Our Mighty, Gentle God

At times, we’re tempted to focus on only a few parts of God’s character – his holiness or his power or his love. But have you ever gazed across the vast expanse of all his attributes, like trying to look across the ocean to see the other shore? I have always loved the hymn Holy, Holy, Holy because in one line it puts two of God’s attributes together that seem to be at a great distance from one another – Holy, Holy, Holy, merciful and mighty.

Psalm 84 begins with a description of the loveliness of God’s dwelling place, calling him the Lord of hosts. What does that title mean? First, the LORD, in all caps, is God’s covenant name, Yahweh, meaning the self-existent God. The word hosts is a translation of the Hebrew word sabaoth, which means armies. In using this title for God, LORD of hosts, the psalmist is referencing God’s authoritative power over all he has created, in heaven and on earth. The NIV translates it as the LORD Almighty. Another way to put it would be the God of Armies. Take time to absorb that image. Don’t rush through these words.

But in verse 3 we have a mention of birds – sparrows and swallows – making a home for their young at the altars of the Lord of hosts.

I’ve missed the beauty in this image for a long time, and I’ve had this psalm memorized for years. Again, don’t rush by. Ask yourself why this image? Why choose birds?

Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, at your altars, O LORD of hosts, my King and my God. Psalm 84:3

Even the sparrow. The sparrow is one of the smallest birds. Even the sparrow finds a home. For what? To build a nest for her young. Birds are very careful in building their nests. They want safe places, away from predators. Where is this nest? At the altars of the LORD of hosts, the altars of the God of Armies, the altars of the God who has all power and authority over the entire universe.

We have a bunch of holly bushes planted in front of our house. They have to be trimmed on a regular basis, but most of the time, if we’re honest, we’ve neglected them. One time I was feeling especially motivated and decided to go out there with the electric hedge trimmer. I was trimming and cutting like a pro until I started hearing this bird chirping wildly. What was going on? I suddenly realized at the last second that I had been aggressively cutting through a holly bush with a nest in it. That bird with its young in the nest was chirping wildly trying to save its babies from me.

God is mighty, he is the LORD of Armies, but the smallest of the birds feel safe enough to build their nests right at his altars.

Again, don’t rush past. Let the imagery settle on you. There is a sweetness to it. Our mighty God, the LORD of Armies, is a gentle God to those who are weak and small. Even they can find refuge and make a home at his altars.

And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them. Mark 10:13-16

Mighty and gentle.

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