Now the angel of the LORD went up from Gilgal to Bochim. And he said, “I brought you up from Egypt and brought you into the land that I swore to give to your fathers, I said, ‘I will never break my covenant with you, and you shall make no covenant with the inhabitants of this land; you shall break down their altars.’ But you have not obeyed my voice. What is this you have done? So now I say, I will not drive them out before you, but they shall become thorns in your sides, and their gods shall be a snare to you.” Judges 2:3
Immediately as my eyes fell on the phrase “thorns in your sides”, my brain perked up. I’ve seen this phrase before, just yesterday in Joshua 23:11-13
“Be very careful, therefore, to love the LORD your God. For if you turn back and cling to the remnant of these nations remaining among you and make marriages with them, so that you associate with them and they with you, know for certain that the LORD your God will no longer drive out these nations before you, but they shall be a snare and a trap for you, a whip on your sides and thorns in your eyes, until you perish from off this good ground that the LORD your God has given you.”
So now the LORD my God has me curious, I know of a few other places in the Bible that I’ve seen this phrase, but where else could it be and what exactly is He trying to tell me through the thorns today?
So, I started with a simple word search through www.BibleGateway.com. There were 53 instances of the word “thorn” in both the New and Old Testament, several of them looked familiar while others were new. Numbers 33:55 sounded mighty familiar, I wonder why… “But if you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land from before you, then those of them whom you let remain shall be as barbs in your eyes and thorns in your sides, and they shall trouble you in the land where you dwell.” I was beginning to see the theme here! In each mention of the thorns, so far, God is talking about driving out the current inhabitants of the promised land. Hmmmm… I think it’s time to dig a bit deeper into this my friends.
In studying the Bible there is something each student must remember, the Bible defines itself. What I mean is, if something in the Bible reaches out and grabs your attention look at where else in the Bible it might be mentioned. By doing this the Bible will end up explaining itself. For example, the word thorn literally jumped off the page at me today, grabbed me by the neck and said “pay attention to ME!” And while I can glean quite a bit of information from that one mention of the word “thorn” in today’s reading. I will glean considerably more if I look at all the other stories where the word “thorn” is mentioned. Another example of this is in Jesus’ telling of the parable of the Sower and the Seed. In Mark chapter 4 we find Jesus teaching from a boat just off shore to a very large crowd. He shares with them the parable of a farmer, or sower, who goes out to his field to sow his seed. As he tosses the seed on the ground, some of the seed falls on the path where the birds come along and eat it. Some of the seed falls on rocky ground where it quickly grows but then whithers just as quickly because it has no root. Some of the seed falls among thorns and they grow up around the seed choking it and causing the seed to yield no grain. But then there is the seed that falls on the good fertile soil that produces grain and yields a huge harvest for the famer. After the crowd has left for the day and Jesus is left alone with his twelve closest disciples they ask Him about the parable and its meaning. His response to them is a huge key for us today! “Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables?” This is Jesus telling them that this particular parable is particularly important in translating many other parables, symbols and messages within the entire Bible.
– “The sower sows the word.” This tells us that anywhere in the Bible where the word “seed” is mentioned, it can also be assumed that it is a parable and the seed is referring to the Word or messages from God, spoken or written.
– “And these are the ones along the path, where the word is sown: when they hear, Satan immediately comes and takes away the word that is sown in them.” I personally had this happen to me when God spoke His first words of His radical Grace into my life, and I can vouch for the ferocity in which those words are snatched away from you, with talons that tear the flesh! There are times in life when our heavenly sower is sowing His word into our life and we can feel it hit the flesh of our hearts. As we are just barely beginning to wrap our brains around the concept, or hoping that maybe God really is that kind of good, when the Enemy comes along and snatches that hope right back replacing it with his Doubt, Fear and Ignorance. He snatches Words of Hope with his biting words of Hate and Greed before we ever really even know fully what we had in our hands to begin with. There’s a commercial out right now, I think it’s for satellite TV, where a woman is just stepping off her porch with her little dog to go for a walk on this nice bright sunny day when a huge bird of prey swoops down out of nowhere, snatches the dog away from her and flies away with it in its talons. That is precisely what the Enemy does. God’s word is a great gift of Light, and Love and Hope for His people. It is food for our souls, but the Enemy doesn’t want us to actually eat it because if we do, we will grow and bear fruit making it harder for him to stop us. So he snatches it away before it can ever take root in our hearts and become imbedded into our souls.
– “And these are the ones sown on rocky ground: the ones who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy. And they have no root in themselves, but endure for a while; then, when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away.” In this instance the seed, or personal message from God, is not immediately snatched away, but rather is allowed to grow briefly. I experienced this with the second instance that God sowed His words of radical Grace into my heart. This time, it sank in deeper than the first, and I entertained it briefly. I wondered if God could really love me that much, if He could forgive me that completely, I hoped that He could. And yet life would creep in and bring me into hot situations where Doubt would convince me that His goodness wasn’t really “that good”. And I would wither away again.
-“And the others are the ones sown among thorns. They are those who hear the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.” Ahhhh… here we are, back to the thorns and on to the third time that God sowed His word of Radical Grace into my life. I’ll never forget the day; at least I pray that I don’t! It was my 32nd birthday. I was sitting in my red recliner in front of the TV watching a sermon on grace. The pastor shared his own personal testimony of how God’s radical Grace finally caught up with him. He was young and passionate about the Lord, desperate to please Him in any way that he could. I could TOTALLY relate to this! I was so on fire for God and yet having been steeped in legalism my entire life I was desperate to be perfect in order to please God. Little did I know, that’s not what pleases Him. In fact, my perfection is what kills Him. That day I sat and listened to the pastor’s story through tears, his story was my story. I was so desperate to please God and adamant about never sinning that I was constantly sinning. I was so focused on being good for Jesus that I had completely stopped looking at Jesus and was completely focused on myself and my sin. In trying to please Him, I left Him. I became so focused on what I was doing that I was totally missing what He was doing…and more importantly I had completely missed what He has done.
Some sects of Christianity are so focused on the Law, the Ten Commandments, and following them to the letter, that we have lost the whole point of the Gospel message, GRACE! Jesus didn’t come to abolish the Law, He came to fulfill it! Do you know what that means? It means that the Law was a prophecy of the perfection of God that would literally put on flesh and walk among us. It means that Jesus was the fulfillment of the Law in the most perfect way! Just like when a prophecy is fulfilled it is finished, so too is the Law finished in Christ! When the Law was given on Mount Sinai, it was given as a picture of what was to come and God told the Israelites to follow these commands. But then when Jesus came what was it that He told His chosen Disciples? “Follow Me”. Jesus is the total embodiment of the Law, only MORE perfect. If the Old Covenant had been completely perfect then there would have been no need to create a New Covenant now would there? But that is precisely what Jesus came to do! He came to give us a New Covenant with a New Command. “Love one another as I have loved You.” “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and all your soul and all your mind. Likewise, Love your neighbor as yourself. In these two all the Law is summed up.” While the original Law consisted of thou shalt not’s, the new command is not a don’t, but a DO. Why? Because God knows how He created us! He knows how Satan works! If God tells us don’t eat from this tree, then the first thing Satan is going to do is tempt us with all his seductive ways to get us to eat from that tree. The Law alerts us to sin. If there is no command that tells us not to covet, then we are so much less likely to covet. Those without the law are a law unto themselves.
On the day that Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of stone 3,000 people died because of their sins. On the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit of Jesus came down and filled His people, enabling them to do what He had called them to do, 3,000 people were saved and brought into eternal Life. There is a reason they call those Ten Commandments the Law of death, it’s because it kills. But the Spirit of God brings Life! And with that Spirit, and focusing on the death of Jesus instead of ourselves and our own sinfulness, we are brought out of darkness into His marvelous Light!
Does that mean that we should go out and murder because we no longer follow the Law? NO!!! It means that we follow the Spirit of the Living God because we have been forgiven so completely that the slate that held our sins was wiped clean by the blood of Jesus before we were even born!
God showed me a picture once, He talks to me a lot in pictures, where there was a teen praying in his bedroom asking God to come into his heart and be his Lord and Savior. This teen was COVERED in little round stickers that had “SIN” written on them. Every sin that he had or ever would commit was literally covering him. And at the moment he opened his heart and began praying Jesus appeared behind him and silently started picking stickers off the youth. And one by one as He plucked them from his shirt Jesus said, “this is Mine…. this is Mine… this is Mine… this is Mine…”
Our sins are no longer ours when we give ourselves over to Christ. In that very moment they belong to Him. Our sins are part of who we are, and when we surrender our lives to Him, they belong to Him too; every single one of them, past, present and future. And in that moment we become like Him, sinless and pure in the eyes of God. We are forgiven COMPLETELY without spot or blemish. Now do we look like that to the world, no way! Do we see ourselves like that? Not usually. But should we?
This reading has been an excerpt from Tamar’s book Waiting…, if you would like to read more it is available HERE in multiple formats.