Tag Archives: David

Nowhere to Hide

So Jeremiah took another scroll and gave it to the scribe Baruch son of Neriah, and as Jeremiah dictated, Baruch wrote on it all the words of the scroll that Jehoiakim king of Judah had burned in the fire. And many similar words were added to them.
Jeremiah 36:32 (NIV)

Along my life journey I have taken a few willful detours. I chose to leave the path of following Jesus and, instead, struck out on my own way. It was during these detours that I learned the lesson of the prophet Jonah: You can’t actually escape from God because no matter where you run He’s already there. It’s like the lyrics to David’s psalm:

Where can I go from your Spirit?
    Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
    if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
    and the light become night around me,”
even the darkness will not be dark to you;
    the night will shine like the day,
    for darkness is as light to you.

In today’s chapter, Jehoiakim the King of Judah is spiritually on the run. Jehoiakim wanted nothing to do with God. He barred the prophet Jeremiah from the temple. He put layers of bureaucracy between himself and the prophet so that he wouldn’t have to listen to Jeremiah’s incessant messages telling the King to turn from his rebellious ways.

And so, Jeremiah dictates God’s message to his servant and scribe, Baruch. He then sends Baruch to jump through all the bureaucratic hoops at the temple. God’s favor appears to be on Baruch as he recites the words of the scroll and his message gets passed up the chain of command until he finally has an audience with the king.

King Jehoiakim’s hard heart, however, was unmoved. As the envoy reads the scroll, King Jehoiakim has each column cut from the scroll and thrown into the fireplace of his chamber. He then tries to have Jeremiah’s servant arrested. So Jeremiah repeats the message to Baruch so that a copy would survive, and he adds a prophetic prediction of the negative consequences Jehoiakim and his royal line will experience because of his willful choice to shun God.

In the quiet this morning I am thinking about King Jehoiakim. He also was experiencing the lesson of Jonah, the same reality I experienced on my rebellious detours on my life journey. You can’t really successfully run from God. No matter where you run, God’s already there. I can harden my heart. I can refuse to listen and willfully ignore the truth, but then I’m just like the child who puts a cardboard box over their head and thinks no one can see him.

 

Trusting the “Purposes of the Almighty”

When Athaliah the mother of Ahaziah saw that her son was dead, she proceeded to destroy the whole royal family.
2 Kings 11:1 (NIV)

The ancient stories of blood, corruption and political intrigue continue in today’s chapter. As we pick up the stories of royal succession, the nation of Israel had now been divided in two for almost a hundred years. The northern kingdom, called the Kingdom of Israel, had been led by a succession of kings who killed and conspired to both gain and hold the position. The southern kingdom, known as the Kingdom of Judah, continued to follow the royal line of David. Judah trusted Nathan’s prophetic promise that the throne of David would be established forever and, through David, the Messiah would come.

Jerusalem was the capital of Judah and Solomon’s Temple continued to be the center of worship for the Jewish people. Nevertheless, worship of the local fertility god, Baal, had become popular in Judah just as it had been in the northern kingdom of Israel. Just like Queen Jezebel in their northern counterpart, Judah’s Queen Mother Athaliah was a Baal worshipper.

When Jehu seized power in the north, he killed both Joram, King of Israel, and Ahaziah, King of Judah. Athaliah saw opportunity to make a power grab of her own. She, like Jehu, also followed the bloody playbook of ancient takeover and commenced killing all of her son’s children (her own grandchildren) in order to establish her control and make sure the nation could not put one of her grandchildren on the throne.

There was also a religious element to Athaliah’s massacre. Destroying the “whole royal family” would essentially end David’s line. Doing so would render Nathan’s prophecy moot, and it would end the possibility of the prophesied messiah to come. This would cripple the worship of Yaweh and make way for the ascendency of Baal.

Athaliah’s plot is foiled when her infant grandson, Joash, is secreted away from her and hidden in the temple. David’s line survives to eventually give birth to another infant, wrapped in swaddling clothes, and laid in a manger.

This morning I’m thinking about the ways our present reality hinges on past events. Wendy and I have been watching the television series The Man in the High Castle which is predicated on the notion of what life might have been like if the Allies had lost World War II. Historians studying the American Civil War tell us just how close Abraham Lincoln came to losing the election of 1864, which most likely would have led to a peace settlement between the Union and the Confederacy. How different our lives might have been had that happened. Lincoln’s faith was not well-defined, but he came to believe that the purposes of the Almighty were perfect and had to prevail.

So it is that I wonder about our own present realities. There is much turmoil in the world and much angst and anxiety. Here in my little Iowa town I have little power to do much about the course of history. I can only influence the lives around me and leave such legacy as I am able. Nevertheless, as a follower of Jesus I believe that there is a plan for this Great Story. Jesus made it clear that He came to fulfill the plan that had been laid in the law and prophets, and He said there was a plan for how the Great Story would end, as well. Like Uncle Abe, I’m trusting that the purposes of the Almighty must prevail.

Featured photo courtesy gageskidmore via Flickr

Reason, Creativity & Metaphor

A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
    from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—
    the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
    the Spirit of counsel and of might,
    the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord
and he will delight in the fear of the Lord.
Isaiah 11:1-2 (NIV)

The language of God is metaphor. Throughout God’s Message He speaks through word pictures: poetic word pictures, word pictures in parables, typology, foreshadowing, metaphorical names, dreams, visions, and prophecies. God is a creative artist. God is the Creator Artist. The intricate, mathematical design of all creation is balanced by the Creator’s artistic flair in communication and story telling. We are made in God’s image. Left brain and right brain. Reason and creativity.

I have found that many people get perplexed and confused when approaching the writings of the ancient Hebrew prophets. Reading the prophets can be a head scratcher. There is no doubt. This is especially true considering that we are reading an English translation of the original Hebrew text. The original Hebrew is much like the balanced reason and creativity of Creation. It can be very left-brained in its intricate (even mathematical) poetic structure and very right-brained in its metaphorical content.

This morning’s chapter begins with a Messianic prophecy. If you delve into the word pictures, you begin to unlock the full meaning.

Jesse was the father of King David. King David was told by God that his throne would be established forever (e.g. the Messiah would come from the line of David). During the time of Isaiah’s writing, the line of David was still sitting on the throne of Judah in Jerusalem. Alive and bearing generational fruit. But, within a couple of hundred years of the writing the monarchy of Judah would be cut-off by a series of occupational empires (Babylonian, Persian, Roman). There would be no king in Jerusalem. The family tree of Jesse’s royal lineage would become a lifeless stump.

From that dead, life-less stump comes a shoot, that will develop into a branch which will bear fruit. Life will spring out of the seemingly dead line of Jesse. That’s why Matthew and Luke are both careful to record the family tree of Jesus in the telling of the Jesus story. Jesus was a descendent of Jesse, born in the town of David, the town of Bethlehem.

And what does Isaiah’s prophecy communicate about this new shoot of life?

Spirit.
Spirit.
Spirit.
Spirit.

Consider Jesus’ own words:

“No one can enter the Kingdom of God unless they are born of both water and spirit.”

“Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.”

“God is spirit, and his worshippers must worship in Spirit and truth.”

“The Spirit gives life. The flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you – they are full of Spirit and life.”

Jesus even took this same word picture of trunk, branch and fruit and passed it on to His followers (see John 15). How cool is that to see the manifestation of the word picture the Creator planted in the design of creation: Trunk give birth to branch which bears fruit that falls to Earth and “dies” and is buried, which then gives birth of Life to a new tree which develops branches and bears fruit. God’s intricate, creative design speaks God’s language: metaphor.

This morning I’m inspired thinking about the depth and layers of meaning in Isaiah’s prophetic writing. There were layers of meaning Isaiah himself could not possibly comprehend as he wrote the verses 700 years before the “Shoot of Jesse” would spring to Life. I am thinking about design and creativity. Words and word pictures. Spirit and Life. I’m praying that I perpetuate the word picture; praying that Spirit and Life is bearing fruit in and through me today.

 

When the Walls Come a Tumblin’ Down

[The travelers from Judah] replied, “The survivors there in the province who escaped captivity are in great trouble and shame; the wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been destroyed by fire.”

When I heard these words I sat down and wept, and mourned for days, fasting and praying before the God of heaven.
Nehemiah 1:3-4 (NRSV)

In ancient days, a nations walls were everything. Every major city (which subsequently controlled the nearby lands) was surrounded by walls. Walls were your security, making it impossible for enemies to easily invade. Walls were your pride. Their height, width, and engineering told the world how prosperous, industrious, and educated you were. Your gates were your calling card. Being the weakest point of defense, your gate said everything about you. The more secure, enamored, and embellished the gate, the more your city state would be held in high esteem.

The book of Nehemiah is about the walls and the gate of the city of Jerusalem, which had been destroyed (along with Solomon’s temple) by the Babylonian empire in 587 B.C. Most of the nations best and brightest were carried off into captivity in Babylon. Ezra, Nehemiah and their families were among them. As the scene is established in the opening sequence of today’s chapter, Nehemiah runs into some travelers who had arrived in Babylon from back home. He inquires about the state of their homeland and capitol city, and learns that the walls and gates had been utterly destroyed. The remnant back home feel utter shame.

If you have no walls, you are nothing.

Nehemiah’s reaction to the news was telling. He is grief stricken. He weeps. He fasts. He prays and confesses to God his sins, the sins of his family, and the sins of his nation.

We don’t have literal walls surrounding our homes and capitols [Unless you live in a gated community…there’s a good conversation to be explored there. Trump’s promised border wall is another interesting parallel conversation, but I digress] Walls as a line of defense became obsolete hundreds of years ago. The word picture, however, still carries weight for me in my personal life. I still build walls, metaphorically, around my heart and life. I build walls of protection against forces spiritual, emotional, relational, and cultural. I erect walls of possessions and words revealing to others what I want them to see, while hiding safely that which I desire to hide. I engineer relational walls that warn people off, walls that keep people out, and gates of relationship that open and close at my will.

And, my walls can crumble and fall just like Jerusalem’s.

On my left bicep I have a tat that references Psalm 51. It is an ancient song of confession, the lyrics written by King David at a moment when the walls of Jerusalem stood tall and proud, but the walls of his personal life had come crashing to the ground. The gates to his soul lay in utter ruin. It is on my left bicep because the ancients identified left, and left-handedness (I’m a lefty, btw), with foolishness, iniquity, and sin. It is on my bicep because it is a reminder to me that my strength is not in the quality of the walls I build around myself, but in humility and the utter honesty of my confession.

Nehemiah is having a Psalm 51 moment. I have had my own (multiple times). Walls crash and burn. Life sometimes lays in ruin before us. I have learned along the journey that in those moments when life crumbles around me the key to finding seeds of redemption and restoration lie not in the strength of my biceps, but in the condition of my spirit. Nehemiah gets it, too.

The Dance of Sliding Doors

But the people of Judah could not drive out the Jebusites, the inhabitants of Jerusalem; so the Jebusites live with the people of Judah in Jerusalem to this day.
Joshua 15:63 (NRSV)

SlidingdoorsThere was a film many years ago called Sliding Doors which has stuck with me since I first saw it. The movie, starring Gwyneth Paltrow, tells the story of a young woman. Actually, the movie tells two stories. In the beginning of the story we see her heading to catch a train. The movie then splits. In one part of the movie we see what her life would be like if the “sliding doors” of the train stop her from catching her train. In the other part of the movie we see what her life would be like if she squeezed through the “sliding doors” and made it on the train. The film leaves you thinking about all of the small moments in life that may have had profound impact on the way our lives turned out.

As I look back over my life journey I can pinpoint certain waypoints where a decision made a significant impact on my trajectory. This is life. What may seem like a relatively small decision in the moment may change our lives forever. Even typing that sentence prompts my heart to whisper: “Lord, please direct my steps.”

Today’s chapter ends with what seems like a relatively trivial fact. Caleb and his tribe did not drive the Jebusites from Jerusalem. Okay. Great. Whoop-te-do. What does that have to do with the price of tea in China?

For Caleb and his generation it mattered very little. Jerusalem was, at that time, a rather insignificant village on the borderlands of the tribe of Judah’s inheritance. No one had any inkling that the small village of Jerusalem would someday be the political and religious hotspot on Earth. The fact that the Jebusites remained there and Caleb didn’t drive them out wasn’t a major deal for them. But, it would be a bigger deal in a few generations when David was ascending the throne.

It was David who chose the Jebusite city of Jerusalem to be the capitol city of the nation of Israel. David was desperately trying to unite a fractured family of tribes into one nation. Jerusalem was a strategic choice for a host of reasons. The fact that it was a Jebusite city made Jerusalem a more neutral choice in the eyes of the other tribes. Being a border town, Jerusalem was less likely to raise the ire of the other tribes than if David chose a town in the heart of Judah’s land. David would have to take the town that Caleb left alone in order to make it his capitol. In the end, Caleb’s choice not to take Jerusalem allowed Jerusalem to remain an inter-national city where people of different peoples lived in contention with one another. It remains so to this day.

Today I’m thinking about choices. I’m thinking about decisions that effect the course of our lives. I’ve come to believe along the journey that there is a dance that happens between me and God in the choices I make. I seek where He is leading me, but He doesn’t force my hand. I sometimes am required to make my own move. As with a good dance partner, He anticipates my step and counters to be right where I need Him to be. Sometimes I stumble awkwardly, but He counters again and somehow redeems my misstep into what seems a choreographed moment.

It’s easy to be paralyzed in fear of choices we must make. I observe many wallflowers who stand endlessly on the periphery of life, afraid of doing the wrong thing, afraid of looking foolish, or falsely believing that their every step must be perfect. I’ve learned that I have to get in there and dance. Maybe the doors shut before I get on the train. Maybe I sneak on and catch my connection. Either way, I can trust God to direct my step. He’s a flawless dance partner.

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featured image: sudama via Flickr

You Gotta Have Heart

“And Moses swore on that day, saying, ‘Surely the land on which your foot has trodden shall be an inheritance for you and your children forever, because you have wholeheartedly followed the Lord my God.’”
Joshua 14:9 (NRSV)

“You gotta have heart,
Miles and miles and miles of heart!”

So go the lyrics of the musical Damn Yankees, a Broadway retelling of the Faust legend set around the hapless Washington Senators baseball team. The song came to mind this morning as I read Caleb’s plea to Joshua, reminding him that he’d “wholeheartedly” followed God.

Caleb had been one of the men chosen by Moses to spy out the land some 45 years earlier. Caleb was all for crossing the Jordan River and taking the land, but his partners gave a fear-producing account of what they saw and the campaign was delayed 40 years. But, for his wholehearted faith, Moses promised Caleb the land they’d spied out as his tribe’s inheritance. In today’s chapter, it’s time for the promise to be fulfilled these many years later.

Two things I’m reminded of this morning as I ponder Caleb’s story:

First: Caleb was rewarded for his heart – not his military prowess, his  perfect execution of God’s commands, his moral standing, his financial generosity, his intellect, his social savvy, or his popularity. As I journey through God’s Message I find, time and time again, God’s desire is for our hearts. If He has my whole heart, everything else will flow from there.

Second: Sometimes the fulfillment of God’s promises and purposes are a long time in coming. Caleb waited 45 years for his promised inheritance. David was anointed king when he was a kid, but didn’t see the promised fulfilled until he was 40.  Abraham and Sarah were in their 90’s before God miraculously produced their promised offspring. In a culture of instant gratification, I so easily get impatient and lose faith. It’s good to be reminded that God’s promises can take a long time to be fulfilled. Those with heart never stop trusting in that fulfillment.

By the way, and speaking of being wholehearted in having faith: The Cubs are 5-1!

Everybody sing!

“You’ve gotta have hope
Mustn’t sit around and mope
Nothin’s half as bad as it may appear
Wait’ll next year and hope”

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The Need of King and Savior

In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit.
Judges 21:25 (NIV)

We end the book of Judges with succinct  summary of the situation. There was no King or central authority. The loose confederation of tribes were spread out over hundreds of square miles. Each tribe co-mingled with the peoples and religions in their areas. The carefully prescribed laws and religious procedures that Moses had handed them became almost impossible to follow or enforce as there was no clear center for worship. The ark of the covenant was at Shiloh, but it was seen as a resting place more than a center of worship. It took a national crisis to get all the peoples to gather there.

After the heated battle between Benjamin and the other tribes, there is a frantic effort made to ensure that Benjamin remains a part of the nation. The bad blood, however, would never really go away. In later years when the tribe of Judah broke with the other tribes to form their own nation, the tribe of Benjamin would be the only tribe to go a long with them.

As we wrap up the book of Judges this morning, I’m thinking about the realities of the human condition. When left to ourselves without authority and rule of law, society quickly becomes a scary place. Lord of the Flies comes to mind. The book of Judges is a tough read. It is filled with unspeakable cruelties, violence, and cultural realities that are hard to fathom today. But, I believe that is the point of these chapters in the Great Story. The human condition left the people of Israel (like all of us) ultimately needing both savior and king.

The earthly example would soon show up in the person of a shepherd boy, musician, and poet who was good with a sling. The ultimate provision for the human condition was still a millennia away and would show up in that shepherd boy’s hometown, wrapped in swaddling clothes, and lying in a manger.

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featured photo: drpopular via Flickr