The word awesome is tossed around a lot these days. Talk about cars, movies, songs, or food—and somebody will say, “That’s awesome!”
But if we call earth-side stuff awesome and then call God awesome, we diminish how truly awesome He is. A friend of mine has a rule in her house—the word awesome is reserved only for God.
Trivializing God is no trivial matter. He is far more than a companion who will fit into our “buddy system” or a divine ATM responding to our impulses. Until we are stunned by the awesomeness of God, we will be way too impressed with ourselves and lose the joy of the privilege of belonging to an awesome God.
A look at the Psalms puts it all in perspective. One psalmist declares, “For the Lord Most High is awesome; He is a great King over all the earth” (Ps. 47:2). And another psalm commands: “Say to God, ‘How awesome are Your works!’ . . . Come and see the works of God; He is awesome in His doing toward the sons of men” (Ps. 66:3,5).
What could be more awesome than the love that compelled Jesus to go to the cross for us? Put Him in His proper place as the only One who is truly awesome, and praise God for His awesome work in your life!
If you’re too impressed with yourself, take a closer look at God’s awesomeness.
God’s first sovereign work of grace is summed up in the words, “. . . that they may receive forgiveness of sins . . . .” When a person fails in his personal Christian life, it is usually because he has never received anything. The only sign that a person is saved is that he has received something from Jesus Christ. Our job as workers for God is to open people’s eyes so that they may turn themselves from darkness to light. But that is not salvation; it is conversion-only the effort of an awakened human being. I do not think it is too broad a statement to say that the majority of so-called Christians are like this. Their eyes are open, but they have received nothing. Conversion is not regeneration. This is a neglected fact in our preaching today. When a person is born again, he knows that it is because he has received something as a gift from Almighty God and not because of his own decision. People may make vows and promises, and may be determined to follow through, but none of this is salvation. Salvation means that we are brought to the place where we are able to receive something from God on the authority of Jesus Christ, namely, forgiveness of sins.
This is followed by God’s second mighty work of grace: “. . . an inheritance among those who are sanctified . . . .” In sanctification, the one who has been born again deliberately gives up his right to himself to Jesus Christ, and identifies himself entirely with God’s ministry to others.
This Torah portion for this week, Vaeira, is from Exodus 6:2—9:35 and Ezekiel 28:25–29:12.
The second plague to hit Egypt was the plague of frogs. Every Jewish child who goes to a Hebrew Day School knows this song: “One day Pharaoh awoke in his bed – there were frogs on his head and frogs in his bed. Frogs on his toes, and frogs on his nose. Frogs here, frogs there, frogs were jumping everywhere!”
But that’s not exactly how it happened.
The Sages point out that in the original Hebrew text, the Scripture says, “So Aaron stretched out his hand . . . and the frog came up and covered the land.” Did you catch it? One frog came up, and somehow, one frog covered the whole land! What does this mean?
The Sages explain that the plague began with just one frog. When the Egyptians saw it, they struck it and tried to kill it. But instead of dying, the frog began multiplying. One frog became two. The Egyptians became angry and hit the two frogs, but that only caused them to become four. Infuriated, they struck them again and again. Four became eight and then sixteen, until eventually there were so many frogs that they covered the whole land!
Why didn’t the Egyptians stop trying to kill the frogs when they saw what was happening?
The answer: Anger.
Anger is blinding. It is counter-productive and self-destructive. But that doesn’t stop people from becoming angry, and it didn’t stop the Egyptians from acting out of anger. The Egyptians became so angry that they couldn’t see how much they were hurting themselves. Such is the power of anger: It destroys everything and everyone who comes in its path, including its owner.
Maimonides, a renowned medieval philosopher and rabbi, taught that for every character trait there is a middle road. That means don’t be stingy and don’t spend endlessly. Don’t be too selfless and don’t be too selfish. But there are two traits —arrogance and anger — that even Maimonides advised that there was no middle ground. When it comes to those traits, we are best to put as much distance between them and us as possible.
The Talmud teaches, “When a person gives in to anger, if he is wise, his wisdom leaves him. If he is a prophet, his power of prophecy leaves him; if greatness was decreed for him from Heaven, anger will cause him to be degraded.” Our anger hurts us more than anyone else.
Try this: Next time you get angry and are ready to lash out, ask yourself, “What do I have to gain from my anger?” Maybe you will feel good for a few minutes or a few hours, but in the long run, anger gets you nothing. Then ask, “What do I have to lose from my anger?” The answer to that? Everything!
Then the Philistines came and camped in Shunem, and Saul gathered all the Israelites and camped in Gilboa. But when he saw the army of the Philistines, he was terrified and filled with fear. So he asked of Jehovah whether he should go against them, but Jehovah did not answer him either by dream or by lot or by the prophets. Then Saul said to his servants, “Find for me a woman who is a medium, that I may go and ask through her.” His servants said to him, “There is such a woman at Endor.”
So Saul did not let any one know who he was, but put on other clothes and went, taking two men with him. And they came to the woman at night. He said, “Ask for me through some departed spirit and bring up for me the one for whom I shall ask.” The woman said to him, “You know what Saul has done, how he has driven from the land the mediums and those who have messages from the spirits of the dead. Why then are you trying to catch me, to put me to death?” But Saul swore to her by Jehovah, saying, “As surely as Jehovah lives, no punishment will come to you from this act.” Then the woman said, “Whom shall I bring up to you?” Saul said, “Bring up Samuel.”
When the woman saw Samuel, she screamed and said to Saul, “Why have you deceived me, for you are Saul?” Saul replied, “Do not be afraid! What do you see?” The woman said to Saul, “I see a god coming out of the earth.” Saul asked, “What does he look like?” She said, “An old man is coming up, and he is wrapped in a cloak.” Then Saul knew that it was Samuel; and he bowed with his face to the earth and worshipped.
Samuel said to Saul, “Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?” Saul answered, “I am in great trouble, for the Philistines are making war against me, and God has turned from me and answers me no more, neither by prophets nor by dreams. So I have called you to tell me what I shall do.” Samuel said, “Why do you ask of me when Jehovah has turned from you and become your enemy? He has taken the authority from your hand and given it to another, even to David. To-morrow you, with your sons beside you, shall fall, and Jehovah will deliver the army of Israel into the power of the Philistines.”
Then Saul fell at full length upon the earth, for the words of Samuel filled him with fear, so he had no strength left, for he had not eaten any food all that day and night. When the woman came to Saul and saw that he was in great trouble, she said to him, “See, I have taken my life in my hand and have done what you asked me. Now therefore, listen also to my advice and let me set before you a little food, and eat that you may have strength to go on your way.” Saul refused and said, “I will not eat”; but his servants, as well as the woman, urged him, until he listened to their advice. Then he rose from the earth and sat upon the couch. And the woman had a fat calf in the house which she quickly killed. And she took flour and kneaded it and baked from it bread without yeast. She set it before Saul and his servants, and they ate. Then they rose up and went away that night.
The Philistines fought against Israel, but the Israelites fled from them and fell dead on Mount Gilboa. Then the Philistines closely followed Saul and his sons; and they killed Jonathan and Abinadab and Malchishua, the sons of Saul. So the battle went against Saul, and when the archers found out where he was, he was severely wounded. Then Saul said to his armor-bearer, “Draw your sword and kill me with it, so that these heathen Philistines may not come and make sport of me.” But his armor-bearer would not, for he was very much afraid. Saul, therefore, took his own sword and fell upon it. When his armor-bearer saw that Saul was dead, he also fell upon his sword and died with him. So Saul and his three sons and his armor-bearer died on the same day.
When the Israelites who were in the towns of the lowland and across the Jordan saw that the Israelites had fled and that Saul and his sons were dead, they left their towns and fled, and the Philistines came and took them.
On the next day, the Philistines came to rob the dead, and found that Saul and his three sons had fallen on Mount Gilboa. They cut off his head and stripped off his armor and sent messengers through all the land of the Philistines to bring the good news to their idols and to the people. And they put his armor in the temple of Ashtarte and fastened his body on the wall of Bethshan.
When the inhabitants of Jabesh in Gilead heard what the Philistines had done to Saul, their brave men rose up and marched all night, and they took the bodies of Saul and his sons from the wall of Bethshan and brought them to Jabesh and mourned over them there. Then they took their bones and buried them under the oak-tree in Jabesh and ate no food for seven days.
On the third day after David returned to Ziklag, after defeating the Amalekites, a man came from the camp of Saul with his clothes torn and with earth upon his head. When he came to David, he fell on the ground before him. David said to him, “Where do you come from?” He answered, “I have escaped from the camp of Israel.” David said to him, “How did the battle go? Tell me.” He answered, “The people fled from the battle-field, and many of them fell, and Saul and Jonathan his son are dead!”
Then David and all the men who were with him tore their clothes and mourned and wept and went without food until evening, because Saul and Jonathan his son and the people of Jehovah had fallen by the sword.
David then sang this dirge over Saul and Jonathan:
“Weep, O Judah!
Grieve, O Israel!
On your heights are the slain!
How the mighty have fallen!
“Saul and Jonathan, beloved and lovely!
In life and in death they were never parted;
They were swifter than eagles,
They were stronger than lions.
“O Jonathan, your death has mortally wounded me,
O Jonathan, my brother, for you I am sorrowing.
You were ever a friend to me most dear,
Your love meant far more than the love of women!
“How the mighty have fallen,
And the weapons of war vanished!”
This advocacy is here called, as elsewhere, “pleading the cause” of the believer, and is connected with deliverance, for such an advocate can never fail: “O Lord, thou hast pleaded the causes of my soul; thou hast redeemed my life” (Lam. 3:58). The figure is taken from a lawyer pleading the cause of a criminal, and using his best endeavours to bring him off uninjured. But such advocacy may fail for two reasons: 1. the incompetency of the advocate; or 2. the badness of the cause. But there are no such hindrances to the success of the advocacy of Christ. How he can plead his own sufferings, blood, and obedience. His very Person as the Son of God, and yet son of man, gives unspeakable value and validity to every plea of the great Intercessor. What validity, then, has his intercession in the court of heaven! It is true that he cannot deny the truth of the charge brought by the accuser of the brethren against his client; but he can present his own meritorious sufferings, and the sorrows he endured for the culprit. On this ground he can stand up as his surety and representative, and plead with the Father that he has suffered in his place and stead. On the firm, solid ground, then, of justice and equity, he can plead on his behalf, “Let him go, for I endured the penalty due to him.”