Day 123: My Favorite Hebrew Word (Psalm 106-107)

Not my wrist. Not yet, anyway.
“Whoever is wise, let him attend to these things; let them consider the steadfast love of the Lord.” Psalm‬ ‭107:43‬ ‭ESV‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

There aren’t many things I would be willing to have tattooed permanently on my body. But there is one Hebrew word that, if I ever do get a tattoo, is going to be on the pulse point of my wrist. It’s the word chesed. And it is all over the two Psalms we read today.

There’s not a precise English equivalent, so we get “steadfast love,” “unfailing love,” “lovingkindness,” etc. in various translations.

Personally, I’m partial to “covenant love.” It’s a love that is protected and safeguarded by a promise made. That regardless of someone’s unloveliness or unworthiness, the Lover who is committed to “chesed” still loves.

The closest thing we have to relate to chesed is the covenant of marriage. A good marriage protects and sustains romantic love because it is protected by chesed (covenant) love. And even that falls short, because human beings break promises and covenants all the time.

But here’s the thing that makes God’s covenant live so steadfast. So unchanging. So unfailing.

When God swore a covenant, he swore by Himself. God made a covenant with Himself! Remember that bizarre scene back in Genesis, when Abraham saw the blazing torch and smoking firepot (see Day 016: When God Makes a Covenant (Genesis 12-15). That is what seals the covenant. If God swears by Himself, then the promise will endure to eternity.

Which is why God’s “chesed” is such a beautiful, untranslatable word. God made a covenant with himself to redeem and restore His people. And God cannot be false to his own name!

Today, follow the command of Psalm 107:43. Consider the steadfast love, the chesed of the Lord.

Day 105: Of Strongholds and Footholds (Psalm 7,27,31,34,52)

The Lord is my light and my salvation;
    whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold[a] of my life;
    of whom shall I be afraid? Psalm 27:1

Whenever we talk about spiritual warfare or temptation, we often lead people to identify strongholds in their lives—besetting sins, areas of temptation, or places we haven’t fully yielded to God’s rule in our lives. The apostle Paul taught in 2 Corinthians 10:4 that we have been given weapons of spiritual warfare in order to “demolish strongholds.”

However, the Bible speaks much more often of God as our stronghold than any strongholds of the enemy. In addition to Psalm 27:1, the Psalms speak repeatedly of God as our strength and stronghold. (see 18:2, 46:1-3, 62:6, 91:2, 144:2). A stronghold was the fortified building in the center of a town, as far from the city walls as it could be. If an enemy breached every other wall, those who lived in the city could run to the stronghold and take refuge. In feudal times, this was the manor castle.  As long as the walls of the castle weren’t breached, the people were kept safe inside. This is why the central, most heavily fortified area of the castle was called the keep.

Now, Paul also talked about footholds. In Ephesians 4:26-27 he wrote,

26 “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 and do not give the devil a foothold.

Giving the devil a FOOThold is very different from trusting God as our STRONGhold. A foothold is a spot a climber finds in order to scale a wall and breach it. It can be a crack, a faultline, a flaw or divot the enemy soldier could exploit, and thus gain access to the walled city.

Our enemy the devil may indeed gain an opportunity in our lives. He is skilled at exploiting the weaknesses of our defenses. But we can always run to God, our strength and our stronghold. He is our Keep in the middle of our walled city.

Heavenly Father, even when I give the devil a foothold, let me run to you as my stronghold.

Day 015: The Things We Know to be True (Job 40-42)

I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,
    but now my eye sees you;
therefore I despise myself,
    and repent in dust and ashes.” Job 42:5

Originally posted January 15, 2021

Today I did my second funeral in five days. Terry was one of those precious senior adults that a church can’t function without. He was one of our main buildings and grounds volunteers. The hedges outside were his passion project, and they always looked like they had been trimmed with fingernail clippers. He was diagnosed with Covid on December 27, and passed away on January 9.

All we could do was a graveside service because of Covid restrictions. The wind was blowing so hard I literally could not hold my Bible open or have any notes. So I kind of had to speak whatever was off the top of my head.

So I talked about Job. I talked about living the kind of life that would make God brag about you to Satan (See Day 004, “Have you considered my servant?”). I talked about confidence that even when we return to dust, we will say, “I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in my flesh I will see God–Him, and not a stranger.” (See Day 008, “Standing on the Dust”19:25-26).

And I talked about how God never gave Job an answer for why he was experiencing the pain he was experiencing. How we don’t know why God would take away such a godly servant like my friend. How people are looking to their pastors for answers as to why there are so many empty chairs at empty tables right now, and we really don’t have any. Why would God give us reasons for all this that He withheld from such a godly man as Job?

But while Job never got an answer from God, he got something better. He got God’s presence: “My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you,” said Job (42:5).

One of my go-to Scriptures when I am facing questions I can’t answer is Psalm 62:11-12. It was the text I used for the first funeral I ever preached. The funeral was for the infant son of a drug addict, who rolled over on him when she was high. I was 26 years old and had been out of seminary for less than a year. I had absolutely no answers. Not for the family, not for myself. This level of senseless grief was so far beyond anything I had ever experienced. But this is what I found in God’s Word at that moment:

Once God has spoken;
    twice have I heard this:
that power belongs to God,
     and that to you, O Lord, belongs steadfast love.

(Side note: I found it in the 1984 New International Version, and that is still my favorite phrasing. You’ll need to find a physical copy of it, because the publisher has apparently purged the internet of any digital references to it. But here it is in the NIV ’84:

One thing God has spoken;
Two things have I heard:
That you, O God are strong,
And that you, O Lord, are loving. 

I am so thankful that this journey through Job is happening at this moment. For all of you that are going through dark times right now, please know that God is present with you, and that no purpose of His will be thwarted. And when we don’t know anything else, we know this. God is strong, and God is loving.

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