Saturday, March 31, 2012

Warning: Controversial Topic Ahead

Exodus 4:21 - "The Lord said to Moses, "When you go back to Egypt see that you perform before Pharaoh all the wonders which I have put in your power; but I will harden his heart so that he will not let the people go."

For the longest time I read this verse and wondered how that added up with MY loving God, the God of second chances, the God of endless amazing and unbelievable grace.  How could HE harden someones heart? It is so confusing and hard to wrap your head around.  Even after discussing it in my theology classes, I still struggle with understanding this.  When I read this verse as I started my devotions today I thought, "Hmmm...this should be interesting..."  And it has been.  So after studying this passage, I've compiled some of my findings and thoughts and I am much more comfortable with the idea of my God hardening the heart of Pharaoh.

First, take a look at the Hebrew root of "harden" - the word is "chazaq" (ha-zac) which means "to strengthen, prevail, courageous...grow firm, be resolute [determined]" (Strong's).  I don't know about you, but I get the idea of stubbornness here.  And Pharaoh was a stubborn man, even before God "hardened his heart."  He frequently ignored the groans and cries of the Israelites and denied them any compassion (Henry).  In doing so, he was constantly resisting the grace and Spirit of God and therefore hardening his own heart.  Because Pharaoh resisted God's grace and Spirit "[God withdraws that Spirit and grace from him, and thus he becomes [courageous] and [stubborn] in sin" (Clarke).  As I was reading these notes from Clarke, I was still struggling - "okay, so Pharaoh hardened his own heart...but does that mean he loses his second chance?  Does God's grace have a limit?"  But then Clarke hits you right on the nose: There is "nothing spoken here of the eternal state of the Egyptian king" and it never implies that "God hardened [Pharaoh's] heart against the influences of his own grace."  This passage does NOT say that God hardened Pharaoh's heart for eternity - He simply allowed Pharaoh's sin, his stubbornness, to rule for a period of time.  If he had wanted to respond to God's grace at any given time, he could have.

So why for that period of time?  Well, with Pharaoh's heart hardened "against the conviction of the miracles, and the terror of the plagues," God had a fuller opportunity to manifest His numerous miracles "and thus impress the hearts both of the Egyptians and Israelites with a due sense of His omnipotence and justice (HenryClarke).  From God hardening Pharaoh's heart for a time, endless good resulted.   The faith of the Israelites was strengthened because the true God came through as their protector and the faith of the Egyptians was greatly shaken because their gods could do nothing against the power of the God of Israel.  If Pharaoh had given in at Moses' first miracle the faith of the Israelites may not have been affected at all and the Egyptians probably would have never even cared.  God causes "all things to work together for good" (Romans 8:28).  He knows what He is doing and through everything He does He is STILL my loving Father who has endless second chances and amazing grace galore!  

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Guilty Conscience

When I was in elementary school, I hated gym class (well, I hated gym throughout my entire school career...).  I hated it so much that I decided to fake a sprained ankle.  I had fallen outside and my ankle hurt but not that bad. When a teacher came over to ask if I was okay, I exaggerated a lot and asked if one of my friends could take me to the nurse.  I limped the whole way in.  Then, I lied to the nurse and to my parents later that night.  The next day Mom took me to our physical therapist who I also lied to.  After that visit I received an air cast and crutches...  Over the next month and a bunch of physical therapy visits I kept expecting to get caught.  Dad would tell me he had to talk to me when he got home...the next half hour I would pace back and forth in my room, heart pounding as I waited for the garage door to open.  Most of the time it had nothing to do with anything I had done wrong, or sometimes it was my forgetting to do my chores.  But no matter what happened, I was expecting trouble at any minute because of my guilty conscience.  I was extremely paranoid.  And just so we know, I did come clean to my parents...but not until a few years ago  :/

Genesis 42:28 - Then he said to his brothers, 'My money has been returned, and behold, it is even in my sack."  And their hearts sank, and they turned trembling to one another, saying, "What is this that God has done to us?"

To give you a short background here - these men were the numerous brothers of Joseph, whom they had sold into slavery years and years before this moment.  They had gone to Egypt to buy food during the famine but little did they know, Joseph was in charge.  Unaware of his identity, Joseph told his brothers to return with their youngest brother whom they had left at home with their father.  As they were leaving, Joseph had his men put their money back into their bags.

As they became aware of this, "their hearts sank."  The word "sank" in the Hebrew means "to go out, come out, exit, come forth" (Strong's).  Clarke notes that this "refers to that spasmodic affection which is felt in the breast at any sudden alarm or fright."  But what did they have to be afraid of?  I would have been thankful that I had my food AND money!  There are a couple of hypothesis.  First of all Hebrews and Egyptians didn't get along very well - it may have seemed to these brothers that the Egyptians thought they were spies and they were trying to pick a fight (Wesley).  But I think the real culprit here is guilt.  These men had horridly guilty consciences because of what they had done in the past to their brother, Joseph.  Just as I kept waiting for my parents to figure out my lie and ground me for life, these men kept waiting for God's curse - "They felt they deserved God's curse and every occurrence served to confirm and increase their suspicions" (Clarke).  You see, "guilty consciences are apt to take good consciences in a bad sense" (Henry).

Guilt, whether it is warranted or not, affects our hearts, our consciences.  We have all had that moment when our heart feels like its going to fly out of our chest, when we are so paranoid we can't even take a good gesture as what it is.  Today, my challenge is that by Monday you take the next step in getting rid of that guilt.  If you need to fess up or apologize, do so.  If you need help overcoming guilt, warranted or unwarranted, talk to a pastor, counselor, or mentor - get the help you need.  (There may be some helpful tips here).  If you don't rid yourself of this guilt, your heart is constantly in a state of anxiety or fear - and that isn't healthy, I have learned the hard way.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Hatred and the Heart

Think about the Holocaust.  Germans and many others acted like heartless savages - killing without flinching, tearing families apart, and other atrocities.  Or what about the Civil Rights Movement?  How many innocent people died because of the color of their skin?  But what caused all of this?  How could people do such things?  The answer is hatred - hatred that infects our inner most being, our hearts.

Genesis 27:41 - So Esau bore a grudge against Jacob because of the blessing with which his father has blessed him; and Esau said [in his heart], "The days of mourning for my father are near; then I will kill my brother Jacob.

Matthew Henry asks a very valid questions at this point: "How could he call him brother, and yet vow his death?" (Henry). With the very same breath no doubt! So I took a look at the Hebrew meaning behind the word "grudge."  It means "to retain animosity against, cherish animosity against" (Strong's).  This grudge became a hate that went to the root of Esau to his very heart and that is why he could speak of killing his very own flesh and blood.

Have you been holding a grudge against someone?  It's easy to do.  I have been struggling with one myself.  I challenge you today to take a step toward fending off hatred.  Let go.  No matter what that person did to you, let go.  Easy right?  haha. *sigh* I isn't easy to let go at all.  Today I challenge you, write a letter to that person - the one you are holding a grudge against.  Apologize for holding that grudge and ask for forgiveness.  If you want to send it, great!  That would be awesome.  But if you don't have to send it, sometimes just getting the words on paper is one step toward letting go - tear it up, light a match and burn it, or save it until you are ready to send it.  But no matter what, write it.  Don't let hatred infest your heart and build a nest.

That's all for this morning's thoughts on the heart - I've got to go write a letter!

Update:  I wrote my letters (yes, I had more than one) last night before I went to bed.  It was very freeing and I think I may actually send them.  I hope that, if you already haven't, you do this exercise as well.  It was amazing what putting words on paper actually did for my heart and my conscience (which was the topic of today's blog).  God is good!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

A Shot at Redemption

My mom has always said that if she would have had my brother first, she probably wouldn't have tried again.  If you have ever spent a brief period of time with a boy between the age of 12 months and 3 years, you probably know what she's talking about.  Boys are crazy (and some girls...but let's make this simple for now...)!  They are constantly getting into things and climbing onto things that you have told them one hundred and fifty times to stay out/off of.  But no matter how many times he climbs on top of the dining room table or how many times he takes everything out of the kitchen cupboards (faster than you can say "stop"), you still love that little boy.  You will give him chance after chance to get it right the next time because even though you know he knows he isn't supposed to do those things, he is still learning.

Genesis 8:21 - The Lord smelled the soothing aroma; and the Lord said to Himself, "I will never again curse the ground on account of man, for the intent of man's heart is evil from his youth; and I will never again destroy every living thing, as I have done.

We see in this verse that the intent (purpose, framework - Strong's) of man's heart is evil from his youth.  In other words, our hearts are naturally wicked (Easton's).  God notes this after the flood.  What we should expect to hear from Him after this conclusion is "Therefore that guilty race shall be extinguished" (Henry).  But instead, He promises never to destroy every living thing again as He had just done.  He sees our plight, He sees that we have to fight our natural inclinations in order to be good and He takes pity on us.

So thus far, just eight short chapters into the Word of God, we are learning the hard truth: our hearts are naturally wicked.  But just think about that for a second - God wants us to see first and foremost that our hearts our wicked, because if we never understand that, we can never truly understand His redemption.  He promises never to destroy all living things as He had done so that we have a chance to choose goodness instead of wickedness.  Like a one-year-old boy, we have chance after chance because even though we know we are doing wrong, we are still learning.  God is giving us a chance (or 500) to overcome our natural inclination of wickedness - He continually gives us a shot at redemption.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Grieving the Heart of God

Have you ever been hurt so much it hurt?  Have you lost someone you loved so much that your body physically ached at the absence their presence left behind?  Has someone hurt you to the point of physical pain?  Your chest is tight and stiff, it's hard to breath, each beat of your heart is like a hammer beating your chest from the inside out, your stomach is in knots...

Genesis 6:5-6:6 - "Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.  The Lord was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart." 

Today was a simple lesson.  After sifting through all of my commentaries, all of my resources - one thing stood out: the word "grieved."  The Hebrew word "atsab" (ought-salve) holds the idea of hurt, pain...even the idea of torture (Strong's).  Our sin, our wickedness, tortures God's heart to that point of physical pain.  This saddens me - that kind of hurt is awful.  If you have ever experienced it, you know what I mean - you would do anything just to make the pain go away...but you can't, it lingers...

But the amazing part of all of this?  God loves us anyway.  Even after man grieved His heart He STILL sent His Son to die for us!  And He knows that we will still have our wicked, sinful days, that He will repeatedly be hurt to the point of physical pain.  

But He loves us anyway.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Matters of the Heart

I have recently developed a fascination with the word "heart" in the Bible.  I have hundreds of tiny little hearts drawn in the margins of my Bible where the word appears.  How does God view our hearts?  How does He treat our hearts?  How should we view and treat our hearts?  So I've decided to begin a sort of word study...each day I will study the next verse that holds the word "heart" in order to learn more.  So here we go...

The first time the word "heart" is mentioned is in Genesis 6:5:

Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.

Have you ever used a microscope?  I remember being taught that cells make up our body - they are the building blocks of life in a sense.  Microscopes allow us to see the building blocks of anything we would like - an onion, a piece of grass, a human hair.  Or what about a telescope?  We see further than we should be able to.  If you really think about it - it's kind of mind boggling.  Keep this in mind as we talk about the first occurrence of the word "heart."

The word heart is defined in this instance through the Hebrew "leb" (layv) which means "inner man, mind, will, understanding" (Strong's).  Some translations use "man's deepest thoughts" instead of the word "heart."  Matthew Henry's commentary states that "[the heart] cannot be concealed from Him...Anyone might see that the wickedness of man was great, for they declared their sin...but God's eyes went further" (Henry).  His eyes saw the inner man, the heart, the root or spring of man's soul, and He saw that it was corrupt, that there was no good to be found.  "They did not do evil only through carelessness, but deliberately and designdly, contriving how to do mischief" (Wesley).

Another word of importance in this verse is "continually."  This gives us the idea that there was "no interval of good" (Clarke).  There was no change whatsoever.  In total, their hearts were evil.

We should also take a look at the word "saw" - the Lord saw...that every intent of the thoughts of his heart....  The Hebrew word simply means "to see, look at, inspect, perceive, consider" (Strong's).  Not much different than what we would expect, but still important.

So what should we take from all of this?  It's interesting that this is the very first use of the word "heart." It seems kind of sad since it talks about the unending and deplorable wickedness of men.  But I don't think that's the point.  I think the point is God's power.  Like the microscope - He can see further than anyone else, into the beginning, or root of our soul.  He not only sees our hearts but completely perceives them.  He knows our hearts.  He knows if we are "continually" evil or if we are even remotely capable of good.  It is definitely scary to think about, it's intimate and personal beyond anything we can comprehend.  But that is the power of our God!  He is the only one who knows and sees that much of each individual person.  He is an awesome God!