Day 312

The Answer to Loneliness

Wisdom Psalm 120:1-7
New Testament Hebrews 8:1-13
Old Testament Ezekiel 13:1-15:8

Introduction

I remember reading an article in The Big Issue (the magazine sold by, and in aid of, the homeless) called ‘Single Lives’. It pointed out that most people’s image of loneliness in London is of a frail old lady stuck on the twenty-fourth floor of a block of flats. In reality, it could equally be a young, fashionably dressed guy trying desperately to make conversation with a girl standing next to him in a crowded bar. Being surrounded by so many people only compounds the feeling of isolation.

Mother Teresa said, ‘Loneliness and the feeling of being uncared for and unwanted are the greatest poverty.’ Loneliness is one of the greatest problems facing humanity today.

‘The solitary human being is a contradiction in terms,’ writes Desmond Tutu. He continues, ‘We are made for complementarity. We are created for a delicate network of relationships, of interdependence with our fellow human beings... We belong in one family – God’s family, the human family... the greatest good is communal harmony.’

God does not intend for you to be lonely and isolated. Loneliness has been described as ‘a homesickness for God’. God created you for community – calling you into a loving relationship with him and with other human beings.

Wisdom

Psalm 120:1-7

Psalm 120

A song of ascents.

  1 I call on the Lord in my distress,
   and he answers me.
  2 Save me, Lord,
   from lying lips
   and from deceitful tongues.

  3 What will he do to you,
   and what more besides,
   you deceitful tongue?
  4 He will punish you with a warrior’s sharp arrows,
   with burning coals of the broom bush.

  5 Woe to me that I dwell in Meshek,
   that I live among the tents of Kedar!
  6 Too long have I lived
   among those who hate peace.
  7 I am for peace;
   but when I speak, they are for war.

Commentary

A peaceful community

We live in a world full of aggression, division and broken relationships.

One of the main reasons for loneliness is ‘quarrelling’ (v.6, MSG), which leads to the breakdown of relationships. We see this wherever we look – broken marriages, family bust-ups, fall-outs between friends, work colleagues and neighbours.

Adam and Eve’s friendship with God was broken. This led to a separation between Adam and Eve themselves. Cain and Abel quarrelled, and the rest is history.

The psalmist is feeling isolated as though living in a foreign land (v.5). Do you ever feel like him? He is surrounded by lying lips and deceitful tongues (v.2). The people he lives among hate peace (v.6) and are for war (v.7). Do you ever feel doomed to live your life among ‘quarrelling neighbours’? (v.6, MSG).

In your distress, call out to the Lord to save you and the Lord will answer you (v.1). In contrast to those around you, be a person of peace (v.7). This is the characteristic of the people of God: Jesus said, ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God’ (Matthew 5:9).

Prayer

Lord, help me to avoid unnecessary quarrelling and to be a peacemaker in my family, workplace and community.

New Testament

Hebrews 8:1-13

The High Priest of a New Covenant

8 Now the main point of what we are saying is this: We do have such a high priest, who sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, 2 and who serves in the sanctuary, the true tabernacle set up by the Lord, not by a mere human being.

3 Every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices, and so it was necessary for this one also to have something to offer. 4 If he were on earth, he would not be a priest, for there are already priests who offer the gifts prescribed by the law. 5 They serve at a sanctuary that is a copy and shadow of what is in heaven. This is why Moses was warned when he was about to build the tabernacle: “See to it that you make everything according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.” 6 But in fact the ministry Jesus has received is as superior to theirs as the covenant of which he is mediator is superior to the old one, since the new covenant is established on better promises.

7 For if there had been nothing wrong with that first covenant, no place would have been sought for another. 8 But God found fault with the people and said:

  “The days are coming, declares the Lord,
   when I will make a new covenant
  with the people of Israel
   and with the people of Judah.
  9 It will not be like the covenant
   I made with their ancestors
  when I took them by the hand
   to lead them out of Egypt,
  because they did not remain faithful to my covenant,
   and I turned away from them,
    declares the Lord.
  10 This is the covenant I will establish with the people of Israel
   after that time, declares the Lord.
  I will put my laws in their minds
   and write them on their hearts.
  I will be their God,
   and they will be my people.
  11 No longer will they teach their neighbours,
   or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’
  because they will all know me,
   from the least of them to the greatest.
  12 For I will forgive their wickedness
   and will remember their sins no more. ”

13 By calling this covenant “new,” he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear.

Commentary

A ‘new’ community

The local church is ‘the world’s hope’. The church in the New Testament is described as ‘the people of God’. The people of God gather in local churches all over the world. The writer of Hebrews quotes the book of Jeremiah saying, ‘I will be their God, and they will be my people’ (v.10). No longer isolated and alone, you are part of the most amazing community.

In the Old Testament, God made a covenant with his people. However, the people did not ‘keep their part of the bargain’ (v.9, MSG). God promised that one day he would make a new covenant whereby he would have a new relationship with his people: ‘I will be their God, and they will be my people’ (v.10).

You are far better off now than they were under the old covenant. The writer goes on to say, ‘The ministry Jesus has received is as superior to theirs as the covenant of which he is mediator is superior to the old one, and it is founded on better promises’ (v.6).

There was a problem with the old covenant, for ‘if there had been nothing wrong with that first covenant, no place would have been sought for another’ (v.7). The problem with the old covenant was that the people were unable to keep the law. They ‘did not remain faithful’ (v.9).

God promised a new covenant that would be superior to the old one and founded on better promises. The writer quotes the promises from the book of Jeremiah (Hebrews 8:8–12; Jeremiah 31:31–34).

What are these promises? They are fourfold:

  1. New thinking

    God promises to implant his laws in your heart. This does not mean simply committing the law to memory (as per Deuteronomy 6:6–9). It means having a renewed heart, ‘I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts’ (Hebrews 8:10b).

  2. First-hand knowledge

    He promises that the knowledge of God will be a matter of personal experience. ‘No longer will they teach their neighbours, or say to one another, “Know the Lord,” because they will all know me’ (v.11). It is possible for you to know God in the way that Jeremiah knew God: ‘They’ll all get to know me firsthand’ (v.11, MSG).

  3. Universal scope

    ‘They will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest’ (v.11b). This was a fulfilment of the promise in the Old Testament that the promise would no longer be confined to Israel and Judah but would extend to all nations (Isaiah 42:6; 49:6; 19:24).

  4. Total forgiveness

    ‘For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more’ (Hebrews 8:12). For the Hebrews, the word ‘remembering’ meant more than mental effort; it carried with it the sense of doing something to the advantage or disadvantage of the person who remembered. If your sins are not remembered, it means that God is determined to forgive and that the ‘slate’ of your sins is ‘forever wiped clean’ (v.12, MSG). All this is possible because Jesus offered his life for you (v.13).

This new covenant is far superior and ‘has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and ageing will soon disappear’ (v.13).

The new covenant is the basis of the new community into which God calls you. This new covenant is the answer to loneliness. The covenant is with God’s people together and not solely with each individual person. The promises are all in the plural. You have the immense privilege of belonging to the new community of God’s people. You know God personally. Your sins are forgiven. The Holy Spirit has come to live within you and given you a renewed heart. You are never alone.

Prayer

Father, thank you that I am never alone. Thank you that I can experience a personal relationship with you and be part of the most wonderful community of the people of God.

Old Testament

Ezekiel 13:1-15:8

False Prophets Condemned

13 The word of the Lord came to me: 2 “Son of man, prophesy against the prophets of Israel who are now prophesying. Say to those who prophesy out of their own imagination: ‘Hear the word of the Lord! 3 This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Woe to the foolish prophets who follow their own spirit and have seen nothing! 4 Your prophets, Israel, are like jackals among ruins. 5 You have not gone up to the breaches in the wall to repair it for the people of Israel so that it will stand firm in the battle on the day of the Lord. 6 Their visions are false and their divinations a lie. Even though the Lord has not sent them, they say, “The Lord declares,” and expect him to fulfill their words. 7 Have you not seen false visions and uttered lying divinations when you say, “The Lord declares,” though I have not spoken?

8 “‘Therefore this is what the Sovereign Lord says: Because of your false words and lying visions, I am against you, declares the Sovereign Lord. 9 My hand will be against the prophets who see false visions and utter lying divinations. They will not belong to the council of my people or be listed in the records of Israel, nor will they enter the land of Israel. Then you will know that I am the Sovereign Lord.

10 “‘Because they lead my people astray, saying, “Peace,” when there is no peace, and because, when a flimsy wall is built, they cover it with whitewash, 11 therefore tell those who cover it with whitewash that it is going to fall. Rain will come in torrents, and I will send hailstones hurtling down, and violent winds will burst forth. 12 When the wall collapses, will people not ask you, “Where is the whitewash you covered it with?”

13 “‘Therefore this is what the Sovereign Lord says: In my wrath I will unleash a violent wind, and in my anger hailstones and torrents of rain will fall with destructive fury. 14 I will tear down the wall you have covered with whitewash and will level it to the ground so that its foundation will be laid bare. When it falls, you will be destroyed in it; and you will know that I am the Lord. 15 So I will pour out my wrath against the wall and against those who covered it with whitewash. I will say to you, “The wall is gone and so are those who whitewashed it, 16 those prophets of Israel who prophesied to Jerusalem and saw visions of peace for her when there was no peace, declares the Sovereign Lord. ”’

17 “Now, son of man, set your face against the daughters of your people who prophesy out of their own imagination. Prophesy against them 18 and say, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Woe to the women who sew magic charms on all their wrists and make veils of various lengths for their heads in order to ensnare people. Will you ensnare the lives of my people but preserve your own? 19 You have profaned me among my people for a few handfuls of barley and scraps of bread. By lying to my people, who listen to lies, you have killed those who should not have died and have spared those who should not live.

20 “‘Therefore this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I am against your magic charms with which you ensnare people like birds and I will tear them from your arms; I will set free the people that you ensnare like birds. 21 I will tear off your veils and save my people from your hands, and they will no longer fall prey to your power. Then you will know that I am the Lord. 22 Because you disheartened the righteous with your lies, when I had brought them no grief, and because you encouraged the wicked not to turn from their evil ways and so save their lives, 23 therefore you will no longer see false visions or practice divination. I will save my people from your hands. And then you will know that I am the Lord. ’”

Idolaters Condemned

14 Some of the elders of Israel came to me and sat down in front of me. 2 Then the word of the Lord came to me: 3 “Son of man, these men have set up idols in their hearts and put wicked stumbling blocks before their faces. Should I let them inquire of me at all? 4 Therefore speak to them and tell them, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: When any of the Israelites set up idols in their hearts and put a wicked stumbling block before their faces and then go to a prophet, I the Lord will answer them myself in keeping with their great idolatry. 5 I will do this to recapture the hearts of the people of Israel, who have all deserted me for their idols.’

6 “Therefore say to the people of Israel, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Repent! Turn from your idols and renounce all your detestable practices!

7 “‘When any of the Israelites or any foreigner residing in Israel separate themselves from me and set up idols in their hearts and put a wicked stumbling block before their faces and then go to a prophet to inquire of me, I the Lord will answer them myself. 8 I will set my face against them and make them an example and a byword. I will remove them from my people. Then you will know that I am the Lord.

9 “‘And if the prophet is enticed to utter a prophecy, I the Lord have enticed that prophet, and I will stretch out my hand against him and destroy him from among my people Israel. 10 They will bear their guilt—the prophet will be as guilty as the one who consults him. 11 Then the people of Israel will no longer stray from me, nor will they defile themselves anymore with all their sins. They will be my people, and I will be their God, declares the Sovereign Lord. ’”

Jerusalem’s Judgment Inescapable

12 The word of the Lord came to me: 13 “Son of man, if a country sins against me by being unfaithful and I stretch out my hand against it to cut off its food supply and send famine upon it and kill its people and their animals, 14 even if these three men—Noah, Daniel and Job —were in it, they could save only themselves by their righteousness, declares the Sovereign Lord.

15 “Or if I send wild beasts through that country and they leave it childless and it becomes desolate so that no one can pass through it because of the beasts, 16 as surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, even if these three men were in it, they could not save their own sons or daughters. They alone would be saved, but the land would be desolate.

17 “Or if I bring a sword against that country and say, ‘Let the sword pass throughout the land,’ and I kill its people and their animals, 18 as surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, even if these three men were in it, they could not save their own sons or daughters. They alone would be saved.

19 “Or if I send a plague into that land and pour out my wrath on it through bloodshed, killing its people and their animals, 20 as surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, even if Noah, Daniel and Job were in it, they could save neither son nor daughter. They would save only themselves by their righteousness.

21 “For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: How much worse will it be when I send against Jerusalem my four dreadful judgments —sword and famine and wild beasts and plague —to kill its men and their animals! 22 Yet there will be some survivors —sons and daughters who will be brought out of it. They will come to you, and when you see their conduct and their actions, you will be consoled regarding the disaster I have brought on Jerusalem—every disaster I have brought on it. 23 You will be consoled when you see their conduct and their actions, for you will know that I have done nothing in it without cause, declares the Sovereign Lord. ”

Jerusalem as a Useless Vine

15 The word of the Lord came to me: 2 “Son of man, how is the wood of a vine different from that of a branch from any of the trees in the forest? 3 Is wood ever taken from it to make anything useful? Do they make pegs from it to hang things on? 4 And after it is thrown on the fire as fuel and the fire burns both ends and chars the middle, is it then useful for anything? 5 If it was not useful for anything when it was whole, how much less can it be made into something useful when the fire has burned it and it is charred?

6 “Therefore this is what the Sovereign Lord says: As I have given the wood of the vine among the trees of the forest as fuel for the fire, so will I treat the people living in Jerusalem. 7 I will set my face against them. Although they have come out of the fire , the fire will yet consume them. And when I set my face against them, you will know that I am the Lord. 8 I will make the land desolate because they have been unfaithful, declares the Sovereign Lord.”

Commentary

A faithful community

The great idols of our age are money, sex and power. But an idol can be anything we worship by giving it more attention and treating it as more important than God in our lives. It could be your home, car or possessions but it could also be your work or ministry. When we make an idol out of any of these things, it takes us away from God (14:14).

God is looking for people who are faithful to him. The problem under the old covenant was that ‘they did not remain faithful’ (Hebrews 8:9). God spoke through Ezekiel about a country that ‘sins against me by being unfaithful… they have been unfaithful, declares the Sovereign Lord’ (Ezekiel 14:13; 15:8).

Ezekiel, the prophet, saw ahead to what we have read about in our New Testament passage for today. He foresaw a time when the people ‘will not defile themselves any more with all their sins. They will be my people, and I will be their God, declares the Sovereign Lord’ (14:11).

God’s people were ensnared by lies. As we read in the psalm about ‘lying lips’ (Psalm 120:2), so we read here about lying prophets ‘who prophesy out of their own imagination’ (Ezekiel 13:2). ‘Their visions are false and their divinations a lie’ (v.6). Using ‘magic charms’ they ‘ensnare people’ (vv.18,20). They lie ‘to my people, who listen to lies’ (v.19). They dishearten the righteous with their lies (v.22).

How had they been unfaithful? The Lord said that they ‘set up idols in their hearts and put wicked stumbling-blocks before their faces’ (14:3). Even in the Old Testament, the Lord was not concerned only about physical idols – but also about the idols in people’s hearts. God’s longing is for us to be a faithful vine bearing good fruit (chapter 15; see also Isaiah 5:1–7).

You are called to be part of a faithful community who know and love God. Welcome everyone ‘from the least of them to the greatest’ (Hebrews 8:11). We are called to be a community where many lonely, isolated people find love and forgiveness – a community of the people of God – a people of peace who know and love the Lord and are faithful to him in every way. This is the answer to loneliness.

Prayer

Lord, help me to be faithful to you. Help us to be a loving, peaceful and faithful community where many isolated and lonely people come to know you and find, in the community of God’s people, the answer to loneliness.

Pippa adds

The Old Testament passage (Ezekiel 14) is all about judgment. Thank goodness God made a ‘new covenant’ (as we see in Hebrews 8:8-12)! Hope is restored.

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References

‘The Church the World’s Hope’: a sermon delivered by C. H. Spurgeon in the Metropolitan Tabernacle in 1863.

Desmond Tutu, God is Not a Christian (Ridder, 2013), pp.21–24.

Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version Anglicised, Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 Biblica, formerly International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company. All rights reserved. ‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of Biblica. UK trademark number 1448790.

Scripture marked (MSG) taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.

The Bible with Nicky and Pippa Gumbel

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  • PIPPA ADDS

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