Friday, 27 July 2012

The Gentle Commandment

There is an old story told about a farmer who rolled an ostrich egg into the chicken coop with the words; "that's just to encourage you!" It is the kind of encouragement we probably feel when we read of God's next self-revelation to Abraham; And when Abram was ninety years old and nine, Jehovah appeared to Abram, and said unto him, I am God Almighty. Walk before me, and be thou perfect. Gen 17:1 ASV. More modern versions sometimes substitute the word 'blameless' for the older 'perfect'; I am not sure it is much more of a comfort.

How can we possibly react to a word from God which says 'be perfect'? If that commandment stood alone it would be crushing, but it doesn't. It is the culmination of another of God's wonderful self-revelations. God's word to Abraham does not begin with 'be perfect' but with 'I am God Almighty'. The word deserves a little examination.

This title or self-revelation of God became the prevailing revelation of the patriarchs. God's later words to Moses make this very plain; and I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, as God Almighty; but by my name Jehovah I was not known to them. Ex 6:3 ASV. If it was in the 'role' of God Almighty that God began his work with the fathers of the nation of Israel it may repay us to look more closely into the meaning of the phrase.

The Hebrew for this self-revelation is El Shaddai and is usually translated as 'God Almighty'. It conveys the idea of a God who is omnipotent, a very muscular God. This is an honest translation but there is another possibility. The Hebrew word 'shad' is the word for a woman's breast. It is the suckling's place of all-sufficiency and safety. There is at least one verse in the Bible where both words are used together; Even by the God of thy father, who shall help thee, And by the Almighty, who shall bless thee, With blessings of heaven above, Blessings of the deep that coucheth beneath, Blessings of the breasts, and of the womb. Gen 49:25 ASV. It seems that what God was revealing to Abraham was not just a masculine almightiness but a gentler all-sufficiency.

This is not to emasculate God. Paul once referred to himself as a mother feeding her own children at her breast; ...though we could have made demands as apostles of Christ. But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. 1 Th 2:6–7 ESV. And the point that Paul is making is that he and his fellow labourers were 'gentle'; it is an adjective not often associated in our minds with apostolic labours. It harmonises with a unexpected testimony of David to God's dealings with him; “You have also given me the shield of Your salvation; Your gentleness has made me great. 2 Sam 22:36 NKJV.

If the command to 'be perfect' comes from the macho strength of a muscular God we may not find ourselves 'encouraged' but what if it comes from the God of tender all-sufficiency? Now, how shall we respond?

There is another level of this God's command that we must consider. The All-Sufficient God did not simply command Abraham to 'be perfect' but commanded him to 'walk before me and me perfect'. God's pattern for Abraham's 'perfection' or 'blamelessness' was not the idealism of some man-made standard of perfection. Rather it was the insistence that Abraham walked, step by step, as the All Sufficient God directed him. Such a man may not meet standards set for him by others or even by himself, but others are not the judges whose standards Abraham must meet. Abraham is only responsible to God. Phew, what a burden that can lift from a weary soul!

Another brought the same gentle, freeing, revelation; one knows the Son except the Father. Nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and the one to whom the Son wills to reveal Him. Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. Matt 11:27–29 NKJV

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