“I the LORD love. . .” – Isaiah 61:8a
This is Thanksgiving week. It’s traditionally a time for people to gather with friends and family to count our blessings and be thankful. But state and local governments are discouraging such gatherings this year. They are trying to limit gatherings to ten people or less because of their concerns related to the Covid virus. They are doing this in many ways. For instance, they are encouraging neighbors to report gatherings that exceed ten. They are strongly suggesting we wear masks in our homes during such gatherings.
It seems the mostly liberal and leftist government entities who are promoting such restrictions, voice no such restrictions when their allies demonstrate or they themselves gather. Makes you wonder why they would try to negatively influence something related to thanking God and not something that is so often divisive and destructive. Seems pretty divisive to me. There are people on both sides of the issue. It’s one more source of argument. But those are not thankful thoughts. Let’s move forward.
I hope and pray you will not be hindered in giving thanks for your many blessings this year. Our health may be a reason to give God thanks. Our health has never been held in question like it has this year. And whatever side fo the pandemic reality fence you fall on, the spotlight has been put on our health and we should be thankful for it. I hope you all will come together and enjoy a healthy, fun, filling, and fantastically thankful Thanksgiving this year.
On Thanksgiving, we gather to thank God for His blessings. But do we ever really stop to consider what would make the LORD thankful? We are thankful for the things we love. The same is true for the LORD. What does the LORD love? What is He thankful for? That’s what I’d like to consider in this Thanksgiving week piece.
Last week I wrote an article entitled What Does God Think About All of This? In the article I looked at our current national state of affairs in light of seven things the LORD hates (Proverbs 6). Wanting to be balanced, I’ve been mulling over what the LORD loves or what He is thankful for. And there happen to be seven things the LORD loves.
Can God be thankful? When I ask, “What would make the LORD thankful?” I don’t mean to imply in any way that God is needy. God is completely and entirely self-sufficient. God is, after all, the great “I Am.” In our English translations of the Bible the all capitalized “LORD” represents the great “I AM” name of God. This name means that God is all He ever needs to be to do whatever He ever purposes to do. So, when I consider what would make God thankful, I certainly don’t mean to diminish Him or His nature in any way.
Early in the Bible, at the time of the Flood, the Biblical record states:
- Genesis 6:5–6 – 5 Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. 6 And the Lord was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart.
The Hebrew term “sorry” (Hebrew naham) means to sigh, to be sorry, to pity, to console oneself, regret. The Hebrew term “grieved” (Hebrew asab) means to worry, pain, anger, vex, be displeased. If God can be “sorry” and “grieve,” couldn’t He also be thankful? The opposite of being sorry is to be glad. The opposite of grieve is rejoice. To be glad and rejoicing sounds a lot like being thankful. When we humans are thankful, the highest form of thanks is thanks to God. When God is thankful, there is none higher than Him so He is thankful within the context of His Triune nature. Like the many other emotions God expresses, He can be thankful. He is thankful for the things He loves.
Jesus is God. Jesus gave thanks. Therefore, God can and is thankful. Jesus gave thanks when He fed the five thousand (Matthew 15:36; John 6:11). Jesus thanked the Father when Lazarus was risen from the dead (John 11:41). And Jesus gave thanks at the Last Supper (Matthew 26:27; Mark 14:23; Luke 22:17). Jesus was so well known for His thankfulness that when He gave thanks for the food while meeting with two disciples on the Emmaus road, they recognized Him because of it (Luke 24:30-31). Jesus is God. Jesus gave thanks. Therefore, God can and does give thanks.
Admittedly, the idea of God being “thankful” is inadequate. There are some things that we can’t put into words. When I speak of God being thankful, the image I wish to bring to mind is God with a smile on His face. When God looks at us, does a smile a pleased thankful smile come to His face? That’s what I mean when I ask, “What would make the LORD thankful?”
When we look at scripture and the phrase “the LORD loves” or “God loves” we come up with seven things that the LORD inspired the Biblical writers to specifically mention as things He loves. It should go without mention that if God loves something, we should love it too. And if God loves something, it logically follows He is thankful for it. We should be thankful for the things God would be thankful for. The Apostle Paul tells us, “Therefore be imitators of God as dear children” (Ephesians 5:1). We should cultivate a love for what God loves. We should be thankful for what God would be thankful for. What does God love? What is He thankful for?
First, God loves the gates of Zion. In the Psalms it states:
Psalm 87:2 (NKJV)
2 The Lord loves the gates of Zion
More than all the dwellings of Jacob.
Zion, the City of David, Jerusalem is the one place on earth expressly loved by God. No other place is said to be loved by God. Politicians and diplomates of various countries in recent years, have chosen to play fast and loose with Jerusalem in their effort to broker land for Israel’s peace. They like to make decisions and then consult Israel after the fact. They disregard the rights and property of Israel and barter for peace almost as though Israel weren’t even there. Thankfully we have an administration that has finally officially recognized Jerusalem as the official capital of Israel (as though that were really necessary!). And thankfully the United States has finally moved its embassy to Jerusalem. It’s about time!
But to the diplomats of the world who would try to reverse what has been done or who would side with the enemies of Israel and in particular Zion, listen up. “The LORD loves the gates of Zion”! Zion is special to the LORD. He loves Israel but He loves Zion more than any other place in Israel (Psalm 87:2). God speaks glorious things to this “city of God” (Psalm 87:3). No other city compares to Zion according to God (Psalm 87:4). Those who are born in the holy city of Zion are particularly noted (Psalm 87:4 and 6). “The Most High Himself” establishes and watches over this holy city (Psalm 87:5).
There is something very special about this holy city. It was in this city that the sons of Korah said “All my springs are in you” (Psalm 87:7). It was on the southern steps of the Temple Mount that Jesus spoke of torrents of living water that would gush out of the person who believed in Him (John 7:37-39). Jesus came to baptize with “the Holy Spirit and fire” (Matthew 3:11). That’s what Jesus was talking about on those southern steps of Zion. It’s not by accident that Jesus fulfilled that near Mount Zion. Zion is a special place to the LORD. It should be a special place to us as well. It’s a place that has God’s eyes on it. It’s a place of God’s blessing. Do you love Zion too? I think God is thankful for Zion. Are you thankful for Zion?
Second, God loves His people Israel. There’s a dark antisemitic spirit in our world today. It has had to go into hiding in recent years, but it is always just below the surface waiting to rise up and persecute God’s people and the nation of Israel. One of the bright spots in recent years has been the efforts to broker peace agreements between Israel and other Middle eastern nations. I don’t think Israel should be giving up land, but at least the “spirit” and willingness to build working relationships on a national scale between Israel and her neighbors is a good thing. But that can all change in a moment if those who minimize the value and importance of Israel come to power or bring their antisemitic schemes to bad-fruition.
There’s a dark movement in the church today to discard the nation of Israel and the Jewish people and supplant them with the Church. Those who hold to such a Replacement Theology try to steal the promises of God to Israel and apply them to the Church. But such thievery is ill conceived and disregards God’s reviving Israel for His purposes in the latter days (e.g. Rev. 7 and 14).
It should be mentioned that when we look at the phrase, “the LORD loves,” it is the nation of Israel that He first mentions as loving. In Deuteronomy it states:
- Deuteronomy 7:8 (NKJV) – 8 but because the Lord loves you, and because He would keep the oath which He swore to your fathers, the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you from the house of bondage, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.
The entire exodus out of Egypt was motivated by God’s love for Israel. The context of this verse is an explanation of why God so blessed Israel. It wasn’t because they were greater than others in some way, no, it was simply “because the LORD loves you.”
If you are Jewish, please understand the LORD loves you. The cynical response will often be, “If this is love with all our historical hardships, G_d please stop loving us!” But if you read the prophetic books you will find that the problem is not with God, but with His people who are constantly straying from Him, and into sin. God’s people were perpetually guilty of committing idolatry which is a spiritual kind of adultery. Israel, the wife of the LORD, was unfaithful to Her Husband (e.g. Hosea). The LORD, on the other hand, constantly reaches out to His people calling them to come home to Him.
Isaiah, often referred to as the Fifth Gospel, is predicated on the overtures of God who says in the opening inspired words, “Come now, and let us reason together,” Says the Lord, “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool” (Isaiah 1:18). God loves you and is willing to have you sit down with Him and reason through your sinful predicament and why you need His salvation. He does this, my Jewish friend, because He loves you.
The love of God for His people in the Bible was so visible that even gentiles could see it. Hiram king of Tyre commented to King Solomon:
- 2 Chronicles 2:11 (NKJV) – 11 Then Hiram king of Tyre answered in writing, which he sent to Solomon: Because the Lord loves His people, He has made you king over them.
The queen of Sheba recognized God’s love for Israel when she exclaimed to Solomon:
- 2 Chronicles 9:8 (NKJV) – 8 Blessed be the Lord your God, who delighted in you, setting you on His throne to be king for the Lord your God! Because your God has loved Israel, to establish them forever, therefore He made you king over them, to do justice and righteousness.”
If Hiram and the Queen of Sheba could see God’s love for His people, why can’t we today? God loves His people the Jews. And because of God’s love for His people, He will “establish them forever.” God loves Israel. If we are to be imitators of God, we should too.
In the Old Testament “love” translates the Hebrew ahaba. Ahaba in the Old Testament is a love of covenant; a love that holds relationships together (e.g. 1 Samuel 18:3; 20:17). God entered into covenant with Israel because He loved them. It makes you think about the Replacement theologians and ask, who do they think they are to downgrade or dismiss God’s love and break God’s covenant of love with Israel? Not good. God is not a covenant breaker. We might be. But He certainly is not. And no one should presume to think God doesn’t love Israel anymore. No, I bet God is thankful for Israel and its people. And I bet He’d be pleased and thankful for others to love them too.
Third, God loves you! One of the best-known verses in all of scripture is John 3:16 which states:
- John 3:16 (NKJV) – 16 For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.
Now, we don’t see the phrase, “the LORD loves,” here, but aren’t you glad God inspired the Apostle John to record these blessed words of Jesus? There’s a reason why so many people, if they have committed any scripture to memory at all, have memorized this particular verse. God loves the world! That includes everyone! God loves you! And God demonstrates or proves His love for you in His precious redemptive plan expressed in the words:
- Romans 5:8 (NKJV) – 8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Notice, God demonstrates “His own love toward us.” This is His love. In the original language of the Bible “love” in this verse is a translation of the Greek term agape. This is a love that loves first. This is a love that does not love based on reciprocation. God loved us when we were “sinners.” God started loving us before we even thought about Him. He loves us regardless of whether or not we love Him back. He loves us so much that He wants us to spend eternity with Him. That’s true love. That’s God’s agape love.
The best illustration of God’s agape love is the cross of Jesus. It is on the cross where God’s own love is demonstrated or pictured for us. Such love is sacrificial, all-giving, total, holding nothing back. Maybe those who want to dismiss God’s love for Israel and insert themselves in their place do so because of jealousy, or worse bigotry. Maybe they have been tempted by the devil to think God loves Israel more than them. But listen, you don’t have to be jealous of God’s love for the Jew. God loves you too!
God loves us so much that He gave. God’s brand of love is by nature giving. And God gave His only begotten Son. God didn’t give a defective sacrifice like God’s people were doing according to the prophet Malachi (Malachi 1:14). How often do we dare to give God a halfhearted effort or less than He deserves? How often do we expose our lack of love rather than express true love for the Lord by what we give to the Lord? God gave Jesus! His ONLY BEGOTTEN SON, Jesus, His Son, His only Son. God gave Him on the cross for us. That is LOVE. THAT IS TRUE LOVE. That is the greatest expression of love. And that is the love God has for you. God loves you. It’s true. He really does love you. Don’t ever doubt His love for you. And if God loves you so much, I believe He is thankful for you too. Imagine that, God is thankful for you.
Now don’t misinterpret God’s love as something unholy. God’s love doesn’t mean He overlooks sin. No, quite the contrary. God loves you so much that He will root out and cleanse away your sin. You see, sin isn’t bad because God forbids it. Sin is forbidden by God because it is bad. Sin rots you. Sin destroys you. Sin separates you from God in Whom there is eternal life. We are all under a curse because we have all sinned. The curse is the consequences of our sinful actions and sinful thoughts. Sin corrupts us. But God in Jesus has made a way for us to be freed from that curse of sin. It is freely offered but its cost was pricelessly rich. Jesus became a curse for us so that we could then receive His righteousness to our account (cf. Galatians 3:10-13). Now that is love. God loves you. And for that we should be thankful.
When Jesus atoned for sin on the cross He atoned for the sins of the “world.” The Apostle John states, “And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world” (1 John 2:2). Our sins have been atoned for. There is really only one sin that is unforgiveable. It’s called the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit (Matthew 12:31-32). This sin is to refuse the Spirit’s offer of salvation by God’s grace through faith in Jesus. If you choose to not be forgiven, you won’t be. If you don’t want to be loved by God, He will not force His love on you. If you refuse to be thankful, He won’t force you to be thankful. God can be pretty persuasive (cf. Jonah). But He is not a bully. He will not force Himself on you. You have to receive what He offers.
If God loved us so much, I’m sure it would please Him and bring thankfulness to His heart if people would love each other in such a magnificently redemptive way. I believe God is thankful when we love your neighbors as we already love ourselves.
Fourth, God loves justice. Propitiation is a theological term. It refers to Jesus fulfilling all of God’s just requirements to properly and legally satisfy His holy justness when He forgives us. Jesus and His redemptive work is God’s just basis to forgive sinners.
The Bible says:
Psalm 37:28 (NKJV)
28 For the Lord loves justice,
And does not forsake His saints;
They are preserved forever,
But the descendants of the wicked shall be cut off.
Isaiah 61:8 (NKJV)
8 “For I, the Lord, love justice;
I hate robbery for burnt offering;
I will direct their work in truth,
And will make with them an everlasting covenant.
God loves justice so much that He will not compromise His just universal system of justice for any reason or for anyone. A judge who dismisses the guilty without justice is not a just judge. One of the most disheartening things the citizens of our nation are experiencing at the moment is what appears to be the clear corruption of its political leaders, with no justice or consequence for their crimes. When there is no accountability or justice, it deflates our spirit. That’s true wherever it occurs.
I’m convinced we don’t fully understand the dreadfulness of sin. We especially find it easy to disregard or dismiss sin when it comes to ourselves. But God will not do that. He is just. He loves justice. There is something inherently right and loving about justice being enforced. There is something inherently ugly and devilish about injustice. Justice looks out for the weak and victims. Justice does not allow criminals to get off free of charge. We are sinners and God forgives us, but He forgives us under His just economy that required the justifying atonement of Jesus Christ. This atoning cross work of Jesus was provided by God’s grace through faith in Jesus. The wages or consequences for sin is death. That’s why Jesus died for us (Romans 6:23).
God loves justice. And God would be thankful for some justice in our government and the way it chooses its leaders. Governments are put in place by God to enforce justice (Romans 13:1-5). When governments act unjustly, they fail to fulfill their reason for being. God would be thankful for those who abuse their positions to be brought to justice.
God doesn’t love crime or law breaking or any kind of sin. He hates sin on all levels. No one should get a free pass on sin. He hates sin because it leads to the suffering of so many. But in particular God hates sin because it was the reason Jesus His only Son willfully and justly suffered in our place on the cross. God loves justice. He loves the right order it brings. He loves the security it communicates. He loves justice so much He will not compromise it. Remember that next time you choose to sin. Remember what your sin justly cost Jesus. And remember, if you are in government and guilty of crime, God will forgive you, if you turn from your sin to Him in Christ. I believe God would be thankful, as well as merciful, to those in power who are guilty of crimes or injustice, but who turn to God for forgiveness.
God loves justice. God is thankful for justice. Let’s give God reason to be thankful by seeking justice. Let’s stay away from “the works of darkness” and rather “expose them” (Eph. 5:11). That will be pleased with that. God will be thankful for that.
Fifth, God loves the righteous. In the Psalms it states:
Psalm 146:8 (NKJV)
8 The Lord opens the eyes of the blind;
The Lord raises those who are bowed down;
The Lord loves the righteous.
The Lord loves the righteous. “Righteous” (Hebrew sadiyq) means just, a righteous person, lawful, just. The idea of this word is to conform to a standard of conduct or way of life in relationships so as not to be found guilty. We might think of this as right-living or right-wayness. The righteous apply God’s word to their lives. God loves those who seek to live righteously or rightly before Him. God is thankful for the righteous.
Abraham was accounted righteous because He believed in God (Genesis 15:6). This was nearly 400 years before the Law was given on Mount Sinai. So, we aren’t talking legalism here. In Romans 4 Paul pointed to Abraham as a model of faith. There Paul describes Abraham in the following way:
- Romans 4:17–22 (NKJV) – 17 (as it is written, “I have made you a father of many nations”) in the presence of Him whom he believed—God, who gives life to the dead and calls those things which do not exist as though they did; 18 who, contrary to hope, in hope believed, so that he became the father of many nations, according to what was spoken, “So shall your descendants be.” 19 And not being weak in faith, he did not consider his own body, already dead (since he was about a hundred years old), and the deadness of Sarah’s womb. 20 He did not waver at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God, 21 and being fully convinced that what He had promised He was also able to perform. 22 And therefore “it was accounted to him for righteousness.”
God loves people like Abraham. He loves the righteous who live by faith. And truly and foundationally our righteousness is received by faith in Jesus. “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1). It is through faith in Jesus that we can be righteous (2 Corinthians 5:21). This is God’s loving provision for those who are righteous. God loves the righteous.
You and I, like Abraham, can be loved by God. But you and I, like Abraham, can be a source of thankfulness for God. When God looks at you, do you think He is thankful?
Sixth, God loves a cheerful giver. When Paul writes to the carnal Corinthian church one of he topics he addresses is giving. Paul writes, “But his I say: He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.” He then continues by saying, “So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:6-7). The word “cheerful” (Greek hilaros) means happy, joyous, merry, cheerful. We get another English word from this term, “hilarious.” Paul instructs the Corinthian Christians not so much about how much to give, (although he connects their bounty to their blessing of others), but more on their attitude of giving. He says they shouldn’t give begrudgingly or feeling that they must give in order to get from the Lord. No, they should give cheerfully, hilariously. God loves that. I believe God is thankful for those who cheerfully give.
Why does God love a cheerful giver? I believe the key to that answer is found one chapter earlier when Paul speaks of Jesus, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9). Jesus was and is, a giver. He was s joyful giver. In Hebrews it states, “who for the joy set before Him, endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:2). God loves a cheerful giver because to give cheerfully is to give like Jesus. When we give like Jesus, with the same joy in giving, we are conformed that much more to the likeness of Jesus. A cheerful giver is Christlike. That’s God’s ultimate purpose for us (i.e. Romans 8:29; 1 Peter 2:21; 1 John 2:6). And that makes a smile come to the face of God.
God loves it when we sacrifice to enrich others. God loves when we have a heart to give, even if it works a bit of poverty in us in order to give. Jesus became poor in order to give for our sakes; to make us rich in saving grace. Sacrificial giving touches the heart of God because it reminds Him of the ultimate atoning sacrificial giving of His only Son Jesus. That’s why God loves a cheerful giver. What kind of giver are you? A cheerful one? A stingy giver? One willing to give even if it makes you poor? God loves a cheerful giver. He’s thankful for cheerful sacrificial givers. Do you bring a smile to God’s face in this regard?
Seventh, God loves those who need correction. When we sin and suffer the consequences, we may be further tempted to think God doesn’t love us. But nothing could be further from the truth. God loves people enough to discipline them. This is found in both the Old and New Testament:
- Proverbs 3:12 (NKJV) – For whom the Lord loves He corrects, just as a father the son in whom he delights.
- Hebrews 12:6 (NKJV) –For whom the Lord loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives.”
The story of the Prodigal son illustrates how the discipline of the Lord sometimes works (Luke 11-24). When the Prodigal son chose to go out on his own, experience the world, and departed from his father, the father let him go. The father let him go not because he didn’t love him, but because he knew this was a life discipline and learning experience that his son needed. Probably the hardest thing that father ever did was let his son leave. That true of all good godly fathers. It’s hard to let your children go. But it’s necessary. It’s part of life.
The father of the prodigal let his son leave in hopes that he would return. And return he eventually did. He returned a man who learned a greater appreciation for what he had left. That prodigal returned thankful. God teaches us thankfulness by letting us go and letting us learn those hard lessons in the crucible of life. Sometimes God lets us go so that we can learn His true value. God loves us enough to let us go. And He loves us so much He welcomes us back. He’s thankful when we come back to Him. Praise the Lord for that!
No matter how far we drift or walk away from the Lord, He’s always there waiting for us to return. He has a way of putting reminders to return in our path (see Jonah; see Peter). And when we come to our senses and return to the Lord, He doesn’t just wait with an “I told you so!” As soon as He sees us over the horizon He runs to embrace us and welcome us home just as the father of the Prodigal in the story. When a person comes back to the LORD, God is thankful and welcomes us back.
Have you run from the love of the Lord? He really does love you. He says, “I the LORD love” (Isaiah 61:8a). He is waiting for you with open arms. He has held nothing back to express His love for you, not even His only Son Jesus. And you know what, I believe God is thankful for you. He’s especially thankful when you come to Him and walk hand in hand with Him by Jesus. Are you thankful for Him? Do you love the tings God loves? Are you thankful for the things God is thankful for?
Now what will you do with God’s love? Will you receive it? Will you let it work in you? God offers us incredible hope no matter our situation or predicament. One of my favorite verses in the entire Bible is Romans 5:5 – “Nor hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” Imagine, the same kind of love, agape love, that is like God’s love, can be poured out into us. Incredible. There are six things the Lord loves. You’re one of them. What will you do with His love?
Maybe, if you’ve never accepted Jesus as your Savior, you will want to join me in this prayer to God:
Father, I come to You in Jesus’ name. I admit my sins before You. I confess them to You and forsake them. I don’t want to sin anymore. I know there’s nothing I can do to work off my sin. I am guilty before You. But I believe Jesus paid my sin sentence on the cross. Jesus died for me to paid my debt of sin, on the cross. And I believe He rose from the dead. Jesus defeated death. And I believe it is through Jesus that I can be forgiven, and once forgiven, that the Holy Spirit will come to give me spiritual life by indwelling me. I receive that as a gift of Your grace through faith in Jesus. I hope and pray, that when You look at me, from now on, a smile will come to Your face, and You will be thankful for creating me. Thank You LORD. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Maybe, if you know the LORD, you’ll want to join me in this prayer to the LORD:
Father, in Jesus’ name, I come to You. I am so thankful for You. You have blessed me in so many ways. I can’t even count Your many blessings. Forgive me for taking You for granted. Forgive my unthankfulness. Please help me to be more thankful toward You. Help me to bring a smile to Your face. Help me make You thankful You created and saved me.
Jesus, thank You for dying for me to pay my debt of sin. Thank You for saving me from my sin. Thank You for taking my hand and helping me through life. Thank You for eternal life.
Please Holy Spirit, refresh me with thankfulness. Help me to spread thankful for You to those around me.
Oh LORD, help me to bring a smile to Your face. Help me to love the things You love and be thankful for the things You are thankful for. Help me to be a source of thankfulness to You. In Jesus’ name. Amen.