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~ How God Sees Us ~

Prophecies to nations have a counterpart, I believe, to individuals. This is evident but overlooked in the many out-of-context quotes of prophetic scripture on cards, plaques and posters. Here’s a familiar one to many, offered to comfort individuals: “’I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future’” (Jeremiah 29:11, NIV). But to whom was God talking? That this was addressed to the exiles of Israel in Babylon, during Jeremiah’s ministry that began in 626 B.C., is indisputable by studying the context.

So that does mean that verse does not apply to us as individuals today? God continues speaking: “‘then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,’ declares the Lord, ‘and will bring you back from captivity’” (vv. 12-14a). God is addressing the exiled nation of Israel and the captivity of which He speaks is certainly a physical one.

Similar words have been given as promises to individuals and groups throughout Scripture. The principles of deliverance and salvation are the same whether applied to nations or individuals. In contemplation in the spirit, we realize that, while the captivity of the exiles was physical, it was also spiritual, as with individuals...

“By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion.
There on the poplars we hung our harps, for our captors asked us for songs,
Our tormentors demanded songs of joy; they said,
‘Sing us one of the songs of Zion!’
How can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land?
If I forget you, O Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its skill,
May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth if I do not remember you,
If I do not consider Jerusalem my highest joy” (Psalm 137:1-6, NIV).

The passion of this psalm is not about the walled city of Jerusalem, but rather Zion, the spiritual realm of Yahweh, the Almighty. It is the mournful lamentation of people feeling disconnected from God, their highest joy. At times, during the dark night of the soul, it can certainly be our own.
Another notion many hold is that these prophecies and declarations were made to Israel, a physical nation. Yet we cannot discount how the Scriptures speak of a heavenly Jerusalem and a spiritual Israel. "For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel...it is not the natural children who are God’s children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham’s offspring...What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory – even us, whom he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles? As he says in Hosea: ‘I will call them my people who are not my people; and I will call her my loved one who is not my loved one,’ and, ‘It will happen that in the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ they will be called ‘sons of the living God’...For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile – the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved’” (Romans 9:6b, 8, 23-26, 10:12-13, NIV).

When we make this shift over to the New Testament, many of us forget they are Hebrew Scriptures as well, that Christ was a Jew by lineage. When He declared, “You are the salt of the earth” (Matthew 5:13), He was definitively addressing His one hundred percent Jewish disciples (vv. 1b-2). Christ has not yet died and resurrected and the Holy Spirit had not yet been bestowed. Contextually and historically, because there weren’t any at the time, He was not calling Christians “the salt of the earth” and “the light of the world.” Yet, as Christians do with many of the prophecies to the nation of Israel, we understand Christ to be speaking to us, today. And rightfully so, as it is holy wisdom to transcend history, time and geographical contexts when entering into the realm of the spiritual.

Taking all this in, we must be awe struck by the incredible view God has of us! “Light of the world” isn’t as difficult to understand as “salt of the earth.” Naturally, metaphors must be historically based for the people of the time to understand. If you don’t know much about the ways and care of sheep, for example, you won’t be impressed with all the sheep and shepherd metaphors in Scripture. It helps to know about the importance and nature of salt in Jesus’ time on earth.

When our electrical power fails for a long time, the millions of tons of food in refrigerated storage in our warehouses, supermarkets and homes are doomed to rot. In the arid region of Christ’s ministry two thousand years ago, rubbing salt into meats, fish and vegetables helped preserve them. Salt was also vital as a sanitizer and disinfectant as well as a soil nutrient in the form it was gathered then. Of course, it helped to enhance the flavor of many foods. Today, Jesus might say, “You are the electric power of the earth.”

But how does a very stable substance like salt, sodium chloride, lose its saltiness, as Jesus warned against? Much of the salt of Israel at that time was gathered from the Dead Sea marshes and tidal pools. (The Dead Sea got its name from the sterilizing effect of an extremely high salt content, so it was a great source.) Unlike the pure, crystalline salt with which we are familiar, that salt was a conglomerate of minerals and organic substances. If these impurities became damp or otherwise activated, they would ruin the potency and usefulness of the embedded salt, “no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled” (v. 13b).

Christ’s point is not lost on us 2000 years later...We are a conglomerate of spirit, soul and matter, permeated with impurities, affliction, inclination to sin and disorders, right down to every single strand of DNA in every single one of the nuclei of every single of the billions of cells in our bodies and brains. Ongoing purification and sanctification by the Holy Spirit is vital if we are to live up to Christ’s declaration of what we are.

“Sing, O Daughter of Zion; shout aloud, O Israel!
Be glad and rejoice with all your heart, O Daughter of Jerusalem!”
[That’s us!]
“The Lord has taken away your punishment, he has turned back your enemy.
The Lord your God is with you, he is mighty to save.
He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love;
He will rejoice over you with singing” (Zephaniah 3:14-15a, 17).

Why? What have we done to deserve such divine delight and rejoicing, forgiveness and singing? To merit a title like “the salt of the earth, the light of the world”? Nothing, for just as an hour is utterly inconsequential from the viewpoint of eternity (to say the least), any doing of ours is utterly negligible from the viewpoint of an Infinite Being. Yet “he will quiet [us] with his love.”

I scarcely comprehend this love or this view God has of us. How many of us view one another like that? Yet Christ said, “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you” (John 15:12). Not an encouragement or suggestion, but a command. I feel utterly helpless in all this. My will, my volition, is too puny and weak for such a task.

So I am heartfully grateful for Christ’s prayer to the Father, but also awestruck at His sublime and sacrificially loving nature: “For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified. My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one...I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them" (John 17:19-21, 26, NIV).

The Christ sanctifying Himself so we can be the salt of the earth? So that He and the Father’s love might be in us? I must learn to totally and utterly depend on and trust in that prayer and Christ’s love. There is no other way to fulfill God’s view of who we truly are.

John S. Hilkevich, Ph.D.
Spiritual Resource Services

Weekly Reflections © September 5, 2003
Responses are welcome at: Reflections@prayergear.com

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