Even This is For the Good

by Lois Tverberg

“I will bless the LORD at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth. ” Psalms 34:1

One of the ways the rabbis interpreted the phrase “love the Lord your God with all of your heart” was to point out that since we have both joy and sadness in our heart, we need to love God both when we are happy and when we are sad. We are to bless the Lord at all times, as the psalmist says we should do today. As Paul points out, we should “give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

The rabbis had some wonderfully wise prayers in order to bless the Lord for both the highs and lows in life. When they went through a long, difficult time and finally had relief, or celebrated some happy event for which they waited, they said, “Blessed is He who has allowed us to live, and sustained us, and enabled us to reach this day!”

When a son returned home from war, or when a baby was born, or some other wonderful thing, they stopped to praise God for bringing them to that point in their lives. Even today this prayer is used, and is a favorite for many.

Even in times of grief, when someone died or they heard tragic news, they blessed God. They said “Blessed is he who is the true judge.” It was a proclamation that God is righteous and good even in the midst of terrible times, and it reminded them that he will in the end bring justice, even when it doesn’t seem to be present at the time.

They have an interesting, wise, but difficult saying that is often said on hearing tragic news. Gam zo le tovah – “Even this is for the good.” The first time I heard this saying was from a dear friend in Israel who had learned that his wife had breast cancer. If you’ve never lived through difficult times, it’s not appropriate to quote this line as an empty platitude to someone who is. But from the lips of my good friends who were anxious and in grief, it was a statement of great faith in God — that even in the worst times, we know that a loving God intends it for good.

Photo by Anton Levin on Unsplash

In All Circumstances

Child Crying

by Lois Tverberg

Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5:18)

In difficult times it is hard to see what God is doing, and we worry that he has lost control of the world or doesn’t care about us. The rabbis had an interesting, wise, but difficult saying that is often said on hearing tragic news:

Gam zo le tovah – Even this is for the good.

Child CryingThe first time I heard it was from a dear friend in Israel when he had found out that his wife had breast cancer. It is never appropriate as an unsympathetic platitude, but from the lips of a person who is suffering, it is a statement of great faith in God — that even in the worst times, we know that a loving God intends it for good.

Paul said that we should give thanks in all circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:18). Other rabbis said something similar, that we are to “love the Lord your God with all of your heart,” and sometimes our hearts are full of joy, but sometimes full of sadness. To love him with all of our heart, we need to love him both in happiness and sadness. We are to bless the Lord at all times, as in Psalm 34:1: “I will bless the LORD at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth.”

Because of this, there is a traditional Jewish prayer for times of grief, when someone dies or when tragic news is heard. It is, “Barukh diyan emet” which means, “Blessed is he who is the true judge” or, “Blessed is he who is truly just.” It is a reminder that God is still good, even in tragedy, and that he will ultimately bring justice where justice doesn’t seem to be present. It also reminds us of God’s sovereignty and his control over all things.

We as Christians have a special reason to know that God is not unconcerned about our difficulties. We know that he has walked on earth as we have, and he has suffered as we do. He was acquainted with grief and familiar with sorrow and pain.

If our difficulties don’t come from our own mistakes, they come from painful circumstances beyond our control. Almost never do we choose them. Christ’ pain, in contrast, was entirely of his own choosing. He willingly took on great hardship and suffering for us, out of the great depths of his love.

Photo: franciso_osorio

Deeds of Loving Kindness

by Lois Tverberg

“We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Ephesians 2:10

Jesus probably knew a beautiful saying that was attributed to a scholar who lived hundreds of years before him, and was written down in the Mishnah in about 200 AD (1):

For three things the world is sustained: For the study of scriptures (torah), for worshipping and serving God (avodah), and for deeds of loving kindness (gemilut hesed).

What this means is that for three great reasons God created humanity and allows the world even to keep existing: for us to discover God’s great love through his Word; to worship him and want to serve him because of it, and then to show God’s love to those around us.

This idea of showing God’s love to those around us was a beautiful concept called gemilut hesed (gem-i-LOOT HES-ed), “acts of loving kindness”. This was different than charity (tzedakah), giving money to the poor. Jesus and many other rabbis emphasized the great need to give to the poor, but as good as it was, gemilut hesed was considered even better.

Poor sharing foodAfter all, only the needy benefit from charity, but we can show kindness to anyone, rich or poor. And, it is easy to hand a $10 bill to somone for a meal, but to invite him into your home for a meal shows God’s love, and causes you to grow in love as well. Because of this, some Jews make a point to use some of their “giving dollars” to do gemilut hesed with their own hands. (2) For instance, instead of just giving money to charity, one woman invested her money in a library of books and then regularly found ways of loaning or even giving them to others. Certainly a Christian could do even more by buying and sharing good devotional books or Bible studies with others.

Considering as much money as we spend on entertainment from movies, cable TV, etc, wouldn’t a wonderful Christian alternative would be to “entertain” ourselves with gemilut hesed? To make a “hobby” out of a particular form of kindness to others? One Christian couple I know invested in a truck to use during snowstorms, to go up and down their country road pulling people out who had slid off the road. Another friend makes a habit of stopping to help or offer a cell phone to anyone stranded with road trouble. Yet another woman, who teaches classes on job hunting, enjoys helping friends find jobs if they need one or want one that suits them better.

What about even making a practice of being kind to waitresses and tipping them generously? Or inviting single or elderly people home for Sunday dinner after church? And, of course, to share your faith in Christ? All these kind acts will have the effect of showing God’s love to others in small and great ways. But they will have an even bigger impact on ourselves and our families, as we see God’s love transform our hearts too.

This article is based on an excerpt of a longer directors’ article, “Acts of Loving Kindness at Christmas,” from December 2004.

(1) Verse 1:2 of Pirke Avot, (Sayings of the Fathers), a collection of rabbinic sayings written about 200 AD in the Mishnah. Many of these saying were attributed to rabbis who lived in Jesus’ time and even before, and many relate to things Jesus said as well. This saying is attributed to Simon the Righteous, who was said to live at the time of Ezra.

(2) For many wonderful stories of the practice of Gemilut Hesed, see the outstanding book, The Book of Jewish Values, by Joseph Telushkin, (c) 2000, Bell Tower, New York, ISBN 0609603302.

Photo: Peter Isotalo

Doing Our Duty

by Lois Tverberg

So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, “We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.” Luke 17:10

Jesus’ odd parable in Luke 17 is a head-scratcher for many readers. You may never have heard it mentioned in a sermon, because of its apparent negativity. He said,

Suppose one of you had a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Would he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, ‘Come along now and sit down to eat’? Would he not rather say, ‘Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink’? Would he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’ Luke 17:7-10

Doing Our Duty 1

What was the point of his message? It sounds as if we shouldn’t approach God as our loving Father, but merely as our master. Why?

It’s likely that this parable was offered as a contrast to Jesus’ many statements about a future reward that God has for those who have been obedient to him. While of course it is faith in Christ that atones for our sins and allows us to enter heaven, Christians rarely note how many times Jesus promises a “reward” which does seem to depend on how a person has lived:

For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done. Mt 16:27

And, Jesus even declares that his followers will be rewarded in this life as well.

“I tell you the truth,” Jesus said to them, “no one who has left home or wife or brothers or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age and, in the age to come, eternal life.” Luke 18:29-30

Doing Our Duty 2When a person hears this, the typical human response is “Wow – what will be my reward?” and our focus shifts to that. Indeed, some prosperity preachers focus their entire ministry how God wants to bless us and make us rich. But Jesus’ parable at the beginning of this article teaches us that our focus shouldn’t be on the reward at all, but on doing God’s will. Other rabbis of Jesus’ time said similar things:

Do not be like slaves that serve their master to receive a reward; rather, be like slaves who do not serve their master to receive their reward. (1)

If you have performed many mitzvot (good deeds) [literally, if you have done much Torah], do not think that you have any merit [i.e., that you are entitled to a reward]. This is the purpose for which you have been created! (2)

And Paul also points out that this is our purpose:

For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. Eph. 2:10

It’s wonderful that we have a loving Father that enjoys blessing us, and plans for a future together in eternity that we can hardly imagine. But instead of greedily grasping for the pleasures we’ll gain, we should respond out of love to the One who wants to give them to us.

(1) Mishnah, Pirke Avot 1:3. (As quoted in “The Rich Man Who Rejected the Kingdom” in New Light on the Difficult Words of Jesus, by David Bivin, (En-Gedi, 2005) pp. 81-87.

(2) Avot de-Rabbi Natan, Version B, Ch. 31 (ed. Schechter, p. 66). Quotation also from New Light, pp. 81-87.

Photo: The Yorck Project: 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei. and little*star

Builder of the House

by Lois Tverberg

“When your days are over and you go to be with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, one of your own sons, and I will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for me, and I will establish his throne forever. I will be his father, and he will be my son. ” 1 Chronicles 17:11-14

The Messiah was to be a son of David who would be a great king, and would have a kingdom without end. It was partially fulfilled by Solomon, the son of David, but ultimately fulfilled by Jesus, the Son of David. The messianic promise to David said another key thing: that this Son of David would build a house for the Lord. Building the Temple was the high point of Solomon’s reign, and for Jesus, this is one of the most important pictures of what His mission on earth accomplished.

Hammer and WoodJesus often in his ministry talks about the temple, and he makes the key statement that “I will destroy this temple (house) made with hands, and in three days I will build another made without hands.’” (Mark 14:58). Through Jesus’ death and resurrection he was bringing together a “house” of a family of believers who would become that place where God’s Spirit dwells.

At Pentecost (Shavuot), the Spirit indwelled the hearts of the believers. The people of the early church would have thought back to the other scenes of the Spirit entering the temple to dwell there. They realized that instead of dwelling in a house made by human hands, the Spirit of God had moved into a new temple, the body of believers, with Jesus as the cornerstone. This picture is found throughout the New Testament:

Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. (Eph. 2:19 – 22)

And coming to Him as to a living stone which has been rejected by men, but is choice and precious in the sight of God, you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 2:4-5)

Now we can see a progression of God’s plan to have intimacy with human beings, who forfeited their relationship with him through sin. First he chose the Israelites, let them use sacrifices for atonement, and dwelt among them in their tabernacle. Then he had Solomon build the Temple, which was to be “a house of prayer for all nations” (Isaiah 56:7). But finally, through the atoning work of Christ and new covenant, God was able to indwell our hearts as his Temple, and achieve his greatest goal of living intimately with his people.

Photo: KOREphotos

Inclined Toward God

by Lois Tverberg

Count yourself dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life. (Romans 6:11-13)


In Jewish thought, there has been a tradition that humans are ruled by two inclinations — the yetzer hara (YET-ser ha-RAH – evil inclination) and the yetzer hatov (YET-ser ha-TOVE – good inclination). Another way this was said was that man either obeyed his yetzer (inclination – his own will) or his yotzer (Creator – God).

One rabbi said,

Man, while he lives, is the slave of two masters: the slave of his Creator and the slave of his inclination. When he does the will of his Creator, he angers his inclination, and when he does the will of his inclination, he angers his Creator. When he dies, he is freed, a slave free from his master.1

This last statement means that in death humans are freed from serving their sinful inclinations, so that in the next life, they will be servants only of God.

This is fascinating because it seems to be the background of Paul’s words to the Romans. He speaks about being slaves to sin in our former lives, but when we were baptized in Christ, we were united with him in his death. He understands that just as Jesus was resurrected and now was living his eternal life, so are we.

When we were baptized, God made us new creations and gave us eternal life, which began right then and will extend into the world to come. God has freed us from slavery to our yetzer hara so that we can serve only our yotzer, Creator, the Lord.

1Rabbi Shimeon ben Pazzai, from the 3rd century AD, as quoted by David Flusser in Judaism and the Origins of Christianity, Magnes Press 1988, pp. 169-170.


Further reading:

See Listening to the Language of the Bible, by Lois Tverberg and Bruce Okkema, En-Gedi Resource Center, 2004. This is a collection of devotional essays that mediate on the meaning of biblical words and phrases in their original setting.

For a friendly, bite-sized Bible study of five flavorful Hebrew words, see 5 Hebrew Words that Every Christian Should Know, by Lois Tverberg, OurRabbiJesus.com, 2014 (ebook).