God in (and Out of) a Box

God In (and Out of) a Box (CaD 1 Sam 5) Wayfarer

…the following morning when [the Philistines] rose, there was [their god] Dagon, fallen on his face on the ground before the ark of the Lord! His head and hands had been broken off and were lying on the threshold; only his body remained. That is why to this day neither the priests of Dagon nor any others who enter Dagon’s temple at Ashdod step on the threshold.
1 Samuel 5:4-5 (NIV)

For many years, I’ve had an idea for a book about the things the contemporary church continues to get wrong. If I ever do write this book, one of the chapters would be about church buildings themselves. From an early age, I was taught to treat a church building as a sacred space. The church building was and sometimes is, referred to as God’s house or the house of God.

In yesterday’s post/podcast I spoke of treating God like a good luck charm. I like to think of our perception of church buildings as God’s House as the notion of “God in a box.”

The problem with believing the church building is “God’s house” is, of course, that Jesus was very clear that He was changing the paradigm. In His conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well, Jesus addressed her question about the “right” place to worship God by saying, “…believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem...a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.

Jesus doubled down on this when He and the disciples were leaving the Temple in Jerusalem. His disciples commented on the magnificent Temple and Jesus replied that it was all going to be reduced to rubble, and it was just 40 years later.

Jesus’ taught that the “church” was not bricks and mortar but flesh and blood. When the Jesus Movement was changing the known world in the first two centuries, it had no churches or temples, no basilicas or cathedrals. The “church” was millions of followers who met, almost clandestinely, in people’s homes. It was only when the church became the Holy Roman Empire that the institution decided that God needed opulent cathedrals. The motivation wasn’t divine. It’s what human institutions do to centralize power and control masses of people. Jesus’ successful paradigm was that of Spirit-filled people loving, serving, and sharing in every home, neighborhood, and business. God was released from a box and carried by flesh-and-blood “temples” everywhere in the world. Jesus was wherever His followers happened to be. In Jesus’ paradigm “sacred space” was now the coffee shop, the office, the home, the pub, the park; It was wherever a believer, filled with Spirit and Truth was physically present in the moment. This is what Jesus meant when He said, “Wherever two or three of you are together, I’m there, too.”

The Holy Roman Empire put God back in a box. Then they made sure that only an institutionally educated and approved class of elites were qualified to be God’s representatives. Way too many people still believe that God is confined in the building on the corner and that only educated men in robes represent Him.

Today’s chapter is also about “God in a box.” The Ark of the Covenant was literally a box that represented God’s presence among the Hebrew people. The Hebrews reduced the notion of God’s holy presence to a good luck charm that would secure victory. They were defeated and the box was taken by the Philistines who put the Ark in the sacred space of their patron god, Dagon, underneath Dagon’s statue. Mesopotamian peoples routinely saw battles as not just contests between peoples, but contests between deities. The Hebrews’ God was now subject to Dagon.

But, God will never be contained inside a box of human design. The statue of Dagon fell, its head and hands breaking off. This was significant because heads, hands, and limbs were often cut-off and brought home by victorious armies as proof of victory and as a way of tallying up the body count. It was an omen the Philistines would have instantly understood. There was also a plague of tumors that broke out among the Philistines, which is ironically the outcome God warned His own people about in Deuteronomy 28, should they stray from His ways.

In the quiet this morning, I’m reminded that if I truly believe what Jesus taught, then my home office where I’m writing/recording these words is sacred space because God’s Spirit indwells me. I take Him with me everywhere I go today. God’s temple isn’t a building, it’s my body, and that should change my perspective on everything in my daily life.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

My Good Luck Charm

My Good Luck Charm (CaD 1 Sam 4) Wayfarer

When the soldiers returned to camp, the elders of Israel asked, “Why did the Lord bring defeat on us today before the Philistines? Let us bring the ark of the Lord’s covenant from Shiloh, so that he may go with us and save us from the hand of our enemies.”
1 Samuel 4:3 (NIV)

When I was a child I can remember praying for the silliest of things. I prayed for my favorite teams to win, sometimes fervently. I prayed for certain girls to like me. I was 10 years old when the United States celebrated our Bicentennial, and I have distinct memories of praying that God would let me live to 110 so I could celebrate the Tricentennial. That sounds more like a burden than a blessing from my current waypoint on life’s road.

In yesterday’s chapter, the author of Samuel made the point that while the boy Samuel had grown up living and serving in the Tabernacle of God, he did not yet know God. I find that an incredibly important observation. Looking back, that was one of the reasons my prayers were silly and self-centered. I didn’t have a relationship with God. I knew about Him, but I didn’t know Him. God wasn’t Lord of my life and I wasn’t a follower of Jesus. At that point in my spiritual journey, my prayers were indicators that I considered God my personal good luck charm.

Today’s chapter is the fulfillment of the prophetic words spoken against the high priest, Eli, and his sons. The people of Israel were embroiled in a battle against the neighboring Philistines. Remembering their history and the fact that in the days of Moses God brought victory when the Ark of the Covenant was carried before the people, they called for the Ark to be brought from the Tabernacle in Shiloh to the battlefield. Eli’s sons, Hophni and Phinehas are happy to oblige.

I think it’s important to note that those historic examples of the Ark being carried before the Hebrews were from the days of Moses and Joshua. There were men who knew God and their actions were sourced in God’s specific instructions to and through them. The Ark was carried before the people in the context of God’s divine revelation to God’s appointed ruler.

The corrupt priests Hophni and Phinehas, along with the entire Hebrew army, are treating the Ark of the Covenant like their national good luck charm. It doesn’t go well for them.

The Hebrews lose the battle, Hophni and Phinehas are killed, and the Ark of the Covenant is taken as a spoil of war. When Eli hears that the Ark had been taken, the fat 98-year-old priest falls off his chair and breaks his neck. I find it an ironic, almost Shakespeare-like end to the house of Eli. The fulfillment of God’s prophesied end comes from the consequences of their own presumptuous, self-centered, and divinely ignorant actions.

In the quiet this morning, I find this sad end an apt reminder. As a follower of Jesus, I am to follow where I am led by Jesus, not take Jesus with me wherever I want to go like He’s a personal good luck charm.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Spiritual Sight and Hearing


Spiritual Sight and Hearing (CaD 1 Sam 3) Wayfarer

The boy Samuel ministered before the Lord under Eli. In those days the word of the Lord was rare; there were not many visions.

One night Eli, whose eyes were becoming so weak that he could barely see, was lying down in his usual place. The lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the house of the Lord, where the ark of God was.
1 Samuel 3:1-3 (NIV)

One day Jesus and his closest followers were along the lake shore. Jesus had just addressed a crowd of people who had come to hear Him speak. His message consisted of a string of parables. Afterward, His followers asked why He told parables. This was His reply:

“Because the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. This is why I speak to them in parables:

“Though seeing, they do not see;
    though hearing, they do not hear or understand.

In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah:

“‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding;
    you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.
For this people’s heart has become calloused;
    they hardly hear with their ears,
    and they have closed their eyes.
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
    hear with their ears,
    understand with their hearts
and turn, and I would heal them.’

Jesus was clear about the fact that there are different kinds of seeing and hearing. The physical sense of sight is obvious, but Jesus spoke of spiritual sight and hearing, as well. Today’s chapter provides an illustration.

The author of Samuel begins today’s chapter with three subtle statements about vision:

In those days the word of the Lord was rare; there were not many visions.

Here he refers to spiritual visions, prophetic words, and dreams. From a historical timeline, we are at end of the time of the Judges. We just went through the book of Judges on this chapter-a-day journey last month. There were some great stories and lessons, but there was little evidence in the text of prophets, dreams, or spiritual visions. Spiritual vision waned after Moses and Joshua’s conquest.

Eli, whose eyes were becoming so weak that he could barely see. (Physical)

Next, the author immediately mentions the high priest, Eli’s, waning physical vision. Having just told of God’s judgment on Eli and his sons in yesterday’s chapter, this might also be a not-so-subtle foreshadowing that the light is going out on his time as high priest. It also serves as a contrast to the boy, Samuel, whose spiritual eyes are about to be opened.

The lamp of God had not yet gone out. (Metaphorical)

The final in the author’s trinity of word images is the lampstand that stood in the Holy Place of the Tabernacle. As the night wore on and morning approached the flame would dim, though it was unlawful to let it go out before dawn according to the Law of Moses. The author metaphorically tells me, as the reader, that while spiritual sight may have dimmed, it had not gone out. Samuel is about to have his spiritual eyes opened.

The trinity of images is followed by a trinity of instances in which Samuel’s spiritual ears are opened. He hears God calling his name, but he thinks it’s Eli. Once Eli tells Samuel that it’s God and how to respond to God’s call, God tells Sam that the prophesied doom on Eli and his house is about to come true.

For Eli and his sons, the Light is going out.

For Samuel, his spiritual ears and eyes have been opened. The Light has just dawned.

The author also makes an important observation between the second and third instances of God’s calling to Samuel:

Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord: The word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.

Along my spiritual journey, I have learned that spiritual hearing and spiritual sight require both God and me. There is a “revealing” that comes from God. Samuel had been raised in the Tabernacle. He was there day and night serving God and Eli, yet he “did not yet know the Lord” and God had not yet opened Samuel’s spiritual eyes and ears. In the same way, it is possible to go to church every Sunday, hear the message, and participate in the service without ever knowing the Lord or having spiritual eyes that see or spiritual ears that hear.

But Jesus said there’s also a part I play in this revealing. Jesus told His followers to ask, to seek, and to knock. My spiritual pursuit of God plays a part in the opening of my spiritual senses. When I ask I will receive. When I seek I will find. When I knock doors open to reveal things I hadn’t seen or heard before.

In the quiet this morning, I’m reminded of a friend who sat across my desk and asked me about the tinnitus and genetic hearing loss with which I’ve struggled for many years. I have asked for healing in prayer. I have sought the healing prayers of others, and I have had strangers approach me saying that they were led to pray for my ears to be healed. To this point, my prayers have not resulted in the restoration of my physical hearing.

My friend asked me how I felt about that.

I responded by explaining that I’m not certain that there isn’t a relationship between the physical and spiritual. As my physical hearing wanes, I feel that my spiritual hearing has become more acute. If I were to choose between the two, I’ll choose acute spiritual hearing every single time. I’ll continue to seek both and echo Eli’s response in today’s chapter: “He is the Lord; let him do what is good in his eyes.”

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

The Movement and the Institution

The Movement and the Institution (CaD 1 Sam 2) Wayfarer

But Samuel was ministering before the Lord—a boy wearing a linen ephod.
1 Samuel 2:18 (NIV)

As a follower of Jesus, I have been both grieved and incensed as stories continue to break regarding rampant, systemic child abuse that was both pervasive and systematically covered up by the Roman Catholic Church. No one really knows how pervasive it was nor how long it has been going on. The system still has its wagons circled all the way to the Vatican.

And, it’s not just the Roman Catholic Church. The Southern Baptist Denomination recently released a report of all the cases of child abuse and sexual assault that they had been keeping under wraps for years. To their credit, the leaders not only owned up to the truth, but also released a list of all pastors, leaders, and/or employees who were accused of sexual abuse over two decades. It is over 200 pages long.

I was a young man when I made the observation that ministry is a profession. A person with no real spiritual calling, gift, or even faith can go to school, get a theology degree, and get a job leading a church. Along my journey, I’ve met a few that fit this very description. They aren’t serving God. They’re just earning a living.

I would later go on to observe in my study of history that ever since the organic Jesus Movement became the both religious and political institution known as the Holy Roman Empire, professional ministry was conferred with a certain amount of worldly power. The higher up in the institution the more absolute the power became. You know what has been said about power: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Give a man a robe, a title, a dark place, and the perceived power of salvation, damnation, and absolution over a scared and weak child. Bad things happen. Sadly, the stories of Bill Hybels and Ravi Zacarias prove that I’ll find examples of this in any religious institution. The church is not only filled with sinners, it’s led by them as well.

Today’s chapter is a testament to the fact that the problem has existed forever. In the Hebrew religious system God set up through Moses, the priesthood was held by descendants of Aaron. The Tabernacle was served and maintained by the tribe of Levi. You didn’t choose the role, you were born into it. And so we end up with a couple of hypocritical dead-beat priests named Hophni and Phinehas, the sons of the High Priest Eli.

The author of 1 Samuel is careful to contrast the two adult sons of the High Priest and the boy Samuel:

Hophni and Phinehas demanded that people give them their uncooked meat designated for sacrifice. The fat was supposed to be burned as part of the sacrifice and the meat was boiled to get rid of the blood. Eli’s sons threatened pilgrims and worshippers to give them the uncooked and unsacrified meat so they could enjoy a nice, rare steak on the grill.

“But Samuel was ministering before the LORD – a boy wearing a linen ephod.” (vs 18)

Hophni and Phinehas also used their positions of power to coerce and seduce, or perhaps it was that they actually assaulted women who served at the entrance to the Tabernacle just like modern-day priests and pastors who abuse their power and position to prey rather than to pray.

“Meanwhile the boy Samuel grew up in the presence of the LORD.” (vs. 21)

Eli confronted his sons, rebuked them, and demanded that they change their ways. They were unrepentant and refused to listen to their father.

And the boy Samuel continued to grow in stature and in favor with the LORD and with people.” (vs. 26)

In the quiet this morning, I couldn’t help but meditate on this contrast. The paradigm that Jesus created with his initial followers was that of spiritual disciples whose lives had been committed and changed by the indwelling Holy Spirit and a dedication to love, humility, generosity, and spiritual discipline. His followers then passed it on to disciples who followed them who then passed it on to their own disciples.

When the organism became an institution Spirit was replaced by human knowledge, calling was replaced with credentials, humility was replaced with power, discipleship was replaced with academia, and spiritual authority was replaced by human bureaucracy. In the forty years that I’ve been a disciple of Jesus, I’ve watched many of the mainline church institutions and denominations splinter and implode. I personally don’t think this is a bad thing at all.

Personally, I have found myself avoiding institutional entanglements on my earthly journey. I like being a wayfaring stranger following Jesus where His Spirit leads me. And so, I press on pursuing that Spirit leading with as much love, humility, and spiritual discipline as I can increasingly muster.

May I never be a Hophni or Phinehas.

May I ever be a Samuel.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

The Valley and the Mountain

The Valley and the Mountain (CaD 1 Sam 1) Wayfarer

There is beauty and power in today's chapter that is easy to miss if you've never trekked through the Valley of Infertility. A chapter-a-day podcast from 1 Samuel 1. The text version may be found and shared at tomvanderwell.com. — Send in a voice message: https://anchor.fm/wayfarer-tom-vander-well/message Support this podcast: https://anchor.fm/wayfarer-tom-vander-well/support

Whenever the day came for Elkanah to sacrifice, he would give portions of the meat to his wife Peninnah and to all her sons and daughters. But to Hannah he gave a double portion because he loved her, and the Lord had closed her womb. Because the Lord had closed Hannah’s womb, her rival kept provoking her in order to irritate her. This went on year after year.
1 Samuel 1:4-7a (NIV)

When I was a young man, the opening chapters of 1 Samuel were all about the special circumstances surrounding the birth of Samuel. Samuel is important. Samuel is special, as was his birth. Samuel is the name of the book. Samuel was the last of the Hebrew Judges. Samuel established the Hebrew monarchy and crowned its first two kings. Samuel established the Prophetic tradition within the Hebrew monarchy. It was all about Samuel.

Then Wendy and I spent years on a journey through the Valley of Infertility.

I will never read the first chapter of 1 Samuel the same way.

There are things that couples experience on the infertility journey that are unlike anything else I’ve ever experienced in this life. I learned along the way that it is an incredibly nuanced experience based on multiple factors in that journey. It makes a difference whether a husband is truly all-in (physically, emotionally, spiritually) with his wife for the long haul. The fact that I’d been previously married and had experienced the pregnancy and birth of our daughters was a factor in the relational equation. It’s also a very different experience for those who walk through the Valley of Infertility and find the path that leads to the mountain top of pregnancy, childbirth, and parenthood compared to those whose journey languishes in the Valley of Infertility seemingly destined to never find the ever-desired pathway to that mountaintop.

The first chapter of Samuel is about a woman named Hannah who is on this journey through the Valley of Infertility and the particular nuances that were unique to her experience.

Polygamous marriages among Hebrew “commoners” was relatively rare in this period of history. One of the exceptions was when a man first marries a woman who turns out to be barren. Having children, especially sons, was so important to the perpetuation of families and culture in those days that a man who finds his wife to be barren would be encouraged to marry a second wife so as to bear him sons. It’s likely that this was Hannah’s reality. She was not only shamed that she could have no children but shamed that her husband married another woman to do what she could not.

Not only did her husband, Elkanah, marry another, but he also married a woman named Peninnah who saw Hannah as a female rival. Although Elkanah was empathetic and generous toward Hannah, he was never “all-in” with her. His loyalties would always be divided between her and Peninnah, and Peninnah had plenty of children with which to claim and maintain her favored status as the wife who gave him sons.

When Elkanah and his household go to Shiloh for the annual prescribed sacrifices it was a harvest festival celebrating God’s abundant provision of fertility via life, crops, and children. As if Hannah’s everyday experience wasn’t hell enough having “mean girl” Peninnah rubbing salt in the wound of Hannah’s infertility, attending a national festival of fertility and harvest would be like descending to an even deeper ring of hell.

At this point in today’s chapter, Hannah is an emotional and inconsolable wreck. With Peninnah and all her children standing behind Elkanah as a reminder of Hannah’s shame, Elkanah says to her “Aren’t I worth more to you than ten sons?”

Oh, you stupid, stupid man.

A husband who has walked with his wife through the Valley of Infertility knows that words must be chosen wisely when consoling your wife in her grief. In fact, it was in the Valley of Infertility that I learned to embrace the truth that sometimes there are no words. In the same way, there are no shortcuts to making the pain of infertility “all better.”

In this context, Hannah’s prayer and commitment to give her son to the Lord takes on a whole new level of meaning. After all those years in the Valley of Infertility, Hannah finds that pathway to the mountain top of pregnancy, childbirth, and motherhood. She should rightfully enjoy clinging to her boy and soak up the blessings of raising him along with the justice of being able to daily show him off to Peninnah and tell her to go take a long walk off a short pier.

But, Hannah doesn’t do that. She literally gives her son to the Lord, handing him over as a baby to be raised by the High Priest and the Levites in God’s tabernacle.

She becomes a foreshadow of what God will one day do when He “so loves the world that He gave His one-and-only Son.”

That is the beauty and power of today’s chapter.

It’s easy to miss if you’ve never trekked through the Valley of Infertility. Wendy and I never found that path to the mountain top of pregnancy and childbirth. We did, however, find a different path that led to a mountaintop called Joy. The view from there is pretty amazing.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Habakkuk (Jul 2022)

Each photo below corresponds to the chapter-a-day post for the book of Habakkuk published by Tom Vander Well in July of 2022. Click on the photo linked to each chapter to read the post.

Habakkuk 1: Habakkuk’s Cry
Habakkuk 2: Sleeping with the Enemy
Habakkuk 3: “Yet, I Will Rejoice”

“Yet, I Will Rejoice”

"Yet, I Will Rejoice" (CaD Hab 3) Wayfarer

Though the fig tree does not bud
    and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
    and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
    and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
    I will be joyful in God my Savior.

Habakkuk 3:17-18 (NIV)

Today’s final chapter of Habakkuk contains the lyrics to a psalm that Habakkuk wrote in response to his two-question dialogue with God in the first two chapters. Habakkuk is an ancient multi-media prophecy with two chapters that are almost like the script of a play and ending with a song.

Habakkuk has been warned by God that He is going to bring judgment on His unrepentant people by bringing the Babylonians down upon them. Habakkuk would have known what this meant. The Babylonians, along with their neighbors the Assyrians, had a reputation for violent sieges that destroyed and plundered cities while violently killing the citizens within. But God also promised Habakkuk that the Babylonians themselves would face their own day of judgment.

As I read and pondered the prophet’s lyrics in the quiet this morning, there were a couple of things that struck me.

First, I couldn’t help but see echoes of John’s Revelations in the apocalyptic, doomsday images. Plague and pestilence in verse 5 brought the four horsemen of John’s apocalypse to mind. Earthquakes, mountains crumbling, along with other natural calamities were also in Revelations along with God arriving with wrath. So was John writing about Judah and Babylon, or was he writing about the end times? As I’ve observed before, the metaphors of prophetic and apocalyptic writing are layered with meaning. As I have often observed on this chapter-a-day journey, the answer is “yes/and.”

The second thing that came to mind as I meditated on Habakkuk’s psalm is that he knows God is going to first bring wrath upon His own people and then will eventually execute judgment on the Babylonians. Habakkuk, however, is just like me knowing that the end times will eventually come yet not knowing when. He’s ignorant. His psalm reminds God “In your wrath [on your people] remember mercy” (vs.2) and he gives a nod to God eventually delivering His people (vs. 13) but the rest of the song seems pretty focused on the evil Babylonians getting their just desserts.

I found this to be particularly human on Habakkuk’s part. He knows God is going to bring consequential wrath on the Hebrew people, but Habakkuk doesn’t want to think too much about that. He conveniently skips that part and jumps to God’s deliverance while he waxes apocalyptic about God’s wrath on the Babylonians for most of the song. I have to confess that I’m no different. I don’t want to think about suffering or having to endure hard times or experiencing judgment. I do, however, want to see swift judgment and fiery wrath raining down on those I have judged to be evil on my own personal scales of justice. As I’ve seen oft-quoted in the media of late: “Rules for thee but not for me.”

Yet it’s the end of Habakkuk’s song that, just like the psalmists before him, brings everything together in a pretty amazing statement of faith. He does embrace the notion that he may personally suffer as God makes good on His promised judgment. It’s the beautiful statement of faith I pasted at the top of this post

Though the fig tree does not bud
    and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
    and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
    and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
    I will be joyful in God my Savior.

In the quiet this morning, I confess that I identify with these ancient words. We are living in strange times. Things are changing at a rapid pace. Times are difficult and I have no guarantees that even more difficult times aren’t ahead of us on this terrestrial ball…

yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will be joyful in God my Savior.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Sleeping With the Enemy

Sleeping With the Enemy (CaD Hab 2) Wayfarer

“Woe to him who gives drink to his neighbors,
    pouring it from the wineskin till they are drunk,
    so that he can gaze on their naked bodies!
You will be filled with shame instead of glory.
    Now it is your turn! Drink and let your nakedness be exposed!
The cup from the Lord’s right hand is coming around to you,
    and disgrace will cover your glory.”

Habakkuk 2:15-16 (NIV)

I’ve always enjoyed being a fan of my favorite sports teams. There is something I love about the drama, the stories, the thrill of victories, and the agonies of defeat.

One of the things that have always fascinated me about sports fans is not only the fanaticism of loyalty and celebration to one’s own team but also the hatred and schadenfreude with which one gloats in a rival’s failure and demise. Likewise, there are always those moments when your team will only advance if a hated rival wins a certain game. My despised rival suddenly becomes a necessary tool for my team to ultimately succeed. It’s always a bit excruciating at the moment to find yourself wanting your enemy to win. It feels like the old cliche of sleeping with the enemy. Once it’s over, it feels kind of good when you can return to cheering for their annihilation, as if all is right with the world again.

Today’s chapter is the answer to the question Habakkuk posed to God in yesterday’s chapter. It was prompted by God revealing to the prophet that He was sending the Babylonian Empire to be a tool of punishment to his unrepentant people. The Babylonians were a proud, ruthless, and greedy empire. Habakkuk was aghast that God would use such an evil empire for His purposes.

God’s answer is an oracle of Babylon’s eventual doom. God’s people will be taken into exile for seventy years, but eventually, they will return and Babylonians will receive God’s justice. God’s pronouncement of Babylon’s doom comes in the form of five words of “woe,” which echoes the three-fold “woe” proclaimed over “Babylon the Great” in Revelations 18 that we read on this chapter-a-day journey last week.

But there’s another connection that came to mind as I read the prophetic pronouncement of doom. Specifically, God chastises the Babylonians for their drunken orgies, then says that their drunken shame will be exposed and “the cup from God’s right hand is coming around to you.”

One of God’s people who was taken into exile in Babylon was Daniel of the lion’s den fame. Late in his life, Daniel called before the Babylonian ruler Belshazzar as he and a thousand nobles were having a wine-soaked feast (“woe to him who builds his house with unjust gain” Hab 2:9). Belshazzar had golden cups stolen from Solomon’s temple brought to him so they could drink from them (“woe to him who piles up stolen goods” Hab 2:6). As they drank they praised all their Babylonian idols and deities (“woe to him who says to wood, ‘Come to life!’” Hab 2:19). Suddenly a hand appears and writes a cryptic message on the wall (this episode is the source of the term “the handwriting is on the wall”). Daniel is asked to interpret it. Daniel explains that it is God’s proclamation of Belshazzar’s doom. He dies that night and the Medes take over Babylon.

The “cup (of wrath) from the Lord’s right hand” came around just as God said it would through Habakkuk some 66 or so years before.

As I pondered God’s answer to Habakkuk regarding the use of the Babylonians for His purposes, I couldn’t help but think of that sports fan who has to endure watching the hated rival prevail in order for a greater purpose to be accomplished for their team. God’s message through Habakkuk was the assurance that the hated Babylonians would eventually experience the agony of defeat.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Revelations (Jun-Jul 2022)

Each photo below corresponds to the chapter-a-day post for the book of Revelations published by Tom Vander Well in June and July of 2022. Click on the photo linked to each chapter to read the post.

Revelations 1: The Rabbit-Hole and the Three Questions

Revelations 2: Hearing the Simple Message

Revelations 3: Spiritual Self-Exam

Revelations 4: Crowns and Surrender

Revelations 5: The Alpha Point and the Omega Point

Revelations 6: “What Do You Expect?”

Revelations 7: “Every Nation, Tribe, People, & Language”

Revelations 8: Ignorant, Mindful, & Ready

Revelations 9: “Gonna Change My Way of Thinking”

Revelations 10: Justice

Revelations 11: Prophetic Pondering

Revelations 12: Not of this World

Revelations 13: My Choice

Revelations 14: Wisdom to Know the Difference

Revelations 15: The Bigger Picture
Revelations 16: Love and Justice

Revelations 17: Rogues Gallery

Revelations 18: The Funeral

Revelations 19: The Wedding

Revelations 20: The Books

Revelations 21: Death-to-Life

Revelations 22: The End is the Beginning

Habakkuk’s Cry

Habakkuk's Cry (CaD Hab 1) Wayfarer

Why do you make me look at injustice?
    Why do you tolerate wrongdoing?
Destruction and violence are before me;
    there is strife, and conflict abounds.
Therefore the law is paralyzed,
    and justice never prevails.
The wicked hem in the righteous,
    so that justice is perverted.

Habakkuk 1:3-4 (NIV)

I have known many fellow followers of Jesus over the years who would confess to never willingly cracking open the Old Testament unless under the social pressure of being asked to do so during a Sunday worship service. Even if they said they “occasionally” read from the Old Testament on their own, I’m sure that reading would be confined to the books of Psalms and Proverbs. Okay, maybe a few chapters of Genesis or one of the short stories like Ruth or Esther. If I were to ask them, “When was the last time you read the prophet Habakkuk?” they would probably just laugh at me. I’d wager that hearing a pastor say, “Let’s all open to the book of Habakkuk!” is maybe a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence.

We live in a world in which things “trend” on social media for minutes before being buried by another “trend.” Current events likewise dominate media and social media for a day or two tops before media and social media is on to the next hot topic in search of clicks and likes.

So what could an ancient Hebrew prophet have to say in 600 B.C. that is in any way relevant to my world today?

Let me walk through the verses I pasted at the top of this post:

Why [God] do you make me look at injustice?
    Why [God] do you tolerate wrongdoing?

Like mules leaving almost 50 dead immigrants rotting in the back of a tractor trailer?

Like drug cartels flooding the streets with opioids killing people in record numbers and never being held accountable?

“Destruction and violence are before me;

Like mass shooters opening fire in schools, churches, and malls?

Like demonstrations that torch entire neighborhoods of minority-owned businesses and end with dead bodies lying in the street?

“there is strife, and conflict abounds

Like individuals breaking off relationships with friends and family because they disagree on issues?

Like name calling, insults, and threats calling for death, murder, and assassination on social media?

Like political division between factions who refuse to compromise?

Therefore the law is paralyzed,

Like 400 law enforcement personnel who stood outside a classroom as children were being shot?

Like the headline I just read in this morning’s Wall Street Journal: “Who Would Want to Be a Police Officer in Seattle?”

and justice never prevails

Like the fact that not one of Jeffery Epstein’s high-profile customers has been named or indicted for raping underage girls?

Like political corruption that gets ignored and swept under the rug for the “greater good” of keeping a political party of choice in power?

The prophet Habakkuk lived in a period of political corruption, crime, violence, war, and social upheaval under a corrupt king and a nefarious ruling class. He pens his poetic dialogue with the Almighty and opens with a line that aptly described the questions of my own soul as I daily read the headlines:

How long, Lord, must I call for help,
    but you do not listen?
Or cry out to you, “Violence!”
    but you do not save?

It felt pretty relevant to me in the quiet as I read the chapter this morning. Habakkuk is giving voice to questions and sentiments that are echoed throughout history and will always resonate in a fallen world that is the domain of the “Prince of this World,” in which evil is present, and worldly kingdoms and institutions hold sway.

It is easy to feel as if God is both silent and absent.

Habakkuk’s short, poetic dialogue with God has a simple outline:

Question one: Why are you silent and will not act against injustice?

God’s answer: Just wait. I’m going to raise up the Babylonians to bring about the justice that I’ve been announcing through you and other prophets like your peer Jeremiah for some time now. I’ve been patiently listening for people to listen and repent. That’s not happening, so get ready.

Question two: Serious?!? Why would you use the evil Babylonians?!?

Tomorrow’s chapter is God’s answer to this second question.

In the quiet this morning, I found myself identifying with Habakkuk’s questions. In the middle of writing this post, I went downstairs to have breakfast with Wendy and we perused the headlines. Habakkuk’s lines kept resonating in my head and heart as I read.

God’s response also echoed. Within the Great Story, faith is defined as “the assurance of what we hope for, the evidence of that which we can’t see.” That includes the reality that God appears to be silent, and it seems like God is not doing anything, but I have limited, finite human senses and knowledge. So, my heart cries out like Habakkuk.

Having just finished the book of Revelations, I know that God has promised to bring divine justice to the earth one day and deal with evil and the fruits of evil once-and-for-all. Until then, my prayerful cries of “How long, oh Lord?” rise as incense in heaven’s Throne Room along with your cries, and everyone else’s cries.

When will God make good on His promised judgment?

I don’t know.

I have faith that He will.

Until then, I’ll keep crying out along with brother Habakkuk.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.