Day 282: Matthew 10-12; Go and Tell What You Hear and See

While there are many different themes that present themselves in today’s reading, the one that sticks out most to me is that of those being sent out by Jesus.  As we pick up the narrative of Jesus’ ministry today we see Jesus preparing the disciples and then sending them out to the towns and villages of Israel, to the “lost sheep” spreading the news of the Kingdom of heaven.  He gives them specific instructions about how to prepare and what to expect, though we hear very little about the message that they are to give apart from the fact that “The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”    Apart from that they are to heal the sick, raise the dead, and even cast out demons.  Generally speaking they are called to be and do what the people of Israel were called to be and do.  What we are seeing here is the beginnings of the “Kingdom of Heaven” or “the day of the Lord” as the prophets put it.  We don’t get a report back here, but in the book of Luke chapter 10 we hear the return of the 72 that Jesus sends out after He sends out the Twelve Disciples and the reports are astonishing.  All that they were sent to do was done and in each instance we see an in-breaking of the Kingdom of God here on earth.

Later in today’s reading we see the disciples of John the Baptist come to Jesus to ask questions of Him.  I love Jesus’ response here: “God and tell John what you hear and see.”  It’s as if Jesus is asking them if what they have experienced meant nothing… they needed confirmation still even in the midst of all these miracles.  The advance of the Kingdom of God on this world is well underway, yet still there are doubts.

I wonder if we too think in these manners.  I wonder if we have any experience that can share with others.  As many of the Christians I know discuss how to best do evangelism and reach out to “the lost” in their different churches, it seems as though we always come back to the question of “how inviting are we as a church” as if the call of God is to be the warmest, most comfortable church in town so that people will come to us.  Yet that’s not what we see as an example here.  Jesus hasn’t set Himself in a local synagogue to preach and teach and make it warm and welcoming, He is out in the neighborhoods and towns, and sending people out into other neighborhoods and towns to proclaim the Kingdom of Heaven.  What is that proclamation?  It is the very thing that He sent His disciples to do: heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, and preach the good news to the poor!  This is what Jesus is doing and this is what He sends His disciples to do.  They are a “sent community.”  This is a theme that will come back time and again in the Gospels and in the whole of the New Testament and it is not a new one either.  The people of Israel were not given the land of Canaan so they could build walls and keep the people of the world out, they were placed there because they were GUARANTEED to have interactions with the nations around them.  Have you received Jesus into your life?  Have you experienced the grace of God and the redemption that He offers?  Go and tell the world what you experience in the love of God!



Day 244: Ezekiel 20-21; Old News… Bad News…

There is a great deal of bad news that comes with today’s reading.  It’s almost depressing to be honest.  Ezekiel probably has one of the most comprehensive descriptions about what is going on with the people of Israel, why it is happening, and even how it will take place.  As I was reading all of chapter 20 though, I kept thinking that I had heard all of this in another place before now.  Of course we have heard a lot of this message in Isaiah and Jeremiah, but it wasn’t with them that we had heard all of Ezekiel’s telling of the story of the people of Israel.  Do you remember where it came from?  It’s been a long time since we talked about it and it had been a long time chronologically speaking for the people of Israel too.  However, any good Hebrew scholar of the Scriptures in that time would have recognized Ezekiel’s words as coming from the book of Leviticus, particularly the end, as well as other parts of Exodus and Deuteronomy that talk about the Covenant and all that would happen if they broke the covenant.

What Ezekiel was saying here, the Word of the Lord that came to him, was certainly not anything new for the people of Israel.  I would assume that Ezekiel knew exactly what God was saying and where He was drawing from as the words were flowing out of his mouth.  If you have a moment, read the following excerpt from Leviticus 26, you might notice some similarities between Ezekiel 20 and this:

Leviticus 26

14 “But if you will not listen to me and will not do all these commandments, 15 if you spurn my statutes, and if your soul abhors my rules, so that you will not do all my commandments, but break my covenant, 16 then I will do this to you: I will visit you with panic, with wasting disease and fever that consume the eyes and make the heart ache. And you shall sow your seed in vain, for your enemies shall eat it. 17 I will set my face against you, and you shall be struck down before your enemies. Those who hate you shall rule over you, and you shall flee when none pursues you. 18 And if in spite of this you will not listen to me, then I will discipline you again seven fold for your sins, 19 and I will break the pride of your power, and I will make your heavens like iron and your earth like bronze. 20 And your strength shall be spent in vain, for your land shall not yield its increase, and the trees of the land shall not yield their fruit.

21 “Then if you walk contrary to me and will not listen to me, I will continue striking you, sevenfold for your sins. 22 And I will let loose the wild beasts against you, which shall bereave you of your children and destroy your livestock and make you few in number, so that your roads shall be deserted.

23 “And if by this discipline you are not turned to me but walk contrary to me, 24 then I also will walk contrary to you, and I myself will strike you seven fold for your sins. 25 And I will bring a sword upon you, that shall execute vengeance for the covenant. And if you gather within your cities, I will send pestilence among you, and you shall be delivered into the hand of the enemy. 26 When I break your supply of bread, ten women shall bake your bread in a single oven and shall dole out your bread again by weight, and you shall eat and not be satisfied.

27 “But if in spite of this you will not listen to me, but walk contrary to me, 28 then I will walk contrary to you in fury, and I myself will discipline you sevenfold for your sins. 29 You shall eat the flesh of your sons, and you shall eat the flesh of your daughters. 30 And I will destroy your high places and cut down your incense altars and cast your dead bodies upon the dead bodies of your idols, and my soul will abhor you. 31 And I will lay your cities waste and will make your sanctuaries desolate, and I will not smell your pleasing aromas. 32 And I myself will devastate the land, so that your enemies who settle in it shall be appalled at it.33 And I will scatter you among the nations, and I will unsheathe the sword after you, and your land shall be a desolation, and your cities shall be a waste.

34 “Then the land shall enjoy its Sabbaths as long as it lies desolate, while you are in your enemies’ land; then the land shall rest, and enjoy its Sabbaths. 35 As long as it lies desolate it shall have rest, the rest that it did not have on your Sabbaths when you were dwelling in it. 36 And as for those of you who are left, I will send faintness into their hearts in the lands of their enemies. The sound of a driven leaf shall put them to flight, and they shall flee as one flees from the sword, and they shall fall when none pursues. 37 They shall stumble over one another, as if to escape a sword, though none pursues. And you shall have no power to stand before your enemies. 38 And you shall perish among the nations, and the land of your enemies shall eat you up. 39 And those of you who are left shall rot away in your enemies’ lands because of their iniquity, and also because of the iniquities of their fathers they shall rot away like them.

40 “But if they confess their iniquity and the iniquity of their fathers in their treachery that they committed against me, and also in walking contrary to me, 41 so that I walked contrary to them and brought them into the land of their enemies—if then their uncircumcised heart is humbled and they make amends for their iniquity, 42 then I will remember my covenant with Jacob, and I will remember my covenant with Isaac and my covenant with Abraham, and I will remember the land. 43 But the land shall be abandoned by them and enjoy its Sabbaths while it lies desolate without them, and they shall make amends for their iniquity, because they spurned my rules and their soul abhorred my statutes. 44 Yet for all that, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not spurn them, neither will I abhor them so as to destroy them utterly and break my covenant with them, for I am the Lord their God.45 But I will for their sake remember the covenant with their forefathers, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt in the sight of the nations, that I might be their God: I am the Lord.”

The Word of the Lord to Ezekiel is not something made up on the spot, neither is it contrary to the Covenant that God has made with His people.  Yet even at the end of Chapter 20, as we have seen in the writings of the prophets and many more times throughout Israel’s history, God forgives and His grace abounds.  In so many ways, God’s grace abounds.  Even with the people of God don’t get it, when they don’t repent, God still forgives and still continues to try to teach them.  He even goes so far as to send His Son to do what they could not so that the whole world would know that He is God.



Day 183: Proverbs 4-7; A Father's Wise Warnings

Did you ever have parents that told you or warned you about something and you thought that they didn’t know what they were talking about?  I dare say that we all have experienced this at one point in time.  Kids always think they know better than their parents… especially teenagers.  I remember being a senior in high school and thinking that my parents didn’t know anything and that I had it all together.  I couldn’t have been more wrong.  Of course there is an amount of growing up that all children have to do on their own.  We grow and learn through our experiences, shaped by the people around us and our interactions with them.  However, when it comes to those that have helped us to grow the most, there are none that compare to our parents.

Proverbs Wordle Photo Credit: www.fbcmb.wordpress.com

Proverbs Wordle
Photo Credit: www.fbcmb.wordpress.com

The words of today’s Scripture readings are works just like that, wise and loving words of instruction and warnings from a father to his son.  This is not your average after school lecture about getting good grades or doing the chores though, the words of the one speaking here are  those of a loving father trying to instruct and warn his son of what is to come in the world.  The purpose?  To gain wisdom and insight.  Why?  Because keeping wisdom before you is one of the best ways to say away from folly.

Again today we see the analogy that Solomon started to make yesterday between lady Wisdom and lady Folly.  Solomon is telling his son to get wisdom at all costs, and insight as well, and to cherish her above all else.  I don’t know about you but I can almost here the echos of wedding vows in these statements.  He says to “cherish her above all else, prize her, and not to forsake her.”  It is almost as if he is telling his son that once he has wisdom, he should never let her go for it is wisdom that will help make straight the paths of life and lead to a good life.  Not only that though, having wisdom and understanding is also the way to guard against going astray, falling into the trap of folly who is seductive and tricky.

Solomon once again shows folly as being like a prostitute, beautiful on the outside but crafty and false through and through.  Like the fast diets or get rich quick schemes of the world, things look really great at first glance, but when you really see into it, all your doing is just giving your money away to someone else.  Solomon warns too that folly will take you when you aren’t looking, which is why having wisdom, understanding, and insight is so important.  Temptations lurk around every corner, looking and sounding like something very nice, and turning out to be crooked and evil.

In all of this, we need to remember that ultimately Solomon is not encouraging wisdom for the sake of being wise, but wisdom that finds its root and beginning of God alone.  It is not at all a coincidence that Solomon is using adultery as a metaphor here.  Time and time again God has used this metaphor as a way to describe the children of Israel as their are enticed away from Him and towards other gods.  The Scripture that we read today would not have been simply thought of and received as Solomon talking to his son, but as God Himself, the Father of the nation of Israel, speaking and instructing His children and warning them against the allure of other gods.  Remember how God instructed His people to remove all the people from the land of Canaan lest they be lured away by their gods?  Our reading today is no different.  It is instruction to a son, a people, to us a couple thousand years later saying we indeed need to have wisdom that is rooted in the fear of the Lord… understanding and insight that we too may walk the straight and narrow path and not be led astray by the many tempting gods and adultresses of our time.



Day 133: 2 Chronicles 33-34; Manasseh, Amon, and Josiah

Spiritual State and the Kings of Israel Photo Credit: http://www.flester.com/blog/2008/03/14/the-kings-of-israel-and-judah

Spiritual State and the Kings of Israel
Photo Credit: www.flester.com

Back and forth we seem to be going at this point.  Good king… bad king… good king… bad king… good king… and now we’ve come to Manasseh, arguably the worst king of Judah.  According to what we read today, Manasseh did more evil in the sight of God than the combined evil of all the nations that were present in the land of Canaan prior to the conquest of Israel back in Joshua.  This comment is made in a two-fold manner, I think, in that it is meant to communicate two particular things when it comes to the nation of Judah under the reign of Manasseh.  First, it is communicating the sheer quantity and quality of the evil that is being done.  Manasseh too has burned his sons and set up alters and places to worship other gods, even in the courts of the temple.  He also sets up an image of another god in the Temple itself.  All of which are utterly detestable in the sight of God.

Also, the phrase about the amount of evil done by Manasseh and the people of Judah during this time period is meant to draw a parallel between the people of God at this time and the many nations of people that were exterminated by Israel when they conquered the land of Canaan, a judgment that was brought on them because of the evil that they were doing in the sight of the Lord.  Judah, now, as we are told, has done more evil than all of them put together.  What happened to those nations?  Judgment.  The writer of Chronicles is drawing this parallel, showing that even though God is patient, there is a limit to it, and a limit to how long He will tolerate sin.  We see this in in Genesis 15 when God says to Abraham, “…for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.”  When it was complete, they were wiped out.

Josiah Finds the Book of the Law: Photo Credit: www.kenrick.edu

Josiah Finds the Book of the Law:
Photo Credit: www.kenrick.edu

Unfortunately, this parallel is drawn and confirmed by Huldah the prophetess to King Josiah many years later after the book of the Law has been found.  God speaks through her to King Josiah saying, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: “Tell the man who sent you to me, Thus says the Lord, Behold, I will bring disaster upon this place and upon its inhabitants, all the curses that are written in the book that was read before the king of Judah.  Because they have forsaken me and have made offerings to other gods, that they might provoke me to anger with all the works of their hands, therefore my wrath will be poured out on this place and will not be quenched.

This is bad news for Josiah, due largely to the sins of his grand father.  Yet even today’s reading is not without its message and juxtaposition between good and evil.  Remember, the audience that is bring written to is the returned exiles of Judah.  The writer of the Chronicles is indeed recounting the history of Judah, that they may know who they are AND that they may better know the God that they worship.  Two times in today’s readings we see a profound repentance and the mercy of God.  One is of Josiah, the repentance of whom stays the wrath of God for at least a generation.  The other though, is a bit more profound in that the man classified as doing more evil than that of 10 Canaanite nations, and quite possibly responsible for bringing about the exile of Judah, also repents of his sins while in captivity in Babylon.  Does God leave him to his imprisonment?  NO!  In fact, God restores him to the throne and we read that it is then that Manasseh knows that the Lord is God and he turns from his evil ways.  Is this not true of us as well?  When we turn from our sin, we understand all the more how great and abundant the grace of God is.



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 104: 1 Kings 21-22; Naboth's Vineyard and the Death of Ahab

I feel like today’s reading has called into question some things that I would otherwise have taken for granted about God.  However, before we get to that, let’s talk for a moment about Naboth’s Vineyard and what happens when Ahab takes it.

English: Jezabel and Ahab Meeting Elijah in Na...

English: Jezabel and Ahab Meeting Elijah in Naboth’s Vineyard Giclee. Print by Sir Frank Dicksee. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We read that there is a Vineyard that King Ahab wants.  Naboth owns it and won’t give it to him because it is part of his “inheritance.”  What he means by this is that, likely, this was the plot of land that was given to him when the people of Israel entered and conquered the land of Canaan.  Remember that every tribe was given a plot of land and every family was given land within that land to call their own.  There are a great deal of laws that have to do with the possession of the land including things like the Year of Jubilee and laws that governed the sale/transfer of ownership of the land.  This land was very important to the people.  It was given to them by God as part of the Covenant promise that God made with Israel and therefore was to be kept in the families.  As I understand it, even when someone had to sell their land or had lost it somehow, it was to be returned to them after a period of time.  This is spelled out fairly specifically in Leviticus 25.  So it doesn’t come as a surprise then that Naboth is unwilling to sell his Vineyard as it is part of (or perhaps all of) his inheritance.  The land was sacred to him, given to him by God, and he didn’t want to give it up.  Likely it is that he knew the King wouldn’t honor the codes of the Law in returning it to him in the Year of Jubilee.

The other part of today’s reading had to do with the nature of King Ahab’s death.  Returning to my original statement, this narrative is a bit confusing.  We read a of a vision that the prophet Micaiah speaks to Ahab and Jehoshaphat prior to the conflict with Aram.  He talks about a decieving spirit sent directly from God to disceive the prophets that Ahab had so that he would wrongfully attack Aram.  In doing so, we read, God is ensuring that Ahab would end up dead.  This can be confusing because it seems to be out of character from God.  We don’t equate the word “decieving” with God often.  We belive the Lord God is the essence of truth.  Being decitful is considered to be sinful in most situations, so seeing God sending someone or something to decieve seems completely out of character.  Yet I think that we can understand that there is a bit more going on here than simply God lying to someone in order to get him killed.

English: The Death of Ahab (1Kings 22:29-40) Р...

English: The Death of Ahab (1Kings 22:29-40) Русский: Смерть Ахава (3Цар. 22:29-40) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In fact, here we see very clearly that God is being true to Himself and His own words.  A couple times now there have been prophecies, which are words from the Lord, that have to do with the death of Ahab and his evil wife Jezebel.  In this action, God is ensuring that His word comes true, which happens despite Ahab’s attempts to hide himself.  We read that a random arrow strikes Ahab, likely a 1 in a million shot being that the king’s armor was much better than the normal soldier’s armor, and King Ahab dies exactly in the manner which God says… dogs and all.

So what do we do with things like this?  They do make us question things that we think we know about God.  Yet I think it is important for us to know that, as much as anyone tries to explain away the actions of God, we have to know that God is God and He is abundantly higher and greater than we ever are or will be.  “Who can know the mind of the Lord?” the Psalmist writes,  “Your ways are higher than our ways.”  We may not know or understand how or why God is working in the ways that he does, but we know that He is always true to Himself.  God cannot act outside the nature of God, and we know that the nature of God is first and foremost a God of love and faithfulness.  God is true to His own being always, and in all things will indeed be faithful to His people.



Day 94: 2 Samuel 21-22; David's Song of Deliverance

If the whole of David’s life were to be summed up into a single phrase, it would arguably be “God is always Faithful.”  Therefore, if we could sum up David’s song 2 Samuel 22, it would be something akin to “God is Great.  God is always Faithful.  Thanks be to God for His Faithfulness.”  Neither of these summaries do justice to the incredible story that is the story of King David’s life, nor the abundant providential faithfulness that God shows time and again throughout David’s years.  They also don’t do justice to the beautiful song that David has written here.  I hope that these two summaries can give us a starting place for thinking about today’s reading and reflecting on David’s life as he enters into is waning years.

Before we get more into the song though, there are some other things that should be mentioned here.  Our reading starts with a famine in the land due to Saul’s unfaithfulness to a long standing covenant with the Gibeonites.  This agreement goes all the way back to Joshua 9 when Joshua is deceived by a group of people pretending to be from a distant land.  This happened during Joshua’s southern campaign, but this is the first and only time we hear about Saul’s actions.  What is interesting about this, I think, is the direct impact this breach of the covenant has on the land, literally the land of Israel.  David seeks after God and the Lord reveals to him the atrocity that has taken place here.  Sometimes I think that we don’t put much stock in agreements that we make anymore.  We have politicians that promise us the world and deliver next to nothing.  Large companies promise great things while delivering shoddy workmanship.  Everything comes with small print…  I wonder what this world would be like if we saw the outwardly direct impact that these breaches have on the world by way of famine, disease, war, etc?  I certainly wouldn’t wish this on us… but it might get a few people’s attention.

We see some of the signs of David’s aging and frailty in chapter 21.  David is in battle and he grows weary?  This isn’t the mighty warrior that we remember from our readings over the last 2 weeks.  David is aging, yet the Lord remains faithful to him in his twilight years.  Other great warriors rise up to defend Israel against what seems like a whole army of giants that come out of the philistines.  There’s even another one named Goliath.  You’d think they’d of avoided that name after what happened to the last one.  However, no matter what their names or what their size, they are no match for the God of Israel.  We once again see God’s faithfulness in action providing for and defending the people of Israel at every turn.

Finally, let us turn our attention once again to the song of David.  As a worship leader, I often struggle to listen to music, especially Christian music, without wanting to hear the lyrics.  I often focus on things like who is this song about, or who are we singing to, or what are the theological overtones of this song.  I think a lot about music, especially worship music, because of the incredible impact that it can have on our lives and on our beliefs as well.  Sadly, there are many “worship songs” out there that really have much more to do with us, the supposed worshiper, than on God who should be the one who is worshiped.  While this could probably be debated a great deal (and I would love to talk about it more), I want to direct our attention back to that of the song of David here in 2 Samuel 22.

David starts out the song with 11 attributes of God right in a row, praising God for who God is.  He then spends the equivalent of 2 lines talking about his own calling out to the Lord and 4 lines referring to why he called out to the Lord, followed by 34 lines of song about the Lord’s answer.  The song continues much in this fashion, focusing more on who God is and the work of God than on the actions of himself.  For David, whether it be safety from Saul or defeat of his enemies, all these things are works of the Lord, faithfulness of God almighty.  For David, everything begins and ends with God.  There is no middle ground here.  We’ll see this more in the Psalms when we get there.  However, for David, as we see here in the twilight of his life, the Lord’s anointed one is giving all honor, all glory, all praise, and all credit to the only one due it: The God of Israel; the God of His fathers, the Holy One and only True God.  May it be so in our lives as we reflect each day on God’s faithfulness to us as well.



Day 79: 1 Samuel 8-10; Israel's Last Judge and First King

Well, it was bound to happen eventually.  Israel has been living like the people they failed to remove from the land of Canaan on and off since they first settled there.  They have followed the gods of other nations, forsaking their God and breaking the Covenant often.  It seems only natural then that the people would demand a king like those of the nations surrounding them as well.  We read that this saddens Samuel and that he takes it offensively.  Yet God clears this up for Samuel, pointing out that it is indeed not Samuel’s leadership that they are rejecting, but rather God’s.  The people don’t want God to be king over them anymore, they want something, or rather someone, that is more tangible, visible… perhaps, maybe even real?  Who knows what was going through their heads at the time, but it seems as though they are just worshiping whatever, whenever… it is not difficult to make the leap that if people are just doing whatever they want whenever they want to what or whomever they want for worship, perhaps the gods are not real.  I’m sure that the stories of what happened in Egypt… maybe even in the conquest of Canaan have passed into legend by this time.  How sad that everything has become so… sad.

Israel is a nation that has the hope and promise of God as part of their very nature.  They were not only to live as God’s people, but were also meant to be a blessing to the whole world.  Yet they have forsaken all of this, following after worldly things… and now they want a king to rule, judge, and direct them.  Perhaps they hope that an earthly ruler would direct them towards a heavenly one.  This is certainly what the King should be doing, serving almost as an Icon, ever pointing towards the Lord.  This takes us back all the way to Deuteronomy 17, God lays out rules for the coming kings of Israel.  Even though the people want a king like other nations have a king, the Law clearly states that the king of Israel wasn’t to be like any other king.  Deuteronomy says that the King is not supposed to “acquire many horses” or wives, wealth, etc., but was to get a copy of the Law which he would read day after day, night after night… that He would follow “the Shema” to the letter and be an example to the people of Israel what it means to truly follow after God.

I encourage you to read the post “Beggar” by Cody Raak, a good friend of mine.  At first it may seem to be going in a different direction, but I think that it gets at the idea that the Laws for the king were getting at.  Our strength is not to be set in our own wealth, knowledge, or military might, but rather in our relationship with God which is made stronger the more we spend time in His Word, as Psalm 1 readily points out.

At the end of the day, it is interesting to see Israel’s thinly veiled rejection of God and easy to ask why they would do such a thing.  Sure, their leadership wasn’t looking so great (why is it that the sons of religious leaders seem to always go bad?), but wouldn’t that just be more of an encouragement to turn toward the God that got them there in the first place?  We can sit on this end of the words and think, “how could they possibly do this?”  Yet I wonder if the situations in many churches today are not dissimilar to this.  Pastors are being removed at an alarming rate by their congregations.  While I believe that sometimes this can be necessary (things like abuse, heresy, and pedophilia), too often this simply happens because the pastor isn’t telling the congregation what they want to here.  We would rather have pastors that sooth our ears with the messages of moralistic living and the love of God rather than those that contain in them some element of sin that makes us uncomfortable.  Are we too, like the people of Israel, demanding a leader that words for us rather than turning to God in our times of “spiritual dryness” or lack of leadership?  I wonder…

In the end though, we see that God is willing to allow this.  He is not discouraged or put-out by it.  He doesn’t up and leave when the people make this poor decision.  Instead He becomes intimately involved in the selection process, again working His will for the right person to come forward, even if he is hiding amongst the baggage (clearly he didn’t hide well enough).  God is not moved, shaken, or ever surprised by our mistakes, poor choices, or lack of vision outside ourselves… He knows that we will make the wrong decision.  He knew it from before time began… yet He still maintains His covenant relationship with Israel, and with us, and He still sent His Son to die for us, “even when we were dead in our transgressions and sins.”  Praise God!



Day 75: Judges 19-21; Ending the Judges, continuing the Cycle.

“In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”

That line is really the essence of the last 5 chapters of the book of Judges… or maybe the whole darn book.  We didn’t talk about the other stories that were contained in yesterday’s reading, and they go right along with today’s reading.  All are a bit strange, somewhat difficult to think about.  What do we do with some of this information.  Some folks set up an idol as their god and then it gets taken and set up in a city and stuff.  What do we even do with that?

A guy allows his already unfaithful concubine to get raped to death by the leaders of an Israelite town and then cuts her to pieces and sends her to all the different tribes of Israel?  The result of which winds up with a conflict resulting in the death of over 65,000 Israelites and then bringing about a peace in which the remaining people of Benjamin are allowed to choose their wives by kidnapping them from a festival?  What the heck?

Seriously… what do we do about passages in Scripture like this?

Honestly, I think that we often try to put things uncomfortable passages out of our minds.  These are not things we hear in sermons in church.  I certainly didn’t hear these stories in Sunday School as a child.  And yet, they are still a part of the Bible.  Which makes us ask the question, why?  What can we learn from this?  How do even read this?

Maybe the point isn’t to draw out some sort of moralistic teaching that makes us feel better.  We don’t have to just say, “well, don’t do these things and you’ll be a better person/Christian or something.”  We are quick to glean some sort of “try harder,” moral living lesson as a way of coping with our own uncomfortableness.

Perhaps narratives like this are simply meant to point us toward the fact that the world is still a very broken place.  We see this cycle time and again of disobedience leading to disaster leading to repentance leading to rest and then back to disobedience… and we realize that, though God is working towards restoration, sin is still present in the world.  It is a painful, uncomfortable reality, one that we don’t often want to face.  But in light of it, we also see, plainly illuminated before us, the work of God in the world!  Like the mercy that the people have on the decimated tribe of Benjamin, God provides for His creation working and restoring all that He has made.  There is hope at the end of this, even in the midst of the people of God just doing what they want.  It is clear, even in this strange way of kidnapping a girl to be their wife, that God is faithfully providing for the tribe of Benjamin, a people that is just as much a part of God’s promise as the rest of Israel.  He will not abandon them because of their sin, however horrid and awful it may be.  Because God is not one who is quick to condemn or quick to destroy, but is always gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding is steadfast love, faithfulness and forgiveness.



Day 74: Judges 16-18; Sampson (part 2)

So we come to the most well known story of the Judges: Sampson and Delilah.  Generally speaking, if you were in Sunday School or some sort of religious education, you probably heard this story at least once, perhaps many times.  Teachers that I had often told this story and sifted it down into some lessons about being tempted and not continually putting yourself in situations like Sampson.  As I read this story now, my mind is drawn to these lessons and I do think that there is something to them.

I ask myself often when I hear the story of Sampson, why did he stay in that situation.  If I was him, knowing exactly where my power came from and why it was that I was able to do the things that I do, I certainly wouldn’t hang around anyone that trying to figure that out in order to harm me.  I mean, maybe the first time it makes sense.  He tells her something that obviously doesn’t work and she tries it.  Duh!  Get out of there quick!  This isn’t necessarily temptation as we know it, but she requests kind of present themselves in the same way.  Sampson has taken a sacred vow, an oath to be set apart for the Lord.  He has been given obvious power and the Spirit of the Lord has been with him in all that he does, even in those questionable things.  I wonder why he didn’t bolt out of there at the first sign of trouble.

Some would say it was because of love (or infatuation).  Others might say it was strictly arrogance.  Perhaps Sampson had become too self-reliant or was testing the limits of God’s willingness to be with him.  It might very well have been a combination of those three.  One thing that we have seen to this point is that Sampson has a weakness: women. Especially foreign women.  Scripture doesn’t come out and tell us that either of these women are Philistine women, but the implication is there based on the locations.  Like all attacks from an enemy, once you expose a weakness you will exploit it.  So it is with Sampson.  And so it is with us as well.

When the tempter comes into our lives he doesn’t go after the things we are very strong in, that would be quite foolish like Delilah taking on Sampson in a physical altercation.  Instead, our weaknesses are exploited, broken down, and demolished as a way of getting at our strengths.  We read that Delilah asks again and again, pressing Sampson until he can stand it no longer and gives in.  It is only then that his strength is attacked and easily overpowered.  I wonder if the right question to this narrative is “what is your weakness?”  I’m sure that you know those places in which you are vulnerable to attacks, those things that the enemy exploits to get at you.

Yet, like all stories, we need also be wondering where God is in all of this.  What is God’s location in this narrative?  Unfortunately for us, there isn’t a great deal of direct comment about where God is here, but what we can see is that even in the times of temptation, Sampson’s strength is still very much present.  Yesterday, as we read, every time Sampson needed strength “the Spirit of the Lord was upon him.”  So we can see in all of the times that Sampson is “imprisoned,” God is still present helping empowering him.  I guess the next logical question in this follows well here, “is God then absent when Sampson’s strength leaves him?”  It certainly seems that way, and yet I wouldn’t ever dare to say that God is completely absent from the scene.

Like Israel and the covenant in the Judges Cycle, Sampson goes through a time of disobedience in which he is weakened and forced into captivity.  However, like with Israel, this doesn’t mean that God has abandoned them either and we see this as we read of the death of Sampson.  There is a comment about his hair starting to grow back and we assume that there is at least some amount of time that has passed between his capture and this final scene.  I can only imagine the thoughts and prayers of Sampson working at the grindstone.  We hear but one of them, to grant him the strength one last time to avenge “his two eyes.”  And God honors his request, giving him the strength to strike down more philistines than all the rest of his life combined.

As we talked about a couple days ago, the cycle of the judges is often our cycle as well.  We find ourselves in times of disobedience and even disaster as a result of our disobedience.  Too often we say that there is no way that God would want us back after what we have done.  We feel guilt and shame for the sins that we’ve committed.  And yet even here we see that God does not condemn Sampson and abandon him, but is ready and waiting once again to empower him.  So it is with us, God does not abandon us in our sinfulness, but continually calls us back to himself, time and again drawing us into His arms to receive us, to heal us, and to empower us once again for the work of His Kingdom.