Have you heard the retort, “Getting blood from a stone”? Typically it describes a tight-wad or derelict, someone who may owe you something but will not or cannot repay. Try as you might. Put the squeeze on them, but you will not get anything out of them.
Throughout Jeremiah’s prophecy, he foretold of the people’s return from captivity. There were two major predictions Jeremiah made. First, he predicted the timing of seventy years (Jeremiah 25:11; 29:10). Ezra 1:1 tells us, “The word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah” was fulfilled following the proclamation of Cyrus the Great. Secondly, the type of return was to be like the release from Egypt (Jeremiah 16:14-15; 23:7-8). In what way? When the people were set free from slavery in Egypt, God promised they would receive the riches of the land. The slaves of Egypt left with the treasures of Egypt! The Egyptians gave their treasures to Israel in hopes of appeasing God’s wrath. As the Jews leave Babylon, the treasury of the empire is opened and they leave with the riches of Babylon.
God richly blessed the people when they left Egypt and hundreds of years later as they were leaving Babylon. Notice, believer, when God sends you on a mission, He will send you with His blessing. This is a needed reminder! Whether slaves or the low caste in Babylon, God’s people left according to God’s Word to do God’s Work. Hudson Taylor, a faithful missionary in China, left Great Britain for his mission field often “under-supported” by today’s standards. His motto explains his intensity: “God’s work done in God’s way will never lack God’s supply.” He spent 51 years on the mission field depending on God’s supply by faith.
The second application every believer must notice is God’s purpose in blessing. Whether in Exodus or in Ezra, the people were blessed so they could contribute to the work of God. They give back to the Lord so they can have a part in God’s work. Whether it is your treasures, time, or talent, God has blessed you with the resources to accomplish His mission through you. How often we are tempted to staunch the flow of God’s blessing in our life because of our insecurity or indulgence. This ought not to be! God’s blessings have been given to accomplish His purpose. The wealth of the western world may very likely be brought against them at the Judgment Seat of Christ and many will lose much of their reward because they were cul-de-sacs instead of avenues of God’s blessing.
Maybe you fret, “I don’t have much to give.” Ezra 2:69 is a beautiful testimony of God’s expectation, “They gave after their ability.” God expects only what He has given you to steward. He will not squeeze blood out of a stone.
William Booth, known as the “Prophet of the Poor,” was a British minister who gave his life ministering to the outcasts and poor people of Nottingham, England. Booth became famous for founding the Salvation Army which originally emphasized street preaching, personal evangelism, and practical philanthropy. Booth’s battlecry was, “Go for souls, and go for the worst!” Booth made it his mission to go to the poorest of society and bring them both physical and spiritual relief. Booth had an open heart and a wide hand towards the poor of London.
In Deut. 15, God says, “If there be among you a poor man of one of thy brethren within any of thy gates…thou shalt not harden thine heart, nor shut thine hand from thy poor brother: but thou shalt open thine hand wide unto him, and shalt surely lend him sufficient for his need, in that which he wanteth” (vv. 7-8). God told the Israelites that the poor would always be with them (15:11). And God reminded the Israelites of their duty to their poor brethren. The Israelites were to have an open heart and a wide hand to those who were poor. God expected His people to be generous and help those who needed the basic necessities of life. In Lev. 19, God commanded His people to not glean the corners of their fields so that the poor of the land could gather the food. God made it clear that the Israelites were to be charitable to the poor.
The Bible never says that wealth is a sin and it never says that poverty makes one righteous. God does not choose people based upon their net worth. However, the Scriptures do make it clear that God has a special concern for the poor. Proverbs 19:17 says, “He that hath pity on the poor lendeth unto the LORD…” Galatians 6:10 reminds us “As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith.” We see in this verse that our generosity begins with those closest to us. It begins with fellow believers. James 2:15-17 says, “If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.” This admonition to charitableness extends beyond our brethren to all men. “Therefore, if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink…” (Romans 12:20). God’s concern for the plight of the poor must move us to the point of assisting those who truly have a need. We ought to be wise stewards of our resources. Those who refuse to work are not those in need (2 Thess. 3:10). But those who truly are in need, should be helped.
One of my favorite hobbies is trout fishing and living in central PA offers many opportunities for me to enjoy this hobby. Most Saturdays from April through June will find me along some waterway in the area and I’m sure many of those reading this have also spent some time fishing as well. With very few exceptions, an outing of fishing will involve many individual casts, probably 50-100/hour if I am flying fishing or spinner fishing. We all understand a cast to mean taking the fly, lure or bait, swinging the rod back behind us and then essentially tossing the bait into the water. The act of casting obviously ends up with us no longer having the bait. It’s now in the water, hopefully alluring the attention of our targeted fish.
Our reading today brings us to one of the most popular verses in all of Scripture. 1 Peter 5:7 says, “casting all of your care upon Him, for He careth for you.” There’s that word “casting”. Essentially what God wants us to do is take our cares, problems and anxieties and toss them on to Him. They’re gone, out of our possession or concern any longer. It’s all now on Him!
Why does God invite us to cast our cares on Him? Because very simply, He cares for us. One of my favorite hymns is “Does Jesus Care?” I distinctly remember one period several years ago when I was battling several health issues at the same time. I remember driving to church one Sunday PM alone and feeling somewhat despondent about the pain and discomfort I was experiencing and walked into church with probably a rotten attitude. However, the words of the first hymn we sang that night were very reassuring to me as they have been to countless others over the years. “Oh yes He cares, I know He cares, His heart is touched with my grief. When the days are weary, the long nights dreary I know my Savior cares.”
Have you ever been disheartened by the thought of the “daily grind?” You get up every day, work hard, eat some food, go to bed, and do it all again tomorrow. If you work hard enough someday you’ll get to retire, which is the same thing minus the hard work. Then at the end of your life, you’ll have eaten a lot of food, slept a lot of hours, and have done a lot of work that probably won’t last much beyond your years. Doesn’t seem very satisfying, does it? In the Old Testament, the Hebrew authors had a word (hebel) to describe this. It’s translated in King James English as “vanity” but in our modern vernacular, we would say “frustrating and worthless.”
Solomon repeats this word often in Ecclesiastes. In fact, of the 73 times this Hebrew word appears, 38 of those are found in this book! Think back to the beginning of the book. He summarizes this disparagement, “…Vanity of vanities; all is vanity.” (Ecc. 1:2b) We might echo it as, “Frustration of frustrations! EVERYTHING is frustrating and worthless!” Don’t so many days feel that way!?
However, even though Solomon uses this word often, he is not hopelessly resigned to the idea that life is meaningless. Let’s examine some instructions he gives to breathe life back into a meaningless day.
5:1 Be careful and purposeful in worship. Don’t give a fool’s (worthless) offering. When we enter the Lord’s house on Sunday, do we come haphazardly, as if church were another meaningless part of our lives, or do we come – intentionally, carefully, purposefully – to the most meaningFUL part of our lives?
5:2-7 Don’t let your words slip meaninglessly out of your mouth. “Tis better to be thought a fool, than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.” The more you talk, the more you have opportunity to miscommunicate, or accidentally say something you didn’t intend to say. Make your words meaningful.
5:18 God does allow you to enjoy the rewards of working hard. While the “rat race” may seem meaningless day by day, the person who works enjoys a good night of sleep, while the person who sits around doesn’t have that same satisfaction, even if he has so much money he doesn’t need to work. How many times have you heard of someone retiring, only to go back to work because it’s frustrating to NOT work?
Perhaps chapter 6, verse 7 summarizes the day in, day out frustration best: “You work hard to put food on the table, but then you still get hungry again.” (my paraphrase). As a reader, you may get to the end of today’s reading and feel like it too is “hebel” as there is no resolution of his frustrated thoughts. Take a few moments to meditate on where the real meaning in life is. It’s not in the car you drive, getting a nice house, or having the latest toys. True meaning is only found in our daily, vibrant relationship with our Creator.
The book was free. Who wouldn’t pick up on that deal? The recipients were two folk, tired of the world and it’s offerings. All worldly attempts at happiness had let them down. There are no depths like those without God. Kind of like the “Valley of the Shadow of Death” (Ps. 23:4). We yearned for something else (“Out of the depths have I cried unto thee, O LORD” Ps. 130:1). We both had a head of knowledge, but never a heart (that innermost feeling deep down inside our core) knowledge of God.
Having arrived, the book was read with enthusiasm as each page got better. It was a book that told of a Saviour named Jesus, who went to a cruel cross and died for the sins of all. Through Him, and Him alone, there is redemption for everyone that acknowledges Him and asks for forgiveness. The book was not the Bible, but a lesser work that led us to the Bible and a deeper, personal relationship with God. It was entitled, “Power for Living.”
Each turn of page revealed personal testimony from notable men and women who had placed their faith in Jesus Christ. They all experienced the same emptiness we had and discovered the answer we were about to. Both my wife and I, in the next two days, cried “Out of the depths…Lord, hear my voice: let thine ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications”(vss. 1-2). During this time, the Holy Spirit was speaking to our hearts. Then a shadow of doubt entered my mind. Would he save a pair of wretches like us? “If thou, LORD, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand” (vs. 3)?
Oh my, if God is marking iniquities surely He has ran out of paper, between the two of us. It may be hopeless for us. However, the book spoke of the grace and mercy of God and we soon discovered there was room at the cross for all. “But there is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared. I wait for the LORD, my soul doth wait, and in his word do I hope” (vss. 4-5). We could now say, with Israel,…hope in the LORD: for with the LORD there is mercy, and with him is plenteous redemption” (vs. 7). Amen and Amen!
I’ve watched the eastern sky more than most. Each night I worked, I longed for the slightest crack of dawn to signal my shift was coming to an end. It was a good feeling. Two days after my wife, on March 9, 1985 at 0316, there was a different feeling. I too was saved.“My soul waiteth for the Lord more than they that watch for the morning: I say, more than they that watch for the morning” (vs. 6). Now I watch the eastern sky for His soon return!