Even though God demands perfection (Matthew 5:48), he recognizes our human frailty and limitations; helping us, reclaiming us, redeeming us for good. The concept of redemption literally meaning to get back, as in the reclaiming of an item by paying off a debt; with an inference of fulfilling a promise and restoration to usefulness. Scripture being full of examples of men and women who at the beginning of their stories seem very much in “debt” and unredeemable; but through exposure to God and His Word, as well as a maturing of understanding and subsequent faithfulness – were used mightily by God. All of which highlights the fact that God routinely uses ordinary, imperfect people to accomplish extraordinary things.
For example: Judah was Jacob’s fourth son by his second wife, and thereby disqualified from tribal leadership. The most significant incidents in his life being his “saving” of his brother Joseph by selling him into slavery (as opposed to killing him as his brothers wanted), his intimate relationship with his widowed daughter-in-law and later, his more responsible leadership in gaining food and safety for his family from his now unrecognizable brother in Egypt. (Genesis 37-49) Through this process he did indeed gain pre-eminence over his tribal family. The territory his descendants controlled becoming known as the land of Judah, which became Judea; their belief-system known as Judaism – their Savior (and ours) designated as the Lion of the tribe of Judah. (Revelation 5:5)
Rahab was a Canaanite prostitute in Jericho. Her second claim to fame was that she helped Jewish spies in the conquest of her city. (Joshua 2-6) As a result, she was accepted into the tribe of Israel, embracing it’s people and their God as her own; becoming an ancestor of King David and through him Jesus Christ! (Matthew 1:5,6)
Ruth was from Moab, which shared a border with Israel and had long been at odds with the followers of Jehovah. Through a series of unfortunate events, she learned to accept Israel’s God as her own and took up residence among His people; over time being richly blessed with a new family, as well as being another foreign ancestor of the Christ through the line of David.
Levi-Matthew was ironically named after the priestly tribe of Israel, even as he practiced a trade which traditionally involved men willing to cheat their fellow citizens, being despised by them as a tool of enemy occupation forces. And yet he went on to become a faithful follower of Jesus, writing a history of His life and ministry that has been placed in our Bible as the first Gospel. (Matthew 9:9-12 & Luke 5:27-32)
“Doubting” Thomas was a pessimist who always seemed to see the dark and difficult side of things first. (John 11:11-16) Yet upon his embracing of the risen Christ and through faithful obedience to His call upon his life, was accorded a place beside the other Apostles as a Father of the early church.
Peter was a man of glaring contradictions. Bold in professing his faith, he was often weak in practicing it; being well-intentioned yet impetuous, he often acted before he thought. He was often boisterous to the point of arrogance; but afterwards truly repentant with a genuine desire to right any wrong. He was granted an opportunity to witness the transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-5); attempted to walk on water (Matthew 14:22-32); presumed to scold and correct his Lord (Matthew 16:21-23); and totally missed the implications of Jesus foot- washing before the Last Supper. (John 13:1-9) Finally, he denied even knowing Jesus after his arrest and fled in fear. (Matthew 26:31-35 & 69-75) But after a period of reflection and “godly sorrow”, (See 2 Corinthians 7:10), he was filled with the Holy Spirit and realized fully the power of forgiveness and redemption. He went on then to preach the first Christian sermon with spectacular results (Acts 2), and became a pillar of the early church. (Acts 1:15 & Galatians 1:18 Although apparently still bedeviled by some moments of less-than-stellar behavior. See Galatians 3:11-13) During a long and productive ministry, he authored two Epistles and was eventually martyred in Rome for his faith.
The significance of these imperfect yet useful people is that they were so like us! Frail, faltering, mistake-prone; yet when realizing their fault and re-organizing their lives in repentance and faithfulness to God, they became vessels through whom God could accomplish great things for the Kingdom. No one more graphically demonstrating the frailty of humankind than David, a man plagued by family difficulties and personal failure, but an individual amazingly characterized by scripture as being, “…a man after (God’s) own heart.” (1 Samuel 13:14) Yet he knew where any strength he might possess came from and loved God because of it. (Psalm 18:1) He then went on to acknowledge his sinfulness, even as he struggled with a propensity to commit it; accepting responsibility for it in repentance. (Psalm 32:5) As a result of repeatedly experiencing God’s love and forgiveness, he learned to rely on Him as the source of all good things. (Psalm 25:1,2; 116:12-14; 66:20) Through everything learning to say, “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.” Psalm 118:1
A key scripture in any examination of David’s life being, “The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7 David was a farm boy – a shepherd; the youngest son of a large family of boys. As such, he was last in line to inherit his father’s goods and property and apparently the least imposing looking. (1 Samuel 1:26) Yet his youth and appearance mattered very little in his confrontation with Goliath. His true heart and dependence on God making up for anything he may have lacked in physical size or military experience.
In time, he became commander of King Saul’s forces and was successful beyond his wildest dreams; receiving honor and praise above that given to the king. (1 Samuel 18) Saul naturally became jealous; eventually trying to kill David as a threat to his throne. Throughout much of David’s early adult life, he made the desert wilderness his home; at one point, – feigning madness – he fled to the Philistine city of Gath to gain sanctuary. (1 Samuel 21:1-14 & 27:1-6) As such, he lost command of the army, the comforts of a settled life in his own home, the camaraderie of the King’s son, and the companionship of his wife. Even so, he spared Saul’s life – not once but twice – when it appeared to everyone else that the king had been delivered into his hands. (1 Samuel 24:1-4 & 26:1-12) But even while living as an outlaw, David made the most of his circumstances by protecting the Israelite countryside from marauders, living off the generosity of a grateful people. (1 Samuel 25)
Later, after Saul’s death and the culmination of a civil war that saw David enthroned as king, he benevolently sought out any survivors of Saul’s family. Not to kill them, as was customary for the victor in war, but out of a desire to show compassion by providing for them. (1 Samuel 9:1-10)
Check back next week for more on the struggles of a man who was still used in a mighty way by God.
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