Be Still



One of the most beautiful of the psalms is Psalm 46.  It is attributed to the sons of Korah, and it extols God as “our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Psa. 46:1).  This psalm encouraged Israel to not lose heart as they faced various challenges because God is always with His people to care for them and to provide for them in every situation.

In v. 8 the psalmist invited Israel to “behold the works of the Lord, who has wrought desolations in the earth”.  Then, in v. 9 he says, “He makes wars to cease to the end of the earth; He breaks the bow and cuts the spear in two; He burns the chariots with fire.”  In other words, Israel’s dependence upon God was well founded.  He had more than adequately demonstrated His power, and they could therefore be confident no matter what might come.

In v. 10 the psalmist spoke for God and said, “Cease striving and know that I am God; I will be exalted in the earth” (NASB).  Most of the other English translations say, “Be still, and know that I am God.”  Both renditions are accurate, but we are generally more familiar with the latter.  This simple statement, however, is the key to the power of this psalm.

How often have God’s people today missed out on the refuge and strength of God because they refused to be still and acknowledge Him as God?  This loss can be attributed, at least in part, to the fact that modern society has become averse to quietness.  It seems we cannot go anywhere without our ears being bombarded with the cacophony of the modern world.  Our culture has become one of incessant noise of various kinds and silence makes people uncomfortable, even in worship.

Our worship assemblies are highly structured, even those that give the appearance of informality and spontaneity.  Something is supposed to be going on at all times, and the absence of sound means that something is wrong.  Silence in the assembly for more than a few seconds puts worshipers on edge.  The discomfort is palpable.  Nevertheless, God says, “Be still, and know that I am God.”  How much more fulfilling might our worship be if we took more time in quiet reflection as we worshiped?  How much more prepared to face the challenges of life might we be if we followed God’s command?

The command to be still, however, is not limited to our worship assemblies.  In fact, Psa. 46 actually speaks more to our day to day affairs than to our worship.  This is where it gets tricky for us.  We scurry about each day like a hamster in a wheel, immersed in the noise and chaos of life, and we wonder why we feel overwhelmed by it all.  Perhaps if we took more time to be still, and to reflect on who our God is, we would find the fortitude and peace to successfully navigate our way through life.

Just being quiet, of course, is not the answer.  God said to be still AND know that He is God.  Our quiet time should be time when we reflect on God and on His word.  It should be time when we approach Him in prayer or just quietly meditate on some truth from the scriptures.  The point is that the refuge and strength we all need to face life is there, if we are willing to take advantage of it.  But, we need to be quiet in order to access it.  So then, let’s turn off the volume of life and sit quietly before the Lord.  Let’s turn of the TV, the computer, our cell phones, and our game devices, and be still so we can see and hear the God who is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.

Social Media & Feathers



The advent of social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) has made it possible for us to be connected, albeit loosely, with people literally around the world.  We post pictures about our daily lives and make comments on all manner of topics from the mundane to the sublime.  Even though all users have identities on these media, our comments are essentially anonymous.  The fact that they are made in cyberspace, rather than face to face, makes it tempting to say things we might not otherwise say.  As a result, comments can be derogatory and hurtful, if not downright mean.  Even among professed believers comments can get out of hand.

This brings to mind the story of a new rabbi who was constantly berated behind his back by a businessman who was a member of his synagogue.  After many weeks of this, one of the other synagogue members confronted the man and reprimanded him for his behavior.  Chastened, the man went to the rabbi to ask forgiveness and to make restitution.  The rabbi told him to take one of his most expensive down-filled pillows up to the highest hill outside the village, scatter its contents to the four winds, and then return to him.  The man complied with this request, and when he returned, the rabbi instructed him to go back and gather up all of the feathers.  The man objected that this was impossible, to which the rabbi replied that so it was with gossip.  Hurtful words, once spoken, can never be retrieved, and the damage they do cannot be undone.

This story illustrates a potential danger inherent in social media.  When we make comments we have no idea how far they will travel, or what damage they may do.  What we may have intended for one person can literally travel around the world before the day is done.  Whatever our motivation may have been for making the comment, it is soon beyond our reach, either to correct, or to retract.  Even if we later apologize, there is no guarantee that all who saw the initial comment will also see the apology.  The damage will have been done and it cannot be undone.

This is an especially important truth for Christians.  Our words are to be “with grace, as though seasoned with salt” (Col. 4:6).  We are commanded to speak “only such a word as is good for edification . . . . so that it will give grace to those who hear” (Eph. 4:29).  We are also commanded to treat others in the way we want them to treat us (Mt. 7:12).  We are warned that the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity, which can set a great forest aflame (Jas. 3:5-10).

These commands apply to every facet of our lives, even the things we post on social media.  When the prophet Nathan confronted David over his sin with Bathsheba, he told David that his actions had given the enemies of the Lord an occasion to blaspheme (2 Sam. 12:14).  Christians who post hurtful words on social media are just as guilty as David was.  When we act like the world, whether in word or deed, our connection to Christ is compromised, and we give unbelievers an opportunity to mock the Lord and His church.

We must thoughtfully consider every comment we post online.  We must do so, first, because scripture commands us to speak only that which edifies.  Second, we must do so because of how far our words may spread and what damage they may do.  Third, we must do so because of the Golden Rule.  None of us appreciates it when others speak badly of us, especially in a public setting (which social media is), so we should never do so to others.  We must let our light shine before others so they will see our good works (and words) and glorify our Father in heaven (Mt. 5:16).  This applies to everything we say and do, even on social media.

My Ebenezer



One of the challenges we face when reading the scriptures is trying to understand certain terms that have been transliterated into English.  These instances most often occur in the Old Testament, where Hebrew words, especially place names, are simply anglicized rather than translated.  One such term is the word “Ebenezer,” which occurs three times in the Old Testament.  Twice it refers to an unknown location somewhere between the land of the Philistines and the territory of Israel.  The third time it occurs is in 1 Sam. 7:12 in the aftermath of a great victory over the Philistines.  Here the scripture says, “Then Samuel took a stone and set it between Mizpah and Shen, and named it Ebenezer, saying, ‘Thus far the Lord has helped us.'”

Many of our modern English translations have footnotes that offer either an explanation of such words, or a literal translation of them.  The Hebrew word “Ebenezer” literally means, “the stone of help.”  In the ancient world it was common to erect monuments of stone to commemorate great victories, or to call attention to some significant spiritual lesson.  In this case, Samuel erected some kind of a stone that would be a permanent reminder of what God had done for Israel.

It is important to recognize that this was not a monument to a great military victory, even though Israel had just soundly defeated their enemies the Philistines.  Instead, Samuel was honoring the providential care of God, who had made that victory possible.  The Philistines had only recently defeated Israel in battle and had captured the ark of the covenant.  After God afflicted the Philistines, they returned the ark to Israel, but continued to press them in battle.  In 1 Sam. 7:10, 11 Samuel was offering sacrifices to God as Israel prepared to meet the Philistines in battle yet again.  In response to these sacrifices, God sent thunder to confuse the Philistines.  This confusion enabled Israel to defeat them so badly that the Philistines no longer raided Israel (v. 13).

Samuel’s point in erecting Ebenezer was to acknowledge that Israel had come to this position only by the power of their God.  Ebenezer, the stone of help, reminded Israel that they routed the Philistines because God made it happen.  More than this, however, Ebenezer reminded Israel that it was only by the help of their God that they were even in this land at all.  Without God’s help, Israel would have still been slaves in Egypt.  In addition to this, Ebenezer, the stone of help, was intended to be a perpetual reminder so that all generations of Israelites would know that whatever they achieved was by the power and help of their God.

It is this last aspect of Ebenezer that has a timeless application.  Over time Israel forgot their Ebenezer and became vain and rebellious against God.  This attitude is exemplified by the rich fool in Lk. 12:16-21.  He failed to acknowledge God as the source of his prosperity and paid the price for it.  In a similar way, we today may commit the same sin if we fail to remember our Ebenezer.

The most notable example of forgetting one’s Ebenezer is the song, “My Way,” made famous by Frank Sinatra.  This song exemplifies the thinking of those who give no meaningful place to God in their lives, and who relish the idea that they have depended upon no one to achieve success.  Obviously this attitude is not consistent with the teachings of scripture.  Jesus said that God sends his rain on the righteous and the unrighteous (Mt. 5:45), so even the wicked should acknowledge God’s help in life.  Those who are believers, however, must not fail to do so.  Every day we should say, “Here I raise my Ebenezer.  Thus far the Lord has helped me.”

The Finger of God

Hand of a god-like creature pointing with finger.

When Jesus spoke to the Samaritan woman at the well, He told her, “God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (Jn. 4:24).  This is a fundamental truth about our Father in heaven.  He is not bound by physical limitations because He is spirit.  This enables Him to be everywhere present in time and space.  Theologians call this omnipresence.

However, as we read through scripture we often see references to the face of God, the ears of God, and the hand and arm of God.  Such references are not intended to suggest that God has a physical form.  Rather, they are descriptive ways of illustrating the actions of God toward mankind.  For example, He turns His face and ears toward the righteous (2 Chr. 7:14, 15), but He sets His face against the wicked (Lev. 20:5).

Another interesting description of God is what is said about the tablets of stone on which the Ten Commandments were written.  In Ex. 31:18 the scripture says, “When He had finished speaking with him upon Mount Sinai, He gave Moses the two tablets of the testimony, tablets of stone, written by the finger of God (emphasis added).  This is the only place in scripture where this description of God is found, and I wonder if we fully appreciate the significance of it.

In the 1996 move, “Twister,” a group of storm chasers is discussing the relative strengths of tornados, and they mention an F5 tornado.  Someone asks what an F5 is, to which one of the storm chasers replies, “The finger of God.”  Too often, it seems, this is the only way in which some people think of God’s power.  If God acts, it must be a destructive thing.  How sad it is that for many people the finger of God can only refer to something terrible.

This is not at all the idea conveyed in Ex. 31:18, however.  The finger of God reached down from heaven and wrote the ten words (the literal meaning of the Hebrew word that is translated “commandments”), so that Israel would know how to please Him.  In Deut. 10:13 Moses said that the commandments and statutes of God were given for Israel’s good.  In other words, the finger of God was wielded in order to help His people receive His blessings and to avoid His wrath.  What a contrast from the world’s view!

In 1956 Cecil B. DeMille created the definitive film portrayal of the deliverance of Israel from Egypt by the power of God.  His film, entitled, “The Ten Commandments,” depicted the finger of God as streaks of flame that etched the commandments into the stone tablets.  While we cannot say with certainty that this is how God wrote upon the tablets of stone, it graphically portrayed the fact that God’s commands came directly from His hand to mankind.  This was not the last time, however, that the finger of God revealed His will to mankind.

In 2 Tim. 3:16, 17 Paul said that all scripture is inspired (literally, God-breathed).  In 2 Pet. 1:20, 21 Peter said that men spoke from God, having been moved by the Holy Spirit.  This was the finger of God at work writing on the tablets of our hearts, so every person in every generation may know how to please Him and how to avoid eternal punishment.  Far from being the destructive force that is envisioned by the unbelievers, the finger of God is gracious and loving, showing us the way to eternal life through the word which He Himself inspired.  How grateful we should be that the finger of God has touched the world for our good!