"O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you kill the prophets and stone those sent to you! How often I have wanted to gather your children together like a hen gathers her chicks under her wings! But you were not willing! “ (Matthew 23:37)
WINTER STORMS IN ISRAEL
This past week in Israel, we experienced a winter storm of tremendous proportions! The gale-force winds howled through our windows, the rain pelted down like hail upon our roof, even pouring into the kitchen from underneath the front door. The torrential rains caused massive flooding which resulted in twelve hundred children being trapped at the regional school (Ein Harim). After several hours, they were finally saved by Israeli rescue teams arriving in huge vehicles, carrying a few children out at a time and delivering them all (including two of my grandchildren, Peleh & Yoah, to their home safely - much to the relief of us all!
In the midst of this storm, our landlord’s dog came to our patio door, soaking wet, shivering - obviously chilled to the bone - her eyes pleading and her little tail wagging furiously, hoping against all hope to come into our nice, warm, dry home and find shelter from the storm. How could I say no?
I wonder sometimes how some israelis can seem so heartless when it comes to their animals? This is not the first time that we have dealt with people in Israel neglecting or abusing their animals (see Charlie & the Rabbi in ‘Devotionals for the Animal Lovers’ Heart’ www.voiceforisrael.net/shop). Of course not all Israelis neglect or mistreat their animals; but some have a different mentality than mine. It is an example of Canadian culture clashing with Middle Eastern culture - the culture shock can cause great distress for all concerned.
Itzik, our landlord, has informed us that his dogs have a doghouse outside, as well as food and water which, he believes, should be sufficient for them, even in the winter. ‘Does he not understand about a dog’s need also for warmth, love & affection?’ I wondered. I wouldn’t want my worst enemy to have to suffer out there in this cold, stormy weather, let alone my dog! Obviously, from the dog’s miserable condition, this outdoor dog house was not sufficient shelter at all.
We named the little mutt Louisa Ruth: Louisa for the female form of Louie who was our last landlord’s little doggie who they left outside all day and night in the cold winter - without a dog house or even a blanket or sweater for warmth. We finally couldn’t stand watching him shiver & told the landlords what we thought about their inhumane treatment of Louie. We added Ruth to Louisa’s name because she was obviously saying, “Don’t ask me to leave you! Wherever you stay I will stay…” lol
As much as the dog begged & pleaded to come into our home; the cat was a different story. Half-wild and apparently abandoned here by the previous tenants, ‘Tuna’, clearly was not accustomed to being inside and definitely not in favor of trying it on for size. She would come to our window & cry for food; but then (despite our invitations to come inside where she would find refuge) she would eat as quickly as possible; and then scurry back to wherever she hid herself in some outside den.
I thought about the contrast between Louisa Ruth and Tuna. Both were invited to come inside to find a warm, safe, dry shelter from the storm; but one was willing (even eager!) and the other was not. Now I could better understand Yeshua’s heart for the people of Jerusalem when he wept over them, knowing the destruction that would surely come upon them because of their unwillingness to come under the shelter of His wings. (Matthew 23:37)
We have been going through our own personal storm of gigantic proportions since returning to the Land of Israel. One month after moving in to this rented home, high atop a mountain in the Judean Hills, thieves broke in and stole everything of value: all our laptops (which we need for work & ministry, my daughter’s expensive camera equipment (which she needs for work & ministry), her mac book, our ‘aliyah fund’ of cash, silver coins my Dad had given the kids before we left; and even our shoes & boots! It makes me mad every time I have to walk with socks & sandals in the winter!
My teenage daughter, Liat, was infuriated that they took her whole stash of makeup from Canada! My son’s favorite knapsack and new best shoes (also from canada) and his new Chromebook which he needs for his on-line studies were also stolen. Oye vey!
Besides the material loss (which was bad enough), there was also the loss of our sense of safety and security. Being told that it was likely the thieves would return, we began to live in constant fear - waking up over every noise in the middle of the night. Running outside to check if our car was still there if we heard the dogs barking excessively…. taking everything of value with us in knapsacks every time we left the house. The worst was this feeling of dread every time we walked up the stairs to the house - what would we find when we got home? A ransacked house again? Would the windows & doors be intact or not? It began to wear on our health and both kids got sick. I began to limp again as the stress caused my arthritis to worsen. Although we loved the amazing view from high atop the Judean Hills, we began to wonder if we had made the right decision.
Like the ancient Israelites, we began to wonder if this was such a good idea after all - leaving Egypt (ie Canada). Would it have been better to stay where we were - miserable in bondage of exile but at least safe, comfortable & secure?? We knew that God had called us; but after all we had been through in the past year - the death of my firstborn son, a hip replacement surgery I nearly died from, and then a broken elbow from falling down the stairs just 2 weeks before our departure - and now this?! Really God??!! I was beginning to lose heart even though I knew I needed to be strong and of good courage if we were going to make it here.
HIDE ME UNDER THE SHELTER OF YOUR WINGS
I teach about faith and encourage others to stand in faith ; but now mine was being sorely tested. Would I still trust God through all these trials and tribulations? It was at this point that God began to speak to me about how I needed to come into His presence and find shelter from the storm. The question was, “Are you willing?” I believe this is a question we could all ask ourselves. Are we more like Louisa Ruth? Or Tuna?
My answer was a desperate, “Yes, Lord! Hide me under the shelter of Your wings until all these calamities have passed me by!”
Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy, for in You my soul takes refuge. In the shadow of Your wings I will take shelter until the danger has passed. (Psalm 57:1)
It seems to me that, all too often, we are more like Tuna, hesitating to enter in, remaining on the fringes, content with just a few crumbs. Yes, we may even come for food - we read the Bread of Life - and yet we never really enter into the presence of the living God.
The Bible speaks of having, ‘a willing heart’. The people of Israel were invited to give towards the building of the Tabernacle where they could meet with God: “Whoever is of a willing heart, let him bring it as an offering to the Lord.” (Exodus 35:5) In Hebrew, the word used is ‘nadiv’ which, besides the connotation of willingness, also means to be generous or ‘noble’. Our heart needs to be wide open and generous in our willingness to come in to God’s presence.
What is it that stops Tuna from accepting our invitation to come in? Fear. Perhaps fear of the unknown; but it seems that her worst fear is that she would be trapped inside with no way of escape. Maybe it is this same fear that stops us from truly entering into the Holy of Holies with Adonai as well - a vague fear that if we do enter in, we will never be able to leave.
The Hebrew language shows us that this fear is totally unfounded. One of the ways that we represent God in Hebrew is with a certain letter called ‘hey’. It looks like this:
As you can see, it looks like a door with a small opening at the top left. I like to think that this a message from God’s heart to tell us that the way is always open to us.
Yeshua said, “I am the way, the truth & the life and no one comes to the Father but by me.” (John 14:6)
God is a good, good father who stands ever ready to receive us with open arms; but the way is through Yeshua, His Son. When he died on the cross, the veil walling the people off from the Holy of Holies was torn from top to bottom. This signified that a way has been opened to us; access has been granted through the sacrificial atonement of our Messiah, Yeshua. This is a ‘new and living way’ that Yeshua opened to us through his flesh; so that we may now come boldly to the Throne of Grace any time 24/7.
“Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh,” (Hebrews 10:19-20)
God wants us to come. Especially when we are weary and heavy-burdened and all we want to do is crawl up into a hole and hide, Yeshua invites us to come to Him and find rest and find rest for our souls.
“Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11: 28-89)
When we come to God, we find refreshing for our parched, dry condition.
“The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” Let the one who hears say, “Come!” And let the one who is thirsty come, and the one who desires the water of life drink freely.” (Revelation 22:17)
Even if we have been walking through a valley of a whole heap of trouble (Achor), He can create an ‘opening of hope’ (petach tikvah). (Hosea 2;15)
But this same opening that allows us to enter into God’s presence also gives us the freedom to leave. Even though I am sure it grieves the heart of God to see one of His children leave the shelter of His protective covering, knowing the danger and destruction of forsaking the light to walk in darkness, God has given us free will and the door is always open also to leave.
Once Tuna saw that we would leave a window open for her to leave any time she wanted, she began to venture in. Just when I had given up all hope; the sleek, panther-like feline jumped in through the open window and promptly curled up on the sofa beside me. It filled my heart with joy to hear her contented purring and to see her so warm & safe and contented.
If I, being human, could feel such joy that a stray cat would choose to come and sit with me, can we just imagine the joy that the Lord feels when we do the same? When we overcome our fears and busyness and distractions and guilt and shame and just come and sit at His feet?
Of the two sisters, Mary & Martha, I think I am much more like Martha in the natural - always busy doing, doing, doing … My kids get frustrated with me at times when they see me pushing myself too hard and they say, “Mom, stop cleaning up; stop and just sit down and rest!”
It was Mary, whom Yeshua praised for just sitting at his feet. He did not scorn her or accuse her (as did her sister) of being lazy. Oh, if we would just be a bit more ‘Lord lazy’ - content to ‘waste time’ being totally unproductive in the natural; but filled with joy to simply sit beside the Lord on the couch & purr. :)
I could well understand Tuna’s reluctance to come into the shelter of our home, however. After all, she had grown accustomed to a life filled with dangerous predators and having to fight for her very survival. She became a wild creature - ready to bolt at the first sign of any threat. She finds it hard to trust anyone or any place as safe.
Likewise, not all of us have led the soft, pampered, pudgy life of an indoor house cat. Some of us have been neglected or mistreated, abused or abandoned. After marrying a man in the church who turned out to be an abusive predator, I learned the hard way not to trust. And when we don’t trust people we can also find it hard to trust God.
We may fear being close to the God of Mt. Sinai - the awesome God of smoke and thunder & lightning - the One who shook the mountain and in whose presence the people trembled (Exodus 19:16). The people were warned not to touch the mountain or they would be put to death. Not surprising then that when invited to come near to God on Mt. Sinai, the people said, “Thanks but no thanks Moses - you go for us and then come back & tell us what He said” (rough paraphrase).
This was a scary God with strict rules and swift punishment - a God of justice who is to be feared; but there is another side to the character of God and this is His compassion, long-suffering patience and merciful nature. This is the face of God that has been shown to us through His son, Yeshua.
“For the law (Torah) was given through Moses, but God's unfailing love and faithfulness (grace & truth) came through Yeshua the Messiah.” (John 1:17)
Because of Yeshua, we can come into the presence of God like Louisa Ruth, not with fear and trepidation like Tuna. We had another problem with giving Louisa Ruth shelter; and that was in dealing with her owner who was against this arrangement. For years he had kept her suffering, shivering, cold & wet each winter and it looked like he obviously never wanted this to change.
The enemy of our souls is also happy for us to suffer; and satan wants to hinder us from entering into God’s loving presence. He tells us that we are unworthy to be recipients of God’s grace & mercy. He uses guilt and condemnation - reminding us continually of our past sins and accusing us over our present ones - to keep us from entering fully into the endless and boundless love of God.
And yet, despite the opposition, God invites us to draw near to Him and promises that in response, He will draw near to us.
“Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.” (James 4:8).
I am sure that Louisa Ruth and Tuna’s brief times in our warm, cozy home have been better for them than all their days and nights out in the cold & dark. The Psalmist wrote, “Better is one day in your courts than thousands elsewhere.” (Psalm 84:10) Amen to that!
SIN SEPARATES US FROM GOD
So… as the storm continued to rage in the Judean Hills, Louisa Ruth and Tuna came more and more often to find shelter inside. Now this became a problem when Louisa Ruth decided that going outside was no longer an option for her. Every time someone came near her on the cozy couch and extended their hand towards her, she snarled and threatened to bite anyone daring to put her outside (even if the intention was just a friendly pat on the head). Obviously this was not acceptable behavior for an 'inside dog'; besides the fact that her house-training skills obviously needed a refresher course.
It pained my heart; but for a time, the little doggie needed to remain 'outside the camp' due to her misconduct. As much as she pleaded to come in and I loved her companionship, her wrong behavior was making this cozy arrangement impossible.
We may also be kept out of the presence of God because of our misconduct. It is not only fear; but also sin that can keep us from the presence of God. "But your iniquities have separated you from your God;your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear." (Isaiah 59:2)
Yes, we are saved 'by grace through faith'; but God also desires for us to walk worthy of our calling - as children of Light. Jewish people do not understand Christians who believe that 'because of Jesus' it doesn't matter how we act. Our conduct and behavior do have something to do with our intimacy with God.
Let us not allow our willful sins to keep us out of the presence of God. If we will confess our sins and repent and turn away from the darkness towards the light; then God is faithful to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)
Once Louisa Ruth was very very sorry for biting and piddling, she was tentatively allowed back into the house to see if she would 'bear fruits worthy of repentance'.
One New Man
Once both Louisa and Tuna became comfortable with being inside the house, we had another problem for one simple reason: You know the saying, “They fight like cats & dogs!” Need I say more??
I didn’t know how we were going to handle this issue, not wanting to barr either one of them from taking refuge with us; but as it turned out. they worked the situation out themselves. To my surprise, they decided to share the couch (at a respectful distance from one another mind you). Tuna, with a look of complete disdain seemed to say to the dog, “You don’t bother me and I won’t bother you and we will both be warm, ok?” Obviously Louisa Ruth agreed and so together they sat. :)
I wonder if God had the same dilemma when He decided to open the way for Gentiles to come into the New Covenant as well as the Jews? I can imagine Him stroking his long, white beard and twisting his tzitzit (fringes), saying, “Oye vey, how will these two ever get along together in the same house?”
Thanks be to God, Yeshua also made provision for each one of us, Jews and Gentiles to dwell together in peace (shalom) and unity in His house by breaking down the machitzah (middle wall of partition) and destroying in His flesh the cat & dog type of hostility between us. (Ephesians 2:14)
Seeing both Louisa Ruth & Tuna nestled up contentedly on my couch where they are warm, dry and safe gives me so much hope. No matter where we find ourselves in life; no matter what we have been through in the past; and despite whatever storm we are going through now,, God welcomes us into His presence to find refuge and shelter.
Thank You God for welcoming us into Your warm, safe shelter where we can take refuge from the storms of life. Thank you for making a way for us to enter in through Your son, Yeshua. We want to come & drink of Your living waters to quench our thirsty souls.
Help us, O God, to overcome our fears, guilt, shame and every opposition in order to come into Your awesome presence where we may find rest. Hide us under the shadow of Your wings until these calamities pass us by. Keep us as the apple of Your eye as we put our hope & trust in You. Amen.
By Hannah Nesher
Ramat Raziel, Israel