Email contact
Ttc graphic
Ttc image

2.1 Chaos & Order: Progress vs. Completion

Volume 2: Studies in Contrast—Chapter 1

Chaos & Order: Progress vs. Completion

As if to establish the mindset of God from the very outset, the scriptural record commences with these words: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form [tohu], and void [bohu]; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” (Genesis 1:1-2) Beginning with only Himself in existence, Yahweh created time-space (the heavens) and matter-energy (the earth), but He went out of His way to let us know His creation process wasn’t “magical,” simplistic, accidental, or instantaneous. Rather, He began by making raw materials—disorganized, incomplete, inert, and chaotic—and only then, implementing “laws” of physics that had never before existed, He put them together methodically and precisely to build the universe we now inhabit, moving inexorably from conditions of formless dark emptiness to order, light, and life.

Part of me would like to be able to tell you that this is God’s unwavering modus operandi—and that He intends to continue working on His creation until He can call it all “very good.” But alas, He reached that point some time ago, and it should be obvious by now that we’ve lost ground since then. You’d have to be blind not to notice that the condition of our world has deteriorated somewhat from the status of “very good” God proclaimed before Adam’s rebellion. Yes, order and perfection, knowledge and abundant life are Yahweh’s ideals, and yes, those of us who choose to live in His love will one day find ourselves completed and perfected—we will no longer be the “works in progress” we are now. But scripture is quite clear: not everyone will attain that bright future. Some—most—of mankind will eventually revert back to the chaos from which God built them. This isn’t because Yahweh isn’t good, strong, or loving enough to achieve His will in the world; rather, it’s the result of His primary gift to us—free will. Some have chosen to reject Him; and as strange as it may sound, He honors that choice.

As if to make my point for me, the prophet Jeremiah uses the same phrase as in the Genesis passage (“without form and void”) to explain what he sees, but he’s not describing what you and I might expect: “I looked on the earth, and behold, it was without form [tohu] and void [bohu]; and to the heavens, and they had no light.” (Jeremiah 4:23). Check the context: he’s not talking about the primeval world, but about Judah and their state of spiritual rebellion against Yahweh. Tohu is a Hebrew noun meaning formlessness, confusion, unreality, nothingness, or a place of chaos. It’s based on a verb meaning to waste. And the parallel noun bohu denotes an emptiness, void, desolation, lack of order, or total chaos. It’s based on a root verb meaning to be empty. Bohu is used only three times in scripture, always in association with tohu. We’ve just seen two occurrences.

The third—like the Jeremiah passage—also describes judgment, utter desolation, and total waste, but this time the subject is Edom: “And the streams of Edom shall be turned into pitch, and her soil into sulfur; her land shall become burning pitch. Night and day it shall not be quenched; its smoke shall go up forever. From generation to generation it shall lie waste; none shall pass through it forever and ever. But the hawk and the porcupine shall possess it, the owl and the raven shall dwell in it. He shall stretch [natah] the line of confusion [tohu] over it, and the plumb line of emptiness [bohu].” (Isaiah 34:9-11) This looks bad, but it’s even worse than it looks. The “line” is a measuring line, used for building something precisely according to plan. The “plumb line” too speaks of craftsmanship, of constructing a wall that’s straight, true, and upright. So Yahweh is saying Edom won’t simply be left to deteriorate, suffering the inevitable ravages of the second law of thermodynamics. No, God is purposely designing and crafting its “confusion and emptiness” with foresight, care, and precision. He is planning their waste and emptiness.

And who is “Edom?” In a literal, geographical sense, Edom is southern Jordan—it’s still inhabited (sparsely), so this prophecy is yet to be literally fulfilled—which it will be during the un-battle of Armageddon (see Isaiah 63:1-4) if not before. But Edom is the territory of the descendants of Esau, the brother of Jacob, and this is where things get interesting, in a metaphorical and spiritual sense. Esau, you’ll recall, was the firstborn son of Isaac, but he sold his birthright to his younger twin brother for a bowl of red stew (hence the epithet: Edom means “red”). In other words, he “despised his birthright.” As the firstborn son of Isaac, that “birthright” represents nothing less than the mantle of grace through faith—the legacy of Abraham. Time and again in scripture, Esau/Edom is upbraided for his (or its) self-sufficient arrogance, earning Esau the dubious distinction of being the only character in the Bible whom Yahweh ever said He hated (see Malachi 1:2-4, Romans 9:13).

So when Yahweh “stretches the line of confusion” over Esau/Edom, and when He “plumbs the line of its emptiness,” He is stating His intention to bring to nothing, to chaos and waste, those who follow in the spiritual footsteps of Esau. He is purposely condemning to emptiness people who “despise their birthright” of grace, those who arrogantly declare that they don’t need God in order to attain heaven. Once again, I should stress that this isn’t petty vindictiveness on the part of Yahweh, but rather the simple result of us choosing our destiny unwisely. Yahweh is the God of order, perfection, and completion; if we choose to ignore, reject, or attack Him, we are in effect choosing chaos and dissipation—or something worse—for ourselves.

The word tohu—formless emptiness—is used twenty times in the Hebrew scriptures. It is first used to describe the reality of the unrealized primeval universe: “He stretches out the north over the void [tohu] and hangs the earth on nothing.” (Job 26:7) To Yahweh, even “nothing” is something to work with. It wasn’t until Sir Isaac Newton had his famous “apple epiphany” that we understood the significance of that second phrase. “Hanging the earth on nothing” is an amazingly astute description of the force of gravity. But what about that enigmatic first statement? To “stretch out” (Hebrew: natah, the same word used in the Isaiah 34 passage above) is to extend, to spread out, or to hold out. The word is used to describe pitching a tent or bending a bow: there is tension involved; energy is being utilized in a very controlled way. “The north” (Hebrew: saphown) is based on a verb (saphan) that means to hide, treasure, or store up. We can easily see the connection (once we know what we’re looking for) in verses like: “His holy mountain, beautiful in elevation, is the joy of all the earth, Mount Zion, in the far north, the city of the great King.” (Psalm 48:2) Mount Zion is in Jerusalem, not far north of it, but it is definitely Yahweh’s special treasure. “North” here is a symbol of being hidden or stored up as something precious to Yahweh. And tohu, as we’ve seen, is empty space, formlessness.

All of you astro-physicists reading this can smell where I’m going with it, can’t you? Bearing in mind that I’m a graphic artist by trade, not a scientist, here’s what I’m thinking. Recent measurements have led cosmologists to believe that the stuff that comprises the universe is largely unknown. We can only see about 4% of it—a mere 0.4% consisting of stars and planets, and 3.6% being composed of intergalactic gasses and dust. Since the galaxies and galaxy clusters hold together in a measurable way, however, the scientists calculate that about 22% of the universe’s mass is something they’ve named “dark matter”—providing the gravitational pull required for this observed cohesion. But the space between these things is expanding—and contrary to all previous expectations, the rate of expansion is actually accelerating. This cosmic expansion has led these scientists to postulate that a full 74% of the universe is composed of a mysterious force they call “dark energy.” This is calculated to be very homogeneous (spread uniformly throughout empty space), having a very low density (10-29) grams per cubic centimeter), and exhibiting “negative pressure” (that is, it acts repulsively), enabling it to expand the boundaries of the universe.  

Physicists can only deal with what they can measure. God’s prophets, on the other hand, can report what is revealed to them, whether they understand it or not. What was it Job said? “He stretches out the north over the void.” Translated more fully: “Yahweh extends, holds in place, and stretches or spreads out His hidden treasure over empty, formless space.” Gee, it sounds to me like Job, a God-fearing sheep rancher who lived some four thousand years ago, described “dark energy” quite well. But there’s something about this that should give us all pause. Yahweh’s intended pattern is to move from chaos to order, from progress to completion. Note that (in Job’s words) chaos—tohu—is still part of the formula describing the physical reality of the universe as God has made it. But when progress eventually gives way to perfection under Yahweh’s guidance, the physical universe as we know it (or think we know it) will have been rendered obsolete.

Yahweh designed and built the universe for mortal beings with finite life spans. (That’s right: I don’t think it was all just a big cosmic accident.) But there will come a time when none of His children will inhabit mortal bodies any longer, and at that time, He plans to give the universe a makeover. Peter put it this way: “The day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.” There’s a moral to the story, of course. “Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn!” Dissolve? Melt? Burn? Yep. We’re not going to be living according to the restraints of the electromagnetic field, the strong and weak nuclear forces, and the law of gravity any longer. Kiss the rules of physics, quantum mechanics, and thermodynamics goodbye. Yahweh has a whole new paradigm in store for us. “But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.” (II Peter 3:10-13)

The Psalmist, not to be outdone, put the same truths in these terms: “Of old You [Yahweh] laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of Your hands. They will perish, but You will remain; they will all wear out like a garment. You will change them like a robe, and they will pass away, but You are the same, and Your years have no end. The children of Your servants shall dwell secure; their offspring shall be established before You.” (Psalm 102:25-28) The contrast being drawn here is between a universe that’s perishing—wearing out, changing, and passing away (a solid scientific principle, by the way: the inevitable end result of the Second Law of Thermodynamics)—and a new one that’s as permanent and perfect as the One who built it: endless, secure, and established. That last characteristic, being “established” (Hebrew: kun) is significant. We’ll dig deeper into that one in a moment: it’s sort of the antithesis of tohu.

This chaos under which we now live may seem inconvenient and counterproductive, but in a twisted sort of way, I see in it evidence of God’s mercy. Satan, as we have seen, is most comfortable imposing top-down control. Forcing people to submit is his idea of success, and given an inch, he’ll take a mile. It is said that power corrupts. As an American, I always cringe when one party or the other has uncontested control of both the White House and Capitol Hill at the same time. This kind of concentrated power is a situation that breeds all sorts of mischief. It’s even worse, of course, in nations that have no pretense of governmental restraint. We’d all end up living in permanent lockdown, slaves to those who hold the reins of power, except for one thing: “He [Yahweh] takes away understanding from the chiefs of the people of the earth and makes them wander in a pathless waste [tohu]. They grope in the dark without light, and he makes them stagger like a drunken man.” (Job 12:24-25) I, for one, thank God our leaders don’t seem to be able to tie their own shoes sometimes. If, while remaining rebellious of Yahweh’s precepts, they had the understanding and vision needed to actually achieve their self-centered goals, they’d really be dangerous. But as it stands, “All the nations are as nothing before Him, they are accounted by Him as less than nothing and emptiness [tohu].” (Isaiah 40:17) 

That being said, I’d rather see the proactive hand of God in my life than the mere ineffectiveness of evil men and the frustration of their evil plans. Israel is (or at least, was supposed to be) the poster child for Yahweh’s blessing, rescued from emptiness: “Yahweh’s portion is His people, Jacob His allotted heritage. He found him in a desert land, and in the howling waste [tohu] of the wilderness; He encircled him, He cared for him, He kept him as the apple of His eye.” (Deuteronomy 32:10) But the chaos of living in the physical world can and does revisit those who refuse to put Yahweh first in their lives—even those as privileged as Israel. So He admonishes us: “Do not turn aside after empty things [tohu] that cannot profit or deliver, for they are empty [tohu].” (I Samuel 12:21) Speaking of the idolatrous “counselors” of Israel, those “chiefs of the people” who “grope and stagger in the dark,” Isaiah concludes, “Behold, they are all a delusion; their works are nothing; their metal images are empty [tohu] wind.” (Isaiah 41:29) Not only are their idols tohu, they themselves are as well: “All who fashion idols are nothing [tohu], and the things they delight in do not profit. Their witnesses neither see nor know, that they may be put to shame.” (Isaiah 44:9)


Well, that’s all pretty depressing, I must say, since the purveyors of chaos are running the show at the moment. But take heart: this is a study in contrasts, remember? What did Yahweh contrast against tohu and bohu? What’s the alternative to chaos and emptiness, that state we’ll leave behind as we walk with Yahweh? God states His intentions through the prophet Isaiah: “For thus says Yahweh, who created the heavens (He is God!), who formed the earth and made it (He established [kun] it; He did not create it empty [tohu]; He formed it to be inhabited!): ‘I am Yahweh, and there is no other.’ I did not speak in secret, in a land of darkness; I did not say to the offspring of Jacob, ‘Seek me in vain.’ I, Yahweh, speak the truth; I declare what is right.” (Isaiah 45:18-19) The emptiness, darkness, lifelessness, and hopelessness that characterized our world in its primeval (or idolatrous) state are set in sharp relief to that which Yahweh is in the process of accomplishing before our eyes: it will be established, inhabited, and filled with truth and righteousness.

The word translated “established” here is the Hebrew verb kun. It means to form or fashion; to establish, put in order, or set in place; to make (or be) firm, fixed, or stable; so by implication, it means to ready oneself, appoint, prepare, or be steadfast. Kun is thus more or less the opposite of tohu. Words derived from this root include ken (right or true), makon (place), and mekona (base). There is order and purpose in the kun concept, a sense of design and intentionality. And this—not chaos and anarchy—is the place toward which Yahweh wants to lead us. But please note: the tenor of the concept is one of natural stability and equilibrium, not mere orderliness and structure (the result of brute force having been brought to bear).

The first clue we have as to Yahweh’s agenda of order and stability is the transformation He wrought upon the chaos of the primeval world. David, not remotely as aware as we are of the intricate state of balance demonstrated at every level of God’s creation, nevertheless came to the logical conclusion: in light of Yahweh’s awesome creative power, man has no right to be prideful. “When I look at Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You have set in place [kun], what is man that You are mindful of him, and the son of man that You care for him?” (Psalm 8:3-4) Another Psalm of David (this one recorded in the Chronicles) continues the theme of praising Yahweh for His awesome accomplishments: “Ascribe to Yahweh the glory due his name; bring an offering and come before Him! Worship Yahweh in the splendor of holiness; tremble before Him, all the earth; yes, the world is established [kun]; it shall never be moved. Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice, and let them say among the nations, ‘Yahweh reigns!’” (I Chronicles 16:29-31) The word for “world” here is not the usual eretz—the land, ground, or earth. It’s tebel, denoting the habitable part of the world, or those who inhabit it. David isn’t saying we’ll never have earthquakes, nor is he denying what Peter said about the world someday being undone. He’s saying, “Mankind will always have a home under Yahweh’s reign.” It’s basically the same thing Yahweh promised Noah: “I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth. Neither will I ever again strike down every living creature as I have done. While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.” (Genesis 8:21-22) Yahweh has established the earth as our home for as long as we need it.

Time and again in scripture, we see Yahweh actively involved in this process of “establishing.” For example, Joseph recognized the significance of Yahweh having shown Pharaoh two dreams that meant the same thing: “The doubling of Pharaoh’s dream means that the thing is fixed [kun] by God, and God will shortly bring it about.” (Genesis 41:32) There are a plethora of last-days prophetic concepts that Yahweh has revealed not just twice, but dozens of different ways. Undoubtedly the most oft-repeated of these is the eventual spiritual (not to mention physical) restoration of the nation of Israel. Yahweh has gone out of His way to show us this information in excruciating detail—the wars, the players, the tragedy, and the triumph. For one of us to flippantly assume that the matter—and manner—of His coming are not firmly “established” is utter foolishness.

On their way out of Egypt, Israel witnessed a series of jaw-dropping signs and wonders, prompting Moses to wax poetic—zeroing in on the symbolic purpose for their “change of address.” “You will bring them in and plant them on Your own mountain, the place, O Yahweh, which You have made for Your abode, the sanctuary, O Lord, which Your hands have established [kun].” (Exodus 15:17) No longer were they to dwell in the uncertainty of bondage in the world; they were headed toward the “Mountain of Yahweh,” that is, the place of His power and authority. The “sanctuary” that God’s hands had established would be physically manifested in the Tabernacle—a comprehensive, multi-faceted symbol explaining (for those with eyes to see it) the plan of God for our redemption. There was nothing chaotic or accidental about the way Yahweh determined to achieve our redemption and reconciliation: from the very beginning, it was kun—established.

Yahweh’s later admonition reinforces this fact: “Behold, I send an angel before you to guard you on the way and to bring you to the place that I have prepared [kun]. Pay careful attention to him and obey his voice; do not rebel against him, for he will not pardon your transgression, for My name is in him.” (Exodus 23:20-21) Remember the broad definition of kun. The promised land was not a random destination: it had been formed, fashioned, prepared, and established specifically for the children of Israel. But in the larger, symbolic sense, the Land represents our walk in the Messiah’s grace—it’s a gift, but there are still battles to be fought there. This too has been formed, set in place, and fixed in position purposely through Yahweh’s plan of redemption. And the “angel” who “guards us on the way” and brings us into the place/state God has established, is in the end the Messiah Himself: Yahshua—of whom it can literally be said that Yahweh’s “name is in Him,” since “Yahshua” means Yahweh is Salvation. And what is the “transgression” that God’s messenger will not pardon? In the broad sense, it is refusal to enter “the place that Yahweh has prepared,” the promised land of imputed righteousness.

David was told the same thing, though in radically different terms: “Moreover, Yahweh declares to you that Yahweh will make you a house. When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish [kun] His kingdom. He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish [kun] the throne of His kingdom forever.” (II Samuel 7:11-13) The literal offspring of David being spoken of—his physical descendant—would be Yahshua of Nazareth. But is His throne and kingdom established? Jews or Romans might say, “Well, no: we succeeded in killing him, so apparently it’s not.” We in His called-out assembly would counter, “Yes, but He rose from the dead on the third day, as the scriptures required—proving He was God’s Passover Lamb, whose sacrifice keeps death at bay for those whose faith is counted as obedience to Yahweh’s commandments. So although His visible kingdom is a prophecy yet to be revealed, it’s a living reality today in our hearts.” The question, then, becomes: Who do you trust, Yahweh or your own eyes? As for me, I’ll take Yahweh’s word for it—my eyes betray me all the time. The “messenger” of Exodus 23 is the same Person as the coming King in II Samuel 7. The “place that I have prepared” is the same kingdom that Yahweh vowed to establish. And the “sanctuary” that Yahweh’s hands established in the Exodus 15 passage is the same place as the “house for My name” that the Son of David is building.

The Messiah’s kingdom, throne, and sanctuary, then, are being established by Yahweh. They’re being (to reprise the definition of kun) formed, fashioned, established, put in order, set in place, made firm, fixed, and stable—they are appointed, prepared, and made steadfast by Yahweh Himself (or should I say, “Yahweh: Himself”). But what about us—we who choose to follow and trust Him? Because He counts us as righteous, we are established as well: “Yahweh judges the peoples; judge me, O Yahweh, according to my righteousness and according to the integrity that is in me. Oh, let the evil of the wicked come to an end, and may You establish [kun] the righteous—You who test the minds and hearts, O righteous God!” (Psalm 7:8-9) Judgment isn’t necessarily condemnation. It implies, rather, a separation, a contrast drawn between the guilty and the innocent. Of course, the distinction may seem academic, since we’re all guilty before God. But something beyond our own shortcomings is in view here, allowing the Psalmist to make some ridiculous requests. He asks God do judge him according to his righteousness, the integrity that is in him. Huh? The Psalmist here is David, whom by his own admission was an adulterous, murdering scalawag (who nevertheless loved and honored Yahweh with a whole heart). Any “integrity” or “righteousness” David had was given to him by God—not earned by his own merit. His integrity was precisely the same kind that Abraham had possessed: “He believed Yahweh, and He counted it to him as righteousness.” (Genesis 15:6)   

There is therefore a choice to be made: to believe Yahweh—that is, to trust Him and rely upon His word—or not. That is God’s basis for judgment or separation—not our good behavior, for we all misbehave on occasion; not our alms, or penance, or piety, or knowledge, or our success at adhering to the Torah’s precepts—though these are all good things and worthy goals. The bottom line is that we can be established because Yahweh is established; we can move from tohu—confusion, unreality, nothingness, and chaos—to kun: a state of order and stability. But the choice is ours to make. Again, David describes the contrast: “The enemy came to an end in everlasting ruins; their cities You rooted out; the very memory of them has perished. But Yahweh sits enthroned forever; He has established [kun] His throne for justice, and He judges the world with righteousness; He judges the peoples with uprightness.” (Psalm 9:6-8)   


There’s another Hebrew word that can further help us understand the alternative to tohu (chaos and confusion) that Yahweh would like us to enjoy. ‘Arak is often used to describe a battle formation, but it has nothing to do with warfare per se. It’s a verb meaning to arrange, put in order, place in position, array into formation, prepare, or ordain. It can also suggest side-by-side comparison or contrast, as in, “To whom then will you liken God, or what likeness compare [‘arak] with him?” (Isaiah 40:18) People who would like to “place God in a box,” to relegate Him to some position other than center stage in their lives, would do well to heed these words. Yahweh is the Arranger, not the arrangee.

A look at some of the non-military usages of the word may help us get a better handle on what God thinks of order, preparation, and organization. We see the concept underlying one of the most important “dress rehearsals” in the entire Bible: “When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built the altar there and laid the wood in order [‘arak] and bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood.” (Genesis 22:9) Considering what the almost-sacrifice of Isaac was meant to prophesy—the crucifixion of the Messiah—we are being told something significant about Yahweh’s mindset here. The whole procedure was orderly and methodical. It was done according to plan. Abraham acted in deliberate obedience to Yahweh, and Isaac (who knew exactly what was going on and was old enough and strong enough to fight or flee) allowed his father to do whatever their God had asked. I’m of the opinion that both of them were convinced Yahweh would raise Isaac from the dead, for he was the child of promise—and they both believed the promise. All of this serves to inform us that the plan of God for our redemption was also arranged, planned, and placed purposely piece by piece into its position in history. The sacrifice of Yahshua the Messiah was purposeful, planned in every detail, and executed precisely on schedule. Neither Satan nor the Romans nor the Jewish religious leaders had done anything that Yahweh hadn’t foreseen, prophesied, and placed in motion millennia before it happened. Nothing surprises Yahweh.

Another window into the mindset of God: “You shall command the people of Israel that they bring to you pure beaten olive oil for the light, that a lamp may regularly be set up to burn. In the tent of meeting, outside the veil that is before the testimony, Aaron and his sons shall tend [‘arak] it from evening to morning before Yahweh. It shall be a statute forever to be observed throughout their generations by the people of Israel.” (Exodus 27:20-21) Every element of the tabernacle’s design, from its rituals down to its dimensions, construction materials, and sacrificial elements, was symbolic of some facet or another of Yahweh’s plan for our redemption. The seven-branched golden lampstand is no exception. We’ll discuss its symbology in detail in a future chapter. For now, I just want to point out that the priests’ role concerning it was to mirror Yahweh’s involvement: they were to “tend” the lamp regularly and faithfully. Just as Yahweh takes a hands-on role in the process of our enlightenment—supplying His Spirit to light our way in the world, we are to order or arrange this light to provide illumination to the people around us.

As if to make my point for me, King David’s last words included this prophecy, describing the character of his own descendant, the Messiah, who would one day rule on his throne: “The Spirit of Yahweh speaks by me; His word is on my tongue. The God of Israel has spoken; the Rock of Israel has said to me: When one rules justly over men, ruling in the fear of God, He dawns on them like the morning light, like the sun shining forth on a cloudless morning, like rain that makes grass to sprout from the earth.” Unfortunately, I can’t think of a single politician whom I’d describe like that. But that’s all about to change. “For does not my house stand so with God? For He has made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered [‘arak] in all things and secure. For will He not cause to prosper all my help and my desire?” (II Samuel 23:2-5) Once again, we see that Yahweh is all about order, preparation, and security—the antithesis of tohu’s confusion. This time, the covenant He made with David is what’s described as ‘arak. That covenant guarantees that Yahshua will reign on the throne of David forever. Have patience: it won’t be long now. Soon the world will find itself ruled with a scepter of iron by the Rock of Israel Himself, the Son of God— the son of David. Note that the “help” that Yahweh will “cause to prosper” is the Hebrew noun yesha, meaning deliverance, salvation, rescue, safety, victory, or welfare. Yesha is a component of the Messiah’s name, Yahshua, which means “Yahweh is yesha.”

While we’re on the subject of names, note that the name “David” means love. So the throne of David is (in God’s language) the “throne of love.” It can be a revealing exercise to mentally substitute “love” for the personal pronouns “I” and “me” in Psalms where David is referring to his own experiences or insights. For example, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me. Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. You prepare [‘arak] a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of Yahweh forever.” (Psalm 23:4-6) We haven’t left the subject of contrasting the world’s chaos with God’s order. David knew what it was to deal with chaos. He had been a shepherd in his youth, and he knew that there’s nothing quite as chaotic as a flock of sheep left to their own devices, especially in times of danger or distress. And realizing that men are just as apt to go astray, he compared himself to a sheep in this Psalm: “Yahweh is my shepherd.”

Just as a good shepherd finds pasture and water for his flocks, Yahweh “prepares a table before us.” He arranges it (‘arak) so that we’re well provided for, no matter what we need—sustenance, shelter, peace, or rescue. If we’re His sheep, He doesn’t leave us in chaos, even when the wolves begin to circle. But Christians sometimes act as if they think God needs our help: He doesn’t seem to be able to make ends meet, so we feel we have to “bail Him out” with our alms. His salvation isn’t quite enough to get the job done, so we supplement His provision with penance—guilt and good works. We don’t really trust him, so we try to fight off enemies in our own strength—only to find that we’re no better at fighting off wolves than sheep are. That’s not what God has planned for us.  

But as Yahshua put it, “He who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber.” That’s chaos, tohu, the world’s system. Order, on the other hand, is the result of God’s care for us: “But He who enters by the door is the Shepherd of the sheep. To Him the gatekeeper opens.” He’s speaking of Himself, or since Pentecost, the Holy Spirit. “The sheep hear His voice, and He calls His own sheep by name and leads them out. When He has brought out all his own, He goes before them, and the sheep follow Him, for they know His voice.” It’s amazing to me how often we sheep try to tell the Shepherd where to go. “A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers....” And why can we recognize His voice? It’s because we’ve grown accustomed to hearing it, through time spent in intimate fellowship. “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” (John 10:1-15) The moral of the story for the sheep: live within the Good Shepherd’s order, or risk being devoured by chaos.  

(First published 2013)