13, "Thou turnest man to destruction; and sayest, Return, ye children of men."
"Return, O LORD, how long? and let it repent thee concerning thy servants."
This morning, the frailty of man looms before us. This past weekend, I had the experience of attending two different functions on consecutive days. On this past Friday night, I attended the college graduation ceremony of one of our members at home, and on Saturday morning, I attended the funeral of one of our contractors that was murdered at his home a few weeks back. Seeing both of these occasions consecutively reminded me that our ups and downs are very quick, and the frailty of our being is on display constantly. Life is short; it can be gone in an instant. No man among us knows the exact moment of his end, for my life could be passed and gone from this old world a moment from now. Seeing then that our lives are such fragile things, and understanding that our very existence here is fleeting and transitory, what is the only thing that keeps the depression of such a thought from setting in. If I believed that this transitory existence was all there was and could be gone later today, I would certainly be of all men most miserable. (I Corinthians 15:19)
Our verses above are from a Psalm that was a prayer by Moses. Moses's prayer puts the frailty of man on display, but he does so against the backdrop of the power, authority, and majestic nature of God. Without this backdrop, Moses's prayer would be a sad state indeed, but with the lens turned to see through the power and might of God, we have ample reason to be the polar opposite of depressed and cast down in this life. When looking at the power - and more specifically - the authority of Almighty God, we see many false notions arise from men from time to time that we would also like to address while considering our frailty set against God's power and authority.
When looking at verse 3 above, one might draw the conclusion, from just a cursory glance at the language, that God is pleased and so wills that man fall, stumble, sin, and eventually be destroyed by it. However, running the language this way, we are faced with the ultimate reality that such a thought is contradicted in other places. (Jeremiah 19:5) There are things that man does that never enter God's mind or heart, and therefore, God is not pleased with them and did not will that they do so. Verse 3 rather shows God's power and authority to command His creation. When it speaks of God turning man to destruction, the very way it is done is shown. The command to turn to destruction is the word "Return." God tells His creation to "Return" and from His power and authority, the creation obeys. Now, Scripture does not leave us to wonder what this command is, for we are told that these old earthly frames are going to "return" to the dust from whence they came. (Genesis 3:19, Ecclesiastes 12:7)
God has the power and authority to turn these bodies over to the dust again by the simple command, "Return." God is not the author of sin, but God does command the consequence of it. Why do bodies die? They have sin in them. Why do they return to dust? God commands it so. Since God has the authority to command flesh to return to dust, we should not have any doubt of His ability to command it again to something else. If I wonder about someone's ability to do a certain thing, my feelings will be swayed by past performances that are shown. If a man proves himself honest, trustworthy, and reliable, I have confidence that he will do what he promises to do. On the other hand, if he has a history of cheating, lying, and shady dealing, then I have reservations about him doing what he promises. God has shown His ability and reliability to do what He says and have the wherewithal to do it.
Moving into verse 13, Moses has transitioned from the real fact of man's frailty set against God's power and authority to a plane of prayerful longing and earnest desire. Moses again uses the word "return" in a plea of when it will be the time. How long O LORD until our bodies return? When looking at the world around us as it goes down further with evil men and seducers waxing worse and worse, sometimes our inner parts fervently reach out to say, "Relieve me O LORD! Deliver me from this old place!" Moses is beseeching the LORD about when his time of return shall be. Paul had similar thoughts as he discussed his strait betwixt two: 1. departure to be with Christ, 2. needful presence here in the flesh. (Philippians 1:24) We know that being absent from the body is to be present with the LORD. (II Corinthians 5:6-8)
What happens when these old bodies go to destruction in the sense of returning to dust? We are immediately in the presence of the Lord (in soul and spirit), and the heart of God's children longs for that day. Now, it is noteworthy to mention that neither Paul nor Moses were suicidal in their intention or language. Rather, they are showing that leaving this old world is far better than anything in life, and all things we experience here are not worthy to be compared to it. (Romans 8:18) Moses beseeches the Lord. When O Lord shall this return take place? Sometimes in my experience, I have moments when I feel to fervently desire the departure from sin, corruption, and destruction.
However, Moses had no belief that his departure to be with the Lord and the return of his body to dust was the end of the story. Moses pleads again for the Lord to repent concerning His servants. There was a time that the language of the Lord repenting bothered me as I could not discern what the Lord needed to repent of. However, the Lord does not repent the way a man would. We repent when we are at fault, sorry for what we have done, and desire to do better. Many times, the Lord's repentance is just a change of action (like when He repented of the evil against Nineveh after the preaching of Jonah was successful). The Lord many times turns from what He would have done based on what we do here. (Jeremiah 18:7-10)
The word here repent does not mean what we normally associate with the term. The word here has two connotations. The first connotation is that of comforting oneself in the sense of pity and compassion. The second connotation is the sense of deep breathing such as a sigh or expelling of breath. As Moses beseeches the Lord for repentance, his heart is yearning for something that he knows is coming. It is the same event that Job of old knew one day would come to pass. (Job 19:26-27) When the Lord created the first man Adam, His work on that sixth dawn of time was not over when He formed a body of the dust of the ground. Indeed, He worked that miraculous work to turn ordinary dust into a working structure that was a suitable form for man's existence here. Yet, the Lord caused that body to breathe by breathing into man's nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul. (Genesis 2)
As the Lord breathed into the body of the first man the breath of natural life, so also will the Lord breathe again into those same bodies the breath of enduring and everlasting life. Even though our bodies have the change from the Lord's command to "Return," His power extends to take those same bodies to breathe again the life's breath that will never cease. The Lord will do such as He pities and has compassion on His people. One of the things that I heard at the funeral that bothered me somewhat is that the minister said (while pointing at the body in the casket), "This is not our brother. This is the tabernacle and vessel that he had. It is not him, just his tabernacle." Now, I agree that the man in question is without doubt feasting in the bountiful above with his Lord and Saviour. But, that body is still his. The Lord knows whose it is, where it is, and what will happen to it.
The Lord breathed into Adam's nostrils and his body lived and was suited to live in Eden in a good, natural state forever. The reason he did not remain there forever is because he fell from his naturally good state. The second time the Lord breathes into our bodies, it will be suitable for us to live in heaven forevermore with no possibility of falling. The simple question(s) arise do they not? Sometimes we hear, "How is that possible?" Consider that the One who commands the bodies to breathe is the same One who commanded them to return. The power to do the one is power and authority enough to do the other. Sometimes it is, "How do we know it will be successful?"
The reason we know it to be successful is many-fold, with the easiest answer being that this One has all power. (Revelation 19:6) However, consider also that Christ's body has arisen, and that knowledge gives us the hope that our bodies will arise as well from the life-giving voice of the Son of God. (John 5:28-29) Consider also that Adam had no part in accepting or refusing God's command to life in a natural way on that sixth dawn of time. God breathed, and man lived! Adam was made willing on the day that God caused him to live. Another Psalm contains language that is sometimes brutalized by men as it declares, "Thy people shall be willing in the day of thy power," (Psalm 110:3a) What does the Psalmist mean to indicate by making such a statement?
Was man willing in the day of his creation? By the life-giving breath of God, he was willing with no possibility of refusing. Was Lazarus willing in the day of his raising back to life? By the life-giving voice of Jesus Christ, he sprang out of the tomb after four days of death and turning to destruction. Will we be willing in the day of the Lord's power when He descends with a trump and the voice of the archangel? Indeed we will as all will come forth by the eternal life-giving breath of God into these once sin-ridden frames. While weak, fragile, frail, corruptible, and dishonourable now, He will speak and breathe deeply into them out of His compassion and love to raise them powerful, spiritual, incorruptible, and beautifully shining jewels of splendour for all eternity.
The last question that is often raised is, "What will that look like?" The simple, Scriptural answer is, "I don't know." (I John 3:2) But, knowing of the power and authority of the One performing it, that should be enough. Knowing that we will arise with His likeness, see Him as He is, and be satisfied, that should be enough. Knowing that His pity and mercy of breathing into them again even after their return to dust and destruction, that should be enough. Knowing that all will be willing at that great and notable day with not a one lacking, that should be enough. Therefore, knowing all these things, we are not of all men most miserable. Even though our bodies do return, and even though our flesh is destroyed through the frailty of life and mortality from sin, we have strong consolation and can flee for refuge with this great hope as an anchor of the soul that is within the veil. It is within the veil as that is where our Rock of surety is seated having been raised again for our justification.