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Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Blessed, or Cursed?

In my previous post I mentioned that I had something to say about the context around Jeremiah 17:7 - in that post I only talked about the "blessed man", but there are some things about him that we didn't see because we didn't look at the verses about a very different person the chapter tells us about: the "cursed man"!

Jeremiah 17:7 is actually part of a larger snippet of Bible poetry that starts at verse 5 and ends at verse 8. Take a look:

Thus says the Lord:
“Cursed is the man who trusts in man
and makes flesh his strength,
whose heart turns away from the Lord.
He is like a shrub in the desert,
and shall not see any good come.
He shall dwell in the parched places of the wilderness,
in an uninhabited salt land.
“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord,
whose trust is the Lord.
He is like a tree planted by water,
that sends out its roots by the stream,
and does not fear when heat comes,
for its leaves remain green,
and is not anxious in the year of drought,
for it does not cease to bear fruit.”
Jeremiah 17:5–8 (ESV)
This is what is known as poetic "parallelism". The first stanza and the second stanza contrast with each other: the former is about someone who is "cursed" and the latter is about someone who is "blessed". The reason you want to be able to recognize this is because sometimes one half of the parallel passage will contain useful information the other half does not.

For example:

“Cursed is the man who trusts in man
and makes flesh his strength,
whose heart turns away from the Lord.
“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord,
whose trust is the Lord.

We know a number of things about the "cursed man" from this:
  • He trusts in "man" (mankind) - so his focus is what human beings are able to accomplish.
  • He relies on his own "flesh" - his own ability - to get things done.
  • His heart turns away from the Lord.
We only are told two things about the "blessed man":
  • He trusts in the Lord (he acts in a way that reveals that he trusts the Lord).
  • He puts his trust in the Lord (his trust has a home with the Lord - it stays there).
But because these are contrasting parallel passages, we can infer several other things. The implications for the "blessed man" are that he also:
  • does not put his trust in what mankind can accomplish, but what God can accomplish.
  • does not rely on his own ability to get things done, but knows that God can do things he cannot.
  • His heart turns toward the Lord.
And, of course, the implication for the "cursed man" is that he does not in any way put his trust in the Lord.
Some other contrasts that we can infer using this method (inferred parts in italics):

The Cursed ManThe Blessed Man
Like a shrub in the desertLike a tree by water
Shall see no good comeShall see good come
Shall fear when tough times occurShall not fear when tough times occur ("heat comes")
Is afraid he may run out of what he needsIs always confident that he is well supplied (not fearful in "the year of drought")
Can only do so much before he comes to the end of his own strengthIs always able to do good ("Does not cease to bear fruit")
Lives in a parched, uninhabited "salt land" (nothing can grow in salted soil)Lives in a place of bountiful supply surrounded by friends

For the record, I'm no Bible scholar - I only know what I've picked up over the years from hearing and reading things written by people with a lot more Bible education than I. But I think it's good to be able to "read between the lines" and discover those extra tidbits that God has left for us to pick up on!

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Win Logos & an iPad Mini!

Not to mention some great books by John Bevere! Enter now... here's the link! (But if you win and I don't I'll be very very sad so in that case you should definitely share!)

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Blessed is the Man

"Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, and whose hope is in the Lord."
This is a picture of something I've seen every business day this year. It's the front of a mug my wife gave me at Epiphany, and every day I look at it and think about what Jeremiah 17:7 says. I started to notice, though, that on different days different parts stood out to me, and eventually I realized that this verse was unfolding into multiple meanings, like a flower opening up into full bloom over the course of many days. I wanted to share some of those thoughts - as you're reading, maybe something will unfold for you today!

There are a bunch of important ideas in this verse: "Blessed." "Trust." "Hope." Let's look at each of them, starting with "blessed." We all want to be "blessed," of course, but to different people that might mean different things. If your car breaks down, you might be "blessed" by a friend who is able and willing to fix it for you for free. If you run out of groceries the day before payday, you might be "blessed" by a friend who buys your lunch. Or, you might be "blessed" by someone giving you a compliment, telling you you did well on a job task or even mentioning that they like the sweater you're wearing.

Those are all excellent blessings, and I certainly think they are included in this verse (especially considering the context, which I want to look at later in another post). But I think the bigger picture, the real "blessing" of God, is much more all-encompassing. I think the blessing of God means that things will go well for you. Your life will be characterized by joy and peace, even when you hit a rough patch. God gave us a picture of what His blessing looks like back in Moses' day:
The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, Thus you shall bless the people of Israel: you shall say to them,
The LORD bless you and keep you;
the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace."
(Numbers 6:22-26 ESV)

The words rendered "trust" and "hope" in the translation of Jeremiah 17:7 on my mug (New King James?) are related words in Hebrew - many translations actually translate them both "trust". The first one is a verb. But it's not the kind of verb like "run" or "ride" or "sing" that is something you specifically do - trusting this way can only be detected by other things you do. Your actions are affected because your attitude is one of trust in God.

The second word, "hope", is a noun. This word means confidence. You can act in trust, because you have confidence in God. It also means your security. Like living in a house with locked doors, you know that nothing can get to you without going through your God first.

But "hope" also can mean something else. It also means that your mind believes there is a chance that something good will happen. When a man on a raft in the middle of the ocean sees a ship sailing toward him, it gives him hope. When a worried wife of a soldier hears news that the war is over, it gives her hope. When a student looks at his transcript with a counselor and sees that graduation is only a few credits away, it gives him hope. Hope is something you believe, based on facts that you know. The fact it's talking about in this verse, the one which gives you hope, is God Himself. Based on that fact, you can have hope in every situation.

But the Bible tells us about one more important hope we have:
[We are] waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ...
(Titus 2:13 ESV)
Our greatest hope, the one to which all other hopes pale in comparison, is our hope of eternal life with Jesus when He returns. This is the hope that still stands when all other hopes fall... when the man on the raft is taking his dying breath without that ship ever showing up, when the wife receives visitors that no military wife ever wants to see at her doorstep, when that student unexpectedly has to quit school because of a family need - when those hopes are lost, this hope remains.

Did you notice that it does not say, "...whose hope is in the Lord?" It says that the person who is blessed is the person "...whose hope is the Lord." Jesus doesn't give you hope. Jesus is your hope. Jesus is your hope of a new better life when this one is over. Jesus is your hope of provision and comfort in this life. Jesus is your hope of joy and peace and contentment. He is your hope of all blessing. Choose to take action based on your confidence in Him. Just try it and see what happens!

(Oh, by the way... if you love the cup that inspired this post, you can get your own right here.)