There are few doctrines that offer as much comfort for the Christian than the teaching that God is near. Last week, I sat with Gloria Brown in her home as she spoke about Derrick’s last hours. When visiting hours were over on Sunday afternoon, she did not want to leave, but she had no option. Later that afternoon, the hospital called to ask them to come back. Derrick was nearing the end. The family drove back to the hospital, expecting to find Derrick alive when they got there, only to discover they were too late.
Derrick died alone in hospital, not surrounded by family as he would no doubt have loved. Except, he didn’t die alone. He knew the reality of which David wrote, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me” (Psalm 23:4). Derrick knew that his shepherd was with him even as he walked for the last time through that dark valley of the shadow of death.
Christians take great comfort in the promise of Psalm 34:18: “The LORD is near the brokenhearted; he saves those crushed in spirit.” When our hearts are broken by grief and our spirits are crushed by affliction, we can take comfort in the fact that the Lord is near.
The nearness of God provides hope in our prayers. “The LORD is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth” (Psalm 145:18). When we are confused and don’t know which way to turn, we know that we can turn to the Lord, because he is near to those who call on him in truth.
When we are anxious, we hold firm to the promise of Philippians 4:5–7: “The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
Indeed, the thought that God is near is a balm to the wounded soul. Elohei Mikkarov, the name of God we are considering this week, means “the God who is near.” While this is usually (and justifiably) a comfort to God’s people, the context in which the name is used is quite different.
For a long time, Yahweh had spoken through Jeremiah to warn Judah of impending judgement. Because the Jews had consistently forsaken their covenant with him, he would fulfil his covenant curses and bring a foreign nation upon them in judgement. This was neither an easy nor a popular message to preach.
Because it was not a popular message to preach, Jeremiah seemed to be a lone voice. There were many other self-proclaimed prophets, but they preached an entirely different message. They preached a message of peace, filling the people with vain hope. “They speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the LORD,” warned God (Jeremiah 23:16). They brazenly contradicted Yahweh and did so because they felt that God was too far away to take notice. They felt that they could lie about God with impunity. God responded, “Am I a God at hand [Elohei Mikkarov], declares the LORD, and not a God far away?” (23:23). In other words, God was warning these false prophets that their false preaching was not going unnoticed. God was not distant, as they imagined. He saw. He heard. He held them accountable.
The ancient rabbis said that there are three things to remember that will help us safeguard against arrogant sin: There is an ear that hears everything; an eye that sees everything; and a hand that writes everything into the book of knowledge to be opened at the final judgement. The false prophets of Jeremiah’s day ignored this counsel. Because they failed to recognise Yahweh as Elohei Mikkarov, they brazenly prophesied falsehoods and thereby brought his holy name into disrepute. They needed to be warned that God saw, heard, and held them accountable.
When we try to identify those who embrace similar faulty thinking today, we might immediately think of the rank atheist or humanist sceptic, who openly defies the Lord, declaring that there is no God to fear and no judgement to face. These words of William Provine capture it well:
There are no gods, no purposes, and no goal-directed forces of any kind. There is no life after death. When I die, I am absolutely certain that I am going to be dead. That’s the end of me. There is no ultimate foundation for ethics, no ultimate meaning in life…. Since we know that we are not going to live after we die, there is no reward for suffering in this world. You live and you die.
Sceptics like Provine arrogantly mock the idea of Elohei Mikkarov, a God who is near and who hears, sees, and holds them accountable for their every word, thought, deed, and motive. And because they reject the God who is near, they live their lives with no thought to his laws.
But such arrogance is not the exclusive domain of the godless. Far too many professing Christians display similar thinking, even if not as openly.
Consider, for example, the “irreverent babble” of Hymanaeus and Philetus, which was spreading like gangrene in Ephesus and “upsetting the faith of some” (2 Timothy 2:16–19). I doubt that this babble was publicly promoted from the pulpit. More likely, it was murmured behind closed doors. These men believed that God was not near. They believed that he was far off and took no notice of their heresy. Because they rejected the reality of Elohei Mikkarov, they were content to upset the faith of some, believing that there would be no ill consequences to their actions. But God heard. God saw. God held them accountable. And his counsel to them was simple: “Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity.”
We all sin. Even Christians. Even Christians sometimes overlook the reality of Elohei Mikkarov, deluding themselves into thinking that their sin goes unnoticed. The longer we (seemingly) get away with our sin, the more it reinforces our own delusion. If others do not hear, see, and hold us accountable, neither does God, we tell ourselves. When we fall into that thinking, we need to heed the warning of Jeremiah 23:23–24: “Am I a God at hand, declares the LORD, and not a God far away? Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him? declares the LORD. Do I not fill heaven and earth? declares the LORD.”
H. C. Leupold memorably captures the theology of Elohei Mikkarov: “There has, perhaps, never been a more devastating demonstration of the foolish thinking which men occasionally become guilty of when they imagine that the Lord is not aware of what they are doing.”
As you adore Elohei Mikkarov this week, pray for deliverance from this devastating demonstration of foolish thinking. Remember: He hears. He sees. He holds accountable. Instead of hiding behind the delusion that he does not hear and see, confess your sins and experience the grace of the one who is faithful and just to forgive your sins and to cleanse you from all unrighteousness.