All passages from the NKJV.
Come, and let us return to the Lord;
For He has torn, but He will heal us;
He has stricken, but He will bind us up.
In a garden, you often have to prune your plants. Sometimes you have to prune them pretty severely, cutting them back until it seems there's nothing left. But after this, they grow stronger and healthier than ever. Sometimes, a broken bone sets wrongly, and needs to be re-broken in order to heal completely.
Sometimes, we're growing things that we don't need in our lives (bad habits, unhealthy relationships, an imbalance of responsibilities, etc). Sometimes, our brokenness heals wrongly. Sometimes, we must be cut and broken, torn and stricken, all over again to ensure our continued health and wholeness. Sometimes, God uses tough love.
Let us know,
Let us pursue the knowledge of the Lord.
His going forth is established as the morning;
He will come to us like the rain,
Like the latter and former rain to the earth.
The first two lines of this remind me that we are to love God with our minds, that intellectualism is wholly compatible with faith, that God wants us to know and be known by him. The last three lines are beautiful, especially in this rainy week: God is steady and constant, God is saturating, God fills us to overflowing.
Be glad, then, you children of Zion,
And rejoice in the Lord your God;
For he has given you the former rain faithfully,
And He will cause the rain to come down for you --
The former rain,
And the latter rain in the first month.
Here we find another instance of the phrase "former and latter rain". It seems to be an expression of faithfulness and dependability, as well as of nurturing and providing. It makes sense, and it's also a beautiful piece of poetry.
With what shall I come before the Lord,
And bow myself before the High God?
Shall I come before Him with burnt offerings,
With calves a year old?
Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams
Or ten thousand rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
The fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
He has shown you, O man, what is good;
And what does the Lord require of you
But to do justly,
To love mercy,
And to walk humbly with your God?
One of my dad's gifts is interpretation and teaching of Scripture. He was our Bible quizzing coach for many years, and we spent nearly as much time in deep study of the Word as in practicing our jumps and our memorization strategies.
One year, we were studying either Matthew or Hebrews; i can't remember which. Both are epistles written specifically for Jews, either to convert them to Christianity or to guide Jewish Christians in their new faith. They incorporate a lot of the history, the law, and the traditions. They include long genealogies. They present arguments and information in a way that Jews in the first century would understand and appreciate.
They spend a lot of time talking about traditional Jewish law. God gave His people thousands of commandments, not just the ten you know. There were very specific details about what they were allowed to eat, how it could be cooked, at what time of the year they could eat it, who they could have sex with and under what circumstances, what kinds of fibers their clothes could be made from, how they should plant their crops, etc. And when Jesus came, He told us that He came not to abolish the law, but to fulfill it. Yet when He was asked what was the most important commandment, He named one that was never listed in any of the books of the Law: "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.' This is the first commandment. And the second, like it, is this: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no other commandment greater than these."
My dad's theory is this: people like to think they can do things. We want to compete, to earn salvation, to succeed by our own merits, to win by our own efforts. But God doesn't work like that. Salvation isn't about doing the right things or winning or being good enough. It's about acknowledging that we can never be good enough by our own efforts, and that we need mercy and grace. God is too good, too high, for us to approach. We can only come near to Him when we humble ourselves and ask Him to draw near.
My dad thinks that God gave these ridiculously exhaustive rules as a way of demonstrating the impossibility of ever being good enough. It's simply not a valid concept. God wanted us to see what it would take to be "good enough", realize that it was impossible, and humble ourselves. Instead, many of the Jews (and many Christians even today), think that holiness is something we can attain on our own, that holiness is like an algebraic equation. If we add these prayers here and subtract these sacrifices over here, we can reach "X".
This passage, all the way back in the Old Testament, is a support of my dad's theory. You can hear the surrender in the prophet's voice, feel that his questions are rhetorical. With what shall I come before the Lord? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression? All that God asks of us is to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with Him. All we can do is love and let go.