Day 130: 2 Chronicles 23-25; Joash and Amaziah

Joash the Boy King Photo Credit: www.kids.christiansunite.com

Joash the Boy King
Photo Credit: www.kids.christiansunite.com

Picking up where we left off yesterday, God has faithfully spared Joash (also known as Jehoash), the only living son of Ahaziah.  Despite the best efforts of the evil Queen Athaliah, Joash is hidden in the house of the Lord for what appears to be roughly a year.  I have to say, threat of death aside, that an awesome year that would be!  Anyway, after some time Jehoiada the priest took courage and rallied the people behind Joash.  He put a plan in place and set up Joash as King of Judah and had Athaliah put to death.  The reign that followed was mostly good, at least until after Jehoiada died.  As the narrative goes, Jehoiada was Joash’s counselor and directed him in the ways of the Lord.  During this time, the temple is rebuilt and the people follow after the ways of the Lord once again.  You’d think that this would be something coming out of the heart of the king, the one who has been saved by the faithfulness of God and spent a great deal of time living in God’s house, but it seems that most of this came on the counsel of the faithful priest Jehoiada.

Joash Repairs the Temple Photo Credit: www.somepcguy.com

Joash Repairs the Temple
Photo Credit: www.somepcguy.com

When Jehoiada dies, King Joash appears to turn quite quickly from the ways of God.  We read that he ignores the temple and even the prophets that God sends to him.  Sadly, even the son of Jehoiada, the man that risked his life to install Joash as king, comes to Joash and tries to counsel him into returning to God.  Instead of listening though, Joash forgets his past and has the young priest put to death.  This act winds up getting him assassinated.

Amaziah, son of Joash begins his reign in much the same way the his father did, by following the ways of the Lord.  Looking back, he has a lot to be thankful for too for the Lord was faithful in protecting his father and seeing him brought back to the throne of Judah that is rightfully his.  Amaziah does a great deal of good at the beginning of the his reign, and listens to and follows the way of the Lord.  Yet later on he too falls victim to the allure of other gods.  Even in the face of warnings from the prophets he strays from the Lord, bringing the people down with him.  His sin eventually winds up with his capture and the plundering of the city of Jerusalem by the Northern Kingdom.  In the end, Amaziah dies in shame, overseeing the a major back-slide in Judah.

I think that both of these stories, similar as they are, open our eyes to an apparent problem that is being encountered time and again in Israel.  Every time a king back-slides or does evil in the sight of the Lord it is because they are having a fundamental identity crisis in their lives.  Both Joash and Amaziah have a great deal to be thankful for.  In reality, both of their lives, and the lives of all of their descendants to come after them, have been spared by the faithfulness of God alone.  They are children of the covenant in a very real way, because God has spared Joash’s life in the face of great evil so that the Covenant with David may be fulfilled.  One would think that this would be easy to see, or at least remember, living in the house of God for a time.

To be honest though, I don’t think that this is just a problem with them… I think it is the fundamental problem that plagues all of humanity.  We are made in the image of God, creations of a loving God who seeks to have a relationship with us.  For Christians this takes an even more prominent role as God’s people, His covenant community here on earth.  We are united to Christ because of the grace that is shown us and the salvation that is offered to us.  This fact belies a fundamental identity shift in our lives that changed both who we are and whose we are.  Yet this world has no shortage of things that also would seek to help us define or “re-identify” ourselves.  We see who we truly are and who we are truly meant to be in Christ, and when we sin we see that we are not ourselves… at least not completely… not yet.  The next time that you sin and find yourself dwelling in the shame and guilt that would seek to bog you down, remember, you are who you are truly in Christ, the one who has taken away your sin and shame.  Remember too that day by day the Holy Spirit is working in you to re-identify and re-image you (sanctification) in the image of Christ, through whom we are made new and complete.



Day 129: 2 Chronicles 20-22; Jehoshaphat to Queen Athaliah

The Prayer of Jehoshaphat Photo Credit: www.bibleencyclopedia.com

The Prayer of Jehoshaphat
Photo Credit: www.bibleencyclopedia.com

The prayer of King Jehoshaphat in our reading today, is quite possibly one of the least known, best prayers of the people of God in the Bible.  Jehoshaphat, having no where else to turn, goes to God and basically rehashes the Covenant with God, asking Him to act on their behalf because they have indeed turned their hearts toward Him.  The prayer really gives us a deep insight into the Hebrew Theological thinking as well, relating back in their ancestry, almost rehashing their history as an appeal to God.  We talked about this at the beginning of 1 Chronicles, how the people look to their past as a way of being closer to God.

This prayer, and the narrative of Jehoshaphat is also set in between the narrative of his father, Asa, and the following narrative of his son and grandson.  Remember back two days to the narrative of King Asa, towards the end of his life he is threatened by the Northern Kingdom.  What does he do?  Rather than seeking the face of God, he sends tribute to King Ben-Hadad of Syria for help.  In this act, the Lord calls him out and Asa becomes very angry and bitter at the end of his life.  Later, after the reign of Jehoshaphat, we read the narratives of Jehoram and Ahaziah (also known as Jehoahaz and not to be confused with the wicked Ahaziah that reigned in Israel).  They are simply evil and do not follow the Lord and we see very clearly the results that come of it.

However, Jehoshaphat does not follow in these evil ways, he does not place his trust in others, he is moved to prayer and places his faith in God.  What happens in this?  Not only does God promise that the battle against his enemies will be won, God says that they will not have to life a finger because “the Battle is the Lord’s.”  All they need do is believe and go out to face down their enemy.  No doubt this took some courage, I can’t imagine having to go out and face down an innumerable enemy army.  However, as they stand at the ready, Jehoshaphat rallies them saying, “Hear me, Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem! Believe in the Lord your God, and you will be established; believe his prophets, and you will succeed.”  I have visions of Aragorn rallying his troops before the gate of Mordor or the Young King Peter leading the charge against the White Witch.  These analogies disintegrate pretty quickly, but you get the idea.  The people are rallied and God wins the victory… and the spoils of war are almost more than they can handle.

Aragorn at the Black Gate of Mordor Photo Credit: www.pegelowssoapbox.blogspot.com

Aragorn at the Black Gate of Mordor
Photo Credit: www.pegelowssoapbox.blogspot.com

Like I said though, the narrative of Jehoshaphat is Juxtaposed between the pretty good and the really bad, and we continue on today to the really bad.  The reigns Jehoram and Ahaziah (again, also known as Jehoahaz and not to be confused with the wicked Ahaziah that reigned in Israel) are relatively unremarkable.  They are similar in nature, being completely evil in the sight of the Lord.  During their reigns all that was gained during the reigns of Asa and Jehoshapaht were lost; spiritual, geographically, economically, and the like.  There is continual strife within the families, which ultimately led to Queen Athiliah’s wicked reign and the almost extinction of the Dividic line of Kings.  However, as I said a couple days ago, we have to keep in mind the Lord’s covenant with David, something that the writer of 1 & 2 Chronicles wishes to impress on his readers as well.

He writes, in the midst of the narrative of Jehoram, “Yet the Lord was not willing to destroy the house of David, because of the covenant that he had made with David, and since he had promised to give a lamp to him and to his sons forever.”  This is a testament to the faithfulness of God in the face of evil and sinful leaders.  I think that the writer is communicating something else here as well to his audience, the notion that God is at work and working in the face of sin and rebellion.  Even when we can’t see God’s actions or the outcomes that He means to bring about, God is still at work in the world, always seeking to bring about His will.  What will?  The same Will that God has been working towards since the beginning.  The same Will that God has been working towards in Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Israel, and now the line of David… and it is the true nature and purpose of the covenant community (the Elect) of Israel… and of the Church today… “I will be your God and you will be My people, and through you all the nations of the earth will be blessed.”



Day 128: 2 Chronicles 17-19; King Jehoshaphat

King Jehoshaphat was arguably the first of the great kings of Judah.  As we have read throughout the books of 1 and 2 Kings, the spiritual state of Israel goes up and down based on the king that is reigning at the time.  We saw how the actions of Rehoboam and Abijah lead that Southern Kingdom wars and even servitude to other nations, and now with Asa and Jehoshaphat we see the flip side of the coin.  When the people follow God, worship Him, and do not go after other gods, the blessings shower down once again.  We see this very clearly with Jehoshaphat and the wealth and fame that is given him and how the “fear of the Lord” descended on the nations around Judah.

Asa, Jehoshaphat, and Joram Photo Credit: www.chinaoilpaintinggallery.com

Asa, Jehoshaphat, and Joram
Photo Credit: www.chinaoilpaintinggallery.com

We read today about the many reforms that took place during the time of Jehoshaphat as well.  Interestingly, he does, in some ways, exactly what our Deuteronomy 17 passage about the Kings of Israel says he should do.  I think that this is the first time I have said this since we started reading about the Kings of Israel.  For us, this has been one of the laws that has guided our vision of what the kings shouldn’t be doing when they are walking in the ways of sin… kind of a “see, I told you so” thing from the Law.  However, there is a section in this chapter that also talks about what the king should do, and this is kind of what Jehoshapaht does, with a little extra on the side!

And when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself in a book a copy of this law, approved by the Levitical priests.  And it shall be with him, and he shall read in it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the Lord his God by keeping all the words of this law and these statutes, and doing them,  that his heart may not be lifted up above his brothers, and that he may not turn aside from the commandment, either to the right hand or to the left, so that he may continue long in his kingdom, he and his children, in Israel.

Not only does Jehoshapaht follow the laws of God, he appoints people to take the book of the law with them out to the people of Israel, to teach them the ways of the Lord.  Some of these names might be familiar to you as they were people mentioned in 1 & 2 Kings.  People like Obadiah, Micaiah, and Adonijah were also prophets that were mentioned as folks that talked to the King’s of the Northern Kingdom, particularly Ahab.  While he isn’t named here, this is also the time of Elijah and Elisha, who would be making appearances before Ahab and trying to bring back the ways of the Lord in Israel.

Ahab Killed in Battle Photo Credit: www.jesusfootprints.wordpress.com/

Ahab Killed in Battle
Photo Credit: www.jesusfootprints.wordpress.com

Speaking of Ahab, we encounter once again, the deviousness of the Northern Kingdom under king Ahab.  The narrative of Ahab and Jehoshapaht going up against the army of Ramoth-gilead is ultimately the culmination one of the worst kings in the Northern Kingdom.  Why it is that Jehoshapaht decides to go up with Ahab we will not know.  However, what is primarily pointed out here is how the leader and the people of the Kingdom of Israel have indeed fallen away from the way of the Lord.  Again, this is a narrative of contrasts, seeing Jehoshapaht’s desire to seek the way of the Lord in the face of Ahab’s false prophets.

Ultimately, given the context and the audience that is being spoken to here, the writer is pointing out the dangers of taking counsel with sinners.  There are many echoes in this narrative to Psalm 1.  Jehoshapaht is clearly a king that is living for God, but even so he finds himself in a situation where he must stand for his beliefs in the face of one who certainly doesn’t want to hear it.  Yet the King of Judah stands up for his beliefs and seeks the face of God in spite of Ahab’s displeasure, and it winds up saving his life.

PSALM 1

Blessed is the man
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law he meditates day and night.

He is like a tree
planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.
The wicked are not so,
but are like chaff that the wind drives away.

Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
for the Lord knows the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish.



Day 127: 2 Chronicles 12-16; Rehoboam, Abijah, and Asa

The beginning of the reign of Rehoboam was a fairly good beginning.  God was faithful to His servant David and gave to his decedents the throne in Judah.  In this God was being faithful to the covenant He made with David.  We read yesterday that Rehoboam was also relatively faithful and listened to God and because of this, he was able to build up the kingdom of Judah and make it strong and fortified.  However, as we pick up the story today, we see that once Rehoboam was well established, he abandoned God and sought after other gods.  Sadly, I think this also comes from the warnings of Deuteronomy 17 about not building up military, taking many wives, or having a great deal of wealth.  Why?  Because human tendency is to want to do things for ourselves, to trust our own actions rather than trust completely in God.  It would be nice if we could just naturally give everything over to God and let Him handle everything, yet we all know that we would much rather take things into our own hands.  Why?  Who knows… because we see it clearly here, and it is reflected in our lives as well, when we try to do things on our own without God, we will fail and will often be lulled and/or lured into trusting in other things.  This is the basis for the narratives that we are reading today.  That contrast is set up pretty clearly in these five chapters.

So Rehoboam follows God and the reward is abundant blessings, peace, and well fortified cities.  However, as soon as Rehoboam turns from God all that is ruined by the Egyptians.  Apart from the obvious punishment of God that the prophet tells him about, it is not at all coincidental that it is Egypt that is attacking Judah.  Remember how Israel was enslaved to them for so many years?  Remember how they always seemed to want to go back to that when times got rough?  I wonder if that might be somehow metaphorically true here… If God, and the writer of 2 Chronicles, was using Egypt as a way of reminding the people of where they came from and what it would be like to go back in a sense.  Interesting to think about…  Anyways, Rehoboam repents and turns back to God, for a time, and God relents of His anger and defeats Egypt before the people of Judah.

Abijah is the next king of Judah and while the text doesn’t tell us whether he did good or evil in the eyes of the Lord, we can certainly see that he is a step up from Rehoboam.  However, there is not peace in the land, which is one of the things promised to the people of God if they follow Him, so we have to imagine that perhaps on a scale of 1 to 10, Rehoboam was a 2 or a 3, Abijah is likely a 3 or a 4.  In any case, the Lord gives him victory over Jeroboam and the Northern Kingdom and Abijah prospers as the King of Judah.

 

The Kings of Judah Photo Credit: www.walkwiththeword.org

The Kings of Judah
Photo Credit: www.walkwiththeword.org

Asa is the son of Abijah and does a complete turn around for the people of Israel.  We read that he tears down idols and high places, alters and the priests of false gods.  Asa does what is good in the eyes of the Lord, seeking after God with his whole heart.  He and the people make a covenant to God with wording similar to that of the Shema, “they entered into a covenant to seek the Lord, the God of their fathers, with all their heart and with all their soul…”  God blesses Asa and the people greatly, giving them victory over their enemies, including a one million strong Ethiopian army in which they were out numbers by at least 3 to 1.  And there is peace during Asa’s reign… until the end…

Unfortunately, towards the end of Asa’s reign, we see him make several mistakes that he gets called out on.  He looks to the king of a foreign land, Ben-Hadad the king of Syria, for military help rather than seeking after the Lord.  He punishes a prophet for telling him the words that the Lord had said and becomes a very angry king.  In this time, Asa begins to decline and eventually succumbs to a disease.  All in all, it seems as though Asa was on the right track.  However, as the writer of the Chronicles is helping the returned exiles to reconnect with their identity as the people of God, I think he is making the point that you cannot become lazy in this following.  Asa kind of lets himself go towards the end of his life and he gets called out for it.  It is, again, the dual view of what it means to follow the Lord, and what happens when they don’t.  One is clearly good… the other is really the reason why the exiles are having to return in the first place.



Day 126: 2 Chronicles 8-11; From Solomon to Rehoboam

Solomon's Splendor Photo Credit: www.oneyearbibleblog.com

Solomon’s Splendor
Photo Credit: www.oneyearbibleblog.com

It is interesting what a different perspective brings on the latter portion of Solomon‘s life and the beginning of Rehoboam’s reign in Judah.  There isn’t a great deal written about how Solomon took so many wives from other nations and eventually was lured into the worship of false gods.  Much of the negative portion of the life of Solomon is omitted from the Chronicles.  However, as the Hebrew people were of an “Oral Culture,” these stories would have been passed down, and certainly not forgotten.  Yet again we encounter the text from a certain perspective with an author that is trying to make a theological point about the nature and identity of the people of God.  As is true and will be true with all of the kings that we will read about in 2 Chronicles, the point here seems to be that when the people and their leaders follow God, the blessings that follow are unfathomable.

One thing I noticed in the story of Solomon that caught my attention very quickly was a certain number that was talked about when we were reading about Solomon’s wealth.  2 Chronicles 9:13-14 reads, “Now the weight of gold that came to Solomon in one year was 666 talents of gold, besides that which the explorers and merchants brought.”  It is this number, the number 666 that shows up in Revelation 13:18 as the mark of the beast and has become synonymous with evil and the source of a great deal of debate about its means.  There are some that believe that this number is pure evil and when we see this particular number showing up in relationship to money take it as a point that it was money that ultimately corrupted Solomon.  If you couple this thought with the verse from 1 Timothy 6:10 that says, “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils” you can create a halfway cogent notion about the nature and relationship between money and evil.  I suppose, in some ways this is a good lesson that we can take out of this passage, however I don’t think that this was the author’s intent.

Numbers were important to the people of Israel and have a considerable amount of meaning infused in them.  For instance, the number 40 shows up many times throughout Scripture, often involving some sort of a wilderness experience.  40 days and nights of rain for Noah.  40 days was Moses on the Mount Sinai.  40 years in the desert for Israel.  40 Days in the desert for Jesus.  The number 3 shows up often as well and is associated with God.  3 visitors to Abraham.  Father, Son, and Spirit are the Trinity (a notion developed but never expressly stated in the Bible). In this same line of thinking, the number 7 appears quite often as well.  7 is associated as the number of completeness, holiness, and perfection.  Putting some of these symbols together, the number 777 would be the number of God as being complete and perfect in every way.  So when we see the number 666 we see that it is not quite 777, but it is imperfect… lacking in every way.  With that in mind the author here, and perhaps also in John’s revelation are making the point that there is nothing that measures up to the perfection and goodness that is in God alone, and therefore there is nothing on this earth, no blessing or amount of wealth that can be placed in front of, above, or even close to alongside of God.  Following after anything other than God is simply a complete lacking of all that we should be doing.  The writer of 2 Chronicles is making the point that even in the midst of these enormous blessings, Solomon still needs to seek after the one who is bringing them on him.

The United Kingdom of Solomon breaks up, with ...

The United Kingdom of Solomon breaks up, with Jeroboam ruling over the Northern Kingdom of Israel (in green on the map). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So as we read on April 10 and April 11, after Solomon dies, Rehoboam takes over as King and flubs it in a major way, so much so that the Kingdom of Israel is divided into the North and the South, with Rehoboam becoming king of the Southern Kingdom, known as Judah.  Remember too the audience to which the books of the Chronicles are written, the returned exiles of Judah.  Therefore as we continue in this narrative in 2 Chronicles, remember that our readings will focus in on the Southern Kingdom, the Kingdom of Judah, for when the Northern Kingdom goes into exile, they will never return.  Today we read an account of King Rehoboam as he secures the throne of Judah. Clearly the wisdom of his father Solomon is not passed down to him, yet for the time being, at least for today’s reading, it seems as though he is doing a fairly decent job at building up Judah and defending it well.  However, as you know, the story doesn’t stay that way for long…

Remember through this journey, the words that are repeated again and again in 2 Kings, “for the sake of the Lord’s servant David” does Judah and the line of kings continue…



Day 125: 2 Chronicles 5-7; Solomon Dedicates the Temple

How fitting for a reading like this to come in the midst of a Sunday for us.  This worship service must have been amazing to be a part of.  The visible glory of the Lord appears in the form of smoke and fire, hundreds of thousands of people worshiping the Lord together and praying together with the magnificence of the Temple of the Lord as their backdrop.  Indeed, what an awesome time of worship this must have been for the people.  Everything is going their way and God has blessed them beyond compare.  In many ways this is the pinnacle of Israel’s Golden Age, the height of all that is accomplished in Jerusalem and the high point of history for God’s chosen people.

English: The Ark of the Covenant Brought into ...

English: The Ark of the Covenant Brought into the Temple (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the midst of this worship service there is an interesting line about the status of the Ark of the Covenant that raises some questions about the writing and about the nature of how the Israelites viewed both the Temple and the presence of God in their midst.  As we read about the Ark of the Covenant and all the articles of the Tabernacle being brought into the Temple, we read that “the poles were so long that the ends of the poles were seen from the Holy Place before the inner sanctuary, but they could not be seen from outside. And they are there to this day.”  They are there to this day?  How is that even possible?  Isn’t this being written in the context of the people returned to a completely demolished Jerusalem?  Yes… and this is why it reveals something deeper about what the people believed about God’s presence and the nature of the Temple of the Lord.

First of all, as we have read about since the Ark of the Covenant was built way back in Exodus 25, it has been the place where God resides.  The Ark was called the “mercy seat,” the place in which God was enthroned here on earth.  This is also the place from which God judged and from which the Word of the Lord went forth.  It was very symbol and place of the presence of God on earth.  The Ark of the Covenant was placed in the Most Holy Place in the Tabernacle and in the Temple.  This was the place that Heaven and earth collided, the very center of the universe.  From here the universe was sustained. From here creation continued.  From here God’s decrees went out.  From here God reigned.

The Glory of God fills the Temple Photo Credit: www.jhkelly.wordpress.com/

The Glory of God fills the Temple
Photo Credit: www.jhkelly.wordpress.com

This is all well and good.  We can sign on to this.  There is but one problem… the Babylonians destroyed the Temple and took all that was in it.  Nothing was left when the people of God returned.  how can one say that they are “there to this day“?  I think that this reveals another very important concept of the Israelite Theology, that being their view of time and space.  The placement of God on the throne is not simply something that is temporal or physical in nature.  The Most Holy Place being a place in which our created reality meets the reality of God’s infinitude means that it is not bound by the laws of our universe, our reality.  For the people of Israel, the Temple still exists and God is still on that throne, even if it is not physically present here on earth.  The writer of the Chronicles is making the point that just because the Temple itself has been destroyed doesn’t mean that God is no longer present.  He is also saying that just because the Ark of the Covenant is not sitting in that exact spots doesn’t mean that God isn’t still sitting on the throne and reigning.

Like Israel’s connection to the past, the people are able to look back at this moment and see the true nature of themselves as the people of God gathered around the Temple worshiping and praising.  For them, these sacred times are “infinitely recoverable,” to quote Abraham Joshua Heschel.  And, the fact is that the truth of the nature and existence of God isn’t grounded solely in our physical reality or in what we see, hear, taste, smell, touch, or experience.  The truth of the reality of God is grounded in God alone.  This is something that the people of Israel had to learn as well.  Being removed from their homeland and relocated was likely one of the most traumatic events of the history of ancient Israel.  For them, to be removed from the location of the Temple, from Jerusalem, was to be cut off from God.  Yet God continued to reveal Himself to the prophets in exile, revealing to them that they were indeed still God’s people and that He wouldn’t abandon them.  Neither was He bound by and sort of spacial or geographic boundaries, much less the rule of an ancient power.  Indeed God is present in all of His creation and is able to sustain His people, even in their exile, and even more in their return.

On another note, Solomon’s prayer of Dedication in chapter 6 and the subsequent response of God in the latter part of chapter 7 are worth reading again.  The writer is making a very important point here, one that is not necessarily clearly made in the counterpart we find in 1 Kings.  Again, these writings are part of the bigger narrative of the people of Israel, one that includes highs and lows, with the ultimate low being that of the exile itself.  However, the covenant with God is being renewed here in Solomon’s prayer and God’s response is that He will indeed be listening, always listening to the prayers of His people.  Thinking back to Leviticus 26, especially the latter verses, Solomon is repeating to God what God has already promised to them, which God affirms in 2 Chronicles 7:14, “if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”



Day 124: 2 Chronicles 1-4; Solomon Reigns in Jerusalem

We now enter into the book of 2 Chronicles.  The first book, our readings for the past week or so, brought us from Creation through the reign of King David.  2 Chronicles, our readings for the next week or so, will bring us from Solomon through the Exile.  Today, we begin where we left off yesterday, with the transition of power from David to Solomon.  As Solomon assumes the throne he does exactly what he is charged to do by his father too, he worships God and seeks His face first and foremost.  This happens within the context of a time of worship in front of the tabernacle that is set up in Gibeon.

Solomon prays for Wisdom Photo Credit: www.hisdaughter02.blogspot.com/

Solomon prays for Wisdom
Photo Credit: www.hisdaughter02.blogspot.com

That night, we read, the familiar narrative of God coming to Solomon and offering the new king anything that he wants.  As we read in 1 Kings 3, Solomon asks for wisdom and knowledge to govern the people of God.  This is a request that pleases God and one that He grants to Solomon 100 fold and then some.  Along with wisdom and knowledge, Solomon is blessed with wealth beyond compare and incredible success.  While it doesn’t say it here, remember that in 1 Kings Solomon is granted rest from his enemies and receives a considerable amount of gifts and tribute from the surrounding nations that are under his rule.  We read here too that in the first couple years of his reign, Solomon establishes Israel, and particularly Jerusalem, as the principle power in the region and makes “gold as common as stone.”

English: Solomon and the Plan for the Temple, ...

English: Solomon and the Plan for the Temple, as in 1 Kings 6, illustration from a Bible card published by the Providence Lithograph Company (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This time, from David through most of Solomon’s reign, is considered to be the “Golden Age” of Israel.  For the first time in their existence, they are (for the most part) following God and living in His ways.  Because of this, God is blessing their socks off, and everything seems to be going their way.  It is in this context that Solomon begins to build the Temple of the Lord, the right granted to him by God.

Yet it is not in this context that these things are written.  Remember that the book of Chronicles is largely considered to have been written upon the return of the exiles from their captivity in Babylon to their desolate homeland in Judah.  They had nothing… less than nothing really.  The great city described in 2 Chronicles 2 lay in ruins.  The only thing that was as common as stone in Jerusalem was probably weeds or ruble.  The Temple of the Lord had been stripped of its former glory and burned to the ground. There was nothing left.  This is such a sharp contrast to what is being described here.  It must have been difficult to hear… much less write.

However, there is a purpose here in writing about the way things used to be, about their former glory as it were.  The writer isn’t rubbing it the face of those the returned exiles, showing them all the stuff they could have had… or didn’t have.  No, the writer is showing the people who they are by showing them who the people of Israel are.  He is showing them that it is very clear what God can bring about when His people follow His Laws and His will for their lives.  He is showing them that all of that can be restored if they follow in the ways of the Lord.  Of course this narrative does not stand in a vacuum, but is juxtaposed against the coming narratives of the disobedience of Israel… the very reason they are in the situation that they were in.  But the point here is that this is who the people of God are… they are a blessed people, chosen by God to be a blessing to the nations around them.  In their return, they can once again live in the City of David, own the inheritance that was given them, and if they will follow in the ways of the Lord, God will be faithful as He always has been, and bless them once again.



Day 123: 1 Chronicles 27-29; David's Final Charge

This last section of 1 Chronicles is a tribute to the final acts of David and all that he had done in his reign.  We’ve read about all the people that he has conquered, all the wealth that he has accumulated, and all the people that he appointed to the different positions as he made preparations for the building of the Temple.  Yet at the end of all of this, we see what I think is the most significant thing about David, about his reign over Israel and his life before God.

David's Charge to Solomon Photo Credit: www.bibleencyclopedia.com

David’s Charge to Solomon
Photo Credit: www.bibleencyclopedia.com

As David is wrapping things up with his life he calls all the people together and gives them a charge, and does the same with his son.  His speech could have been about all the things that he has done and all the preparations that he made so that everything will now go right because he has laid the groundwork for the building of the Temple which he wanted to do but couldn’t because God said no.  However, that is simply not the case with David.  When David speaks to the people and to his son Solomon, he gives all glory, all honor, and all praise to God alone.  David says, “Yet the Lord God of Israel chose me from all my father’s house to be king over Israel forever. For he chose Judah as leader, and in the house of Judah my father’s house, and among my father’s sons he took pleasure in me to make me king over all Israel.  And of all my sons (for the Lord has given me many sons) he has chosen Solomon my son to sit on the throne of the kingdom of the Lord over Israel.”  David’s emphasis is on the Lord’s work and decisions that made all of this possible, not because of anything that he had done.

The same goes for his charge to Solomon too.  David doesn’t point out his own good works, or even the ability of Solomon to complete this task on his own.  Instead, he implores his son to seek after God in all his works and in doing so Solomon will find success.  David says, “Be strong and courageous and do it. Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed, for the Lord God, even my God, is with you. He will not leave you or forsake you, until all the work for the service of the house of the Lord is finished.”  Solomon’s work is done, and only can be done, because it was the Lord who appointed him to do it.  David has done well in making preparations, Solomon will do well in administration… yet it is all because the Lord, the God of Israel ordained it and sustained it.  David recognizes this in his life and encourages his son to continue this.

In many ways, David’s story is Israel’s story… or at least what Israel’s story was supposed to be.  David is clearly blessed by God, and is clearly chosen by God.  One of the scary theological terms that we use for this is “ELECTION.”  It refers to the obvious fact that is pointed out time and again that God has clearly chosen David and has blessed him.  In the same way we see this with the people of Israel, as God has chosen them to be His people not because they were special or extra good in some way, but because God chose them.  Now, generally speaking, when people talk about ELECTION, the conversation disolves into an argument and winds up being about people deciding about who is in and who is out… or about how a loving God could choose some and not others.  While I acknowledge that those arguments are out there, I think what is more appropriate to approach in this discussion is the purpose of the ELECT in God’s plan and working in the world.  You see, ELECTION has never been simply about who is in and who is out.  The purpose of ELECTION is about God’s working through a specific group of people to bring about His will, His reign, and His blessings in the world.  The original ELECTION of Abraham comes with a covenant promise that, as God’s ELECT people, they will be a blessing to the whole world.  It wasn’t about God not choosing the other nations of the world, but about how God is going to communicate His blessings, His grace, and His love to the entire world!  This becomes even more important and prominent in Jesus Christ, but we’re still many hundreds of years away from that yet in the Biblical narrative… so stay tuned!



Day 122: 1 Chronicles 24-26; Prosperity and Preparations for the Temple

Yesterday we largely covered chapter 21 of first Chronicles.  There was a lot there.  Today we are going to walk through the whole of chapters 22-26, mostly because they are all linked together.  The reading for today has everything to do with how David prepared for the building of the Temple in his life even though he wasn’t able to actually build the structure itself.  However, today’s readings are, as I said, linked to the readings from yesterday, and from the past several days, that talk about David’s prosperity in all that he did.  God gave David victory wherever he went and in that prosperity, David gained great wealth.  At the beginning of 1 Chronicles 22, we read a brief summary of all that David has at his disposal.

Culture of Prosperity... Photo Credit: www.lifelibertytech.com

Culture of Prosperity…
Photo Credit: www.lifelibertytech.com

In our world today, we are faced with a great deal of mixed messages that have to do with prosperity.  Work hard, get money, buy nice things, and be happy… this it what our culture tells us is the meaning of life.  The whole American culture is based on this idea.  We even have pastors like Joel Osteen that are misleading congregants with false doctrine using misquoted proof texts into things like “the prosperity gospel” (keep in mind that when the primary focus of all the messages and books of a pastor are on ‘you,’ their focus might be a bit questionable).  All of these things wholly and completely miss the point of what is going on here, and what the Bible talks about when it comes to being blessed and prospering.  The point here isn’t that David followed God so that he would get rich.  Neither is the point that David used what God blessed him with on himself to make himself happy.  The primary motif of Scripture when it comes to the Lord’s blessings is that we are blessed that we may be a blessing.  We follow God because we love God and desire to follow in His ways.  In doing that, God will bless us that we in turn may be a blessing to others.  This is exactly what David does.

Michelangelo david solomon

Michelangelo david solomon (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If we think back over the course of the past couple days, and of all the narratives of David in 1 Chronicles and in 2 Samuel, we see that there is a very consistent pattern to what happens with David.  We do not see him attaining a victory and then going to the Lord, nor we we see him save back any of what is taken from his enemies.  Instead, we see David seeking the Lord’s will before he does anything, and after it is done, David honors the Lord with all of the spoils of war.  We read this in the record of Davids charge to his son Solomon regarding the Temple in 1 Chronicles 22.  And what is the purpose for this?  That Solomon spend it all on himself?  No… in fact, David exhorts his son saying,

“Only, may the Lord grant you discretion and understanding, that when he gives you charge over Israel you may keep the law of the Lord your God.  Then you will prosper if you are careful to observe the statutes and the rules that the Lord commanded Moses for Israel. Be strong and courageous. Fear not; do not be dismayed.”

The purpose here is clear… if we follow the Lord, He will prosper us in our walk.  Again, the purpose is not to be prospered, but to follow the Lord because we love Him and that is what He calls us to do.  For more on this, I would like to direct you to ChristianPF.org.  This is a wonderful article about what the Bible says about prosperity.

The rest of the reading for today has to do with David’s organization of the people that will work in, worship at, and help run the Temple.  All these are people that have been set apart for service to the Lord.  In the same way that we read genealogies at the beginning of this book, so to can we read the names of the people here.  Remember, this is one way in which the people of Israel, the remnant that has returned from exile is re-locating and re-identifying themselves with and within their own history.  They are, as we have said, walking backwards into the future.



Day 121: 1 Chronicles 21-23; Bad Decisions

After talking about the way the author casts David in a pretty good light yesterday, we come upon today’s text which begins with the words “Then Satan stood against Israel and incited David to number Israel.”  I guess it wasn’t a perfect light after all.  Yet even in this we see message that is being sent to the returned exiles: God is the same God that He always has been… Gracious and Merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and compassion.

1 Chronicles 21: David makes a choice Photo Credit: http://www.1st-art-gallery.com/

1 Chronicles 21: David makes a choice
Photo Credit: www.1st-art-gallery.com

In this narrative, David does something that apparently is not something he is supposed to do.  We talked about this on April 5, when we covered this story as it was recorded in 2 Samuel 24.  In that post I guessed that it had something to do with Exodus 30.  What we read in Exodus 30:12 is that “When you take the census of the people of Israel, then each shall give a ransom for his life to the Lord when you number them, that there be no plague among them when you number them.”  This is really the only sort of “proof” that we have that what David did here was wrong as there is no account of a collection that takes place.  However, the other tell tale sign that this was bad is that very first verse of 1 Chronicles 21 that talks about Satan inciting David to do this.  We don’t necessarily know the circumstances, but what we do know is that God was angry with David and all of Israel for doing this.  Whatever the case is, a plague is sent on Israel and some 70,000 people die.

How does this show God’s great mercy and His true nature?  Well, of course, if David did sin in this act, we see the nature of God’s opposition to sin and His wrath against it, but we also see God relenting in this act of punishment.  We read that the angel of the Lord comes to Jerusalem and is just about to strike it and God relents.  He only goes as far as this threshing floor.  Then David builds and alter and God turns from His wrath.  There is mercy there.  David pleads with the Lord to forgive Israel, to spare them and take his own life and his family instead.  Yet God shows His forgiveness and turns from His anger.

Alter on the Threshing floor of Ornan Photo Credit: www.kingjamesbibleonline.org/

Alter on the Threshing floor of Ornan
Photo Credit: www.kingjamesbibleonline.org

So what is the message here?  Well, keeping in mind the context of the returned exiles, I notice a very sharp contrast between the sin that gets them into this, and the grace and mercy that gets them out.  David sinned.  I’m sure the author felt the need to point that out.  If the people are trying to reconnect themselves with the past and they heard about a kind that we perfect, I bet they would have been quite discouraged.  Yet I think too if the story were that the whole nation was wiped out because of one sin, they would also be discouraged (and… also absent, as they wouldn’t exist).  What the writer is showing them, and us, is how God acts in the face of sin.  They’ve seen the punishment first-hand.  Exile, a completely destroyed Jerusalem and Temple, and their homeland turned wild and unkempt because of their absence, yet God has brought them back.  Their punishment was not permanent nor is the Lord’s anger.  He forgives graciously and restores mercifully.  What we see here is not a God that just puts people down every time they sin, but rather a God who graciously relents from His wrath.  All this happens around the motif of a sacrifice… David’s sacrifice of peace offerings to God.

This is true for our lives as well.  God is still completely opposed to sin.  There are still consequences to our actions.  But God is gracious and quick to forgive and to restore… and all of that happens around a sacrifice as well… the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, once for all on the cross for the sins of the whole world!



Day 120: 1 Chronicles 17-20; David's Many Victories

King David Stained Glass Photo Credit: www.creationrevolution.com

King David Stained Glass
Photo Credit: www.creationrevolution.com

Today’s reading may seem a bit familiar to you as you read through it.  If you recognized that, its because most of these battles and victories were talked about in the book of 2 Samuel.  If you didn’t remember these stories, its ok!  We talked about them on March 30, and many of them are pieced together from different parts of 2 Samuel and come as additions to parts of other stories.  Interestingly though, the writer of the Chronicles chose not to talk about a couple of narratives that we read through in 2 Samuel about the less desirable moments of David’s reign.  Remember David and Bathsheba?  David’s son Absalom (who was not even included in the list of his sons a couple chapters ago)?  Yes, indeed there are a great many things that are left out in this account of David’s reign.

Why is that?  Would this imply that the Bible is lying through omission?  By No Means!

We believe that the Bible is Truth, the inspired Word of God written down by human hands.  We also believe that the Bible is authoritative for our lives and that it communicates truth to us, all the Truth that we need to know God and to see His ways.  And I do not believe that this is challenged here at all.

One of the points of stating this is to point out that the Bible was indeed written by human hands.  The pages did not simply fall out of the sky into the laps of some wise Hebrews that knew what to do with them, these writers were Inspired by God through the Holy Spirit to write the things that they wrote.  Yet even in this inspiration there is context… and what is the context here?  Exile… or rather, the return from Exile.  The writer, presumably Ezra, is recording the history of the Kingdom of Judah for the people that have just returned from Exile.  They are looking back, specifically through the lens of the line of Davidic Kings.

King David Photo Credit: http://www.bible-topten.com/David.htm

King David
Photo Credit: www.bible-topten.com

And again, they have just returned from Exile.  What does this mean?  It means they have seen what happens when you don’t follow in the ways of the Lord.  This is, for all intents and purposes, the main thrust of the story of David and Bathsheba and the resulting story of David’s son Absalom.  They are text book examples of what happens when one turns away from God.  But the people of Israel knew that.  They were just returning from 70 or so years of being punished for not following God.  What they are getting here is the history of how things used to be and how they could be again if they did follow God’s ways and follow His Laws.  The story of David and Bathsheba would have been very well known to them, as would the story of David and Absalom.  Yet the writer is making some Theological moves here as well, pointing the people, and us, to the blessings of God that are found in covenant fidelity.  He isn’t saying that bad things don’t happen, or won’t happen, or we should just not think about them… but what He is pointing to, once again, is finding out who they are as a people by linking them to the past which brings them closer, in their view, to God.  This is seen most clearly today in chapter 17 of today’s reading as God makes an everlasting covenant with David that establishes him as having the throne of Israel forever.

Interestingly, we as Christians also relate ourselves and who we are to the past, linking ourselves to Jesus.  We are who we are because of Christ, who is who He is in part due to this covenant… which is what it is because of the previous covenants… which bring us back to Abraham, Noah, Adam… and God.



Day 119: 1 Chronicles 14-16; David's Song of Thanks

As I was thinking about today’s reading, I really was just astounded by the song of David in 1 Chronicles 16.  Thus far, there hasn’t been a better summary of the Covenant and God’s faithfulness in Israel’s history.  I think, in lieu of something better to say, that I will just encourage you to read it again and reflect on the all that we have heard and read in these last four months.

Oh give thanks to the Lord; call upon his name;
make known his deeds among the peoples!
Sing to him, sing praises to him;
tell of all his wondrous works!
Glory in his holy name;
let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice!
Seek the Lord and his strength;
seek his presence continually!
Remember the wondrous works that he has done,
his miracles and the judgments he uttered,
O offspring of Israel his servant,
children of Jacob, his chosen ones!

He is the Lord our God;
his judgments are in all the earth.
Remember his covenant forever,
the word that he commanded, for a thousand generations,
the covenant that he made with Abraham,
his sworn promise to Isaac,
which he confirmed to Jacob as a statute,
to Israel as an everlasting covenant,
saying, “To you I will give the land of Canaan,
as your portion for an inheritance.”

When you were few in number,
of little account, and sojourners in it,
wandering from nation to nation,
from one kingdom to another people,
he allowed no one to oppress them;
he rebuked kings on their account,
saying, “Touch not my anointed ones,
do my prophets no harm!”

David's Song of Thanks Photo Credit: http://caffeinatedthoughts.com

David’s Song of Thanks
Photo Credit: http://caffeinatedthoughts.com

Sing to the Lord, all the earth!
Tell of his salvation from day to day.
Declare his glory among the nations,
his marvelous works among all the peoples!
For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised,
and he is to be feared above all gods.
For all the gods of the peoples are worthless idols,
but the Lord made the heavens.
Splendor and majesty are before him;
strength and joy are in his place.

Ascribe to the Lord, O families of the peoples,
ascribe to the Lord glory and strength!
Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name;
bring an offering and come before him!
Worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness;
     tremble before him, all the earth;
yes, the world is established; it shall never be moved.
Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice,
and let them say among the nations, “The Lord reigns!”
Let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
let the field exult, and everything in it!
Then shall the trees of the forest sing for joy
before the Lord, for he comes to judge the earth.
Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
for his steadfast love endures forever!

Save us, O God of our salvation,
and gather and deliver us from among the nations,
that we may give thanks to your holy name
and glory in your praise.
Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel,
from everlasting to everlasting!

Amen!



Day 118: 1 Chronicles 11-13; David and His Mighty Men

Today we find ourselves finally past all of the genealogies that open the book of Chronicles.  Though it is interesting to see how the Hebrew people connected themselves with the past and sought to live as close to God and the blessings of God as they could.  I do think it is something we ought to continue to think about as we examine our own lives and evaluate our own relationship with God.  That being said however, it is refreshing to return to the narratives of Scripture that we are a bit more familiar with, like the narratives of King David in the Chronicles, which we being today… even in the midst of a great many names once again.

The lists of names that we encounter today though are written about differently than the genealogies that we have been reading for the past couple days.  We aren’t simply reading about so-and-so the father of so-and-so right down the line to some intended end.  Rather, we are reading the names of the people that the Lord had brought to David and provided David with as his reign began.  In a way, we are reading a roster of David’s military and learning about all that they had accomplished, none of which can be separated for a moment from the work of God in faithfully providing for His anointed one.  I see these lists as being meant for two things, at least that are coming to my mind at the moment.  

English: Entry of king David into Jerusalem

English: Entry of king David into Jerusalem (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

First, these lists and names, like the genealogies and other lists and names of this sort are a way of connecting the Hebrew people back to this time in history.  Given the context of exiles returning to Babylon to a decimated and hostile land of Judah, I think this list is making a statement to the people that the Lord provides the means and the ways to make things happen.  David certainly couldn’t do any of this on His own.  They hadn’t even taken Jerusalem from the Jebusites yet, a city that was really only conquered twice at the time of this writing.  However, David and the mighty men that God provided for him went up and took the city that would eventually house God’s Temple, and did it without much effort (at least not much that is written about).  The people returning from the exile are also encountering forces that seem beyond their ability to overcome, yet God is saying to them in His Word that He will provide for them the means and the power if they will only trust completely in Him.

And second, these lists also point to the fact that it took people and action to accomplish these things.  Yes, ultimately all of the glory should and does go to God.  This is true first and foremost in any narrative.  However, God is not a God who just does everything for His people, and his people are not to be ones who sit back and do nothing waiting for God.  God appointed men to join David’s ranks.  These men defected from places David wouldn’t have expected.  They fought battles, built walls, and defended the territory.  David didn’t take Jerusalem and then sit in its ruble and call it “the City of David,” he built it up and made it defensible!  God doesn’t call His people to be passive, He expects action and work from those that trust Him.  When God’s people move to action and trust in Him, great things can be done.

The Chastisement of Uzzah

The Chastisement of Uzzah (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Finally today, we read a narrative that we are somewhat familiar with, that of the first attempt to return the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem.  This is recorded also in 2 Samuel 6, something we talked about on Day 88 of our journey through the Bible.  The narrative here is much the same as in 2 Samuel except, if you read it closely, you will note some name changes in the places that are spoken of.  This is probably due largely to the change in the landscape between the time of David and the time of the return of the exiles.  The story stays the same… the oxen stumble at a threshing floor and Uzzah reaches out to stead the Ark and is put to death.  Why the name change then?  Perhaps they weren’t aware of the old names of the places?  Perhaps… or maybe the point is being made that it doesn’t matter what the names of the places are so much as the truth that the narrative communicates.

Whether the names of the cities and places are those which were given by the Hebrew people, or the names given by the current local inhabitants is likely besides the point.  What the point is here, is that God is real, He is present, and He is still Holy.  This, I think, is an on-going theme in these books, and in the greater narrative of Scripture as well.  We’ve seen how God works through the generations, and we have also seen that God is still working within the Covenant relationship He has set up with the people which, in this time, included the Law.  Uzzah was clearly not supposed to touch the Ark, despite his seemingly good intentions.  What, then, do we communicated in this to the returned exiles and to us?  God has not changed a bit.  He is the same God yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

 



Day 117: 1 Chronicles 8-10; King Saul

With the books of 1st and 2nd Chronicles being written primarily to the people of Judah that have returned from the exile, it is not surprising to find the section on King Saul to be rather short.  The Kingdom of Judah, and Israel divided, identified completely with the house and line of King David.  They were the only ones that stayed loyal to the the King that was after God’s own heart, he who was promised to have a royal line forever.  For them, and really for all of Israel, Saul was the example of what would happen if there was a bad king in Israel.  Though he wasn’t as bad as many of the kings to come after him, he followed after the wrong things and didn’t trust the Lord, thus provoking Him to anger and causing Him to remove the family of Saul from the Royal line.

Saul Tries to Kill David Photo Credit: http://biblicalgenealogy.kavonrueter.com/Pictures-David_InSaulsService.htm

Saul Tries to Kill David
Photo Credit: http://biblicalgenealogy.kavonrueter.com

However, Saul was an integral part of the history of the people of God and his name bore mentioning in the Chronicles of Judah.  Interestingly, we don’t get much here about Saul’s exploits in trying to kill David or anything about the sins that he commits.  Whether this wasn’t so important to the writer here or it was assumed that the people would know these stories I cannot say, however the fact is that in relation to what is to come in the narratives of King David, Saul is just a blip on the page.

That being said, I think it is important for us to remember together the stories of Saul from the book of 1 Samuel.  He was anointed by God, but reluctant to rule until he was thrust into power by a “national crisis.”  From there Saul assumes power, but makes several key mistakes, revealing his lack of trust in God.  The narrative continues for quite some time juxtaposing his son Jonathan and David the son of Jesse against Saul when it comes to covenant fidelity and following God.  Saul continuously makes mistakes and is incredibly hate filled when it comes to dealing with David, whom God has anointed to be the next king.  Yet even in all of this, David does no wrong to Saul, even gently correcting him in his errors.  In the end though, Saul’s lack of faith, trust, and obedience to God result in the death of most of his family and the eventually his own death at the hand of his enemies, the philistines.

David Spares Saul's Life Photo Credit: http://www.workersforjesus.com/1samuel22-24.htm

David Spares Saul’s Life
Photo Credit: http://www.workersforjesus.com

As I look back on this narrative of the life of Saul, I am forced to recognize and wonder about its relationship to the greater narrative of the people of Israel (and by Israel I mean the united Kingdom and both portions of the Divided Kingdom as well).  There are striking similarities between the life of Saul and the life of Israel in general.  Things many start out all peachy, but it doesn’t take long for them to go south.  Throughout the lives of both Saul and Israel there are warning signs and even some course corrections.  Yet their continued propensity to sin inevitably leads them a place in which God removes them from the place to which they have been appointed.  Saul’s life, I must admit, is a foreshadowing of what is to come as Israel progresses down the path of having a king.  Samuel warns them about this in 1 Samuel 8 and it indeed comes to pass several hundred years later.



Day 116: 1 Chronicles 6-7; Backing into the Future

I do love it when things from class are conveniently discussed around the same time that I would need information like this for a posting.  Today’s post brought to you in part by a special discussion with Professor Travis West and the evening Hebrew class at Western Theological Seminary on Tuesday 4/23/2013.  Thanks for the great discussion and the inspiration on what to write for today’s continuation of the genealogy of Israel.

Another key to understanding the necessity of these genealogies comes from a better understanding of the Hebrew understanding of time.  While I am certainly not an expert in this, have gained some wisdom and insight on this in the past year at Seminary.  We’ve talked here before about the Hebrew Theo-centric worldview.  That is, we have established that for the Hebrew people, the center of the universe is God overall, and was seen physically as the Temple and the different times that God reveals Himself to people on earth.  The fancy theological word for this is “theophany.”  In their lives, the Hebrew people would try to be as close to the center, that is the Temple where God resides.  This is the place that Heaven and earth meet.

Another way of being close to the center, or close to God, is to identify with their ancestors.  People didn’t just think of their biological father and mother as their only father and mother, but also their parents, and their parents, etc etc.  We talked about this yesterday as we talked about how God has been at work throughout generations to bring each person to the moment that they are at now.  This way of thinking clues us in to the orientation of the people in relationship to time and to God.

If you think in your life, how would you orientate your self if you were lost somewhere?  For us in this modern day, we orientate ourselves by finding north and then working our way from there.  Interestingly, we do this by often finding out where the sun rises and where it sets.  That act is, in all actuality, more appropriate to the Hebrew understanding of time and life orientation.  For the Hebrew people, their primary orientation was to the east.  The east direction would have been at the top of their maps (if they had them).  The word for east in the Hebrew language also had connotations of being towards the past, all the way back to the primeval days, the days of creation.  Like linking themselves with their ancestors who, they thought, were closer to the covenant, closer to creation, and therefore closer to God, when they oriented themselves they would look to the east because it represented to them a looking backwards… looking toward God who was closest to the earth (so they thought) in the time of creation.  Their primary identity was found in the past rather than the present of the future.  The people of Israel are who they are always because of where they had come from, the work that God had done… and the fact that God had chose them.

So, if you think about this, as people face the east and orient themselves to the past, how does one go forward?  By walking backwards.  There are all sorts of theological connotations that come up when we think like this and we will discuss them more as we move forward (or backward) in Scripture.  However, I think that this particular point should give us cause to stop and think about our own orientation to life and time.

Person walking a path Photo credit: http://footage.shutterstock.com/clip-2337578-stock-footage-person-hiking-trail-high-up-off-the-coast-of-oregon-and-highway.html

Person walking a path
Photo credit: http://footage.shutterstock.com

This idea of orienting ourselves with the past and backing into the future clashes fiercely with the prevailing cultural worldview today doesn’t it?  We always talk about moving forward, forward progress, going out and making a future for ourselves.  This orientation to life places our meaning, our purpose, and our focus on the future.  We we are is wrapped up in who we will become.  This is, in many ways, completely in conflict with the worldview of the Hebrew people that we are being presented with.  Do we often orient ourselves, our lives, and even our faith in the past?  It is interesting, thinking about all of the implications that come along with this.  What does backing into the future do to us in our lives?  It places us in a vulnerable position of having to trust God to guide our way… all of our way… our jobs, our families, our lives, our everything… What this doesn’t mean is that we just passively walk backwards and let life happen.  We are certainly active along the way, but it does mean that we are not the primary responsibility for our lives.  Just as we are not the primary mover in our own salvation and humanity is not the primary mover of history, this view of backing into the future roots us firmly in keeping our eye on that which defines us and gives us identity… The Cross of Christ… and it forces us to hold our focus there and trust that God, who knew us before the foundation of the world, has laid out the path of our lives that we can walk with confidence, knowing that He who promised is ALWAYS FAITHFUL.