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Enter the name of the tune for hymn 362
They say that it is only when you lose something that you really come to appreciate it. That was certainly true for people who live on the Isle of Arran, to the west of Scotland, when an unseasonal snowfall left the islanders without electricity for days.
With freezing temperatures and biting winds they had to make do as best they could, making the most of any gas supplies, candles and extra clothing. It took days for the electricity company to get them reconnected because pylons had been snapped off, roads were impassable and the weather made the necessary repairs very challenging.
In the days before everybody was connected to the national grid, people were less reliant upon one source of power for heating, lighting, communicating and powering all their electrical appliances. Those times have changed and now we expect the light to come on at the flick of a switch and have little to fall back on when the power supply fails. In the same way, many of the things we take for granted are dependent upon computer power and when something goes wrong with the computer or the computer infrastructure, everything goes down.
Nations are now at cyber war with other nations, trying to disrupt their communications or control their installations by sending malicious computer viruses, or hacking into their security systems. At one end of the scale attempts were made to disrupt the Iranian effort to empower their missiles with nuclear warheads and at the other end individual computer users have to get protection for their personal data, in case their identity is stolen or their address books used for malicious purposes. So, because we are so closely connected nowadays, if our power supply was cut off, our entire existence in the developed world would be seen for what it is – incredibly fragile!
Sometimes powerful leaders are deposed and sent into exile, or worse; and entire nations can lose their independence and become a subject race. It tends to happen less nowadays, given that the superpowers are willing to intervene to maintain the status quo. But in Bible times that happened often.
Israel came into existence as a nation, with its own land and national structure, when the people who had occupied Canaan were overpowered and displaced. But Israel’s independence was itself severely limited when bigger and more powerful nations took control of the region. Divided into twelve tribal units and split into two main groups after the time of Solomon, Israel proved to be easy pickings for the Assyrians and the Babylonians who captured the little nations of Israel and Judah.
Both went into exile for a prolonged period and when a Jewish nation was re-established in Persian times, it was never an independent entity. When they were part of a Persian province they were closely controlled. And when Alexander’s Greek empire swallowed them up, the Jews were subject to Greek control and a Hellenising influence that saw amphitheatres, Greek games and Greek customs threatening to take over Jewish society.
Roman times were equally complicated for the Jews, when very close military control was exercised to keep the nation in order. There was a Roman governor in Caesarea and Roman taxes to pay. The frequent riots and rebellions by the Jews were an expression of national frustration as they were always hoping for deliverance by God. Eventually there was an all-out Jewish rebellion against Roman control and the resulting military response led to the complete destruction of the Jewish state.
Many people died in AD 70 when Jerusalem was captured by the Romans and Jewish resistance was finally broken. Death is the ultimate power-cut so far as humans are concerned. We are all empowered by God with the gift of life and can do nothing about it when that life is withdrawn.
From the very beginning the Bible describes the force that empowers us as “the breath of life” (Genesis 1:20 ESV; 2:7) and explains that it is the same life force which is given by God to beasts as well as to humans.
If that life force was withdrawn, we would all just cease to exist. As one wise man explained:
"If He should set His heart on it, if He should gather to Himself His Spirit and His breath, all flesh would perish together, and man would return to dust" (Job 34:14–15).
We sometimes talk about someone who has died by saying that they have taken their last breath, and that is a Scriptural way of thinking about what has happened. As the Psalmist says:
"Put not your trust in princes, nor in the son of man, in whom there is no help. His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth; in that very day his thoughts perish" (Psalm 146:3–4 KJV).
A more modern translation uses the expression “his spirit departs, he returns to his earth” (NKJV), but the thought is the same. For the life force we enjoy as a gift from God is also known as “the spirit of God” (Job 33:4), for it is God’s spirit (God’s power) that energises us.
It is no good waiting until we lose our life before appreciating what we have been given. It will be too late then. Now is the time to appreciate it and understand that God wants to give us even more. He wants to confer the gift of everlasting life on all those people who really want it.
The apostle Paul puts the issue succinctly in one of his letters when he explains that we die because of sin, but that we can have our sins forgiven because of what God has done for us, by sending His Son to die to save sinners. If we believe the gospel and are baptised into the saving name of Jesus Christ, we can be saved; but it is a life and death choice. In the apostle’s words, when we are baptized into Christ and are thus united with him, we change our allegiance:
"Now having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 6:22–23).