"What a man dreams will define his character, his motivation and his goals."
Some lives touched by Almighty God
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Zechariah and Elizabeth
John the Baptist
A Sinful Lady
Two Going to Emmaus
Your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. (Joel 228)
Young men mostly look forward to the future, while the elderly remember the past. This is not intended to be an exclusive statement. It is wise for both young and old to look back over history and learn; and it is wise for all people to look forward to the kingdom of heaven and give thanks to Jesus who makes it possible.
In our modern, scientific age dreams are too often discouraged and discarded. But as William Davies wrote, "What is this life, if full of care we have no time to stand and stare?" We are often so busy, too busy, to dream or to listen or to commune with the Lord God.
These thoughts are about 16 people who were dreamers. It did not stop any of them doing a full day's work! But they had their goals and hopes wonderfully stretched by the Lord God.
The style for each dream varies, so if they are read as a book rather than one at a time, it may seem a little disjointed.
May this little book stimulate us to look beyond the material here. Let us see how greatly the faithful Sovereign Lord was pleased to reveal the truth to all who sought him. They dared to dream that he would fulfil all that he has promised. The resulting revelation that brings faith will surprise us beyond measure. May the Almighty enrich and encourage. In dark days may he replace fear with sure hope, so that our gladness and gratitude to him be eternal.
There were only a handful of people in the whole world. Mum and Dad had told Abel how the Lord God had thrown them out of the bliss of Eden - and why. So he knew about the consequence of disobedience and sin; about why he had to weed the ground. He had seen and heard Eve struggle in giving birth to his younger brothers and sisters. More importantly he had become aware of the struggle in his own life: how could he do what is right? He knew he had failed and longed with all his heart for forgiveness. Just a few decades before this amazing creation had been perfect, but it wasn't now. The whole family were in the same boat - a very leaky boat at that.
In that 'boat' the family had learned many crafts. Some built homes, some planted corn, some wove wool or tanned leather for clothes. But Abel looked after sheep. Foolish, hungry, affectionate, ever-bleating sheep. He lived with them. He loved them. But that did not stop him appreciating the taste of roast lamb! So he offered some of the best to his Creator, whom he longed to please. He would often call upon the Lord in this way and plead with him.
Whether it came suddenly or gradually remains a mystery, but Abel learned the truth which Joel would write down some 3,000 years later - "Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved." (Joel 232) Abel knew that the Lord had saved and forgiven him. His Saviour had revealed this amazing undeserved truth. As he offered his lamb to God, he had cried, "Lord, this is the best part of the best lamb in my flock, I know it is not enough, but please will you provide a sufficient sacrifice for my sin." Assured of forgiveness, the light dawned in his soul like the rising sun. Someday God would make "a full, perfect and sufficient sacrifice for the sins of the whole world". Only a person who was both blind and deaf could fail to know that God had given to Abel the relief he longed for. He enjoyed the freedom from the guilt of his sin like a prisoner who had just been released. The gracious presence of the Lord God was no longer a vague hope, but was a dream fulfilled. "Being's source begins to be, and Christ himself was born" - in Abel! No wonder he was so grateful, so overjoyed.
By faith Abel offered God a better sacrifice than Cain did. (Heb 114)
Cain didn't dream; he was just jealous of his younger brother. Cain rejected God's personal warning and invitation. So he had no faith, no God-given assurance of things hoped for - just a growing hatred in his heart. Sin that was "crouching at his door" overwhelmed him. Pride blinded any thought that he was wrong and needed help - help that only the Lord God could give. In his mind he planned and executed the first murder on earth. But it did not bring him any relief or joy, only a heavier burden of guilt that he could not shed, and punishment that he could not endure.
What a contrast to Abel, who had seen the one sufficient sacrifice that Christ would offer for sin in the distance, and believed. God was so pleased to reveal and fulfill all that his heart longed for and dreamed of. He was certain of the truth and the One who said, "I am the way, the truth and the life ..." and "I am the good Shepherd, who lays down his life for the sheep." There is no other way, no greater truth and no better life. No one else can so completely and eternally fulfill such a dream as the one that Abel laid before his Lord and Master. Abel was given this revelation by God; he gladly received God's gracious gift of faith. He was sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. (Heb 111)
Noah lived in a day of rapid expansion - expansion in population and wickedness. Men 'married' anyone and everyone they chose to. So different from the first day when Adam first saw Eve and loved her. Love delights to give: but lust cannot wait to get. By this time every man took whenever and whoever he wanted; the true love and beauty in sex had disappeared. God was grieved. His heart was filled with pain. (Gen 66) His dream for men had failed. No one cared or gave the great Creator God even a passing thought. Selfish thirst for pleasure ruled the day - and the night. It was the original 'me, mine, now' culture.
Well, that's not quite true. There was one man who shared God's agony. Noah. By our standards he was old - 500 years. But in that era he was in the prime of life. (He would live for a further 450 years). More importantly God declares first that he was righteous, and also that he walked with God. As they walked, they wept together. So, a dream was born. Noah didn't just walk with another sorrowful man; he walked with Almighty God, who always has plans. He would destroy what he had so carefully made - and then rebuild it again; a new start.
He told Noah precisely what he had to do: build a 450 foot boat! Big enough for Noah, his sons and wives and at least two of every animal. Noah worked hard, but it still took him 100 years. As he built, he wondered how this would solve the problem of wickedness. God would deluge the earth and destroy all the evil men. So when the flood subsided and the eight people with all the animals stepped out of the Ark, they would make a fresh start - full of new resolutions and hope that it would all be different second time round. But Noah knew enough about sin to realise that men would soon turn their back upon God and become wicked again. Surely God must have a better plan than this. He did. And he shared it with Noah - and us.
Among all the details God gave to Noah about how the Ark was to be built, one stands out. Coat it with pitch inside and out. (Gen 614) Noah was obedient. When the Ark was nearly complete he warmed the thick black tar and painted the whole boat inside and out. Why is this so significant? The Hebrew word, correctly translated 'pitch' in English, is 'Kaphar'. But on each of the other 94 times that it is used in the Old Testament it is translated as atone, purge, have mercy, or forgive. God had instructed Noah to coat the Ark inside and out with 'Atonement'. Day after day as Noah applied the tar, the dream, the longing for righteousness to flood the earth, took on a new meaning. It would not be the destruction and new start that would wash the earth clean, but the atonement of God.
As Noah painted, in a sense the Ark disappeared, and all he could see was the tar, the Atonement of Christ. He knew that one day God would atone for sin; that his sacrifice would save the souls of wicked men on earth, bearing our deserved punishment, presenting us with life - eternal life, and giving us the gift of his perfect righteousness. Jesus, the 'Kaphar-coated' Ark, would bring salvation to men threatened with drowning and the just judgement of God. Noah looked beyond the tar, just as we look beyond the bread and wine, and God reveals the Atoning Saviour.
What a dream!
What a glorious fulfilment!
What a Saviour!
Abraham is the principal character of 12 chapters in Genesis and the first of the Jewish Patriarchs - the man God chose to found the nation of Israel 4,000 years ago. He was born 57 years before Noah died, but whether or not they ever talked together we do not know. But Genesis records 9 separate and special occasions when God met with Abraham. On the first meeting God made three promises to Abraham:
I will make you into a great nation ...
I will bless those who bless you,
and whoever curses you I will curse
All peoples on earth will be blessed through you. (Gen 122,3)
God told him to leave Haran and go to Canaan. Abraham obeyed.
And when he arrived there, God made a fourth promise:
To your offspring I will give this land. (Gen 127)
These four promises the Lord Almighty gave to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and their descendants as an unconditional covenant forever. It has been repeatedly challenged - and especially so today. Very few acknowledge that the earth is the Lord's; and even fewer believe that all Canaan, all Judea and Samaria is God's gift of land to the Jews.
During his long life of 175 years, Abraham had many great experiences. One of these was the day that God sent Melchizedek, priest of God Most High and king of Salem, to see him and bless him. (Gen 1418-20) Significantly, this great priest came bearing bread and wine; for Jesus also took the common food and drink of the day and told them that whenever they ate and drank them, they should remember him. Today we look back 2000 years and remember the sacrifice of the Saviour. In a similar way Abraham looked forward 2000 years and dreamed of the day of Jesus Christ. Of course he didn't know the number of years, nor did he know precisely what the Son of God would do. But Jesus himself simply confirms that, Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad. (Jn 856)
But what did he see that made him glad?
One day God said to Abraham, "Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about." (Gen 222)
Would you obey such a command? Remember Isaac was a miracle; born when both he and Sarah were about 100 years old and she was well past child-bearing age. Abraham did not hesitate, even though God had said to him, "It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned." (Heb 1118) The writer to the Hebrews tells us why he obeyed immediately. Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead. (Heb 1119) Abraham believed that if he sacrificed his son of promise, God would raise him back to life. Amazing.
As he and Isaac walked towards Mt Moriah, Isaac asked, "The fire and wood are here, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?" Abraham answered, "God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son." (Gen 227,8) His answer was a spontaneous prophecy. God would one day provide his only beloved Son to be the Passover Lamb of God to take away the sin of the world. This is what this remarkable man saw in the distant future, the day of Christ, the Saviour and Redeemer. Jesus himself, who knows the heart of all men confirms what Abraham thought when he said, "Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad." (Jn 856)
It is not surprising that the vision God revealed, gladdened his heart.
In the event, at the last moment God prevented Abraham from offering Isaac. He provided a ram to be used instead. But Abraham called that place, The Lord Will Provide. (Gen 2214) We would probably expect him to have called it 'The Lord Has Provided'. But his vision was of the day when God would himself provide a perfect sacrifice; he would provide his only beloved son, Jesus, The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. (Jn 129) Abraham's dream would be fulfilled two thousand years after he died.
He, and many others each died in faith NOT having received what was promised! But they died with faith, with the full assurance that everything Almighty God had promised he would certainly fulfill.
All these people (Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham) were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. (Heb 1113)
These (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Rahab, Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and the prophets, + by inference, Daniel, Ananiah, Azeriah, Michael, Isaiah) were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. (Heb 1139)
By faith Abraham made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. (Heb 119,10)
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Heb 121-3)
Abraham fixed his eyes upon Jesus; such was the reality of his dream. He thus remains a sure witness that God-given dreams are always fulfilled.
I had a brother, but he was older than me - albeit by only a few minutes and would thus inherit the 'lion's share'. From the start he was always bigger, stronger and better at everything. There was nothing I could challenge him at and have any hope of winning. Rebecca, my mother, loved me, but my father, Isaac, thought I was a weed. But even weeds have dreams. Macho men don't have dreams, not my sort of dreams - they just desire to be even bigger, richer, more powerful, more popular. I longed for God. Day and night I was conscious of something, someone, missing in my heart. If only ...
One day an opportunity came. I took it and thought it would change my life. Esau had had a bad day hunting. He was famished. So I sold him a bowl of soup in exchange for his birthright. What a bargain! But he didn't keep his part of the agreement - macho men rarely do. And I never received even the younger brother's share of the family estate. But - and it is a huge 'but' - God did hear my heart cry. After all, he had put it there.
Mum had told me how we brothers had fought each other in her womb. It was much more than a gentle repositioning to get comfortable, but jostling that went on and on for what seemed like hours. She called upon the Lord God and he told her something that seemed ridiculous: The older will serve the younger. (Gen 2523) It didn't happen in my lifetime, but God, who always knows best, was right. His word to Rebecca did come true. The descendants of Esau, the Edomites, did serve my descendants, the Israelites. I am known as a Patriarch of the Jewish people, Esau wasn't. Isaac did give me the blessing of God, though at the time he didn't know it was me he was giving it to. Esau was livid when he found out. I had to flee. My sentence? Twenty years serving my scheming uncle Laban, who repeatedly lied and cheated. Then God told me to go back home to Judea.
But at home was Esau - bigger and stronger and bearing a murderous grudge for stealing the birthright that he had willingly and legally sold to me! Lord, where is justice? "Go home," God said. I feared God even more than Esau and I hated Laban, so I went.
When nearly home, I divided my family and livestock and sent them on ahead, across the river. It was night. I was alone, so very alone - until a Man came. All night we fought, though not with swords - that sort of war is for men like Esau. Just before dawn the Man was about to leave me, so I grabbed him and cried out, "I will not let you go unless you bless me." (Gen 3226) Amazingly he did exactly that. I limped for the rest of my days! l named the place Peniel, because I saw God face to face and yet my life was spared. (Gen 3330) The Man changed my name. "Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome." (Gen 3228) How can anyone fight God and win? All my life I longed to be accepted by God and blessed by him. My Dad never really loved me; the blessing he gave me was not because he wanted to, but because I tricked him. But God, the Almighty, now gave me what I desired most. In a strange way he let me win. Indeed he had planned all my life from when I was just a few cells in my mother's womb - and probably even long before that!
Any man whom God has blessed knows rich fulfilment. Though sometimes the blessing has some very unexpected twists and turns. You see, on returning to Bethel, God blessed me again. He again underlined that my name was now Israel. And he confirmed the great covenant he had made with Abraham and Isaac. What would happen to me now, I wondered? Life must surely be better than the last 20 years under Laban. But within a few days my dearly beloved Rachael died. A short while later Joseph was apparently killed by beasts (actually he had been sold by his jealous brothers as a slave, but I only learned that later). Instead of being blessed with plentiful food we experienced a severe famine. And finally the whole family finished up in Egypt instead of in the promised land. Some blessing! It was certainly not what I expected. But we need to learn, "my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways," declares the Lord. (Is 558)
Almighty God knew I was afraid to leave the land of promise and go down to Egypt, for he had told my grandfather. "Know for certain that for four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own and that they will be enslaved and mistreated there. But ... in the fourth generation your descendants will come back here ..." (Gen 1513-16) He kindly overcame my fears by giving me a vision, he said to me, "Jacob ... I am God, the God of your father. Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for I will make you into a great nation there. I will go down to Egypt with you, and I will surely bring you back again. And Joseph's own hand will close your eyes." (Gen 462-4) So we were able to leave Beersheba knowing God was with us and leading us. No man can be more blessed than this, even if it did seem a strange plan.
What was Jacob's heart cry? What was his dream? To be part of God's great covenant with Abraham to give him the land, and to bless not only his descendants, but the whole world. Jacob has been changed to become Israel. And in the fullness of time the long awaited Messiah would come. Jesus, the Word of God, would come through Israel. Surely there could be no greater privilege, no greater blessing for Israel or all nations. Many, if not most, parents dream of what their children will become and achieve. But not even in the most wild dreams does this include their child becoming the Saviour of the world, the promised Messiah! But this is how God blessed Jacob and stretched his life-long dream.
The dream was not fulfilled during Jacob's life on earth. He could only see it in the future. But the Israelites did return to the land of promise under Moses 400 years later. And the Saviour of the world did come two thousand years later! Both exactly as promised. Some dreams require patience. Patience is based upon faith, and faith is based upon the revelation that God is faithful, that his Word is always reliable.
God's plan and his timing are perfect.
And now, another two thousand years later, we wait too. May God teach us as he taught Jacob. There will come a day when the Messiah will return and put an end to all wickedness, greed, pride, all intrigue and lies, all blasphemy; a day when friendships will never turn sour and all men will rejoice with wonder and gratitude at the amazing grace of God - forever.
Now that is a dream; a real dream that will come true in God's perfect timing - just like it did for Jacob.
Moses' Parents (Amram and Jochebed) [Contents]
It was nearly 4 centuries after Joseph was sold as a slave and famine had brought Jacob down to Egypt to buy grain. There he had found his lost son who by the hand of God had become Prime Minister! The grateful Pharaoh gave him the area of Goshen in which to live. There, generation succeeded generation. 400 years had quickly passed and seen many changes. Jacob's 12 sons had multiplied so rapidly that they were perceived to be a threat to the Egyptians. The Hyksos Pharaoh's of Joseph's day had been overthrown by the native Egyptian Ahmos and Thutmos Pharaohs, who did not like foreigners or anything the old regime had favoured. So they did what many dominating dictators have done; they enslaved the Hebrews. They built Pithom and Ramses as store cities for Pharaoh. But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread; so the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites and worked them ruthlessly. They made their lives bitter with hard labour. (Exd 111-14)
Life for the Hebrews had become unbearable, especially when Pharaoh instructed the midwives to kill all their male babies! They disobeyed the cruel order, because they feared God more than Pharaoh and God fulfilled their dreams - he gave them families of their own. (Exd 121)
Pharaoh then ordered that if anyone discovered a male Hebrew child he must be thrown into the Nile and drowned; the same type of satanic order that Herod gave in Bethlehem at the time of Christ's birth, and that Hitler gave to exterminate 1.5 million Jewish children in the early 1940s. The Hebrews cried to God for help.
Some remembered the dying words that Joseph had uttered by faith, God will surely come to your aid and take you up out of this land to the land he promised. (Gen 5024)
Some would also recall the promise God had made to Abraham, Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own, and they will be enslaved and ill-treated four hundred years. But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterwards they will come out with great possessions. (Gen 1513,14)
One such man was Amram and his wife Jochebed. God had opened their hearts to believe these two prophecies of God. And they knew that the 400 years had nearly passed and were expecting the Lord Almighty to act. But how would the promised deliverer be revealed? What would he do? Would he come this year? Next year? Who would he be? How would they recognise him? How would their dreams be fulfilled?
Their third child had just been born. Somehow they knew he was different from their first two, Miriam and Aaron. With great economy of words, Scripture just records that they saw that he was a fine child. (Exd 22) We are not informed as to how God revealed the truth about this special boy, but they believed God was fulfilling his word. By faith Moses' parents hid him for three months after he was born, because they saw he was no ordinary child, and they were not afraid of the king's edict. (Heb 1123) A few verses earlier in Hebrews it says, faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. They had sure hope that God would rescue them from their plight and they were certain because God enabled them to believe his word - what he had told Abraham and Joseph. They had faith. They were sure that the Lord Almighty would keep his word, a deliverer would come; and amazingly, their little boy was going to be that deliverer!
So it was by that faith they were able to hide him for three months. God repeatedly gave them ideas to keep him out of sight and inaudible. Then he revealed a 'master' plan. To get an Egyptian princess to find this beautiful irresistible baby in a waterproofed reed boat in the water where she regularly bathed. Then to cap it all his elder sister Miriam would tell the princess she could find a nurse (her mother Jochebed!) who could feed him.
No doubt this great woman would teach the young baby Moses that he was a Hebrew boy and destined by God to deliver his people. She taught him well, God revealed the truth to him; the boy learned faith. By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh's daughter. He chose to be ill-treated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a short time. He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward. (Heb 1124-26)
And the rest, as they say, is history. It all came to pass. Moses did lead the children of Israel out of Egypt. God revealed his great power and the truth that he always keeps his word. He completely fulfilled the dreams, the certain hope he had given to Amram and Jochebed that they and all the Hebrews would be delivered from the cruel Egyptian slavery. They would also be redeemed by the Passover Lamb and finish up in the Promised Land. Who said dreams and happy endings are only found in old fashioned story books?
But also note that it was not a path of ease. Amram would remain a slave and they would have to give up Moses to the Princess when the nursing period was over. Moses would be a further 40 years in Midian, while the misery of the Hebrews continued unabated. Their faith was tested to the full. But it was proved to be well founded. God was faithful, and enabled them to be faithful believers too.
I am an old man now; full of memories. The Lord God revealed so much, so many instructions, commands, and did so many mighty miracles. They are all recorded in four of the five books I wrote. You call it the Torah now. But this little story is not about the miracles of God - they deserve another and much longer occasion - it concerns the faithfulness of our great and wonderful God.
My earliest memories are of my mother Jochebed, the stories she told me again and again, and the hope she indelibly wrote in my heart. You see, I was a Hebrew educated in the palace of the Pharaoh, king of Egypt. They worshipped all manner of strange gods, but we honour just one God, who is Lord of all. The God of my ancestors, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He had promised that a man would come and deliver my people - the Hebrews - from the slavery of Egypt and lead them into the land where Abraham had lived. It made for an interesting time with my various Egyptian tutors. I often had to hold my tongue. And all the time there was this longing in my heart to set my people free - like a dream without a conclusion.
One day I foolishly murdered an Egyptian slave master who was abusing one of my people. My cover was blown and I had to flee for forty years. The longing for my people did not die, but how could a shepherd in far off Midian help them? I cried often when alone with my master's sheep. If only my youthful desire for justice had not made me react so foolishly. If only I had not killed that Egyptian. If only ...
But the Lord Almighty had plans that had not changed, and power that was always more than sufficient. He took me back to Egypt. He ordered 10 plagues that overthrew all the 'tin-pot' gods of Egypt. He saved us from the Egyptian army by dividing the Red Sea and then drowning them all as they followed us! In the desert he made bitter water sweet. He provided daily manna for us to eat. He brought forth water out of the rock. The list is endless. God kept his promise alright.
There were some deep regrets though. While God was telling me his Commandments up on the mountain, the people made a golden calf. That was bad, very bad.
Many times they would complain about me and about God. And when we were about to enter the promised land, they said we were not able to - the inhabitants were too big, too strong. Joshua and Caleb tried to persuade them that our God was far stronger, but they would have none of it. God's verdict? We had to wander around in the desert for 40 years. Throughout all those years the promised land was always just over the horizon but never seen. So frustrating!
I failed God; and the people too. Just after we entered Sinai we had run out of water and God told me to strike the rock to release water. When I was a shepherd in Midian I had learned that water dissolved the soft layered limestone rock leaving small hollows. Sometimes the water with dissolved limestone would form a plug as it dried in the sun and blocked the hollow - like stalagmites. If you broke the plug, water would come out; just a few cupfuls. But this was of a quite different order. God told me to strike the rock, so I did. Tons and tons of water flowed out; enough for over a million people and their animals! The people were amazed, and so was I.
Much later we were once more out of water and yet again the people were full of complaints and murmuring against God. I was so angry. God told me to speak to a piece of rock, but I struck it with my staff. I disobeyed God. O wretched man that I am! How foolish. Quite justly, God punished me. "You will not enter the promised land." It was the worst day of my life. The dream was now dead. All hope shattered. There was nothing I could do. My life was finished. God kept his promise. But I never set foot in the land of promise. I never walked where Father Abraham walked. I never lead the Hebrews into the land. I had disobeyed God. Yes, I did repent, I pleaded with God and I knew he had forgiven me for he allowed me to continue leading the Hebrews. He even gave us victory in battle with various kings. Sin, even forgiven sin, does have consequences. And I pleaded that another would lead the people into the land. He passed that responsibility on to Joshua.
But that was not the end of the story. Let me tell you what happened. The ways of God abound with amazing grace. He had not given me such a dream and its certain fulfilment for nothing.
One day on Mt Nebo, God showed me the promised land on the other side of the Dead Sea. And there on the mountain I died. But there came a glorious day when God himself walked in the promised land on a mountain just to the east of Galilee. (Some call it the Mount of Transfiguration). He summoned me and Elijah there with him. He explained why he was on earth and what was going to happen in Jerusalem. He was going to die there and redeem us. He was going to earn our forgiveness and enable us to enter the promised land. So the dream that the Lord Almighty had given to Abraham, to my Mother and to me was wonderfully, truly fulfilled. And this 'promised land' is far, far better than Israel!!
Jesse had six or seven sons by his first wife. She died and he then married the widow of Nahash by whom David was born. An outsider from the start, David did not fit in. His brothers were not slow to show their dislike of the young 'upstart' with probably double their IQ. So, to avoid family friction, Jesse sent him out to look after the sheep. Deprived of the love and security at home - the birthright of all children - David must have felt rejected and alone.
But God had made him fit, strong, determined and bright - very bright indeed. He loved his sheep and learned to protect them. David was soon a master with a sling and quick on his feet. Even lions and bears kept their distance!
One day I imagined myself walking on the hillside just west of Bethlehem. There were a few sheep just ahead. It was spring, the long summer drought had not yet started so they were grazing contentedly on the plentiful grass. Suddenly a stone whizzed past my nose and struck the rock right beside me. Up sprung a young lad with a broad grin. "Did that frighten you? My name's David and these are my sheep ..."
When I recovered from the shock we sat down and talked together for hours, though it only seemed like minutes. He told me about his family - or lack of it. Then with growing excitement all about his sheep. "See 'Skipper' by that olive; he was one of those wanderers that would go anywhere till he fell down a 15 foot cliff. I had to put him in splints for two months. Then there's 'Hoppy' just to the right of him. She was caught by a lion who tore off her missing leg. But I killed him with one stone." And on he went telling me each of their life histories. Who said it was a quiet life? He told me where there was grass and water at different times during the summer, and the many people who walked along the track I had been on.
Then there was a slight lull in the conversation and I said to him, "I can see your sheep are most fortunate to have such a good shepherd; but David, who is your shepherd?" It was quite a direct question and one could see it was right on target. David did not answer immediately. Then suddenly he picked up a sort of miniature harp and sang his answer.
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
He restores my soul.
He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil, for you are with me;
your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever. (Ps 23)
I walked home with so much to think about. This young shepherd had told me his heart, his hope, his dream. It was clear that just as David knew his sheep and cared so passionately for them all, so his Shepherd knew him - and he knew his Shepherd.
One day Jesse sent David with a food parcel to his brothers who had been called up to fight in Saul's army against the Philistines. He heard Goliath shouting at Israel and was incensed by such incredible blasphemy against the Lord. He immediately knew what his Shepherd wanted him to do. They made him put on Saul's armour, but he soon removed such useless appendage. He went out with just the weapons God had taught him to use. A staff, a sling and 5 stones!
Goliath despised David - foolish man!
"Am I a dog, that you come at me with sticks?" And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. "Come here," he said, "and I'll give your flesh to the birds of the air and the beasts of the field!"
David said to the Philistine, "You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the Lord will hand you over to me, and I'll strike you down and cut off your head." (1Sam 1743-46)
And that is precisely what David did with one stone and the giant's own sword.
Shepherds are like angels - mighty warriors. Goliath did not stand a chance; any more than Sennacherib did when the angel of the Lord went forth and slew 185,000 Assyrian troops in a single night. (Is 3736) After that day there were many in Israel whose dreams were changed because they included the Lord Almighty.
After many years David became king of Israel; most would say their greatest king. He was chosen by God and anointed by Samuel - a man after God's own heart. (1Sam 1314)
But he was not perfect. And he knew it well - he wrote:
Who may ascend the hill of the Lord?
Who may stand in his holy place?
He who has clean hands and a pure heart,
who does not lift up his soul to an idol
or swear by what is false. (Ps 243,4)
Now David, as you dream at night, have you got clean hands? Have you a pure heart? Have you lied? David remembered Bathsheba the wife of Uriah ... he recalled the 200 Philistines he had killed and circumcised for Saul's daughter ... his murderous intent towards Nabal ... Ahimelech and the 85 priests of Nob ... not to mention the complete slaughter of the Negev villages ...
David, can you ascend the hill of the Lord?
No! A thousand times No! What can he do?
The dream rapidly becomes a nightmare.
But there is a way - and David found it.
Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.
For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight ...
Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. (Ps 51)
Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord; O Lord, hear my voice.
Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy.
If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand?
But with you there is forgiveness; therefore you are feared.
I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I put my hope.
My soul waits for the Lord
more than watchmen wait for the morning. (Ps 1301-6)
This poor man called, and the Lord heard him;
he saved him out of all his troubles. (Ps 346)
Thank you David, you show us the way of forgiveness. You reveal a God who is gracious beyond measure and merciful. What God did for you he does for us too. Your longing, aching heart found relief in the Saviour. Your dreams, your songs express the relief and gratitude you found in him. With you Lord Jesus, there is forgiveness. All our sins are buried for ever; erased and never to be recalled.
Throughout his life David had one longing which was never fully satisfied. A dream that cannot really be fulfilled in this life.
As the deer pants for streams of water,
so my soul pants for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. (Ps 421,2)
David tells us of the many times when God spoke to him, assured and directed him, that God had transformed his heart, that he knew the relief of being forgiven, and how he treasured the sure gift of hope for the future. 1Ch 15 and 16 tells us of the supreme joy of bringing the Ark of God into Jerusalem. Fantastic as that was, the Ark was only a symbol of God's presence. And David longed for God. Truly he testified, God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble ... The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. (Ps 461, 7) He had come and drunk of the water of life. He knew the truth of what the Son of God would say a millennium later, whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. (Jn 414) Yet he did thirst. And so do all who believe.
This dream, this longing, cannot be fulfilled yet. But one day it will be. In heaven none will rejoice more than David.
Daniel had a long and distinguished career; though it would be better to call it righteous, God-enabled servant-hood. Apart from Jesus, he is the only man of whom the scriptures record no sin.
He was exiled to Babylon in his late teens. A modern evil city with over fifty temples for all the different idols. And Daniel was Prime Minister there throughout the reign of Nebuchadnezzar. All those years he prayed three times every day for Jerusalem. But he did not live to see Jerusalem restored, nor did he ever return to his homeland.
We are told little of his personal thoughts and hopes. Decades had come and gone - 10, 20, 30, 40, 50, 60 years. But he had not forgotten what had happened over 60 years previously. Nebuchadnezzar had a series of muddled dreams. God had revealed to him, his 3 friends and the young Nebuchadnezzar the statue of gold, silver, bronze and iron - and the next 3,000 years of world history! Daniel remembered and treasured all those years the fact that the four great world empires would come and go and in God’s time a little rock, not hewn by human hand would arise. He would blow away each of them like chaff and establish a righteous kingdom that would be eternal. Daniel did not forget this revelation. It remained his dream, his great heart longing.
He was now over 80. Darius the Mede had overthrown Babylon. Daniel prays and confessed both Israel’s sin and his own. It ends: "Now, our God, hear the prayers and petitions of your servant. For your sake, O Lord, look with favour on your desolate sanctuary. Give ear, O God, and hear; open your eyes and see the desolation of the city that bears your Name. We do not make requests of you because we are righteous, but because of your great mercy. O Lord, listen! O Lord, forgive! O Lord, hear and act! For your sake, O my God, do not delay, because your city and your people bear your Name." (Dan 917-19)
Daniel did not pray for an easy life, nor even that he might return to Jerusalem. He was grieved that the Temple of the Lord was in ruins, 'the sanctuary was desolate', and thus the Name of the Lord was degraded. During his 66 years in Babylon it had become an all new city, clean and beautiful, buildings on a massive scale. The outer wall was 10 miles long, over 100 feet high and seven chariots could race side by side along the top. The river Euphrates ran both through and around the city. Inside there was one of the 7 wonders of the world - the 'Hanging Gardens'. But it was also full of evil. Daniel longed with all his heart for righteousness and for people who delighted to honour the Lord Almighty, the one true God and Creator of the world, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. This earnest desire had not diminished one iota during his long life in Babylon, surrounded by idol worship and proud wickedness. Daniel had prayed earnestly, faithfully three times a day - that's over 70,000 times!
At the right moment the Lord God was pleased to answer his prayer and sent his arch-angel Gabriel in person:
"Daniel, I have now come to give you insight and understanding. As soon as you began to pray, an answer was given, which I have come to tell you, for you are highly esteemed. Therefore, consider the message and understand the vision: Seventy 'sevens' are decreed for your people and your holy city to finish transgression, to put an end to sin, to atone for wickedness, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the most holy. ..." (Dan 922-24)
Nothing could have delighted the aged Daniel more than these words.
Gabriel tells Daniel that a fixed time in the plan of God is decreed for the holy city to :
put an end to sin
atone for wickedness
bring in everlasting righteousness
seal up (complete) the vision
anoint the most holy.
Yes Daniel, there will surely come a day when all sin and all evil will vanish, when all past sin will be atoned for and totally forgiven. A day when righteousness will last, not for a few minutes, but forever. Daniel, what you have longed for all these years will happen, it is certain, it has the seal of the Lord Almighty. And best of all, the Lord himself, the 'Anointed One' will reign in Jerusalem - not Zedekiah, not Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar or Darius.
Just imagine how you would feel if this word declared by God concerned London!
As is often the case with prophecy, it was not going to be completed in Daniel's lifetime. But he had the absolute assurance that the Sovereign Lord would complete all that he had promised.
Five centuries later, the Son of God came to his world to redeem and bring forgiveness to sinful men. And after another two millennia we await the brief time when wickedness will triumph under a satanic ruler. But then - as God showed Daniel, the court will sit, and his power will be taken away and completely destroyed for ever. Jesus will return as King and his kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all the nations will worship and obey him. (Dan 715-27)
And all that Daniel had dreamed will be fulfilled.
Jeremiah did not want to be a prophet. He knew the awesome responsibility of proclaiming God's word. He knew God's true word to Jerusalem would not be popular. And he knew that the road ahead would be wet with many, many tears. His fears were well founded. But the Lord Almighty knew his man and told him:
Before I formed you in the womb I chose you,
before you were born I set you apart;
I appointed you as a prophet to the nations. (Jer 15)
And having reassured him:
the Lord reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me,
"Now, I have put my words in your mouth.
See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms
to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow,
to build and to plant." (Jer 19,10)
So an unknown priest in the little village of Anathoth, a couple of miles Ne of Jerusalem, became a prophet. God re-shaped Jeremiah's heart and his dreams. His ministry would span the whole world and be preached for over 2,500 years.
But how many would listen to God's word? He wrote and preached for 40 years in Jerusalem - and no one listened. In June 1990 I preached in Falmouth on this great prophet of God. The congregation of about 200 in a keen evangelical church were asked if anyone had read all 52 chapters of Jeremiah during the last year. But only one lady was able to raise her hand. Most people like to read exciting stories, listen to encouraging sermons, hear about miracles and signs. They meet in their thousands to do so. Some venture to read parts of Jeremiah like Ch 31. But is that all that is relevant today?
Jeremiah's ministry began in the reign of Josiah - what a king! Rarely has there ever been a national leader with such zeal for the Lord God. He really set about reform throughout the country. Revival!
Or was it?
What did God see?
What did he tell Jeremiah to preach?
What fault did your fathers find in me,that they strayed so far from me? They followed worthless idols and became worthless themselves. They did not ask, 'Where is the Lord, who brought us up out of Egypt? ... My people have committed two sins: they have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water. ... Consider then and realise how evil and bitter it is for you when you forsake the Lord your God and have no awe of me. (Jer 25,6, 13, 19)
Although there is no doubt about Josiah serving the Lord; God saw that the hearts of the people were only changed on the outside.
"I gave faithless Israel her certificate of divorce and sent her away because of all her adulteries. Yet I saw that her unfaithful sister Judah had no fear; she also went out and committed adultery. Because Israel's immorality mattered so little to her, she defiled the land and committed adultery with stone and wood. In spite of all this, her unfaithful sister Judah did not return to me with all her heart, but only in pretence," declares the Lord. (Jer 38-10)
And so it continued all through the reigns of 4 successively more wicked kings. Jeremiah saw the consequences of national sin so clearly. The Lord God was not going to sit back and do nothing. Unlike the false prophets who declared "Peace, peace ..." Jeremiah was instructed to give Judah warning after warning.
God was angry when they sacrificed their children to Molech - as he is with us when each year in the UK we murder over 200,000 unborn babies on the altar of promiscuity and social convenience. We also ignore the Sabbath, legalise homosexuality, and delight to embrace foreign, idol-worshipping religions. Money and sex are prized without restraint. Men with power practice intrigue.
But there are three questions I would like to ask Jeremiah:
1. It is just over 20 years since you began to preach and give the people God's warnings. What happened to the dreams of your youth and your hope that righteousness would soon replace the wickedness? How did you react when king Jehoiakim chopped up your scroll with such measured contempt for the Sovereign Lord, and burnt each length as it was read?
"It hurt! Not only was several months' work destroyed, (in our day you can just push a couple of buttons and a high speed laser printer will give you any number of copies in a few minutes), but what really distressed me was his contempt for the Lord Almighty. I was not there. He would have killed me if I had been; but the Lord kept his promise to rescue me, and had ensured I remained hidden. God told me to write another scroll. (Jer 3632) So Baruch and I did so; adding several more pages to the scroll too! No mere king can thwart the plan of God. The prophesied destruction of Jerusalem would not be cancelled or even delayed by even one minute by any mere man; even if he be a king. As to my longing for righteousness, the Sovereign Lord told me a short time later that:
"The days are coming," declares the Lord, "when I will raise up to David a righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land. In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. This is the name by which he will be called: The Lord Our Righteousness." (Jer 235,6)
Jeremiah died many years before those days were fulfilled; but they will surely come. Dreams that are inspired by God do not evaporate just because it does not happen immediately."
2. So when will these days come? The prophecy you gave was two thousand six hundred years ago - we are still waiting.
"That is a more difficult question, which only the Lord himself can answer, but the day of the Lord will come. While Nebuchadnezzar was besieging Jerusalem, The Sovereign Lord told me to buy a field that belonged to the family from my cousin Hamamel. The problem was at the time the Babylonian army was camped on it and they were just about to destroy Jerusalem. But God said buy it. So I did. And he told me why. When the 70 years exile was complete the Jews would return from Babylon and houses, fields and vineyards will again be bought in this land. (Jer 3215) Baruch and I buried the deeds. They are still there in the sealed jar buried somewhere among the ruins of old Jerusalem. Obviously the deeds would never be of any value to me; I died many years before the Jews returned. But they did return and they did rebuild the Temple and Jerusalem. But don't think that was all this word referred to. There is much more to come yet. When the Messiah came to Jerusalem, he came as Redeemer, not as the expected King. Again they rejected him as they had rejected the word of God that I preached, and were thus exiled again. This time for some 2,000 years. But soon, very soon, he will come again as King; though I cannot tell you the precise day."
3. Jeremiah, you tell us that there were few days when tears did not fill your eyes, and your heart was heavy with sorrow. How were you able to be so patient? Were there days when your grief brought you close to despair?
"Yes, there were many days when I pleaded with God. I was right not to choose to be a prophet; but God chose me and I could not refuse. Have a look at the poetic book that you call Lamentations. It is still sung in synagogues all over the world on the 9th Av (end of July) each year - the day when both the first and the second Temple were destroyed. The Sovereign Lord was most gracious to me. He repeatedly assured me concerning his plan for his chosen people.
'Your wound is incurable, your injury beyond healing.
There is no-one to plead your cause,
no remedy for your sore, no healing for you. ...
But I will restore you to health and heal your wounds,' declares the Lord,
'because you are called an outcast,
Zion for whom no-one cares.' (Jer 3012,13, 17)
I have loved you with an everlasting love;
I have drawn you with loving-kindness.
I will build you up again and you will be rebuilt, O Virgin Israel. ...
See, I will bring them from the land of the north
and gather them from the ends of the earth.
They will come with weeping; they will pray as I bring them back.
I will lead them beside streams of water
on a level path where they will not stumble,
because I am Israel's father, and Ephraim is my firstborn son. ...
He who scattered Israel will gather them
and will watch over his flock like a shepherd.'
For the Lord will ransom Jacob and redeem them
from the hand of those stronger than they. (Jer 313-11)
"This is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel
after that time," declares the Lord.
"I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts.
I will be their God, and they will be my people.
No longer will a man teach his neighbour,
or a man his brother, saying, 'Know the Lord,'
because they will all know me,
from the least of them to the greatest," declares the Lord.
"For I will forgive their wickedness
and will remember their sins no more." (Jer 3133,34)
I watched Nebuchadnezzar totally destroy Jerusalem and God's Temple. It was awful. Every stone was thrown down and everything that could be burnt was set on fire. All the Jews that had survived the 18 month siege were rounded up and either killed or made slaves (and many did not survive the 1,700 mile walk to Babylon.) Almighty God had kept his word. Forty years earlier when God commissioned me he said, 'I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow.' And that is exactly what he did. But at the same time he also said, 'I appoint you to build and to plant.' If God fulfils the first part to destroy, he will also be faithful and fulfil the second part to build. My dream remains intact because the Sovereign Lord always keeps his word. Besides, remember what God told Noah in those days which were also wicked, that he was going to destroy the people and the earth, but Noah was told to build a boat and cover it with atonement. In his day there was also destruction and building. God destroyed, Noah built and God saved.
Yes, Almighty God reveals his plans and fulfils them. He gives us dreams, reveals truth and bestows assurance. Never let doubt destroy your God-inspired dream. It will surely come to pass."
As a young priest Ezekiel was part of the second wave of Jews exiled to Babylon in 597 BC. Now he was a slave. And he knew that God was right and just; they did deserve this punishment for their wickedness, even if the others didn't see it that way. He revealed the stupidity of worshipping false gods, and thereby hoped to gain prosperity and pleasure. He preached against the same sins common to man then and now: money, sex, power, falsehood, greed, violence, blasphemy, humanism. He reveals sin, and the inevitable consequence of sin. He told them of the absolute necessity of salvation. But exiled in Babylon he also saw a disillusioned and despairing generation, a people who needed real hope for the future.
For nearly 4˝ years he had made bricks for Nebuchadnezzar's great building programme with all the other slaves. Each day he pleaded with the Almighty to turn the hearts of the people to their God. Then one day, which had begun just like all the other back-breaking days, toiling in the hot sun, he saw visions of God. (Ezek 11) He describes what he saw. It would be an understatement to say they were amazing! But let us remember he was not telling us about future human events, or even those of the past; he was telling us about 'visions of God'. How can anyone adequately describe Almighty God, the One who designed and spoke the whole universe into being, who was before time began, the eternal 'I Am'?
At the same time, the word of the Lord came to Ezekiel ... in the land of the Babylonians. (Ezek 13) If you are in a difficult situation, enslaved, saddened, frightened, exhausted, betrayed, sick, injured ... take heart; it is at just such a time that the word of the Lord will come to you. Read in scripture what happened to many men when they cried to the Lord in the day of their trouble.
What did God say to Ezekiel? First it was about the glory and holiness of the Lord. He then revealed the extent and the consequences of sin - the glory of God leaving the Temple in Jerusalem. If the glory of God left, so did his protection. He was told to make a model of Jerusalem out of a 40 lb Babylonian clay brick, complete with siege-works. The people had been saying it would soon all be okay, their God would come and take them home, they would live in freedom again. As a faithful, obedient prophet, Ezekiel had to tell them this optimism was entirely false. He would have loved to give them a different message, but he couldn't.
In a slave labour camp there is no privacy, no secrets can be hidden for long. Everyone knew that Ezekiel loved his wife tenderly, dearly. But one day:
The word of the Lord came to me: "Son of man, with one blow I am about to take away from you the delight of your eyes. Yet do not lament or weep or shed any tears. Groan quietly; do not mourn for the dead. Keep your turban fastened and your sandals on your feet; do not cover the lower part of your face or eat the customary food of mourners." So I spoke to the people in the morning, and in the evening my wife died.
The next morning I did as I had been commanded. Then the people asked me, "Won't you tell us what these things have to do with us?" So I said to them, "The word of the Lord came to me: Say to the house of Israel, 'This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I am about to desecrate my sanctuary--the stronghold in which you take pride, the delight of your eyes, the object of your affection. The sons and daughters you left behind will fall by the sword. And you will do as I have done. You will not cover the lower part of your face or eat the customary food of mourners. You will keep your turbans on your heads and your sandals on your feet. You will not mourn or weep but will waste away because of your sins and groan among yourselves. Ezekiel will be a sign to you; you will do just as he has done. When this happens, you will know that I am the Sovereign Lord'."
"And you, son of man, on the day I take away their stronghold, their joy and glory, the delight of their eyes, their heart's desire, and their sons and daughters as well-- on that day a fugitive will come to tell you the news." (Ezek 2415-26)
What was the news? That all Jerusalem and the Temple were completely destroyed. Yet neither they nor God would mourn at this devastating judgement.
But Ezekiel, where does this put your hope? Did God bring you any
'behind the scenes' consolation? No! He just said,
"So you will be a sign to them, and they will know that I am the Lord." (Ezek 2427) Who said it was easy being a prophet? Yet, if the people would thereby learn to know that the Lord Almighty is Lord, and all that that implies, then the prophet fulfils God's purpose - the salvation of men's souls. His hope, his dreams, are wonderfully satisfied, even if God's instructions seem harsh. The people had to learn that it was Almighty God who ordered their exile and the destruction of Jerusalem. It was a just punishment for their wickedness, for rejecting him and worshipping idols.
But from this time on the message of God highlights his great mercy and compassion. He tells the people that in spite of the greedy, selfish shepherds that had led Israel, the Sovereign Lord himself would come and search for his lost sheep. He would lead them to good pasture. He would bind up the injured and strengthen the weak. He would save his flock and protect them. He would make a covenant of peace with them and bless them. They would know that he was the Lord their God. He would tell them, "You are my sheep." (Ezek 3411-31)
Just imagine how Ezekiel's heart must have rejoiced at this sure word of God. True, Jerusalem had been destroyed, his wife had died, and he was still a slave, but - and it is a mighty 'but' - God had a redeeming plan. And he would surely fulfil it.
To reinforce this the Lord showed him a valley full of dry bones.
(I expect you know the vision given to Ezekiel).
Then he said to me, "Prophesy to these bones and say to them, 'Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.' " So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them.
Then he said to me, "Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, 'This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe into these slain, that they may live.' " So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet--a vast army.
Then he said to me: "Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, 'Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.' Therefore prophesy and say to them: 'This is what the Sovereign Lord says: O my people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel'." (Ezek 374-12)
This was partly fulfilled in 538 BC when Cyrus sent all the Jewish slaves back to Israel. But the Jews were again exiled in 70 AD having rejected the promised Saviour. It has been partly fulfilled again in our time with the Jews returning to their ancient, promised land. Our dream is to see the prophecy completed and the 'breath of God' entering all their hearts. We await the day of God's promise that he revealed to Ezekiel over 2,500 years ago. It will happen!
God also showed this great prophet a vision of the new heaven and
the new earth that the apostle John was also shown. He sees the
glory of God returning to the Temple. (Ezek 434,5)
He is shown the river of the water of life flowing out of the Temple. Water that brings life, and trees that bring healing. (Ezek 471-12)
Sometimes the ways of God seem difficult to fathom. If only we could see his heart and believe his word more completely.
Ezekiel uses the expression 'the word of the Lord came ...' fifty times in 48 chapters. May we also strive to hear the word of the Lord.
Though a slave in a foreign land for the greater part of his life, Ezekiel describes God as "the Sovereign Lord" 210 times. He died in Babylon. As he died, he was probably crying, 'Come Lord Jesus, come quickly.' He always knew that the Sovereign Lord would fulfil all he promised, and all that he gave Ezekiel to dream and to record for all generations.
Ezekiel dreamed of the bones being prophesied to and coming to life. When Jesus called in a loud voice, "Lazarus, come out!" The dead man came out. (Jn 1143,44) This was just an example of the truth that Jesus had been telling Martha - and the truth that he had revealed to Ezekiel over 5 centuries earlier. "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die." (Jn 1125)
The gracious Redeemer would not only die in our place, but would rise again. And when he rose from the dead, he would not be alone! Thousands upon thousands would rise with him. All those who are called and who repent and believe. The whole company of God’s people whose names were written in the Lamb’s Book of Life before he created this world!!
All of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death. We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. (Ro 63-5)
Lazarus and the widow of Nain's son were raised to life - a physical, earthly body life - they would in due time die again. But the resurrection Jesus leads us to is eternal. In Rev 7 John is shown the great multitude that no-one could count standing before the Lamb. This is the glorious conclusion of Ezekiel's dream. And of the dreams of Abel, Noah, Abraham ... and of all to whom the Lord reveals his salvation.
Zechariah and Elizabeth [Contents]
Zechariah was a priest and his wife was also a descendant of Aaron.
They were old and the normal longing of a couple had not been
fulfilled. There were no children. We are told nothing about their
long life together, except that Luke records both of them were
upright in the sight of God, observing all the Lord's commandments
and regulations blamelessly. (Lu 16)
The fact that the Lord God had not granted their longing, their natural dream, in no way caused them to abandon him; though disappointment must have filled their hearts on many lonely evenings.
Zechariah's turn to serve God as priest in the Temple came round again. In the morning he said goodbye to Elizabeth before going off to serve. It was always a glad event, but there was not the slightest suspicion that he would soon be face to face with the arch-angel Gabriel, who would give him an amazing message straight from the mouth of the Lord Almighty!
"Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to give him the name John. He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth. Many of the people of Israel will he bring back to the Lord their God. And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous -- to make ready a people prepared for the Lord." (Lu 113-17)
This was all too sudden for old Zechariah, whose wife was well past the menopause - all too incredible to believe. In the stress of the moment he had forgotten about what God did with Hannah or Abraham and Sarah. Besides Abraham was very special, carefully chosen by God, a patriarch, and he was just a common priest, nothing special. They had prayed for nearly three decades, but nothing had happened. Each month their hopes would again be dashed. Now they had given up - it was too late. But not for God! God had heard their prayer. As a rebuke for Zechariah's unbelief, he was struck dumb for the duration of Elizabeth's pregnancy - and it would also remind him that the message he had been given was God's sure word.
God's gracious plan was not just to bring great and unexpected joy to this elderly couple, but that many in Judea would also live to rejoice in John - though some would be bitterly offended by his preaching! Zechariah and Elizabeth's dream was fulfilled. They had a son. But God then greatly expanded their dream. Now it included what their son would become; what he would do for the Lord.
What special plan had God made for John?
Many of the people of Israel will he bring back to the Lord their God. (Lu 113)
These parents must have rejoiced like Morrow and Frank Graham, the parents of Billy Graham, that their son would be the instrument God would use to turn many sinners to the Lord and save their souls.
When Zechariah and Elizabeth understood the message Gabriel brought, they must have been thrilled beyond all measure. Judea had been under Roman domination for many years; life was hard and righteousness was rare. Now Almighty God was about to change that. John would be God's herald of national revival, of truth, and of men calling upon the name of the Lord. Vague hope had turned into certainty. There was no doubting God's message for it had been delivered by none less than Gabriel, the Arch-angel who continually stood in God's presence.
But there was even more. Was that possible? Yes! In the glorious plan of God, John was to also be the herald, the trumpet, announcing that God himself was born a man on earth. The moment that men had longed for from the days of Adam. The time when the sin of man would be dealt with, when men would be ransomed and redeemed. This was the message that God was going to entrust to John, their son. Who said that God does not answer prayer? He gives to us abounding grace; far more than we can ask or think.
Zechariah and Elizabeth did not live to see John and Jesus complete their expanded dream. But they died thrilled, fulfilled and so, so thankful to the Lord their God.
John was born and was filled with the Holy Spirit from birth.
John's father also prophesied by the Holy Spirit and sung this song:
"Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel,
because he has come and has redeemed his people.
He has raised up a horn of salvation for us
in the house of his servant David
as he said through his holy prophets of long ago,
salvation from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us
to show mercy to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant,
the oath he swore to our father Abraham:
to rescue us from the hand of our enemies,
and to enable us to serve him without fear
in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.
And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High;
for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him,
to give his people the knowledge of salvation
through the forgiveness of their sins,
because of the tender mercy of our God,
by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven
to shine on those living in darkness
and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the path of peace. ( Luke 168-79)
What a prophecy! What a wonderful God!
John the Baptist [Contents]
Lu 157-66 31-20 718-35 Jn 119-34 322-35 Math 141-12
John's parents were old when he was born and died when he was but a youth. But not too young to have been thoroughly taught concerning his God ordained ministry. He knew he had to prepare the people of Judea for the coming Saviour of the world. So he set about preparing himself for the task. He soon realised that the Pharisees were probably not the best source for training and I think it very likely that he joined the Essenes, who lived out in the desert.
The word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the desert. (Lu 32)
The Essenes emphasised water baptism and water cleansing.
They often used the expression, "Repent".
They believed and earnestly awaited the coming of the Messiah.
They lived a separate lifestyle, so when the word of God came to John he left the community and began preaching to the people and baptised in the Jordan river those who repented.
John's longing was to prepare for the Messiah. He knew about his aunt Mary giving birth to Jesus and how very special that birth was. He knew how urgent the preparation was - I wonder if we realise how urgent it is to prepare the world for the second coming of Jesus?
The people of Judea at that time were not known for their righteousness, so it was probably a surprise to John that so many came down to the Jordan to deal with the burden of their sins. But then one day Jesus came. No trumpets, no followers. Just imagine the thrill for John when he cried out, "Behold! the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" (Jn 129)
Then John gave this testimony: "I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. I would not have known him, except that the one who sent me to baptise with water told me, 'The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is he who will baptise with the Holy Spirit.' I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God." (Jn 132-34)
Next day, when Andrew and Philip (two of his disciples) were with him and Jesus was passing by, he repeated this great affirmation. The two disciples then followed Jesus.
And John was delighted. Yes, really thrilled. This was the whole purpose of his ministry, his special calling from God. His dream and his determined goal were fulfilled. He had seen the Lamb of God - the Lamb that God promised Abraham he would provide. Now, there, walking by the Jordan river was One who could, and would, cleanse men from sin, forgive them completely. This Lamb would be slain, at Passover some three years later. He would bear the punishment we deserve and take away all the burden of guilt.
John, whom Jesus called the greatest of the prophets, would lose his head a few months after this, but he didn't lose his fulfilled dream.
The Magi [Contents]
One Christmas many years ago a church displayed the following on its notice board: "The wise men came to Jesus; wise men always do!" Repeating this notice may seem a little dated now, but its truth is unchanged. The Magi were wise, and they were prophetic in their gifts. But where did they come from, and why?
Magi from the east came to Jerusalem ... (Math 21)
So they came from the land that was Babylon and is now Iraq. (Not from Africa, Europe or China). They were astronomers who studied the stars and in whose hearts there was a desire, a dream, a longing for the one true God. Where, and how, could he be found? Was there anything from the history of Babylon that might answer their quest? Yes!
Some 550 years earlier there was a Jewish exile named Daniel, who became Prime Minister for 40 years under Nebuchadnezzar, and then also later under Darius the Mede when they had defeated Babylon. God had sent the arch-angel Gabriel to Daniel who also longed for a righteous kingdom led by the King of kings with his throne in the restored city of Jerusalem. He recorded God's answer which the Magi had read, and the Spirit of God used this to ignite their desire.
"Seventy 'sevens' are decreed for your people and your holy city to finish transgression, to put an end to sin, to atone for wickedness, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the most holy. Know and understand this: From the issuing of the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the Anointed One, the ruler, comes, there will be seven 'sevens', and sixty-two 'sevens'." Dan 924,25
Almighty God had fixed a definite time for an Anointed One to come, and he had a sure plan to bring in an everlasting kingdom of righteousness. The Magi believed this legacy of Daniel; this amazing promise delivered personally by Gabriel. God had planted and nourished the truth in their hearts.
How did they know the time had come? God who created all the heavens as well as this earth, arranged for a particular 'star' to be seen. Note that the star was seen in the East but they travelled West! They did not follow the star from Babylon to Jerusalem; they only followed a star for the 5 miles from Jerusalem to Bethlehem, where if hovered over the place where the King was born. The Star in the East was not a star to be followed, but a star to tell them when to go to Jerusalem. What was the 'Star in the East'? It remains a mystery. It wasn't a conjunction of two of the five major visible planets. This occurs on average every two months. To be seen in the East, it must have risen in the East just before dawn when it was still dark and then disappeared together with all the other stars/planets/asteroids when the sun rose. The Magi said to Herod, "We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him." (Math 22) This would suggest it was a single star - perhaps a special bright asteroid. But we only know that God gave these Gentile Magi sight of a star that had one message - the Anointed One, the king of the Jews, was about to appear!
So with great eagerness they set off on the 1,000 mile camel journey to Jerusalem, their highest longing burning in their hearts; nothing else mattered. Arriving in Jerusalem at precisely the right time, they had only one question, "Where is the king?" In Bethlehem.
They didn't need a star to direct them to Bethlehem, they just followed the track. But God used this very, special 'star' to guide them to the very place in Bethlehem where the new King was.
They probably expected to find a man, not a young baby. Kings normally reside in palaces! This 'star' was not light years away in the night sky, but something very local, something created by the Lord of Glory just for these Gentile Magi to find the particular place in Bethlehem. They found the Jewish Messiah - the Saviour and King of all nations. God had kept his promise.
Their goal was accomplished, their journey was complete, their dream fulfilled.
Yet really their journey had only just begun. This latter part we know nothing about; but we can be sure that the Lord God who had so wonderfully led them thus far would never abandon them. He would lead them all the way to the eternal kingdom of God - and it would not be on a camel!
He who comes to me will never go hungry,
and he who believes in me will never be thirsty ...
and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. (Jn 635-37)
If you seek the Lord your God, you will find him if you look for him with all your heart and with all your soul. (Deut 429)
Holy Jesus, every day
Keep us in the narrow way;
And, when earthly things are past,
Bring our ransomed souls at last
Where they need no star to guide,
Where no clouds Thy glory hide.
(from the hymn "As with gladness men of old did the guiding star behold.")
All we know about Anna is told in just three verses in Luke's gospel. She was a prophetess who was widowed after seven years of marriage. At the time when Mary brought Jesus to the Temple she was eighty four - an old lady!
What did she do when her husband died? Did she 'go to pieces'? No. She was determined to serve the Lord. And she gave her all to do so. Every day Anna was in the Temple praying and fasting. We can only guess what God laid on her heart that caused her to pray so earnestly and consistently. Many pray regularly once or twice a day, a few may pray three times (like Daniel - Nebuchadnezzar's very busy Prime Minister for 40 years!). For Anna it was not a matter of 'vain repetition'.
Praying and giving have much in common. In prayer you give your heart, in giving you give your resources, time and abilities. Giving usually has two 'wings' - regular, disciplined giving and one-off special giving. We also pray regularly about various people or concerns and then also about the needs that come up on that particular day. I suspect Anna did much the same. There were the regular matters concerning the nation's wayward attitude towards God, the Roman domination of Judea and the reaction of the Zealots. The pride of the Pharisees and compromise of the Sadducees. Then there was the latest news from the Jordan valley where John was preaching and baptising. And the family she had spoken to last week who were going to go and listen to him. There was the lady who had just become engaged and the man who had recently been declared a leper. ...
Much of her time was spent listening to people and talking with them when they came to the Temple seeking God. I expect she had a special arrangement with the Temple attendants to read the many scrolls of the Old Testament. They didn't have convenient single volume bibles in those days. Prayer always needs to be founded upon scripture - so does the ministry of a prophet. And no doubt her praying was divided between worshipping the Lord Almighty, confessing her own sin and that of others, pleading for forgiveness and mercy. Giving thanks to a most gracious God and crying to him for the whole raft of human needs. Anna had done all this faithfully, and probably much more, for over 60 years.
Then one day a young couple came in with their new-born baby boy to have him circumcised and officially named as was the normal custom. But this baby was not "normal".
Simeon, a righteous and devout man, had also been in the Temple
that day too. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he
would not die before he had seen the Lord's Christ. (Lu 226)
She had probably heard him prophesy and give thanks to God for the child:
"Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel." And then he added, "This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too." (Lu 229-35)
This child was no ordinary child, he was the Son of God, the promised Messiah.
What a day! Like Simeon, Anna was thrilled to bits! So she told everyone the good news. Well, not quite everyone, but certainly all those who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem. (Lu 238) This had been her whole life's desire and work. Now her gracious, loving God had brought her and also Simeon's dream to completion. She too could rest in peace and joy unspeakable.
A Sinful Lady Lu 736-50 [Contents]
This may seem a surprising choice, but the sinful also have dreams. Dr Luke includes this event early in his Gospel because it was the perfect illustration of how Jesus was a friend of tax collectors and sinners. (The other writers place what is probably the same story in the last week of Jesus’ ministry.)
Jesus had accepted the invitation of one of the Pharisees to have a meal with him. But an uninvited lady, a prostitute, joined them. She had one longing; to be free from her lifestyle that she knew was wrong. She was tired of the continual disgrace attached to it. And her sensitive heart longed for God to forgive her. We are not told how she became involved in this trade, only that she came and knelt at the feet of Jesus and wept ‘buckets’. Enough to wash his dusty feet. Such was her shame, the sorrow and the longing to be free. She even brought her flask of expensive perfume and spread it all on his feet that she had dried with her long hair.
Simon, the Pharisee, was acutely embarrassed. So Jesus, who was not the leased bit embarrassed, told him a story about two debtors who were both forgiven. One had a large debt and the other a small one. He asked him, which debtor was the most grateful? He aptly applies it directly to both Simon and the lady.
Then Jesus said to the lady, words that fulfilled her great longing; “Your sins are forgiven.” “Go in peace.”
Her tears were not wasted; tears of repentance never are.
Neither was the perfume that pervaded Simon’s home for many days and would have reminded him of God’s forgiveness of the woman, of Jesus, the Friend of sinners and the fulfiller of dreams. Perhaps Simon’s hope, his questions were answered too, but we are not told.
Two Going to Emmaus Lu 2413-35 [Contents]
Cleopas and his friend were returning home from Jerusalem shortly after their friend Jesus had been crucified. Naturally they were very sad, and they looked it too. When a stranger asked why, they said, "We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel."
Have you ever felt that God has let you down? Perhaps you have prayed earnestly for healing, but the pain has continued. Or maybe you have trusted him for a good, righteous husband, but Mr Right has not yet appeared. You have done everything you can to bring up your children to believe and trust in the Lord, but they have 'gone off the rails'. All of us have longed and hoped, and sought God's plan for our friends and neighbours, our church, country and government; but one way or another the Sovereign Lord has surprised us! And it is not just that he is so much more patient than we are.
The two walking so forlornly back to Emmaus had had such high hopes. What had gone wrong? Time and time again the scriptures seemed to have been fulfilled; but now the one they thought was Messiah was dead! They were thoroughly confused and dejected.
"O foolish ones ...”, the stranger said. What would you have said? I guarantee that would not have been your opening phrase! God was so right when he said, "Your thoughts are not my thoughts, and neither are my ways your ways." Is 558
Nothing had gone wrong! God's plans had been fulfilled exactly and precisely on schedule for he knows all that has and will happen in all its minute detail. Events often surprise us, but they never surprise the Lord. Even before Almighty God had designed and created the universe and this tiny, very special planet, he knew man would 'fall'. He knew what the result their disobedience would be, and what it would cost him. But it did not deter him for a moment. Some 4,000 years had passed since that tragic day when judgement fell upon Adam and Eve. A time when God did not sulk, retreat, do nothing or resort to plan B. Far from it. In the first 2,000 years he told Adam, Abel, Enoch, Methuselah, Noah ... increasing details about his redemption plan. Then he chose Abraham and a whole series of prophets until John the Baptist. Each would reveal more of God's plan.
Nothing had gone wrong. It was just that man has always been so slow, so stubborn to believe the revelation of God. Have all men sinned? Do all sins, the big, obvious sins, and the small unseen sins, deserve the same ultimate punishment - death, complete eternal separation from God? And even our death would not and could not enable any man to gain communion with the Almighty. He had to reveal over all these years that only God himself could bear the punishment that would enable us to be united with the Most Holy God. The required sacrifice had to be perfect.
So Jesus then asked why they were "so slow to believe all that the prophets had spoken." They had no answer. So Jesus then told them why it was "necessary for the Christ to suffer" (and die). Starting with Moses he revealed all that the Scriptures had said concerning the Saviour Redeemer. The two sad travellers had not been mistaken about the fulfilment of Scripture. Jesus had fulfilled it exactly as planned. It was just that they were somewhat short of knowing what God's plan was and why he had to die. And I guess that today, another 2,000 years later we are frequently as slow, if not slower, to believe all that the prophets and Jesus revealed.
The Emmaus pair invited the stranger to stay with them. It was only when he blessed the bread, broke it and gave it to them that their eyes were opened. Suddenly they knew it was Jesus! He was not dead, but risen. He was alive! His work was done. The planned price for sin had been paid in full. God himself had opened their minds to the Word of God and also the road to an eternity with the Almighty.
Is this also what you desire above all else? Would you like this same great hope to be transformed into sure and certain truth? Hope that was at one moment dashed, was so graciously quickened by the Lord God revealing the truth about what Jesus has done for us, and why only he could do it.
Their hopes, their dreams were no longer lying in tatters like the ships of the Spanish Armada; but they were fulfilled by Almighty God himself. And more than that, their pitiful little hope, that had been so easily and suddenly shattered, was now expanded far beyond what any normal mortal mind could imagine.
19 lives. 16 dreams. And not one of them faded like the mist as the
morning sun warmed the earth. The Sovereign Lord remains the One
who both reveals and fulfils the dreams he gives to so many men
and women down the ages. He transforms each of them into a sure
and certain hope. He said, "Heaven and earth will pass away, but
my words will never pass away." (Math 2435)
And neither will the dreams inspired by the Word of God and revealed by the Spirit of God.
Many dreams were completed when Jesus came to the earth as Savour and Redeemer. In those days men were expecting the Messiah King, a second Moses to deliver them from the Romans. Today many long for a just and loving King to end war and solve all the world's many problems. But God's plan revealed in Revelation will be as greater surprise as when he came 2000 years ago. His Second Coming will fulfill the dreams of the men of God recorded in Scripture. It is said that the night often seems darkest just before the dawn. These dreams, and many others, were revealed to give us hope and an eager expectation of the dawn when the Lord Almighty will return to earth. Come Lord Jesus, Come quickly.
Some of our dreams may seem to lie in tatters and we feel more like a bit of useless flotsam rather than a ship speeding through the water taking it's cargo to the next port. But the Lord God is much more concerned about who we are, than what we may have achieved. He remains totally dedicated to fulfilling the plan he has for us - all of us.
In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade -- kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God's power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. (1Pe 13-5)