Tuesday, 14 January 2014

The LORD thy God

The phrase is found in 264 verses and, according to my Bible Software, 196 of those verses are in the book of Deuteronomy. The exodus people had become God's people and the whole of Deuteronomy is based on the fact that this miracle has already taken place. Let me give you some more statistics...

Whenever we find the word LORD or GOD in upper case in our Bibles it is an indication that the original Hebrew word is a proper name. It is the name enshrined in many of our hymns and often in our personal testimony as Jehovah. (It was almost certainly pronounced more like Yahweh but the name Yahweh has very little personal history for most Christians, so I'll stick to Jehovah.) In the old KJV you will find the name Jehovah, and its cognates, used in just five verses. In more modern versions it has vanished altogether; e.g. the ESV. the NJKV, the NASB, the NIV, the NLT. God's proper name has vanished from our modern versions. The old ASV on the other hand uses it constantly, 6777 times! (For study I heartily recommend the ASV for the Old Testament!)

The Sinai Covenant people grew nervous of the name Jehovah. They were aware of the warning for anyone using the name wrongly; Thou shalt not take the name of Jehovah thy God in vain; for Jehovah will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain. Ex 20:7 ASV. To avoid the danger they refused to use it altogether and a tradition grew of saying 'Lord' whenever the proper name Jehovah appeared in the scripture reading. Alternatively they would use the word 'Shem' which means 'name'. Perhaps our translators share their nervousness? The downside is that the proper name of God is seldom used and we are much the poorer for that.

Have you ever had someone introduce themselves to you and say "my friends call me Ron" or something similar. It is an endearing thing to do. I have travelled in many countries where Christians are much more formal and would far prefer to call me Pastor or Brother. I always encourage them to call me Ron. I want them to get to know me as a person not as a role. Let me illustrate. I have a dear friend who was my pastor for many years. I always referred to him as Rector. That designation developed its own unique atmosphere and became more like a proper name. I can never say the word 'Rector' without a rich flow of memories. Some time ago, he is now in his 90s, he suggested I might call him 'Philip'. I can't do it. My emotions don't respond to 'Philip'. My emotional memory doesn't know who Philip is!

God introduced himself to the exodus people as 'Jehovah'. The name was designed to acquire its own rich emotional memories. And God spake unto Moses, and said unto him, I am Jehovah: 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 6:2–3 ASV.

Think about it for a while. We'll pause and next time we will look at some of the emotional memories that the name Jehovah was intended to carry.

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Hear, O Israel

It was at the end of his life, possibly his last days, that Moses declared what is often referred to as the Shema Israel, Hear, Israel. Tbe book of Deuteronomy is often sadly neglected being regarded as little more that a regurgitation of the Sinai events and laws. This misses its point entirely. This is Sinai + 40 years of thoughtful meditation and it contains some thrilling truths. It was this portion of Scripture that was uppermost in the mind of the Lord during his wilderness temptations. It is the context for our last blog; 'and thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself'.

That injection follows hard on the heels of the first and great commandment; Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. (Matt 22:37–38 KJV). Again, I have reverted to the Old English to stress the personal nature of this commandment. But the original setting of these personal commandments is of great importance. John Wycliffe encouraged all Bible students to consider not just the context but to to make a particular note of the intended audience of Biblical passages. "to whom" said Wycliffe "was this said?"

That's why I have entitled this blog 'Hear, O Israel'. This commandment was not delivered into what we might call the 'public domain' but was given expressly to the covenant people of Israel. It was enjoined upon men and women who had entered into conscious covenant with Jehovah (Yahweh) himself. Covenants have beginnings, conscious beginnings. They do not slowly cross-fade from 'not my people' into 'my people', they mark an event when men and women 'pass from darkness into light' and are translated from the power of darkness into another kingdom. (Col 1:13)

Many practical issues of life stem from the fact that Christians often mistake crises and processes; both are essential but they are not to be confused. I once heard George Verwer, the founder of Operation Mobilisation, say "any crisis which is not followed by a process will become an abscess." It is a stark way of saying that if we do not progress as a result of the the crisis, the blessing of the crisis itself will be eaten away. This is good counsel, but we need to be sure that we do not miss the corollary which is that every process must have a beginning, There must be conscious events in our lives where we pass from one state to another. "As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him," (Col 2:6 NKJV). That is crisis followed by process, or if you prefer, it is process preceded by crisis.

As Hudson Taylor remarked in his little book 'Union and Communion' communion presupposes union. You cannot have communion without union. We must come into 'union' with Christ before we can have 'communion' with him. We must enter into conscious covenant with God before we can obey the injunction 'Love Jehovah THY Jehovah.

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

I have reverted to the Old English for the purpose of focus. This is not a command to a church community or to a nation but to an individual. "Thou, (you personally) shalt love thy neighbour." And my, not our, neighbour is the man who lives next door, the man within reach. This is beginning to get a little close and personal!

It has been calculated that there are 643 separate laws that were given to the people of Israel. Jesus condensed the list into 2 principles which, if carried through, fulfil the whole law. This is the second of the two; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. At first glance it seems as if the bar has been lowered and the whole obligation made much more general; until you think it through. There is an obscure verse in the Proverbs which declares that "the eyes of a fool are in the ends of the earth." (Prov 17:24) It's much easier to maintain benevolent thoughts of our neighbours in the 'global village', in the ends of the earth, but how am I getting on with the man next door?

"Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might." (Eccles 9:10) That's another verse that brings things that are within reach into our focus. Oh, if I had the opportunity I would preach fearlessly to thousands. Really, what about the one within reach, the one that your hand can reach out and find, the man within reach, the neighbour, the man next door?

And what about that last part? I am to love my neighbour, as myself? As myself? Really? When he plays his music too loud? When parks his car in my space? When his dog... Some hope!

Yes, it is...
Rom. 5:5 Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.

Have a blessed New Year.