Sunday, June 30, 2013

Yeshua and the Widow - Original Fiction

"I cannot work anymore," the woman murmured under her breath.  "I am too old.  What can I do?  The scribes will take my house.  I have nothing!"  Her feet shuffled as she made her way ever-so-slowly to the temple.  It was all she could do to climb the rise of the Mount itself.  Her breathing labored and her heart ached, but she clutched a small pouch to her chest with all her might.  Gnarled, withered fingers protected the coins inside, the only two she had left to her name.

The pouch was small, but even it's miniscule size was much too big for the two coins within to jostle together.  In happier, wealthier days, her pouch had been full, and the sound of jangling coins had been music to her ears.  But that was long ago before her husband's death, when he earned their money by the sweat of his brow.

Now, the goat she relied on for milk to sell was almost dead itself, too old to produce milk of any quality.  The widow couldn't afford to feed herself, much less the goat.  The scribe who usually took pity on her had laughed at the pitiful amount of milk the widow had offered him.  He'd tossed two mites in the dust before slamming the door in her face.  She always earned much more than two mites, but the goat's supply had waned, and the pompous scribe was apparently beyond caring.  If she couldn't scrape together more than this, she'd lose everything she owned.

The widow found the first coin in the dirt right away, but the second had landed underneath a nearby bush.  Her dignity had fled after asking for help and being rebuffed by the Pharisees making their way to the temple to worship.  They were important men, pious men, and they couldn't be bothered by stopping for a poor widow and her mite on the ground.  They'd soil their fine garments, and they had to be clean before the Lord.  Her knees had screamed and her back cried out but she'd managed to crawl on her hands and knees to retrieve the mite.  It wasn't much.  At all.  But she couldn't risk leaving it.  She needed it too badly.

"I can't give an offering today," she moaned, her eyes stinging with tears.  The temple came into view as the crowd pressed in.  "Adonai, I am sorry."  A sniffle escaped her, but that was all she would allow.  It was useless to beg for help from the scribes and the Pharisees, as their wealth was for El Shaddai, not for a broken old woman.  Despite her hardened countenance, a tear made a trail down her cheek as she watched the teachers of the Law recite their long, glorious prayers.  Surely Adonai listened to them and esteemed them as high as the heavens were above the earth.  She could never hope to gain the favor they surely had in the eyes of Hashem.

Suddenly, a commotion startled her.  Within the temple was the handsome, young rabbi who stirred up the masses.  She'd heard of Him, this Yeshua of Nazareth.  He reminded her of her husband in his better days, full of life and charm.  She'd secretly hoped He'd be at the temple today, as she wanted to hear His sermons for herself.  He esteemed the Lord above all else, and that was all she wished to do.  Whether or not Adonai heard her prayers compared to the scribes was another matter entirely.

Yeshua's words captivated her.  His deep voice resonated within the temple and seemed to penetrate her very soul.  He spoke of King David and the Messiah, and soon whispers spread among the crowd that Yeshua Himself was the Son of David.  The widow pondered that possibility with excitement, but she squashed it.  The Messiah was a king.  And this man...was from Nazareth.

Then His words seemed to take a turn.  Something in His tone made her sit up and listen.  “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and love greetings in the marketplaces and the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts," He said, glancing around.  His eyes roved the crowd and caught her gaze.  She was too mesmerized to look away.  Her belly leapt at His intensity, and if she'd been any younger, she might have swooned.  He seemed to look right through her, straight to her heart.  Could He see her worries?  Did He know her troubles?  His next words confirmed her thoughts.

"Who devour widows' houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”

The widow's eyes filled with tears.  Still, His gaze held hers.  He gave her a slight nod and His features softened, until a genuine smile lit up His face.  He knew.  She didn't know how, but this man knew her plight!  He knew her thoughts.  He knew she felt worthless compared to the scribes, He knew they would take her home.  His words were so foreign, but they filled her with hope.  He confirmed what she already knew.  Those pious men were hypocrites!  

She watched as each of the scribes and Pharisees wandered over to the treasury, perhaps moved by the rabbi's words, and made a vain show of their offering to the Lord.  Within the box they placed more money than the widow had seen in her entire life.  Her own offerings hadn't always been extravagant, but they had always been honest.  In that moment, the widow remembered her Scripture.  Hashem favors the humble.

"Adonai," the widow prayed, her voice unwavering, "I trust You.  If this man is truly the Son of David, then I know His words are true.  The Kingdom of God is worth more to me than my life."

As she shuffled past the scribes and Pharisees, they scoffed and grinned at her, whispering amongst themselves.  She cared not.  Her faith did not rely upon their approval.  If Yeshua spoke truth, if they receive a greater condemnation for their hypocrisy, then she resolved not to be like them.

Standing in front of the box, she opened her pouch and dug out the two small coins.  "Do what You will with these coins," she whispered.  "Everything I have is Yours.  Yeshua says Your eye is on the sparrow.  Please be on me as well."

Upon each coin, the widow bestowed a kiss before dropping them into the treasury box.  A smile crept onto her face and a peace like she'd never known overcame her.  She glanced back at the rabbi, only to find Him still watching her.  She blushed and bowed her head.  

Yes, she suddenly believed this young man from Nazareth could be a King.

© Becka Goings, original fiction based on Luke 20:41-47 & Luke 21:1-4

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Psalm 23 - An In-Depth Study on King David's Most Beloved Psalm

Anyone who has a passing knowledge of the Bible is familiar with the 23rd Psalm.  It is, perhaps, King David's most famous and beloved Psalm.  It's short enough to memorize, and I would say a good number of Christians know it by heart.

The Lord is taking me through my Bible book by book, and prompting me to write my own notes in the margins.  This process allows for me to quickly notice trends and themes throughout Scripture.  Lately, the Lord impressed upon me to go through the book of Psalms.  I've always loved the Psalms, ever since I was a young girl.  They're so poetic, and they run the gamut between crying and rejoicing.  They're perfect for a moody teen.  Or a moody 30-something, as the case may be.

However, one thing I've noticed with regards to my study is that through the process of writing my own notes in my Bible, I have been able to retain the information I read in an exciting way.  I have no idea if this is a supernatural ability, or just the general principle that things you write down are locked in your memory in a more permanent way.  Anyone who knows me knows I'm a bit of a scatterbrain.  If I don't do something right away, I forget and happily tra-la-la my way through the day without thinking about "that thing" I was supposed to remember.

Yet with Scripture, I'm able to retain most of what I read, if not the specific chapter and verse, then I remember where on the page it was, along with what color of highlighter I used to highlight it (yellow, pink, blue, or green).  As you can imagine, this comes in quite handy for study.

As I came across the 23rd Psalm, I instantly recognized themes in Song of Solomon, as well as 1 Chronicles and Proverbs.  Let's get started.

"The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want"

Before David was a king, he was a shepherd.  He saw the obvious connection between the God Who guided him and a shepherd who guides his sheep.  It was the shepherd who made sure the sheep followed him, who kept them safe and gave them what they needed.  In fact, "I shall not want" means "I shall not be in want", or to put it another way, "I'm not in need."  God provides all our needs.  This is outlined in the next verse.

"He maketh me to lie down in green pastures; he leadeth me beside the still waters"

Our Shepherd brings us to green pastures and still waters.  We have food; we have drink.  And not only that, we lie down in those pastures.  We drink those still waters.  Therefore, we have rest and peace.  Interestingly, one of the connections between Psalm 23 and Song of Solomon is in Songs 1:7a - "Tell me, O thou whom my soul loveth, where thou feedest, where thou makest thy flock to rest at noon".  This is the woman asking the Beloved where He tends His flock.  Psalm 23 tells her.  In green pastures.  Beside still waters.

Also, Songs 1:16 states - "Behold, thou art fair, my beloved, yea, pleasant: also our bed is green."  Apparently, by the end of the chapter, she has found His flock.  Notice in Songs, she states OUR bed is green.  Notice in Psalms, HE maketh me to lie down in green pastures.  Not only the sheep (spouse) lies down, but the Shepherd (Beloved) does too, resting with the one He loves.

"He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake."

Spending time with our Beloved restores our soul.  Our works don't restore us, our family doesn't restore us.  Our jobs don't, our money doesn't, and neither do our possessions.  Only GOD restores our soul in the green pastures and beside the still waters.  Not only does He give us favor so that we are not in want, but He loves to be intimate, lying with us in the bed of green.

Our Lord has promised to lead and guide us for the sake of His name.  I'm not sure we understand the "why" behind it.  God is the Most High, and as such, His name is the Highest name you can swear upon.  God swears upon His Own name that He will lead us down the paths of righteousness.  This is an amazing promise.

"Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me."

A few things leapt out at me when I read this old, familiar verse again.  First of all, we walk through the valley, we don't stop there.  And according to the preceding verse, God is leading us on the paths of righteousness for His name's sake.  Therefore walking through the valley of the shadow must be a righteous path.  It is hard for us to grasp, but sometimes we need to go through our despair because it is only by experience that righteousness is learned.  If it weren't for the dark times in our lives, would we ever truly learn to follow close to our Shepherd?

In looking at that picture of Christ saving the lost sheep in the valley, another thought hit me.  I've always heard that His "rod and staff" were for disciplining the sheep, and that even in discipline, we are comforted.  But notice the happy look on that sheep's face above.  If he'd been lost on some rocky crag, the Shepherd's crook'd staff likely pulled him up the cliff-face.  And the Shepherd's rod likely smacked any and all wolves who'd come to steal, kill, and destroy His dearly beloved sheep.  In thinking only in terms of discipline, I believe our thoughts are too narrow with regards to our Lord's staff and rod.

The last thing I noticed is that "I will fear no evil."  Why?  "For thou art with me."  For most of us, this is easier said than done.  But if we truly are not in want, then that also means we will be protected and safe-guarded.  We do not need to fear evil.  We face evil with confidence because we are led by the Good Shepherd Himself.

"Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies"

How interesting that GOD prepares the table.  Considering our Servant Savior, this doesn't surprise me in the least.  Always as a child, I had assumed this verse meant God laid out a feast for His children while our enemies looked on in cold jealousy.  I don't think that is the case any more.  There's an interesting verse in Proverbs 16:7 that reads - "When a man's ways please Yahweh, he maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him."  Also, Proverbs 25:21:  "If thine enemy be hungry, give him bread to eat; and if he be thirsty, give him water to drink"

Obviously through Yeshua's teachings, we know we are to love our enemies.  I believe this verse is telling us that even our enemies are at peace with us and sitting AT the table, enjoying the feast with us!

"Thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over."

Anointing someone in ancient times usually meant the Spirit of the Lord would come upon that person.  Over time, it became a custom, something you did for company that came to call.  It was a symbolic way of crowning a person and of showing God's favor.  In 1 Samuel 16:13, we read that Samuel anointed David amidst his brethren and the Spirit of the Lord came upon David from that day forward.  Since this Psalm is speaking to the Lord God, I highly doubt King David was referring to the custom of anointing visitors and guests in his home.  He likely would have had Samuel's anointing in mind, that God's Spirit would rest on him for the rest of his days.

Better yet, this isn't Samuel doing the anointing, but God Himself.

Also, interestingly enough, Exodus 30:22-25 is a "recipe" of sorts for anointing oil.  In it, we find the principle spices of myrrh, cinnamon, calamus, and cassia (another breed of cinnamon).  Scripture says, "it shall be an holy anointing oil."  Let's therefore read the spices mentioned in the Beloved's garden in Song of Solomon 4:14 - "Spikenard and saffron; calamus and cinnamon, with all trees of frankincense; myrrh and aloes, with all the chief spices."  How amazing that the spices growing in the Beloved's garden are the same spices prevalent in God's recipe for anointing oil!  We know Songs is allegory between Christ and His Bride, the Church.  And the spices that grow within her garden are spices of anointing.  His Spirit is with her.  His Spirit is also with David.

With regards to the cup running over, there are two liquids that could be in the cup.  Water could be in that cup, symbolizing God's Living Water, always flowing, never stagnant.  This could mean blessings are heaped upon us so lavishly, they bubble over and splash onto others.  The second liquid could be wine, which is what love is compared to in Songs.  The Beloved's love is better than wine (Songs 1:2).  If our cup is overflowing with wine, then we are LOVED beyond compare by Yeshua.  The lovely reality about the cup running over is that both scenarios are true.  We are richly blessed with Living Water AND the Lord God loves us beyond compare.

"Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever."

When we follow God, His attributes begin to follow us.  When we follow God, we begin to resemble Him in all His glory.  Therefore goodness and mercy follow us, just as it follows Him.  People will notice the time we spend with the Lord, because we shall be like Him.

The very last line of this Psalm is what got me excited to do this study.  "I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever."  Seems like he's talking about Heaven, right?  Probably in a broad sense.  But I suddenly remembered 1 Chronicles 17:10-14, where God promises the Messiah through David's line.  Let's read:

"10 And since the time that I commanded judges to be over my people Israel. Moreover I will subdue all thine enemies. Furthermore I tell thee that the Lord will build thee an house.
11 And it shall come to pass, when thy days be expired that thou must go to be with thy fathers, that I will raise up thy seed after thee, which shall be of thy sons; and I will establish his kingdom.
12 He shall build me an house, and I will stablish his throne for ever.
13 I will be his father, and he shall be my son: and I will not take my mercy away from him, as I took it from him that was before thee:
14 But I will settle him in mine house and in my kingdom for ever: and his throne shall be established for evermore."
This is a prophecy of Yeshua.  King David references this again in Psalm 127:1 - "Except the LORD build the house, they labour in vain that build it."

When I saw the "house" reference, I again thought of Song of Solomon 1:17 - "The beams of our house are cedar, and our rafters of fir."  I decided to do a little digging here, because that word "beams" made me think of the cross of Christ.  It was made of two "beams" of wood.  Could THIS be the house?  Was the cross made of cedar?

2 Chronicles 3:5 and 1 Kings 5 and 1 Kings 6 talk about Solomon building his temple.  Cedar and fir were his choice woods.  The beams were cedar, and the rafters were fir.  Since Solomon wrote Songs, it is no far stretch that he was thinking of the TEMPLE when he penned that line.

But this gets more profound.  Numbers 19:6 says - "And the priest shall take cedar wood, and hyssop, and scarlet, and cast it into the midst of the burning of the heifer."  What was present at Christ's crucifixion?  A scarlet robe.  Hyssop.  The Lamb.  The Fire (wrath) of God....   and cedar.  Yes, I believe the cross of Christ was cedar from Lebanon so as to conform to the Law of sacrifice given in Numbers 19:6.  The cedars of Lebanon are a theme unto themselves in the Bible, and they are mentioned in Songs 5:15, comparing the Beloved's countenance to the excellent cedars.

This means the house of the Lord was built by Yeshua and is none other than the very cross of Christ.  It is by the cross we are allowed through Heaven's gate.  It is by the cross we are saved.  It is because of the cross any of us can claim to be God's children.  Yes, it is our refuge in times of trouble, knowing that when we are weak, our God is strong.  It is our fortress, our stronghold, our rest.  It is the beacon of His eternal love, it is the pinnacle of creation -- and the only way to lead His sheep on the paths of righteousness through the valley of the shadow of death.  

Even for our Lord, death was only a shadow.  We, as His sheep, may follow Him into the grave.

And we, as His sheep, shall one day follow Him right back out!

Hallelujah!  Praise the Name of the Lord!