Today is Yom Kippur, the day of atonement. What a wonderful word that is, when God and man humankind are reconciled through the sacrificial death of Yeshua. We would highly commend the excellent prayer guide that CMJ released to pray through the Days of Awe, the days when Jews earnestly seek to repent of their sins. Although these days have now passed for another year, there is absolutely no reason why we cannot take up the baton and continue the prayer as a second wave. That is the kind of ‘second wave’ it is really good to dwell on!
I have been meditating on Psalms 131 and 135. As with all the psalms, they are so rich! As I was savouring them, the Lord showed me how I could use them to pray for Israel, which is currently under a two-week lockdown – the first country (as opposed to city) to reimpose such a measure following a spike in cases of the Coronavirus.
I love the fact that the Lord calls Israel His ‘peculiar treasure.’ (Ps. 135:4) Lovers love to come up with intimate words and phrases to describe their beloved one, and there is something in this particular phrase that captures depths more contemporary renderings, such as ‘He has chosen Israel for His own possession,’ don’t quite get reach. How incredibly precious it is that we who love Yeshua are amongst those who inherit such cherishing language and devotion!
We will all have all taken comfort at one time or another from Psalm 131’s encouragement not to aim too high in our thinking or to feel unduly responsible or self-important. This short poem is commonly quoted as the most perfect and sincere example of heart ‘resignation’. It is quite clear from the last verse, however, that the psalm refers in the first instance to Israel rather than to an individual. It is the overflow of His kindness and mercy that enables us to benefit from it personally!
The first thing to check our heart for is areas of pride. That, and stubbornness, are the very things with which people have, for so long associated Israel – and they are qualities which we too so easily espouse. Deep seated pride may originate in the heart, but as verse one hints, it soon finds its way to the eye. Eyes that are not yielded to the Lord never cease to rove and covet. When the Psalmist declares, ‘I do not occupy myself with things too great for me,’ the verb could be translated, ‘I have not and continue not to occupy myself with things too great for me.’
In the second verse, the author makes a very strong statement, such as is used to express an adamant declaration after an oath. “I really have (or have not) done this; I really mean it: I have quieted myself as a child that is weaned.” We often read this psalm with the image of a child at her mother’s breast in our minds – the wonderful moments of nursing in the stillness of the night hours, when mother and child are so beautifully united. But the poet actually depicts a child that is weaned.
There was a cottage in the Lake District where we often stayed, and at certain times of year, we could hear day and night the distressed bellowing of cows whose calves had been taken from them. I don’t doubt the calves were distressed too! Right across the earth this is a natural but turbulent moment. How can a child, who has been deprived access to that which has been its greatest comfort, not feel distressed?
The weaning process can be painful for both mother and child. Mothers don’t like to deny their children the thing that they know soothes a troubled soul so very deeply. And the child has no idea why his mother is refusing him. He doesn’t understand that there is a whole world of nourishment and satisfaction beyond anything he has yet experienced. There are times when a mother must deny her child, but this is God’s process, and a weaned child learns to trust his mother to meet his needs – not only for food, but for comfort and fulfilment. He quiets his ambition, and his spirit lies calm and gentle, like a child in its mother’s arms. He discovers new depths of relationship with her. How much better is that than to ‘nurse’ ambitious or resentful thoughts?
The experience of lockdown has been so hard for so many. There are very many excellent reasons to become anxious and worried. It is a humbling time, as we cannot but wait – even the people of Yahweh must wait. Let’s ask Him to use the new lockdown in Israel to speak to people. I was reminded of the verse in Deuteronomy 32:36 where the Lord declares that after great shakings, and ‘when He sees that their power is gone,’ He will ‘vindicate His people and have compassion on His servants.’
The Douay-Rheims rendering of this verse is especially poignant in the current season: ‘The Lord will judge His people, and will have mercy on His servants: He shall see that their hand is weakened, and that they who were shut up have also failed.’
It will take many miracles for both the secular in Israel or for orthodox Jews to come to Christ, but there is a promise and a purpose here for us to get our teeth into in prayer: a process that it itself a calling and a destiny. The people need weaning either from their secularism of their anti Yeshua bias. How can there but be convulsions along the way? As the poet priest George Herbert put it, “if goodness lead a man not, then weariness may toss him to God’s breast.” What a prayer to pray and a thought to hold in mind for those far from God – and to aid us in our prayers for Israel!*
Let’s pray that Israel may know their God, and not miss out on the beauty of a relationship with Jesus, and all the joy and wonder that that brings.
May this be a time when the Lord touches the heart of the nation in a new way to sigh and long to find the One who is always seeking them. Has He not promised, ‘I will make my dwelling among you, and My soul will not abhor you. (I will never turn away from you). I will walk among you and be your God, and you will be My people. I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt so that you would no longer be slaves to the Egyptians; I broke the bars of your yoke and enabled you to walk with heads held high.’ (Lev. 26:11-13)
I love the fact that the word translated ‘dwelling’ is also translated ‘tabernacle.’ The passage shows how much Emmanuel loves walking with His people, as well as looking forward to the day when we come to the glorious city of God that John sees at the end of Revelation. That is where the perfection of the tabernacle and the temple come together, in the city where God and His people dwell together. Adonai Shammah: The Lord who is there! – the closing words of the book of Ezekiel as he looks forward to the city of God.
For the LORD will vindicate his people and have compassion on His servants, when He sees that their power is gone . . .
Now this is eternal life: that they know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom You have sent.
. . . And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. (John 17:3, 1 John 5:11)
*In the coastal regions, and around Tel Aviv, secular mindsets tend to predominate amongst Israeli citizens, whereas Orthodox Jews, on the other hand, who number about 45% of the population, tend to dwell more in Jerusalem and the interior. They know that the Lord has given them the land ‘as their heritage,’ but we also know the many historical barriers that hinder them from embracing Yeshua as their Lord.