He Understands

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It is written:

Isaiah 63:9-In all their affliction He was afflicted, And the Angel of His Presence saved them; In His love and in His pity He redeemed them; And He bore them and carried them All the days of old.

Years ago, I was doing some study on the Book of Genesis, specifically with the story of Abraham offering his son Isaac as a burnt offering. I learned something interesting that spoke to my heart.

Genesis 22:2-Then He said, “Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.”

Commenting on this passage of Scripture, scholar Paul Copan made mention of a specific tense that was used in the Hebrew of this passage which spoke of the deep feeling that God here expressed.

“Second, even the hard command to Abraham is cushioned by God’s tenderness. God’s directive is unusual: “Please take your son”—or as another scholar translates it, “Take, I beg of you, your only son.” 10 God is remarkably gentle as he gives a difficult order. This type of divine command (as a plea) is rare. Old Testament commentator Gordon Wenham sees here a “hint that the Lord appreciates the costliness of what he is asking.” 11 God understands the magnitude of this difficult task. In fact, one commentator states that God is not demanding here; thus, if Abraham couldn’t see God’s broader purposes and so couldn’t bring himself to do this, he wouldn’t “incur any guilt” in declining God’s pleas.” (Paul Copan, Is God a Moral Monster? Making Sense of the Old Testament God, 47-48 (Kindle Edition): Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books)

Writing of this interesting verbal tense, another Old Testament scholar tells us:

“Though the translation doesn’t note it, there is a Hebrew word—na—in the text following the word “Take.” Hamilton explains: “Na, which occurs more than sixty times in Genesis, is used only five times in the entire Old Testament when God speaks to a person. Each time God asks the individual to do something staggering, something that defies rational explanation or understanding. Here then is an inkling at least that God is fully aware of the magnitude of his test for Abraham.”” (Dennis Prager, The Rational Bible: Genesis, 340 (Kindle Edition): Washington DC: Regnery Faith)

This tense communicates to us the fact that God fully understands and embraces whatever we feel.

This speaks to us of another passages of Scripture:

Hebrews 4:15-16-For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16  Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Piper’s comments on this passage are profound:

“But it gets even better. On the way to the cross for thirty years, Christ was tempted like every human is tempted. True, he never sinned. But wise people have pointed out that this means his temptations were stronger than ours, not weaker. If a person gives in to temptation, it never reaches its fullest and longest assault. We capitulate while the pressure is still building. But Jesus never did. So he endured the full pressure to the end and never caved. He knows what it is to be tempted with fullest force. A lifetime of temptation climaxing in spectacular abuse and abandonment gave Jesus an unparalleled ability to sympathize with tempted and suffering people. No one has ever suffered more. No one has ever endured more abuse. And no one ever deserved it less or had a greater right to fight back. But the apostle Peter said, “He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:22-23). Therefore, the Bible says he is able “to sympathize with our weaknesses” (Hebrews 4:15). This is amazing. The risen Son of God in heaven at God’s right hand with all authority over the universe feels what we feel when we come to him in sorrow or pain—or cornered with the promises of sinful pleasure. What difference does this make? The Bible answers by making a connection between Jesus’ sympathy and our confidence in prayer. It says that since he is able to “sympathize with our weaknesses… [therefore we should] with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:15-16). Evidently the thought goes like this: We are likely to feel unwelcome in the presence of God if we come with struggles. We feel God’s purity and perfection so keenly that everything about us seems unsuitable in his presence. But then we remember that Jesus is “sympathetic.” He feels with us, not against us. This awareness of Christ’s sympathy makes us bold to come. He knows our cry. He tasted our struggle. He bids us come with confidence when we feel our need.” (John Piper, Fifty Reasons Why Jesus Came To Die, 72-73 (Kindle Edition); Wheaton, Illinois; Crossway Books)

Another writer, discussing this passage in Hebrews, provides a similar insight. Focusing on the fact that many of the Jewish people in the first century spoke Aramaic, he notes:

“Hebrews 4: 15: “For we have not a high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as [we are, yet] without sin.” This is one of those verses that we just cannot get the real depth of understanding from any English translation. Not that the modern English translations are wrong, it is just that we cannot find a word in English to express first-century thought. For instance, the words “touch with the feeling” is just one small word in the Aramaic, chasha. That rendering comes close, but it is more than a touch; I would call it an embrace of pain or suffering. This is more than just feeling empathy; Jesus is actually experiencing your suffering and pain. He is not the kind gent who sits at your bed saying: “There, there, buck up old boy, pip pip and all that.” When you suffer a broken heart, he just doesn’t pat you on the head and offer the usual audibles like “Time heals all wounds, brighten up, all will be well.” He actually feels your heartbreak…I did learn one thing, Hebrews 4:15 needs a better rendering because God is more than touched with feeling for our infirmities. He embraces them, experiences them, and shares them with us.” (Chaim Bentorah, Aramaic Word Study: Exploring The Language Of The New Testament, 89-90 (Kindle Edition): Chaim Bentorah Ministries)

What an incredible blessing to know that whatever we face in this life, God fully understands.

“We were clearly moving toward the climax of our discussion. The clues Kreeft had mentioned at the outset of our interview were converging, and I could sense an increasing passion and conviction in his voice. I wanted to see more of his heart—and I wouldn’t be disappointed. “The answer, then, to suffering,” I said in trying to sum up where we’ve come, “is not an answer at all.” “Correct,” he emphasized, leaning forward as he pleaded his case. “It’s the Answerer. It’s Jesus himself. It’s not a bunch of words, it’s the Word. It’s not a tightly woven philosophical argument; it’s a person. The person. The answer to suffering cannot just be an abstract idea, because this isn’t an abstract issue; it’s a personal issue. It requires a personal response. The answer must be someone, not just something, because the issue involves someone—God, where are you?” That question almost echoed in his small office. It demanded a response. To Kreeft, there is one—a very real one. A living One. “Jesus is there, sitting beside us in the lowest places of our lives,” he said. “Are we broken? He was broken, like bread, for us. Are we despised? He was despised and rejected of men. Do we cry out that we can’t take any more? He was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. Do people betray us? He was sold out himself. Are our tenderest relationships broken? He too loved and was rejected. Do people turn from us? They hid their faces from him as from a leper. “Does he descend into all of our hells? Yes, he does. From the depths of a Nazi death camp, Corrie ten Boom wrote: ‘No matter how deep our darkness, he is deeper still.’ He not only rose from the dead, he changed the meaning of death and therefore of all the little deaths—the sufferings that anticipate death and make up parts of it. “He is gassed in Auschwitz. He is sneered at in Soweto. He is mocked in Northern Ireland. He is enslaved in the Sudan. He’s the one we love to hate, yet to us he has chosen to return love. Every tear we shed becomes his tear. He may not wipe them away yet, but he will.” (Peter Kreeft in Lee Strobel, The Case For Faith: A Journalist Investigates The Toughest Objections To Christianity, 45-52 (Kindle Edition); Grand Rapids, Michigan; Zondervan)

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, be with you all. Amen.

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