May 19, 2015

Mourning, widows, and pressing on...

1 Chronicles 7:1–40; 1 Timothy 5:1–9; Psalm 78:30–52

Reading Old Testament genealogies gives me a little insight into the customs of ancient Israel. They also show me something about the way God fits those customs into His plans. Consider these verses that describe how Ephriam mourned the deaths of his offspring....

“The sons of Ephraim: Shuthelah, and Bered his son, Tahath his son, Eleadah his son, Tahath his son, Zabad his son, Shuthelah his son, and Ezer and Elead, whom the men of Gath who were born in the land killed, because they came down to raid their livestock. And Ephraim their father mourned many days, and his brothers came to comfort him. And Ephraim went in to his wife, and she conceived and bore a son. And he called his name Beriah, because disaster had befallen his house. His daughter was Sheerah, who built both Lower and Upper Beth-horon, and Uzzen-sheerah. Rephah was his son, Resheph his son, Telah his son, Tahan his son, Ladan his son, Ammihud his son, Elishama his son, Nun his son, Joshua his son.” (1 Chronicles 7:20–27)

I spy God at the end of this passage. Because Ephraim’s mourning was expressed and comforted in his bedroom, eventually a great leader was born: Joshua the son of Nun who led God’s people after Moses died. It appears this happened about six generations later, so this man did not see the birth of Joshua or know how God used him. Nevertheless, God is never limited by the behavior of His people. This helps me joyfully trust Him with posterity or any concerns about a lasting legacy.

The NT reading is about widows. I’m not one yet, and that day may come. Lately God has given me a genuine burden for all women who are alone and missing their departed spouse. In Bible times, widows had very little status. However, Jesus changed that. His Word says, “Honor widows who are truly widows. But if a widow has children or grandchildren, let them first learn to show godliness to their own household and to make some return to their parents, for this is pleasing in the sight of God. She who is truly a widow, left all alone, has set her hope on God and continues in supplications and prayers night and day, but she who is self-indulgent is dead even while she lives. Command these things as well, so that they may be without reproach.” (1 Timothy 5:3–7)

Widows are to be honored and cared for, but that does not give them license to be self-centered. I’m thinking of “Grandma Cooper” whose interest in the world made her a delight to spend time with, and I’m certain this contributed to her long life.

My dad used to say, “There is no fool like an old fool,” a maxim that lines up with this principle also. God doesn’t intend that advancing years give His people an excuse to indulge in things like self-pity, declining faith, constant complaining, or any other self-centered behavior. My goal to be a “sweet little old lady” fits with the Lord’s instructions, so that goal must be His idea.

However, I know the challenges of aging. Someone once asked me if being a Christian gets easier as I get older. Think of it this way; the more temptation is resisted, the stronger it becomes. If I give into it, it goes away. If I don’t, I am in a war. While trusting God deepens, so also does the temptation to not trust God.

The last reading from the Psalms yields these verses that describe the care of God and the carelessness of His people. After several descriptions of how the Lord watched over them, the psalmist says, “In spite of all this, they still sinned; despite his wonders, they did not believe. So he made their days vanish like a breath, and their years in terror. When he killed them, they sought him; they repented and sought God earnestly. They remembered that God was their rock, the Most High God their redeemer. But they flattered him with their mouths; they lied to him with their tongues. Their heart was not steadfast toward him; they were not faithful to his covenant. Yet he, being compassionate, atoned for their iniquity and did not destroy them; he restrained his anger often and did not stir up all his wrath. He remembered that they were but flesh, a wind that passes and comes not again.” (Psalm 78:32–39)

Faithfulness to God should be improved by practice, yet as I grow older, I’m increasingly aware of my deepening need for Him and for His grace to keep me from sin, to grant me genuine repentance, to remind me He is my rock and redeemer. I cannot atone for my own sin and when I do sin, I’m more aware that God has every right to pour out His wrath — but He poured it on Christ. That is why I am still here, still trusting Him, and pressing on as the days fly by.

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