Psalm 119: 57-64 ח Heth – Hedge, Fence, Surround
57 You are my portion, Lord; I have promised to obey your words.
58 I have sought your face with all my heart; be gracious to me according to your promise.
59 I have considered my ways and have turned my steps to your statutes.
60 I will hasten and not delay to obey your commands.
61 Though the wicked bind me with ropes, I will not forget your law.
62 At midnight I rise to give you thanks for your righteous laws.
63 I am a friend to all who fear you, to all who follow your precepts.
64 The earth is filled with your love, Lord; teach me your decrees. NIV
The “I” statements are so striking in these verses they have preempted my forwards/backwards plan as the last days of 2020 unroll. Heth is part of the wisdom revealed to us again in Christmas, 2020. Jesus was God Himself, offered to the world to be the true Hedge, Fence, Surround between the vulnerabilities of life and our confidence in the unknown days of 2021 yet to come.
“We have a shelter, we have our defense and now we have a hedge, fence or a surround. Heth is a boundary; “a point or limit that indicates where two things become different. ” Look at the Psalmist, the hero of the song. His theme [in all his Psalms] regularly shifts from complete confidence in his knowledge of God to the awareness, and sometimes even fear, of how vulnerable he is.
God has set himself as the boundary line between those shifts of confidence and vulnerability. It’s that point of Heth from which the Psalmist speaks; “I have promised…I have sought…I have considered…I will hasten,,,I will not forget…I rise to give you thanks…The earth is filled with your love, Lord; teach me your decrees.”a
James 3:13 Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. 14 But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. 15 This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16 For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. 17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. 18 And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. [ESV]
GK Chesterton said “A man was meant to be doubtful about himself, but undoubting about the truth; this has been exactly reversed.” I don’t know if he had meekness in mind when he penned that sentence but it seems like the reality that explains the “meekness of wisdom.” My heart longs for absolutes based on God’s Word but I am not immune to the paradox Chesterton referenced. My absolutes are just that – “my” absolutes. They comfort me in a world of division, and hostility where even another believer’s faith can feel like a weapon of attack unless I agree with their absolutes. That’s when the “meekness of wisdom” reminds me “the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.”
I’ve learned a lot over 40+ years as a believer in Jesus Christ but my faith is still just a small glimpse into the mind of God. That glimpse has only become faith because of my confidence in Jesus and the Holy Spirit. I don’t know it all, but the grace of Jesus has made certain that what I don’t know will not separate me from the Sovereign God who really does. Some may doubt everything else I know but I have no doubt about that at all!
Remember Matthew 5:5? “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” The “meekness of wisdom” for today might read ‘Blessed are those who don’t know it all but know the one who does, for the promises of their inheritance begin right here where they live now. Absolutely!’
I Corinthians 1:18 I know very well how foolish it sounds to those who are lost, when they hear that Jesus died to save them. But we who are saved recognize this message as the very power of God. 19 For God says, “I will destroy all human plans of salvation no matter how wise they seem to be, and ignore the best ideas of men, even the most brilliant of them.” 20 So what about these wise men, these scholars, these brilliant debaters of this world’s great affairs? God has made them all look foolish and shown their wisdom to be useless nonsense. 21 For God in his wisdom saw to it that the world would never find God through human brilliance, and then he stepped in and saved* all those who believed his message, which the world calls foolish and silly. [TLB]
The Jewish mindset was confidence in the law. Jesus couldn’t be the Messiah because his death on a cross marked him as a law-breaker cursed by God [see Deuteronomy 21:23]. The cross was “useless nonsense” to them.
The Greek’s idea of God was a just and impartial ruler that remained detached from the emotions and influence of his creation. Therefore the idea that “God the Son” would suffer on a cross to save so many seemed “foolish and silly” to them.
Isn’t it interesting that the cross was the stumbling block to salvation for each of those polar opposite ideas? “God in his wisdom saw to it that” the cross could become a bridge. “When they hear that Jesus died to save them” they each have the same opportunity to “recognize this message as the very power of God.” Even polar opposites can be united through the power of the resurrection of Jesus Christ because God *loves them all enough to save them.
“…We should feed and nourish our souls with high notions of GOD…”
.Brother Lawrence from The Practice of the Presence of God.
I’m at one of those transition places between what I wanted to know and what I still need to know. I’m looking for that new focus of my daily study. Usually I begin with THE Word and then find my words but all I have today is word ideas prompted by that quote from The Practice of the Presence of God. It feels like I’m beginning backwards but I’ve just spent a few weeks on the assurances that access to “high notions of GOD” are built right into those who dwell with his Spirit inside them. Here I am Lord. I love you, please lead me…to your “Whatever” and the fullness of understanding there’s “Nothing” you will withhold as I continue to ponder the mystery of how to practice these high notions of God…and their wisdom for daily life.
Proverbs 16:20 Whoever listens to what is taught will succeed,
and whoever trusts the Lord will be happy.
21 The wise are known for their understanding.
Their pleasant words make them better teachers.
22 Understanding is like a fountain which gives life to those who use it,
but foolishness brings punishment to fools.
23 Wise people’s minds tell them what to say,
and that helps them be better teachers.
24 Pleasant words are like a honeycomb,
making people happy and healthy. NCV
18 This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. 19 Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. 20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”). 24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. 25 But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.
The relationship of Mary and Joseph is confusing. “Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph”…”Joseph her husband was faithful”…”he had in mind to divorce her”… but…“When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.” Were they “pledged” or were they married? Why was divorce involved? Here’s what I found.
Marriage was considered far too important to be left to a matter of the heart. A pledge of marriage was made by family arrangements in the name of the couple. It was only a promise at this point but the next step really mattered. The promised couple must confirm their agreement with that family arrangement at some future point in time. Their agreement turned that promise into a binding contract that only another legal action could break. Legally they were now recognized as husband and wife but there was one more step that must happen. That’s where Mary and Joseph were at this point. It was the wedding celebration ahead that was meant to unite promise, contract and their relationship into the one flesh God promised in Genesis but there were those disturbing circumstances.
I can pass on facts I discovered about the culture of relationships of the time but I cannot explain why God would use these circumstances in Joseph’s life to fulfill his promise to all of creation. They were hard circumstances. Joseph could declare Mary unfaithful and possibly condemn her to death by stoning. He could stay in the relationship and deal with his own conflict with the law he was faithful to…or he could accept his dream and the words from the angel of the Lord as a truth and a blessing on their life together. God bless circumstances. Joseph’s circumstances and his response became a blessing for all of us that celebrate the Big Event. Wisdom and the Word still work to help the believer navigate circumstances today. Matthew Henry’s commentary on this scripture says it perfectly.
“Observe, it is the thoughtful, not the unthinking, whom God will guide. God’s time to come with instruction to his people, is when they are at a loss. Divine comforts most delight the soul when under the pressure of perplexed thoughts.”
James 3:13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.
This morning was a perfect object lesson for me. I spent 8 or 9 hours working on this title…Repentance of Gratitude…only to accidentally delete the whole thing as I tried to copy it. Despite my best efforts it was apparently meant just for me to practice what I preach. I hope this reconstruction is just what God had in mind for you to read.
Lent is fast coming to an end and I’m still learning about repentance. It’s easy to reduce it to it’s simplest definition, “being sorry.” Regret is certainly part of repentance but James has led me to another path of thought. What if there’s a another side to repentance that involves our ability to live a good life?
We work so hard in so many ways to live that “good life” that we can hardly escape our sense of entitlement that what we have, even our wisdom and understanding, comes through our own efforts. It’s the sacrifice of that entitlement that becomes the repentance of gratitude for all God has given. Those unplanned surprises and less-than-lovely tasks that happen daily are opportunities to practice “deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.” That’s what the repentance of gratitude is all about. Those object lessons come every day and last longer than Lent.
“Who is wise and understanding among you?” Remember to practice the repentance of gratitude every day and “show it by [your] good life…”
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding. Proverbs 9:10 NIV
I don’t really like the idea of “fear” when it comes to the Lord: an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat. I know him to be a loving, protective parent who’s goal is my good, not to scare me into behaving…but there’s that word “fear” in the same sentence with wisdom.
I went to the dictionary, a Hebrew lexicon and someone else’s explanation of that fear hoping I’d find something less harsh. Guess what? By the time you’ve run that gauntlet of options you discover this truth. Mostly it really is THAT kind of fear. This is God, he makes the rules and sets that boundary of fear to keep us from deliberate sin and like a really good parent he will keep his word…all of it!
I John 1:9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.
It reminded me of when I was a teenager. I heard myself say “I can’t do that, my mother would kill me.” It’s that kind of fear. It’s not wanting to get into trouble because you know exactly what that trouble will bring. That really is the beginning of wisdom. Turns out Mother knew best, after all.
Psalm 119:97-104 מ Mem – Waves, Water
97 Oh, how I love your law!
I meditate on it all day long.
98 Your commands are always with me
and make me wiser than my enemies.
99 I have more insight than all my teachers,
for I meditate on your statutes.
100 I have more understanding than the elders,
for I obey your precepts.
101 I have kept my feet from every evil path
so that I might obey your word.
102 I have not departed from your laws,
for you yourself have taught me.
103 How sweet are your words to my taste,
sweeter than honey to my mouth!
104 I gain understanding from your precepts;
therefore I hate every wrong path.
I wondered whether the Psalmist was in his personal Red Sea period when I saw he’d chosen the title Mem [Waves, Water]. His life has been like the Israelites as they came up against that barrier of water that seemed like sure destruction with nowhere to go. He’s personally experienced God opening up a path for him like the parting of those waters to where he is now. This is his response. It reads like a man who’s survived the journey through the sea bed and made it to this lofty place of confidence on the mountain top.
I’m resisting “peeking” ahead to see how his own bottom line of faith, “for you yourself have taught me,” continues to change the focus of his wisdom, insight and understanding.