Tag Archives: History

The Implosion of Evil

The Ammonites and Moabites rose up against the men from Mount Seir to destroy and annihilate them. After they finished slaughtering the men from Seir, they helped to destroy one another. When the men of Judah came to the place that overlooks the desert and looked toward the vast army, they saw only dead bodies lying on the ground; no one had escaped.
2 Chronicles 20:23-34 (NIV)

In our modern, twenty-first century enlightened world we rarely talk about the nature of evil. I find that, even among those who are followers of Jesus, there is a reticence to even think of the concept of evil. Jesus quite regularly referenced evil. The word or variation is used seven times in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.

Over the years Wendy and I have noticed a theme among epic stories regarding the nature of evil: evil eventually destroys itself from within. Sometimes, left to itself, evil naturally implodes. Tolkien used this device multiple times in his stories and it came to mind this morning as I read today’s chapter. As Merry and Pippin are captives of the Orcs it is an internal fight between factions of Orcs and Grishnakh’s lust that ultimately allow for their escape. Likewise, as Frodo and Sam attempt steal their way into Mordor through the stronghold of Cirith Ungol, a massive fight between two companies of Orcs destroy one another and allow the Hobbits to escape.

In today’s chapter we find a similar story from Judah’s history. A coalition of enemy armies are gathered to march against Judah and Jerusalem. King Jehoshaphat assembles all the people to seek the Lord. They pray, they fast, they humble themselves. God speaks through the prophet that the battle belongs to God and He will deliver. The people respond in praise. The coalition of enemy armies turn on each other and destroy one another so that when the army of Judah arrives, they find a field of dead bodies.

This morning in the quiet as I mull these things over I’m reminded of C.S. Lewis’ admonishment about the two mistakes one can make about the exploration of evil. One, he said, is to ignore it. The second is to get too deep and take it too seriously. The people of Judah didn’t ignore the threat facing them but focused their energies on seeking after God, trusting, and following. Before the threat could become a battle, the evil had imploded within. I never want to be naive, ignorant, or blind to the reality of evil that exists in our world. Neither do I want to give into fear or be overwhelmed by it:

This is what the Lord says to you: ‘Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God’s.

When the Opening Hints of Doom

Now Jehoshaphat had great wealth and honor, and he allied himself with Ahab by marriage.
2 Chronicles 18:1 (NIV)

When you study the art of film, one of the things you learn is that the opening scene of a movie is very important, and a good writer and/or director is going to put a lot of thought into it. A good opening shot sets the stage and tone for the entire film and establishes the movie’s theme. Writers will use an opening line much the same way, and playwrights will do the same with their opening scene or Chorus.

In today’s chapter, the ancient Chronicler uses his opening sentence to set up the reader for the story to follow. I think most modern readers miss it the same way many film-goers miss the importance of the opening scene as they settle into their seat with the popcorn.

First, he references King Jehoshaphat’s “wealth and honor” which ties this part of the story back to the previous chapter which detailed Jehoshaphat’s wealth and honor. The Chronicler also made it clear that the said wealth and honor was linked to Jehoshaphat’s commitment and obedience to God. The next thing he tells us in the opening sentence is that Jehoshaphat made a marriage alliance with a man named Ahab.

Marriage alliances were common practice of royals throughout history. If you were King of one nation, Kings from neighboring nations would give you their daughters in marriage (or arrange a marriage between your respective children) as a way of assuring peace between nations as you’re not likely to attack your wife’s own father and destroy your wife’s family and tribe. This is why all the royal families of Europe are, to this day, a dizzying mash-up of intertwining family connections:

The fact that Jehoshaphat made a marriage alliance is not surprising, but the Chronicler is telling his readers that Jehoshaphat made the alliance with Ahab. All of the Chroniclers contemporary leaders would know Ahab. It’s like a contemporary writer referencing a name like Gates, Buffet, Clinton, or Trump. Everyone knows who you’re talking about.

Ahab was king of Israel (the 10 tribes who split from Solomon’s son and created their own nation). Israel and Judah had been more or less in a state of on-and-off civil war for years. Israel’s monarchy and tribes had abandoned the worship of God. Ahab’s wife was the infamous Queen Jezebel. Together Ahab and Jezebel were one of the most detestable royal couples in the history of Israel. Jehoshaphat made a marriage alliance with them.

Since I’m on the theme of movies, let me reference the Godfather’s famous leadership principle: “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.” It might be hopeful to think that Jehoshaphat was that cunning, but that would be wishful thinking. What the Chronicler is doing with his establishing sentence is setting his readers up for the fact that this is not going to end well. Especially given the fact that the Chronicler has already established a theme of immediate retribution throughout his stories: Do good by God and good things immediately happen. Do wrong by God and bad things immediately happen. We as readers should know by now that Jehoshaphat getting involved with the idolatrous and murderous Ahab and Jezebel is a foreshadowing of bad things to come.

This morning I’m thinking about the very simple life lesson of being careful who I align myself with. Jesus specifically prayed to God the Father that He would not take his followers “out of the world.” He wanted us in the world so as to influence it and bring His Kingdom’s love, grace, and power to all, especially those who need it most. So, I don’t think being careful with my “alignment” is about staying in my holy huddle and avoiding “those people” all together. There are certain individuals, however, for whom it would be unwise of me to align myself in a close relationship, a business partnership, a marriage, a contract, an obligation or a similar intertwining of life or business.

Even if it looks good on paper, the establishing shot hints at problems to come.

Reduced to a Label

The Lord was with Jehoshaphat because he followed the ways of his father David before him.
2 Chronicles 17:3 (NIV)

Confession: This morning as I read the first chapter of Jehoshaphat’s story the only thing I could think about was Daffy Duck. I grew up watching Looney Tunes every day, twice a day on television. “Jumping’ Jehoshaphat!” was one of Daffy Duck’s favorite exclamations of shock and surprise.

Jehoshaphat was more than a funny name made for humorous exclamations, however. King Jehoshaphat reigned in Judah for nearly a quarter century during a period of continued conflict and civil war with the northern tribes in the Kingdom of Israel. The Chronicler, writing to inspire and educate the returning Hebrew exiles from Babylon, spends far more time on Jehoshaphat’s story than the author of 1 Kings. Once again, we can see the Chronicler’s motivations at work behind the writing. There are three patterns of story emerging in the Chronicler’s writing:

  • Kings were “good” or “bad” depending on whether they followed God and shunned the local pagan dieties.
  • Immediate retribution is a continued theme. If the King obeyed God good things immediately happened. If the King disobeyed God bad things immediately happened.
  • “Good” Kings had their flaws and made their mistakes, but the Chronicler chooses to emphasize the good in his introductory summation and mention the negative later.

In today’s chapter, I couldn’t help notice that the Chronicler was careful to link Jehoshaphat with “his father David.” David was, in fact, Jehoshaphat’s great-great-great-grandfather. David was the undisputed greatest ruler. God said He would establish David’s throne forever. Linking Jehoshaphat to Davis is the Chronicler’s way of telling his readers that Jehoshaphat was all that.

In the quiet this morning I’m thinking about the way the Chronicler goes about reducing lives, reigns, and historical events into succinct summaries. It’s not strange, we do it all the time in obituaries, funeral eulogies, personal stories, and even 140 character tweets. We don’t, however, have to wait for someone to die to do it. I’m sure each one of us have experienced being labeled or reduced in another person’s mind into the summation of being a “bad” or “good” person based on one or two isolated facts, rumors, or interactions.

I’m once again reminded this morning that each person, each life, is far more than those few known facts. The Chronicler was doing his job using the available, meager resources of quill and papyrus to share succinct stories of royal lives and events. But there was far more to these individuals, “good” or “bad,” than the Chronicler’s bullet points. Those things are lost to history, but the people I live with and interact with each day are not. Just as I would hope someone would not stick me with a label and instead would choose to try to know me and be known by me, so I need to do a better job catching myself when I’m mentally reducing another person into some singularly labeled entity to be thrown on the scale of “good” or “bad” in my mind.

Jumpin’ Jehoshaphat! I need to get started with my day.

Have a good one, my friends.

Hamilton, History, and Me

Asa did what was good and right in the eyes of the Lord his God.
2 Chronicles 14:2 (NIV)

Yesterday Wendy and I  joined our friends in jumping on the Hamilton bandwagon. A regional touring production of the popular Broadway show about one of America’s founding fathers opened in Des Moines yesterday. The bottom line: Yes, it’s as good and amazing as everyone says it is.

Last night in bed Wendy was reading through different blog posts and articles about the places the hip-hop operetta strays from the facts of history. To be honest, I considered most of them to be nothing more than the typical ways writers are required to take license with history in order to tell one man’s life story in less than three hours on stage and to entertain the audience at the same time. I guarantee you that Hamilton has done more to motivate a generation of young people to dig into America’s history than any high school history teacher could do.

This morning as I read today’s chapter, the first of three chapters on the life of Judah’s King Asa, I thought about chroniclers of history whether they be relating stories via papyrus scroll, published novel, text book, research paper, or Broadway musical. The motivations and mediums may differ, but at a basic level the writers are all taking a lifetime of facts and reducing them into their own retelling.

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, the books of 1 Chronicles and 2 Chronicles were written at a time when Hebrew exiles had left the land of their captors in Babylon and returned to their homeland to rebuild and restore their country. The people, who’d been living in Babylon for a generation, are now staring at the rubble of Jerusalem and the rubble of Solomon’s Temple and they’re asking themselves all sorts of questions. Are we still connected to our history? Are we still connected to the God of our ancestors? Do we cling to the stories and faith of our ancestors, or do we ignore them and start over?

As I read through the accounts of the Kings of Judah written by the Chronicler I begin to see patterns. As noted in the past couple of weeks, the Chronicler is putting a positive perspective on the historical record. I can almost feel him encouraging his contemporary readers to dig-in, reconnect with their history, and celebrate their heritage just as Hamilton has done for our generation of Americans. He is also presenting a very simple, cause-and-effect story line. The kings who served God succeeded. The kings who abandoned God, worshipped idols, or were otherwise unfaithful experienced disaster and failure.

As I pondered this simple, cause-and-effect pattern I couldn’t help but think of Parson Weems who gave Americans the story of George Washington and the Cherry Tree. The story was less about historical fact and more about teaching a moral lesson. Please don’t read what I’m not writing. The Chronicles are historical retelling (not fables as is Pastor Weems stories), but I can feel in the pattern of the Chronicler’s retelling that there is a moral lesson he wants his readers to catch: Follow God and be blessed. Abandon God and be cursed. It’s a good moral lesson. However, in the quiet this morning I’m looking back and finding that along my Life journey I’ve observed that Life does not always break down into  simplistic, dualistic terms.

This morning I’m thinking about all the lessons that history has to teach us. After the show last night Wendy and I joined our friends for a spirited conversation over dinner about history, stories, and the wide-range of areas into which Hamilton poked and prodded our thoughts. The Chronicles, similarly, provide historical stories and lessons for us to take an apply to our daily journey some 2500 years later; Lessons that, like life itself, can at once be both remarkably simple and amazingly complex.

Me, Wendy and our friends Kev & Beck at the June 28 performance of “Hamilton”

“It’s Boring!” (Until You See the Connections)

Then Solomon began to build the temple of the Lord in Jerusalem on Mount Moriah, where the Lord had appeared to his father David. It was on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite, the place provided by David.
2 Chronicles 3:1 (NIV)

When I began this blog over 12 years ago I called it Wayfarer because  a wayfarer is one who is on a journey, and anyone who has be the most casual reader of my posts knows that I reference my journey in almost every post. Life is a journey, for all of us. If I step back, I can also see that history is a journey in a macro sense. Humanity is on its own life journey from alpha to omega. I am connected to what has gone before us, and I am a micro part of the on-going trek of life through time.

One of the biggest stumbling blocks I’ve observed when it comes to people reading what we refer to as the Old Testament, or the ancient writings of the Hebrew people, is that it appears so disconnected from my life, my reality, and my daily journey. The further I get in my journey, however, the more I realize how everything is connected.

In today’s chapter we have a fairly boring recitation that an ancient Chronicler wrote of the design of Solomon’s temple. It’s actually a re-telling of an earlier recitation in the book of 1 Kings. It was likely written at a time after the exiles taken to Babylon returned to Jerusalem and were faced with the task of rebuilding Solomon’s Temple which had been destroyed by the Babylonians. Have you ever observed how when there’s a current event on which everyone is focused (i.e. the royal wedding) and then all of a sudden there’s a ton of magazine articles, books, documentaries, and shows about royal weddings? The writing of Chronicles describing how Solomon built his temple, was likely written because everyone was focused on rebuilding that temple.

But wait, there’s more:

  • The Chronicler mentions that the temples was build on Mount Moriah, which is where Abraham obediently went to sacrifice his son, Isaac and then was stopped by God. So the temple they are building is also connected to the past and the founder of their faith.
  • For those of us who follow Jesus, we also see in Abraham’s sacrifice a foreshadowing of God so loving the world that He sacrificed His one and only Son. So today’s chapter is connected to that as well.
  • And the temple design parallels the design of the traveling tent that Moses and the Hebrews used as a worship center as they left Egypt and wandered in the wilderness for years. So, the temple is connected to that part of the story as well.
  • Oh, and then it describes “the most holy place” where only the high priest could enter once a year as a 20x20x20 cubit cube (a cubit is an ancient form of measurement, roughly 21 inches). When you get to the very end of the Great Story at the end of Revelation there is described a New Jerusalem. It is without a temple because Jesus dwells at the center but the entire city is designed as a cube. The word picture connects back to the design in today’s chapter. The entirety of the New Jerusalem is “most holy” because Jesus, the sacrificial lamb (there’s a connection back to Abraham’s sacrifice and the sacrificial system of Moses), has covered everyone’s sins and made everyone holy. The whole city and everything, everyone in it is holy.

Once you begin to see how everything being described in today’s chapter connects to the beginning and the end of the story it suddenly begins to get really interesting.

This morning I’m thinking about my Life journey. In the grand scheme of things it’s a little micro particle. It’s seemingly insignificant when you look at just the surface of things. But, then I begin to see how it connects to other people and their journeys. I begin to see how my journey has been made possible by everything that has gone before. I begin to see how my little, seemingly insignificant life journey, like a tiny atom in the body of time, is contributing love, life, energy, peace, kindness, goodness that will propel the story forward.

I’m just trying to walk my journey well. Connected to all that’s come before. Doing my part for those who will walk their journeys after. And, believing what Jesus taught and exemplified in His death and resurrection: when this Life journey is over an eternal Life journey will just be starting.

I hope you make good connections today.

The Prophet and The Politician

He is in your hands,” King Zedekiah answered. “The king can do nothing to oppose you.
Jeremiah 38:5 (NIV)

Not long ago I ran into an old school friend from my middle school and high school years. In casual conversation about where our respective journeys have taken us, she asked if I was ever going to run for political office as had been my plan and passion back in the day. I was taken aback that she remembered, and I laughed to myself as I realized how long ago I tossed that childhood dream by the wayside.

Along my journey I’ve known some individuals in politics. Being an Iowan, I have occasionally involved myself in the election process and rubbed shoulders with a few of the small army of candidates who come campaigning for President every four years. I believe that there are really good people in politics who do their best to do good for our country. Yet, here’s what I have observed:

Politics is a game. Power is the prize. A politician says what people want to hear just to get elected. They then say and vote as the power brokers of their party demand in order to get ahead. Both parties pull identical political stunts (depending on their power position in the moment) then point the finger at the opposing party and scream accusations as if they’ve not done the same thing a few years before.

While I’m sure it’s somewhat different at a local level, I learned long ago that I’m not wired to play that game. It would slowly drain all Life from my spirit.

To get a feel for what’s happening in today’s chapter of Jeremiah’s story, you’ve got to read the political situation that’s present between the lines. First of all, the ancient practice of siege warfare was a slow, brutal process. The Babylonian army had surrounded Jerusalem and cut off all supply lines into the city. As the supply of food and fresh water diminish, fear and anxiety grow to unprecedented levels among the population. Power structures break down and those in power desperately try to stave off anarchy.

King Zed finds himself between a rock and a hard place. His political rivals, sick of listening to Jeremiah’s incessant prophesies of defeat, ask the King for Jeremiah’s head. The King grants it (because that’s what you do when you’re a politician trying to hold onto power). Jeremiah is thrown down the bottom of a muddy well to die. The King’s eunuch then asks the King (in private) if he might rescue Jeremiah. The King tells him to do so in secret (because when you’re a politician you secretly work back channels to accomplish what you want).

Jeremiah is summoned by King Zed who asks the prophet to give him a Word from the Lord. “Give yourself up to the King of Babylon and you’ll live,” Jeremiah tells him. Zedekiah, however, is afraid that those citizens who have already surrendered themselves to the Babylonians will turn against him if he gives himself up (and a politician is always worried about maintaining his/her power, popularity, and position). Jeremiah assures the King this will not happen.

Upon conclusion of their private conversation, King Zed warns Jeremiah that he will be asked what they talked about. Being a politician, Zed tells Jeremiah how to “spin” his answer so as to avoid political trouble for both of them (because a politician is always looking for a good win-win).

This morning in the quiet I find myself thinking about the contrast between Jeremiah the prophet and Zedekiah the politician. The prophet suffers for speaking the truth and being true to the Message, but beneath the suffering the prophet seems to exemplify a certain spiritual peace that comes from being true, steadfast, and faithful. The politician, on the other hand, enjoys the position and creature comforts afforded by his power, but beneath the surface lie fear, anxiety, worry, and the mental chaos from constantly navigating political minefields in the endless desperation to survive.

I am thankful this morning for the good people I know doing their best to serve in the political arena (on both sides of the aisle). I’m also thankful that God led my journey down a different path than the one I’d desired when I was a wee lad. I’m wired to be more prophet than politician, I think.

Though, I confess that I’d prefer not to get thrown into a well.

How Little I Can Possibly Fathom

They have built the high places of Baal to burn their children in the fire as offerings to Baal….”
Jeremiah 19:5 (NIV)

Let’s be real. There’s a smorgasbord of negativity out there. Media and a 24/7/365 news cycle continually bombards us with sensational cries of things for us to fear or be anxious about. The right cries for us to fear the left. The left cries for us to fear the right. Beyond politics there is a steady stream of anxiety stirring doom we’re told to perpetually fear from nuclear war, global warming, gun violence, terror attacks, product safety, GMOs, cancer, Zika virus, flu, vaccinations, poverty, earthquakes, floods, oil spills, pollution, asteroid hits, and etc, and etc, and etc.

A month or two ago Wendy and I read a fascinating article in the Wall Street Journal by a Harvard professor. He attempted to provide some much needed perspective on our current life and times.

A few excerpts:

Globally, the 30-year scorecard also favors the present. In 1988, 23 wars raged, killing people at a rate of 3.4 per 100,000; today it’s 12 wars killing 1.2 per 100,000. The number of nuclear weapons has fallen from 60,780 to 10,325. In 1988, the world had just 45 democracies, embracing two billion people; today it has 103, embracing 4.1 billion. That year saw 46 oil spills; 2016, just five. And 37% of the population lived in extreme poverty, barely able to feed themselves, compared with 9.6% today. True, 2016 was a bad year for terrorism in Western Europe, with 238 deaths. But 1988 was even worse, with 440.

The world is about a hundred times wealthier today than it was two centuries ago, and the prosperity is becoming more evenly distributed across countries and people. Within the lifetimes of most readers, the rate of extreme poverty could approach zero. Catastrophic famine, never far away in the past, has vanished from all but the most remote and war-ravaged regions, and undernourishment is in steady decline.
A century ago, the richest countries devoted 1% of their wealth to children, the poor, the sick and the aged; today they spend almost a quarter of it. Most of their poor today are fed, clothed and sheltered and have luxuries like smartphones and air conditioning that used to be unavailable to anyone, rich or poor. Poverty among racial minorities has fallen, and poverty among the elderly has plunged.
During most of the history of nations and empires, war was the natural state of affairs, and peace a mere interlude between wars. Today war between countries is obsolescent, and war within countries is absent from five-sixths of the world. The proportion of people killed annually in wars is about a quarter of what it was in the mid-1980s, a sixth of what it was in the early 1970s, and a 16th of what it was in the early 1950s.

Please don’t read what I’m not writing. There is still no lack of very real and hard work to be done to make this world a better, more peaceful, and just place. What I increasingly have come to understand, however, is that it has become harder and harder for a person like me, living in the first-world of the 21st century, to understand how absolutely brutal life was in the days of the ancient prophets like Jeremiah. Reading through the writing of the ancient prophets can feel like a long slog. It’s whole lot of doom and gloom from a time and place that is very, very different than my reality.

I struggle with the harsh images and the violence in Jeremiah’s messages. But I also have to remember that I have no clue how harsh and violent daily life was in the middle east in 500 B.C.

Amidst today’s chapter, Jeremiah hints at what was happening, even within the walls of Solomon’s Temple, in his day. The God of Abraham, Moses, and David had been almost completely forgotten. Solomon’s Temple had become an open, free-market for the worship of local gods. In the case of Baal, people would sacrifice their own children and burn them alive as a form of worship. Just let the image of that sink in for a moment.

There’s a reason that God was angry. He commanded his people to love their children, to raise them up well. God commanded his people to teach their children and grandchildren His word, and to teach them to keep His commands about being honest, pure, just, content, and faithful. Now God’s people are worshiping local fertility gods with religious prostitution and drunken sex orgies. They are burning their own children alive as a sacrifice to Baal. And, when God raises up a prophet like Jeremiah to speak out against what is happening they tell him to shut-up and threaten to kill him.

This morning in the quiet I’m mulling these things over in my head. I’m not foolish enough to believe that things are perfect in this day and age, but I also don’t want to be equally foolish by denying the fact that I live in a world that is far better off than when my parents and grandparents were my age. I live in a world in which daily life is infinitely better off than it was for humans who lived centuries and millennia before. I can’t really imagine a day in the life of Jeremiah.

These thoughts lead me to look at Jeremiah’s writing differently. Rather than trying to layer Jeremiah’s poetic prophecies with my 21st century first-world understanding I want to let go of my preconceived notions. I want to cut Jeremiah some slack and try to see his world from his perspective. As a parent I addressed my daughters differently when they were five than I do when they are twenty-five, so it seems reasonable for me to conclude that God addressed humanity differently in the days of the Jeremiah than He does today.

I feel myself increasingly led to embrace the reality of just how little I can possibly fathom. Yet that doesn’t absolve me from responsibility. My job on this spiritual journey is to keep asking, seeking, and knocking on the door of understanding what God has been saying to humanity throughout the Great Story.  Perhaps that sounds hard to do given how different my life is compared to Jeremiah, but I also happen to live in a time and place where I have almost all of the research and resources in the entire world literally at my fingertips.

And that’s a daily reality I daresay Jeremiah couldn’t possibly fathom.

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