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Our Everlasting Consolation...
Withered

Everlasting Consolation

Keeping hope during exile...

by John J. Parsons

Psalm 11:5a BHS

"The grass withers, the flower fades,
but the word of our God will stand forever."
(Isaiah 40:8)

THIS IS A GREAT WORD OF HOPE... Despite experiencing exile and living in oppression, God speaks words of everlasting consolation: Nachamu, nachamu ammi: "Comfort, comfort my people..." (Isa. 40:1). There is a glorious future for you, even if your present circumstances seem overwhelming and your heart's cry seems unanswered. These were God's words of encouragement to the Jewish exiles that were carried away into Babylonian captivity. Despite the appearance of ruin, God promised to establish Zion as the praise of the earth.

God is the only enduring Reality in a constantly changing world, and He has designed it this way to cause men's hearts to search for him. "All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field" - such is the condition of this ephemeral world with its flux and fortunes. The flesh fades because the breath of the LORD blows upon it (Isa. 40:7). God Himself has ordained human life to be a vapor....

Nonetheless we are told not to fear, because there is good news for Zion: the LORD is coming with might to reward those who are waiting for him. He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather his lambs and carry them close to his heart. As the apostle Peter said, this good news is the eternal life given through the imperishable "seed" - the Word of God that rises forever in Yeshua (1 Pet. 1:23-25).

The nations of this world are reckoned as less than nothing; their glory is "tohu" (תהוּ) - confusion and unreality - and their princes are regarded as utter vanity. "Scarcely are they planted and have taken root when He blows upon them and they wither to become dust carried off by the storming winds" (Isa. 40:24). The nations of the earth are dried grasses; the kings of the earth are withered flowers.

But God is incomparably great and will fulfill his promises to Israel: "The word of our God will stand forever." He created the heavens and calls each star by name. He is invincible in power and no one can overrule His will.

This world is not our home; we are "strangers" here. It is an affliction to wait for the LORD, a sort of "homesickness" of heart... The apostle Paul says our loneliness and alienation prepare for us an "eternal weight of glory" beyond all comparison, because we are not looking at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen. "For what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal" (2 Cor. 4:17-18). Just as the "two-souled" man is unstable in all his ways, so the process of being "educated for eternity" means learning to focus our heart's passion and hope on the glory of heaven. "For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also."

Those who wait for the LORD inwardly groan to be clothed with immortality and eternal life, and their consolation is great indeed. Yeshua is "preparing a place for you," an everlasting place of refuge whose builder and maker is God (Heb. 11:10). Faith sees beyond the shadows of this world to behold your true home with your Heavenly Father.

Hebrew-English Transliteration:

yavesh chatzir navel tzitz, u'devar Eloheynu yakum le'olam

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Some Further Reflection...

One thing that is certain in this world is that what we see with our physical eyes is constantly in a state of flux and change. In philosophical jargon, this ephemeral world is "radically contingent," which means that it is "not necessary" and therefore subject to decay and dissolution. Regarding man it is written, "his days are like grass; he flourishes as a flower of the field; for the wind passes over it, and it is soon gone" (Psalm 103:16).
 
But how are the metaphors that man is "like dried up grass" or a "withered flower" intended to comfort us? Do they not, on the contrary, lead us to regard our lives as vain and perhaps meaningless? Yes indeed. Our lives are empty and vain apart from God and His truth. If we find ourselves wincing over such images, it is perhaps time to reexamine the state of our faith: To the extent that we regard this world as our "home" we will find the transience of life to be tragic... For those who are seeking a heavenly habitation, the "City of God" and the fulfillment of the promise of Zion, the fleeting nature of this evil world is ultimately a form of consolation...
 

הוֹדִיעֵנִי יְהוָה קִצִּי
וּמִדַּת יָמַי מַה־הִיא
אֵדְעָה מֶה־חָדֵל אָנִי

ho·di·e·ni · Adonai · kitz·tzi,
u·mid·dat · ya·mai · mah · hi,
ed·'ah · meh · cha·del · a·ni

"O LORD, make me to know my end
and what is the measure of my days;
let me know how quickly my life will pass"
(Psalm 39:4)

 

King David continues, "Behold, you have made my days a few handbreadths, and my lifetime is as nothing before you (וְחֶלְדִּי כְאַיִן נֶגְדֶּךָ). Surely all mankind stands as a mere vanity (הֶבֶל)! Selah" (Psalm 39:5).

These metaphors concern the world we see with our senses – the physical world of decay - but not the eternal realm of the Spirit. The glory King Solomon is likened to a lilly of the field, and dried grass is used to "stoke the oven" (Matt. 6:28-30), and yet precisely because our Heavenly Father cares for grass and flowers, can we trust in His providential care for our eternal souls...

Understanding that every breath and every heartbeat is an irreplaceable gift given to you from God is sobering and helps focus the soul's affections. This is one of the "rock bottom" issues of life: There is a God, and you are not Him; and one day you will die and give account for the lease you were given on life... May it please God to help us "redeem the time," for the days are evil (Eph. 5:16; Col. 4:6).

The Spirit of the LORD says, "Do not turn aside from following the LORD, but serve the LORD with all your heart. And do not turn aside after empty things that cannot profit or deliver, for they are "tohu" - confusion and unreality" (1 Sam. 12:20-21)

The western mind confuses the idea of "fact" with truth. A fact is the disclosure of a correspondence between an idea and reality, but Truth (with a capital "T") encompasses how any given fact is related to the whole. Such Truth is therefore intimately connected with wisdom, and wisdom is first of all about the reverential awe of God (Psalm 110:10). It is not what we see with our eyes that is ultimately real, but what we see with our hearts.

The carnal mind instinctively is afraid of change, since it implies death and dissolution, and therefore it reasons from a continuous state of dread (whether conscious or not). Hence the "besetting sin" of the flesh is to "absolutize" the moment and to otherwise regard the finite as an end in itself. Woody Allen once quipped, "I am not afraid of death, I just don't want to be there when it happens," which is precisely the abhorrence the carnal mind expresses toward change. Change represents a movement toward an otherwise unavoidable end, and therefore the carnal mind constantly seeks escape from the journey.

God is our "Rock," a metaphor that implies that He is the immovable foundation and cornerstone of all reality. God is our strong refuge in the stormy changes we all face in this world. His Presence both grounds us and sustains our way. Nonetheless we walk by faith, not by sight, and often the sojourner in this world faces testing and even tribulation. In his despair, Job once asked, "If a man dies, shall he live again? All the days of my warfare I will wait until my change comes" (Job 14:14).
 

אִם־יָמוּת גֶּבֶר הֲיִחְיֶה
כָּל־יְמֵי צְבָאִי אֲיַחֵל עַד־בּוֹא חֲלִיפָתִי

im · ya·mut · ge·ver · ha-yich·yeh?
kol · ye·mei · tze·va·i · a·ya·chel · ad · bo · cha·li·fa·ti

"If a man dies, shall he live again? All the days of my warfare (צְבָאִי)
I will wait until my change comes"
(Job 14:14)


 

Notice that the word for "change" (חֲלִיפָה) refers to a change of garments, which pictures the robes that Joshua ben Yehotzadak, the Kohen Gadol, was given when he stood accused before the Angel of the LORD (Zech. 3:3-5). We want to be fully clothed with the garments of God's righteousness that are imputed to us through faith. Our groaning for complete deliverance from the affect of our sins is further evidence of the inner vision we have been given by the Holy Spirit.
 

אֲנִי בְּצֶדֶק אֶחֱזֶה פָנֶיךָ
אֶשְׂבְּעָה בְהָקִיץ תְּמוּנָתֶךָ

a·ni · be·tze·dek · e·che·zeh · fa·ne·kha,
es·be'ah · ve'cha·kitz · te·mu·na·te·kha

"As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness;
when I awake, I shall be satisfied with your likeness"
(Psalm 17:15)


 


Our verse sets up a great contrast between olam ha-zeh and olam haba – between this present world and the heavenly realm. Unlike the grass of the field that dries up or flowers that soon wither, the word of God stands forever. Despite the frailty of man and the inevitability of physical death, God's truth endures, and this is a foundation upon which we can rest. As Yeshua said, "heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words will never pass away" (Matt. 24:35). The message of Yeshua is more enduring that even creation itself.

Press on in the good fight of faith, chaverim.... Believing is seeing, not the other way around. "Keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Yeshua the Messiah that leads to eternal life." (Jude 1:21)


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