughts of every single human being. King David was understandably blown away by this idea. He confessed to God, “you have examined my heart and know everything about me” (Psalm 139:1 NLT). He knew that God knew. There was nothing about his life that was hidden from God’s all-knowing gaze. In fact, David went on to acknowledge the full extent of God’s knowledge of him.

You know what I am going to say even before I say it, Lord. – Psalm 139:4 NLT

But God’s intimate and somewhat invasive knowledge of him was not unsettling to David. It was comforting.

How precious are your thoughts about me, O God.
    They cannot be numbered!
I can’t even count them;
    they outnumber the grains of sand!
And when I wake up,
    you are still with me! – Psalm 139:17-18 NLT

God’s knowledge is all-pervasive, penetrating the thoughts of men and the darkness of night. David went to admit, “I could ask the darkness to hide me and the light around me to become night—but even in darkness I cannot hide from you. To you the night shines as bright as day. Darkness and light are the same to you” (Psalm 139:11-12 NLT).

There is nothing you can hide from God. There is nowhere you can go where His divine gaze cannot find you. And, according to Jesus, God’s knowledge of you is so complete that “the very hairs on your head are all numbered” (Matthew 10:30 NLT). He knows each and every detail about you. From the number of the hairs on your head to the thoughts of your heart. You can’t fool God.

One of the amazing things to consider about God’s omniscience is that He can never be surprised or caught off guard. There is never an occasion when God has to say, “How did that happen?” Because He knew in advance that it was going to happen. This is that aspect of His omniscience known as foreknowledge. In Greek, the term for “foreknowledge” is prognōsis. It comes from the Greek word pro, which means “before” and the Greek word ginōskō, which means “know.” The idea is that God has prior knowledge about all events. He “knows before.”  It expresses the idea of knowing reality before it is real and events before they occur.

Because God is divine, He is not bound by time and space. Past, present, and future are all the same to Him. He exists outside of time, so He is able to look into and perceive the future just as easily as He does the past. That is why we find so much prophetic content in the Bible. God’s foreknowledge allows Him to see and know all that will happen as if it has already taken place. That is why He told the prophet Isaiah, “I will tell you the future before it happens” (Isaiah 42:9 NLT).

God doesn’t predict the future, He pronounces it beforehand. He isn’t forced to respond to events as they happen. No, He has already predetermined His response to any and every circumstance because He knew in advance. Again, God assured the prophet Isaiah of His unparalleled foreknowledge.

“I am the First and the Last;
    there is no other God.
Who is like me?
    Let him step forward and prove to you his power.
Let him do as I have done since ancient times
    when I established a people and explained its future.” – Isaiah 44:6-7 NLT

“For I alone am God!
    I am God, and there is none like me.
Only I can tell you the future
    before it even happens.
Everything I plan will come to pass,
    for I do whatever I wish.” – Isaiah 46:9-10 NLT

But God’s foreknowledge is far more than an ability to see into the future and perceive what is going to happen. If this superpower allows God to see future events in advance, it would make sense that He would prevent some of them from happening. If God could have seen the rise of Nazi Germany, He could have kept it from taking place. But it did. So, we must conclude that God either ordained or allowed the events of WWII to come about for a reason. God’s foreknowledge is a true “knowing” of what will come to pass, based on His free choice. He actually decrees what will come to pass. That means that His foreknowledge is far more than an intellectual awareness of future events. It conveys the idea of His sovereign control over all things. Foreknowledge is equivalent to foreordination in that God ordains, or orders, all that will be.

There is an intimacy to God’s foreknowledge that should bring comfort to His children. Because, according to the New Testament, God’s foreknowledge is always directed at people, not events.

The fact is that “foreknowledge” is never used in Scripture in connection with events or actions; instead, it always has reference to persons. It is persons God is said to “foreknow,” not the actions of those persons. – A. W. Pink, Attributes of God

The apostle Paul puts it this way: “For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son, so that his Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters” (Romans 8:29 NLT). And Peter adds: “God the Father knew you and chose you long ago, and his Spirit has made you holy” (1 Peter 1:2 NLT).

Paul went on to remind the believers in Ephesus, “we are united with Christ, we have received an inheritance from God, for he chose us in advance” (Ephesians 1:11 NLT). There is a deliberateness about God’s actions in these passages. He is not responding to things as they happen but is ordaining their occurrence from eternity past. His foreknowledge is tied to His foreordination. He foreknows because He has foreordained. God is not looking through His magic mirror and seeing future events before they take place. He is describing what He already knows because He has already declared it to be so.

There is much about this aspect of God’s nature that makes us uncomfortable. It raises all kinds of issues concerning the sovereignty of God and the free will of men. If misunderstood, it can leave us viewing mankind as helpless marionettes on strings, being manipulated by the divine puppetmaster. But if we relegate the knowledge of God as some kind of passive cognition of future events, He becomes all-knowing, but not all-powerful. He has intelligence but lacks influence. But “God foreknows what will be because He has decreed what shall be” (A. W. Pink, Attributes of God).

As difficult as this doctrine is to understand, it is meant to reveal the power and preeminence of God. He is like no other. He is not some distant, disconnected deity, looking down from the lofty heights of heaven and watching as His creation winds down like some kind of cosmic clock. God is not a spectator, viewing the events of our lives as they transpire and forced to respond in time. He is intellectually informed of every aspect of our lives because He has ordained them. And He is intimately involved in every area of our lives because He has had a plan for us that was in place long before we even existed.

And this knowledge of God’s knowledge of us should leave us echoing the words of David:

You saw me before I was born.
    Every day of my life was recorded in your book.
Every moment was laid out
    before a single day had passed. – Psalm 139:16 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Potter and the Clay.

Astonish yourselves and be astonished;
    blind yourselves and be blind!
Be drunk, but not with wine;
    stagger, but not with strong drink!
10 For the Lord has poured out upon you
    a spirit of deep sleep,
and has closed your eyes (the prophets),
    and covered your heads (the seers).

11 And the vision of all this has become to you like the words of a book that is sealed. When men give it to one who can read, saying, “Read this,” he says, “I cannot, for it is sealed.” 12 And when they give the book to one who cannot read, saying, “Read this,” he says, “I cannot read.”

13 And the Lord said:
“Because this people draw near with their mouth
    and honor me with their lips,
    while their hearts are far from me,
and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men,
14 therefore, behold, I will again
    do wonderful things with this people,
    with wonder upon wonder;
and the wisdom of their wise men shall perish,
    and the discernment of their discerning men shall be hidden.”

15 Ah, you who hide deep from the Lord your counsel,
    whose deeds are in the dark,
    and who say, “Who sees us? Who knows us?”
16 You turn things upside down!
Shall the potter be regarded as the clay,
that the thing made should say of its maker,
    “He did not make me”;
or the thing formed say of him who formed it,
    “He has no understanding”? – Isaiah 29:9-16 ESV

The people of Judah were spiritually dull and complacent. Isaiah compares them to a man stumbling around under the influence of alcohol. But he makes it clear that their stupor and instability is spiritual in nature, and it has been brought on them by God.

For the Lord has poured out on you a spirit of deep sleep.
    He has closed the eyes of your prophets and visionaries. – Isaiah 29:10 NLT

Part of the punishment He has brought against them is their inability to discern the right thing to do. In spite of all their pride and arrogance, they were incapable of understanding what it was that God was doing. The signs were obvious, but their eyes were blinded to the reality of what was going on around them and to them.

All the future events in this vision are like a sealed book to them. When you give it to those who can read, they will say, “We can’t read it because it is sealed.” When you give it to those who cannot read, they will say, “We don’t know how to read.” – Isaiah 29:11-12 NLT

Isaiah, as the prophet of God, had been pleading with them to trust God. He had exposed their misplaced trust in Egypt and other pagan nations. He had warned them of God’s pending judgment. And he had made it clear that repentance was the solution to their problem. But they had remained stubbornly unwilling to listen to a word he said. And he delivers a stinging indictment from God.

“These people say they are loyal to me;
they say wonderful things about me,
but they are not really loyal to me.
Their worship consists of
nothing but man-made ritual. – Isaiah 29:13 NET

There were guilty of giving God lip-service. They claimed to be His loyal subjects, but they were simply going through the motions. Their words were not backed by appropriate actions. And what they alleged to be worship was nothing more than a set of man-made rules and rituals they performed by rote. Their hearts were not in it.

Not only that, they suffered from the mistaken impression that God Almighty was unable to see what it was that they were doing. In their warped and twisted minds, they fully believed that they could hide what it was they were doing from the penetrating gaze of God. And Isaiah gave verbal expression to their thoughts.

“The Lord can’t see us,” they say.
    “He doesn’t know what’s going on!” – Isaiah 29:15 NLT

And why did they have this remarkably naive outlook? Because they somehow believed that they had done a good job of hiding their actions from Yahweh. But Isaiah delivered the sobering news that their impressions were wrong. Deadly wrong.

What sorrow awaits those who try to hide their plans from the Lord,
    who do their evil deeds in the dark!
– Isaiah 29:15 NLT

Of all people, the Jews should have known that their God was omniscient. Nothing was hidden from His sight. And their own Scriptures were filled with reminders of this very fact.

For the Lord sees clearly what a man does,
    examining every path he takes. – Proverbs 5:21 NLT

“Doesn’t he see everything I do
    and every step I take?” – Job 31:4 NLT

The Lord is watching everywhere,
    keeping his eye on both the evil and the good. – Proverbs 15:3 NLT

“I am watching them closely, and I see every sin. They cannot hope to hide from me.” – Jeremiah 16:17 NLT

And that same understanding of God’s all-knowing, all-seeing capacity is carried over into the New Testament. The author of Hebrews states:

Nothing in all creation is hidden from God. Everything is naked and exposed before his eyes, and he is the one to whom we are accountable. – Hebrews 4:13 NLT

And yet, we seem to believe that we can hide our actions from God. Not only thought, we sometimes have the false impression that we can keep God from knowing what we are thinking. But David, the great king of Israel, throws a wet blanket on that perception.

O Lord, you have examined my heart
    and know everything about me.
You know when I sit down or stand up.
    You know my thoughts even when I’m far away.
You see me when I travel
    and when I rest at home.
    You know everything I do.
You know what I am going to say
    even before I say it, Lord. – Psalm 139:1-4 NLT

Think closely about that last line. God knows what you are going to say even before you say it. A thought, unexpressed, is not hidden from God. He knows our inner thoughts. He even knows the motivations that flow from the condition of our hearts. He can tell the difference between an act of charity done out of selflessness and kindness and one done for the self-centered reward of recognition.

But Isaiah exposes the lunacy behind their false perception of God.

“Your thinking is perverse!” – Isaiah 29:16 NET

The Hebrew word Isaiah used is hophek, and it literally means “to turn things upside down.” The people of God were guilty of twisting the truth and perverting the reality of God’s omniscience. In a sense, they were guilty of wishful thinking. They could only hope that God was blind to what they were doing. But He wasn’t. And to press home his point, Isaiah uses a metaphor that compares God to a potter and Judah to clay.

He is the Potter, and he is certainly greater than you, the clay!
Should the created thing say of the one who made it,
“He didn’t make me”?
Does a jar ever say,
“The potter who made me is stupid”? –
Isaiah 29:16 NLT

God wasn’t like a lifeless lump of clay. They were. The Creator-God who made each and every one of the people of Judah was not the one who was ignorant, blind and clueless. They were. And they had no right to question what God was doing around them or to them. They were like clay in the hands of the Potter, and He would do with them as He wished. Their compliance was not needed. Their submission was not necessary. And their denial of God’s omniscience or omnipotence did not diminish His knowledge or power one iota.

God had sent His prophet, Jeremiah, with a similar word of warning to the people of Israel. He too used the metaphor of the potter and the clay.

“O Israel, can I not do to you as this potter has done to his clay? As the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand. If I announce that a certain nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down, and destroyed, but then that nation renounces its evil ways, I will not destroy it as I had planned. And if I announce that I will plant and build up a certain nation or kingdom, but then that nation turns to evil and refuses to obey me, I will not bless it as I said I would.

“Therefore, Jeremiah, go and warn all Judah and Jerusalem. Say to them, ‘This is what the Lord says: I am planning disaster for you instead of good. So turn from your evil ways, each of you, and do what is right.’” – Jeremiah 18:6-11 NLT

But the people of Israel suffered from the same problem as the people of Judah. They were too stubborn and incapable of grasping the significance of the prophet’s words. So, they responded:

“Don’t waste your breath. We will continue to live as we want to, stubbornly following our own evil desires.” – Jeremiah 18:12 NLT

How ridiculous their words sound. How arrogant and ignorant can they be? And yet, as the people of God, we far too often exhibit the same characteristics. We boldly reject the words of God, demanding that we be allowed to live our lives the way we want to. We stubbornly determine to do things our way, rather than obeying God’s will for our lives. And we ignorantly assume we can hide our thoughts and actions from God. But He knows. He sees. And, as the Potter, He does what He has to do to mold His children into the vessels of glory.

Centuries later, the apostle Paul picked up on Isaiah’s metaphor of the potter and the clay and used it to address to believers in Rome.

But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? Shall what is formed say to Him who formed it, “Why have you made me like this?” Does not the potter have the right to make from the same lump of clay one vessel for special occasions and another for common use? – Romans 9:20-21 Berean Bible

God will do what He has to do to bring about the transformation He has planned. His will is never thwarted. His design is never altered. In our arrogance and pride, we may believe that are the ones in control. But Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Paul would have us understand that God alone controls our destinies. And it is far better to submit to His will than to resist it.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)
Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The End of the Edomites.

 

Concerning Edom.

Thus says the Lord of hosts:

“Is wisdom no more in Teman?
    Has counsel perished from the prudent?
    Has their wisdom vanished?
Flee, turn back, dwell in the depths,
    O inhabitants of Dedan!
For I will bring the calamity of Esau upon him,
    the time when I punish him.
If grape gatherers came to you,
    would they not leave gleanings?
If thieves came by night,
    would they not destroy only enough for themselves?
But I have stripped Esau bare;
    I have uncovered his hiding places,
    and he is not able to conceal himself.
His children are destroyed, and his brothers,
    and his neighbors; and he is no more.
Leave your fatherless children; I will keep them alive;
    and let your widows trust in me.”

For thus says the Lord: “If those who did not deserve to drink the cup must drink it, will you go unpunished? You shall not go unpunished, but you must drink. For I have sworn by myself, declares the Lord, that Bozrah shall become a horror, a taunt, a waste, and a curse, and all her cities shall be perpetual wastes.” Jeremiah 49:7-13 ESV

Now, God turns His attention to the Edomites, descendants of Esau, the twin brother of Jacob, and the son of Isaac. Just before the boys were to be born, God spoke to Rebekah and told her:

“Two nations are in your womb,
    and two peoples from within you shall be divided;
the one shall be stronger than the other,
    the older shall serve the younger.” – Genesis 25:23 ESV

The two babies, we are told in Genesis, “struggled together within her” and when they were born, Esau came out first, but Jacob was clutching his brother’s heal. This was a premonition of what the relationship between these two boys would be like. The story goes on to describe Jacob’s eventual deception of his brother, in order to get him to give up his birthright. Then Rebekah and Jacob concocted a plan to deceive Isaac into giving to Jacob the blessing reserved for the firstborn. While their plan worked, it resulted in Jacob having to go into exile to escape the wrath of Esau. While the brothers eventually mended their personal grudge, the descendants of Esau would prove to be a constant source of trouble for the people of Israel. In fact, when they eventually made it back to Canaan after their 40 years of wandering in the wilderness after their exodus from Egypt, they were not given a warm welcome by the Edomites.

Moses sent messengers from Kadesh to the king of Edom: “Thus says your brother Israel: You know all the hardship that we have met: how our fathers went down to Egypt, and we lived in Egypt a long time. And the Egyptians dealt harshly with us and our fathers. And when we cried to the Lord, he heard our voice and sent an angel and brought us out of Egypt. And here we are in Kadesh, a city on the edge of your territory. Please let us pass through your land. We will not pass through field or vineyard, or drink water from a well. We will go along the King’s Highway. We will not turn aside to the right hand or to the left until we have passed through your territory.” But Edom said to him, “You shall not pass through, lest I come out with the sword against you.” And the people of Israel said to him, “We will go up by the highway, and if we drink of your water, I and my livestock, then I will pay for it. Let me only pass through on foot, nothing more.” But he said, “You shall not pass through.” And Edom came out against them with a large army and with a strong force. Thus Edom refused to give Israel passage through his territory, so Israel turned away from him. – Numbers 20:14-21 ESV

In the prophesies of Obadiah, we are given further insights into the reasons for God’s coming judgment on the Edomites.

“You have been deceived by your own pride
    because you live in a rock fortress
    and make your home high in the mountains.
‘Who can ever reach us way up here?’
    you ask boastfully.” – Obadiah 1:3 NLT

“Because of the violence you did
    to your close relatives in Israel,
you will be filled with shame
    and destroyed forever.
When they were invaded,
    you stood aloof, refusing to help them.
Foreign invaders carried off their wealth
    and cast lots to divide up Jerusalem,
    but you acted like one of Israel’s enemies.” – Obadiah 1:10-11 NLT

The Edomites were prideful and arrogant, convinced that they were invincible in their mountain fortress. But there would be no place they could hide from the wrath of God. They had made the mistake of turning against the people of God, their very own relatives. When Israel had been attacked, they looked the other way, refusing to come to their aid. And God was going to repay them for their cold-hearted abandonment of Israel. His destruction would be complete. Nothing and no one would be spared. While grape gatherers might leave some gleanings in the field for the poor, God would leave nothing behind for the survivors in Edom. While a thief might be willing to leave a few things untouched, God was going to completely wipe Edom out. There would be nothing left when the judgment of God was complete.

“But I will strip bare the land of Edom,
    and there will be no place left to hide.
Its children, its brothers, and its neighbors
    will all be destroyed,
    and Edom itself will be no more.” – Jeremiah 49:10 NLT

But in the midst of all the devastation, notice the words of the Lord:

“But I will protect the orphans who remain among you.
    Your widows, too, can depend on me for help.” – Jeremiah 49:11 NLT

Even in His wrath, God will show mercy on the helpless, those who have no advocate and who are seen as outcasts within the community. God assures the widows and orphans that they will have Him as their protector and provider. Even in the midst of all the devastation, they will somehow be preserved by the merciful hand of God.

These pronouncements of doom are difficult for us to read and even harder for us to comprehend. They seem to paint God in a very negative light, portraying Him as a hateful, vengeful deity who uses His omnipotence to wreak havoc on mankind. We view His judgments from our limited human perspective and deem them as little more than the actions of some kind of divine playground bully. But there are things we cannot see. There are behind-the-scenes plots to which we are oblivious. And there is a plan that God has devised from before the foundation of the world that He is implementing and of which we are not privy. And while we might find it easy to question God’s motives or wonder about His methodologies, we must always remember that He is God and we are not. His ways are not our ways. His judgments are always right and good. His actions in regards to mankind are always righteous and beyond reproach. And as difficult as it may be for us to comprehend His ways, we have no right to question His integrity or doubt His goodness.

He is the Rock; his deeds are perfect. Everything he does is just and fair. He is a faithful God who does no wrong; how just and upright he is! – Deuteronomy 32:4 NLT

The LORD is righteous in everything he does; he is filled with kindness. – Psalm 145:17 NLT

“Listen to me, you who have understanding. Everyone knows that God doesn’t sin! The Almighty can do no wrong.” – Job 34:10 NLT

One of the problems we face as human beings is our inability to see past the here-and-now. We are not omniscient. We lack the ability to see into the future and view how everything will turn out. So, we are left to deal with what we can see. But looks can always be deceiving. What may appear as unjust and unfair may actually be the righteous and fully just actions of God. We simply can’t see the ultimate outcome. But it always pays to give God the benefit of the doubt. It is wise to trust that He knows best and that His ways are perfect. In time, we will see the method behind His seeming madness. We will one day have the ability to look back and see how the gracious, merciful and loving hand of God was working all things together for our good and His glory.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Such Stuff As Dreams Are Made On.

Now Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers they hated him even more. He said to them, “Hear this dream that I have dreamed: Behold, we were binding sheaves in the field, and behold, my sheaf arose and stood upright. And behold, your sheaves gathered around it and bowed down to my sheaf.” His brothers said to him, “Are you indeed to reign over us? Or are you indeed to rule over us?” So they hated him even more for his dreams and for his words.

Then he dreamed another dream and told it to his brothers and said, “Behold, I have dreamed another dream. Behold, the sun, the moon, and eleven stars were bowing down to me.” But when he told it to his father and to his brothers, his father rebuked him and said to him, “What is this dream that you have dreamed? Shall I and your mother and your brothers indeed come to bow ourselves to the ground before you?” And his brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the saying in mind. – Genesis 37:5-11 ESV

In Act 4 of his play, The Tempest, Shakespeare penned the phrase, “We are such stuff as dreams are made on.” In the play, Prospero, the prince of Naples, has staged a short entertainment, which he is forced to cut short. He attempts to comfort his guests by telling them that it was, like life, all just an illusion that would have to end at some point. Even the reality of life is illusory and short-lived. People, it seems, are the “stuff” that dreams are made on, whether in a fictional play or in real life.

Early on in the story of Joseph, dreams and real life interweave themselves in a remarkable way. The young Joseph has two vivid dreams that he eagerly and, perhaps, rather boastfully recounts to his family. They are visions that seem to reveal his coming prominence and their subservience to him. The cast of characters in his dreams – the “stuff” – are inanimate objects: sheaves, the sun, the moon and eleven stars. But his brothers are not stupid. They see what is going on immediately and understand full well that his dreams involve them. They are such stuff as Joseph’s dreams are made on. And they are not happy. They find his dreams offensive and cause for their jealousy and hatred for him to intensify. Little do they realize that they will become key players in the affairs surrounding Joseph’s life and unwittingly turn his dreams into reality.

There is no indication that Joseph understood the meaning behind his dreams. Whether he recounted them to his brothers in a prideful manner, bragging about his superiority, is not clear. It would seem that he is simply sharing exactly what he saw. There was no real benefit to Joseph in sharing his dreams with his brothers. After he told them the first dream, the text tells us, “they hated him even more” (Genesis 37:5 ESV). So what good could come out of telling them his second dream? Joseph seems to be intrigued, even confused, by his dreams. He is looking for explanations. He is anxious to know what they mean. But the only thing he gets from his brothers is their animosity. Even his father rebukes him.

But at the same time, Jacob seems to know that there is something going on behind the scenes that is inexplicable and supernatural in nature. Moses, the author of Genesis, tells us, “his father kept the saying in mind” (Genesis 37:11 ESV). The hand of God was at work. The dreams were His doing and they were prophetic foreshadows of things to come. The meaning behind the dreams, the bowing sheaths, sun, moon and stars, would soon become clear. And each of the individuals in the story would play a significant role in the fulfillment of the dreams. The hatred of the brothers would reach a boiling point. The blind favoritism of Jacob would prevent him from seeing the growing resentment and rancor in his own home. Joseph would remain blissfully ignorant of the danger his favored position was creating. The line between dream and reality would become increasingly blurred as time passed. God’s will, as revealed in the dream, would come face to face with the collective will of the brothers. Their growing hatred would soon boil over in an attempt to rid themselves of their annoying sibling once and for all. But their actions would accomplish far more than their liberation from his pestering presence. They would become such stuff as dreams are made of. They would become the very instruments God would use to accomplish His divine will, not only for Joseph, but the people of Israel. Their prerogatives would give way to God’s providence. Their human wills would become tools in the hands of God as He accomplished His divine will. Their self-determined actions would end up bringing about the very outcomes God had already ordained to happen. The mystery between man’s free will and God’s providence was about to be displayed in surprising fashion.

A Risky Request.

Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life. – Psalm 139:23-24 ESV

Psalm 139

David closes out his prayer with a powerful petition. It is an apt summation of all that he has prayed up to this point. Fully aware that God knows everything about him and that there is nothing he can hide from God, David requests that God reveal what’s going on in the inside of his own heart. This simply prayer reveals so much of what David knew about God, but ultimately, it lets us know that David knew God loved him. David trusted God. He was asking God to reveal things in his life to which he was either blind or simply oblivious. Rather than fear God’s omniscience, David wanted to take advantage of it. He wanted the all-knowing, ever-present God to search inside the recesses of his heart and “point out anything in me that offends you.” That’s a risky proposition. Not because God is going to discover something He didn’t already know. That’s been David’s point all along. God already knows. But it’s risky, because it means that God is going to reveal to David what he doesn’t know, and then David is going to be faced with the choice of agreeing with it and confessing it, or disagreeing with it and denying it. The former results in God’s forgiveness. The latter will result in His discipline.

But this prayer of David’s should be that of every individual who calls Christ his or her Savior. Our relationship with Jesus Christ has provided us with an intimate relationship with God the Father. We are able to come into His presence and enjoy His love, grace and forgiveness. He has created us, redeemed us, and knows everything about us. He loves us deeply and sent His Son not only to die for us, but to make it possible for us to be progressively transformed into His image. To do that, He is constantly exposing the sin in our life so that we might confess it and enjoy His forgiveness. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9 ESV). The truth is, we are incapable of seeing so much of the darkness that lies within our own hearts. Jeremiah the prophet wrote, “The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is?” (Jeremiah 17:9 ESV). The answer is God. He knows our hearts and He can reveal what is hidden from our view. God alone can reveal what is behind our “anxious thoughts.” The Hebrew word David uses is sar`aph and it refers to “disquieting thoughts.” God can tell us why we’re so anxious and worried. He can tell us what is driving our fear. We may think it is a past-due bill, but God may show us that it really our lack of trust in His provision. We may think our anxiety is due to a damaged relationship, but God may reveal that it is really a fear of man or our own lack of love. God has the innate ability to get to the root issue. And so often, it is the result of sin. There was a time in David’s life when he was having trouble sleeping. He could have written it off to his high-pressure job as king of Israel. But God reveals that it was the result of his affair with Bathsheba. David had internalized and rationalized his sin. But God saw it all and made sure David saw it as He did. That’s where the risk comes in.

But David knew that it was better to have his sins exposed by God than to try and live with them hidden. He knew he could fool others, but he could never fool God. He knows everything. And God was the key to David’s spiritual transformation. He needed God to help him live righteously. He was a man after God’s own heart, but he desperately needed God to constantly renew his heart. Refusing to let God reveal what is going on inside our hearts is like going to the doctor and refusing to let him tell us what is wrong with us. Not knowing will not make us better. Ignorance is not bliss. Unrevealed sin, like unseen cancer, does not mean it does not exist. It is there, wreaking havoc on our spiritual lives and doing damage to all those around us. We should want to know what God knows. When God had revealed to David the depth of the sin he had committed with Bathsheba, David prayed, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10 ESV). God had convicted him. Now David wanted God to cleanse him. He knew that God alone was capable of cleaning up the mess he had made with his life. God doesn’t just give us the prognosis, He provides the cure. He doesn’t just point out our sin, He makes possible the prescription for renewed spiritual health and vitality.

We can’t confess what we don’t know. That’s why we need God. We tend to see only the symptoms of our sin. God sees the source. He knows the root cause of all our thoughts, words and actions. We are blind to our pride, envy, idolatry, lust and more. But God sees it all. So David wanted the all-knowing God, who made Him and knew everything about him, to shine His divine flashlight into the recesses of his heart and point out anything and everything that offended Him. That’s a risky, yet rewarding prayer to pray, because it will show us things we don’t want to see, but it will also allow God to make us who He desires us to be.

Too Heavy Too Handle.

How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! If I would count them, they are more than the sand. I awake, and I am still with you. – Psalm 139:17-18 ESV

Psalm 139.

David is blown away with God. The very fact that God created him and knows everything about him was just too much for him. He uses a Hebrew word, yaqar to describe his feelings. It can mean to “be valuable, be precious, be costly”. But it can also be used metaphorically to mean “be heavy” or “hard to understand”. It is the same word used in the book of Daniel when the king asked his magicians to tell him his dream and his meaning. Their response was, “The thing that the king asks is difficult, and no one can show it to the king except the gods, whose dwelling is not with flesh” (Daniel 2:11 ESV). Given the context, it would seem that David is saying that God’s thoughts regarding him are too heavy or difficult for him to comprehend. Remember, David has been speaking of God’s creation of him, how He knew David before he was even formed in the womb. God already knew the day of his birth and the length of his life – long before his conception. God was aware of David’s thoughts – even before they came out of his mouth as words. All of this was too much for David to get his head around. He said, “How vast is the sum of them!” He could have gone on forever, recounting even more amazing facts regarding God and His intimate involvement in his life.

David seems to say that when he goes to bed, he falls asleep thinking about about it and when he wakes up, there’s still more. The word translated, “I am still with you” is `owd  and it means “a going round, continuance” (Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance). It can simply mean “more”. In other words, David says he wakes up in the morning and there is even more to be amazed about regarding God’s thoughts for him. It reminds me of another psalm of David where he writes, “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” (Psalm 8:3-4 ESV). Even Job, in his suffering, said to God, “What is man, that you make so much of him, and that you set your heart on him, visit him every morning and test him every moment?” (Job 7:17-18 ESV). The very idea that God takes notice of us, created us, cares for us, never takes His eyes off of us, and loves us, should astound us. To think that the God of the universe gives me a second thought at all should blow me away as it did David. As David has already acknowledged, “You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar” (Psalm 139:2 ESV). God is not some distant, disconnected deity who has no knowledge about or interest in His creation. He cares. In fact, He loves us so much that He sent His Son to die for us. He knows our weaknesses. He fully understands our inability to live up to His righteous standards. He is fully aware that we are incapable of not sinning. So He provided a way for us to be made right with Him that is not based on our own human effort, but on the death of His own Son. God knows us. And in spite of that, He still loves us. He knows our thoughts, even when we think we have kept them hidden. And yet, He is still willing to forgive us of those thoughts, if we will simply confess them to Him. He sees everything we do – the good, the bad, the ugly – and is still willing to show us mercy and extend to us His grace. That truly is amazing.

To think that God even gives me a second thought should leave me astounded. How easy it is for me to live my life thinking that all I say, think and do is done is obscurity. I am just one among billions. I am virtually unknown and little more than a blip on the radar screen of life. I can easily conclude that my contribution to life is inconsequential and of little value. But God, the one who created me, knows me, cares for me, watches over me, thinks about me, loves me enough to discipline me, and gave His Son to die for me. That’s heavy. That’s mind-boggling. But what a great reminder from the pen of David. I need to constantly consider the fact that I am known and loved by God. I must never forget that He made me – just as I am. As David said, He “formed my inward parts” and “knitted me together in my mother’s womb”. He made me for a reason. He saved me, not because of anything I had done to deserve it, but simply because He loved me. He is constantly transforming me into the likeness of His Son. He never takes His eyes off of me. He holds me in His hands. He protects me, provides for me, guides me and disciplines me. And He always knows what is best for me. Hard to believe? No doubt about it. But my disbelief won’t do anything but rob me of the joy of knowing just how much my God loves me. “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:6-7 ESV).

Our Inescapable God.

If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!  If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me. If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night,” even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you. – Psalm 139:8-12 ESV

Psalm 139

God had David surrounded. Because God is omnipresent, there was no place David could go to escape His presence – even if he wanted to. David used terms that expressed the full extent of his awareness of distance when He referred to God’s pervasive presence. Heaven was about as high as it got in David’s day. He had no real knowledge of the scope of the universe. He knew nothing about what might lie beyond what his eyes could see. When it came to depth, sheol was about as far down as it got for David. This was the Old Testament designation for the abode of the dead. David seems to be saying that from heaven to hell and everywhere in between, God is there. Even if David could jump on a ship and sail across the seas, God would still be there to lead him and protect him. There is no place man can go that God is not there. But David is not espousing some form of pantheism, a doctrine that identifies God with the universe and denies His personal existence. In other words, pantheism simply equates God as present in everything. He is in the trees, water, air, rocks, and within every animal and human being. David believed in a personal, individual God who was spirit and was unlimited by space and time. David saw God as deeply involved in His life, holding him in His hands and guiding him lovingly. He was not some impersonal all-pervasive force.

One of the most comforting concepts David held about God was His existence in his life at all times. David used a real-life example of feeling as if the darkness of life would overwhelm and consume him. “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night” (Psalm 139:11 ESV). For David, the darkness was a metaphor for misery, destruction, sorrow, and even wickedness. He is expressing the all-too-familiar feeling we all get when we feel as if the dark times of life will overwhelm and crush us under their weight. It is at those times that the light of life appears to be going out. Despair and depression set in. Even the light of life begins to fade. But at those times, David would have us remember that darkness is no problem for God – “even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you.” There is no event in our lives that God does not see. There are no dark, despairing circumstances that lie hidden from His view. He sees all and He knows all. Nothing happen to us that escapes His awareness. He is never surprised by the situations in which we find ourselves. But God is not just aware, He cares – “even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me.”

Paul shared David’s view of God. He wrote, “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39 ESV). There may come times when you wish God was not there to see you in your sin, but He will be. You may experience moments when it feels like God has abandoned you, but He hasn’t. You might even feel like your circumstances are proof that God has fallen out of love you, but He never will. He will never leave you or forsake you. You can’t run or hide from Him, disappear from His sight, drop off His radar, fall from His grace, or lose His love. Our God is inescapable and His love is unavoidable – in the good times and the bad times, in the light and the dark, on the heights and in the valleys, in our moments of delight and despair. Life can be very inconsistent, but our God can always be counted on.