Tag Archives: Ark of the Covenant

Of Rules and Appetites

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Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord?
    And who shall stand in his holy place?
Those who have clean hands and pure hearts,
    who do not lift up their souls to what is false…

Psalm 24:3-4b (NRSVCE)

The further I get in my life journey, the more I’ve come to understand that the black-and-white behavioral rules of the most strictly religious groups are really about social control in which an institution or group exercise authority over another. The goal and benefit is a sense of order, collective security, and control. Within this type of system, the individual’s role is simple and strict obedience to the group’s behavioral rules (those written, and those insidiously unwritten but understood) under the threat of public shaming and being socially ostracized from the group. This type of system exists as religious fundamentalist sects and denominations, fraternal organizations, gangs, cults, secret societies, and the systemic equivalent can even exist in businesses, corporations, sports teams, and community organizations.

Systems like this have existed throughout history and continue to this day. It is this type of system with which Jesus conflicted in the Temple when he overturned the moneychangers’ tables and railed against the Temple’s religious cabal. It was this conflict that led them to treat Jesus as a threat who was to be ostracized and executed. It is the same system out of which Paul transitioned to becoming a follower of Jesus. Paul also was considered a threat they needed to ostracize and execute.

Please don’t read what I’m not writing. Don’t hear what I’m not saying. It doesn’t really matter which system we’re talking about. They all operate the same way and follow the same basic systemic rules.

The problem with this type of system is that it chains the individual to the group rather than freeing the individual from self. Behavior modification is not about spiritual health but of social order. The individual tries to control behaviors rather than be spiritually transformed. Paul recognized that all the behavioral rules of the system only created more rulebreakers sneaking around in the dark breaking the rules and trying not to get caught.

Scholars believe that today’s psalm was a song David wrote to be sung as the people entered God’s Temple in Jerusalem. If you read it and imagine the Hebrews carrying the Ark of the Covenant (cue: Raiders of the Ark Theme) into the Temple as they sing this song you get the gist. It starts by asking the question: “Who can ascend the hill of the Lord?” (That refers to Zion, on which the Temple was built) and then “Who can stand in his holy place?” (That would refer to the “Holy Place” within the Temple as designed and prescribed through Moses).

The lyric of the song then describes who may do these things. The description is that of a good person, but here’s where translation from the original language (Hebrew) to English can make a huge difference. In verse 4 the English phrase “do not lift up their souls” has an original Hebrew physiological imagery that references the throat. Some scholars argue that the word picture here is more like “nursing an appetite” and the Hebrew word translated “false” is rooted in the idea of “empty” or “vain.” So it’s really about those who don’t nurse their appetites for things that are empty.

In the quiet this morning, that’s what really struck me. What I’ve learned along my journey is that all the religious and systemic rule keeping does not address the real issues of Spirit that lead to transformation. Keeping the rules so as to appease my church leaders, parents, college, pastors, teachers, and peer group in the attempt to avoid being shamed and ostracized did not transform my soul.

What really led to transformation for me was when I realized that all my human appetites were good and created within in me by God. Paul realized it too when he said “Nothing is unlawful for me. It’s just that some things aren’t beneficial.” My appetite for food, for drink, for pleasure, for rest, for sex, for relationship, for security, for peace, for affirmation…all of them are good and part of what God created in me. It’s when I “nurse my appetite,” any one of them, and indulge my good and healthy appetites in empty and unhealthy ways that I hurt myself. And, I bring the unhealthy results to every relationship and system in which I am a part.

It’s not about me behaving for acceptance in a system. It’s about me being the person, the true and healthy self, God created me to be. It’s about what Jesus said when He told His followers to nurse their appetites for the things of God, and not for the things of this earth (including the safety and acceptance of a human system). How can I “love my neighbor as myself” if my unhealthy indulgence of natural appetites is leading to my continual self-injury and disrupting my relationships, my work, my family, and my life?

What appetite am I going to nurse today? That’s the question as I head into the weekend.

Have a great weekend.

Want to Read More?

Click on the image, or click here, to be taken to a simple, visual index of all the posts in this series from the book of Psalms.

There is also a list of recent chapter-a-day series indexed by book.

About This Post

These chapter-a-day posts began in 2006. It’s a very simple concept. I endeavor each weekday to read one chapter from the Bible. I then blog about my thoughts, insights, and feelings about the content of that chapter. Everyone is welcome to share this post, like this post, or add your own thoughts in a comment. Thank you to those who have become faithful, regular or occasional readers along the journey along with your encouragement.

In 2019 I began creating posts for each book, with an indexed list of all the chapters for that book. You can find the indexed list by clicking on this link.

Prior to that, I kept a cataloged index of all posts on one page. You can access that page by clicking on this link.

You can also access my audio and video messages, as well.

tomvanderwell@gmail.com @tomvanderwell

Tent to Temple to Table

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And have them make me a sanctuary, so that I may dwell among them.
Exodus 25:8 (NRSVCE)

Our children posted a rather hilarious video of Milo over the weekend. At first, we couldn’t figure out what he was doing shaking his bum towards daddy’s legs. As we listened to the audio it became more clear that Milo was making like the Stegosaurus on his shirt and shaking his spiky “tail” to protect himself from the predator, played by daddy, whom I presume was cast in the role of a T-Rex. Yesterday, on our Father’s Day FaceTime, we got to witness Milo reprise his role for us a shake his little dino-booty for Papa and Yaya’s enjoyment.

It’s a very natural thing for us to make word pictures and games for our children and grandchildren to introduce them to concepts, thoughts, and ideas that are still a little beyond their cognitive reach. Even with spiritual things we do this. Advent calendars with numbered doors help children mark the anticipation of celebrating Jesus’ birth. Christmas gifts remind us of the gifts the Magi brought the Christ child. Wendy often recalls the Nativity play she and her cousins and siblings performed each year with bathrobes and hastily collected props which helped to teach the story behind the season.

In leaving Egypt and striking out for the Promised Land, Moses and the twelve Hebrew tribes are a fledgling nation. Yahweh was introduced to Moses in the burning bush. Moses introduced the Tribes to Yahweh through interceding with Pharaoh on their behalf and delivering them from Egyptian slavery. Yahweh has already provided food in the form of Manna and led them to the mountain. In today’s chapter, God begins the process of providing a system of worship that will continue to develop a relationship of knowing and being known.

As I described in my podcast, Time (Part 1), we are still at the toddler stage of human history and development. The Ark of the Covenant (yes, the one from Raiders of the Lost Ark) and the plan for a giant traveling Tent to house God’s presence, are all tangible word pictures that their cognitive human brains could fathom revealing and expressing intangible spiritual truths about God.

Along my spiritual journey, I’ve observed that as humanity has matured so has God’s relationship with us. Jesus pushed our spiritual understanding of God. “You have heard it said,” he would begin before adding, “but I say….” I have come to believe that Jesus’ ministry, death, and resurrection were like the “age of accountability” in which we talk about when children become responsible adults. Jesus came to grow us up spiritually and to mature our understanding of what it means to become participants in the divine dance within the circle of love with Father, Son, and Spirit. On a grand scale, God is doing with humanity what Paul experienced in the microcosm of his own life:

When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways.

1 Corinthians 13:11

I have also observed, however, that human beings have a way of getting stuck in our development. Many adults I know are living life mired in adolescent patterns of thought and behavior. Many church institutions are, likewise, mired in childish religious practices designed to control human social behavior, but they do very little to fulfill Jesus’ mission of bringing God’s Kingdom to earth. Again, Paul was dealing with this same thing when he wrote to Jesus’ followers in Corinth:

And so, brothers and sisters, I could not speak to you as spiritual people, but rather as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for solid food. Even now you are still not ready, for you are still of the flesh.

1 Corinthians 3:1-3a

There is a great example of this from today’s chapter. God provided the Ark of the Covenant, and a traveling tent called the Tabernacle, as a word picture of His presence and dwelling with the wandering Hebrew people. It was a physical sign that God was with them. Once settled in the Promised land, the temple that Solomon built in Jerusalem became the central physical location of God’s presence. When Jesus came, however, He blew up the childish notion of the God of Creation residing in one place. Jesus matured our understanding of God’s very nature and the nature of God’s presence. With the pouring out of God’s Spirit to indwell every believer, Jesus transformed our understanding of God’s dwelling and presence. “Wherever two or three are gathered,” Jesus said, “I am among them.” The place of worship transitioned from the Temple to the dining room table. After the resurrection, Jesus was revealed during dinner in Emmaus, making shore-lunch for the disciples along the Sea of Galilee, and at the dinner table behind locked doors where the disciples were hiding.

Wendy and I have this quote from Brian Zahnd hanging on the fridge in our kitchen:

“The risen Christ did not appear at the temple but at meal tables. The center of God’s activity had shifted – it was no longer the temple but the table that was the holiest of all. The church would do well to think of itself, not so much as a kind of temple, but as a kind of table. This represents a fundamental shift. Consider the difference between the temple and the table. Temple is exclusive; Table is inclusive. Temple is hierarchical; Table is egalitarian. Temple is authoritarian; Table is affirming. Temple is uptight and status conscious; Table is relaxed and ‘family-style.’ Temple is rigorous enforcement of purity codes that prohibit the unclean; Table is a welcome home party celebrating the return of sinners. The temple was temporal. The table is eternal. We thought God was a diety in a temple. It turns out God is a father at a table.”

In the quiet this morning I find myself thinking about the ancient Hebrew people struggling to mature their understanding from a polytheistic society with over 1500 dieties to the one God who is trying to introduce Himself to them in ways they can understand. I am reminded of the ways Jesus tried to mature our understanding of God even further. I find myself confessing all of the ways through all of the years of my spiritual journey that I have refused to mature in some of the most basic things Jesus was teaching.

As Wendy and I sit down together to share a meal together this week, my desire is to acknowledge Jesus’ presence. To make our time of conversation, laughter, and daily bread a time of communion with God’s Spirit. I think that’s a good spiritual action step.

Bon a petite, my friend. May you find God’s Spirit at your table this week.

Want to Read More?

Simply click on the image above or click here to be taken to a page with a simple photo index to all posts from this series on Exodus.

About This Post

These chapter-a-day posts began in 2006. It’s a very simple concept. I endeavor each weekday to read one chapter from the Bible. I then blog about my thoughts, insights, and feelings about the content of that chapter. Everyone is welcome to share this post, like this post, or add your own thoughts in a comment. Thank you to those who have become faithful, regular or occasional readers along the journey along with your encouragement.

In 2019 I began creating posts for each book, with an indexed list of all the chapters for that book. You can find the indexed list by clicking on this link.

Prior to that, I kept a cataloged index of all posts on one page. You can access that page by clicking on this link.

You can also access my audio and video messages, as well.

tomvanderwell@gmail.com @tomvanderwell

The Messy Balance Between Acting and Waiting

“Yet there shall be a space between you and [the ark of the covenant], a distance of about two thousand cubits; do not come any nearer to it.”
Joshua 3:4b (NRSV)

Last weekend Wendy and I watched the recent film version of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. It is a fascinating story set in the dark ages in Scotland. Macbeth is a warrior with relatively low rank among the nobility of the Scottish clans. On his way back from a successful battle he encounters three witches, also known as The Weird Sisters, who utter a prophecy that Macbeth will be named Thane of Cawdor and King of Scotland.

Macbeth writes his wife a letter and tells her of this news. Then, while still traveling home, he is advised that King Duncan has named him Thane of Cawdor, just as the sisters prophesied. Upon arriving home, the Lady Macbeth urges her husband to man up and take hold of the second part of the prophesy. King Duncan makes a surprise visit to the Macbeth’s household and Lady Macbeth sees this as her husband’s chance to make the prophecy come true. Macbeth, at his wife’s urging and insistence, murders King Duncan in his bed. The second part of the prophecy is thus fulfilled, but a madness of blood-guilt and paranoia is also unleashed that will ultimately doom Macbeth and his wife.

The story of Macbeth raises an interesting spiritual dilemma. Do you step up and try to make a prophecy come true, or do you sit back and wait to see if the prophecy is fulfilled of its own accord? Wendy and I spent some time after the movie exploring the question. We recalled an experience from recent years in which we watched a person strive, in Macbeth like fashion, to make what they believed had been prophesied happen. The results were similarly tragic, though certainly not as tragic as the bloody carnage of Macbeth!

In today’s chapter, Joshua is told by God to send the ark of the covenant out in front of the people into the Jordan River. No one is to get within 2000 cubits (e.g. approximately 3000 feet/900 meters) of the ark. When the ark enters the river, the waters are miraculously stopped (just like Moses and the Red Sea) so that the people can cross.

I found this to be an interesting word picture and an unexpected continuation of our Macbeth conversation. In murdering Duncan, I would argue that Macbeth tried to get out in front of the prophesy. He may have crossed the proverbial river into the promise, but the result was ultimately tragic as he refused to wait for the natural course of events to take place, if they ever would. Macbeth and his Lady were short on faith. Instead of trusting that the prophesy would be fulfilled at the right time in the right way, they were compelled to make it happen. In contrast, Joshua tells the people to stand back, make way, and give God room to get out ahead and clear the way. Only then shall they cross.

Today I’m reminded of the messy balance between doing what I’m called to do and, at the same time, waiting on the Lord. I don’t want to get out ahead of God or presume to stand beside. I also don’t want to lag behind and get off course. I want to follow at an appropriate distance and attentively follow where we are led on Life’s path.

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Blueprints, Planning, and Appreciation

Sewer LineIt was because you, the Levites, did not bring it up the first time that theLord our God broke out in anger against us. We did not inquire of him about how to do it in the prescribed way.” 1 Chronicles 15:13 (NIV)

For the past three months, Wendy and I have been working on plans to build a house.  We’d vigorously pursued a plan to renovate and update our existing home for the past few years. However, very much in the spirit of what I wrote in yesterday’s post, the answer to our prayers was not what we had anticipated. So, we suddenly find ourselves pouring over blueprints and contemplating an endless number of decisions regarding the most minute details.

When it comes to these types of projects, the stark differences between Wendy and me become readily apparent. Wendy’s brain works very logically and methodically. She is great with details, processes, plans, and methods. My brain works in imaginative, big picture vistas and doesn’t sweat the details. Within this contrast lies both our strength and our struggle.

Despite the conflicts that arise out of our differences, I have a real appreciation for the logic and details which stimulate Wendy’s brain, and I understand that when things are not done properly then bad, or at the very least frustrating, things can happen. When we planned the lower level of the house at the lake (which we finished ourselves with the help of family and friends), Wendy had the floor plan mapped out perfectly. The contractor didn’t read her plans carefully, however, and ran the sewer line in the wrong spot. We had to alter our plan and change the dimensions of the bathroom. To this day, we don’t walk in the bathroom on the lower level without noticing the wrong proportions.

Through the years I’ve come to realize and appreciate that God is the epitome of both the left brain and right brain that he designed into we humans who are “made in His image.” God is both artist and engineer. He creates in an endless stream of big picture imagination and, at the same time, designs things down to the sub-atomic level. There is a place, purpose, and a need for both.

In today’s chapter, David realizes that in his big picture idea of moving the Ark of the Covenant to his newly establish capitol of Jerusalem, he had missed the details God designed into the proper way the Ark was to be handled and moved. Realizing his mistake, David goes back to the drawing board and makes sure that everything would be done properly according to the detailed instructions God had laid out.

I can confidently say that my brain will never work like Wendy’s. I doubt there will ever be a time in which I will be excited and stimulated by planning processes and minute details. I can, however, confidently say that I’ve learned to appreciate and value those like Wendy who are wired that way. I appreciate that God reveals Himself to be intimately concerned with details. Sometimes, I am required to consciously adjust both my thoughts and my attitude accordingly.

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Turning God into a Good Luck Charm

English: The Ark of the Covenant, by James Jac...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Then they said, “Let’s bring the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord from Shiloh. If we carry it into battle with us, itwill save us from our enemies.” 1 Samuel 4:3b (NLT)

In todays chapter, the people of Israel were desperate for a victory. As a fan of both the Minnesota Vikings and Chicago Cubs, I can totally relate. Rather than seeking out God the way God had prescribed, the Israelites took the Ark of the Covenant (remember Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark?) from the Tent of Meeting (a kind of moveable temple that the Israelites built and used while making the trek out of captivity in Egypt) where God said it should be and stay. They carried the Ark with them into battle as if it was some kind of secret weapon. Of course, that’s not how God purposed the Ark. They took something God had designed for one reason, and tried to use it for their own self-centered intentions.

The results were not positive.

We as humans have an ages old habit of turning God’s metaphors into mascots; We turn images into icons and idols that we wear, bear, rub, and relish. In doing so, we so easy to reduce the omnisicent, omnipotent, omnipresent Creator into a good luck charm. This is the very definition of profanity: to empty something of its meaning.

Today, I’m searching my own heart, life, and thoughts for ways that I subtly turn God into my personal talisman. I don’t need superstition. I need a savior.

Chapter-a-Day 2 Chronicles 5

The choir and trumpets made one voice of praise and thanks to God—orchestra and choir in perfect harmony singing and playing praise to God: Yes! God is good! His loyal love goes on forever! 2 Chronicles 5:13 (MSG)

I grew up singing choral music. When I was a kid I sang in a robed church choir. Each Sunday morning we would make a processional up the center aisle to the altar before taking our place in the choir loft. We sang classic and choral music. In high school I sang in the robed choir as we belted out classics, many of them sacred pieces.

Today, the worship I experience on Sunday morning is contemporary and I enjoy playing my electric bass and rocking out. But, I do miss the sacred atmosphere of the traditional liturgical service with its formal processional, order, and sacred rhythm. I still have sacred music and gregorian chant playing during my personal quiet times. I get chills hearing certain sacred pieces.

I read today’s chapter about the triumphant procession bringing the ark of the covenant into the temple. I picture the pomp, the ceremonial grandeur and imagine the sound of the sacred music. It reminds me of my love of what contemporary worship often lacks. It’s not that contemporary or traditional is “right” while the other is “wrong” (despite advocates and critics on I hear on both sides). It’s just different, and they each have their strengths when it comes to a worship experience.

Tonight I go to worship rehearsal. I’ll plug in my bass, play with my whole heart, and experience the blessing of worship. At the same time, a part of me will wish I was standing in a mass choir singing a beautiful, sacred choral piece.

The worship of an omniscient God can’t be confined into one box. Worship of the Almighty, by necessity, must come in all sorts of styles because God can’t be defined by a single standard. The key is not to find the “right” way to worship, but to appreciate and experience the worship of an unlimited God in worship’s ever expanding form and style.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and danagraves

Chapter-a-Day 1 Chronicles 13

Consider the source. David was terrified of God that day; he said, “How can I possibly continue this parade with the Chest of God?” 1 Chronicles 13:12 (MSG)

Today’s chapter was a good reminder to me of the healthy respect and fear I should have of God and His power. This weekend my dad and a friend were wiring our basement. With all of our knowledge and safety standards, electricity often seems pretty harmless. You flip a switch and it’s on. You plug something in and it works. However, when you dig deep into the wiring and junctions, you come into contact with the raw power of electricity. When sparks fly, circuits blow, and things pop you begin to have a bit healthier respect for how dangerous and deadly the power behind that light switch is.

Jesus came to bridge the relational divide with God, to reconcile us and bring us into oneness with God the Father. Nevertheless, like the raw power behind a seemingly harmless spiritual switch, God is holy. It is always a good thing to have healthy respect for our loving God’s raw power and holiness.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and star_guitar