Posts Tagged ‘God’s character’

We are back in the Gospel of John today, looking at the introduction in vs. 1-18. As I said before, these verses are poetic, powerful and profound. And although it may take some effort to get at all that they are saying, it is more than worth the effort.

Last week in vs. 1-13 we learned that the Word “was God,” and also that the Word was “with God,” as God’s agent in the creation of the world filling all things with life and light. And we learned that after darkness fell over the creation, the Word continued to shine forth as the light of life in the struggle between light and darkness.

And then we learned that the light came to the world as a human, and although rejected by most, a remnant believed and experienced once again the light and life that God gives; being born of God. John is teaching us in all this that the same Word who brought forth life and light in the first creation, is the one who, with his coming, has begun the new creation.

Our theme today

If you will take your handout, we can look again at how this passage works. Remember with me, there are two sections and each has three parts that parallel each other.

  • In the first part of each section (A, A1) there is a statement about the Word, what the Word does and how the Word comes into contact with humanity.
  • Then the middle part of each section (B, B1), like an interlude, focuses on John the Baptist’s witness and his subordinate role in relation to the Word.
  • And then the last part of each section (C, C1) focuses on what is received from the Word, picking up on the themes of the first part of each section (A, A1).

So for us today, the focus of vs. 14-18, as you see underlined, is the grace and truth that the Word gives. Let’s look at our verses –

John 1:14-18

The Word. “14And the Word became flesh . . ..” Once again, the Word refers to God’s Word, personified, who is in the beginning with God, as we saw in Genesis 1 last week.

When it says “the Word became flesh” it means that the Word became a human being – Jesus; a true, living, breathing person [Also – 1 John 4:2; 2 John 7].

The Word’s coming into the world has already been referenced in vs. 10-13, but here John goes back and picks up the story line with a different emphasis and theme – the revealing of the fullness of God’s grace and truth.

 Just as the first section of our passage had Genesis 1 as a background, so our verses today have Exodus 33-34 as a background. And just in case you can’t recall the details of this story, I will help you.

After the golden calf fiasco, the Lord told Moses that he would not go with Israel into the promised land, because of their sin (33:1-6). But Moses interceded and asked God to go with them (33:12-17). God told Moses that he had favor or grace (LXX) with him and that he would go with him. But Moses insisted that God go with all the people. He is asking for God’s grace for Israel. And the Lord consented. The idea seems to be that God agreed that he would go with them in the tabernacle that they would build, his place of residence among them.

In the midst of all this Moses also asks to know more of the truth about God. In 33:13 he said, “please show me now your ways.” And in 33:18 Moses asked, “Please show me your glory.” God told him, “I will make all my goodness pass by you” (33:19). But he also said 33:20, “you cannot see my face, for a human shall not see me and live.” God only let him see an approximation of his glory. In 33:23, the Lord said, “you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen.”

So the Lord passed by Moses and the Lord proclaimed his name, that is, his character and ways. He said, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness . . ..” (34:6). And then the Lord renewed his covenant with Israel, once again giving them his Law or will for them (34:10).

Alright, now back to John 1:14 – “. . . and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the beloved from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

There are several connections here with Exodus. The word “dwelt” literally means “pitched his tent” or “tabernacled” among us. In Exodus 33 Moses asked for God to go with his people into the promised land by means of the tabernacle, the same word as used here (in the LXX επηξεν). So Jesus is the presence of God tabernacling among us as a human being.

John also says, “we have seen his glory . . ..” In Exodus 33:18 Moses asked to know God’s ways and to see God’s glory. Here Jesus is the manifestation of the glory of God, dwelling among us. [Jesus’ glory will displayed through his signs 2:11, and as he is on the cross and then raised from the dead. Perhaps 34:10 is a background here.]

And then we have the phrase “full of grace and truth.” This refers back to all that Moses asked for in Exodus 33. As we just saw, he asked for grace from God, that God would forgive their sin and so be present with them. And he asked for truth in that he wanted to know God’s ways and see God’s glory. John teaches us that Jesus’ dwelling with us is the fullness of God’s grace. And Jesus’ showing us God’s ways is the fullness of God’s truth [Many connect the phrase “full of grace and truth” to 34:6 which the LXX translates as “abounding in mercy and truth.” This is too specific a connection however. First, the word “mercy” is used in the LXX and John uses the word “grace” (although grace does pretty much mean the same thing). Also the word for “abounding” is different than the word for “full” and “fullness” in John. But more importantly, the Hebrew word “emet,” translated by the LXX as “truth” has a different meaning than John’s use of the word “truth” in the rest of his gospel. Although it can be translated as “truth” (as in the LXX) the meaning is reliability, certainty or faithfulness. It means true in the sense of being true to one’s word. For John “truth” means something like a correct understanding of God and God’s ways. Also, in 1:14-18 John is making the point that Moses was limited in what he could make known of God, but Jesus is not. The truth that Jesus makes known is the fullest presentation of who God is. It is not just focused on a fuller presentation of the specific point of God’s faithfulness. “Abounding in mercy and truth is a part of what John means by “truth,” but it is not the whole.]

Notice the phrase “the beloved” (monogenes). Although it has been translated as “only begotten,” it is better translated as “the only one,” or “the beloved.” The idea is not procreation, but uniqueness. Jesus is the beloved of the Father. [In vs. 1-18 John distinguishes between Jesus who is the “beloved,” the unique and only son of God and those who are born of God through him who are called “children” (tekna).]

[Also notice the “we” “our” language in vs. 14-18. Although v. 14 may focus more on the actual witnesses of Jesus’ earthly life, certainly in vs. 16-18 it includes the whole Christian community who has received of his grace and truth. This section speaks from the point of view of the Christian community, the remnant that received him spoken of in vs. 12-13.]

And then, as in the first section, we have an interlude on John’s witness. “15John bore witness about him, and cried out, ‘This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’”

John the Baptist is very aware of Jesus’ preeminence. Usually the one who comes first is the greater one, and of course John baptized Jesus. But John is saying that even though from an earthly perspective he came first, in reality “he was before me.” John knows of Jesus’ preexistence, and this is why he can say that Jesus “ranks before me.”

vs. 16-18 pick up again the themes from v. 14 – Grace and truth from the Word. “16And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18No one has ever seen God. It is God the beloved, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.”

There is a contrast in these verses between what God gives  through Moses (from Exodus 33-34) and what God gives through Jesus. God gave grace through Moses, for he forgave their sin and tabernacled among them still. And God gave truth through Moses, for he revealed himself, his name, character and ways.

But what comes from the Word become flesh is much greater. As v. 14 says, he is “full of grace and truth.” And v . 16 says, “From his fullness we have all received grace upon grace.” As the word “fullness” means, what comes from him is complete, with nothing lacking. And what comes from him is bountiful, “grace upon grace.”

Yes, “the Law was given through Moses” as we see in Exodus 34 when God renewed his covenant with them. But “no one has ever seen God.” [Also John 6:46; 1 John 4:12]. Exodus 33:20 states that no one can see God’s face or they will die. God only let Moses see his back.

There was a limit to what Moses could know due to his humanity. He only saw God in part. With Jesus there is no limitation. He is the Word made flesh, the same Word who is God. This point is also made in v. 18, where John calls Jesus, “God the beloved.” Here the Word, or the Beloved is also called God, just as at the beginning in v. 1. [This is an inclusion that marks off the beginning and the end of the passage: The Word is with God and is God; The Word is God and is next to God.]

So Jesus is God the beloved and also he is “at the Father’s side,” which means he is in the closest possible relationship with the Father. And as such he is able, in human form, to show us all about God. John concludes “he has made him known.” Jesus has given a full account of God. He has told the whole story. Jesus has fully revealed and interpreted God. [Moses’ exaltation in Exodus 33-34 – God speaks to him face to face, etc. is trumped here with Jesus’ place by the Father and his being God.]

[There is also in all this the theme of covenant, or new covenant. In Exodus 33-34 God renewed his covenant with his people. And a part of this was revealing himself and his ways and choosing to dwell among them (this as covenant language – Leviticus 26:11-12; Ezekiel 37:27; Zechariah 2:10-11). And also with Jesus, he has begun the promised new covenant. He has revealed the fullness of God’s grace and truth and has come to dwell with us by becoming human and giving us the Spirit.]

If the first section moved from creation to new creation, our verses today move from the revelation of God’s grace and truth to Moses in the Law, to the final revelation of God’s grace and truth through Jesus, the Word made flesh in the new covenant. [Also, the Son is the first Word, at the begining in creation (vs. 1-13) and the last Word (vs. 14-18)]

So the message today is – Jesus is it!

  • With regard to grace – he is the fullness of grace. Not just in a tabernacle, but God tabernacling among us as a human being;  one of us.
  • With regard to truth – he is the fullness of truth. Not just an account of what God said, but God among us teaching us himself and living out in front of us God’s character and ways.

God’s provision for his old covenant people was amazing. But his provision for his new covenant people is more amazing and complete. For Jesus is the highest revelation of God.

So any who say we just need to do what the Old Testament says, No! Jesus is the final revelation of God’s grace and truth. We must check everything against him.

And any who come and say they can give more access to God’s grace and presence – No, brothers and sisters! Jesus is the final revelation of God’s grace to us.

And any who come and say they have more knowledge of God’s truth, another revelation, a supplement to Jesus in the New Testament – No, sisters and brothers! Jesus has given us the final revelation of God. When you look at Jesus in the New Testament you are looking at God!

Jesus is it. Rest in him and receive of his grace and truth. He is all we need.

William Higgins 

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Well this morning we are looking at a large portion of the Old Testament – trying to get the big picture of things. And we are doing this to lay out the context for a most amazing promise that God made. My point to you today is that God knows how to keep a promise!

Let’s begin with some –


  • God was merciful and saved Israel and gave them a new life, bringing them up out of Egypt.
  • But, as you know, Israel was unfaithful to God and rebelled against him.

And they did this despite God’s love for them and even though God warned them that they would be judged for their sin. They continued to fall into unfaithfulness. This can be seen throughout the history of Israel. Remember with me –

In the time of Moses, just to give two examples, their building of the golden calf and their the refusal to enter the land of promise.

In the time of the judges there was a constant cycle of idolatry and sin.

In the time of the united kingdom, Saul was unfaithful and rejected. David was amazing for sure, but also broke God’s law. And Solomon was involved in idolatry.

In the time of the divided kingdom the people’s unfaithfulness reached a peak and brought about severe judgment.

This was certainly true of the northern kingdom of Israel. 2 Kings 17:13-14 says, “The Lord warned Israel and Judah by every prophet and every seer, saying, ‘Turn from your evil ways and keep my commandments and my statutes’ . . .. But they would not listen, but were stubborn, as their fathers had been, who did not believe in the Lord their God.” They were destroyed by the Assyrians in 722 BC.

Also in the time of the divided kingdom, the southern kingdom of Judah, despite brief periods of faithfulness, was full of idolatry and sin as well. 2 Chronicles 36:15-16 says, “The Lord, the God of their fathers, sent persistently to them by his messengers, because he had compassion on his people and on his dwelling place. But they kept mocking the messengers of God, despising his words and scoffing at his prophets . . ..” Judah went into exile in Babylon and Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed in 586 BC.

The kingdoms of Israel and Judah reaped what they sowed. They did what God warned them not to do, and they experienced the consequences. But just as all seemed lost –

God gave a promise

– to the exiles of the kingdom of Judah, through the prophet Jeremiah. There are two parts to it.

First of all, the time of Babylon’s rule will be limited. The Lord said through Jeremiah, “After seventy years are completed, I will punish the king of Babylon and that nation . . .” – Jeremiah 25:12. The Lord speaks of “70” years, which seems to be a round number talking about the typical life-span of a person. (This is how it is used in Psalm 90:10).

At the end of this time period, Babylon will be destroyed – Jeremiah 51:1; 11. They were very severe with God’s people, and destroyed Jerusalem and the temple and so they will be destroyed.

The second part of the promise is that the exiles will return and be restored. The Lord said to those in exile, “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place” – Jeremiah 29:10. The Lord goes on to say, “I will restore your fortunes” – Jeremiah 29:14.

So after Babylon is destroyed, the exiles will return to Judah and be restored. The Lord will undo what Babylon had done in carrying them away and destroying the city and the temple.

What an amazing promise this is to Judah! And it is an indication of God’s deep compassion and love for them. Despite their sin and rebellion, God will give them another chance.

Now let’s look at –

The fulfillment of the promise

First of all, Cyrus, king of Persia, whom God raised up, destroyed Babylon in 539 BC. This story is told in the ancient history books.

So just as promised, Babylon’s rule lasted approximately 70 years. Now, modern historians differ on when exactly to say that the empire of Babylon started – when they took Assyria’s final capital and the last king was gone in 609 BC, or four years later when a final battle occurred (the battle of Carchemish). If we go with the first date then the Babylon empire lasted exactly 70 years. If we go with the second, it lasted 66 years. In either case, within a lifespan God cut off Babylon and it was no more, just as Jeremiah said.

As to the second part of the promise – Cyrus allowed the exiles to return and build the temple. This story is told in Ezra 1-6. We will go through it in a minute or so.

  • He issued a decree and a group went to Judah – Ezra 1-2. The articles of the temple were also returned.
  • In the seventh month they rebuilt the altar and made preparations for the foundation – Ezra 3:1-7.
  • In the second year they worked on the foundation – Ezra 3:8-13.
  • The locals, however, brought the project to a stop – Ezra 4. They offered to help, but were declined, most likely because they were not fully Jewish – being settlers from the Assyrian empire. Their worship probably included elements of Judaism and other religions. Once they were rejected they threatened them and bribed officials to bring things to a halt. No work was done for 16-17 years.
  • With encouragement from the prophets Haggai and Zechariah, the work began again (520 BC) – Ezra 5:1-2.
  • After some local objection, the new Persian king, Darius ruled that the temple should be finished – Ezra 5:3-6:13. Darius made a search and Cyrus’s decree was found. Darius also said that the cost of the temple was to be paid from the resources of the Persian state and offerings were to be given as well. And anyone who opposed this decree, it says, “a beam shall be pulled out of his house, and he shall be impaled on it, and his house shall be made a dunghill” or a public bathroom – Ezra 6:11.
  • So the work progressed, and the temple was finished in 516 BC – Ezra 6:14-22.

Ezra notes that all this is in fact the fulfillment of the promise of return and restoration. Ezra 1:1 says, “In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia . . .” and then it goes on to talk about his decree to send the exiles home to build the temple of God.

Alright, we have covered a lot of ground, hundreds and hundreds of years, and I have done all this to make the point that –

God keeps his promises

First of all, we see in this story that nothing can hinder God. No power can stand in God’s way to keep him from fulfilling his promise. The strongest empire in the world, Babylon, was standing in the way. But no matter. God did away with it. And this was as nothing to God.

Second, God is always on time. God gave a timeframe of 70 years and God came through within that time frame, judging Babylon and then bringing his people home.

Also, God is able to use whomever he pleases to accomplish his purposes and keep his promises. He raised up Cyrus, a pagan king, to do his will. He defeated Babylon, sent the exiles home and decreed that the temple be rebuilt. He thought he was doing his own will, but he was actually doing God’s will. God also used King Darius in the same way. As Ezra 6:22 says, God “turned the heart of the king . . . so that he aided them in the work of the house of God . . ..”

Finally, we may go through difficulties as we wait, but God comes through. They experienced frustration, opposition and 16 years of delay in building the temple. But in the end God made it so that even those who questioned and opposed the temple project ended up paying for it.

What an amazing God we serve! A God who is merciful and full of compassion. A God who is faithful and true to keep his word. And he will keep all his promises to us as well.

William Higgins

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One of my all time favorite foods is Hot and Sour soup. It’s a Chinese dish. I first discovered it when I lived in Boston. Now anytime we go out for Chinese food I try out the Hot and Sour soup to see how it compares. There are different styles and ways of making it and some are better than others.

Well, recently Marie and I were up in Carlisle and we decided to go out for lunch at a Thai restaurant. With my meal I received a bowl of Tom Yum soup. I had never even heard of it before. I wasn’t expecting much. But it was amazing! I was so impressed. It has a kind of citrus and ginger flavor to it.

I told my wife all about it and she tried it when we were out in Pittsburgh a few weeks back and she liked it as well. I remember saying, “Where has this been all my life? Why have I lived this long without knowing about this soup?”

This morning I can tell you all about how good Hot and Sour soup is, or how good Tom Yum soup is, and you can hear others talk about it as well. But here’s the truth: You will never know for yourself, until you try it. You have to taste it, and then you will see, I believe, that it is good.

In our Scripture for this morning, we hear the Psalmist talking about God in similar terms. Psalm 34:8 says, “O taste and see that the Lord is good.” Psalm 34 is attributed to David. And for sure David knew a lot about the Lord and his goodness. And here he is telling us from his own experience that the Lord is good. He’s saying, “I know. This is my testimony.”

But he us also inviting us to find this out for ourselves – “Taste and see.” He’s saying, “Experience the Lord for yourself and then you will know that he is good.”

What I want us to do this morning is look at three examples from David’s early life, of God’s goodness to him – so that we can hear and clearly understand his testimony to us. We begin with one of the most familiar of all Bible stories –

David and Goliath – 1 Samuel 17

David was just a young man and no one even knew who he was at the time. Goliath was a famous Philistine warrior. And he was a giant – nine feet, nine inches tall. And he was well armed:

  • He had a bronze helmet
  • He wore armor that weighed 125 pounds
  • He had additional bronze armor on his legs
  • He had a thick bronze javelin with an iron spear tip alone that weighed 15 pounds
  • He had a large sword
  • He had a shield bearer with him

He challenged anyone in Israel to come and fight him. And he did this for 40 days. And out of fear, no one would fight Goliath. And so he taunted the Israelites and the Lord God.

But David was not afraid. He said, “The Lord . . . will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine” – 17:37.

As David came out to face him, with a shepherd’s staff and a sling Goliath cursed him and insulted him. But David said, “You come to me with a sword and with a spear and with a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts . . .” – 17:45.

Even though Goliath was older, bigger, had armor and more and better weapons – God was good to David. God saved David’s life and gave him the victory. Without a sword, but with only a sling and a stone.

Next comes the story of –

Saul’s rejection and persecution of David – 1 Samuel 18-20

After killing Goliath, David was famous. He became a part of Saul’s army, a leader and eventually Saul’s son in law. And we are told that David was successful in everything he did – 18:5; 14. And precisely because of this Saul became jealous. He was even afraid David might take his throne. He became paranoid – 18:6-9.

And in his paranoia, Saul determined to kill David. He made a number of attempts on his life:

  • He threw a spear at him and tried to pin him to the wall – 18:11
  • He sent him on a mission designed to kill him – 18:25
  • He threw another spear at him – 19:10
  • He laid a trap for him at his home – 19:11-17
  • He tried to catch him in the city of Naioth when he was with the prophet Samuel – 19:18-34

Saul wanted David dead.

In all this, David was falsely accused, even though he had been faithful to Saul in every way. He was rejected; his own father in law now hated him. He was made an outcast. He had to leave his wife and home and run for his life. And he was in constant danger. The most powerful man in the land wanted him dead. And he had spies and servants everywhere. As David said at one point, “there is but a step between me and death” – 20:3.

But as we learn in the story God watched over and delivered David from all of this. God spared him and saved him. God was very good to him in each of these instances.

And then for a final story, we have the very interesting episode of –

David and king Achish – 1 Samuel 21:10-15

This is actually the story that tradition connects with Psalm 34, our Scripture today.

David, trying to escape Saul’s grasp, fled to Achish, king of the Philistine city of Gath. He must have thought that this would be the one place where Saul could never get him, in the city of his arch enemy.

But then Achish’s servants told him who he was. “Hey, this is David. You know, the one about whom it is sung, ‘Saul has struck down his thousands, and David his ten thousands’?’ that is, ten thousands of Philistines. Here David is, the most famous killer of Philistines ever, looking for refuge from Philistines. And in the background it has to be remembered that Goliath was from this city of Gath.

When David heard this talk between Achish and his servants he became very afraid. He must have thought, “Wow, this was a big mistake! What was I thinking?” and, “How in the world am I going to get out of here? And his solution is certainly out of the ordinary. It says, “So right there in front of everyone, David pretended to be insane. He acted confused and scratched up the doors of the town gate, while drooling in his beard.” – 21:13 (CEV).

He put on quite a show! Achish was like, “I don’t need any more madmen in my kingdom. Don’t I have enough already?” And so he sent him away. He could have easily taken advantage of David being there, whether crazy or not, and killed an enemy. But somehow God used this unorthodox response of David to save him, keeping Achish from seeing the opportunity that was before him and rescuing David from a bad decision.


Well, we could go on and on with stories of the Lord being good to David. But this is enough to make clear that David knew from personal experience that “the Lord is good.” God was kind to him. God took care of him. And God provided for him. Even in the midst of many troubles.

And what David is doing in Psalm 34:8 is inviting us to discover this as well – “Taste and see.” Find out for yourself. Don’t just listen to others.

Wherever you are at today, whether you don’t know anything about the Lord, or have heard things here and there – “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” Discover the truth and the reality of God’s goodness for yourself. If like David, you are facing an impossible situation – look to God for help. If you are afraid or have been rejected or have made bad decisions,  like David – ask God to help you. Enter into a relationship with God. Seek to walk in God’s ways and then receive of his care, his love and his provision, like David did.

William Higgins

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We are looking at Luke 15:11-32 this morning and the story of the prodigal son.

The point

. . . of this parable is easy enough to discern. The verses right before it set the context for understanding it: Luke 15:1-2 says, “Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear Jesus. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, ‘This man receives sinners and eats with them.’”

  • Jesus is receiving and eating with repentant sinners; people who have intentionally disregarded God and knowingly done what was wrong.
  • The Pharisees do not approve of this; people who have tried to keep God’s will.

This is the situation that is being dealt with in the whole of Luke chapter 15.

Then in Luke 15:3-10 come the twin parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin – which comment on this situation. Yes, there are those who are not lost – the 99 sheep and the 9 coins, but when the one that was lost is found there is rejoicing. Even rejoicing in heaven among the angels.

Then in our text we have:

  • The younger son’s repentance which is celebrated
  • And the elder son, who grumbles about this

So, you can see how these all line up, and what corresponds to what:

prodigal context

So all these parables refer back to the situation of Jesus and the Pharisees and comment on it.

The point of our parable, then, is that it is right to welcome and celebrate sinners who repent.

  • The father celebrates his son’s repentance. In vs. 23-24 he said, “Bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.”
  • The father tells his older son that it is right to do this. In v. 32 he said, “It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.”

Now, beyond this central point – there is much that we can learn from this parable about repentance, and we have looked at it in this light.

There is also something to learn about how those who have sought to be faithful and have been serving God for years, should be welcoming to repentant sinners, and rejoice for them, despite their years of sin and failure.

And there is also much to be learned about God’s love. And this is our focus today. And to get to this, first we look at . .

The love of the father in this parable

He is actually the central figure of the story. It begins and ends with him, and he is the thread that holds the two parts together, first with his younger son and then his elder son. So lets look at his love:

1. The father’s love endures rejection. His son’s request was highly unusual, indeed insulting to the father. You only get your inheritance when your father is dead! And so the son is, as it were, treating his father as if he is already dead. And he just wants his money. He doesn’t care about his father, only what he can get out of him.

But the father grants his wish. V. 12 – says “he divided his property between them,” that is the two sons.

2. The father’s love accepts his son when he repents. Even though the father knew his son was wasting his own hard earned resources and squandering his good gifts . . ..

Even though he knew that his son was debasing himself:

  • using the money on prostitutes (v. 30)
  • sinking to the lowest possible point for a Jew, caring for pigs which are unclean animals
  • and being so hungry that he longed for their food . . ..

Even with all this, when the father saw his son coming v. 20 says,

  • he “felt compassion”
  • he “ran and embraced him”
  • he “kissed him”

This kind of display of affection was unusual in this cultural context. It shows the intensity of his love for his son. And this despite all that his son had done wrong.

The father’s love survived all the insult and pain and was there waiting for him as he returned from far away and from his foolishness. It was waiting to accept him.

3. The fathers’ love is full of mercy. He gives him so much more than he deserves, given all that he has done. V. 22 speaks of . . .

  • “the best robe”
  • “a ring” (a symbol of authority)
  • and “shoes”

All of these items speak to a certain social status. The father is proclaiming him to be his son and not a servant. (The son had only hoped to be accepted back as a servant).

And then the father welcomes him with a party – v. 23. The fattened calf is brought out, reserved only for the most special of occasions.

4. The father’s love is patient with the elder brothers grumbling. The elder son objected to the party. In fact, he insults his father by not taking part. Even though the father pleaded with him.

Yet the father is patient and only gently rebukes him. He says in v. 32, “It was fitting to celebrate and be glad . .  ..” The father is saying, ‘He’s your brother! And something amazingly good has just happened.’

5. The father’s love rewards the faithful service of his elder son. In v. 31 he says to his elder son who has worked for him so long and so hard, “Look, dear son, you have always stayed by me, and everything I have is yours.”

This shows us again that sin has consequences. The younger son’s inheritance was still all gone. But the point here is that the father honors faithfulness. Everything the father has is his elder son’s. He is blessed for his faithfulness.

Our heavenly Father’s love for us

Now, the father in this parable certainly represents to us our heavenly Father. So let’s see what we can learn from him about the love of God:

1. God’s love endures our rejection of him. So often we dishonor God by making our own choices that go against God and God’s way. But yet, like the prodigal son, we want what we can get out of God. When we get in trouble or there is an emergency we call for God’s help.

But despite our all this, our heavenly father’s love for us endures.

2. God’s love accepts us when we repent. No matter how much we have rejected God, no matter how much we have debased ourselves, no matter how much we have squandered God’s gifts to us – when we come to our senses and come to him in repentance – God is there to welcome us with affection and love.

3. God’s love is full of mercy to us. Our heavenly father gives us so much more than we deserve. When we come in repentance –

  • He blesses us with gifts
  • He calls us his children
  • and there is rejoicing in heaven

None of which we deserve.

4. God’s love is patient with us when we grumble. Although we all live out the prodigal son’s story to some degree, since we understand that we have all sinned against God, we can also all find ourselves in the place of the elder son.

Perhaps you were raised as a Christian, or at least you’ve been a Christian for many years – serving God and seeking to do what is right.

And we become proud and un-accepting of those who have lived truly sinful lifestyles for years. All the attention and fuss that is made over them. We’ve been toiling in silence for years!

Yet God lovingly and gently admonishes us to rejoice with those who have come to their senses; to welcome them.

5. God’s love rewards us for faithful service. God’s grace to those who have wasted so much of their lives in sin, will not cheat anyone out of God’s blessings. No one needs to fret or be upset.

If we have truly been faithful, God will be faithful to bless us for all that we do for him.

So we learn much about God’s love to us in this parable – when we are walking in sin, when we come to God in repentance and when we are faithful as well. God loves us with an amazing love!

William Higgins

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We are continuing on in our series from 2 Chronicles today, picking up with Manasseh, the son of Hezekiah.

The basics

  • He began to reign at 12 years old – v. 1. Probably alongside his father for the first several years, as was common.
  • He reigned for 55 years – v. 1, the longest of any Judean king.
  • But, he did what was evil in the sight of the Lord – v. 2. In fact, he was so bad, we have to have a whole section to describe all of . . .

Manasseh’s sins

  • “He rebuilt the high places” – v. 3. These were local shrines throughout Judah, that his father had broken down in his reforms. These were most often for Canaanite worship.
  • “He erected altars to the Baals, and made Asherahs” – v. 3. These were Canaanite gods. Ba’al’s name means “lord.” He was the god of storms (and thus rain) as well as fertility. Asherah or Astarte was his companion, the goddess of many things, including fertility.
  • He “worshiped all the host of heaven and served them.” – v. 3; that is, the worship of stars and planets as gods. Vs. 4-5 tell us that he built altars in the Temple for this pagan worship, “in the two courts of the house of the Lord” it says, thus defiling the temple with his idolatry.
  • He practiced child sacrifice offering up some of his own sons – v. 6.
  • He “used fortune-telling and omens and sorcery, and dealt with mediums and with wizards.” – v. 6.
  • But his crowning act of unfaith-fulness is that he “put an idol in God’s temple of which God had said . . . ‘I will put my Name forever’” – v. 7. The contrast between God’s action of putting his name in the temple, and Manasseh action of putting an idol in the temple, is stark.

Also in v. 8, commenting on this action, the contrast between the faithful Davidic king who is “careful to do all that I have commanded . . . all the law, the statutes, and the rules given through Moses,” the contrast between this and Manasseh, is clear. He blatantly went against God’s commands given through Moses and defiled the Temple.

This passage has a building crescendo of outrage to it. As v. 2 says, “he did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, according to the abominations of the nations whom the Lord drove out before the people of Israel.” As v. 6 says, “He did much evil in the sight of the Lord, provoking him to anger.” And as v. 9 says, he did “more evil than the nations whom the Lord destroyed before the people of Israel.”

The bottom line is that he was the worst king in all of Judah’s history. His “sin and unfaithfulness” (v. 19) was complete. He was the antithesis of his father, the righteous Hezekiah and he undid all of his reforms until things were worse than they were before Hezekiah.

Yet, despite all this, through the many years . . .

God tried to get through to Manasseh

God sent prophets to speak to him and the people:

  • v. 10 says, “The Lord spoke to Manasseh and to his people, but they paid no attention.”
  • v. 18 also refers to “the words of the seers who spoke to him in the name of the Lord, the God of Israel.”

Finally, since he didn’t listen, God put him in “distress.” v. 11 says, “Therefore the Lord brought upon them the commanders of the army of the king of Assyria, who captured Manasseh with hooks and bound him with chains of bronze and brought him to Babylon.”

Its possible he took part in a rebellion against the Assyrian overlords, so they came after him and caught him. Whatever the case may be, it was the Lord who was behind this.

The Assyrians were brutal. They would put hooks through the nose or lips of a person, tie a rope onto them and lead them away as prisoners. Something like this happened to Manasseh. He was taken away in humiliation.

Now, sometimes when God puts us in distress, or disciplines us for our sin, it works. But sometimes it makes people even more hardened in their rebellion against God. In this case, the distress worked. It led to . . .

Manasseh’s repentance

v. 12 says, “And when he was in distress, he entreated the favor of the Lord his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers.” He was already humiliated before the Assyrian king, but now he humbles himself greatly before the king of all creation. Humiliation is what others do to you. You have to choose to humble yourself. And he chooses to do this before God.

v. 13 says, “He prayed to him, and God was moved by his entreaty and heard his plea and brought him again to Jerusalem into his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the Lord was God.” This is a remarkable verse. God was moved by his prayer. Isn’t it an amazing thing that our prayers can move God?

And despite all that he had done, his idolatry and child sacrifice, God heard his plea, forgave him and saved him! He was sent back to Jerusalem.

Then Manasseh knew that Yahweh was the true God. After pursing every other god available, every other religious option, he comes back to the God of his fathers.

This is one of the most powerful stories of repentance, of turning one’s life around, of a true change of heart, in all of the Old Testament and indeed in all of the Scriptures.

When he got back to Jerusalem, he started doing what a Davidic king is supposed to do.

He took care of God’s people

  • He built a great outer wall around the whole eastern part of Jerusalem – v. 14
  • He also “put commanders of the army in all the fortified cities in Judah.” – v. 14

He got rid of the idols. v. 15 says,  “And he took away the foreign gods and the idol from the house of the Lord, and all the altars that he had built on the mountain of the house of the Lord and in Jerusalem, and he threw them outside of the city.”

He had done great wrong with his idolatry and now he makes it right. His repentance finds expression in concrete actions. He stopped doing what he was doing wrong. And then also he started doing what was right . . .

He practiced true worship in the temple. v. 16 says, “He also restored the altar of the Lord and offered on it sacrifices of peace offerings and of thanksgiving, and he commanded Judah to serve the Lord, the God of Israel.”

But we also have to say that his reform was limited in impact. V. 17 says, “Nevertheless, the people still sacrificed at the high places, but only to the Lord their God.”

It was focused on Jerusalem. The people outside of the city still used the high places, even though they worshipped God at them or were supposed to now.

It also didn’t take hold in people’s lives. It’s most likely that his repentance came nearer to the end of his reign, so that most of his life, most of his 55 years as king, he did evil and encouraged others to do evil – (which is why, even with his repentance, he is still later referred to in v. 22 as one who did what was evil in the sight of the Lord).

A whole generation would have been brought up in his idolatry, which would be hard to break. And this is why his son, who followed in his footsteps, found it easy to go back to Manasseh’s idolatrous practices.

Some lessons

1. We learn that sin has consequences. As Paul says in Galatians 6, ‘you reap what you sow.’

Now, not all trials come directly from our wrongdoing, but in this case it was because of his sin that he experienced distress in his life. He was taken away as a prisoner in humiliation. And God also disciplines us when we sin. God tries to get our attention; to wake us up.

With regard to his legacy, he is remembered as one who repented, but he is also remembered as one who lived most of his life in sin (33:22).

We learn from this that it’s always better to not sin in the first place, than to sin and then repent. There is always damage and pain and consequences that you can’t control, even with the grace of repentance. Manasseh repented, but his sins continued on in the generation to come. Sin has consequences. We must remember this.

2. How to repent. Manasseh “humbled himself greatly” before God – v. 12. That is, he lowered himself. He put aside arrogance and defensiveness and recognized his wrong. Then he “prayed to God” – v. 13. He confessed his sins. And then, he changed his behavior – v. 14–16. And this last part is necessary.

His repentance was not just a matter of the heart. Although it has to start there. He  didn’t just feel bad. It was not just a verbal thing. He didn’t just say, “I’m sorry.” Although this is necessary too. His repentance involved changed behavior. What he did wrong before he stopped doing. And he began to do what is right.

Repentance requires all three: the heart, the mouth and our actions.

3. Finally, we learn about the depth of God’s mercy. God was patient with Manasseh, seeking him out for so many years; speaking through prophets; putting him in distress; trying to get his attention.

And God does the same with us. We sin, we run, and we try to ignore. But God pursues us.

And we see God’s mercy in that God forgave Manasseh. When the worst king of Judah, whose sins and unfaithfulness were astounding; when this sinful man cried out in repentance, God heard, God forgave and God saved.

And if God can have mercy in such an extreme case, it shows us that God can have mercy on us too.

What a good and wonderful God we have! A God we don’t deserve, but a God who loves us nevertheless.

William Higgins

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We are continuing to look at Hezekiah. Today we look at a time of crisis in Hezekiah’s reign, when Judah was invaded, and how God delivered them.

The story

It’s told in three different places: 2 Chronicles 32:1-23, 2 Kings 18-19 and Isaiah 36-37. Obviously it’s an important story. Our version, from 2 Chronicles, is the shortest and the most to the point. We will stick to how it’s told here, with a reference here and there to 2 Kings. We begin with –

The invasion of Judea. 32:1 says – “After these things and these acts of faithfulness, Sennacherib king of Assyria came and invaded Judah and encamped against the fortified cities, thinking to win them for himself.” This actually happens about 14 years later (701 BC), as we learn from 2 Kings 18:13. Our text simply says, “After these things.” The time period is compressed in our version.

So Hezekiah did all these acts of faithfulness, his religious reforms, and then here comes an enemy ready to attack. And not just any enemy. Assyria was the super-power in Hezekiah’s day. No army could stand before it, and it controlled the whole region.

32:2 says, “ . . . Hezekiah saw that Sennacherib had come and intended to fight against Jerusalem . . ..” The dire situation became clear to him. Sennacherib didn’t just want to raid Judah and then get some tribute money to go away. He was set on the destruction of Judah.

By way of context – it was his predecessors that had conquered the northern kingdom of Israel and had resettled them in various countries, so that they faded into history. They were no more. And if Sennacherib succeeded, Judah would suffer the same fate. This was an all out assault on the existence of the people of God. So . . .

Hezekiah prepared Jerusalem for battle. First, he dealt with the city’s water. 32:2-4 say, “ . . . he planned with his officers and his mighty men to stop the water of the springs that were outside the city; and they helped him. A great many people were gathered, and they stopped all the springs and the brook that flowed through the land, saying, ‘Why should the kings of Assyria come and find much water?’”

Its not exactly clear what this refers to. The main spring near Jerusalem was the Gihon spring. We learn later, in 2 Chronicles 32:30, that Hezekiah dug a tunnel and rerouted the water from this spring into the city. Whether this is what is going on here or not isn’t clear. The point is that during siege warfare, when you can’t go outside your walls – water sources become an issue.

In his preparations he also focused on the walls. 32:5 says, “He set to work resolutely and built up all the wall that was broken down and raised towers upon it, and outside it he built another wall and he strengthened the Millo in the city of David.”

Finally, he also prepared the army. 32:5-6 say, “He also made weapons and shields in abundance. And he set combat commanders over the people.” Next . . .

Hezekiah encouraged the people.

32:6-8 say, he “. . . gathered them together to him in the square at the gate of the city and spoke encouragingly to them, saying, ‘Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or dismayed before the king of Assyria and all the horde that is with him, for there are more with us than with him. With him is an arm of flesh, but with us is the Lord our God, to help us and to fight our battles.’”

Hezekiah is a real encourager. This comes out in several of the stories in 2 Chronicles. He is a realist, for sure. He’s telling them, ‘Yes, this is a big deal’ – the most powerful king in the world is here, with “all the horde that is with him;” his army.

But he is also a man of faith, and so he encourages them. The Assyrians only have the strength of the flesh. “There is more with us than with him.” He is looking at the reality of the spirit realm. He tells them that God is with us “to help us and to fight our battles.”

32:8 says, “And the people took confidence from the words of Hezekiah king of Judah.” They received his words. But then comes

Sennacherib’s message:

  • He sought to instill fear – vs. 9; 11. During the siege, they said, “you will die by famine and thirst.” The more ‘earthy’ 2 Kings version says, they “will eat their own dung and . . . drink their own urine” – v. 27.
  • He slandered Hezekiah – v. 11-12; 15. He called him a deceiver. He said his religious reforms were an affront to God (tearing down altars), and he is now being punished. Sennacherib was seeking to get the people to turn on Hezekiah.
  • He proclaimed that God will not save them – v. 11, 13-15. This last verse says, “no god of any nation or kingdom has been able to deliver his people from my hand or from the hand of my fathers. How much less will your God deliver you out of my hand!” This is the constant theme of the messagers and a letter he sent later (v. 17). Yahweh, your God, cannot save. Don’t trust in him.

This is psychological warfare for sure. The messengers spoke in Hebrew so that all in the city could hear the words, to frighten and intimidate them – v. 18. Sennacherib is trying to get them to give up even before the fight – v. 18.

This is also blasphemy. As 32:19 says, “And they spoke of the God of Jerusalem as they spoke of the gods of the peoples of the earth, which are the work of people’s hands.”

Hezekiah responded to all this with prayer. 32:20 says, “Then Hezekiah the king and Isaiah the prophet, the son of Amoz, prayed because of this and cried to heaven.” This is Isaiah from the book of Isaiah in the Bible. They both offer up prayers to the Lord.

And God answered in an amazing way; a truly awesome . .

Deliverance and vindication. 32:21 says, “And the Lord sent an angel, who cut off all the mighty warriors and commanders and officers in the camp of the king of Assyria.” Now, there was other fighting going on in Judea. But in the fight over Jerusalem no Judean soldier even had to lift a hand. God did all the fighting. Indeed, it only took one angel. And according to 2 Kings – 185,000 died among the Assyrians.

32:21 says, “So he returned with shame of face to his own land.” The mightiest king in the world; the one who boasted and taunted, went away humbled.

32:21 says, “And when he came into the house of his god, some of his own sons struck him down there with the sword.” This is also time compressed (as we saw at the beginning of the story). This took place about 20 years later. But what a horrible fate. The one who would cut off the line of David, was himself cut off by his own sons.

32:22-23 end our story, “So the Lord saved Hezekiah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem from the hand of Sennacherib king of Assyria and from the hand of all his enemies, and he provided for them on every side. And many brought gifts to the Lord to Jerusalem and precious things to Hezekiah king of Judah, so that he was exalted in the sight of all nations from that time onward.”

Sennachrib’s message was, ‘Yahweh cannot save.’ And, indeed, not no other gods had saved their people. But Yahweh, the true God, “saved Hezekiah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem.”

God brought about a reversal: Hezekiah was weak and Sennacherib arrogant; but now Sennacherib is shamed and Hezekiah is empowered – “exalted in the sight of all nations.” But not only this, there is spiritual warfare going on here. The god of Sennacherib is humiliated, while the renown of Yahweh spread among the nations. He did what no other god could do!

Lessons on testing from this story

1. God allows us to be tested. And God allows this, even when we are faithful. As v. 1 says, “After these things and these acts of faithfulness, Sennacherib king of Assyria came and invaded Judah . . ..” Hezekiah had done so much good, why such a hardship? We all ask this. And of course, we have to ask it now against the background of Jesus who had no sin, but was tested beyond what any of us will ever go through.

Testing does not necessarily mean that you have done wrong. God allows the faithful to be tested.

And we also learn that God allows us to go through hard testing. Here, their lives were on the line. And they had an arrogant tyrant boasting and taunting them and telling them to give up.

And we go through some really difficult times, which God allows. And Satan says to us, ‘be afraid, give up before the fight even begins, don’t trust in God, God won’t save you, despair.’

But we also learn – 2. What to do in a time of testing.

Take practical steps to address the situation – vs. 2-6. That is, use common sense and godly wisdom. Hezekiah worked on the water, the wall and the army of the city. Don’t rely on these (Isaiah 22:9-11). But if there are things you can do, do them.

– Receive encouragement – v. 7. Hezekiah encouraged his people (which is a reminder to each of us to encourage others in their times of testing). And the people received it. They needed to be told to, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or dismayed.” And we all need to hear this at times.

– Remember the truth – v. 8. Our God is the true God. And as Hezekiah said, God is “with us . . . to help us and to fight our battles.” Satan will deceive us and lie to us. But we have to keep the truth before us. Our God is real and he will help us.

– Pray – v. 20. The turning point is when Hezekiah and Isaiah prayed. Why is this key? Because God can sustain us and deliver from any trial. And so we too need to cry out to God in prayer in our times of crisis.

3. God is our great Savior. Sennacherib arrogantly proclaimed that our God cannot save. But our God can save. It took only one angel. Do you know how many angels God has? Myriads upon myriads. They are innumerable (Hebrews 12:22).

God saved Hezekiah, he has continued to save his people, and he still saves us and will continue to save us. God doesn’t change.

So whatever situation you are in, if you truly turn to God in prayer, know this:

  • God will be with you – v. 8
  • God will help you – v. 8
  • And God will deliver you – v. 8; 21

William Higgins

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In the past year or so, we have looked at several of the stories of the kings of Judah that come from 2 Chronicles: King Asa, King Jehoshaphat, King Joash, King Uzziah and now today we begin to look at King Hezekiah. Specifically the reforms he enacted in 2 Chronicles chapters 29-31 to renew and restore God’s people.

Some basics

  • Hezekiah began to reign when he was 25 and reigned for 29 years – 29:1
  • He “did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, according to all that David his father had done.” – 29:2

Indeed, in Chronicles he is presented as the most righteous king since David and Solomon. And he is also given the most attention since David and Solomon, 117 verses in all.


The northern kingdom of Israel had just been destroyed and taken off into captivity by the Assyrians in 722 BC. And Judah itself was in a precarious position.

King Ahaz (Hezekiah’s father) was horribly unfaithful:

  • He practiced all manner of idolatry, including child sacrifice, and he shut the temple down
  • The results were multiple military defeats and deportations of the population. They were heading down the path of the northern kingdom.

But then comes . . .

A Time of Renewal

This begins in the heart of Hezekiah:

“For our fathers have been unfaithful and have done what was evil in the sight of the Lord our God. They have forsaken him and have turned away their faces from the habitation of the Lord and turned their backs. They also shut the doors of the vestibule and put out the lamps and have not burned incense or offered burnt offerings in the Holy Place to the God of Israel. Therefore the wrath of the Lord came on Judah and Jerusalem, and he has made them an object of horror, of astonishment, and of hissing, as you see with your own eyes. For behold, our fathers have fallen by the sword, and our sons and our daughters and our wives are in captivity for this. Now it is in my heart to make a covenant with the Lord, the God of Israel, in order that his fierce anger may turn away from us.” – 2 Chronicles 29:6-10

How different he is than his father!

First of all 1. He restored the temple – During his first year, in the first month of the year, he acted. “He opened the doors of the house of the Lord and repaired them” – 29:3. (The first month seems to refer to the first month of the calendar – see 30:2-3, but this may have also been the first month of his reign)

– He then charged the priests and Levites to purify themselves – 29:5-15

– And they then proceeded to purify the temple – 29:16-19. It had been ‘trashed.’ So, they carried out the “filth” it says, and they put it in the Kidron valley, the city garbage dump.

– After 16 days the temple was rededicated – 29:20-30

  • they gave offerings to atone for sin to seek forgiveness for Judah and even all Israel
  • and they worshiped with offerings, music, singing and bowing down.

The response of the people was overwhelming – 29:31-35. They brought so many sacrifices that there weren’t enough priests consecrated to handle them, so the Levites had to help the priests.

The result of this reform is articulated in vs. 35–36 – “Thus the service of the house of the Lord was restored . . . And Hezekiah and all the people rejoiced” at what God had done and that it had happened so quickly.

But Hezekiah didn’t stop here, 2. He restored the celebration of Passover

This was certainly appropriate – As 30:9 makes clear. With the dominance of the Assyrian empire, the northern kingdom of Israel was conquered, and many in Judah had been taken away. Passover, you remember, celebrates God as their deliverer from the empire of Egypt. This was an expression of hope and trust in God against all empires that would destroy them.

But there was a problem. Since they didn’t finish cleansing the Temple in time during the first month, which is when Passover is supposed to be celebrated (they were two days too late), they had to celebrate it in the second month – 30:2-4.  (Perhaps they were drawing on some of the provisions for individuals from Numbers 9 about celebrating Passover the next month if you were ritually unclean or not able to assemble.)

– Hezekiah sent out a letter inviting all Israel to come – 30:1; 5-10. Not just Judah, but even those who were left of the northern kingdom of Israel. He was trying to reunite all Israel again. His letter was a powerful call to repentance and renewal.

– “A very great assembly” came. Even though many in the north had scorned the invitation, some did come, and all Judah turned out – 30:11-13

– They put away the idol altars in the city of Jerusalem – 30:14, throwing them into the garbage dump of Kidron to prepare the city.

– And then they celebrated the Passover and the associated feast of unleavened bread – 30:15-16

Then there was another problem, however, many ate the Passover “otherwise than prescribed” – 30:18. That is, they were not ritually clean, especially those from the north. This was an offense that could bring serious judgment (Leviticus 15:31).

But Hezekiah prayed and the Lord answered, “’May the good Lord pardon everyone who sets his heart to seek God, the Lord, the God of his fathers, even though not according to the sanctuary’s rules of cleanness.’ And the Lord heard Hezekiah and healed the people” – 30:18-19. God looked at their intention, even if it didn’t meet the letter of the law, and had mercy.

Again, the response of the people was overwhelming. After the initial seven day feast, they decided to celebrate another seven days – 30:23

The result of all this was . . .

  • Great joy – 30:25-26. For it says “Since the time of Solomon the son of David king of Israel there had been nothing like this in Jerusalem.” Both northern Israel and the people of Judah together worshipping God in the temple.
  • God heard their prayers and blessed them – 30:27
  • As they left the city, the people cleansed the countryside of idol altars – 31:1

Finally, 3. He restored the priestly, Levitical system

– He reorganized them – 31:2

– He himself gave to support the temple – 31:3, providing regular burnt offerings

– He called the people to support the priests and Levites. As 31:4 notes, that they might be free to “give themselves to the Law of the Lord.” He called them to fulfill what Moses commanded concerning material support for the temple workers.

This part of the story may seem anti-climactic to us or mundane talking about priests and finances. But we have to understand that this was to sustain the reforms that had begun.

The priests and Levites could only continue to lead the people in faithfulness if they were supported. This was necessary to maintain the renewal that Hezekiah had begun.

And again, the response of the people was overwhelming. 2 Chronicles 31:5 says, “the people of Israel gave in abundance . . . they brought in abundantly the tithe of everything.”  Notice the emphasis on the word “heaps.”

  • “heaps” – v. 6
  • “heaps” – v. 7
  • “heaps” – v. 8
  • “heaps” – v. 9

The priests and Levites ate all they could and there was still this abundance (v. 10). They are like, ‘What should we do with all these heaps?’ And so Hezekiah ordered them to build storage chambers – v. 11.

A summary of Hezekiah’s reforms

“Thus Hezekiah did throughout all Judah, and he did what was good and right and faithful before the Lord his God. And every work that he undertook in the service of the house of God and in accordance with the law and the commandments, seeking his God, he did with all his heart, and prospered.” – 2 Chronicles 31:20-21

Some Lessons on Renewal

1.We learn how to deal with sin. Hezekiah is an excellent example here.

  • You need complete honesty. He begins right away with a brutally honest assessment of their sin. He said, they “have been unfaithful and have done what is evil in the sight of the Lord.” – 29:6. This is why God’s anger againt them in judgment.
  • You need actions of repentance to make things right.

He was urgent in his actions of repentance: He started right away when he came to power and he observed Passover even though the timing was off. Within seven months it was all done. The temple restoration in the first month; the Passover restoration in the second month; and the gathering of support for the priests and Levites in the third through seventh months.

He was diligent in his actions of repentance: He did not leave it for others to do. He initiated and oversaw each step as the text makes clear at every point.

And he was thorough in his actions of repentance: He dealt with the temple itself, the Passover celebration, and the priestly system to sustain this. He moved from the temple to the city to the countryside even into northern Israel. From the inside, out.

In the same way, when we have sin in our life:

  • We need complete honesty. This is the biggest obstacle to Christian renewal. We are not honest and don’t take responsibility for our wrong actions.
  • We also need actions of repentance. And these actions need to be urgent, diligent and thorough – from the inside out covering every part of us from inner attitudes to outward behaviors.

We need all this in order to be right with God and to receive his blessing.

2. We also learn what renewal looks like. Hezekiah provides the pattern:

  • We get rid of the “filth,” and recommit to God. They got the filth out of the Temple, the city and the countryside and renewed their covenant. So, also, we need to get rid of the filth in our lives and begin again to do God’s will. When you see this happening then you know that renewal is happening.
  • We experience a renewed relationship with God. They found forgiveness from God and worshipped God in the Temple and had joy. So also, we need to find forgiveness, to be in relationship with God through prayer and worship, and to experience joy. When you see this happening then you know that renewal is happening.
  • We reach out to others. They invited the northern tribes to turn back to God. And when we are renewed, we will take a concern for others and their relationship with God. When you see this happening then you know that renewal is happening.
  • We give to God’s cause. Just as they gave many sacrifices and gave an abundance for the priests and Levites that left great heaps, So we give to the work of the kingdom. Renewal, if it is real, will affect our purses and our wallets. When you see this happening then you know that renewal is happening.

3. We learn that God is the source of renewal

First of all, it comes from God’s mercy. God wants to renew us; God is willing to forgive us when we turn and repent.

As Hezekiah said in his letter of invitation to the Passover, “For the Lord your God is gracious and merciful and will not turn away his face from you, if you return to him.” – 30:9. And as an example o this, the Lord was merciful on those who were unclean at Passover, but had a right heart – 30:18-19.

Second, renewal comes from God acting. Hezekiah initiated each aspect of the renewal: the temple, the Passover, and the Levitical system. But in each instance they all had to acknowledge that it was God at work:

  • The temple: With regard to the generous sacrifices of the people, “Hezekiah and all the people rejoiced at what God had brought about for his people” – 29:36 (NIV).
  • The Passover: “The hand of God was also on Judah to give them one heart to do what the king and the princes commanded by the word of the Lord.” – 30:12.
  • The temple support: “When Hezekiah and the princes came and saw the heaps, they blessed the Lord and his people Israel.” – 31:8.

God was the one doing all this, working in people’s hearts.

May God, in his mercy, so act among us, in our individual lives and in our church community, to bring us renewal and blessing. William

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We’re talking about God today; who God is and what God is like. It’s a big topic and we are only delving into a part of it. 

God was seen as a Father in the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 1:31; 8:5; Proverbs 3:12; Jeremiah 31:20; Jeremiah 3:19; Hosea 11:1; Isaiah 63:16; Psalm 103:13). But the prominence of “Father” as a, or perhaps the way of talking about God comes from the New Testament.

God as “Father” in the New Testament

The word “Father” is used 250 times in the New Testament as a reference to God. As one scholar calculates – 43% of all references to God in the New Testament call God “Father.” 

This emphasis on Father language comes from Jesus: 

  • For instance, Jesus uses “Father” 100 times in the Gospel of John as a reference to God.
  • And Jesus addressed God in prayer as “Father” every time he prayed, save one. This was in Mark 15:34 where on the cross he is quoting Psalm 22:1 and says, “My God, my God.” In every other recorded prayer that we have he uses “Father.” 

God as our Father

Now, Jesus’ Father language is certainly connected to the fact that he was God’s unique and beloved Son. And as God’s Son, Jesus called God, “Father.”

But even though he is in a class by himself with regard to being God’s Son, Jesus teaches that God can be our Father too!

When we become a Christian: 

  • we are born of God – John 1:12-13
  • we are children of God – Luke 11:11-13

According to Jesus, our relationship to God is like the relationship between a Father and a young child.

  • And so just as Jesus referred to God as Father, so we also can call God “Father.”
  • And just as Jesus prayed to God as Father, we also are taught to pray to God as “Father” in the Lord’s prayer. 

Now we have to be clear here . . .

God is not male! 

In a Harris poll from 2003, 37% of men and 46 % of women though that God was male. Of the different religious groups surveyed, 49% of Protestants thought that God was male.

  • But God has no gender. God is neither male nor female. It was in the pagan world that the gods had a gender, either male or female.
  • Scripturally, both male and female are created in the image of God, who is our Father – Genesis 1:27 
  • And there are also feminine metaphors for God in Scripture (Deuteronomy 32:18; Isaiah 42:14; 49:15; 66:13; Jeremiah 31:20; Matthew 23:37)

So, when we name God as “Father” – we are referring to a social role with specific attributes. One that is captured by this name and is centrally important to God’s identity. What is at focus is the social role, not the gender. 

The point is that God acts toward us as a loving father acts toward his family. 

So, I want us to look at the attributes of this “father” role, and specifically . . .

The characteristics of our heavenly Father

. . . so we can see what it means to call God, “Father.” We’ll glean this from Jesus’ teaching in the first three gospels:

1. As Father, God is One who is powerful. Just as a small child marvels at what a human father or parent can do, so much more so with our heavenly Father.

  • Jesus spoke of the Father as “Lord of heaven and earth” – Luke 10:21. The Father has all power.
  • And as Jesus said in prayer, “Father, all things are possible for you” – Mark 14:36. God’s power is only limited by his own character and purpose.

2. As Father, God is One who loves us. 

  • The prodigal son’s father presents to us a picture of God as our Father. The Father is characterized by patience, steadfast love and compassion for his wayward son. Luke 15: 20 says, “while the son was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.” 
  • God cares for even the weakest among us. In Matthew 18:14, speaking of new Christians, Jesus says, “It is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.” 
  • Jesus teaches us that the Father loves even his enemies, caring for their needs – Matthew 5:45. So How much more does he love and care for his own children? 

3. As Father, God is One who is close to us, who is in relationship with us. 

  • Jesus said, “Your Father knows what you need before you ask him” – Matthew 6:8. 
  • And he said that the Father sees us in secret. For instance while we are praying in a closet – Matthew 6:6.
  • The Aramaic word “Abba,” which Jesus used for father [although too much has been made of it – it doesn’t mean “daddy”] means “dear father” – Mark 14:36. 

4. As Father, God is One who has authority over us to teach us how to live. Just as earthly parents teach their children about right and wrong.

  • Jesus teaches us that we are to do the will of our Father in heaven – Matthew 7:21.
  • And we pray, “your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” – Matthew 6:10. We pray this because God’s will, not our will, is all important. God is the one who is in charge and we submit to him.

5. As Father, God is One who forgives us when we fail.

  • As Jesus tells us, “Your Father is merciful” – Luke 6:33.
  • And we pray to our Father, “forgive us our sins” – Luke 11:4.

6. As Father, God is One who gives us gifts. 

  • Indeed, the Father gives us “good gifts” – Matthew 7:11.  Jesus said, “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!”
  • These gifts include the Holy Spirit. As Luke 11:13 says it, “how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask.” And these gifts include the coming kingdom. In Luke 12:32 Jesus said, “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” This is our inheritance that God, our Father, gives to us.

7. As Father, God is One who provides for our material needs. 

  • Jesus said, “Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” – Matthew 6:26
  • This is why we pray to our Father for “daily bread” – Matthew 6:11.

8. As Father, God is One who watches over and protects us. 

  • In the context of persecution, Jesus said about the Father’s watchful care, “Even the hairs of your head are all numbered”- Matthew 10:30. We know that he watches over our very lives.
  • With regard to protection, we pray to our Father, “lead us not into testing, but deliver us from the evil one.” – Matthew 6:13. Our Father protects us from situations of testing that we can’t handle; that would overwhelm us; that are too difficult for us.

Having looked at all this we have to say that . . .

Human fathers are imperfect

Jesus certainly knew this. In fact, speaking of earthly fathers Jesus says, “you who are evil” in Luke 11:13, in comparison with our heavenly Father.

And many of us have had bad experiences with earthly fathers who were authoritarian, critical, abusive, distant, or not present for one reason or another. Perhaps we never knew our father. (Jesus’ own earthly father apparently died when he was young). And even the best earthly father is lacking. And so to use the language of Father for God can be jarring

But what I want to say is, to use the words of Jesus in Matthew 5:48 . . . 

“Your heavenly Father is perfect” 

We come to understand what a true father is, not by looking at the imperfect copy of earthly fathers, and projecting that onto God. But by looking at the heavenly Father, the perfect original; the one who defines true fatherhood.

And so for many of us, we need to relearn what a true father is and find healing in this for the damage done by our earthly fathers. 

Our heavenly Father is all that we could have ever wanted and yearned for in our earthly fathers. And he exposes evil human fathers for what they are  – imposters; fakes. And then he invites us to own him as our true Father and to find healing in this.

And so let me end by simply saying to you . . .

  • Our heavenly Father is one who deserves to receive honor, just as the fifth commandment tells us to honor our earthly parents. But so much more so – for our Father in heaven’s power and character.
  • Our heavenly Father is one whom we want to be in relationship with. We want to experience his love and closeness and to find forgiveness when we fail.
  • Our heavenly Father is one who is worthy of our obedience and submission.
  • Our heavenly Father is one whom we want to emulate. As they say, like Father like child. We want to be merciful and loving to all, just as our Father is merciful and loves even his enemies. 
  • Our heavenly Father is one whom we can truly trust to give us good gifts, to provide for us, to watch over us and to protect us.

What a privilege it is to be a child of God! I urge you, if you don’t know God as your Father, seek God out, so that you can have such a perfect Father in your life. And if you know God as your Father, look to God in all these ways, and receive all the blessings of his Fatherly care in your life. Let him be a Father to you.

William Higgins

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We are looking at Jeremiah 22:13-19. This is an oracle, or prophecy against Jehoiakim, one of the last kings of Judah – before Jerusalem was destroyed and they were taken into exile in Babylon.

This oracle is a part of a larger set of prophecies against the kings of Judah which lay out what these kings were supposed to have been doing, but didn’t – and so were judged. Let’s look for a moment at . . .

What God Wanted

This comes from chapter 22:3. The kings were to “do justice and righteousness.” This verse goes on to expound what this means:

  • To do justice and righteousness means don’t take advantage of the weak, outcasts, the marginal, the needy in society, which is oppression. The verse itself says, “Do no wrong or violence to the resident alien (immigrant), the fatherless, and the widow, nor shed innocent blood in this place.” In other words, don’t be an oppressor.
  • And also, to do justice and righteousness means that you stand up for them; that you make sure the weak are not taken advantage of by others, that they are not oppressed. Again, v. 3 says, “deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed.” In other words, don’t let the rich and powerful take away what the poor and weak have.

This is what God wanted, and this brings us to our text in vs. 13-19 and . . .

Jehoiakim’s failure

Despite this charge from God, Jehoiakim decided to focus on living in great luxury; to focus on himself.

v. 14 speaks of him as saying – “I will build myself a great house with spacious upper rooms.” It goes on to describe him as one “who cuts out windows for it, paneling it with cedar and painting it with vermilion.” These last two were luxury items in that day: cedar paneling and red paint; and, of course, it was a luxury to have spacious upper rooms and a “great” house.

In v. 15 the Lord rebukes him. “Do you think you are a king because you compete in cedar?” Do you think you are great because you have more cedar paneling than the kings around you? The Lord is saying, you aren’t defined by your luxury; by your level of self-indulgence.

We also learn from our Scripture that Jehoiakim pursued this self-indulgent luxury by oppression. v. 13 speaks of him as one “who builds his house by unrighteousness, and his upper rooms by injustice, who makes his neighbor serve him for nothing and does not give him his wages.” We see here the exact opposite of God’s charge to do justice and righteousness.

v. 17 gives God’s assessment of him: “you have eyes and heart only for your dishonest gain, for shedding innocent blood, and for practicing oppression and violence.”

  • He was not concerned about the weak, but only himself, his luxury
  • And not only did he not take care of them, he used the weak to make himself richer

Jeremiah points out that Jehoiakim didn’t learn from his father – Josiah. Josiah was a model king. Even though he died on the battlefield, he was held up as one of the most righteous of all the kings and descendents of David.

v. 15-16 says, “Did not your father (Josiah) eat and drink and do justice and righteousness? Then it was well with him. He judged the cause of the poor and needy; then it was well.” He’s saying: Your father did just fine. He had all his material needs met, but he also did justice and righteousness; he took care of the weak; he took up the cause of the needy and poor. He kept the charge of God.

Finally, we hear of Jehoiakim’s judgment which speaks to the seriousness of God’s charge to do justice and righteousness.

In v. 13 the word “woe”, which begins our passage, comes from a funeral context. It is a pronouncement of death against Jehoiakim.

The prophet goes on to say, “With the burial of a donkey he shall be buried, dragged and dumped beyond the gates of Jerusalem.” – v. 19. And he will not be mourned – v. 18. A grim judgment for sure.

But this passage also helps us to see . . .

The root problem in Jehoiakim’s life

vs. 15-16 talk about doing justice and righteousness, and taking care of the poor and needy, and then God asks a question: “’Is not this to know me?’ declares the Lord.” Isn’t doing justice and caring for the weak what it means to know me, God asks. The answer, of course, is yes!

The root problem was that Jehoiakim didn’t know the Lord. He was in charge of representing God as king of Israel, but he didn’t know who God is; God’s character; God’s heart.

If he had known the Lord, then he would have known what Moses taught in Deuteronomy 10:18, that “the Lord executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing.”

He would have known the sentiment expressed in Psalm 35:10, “O Lord, who is like you, delivering the poor from him who is too strong for him, the poor and needy from him who robs him?”

He would have known the truth of Psalm 146:7-9 which speaks of God as one “who executes justice for the oppressed, who gives food to the hungry. . ..” It says, “The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down . . .. The Lord watches over the sojourners; he upholds the widow and the fatherless . . ..”

His actions showed that he obviously did not know the Lord.

This brings us to the question of the morning –

Do you know the Lord?

We each have to examine our lives and ask this question of ourselves, given that God calls all of us to “do justice and righteousness” not just the kings of old. As Amos 5:24 says to all God’s people – “Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever- flowing stream.”

  • And so in as much as we have power and resources we are not to take advantage of the weak. As Isaiah 10:1-2 says to all God’s people, “Woe to those who . . . turn aside the needy from justice and . . . rob the poor of my people of their right, that widows may be their spoil, and that they may make the fatherless their prey!”
  • And, in as much as we have the ability and resources we also are to help those who are weak and in need.  As Isaiah 1:17 says to all God’s people, “Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.”

We are not to be like Jehoiakim who sought greater luxury and self-indulgence, without concern for the weak and needy around him. He built up his luxurious house and lived well – while the weak suffered all around him.

Rather, we are to do what is right and care for the needy. Those who are vulnerable and cannot care for themselves.

The message today is show that you know the Lord – that you know God’s heart, his compassion, his mercy, who God truly is; that God’s heart is your heart. Show that you know the Lord by acting to care for the weak; standing up for them and helping them.

There are so many situations of injustice in the world; where people are oppressed; where the innocent are victimized, taken advantage of; enslaved and killed.

Crushing poverty in Haiti and Bangladesh; a genocidal war in Darfur, the latest of several such over the past few decades; a humanitarian crisis in Zimbabwe – one current example – and we will hear of many more before this new year is over.

The poor, the weak and the needy are all around us. And we learned last night about how the global food crisis affects those in the Gambia where Gary and Denise serve. The poor, the weak and the needy are also here in our own country, and in our own neighborhood.

And so we have many opportunities to act; to show that we know the Lord.

As you know, today many of our youth will begin fasting for 30 hours to raise money to feed hungry children. Perhaps you have seen the statistics that have been in your bulletin inserts:

  • Every day 26,000 children under the age of 5 will die because of hunger, disease and poverty
  • 14,000 will die from malnutrition alone
  • One child every 7 seconds

Many of you have already given – but if you haven’t it isn’t too late. I encourage you to do this. You will not only help children who are hungry, you will help our young people to gain more experience in doing what is right and caring for the weak. And we will all be doing what God wants; what is God’s very heart – standing up for and helping the needy.

Lets end with Jeremiah 9:24. This is the Lord speaking: “Let those who boast, boast in this, that they understand and know me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.” Let us go forth and delight in these as well.

William Higgins

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Today we are looking at Psalm 145. This is a psalm of praise to God. In fact, it is the only Psalm with the word “praise” in its title.

Although v. 3 tells us that God’s greatness is unsearchable, that certainly doesn’t mean it can’t be talked about. Indeed this Psalm talks quite a bit about God’s greatness, and this is why I want us to look at.

Click here to read it  Psalm 145

First of all, in this Psalm . . .

God is portrayed as a great King

We see this in v. 1, which says, “my God and King” (or “my God, the King”). God is often described as a king, especially in the Psalms. And then vs. 11-13a talk about God’s “kingdom.”  God is a king who rules over a kingdom.

Now earthly kings in the ancient world were often praised for their great qualities and their great deeds, and when this Psalm speaks of God as a king, the same thing is going on.

There is much discussion of

  • God’s “works” – vs. 4, 10, 13, 17
  • God’s “mighty deeds” – vs. 12
  • God’s “wondrous works” v. 5
  • God’s “awesome deeds” – v. 6

There is also discussion of

  • God’s “majesty” – v. 5
  • God’s “glorious splendor” – vs. 5, 12
  • God’s “greatness” which is unsearchable vs. 3, 6

And there is also much said about the glory of God’s kingdom. For instance in v. 13 – “Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures throughout all generations.”

We can be thankful that we have such a great King with an everlasting kingdom, unlike the world where rulers come and go (and you never know what you are getting), and where nations rise and fall. Our king will always reign in his kingdom forever and ever!

Next we look at the true nature of God’s greatness . . .

God’s greatness is related to his mercy

Kings are those who have power and they are known for their conquests over enemies, their wealth and the territory they control. But not so here. The focus in this Psalm is squarely on God’s acts of mercy and compassion.

This is how God differs from earthly kings and rulers.

  • God is almighty and has amazing power – more than any earthly king.
  • But God’s true greatness lies in his character traits; his deeds of mercy and compassion.

Lets look at these:

1. God forgives the sins of his people. v. 8 says, “The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger . . ..” This is from God’s own mouth, from when God passed before Moses on the mountain. It is God’s description of himself in Exodus 34:6. It says, “The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, ‘The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness . . ..’”

This really gets at God’s core character; God’s moral makeup. And it is repeated in many places in the Old Testament, which helps us to understand what these phrases mean.

  • “Slow to anger” means that God is slow to judge us. God is patient with us, even when we do wrong.
  • “Gracious and merciful” means that if we repent and turn from our sin, God is merciful and willing to forgive.

So, God is great in that he forgives the sins of his people.

2. God is faithful to his word to us. This is also from v. 8 and is from Exodus 34:6, the last phrase – “. . . abounding in steadfast love.” It means that God will not easily give up on us. God has made a covenant with his people and even we break our commitments to God, God is patient with us, keeping his commitments to us.

This same idea of faithfulness also shows up in v. 13b – “The Lord is faithful in all his words.” God is great in that God keeps his promises to us.

Now what we have looked at focuses on God’s covenant with his people, but v. 9 expands this out further. And this is our third description of God’s greatness . . .

3. God is merciful and good to all people. v. 9 says, “The Lord is good to all, and his mercy is over all that he has made.” God, as king over the whole earth, is merciful and good to all people.

This same idea shows up in the twin phrases, God is “kind in all his works” in vs. 13b, 17.

4. God is righteous.  v. 17 says, “The Lord is righteous in all his ways.” God does what is right. This is God’s moral character and God’s greatness. And this is unlike so many earthly kings and rulers.

5. God helps those who are weak. v. 14 says, “The Lord upholds all who are falling and raises up all who are bowed down.” Although God is high and all powerful, God looks down on those who are weak and low and is moved in compassion to help them.

God is truly great in that God cares for the lowly.

6. God provides food for people. vs. 15-16 say, “The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food in due season. You open your hand; you satisfy the desire of every living thing.”

Food is mentioned and we also have the phrases, the “eyes of all look to you” and  “open your hand” which in Psalm 104:27-29 refer to God providing food.

This is talking about God providing harvests year after year from the earth. In this way God provides food for all people. God is great in that he is generous and thoughtful of our needs.

7. God is near in times of trouble. v. 18 says, “The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth.” God is not too busy or buried in bureaucracy or hidden behind handlers so that we don’t have access to him, like earthly rulers. God can hear us and come close. God is our king and also our companion.

8. Finally, God is great because God rescues people from danger. vs. 19-20a say, “He fulfills the desire of those who fear him; he also hears their cry and saves them. The Lord preserves all who love him . . ..” God is attentive to those in crisis. God not only hears us but saves us and preserves us.

So this Psalm gives us many wonderful descriptions of God’s greatness, all focused on God’s character as one who is merciful, kind and compassionate.

But it also helps us to see the . . .

Proper responses to God’s greatness

We are to meditate on God’s greatness. v. 5 says, “On the glorious splendor of your majesty, and on your wondrous works, I will meditate.” To meditate means that we keep God’s greatness before us, we think about it, we ponder it, we let it soak into us.

  • And we do this as we read the scriptures and see God’s greatness displayed before us. As we see who God is and what God has done.
  • And we do this as we gather together and hear and tell all that God is doing in our lives today.

Second, we are to offer praise to God for his greatness. vs. 1-2 say, “I will extol you, my God and King, and bless your name forever and ever. Every day I will bless you and praise your name forever and ever.”

When we truly understand God’s greatness, how amazing God truly is – especially as it relates to his mercy and care for us – how can we not lift God up in praise “forever and ever”? If we are not praising God, it is simply because we do not understand who God is. We haven’t got it yet.

Finally, we are to tell others about our great God and king. v. 4 says, “One generation shall commend your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts.” We testify to God’s greatness to all who will listen. We share about who God is and what God has done. And others learn to know him. Both those around us today and the generations that are up and coming – our children.

William Higgins

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